Singing roads

Recently our esteemed blogger Raji posted a note on the musical happenings abounding in Chennai. Wistfully thinking of partaking in all those and desirous of seeing the spring event 'Thyagarajostava' some day, I recalled a newspaper report some months ago about singing roads. Yes, you did not read wrong, singing roads.

Now imagine you living by the roadside and a car speeds through and you hear refrains of say ‘enthoru mahaanu bhavulu’…how would that sound? Well that is roughly what this is all about. Specially constructed roads that emit musical tones as cars speed through.

The first of the musical roads in California was installed by Honda in Lancaster. When Honda cars went over it, it would hum the ‘William Tell’ or Lone Ranger Overture. The idea was to have it as a marketing campaign. I do not know if it was done for a limited time or if the locals have gone crazy with the tune after some months of hearing it. Japan who started the concept has a few melody roads and South Korea has one that plays ‘Mary had a little lamb’.

Basically what they do is put rumble strips with special spacing (narrower the strip – higher the pitch) so that you get different pitches. The interesting part is that it is designed for specific cars. In the case of the Lancaster road, it was designed for a Honda Civic’s tires and based on an average speed of 55mph. If you questioned what happened when other cars drove through it, the answer is you got other noises, which may or may not resemble a tune. Thus it became a nice Honda campaign targeted at users of the Civic, the young crowd.

The idea caught on, it is now filmed and popular on youtube, some people even tried other ideas like driving backward to see what happens (answer = vague noises like the devil singing). Lots of visitors drove by to experience the tunes and some residents have started going bonkers. Tourism to Lancaster increased. Now the city mayor is considering having various jingles on the road and charging companies for the advertising ‘roads’. Good idea actually - now that taxes have come down due to reduced house prices. Here is the Lancaster road experience..

How did it come about? Well, it started in Japan really - According to the Guardian: “the system was the brainchild of Shizuo Shinoda, who accidentally scraped some markings into a road with a bulldozer before driving over them and realizing that they helped to produce a variety of tones.” Spluch adds - With 68 percent of highway accidents in Korea caused by inattentive, sleeping or speeding drivers, the Korean Highway Corp., as well as the Hokkaido Industrial Research Institute in Japan, came up with the idea of musical road surfaces to keep motorists entertained but also to reduce their speed and help them stay alert.

Here is a link to the details of the Melody road in Japan – and another. Those interested in the Youtube video check this out.

If you want to hear it all in the words of the Honda Engineers, check out ‘The Civic project’ on Youtube. There are many more of related videos on the youtube, so check around and enjoy.
Of course the only problem would be hearing ‘enthopru mahaanu bhavulu’ the whole year around and at all times. I am sure that even if it sounded like Maharajapuram Santhanam or Dr Balamurali Krishna, it would be a little too much on your nerves…But I think a good idea would be to have Gayathri manthara or Suprabhatam instead.The gayathri manthra tune has come out as ring tones anyway.

Other articles
LA Times and another detailed one.
Pic from LA times article - thanks


The legend of Vavar

One of the first things that strike you as you start to understand religion, especially in Kerala, and when you start out as a Kanni Ayappan on that glorious trek to Sabarimala (now that is an experience by itself, do the whole thing including the trek from Pampa via Erumayur) is the strange anomaly, you first visit a mosque to seek good wishes from a departed Muslim soul called Vavar. You are told by the senior swami in the troupe (the guy who has planted one or more coconut trees at Sabarimala) that Vavar Swami, a great friend of Ayappan is entombed at that location. Later on as you grow older, you marvel at the occasion where there is no religious enmity and where all religions are allowed to participate in this pilgrimage, and they continue to do so, in the millions every year, men, children and older women alike. The myth like the Cheraman Perumal myth lingers on.

As it is done, you start the Peta Thullal session near the mosque and move on to the other activities…but that is not the topic for today. The question is who is Vavar? A very difficult question to answer, that is if you do not know a bit about the Lord himself in this case, Ayappan, Hariharan or Manikantan. Even if you knew the background, the answer would not be clear. And for that reason it will forever remain a myth or a legend, and as many agree, a well accepted and satisfying legend.

Lord Ayappan in this context has two facets, the historic one related to the Kingdom of Pandalam and the mythical one. In the mythical one, he is born to Shiva and Mohini (Mohini is the form of a seductress assumed by Vishnu) and departs to Earth to destroy the Mahishaura. He is found near the river Pampa by the Pandalam king Rajashekara Pandya with a bell around his neck and hence called Manikantan. The king adopts him.

In the historical sense, the story is simplified - AYYAPPAN know as AYYAN who belonged to the Vellalar Kulam, was the army chief of the Pandalam royal family. He lived with his uncle Perisseri Pillai of Erumeli, Kottayam dist, Kerala. This was about ten generations ago. The Royal family of a Pandya king had migrated from Tamilnadu about 800 years back. The King reconstructed the destroyed Sastha temple at Sabarimala with the help of Ayyan a local lad, Vavar, a Muslim youth from Kanjirappally, Kadutha, a Nair youth from Muzhukeer (Chenganoor, Alapuzha dist). Ayyan was instrumental in the defeat of Udayanan, who attacked Sabarimala and tried to demolish the ancient Sastha temple in the thick forest. During this clash, Ayyappan got killed. His uncle, Perissery Pillai, constructed the ‘Kochampalam’ - an old Sastha temple - at Erumeli, opposite the Vavar Mosque, constructed by Muslims in memory of Vavar. In the age old "Elavarsevampattu" it was clearly mentioned that Ayyan belonged to "Vellalar kulam, Near Erumeli, Kottayam (There still exists a vellala house called Puthenveedu in Erumely). In the same compound there is a 300 year old, thatched, depleted, mud house, the house of Perissery Pillai, Ayyappan's uncle and the Vellal Chieftain of Erumeli.

During his adulthood, Ayyan destroys the asura, and comes across a sea pirate who was creating a lot of trouble in the neighborhood. They have a huge fight and soon realize that both are equally endowed. They stop the fight and become fast friends (some stories say Vavar defeated the Lord) with Vavar thereby assuming an advisory role. In other myths, Vavar came to Ayappa’s rescue during the fight with the demon. The friendship between Ayyappa and Vavar was extremely strong and reminiscent of the relationship between Krishna and Arjuna. At one point in the telling of the legend, Ayyappa tells his father: “Consider Vavar as myself.”

Looking at Vavar there is one thing that is definite, that he was a Muslim. Then there is the fact that there still exists his clan, 15th descendants in line (some of the Vettiplackal Kudumbayogam families living in Alapuzha district claim to be the 14th or 15th line of descendants of Vavarswami), now at Erumeli. They are the ones who do the rites at the mosque and the Vavar temple. This could mean that he was a converted person, or an Arab trader or an Arab Saint who came to spread the teachings of Mohammed. Let us look at some of the oft stated stories

He was a Muslim saint who migrated from Arabia to India to spread Islam, His name is the corruption of the name Hazrath Vawar Baba. Others suggest that he was an Arab warrior who reached the shore of Kerala as a pirate in a ship to loot and plunder. During his encounter with Lord Ayyappan, he was defeated and subdued. Another legend is that Muslim invader Vavar and his army attacked the king of Pandalam, Ayyappan’s foster parent, and Ayappan was sent to defend Pandalam. After a fierce battle, Ayyappan overcame Vavar and later both became great friends. That this tale has connections to trade between Arabia and Malabar is clear from the fact that the offering to Vavar is always Green pepper and rose water. If you recall, the Malabar pepper era existed between historic times and as late as 1800AD. The descendants of Vavar are believed to be Vaidyas practicing the Unani (Greek) system of medicine. They were believed to be Brahmins who had later converted to Islam.

However, there is another interesting story relating to Vavar. According to this reference, Vavar originally belonged to Pandya Desam near Madurai in Tamil Nadu. The myth says that the Vavar family migrated to Travancore during an attack from Thirumalainaicken, a minister of the Pandya kingdom. According to the Pandalam palace website the scattered Pandya royals re-united in the year 1174 AD. Considering that the earthly sojourn of Manikanta was 12 years, Manikanta should have lived with the Pandalam royal family between 1162 and 1174 AD. Did he do all this before the age of 12??

Some say that the name Vavar evolved from the Barami name babar. As you may recall bahrami traders were active in the ocean trade. This name came to be pronounced in the Venad region as Vavar. Yet another claim is that this Vavar is said to have been a Buddhist saint called Dwapara, which became Dawapr – Babar.

Another legend puts it as follows - Vavar was born in Takrittan Tottam, perhaps ancient Syria or Southern Turkey. His father was one Ali Kutty who married Pattumma (Fatima). During Vavar’s childhood, a terrible famine ravaged his country. Paddy crops failed though Millet and wheat were available in abundance. As an intelligent boy, he became an authority in all branches of studies including the art of archery, fencing and even ship-building. He received lessons in black magic too, which helped him very much in his later life which was full of adventures. He was known as Vavar, the lame-footed, as his legs were slightly bent even at the time of his birth. When he grew up he expressed his desire to go abroad a ship which he managed to build himself, and the parents, though reluctant gave him their permission.Vavar's adventurous career commences with his voyage in the Arabian Sea.

Gathering a few faithful friends who were equally well versed in the art of fencing and archery, he manned his boat towards the land of pepper and other precious condiments. It is said that he landed first at Kayamkulam, a coastal country in Kerala, then an independent principality ruled by a petty king. Vavar and his men, when they landed at Kayamkulam, were looked upon by the natives as sea pirates, and they got scared. In fact, Vavar's intention was only to make some adventurous expeditions, exploring new countries, exploiting the rich to help the poor and the needy. The king of Kayamkulam sought the help of the King of Pandalam who deputed the prince Manikantan to face the sea pirate. An encounter took place between Vavar and the prince. They fought for three days continuously. None were victorious. Mutually realizing the greatness of each other, the two opponents stopped their fight and were united in a friendly embrace. Thenceforth both Ayyappan and Vavar behaved like brothers. Even today the pilgrims to Sabarimala shrine make their offerings first to Vavar, the Muslim saint and then to Ayyappa.

Even today, a Muslim priest performs the rituals at the shrine dedicated Vavar. There is no distinguishable idol, but just a carved stone slab symbolizing the deity of Vavar. A green silk cloth is hung across walls, and an old sword is kept near the wall, perhaps to symbolize Vavar was a great warrior. The main offering at this shrine is green pepper; a befitting tribute to a heritage of pepper trade. Other offering include rose water, sandalwood paste, coconut and ghee. Pilgrims donate money in the donation box and some of the pilgrims bring goats as sacrifice. This is I understand due to a belief that the pilgrims accompanied by goats could reach the Sannidhanam safely..

Lockwoods trip to Sabarimala

Abraham, Ashu and the Genizah

What a strange name for a story, would be the first thought in a reader’s mind. A Malayali seeing this would balk, because he can imagine the complex undertaking straightway. I thought for a long time if I should make this a dry & factual article and decided against it, after all, others have done that already to this story, so I decided to focus more on the individuals in the story. Well, this story, my friends, will take you back to the Malabar between 1130 and 1150 and into the lives of an unlikely couple, Abraham Yiju and Ashu Nair.

Most people would not like to dwell too much on the environment and conditions around life in those days, but prosperous life and honest trade did exist at that time. It was a time before the Portuguese onslaught, a time of the powerful Zamorins, a time when many traders and expatriates from Europe lived on the shores of the Malabar. Syrian Jews lived in Cochin, Arabic Jews were all around, like our man Yiju, and the Bombay ports had Iraqi Jews and wealthy Parsees. The Malabar trade otherwise termed as the Karimi trade was in full swing.

This story deals with a Tunisian Jewish trader Abraham Ben Yiju, while he was based in Mangalore. The girl was a Nair called Ashu, though history books call her Ashu. I can, as a Malayali, be reasonably sure that Ashu was more an endearment and that Asha (means ‘wish’) was her real name. The story is set in Tulunad, near Mangalore.

It was an excellent book by Stewart Gordon called ‘When Asia Was the world’ that tipped me to this particular story. As you read about Yiju’s travails in the book you can see that this story had a deep impact on that author. However the strict historian Gordon did not in my mind do justice to a possible story within the story, which would have been about the relationship. He covered the historic trade angles and connections and so I decided to check out the background. It then turned out to be a story that had once fascinated the writer Amitav Ghosh to obsessively study Arabic & Hebrew and research the various characters at Oxford. Amitav Ghosh then penned his findings in an essay titled the ‘The Slave of MS.H.6’ (later featured in his book ‘The Imam and the Indian’) many years ago followed by a semi fictional historic work titled ‘In an Antique land” which I finished reading some months ago. This fascinating book deals with his own research and life in Egypt and touching on the story of Yiju, written in a style that is unique…Do read it if you can…

But first, a few words on how the story came out into the open after some 800 years. As we all know, Indians, especially South Indians, even with some knowledge of a better known (in those times, at least among the literary Brahmin classes) language Sanskrit, never bothered to properly document and record what happened around them, at least between the 8th to 18th centuries. Even the Granthavari’s written for local kings, related mainly to accounts and temple matters, not and observation of life around them. That work was left to the few mystified Western travelers, officials and traders who unfortunately exaggerated or twisted facts most of the time.

The main protagonist of this story, Abraham (Ibrahim) Peraya Ben Yiju wrote and received a number of (some 40-80 letters) letters to his trading partners in Egypt and Aden and these were stuffed by his daughter, after Yiju’s death, into what were known as Geniza’s located at a particular Synagogue (Ben Ezra synagogue in Fostat)at Cairo for eventual disposal (A Geniza or Genizah is an enclosed area within a synagogue where all papers containing the name of God are deposited for eventual burial). Fortunately they were not destroyed and the fascinating collection of 250,000 paper fragments have been collected and are still being sorted and studied by eminent historians since the turn of the 20th century. In the many thousands of documents it was relatively easy to track Yiju’s story by his fine & unique calligraphic handwriting.

So we go to the times (1130-1132) of the roaring spice trade, to the port (referred to by the Arabic word – Bandar, to Manjarur) of Mangalore where Jewish Abraham bin Perahya Ben Yiju started up the local office of master trader Madmun’s business after fleeing Cairo following (apparently) a blood feud. Yiju was a merchant from the Tunisian town of Al Mahdiyya, and was well known for his wealth and calligraphy skills. Working as a scribe with legal issues, he wrote and collected poetry, in addition to conducting trade of Iron, brass items, silk, pottery, betel nuts and various spices. Mangalore in Tulunad, at that time was prosperous and full or Arab traders, both Islamic and Jewish. The Tulu regions were populated with a number of Banias, Chetiars, Bunts and of course Nair’s, as the local people and suppliers of spices and other items for trade. Yiju himself was assisted by a Sesu chetty, a Nambiar and a Nair (Ashu’s brother, perhaps), in business dealings as was typical in Malabar. Walking around in fine clothes, he was a dapper businessman, charming the local populace, who by the way, and in Yiju’s own opinion, were mostly naked but for a ‘bandage’ round their loins (the Malabari dhothi), men & women alike.

During his 17 plus years in Mangalore (It was as explained previously, known as Manjrur), he continued his prosperous relationship with the Aden based chief trader Madmun Ibn Bandar, the most powerful of them all. (Aden was the principal trading post for Malabar and it is in Aden that Cain and Abel are supposedly buried!). Trade then was based very much on trust as communication was slow and in the form of letters carried in ships, some lost. These were the letters that eventually landed up in the Geniza. As they were letters of business communications, the personal life was only obliquely evident. It also transpires that Yiju started a brass works in addition to trade offices, where they repaired old brass lamps, locks and fixtures.

It was around Oct 17th 1132, that Yiju met Ashu and his next actions were perplexing and annoying to the other Jewish traders, to say the least. He promptly freed her (Goitein’s impressions) for she was some kind of a ‘wasifa’ servant or slave (instead of making her his consort, he drew a deed of manumission with Ashu) and lived with her the entire two decades he was in Mangalore, begetting children, one named Surur and a daughter Sitt Al Dar (another son died early). His personal demands to his trading partners at Aden included Kohl, silk carpets, jewelry and other expensive items for Ashu. Yiju’s life moved on smoothly till 1149.

Ashu, was a Nair woman from Cannanore or some other part of North Kerala like Balipatanam, and considered to be a beauty (SD Goitein). Here again there is confusion. While some historian’s say that Ashu was renamed Berakhah, Stewart & Ghosh believed Barakah was the name of Yiju’s sister in Tunisia. There are hints in the letters that a monetary debt to Ashu’s brother may have forced the marriage, but the union nevertheless proved to be a happy one. Ghosh also believes that Yiju was at times irritated by the special Nair family ties and the strong relations Ashu had with her matrilineal family

Herein lay more confusion. Yiju had a choice of a number of Jewish women in Cochin and other trading ports, why did he choose Hindu Ashu and remain with her? Was it because Cochin Jewish women were of Syrian origin? More likely, he fell in love with Ashu. It is unlikely that a person lived with a woman for 11 years and had three children by her if they did not love each other. Ghosh himself concludes thus – If I hesitate to call it love, it is only because the documents offer no certain proof.

Abraham Yiju left Mangalore with his children in 1149 when the Norman Conquest resulted in chaos around Tunisia and his siblings in Tunisia were in mortal danger. He was also determined to find a proper suitor for his daughter, planning to marry her off to any eligible son of his brothers. Ashu, sadly, remained in Mangalore (Stewart however believes she went to Egypt).

Yiju’s son Surur died a few years later, aged 20, but his daughter Sitt al dar survived and Yiju himself moved to Yemen. Later Yiju went back to Egypt to marry her off in style. His attempts to find a proper Jewish suitor from his own family turned out to be an arduous task as her mother (as we know now) was not a pure Jew. Kenneth Seeskin in his book ‘The Cambridge Companion to Maimonides’ confirms that Yiju did have legal problems (probably because the children were termed ‘black’ Jews – Judeus Pretos)with his marriage to Ashu and that the learned Moses Mamonide’s helped solve many of them after they got back to Egypt. Finally, after a lot of turmoil and search, Yiju decided to get her married to his elder brother’s son Perahya though he was not too happy with the boy’s stature and tried to delay the marriage further. The marriage finally took place after his death (this somehow conflicts Ghosh’s view that the marriage took place when Yiju was alive), on Aug 11th, 1156.

Curiously the boy Parahya did make a good name for himself in the Egyptian Jewish community and became a judge. Here again the story takes an interesting turn. Perahya wanted to return to Sicily but Yiju’s daughter (you can divine Ashu’s strong Nair character here!!) refused to accompany him and so Perahya settled down in Alexandria. To settle this dispute a case was lodged and the wife won the suit (Shulamit Reif – Cambridge Genizah collections).

Thus finally, Ashu’s daughter’s final action of thrusting all her father’s letters into the Geniza, instead of destroying it, made us all the richer, providing us with a detailed view of life in Aden, Egypt and Malabar of the 12th century….

And what happened to Ben Yiju after Sitt Al Daar’s marriage? Nobody knows for sure. Ghosh (as well as Stewart) believes that he could have returned to Ashu in Mangalore for the one reason that there exists no death certificate in the Egyptian Jewish records of that period.

Well, the story does not end there. A group researching how the gene mtDNA-haplogroup D landed up in European Jews, opine that such a group could have come to Europe via Ashu or her daughter who came with Yiju!! But that is yet another topic.

Footnotes –You can (I believe) see the deed of manumission (Deed of freeing from authority or slavery) between Ben Yiju and Ashu at the Institute of the Peoples of Asia at Leningrad. No other ‘marriage’ certificate has remained intact for so long a time, in history.

My belief was that this deed was made by Yiju for the only purpose of making the Yiju offspring legal in their Jewish community back home and ensuring legal succession (Yiju was a wealthy man). I am not sure about Nair slaves (consider also that Ashu was not thrown out of home or lost caste- as she had a fruitful relationship with her family all the time) at that time or that Ashu would have wanted such a manumission document. Ghosh in his book the ‘Imam and the Indian’ Page 220 concurs with this since the event was celebrated with fanfare, the document (like today’s wedding card!)was more a public announcement of the betrothal and legality than an act of manumission.

The deed starts with the usual proclamations supporting the lord (Quoted from SD Goitein’s A Mediterranean Society – Vol 2, Community) (The translation is by Goitein though I believe that the words Mangalore and Tunisia did not exist in 1132)

In the city of Mangalore, the royal city which is situated on the great sea and which is under the jurisdiction of our Lord Daniel, the great prince, the head of the great Diaspora, of all Israel, the son of our Lord Hisday, the great prince……

Some of my notes are fertile speculation as Yiju did not quite explain his personal relationship with Ashu and novelist Amitav Ghosh was the first to really tie them up (after historian SD Goitein’s discovery), but nevertheless, it is based on a small amount of documented fact. Ghosh’s research was actually to identify a slave called Bomma, a Hindu associate of Yiju, otherwise known in history to scholars as the mystic slave MS H.6, referred to in the Geniza fragments.

Point to ponder

In Hebrew, Nair means candle. So how would Yiju have written Nair to signify Ashu’s caste? Yiju btw may have meant Yago which in North Africa & Spain signified Jacob.

Seeskin states on page 53 of ‘The Cambridge Companion to Maimonides’ that Ashu was renamed ‘Berakah’ daughter of Abraham. Now did he mean Sitt Al Daar the daughter or Ashu?

Most documents I referred to mention Yiju’s brass workshop located at Manjarur. History buff’s like CKR feel the factory could have been at Naduvarambu (near Muziris). It could very well have been so though the Genizah documents have still not shed much light on this aspect.

How Padma Sri Award winner Amitav Ghosh researched the story
SD Goitein – The man who started it all with the transcripts
A window into Jewish Medieval life
relevant books

The Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection
The Jews in Sicily book 1, 383-1300, by Shlomo Simonsohn

Picture – Actual fragment of Ben Yiju’s writing from the Penn Arts and Sciences website, thanks

Cross Posted in Historic Alleys

Edit - Asha has been replaced with Ashu - Asha is a relatively new term, so I will stick to what the records show

The magical tongue

The human tongue is fascinating to say the least. Without it you cannot taste, you cannot talk or sing, you cannot feel the temperature of what you are ingesting and you cannot do inane things like touching your nose, picking teeth or checking if they are there, affixing stamps and closing envelopes, whistling for fun or calling attention….Ever wondered why people lick a wound? All animals do so, humans also do it. Some years back, I read something about it, but promptly forgot, even though I would automatically lick a finger that got cut or burnt. It could very well be an evolutionary aspect and have a scientific base…but that is my hypothesis of course

Peter Aldhous of New Scientist explains in his article - Our mouths are full of potentially dangerous fungi and bacteria. Yet even when we bite our tongues, the wounds rarely become infected. Now American researchers have explained why our mouths are so resistant to infection. Whenever a mammal's tongue is damaged, they say, the wounded tissues respond by making large quantities of a natural antiseptic….Several of the substances had antimicrobial effects, but Schonwetter's team decided to concentrate on the most abundant, a chemical they called lingual antimicrobial peptide (LAP). Another detailed NY Times article where Lawrence Altman adds - Because human tongues and cow tongues are similar, the human tongue may have an antibiotic defense mechanism similar to the cow tongue antibiotic, a short protein known as a peptide, said Dr. Michael A. Zasloff, the head of the team from the Magainin Research Institute. The most abundant peptide the team found was one they called L.A.P, for lingual antimicrobial peptide. L.A.P.'s structure resembles other beta defensins that other scientists have found in the respiratory passageway of cows, the white blood cells that fight infection, and in the Paneth cells in the lining of the human small intestine. A technical paper on the subject for those interested.

LAP codes are covered by US patent 5656738 issued to Schonwetter & Zasloff – It explains - Despite is constant exposure to microbials, invasive infections of the tongue rarely ensue even when abrasions occur on the tongue's surface. In investigating the infection resistance property of the mammalian tongue, a novel antibacterial and antifungal peptide was isolated from the extracts of bovine tongue epithelial tissue. LAP has broad spectrum antimicrobial activity against Gram-negative bacteria, Gram-positive bacterial and fungal pathogens. The peptide may also have antiviral activity.

Why did Indian and Chinese doctors check your tongue (at least they did in my younger days)? It's amazing that your tongue can actually mirror your health. The condition of your tongue can help a doctor determine your overall state of health and often give them valuable diagnostic clues without resorting to expensive tests or invasive procedures. A detailed explanation on the diagnoses can be found on MSN here. Dr Chitambaram’s explanation basis can be read in this article.

Tongue cleaning was always practiced in India, but is not so popular in Western countries. Now it is catching on and the old ‘Irkili’ has given way to metallic tongue cleaners ( I had a tough time explaining it to airport security once) then the plastic cleaner strips and now the ring type…Newer brushes have a rough coating on one side to scrape tongues!! What does that do? By removing the soft plaque from the tongue dorsum (especially the anaerobic, posterior areas), you are removing most of the bacteria and other debris that are the primary source of gaseous volatile-sulfur compounds (halitosis), hard plaque (tartar) and mineral leaching acids (tooth decay). If you wanted to know the relationship between oral bacteria and heart disease, take a look at an earlier blog of mine.

And all this brought a question to my mind – why did Albert Einstein stick out his tongue in this ever popular photograph? The Einstein website explains

It was taken on Einstein’s 72nd birthday in Princeton on March 14, 1951 by a press photographer. The original picture shows Einstein sitting on the backseat of a car between Dr Frank Aydelotte, the former head of the Institute for Advanced Study, and his wife. Albert Einstein and the Aydelottes were just returning from an event which had taken place in honour of Einstein. Einstein was, though already sitting in the car, still bullied by reporters and photographers. They didn’t let him be and he is said to have shouted: "That’s enough, that’s enough!" However, these words didn’t hinder the photographers from taking some more pictures of Einstein and his companions. And when he still was asked to pose for a birthday picture he really grew tired of the journalists and the photographers and as encouraging words didn’t help any more, he stuck out his tongue to his "prosecutors". One of the photographers pressed the button of his camera in just this moment. Einstein liked the picture very much. He cut it into shape so only he can still be seen. Then he had made several copies of it and sent the thus "manipulated" picture as a greeting card to friends later on.

Here is a great snippet on the tongue by David Wright – The tongue has a bone connected to it!! This is the hyoid or lingual bone, a "horse-shoe shaped" bone in the tongue responsible for its movement. It is connected to the tips of what is known as the styloid processes of the temporal bones via styloid ligaments and despite this is the only bone in the human body that is not articulated by another bone. It is interesting to note that this bone is not found in our closest relatives (i.e. chimps and apes); however is seen in Neanderthal man and so, since this bone is of great use in speech suggests that Neanderthal man employed at least some form of speech. This is often the bone that when fractured can indicate that a victim has been strangled and so is of great importance in murder inquiries

Tongue picture from

George Orwell & India

For Orwell book fans, this small blog is not about his great writings, but about the person himself and his relationship with India.

How many of you know that Eric Arthur Blair a.k.a. George Orwell - that brilliant writer who wrote moody books like Animal farm and 1984 was born in India and always had a fond corner in his mind for India? He was born in 1903 at Motihari (a place now in Bihar and famous for the giant Buddha statue – and the place where Gandhi first practiced Satyagraha!) in Bengal. But alas, today, Motihari has a dubious distinction; it is the kidnapping capital of Bihar where people are abducted even for 20 flashlight batteries!!

Well as the story goes, Orwell’s father who was heading the Opium department (the buyer for the Brit government) insisted on farmers planting Opium in the fields during certain seasons. The farmers hated it as it spoilt the soil and invited MK Gandhi, fresh from South Africa to champion their cause…and that was the origin of Satyagraha and the Orwellian connection to British rule and ‘quit India’!!

Orwell’s house in Motihari still exists. It has recently been given a makeover and a museum is planned. You cannot buy Orwell's books in Motihari" but then, you cannot buy many books in Motihari. A very nice article from the telegraph details the story..

Motihari is way off the tourist trail at the moment. Only the most diehard Orwell fans ever make it to the town. It is 19 hours by train from Delhi, or a five-hour drive from Patna, the nearest city of any size. The most expensive hotel in town costs pounds 4 a night "and there is no air conditioning.

After schooling at Eaton and working in Burma for the Imperial police force (The Indian Imperial police force rejected his application due to his socialist leanings and advice from Churchill in UK), Orwell became a propaganda talk host (for want of a job as it seems) at the BBC’s Eastern service working to garner support from the Asian community for the Allies. Noting that very few Indians listened to him and feeling that working on his novels as well as for The Tribune is probably better, he left. The rest is history…but I will jot in here some trivia that many would not have read of.

In 1935 Sir Harcourt Butler, the Lt. Governor of Oudh brought the capital back to Lucknow and with it came the newspaper ‘The Pioneer’ which is more than 120 years old. The Pioneer has the distinction of having two Nobel Prize winners writing for it, Sir Winston Churchill then corporal and Rudyard Kipling. Orwell, Michael Sheldon in his biography tells us was going to be appointed the editor of the Pioneer but Sir Winston, then Prime Minister, put a stop to it. He did not want Her Majesty's Indian subject’s heads filled with socialistic claptrap. And so Pioneer lost the best editor it never had.

How & why Orwell joined the BBC is a very interesting story. It was due to Goebbels and Subash Chandra Bose!!!

Goebbals had learned the lessons of the First World War, which was commonly believed to have been won not by greater military strength, but by superior propaganda. In particular, he lost no time in beaming powerful anti-British propaganda towards India from a radio station in Berlin called Azad Hind (Free India). In this he was assisted by the presence of Subhas Chandra Bose, an imprisoned Congress politician who had escaped and arrived in Germany in January 1941.
Individuals in India demanded that the BBC do something in reply to German radio propaganda, but the authorities were slow to react. When they finally did decide to set up a specific Indian section of the Eastern Service, in the spring of 1941, it was run by Sir Malcolm Darling and Zulfaquar Ali Bokhari, who introduced an uninspiring program of weekly news bulletins, with music and comedy shows borrowed from the Home Service and the odd cultural program thrown in. This insipid diet drew the wrath of Kingsley Martin whose editorial in the New Statesman of July 5, 1941 denounced the bumbling inefficiency of the Ministry of Information generally and the poor show of the Indian program on the BBC in particular. His protest was rewarded by immediate effect: at the MoI Duff Cooper was replaced by Brendan Bracken, and George Orwell was recruited to breathe new life into the Indian Service of the BBC.

At the BBC, Orwell was friendly with Mulk Raj Anand. Orwell originally thought that Gandhi was a British puppet but later changed his ideas.

Jay Dubhasi had written a very interesting article on Orwell. Orwell replies Jay on visiting India - I asked him whether he was still keen to visit India. “Oh, yes” he said, “Don’t forget that I am an Indian and was born there.” Well he never did!!

When Nehru first visited Krishna Menon at the India League, he wanted to meet Orwell, Krishna Menon searched without success for Orwell, unfortunately he had moved. Actually Orwell was unwell and hospitalized with lung ailments. Some years later he succumbed to TB.

I have been trying hard to find an essay Orwell wrote on Krishna Menon, It is simply untraceable. Anybody who has it may kindly mail me a copy.

Mumbai - The aftermath

Too much written, too little said, too much chatter, too little matter. Two faces from the crowd, two faces from the many saviors of the day.

The man in the line of fire, Look at the him and his smile, the humility writ on his face, he is the one who gets little recognition, the one who is under all the pressure, the one whose life is on the line..

And the Policeman in Khaki, One of the underequipped, underpaid, and one of the ridiculed lot - See his expression – a parent's understanding, with an undercurrent of grim anger and sadness .

In the aftermath - With the people they live for..

No other photographs can say it better…Mumbai, we cry with you...

Thanks to the unknown photographers who posted these photos….