The Storm that Vanished | A scientific mystery
(Translated from original Bengali by Anjan Kumar Sen Sarma)
A few years back a very strange, ghostly thing happened. It caused a considerable agitation among the entire scientific world. A lot of correspondence has ensued in this matter in ‘Nature’ of England, ‘La Nature’ of France and ‘Scientific American’ of USA. But no conclusion has been arrived at yet.
On 28th Sept. the Calcutta English newspaper Englishman, published a wired news from Simla Weather Office : “Weather Office Simla, 27th Sept. : A storm is likely soon in Bay of Bengal.”
On 29th the paper published the following report: “Weather Office, Alipur A severe storm will occur within two days. Danger Signal has been hoisted in Diamond Harbour accordingly.”
The information published on 30th was alarming “Barometer has dropped by two inches within half an hour. By 10 am tomorrow a very severe storm will strike Calcutta. Such a Cyclone has not occurred in many years.” A wire went out from the Bengal Govt. to the S.D.O. Diamond Harbour. “Stop all outgoing vessels.” This news got spread in Calcutta within moments. No Calcuttan could sleep that night. Everybody waited with fearful heart worrying about what is going to happen tomorrow.
The representative of Reuter sent a Telegram to the Times – “The Capital of our Indian Empire is in danger.”
On 1st Oct. the sky became thickly overcast. A few drops of rain started falling. The day was covered with cloud, but suddenly at 4 pm the sky cleared. No trace of the storm remained.
Next day Meteorological Office sent the following written note to the newspaper: “Calcutta was to have the storm; perhaps the storm has gone in another direction having been obstructed by the bay coast.”
Persons were sent to all points of the compass to find out which way the storm went, but no trace of it was found.
The Englishman then wrote – “At last we know that Science is totally false.”
Daily News wrote: “If it is indeed so, then what is the use of burdening the Tax Payers to retain such a worthless office like Meteorologist Office?”
Then ‘Pioneer’, ‘Civil and Military Gazette’, ‘Statesman’ all proclaimed loudly “Abolish it”.
The government was in a quandary. Only a few days back barometers and thermometers worth lakhs were brought for the Meteorological Office. Now they won’t sell even at the price of broken glass bottles. And for what other job can the head of Weather Office be employed?
The government. in desperation wrote to the Calcutta Medical College -“We wish that a new chair be instituted at the Medical College. Lecture will be given on the Effect of Variation of Barometric Pressure on the Human System.”
The Principal of Medical College wrote back:
“Very good idea, when air pressure drops the veins gets dilated. It increases blood circulation and there is no doubt that this can affect our health. However Calcuttans presently are under various types of pressure:
Air 15 lbs/ Sq. inch
Malaria 20 ” ”
Patented Medicine 30 ” ”
University 50 ” ”
Income Tax 80 ” ”
Municipality Tax 1 ton
One or two inches of variation up or down will be like a drop in the ocean. Therefore it does not seem that starting this new course at Calcutta will be of significant benefit.
However, at Simla hills air pressure and other pressures are relatively less. Engaging the aforesaid Professor there may show substantial benefit.”
The govt. kept quiet thereafter. Meteorological office got a reprieve this time.
But the problem which caused such a turmoil was not solved. Indeed once a scientist had written in Nature of U.K. that his theory is that the whirling air has gone up by the attraction of an invisible comet. Those are mere conjectures. A lot of agitations are still going on among the scientific community on this subject. In the session of British Association that was held at Oxford, Herr Sturm, a very famous German scientist surprised the assembled scientists by reading an extremely learned essay on the ‘The Cyclone that Vanished’. At the beginning the Professor said:
“Cyclone is nothing but a whirl in the atmosphere. Let us first consider, how the atmosphere came into being. Air was yet to be formed when the earth came rushing out of the Sun as a chunk of boiling metal. How Oxygen, Hydrogen and was formed is a deep mystery of creation. More surprising is the formation of other complex gases. Let us assume that somehow the mass of air has been formed. More difficult problem is how air does not vanish in space. The main reason is Earth’s gravitational force. Earth’s attraction towards matter is more or lesser depending on latter’s Specific Gravity. Attraction is more on heavy things and these are that much bound.
“Attraction is less on light things, and these are relatively free. This is the reason why when oil and water is mixed, oil floats up. Hydrogen, being a light gas is free to a large extent, tries to rise up and escape, but cannot ignore gravity altogether. It is doubtful that the described scientific fact is applicable everywhere on the earth. Because in the country named India, inspite of males being heavier are free and lighter womenfolk of that land are bound.
Whatever that may be, gravity binds all objects to the earth’s surface. It is different after the object dies. When a man turns into ghost after death, earth does not have any control on it.
Some people say that there is no respite even after death, because even ghosts have to move about according to the orders of the Theosophical Society. Substances also expire, however it is wrong to say that they get broken down into five elements as in the case of humans.
Because when hit by Radium, substances get broken down into three – alfa, beta and gamma, these three ghosts. This way when an object ceases to exist, it merges into space as a non- object. But as long as an earthly object is alive, it cannot escape from the earth.”
Though the Professor advanced unassailable scientific arguments as to why objects cannot escape, but he still did not say anything about why the cyclone vanished.
Only one person in the world knows the real reason for this incident – that is me.
That will be described in the next chapter.
Last year I had a bout of high fever, was bedridden for almost a month. The doctor prescribed sea voyage and said there is no chance of survival if the fever recurs. I started preparing for a trip to Sri Lanka by boat.
After a prolonged fever the thick mane on my head became absolutely thin. One day my eight year old daughter came and asked me, ‘Papa, what is an Island?’ My daughter had started reading geography. Before getting my answer she blurted out ‘This is an Island’ – saying this she pointed out one or two tufts of hair on the Pacific Ocean of my smooth hair-less pate.
Then she said, ‘I have kept a bottle of ‘Leo Maner’ hair oil. Use it every day on the boat or else there will be no trace of even these one or two Islands.’
The discovery of ‘Leo Maner’ is an awe inspiring incident.
One Englishman had come to this country intending to exhibit Circus shows. In that Circus a lion with thick black mane was the strangest exhibit. Unfortunately during the passage by ship it lost its entire mane due to infestation by some microscopic insects and by the time the lion reached this country there was no difference between the lion and a mangy dog without hair. The owner of the circus, in utter despair, sought benevolence of a hermit and after touching his feet asked for a boon with folded hands. A heretic and a White man on top of it! The humble demeanor of the supplicant thoroughly charmed the hermit and he gifted him a magic oil. By and by that oil has become world famous by the name ‘Leo Maner’. On applying that oil the lost mane of the lion reemerged within a week. The power of the oil has been found infallible for hairless men and their wives too. This good news was published in all the newspapers of the land for the benefit of the people. This unique discovery was announced even on the front page of the most famous monthly.
I set on my sea voyage by the ship ‘Chusam’ on 28th. First two days went well. Early 1st morning the sea had an unnatural appearance, the wind became totally still. Even the sea water took the colour of lead. The Captain’s pale face scared us. He said, “From the indications I sense a severe storm is imminent. We are far from the shore – now it is God’s will.”
It is impossible to describe the cacophony of fear that rose on hearing this information.
In no time the sky became overcast. It became dark all around in an instant and gusts from afar one after another started swaying the ship.
I have only a vague idea of what happened next moment. As if some caged giants from somewhere has broken completely free and were about to demolish the earth.
The sea, merging its tremendous roar with the roar of the wind acquired a murderous appearance.
Thereafter countless waves attacked the ship riding one above the other.
A huge wave fell on the ship, broke the mast and swept it away along with the life boat.
Our end was near. Just as life’s memories wake up at the time of death, similarly my dear ones came to my mind. It is strange, that I also recalled the taunts of my daughter about my hair – “Papa, I have kept a bottle of ‘Leo Maner’ in your bag.”
Suddenly one topic made me recollect another. I had recently read about effect of oil on waves in a science journal. I recollected many incidents, when oil calmed the agitated water.
Immediately I took out the bottle of oil from the bag and climbed up to the deck with much struggling. The ship was tossing and tumbling.
Reaching the deck I saw a foaming mountainous wave was coming to devour the ship as death incarnate.
Hoping against hope, I fired the ‘Leo Maner’ arrow at the sea. I had uncorked the bottle before throwing it; oil spread over the sea in a moment.
As if in a magic spell the sea acquired a peaceful demeanour in a moment. The sun emerged a little later.
This is how we were saved from sure death and this is the reason why that super storm did not touch Calcutta. Who can assess how many thousands over thousands of lives were saved from untimely death with the help of this mere bottle of oil?
Thumbing through the short literary pieces in his mother tongue by Jagadish Chandra Bose, I, a past weather forecaster, was struck by this amusing piece woven around a fictional meteorological forecasting event. It was published before he became famous for his path breaking scientific papers.
Though branded as a science fiction (among the first or second in Bengali language) I think it is a tongue-in-check take on so many of the realities of his contemporary world of late 1890, when the piece was penned. The faux-pas of cyclone warnings in its early years, the attitude of media towards ‘Weather Office’, foreigners coming to India with their various merchandises, the belief in occult power even in Europeans, the nature of ‘scientific’ discourses et. al.
I deem it a privilege to translate with my limited command of English, this literary gem from the under acknowledged genius, the indomitable spirit of a chained nation. The quaint English is due to the attempt to be true to the style of the original.
It appears in a collection named ‘Abyakta’ (Unuttered) of his short, popular, Bengali pieces on various topics including his research interests.
Author and Translator
Author: Acharya Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose (1858-1937). ESI, CIE, FRS does not need any introduction in Scientific circles. He was a Bengali polymath, physicist, biologist, botanist, archeologist, as well as an early writer of science fiction.
Translator: Anjan Kumar Sen Sarma (1931-) is a retired weather forecaster of India Meteorological Department and a freelance contributor to various periodicals and dailies on assorted topics but mostly on Meteorology.