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Archive for the ‘travel’ Category

I had the opportunity to visit Sweden last month to attend a management program on Corporate Responsibility. It was an amazing experience. My most memorable experience was the visit to the Nobel Museum at Stockholm. We were lucky to have a very well informed guide. Let me narrate to you a cute story that I heard there. You see the chair below. There is a tradition that after the Nobel dinner the prize winner who signs behind the chair. Once there is no more space for signatures it is bought to the Nobel Museum.

There was one chair in the Museum which was kept locked in a glass case. We thought it belonged to a famous prize winner.

It turned out that this chair had the signature of Koichi Tanaka, a Chemistry Noble prize winner from Japan. He was only a salaried engineer with just a bachelor’s degree. He was not a PhD like most other winners. In fact, he is the first recipient of the chemistry prize with only a bachelor’s degree. He is very famous in Japan because of his unlikely achievement. All the tourist from Japan were insisting on sitting on this chair and taking a picture. They were not even interested in Einstein’s chair as much as this one. The chair was showing signs of breaking because of the demand and hence they decided to protect it in a  glass case.

Here are some more picture from the Museum

A brief about all the prize winner till date is hung a clothes line near the entrance of the Museum.

The hand written will of Alfred Nobel.  According to the guide the most revolutionary aspect of the will was the clause that the prize should be awarded without consideration of nationality. At the time it was written, it was very controversial since many swedes felt that Nobel was giving away his wealth to other countries. But it was this very same clause that made the prize so prestigious.

Inscriptions on the floor of the Museum

Me and our guide in front of Nobel’s will

Quotes by Nobel winners on the walls of the Museum

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Last year I went on a trip to Rameshwaram, which is an island in the south of India. It is a very important pilgrimage center, famous for an ancient Shiva temple believed to have been built by Lord Rama. We had to get to the town via a bridge built across the ocean. The sea looked so beautiful from there. I have never seen so many colors in the ocean. It varied from Aquamarine green to deep blue.

pamban-palam.jpg

It reminded me of the great Indian scientist Sir C.V.Raman who got the inspiration for his Nobel Prize winning theory as he observed the deep blue of Mediterranean Sea from the deck of his ship. I thought I should write about him.  

Before Raman propounded his theory it was believed that the sea was blue because it reflected the blue of the sky. Raman observed that the Mediterranean appeared blue even when the sky was dull gray. After extensive research in his laboratory in India he found that the color of the sea changes because of a phenomenon called inelastic scattering of light. Why is the sky blue? Because it scatters the blue light more than any other wavelength. A similar phenomenon occurs in ocean. However in addition to scattering the light , the molecules of the water absorb some energy from the light. A lower energy light radiation is emitted and thus color of the sea changes. It is not identical to the color of the sky. It can easily be understood through quantum theory. Photons of higher energy are absorbed and lower energy are released by the molecules. If you look at the picture above, the color varies directly proportional to the depth of the sea. I think it is because, in deeper areas of the sea there are more water molecules and hence more energy loss and those areas appear green (green is of lower frequency and hence lower energy photons)whereas the in the shallower regions the energy loss in less hence it is blue.  

Raman also found that this loss of energy or shift in wavelength is dependant on the medium. Hence it was possible to study the molecules of the medium and the structural arrangement by passing light through it. Raman won the Nobel prize in physics for his finding. Today, Raman Effect is considered to be one of the four major discoveries in experimental physics of the early twentieth century.  

What is even more commendable about his finding is that it happened in his laboratory in India. He did not have sophisticated instruments or technology which was available to the western scientist of his times. In fact he did not have the money to buy a light source, so conducted his experiments using sunlight. He is believed to have said “The essence of science is independent thinking and hard work, not equipment 

Till he died, Raman continued to do research, give talks and inspire students. During his life he wrote 360 research papers and four books. He founded schools of physics in Kolkata and Bangalore. To mark the anniversary of the discovery of Raman effect, Feb 28th  is celebrated as “National Science Day” all over India. 

Footnote: In my library I have a book series called Charitravali, which are biographies dedicated to great people of India. I have written about these books in this blog. The Charitravali series also has the biography of C.V Raman, “The Scientist Extraordinary by Dilip.M.Salwi” ,which I used as a reference for this post. The entire series is a great read. I strongly recommend it to all my readers.  

Update:  Here is Priya’s explaination for the varying color of sea

The deeper the sea, the bluer it will be. Shallow water appears a lighter shade of blue or green. Yellow, Red, Green etc are absorbed first. The amount of organic debris in the water impacts the color. The deader it is (little or no organic debris or life-forms) the bluer it is.

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A couple of weeks back I attended the first anniversary of a voluntary service organization in my company. They had invited a few people whom they had helped to talk at the function. I just can’t describe the impact it had on me. For the past one year several such groups have mushroomed in my organization and I had been following all their activities. But the three hours that I spent listening to their stories bought a huge paradigm shift in my perception of the work these groups were doing.

 

It reminded me of ‘Wise and otherWise’ which I read a few years back. Sudha Murthy is the wife of Narayan Murthy the founder of Infosys. She runs the Infosys foundation, which focuses on taking health care and primary education to the disadvantaged and underprivileged sections of the society. She is also an avid traveler and a writer. In this book she recounts some interesting experiences from her life. She is not an extremely talented writer, but her writing is just like her – Simple, intelligent and straight from the heart. This book was my first experience of the power of real life stories to move you deeply even if they don’t come clothed in beautiful words.

 

Her first story, is my favorite. It is about a boy called Hanumanthappa, a coolie’s son who secured 8th rank in his 10th standard. She decided to sponsor his education. The half yearly fees was Rs1,800 including food and accommodation. She gave him the first check and 6 months later she sent him his second check. Hanumanthappa wrote back to her and in the envelope she found some money. He said that his collage was on strike for two months so he did have to pay for his accommodation for those two months and hence he was returning the Rs300 which he had not used for those 2 months.

 

MrsMurthy says “I was amazed by his honesty. He knew fully well that I was not going to ask him an account for his monthly expenditure, yet he made it a point to return the money. Experience has taught me that honesty is not a mark of any particular class or related to education or wealth. It springs naturally from the heart”

 

She visited a tribal village that was still following a barter system. She wanted to educate them about money and its implication to their economy. The Tribal chief told her “This is god’s land. Nobody owns this land. No river is created by us. No mountain is made by us. The wind does not listen to us nor the rain seek our permission. These are gifts of god. How can we sell or buy land, I don’t understand. When nothing is yours how can you make such transactions”. Sudha says, “Here was a man who knew nothing of the currency movements, yet he was aware of a deeper, more eternal truth. He knew that nobody owned the land, the mountain and the wind”


On other occasion, she took some school uniforms and umbrellas for another tribal school. When she tried to give it to the person in charge of the school he offered her a bottle of special tribal drink in return. She felt delicate accepting a gift from such a poor man. You know what that man said,”Our ancestors have lived in this forest for generations and have taught us our ways. If you give us something, we accept but only when we can give something to you too.” Sudha Murthy says, “I was humbled. In my experience with giving, some people express gratitude some even complain. Here is Sahayadri hill was an old man, a tribal with no schooling, practicing a highly principled philosophy of life – give when you take; do not  take without giving”. When she accepted the gift, the old man told her, “There is grace in accepting too”.

 

Not all stories are feel-good. There was this man who bought in his own father to the foundation claiming he was a destitute. Finally when that man died he willed his money to his son and not the charity which took care of him in his last days.

 

The book is beautiful. I read it again last week and it felt as good as the first time.

 

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“May you be the mother of a hundred sons” is written by Elisabeth Bumiller, a reporter of Washington Post. She came to India along with her journalist husband, Steve in 1984. In this book she writes about the women she encountered during her stay and her observations on the conditions of the women in India.

 

I have lived in India all my life and I always thought there is nothing much a foreigner could tell me about this country. Brought up by educated parents and working in an MNC, I live among empowered women. I assumed women in India were by and large free from all the inequities of the past. This book was an eye opener. I realized that freedom was infact a luxury and my life in India was a privilege which is not available to the vast majority of the women in this country. If you are wondering about the title of the book, it is a Sanskrit blessing given to a woman during the time of her marriage. It has its origin in Mahabharat. Bheeshma blesses Gandhari with these words when she decides to permanently keep her eyes blind folded as a mark of respect for her blind husband.

 

The stories in this book are not confined to the poor. The author’s first article is about arranged marriages among the educated class. She recounts Arun Bharat Ram’s arranged marriage who hails from one of the most affluent business families of  India and ends with the story of Meena, an educated working women who settled for an arranged marriage which ended up in a divorce because her husband turned out to be impotent.

 

She touches upon many subjects like bride burning, life of uneducated village women, professional women in the cities, high class women like actresses and politicians. She even writes about Kiran Bedi. But the subject which moved me most was that of female infanticide.

 

She describes her interview with couples who killed their new born girl child. One mother told her “ I don’t feel sorry I have done this. Why should a child suffer like me”. Another women told her “Abortion is costly. We cannot afford it.” While she was appalled by their stories she was also stuck by the poverty and helplessness of these families. She contrasts this with the situation in Mumbai where many women do the sex determination test and abort the unborn female fetus. She met several educated, informed, affluent women who gave many reasons for doing this. “ You do feel looked down upon if you have two or three girls”, “when this test is here and everybody is doing this, why shouldn’t we have what we want”. Her research uncovered that this practice of selective female feticide was also prevalent among Indian’s settled abroad (Europe, US etc).

 

She says “although the Bombay women had all the benefits of modernity, their values remained as backward as those of the villagers. It was especially depressing to me that educated women apparently valued themselves so little that they were willing to prevent a female from coming into this world”.

If you are assuming it is a feminist book meant only for women, you are wrong. It a window to the invisible India most of us never know, although we have lived here all our life. I leave you with the Author’s last words from her introduction.

 

“ Although I am still learning exactly what my experience in India meant for me, I do know it transformed much of my thinking. It was in India I had some of the most moving experiences of my life – Seeing the birth of a baby in a village or the quite dignity of two young boys who waited outside the Calcutta crematorium with the body of their dead grandmother.

At the very least, my journey forced me to question assumptions about mortality, religion, duty, fate, the way a society governs itself and the roles of men and women. In the beginning, there were times when I felt that what I was exploring was of little consequence for the lives in the world from which I had come. But slowly, I realized that the way Indian women live is the way majority of women in the world spend their lives; it is Americans who are peculiar. Ultimately, I realized my journey to India was a privilege. Rather than going to the periphery, I had come to the center”

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