Monthly Archives: December 2012

2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 28,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 6 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.


Journey to Amritsar

Just as every Muslim desires to go to Haj at Mecca, every Christian to Bethlehem and every Buddhist to Tibet, it is the Golden Temple -Swaran Mandir in Amritsar for a Sikh. It is holiest of all Sikh shrines and one of five Takhats.

Golden temple was built by Guru Ram Das, the fourth Guru of Sikhs. Almost every person must have seen it in pictures. A holy tank in which the Gurudwara called Golden Temple is situated. There is a pathway from one side of the rectangular tank leading to the Sanctum Sanctorum. The building can be approached from 4 gates which are located in the centres of 4 walls. The level of tank and Golden temple is lower than the gates and stairs lead to wide boulevard on the periphery of the tank.

We began our journey at early morning before sunrise in two cars from Chandigarh. After traveling about 20 kilometers we reached Rajpura town in Patiala District and from there on traveled on the fabled Grand Trunk Road popularly known as GT Road which ran once from Kabul in the West to Chittagong in East. It was first said to be constructed during  Mauriyan Empire but owes its present form to Sher Shah Suri. Thus it spans the entire Indian Subcontinent from East to West end. It is under constant expansion these days to handle the burgeoning traffic of trucks and smaller vehicles.

As soon as we were on the road, there was fog so thick that you could see only a few meters ahead. Drivers of the vehicles which normally try to overtake others in normal clear weather were trying to follow the other vehicles particularly bigger ones for the safety. As there is perennial construction work going on, there were diversions adding to the problem of driving. Many drivers could not locate the diversion and rammed their vehicles in the stop boards.

Somehow we reached Ludhiana which is a industrial town famous for ready made garments particularly woolen type. There are other industries. It was the time for workers to go to the work. There were hundreds of them on bicycles. Traffic was in complete chaos. Some of the drivers of the buses it seemed took great pleasure in constant honking and disturbing the vehicles ahead which were moving at slow pace due to the fog.

Somehow we crossed the town, road became good. Other famous towns like Phagwara came along the way. Finally it was Jullundhar town. There was no signs of fog becoming less. We stopped in a roadside eatery called Dhaba in Punjab for having some breakfast. Whole of the tarpaulin roof was dripping with the ice cold water from condensed fog. Fog darted in and out of the Dhaba.

We again pushed on and reached Kartarpur and Beas. There was a signboard indicating Kali Bien river which has been resuscitated by Sant Balbir Singh Sancherwal through community service. This river is associated with Guru Nanak who used to take dip in this river and it is considered as a holy river.

We reached Amritsar by noon after 6 hours. There is a very good parking for vehicles. While you come out of the parking, you are a part of chaos of traffic. The temple is about 1 kilometer from the parking. You can walk, take rickshaws or there is a free service vehicle run by Gurudwara.

We went inside. It was my first visit. Naturally I was awestruck to see the place which is imprinted in our minds. Since it was a working day, the queue was not so long and it took us one hour to go inside and pay our obeisance. There are colored fishes in the tank. The golden building glistens in the sunlight.

We came out and went to see the Jallianwala Bagh which is very nearby. The place is a memorial in the memory of over thousand innocent protesters were fired upon and killed by Brigadier-General Reginald E.H. Dyer in 1919. There is only a very narrow passage leading to the Bagh and soldiers were lined up near the gate. So no one could escape the fire. There were so many women and children, some of whom jumped into a water well inside the park. So it is a very emotional place for visiting and reminds us the sacrifices our forefathers made to expel the British from India.

We took to the road again. Traffic began to build up since it was closing time of offices and factories. It was almost horrible traffic in Jullunder and Phagwara. So we took detour from our old path and returned via Ropar and Chandigarh.

One day is not enough to see the place. We missed the evening parade at Wagah border.

A Trip to Dhanaulti Hill Station

A few days ago, continual rains for two days lashed Dehradun and Mussoorie hills. The temperature plummeted to freezing point and there was a snowfall in the Dhanaulti. Dhanaulti is a hill station about 30 km from the popular hill station of Mussoorie in Uttrakhand State of India. It is situated at an altitude of 2286m, and is known for its quiet environs amidst the alpine forests of Deodar, Rhododendron and Oak.

We planned to visit the place after 3 days of the snowfall. We did not expect to see any snow as we thought it would have already melted and vanished. Anyway we have read that from that place you can enjoy a beautiful view of Himalayas. We were also in two minds whether to drive in our own vehicle or hire a cab as the road is running in the hills in a sinuous manner and driving is very mind taxing.

We started in the early morning at about 8’clock. To reach Dhanaulti you have to go towards Mussoorie and take a bypass road about 10 kilometers before Mussoorie. It was brilliant sunshine. Soon the ascent began and there were curves everywhere. Along with the ascent, the temperature also began to drop. It was nearing 6 degrees Cecilius. Chill was biting the toes and numbing them. Heating had to be resorted to for keeping us warm.

We reached the bypass. From there we took a right turn and were on a road which led us to the bypass road to hill station. The route was very narrow and two vehicles coming from opposite directions could pass each other by inches only.

After this the road ran on the brink of hills. On one side of it are hills and other side very deep gorges. There were beautiful trees on the hills. Also there was a particular shrub which bore small red flowers. These shrubs grew on the walls of hills.

After traveling few kilometers, suddenly we were treated with a spectacle of breathtaking beauty. Himalayas studded with snow beckoned far off. Then there were zigzag hills showing there crests and troughs all around. There were herders herding the goats. At many places we found a novel way of storing the dried fodder by hanging the bundles from the tree branches.

Occasionally, we came across people working on the road and women who were coming with pitchers to fetch water from the newly installed water taps. It indicated that they have to travel miles for this water and it constituted a major chore for them.

When Dhanaulti was about 15 kilometers away, I spotted the white sheets of snow on the slopes of fields. Soon the roadside  was also covered with snow which has become hard and looked more like ice at many places. At many places the snow was present in good amounts.

Dhanaulti is a very small hamlet of few houses. There is a one Eco park in which you can walk the slopes to reach higher heights and see the scenery more explicitly. There were snow patches which were thawing slowly. Majestic Pine trees stood straight with their conic leaves. They looked bluish against the snow white tops of yonder Himalayas.

Crossing Dhanaulti and going 10 more kilometers is a temple called Sirkunda Devi. The head of Sati, wife of Shiva, fell here. Various other parts of her body fell at different places and are extremely pious places in India. But the Temple is located atop a very lofty hill and you have to go on foot. It takes about an hour to go up and same time to come down.

We returned without climbing to the temple. On the return journey, I was thinking to skip Mussoorie from the trip but my wife would have none of it. So we drove on a very narrow road towards the place. On reaching the Mussoorie the roads ran almost along the doors of houses and it was aweful to drive. I even thought how the vehicles have been able to reach here or once arrived have they ever left this place.

I was thinking about Ruskin Bond the famous expat English author of children books and the books like “Flight of the Pigeons” . He lives in Mussoorie. I saw in a documentary made on his life that he frequents a book store in the evening where he meets and talks with his fans and autographs the books they have purchased.

Here are some photos of the Dhanaulti.

My trysts with Fog

English: Fog in Wayanad

In my younger days at Chandigarh in North India, we experienced Foggy days and nights during winter season. Firstly, it begins to lurk over the fields which are irrigated and water is not dried. Along with the smoke which rises from the burning hearths in the huts of villages, it stays suspended low over the fields and homes.

Afterwards, when temperature drops further it begins to engulf whole region rising from the water bodies like ponds and rivers. With breeze breaking, it floats here and there. Visibility begins to reduce and the people walking a certain distance suddenly seem to emerge as wraiths and then suddenly disappearing.

For several years I have lived in Mumbai away from my home town. There temperatures never drop and weather is moderate and this fog phenomena is is rarely seen. Instead during the months of January sometimes smog surrounds all the region due to high pollution and chemical industries.

Now I have returned to North, to Dehradun. It is a valley and never a strong breeze blows. But temperatures drop very low, even then days are very sunny and bright. My first encounter with the dreaded fog which holds North India to ransom took place while traveling in the car in the very early morning from Dehradun to Chandigarh.

Fog is very treacherous. Dehradun weather was very clear but as soon as we reached a place called Selaqui about 20 kilometers towards west, nothing was visible. Whatever vehicles were there on the road, were trotting with emergency lights blinking. We followed a truck which became our guide but it also halted somewhere. Our Polo car announced by a alarm bell that the temperature has dropped below 4C.

We proceeded slowly. Keeping tabs on the white divider strips of the road. When we were nearing Nahan, suddenly the fog vanished and sun came out. It seemed that our eye sights have been restored suddenly.

We crossed the hills comfortably. But as soon as we entered the plains near Kala Amb again the it was all fog. There were burst of water jets from the trees when they shook due to passing of high vehicles. We heaved a sigh of relief after reaching our destination.



Blood: Our lifeline

Blood is the lifeline of bodies. It performs the vital functions to keep our body healthy. It is vehicle for transporting the oxygen which we breathe to the individual cells without which they will perish. Oxygen is bound to the iron present in the red blood cells and the metalloprotein is called hemoglobin. It also collects the resultant carbon dioxide to bring it back to the respiratory organs to be dispensed from the organism.

English: Two drops of blood are shown with a b...

When the supply of oxygen to the body is low at high altitudes, you can see the reddish spots in the cheeks of many people because the blood is not called upon to carry proper amounts of oxygen, some of it stays in the cheeks.

English: Animation of hemoglobin t-r state tra...

Second important component of the blood is white cells. These cells protect us from the infections. Third important component is the platelets. These along with some proteins and vitamin K help in forming the blood clots to stop the loss of blood when we are wounded. White cells also aid in the wound healing because there are bacteria lurking to infect the wound. Interestingly, some particular strains of the dreaded E.Coli bacteria which inhabits our body synthesize vitamin K which our bodies cannot synthesize themselves.

All blood cells are made within your bone marrow. Stem cells exist inside the marrow and can form into red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and more stem cells. Leukemia is cancer that relates to abnormal cell production in the bone marrow. One form of treatment involves replacing some of the bone marrow with healthy bone marrow.

Remember some fun facts about blood. There is no substitute for blood. Red blood cells live about 120 days. Plasma, which is 90 percent water, is a pale yellow mixture of water, proteins and salts. Thirteen tests are performed on donated blood, 11 are for infectious disease. Newborn baby has about one cup of blood in his or her body.

Mutual Aid or Cut throat Competition?

Darwin, father of the theory of evolution, taught us the behavior of species. The main tenet of his theory was that when the resources for which the members of an animal are competing are not sufficient, there is a fierce struggle amongst the members to outdo one another and in the end it is the strongest and fittest which emerges the winner. This theory has many opponents not only in religious quarters but within science itself. And the issue is not satisfactorily settled.

English: Charles Darwin (1809-1882) in his lat...

For almost 100 years, no single person did more to promote the study of the evolution of cooperation than Peter Kropotkin. His thesis is also based on thousands of observations he made while visiting through Siberian jungles and villages. There resources are threadbare. But he did not find the brutal dog-eat-dog world of Darwinian competition. He searched high and low—but nothing. “I failed to find, although I was eagerly looking for it,” Kropotkin wrote, “that bitter struggle for the means of existence, among animals belonging to the same species, which was considered by most Darwinists (though not always by Darwin himself) as the dominant characteristic of the struggle for life, and the main factor of evolution.”

English: Peter Kropotkin

Instead he saw mutual aid—everywhere. “In all these scenes of animal life which passed before my eyes,” Kropotkin wrote, “I saw Mutual Aid and Mutual Support carried on to an extent which made me suspect in it a feature of the greatest importance for the maintenance of life, the preservation of each species and its further evolution.” And it wasn’t just in animals. The peasants in the villages he visited were constantly helping one another in their fight against the brutal environment of Siberia. What’s more, he noted a correlation between the extent of mutual aid displayed in a peasant village and the distance of that village from the hand of government. It was just as the anarchists had suggested. “I lost in Siberia,” he wrote, “whatever faith in state discipline I had cherished before. I was prepared to become an anarchist.”

And now another piece of research has thrown its weight with Kropotkin. Complex social behavior was considered to be unique in animals, especially humans.  Now with recent findings, we may need to extend this ability to plants.  The old wives tale, “if you talk to your plants, they will grow better” may actually have a string of truth to it.  Except they don’t have ears to hear, they have chemical sensors in their roots, like “tongues in the earth.”

Recent studies have shown that plants seem to respond to other neighboring plants, and will alter their growth patterns accordingly.  At McMaster University, Ontario Canada, Susan Dudley and Amanda File have demonstrated that plants grown near their siblings are less competitive than when they are grown near unrelated “strangers” of the same plant.  The response of plants to competition in their environment has been well documented.  They are known to sprout deeper roots for water and nutrients.  However, recognition of their own genetic kin has never been seen before.

In their experiment, Dudley and File grew batches of Cakile edentula (the Great Lakes Sea Rocket) together in pots of four.  Some were paired with members of the same maternal family and others were paired with unrelated families.  Considering that the plants were of the same species, the growth of their root masses were expected to be the same.  Surprisingly, a greater mass of roots were grown when plant “strangers” were grown next to each other, while less root mass was associated with tandem plants of the same maternal line, thus indicating a sharing of resources as opposed to competing for them.  The mechanism behind plant kin recognition is still a mystery.

Calories or calories??

There are millions of people for whom it is almost impossible to arrange two square meals for the families. So they don’t have any choice of what they eat. On the other hand, there are affluent people for whom what to eat or what not to eat is a big problem. They are grappling with obesity problems which are the precursor of so many lethal ailments like heart attack, blood pressure, backache and diabetes. They are always conscious of the calorific value of the foods they consume.

Any student of science or health conscious person is aware that calorie is unit of energy. Our bodies continuously require energy to properly perform normal functions of the body. Even while doing nothing, our body consumes energy called basal metabolic rate.

Calorie and calorie are slightly different. In nutrition science, Calorie with capital C is equal to 1000 calories. Sometimes, Calorie is also called kilo calorie. 1 Calorie is the amount of energy it takes to raise 1 kilogram of water 1 degree centigrade at sea level.

The calorie content of foods consumed  by a human being was determined in the late 1800s by Wilbur O. Atwater, an agricultural chemist. He built a device called a “Respiration Calorimeter” to make direct measurements of heat released by humans from the food they consumed. At 4 feet by 8 feet, Atwater’s calorimeter was big enough to allow a person to step into it. The device measured the amount of heat released by that person, along with the amount of oxygen consumed and carbon dioxide given off.

Wilbur Olin Atwater

Wilbur Olin Atwater (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Using this device, Atwater was able to measure the precise amount of energy contained in thousands of food items. He found that carbohydrates and proteins are worth 4 Calories per gram and fats about 9 Calories per gram. This 4-9-4 system is how labels are determined today. In some cases, dietary fiber is subtracted from the total carbohydrate count because it is assumed that it provides no nutritional calories. Also, alcohol, if present, is accounted for as 7 Calories per gram.

Basal metabolism reactions occurring inside our bodies consume 70% of the calories. Rest 30% if not consumed shall be deposited in the body mostly in the form of fat.

Professor Yasmin Saikia

One day a program on Ahoms-the kings who ruled the state of Assam for almost 700 years-was telecast on Doordarshan TV. It talked about how Tai Ahoms came to Assam from Yunnan province and settled here bewitched by the natural beauty of the land. I have been to the place and stayed there for 3 years and I can vouch for the fact.

Although they ruled the state for such a long period, adopted the language of the region, married into the local inhabitants, the truth about the history is not all that clear. I searched on Google and the name of a book “Fragmented Memories” by Yasmin Saikia popped up. I followed the links and was awed by the ladies achievement specially against the background of the backwardness and partial isolation of the Region of North East India.

Professor Yasmin Saikia is the Hardt-Nickachos Chair in Peace Studies at the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and a Professor of History in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. Her research and teaching interests invoke a dynamic transnational and interdisciplinary dialogue situated at the intersection of history, culture and religion. With a specific focus on contestations and accommodations in South Asia between local, national and religious identities, she examines the Muslim experience in India, Pakistan, and Bangaldesh, and the discourse of nonviolence alongside the practice of violence against women and vulnerable groups.

yasmin 2011

Assamese herself, Saikia lived in several different Tai-Ahom villages between 1994 and 1996. She spoke with political activists, intellectuals, militant leaders, shamans, and students and observed and participated in Tai-Ahom religious, social, and political events. She read Tai-Ahom sacred texts and did archival research—looking at colonial documents and government reports—in Calcutta, New Delhi, and London. In Fragmented Memories, Saikia reveals the different narratives relating to the Tai-Ahom as told by the postcolonial Indian government, British colonists, and various texts reaching back to the thirteenth century. She shows how Tai-Ahom identity is practiced in Assam and also in Thailand. Revealing how the “dead” history of Tai-Ahom has been transformed into living memory to demand rights of citizenship, Fragmented Memories is a landmark history told from the periphery of the Indian nation.
I have ordered one book by her and hope to read it and be enlightened about Assam. I am sure that no many Assamese people have heard about her.

Winter is becoming Intense

Except for a few sporadic appearance of clouds, the days begin with very bright mornings. The day breaks late. The sun comes out only at about seven o’clock although the darkness begins to melt into grey and then visible by half past six . The sky which looks black before sunlight begins to take on bluish hue.

There are groups of birds flying over against a clear sky. Cranes fly in groups to a river nearby to remain there all day and forage for food in the icy cool waters of the river. They can be seen returning in the opposite direction at the dusk. God knows what is the logic behind their daily sojourns. Can’t they make their abodes nearby? Crows make vacuous noises and sit on the branches of a skeleton tree. Occasionally big kites circle scanning the ground beneath. Crows which suppose themselves to be the rulers of the area relentlessly chase the kite. The sunlight plays with crests of mountains. There are speakers blaring bhajans from temples. The soldiers run with gusto. Morning stirs the activity. Occasionally, group of parrots dart between the trees.

Then there are monkeys descending in hordes over the colony. They lay hands on anything in the garbage bins which are of very old style silos with open trap doors. They hang on in the balconies and make a mess of everything. They pluck the flowers and uproot the plants.

You can see many people walking their morning walks. Some do exercises and running also. After the observations of many days, you can easily see the diehard morning walkers. Those who walk in the groups are given to chatting and discussing the politics.

The sun rises and everything is bathed in the golden sunlight. The sunlight first touches the crests of the lofty trees and then descends and spreads to the ground. The darkness has vanished completely. Soon it is the time for school buses and other vehicles to pick up the school children who are waiting on the road with their parents. The school is about to begin and the front area which was empty a few minutes earlier is thronged by the children and their parents who come to drop their wards to school. All of them seem to in great hurry and there is almost a frenzy on the road. Sometimes it seems that there shall be collisions.

There are milkmen and milkmaids coming to deliver the milk on the bikes. One women comes on bicycle for selling the breads, eggs and other breakfast items. She continuously rings the cycle bell to announce her presence to the customers. The house maids also arrive on the scene and can be seen entering the houses.


Moors Last Sigh

Last of the Moors to rule Granada was Boabdil (Arab. Abu-Abdallah or Ez-Zogoiby, the Unlucky). In 1491 the Moorish capital fell to Ferdinand, though Boabdil fought with a courage strangely at variance with his infirmity of purpose. As he rode away to the coast he halted on a ridge at Padul, still called El Ultimo Sospiro del Mora (The Moor’s last sigh), to take a farewell look at the Alhambra, and burst into tears at the sight. Whereupon his mother is said to have thus reproached him: “You may well weep like a woman for what you could not defend like a man.” He died shortly afterwards on the field of battle in Africa.

Salman Rushdie‘s famous novel “Moors Last Sigh” is based on the story of a Moorish family from Kerala. Kerala is a state in extreme south of India. It has a natural beauty which earned for it the epithet “God’s own country“.  Moors like Europeans also came and settled in Kerala, fabled for spices which lured the Europeans. Who can forget the Vasco da Gama‘s expedition to India in search of spices. Even Columbus set out to discover India. It is another matter that he discovered the New World, the US.
The family in the novel moves to Bombay to expand their business but gets enmeshed into local politics. One of the main female characters is based loosely on Amrita Shergil, the famous painter of old days India due to her bold personality. After this book, Rushdie was threatened and asked to refrain from entering Bombay or face the ire of a political party.