Wednesday, 1 April 2020


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


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


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


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!!