Everything you wanted to know about Morarji Desai – but were afraid to ask

The younger generation would not know much about Morarji Desai, except that he was briefly Prime Minister of India (true), that he was the longest lived person to hold that post (not quite true), that he advocated urine therapy (true) and quoted the Bible to prove that it recommended this (it doesn’t).

Most of the information  you need to know about him (including his drinking habits) will be here:


but it does not highlight certain points, which is where this blogpost comes in.

To begin with, let us see how long he lived. He was born on 29 Feb 1896 and died on 10 April 1995, soon after celebrating his 99th birthday. If you use something like http://www.timeanddate.com/date/duration.html you can see this is 36,200 days (inclusive of both).

But then there is the little known Gulzarilal Nanda who is listed in the official records as Acting Prime Minister for 13 days in 1964 and 13 days again in 1966. No one else has been Acting Prime Minister-though it is not very clear who ran the country for half a day between the assassination of one PM and swearing in of the new one on 31 Oct 1984.

There have been Deputy Prime Ministers on some occasions but it is not a statutory position.

Anyway, Mr Nanda lived from 4 Jul 1898 to 15 Jan 1999 (about 100 years and 6 months) or more precisely 36,720 days and thus has a rightful claim to be the longest lived Indian Prime Minister.

Coming back to Morarjibhai, you could immediately realize that his true birthday came round every 4 years. But he was doubly unfortunate that 1900 was NOT a leap year and that his first real birthday came only when he was 8, on 29 Feb 1904. Why? Read up on leap years, and you will know that 1896 was a leap year , 1900 was not, although 2000 was. This extract from Wikipedia should do:

“February 29, also known as the leap day of the Gregorian calendar, is a date that occurs in most years that are divisible by 4, such as 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016 and 2020. Years that are divisible by 100, but not by 400, do not contain a leap day; thus 1700, 1800, and 1900 did not contain a leap day while 1600 and 2000 did.”

Thus we see that he saw only 23 birthdays in his long life.

Also see:


His earlier career details are seen here: “After graduating from Wilson College, Mumbai, he joined the civil service in Gujarat. Desai resigned as deputy collector of Godhra in May 1930 after being found guilty of going soft on Hindus during the riots of 1927-28 there.”

Had he stuck on, he would have probably been promoted to the IAS soon after independence.

It is not always remembered that he survived a crash of the official PM’s aircraft which claimed the lives of 5 Air Force men and injured several others:


A more detailed article is:


But most people know about his drinking habits, and the large number of PJs it spawned. It is not clear whether the soft drink Pee Cola had anything to do with him. It used to be available in India until the 1990s and is apparently still available in Ghana. Apparently the drink was promoted by one Mr Haren Patel who wanted to use his initial in the product. A Google search for Pee Cola seems to show it is still available in some parts of the world.


One justification which he is supposed to have used is that “Even the Bible says that you should drink from your own cistern”. There is indeed such a quote in Proverbs 5: 15 but from the context you will realize it means quite something else:

13 Neither have I obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me!

14 I was well nigh in all evil in the midst of the congregation and assembly.

15 Drink waters out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine own well.

16 Should thy springs be dispersed abroad, and rivers of water in the streets?

17 Let them be for thyself alone, and not for strangers with thee.

18 Let thy fountain be blessed; and rejoice in the wife of thy youth.

The Bible, like any other major religious work, has extensive commentary for every phrase and sentence. Here is one of the simpler ones:

“(15-20) Drink waters out of thine own cistern . . .—In these verses Solomon urges his disciples to follow after purity in the married life; he pictures in vivid terms the delights which it affords as compared with the pleasures of sin.”

You get the general idea. The same idea is expressed in much greater length in other commentaries. Whoever originally wrote this had much to say about fidelity to one’s spouse but nothing at all to say about beverages.

You do not hear much about urine therapy nowadays. Books on this subject are still available, including one (ostensibly by him):


However, at least one reviewer feels that it is a fake title written by someone else using Morarjibhai’s name. Such fake works of literature are often available from dubious sources in India and elsewhere such as novels ostensibly written by best-selling authors such as Arthur Hailey and Frederick Forsyth.

And he is still listed in the Guinness Book of Records:


The record is:

“The oldest age at first appointment has been 81, in the case of Morarji Ranchhodji Desai (1896-1995) of India, March 1977.

Leading an opposition coalition, he prevailed in the 1977 elections, ending Gandhi’s emergency rule. He served as prime minister until 1979, when the coalition broke apart.

Philippe Petain (1856-1951), although not `Prime Minister’, became `Chief of State’ of the French State on July 10, 1940, at the age of 84.”

Strictly speaking, Marshall Petain was not elected to this post but was appointed, at the time France was about to surrender to the invading Germans.

There are others such as Malaysian PM Mahathir Mohamad (92) and British PM William Gladstone (82) who have become Prime Ministers (but not for the first time) at more advanced ages. LK Advani (born November 1927, 90+ at the time of writing) may still harbour  hopes of becoming Prime Minister for the first time in his 90s.

While Morarji Desai was not the best of India’s Prime Ministers, he was not the worst either. And he is associated with more peculiar trivia than other long-serving Indian leaders.


Today is MH 370 Day

We generally know March 8 as International Women’s Day. In years to come it may well become known as MH 370 Day. On this day in 2014, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 with 239 aboard disappeared soon after it took off from Kuala Lumpur for Beijing on a flight listed as MH 370. It was a totally routine flight until the transponder was switched off at 17.19 UTC/GMT (or 22.49 IST). Three years later, the final location and fate of the plane and its occupants remain a mystery.

Whatever is generally known is given here:


There are numerous forums/mailing lists still devoted to this incident. One of the better ones is


You may also be interested in this bit I wrote about the Indian angle. It has some general information about the Andaman and Nicobar Islands:




MH 370: The Saga Continues

The disappearance of MH 370 on March 7/8 continues to be one of the biggest unsolved mysteries the aviation world (rather, the world) has seen. If you Google for “aviation mysteries” you will find a large number of articles from the mass media. The long-running stories include the disappearances of Amelia Earhart, the British “Star Dust” and the Bermuda Triangle’s so-called mysteries of Flight 19, “Star Ariel” and “Star Tiger”.

All of these have longish articles in Wikipedia if you need to refresh your memories. These articles have a number of links to pursue if you are really interested. The standard book debunking the Bermuda Triangle myth is the one by Lawrence Kusche: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larry_Kusche

Some unsolved mysteries (notably the ones involving the Bermuda Triangle) remain unsolved but there are reasonable explanations for these disappearances. Some mysteries eventually get solved; there several instances such as the Star Dust where the aircraft’s wreckage was located after many years. Lesser known cases include some from India; an IAF AN-12 with 98 aboard disappeared between Chandigarh and Leh in 1968 and was untraced until 2003. Another IAF plane, a Dakota carrying troops to Srinagar in 1947, crashed in the Pir Panjal range and was not located until 1980.

It is not generally known that dozens (if not hundreds) of US transport planes disappeared over the Himalayas while flying between Assam and China during World War 2. At that time the area now known as Arunachal Pradesh was quite inaccessible and not much was done to locate crashes unless there were survivors. It is only in recent years that a determined and well-funded American researcher  has located many of these crash sites. See http://www.miarecoveries.org/

Back to MH 370. There are a number of books listed on Amazon (mainly on Kindle). Some are pure fantasy but some reasonably sensible ones worth reading are: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JTELTJE/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb

and http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00MB938XE/ref=rdr_kindle_ext_tmb

I have put together what one may call a “Dummies Guide to MH 370” which can be seen here-designed to be a PPT presentation for 20 minutes. The main points as they were known in end-November are summarized here:The Mystery of MH 370’s Disappearance

If you want to follow some up-to-date sensible discussions on the ongoing searches and related technical matters, the best resource appears to be the blog http://jeffwise.net/

As it often happens, the comments are usually more enlightening than the blogger’s original post. I would particularly recommend his post of Dec 1 and the links starting with “The Spoof: Part 1” which make up an intelligent guess as to the modus operandi of the conspirators. Mr Wise later says that his explanation should not be taken too seriously but it does fit all the facts. It may be worth looking into his blog every few days if you are really interested in MH 370.

Extension: List of all Indian aviation accidents involving the loss of 20 or more lives

Continuing from my last post, here is a comprehensive list of all accidents in India and to India-based aircraft which resulted in the loss of 20 or more lives. Both civil and military aircraft are covered. The list is here:  List of Indian aviation disasters with loss of 20 or more lives  I intend to move further down the scale so that all such accidents resulting in the loss of 5 or more lives (plus a few more with other features of interest) are covered. These will form part of a more comprehensive survey in a book which will come out some time in the future.

List of all Indian aviation accidents involving the loss of 30 or more lives

It took a while, but this is it: the final compilation of all India-related aviation disasters resulting in the loss of 30 or more lives. This information is not available anywhere else on the net or in any publication. Click on this : Aviation India List

A presentation on a few major Indian air disasters

Continuing from yesterday’s post, here is a presentation made a few days ago at a conference on Industrial Safety at IIT Gandhinagar. Here I cover a few newsworthy major accidents, namely:

Air India crash off Bombay, 1978

Air India sabotage over the Atlantic, 1985

Saudia-Kazakhstan Airlines collision near Delhi, 1996

Air India Express crash at Mangalore, 2010 (yes, this does make use of the “vanished” DGCA report)

A Study of Some Major Indian Aviation Accidents

Those familiar with the subject may find things a little compressed. Remember this had to be squeezed into 20 minutes!