Friday 1 December 2017


It was while in Seoul, S.Korea in 2016 that I heard a serious allegation about the subject first hand. The friendly face of the tourist guide over there changed to grim while explaining days of Japanese occupation over their country.   When he tried to describe the plight of 'comfort women', he was highly emotional! He didn't try to hide his hatred towards the Japs for all the atrocities they committed in occupied Korea.

This instantly reminded me then another interesting matter in history which I read in 'Readers Digest' few decades back. Soon after Pearl Harbor attack by Japan, many Japs in US used to be physically assaulted by the Americans during the days to follow. Koreans looked the same as Japs for the Americans, hence got wrongly attacked. In order to sort out the problem Koreans used to wear big badges/banners on their shirts. The badges read-"I am from Korea. I hate Japs more than you do". I left the subject when I left Korea few days later.

A small news of unveiling a memorial for 'comfort women' just few weeks back in San Francisco which I came across again brought the subject to my mind.......A sad and cruel episode which took place in the world about which many of us may be still ignorant. How over 200,000 women were abused with no such parallel in history......

How and when..
Imperial Japan had a lot of victories in the WW2 initially, we all know. Japanese army occupied over a dozen - countries in Asia and Far East from 1931.The first 'comfort station'-sex slave station- was established in occupied China in the same year. Some of the Japanese army think tank thought establishment of such stations will lead to solution to one of the problems-rape, committed by their military men in occupied areas. They also thought that in such a scenario close interaction of their men with local girls will be reduced considerably, thus chances of leaking out of military secrets could be stopped! Effective prevention of venereal deceases among their army men was another objective.

Majority of such women were recruited from Korea. Other countries include Philippines, Indonesia, Burma, China and a small number from Japan itself. No definite number is recorded but not less than 200,000 women were deployed from the year 1931-1945 in various countries occupied by Imperial Japan! Records indicate that as big as 2000 comfort stations were set up where in women between 11 and 40 were 'employed'. Many of them were forcibly recruited where as many were lured by offering jobs in factories! To put it in legal terms, they were recruited by-deception, coercion and force.

Embarrassment to Japan...
After the war, Japan once again became a rich nation after few years. But the subject of comfort women had been an embarrassment for the Japanese Govt to this day. Strangely South Korea and Japan became allies politically. But the issue of comfort women has long dogged their other wise good relationship. In and outside United Nations the issue of comfort women were brought many times by Korea and others to the discomfiture of Japan.

In 2015,Japanese Government apologized to Korea on the subject. They also gave  8.3 million US dollars for the creation of a South Korean Foundation to support the surviving victims in that country with medical and nursing services. In turn Korea agreed to end all criticism of Japan on this issue. In spite of this agreement the problem lingers since Korean people cannot emotionally accept what the Japs did to their women...

Comfort stations in India?
Many forget the fact that a part of India too was under Imperial Japanese army occupation. That happened on 23 March 1942 when the island of Andaman fell to them while the British were ruling India. The Indian leader in exile, Subash Chandra Bose raised the flag of Indian Independence in Port Blair in 30 December 1943 on a flying visit to this island. Of course that was with the help of the Japs. But I believe he never knew that  here too comfort stations were established for the Japanese military men with girls from Korea, Burma and Malaya!

Comfort women memorials..
Once the war over in 1945, when the world came to know about plight of thousands of women thus abused, the civilized world stood stunned. One common thing that happened thereafter was erection of so many memorials for comfort women all over the world. Over 60 memorials are there in USA, Germany, China, S.Korea, Australia.....the number increases each year to remind us how bad humans can become given a chance......

Photos: Courtesy Google images.

Wednesday 25 October 2017

BUBBLE OVER BULB! How the first economic bubble took place ever in the world.

Tulips are synonymous with love in general.Each colour of this flower symbolizes some thing different. Red tulip symbolizes true love, while white one says "I am sorry" but there are few others as well which I do not know!

As we all know, The Netherlands is the largest producer and exporter of tulips and Petunia world wide.In Doha where I have been working, during autumn and winter, it is very common to see public and private gardens flooded with Petunia with varied colors, imported from Holland though Tulip is not grown there since climate is not favorable.

It was during our visit to Istanbul,Turkey few years back,that I knew Tulips originated from that country- not The Netherlands- which is the national flower to this day. In almost all the  wall hangings and painted porcelain tiles, sold on the pavements the beauty of this flower is very commonly displayed.It was from Turkey that Tulip was exported to The Netherlands by 1600, where it was an instant hit.

Having said about the beauty and popularity of this flower very few of us know that tulip- in fact bulb of the plant- is also related to the first 'economic bubble' the world has seen! The first economic crisis ever happened  in recorded history... forerunner to many crashes in stock market or real regarded widely as a recurrent feature of modern economic history.

Booming economy in Amsterdam..
The Dutch East India company- first ever IPO- was formed in 1602.The intention was to trade  with Asian countries such as India,Indonesia and Far East where spices and other commodities of resale value were there.The Dutch traded with Kochi, my home town as early as in 1603 mainly for pepper.The company was very successful which led to a booming economy in Amsterdam and other cities in The Netherlands.The people who invested in the company shares made a fortune.They started looking for similar opportunities of making 'quick money'.

Tulips enters Amsterdam...
Tulip introduced to Amsterdam found an instant welcome by the rich in the society. The bright colored petals of the flower along with the fact that the plant can withstand harsh north European climate made it very popular among the people.Tulips which heralds the spring season, are the first flowers to blossom each year, some times while there is still snow on the ground.

Tulips contracted by a virus....start of a mania!
Around the year 1634, for unknown reasons Tulips were contracted by a virus in certain areas.It was non fatal to the plant but pattern of the flower altered.Instead of one color the virus inflicted plant produced stripes on the flowers!People liked the altered flowers better than original.More the stripes, the value of the flowers went up!!Soon the prices of these particular bulbs went up in the market!!!

                                                striped tulips

Tulip mania........few bulbs cost more than a house!!
Was it a natural obsession of people over striped tulips or an engineered one, it is never recorded in history.But people became almost mad over those bulbs which produced the striped tulips!Prices of the bulbs of the plants went up day by day.Finally it reached unbelievably high levels.In one month there was an increase of prices 20 times!!It is recorded in history that some bulbs of the plants cost more than that of a luxury house of that time!!A single bulb of the type Semper Augustus was sold for more than 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman of that time!The Dutch Government tried to intervene and tried to outlaw the commerce practiced but failed.  

                                                    Semper Augustus, one of the most expensive sold.
Between 1634-37, not only the rich the madness spread to almost  everyone in Amsterdam.People of all professions and trades- white collared and blue collared or without any collar- started growing the bulbs!

Finally the inevitable happened. Over supply lead to lower prices.The tulip market crashed!People who invested heavily lost their money.So also dealers for sure, who went bankrupt!By 1640 the mania was completely over.Since then, as we all know hundreds of economic bursts- large and small- might have happened all over the world.I am sure this will continue in one form or the other since greed for money among humans cannot be stopped.

Courtesy:google photos


Sunday 1 October 2017


Pietermaritzburg..a bit difficult to pronounce,at least for an Indian.This is the place in South Africa where Mahatma Gandhi was forced to change his style and outlook towards life he had thus far......It was at this place that he decided to fight racial discrimination, he and other Indians faced in day to day life in South Africa of those apartheid days....ultimately to take the leadership of India's freedom struggle.Fetching freedom of India, that too peacefully, was an epoch making milestone in the history of the world which reverberated through out second and third world! He instigated the movement of decolonization in the world.

In hindsight when I look back,everything followed one after the other spread through six decades after Gandhi getting thrown out of a train with bag and baggage at Pietermaritzburg railway station! I would say this is where he literally kick started his journey of turning himself from Mohandas to Mahatma.....What would have happened if Gandhi was not kicked out from the train by the ticket examiner?Would Gandhi still fight the racial apartheid he would have faced?Would India have got independence through him? Would the philosopher,leader and writer in him  have come out to influence millions world wide?The question is a hypothetical one.I am trying to find an answer here on this occasion of his 148th Birth anniversary, which falls tomorrow(2 Oct 2017).......

                                                     Railway station at Petermaritzburg

A 'post independence Indian'
I am a 'post independence Indian'- a person who is born after 15 Aug 1947, the day India became independent from British rule. Obviously I was not  an ardent fan of Gandhi like any typical 'pre independence Indian' who had to live as a 'coolie' class citizen in own mother country.Even I was critical of Gandhi's certain policies in my teens.But my decades of life abroad and close interactions with hundreds of non Indians including British made me to understand Gandhi better.I can vividly visualize how difficult it would have been for him those days but how cleverly he could successfully negotiate for India's freedom.Sheer vision and determination.That is what made the difference.At peak of his fight against the British, he was ridiculed as 'half naked fakir' contemptuously by Winston Churchill. Even Nobel Foundation of Sweden did not honor Gandhi for obvious reasons, the most popular man of peace ever lived in this modern world!But surprisingly it did not matter at all.In the end he became  the 'Mahatma'-great soul- for the whole world, while his popularity increases as time goes by.Since then the Nobel Foundation comes out very often with apologetic explanations of 'how-we-missed- him' and may continue to do so, where as Winston Churchil is on the way to the dustbins of history 

Shy,timid...with three vows to keep...Gandhi off to England
Gandhi comes from an upper class Hindu family.In spite of that background, young Gandhi-Mohandas was his name- had an ordinary upbringing  and was an extremely ordinary student in studies.He was thrilled when he got a chance to go to England to become a barrister.His mother was a very religious person.She gave the nod to him only after he was forced to take three vows in front of a monk.Not to eat meat,not to indulge in sexual relationships(he was married already and had a son) and not to consume alcohol!!!But this did not stop him to be in western attire to join the ship at Bombay docks which took him to England.While in the ship he could hardly mix with fellow passengers being shy.As a strict vegetarian he did not take any chance with any unknown food available in the ship either.Being a sort of introvert he reserved himself to be in his cabin in the ship, eating mostly what ever brought from home!!

However after reaching England,Gandhi decided to look as an 'Englishman' keeping the three vows in tact he had with the monk.He brought well tailored fashionable suits and hats,took lessons in dancing, violin and in French.Everywhere either he failed or he did not like to continue .Few months later he decided not to ape English manners any more and decided himself to be a serious student.In June 1891 soon after he was admitted as a barrister he decided to return to India.Only major extra curricular activity he enjoyed during this period is that he became an active member of the local vegetarian society!While Gandhi was back in India as a lawyer also I do not think that he showed anything extra ordinary.He happily took up a contract to perform legal services of a wealthy Indian merchant in South Africa.

The fateful day.... 
Gandhi was travelling in the first class coach having a valid ticket.The train was running between Durban and Pretoria.A white man objected to his presence in the compartment and complained to the ticket examiner.Gandhi was asked to move into another ordinary bogie at the rear of the train meant for the non whites to travel.He refused.Gandhi was thrown out to the platform at Peitermaritzburg with bag and baggage.Richard Attenborough has well pictured the scenes in his film Gandhi(1982).

Gandhi was hurt and humiliated.It could have been a shocker having spent few years even in London.He moved to the retiring room waiting for the next train to come.It was at this time that his life changed.He was hurt mentally than physically which made him to think over the unexpected incident.He reviewed the situation all through the chilly night.Come what may,he decided to fight out racial discrimination faced by Indians in South Africa.This was  the start of his long journey which will be remembered even for centuries to come. The fateful day was 7 June 1893.

What if Gandhi had not been kicked out of the train?
Of course this is a hypothetical question.As absurd as asking what if apple did not fall on the head of Issac Newton.Having read about Gandhi reasonably well,I am of the opinion that he would have remained as a loyal servant of British India on his return from South Africa.I don't think that Indians would still be singing "God save the Queen " either now.Shall we thank the ticket examiner who threw him out of the train or even better, the white man who objected Gandhi's presence in the first class compartment?

Courtesy: Google..


Friday 1 September 2017

BEYOND A2 + B2 = C2.......

 Each island in the archipelago of Greece is enchanting,picturesque and graceful in its own way.Only 3 out of 225 inhabited islands I have visited so far.But that experience has acted in me as an appetizer to visit more of these mesmerizing landscapes,given a chance.

Ancient Greece-main land and islands- has produced a lot of great people who have influenced the rest of the world right from Alexander the great and host of  great philosophers and scientists.Among these, one of the Greek islands named Samos has produced a great mathematician whose name is very very common even among school children anywhere in the world to this day - Pythagoras. His theorem A2 +B2 = C2 is universal and being applied in millions of contexts each day.But what most of us may not be aware is that he was more a philosopher than a mathematician during his time!  

Beautiful island of Samos has also produced few other world known personalities like Epicurus and Aesop.While Epicurus was a philosopher, Aesop, the ancient story teller who is popular to this day, was a slave who got freedom from his master.More about Pythagoras who said"Shortest words yes and no are those which require the most thought" about 2500 years !

If you get a good wife it is fine, if not......                                            I do not know about the authenticity of a hilarious saying credited to Socrates over which we all chuckle-men little more -" By all means marry.If you get a good wife,you will be happy.If you get a bad one,you will be a philosopher."I am sure that is not the reason why ancient Greece has produced hundreds of renowned philosophers.One of the earliest philosophers ever lived in Greece is none other than Pythagoras.That was in around 500 BC, before Socrates who lived about 100 years after him. 

No doubt that as we all know,three most famous Greek philosophers are Socrates, Plato and Aristotle.Interestingly all the three were Athenians-from Athens- and knew each other.But few knows that it was Thales along with Pythagoras who lived earlier to them who influenced to form Greek philosophy to take its western  form later as we know. Pythagoras who was a known scientist,musician and philosopher of his time became popular in the world later as a mathematician only.From his island of Samos in Greece he traveled to other few centers of knowledge accessible to him- to Italy, Egypt and Babylon.It is recorded that he interacted with a lot of learned people of his kind to produce his school of thought.

Pythagorean school of thought....
Pythagoras is believed to have been the first person to coin the word -philosopher in the world.It is based on the meaning 'lover of ideas'.Apart from Maths and Science, Pythagoras is believed to have started a sort of secret group or cult with their own beliefs or philosophy.They-both men and women- walked barefoot and had long hair.They were celibates,vegetarians(except eating beans which was a taboo for them!) and believed in reincarnation of life and religious mysticism.

Pythagorean cup..
I am not aware whether Pythagoras used to drink alcohol or not regularly.But his desire to design a cup for the purpose 2500 years back shows that he was aware of the regular problem of those who indulge in that- to keep oneself within the limits.Interestingly he scientifically designed a cup which forces the drinker to consume alcohol in moderation.A certain level is marked inside the cup.If the user of the cup fills alcohol maximum to that level he can enjoy the drink.If he happens to be a greedy drinker and pours more than the marked level, the cup will spill its entire contents through the bottom.I could not fathom the level of popularity of such a cup in his days but seems to be getting very popular world wide these days.Otherwise this cup might not have got listed even in online sites including Amazon or Flipcart! However it is high time that people in my own state of Kerala should take note of this!!

Courtesy;Google images.


Tuesday 1 August 2017

"SEE PSALM 104:15 AND PSALM 114:8" oil was struck in the Middle East for the first time!

26 May 1908.Something unexpected happened on this day in Iran(Persia) beyond anyone's imagination of almost all in that country or the middle east.The incident was so silent that not many took notice in the rest of the world either. But that fateful day changed course of history of not only  that country but the whole world thereafter and still continues.It was a discovery after 7 long years of futile but hard search and toil!

 After the event, the British professional who managed that wanted to inform his company headquarters at London as early as possible.He did his best. He sent a note by a camel courier to the nearest telegram facility which was many of kilometers away. It took 5 days for the telegram to reach London after the occurrence!! British Government was also simultaneously  informed so but in a coded message so as to avert attention of the people handling such a telegram - to keep it as a secret."See Psalm 104:15 and see Psalm 114:8" was the coded message.Those sentences of the Bible read:"That he may bring out of earth oil to make him a cheerful countenance ...the flint stone into a spring well."

Yes,they struck oil for the first time in the whole middle east that day. As on date it is 109 years since then.We all know now how much that discovery has influenced us,my life included.A short exploration on how oil was found in middle east for the first time,history unknown to most of us........

Late 18th century.....
This was the period many powerful countries of  Europe ventured to take advantage of poor but potentially resourceful Asian,African and South American countries.Heavily resourceful country like India had already been milked as 'jewel in the crown' of England.It was the  time when various European Govts or wealthy business men there wanted to fish out more based on scientific explorations

.A French geologist and archaeologist named Jacques De Morgan published a paper titled "Annales de Mines' in  1892.In this he had reported on the abundance of oil seeps in Western Persia and possibility of establishing an oil industry there.

In 1900 Paris exposition took place in which Iran headed by Kitabchi Khan,an Armenian emigrant from Istanbul, participated.He approached both French and British investors to explore oil in Iran. Obviously huge financial investment and technical know how was required for this which Iran lacked.Understandably no takers were there for the offer because of the heavy risk involved. Finally he ran to William Knox D Arcy,an English (Irish by birth) business man who was looking for new venture after his very successful business in Australia.He had made a fortune out of a mining right deal for gold,silver and copper there.He agreed in principle subject to detailed discussions and agreement for which he sent his agent Alfred L Marriot to Tehran.On 28 May 1901 the agreement was signed when the King of Iran was Muzaffer-al-Din-Shah Qajar.

In hind sight I would appreciate the timely efforts of Kitabchi Khan in this matter.It is the vision first than the investment  that is required in any successful business deal, something I have learned myself in my professional life, that too from Middle East.I cant but smile over the fact that the time has turned a full circle- now it is the Govts in Middle East and the wealthy business men that invest in Europe and US!!

Years of George Reynolds......
A qualified professional in oil exploration named George Bernard Reynold who had served British Indian Service earlier was contracted for the job by D'Arcy. Reynold had the advantage of first hand experience of drilling in Sumatra,Indonesia.He hand picked services of few professionals with whom he had worked in India or Indonesia-an American engineer as his deputy,Polish and Canadian oil drillers and an Indian doctor.Arnold Wilson, a young Lt  of British  Indian Army along with 20 of his gunmen was deputized by the British Govt for the protection of the operation.Those were the members of the team who reached Iran soon.

They were received by- rages of small pox,attacks from bandits while temperature often soared past 50 degree C.Drinking water was scarce. In spite of all these, the team kept on moving place to place but with negative results for few years.Money started getting drained from the coffer of the investor-D' Arcy until a position he cant run the show alone.He could successfully organize monies from Burmah Oil Company in 1904 who was ready to invest to continue the search for oil.

The D day....
Struggle of Reynold and his team further continued in Iran but with out any success or even any such markable indication.By early 1908, 7 years after the commencement of the search, D Arcy again ran out of all the invested money and decided to stop the operation.He had conveyed that message to Reynold who kept on drilling new wells but without any positive result.

Finally on 26 May 1908 at 4.00 AM local time they struck oil in a place called Masjid-i-Suleiman.It is recorded that the drill had done 1180 feet while a gusher shot 75' into the air!The live photo which was clicked on the occasion is posted above. Sorry for the clarity of the photo but note that it was clicked in 1908!

D'Arcy and Burmah oil Co reorganized their holdings in 1909 as Anglo Persian Oil Co(APOC).Its public offering of stock shares was sold out in 30 minutes in London.By 1914 British Government purchased majority shares of this company which eventually became British Petroleum in 1954 and BP in 2000.

It is doubtful whether Reynolds received all the respect and credit he deserved.Very often professional life is like that.Most of the investors think it is only for money that employees work for and as long as it is paid their obligations are over! Reynold worked 2 more years in Iran during which they could drill many successful wells but by then fell out with APOC. Services of Reynold was terminated in 1911!! Something else was in store for him it seems.!He joined Shell Oil Co thereafter  discovered oil for the first time in Venezuela in 1922!!

Subsequently oil was discovered in Iraq in 1927, while Bahrain followed suit in 1931.Saudi Arabia found the commercial source of Oil in 1938 along with Kuwait, while Qatar discovered oil in 1939 though it took few more years to have the benefits of it because of the world war 2..UAE joined the club of oil producers in 1958 and Oman in 1962.....

Photos:Courtesy Google.


Saturday 1 July 2017


Symbol of Red Cross was registered in my mind all along since the days I can remember.Perhaps that logo still remains to be one of the most popular non commercial logos world wide to this day.As we all know, it is a generic sign for medical aid,health and hospital.It was in 1977 that I noticed a red crescent in lieu of red cross is also  used for the purpose for the first time.It was while in Tripoli,Libya during a short  stint in my career.I realized that Islamic countries use that logo instead of a cross, but thought of two different international organisations of the same nature.

It took few more years for me to note that both logos are of the same organisation-International Red Cross and Red Crescent Organization(ICRC).While in Qatar it is always a Red Crescent like in all the Islamic countries but it  is only ten years or so that I knew that there is yet another logo being used under ICRC banner - a Red Diamond!Surprisingly it was around the same time that I knew the red cross so represented did not have a religious intention originally though perceived as such very often!All the more, the wealthy person whose vision and dedication helped establish this great international body died a poor man in obscurity!!

Red cross is born in a battle field.....
A wealthy philanthropic Swiss businessman named Jean Henri Durant happened to be in an Italian town of Solferno in 1859. That was when a 15 hours battle had just finished over there.Imperial Austria and the French on one side while Austrians on the other side.Among 320000 soldiers who fought 40000 died on the spot.Durant who was on his way to meet Napoleon III to discuss his business plans in Algeria,a colony of France then.He decided to drop his intended plans for some strange reasons and stayed back in the town.He organised the local people to attend the wounded on both sides.He was successful to make the town's old church into a makeshift hospital for the purpose. Eventually he returned to his native place-Geneva, Switzerland.

He continued to be obsessed with his experience at Solferno which culminated in writing a book titled 'A Memory Of Solferno'.Having published it in 1862, he set up a committee,himself as secretary, to promote the thought behind such a book - to form relief societies based on international principles to take care of the wounded in a war.The committee based the rules on those of  Geneva convention.

In 1863 an international conference was convened to formalize the decisions of the committee.Delegates from a dozen countries adapted the first Geneva convention and made it compulsory for armies to take care of the wounded soldiers irrespective of the sides they fight for.They adapted reverse of the Swiss flag as logo- a red cross on a white background.It represented neutrality just like Switzerland did.International Red Cross Organisation was thus born.

How a Red Crescent was added in the logo...
During two years from 1876,war between Russia and Turkey took place.Turkey objected to using a Cross sign.Instead they used a Red Crescent for which Russia did not have any objection.In 1923 the Red Crescent was officially accepted by the Geneva Convention as an additional sign.Thereafter  33 Islamic countries use that sign.

And then a Red Diamond...
Israel never became a member of ICRC for six decades from its birth in 1950 because they objected to accept both the signs of a Cross or a Crescent.They formed Magen David Adom Society(MDA) for the purpose having a logo of Red Star of David which was their national symbol.Israel wanted to recognize the same logo to be a member of ICRC. Arab and Islamic countries objected to that proposal.

Over the years,a number of other countries also had applied to ICRC to include their distinctive emblems recognized,India included. Authorities had to politely refuse all the requests for obvious reasons.After a series of deliberations ICRC decided to include a third logo which has a universal appeal, free of religious,ethnic or political connotations.A Red diamond was thus born in December 2005.Any member country can use that logo.Israel was permitted to use this logo along with the Star of David inserted, in their own country but in any other country ,it depends on the host country.Israel soon after joined the ICRC.

Last years of Henri Durant...
I am sure that most of us do not know that the founder of Red Cross had very difficult years towards his last.By the end of 19th century his business which once thrived broke.He became a poor man.Durant whose vision had helped to establish the ICRC, which spent millions of dollars on medical and other aids world wide became a poor man.!His circumstances forced him to leave ICRC and Geneva to a hardly known Swiss mountain village and live in obscurity!Thankfully in 1901 he was awarded with the first Nobel prize for Peace.He died in 1910.Life is like that!!

Courtesy: Google Images.


Thursday 1 June 2017

KISA GAUTAMI TO STEVE search of nirvana !

During last month, on 10 May to be precise,it was Buddha's birthday.Being an Indian, the fact that I have not seen a Buddhist shrine at close quarters till recent could be a matter of shame.I belong to a state where hardly any such shrine exists now is the real reason although I have read a lot about Buddha and Buddhists from childhood. In Kerala it should be remembered that Buddhism thrived well once upon a time which was over run by revival of Hinduism like elsewhere in India.Once I started reading habitually I always believed that Gautama Buddha is one of the most intelligent persons ever lived in the world of his time - 2700 years back.Most of his teachings are very relevant to this day.The Dharma Wheel with eight spokes represent eight paths chose by Him to have a better life...similar to 10 commandments in Christianity and 5 pillars of Islam. 

Proudly India is the birthplace of this great religion. But strangely it was while in Qatar, an Islamic country that I got chances to interact with quite a number of Buddhists who were either working there or on business visits from Asian and far east countries-Japan,Korea,Sri Lanka,Singapore,Thailand,China.....In China most of them are atheists in belief but by their life style traditions they are still Buddhists I believe. In fact Buddha never claimed that he has Godly powers and always maintained that he was a human being!

Finally I could visit few Buddhist shrines,few months back.It is a irony that it is not in India but in Japan - one of the oldest in that country.


From Kisa Gautami to Steve Jobs...
The name Kisa Gautami may not be familiar but the parable related to her is very much popular in  India.She was a young, wealthy woman, a contemporary of Buddha.Her only child suddenly died of unknown illness.She was struck of grief.On the advise of some she decided to meet Buddha carrying the dead body of her son and asked him to bring back the child to life.Buddha said"Yes, there is only one way to solve your problem.To make a medicine, go and find four or five mustard seeds from any family in which there has never been a death"

Filled with hope Kisa set off from one household to another.Soon she realized that such a family where death has not taken place doesn't exist anywhere.After few hours she laid the body of the baby to rest and returned to Buddha empty handed but at peace.Buddha consoled and told her "Plants grows in spring, flower in summer and die in winter.Similarly suffering is a part of life and death comes to all of us".

Even after 2700 years, I think it is quality of deep philosophy that people like Steve Jobs found solace with Buddhism along with Hinduism. Philosophy related to Buddha is much older than those in the west which is commenced in Greece much later.

The beginning... 
Details of early life of Gautama Buddha is known even to a elementary school child in India albeit the religion is  practiced by only few(2%) in this country now.However I shall shorten it and narrate here for the sake of my readers from west and middle east.Buddha, which is a title- means one who attained wisdom  - and not name, was born as a Hindu Prince in 624 BC. His father was the King of Kapilavastu, a small kingdom now in Nepal bordering India.His name original was Siddhartha Gautama and brought up in royal style.He got married and had a child.He was jolted out of his royal life when he came to know of  harsh facts of life-old age,sickness and death. This prompted him to dislike of worldly pleasures for some strange reason and left the palace in search of truth of life.

He came to  north India and started mixing with people in different walks of life but mostly of Hindu sages.He preferred the typical Indian ascetic life.It was at Bodh Gaya in Bihar that he is believed to have attained enlightenment.He was 35 then.Until he died at his 80 years , he preached and practiced his teachings in India.The teachings went well with the people and Buddhism spread in India and surrounding countries,Near East and Far East.It is the 4th largest religion in the current world after,Christianity,Islam, and Hinduism.

Subsequently Buddhism has spread to many countries-almost 15 countries. As far as I know it branches mainly to 3-Theravada(Sri Lanka,Burma etc),Mahayana (Japan,China,Korea etc) and Vajrayana(Tibet).There are quite a number of sub sects under each of the main classifications.

The Golden Pavilion temple
This temple dedicated to Buddha is set in a very picturesque natural surroundings. Situated at Kyoto,Japan it allows all sorts of people for a visit.In fact Buddhist shrines are open to all, a fact I learned while in Japan.Until then I was of the impression that only Christian churches can be visited by anyone.This temple belongs to Zen Buddhist faction which is maintained in the middle of a large pond with eye catching-spell bound- natural scenes around. Zen Buddhism, it is to be noted, emphasizes more into the value of meditation rather than ritual worship and study of scriptures. Each nook and corner of this large estate is naturally set for that purpose.

Buddhists believe in reincarnation.'Karma' is the force that drives the cycle of suffering and rebirth of each being. One can stop cycle of rebirth only if he or she attain 'nirvana' or ultimate bliss.It has to be noted that Buddha never claimed to be a God.He was a human being.Buddhists see him as an ideal human being and a guide who can lead towards enlightenment.It has no central text either like other religions but base on meditation. This is what Buddhism is in a nut shell, as I understand.

Courtesy:Google images.


Monday 1 May 2017


 It was five years ago that I came across the word Janissary for the first time.It was while visiting a museum along with Geetha in Istanbul,Turkey. However it did not register in my mind then.Recently while I was re reading few chapters of 'Discovery Of India', I noticed the word once again.Nehru has specifically mentioned about Janissaries. While covering up fall of Constantinople  he has done it without going into details. This made me not to skip the word again and to learn more  about it. I am glad that I did

Janissaries were the shock troops of the Ottoman Army which terrified Europe for few centuries. They did the job of taking Constantinople for the Sultan, which changed the course of world history thereafter. They were the best trained troops, well fed, well paid but celibates, need be loyal only to  Sultans. Ironically initially they were forcibly taken from poor Christian families of nearby conquered Balkan countries at the time of their birth or infancy. They were converted to Islam and by years of rigorous and vigorous training they became the most dreaded troops of Ottomans feared by Christian armies of other countries! But 450 years later it ended not without a twist in its own history!

Byzantium-Constantinople-Istanbul...Tale of three cities.
Roman and  Christian past and Islamic present make the modern city of Istanbul as one sees now. I love this city for its beauty and historical past. Simply it is enchanting. Truly it bridges not only physically but also cultures and life styles of two continents- Asia and Europe!

On 29th May 1453 led by a Sultan named Mehmet who was just 21, the Ottoman forces overran the city of Constantinople, unexpectedly. It was a Tuesday. For this reason many Greeks even today consider Tuesday to be an unlucky day. The event paved way for a new world over! It made an immediate slide of power of Byzantine Empire. Many Greek scholars left for Italy which eventually helped Italy to stimulate the Renaissance I presume. Turks thereafter besieged Southern Greece, Bulgaria, Romania, Bosnia...for many years. The Janissaries were the assault troops of the Invading Sultan....

Birth and rise of Janissaries...
It was in 1380 that a new corps was originally created by Bey/Sultan Murad I. First few batches were formed from Christian prisoners of war and slaves who were ready to change their religion and declare complete loyalty to Sultan. In fact Janissary in Turkish means a new soldier. They were deployed successfully as personal body guards of the Sultan.

Thereafter children from Balkan provinces-Greece,Bulgaria,Armenia,Albania... were recruited at their time of birth from poor Christian families. They were well fed and given years of  special training in infantry, wrestling, archery, horse riding and all sorts of war fare. They were to remain as celibates but later this rule was changed. Obviously they were groomed as Muslims and Islamists with no connections to their own families. Loyalty only to Sultans. They were paid well along with a lot of fringe benefits.

Very soon Corp of Janissaries became not only very powerful potential force within the Ottoman state but infallible army of the Sultan! As elite forces of Sultan the corps made many successful conquests. Dreaded by Christians but respected by Muslims!  Thereafter Sultan recruited from Muslim Youth of Turkey itself. Apart from being body guards of the Sultan, they were given responsibility of upkeep of hunting dogs and falcons, fire fighters, police officers, customs officials....They had to be clean shaven always without a beard.Parents in Ottoman Empire dreamed of a career in this corps for their children!

A state within state...
Number of Janissary was just around 6000 in 1475 but by 1800 it went up to 140,000! Over time the Janissaries were so successful that they became most powerful institution within empire. They could even influence the policies of Sultan and saw that their own interests are protected at any costs.

They demanded very high standards of living which was costlier to the exchequer. They did not cooperate or listen to other officials or power centers within the sultanate. By end of 17th century Janissaries could even stage  few successful palace coups. They even killed a Sultan- Ibrahim I!!

Unusual end...
Janissaries were no more in the good books of Sultan by end of 17th century. The fact that they had become a state within state , Sultan could not digest any more. He wanted to stop this corps but knew that if not handled well it can bring not only the empire to chaos but the death of Sultan himself.

In 1826 Sultan Mahmud II decided to form a new European staffed Army. Janissary Corp could not agree to this and revolted against the Sultan. In turn Sultan declared war on them and attacked their accommodations in surprise with full force. He killed almost all of them- 135,000 in number instantly. Others were hanged in public!That ended Corp of Janissaries which lasted almost 450 years!!

What Sultan created for him, he had to destroy for him!!Strange but true story in the history. In Bulgaria the word Janissay is used as a synonym of the word traitor even today.Janissary appears in many of the new gen video games I understand.

Photos: courtesy google


Saturday 1 April 2017


But for Sunday, I make brisk walk for almost an hour along with Geetha in the early morning. Mostly I do that at our regular place of nearby international stadium. Occasionally I also walk at Marine Drive, not far from my residence. At the dawn, walking on the interlock paved corniche by the side of sea against cool breeze is refreshing. Listening to either latest news and pretty old classic music as I walk begins my day well.Of course it is a luxury I could afford these days after my semi retirement.The sea views as I walk - from slow moving small motorized fishing boats to anchored leviathan modern ships at the port - it is feast to the naked eyes. The walk here also ushers a lot of thoughts in me.....

Kochi and places around which touches the Arabian sea is sleeping in history. It could be one of such unique places in India,for that matter in the world. Romans,Greeks,Phoenicians,Egyptians,Persians and Arabs used to visit this land from 1st century BC reaching by their ships for trade. Europeans came much later in the 15th century onward. They were all after spices, mainly after the king of spices- pepper which was the exclusive product of India those days. Saint Thomas, one of the 12 disciples of Jesus Christ is believed to have come to this place in 56AD in search of Jews already settled here. How come they all made it to reach ancient port of Muziris, hardly 30 kilometers away from the present port, in India from places as far as Aegyptus,Roman province of Egypt, thousands of kilometers away? Was it possible to travel by sea this far in wooden ships using wind as the prime mover without much navigational instruments or maritime knowledge around those days of King Solomon of Bible....anyone could doubt.

Yes, they did visit regularly. If you have read about Hippalus and Periplus, it can be certainly concluded so.But how come it is not taught in Indian curriculum about them or do they these days?-at least I don't remember having read about them while in schools.

Languages of knowledge.....
While Geetha  and I were holidaying in Athens few years back, one of the  local Greek who befriended us in his broken English asked about job prospects for him as he was looking for a job in a bank in Qatar. Those days Greece was under tremendous pressure of economic crisis. I told him that good knowledge of English or Arabic or both is essential for that. Innocently I asked him why Greece is keeping medium of instruction of curriculum in universities Greek and not English to get the advantage of international exposure. His answer was simple, unexpected but thought provoking. "Greek is a language of knowledge from time immemorial. Why we should deprive ourselves from that?" Suddenly I remembered plight of Sanskrit, the language of knowledge of ancient India and how Indians were alienated from that language by foreign followed by Indian rulers. No doubt ancient Greece contributed a lot to scientific world esp. during Hellenistic era, I presume.

Ancient maritime history of mankind starts with India, China, Mesopotamia and Egypt. Navigation skills were known to them as early as 4th and 3rd millennium BC.In fact the word navigation is derived from the Sanskrit(Indian) word Navgath of Indus Valley Civilization time. So also the word Navy from the Sanskrit word Nou.

A Greek navigator, explorer and merchant he was, who lived in Alexandria, Egypt in 1st century BC. He is credited to have found out something which may sound silly now but  was epoch making in the world of  travel that time. He discovered the Monsoon wind for the west which was named after him.No doubt this is long known to Indian and Arab sea farers. Eventually this made navigators of those times to find a sea route from Red Sea to reach Southern parts of India-Muziris(Kerala),Arikamedu(Tamil Nadu) and other places in India in around 40 days! They navigated using the southwest monsoon wind to reach India and stayed there till the wind direction changes to northeast.Discovery of Hippalus wind can be considered to be on par with what Columbus did in modern history. Both changed history of sea faring and trade thereafter!


Periplus in Greek is a manuscript document that details various ports and related matters. Periplus of the Erythraean Sea-Another name of Red Sea known to ancient Greeks- is the first recorded document detailing travel and trade of the western countries with those of East such as Rome, Parthia,India and China. Documented in Greek as notes around mid 1st centuryAD,name of the author or compiler of such a document is unknown. However it is confirmed that it is written by a Greek merchant stationed in ancient Egypt.

Periplus confirms discovery of Hippalus wind and credits the new sea route to India to Hippalus. Periplus also details quite a number of old trade centers in Africa, Arabia and India as one can see in the map above which is created based on such details. It clearly identifies Muziris(Machuri) along with a host of trade centers in coastal India.

Author of Periplus, it is recorded, has noted a lot of info about ancient India and was under the spell of epics of India such as Ramayana.

Post Script: Illustrations courtesy google.


Wednesday 1 March 2017


It was only recent that the Prime Minister of Japan visited Pearl Harbor,US. He was the first Japanese PM while in office to do so.He was reciprocating such a gesture by US President,again a first one while in office who visited Hiroshima,Japan in May last year.Both acknowledged the sufferings of the victims of both places and their relatives but-it was specifically reported- both stopped short of apology!They might have their own reasons for that.While attack on Pearl Harbor acted as a catalyst to escalate the II world war scene to terrible heights thereafter,dropping of atomic bombs for the first time and last time(so far) at Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war.

Whenever I read or hear about Pearl Harbor attack,what invariably comes to my mind is 'Tora,Tora,Tora' the English movie which was produced in 1970.I might have seen it in 1972 for the first time.The movie impressed me so much that the scenes come to my mind whenever I read about Pearl harbor!

The Japs had believed that the only way to achieve successful result of attack on Pearl Harbor was to take the enemy by surprise.This was a big risk but Japan took it that way.When the lead pilot of the first wave of Japanese fighter planes was able to cover the desired distance- thousands of miles- unnoticed by the radars of US,he communicated in excitement to his commanding officer who was following in an aircraft carrier "Tora! Tora! Tora!" Tora means Tiger in Japanese.But in this context Tora is the abbreviated radio code word for 'TOtsugeki RAigeki' literally meaning in Japanese "Lightning Attack".

We all know that eventually  the Japs had to pay a very, very heavy price for this attack!


Total surprise.....devastating barrage in history..
In September 1940 Japan signed alliance with Germany and Italy, known as Axis forces.US was not in direct war but was helping few countries of Allies forces.Axis forces expected US to enter the war sooner or later.Moreover relationship between US and Japan was getting strained day by day.Japan decided to prepare for a preemptive strike on US Pacific fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor,near Honolulu,Hawaii.Japanese war veterans believed that annihilation of the US fleet is the way to control Pacific Ocean.They planned the attack for months,kept it as top secret since they knew that they cant match the strength of US Navy unless it is done as a total surprise!

Finally Japs decided the date of attack.December 7, 1941.They chose a Sunday, that too at 8.00 AM! Anyone who lives in US or west knows how quiet the Sunday morning could be! The result is that Japan could achieve the complete surprise element successfully.

US forces lost 20  naval vessels,many large battleships included.All of them were destroyed or capsized.The anchored ships were perfect 'sitting ducks' for the Jap bombers.300 US aeroplanes were completely destroyed, 2000 soldiers lost their lives while 1000 were wounded, all they could inflict on the enemy in just 2 hours!!

US President announced to the people that"It was a day of Infamy".I think thereafter only such a day for US in later years was on September 11,2001 when they lost twin towers of world trade center and related losses. As expected by the people, America declared war on Japan within next 24 hours.Germany and Italy declared war on America within next 2 days which was reciprocated immediately. The war was on full fledged way thereafter.

The movie...
Tora! Tora! Tora! remains one of the best movies I have seen related to the second world war.It was very well pictured,shot at locales of US as well as Japan and produced by 20th Century Fox, directed by Richard Fleischer, an Academy winner who has produced a host of other movies. The film if seen in 70 mm with stereo sound system will make one enjoy it anytime-even today.It was released in US and Japan simultaneously in 1970.It was more of a hit in Japan than US!

Shenoys and Sridhar......
Pearl Harbor also brings a lot of nostalgic moments of my home town. Kochi was always gifted with a lot of modern movie houses.If it is the time of world class multiplexes now, it was fully air conditioned theaters earlier since the first one in that class named "Sridhar" opened as early as in 1964! This particular movie house used to show only Hollywood movies, that too the best and popular ones.It was an haunting place for me and my friends then.Few years later the same management opened another one named "Shenoys" which had a 70 mm vistarama screen with special sound system I remember.This is where I have seen Tora! Tora! Tora! for the first time.Seeing a lot of classic movies those days- in my early twenties- had a terrific effect on me. I wanted to read the original books the movies were based on. Pai and Co for new paperbacks and Public Library  became equally attractive destinations for me! Reading became a part of life thereafter but only after I came out of campus!

Courtesy: photos to the movie.

Wednesday 1 February 2017


One more Christmas has come and gone. It is known that Christmas is celebrated universally which has become the most popular festive season the world over. Christmas is derived from 'Christ-Mass' of  the church that celebrated the birth of Jesus in midnight. In fact no date of birth of Jesus is noted in Bible. For the first three centuries after Christianity was born, no Christmas was seen to be celebrated as recorded in history. When did we start it? How it was fixed on 25th of December?

Many of us may not know that it is not  necessarily done on 25th December each year, since Christmas is also celebrated on 7th January in many countries to this day. In Bethlehem, birth place of Jesus Christ, it is celebrated on both days-25th December and 7th January!Greece,Russia and Eastern Europe,Egypt,Serbia,Armenia,Georgia, 16 countries or so it is January while US, most of Europe and rest of the world it is on 25th December. Why it is so? A historical rather than theological musings on the subject.

Christmas- when was it started....
Palestine, where Jesus was born was of Jewish society but under the rule of Roman Empire, the reigning world power those days. Romans believed in their own Gods. Their might never allowed them to tolerate any other religion or God which questioned their belief and authority. In Palestine the local Jews neither  liked the teachings of Jesus Christ, a Jew by birth. They thought he was questioning their very beliefs and traditions. Story of Jesus is too well known to all of us to be repeated here.After crucifixion of Jesus, his disciples decided to spread His message to rest of the world  and accessible to them. Few of them went to Greece,Egypt,Syria,Turkey,Ethiopia,...... where one will find some of earliest Christians. St. Peter went to Rome. St. Thomas reached India. Almost all of the disciples of Jesus were killed tragically by others in foreign lands, a historical fact little known to others.

In Rome early Christians were persecuted by the emperors who proclaimed that the new religion was evil. Fed to lions and the sorts.St.Peter is believed to have been crucified on the cross. He chose to be on an upside position on the cross-did not want to emulate position of his master, it is said. Similar was the fate of any new convert of Christianity anywhere in the Roman kingdom for few decades which covered almost half of the world. Then something unbelievable-Christian believers call it a miracle- which is recorded in history happened. The Roman Emperor himself became a Christian! Emperor Constantine declared Christianity as the empire favored religion!!It was him in the year 336 who celebrated birth day of Jesus for the first time. Few years later Pope Julius I declared Christmas day on every 25th December. The date was so fixed as per the Julian calendar created by Julius Caesar in 46 BC.

Pope Gregory ,Gregorian calendar and Eastern Churches..
Pope Gregory Xiii was interested very much in Astronomy, unusual for a Pope. Based on his studies on Vernal Equinox he came out with a correction of 10 days(13 days for some) to existing Julian calendar. He decreed that 5th October will be called 15th October in AD 1582.Roman Catholic church accepted it.Eventually in the world as a whole this calendar became the most popular albeit Hindus,Muslims,Buddhists,Jews....all have their own calendars but follow the Gregorian calendar in general.

Eastern churches-Orthodox,Coptic,Assyrian,Ethiopian,Russian,Armenian-independent from Pope, opposed it and wanted to continue the old Julian calendar for celebrating Christmas. They adhere to their stand to this day in those countries where they are! Thus 25th December each year of Gregorian calendar is only 15th December as per Julian calendar- the Eastern church Christmas Day falls on 6th January.

In Bethlehem and other holy places in Palestine and in Israel , they celebrate Christmas on both days respectively, perhaps the only place in the world to do so. When I visited there 12 years back what I could make out was that physical holdings of Eastern Christianity factions over holy places are much more than those by Papal to this day.

Saint Thomas Christians and others in India...
Having traveled all over, I believe that Kochi could be the city in India where Christmas is celebrated with most fervor. And understandably so. There are only around 2 % Christians among population of India while half of them is in the state of Kerala where Kochi,commercial hub of the state is located.Kochi is also the place where one can find maximum number of churches in India while Kerala remains the ideal state where people from all factions of religions-Hindus, Muslims, Christians- mix and interact freely as a society to this day.  Few of Eastern states in India comes next to Kerala in number of churches.Goa comes next to that only, a popular myth among Indians and others who think otherwise.

In India, Christianity has a legacy of over 2000 years. One faction of Indian Christianity-Saint Thomas Christians of Kerala started by none other than Saint Thomas, one of the disciples of Jesus Christ- is one of the oldest in the world- while most of the other factions in India are converted by Portuguese, other Europeans and others in the 15th century or much later! Thanks to Indian mentality and culture, then and now, not only that Christians are never persecuted but the community thrived well over the years. In many countries in the world I am aware first hand, how a minority community is treated by the majority community of population.

Photos: Courtesy Google.


Sunday 1 January 2017


Wish you a very happy new year!
In spite I have been traveling,meeting people,observing life styles.... I have to admit that I am nowhere in the gastronomic world.This is exactly what I felt  when I came to know about Kimchi first hand  in Korea.How come I remained ignorant- though not fully- about a dish which is not only tasteful esp to an Indian like me but has been part of the life and history of a people,in two countries.When I got a chance to be in Seoul,South Korea recently, Kimchi attracted me along with its impressive electronic markets, industrial world or tourist attractions...

Amazing facts..
Kimchi is essentially fermented cabbage and chilli , pepper,vinegar and salt although there are more than hundred varieties.All Koreans not only love it but  eat it at least three times a day-with breakfast,lunch and dinner! This fact could be a record anywhere in the world as far as  food is concerned,I presume.No wonder Kimchi is the national dish of country. I myself have  tasted it for the first time in a breakfast buffet at Seoul.

How it started...and a parallel in Kerala
Korea has long and harsh winter.Naturally people wanted to preserve some food to be used in that time.I can fully understand the logic behind this.Kerala, the state where I was born and brought up in India has long rainy days in a year- almost three months.During this period raising fresh vegetables is difficult. It was also hard to venture out to sea by fishermen for fish which has been the staple diet of Keralites from time immemorial. Old traditional households in Kerala used to make and preserve a variety of pickles-mostly vegetables such as raw mangoes- in big jars specially meant for the purpose made of ceramic for the rainy season. These days such practices of making it in own households are stopped since large factories produce them round the year.Such pickles are sent across the nation and world for the consumption of Indians in tons!  And those big jars in different shapes and sizes have become antiques which are showcased in drawing rooms!But not in Korea.

Fermentation pots to Kimchi fridges
As early as 7th century Koreans developed a system of salting and fermenting vegetables mainly cabbages to be used in winter days. Eventually they started using big fermentation pots made of earthenware for the purpose which are buried in the ground.This was the process thorough out the history until recently.

By the turn of this century Koreans invented a refrigerator exclusive for the preservation of Kimchi!Very soon Kimchi refrigerator rose to the  rank of the first most wanted household appliance in Korea since an average Korean eats 18 kg of Kimchi each year!.It is designed for storage,temperature control and fermentation process.No wonder popular brands such as Samsung and LG compete each other not only in sales but in R and D as well.
Factories making Kimchi have come up but an average Korean house prefer to make it their own than depending on these factory products.

Kimchi in space..
When a Korean astronaut named Yi So-yeon was launched into space on board Soyuz, a Russian shuttle in 2008,interestingly Kimchi also was sent with her.Definitely the act must have demanded a lot of research.In fact recently only I realized that officially NASA and other space agencies prefer spicy food in outer space for scientific reasons!

And Kimchi goes to overseas in  war...
It is recorded in history that Kimchi was sent to Vietnam for the use of South Korean troops fighting along with US forces.And this arrangement was made upon a special request of Korean President to US President!

A research institute exclusive for Kimchi!
I have heard of a Hamburger University in US owned by McDonalds.Now I find that there is a World Kimchi Institute to do research on Kimchi in South Korea at Pusan!

Stay healthy.....
Unlike Indian pickles Kimchi is considered to be a healthy food.Its high fiber low fat diet has not only  kept obesity at bay but it seems contains antioxidants as well which make the dish an obsession in both Koreas- north and south.It is said they say"Kimchi" instead of "cheese" when getting pictures taken!!!

Photos: Courtesy Google.



Writing about the end of own life, that too after knowing that it could happen any time is hard to write for anyone. I am not an exception. ...