Thursday, December 30, 2010

Make way for... Bugs Bunny!

Now that the Onion has spoken and left us in tears... we were/are reduced to imploring 'Kaho na Pyaaz hai...' while the RADIA-tion hit govt. is yet to sing 'Kaha na Pyaaz hai...' While the flamboyant and voluble Minister for Commerce and Industry, Happy Sharma, has declared: "Not a single onion will be allowed to leave the country!" Never knew that onions were big on earning 'frequent flyer' points... or were 'Modi'fied for that matter! 'Onion allowance' may soon become a corporate reality... errr perk. Totally tax-free! And 'onionism' the new and much sought after mantra/faith. Actually yet another 'ism' to add to our burgeoning woes! Much to the chagrin of the venerable Lord Mahavir and the 23 Tirthankaras, though. Ummm... given that several malls are giving away free onions to attract customers... we now know where some of the 'absconding' onions have been 'hiding'. What??

Meanwhile... three-year-old Rosie Birula saved the life of the elderly Mr. Onions... just like Fireman Sam. How we wish she could do an encore for the veggie version as well. Wishful thinking. If wishes were horses... onion fans would ride.

Taking a cue from the layered veggy... the juicy tomatoes and the pungent garlic has now started 'bhav khana'. We got to make do with tomato sauce and tomato ketchup... hot and sweet or not. Necessity is the grandmother of sauce and ketchup! Even soup. Except when we land in one. Meanwhile... the mouth fresheners remain untouched. Mostly. It won't be long before the tur dal plays truant. Or maybe pole-vaults into the stratosphere and smashes the legendary Sergey Bubka's records. Thus ensuring... we won't be able to hire his services. Now we know why pole-vault came into existence in the first place.

Actually... in India, tur/toor dal is also known as 'split pigeon peas'. Why blame the poor, innocent pigeons for the pulse's 'high-flying' act is beyond me though.

Next... it will be the turn of good ol' sugar to 'prove its worth'. Husbands will continue to be addressed as 'Honey'. Wonder what they would call their spouses though. The very word - sugar - will make everybody suffer from the blues, break into a cold sweat and/or undergo hypertension. Diabetics excluded. Perhaps the Hon. Sugar Minister is one. Maybe the bees will have to work overtime... without extra wages. Courtesy recession. The Hon. Health Minister will be displaying a perma-smile sponsored by Colgate. With Pepsodent providing the dentures. Equal opportunity... you see!

If it involved the birds and the bees doing overtime together... the Hon. Health Minister... who is also in-charge of the birds and the bees and the fruits of their labour... would have displayed a beard and blamed it on the stork and sundry conspiracy theories. As a result... PC would have rebooted and security would have been tightened... with a few more lathi-wielding policemen. As per the 'doctrine of the ineffable carrot and the infinite stick'! The 'stick' being reserved for anyone violating the hallowed 'athithi devo bhava' policy... being followed in the last 800 years! Or maybe throughout the last millennium!

Meanwhile... apna Santa Claus aka Christmas Thatha is using only Amrutanjan Strong and Tiger balm these days. Ever since his ears were clogged by copious amounts of Zandu balm. The only problem is that... the tigers too require a lot of balms these days. The two-legged variety included. Elsewhere... Kalmadi who was already a stalwart has now achieved legendary status. To commemorate his elevation in stature... the cryptic term 'swalpa adjust (kal)madi' has been coined. While Sheila has taken the vow of silence after paeans have been sung in praise of her jawani.

According to the media... kids around the world are mighty upset with one Julian Assange... whose most sensational leak has gotten every kid's goat. It said:

Dear Kids,
There is no Santa. Those presents are from your parents.

Merry X-mas,
Julian Assange, WikiLeaks.

... And if 'leak' comes can 'leek' be far behind!

We should now brace for 'flying' chickens and 'sneezing' swine... oops pigs. Jam Rethmalani may decide to defend them as well. So gotta be careful *wink* While Aamela Panderson may agree to spend a few hours - in the buff - in a cage. That'll play havoc with gravity... so much so that Sir Isaac Newton would come back to earth and read us the riot act. Except to Aamela Panderson of course. She has already conquered gravity!

Before I end my final post for the year 2010... here are some 'mind chows':

1. Audience: If all the world is a stage, where is the audience sitting?
2. An open mind: An open mind does not always require an open mouth.
3. Marriage: Marriage is one of the chief causes of divorce.
4. Are u hi? Many things can be preserved in alcohol. Dignity is not one of them.
5. Costly Things: Despite the high cost of living it remains a popular item.
6. Wat is illegal? Nothing is illegal if one hundred businessmen decide to do it.

... And some laughs:

1. Admit and act: Few women admit their age. Few men act theirs.
2. In the exam hall: Look above for inspiration, below for concentration, if none work, then look aside for information.
3. A cute letter by a little kid: Dear math, please grow up soon try to solve your own problems don't depend on others...
4. Really do they? If a deaf person goes to court, do they call it a hearing?
5. Funny Yeh! A mushroom visits a bar and orders a drink.
The bartender says, "We don't serve mushrooms here."
The mushroom says, "Why?! I'm a fun guy!"

6. A guy buys a parrot. Every morning he stands in front of the cage and asks in a pleasant voice, "Can you talk little birdie?"
This goes on for the whole week with absolutely no response from the bird. Finally, one morning, totally fed up, he shouts, "Can you talk, you stupid moronic bird, can you talk?"
The bird looks straight in his eyes and says, "All right, I can talk; can you fly?"

Wish you all a fabulous New Year. Totally sugar free! Move over Sher Khan. Its time for Bugs Bunny!


Zoo owner Manny Tangco (C) holds up a rabbit and a tiger cub while surrounded by local children at the Malabon Zoo in Malabon, in northern Metro Manila (in the Philippines) on December 28, 2010 to illustrate the shift from the 'Year of the Tiger' to the 'Year of the Rabbit'. China and many other parts of Asia will celebrate the start of the 'Year of the Rabbit' at Lunar New Year in early February 2011, in accordance with the Chinese calendar that works on a 12-year cycle... where each year is named after one of the 12 key animals in turn. The rabbit represents the fourth year in the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac. The year of the rabbit is traditionally associated with home, family, artistic pursuits, diplomacy and peace. According to the Chinese almanac, '2011 was likely to be a relatively calmer one than 2010 both on the world scene, as well as on the personal level'. Conversely, nations would also become more insular and increasingly lock down their borders to protect against the 'others'. (Pic courtesy: Link)

Friday, December 24, 2010

Kaho Na Pyaaz Hai...

Our national anthem has changed. No... seriously! Instead of the familiar strains of 'Jana Gana Mana...' we now have several... weepy ones. Like: 'Rulake gaya onion mera...' The humble Onion has finally got its annual 15 minutes of fame, reaching the dizzying heights of Rs 80/kg. In some places it scored a century too! As always, Twitter is abuzz... giving the layered veggy the credit it has finally earned.

On Twitter, #onions became a trending topic in India. With onions and other vegetables being discussed so much, twitter may (soon) open a section called 'TwitMandi'... where people can tweet and fill their stomachs... instantly. So says the little blue bird. Actually... the little bird is tweeting happily without a care in the world. 'Coz birds don't eat onions... silly!

Elsewhere... 'Onion diplomacy' has succeeded where bus and cricket diplomacy (cricket i-Pill included) failed miserably. Onions rush in where cricket fear to tread! Given the way onion prices have pole-vaulted... and left everyone in tears... India had to import (halal) onions from the 'land of the pure'... as an urgent measure. And with our friendly next door neighbour - Pakistan - sending us onions, 'Hyderabadi Do Pyaaza' just got a whole new meaning. Kaho na pyaaz hai...

The govt. also put a ban on exports. Wonder how onions are available for exports... but not for domestic consumption though. Ummm... must say, "truth is stranger than fiction". What?

Btw... The Financial Express (dated May 04, 2010) headlined "Onion prices weaken on record harvest outlook"... and stated that: "the country is all set to harvest a record onion crop in 2010 driven largely by favourable weather and government initiatives in improving production of horticulture crop. A bumper harvest should considerably bring down onion prices." Hmmm... the cricket i-Pill is the culprit. The Hon. Onion Minister is high on it. I'm totally convinced.

Even the walking-talking jewellery-ki-dukan aka Guppy Lahiri... is thinking of 're-mixing' the lyrics of his (1979) hit number: ' pyaar pyaar pyaar pyaar, chaahiye thodaa pyaar thodaa pyaar chaahiye, chaahiye thodaa pyaar thodaa pyaar chaahiye...' to ' pyaaz pyaaz pyaaz pyaaz, chaahiye thodaa pyaaz thodaa pyaaz chaahiye, chaahiye thodaa pyaaz thodaa pyaaz chaahiye...'

After all... 'Pyaar' is passé. It is easily available... anybody can get it. While 'Pyaaz' has a nice contemporary ring to it and is quite hard to find these days. It may soon be available at the goldsmiths' and will rival the diamonds and platinum... and not just the yellow metal. That is the difference between 'priceless' and 'valueless'. Whoever said: 'All that glitters is not gold'... doesn't know a thing about onions. It even has the power to reduce strapping adults to tears. And cheers. Lessons learnt: All that is worth more than gold... does not glitter. And it is Pyaaz, Ishq aur Mohabbat... in that order.

Onions even have the power to 'change' governments. The so-called "onion factor" also helped defeat the left-leaning, now defunct Janata Party in 1980 parliamentary elections when prices went up quickly. It may be recalled that onion was the single largest factor that brought the downfall of the BJP led Government in Rajasthan and Delhi in 1998. Onion is certainly an effective lever to topple governments. Can't say whether voters in Uncle Sam country eat onions or not. But Barack "Change we can believe in" Obama's Democratic party has suffered a drubbing recently. Perhaps they heeded his later/modified slogan, "Change We Need"... after two years. Unfortunately... Obama skipped namma Bangalore aka Bengaluru aka BUNGLEuru during his India trip and missed picking up a few 'priceless' lessons in political management. By not coming to Bangalore and meeting the genius-shris behind "Operation Lotus", Barackanna went back without the wisdom that that what he really needs to shore himself up is "Operation POTUS". Plus onions. Next year he will deliver the State of the #Onion Address... for sure!

Santa Claus is a very worried man these days. Only a few hours to go for the much awaited Christmas. He has already filled his big red sack with gifts and goodies... and now suddenly like a bolt from the blue he has been deluged with fervent requests for onions as X-mas gifts. He had sent an urgent message to a certain Tamil Megastar who is known to make onions cry. But even he too sounded helpless and very humbly admitted that this was something beyond his considerable miraculous/magical powers. That even HE cannot bring down their price. Who said that there is nothing he 'kanth' do...??

Elsewhere all shows/tickets for 'Wanted' starring Bollywood's shirtless thunder is going abegging. Nobody wants him now. Methinks... he should redo the posters to 'Wanted: Onions'. The government headed by 'Singh is King'... may have to declare a reward of a million bucks (in dollars silly) on Mr. Onion's head... and alert the Interpol. Last heard... apna Gabbar Singh has gone into a huge sulk.

Weepul Shah is thinking of making yet another remake. He is a true braveheart. The box-office collection of 'Action Repplayy' has made him lachrymose... but he is not ready to give up... and believes in the philosophy of 'try, try, try again'. Whether on the audience or on himself... my guess is as good as yours. He is thinking of remaking the (1957) Gurudutt classic: 'Pyaasa'... which will feature the (erstwhile) paisa wasool Akki Raja (who has now also lost the Midas in his touch)... in the title role. But their numerologist has advised that they should consider calling it 'Pyaaza'... to prevent any further overflow of the lacrimal glands. Frankly... if the iconic Guru Dutt were alive today... he would make a film about a poet struggling to buy a kg of onion... and name it: 'Pyaaza'. No prizes for guessing!

There is a nip in the air... and it is only getting nippier by the day. Crunchy onion pakodas and piping hot masala chai was the perfect antidote to this weather. But with onions doing a Houdini act... it has become a pipe dream. And Tata tea urges everyone to "Jaago Re". This hasn't gone down too well with our 'nocturnal friends'... especially those who work in 'night shifts'... exclusively. To perform similar tasks in broad daylight one needs to be an 'honourable' member of the Parliament or the Legislative Assemblies... or even the 'Chor'porations. Even 'rakshaks' can become 'bhakshaks'... legally. Dilly-dally.

Apparently... 'Onion Uthappa' is only available @ the residence of the dashing 'Robin Uthappa'. Whether it is his pet name/nick name/cousin's name/sibling's name... we do not know. Karamchand Jasoos ko bulao. Jaldi! Atleast we won't have any difficulty writing his cheque or serving refreshments/breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks to him. Why? His favourite food: carrots. Thats why.

Acclaimed director Shankar will probably remake his Tamil film 'Anniyan'. It'll now be called 'Onion'. Don't be surprised to see serpentine queues (with people holding several empty sacks in hand) outside the theatres... from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. He is also contemplating directing the sequel to 'Robot'... where Mr. Chitti will chase his look-alike, the elusive Mr. Onion all over the globe and beyond... and romance Ms. Onion... @ the Pharaoh's tomb aka pyramid, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the Taj Mahal, the Stonehenge, the Great Wall of China, on top of the Eiffel Tower and the Leaning Tower of Pisa, on top of Mt. Everest, the Alps, in the middle of the Manas Sarovar... etc. Simultaneously. Chitti Chitti Bang Bang!

While the makers of the 'The Lord of The Rings' film trilogy... based upon the books by JRR Tolkien... has decided to add one more to the series. To be titled: 'The Lord of the Onion Rings'. And the makers of the classic 'The Great Train Robbery' are in talks with Sir Sean Connery to star in its sequel... tentatively titled: 'The Great Onion Robbery'. The movie will be financed by ace producer apna Najid Sadiadwala and will be the first major Bollywood foray into Hollywood... thus proving that the world indeed is a global village. Most of the supporting cast will be Indians... camouflaged as onions. While the real onions have already undergone the mandatory security and quality checks and been cleared by the paper tiger and gang. Auditions have already commenced. Full-on. Natural acting. No glycerin. Last heard: 'Fear Factor' may soon become 'Tear Factor'.

Tendulkar hitting a century no longer brings tears to the eyes. But onions hitting a century sure do. Errrr... if someone's acting really pricey, do we say they are going onions? Amidst all this... the 'Pyaaj 3' people are going about their business of being 'Pyaaj 3' people quite nonchalantly... which is kanda mysterious. Meanwhile... demand for mouth fresheners have fallen drastically... while large crowds are found around onion sellers. Nobody is buying; people are just trying to take a sniff of the ultra-precious commodity. According to the grapevine: Onion sellers across India are going to start accepting credit cards from tomorrow. Yippee! Errr... 'Mogambo khush hua'! After all... 'Bhagwan ke ghar der hain andher nahin hai'. Hence proved... beyond a shred of doubt, that is. While the police will now offer a PCR/Hoysala van escort if you buy more than 5 kg Onions. Along with half a dozen permanent bodyguards. Cherry picked from the elite Black Cat commandos.

Employers are an unhappy lot these days. Appraisals done... the employees are awaiting a hike. They have all asked for a handsome raise to compensate for #onion prices. Now that onion prices are sky high... I wonder if the media shall term it as 'Onion-Gate'. After... IPL-Gate, CWG-Gate, 2G-Gate, Radia-Gate, Barkha-Gate, Sanghvi-Gate, Raja-Gate, Chara-Gate or whatever you want to call it. What say??

People craving Pav Bhaji or Bhel Puri with crunchy pieces of onion in it... are contemplating converting to Jainism. The venerable Lord Mahavir and the 23 Tirthankaras are said to be greatly alarmed. Onions have hijacked their message of peace! Unthinkable! But then 'fiction is stranger than truth'.

The prohibitive cost of the onion is forcing people to look elsewhere for substitutes. An eatery in Ahmadabad has begun to thicken its curries with biscuits!! Parle-G or Tiger... I have no clue. But this 'idea' has done a mentos: "Dimaag ki batti jala de!"

As for nachos... please click here to read how nachos ought to be eaten.

To Julian Assange of the Wikileaks fame... whether in or out of his 'mansion arrest': Well... leeks can disappoint you and garlic will break your heart. But only onions make you cry. Now that both Jemima Bibi and Fatima Bibi have entered the fray... lets wait and watch. It's definitely getting curiouser and curiouser. (Tarang! Tarang...) - meanwhile... the suspense music playing in the background... is building up to a crescendo. Any leeks oops leaks on onions... the India edition??

Things sure look a little (b)leek for the onion. What with restaurants scrambling to erase 'chicken-do-pyaaza' from the menus and scribbling 'chicken-do-taazaa' next to it. All the while... surreptitiously checking... whether it was time for the chickens to 'fly' again. That's an annual event... you see. And quite a p(b)ig ticket one at that.

Whether you like it or not... onions, have become the most joked about item on social networking sites. Here are a few samples... doing the Facebook and Twitter rounds:

1. Which cricketer won't get past Indian customs? Graham Onions.
2. There will be a different Malayalam word for younger brother: they will no longer be called 'Aniyan'.
3. The Onion is not launching an India edition after all.
4. Lady Gaga has already decided which animal/vegetable her dress will endorse at next year's Grammy Awards.
5. Who wrote the Indian version of Emma? Shallot Bronte.
6. Most popular ringtone of the day: "Pyaaz me hota hai kya jaadoo. Tu jaaney ya main jaanoo..."
7. Beyonce has a new India edition for the song "If you like it, then you shoulda put a ring on it". I am not going to say it.

Parting shot: To the government headed by Madam, the blue turbaned yogi who firmly believes in the benefits of 'maun vrat' ('coz 'silence is golden' you see), UPA-nishad, sundry 'Gates', RADIA-tions and/or Wikileaks: 'Pyaaz maanga hai tumhi se, na inkaar karo...'

Wish you a very Happy Christmas! Even a Merry (and teri) Christmas! May Santa Claus bring good cheer and deliver bagful of onions everywhere. He needn't squeeze himself in via the chimney. Walking in through the front door will do. What say you??

Cartoons courtesy: Link.


Suits the subject of this post... what??

Friday, December 17, 2010

Fatwa tatwa and Mullah Nasruddin!

I came across this 'gem' while trawling the net... and feel like to share it here. It is a must read... I tell you!

Frankly... with no centralized Islamic religious authority like the Pope or the Dalai Lama, pretty much any Muslim "scholar" can issue a fatwa, a religious edict for modern life supposedly guided by the holy Koran or the (less authoritative) hadiths - stories from Prophet Muhammad's life. In recent years, supply has far outstripped demand, and it's getting plain hilarious. Some fatwas are harmless and a little mundane, but lately, some Islamic jurists/scholars have gone bonkers! But then... its good entertainment for us... what?? Now read on...

Headline: Saudi Clerics Advocate Adult Breast-Feeding.

Women in Saudi Arabia should give their breast milk to male colleagues and acquaintances in order to avoid breaking strict Islamic law forbidding mixing between the sexes, two powerful Saudi clerics have said. They are at odds, however, over precisely how the milk should be conveyed.

A fatwa issued recently about adult breast-feeding to establish "maternal relations" and preclude the possibility of sexual contact has resulted in a week's worth of newspaper headlines in Saudi Arabia. Some have found the debate so bizarre that they're calling for stricter regulations about how and when fatwas should be issued.

Sheikh Al Obeikan, an adviser to the royal court and consultant to the Ministry of Justice, set off a firestorm of controversy recently when he said on TV that women who come into regular contact with men who aren't related to them ought to give them their breast milk so they will be considered relatives.

"The man should take the milk, but not directly from the breast of the woman," Al Obeikan said, according to Gulf News. "He should drink it and then becomes a relative of the family, a fact that allows him to come in contact with the women without breaking Islam's rules about mixing."

Obeikan said the fatwa applied to men who live in the same house or come into contact with women on a regular basis, except for drivers.

Al Obeikan, who made the statement after being asked on TV about a 2007 fatwa issued by an Egyptian scholar about adult breast-feeding, said that the breast milk ought to be pumped out and given to men in a glass.

But his remarks were followed by an announcement by another high-profile sheik, Abi Ishaq Al Huwaini, who said that men should suckle the breast milk directly from a woman's breast.

Shortly after the two sheiks weighed in on the matter, a bus driver in the country's Eastern Region reportedly told one of the female teachers whom he drives regularly that he wanted to suckle milk from her breast. The teacher has threaten to file a lawsuit against him.

The fatwa stems from the tenets of the strict Wahhabi version of Islam that governs modern Saudi Arabia and forbids women from mixing with men who are not relatives. They are also not allowed to vote, drive or even leave the country without the consent of a male "guardian."

Under Islamic law, women are encouraged to breast-feed their children until the age of 2. It is not uncommon for sisters, for example, to breast-feed their nephews so they and their daughters will not have to cover their faces in front of them later in life. The custom is called being a "breast milk sibling."

But under Islamic law, breast milk siblings have to be breastfed before the age of 2 in five "fulfilling" sessions. Islam prohibits sexual relations between a man and any woman who breastfed him in infancy. They are then allowed to be alone together when the man is an adult because he is not considered a potential mate.

"The whole issue just shows how clueless men are," blogger Eman Al Nafjan wrote on her website. "All this back and forth between sheiks and not one bothers to ask a woman if it's logical, let alone possible to breastfeed a grown man five fulfilling breast milk meals."

Moreover, the thought of a huge hairy face at a woman's breast does not evoke motherly or even brotherly feelings. It could go from the grotesque to the erotic but definitely not maternal."

Al Nafjan said many in the country were appalled by the fatwa.

"We have many important issues that need discussing," Al Nafjan told AOL News Friday. "It's ridiculous to spend time talking about adult breast-feeding."

Unlawful mixing between the sexes is taken very seriously in Saudi Arabia. In March 2009, a 75-year-old Syrian widow, Khamisa Mohammed Sawadi, living in the city of Al-Chamil, was given 40 lashes and sentenced to six months in prison after the religious police learned that two men who were not related to her were in her house, delivering bread to her.

One of the two men found in her house, Fahd, told the police that Sawadi breast-fed him as a baby so he was considered a son and had a right to be there. But in a later court ruling, a judge said it could not be proved that Fahd was her "breast milk son." Fahd was sentenced to four months in prison and 40 lashes, and the man who accompanied him got six months and 60 lashes.

The original adult breast-feeding fatwa was issued three years ago by an Egyptian scholar at Egypt's al-Azhar University, considered Sunni Islam's top university. Ezzat Attiya was expelled from the university after advocating breast-feeding of men as a way to circumnavigate segregation of the sexes in Egypt.

A year ago, Attiya was reinstated to his post.

These modern "scholars" believe in equal opportunity for both living and non-living things. There was a fatwa against the vuvuzela too... in the UAE! An Abu Dhabi businessman, Dhia al-Din, had planned to import 10,000 of them into the United Arab Emirates. But the trusty General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments in that country intervened on public health grounds, issuing fatwa number 11625... which decreed the vuvuzela haram above 100 decibels. The fatwa or considered legal opinion, holds that scientific studies show that sounds over 100 decibels are bad for the ears, and that the typical vuvuzela emits 126 decibels. So unless someone invented a 'soft-spoken vuvuzela', the instrument was illicit in the Emirates. Now if only the muftis' attention could be drawn to the kazoo.

Wonder what about traffic noise and the loud music at wedding parties?? I also wonder if loudspeakers used for call to prayer might be condemned by fatwas, as they may produce sound greater than 100 decibles...

A fatwa was raised against Bollywood shirtless thunder Salman Khan (born: Abdul Rashid Salim Salman Khan) by a Muslim cleric in India, mufti Salim Ahmad Qasmi, for allowing Madame Tussauds in London to make a wax model of himself. The mufti said the statue is illegal and the Sharia forbids depictions of all living creatures. This created speculation in the press, as no fatwa was released against fellow Muslim, Shahrukh Khan who also has a wax model in the museum. Salman responded by saying, "These fatwas are becoming a joke".

Here is a list of Top 10 bizzare or ridiculous fatwas. Must say all these "scholars" and the numerous fatwas issued by them... bolster the caricature of this religion in the West and the demagoguery of the "jihadis" within their own ranks.

Wonder what the wise Mullah Naseeruddin... known for his wit and sense of humour... would have said though. Many of the tales (associated with him) reveal popular 'truths' that contradict the stern rule and law of organized religious authorities. They make one think, pause for a moment and reflect on the life and the situation we find ourselves in, on the status of our existence and being, the social structure we live within. The hero of the commoner, the bain of the king, cleric and the stiff-necked erudite scholar, who are seemingly always put in their place. The city of Bukhara in Uzbekistan also has a statue of him riding his donkey backwards and grasping its tail (as he is traditionally depicted). The vision of a clergyman/fool riding backwards on his donkey alone causes people to laugh hysterically, whether at Nasruddin, the ulema, the ruler of the land, or at themselves. Listen to any Nasruddin story and you'll inevitably find that they poke fun at religious figures and political authority. The very title of "mullah" or "hodja" that accompanies his name reflects that very human reluctance on the part of many to take many such men seriously.

Muslim saints and mystics use the symbolism of the donkey representing the ego to explain to the unenlightened how the awrad, or practices can be used to train the beast of burden to carry the murid to their spiritual stations. The immortal folk character Mullah Nasruddin/Nasruddin Hodja (now aged 802 years) used humour throughout his life... in order to teach. ("Mullah" means teacher, learned man). There are only a few established facts about him. He was born in a small village near Sivrihisar and later settled in Aksehir in Turkey, where he lies buried. The interesting date 386 was found on a gravestone. Considering the humour of riding his donkey backwards, the date was read backwards, i.e. 683. This date in the hijra calendar corresponds to the year 1284. But some sources claim Nasruddin's birth year as 1208, which would make 2008 his 800th birthday.

Other documents also supports him dying in Aksehir in this year. The village of Hortu near the town of Sivrihisar is the birthplace of the Hodja, where a gravestone dated 1327, belongs to his daughter Fatima, and indicates that she lived for 43 years after his death. His grave has huge ornate wrought iron gates with a massive padlock on them. But if you intend to pay him a visit, you needn't be discouraged by the locked gates. His mausoleum has no walls!

Nasrudin's name is augmented by the title of "mullah" or "hodja", depending upon where the story comes from. People in the Islamic world claim his origin to be Uzbek, Persian, Turkish, Albanian or Pashtun, but he is beyond any ethnic connection, because his stories are basic and relate to every living and thinking human being.

The social symbolism of a silly man/simpleton with a religious title sitting backwards on a donkey reeks of a derisive and pessimistic attitude towards authority, both religious and secular, among those who adore the tales. Ever clever and seemingly able to outwit any foe with ease, Mullah Nasruddin ("MULL-ah nas-rrh-DEEN") brings scholars, imams, clerics, princes and kings down to the common level, kicks them in the butt and slaps them in the face as if with pie. He disrobes them, reveals their true, inner selves, which is more often than not a greedy, selfish and hypocritical self that is rotten at the core.

Abuse and oppression end whenever Nasruddin is challenged to an intellectual duel. He wins, and so does the common man and woman, who, by telling and sharing these tales, lets the oppressive authority in power know that they are being watched, that common people cannot be fooled and lied to, that righteousness will triumph and the powerful will fall into disgrace and shame. It is their just reward for lies, deceit, and manipulation.

Here is one such story.

The King called for Nasruddin to undertake a study. He asked Nasruddin to travel to the ends of the Earth and record the traditions, beliefs and practices of all the worlds religions, and see what it is that they all have in common. No expense would be spared. Whatever Nasruddin needed, he would just simply need to ask and it was granted, for the King wanted this undertaking to be remembered as one of the great studies in human history, the compilation of the all the worlds religious beliefs. Nasruddin set out on his journey across the world, his travel expenses financed by the King himself.

After 20 years, Nasruddin returned to the court of the King, and handed in his report, which contained but one word; carrots.

Needless to say, the King was furious. "I send you around the world, give you everything you need; money, travel expenses, ships, camels, horses, men at arms to protect you, scribes and secretaries, and you return to me with a single, stupid word?"

The King motioned for his executioner to take Nasruddin away. "Before I have you cut into a hundred pieces, I will let you explain your arrogant insolence".

"Well, your majesty" said Nasruddin, " the worlds' religions' are like carrots. You see, they are recognized by their green tops, which are inedible. But the real fruit, the truth, lies buried, under the ground. That is what I found common to all faiths."

The King was speechless, because he knew that Nasruddin was right. He dismissed him and took up gardening. His favorite crop: carrots.

The above story, a popular folk tale, illustrates the understanding among the common people about the dubiousness of the veracity and originality of faith. It is clear that there were many people in past centuries that had their doubts about the origins of religions. And since these particular tales come from the Islamic world, commonly recited enough among common Muslims, must mean that Islam's origins were always in question as well by a great mass of Muslims.

Perhaps these 'Nasruddin' tales and others like them came about after the rise of literalists like Ibn Taymiyya, so as to keep alive the memory of the former years when Muslim scholars held vastly differing views about the origins of the Islamic faith, views that manifested themselves in over 135 schools of thought and in the varied practices found among the many Sufi groups.

Islam's own doubting Thomas, Al Razi, wrote a treatise on atheism, and was tolerated for his unorthodox views. He wouldn't remain alive a single day in Ibn Taymiyya's or ol' man Wahabs' idea of an Islamic utopia. Neither would the questionable Omar Khayyám.

But Nasruddin would keep alive the intellect and the questioning, inquisitive mind among the masses. Through a thousand stories and tales, the mullah/hodja pokes fun at supposed authority and kept the tradition of free thought and intellectualism alive in some very hostile environments. And he's still at it, to this very day.

All those who call for the reform of Islam owe Nasruddin a great debt, and we can honor him by repeating the tales and learning from them. The man sitting on a donkey facing backwards has the ability to topple the mightiest regimes.

Nasruddin lives and acts as long as we tell his tales. Then, he will liberate us for good. Nasruddin is us, and we, him.

One day, Nasruddin came into a town where he noticed a noisy crowd gathered by the river which ran through the middle of the town. He asked what the ruckus was all about, and an old man told him that the local imam fell into the river and cannot swim.

"Give me your hand, oh reverend, so I can pull you out of the river" said a young lad. "Here, here, reach out and just give me your hand" said another. But, the attempts to rescue the imam were all in vain, as he simply kept splashing about, dangerously close to drowning. Fearing that the reputable religious authority of the town would meet his end in the river, the people pleaded with Nasruddin to see if he could do something.

"This imam is a miser" said Nasruddin."You ask for his hand, but he would rather die than give you anything".

Nasruddin called out to the drowning imam... "Oh reverend! Here, take my hand". And with that the imam grabbed onto Nasruddin's hand and was pulled to safety.

"You see" said Nasruddin, "one must know the nature of beast before trying to tame it".

Note: Some info courtesy wikipedia, link1 and link2.


Suits the subject of this post... what??

Sunday, December 12, 2010

History or 'His'tory... ?? (Part-I)

The 1930 Chittagong Youth Revolt, which the British colonialists used to denigrate as the loot of the Chittagong Armoury, was one of the glorious chapters of the anti-colonial movement of the subcontinent and a valiant example of armed struggle. The exploits of the revolutionaries, whom the British denounced, brutally tortured, tried and hanged as "terrorists", have entered our folklore of people's struggle for independence from colonial oppression. The legendary 'Masterda' Surjo Sen, the leader of the revolt, has ever remained an icon of revolution and patriotism... in Bengal. The rest of India barely knows this heroic revolutionary... whom the British sought to portray as a midnight terrorist.

Recently... a film curiously titled "Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey" (KHJJS) hit the theatres. Helmed by the acclaimed Indian Bollywood movie director Ashutosh Gowarikar... there was reason for hope that Gowarikar, a film-maker of substantial intelligence and senstivity, will not simply make another kitschy Bollywood Hindi Musical film out of Masterda's life. His previous movies - Lagaan, Swadesh and Jodhaa Akbar have received positive critical acclaim and he has won several National Awards, and been nominated for an Academy Award as well. Infact... Gowarikar has, over the years, marked out the 'Historical' as his preferred territory. He has sung his eulogy to Mughal India in Jodhaa Akbar (2008) and expressed his patriotic fervor in Lagaan (2001) and Swades (2004).

Also... according to reports, Gowarikar was adapting the movie from the 1999 book 'Do and Die: The Chittagong Uprising 1930-34' by veteran journalist Manini Chatterjee, (published by Penguin Books Australia).

But that was clearly not to be. With 'KHJJS' he made his grand return to the genre of the Historical after his brief stint at a potboiler... an epic 200-minute-long documentary on arranged marriage called 'What's Your Raashee?'... that managed to boil one thing for sure - your blood. With his latest film... Ashutosh seems to have lost all sense of time, and possibly the plot too. The patriotic fire fails to touch the souls.

Even the 'Bachchan Bahu'...
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan making an appearance for the 'KHJJS' music launch with mother-in-law in tow... couldn't save the film from tanking at the box office. She had come donning a cream and gold sari, with a dash of red in the borders... draped in the traditional Bengali style... looking every bit the traditional 'Bou-ma' (daughter-in-law... in Bengali). Perhaps she is already getting ready to portray the legendary Debi Chaudhurani... in the screen adaptation of Rishi Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay's novel 'Debi Chaudhurani'... to be helmed by Rituparno Ghosh. What say?? Nevertheless... 'KHJJS' has laid a massive turkey at the box office... and has all but moved out of the halls in its second week... barely managing to make just Rs.10 crore against the Rs.45 crore spent on it (according to industry estimates). Ummm... methinks... this being the X-mas season... a massive turkey isn't such a bad idea. What??

Getting back to 'KHJJS'... history morphs into 'his'tory and the self-styled expert on Indian history... makes a hash nay massacres one of the most inspiring stories (the Chattogram uprising) of our freedom struggle and successfully reduces it to a dull, painful 165-minute-long abomination... proving the dictum that history is never boring, only the teacher is. First... he doesn't seem to believe in editing, and then his treatment is so banal and dull, that it puts you to sleep... albeit a disturbed sleep complete with nightmares.

We forgave him for re-writing history with 'Jodhaa Akbar'... for casting the dishy Hrithik Roshan as the Mughal Emperor Akbar... who at 5 feet 7 inches, stout, with mongoloid features and a very loud voice was far from eye candy material. We even overlooked/excused the title of that movie itself - 'Jodhaa Akbar'. For (according to several accounts) Jodhabai (a Rajput princess) and the daughter of King Bharmal of Amer was one of the many wives of Akbar's son Prince Salim aka Emperor Jahangir and the mother of Prince Khurram aka Emperor Shah Jahan. Akbar maintained a harem of 33 wives... one of whom was the Rajput princess Harka Bai - the mother of Prince Salim aka Emperor Jahangir. Nevertheless... we managed to digest Gowarikar's 'theory of relativity'. We loved 'Lagaan' too... but then it was faux history.

What we cannot and will not forgive and forget is this drivel called "Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey" - passing off as a well-researched saga of our freedom struggle. Where the main protagonist... the fearless 'Masterda' Surjo Sen (played by the insipid and listless Abhishek Bachchan) cannot even pronounce "Chattogram" properly calling it "Chotto" gram instead. Where the perfectly made-up (17 year old, fiery revolutionary and bomb expert) Kalpana Datta, essayed in all her plastic glory by Deepika Padukone (with her flawed Bengali accent and clad mostly in a saffron coloured saree)... who even when caught in the blast of a bomb still looks as clean as she is in her Liril ad. (Errr... was liril one of the sponsors?? Oof Yu Maa!!!) Incidentally... Kalpana Dutta (1913-1995) was a member of the armed resistance movement led by Surjo Sen, which carried out the 'Chattogram Astragar Lunthan' aka the 'Chittagong armoury raid' on April 18, 1930. ('Chittagong' being the anglicized version of 'Chattogram'). In the film... you can never forget you are watching Deepika Padukone trying her best to portray Kalpana Dutta as Deepika Padukone!

Where Ashutosh and his team has made a total hash of Pritilata Waddedar's (essayed by Vishakha Singh) radical feminism and heroic martyrdom, with the depiction of her as a love-lorn woman who commits suicide, with no pressure of death, just because she wants to join her dead love (a romantic story I personally am hearing for the first time here) a total subversion of what she stood for?? They even insinuate a romantic angle between Surjo Sen and Kalpana Dutta... yet another product of the fertile imagination (creative license?) of the esteemed director and his team. Methinks... the viewers should have a license to silence the misuse of creative license. (Note: Also known as artistic license, dramatic license, poetic license [not to be confused with poetic justice], or narrative license, and so on, Creative License refers to a creator's freedom to ignore the conventions or rules that normally govern the art in which he or she works. It does not excuse shoddy work).

At the start of a sequence where Pritilala (Vishakha Singh) goes on a crusade of bloody revenge on the British for her (supposed) lover's death, there is a scene of her in a dark room with her shadowy but emblazoned face and the picture of goddess Durga in the background visible. Gowarikar's use of the stereotypical, formulaic evocation in Hindi cinema of the goddess to denote a wronged angry and vengeful woman is not only garish in its aesthetic taste but also seems like the revolutionary was lead more by personal revenge than wrath against the colonizers. Must say... it was Gowarikar's script tease! Perhaps he was under pressure by Bollywood culture, etc to 'conform' and depict any Indian woman as the weak, long suffering, forever sacrificing, 'sati-savitri bharatiya nari'... which actually is a result of the joint venture between vested interests and a horde of marauding conquerors who came in from the east and the west... in the last 800 years or so. This happened after the misunderstanding or misinterpretation (advertently or inadvertently) of Buddhism and its message of peace... weakened our spines. And we all know... that a weak spine cannot support a strong and righteous mind. The female revolutionaries of colonial Bengal pushed the envelope and actually broke several barriers sending this 'society created' carefully and painstakingly built up 'sati-savitri bharatiya nari' image flying out of the window. These 'society created' images, social evils, etc also masquerades under the pseudonym - 'our ancient culture and traditions' - which (mind you) we all must uphold at any cost. And which our ever-increasing legions of 'sons of the soil' vow to do... at regular intervals. This also includes 'women wearing jeans'... while men wearing jeans are conveniently excluded. 'Coz they are under no obligation to uphold 'our ancient culture and traditions' by switching to dhotis/mundu. After all... what's chilly powder for the goose is sauce nay ambrosial nectar for the gander! Plus... the 'ancient culture and traditions of India' began at the very moment Levy Strauss 'invented' the blue jeans in 1873. Wonder why the history of the revolutionaries (especially the female ones) hailing from colonial Bengal - the seat of British power - is unknown to the rest of India... and why only the name of Rani Lakshmibai... the fiery Queen of Jhansi is bandied about... ???

The film was initially to be shot in West Bengal as it is nearest to Bangladesh (Chittagong is now part of BD) but the esteemed director chose Goa as he felt Goa was more similar to Chittagong than any place in West Bengal...!!! Wonder where he learnt his geography. Akkebare bhugolete gol (difficult to translate... kinda means: total zero in geography).

'KHJJS' assumes its audience's familiarity with the general history of British rule in India. The camera pans over lush green landscape and pans up to make visible a military plane, cut to a scene in a ground with young barefoot lads playing a game of football in spotlessly clean white 'dhotis' (called 'dhutis'... in Bengali) and khadi 'kurtas' (called 'punjabis'... in Bengali. Yes... Bengalis wear punjabis!) The boys look up to see the same plane pass by. Their game is interrupted when an ominous looking truck enters the frame and the football hits it. The British troops tell the kids to buzz off, as they are going to set up camp there... thus usurping the play-ground from the bunch of teenagers. They decide to seek the help of Abhishek Bachchan oops 'Masterda' Surjo Sen, a known revolutionary (and a school teacher) in those parts and offer him a deal. They say to him - "aap desh le lijiye hume hamara maidaan de dijiye" (tr: you can pursue your nationalist cause and free us our play ground). So Abhishek recruits the football kids into a grand plan - to simultaneously attack the British armory, cantonment, telegraph office and European club, where Indians and dogs were not allowed.

The very same children, who wanted nothing more than their football ground to be returned to them, appalled by the repressive colonial rule and inspired by 'Masterda' and other revolutionaries later become valiant soldiers in the 'Chittagong uprising'. What is amiss is the representation of the transformation process, forming an unbridgeable void in the narrative.

... And all the while the dhotis remain miraculously spotless throughout the game... untouched by the grime of the play ground. This "historical" could have done with some dirt, a touch of daily reality of colonial India (or even colonial Bengal) and editing that does not just cut and paste the events together in a teleological narrative... but create conflict of perspectives as the events unfold. The claim of authenticity is made through the proclaimation - "This is a true story", which appears written onscreen before the film plunges into its narrative. It is accompanied by the non-diegetic sound of a canon shot in the background - the sound of battle sets the film rolling. Plus this close to three hour 'epic' is mostly narrated in a uniform tone and pitch.

The pathos of the drama is lost in its rather coarse handling - with the background score of "Vande Mataram" where the camera zooms into grim faces quite often and holds the close-up shot longer than required. The narrative style is flat, completely lacking nuances in either the characterization or the drawing of the background of colonial Bengal. The British officers are all flat characters-painted pitch black, their sole role is to inflict violence on the innocent teenagers and the other revolutionaries. In the simplistic scheme of things a noble muslim couple are introduced to nullify the damage caused by the muslim officer who ruthlessly slaughters the young revolutionaries. It reminds one of the mandatory presence of 'Karim Chacha' - with a heart of gold - like character... found in Bollywood potboilers of the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's.

In 'KHJJS'... the dialogues are stilted and wordy... even preachy, the screenplay is needlessly repetitive and laborious, the music is average and the background score is poor (and to think they still had a music launch!) The production design is too neat and tidy, while all the clothes look recently stitched. There is no sweat or passion in the narration, which is told like a manual on freedom fighters. Gowarikar attempts an event film but the key elements of the genre, tension and crescendo are absent from his work. Totally.

What 'inspired' the casting for the main protagonists - Abhishek Bachchan as Biplobi Surjo Sen and Deepika Padukone as Kalpana Dutta... is the 8th wonder of the world. While some were doubting Abhishek's casting for Surjo Sen... Ashutosh had no qualms about signing him in, especially, after he saw Abhishek's ease at handling the traditional Bengali dress of 'dhuti'. While most of the modern day actors are very uncomfortable in handling a 'dhuti' (dhoti), Abhishek was deft at it and dealt with it like a pro; something that pleased the director. Therefore... the humble 'dhuti' is the culprit... and must be the reason behind the knowing beatific look that Abhishek carries... throughout the film! *Wink* The only positive that this "casting coup" achieved was... both AB junior and DP were able to look eye to eye!

However, Sikander Kher as Nirmal Sen and Maninder Singh as Anant Singh manage to create a few layers in the flat narrative by way of their performance of a psychological build up in their characters and don't assume that simply chanting "kranti amar rahe" (long live the revolution) with a fiery eyed look will pass them off as revolutionaries.

Ashutosh Gowarikar is married to a Bengali. His wife, Sunita, is the sister of Ayan Mukherjee of 'Wake Up Sid' fame... whose cousins are Kajol and Rani Mukherjee. While Abhishek's mother is Jaya Bachchan (née Bhaduri)... a Bengali. Having some Bengali connection... however obscure... is not enough to portray history and/or stories of our freedom struggle... set in Bengal... or more precisely colonial Bengal.

Finally... Gowarikar had this to say about his latest offering... supposedly based on Manini Chatterjee's book, "From the detailed accounts in the book I had to execute the script keeping the spirit intact and it was okayed by Manini." Gulp!

(More later...)

Note: Some info gathered courtesy wikipedia.

P.S. After "bringing alive" the exploits of 'Masterda' Surjo Sen (alternatively: Surjya Sen or Surya Sen) during the 'Chittagong Armoury Raid' of 1930s in 'Khelein Hum Jee Jaan Sey', Ashutosh Gowariker is thinking of turning the lens on a social reformer from Bengal. Though the venture is hypothetical as of now, Gowariker, reeled off the names on his wishlist like social reformer Raja Rammohan Roy, key figure of the Bengal Renaissance Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar and Kabiguru Rabindranath Thakur (Tagore). Apparently... he has read up on them. "I have been intrigued by these people. Who knows if I can make a film on any of these great men 10 years from now," Gowariker told PTI after a special screening of 'KHJJS'.

Asked what could be the reference point in the event of him making a film on 19th century or early 20th century personalities, Gowariker said, "When I work on any subject, my understanding and reading, my research work are my reference points."

God help us!

Ummm... on second thoughts... let me be more generous to him and say that his intention is good... but his understanding and execution aren't.


Pic courtesy link.

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Bengali 'Scaled' The Everest First. (Part-I)

A Bengali 'scaled' the Everest first. No... I am not disputing the claims of Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary.. I am only referring to an unsung and forgotten Indian genius... Radhanath Sikdar. Radhanath who?? Well... read on.

An Indian exhibition (held in the UK in 2003) recounted the glorious past of British mapmaking in the subcontinent. But no one talked about the Indian contribution. The Survey of India, the Department of Science and Technology and the Indian Space Research Organisation... all spent a lot of money to take this exhibition around Britain. A transnational interest in science is fine, but politically and effectively, Indian money was spent to tell a few Brits how great their scientific forefathers were. The draw at the exhibition was also the
theodolites (the great theodolite alone weighed over half a ton!) - and other similar geometric instruments that were used for measuring India. What purpose this served (?) - your guess is as good as mine!

It may be no more than a coincidence that the British merchant ships arrived in India the same year (1608) telescope was "invented" in the Netherlands. But it does bring home the fact that modern science and technology have grown hand in hand with maritime activity, colonial expansion and Western domination over nature and fellow human beings. The British could not have built and retained an empire in India without the help of science and the 'natives'. The phenomenon can be conveniently discussed in terms of a three-stage model comprising the 'colonial-tool stage', the 'peripheral-native stage', and the 'Indian response stage', each leading to and coexisting with the next. Read more on this

The 'colonial-tool stage' began with field surveys and went on to include technologies such as steam, telegraph, railway and radio. The Western scientific interest in the subcontinent was latitude-driven in the sense that it was dictated by the geographical and ecological novelty of India. (In contrast in the current software-facilitated globalization-era... Western interest in India is longitude-driven.) The institutionalization of science as a colonial tool began in 1767 with the appointment of a surveyor-general in Bengal. Ironically when we celebrate anniversaries of scientific institutions like the Trigonometrical Survey, Geological Survey or railways we are also unwittingly celebrating step-wise entrenchment of the British in India.

The 'peripheral-native stage' can be taken to have begun in 1817 with the founding of the Hindoo College in Calcutta (now Kolkata). In this stage the Indians were assigned the peripheral role of providing cheap labour to the colonial science machinery. The peripheral native stage can be illustrated with the help of three biographies: Ardaseer Cursetjee (1808-1877); Radhanath Sickdhar (also pronounced Sikdar... 1813-1870) and Seebchunder Nandy (1822-1903).

How round is the earth? Until the 19th century, that was a serious question. For one, the earth is not a perfect sphere. And its imperfections would have a bearing on maps, and maps brought knowledge, and knowledge meant power. The British had a particular, and predictable, interest in that sort of thing. And so they decided to determine the curvature of the earth by measuring the length of India by way of a sample arc. It became, as British historian John Keay describes in his book "
The Great Arc", one of the greatest scientific experiments the world has ever known - the mapping and measuring of the Indian subcontinent. (Note: The Great Arc refers to the systematic exploration and recording of the entire topography of the Indian subcontinent which was spear-headed by the Great Trigonometric Survey [GTS]).

It began over 200 years ago (in 1800) at the GTS of India when the first measurements were begun by
Lt. Col. William Lambton, surveyor general of India. He was an idiosyncratic British army officer to whom no memorial exists save his crumbling tombstone in central India (at Hinganghat in Wardha district of Maharashtra), which Keay had difficulty even finding. A mountain named after him in Canada during his early career was subsequently renamed. By the time Sir George Everest, a cantankerous British colonel, took over the survey after Lambton's death in 1823, the calculations were four years in arrears and many of them were going nowhere. Much of that changed in the mid-1830s with the hiring of Radhanath Sikdhar, a young mathematical genius from Calcutta's Hindu College.

Son of Tituram,
Radhanath Sikdar (1813–1870) was educated at "Phiringi" Kamal Bose's School and Hindu College (now called Presidency College) in Calcutta (now Kolkata), India. Alone among the great Derozians he took to science as his life's mainstay. He worked for the Surveyor General of India, a division of the British Raj in India... and joined the GTS in 1831.

Colonel William Lambton in December 1799 put forward the proposal of the GTS of India. On February 6, 1800 formal orders were issued for the commencement of the survey. The actual work of the GTS of India was started on April 10, 1802 by the measurement of a base line near Madras. From this base line, a series of triangles were carried up to the Mysore plateau and a second base was measured near Bangalore in 1804. The series was taken across the peninsula from this place. Having connected the two sides of the peninsula, Major Lambton measured an arc of the meridian, and the series of triangles that were measured for this purpose were known as the "Great Arc Series". In 1818, Sir George Everest was appointed as assistant to Lambton. Both Lambton and Everest considered their work to be of global importance - the measurement of the arc had contributed to British, French and Swedish attempts to mathematically compute the exact shape of the earth. (Read: Mapping the Maps: 1800-1900 AD).

In 1823, on Colonel Lambton's death, Everest succeeded to the post of superintendent of the survey, and in 1830 he was appointed surveyor-general of India. When Everest "inherited" the position in 1823, the equipment originally employed by Lambton consisted of one 36" theodolite manufactured by London instrument maker Cary, a zenith sector by Jesse Ramsden, a Ramsden 100 foot steel chain, and a chronometer. The Cary theodolite, weighing over one thousand pounds, had been damaged in two separate mishaps, and was badly in need of repair. The micrometer screw on the zenith sector was worn out, and the steel chain had not been calibrated in twenty-five years. To further complicate matters, Everest became so dangerously ill that he could not carry on with the Survey, and work was suspended. England was the solution to these problems. In November of 1825, Everest returned to England, bringing with him the mathematical observations and calculations for the Great Arc thus far. For the next five years he worked on improvements for the survey and compiled an account of the work achieved between the parallels of 18 degrees 03' and 24 degrees 07'. Everest spent a great deal of time in the workshop of instrument-makers Troughton and Simms, where an additional 36" theodolite, a new zenith sector, and six small theodolites were under construction.

The next issue Everest addressed was the measuring of distances. He learned of Col. Colby's work with compensating bars on the Irish Survey, and visited him there in 1829. Being very much impressed with Colby's system, he acquired a double set of six bars for the GTS, and practiced with them at Greenwich. At the same time, Everest produced a clever document which summarized the repair and replacement needs of the Survey, showing that the most cost-effective solution was to have an instrument maker placed in India. His request was granted, and Henry Barrow was appointed to the job. Later, in India, it was Barrow who labouriously repaired the damaged Cary theodolite, earning his praise from Everest: "I must do that artist (Barrow) the justice to say that for excellence of workmanship, accuracy of division, steadiness, regularity, and glibness of motion, and the general neatness, elegance and nice fitting of all its parts, not only were my expectations exceeded but I really think it is as a whole as unrivalled in the world as it is unique."

In June of 1830, George Everest returned to India, this time as Surveyor General, in addition to his post as superintendent of the GTS. During the first year he spent little time on field work, as he organized general mapping surveys. By 1841, twenty-three years had passed from the time Everest had first begun work on the Great Arc. It would take him two more years to complete the computations, and compile the results before he retired and returned to England... where he became fellow of the Royal Society. In 1848, he was awarded high honors by the Royal Astronomical Society. In making the presentation, Sir John Herschel said: "The Great Meridianal Arc of India is a trophy of which any nation, or any government of the world would have reason to be proud, and will be one of the most enduring monuments of their power and enlightened regard for the progress of human knowledge."

Everest was knighted in 1861 and in 1865, Peak XV was officially named Mount Everest in his honour. He was chosen vice-president of the Royal Geographical Society in 1862. Everest died at Greenwich (December 1, 1866)... having never ever laid his eyes on the great mountain that bears his name. (Note: Read more).

When in 1831 George Everest was searching for a brilliant young mathematician with particular proficiency in
spherical trigonometry, the Hindu College maths teacher Dr. John Tytler superlatively recommended his pupil Radhanath, then only 19. Radhanath joined the GTS in 1831 (December) as a "computor" at a salary of Rupees 30 per month (some accounts suggest Rs. 4o). Soon he was sent to Sironj near Dehra Dun where he excelled in geodetic surveying. Apart from mastering the usual geodetic processes, he invented quite a few of his own. Everest was extremely impressed by his performance, so much so that when Sikdar wanted to leave GTS and be a Deputy Collector, Everest intervened, proclaiming that no government officer can change over to another department without the approval of his boss. Everest retired in 1843 and Lt. Col. Andrew Scott Waugh became the Director.

After 20 years in the North, Sikdar was transferred to Calcutta in 1851 as the Chief Computor. Here apart from his duties of the GTS, he also served as the Superintendent of the Meteorological department. Here he introduced quite a few innovations that were to remain standard procedure for many decades to come. The most notable was the formula for conversion of barometric readings taken at different temperatures to 32 degrees Fahrenheit.

At the order of Col. Waugh he started measuring the snow capped mountains near Darjeeling. Compiling data about Peak XV (in the
Himalayas) from six different observations, he eventually came to the conclusion that the Peak XV was the tallest in the world. He gave a full report to Waugh who was cautious enough not to announce this discovery before checking with other data. After some years when he was fully convinced... did he publicly announce the same. The norm, strictly followed by Everest himself, was that while naming a peak, the local name should be preferred. But in this case, Waugh made an exception. He paid a tribute to his ex-boss by proposing that the peak be named after Everest. Everest agreed, and Sikdar was conveniently forgotten.

It appears that while Everest and Waugh both extolled him for his exceptional mathematical abilities, his relations with the colonial administration were far from cordial. Two specific instances are on record.

In 1851 a voluminous Survey Manual (Eds. Capt. H. L. Thullier and Capt. F. Smyth) was published by the Survey Department. The preface to the Manual clearly and specifically mentioned that the more technical and mathematical chapters of the Manual were written by Babu Radhanath Sikdar. The Manual proved to be immensely useful to surveyors. However, the third edition, published in 1875 (i.e., after Sikdar's death) did not contain that preface, so that Sikdar's memorable contribution was de-recognized. The incident was condemned by a section of British suveyors. The paper "
Friend of India" in 1876 called it 'robbery of the dead'.

It is also on record that Sikdar was fined a sum of 200 rupees (in those days... a princely sum) by the British court in 1843 for having vehemently protested against the unlawful exploitation or rather maltreatment of survey department workers (derogatorily referred to as "paharee coolies") by the Magistrate Vansittart. The incident was reported in detail in "The Bengal Spectator" edited by another great Derozian Ramgopal Ghosh.

According to
Lieutenant Colonel Walter Stanhope Sherwill of Scotland... Sickdhar's "hobby was beef, as he maintained that beef-eaters were never bullied, and that the right way to improve the Bengalees was to think first of the physique or perhaps physique and moral simultaneously". He certainly had moral courage. Whether it was due to beef or not is difficult to say. Although the colonial administration fined him Rs 200 for his "criminal" action he was hailed as a hero by his countrymen.

In 1854, he along with his Derozian friend Peary Chand Mitra started the Bengali journal "Masik Patrika" (tr: the monthly newspaper), for the education and empowerment of women. He used to write in a simple and uncluttered style that was rather atypical for that age.

He died on 17 May 1870 at Gondalpara, Chandannagar in his villa... by the side of the river Ganga.

Everest recorded in 1835 that Sickdhar "received an exceedingly good elementary education in mathematics... which he... had the good sense considerably to extend". He was given a personal monthly allowance of Rs 100 to dissuade him from leaving the Survey. On his part Sickdhar noted with pride that Everest admitted him "in his own table".

The following letter written by Lieutenant Colonel Walter Stanhope Sherwill of Scotland and published in "The Friend of India" in 1876 makes interesting reading. "A friend has just sent me a copy of the Friend of India of the 24th June, all the way from Germany, in order that I might be made acquainted with the sad fact that, when bringing out a third edition of "Smyth and Thuillier's Manual of Surveying for India," the much respected name of the late Babu Radhanath Sikdar, the able and distinguished head of the computing department of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India, who did so much to enrich the early editions of the "Manual," had been advertently, or inadvertently, removed from the preface of the last edition; while at the same time all the valuable matter written by the Babu had been retained, and that without any acknowledgment as to the authorship.

As an old Revenue Surveyor who used the "Manual" for a quarter of a century, and as an acquaintance of the late Radhanath Sikdar, I feel quite ashamed for those who have seen fit to exclude his name from the present edition, especially as the former Editors so fully acknowledged the deep obligations under which they found themselves for Radhanath's assistance, not only for the particular portion of the work "which they desire thus publicly to acknowledge - so runs the preface of the 1851 edition, - but for the advice so generally afforded on all subjects connected with his own department.

"Yesterday only I mentioned the circumstance of the omission of Radhanath's name to one of the Tagores, an old and intimate friend of Radhanath's and who is now travelling in Scotland; he was pained beyond measure, but made the significant remark "you see, he is a dead man".

Nevertheless, in recognition of Sikdar's mathematical genius the German Philosophical Society's Bavaria branch of Natural Science made him a Corresponding Member in 1864, a very rare honour those days. Sikdar had retired from service in 1862.

Some Indians, including the former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, are of the opinion that Mount Everest should be renamed after Sikdar.

The Department of Posts, Government of India, launched a postal stamp on June 27, 2004, commemorating the establishment of the GTS in Chennai, India on April 10, 1802. The stamps feature Radhanath Sikdar and Pandit Nain Singh Rawat, two significant contributors to society. Incidentally... Nain Singh (19th century CE/ 1830-1895) had entered Tibet (which was then closed to outsiders) disguised as a Lama and carried out surveys in secret for over 21 months. It makes for a fascinating read even after all these years... I tell you.

(More later...)

Some info gathered courtesy wikipedia, and Cultivation of Science in the 19th Century Bengal by Rajesh Kochhar.


Radhanath Sikdar and Mt. Everest. Pic courtesy: