Will Chennai be able to save a 300 year old Plaque connecting it to its Armenian Past …?

The plaque is the last living relic of the Marmalong, the first ever bridge built over the Adyar river in 1726 by Armenian trader Coja Petrus Uscan.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you take a walk across the busy roads of Saidapet in Chennai, chances are that you would cross what is perhaps one of the oldest living relics that connects the city to its Armenian past.

To the uninitiated, it may look like an unremarkable slab of stone on a pale green crumbling wall. However, this ordinary looking slab of stone is in fact a 300-year-old plaque that belonged on the pillars of one of oldest bridges in the city.

Marmalong Bridge, the first ever bridge across the Adyar river, was commissioned in 1726 by Coja Petrus Uscan, an immensely wealthy Armenian trader. Uscan, who had decided to settle in Madras after coming to the city in 1724, paid 30,000 pagodas from his own money to build the bridge and another 1,500 pagodas for its upkeep.

“Uscan was immensely respected and perhaps was even one of the only non-British allowed to stay in Fort St George or the White town. A devout believer in St Thomas, Uscan wanted more people to visit the Saint Thomas Mount, and therefore removed the two impediments – the river and the lack of steps – by building the bridge as well as 160 steps to the mount. This was the initial purpose of the bridge. But all that soon changed as the Marmalong Bridge became crucial to the expansion of the city, especially towards the South,” says Chennai-based novelist and historian Venkatesh Ramakrishnan.

Mount Road came after the bridge

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Mount Road, around which the city developed, came 60 years after the Marmalong bridge.

Named after Mambalam, one of the villages near the Adyar, the Marmalong Bridge perhaps laid the foundation stone for the city as it led to the emergence of the Mount Road, around which Chennai developed.

“It was only natural that a road followed after a bridge was built. The British built the Mount Road in the 1800s, around which the city grew. So, in a sense, the bridge led to the city’s birth and is very close to its heart,” Venkatesh adds.

However, the Marmalong only lives in our memories today. Where the arched bridge of Uscan once stood, a concrete replacement called the Maraimalai Adigal Bridge now exists. There are no traces of this Adyar-Armenian connect but for the last living relic – the plaque commemorating Uscan’s construction of the bridge.

With inscriptions in three ancient languages – Persian, Armenian and Latin, the Uscan plaque was established in memory of the great nation of Armenia and is a tribute to the people who helped build the city.

“The Armenian inscriptions are on the lower portion of the plaque. It can’t be read because the writing has faded with time and neglect,” according to Venkatesh.

Crusade to preserve the plaque

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The neglected plaque stands near the Saidapet Metro construction site. 

Displaced from its original site, the plaque faces the perils of urbanisation and is further threatened by the metro rail work that is underway.

Years of neglect and development in the area has buried the stone in layers of debris. In fact, the bottom of the stone has disappeared under the ground as the road levels have been rising every year due to re-carpeting, Venkatesh laments.

With the construction of the Saidapet Metro station underway, historians who are fighting to save the plague urge the CMRL to give the stone a place of honor in the metro station.

Highlighting the importance of preserving such relics, Venkatesh says, “The Armenians have contributed immensely to this city. I believe it is important to preserve all traces to this link. It is really unfortunate that while the Uscan stone stands neglected, another plaque at the Fourbeck Bridge is preserved by the Architectural Society of India,” he said.

A dedicated group of Chennai historians have launched a Facebook page “Retrieve Uscan Stone” to draw attention to the issue and save the plaque.

“The Saidapet Metro work is too close to the plaque. We have been urging the officials to move the relic to a better place, may be a museum or a memorial site. We just don’t want to lose a precious piece of the city’s history,” Venkatesh says hopefully.

Source….https://www.thenewsminute.com

Natarajan

 

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5 People Who Survived the Unimaginable…

We are all going to die – ideally from old age and in our sleep, less ideally from the Universe concocting a terrible, inescapable, and painful end just for us. Fortunately, there’s no such thing as a totally inescapable scenario. Once every now and then, a person finds themselves face-to-face with Death and decides to yank the robes from under his feet and make a quick getaway. Below you’ll find the stories of five such people.

1. A Paraglider Naps Her Way across the Upper Atmosphere

In February 2007, German paraglider Ewa Wisnerska was sucked into an unexpected thunderstorm in Australia. As testimony to that storm’s intense hatred of flying people, a Chinese paraglider had been pulled into that exact same storm earlier that day. His lifeless body was found 50 miles away.

Not content with just the one victim, the storm nabbed Ewa mid-flight and dragged her high into the air. At 3,000 feet, her exposed skin was frostbitten. Her glasses, like the rest of her clothing, were covered in ice so thick that she couldn’t even make out her own glider – which the violent weather kept collapsing, so she had to constantly battle to keep her glider in working condition.

At 20,000 feet, the air temperature was down to -58 degrees Fahrenheit, and ice had encased her entire body. The lack of oxygen also caused her to pass out. You really wouldn’t expect to wake up from a nap like that.

The previous record altitude for a paraglider was 24,000 feet. Geese fly at 27,000 feet and so did Ewa, briefly, on her way to 29,035 feet – which is the exact height of the summit of Mount Everest. At this point, the storm was getting frustrated that she was still alive, so it lifted her up to 30,000 feet just to see if she could survive the cruising height of a passenger jet, without the jet. She could.

At 32,000 feet, the storm gave up and she began to descend. At 23,000 feet, she woke up and realized that she had no way to brake or steer (due to her frozen hands), so she rode out the storm and hoped that she’d eventually land safely. Which she did, 40 miles from her starting point.

Apart from some bruising and frostbite damage, she was perfectly fine. This is probably because she was unconscious for most of the flight. Your heart rate slows when you’re out cold, and this would have played a huge part in her survival.

2. Jacob Miller Sleeps Off Headshots

The Battle of Chikamagua in Tennessee during the Civil War was the second heaviest Union defeat after Gettysburg, with around 36,000 casualties. One of these casualties was Jacob Miller, who was shot between the eyes on September 19, 1863.

Miller’s Union allies thought he was dead so they left him behind. The Confederate army thought the same and walked right over him as they pushed forward. They didn’t know that Miller had the ability to sleep off a headshot.

When he woke up with a new hole in his head, he realized that he was now at the back of the Confederate line. So, using his gun as a crutch, he waddled along parallel to the fighting until he could pass back over to the Union side. Since his uniform was drenched in blood, the Confederates didn’t recognize him as an enemy.

After making it back to friendly turf, the surgeons refused to remove the bullet as they told him he was going to die anyway. In fact, the Union troops were about to retreat again, and the doctors deemed Miller too sick to move, so it looked like he was going to be left behind again.

Miller was having none of this and started retreating with them. His face was now so swollen that he had to manually lift his eyelids to see where he was going. He kept retreating with the Union troops, with no intention of stopping and dying. Eventually, he was picked up by an ambulance wagon.

Nine months after the incident, doctors finally got around to removing the shot from his head. The bullet hole never closed, and although Miller would go on to live a long life, he spent the next thirty years sweating bullets, as pieces of the shot would occasionally make their way out of his wound.

3. A Man Elbows His Way Out of a Watery Grave

In early 2017, Jake Garrow was plowing the snow from an ice road in Ontario, Canada, when his skid loader hit an unexpected thin patch and plunged into the frozen waters, taking Garrow with it.

For the majority of us, sinking 100 feet to the bottom of a freezing lake is a terrible way to go, but Garrow is not most of us. As he sank, he looked around for the cord release that would pop the back window open. Unfortunately, he couldn’t find it. So rather than fumble around futilely, while water rushed into his cab, Garrow smashed the back window using his elbow.

Now he was free from his skid loader, but he still had to swim 100 feet through pitch-black, ice-covered water and hope that he could find the hole that he fell through. Miraculously, he managed it, and emerged from the ice with little more than a perforated eardrum.

However, his ordeal wasn’t over yet. Garrow had to walk a mile to the main road in soaking wet clothes with a wind chill of -22 degrees Fahrenheit, and then stand at the side of the road freezing because not a single motorist stopped for him.

He only managed to get a ride to the hospital because a familiar contractor happened to drive by. To add to his plight, Garrow was contacted by the Ministry of Environment and was told to get his skid loader out of their lake by June.

4. Everything That Could Go Wrong With a Spaceship Landing Did

In 1969, at the height of the space race, Russian Cosmonaut Boris Volynov was flying a solo re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere on Soyuz 5. He was returning after having just dropped off two colleagues on another ship, and unfortunately, designated driver gigs are as awful in space as they are on Earth. During re-entry, the equipment module on Soyuz 5 failed to detach, which messed up the balance of the spacecraft and caused it to turn around.

This was a major problem, as the heat of bursting through Earth’s atmosphere was expected to burn away a good three inches of the special ablator coating in the thicker side of the vessel, which had a good six inches of it. Unfortunately, Volynov was now flying back into Earth backward, and the side of his ship facing the flames was just a mere inch thick.

To add to this, his body was also being submitted to nine times the gravitation force of Earth, making all attempts to fix the dire situation border-line impossible. At this point, ground control was already busy passing around a hat to collect money for his family. Volynov was facing certain death until he suddenly noticed something: The malfunctioning part of the ship that had failed to detach was also getting sheared off by intense heat. Summoning all his strength, he managed to maneuver the Soyuz 5 to its correct position in the nick of time.

Problem solved! Well, not exactly. He had new problems to contend with. The ships parachute had taken damage and could only partially deploy. To add to this, the rockets designed to soften the landing had also failed completely. Soyuz 5 hit the ground like a meteor. Volynov survived this too, but he was thrown around the cabin and broke a number of teeth.

He now had another problem to contend with. He had landed in the Ural Mountains, far away from his intended landing spot in Kazakhstan. The weather outside was -36 degrees Fahrenheit. If he stayed put, he’d be long dead before anyone rescued him.

When the rescue team arrived hours later, they found an empty Soyuz 5. However, they followed a set of footprints, peppered with blood and bits of teeth, and found Volynov warming himself in a peasant hut, which he had managed to locate by following a distant column of smoke.

5. Scientists Witness a Volcanic Eruption… From Inside the Volcano!

In January 1993, a group of scientists from 15 different countries gathered in Colombia to assess the danger of the 9,000 foot Galeras Volcano, which has irrupted irregularly for centuries. The volcanologists thought it would be fairly safe as it had last erupted six months earlier, and no seismic activity indicated that it would do so again. Therefore, 16 people ventured into its cone to gather samples and valuable information.

To its credit, the volcano waited until the most dramatic moment to launch its attack. An hour earlier, and all the scientists would have perished as they stood right at the inner crater. An hour later, and they would have been at a relatively safe distance. But no, Galeras waited until they had just stopped work for the day, and still had a sporting (yet slim) chance of escaping. Then, and only then, did the ground start to rumble. The volcano erupted and sent a 90-story cloud of ash, smoke, and gas into the air.

Three scientists were hit with a blast of heat so hot that it reduced them to ash. Six were bombarded and crushed to death by scalding rocks. When the dust settled, nine scientists had been killed, and those who were still alive were seriously injured.

Dr. Stanley Williams, the leader of the group, was standing right by the crater’s rim when the eruption came. He managed to avoid the blast of heat, but was still assaulted by a maelstrom of white-hot boulders. A rock struck him in the head, instantly shattering his skull and sending bone fragments deep into his brain. He managed to stumble away, only to have his legs savaged by another rock bombardment.

That might have been the end for him, if it wasn’t for two of his colleagues, Marta Calvache and Patty Mothes. Both had inexplicably decided to climb toward the volcanic eruption to look for any survivors. They managed to locate Williams and drag him to safety.

Source….www.ba-bamail.com

Natarajan

Kolkata’s Howrah Bridge Turns 75! Did You Know It Survived a Japanese Air Attack?

In 1946, a census was conducted to count the daily traffic footfall on the state-of-the-art Howrah Bridge. The figures registered were 27,400 vehicles, 121,100 pedestrians and 2,997 cattle.

Contrast the above information with a 2007 report, which showed a daily flow of 90,000 vehicles, out of which 15,000 were goods vehicles.

The iconic bridge in the world is regarded as the “Gateway to Kolkata” since it connects the city to Howrah, and turned 75, this February. Of course, the bullock-carts of yesteryears have been replaced with high-end luxury cars.

Apart from being a pathway for various modes of transport, this iconic suspension-type balanced cantilever bridge has been the backdrop of many intense film scenes. Remember Ajay Devgn getting gunned down while riding a bike down the bridge in Yuva, or the dramatic Durga Puja celebrations under the bridge, as depicted in Gunday?

Many movie scenes used the bridge in the backdrop, starting with Bimal Roy’s 1953 classic Do Bigha Zameen, to Garth Davis’ Academy Award-nominated 2016 film Lion.

The Howrah Bridge made quite the impact before it was fully constructed. One night, during construction, workers were removing muck, trying to fix a cassion. The entire mass plunged 2 feet, and the ground shook. The intense impact caused a seismograph at Kidderpore, to register an earthquake. Interestingly once the muck cleared, many interesting objects of value, like anchors, cannons, cannon-balls, brass vessels, and coins dating back to the era of the East India Company were found.

Commissioned in 1943, the Howrah Bridge had a quiet opening. Even though it was a pioneering construction, a behemoth much ahead of its time, the Government decided to play things down, due to the fear of a Japanese air attack, since World War II was raging during that time.

A gigantic technical marvel, ahead of its time

One unique feature of this enormous bridge is that no nuts and bolts have been used in its construction. The steel fabrication has been riveted into place to hold the entire span of the bridge over the river Hooghly.

26,500 tonnes of steel, mostly supplied by Tata Steel, single monolith caissons of dimensions 55.31 x 24.8 metres, with 21 shafts, each 6.25-metre square, and sixteen 800-tonne capacity hydraulic jacks, amongst other materials, were used in the construction of the bridge.

Walk along the bridge’s massive length, and you will feel dwarfed and insignificant, for a good reason. The structure has a central span of 1,500 feet between centres of main towers and a suspended span of 564 feet. The main towers are 280 feet high above the monoliths and 76 feet apart at the top. The anchor arms are 325 feet each, while the cantilever arms are 468 feet each.

The bridge deck hangs from panel points in the lower chord of the main trusses with 39 pairs of hangers. There are cross girders, stringer girders, and floor beams that complete the intricate construction. Any bridge sways in the wind. The Howrah Bridge has special expansion and articulation joints, to compensate for turbulence.

A mammoth maintenance routine

Naturally, a structure this huge, serving as a roadway to so much transport, needs to be kept at its optimum condition. You’d think that the bridge would need a natural disaster to shake its foundations, but regular daily life puts a strain on the structure.

The maintenance of this gargantuan bridge is no easy task. Just ask the Kolkata Port Trust, which, post a 2003 investigation, spent Rs 5,00,000 annually, just to clean the bird droppings that were corroding joints and other parts of the bridge. In 2004, it cost Rs 6.5 million, to paint the 24 million square feet of the bridge, using 26,500 litres of aluminium paint and zinc chromate primers.

A cultural icon that would not be here today

We might not have had the same Howrah Bridge, if it ironically, weren’t for World War II. Before its construction, a global tender was floated, and a German company turned out to be the lowest bidder. Increasing hostilities in 1935 resulted in the German contract being cancelled, with the tender going to India’s Braithwaite Burn and Jessop Construction Company Limited.

The same war, which saw the bridge come to life, also threatened to destroy it. While the war was in full swing, India found herself in the position of a de-facto ally to Britain and the Western Allied Powers. Naturally the Japanese, part of the opposition, bombed Kolkata from 1942 to 1944, trying to destroy the bridge, and operations at the seaport. The British responded swiftly, even turning Kolkata’s Red Road, into a runway for Spitfires to take off.

The quiet hero during this time of crisis was the 978 Balloon Squadron. The British set up balloons, attached to the ground by several steel cables. These balloons prevented bombers from going low and hitting targets. The planes would get stuck in the cables and crash. The Japanese Air Force flew many sorties over Kolkata, bombing the central business district and the docks.

As many as 131 bombs were dropped on the 10th, 16th and 28th of December 1942 and 17th and 23rd of January 1943. The attack on 23rd was the most devastating with over 70 bombs being dropped over the dock area and the casualty on that day was nearly 500.

Let us appreciate this giant superstructure, which has stood tall for aeons.

Unfortunately, today, the most significant threat the iconic Howrah Bridge faces isn’t from Japanese fighter planes or their bombs, but from corrosive spit containing tobacco, pan-masala and other acidic, poisonous ingredients.

A 2011 inspection by Kolkata Port Trust authorities, calculated the damage—a total of Rs 2 million had to be spent, to cover parts of the bridge with fibreglass, to avoid corrosion due to spitting.

Spitting remains the biggest threat to this bridge, and a 2013 report in The Guardian mentions the bridge’s Chief Engineer, AK Mehra, who said that the slaked lime and paraffin in the poisonous spit are highly corrosive. In some areas, the steel pillars have been damaged by as much as 60 percent.

During World War II, when Kolkata was under attack, worried citizens, with a bag full of Vaseline, and bandages, would run to air-raid shelters, after safely hiding their earthen jars which contained their drinking water supply.

Those citizens if alive today, would surely be surprised when they realise the iconic Howrah Bridge which survived the Japanese bombing might not survive the Indian habit of spitting.

Source…www.the betterindia.com

Natarajan

Tipu Sultan’s Mechanical Tiger…

The sun is the hottest when the clock strikes one in the small town of Seringapatam, not far from the city of Mysore, in present day Karnataka, a state in India. Colonel Arthur Wellesley, who was leading two army units of the British East India Company, knew that the defenders of the fortress of Seringapatam would be taking a break for refreshment at this hour. That’s when he planned to strike.

The date was May 4, 1799—the final day of the final confrontation between the British East India Company and the Kingdom of Mysore led by the strong and assertive Tipu Sultan. At the scheduled hour, seventy-six men dashed across the four-feet-deep river Cauvery and in only sixteen minutes had scaled the ramparts and stormed into the fort. The defenders, taken by surprise, were quickly subdued and in two hours the fort had fallen completely. Later, in a choked tunnel-like passage in the interior of the fort, the

bullet riddled body of Tipu Sultan, “the Tiger of Mysore” was found.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo credit: Victoria and Albert Museum

The victorious troops then proceeded to raid the royal treasury and over the next few weeks systematically emptied it, sharing the loot among the British army. Some time later, a curious object was discovered in the music room of the palace. It was a large wooden musical automata depicting a tiger mauling a man in European clothing. The man, which is nearly life-size, lies on his back while the tiger sinks its teeth into his neck. There is a crank protruding from the side of the tiger. When it’s turned, a hidden mechanism causes the man’s arm to go up and down, while a set of bellows inside causes the animal to growl and the man to emit distressing cries of agony. A flap on the tiger’s body can be opened to reveal a small organ and a keyboard capable of playing 18 notes.

Tipu Sultan’s mechanical tiger—known as Tipu’s Tiger— was a clear representation of his hostility towards the British—a feeling that he shared with his father, Hyder Ali, since his childhood. Hyder Ali regarded the British as their sworn enemy as they prevented Hyder from expanding his kingdom, and Tipu grew up with violently anti-British feelings. In 1792, when Tipu Sultan was forced to concede half of Mysore’s territories along with a large financial tribute to the British after the defeat at the Third Anglo-Mysore War, he had this machine built.

Tipu Sultan’s personal emblem was the tiger. The tiger motif was visible throughout his palace—on his throne, on his weapons and armor; the tiger stripe motif was painted on walls and used in uniforms; he even kept live tigers in his palace. Even his nickname that he adopted for himself was “the Tiger of Mysore”. Tipu’s Tiger, hence, was a symbolic representation of his desire to triumph over the British. It’s believed that the Sultan had frequently amused himself by playing with the instrument’s crank and hearing the distressing cries of the victim.

Understandably, the British were not amused. When they discovered the “contrived machine”, the Governor General of the East India Company wrote a memorandum calling it a “memorial of the arrogance and barbarous cruelty of Tipu Sultan” and “another proof of the deep hate, and extreme loathing” the Sultan had towards the English.

For a while, Tipu’s Tiger was displayed in the reading-room of the East India Company Museum and Library in London where it became very popular, especially since anybody could walk up to the machine and hand-crank it to hear the wailing and the grunting. The handle couldn’t take the abuse for long and it broke a few years later, to the great relief of the students using the reading-room in which the tiger was displayed.

In 1880, the tiger was acquired by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Since then, it has been one of the most popular exhibits in the museum and a “must-see”, although it’s too fragile now and cannot be operated. During the Second World War, the roof above the museum came crashing down and broke the tiger into several hundred pieces. After the war, the tiger was carefully pieced together, but it no longer works.

In recent times, Tipu’s Tiger has formed an essential part of museum exhibitions exploring the subject of Indian resistance to British rule, as well as British prejudice and imperial aggression. Tipu’s Tiger appears in various forms of memorabilia in the museum shops as postcards, model kits and stuffed toys.

Source ….Kaushik in http://www.amusingplanet.com

Natarajan