Tag Archives: 2007 VERITAS

Which Bahadur Shah

This veritas was written on Wednesday, November 07, 2007

A few weeks back I was surprised when a friend while talking about Bahadur Shah Zafar commented on him being the son of Aurengzeb. And when I asked a lot of people about who the son of Aurangzeb was, most said Bahadur Shah Zafar! This is a very common mistake. And the aim of this VERITAS is to make sure that VERITAS readers do not make this mistake. The mistake is obvious- Aurangzeb died in 1707. And we all know that Bahadur Shah Zafar participated in the mutiny of 1857. How could Aurangzeb’s son last so long? So Bahadur Shah Zafar is NOT Aurangzeb’s son! But then how can so many people make the same mistake? This mistake is common because Aurangzeb’s son was Bahadur Shah( and not Bahadur Shah Zafar) who ruled from 1707 to 1712.

       In today’s VERITAS we will read about these two Bahadur Shahs. But for the people who have no knowledge of Mughal History a little recap: Mughal rule started in India in 1526. The first Mughal King, Babur was a descendent of Timur and Genghis Khan. From 1556 to 1707 Mughals were the most powerful and important power in India. At the height of the Mughal empire the whole of the Indian subcontinent and parts of Afghanistan were under its control. Akbar was the greatest of all Mughals. His reign ( 1556 to 1605) is considered to be the finest years in Mughal History. The Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb ruled from 1658 to 1707. Under him the Mughal empire had the most territory under its control. However his policy of religious intolerance was the root of the decline of the Mughal Empire after his death in 1707.

       Aurangzeb’s son Bahadur Shah( also known as Bahadur Shah I or Shah Alam I) became the emperor in 1707. He was different from his father- he was a moderate and was tolerant of other religions. In fact he was quite friendly with the last Sikh Guru, Guru Gobind Singh. Guru Gobind Singh helped him become the emperor by providing him military support against his brothers. Bahadur Shah tried to improve relations with the Marathas also. However he had inherited a crumbling kingdom and his own lack of leadership skills did not help much. He died in 1712 at the age of 69 without being able to curb the decline of what was once a great kingdom.

Bahadur Shah

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       And Bahadur Shah Zafar( also known as Bahadur Shah II) was the last Mughal emperor.  He became the emperor in 1838. But at this time the emperor was nothing more than the city of Delhi. India had three big forces around this time: The Sikh empire in Punjab, Kashmir and parts of Afghanistan, the Maratha empire and the British Empire. Hundreds of Kings had fragmented the rest of India. In 1803 the British East India Company had offered protection to the then Mughal Emperor, Shah Alam II. So after 1803 the Mughal Emperors were mere puppets of the British. Bahadur Shah Zafar also had no real powers. He got a pension from the British and could maintain some token forces in Delhi.

 

Bahadur Shah Zafar

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       In 1857 the Indians rebelled against the British. This was the first united revolt by the Indians against British rule. Most Indian kings considered Bahadur Shah Zafar and the Mughal empire as the one unifying force that could push the British out. Of course, it was a temporary arrangement- the kings would decide what to do after the British were made to leave India. However this did not happen. The revolt was crushed.  Bahadur Shah Zafar fled for his life- he knew that he would have to pay a heavy price for being the symbolic leader of the revolt.
But he was captured and his sons killed, and their severed heads presented to him.

       Bahadur Shah Zafar was exiled to Rangoon where he died in 1862.

       Bahadur Shah Zafar could not bring back the glorious days of the Mughal Empire – he was powerless against the British Imperial power. However there is one thing that he excelled in: Poetry. He is regarded as a very good Urdu poet. Also, in his court great poets like Mirza Ghalib and Zauk used to recite their
poetry.

       Here are a few shers from a ghazal written by Bahadur Shah Zafar:

       lagta nahin hai ji mera ujare dayaar mein
       kis ki bani hai aalam-e-naa-payedar mein?

       ( I find no happiness in this desolate land
         but who has ever found peace in this world of change and death?)

       keh do in hasaratoon se kahin aaur ja basein
       itni jagah kahaan hai dil-e-daag-daar mein

       ( Tell these desires to go somewhere else
         There is no space left for them in this torn heart)

       umar-e-daraz maang kar laye thay chaar din
       do arzoo mein kat gaye do intezar mein

       ( After much prayer, I was granted a life of four days,
          but two of them were spent in pining and other two in waiting)

       kitana hai bad-naseeb “Zafar” dafan ke liye
       do gaz zameen bhi na mili ku-e-yaar mein

       ( “zafar” is so unfortunate, that for his burial
          there was not even two yards of space in the land of the beloved)

Kanwar

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 Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:
 Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:
 Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,
 Correct old time and regulate the Sun;
|======================================================|

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Veritas by Kanwarpreet Grewal is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

Japanese Tea Ceremony

This post was written on Tuesday, February 20, 2007

I spent the last week marinating myself in Japanese history, culture, cuisine and sake(rice wine). The most interesting part of my trip was when I got an opportunity to attend a tea ceremony at the Happo-en gardens in Tokyo. In Japan tea and the tea ceremony are almost symbols of the Japanese culture. In today’s VERITAS I will try to give a short description of the ceremony, its history and its relationship to the Japanese culture.

        Tea was introduced in Japan with the spread of Buddhism from China. During the rule of the Tang dynasty in China in the 8th Century a
poet named Lu Yu wrote a book- the “Chaking”(The holy scripture of tea). In this book he formulated ways and manners related to growing, making and drinking tea. His work was heavily influenced by the “Chan” school of Buddhism. The “Chan” school of Buddhism spread to Japan and became “Zen”. And with Zen the culture of tea was also introduced in Japan in the 12th Century when Yeisai-Zenji returned from his trip to China. By the 15th century the tea ceremony had been perfected and a book written about its intricate details: Cha-no-yu: The art of Tea. Some of the major influences on the tea ceremony were Ikkyu and Sen Rikyu.

        The tea ceremony is not just about making and drinking tea. it is something much bigger: it is related to flower decoration, the architecture of the tea house, the appreciation of paintings, the beauty of the kimono, the philosophy of Zen and the manners of the tea drinkers and the tea maker.

Tea House

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Tea ceremonies are done in separate tea houses. The architecture of tea houses was specified by Jowo- a 15th century tea master. There is a tea room called Sukiya.

Sukiya

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There is a room where utensils are arranged called Midsuya. The guests wait outside the tea house in a room called Machiai. They have to wait till they are summorned to the tea room. The path between the Machiai and the Sukiya is called the Roji. The Roji is usually a garden path. The Roji on which I walked was surrounded by cherry trees in full blossom- cherry blossoms are called Sakura in Japan. The seating in the tea room is Tatami( on the floor on special mats).

Roji

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                        I looked beyond;
                        Flowers are not,
                        Nor tinted leaves.
                        On the sea beach
                        A solitary cottage stands
                        In the waning light,
                        Of an autumn eve.
                                        (Kakuzo Okakura- The book of Tea)

        The door of the tea house is very low. So everyone bows his head while entering- in the tea house the tea maker is supreme. All others-
from the Emperor to the poor worker have the same status while sitting in the tea room. In the tea room there is a small flower decoration and
a small painting. The flower decoration is placed on the Tokonama. Nothing else is placed near it. This is to allow the guests to appreciate the
flower arrangement without distraction. The guests first bow  to the flower and then to the host. After that they look at the painting and admire it.

        Apart from the flower arrangement and the small painting the tea room is quite bare. Also there is asymmetry in the tea room. The Zen
Buddhists believe that the mind should complete the symmetry- if art itself is symmetrical then the mind will not get a chance to exercise its imagination.

 The guests sit quietly as the host prepares tea. The guests are supposed to enjoy the atmosphere created by delightful sounds of the boiling water, the waterfall outside and the chirping of the birds. The host cleans the utensils in the order of the guests. Then tea is prepared. Every motion of the hand and every step of making the tea is a precscibed one. The tea maker has no room for changing any step. The steps prescribed in Cha-no-yo have to be perfectly followed. Tea masters are not rated accoring to innovation- they are rated as to how deep their knowledge of the Cha-no-yo is and how perfectly can they follow it.

        After the tea is prepared it is served to the guests and they receive the bowls with a bow. Drinking the tea is also a detailed affair.
The bowls have to be rotated clockwise 2-3 times before taking the first sip. Before the second sip the bowl is rotated anti-clockwise. And so on.

        I cannot describe the whole tea ceremony. It is a very complicated affair. I saw an english translation of the Cha-no-yu- it is about 600 pages long. The tea masters have to go through several years of practice and study before they can do tea ceremonies.

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        One of the most beautiful things that happened during the tea ceremony was that when serving tea the host said the words- “Ichigo Ichi-e”.
These words are always said when the tea master gives the tea bowls to the guests. The words literally mean “Only one chance!”. So the tea master says that we have only one chance to enjoy this moment of harmony, togetherness and joy. This concept moved me- there was no talk of future aims and ambitions, deadlines and plans. There was just a realization that the present moment will never come again – let’s enjoy it now.

 After attending the tea ceremony I understood the Japanese culture a lot more. Their gentle manners, their decorations of nearly everything, their
pretty dresses, their delicate sets of food and chopsticks- the whole country and culture seems to be influenced by the way of the tea- Cha-no-yo. A few days back while discussing Japan’s immense industrialization after world war II, Dave Allen had told me that one reason for this huge advance is that Japanese take a process and then refine it to perfection. And it is these near perfect processes that have helped them create products that were far superior than those from other countries. While coming back from the tea ceremony I thought about this and it seemed to me that this desire for “perfect processes” has a link with the Tea Ceremony- Not everyone has to be innovative. Innovation is good but sometimes taking a process and making it perfect is even more important. I see this in the processes of the “Tea ceremony” and also in the
processes that have led the Japanese to create the Toyotas and the SOnys.

        Some of the information for this VERITAS has been taken from the book “The book of Tea” written by Kakuzo Okakura. You can borrow this book from me. The Wikipedia has some excellent information and pictures related to the tea ceremony.

Kanwar

|======================================================|
  Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:                 
  Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:                 
  Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,                          
  Correct old time and regulate the Sun;                             
|======================================================|

Mysteries of the Brain Part – 17 – SLEEPWALKING

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This post was written on Thursday, August 09, 2007

A few days back a friend of mine told me that her brother sleepwalks. That got me curious about sleepwalking and its reason. I have also sleepwalked once when I was about fourteen years old- I slept in my room and in the morning I found myself sleeping on my parents’ bed in the adjacent room. I have never sleepwalked after that. In today’s VERITAS we will try to understand this phenomenon.

 

In medical language sleepwalking is called somnambulism( somn is sleep, ambulism is to move). People are said to sleepwalk when they move around in their sleep or do other actions in their sleep which are normally done by fully awake people. So a sleepwalker may walk around his house while sleeping. Or a sleepwalker may clean the floor or talk or climb stairs during their sleep. Some people have been known to do extremely complicated tasks like driving during their sleep. And there are even cases where murders have been committed during sleepwalking and there is a bizarre case in which a woman had sex with strangers during her sleep! So it is a very complicated behavior!

 

And sleepwalking is not uncommon at all. About 18% of the population is prone to sleepwalking- i.e. about 1 in 5 people have sleepwalked at least once in their lives! But only 3-6% of the people sleepwalk more than once or twice. Children and adolescents are much more likely to sleepwalk as compared to adults. And males are more likely to sleepwalk than females.

 

A lot of sleepwalking goes unnoticed because the most common form of somnambulism is not walking in sleep. Most sleepwalkers just get up while sleeping, look around with open eyes, close eyes again and lie down. So people around  such sleepwalkers may never notice.

 

Most movies depict sleepwalkers as moving around with eyes closed and arms outstretched. But this is not the case. Sleepwalkers move around with their eyes open. They are able to navigate their way using visual clues. It is just that their brain sleeps while their bodies are awake! Sleepwalkers have a blank look in their eyes while they sleepwalk. They can even answer simple questions but they cannot make complex decisions. So there is always a danger that the sleepwalker may hurt himself during sleepwalking. There are cases when sleepwalkers have fallen down stairs or cut themselves while doing complex tasks during sleep.

 

It is commonly thought that sleepwalkers should not be woken up while sleepwalking. This is not dangerous at all. You can wake up a sleepwalker but he will be extremely surprised. Sleepwalkers never remember what they did during sleepwalking.

 

Most people think that sleepwalkers are acting out their dreams. But this also is not true. We have seen in an earlier
VERITAS that sleep has various stages( see VERITAS: Mysteries of the Brain part 14, 19th May 2006):

 

1) stage 1: going from wakefulness to sleep. The EEG shows alpha waves.
2) stage 2:  light sleep. The EEG will show sleep spindles and K complexes.
3) stage 3: deep sleep. The EEG shows theta and delta waves.
4) stage 4 : deepest sleep. The EEG will show delta waves.
5) REM sleep: We dream during this time. The EEG shows alpha and beta waves.

 

These stages keep repeating during the night.

 

sleepwalking never occurs during REM sleep. It always occurs during stage 3 and stage 4 sleep. So sleepwalking occurs
during deepest sleep when the person is not dreaming. So the sleepwalker is not acting out his dreams. He is in deep sleep but
a part of his brain tells him to get up and do something complex! And sometimes the person will not go back to bed unless he has
completed his task! So a person who wants to clean a table will not go back till he has cleaned it all. And repeated attempts to take him
back to bed would be futile because he will keep getting up to finish his task. Also since the first 3rd and 4th stage of sleep occurs
after about 90 minutes of our going to bed so most sleepwalking occurs about 90 minutes after the person goes to bed.

 

Very little is known about the exact reasons for sleepwalking. During some laboratory experiments it was found that the primitive
sections of the brain showed lots of electrical activity while the higher logical brain such as the neo-cortex was completely devoid
of electrical signals. This shows that the limbic system was in charge of the body’s movements during this time. The logical or
the higher brain(neo-cortex) was sleeping while the body was moving. But remember: the limbic system is also the emotional centre of the
brain. So sleepwalking must have a emotional content.  And that explains why sleepwalking mostly affects people with some emotional
stress. And that is why lots of teenagers show more sleepwalking than adults.

 

But I don’t think we have explained sleepwalking fully. It is still a mystery of the human brain. Finding answers will need a lot
of research.

 

Our life is twofold; sleep hath its own world,
A boundary between the things misnamed
Death and existence: sleep hath its own world,
And a wide realm of wild reality,
And dreams in their development have breath,
And tears, and tortures, and the touch of joy;
They leave a weight upon our waking thoughts,
They take a weight from off our waking toils,
They do divide our being; they become
A portion of ourselves as of our time,
And look like heralds of eternity;
They pass like spirits of the past,–they speak
Like sibyls of the future; they have power,–
The tyranny of pleasure and of pain;
They make us what we were not,–what they will,
And shake us with the vision that’s gone by.
( Lord Byron)

 

kanwar

 

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Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:
Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:
Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,
Correct old time and regulate the Sun;
|======================================================|

Mysteries of the Brain Part – 16 – How to Smile

This post was written on Thursday, May 17, 2007

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Today’s episode is inspired by a chapter that I read in the book “Phantoms in the Brain” by V.S. Ramachandran. Harindranath Parameshwaran had given me this book to read a couple of years back and I have conveniently forgotten to return it.

 

If you observe yourself in a picture you will notice that there is something that is not right. It is the smile. Somehow the smile in the picture never comes right. The photographer tells you to smile and you really do try but when you see the picture, it is just not the way it should be. Your family members tell you that it is not natural. In today’s VERITAS we will try to understand this mystery. Hopefully this should put a smile on your face.

 

To-night, if I may guess, thy beauty wears
A smile of such delight,
As brilliant and as bright
As when with ravished, aching, vassal eyes,
Lost in soft amaze,
I gaze, I gaze!
( Keats)

 

The problem is that we can smile effortlessly when we see a friendly face or a thing that we like. But when someone else tells us to smile we CANNOT do it. A smile is not as easy as you may think it is. It involves dozens of muscles and the smallest lack of coordination in those muscles will spoil your natural ( and beautiful) smile!

 

So am I telling you that you do not really know how to smile? Am I telling you that you can only smile when it happens automatically( subconsciously)? Am I telling you that you cannot smile if you try? Yes, I am telling you all these things.

 

Let’s try to understand the difference between your natural smile and the unnatural one. But for that we will have to understand the brain a little bit.

The limbic system is the emotional centre of the brain. This part of the brain is much more developed in mammals than it is in other animals( like reptiles and fishes). The neo-cortex is the part of the brain that is responsible for thinking, planning etc. This part is there in humans and other mammals but is much more developed in the case of humans and other highly intelligent mammals( chimpanzees and dolphins).

 

The basal ganglia is a complex assembly of cells whose primary role is to trigger simple(primitive/primary) movements. The actual movement is done by the muscles of the body- the basal ganglia just trigger the muscles to start. The basal ganglia cannot stop a primary movement!
The movement must run its genetically programmed course or be stopped by some other part of the brain. The basal ganglia can only start simple/primitive motions.

 

The motor cortex is a part of the neo-cortex and is responsible for complex/skilled motions- combing your hair, playing the piano etc. It is a higher system than basal ganglia and tries to control/coordinate each muscle while performing these complex motions.

 

When you see a person who you like, a signal starts from the limbic system( emotional centre) and tells the basal ganglia to initiate the smile. The basal ganglia start the smile but we know that the basal ganglia cannot stop it. Once it starts it has to complete its full course. So the basal ganglia tells the various muscles of the face to “initiate” the smile “program”. And you have a full beautiful natural smile!

 

But when you sit in front of a cameraman and he tells you to smile, a different sequence of events occur. The thinking and planning part of the brain( the neo-cortex) knows that the face has to smile so that the picture comes out nice. It sends a message to the motor cortex to do a smile. The motor cortex tells each muscle to smile. However the motor cortex does not know how to smile. It tries to control every muscle of the
face and places too much stress on the lips. It may not even remember that the eyes also have a role. The exact coordination is never reached because the brain is thinking too much about it! The motor cortex fails miserably. And you get a forced, tight and unnatural smile.

 

So the natural and beautiful smile can only happen if it is initiated by the emotional centre(limbic system) and triggered by the basal ganglia( the part that triggers simple primitive motions). You cannot smile of you decide to do it( via the neo-cortex/motor-cortex pathway).

 

 

No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
And watch her feet, how they can dance:
No time to wait till her mouth can
Enrich that smile her eyes began?
A poor life this if, full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.

 

(William Henry Davies)

 

 

Kanwar

 

|=============================

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Go, wondrous creature! mount where Science guides:
Go, measure earth, weigh air, and state the tides:
Instruct the planets in what orbs to run,
Correct old time and regulate the Sun;
|======================================================|