Wednesday, 1 July 2020

FIVE MINUTES BEFORE CLOSING TIME! .......................................BEYOND LUTYEN'S BAKERLOO AND CHAUSATH YOGINI!

The authorities in India are envisaging to have a new parliament building by 2022 at Delhi, on completion of 75 years of independence.The latest design which is in the last stages of finalization includes a new triangular parliament building along with redeveloping the three kilometers long central vista.The current 100 years old unique circular parliament building will be retained as a museum.

It was King George V in 1911 who decided to shift the capital of colonial India-seat of Government- from Calcutta to Delhi.It was also decided to go for new Government buildings as appropriate to show case- for  Indian natives than others- the might of colonial India, the erstwhile  jewel of the British crown!They were eager to impress the Indian public with British superiority in science, art and civilization!Edwin Lutyens emerged as the chief architect of the project who picked up Herbert Baker, another professional architect and friend of his to complete the challenging task. That was in 1912.But strangely enough much before Lord Erwin,Viceroy opened the complex with much fanfare in 1927, the relationship between the two great architects had turned sour!!They were not even on talking terms till their deaths!!

However the giant, ambitious project was executed as per the detailed master plan which made Delhi proud of few magnificent buildings with European classical architecture, designed to outclass existing Hindu and Mughal structures but few years later came the controversy linked with Chausath Yogini, which still lingers with the parliament building.....that it is inspired from an Indian temple architecture!!It would be interesting to scroll down those anecdotes once again which are not known to most when an independent India celebrates her diamond jubilee of freedom.......  



                           Models of parliament buildings- old and new

The background of selection of design team
Immediately after the decision was made to have a new capital at Delhi, a  town planning committee was formed to finalize details on the new city to be emerged.It comprised of Edwin Lutyens as Chief architect,John A Broadie  as Chief Engineer and GSC Swinton, an expert on municipal issues as chairman- limited to three members. This committee was approved by the King of England in 1912 with whom the trio had a meeting before proceeding to India. Shajahanabad, a 17th century Mughal city near Delhi was the site for  initial consideration which was later replaced  to Raisina Hill, a rocky outcrop those days.

It was agreed to pay Lutyens, 5% of the total cost of the mammoth project, which ultimately costed Rupees 13 crores, hundred years back.It was Lutyens who hired the services of Herbert Baker, a professional senior friend of his into the picture.It is understood that the town planning committee had considered Baker  before Lutyens as chief but for some unknown reason-almost a mystery- favored Lutyens as chief architect under  a condition to hire Baker's services by Lutyens so as to bring rich professional exposures of Baker also into the drawing board.

On the drawing board.....
It was agreed between the two architects that Lutyens will design Government House- which later became Viceroy's residence and then Rashtrapti Bhavan(President's palace) as known today and overall layout of the city.Baker will design the twin secretariats- South and North blocks- and Council House   ( parliament building).

Both architects were known to have imperialistic outlook- tastes for European design styles over Indian architecture.I don't know how many Indians know the fact that particularly Lutyens looked down on anything Indian- people,culture or architecture.On persuasion of the Viceroy then Lord Hardinge -more could be a political tact than love for India- the architects finally agreed to add few Indian motifs to the buildings designed exclusively otherwise on western classical architecture.Red stone which was Indian, was decided to be used. Indian motifs were limited to perforated screens,eaves, canopies and the like.Elephant heads were placed on pillars.Even some of the motifs of Buddhist pagodas were used.

Lutyens' Bakerloo..
As the designs progressed, the rift in ideas of both architects started surfacing.Baker was known to have in his mind initially a design of equilateral triangle in plan for parliament building.But Lutyens made him change to circular as it looked now.It is interesting to note that the new proposed parliament building is in triangular in shape!!


Lutyens wanted his Government House to be located at the highest point which was atop Raisina Hill so that it would dominate over other buildings where as Baker wanted his Secretariat buildings instead.Baker convinced Lutyens once and got his agreement but later Lutyens regretted his decision and wanted Baker to revoke it.But it never materialized. 

Thus as the project progressed the major difference of opinion between them continued to reflect on the gradient of the main vista.As one looks at the Raisina Hill buildings from India Gate, only the dome of Rashtrapati Bhavan- not the main building- is seen as in the photo up.Lutyens wanted to avoid such a scenario at any costs while Baker insisted on it in spite Lutyens approached the King himself!It ended up in a professional ego clash which affected their personal relations-Lutyens' Bakerloo as he noted down later!

Finally the finished city was completed in 1931.The British could use the new facilities only 16 years out of 200 years of their rule  as India got the freedom in 1947.Later Nikolaus Pevner, the world famous British architectural historian aptly remarked about it as "Five minutes before closing time!"

Chausath Yogini temple....
Did the temple near Gwalior in the state of Madhya Pradesh(MP) inspire the architecture of parliament building by Lutyens and Baker?This temple built in 1055 AD devoted to Lord Shiva by a local dynasty stands loud even today atop a small hill. Chausath means 64 and the outer circular wall has 64 small chambers where as the parliament building has 144 pillars.As it is strikingly similar in looks,many Indians logically think that the temple might have given a spark to the British architects.


I have gone through the historical documents on this issue and found that neither Lutyens or Baker had ever noted down that this temple had inspired them.At the same time European architecture - something Lutyens and Baker had specialized in- never boasted of a circular building of repute other than Colosseum at Rome which was built in  80 AD.

Tail Piece...Edwin Lutyens the racist!Emily Lutyens the India lover!!
A bust of Lutyens was erected  inside the Viceroy's residence by Lord Mountbatten which is kept as it is in Rashtrapati Bhavan to this day.No doubt Lutyens gave India an excellent world class building but at the same time he was a known racist,I repeat,something Indians may not be aware of.An incorrigible India hater but a gifted architect.I don't know whether it is logical to keep a bust of Lutyens there any more.That is one way of looking at it. A good percentage of Indians themselves were racists among our own society hundred years back!That is another perspective.I would have removed his bust there or anywhere in India for that matter given an opportunity but at the same time kept his name written boldly on a plaque!!You may conclude with your own choice!!

In this context, I think I cant but write about Emily Lutyens, wife of Edwin Lutyens. Emily happens to be daughter of  Robert B lytton, Viceroy Of India 1876-80.While Edwin Lutyens hated anything Indian,strangely enough Emily loved India, Indian culture and mixed with Indians!She was an admirer of J Krishnamurthy,the famous Indian philosopher.She was a friend of Annie Besant and joined her Theosophical Society in 1910.From the fact that Emily became a strict vegetarian shows how much India had influenced her!In 1916 Emily was boldly conducting meetings in her London drawing room, favoring Home Rule Movement of India 1916-18 which set the stage of Independence movement under Annie Besant and Bal Gangadhar Tilak , much ahead of Gandhi who came to  the scene much later.

It is a non pardonable, paradoxical irony that Indians have forgotten Emily Lutyens completely, while the bust of Edwin Lutyens is kept in the President's Palace!!



Photos:courtesy HCP Designs/google







Monday, 1 June 2020

COVID MUSINGS... WATER FREEZES AT O DEGREE AND BOILS AT IOO !

One thing which became very popular among us since the attack of Covid 19 is non contact Infrared thermometer to record body temperature.But why it is calibrated both in centigrade and Fahrenheit?  Recently as I searched more stuff on the subject, I have learnt that US is the only country in the world which doesn't use the metric system.Not left out single,  two more countries -Myanmar(old Burma) and Liberia-are there with US,but they too are on the way to adapt metric system....

The Americans still  love to use the foot, yard and miles mostly than the meter(metre).Weather forecasts there at times is equally confusing.If the weatherman  states that it is 32 degree Fahrenheit outside, it means it is freezing temperature to turn water to ice and not reasonably warm at 32 degree Celsius, as I have learnt!!When it comes to volumes of liquid, Americans bemuse  me with their ounces,cups, pints, quarts and gallons!!

Liberty,Equality and Fraternity is the motto which came into existence at the time of French revolution.The monarchy, nobles and the church who were the rulers of poor people were thrown out of power for the first time in the history of the modern world.The event was an epoch making one which influenced not only France but the rest of the world, then and thereafter.We all know that.But what most of us don't know is the fact that French revolution also gave birth to something we all use everywhere all the time.The meter.Yes, the unit of measurement!How the French derived one unit of meter(metre) is more interesting.One meter is one ten millionth of the distance measured scientifically between north pole and the equator through Paris!!

Welcome to fascinating history of Metric system...



Bi product of French Revolution...
The Metric system is simple, yet efficient to use as we all know.....except the Americans.All metric units were derived from the meter(metre), based on a Greek word Metron which means 'measure'.The French derived one unit of meter(metre) as one ten millionth of the distance measured scientifically between north pole and the equator through Paris observatory!Based on multiples of ten, metric system works...10 millimeters in a centimeter,100 centimeters in a meter and 1000 meters in a kilometer.The gram is used for weight (one cubic centimeter of water at its maximum density) and the litre for capacity is 1/1000 of a cubic meter

The French revolutionaries not only wanted to change the social order but also old traditions and habits wherever possible.They wanted to get rid of thousands of traditional units of measurements, conflicting to each other, used thus far in France and standardize them.The metric system  introduced in 1795 is thus a direct bi product of the French revolution but scientifically evolved.

In 1875 all the major world powers including US signed the Treaty of Metric which gave the Metric system its first official international recognition of Measurements. BIPM-Bureau of weights and Measurements- was created.Despite this the British authorities maintained their traditional English units which was known as Imperial system till 1957,while the US never introduced in their system.



In US....
When the British immigrants settled in US for the first time, they had brought the Imperial system of weights and measures with them.When the Metric system was introduced in France in 1795,US did not show any interest to introduce the system.However in 1866 US made the use of metric system in contract dealings and court proceedings lawful but not mandatory.

After WW 2 due to more and more globalization, US found it difficult to trade with other countries in this respect as all other countries were using metric system.In order to cope up with the situation US companies had to make twin labels while thousands of machines were re-purposed in different factories.This was a costly affair but US did not see any necessity to change to Metric system!

In 1971 US National Bureau of Standards issued a report recommending US to completely switch to metric system in 10 years.But such a proposal was made voluntary.So also in 1975 the Ford Administration passed a Metric Conversion Act in 1975 which was never properly implemented.As of now what I understand is  that US teaches both systems in schools but falls short of going exclusively metric in the country for their own reasons.Thankfully the NASA and US scientists use the Metric system exclusively.

photos/illustrations:courtesy google

Sunday, 3 May 2020

Musings from Doha: COVID MUSINGS...TOILET PAPER IS NOT ALWAYS WHITE!

Musings from Doha: COVID MUSINGS...TOILET PAPER IS NOT ALWAYS WHITE!: As the Corona virus attacked mercilessly, acute shortage of one product reported in US and elsewhere was that of toilet paper.Stores acros...

Friday, 1 May 2020

COVID MUSINGS...TOILET PAPER IS NOT ALWAYS WHITE!

As the Corona virus attacked mercilessly, acute shortage of one product reported in US and elsewhere was that of toilet paper.Stores across the country   were  sold out of toilet rolls within hours!! Some of the stores had to hire security guards to patrol customers.Photos and videos of empty shelves of stores in US in that respect were going on rounds on social media around the world!!It might have got more circulation  to  satisfy sadistic egos of many around the world to see the pitiable and helpless plight of a country on its knees which  always boasts of aplenty in everything.Those rolls with faces of Trump and Obama stamped on them, which I myself had noticed on the shelves a year back on my last visit to US- though I was not amused  - also must have vanished!

In a bid to face the shortage of toilet rolls-I don't know about US- but an Australian newspaper printed an eight page special lift out inside completed with handy cut lines for the use of  the reader as toilet paper!The marketing techniques along with the good intentions of the newspaper has to be appreciated.

Than finding the how and why of this shortage-could be panic buying, I was thinking tangentially.... of options left for an American in this matter.Then  I could find out that it is for the last two-three generations only that the Americans are using toilet rolls-since 1871 to be exact.Until then they were using hay, sticks,stones,wool etc but hardly water !!It is not my business to comment on what Americans want  to do but now toilet paper is big business in US.Musings on something being used everyday there but seldom dare to speak of......




Which is superior?
I used to get mildly embarrassed when I see  toilet rolls in the hotels in US with no other options.While in Europe I don't have that much problem since in many countries either bidet or water sprays are also provided.Being an Indian I am used to rinse with water,the way we have been serving the purpose for the last so many centuries like anyone from Middle East,South Asia, Far East or many other places.... albeit now making use of many new gadgets but all with rinse of water!Many of the Americans and westerners think theirs is the superior way while  Asians are using water only because they can't afford 'luxury' of paper is far from true!In fact it is the other way.Water is the cleanest option as far as I am concerned. If we all use water to clean our face,our teeth and body, why  should we settle the dirtiest part of the body with paper?But as long as Americans and others are happy with their own ways, I don't have any problem either!!

How toilet paper was invented?
It is recorded that China had invented the toilet paper as back as 6th century but hardly practiced.First commercial invention of toilet paper was in US done by JC Gayetty of New York. He commercially produced the toilet paper in 1857 with the purpose as medical tissue for hemorrhoids.He was so confident of the acceptance of the new product that each paper was water marked 'JC GAYETTY NY' which was advertised as 'the greatest necessity of the age'.But it was Seth Wheeler of Albany, US who officially patented perforated toilet paper rolls in 1891.Soon the Americans changed from the 'stone' age to 'new age of necessity' and never looked back.As the Americans loved it as a product with which  they can't live without, many Europeans followed suit but Asians shunned it at large.
      

A National Toilet Paper Day?
Yes, US has a national toilet paper day which falls on 26 August every year!They want to commemorate the day a toilet roll was sold in 1871 which changed their life style thereafter.US has again the distinction of the only single country to have such a national day! It seems Americans are very sensitive to toilet paper.In 1973 there was a shortage in the whole country after one of the jokes of comedian Johnny Carson was  taken seriously by the people.Within hours the shelves of supermarkets were sold out of toilet rolls and it took weeks to normalize the situation!!

An American uses 100 rolls in a year while US spends more than six billion dollars a year on toilet tissues. That's big business by any standards!!Americans  now love the toilet rolls in white color though colored rolls to match the bathroom decor were available until few years back.Other than colors, toilet rolls comes in various textures,scents,patterns and textures.


                                         WEDDING GOWN USING TOILET PAPER


During Desert Storm days, US army is reported to have used coloured toilet paper to camouflage the tanks!!In US, at least in New York, they run even competitions using toilet paper for wedding dress offering big prizes! All sponsored by- you guessed well- manufacturers of toilet rolls!!Toilet paper is big business in US!!




Toilegami....art of folding the toilet paper!
If one is yet to come across a word Toilegami, it is the art of folding toilet paper!  I have observed in a number of hotels world wide esp the edge of the  toilet roll folded like a triangle or V shaped.The hotels gives the message that the cleaning staff was already there after the last guest has left the room.Now that this art has moved to so many shapes from heart to butterfly, there are some Japanese automated machines helping in folding out such images!
Toilet roll is big business in US!!





Tailpiece...
It was in Tokyo that I came across the 'washlet' for the first time.I have seen the same in South Korea as well. Washlet is a most modern toilet with an auto rinse of water equipped with bidet and air blower to dry! It has a small control  panel on the side which takes commands like pressure of water, speed of blower, deodorizer etc. This also reminds me the fact that unless one is computer savvy he or she cannot use such a toilet!


Photos:courtesy google images.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

COVID MUSINGS......MOUNT EVEREST STANDS HIGHEST,MAJESTIC AND ENIGMATIC....

As the world today remains stunned and frozen over the unprecedented,unexampled,bizarre... attack of Corona virus I was in doubt whether I should skip publishing an article on first day of this month  which has been the practice for the last eight years but decided against it.I am also intentionally skipping any topic related to this virus, the net result of which can be summed up in just three words-we are humbled!Instead I am coming out with a success story of an Indian which is not known to most of us....a name which has to be sung to the world!

Mount Everest stands majestic at 8848 meters.All of us know that the mount got the name after George Everest who was the Surveyor General of colonial British India.Mount Everest was so discovered to be the highest not by George Everest but exclusively by an Indian mathematician and surveyor named Radhanath Sikdar. Kanchenjunga of the same Himalayas range was considered to be the highest peak till then.That was in 1852.

The finding of Sikdar is a fact well chronicled by the British but did not give much publicity for obvious reasons.Read about how the Great Trigonometrical Survey(GTS) was conducted by the British along the length and breadth of India between 1802 and 1871 .And how Sagarmatha (Napalese) Chomolungma(Tibetean) and  Zhumulangma(Chinese) which were the local names of the mount, while the British called it Peak XV,   was named to be Mount Everest....


Professional surveys...professional looting....
By 1799 with the defeat and death of Tippu Sultan,The East India Company knew that they were going to stay and rule India for more centuries, if not for ever.They devised better and scientific methods for collection of revenue, military dominion and systematic loot of the resources of the country. That is how they decided to go for surveys and cartography.They decided to venture into various surveys-Topographical,Geological,Trigonometrical,Marine and Revenue-of the lands they ruled in India.

I think it would be appropriate if I cite an example of professional looting of Indian resources by the British from my own experience.I was a Gazetted engineer in Govt service of Kerala -Public works Department while first posting was at Nilambur in 1975, a small town on the fringes of natural forest full of teak. I was surprised myself seeing good roads and excellent steel lattice girder bridges in the middle of the forests, while Nilambur was well connected by a broad gauge railway in early nineteens.Later only I came to know that the British colonists were regularly stealing the teak wood in bulk and taken to London and other ports as logs!This they had done for many decades.But for the various surveys conducted  which were executed in a professional way, all these loots would not have been possible.

Great Trigonometrical Survey(GTS)
Looking back now, GTS no doubt was a scientific and technical feat which the British could accomplish in India.It would be not fair if I hold the fact that successive Governments of India since independence have benefited from all these surveys conducted by the British, GTS being the most difficult to accomplish for any country, esp as large and complex as India!Many perished during that time due to Malaria and Tigers!


Conceived and led by Col. William Lambton who later became first Surveyor General of India, the East India Company had set only a target of 5 years for completion of this mammoth project which was commenced  at Chennai(Madras) in 1802.Actually it took another 70 years, well past the company rule itself in India which was taken over by British Govt in 1857. Lambton died due to Tuberculosis in 1822 while in active service. His position was taken over by George Everest who had joined the team of Lambton few years earlier.

George Everest and his team could successfully measure the meridian arc from Kanyakumari (Cape Camorin),South India to Dehradun in the north,a distance of 2400 kms!It was during the time of George Everest as Surveyor General that Radhanath Sikdhar joined the team.When Everest retired from service it was Col.Andrew Scott Waugh who succeeded him during the tenure of which Mount Everest was discovered to be the highest on this earth.

"Sir,I have discovered the highest mountain in the world"....Role of Radhanath Sikdar...


During the tenure of George Everest as Surveyor General of India, he was looking for someone who was proficient in Spherical Trigonometry capable to do complex computations of the data collected. Sikdar was a student of 19 at Presidency college(Hindu college),Kolkatta  when he was highly recommended by his  British Maths professor.He joined the great Trigonometrical team in 1831.After 20 years of his service while Col Waugh was the Surveyor General, he  started measuring snow capped mountains near Darjeeling in the capacity as chief computer.In 1852 after compiling the data from six different observations,Sikdar came to the conclusion that Peak XV is the highest in the world and not Kanchenjunga as believed.It has to be noted that Sikdar measured the height of the mount without climbing on it.He did  these surveys  in fact about 100 kms away! He was 39 then.

After reporting the same to Col Waugh about the finding, he did not disclose it to public.It took another 4 years for Col.Waugh to convince himself about the finding and announce it to the world.It was Col. Waugh who named the peak as Everest in honour of George Everest, his earlier boss but who had done a lot for the successful Great Trigonometrical Survey of India.

Both Everest and Col.Waugh used to appreciate the high quality of works carried out by Sikdar.'Mathematician of rare genius' was opinion of George Everest about him but in spite of all this consideration, his bosses did not give the position he really deserved.  India released a postal stamp in honour of Sikdar in 2004.Than keeping his name among the list of those Indians who are unsung and forgotten for the great works done in the past, I am of the opinion that his name is to be sung to the world!! Than blaming the good old colonial masters even now, it is the duty of each Indian to work in this direction.

courtesy photos:google images.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

JACQUES JAUJARD........THE NAME WORLD SHOULD NOT HAVE FORGOTTEN!

I distinctively remember having seen an English movie titled 'The Train' during early seventies at Kochi. It was a fantastic one which I keep close to heart even after almost 50 years because of a nice theme and acting talents of Burt Lancaster.The film is made around French resistance fighters trying to stop the Nazis taking a train load of paintings and art treasures to Germany.It was a box office hit.But I never gave a serious thought to such thefts of art works albeit a number of films with similar stories I have seen .....

When I could visit the Louvre at Paris many years later,I was impressed by the museum, one of the best of its kind in the world. But then also for some reason it didn't register in my mind that those valuable art treasures exhibited were kept  hidden from plundering of Nazis only because of the forethought and determination of one man....

Jacques Jaujard....It is most likely that you haven't heard this name before.Neither did I until recently.To introduce him in one sentence -he is the man who successfully masterminded and executed safe evacuation of thousands of art objects from the Louvre and other parts of France -Mona Lisa included-just 10 days before second world war broke out!What he and his aides did was an unprecedented adventure of extreme secrecy which will outshine any thriller story.

Jacques Jaujard...the man who saved the Mona Lisa and the Louvre!...the name world should not have forgotten!!



The Louvre....mostly plundered or loot but exhibited majestically!                                                                                 
The Louvre stands majestic at Paris.With the iconic glass pyramid-designed by American Chinese architect Leoh Ming Pei- at the entrance,who also designed Islamic Museum at Doha later,the museum is home to more than 35000 most famous art objects of the world.From 1973 to this day millions of visitors-six million people each year as of now- have been visiting the place where Mona Lisa, Venus De Milo and Grand Sphinx of Tans are exhibited among thousands of others.I think more than by donations or buy outs, most of these art objects are collected by plundering and loot, right from days of Napoleon's army!Being an Indian I am not surprised.Many most valuable art objects exhibited in British museums are thus taken from India,the most adorable adornment on British Royal crown- Kohinoor jewel included!!

France falls to Nazis....
Paris fell to Nazis in 1940.One of the earliest decisions Adolf Hitler took soon after was to dispatch his man in charge of art objects,Count Franz Wolff Metternich to The Louvre to repossess invaluable collections of the museum.As he entered the museum he could see only empty walls and halls, all the art objects-paintings, sculptures gone...Contrary to expectations-Jaujard had noted in his diary-Count Franz looked relieved than angry or perplexed to see that the art objects had been taken care of not to fall into the hands of Nazis.Count Franz, a German aristocrat,happened to be a true art lover above  his love for Nazism!


Fuhrer museum...uncompleted dream of Hitler!
Hitler had plans to build a massive and the biggest museum to be named as Fuhrer museum at Linz,Austria where he was born.He sincerely believed that the finest art belonged to Germany which were looted by Napoleon and during the first world war.He had made the blue prints ready by leading architects.One of the objects of the occupations of German forces was the collection of world renowned art objects.

Empty galleries!!

How Jaujard did it....
As second world war was getting imminent, Jaujard was more concerned about the safety of the art objects of France including those at The Louvre.At that time he was Director of French National Museums who silently but meticulously was planning a mass evacuation of those art objects in case France falls to Nazis. Interestingly nobody asked him to do that.And after all he was just an Govt employee.But in spite of these shortcomings he decided to put his secret plans to action with the help of hundreds of his loyal employees of the museum.

Jaujard categorized the art objects in order of importance. Yellow, green and red labels were allocated to them- yellow for major works,green for very valuable art pieces and red for world treasures.Mona Lisa was decided to be marked with three red circles!! He closed the museum for three days officially 'for repairs'.That was on 25 Aug 1939.Three days and nights Jaujard and his team masterfully packed up thousands of pieces of art.He had arranged a convoy of trucks, cars even ambulances to whisk these art objects to safe homes, mostly chateaux which were located in the French countryside which would escape damage of bombing.Though some of those locations where these art objects were hidden were revealed after the war,Jacques Jaujard kept the whole information to himself until his death!! 

Mona Lisa....
It was recorded that Learnado Da Vinci's Mono Lisa, was moved five times during the war time till it was returned back. Jaujard didn't want to take any chances.After the war, a new Louvre was opened to public with all of the museum's major masterpieces returned to safety. Miraculously not even one piece of art was damaged during the whole operation.


Jacques Jaujard was awarded with accolades by the French Govt.Main entrance of the Ecole du Louvre, an institution of higher learning in archaeology, art history, was named after him.He died of an unexpected heart attack in 1967.He had written a book of his philosophy titled 'Feuilles' which was posthumously published in 1974.

And Rose Valland.....
When I write about Jaujard, I cant but mention of Rose Valland as well.Jeu de Paume is a museum in Paris.There the Nazis stored the stolen art objects from private collections esp from Jews or Jewish collectors during the occupation period. In fact it was a transit point to send the art objects to Germany.It so happened that Rose Valland was the curator of the museum.She was a member of the French resistance which the Nazis never knew.She made a complete record of incoming art objects and made detailed notes of their destination points in Germany.Years later once France was freed, with the help of those records, most of the stolen art objects were recovered and handed over to real owners.She too had written a book named"Le Front de L 'Art' based on which the great movie of all time 'The Train' was based.
photos:courtesy google.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

VIETNAM....WHAT MGR COULD NOT DO IS BEING DONE BY KFC!!!

Napalm bomb and napalm girl are the symbols synonymous of  Vietnam war  for me.Images of both which were embedded in my mind in early seventies are still live.When I look back now,Americans fought more of an 'industrialized' war with B52 bombers, heavy artillery, helicopters,Agent Orange and Napalm in the Vietnam war-they call it American war in Vietnam!

400000 tonnes of napalm bombs were used mercilessly between 1963 and 1973 alone, while the war was waged between 1954 and 1975.Americans brought a new controversial ruling in its military which is named as Mere Gook Rule(MGR), to aid its military personnel to get away with killings of Vietnamese civilians!Many massacres including the notorious 'Mai La massacre' unleashed in Vietnam which the world came to know much later only.Over a million died in the war...nobody has the correct estimates.But in spite of all these offensive acts, America had to leave the country ingloriously in 1975 when the south and north joined together to form a new single communist country as Vietnam.

I don't think that there is any other nation which has forgiven atrocities inflicted on them quickly as Vietnam.Although it remains as one of the five existing communist countries in the world, Vietnam is full of American goods and ideas now.America is influencing Vietnam and its people - slow but steadily- to achieve the primary intentions other than political!Americans seem to be more than welcome in Vietnam now if the number of American visitors coming to the country these days is any indication.KFC( Kentucky Fried Chicken) is performing much better than MGR.... 

Musings on Vietnam as I could visit the country few days back....



Napalm bomb-invented at Harvard, manufactured by Dow Chemicals and launched by Boeing!
Napalm means any petrochemical like petrol added with chemicals.Napalms burn hotter than just petrol and the wounds caused are unbearably  painful and too deep to heal!!I came to know of napalm bombs only in early seventies in the Vietnam war but it was there very much since second world war.Americans were the first to use them in 1944 at Berlin.They also used the same but in many folds more over Tokyo in 1945 using B52 bombers.B stands for the manufacturer's name-Boeing!In Vietnam the same type of bomb was used extensively and lavishly from all sorts of launchers including B52 bombers used for large pay load and long range, that it became the symbol of the war!!Though the intention was to flush out hiding military/armed personnel from bunkers and buildings, civilian causalities were more than expectations.

The napalm bomb was invented by two bright professors in chemistry of Harvard University in 1942, which was commercially produced by Dow Chemicals.When I see those brand names-Boeing,Harvard,Dow Chemicals- which I respect for their quality of end products and reputation, for their connections with napalm bombs, I am not comfortable for no reason.But we have the consolation that now people know of Alfred Nobel for the international prizes given than he was the man who invented the atomic bomb!! 

Mere Gook Rule...MGR
I am sure that most of you might not have heard about this rule which was formulated by US forces. 'gooks' is a derogatory term used by US forces  for people in Korea or Vietnam. MGR which was first successfully used by US military in Korea.Under MGR American soldiers would be prosecuted- if at all- mildly and very leniently for harming or killing civilians(gooks)!The law became controversial because many thought it was a green signal for killing innocents.The same rule MGR was brought and applied in Vietnam also.Nobody knows how many innocent 'gooks' perished in the war- even US forces!!

Napalm girl...Photo clicked at Trang Bang....
A photo clicked by Nick Ut,an AP photojournalist caught the attention of the world.It was published on June 8, 1972. A naked young girl named Kim Phuc runs screaming aloud for help after a napalm bomb burnt her village- Trang Bang- inhabited only by civilians by the Pro American South Vietnamese army.She was nine years old and the bomb had damaged her clothes and skin.I will reproduce the photo below for those who haven't seen it yet.



The photo within no time acted as a catalyst to turn US public sentiment against the war in Vietnam.Not only the photo won a Pulitzer prize but turned to be a iconic photo of the war which is considered to be one of the most memorable images of 20th century! The claim by Nick that this photograph was real reason for US to end the war is debatable but the fact remains that in the same year America's involvement in the war ended!

Tail Piece....
It is equally interesting to find out the current whereabouts of those or what I have mentioned above.

Vietnamese communist Govt used to make the famed picture for their political propaganda, while Kim was invited to meet important dignitaries visiting the country.In 1986 Kim was given permission to study a course in pharmacy in Cuba where she met another Vietnamese student to whom she got married.In 1992 after their honeymoon in Moscow, on their way back they got off the plane at Newfoundland and asked for political asylum!!Eventually they became Canadian citizens where they are now.Kim became  UN goodwill ambassador while she also runs a Foundation to help heal the wounds suffered by innocent victims of war.

Nick Ut had many other important assignments as an AP photographer in which he became equally famous.He lives in Los Angeles,US now.


Vietnam continues to be a communist country albeit the fact that such countries have really slimmed down to  five in the world now.There too it seems the authorities have watered down some of the core principles of communism to state led capitalism and now moving towards some sort of free market economy!Many American brands like GE,CAT,Honeywell,NIKE...... have manufacturing plants in Vietnam.KFC,McDonald's,Starbucks..are all over  in cities where the youngsters throng.Apple,FB,Dell products.... are all being bought or used.The best and costly western auto plants of Rolls Royce,Porsche,Mercedes,BMW...are established there , I understand. US Dollar is more than welcome!!

That doesn't mean that communism is going to fall there too soon.That problem comes when people want freedom of thought and expressions !!It can wait as of now!!
Photos:courtesy google

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

LUXURY BRAND WARS....BEYOND VEBLEN EFFECT !

Few months back, world renowned cathedral of Notre-Dame, Paris was severely damaged due to fire.I was a bit  concerned because I had been there twice and thoroughly enjoyed the masterpiece of art and architecture!President of France announced immediately, even before the the fire was put out if I remember right, that the cathedral will be restored while launching a campaign to raise money for the same.Within a week donations over Euro 1 billion had been pledged!Euro 880 million was pledged in less than a day!!

Out of curiosity I wanted to find out who were the prominent donors in the list.Among them Euro 200 million each was donated by families of Arnault and Battencort while Francois Pinault donated Euro 100 million who topped the first three in the list.If these names are unfamiliar to you,I am sure you will be familiar with their products!Definitely it was a surprise for me to see that they are the owners of the famous luxury brands of Louis Vuitton,L'Oreal and Gucci respectively!!This also prompted me to learn more on the subject since I know that  they are at loggerheads at each other not only in business but even in personal life.Brands they own are at war but all make money!!

Coming from a professional corporate background of heavy engineering construction industry where huge investments in money, manpower and technology are required, I know first hand that one is not assured of a profit.On the contrary if one is not professionally careful it can run to heavy losses.But it seems luxury brand industry is making huge profits.....



Luxury branded goods....
Consumers world over have become brand conscious now that huge amounts and efforts are spent to make them so.Seems no limit to such a scenario as of now,since corporate invest heavily in advertisement gimmicks.Now a consumer buy a brand first and ready to settle with the product later!It is no more stiff competition among competing brands as earlier but it is a war.A brand war!

I am not trying to to elaborate on new techniques in the marketing such as ambush marketing,viral marketing or bandwagon effect but trying to whip up your interest in products in which many of us are not aware that such a battle rages.We all know that brand wars are there among certain products in  automobiles,soft drinks,FMCG,computer software and hardware or courier services.

But more than any other fields I would say severest brand war exist in luxury brands- fashion,cosmetics,watches,leather goods......Just to have those brands which we think or falsely made to think will enhance our personality, we spent through the nose!No wonder most counterfeited brands in the world falls under this category!!Such companies spent a lot in advertising expenditure, nobody will reveal the truth but could be not less than 25% of sales revenue.The quality and design of  their perfume bottles which they market are always catchy and the best which makes any customer very difficult to throw away even the finished bottles.

Paris is famous for quite a few things.And luxury brand  perfumes and cosmetics are one among them.The feud between two brands- Louis Vuitton and Gucci and  their owners are well known more than common love for art objects.

LOUIS VUITTON(LV)....synonymous with luxury
LVMH(Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy) is the largest producer of the luxury goods in the world- over 70 brands.Some of them are equally popular as LV-Dior, Givenchy,Fendi,Hennessy....I am told that after every seasonal sales,the products branded are LV are sent back to their factories in France.Such products are then burnt in order to 'to maintain the products' value' though people like me will never understand the logic behind such negative action.I feel that whatever be the compulsions fairness should be there in business as well. LV deals with wines and spirits also.Having headquarter at Paris LV has 3950 own exclusive showrooms around the world.LV will open its own Museum of Arts in Paris in 2020 costing $ 166 millon!!

The founder of the House of Louis Vuitton is himself in 1854. He initially started his business making wooden boxes covered with fancy canvas!How he started his business may outshine most of the Aesop's tales!Hailing from a poor background with a strict step mother,at the age of 13 he decided to leave his village in France for Paris which is 292 miles away.He didn't have any money to have a decent transport, he decided to walk all the way!!It took 2 years for Vuitton to reach Paris with many stops on the way to carry out odd jobs available to support himself. Reaching Paris he could get an apprentice job at a successful box making workshop where he learnt the skill of box making.Vuitton's stars started shining when he was appointed as the personal box maker of Empress of France, none other than the wife of Napoleon Bonaparte!

GUCCI....unique designs
Guccio Gucci hailed from Florence,Italy.His father had a small shop which made leather saddles for horses.He too did not go to school for long but left for Paris and London in search of a job.At London he was the lift boy at the famous Hotel Savoy.As I understand this episode in his life gave him a chance first hand to study on luggage and clothing of the rich customers of the hotel. This inspired him to start his own business based on his observations.

Once he returned to Italy he continued working with father for some time but started his own shop making leather bags and saddles in 1921 at Florence, which happens to be the fist venture of Gucci.The unique designs and excellent quality he maintained got got him certain class of loyal customers.Towards sixties and seventies Gucci expanded to Paris and all places known for  luxury fashion goods. In fact now Gucci is owned by an international luxury group in Paris named as Kering SA which also owns equally famous brands  such as Yves Saint Laurent,Boucheron,Ulysse Nardin........

It was Aldo Gucci, one of Gucci's three sons who designed the iconic logo inspired by his father's Guccio Gucci initials.Gucci will have its own art museum ready in 2020 costing $170 million in Paris.

The logic behind success of luxury goods...beyond Veblen effect!
House of Tatas, one of the richest but the best among Indian business corporate owns now Jaguar and Range Rover of UK. Tatas produces a range of class automobiles and trucks in India. Ratan Tata who owns the corporate had a pet dream fulfilled for poor/lower middle class in India a decade back.He introduced the car Tata Nano in 2009 at the cost of $2500! Incredible but true, he presented a small family car affordable to anyone in India using the latest technology.It was aimed to hit the Indian market with a bang!It did not.

After few years also when the sales didn't pick up for the Nano, the corporate made a survey to find out the reason.Their finding is that the company emphatically used the word 'cheap' in the marketing campaigns.Nobody wanted to buy a cheap car and look poor in front of others! To put it in other way,since the car was identified to be with 'cheap and poor', nobody wanted to be identified with it!!Even the poor!!!Though company tried to apply another marketing strategy realizing this, the sales went on decline until the production  is forced to stop.I think the logic of buying luxury brands by millions of middle class and upper middle class all over the world is the same but in the opposite direction.Ready to spend money to get identified with the brands of the rich!To satisfy or bolster self ego than the quality!!

American economist Thorstein Veblen is the first to identify 'conspicuous consumption' as a mode of status seeking in 1899-some people think that higher the prices means higher the quality!!






Sunday, 1 December 2019

BEYOND THE BLUE SKY AND GOLDEN HILLS OF CALIFORNIA....

All of us know the good old story of Sir Issac Newton and the fallen apple which given us ultimately the Theory of Gravity.In the same way one Frank McNamara was hosting a dinner with his business clients in a restaurant in New York.He felt embarrassed when he realized at the end of the dinner that he had forgotten his wallet to make the payment. McNamara who was the Co Founder of Diners Club thought of a multi purpose charge card to avoid similar situations in future. Thats how the first credit card was rolled out in the world.That was in New York in 1950!

I never thought a small informal chat recently with Reeba, a young family friend of ours in Doha will land me up in trail of evolution of credit cards which we all use all the time.When she said that she is currently undergoing some sort of a specialization course on credit cards conducted by a British Institution,she has aroused my enthusiasm to learn more on the subject.

Back to McNamara of Diners club.His first card- charge card- which was introduced to cover 17 restaurants in New York grew in number... met with initial success.In spite of this he sincerely thought credit cards were just a fad!In 1952 he sold his share in Diners club just for $200000!! Unfortunately for McNamara credit card was not a fad.Around the world now there are more than 10000 credit card transactions made every second!!Join me to the the world of credit cards....it is not drab as it looks ...it is more than interesting.



Idea of a novelist...
Credit card is something you get from your bank with your request or even without it these days.Bank's keenness  in issue of such a card is understandable since credit cards are one of the most profitable sectors of the banking industry.It is so easy that you need not sign on their agreements -instead you automatically agree to their terms on first use of the card which runs to several pages-new card is delivered at the earliest!The competition among the banks in this matter is so stiff that some banks issue such cards on the same time a new account is opened with a new bank!!Actually the issuing companies of the credit cards want to limit the use of the cards with an expiry date but compelled to have one in order to accommodate the fact that the magnetic strip on the card has only a life of 3-4 years.

US has contributed the most in creation of credit cards which we use today, than all other countries put together! So also now it is the first country it is mostly used followed by Sweden,Canada and UK!! Interestingly, the term 'credit card' is first used in this world not by a banker or an economist but a writer.Edward Bellamy in his Utopian novel named 'Looking backward 2000-1887' has used the word credit card many times albeit  for spending than borrowing in 1888.

Having said about Diners Club,I have to mention about John Briggs, a banker from New York also who successfully introduced a charge card in 1946 which was known as 'Charge-it'.The user had to have an account with his bank while the bill had to be cleared at the end of the month.

Creator of VISA card lost his job?
To best of my  knowledge on the subject,American Express and BankAmericard have introduced their first credit cards in the same year 1958.The name of later was changed to VISA in 1976 which stands for Visa International Service Association.I am sure only very few may be aware that the blue and gold colors in the first VISA logo represents the blue sky and golden hills of California where Bank of America is born!

It was the brainchild- or at least he was instrumental- of an employee of the bank named Joseph P Williams that Bank of America produced their first credit card BankAmericard. He was Senior Vice President of the bank who was in charge of products and approaches at that time and the card was the first credit card in the real sense of it. Within a year or so, frauds related to credit card caused many problems for the bank which initially lost$8.8 million.And Williams who had launched the idea of credit card had to resign on his own or situation around him forced to leave the bank!!Being a corporate man myself I can fully fathom that unfortunate situation albeit it looks odd and unfair when someone makes a postmortem of the whole scenario.Thankfully his career after the incident was not that bad. He formed  Uni Serve corporation in 1962 buying credit card operations of Chase Manhattan Bank which he could sell to American Express in 1965!New York Times announced his death in 2003 as "JP Williams, 88 Bank card creator, Dies"

The most popular...expensive...glamorous cards around the world
Visa seems to be the clear winner in popularity in the world which is leading in 123 countries.MasterCard and American Express follow suit internationally while the later is the most popular in US.There are quite a number of other cards- all American- like Discover,Citi,Capital One,Bank of America,Chase.....

Most expensive credit card in the world is recorded as Sberbank Visa Infinite Gold card from Kazakhstan!The card is made of pure gold,diamonds and mother pearls costing $100000!!


                                     Most expensive credit card 

Among the glamorous- millionaires- credit cards could be Chase Sapphire Reserve,Ink Business Preferred credit card, American Express Centurion card,JP Morgan Chase Palladium Visa,Dubai First Royale Master card,Coutls Silk ....the names can be more but all based on American brands.Most of these cards extend the membership by invitation only based on high net worth.

The field of credit card is all American with little room for others including European ones, basically because living on credits is not a popular idea elsewhere than US.China came to the field in early 2000. UnionPay card is the most popular in China but is said to be ahead of Visa and Mastercard based on total value of payments transactions in the world.Japan has JCB while South Korea has Bc card.

Rupay cards....
India which aspires to be a five trillion economy not far, entered the world of credit cards very late as in 2014.Rupay card which is product of NPCI-National Payments Corporation of India has already made a headway with 30% market share over Visa and MasterCard  in India which currently heading for a fair share in the international market.   

Parameters of the cards.....
I was also trying to research further  on the size whether it is so determined to fit into a wallet or purse or anything similar like the modern rail road track width derives from a Roman chariot.It is not.

Size and shape of any credit card- credit, debit,ATM or other payment cards inclusive- is the same as we all have noticed. 85.60mm*53.98mm to be precise with rounded corners.Even radius for those curved corners are specified, so also thickness!Then who specifies those physical parameters including details of magnetic stripe and computer chip of this plastic money?It is ISO/IEC.ISO stands for International Standard Organisation while IEC stands for International Electrotechnical Commission. In fact all such cards have to comply ISO/IEC 7810.2003.

Credit cards numbers conform to the Luhn algorithm, which is named after its creator Hans Peter Luhn who was an IBM scientist.

Tailpiece...
A common clause in the terms and conditions is that the cardholders waive their right to sue the credit card company! Many cards operate on zero liability policy!!And the card holder automatically agrees to all these clauses with the first use of the issued card without signing on any paper!!!

I am sure that millions of card holders while they enjoy the credit cards  are not aware of the these hidden clauses...or even if they come to know, they might ignore for the convenience and instant personal credit they are offered in the modern world.

Photos/data:courtesy goggle