Monthly Archives: October 2011

My New Book- Shadows of Lost Time

Bookcoverimage1

 

                My latest book, “The Shadows of Lost Time” has just been published. It is available in paperback at Amazon:

http://www.amazon.com/Shadows-Lost-Time-Kanwarpreet-Grewal/dp/1460948831/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1317228683&sr=8-4

                There is also a kindle version available. Just search for it on Amazon. 

Read about the book at my blog “Shadows of Lost Time”

                “Shadows of Lost Time” is a collection of short stories. It is divided into 3 sections: The Past, The Present and The Future. The first section has 6 stories based on historical people or events. I have fictionalized certain aspects to present an alternative perspective of history. The second section has 2 stories based in the modern city of Delhi. The last section has two stories which try to explain some scientific mysteries of today using stories set in the future. 

 

It is also available on Flipkart, Barnes and Noble, etc.

Please read it and post reviews on Amazon/goodreads etc

 

 

 

St Paul’s Cathedral and Sir Christopher Wren

We are back from our vacation in England and Ireland. I had been to London when I was a kid but at that time my perspective on life and my interests had been very different. At that time Madame Tussauds and the Thames cruise had been the highlights of the trip. But this time these were overshadowed by two beautiful monuments- two grand reminders of the history of England: The Westminster Abbey and St Paul’s cathedral. In this VERITAS I will tell you about St Paul’s cathedral and its amazing architect- the multifaceted genius, Sir Christopher Wren.

 

Sir Christopher Wren was born in Wiltshire on 20th October 1632. His father was the rector of East Knoyle and later became the Dean of Windsor. Wren received the best possible education possible in those days. He was educated in Westminster school and Oxford University. In Oxford he studied Latin and Aristotelian Physics. However he did not restrict himself to what was being taught to him. His interests  included Physics, Mathematics and  Astronomy. In Oxford he joined a group of scholars to discuss intellectual issues on a regular basis. This group included mathematicians, philosophers and scientists.

 

After graduation he was appointed the professor of Astronomy at Gresham College London- this was in 1657. However he continued to travel regularly to Oxford to meet his intellectual friends and discuss stuff with them. Sometimes they would visit him in London to listen to his lectures and meet him. In 1662 they proposed a society to promote scientific knowledge. They called it “The Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge”. To most of us this is just known as the Royal Society. This society has played a huge role in the progress of Science. The motto of the Royal Society is “Nullius in Verba” which means “take nobody’s word for it”. Future members of the royal society would include the who’s who of British and commonwealth science including Faraday, Maxwell, Livingstone, Newton, S.N Bose, Stephen Hawking, Raman, Darwin, Rutherford, Cavendish….. the list goes on and on. So what started off as a discussion forum of Wren and a few Oxford friends became one of the most influential societies of the scientific community.

 

Now lets talk about Wren’s scientific research. Here also he did not restrict himself to one or two areas of specialization. He was curious about everything. He constructed a transparent beehive to study bee behavior. He experimented on earth’s magnetism. He was the first to use an injection- he used it to inject a substance into a dog. He theorized about pendulums, about how longitude can be determined at sea, he thought about muscle functionality. In short- he was interested in a huge number of subjects.

 

Wren was also interested in planetary motion. He challenged Halley( of Halley’s comet fame) and Robert Hook to come up with a law explaining Kepler’s laws of planetary motion. He offered a 30 shilling book for the correct answer. Halley went to Newton and told him about the problem. Newton had already been working on his laws of motion and immediately was able to tell him the solution. Later Newton expanded his solution into Principia Mathematica Philosophiae Naturalis which contained his three laws of motion, laws of gravity and mathematical calculus.

 

Now lets come to Wren’s contributions as an architect and the design of St Paul’s Cathedral. In those days Architecture was not considered a profession by itself. In those days it was considered a hobby of well educated gentlemen. Wren always had a keen interest in drawing and was naturally attracted to architecture. In his Oxford days he had read a number of books on the subject. When Wren founded the Royal Society, the then king of England, Charles I became aware of his immense talent as a geometer. He asked Wren to design several buildings. None of them were really grand. But Wren’s work stood out and impressed everyone including the king. Wren took his work an an architect very seriously. It was not merely a hobby for him. It was his passion. He travelled to France to study building design and construction there. He took the best from the buildings of the past but also added his own perspective to the designs. One of the buildings which Wren was asked to redesign was St Paul’s cathedral. It was in a state of utter neglect when Wren took over its repair and redesign in 1661. His plan was to modify the building while leaving its basic structure as it was.

 

But then a huge fire broke out in London. This was the great fire of 1666. It burned down nearly 2/3 of the city. ( Note: the nursery rhyme “london bridge is falling down” is associated with the great fire which deteriorated the bridge to a great extent). One of the buildings which was completely destroyed was St Paul’s Cathedral. Wren made a plan to rebuild the entire city and submitted it to the king. It was accepted. Wren was in charge of rebuilding of some of the key buildings which had been ruined. Among them was St Paul’s Cathedral. Wren poured his creativity in its design. He designed and redesigned it several times to satisfy the requirements and tastes of the King, clergy and the parliament. He wanted St Paul’s Cathedral to be a magnificient and huge monument- an icon of London. Wren worked on St Paul’s cathedral for more than 36 years. In 1711 it was declared complete. It is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen. It is one of the biggest buildings in England. From 1711 to 1962 it was the tallest building in England standing at 111 meters( 365 feet). The dome of the cathedral is among the largest in the world. It is beautiful and it is huge! When you stand inside and look up at the dome you are overwhelmed by its size, magnitude and beauty! And it is an architectural wonder. The cathedral also has a crypt which contains the tombs and memorials of some of the greatest British figures including Lutyens( the one who designed Delhi), John Donne( poet), Nelson, Duke of Wellington( defeated napoleon in waterloo), Churchill, Florence Nightingale, Alexander Fleming( discovered Penicillin) and lots of others.

 

After seeing the magnificient building I looked for and found the tomb of Sir Christopher Wren. It is located in the crypt of the building. On the tomb is the inscription “LECTOR, SI MONUMENTUM REQUIRIS, CIRCUMSPICE” which means “Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you”. That statement really touched me. How many people can proudly be associated with a building of such a magnitude? How many people can show such a huge momument as their life’s work? Sir Christopher Wren was a giant like the building that he built!

 

 

Kanwar

 

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Go wondrous creature, mount where science guides

go measure earth, weigh air, state the tides,

instruct the planets in what orbs to run

correct old time, regulate the sun

======================================================================

William the Conquerer and the Doomsday Book

 

Friends,

 

                This year we are going to England and Ireland for vacation. I believe that it is not enough to just buy air tickets and pack bags when going on a trip. I believe that the biggest preparation before leaving on a trip is intellectual. For the trip is tragically incomplete if you do not know enough about the history, geography and culture of the place which you plan to visit before you go there. So as an intellectual preparation I and my wife are watching an excellent BBC series, “The History of Britain” on youtube. Here is the link to the first part( There are 15 episodes of 1 hour each):

 

 

                One of the episodes describes a very interesting book, The Doomsday Book. In this VERITAS I will tell you about this book. But we cannot talk about the Doomsday book without first learning about William the Conquerer and the Norman conquest of England.

 

                In 1066 the Anglo-Saxon king of England, Edward the Confessor died. He had no children so after his death there was a lot of speculation as to who would be the next king.  There were three contenders: Harold Godwinson, the powerful Earl of Wessex; Harald Hardrada, the Viking King of Norway and William, Duke of Normandy. Each of these three had their own reasons for thinking of himself as the rightful successor to King Edward.

 

                Harold Godwinson was the most powerful man in England after the King. When the king died, it was natural for him to think of himself as the successor. According to some historians, Edward held Harold’s hand just before dying, a sign of transferring the kingdom to him.

 

                Harald Hardrada, the King of Norway, like the Viking kings before him had always been interested in England. In fact the Viking king, Harthacnut and his father Cnut had been the kings of England before Edward the confessor. After Edward’s death he received the support of Harold Godwinson’s brother who had fallen out with him and he staked the claim over the English throne.

 

                Now let’s talk about William. He was also known by a not so flattering name: William the bastard. That is because he was the illegitimate son of the Duke of Normandy( in France) . Since the duke had no other son, William became the Duke of Normandy in 1035. He was distantly related to King Edward. In fact he claimed that Edward had promised him the throne when William visited England in 1052. William also claimed that Harold Godwinson had, several years earlier promised to help him become the king after Edward.

 

                So in 1066 when Edward the confessor died we had three very powerful people vying for the throne of England- each with their own reasons why he was the most suitable candidate. But such matters were not decided by discussion, argument or popularity contests. War decided who would be the king.

 

                Harold Godwinson being within England had the opportunity to act first. He was crowned the king one day after Edward died. Fumed by Harold breaking his promise, William starting planning an attack on England. He started collecting troops and filled them in more than 700 warships- this was in January 1066. On the other side Harold collected a huge army and waited at the Isle of Wright. For 8 months both William and Harold waited. William waited for favourable winds and Harold waited for William. And then on 8th sept, Harold retreated thinking that William will not come.

 

                On 20th September Harold got the surprise news that an invasion had happened. But it was not William. It was Harald Hardrada! Harald had invaded from the north. Harold had to immediately collect his army and head north. On 25th September the two armies met in what is known as the Battle of Stamford Bridge. The Vikings suffered a huge defeat. Harald Hardrada was killed during the battle. His army was decimated. The loss was so huge that it ended the age of Vikings. Some texts refer to Harald Hardrada as the last Viking.

 

                Harold may have been pleased with the successful battle and having saved the crown but he was in for a huge shock. Willam finally found the favourable wind and landed in England on 27th September. Harold had to march his armies 386 kms to deal with the new threat. William and Harold’s armies met on 14th October in Hastings. After a ferocious battle, Harold’s armies were close to victory but then a arrow hit him in the eye killing him. After Harold’s death the English army was routed. Most of them just fled the battlefield. So Harold Godwinson lost because he had to fight two powerful enemies within two weeks. If Harald Hardrada had not invaded from the north, Harold would have been more prepared for William and would certainly have defeated him in battle. But history does not remember how or why a battle was won. It just remembers the winner.

 

                So William the Bastard became William the Conquerer, the new King of England. Thus the Norman conquest of England happened in 1066.

 

After becoming he king he became curious about the financial status of people under him and how the system of taxes could be improved. He wanted information. He knew that information is power. So he sent his people all over England to record the details of every family, its livestock, its land and its wealth. William’s officers went to each village and town in England to collect information from every family. The records were collected in a massive book in 1086. The book contained the names of every family member, the amount of land they owned, a count of their livestock, their income – everything. So in a sense it was the first detailed census and land record in history.

 

            An Englishman wrote: ” “so very thoroughly did William have the enquiry carried out, that there was not a single piece of land, not even an ox, cow or pig which escaped the notice of the survey.”

 

The book came to be known in England as the Doomsday book. This was because the records were so detailed and accurate that none could argue against it. And like doomsday, it spared no one. If the doomsday book judged that a person held a piece of land or a cow, there could be no dispute over it. It was thus the final authority- the last judgment.  So the name Doomsday book was named after the Biblical Last judgment of Doomsday.

 

For historians this is a precious treasure because it contains a great record of the socio-economic condition of 11th century England. They can understand the finances, the family size, the social hierarchy, the taxation system using this book. For example the Doomsday book tells us that in 1086, 17% of the total land was directly owned by King and his family, 26% by bishops and abbots and 54% by tenants.  It even gives us information regarding the food and drink consumed by people of those days. Beer was the most popular drink even in those days. It tells us that Monks were allowed up to 3 gallons of beer per day!

So the Doomsday book is a treasure house of historical knowledge. It is preserved in London’s National Archives.

 

http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/domesday/

 

For me the most interesting thing about the doomsday book was the fact that William was probably the first ruler to realize that power is not by swords, horses and soldiers alone. The real power is knowledge. The real power is to know what is yours and that gives you the ability to act in the most appropriate and decisive way. And what amazes me is that William was not content with getting the big picture information from the village/town heads. Nothing less than a comprehensive survey of every man, field, cow, pig and fishery would do. Perhaps he realized that for knowledge to be truly effective, it has to be deep and accurate.

 

 

 

Kanwar

 

 

========================================================================

Go wondrous creature, mount where science guides

go measure earth, weigh air, state the tides,

instruct the planets in what orbs to run

correct old time, regulate the sun

======================================================================