The Mysterious X Factor

Julian Crandall Hollick, author and broadcaster, has made several trips to India. His radio broadcasts on Public Broadcasting Service in Boston have been popular for many years with listeners in the US.. Four or five years ago he came to India to do a series of broadcasts on the Ganga, traveling from the source of the river in Gaumukh above Gangotri to Sagar Island at the mouth of the river He and his wife traveled by car, and for several weeks on a boat with a crew that navigated through difficult stretches of the river. En route he recorded and photographed life along the river.. Two years ago he published a book on this river journey called Ganga, published by Harper Collins.. My sister and I were presented with our copies of the book and we discussed it with him. When he mentioned the stories he had heard about micro-organisms that cleaned the river of its pollution, my sister recalled that our grandfather had done considerable work and research on the “bacteriophage” Grandfather Dr. Kesava Pai was a well known pathologist in Madras (*now Chennai) in the early part of the 20th century, where , after graduating from Madras Medical College and winning the Johnson Gold Medal, he was appointed as a research pathologist in several British Institutes. He did early work on the anti-rabies and anti-tetanus vaccines at the Pasteur Institute in Kasauli, and later on the plague vaccine at the Haffkine Institute in Bombay (now Mumbai). He went on study leave in 1922 to Europe and on his return he worked on the treatment of tuberculosis. We three grandchildren lived with our grandparents, and with his deep concern about diseases and infection, we were subjected to all the prophylactic vaccines, for immunization, especially against cholera and typhoid, both killer diseases in those years before anti-biotics were developed. It was then that he researched on the bacteriophage and gave us grandchildren this protection against cholera and typhoid, by mouth. There are scientists today doing research on bacteriophage, micro-organisms that lie on the bed of the river, and rise to the surface, multiplying rapidly to devour bacteria and putrefying organic matter. It is not only the Ganga, I am sure other rivers nurture the bacteriophage on the sandy beds of the rivers, which perhaps are now being destroyed by dredging by the sand mafia. In the Ganga they are being destroyed by the chemical waste from the leather tanneries which use chrome, a destructive chemical that not only kills the bacteriophage but also fish and other forms of life in the river. “

A recent article by Prof. Dipankar Gupta eminent sociologist  at JNU, deplores the tendency to “seek foreign sanction for Hindu intellectual property….while there is clear hostility to things western .. on a number of testy and historical issues Hindu activists have sought western scholars many of them truly obscure to secure their intellectual claims.To back the contention that the Ganges is forever pure and immune to pollution because of an “X factor”a certain Julian Crandall Hollick is quoted by Hindu activists across a wide band. The Ganges is said to be blessed by a a certain “bacteriophagus” that eats up disease agents.If you find this hard to believe track down a Henkins…””

My response
Dear Prof. Dipankar Gupta
I read your article in the Times of India of Saturday August 17, 2013, and thought I would share my blog with you. You write about Julian Crandall Hollick’s mention of the Mysterious Factor X to pronounce the Ganga forever “pure and immune to pollution” whereas Mr. Hollick’s has actually been writing and broadcasting about the danger of pollutants in the river due to the unrestricted disposal of industrial effluents in the river. Like many of us he is curious about the widespread belief that Ganga has managed to clean itself through microorganisms called “bacteriophage” (not “bacteriophagus”), and he has been meeting scientists and environmental activists who have been studying what Mr. Hollick calls the X factor. I was not aware that he is cited by Hindu websites, which is amusing, if not disturbing.
My grandfather was not a Hindu fundamentalist and his interest was only in science and means to combat disease. In fact he debunked many superstitions and traditional cures for illnesses from his scientific point of view. He is remembered at the King Institute in Guindy, Madras, where he was the first Indian Director, for his work on tuberculosis from which many of the rich and elite of Madras society suffered. At that time penicillin, streptomycin and chloromycetin were not heard of.. Julian Hollick was fascinated to hear from us about grandfather’s work on the bacteriophage, “the mysterious X factor”, as he had started to work on this for a PhD at a university in the UK. (Incidentally the Discovery Channel recently discussed this factor in the Ganga water in one of their programs).
I am not aware that the purity of our rivers is a Hindutva theme. It is a very serious environmental issue. Whether you believe in the sacred-ness of the Ganga or not, as Indians we acknowledge that this great river – as also many others – are our life and their pollution should be a matter of our survival.
I am not writing this out of any political bias. I thought you might be interested in my little knowledge of the bacteriophage. Thanks for your patience in reading this.
Sharada Nayak

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