DB Cooper: A criminal fairytale

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“Thank you for choosing Northwest Oriont Airlines,sir. Enjoy your flight”. The man snatched back his boarding pass and slipped it into his suit with élan. He sat down at 18C and lit a cigarette. His hairline suggested mid-forties and the black attaché gave him an air of business. As the plane took off, he ordered a bourbon and soda. The next time the air hostess passed him by, he passed her a note. He watched her crumple it and let it fall into her purse, treating him like just another lonely businessman eager for a lady to be in possession of his phone number. “Miss, you’d better look at that note, I have a bomb.”

Thus began the only unsolved crime in US Aviation history, the legend of DB Cooper. He has gone into folklore as a modern day Robin Hood, a criminal who was respected by the very people who were his victims. It was a bloodless crime, it’s only effect being a fractional impact on a big company’s deep pockets, and on the FBI’s bloated ego.

DB Cooper demanded 200,000$ in cash, four parachutes and a fuel truck waiting in Seattle to refuel the aircraft. After informing the passengers that their arrival in Seattle would be delayed, he ordered the pilot to circle around the airport till his demands were met. As the flight stopped in Seattle, Cooper offered to request meals for the flight crew, and even paid his drink tab (along with a tip). All the 36 passengers were released in Seattle, and Cooper collected his parachutes and ransom money in 20 dollar notes.

The aircraft took off again, with only Cooper and the flight crew. Cooper asked the crew to remain in the cockpit with the door closed. Soon after, a light started blinking, indicating that the aft air stair had been opened. The crew felt a drop in air pressure, and that was it. DB Cooper had disappeared, jumped off a plane with 200,000$ strapped to him.

He even got a character based on him (and named after him) in popular TV show ‘Prison Break’

The FBI launched the biggest manhunt in history to catch him, as every day he wasn’t caught was a slap in their face. They never managed to, and the fate of DB Cooper remains a mystery to this day.

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Romeo and Juliet of Sarajevo

Bosko Brkic’s father was dead and his mother and brother had fled the country before the war. He had no family here, but leaving was the last thing on his mind. After all, he had Admira and that’s all that mattered. That’s all had ever mattered. They were supposed to be on opposite sides of the war, but such trivialities could never hold a candlt to their love.   He had left his home country for her, and she was going to do the same thing for him. They would escape together, on their own terms. Without her, escape meant nothing anyway.

The sun was turning red, getting ready for its descent over the the breathtaking Miljacka river. He felt her hand tighten around his with every step they took. He latched on, tighter.
He could now see the bridge, at the very edge of the horizon. Across it, freedom. He could no longer hold it, and neither could she. They broke into a frantic sprint, still hand and hand. Thirty meters. Branches were cutting into his skin as he ran past the thick foliage. He didnt feel it. Twenty meters. The pitter-patter of their feet seemed to grow louder and louder until it was all he could hear. Ten meters. He could almost touch it.
The world around him slowly stopped spinning as they came to a halt at the foot of the bridge. They could see the gates on the other side. The gates to the rest of their lives. They had made it out.
They took the first steps onto the bridge in unison. He still hadn’t let go of her hand. Nor did he ever want to.
Two shots rang out.

The story of Brkic and Admira is a reflection on the bitterness of the war. During the seige of the Bosnian capital city Sarajevo in the 1993 Bosnia-Serbia war, the couple, Brkic, who was a Bosnian Serb, and Admira, who was Bosnian, had managed to make an agreement with authorities on both sides to cross to Serbia occupied Sarajevo. They had to cross a patch of no-man’s land called ‘Sniper Alley’, named appropriately. They were expected to make it, as they had friends on both sides.

 

Admira used the last of her strength to die in Brkic’s arms.

Just as they steeped on the foot of the Vrbanja bridge, they were shot. Brkic died instantly. Admira, who was wounded severely, summoned the last of her strength to crawl up to Brkic and die in his arms.
No one retrieved their bodies for eight days. No one dared to venture into Sniper Alley.
Neither the Bosnians nor the Serbians admitted to firing the shots. But given that an agreement was made, it doesn’t really matter. A murky act of treachery was committed against these two innocent lovers.

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Top 5 movie characters based on real people

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With ‘The wolf of Wall street’ hitting the theaters and looking like its here to stay, its time to look at beloved characters of the past that have been based on real, flesh and blood people.
#5 Viktor Navorski
The list starts with one of Spielberg’s much loved creations. Viktor Navorski’s ordeal was frightening indeed, but it does not hold a candle to that of a Mr. Karimi Nasseri who was forced to live in the departure lounge of the Charles De Gaulle airport from August 1988 to July 2006. That’s 17 years of listening to robotic announcements over and over. Spielberg immortalized him in 2004, while he was still stuck in the terminal.

#4. Indiana Jones

Indiana Jones, beloved college professor –archaeologist turned adventurer was based largely on ‘History of Latin America’ professor at Yale, Hiram Bingham III. While Bingham was a teacher par excellence, he is most fondly remembered as the man who rediscovered Machu Picchu.

#3. Severus Snape

With whom did J.K Rowling bear such a grudge to base the emotionally distant, luckless, loathsome for most part professor on? Her teacher, of course!

While Snape taught Harry potions, John Nettleship taught Rowling chemistry, a muggle version of the same. Nettleship had to idea that he was the inspiration for a pivotal character in such a big series until the films came out, and he, along with his students and wife, figured it out.

Our very own professor Snape..

#2. Sherlock Holmes

Some characters are so unique and in-depth that they could not have possibly come purely out of imagination. Sherlock Holmes is one such. Much of the amateur detective’s features are based on a medical doctor, Dr. Joseph Bell. Bell worked as a clerk with Arthur Conan Doyle and had the ability to observe a man and make seemingly impossible deductions. Bell even advised the police on several murder trials.

#1. James Bond

Even 007 had a real world counterpart. Forest Yeo-Thomas was one of UK’s top spies in World War 2 and his feats of daring would have had James Bond quaking in his heels. He parachuted into occupied territory three times, and reported directly to Winston Churchill. He was even tortured in a concentration camp, but escaped and returned to allied territory. Fleming held a fascination for agent “White Rabbit”, and it is no surprise that he decided to base Bond on him.

 

 

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From fantasy to reality

Reality inspires fiction. Very rarely, fiction inspires reality. It is indeed special when creations are lifted from the minds of gifted thinkers and placed in the plane of our existence. Great science fiction writers have predicted future inventions and events down to every little detail, decades before science caught up with them.

Jules Verne, in From the Earth to the Moon predicted the Apollo 11 mission, including details like the cost and material of the spacecraft, location of launch etc. more than 100 years before the launch. In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, he foresaw the use of submarines. Hugo Gernsback, the father of science fiction, predicted almost every facet of modern technology, from mobile phones to solar power. He outlined the operation of radar technology decades before it was first radar was invented. H.G. Wells used an atom bomb in his 1914 novel, The World Set Free, and the protagonist from Mark Twain’s science fiction series for the London Times stumbles upon a world-wide network of information sharing, very similar to the internet, complete with social networking and video communication.

Many such prophets have foretold future events with ridiculous specificity but, to predict scientific inventions of the future is one thing, to accurately describe the socio-political landscape of the world, decades ahead of time, is quite another.

While our world might not have descended into a totalitarian state, many parallels can yet Frombe drawn between our society and the one in George Orwell’s 1984.

In 1984, Big Brother keeps tabs on the population through “telescreens”. In the United States’ NSA, with it’s wiretapping and data mining program (PRISM),we have our very own Big Brother.

In the novel, The Party controls the majority of the population (the Proles) with a steady supply of food, alcohol, the lottery and pornography. All responsibilities and citizen duties are shunned for bread and circuses. This superficial means of appeasement used to control society mirrors our world where diversions, distractions and satisfaction of shallow, immediate comforts are used to create public approval.

George Orwell also explains in detail how language can be exploited to control society. This “DoubleSpeak” was a part of the central theme of the novel.

In view of the rather recent demise of Osama Bin Laden, several politicians have stressed that the location of Bin Laden’s house was obtained from the informant using “enhanced interrogation methods “. In other words, torture. Orwell’s ideas in action.

Many more similarities can be found between the world of 1984 and the one that we live in today.

It is a wonder how writers like George Orwell have managed to map the collective decision-making of millions of people over many years. Perhaps, these seers have figured out that the society as a whole is shaped by a handful of great minds that come and go over time. And perhaps, great minds do think alike.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Quintessential December Season experience: A sabha’s perspective

A sabha is an organisation that conducts carnatic concerts. They usually have a tie-up with a concert hall, and all their concerts throughout the year take place there. The trials and tribulations that sabhas go through stem from the fact that they are an organisation in a creative field- where there is none. Steady revenue is a long forgotten dream. The sabhas make more than 50% of their revenue in December. This month is a time of frantic activity, with concerts going on throughout the day. The challenge faced by the sabha is to merge the requirements and expectations of the artists and the listeners.

Apart from money, artists have other expectations which have to be met. The sound system needs to be managed professionally, by someone who is knowledgeable about music, and knows his way around a stereo. Many senior artists are only available on their own time, the sabha has to prepare schedules accordingly. Artists also demand respect, which is something that sabhas have to be very careful about. Hurt egos and sentiments can go a long way in ruining a reputation. Sabhas have to look after these needs while handling hundreds of applications from budding artists looking for a slot in their tight schedule.

setting up mikes is a perpetual headache for the sabhas…

On the other hand, there are the listeners who demand the complete experience. It’s not only about the music- It’s about the hall, the food, the atmosphere. Sabhas are forced to keep morning and afternoon concerts open to all, partly for promotion but mainly because of peer pressure. Most listeners are not ready to pay money for short concerts performed by upcoming artists. Then there are the evening concerts, where crowds in the order of thousands have to be managed efficiently without incident, day after excruciating day.

All in all, the role of a sabha is as difficult as it is important. After all, they provide the crucial interface between the artists and the listeners.

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The Quintessential December Season experience: An artist’s perspective

The whole place was a mess. The small one bedroom apartment smack dab in the middle of Mylapore was engulfed in a Pandora’s Box of instruments, tuning boxes, notebooks, speakers and cups of water. The Artist returns from yet another busy day of hopping from one concert to the other, to his makeshift home. He falls asleep as soon as his head hits the floor, still clad in a kurta and dhothi. His lips curl into a smile- it was all worth it.

The life of The Artist is typical of many professionals I the Carnatic music field. December is crunch time. Coming to Chennai from Bangalore, he has to find an affordable place to say- hotels are out of the question. Concerts are arranged beforehand-two a day is common. With so many concerts, rehearsals are not possible. The beauty of this form of music and the skill of the artists combine in such a way that a concert, performed by three people who see each other for the first time on stage, appears completely and seamlessly in sync, as if rigorously rehearsed. Everything is impromptu. Perhaps that’s the beauty of it.

Everything is impromptu, so the rapport between the performers is important.

The Artist, when he is not playing a concert, spends his time listening to one or enjoying a meal at the sabha canteen or practicing and perfecting his already well-honed skills.

Monetary benefit is not sufficient to make a living, which is why, for eleven months a year, The Artist is a software engineer in a corporate based in Bangalore. But come December, ha and his 800 square foot apartment are completely drenched in his passion and profession- music.

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The Quintessential December Season experience: A listener’s perspective

Any Chennai-ite worth his salt will know that, come December, there is a buzz in the air. And it is not the unusually cold weather. It is the constant chatter of housewives pouring out of concert halls, the whirring and whining of strained motorcycle engines, their owners frantically moving from one concert to another, instrument in hand and clad head to toe in sparkling white traditional attire, unmindful of the dusty roads that surround them, and the muffled sounds of music, emanating from ‘soundproof’ concert halls throughout the city. It is the onset of the December Season, and the excitement that surrounds it.

One can spend the whole day, immersed in Carnatic music, performed in over 100 concert halls spread throughout the city. If one is comfortable with the age old system of public transport, with it’s rickety buses and dust-laden trains, all that is required for a complete experience are a wallet (with money) and a well adjusted pair of ears.

A typical day would start with an early concert- as early as 7:30 AM- for those who can wake up as the sun rises. These are usually unconventional ones, like lecture demonstrations, where everyone from a new listener to a seasoned performer stands to learn something or the other. This is followed by breakfast at the famed ‘sabha canteen’. These canteens offer a wide variety of south Indian delicacies- each canteen different from the other. From Mountbatten Mani to Nyanambika, there is a vast array of options. This food is as important a part of the December season experience as the music- these is a class of people who go concert hopping just for the food!

Canteen food is a very important part of the experience!

A short bus ride to ponder over the events of the morning is followed by a series of mid-morning and afternoon concerts at the same hall, separated by lunch in a different canteen. These concerts are usually performed by less experienced and budding artists, and are typically pretty short. One can sit through two or three of these after lunch, and also catch up on some much needed sleep in the dark, cozy, air conditioned hall. So far, the money spent only involves travel and food, since most of the morning and afternoon concerts are not ticketed.

Reinvigorated after a nap and strong filter coffee, the next step of the journey takes us to one of many premier concert halls in the city- Music Acadamey, Narada Gana Sabha etc. – to witness the highlight concert of the day, the one with the biggest stars and popular faces in the music sphere- this is the Super Bowl of the music season.

It is here that the December season explodes into life. The huge crowds that throng venues leave you wondering whether this is a concert or a cricket match. Halls fill up beyond capacity, with people even sitting outside to watch on TV screens. It is a sea of colour, followed by the captivating tunes of seasoned experts, followed by the smell of well seasoned canteen dinner. Overall, an assault on the senses.

The last item on the agenda is a final ride on the bus, amidst the constant chatter of people discussing everything from T.M Krishna’s pallavi to Bombay Jayshree’s red saree.

After a good night’s sleep, rinse and repeat!

 

 

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The Leaning Tower

Architecture is man’s most magnanimous way of expressing himself, the world his canvas. Sometimes, he uses it to pull a fast one on science, and the results are awe inspiring. Some of the greatest architectural works are those which dare to defy the laws of science, seemingly.

While such many architectural wonders exist throughout the world, one that has never ceased to capture the imagination of onlookers, was the result of a mistake. Ever since Galileo supposedly dropped objects from it’s top to verify his theories, the Leaning Tower of Pisa has been the poster boy of unconventional architecture for it’s six degree tilt.

Completed in 1372, the tower was built as the bell tower to the cathedral in Pisa. By that time, it already had a substantial tilt. This was due to weak subsoil, an architect’s nightmare, and an unforeseeable event.In 1178, after the initial stages of construction, by which time the tower had already started to tilt, construction was halted for close to a hundred years as Pisa was continually at war with neighbouring provinces. This gave time for the soil underneath to settle. If not for this, the tower would have certainly toppled. Therefore, the Leaning Tower of Pisa is actually a testament to war.

inside the leaning tower

To compensate for the tilt, the upper floors are built with one side taller than the other, resulting in a curved tower.

Now, the biggest most important question- will it ever fall?

There is good reason to believe that it will not. The leaning tower has had close calls ever since it’s construction, and has come through. In fact, in 1911, the top of the tower was moving at 1.2 inches a year. In 1990, after decades of studies, the tower was closed to public following the collapse of the Civic Tower of Pavia. In the end, engineers took an ultimate measure of reducing it’s tilt to three degrees by removing soil from the lopsided end. After further studies, the tower was reopened to the public in 2001 and was declared stable for at least 300 years.

The leaning tower is here to stay.

 

 

 

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The master of the surprise ending

WIlliam Sidney Porter - never heard of him? He is known in literature circles as the master of the surprise ending, an English equivalent of Guy de Maupasant. His short stories have captured the imagination of many readers across America, as has his pen name- O. Henry.

Born into a period when literature was flourishing, O. Henry went on to carve out a niche for himself, in the midst of great writers. While most wrote novels and epics, O.Henry made his name with short stories. His stories have a playful edge, combined with witty, thoughtful plots. What stood him apart was his graceful use of language to weave a story around a very isolated and specific part of society. And of course, the surprise ending. A lot of his short stories had an ending that would either redefine the plot or turn it on it’s head. Some of the more popular examples of this are The Gift of the Magi and The Last Leaf.

Most of O.Henry’s stories are set in New York and deal with the lives of the ordinary- shopkeepers, clerks, policemen, thieves and so on. The genius of this man lies in his ability to write gripping plots about these seemingly ordinary lives. Every story is completely and wonderfully different from the previous one. The settings range from the vast prairies to the bustling streets of downtown Manhattan. From beggars on the street to wealthy businessmen- no strata of society is left behind.

His first collection of short stories, Cabbages and Kings, contains some of his best works.Set in a quiet Central American town, each story explores an aspect of life in the town, and uses it to forward a broader plot. This makes O.Henry the unofficial pioneer of the modern TV show.

O.Henry lived a life which was very similar to his work- different. He worked as a pharmacist, draftsman, bank teller, journalist and part-time artist. His job as a bank teller ultimately led him to prison for charges of embezzlement. He spent five years there. But this was not before he fled to New Orleans, where he coined his pen name, and then to Honduras, where his wife was supposed to meet him. It was a fatal disease to his wife bought him back to Texas, and inevitably, to prison. It was in Ohio state penitentiary that he wrote a lot of his stories.

An ordinary man with extraordinary wit and command over language, O. Henry will forever be remembered as the Master of the surprise ending.

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The man in the shadows

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It’s almost a cliché now- Rahul Dravid is a man in the shadows. This man’s career has been filled with glittering records, only to see them fall apart in comparison to those of his compatriot, everyone’s favorite Mumbaikar. Statistics do tell a story, and in Rahul Dravid’s case, they sing.

But figures on a sheet of paper don’t even begin to describe this man’s contribution to the team. You could say that a Test debut in Lord’s is every budding cricketer’s dream, but a century on debut at Lord’s is probably every Test cricketer’s dream. Rahul Dravid came agonizingly close to that, when a seaming ball from Chris Lewis      robbed him of his ultimate dream- one he would go on to achieve 15 long years later. In that test, Dravid watched as another young talent, a swashbuckling southpaw, tore his way to a century and into the limelight. Thus began the career of Rahul Dravid, the man in the shadows.

As his career progressed, it was clear that Dravid was no ordinary batsman. With solid technique and unbreakable temperament, he went on to accumulate a mountain of runs in both formats of the game, and established himself as a great test batsman. Meanwhile, the phenomenon that is Sachin Tendulkar made his way into the hearts of a billion people. Rahul Dravid was forced to play second fiddle. He went on to establish himself as one of the greatest test batsman ever, without drawing any attention to himself.

What makes Dravid truly great is not the fact that he is not given even half the credit he deserves for his contribution to the team, but that he truly does not care about the credit given to him, and is ready to sacrifice that, among many other things, for the team.

Rahul Dravid is a true patriot. He has made more sacrifices for the Indian team than most would make for their family. In 1998, he was asked to keep wickets as the team needed an extra batsman. He stepped up, even though he had no previous experience. In 2007, during a test series in England, he was asked to open the batting to see out the new ball, even though he had previously admitted to hating opening. He did so without batting an eyelid. During a series in Australia, when Glenn McGrath was on fire, he stood at one end and completely blocked out the great pacer for his whole spell, without scoring a single run and exposing the strike to the less experienced batsman at the other end. While commentators chided him for ‘going into his shell’, that innings of thirty-odd runs is what saved India the match.

Numerous such occasions have come and gone, where Dravid has either won or saved the match for India by playing not the innings that no one else could, but one that no one else saw. He did the job that had to be done, and he did it for the team. It is, therefore, almost befitting, that even his retirement was eclipsed. Amidst the fanfare surrounding the Little Master’s announcement that he is going to retire from all forms of cricket after playing his 200th test match, the Indian public has forgotten all about another man who has decided to call it a day. But it is not in Dravid’s nature to care about such things. With a smile in his face and minimum fan fare, he has walked into the sunset, satisfied that he has given everything he could for Indian cricket. He is forever the hero India deserves, but not the one it needs.

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