31 August 2013

10 Things You Should Know - Episode XIII

  • Santosh Trophy, started in 1941, is probably the oldest football tournament in India. It is named after the late Maharaja Sir Manmatha Nath Roy Chowdhary of Santosh, a place located in today’s Bangladesh. The Maharaja, who donated the trophy, was once the President of the Indian Football Association. The runners-up trophy is called the Kamla Gupta Trophy. The third placed team receives the Sampangi Cup; it is named so in the memory of Sampangi, a renowned footballer from Mysore. 
  • You must have seen Hindu sadhus smoking narcotic substances, like charas. Do you know why? Sadhus do it to suppress and eventually destroy their sexual desire and just concentrate on meditation. 
  • Why are apples polished or wiped before eating? This is done to wipe away the devil’s finger-marks on the fruit skin to avoid misfortune. This originates from the belief that Satan gave Eve an apple to eat. 
    Ian Cook, Chairman, President & CEO of Colgate-Palmolive
  • Colgate-Palmolive was formed from a merger of soap manufacturers, Colgate & Company and Palmolive-Peet. Peet was dropped in 1953. Colgate was named after William Colgate, an English immigrant, who set up a starch, soap, and candle business in New York City in 1806. Palmolive was named for the two oils (Palm and Olive) used in its manufacture. 
  • A little note on Dhyan Chand, India’s greatest Hockey player
India’s National Sports Day is observed on the birthday of Dhyan Chand,
Dhyan Chand
nicknamed the ‘Wizard of Hockey’. He was born Dhyan Singh.  He joined the Indian Army at the age of 16. The Hindi word Chand literally means the moon. Since Dhyan Singh used to practice a lot during night after his duty hours, he invariably used to wait for the moon to come out so that the visibility in the field (during his era there were no flood lights) improved. Hence he was called “Chand” by his fellow players, as his practice sessions at night invariably coincided with the coming out from the moon.
In the 1936 Berlin Olympics, Dhyan Chand, who was the captain of the Indian Hockey team, had the distinction of scoring 11 out of 38 goals scored by his side. Adolf Hitler, the Fuhrer, was very impressed by Dhyan Chand’s performance in the final, where India whipped Germany 8-1 in front of 40,000 peoples. At a dinner party after the final, Hitler offered to elevate Dhyan Chand to the rank of a Colonel if he migrated to Germany. Ever the patriot, Dhyan Chand turned down the offer.
In 1956, at the age of 51, he retired from the army with the rank of Major. After he retired he coached for a while and later settled in Jhansi. However, the last days of Dhyan Chand were not very happy, as he was short of money and was badly ignored by the nation. Once he went to a tournament in Ahmedabad and they turned him away not knowing who he was. He developed liver cancer, and was sent to a general ward at the AIIMS, New Delhi, where he died on 3 December 1979.
India’s highest award for lifetime achievement in sports is the Dhyan Chand Award, which has been awarded annually from 2002. Residents of Vienna (capital of Austria), honoured him by setting up a statue of him with four hands and four sticks, depicting his control and mastery over the ball. (I could not find any image on the Web for the statue; hence, I am deleting this idea.) ‘Goal’ is the autobiography of Hockey wizard Dhyan Chand. (Please note that this note on Dhyan Chand has been taken from Wikipedia.)
Want to know the backgrounder to the Syrian Crisis? Visit The Explainer: The Syrian Crisis Part I and  The Explainer: The Syrian Crisis Part II

26 August 2013

A Professor and his Dead Uncle

A few days back I wrote The Explainer: Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust detailing the horrors of the evil German leader's anti-Semitic policies, which killed over six million Jews. 

A couple of days back, I read a piece, actually more of a story, on the New Yorker website. My Teacher's Shadow, written by Caleb Crain, details the life and times of Prof. Peter Kussi, a Czech-born American Jew. The brilliantly written story reveals that the Jewish professor has a tragic background and that his outlook on life is heavily influenced by his dead uncle, who was killed at a Nazi concentration camp. 

Here's an excerpt:

"... between 1939 and 1942, the Nazis stripped Jews in Prague of civil rights, slowly but inexorably isolating them from the rest of Czech society. “It was, in the beginning, more a sort of chicane than a real danger,” Eisenstein writes. (When I first read this sentence, I had a vivid memory of Kussi using the word “chicane” in conversation and of my having to ask what it meant.) At first, Eisenstein reports, there were just a few restrictions on bank withdrawals. Everyone knew war was on its way, though, and “everybody was feeling then that a terrible thunderstorm was coming up—the air had become so sultry that all decisions and attempts bore a note of casualness and uselessness.

"Confiscations and arrests followed, but the early ones were intermittent and seemed to take place at random. A turning point came in the summer of 1939, when new regulations were posted that divided Jews from Gentiles in cafés and restaurants. Soon they were divided in movie theatres, swimming pools, and parks. A little while later, the Nazis took away radios. Eisenstein lost his job. The family lost its home in the country. Bit by bit, their freedoms were taken from them."

I do not want take away the joy of reading the complete piece. I strongly recommend that you read this lucid piece; ts inspiring and humbling. Click here to read My Teacher's Shadow

25 August 2013

Sunday Reads - Smart/stupid and falling rupee

This cartoon from The Hindu  brilliantly captures what's wrong with our Parliament and the economy.

  • How the Egyptian god Bes gave the Christian Devil his looks. (BBC Culture)
  • How being called smart can actually make you stupid. (Big Think)
  • The falling Rupee, theory of political hawala and persistent pre-poll profligacy. (New Indian Express)
  • Nuclear deterrence is overrated. (The Hindu

20 August 2013

10 Things You Should Know - Episode XII

IBM was previously called C-T-R (Computing-Tabulating-Recording) Company. Thomas Watson, Sr., joined the company after leaving National Cash Register (NCR). To upstage his former employer, he renamed C-T-R to International Business Machines (IBM) (in contrast to National, he used International!).
The term ‘dog days’ has nothing to do with dogs. It dates back to Roman times, when it was believed that Sirius, the Dog Star, added its heat to that of the sun from July 3 to August 11, creating exceptionally high temperatures. The Romans called the period dies caniculares, or “days of the dog”.
Doug Fregin & Mike Lazaridis
BlackBerry was founded in 1984 by a pair of engineering students, Mike Lazaridis and Douglas Fregin. Paradigm Research was the first choice to be registered, but that name was taken. Lazaridis tried submitting different variations of words combined with "Research", but each was rejected. As the registration application had to be accompanied by a U.S.$160 fee, the company was fast losing money before it even had a name. One evening, as Lazaridis was channel-surfing, he happened upon a bit of serendipity: A news story about football players taking ballet lessons, accompanied the words on screen: "Poetry in Motion". Lazaridis submitted the name, and Research In Motion was officially incorporated on March 7, 1984.

Dr Martin Cooper

Dr Martin Cooper, a former general manager at communications giant Motorola, is said to be the inventor of the first portable mobile handset and the first person to make an analogue mobile phone call on a portable mobile phone, in April 1973. The first call he made was to his rival, Joel Engel, head of research at Bell Laboratories  AT&T’s research arm, Bell Laboratories, introduced the idea of cellular communications in 1947 but Motorola upstaged it with the development of the first mobile phone.

Silicon Wadi is an area with a high concentration of high-tech industries in the coastal plain in Israel, similar to Silicon Valley in California, in the United States. Wadi is an Arabic word meaning ‘valley’. 

18 August 2013

Sunday Reads - The Egypt Crisis Edition

Source: AlJazeera

Egypt is in turmoil. The tussle between the Islamists and the secularists has divided the country right down the middle. Here's a collection of some readings to help you make sense of the complex situation.

  • Question & Answer (BBC)
  • The Muslim Brotherhood after Morsi (Foreign Affairs; registration required - its free!)
  • Egypt: A fire that will burn us all (Foreign Policy)
  • Egypt's identity torn into two (CNN)
  • The Mosque Standoff (AlJazeera)

17 August 2013

A peep into the Caste System

A happy Poonam at the school.

In our society, discrimination is rife and can be experienced at different levels and in different ways. This is because India has a highly stratified society. If there is one single thing that defines the social structure in India it is Caste. Caste permeates every aspect of our social life, from performance of rituals to treatment of ‘others’.

For thousands of years, some communities have been classified as “untouchables”. Members of these communities were, and continue to be, forbidden from entering places of worship, barred from using wells/other utilities, and denied access to education.

The Musahar are a scheduled caste community, spread across Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Their traditional occupation is ‘rat catching’. They are among the poorest and disadvantaged people in India, suffering deprivation at various levels.

I stumbled on an interesting old piece by a foreign journalist on the Musahar community. Here’s an excerpt where she describes a school for the Musahar girls, run by a courageous social activist from Kerala.

Ninety schoolgirls line up and hold out their hands for the steel thali tray that will be their plate from now on. The cook holds out the ladle to the first in line to serve herself, but the girl is frozen in confusion. All down the row, eyes are wide, disbelieving. 

It is more food than most of them have seen in their lives.

These girls – who have always eaten last, left with only the scraps at the edge of the pot – are being told to help themselves. To fill their plates.
And they do. They eat and eat, giggling through mouths stuffed full. When at last they sit back on their heels, unable to swallow one more grain of rice, their plates are still covered in food.
Read the complete article here.

I wonder what makes humans, supposedly the most intelligent species on this planet, turn negatively discriminatory and indifferent toward their fellow beings.
Check these photographs of the school girls, who are determined to rise above their miserable circumstances.
If you wish to know a brief history of the caste system, click here.

12 August 2013

10 Things You Should Know - Episode XI

In one of the previous editions Things You Should Know series, I had mentioned that some editions of this series will feature five such facts. Here is one such edition.
  • Muhammad Ali Jinnah (pictured right) is seen as the major force behind the partition of India. But do you know that he was once called by Sarojini Naidu as the ‘Ambassador of Hindu-Muslim unity’. Jinnah died on September 11, 1948, from tuberculosis. On Jinnah's death, Nehru said this: "How shall we judge him? I have been very angry with him often during the past years. But now there is no bitterness in my thought of him, only a great sadness for all that has been ... he succeeded in his quest and gained his objective, but at what a cost and with what a difference from what he had imagined."
  • Cuba is the largest island in the Caribbean. In 1492, Christopher Columbus colonised it for Spain; the island remained a Spanish colony till 1898. Spain had to cede the island to the United States after losing the 1898 Spanish-American War. Though a developing country, it has high life expectancy, with average life expectancy at birth at 78 years while literacy rate is 99.8%, with free education at all levels.
  • Silicon Alley is a nickname for an area with a concentration of Internet and new media companies in Manhattan, New York City. The name derives from Silicon Valley in California. The name is ironic; New York City contains no alleys since the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811, which removed all remaining serviceable alleys.
  • Mozambique was named Moçambique by the Portuguese after the Island of Mozambique, derived from Musa Al Big or Mossa Al Bique or Mussa Ben Mbiki, an Arab trader who first visited the island and later lived there. 
  • The first Apple logo featured Isaac Newton sitting under the famous Apple tree (see right). It was designed by Ron Wayne, a co-founder of Apple; Steve Jobs requested another logo design because he considered the Newton logo as too intellectual. 

Keep learning!

11 August 2013

08 August 2013

The Explainer: Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust

At the outset, let me tell you that I wrote this piece on Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust upon the request of a few readers of this blog; I have used pretty simple English to explain one of the most complex episodes in world history; I hope this helps you in learning about the Holocaust.

The end of the First World War (1914-18) saw the emergence of Nazism in Germany. The movement took political colour in 1919, in the aftermath of the Treaty of Versailles, which imposed several humiliating terms on the defeated German nation.

The Nazi party’s official name was ‘National Socialist Workers Party’; its followers came to be called Nazis. Though the Nazi movement started small at a local level, it gained mass popularity across all sections of the German society, including among the poor and unemployed as well as the several small royal houses that dotted the German state.
Adolf Hitler

Adolf Hitler, who joined the Nazi party when it was still a marginal player in the German political space, turned into one of the greatest mass movements in history.

The political philosophy of the Nazi party had some basic features: It was anti-democracy, anti-communism, anti-peace, anti-Semite, extreme form of nationalism, and pro-capitalism. Hitler believed that the Aryan race, to which he and most of the Germans belonged, was the most supreme racial group and was destined to rule over Europe. He believed that the Aryans were the most intelligent people on the planet.

In this space, I will discuss the anti-Semite, i.e., anti-Jew policy of the Nazi party. In a period of 13 years (1933-45), Adolf Hitler and his Nazis killed over six million Jews. This systematic, state-sponsored mass killing of Jews, carried out in different parts of Germany and Occupied Territories, is called the Holocaust. ‘Holocaust’ is a word of Greek origin meaning ‘sacrifice by fire’. In a larger picture, the Holocaust is an important part of the ‘Final Solution’ policy, which called for the elimination of the Jewish people.

It is not just the Jews who were singled out by Hitler; other groups, deemed racially inferior to the German race, like Roma Gypsies, Slavs (Russians and Poles) and ideological rivals, like communists and socialists, were also targeted and killed in large numbers by the Nazi party. It is believed that more than 2 lakh Gypsies were killed by the Nazi party.  

Hitler blamed the Jews for all the ills suffered by the German nation. He accused them of being hand in glove with the country’s enemies, like France and Britain. He derided them as the scum of the earth and treated them as sub-human.
Source: Martin Frost

Jews, who at the time made up less than one per cent of Germany’s population, had become leading members of the professional classes and the cultural space. Hitler accused them of hoarding the wealth and resources that belonged to the Germans.

In 1933, Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany. As the most popular and powerful leader of the German nation, Hitler put in place his anti-Semite policy, i.e., anti-Jew policy. A Jew was defined as any person with “one Jewish grandparent”.

Jewish prisoners at a concentration camp.
Jews were asked to move into special areas marked for their settlements, i.e., they were ghettoized. They were required, by law, to wear the yellow Star of David and were stripped of their German citizenship. They were not allowed to display German national symbols, like the national flag. They were not allowed to participate in arts, like music and dance.

Jewish businesses were boycotted; Jews were forbidden from holding any government/public office. Jewish professionals, including teachers, doctors and lawyers, did not find any takers for their services.

The Nazi party explicitly banned marriage between Jews and non-Jews; in fact, such marriages were denounced as “racial pollution”. In many towns and villages, Jewish tenants were evicted and forced to live outdoors.

Starving prisoners at concentration camp
As the German State, under Nazi Party, invaded and occupied large swathes of territory across Europe, including in Poland, the discrimination against Jews became a pan-Europe phenomenon. Jews across German-occupied territories were forced to group and live in particular settlements.

The most sinister part of the anti-Semite policy of the Nazi regime was the establishment of more than 300 Concentration Camps and Exterminations Camps.  These camps were run by the SS (Schutzstaffel; Protection Squadrons), set up by Adolf Hitler, in 1925 (yes, long before he became the Chancellor of Germany).

Jews from across Occupied Territories were taken to these camps. They were divided into two major groups: slave labour and the group to be killed. To put in blunt terms, women, children, and the aged were taken to Extermination Camps while the healthy males were turned into human slaves.

Hundreds of thousands of Jewish women, children and the aged were taken by trains to these Extermination camps, which housed large warehouses. These warehouses were in fact gas chambers. They were all herded into these air-tight chambers and killed through release of poisonous gases.

Mass grave at Bergen-Belsen camp
The Jewish men, turned into slave labour, were used to build railway and help in the German war effort in the Second World War. They were treated as sub-human, were fed poorly, denied medical attention, worked in appalling conditions, and lived (and killed) at the whim and fancy of the German Nazi officers. 

Auschwitz is the most well-known of these camps. After the suicide of Adolf Hitler and the eventual defeat of Germany in the Second World War, the Nuremberg Trials were set up, which tried tens of Nazi officials for their complicity in the Holocaust. Rudolf Hess, who was the first commandant at the Auschwitz camp, testified that up to 3 million (30 lakh) people were killed at his camp. Of these 2.5 million were gassed while the rest died from disease and starvation. He said that the camp had four gas chambers, which during the height of deportations to the camp, gassed up to 6,000 Jews each day.

In all, Adolf Hitler’s anti-Semite policy led to the deaths of over six million (sixty lakh) Jews in different parts of Europe. The number of the dead is staggering, given that in 1933 (the year Hitler became the chancellor of Germany), there were just about 10 million Jews in the whole of Europe. 

A number of films have been made on the controversial subject of the anti-Semite policy of the Nazi Party.  I would recommend: The Great Dictator (starring Charlie Chaplin), The Pianist, Inglorious Basterds, Schindler’s List, The Reader, and Life is Beautiful (my personal favourite). In case of books, A Diary of Anne Frank is probably the most popular work that captures the suffering of the Jews through the eyes of a fourteen-year old Jewish girl.
The BBC has an interesting interactive feature on the happenings at the Auschwitz camp. 

Keep learning!

06 August 2013

The Coca-Cola Company - An Infographic Story

The Coca-Cola Company is one of the most iconic global business entities. Its brand logo, with its flowing cursive writing, has very high recall value. (See the Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands)

As the world’s largest manufacturer and marketer of non-alcoholic beverage concentrates, the Atlanta, Georgia-based company offers more than 3500 products in more than 200
nations. It is believed that its products are found in all countries, except in Cuba and North Korea.

In 1886, an Atlanta pharmacist, Dr John Pemberton, made a tonic concoction of coca leaves and cola nuts, which they sold for about five cents. The product’s name was suggested by his business aide, Frank Robinson. Two years later, he sold the business rights to Asa Griggs Candler.

It is believed that the drink’s ingredients, nicknamed 7X (seven unknown ingredients) that lend it a special and different flavour, are held in a secretive bank locker.

Its current Chairman and CEO is Muhtar Kent (pictured above). 

Inside Coca-cola
Source: Visually

04 August 2013

Sunday Reads - The bomb didn't beat Japan & 3D Films

  • My week in North Korea. (Reason)
  • The U.S.$7 trillion problem that could sink Asia. (Bloomberg)
3D movies are hitting the screens in a flurry. Click on the infographic below to know more about the box-office prospects of 3D films.

Double-click on the infographic for a larger view.

Source: Reuters 

02 August 2013

10 Things You Should Know - Episode X

After a long hiatus, the 10 Things You Should Know series is back. I will try to bring it to you in this space once every week.

  • Gucci was founded by Guccio Gucci in Florence in 1921. Today it is ranked as the third most valuable brand in the world (after Louis Vuitton and Hermes), according to the 2013 Brandz Top 100, a ranking of the global most valuable brands. Gucci is owned by the French luxury goods firm, Kering, previously called PPR. 
  • MP3 is the short form of Motion Picture Experts Group Audio Player 3.
  • No woman has ever won the Nobel Prize for Economics. Elinor Ostrom (U.S.) is the only woman to win the Nobel Prize for Economics. She won the prestigious prize in 2009. (Thanks to Anudeep for the pointer.)
  • Domino’s Pizza was founded by Tom Monaghan (in 1960) whose original goal was to open three pizza delivery stores. That’s why there are three dots on the logo.
  • Peter Carey, J. M. Coetzee (both Australians) and Hilary Mantel are the only three authors to have won the Booker Prize twice. Carey won it for Oscar and Lucinda (1988) and True History of Kelly Gang (2001); Coetzee for Life and Times of Michael K (1983) and Disgrace (1999), and Mantel for Wolf Hall (2009) and Bring Up the Bodies (2012).
  • The Dominican Republic has the only national flag with a Bible in it. 
  • Canada, the second largest country in the world by area, derives its name from the St Lawrence Iroquoian language word, Kanata, which means ‘village’ or ‘settlement’. 
  • Human ashes are called cremains
  • The party symbol of the Republican Party in the U.S. is the same as that of the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) in India: Elephant
  • Email is an inseparable part of life. It was in 1973 that the first email was created by Ray Tomlinson (pictured right), called the father of the electronic mail (email). But back in those days, the term electronic mail was used generically for any electronic document transmission, including the FAX.