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Archive for June, 2016

IMG_4505A brief break in a tiring monotony of work and the first thing most of us want is to escape to the wilderness. If not the jungles or the mountains or the sea, we opt for the countryside. Away from the noise and chaos of urban lives, dictated so much by machines and concrete landscapes.

Turns out humans may be hard-wired for the quiet rural settings. An Exeter University study has shown initial evidence of how the surroundings induce calm in the brain. Parts of the brain associated with meditative state lit up when participants were shown pictures of rural settings. These are ancient evolutionary sites in the brain called limbic system, which we share with monkeys and primates.

The study shows that the effect was not about the aesthetics as images of beautiful urban settings failed to light up the brain, causing the researchers to conclude that humans trapped in cities could be experiencing what animals trapped in cages feel!

Another study found that a 1.5 hour walk in the jungle leads to significant drop in brain activity in areas associated with psychological illness and increase in parts of the brain linked to creativity.

These are things most of us know intuitively from our experiences. But scientific studies gives them a ‘weightage’ in a world that seeks measurable proof.

US president Obama during a recent visit to Yosemite and other national parks mentioned the need for more people to venture out. National parks belong to everyone, he said.

True, these are public places but two questions arise: how much of these remain, and how well do we treasure them?

Degradation

Recently a WWF report said that half the natural world heritage sites around the world are being threatened by harmful industrial activities. Dams, roads and railways and big infrastructure projects are eating into these precious green spaces.

Whether it be the rainforests of Sumatra threatened by logging, mining, oil exploration and road and railway projects, or the Brazilian Amazon where roads are causing 95% of all deforestation, the worst is still to come. In what experts call an ‘infrastructure tsunami’ the coming years will see some 25 million km of new paved roads, thousands of hydel projects and mining, oil and gas projects take over pristine, biodiverse ecosystems in tropics.

The value of these ecosystems is still not understood as compared with those of a road, dam or fuel exploration. Besides causing a 52% decline in mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish between 1970 and 2010, our rapacious lifestyles in consuming resources today call for 1.5 Earths.

The Aichi Biodiversity Targets have shown how ensuring a healthy biodiversity on the planet can contribute significantly to a development agenda which includes reducing hunger and poverty, improving human health, and ensuring a sustainable supply of energy, food and clean water.

From the macro level of our nations and rulers to individual levels, how many of us respect the value of wilderness? Very few.

Habituated by comforts

Most of us cannot let the wilderness to be. We need to carry all our urban trappings there, be it buildings with all comforts, vehicles, gadgets, etc. In the process we are unconsciously transforming the tranquil patch into urban chaos we chose to run from.

So many folks go out there to the wilderness, all equipped with drinks, loud music, phones and junk food. It is almost like a fear of silence, of just being with each other and nature. Defeats the whole purpose of having made the journey.

Besides the drive and a few shots in the camera (or now the mobile phone) we are incapable of soaking the primal nature of the surroundings. To use it as a means to connect with our true inner self. To feel the pure breeze on the face, tune in to the sound of an insect or a bird call, to merge with the beauty of the wild flowers, to tap the fount of unlimited joy out there in nature, not yet doctored by man.

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RD burman

Today Google’s doodle on the Indian homepage paid homage to who I would call the last of Bollywood’s music maestros — R.D. Burman, fondly known as Panchamda. Celebrating his 77th birth anniversary, Google notes how RD revolutionized Bollywood by “bringing in influences from all over the world, from disco, to funk, to cabaret.”

Many may connect this to the accusation that RD indulged in plagiarism from the west. Similarities to many English numbers were said to be many. But, I would rather not dwell on that part of his offering. Instead, I like to think of the innumerable melodies and fun numbers he gave us, especially those rendered by the inimitable Kishore Kumar. And offer a big thanks to the departed soul for the continuing moments of pure, undiluted joy the songs give.

From the drunk ‘yeh jo mohabbat’ to romantic ‘Pyar deewana hota hai’ of Kati Patang, to the youthful romantic numbers of Aradhana that caught the nation in its grip, the soulful ones of Amar Prem like ‘Chingari’, or ‘Kuch to log kahenge..’ the playful ones in Teen deviyan like ‘lika hai teri ankhon mein’ or ‘arre yaar meri’ or the poetic ‘khwaab ho tum’, the haunting Aandhi numbers ‘tere bina zindagi mein koi’, ‘is mod se jaate hain’ or the peppy ones like ‘Hum dono do premi’ of Ajnabee…’rhim jhim ghire saawan’ of Manzil..unforgettable ‘Raat kali’ (Budha mil gaya) and ‘Kehna hai’ (Padosan)… they rain melody, mischief, romance and rhythm. Each time one listens. Not a note less of joy.

Who cares if he got his inspiration from across the seas? Kuch to log kahenge

Remembered for his fusion songs like ‘Piya tu ab tu aaja’ from caravan, ‘Dum maro dum’ from Hare rama hare Krishna (which also gave us the unforgettable ‘phoolon ka taaron ka sabka kehna hai’), RD who began his career with Chote Nawab gave his first hit perhaps with Teesri Manzil and its ‘O Mere Sona Re’, ‘O Hassena Zulfonwali’, and ‘Aaja Aaja Mein Hoon Pyar Tera.’

The 70s were the peak with RD and KK taking Bollywood to a new renaissance. The haunting melody of yesteryears was replaced with the joy and zest of youth. Rhythm joined melody to bring a decided lifting of spirits. Times had changed. To the mute glances of love was added bold action. The music too shifted gear.

RD did have a few classical numbers to his repertoire. ‘Mere naina sawan badon’ from Mehbooba is one for a lifetime, while ‘Ghar aaja ghir aayi’, ‘Karvaten badalte rahen’, ‘beeti na beetaye raina’, ‘ab ken a sawan barse’, ‘ raina beeti jaaye’, ‘naam goom jayega’… prove this was no limited version musician. RD is said to have composed his first song at the age of ten, used by dad SD in Funtoosh.

He was just 54 when he died.

But legends like these never die, for their creations live forever sending unending ripples of happiness to the listeners of music. Thank you RD.

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So often the stereotypes we carry can be all wrong. Like i realised at a recent four-day workshop in science teaching conducted by a NGO for government school teachers. Expecting a disinterested lot, forced to attend due to their HMs issuing the whip, I was pleasantly surprised to see the eagerness and interest displayed during the workshop. More so, as many of the participants were in their late 40s and 50s. Perhaps it was the power of science. Or the effectiveness of the instructors.

Whatever be the reason, it was heartening to see the teachers answer questions in class, nine to the dozen, much like their students. And writing the pre and post-tests most earnestly. So also to watch the glee with which they burnt paper or demonstrated how a paper stuffed into a glass remains dry if the glass was inserted vertically into the water.

They argued with the instructor, laughed along and stayed present in the moment. Not a single yawn or nodding head was spied by me during the four days!

Finally, when they left they carried away the kit given in plastic boxes much like they were carrying valuables. Indeed, the kit was of value in that it demonstrated using simple, easily available items some of the basic concepts in physics. But if one were to look at them as mere objects, the contents were mostly rubble. Bits of wood, some buttons, a piece of chalk, sponge, candle, test tube, a funnel, a thread, balloon, some clay, naphthalene ball, a matchbox, etc.

Goes to show how sometimes it takes simple things to bring magnificent results. A dazzling white flower suddenly appears in a pot on my terrace and stuns me with its ethereal beauty. So also, all it takes is a coin in a plastic cover dipped in water to evolve the formula of density! In the process children will be witnessing what looks like magic — the coin sinks or floats depends on how it is wrapped.

Sadly, a large majority of our students today — ones studying in government schools — are denied the pleasure of learning science the fun way. With shortage of teachers, often the same teacher is made to take all subjects for all classes. Rushing through the syllabus, science and social studies get the same treatment. Definitions, some rote learning and some questions.

There is hope as I saw. The teachers are willing to learn. Most of them have not studied beyond the tenth class. Sustained training that updates and upskills them in handling science and math differently can make a big difference to the education of the hapless thousands. There are so many educated men and women, perhaps more women, who are not employed, whose services could be used to achieve this in a big and effective way. Light a million candles, spark a million lives in one shot.

 

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UDta punjabWith the High Court having cleared Anurag Kashyap’s Udta Punjab, the controversy it has kicked off is set to reap dividends for the movie. And as with any other issue, the media is quick to pounce on any political angle connecting it to the ruling party! Till one watches the film, an accurate picture cannot be had except based on hearsay.

I wish filmmakers and media resist the temptation to politicize every issue.  Kashyap did suggest in Black Friday that Yakub Memon was innocent in the Bombay bombings and that it was a mere reaction of the Muslim youth in India to rising Hindu fundamentalism. Wonder why no film maker or media person thinks of what led to the Hindu fundamentalism?

Back to Punjab, one of the reasons cited by the CBFC while seeking cuts has been the portrayal of Punjab in a negative light, as a state with a huge drug addiction problem. Is there anything wrong in calling a spade a spade? Why not appreciate a film that shows for the first time a problem that has been persisting for decades? Why not search for solutions?

But coming to the question of freedom of expression, there is need for a pause. Should everything be shown on celluloid even if to paint a realistic picture? As Section 5B of the cinematograph Act says, a film shall not be certified for public exhibition if any part of the film is against decency or morality, among other things.

This is left in the hands of the competent authority who grants the certificate. Clearly, Nihalani found parts of the dialogues and actions by the actors in the film immoral. Use of foul words and foul actions, however necessary for the mood of the film, may have to be curbed at times.  Else, it does convey a sanction or even glorification of such conduct. Remember the kiss of love controversy sparked off from Kerala? Students in HCU felt it nothing wrong to indulge in private acts in public places. It begins with kissing and could well end up in intercourse. Freedom of expression??

A film board is in place to ensure some modicum of restraint in such expressions. I wonder how some actors in the Udta Punjab public uproar have clubbed creativity and freedom of expression!

Defending the board does not mean I am with it the full way. Refusing to see a problem is clearly a problem. And most everyone know about Punjab’s drug addiction. Roughly 60 percent of all illicit drugs confiscated in India are seized in Punjab, reported a NYT article back in 2012.

It is time we as a society look at the drug problem before it consumes our youth. Today, in many places, we can see our youth in the clear grip of drugs.  While pointing for the need to have in place more treatment services for the opioid dependent individuals in Punjab, it is more important to tackle the issue at its root.

Spaced out with dull unseeing eyes they are any criminal’s sitting ducks. What sets them out on this dangerous path? Is it the pursuit of joy or an escape route from a bad and boring life they seek?

Some insiders blame easy money and lack of motivation for hard work as the cause of addiction in Punjab while others see unemployment, unmet expectations and academic pressure as the trigger.

Most of these issues prevail in many parts of India, so why has addiction soared in Punjab? What is the factor that is unique to that state?

Finally, how can we keep our youth from getting entangled in the vicious drug trap? I tend to believe a lack of goal in life is the prime reason most fall into the clutches of drug sellers. Yes, peer pressure and wrong kinds of friends contributes too. But if we can instill values into them when young, and give them a sense of direction in life – whether it be to make money or become famous or uplift society, it could possibly prevent them from seeking joy in delirious moments of a puff that enslaves them.

PS: Saw the movie. While based on reality of the Punjab drug issue, this one is a commercial film with heroes, villains, rapes and rescues. It clearly points the fingers to pop cult that has glamorised drug culture, and to the cop-politician nexus with drug mafia to pad their purses. A subtle scene also hints of drugs flung across the border! The film does a good job in conveying the pitfalls of drug abuse, thankfully without much glorification of the highs. The ending could have been a bit different in my view. Perhaps a few shots of reality could have highlighted the seriousness of the issue in the viewers instead of allowing it to be just a fiction.

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AnUPAMA“When injustice becomes law, rebellion becomes duty’’ the clarion call by America’s founding father Thomas Jefferson is also the quote on the FB account of the now-resigned Karnataka deputy superintendent of police Anupama Shenoy.

The tough cop’s action against land and liquor mafia in Bellary did not go well with the local baron nor the labour minister Parameshwar Naik. She had been transferred earlier in the year for keeping the minister’s call on hold. Public outcry then saw her reinstated in Kudligi sub-division.

Can the public bring justice this time around?

Facebook posts laud her courage and advise her to stay on and swim against tide, instead of resigning. But how easy is that in a system where the corrupt and powerful get away with anything?

The FB account, now claimed to be that of an imposter, talks of evidence against the minister. Whether true or not, and whether that will make any difference, is anyone’s guess.

Despite a whistleblower’s protection Act, we have seen many of these brave souls face an untimely death at the hands of their accused.

From engineer, Satyendra Dubey, murdered in November 2003 for exposing financial irregularities in the contracts awarded for the highways works, to Mahantesh from Karnataka who was killed after exposing fraud in cooperative land allotment, there have been many whose lives have been snuffed out cruelly. Dubey in fact had sent his resume to the PMO and requested anonymity, which clearly had been breached. Two years later the IOC officer Shanmugam Manjunath was killed for sealing a petrol pump selling adulterated fuel.

RTI activists are regularly threatened. State governments have been accused of exploiting the lethargic justice delivery in the country to land activists behind bars on spurious charges.

Even the Supreme Court has acknowledged the dangers to whistleblowers when it directed the Centre to put in place an administrative mechanism for their protection, earlier this year. This is despite the Act in place, which by the way only holds for those acting against central officers.

The rest of us passive lot would love to see more whistle blowers taking on the mighty, but for sure, it is no fun being one. Brave enough to stand up against Goliath and slain the next second.

That is where possibly citizens can join the effort. Show support not only in social media pages but demand action by government against the accused. Sign petitions, gather on weekends in city squares/freedom parks, force the corrupt to resign, not the Davids.

What joy the Shenoys and Manjunaths and Mahanteshs will feel when they have an army behind them. Remember SRK’s Phir bi dil hai Hindustani?

Sadly, such action for us seems to be most applauded on silver screen. In real life, no one has time to spare, especially on weekends. How can the shopping and mall-ing be given up for sloganeering?? How indeed??

But unless we citizens join the efforts of these bravehearts, things will never change.  And then, can you imagine the thrill of ousting these corrupt rulers by the sheer power of the citizenry, a la French Revolution albeit on a passive, Gandhian scale. Perhaps that will happen when the actions of the mighty and corrupt affect every one of us and not just a handful. Till then, whistleblowers will remain another news item for most of us to shake our heads and sigh about.

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assam 182Looking through old photo albums I came upon this one capturing our 2008 visit to Kaziranga. The landscape remains so vivid in memory. Vast grasslands interspersed with jungle patches. Rhinos, buffalos and elephants lazing around… unaware of the poachers lurking around.

Kaziranga is home to over 2,400 one-horned rhinoceros and 1200 Asiatic elephants. Around 15 rhinos were killed by poachers last year while six have been poached this year already. Elephants here face a bigger problem than poaching and that is habitat fragmentation with human settlements and industrial projects eating into their land.

Over 60% of the Asian elephant populations are found in India. Estimates from the 2012 census put the numbers as ranging between 29,391 to 30,711 across the 28 elephant reserves.  At the start of the 20th century there were more than 100,000 elephants but the populations dropped by 50% since then, causing IUCN to list the pachyderm as endangered.

Industrialisation and human encroachment into forests have shrunk the range of habitat drastically by as much as 70% since 1960. Elephant deaths have resulted mostly from human animal conflicts.

The story in Africa is more heart breaking. It is expected that both elephants and rhinos there could be extinct in 20 years given the rampant poaching. Just in a year, over a 1000 rhinos were killed for their horns. Since 2008, as many as 5,940 rhinos have been killed there. Elephants too are being decimated for their ivory, almost 35,000 killed every year (a 100 every day).

Both the ivory and rhino horn are priced items in the illegal market, mostly in China and south east Asia, besides the legal markets like Hong King’s retail market for ivory.

In Africa, the Northern white rhino is as good as extinct with just three of its species left, all thanks to poaching. The white rhino was particularly vulnerable to poaching as it is relatively not as aggressive, and moves around in herds, according to WWF. In the 1960s, there were more than 2,000 remaining in the wild.

Southern white rhinos number around 20,000 while the black rhino numbers are lower at 5000. Poachers have begun using advanced technology to pick their quarry and kill as also to escape.

The demand for animal parts as well as poverty, which forces locals to engage with poachers, are the main reasons for poaching. Only if these are addressed can we hope to save the animals.

So, do you own an ivory artefact? Is that any more beautiful than seeing the animal in the wild? How can owning a costly ivory item or a rhino horn be even compared with the joy of seeing the majestic animal plodding along in the grassland?  Unmindful of anything… just being. Breathing, eating, procreating, caring for its offspring… How on earth can any human hand bear to pull the trigger on this picture of serenity!

assam 177

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Time flies

Took me some searching the mind’s recesses and the computer’s to find my blog. And hurray! I did it. Did toy with the idea of starting a new one but with my focus now more than ever of reducing and reusing anything, I decided to not add junk on the www route.

So, how has life changed since 3 years?? For one, mentally I haven’t changed much but physically yes, ‘time’s winged chariot hurrying near’ hath ravaged the body .. but kindly not too much and i am grateful for this body that carries me on through this world.

In my city I see degradation all around. People are more, vehicles too, the trees are gone and so also most lakes… and still i hear a bird song now and then and rush to bless the dear creature for a few moments of undiluted and unlimited joy.

We have exploited the planet that much more in the three years i wandered from this blog.. the soils are depleted, groundwater vanishing, air polluted… and yet, nature ceaselessly produces her bounty. The latest being the mangoes. I see them and feel a rush of enormous gratitude to this planet.

The new digital revolution since three years is the whatsapp one. With glee it was grabbed and devoured by all, regardless of age. And what does it do? Transmits images, videos and texts instantly at the speed of light. Therefore? Everyone is busy moving inspirational messages and multimedia to each other, almost compulsively. You don’t need to be lonely again if you have your whatsapp. Has it helped make us better humans? I would doubt that. We have got just one another digital addiction to the kit, that immerses us deeper into the digital world.

At the national level, it is total Modi bashing time for media. He belongs to the detested right wing with their Hindutva ideology, something which neither the proponents nor critics really understand.

The man is doing what he thinks the nation needs – development. But his model seems based more on industry-focussed growth. More roads, more buildings, more manufacture. Environment has been pushed lower on the rungs in the race to show progress, to develop more cities on the western model. Doing sadly the same mistakes as the west did.

Finally, we have a new threat facing the world — of armed fanatics who kill in the name of religion, to establish a world where their diktat alone rules.

But the sun still shows up promptly every day, the rains too though a bit hesitantly. Food still turns up on the table. And people are still running around eking an existence. The Mercedes speeds by on the bumpy road, while a worker walks barefooted carrying his bag of tools to his workplace.

 

 

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