Pinned Post - Flipkart vs Amazon Series

Flipkart and Focus 4 - Beware the Whispering Death

The fourth part of my series on Flipkart and its apparent loss of Focus and its battle with Amazon appeared in DNA on April 20th, 2015 . ...

Mar 26, 2017

Kurukshetra, A Photo Yaatra - 1

he Grant Trunk Road - possibly the oldest surviving highway in the world - starts out in what is now Bangladesh, makes its way through the Gangetic plains, crosses Delhi, and moving northwards, passing the town Sonepat, the historic battlefield Panipat, the refinery at Karnal, and along the way to Ambala and beyond, if you blink you miss it - Kurukshetra. Even as recently as a decade ago, in the absence of flyovers, it was routine to get stuck in hour-long traffic jams while trying to cross the intersections of these towns. There is now an overpass that takes you right over the intersection of the national highway and the State Highway 6 that makes it way to Kurukshetra on one side and to Yamunagar on the other. So unless you are looking for the town, you are likely to miss it. But if you do remember to look left (if travelling north), you cannot miss the welcome arch over the road that leads into the city. Whether you are passing by or whether entering the city, do look at the impressive arch. If you do, you will spot the famous, immortal chariot from the Mahabharata atop the arch. Arjuna's chariot, with Krishna the charioteer. Arjuna's bow - the Gandiva - is down. As long as it stayed down, so did the Pandava's hopes of winning the dharma-yuddha. One hand of Krishna holds the reins of Arjuna's horses - literally and metaphorically - while the other hand is raised, in explanation. This arch is lit up at night, and the visage is all the more impressive, and indescribably evocative.

Modern day Kurukshetra is almost like any other modern day Tier 2 (or tier 3) town in India today - one road that is the "main" road of the town and which cuts a neat slice through the town, on both sides of which is the oldest and most bustling part of town, and which leads to the inevitable railway station. The railway station is approachable via either a manned crossing, or increasingly common over the years now, via a flyover. For years, and even now, this would be the only flyover in the town, and would lead into the main market of the town. It would be the "sadar" bazaar, or more commonly, just the "market." Everyone knows what the "market" is. Malls are only now starting to make their appearance, and are still a novelty. The biggest draw for the mall is still the multiplex, and business at the mall depends on the movies playing. Kurukshetra satisfies most of the modern-day stereotypes of a small Indian town.
Maharana Pratap Chowk, Kurukshetra
As an aside, Kurukshetra would be neither a Tier-1, Tier-2, or Tier-3 town - it classifies as a "Z" grade town. Such classifications in India are a pristine example of its famed bureaucratic jumble. There is a population-based classification . The Sixth Central Pay Commission classified cities as "X", "Y", and "Z". Before that there was a system based on HRA (House Rent Allowance) - A-1, A, B-1, B-2 and C. Then there was one based on City Compensatory Allowance. Not to be left behind, the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) maintains six tiers based on population that it calls "Classification of centres(tier-wise)." The RBI further muddies the waters by also having a "Population-group wise classification of centres." Therefore, according to the RBI, a town with a population of more than one lakh is a "Tier-1" center, and also an "Urban center", but not a "metropolitan center", since that requires a population of more than ten lakhs. Anyway.

I said "almost", because Kurukshetra is different from most other towns in at least two respects. One, the sale (and purchase) and preparation of meat is banned in the holy city of Kurukshetra. This was done in 2012, on the orders of the Punjab and Haryana High Court. Of course, the enterprising few in the town still manage to flout it, and which is an open secret, but one is still thankful for these tender mercies granted to the vegetarians and animals. Second, while prohibition (of alcohol) is now no longer banned in the state of Haryana, Kurukshetra is one town where its sale is still banned. Again, hotels and restaurants are known to provide happy hours to trusted clients. The letter of the law is in the books, while the spirit lives on in hotels. All are happy.

Today, Kurukshetra's economy is agrarian, and tourism. Most of the workers are employed in some form of agriculture - as cultivators or as labourers. Inside the town - remember that the district of Kurukshetra is different from the town of Kurukshetra - you are likely to find rice mills.
Gunny sacks with rice piled in the compound of a rice mill. Kurukshetra
Unlike potato factories (a leader of a national political party talked about "aloo ki factory" - potato factory - thus bringing the phrase into notoriety), rice mills don't create rice. Rice mills are where the harvested rice is dehusked, producing the white, edible kernel. Given the abundance of cheap labour, much of the rice milling in India is still done manually - the pre-cleaning, drying, dehusking, paddy separation, etc...
The husked rice needs to be dried before it can be dehusked. This minimizes breakage
The two states of Haryana and Punjab grow more than 80% of the country's basmati rice - approximately 7.2 million tonnes of the annual production of 8.7 million tonnes. Add to this another 72 million tonnes of non-Basmati rice that is produced, and it gives you an idea of the kind of numbers one is talking about. Just one district - Karnal - in Haryana has more than 200 rice mills. The capacity of each rice mill obviously varies - from 50 kgs per-hour to more than 800 kgs per-hour.
Rice laid out to dry before the dehusking process, Kurukshetra.
The harvesting takes place during the months of September, October, and November. As the rice is harvested, the trucks start streaming into the rice mills - all day and all night long. They are either carrying the harvested rice in, or the dehusked rice out to the wholesale markets for sale. The rice mill operates all day and all night long. It can be difficult to gauge the scale of operations at these rice mills from afar. If you consider the fact that each bag weighs about fifty kgs, there are at several lakh kilos of rice in one single mill at any given point in time. The rice mill in this post had close to half a million tonnes of rice. The rice is spread in the open at the start of the day, spread over the ground, and at the end of the day packed into bags again. Which is why you see the blue tarpaulin sheets - they are in case there is rain. Which is why rain is murder for harvested rice. Which is why it is an irony of sorts - rice soaks in huge amount of water during cultivation but rice during harvesting or dehusking can destroy it.
Rice being stored back into gunny bags at the end of the day, Kurukshetra.
At one point in time in the not-too distant past, these rice mills were mostly on the outskirts of the town. Land was cheap on the outskirts. Not any longer. Many rice mills have closed down, to give way to malls or other more lucrative businesses. As the town has expanded, land has become more and more expensive. Large, undivided plots of land like the ones at rice mills, is precious. The money a rice mill can generate is dependent on the amount of rice it can process. This in turn depends on the kind of machinery present. Which is expensive. At some point Economics 101 kicks in, and the expected returns are no longer remunerative enough. Which means that such rice mills as the one in this post will also give way to other developments over the next decade or two. The landscape of the town will change.

Malls will replace mills.

This travelogue first appeared in IndiaFacts on Jan 24, 2017.

© 2017, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Mar 11, 2017

Alcohol — Latin, Arabic, or Indian/Hindu? An Etymology

hat is the etymology of the word “alcohol”?

According to Wikipedia, “the word alcohol appears in English as a term for a very fine powder in the sixteenth century. It was borrowed from French, which took it from medical Latin. Ultimately the word is from the Arabic كحل (al-kuḥl, “kohl, a powder used as an eyeliner”). Al- is the Arabic definitive article, equivalent to the in English;
What is somewhat puzzling is the reference the Wikipedia page relies on in passing pronouncement on the etymology of the word. The sole claim is a link to a site named VIAS — as in “Virtual Institute of Applied Science”, which is described as “An online encyclopedia of science topics, with a Mathematics section as well as a German/English dictionary.

This VIAS site itself is however more circumspect. It writes (bold emphasis mine)— “The word “alcohol” almost certainly comes from the Arabic language”, and later (again, bold emphasis mine), “A popular theory, found in many dictionaries, is that it comes from الكحل = ALKHL = al-kuhul, originally the name of very finely powdered antimony sulfide Sb2S3 used as an antiseptic and eyeliner. … However, this derivation is suspicious

The writer(s) of the Wikipedia article seem to have added an element of certainty that the source itself does not impute.

That “al” is the Arab definitive article is not in doubt. However, what is not quite clear is where did the other part of the word — “cohol” or its variations — derive from. To answer that question, a hint is provided if one realizes that much, if not all, of Arabic math and science came from India. Arab travellers to the Indian subcontinent carried back to Arab lands copious quantities of knowledge that they then put to use in their trade. The decimal number-system (you know — 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and that round integer that made math possible — 0!) is just one such example. First developed by Hindu mathematicians (“Indian” for those squeamish about crediting Hinduism with anything useful), it was used by Arab traders to ease their accounting, and the West slowly adopted this number system — almost a thousand years after it had been developed in the Indian subcontinent. The branch of mathematics known as “Algebra” is another such case, where the Arab traveller al-Khwarizmi translated Hindu texts on mathematics and which then acquired the name “Algebra”.

A page from the ancient medical text, Susruta samhita. [credit, Wikipedia]
Therefore, when one learns that “kohala” (कोहल) is the Sanskrit word for an alcoholic preparation in Ayurvedic medicine, it becomes a near-certainty that the word “alcohol” can be located to the Indian subcontinent and its origins to ancient Hindu texts on medicine and science. In fact, one of the the texts of Susruta (the ancient Indian scientist to whom we owe the word “suture”) — Susruta Samhita — describes the three stages of human and animal behavior after the consumption of alcoholic beverages!

Reference: “Indian Tradition of Chemistry and Chemical Technology”, Prof. A.R. Vasudeva Murthy, Prasun Kumar Mishra.

I first wrote this post in Medium on May 1, 2016.

© 2017, Abhinav Agarwal (अभिनव अग्रवाल). All rights reserved.

Mar 6, 2017

The Battle for Rama - 1. Babur's Mosques

In her 2013 book, "Rama and Ayodhya", Meenakshi Jain had presented perhaps the most accessible, authoritative, and comprehensive account of the  literary, sculptural, epigraphic, and historical evidence to support the antiquity and ubiquity of Rama across India, in addition to summarizing the findings of the Allahabad High Court's verdict on the case.

Her 2017 book, "The Battle for Rama: Case of the Temple at Ayodhya", builds upon "Rama and Ayodhya" with new information and evidence that has come to light in the last few years. While it is a short book, at 160 pages, it is nonetheless lavishly produced, with 61 illustrations and full-colour photographs printed on glossy paper. 

Feb 28, 2017

Tunnel of Varanavat - Review

Tunnel of Varanavat: Mahabharat Reimagined
by Gautam Chikermane

 When Duryodhana attempted to poison and drown Bheem during their childhood, it was a shocking incident, but one that was quickly forgotten by both the Pandavas and Kauravas. It was perhaps an accident. It was perhaps committed by a child's intellect. But this was manifestly not so when the Kauravas attempted to burn to death all the five Pandavas and their mother Kunti at Varanavat.

Feb 20, 2017

Flipkart and the Revolving Door

he contrast could not have been more striking, or poignant.
2017 began on a sombre note for Flipkart, when it announced on the 9th of Jan that Kalyan Krishnamurthy had been named CEO, and its current CEO Binny Bansal would become group CEO. It was the Indian e-commerce startup's third CEO in less than one year.
Three days later, on the 12th, Amazon let it be known via a press release that it intended "to grow its full-time U.S.-based workforce from 180,000 in 2016 to over 280,000 by mid-2018." To let that sink in, Amazon, already a company with a 180,000 employees in the US, would add another hundred-thousand full-time employees in eighteen months. Media was all over the news.

The battle for dominance of the Indian e-commerce market continues well into its third year. For all practical purposes this battle began in earnest only after Amazon entered India in 2013, and since then it has transformed into a brutal, no-holds barred, fifteen-round slugfest between Flipkart and Amazon. Yes, there is SnapDeal that is entering its end-game (there are talks of a merger between Paytm's marketplace and SnapDeal and of senior-level exits amidst rumours of a cash-crunch), there is ShopClues that has had to defer its IPO plans, and an e-commerce tragedy by the name of IndiaPlaza that was among the earliest e-commerce entities, which survived the dot-com bust of 2001, and yet folded up in a most ignominious manner. Ever since Amazon entered India in 2013, it notched up one success after another against the Indian behemoth, Flipkart. Flipkart went from strength to strength when it came to valuations even as it reeled from one blow to another in the market. Flipkart's party finally entered its long-expected yet still-painful endgame in 2016. For Amazon the costs have been equally staggering - billions of dollars sunk into its Indian operations, promises of billions more to be spent, break-even years and years away, and almost every last penny of profits from its parent company being shoveled into its Indian outpost.

Feb 17, 2017

Aamir Khan's Games and a Management Lesson on Celebrity Brand Endorsements

Movie poster of Dangal
[image credit: Disney]
ow that it is becoming clear that Aamir Khan's latest movie, "Dangal", is going to be a blockbuster hit (it's already recorded the second-highest opening of any movie in 2016), and with significant financial contributions in the form of ticket sales from the so-called right-wing brigade, it is time to go back in time a little bit and look at lessons learned and not learned. Lessons on brand management, lessons on social boycotts and boycott-fatigue, and lessons on adaptability.

Jan 26, 2017

Diwali, Hinduphobia and the Great Indian Derangement Syndrome

iwali (or Deepavali) is a time for celebration.
Diwali is a time for celebrating the return of Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana back to Ayodhya after fourteen years in exile.
Diwali is a time for bursting firecrackers to welcome the return of the Prince of Ayodhya.
Diwali is a time for celebrating the victory of Krishna over Narakasura.
Diwali is a time for happiness, joy, prosperity.
Diwali is a time for lighting lamps to welcome Goddess Lakshmi into our lives.

Diwali is also a time for welcoming the return of the annual Great Indian Derangement Syndrome. It is a rabid affliction which is marked by the apogee of a ritual that many Indians punctuate with long, haunting howls of dirges, for several nights at a stretch, every night, their penned faces pointed towards the west, the words contorted into a grotesque visage that seems to beg forgiveness for collective sins unknown. The climax of this annual ritual is a long, unbroken shriek of guilt that is somewhat quaintly reminiscent of the atavistic call of dogs to their savage masters out on their hunts. So powerful is this ritual that several people who have witnessed this ritual have lost their sanity. Let us take a look at once such recent example.

It all began with a tweet on the 27th of October by @padhalikha that I was pointed to:
The screenshot embedded in @padhalikha's tweet was of a tweet by the controversial news channel, @NDTV, of a five-day awareness campaign on child sexual abuse launched by the The National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (@NCPCR_), and which was jointly launched in Delhi by the Delhi government and the Childline Foundation (@CHILDLINE1098). The Delhi government is run by the AAP Party (@AAP).

Screenshot of tweet from NDTV

Dec 31, 2016

महाभारत कथा - बल या प्रज्ञा

महाभारत की इस कथा का सूत्र हरिवंश में पाया जाता है । इस लेख में तीन पात्र हैं, हालांकि उन तीन पात्रों में से दो व्यक्ति हैं और एक शहर है ।

मुचकुन्द की आँखों की ज्वाला से कालयवन का जलना
यह तो सब भली भांति जानते हैं कि श्री कृष्ण की ही राय पर मथुरा को छोड़ने का निर्णय लिया गया था। मथुरा से दूर, समुद्र तट पर द्वारवती नामक स्थान पर एक नए शहर का निर्माण किया गया । मथुरा छोड़ने का कारण था जरासंध के उस शहर पर निरंतर आक्रमण । वृष्णियों ने यह भी स्वीकारा की वो जरासंध को सौ साल में भी पराजित नहीं कर सकते थे । ऐसी स्तिथि में मथुरा नगरी छोड़ने के अतिरिक्त कोई और विकल्प था ही नहीं।

जरासंध का अंत हुआ, और श्री कृष्ण की उसमे अहम् भूमिका थी, हालांकि वध भीमसेन के हाथों हुआ था। जरासंध वध की कथा महाभारत में  सभा पर्व के जरासंध वध उप-पर्व में पायी जाती है । इस लेख में मै जरासंध से अधिक कालयवन पर ध्यान देना चाहता हूँ । जरासंध की भांति कालयवन भी ऐसा व्यक्ति था जिसे वृष्णि और अंधक पराजित नहीं कर सकते थे । क्यों? कालयवन की क्या कहानी थी?

कालयवन की कथा भी एक ऐसी कथा है जिसमें सारे मानव भाव पाए जाते हैं । गार्ग्य एक ऋषि थे जो वृष्णि और अंधकों दोनों के गुरु थे । पर मथुरा में उन्हीं के बहनोई ने उनका तिरस्कार किया, यह कहकर की गार्ग्य मर्द ही नहीं थे। गार्ग्य अपमान नहीं सह सके और उन्होंने मथुरा नगरी त्याग दी । पर अब गार्ग्य, जिन्होंने न विवाह किया था, जिन्होंने न संतान जन्मी थी, उसी गार्ग्य मुनिवर को अब संतान चाहिए थी । यह था अपमान का परिणाम! गार्ग्य ने शिव की आराधना की, और रूद्र से वरदान प्राप्त किया की उन्हें न सिर्फ़ एक पुत्र की प्राप्ति होगी पर एक ऐसा पुत्र जो वृष्णि और अंधकों को पराजित करने में समस्त होगा । अब यह एक पहेली ही है कि गार्ग्य ने संतान के साथ क्या वृष्णि और अंधकों को पराजित करने वाली संतान का भी वरदान माँगा था, क्योंकि हरिवंश पुराण ने इस विषय पर रौशनी नहीं डाली है । पर जो भी हो, शिव से यह वरदान तो मिल गया था गार्ग्य को ।

Dec 30, 2016

The ‘Intolerance’ of the Book That Wouldn’t Sell

hat makes a book? What makes an author? And, what makes a bestseller? The obvious answer, if one is a journalist in India, would be - the ability to use one’s influence and connections to get a publisher to publish it. Getting a book published is for such people the easy part. The content few care about, since the purpose of such books is neither to inform nor entertain - it's mostly the fulfillment of an unsatiated ego, and many a times an unstated agenda.
Books written by controversial journalists in recent times

One such book is "2014 - The Election That Changed India", written by controversial journalist Rajdeep Sardesai. Why "controversial"? Several reasons spring to mind.

Dec 23, 2016

Tales from the Mahabharata - Is Might Right

his one comes from the Harivamsha. There are three mini-tales here. Two of them have to do with people, while the third has to do with a city. That the Harivamsha has less to do with Hari may also come as a surprise, but that is a tale for another time. For this one, let's take a look at the the mini-tales.

Mucukunda Burning Kalayavana
It is well-known that Krishna advocated the abandoning of Mathura and relocating the populace to the western shores, to a place called Dvaravati. He did this because of the repeated attacks on Mathura by Jarasandha - that much is also well-known. The Vrishnis agreed with Krishna and told him that Jarasandha could not be killed by them even in a hundred years. Thus they left Mathura, and made Dvaravati their new home.  Krishna did eventually get Jarasandha killed, but through the hands of Bhimasena (this story is recounted in the Jarasandha-vadha Parva of Sabha Parva).

Before I come to the interesting bit in this context about Jarasandha, let us look at the second person. He is Kalayavana, who also could not be defeated by the Yadavas. Why couldn't he be defeated by the Vrishnis, the Andhakas? What was his story?

Dec 9, 2016

Harivamsha, by Bibek Debroy - Review

he Harivamsha is the final, final part of the Mahabharata. Not quite a part of itihaasa - which the Mahabharata and Ramayana are - nor quite a Purana, the Harivamsha nonetheless gets by by being called a "kheel" (appendix) to the Mahabharata. The Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune, over several decades, compiled a Critical Edition of the Mahabharata. The Harivamsha also forms part of this Critical Edition. The critical edition of the Harivamsha contains a shade less than 6000 shlokas - thus bringing the total length of the Critical Edition of the epic to just under 79,000 shlokas. An English translation of this version is what Dr. Bibek Debroy has come out with (he came out with translations of the Critical Edition between 2010 and 2015). He informs us that "Non-Critical versions will often have double this number, reflective of the slashing."

Nov 12, 2016

Sati, Evangelicals, and Atrocity Literature

Sati: Evangelicals, Baptist Missionaries, and the Changing Colonial Discourse
by Meenakshi Jain

(Amazon India, Amazon)

n many ways this book documents the birth of atrocity literature and its first application in India on Hindus. The successful template of manufacturing atrocities, hyping them, and then using the resulting public opinion to further an evangelical agenda may appear new, but it is one that was honed more than two centuries ago. This is yet another stunning book from Meenakshi Jain, coming after her 2013 tour-de-force, "Rama and Ayodhya."

What was the evidence and prevalence of Sati in ancient and medieval India? Did it have religious sanction? Was it mandatory? Was there coercion? Was it confined to certain regions and castes or widespread? Did it change over time? Did it increase or reduce over time? Did the English or the East India Company ban it? Did they want to ban it? What were their motivations in banning it? Were they driven by the need to put a stop to a widespread evil? How did Indians react to the ban? When talking of Sati, these are some of the questions that should spring to mind. These are the questions that the book asks, and answers.

Nov 1, 2016

Diwali 2016 Photos

eepavali (Diwali) 2016 is over. It is time therefore to post the photos.
And here they are.

Oct 13, 2016

Ocean of Churn by Sanjeev Sanyal - Review

f history is to be written to make it accessible to the lay reader, the student, and make it interesting, Sanjeev Sanyal is one author I would pick. I say "one", because I would also pick Michel Danino, but that is a different story and for a different book! Sanjeev Sanyal's previous book, "The Land of the Seven Rivers", was a grand, sweeping, and ambitious narrative of India's history that tied it to the equally fascinating geography of Bharatvarsha. His 2016 book, "The Ocean of Churn", goes one better in both scope and sweep. This time Sanyal takes the reader on a ride along the Indian Ocean, and ties together the histories of the lands touched by the mighty ocean. In doing so, he sheds light on several fascinating episodes that deserve a wider audience.

Oct 1, 2016

Eventful Travel Travails

here are travels that begin on a note that tell you to prepare for the worst. Of course, as a rational person you do not believe in omens, signs, or any such irrational nonsense. Till all such omens, signs, and irrational nonsense turns into events. Real events. That happen to you.

Earlier this year I had to travel to the United States on business. This meant traveling to several cities, taking several flights, with several layovers, meeting customers, the team, friends, family, and then flying back. In less than ten days, I had to transit via or fly-in to the airports at Washington DC, Newark, Chicago O'Hare, Milwaukee, Dallas, Phoenix, San Antonio, Salt Lake City, and San Francisco - basically an airport almost every day. With such a travel itinerary, the best you can hope for is an uneventful journey.
Sometimes it is bad to hope.

The Canary that Wouldn't Sing

The door handle of the VW Beetle (it was black on the car I had rented)
The first call of business was at San Antonio. I would need to come back to San Antonio the next week, and that was another story, but the first port of call was San Antonio. After twenty-four hours or so of traveling in cattle-class, eating as little food and as many fluids as possible (because it is more convenient to do the 'little' thing than the 'big' thing while traveling), all I had energy to do was to pick the car from the rental agency - a nice, canary-yellow, Beetle at that - and find my way to the hotel. After meetings the next day, I packed and was ready to leave for the airport the next morning. An early rise, an early breakfast, and I was in the parking lot, ready to drive the shiny, new Beetle rental car to the airport, and be on my way to San Francisco. Click - went the car remote to unlock the car.

I click, expecting to hear a reciprocal click that would be the unlocking of the car.
No click, no unlock.
I check the clicker.
I check the car.
I circumambulate the car, in an ancient pagan ritual, my nails digging deeper and deeper into the clicker. Again, the dead silence of the clicker greets me in return.
A lady walks by. "Is that your car?"
"Uh huh."
"Someone left the headlights on the last night. I think the battery's drained."
"Oh. Thank you ma'am."

Sep 10, 2016

Tales from the Mahabharata - 20 - Abetment or Abandonment

The second meeting Karna had was with Kunti. Kunti, the mother who had abandoned her first-born son and Karna, the son who could not bring himself to abandon the friend who gave him a kingdom. Karna-Upanivada Parva (an upa-Parva in Udyoga Parva) describes both these meetings, and captures brilliantly the complexity of human relations and emotions at work.

After Krishna returned to the Pandavas after his meeting with Karna, Vidura had provided an update to Kunti of Krishna's unsuccessful entreaties to the Kauravas. Kunti started thinking of the looming battle, and her mind naturally went to the warriors in the Kaurava army who would pose the biggest threat to her sons - her five sons. Kunti correctly thought that Bhishma would be "kindly disposed towards the Pandavas" and that Drona would "never willingly wish to fight with his disciples." This left Karna, who Kunti saw as the pivot around whom the war could turn.

I wrote in the earlier post that Krishna had approached Karna with as open and generous an offer as could have been made, by man or god. Krishna had made one last attempt at averting war.

Kunti was at this point in time more interested in the preservation of her five sons. With Karna fighting on the other side, there was no guarantee of the safety of any of her five sons. One way of ensuring their safety was to turn Karna over to the side of the Pandavas.
"Karna has always been against the Pandavas and I am now tormented by that. Today, I hope to turn Karna’s mind towards the Pandavas. I will meet him, tell him the truth and seek to obtain his favours."

Aug 15, 2016

Tales from the Mahabharata - 19 - Karna and the fear of abandonment

Kunti abandoning Karna
(image credit:
I will stay with Karna for this post also (the previous post was also about Karna and how his life can also be viewed as a cautionary tale against distractions).

Karna was abandoned almost immediately after his birth. His mother, Kunti, "flung" (ch 104, Adi Parva) him into the river, where he was found by Adhiratha, adopted by his wife Radha, and grew up the son of a charioteer. He later became the lifelong friend of Duryodhana, the king of Anga, and a mortal enemy of Arjuna.

A question comes to mind - why did Kunti need to fling her first-born son into the water? It was because of a boon granted by the "fearsome" sage, Durvasa. His boon to Kunti was thus - "Whichever gods you summon through the use of this mantra, will grant you sons through their grace." Durvasa had granted this boon to Kunti because "he knew that she would face the dharma that is indicated for times of distress." Once Kunti had this boon, she became "curious." Curiosity led her to invoke the boon, summon Arka (the sun god), who placed an embryo in her womb. Thus Karna was born, and almost immediately thereafter, abandoned by his mother.

Aug 11, 2016

Dalits, Muslims, Gurkhas, Chambal, and more. Growth of Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes in India - KS Lal

he myth of Dalit-Islam unity has been doing the rounds for a few decades now, despite a copious amount of evidence to the contrary and a near-complete absence of historical evidence to support the premise of any such unity. The primary causal factors for the persistence of this myth are poor scholarship among modern historians (which in turn can be blamed on the cabal of leftist historians who have a vice-like control on almost all institutions of historical research in India), the resurgence of radical ideologies that seek to warp facts to force-fit their worldview, and above all a general apathy towards the study of history in India. Dalits have found themselves at the receiving end of communal violence at the hands of Muslims in riots - whether it was the horrendous violence during Partition, or the equally horrific riots following the burning of 59 Hindu men, women, and children in a train near Godhra in Gujarat in 2002. Yet the myth of "Dalit-Muslim unity" lives on. To then say that the credit for the growth of India's tribal population (sometimes also referred to as Dalits) goes to the centuries-long Muslim rule in India between 712-1707 CE would be a surprise to most. Yet it is the proposition made and proven by distinguished historian, K.S. Lal, in his book, "Growth of Scheduled Tribes and Castes in Medieval India."

Jul 30, 2016

Tales from the Mahabharata - 18 - First Things First, A Lesson Karna Forgot

It is not without reason that the character of Karna has attracted so much fascination and attention from readers of the Mahabharata. People have seen and identified in him an ideal friend, an ideal giver, and above all - the fatally wronged son who never got his due from either his brothers or his mother. The right warrior who fought on the the wrong side.

But among all that has been written in the Mahabharata, is there an underlying narrative, hiding between the pages, that that may tell us something more about Karna, and therefore, about human nature itself? To do that, it is instructional to revisit some of the pivotal moments in Karna's life.

Parashurama sleeping on Karna's lap
[image credit: Wikipedia]
A young Karna had convinced Parashurama to train him in the use of weapons. So desperate had Karna been to receive this knowledge that he had described himself as a brahmana, and not as the kshatriya he was (a suta perhaps, but certainly a brahmana he wasn't). Parashurama would teach no kshatriya. One day, as Parashurama slept on Karna's lap, a bee stung Karna. Not wanting to disturb his guru, Karna bore the pain. When Parashurama woke up and saw the blood, he accused Karna of having deceived him. No brahmana - or so Parashurama believed - could have withstood so much pain. Parashurama cursed Karna that he would forget the knowledge of his weapons when he would need them most. This is well known. The question is - why did Karna not get up or otherwise take some step to swat the bee away? Why was it so important to show that he could withstand huge amounts of pain, if only to not displease his guru?

Jul 17, 2016

Hosur Road, NH7 - Past and present

Sometime between 2013 and 2015 a considerable stretch of NH7 got six-laned - from Hosur to Krishnagiri. This is also one of the busiest stretches on this national highway, that runs through Bangalore, and all the way down to the southernmost point in India - Kanyakumari.