Sunday, September 30, 2018

Three historic Supreme Court judgements -- on homosexuality, adultery, Sabarimala

Supreme Court of India
Winds of change are sweeping across India. In the past three weeks, the Supreme Court of the country, pronounced three historic verdicts, giving a stamp of approval to three very contentious and sharply divisive views. I don't think any time in the past we had such important rulings coming in quick succession from the top court of the country.


In 1861, when India was a colony of the British empire, Section 377 came into being, which, inter alia, made homosexual relationship a criminal offence. On September 6, the Supreme Court read down the section, decriminalising homosexual relationship between two consenting adults. With gay and lesbian sex no longer a crime, there was huge jubiliation among the LGBTQ community.

Read more in The Hindu


On September 27, the Supreme Court struck down Section 497 of the Indian Penal Code, a highly gender-biased 158-year-old colonial-era adultery law. Hitherto, under the law, only a husband could complain against adultery. In other words, if a man strayed, his wife couldn't legally launch a case. Also, interestingly, a wife's affair with a man won't be considered adultery if it had the connivance of her husband!

Now all these horrendous clauses have gone. However, the ruling doesn't mean every married man and woman can now safely launch an extramarital affair. It is still a valid ground for divorce.

While generally the ruling was welcomed, some people felt that the ruling impacted the traditional sanctity of the institution of marriage.

Read more in NDTV


Sabarimala temple
In the state of Kerala in south India, a very popular temple, Sabarimala, from time immemorial, has been barred for women between the age of 10 and 50. It effectively means women in the child-bearing age are not allowed in.

According to this article, the legend has it that the presiding deity of Sabarimala, Lord Ayyappa, is a celibate so that he can focus on answering the prayers of his devotees. And he will remain celibate till that day when there is no first-time devotee coming to the temple. (Every year, there are many who make their first visit to the temple. So Ayyappa remains a celibate.)

The Supreme Court ruled that devotion cannot be subjected to discrimination, and patriarchal notion cannot be allowed to trump equality in devotion. "Rules based on biological characteristics will not muster Constitution," the court said.

Interestingly, the lone woman judge in the five-judge bench gave a dissenting verdict saying it should be up to to the practitioners of the faith to frame laws governing them.

Read more in NDTV


The differences between man and woman, which used to be once very stark, are now fast blurring. Men and women, are now seen as individuals, and their gender is never the primary element of consideration. So, it was only a matter of time, that homosexual relationship was made legal. Before long, we would see same-sex marriage too in India.

Regarding the Sabarimala verdict, the substance of the ruling was that there is no constitutional bar on any woman going to Sabarimala. It is a matter of individual faith whether someone wants to go to the temple or not. So, it's quite possible that many women, in spite of this ruling, will not go to Sabarimala, till they attain menopause. That's fine. No one is forcing anyone to go to the temple.

These rulings also signify another stage in our human evolution. We should remember that we are what we are after a series of evolutionary stages. We were neither created nor born in the way we are now. We have reached this stage. It is important to look back and see what we were in the past.

A simple example: T-shirt and jeans is a very common attire for both men and women. But many years ago, they were not as common as they are today. We have changed our dressing style. Many other life styles too have changed. And they will continue to change. That's the way it has been; and that's the way it will be.

As Victor Hugo said: “No force on earth can stop an idea whose time has come.”

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Book Review: Farewell: The Greatest Spy Story of the Twentieth Century

Farewell: The Greatest Spy Story of the Twentieth Century
Over the past two years at least, ever since we had the American presidential elections, we have been continually hearing about the Russians' covert activities. How far it is true or false is still being investigated, and we may not know that for sure for some time.

In this context, when I was surfing Amazon for a book to read, I stumbled on this; and the title stopped me in my tracks. I read the blurb, and in no time I bought the book.

This book by Sergei Kostin and Eric Raynaud is the English translation of their Adieu Farewell. It's been translated by Catherine Cauvin-Higgins.

The story truly justifies the title. A tale of a man's academic brilliance, excellence in undercover operations, alcohol, women and passionate love. His name: Vladimir Vetrov.

The book is about his life, how he joined the KGB, the then Soviet secret service, how he got frustrated and disillusioned with his country's ideology under Leonid Brezhnev, and how he betrayed his nation by leaking to France all the scientific and technical details his country had gathered about NATO.

His code name was Farewell, and all the information he leaked was called the Farewell Dossier. In 1981, when France elected a socialist Francois Mitterrand as President. It raised the hackles of the West, especially the US and its President Ronald Reagan. But all that vanished when Mitterrand passed on to Reagan the Farewell Dossier.

The dossier contained lots of information regarding who were spying for the USSR and where. Based on it many diplomats were expelled, leading to rising tensions between the NATO and the USSR.

It is said that Vetrov's actions and the steps that the NATO took against the USSR, effectively put an end to the scientific and technological research that the USSR was undertaking, and that in turn led to the weakening of Soviet political establishment giving Reagan the edge in bringing the Iron Curtain down.

The book is also about Vetrov as a person: his personality, his strengths and weaknesses. His personal life is a parallel plot in the book: alcoholism, marriage, son and love affairs. Though the Soviets lost the spy plot to Vetrov, he too lost out in the process.

The book is very well researched, contains lots of information about Vetrov's life, his work, the Soviet system etc. But it is not a very fast-paced book. There are too many details, and too much of analyses, that might put off readers who are looking for an edge-of-the-seat thriller.

Farewell: The Greatest Spy Story of the Twentieth Century by Sergei Kostin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

View all my reviews

Monday, September 10, 2018

US Open 2018: Naomi vs Serena - When emotion got the better of tennis

It was a US Open like never before: breathtaking display of tennis from 20-year-old Naomi Osaka to outclass 36-year-old Serena Williams. Naomi became the first Japanese to win a Grand Slam, by defeating someone who has won 23 of them! No mean achievement!

Here are the highlights of that great match:


It is almost two days now since tennis history was made. But sadly, what is in focus still are matters other than tennis: the outburst of Serena.


A quick recap. It all began when Naomi was 40-15 up in the second game of the second set when chair umpire Carlos Ramos handed a code violation to Serena's coach Patrick Mouratoglou after the umpire noticed that Patrick was gesturing to the player in the form of coaching, which is not allowed.

Serena walked up to the umpire and said that she didn't see any gesturing from the coach, and that there is no need for her to cheat. "I would lose rather than cheat," she told the umpire.

(However, after the match, the coach admitted that he was coaching Serena during the match.) 

Serena went on, to go up 3-1 over Naomi in that 2nd set.


Then, in the next game, came a close call, and Serena lost a serve. In anger, she smashed the racket, which got twisted out of shape; and as another code violation against Serena, Naomi was then awarded a point.

Serena's anger boiled over. She called the umpire a liar and a thief (for taking points away from her.)

The match continued, but Serena's rant also continued. So too the boos and jeers from the crowd.


“I don’t cheat! You need to make an announcement. I have never cheated in my life. I have a daughter! You owe me an apology. You owe me an apology.”

And the shouting at the umpire got her the third penalty, a game penalty.

Serena got more furious, and accused the umpire of being sexist.

“Are you kidding me? ... Because I called you a thief? ... This is not fair. This is not fair. This has happened to me so many times. ... There are lot of men out here who have said a lot worse than that. I called him a thief because he stole a point from me. .... "

The boos and jeers reached a crescendo.

It couldn't have been worse for Serena. 23-time Grand Slam champion, looking towards equalling Margret Court's record of 24, on the 45th anniversary of Margaret's achievement.

Serena used all her energy and abilities. But the last game went Naom's way: 15-0, 15-15, 30-15, 40-15. Game, set and the Championship.


Then, followed the most bizzare award presentation ceremony.

One, the umpire was told not to come on to the state.

Two, Naomi Osaka was not just crying, but so embarrassed that she was pulling the visor of the cap to cover her face. They were not tears of joy. She wasn't smiling at all. How sad! She actually apologised to the crowd for not letting their favourite player win.

Three, Serena too was crying. Then, she did something remarkable.  She asked the crowd to stop booing and jeering, and let the new champion savour her golden moment. Only Serena could have done that. And she did that. I am glad that she acted wisely, unlike the way she allowed herself to be carried away by emotion during the match.

But lots of damage had been done already.

Felt so sad for Naomi.


One, as far as I know, from what I have read and heard, Carlos Ramos has a good reputation as an umpire. He is one of strictest in the circuit. He would have done the same thing, if it was another player, man or woman.

Two, on-court coaching does happen. Many coaches and players have been pulled up before. But they have all moved on, without creating a scene.

Three, Serena was spot on, on the issue of sexism. Everyone knows that. Many male players have barked even the F-word at umpires. Serena was right to bring up that issue. But not at that time, and not against this umpire. The biased rulings had been given by other umpires.


Only one reason why Serena behaved the way she did: Unbearable pressure. She has been putting all her best after that maternity break, to claw her way back to the top spot, where she rightly belongs. At New York, she was just about there, when this Japanese girl was powering her way through. This was also an occasion for her to equal Margret Court's record.

Naomi Osaka was definitely playing better than Serena. That's where it all began, for Serena, who then just let emotions get the better of the game. While I won't disagree with Serena's point about sexism, that was not the place to raise it, and take away in the process all the focus from Naomi's performance.


Naomi Osaka deserves all the credit and accolades. She played superbly. She kept her cool, didn't allow herself to be distracted by not only Serena's rants but the continuous raucous jeers of the crowd. It is not easy when 23,000 are booing and you know you are not the favourite of the crowd.

The current focus might be on Serena. But Naomi will be remembered for years and years to come, for the spectacular display of tennis that outclassed Serena.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Positive power of social media networks in rain-ravaged Kerala

We Are The World Blogfest
Many of you, especially those who are living in India, would have known about the torrential rain that battered the south Indian state of Kerala most of August, resulting in flooding of vast areas of the state. Over 400 people died, and property worth millions have been damaged.

Read more about the devastation in The New York Times and BBC.


Amongst the calamity, what stood out as a beacon of hope and cheer was the way everyone got together as one, and lent a helping hand to others. There have been innumerable such instances across the state, which the media have been highlighting.

Many people came forward to write notes
for students who had lost their
notebooks in the flood. - The Hindu
One of the them is how a non-profit in the north Kerala district of Kozhikode, Incubation, initiated a campaign to provide the notes for different subjects that children had painstakingly written down in their classes but were lost in the floods.

A message on social media calling for volunteers spread rapidly among networks. The notes were then shared in PDF format with the volunteers who had signed up. They then copied the notes on to new notebooks, and handed them over to the coordinating agency, who then distributed them to children who had lost their school notes.

It is amazing that in virtually no time, nearly 10,000 notebooks, with all the notes, were recreated and handed over to the children.

Read more about this wonderful initiative:

Kerala pens history by writing notebooks for flood-hit children

‘Write’ help at the right time

To an unknown child, a notebook of compassion


Another similar effort was one that was championed by Ramesh Babu, a former captain of the Indian Navy who is currently a managing director of Mazagon Docks, a government shipbuilding company in Mumbai. (Incidentally, he was my senior in school.) His focus was on the toys that the children had lost. He contacted various agencies across the country, and thousands of toys are now on their way, all free of cost, for the children.

Read more:

Kerala flood relief has a made-in Mumbai toy story

These anecdotes are also a testament to the massive power of the social media to catalyse the good intents of people to bring about positive changes in our society.

(This post has been shared in two blogfests - Midlife Share The Love Link Party and We Are The World Blogfest)

Sunday, September 2, 2018

John McCain, a hero in war and politics

An American hero, John McCain, who passed away on August 25, is being laid to rest today, next to his Naval Academy classmate and friend Adm. Charles R. Larson, at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis.

He never made it to the White House, but in his passing he has been accorded all the respect and honour that befits a President of the United States.

McCain was just the 30th American to lie in State in the Rotunda. In the US, lying in state is a rare honour, wherein the mortal remains of a deceased person is placed in the rotunda of the US Capitol in Washington for public viewing; and the casket is guarded by the personnel of the US armed forces.

He was a naval pilot. During the Vietnam war, he led 23 combat missions, until he was shot down in the last one, was captured and tortured as a prisoner. In 1981, he retired from the Navy, joined politics in Arizona. He served two terms in the House of Representatives, and five terms in Senate, elected last in 2016.

Twice he threw his hat in the presidential poll ring. In 2000, he lost to George Bush in the primary, and in 2008 he lost to Barack Obama in the general election.

On the day, America elected its first African-American President, November 4, 2008, I was in San Francisco on an official assignment, and around dinner time, I, besides many others in the restaurant, heard with rapt attention, John McCain's concession speech. There was no rancour, no ill will. Only humility, respect, and admiration, for Senator Obama who pulled off a remarkable victory, and for the American people, who scripted a revolution.

McCain was a staunch conservative. But always willing to reach across the aisle. His inclusive approach to issues was so great that there was a section of Democrats who were willing to support McCain in 2008, which led to some turmoil. There was even talk of McCain having a Democrat as a running mate, but he abandoned the idea, considering the political complications that would ensue.

In his article, "John McCain and the Meaning of Courage" in Foreign Affairs, H. R. McMaster, former National Security Advisor, says,
Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian philosopher of war, wrote in the early nineteenth century that “courage is of two kinds: first, physical courage, or courage in the presence of danger; and next, moral courage, or courage before responsibility.” The late U.S. Senator John McCain demonstrated both types. .... During my many meetings with him and his dear friends Senator Lindsey Graham and Senator Joseph Lieberman, McCain always tried to understand the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq from the perspective of the Afghan and Iraqi people. Empathy lay at the root of his humaneness, including his opposition to any form of torture.
Especially in these times of radical polarisation, America will miss John McCain.

May his soul rest in peace.

Related articles

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Marcia Barrett - From stardom of Boney M to triumph over cancer

Photo courtesy: BBC
Remember the songs, Daddy Cool, Rasputin, Belast, Ma Baker, Bahama Mama .... ? Yes, who can forget Marcia Barrett, the world famous lead singer of the 1970s disco band Boney M?

The latest episode of Outlook Weekend on BBC World Service -- 'The Making of a Disco Star' -- was on the life of Marcia.

I grew up listening to Boney M during my school and college days (I am sure many of you have too); and last Saturday, it was so enjoyable listening to Marcia talk to the programme presenter, Emily Webb.

Marcia was born in Trinidad in 1948, and as a child, she moved along with her mother to London, as part of the "Windrush generation" (the people who migrated from the Caribbeans to the UK between 1948 and 1971).

Marcia speaks about the culture shocks during her formative years in England, how she discovered she was pregnant when she was in school, how her life changed as she entered the music scene, her life with Boney M, and then about her superlative world of stardom as the band became a household name across the world.

Photo courtesy:
The band was formed in Germany in 1975 by people who were looking for singers and dancers from the Caribbean. It was initially called Boney, and then an M was added to it. No one really knew what M stood for. Macia says, "It could be music, it could be magic, it could be Marcia! ... (she laughs)."

At the peak of her career, she had to often leave her son and mother back home in London, and those were hard days for all of them. "You can't be the breadwinner and be there at the same time," she says. 

After the group split, one would think, it would have been easy for Marcia to find a new career. But in spite of all she achieved, life as a singer wasn't easy.

Then her fight with multiple attacks of cancer which was first detected in 1994. Things got so bad at one point that she had to actually learn to walk again!

She says it was her optimism and faith in recovery that kept her going .... and her husband Marcus. She says there was no one for her, during those days, other than her husband.

Boney M, led by Marcia Barrett,
performing in Bangalore, India, on
March 8, 2008. Photo courtesy: The Hindu
Marcia will be 70 years on October 14. What a life she has had!

Emily asks Marcia: "What is your life like now?" She replies: "O, it's gorgeous."

Emily: "Looking back, is there anything you'll change?"

Marcia: "Not really, not really. I want to carry on... do this as a soloist. But not so hectic. No, no, no. One must not forget, I am not a teenager anymore, even though I look like a teenager (she laughs)."

Emily: The timeless spirit of Marcia Barrett.

You should listen to this 27-minute programme, if you get the time for it. Because she is full of passion, laughter and joy, radiating the indomitable spirit that she is full of, which has helped her sumount the hardships, and reach the pinnacle of musical glory.   

You can listen to the programme here on BBC.

You can listen to the greatest hits of Boney M here on Youtube.

Her autobiography, Forward: My Life With and Without Boney M., is just out, in English as well as in German.

Her official website is:

Friday, August 17, 2018

Atal Bihari Vajpayee - poet, orator, politician, statesman, Prime Minister

Photo courtesy: The Hindu
India is in mourning. The nation lost one of its greatest leaders, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, yesterday evening at 5.05, at the age of 93.

He straddled the Indian political scene for nearly 60 years. He was elected to parliament for the first time in 1957; he was the foreign minister from 1977 to 1979, and later the Prime Minister thrice between 1996 and 2004. In 2005, he retired from all public activities and politics.


One reason why the sense of loss is extremely heavy is because Vajpayee was the type of politician, we all miss today, not just in India but in many other nations. He belonged to a political party, the BJP, which has always been perceived as radically nationalist, sectarian and divisive.

But, he transformed the image of that party, and made it acceptable to a huge majority of people. As a result, not only the BJP came to power, but Vajpayee, leading a coalition of over 20 parties, completed his tenure of five years - the only non-Congress party prime minister ever to do so.


There are multiple reasons he endeared himself to a vast section of people.

He used his deft diplomacy, poetic way with words and arresting oratorical skills to powerful effect turning adversities into strengths, and setback into success.

He was a great consensus builder. And he was a politician last.

He was willing to give respect and space even to his arch political rivals. The way he fought elections without indulging in personal, below-the-belt-level attacks on his competitors is well known. He proved that politics can also be practised by adhering to certain basic human values. There is no need to make it crass and ugly.


There are many anecdotes that illustrate the person Vajpayee was:

When India got its first non-Congress government in 1977 (after 30 years of rule by Congress party), Vajpayee was appointed as the foreign minister. When he entered his office, he found that a photo of the first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru (of Congress party) had been removed. Evidently, someone thought that it was only appropriate the photo should be removed as the Congress had lost power. But, Vajpayee got the photo back in place.

Here is another one. India embarked on its historic economic liberalisation during Congress rule in 1991. Economist Manmohan Singh was the finance minister. In a parliament debate, Singh faced harsh criticism of his liberalisation policy from the opposition, especially Vajpayee. Soon after, a hurt Singh went up to Prime Minister Narasimha Rao and submitted his resignation. When Vajpayee got to hear about this, he called Singh; and advised that in politics such debates and criticisms should not be taken personally, and urged him to stay in office.

How many politicians today would have such magnanimity.


The five years he was the Prime Minister from 1999 to 2004 was momentous. Some of the significant events during those years were:

  • The rise of India as an Information Technology super power; 
  • The nuclear tests, and how India survived the international sanctions without a scratch
  • Strengthening of India's relations with the US and many other countries
  • Vajpayee's outreach to Pakistan by extending a hand of friendship even though it was fomenting trouble in Kashmir.
  • Kargil war, and Pakistan's defeat
  • Hijack of an Indian Airlines plane, planned in and directed from Pakistan
  • Overthrow of the civilian government by Pak army
  • Pak-sponsored terror attack on India's parliament. 
  • Vajpayee's continued efforts at friendship with Pakistan, by agreeing to a summit with Pak President Gen Musharraf, who had engineered the Kargil war.
  • A host of development schemes for different sections of the people across the country.

In spite of Vajpayee's popularity and good performance, his party BJP lost the 2004 election to the Congress, and Manmohan Singh became the PM.

In 2005, beset with multiple old-age related ailments, he retired from politics and public life.

Vajpayee was, more than anything, a good human being. He had his fair share of successes and setbacks; but there was never any doubt about the spirit and objectives of his actions. He played straight from his heart. A glorious life, of multiple hues, has come to an end.

Rest in Peace.


The news in BBC, The New York Times and The Guardian

"Never Thought I Would Be A Politician, Always Wanted To Be A Poet"

Atal Bihari Vajpayee Wasn’t Jealous, Or Insecure, Says Arun Shourie

Vajpayee's Best Speeches & Poetry

Vajpayee's "Here Comes My Resignation, Mr. Speaker" speech in Parliament

Pokhran II- Atal Bihari Vajpayee's major nuclear initiative

Vajpayee's speech in Parliament after Pokaran Test

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Reduce pollution with seed flags on Independence Day

Photo courtesy: The Times of India
Today is Independence Day in India. It's 71 years since the British left the subcontinent in 1947. Like in any other country, here too the air is awash with patriotic fervor, with parades, speeches, songs, cultural programmes, etc.

During this time, it is common for many people to buy small and medium-sized national flags. After a couple of days, they just end up in garbage bins. And since they are usually made of plastic, all of that add to the pollution.

Now, a biotechnology engineer in New Delhi, Krithika Saxena, has come up with the idea of flags made of paper which have seeds embedded in them. The obvious intent is that instead of just throwing the flags, you can plant them.

Ever since she spread the word on social media, there has been a huge demand from schools and corporates. She says she has so far sold 14,000 such flags to people in Bengaluru, Hyderabad and Lucknow.

A good, positive step towards reducing the growing pollution around us.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Friends, spouses, parents on hire

Photo courtesy: The New Yorker
Yes, one can get a husband, wife, father, mother, boyfriend or girlfriend on hire .... in Japan.

I didn't know this, until I heard a documentary in the Outlook Weekend programme on BBC World Service. This family rental business is thriving in Japan, where this extraordinary practice of getting a fake relative began in 1990s.

The programme features Yuichi Ishii who runs a company called Family Romance. Over the past nine years, he has been a husband to a hundred women and organised 8,000 fake weddings.

This is a perfectly legal commercial arrangement, and the actors ensure that everything goes off perfectly, with no chance of the impersonation ever being exposed.

At the end of the programme, there is an interview with a mother who hired a father for her little daughter, who was missing her real father since he had been divorced by the mother.

Though this is common in Japan, it's not an easy business: one, the moral issues arising out of living a real life based on a lie, and two, the emotional complications ensuing from the real-fake relationships.

This 30-odd minute programme on BBC World Service is very well made, and is worth listening to.

Later, I did a web search on this amazing phenomenon, and found that there have been articles on this in many publications like The Atlantic, The New Yorker, and The Sydney Morning HeraldThere is also a Wikipedia page on Rental family service.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Kerala Diary 2 - Ordering food in Hindi

Most people in Kerala (the small state tucked away in the southern tip of the Indian peninsula) speak their local language of Malayalam even if they know English. Many locals might understand Hindi (the most widely spoken language in the country) but they aren't comfortable speaking it. Which means, basically it's Malayalam that's the predominant language of communication in Kerala.

So today evening, at a restaurant in Ernakulam (in central Kerala) when I had to speak in Hindi to order food, I could not help thinking how drastically this state and its people have changed.

Over the few years, there has been a number migrants from the north of the country (who know only Hindi) moving in to Kerala because of increasing job opportunities.

It's only a few months since this waiter in the restaurant, who is from Darjeeling, in West Bengal state, has been in Kerala. He says he can understand Malayalam but not speak fluently. I switched to Hindi when he replied to me in that language.

I spent some time talking to him, a very affable person. And for a moment I wondered if I was in some north Indian city!

I am sure he will soon learn to speak Malayalam, just as many locals, who know only Malayalam, can now speak Hindi very well.

Incidentally, I spotted menu in some small hotels, written in both Malayalam and Hindi.

This shows how a society enriches itself with migration and consequent intermingling of people of diverse backgrounds and skill sets.

Rains abate

It was a relief to see sun shining bright today morning while I travelled by a bus from North Paravur to Ernakulam. News also came in that rains have abated, water levels in dams across the State of Kerala have seen a drop. That's a major consolation.

However, the National Disaster Management Authority of India has warned that there are possibilities of rain in as many as 16 States across the nation in the coming few days as a depression develops over the Bay of Bengal.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Kerala Diary 1 - Raining misery

It's an eerie feeling being in North Paravur - about 120 km north west of Idukki reservoir. The shutters of the Cheruthoni Dam in Idukki (central Kerala) have been opened, following incessant rain, letting out huge quantities of water into Periyar river which is now overflowing into some human habitations.

While grim visuals of the havoc caused by the rain are rolling on the TV screen, here it's mostly only overcast sky and an occasional heavy rain but water seeping into earth.

I have been here since Wednesday night when the clouds opened up unleashing a fury not seen in recent times. I was woken up around 2 am by the sound of the strong force of the downpour. Didn't quite realise then what it had wreaked mainly in north and central Kerala.

Next morning onwards, the only news on local news channels has been the mounting death toll and untold hardship of whoever was in the way of the recklessly gushing torrents of water.

Such has been the downpour across Kerala that shutters of 24 of the 40 dams in the State had to be opened. Twenty two people have lost their lives in the last two days. Idukki area is still witnessing heavy rain.

Tomorrow, I am scheduled to travel down south to Ernakulam, which is closer to areas that have been badly hit. Hopefully, the ferocity of rain would have abated by then, and situation is better.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Friends and so-called friends on Facebook

Photo courtesy: BBC
In many nations, including India, today (the first Sunday of August) is celebrated as Friendship Day, though the United Nations General Assembly has dedicated every July 30 for celebration of goodwill and affection among people. Not quite sure why different nations celebrate the same day on different dates.

I got a few Happy Friendship Day greetings today. But I saw plenty of them, quite strangely, floating around on social media.

Whenever I think about the word "friends", I wonder if Mark Zuckerberg spoiled that word. Imagine, people having hundreds of friends!


I don't know if there is an exact or true definition of it. But I guess, a friend is someone with whom we don't have any inhibitions in sharing something that is personal; with whom we would open up and show them our personal albums; whom we readily trust; and with whom we have a healthy give-and-take relationship of wise counsel and support.

Can we actually have hundreds of such people as friends? I really don't think so.

According to a Pew Research study in 2014, an average Facebook user has 338 friends. But are they really 'friends'?


Well-known British anthropologist Robin Dunbar made a correlation between the size of our brain and the size of our social group. He then came up with what is called the Dunbar Number which is 150. That is the maximum number of people we can have in our social circle. Our brain simply doesn't allow us to have more than that.

Dunbar also said that these 150 fall in four layers or circles. It is called the Dunbar Layers. At any point of time, the innermost or intimate circle of friends has just five people. The next circle has 10 more; the next another 35; and the last layer of a person's social group has another 100 - altogether making up the total of 150.


Since Zuckerberg is counting everyone in my Facebook contacts as 'friends', I have created a separate List, called Close Friends, in which there are just about 50, who form my friendly social group. Any personal posts are shared only with them. The rest are all acquaintances, colleagues, schoolmates, professional contacts etc.

Sometimes, when I look through my contacts (so-called friends) on Facebook, I find some whom I can barely recollect, who they are, or where I met them. I check the so-called mutual friends. And if I am still clueless, I remove them from my list.

I guess, Robin Dunbar is right. What do you think?

Monday, July 30, 2018

The only time I write nowadays

Photo courtesy: The Huffington Post
The other day I had to write a few sentences. I mean actually write with pen and paper; not type on a computer.

I was shocked to realise; one, how difficult it has become to write; and two, the handwriting -- which, long back when I was in school and college, was reasonably good -- had become so horrible that the words, when written fast, are illegible, looking more like a mass of shapeless, undulating lines.

I wound my memory clock back to find out when was the last time I wrote at least half a page of something. Those were the days before email and personal computers.

It was in 1999, I got my first email ID, a Hotmail address. Till then, I used to write letters to my friends. Once email came, letter writing completely stopped; except to one very good friend.

I began working on a computer word processor for the first time in my office in 1989. But I got my first computer at home only 10 years later.

With computers at home and office, writing gradually came to a grinding halt.

The only time I write now is a letter of three to four pages to Henry, a friend who lives in England. He is also the only person who writes a letter to me. He is in his early 70s, and not at all computer savvy. He doesn't even have one. Nor does he have an email ID.

The reply to his last letter is long due. I have consciously decided not to type out the letter. Because it will look formal, lacking personal touch.

It is not easy to write. But the effort is worth it. I must write slowly, lest what I write become illegible.

Let me stop typing out this blog post and publish it. Then, I will take an A4 paper and pen, and start writing my letter to Henry.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

‘I don’t have time’

Photo credit: Titan
In an office I worked previously, many years ago, there was a colleague, who was once told to do a particular task by his boss.

Here’s how their conversation went:

Colleague: I am sorry, I won’t be able to do it.

Boss: Why?

Colleague: Because I don’t have time.

Boss: You can’t say you don’t have time. …

Colleague: I am not kidding. I simply don’t have time for what you are asking me to do.

Boss: Then who will do it?

Colleague: I am sure you will find someone else who will have the time to do it.

Boss: Tell me … do you have time to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner? Do you find time to watch a movie? Do you find time to have a shower? Do you get time to chat with your friends? 

If you say you don’t have time, how do you expect someone else to have time, since all of us have the same amount of 24 hours a day.

Don’t tell me you don’t have time. Tell me, the task I gave you is not a priority for you. If it is a priority for you, you will surely find time to do it.

Colleague: I get what you mean. But what I am trying to tell you is precisely that. I have more important commitments; so I won’t be able to do what you are asking me to do.

Boss: I know! I was just kidding!

The topic of their conversation shifted to something else; and someone else ended up doing that task.

When we say: “I don’t have time,” that can sound a bit insensitive and curt. It could also indicate a disinterest in the task we have to do. The boss is right in saying if there is some inclination to do it, we would surely find some time.

If there is genuinely no time, it is better to phrase it this way: “I am too tied up with other equally important work, so I won’t be able to do it within the specified time.”

After this, I always check myself before blurting out, “I have no time.” (Unless of course I am telling someone very close to or in an informal context.)

The most recent occasion was when a friend asked me: “You were so feverishly blogging - one post a day - in April, what happened now?”

I told him, ‘I don’t have time.” (Since he was a close friend of mine.)

His immediate retort: There is no challenge now. That would be more accurate!

(He was referring to the A to Z Challenge, in April, just in case you are wondering what he meant by 'challenge'.)

Friday, July 13, 2018

An eventful fortnight around the world

If one were to look across the world, the past fortnight has been unusually eventful. 


Photo courtesy: BBC
Nothing of this sort has happened any time in the recent past. Amazing story of human endurance and resilience. On the 23rd of June, 12 members of a junior football team in Thailand and their coach enter a 10-km long complexly structured cave, which has, among other things, narrow passages and a permanent stream inside. As bad luck would have it, unrelenting rains ensue. Advancing waters drive the team inside in search of drier areas. Only on July 2, a team of British divers find them stuck deep inside the cave. On 8th, a rescue mission is launched. In four batches, all are brought out; the last one on 10th. There will surely be a film made on this.


Photo courtesy: BBC
I just couldn’t believe that as many as 200 people have lost their lives (over a few days) in torrential rains and consequent flooding in western Japan, the worst weather-related disaster in 36 years. The fact that it has happened in a developed nation which has good infrastructure and technological tools to predict such catastrophic weather changes, makes it all the more striking.


Photo courtesy: BBC
David Cameroon while electioneering in 2016 says if elected to power he will hold a referendum on Britain’s continuance in the European Union. And, see what has followed. Cameron wins; is reminded of the referendum; orders it; and to his surprise, Britain votes to leave the EU. The mess that followed hasn’t cleared still. A new low was reached when on July 8, Brexit Secretary David Davis quit and on the following day Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson quit, saying PM Theresa May is diluting the earlier Brexit promises. She has narrowly fended off a leadership challenge. 


Photo courtesy: CNBC
US President Donald Trump, in his mission to make America Great Again, has been complaining to everyone in the world that America is being wronged in global trade, and that the US is losing while everyone else is gaining. (Let us not get into a discussion on that here.) One of his measures to right the past wrongs is to impose heavy duties on imports of many goods from China. Thus, on July 5, US tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods kicked off. The impact of that will be long-drawn out and felt across the world.


Photo courtesy: The Hindu
Surprises are common in sports. But not the way it has happened during the ongoing World Cup football in Russia. Predictions of who will win and lose, have gone horribly wrong. For the first time ever, the semifinals were played without top teams like Brazil, Germany, Argentina, Spain, Uruguay etc. We will now have a final between France and Croatia on Sunday.

2018 FIFA World Cup (Wikipedia)


Photo courtesy: BBC
Not just World Cup Football, Wimbledon too had surprises. For the first time ever, none of the top-10 seeded players reached the quarterfinals in the women’s section. Arguably the best player, Serena is there, but she is seeded 25. Today she is playing the final against Angelique Kerber.


So many other important / interesting events might have happened across the world. Have I left out anything?

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Should we take vitamin supplements?

Photo credit: Medical News Today
During conversations with family members and friends, whenever the topic of vitamins comes in, invariably the issue of supplements also crops up. There is always one group which says that there is no harm in having supplements, and there is the other group which argues that there is no need to.


Vitamins are needed for metabolism (the process in our body that involves breakdown of food and absorption of nutrients for our growth and energy).

Our body does not produce it (unlike dogs that can synthesize enough vitamin C). So we need to get it from food or from vitamin tablets.

If our body doesn't have enough amount of vitamins it can result in medical conditions.


There are 13 vitamins, each needed in different amounts for different reasons.

Some vitamins dissolve in water, some in fat.

Water-soluble ones are: all B vitamins and vitamin C.

Fat-soluble ones are: A, D, E and K.

Fat-soluble vitamins can stay in the body: they get stored in the fatty tissues for use later.

Water-soluble vitamins don't stay in the body: they go out via urine.


Vegetables and meat have different vitamins in different quantities. So, if we have a well-balanced, varied diet we will get all the required vitamins in the required quantites.

Usually we take it for granted that the food we eat has enough vitamins, and there is nothing to worry. Only when some medical condition surfaces, our physician would say that there are symptoms of deficiency.

Vitamins are sensitive to heat and water. Cooking reduces the amount of vitamins. Water-soluble ones get lost in water, and fat-soluble ones in oil.


We can get our vitamins from syrups and tablets. We need to take them when we have a medical deficiency of vitamins or in cases like pregnancy when our body does need enhanced levels of vitamins. Doctors will recommend the dosage.


Anything cooked in high temperature or for too long will have less vitamins.

It is lost in water and oil. One way to salvage a bit of it is to consume the water that has been used for cooking. That is why some people suggest to cook in less water and not to drain away the water after cooking.

Cooking in microwave might be better than boiling from the vitamin standpoint.

Raw vegetables are good, but run the risk of presence of pollutants and lack of hygiene.


Supplements are not substitutes for the vitamins that we get through food.

 They can just make up any shortfall if any. So, our primary source of vitamins has to be food. But since while cooking lot of vitamins get lost, there is a case for having supplements.

Without any lab tests or visible symptoms one can't conclude that there is a deficiency and therefore a need for supplements.

Excess of fat-soluble vitamins can turn toxic, and therefore harmful, since they get stored in the body.

We tend to fall short of water-soluble vitamins since they don't stay in the body. Also, vitamins like C easily get lost while cooking. So, if at all one is looking at supplements, then it's water solubles ones that need replenishing.

All said and done, vitamin supplements are not a guarantor of good health. They are not magic pills.


We need vitamins in small quantities. But we need them always. This table in the WebMD website lists out the required and maximum dosage for vitamins and minerals.

It would advisable to consult a doctor on how much of supplement we should take and in what frequency.


As advised by my physician, I do have vitamin and mineral supplements, of low dosage, at wide intervals, just to make up for any possible deficiency.


Vitamins: What are they and what do they do?

Nutritional Effects of Food Processing

Cooking and Vitamin and Mineral Loss

Studies Show Little Benefit in Supplements

Which Supplements, if Any, May Be Worth Your Money

The Claim: Microwave Ovens Kill Nutrients in Food

Vitamins and Minerals: How Much Should You Take?

Friday, June 29, 2018

An afternoon ride in an autorickshaw

#WATWB - This post was linked to
We Are The World Blogfest
Yesterday afternoon, something quite unbelievable happened. Nothing eerie or scary, but very pleasant and feel-good.

I went to Lavelle Road on an official assignment. After my work there, I wondered if I should book a cab or hire an autorickshaw, to go to office which is on Infantry Road.

(For those who aren't familiar, an autorickshaw is a very common quick mode of transport in India. It's a three-wheeler which can seat three passengers. It costs about ₹30 for a ride of 2 km in Bengaluru.)

Since there were many autorickshaws lined up, I thought I would check them out first. Also, I thought, if I book an Uber or Ola, it might take a while for the cab to arrive.

Here is a little background to how autorickshaws operate generally in my city, Bengaluru.

Though all of them have meters, and drivers are supposed to accept only the fare the meter shows, not all of them conform to the rule. Instead, some of them, on being told where to go, would do a quick mental calculation, and come an approximate figure, which invariably will be more than what the normal fare would be. (By the way, some people interpret this as only a crude version of the sophisticated "surge pricing" that the mobile-app based cab services adopt.)

The autorickshaw drivers resort to this tactic because one, they think they can cash in on the high demand, and two, many passengers might not know what the ride to their destination might actually cost, and they might just agree to pay the asked-for fare, without knowing they are being charged more.

Photo credit: Whitefield Rising
Not to my surprise, the first autorickshaw driver I spoke to quoted a figure of ₹100, which I knew was around double of what the normal fare would be. I told him so. I also suggested that I would rather go by the meter, and pay him a tip of ₹10. He didn't agree to that. I asked a couple of other drivers there too, but none agreed to go by the meter. So I walked a little ahead.

May be about 100 meters down the road, I flagged a vacant autorickshaw that was passing by. I told the driver, "Infantry Road", and he promptly gestured me to get in. He didn't switch on the meter, as I thought he would. But he told me, "Give me ₹30."

I thought I heard him wrong. Probably he was saying I should pay ₹30 more than what the meter would show. But he hadn't put the meter on. I was confused. So, I asked him, "₹30?" He said, "Yes."

Now I was curious. "Why? Normally, it should be ₹40 to ₹50, by the meter, considering the distance, is it not?"

He replied, "That's fine."

He didn't look like a very conversational person, and I didn't prod him further.

At the destination, as I exited the autorickshaw, I gave him a currency of ₹50, said thank you, and was about to walk, when he told me to hang on, and I saw him taking his wallet out. He handed me the change of ₹20.

Now, it was my turn to say, "It's fine. Consider the excess as my tip!"

But then he insisted that I accept the change of ₹20, which meant the ride cost only ₹30. He put the wallet back in his pocket, and rode away with a smile, saying, "I had a good day today!"

(For the Facebook link to We Are The World Blogfest posts, click here.)

Monday, June 25, 2018

'The video has gone viral'

(Sorry, if you were expecting to see such a video.)

I am so tired of hearing the word 'viral' for messages or audio or video clips that have been forwarded or circulated by a large number of people in a short span of time.

The word is such a cliché.

Isn't there a synonym for 'viral', or a single word to describe such messages or videos?

Thursday, June 21, 2018

June 21, a unique triumvirate - Giraffe Day, Yoga Day and Solstice

I don't know if all animals have days earmarked for them. But today is World Giraffe Day. It's an initiative by the Giraffe Conservation Foundation to not only celebrate the world's longest-necked animal, but also to create awareness about the need to protect it.

According to Live Science, a giraffe's neck alone is 6 feet (1.8 meters) long and the animal weighs about 600 lbs. (272 kilograms). The animal's legs are 6 feet long. Its tongue is 21 inches (53 centimeters) long, and feet 12 inches (30.5 cm) across. Lungs can hold 12 gallons (55 liters) of air. In comparison, the average total lung capacity for a human is 1.59 gallons (6 liters).

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, giraffes are a common sight in grasslands and open woodlands in East Africa, where they can be seen in reserves such as Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park and Kenya’s Amboseli National Park.

There are giraffes in the Mysore Zoo (one of the famous biological parks in India). The two photos alongside were taken during a trip to the zoo in 2013.

Their numbers are dwindling, and they have been add to the vulnerable list, with their population going down from 155,000 in 1985 to 97,000 in 2015, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, says BBC.

The Giraffe Conservation Foundation website gives you more details about World Giraffe Day and how you can contribute to the
protection of the animal.


Japanese lawmakers practising yoga
Photo credit: The Hindu
Though yoga, a form of physical exercises that involve stretching of the body along with deep breathing, originated in ancient India, over the past few decades it has gained global recognition and is now practised world wide.

In 2014, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to celebrate globally International Yoga Day on June 21.

Read more about yoga on Wikipedia.

Today, across India, various institutions are organising events to mark the day and highlight the benefits of yoga. Live Updates

Incidentally, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is 67 years old, is a great fitness enthusiast. On June 13, his office put out this video of his morning exercises and yoga, at his official residence on 7, Lok Kalyan Marg, New Delhi.


Thousands gather at Stonehenge for longest day
Photo credit: BBC
Today, the day is the longest in the northern hemisphere, and the shortest in the southern hemisphere. This happens because of the Earth's tilt of 23.5 degrees on its axis and the revolution around the sun.

Today is the day when the sun is the farthest to the north. It's directly over the Tropic of Cancer. That is the reason why people in the northern hemisphere experience the longest day, and in the southern hemisphere, the shortest day.

Also, during this time, in the north pole, there is sun light through out the day, and in the South Pole, it's dark through the day.

There is a good explainer on what summer solstice is all about in this NBC News website.

In some countries, solstices are associated with traditional beliefs concerning matrimony and fertility, as this CNN report says. According to a Swedish ethnologist Jan-Öjvind Swahn, a lot of children are born nine months after Midsummer in Sweden.


Though one might be aware of many anniversaries, it might not be on top of our mind always. Though I have been hearing about Yoga Day preparations for some days, only yesterday I remembered that the day also coincides with World Giraffe Day and Summer Solstice. While I read a few articles about these "days", I got to know a lot of interesting details about giraffes, yoga and summer solstice.

Do you practise yoga? I incorporate a few yoga postures during my morning workout. But I can't claim that I practise the entire set of exercises.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Early morning habits and routine

Cubbon Park in Bengaluru.
Photo courtesy: K. Murali Kumar/The Hindu
A good start to a day always makes a difference. It sets the tone and tempo for the rest of day. (Here we are referring to, roughly, the first one hour of each day after we wake up.)

Different people begin their day in different ways. There are also people who begin every day in a different way.

Some of the common activities generally practised by people are: having coffee or tea, reading newspapers, going for a walk or a run, playing games, visiting a nearby place of worship, meditation, listening to music, cooking, household chores, etc.

Of late, I don't keep my mobile phone on the bed. But still one of the first things I pick up is the mobile phone -- not to check or read messages, or surf social media; but to listen to some songs, especially old ones, or instrumental music, which make me feel good, right at the beginning of the day.

While the music plays, I also check for any news breaks; if something important happened while I was asleep.

I used to have coffee or tea. Now I have given that up, and I drink two glasses of plain water. Some people say, it's good to have lukewarm water mixed with lime and honey.  I am yet to begin that. Then, a few minutes of quick glance of different newspapers.

I step out for a combination of walk, jog and light stretching, aerobic exercises. Sometimes a few minutes of meditation too. The whole thing lasts not more than an hour. By the way, I don't take my mobile along.

After I am back, while I shower, I listen to music or some podcasts I am subscribed to. The podcasts or music continue while I make breakfast and have it.

Simultaneously, I glance at the news scroll that runs on different channels of the TV. I don't listen to the broadcasts (TV will be in mute), unless there is something live and important happening somewhere in the world.

It's generally suggested that we keep off technology and gadgets, in the morning hours. But I guess, what matters is for what, and how we use the gadgets. I don't think we can keep off gadgets completely always. (For me, the mobile is mostly a substitute for radio, newspapers, magazines and books. Calls, messaging and social media, comprise a lesser proportion of usage.)

This is more or less my usual early morning routine. How does it play out for you?

Monday, June 18, 2018

Surprises galore at FIFA World Cup 2018

Iceland goalkeeper Hannes Halldorsson saving
a penalty kick from Argentina's Lionel Messi
Photo credit: Marca
With the FIFA World Cup on in Russia, there is at least one good match to look forward to everyday till July 15, when the final will be played.

I come from a state in India, Kerala, where people are so crazy about football. All are united as one, when it comes to interest in the game, and no conversation is complete without some reference to the ongoing World Cup matches.

Eleven matches were complete till yesterday; and if there is one theme running across all of them, it is how it has been hard time for the favourites.

On June 15, Portugal, in spite of having Cristiano Ronaldo, were held to a 3-3 tie by Spain.

On June 16, Argentina, in spite of having Messi, were held to a 1-1 draw by, of all teams, Iceland.

On June 17, Germany suffered a shock defeat by Mexico 0-1, and Brazil were held 1-1 by Switzerland.

Of course, in every tournament, there are surprises. It's good they are there, so that we don't have predictable, and therefore boring, matches.

Today evening, England will face Tunisia. And, I am wondering how that will go. The tournament is wide open.


Which four team you think have the highest chances of winning the cup?

I am placing my bet on Brazil. The other three in the order of probability are: Germany, Argentina and France.

If I can add two more, I won't be surprised if Spain and even England make it to the top four.

Monday, June 11, 2018

Reuse, Reduce, Recycle -- the golden 3R Rule for resource conservation

Image courtesy: University
of Southern Indiana
It is extremely heartening to see that in many places people are practising the golden 3R Rule for conserving natural resources -- Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.

A number of things that we use in our daily lives can be minimised by using smaller quantities, so that there is no wastage. If something is not needed, instead of putting it in the garbage bin, it is better to pass it on to someone who might need it.

Water and electricity

These are two things that we tend to take so much for granted. We can easily reduce the amount of water and power that we use. I make it a point to open the tap only as much, so that too much water doesn't flow: basically just the required amount.  Very often we tend to open the tap to such an extent that more water than what is necessary flows out, which is of course wasted. No wonder, there are grave warnings of water running out.

Same is the case with electricity. Air conditioners, fan and light often remain switched on even if we don't need them. We take availability of electricity for granted. If we can reduce the consumption,


If my observation is any indication, there is at least some reduction in the use of paper, with most of the routine communication now online in soft copy format. This is not to undervalue of the importance of having something written on paper, or reading something written on paper. That can be the subject of another post.

When I swipe my card in a store, a paper trail of the payment receipt is generated by the point of sale machine. I always tell cashier, I don't need the customer copy, because I have already got a conformation via a text message on my phone. I have seen some stores not taking out a paper receipt for themselves too. When I asked them, why they weren't taking one, they said, it's logged in the system, and there is no need for a paper receipt.

My late father always reused available pieces of paper (like the reverse side of bills, envelopes and advertisement flyer that come along with newspapers, or dropped in our letterbox) to write anything that was not formal, and didn't require taking a new sheet of paper.

A non-government organisation, Youth for Seva, in Bengaluru, has launched an initiative called 'Give Paper Back', which involves collecting notebooks that have unused pages in them. The idea is to take these unused sheets, stitch and bind them to make new notebooks that are distributed in rural schools for students.


The trend is catching on, and it's not just paper.

In the city of Thiruvananthapuram (capital of south Indian state of Kerala), outside a shopping mall, there is a red box, which resembles a letter box, in which you can drop old clothes, or even a new ones. This is an initiative by a non-government organisation called Support 4 Society. They are planning to install such "dress banks" outside other shopping centres as well.


Though plastic is very useful, and not all plastic is harmful, there is plenty of it that is needlessly used and harming our ecology. The South Western Railway (of Indian Railways) has, in partnership with a private firm, set up bottle-crushing machines at train stations in the city of Bengaluru. They were earlier introduced in Mysuru. They are there in Ahmedabad, Pune, and Mumbai, stations as well. As a token of appreciation, if you enter your mobile number in the machine, you get a cash back of Rs 5 in your Paytm wallet.


Various organisations like Lions Club, Red Cross etc collect used spectacles send them to recycling units. Some opticians too accept old specs.

These are really heart-warming initiatives, which not only need all the support and encouragement, but also are worthy of being emulated.

What about you?

Do you consciously make an effort to reduce and reuse? Are you aware of similar initiatives?