September 6, 3114BC It’s a Mayan Thing

“Each day in the sacred Maya calendar has a meaning. It tells us about the relationship among all things, including the animals, the land, humans, and everything in the cosmos.” —Hermelinda Sapon Pu, K’iche’ Maya, Day Keeper

One of the sillier bits of pop culture nonsense served up to us in the recent past, may be the world coming to an end on 12/21/12, according to the Mayan calendar. The calendar itself isn’t silly, it’s actually a sophisticated mathematical construct but the end of the world part, certainly was.

The Mayans were skilled mathematicians and it shows in their calendar, the first to recognize the concept of zero, and working extensively in a base 20 number system.

Long count glyphs

The Mayans used three separate calendars, each period represented by its own glyph. The Long Count was mainly used for historical purposes. The Maya/Mesoamerican long count, begun this day in 3114BC (corresponding to the Julian Calendar).was able to specify any date within a 2,880,000 day cycle.

The Haab was a civil calendar consisting of 18 months of 20 days, and one 5-day Uayeb, a nameless period rounding out the 365-day year.

The Tzolk’in was the “divine” calendar, used mainly for ceremonial and religious purposes. Consisting of 20 periods of 13 days, the Tzolk’in goes through a complete cycle every 260 days. The significance of this cycle is unknown, though it may be connected with the 263 day orbit of Venus. There is no year in the Haab or Tzolk’in calendars, though a Haab and Tzolk’in date may be combined to specify a particular day within a 52-year cycle.

National Geographic explains that 12/21/12 brings to a close not the end of time, but the end of the 12th Bak’tun, an almost 400-year period in the Mayan Long Count calendar.  The world doesn’t end, according to this explanation, it “rolls over” to the year zero and starts over, kind of like old cars used to do, when the odometer reached 100,000 miles.


It doesn’t really roll over to “zero”, either.  The base 20 numerical system means that 12/22/12 begins the next 400 year (actually 394.3 years) period to begin the 13th Bak’tun.  It will reset to zero at the end of the 20th Bak’tun, about 3,000 years from now.  Please let me know how that turns out.

The Mayan calendar system became extinct in most areas after the Spanish conquests of the 16th century, though it continues in use in many modern communities in highland Guatemala and in Veracruz, Oaxaca and Chiapas, Mexico.

The table of Long Count units below illustrates the Mayan units of measure.

Table of Long Count units

A day is a K’in, there are 20 K’ins in a Winal, and so on.

Today’s date then, according to the Mayan calendar, is Long Count Date, or:
13 baktun (13 X 144,000 days = 1,872,000 days)
0 katun (0 X 7,200 days = 0 days)
8 tun (8 X 360 days = 2,880 days)
15 uinal (15 X 20 days = 300 days)
1 k’in (1 X 1 day = 1 days)
Tzolk’in Date: 13 Imix’
Haab Date: 19 Mol
Lord of the Night

Represented graphically it all looks like this:

Hat tip to the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, for that one.

Get it? Me neither, but Happy…umm…

September 5, 1986 Neerja

Perhaps we’re all capable of more than we realize, or less, but we may never know which. Not until we have been tested. For Neerja Bhanot the test came on September 5, 1986.

Is a hero born that way, or do circumstances bring out something that was in there, all along? What are we ourselves capable of, should circumstances require? Perhaps we’re all capable of more than we realize, or less, but we may never know which. Not until we have been tested.

For Neerja Bhanot the test came on September 5, 1986.

Neerja was born in Chandigarh, India and raised in Bombay, now Mumbai. The only daughter of Punjabi Hindu parents Hareesh and Rama Bhanot, she was the ‘laado’ of this family of five: the youngest, and most pampered.

Gifted with exceptional good looks it was all but foreordained that she would enter a career in modeling. She was a natural in front of a camera. It was hard to turn on a TV in mid-1980s India without a glimpse of this smiling spokeswoman, equally at home pitching cold cream, savings banks or the latest in saree fashion.

An arranged marriage proved abusive in early 1985 and Neerja left two months later, to move back with Rama and Hareesh.

It was barely a blip on the screen of a stellar modeling career and soon, Neerja decided on another. Her friend Naomi was interviewing, to become a flight attendant. Neerja helped her with her make-up and spontaneously decided to interview, herself. So it is Neerja Bhanot became a flight attendant with Pan Am. And why not? She was young and the whole world, lay before her. There was no reason she couldn’t handle two careers.

Neerja traveled to Miami Florida for training with the airline and returned, a purser. At 22 she was not only air hostess but now responsible for cash receipts, taken in-flight.

On September 5, 1986, Neerja donned the crisp blue uniform for the last time and boarded Pan Am Flight 73. She was senior flight purser for this trip, a route flying from Mumbai to the United States via Karachi, Pakistan and Frankfurt, Germany.

A vile, alien ideology enters this story on the stopover, in Pakistan. Four armed men in a van disguised as airport security, members of the Palestinian terrorist Abu Nidal Organization. The four crossed the tarmac passing the pushback tug and catering trucks to enter the aircraft in pairs, two via the front stairs and two up the back.

Firing their weapons in the air and into the floor at their feet the militants ordered all doors, closed and locked. Unseen in the moment Neerja signaled the code for ‘Hijack’ and flight attendant Sherene Pavan phoned the cockpit. Fellow air hostess Sunshine Vesuwala watched as one now grabbed hold of Neerja with a gun, to her head. 393 passengers and crew were now captives, of four armed terrorists.

Pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer were able to flee via an overhead hatch. Many would criticize these three for fleeing in the days to come but flight steward Dilip Bidichandani, takes the opposite view. At least three lives were now saved and the situation was safer on the ground, than in the air. The terrorists themselves later claimed an intent to fly the aircraft into a building, a tactic unheard of, in 1986.

(From top left): Nupoor, Sunshine, Sherene, Dilip. (In group shot – far left): Massey. (Credits: Solo shots – individuals’ own; group shot: Pan Am crew Facebook page) H/T BBC

Twelve flight attendants were now in charge of the hijacked aircraft, none older than their early to mid-twenties.

Karachi flight director Viraf Doroga took up a megaphone and attempted to negotiate as security personnel took positions, around the aircraft. The four wanted to fly to Cyprus and on to Israel where some of their cohorts, were held in prison. They demanded a pilot and, when none materialized, 29-year-old American passenger Rajesh Kumar was dragged from his seat, driven to his knees before an open door and shot in the head, his lifeless body kicked onto the tarmac, below.

In the face of such bestiality, ordinary people rose to new levels of common decency, and courage. Nupoor Abrol told BBC News, “My first instinct was to open the wing exit and slip out with as many passengers as I could, but I realized that this would leave the rest of the passengers vulnerable.”

The terrorists made it known they were after Americans. They instructed flight attendants to collect passports so they could identify, which were Americans. Sunshine, Madhvi Bahuguna and Neerja began to collected passports. In they came in shades of green and burgundy, of black and blue. The unique navy blue of the American passport, chosen in 1976 to match that of the stars and strips was missing, quietly omitted or tucked under seats or secreted, in flight attendant’s uniforms.

Infuriated at the inability to find an American the terrorists now chose a Brit, Mike Thexton, who was forced to sit on the floor with his hands crossed, over his head. Thexton received a vicious kick to the side for his efforts but he would survive the ordeal. Twenty-two of his fellow captives, would not.

Mike Thexton

The stalemate dragged on for seventeen grueling hours until the aircraft ran out of power and the savages, ran out of patience. As the hijackers became visibly more agitated Neerja and others communicated means of deploying emergency exit ramps, to passengers seated by the exits.

Pandemonium broke out on the aircraft as four terrorists, now opened fire. Neerja was directing passengers out one exit as one of them grabbed her by the ponytail. She wasn’t just shot in the crossfire she was murdered, point blank. According to one eyewitness her last act was an attempt to shelter, three children.

Her 23rd birthday came and went, two days later.

Twenty two passengers and crew were killed that day with another 120, wounded. The nation of India awarded Neerja Bhanot the Ashoka Chakra Award, India’s highest award for bravery in the face of an enemy, during peacetime. She is the youngest recipient of such an award and the first, female.

Five terrorists were subsequently caught and tried by Pakistani authorities. They were all released against the express wish of American authorities and deported, to Palestine. The terrorist leader, to hell with his name, was extradited to the United States where is serving a 160-year sentence.

One of the children Neerja Bhanot sheltered with her body was seven years old, that day. The boy was inspired by the selfless courage of the woman who had saved his life and grew to become a pilot, with a major airline.

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