Saturday, January 30, 2010

On the agriculture of Hindostan

The Journal of Agriculture published in 1838 carried a lengthy article ( page 29 to 63) on the “ Agriculture of Hindostan”. In its opening paras, it tried to disabuse the Englishmen of the notion that all of India held fabulous treasures:

NOTHING can be conceived more erroneous than the ideas generally entertained, regarding the aspect, physically considered, of' the great Indian possessions, which have been acquired by Great Britain. Some have formed their pictures from the romantic legends and stories peculiar to the East, where rivers are made to roll over golden sands, where flowers are breathing perennial fragrance, and where palace, mosque, and minaret are the habitations of princes and of priests. Others, from a course of somewhat more authentic historical reading, have formed for themselves greatly exaggerated notions of the wealth, pomp, and splendour of the Rajahs ; while not a few, whose maxim on most things is, that " seeing is believing," have convinced themselves of the grandeur of Hindostan, not by legend or by written report, but from a knowledge of the unequivocal circumstance of so many of our countrymen having left the North, poor, and returned from the East, rich.

But when we turn from the coast towns of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras, and passing the suburban village quietly progress into the vast territory which has been subjugated, as it were, by one spell, only to be kept in subjection by another, we find ample reasons for lowering the tone of our speculations. Instead of the pomp and parade, distinguishing the chief seats of the British Government, the eye will rest only on the depraved, the dependent, and miserable natives of the Deccan, and on dwellings almost too paltry for the habitation of human beings; in short, little elevated above those of the Esquimaux or Laplander.

It then goes on to describe in detail the methods of cultivation, the various crops, how Britain could harness the potential of India and, in passing, warns that it would be dangerous to try out European innovations in a country with such established beliefs and customs.

The communities of Hindostan are held together by a peculiar system, which, although considerably behind those of Europe in moral refinement, is yet a curious admixture of law, custom, and religious ceremony. The great mass of the natives are cultivators of the soil, which they hold by tenure of an annual rent, generally a sixteenth of the whole produce, payable to their immediate superiors, by whom, again, a tax is paid to Government. The country is divided into districts; these districts subdivided into villages. Each village forms an independent association of agriculturists, with its own establishment of officers, who, for certain duties to be performed, have a tithe of the produce, or a portion of land. These offices are generally hereditary. The cultivator's interest in the soil is hereditary also.

The officers of the village are the Potail, or head man, who is the organ of communication with Government, the collector of the public dues, and sometimes lessee of the village,— the Bullaye, a sort of constable, who, from lns acquaintance with local rights and boundaries, gives evidence about disputed land-marks, —and the Putwarry, or register, who keeps accounts of all village matters. As with ourselves, the priest, the watchman, the carpenter, the blacksmith and the barber, may also be considered as public characters.

These village communities are connected by various links with the general officers of the district, and thence with the Zemindary, who is usually a great functionary of Government, and by whom, under the Mogul dynasty, the land-tax was finally paid into the royal treasury. A general system of magistracy and police is thus formed, which is consecrated by immemorial usage in the minds of the population ; and which, although sometimes perverted to improper ends, has been found far from ineffectual in maintaining the tranquility of the country. Knowing, therefore, as we do, that among no people on the face of the globe does such bigotry to established customs so inveterately prevail, it would be well for the British Government to pause before attempting European innovations, which, however consonant to our own ideas, may be at wide variance with the religious prejudices, and the associations, the feelings, and habits, consecrated by the working of a series of ages. It were certainly by far our best policy in the mean time to act cautiously ; to gradually improve the defects of the native institutions, and to uphold what is praiseworthy among them ; to repair what has moldered into decay ; and rather to re-construct than to destroy. The influence of example will act much more beneficially than law or edict. We perfectly agree -with the following opinions of an eloquent writer in the Edinburgh Review (July 1824) : —

" As conquerors," it is there said, "we have to dread the explosion of fresh conspiracies against our newly acquired territory; and when we consider that there is not, in any part of India, above one European to fifty thousand natives, and that in many parts the proportion is much smaller, this disparity presents, it must be confessed, strong temptations to rebel; and it is only by the greatest moderation and justice that we can avoid this danger. In the capacity of legislators, the greatest danger arises from our ignorance and inexperience in the local usages of the country ; in consequence of which, with the best intentions, we may commit the greatest errors, aud agitate the country with the dread of perilous innovations on manners and customs interwoven with the very frame of Indian society."

The Ultimate Beauty

In the movie, “The Animal”, Marvin the cop meets with a near-fatal accident, but is miraculously saved by a ‘mad surgeon” who transplants different animal parts on to his body and, for good measure, also weaves in some amount of animal DNA. Marvin acquires all the individual strengths of the different animals and mobilizes them appropriately in various situations. But, in due course, the animal parts assert themselves and he starts displaying certain non-human traits…….

I don’t know why I remembered the movie after reading this article in Times of India, which provides valuable tips on beauty enhancement and in meeting aspirations such as “ If you want Kareena Kapoor’s jawline”, “ If you want Deepika Padukone’s arms”, “ If you want Priyanka Chopra’s legs”, “ If you want Shilpa Shetty’s waist”, etc. The writer provides two types of solutions, one cosmetic, the other non-cosmetic. Cosmetic methods involving liposuction, Botax treatment, hyalunoric acid injections, body contouring, sculpting, etc are recommended as the fastest way to achieve results.

If a woman (use of this gender may be rather presumptuous of me. Why can’t a man aspire to have Kareena’s jawline or Shilpa’s waist line?) wants to be an amalgam of all the desirable features, she can have her body chiseled and sculpted to accommodate Kareena’s jawline, Deepika’s arms, Priyanka’s legs and Shilpa’s waist. Her beauty would then be more than the sum total of that of all the parts.

Unlike the case of Marvin the cop, I really don’t see a flip side here. Or is there…?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The dilute remedy

Among alternative therapies, homeopathy seems to enjoy higher credibility, as it is cloaked in scientific vocabulary. Its German origin adds to is acceptability and enhances the perception that scientific reasoning and methods would have been rigorously applied.

I know of a couple (let’s call them Mr Homeopati and Mrs Homeopatni) who clung to this therapy for several years, till an incident required one of them to be rushed into the Emergency ward in one of the allopathic institutions that they had sworn they wouldn’t be seen dead in .

Via Coyote Blog I came across an article on Timesonline written by Matt Parker of the School of Mathematical Sciences, London in which he explains what it means to achieve the ‘dilution’ levels required by homeopathy:

I have just purchased a packet of Boots-brand 84 arnica homeopathic 30C Pills for £5.09, which Boots proudly claim is only 6.1p per pill. Their in-store advice tells me that arnica is good for treating “bruising and injuries”, which gives the impression that this is a very cost-effective health-care option.

Unlike most medication, it didn’t list the actual dose of the active ingredient that each pill contains, so I checked the British Homeopathic Association website. On their website it nonchalantly states that to make a homeopathic remedy, they start with the active ingredient and then proceed to dilute it to 1 per cent concentration. Then they dilute that new solution again, so there is now only 0.01 per cent of the original ingredients. For my 30C pills this diluting is repeated thirty times, which means that the arnica is one part in a million billion billion billion billion billion billion.

The arnica is diluted so much that there is only one molecule of it per 7 million billion billion billion billion pills.

It’s hard to comprehend numbers that large. If you were to buy that many pills from Boots, it would cost more than the gross domestic product of the UK. It’s more than the gross domestic product of the entire world. Since the dawn of civilisation. If every human being since the beginning of time had saved every last penny, denarius and sea-shell, we would still have not saved-up enough to purchase a single arnica molecule from Boots.
But, if you are an ardent believer in homeopathy, don’t let science come in the way. Go right ahead and pop some of those 30C or 200C pills. If not the formulation, the placebo effect can cure your illness. If it doesn't, there's always the ICU in an allopathic hospital as a last resort.

Update 02/02/10: " Massive homeopathic overdose leaves hundreds of scientists 0.00000000000000000000000001% dead".

Old is gold

On the occasion of  Republic Day, let us all spend a few minutes reading the transcript of the first meeting of the Constituent Assembly of India that took place in Constitution Hall, New Delhi, on Monday, the 9th December, 1946.

The first task was to elect a temporary Chairman. In the time-honoured tradition of India, the name of the oldest member, the 75-year old Dr. Sachchidananda Sinha was proposed and he was duly elected.

The provisional Chairman then had to deliver the inaugural address. But as ‘he felt the strain too much’ he passed on the script to Sir B.N.Rau, who read it out. The opening remarks of Dr Sinha, as read out by Mr Rau, were:

In expressing my sense of appreciation of your great kindness, I cannot conceal from myself that I feel comparing small things with great-that I am, on the present occasion in the position in which Lord Palmerston found himself when Queen Victoria offered him the highest Order of Chivalry, namely, the Knighthood of the Garter. In accepting the Queen's offer, Lord Palmerston wrote to a friend as follows:-

"I have gratefully accepted Her Majesty's gracious offer as, thank God, there is no question of any damned merit about the honour conferred on me."

I say I find myself more or less in the same position, for you have agreed to accept me as your President on the sole ground that I age, the senior-most member of this Assembly. Whatever the ground however, on which you have chosen to have me as your first President, I am nonetheless profoundly grateful to you. I have had, in my fairly long life, several honours conferred on me in recognition of my services as a humble worker in public interest, but I assure you that I regard your mark of favour as a signal honour, which I shall cherish throughout the rest of my life.
His next task was, as he stated :

For many years past, under medical advice, I have not been able to do any work in the afternoons, and I do not propose to sit after the luncheon recess. So for the time I am temporary Chairman, I propose to request the House to give me the assistance of a Deputy Chairman, and I propose that Mr. Frank Anthony be nominated by you.
Today when we see  many geriatric, perambulation-challenged, visually-impaired, aurally-deficient, catheter-dependent,  ventilator-supported, brain-dead individuals clinging to key posts as a matter of right, it is good to read about someone who had the humility and the good humour to acknowledge that he was being honoured only on account of his old age. And to openly state that he needed to get back home to catch up on his afternoon nap.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Vacuous and Verbose-14

“The death of Jyoti Basu is an irreparable loss to the nation”, say Surjit Singh Barnala, Siddhartha Shankar Ray, Mulayam Singh, Mayawati and Tarun Gogai in their respective condolence messages.

That expression may not have been inappropriate if death had snatched away a distinguished person in the prime of his youth or one who, potentially, had several years of productive service left. But describing the demise of a long-retired, nonagenarian, however great his past achievements might have been, as an irreparable loss to the nation is ridiculous.

I don’t see why this cliché is resorted to when there are so many more at one’s disposal. Examples :“He strode the arena like a colossus”. “He was the last of the Gandhians”. “He was a true patriot”. “His contribution to the country, state and party was immense”. “He cared and fought for the poor”.

Saturday, January 16, 2010


"Uttar Pradesh government today told the Supreme Court that its order to stop the work for construction of statues and memorials for Dalit leaders, including those of Mayawati and her political mentor Kanshi Ram at a park in Noida near here, was causing a loss of Rs three lakh everyday. "(source)

My humble view is that the Supreme Court should allow the UP Govt. to go ahead with the statues, with the caveat that the faces (and the name plates) should be screwed on and be of a removable type. This suggestion on statues was made by R.K.Laxman in a cartoon several years back. His point was that statues need not be monolithic pieces cast in stone. They can be of 2-piece or 3-piece design, with the face detachable. The party that is in power can install the faces of its leaders. The party that comes to power next can unscrew the faces (and the name plates) and substitute them with ones of their leaders or role models.

Don’t you think that the Supreme Court should learn to be a part of the solution and not the problem?

Where were you when the sun went out?

Ray Bradbury’s short story titled, “All summer in a day” is set in a planet where it rains continuously and where sunshine appears only for two hours once in 7 years. On the day that scientists had predicted that the sun would appear, Margot, a 9-year old girl waits in eager anticipation. A few moments before the sun is about to appear, her friends tease her and lock her up in a closet and then forget to let her out till the sun disappears and it starts raining again. Poor Margot has to wait 7 more years for the event.

I felt exactly like Margot yesterday. The total solar eclipse, said the scientists, was unusual and the next one of a similar duration would appear again after 1014 years. During the period of totality ( 12 minutes) what was I doing? Sitting in an artificially-lit conference hall discussing mundane matters of business with a visitor from overseas.

A rare celestial event passed by while I was locked up in a closet. I’ll have to wait till the year 3024 AD. Damn.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Conversation with daughter-33

Daughter: Appa, I think my Geography teacher hates me.

Me: I don’t think so.

Daughter: How can you know if she hates me or not?

Me: I can’t say for sure, but it certainly can’t be as bad as you imagine.

Daughter: What do you mean?

Me: Hatred for a person develops only when one considers that person important enough to be worthy of one’s hate. For your teacher, you are just a small worm, an insignificant piece of the school landscape and certainly not someone she should needlessly expend her hatred on. She needs to conserve her share to spread it over more deserving people.

Daughter: You mean I am not even good enough to be hated?

Me: Exactly. You have not yet attained the stature that would grant you the eligibility to be hated. You are a mere speck of dust in your teacher’s cosmos.

Daughter: You were right. The situation is not as bad as I had imagined. It’s worse.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Photographer keeps filming while cop is dying

'TN cop bleeds to death, even as ministers look on in complete apathy’ screamed TV headlines this week and sanctimoniously lamented the abysmal depths to which politicians have sunk.

And what did the channels have to support the story? A video footage, shot in an unhurried manner, of the cop begging for help and then collapsing.

The footage was provided by a freelance photographer, but had one of the NDTV cameraman been around he would have shot the same film too without any compunction.

Did the channels ask what the cameraman- one of their own tribe- was doing? Why couldn’t he have extended some help to the cop, instead of getting the photographic scoop?

Journalists and photographers have their own code of ethics. They are expected to be true to their profession- that is to report events and stories as truthfully as possible. They are not supposed to interfere – for good or for worse- when the events actually unfold. War photographers, who are constantly in battle zones, often see their countrymen getting injured but are expected to restrain their urge to reach out or help. Their job is to capture the piece of action on a film, not to save lives.

Wildlife photographers are expected to maintain strict neutrality and not influence or disturb the ‘ecological’ system in any manner. If a lion is chasing down a deer, their sympathy may be with the deer, but Nature is supposed to decide the outcome. The photographer should remain a mere spectator.

A detached outlook in the context of war or amidst wildlife may be understandable – even desirable- but not in circumstances that the freelance photographer found himself in, when the cop was dying. I would hold him as guilty of apathy and devoid of decency as the politicians. I wonder why the media has not introspected on this aspect at all.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Vacuous and Verbose-13

"The former President, A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, said here on Monday that the Earth, which was rapidly exhausting its resources, would not remain an independent entity in the future, but form a “single economic entity” with the Moon and Mars. "This will be possible by developing scientific knowledge in a very unique solution to the crisis of water, energy and infrastructure faced by humanity in different parts of the world.” (source)

If he had suggested that the SAARC countries would form a single economic entity by the year 2015 - a far more plausible scenario,trust me, than planets and satellites being forged into a single economic unit – there would have been many people disagreeing with him or challenging that view.

But the ingenuity of Dr. Kalam’s predictions – and the reason he is held up as a visionary- is that he chooses his time frame well. It has never been his style to take a position on what can happen in a year or two and  carry the needless risk of being proved wrong. He always has to dream of a future that is at least twenty to thirty years away. Till a few years back, he used to talk about his Vision2020, then about his Vision 2025 and now, tired of the small increments, he has upped the ante. He is outlining his Vision 2050, no less.

So, applying his methods, here’s a prediction from my side. By the year 2500, the Milky Way and a few other like-minded galaxies such as the Silky Way and the Bulky Way will not only form a single entity; they will also have a common currency and a common language called the APJAK.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Off the circumdrome

In a brilliant article titled “Energy and Economic myths” published in 1975, Nicholas Georgescu-Roegen wrote:

………..we should cure ourselves of what I have been calling "the circumdrome of the shaving machine," which is to shave oneself faster so as to have more time to work on a machine that shaves faster so as to have more time to work on a machine that shaves still faster, and so on ad infinitum.

I have been planning for a while now to graduate from Gillette’s Mach-3 (a mere 3 blade razor) to the 5-blade Fusion razor of Gillette. And I thought that the New Year was as good a time as any to gift myself this gadget. Then I remembered reading above piece by this Georgescu-Reogen.

So, my New Year resolution is to actually regress technologically. Yes, I will be buying a 2-blade model – the Sensor. Let me get off the circumdrome of the shaving machine and set an example to the materialistic, hedonistic world.