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Tuesday, 1 November 2022

DID COLUMBUS DISCOVER AMERICA? THEN HOW THE COUNTRY GOT THE NAME AMERICA?

When Americans get a holiday on every 10th October since 1937 to celebrate as 'Columbus Day', why should I doubt? Americans and Europeans can never go wrong in anything especially narration of their own history, don't you think so? Nevertheless that Christopher Columbus never set his foot or discovered North America in any of his voyages is a historical fact. Then who else? Amerigo Vespucci, whose name gave the country and two continents their names -America? He did not land in north America any time either! Was it Leif Ericson, the Islandic Viking explorer who is believed to have reached Newfoundland, Canada some 500 years before Columbus? No, as he too failed to reach America main land.

Interestingly as we all know that Columbus was keen to find a new sea route to reach India for trading its riches along with Indies and China. Finally when Columbus reached the islands like Bahamas and Hispaniola (Haiti and Dominican Republic as known today), he sincerely believed that he had reached India and the people over there were called Indians! This fact is too well known to be repeated here.

When Amerigo Vespucci reached South America and Amazon river, he named that spot of Amazon as 'Gulf of Ganges' since he too believed that he had reached India and Ganges! I am sure that this is not well known in history....

This is not history reinvented but revisited. It was there all along but many of us must not have noticed or wrongly observed for obvious reasons!


Columbus makes 4 trips ... but none touched main land of USA! 
During the 15th and 16th century Europeans, esp. Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch and others wanted to find sea routes to India, China and Far East. Their main intention was to bring back cargoes of spices and silks to make them quick rich.

Christopher Columbus was from Genova, Italy by birth but moved later to Lisbon, Portugal. Columbus knew that the earth was round unlike the Catholic theologians of those days who insisted that Earth was flat! He calculated that sailing west instead of East and Africa would eventually lead to India. Finally the King and Queen of Portugal, Ferdinand and Isabell agreed to finance the trip of of Columbus.

Columbus travelled in1492 in the ship named 'Santa Maria' and along with another two more- the Nina and the Pinta- similar ships and a crew of 90 from Palos, Spain for sure.  




Between 1492 and 1504 , Columbus made 4 trips of expeditions of discovery to India and Indies, which was later known as the Age of Discovery. Although he didn't touch the main land of America as seen in the map above, these voyages led to the widespread knowledge of the New World! The Bahamas as well as the Caribbean islands are known to this day as west Indies. It  is also to be noted here that Columbus was merciless, brutally enslaving the natives(thinking that they were Indians) in these expeditions! He died in 1502 on the belief  that he had discovered a new sea route to India!

Amerigo Vespucci had made 2 trips but again did not touch America!
Vespucci played a major role in at least two voyages in search of India between 1499 and 1502  reaching the present South America. He was from Italy and by profession a cartographer. In 1499 when he sailed to the Amazon river, he had named that as 'Gulf of Ganges' thinking that he had reached India! In history it is recorded that Vespucci had met Columbus at least once in 1496 and shared the experiences but both never landed in United States Of America!

In 1507 Martin Waldseemuller, a German clergy man and another famous cartographer first used the name of America in honour of Amerigo Vespucci and it got stuck to the two new continents and the country. He was the first to make a new map of the world separating America from Asia. In US every March 9 is observed as Amerigo Vespucci day officially but  much less in fanfare and celebration to Columbus day, I believe.


Voyage of Leif Erikson...
About 500 years early to expeditions of Columbus and Vespucci, an Islandic Viking explorer had surely made a voyage from his home country in search of the New world. It is recorded in history that he had established a settlement at Vinland in Newfoundland, Canada.

It was US President Coolidge who recognized the feat of Leif Erikson in 1925 and declared October 9 as Leif Erickson day.



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Saturday, 1 October 2022

MARIA AND SERAH..... MARY HAD A LITTLE LAMB!

Some of the best  moments I have had in my retired life, after settling to my home town eight years back, is the time spent with my grandchildren. Nothing unusual than what the world generally goes with, but still I would consider myself lucky. The moments which are filled up with love and happiness, lighter moments of laughter and a lot more which only such  grandparents and grandchildren will fully understand! It is said that the genes skip a generation, though I don't know whether it is scientifically true or not. Probably that's why grandparents find their grandchildren so likeable!!

One thing which I am exposed to once again  during this period is the nursery rhymes which they went through while they were in play schools. To the best of my understanding a nursery rhyme  in English or any language or vernacular is a poem or song evolved around certain traditions or hearsays. They are  rhythmical and intended to amuse young children. Such rhymes are always imaginary and bear nothing to do with any actual event though for centuries they are passed from generation to generation.

But only recently I came to know that at least one among hundreds of such old nursery rhymes is based on an actual event. That's to do with Mary and her lamb. There was a Mary who lived in Sterling, Massachusetts, US around early 18th century. And she had a little lamb too which accompanied her wherever she went including the school! But the actual history of the authorship   of this popular rhyme is not kid stuff including legal battles in which even the Automobile icon Henry Ford was involved at one stage! And this rhyme was the first recorded human voice in the first Phonograph invented by Edison in 1877!

This article is dedicated to my grandchildren Maria and Serah. Maria will be completing her ninth birthday next month while Serah does her fifth today. Yes, Mary had a little lamb in true life!     


 

                                                                       Maria & Serah

1806 -It starts with Mary Elizabeth Sawyer.....
Mary Elizabeth Sawyer was born in 1806 on a farm in Sterling, Mass. When she was nine years old in 1815,while helping out her father in the farm, they discovered a sickly new born lamb that had been abandoned by her mother. Mary persuaded her parents to allow her to hand raise the lamb. Although they didn't expect the baby to survive for long, against all odds  Mary could nurse the poor lamb to health. And where ever Mary went this lamb just followed keeping a special relation with her! And as the lamb grew up she had a fleece as white as snow!

The lamb used to follow Mary and her brother to the one room school they attended which was known as Redstone School. In the class also Mary had very embarrassing moments due to the lamb.
 
         
      Redstone one room School which Mary and the lamb attended

One day One John Roulstone a student of the same school but senior to Mary wrote three stanzas of a poem based on the special relationship Mary and lamb had as we all know.

                                         Mary had a little lamb;
                                  Its fleece was white as snow;
                                  And everywhere that Mary went,
                                  The lamb was sure to go.
                       
                                  It followed her to school one day
                                  Which was against the rule;
                                  It made the children laugh and play
                                  To see a lamb at school

                                  And so the teacher turned it out;
                                  But still it lingered near,
                                  And waited patiently about
                                  Till Mary did appear.

The lamb mothered three lambs of her own before she died. John Roulstone too suddenly died in 1822 at his age of 17 while he was at Harvard!

The controversy starts...
In 1830 Sarah Josepha Hale, a renowned writer hailing from Newport, published her book titled 'Poems for Our Children' which included a version of the poem penned by John Roulstone! Sarah didn't make it clear how she could include a poem about Mary's lamb. And Mary didn't have any idea how Sarah had gotten Roulstone's poem!!All the more Mary didn't have any proof to show than her testimony. Mary had lost his hand written poem but she didn't loose the socks she had knitted from the wool of the very lamb that followed her to school.  According to Mary Sawyer the lamb was a female while Sarah Hale's poem says it was a male!

Soon the residents of Sterling, Mass and those from Newport, New Hampshire were arguing about the the poem's provenance for years. The fight did not stop when Sarah died in 1879 followed by Mary who died in 1889!

The first recording of human voice..
When Thomas Edison invented the Phonograph for the first time in 1877, it was this poem that was recited for the first time! Yes. The first recording of human voice ever made was recitation of the poem 'Mary had a little lamb'!
                                          Mary Sawyer


Henry Ford comes to picture...
Henry Ford openly sided with Mary Sawyer by 1920.It was he who bought the old school building where the lamb incident took place and moved to Sudbury, Mass. The city authorities also made sure of preserving the house of Mary Sawyer to this day where it is erected now. He also published a book on Mary and the lamb!
                                Mary's house as seen today

It is interesting to note that a 2 feet tall statue of Mary's lamb stands in the town centre of Sterling!

Still an outstanding mystery....
It may be noted that I could not find anywhere the mention of the name of the lamb! After all this lamb was a pet and it is very likely that Mary had named it. But I could not find anywhere in the records the name in spite of the fact that the story of the lamb later became controversial. May be Maria or Serah  later, or any of my readers can find it and inform me...Always remember that no topic is trifle. Interestingly there is a lot to learn and understand in the world though many look silly apparently.

                    
Be imaginative, creative and inquisitive...life is altogether different with these virtues.
             ___________________________

Tuesday, 30 August 2022

MOHAWKS ! ACROPHILES OF NEW YORK CITY!!

   D     E     D      I      C     A     T     I     O    N 

Mr. N.Govindankutty is no more. He breathed his last on 15th August 2022.He was one of the very best among my close friends  and a fine human being. Our friendship lasted over 50 years but while we were in Qatar that it flowered and blossomed the best. A big loss for me!

Mr. Kutty was a senior MEP Project Manager who was a very professional veteran in his field of specialization in execution of infrastructure projects. He was himself an acrophile- having no fear of heights- who had successfully contributed his professional service in high-rise structures of Dubai including Emirates Towers and Burj Khalifa, the tallest in the world!

My tearful bouquet for him🎕. Please rest in peace 'Kuttysaab' as he was called by me fondly. I am dedicating this article to him today - from the conventional date of every first of very month- being his Sapindi day-16th day of his demise. 🙏 -----------------------------------


The Empire State Building, Rockefeller Centre, The Chrysler Building, George Washington Bridge, United Nations HQ, Time Warner Center and a host of others....What is common for all these structures other than that they all are located in Manhattan, NY? Common architects and structural engineers? Construction methodology? Period of construction? None of these.

The common factor is that they are built into record heights by a group of men known as 'Sky Walkers'. But for their nature of having no fear of heights- acrophiles- with their skill in steel construction and riveting ,simply it would not have been possible at a time when techniques and equipment  of construction were not computer aided and modern as today! And fast  they did. The Empire State Building was constructed within a period of one year!!

Again it is not known to the outside world much that majority of those of 'Sky Walkers' belonged to the Mohawks Indians, a tribe of indigenous people of North America from New York State and Canada! Mohawks were there to construct World Trade Centre and also to cart away the debris of the same building after it came down on September 9/11.New York Times once wrote about them that " Like little spiders they toiled spinning a fabric of steel against the sky!

   


Mannahatta to Manhattan...
Historically Manhattan island belonged mainly to the Indian tribe of Lenape before colonization by Europeans which was known  as 'Mannahatta' meaning 'the place we get bows' in their language. The island was full of Hickory trees considered ideal for bows. Later it was bought by the Dutch from the Indians which was renamed as 'New Amsterdam' and finally emerged as  Manhattan. Henry Hudson, an Englishman who worked for Dutch East India company discovered it in 1609. While Manhattan remains the most expensive real estate in the world and show cases some of the beautifully designed sky scrappers in the modern world, Times Square is the most visited tourist destination of the world- more than 50 million annually! My interest in the skyscrapers of New York never ceases it seems and here trying to dig out more on the subject.

The race for the tallest building in the world!
The race for the tallest building in the world was not between two countries but two cities in the same country if you didn't know -Chicago and New York in the late eighties. American Surety Building in NY in 1895 was the first to be followed by others. However Chicago won the race later with opening of Sears Towers in 1974(now known as Willis Tower).Empire State Building, NY adorned the title to be the tallest for a long period from 1930 to 1970. Later it was dwarfed by Petronas Tower at Kuala Lampur in 1996,Taipie's Taipei in 2004 and current champion is Burj Khalifa at Dubai since 2010.

The first photo above which was clicked in 1932 at RFC Building, NY is iconic. It was on the 69th floor at 850 feet above GL and was publicized as a stunt for the popularity of the building but became symbolic with the period of The Great Depression which was looming large at that time. The same photo is also mistakenly circulated as atop the Empire State Building and Rockefeller Centre! The second photo is what New York looks like from the edge of a skyscraper.

Structural Steel enters as the main building material in US...
Henry Bessemer of Britain in 1856 remains as the father of modern steel making as he could develop a method of producing steel that was quicker and cheaper followed by William Siemens who could develop the technology further. But it was Andrews Carnegie of US who popularized steel as the main construction material for the skyscrapers of NY and elsewhere. Soon in the early 20th century US surpassed the combined production of Britain and Germany!! The huge fire which swept Chicago in 1871 might have surely influenced the designers of high rise at NY.


Enter the Mohawks!
In1880s the Canadian Pacific Railway Company was building a bridge in the Kahnawake Mohawk reservation that the authorities noticed the special talents of the Mohawk Indians- that they are more or less fearless while working at heights. Soon they were employed in the whole of US especially in cases of high rise buildings, that in steel. From 1930s to 1970 on special labour contracts they were employed in Manhattan towers. Those years we were not as modern as today  in safety matters- Safety, Health and Environments- SHE or HSE as known in the professional construction field. Many accidents have happened. But those incidents never altered the outlook of Mohawks towards their dedicated trade!

                                                 ____________________________________

Monday, 1 August 2022

FROM THE DIARY OF A BRITISH SURGEON........ WHO MADE 'PASSAGE TO INDIA' EASIER!

 The more I read about the history of India especially how the British East India Company (EIC) came to power and colonized the country, it becomes more and more intricate and convoluted to me. New unknown names and characters come to central stage all of a sudden from nowhere which the Indian historians have hardly mentioned, for reasons beyond my comprehension!

Such a name is Dr. William Hamilton, a surgeon who came to India in 1717.How come a doctor played a crucial and decisive role in the affairs of EIC which captured the control of India ultimately? Such a reflection can be still seen on the grave inscriptions of the doctor at the St John's church, Calcutta which is given below. It ends with 'he made his own name famous at the court of the Great Monarch; and without doubt will perpetuate his memory as well in Great Britain as all other nations of Europe'!

Here is  another episode on how Britain became 'great' at the expenses of oppression of Indians and systematic loot of  resources for centuries, one of the biggest benefactors of his country. How EIC became the bellwether of the British Economy? What's the roles of surgeons in the establishment of the domain of EIC in India? And at least in one instance EIC reps were forced to prostrate in front of the Indian Emperor asking for forgiveness in Child's war!!

EIC... Coat of Arms

1600....EIC is born...
It was in the year 1600 that Queen Elizabeth I of Britain granted a petition signed by over 200 merchants of London allowing them to trade with the Eastern world. Thus East India Company (EIC) was formed on 31 December 1600, the first Joint Stock Company in the world. It was during the reign of Akbar, the Mughal emperor in India that this incident happened which was hardly noticed in many parts of even Britain or Europe, forget about India. After all having trading relationship with India was existing from time immemorial by Romans, Phoenicians, Greeks, Venetians, Egyptians, Chinese, Arabs...'Red Dragon' the first ship owned by EIC set sail to the East Indies(Indonesia) under the command of James Lancaster soon. Medical Officers were employed as ship surgeons who were qualified to treat the crew of the ships initially and later the staff of EIC at shores as they were not sure of the quality of medical service available on the lands they will trade.

'Red Dragon' docks in India... the first EIC factory
It was in 1612 that 'Red Dragon' came to India for the first time which was under the command of Thomas Best, who could get trading rights at Surat. In 1613 the first EIC factory in India was established there. Gabriel Boughton, the ship's surgeon is said to have saved Princess Jahanara, daughter of the reigning Mughal emperor Shah Jehan, from injuries due to  burns. The emperor was pleased and the incident acted like a catalyst for giving the trading rights and eventually to award duty free rights to EIC. By 1647 EIC had 23 factories in India. Money started pouring to London in leaps and bounds, in spite of few Anglo Dutch wars!  

Initial humiliating set back for EIC... Child's war 
When it was thought that everything is in order for a thriving business in India, the relationships with the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb soured. In 1689, a Mughal fleet under command of Sidi Yaqut defeated the forces of EIC at Bombay when Sir Josiah Child was their Governor at London. The Company was forced to seek pardon with the Emperor by sending their representatives to prostrate in front of the Emperor for forgiveness. I don't think EIC had to do such an act before or after in the history of India! And I wonder myself why I did not know that all these years!

Soon after the company decided to concentrate at Calcutta to continue the business.

William Hamilton's role commences....
He reached India as a surgeon in the ship named 'Sherborne'. Later he was appointed as second surgeon to the British settlement in India in 1711.When the British Embassy started operation at Calcutta in 1714, he was reappointed as Medical Officer.

It was Farrukhsiyar, the tenth Mughal ruler who reigned in north India between 1713 and 1719.He also happened to be Aurangzeb's great grandson who came to power after assassinating his own uncle. He was a handsome man but lacked the brightness to rule his kingdom on his own, more depending on his advisors!

 In 1715 EIC decided to send a delegation to the Emperor at Delhi asking for major grants for the establishment of the company affairs in India further. They were mainly (1) to purchase 38 villages surrounding the headquarters of the company in Bengal (2) Trading privileges in Bengal and (3) further fortifications of Calcutta. Why EIC decided to include William Hamilton who is a medical officer at the Embassy in such a delegation is not known. Could be that they remembered about the services of Gabriel Doughton in 1613 or might have heard about the decease the Emperor had which was kept as a state secret.


How William Hamilton succeeds in the getting the grants ...'Magna Carta' of EIC leading to British Raj!
Farrukhsiyar's second marriage was fixed with princess Indira Kanwar, daughter of Maharaja Ajit Singh, Rajput of Jodhpur. The conquered Rajput king wanted to make a treaty with the Mughals by submission to Delhi. But the marriage had to be postponed many times due to a very bad ailment the Emperor had on his groins. He had a bad swelling there and no indigenous medicines of Vydhyas and Hakims were effective. That's when William Hamilton reached Delhi and was consulted by the Emperor. The surgeon took a chance and made an operation which was successful.Needless to note that the Emperor was more than pleased!

The surgeon was honoured by gifting a lot of valuables including an elephant! But the unexpected bonanza was for the East India Company as the Emperor sanctioned the requests of the company in full issuing a Farman! This in hindsight turned out to be the 'Magna Carta' of EIC, eventually making the company loot India high and dry!

After the grant, Farukkhsiyar expressed his wish to retain the surgeon at Delhi but Hamilton refused. Dr. Hamilton died in 1717 at Calcutta, the same year of the grant while Farrukhsiyar was assasinated in 1719 at Delhi! EIC played the right trump card at the right time!!

                           ________________________________


Friday, 1 July 2022

PEPSI - HOW THEY OWNED THE SIXTH LARGEST NAVAL FLEET IN THE WORLD!

Undoubtedly the names of Coke and Pepsi remain the two most popular brands among soft drinks in the world from inception in 1886 and 1893 respectively.

Pepsi which was started by a small town pharmacist named Caleb D Bradham was selling his product initially under the name 'Brad's drink'. He bought the name 'Pep Kola' from a local competitor in North Carolina, US and changed the name to Pepsi Cola. PepsiCo had to go through many ups, downs and  bottle neck situations and became bankrupt at least once. Had to change ownerships but appreciatively  continued to grow along with Coke- rivals to this day! I am not here to tell more about them or their rivalry which is well known to all of us.

Here I am for a narration of how PepsiCo came to own a Soviet Naval Fleet! How Pepsi Navy all of a sudden became the sixth largest in the world in  1989 !! This is not fiction. This is real history. Before the fall of Soviet Union(USSR), they traded 20 warships of theirs with the American Beverage Company PepsiCo! The thirst for Pepsi cola among the Russians compelled them to do that once!!



1959 American National Exhibition in Moscow

Iron Curtain period. In US it was the tenure of  President Dwight D Eisenhower and Richard Nixon as Vice President. That was also time when Nikita Khrushchev as Premier of USSR ,honestly believed that life under Communist rule was better than in Capitalist US and vice versa. Moreover the propaganda of USSR was that their Economic system is far superior to that of US and may overtake them soon! I remember reading free periodicals issued by USIS (United States Information Service) as well as 'Soviet Land' of USSR, both claiming themselves to be the best in the world! Indian Prime Ministers Nehru and daughter Indira Gandhi also were mesmerized by the Soviet's claim who were very often taking conducted tours in USSR and had tried to implement  'Socialism' in  India as well until when India took a U turn in late 90s and headed for Capitalism, though not fully yet!

President Eisenhower took a chance and decided for US participation in 1959 and to show case their products at Moscow. Thus many US companies in the Govt and Private sectors like Kodak, General Electric ,McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Baskin Robbins etc decided to participate. Pepsi also joined the delegation represented by CEO Donald Kendal, while Coco Cola decided not (see the photo below).

At the exhibition hall, on the first day during the inaugural function when Khrushchev visited the stall of Pepsi , he was offered  Pepsi to taste by CEO Donald Kendall in the presence of Nixon. Khrushchev fell for the drink immediately! He ordered the concerned to negotiate with Pepsi team and settle the order to make Pepsi available in the country. Exhibition was visited by 2.7 million Soviets.

The problem of currency surfaces...

Soviet's  own currency Rouble has no value outside the country and Americans expressed their inability to execute the order. The problem was finally resolved by USSR amicably. Americans will have state owned vodka named as Stolichnaya against payment to Pepsi! A sort of barter system. Thus US and USSR had a successful deal, could be for the first time during the iron curtain period. Kendall eventually negotiated a landmark deal to mass produce Pepsi in USSR.

One of the catchy advertisement of Pepsi those days was: 'Be sociable, Have a Pepsi". When the photo of Khrushchev sipping Pepsi came out in newspapers of the world , the wordings of the advertisement was changed to: 'Khrushchev learns to be Sociable'! The westerners are very good at wry humour to this day I admit.

                                                Khrushchev learns to be 'sociable'!            

Pepsi gets a Soviet naval fleet!

Pepsi and the Soviets didn't have any problem and business flourished till 1980. That was the year USSR invaded Afghanistan. The American people for political reasons responded by boycotting products of USSR including Stolichnaya vodka! Pepsi had a real problem then.

The Soviets finally resolved the matter in 1989 offering a veritable navy owned by them. Pepsi agreed for the offer which included 17 submarines, a cruiser, a frigate and a destroyer!!In the same year tanks rolled into Tiananmen Square and the notorious Berlin Wall fell in Germany- events which shook the communist world just before the down fall of Communism in USSR itself  in 1991!!

Tail Piece

(1)PepsiCo never had a navy of theirs in reality since they didn't take possession of the fleet. As the vessels were in a very old and unseaworthy conditions, PepsiCo ,as the fleet came to them to be owned ,immediately turned them over to a Norwegian Shipyard to be scrapped to raise the monies Soviets owed to them!

(2)In 2004 Kendall received the Order of Friendship from the Russian President Putin!

(3)Russia remained Pepsi's second largest international market after Mexico until April 2022.Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, PepsiCo has suspended their operations in Russia.

                    _______________________________

Wednesday, 1 June 2022

AMBERGRIS...FLOATING TREASURE OF THE SEA.

To be honest I would not have come to this topic but for the smugglers in my state. Some of them were booked for smuggling Ambergris recently which made me focus more on this substance. I don't know whether to thank the smugglers or the media which covered the incident but I now know  about something which even the ancient Egyptians knew of! I don't know how I couldn't remember about it when I skimmed through the book 'Moby Dick' by Herman Melville years back!

Amergris is referred to as whale vomit generally. Scientifically it is excreta of whale than the vomit, I understand. And it floats around the seas where sperm whales are found but limited to only less than 3% - could be 1 in 100-of such whales produce this substance. Ambergris is considered to be one of the strangest natural occurrences. Mostly around a tennis ball size. It is used to make medicines and perfumes although for the last many years alternatives founded in a lab is used. This makes the aroma of the perfumes last long. But what makes it most sought after is its price- above $ 25000 a kilogram!!That's a whale of a money!





The origin...
The origin of the word 'Ambergris' is derived from Arabic language. The word 'anbar' in Arabic means a sperm whale. In the simplest way to put it , it is a whale poo. It smells very bad when excreted but over the years Ambergris turns  into a sweet smelly rock!

There was a time when people wondered about the origin of this substance seen floating in the sea. The Chinese thought that it was dried saliva of the Chinese dragon! Some thought it was fish liver, a tree sap or even precious stone! Seals and crocodiles were subjected to prejudiced stories with Ambergris. Anyway the earliest perfumes made of Ambergris comes from Spain when it was under the Arab occupation. It is generally found in the  Atlantic and Indian Oceans. 

In 2006 Rober Clarke , a biologist coveted that as the whale eats a lot of squid beaks which is then accumulated into the intestine of the whale which in turn forms as finally Ambergris is scientifically accepted as a logical explanation. Hence Ambergris cannot be cultured or cultivated like in the case of pearl.

Ambergris in history...
Ancient Egyptians as well as Arabs used it as incense. During outbursts of plague in Europe in the 14th century , many rich used to hang in their rooms containers with Ambergris. King Charles II of Britain used to eat Ambergris with eggs in the 17th century. Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France  just before French revolution loved it to go with her hot chocolate drink! Her ancestor King Louis XIV drank it in his healthy broths!  In the Gulf states it is thought to be a sexual performance enhancer.

Some of the most expensive  perfumes are known to have contained Ambergris...Chanel, Gucci, Givenchy... to make the fragrance last long! Although these days synthetic Ambergris is used, some professionals say that it can never be compared with the natural predecessor. Some of the most expensive cigarettes also use Ambergris tincture to have a pleasant smell as one smokes!


Bermuda colonization....
The first English men who arrived in the island of Bermuda were those- almost 150 of them- who came out of a ship wreck due to a hurricane in 1609.It was the vessel named 'Sea Venture' which was on the way to the US land of Virginia. In fact this episode only made William Shakespeare write his famous creation named 'The Tempest' in 1611!

To their utter surprise they could find large chunks of Ambergris on the shores of Bermuda it is recorded. Whether such a finding invoked the British to colonize Bermuda is not known for sure but must have influenced them to do so in the following years!

CITES....
In India, UK  and many other countries of the world, all species of whales and dolphins are protected by law. But at the same time the convention on International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora(CITES), a UN body having 183 countries as members consider Ambergris as waste product of the sperm whale that occurs naturally, making it legal to collect them from the beaches of seas but cannot be sold!

                  _______________________

                                                                    


Sunday, 1 May 2022

QUEEN OF STEPWELLS...BEYOND WHAT IS FEATURED ON A CURRENCY NOTE !

It took seventy years for me to know about it! I haven't studied in any of the text books either. Probably if the Govt of India had not issued a new currency note with a picture of it two years ago, I might not have come to know about it in my life span either!! 

A new currency note of India's Rs.100 denomination issued in 2018 features Mahatma Gandhi on one side but on the other side an under ground structure- which doesn't look so in the photo- which is a combination of a marvel in Engineering, art and another long lost or neglected episode of  Indian history. 'Rani Ki Vav' means The Queen's stepwell but in essence it is Queen of Stepwells ! When it is learnt that this could be the only well so featured on a currency note in any country of the world, which was built over thousand years back one will have to but admire...UNESCO has declared it as a world heritage site. I find that ancient India has contributed quite a few number of similar stepwells including Chand Baori in Rajasthan which is built in more or less the same era, I will stick here to 'Rani ki Vav'    

                    

 My specific interest in what is featured on currency notes started about 20 years back while in Qatar. The firm 'AL BALAGH'  of which I was the CEO was selected to build a small but an important landmark of the country in connection with a Gulf Cooperation Council GCC  meeting which took place at Doha. It was the Pearl Oyster monument right in the heart of the city on the corniche, overlooking Qatar Central Bank on one side and the Arabian Sea on the other. The structure was a combination of selective art and modern engineering skills to be built within few weeks, I remember. The same scenario was featured on the currency note later as shown below . Qatar was once a pearl diving nation, struggling to exist while the main industry was the same. It was taken over by hydro carbon industry in the later years of 1950s. Thanks to the wise leadership over there, the country has become now the richest in the world on per capita basis!   


                          Pearl Monument as featured on old and new currency notes of Qatar.

What is a stepwell?
A stepwell in Gujarati means a 'vav' or in Hindi 'Baori'.Essentially it is subterranean edifice and water source! Obviously the kings and queens in the old days dug wells in different parts of their states to get over shortage of water.

This stepwell was a part of local folklore for ages and is also narrated in some of the older chronicles like that of Mertunga in 1306. It was built near erstwhile river Saraswati but silted due to floods and people never knew about it for centuries unfortunately. It was rediscovered by two British archaeologists- Henry Cousens and James Burgess- employed with Architectural Survey of India (ASI) as Superintendent civil engineers who were travelling the concerned location in the 19th century. They wondered what could be the sculptured arches they found protruding out of soil! They could not find more.  But it took almost another century till 1980s when Archeological Survey of India (ASI) started excavating the area to unearth this marvelous stepwell to what we see now.

The architectural and structural  background...
These stepwells played much more role than just being a water source. They had social and cultural significances. I think it could be another excellent Indian contribution with unique 'desi' style to the  architectural world. An inverted temple in seven stories underground  with stunning sculptures  with a water storage, the way ancient world has not seen. I can't blame the  so called experts of the west for this short coming either because I myself didn't know about this and I am sure that I am just one among millions of Indians in similar situation! Again I remember the basic fact that we Indians are good in everything except marketing ourselves and our products- past or present! At least so far but might change sooner than later.


The statues - mostly dedicated to Lord Vishnu, together with hundreds of pillars which are built in perfect symmetry and sculptural completeness  in many floors underground about a thousand years back will take a visitor, his or her breath away it is told. The structure has more than 500 principle sculptures and more than 1000 minor ones!

The historical background..
Patan is a town in the Gujarat state about 140 kms north west of the its capital Ahmedabad.

Bhima I was a king of Chalukya(Solanki) dynasty who lived between 1022-1064 CE where as the dynasty existed between 950-1300 CE .After the king died,it is believed that the construction of this stepwell was executed by his queen Udayamati along with her son. In an area of scanty rains and lower water tables, she decided that the best monument for everlasting memory of her late husband and useful for her subjects would be a unique stepwell, highlighting sanctity of water !


I am loading up more photos possible here to showcase the beauty of this art centric engineered marvel of India, which is much more effective than description of the same in words. As it is designed and built about thousand years back, I wonder how they could reach this perfection in stone without modern scientific instruments. Probably they might have had their own instruments but was not clever enough to  'patent' them! I am sure the world will  talk and write more about this marvel as years go by as it is only 7 years since UNESCO had declared it as a world heritage site, while only twenty-five years since it has been unearthed.

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My specific interest in bisecting what is featured on currency notes  came after one of the structurers which the firm did in Qatar while I was the CEO was featured on the currency note oyster monument was built right in the heart of the city in the corniche, within few weeks by us in connection of a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting(GCC) at Doha. Perhaps only few in the new generation knows that Qatar was once a pearl diving society which was the nation's main industry before it was replaced by hydrocarbon industry. Qatar is now one of the richest countries in the world per capita wise.