Sep 30, 2023
Sep 30, 2023
You must have you wondered why is caffeine being added to everything from energy drinks to chewing gum? Most probably it’s because it is addictive. I cannot start my day without the morning coffee kick. I’ve seen people looking dull and haggard before they sip their inky brew from bucket-sized cup which almost instantly perks them up. Soon thereafter their fingers start flying across their laptop keyboard.
Sometimes I wonder how and why many good things of life were sheer accidental discoveries. Do you remember the how the coffee plant was discovered and some other blessings of mankind?
“When I woke up just after dawn on September 28, 1928, I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer,” Fleming would later say, “But I suppose that was exactly what I did.”
Later in his life, said Time magazine, in 1999, naming Fleming one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century:
It was a discovery that would change the course of history. The active ingredient in that mould, which Fleming named penicillin, turned out to be an infection-fighting agent of enormous potency. When it was finally recognized for what it was, the most efficacious life-saving drug in the world, penicillin would alter forever the treatment of bacterial infections. By the middle of the century, Fleming’s discovery had spawned a huge pharmaceutical industry, churning out synthetic penicillins that would conquer some of mankind’s most ancient scourges, including syphilis, gangrene and tuberculosis.
Similarly, as per a well-worn legend the discovery of the coffee bean was made by a little shepherd boy called Kaldis from Kaffa. (God bless them both: him and Fleming too!) He found one day that his goats were unusually lively and active after eating the leaves of the coffee branches. Kaldis tried some of the berries himself and rushed to a nearby monastery to share his discovery. However, the monks believed it to be an evil weed – that’s how these killjoys behave every time something good happens – and threw, so the legend has it – the energizing berries unceremoniously into the fire. An aromatic fragrance rose from the fire and the secret of coffee was discovered!
Soon a hot drink made from these berries quickly established itself as an integral part of Ethiopian culture. Even today, the coffee ceremony is firmly rooted in everyday life. Outside of the country, however, coffee was re-discovered in the 16th century. Through the spice trade route the bean made its way to Yemen and Arabia and in the following century. It is from there that Buden Baba brought seven beans to Chikmagalur – a story I shared with you earlier in one of the editions of this Diary.
God granted man the gift of life. Every now and then He enlivens it with something that adds an extra kick to it.
The Brits indeed are the cleverest lot among empire-builders. Over the centuries, they have worked overtime to build a reputation that in their empire building venture they never indulged in torturing natives. In India, for instance, they contracted the work of torturing to a class of Indians who always were ready to play the hatchet men for all invaders. The Indian Police is one such branch of those tormentors the Brits deployed.
However, this carefully built myth has been severely dented in a recent historic decision when the British government was forced to agree to compensate 5,228 Kenyans who were tortured and abused while detained during the Mau Mau rebellion of the 1950s. Each claimant will receive around £2,670 (about $4,000).
The money is paltry. But the principle it establishes is monumental and so is the history it rewrites. This is the first historical claim for compensation that the British government has accepted. It has never before admitted to committing torture in any part of its far-flung empire.
And don’t forget how in 2010, Britain formally apologized for its army’s conduct in the infamous “Bloody Sunday” killings in Northern Ireland in 1972. And you remember when Prime Minister David Cameron visited Amritsar the site of 1919 massacre in Jallianwal Bagh and expressed “regret for the loss of life.” (Can you beat the Brits in the game of making understatements?)
The Kenyan case had no easy passage in London’s High Court. The British fought for over a decade to avoid paying reparations, so the decision to settle is a significant change of direction.
Human rights exponents identified a large tranche of documents that the British government smuggled out of Kenya in 1963 and brought back to London. The judge ordered the release of this long-hidden “secret” cache. And it consisted of some 1,500 files. The evidence of torture revealed in these documents was devastating.
The torture records in India must have been carefully pulped to avoid any future embarrassment.
The supposedly educated among our political leaders in their 70’s and above have had their education when some proficiency in Urdu poetry was the hallmark of a formally educate man. And invariably their favorites were Ghalib and Iqbal. Somewhat younger generation went in for Faiz Ahmad Faiz and Ahmad Faraz. Giani Zail Singh, one of our ex-Presidents, was one them who could recite an Urdu verse with the drop of a hat. And all this without much formal education (like his major political mentor, Indira Gandhi).
This hoary tradition has a very able torch-bearer in our beloved Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh who too has an enviable repertoire of Urdu poetry to fall back upon both in season and out of season. Celebrating the survival of UPA in its ninth inglorious year he quoted the matla (i.e., the first verse) of one of Iqbal’s ghazals.
Sitaron Se Aage Jahaan Aur Bhi Hain
Abhi Ishq Ke Imtihan Aur Bhi Hain
(There are even more worlds beyond the stars
There are still even more tests of passion)
I’ve read something about the galaxies beyond the constellation that our planet is a part of – a very puny part at that – but I’m utterly ignorant of the remaining tests or passion, having miserably failed in the very first few.
Much more appropriate, in my opinion, would have been the makta (the last sher) of the ghazal:
Gaye Din Ke Tanhaa Thaa Main Anjuman Mein
Yahaan Ab Mere Raaz-Daan Aur Bhi Hain!
(The days are gone when I was alone in the gathering
Here, now, I have several other secret-sharers of mine)
Hasn’t the lucky man survived the tornado of scandals that swept his Cabinet Ministers? One day when the hurly burly of power is over and he sits to look back he would recall how colorful the anjuman was.
“People who cheated in an experiment,” reports the prestigious Harvard Business Review, “had slept an average 22.39 minutes less the night before than non-cheaters, according to research led by Christopher Barnes of Virginia Tech. The study, in which cheaters over-reported their scores on a test in order to gain financial advantage, shows that low levels of sleep are associated with unethical behavior.
Managers, the research warned, who demand results that require employees to stay up late and miss sleep may be increasing the likelihood that workers will fudge results and engage in other forms of cheating.
There is, unfortunately, no mention in the report how many hours of sleep had the Enron directors been missing day after day, and if the directors of Ponzi Security Exchange, Washington Mutual Bank and Swiss air were sleep-deprived or victims of plain, simple greed, deceit, and financial chicanery.
“Traditional religion is having a tough time in parts of the world,” writes Joel Garreau in The New Atlantis. “Majorities in most European countries have told Gallup pollsters in the past few years that religion does not ‘occupy an important place’ in their lives. … And while Americans remain, on average, much more devout than Europeans, there are demographic and regional pockets in this country that resemble Europe in their religious beliefs and practices. … [H]uman nature seems to demand a search for order and meaning. … For some individuals and societies, the role of religion seems increasingly to be filled by environmentalism. … In parts of northern Europe, this new faith is now the mainstream. ‘Denmark and Sweden float along like small, content, durable dinghies of secular life, where most people are non-religious and don’t worship Jesus or Vishnu, don’t revere sacred texts, don’t pray, and don’t give much credence to the essential dogmas of the world’s great faiths,’ observes Phil Zuckerman in his book Society Without God. Instead, he writes, these places have become ‘clean and green.’ ”
Is it applicable to us in India? In my opinion, most certainly not. The essence of religion permeates each fiber of our society. The west adopted not Christianity, but Churchianity. Its followers were bound one day to be disillusioned with the shell.
James Thurber was a notable American author. Above all, he will be remembered as cartoonist and celebrated wit. Thurber will always find a place as a memorable contributor to The New Yorker. I’ll always remember him for his prescient observation: “All human beings should try to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why.”
Yes we are all incessantly running from we don’t know what to equally unknown to and, above all, why?
If you really want to look for the answer, read and re-read Kathopanishad.
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