Saturday, June 29, 2013

Property rights- Tanjore, circa 1800

“Historical sketches of the South of India” by Col. Mark Wolks, published in the year 1820 has a chapter on “landed property in India”. On page 176, the author pays a tribute to the well-established system of property rights that prevailed in Tanjore, with the owners showing a complete understanding of the advantages of possession and the security that it conferred.

Passing south to regions somewhat more remote from the first impressions of the northern conquerors, we arrive atcTrichinopoly and Tanjore, sometimes united and sometimes separate: the latter principality containing the town of Combaconum, the ancient capital of the Chola race, one of the oldest Hindoo dynasties of which any traces have hitherto been discovered in these lower regions, and from which the whole coast in later times has taken its name. Tanjore in 1675 fell into the hands of Eccojee, the brother of the celebrated founder of the Mahratta empire. Throughout all its revolutions this country had remained under a Hindoo government, with the exception of the very short period that it was possessed by Mohammed Aly; and it is of no material importance to our present purpose to trace the ancient history of its private landed proprietors, since the whole province continues at this day to exhibit every character that constitutes a highly respectable proprietary right.

I cannot describe the state of landed property in this part of India more forcibly than by adopting the very words of a late report. Without entering on the question of who is proprietor of the soil, I will content myself with stating that immemorial usage has established both in Tanjore and Trichinopoly, that the occupants, whether distinguished by the names of Meerassdar or Mahajanums have the right of selling, bestowing, devising and bequeathing their lands in the manner which to them is most agreeable.

Whether this right was granted originally by the ancient constitution of the country, appears to me not worth considering at the present day. I think it a fortunate circumstance that the right does at present exist, whether it originated in encroachment on the sovereign's right, in a wise and formal abrogation of those rights, or in institutions coeval with the remotest antiquity. It is fortunate that at a moment when we are consulting on the means of establishing the property and welfare of the numerous people of these provinces, we find the lands of the country in the hands of men who feel and understand the full rights and advantages of possession, who have enjoyed them in a degree more or less secure before the British name was known in India, and who, in consequence of them, have rendered populous and fertile the extensive provinces of Tanjore and Trichinopoly. *

The class of proprietors to whom I allude are not to be considered as the actual cultivators of the soil; the far greater mass of them till their lands by the means of hired labourers, or by a class of people termed Pullers, who are of the lowest cast, and who may be considered as the slaves of the soil. The landed property of these provinces is divided and subdivided in every possible degree; there are proprietors of four thousand f acres, of four hundred acres, of forty acres, and of one acre.

I conclude that Trichinopoly is indebted for this advantage to its contiguity to Tanjore — the Mussulman rulers of the former could not, without a revolution involving the loss of the whole revenue, place their husbandmen on a footing materially differing from that of their immediate neighbours.

The occupants and Meerassdars above described are far from being mere nominal proprietors; they have a clear, ample, and unquestioned proprietor's share, amounting, according to the same authority, to the respectable proportion of twenty-seven per cent. of the gross produce, a larger rent than remained to an English proprietor of land who had titles and land-tax to pay, even before the establishment of the income-tax. The report of a most respectable committee on the affairs of Tanjore in 1807, gives a very clear detail of the distribution of property over the whole province, which consists of five thousand eight hundred and seventy-three townships : of this number there are one thousand eight hundred and seven townships, in which one individual holds the whole undivided lands: there are two thousand two hundred and two, of which the property in each is held by several persons having their distinct and separate estates : and one thousand seven hundred and seventy-four, the landed property in which is held in common by all the Meerassdars or proprietors of the village, who contribute labour and receive a share of the crop in the proportion of their respective properties. The same report states that the number of Meerassdars who are Bramins is computed to be 17,149, oOf Soodras, including native Christians, 42,442 Mohammedans, 1,457, total 62,048

The fact of the existence of so considerable a number of Mohammedan proprietors is a curious and conclusive proof of the unrestrained facility of alienating landed property in Tanjore;

Friday, June 07, 2013

The story of Runganadum, the Brahmin from Chittoor.

The first half of the nineteenth century saw thousands of Indian natives being drawn into western style of education. Quite a few schools and colleges had come up by 1840, and the Universities of Calcutta, Bombay and Madras were established in the year 1857. Pursuing higher education required migrating to a city and involved expenses that few could afford. It required one to be convinced of the virtues of western education and to believe in its potential to provide more lucrative means of employment. One such person to make that leap was Runganadum who is described in the book, “ The domestic life, character and customs of the natives of India” by James Kerr, Principal of Hindu College , Calcutta who had earlier had a stint in Madras. This was written in 1865, but the event it describes, perhaps, happened 20 years before that. (I have edited it below to keep it short, but do read the full text by following the link.)

It may be said of the great mass of the natives that we only see them moving around us. With a few only do we become personally acquainted; and that with the outside of their character only, while we remain in a great measure strangers to their social and domestic life.

Of all the Hindoos with whom I have become acquainted in India, perhaps the most interesting is my friend Runganadum, a Brahmin, and a native of Chittoor about thirty miles from Madras. He was introduced to me by Mr. Casamajor, of the Madras Civil Service, a most benevolent and large-hearted man. Mr. Casamajor took a great interest in him, and had the highest opinion of his character and talents.

Runganadum's personal appearance was very much in his favour. He was, for a Hindoo, rather above the middle height, stout, and well made. His complexion differed but little from that of a European well bronzed by a tropical sun. His features were regular and even handsome, his eye bright with intelligence, his forehead one of the finest I have ever seen. The expression of his face was generally serious. He always wore the old Hindoo dress—a white cotton wrapper round his waist and hanging down to his ankles, and a fine muslin scarf thrown loosely over his shoulders.

I knew Runganadum intimately for several years. He read with me at my house, Adam Smith's "Wealth of Nations," Locke's "Essay on the Understanding," and Paley's "Natural Theology."* I was astonished to find so little difference between his mind and that of an intelligent European. His mental powers were indeed equal to those of any European of the same age I have ever known, while his amiability, truthfulness and manly honesty were above all praise.

At what I may call our meetings for mutual improvement (for I was a gainer from these meetings as well as Runganadum), at which times the books I have mentioned were diligently read, we often engaged in general conversation after the more serious business of the evening was over. I remember having an interesting conversation with him one evening on the subject of the social condition of his countrymen. He seemed to be convinced that the backward state of his countrymen was mainly owing to a silly reverence for old customs, however absurd they might be. He sometimes spoke on this subject with much earnestness.

As a proof of Runganadum's liberality of mind, I may mention that he did not object to learn by heart, along with the other pupils of the grammar school, the church catechism, and even the creed. He thought it right to conform to the rules of the school. He read also along with the other pupils, Paley's " Evidences of Christianity," and when examined upon it he usually gave a fair and manly answer to all questions, expressing his own candid opinion with temper and modesty. Truly, in some things, this heathen scholar was an example to Christians, such was his liberality of mind, his truthfulness, and humility.

Notwithstanding all his liberality and candour, I never saw much reason to hope that he would renounce Hindooism and become a Christian.* He was well acquainted with the evidences of Christianity, as mere arguments addressed to the understanding, and his mind was in a remarkable degree free from prejudices and open to conviction. Still, he did not evince any decided disposition to change his religion. I can never forget his modest seriousness one day when I spoke to him on the subject. On asking him whether, now that he had read Paley's Evidences, he did not believe in the truth of Christianity, he held down his head in a meek, submissive manner for some moments, and said nothing. His regard for truth would not let him say with his lips what he did not believe in his heart, and he held down his head and said nothing. After some silence, he looked up with rather a sly smile.

The following is an extract from one of his letters, written while a student at the grammar school "I was, during the whole of last week, engaged at the rate of two or three hours a day, in writing an essay on Female Education. It is rather too long. It consists of twenty-eight pages. During the time that I was writing the essay, I was led to consider when would my countrymen learn to see education in its true light, and appreciate it for its own sake, and not pursue it with the unworthy motive of making it a tool for procuring money. I clearly see that the greatest of all benefits that either a European or a native can do for the good of this country, is to disseminate the happy seeds of education. I think it unlikely that the natives will be inclined to enlighten their females by educating them, unless the men themselves are first well educated. In all the civilized countries of Europe, the education of the females was subsequent to that of the males. Hence in this country, too, the education of the males should precede that of the females."

The following letter, which I received from him when absent from Madras, on a visit to his friends at Chittoor, will give some further insight into his character.

"With sincere respect I beg leave to address you the following letter. I am detained here longer than I expected. I am extremely reluctant to stay here, and am anxiously looking forward to my return to Madras, and hope to reach it soon. I am now very fond of algebra. I worked all the problems of quadratic equations in Hutton's Mathematics, with the exception of five, which I find too difficult for me to solve. My esteemed friend, Mr. H. Groves, has lent me his algebra by Euler, and I have worked several questions in it. These questions I have copied in my book of exercises. I am now so far reconciled to the study of the book, that when I meet with a difficult question, instead of laying it aside, as I used to, I sit down with patience and try for an hour or two the right method of working it. I have revised the Sixth Book of Euclid, and I see practically that there is more advantage to be gained in reading the same book often, than in reading several books once.

"The friend of mine whom you saw some months ago in Mylapoor, is now reading with me Smith's Wealth of Nations. By assisting him in that book I derive some benefit, which is this :—When I read a book, I understand the meaning of it, but then I find it difficult to express the ideas of the writer in my language. Now, in reading it with my friend, I am put to the necessity of explaining it to him; which I cannot do to his satisfaction, unless I study the subject myself and think properly before I speak.

The interest which I take in Runganadum, and which I trust may be shared by some others, induces me to say a few words more about him. In 1845, being at that time in Calcutta, I received the following letter from him, written from Chittoor.

“I am extremely happy to communicate to you a piece of news, that it will no doubt give you great pleasure to learn. I am now the chief interpreter of the Supreme Court at Madras—a promotion from the post of a head writer in a court in the provinces, to what is considered the most respectable situation in the Presidency that a native can aspire to. The change has been brought about in a way the most honourable to myself and just and impartial to the community. On the vacation of this post, which happened two months ago, the judges were determined to exercise their patronage in a way calculated to insure and promote the interests of the people—i. e. by offering the situation to the best scholar and the most efficient interpreter they could select by public examination.

The moment I learnt that this post was thrown open for competition, I sent in my application, and offered to stand a trial in Teloogoo, Tamul, Mahratta, Canarese, Hindustanee, Persian, Sanscrit, and English. Some of my European benefactors and teachers were pleased to give me the most favourable testimonials I could expect with respect to my qualifications and character. When the trial came on, it so happened—thanks to Heaven! that my superiority was perfectly decisive; and last Friday I was nominated to the post of chief interpreter. I am now perfectly content, so far as my income is concerned, which, I believe, is close upon Rs. 500 a month; and my present ambition is to prosecute my studies in English literature and the vernacular languages, and to set a good example to my countrymen. I write this in haste, that you may enjoy the news of the good fortune of your ever grateful pupil, Runganadum

It was of Runganadum that Mr. Norton, formerly President of the Madras University, thus spoke, when examined before the parliamentary committee of 1853 :—" He is a young man of very powerful mind, and would have been a distinguished man at either of our universities. He is as remarkable for the strength and powers of his mind in mature life, as I should say almost any European."

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Salman Khan's six-pack abs is actually one-pack.

The Deccan Chronicle, with a brilliant piece of investigative journalism, has revealed to its readers that Salman Khan’s six-pack abs is not real.

Salman Khan is no doubt a fit actor. But does he really have a chiseled Greek God-like torso, with deadly muscles showing off in the form of stone slabs? Well, we managed to lay our hands on a working still of Ek Tha Tiger and seems like the animation experts have generously worked their magic on bhai’s abs.

An enormous dose of VFX has been used to make it look as if the actor has sweated it out in the gym day in and day out to expeditiously fasten his “looking like the incredible Hulk” process. We’re not saying that actor doesn’t sweat it out, but see the original still. He is pretty much in shape, but doesn’t have those lethal muscular cuts on his tummy that you can see in the last picture. Once the animator wielded his tools and used the magical mesh, Salman bhai’s already sexy tummy transformed into a piping hot piece of iron hard abs.

Airbrushing, visual effects, the right angles and the right camera profiles…now we know how, most of the times the amazing abs that we see onscreen is nothing but hogwash
However, all is not lost. Salman Khan will be pleased to know that he will still have a huge fan following among babies. In a study, researchers tested the preference of babies for toned (six-pack abs) male bodies and flabby ones.

They found that while 3.5- and 6-month-olds did not show a preference, 9-month-olds actually preferred the unattractive bodies, perhaps because that’s what they’re more familiar with at home (take that, parents whose babies participated in the study!).

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

The native cunning

"The domestic life, character and the customs of the natives of India", written by James Kerr, Principal of the Hindoo College, Calcutta and published in 1865 contains this passage which provides evidence that ‘corruption’ is an inborn skill among natives of India and has been practised for ages.

A friend of mine, some ten years after his arrival in India, entered upon a new office. At the head of his establishment was a very able native clerk. At first, and for a considerable time, this clerk was most attentive, most obliging, most accommodating. Whatever went wrong was immediately put right by his intervention and assiduous attention. The books and accounts were all kept in the most exact and beautiful order. Every wheel moved with the utmost regularity.
For a good while not the slightest deviation could be detected from the strictest propriety. At length, when the saheb's mind was supposed to be lulled to sleep, a slight inaccuracy slipped into the accounts. A slight overcharge was made, but so slight as almost to elude detection. This went on in an increasing ratio, until it became necessary to check it. And what was the result of such interference? This able clerk, finding that his master kept a vigilant eye upon him, thought fit to change his tactics. He secretly threw impediments in the way. Things no longer went on so smoothly. Quarrels and misunderstandings were frequent among the servants and subordinates. Workmen could no longer be found so easily.

My friend perceived that all charges incurred on his own private account icreased enormously. Palankeen bearers, shoemakers, carpenters, masons and boatmen, one and all demanded higher wages. There could be no doubt that the native clerk had a hand in it. There was a clearly defined object to be gained. The whole scheme was devised with a view to open the saheb's eyes to the fact that he might diminish his private expenses considerably, that he might save himself a world of trouble, and live in peace and comfort, provided he allowed the native clerk to have a little more of his own will. His conduct, you will observe, was founded upon cool calculation. It was founded upon a comprehensive survey of the principles of human nature, and an enlightened appreciation of his own interests.

Circumstances have here developed a type of character of a very peculiar kind. The natives of India find their country occupied by a stronger arm and stronger will than their own. All political situations of direct influence are filled by strangers. What are they to do to win back the power they have lost? They have recourse to woman's art, to cunning. The peculiarity of their position sharpens their faculties, and they acquire a keenness of intellect, of which Europeans have but a faint idea.

Bon Appetit

That human beings have an innate need to observe rituals is well-established. Be it religion, business, Govt, military, judiciary or sports, a certain degree of ritualising takes place.

So many rituals have been associated with food. Saying grace before a meal or uttering some mantra or raising a toast or even wishing each other “Bon app├ętit” are all rituals designed to lend some solemnity or joy to the mundane process of eating. .

Is it possible that rituals can make food taste better? That’s what some researchers at the University of Minnesota tried to find out. (source)

In a series of experiments conducted along with University of Minnesota marketing professor Kathleen D. Vohs and doctoral candidate Yajin Wang, Michael I. Norton and Francesca Gino found that rituals indeed have the power to make food seem tastier and more valuable. Their research findings are presented in the paper "Rituals Enhance Consumption," forthcoming in Psychological Science.

"We made the rituals deliberately silly," Norton says. "With rituals like wine-tasting and tasting menus, some of the enjoyment is about pageantry and great service. We wanted to strip those factors away and focus on the rituals themselves."

In one experiment, participants were asked to eat a chocolate bar. Half performed an assigned ritual, breaking and unwrapping the bar in a particular way before eating it. The other half just ate the bar unceremoniously. On average, those in the ritual group reported the candy more enjoyable and more flavorful than the non-ritual group.

A follow-up experiment showed that participants in the ritual experience actually thought the chocolate bar was worth more money than those in the non-ritual group-thus showing the retail marketing potential for food-related rituals

To see whether they could achieve the same effect with something less exciting but more nutritious than a chocolate bar, the researchers repeated the experiment with the least thrilling food they could imagine: carrots.

Sure enough, participants who performed a series of gestures before consuming the carrots reported more enjoyment than those who just ate them. (Norton notes that parents have been employing this technique for time immemorial—ritualistically pretending that a spoonful of pureed peas is, say, "a plane coming in for a landing" in order to make it more appealing to babies.)

Either our forefathers knew the real power of rituals or, despite the meaninglessness, through persistent practice they hardwired it into our brains and ensured that rituals are an integral part of our lives even today

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Seeing flowers in a new light.

A friend had invited me to a function to mark the inauguration of his new office. To demonstrate my classiness, I dropped by on the way at a star-hotel to pick up a bunch of flowers from the bouquet shop there. I told the valet not to take my car away as I would be back in exactly 5 minutes, which is the time I estimated that I would need to select the flowers, pay and rush back.

A bunch of red-coloured flowers looked fine to me and I asked for the price. Not so fast, said the lady there. “What was the occasion?”. Red roses have romantic connotations and I had better be careful. Unhappy occasions require more sober-coloured flowers such as white carnations. Orchids are good for birthdays, blah, blah.

Anyway, after a good 30 minutes, I came out of the shop armed with a floral arrangement of assorted colours.

It was when I was getting into the car that it hit me that I knew nothing about flowers. I couldn’t have identified any of the flowers in that shop, except for the rose maybe. If you showed me pictures of various flowers, I could perhaps come up with 7 or 8 names. That’s it.

Later, when I got back home, I googled for an old essay that I had read, titled, “How flowers changed the world”, by an American naturalist named Loren Eiseley. In that lovely and scholarly piece, Eisely explains how the emergence of flowers had made such a difference to evolution of life on Earth.
Once upon a time there were no flowers at all.
A little while ago—about one hundred million years, as the geologist estimates time in the history of our four-billion-year-old planet—flowers were not to be found anywhere on the five continents. Wherever one might have looked, from the poles to the equator,one would have seen only the cold dark monotonous green of a world whose plant life possessed no other color.

Somewhere, just a short time before the close of the Age of Reptiles, there occurred a soundless, violent explosion. It lasted millions of years, but it was an explosion, nevertheless. It marked the emergence of the angiosperms—the flowering plants, Even the great evolutionist, Charles Darwin, called them “an abominable mystery,” because they appeared so suddenly and spread so fast.

Flowers changed the face of the planet. Without them, the world we know—even man himself—would never have existed. Francis Thompson, the English poet, once wrote that one could not pluck a flower without troubling a star. Intuitively he had sensed like a naturalist the enormous interlinked complexity of life. Today we know that the appearance of the flowers contained also the equally mystifying emergence of man.
   He concludes the essay in this grand fashion.
Without the gift of flowers and the infinite diversity of their fruits, man and bird, if they had continued to exist at all, would be today unrecognizable. Archaeopteryx, the lizard-bird, might still be snapping at beetles on a sequoia limb; man might still be a nocturnal insectivore gnawing a roach in the dark. The weight of a petal has changed the face of the world and made it ours.
The next time I order a bouquet I’ll do it more respectfully. We exist because of the flowers.


Sunday, June 02, 2013

Death by KYC

Not a day passes without some agency or other asking me for proof of identity and address. My bank recently asked me to submit two sets of KYC forms each with a photograph because I had two accounts with them. I went to Airtel to ask for a micro-SIM card to replace my regular one and they wanted me to provide ID/address proof. One Govt agency wanted separate proofs- one for my ID and one for my address. Copy of passport that provides evidence for both will not do.

I now carry a few photographs of mine in my wallet, and the original driving licence for instant photocopying when such KYC emergencies arise. Yesterday, I was at a branch of SBI where I have my PPF account. I wanted the term to be extended by another 5 years. To my surprise, I was not asked for my ID proof or photograph. As I had carried these anway, I had to insist that they should let me submit them. I heard myself argue that this was my funadamental right and they couldn't deny this to me. This is the kind of paranoid person that the KYC norms has reduced me to. And that’s why this story (source) resonated deeply with me:

An Irishman, unknown to me, presented a check of one of our customers, payable to the order of Pat O’Flaherty. I told him it would be necessary for him to bring some one to identify him. ‘Identify! and what in God’s name is that?’ he answered. I endeavored to explain to him that he must go and bring in some of his friends whom we knew to satisfy us that he was Pat O’Flaherty. ‘All right,’ he said, and started off; but had scarcely gone fifty yards when he returned, and with a knowing twinkle in his eye, called out to me, ‘See here, if I’m not Pat O’Flaherty, who the devil am I?’ This was unanswerable.
I would like to try this out once. When some bank official wants me to submit proof of my identity, I’ll ask him with a straight face, “ See here, if I’m not Raj, who the devil am I?”.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Take life one day at a time.

Good batsmen have better powers of concentrations and stay focused right through their stay at the crease. They should not let themselves be distracted even during the breaks. This is what we’ve been told.

Greg Chappell, in his column in The Hindu, explains how that piece of wisdom did not work for him and how he needed to change his approach.

My own experience was that, to bat for long periods, I had to break my innings down and train myself to play one ball at a time. Once I acquired this skill, I found batting for long periods became easier.

Prior to this, I had tried to concentrate non-stop by forcing myself to focus fiercely from the time I walked in until I got out. During this period, I tried to follow the bowler and the ball for the whole over so that I didn’t lose concentration.

What I found during this phase, was that I tired very quickly and actually began to make mistakes after a relatively short period of time. If I did succeed using this method, I was usually so tired that I couldn’t relax easily afterwards and I was generally ‘flat’ for a few days.

On reflection, it dawned on me that this method was bound to fail and I had to find an alternative method. The alternative I chose was to train myself to concentrate for one ball at a time.

Concentration is the ability to focus on what is important at that moment.

From that point, my practice sessions became a contest with myself to see how well I could manage the conflicting messages in my head. Training was no longer an exercise in polishing my technique, but a mental exercise in engaging with the bowler at the appropriate time.

What I learnt to do was to switch-on to the bowler once he reached his bowling mark. The fiercest concentration was saved for the time that the bowler reached his delivery stride until that particular play was finished.

In between balls, I had a quick look into the crowd to give my mind a break before returning my attention to the field of play. I re-engaged with the bowler again once he got back to his mark.

The look into the crowd was an important part of my concentration routine. If I was playing at home, I would pick out someone whom I knew to look for. I astounded my family and friends when, at the end of the day, I could tell them what time they had arrived at the ground, who they had spoken to and what time they had a drink or something to eat.

Once I perfected this routine, I was never fatigued during play nor was I exhausted at the end of a long innings. Effectively, I had only concentrated at full intensity for a matter of minutes, even if I batted all day.

One of the challenges for me during net sessions with multiple bowlers was not to face up to the next ball until I was switched-on to the next bowler. It took me a while to get my routine down pat, but once I got into the flow of it, I found it easier to get into the ‘zone’.

Interestingly, I actually faced fewer balls in my allocated practice time once I started doing this, but actually felt that I was getting more out of my net sessions. Once I perfected my mental routine, I found it exciting to see how long I could bat before I made a mental mistake.
The sentence, “Concentration is the ability to focus on what is important at that moment” makes a lot of sense. Far easier to break up a task into multiple, manageable chunks and tackle it one at a time.