Praising technical jugaad: Celebrating illiteracy

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on December 6th, 2016 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment


Harvinder Khetal (In love with jugaad,  26-Nov-2016; has done well to draw attention to the interesting phenomenon known as jugaad. One however cannot but notice that she has gone overboard in romanticizing it. Human mind is inherently creative. The level of creativity however is determined by the all-round preparedness of the mind. Jugaad is an improvisation effected by self-taught people using simple machines they are familiar with. It can only serve limited purpose and cannot add much value. Value addition takes place though technological innovation where creativity is successfully applied to state-of art machinery.
Celebration of jugaad displays a patronizing attitude. It sanctifies lack of proper formal training to our farmers and artisans. Imagine what these grass-root improvisers would achieve if they went through industrial schools, polytechnics and engineering colleges!

The following is the abridged version The Tribune published:

Sunday Tribune Letters to Editor 4-Dec-2016…/sunday…/letters-to-the-editor/
‘Take my word’
The article did well to draw attention to jugaad. However, jugaad can serve a limited purpose. Value addition takes place through technological innovation where creativity is successfully applied to the state-of-the-art machinery. Celebration of jugaad displays a patronizing attitude. It sanctifies the lack of proper formal training to farmers and artisans. Imagine, what these grassroots improvisers would achieve if they went through engineering colleges!
Rajesh Kochhar via email

The making of colonial Simla, 1815-1830: A Re-look

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on November 13th, 2016 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment

Simla finds first mention in passing in colonial records in 1816. At the time the  area conjointly belonged to two princely states. The first permanent European structure, a residential building, was constructed in 1822. Simla was taken over by the British in 1830 and made the summer capital in 1864.

Rajesh Kochhar

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Simla entered colonial India’s records after the Anglo-Gurkha War, 1814-1816. Colonial-time accounts as well as more recent ones tend to backdate the eminence which Simla came to acquire later.

The Gurkha conquests included Sirmaur, Nalagarh,  Bilaspur and the 12 Simla Hill states. For what is now Himachal Pradesh, the war ended in May 1815 with the surrender of the Gurkhas. Since the British were unfamiliar with the terrain and in addition had a very small number of soldiers of their own, they asked for and received help from the hill chiefs. Another major source of men and general help was the Maharaja of Patiala. After the war, territories of military importance as well as disputed ones were retained by the British. Other territories were returned to the chiefs except that parts of the states of Keonthal and Baghat  were given to the Maharaja of Patiala as a reward for his help. This is how the Simla area came to be conjointly owned by Koenthal and Patiala. Their rulers routinely gave rent-free land  to those Europeans who chose to live  there.

An important consequence of the war was the induction of the Gurkhas into British Indian army. A  Gurkha battalion was raised and headquartered at Subathu , while a detachment was posted at Kotgarh. {The formation was named the Nusseeree battalion. The rather peculiar name calls for some explanation. The British campaign was led by David Ochterlony who  otherwise carried the appointment of  the first British Resident at Delhi. As such he had received the   title Nasir-ud-Dowla (helper of the dynasty or state) from the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam. He now named the new battalion after his Mughal title.}

European discovery of Simla was a corollary of the troop and officer movement between these two places {Subathu and Kotgarh}. Simla entered colonial records in May 1816, when a British surveyor pitched his tent on the Ridge ‘and found villages distant and supplies scarce’. I have found from the records of the Survey of India that his name was [Major-General] John Anthony Hodgson, later the Surveyor General of India.

The next Simla surveyor is better known. Alexander Gerard, otherwise stationed at Saharanpur, travelled from Subathu  through Simla to Kotgarh  where his brother  Patrick Gerard was based.  Alexander reached ‘Semla’ on 30 August 1817 and described it as ‘a middling sized village’. European residential interest, as distinct from the surveying interest, can be said to have begun in 1819 when a double-poled tent was pitched on the north-western extremity of the Simla ridge by Subathu-based Lieutenant Robert Ross who from 1815 till 1822 held the post of Assistant Political Agent  for the Protected  Hill States.

During 1819-1821, Simla became at temporary resort for Subathu invalids and some visitors. The first ever permanent residence in Simla was built in 1822, by Ross’ successor, Captain Charles Pratt Kennedy. He  remained in Subathu till 1829 when he was given the higher designation of Principal Assistant to the Resident at Delhi and transferred to Simla where he served till 1835. The French traveller, Victor Jacquemont, who visited Simla in June 1830 as Kennedy’s house guest, recorded that ‘Some hundreds of mountaineers were summoned, who felled the trees around, squared them rudely, and, assisted by workmen from the plains, in one month constructed a spacious house’.

Following the 1826  Bharatpore siege in which the Gurkhas played a leading part, the Governor-General Lord Amherst  visited Subathu the next year and went on to spend two months, April-June 1827, at  the Kennedy House. While his visit made Simla well known, infrastructural development came about the next year thanks to the five-month sojourn of  the Commander-in-Chief  Lord Combermere. Even though he himself stayed at the  Kennedy House, a  large number of houses had to be built for his vast entourage.  To him goes the credit for building a road around mount Jakhu and a wooden bridge over a ravine.

In 1829 Amherst’s successor Lord Bentinck announced his intention to visit Simla. Accordingly, a dak bungalow atop a hill was demolished to make way for Bentinck Castle. Less reverentially, a prominent peak on the north-west horizon was called ‘Lord  Bentinck’s nose’ from the similarity of its outline to the profile of  His Excellency. Kennedy’s 1829 transfer to Simla as Political Agent, already referred to, was no doubt a prelude to a change in the status of Simla.

In 1830, in a negotiated settlement,   13 villages  from  Keonthal and four villages from Patiala that together constituted the Simla ilaqa were transferred to the British and villages elsewhere given in their stead.  We have the names of these 17 villages, but Simla does not figure in the list. Obviously, Simla at the time was not important enough to figure in the revenue or administrative records. It would be interesting to find out the name of the village and the pargana to which the pre-British Simla belonged.

By the time Bentinck visited Simla in 1832, it was part of his empire. Finally, in 1864, it was made the summer capital.



Why old Ghaggar cannot be the Rigvedic river Sarasvati?

Posted in Blogs (Articles) on August 21st, 2016 by Rajesh Kochhar – Be the first to comment
Rajesh Kochhar
Sarasvati is the most celebrated river in the Rigveda on whose banks numerous hymns were composed. While many rivers are merely named, Sarasvati is described at length in the old Mandalas. It is called a mighty river which raises foam, makes waves , roars, cuts its banks and finally flows into a samudra. (Samudra literally means a water body. Its translation as ocean is a recent phenomenon.) In its course, it receives many tributaries which are called its daughters. There are other independent rivers in the area which are called its sisters.
This is the Sarasvati of the Old Mandalas. The tenth Mandala, unanimously agreed to be a later work contains River Hymn which mentions Ganga, Yamuna, Sarasvati in sequence, but only in passing. The pride of place in the hymn belongs to Indus. All adjectives and superlatives earlier applied to Sarasvati are now transferred to Indus. It is clear from context that the Sarasvati of the tenth Mandala cannot be the ‘naditama’ Sarasvati of the old Mandalas. There is a consensus among Vedic scholars that the Sarasvati of the last Mandala should be identified with the present-day Ghaggar lying between Satluj and Yamuna. It would seem that it is the phrase Ganga, Yamuna, Sarasvati that gave rise to the later legend that Sarasvati invisibly joins Ganga and Yamuna at Prayag Raj. Note that the Sarasvati of the old Mandalas as well as that of the tenth Mandala can in no way be reconciled with the Puranic description of invisible Sarasvati associated with Ganga and Yamuna.
When the term Rigvedic Sarasvati is used , the Sarasvati of old mandalas is meant. Even though Rigvedic hymns have been preserved over millennia, the question of river identification never arose. The question was taken up by European Indologists
The Norwegian scholar Christian Lassen suggested in 1858 that the Rigvedic Sarasvati be identified with Old Ghaggar. In 1891, in his English translation of the Rigveda, Max Muller asserted that at the time of the composition of the hymns, Ghaggar was a large river. He however was careful to admit that ‘it may not be possible to determined by geological evidence the time of the changes which modified the southern area of the Punjab and caused the Sarasvati to disappear in the desert‘. Max Muller had to resort to speculation because in his time geology was scientifically and technologically not advanced enough to answer questions about chronology. A hundred years later there is no need to indulge in idle conjecturing because we can answer the question unambiguously.
Rainwater fed Ghaggar rises in the Shivaliks and collects a number of tributaries. At present Ghaggar does not reach the sea but loses its way in the desert sands. There can be no doubt that at some epoch in the past, both Satluj and Yamuna flowed into Ghaggar and the combined river emptied into the sea. In this high-tech era, it has become common to draw attention to satellite imagery and remote sensing to make the point that Satluj and Yamuna gradually moved away from Ghaggar to reach their present state. It is important to note that the finding is more than a century old; it was arrived at through actual field work by British Indian officials. The key question is this: when did Ghaggar reach its present sorry state? Possibility exists that the shifting of Satluj and Yamuna took place 10000 or even 10000 years ago, that is much before the Rigvedic time. I have seen chronologies being extracted from remote sensing data. What is astonishing about many such technical reports is that they quote sacred texts. Geology is older than religion or religious texts. Interpretation of scientific evidence cannot depend on scriptures. Science should arrive at its findings from internal findings. These findings in turn should be used to constrain literary theories.
Remote sensing data requires the help of mathematical modelling which can raise suspicions. There is no reason to depend on indirect methods when the hydrological history of the Ghaggar system can be ascertained in a straightforward manner by collecting samples from dry river beds and paleo-channels and analysing them in the lab. To be credible this research should be carried out by an international team in a scientifically rigorous and open-ended manner.
Even if for the sake of argument it is conceded that in Rigvedic time, both Satluj and Yamuna flowed into Ghaggar, Ghaggar would still not conform to Rigvedic description. Waters from the snow-fed Satluj and Yamuna would strengthen lower Ghaggar. Upper Ghaggar would still be as puny as it is today. By no stretch of imagination can the puny rain-fed Shivalik stream that upper Ghaggar is be called foremost of rivers when mighty glacier-fed Satluj and Yamuna lie tin the neighbourhood.
Let us take the help of modern science to answer important questions on ancient Indian history. Till the time answers are obtained to everybody’s satisfaction, it would be prudent to keep one’s mind open.