For Your Weekend Reading

I've written a post on the movies that I watched while on a career break.  Mind you, I didn't just watch movies; I also read a few novels.  It's such a pleasure to simply park your bicycle by the river side and read an engaging novel while sipping on a cup of coffee - there's no room for worries!  In today's cut-throat, highly competitive and materialistic world, it is indeed a luxury to be able to do this.  I consider myself lucky to have done such a thing along Southeast Asia's mighty Mekong River in the summer of 2009.

Here's a brief review on each of the novels that I read during my break:

 By Arthur Hailey
The plot revolves around the intricate workings of an American airport operating in the 1970s and the problems caused by the lax security measures.  Clearly, the author had researched the workings of an airport before writing this novel.  However, in today's post-9/11 world, the details are no longer relevant, but are entertaining to read nonetheless.  It was also interesting to read about the promiscuous lifestyle of airline pilots and air-hostesses.  This, I'm sure, hasn't changed with time!

 By George Orwell
This book is special to me because it's about Burma and I read it while I was in Burma.  I probably wouldn't have read it otherwise.  A lot of patience is required to read this book due to the incredible amount of detail.  The story moves at a slow pace.  Everything is described in minute detail.  Surprisingly, I did not necessarily mind the details or find it boring.  The language is beautiful.  For example, I liked how stars were described as hanging lanterns in the sky.

The story takes place at a time when Burma was still a British colony.  A word of warning to the reader: this book will make you hate the British!  The treatment the British meted out to the "natives" is simply despicable; the British were in the country to rob them.  Orwell wrote this book during his extended stay in Burma and is based on his observations and real events.  I personally observed many of the customs and traditions that were described in this book (e.g. local people bowing their heads while passing by foreigners).

If it wasn't for an Englishman that I was traveling with in Burma (and many others whom I came across), who were the exact opposite of the British people described in the novel, my image of them would forever have been ruined.

 By Arthur Hailey
This novel and Airport are probably the best by this author.  The story describes roughly three and a half days of events in an independently-run New Orleans hotel.  The inner workings of a major hotel are described in detailed and are fun to read.  Everything from the workings of the kitchen, garbage disposal, professional thieves stealing from hotel rooms, managing the whims of VIP guests, prostitution rings operating within the hotel and an impending takeover are described in detail and woven in the plot.

Because the changes in the inner workings of the hospitality industry are less obvious to the casual reader (as opposed to the changes in airport security), I would rate this the best book by Hailey, followed by Airport.

 By Dalton Fury

This book is clearly written with a Hollywood movie adaptation in mind.  The book is about the author's (a retired Commander from the elite Delta Force) experiences in Afghanistan following 9/11.  The mission: to kill Osama Bin Laden.  It's no secret that they don't succeed in killing Bin Laden, but do manage to kill a large multiple of Afghanis than Americans killed in 9/11 attacks.  It seems that the "rules of engagement" allow American soldiers to act like James Bond 007.  They pretty much have a license to kill.

In spite of the rigorous training and high-tech weaponry and gadgets, the reader gets the impression that even America's elite Delta Force guys are cowards.  The Americans always put their Afghan "allies" on the front-lines to fight al qaeda because it is too dangerous for them.  Delta's only job was to radio the enemy co-ordinates to bomber planes who dropped bombs from 20,000 feet.  It's no wonder they couldn't get Bin Laden.

The Afghan culture is also interesting.  It seems everyone in the country has an AK-47!  One thing I didn't like about the book was how the author shamelessly promotes books written by other military guys - book on Delta selection process, book on this Delta mission, book on that Delta mission, book on Navy Seals etc.  It seems these people are only in the military to write books!

Don't waste your money and time on this one as we all know the ending even before the starting.  Bin Laden is in Pakistan.  End of story.

 By C. Rajagopalachari

This is probably as good as an English translation of a great Indian epic, originally written in Sanskrit, gets.  The language is rich and descriptive, yet easy to understand.  The author's analysis of certain events in the epic that may not necessarily make sense to everyone adds meaning and is insightful.  The epic quite cleverly and seamlessly integrates everything - politics, drama, family feuds, suspense, love, adventure and war.  The lessons learned from this epic are relevant even in the 21st century.  It is indeed a masterpiece and should not be seen as a religious text; it is also very entertaining to read.  Forget Harry Potter, and get your children a copy of the Mahabharata today!

I never felt that I was reading a poor translation of the original and enjoyed it thoroughly.  Highly recommended!

 By C. Rajagopalachari
After reading the Mahabharata, I was in love with Rajagopalachari's writing; so I started reading the Ramayana, another great Indian epic.  I read most of it while traveling in Laos and Vietnam.  It was such a pleasure to read this while sitting along the Mekong River in Laos and sipping on a cup of coffee.  Oh, the bygone days...

Like in the Mahabharata, the author's analysis of certain aspects of the story is meaningful and insightful.  The author attempts to answers some questions such as why Rama forces Sita to go through agni-pariksha (fire-test) after he rescues her from the clutches of the evil Ravana, or why it is incorrect to assume that Rama, Laxmana and Sita were vegetarians?

Ramayana is a gripping epic story of love, passion, dedication, friendship and dharma.  Also highly recommended!

 By Arthur Hailey
After Airport and Hotel, I had become a sort of fan of Hailey's books.  My expectations from this author were set high.  Hailey's books are famous for the detailed research on the industry his novels are based upon.  As the name suggests, this book is on Detroit's auto industry, and is not as good as the other two.  In spite of the well-researched details of the workings of an auto manufacturing plant - the monotonous jobs of assembly line workers, the stressful job of a plant manager, the criminal rings operating within plants - it fails to capture the reader's attention as much as the other two books did.  It's not a bad book on its own, but fails to live up to the standards of Airport and Hotel.  Therefore, I would recommend reading this before the other two.

Travel Blogging or Junk Blogging?

I read a lot of travel blogs, and lately it seems that an overwhelming majority of the so-called "travel bloggers" blog at least once a week only to keep their blog "active".

Rolf Potts' Vagabonding, Anil's foXnoMad and Gary Arndt's Everything Everywhere are a few popular (and very commercial) examples.  Not that they don't contain any useful information, but the amount of junk posts on those blogs is too high.

Picture of the Week #17

A beautiful temple in Konkan.  Konkan is the kind of region anyone can fall in love with.

Picture of the Week #16

The beautiful Tshoka village (Population: 2, Altitude: ~9000 feet) in West Sikkim, India!  This village, nestled in the Himalayas, is primarily used by trekkers as a stop-over point on way to/back from the famous Goecha La pass trek.

What an ideal honeymoon location this would make!  Too bad one has to undertake an ardous 10-12 hour trek to get there... I don't think anyone would have this kind of exercise in mind for their honeymoon.  haha

Test Your Travel IQ

Post your answers as comments. Answers will be posted in a week or two.

(1) Where is the Gobi desert?

(2) Which country has the highest peak that is not part of the Himalayan range?

(3) Which is the only country in the world that does not have a rectangular flag?

(4) Name the highest plateau in the world.

(5) The famous Serengeti National Park is in which country?

(6) Name the largest country in mainland Southeast Asia?

(7) What is the new name of Leningrad city (Hint: it is in Russia)?

(8) Which country is known as the Land of the Rising Sun?

(9) Where is the largest free-standing mountain (i.e. a stand-alone mountain and not part of a range) in the world?

(10) Which African country is known for the cruel dictator Idi Amin? This country is also known as the Horn of Africa.

Picture of the Week #15

A beautiful Shiva temple in Manavali village near Wai, Maharashtra, India.  This is a popular location for filming due to its close proximity to Bombay.  Numerous Bollywood films such as Swades and Gangajal have been filmed here.  In Gangajal, this location was showed to be in Bihar.

Ancient India's Contribution to Science and Technology

** Note: this blog has been moved to ***

If someone asks the question, “What is India’s contribution to the world in the development of science and technology?”, we get various types of answers. Some say ‘Nothing happened in India’ – some western elites are also included in this type of response!

It is true that not much has happened in recent past centuries. But before that, many great scientists and thinkers were born in India and they have given the world the valuable knowledge in science and mathematics. Many western historians conveniently forget this fact! May be as a reaction to this, the educated middle class wants to bask in the glory of past by exaggerating that ‘We had everything here in India before the world knew later!’

We have beautiful stories from Ramayana & Mahabharata. We learn the social structure, their standard of living, their ways of daily life through these stories. From the stories, one may think that we had laser rays, destructive weapons, missiles, drugs that give immortality, airplanes etc. But they were imaginations. Truly speaking, even to think of such imaginations is also phenomenal! You can call them science fictions. Science fiction has no less contribution to the development of science and technology. People created many science fictions which later came to existence. Isaac Asimov first created the concept of machine-man and after a few decades robot came to existence. This happened in many other cases.  To this extent even to think about future implements in itself was a big jump. But that is no reason to claim we had everything here. There is no solid evidence. Jayant Naralikar has written extensively on this issue.

Around 1500 BC, Shalva-Sutra was written. It proposed the principles of measurements. In those times, length was measured with ropes; hence people started identifying rope as Shalva. In Vedic times, there was requirement of platforms to perform yagya. This necessitated system for measurements. Pythagoras theorem is stated in Shalvasutra. However no proof can be found. But the proof is found in Euclid’s ‘Elements’. Similarly our people knew the relationship between radius and circumference of a circle. That was 3.14159. We knew this value but it was not explained why and how. Also in Boudhayana found in Krishna Yajurved and in Aapstambha Sootra, we can find references to Diophantine equations. Although westerners give its credit to Greeks, we can find its roots in Shalvasootra.

The greatest contribution of ancient India to the world is the notion of ‘Zero’. There are six chapters to explain the meanings of Vedas and to comprehend the Vedic Vidhis. They are known as Vedangs. Shalvasootra can be found in one such VedangVendang Kalpa. Geometry was developed around the method of the procedure to build Yagya Vedi. There is some information about astronomy in the fifth Jyotish Vedanga. But not many details are available.

Great sage Kanaad conjectured for the first time some elements of theory of atoms in fifth century BC. His real name was 'Ulook’ (owl). He used to write throughout the day time, and at night he used to pick up particles from jungles for a living. Hence he may have got the name Kanaad (Kan means particle). He put forward the theory that every substance was made of atoms!

A great mathematician was born during 450 BC and 585 BC. His name was Varahmihir. He used to state that there were some attractive forces in the stars of the universe. Due to the sum total of such forces the Vasundhara (the earth) was able to float. This was just a step before the most talked about Gravitational Forces.

When we think about fifth century, there is some written information available. Aryabhat belonged to this period. He thought and used the sine function of geometry. He was aware of roundness of the earth and its rotating around its own axis. He knew exact positions of stars in the sky.

In 'Arybhatiya' poem, for which he worked for about six months, he said, “Even if we feel the sun and the stars are rotating around us, in fact they are fixed and the earth is only rotating around them.” It proves how many centuries he was ahead of others. He mathematically calculated the circumference of the earth as 39,736 KM. It is believed today that to be 39,843 KM. It is amazing to get such near accurate number in that period. He used to say that moon does not have its own light but it gets that from the sun. He recognized that the planets orbit in elliptical shape. It was believed in those times that there is demon known as Rahu in the elliptical orbits. Arybhat had calculated that there are 365 days, 6 hrs, 12 minutes and 30 seconds in one year.

Bhau Daji Laad for the first time published Arybhat’s theories in 1864 AD. After that in 1875, Dr. Ken published this in Holland. That is how the world came to know about this great mathematician and astronomer.

Bhaskaracharya of 12th century was the next great mathematician after Aryabhat. In 1658, there was well known French mathematician Pierre de Firma. He had asked one mathematical question to his friend Bernard Frenicle de Bessy’. If X and Y both are integers, then how do we solve the following equation?

61X**2 + 1 = Y2

This was his question. Nobody could solve this equation for decades. Finally in 1732 a great mathematician called Leonhard Euler had solved it. He was much appreciated too. Later people realized that Bhaskaracharya had solved this problem in the year 1150! As per him, the answer was:

X = 22,61,53,980 and Y = 1,76,63,19,049! He used Chakrawala method to solve the equation. This method is elaborated in Bhaskaracharya’s 'Sidhhant Shiromani. Bhaskaracharya had one daughter, Lilavati, who became widow at a young age. In order to popularize mathematics, Bhaskaracharya wrote a book on mathematics by the same name. This book, Lilavati, became so popular in those days, that people, in lighter vein, used to say that if you read this book, you can look at any tree and tell exactly how many leaves the tree has!

In astronomy too, Bhaskaracharya made great strides. His two volumes – Ganitadhyay and Goladhyay are rich with knowledge. Based on these two volumes, it can be said that he was very close to initiating the new branch called Calculus.

India had made great progress in medicines too. We had tradition of medicines since 3000 BC. But we believed that ‘human beings get diseases due to ghosts’. Understanding the body and scientific treatment commenced from Vedic times. This knowledge is known as AyurVed (knowledge of Life).

Our source of ancient medical knowledge is through the four main volumes: ‘Charak-Samhita’, ‘Sushrut-Samhita’, ‘Ashtang-Hriday’ and ‘Ashtang-Sangrah’.

Since Vedic period, we had Gurukul system. The universities of Takshshila, Varanasi and Nalanda were well known all over the world. Which education was not possible in Takshshila at that time? One could acquire education on arts, literature, music, philosophy, religion (Hindu and Buddha), law, chemistry, biology, medicine, astronomy, architecture, sculpture, history and geography. Besides these, they used teach the art of riding horses and elephants, agricultural procedures, writing revenue-expenditures, astrology, archery. You will not believe but they were teaching even black magic. You can graduate in handling serpents, or nullifying effects of ghosts. Takshshila had earned its reputation throughout the world so much so that students used to come there from China, Syria, Arabia, Babylon, Persia etc. Nalanda University started its function in what is present state of Bihar. It was at its peak in reputation and prospered during 4th to 13th century.

This article was originally written by my dad.

Picture of the Week #14

Koleshwar plateau as seen from atop Mt. Kamalgad near Wai, Maharashtra, India.

Developers are lobbying to make a "New Mahabaleshwar" hill-station on Koleshwar.  Can you believe it?  I trekked through the dense forest of Koleshwar and it will indeed be sad to see all the trees cut down for our amusement.  Then again, if I don't intend to do anything about this, then I have no right to complain.

An elderly local (81 years old) by the name of Mr. Gogawale, who was as fit as an 18 year old, told us that Drona from the epic Mahabharata had spent some time on this plateau.