Triskaidekaphobia is a morbid fear of the number following 12 and preceding 14. A variant of this is when that day happens to be a Friday. It the goes by the rather cool sounding name, friggatriskaidekaphobia! The first element of it derives from ancient Scandinavian goddess Frigga, after whom Friday is named. In any case, it is a hopeless word to know if you are a scrabble aficionado as it is too frigging long to play!
Now, I must be honest that I do not have any of the aforementioned phobias. However, I am awed by the destructive, unlucky and overwhelming nature of the number after 12 and before 14, multiplied by two. Just in case you don’t have a calculator handy, I am talking about 26
When I sat to write this post, I at once remembered an article by the veteran Sri Lankan journalist, DBS Jeyaraj on the deceased Leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), Velupillai Prabhakaran, who was born on 26 November, 1954. In this, DBS sheds light on the circumstances leading to his death in May 2009. Here's an excerpt from that.
“……LTTE launched a massive attack on the armed forces shortly after midnight on Sunday. This was because of numerology as Sunday was the 17. Once midnight passed it was Monday 18th. There was a time when the LTTE would not engage in major operations on the 8th, 17th or 26th. Because No 8 was considered unlucky. Subsequently these superstitions became irrelevant but at this critical juncture the “Eight” phobia was on.”
I think the irrelevance of this fear, as observed by DBS, is proved by the fact the LTTE chose to close the sluice-gates of Mavil Aru on July 26, 2006. A military operation by Armed Forces to wrest the control of the sluice gates to provide relief to thousands of people left without water due to this wanton act, marked the starting point of the Elam War IV. This ended badly for LTTE on 19 May, 2009 with a crushing defeat in the battlefield after 26 years of conflict.
Before it all ended, the first daring attack launched by 'Air Tigers' took place on 26 March, 2007, when two Czech-built Zlin Z 143 four-seater light aircraft, modified to carry four bombs mounted on the undercarriage, dropped their payload on the Katunayake Air force base, north of Colombo. This attack failed to destroy the Kafir and Mig aircraft targeted, but it killed three airmen and injured several. After several more fearless attacks of this nature, this treat was finally neutralised by the defence establishments.
In one of the worst terrorist attacks in the history of the conflict in Sri Lanka, country’s main Airport situated near the aforementioned Air force base was stormed by 14 Black Tiger Commandos, destroying 26 aircraft in July 2001. One Mil Mi-17 helicopter, one Mil Mi-24 helicopter, two IAI Kfir fighter jets, a MiG-27 and three Chinese K-8 trainer aircraft were part of the military aircraft destroyed. The attackers could not reach the hangers, probably didn't need to as all those the military aircraft destroyed happened to be on the tarmac—sitting targets for shoulder–mounted RPGs. A crack team of Special Forces finally brought the situation under control, after several hours; preventing the situation from dragging on for days, as it may have so easily have happened.
With losses of civilian aircraft alone estimated over US$ 350m, this attack dealt a crippling blow to the Sri Lankan economy, slowing it down by -1.4%. It particularly affected those of us in tourism with aftershocks coming in the form of tour cancellations and negative travel advisories, denting an already bruised industry. And two months later, came the 9/11 making things really bad for the world at large.
As we were slowly building our lives after all these happenings, came the Tsunami on 26 December, 2004—killing over 35,000 and displacing over 500,000 people in Sri Lanka alone, all within a matter of a few minutes. When this tragedy struck, I was guiding a Naturetrek Christmas birding tour at 2,100m above sea level, in the cloud forests of Horton Plains National Park. Later on, I came to find out that a lot of my friends at the Yala Safari Game Lodge were sadly no more. This included the manager, accountant, chef and the front office manager. The hotel’s in-house naturalist and a fellow bird tour guide, who happened to be there, ran for their lives, scaled up trees and survived, as did most of the junior staff. Did the senior staff think it was too chicken to run for their lives? I don't know. In any case, with a total estimated global death toll of 230,000, destroyed property running to billions of dollars and 1.69 million people displaced, the Boxing day Tsunami would go down as a major natural disaster in the modern history.
Seven months after this serious natural calamity, which also hit India, came the Maharashtra floods of 2005, bringing our big neighbour’s commercial capital, Mumbai to a standstill. This was caused by unusually heavy rainfall that lashed on 26 July 2005. It turned out to be the eighth heaviest ever recorded 24-hour rainfall figure: 994 mm. To put this into context, the floods we are now experiencing at Katunayake area was caused by a rainfall figure of 200mm reported over several days.
While we are at India, I should note that the horrendous 2008 Mumbai attack began on 26 November 2008. Dubbed by some as India’s 9/11, this killed 173 people and wounded at least 308.
I nearly missed, what about the 2001 Gujarat earthquake that tragedy killed 20,000 people and left 600,000 homeless? It happened on 26th January.
I find it amazing that scientists dated the big Cascadia earthquake near Canada to January 26, 1700. And to 9.00 p.m. on that day! They used old tsunami records in Japan and studies of tree rings, which showed that red cedar trees killed by lowering of coastal forests into the tidal zone by the earthquake have outermost growth rings that formed in 1699—the last growing season before this cataclysmic event. There’s also a great oral tradition about the quake and resultant tsunamis, and this interesting study sheds light on that.
To tell you the truth, my morbid fascination on 26th actually began when I watched a documentary about the famous volcano, Krakatau. Our 2004 Tsunami had already happened by then. When I heard the narrator explaining that this volcano began to explode with devastating fury on 26 April, 1883, it dawned on me that the biggest natural disaster in my memory, the Tsunami was also on a 26th. And it was from that point that I started to pay attention to 26. Coming back to Krakatau, this explosion was known to have been 13,000 times the nuclear yield of the "Little Boy" bomb that devastated Hiroshima. The actual explosion and resultant tsunamis killed over 36,000 people.
And finally, isn’t it really interesting that St. Peter’s crushed Price of Wales by planting 26 ties in their record breaking 164-0 victory a few weeks ago? St. Peter’s will meet Royal on 22 May at the Royal Sports Complex in a crucial schools rugby fixture. Two unbeaten teams playing vintage rugby, cool monsoonal weather, sludgy ground, and passionate supporters—what more do you want for a perfect Saturday late afternoon? I can safely say the match would get underway shortly after 4.26 p.m. I will be at the winning section. Say halo if you spot me. If you can't make it, catch live action via thepapare.com
Disclaimer: Far too many terrorist attacks and natural disasters have taken place on days other than 26th and events listed here are a set arranged for narrative convenience in this random monsoonal rant.
Edit: The South Korean Naval Tragedy that killed 46 of their sailors happened on 26 March, 2010.
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