Railway History: Construction of the Assam Rail Link

One of the important chapters of post-Independence Indian Railways was the somewhat complicated task of building a new rail connection with Assam (and the rest of North-Eastern India) which had been broken when East Pakistan was formed. Here is the story pieced together and originally created as a ppt presentation in early 2011 at a convention of the IRFCA (Indian Railways Fan Club Association).

See what suits you best:

The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction (Ppt)

Or you may prefer to see the presentation as a series of images: (Read left to right, row by row)

The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-001 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-002 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-003 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-004 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-005 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-006 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-007 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-008 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-009 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-010 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-011 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-012 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-013 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-014 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-015 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-016 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-017 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-018 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-019 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-020 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-021 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-022 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-023 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-024 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-025 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-026 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-027 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-028 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-029 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-030 The Story of the Assam Rail Link construction-page-031

The stress is on what happened in 1947-50. Some mention has been made of subsequent developments but this is not to be regarded as a full account of railway construction in the Northeast after independence.

Deaths of prominent cricketers in 2014

While this is not supposed to take the place of an obituary section, this is a full listing of all Test players who passed away during the calendar year 2014. It does include brief details of the players, but anyone wanting more details should look to sites like Cricinfo.

I should have got all the Test players (even if they played only one) and a few others who were significant to the game. These include Test umpires, writers and major first-class players. The last one tends to be subjective, as I am particularly familiar with domestic cricket only in India and England.

While the most mourned death was undoubtedly that of Phil Hughes, spare a thought for the South African bowler Norman Gordon who passed away at the age of 103 years and 27 days. He was the only Test player to score a century in this way.

Here is the table:


Down memory lane: the cricket calypsos of 1950 and 1971

Veteran cricket watchers would have heard these at some time or the other. Now they are easily available on the net.

The most famous cricket calypso would be “Cricket, lovely cricket” composed by Lord Kitchener and sung here by Lord Beginner.

A little background here. The West Indies was then a group of colonies firmly under the Union Jack, with the general conditions as well as racial discrimination being what you would expect from the British at that time. The West Indies had been playing Tests since 1928 and had shown a lot of improvement after a whitewash in their first series. By 1950 they had won a few Tests and even a series against England in 1948. But they had never won a Test in England.

The trend looked set to continue when the first Test was won by England by a big margin: http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/62709.html

Ramadhin and Valentine made their debuts, the latter taking 8 wickets in the first innings and 3 in the second (besides a pair). Ramadhin had a less impressive 2 wickets in each innings.

Then came the second Test-at Lord’s, no less. Now hear it:


and see the scorecard: http://www.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/match/62710.html

Or better, still, see the scorecards of the whole series here: http://static.espncricinfo.com/db/ARCHIVE/1950S/1950/WI_IN_ENG/

This famous picture was taken just after the end:

Cricket calypso-Lord Kitchener

Lord Kitchener is the one with the guitar. It is said that he composed the song within 30 minutes and led the troupe of West Indian fans dancing through London celebrating the victory. A more detailed account can be seen here: http://caribbean-beat.com/issue-100/triumph-calypso-cricket#axzz3Q7iVHLC9

Years passed and the West Indies team rose to greater heights. Most of the colonies became independent countries. But the team had its ups and downs – as in 1971. But there still was a calypso there. In case you need to refresh your memory, see the series scorecards here: http://static.espncricinfo.com/db/ARCHIVE/1970S/1970-71/IND_IN_WI/

It was, in a sense, Indian cricket’s coming of age as it was the first time they had won a Test series against one of the big powers away from home. There was, of course, the 3-1 victory in New Zealand in 1968 which was not given much importance.

In fact, India had never won a Test (let alone a series) against the West Indies until then. And they did not win a Test against them in India until 1974-75 and a series against them in India until 1978-79.

Here is the calypso, composed by Lord Relator:


and the lyrics:   http://andynarell.net/calypso/lyrics/1gav.html

(Note the PJ about Uton Dowe)

Do not pay too much attention to the visuals as they seem to have been hastily put together much later-you can see Roberts, Holding and Chandrashekhar and others (Alan Knott!) who were not part of the series.

There may have been other cricket-based songs later on, but these are probably the best known. There are a few famous poems as well.

Demis Roussos R.I.P.

Demis Roussos, arguably the second best known Greek entertainer in recent times, has passed away at the age of 68. By now you would have been told umpteen times that Sholay’s “Mehbooba” was lifted from his “Say you love me”. What is not so well known is that his song was lifted from a traditional Greek-Cypriot song “Ta Rialia”.

All three are given below in reverse chronological order:

The second copy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6PCxTGZynpo

The first copy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kF5MwDwzOzU

The original: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zgd72ismziw

Enjoy and decide which version is best.

Long names in different countries

If you have to cover news from India (particularly South India) or Sri Lanka, you may think you have an unfair burden in having to deal with long names. In cricket alone there are long single names (Venkataraghavan, Sivaramakrishnan) and several initials (VVS Laxman, CPS Chauhan, RMH Binny and MSK Prasad). Sri Lanka has some long surnames (where Sinhalese such as Wijegunewardene and Warnakulasariya score over Tamilians like Muralitharan), but they beat India hands down in initials, with the world’s number one UWBMCA Welegedera and number two WPUCJ Vaas. Worse still, this pair has played together in several matches.

But other states of India should not be neglected. Bengal has had CMs like Buddhadev Bhattacharya and other notables like Bibitibhushan Bandopadhaya.

India has had PMs such as Pamolaparti Venkata Narasimha Rao and Haradanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda, much to the dismay of foreign journalists. When Chandrashekhar flashed by as PM, the New York Times correspondent for India made it a point to always mention him as “Mr Chandrashekhar (who uses only one name)”. This became a sort of joke for Indians living in the US, so they referred to the correspondent as “Barbara Crossette (who uses only two names)”.

And if our previous PM used the normal Sikh naming system, he would probably be Manmohan Singh Gah which somehow doesn’t sound as impressive as, say, Prakash Singh Badal or even Harbhajan Singh Plaha or Kapil Dev Nikhanj. But for really long names we have to go a long way-first, to the ex-Soviet country of Georgia (not the place where Jimmy Carter grew peanuts). Here is a list of its Presidents after it became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union: (from Wikipedia):

List of presidents of Georgia

# Name Picture Term Took office Left office Political Party
1 Zviad Gamsakhurdia Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Tbilisi, 1988.jpg 1 14 April 1991 (Appointed) 26 May 1991 (Inaugurated) 6 January 1992 (Deposed) Round Table – Free Georgia
2 Eduard Shevardnadze Eduard shevardnadze.jpg 1 26 November 1995 (Inaugurated) 30 April 2000 Union of Citizens of Georgia
2 30 April 2000 (Inaugurated) 23 November 2003 (Resigned)
Nino Burjanadze (acting) Nino Burjanadze (Tbilisi, December 5, 2003).jpg 23 November 2003 25 January 2004 United National Movement
3 Mikheil Saakashvili Saakashvili76589.jpg 1 25 January 2004 (Inaugurated) 25 November 2007
Nino Burjanadze (acting) Nino Burjanadze (Tbilisi, December 5, 2003).jpg 25 November 2007 20 January 2008
3 Mikheil Saakashvili Saakashvili76589.jpg 2 20 January 2008 (Inaugurated) 17 November 2013
4 Giorgi Margvelashvili Giorgi Margvelashvili, President of Georgia.jpg 1 17 November 2013 (Inaugurated) Incumbent Georgian Dream

As you can see, the average length of their surnames is probably higher than that of any other country. As we will see, one African country does give them some competition. Georgia also had a long-time women’s chess champion named Nona Gabrindashvili. She was succeeded as world champion by another Georgian with the equally challenging name of Maia Chiburdanidze.

The first president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia faced a revolt which led to him being deposed and finally to his assassination and suicide or murder. Comedians in the US show “Saturday Night Live” joked that the revolt was linked to the Georgians wanting a leader with a name which could be pronounced more easily.

(Some similar jokes were heard in India a few years later when the Suzuki Motor Company were trying to get rid of Maruti’s MD named  R S S L N Bhaskarudu.)

Arguably, the most powerful Georgian ever was Joseph Stalin or Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin (Russian: Ио́сиф Виссарио́нович Ста́лин, pronounced [ˈjɵsʲɪf vʲɪsɐˈrʲɵnəvʲɪtɕ ˈstalʲɪn]; born Ioseb Besarionis Dze Jugashvili, Georgian: იოსებ ბესარიონის ძე ჯუღაშვილი, pronounced [iɔsɛb bɛsɑriɔnis dzɛ dʒuɣɑʃvili]; 18 December 1878 – 5 March 1953) who was the leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953. Also note the Georgian script which is quite unlike the Roman or Cyrillic script, though it might remind you of South Indian scripts.

India still has a Stalin who, with a lot of luck, might become Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu one day. He appears to have been born just before the original Stalin passed away.

Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin (Tamil: மு.க. ஸ்டாலின் Mu.Ka. Sṭāliṉ) (born 1 March 1953) is an Indian politician, better known as M. K. Stalin. He is the third son of famous politician of Tamil Nadu, Karunanidhi, and was born to his second wife, Mrs. Dayalu Ammal and was named after Joseph Stalin (who died later that week).

Stalin serves as Youth Wing President of the DMK. On 3 January 2013 M.K. Karunanidhi named him as his heir apparent, thus ending a long time confusion about who would take over the party reins after Karunanidhi’s death.

Georgia, however, faces strong competition from Madagascar, which has sometimes gone under the name of the Malagasy Republic. Here is what their Presidents have to offer:

Presidents of Madagascar (1960–Present)

(Dates in italics indicate de facto continuation of office)

Tenure Portrait Incumbent Affiliation Notes
Malagasy Republic Autonomous
1 May 1959 to 26 June 1960 Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F013783-0033, Berlin, Staatsbesuch aus Madagaskar-2.jpg Philibert Tsiranana, President PSD
Malagasy Republic
26 June 1960 to 11 October 1972 Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F013783-0033, Berlin, Staatsbesuch aus Madagaskar-2.jpg Philibert Tsiranana, President PSD Resigned and handed power to Military
11 October 1972 to 5 February 1975 Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F011092-0001, BPA, Generalstabschef aus Madagaskar.jpg Gabriel Ramanantsoa, Head of State Mil Resigned
5 February 1975 to 11 February 1975 Richard Ratsimandrava, Head of State Mil Assassinated
12 February 1975 to 15 June 1975 Gilles Andriamahazo, Chairman of the National Military Leadership Committee Mil
15 June 1975 to 30 December 1975 Didier Ratsiraka (cropped).jpeg Didier Ratsiraka, Chairman of the Supreme Revolutionary Council Mil 1st Term
Democratic Republic of Madagascar
30 December 1975 to 4 January 1976 Didier Ratsiraka (cropped).jpeg Didier Ratsiraka, Chairman of the Supreme Revolutionary Council Mil 1st Term
4 January 1976 to 12 September 1992 Didier Ratsiraka, President FNDR
Republic of Madagascar
12 September 1992 to 27 March 1993 Didier Ratsiraka (cropped).jpeg Didier Ratsiraka, President AREMA 1st Term
27 March 1993 to 5 September 1996 Albert Zafy, President UNDD Resigned
5 September 1996 to 9 February 1997 Norbert Ratsirahonana, Interim President AVI
9 February 1997 to 5 July 2002 Didier Ratsiraka (cropped).jpeg Didier Ratsiraka, President AREMA 2nd Term; from 25 February 2002 in Toamasina
22 February 2002 to 17 March 2009 Appl0405.loselesslycropped.jpg Marc Ravalomanana, President TIM In rebellion to 5 July 2002; deposed in the 2009 crisis
17 March 2009 to 25 January 2014 Andry Rajoelina 6 December 2011.png Andry Rajoelina, President of the High Transitional Authority TGV In rebellion from 7 February 2009
25 January 2014 to Present Hery Rajaonarimampianina 2014.jpg Hery Rajaonarimampianina, President HVM

Note the sad story of Colonel Richard Ratsimandrava who was assassinated just six days after taking over the presidency. But his successors have had even longer surnames. Only Albert Zafy (1993-96) is an outlier. They have French first names because of the colonial influence. There are several famous names in soccer like Didier Six and Didier Deschamps.

Let’s face it, we will have to be satisfied with our moderate contribution in the form of Narendra Damodardas Modi – and that is a triple only because of the Gujarati and Maharashtrian tradition of inserting the father’s name as a middle name. This is not generally followed in Eastern and Northern India, though generic middle names like Kumar and Chandra may be used. My father and his brother had middle names, my generation didn’t.

And I think that North Korea might as well follow a simple rule such as changing the current President’s name to King Kim III. Perhaps he will meet King Charles III or King William V one day-if no one comes from the US to interview him till then. But that trick did work with Ahmed Shah Masoud, one of Osama bin Laden’s rivals who was assassinated two days before 9/11.

(Thanks to Michael Jones, Abhishek Mukherji and others for more ideas. Some of them will appear in a sequel).

The real and the false Modinagar

As everyone knows by now, our present Prime Minister is supposed to have spent some of his youth (perhaps around 1960-65) at a tea stall at a wayside station in Gujarat. This is what it looks like now:


And this is supposed to be the tea stall where he worked:


While we are at it, here is the school he went to. It is close to the railway station:

Vadnagar school

A report mentioned that Modi attended Bhagavatacharya Narayanacharya (also known as BN) High School, a co-ed Gujarati-medium school right next to the Vadnagar railway station. However Vadnagar probably sees less trains than it did in the 1960s. The reason is that most of the major routes in Gujarat (and elsewhere) which were on metre gauge have been converted to broad gauge. And if you are still on metre gauge, you are cut off from most long distance trains and may have to make do with local slow trains from the nearest junction with broad gauge. Here you can see the full timetable of trains at Vadnagar station:

Vadnagar TT

This tells us that it sees precisely 3 pairs of DMU trains daily (and 2 on Sunday) which run between the mainline junction Mahesana (MSH) and the terminus at Taranga Hill (TRAH). In happier times (as in the 1976 timetable) there was one passenger train which ran all the way from Ahmedabad to Taranga Hill. Perhaps this forsaken route may be taken up for gauge conversion now, once their man is in the country’s leader. There are probably several less important metre gauge lines in Gujarat which have already been converted.

Here is one of the little trains which presently run on this route. This is standing at Mahesana.

Mahesana-Taranga Hill DMU

Update: the Mahesana-Taranga Hill section was closed for conversion to broad gauge in December 2016. So Vadnagar has no train service today.

Another update from 2018: Congress supporters have said that NaMo’s claims of helping his father sell tea at Vadnagar station are false as Vadnagar station did not exist until 1973. Strictly speaking this is not true as the station is listed in historical records as being built in the 19th century.

I have verified that, and that it has been listed in the Indian Bradshaws of 1935, 1943 and a few later years before 1973. It is now being said that the station was a tiny halt station with no amenities until it was upgraded to a proper station in around 1973. The truth is somewhere in between.

So much for the genuine Modinagar. The other one is here


This is a somewhat larger and better known place, north of Delhi on the way to Meerut and Saharanpur. It is on a semi-main line and some important trains do stop there, though not the Shatabdi, Jan Shatabdi and Nanda Devi Express which pass this way to and from Dehradun. Neither does the Golden Temple Mail (earlier known as the iconic Frontier Mail). These are some of the trains at Modinagar which were running in 2015: Modinagar TT No less than 35 trains a day, though not all run daily. You can board a train here for faraway places such as Mumbai, Okha, Ahmedabad, Indore, Ujjain, Jammu and Bilaspur. There are several other express trains which do not stop there.

Now, this town in Uttar Pradesh is named after Rai Bahadur Gujar Mal Modi (a Marwari unlike our PM) who was mainly responsible for setting up the Modi group of industries. He died in 1976. Most of the group companies are not doing well now. The younger generation may not have heard of him, though they would have heard of his famous grandson Lalit Modi. Incidentally he is said to have declined a knighthood and asked for an Indian honour instead-hence the Rai Bahadur title.

The station was renamed from Begamabad, which you will see in timetables of the 1940s and earlier. So now you know which is the genuine Modinagar and which one only has his name. There is another Modipuram on the highway north of Meerut, which also has some of the near-defunct factories of the Modi group. That is served by the small station of Pabli Khas, where only passenger trains stop.

Who or what is Amla?

If you ask this question to Wikipedia, you will be given various alternatives such as:

Hashim Amla


Amla fruit

or even

Amla station

The first probably needs no introduction.

The second (i.e. the fruit) deserves to be better known. In the West it would be known as the Indian gooseberry, though it has many other names as we will see below. It is a cheap source of vitamin C and anti-oxidants. For more about its benefits, see this: https://www.organicfacts.net/health-benefits/fruit/indian-gooseberry-amla.html and several other articles on the net.

It has many different names:

“Names for this plant in various languages include:

amalika (अमलिक) in Sanskrit
Dhatric (धात्रिक) in Sanskrit, Maithili
āmlā (आमला) in Hindi
āmla (આમળાં) in Gujarati
aavnlaa (amla or awla) in Urdu
āvaḷā (आवळा) (or awla) in Marathi
Bettada nellikaayi ಬೆಟ್ಟದ ನೆಲ್ಲಿಕಾಯಿ (ನೆಲ್ಲಿಕ್ಕಾಯಿ) in Kannada
āvāḷo (आवाळो) in Konkani
Aula (ਔਲਾ) in Punjabi
amloki (আমলকী) in Bengali
amalā (अमला) in Nepali
ambare (अमबरे) in Garo language
amlakhi in Assamese
anlaa (ଅଁଳା) in Oriya
Suaklu in Paite
sunhlu in Mizo
nelli (നെല്ലി) in Malayalam
heikru in Manipuri
halïlaj or ihlïlaj (اهليلج هليلج) in Arabic
sohmylleng in Khasi
rasi usiri ( రాశి ఉసిరి కాయ) (or rasi usirikai ) in Telugu
nellikkai (நெல்லிக்காய்/ ನೆಲ್ಲಿ ಕಾಯಿ/ ಗುಡ್ದದ ನೆಲ್ಲಿ) nellikkaai or nellikaayi in Tamil, Kannada and Tulu
nelli (නෙල්ලි) in Sinhala
mak kham bom in Lao
ma kham pom (มะขามป้อม) in Thai
anmole (庵摩勒) in Chinese
Kantout Prei (កន្ទួតព្រៃ) in Khmer
skyu ru ra (སྐྱུ་རུ་ར་) in Tibetan
melaka in Malay, A state in Malaysia, Malacca was named after this tree.”

As you can see, it is important enough to have a state in Malaysia named after it.

And that is not all. Its other uses include: “Popularly used in inks, shampoos and hair oils, the high tannin content of Indian gooseberry fruit serves as a mordant for fixing dyes in fabrics. Amla shampoos and hair oil are traditionally believed to nourish the hair and scalp and prevent premature grey hair.”

However, it is doubtful if our South African friend would feel the need to use Amla hair oil. But a smart marketer like Dabur should have found some way of tying up their hair oil with him, especially when he scored heavily in India in 2010-11.

One is reminded of the old joke when the bald man was presented with a comb; he said “I’ll never part with it.”

Finally, the town and railway station called Amla in Madhya Pradesh. It is a junction of some importance on the Delhi-Chennai route, but the town is little more than the station and an army base. Long ago the British decided that this was a sufficiently remote place to store ammunition for the army’s requirements in India and beyond. Thus the unknown place was named Amla after AMmunition LAnd.

This might be true, unlike the contrived acronym Military Headquarters Of War for Mhow elsewhere in Madhya Pradesh. This is probably the result of a bored soldier making a joke, since it sounds too contrived and in any case the original place was named Mhow long before the British arrived.

Amla might have lost some of its military importance as several other large ammunition depots came up, notably one at Pulgaon which is close to the centre of the country and a somewhat larger place. In the 1980s, Amla station had a base kitchen which was to provide meals to the numerous trains on the main North-South route. It closed after some years.

Whether Hashim Amla’s surname has anything to do with the fruit or the town is doubtful, as it does not seem to be a common surname in India. Not even in Gujarat where his ancestors came from.

There are a few other stations which cricket fans are fond of photographing. Here are some obvious ones:


Sachin is a little south of Surat in Gujarat. More recently another small station called Kohli near Nagpur may have started becoming famous. It is doubtful if there is any Punjabi connection here.

But one wonders at the incongruous names elsewhere on the Indian railway system. One could understand some relatively lesser known British officials having a small town or station being named after them. Special cases include Margherita in Assam’s Far East, which gets its name from the person who was Queen of Italy in the 1890s. That particular line was being built by the Assam Railways and Trading Company who had engaged a team of Italian engineers to construct it. Elsewhere in Assam, among names like Lumding, Langting and Haflong we come across the incongruous Kalachand. There must be some story behind this.

You will also find the names of Pataudi and Vizianagaram elsewhere on the railway map. But the places are indeed connected with the Indian cricket captains.

Jhumritilaiya and the grizzly bears

Many may think that Jhumritilaiya and Timbuctoo are fictional places. They are real places, like their slightly lesser known counterparts like Rajnandgaon and Monkey Bottom in the US.

Much of what you may have heard about Jhumritilaiya would be in this context: http://archive.indianexpress.com/news/where-are-you-going-this-winter–jhumri-telaiya-/325656/0

It is, however, a place of some distinction as we will see shortly. One reason for its obscurity is that it does have a railway station on one of the main routes from Delhi to Kolkata, but the station has a more prosaic name like Koderma:


What is odder still is that Koderma is a town which is some distance away, but this station lies within Jhumritilaiya town. More recently a new railway line from this station (which now becomes Koderma Junction) which passes through the “real” Koderma which has a station called Koderma Town. If you think this is odd, think of the equally unknown town of Hathras in western UP which has no less than four separate stations.

The basic facts about the town can be found here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jhumri_Telaiya

including the rise and fall of the mica industry. What does strike you is the presence of educational institutions such as:


and another one for grizzly cubs: http://grizzlyvidyalaya.com/

At least you can see a bear as part of the logo here. But there is no clue in either website as to why these institutions have been named after this fellow:


But why, indeed, is he called a grizzly bear? Does he grizzle? If so, what is grizzling? Or is it just because he is grisly?

None of these. Wikipedia makes it clear:

Meaning of “grizzly”

The word “grizzly” means “grizzled”; that is, golden and grey tips of the hair. This is not to be confused with the word “grisly”.

However, some zoologist must have got a kick out of giving him the Latin scientific name of Ursus horribilis. You probably do not need Google Translate to tell you that this means “Horrible bear”.

And of course there are no grizzly bears anywhere near India.

Jhumritilaiya’s “cousin” in the Vividh Bharati stakes is Rajnandgaon in Chhattisgarh, which is a slightly more important place and is located on the main line from Mumbai to Kolkata:


Timbuctoo deserves an article to itself.

Many governments in India and elsewhere have traditionally had places of sufficient remoteness and obscurity to transfer unwanted employees to. For instance, in Kerala state this role goes to the quaintly named town of Sultan Battery, where Tipu Sultan once set up his artillery. This is not to be confused with the small structure outside Mangalore, though you can see the rifle slits there.


If you are a moderately senior officer in the Indian civil services, you could be dispatched to a variety of high-sounding positions where there is no work. If no such position exists, your CM will create one just to get rid of you. Or you could become the chief administrator of Lakshwadeep or Diu or the Andaman Islands. This is not as bad as it seems since many of these places have no elected assembly or ministers which makes the life of bureaucrats considerably simpler.

Most countries have some small place which is the butt of jokes. Not surprisingly this position in the US goes to this city in Montana:


Like other mining towns in the US, it has a bit of history but it seems to be more famous for its name than anything else. Then there is Monkey Bottom. Try googling for images with this name and you will get more or less what you expect. But there is indeed one place of this name, the Monkey Bottom Wetland Walkway.

Monkey bottom

And there is a story behind it : http://hamptonroads.com/2008/12/whats-name-norfolks-monkey-bottom

Enough of a tour of obscure corners of the world. Next stop Timbuctoo.

Tsunduru, Tsetse flies and Tsunamis.

You probably haven’t heard of Tsunduru. It has one claim to fame in that it is the only railway station in India which starts with a “Ts”. This is in Andhra Pradesh (or Seemandhra if you wish) and Telugu does not have any alphabet corresponding to “Ts”. It is actually Chundur in local records.

One might think that some Englishman may have wanted to make this place famous and may have been inspired by tsetse flies elsewhere in the Empire. However, those familiar with the area say that the local population pronounces it with “Ts” although other Telugu speakers pronounce it with “ch”.


Note the Hindi spelling which has no hint of a “ts” sound.

Tsunduru/Chundur’s moment of importance came in 1991 in inter-caste clashes which left several Dalits dead.

At one time the station was more important as it could call itself a junction, since a short line bypassing Tenali started from there. It seems to have closed in the 1970s. However, this signboard did mention it to be a junction up to that time.

Like many other small places, it has a website of its own:


There are not many things which start with Ts. A better known one is the Tsetse fly of Africa which spreads sleeping sickness which is generally fatal unless treated. Most of what you need to know about them is here:


This is what they can do to you:

Sleeping Sickness

You also need to know how to pronounce their name properly:

Tsetse pronun

The only other commonly known word starting with Ts is Tsunami, which is of Japanese origin. There had not been major tsunamis for many years until the one on December 26, 2004 which led to the deaths of approximately 230,000 persons, over half from Indonesia but with significant numbers from Sri Lanka, Thailand and India as well. Some fatalities were thousands of miles away in East Africa.

These details are well known. There is a good example of black humour of Sri Lankan origin relating to Mr T. Sunami of Indonesia. It is presumably untrue, but like elsewhere one is prepared to believe the worst when disaster strikes. This is from one of the original sources:

T. Sunami

A particularly nasty PJ, unless it was true.

Other geographical names include Tsangpo 

And there are South Africans whose surname starts with Ts, such as international cricketers Thami Tsolekile and Lonwabo Tsotsobe .And the Zairean politician Moise Tshombe .

Not to forget the Tsars of Russia, though the alternative spelling Czar is also common.

Does India need science?

A lot has been said about India’s long-lost scientific heritage in the past few weeks. And it is also clear that anyone who dares to question people like Dinanath Batra will ultimately be sent to India’s equivalent of Siberia (if they are lucky)-otherwise the encounter specialists will strike you down with the Agni Shastra or worse. However, since most of the political, bureaucratic and educational elite of this country have a vested interest in keeping the population ignorant it is not surprising that people like the gentleman below are considered to be experts to be interviewed on prime time:


A related news item is here: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/tech/tech-news/Cloud-computing-is-unreliable-in-a-storm-Former-I-T-commissioner/articleshow/9834345.cms

And there are those who keep forwarding that endless dumb list of fictitious achievements that 38 percent of medical practitioners in the US and 39 percent of NASA engineers are Indian. Worse still, often some ignorant person writes some rubbish and well-educated people keep forwarding it on their Facebook pages, Whatsapp and elsewhere.

Remember the one about the person who was idiotic enough to stand up on top of a train and got electrocuted by the 25 Kv wires? Though there is some doubt as to whether this incident actually happened in Maharashtra as described,  but what is strange is that some semi-literate person wrote a long explanation as to how electricity travelled through a camera flash and electrocuted him.

Stranger still is that this semi-literate trash went viral on Facebook and elsewhere, but no one seemed to realize that it is stupid to come anywhere near a high voltage line and that any metal object with or without a camera flash makes it even more likely that its holder with be electrocuted. The Railways have a regulation saying that their employees should not come within 6 feet of these power lines and should not carry anything which comes within 6 feet of these lines either. So what great new scientific theory is being propagated here? If even IIT students start supporting these weird theories on their Facebook pages then what can be expected from them in the real world?

A fairly good rebuttal of the junk emails about the greatness of India which have been going around for the past 20 years or so is in the book: http://www.amazon.in/THE-SCEPTICAL-PATRIOT-EXPLORING-GLORIES-ebook/dp/B00K14BJV4

Among the conclusions is that some form of plastic surgery was indeed practiced in the ancient times, and that some important mathematical ideas like the zero did emerge from India before anyone else thought of it.

Since astrology was considered important then (and probably still is) a lot of effort was made by the ruling elite of the time to encourage the development of astronomy and mathematics to meet its requirements. It might even be possible to prove that the formula for solving quadratic equations was first developed in India. Perhaps we may take some pride in things like this.

Anyway, apart from scientific experts like our friend Viswa Bandhu Gupta we have the police coming out with theories about the unfortunate Mrs Tharoor being poisoned by polonium or thallium. Many of you who are a bit familiar with crime fiction or even the better crime programmes on TV would know that the symptoms of these poisons do not seem to tally with other aspects of the case. If you are interested enough you can Google for “polonium poisoning” and “thallium poisoning”.

There are some rather weird things like the Litivinenko case in 2006 which you can read about. Frederick Forsyth has been quoted as saying the actual events are so strange that no publisher would accept it in a novel. Then there was the umbrella poisoning with ricin, courtesy of the Bulgarian secret service back in 1978. This is another example of the truth being stranger than fiction. And thallium and its compounds are widely used in industry and medical purposes in India, so forensic scientists here should be well aware of their properties.


Present and past US Presidents (Updated in 2018)

First take a good look at this picture:


This picture was taken in late 1991. It shows the then President George Bush (Sr) along with all four of his living predecessors: Reagan, Carter, Ford and Nixon. All five of them have autographed the original photograph. This original, along with a certificate of authenticity, can be purchased for USD 7,500 (about INR 470,000). See below:


If the incumbent President Barack Obama were to have a similar opportunity, he could also be accompanied by all four of his living predecessors. Only two of the five in the above picture survive, having crossed 90.

As of January 2015, there are four living former presidents:

President Term of office Date of birth
Jimmy Carter 1977–1981 October 1, 1924 (age 90)
George H. W. Bush 1989–1993 June 12, 1924 (age 90)
Bill Clinton 1993–2001 August 19, 1946 (age 68)
George W. Bush 2001–2009 July 6, 1946 (age 68)

Although George Bush (Sr) also had a W in his name, no one thought of calling him Dubya.

An interesting coincidence is that Carter and Bush (Sr) were both born in 1924, while Clinton and Bush (Jr) were both born in 1946. Prior to Carter, both Nixon and Ford were born in 1913.

As in the case of the British royal family, every possible bit of trivia has been teased out of Presidential history. For instance, there have been times when 5 ex-Presidents were living. The last such instance was between January 2001 (George Bush (Jr)’s inauguration and June 2004 (Reagan’s death), with Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush (Sr) and Clinton. And there have been some occasions when there were no living ex-Presidents. Obviously this was true of George Washington’s presidency in 1789-1797 but it occurred a few more times, the last occasion being between February 1973 (Johnson’s death) and August 1974 (Nixon’s resignation). A listing of the number of living Presidents and ex-Presidents at any point of time since 1789 can be seen here:


Throughout the 8 years of Obama’s two terms, the 4 ex-Presidents were living. When Trump succeeded him in January 2017, Obama become the 5th ex-President co-existing with him. This is a record, though it has happened before a few times. Details can be seen from the link above.

In the US, any aspiring school quizzer worth his or her salt would have to know the names of all Presidents and their terms. By college level, they would have to know the Vice-Presidents as well. This comes in useful because there are enough obscure Presidents and Vice-Presidents to generate many questions. In connection with Vice-Presidents, Woodrow Wilson is believed to have said “There were two brothers. One went to sea and the other became Vice-President. Neither was heard of again.”

Indeed, relatively few Vice-Presidents are elected to the Presidency immediately after their Vice-Presidency. Bush (Sr) was the first to do so in over a century. Richard Nixon had a gap of 8 years before he was elected President.

Now, if you are from India, you only have a data set starting from 1947 (and 1950 for Presidents and 1952 for Vice-Presidents). See if you can recite from memory all the Presidents, Vice-Presidents and Prime Ministers (Yes, Gulzarilal Nanda also counts). Toss in the few who have been designated Deputy Prime Minister. (Not in UPA-1 or 2 or at present).

What happened to MH 370?

Reposting for Linkedin


Here is a brief presentation made by me during a conference of industrial safety at IIT Gandhinagar on Dec 4. See the Powerpoint which covers most of the facts known till now in a simple manner.The Mystery of MH 370’s Disappearance

Those who are interested in a logical explanation of the mystery should follow the blog http://www.jeffwise.net – especially his post of Dec 1 and all the links in it.

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