Monday, December 10, 2018

Goa trip - Day 1 - Assagao, Vagator beach, Mapusa Hanuman temple

On way to Goa, somewhere in north
Karnataka, as seen from the train.
Goa is the smallest state (by area) and the richest state (by per capita GDP) in India. It is globally renowned for its beaches and natural beauty. It was a Portuguese colony for over 450 years, from 1510.

On way to hotel from Margao railway station, in a cab
Not many, including Indians, know that Goa continued to be under Portuguese rule, for as many as 14 years after India won Independence in 1947. After Portugal repeatedly rejected Indian demand to leave, India had to send the military and annexed the State in a 36-hour battle called Operation Vijay, in December 1961.

Vagator Beach
Though the Portuguese left, the State continues
to have their influence, which makes it culturally a bit different from the rest of the country. Wild parties are common, and a carefree ambience generally pervades the coastal belt. In a sense, it's the Vegas of India. What happens in Goa, stays in Goa!

Vagator Beach
A trip to Goa has been long-pending. And finally, it was happening. On November 29, we, my wife and I, alighted at the Margao station around 6.15 am.

We had breakfast at a restaurant in the railway station, and booked a cab from the pre-paid taxi counter. We reached our hotel (which was around 40 km away) in Assagao, Bardez sub-district, around 8 am.

The lush green landscape and the undulating roads and the quiet streets reminded me of the small towns in my home state of Kerala. This was a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle (even early in the day) in Bengaluru.

The cab driver was a deeply religious person but was driving at a very high speed. I was at times a bit worried, and was tempted to tell him to drive slowly. I could see he was drawing a cross and saying a prayer every time we passed a church.

Vagator Beach
The check-in time at the hotel is 2 pm. So we kept our luggage in the cloak room; freshened up and had breakfast.

One good thing about Goa is that you get cars and motorbikes on rent. That makes moving from one place to another easy and inexpensive. I checked the rates: Rs 400 a day for a
motorbike; if it's for more than a day, then it's Rs 300 a day. It's Rs 1,500 a day for a car. I hired a motorbike for four days. We were to leave on the fifth day.

Fountain in park in Mapusa
It was 10 am. It wasn't difficult to decide where to head first. A beach, where else?! We chose to begin our tour with the Vagator beach, which is the northernmost beach in the Bardez region of the state. Being early in the day there wasn't much crowd. Clear waters. Gentle waves. Spent about an hour and half there. Had some snacks in one of the beach side restaurants, and later lunch on way back to our hotel.

Rajasthani folk songs at hotel's poolside restaurant
At the resort, we had a single bedroom house all to ourselves. It was on the ground floor. We would have been happier if it was on one of the upper floors. But, that was okay, since the overall ambience and the environment of the hotel premises was so quiet, peaceful, and refreshing.

The day was the second death anniversary of my father. Traditionally, we go to a temple to pray for his soul. In the evening around 6 pm, we went to a Hanuman temple in Mapusa, about 5 km from the hotel. This is a very old temple, built in 1843. It has very impressive architecture with marbled floors.

A Rajasthani dance at hotel's
poolside restaurant
There is a park nearby, where we spent some time. There were about 20 people, young and old. Some chatting away, others on a brisk walk around the park. Some children were running around. A small illuminated water fountain kept the children entertained.

The ride back to the hotel through narrow and quiet roads (some of them dark with no streetlights) was an experience in itself.

We were back in the hotel around 8 pm. At the poolside restaurant, there was folk music and folk dance performance by artists from the state of Rajasthan. That was really good.

(To be continued)

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Claire Nelson's miraculous survival from the depths of despair

We Are The World Blogfest
This is an amazing story of hope triumphing over despair.

Thirty-five-year-old travel writer Claire Nelson from New Zealand was hiking in Joshua Tree National Park in California, in May this year, when she accidentally strayed off the trail. She hadn't checked the GPS and she had no idea that she was on a wrong track.

She climbed on a rock, which she thought was steady but actually wasn't. To her horror, she slipped and came hurtling down into a canyon 15 ft below.

It took awhile for her to realise what had happened -- she fallen into a place where she couldn't be heard by anyone nor anyone could see her.  Worse, she had badly broken her pelvis, and she couldn't move.

There was no mobile connectivity; so she couldn't call anyone nor she could text. She survived a scary first night, amidst fears of being bitten by rattlesnakes.

With the sun shining bright. She made use of the material available with her to make a contraption that would shield her from sunlight.

She was getting dehydrated as time went by. She was running out of the 3 liters of water she had carried; and was left with no option but to drink her urine to keep herself hydrated.

She was desperate and fears of not being able to survive was threatening to overpower her. She needed to talk to someone. So she videographed updates, so that in case she didn't make it, her family and friends would know what had happened.

But in the midst of all this, she didn't lose hope.  After nearly four days she heard the sound of a helicopter, and she stretched herself as much as she could and waved the umbrella-like contraption she had made to protect herself from the sun.

The authorities had been alerted by a friend of Claire, who hadn't heard from her for a while and began panicking as to what might have happened.

Claire was rescued and after surgery and  prolonged medical treatment, she is finally learnt to walk again.

BBC's Outlook Weekend, last week, featured Claire Nelson, in which she spoke to presenter Emily Webb narrating the entire sequence of events. The 25-minute programme is worth a listen.

References:

Kiwi hiker Claire Nelson's incredible survival after three nights in US desert

Missing Kiwi woman Claire Nelson found injured in US national park

(This post is part of the We Are The World Blogfest, wherein participants share positive stories of hope and success.)

Monday, November 26, 2018

The night that shook Mumbai, India

This day, ten years ago, around 11 pm, I was in the office giving final touches to the India pages of The Times of India, the newspaper I worked for then. Our attention was drawn to a news item on one of the TV channels.

It was about a suspected terrorist attack in Mumbai. The report said several armed people were on a shooting spree in the megapolis. Many were feared dead. There was not much clarity except that it seemed to be a very major terror strike.

As every minute passed, the enormity of the situation began to unfold. Unconfirmed death toll was mounting, as we followed the live footage streaming on multiple TV news channels. We waited for confirmation from police or the State government on what exactly was happening.

SHOTS OF THE ATTACKER

One of the scenes of the carnage was the CST Railway Station, which is very close to the The Times House, where our Mumbai office is. We got to know from our colleagues there that one of the terrorists had climbed over the foot overbridge beside the office to reach the railway station across the road.

Shriram Vernekar, our photographer, managed to click a photo from the window of our Mumbai office of one of the attackers going up the staircase. We got that photo (besides many others) in our office in Bengaluru, but only much later we knew that it was that of the lone terrorist who was captured alive, Ajmal Kasab, a Pakistani citizen belonging to the Lashkar e Taiba terror outfit.

Sebastian D'Souza, the photographer of our sister publication Mumbai Mirror, was at the railway station, and he too got the photo of the backpack-carrying, gun-toting Kasab walking in to the station.

BRAVE POLICE OFFICIALS

Later, we got to know that it was the bravery of Assistant sub-inspector Tukaram Omble, who had only a cane with him at that time, which resulted in the capture of Kasab. Omble, who followed the vehicle that the terrorist had hijacked, was fired at five times. He later confronted Kasab, managed to pin him down, and hold on to the attacker's weapon, helping Omble's colleagues to capture Kasab alive. Omble succumbed to the bullet wounds.

Kasab was executed on November 21, 2012, after the case went through a nearly four-year-long, due judicial process, with the terrorist being given the chance to defend himself. Since no lawyer was ready to defend him, the government provided him an amicus curiae.

The images clicked by our photographers, turned out to be critical in the case. Incidentally, Sebastian D'Souza won the World Press Photo award for the photograph.

Then came another shocking bit of news: three of the top police officers of the city had fallen to the terrorists bullets -- Maharashtra Anti-Terrorism Squad chief Hemant Karkare, Additional Commissioner of Police (East) Ashok Kamte and police inspector and well-known anti-terror specialist Vijay Salaskar. We all wondered if any city in the world had faced such a situation where three of its top cops had been killed.

Then news trickled in that terrorists had entered the iconic Taj Hotel and that people had been held hostage there. The operations in Taj turned out to be the hardest and the longest: it lasted over three days.

BATTLING DEADLINE

While we all in the office were quite shaken by the unfolding events, at the professional level we were wondering how to get news on to the paper, considering that there was hardly any confirmed information coming by with the whole city under a siege at midnight. There was not much news coming in on this on the wires of the Press Trust of India, India's premier news agency. Nor our correspondents were getting any details how it all started or the extent of the carnage. The pages had to be transmitted to the press by at least 1.30 am.

Whatever we had got was just enough to be carried on the front page as the lead story. There weren't any details to be carried in an inside page. But we were getting many photographs. So, we cleared one page of the news items, and carried photos (the ones that were not graphic and could be carried) with a brief write-up of the terror that had hit the city.

The pages went to the press one-and-half hours late. Obviously, all newspapers faced the same challenge with such an important news breaking close to the deadline.

A WAR OF SORTS

We all went to bed not knowing what lay in store for Mumbai and the country: scores had died, hundreds injured, three top police officers too dead. And, no indication that the attack had ceased.

It officially ended only on November 29 -- must be the longest terrorist strike anywhere in the world -- resulting in death of 165 people and injuries to over 300. Nine of the 10 attackers were also killed.

At the end of it all, many questions were asked: Wasn't there any intelligence input? If it was there, didn't anyone act on them? Why was the coast not being monitored? How could so many armed men wreak havoc so brazenly? How could arms be stored in such a luxurious hotel, and go undetected? Did the television media get carried away, providing live footage of the operations, thereby possibly helping the terror network?

References:

Terror attacks in Mumbai; six foreigners among 101 dead -- The Times of India

At Least 100 Dead in India Terror Attacks - The New York Times

Eyewitness Of Mumbai Attack - CBS TV news clip

Mumbai Rocked by Deadliest Terrorists Attacks - Headlines Today TV news clip

Mumbai’s Longest Night, With an Abyss of Terror -- The New York Times

Tracking the Mumbai Attacks - The New York Times

As it happened: Mumbai attacks 27 Nov - BBC

Mumbai Terrorist Siege Over, India Says -- The New York Times

35 photos of the Mumbai attack - Boston Globe
(Some of the photos have graphic details, discretion advised)

2008 Mumbai attacks -- Wikipedia

TOI photographer's iconic picture nailed Ajmal Kasab -- The Times of India

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Perseverance extraordinaire! Teenager crawls to complete relay race in Japan

Rei Iida is determined to complete the race.
This is an incident that happened on the 21st of last month during the annual ekiden (a relay race held on roads) for women in Fukutsu, Fukuoka Prefecture in Japan.

One of the members of a relay team, 19-year-old Rei Iida, fell down and was unable to run. But so intense was her determination not to let her team down, she crawled the remaining 200 to 300 meters on her knees in order to pass on the relay sash to her teammate.

Besides the bloody bruises on her knees, she had suffered a fracture.

While the young girl's perseverance is admirable and inspiring, the unfortunate part of the story is that the young woman didn't know that her team officials, on seeing her fall down, had informed the organisers that the team was pulling out of the race. By the time that message reached the runner, she had already crawled her way, and was very close to sash-passing point.

Here is a report in Singapore's Straits Times news website, which also contains a 3.51-minute Youtube video clip of the incident. The point where the girl falls is after 45 seconds.

KENYAN WOMAN TOO DID IT

This is the not the first time someone is crawling to the finish. In February 2015, in Austin, Texas, a 29-year-old Kenyan marathoner, Hyvon Ngetich, crawled to the finish line, after collapsing just 50 meters ahead of the finishing line and declining a wheelchair. When she collapsed, she was leading the race, but she still managed to end the race in the third place.

Here is a video from the BBC.

Truly inspiring stories of determination to overcome challenges.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Trump vs Acosta: White House media relations plummet to a new low

Photo credit: Time
I watched the entire one-and-a-half hour press conference President Donald Trump had with the White House media on November 07.

There was nothing unusual in the way he responded to the journalists. That is the way he is. He snubbed many of them, and called many of them part of fake news.

But the extent of frustration and anger seemed to be unusual. So also the revoking of the press pass of a White House correspondent, and the seeming warning to other journalists not to ask uncomfortable questions.

Here is the full video and transcript of the entire press conference, from C-Span. The now-well-known confrontation with CNN's White House correspondent Jim Acosta is after 27 min 30 sec.

Trump has a history of quarrels with Acosta. In Jan 2017, Jim asked him a question about "Russian meddling" and the President-elect lost his cool. Then the confrontation with Jim when addressing a joint press conference with British PM Theresa May in London. In this presser too, Trump displayed the same sort of frustration with the questions.

FOLLOW-UP QUESTIONS

When the President called Jim for his turn, and the latter began asking the question, it was evident Trump was getting irritated; more irritated than with other journalists. He remarked, "Here we go ..."

To be fair to the President, he was encouraging Jim to ask questions. And his early remarks looked sporting though sarcastic, as usual. Trump very patiently explained to Jim that the immigrants can come into America, but they can come only legally.

The point of contention was Trump's characterisation of the movement of immigration as an invasion. Trump said he and Jim had differing views on whether it was an invasion or not. Jim was trying to get an explanation from the President on why he thought that it was an invasion.

Trump wasn't able to convey himself clearly. Or he didn't have a clear answer. Trump then told Jim to let him run the country and that Jim can run CNN. Jim said okay, and sought permission for an another question. Trump didn't allow, and moved to the next journalist. That was when the White House intern came to take away the mike. 

There is nothing unusual in journalists wanting to ask supplementary questions. Each journalist feels lucky to be called to ask questions, and they want to ask as many as possible. Happens all the time with all the journalists and officials who address press conferences. Even in this one, others too asked or tried to ask such questions. Trump allowed some, cut many of them.

Journalists are paid to ask uncomfortable questions; and there was no need for Trump to lose his cool. The President should have just ignored Jim and stuck on with Peter Alexander of NBC, the next journalist. There was no need to say "you are rude", "you are terrible" etc. 

And to make matters worse for the President, Peter said, "In Jim's defense, I've traveled with him and watched him. He's a diligent reporter who busts his butt like the rest of us."

JIM ACOSTA BANNED FROM WHITE HOUSE

What followed was not just unprecedented, unwarranted too. Jim's pass that gave him access to White House premises was revoked. The reason cited was Jim had his hand on the female White House intern who tried to take the mike away from Jim.

CNN's Jim Acosta has press pass suspended by White House, Sarah Sanders announces (Fox News)

Trump Bars CNN’s Jim Acosta From the White House (New York Times)

Jim didn't look angry or rude; and Jim's arm did make contact with the intern's arm in his effort to keep the mike. But surely the contact wasn't intended.

It was very clear that that his pass was revoked only because Jim has been asking unpleasant questions, not just at this press conference but in others as well. It might also have been a warning to other journalists that they might too risk losing their pass.

Then another twist in the tale. WH Press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders retweeted a video which is said to have been doctored to emphasise the arm contact.

Sarah Sanders accused of circulating 'doctored' video of Jim Acosta’s interaction with White House intern (Fox News)

White House defends doctored Trump-Acosta clip used to justify reporter's ban (The Guardian)

THIS IS AN OLD ISSUE

President Donald Trump's problems with the media is now many years old. Right from the campaign days he has had the belief that a good majority of the US media are liberal, left leaning, and against him. He used all sorts of words from "scum" and "dishonest" to "sleaze" to describe the "70 to 75%" of the media that are critical of him.

On the day he was sworn in itself there was an ugly spat -- Trump said the media selectively showed vacant areas to illustrate that the crowd that came for the Trump swearing-in was smaller than that for Obama swearing-in.

He has been using the word "fake news" for news articles that either he doesn't like or those that are critical of him. His anger took on a new dimension with his expression that media are "enemies of the people".

MEDIA IS THERE TO ASK QUESTIONS

Though media is not formally recognised as a part of the political system, it is an important social platform that carries all types of information: both plain news as well as interpretative, analytical and opinionated views.

Traditionally, news by definition is all about that is not going right in the society. Journalists by definition are skeptical and they are there to ask questions and seek answers; and sometimes they have an adversarial relationship with centres of power, especially the government. Journalists are always trying to catch officials in an spot. Conversely, the officials are aware of what journalists are up to, and they ensure that don't fall for the journalists' bait.

Trump calls spade a spade, and most of the time he doesn't care much for traditions, courtesies and diplomacies. So, his run-ins with the media are no surprise. Though he generally doesn't like most of the media, from what I have read, he keenly follows all the media. He knows the power of the media, and is quite conscious of the way he is portrayed in them.

BETTER TO IGNORE, NOT CONFRONT

Confronting and attacking the media doesn't help. It only makes matters worse. The best way that is adopted by smart and clever leaders when they handle media, especially a belligerent one, is to be transparent and inclusive with them. But when there are uncomfortable or difficult questions, the smart leaders parry them, if they can't come up with a diplomatic answer.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Review -- Irish Shorts: Nora's Escape and other true stories of love, loss and resistance

Irish Shorts: Nora's Escape and other true stories of love, loss and resistance
This is a small book of six lovely real-life short stories. The author, Maria Hall, grew up in Ireland and now lives in New Zealand.

The stories -- about Agnes, Nora and Patricia, three generations of Irish women in the family of Maria Hall -- have historical references as well as a strong Irish Catholic underpinning.

The stories have no complex plots and subplots; but they are so full of life, weaving the disparate emotions centred around everyday joys and tribulations. This is the first book of this kind I have read. The story I liked the most was The Intruder.

My rating on Goodreads: 4 of 5 stars

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Review -- Fear: Trump in the White House

Fear: Trump in the White House
Another highly publicised book on US President Donald Trump, this one by the acclaimed journalist Bob Woodward, who is a great inspiration for countless journalists around the world.

Like similar books, many extracts appeared in the media before the book hit the stands. Everything in the book is about recent events. So if you have been keenly following the current developments, there isn't a lot you will find startling or new in this book.

What the book does provide though are a large number of anecdotes: conversations between the President and multiple White House advisers, high and low in the hierarchy. They all show how Trump is out of sync with what is generally believed is acceptable.

These anecdotes also reveal the sort of person Trump is: someone who is not only passionate about what he believes in but also determined to put to practice what he wants to do. Most of the official government policies are not thought-through, and stem out of Trump's personal beliefs, irrespective of whether they make sense in the political, diplomatic, economic or social sense.

He doesn't care whether others agree with him or not. What he thinks right is right. So we have many advisers countering Trump's suggestions with facts and figures. But that makes little impact on Trump, who just brushes them aside.

For example, one extract from the book:

"The president clung to an outdated view of America—locomotives, factories with huge smokestacks, workers busy on assembly lines. ... Several times (Former president of Goldman Sachs and the president's top economic advisor Gary) Cohn just asked the president, “Why do you have these views?” “I just do,” Trump replied. “I’ve had these views for 30 years.” “That doesn’t mean they’re right,” Cohn said. “I had the view for 15 years I could play professional football. It doesn’t mean I was right.”

While the author has done a lot of meticulous research to gather data -- just as a journalist would do -- this book only adds to the surfeit of anti-Trump lowdown we are already deluged with.

I really liked the book only because of the extensive research Bob has done to put this together, which will prove invaluable not now but many years later when Trump is history.

View all my reviews in Goodreads

Monday, October 29, 2018

Making green fuel from crop residues

We Are The World Blogfest
There are various residues or leftovers that remain after the harvesting of a crop. Since they don't have any use in that form, most farmers burn them, leading to huge environment pollution.

However, those residues can be further processed to obtain what are called biofuels. But it needs some investment and it is not an easy process.

Recently, I chanced upon a news item in The Indian Express that spoke of a startup formed by two enterprising farmers in Punjab. This crop residue management company is called Farm2Energy, and they make biocoal with residue from crops
of paddy, sugarcane and corn. Biocoals are environment friendly fuels that can be substitutes for coal, wood, and other conventional fuels.

It is really heartwarming to see such environment-friendly business initiatives being undertaken. And more such activities can make our world a better place to live in.

(This post was submitted to the 18th edition of the We Are The World Blogfest, which seeks to promote positive news. This is the Facebook page of WATWB.)






Friday, October 26, 2018

Going to sleep with earphones plugged in

People, especially youngsters, with earphones plugged in, is a very common sight, nowadays. Most of them are listening to music, I guess. You see them in office working on something very serious, or travelling metro trains, or walking or jogging; and I am told, they listen to music even while going to sleep.

I am plugged in (to mean online on my phone) only to keep myself updated with the news stream almost through the day, and to reply to important emails and messages. I am not one of those who listen to music on earphone while reading, writing, walking or jogging. Very rarely, when I am craving for some change, I play instrumental music in very low volume on my laptop or phone, but through the speaker and not the earphones.

During the past few weeks, on four or five days, I went to bed with earphones plugged in, listening to music or some of my favourite podcasts. During those good old days, I have fallen asleep listening to the radio, but not via earphones. There is also a school of thought which says soothing music in low volume calms the mind and helps you get good sleep.

But my experiment was a disaster. I didn't fall asleep. The music and the radio programmes hardly had any soporific effect. Worried I might just lie awake the whole night, I unplugged the earphones and tried to sleep, the way I have always done.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Google Plus -- Another Google product that is being shut down

Earlier this month, there was a news item that Google will shut down its social media platform, Google Plus, for consumers. From August of next year, Google Plus will be available only for business customers.

The reason: Google discovered earlier this year, that its software programme had bugs that allowed miscreants to steal data of not only G+ users but also of their friends. This discovery was around the time when Facebook was being hauled through coals for a similar loophole in its software architecture.

Google kept quiet at that time, fearing a public backlash. Now they have come up a solution -- since Google won't be able provide a safe platform to its users, they will rather shut it down. And according to Google, there are very few people using G+. It's the businesses that are using G+ more.

Percentage wise, probably, the number of users might be comparatively small. But the number could be quite a big. And this decision will impact a lot of people around the world.

This decision is very much in pattern with Google's general practice of constantly innovating and coming up with newer services and products, but keeping only the ones they think are doing well. Reader, Buzz, Knol, Labs, Video Goggles, Health are some products that have been shut down.

These are the relevant paragraphs from Google's blog post announcing the decision to shut down G+ for consumers.
The consumer version of Google+ currently has low usage and engagement: 90 percent of Google+ user sessions are less than five seconds. 
The review did highlight the significant challenges in creating and maintaining a successful Google+ that meets consumers’ expectations. Given these challenges and the very low usage of the consumer version of Google+, we decided to sunset the consumer version of Google+. 
To give people a full opportunity to transition, we will implement this wind-down over a 10-month period, slated for completion by the end of next August. Over the coming months, we will provide consumers with additional information, including ways they can download and migrate their data. 
At the same time, we have many enterprise customers who are finding great value in using Google+ within their companies. Our review showed that Google+ is better suited as an enterprise product where co-workers can engage in internal discussions on a secure corporate social network.
Here is a list of services and products that Google has shut down.

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.

HOMOSEXUALITY NOT A CRIME

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

ADULTERY NOT AN OFFENCE

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 OPEN TO ALL WOMEN

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

THESE VERDICTS ARE NO SURPRISE

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:

THE MELTDOWN 

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.

ONE

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.

TWO

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.

THREE

“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.

TEARS, BUT NOT OF JOY

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.

TOO MANY STRANDS OF ISSUES

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.

SERENA SHOULD HAVE CHECKED HERSELF

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.

THREE CHEERS FOR NAOMI

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.

BEACON OF HOPE

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

A TOY STORY

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: Independent.ie
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: http://marciabarrettsite.com/

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.

UNUSUAL GENTLE POLITICIAN

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.

POET, DIPLOMAT, ORATOR

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.

RARE MAGNANIMITY

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.

TUMULTUOUS PREMIERSHIP

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.

REFERENCES AND VIDEO CLIPS

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!

WHO IS A FRIEND? 

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'?

DUNBAR NUMBER

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.

SO-CALLED FRIENDS

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.