Saturday, August 29, 2015

Aurangzeb - The Other Side

Yet another Twitter storm! Me thinks the twitterati outrages a bit too much and this time the outrage has arisen due to the renaming of Aurangzeb Road to APJ Abdul Kalam road. Worthies on Twitter, including Assadudin Owaisi, have jumped in to debate Aurangzeb and his policies. I sincerely believe the funniest and most ill informed debates in India happen about history and historical characters. Our ignorance of history is profound and our belief in our great knowledge of history is “profounder

Be that as it may, I have no intention of either assailing Aurangzeb as an anti-Hindu mass murderer or eulogizing him as a pious Pir. Enough ink has been spilt on his temple demolitions, his imposition of the Jiziya, his unjust imposition of an ad valorem duty only on Hindu traders and his extremely cruel torture and killing of Guru Tegh Bahadur and some of his followers. 

I want to speak about the man himself. He lived a full life – he died at 90. What kind of person was he?

Well he was . . . He was a small statured, large nosed, teetotaler chappie who slept very little and worked very hard almost all through his life. And I suspect made his minions work as hard. He held court daily, sometimes twice a day and set aside Wednesdays as Trail Days. 

He was a stickler for detail and had a phenomenal memory. The Italian physician Gemelli Careri who saw him in 1695, when Aurangzeb was almost 80, “admired to see him endorse the petitions with his own hand, without spectacles, and by his cheerful smiling countenance seem to be pleased with the employment.” Of course, Gemelli had no clue why he was smiling but clearly our man was quite the bright-eyed workaholic. 

Aurangzeb was a master calligraphist and had a passion for reading, which he did right through his life, in spite of his . . . er … um . . . rather busy schedule of killing brothers, imprisoning Daddy, conquering territories, running after Shivaji (exhaustingly unsuccessful running at that) and terrorizing thousands of others. 

He was almost a linguist, being the master of Arabic, Persian, Turki and wait for it . . .  Hindi. According to Jadunath Sarkar, “… his extensive correspondence proves his mastery over Persian poetry and Arabic sacred literature.” Arabic sacred literature – I would have been shocked if he did not have a command over it. But Poetry? Our Alamgir? Who knew?

The Fatwa-i-Alamgiri, an exhaustive digest of Muslim Law, was put together under his patronage. Even after his death the Fatwa-i-Alamgiri defined Islamic justice in India. I haven’t been able to figure out till when it was used as a standard for Islamic justice in India, but the fact that it continued to be used gives us an indication of the thoroughness with which it was compiled.  

The surprise about him is also that he was supposedly a very personable man. Even as a prince, his tact, wisdom and humility made the nobles of Shah Jahan’s court his friends. Of course the immediate conclusion that one can come to is that he was doing this as he was already planning to take the help of all these people when kicking his brothers Shuja and Dara in the ass, but that would be wrong and unjust. Why is that? That is so because these were the very same qualities that he displayed even as an emperor. 

Incidentally there are no scandalous stories about his philandering ways. No deflowering of a 1000 virgins like his great-grandfather Akbar.  He had only four wives as limited by Quranic injunction. Of them Dilras Banu (1657) and Aurangabadi Mahal (1685) pre-deceased him. His third wife, Nawab Bai, led a retired life in Delhi after 1660. His only companion was his 4th one till his death. She was also very young. Just saying!

Like most rulers in medieval India he was noted for his bravery and uncommon physical strength. Supposedly at about 15 years of age he faced a furious elephant and subdued it. Declaring later that death comes to all and it did not behove his brothers to act the way they did. 

Cool as a cucumber in battle and a cunning tactician he gave quite a few examples of these in the innumerable battles that he fought through his life. 

On the eve of the Battle of Khajuha, which was fought between Aurangzeb and his brother Shuja for the throne of Delhi, Jaswant Singh who commanded Aurangzeb’s right-wing attacked the camp in the dead of the night and left for Rajputana. Aurangzeb was unfazed, took the information on board recalibrated his battle strategy and turned the tide in battle the next day. 

When his son, Prince Akbar revolted against him and allied with the Rathor-Sisodia alliance, Smart Boy Aurangzeb sent a false letter to his son “thanking him for carrying out their plan”. He ensured that that letter fell in the hands of his enemies. Durga Das Rathor took one look at this letter and off he went to check with Prince Akbar. Akbar was fast asleep and DD Rathor was not allowed to meet him. This hardened his suspicion and after kicking some butt in the camp Durga Das and the Rajputs went away to Mewar. When Prince Akbar woke up in the morning, he had a camp but no soldiers. Well almost. And the battle was over before it began. Aurangzeb 1 – 0 Prince Akbar.  

Alamgir bhai never felt satisfied without personally accomplishing the duties of the state. He clearly had the capabilities but over time that made him over confident and also suspicious of others, even his own sons. Efficiency deteriorated in the administration along with his growing age. Remember he hit a 90?   

Aurangzeb believed in orthodox Sunni Islam. And having claimed the throne of Delhi against the liberal minded Dara, whom he considered to be a heretic, he believed it to be his duty to enforce Quranic law. He believed it was his destiny to convert his realm from Dar-ul-harb to Dar-ul-islam. So he attacked . . . the Hindus, right? Er . . .  only the Hindus? No, not at all. The Shias and the Sufis faced the brunt of his orthodoxy too. The Bohra community from Gujarat also suffered at his hands – for heresy!  

According to the historian Mohammed Yasin, “Aurangzeb’s recipe might be excellent from the point of view of a Mujaddid (one who brings renewal to religion) . . .  but he reduced the Muslim empire to a shadow. . . “. That is absolutely true. He presided over the largest Moghul Empire but also lay the foundation for the ultimate decline of the empire by bleeding it due to his frequent campaigns.

He was a brilliant tactician but he was neither a great strategist nor a statesman. He, in fact, understood the futility of his life work when he wrote to his son Azam with poignant regret, ”The days that have been spent except in austerities have left only regret behind them. I have not at all done any (true) government of the realm or cherishing of the peasantry. Life so valuable has gone away for nothing.”

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Reservations - A Solution

The Hardik Patel led agitation in Gujarat has once again brought the Reservation issue onto the centre-stage. However the problem with discussing Reservations is that it rarely goes beyond the Social Empowerment versus Merit debate. 

However even these two issues do not make complete sense to me.

When we say Merit should be the only criteria for admission into colleges or for getting a job, what we are saying is that someone has to have the ability to score high marks in school/college and/or have the ability to clear entrance exams like the IIT-JEE or the CAT (for the IIMs) or UPSC. Essentially we are equating Merit with the ability to manage exams in school and college and entrance exams. This clearly has nothing to do with competence later on in life. I am sure all of us know of people who have performed well academically but are fairly incompetent. 

It is obvious that competence could exist in a person who is illiterate too. It is just that he is not fortunate enough to have the luxury of a formal education or a family background that values it. Are we saying that such a person has no merit? That is a ridiculous contention and needs to be debunked immediately.

The argument that Reservations help in Social Empowerment is problematic because while we can use Reservations to bring about the betterment of the oppressed classes, there are sections of society who are economically marginalized but since they belong to the upper castes they do not get the benefit of reservations. This is clearly unfair and the claim of Social Empowerment rings hollow if it allows certain marginalized sections of society to wallow in poverty just because of their caste.  

Is there some way in which one can continue the process of reservations in such a manner that it both helps the truly marginalized and also restricts its over use? 

There is a simple solution to that. I believe the best way is to first extend reservations and then restrict them. Reservations should be extended to the poor among the upper castes along with the existing caste based reservations. And then restrict reservations in education and employment to just two generations of a family. 

How will that help? I do not think that it is anyone’s case that there is no individual among the list of schedule tribes or castes who deserves reservations to better his lot. Of course there are plenty of people who deserve it. So let them have it. And let’s exclude the ones who have already had the benefit of these provisions for a couple of generations. 

Why two generations and not just one? Very simple, for someone who has bootstrapped himself from ground level up, it would probably take him his entire career to be accepted in the society that he aspires to be in. Let’s give him some time to assimilate in that society and then let’s also give him some more time to pass on this legacy to his progeny. It is only fair that whatever gains he has got does not get frittered away because the he was not able to mentor the next generation properly. When the next generation also has the benefit of reservations in education and jobs there would be some stability in their financial and social status. Once they have achieved this state that family should be left to improve their status further through the dint of sheer merit without the intervention of the state.
This should be the exact same way in which reservations for the economically marginalized play out. Identify a certain income criteria and then allow that family to have the benefit of reservations for a couple of generations. 

There also has to be a support system in educational institutions for all students who come in through the reservations – caste based or class based. This will enable them to be on par with their batch mates when classes start. 

So will reservations be phased out totally? Not at all. They will continue to exist because there will be, for a long time to come, some or the other family who has been totally by-passed in this affirmative action. So the concept of reservation stays but the beneficiary families will keep changing from one generation to the other. Thus helping those who truly deserve support by the state and keeping away those who have already gained from the policy. I also feel that such an approach will blunt, to an extent, the animosity that exists among sections of society to the concept of reservations. 

This I feel is the most even-handed solution to the reservations imbroglio.  

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Quiz: Visual

Identify the first three gentlemen (from Left to Rigth) in the photo. The two gentlemen sitting in the middle should be quite easy. It is the one sitting to the extreme left that might prove to be difficult.

Scroll down for the answers. . .

From left: The late Dr YSR or Dr. Yeduguri Sandinti Rajasekhara Reddy former CM of AP. Mr. Nara Chandrababu Naidu, the current CM of Andhra Pradesh. Mr. Ghulam Nabi Azad and Mr. K.E. Krishnamurthy. This was taken when Chandrababu Naidu was part of the Congress.

Reading Comprehension - Canaries in the Coal Mine

Here is a slightly off-beat topic from Proceedings B (a publication of the Royal Society) I have just discovered this website and at first glance it seems the perfect place to read scientific articles for CAT. 

No. of words:421
Reading time:
Time to beat: 1.35
2.00 minutes – Very Good
2.00-3.30 minutes – Good
3.30-4.30 minutes – Fair
Difficulty Level (5 point scale)

A dramatic rise in obesity has occurred among humans within the last several decades. Little is known about whether similar increases in obesity have occurred in animals inhabiting human-influenced environments. We examined samples collectively consisting of over 20,000 animals from 24 populations (12 divided separately into males and females) of animals representing eight species living with or around humans in industrialized societies. In all populations, the estimated coefficient for the trend of body weight over time was positive (i.e. increasing). The probability of all trends being in the same direction by chance is 1.2 × 10−7. Surprisingly, we find that over the past several decades, average mid-life body weights have risen among primates and rodents living in research colonies, as well as among feral rodents and domestic dogs and cats. The consistency of these findings among animals living in varying environments, suggests the intriguing possibility that the aetiology of increasing body weight may involve several as-of-yet unidentified and/or poorly understood factors (e.g. viral pathogens, epigenetic factors). This finding may eventually enhance the discovery and fuller elucidation of other factors that have contributed to the recent rise in obesity rates.

Although the increase in obesity rates started over 100 years ago, there has been an acceleration in the last half-century, with reasons incompletely understood. Although there is a focus on a lack of physical activity and a poor diet as the principal contributors to this recent acceleration, there are apparently many causes beyond the conventional wisdom that contribute to body weight increase either by influencing physical activity or dietary intake, or through other means such as influencing nutrient partitioning or energy metabolism.

Model organisms have potential value as ‘canaries in the coalmines’ or ‘sentinels’ informing us about environmental factors potentially impacting humans. In this light, we compiled data to assess time trends in body weight in mammalian species that live with or around humans in industrialized societies. Such observations might help identify environmental influences that might otherwise go undetected.

From 24 distinct populations (12 subdivided into separate male and female populations), representing eight species, over 20,000 animals were studied. Time trends for mean per cent weight change and the odds of obesity were tested for the samples from each population at an age period that corresponded roughly to early-middle adulthood (35 years) in human development because on a per cent basis, in United States adults, 30–39 years is the decade of human life in which obesity has increased at least as much as any age interval during the last several decades.

1. What does this reference to canaries imply? 
2. What is the flow of the article? Is the flow appropriate? 

Quiz: Brands & Co-ops

How many of these brands have you heard of? And more importantly can you link these brands to their parent co-operatives. 

The Brands are:
1. Vijaya
2. Amul
3. Verka
4. Saras
5. Nandini
6. Milma
7. Gokul
8. Vita
9. Bhagirathi
10. Aavin

Scroll down for the answers . . .


Brand: Vijaya
Co-op: Andhra Pradesh Dairy Development Cooperative Federation Ltd (APDDCF)

Brand: Amul
Co-op: Gujarat Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd (GCMMF)

Brand: Verka
Co-op: Punjab State Cooperative Milk Producers' Federation Ltd (MILKFED)

Brand: Saras
Co-op: Rajasthan Cooperative Dairy Federation Ltd (RCDF)

Brand: Nandini
Co-op: Karnataka Cooperative Milk Producers' Federation Ltd (KMF)

Brand: Milma
Co-op: Kerala State Cooperative Milk Marketing Federation Ltd (KCMMF)

Brand: Gokul
Co-op: Maharashtra Rajya Sahakari Maryadit Dugdh Mahasangh (Mahasangh)

Brand: Vita
Co-op: Haryana Dairy Development Cooperative Federation Ltd. (HDDCF)

Brand: Bhagirathi
Co-op: West Bengal Cooperative Milk Producers' Federation Ltd. (WBCMPF)

Brand: Aavin
Co-op: Tamilnadu Cooperative Milk Producers' Federation Ltd (TCMPF)

Monuments - I

Agra Fort
Red Fort of Agra is situated near the gardens of Taj Mahal. Some of the buildings inside it are:  
Moti Masjid - a white marble mosque akin to a perfect pearl 
Musamman Burj - where Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan died in 1666 A.D. 
Khaas Mahal & Sheesh Mahal
It also houses Jahangir's Palace, the Diwan-E-Am and the Diwan-E-Khaas,
The construction of the Agra fort was started around 1565, by Akbar, and subsequently taken over by his grandson Shah Jahan, who added most of the marble creations to the fort.

Bahai Temple, Delhi
The Bahai Temple - the Bahá'í Mashriqu'l-Adhkar - is better known as the "Lotus Temple".
Bahá'ís have endeavoured to their utmost to build houses of worship as beautiful and distinctive as possible. They have been inspired by writings of Baha'u'llah and His son Abdu'l-Bahá.

The Bara Imambara, Lucknow
The Imambara was built by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula in 1784 as a famine relief programme. Its designer was Kifayat-ullah. Some claim that he was a relative of the architect of the Taj Mahal. The building, which consists of three huge halls, has a maze of corridors hidden in between its walls that are about 20 feet thick. This dense, dark maze called the 'Bhul Bhulaiya'

Brhadisvara Temple, Thanjavur
The Brhadisvara Temple, a splendid example of Chola architecture was built by Emperor Rajaraja (985-1012 A.D.).The Brhadisvara temple is a monument dedicated to Siva.

Charminar, Hyderabad
The Charminar is sometimes called the "Arc De Triumph of the East". It is a massive arch built by Mohammed Quli Qutab Shah, in 1591 to commemorate the end of the plague in the city. The Charminar gets its name from the four minarets that rise from each corner of the square structure.

Friday, August 21, 2015

The Mahabharata - In 100 Tweets

I have always been fascinated by the Mahabharata and decided to tweet it in its entirety in exactly 100 tweets. Reducing the 100,000 shlokas into 100 Tweets was a task, but a very interesting one.

I hope you folks like reading this version of The Mahabharata as much as I loved putting it together.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

GK - World Heritage Sites in India: Cultural (I)

The World Heritage List of the UNESCO includes 936 properties across the world forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value. These include 725 cultural site, 183 natural site and 28 mixed sites.

India has both Cultural and Natural sites. The Cultural sites are:

1. Agra Fort

2. Ajanta Caves
3. Ellora Caves
4. Taj Mahal

5. Group of Monuments at Mahabalipuram

6. Sun Temple, Konârak
7. Churches and Convents of Goa

8. Fatehpur Sikri

9. Group of Monuments at Hampi

10. Khajuraho Group of Monuments

11. Elephanta Caves

12. Great Living Chola Temples

GK - World Heritage Sites in India: Cultural (II)

The World Heritage List of the UNESCO includes 936 properties across the world forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value. These include 725 cultural site, 183 natural site and 28 mixed sites.

India has both Cultural and Natural sites. The Cultural sites are:

1. Group of Monuments at Pattadakal

2. Buddhist Monuments at Sanchi
3. Humayun's Tomb, Delhi
4. Qutb Minar and its Monuments, Delhi

5. Mountain Railways of India

6. Mahabodhi Temple Complex at Bodh Gaya

7. Rock Shelters of Bhimbetka

8. Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park
9. Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (formerly Victoria Terminus)

10. Red Fort Complex

11. The Jantar Mantar, Jaipur

GK - World Heritage Sites in India: Natural

The World Heritage List of the UNESCO includes 936 properties across the world forming part of the cultural and natural heritage which the World Heritage Committee considers as having outstanding universal value. These include 725 cultural site, 183 natural site and 28 mixed sites.

India has both Cultural and Natural sites. The Natural sites are:

Kaziranga National Park
Keoladeo National Park
Manas Wildlife Sanctuary
Sundarbans National Park
Nanda Devi and Valley of Flowers National Parks

Quiz - Words & Phrases


1. Who is a "whipping boy"?
2. This ancient city in the land of Shinar, in which the construction of a tower intended to reach heaven was begun, has given a word to us. What is that word?
3. What is a "cat's paw"?
4. What are the "locust years"?
5. Who are the "hoi polloi"?

Scroll down for the answers.

1. A boy who was to be whipped in place of a prince who was to be punished.

2. Babel. In the Bible, a city (now thought to be Babylon) in Shinar where God confused the builders of a tower into heaven by turning the language of its builders into many languages with none of these 'new' languages comprehensible to the others.

3. Someone used as a tool by another

4. A period of economic hardship. This word was coined by Winston Churchill (on the basis of the Bible verse Joel 2:25) to describe the years 1931–35 in Britain.

5. The common people. Hoi polloi is a borrowing of the Greek phrase hoi polloi, consisting of hoi, meaning "the" and polloi, the plural of polus, "many." Hoi polloi is sometimes incorrectly used to mean "the elite," possibly because it is reminiscent of high and mighty or because it sounds like hoity-toity.

Vocabulary - Commonly Confused Words

Let’s look at some commonly confused words. And down to brass tacks:

The ability, right, or permission to approach, enter, speak with, or use; admittance
The fact of exceeding something else in amount or degree.
Going beyond what is regarded as customary or proper.
The act of coming into the possession of a right, title, office, etc.: accession to the throne.
An increase by something added: an accession of territory.

A person who produces works in any of the arts that are primarily subject to aesthetic criteria.
Artiste (ahr-teest)
An artist, esp. an actor, singer, dancer, or other public performer.
A person skilled in an applied art; a craftsperson. E.g. a carpenter.

A passing or casual reference; an incidental mention of something, either directly or by implication
Something that deceives by producing a false or misleading impression of reality.

To act on; produce a change in.
Something that is produced by an agency or cause; result; consequence
To produce as an effect; bring about; accomplish; make happen:


An elevated place like a platform, at which religious rites are performed.
To make different in some way.


I have no doubt that hosannas will be sung about the Madison Avenue redux at the Dubai cricket stadium by Narendra Modi. All day today on Indian television and for a week on social media will see discussions aplenty about the speech. #ModiInDubai was trending during his speech itself. Clearly there is much to crow about the performance – for a politician.

However, Narendra Modi was not in the UAE just as an uber successful politician but as the Prime Minister of the country. He is my PM, he is your PM and he is the PM of Rahul baba and Sonia Gandhi too. That is the image that he should project – that of a statesman and not that of a glib politician.

I would not be a position to talk about the entire speech because I could not sit through it all but certain comments made by NaMo were not, in my view, in good taste. And therein lies the rub. I am not for a moment suggesting that it was a bad speech in its entirety or that he did not say anything of relevance at all in the 20 minutes that I watched his speech. He did. The investments, the anti-terrorism front, UAE’s support to India for a seat on the Security Council et al – all very relevant and important.

However, not every speech delivered needs to be of the type given at a political rally. 

I was really uncomfortable with the jibes by the Prime Minister at the opposition, principally the Congress, when on foreign shores. It sounds great when you are taking the battle to the opposition when on campaign trail but sounds petty in this scenario.

“There are 700 flights from India to Dubai but it has taken 34 years for a PM to visit you.” Really, was that required? And also the statement about the results of the General Elections being celebrated as much in Dubai as in India is a statement befitting the President of the BJP addressing the crowd. Not the PM of the country speaking on foreign soil.

I do not wish to sound unduly negative about the Prime Minister but the overall feel that I got from the speech was that it was a PR spiel. And that put me off. Work silently and let others sing your praises. There seem to be enough and more willing to do that in any case. Why tom tom your supposed successes yourself? It does not behove a PM who is on a visit to a foreign land.

Modiji you have won the general elections. You need not keep telling us how awesome you are or keep attacking poor Rahul baba’s party. We all know that you are competent and that Rahul Baba and Co. messed up, which is why you came to power with such a mandate. You can exit campaign mode now.

There are promises to keep, and miles to go before you sleep. Especially since you have made so many of them during your election campaign. Let’s start ticking them off one by one now. It is High Time.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Dream Cabinet

Creating Dream Teams is a popular past-time among sports enthusiasts across all sports. I thought I would take this concept and apply it to politics, more specifically to governance. Here is my Dream Cabinet for India, based totally on my opinion on who might hold a particular portfolio with distinction.

Prime Minister
Lal Bahadur Shastri: Incorruptible, decisive and a truly humble man. He gets my vote for the Prime Ministerial post.

Home Minister
Vallabhai Patel: Need I say more? There are enough and more problems for the Sardar to tackle today.

External Affairs
Jawaharlal Nehru: He had a genuine world view which would help India in this day and age. He would need to stop being a touch holier than thou with the Americans though.

Finance Minister
Chakravarti Rajagopalachari: I would like to go totally off tangent here. My choice is Chakravarti Rajagopalachari. Not only was he erudite but he had the vision to talk about a liberal state (economically) at the height of Nehruvian socialism. The 21 point programme of the Swatantra party was a truly liberal document.

Defence Minister
Arun Singh: Extremely well read on matters military, he was even called in by Jaswant Singh at the height of the Kargil war, and upright.

Minister of Communications & IT and Science & Technology
Rajiv Gandhi: Those who knew him well called him extremely intelligent and level-headed. There is no doubt that he was the one who set the stone rolling for the telecom revolution that followed later. He was also clear that India needed the Service sector to progress. Something that we have clearly acknowledged now.

Minister of Railways
Madhav Rao Scindia: He handled the very same portfolio competently. Would make a great team with Bibek Debroy at the Rail Bhavan.

Minister of I&B and Parliamentary Affairs        
Atal Behari Vajpayee: As politics gets more and more fractious the country needs someone who can reach out to everyone in Parliament. He is the right man for the job. Moreover we need a liberal minded person in the I&B ministry. 

Minister of Law and Justice
Dr B. R. Ambedkar: Enough said.

Minister of Minority Affairs
Maulana Azad: We need someone extremely erudite and with stature across the country. The Maulana has both erudition and stature. Not just that, he steered the Education ministry in a newly independent India with aplomb. That would also help him in working on the low levels of education among India’s minorities.

Minister of Rural Development; Panchayati Raj; Drinking Water & Sanitation
Morarji Desai: A staunch Gandhian and inflexibly principled Morarjibhai handled the Revenue and Agriculture portfolio in the 1937 Bombay Government. He brought in far-reaching reforms in land revenue that helped the rural poor. Though he has handled other more ‘important’ portfolios like Finance, Commerce & Industry and was both Deputy PM and PM, given his background and conviction it is the Rural Development Ministry for him.

Minister of Agriculture and Food & Public Distribution
C Subramaniam: He helped usher in the Green Revolution. He would be the right person to handle Agriculture and its allied portfolio Food & Public Distribution.

Minister of Civil Aviation
Nitish Kumar: He capably handled the portfolios at the centre and has made a difference in governance in Bihar. Civil Aviation clearly needs a capable administrator and reformer. (Reformer because he needs to figure out what to do with Air India.) I believe he is both.

Jairam Ramesh: A feisty environment minister; he took on the builders lobby, industrialists and his own cabinet colleagues while enforcing environmental laws. Given the state of the environment, we require someone like him back at the helm of affairs.

Minister of Human Resource Development
PV Narasimha Rao: We need a scholar and we need a doer. He fits the bill. A consummate politician he was also a linguist, author and reformer. The ideal man to head this ministry at this stage in India.

Minister of Women & Child Development and Health & Family Welfare
Rajkumari Amrit Kaur: Minister of Health in the first cabinet, President of the WHO, driving force behind setting up the AIIMS. Quite an impressive resume that.

Naveen Patnaik: Managed to pull Odisha out of economic doldrums and has been in power since 2000. He has not only demonstrated his political and administrative acumen but also shown his political side too in these past 15 years. Led a jet-setting life style, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Mick Jagger, Jackie Kennedy etc, till he returned to India in 1998. Just the right person to head this ministry.

Minister of Heavy Industries & Public Enterprises and Infrastructure
Narendra Modi: And finally the man of the moment. Given his reputation as a doer and implementer he would be perfect for the Industries portfolio. Obviously the right person to see through the ‘Make in India’ policy. If he were to get his skills sets to play in upgrading public enterprises and infrastructure – road, ports and airports then we would be in kosher.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Vocabulary - The Humours of the Body

The ancient Greek medical practitioners believed that a healthy body had a balance of four humours (essential fluids) which gave an indication of someone’s temperament. An imbalance of humours was thought to cause a change in temperament.

Those humours were blood, bile (choler), black bile, and phlegm. Each humour was associated with a season and an element (air, water, fire, and earth). While we no longer use this theory to treat people these terms continue to be used in the English language.

Easily irritated or angered; hot-tempered.
From the Greek chole (bile).

Having a sluggish temperament; apathetic.
Calm or composed.
From the Greek Phlegm which meant "inflammation, heat" (the humour phlegm was supposedly a result of heat)

Gloomy; wistful.
Of or related to melancholia.
From the Greek melancholia (the condition of having an excess of black bile)

Extremely unpleasant.
Ill-natured; irritable.
Relating to bile.
From the Latin bilis (bile).

Cheerfully optimistic or confident.
Having a healthy reddish color.
From the Latin sanguis (blood).

Vocabulary - Words Originating From 'Phil'

One way to improve vocabulary is through the Roots/Prefixes/Suffixes method that we have spoken of extensively in class. I want to use that method in this post. Let's start with 'Phil'

Phil means Love/Loving

A few words that originate from this root are:

Collecting of stamps and other postal matter as a hobby or an investment.
Study of postage stamps, revenue stamps, stamped envelopes, postmarks, postal cards, covers, and similar material relating to postal or fiscal history.
phil + atéleia: Atéleia means 'Freedom from charges' (taken to mean recipient's freedom from delivery charges by virtue of the stamp which sender affixed to the letter). If you are interested atéleia can be further traced to mean a: not and telos: toll/tax
The word was coined by French stamp collector Georges Herpin (1860–65)
He came up with a Greek word that he felt most closely resembled the use of a postage stamp – to indicate that the cost of carrying the letter had already been paid by the sender and therefore the recipient did not have to pay any tax. This was an important change as earlier it was the recipient who always paid for the post.

Fond of or devoted to music; music-loving: used esp. in the name of certain musical societies that sponsor symphony orchestras (Philharmonic Societies) and hence applied to their concerts (philharmonic concerts).
Presented by a symphony orchestra or the society sponsoring it.
From the Greek Phil + harmonikós musical, suitable

Producing offspring, esp. abundantly; prolific.
Pertaining to, or characterized by love for offspring, esp. one's own.
From the Greek Phil + Gen (birth, race, produce)

A potion, charm, or drug supposed to cause the person taking it to fall in love, usually with some specific person.
A magic potion for any purpose
The Greek philtron which literally means "to make oneself beloved”, which in turn originates from the root word Phil.
Caution: I will not be held responsible for any outcome of you guys using/misusing the Philtre. I am merely a language teacher, not….…. ;-)

The vertical groove on the surface of the upper lip, below the septum of the nose.
Again from philtron which also means dimple in upper lip.

Vocabulary - Commonly Confused Words

Vocabulary is not just about learning ‘big’ words. It is also about knowing the difference between words that are similar in spelling or pronunciation or are similar in any other way. Let’s look at some commonly confused words. These would be  useful especially while dealing with the questions on  FIB

Appropriate or suitable for the occasion.
Diametrically different, antonym.

A subordinate occupation, usually one pursued for pleasure. A Hobby.
Particular occupation, business or profession.

A state of society in which men were not civilised.

A hostile encounter or engagement between opposing military forces
A conflict carried on by force of arms, as between nations.

A closely woven, heavy cloth of cotton, hemp, or linen, used for tents, sails, etc.
To solicit votes, subscriptions, opinions, or the like from people.

Task: Create sentences using these words.

GK - Indian History


1. King Charles II of England married the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza. How did this marriage affect Indian history?

2. “A boy is born, A boy is born, A boy is born”. What message was being conveyed here?

3. The Hindu kingdom of Champa flourished outside the present boundaries of India. Where would the kingdom be located in today’s context?

4. What is the Doctrine of Lapse?

5. In modern Indian history one often comes across the term European Factories. What are these factories that the European powers established in India?

Scroll down for answers . . .

1. When King Charles II of England married the Portuguese princess Catherine of Braganza the Portuguese transferred the islands that make up modern day Mumbai to the British as the dowry of Catherine.

2. “A boy is born, A boy is born, A boy is born”. This announced the signing of the Simla Agreement.

3. The Hindu kingdom of Champa flourished outside the present boundaries of India. This kingdom would be located in modern Vietnam. During this period the country was considered a great centre of Vedic learning.

4. The Doctrine of Lapse was a ruse by the East India Company to acquire territory. When the ruler of a protected state died without an heir, the adopted heir would not be able to succeed him. In such a case the state would be annexed by the British. The only exception being if the British authorities approved of the adoption before hand.

5. European Factories were fortified trading stations established by the European powers.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Navi Mumbai

And I stay in a city that is in the top three in the country – in the Swachhata sweepstakes. We are the third cleanest city in India. Yipeeee . . .

Er . . . hmmm . . . Not really. This is actually an award based on the extent of open defecation, solid waste management, waste water treatment, drinking and surface water quality of water bodies and mortality due to waterborne diseases. So it’s not really an award for a city that looks spic and span.
Nonetheless it is a city that has its own charms.

Of all the cities that I have stayed in I have stayed the longest in Navi Mumbai and I have grown to like the place. Of course travelling to Mumbai for work from here has been a huge pain in the ass, but in general I have no regrets about moving to the City of the 21st Century.

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For one, it is much greener than most other cities. Even the morning jog can be amidst green environs. 


The Parsik hills running right through Navi Mumbai, or whatever is left of the hill range, with the waterfalls during the monsoons give the city a natural charm.

And in how many places in and around a metropolis can you take a short drive to a trekking spot? 

Though Padavkada is out of bounds now for safety issues it is a delightful place which can both challenge the veteran trekker and allow the beginner to enjoy nature. 
The Ghansoli waterfall is a bit dangerous though it is just as beautiful as the one at Pandavkada.

I guess Lutyens Delhi is greener than Navi Mumbai but then again the issues of Delhi – pointless aggression and pollution and lack of safety etc. are not the issues that one faces in Navi Mumbai.

The other thing is that it a planned city. While driving through Vashi in the evenings is a nightmare, by and large Navi Mumbai is nowhere as chaotic and unplanned as Mumbai or any other big city. I am eagerly looking forward to the Metro starting which will make commutes even better.

But are there no gripes that I have? Hmmmm . . . . Well, actually I do.

I am a big history buff and it is in this area that Navi Mumbai falls flat. The only place to explore that has any historical significance is the Belapur fort. The entrance to the fort is a forgotten and utterly neglected stump. The interiors – well, they are not taken care of either and like most small forts across the country are in an extremely dilapidated condition. It is sad indeed. I am not so sure of any other historical monuments that are in existence within Navi Mumbai. I wish there were.

I also wish we used the sea front better and that the catamaran service that was in existence more than a decade ago is re-introduced. Elephanta caves is just 15 minutes away from Uran by sea. Why can’t there be regular services to the island. And more importantly, how about having catamaran services from Vashi or Belapur to the Elephanta caves? It could prove to be a good weekend visit for a lot of people here.

Just two gripes from cynical old me? Well . . .

Had I been a party animal or a shopaholic or a theatre buff I am sure I would have been depressed about the state of affairs here, but lazy me likes it just fine in here.