Numismatics and its role in Indian history

The quest for past

The quest for truth has been innate in the human mind, since time immemorial. Right from the Vedic times, as the Nasadiya sukta tell us, man has been wondering as to whom and how did the universe appear as they do now.  While the quest has been undertaken on meta-physical levels, with questions being raised on the shashwatdccoin1practicality or impracticality of a supreme creator, this has in no way heeded the efforts to find the origins of the past. To know, from where it all began in a logical and chronological sequence. This quest for answers for roots lies at the very heart of archaeology.

In practical terms, archaeology is the physical effort undertaken to unravel the past. A scientific approach that either substantiates or debunks propositions from the past. The precise definition, reads something like this:

The systematic study of past human life and culture by the recovery and examination of remaining material evidence, such as graves, buildings, tools, and pottery.

But this quest for past has not been a recent one, many centuries yore, too people have been looking for answers in mythology, literature and religious books to discover the roots. The earliest historians, who documented India, were the religious or rather Buddhist travellers who came down to India with the objective of finding the real source of Buddhist literature.

Foreign nationals from across the shores or Himalayas have been frequent visitors to Indian since time immemorial as traders, travellers, scholars, and finally as rulers. One of the biggest fascinations for these travellers has been the immense wealth of epigraphical, architectural and sculptural material that is found in this region.

One of the first major documented visitors to Indian continent have been the shashwatdccoin2Chinese travellers Fa-hien (5th century CE) and Xuanzang (Hieun-Tsang-7th century CE) were interested in Buddhist remains and have left accounts of numerous cities and sites related with Buddhism, such as Nalanda, Bodh Gaya and Ajanta. Through their works, one is able to draw a clear anthropological picture of the time and lifestyles of Indians of those era.

In fact the name that stands out or comes to the memory is that of Hsuen Tsang – Xuanzang  [c.602 – 664] was a famous Chinese Buddhist monk, scholar, traveler, and translator who described the interaction between China and India in the early Tang period.

Born in Henan province of China in 602 or 603, from boyhood he took to reading sacred books, mainly the Chinese Classics and the writings of the ancient sages. While residing in the city of Luoyang, Xuanzang entered Buddhist monkhood at the age of thirteen and developed the desire to visit India. He knew about Faxian’s visit to India and, like him, was concerned about the incomplete and misinterpreted nature of the Buddhist scriptures that reached China. Continue reading

The Legacy of Sultan Manmohan Singh Tughlaq

Time is a rather malleable entity, unpredictable and quite unfathomable. Linear it is, say many, like a fabric all meshed up, say few, heavy like gravity, like a quasar, multi-dimensional, ephemeral, unreal, say the rest. The passage of time, quantified by the circular rotation of two sinewy arms on our clocks, is meant to signify a sort of permanence, a moment that is lost or gone, ceases to exist. There’s nothing that one can do to bring it back, lost in the ever-infinite sea of eternity. Past is past, and present is present, and never the twain shall meet, is good a testament, that could have well been etched in stone on that tablets that were forged at Mount Sinai.

And yet for all its permanence, time sometimes also seems permeable, like a sponge or something. The little circles on one side forming a connection to another side. The connections are unmistakable, inescapable. And while the recorded history of our species only stretches a couple of thousand years, even in this short period we have seen events taking shape in different time, different climate, mirroring each other in a very strange ethereal manner. Separated by a vast ocean of time, yet, these events seem like some sort of cosmic clones of each other. History (which is a product of time) indeed has a very uncanny knack of repeating itself.

To give you an idea, lets flashback to 14th century India, much long before the very idea of India even firuzexisted. The precise time on the dial is set to sometime in the latter half of the century, somewhere say 1380s AD. The place is Firozabad, not very far from modern-day Delhi, and it’s the reign of Malik Feroze ibn Malik Rajab or more renowned as Sultan Feroze Shah Tughlaq. The Sultan is a septuagenarian man, lording over a dominion that is much weaker and lesser than what his pre-decessor had bequeathed to him. He is a sort of weakling, little in control of things around him. He had succeeded the strong-willed and maverick Sultan Muhammad bin Tughluq, who was most famous for his decree to shift the capital from Delhi to Daulatabad or his experiments with token currency that failed spectacularly. But unlike his predecessor, Feroze Shah Tughlaq was a softie, or a little more of fruitcake. When he took over in 1351, the empire was vast but in a mess. There was much confusion as Muhammad bin Tughluq had died without an heir, and in the ensuing unrest, Feroze was enthroned as the new sultan. Continue reading

The making of ‘Father of Indian IT’

Fakir Chand Kohli was overwrought with uncertainties about the future. It was the early seventies and his employers, the Tatas, had asked him to take charge of their fledgling IT company, Tata Consultancy Services or TCS. Kohli had been associated with Tata Electric for over two decades and by his own admission was “a power engineer first”. Tatas were quite keen on Kohli taking charge at TCS due to his technical knack; after all he was instrumental in bringing mainframes in India around 1964 and completely computerising Tata Electric, one of the very few companies globally. Yet, he was not fully convinced.

Finally, his wife Swaran came to his aid and advised him to take up the challenge. Kohli took up the job on one condition that he could return to Tata Electric whenever he wanted to. And the rest as they say is history.

Often referred as the ‘father of Indian IT’ or the ‘Bheeshpithamha’ (grand sire), Kohli modestly states that these labels do not affect him, though he adds, “I have received lot of respect from people. What more could I have asked for?”

Early days

Born in Peshawar, British India; Kohli completed his graduation from Punjab University. His father ran a renowned department store in Peshawar. “It was one of the biggest in the country named as Kriparam Brothers”. Kohli was part of a large household and was the youngest kid, with 3 brothers and a couple of sisters.

Kohli is a voracious reader and he attributes this habit to his mother. “Though she had studied till standard 8th, she was an avid reader till her death in 1965. She used to read newspapers everyday, and regularly read fiction too. In fact, she maintained a small library that had religious as well as other books. I have inherited that trait from her,” he says.

He also doesn’t fail to add his indebtness to his elder brother, Devraj. “Due to family and personal reasons, he had to leave his education and join our family business. He never forgot that and desired his younger brother to have every opportunity that he could not. What I am today, I owe it all to him,” he says.

Kohli completed his B.A. in English (honors) and B.Sc in Applied Mathematics and Physics. But aren’t literature and applied mathematics at cross with each other? Kohli thunders, “Of course not. Isn’t a beautiful novel constructed on brilliant logic? Take the instance of Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code…it talks about symbols and aren’t symbols the crux of mathematics?,” he questions.

After his graduation, Kohli applied for a scholarship and went abroad for further studies in 1945, first to Queen’s University, Canada and then his masters in Electrical Engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Boston. He returned to India in 1951 for good.

By that time, his family had shifted to Lucknow and he was distraught to see them reduced to such desperate level. “We had to start life all over again. It was a big shock,” he reminisces. “It was a terrible thing (partition) to happen. I just could not fathom how it all happened. We were all so good to each other, so happy,” he adds. Continue reading