Friday, January 29, 2021

Lockdown hobby brings her a national award

We all found some way to engage ourselves during the enforced stay-at-home period spanning many months last year.

For Beneetta Varghese, a 10th grade student, it was making toys from naturally available materials like leaves, bamboo, areca palm, plantain stem etc.

She used to post their photos on her WhatsApp status, and that caught the attention of her teachers who encouraged her to take part in a national competition, Kala Utsav, organised by the India government's Ministry of Education.

This student of St Joseph's Higher Secondary School, Kallody, Wayanad, Kerala, cleared the block level, the district level and the state level, and reached the national level, where her passion was rewarded with the first prize.

This is the news in today's The Hindu, Thiruvananthapuram edition.

(This post is part of the monthly We Are The World Blogfest that goes out on the last Friday of every month to highlight the positive stories around us. On Facebook and on Twitter.)

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Glory at Gabba

After the Indian cricket team pulled off a sensational win at The Gabba, Brisbane, today, the feeling was as if the team had won the World Cup! Not without reasons.

This India tour of Australia has been like never before. Not because of the pandemic, but because of so many cricketing reasons. 

The series saw India's lowest moment (when the team got out for a paltry 36 in the 1st Test at Adelaide on Dec 19) and the highest moment (registering today's unexpected 3 wicket win after notching up 329 for 7 when only three overs were remaining).

Here are the highlights of the breathtaking final day's play.

When the day's play began, India resumed at 4 for no loss, needing as many as 324 more runs to win, or bat through the day to ensure a draw, which would suffice for them to retain the Borer-Gavaskar Trophy that India had won against all odds during the previous Aussie tour.

The Indian team has been known to perform poorly in away tours and also crumble in the face of pressure while chasing to win. So, the prayer was not for a win, but for a draw - ironically, even when the gritty batsmen were going full blast aiming for a victory.

The odds were all stacked against India. That's why the victory is so sweet.

  • The highest score a team has managed in the 4th innings till now was 236 for 7 by Australia way back in 1951.

  • The last time Australia lost at The Gabba was to the mighty West Indies in 1988. 

  • Most of the members of the Indian team that scripted this brave chase were standing in for senior players who are out of action because of injury.
This match, especially the final day's play, will be remembered forever.

One similar ending to a cliffhanger was on August 25, 2019, when Ben Stokes scripted a breathtaking 135 not out to snatch an unexpected one-wicket victory for England against Australia at Headingly. I blogged about it here.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Loituma's Ievan Polkka - the most famous Finnish song

A few days ago, my son sent me the following song saying: "Papa, something about this reminds me of you. Not sure if you used to play this song."

A peppy song but I hadn't heard of it. He was right that I liked such songs, and probably he had heard me play some song similar to this.

It was so captivating that I looked up the web to know more about it, and this is what I found on Wikipedia.

Ievan Polkka is a Finnish song with lyrics published in 1928 to a traditional Finnish polka tune. But it was forgotten till 1995 when the Loituma quartet released their first album by the same name. The four are: Sari Kauranen, Anita Lehtola-Tollin, Timo Väänänen and Hanni-Mari Autere.

The band was selected the Ensemble of the Year at the 1997 Kaustinen Folk Music Festival.

In 2006, the internet catapulted it to fame when a version of it sung by Loituma Girl, an anime character, was posted on a Russian Live Journal blog. I found that on YouTube.

Ever since that there have been many versions of the original song and some of the tunes were incorporated as ring tones by various European telecom companies.

The four performed on the 50th birthday of Hanni Autere in November 2019.

No wonder this is said to be the most famous Finnish song!

Sunday, January 10, 2021

No checking, monitoring of travellers by road to Kerala

In about three weeks, it will be one year since India reported its first COVID-19 case. That was on January 30, 2020 - a student of Wuhan University who returned to Kerala tested positive. 

Unlike many other countries, in India, the rise and the drop in the number of positive cases per day has been gradual. The peak was on September 17, when the country saw as many as 97,894 people testing positive. Yesterday, it was 18,222. The following is a screenshot from the NDTV website.

There have been 150,570 deaths out of 1,041,4417 positive cases. That is 1.45%. Worldwide, it's 1,919,357 deaths out of 89,209,954 positive cases - 2.15%

The following table gives the comparative figures. It's a Google News compilation by collating data from Wikipedia, The New York Times and JHU.

India is one country in the top bracket that has been showing a consistent decline over the past two months. (Probably, Italy too, to some extent.) I don't know whether that has anything to do with the very different sort of lockdown we had. It lasted in varying degrees of toughness for as long as eight months.

The strictest phase was the initial one - from March 25 to June 7, 2020. After that, there was a series of, what was called, 'unlocks', that lasted till November 30.


I, along with my wife, her brother, mother and niece, reached her home town on Friday evening around 7 pm. We drove down. We began our journey from Bengaluru in the morning around 5.

Prior to that, we registered our particulars on the designated government websites of Tamil Nadu (the state through which we transited) and of Kerala (our destination state). 

However, nowhere en route -- neither at Attibele (the point of entry to Tamil Nadu) nor at Walayar (the point of entry to Kerala) -- were we stopped to have our credentials as interstate travellers checked. Many of my friends who travelled by road to Kerala in the past one month, had the same experience.

This was not the case a few months ago. There was strict monitoring at these border check-posts. Travellers were continuously monitored by local area civic officials. My friends, who had travelled earlier, used to tell me how they kept receiving calls from health department officials, police officials and government doctors; and told about the need to stay at home, and to watch out for symptoms.

Now, the only travellers who are checked are the ones who come via flights. At the arriving airport they need to declare their travel and contact details, and are told to be in quarantine for seven days.

In compliance with the State government regulations, we are in quarantine for a week.

I am not sure why there has been such a relaxation. One reason could be that the situation in Kerala has been improving, though very slowly, after it hit a peak in October. 

The second reason could be that people have gotten used to the new lifestyle that is dictated by the safety guidelines. 

The third reason could be that people who come to Kerala by road are mostly from the two neighbouring states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, where the cases have dropped significantly. So the probability of them carrying the virus could be less.


The state is still seeing quite a high number of fresh cases daily. It's averaging around 5,000. It peaked in October when it was around 7,000 to 8,000.

When we look at the spread of this disease, it's quite difficult to see a pattern across regions. There are a number of variables that are influencing the rate of infection.

And now to make matters worse, we have seen a more virulent form of the virus wreaking havoc, especially in the UK. Some of my doctor friends have been telling me they don't know if the virus that's circulating in India itself can mutate in the coming months.

Even if the situation is getting better, it would be prudent to be cautious.

Friday, January 1, 2021

A new year like never before

Last night didn't seem like the year-end we have been used to. It was like any other day. And quiet too. Police had banned crowds of more than three people on the streets. So, the streets were largely deserted. And therefore, no mass revelry. There were no fireworks nor honking of car horns.

2020 was also a year of learning 
  • not to take nature for granted (a microscopic virus can leave millions dead in a year)
  • the importance of good health (the dangers of comorbidities)
  • of our inherent ability to adapt and survive (lifestyles changed but life went on, new ways of conducting business)
  • about cleaner environment (lesser carbon emission)
  • to distinguish between what is essential and what is not (eating out, travel, social visits)
Here's wishing you all a 2021 that will be better in every way -- fruitful, peaceful, healthier, happier!