This article from today’s Hindu raised more questions (e.g., what happened?) than it answered (e.g. nothing):

Gang hacks patient in GH

A gang of eight people barged into Rajiv Gandhi General Hospital around 11 p.m. and hacked a patient. Prakash Raman (40), resident of Amuluamman Koil in Tondiarpet, was admitted to GH ten days ago. He is now in a critical condition, sources said.

Another article covers how Tamil Nadu only “bagged” one award at the National Tourism Awards.  A former tourism official expressed deep surprise at the results.  Meanwhile, a “tourism expert,” attempted to make sense of the shocking snub:

“It is surprising that we are unable to bag awards despite having several heritage sites and popular monuments. Probably, we have lost the race soon after withdrawing popular schemes such as tourist-friendly autos, hop-on, hop-off buses, cycle tourism, medical tourism, eco-tourism and failure to maintain cleanliness and eco-friendliness of tourist spots, among other reasons.”

We’ll never know which of those many major inconveniences caused Tamil Nadu to lose out.

And the New York Times notes:

“Not one city in India provides water on an all-day, everyday basis.”

It’s not all jokes around here, folks.  That being said, this article was also in today’s Hindu:

Sand smugglers try to mow down officials

Hosur:  A gang of sand smugglers made an attempt to run over a Revenue Inspector and three village assistans in a tractor ner Shoolagiri in Krishnagiri district early on Wednesday.

The police have registered a case of attempt to murder against eight persons, including a functionary of PMK.

For some reason, they changed the headline in the online edition.


This article in today’s Hindu builds towards the final sentence:

Fishermen of the Chinnoor coastal village stumbled upon a lump of ambergris, weighing about 15 kg, in the mid-sea. According to Customs officials ambergris of such mass is a rare find in the region.

Since ambergris is used as a fixative in perfumes and cosmetics, it fetches a handsome price in the market. According to E.Vijayakumar, Assistant Commissioner of Customs, the value of the ambergris brought by the Chinnoor fishermen is worth Rs. 15 lakh—Rs. 20 lakh [$30,000-$40,000 USD – Vali] in the Indian market and Rs. 70 lakh—Rs. 75 lakh [$140,000-$150,000 USD -Vali] in the international markets.

Mr. Vijayakumar exhibiting the ambergris to presspersons on his office premises at the Cuddalore Old Town area on Wednesday said that initially fishermen mistook the floating substance for jelly fish and did not evince any interest. They were not aware of how ambergris looked or its worth. However, a veteran fisherman among them did not want to abandon the substance. He was curious and keen on gathering it, as he had heard a lot about it from his forefathers.

The fishermen collected the ambergris and deposited it with panchayat president Ganesan and secretary Aruugham who informed the Customs officials. A team from Customs Department, including Mr Vijayakumar, Superintendent M.Mohd. Abdul Gani and Inspector H.Sowrirajan, went to the coastal village and took custody of the wax-like substance. The Centre of Advanced Study for Marine Biology at Parangipettai confirmed that the substance was ambergris.

Mr Gani told The Hindu that the substance in possession was yellowish.

Ambergris is the intestinal secretion of sperm whale.

According to The View From Chennai Senior Fellow, James McHugh, the use of animal anal secretions as a perfume ingredient is not uncommon.  The secretions of the civet have apparently been used as a perfume fixative for centuries.  (This is the same cat that defecates [shits] out the world’s most expensive coffee.)  According to McHugh’s paper, “The Disputed Civets and the Complexion of the God: Secretions and History in India” (gated):

[The] strong-smelling secretion [is] obtained from a pouch located under the tail of certain species of civet cat. This material is still produced in significant quantities in Ethiopia and used in French perfumery, although a synthetic version is also available. It is a brown greasy material and it is often thought to smell extremely foul. But in dilution it smells far more pleasant and it acts as a fixative to make perfumes linger longer on the skin.

So, apparently, it’s acceptable to perfume a woman with civet or whale secretions, but if a man wants to evacuate himself directly onto a woman, he’s a “pervert.”  Hey, society: HYPOCRITICAL MUCH?

When TVFC asked McHugh’s opinion of the above Hindu article, he e-mailed:

mmm, interesting – in fact from the photo i am not 100% convinced it is ambergris to be honest, would not bet on it NOT being ambergris but would not give up my day job either, ambergris is less waxy, more grey, has layers, like if you imagine a giant corner of a weathered grey black oyster shell made from wax, so follow the story and see if its genuine. the thing is that these days very few people have a lot of experience with this material. but this looks wierdly translucent to me. some french guy from paris will no doubt fly out and check it and ship it undercover to paris to turn into a tincture – its a very wierd medieval secret market still. good book about it all just came out – Floating Gold, seems the author [Christopher Kemp] is a pretty awesome nice guy too.

We’ll stay on this story.

McHugh is currently researching the history of alcohol in India and has uncovered some interesting stuff that we’ll cover in a later post.

The New York Times reports on Transcendental Meditation enthusiast, David Lynch’s, almost-meeting with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi:

[I]n 2001, Lynch heard about a rare opportunity: the Enlightenment Course. Maharishi, who had barely been seen in public for years, was offering devotees the chance to pay about a million dollars to spend a month with him in the Netherlands.

When Lynch arrived at the compound in Vlodrop, in June 2002, he had hopes that the $1 million fee — a significant investment for him — would allow him to spend a month at his master’s knee, basking in the glow of his enlightened consciousness. He was disappointed when he was told that Maharishi would not physically attend the meetings but instead would communicate with the small group of devoted benefactors via a teleconference system from his room upstairs. But it didn’t matter — like all things Maharishi did, Lynch says, his absence made sense. “When I play it back in my mind, he was right there,” he said. “It’s a strange thing. He was right above us but came through the television. But it was as if there was no television. And that’s the way it was.”

Transcendental Meditation – so calming you won’t want to murder someone after getting tricked out of a million dollars.

An artist’s rendering of the Maharishi:


In A Cremation, Guy de Maupassant imagines a visiting Indian Prince getting cremated along the cliffs of Étretat, France:

The funeral pile was about three and a half feet high. The corpse was placed on it and then one of the Indians asked to have the pole star pointed out to him. This was done, and the dead Rajah was laid with his feet turned towards his native country. Then twelve bottles of kerosene were poured over him and he was covered completely with thin slabs of pine wood. For almost another hour the relations and servants kept piling up the funeral pyre which looked like one of those piles of wood that carpenters keep in their yards. Then on top of this was poured the contents of twenty bottles of oil, and on top of all they emptied a bag of fine shavings. A few steps further on, a flame was glimmering in a little bronze brazier, which had remained lighted since the arrival of the corpse.

The moment had arrived. The relations went to fetch the fire. As it was barely alight, some oil was poured on it, and suddenly a flame arose lighting up the great wall of rock from summit to base. An Indian who was leaning over the brazier rose upright, his two hands in the air, his elbows bent, and all at once we saw arising, all black on the immense white cliff, a colossal shadow, the shadow of Buddha in his hieratic posture. And the little pointed toque that the man wore on his head even looked like the head-dress of the god.

The effect was so striking and unexpected that I felt my heart beat as though some supernatural apparition had risen up before me.

That was just what it was—the ancient and sacred image, come from the heart of the East to the ends of Europe, and watching over its son whom they were going to cremate there.

The next morning, confused French locals tried to make sense of what happened:

A crowd of people spent the day on the site of the funeral pile, looking for fragments of bone in the shingle that was still warm. They found enough bones to reconstruct ten skeletons, for the farmers on shore frequently throw their dead sheep into the sea. The finders carefully placed these various fragments in their pocketbooks. But not one of them possesses a true particle of the Indian prince.

These are the cliffs of Étretat, which Maupassant saw and wondered “What could I set here to make these seem dramatic?”

(Copyright Moyan Brenn)

Of course, those of us who remember Maupassant from our days as shoolboys at the seminary of Yvetot are shocked by his success.  For there…

He rebelled, misbehaved and, finally, was expelled when an allegedly obscene poem, written on the occasion of a pretty girl cousin’s marriage, was discovered by the authorities. (Introduction to “A Parisian Affair and Other Stories”)

Selected illustrations from the stunning Hortus Malabaricus (Garden of Malabar), an epic treatise dealing with the medicinal properties of the flora in the Indian state of Kerala. Originally written in Latin, it was compiled over a period of nearly 30 years and published in Amsterdam between 1678 and 1693 in 12 volumes of about 500 pages each, with a total of 794 copper plate engravings. The book was conceived by Hendrik van Rheede, who was the Governor of Dutch Malabar at the time, and he is said to have taken a keen personal interest in the compilation. The work was edited by a team of nearly a hundred… (Wikipedia)

HT: The Public Domain Review, which I stumbled upon today on the Open Knowledge Foundation’s website while helping Nithya with some Transparent Chennai work.