suggestion box

Okhil Chandra Sen wrote this letter to the Sahibganj divisional railway office in 1909. It is on display at the Railway Museum in New Delhi. It was also reproduced under the caption “Travellers’ Tales” in the Far Eastern Economic Review.

“I arrive by passenger train in Ahmedpur station and my belly is too much swelling with jackfruit. I therefore went to a toilet. Just I was doing that nuisance that guard makes a whistle blow for the train to go off and I am running with ‘lotah’ in one hand and ‘dhoti’ in the next when I fall over and expose all my shocking to men and women on plateform. I am leaved by the train at Ahmedpur station.
This is too much bad, if passenger go to make dung that dam guard cannot wait train for five minutes for him. I therefore pray your honour to make big fine on that guard for public sake. Otherwise I am making big reports in the papers.
Yours faithful servant,

Any guesses why this letter was of historic value?
It apparently led to the introduction of toilets on trains.
In the first 55 years of operation of the Indian Railways, there were no toilets in trains. On July 2, 1909, an aggrieved Babu Okhil Chandra Sen lodged a complaint to the then Transportation Superintendent, Sahibganj. After this, the railway authorities had no other option but to introduce toilets in all lower class carriages in trains running more than 50 miles at that time. Okhil wrote this letter in his anguish. Though the letter certainly lacked the basic English grammar but it really became an important document in the history of Indian railway.
I am writing this post, because although many of us are disgusted from the service provided by government (and also private sector companies), very few of us have the courage to do anything about it. A simple letter of complaint goes a long way in improving the systems.

History Investing

East India Company

Incorporated in 1600 was one of the first traded stocks in the world. There is no dearth of evidence that East India’s operations were highly profitable and they reaped profits in shiploads (boatloads). Apart from India, the company had near monopoly in trade with China (opium) and America (before Boston Tea party). It was so successful that it was called ‘The Company’ during its heydays.
What is surprising is that throughout its 2 century of profiteering, the company did not make much wealth for its investors. In 1772, no one was ready to loan money to the Company because of rampant corruption in the ranks. The top man, Warren Hastings was impeached on corruption charges and his predecessor Robert Clive also faced many corruption charges. In 1773 (when company was at its heights) the British Government passed Regulating Acts to control corruption. However Company’s finances never recovered and in 1857 it declared bankruptcy and transferred its assets (right to rule India) to the Crown.
I do not want to start a patriotic debate, but just want to raise the importance of corporate governance while choosing one’s stocks. Traditionally Indian businessmen were infamous for over-invoicing and pocketing part of the proceeds raised from banks/government and stock market. The practice has been slowly changing, but still there is no dearth of company which makes huge yoy profits and yet little or no dividend/capital growth.

History Thoughts


As Indians we did the following and still a non-negligible population follow these:

We used Banana leaves instead of plates.

We used Shikakai for our hairs.  Shampoos were unheard off.  Pure Coconut oil was used.  No creams or sprays.

The serving laddles were made with coconut shells and bamboo sticks.  Not metal.  The vessels were also stone pots or earthern pots.

The daylight was used to its fullest. The houses built had good cross ventilation.

Hand held fans (Pankha in Hindi and Visiri in Tamil) were used.  No air conditioners.

Neem tree twigs were used to brush the teeth.  No tooth pastes.

For grinding purposes, the tranditional grinding stones were used.  No mixies or grinders.

Henna/Mehendi/Marudhani was used.  Nail polish weren’t used.

Fresh vegetables and fruits were used.  No cheese/frozen products.

Every locality had a cow barn.  The cows were milked at each and every doorstep depending on the requirement.  Thus arose no questions about transportation, packaging etc., The cows were allowed to graze the fields freely.

Curd was made at home.  Not bought in stores.

Fresh cheese (paneer) was prepared at home.  Cheese was unheard off.

Naan, roti, chappatis, rice were the staple food.  Porridge was consumed for breakfast or other dishes based upon the staple grains.  Bread/cornflakes weren’t known to us.

A refrigerator was never needed to store food.  Food prepared on a day was consumed the same day itself.  In summer, drinking water was stored in earthern pots which kept the water cool.

For packaging groceries, old newspapers and jute were used.  No plastic sachets.

Why then have we changed now? 🙁

Everybody is welcome to contribute to the list.


History of Aryans (Some questions)

Ever wondered how is it that even though Indus valley civilization is considered the oldest civilization, Tamil is considered to be the oldest language?

Well this article from mint raises some more such questions.. read it in your leisure.

When exactly did India’s most famous battle — Kurukshetra — take place? My search uncovered some intriguing details. Historians disagree on the date. It ranges from around 3200 BC to 700 BC — a period of 2,500 years! Curiously, historians unanimously agree that Kurukshetra did not take place between 2500 BC and 1500 BC. This is the period when the Indus Valley civilization “collapsed”.
History reveals that around 2000-1800 BC, all along the Euro-Asian west-east axis, a horde of invaders, from above the 50N latitudes called the horse-people, pushed down. Every civilization — China, India, Mesopotamia, Anatolia and Greece — was overcome as they had the most powerful weapon known then — the horse chariot. Who were the invaders and who were the displaced?
Think why no one wants to place the Kurukshetra battle in that gap of 1,000 years. It would tantamount to admitting that the Pandavas and/or the Kauravas were the “invaders” or “outsiders” — the Aryans who displaced the then flourishing Indus Valley civilization and pushed it south to become the Dravidian culture. This aspect has assumed political overtones and, hence, the denials and silence over it.
Here’s what happened. There was an Indus Valley civilization which belonged to the Vedic culture. The Aryans, the horse-chariot people, displaced and pushed it south. The horse-people with no culture of their own adapted the Vedic culture and the Vedic Indus Valley civilization had a second innings.
Both the epics, Ramayan and Mahabharat, talk of battles involving horses and chariots. There is no evidence of any horse in present-day India and Pakistan till 2000-1800 BC. The horse came carrying the invaders from the northern latitudes. Next, take a globe. Put your thumb at the point where the 55 degrees east longitude and 55 degrees north latitude intersect. This will be just south of the Urals, above the mid-point between the Caspian and Aral Seas, north of Kazakhstan. With your thumb as the fulcrum and your little finger on Gujarat, draw an arc. It will end in Spain. This entire swathe of land shares the Indo-European group of languages. Of course, there are exceptions — Arabic, Basque, Turkish, etc.
But the most startling exception lies in the Kalat region of Baluchistan, Pakistan, and its border with Afghanistan. Nestled there today are more than two million people who speak Brahui, a Dravidian group language! But they did not “get” there. They were already there and became the typical “pocket” when invasions swept the majority away. That’s why Tamil is the oldest of all present Indian languages and Tamilians were perhaps the first Sindhis! After all they drank jhalam (Tamil for water) from the river that has this name. Will someone explain this paradox — if the Indus Valley civilization is the oldest in India, how is Tamil the oldest language? Unless the Dravidian civilization predates the Indus Valley.
Look below the 55E-55N point and at the routes by which you can reach the extremities of your arc. Every point can be reached by continuing along rivers or shores of lakes, i.e., the invasion-cum-migration had the most important resource necessary to travel such vast distances — water. The most famous rivers in Central Asia are the Syr Darya and Amu Darya! The “oldest” DNA found in an Indian was in Tamil Nadu, near Madurai. How about a DNA survey of those in north/north-west India, the present inhabitants of the steppes and those living between 25 degrees and 45 degrees north latitudes in West Asia and Europe?
The biggest give-away is the “18-day” war. Military historians will tell you man’s ability to sustain a battle proper (sieges are not battles) for more than a day came only when railways made logistics feasible. Waterloo (AD 1815), probably the last big battle before railways, took just one day. The “day” in the Kurukshetra battle is evidently metaphorical. For, it was oral history. It was more likely to have been 18 months or even 18 years — just the time needed for a migration-cum-invasion to displace a culture and a civilization 3,500 years ago.
If the Mahabharat involved the horse-people, then what about the more antiquated Ramayan, which talks not only of horses, but also the famed Asvamedha yagna? Was Ram a Cossack, the most famed of all horse-people? Doesn’t “Valmiki” sound Russian, perhaps a corruption of Vladmikhailovich, who lived in the present Russian town named Sverdlovsk, formerly perhaps Swargalok? If we don’t accept the invasion theory, then the only other explanation is that both Mahabharat and Ramayan took place outside India, on the Russian steppes, and their stories have come down to us as oral histories through the horse-people, which were then refined to suit cultural and later ethnic, social and political agendas.
T.R. Ramaswami


Jodha Akbar, A mockery of History

Can somebody teach Ashutosh Gowariker elementary level Indian History. A friend finally managed to pull me for this 4 hour long movie. She knew that I am very much interested in History and thought I might love to see it come to life. But this movie was a mockery of history. Here is how.

1) Rajputs at the time of Akbar spoke Marwari (or its variants) while Mugals spoke Persian in court. However the movie made a mockery of the history by making the Hindu actors speak so pure Hindi that it looked like speaking Sanskrit and Muslims speak Urdu.. I agree that expecting the audience to understand Persian might be too much to ask for, but Marwadi is an easy language to grasp.

2) Siege of Chittorgarh: Chittorgarh was one of the most strongly defended fort of Rajputs and was the center of all resistance to Mugals. The fort was considered impregnable and Akbar had to lay an expensive and bloody 58 day siege to defeat it. (which also included a lucky matchlock hit to then Rajput chief Jaimal which demoralized the defending army) This battle established Muslim dominance over the region and make Akbar famous. but the movie conveniently ignored this important siege. Also it ignored the slaughter & rape that followed.

Then there were lots of discrepancies in the weapons used:
3) Cavalry archer and composite bow: Although towards the end there was a small scene where cavalry archers were shown, the movie simply ignored them.
The reason why Mugals (from the time of Babar) had military dominance was because of their mastery in making composite bow (an Mongol art which is now lost). Unlike the bows made of traditional wood, these bows were made of bone tendon of ox and wood shavings binded together in a short, light yet powerful bow. These bows were light enough to be used by a mounted archer and yet powerful enough to inflict a lethal wound at even 400 yards distance (500 m).
Cavalry archer was a highly trained Mongol/Persian soldier (Native Indian soldiers were never allowed to join these ranks dominated by Khans) against which there was actually no defense. A foot archer cannot defend himself once the enemy closes in, hence his use and deployment is limited. But a mounted archer could close in at lightning speed, shoot a couple of arrows without stopping and flee to safety before the enemy could even think of retaliating. Also since they wore little or no armor, these soldiers were faster than normal heavy cavalry, who were glorified in this battle. Hence making a chase not only impossible, but one which could potentially lead into traps. Cavalry archers were the primary reason why Babar, with his tiny army could decimate the then Indian rulers.

BTW the depiction of a lone foot archer taking repeated shots at Hemu Vikramaditya is ridiculous. No archer can even stand a chance to be so close to enemy infantry as was shown in the movie.

4) Matchlock: Akbar’s weapon of choice was never a sword, but Matchlock. Its like a musket, but uses a slow burning wig instead of a flint-stone to ignite the charge. These weapons were light, deadly, had a good range and were easy to train/master. However I could not see any matchlock in the movie.

5) Elephants: Whoever has even seen a real life elephant would agree that elephants are not tamed in the way shown in the movie. It would be plain stupid to even think that a lone unarmed man could be a match against the beast. horses might be trained in the way as the elephants were trained in a movie, but you cannot compare the two.
Also in a battle, the elephants move before the infantry does. Once the battle starts and the ranks are broken, a charging elephant would kill more friendly soldiers then foes. Also during those days, the tusk of the elephant was sawed off and replaced by a sharp saber. Something which the movie missed.

5) Cannons: In the battle against Hemu Vikramaditya, there was no cannons & no infantry. Hemu had 30,000 horses and 500 war elephants against a mere 10,000 light cavalry of Akbar. This made Hemu arrogant & careless. His lightly guarded artillery train was lost to the scouts & foragers of Akbar. Akbar’s army was mobile and he did not have sufficient gunpowder or operators to strategically man these guns. Hence no cannon shots were fired in his decisive second battle of Panipat.

Also during those days hollowed out brass cannons were used (most of them manufactured in Rewari). This was because cast iron was brittle, and for machining a hole in the barrel you needed a high quality of steel & forging skills that India did not have. It was only in the later years when the metallurgy technology was perfected and when the brass prices went sky rocketing high, did Indians switch to Cast Iron. But the cannons in the movie were exclusively cast iron ones, which is wrong.

6) I am not even talking about Jodha Bai and all the mushy scene, because the movie started with a big disclaimer about her origins and how scanty and inconsistent historical records are about her.

7) Tobacco and wheat: Remember the Akbar’s visit to the market disguised as a commoner? Tobacco was an Latin American crop that was not available in India for at least a century after Akbar (read this BBC Link). Also the prices of the coarse grains (jowar, bajara) were shown more than that of Wheat. Something which is historically wrong. Only after the green revolution of 1970, wheat became an affordable staple grain.

All I am trying to say is that although the Director wanted to depict this as a historical movie, it would have been more accurate if he had the basic courtesy of checking the details with even a guy who has a Undergraduate degree in Indian History (if fees of a professor was too much to pay for)cav


Spain (Too much wealth is a problem)

Too little gold/wealth was always scary. The kingdom with empty coffers were always on the verge of annihilation. They never had money to build defenses, raise armies/navies, build cities/roads/ships/canals, import food (in case of drought) or even pay tribute so that the lives of its citizens would be spared. However people never realized that too much wealth can also be a problem.

Spain and Portugal, by the 1500, has discovered massive sources of gold and silver in the New World (Latin America). It won’t be wrong to say that the half of the world’s gold flowed through Spain. Yet in 1557 and then in 1597 Spanish Government was bankrupt.

The influx of gold from Caesar’s campaign in Gaul caused a plunge in the value of gold by over 25%. Its no wonder that the strongest nation in the world faced a civil war soon afterwards which destroyed the republic for ever.

It was only after 1568, that people realized the problems of too much wealth. Jean Bodin (1530-1596), a French lawyer, writing in 1568, while analyzing the the inflationary effect of the (Latin) American money concluded
there were several reasons for the rising prices in the sixteenth century but that “the principal and almost the only one
(which no one has referred to until now) is the abundance of gold and silver, which is today much greater in this kingdom than it was four hundred years ago”.

However, there was little one could do about it. Take Spain for example. There are tonnes of silver and gold in the New World which was getting mined, and shipped to Europe. Because of this sudden influx of gold, nothing was too expensive. The demand and the prices of goods rose many folds, but in that Pre-Industrial age, the production of goods could not be scaled up. Hence, this demand resulted in increase of wages making production to be commercially inviable in the whole of Spain.

The situation was so bad that by 1590, 80 per cent of all goods shipped from Spain to its new colonies were goods that had already been imported from elsewhere in Europe. (source)
England and rest of the Europe on contrast build manufacturing capabilities. They used their colonies as a source of raw materials and a destination for manufactured goods. Making their economy more robust.

This manufacturing capabilities fueled the industrial revolution and made their economies stronger. Hence, even after the loss of major colonies, other European Counties were not suddenly reduced to poverty. In contrast, Spanish grew weaker because of too much wealth. Their wealth forced them to fight too many costly battles which emptied their coffers. The Britisher Privateers disrupted the supply of gold using Guerrilla tactics and weakened the empire. Finally the Spanish Armada was defeated and Spain lost control of the High seas and the New world reducing them to almost nobody in the arena of Wealth, Power and Influence.



Family History

For almost 3 years, I have been writing a post everyday on my blog. And since today I have nothing special to write (or cut, copy and paste), let me bore you a bit with my family history.

History Thoughts

William Wallace

William was born as a common man at a time when his country people were being oppressed by England. The tyrant ruler had installed military bases all over his region and installed puppet government on the land. The spineless Scottish nobility sucked up to English King and seek his blessings and intervention for the tiniest of dispute. They levied heavy taxes and then gave all the farm produce to the English as tribute. Hence in spite of all what the Mother Nature had given them, the peasant folk were left with nothing to eat.

Wallace inspired the common man to take charge of their own destiny and unite against the oppressors. The English alarmed of the moment, tried to crush him by treachery and numerous assassination attempts. Foiling each and every one, William send out a strong message by capturing York (the biggest English castle in the region). However finally the determined English did manage to buy out his allies and capture him alive.

William was brought back to London and tried like a common outlaw. After a mock trial, he was charged with countless fictitious conspiracies and sentenced to death. The death of this legend united the Scots and inspired them to beat the English out of Scotland.

Why am I writing this?
Try replacing William Wallace with Saddam Hussein, Scotland with the Arab nation of Iraq, England with America, Tyrant with Bush and York with Kuwait.
Tell me one thing:
If all the crime Saddam did was to kill 146 innocent civilians, then Bush killed more than 2000 young American GI and several tens of thousands of innocent Iraqi civilians. Why is he not getting tried?


Why are Tipu’s rockets so famous?

The fighting at that time was primarily face to face. In the 18th Century, 2 armies stood shoulder to shoulder with rifles and muskets. It was basically a number game as it took almost 100 seconds to load the second shot.

Propellant chamber was 8” long with a diameter of 3” and capable of carried 1pound of gun powder. Being made of iron, they could develop humongous chamber pressure which gave them their famous 1mile range. The stabilizing rod was replaced by 2 feet long metallic blades.

You must have read accounts of 100 year war where the sky turned dark due to the showering arrows from English longbow men. Now (18th century) soldiers rarely carried shields or wore armor to protect them and instead of pointed arrows there were now swaying blades which slashed everything in its path. I do not want to even imagine the psychological effects of these flying scythes launched by invisible enemy. The metal chambers also exploded spreading incinerators all over. These ignited gunpowder arsenal near the cannons and sometimes even the gunpowder kegs tied over the abdomen of soldiers.

English longbow men rarely got a chance to fire their 5th arrow, while each one of the Tipu’s soldiers could launch 20 rockets simultaneously. Then they used to move to the next rack of rockets.

You might be tempted to compare it will a cannon. But cannons are heavy and are slow moving. They are few in number and expensive. This severely limited their effectiveness. You cannot ambush with a cannon, because they can be reused by the enemy.

On the other hand march 5 horsemen and set up a temporary rocket stand 1 mile away from the enemy camp. Fire 100 rockets and run away. I bet most of the surviving enemy will spend the rest of the night glazing towards the sky. An army which has not rested cannot attack.

These rockets were build during 1750, and the next generation practical rockets were V2 (WW2 1940). We had 200 years of technological lead.