A slice of history: Indian Airlines in 1972 and the Tripura hopper

For those who are interested in old airline timetables, this may be one of the best resources available. It covers most corners of the world:

http://www.timetableimages.com/ttimages/complete/complete.htm

We pick on Indian Airlines when it was the only domestic airline and covered a number of places which are not served by any other airline today.

ic72-02

Examples being Keshod, Jamshedpur, Cooch Behar, Lilabari and the Tripura trio of Khowai, Kamalpur and Kailashahar. Also note that in those days the flights from Calcutta to Port Blair had a technical halt at Rangoon-as the Viscounts didn’t have the range and probably Caravelles and 737s could not be spared for these routes. Even today few people realize that the Andaman and Nicobar Islands are much closer to Myanmar and Indonesia than to the Indian mainland.

Here is a sample of the timetables on the less important routes. (Of course, you can see the entire timetable through the link given above):

IAC 1972 TT 001

The airport at Keshod was supposed to facilitate visitors to the Gir forest. It has permanently shut down, while in the same general area Diu is now served by one flight a day. The famous Tripura flight (operated by a Dakota) can also be seen.

There are some odd things about the airport at Agartala. I have a small connection with this as the state government acquired the land from my maternal grandfather’s family in the late 1930s. They were probably happy with this as the land was not very suitable for growing tea.

Now take a look at this map showing it as it is today:

https://www.google.co.in/maps/@23.888003,91.2387921,14z

You can see that the runway is very close to the India-Bangladesh border. Any flight from Kolkata to Agartala would begin its descent long before it enters Indian territory. (This also happened at Shillong when commercial flights operated there for a short time). The airport is located near a village called Singarbil, and there is a railway station of that name across the border. It started functioning in 1942. Apart from limited civilian traffic, the airport was used by the US military as a base for air-dropping of supplies in Burma and China.

Now, in the period from 1947 to 1952 there was still a lot of travel between India and East Pakistan. As the partition in the East was relatively peaceful (unlike the earlier events in Noakhali and Tippera (Comilla) districts), there were many Hindus as well as Muslims who thought they were all right where they were and did not think of moving immediately.

There was a cutoff date sometime in 1952 by when people had to decide which country they wanted to be citizens of. During this transition period my mother and other members of her family used to regularly travel between Calcutta and a place in Sylhet district.

One could take the land route, but that involved long ferry crossings (around half a day from Goalundo to Narayanganj, still more from Goalundo to Chandpur) and a fairly long journey to the ultimate destination near Kulaura. Then, as now, air fares to Agartala were highly subsidized. They normally flew to Agartala, stepped off the runway and walked a few hundred metres to the border. Sometimes there was a single bored policeman at the border, sometimes not. A little further one would find rickshaws to Akhaura, from where one could get trains to anywhere in the eastern part of East Pakistan.

We now take a look at the Tripura hopper shown on p.15 above, which must be India’s best example of rural air transport. At that time roads were very limited in Tripura, and some WW2 airfields came in useful to connect Calcutta and Agartala with Khowai, Kamalpur and Kailashahar. These places are so obscure that it is difficult to find them on an average atlas. Here is the route from Agartala onwards:

Tripura map 001

As we see from the timetable, the scheduled time was typically 20 minutes between these airports. From the published coordinates, the straight-line flight distances were:

Agartala-Khowai: 41 km

Khowai-Kamalpur: 23 km

Kamalpur-Kailashahar: 28 Km

This 23-km and 28-km hops would have been the shortest-ever distances on any scheduled flights in India (though there are some in places like the Scottish islands where there are flights of 1 to 2 km). A news report of that period mentioned that on these short hops a student concession ticket may have cost as little as Rs 5.

Anyway, it appears that these three airports have not been used for many years and may now be unusable. In the mean time roads have improved and the railway line connecting Tripura with the rest of India was built at a snail’s pace over 60 years and finally reached Agartala. It was converted to broad gauge recently and extended to Udaipur, Belonia and Sabroom by 2019. An extension to a place near Akhaura will be opened soon. This will probably involve transhipment of containers from the metre gauge of Bangladesh to broad gauge.

When Indian Airlines phased out their Dakotas soon after this timetable came out, many of these small airports with little traffic lost their connection. Vayudoot may have run their 19-seat Dorniers for a while to some of these places, but the airline itself vanished quite quickly. Thus ended the golden era of aviation in Tripura. In no other state were such small towns served by a national airline.

A related article on Indian Airlines’ operations in the early 1960s can be seen here:

https://abn397.wordpress.com/2015/04/28/a-1962-article-on-indian-airlines/

The Kalka-Shimla Railway-a brief account

The Kalka-Shimla mountain railway is one of the best-known railway lines in India and has featured in a number of literary works and at least one BBC documentary in recent years. This is intended to summarize the main points about the line as it is today. The route was opened as a whole (95.68 Km) on 9 Nov 1903. A further 0.77 Km to the “Old bullock train station” was opened on 27 Jun 1909. Possibly the present line (length 95.57 as per current railway database) includes a small portion of the extension. Here we have a list of stations (in both directions). This information is taken from the site http://rbs.indianrail.gov.in/ShortPath/ShortPath.jsp which is useful for the dedicated railfan. I have added the altitude data from passenger timetables. The distances shown below are actual distances, and I am not getting into the complexities of chargeable distance here.

KS Stations1 KS Stations2

The main technical point is that the ruling gradient is 1 in 33 uncompensated. Those who are really fond of number crunching can find the gradients between intermediate stations. Here are the summary of trains running in both directions in May 2015.

KS1 KS2

As you can see, trains are listed as having AC chair car, First Class and Second Class seating. The railcars have only first class. The Shivalik Express and the Himalayan Queen have non-AC seats which are somewhat better than the second class seats, but are charged using the fare tables for AC chair car. The three trains other than the railcar and Shivalik Express have unreserved second class seats, though reserved seats are available only on one train as you can see above.

It is common for the average person or media source to refer to the trains on this line as a toy train. This appears to be unjustified as the trains are as long and as heavy as their narrow gauge counterparts on the plains. And the volume of passenger traffic (at least 5 pairs of daily trains) would be more than that on many broad gauge and metre gauge branch lines.

Additional railcars and trains may run at short notice during the summer. These are generally not given in the printed timetables. However, most knowledgeable travellers have now shifted to the online timetables. The most user-friendly is probably http://erail.in/  from where the above tables are taken. One can also use this website to get timetables for individual trains, such as this one for the downward Himalayan Queen:

KS3

As you can see, this train stops at about half the stations. It seems to have a rake of 5 reserved coaches and two brake cum unreserved coaches. Barog appears to be a mandatory stop for all trains for catering purposes. In fact there is not much of a local population and this station seems to exist only for catering purposes. The station is named after a British construction engineer named Barog (though this does not sound like a typical British surname).

This train connects with a BG express train to New Delhi in both directions. That is also called the Himalayan Queen, though it starts from Kalka with a number of coaches which are removed at Panipat and proceed to Bhiwani as the Ekta Express. There are also two Shatabdi Expresses to New Delhi and the long-standing Kalka Mail to Old Delhi and Howrah, which is probably one of the oldest long-distance trains on IR. There is also a link train which connects Kalka to the Paschim Express to and from Mumbai.

There are many videos about this line available on Youtube; as a sample here are some taken by my family in 2010:

Shivalik Express: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wO0NifZGk9w

And from Shimla to Kalka by the Himalayan Queen, plus a bit of Chandigarh:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMr-rg1WUAs

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I02rQUo_ggY

Railfanning in Riga

Those in the older age group would first have heard of Riga in this limerick:

There was a young lady of Riga,
Who smiled when she rode on a tiger.
They came back from the ride
With the lady inside,
And the smile on the face of the tiger.

If your general knowledge was better, you would know that Riga was the capital of the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic, and that Latvia had briefly been an independent country which was swallowed by the Soviet Union in the 1940s. It finally became independent in 1991 and now has EU membership, the Euro, Schengen visas and all the other trappings of modernity.
But our story is not about that Riga but the other one closer to home:

While this is the station at the other Riga, which truly befits a nation’s capital:

Riga Latvia

The Indian Riga is near Sitamarhi in Bihar:

https://www.google.co.in/maps/@26.648306,85.429489,12z

It’s main claim to fame is this company:

http://www.rigasugar.com/about%20us.htm

The company has its own metre gauge railway line with one saddle-tank steam loco and one diesel shunter (both from the 1930s) which were until recently hard at work hauling sugarcane. Despite its inaccessibility it attracted the attention of foreign steam fans.

Some pictures can be seen here:

http://www.internationalsteam.co.uk/trains/india035.htm

Though you may find this 11-minute video more interesting:

This is mainly devoted to the steam loco hauling wagons laden with sugarcane. There is a brief glimpse of a regular diesel-hauled metre gauge passenger train from 7.00 to 7.25.

Time has stood still here for many decades. However, you will look in vain for the lady and the tiger.

UPDATE: The above Youtube clip is from 2005, when Riga station was on the metre gauge line from Darbhanga to Raxaul and thus had freight trains carrying sugarcane. The factory’s trains used to move these freight wagons to the factory. More recently, the section has been converted to broad gauge. While this has enabled a few express trains from Delhi, Kolkata and elsewhere to traverse this route, none of them stop at Riga. It is served only by slow passenger trains: http://erail.in/riga-railway-station

More importantly, freight trains to this station are now broad gauge and thus their wagons cannot be used on the metre gauge line to the factory. So it seems that the two hard-working locos from 1930 and 1935 may now have retired.

A 1962 article on Indian Airlines

The now-defunct magazine Flight  now has most of its old issues (from 1909 to 2005) archived as pdf in this website:

http://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/index.html

You can find some interesting articles pertaining to Indian aviation here. The only irritant is that each page is stored as a separate pdf file.

For instance, here is a 6-page illustrated article from early 1962 on the Indian Airlines Corporation as it was then. It is particularly interesting to see a map showing all the routes being flown then and the average number of passengers daily. Even the famous Agartala/Khowai/Kamalpur/Kailashahr flight is there on the map and gets due mention.

This should be of interest to anyone interested in the history of civil aviation in India.

Please read the following pages in order:

1962 – 0202      1962 – 0203      1962 – 0204

1962 – 0241      1962 – 0242       1962 – 0243

MH 370-miscellaneous notes

What India and Pakistan had to say about the “Northern Route” last March:

http://www.ibtimes.com/malaysian-airlines-flight-370-india-pakistan-say-they-know-nothing-saw-nothing-1562057

What the Maldivians said they saw on March 8:

http://www.maldives.com/destination-guides/debris-missing-flight-mh370-washed-beach-maldives/762

http://www.maldivesfinest.com/maldives-eye-witness-furious-mh370

And if they did see something, could it be from this airline which has cargo flights between Sri Lanka and the Maldives:

FitsAir Wiki

The colour scheme of the DC-8 is not too different from that of MAS. Here is a closer look:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/FitsAir#mediaviewer/File:Expo_Air_Douglas_DC-8-63CF_Rioux.jpg

Their current website is below. Perhaps someone in Colombo could take a closer look at them:

http://fitsair.com/out-of-sri-lanka.html

THE RAILWAY BUDGET 2015-AN ALTERNATE VIEW

Every year when the end of February rolls around, attention focuses on the Budget (usually on the last day of the month) and the Railway budget (usually two days earlier). Often more attention is given when a new party comes to power at the centre, since new epoch-making changes are expected. This year is no exception, though mid-term budgets were presented in the middle of 2014 before the new government had really got to work.
Anyone with a reasonable knowledge and interest in the Indian Railways would remember the charms of budgets in the earlier years. The main interest would lie in whether the fares were increased (they usually weren’t), followed by the introduction of new long-distance trains. And the reaction of the general public and the mass media would be predictable-any increase in fares would lead to a predictable outcry and generally the increase would be rolled back. Then there would be cries of “My city X has been neglected-only 3 new trains while city Y has got 5”.
The railfans look at things somewhat differently. These are what the British would call “anoraks”, though they actually come in various shapes, sizes and ages. Some study timetables and railway maps for pleasure, some study the workings of locomotives and signalling systems in great detail, and others may confine themselves to studies of the history of lines and trains or perhaps be satisfied by filming trains and stations. However, most of them usually end up meticulously studying the new trains and their routes as well as the new lines being opened. They have their own websites and forums* where the pros and cons of all new developments are discussed threadbare.That is how things have been in the past few decades.

Much of the charm of the budget used to lie in the little quirks of the Railway Ministers of the past who often used to toss in quotations from the holy books to make a point. They have included colourful characters like Laloo Prasad and Mamata Banerjee, less flamboyant politicians like Nitish Kumar as well as those with a professional background such as Dinesh Trivedi and the incumbent Suresh Prabhu, who is a chartered accountant who is said to be working on two doctorates at the moment.
In most years populist pressures have prevented fares from being raised although some other ways were found to extract more money from the travelling public. These included raising the quota of tatkal (last-moment) berths, introducing premium special trains and even premium tatkal fares and less obvious changes in reservation charges. The public (and even railfans) do not take much interest in increases in freight charges (not surprisingly, since most freight other than bulk commodities like minerals and petroleum products have switched to road transport).
So what was there for railfans to talk about after Mr Prabhu’s Budget on February 26? Not much. This needs some explanation. Previous budget speeches have generally given details on all the new train services, new lines and railway manufacturing units being started, while this time the focus was on the general improvements which were to be made in making railway operations more efficient, safer and capable of carrying more traffic at higher speeds. There was scarcely any mention of specific new trains or facilities (save for a brief mention of studies continuing on the feasibility of the proposed Mumbai-Ahmedabad high-speed service commonly known as the “bullet train”) and the DFCs (Dedicated Freight Corridors) which are known to be between Northern India and the Mumbai area, and between Northern India and the Kolkata area. There was a brief mention that a 55-km section of the eastern DFC in western Bihar would be opened soon, and that tenders for the final stages of both DFCs would be issued soon. A coy mention is made of plans for four new DFCs, though there is no clue as to where they will be laid.
This is, of course, not as exciting as the announcement of a new express train between Bangalore and Dibrugarh or even a new suburban service between Lucknow and Bara Banki. Some more specific details were given about rail connections to various ports which few of us have heard about. One of them is in Gujarat’s Kutch region called Tuna, although I doubt if you will find tuna in the seas around this port.
This budget does however go into considerable detail about how life is to be made easier for the ordinary traveller-such as how an unreserved ticket could be purchased within 5 minutes of entering the station premises, increasing the number of mobile charging points in coaches, introduction of concierge services at larger stations and even the facility of ordering wheelchairs at your destination.
There is also considerable stress on improving the cleanliness of trains and stations (being part of the Prime Minister’s “Clean India” initiative) and food service (which, with some exceptions, is generally considered to be unsatisfactory). All of these are laudable objectives which show that the Minister and his team have done some serious thinking about the future of the Railways and their important role in the country’s economy.
The saturation of the major routes (often known as the Golden Quadrilateral linking the four major cities) is recognized as a serious bottleneck in improving traffic capacity, and improving this by adding extra tracks, crossings and electrification if necessary. All of this requires large amounts of funding, but this should not be difficult to obtain from a supportive Centre.
To sum up, this Railway Budget does make a welcome change from the populism of the past 20-odd years and shows clear thinking about the problems and prospects of the railway system. But many of those who follow the Railways may be disappointed by the lack of specific details about new passenger services, though they should appreciate the move to improve the rail traveller’s general experience and comfort.

*The most popular Indian railfan group runs the website www.irfca.org which has an active discussion forum, although it needs registration if you want to participate.

National anthems of WC 2015

So the festivities have begun. Since the practice of singing the national anthems seems to have picked up in recent tournaments, here is a quick run through the anthems which you are likely to hear over the next month:

AFGHANISTAN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gs9y-P0FdOo

AUSTRALIA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s8tswkr25A0

BANGLADESH: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zVjbVPFeo2o

ENGLAND: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKRHWT6xdEU

INDIA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8yMvU73Wr7Q

IRELAND: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GVoWUnKA18k

NEW ZEALAND: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BT9k_7_jP8A

PAKISTAN: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d41Ld1-8Mbo

SCOTLAND: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i0MklIdTiaU

SOUTH AFRICA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gr0414FrN7g

SRI LANKA: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H1f4VYi9uE8

U. A. E.: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M8ArIT7u4Fg

WEST INDIES: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbcbsmeRYC8 

(also see http://www.angelfire.com/ks/davincy/windies.html)

ZIMBABWE : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wKJOZ44Ec9k

This has a lot of disclaimers and peculiarities, as we will see. There is no country called the West Indies, so this “anthem” is purely used for cricket. I have been able to get the English lyrics or English translations for all the anthems.

As usual in such matters, the United Kingdom is on its own trip.

“God Save The Queen” : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ppIomb3r_3Q is the national anthem of the United Kingdom. Scotland has a separate song which is not an official anthem, but is played at sporting events. That is given above. England sticks with the U.K. anthem for soccer but uses another song called “Jerusalem” for cricket, which is what you hear above. Ireland here includes Northern Ireland (which comes under the U.K.) and the Irish Republic (which is another country whose anthem is given here).

Several countries have versions of their anthems in different languages: New Zealand’s includes Maori followed by English in the same anthem. South Africa’s has five languages, one after another: Xhosa, Zulu, Sesotho, Afrikaans and English. Sri Lanka’s has Sinhala and Tamil versions, but the former is more commonly used. Zimbabwe’s has versions in three languages: Shona, Ndebele and English. Similarly Ireland has it in Gaelic and English. Scotland’s unofficial anthem also has  Scots and  Scots-Gaelic versions, though it is unclear if these are unofficial or even un-unofficial.

The UAE anthem might remind Brits of the term “Blighty”, said to be derived from Urdu: According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word derives from “bilayati”, a regional variant of the Urdu word “vilayati”, meaning “foreign”, “British”, “English” or “European.”

Parting shot: Supporters of one of India’s main political parties might find the Sri Lankan anthem particularly inspiring 🙂

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.

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06P0RdZyjT4

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0V2UUuKcIeA

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.

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).

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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AnxrJiS5uKU

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.