This Day in History (11-Feb-1990) – Nelson Mandela is released from Victor Verster Prison near Cape Town, South Africa after 27 years behind bars

In 1944, Nelson Mandela joined African National Congress and led civil disobedience movement of 1952. In 1961 he led the armed struggle with series of explosions in December. In January 1962, he secretly left South Africa and travelled around Africa and visited England to gain support for the armed struggle. He received military training in Morocco and Ethiopia and returned to South Africa in July 1962. He was arrested in a police roadblock and was charged with leaving the country without a permit and inciting workers to strike. He was convicted and sentenced to five years’ imprisonment. In October 1963 Nelson Mandela was brought to trial again for sabotage in what became known as the Rivonia Trial. Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison over his calls for a colorblind South Africa. He ended up serving 27 years behind bars.

During this time, he contracted tuberculosis and, as a black political prisoner, received the lowest level of treatment from prison workers. However, he  was able to earn a Bachelor of Law degree through a University of London correspondence program. In 1985, President P.W. Botha offered Mandela’s release in exchange for renouncing armed struggle; the prisoner flatly rejected the offer. With increasing local and international pressure for his release, the government participated in several talks with Mandela over the ensuing years, but no deal was made. When Botha was replaced by Frederik Willem de Klerk, Mandela’s release was finally announced. De Klerk also unbanned the ANC, removed restrictions on political groups and suspended executions.

Hours after his release on Feb. 11, 1990, Mandela vowed to end apartheid (South Africa’s racial policy) once and for all, telling a roaring crowd: “Today, the majority of South Africans, black and white, recognize that apartheid has no future. It has to be ended by our decisive mass action. We have waited too long for our freedom.” Under Mandela’s leadership, apartheid was gradually dismantled over the next several years. A symbol of global peacemaking, Nelson Mandela won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993. He became the first black president of South Africa in 1994, serving until 1999.



This Day in History (6-Jan-1929) – Mother Teresa Arrives in India

Mother Teresa, Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu, was resident of Macedonia. At the age of 18 she joined a group of nuns in Ireland. After a few months of training, she was given permission to travel to India. On her arrival in India, she began by working as a teacher. She took her formal religious vows in 1931 at Darjeeling, and chose to be named after St Therese of Lisieux – the patron saint of missionaries. The widespread poverty of Calcutta made a deep impression on her; and this led to her starting a new order called “The Missionaries of Charity”. The primary objective of this mission was to look after people, who nobody else was prepared to look after.

She experienced two particularly traumatic periods in Calcutta. The first was the Bengal famine of 1943 and the second was the Hindu/Muslim violence in 1946 – before the partition of India. In 1948, she left the convent to live full time amongst the poorest of Calcutta. She chose to wear a white Indian Sari, with blue trimmings – out of respect for the traditional Indian dress. For many years, Mother Teresa and a small band of fellow nuns survived on minimal income and food, often having to beg for funds. Slowly her efforts with the poorest were noted and appreciated by the local community and Indian politicians.

In 1952, she opened her first home for the dying, which allowed people to die with dignity. Mother Teresa often spent time with those who were dying. It afforded many neglected people the opportunity to die knowing someone cared. Those in her dying homes were given the religious rites appropriate to their faith. Over the course of the 1950s and 1960s, she established a leper colony, an orphanage, a nursing home, a family clinic and a string of mobile health clinics. The Missionaries of Charity now has branches throughout the world including branches in the developed world where they work with the homeless and people affected with AIDS.

In 1979, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitutes a threat to peace”. Following her death, Mother Teresa was formally beatified in October 2003 by Pope John Paul II and is now known as Blessed Teresa of Calcutta.


This Day in History (10-Dec-1907) – Rudyard Kipling, author of `The Jungle Book’ and `Kim’, received the Nobel prize for literature

Considered one of the great English writers, Joseph Rudyard Kipling was born 1865, in Bombay (Mumbai). For Kipling, India was a wondrous place. Along with his younger sister, Alice, he reveled in exploring the local markets with his nanny. He learned the language, and in this bustling city of multiple religions, Kipling fell in love with the country and its culture. However, at the age of six, he was sent to Southsea, England, to receive formal British education. He was severly illtreated by the foster family. He found solace in books to overcome grief.

In 1882, Kipling’s parents had him return to India, as they could not afford his college education. The sights and sounds, even the language, which he’d believed he’d forgotten, rushed back to him upon his arrival. Kipling made his home with his parents in Lahore and, with his father’s help, found a job with a local newspaper. The job offered Kipling a good excuse to discover his surroundings. Kipling’s experiences during this time formed the backbone for a series of stories he began to write and publish. They were eventually assembled into a collection of 40 short stories called Plain Tales from the Hills, which gained wide popularity in England.

In 1889 he returned to England and visited America. He published a second collection of short stories, Wee Willie Winkie and American Notes, which chronicled his early impressions of America. His poems include Mandalay & Gaunga Din. He also published his first major poetry success, Barrack-Room Ballads. He subsequently settled in Brattleboro, Vermont, USA where he built a house and named it as “The Naulahka”. His work during this time included The Jungle BookThe Naulahka: A Story of the West and East andThe Second Jungle Book, among others. His tales enchanted boys and girls all over the English-speaking world. By the age of 32, Kipling was the highest-paid writer in the world.

End of 19th century, Kipling settled in UK due to family dispute. Kipling’s books during these years included Kim, Just So, Puck of Pook’s HillActions and ReactionsDebts and CreditsThy Servant a Dog and Limits and Renewals. He is the youngest writer to win Nobel prize for literature at the age of 42.


This Day in History (27-Nov-1895) – Inventor Alfred Nobel signs his last will and testament, establishing a Nobel Prize after he dies

Alfred Nobel, who was interested in explosives since childhood, built a factory to manufacture nitroglycerin, a very unsafe explosive, and continued the research on safe detonation. In 1863, he invented a practical detonator. In 1865, Nobel invented an improved detonator called a blasting cap, triggering the modern use of high explosives. Nobel’s nitroglycerin factory blew up in 1864, killing his younger brother Emil. Undaunted by this tragic accident, Nobel built several factories to manufacture nitroglycerin for use in concert with his blasting caps. Nobel’s second important invention was that of dynamite (from Greek dynamis, “power”) in 1867 and was granted patents for it. Dynamite established Nobel’s fame worldwide and was soon put to use in blasting tunnels, cutting canals, and building railways and roads.

In 1875 he invented a more powerful form of dynamite, blasting gelatin, which he patented the following year. In 1887 Nobel introduced ballistite, one of the first nitroglycerin smokeless powders and a precursor of cordite. In 1893 he became interested in Sweden’s arms industry, and the following year he bought an ironworks at Bofors, near Varmland, that became the nucleus of the well-known Bofors arms factory. He registered more than 350 patents in various countries.

Nobel died of a cerebral hemorrhage at his villa in San Remo, Italy, in 1896. The opening of his will, which he had drawn up in Paris on November 27, 1895, and had deposited in a bank in Stockholm, contained a great surprise for his family, friends, and the general public. He left the bulk of his fortune in trust to establish what came to be the most highly regarded of international awards, the Nobel Prizes. Incidence in 1888 may have triggered the train of reflection that culminated in his bequest for the Nobel Prizes. That year Alfred’s brother Ludvig had died in France. The French newspapers reported Ludvig’s death but confused him with Alfred, and one paper sported the headline “Le marchand de la mort est mort” (“The merchant of death is dead.”) Perhaps Alfred Nobel established the prizes to avoid precisely the sort of posthumous reputation suggested by this premature obituary. It is certain that the actual awards he instituted reflect his lifelong interest in the fields of physics, chemistry, physiology, and literature.


This Day in History (15-Nov-1913) – Ravindranath Tagore received the message that he was awarded with Noble Prize in literature for his collection of poems “Gitanjali”

Rabindranath Tagore is the most eminent Bengali renaissance poet, philosopher, essayist, critic, composer and educator who dreamt of a harmony of universal humanity among the people of different origin through freedom of mind and spiritual sovereignty.  Gitanjali is a collection of poems by Rabindranath. The original Bengali collection of 157 poems was published on August 14, 1910.

On the way over to England in 1912, Rabindranath began translating, for the first time, his latest selections of poems, Gitanjali, into English. Almost all of his work prior to that time had been written in his native tongue of Bengali.He decided to do this just to have something to do, with no expectation at all that his first time translation efforts would be any good. He made the handwritten translations in a little notebook he carried around with him and worked on during the long sea voyage from India. Upon arrival, his son left his father’s brief case with this notebook in the London subway. Fortunately, an honest person named Rothenstein took help of his friend W. B. Yeats, the famous Irish poet and finally published the book through India Society of London. The English Gitanjali or Song Offerings is a collection of 103 English poems . It contained translations of 53 poems from the original Bengali Gitanjali, as well as 50 other poems which were from his drama Achalayatan and eight other books of poetry — mainly Gitimalya (17 poems), Naivedya (15 poems) and Kheya (11 poems).

The translated poems were extremely well received. In 1913, Tagore became the first non-European to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, largely for the English Gitanjali. The English Gitanjali became very famous in the West, and was widely translated. The word gitanjali is composed from “gita”, song, and “anjali”, offering, and thus means – “An offering of songs”; but the word for offering, anjali, has a strong devotional connotation, so the title may also be interpreted as “prayer offering of song”.

“… Where the mind is led forward by thee into ever-widening thought and action,
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake.”



This Day in History (8-Nov-1895) – Wilhelm Rontgen Accidentally Discovers the X-ray

Wilhelm Roentgen was working on the effects of cathode rays during 1895, when he actually discovered X-rays. His experiments involved the passing of electric current through gases at extremely low pressure. On November 8, 1895 while he was experimenting, he observed that certain rays were emitted during the passing of the current through discharge tube. His experiment that involved working in a totally dark room with a well covered discharge tube resulted in the emission of rays which illuminated a barium platinocyanide covered screen. The screen became fluorescent even though it was placed in the path of the rays, two meters away from discharge tube.

He continued his experiments using photographic plate to capture the image of various objects of random thickness placed in the path of the rays. He generated the very first “roentgenogram” by developing the image of his wife Anna’s hand and analyzed the variable transparency as showed by her bones, flesh and her wedding ring. Terrified, Anna famously cried out, “I have seen my death!”

Based on his subsequent research and experiments, he declared that X-ray beams are produced by the impact of cathode rays on material objects. He named the new ray X-ray, because in mathematics “X” is used to indicated the unknown quantity. His discovery revolutionized the entire medical profession and set foundation for diagnostic radiology. In 1901, Roentgen received the first ever Nobel Prize in Physics.

It would be nearly a decade before scientists discovered X-rays had harmful effects. Clarence Dally, one of Thomas Edison’s assistants, died of skin cancer in 1904 after working with the radiation. Without a full grip on the consequences, standards for protection did not come into force until the 1950s — by that time some stores in America had been helping people to see how well shoes fit by looking through an X-ray machine for decades!