What is it in the name? Famous 'Michaels'

Professor Dhaneshwar Moirangthem *

It was sometime in the winter of 2009-2010, I was teaching Organic Chemistry to first semester students (MSc) in the Department of Chemistry, Manipur University. At the end of my lecture, I was taking the roll call with the Attendance Register in hand. One of the students' name 'Michael' caught my attention. I do not remember the surname, but I remember sportingly asking the student how his name was given.

He, of course, had no idea. I turned to the students in the class (about forty of them) and asked if they knew any famous Michael in those days. There was no answer. Perhaps they were taken by surprise and might have wondered what their teacher had in his mind.

The Olympic Games 2008 was held in Beijing. The celebration of the success of a few Indian athletes still continued all over India in the following years. Lots of awards, endorsement worth crores of Rupees for Abhinav Bindra for his Olympic gold, India's first and currently India's only individual Olympic gold, in the 10-meter air rifle shooting event.

But the most popular individual in the Beijing Olympics was Michael Phelps, an American swimmer, for his eight individual gold medals. He is the most successful and most decorated Olympian of all time with a total of 28 medals from Beijing 2008, London 2012, and Rio 2016 Olympic games. When Michael Phelps won the eighth gold medal in Beijing, he broke the reigning record of seven gold medals set by another American swimmer, Mark Spitz, in the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

I exhorted the students to be aware of what is happening around them and the world. To be a good chemist, one should know what is happening in their environment; the environment influences the individual more than the individual influencing the environment. These are the days of all-rounders. During our school days in the early 60's, there was a saying 'Jack of all trades, master of none'. But now, one must be 'Jack of all trades, master of one'.

A few years ago, I came across a Meitei boy named, 'Michael'. He informed that he was named after the astronaut, Michael Collins of the Apollo 11 mission of 1969; it was the year he was born. On 20th July 1969, the Lunar Module Eagle, carrying Neil Armstrong and Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin landed on the moon. Michael Collins was the pilot of the Mother Module, Columbia.

During our undergraduate days in DM College of Science (in 1969), while writing an English Essay on Space Exploration, I remember quoting Neil Armstrong's, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind". There is another Michael Collins (1890-1922), a well-respected Irish Revolutionary Leader, known for leading the Irish struggle for Independence.

I then further asked my students if they knew any other famous Michael. That time the students showed interest in the conversation, and "Michael Jackson (MJ)", was the reply from the boys and the girls in unison. Yes, who have not heard of MJ. I was a fan myself. My favourite number was 'Beat It'. Another well celebrated musician is Michael George, a British singer, writer, composer, and producer.

From then on, I came across many famous Michaels, and I take the liberty to share all of them with the readers. Just like Michael Phelps, another individual who is equally famous but perhaps more celebrated is Michael Schumacher, a German Formula One racer, who is the 7-time World champion. Currently, the Formula One champion is Lewis Hamilton, a British racer, who has also won the championship seven times so far.

Unfortunately, in 2013, Schumacher met a skiing accident while skiing in the French Alps. He suffered traumatic brain injury because of which he was put into a medically induced coma. He fully regained consciousness after about six months. His condition is currently reported to be continuing to improve, although he suffers from muscle loss and skeletal disorder from six years of bed confinement.

The most celebrated sport in the world is undoubtedly Football (Soccer), with the largest number of followers. These are the days of Ronaldo, Messi, and Neymar to name a few. But there are also Michaels who had left indelible marks in the world of Football. Some of them are Michael Owen (English footballer), Michael Ballack (German and Chelsea Player), Michael Carrick (England and Manchester United Player).

One of the most popular individual sports is Boxing. We have heard of the legendary Heavyweight Champion, Mohammad Ali (earlier named Cassius Clay). After Mohammad Ali, is another champion, Michael Gerard Tyson (Mike Tyson), who was the youngest heavyweight champion at age 20. Recently, we had a Manipuri Boxer, Suranjoy Mayengbam who was nick-named Little (Chhota) Tyson. In 2009, he ended a 15-year wait for India by winning gold at the Asian Boxing Championships, at Zhuhai, China.

In India and other commonwealth countries, another popular sport is Cricket. There are many Michaels in cricket. Michael Holding (nicknamed Jamaican Express, West Indies), Michael Clarke (former Australian captain), Michael Atherton (former English captain), Michael Vaughan (former English captain). One sport which is mainly based on one's intellect is the game of chess. The USSR (Soviet Union) used to dominate the World Chess Championship for decades after decades.

However, the Russian monopoly of the Chess championship was broken all of a sudden by a young American, Robert James Fischer (Bobby Fischer), when he beat the USSR's greatest chess master and reigning Chess Champion Boris Spassky in 1972 (Reykjavik, Iceland). After Bobby Fischer, we have the following champions, Anatoly Karpov (1975-1985), Gary Kasparov (1985-2000), Vladimir Kramnik (2000-2007), Viswanathan Anand (2007-2013), Magnus Carlson (2013-till date). Among these, we have Michael Adams, the English Grand Master.

In the United States, the most popular sport is American Football which requires a lot of physical strength, athleticism, and sprinting. Another equally popular sport is Basketball. NBA (National Basketball Association) championships are telecast all over the world including India. One of the greatest basketball athletes is legendary Michael Jeffrey Jordan who has won the NBA championship six times and was voted 'Most Valuable Player' six times in the NBA finals.

Michael Jordan led the first ever USA's 'Dream Team' at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and on their way to the Olympic gold medal, they beat every opponent by a margin of more than forty points. That was how dominant they were. Michael Jordan is the hero of the present-day champions of the likes of Kevin Durant, Draymond Green, Stephen Curry, LeBron James. Tennis is another sport I love watching. I am a big fan of Rafael Nadal, even though my sons like Roger Federer more.

It is amazing how the three players, Federer, Nadal, and Djokovic have dominated Men's Tennis over the last two decades. I cannot even imagine such a thing repeating in the near future. In the history of Tennis champions, there is one Michael Chang (Michael Te-Pei Chang), a Chinese American, who is the youngest male player in the history to win a Grand Slam, winning the 1989 French Open at 17 years and 109 days old.

In that final, he defeated Stefan Edberg (Sweden) former world number one and a winner of six Grand Slam titles. I still remember Michael Chang taking out a piece of paper (probably a written speech) from his pocket while delivering the victory speech.

In athletics, I cannot miss another great athlete, Michael Johnson, who won four Olympic golds in three Olympic games: 400m gold, Barcelona, 1992; 200m and 400m gold, Atalanta, 1996; 4x400m gold, Sydney, 2000. So many famous Michaels in various fields. But one might be wondering if there is any 'Michael' in Science and Literature. The answer is yes.

In Chemistry, particularly in organic chemistry, there is a very popular reaction called Michael Reaction (aka Michael Addition), a conjugate addition reaction named after Professor Arthur Michael, who was once associated with Harvard University. In the earlier generation, there is the famous physicist (also a chemist) Michael Faraday, an English Scientist, who was regarded as one of the greatest scientists of the 19th century for his contribution to the study of electromagnetism and electrochemistry.

In 2017, two scientists, two Michaels, one was called Michael Rosbash and the other Michael Young (along with Jeffrey Hall) won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for their contribution to Molecular Mechanism controlling the Circadian Rhythm- a physical, mental, and behavioural changes that follow a 24-hour cycle. Among the writers and authors, I would like to mention specially Michael Crichton, a graduate of Harvard Medical School.

His books were best sellers, and more than 200 million books were sold worldwide. To mention a few: The Great Train Robbery (1975), The Andromeda Strain (1969), Jurassic Park (1990), The Rising Sun (1992), The Lost World (1995), State of Fear (2004). Most of his books are adapted to Hollywood movies. Is there anyone named Michael in the Entertainment Industry? Of course, there are many Hollywood stars bearing the name 'Michael'.

I came to know of Sir Michael Caine for the first time when I watched the 1975 classic 'The man who would be King', the screen adaptation of the 1888 book of the same name by Rudyard Kipling. In the movie, Michael Caine co-starred with another great actor Sir Sean Connery (of the James Bond fame). The two played the role of two British adventurers who would go on a journey from Bombay en route to some Afghanistan villages and mountains.

Of them, Sean Connery played the senior partner. Some of the great movies of Michael Caine are: The Fourth Protocol (1987, based on a book by Frederick Forsyth), Batman Begins (2005), Dark Knight (2008), Inception (2010). Another equally famous Hollywood actor is Michael (Kirk) Douglas whose father Kirk Douglas was also an actor. Winner of two academy awards, Best Actor (Wall Street, 1988) and Best Picture (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, 1975), and another 5 Golden Globes, Michael Douglas is a well respected and a well acclaimed personality on Hollywood.

Some of his other great movies include Romancing the Stone (1984), Jewel of the Nile (1985), Fatal Attraction (1987), Basic Instinct (1992), The Game (1997). Michael (Kirk) Douglas should not be confused with another Michael Douglas Keaton of the 'Batman' and 'Batman Returns' fame. Among the new generation actors, we have Michael Bakari Jordan, who played the main antagonist in one of the highest grossing movies, Black Panther (2018) from Disney's Marvel studios.

The name 'Michael' is not limited to real life personalities. The name has also represented unique and popular characters in reel life. One of the most popular Michael characters in reel life is Michael Corleone from the classic Hollywood movie 'The Godfather II' (1974, based on the book by Mario Puzo), on whom the story was centred. The character was played by Al Pacino.

Among the film directors, it is worth mentioning Michael Cimino who won Oscar for the Best Director for his movie 'The Deer Hunter' (1979) starring Robert De Niro, Christopher Walken, Meryl Streep, among others. It was a movie based on the Vietnam war. Do you watch any adventure TV shows? You must have at least heard of the Discovery Channel's 'Man vs Wild'.

In one of the recent episodes, our Indian Prime Minister, Shri Narendra Modi appeared in the show with the host Bear Grylls, where they explored the wild rivers, lakes, and forest of the Jim Corbett National Park in Uttarakhand. Fortunately, to our relief, the Prime Minister did not come across any wild animal. It is interesting to note that the host Bear Grylls' full name is Michael Edward Grylls, yet another Michael.

That is all for the time being. Let us wait for more events to come with more Michaels.

* Professor Dhaneshwar Moirangthem wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer is a retired Professor from the Department of Chemistry, Manipur University (MU).
He was associated with MU for 41 years from 1979 to 2020 and was the HOD and the Dean of School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences.
This article was webcasted on April 06 2021.

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