Recent News Items

"900 MILLION STORIES: THIS IS THE BEST ONE"

NAGANO, Japan -- His work here is done, his competition long since over, but he stays in the Olympic Village, day after day, sliding his breakfast tray through the cafeteria line. He cannot go home yet. If he did, there'd be no one to carry his flag in the closing ceremonies.

Never mind that his country is the second- largest in the world. Never mind that it has three times the population of the United
States.  He is the only one here. You've heard of one in a million? Try one in 900 million. "Did they at least give you a uniform?" I ask 16-year-old Shiva Keshavan, who represents the entire Olympic team of India.  "We had something for the opening ceremonies," he says, "but I wouldn't call it a uniform. It was a jacket and pants." "India's colors?" "No, it was blue and red. I don't know why they picked these colors. In India's flag there is no blue or red. I think it was a rush job." A rush job? "Also, they sent these black plastic shoes, but they didn't ask what size.  They were very tight. My competition was the next day, and the whole night, my feet were hurting."

To hear Shiva talk, you'd think he was competing for the tiniest of island nations, not a country of more than a million square miles and 1,600 different languages. But despite India's enormity, it treats the Winter Olympics like a village spelling bee.

Shiva, who competes in luge, receives no funds from his government. No national training. No equipment. He has to borrow a sled.  They didn't even show his event on Indian TV.  "I keep calling home, telling my friends to please tape the Olympics, but they say they are not showing the Olympics anywhere." Nine hundred million potential viewers.  No airtime.  Higher you climb, farther you go.

I first became aware of India's curious attitude toward the Winter Games when I interviewed two of its skiers in 1992. That year, they were India's only representatives. I remember them saying their favorite part of the Olympics was the ski lift, since, in their country, there was no such thing.  They had to walk up the mountain in order to ski down.  "I know those guys!" Shiva says, when I mention this to him.  "Where I live is near where they live. They told you the truth.  When we ski, we have to walk up.  Sometimes you only get one run a day." "How long a run?" I ask.  "It depends on how high you climb," he says.

Shiva lives in a small village in the Himalayan mountains, a resort-like place known for its hot springs and snow-capped peaks.
His mother and father run an Italian restaurant.  No, that is not a typo.  An Italian restaurant in India.  "My mother is Italian,"
Shiva explains. "She's the cook." Shiva and his younger brother share a room above the restaurant, as do his parents.  They all share one bathroom.

In other words, we are not talking Aspen here.  But we are talking Olympic spirit. Shiva left his home to try luge after
an international recruitment came to his region and put him on a wheeled sled that rolled down the streets.  Shiva showed potential. He was invited to Europe for a two-week training course. Of course, to get to Europe, all he had to do was raise the money for a ticket from New Delhi -- and then drive to the airport. From  where he lives, that takes two days. Two days to the airport? "You could take a train," he says. "There is one that begins at the bottom of the mountains. That's only a 10-hour drive from my home."

So much for changing your flight at the last minute.  He proved something to all of us Isn't it funny?

In America, we are bombarded with Olympic stories.  We get "Up Close and Personal" with every medal contender. We'll see the winners in commercials and ice shows. And we take this as normal. We figure everyone with an Olympic dream is worth hearing and profiling.  Imagine, then, how Shiva Keshavan feels. He is the only one of his nation's 900 million people to experience these Games, and there is no one here from India to even record his presence.  When he returns home next week, he will have seen something that no one for thousands and thousands of miles will have seen.  "Don't you want to run and tell everyone?" I ask him.  "No," he says, "I don't want them to think I'm acting better than them."

For the record -- and maybe someone in New Delhi will pick this up -- Shiva,  with less than four months of actual luge training under his belt, finished the singles competition a respectable 28th, ahead of every Asian competitor except one Japanese slider. His father, who could afford to come here only by staying in the Olympic Village as a coach, was with Shiva in the start hut.  "He said to me, 'Don't feel like you have to prove anything,' " Shiva recalls.  "But I felt like I did. I felt like I was representing my whole country, and it would not be nice to crash." He did not crash. He finished all four runs.  And when he was done, he says a flushed feeling came over him, "as if all the work had come to fruit."

Of course, your fruit depends on your tree. Sometimes you get rich.  Sometimes you get TV cameras.  And sometimes, all you get is a jacket with the wrong colors and a pair of shoes that don't fit. But the Olympics are still the Olympics.  So this weekend, one more time, Shiva will wear those bad clothes for a good reason. "No one will carry the flag if not me. When I did it in the opening ceremonies, I felt so proud I felt like crying. I said to myself, 'This, I will remember all my life.' " Now all they have to do back home is ask him about it.

- MITCH ALBOM
 


BOSE CREDITED WITH KEY ROLE IN MARCONI'S RADIO BREAKTHROUGH

DELHI, INDIA-The Italian physicist Guglielmo Marconi holds a secure place in the history books for decoding the first ireless message sent across the Atlantic Ocean. That achievement, on 12 December 1901, ushered in the modern era of electronic communications. But it also triggered a century-long debate over who should get the credit for developing the receiving device that captured the famous message, sent from England to Newfoundland via Morse code.

This month an article in a special issue of The Proceedings of the IEEE,  marking the 100th anniversary of the diode and the 50th anniversary of the transistor, makes a definitive case for Jagadis Chandra Bose, an Indian biologist and physicist. Bose announced the invention in an 1899 paper presented at the Royal Society in London, writes Probir Bondyopadhyay, a satellite and commications engineer at Johnson Space Center in Houston and also an amatertistorian. In contrast, says Bondyopadhay, Marconi "was like a honeybee collecting honey from different flowers" to improve his wireless transmitter. "And he never
gave credit to those who deserved it."

The device, called a self-recovering coherer, contained a sequence of iron-mercury iron in a vacuum tube that was able to receive a long-distance message by continually resetting itself before each pulse. Bondyopadhayay says Marconi may have deliberately tried to divert attention from Bose's contribution by leaving the impression that it came from others, including an Italian naval officer.

Ironically, Bondyopadhyay was drawn into the dispute more than a decade ago at the request of Marconi's daughter, G. Marconi Braga, who was upset about media reports (including a 1984 article in The New York Tbnes) stating that Marconi should share credit with Nikola Tesla and others for inventing wireless radio. Braga, who died last year, "asked me to look
into the matter," says Bondyopadhyay. But instead of buttressing Marconi's claims, his investigations led him to Bose's role in
advancing the technology. "I'm a historian. I find the facts and publish the facts.... By clarifying this thing, all I am trying to do is to set the record straight." Amplifiers were not available in the early days of radio telegraphy, so the reception of messages depended on receiver sensitivity. Although Marconi and Bose succeeded in communicating across a few kilometers in separate experiments during 1895, a better version was needed for long-distance signals.

Questions about the coherer's true origin arose shortly after Marconi announced his results. The editor of a prominent Italian technical magazine, L'Eidu, made the case for an Italian navy signalman, P. Castelli. In response, Marconi said the receiving device he used was a gift from the Royal Italian Navy through his childhood friend, Luigi Solari, a Navy lieutenant. But in a July 1902 letter to the editor of The Times of London, Solari wrote that the idea came to him "in some English publication which I found myself unable to trace." One year later, in the same newspaper, he declared that he "did not invent the coherer." This sequence of events was first pointed out by a British historian, Vivian Phillips, in a 1993 paper in IEEE Transactions. But Phillips didn't mention Bose or speculate about the identity of the real inventor, the author of the mysterious publication
to which Solari referred.

The solution, however, was readily available in the literature. Bose, a maverick scientist working out of a one-room laboratory in Calcutta offered it in a paper that appeared in the April 1899 issue of the Proceedings of the Royal Society. Titled "On a Self-Recovering Coherer and the Study of the Cohering Action of Different Metals," the paper described the use of an iron-mercury coherer for detecting radio waves, then called electric radiation.

"For very delicate adjustments of pressure," Bose wrote, "I used in some of the following experiments an U-tube filled with mercury, with a plunger in one of the limbs; various substances were adjusted to touch barely the mercury in the other limb.... I then interposed a telephone in the circuit; each time a flash of radiation fell on the receiver the telephone sounded." After a series of experiments, Bose concluded that "there can be no doubt that the action was entirely due to electric radiation."

In his IEEE Proceedings paper, Bondyopadhyay describes how Marconi, in the years after the experiment, "shifted attention" away from Bose's contribution through a "careful choice of words ... and clear diversionary tactics." And he suggests that the obfuscation was deliberate. "Marconi didn't disclose immediately what he used in receiving his message," says Bondyopadhyay, noting the inventor's vagueness about the device in a New York speech 1 month after his landmark experiment and later that spring in London. "There was a bad motive involved, I suspect, but I don't come down too hard on him for that," the engineer adds.

Bondyopadhyay also explains why the controversy wasn't nipped in the bud, pinning some of the blame on Bose's scientific colleagues. "It is embarrassingly obvious that the British learned men of the day ...never discovered Bose's work, Despite its being so prominently displayed in the most prestigious publication of the British empire. It is clear that they never read this esteemed publication [or] did not connect Bose's work with Marconi's use of the device."

Prasanta Kumar Ray, a biochemist and current director of the Bose Institute in Calcutta, applauds Bondyopadhyay for correcting "a grave historical injustice" that robbed Bose of a share of Marconi's 1909 Nobel Prize. "No one can deny that it was Marconi who used and utilized this discovery for the larger benefit to mankind, but Bose made the actual scientific discovery," says Ray. As to why Bose himself didn't clear up the mystery, Ray notes that "Bose was in a search for true knowledge, and he shunned crass commercialization of inventions."

Even Italy's former science minister, Umberto Colombo, says he's glad for the new information. "I am not surprised about this revelation against Marconi" he told ScierKe. "But it will not undermine Marconi's sole position in the history of science and in commercializing wireless telegraphy."

- Jeffrey Mervis and Pallava Bagla
SCIENCE , VOL. 279,  23 JANUARY 1998.


[ Back to Prabasi Links Page] [Back to Prabasi Home Page]