Thoughts,opinions and musings of a restless nomad

The origins of POSH

January 30, 2009 Posted by Maddy , , 9 comments
Normally I would not have wasted time writing on this kind of thing, but when I started to read the latest Clive Cussler Novel which opened up with the definition of POSH, I was intrigued for that word had already become part of my lexicon from early days. OK, so after reading the book, I wanted to check it out and check it out I did to realize that there is a real POSH world out there! So many hits - Google had thousands of hits on the word. Indeed, it was a pretty interesting trip with many Indian stop overs.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines Posh as "Smart and fashionable; exclusive”. Let us look at the interesting origins of the word.

The most elaborate version of the story associates the practice with the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, which from 1842 to 1970 was the major steamship carrier of passengers and mail between England and India. The P. & O. route went through the Suez Canal and the Red Sea. The cabins on the port side on the way to India got the morning sun and had the rest of the day to cool off, while starboard ones got the afternoon sun, and were still quite hot at bedtime. On the return trip, the opposite was true. The cooler cabins, therefore, were the more desirable and were reserved for the most important and richest travelers. Their tickets were stamped P.O.S.H. to indicate these accommodations—in large violet letters, according to one recollection. This account of the origin of ‘posh’ was even used in advertising by the P. & O. in the 1960s.

Oxford dictionary states - The story goes that the more well-to-do passengers traveling to and from India used to have POSH written against their bookings, standing for 'Port Out, Starboard Home' (indicating the more desirable cabins, on the shady side of the ship). Unfortunately, this story did not make its appearance until the 1930s, when the term had been in use for some twenty years, and the word does not appear to have been recorded in the form 'P.O.S.H.', which would be expected if it had originated as an abbreviation. Despite exhaustive enquiries by the late Mr George Chowdharay - Best, researcher for the OED, including interviews with former travelers and inspection of shipping company documents, no supporting evidence has been found. Unfortunately no tickets with Posh stamped on them have been found and company records reveal no sign of the phrase.

Merriam provides a nice explanation – We do not know the precise origin of the adjective posh, meaning "elegant, fashionable," but nearly everyone else seems to. Every year we get dozens of letters informing us that posh comes from the first letters of the phrase "port out, starboard home," which designated the most desirable accommodations on a steamship voyage from England to India and back.

The earliest example of posh in print comes from a cartoon in Punch, 25 September 1918. It shows an RAF officer talking to his mother and has this bit of dialogue: "Oh, yes, Mater, we had a posh time of it down there."—"Whatever do you mean by 'posh', Gerald?"—"Don't you know? It's slang for 'swish'" This exchange is not incompatible with an origin in university slang, but earlier evidence is lacking.

The most tantalizing earlier connection is in a 1903 story by P. G. Wodehouse in his Tales of St Austin's. In the story a character remarks of a bright yellow waistcoat that it is "quite the most push thing of the sort at Cambridge." Unfortunately for posh, Wodehouse spelled it push. In the much later Penguin paperback edition of the stories, the editor, Richard Usborne, changed push to posh. When queried, he replied that he suspected the original push to have been a misprint. If it was not a misprint, he thought it might have been a mistake by Wodehouse, who had never attended a university and who had made a number of small factual errors about Oxford and Cambridge in other stories. If Usborne's surmise is correct, posh would have been university slang. But it is only a surmise, and we are left with the intractable push originally printed.

This became quite popular actually and was even included in the lyrics of a song ‘Posh’ in ‘Chitty chitty bang bang’. But the myth continues to be one, with suggestions even that posh is an Urdu - Farsi word meaning “clothes.” The best guess as to its origin is that it derives from Romani, the language of the Rom (commonly known as Gypsies).A tenable theory is that "posh" meant "halfpenny" (from Romany "posh" "half") and then "money" before acquiring its present meaning. Now posh has a sarcastic tinge attached to it. This is (in British terminology) a lower middle-class term to describe people who act "above their level". People who actually are "posh" (upper-class people etc.) would not as I understand, use the word. And all this led to another acronym SOPH (for the travel from China to England) for another shipping route.

But well, why is port on the right and starboard on the left – for only this explanation will provide a definition to the term POSH. The answer goes back to Dragoon powered Viking ships of the 8th to 10th centuries. Because these ships were pointed at both ends and they were steered by a rudder (a.k.a steer board which evolved to starboard) not in the middle of the stern but on the right side. So as you come into dock, you have to dock on the left side to avoid hitting the rudder board on the dock. Thus port is on the left and starboard on the right

There are many such theories, but the one now accepted by many people, in a way, is the most exotic. Ironically, it was probably the European Gypsies, who came originally from Northern India themselves, who introduced "posh" to the English language without ever setting foot on an ocean liner. "Posh" is an actual word in Romany, the language of the Gypsies, meaning "half." Evidently the word originally entered the argot of England's underworld in the 17th century in such compounds as "posh-houri," meaning "half-pence," and soon became a slang term for money in general. From there it was a short hop to meaning "expensive" or "fancy." Posh Houri means half pence and posh koorna means half crown

As they say, one thing leads to another – all this aptly coincided with a study that I am into, the mysterious world of the Romany’s and their Indian origins!!!

A teaser – OK what is ‘Phat’? Pretty hips and thighs!! ‘Pommy’ is Prisoner of mother England!! Or ‘Cop’ - Constable on Patrol, ‘Golf’ - Gentlemen only ladies forbidden. well, well...we wasted a lot of time trying to find out some silly stuff – I will not go on any further lest you all clobber me, read the book Word Myths By David Wilton, Ivan Brunetti if you have the time and inclination.

Pics – P&O leaflet from the collection of Björn Larsson, pls check out his Introduction page.. Rajputana pic from bbc.

Aim, please

January 24, 2009 Posted by Maddy 11 comments
It was in Singapore a few months ago that I saw a poor bee stuck on the urinal of an upscale mall. Of course the next thing to do was to aim at the poor bee, but what else is one supposed to do? Then I got a little perplexed, the bee was not falling off. I looked closer; it seemed stuck on the porcelain wall. I looked across to the next urinal; the pot had a bee as well. Finally it dawned on me that it was painted on and meant for a purpose.

Curiously, after I got back, I found a chain mail in the inbox with the same storyline. And I discovered that it was an age old practice, lasting until the 19th century, after which it was discontinued. Some others who had done years of study on this opined with great wisdom that the early inventor found a bee stuck in his creation and put a bit of extra glaze on it. The mayor’s handbook at Wigan UK confirms the point - The Town Hall building also boasts an intriguing facility of another kind, two Edwardian gents’ urinals. These have a small picture of a bee etched into their glaze at a point which indicates where men were supposed to aim in order to avoid splashing their spats. The idea became popular and continued as a standard for a while till I guess some men started getting alarmed that the bee may fly out & sting!

Probably, men decided at that period that their aim was better or that urinals were better designed and all that and did away with the bee, but their aim started to get wild since then, splatter guards and cleaning expenses increased, the urinal cleaners union protested and so on…and the bee started reappearing in public urinals like at Schiphol, JFK and even in dorms such as at Duke. Many public schools have also been implementating the idea since then.

Goodmagazine states - Do they work? Since the bugs were etched into the airport urinals, spillage has decreased by 80 percent. Straightdope adds - When given a target, it seems, men instinctively aim at it. Side effect: Folks who've seen these urinals never again utter the cliché, "I wish I were a fly on the wall."

But I found out that the concept was even older in origins - When the Romans invented the first public urinal, they put a little target on it, so that the obvious temptation was to aim for the centre (or was it the martial mind working overtime?). And but surely, in the centre they put a little picture of a bumble bee. The Latin for bee is ‘apis’, hence the phrase that continues to date 'I'm going for apis'. Pis or Piss (now pee) is slang for urination.

So why a bee? Probably it also symbolized the message ‘as straight as a bee’s flight’ or ‘make a bee-line’…He made a beeline for the girl, bar, buffet, food etc – are usages derived from the straight lines that bees fly to reach an intended food destination. "There is no disagreement among scientists that returning foragers dance in the hive. Everyone also agrees that once a forager locates a good food source, she will be able to fly directly to and from that flower patch. That is, she flies a straight line (a bee-line) to the food patch from the hive using local landmarks and the sun for orientation." So the idea of showing the bee would have been to shoot straight like a bee’s flight (See my previous article on waggle dance, bees and Zigbee).

One manufacturer I believe added this text under the fly

We aim to please. Will you aim too, please?

Duke bee pic – Flickr , other pic from the web - google images

At the gym

January 16, 2009 Posted by Maddy , 13 comments
‘Not surprising’ said the young & pretty family doctor of ours - when I started to have problems with my lipids & TG’s & Cholesterol, and a chubby little tummy was starting to manifest itself. ‘You have to get more exercise, though things are not so bad yet’ she said. And thus I started getting pushed and prodded by my better half to exercise and ensure some longevity to this life. A family membership was promptly taken and I decided to ‘work out’ at the gym.

I was at first subjected to a good amount of ridicule by my second son who started by remarking that my shorts were too small and that my old tennis T shirts were too loose to be displayed in the open. Then the comment was that my trainers (I continued to call them canvas shoes to start with – we used to have brown canvas & white canvas shoes for gym & sports at school and the name stuck) were not of the latest types. I refused to listen to that or change my 10 year old trainers, they were Adidas and good. My son insisted that I wear Nike, but I rebelled and eventually in desperation purchased a black pair (again a question – black? You should only wear white) – of a lesser brand called ‘New balance’. Of course mothers take the son’s side, so I had a two against one situation in all these arguments. My shorts were vintage types with a lot of associated memories and I continued to use them. For those wondering, they were not so bad or so short, I did not look like the McEnroe in the picture, or like the very long stuff that reach knees (that is another style now - to drop the shorts to the knees and show your boxers). I used to carry my water bottle (sipper in today’s terms) and other things in a haversack during the tennis days. That idea was also shot down as it was not the right gear to carry to a gym. My son stated that there is no such term as haversack or knapsack - it is backpack and backpacks are anyway not used for such purposes as going to the gym. So I decided to carry a duffel bag (our esteemed airbag! When I explained this my son guffawed – airbag indeed!!). I had a biggish towel that I took for tennis, but that was not obviously right for you are supposed to sweat & drip in a gym. The next attack was on my tennis socks. It was supposedly completely out of tune, here you wear invisible or low rise socks, not the ‘oldie’ stuff that can be seen some 6” above your ankles.

The final addition to the ensemble was an mp3 player. Now you can imagine, I do not have an Ipod, I had a small ‘Sandisk’ player where I had loaded some of my favorite Malayalam, Tamil and Kannada songs. My son was astonished - ‘you are going to listen to that ‘Yesudoss’ chap while working out? ’ He rolled his eyes and with that stopped doling out further advise to the un-cool ‘old pop’.
So thus equipped, I trudged gingerly to the gym with an airbag, wearing a not so short but short shorts, a tighter company T shirt (one that I got free after a company outing), my new ‘N’ trainers, a water bottle (I planned to fill it with water at the gym drinking fountains – this was also considered terribly wrong – one should take real bottled water & twist the sealed cap off with a flourish each day according to the little fellow) and my ‘Sandisk’ mp3 player.

The girl at the reception a nice, pretty and well endowed girl, made me wish I was twenty years younger. So I sucked my stomach in, deepened my voice to make it sound like Mamooty (only to remember quickly that she would not even know who that was) and went up to her desk like I was a professional ‘work outer’. She ran the bar code of my card on her swiping machine and waved me in without even giving this superb specimen of humanity a once over. My son who was with me was many steps behind; he acted like he had no idea who I was once we stepped through the gym doors.

That first day two years ago was soon forgotten.

Soon I became one among the community of work outers; I purchased one of those longer shorts, some tighter dark T shirts and low rise socks after merciless pressure at home and got rid of the perfectly useful but old Adidas vintage shoes with great remorse. Now I go to the gym often, and it is great fun to watch and observe people as you ‘do your thing’.

You see a whole new class of sweating humanity. Yes, that is what it is on the surface, but as you see these people more often you could attempt to look into their lives and minds, if you wanted to, without ever speaking to them. This is what I do as I work out and as others subject me to the same analysis.

There is this couple. He looks at least 60 plus years old and obviously one who has just had a major surgery. His wife looks slightly younger and accompanies him religiously with the sole purpose of getting him back into shape. You can see the love of their years together and the absolute commitment to improve their lives after the setback. They can be seen consulting the trainers and struggling through the regimen, always the wife in the machine next to her husband’s, softly egging him on. Many a time, my eyes went moist observing this marvelous couple. On some gloomy days, they were the ones who kept me going. But the others were all quite different, by and far most people look serious and contented, some have friends whom they chat with, between routines though, many are shy, intensely private and hardly meet your eyes or look up.

There is the big workout hall that I stay away from. It is mostly full of young & attractive women, and no men. They can be seen pirouetting to various forms of music, goaded on by a vigorous trainer, one who I guess belonged to a circus ring in her previous life. They do yogic poses and dances and various other things like stepping on and off a low stool or rolling on big rubber balls. Since there are glass walls all around, it is good exercise for my eyes, tracking these women and their enjoyable movements.

Sometimes I see marvelous specimens of youth, and naturally only the female kind catches my eye. You see the types that even Hugh Heffner would take notice of, and you naturally get distracted. There are always young and active groups – friends from school, sometime it is a group of cheerleaders trying out their moves. Then of course there are innocent newbie’s who have been snared by trainers. For them it is like they have joined the army, a series of compulsory routines and exercises have to be done in full view of keenly observing public. They (usually young & attractive girls who think they have some extra flesh somewhere – I myself have always believed them perfectly fit and having the right amounts of flesh at the right places, but alas! they do not think so) are surely hoping to be rid of the trainer as quickly as possible and cursing their stars for the decision taken to come to the gym and say ‘yes’ to that trainer.

The basketball room is full of towering male hulks, mostly wearing Lakers insignia and massive basketball shoes, screaming & running and sweating and dunking the ball with glee. My son can often be seen playing ball with them, competing hard though not as tall or hefty. When he gets into that room, his language changes and the slightly ‘English’ accent becomes the hard American accent, as used by other basketballer’s. I stay well away from this place – it is not for me.

I have however tried out the ‘racquet ball’ room where you beat the hell out of a squidgy rubber ball with puny racquets (somewhat like squash) – you smash the black ball mercilessly on the wall in front and realize that the protesting ball does not even want to come back to you or your hitting partner. So you run to meet it and hit it harder…the process goes on for a while. After a few minutes, your knees scream in pain, your lungs are about to burst and you realize that you need to get back into shape before you come again into this room with the glass doors. Especially, when you notice young kids outside, observing your comic antics.

The machines are ok; the girls are always running on the treadmills or using the skiing thing, or cycling. I spend a while on the bikes and the said machines and manage to work off about 100 calories in 15 minutes. A trainer comes by to ask if I need some help. I vehemently state in the negative, scaring him away, for they are on the prowl to find ‘bakhras’ who can be bilked for the next few months off a few hundred dollars (you see, I have been warned by other Gym veterans). The cleaning lady walks by dusting and wiping the machines now and then and you wonder about their lives. You notice some people who are so fastidious and use the alcohol based cleaning cream after each machine so that germs don’t get into their system. Now and then you see some serene cycler’s using the versions where you can lean back and read as you cycle. They are, I believe, the ones who go back and nibble on biscuits & cucumber sandwiches while sipping green tea.

There is this room where they have something like a race going on. A trainer lady screams her head off into a mike and exhorts the stationery cyclists in front to imagine that they are riding up the Alps. She asks them to put the gears down to the 1st or 2nd and pedal away till your ears pop and your eyes bulge. Then she feels bad and agrees to ‘up a gear’ and thus continues the session. The men and women look like they have seen hell already – man! that is indeed not for me. They call this spinning.
I decided to go to the rowing machine. Always I am reminded of visiting Oxford and Cambridge and the rowing competition between them. So I start to imagine that I am with the Oxford team as I pull the oars, the wind from the spinning machine fans my face and I watch the display in front counting off the calories and strokes. I can manage about 20 minutes of that and manage to shed 100 more calories.

As you do all this, you notice the bodies, the thin, the thick, the healthy, the unhealthy, the sallow, the robust, the tough ones and also the solid military types (There are a number of them here, being close to a few army bases). And you start to notice the tattoos. You see the nice ones, a small butterfly on the small of the back or on the stomach, snakes, all kinds of vague shapes all straight from the tattooer’s dreams, I guess. Some have whole hands or legs tattooed; some nice looking girls come in fully dressed and demure. Once out of the changing rooms, you see them in full flow with rearing tattoos and a fierce expression instead. You wonder – what are they trying to say with these tattoos – some kind of rebellion? In the old days it was meant to signify territorial kinship, caste or religious affiliations, but today it is cool.

There are many whom you see just once and there are many regulars. The Indians typically (we have one or two in our gym) ignore each other and even change timings so that they never meet you again. But my wife also met a great lady the other day who gave us the ‘starter’ for the yogurt (curds) process at home. Alas! She is missing these days. We have many TV’s facing us as we work out, showing Larry king and other news readers or some kind of sport. Close caption text which is usually reeling out gibberish at the wrong (or dare I say right) times tell us what comes from those lips unless one can tune his FM receiver to a set frequency for each channel (I can do that with my ‘Sandisk’ – I tell my son, your Ipod can’t do that, and he goes mum).

The weight guys are nuts – they are the most serious of the lot and have such humongous muscles after pumping all that iron, and I think their sole reason for existence on this planet is only to make you snivelingly shameful. I remember the time when I could convince my sons that I had some muscle on the biceps, now they snigger when I roll up my sleeves to show they are still there.

The changing rooms are a shock for most Indians going the first time, as many men strip off in front of you (I am told it is the same in the women’s section). Some days they have gala feasts with DJ’s playing loud rock music and all that, all kinds of great food is served and they always ensure that garlic bread & pasta is on. The divine smell wafts through the whole cavernous hall and everybody has rumbling stomachs and yearning eyes. I think this is actually meant to ensure that you gorge on all that free food and are induced to come back for even more work out. I for one don’t eat any of that stuff – I get fine cooked food at home, so I have absolutely no interest. Strangely they have at least 5 restaurants just outside the gym and a great big liquor store!!

Ah well…it is time to wind up this rambling note and head off to the gym – who knows what I am going to see there today? Today I have plans to try out a new machine. Even though I have seen others handle it and have read the very tiny set of instructions that hardly make sense, I am still a wee bit worried that the handle may fly off my hands and somebody will see. Worry not, I will give it a go anyway and let you all know. With SPB singing ‘Nilave Vaa’ in my ears, and only for me, in South California today, I don’t think I will do wrong.

Urdu and its origins

January 12, 2009 Posted by Maddy , 24 comments
Often, when I see ‘Indian Idol’ I take notice of the complaints by the eminent judges that the contestant is not pronouncing the Urdu language properly. Javed Akhtar’s countenance changes, his brows wrinkle, his face takes on an indignant frown and he lets loose a tough sermon to the nervous singer in front.

I can imagine that Javed Bhai was severely lectured on this by his illustrious father the Urdu poet Jan Nisar Akhtar and his famous uncles and his grandfather, all of whom were great Urdu poets. I mean no disrespect to any of these people; I hold them all in greatest regard. However, I wanted to share with you all some details on how the language evolved, from its origins as a language meant to be spoken by the lowly soldiers in the Islamic ruler’s military. I have to make a comment here, which is..... It is after all a camp soldier’s language that morphed into the poet’s language. As a mixture of a number of languages, corrupted over time, could it ever have ‘a’ correct pronunciation? A Turk would balk at the way a Turkish component in Urdu is pronounced, so also an Arab would frown at the Arab word as pronounced in Urdu!!

Now how would I ever know about all these? It takes me back to the 51/2 years I spent in Turkey. Many people there would ask me ‘you speak Urdu’? Did you know that Urdu evolved from Turkish? Some would say – Urdu is not how it was called originally, it was Urduca (Urduja if phonetically spelt) or soldier’s language. Then I came across a very interesting person, an ex Ambassador of India in Turkey, Mr Gajendra Singh who had done his doctorate on this very subject. He provided me with a copy of an article written by him ‘contribution of Turkic languages to Hindustani languages’ which I then read with great interest.

Starting with Mahmud of Ghazni (971-1030AD), Urdu grew to lay its roots in the North West and Central India. It evolved over the last two centuries and soon became a base for poetry in the North of India and Pakistan. The mogul courts used basically two languages, Persian or Farsi and the religious language which was Arabic. The sultans themselves spoke Turkish (or a Turkic variant). Urdu or Ordu means tent or army and Urduca was thus the language of the army. This ‘Lashkarai Zaban’ or Zaban e Ordu was needed for the armies of India, armies that often comprised soldiers with various native mother tongues from diverse regions of the Middle East & India. Hence, Urdu evolved to become the chosen language to address these soldiers as it abridged several base languages.

Urdu later enjoyed commanding status in the literary courts of late Muslim rulers and Nawabs, and flourished under their patronage, partially displacing Persian as the language of elite in the then Indian society.

Mir Amman of Dihli (1804) explains the origins in the preface of his popular Urdu book ‘Bagh O Bahar’ – (Extracted from J Muir’s Origin & history of the people of India Vol2 pg 6)

I have heard the following from my ancestors – The city of Delhi has existed in the opinion of Hindus for the last four yugas. It was inhabited of old by the kings with their subjects, who spoke their own dialects. A thousand years ago, the rule of the Mussalman’s began. Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni came. Then the Ghori and Lodi dynasties held sway. In consequence of this intercourse, a certain mixture of the languages of the Mussalmans and Hindus took place. At length, Amir Taimur conqured Hindustan. In consequence of his arrival and residence, the bazaar of the army was introduced into the city and the bazaar of the city came in consequence to be called Urdu. When King Akbar acceded to the throne, all races, learning the liberty of that unequalled family and patronage of merit gathered round his court from all the surrounding countries. But the language of all the people were different. From their being collected together, trafficking together and talking with each other, a camp (Urdu) language became established. At length the Urdu language being gradually polished attained such a degree of refinement that no speech of the city can vie with it.

The Encyclopedia Britannica by Chisholm states that it is the dialect of prose, rather than poetry. But over time Urdu got heavily Persian’ized. It is interesting to note that this happened due to the Hindu’s in the Mughal courts and due to their apparent intent to please their rulers who spoke mainly Farsi or Persian. The formal prose took shape in the College of Fort William when text books had to be written in early 19th century for the new Soldiers of the British army. The recent forms are mainly due to the loading of Arabic and even more Farsi words into that Urdu by the users in Lucknow. The present form of Hindi was also apparently due to the teachers at Fort William, adopted to teach the Hindu soldiers. But the naturally adapted version of Urdu became popular with poets.

Today when you hear the adab’s and takalluf’s, think a bit of the rough and tough of the battle field – for that is also where all this politeness and polish of tongue was perfected. The word horde comes from Ordu – Army!! Interesting, isn’t it?


Pic – Battle of Haldighati – Historical Rajasthan

Nambiar, Bose & Germany

January 06, 2009 Posted by Maddy 22 comments

Sometimes, in the course of searching for something, you come across something else that proves interesting. That is how I chanced across another very interesting person, one whom I have never heard of. When Independent India started young in 1947, Nehru had three Malayali’s serving key positions as ambassadors/high commissioners. One was VK Krishna Menon in the UK, the other was KM Panickkar in China and the third was ACN Nambiar in West Germany.

ACN Nambiar was well known to the freedom fighter clan, but I doubt if anybody will even recollect anything about such a person, today. In many ways his work resulted in the ‘proverbial straw’ breaking the camels back when it comes to the British leaving India!! That will be better explained in an upcoming article on the Germany based Indisch legion during the WWII. Well, here was a man who hobnobbed with the elite in Europe, even though just a journalist. He was India’s link man in Germany and met often with people such as Himmler Hitler, Goebbels etc when Bose visited Germany.

Nanu Nambiar as he was fondly called by Jawaharlal Nehru, was a well known journalist in the 1930’s and 1940’s working in Germany. He was prominent with the upper echelons of society (!) who went on to become leaders of free India, mainly due to three reasons, one his presence in Germany for many years thereby establishing him as the key Indian contact, two - his friendship with NSC Bose and the third - his being the brother in law of Sarojini Naidu, thus cementing his relationship with the Nehru Clan. When Bose left Germany after two years of stay there, he handed over the reins of the free India centre to Nambiar, who managed it eminently till the Azad Hind armies were sent back to India.

In the 30’s Germany was the maelstrom of politics, intrigue and anti Semitic feelings. As the Nazi juggernaut (now this word Juggernaut has its origins at the chariot procession of the Puri Jaganath temple!!)was rolling on the anti British movement was just picking up in India. Bose had other ideas, wanting a different approach from the Satyagraha concept favored by Gandhi. He decided to find the enemies of the British and befriend them. The first was Hitler’s Germany. Escaping from house arrest, he moved through the North of India, via Afghanistan to Prague. It was here that he first met Arathil Candeth Narayanan Nambiar, a roving journalist covering Europe.

Venkayil Kunhiraman Nayanar, MLA of Madras legislative assembly, Coronation medal holder fondly known as Kesari, wrote for many papers and magazines (also the first Malayalam short story Vasanavikriti). Nayanar, hailing from Chirakkal Cannanore, was a good friend of both Herman Gundert and William Logan. Nayanar's son Arathil Kandoth Narayanan Nambiar married Suhasini, the sister of India's National Poet Sarojini Naidu. In European circles, the name is recorded as Arathil Candeth Narayanan Nambiar or Narain Nambiar.

Nambiar is not mentioned often in most history books, only passing references are made of him. Mihir Bose in his book Raj, secrets and revolution – A life of Subash Chandra Bose reveals some details. Nambiar, was first noticed and recorded as a suspect civilian Indian in the continent of Europe after reaching there from London. He moved to Germany in 1922. This was the time when the British were tracking VKK Menon and many others like Chatto (Virendra Chatopadhaya) for communist leanings. Nambiar’s wife Suhasini (Sarojini’s and Padmaja’s younger sister) was a Communist party member, close friend of Chatto and had been to Russia. There were three Indian groups in Germany at that time, one the group comprising Chatto & Champakaraman Pillai, the second that had links with the German socialist party and the third which was formed by Nambiar who in turn was sponsored by Nehru ( NSC Bose’s autobiography penned by Narayan Gopal & Bose)

Upon reaching Germany, Suhasini and he got divorced for reasons best known to them and she left back for India. Nambiar met and continued a relationship with Eva Geisler, a typist in the German Communist party office. Eva’s sister Louise was at that time, MN Roy’s paramour. Nambiar then started administering the Indian student’s information bureau in Berlin and was the FPI Berlin correspondent. In addition to this, he was AICC representative in Germany. But things would not be too comfortable for him. On 28th Feb 1933, he was accosted by some Nazi Thugs, pistol whipped and arrested. He was served deportation orders on 25th March for being an undesirable alien in the Third Reich and was given 8 days to leave.

Bose who had reached Berlin by then and was establishing contacts with the Nazi machine through Lothar Frank (member of Indo German society) heard about this and many other incidents related to Indians living in Germany. Bose went to the German foreign office where he met Curt Pruefer, who headed the British Empire section. With his help, Bose managed to get the deportation order on Nambiar delayed for some months and (1,000DEM) compensation awarded. After that event Nambiar was provided with a ₤5/- monthly retainer by Bose.

Why did Bose do all this? Because according to Mihir Bose, NSC Bose wanted Nambiar back in Berlin. He saw Nambiar as the unifier of Indians resident in the region. The Indians as usual were by then in split movements, pro and anti Nazi as explained previously. Nambiar belonged to the latter, whereas Champakaraman Pillai belonged to the former.

Bose waited to meet the fuehrer, but it would prove to be a long wait, taking all of two years. In the meantime he tried to move on to Russia using the contacts of Eva Geisler, but the Russians thought otherwise. All this time he was sick and tiring in health (Gall bladder stones). Around then, Bose met Mussolini, toured the Balkans, got his illusions about Istanbul Turkey rudely shattered, eventually landing up in Vienna. Bose wanted his writings published and while hunting for a stenographer, he met Emilie Schenkel, who became his secretary, later his lover and finally his wife.

Nambiar had in the meantime moved on to Prague, and was an established journalist for many Indian papers. Eva moved with him. Nehru was in Europe to meet his wife Kamala who was ailing and admitted there. Even though Bose could not get along well with Gandhi, he was good friends with Nehru even though their positions sometimes differed. Nehru, Kamala and Indira moved from London to Vienna. Here was where Nambiar got introduced to Nehru by Bose. Soon Nambiar was Naanu to the Nehru family. Kamala Nehru used to discuss with Nanu her anxiety about Indira marrying Feroze, Indira’s dress sense and hairstyle. (Indira Gandhi – by Katherine Frank)

When Bose returned to Berlin to try & meet Hitler, Nambiar was taken along to interpret. After that visit, Bose & Nambiar remained in constant contact and in 1942, when Azad Hind radios started broadcasting propaganda; Nambiar was very much involved in the management. When Bose met the top guns like Reinhard Heidrich and Himmler, Nambiar was his station deputy.

In Feb 1943, Bose sailed to Japan, leaving the Indian legion or the Azad Hind in Nambiar’s care. Nambiar also became the official European representative in Bose’s (Exile government) parliament.

Nambiar is famous for this story on how his Indian name helped him escape Nazi border guards…(Sourced from Sociology of Names and Nicknames of India, With Special Reference to Kashmir -by Ram Krishen Kaul)


Mr A. C. N. Nambiar was informed by his German friends that Hitler's S.S. was after him and two other Indians and they should hasten to escape to Switzerland. Nambiar took the advice, collected the two Indians and left Berlin. As they came within a few yards of the Swiss border, an S. S. Captain arrived from nowhere and stopped them. He lined them up asking questions in English. First was the Bengali, who was voluble and argumentative individual.

S. S. Captain: Name?
Bengali: Basu
S. S. Captain: Christian name?
Basu: There is no such thing in India
S. S. Captain: (shouting) Christian name?
Basu: Tarapada
S. S. Captain: Catholic or Protestant?
Basu: There is no such thing in India
S. S. Captain: (Furious) Catholic or Protestant?
Basu: Protestant
Next came A. C. N. Nambiar who knew German well.
S. S. Captain: Name?
Nambiar: Nambiar
S. S. Captain: Christian name?
Nambiar: Arathil Candeth Narayan
S. S. Captain: Catholic or Protestant?
Nambiar: Catholic
Bengali (intervening): He is no Catholic
S. S. Captain (Angry): Do you know punishment for lying?
Nambiar: I shall explain. If you look at the map of Europe you will see all the northern countries are predominantly protestant and the southern countries are predominantly Catholic. This is the result of Reformation. Mr Basu comes from northern India, that is how he is protestant. I come from the south of India, that is why I am a Catholic.
S. S. Captain: (impressed) You must be a Brahmin.
Nambiar: Yes, (Actually he is a non-Brahmin).
Last came the Telugu Brahmin who was smart.
S. S. Captain: Name?
Telugu Brahmin: Prathivadibhayankaram Thiruvenkatesh Warayya Pantulu Garu.

The S. S. Captain was flabbergasted. He looked around and made sure that no S. S. man was spying on him. Then he said, "Go, I will never be able to write this". All the three walked over to the safety of Switzerland.

Many years later, in 1947, Nambiar was appointed Ambassador to West Germany. Nehru had arrived as Indian Prime Minister, to meet Chancellor Adenauer. Around there was secretary general (External affairs ministry) NR Pillai as well who came up with this interesting anecdote (Quoted from Sankar Ghose’s autobiography of Nehru). Nambiar wanted liquor to be served for the dinner, but Nehru was famed for never permitting it. In this particular case, he said; OK tell Nanu that he can start with serving sherry followed by Moselle Wine and Rhine wine, nothing else. He and NR Pillai should abstain from drinking…

Not much is known about Nanu Nambiar or Eva Geisler after the Ambassadorial posting to Germany. All I could find was the document signed by him with the new Germany about caring for the Indian war graves in Germany. Considering that he was a year older than Bose, he would have been just 51 in 1947…

And the others in the story? “Chatto”, as the famous revolutionary was called, had managed to escape to the USSR, where (Leningrad) he worked in for many years in the Soviet Academy of Sciences. He was among the many foreign communists who lost their lives in Stalin’s “purges” of the nineteen-thirties. Suhasini Nambiar as explained earlier, escaped in the late twenties from Germany after the Nazis came to power and reached India as a stowaway in a boat. Suhasini was the first woman to join the then underground Communist Party of India and became its president. She then married Marathi trade union leader R.M. Jambhekar. Champaka Raman Pillai – Well, I covered him briefly in my blog on Emeden. He was involved in all kinds of activities, before being poisoned to death in Germany & finally succumbing to it in Italy. Bose vanished from the face of this earth and many conspiracy theories abound.

Pics - Internet - thanks

Head facing north

January 01, 2009 Posted by Maddy , , 54 comments
I was caught in a perplexing situation. We had moved into our California house and equipped it with all the furniture over two years ago…and some months later I started suffering from fitful sleep. Initially I attributed it to work pressure and ageing, also to eating a heavy dinner. In a previous visit to the Grand Canyon, we had purchased an American Indian dream catcher charm, but it did not help even though the ring and crow feathers adorn the walls above our heads. I started to check out what to do about the slight insomnia and difficulty staying awake on long drives…

Then arose a new dimension. When we visited a cousin recently, this chap illuminated us with some reasons as to which directions one must use in Vastu Shastra. He said that one should never have the head face North while sleeping. It troubled me no end, as I realized that our sleeping heads did indeed face North. He added that in Aryan civilization, the funeral pyre only faced north, not the living body, explaining further that according to Vastu one must sleep facing South or East so as to harmonize the elements. Vastu states- Sleeping with one's head to the north is a no-no. According to Vastu principles, the human body acts as a magnet with the head as its North Pole. If the head points north while sleeping, the North Poles of the body and Earth will repel each other, affecting the blood circulation and causing disturbed sleep and stress. South, East & West are acceptable.

Checking further, I found out that American Navajo Indians also believed that you should never sleep facing North, as it was evil and only for dead people (Wow ! just like in India!!). Their taboos are pretty interesting, check it out.

I also learnt the mythological story connected to this matter - that when Lord Shiva was prevented from entering the Parvathi’s private quarters by Ganesha, he loped off Ganesha’s head (the detailed story has many more dimensions with Sandalwood, Brahma, kali etc involved). Parvathi was livid and asked Shiva to fix the problem, which was apparently possible only by bringing the head of the first north (North because it is auspiciously related to wisdom) facing ‘sleeping’ being. Nandi, Shiva’s cow finds Airawatha the baby elephant, chops off its head and brings it to Shiva who attaches it to Ganesha’s body & revives him. BTW many versions of this story exist where Ganesha’s head is lost due to other gods. Now what has this story got to do with sleeping with head facing North? Well, see what happened to the poor baby elephant. I guess this is how it is sometimes told to inquisitive children who ask why they should not face north while sleeping.

However the Internet yielded contradicting answers on my dilemma. Feng Shui stated clearly that one must only sleep facing north to avoid Insomnia. Bali Hindus always lay facing north. Some sites mentioned that south is also not a good idea though East & West are!!

This person says the following

Sleeping North -Sleeping North means your head is North and your feet South. This is always the best place for small children and old people, or anyone needing a really quiet life, after operation or trauma, after a divorce or break up when you need the traditional three months space alone, try sleeping North especially when you need a resting peaceful time in your life; time on your own, to think and change as we all know the best spiritual changes occur in the most quiet times of your life.

Sleeping South - Sleeping South, means your head is South and feet pointing North. This direction of sleep means that your body is in harmony with the earth’s electromagnetic energy fields, and flowing in the same way from South to North Pole, from your head to your feet. This will give you a strong sleep and wake up feeling alive and vibrant. I recommend this for everyone as the best way to sleep.

Sleeping East -Sleeping East cuts across the magnetic energy fields and is in harmony with the suns energy rising from the east, if you are looking for new fresh start, a new outlook on life, then this direction will give you the aliveness, motivation and new start energy you need.

Depending on the time of the year, when you want your new energy boost in harmony with the rising sun, may make a difference to whether sleeping East is indeed North East of South East, that is to say point your head in the direction of sunrise


Anyway there is a lot of stuff on the net about this particular issue saying this or that. I finally decided two days ago to change the bed alignment, so got hold of my sons and shifted all the furniture. Now we sleep head facing East. The first night was painful, my back hurt from all the lifting activity and I hardy slept. The second night was alright. Let us see what the New Year brings. I will keep you informed.

Pics - Wikipedia..Thanks

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