Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The new plastic currency

Photo credit: BBC
We all know the harmful environmental effects of plastic. For quite a few years there has been a campaign, the world over, to dissuade people from using plastic, especially those single-use ones that we use and throw.

Five Ways That Plastics Harm The Environment (And One Way They May Help) - Forbes

Recently, in India, the campaign got a fillip when Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on October 2, the 150th birth anniversary, exhorted the people to put to practice the idea of reducing the use of plastic.

Actually, there was a plan to ban altogether single-use plastic, but that was altered and the government has been urging people to consciously reduce. One of the reasons being spoken of is that a total ban would be too disruptive a step for the fragile economy (Report in The Print).

BROUHAHA OVER MODI PLOGGING

Photo credit: Indian Express
Last week, the whole proposition got on to the centre stage when the Prime Minister released a video of him picking up plastic waste (BBC report) from the beach in Mamallapuram (in Tamil Nadu state in South India) on October 12. (The PM was in Mamallapuram for an informal summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.)

It is a different matter that the video prompted the appearance of a misleading collage of photos -- which were called out by the media -- suggesting that the Prime Minister's act was a carefully stage-managed publicity stunt. (How the media busted the wrong sequence of photos)

PEOPLE ARE USING LESS PLASTIC

There is no doubt that the campaign has been having quite an effect. None of the stores in my neighbourhood pack products for customers in plastic. They have a board at the entrance urging shoppers to bring their own bag.

To discourage people from throwing away plastic, recently many institutions launched various programmes, including one under which people could swap plastic material with something useful -- plastic becoming a new currency of sorts!

Here are some news items that appeared in the last few weeks:

  • Metro commuters in Noida and the general public can deposit 20 plastic bags (of size 6” x 10”) or 10 plastic bottles (of 1-litre capacity) at any designated metro stations and get one jute Bag in return. (The Quint)
  • A Garbage Cafe has come up in Chhattisgarh state which provides food in exchange for plastic waste. (DNA)
  • Railway passengers with plastic carry bags arriving at the Hubballi Railway Station were in for a surprise on Thursday as a group of women approached them and gave them cloth bags with an appeal to say no to plastic. (The Hindu)
  • Traders in Pune are providing cloth bags for free if they give 1 kg of polythene bags or plastic to a retailer for recycling. (Pune Mirror)
  • There is a Facebook page by activists in Andhra Pradesh that is pioneering efforts to collect plastic and distribute food. (Deccan Herald)

    Abroad too ...
  • Italy's capital Rome (where rubbish has become an unmanageable problem) is offering travellers a way to exchange their waste plastic bottles for tickets on its public transport system. (Euronews)
  • Bayanan village in Muntinlupa City in the Philippines launched a program in September to improve waste management by letting residents exchange their plastic trash for a kilogram (2.2 lb) of rice. (Vice)

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Key elements of Gandhian thought

Source: Gujarat Vidyapith,
founded by Gandhi in 1920
Today is the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, who led the independence movement in the Indian subcontinent in the 1930s and 1940s through means like non-violence and non-cooperation that were, if not unknown, definitely not popular then.

In the more than seven decades since those days, our lifestyles have dramatically changed. But the world largely has remained the same -- in the sense that there is no dearth of either the good or the bad.

There are so many kindhearted souls around doing wonderful things for the world around them. At the same time, on the other side, we still have many life-threatening health issues, conflicts and deaths.

It's pointless trying to imagine how Gandhi would have reacted to some of the present-day political, economic or social situations. Nevertheless, some of the key elements of his personal philosophy are everlasting. Some of them that come to my mind are:

1. Be truthful. What one achieves through deception and lies is temporary. This was the basis of Gandhi's agitation called 'satyagraha'.

2. The force of pacifism is enlightening but that of weapons is blinding.

3. Practise what you preach. That is the way to bring about change in society. Gandhi tried his best to follow this to a tee. It's not easy because it involves a lot of sacrifices. The extent to which Gandhi was able to achieve is simply amazing.

4. Avoid wastage. Everything has a value of its own. Make the full use of whatever we have. Don't let anything go waste. Today we are constantly exhorted to 'reduce, reuse, recycle'. But Gandhi practised it. For example, he would write (how much ever important it was) on the reverse side of envelopes.

5. Give up and gain peace. The more we amass, the more the burden. Let us be driven by our needs and not the wants. Abjure what is not necessary.

There are so many books and movies made on this great man, besides numerous articles available online. Some of my recommendations are:

1. Gandhi, the film directed by Richard Attenborough with Ben Kingsley as Gandhi. Not just that it's a very well-made movie it's so inspirational.

2. Freedom at Midnight by Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre. The book is about the runup to the Indian independence on August 15, 1947, and has so many well-researched references to Gandhi, giving us good insights into that amazing human being.

3. Gandhi: The Years That Changed the World, 1914-1948 by Ramachandra Guha. This book explores the complexity of Gandhi's views and throws light on also how others around him viewed him.

Mahatma Gandhi with Albert Einstein
Source: Open Culture that brings together free of cost
high-quality cultural & educational media

I guess nothing best sums up in one sentence on who Gandhi was as Albert Einstein's tribute: “Generations to come will scarce believe that such a one as this ever in flesh and blood walked upon this earth."

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Absent-mindedness

Image courtesy: Cliparts Zone
I am quite absent-minded. More often than not, I forget something -- keys, pen, wallet, or specs -- when I leave my house; and I have to invariably go back in to get it.

I have also applied the shaving cream on the toothbrush, only to sense a strange burning taste of the 'toothpaste'!

The biggest fear I have while travelling is whether I have boarded the wrong bus or the wrong train, even though I have boarded it only after seeing the display board.

In the case of flights, the biggest reassurance that I am at the right boarding gate and entering the right aircraft are display boards, the announcements, and the multiple checks by the airline and security staff.

There have been two occasions, once while travelling by bus and another while travelling by metro train, when my absent-mindedness played havoc.

INDORE, 1989

The first one happened long ago, 30 years ago, when I got a new job and moved from Bhopal to Indore. I was a bachelor then, and all my belongings could be packed in three boxes.

As I boarded the Bhopal-Indore bus, the boxes were kept in the luggage compartment at the rear of the vehicle.

When ​the bus reached Indore, I alighted at a stop near my house, which was two stops before the Indore bus terminus, the final destination of the bus.

I moved to the rear of the bus, picked up my luggage, and headed home in an autorickshaw.

Within a couple of minutes, I realised that out of the three boxes, I had taken only two of them. And the bus had already moved.

My first thoughts were as to what was in that box. It had all the important documents, like the original certificates of my school and college examinations, and also my two-in-one radio-cum-cassette recorder.

I immediately told the autorickshaw driver to go to the bus terminus, since I had forgotten to take one of my bags from the bus. He was a very nice man, and he said not to worry.

My concern was whether, by the time I reached the bus terminus, the bus would be there, or it would have moved elsewhere. Also whether someone would have walked away with my box.

When I reached the terminus, I saw that the bus was right there, and some pieces of luggage were still being taken out of the compartment.

I told the autorickshaw driver to wait for a while, while my eyes roamed all over the place looking for my box. I was so relieved to see it was indeed there as if waiting for me to pick it up.

I told the conductor that I had forgotten the box when I had got out of the bus at the earlier stop. He told me that he had kept the box aside because there was no claimant for it.

I was extremely happy and relieved that I got it back.

NEW DELHI AIRPORT METRO STATION, 2014

​There was another similar incident. This was five years ago at the New Delhi Airport Metro Station. I had gone to Delhi to witness the Republic Day parade: the first time I was going to witness the colourful ceremonial celebration of the anniversary of India becoming a republic on January 26, 1950. 

I reached Delhi by flight from Bengaluru. After exiting the airport, I took a shuttle bus to the airport metro station.

After clearing the security check, I reached the platform and kept my suitcase and the backpack on the platform as I waited for the train.

When the metro arrived, I took my baggage and boarded. About 5 minutes later, I got a strange feeling that something was amiss.

I realised that I had taken only the suitcase, and had left the backpack on the platform. The only expensive item in it was the laptop. But that was valuable enough. The other things were my shoes, socks and toiletries.

The other passengers understood my predicament and asked me what had happened. They suggested that I alight at the next station and contact customer care.

Meanwhile, since the train was running underground, the mobile signal was feeble and I had trouble calling my friend, who would have been waiting for me at the destination station. Somehow, I managed to call him, tell him what had happened and that I would be delayed.

I got down at the next station and went to the customer care section, where an executive asked me the colour of the backpack and some identification marks.

They checked with their counterparts at the airport metro station, who said nothing had been brought to their notice. I began to give up hope, thinking it would have been picked up by someone.

I was ready to resume my journey to my friend's house and gave my mobile number to the customer care executive telling him to give me a call if ever they got the bag back.

Just when I was about to leave the station, ​​the executive received a call from the airport metro station saying that they had indeed found a black backpack abandoned on the platform.

I was relieved but my fear was that quite probably the laptop would have been taken away by someone leaving just the bag behind. Hoping against hope, I took a train back to the airport metro station.

As I walked towards the area on the platform where I had left the bag, I was happy to see that it was exactly at the same spot where I had left it.

But what surprised me was that there was a group of policemen holding some appliances and equipment with them, near the backpack.

It didn't take long for me to realise that the next day was the Republic Day parade (a very high-security event in the nation's capital), and that explained why the policemen, probably with bomb-detecting devices, had checked my backpack.

Just when I reached there, the policemen took the bag and asked me if I was the owner. I said I was, and sheepishly I told them that in a hurry, I had left the bag behind.

They asked me to follow them and took me to a room, which looked like a place where they kept all the lost and found items.

The policemen emptied all the contents of the bag and thoroughly examined them. After convincing themselves that there wasn't anything dangerous in it, told me to enter my name, address and mobile number in a register. I then put everything back in.

One of the policemen also told me to be calm and not to be stressed. He said people forget things because they are stressed out and that their brain doesn't work properly.

I thanked them all, for everything, including that gem of advice; and once again began my journey from the Delhi Airport Metro Station to my friend's house.

My friend told me, no one will ever pick up anything that is left unattended, especially if it's in crowded places like a railway station. Instead, they would alert the police. So, you will always get back what you forgot and left behind.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Breaking free of mindset

Image courtesy: Clipart zone
Our lives follow a routine largely determined by mindset, is it not? Not quite sure if "habit" is a synonym, but mindset is a set of beliefs or thoughts that guide the way behave. A pattern that has become habitual.

We have preconceived notions not only about ourselves but also about different people, objects, places, issues, events etc around us. These notions decide how we react to them. Owing to our mindset, we behave in a predictable or stereotypical manner.

Since I work late, up to around 1 am, I wake up only by 8 or sometimes even 9. And I found it extremely difficult to go out for a walk or a jog or do some exercises after 9 am because for me, 9 am was sort of an "outer limit". After 9 am means it was "too late". The result was I began to miss my workouts on many days.

I realised that this 9 am fixation is largely an issue of my mindset. Why not go out for a walk or a jog, even if it's past 9 am?

So I went against my mindset, and irrespective of what time I woke up, I decided to go out for a short workout. I shifted the goal post, as it were, and I made myself free till about 11 am before I freshen up and get into some reading or writing or some such stuff.

It's working! And working well!

There are plenty of other examples in our daily lives. If need be, for a good cause, we must be flexible enough to change our mindset, make a course correction, and follow a different path. It might work, it might not. We can always improve upon it.

It's all in the mind, after all.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Kudos, Isro scientists!

Fifteen minutes of anxiety-filled moments late last night.

Those were the 15 moments when scientists of Isro, the Indian Space Research Organisation, would make complex manoeuvres from their earth station in Bengaluru to guide Vikram, the unmanned, robotic lander, into making a soft landing on the south pole of the moon around 1.50 am -- a feat no one had achieved so far.

Three of my colleagues and I were glued to the live transmission.

1.35 am. Vikram began its descend and the scientists were reducing the speed progressively, in order to enable the soft landing of Vikram, the lander, on the moon.

Close to 1.50 am, everything seemed to be going perfectly well, just about a couple of minutes or so for the touchdown. Fingers crossed.

THE WORRY, THE SILENCE

But then as moments passed, the cheerful faces of scientists in the mission control room seemed to be filled with anxiety. There was silence, and an announcement came on the air that we were awaiting further updates.

We saw the chairman of Isro K Sivan walking up to Prime Minister Narendra Modi (who was at the tracking station in Bengaluru to witness the event). Moments later Modi got up and left the room after telling Sivam something and patting him on the back.

We got to hear that the communication from the lander had snapped. Many feared that either the lander had crashlanded because the speed of the descent couldn't be reduced to the required level or Vikram had landed but we hadn't got to know about it since the communication was off. 

Around 2.15 am, Sivan made an official announcement that the communication got snapped when the lander was 2.1 km from the surface of the moon and all the data are being analysed.

No one had yet said that the lander had crashed. But that was what it looked like.

SO NEAR YET SO FAR

Nevertheless, this was a mission that nearly succeeded. Only three nations -- the US, Russia and China -- have so far managed to land an unmanned craft on the moon. And that too after many failed attempts. The success rate of such efforts has been just around 40%.

No nation had landed a craft on the south pole, an area where scientists believe has minerals and water.

Yet, the fact that Indian scientists made this attempt and managed to get the lander as close to the moon as 2.1 km is indeed a great achievement.

The entire capsule called Chandrayaan 2 -- orbiter, the lander and the rover -- was launched on July 22.  On August 14, it left the Earth's orbit, and it entered the moon's orbit on August 20.

Meanwhile, the orbiter is still going around the moon and the payloads on it are working well.

SPACE EXPLORATION IS COMPLEX BUT VITAL

The Prime Minister was all praise for the scientists when he returned to the command centre this morning and spoke to them for nearly half an hour. "This was an experiment, and we make progress with experiments. We are with you," he said.

We will know in the coming days as to what exactly happened and why the lander couldn't make the soft landing as planned.

To say that failure is the stepping stone to success sounds a bit cliched. But that's a fact. No one has ever succeeded in doing, especially very complex tasks, without a few failures. And space is a complex and challenging area. Everything is remotely controlled.

Space explorations and the success of the scientific community the world over is what has given us many comforts -- from modern communication technologies to our ability to understand the climate patterns, helping us understand our earth better.

FURTHER READING

Friday, August 30, 2019

Turning WhatsApp into cardiac helpline

Spread positive information
Technology is what we make of them. WhatsApp can be used to spread falsehoods or to help people.

A cardiologist in Mangaluru, Karnataka, Dr Padmanabha Kamath, has chosen the latter by turning the messaging app into a free helpline.

Of course, this is not a substitute for a doctor. It only serves as a guide for someone who needs help.

For example, you have a particular symptom, and you want to get quick advice on what needs to be done. Or you have a medical report and you want a doctor to interpret it and suggest the future course of action.

This guidance is often what a number of us who have health issues are eagerly looking forward to.

The service that Dr Kamath runs is called Cardiology at Doorstep, and the WhatsApp number is +91-9743287599.

Considering that this messaging platform is arguably the most popular and effective medium of communication, there is immense potential for extrapolating this model on a bigger scale by corporates.

Read more about this initiative here.

(This post is part of the We Are The World Blogfest, which aims to spread positive news on social media. WATWB on Twitter and on Facebook.)

Monday, August 26, 2019

Sindhu, Stokes made my Sunday

P V Sindhu, the world badminton
champion (Pix credit: Outlook)
You won't believe, yesterday I was glued to the television from 5 pm to 10 pm. Never, at least in the recent past, have I watched TV at a stretch like I did yesterday.

India's badminton star P V Sindhu's match against Japan's Nozomi Okuhara, in the final of the BWF World Championships, was coming up at 5.10 pm.

Sindhu had been in tremendous form in the tournament, yet I didn't have much hope. Because she has a history of reaching the finals and losing.

Thus she had to settle for a silver in the 2016 Olympics, 2017 and 2018 World Championships, 2018 Commonwealth Games, and 2018 Asian Games.

But, as the match progressed, I was pleasantly surprised. Sindhu was racing ahead of Okuhara. Halfway through the first set she was leading 11-2. She smashed her way to wrap up the first set 21-7 in just 16 minutes.

It was very unusual of Okhuhara to make so many unforced errors and lose a set so badly. I thought she will recoup herself and there would be a tougher fight in the second set. After all, their head-to-head record is quite even. Of the 15 matches they had played against each other, Sindhu had won 8 and Okuhara 7.

But that's not what happened. More aggression from Sindhu. I haven't seen Sindhu like this. She has deft movements and placements. But her smashes were not always the ones that are powerful enough or placed well to be winners.

Sindhu with the gold medal (Pix credit: BBC)
But in this tournament, she was in a totally new form. She wasn't allowing herself to be complacent. Unlike most of her other matches, in which she and her opponent go neck and neck to finish so close at the end, here she was not trailing at all but taking an early lead and building on it.

The second set (21-7) lasted 20 minutes and she won the world championship. On top of the world. She richly deserves this.

As India's national flag went up and India's national anthem played, she couldn't hold back tears. My eyes too welled up.

CONSOLATION FOR JAPAN

The women's final was followed by the men's final.  Kento Momota of Japan was taking on Anders Antonsen of Denmark. Momota is the top seed and had been in great form. This match too was one-sided. Antonsen didn't pose many challenges and the match ended 21-9, 21-3.

This was some sort of consolation for Japan, considering Okuhara lost the women's final.

DRAMATIC VICTORY CHASE

Ben Stokes, England's saviour
(Pix credit: Cricbuzz)
After badminton, I switched channels to see what's happening in Leeds in the Ashes series. It was a little after 6.45 pm. The match had entered an interesting stage, I realised.

England had been set a target of 359 to win, on day 3 (the day before yesterday). That means more than two days for them to do the task. But considering that in the first innings they folded up at 67, the odds were not exactly in their favour.

They lost the first wicket at 12 and the second at 25. It was Joe Root who steadied the ship, ending the day with his score at 75 not out and England at 156 for 3.

Yesterday was Day 4, and many thought England won't be able to stay put, handing over the Ashes to Australia. When I joined the match, the score was 259 for six. That means England needed exactly 100 runs to win with just four wickets remaining.

At 261, Chis Woakes got out for one. Three wickets remaining and 98 runs needed.

Jofra Archer belted three fours and I thought he will stay around for some time. But he didn't and got out after repeating a lofted on-drive and getting caught. He made 15. England slumped to 286 for 8. Two wickets remaining and 73 runs needed. Any hope of England saving the match was disappearing fast.

Stuart Broad walked in, and after facing just two balls, he got out without scoring. Score 286 for 9. Only the most diehard optimist would ever have thought England would win.

Australia needed just one wicket and England needed 73 runs.

Ben Stokes was keeping the hopes alive; and he was joined by Jack Leach, a slow left-arm orthodox spinner, whose career batting average is under 20. It shouldn't have been difficult for Australia.

But Stokes and Leach both seemed to have planned it well, as they ensured that Stokes always retained strike at the change of over.

They kept us all on the edge of the seat, as Australia came so close to taking that wicket, with chances for catches and runouts. With fours and sixes coming in at regular intervals from Stokes' bat, the required number of runs came down and down, and an unimaginable scenario of an England victory was gradually emerging.

And it finally, it happened. The match was tied at 359 and Stokes hit a boundary and ensured England not only registered an unbelievable win but also kept the Ashes alive.

The last pair faced 61 balls. Out of that, Leach faced only 17 and scored just one run. The rest 44 balls were faced by Stokes and scored 72 runs. His 135 not out, came in 219 balls, with 11 fours and 8 sixes. Stupendous performance.

Though the hero is Stokes, we must not forget the role Leach played. He hung on, keeping the match alive and allowing his partner to get the runs. He was like hanging on the edge of the precipice, waiting for his friend to save them both from a calamitous fall.

The moral of the story is, never give up hope, never lose cool, stay calm.

The fourth Test begins on September 4 at Old Trafford.

INDIA BEAT WEST INDIES

India was playing their 1st Test match against West Indies at Antigua. And the Indian bowlers were right on top, and the prospects of an Indian victory was looming. But I had little energy to sit through another cricket match!

The match would have got over around 2 am Indian time. India bundled out Windies for 100 winning the Test 318 runs, with Jaspreet Bumrah returning amazing figures of 8 overs 4 maidens, 7 runs and 5 wickets.