Monday, September 19, 2022

So long!




Majestic and ceremonial. Dignified and elegant. Calm and solemn.

That's what the nearly 8-hour-long funeral and the last journey of Queen Elizabeth II was.

Something that I didn't want to miss; I saw the whole of it on the YouTube channel of Sky News.

My admiration for the queen grew multi-fold after I watched the Netflix series The Crown.

It's not just about the royal title of Queen. It's also about Elizabeth II as an individual, and as a woman.

There wasn't, and quite unlikely there will be, a monarch like her. 

She was pitchforked to the pinnacle of royalty at the young age of 25 in 1952. 

Look at how the world changed during the 70 years since then. 

While Britain and the world, battled one crisis after another, there she was, as a constant steadying influence and a source of reassurance and comfort for the UK and Commonwealth.

For everyone else, she was an inspiration, someone who personified admirable individual traits like commitment, sincerity, hard work, wisdom, equanimity, grace, poise, dignity, etc.

It's also interesting that in the UK, there was a change of guard within a span of few days, both in the government and the monarchy.

A new head of government. A new head of state. 

I am sure there will be changes in the months and years to come.

(Image courtesy: BBC)

Monday, September 12, 2022

Munnar trip - 3

September 4, Sunday

It was very encouraging to see that the morning was indeed bright and sunny. That gave us hope of doing some trekking as we planned yesterday.

We reached Kallar (about 10 km from Munnar town) by cab. From there, we travelled another 8 km, uphill on a rough stretch of road by a jeep. We were accompanied by a guide.

From around 10 am for about three hours, we climbed rocky hills treading rough paths that had bushes and weeds on either sides. 

Because of rain, the vegetation was thick, and the slopes were slippery. 

Needless to say, the view from atop the hills was breathtakingly beautiful.

View from top of one of the hills

We got back to Kallar, and then back to Munnar town by 2 pm. After lunch, we got back to the hotel by around 3 pm.

As we expected, it began to rain in the afternoon, forcing us to spend the rest of the day in the hotel. 

September 5, Monday

Our last day in Munnar. 

After breakfast, Henry and I walked to the Botanical Garden, which is 5 km from the hotel. 

We could have taken a taxi or an autorickshaw, like everyone else. But our objective was to walk. It took us one hour to cover the 5 km.

The view while we walked to the Botanical Garden.

The garden is not too big. There are many varieties of plants, but what struck us most was the large variety of different cacti. One can buy plant saplings from there.

After spending about 45 minutes, Henry and I walked back to the hotel, in time for the checkout at 12 noon.

The Botanical Garden is known for the collection of cacti.

It was a lovely three-day stay at Munnar. Normally, it's rain-free time at this time of the year. But thanks to the erratic climatic patterns, every day we had drizzle / rains in the afternoon / evening.

At 1.45 pm, we got on to a Kerala State Road Transport Corporation bus to Aluva.

All through our 5-hour bus journey, it was raining. Hats off to the bus driver for navigating the twists and turns of the hilly terrain safely.

Our train from Aluva to Bengaluru was at around 9.30 pm. But it was delayed by around 30 minutes. We reached back our home the next day morning around 10.

September 8, Thursday

Today was Thiruonam - the most popular cultural festival of Keralites. 

According to Hindu mythology, Onam is the time when Mahabali, the benevolent king, comes visiting his former subjects. In Kerala, the festival is marked by various cultural programmes. Thiruonam is the last day of the 10-day Onam.

Making floral designs is a part of Onam celebrations.
This one was at my brother-in-law's house.

We had a good family time at my brother-in-law's home. We were glad to have Henry for the special Onam feast, called Onasadya.

September 9, Friday

Henry left for Delhi by Rajdhani Express train at 8 pm. After a few days there, he will spend nearly a month trekking and mountaineering in the Himalayas, before he returns home in North Shields, northeast England.


Sunday, September 4, 2022

Munnar trip - 2

September 03, Saturday

The morning was bright and sunny. At 8.30 am we left for Eravikulam National Park, which is at an altitude of 7,000 ft or 2,134 metres. 

The 97 sq km park is home to a wide variety of flora and fauna. But the biggest attraction here though is the Nilgiri Tahr, which is categorized as 'endangered' by the International Union of Conservation of Nature.

There are about 700 to 800 of them in the Eravikulam National Park, making it the largest wild population in the world, says a note at the park.

From the high altitude, we get a fabulous view of a wide expanse of greenery.

NEELAKURINJI

This is another attraction of Munnar. It's flowering shrub unique to the Western Ghats. Known by its botonical name, Strobilanthes kunthiana, Neelakurinji, has only chance to reproduce in its life cycle. 

After flowering and seed dispersal happens only once in 12 years. After flowering and seed dispersal, the plants perish. But the seeds germinate and the plant grows for 12 years until it blooms again. When that happens, it's blue carpet of Neelakurinji everywhere in Munnar. 

It bloomed last last year, that's 2021. But because of Covid, Munnar was closed to tourists. We have to now wait for 2033 for the plant to bloom.

TEA MUSEUM

Munnar is synonymous with tea plantations which we find all over the place. After the national park we went to the Tea Museum. It was set up by the Tatas in 2005. It gives you a good idea of the history of tea plantations in Munnar and also of the role played by the Tatas. 

There is a live demonstration factory where we can see how tea leaves are processed and converted into tea powder.

SPICE GARDEN

This was the day's final destination. It's in Kallar. There is a six acre farm where medicinal plants and trees are grown. Visitors are taken around a garden where these plants are grown. There is a guide who will explain the medicinal properties of various plants. There is also a retail outlet where many herbal medicines are sold. They say the formulations are pure and contain no additives.

Tomorrow we are hoping to do some trekking. 



Friday, September 2, 2022

Munnar trip - 1

My friend from New Castle in North East England, Henry, arrived in Bengaluru on August 31, that's day before yesterday. 

It was good to see him again. The last time he was in India was in Sept 2015.

He was my father's colleague teaching chemistry in school from 1967 to 1969. We have been family friends ever since. He keeps coming to India every two or three years. 

Every time he comes to India, he visits us, and we go on a tour to some nearby place. He is a passionate mountaineer, and climbs a peak in the Himalayas as well before returning home.

This time, we decided to go to Munnar in Idukki district of Kerala. Its in the Western Ghats mountain range and is known for its tea plantations and trekking trails.

Yesterday evening 7.45 pm, we left Bengaluru by train and reached Aluva around 5 45 am today. We boarded a bus to Munnar around 6.30 am and reached here around 10.30 am. 

This is not typically a time when it rains. But weather as we all know has been very unpredictable of late. Though it was sunny in the morning when we arrived, it rained rather heavily in the afternoon. 

When the sky cleared, we stepped out for a walk and went up to the Rose Garden just about 650 metres from the hotel where we are staying. It houses a wide variety of flora. One can also buy saplings.

We then went to meet a friend who teaches in a school here. We had a short walkabout, and then we went to the Mattupetty Dam. Because the rains, some shutters had been opened, and both the reservoir as well as the water gushing out were sights to behold.

Hoping to explore other areas of this enormously beautiful place tomorrow. 





Monday, August 15, 2022

India at 75 and looking ahead

Today is the 75th anniversary of India's independence. 

As part of the Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav, the celebration of freedom, the government announced the Har Khar Tiranga campaign, an exhortation to all Indians to fly the Tricolour at their homes from August 13 to 15.

It generated a lot of enthusiasm and I could see a number of houses, besides government and private buildings flying the Tricolour. Like countless others, we too joined in, got a flag, and put it up on our balcony.

TRIUMPH OVER ADVERSITIES

At 75, we can always look at the pitfalls, the cracks, and various other downsides. They journey hasn't been easy; it wouldn't be either.

However, I would look at it from the other side - the achievements we have made in spite of the enormous challenges during this journey of 75 years. 

I really doubt if there is any other nation in this world that is as diverse as India is -- from climate and languages to dress and food; from seemingly infinite local customs based on religion, caste or sub-caste, to a multitude of regional historical legacies. It's just too mindboggling.

This will be evident to anyone who travels the length and breadth of India -- from south to central to west to north to east of the nation. It's a maze of not just complexities but sometimes even contradictions. 

In this context, look at human endeavour in any segment of life -- be it science and technology, sociology, economics, politics, civil services, armed forces, sports or games -- there are countless stories of triumph over adversities.

There are hundreds of thousands of people in every strata -- be they of any state, gender, religion, caste, creed -- making use of the opportunities that our nation provides them. These opportunities have been stepping stones to better livelihood and lifestyle.

It's this progress that gives me the hope that we will continue to do well; the journey will only get better and better in the years to come.

THE ASSETS TO CHERISH

As we look ahead, in this land of extreme diversity, there are a few features that stand out, and bind us together as one nation: democracy, freedom, unity, constitution, legislature, executive, judiciary, and media.

We have them all in robust health. We need to cherish them, nurture them, because they are the assets on which a nation is built.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Avinash Sable: the star of Birmingham Commonwealth Games

Thoroughly enjoyed five hours of sports -- from around 1 pm to 6 pm -- today. 

Indians figured in six events, on the last day of the 22nd Commonwealth Games at Birmingham. We picked up 4 gold, 1 silver and 1 bronze today.

The final tally -- 22 gold, 16 silver and 23 bronze; ranked fourth among 72 participating nations, behind Australia, England and Canada.

Not the best show by any means. We had done a lot better during the 2010 Games which was held in New Delhi, coming 2nd with a total medals tally of 101.

This time, out of India's 61 medals, 12 were in wrestling, 10 in weightlifting, 8 in athletics, 7 in boxing and table tennis, 6 in badminton, 3 in judo, 2 in lawn bowls, hockey and squash, 1 in para powerlifting and hockey.

There were plenty stellar performances during the 11-day games. 

From the India point of view, my choice of the best performance was the silver medal won by Avinash Sable in the 3,000 metre steeplechase event. 

Kenyans had always dominated this. And they were hoping to get gold, silver and bronze medals this time too. 

Sable's win was the first time since 1994 when someone outside Kenya won a medal in this event.

27-year-old Sable was born into a poor farmer's family in Mandwa village of Maharashtra's Beed district. 

After competing the 12th grade, he joined the Indian Army. Today, he is a Junior Commissioned Officer with the Mahar Regiment of the Indian Army.

This 10-minute clip is worth watching:


If the above video is not available, here's a shorter, 2-minute, version of it:
Wating for the closing ceremony of the Games to start.

Monday, August 1, 2022

When I forgot my phone in the cab

Once upon a time, mobile phone numbers could be saved only either on the phone or on the SIM. 

If the phone was lost or damaged all the numbers would be lost. Then, there would be frantic attempts to contact everyone who matters to us, in order to get their numbers.

If we were just replacing an existing phone, then the entire lot of numbers had to be transferred on to the new phone.

Then came the new feature of saving these numbers in the cloud -- either on iCloud/iTunes or on Google.

This was a huge relief. No phone number is ever lost, unless one lost access to the cloud account.

I always had an Android phone. So, I am not familiar with how easy or efficient it's to have the contact details backed up on iCloud / iTunes.

In Android it's pretty simple. Whenever a new contact has to be added, the default option is to save it to the Google account. If other accounts have been added, they too show up, besides an option to save it to the phone in the good old way.

The big advantage is that when I get a new phone, I just don't have to worry about the contacts. They are all there when I log into my Google account.

But recently it helped me on another occasion. 

I left my phone in the office cab that dropped me home after work.

I realised it when I entered home. 

There was a colleague of mine in the cab. I could call him or even the driver or the cab manager from my wife's phone. But I didn't know any of their numbers.

Google came to my rescue. 

All that I had to do was open my laptop, and go to my Gmail contacts. I took my colleague's number from there, and called him from my wife's phone.

After dropping my colleague home (luckily not too far from where I stay), the driver took the trouble to come back to my place, and handed over my phone.

(Image by Firmbee from Pixabay)

Monday, July 18, 2022

Weird weather


Once upon a time weather predictions used to go so horribly wrong that forecasters on radio and television were the butt of jokes.

With better technology,  we are able to predict severe weather conditions like cyclones and monsoons more accurately. That helps authorities to take preventive measures to ensure the safety of citizens.

But on a broader level, the climatic conditions that influence weather patterns have varied so much that it's still difficult to predict whether it'll rain or shine in a particular month.

This year, for example, here in Bengaluru, we had barely any summer. We got so much rain during the first half of this year. 

I remember, it used to get quite hot from March onwards to nearly June, when it would begin to rain. In April, we got what used to be called "summer showers" or "April showers".

But this time around with so much rainfall, there has been no clarity on whether it's "summer showers", or "pre-monsoon showers" or "monsoon showers"!

In my school days, that's more than four decades ago, the south-west monsoon set in on Kerala exactly on the first of June. On the dot; there was never a change. Nowadays, it's either early or late.

Recently, Sydney, in Australia, got flooded for the third time this year. That's never happened before.

Right now, Europe is burning with record high temperatures. Just this morning I saw on BBC World News two students saying that during this time the previous year their locality was flooded. And they said it's so scary that this year it's so hot.

The problem is it's difficult to plan travel or holidays. Just because during a particular month in the previous years it was quite pleasant, doesn't mean it'd be so this year too.

(Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay)

Saturday, July 9, 2022

Kerala lottery and livelihood

I feel good to be back in the blogosphere after an unusually long break. I was on holiday and I had decided to keep off as many routine stuff as possible.

I was in Kerala, my home state, and like I always do when I am there, I bought lottery tickets. The desire to strike a jackpot is of course there. But that alone is not the reason.

KERALA STATE LOTTERIES

It's a unique Kerala government programme that was started way back in 1967, when renowned communist leader E M S Namboodiripad was the chief minister. The objective was to generate additional revenue and also provide a source of income for the poor who sell the lottery tickets.

Kerala was the first state in India to have such a lottery scheme. Many states since then started similar programmes. 

But subsequently some states -- including Karnataka, where I now live -- banned them, because of an argument that the paper lottery scheme is akin to gambling, which is illegal in India, except in Goa and Sikkim, where there are casinos. 

In Kerala, over the past 50 years, this scheme has grown into a large industry, netting huge revenue for the state government as well as providing a means of sustenance for hundreds of thousand of ticket vendors. 

There is a full-fledged government department, under the ministry of finance, that runs the lotteries.

The very first draw was held on January 26, 1968, with a first prize money of ₹50,000 (about $630 in today's rates), quite a huge sum those days. 

MANY DRAWS, MANY WINNERS

Now, there are seven daily lotteries every week, and six bumper lotteries every year. Each of them has a different prize structure. The highest prize money could be as high as ₹10 crore ($1.2 million)

During each draw, around 250 people have a chance of winning some prize money, under various categories.

There is a draw every day at 3 pm, and it's done in a very transparent manner. In fact, it's streamed live on YouTube

The results are published on the web.

WELFARE SCHEMES

There are a slew of government welfare programmes that are run with the money that comes in from the sale of the tickets. 

There is a Welfare Fund Board under the Directorate of Kerala State Lotteries that takes care of the lottery ticket vendors. 

Karunya scheme is one such that supports people who are unable to afford the medical expenses.

LUCKY NUMBER

Last month, when I was in Kerala, I bought two tickets. Each costs ₹40. 

It not just the temptation to try my luck, but the sense of contentment / happiness that the ticket cost goes towards government's welfare schemes that drives me to buy a ticket.

For one of the tickets I bought, I got a prize: ₹500. It's the 2nd time I was lucky; on an earlier occasion, I got ₹100.

The encashment of the prize was easy. I went to an authorised ticket vendor, and submitted the ticket. He scanned the QR code on my ticket using an app on his mobile phone. He confirmed the prize, and handed over the prize money.  

This methods of encashment is only for less than ₹1 lakh. For above that, the winner approaches a bank.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Early morning hues in Kerala

Below is the link to a short, one-minute video clip of early morning while I was travelling by train from Bengaluru to Thiruvananthapuram on June 17. This is somewhere between Kayamkulam and Kollam.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Online games and the idea of beauty

(Image by Dariusz Sankowski from Pixabay)

The default perception about online games is that they are all bad. No, I won't say that. 

There are many that are good. Those are the ones that challenge you to solve problems and make you think. 

There are some others that improve your general knowledge; or language / mathematical / coordination skills.

They are all fine. 

But what's worrying are the games that play on emotions of children and young adults.

YOU CREATE YOUR OWN STORY

Many of these games are what are called fantasy games in which the player is allowed to create a story by choosing from options that the game presents at regular intervals. Some of them are called 'beauty games', targeted at girls.

I am not going to give examples of such games. Give a web search or go to the play store on your mobile phone. You will find plenty.

These are by no means new. They have been there for decades. 

More and more of them are being created; and the more we get dependent on the internet and phones, the reach and influence of these games too grows.

Many of these games play on the characters' beauty and style; and the story plot involves romance, dating, marriage, and sometimes adult themes and situations.

You as a player can choose things that you think are impressive. Or, you can dress up / glam up a character with the available set of clothes. Or, you can make these characters handsome or beautiful.

Though it is said that you are the protagonist and you can choose how the story develops, it's not exactly so. You don't have a free hand to build a story of your liking. 

Remember these are games, where there are winners and losers depending on your idea of what is beauty. It has to match the standard set by the developers of the games.

That's where the danger lies. 

WHO IS BEAUTIFUL AND WHO IS NOT

The developers of these games have decided who exactly is a handsome man or a beautiful woman; what sort of dress makes them attractive to the opposite gender; what you need to do to win a date; or to get married and lead a happy and successful life.

There is a lot of stereotyping in these games, and that's very harmful. Young boys and girls, by getting hooked on to such games, tend to develop totally falsified ideas of what is beauty, happiness, success, etc.

There is untold emotional damage these games inflict on impressionable minds of boys and girls, and colour their outlook as they grow into adults. 

SOLUTION

There is so much talk about the need for good mental health and well-being. But little is done to check the proliferation of these types of games. 

The only way is to have some sort of parental control. Limit, regulate, supervise children's interactions with games. 

It may not be possible to keep mobile phones away from children, or deny them access to the internet. 

But there is an inbuilt 'parental control' function. All major cyber security products have it. Play stores have it. Make use of it. 

Parents themselves have to be good role models for their children. They need to be careful when they make comments about situations or other people. 

It shouldn't look like they are reinforcing certain stereotypes or they are setting expectations or standards regarding beauty / happiness / success.

There should be a healthy environment at home that will make children feel emotionally secure and comfortable, so that they trust parents more than what they see / hear on the internet or the phone.

I know it is not easy. But parents have to take this important step, for the sake their children and other children.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Post-book blues

The other day I found my friend a bit lost and sort of disoriented. He looked ponderous, and his gaze seemed to be fixed at some faraway object.

I asked him, "What happened? All okay?"

With a smile that conveyed that all is well, he said, "I just finished reading The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins."

I too have read that psychological thriller by the popular British author, who is one of my favourite writers. 

I quickly realised that my friend was going through what's called post-book blues also called book hangover. 

It's a strange feeling that we get when we have completed reading a book, or nowadays after listening to an audiobook.

When I am immersed in a book for many days (I am a slow reader), I get virtually transported to a different world, in the midst of the characters of the story. The book becomes a lot more engaging and unputdownable towards the end.

Finally, when the last page and the back cover have been turned, there is this inevitable feeling of emptiness and loss, that combines with thoughts of various characters and scenes in the book.

It's all the more intense if the book has gripping plots and subplots that wind through many twists and turns.

If the end is tragic, I get a lump in my throat and my eyes well up.

Of course, it's a temporary phase that passes when I get drawn into my daily routine.

There is a similar feeling that comes over after I watch a movie too. It's much more in a movie theatre than at home in front of a television.  

However, there is a difference - films are at the most three hours long, but the association with a book is much longer.

How about you? Do you feel depressed after reading a book, or watching a film?

(Image by Kranich17 from Pixabay)

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Day 26 - Zumba

Video screenshot from Zumba

I haven't gone for it, but I know a few friends who signed up for Zumba classes. They say it's real fun.

Traditional exercises or dance forms can be too formal. Usually, they are bound by a strict pattern of movements, which sort of makes them too regimented.

(Some of the well-known Indian dance forms: Bharatanatyam, Kathakali, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, Odissi etc.)

Zumba adds a liberal dose of entertainment to dance and exercise. There is no water-tight regimen and the routines are flexible, customisable to individual needs, and therefore enjoyable, making it very popular.

Zumba is a trademarked fitness programme that originated in southwest Columbia in the 1990s. It was created by dancer and choreographer Beto Perez, by combining elements from four Latin American dance rhythms: salsa, reggaeton, merengue, and cumbia.

In 2001, Zumba Fitness, LLC, was founded; and in 2011 it arrived in India, one of the over 180 countries where it's now taught and practised.

There is music and a lot of high-impact body movements, including jumping and bouncing. If one is keen on moving into advanced forms, it's better to get prior medical advice.

Like any exercise, Zumba is undoubtedly good for health. It burns calories, loosens joints and muscles, and keeps one agile.

Also, like any exercise, overdoing it won't do any good.

Sources:

ZumbaMint; WebMD, Wikipedia

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This post is part of the blogging challenge in April every year, wherein bloggers put up one post a day, from A to Z, every day except Sundays. 

The series concludes with this post.

I'm participating in #BlogchatterA2Z. I am also on A2Z April Challenge.


Friday, April 29, 2022

Day 25 - Yugoslavia

Courtesy: Encyclopaedia Britannica 
(Click on image to enlarge)

Yugoslavia was one of the countries very familiar to Indians once upon a time.

Its Communist ruler Josip Tito was among the leaders, alongside India's Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, who played a key role in the setting up of the Non-Aligned Movement or popularly called NAM.

NAM, established in Yugoslavia's capital Belgrade in 1961, wasn't formally aligned to either the West bloc led by the US or the East bloc led by the once-mighty USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) or the Soviet Union.

Late 1980s and early 1990s were tumultuous times. 

The biggest event then was the collapse of the USSR, with its impact felt worldwide including in India (the privatisation of Indian economy in 1991).

Yugoslavia -- which comprised six socialist republics: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia -- was one of the first countries in East Europe to be impacted by the breakup of the USSR.

One by one constituents of Yugoslavia began declaring independence, starting with Slovenia and Croatia in 1991. 

The Yugoslav Wars, which broke out among the republics, resulted in the deaths / massacre / genocide of hundreds of thousands of people. 

Yugoslavia as a country was finally dissolved in 1992. But the ethnic tensions / violence / insurgency has continued.

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This post is part of the blogging challenge in April every year, wherein bloggers put up one post a day, from A to Z, every day except Sundays. 

I'm participating in #BlogchatterA2Z. I am also on A2Z April Challenge.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Day 24 - X


Many, many years ago, in the office where I once worked, a senior colleague used to get irritated whenever replied, "I don't know", to any question of his.

I used to say so because I really didn't know. If I didn't know what else was I supposed to say?

He used to tell me: "You should know. How can you not know?"

If I were to look at it in a positive manner, probably he used to have very high expectations from me; and he expected me to know a lot of things; an answer to every question of his.   

But the fact is how is it possible for anyone to know everything?

I don't think there is anyone who knows everything. Not even science has answers to everything.

Take Covid. Even the best of the world's virologists and doctors don't have all the answers to the mysterious ways the SARS-CoV-2 (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2) has been behaving. 

No one knows if and when there will be another variant of the virus or how lethal will that be.  

In spite of a suffusion of information (verified and unverified), amplified today by social media, we all live in the midst of a void. The void of the unknown. 

This unknown springs itself upon us out of the blue -- in the form of surprises both pleasant and unpleasant. 

How much ever we base our lives on science and reasoning, there's always the realm of the unknown.

It's this realm that is filled by our beliefs, thoughts, hopes, aspirations, dreams, prejudices, fears, etc.

Our quest is to more. But, the more we know, the more questions we have.

The known is finite; the unknown is infinite.

The journey never ends.

(Image by Flavio Poletti from Pixabay)

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This post is part of the blogging challenge in April every year, wherein bloggers put up one post a day, from A to Z, every day except Sundays. 

I'm participating in #BlogchatterA2Z. I am also on A2Z April Challenge.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Day 23 - Wardrobe


In the wardrobe, there are clothes that were bought many months or even years ago, but have never been worn even once!

But the buying spree continues; and the wardrobe is not just always full, but it's always overflowing!

No, this is not the case with me.

Shopping can be addictive. Someone said it's even therapeutic. You feel very good post-shopping.

If someone has bought a garment, it's because s/he liked it, and therefore wanted to wear it. 

But then, why s/he doesn't wear it after buying it? 

I know friends who keep falling into this trap of "clothes-purchase spree". 

One of them said: "At the store, I like it, but when I come home and see it, I don't feel like wearing it."

Perfectly understandable. Likes and dislikes are very transient, often subject to the influence of mood, ambience, peer group, etc.

Many of my such friends, make it a point not to pile up these brand-new, untouched, unused clothes in the wardrobe. They give them away to someone who likes them / wants them.

A good practice worth emulating.

(Image by JamesDeMers from Pixabay)

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This post is part of the blogging challenge in April every year, wherein bloggers put up one post a day, from A to Z, every day except Sundays. 

I'm participating in #BlogchatterA2Z. I am also on A2Z April Challenge.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Day 22 - Vaccination


This is something that became extremely popular world over since mid-2020 when a Covid-struck world started thinking about a strong armour to beat the virus. On January 16, 2021, India began its anti-Covid vaccination programme.

It's been controversial too.  But not in India, where there was so much enthusiasm that on the very first day, people complained about technical glitches in the software to manage the programme.

There has been hardly any vaccine hesitancy here. If at all people didn't get jabbed, it was mainly because of complacency or laziness.

Right now, the administration of precaution dose or the booster dose is ongoing. I got mine a few days ago, on Saturday. 

Close to 2 billion doses have been administered in India so far -- first, second and booster put together.

The Union Government's CoWIN dashboard gives all the details.

There have been cases of people developing adverse reactions. But they are just 0.005% of all the people who got immunized.

BETTER BE JABBED THAN BE IN HOSPITAL

It's not that there isn't anyone skeptical of the vaccination, be it of any manufacturer. 

Just yesterday, The Times of India reported quoting experts of the government's own ICMR-National Institute of Virology that both Covishield and Covaxin might be less effective against the latest variant of Omicron for people who haven't already contracted Covid compared to those who had contracted the disease.

But the overwhelming perception seems to be: better get vaccinated (manage the minor fever or body pain, nausea, etc., thereafter, if at all) and be safe rather than contract Covid and get hospitalized.

There is also a feeling that a number of Indians have acquired some amount of herd immunity, thanks to the crowded public places.

INDIA'S NATIONAL IMMUNIZATION PROGRAMME

Getting vaccinated is nothing new for us, since our government has had, for so many decades, a robust vaccination programme even before Covid happened.

A baby is vaccinated against BCG, Hepatitis B, and polio soon after birth.

Then follows, at regular intervals, more doses of vaccines against:

  • polio
     
  • diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, hepatitis B and haemophilus influenzae type b (pentavalent vaccine)

  • rotavirus

  • measles, mumps and rubella

  • Japanese Encephalitis

  • deficiencies of vitamin A

  • DPT (diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus) booster doses and 

  • tetanus 

All this ends only when the child is 16 years of age.

The only difference between these vaccines and the Covid vaccines is that the latter were developed very recently, at a hectic pace, against a deadline, without probably as many trials as probably they would have required, to fight a disease that we are yet to understand fully.

The way I see it is: it's better to get vaccinated than not.

Image by cromaconceptovisual from Pixabay

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This post is part of the blogging challenge in April every year, wherein bloggers put up one post a day, from A to Z, every day except Sundays. 

I'm participating in #BlogchatterA2Z. I am also on A2Z April Challenge.

Monday, April 25, 2022

Day 21 -- Umami


Umami is the fifth basic taste, in addition to sweet, salty, sour and bitter.

This taste was discovered by a Japanese chemist and professor at the Japanese Imperial University Kikunae Ikeda way back in 1908. 

The research that led to his discovery was the result of a feeling he had that the popular Japanese dish 'kombu dashi' had a taste that didn't exactly belong to the four known tastes. 

This dish is a form of broth made of kelp, a type of seaweed. Finally, Ikeda was able to trace this unique taste to glutamate, an amino acid.

Now umami has been officially recognised by scientists around the world as the fifth basic taste.

What contributed to the official confirmation of umami as the fifth basic taste was the discovery, exactly 20 years ago, in 2002, that there are specific taste receptors in our taste buds that do respond to amino acids.

Amino acids are one of the building blocks of proteins in our body.

Glutamates are commonly found in a variety of food like mushrooms, ripe tomatoes, Chinese cabbage, spinach, cheeses, shrimp pastes, fish sauce, soy sauce, fish, shellfish, etc.

The umami taste is said to be best provided by monosodium glutamate or MSG, a more stable powdered form obtained by adding sodium. Arguably, the most famous commercial MSG-based product is the condiment Ajinomoto. 

MSG has been controversial since 1968 when it was reported that it could be behind certain health issues. A large number of studies have been done, but it hasn't been conclusively proven, though some people do react adversely to MSG.

It is said that one of the reasons why we generally crave for food like cheese and chips with ketchup is the presence of glutamate, and thereby the umami taste.

Source:

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This post is part of the blogging challenge in April every year, wherein bloggers put up one post a day, from A to Z, every day except Sundays. 

I'm participating in #BlogchatterA2Z. I am also on A2Z April Challenge.


Saturday, April 23, 2022

Day 20 -- Thunder


Loud sound puts me off, generally. I don't like firecrackers. One exception: thunder.

Kerala, where I was during my school and college days, gets a lot of rain accompanied by lightning and thunder. So, most houses, especially in hilly areas, have lightning conductors atop them. Our house had one.

Also, in Kerala, when there is lightning and thunder, people unplug electrical devices as they could possibly get damaged.

All said and done, I like that occasional streak of light in the sky and the roar that rumbles thereafter.

Not actually "thereafter", our physics teacher had told us in school. 

The sound is the result of the sudden expansion of air because of the high-voltage electricity that lightning produces; and both happen simultaneously. 

One of the fun activities in my school days was to determine how far away was the lightning. It's simple. 

Sounds travels at around 340 m in one second. Or, it takes 5 seconds for sound to travel one mile. It varies depending upon temperature and pressure.

I used to count the number of seconds it took for me to hear the thunder; and I multiplied that by 340.  The lightning was that many meters away. (Or divide the number of seconds by 5; it's that many miles away.)

My mother was scared of lightning and thunder. She always asked me to close the windows. In my excitement, I used to plead with her to keep the windows open, so I could see the lightning. 

But later, I realised that she was right: it's safer to keep the windows closed, because colder air conducts electricity better than glass window panes.

They are dangerous, I know. Last year, more than 70 people died in various parts of India after they were struck by lightning. 

Lighting and thunder is very rare -- just a few days in a whole year -- where I live now, Bengaluru. 

Rains are different when there is an occasional lighting and thunder. I don't know if I should say that I miss them. 

I don't want them to be close by. Let them be far away, giving me enough time to count quite a few seconds before I hear that clap. 

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This post is part of the blogging challenge in April every year, wherein bloggers put up one post a day, from A to Z, every day except Sundays. 

I'm participating in #BlogchatterA2Z. I am also on A2Z April Challenge.

Image credit: Pixabay

Friday, April 22, 2022

Day 19 - So

"So, I bought a new phone!"

So, how was your day?

So, it has been raining since morning today. 

So, I am travelling to Delhi this evening.

Here, we are not referring to so as a conjunction (a word that joins two sentence). For example, It's raining so I am not going out.

We are referring to beginning a conversation with the word so.

I have heard many people using it that way. Are you one of them?

Apparently, Mark Zuckerberg, Chairman and CEO of Meta Platforms, is one of them. 

Textbook grammar says one should never begin a sentence (much less a conversation) with a conjunction like so, and, or, etc.

The proponents of its such usage say it sets a context to start a discussion or a conversation; and it sounds more natural that way. Something like a substitute for "You know, .. Well, ... " etc.

They say when you start a conversation with: "So, I am travelling to Delhi this evening", it means "I have been wanting to tell you about my travel plans ..." Or, "Well, there is a change of plan, so I am travelling to Delhi this evening."

However, the opponents say, it is not only grammatically wrong but it also makes the speaker sound a bit defensive (for some unknown reason) saying something that the listener wouldn't be prepared to hear.

I am not one of those who would begin a conversation with so because it sounds a bit odd when I hear someone use it in that manner. 

Language is all about usage, is it not? If it conveys the right meaning, then the usage should be deemed to be right!

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This post is part of the blogging challenge in April every year, wherein bloggers put up one post a day, from A to Z, every day except Sundays. 

I'm participating in #BlogchatterA2Z. I am also on A2Z April Challenge.

Image credit: Pixabay

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Day 18 - Railways

The view from the top of our apartment complex

There is something about the trains that's fascinating -- may be the length of the train, may be the way it goes on the track, may be the sound ...  

When I think of Indian Railways, what comes to mind are the vastness of the network, and the convenience of booking and travelling.

Once upon a time, it was such a pain, especially during the holidays.

In the early 1990s, when we were in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, we used to take the Rajkot - Trivandrum Express to go to our home state Kerala.

That was a time, when the reservation network was just computerised in the railway offices. 

Since people could easily book tickets from anywhere in the country to travel between any two places, trains got fully booked within about half an hour!

(Before computerisation, if one had to travel from, say, Mumbai to Delhi, one had to book from Mumbai railway station. One could do it from any other place as well, but that was a very tedious process.)

So, even though the railway counter opened at 8.30 am, I would be at the Ahmedabad railway station as early as 5 am so that I was well ahead in the queue. 

Imagine standing in the the queue for more than 3 hours. Yes, those were the days! 

I can't believe the convenience internet and mobile phones have brought about. During my recent Chennai trip, I cancelled one ticket and booked another one, all in less than 10 minutes while travelling in a cab!

During a trip to Mangaluru in 2019

This month, it's 169 long years since the first railway track in the Indian subcontinent was laid. That was on the 16th of April 1853 - a stretch of 21 miles or 34 kilometers, between Bombay and Thane.

In the East, a track was commissioned the next year, August 15th, between Howrah and Hoogly, 24 miles or 39 km.

Trains began running in south India in 1856, when on July 1, a 63 mile (101 km) long track was opened between Arcot and Veyasarpandy.

In the North, on March 3, 1859, a 119 mile (192 km) long line was made functional between Allahabad and Kanpur.

Indian Railways has come a long way since.

It's among the largest rail networks in the world.

Its tracks run 1,08,706 km across the length and breadth of the nation.

As many as 13,169 passenger trains run daily, touching 7,325 stations across the country.

The fully air-conditioned Garib Rath 
at Kochuveli, Kerala, in 2016

The vast network might not be of airline standards. But it's convenient, comfortable and affordable. 

Not surprisingly, every day, 23 million (2 crore 30 lakh) people travel on 13,169 passenger trains that touch 7,325 stations across the country.

One of my post-retirement activities would be to travel around the country on trains.

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This post is part of the blogging challenge in April every year, wherein bloggers put up one post a day, from A to Z, every day except Sundays. 

I'm participating in #BlogchatterA2Z. I am also on A2Z April Challenge.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Day 17 - Quarantine

Easily, the most common, Q word, these days. It just generally means isolation, though of course there is a technical difference.

Isolation is when you are infected and you stay away from others.

Quarantine is when you might not be actually sick or infected, but you have a doubt that you might be. So in order to avoid the risk of infecting others in case you are infected, you stay away from others.  

Quarantine is a phenomenon that Covid brought into our lives. In 2020, in August-September, I was in quarantine thrice. Not because I had Covid, but people I came in contact with had Covid.

Now we are living in an era, when even if someone sneezes or coughs, even if intermittently, others would move away! Most employers discourage their employees from coming to office even if they have cold / cough.   

Though Covid Era might not have ended, the Quarantine Era seems to have ended.

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This post is part of the blogging challenge in April every year, wherein bloggers put up one post a day, from A to Z, every day except Sundays. 

I'm participating in #BlogchatterA2Z. I am also on A2Z April Challenge.

Image credit: Pixabay

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Day 16 - Pogono-

Many men, including yours truly, gave up shaving during the pandemic. 

The last time I did that was more than 20 years ago, and that phase lasted around six or seven years, if I remember right.

This time around, two factors worked as an encouragement to put the razor away one fine morning and the next day and the next.

One, I was confined to home, and even if my colleagues saw me, I was a distant image on a corner of my phone or laptop screen.

Two, even when I stepped out, any probable scruffy look was very well masked.

This beard acquired a moniker too - quarantine beard!

There are various interpretations of what a beard conveys, depending on its length and looks, and also how the viewer perceives it -- sadness, resignation, wisdom, spirituality, maturity, concern, seniority, authority ... 

Even though we aren't done with Covid yet, our lives have pretty much limped back to the times before the virus wreaked havoc. 

I am now wondering if and when I should pick up the razor again. But a few appreciative nods and comments have meant that the facial hair will stay for now.

Here are a few words associated with beard:

  • Pogonotrophy - Growing of beard

  • Pogonotomy - Cutting / shaving of beard

  • Pogonology - Study of beards

  • Pogonophile - Someone who loves beard

  • Pogonophobia - hatred of beard

Now you know why I wrote about beard today!

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This post is part of the blogging challenge in April every year, wherein bloggers put up one post a day, from A to Z, every day except Sundays. 

I'm participating in #BlogchatterA2Z. I am also on A2Z April Challenge.

Image credit: Pixabay

Monday, April 18, 2022

Day 15 - Oxford comma

Which of the two following sentences is correct?

For breakfast today, I had bread, butter, cheese and jam.

For breakfast today, I had bread, butter, cheese, and jam.

The only difference in the above two sentences is the comma before 'and'.

Both are okay, since the meaning remains the same.

This comma is called the 'Oxford comma'. It comes after the penultimate item and before 'and' or 'or' in a list of items.

It's so called because Oxford University Press introduced it around 1900 to reduce ambiguity while listing out items.  

SHOULD WE USE IT OR NOT?

What I learnt in school was that when you list a number of items, you don't need a comma before 'and' or 'or' because the conjunction (and / or) brings in the pause and clarity which otherwise is provided by the comma.

However, now I realise that the style books of some organisations (like The Chicago Manual of Style, Garner's Modern American Usage) mandate its use; while those of others (like Associated Press Stylebook and The New York Times Style Book) don't.

Interestingly, while The Oxford Style Manual is for it, the University of Oxford Style Guide is against it.

Some, like The Economist, leave it to the context of the usage.

I don't use it, if it isn't required. 

WHEN IS IT REQUIRED

Look at this sentence:

Nimmy gave the bunch of flowers to her parents, Susan and Chris.

Since there is no Oxford comma, I will presume that Susan and Chris are Nimmy's parents.

If they are not, then you need an Oxford comma. 

Nimmy gave the bunch of flowers to her parents, Susan, and Chris.

Or, list them in a different order:

Nimmy gave the bunch of flowers to Susan, Chris and her parents.

So be careful, punctuations (actually not just the Oxford comma) can alter meanings!

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This post is part of the blogging challenge in April every year, wherein bloggers put up one post a day, from A to Z, every day except Sundays. 

I'm participating in #BlogchatterA2Z. I am also on A2Z April Challenge.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Day 14 - Nagaland, rich cultural heritage

This continues from my yesterday's post.

From Shillong, we took a taxi back to Guwahati, from where we travelled to Dimapur, the commercial hub of Nagaland, by a night train on Nov 01, 2010. We reached the next day early morning. 

Our sojourn there was hosted by a friend, who arranged for a cab pickup from the Dimapur railway station to Kohima, the capital of the state. 

Kohima, which is about 75 km from Dimapur, doesn't have railway connectivity. A line connecting the two cities is under construction. In fact, there are ambitious plans to connect all the northeast state capitals by rail. But that's making very slow progress because of the challenging terrain.

We had these breathtaking scenery as we drove into Kohima:



We first went to Kisama Heritage Village, which showcases local traditions and cultural activities, on the outskirts of Kohima. The houses have thatched roofs, wooden walls that have intricate carvings of different designs, symbolizing rural folklore. Each of the 16 houses represents a community. It's here that the famous Hornbill Cultural Festival is held in the first week of December.



It will be hard to find a vegetarian in Nagaland. They love meat. We went to one of the typical markets in Kohima, called Keeda Bazaar. There they sell everything from vegetables and fish to meat of a variety of animals, insects and reptiles. 


We also went to a traditional Naga house, where we were welcomed by the family and treated to 'rice beer', which is nothing but fermented rice water. It's too light to get one intoxicated.

We then went to the Kohima War Cemetery which honours the soldiers of the Allied Forces who lost their lives fighting the Japanese Army during the World War II. 

There are stone inscriptions of over 2,000 soldiers, who beat back the Japanese troops at the Garrison Hills after a battle in 1944. 



We drove around the city as well to get a glimpse of the daily life. 

We enjoyed and learnt a lot more than we thought we would, during this two-state northeast tour.  

Anyone who loves to travel, see places and learn about people and their cultural traditions, should definitely plan a trip to this region. 

We hope to travel again to see the other states. 

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This post is part of the blogging challenge in April every year, wherein bloggers put up one post a day, from A to Z, every day except Sundays. 

I'm participating in #BlogchatterA2Z. I am also on A2Z April Challenge.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Day 13 - Meghalaya, ecological paradise

In the last week of October of 2010, we were in Meghalaya on a holiday. Even though I hail from a state (Kerala) which has lush green landscape, the verdant valleys of this northeast corner of our country took my breath away.

Image courtesy: Maps of India

Meghalaya is one of the seven contiguous states in the northeast of India. These states are a cluster and joined to the rest of India via a narrow corridor (around 20 km at the narrowest section) called Siliguri Corridor. 

The seven states are (in clockwise direction) Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, and Meghalaya. These are popularly called the Seven Sisters of India.

Let us not forget Sikkim (another beautiful place) which is lies north of the corridor, between Bhutan and Nepal. Sikkim, which was a kingdom, joined India in 1975. Many people count Sikkim also as a part of the northeast, though this state doesn't share its border with any of the Seven Sisters.       

RAINFALL

We flew from Bengaluru to Guwahati with a stopover at Kolkata. From Guwahati, we took a taxi to Shillong, the capital of Meghalaya.

When I think of Meghalaya, I remember my school geography class. There used to be a popular exam question. Which is the place in India that gets the maximum rainfall. The answer was Cherrapunjee. That's in Meghalaya. 

Now Cherrapunjee has been replaced by Mawsynram (also in Meghalaya) which is said to be one of the wettest places in the world, not just in India.

First, we went to a village called Dympep. There are a few locations, which are called "view points", from where we get breathtaking views of the landscape. 

The view from Duwan Sing Syiem View Point,
in Dympep, Sohra

We then went to Nohkalikai Falls (pictured below) in Sohra, Cherrapunjee. It is said to be the tallest water plunge in India, at 340 meters. It wasn't exactly a rainy season when we went there. During the rains, the waterfall is much heavier. 


We then went to the Eco Park in Mawsmai, in Cherrapunjee. There are children's play areas, foot bridges, historical monoliths, water conservation structures, besides 'view points', and thick vegetation. 

Above and below, views from Mawsmai.

Note the water stream down the hill.

There is also Mawsmai cave, which has to be approached through thickly wooded paths. Inside the cave one can see fossils. This is not one of those long ones. The longest is Krem Liat Prah which is around 30 km long! I am told nine of the 10 longest caves in India are in Meghalaya and the 10th is in Mizoram.

On way to the Mawsmai cave

Entrance to the Mawsmai cave

Next, we went to Mawlynnong village. It's so neat and well looked after that in 2003, the Discovery India TV channel ran a documentary and branding the village as the 'cleanest in Asia'. Everyone in the village is educated and the village has made great progress in women empowerment. 

Some photos from Mawlynnong below:




Meghalaya is also known for a number of 'living root bridges'. These are not natural formations. They were made by the local people who have learnt how to wrap together thick roots of trees to form these bridges. 

The photo above is a close-up shot of one of them. I had a long-shot frame too, but I can't locate it. Give a Google search for "Meghalaya root bridges", and you will find plenty of photos. There are some long ones, that are so strong they can hold as many as 50 people at a time!

(My northeast tour continues tomorrow with another state: the only one of the Seven Sisters whose name starts with N.)

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This post is part of the blogging challenge in April every year, wherein bloggers put up one post a day, from A to Z, every day except Sundays. 

I'm participating in #BlogchatterA2Z. I am also on A2Z April Challenge.