Saturday, 1 October 2022

Aagneya and Comrade Kodiyeri

“Small sacrifices must be made!” uttered Otto Lilienthal from his death bed after breaking his spine in a fatal crash of his experimental aircraft. We have collectively made those small sacrifices and made a humble beginning........

Aagneya is a reality.......

The task at hand was tough but the enormity of it, inviting. At the team-aagneya, we had a few young men and women who relished a good challenge or two and they thrived as the task began to appear tougher than expected. As the famous saying goes; even our 'little squirrels' contributed in whatever way they could ...... :-)

Most people will frown if we say that we had put our lives on the lines, but at least a few will understand the truth behind the statement.

So goes my post on the blog of GEC Barton Hill dated Saturday, 5 April, 2008

But all these could not have been possible without the support of the then Home Minister.

I had thought of writing in acknowledgement many a time in the past. Most recently, when his health had a sudden deterioration after a surgery and my wife had the privilege of examining him and writing the report. Professional priorities have changed and along with it, changed the reading and writing habits. And it got prolonged indefinitely. But if I do not put it down now in writing, it may remain a lifelong regret.

In 2007, a very dynamic group of students had come up with a proposal to organize a techno-cultural fest for GEC, Barton Hill with the intention of continuing it every year. But, unfortunately, it failed to take off due to the unreasonable demands from a group of local trouble makers who had been fleecing the students on one pretext or the other.

The following year, a very much supportive, broad minded, and friendly, P S Chandramohanan Sir assumed charge as our Principal. The students, led by the new batch of office bearers of the college union decided to make a fresh attempt at organizing the event and began receiving threats from day one. Sensing that the students were unyielding on account of the patronage from the faculty members, the threats were redirected to the teachers: “We can easily find our way to your teacher’s home and put a sword on the neck of his wife and then let’s see how brave he can be” was one message sent through the students. To which the humble reply was “they were most welcome, but the wife can’t serve them tea, as there wasn’t one at home.” Another threat was to destroy the car, which was also welcomed for it was old enough to be given away. Jokes apart, the particular group was more than capable of executing their threats.

Days passed and on the eve of the D-day, we had to attend one inter institutional quiz competition. The quiz master Vijayakumar Sir was mentioning about a lack of focus from my side and during the break, we explained to him about the reasons behind the lack of focus. He had mentioned that once upon a time his family used to command the respect of the local people in the troublesome region around the campus, but it’s no longer possible to advise them against the evildoings. My phone rang even as we were having that conversation and on attending the call, I heard the student leaders at the forefront of organizing the event, one after the other, sobbing and begging me to stop the preparations for event. It was very much apparent that they were speaking under duress and I broke the conversation, apologized to the Quiz Master and my partner Prof. Balu John and rushed to the office of the Assistant Commissioner of Police nearby. I handed over the intimation letters to the Police from the Principal even as I struggled to find words to explain the urgency of the situation to the ACP. Fortunately, the ACP, very much rough and a typical police officer, happened be the Father of one of my old students and showed the courtesy of listening to me. As we were speaking, my phone rang again and this time I quickly handed over the phone to the officer sitting in front of me. He misunderstood the situation and began blaming the students but was kind enough to order his subordinates to check the location for any untoward incident. I rushed out of the room and Balu Sir also joined me and we decided to go to the location by ourselves after intimating the Principal about the incidents. We met the head of the administrative section of the college Sri. Kavanad Ravi Sir on our way to the car and quickly briefed him also. Being the brave and fearless man that he is, he also turned his bike in the direction of the college. Police had already arrived by the time we reached the college and they were questioning the students, who were badly beaten up and could barely stand up, in the police way. I tried unsuccessfully to interfere in the interrogation on behalf of the students and tried to reach a ruling party MLA who had offered us all support and protection from the goons. He was out of reach and I requested my good friend, his PA, to inform him as soon as possible. Principal had also reached and it was getting dark. As I was walking in and out of the rooms, not knowing what to do, I noticed one member of the student union sitting quietly with his friends and watching the proceedings, probably waiting for instructions from his teachers and friends. I walked up to him and said, calling out his name: “You had observed first hand, what has happened here and what’s going on and you know that all our students had functioned only in the best interests of the institution. I see no other way, an instruction should come directly from the Home Minister, and nothing less will be useful at this hour.” He readily agreed to reach out to the Home Minister and within no time, the ACP arrived at the scene and the entire process of interrogation of students was stopped. Police personnel in plainclothes approached me and collected my number and assured me not to worry and offered the support of the entire force for the successful conduct of the event. To this day, I believe that was an instruction directly given by the Home Minister.

The next day, a large posse of policemen raided the entire neighbourhood and caught a few goons who had beaten up the students. And in the evening as the event took off in a grand way at the Nishagandhi, we could spot, as we watched out with the tired but unblinking eyes for any metal piece springing out of the crowd to spill our blood as promised by the hooligans, the plainclothes men of the Home Minister keeping a close watch on us as well as the crowd.   

Aagneya had the tagline ‘Unleash the fire within’

Com. Kodiyeri, the then Home Minister, had an undeniable role in kindling that fire.

And as he is lying in state, we gratefully acknowledge his patronage, caring and protection for a group of youngsters who had dared to dream during their days of distress a decade and half ago. 


*Names of some individuals are not revealed respecting their right to privacy. 


Sunday, 6 February 2022

Eleven Great Songs by Lataji: My List

It is not so easy to pick the list of favorites from among the thousands of songs from about seven decades of the most recorded voice in history. Listening all day, here is my list:

1. Aaj Phir Jeene Ki Tamanna Hai from the movie Guide for Waheeda Rahman

2. Chalte Chalte Yun Hi Koi for Meena Kumari in Pakeezah

3. Pyar Kiya To Darna Kya in Mughal E Azam for Madhubala

4. Yeh Raat Bheegi Bheegi for Nargis in Chori Chori

5. Hoton Mein Aisi Baat for Vyjayanthimala in Jewel Thief

6. Lag Ja Gale, for Sadhana in Woh Kaun Thi

7. Bahon Mein Chale Aao from Anamika for Jaya Bhaduri

8. Dheere Dheere Bol Koi Sun Na Le for Hema Malini in Gora Aur Kala 

 9. Raina Beeti Jaye, Sham Na Aaye in Amar Prem for Sharmila Tagore

10. Yeh Kahaan Aa Gaye Hum for Rekha from Silsila

11. Rim Jhim Gire Sawan for Moushumi Chatterjee in Manzil


11. Main Chali Main Chali for Saira Banu in Padosan

Sunday, 11 July 2021

The Greatest Fan

Disclaimer: This is purely a piece of fiction. Any resemblance to a person living is purely coincidental

Lionel Messi and la Albiceleste are crowned the new holders of Copa America. A long wait has come to an end for their diehard fans. Argentina, for some reason is one team with a huge fan following in our state, Kerala in India. No one knows the exact reason for the fascination the team holds equally for a septuagenarian Communist leader and a school kid fan of Leo Messi. One major reason for this fascination for the older generations must be adulation for Diego Maradona and the series of unforgettable games played by his team at Mexico in 1986. Diego, highly emotional, immensely talented was inspiring his group of gifted players to give their best as a team. Valdano, Burruchaga or Pumpido, members of Carlos Bilardo’s world champions became household names after the World Cup that we saw in colour on TV. We have one great fan of la Albiceleste in our close friends circle. Forever loyal, emotional like him, he even had a striking resemblance to his idol, the great Diego from a certain angle. Although we watched and played many games together, he was always guarded when it came to games featuring Argentina. This became the norm after one unforgettable night 15 years ago when Argentina played Germany in the quarter finals of the 2006 World Cup. With his team progressing from the “group of death” as the toppers, he had made all arrangements for us to watch the game together at a leading club in the city. He arrived at the venue quite early and reserved the seats in the prime location within the hall. His entire family, including his Mother was to be seated on a rear table. Confident of his team doing good on the night, he was very cheerful and saw to it that everyone was comfortably seated to watch them play. Both teams were well balanced and evenly matched with Argentina developing their game around their midfield general Juan Román Riquelme and Germans led by Michael Ballack had, in their ranks, the lethal striking duo Klose and Podolski. With Riquelme commanding the midfield Argentina dominated the first half, rarely letting the ball reach the German strikers. First half ended goalless and he was very cheerful as we analysed the match during the interval. Argentina continued to press forward after the break and in the 49th minute, Riquelme delivered in a corner pin-pointing Roberto Ayala, who merely had to put his head on the ball, giving Argentina a 1- 0 lead. They appeared well on course for more, when abruptly, to our astonishment, Jose Pekerman substituted Riquelme with Esteban Cambiasso. An uncertainty or confusion descended on his face as the Germans pounced on the opportunity and suddenly started counter attacking. With Argentina falling back to defend, Miroslav Klose equalized for Germany in the 80th minute, moving him to the edge of his seat.  Without Riquelme, Argentina was nowhere near the team they had been for the initial 72 minutes. Teams could not break the deadlock after the extra time and the match went into penalty shootout. With tension mounting and pressure building up, every German player successfully converted whereas the scorer of their goal in the regulation time Ayala and the substitute Cambiasso, failed for Argentina. He sat silently, heartbroken, inconsolable, refusing to get up from his seat. After much persuasion, he came out of the hall but with his family waiting for him to return home, he felt reluctant to face his family. Finally, the supporters of Argentina and Germany and the neutrals somehow managed to send him home. We have never before or since seen someone so devastated by the defeat of his favourite team, from a faraway land across the world that he had taken to his heart. Today, as Messi, and team brought down the canaries at Maracana on the back of an Angel di Maria strike, to lift the Copa and end a nearly 3 decade title drought, he celebrated alongside the several diehard Argentina fans from our place who burst crackers and distributed sweets. And we, his close friends and fans shouted “vamos la albiceleste” and said three cheers to their greatest fan.

Sunday, 25 April 2021

The "Gold Maker" and the Unlikely Triumvirate

Human race is in the middle of one the most widespread global pandemics in history. Interdisciplinary and international teams of scientists and multinational conglomerates have embarked on a race against time for developing ways to immunize people against many, if not all, coronaviruses. Without downplaying the the gravity of the crisis, it may be noted that while some of the pandemics that ravaged humanity in previous centuries particularly affected young children and babies, for some reason or the other, the coronavirus has mostly spared them. We were at college when another deadly pandemic appeared to make a re-entry through Surat, India in 1994. Immediate intervention, in the form of prevention and treatment avoided the spread of the disease far and wide and fewer than 1,200 people were diagnosed with the plague, which was contained in 2 weeks. Tetracycline had hit the headlines then, as the life saver, just as Covishield and Covaxin now. Panic stricken people thronged medical stores and tetracycline tablets were sold out in no time. The 325-crore Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Limited, which had accumulated huge losses and had been contemplating stopping production of the antibiotic, had to run three shifts in its two plants to meet the public demand.  

The first tetracycline antibiotic was the Aureomycin. The drug has an interesting history behind it. A team of most unlikely triumvirate had collaborated in the development of the drug. A reclusive immigrant who was refused citizenship, had recruited the son of a Confederate officer for the discovery and the most famous black doctor in America, the son of a freed slave, to conduct the clinical trials in the development of the drug, one of the major milestones in disease control and eradication in human history. 

Circa 1942, Dr. Benjamin Duggar, an American plant physiologist, received a call from the Chief of Research of a small pharma company in New York, Lederle Laboratories, enquiring if he would like to take up a role in the research to develop the next broad-spectrum antibiotic. The 70-year-old had been advised to go into retirement by his University as he was “too old” and because his specialty was no longer needed there. The Chief saw “experience” in what others judged “too old” and thought that in Dr. Duggar he might have found Lederle’s “antibiotic hunter.” One day in 1945, while extracting molds from soil samples, Dr. Duggar noticed one with an unusual gold-color. With the Chief overseeing his work, he tested the mold he had labeled A-377. To the elation of the team, A-377 proved effective in halting the growth of both Gram-positive and Gram-negative bacteria, including the microbes responsible for bubonic plague, tuberculosis, typhus, and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. The quest for the first broad spectrum antibiotic since streptomycin had been realized. However, with the limited manpower and resources available, it took them another three years of testing, before Duggar was confident enough with his finding to publish a paper. In the paper the antibiotic organism he discovered was given the name ‘streptomyces aureofaciens’, the “gold maker.” His colleagues liked the name and gave the drug its brand name, Aureomycin (Aureo is Latin for gold). The paper notified Lederle’s much bigger competitors that they had lost the race to find the first post-war broad-spectrum antibiotic. If Fleming's pencillin was effective only against gm +ve bacteria and Vaksmann's streptomycin was effective only against gm -ve bacteria, it was the Aureomycin which was the first to counter both. 

Lederle Labs did not have an agreement with any top testing hospital or medical school for conducting the human tests. The Chief and Dr. Duggar decided to approach Dr. Louis Tompkins Wright, a New York based Surgeon and Civil Rights Activist, whom they considered eminently qualified to conduct the tests. He had by then published nearly 90 papers in leading scientific journals, 35 of them about antibiotics. Dr. Wright, who had just returned to work after a three-year leave of absence to recuperate from a severe bout of tuberculosis, was enthusiastic about undertaking the trials. He started his trials of Aureomycin on patients with infections that had resisted all other treatments. He went on to publish more than 30 papers on his trials with the antibiotics and his research paved the way for the drug to earn FDA approval for manufacturing and widespread use. 

However, tragically, by the time Aureomycin was ready to go on sale in December 1948, Lederle’s Chief of Research was no longer alive to celebrate it. He had passed away in August, at the age of 53, unheralded and virtually unknown beyond a small group of researchers. His colleague Doron K. Antrim paid a touching tribute with the following lines: "You've probably never heard of him; yet because he lived you may live longer". 

Millions of people around the world live a longer and healthier life because of folic acid vitamins, tetracycline antibiotics, and anti-filarial (the drug Hetrazan which was used by WHO against filariasis) and anti-cancer drugs (Methotrexate is still in widespread clinical use today), developed under the tutelage of this wizard of wonder drugs. Besides the conquest of many illnesses that had troubled mankind for centuries, he had contributed to the understanding of life processes such as muscular contraction which gets the living world's work done. He was in the Harvard tradition "the brain" and could perhaps have claimed that the boys he had guided and inspired were just so many "hands". But that would have been unfair to them as it would have been so unworthy of himself. "The victories of science are rarely won single handed," he insisted. "No one man should get the credit." His last expressed wish to colleagues was: "If God will spare me another couple of years, maybe we can cure another disease." 

He is not famous, he had an extremely difficult childhood, he passed his matriculation examination in his third attempt, and overall, he had a tragic life worth a biopic like The Man Who Knew Infinity. But the contributions of the Chief of Research of a that small pharma firm in New York, Dr. Yellapragada Subba Rao, in biochemistry and medicine keep performing a million good turns for mankind each day, around the world. And his rather unlikely team reiterated the fact that scientific collaboration knows no boundaries other than those of knowledge itself.

Monday, 18 May 2020

Eleven Books by Eminent Lady Writers for Every Man (and Woman) to Read

“One must always be careful of books," said Tessa, 
"and what is inside them, for words have the power to change us.” 
Cassandra Clare, Clockwork Angel 

Good books take us to the places we have never been to, to the times in history we have never imagined, to meet, love or loathe the characters we have never come across in real life. I have not included any book from lady authors on my earlier list only because I thought, it will be better to give a separate list. I admit that it is not the best eleven available, the list is made up of my favorites which I feel will give one a reasonably good idea about the perceptions of the lady writers. So here goes my list of the ladies, being released as a gift to my wife on our 4th wedding anniversary :)

1. I would like to start with a book I had read when I was in primary school, that left my young mind confused, bruised, and astonished. "Uncle Tom's Cabin was a small log building. In front, it had a neat garden-patch, where, every summer, strawberries, raspberries, and a variety of fruits and vegetables, flourished under careful tending. The whole front of it was covered by a large scarlet bignonia and a native multiflora rose, which, entwisting and interlacing, left scarce a vestige of the rough logs to be seen. Here, also, in summer, various brilliant annuals, such as marigolds, petunias, four-o'clock, found an indulgent corner in which to unfold their splendors."
It is said that the Russian revolution was in fact started by the Mothers who took streets as they had nothing to feed their children. A similar story says that when he met Harriet Beecher Stowe at the start of the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln declared, "So this is the little lady who started this great war." Published in 1852, Uncle Tom's Cabin; or, Life Among the Lowly, thus had a profound effect on the war of another type, that on slavery. Hence the first on this list is the best-selling novel of the 19th century and in fact the second best-selling book of that century, following the Bible.

2. Then comes the female version of David Copperfield, my favorite heroine from fiction. “I was dazzled, stimulated: my senses were excited; and being ignorant, raw, and inexperienced, I thought I loved her. There is no folly so besotted that the idiotic rivalries of society, the prurience, the rashness, the blindness of youth, will not hurry a man to its commission.”
Charlotte Bronte's beautiful rendering of the life of an orphan girl who struggles through her nearly loveless childhood and grows into a passionate and strongly principled young lady who values freedom and independence revolutionized prose fiction by being the first to focus on its protagonist's moral and spiritual development through an intimate first-person narrative. Jane Eyre is not only one of the most famous romance novels of all time, but also considered by many critics to be ahead of its time in its treatment of class, sexuality, religion, and feminism. The eldest of the Brontes is considered as the literary ancestor of writers like Proust and Joyce who are in my earlier list.

3. The very fact that the first-ever science fiction was told by an eighteen-year-old girl who wanted to get even with her friends who used to tell her horror stories to amuse her during their trips across Europe, merits its position high up in the list. Mary Shelley crafted the story of a scientist who created a live monster using modern experiments in the laboratory, to compete with her future husband Percy Shelley and their friend Lord Byron to see who among them could write the best horror story and she won the contest hands down with her creation of Frankenstein.

4. At different periods in time, women have been denied education, acceptance, and access. Their works were labeled as light, inconsequential, too romantic, or without intellectual merit. The kind of status women was accorded is best exemplified in Mary Anne Evans' decision to publish her works under the name, George Eliot. Set in the fictitious Midlands town of Middlemarch, her magnum opus follows a vast, sweeping narrative that encompasses subjects of religion, idealism, and political reform.

5. Ashapurna Devi's expression of the great clouds of protest that had accumulated in her mind over the years, Prothom Protishruti, the First Promise is the first Indian book in this list as the personal favorite of the lady I had known longest in my life, Amma. Set mainly in a remote village of Bengal, it tells the struggle of childbride Satyabati against family control, mental violence of the polygamy system, superstition, injustice to women, and social prejudices in a patriarchal society. She continues her fight into adulthood and rebels against the people who wanted to keep women in their traditional place of inferiority.

6. "Even today there may be parents who would doubt the wisdom of allowing a girl of fifteen the free run of a large and quite unexpurgated library. But my father allowed it. There were certain facts – very briefly, very shyly he referred to them. Yet "Read what you like", he said, and all his books . . . were to be had without asking." said Virginia Woolf about her father.
For someone who had suffered from regular mood swings, and struggled with the illness for much of her relatively short life, she appears to have made the best use and achieved the best understanding, she could of that illness before surrendering to it as her remarkable literary output would testify. One of the most intelligent and remarkable lady writers in history, this pioneer in the use of stream of consciousness as a narrative device had been acknowledged as an influence by Margaret Atwood, Michael Cunningham, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Toni Morrison. In her monumental work, The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir counts, of all women who ever lived, only three female writers - Emily Bronte, Woolf, and "sometimes" Katherine Mansfield - have explored "the given." An iconic writer with no parallels, more postcards of Woolf is sold by the National Portrait Gallery, London than any other person. Her image is ubiquitous and can be found on tea towels to T-shirts.
It's difficult to select one work, but To The Lighthouse, described by the author herself as ‘easily the best of my books’, should be the obvious choice. A novel with little regard for the rules, with no consistent narrator, little dialogue and almost no plot - it reads more as a breathtaking and lyrical meditation on womanhood, relationships, nature, and the folly of perception.

7. Harper Lee's warm and humorous bildungsroman To Kill A Mocking Bird has to be in this list for its truthful handling of racial injustice, the destruction of innocence and the issues of class, courage, compassion, and gender roles all of which had a significant influence on arising the consciousness of a nation.

8. Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand's philosophical fiction caricaturing fascism, socialism, communism, and any state intervention in society, as allowing unproductive people to siphon off the hard-earned wealth of the productive, deserves a place for throwing up a totally different perspective on industrialists and their value to the society. Rand put forth the view that the outcome of any individual's life is purely a function of their ability and that any individual could overcome adverse circumstances, given ability and intelligence. And the book effectively advocates the author's philosophy of ethical egoism or rational selfishness, whereby all of the principal virtues and vices of a person are the manifestations of the person's basic tool for survival. The virtues such as productivity, independence, integrity, honesty, justice, pride are all applications of the basic virtue, rationality enriching the life of reason, purpose, and self-esteem.

9. The holder of the Guinness World Records for the title of best-selling fiction writer of all time, having sold over two billion copies, Agatha Christie can not be ignored from any list of lady writers. Again, it is difficult to pick one from her books, hence I would go with the author and recommend And Then There Were None described by her as the most difficult of her books to write. It is the best selling crime novel of all time, the one that gives her the record of the best selling novelist. With more than 100 million copies sold; it is also the world's best-selling mystery and one of the best-selling books of all time.

10. Baroness Emma Orczy's smooth reading, romantic, suspense thriller Scarlet Pimpernel has been included a personal feel-good favorite. Nevertheless, Orczy's portrayal of a daring hero who cultivates a secret identity disguised by a meek or ineffectual manner proved enduring and had been reenacted by several later heroes Zorro, the Shadow, the Spiderman, the Phantom, Superman, and Batman 

11. I had read Svetlana Alexievich long before her Nobel Prize. In her books, she uses interviews to create a collage of a wide range of voices. With her "documentary novels", she lightens the boundary between reporting and fiction. She may not be as talented and as creative compared to the other ladies on this list. But her real-life stories of ordinary men and women who endured one of the most gruesome tragedies resulting from an Engineering failure in mankind's history is a must-read for all of us living under the increased threats from technological disasters. We may not have known about the sacrifices of those brave young men, Telyatnikov, Kibenok, Pravik, Ignatenko, Khodemchuk... Vladimir Pavlovich Pravik died a few days before his 24th birthday in 1986. His remains rest in a sealed zinc coffin in a cemetery in Moscow because it is more dangerous than a COVID19 coffin. He posthumously received the medals of the Order of Lenin and Hero of the Soviet Union. But it is said that he preferred to live and he fought hard to stay alive.
Lt. Vladimir Pravik was the duty chief of the firemen on that April night when catastrophe struck the fourth unit of the Chernobyl Atomic Power Station. He was at the forefront of his team to battle with fire and carried on as long as consciousness permitted. He received a massive dose of radiation, yet lived on for sixteen days. Only his mother was allowed to be with him in quarantine. He was in immense pain, 'nuclear' pain - atrocious, unbearable, and ruthless, bringing frequent fits of shock and unconsciousness. Lt. Pravik stoically endured the pain and would have won the battle for life had his skin not been killed in its full depth. He died one night, leaving his wife and a daughter, just a month old. He also left a final letter for them, apologizing for not doing his bit in raising his little one.

There it goes, the list of ladies, as promised. And I am sure these great writers will open before you a world as colorful, as diverse, as cruel, as compassionate as the ones you have witnessed in the books on the earlier list.