Monthly Archives: May 2016

An Old Soldier Fades Away


Lt. Gen. Misbah Mayadas, PVSM
(July 9, 1930 – May 16, 2016) 

He was a couple of months shy of his 86th birthday, when he faded away peacefully after taking his early morning bath, and within 25 minutes of downing a hearty breakfast on Monday, May the 16th.

My elder brother, Misbah, was – to put it mildly – a soldier through and through. He was broad-shouldered, had a military bearing and loved sports – particularly boxing. From an early age, he was a natural marksman and thought that although I was three years younger there was no reason why I couldn’t pull a trigger with deadly result as well as he did. Of course, he took after our father, who was a well-known shikari. So every year during the hunting season both double-barreled guns and rifles – all beautifully well-oiled and meticulously maintained – would be lined up on our back verandah in Delhi for inspection before being  placed safely in our serviceable Ford V8 along with all the necessary ammo we would need for the day’s outing into the wilds.

Then after fond goodbyes to my mother and twin sister, we would take off for Sonepat and Rohtak, both of which were then mere villages in the early 1940’s and lay about 20 and 40 miles respectively away from the capital. There was plenty of small game and deer in the extensive fields surrounding those rural areas. However, I never had much of a penchant for killing any living thing – flying or on the ground – but I did learn how to shoot straight and how to help pick up the fallen prey shot by the others without getting in the way.

Fast forward to the early 1950’s: After graduating from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi, in 1949, Misbah went on to graduate from the National Defence College and was commissioned into the Central India Horse in December, 1950. He rapidly rose to become a captain in the Indian Armored Corps. It was in that capacity that he was sent to Harar, Ethiopia to help train the local army at the behest of the late Emperor Haile Selassie. Indeed, Misbah commanded “The Passing Out Parade” of the very first batch of Ethiopian cadets trained by Indian officers. Notable was the fact that Misbah gave all the commands at the ceremony in the Ethiopian language, Amharic. The Emperor personally presented him with the Star of Honor in the presence of General Thimmaya, Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army, who was the Chief Guest.

In summary, during his military career he commanded an armoured regiment (of which he was the boxing champ), a mechanized infantry brigade, a mountain division, an ad hoc corps in the desert, and a corps in Jammu & Kashmir and Punjab. He was also Commandant of the Armoured Corps Centre and School. For the counter-insurgency operations conducted by his division he was awarded the Param Vishisht Seva Medal (PVSM) for distinguished service by the Government of India.

He was posted three times in Army Headquarters as: Deputy Director of Military Operations; Director General of Weapons and Equipment; and Director General of Military Training. Also, earlier in his career, he was an instructor at the National Defence Academy in Khadakwasla, at the Officers’ Training School in Madras, and the Defence Services Staff College in Wellington.

During his long and distinguished career, he helped raise the 64th Cavalry under Trevor Perry and later commanded that regiment. In addition, he raised the 5th Armored Division. Later, he was sent to the United Kingdom as the Military Adviser to the Indian High Commissioner in London. And he retired as the Director General of the National Cadet Corps. Thereafter, he turned to farming in McCluskieganj – once a Utopian dream for Anglo-Indian families, and now home to a sprinkling of retirees who revel in the wildlife of the surrounding tribal belt, which is just 40 miles away from the capital, Ranchi, of Jharkhand in the state of Bihar.

For the record, Misbah retired as Colonel of three notable Indian regiments: the 64th Cavalry, Central India Horse (CIH) and the 5th Armored Division.

My brother won 12 medals during India’s three major wars with neighboring belligerents – China (1962), Pakistan (1965) and East Pakistan (1971).
The Indo-Pak War, 1965, lasted approximately 18 days and was a savage, high intensity conflict fought in the month of September. The bone of contention was Jammu and Kashmir. At that time, Misbah was the Brigade Major of the 38th Infantry Brigade, a newly raised brigade. On September the 5th, 1965 Misbah reports:
“By now all the families knew that this time it was the real thing – a full-fledged war with Pakistan. En route to Amritsar, our jumping off point, we passed through many villages on the main road, and enthusiastic crowds of villagers…urged me to stop the convoy so that they could look after the troops…I didn’t stop, but slowed my jeep to a crawl, and all along chappatties, paranthas, gur and lassi and milk were being given, sometimes thrown into our vehicles for the men. This spontaneity reflected the spirit of the people.”
Indo-Pak War 1971: When Pakistan began its genocide against its Eastern Wing, millions of East Pakistani refugees began pouring into (the bordering states of ) Assam and West Bengal. The inevitable happened, and both countries went to war on December the 3rd, 1971. Soon East Pakistan ceased to exist, and Bangladesh came into being. Misbah was the General Staff Officer Grade 1 under the command of Lt. Gen. N. C. Rawlley, who had been Misbah’s commandant in Ethiopia. Misbah remained the GSO1 until the ceasefire on December the 17th, 1971.

Misbah’s wife, Vijaya died 13 years ago, but he is survived by his three children: sons Dhyan (married to Jyotsna Andrews – they have twin daughters Jaya and Divya, and they live in Mumbai, India) and Rahan, a bachelor; and daughter Tarana (married to Tarun Khanna – they have a son, Karan, and they live in Sydney, Australia).

During his time at his McCluskieganj ranch in Ranchi, Misbah took to writing and among his memoirs was an extensive series of chapters relating to 15 tumultous years of Indian history, with particular reference to the selection of the Swedish Bofors gun by the Indian military and how its purchase led to the downfall of India’s political stability in that decade. The book that resulted was “How the Bofors Affair Transformed India – 1989-1999”.


Copyright © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas




Tamil – The Other Classical Language of India

In school back in India during the Raj, we were taught Latin and perhaps Greek in addition to English, mathematics and the sciences, as the knowledge of those two ‘dead’ classical languages was determined by our elders to be part of a future gentleman’s cultural upbringing in the wider world outside.

I, for one, later discovered that Sanskrit should have also been in the curriculum, and later still, another ‘classical’ language – Tamil – which had the advantage of not being ‘dead’ but alive and well in the southern swathe of my home country as well as in the northern section of neighboring Ceylon (Sri Lanka) – and beyond in Southeast Asia down to Australia. In addition, it advanced westward into southern African countries as well as into many of the states across America in the last century.


[According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Tamil have a long history of achievement; sea travel, city life, and commerce seem to have developed early among them. Tamil trade with the ancient Greeks and Romans is verified by literary, linguistic, and archaeological evidence.

The Tamil have the oldest cultivated Dravidian language, and their rich literary tradition extends back to the early Christian era. The Chera, Chola, Pandya, and Pallava dynasties ruled over the Tamil area before the Vijayanagar empire extended its hegemony in the 14th century, and these earlier dynasties produced many great kingdoms.

Under them the Tamil people built great temples, irrigation tanks, dams, and roads, and they played an important role in the transmission of Indian culture to Southeast Asia. The Chola, for example, were known for their naval power and brought the Malay kingdom of Sri Vijaya under their suzerainty in AD 1025. Though the Tamil area was integrated culturally with the rest of India for a long time, politically it was for most of the time a separate entity until the advent of British rule in India.]

Some Well-known Tamil Words in English and Other Languages Around the World
Mongoose – a slayer of snakes (Mangus)
– Curry – 1681 dish of meat, etc., cooked with bruised spices and turmeric (Kari)
Jaggerysugar (Sakkarai)
– Mulligatawny – East Indian curry-soup (Milagu-tannir: pepper-water!)
Catamaran – raft of logs; a double boat; an ill-natured woman (Kata-maram: tied wood)
– Corundum – a ruby-like mineral in appearance (Kuruntham: ruby)
– Cot  (Kattil: bedstead, portable bed)
– Godown (Kitanku: warehouse)
– Pagoda (Pagavadi: house belonging to a deity)
– Pandal (Pandhal: temporary shelter)
– Coolie – laborer/slave (Cooli)
– Pariah – a social outcast; an ownerless cur of Eastern towns; a member of a caste in
Southern India lower than the four Brahminical castes; a pye-dog (Paraiyar)
Trees, Fruits, etc.
– Ginger  (Inchi)
– Mango  (Mangay)
– Teak  (Tekku)

Tamil is one of the principal languages of the 12-member Dravidian family. Numbering about 57,000,000 in the late 20th century (including about 3,200,000 speakers in northern and eastern Ceylon (Sri Lanka), Tamil speakers make up the majority of the population of Tamil Nadu state and also inhabit parts of Kerala, Karnataka, and Andhra Pradesh states, all situated in the southernmost third of India. Emigrant Tamil may be found in some parts of the Malagasy Republic, the Malay Peninsula, Myanmar, Indochina, Thailand, eastern Africa, South Africa, the Fiji and Mauritius islands, and the West Indies.

On a personal note, I was a college student in London in the late 1940’s when I spent time during the summer holidays each year to hitchhike around Europe. It was when I was in the Northwest of Spain – San Sebastian – that I became aware of the Basques and their ‘country’ – known for the ‘strangeness’ of their language in the rest of the Continent and beyond. Two decades later back in India, I was on assignment from my Calcutta-based company in Madras and Colombo branches, where I met many Tamil-speaking people. I had also picked up during my travel there a book by Dr. N. Lahovary, who without qualms had written cogently and impressively about the myriad connections between Dravidian languages and Basque.

I, for one, was overwhelmed and during the intervening years have enjoyed delving into the many fascinating and, sometimes curious, events that the good Doctor proves at some considerable length to be more than a figment of a linguist’s imaginary ramblings. But that tale will have to be told another time in my blogosphere.

Indian Words in English by G. Subba Rao; Encyclopaedia Britannica; Oxford English Dictionary; Chambers’s Twentieth Century Dictionary; Tamil Self-Taught by Don M. de Zilva Wickremasinghe; Dravidian Origins and the West by Dr. N. Lahovary;


Copyright © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas

Prime Time

No, on this 9th day of May, I’m not talking about the popular evening hours on TV, but about my fascination with prime numbers that come around on a monthly calendar time and again, or every so often in annual projections on, say,  a spreadsheet in an accounting office, or a PowerPoint presentation at a seminar.

For those with some familiarity with mathematics, they are – insofar as single and double digits are concerned –

1 2 3 5 7 11 13 17 19
23 29 31 37 41 43 47
53 59 61 67 71 73 79
83 89 97

The one in bold marks my years on this planet today. As a quick reminder, prime numbers cannot be divided into an exact (whole) number of equal whole numbers. Therefore 3, 5, 7, 11, and 13 are examples of prime numbers, while the odd numbers 9, 15, 21 and 25 are not prime numbers. Jokingly, I’ll still be in my “prime” when I arrive at the next number, 89 (!)

ramanujanIt so happens that we went to the cinema on Mother’s Day on Sunday, May the 8th, for a very well-worth seeing film on the life of the Indian mathematical genius, Srinivasan Ramanujan, pictured alongside and played by Dev Patel, the star of the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” and Jeremy Irons as his British mentor, Professor G. H. Hardy of Trinity College, Cambridge University.


b.12/22/1887-d. 3/26/1920

You don’t have to be a math wiz to enjoy “The Man Who Knew Infinity.” It portrays the exhilaration of discovery and the pang of despair as it covers the brief and turbulent 32 years of the South Indian’s life cut short on this planet by tuberculosis – from his early struggles in Tamilnadu (Erode and Madras, now known as Chennai) to his transplant to England in the early 1900’s with seemingly little control of his destiny in the alien, rarefied world of advanced mathematics in a sometimes racist varsity arena of competing voices.

As a student in a somewhat exclusive New Delhi school from 1938 through 1947, I was familiar with the surprising achievements of Ramanujan abroad through stories, every now and then, told to us by our math teachers. I was also part of the color discrimination between the races that looked down on the so-called ‘Southies’ from the largely Dravidian states. The word for ‘black’ in Hindi or Urdu was a pejorative in the eyes and minds of the comparatively ‘fair-skinned’ Northeners. It was, therefore, a bit of a shocker to discover that someone from the deep South had not only excelled in math but had gone on to being accepted as a fellow of the prestigious Royal Society in London.

How could that be? My class friends used to discuss this quite seriously among ourselves despite our young age, and it made us more aware of the isolation of some of the few classmates who were ‘not like us’. Consider that the entire caste system in India is based originally on the color of ones skin. I for one decided to mix with the few dark-skinned students and, indeed, found comfort in the fact that I was able to communicate comfortably with one or more of them whenever the opportunity arose during lunchtime in the cafeteria or on the school’s sports field playing soccer, cricket or hockey.

CVRamanThe other Southie who became a household name in India was Sir Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman, who in 1930 won the Nobel Prize for Physics. He was born in Tirichiappalli (Anglicized to Trichinopoly during the Raj) in Southern India on November 7, 1888. His father was a lecturer in mathematics and physics so that right from the beginning he was immersed in an academic environment.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society early in his career (1924) and was knighted in 1929. He died on November 21, 1970.

Among eponymous math terms is the famous Ramanujan “taxicab numbers”. A common anecdote relates to the time when Hardy arrived at Ramanujan’s house in a cab numbered 1729, a number he claimed to be totally uninteresting. Ramanujan retorted immediately that, on the contrary, it was actually a very interesting class of numbers mathematically speaking as it was the smallest number representable in two different ways as a sum of two cubes. Such numbers are ever after referred to as taxicab numbers.

Mathematics for the Millions by Lancelot Hogben; Men of Mathematics by E. T. Bell; Wikipedia

Copyright © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas

BMW’S – the Ultimate Distinguished Musicians!


Outstanding Landmarks of Leipzig:
Statues honoring Famous Resident Composers

May I pose, you my dear readers, a puzzle?

Why do the initials B, M, W, and S mean something quite unimaginable when I say that they represent the names of the ‘ultimate distinguished musicians’ born in or intimately connected with a single city in the entire world, namely, Leipzig in Germany?

Any takers? No? They are Bach, Mendelssohn, Wagner and Schumann!

Let me explain: I had occasion in the fall of 1971 to visit East Berlin – which was then the capital of the German Democratic Republic – as India’s sole music representative for participating in the Fifteenth Berlin Festival of Theater and Music.

At the end of the strict formal week-long presentation of performances, on and off the concert and opera stages plus guided visits to educational  entities, the festival organizers arranged as a light relief for some of us to go on a two-day visit (October 15 & 16) to Leipzig at the GDR’s expense.

There we basked in Musikstadt Leipzig, the City of Music Leipzig, savoring a more open and less rigid series of special weekend events: paramount was a performance on the Saturday of a Bach Cantata at the iconic St. Thomas Church, where Johann Sebastian Bach had been the Cantor.

Leipzig_ThomaskircheWe heard a soul-inspiring rendition of his work sung by the Church’s famed Boys’ Choir (seen below in Leipzig’s 1969 publicity calendar.)


Thereafter, I was accompanied by Herr Zumpe, Executive Director of the Gewandhaus Orchester when Kurt Masur was its Music Director. He took a snapshot of me outside the Church for posterity’s sake, and a kind passerby agreed to take a photograph of us together before we sauntered off downtown.

OutsideChurchB  selfandzumpe

There we relaxed over a hot cup of coffee and delicious
calorie-laden cake at Robert Schumann’s favorite haunt,
Coffe Baum. robert_schumannThe well-known café  was filled to the brim with weekend tourists, drawn equally by the enticing coffee aroma permeating the immediate vicinity as well as by  its fascinating history.
Old Photo of 1971: The Coffe Baum
The “famous and beautiful old city” became the crucible for Schumann’s personal self-discovery.  Indeed, he went on to marry Clara Wieck, whom he had first met when she was a nine-year old piano-playing wunderkind.  After his marriage, the young couple moved into a late classical style residence: there was no other building than the Schumann House in Leipzig from which so much great music emanated – including his Spring Symphony plus very many lieder – and to which so many notable artists were drawn.

Next on our itinerary was a visit to the “Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy” College of Music, where piano and the art of singing are the main subjects taught by a galaxy of well-known musicians and music teachers.

RichardWagnerFinally, I must on no account forget another luminary of Leipzig – Richard Wagner! He was born there on May 22, 1813 and was a composer, theatre director, polemicist, and conductor who is primarily known for his world-renowned operas.

Later this month, I’ll most likely be remembering him in more ways than one and linking him to an earlier blog of 2015 that covered the Liszt-Wagner connection in classical Western music. I’ll end with a picture below of his Leipzig home on the Brühl, : he was born at No. 3 there – the ‘House of the Red and White Lions’.


My personal diary (1970-1975); Wikipedia

Copyright © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas

May Day Birthday Boomers

Who would have thought that the month of May would usher in a baby boom of nascent – and soon to become – famous people!

Arthur_Wellesley,_1st_Duke_of_Wellington_by_Robert_Home_croppedPride of place here seems to go to the Duke of Wellington, who was born on May 1, 1769. He defeated Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. His name lives on musically in one of Beethoven’s less distinguished works (the first movement is heard here on YouTube): Battle Symphony or Wellingtons Sieg, Op. 91 first performed in Vienna on December 8, 1813. This “symphony” is a programmatic composition in which are imitated the sounds of thundering cannon and firing muskets.

I acknowledge the Iron Duke’s greatness on the field of battle, but shall devote myself now to the main thrust of this blog –  the honoree Alessandro Scarlatti, who was born on May 2, 1660. 

AlessandroScarlattiBetter known as the father and tutor of his gifted son, Domenico, Alessandro was born in Palermo, Sicily and died in Naples, Italy, in October 24, 1725. His greatest contributions were to the stage, where he helped develop the traditions and techniques of Italian opera. Also, he was one of the first composers to write string quartets, a form in which he produced four works. In addition, he wrote 12 concerti grossi, some sonatas and suites for solo instruments and accompaniments, and some pieces for the piano.

For those not into numerology, Number 1 people are ambitious – they always rise in whatever their profession or occupation may be. Indeed, they desire to become the heads of whatever their line of business happens to be.
Number 2 persons are gentle by nature, imaginative, artistic and romantic. They are also inventive, but not particularly forceful in carrying out their ideas.

Not to exclude many others known internationally who saw the light of day in the month of May, here’s a short list of worthies, including some outstanding Americans composers:

Johannes Brahms – May 7, 1833
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky – May 7, 1849
Louis Moreau Gottschalk – May 8, 1829
Milton Babbitt – May 10, 1916
Anatol Liadov – May 11, 1855
Irving Berlin – May 11, 1888
Jules Massenet – May 12, 1842
Gabriel Faure – May 12, 1845
Arthur Sullivan – May 13, 1842
Claudio Monteverdi – May 15, 1567
Friedrich Gulda – May 16, 1930
Eric Satie – May 17, 1866
Richard Wagner – May 22, 1813
William Bolcom – May 26, 1938
Gyorgy Ligeti – May 28, 1923
Erich Wolfgang Korngold – May 29, 1897

Encyclopedia of Concert Music by David Ewen; Wikipedia; Cheiro’s Book of Numbers


Copyright © 2016 Azim Lewis Mayadas