Harshavardhana: bringer of joy

What’s in a name?

It is 605 AD. Rajyavardhana (conqueror of lands) is the elder son who is destined to expand the kingdom while Harshavardhana (bringer of joy) is meant to bring happiness to its king and its people. Yet Rajyavardhana dies within the year, murdered in an ambush by a treacherous ally and Harsha begins to rule at sixteen.

By the time he is ready to pass the throne on, the kingdom is much greater than the first king of their line Naravardhana could ever have imagined. Harsha is truly worthy of the Maharajadhiraja title that his father Prabhakarvardhana had taken.

But then Harsha’s father laid the foundations of his son’s empire by defeating the Huns under warlords such as Toramana. The Huns were bloodthirsty of course, but most of their other flaws such as pin holes for eyes and a grunting that passed for speech were inventions of the sophisticated Greeks and Romans who fell before their attacks. At the height of Harsha’s rule the Guptas are long gone, Buddhism is no longer the force it was during Ashok’s rule in Northern India, but learning and the arts are restored once again and the Huns have turned their eyes towards Europe. This is a realm at peace where even the emperor has time to write plays in Sanskrit and preside over Buddhist assemblies.

 

empire-of-harsha-map

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Today’s Google Doodle: Sarah Durack and her swimsuit

Living in Australia today, with swimming pools and lessons a fact of life for both girls and boys from the age of three to four months till well into their nineties, it seems hard to believe that the idea of women swimming or participating in swim events with men was something that some men and many feminists fought strongly against in the early 1900s.
 
The subject of today’s Google doodle in Australia is Sarah Durack who with her friend Wilhelmina Wylie invented the Australian crawl. But that is not why she is splashed across our computer screens today.
She was the first woman ever to win Olympic gold in 1912. But she was not the first woman at the Olympics. Despite the efforts to keep the Games exclusively male, American women had already taken part in archery in 1904 and British women in gymnastics, figure skating and tennis in 1908. These women were of course demurely clothed at all times, even though it might have hindered their movements. But it was chiefly women and the Church who had stopped Sarah from being at the 1908 London Games.
 
Feminists such as Rose Scott who was president of the New South Wales Ladies Amateur Swimming Association were completely opposed to women swimming in front of male spectators. This came from an established view of the time that men were essentially predators who would yield to the depravity within themselves if they saw women in the pool.
‘A girl who is in the habit of exposing herself at public swimming carnivals is likely to have her modesty hopelessly blighted,’ she told a meeting of the Association.
The Archbishop of Sydney added his twopence to the uproar, claiming that the ‘fabric of society’ was in danger of unravelling just because a couple of silly girls wanted to prove something to the world.
 
Thankfully, public opinion in Australia and the decision of the IOC to allow female swimmers both worked in Sarah’s favour. When the Australian Olympic Committee and Rose Scott’s NSWLSA excluded her from the team in 1912, there were protests across the country. Donations poured in, preventing the authorities from using lack of funds as a reason for Sarah’s exclusion. Rose Scott resigned in protest but obviously not many others cared for her opinion that it was ‘disgusting that men should be allowed to attend. We cannot have too much modesty, refinement or delicacy in the relations between men and women…this new decision will have a very vulgar effect on the girls, and the community generally.’
 
Sarah Durack to Leisel Jones,Libby Trickett and Steph Rice and all the way to Jasmine Greenwood who at 13 was the youngest para athlete at the recent Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast – no signs of the fabric of society fraying as an outcome of women’s swimming yet!
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Stockholm Olympics Poster

 
(pics of Sarah Durack and a Stockholm Olympic poster: internet. I can’t resist pointing out the tasteful wrapping around the athlete’s ahem, manhood, as they probably called it at the time)
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AN IRISH DOCTOR, CANNABIS AND THE INDIAN TELEGRAPH SYSTEM

Telegraph Office, Calcutta (Kolkata) - 1878

If one reads Purnendu Pattrea’s Purono Kolkatar Kathachitra (Tales of Old Calcutta), there is a fascinating list of Calcutta’s wonders listed at the start of the book in an old song by Rupchand Pokkhi. Rupchand lived between 1815 and 1890. The song compares Calcutta rather grandly to the celestial court of Indra.

“ধন্য ধন্য কলিকাতা শহর স্বর্গের জ্যেষ্ঠ সহোদর
পশ্চিমে জানহবী দেবী দক্ষিণে গঙ্গাসাগর
(পূবে বাদা চিংড়ীহাটা পদ্মা নদী তদুত্তর)
হেস্টিংস ব্রীজ বাগবাজার, এই আয়তন তার
সারকিউলার রোড পোরমিট ধার, চতুঃসীমা সার”

Calcutta, you are elder brother (superior) to the very heavens
To your west flows the Janhabi and to your south is Gangasagar
To your east lies Chingrihata and the river Padma to the north
Hastings Bridge to Bagbazar, this far stretch your limits
Circular Road and the Permit zone, make up your four sides.

“অতুল্য মর্ত ভুবনে, বৈকুণ্ঠ যায় হার মেনে, হেরে টেলিগ্রাফ
বলে বাপ, লাজে লুকায় পুরন্দর
(তারেতে তার, বর্ণ বিস্তার, ধন্য শিল্পী কারিকর)
তার হেরে তাঁর লাগল দিশে, তারে তারে খপর এসে
ছয় মাসের পথ এক দিবসে, মেলে তত্ব অনাসে
ধন্য ডাক্তার ওসগনেসী, সকলকে করেছেন খুশী
ব্রিটন দেশী গুণরাশী, সুখে বসি হউন অমর
(রোগশোক তাপ নাশি হউক সরল অন্তর)”

Rupchand seems to have been especially awed by the telegraph as he devotes the next eight lines to that miracle of modern communication. He describes the telegraph as incomparable to anything on earth. The gods admit defeat and hide as wires carry news that once took six months in a matter of days. He then goes on to praise a doctor Oshognessy (Rupchand’s pronunciation) who has made everyone happy.

It took me a while to figure out that the doctor who is showered with blessings and ardent wishes for his continued good health was actually Doctor William O’Shaughnessy and a fascinating character. As a doctor in England he discovered that the blood of cholera victims was generally deficient in water and salts and became the first person to suggest intravenous saline and oral re-hydration therapy.
O’Shaughnessy went to India in 1833 like a lot of his contemporaries. This brain drain saw nearly 30% of Trinity graduates emigrate to India by 1860.
Two years later he was a professor at the newly created Calcutta Medical College. He worked across a range of disciplines and developed methods to detect specific poisons such as arsenic, first used zinc to prevent rusting and experimented with the use of colour in photography. He observed the use of cannabis in various folk remedies among his patients. This led to a study of its effects and his use of its extract as a painkiller and muscle relaxant in diseases such as arthritis, rabies and tetanus.

OShaughnessy

Outside his duties as a doctor, he conducted experiments in telegraphy at the Botanic Garden in Shibpore. The first telegraph line was laid between Calcutta and Diamond Harbour. He returned to England to present his various discoveries and inventions to the scientists of the time. Upon his return to India in 1844, Lord Dalhousie set O’Shaughnessy to work on telegraphy. 4000 miles of telegraph wires were laid in India between 1853 to 1856.

Rupchand Pokkhi and contemporary Indians were not the only people to thank O’Shaughnessy for his work on the telegraphs. He was knighted in 1856. As the British had realised, whoever controlled the telegraph wires, controlled the news; whoever controlled the news could also control the country.

Info: The web

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Aubergine affaire d’amour

Skin that shines, as though the finest oils of Morocco have been anointing each luscious inch since it was first revealed to this world.
Voluptuous curves that could make the beauties of Hindostan sigh in surrender.
Flesh, sweet and unmarked – made for worship – by all the senses.
A shawl of fine wool feels drab next to its glowing form.

Will the nawab of Hyderabad win with a Bagara baingan or will the Greeks prevail with a Moussaka? Will the Mandarin conquer all with Salt and Pepper eggplant or will a simple peasant leave them all behind with smokey bharta?

I really need to get a handle on this craving, this one is going to be bartered for figs. Figs, silky and soft to the touch…….begun

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The Writer’s Buildings of Calcutta

Young man, go East …………..but at your own peril!

Considering that a large number of the East India Company clerks or writers were younger sons who had little or no claim to the family fortunes and the rest had hardly any fortunes to speak of, it was only natural for a young writer to turn reckless once they were aboard the ship taking them to India and the untold riches they hoped to find on the subcontinent.

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The writer was fitted out in a manner suitable for a representative of one of the richest companies of England at the time

George Annesley, Viscount Valentia described the young clerks or writers brought out to Calcutta by the East India Company to keep records and accounts thus:

“There are few of these young men who do not keep their horses, commonly their curricles, and, in many instances, their race-horses, which, together with the extravagant parties and entertainments frequent among them, generally involve them in difficulties and embarrassments at an early period of their lives.”

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A young writer smoking his hookah while his servant waits with a refill.
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Writer’s Building in the 1800s
Today the Writer’s Building still houses a few government ministers, clerks and their files.

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A rainbow cone at IKEA

For someone like me who has been in Australia for most of her life, it can sometimes be easy to forget about the things that bring a large number of people to these shores. When I came here, I was not forced to leave my previous home by war or upheaval. I came to start a new life of course, but it was not accompanied by anything greater than the usual sense of being separated from her parents that a newly married Indian woman might experience.

Now of course, the news is full of photos of asylum seekers and refugees on creaky boats trying to make the short trip between Indonesia and Australia undetected, there are waiting lists to Indonesia and back for humanitarian visas and even my own parents waited for seven years to get their permanent residence visas. For once you do get in, a world opens up that brings security, employment, peace, the best healthcare in the world and a hundred other benefits with it.

But yesterday at the shops, while we figured out how to get past the fifteen items or less rule at the self checkout aisle (it is easy, just stop after every 15 and pay for them before starting again), I noticed a group of about twelve young people, possibly in their twenties. They hadn’t bought much and yet they did not seem ready to leave. They each carried the free pencils and paper tape measures the store has for customers. Most noticeable of all was the fact that they came from at least four different places based on appearance alone; Africa, South east Asia, Afghanistan and Tibet or Mongolia. As I watched them move uncertainly as a group to the exit and back again, I realised they were part of a migrant education program, possibly being taught about shopping in Australia. I found myself thinking of the wonderful floor displays I had just seen minutes earlier and of the hundreds of Australian young people who cannot wait to start living away from their parents with things they have often grown up with; a childhood desk, a spare bed from the parents, an old dining table from the grandmother who might be giving her things away. I thought of how it feels like, to wake up each morning and not see a single familiar thing around you but not have to worry about being shot at or judged for your religion or your race. And just as I was getting very serious about the whole war and peace thing, I noticed the whole group move, very certain this time, to something to my left. I waited and wondered what it was that they were eventually buying. I did not have to wait too long; they soon appeared, each with a double scoop of soft serve in a cone, some covered in sprinkles, others with a Flake bar stuck on top jauntily.

At that moment, all that scholarly, grown up stuff about war and peace and boat people and population pressures on a rapidly drying continent flew right out of my head and I realised that what this country still offers to people who come here is this; the ability to have an ice cream when one feels like it, where one wants it and in the company of friends. No one bats an eye at the sight of men and women laughing at something or even nothing and most people do not mind if you wear a head scarf or if your head scarf slips a little to reveal a gorgeous head of curls. I am not saying that everything about this place is perfect, but for a good five minutes at IKEA yesterday, it seemed very close to heaven. It felt like home.

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Red Browed Finches in the Garden

It took two years of planting, growing, flowering, seeding and not tidying the garden up to get the New Holland honey eaters to come to the garden. They came tentatively at first, one at a time, cautious about where they sat and with an eye on the nearest bit of sky. In those early days they never stayed long and they never visited while there was a human around. I only saw them from the kitchen window.
Then they came in twos and then in crowds. Like teenagers at the mall, they showed interest in nearly nothing but still had to be there. They squabbled a lot, mostly over imagined slights to rank and roost.

Today, afternoon visits to the garden can be cut short by plucky honey eaters with families on their minds, checking branches for stability and nest bearing capacity. No bigger than a hand span in length, they make up for lack of size with fierce stares from white rimmed eyes, sharp beaks and quick darting flights. They seem to love sitting side saddle on bamboo canes put in to support beans and peas. Needless to say, the canes are left in these days to provide seating, long after the beans have been pulled out. They leave the chubby sparrows to sit on the more sedate seating provided by the fences, showing off as they fly away leaving the bamboo vibrating in response.

Last year I noticed finches in the garden for the first time. They were there one minute and gone the next, chipping away at thistle heads left by a lazy gardener who knows all about one year’s seed being seven years of weeds and still does not get to them all in time. She figures a weed is just a plant in the wrong place. Obviously, what is wrong for her is perfect as a finch snack. But the finches came only once that year. A little mob of four which looked so like our own Gouldian finches that I thought for a little while that ours had escaped. They weren’t Gouldians of course, but the much plainer red browed or even the zebra finches who are the poor Cinderellas of the finch world. They did not stay long enough for any kind of proper identification.

But suddenly today I see a little crowd of them, red about the face and plain beige in the body with little black bars across the tops of their wings, swinging among the bamboo canes like a group of retired clowns in too tight tuxedos, breathless with too much drink and too little practice whooping it up one last time under the big top. Even the sun came out briefly to shine a light on them. But this did not last for long. A solitary honey eater came out of nowhere and darted this way and that, causing a great deal of squeaking and chirping. Before the camera could be activated, it was all over. The honey eater even flew back and took a little swing on the cane itself, self important and smug. I put the camera away, quite annoyed with all the honey eaters in all the wide world. But more than a little pleased secretly that the bamboo appeals to more than one kind of bird. There will always be another chance to take a photo. Let’s hope they will not be put off by the reception and make the garden a regular stop.

Here is to more untidy bits and thistle heads!

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