Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Mathematical Astronomy in Medieval Kerala

Friday, November 8th, 2013

I spoke to Anand, an astronomer at the new ISRO institute in Trivandrum, when I was there in June. He also moonlights as a science journalist and wrote this article about our conversations on mathematics in medieval Kerala.

The Indian Railway II

Monday, April 20th, 2009

What Went Right?

The Railway was a failure when it was a monopoly. Now it has competition from trucks plying the recently built highways. So they had to shape up to survive. The Government owned airlines are struggling due to competition from the newly licensed private carriers. The Indian Airlines (the domestic airline) has already been folded into Air India. So why did the Railway thrive under competition and not IA?

The Indian Railway I

Monday, April 20th, 2009

The Indian Railway is the world’s largest employer. The main lines were built in British times. Mostly to move the army around to quell rebellions in different parts. The Madras regiment in Punjab, the Punjab Regiment in Assam and so on. But later, it also became the common man’s mode of travel in India. For a few dollars you can go from Chennai to Delhi or from Mumbai to Kolkatta. The trains are slow and the bathrooms are–ahem–aromatic. The food is of questionable hygiene. But you will see the countryside, and most likely make some friends. In the long distance trains, if you have a sleeper berth, the journey is comfortable but not luxurious. I am not talking about the palaces on wheels meant for foreign tourists.

An Order Or A Request?

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

There is an apocryphal story about Gandhi, said to have taken place when he was working as a lawyer in London. It was unusual for an Indian to have an Englishman working under him, but Gandhi had an English assistant. One day Gandhi asked him to do something and the Asssistant asked,

Mr. Gandhi, is that an order or a request?

Gandhi replied:

If you do it, it would be a request.

Gandhi did not have to ask a second time.

Hard to know for sure if it really happened.

North Vs South

Saturday, February 16th, 2008

Raj Thackeray
North Indian migrant workers in Mumbai are being attacked by a militant organization (known by the acronym MNS) which exploits the resentment of the local population. The most odious of the political leaders egging the violent mob on is Raj Thackeray. A generation ago the same folks (Raj’s uncle Bal was the leader back then) were targeting South Indians. What changed? (more…)

Drona’s Revenge

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

Drona was the greatest teacher of his time. He had no peer in his command of the martial arts and sciences. But, at the end of many years of studying and perfecting his skills, he found himself destitute, and with a wife and son to support. He decided to pay a visit to his best buddy from elementary school, who was now King of the minor country of Panchala. Perhaps his friend would arrange for a job. (more…)

Medieval Navigation in the Arabian Sea

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

Read First: Longitude Zero

Indians call the bay between Africa and India the Arabian Sea. Throughout the medieval times it was controlled by Arab sailors. They established settlements down the East coast of Africa, as far down as Malindi in Kenya. (more…)

Longitude Zero

Thursday, August 9th, 2007

Continued in: Medieval Navigation in the Arabian Sea

One of the early achievements of Indian Mathematical Astronomy (jyotisha) was the system of latitude (aksha-amsa) and Longitude (rekha-amsa). The prime meridian passed through Ujjaini, the capital of the country of Avanti. (more…)

The Almanack

Saturday, July 28th, 2007

What is the date today? A simple question, but with a complex answer.
Poor Richards Almanack
The story of calendars is the story of human civilization itself. The millenial 1 article by Amartya Sen tries to disentangle fact from fantasy in the history of calendars. Never an easy task in history, especially hard in the keeping of time itself. (more…)

The Other Pope 2

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

The Politics

Read First Part I: The Theology
For some one outside of the two ancient faiths, the power game between the Orthodox Church and the Catholic Church is interesting as a case-study in politics: the longest continuing political struggle in human history. (more…)

The Pope and the Patriarch

Sunday, June 10th, 2007

The Theology

His All-Holiness Bartholomew I is the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, the city now called Istanbul. He is considered the equivalent of the Pope for the 300 million Orthodox Christians in the world. He is the `first among equals’ of the four Patriarchs of Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem who are successors to the Apostles. (Several Patriarchates have been added more recently to reflect the growth of the Church in Eastern Europe, such as those Serbia, Moscow and Bulgaria). (more…)

Grief in The Buddhist Ramayana

Saturday, April 28th, 2007

The Jaataka tales are a collection of parables about the 500 lives of the Buddha until he achieved Nirvana, salvation. After that there are no more re-incarnations. The stories proceed from simple morality tales in which the Bodhisatva ( the soul of the Budha) was alive in the body of a lower life-form: a rabbit, an elephant and so on. Until he attains human form and the stories get more sophisticated. Various versions of these stories have been told and retold over many generations all over the Eastern World.