Friday, November 07, 2014

That 'Guy' in British History

Guy Fawkes Mask - which became a symbol of protests
against governments, popularized by
the movie 'V for Vendetta'.
Who is this guy called Guy?

And why did the people of UK,  for about 400 years, give his name to 5th of November?

Many years ago, these questions took me to a British Council Library  where I looked up ‘Guy Fawkes Day’ in one of those huge volumes of Britannica Encyclopedia.

Who is Robert Cecil, the 1st Earl of Salisbury?

And why is his letter – that now comes under hammer at a London auction house of Sotheby’s – expected to fetch 960,000 US Dollars or more?

Today, these questions took me to the Internet and Google.

Guy Fawkes’ role in the failed “Gunpowder Plot” to overthrow King James I of England and VI of Scotland, on 5 November 1605, makes up an intriguing story.

He was arrested after being caught with 36 barrels of gunpowder, hidden directly underneath the House of Lords, which would have reduced the building to a rubble, had the plot succeeded.

As a member of a gang of English men - who wanted to see a Catholic King returned to the throne – Guy, who had had long military experience, conspired  to overthrow the King.

Yes. It was the same king who commissioned the English translation of the Bible, which is now known as King James Version (KJV), and which for long remained the authorized version for churches.

The Conspirators - Including Guido Fawkes
Interestingly, what led to the tip-off which got Guy Fawkes arrested was an anonymous letter. It was a letter addressed to one Lord Monteagle asking him not to attend Parliament that day, as there was a dangerous plot afoot.

Lord Monteagle took the letter to the king’s spy-master Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, who immediately made a plan to catch the plotters in the act.

And that is how Guy Fawkes was caught. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Cecil himself, within a few days, had written a six-page letter detailing how the government planned the capture of plotters, and how they succeeded in catching Fawkes red-handed, with matches and fuses in his possession.

And now, this historic account of Cecil - the first investigative report on the Gunpowder Plot - is ready for auction, at the Sotheby’s. And it is estimated to go for about 960,000 US Dollars.
Gabriel Heaton, an expert from Sotheby's says, “This letter is an incredible document. It is so fresh and alive and exciting and you get a real sense of this really horrific plot which was in the process of being uncovered.

“The level of detail is amazing and shows just how much had been found out about the plan in the first few days of it being foiled”.

Now, personally,  even if I have money, I am not sure I will pay that much to own this piece.

But out there, I know, are many collectors who clearly see great value in it. Many may have even calculated the enormous future-value to which this amazing historical asset can appreciate.

I wonder, however,  if the seventeenth-century torture to which Guy Fawkes was subjected to, at the Tower of London, before he finally broke down to reveal names of fellow plotters, was anything like the twenty-first-century ‘water-boarding’!

I also wonder, if Fawkes – after his conviction for high treason - had not jumped from the scaffold where he was to be hanged, and had not broken his neck, how he could have faced the agony of the mutilation that was planned.

I even wonder how his severed parts of the body must have been sent to four corners of the kingdom, to be displayed to all, as the definite fate of traitors.

But all history, and not just of the British, is filled with blood and gore.

And that 'Guy' just gave a good excuse for Great Britain to have fireworks and bonfires, which he himself wanted, but did not get to see. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Why We Should Pay Attention to Medical Thrillers.

It was in the novel Outbreak by Robin Cook, that I came across the word 'Ebola' for the first time.

I read that book in 1990. But it was published in 1987, three years earlier. The Ebola virus itself was discovered in 1976, 10 years earlier.

This morning, the total number of deaths from Ebola crossed 4000 since the start of the outbreak in this year 2014 alone. You can click here for the news on Al Jazeera. And the number of cases is growing at an alarming pace.

In the old book I had read, a deadly outbreak of Ebola Virus in the United States is terrifying everyone. And there is the lovely Dr Marissa Blumenthal – Yes. Most of Cook's books have extremely smart female protagonists - who is assigned by CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to investigate into the outbreak.

Much to her shock, she finds out that only certain physicians, in certain health centers, are being affected by this un-treatable —and virulently contagious –  rare, new disease. They find out that the virus came from Africa, from monkeys or gorillas.

But as the plot thickens, we discover that there is danger to Marissa's life, there is FBI involved, and there is an unthinkable sabotage being planned by her colleague.

So, the amazing medical thriller kept me on tenterhooks till the end - when I finally breathed a sigh of relief. I thoroughly enjoyed the book.

Back then, 25 years ago, Ebola scare was mere fiction. The story gave us vicarious thrills.

But today, it is real. It is horrible. It is growing. And it seems to be getting out of control, every day. And the count of the dead from this virus keeps increasing.

As of 5 Oct 2014, a total of 3,879 people out of 8,033 cases had died from this Ebola outbreak.

But as of today, 11 Oct 2014, a total of 4000 died out of 8399 known cases!

From the West African countries of Sierra Leone and Liberia, to the far-flung cities of Dallas in USA and Madrid in Spain, and now even with some suspected cases in Brazil too, the rise in the cases of Ebola has got the alarm bells ringing all over.

As I write this, I am seeing TV news of a guy on a plane being offloaded by protective-suit-wearing-medical-officers for joking that he has Ebola. He was taken away, as if he said he had a bomb.

While I lack medical knowledge to understand how and why Ebola is not being contained fast enough, I have read enough to know that Ebola is not something that just emerged suddenly from nowhere, now.

If information on the virus was available for over 30 years now, why is it that the famous Centers for Disease Control did not come out with appropriate methods to contain the spread, if an outbreak occurs?

Is it because governments do not allocate enough funds for serious research? Is it because people are complacent, believing  that medical advancement we now have is good enough? Is it because we think these deadly diseases do not really matter to us individually?

I believe these books, the medical thrillers, are very good sources of inspiration for research scientists to work in the right direction. And if we pay attention to them, they may help prevent large scale epidemics which, God forbid, can even grow into pandemics.

Did not Jules Verne, the science-fiction writer, see men going to the moon, a century before man landed? Did he not describe an electric submarine long before submarines were even thought of?

So why should the scientific centers not take medical thrillers seriously?

I remember two other novels that I had read earlier by Robin Cook – Fever and Coma.

Coma, we know became a Hollywood movie that won much acclaim. It had dealt with scandals in human-organ transplantation, when the idea of transplantations was still in its infancy.

'Fever’ was a book in which I head the word ‘Leukemia’ for the first time.  Sadly, the cure for Leukemia is still evasive, like it was some 25-30 years ago.

And the novel Fever, by the way, became the main inspiration for a Telugu novel originally serialized in a weekly magazine, ఆంద్ర భూమి (Andhra Bhoomi), with the Telugu title ప్రార్థన (Praarthanaa). The writer was యండమూరి వీరేంద్రనాథ్ (Yandamoori Veerendranath).  You can find more info in Telugu by clicking here.

I followed the serial in Telugu, after I had read the original English novel. But it told the then less-informed world, the horrors of Leukemia.

I believe these medical books by Robin Cook, Micheal Crichton (The Terminal Man, for example) and other authors -- just like science fiction by Isaac Asimov, Arthur C Clarke and Ray Bradbury which inspired robotic technology, artificial intelligence and interstellar missions --- must spearhead greater research in the field of medicine.

I just hope the Ebola virus will be contained and treated quickly. We are not living in the days of the Black Death!

The boasting of knowledge and technology we possess is of no use if we don't act on it!


Friday, July 25, 2014

Lost. The Episode of the Bag with Laptop.

With my special talent of absentmindedness, I left my heavy black bag, in the back side of an auto-rickshaw and realized we'd forgotten it, only after several minutes after the auto had gone away.
Sadly, I had neither seen the auto-number, nor can even recollect the face of the driver.
My bag contained (1) our new HP, Intel Core i5, laptop, (2) two separate 1 TB hard-disks, with a zillion family photos and videos over the years (3) my daughter's XII pass CBSE original certificates (4) a Fuji 16MP Digital Camera, (5) two Flash disks and (6) several other important papers and connector cables.
The officer at the Police Station said that, without an auto-number or any other clues, and with tens of thousands of autos in Hyderabad, it is impossible for them to help me - except for ratifying an affidavit stating the registration of the loss of items.
So, apart from listening to the angry I-knew-you'd-do-this-one-day words from my wife, and I-don't-know-when-you'd-grow-up-and-be-more-responsible words from my father, I was able to only send a request to God, asking for a conviction for the auto-driver to return the bag, and for good memory so that the driver can recall which of his passengers had placed that bag behind. Others prayed too.
Now, today, I can only say - Hallelujah!
My faith in God, and my faith in man, just went up to dizzying heights. My family, and I cannot express our joy at the return of my bag!
The auto-driver Ilyas, apparently, saw my bag in the back-side of the auto, only after two days! And after having dropped tens of other passengers!!
He said he tried hard to recall who could have left the bag behind. And very vaguely remembered me, and the neighbourhood from where he had picked us up.
So, he had come asking people around here. And they led him to our house! With my bag! And with all things intact!
Auto-driver Ilyas was even refusing the money I offered as reward saying that he just did his duty, and that his main concern was only that we must have all been very anxious and worried for two days!
Yes. My faith in the greatness of God, and my faith in the goodness of man, just went up. Higher. Yet again!

Saturday, June 14, 2014

The Parking Attendant Father

Yesterday, while returning to my car after an event at a hotel, a parking attendant heard me speaking to my wife in Telugu. And introduced himself happily saying he is also from our home state in India.

As my wife remembered something and went back to complete her goodbye-remarks to her friend nearby - for a full 15 minutes, which is actually very less by her standards - I had time to chat with this man.

He said he's been working in Bahrain for over 10 years now, doing various jobs, the last three of which have been with this hotel.

I jokingly said, "You must have made a lot of money in the last 10 years". He laughed and said, "No. I did not pass even my fourth grade at school there. What money can I make here?"

"I spent whatever little money I made by taking care of my family... by sending money home for the education of my daughters."

I found out then, that he has three daughters.

The first has finished M.Sc, B.Ed, and is teaching in a junior college in Nizamabad. She was married two years ago.

The second has completed MBA, with Finance specialization, this year. (He asked me if she can get a job here in Bahrain, and if I can suggest some way).

The third is in her final year of MBBS. She is now an intern, training as a house-surgeon at a hospital in Mahboobnagar.

This has completely stumped me!!

Here was a man making his meagre bits and pieces, struggling, and yet succeeding, in giving his daughters his very best.

I salute this man who broke the mould of the traditional Indian father - known for just saving money to make up the dowry for daughters, or for conducting their marriages.

But instead, here was a man who gave them education, and esteem, to aim for the best of the world's careers.

This, I believe, is true "Women Empowerment" at an individual level. Not the collective empowerment that politicians yap about, without making progress.


(And yes, if you know how a young lady with an MBA in Finance can get a job in Hyderabad, or Bahrain, do let me know).

Monday, March 03, 2014

Tweet that crashed Twitter

Today, with an astounding 1.7 million retweets in less than an hour, this is a record-breaking tweet!

It broke the record of the other one I am adding below it.

Daily Mail titles the story as "The epic selfie that broke Twitter: Ellen DeGeneres's snap with Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper and Meryl Streep gets retweeted by millions".

The news related  is below the second tweet. Oh, the power of our human-madness than can crash robust servers!! :-)

The Daily Mail news here :

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Picture of Syria's Humanitarian Crisis

This picture tweeted by a CNN Journalist yesterday shows us the pain and suffering that some people of Syria are going through - while ........ it is just another day......for you and me.... in paradise.

This picture was released by the United Nation Relief and Works Agency on Feb. 26, 2014, 
but taken on Jan 31, 2014.

It shows people crowding a destroyed street for food distribution led by the UN agency - at Syria's besieged Yarmuk Palestinian refugee camp, south of Damascus.

Accrding to TIME, the Yarmouk refugee camp, a Palestinian enclave in southern Damascus, has been under a grueling siege for months and its over 20,000 residents are cut off from vital supplies, and endure chronic food shortages.

 For TIME Magazine's link, click here


Sunday, February 16, 2014

India Conquers the Crippling Disease

As a child, I had seen the old Hindi film ‘Kunwara Baap’ which continues to stay in my mind, even today.

It had Mahmood the famed comedian as the lead actor; but the tragedy of the story itself leaves everyone teary-eyed by the end.

It was the story of a polio-affected child being raised by an unmarried man.

The crippling disease called polio, the terrible pain of the parents, and the grave need to combat this disease was very effectively brought out by this landmark film.

Through a very gripping, tragic, tale of love, betrayal and reconciliation, this timely movie of 1974 educated the masses on the deadliness of this disease, and the need to get vaccinations.

I remember my father explaining about polio when I asked him why that little kid in my school needed those steel crutches to walk.

A picture I found online - somewhat close
to how it was during my school days
I remember, seeing in my school playground, at least 4 students ambling on those crutches affected by this disease, yet laughing and playing with us - Falling, getting up and continuing to play.

Poliomyelitis, which is the right name for ‘polio’ or infantile paralysis, is an acute, viral, infectious disease spread from person to person; and today, only a concerted effort by several governments around the world is ensuring its slow but gradual reduction.

Needless to say I was very happy and excited to read the news that “India became polio-free last month on January 13th, three years after its last victim, four-year-old Rukhsar Khatun, was diagnosed with the disease in West Bengal”.

The news item in The Telegraph (Click here) says:   

“A labour-intensive and coordinated campaign led by the Indian government, Rotary, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Global Polio Eradication Initiative deployed two million staff to vaccinate 170 million children throughout the country on two dates to help finally wipe out the disease.

“It involved sophisticated monitoring, accurate data-collection, and strict management by local officials in one of the most effective government-led initiatives in India’s history”.

Just three decades ago,more than 150,000 polio cases were diagnosed in one year alone.

But, today, to hear that the disease is no more in India, is indeed a morale booster for Indians.

During my high school years I read that Jonas Salk was the inventor of the vaccine made to fight Poliomyelitis. And I knew then itself, that I will never forget his name.

With effective vaccination researched, developed and administered, USA had become completely Polio-free by 1979 (CDC news here).

It took longer for India. After-all, when you consider a billion-plus people, it is an amazing achievement, even if it is done now. I just hope there wont be another case surfacing anywhere, bring us down again.

Indians must thank God, Jonas Salk, The Global Polio Eradication Initiative, Indian Government, Rotary, and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for this great achievement.

I think, in that order.


For those interested in knowing which countries are still combating it,
up-to-date information from
Global Polio Eradication Initiative
can be found here