Taj Mahal: The Facebook ‘facts’, and ‘the facts’

Taj Mahal

1. To begin with, it’s not ‘Shahjahan’ but ‘Shah Jahan’, and Mumtaz was his third wife (3rd) wife and not fourth (4th). He had no ‘fourth wife’ because he had only three wives, and NOT ‘seven’.

The other two wives were Akbarabadi Mahal, and Kandahari Mahal. Shaha Jahan was closest to Mumtaz Mahal, who always traveled with him even during wars, which explains her frequent pregnancies. The other two wives did not conceive as often. For the record, Shah Jahan had 16 children out of which 14 were born of Mumtaz Mahal. The reason might be that his relationship with other two wives, the words of official Mughal court chronicler of the time, Qazwini, “had nothing more than the status of marriage. The intimacy, deep affection, attention and favor which His Majesty had for the Cradle of Excellence [Mumtaz Mahal] exceeded by a thousand times what he felt for any other.”

2. Mumtaz was born in April 1592 and was married away to Shah Jahan (Prince Khurram, then) on May 10, 1612 as a 19-year-old having been betrothed to Shah Jahan officially 5 years before in 1607, when she was only 14. The marriage had the apporval of both the families and was a formal arrangement. And she was obviously UNMARRIED before marrying Shah Jahan.

3. Yes. Mumtaz died giving birth to the 14th child. They did not have condoms and the ‘Morning After Pill’ or ‘iPill’, or any alternate contraceptive methods. Besides, Islam prohibits the use of such methods anyway.

4. Well, NO. He never married after that. When he was imprisoned by his son, Aurangzeb, who was one of Mumtaz’s 14 children, Shah Jahan wanted to be detained at a place from where he could see the Taj at all times, which is why he was kept at Agra Fort and breathed his last in Musamman Burj, a tower with a marble balcony with a view of the Taj Mahal. Apparently, he wanted to keep his dead wife in his view as he embraced death in 1666. He wished to be buried by the side of his wife in the Taj, where is rests now.

Taj m“Where the HELL is LOVE here, some one please explain!!!”

I don’t know because I don’t know what ‘LOVE’ is anyway, but neither do you.

But then, it’s more about plain facts than love. Get those right before you venture to make an opinion!

Here are the online references, a dozen, including the facts officially reported by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI)the offical documents at United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), including the official report (Advisory Body Evaluation) submitted to the UNESCO for the inclusion of the Taj Mahal in the list of World Heritage Sites on October 15, 1982:












First published as a Note on Facebook on February 8, 2012.




eagle 00A good number of motivational speakers across the world have used the tale of eagle’s rebirth to inspire loads of people. According to the story, generally told through a PowerPoint presentation, eagle is the most long living bird with a lifespan of around 50 years. But when it crosses 20 years of age, its beak gets ‘bent’, its ‘flexible’ talons are no longer effective and its wings get stuck to its chest from the weight of its heavy feathers making it difficult to fly. This leaves eagle with only two choice — to die or to go through “a painful process of change that lasts 60 days”.

The ‘painful process’ referred to is the one wherein the eagle flies to the top of a mountain and sits at its nest and hits the rock with its beak repeatedly and determinedly until the beak breaks. The eagle waits until the beak grows back on afresh, after which it plucks off its talons, and when the talons grow back, it proceeds to pluck out its feathers to have new feathers take their place. And when the new feathers are back, according to the presentation, “after five months, the eagle takes its famous flight of rebirth and lives for 30 more years.” Then there is a longish inspirational lecture of leaving one’s old self behind and jettisoning bad, old memories together with other past burdens to start afresh like the eagle.

There are many problems with this story right from the start, its inspirations value notwithstanding. First, five months are not 60 days. So, if the eagle takes its famous flight “after five months”, but the “painful process” lasts only “60 days”, what happens during the remaining 90 days? The eagle remains without its talons or beak for months, and without both, it cannot hunt and eat. It’s the top of the mountain, where the conditions are hard, and the eagle remains there without food for five months or two months, depending upon which part of the same version of the story one chooses to believe. However, some of the presentations in circulations have corrected the basic calculation mistake and though everything else remains the same, including the pictures used in most cases, the 5 months stand corrected at 150 days. But it also means that the eagle survives without food for 5 months or 150 days, which is unlikely to the point of being near-impossible.

Even if that error is dismissed as a minor typographical one, the story, despite being inspiring, simply doesn’t ring true. It’s remarkable, but it’s fictional. To begin with, the beak of the eagle is sharp and is always turned down. Hence, the word ‘aquiline’. No eagle has a straight beak at any point of time in its life. So, the curved beak theory, as shown in the PowerPoint presentations, inspires no confidence.

Sharp vision, strong talons and beak are characteristic features of the ‘raptors’ or ‘birds of prey’, who hunt and feed on prey. The beak and talons are made of hard keratin, a bit like the fingernails of human beings, and new layers of keratin grow over the old layers giving them a sturdy structure. The talons, therefore, are strong and hard and are not ‘flexible’ as the story propounds. All raptors, including the eagles, keep their beaks and talons in very good condition by regularly cleaning and sharpening them by rubbing them against the rocks, stones and other hard surfaces. The layers making the beak and the talons grow throughout eagle’s life, which takes care of the wear and tear in regular course.

The idea of feather-plucking by eagles is also quite weak because feather replacement in birds occurs through a version of the process of molting, and is gradual because birds need sufficient feather density in order to maintain the body temperature and repel moisture. Molting is a regular process and the old feathers are regularly shed with new feathers taking their place cyclically in natural course. Therefore, an eagle doesn’t need to take a short trip up the mountains to lose all its feathers and get new ones in their place. It keeps happening every now and then, like in the case of any other bird.

As for the age, in certain presentations of the same kind, the eagle is claimed to live for as long as 70 years, but in nearly all such presentations the lifespan is claimed to be 50 or above. However, the well-documented fact is that the average lifespan of an eagle in the wild is around 30 years, and in captivity, under controlled environment, they might live up to 50 years, but the presentation, quite obviously, is not talking of an eagle reared and maintained in captivity. Furthermore, eagle is certainly not the bird with the longest lifespan. Many birds live much longer than eagle does. A few large parrots live to the age of 80 and the average lifespan of albatross is 50. The nature has not been unfairly kind to the eagles and has not equipped eagles with the ability to extend the duration of their lives at will as the inspirational presentations claim. So, that part of the story also doesn’t hold either.

Eagle is one of the most widely studied birds, and no credible study supports the inspirational story that these slides tell. On the contrary, there a great deal of scientific data to refute the story. The story, therefore, has doesn’t seem to have much going for it in the real world although it certainly is a fancy yarn apparently spun out of thin air by some imaginative speaker.

Hopeless False?

Yes, almost. But we might consider a few things before dismissing the story completely. Reportedly, it has been claimed by the purveyors of the story that since eagle doesn’t have to do much and has to just sit through the period of ‘rebirth’, it needs very little energy and can, for that reason, stay alive without food and water for that duration. Well, it’s not impossible, but certainly very improbable.

Yes, it is also true that eagles bang their beaks against rocks, but scientists believe that they do it in order to clean and sharpen their beaks. One might imagine that it is the beginning of the process of rebirth, but even then it is inconsistent with the story because the story claims that it happens at the top of the mountain, after which the eagle sits there and waits for the beak to grow back on. The beak replacement part of the story is not supported by any observation or study.

So far as the long age is concerned, the life expectancy of the eagles has increased and in some cases eagles have been reported to live upto 70 years, but those have been very rare cases. May be those were the eagles that went through this process of ‘rebirth’ although no study has found that so far.

To conclude, there is negligible factual support available to the story. So, it is very likely that it is just a fictional tale. But then, there is nothing wrong with inspiring fiction so long as it is not passed on as ‘fact’.

Originally written for Let’s Comply on November 18, 2015, but remained unpublished largely because factual verifications undertaken during the course of writing brought the veracity of the claims made in the ‘inspirational tale’ under question, and the story, as it turned out, no longer served the inspirational purposes it was set out to serve to begin with. 

Snapchat Outrage: Why So Serious?

SnapI never knew that my not downloading or using Snapchat would be so wonderfully and so convincingly explained by none other than the CEO of the application himself, assuming that he indeed said what one of his employees attributed to him though some kind of denial is very likely very soon. But as things stand for now, it turns out that I have always been so completely convinced of my status as a poor man in a poor country (hope it’s not yet anti-national to say that) that I never even thought of downloading an application that has been so popular in India.

But what’s this outrage about? Why are people so angry at what the CEO fellow said? What’s wrong in being poor? It just means that one has less money than most other people. So? How is it a disparaging remark? It’s just a judgment on one’s economic standing even if it is not founded on any concrete facts, in which case it’s more of a perception based on some flimsy impression.

But then, even if it was true and was based on sound facts and reasoning, how does it lower one’s worth in the world unless money or wealth is the only or the most important measure of excellence or superiority, which would make everybody who was not rich worthless from Socrates, Plato, Immanuel Kant, Nietzsche, Marx to Mozart, Ghalib, Mir, Vinci, and the endless list goes on and on. Throughout human history there has been no dearth of poor but otherwise perfectly worthy individuals.

Of course, there is nothing wrong in being wealthy or being interested in earning money or having the talent to garner wealth, but there is nothing wrong is being poor either. So, why the outrage?

If you are rich and evil, or poor and manipulative, that might be open to some judgment of some sort, but being rich or poor per se is like being tall or short, dark or light, blonde or brunette, or Superman fan or Batman aficionado. One can be legitimately judged for what one does, and not for the state one eventually finds oneself for one reason or the other unless one has brought about the state on oneself, but even in that case one would be judged for what one did and not for the state itself.

Then again, who said it? A young, opinionated CEO of a media company, which owes its success largely to a good product idea, which they managed to execute well enough to catch the imagination of the people. The CEO is entitled to his opinion regarding who his product is for, especially when he expresses it privately. Why attach so much importance to the words of a 26-year-old man, who is young enough to be entitled to a certain degree of rashness and haste in drawing sweeping conclusions, particularly in a relaxed setting? So, Mr. Spiegel, you are rich, we are poor. Okay. Done. Sleep well.

Personally, Snapchat has always been a non-starter for me. Now I know why. And I am perfectly comfortable being poor.

Demonetization and Black Money

Black Money has been central to public discussions for quite some time now, and the sledgehammer of demonetization is being viewed by a large number of people as the definitive cure. But a sure-fire solution always strikes at the root of the problem whereas demonetization is more like shearing the leaves. Black money stems from the disinclination of the people to pay taxes. So, the natural question is why? Are the people inherently dishonest? Are they so selfish as to not see the obvious benefits of financially enabling the government to govern better? Don’t people in general want the government to function smoothly without having to face shortage of resources? And the most important, don’t they want to be at peace with their money with the fear of the taxman’s knock at the door put to rest? Isn’t peace of mind a valuable thing?

Black money is mostly with the businessmen. Not the top industrialists of the country, but the countless businessmen who run their large and small businesses battling all odds because anybody who has any experience in selling even a needle in India knows it’s not easy to do business in this country largely owing to government’s long-standing anti-business policies. Even golgappa vendors in Connaught Place can tell you what it is like to run such a small business and how many government-made problems they have to brave to sell their things. Permits, licenses, permissions, taxes on goods and sales, this number and that number and then the bribing the government officials so that they do not force in additional hurdles. Running a commercial establishment would require one to have a commercial electricity meter installed with much higher charges payable for the electricity simply because one is trying to do business. In other words, the government does practically everything to discourage businesses through its utterly needless and hugely cumbersome processes that have earned the badge of ‘red-tapism’. When, after having gone through all of it, a businessman manages to make a respectable amount, he finds the government at his throat demanding a substantial share of his hard earned money. What for? For having tried their level best to not let him earn? Any successful business who wants to discharge his tax liabilities has to give over 30% of his taxable earnings to the government.

The frustration of doing business meets the considerable weight of the tax burden to produce the seething resentment against income tax, particularly in the upwardly mobile middle class because they feel that the same body that did everything to make it difficult for them to do business comes after a large chunk of their income when they finally manage to earn a bit despite government-created hurdles in addition to the regular business hassles. So, it’s hard earned and hard fought for money, which turns dark when the businessmen deprive the government of its share under the law. However, retaining black money is not a comfortable enterprise for anyone, and at least some of the less adventurous hoarders of black money would very much like to relieve themselves of the headache provided they do not have to let go of a substantial portion of their earning, for if they have to part with a large amount of their money, it becomes tax evasion becomes worth the accompanying risk and headache.

Let’s not forget that the government has not really been kind on big spending. Taxes on dining out and outdoor entertainment of all kinds, including cinema tickets, has been constantly on the rise as though the government wanted to make it prohibitively expensive for people to relax and have fun outside their houses. Heavy taxation takes a major toll on the volume of the businesses in the hospitality industry, and associated businesses that generally benefit when people go out to have a good time with family and friends. What’s the purpose of raising taxes on dining out and entertainment? Is eating out or watching a film or a play injurious to health, like cigarettes, necessitating discouragement? Why can’t the tax be kept reasonable so that more people have more fun and spend more thereby allowing the commercial establishments to do brisk business making the government get more money by way of taxes? What’s wrong with that kind of arrangement? On the contrary, however, the government currently works on the principle that those who have more to spend on luxuries must pay more in taxes, like there was some inherent sinfulness involved in earning more and having more disposable income.

It seems that the government is working on the premise that a large number of people with taxable incomes would somehow evade tax, and to make up for the lost money, the government needs to tax those who cannot escape tax liability more heavily. quite obviously, if less number of people pay taxes, they have to pay more to compensate for those who do not pay. The other way round is also true. If the taxes are more reasonable, a much larger number of people would be willing to pay the taxes, which, in turn, would enable the government to function just as efficiently as before without having to tax anybody too heavily and also without having to spend huge amounts of money in prosecuting people for tax evasion. Furthermore, it would bring down the size of the black economy without many drastic measures, at least not frequently.

The basic idea is to inspire people to pay their taxes by making the tax environment conducive to that end instead of using coercive measures to chase money out even if it means destroying it. Measures like demonetization are desperate, and are generally not very effective at remedying the problem of black money because the generation of black money is a systemic problem, and needs to be addressed at the root level.

Funny Claims

Sweta Singh of Aaj Tak got even more famous than she already was as a news anchor with a video clip that showed her speak on the supposedly nano-chip armed, GPS enabled notes to be brought into circulation after the much talked about demonetization in November 2016. The confidence with which Ms. Singh waxed eloquent on the technologically advanced new notes made people laugh. But that was just a part of the complete video and somebody had, just for the fun of it, circulated only the most entertaining part of it. For the purpose of reference, let’s call this video ‘Video A’, and have a look at it.

It was incredibly naive for a journalist to talk like that. But then, one can’t really argue with a video. Apparently, in an attempt to clarify that she was not being quite as naive as she sounded, Ms. Singh and her journalist friends shot another video and posted it online. Before we get to that video, we might note that in the video clip circulated (Video A), nobody is actually laughing at Ms. Singh’s ‘joke’ and one of her colleagues remarks that such a chip would take care of the criticism that the new higher denomination notes would actually breed and encourage corruption rather than reducing it. So, Ms. Singh’s nano-chip statement was received in all seriousness. But let’s have a look at the video they posted to clarify the position, and call it ‘Video B’.

They pretend in this video (Video B) that Video B is just another video being shot for no particular reason, and certainly not for the purpose of clarification of any sort,  while they casually discussed the popularity of the previous video (Video A), which went viral for rather unenviable reasons.

Let’s now have a look at the full version of the video (Video C) from which the ‘popular’ clip (Video A) was clipped out, like our journalists friends from Aaj Tak want us to do before passing judgment on them. Very well. Here it is:

In Video B, Ms. Singh insists that we must pay good attention to her statement in Video C that the ‘RBI Guidelines’ are awaited and the things she is going to say is what the WhatsApp messages are telling her, which, she quotes not as a matter of joke but as a matter of fact, and which is why her colleagues take it seriously and one of them even comments in all seriousness as to how the chip is a good idea, like I pointed out earlier. Wait, RBI Guidelines? Really? If the notes did carry nano-chips, would official RBI Guidelines or RBI notifications with respect to the circulation of such new notes make a mention of it? Wouldn’t that be more of a forewarning to the hoarders? And how would the government go ahead with implanting nano-chips in currency notes without addressing the issue of Right to Privacy?

So, even if we pay attention to that disclaimer regarding the RBI Guidelines, it doesn’t really help Ms. Singh’s defense though she did not really need to defend herself because the videos (Video A and Video B) show nothing more than a private conversation among individuals. She was not on air with those claims or rumours, and was not acting as a journalist. In her defense, she was just being a little too hopeful, like many of us might have been back then. And it is alright to be wrong and even naive, and even if you are a journalist. But why post another video that makes things look far worse? That’s even more naive, if not outright juvenile. Relax, Ms. Singh. People have made far fancier claims on video. For instance, Sh. Vishwa Bandhu Gupta, who is a former IRS (Indian Revenue Services) officer. Check it out:

Demonetization: Politically Sound

Of late I have written quite a bit about the recent demonetization, and am still writing a few more pieces about the same, but it is fair to say that it is not yet time to pass a judgment on the efficacy of the measure in terms of what it set out to do. However, it is not too early any longer to say that the measure would have a fair share of unforeseen consequences, and many — if not the most — of these consequences might not be happy. No matter how well thought out the measure might have actually been, it seems — at least for now — a gamble in terms of its effectiveness in achieving its stated objectives, but a calculated risk so far as the politics of it goes.

To put it differently, regardless of the outcome of the measure, the ruling party would not be in a politically disadvantageous position because the credit for having taken on a demon that no other political party could gather the political will to engage is by itself a major political advantage even if the steps taken are a mere eyewash that do little more than put a great number of people through a lot of suffering. Fighting is better than not doing anything for the fear of failure, or, worse, for some dark, carefully concealed reasons. So, even if nothing even remotely close to a lasting victory over black money, terrorism or fake currency is achieved, the credit for having waged a war against the dark forces goes to the government anyway.

The ones suffering would readily pardon the hardship in the name of the country and for the sake of the war against the ‘dirty’ rich. In fact, a large portion of Indian populace doesn’t quite see the ‘dirty rich’ category anyway. To them there are no ‘clean rich’. And I am unsure if there is anyone in India who has even used or read the expression ‘clean rich’ or its equivalents anywhere. So, a fight against this evil, formidable colossus is unlikely to go underappreciated by a hero-worshipping people. Besides, in a country where queues are an everyday affair, the present hardship will hardly be remembered as anything more than a minor inconvenience.

True, if things do not improve anytime soon, the situation might change, but the party in power is not going to suffer politically even then because they would have the Income Tax notices they have been serving on the small fish to fall back on. Therefore, the move might be useless otherwise, it’s politically quite sound, or so it seems at the moment.

Demonetization: The Give and Take of It

Forced into long queues, a woeful-hopeful India is supporting the demonetization kicked into the works like the proverbial spanner by the government purportedly to make the black economy bleed and to bring it to a grinding halt by practically vaporizing hard cash — supposedly the lifeblood of black economy — through demonetization. We are given to understand that the move would hurt the black economy so severely as to put it on the deathbed. The common man believes that this is the death knell for the ‘dirty money’, which has been the cause of all financial ills, including massive income disparities, that India has been reeling under since independence. The poor and the lower middle class have always blamed the rich for their miseries, and the demonetization move plays the psyche quite deftly. Fueled and buoyed by his own elaborate fancies, the common man paints the mental picture of an alternative reality in which he and the richest man he knows are eating together in the same eatery. It’s not the five star in which the poor man imagines the richest man eats, but the cheap dhaba where the poor man takes his meals. The poor man is still happy to see the rich man suffer like he does everyday.  

banksSome other poor man may dream differently, and in the alternative version of the imagined alternative reality of the post-demonetization golden era as imagined by the poor, the roads are paved with gold and there is no poverty because there are no rich and poor any longer; only happy people with more than enough for everything and everybody because all black money is flowing on the roads like rainwater. If you think it’s overly fantastic a vision for even the simplest of the hoi polloi to entertain, you might have ignored that these are some of the same people who not only believed that a different government could not only bring back the offshore black money but could and would also — as promised — have it deposited in the bank accounts of the common people and everyone would be richer by a few lac overnight simply for being the citizen of the country with a bank account. To them our Prime Minister is nothing short of a miracle worker, which, in some rather unflattering ways, he indeed is.

crying-manThe poor and a large number of have-nots are willingly suffering for what they believe to be a noble cause, and while the merits of the move are debatable, it remains the first major assault on black money so far. It’s only the swing and sweep of it that might turn out to be unwise. And that’s what the government must be prepared for. People have suffered a lot for no fault of theirs in the hope that the nation would gain, and some kind of socio-economic justice will be delivered. The government must have something concrete in terms of results to show for all the suffering it has put the people through. Coming up with a list — no matter how long or heavy from the heavyweights on it — of the people prosecuted simply would not do unless the government manages to recover substantial amounts in taxes and fines, and the sum should not be lower than 20,000 crore because that is the minimum the nation will have most likely lost directly or indirectly in implementing demonetization by the end of the first 20 days.

The government is free to experiment all it wants, but at the end of the day we’ll hold it to account.