Portland, with its beautiful mountains and rivers, fully deserves a visit

Mount Hood
Mount Hood
Portland, Oregon is usually not on the agenda of most tourists visiting the United States and is quite underrated. But it is a great city and extremely beautiful, fully deserving of a visit.
The fact that I have my aunt, uncle and three cousins living there made it that much more attractive. And so it was that, on a recent work trip to the US, I took a flight from  San Francisco for a weekend visit to what is rightfully called the 'Switzerland" of the Pacific Coast.
Many Indians of the current generation know Portland because it is home to chipmaker Intel's largest concentration of facilities and talent in the world. Today, Intel Oregon has more than 20,000 employees at these facilities west of Portland in Washington County. And I suspect many of the Indians who travel to Portland are parents, siblings and relatives of the significant numbers of Indians who work for this and other IT firms. Creative companies such as Nike and Wieden + Kennedy have also chosen the city as their headquarters.
Located on the West Coast of the USA in the state of Oregon, Portland has three dominating features. The first one is Mount Hood, a permanently snow-covered peak about 1.5 hours inland away from Portland. The mountain is about 11,000 feet high and offers a great spot for skiing, snowboarding, or for a trek up the mountain. This has been the site for Winter Olympics training for quite some time due to its snow cover, and a long ski-route.
The second is the Hood River, which flows from the snow melt of Mount Hood, all the way to the Pacific, via Portland. This river and its tributaries are also the venues of the famous salmon runs: Salmons are born in a freshwater nursery deep in the river from the ocean and as soon as they are big enough to make the trek, they swim from their nursery down the river to the Pacific Ocean. After spending their adulthood in the ocean, they come back to the same nursery where they were born, overcoming great obstacles and an uphill terrain to spawn the next generation of salmon!
The third feature is the Pacific Ocean - Portland is about a 60 - 90 minute drive from the Pacific Coast. We didn't have enough time to go to the coast -- maybe the next time I am there!
River Hood
River Hood
I had planned for a 36-hour stopover in Portland and landed there on a Saturday morning. After a heavy breakfast at an IHOP (where you can get pancakes with everything) near the airport, we headed to Mount Hood first. The plan for the day was to head out to Mount Hood and then loop around it to go back to Portland while driving along the River Hood. The route would afford several scenic photo-opportunities.
As we drove up to Mount Hood, I clearly appreciated why this area is called the Switzerland of the West Coast. The road winds and cuts through miles of woods to suddenly reveal the awesome Mount Hood. The woods are home to miles of trekking trails, where one could get truly close to nature.
There are several lodges around Mount Hood, where one could stay overnight or over a weekend to spend time at the serene and awesome mountain. Families also usually stay in the lodges and trek through the woods surrounding the mountain for several hours. The mountain, unusually, also affords a chance to ski in the dark as well. While we were there, the ski lift was operational and there were several people skiing and snowboarding down the peak.
Clearly, to appreciate everything that the mountain offers, one would need to spend at least a week!
Portland is a city of long drives. All places worth seeing in and around Portland are only 1.5 to 2 hours away, and it is wise to carry an international driving license and rent a car to get around to these places, as public transport and other modes of transportation to locations outside the city seemed sparse. Cars seemed to be the most convenient option -- and it enabled us to take several detours to great scenic spots outside Portland!
Both Mount Hood and River Hood are named after Viscount Hood, who was the Admiral of the British Royal Navy in the late 1700s, in whose name these areas were claimed after a British expedition party going up the river.
Multnomah falls
Multnomah falls
On the way, the River Hood flows through several woods, which offers great picnic spots and hiking trails. We stopped at a well-known spot on the way to the Hood River Meadows, near a creek of one of the tributaries -- just a few meters off the road. That spot marks the beginning of one of many well-marked hiking trails and opened into a secluded clearing with several picnic benches. We were lucky to have a great day -- sunny with a light breeze. Many families had taken the opportunity to get out of the house and were leisurely hiking, with their dogs, and taking several photos of the beautiful nature scenes.
It is important to have paper roadmaps, or downloaded offline maps, for these road trips, as there are several signal dead areas throughout the drive, and tourists less familiar with the route, can easily take a wrong turn and head to a completely different place!
As you drive around, you will chance upon several fruit farms that give you the chance to pick your own fruit to take home. We were there in the middle of the cherry bloom season and a lot of the orchards were turning pink and white this time of the year.
The river Hood also runs as the border between Oregon and, its northerly neighbour, Washington state. On the way, we crossed over Indian reservation land. Native Americans living on the reservation land have the right to fish as much as they can during specific months of the year. Many of them have opened up restaurants and shops where one can enjoy fresh riverine fish.
On the way back to the city, along the river Hood, we stopped at Multnomah falls - the highest free-falling waterfall in the US. It's a narrow stream of snowmelt that falls over 600 feet. The best part about this is that one can trek right up to the point where the water starts streaming over the edge into the waterfall. The Multnomah falls have an Indian legend behind them - the daughter of an Indian Chief was unhappy about a wedding she was about to be forced into. Without any other option in front of her, she decided to jump over the edge, and her tears then become the Multnomah falls.
Although a small city by US standards, Portland is a cultural melting pot and is extremely liberal and accepting of people of all kinds. This culture has drawn many refugees to the US from across the world, which also gives its character. 
Fields of tulips in Portland
Fields of tulips in Portland
Later that day, we went to a popular Ethiopian Restuarant for our dinner. The small Ethiopian community in Portland have given the city about 2-3 Ethiopian restaurants, which are immensely popular among the locals for its flavourful cuisine and unusually communal dining style. Many other cuisines have taken root here in this city and allows the residents and tourists to have a mind-boggling variety.
We rounded off the day with a visit to one of the tallest buildings in Portland, at the top of which was the posh restaurant - the Portland City Grill. Although the building was short by New York and Chicago skyscraper standards, the 360-degree view was amazing. One could spend hours just observing the buzzing nightlife both inside the restaurant and on the streets. The restaurant also serves some of the best desserts that I have ever had - and we had ordered 3! I highly recommend trying the creme brulee, tres leches and the chocolate bomb.
We had reserved the next day for shopping and a family get together. Portland is a great place to shop as they don't have any sales taxes -- so, in a way, you get bargain prices on everything!
On the way back to the airport, we stopped over at a bridge reserved only for pedestrians, cyclists and the local train. Portland is a city of bridges -- all bridges over the River Hood tributary flowing through the city -- and is often called Bridgetown. This particular one was a great vantage point as one could see Mount Hood along with all the bridges in the city.
Portland is quite different from the New Yorks and San Franciscos of the world, and is a great destination for a relaxed holiday where one can spend a lot of time to unwind in the great outdoors, and otherwise, just disconnect from the daily hubbub of life. Clearly this visit was too short - Portland deserves at least 3-4 days of your time to begin exploring all that it has to offer.
The question about what you can do in Portland is easily answered if you have friends or relatives who will drive you around. But even if you are not lucky on that front, you will discover that there are scores of things to do and see -- flower festivals, gardens, museums, film and music festivals, all kinds of outdoor activities, eating out, and so on.
Reaching Portland directly from India is easy, with KLM offering flights to the city from Delhi and Mumbai to Amsterdam and onward connections from there. KLM will start flights to Amsterdam from Bangalore soon. Other places from where you can fly non-stop to Portland include Frankfurt, London and Tokyo. You can also fly to Portland from all major American cities.

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Make Your Husband’s Day Special : Top Gifting Options

Gifting someone special is so heartwarming because their happiness has a huge effect on you as well. Do you find yourself in a position where you cannot fix anything to gift your partner? Finding a perfect gift is both an exciting yet daunting task. But not anymore. Read on for some unique gifting ideas for your loved one.
1. Smartwatch
When it comes to choosing gifts for your husband, then a smartwatch is a good option. Help your loved one stay healthy and on time with a smartwatch. There are many trusted brands available online.
2. Wallet
Gift your husband a sleeker thin, RFID secure wallet which can add some classiness and add some space to his overstuffed wallet. You can get a wide variety of designs and size online as well as offline.
3. Sound system
If your husband is a music lover, it is time for you to bring home wireless and impressive sound bars that are sure to bring a huge smile on his face. It can convert normal audio to processed and smooth audio with built-in Alexa.
4. iPad Pro
Gift an iPad to your husband whether he is an artist or a constant traveler or just want to sit back and surf the web, this is the perfect thing to get him.
5. Suit
Who else can gift your husband a perfect fit suit than you? Upgrade his wardrobe with a well-fitted suit that makes him look more handsome.
6. Doorway pull-up bar
Let him squeeze in some workout time from his busy schedule by installing a doorway pull-up bar. This can motivate him to work out and stay fit everyday.
7. Boots
Bring out the adventure-loving husband with some classy desert boots. They are super comfortable, stylish and affordable.
8. Sunglasses
Gift him sunglasses for a light glam up for a sunny day out which can lift his face shape and protect his eyes.
9. Bomber Jacket
There is nothing cooler than a bomber jacket. Slim fit and classic bomber jacket will make a cool gift that can be matched with almost all his outfits. Be a wonderful wife and make him slay in the office.
10. Cufflinks
Is your husband a suit person? If so, then what else is good enough as cufflinks. Gift him unique cufflinks which can go with any occasion and make him feel more confident in his clothing.
11. Wireless charging tray
Gift him a wireless charging tray which can at least charge 3 items in one go. You can use it as a nightstand where you leave your smartwatch and phone which you can get charged overnight so that you don’t have to worry about your battery percentage on a busy morning.
12. A Pocket square or tie
Gift him suit accessories like a tie. They can be added to his collection and will be useful for him. A tie is a very common gift if you can’t come up with anything else. 
With these ideas try and light up your husband’s special occasion. Throw a surprise party and invite all his friends. This way he will get some time to catch up with his friends and family away from his busy work life.
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Review: Endgame a roller-coaster ride of hopes and dreams, comedy and tragedy

In a weekend unlike most, film theatres across the world are gearing up to entertain movie-goers with the eagerly-awaited Avengers: Endgame. By tomorrow, millions of eager fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) would have seen the most-anticipated cinematic finale following ten years of build-up to the fate of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. 
With ticket sales shooting through the stratosphere, the 22nd film in the MCU sold more tickets in its pre-sales than its previous movies in the MCU franchise and other box-office knockouts like Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The last Avengers movie, Infinity War gathered about $2bn in worldwide ticket sales. 
Witnessing the speed at which seats are being booked since tickets were opened to pre-sales, Marvel and Disney are expecting Endgame to cross ticket sales of even Avatar -- currently the highest grossing movie worldwide at $2.7bn. Opening weekend estimates are set at $900mn worldwide, currently, which could easily cross the $1bn mark within the first week itself.
While the movie opens in most countries on April 26, the UAE -- among a couple of other countries -- saw the premiere of Endgame on April 24. Fortunate enough to be one of those who secured tickets to the first day showing of the movie in Dubai, I no longer have to worry about the inevitable spoilers that are going to follow this weekend.
Envious peers aside, I feel that Endgame deserves a what-to-expect guide without giving away key moments. So, without spoiling the movie for you, read on to what I thought about the movie and what you should definitely look out for.
The movie is set in the aftermath of Infinity War, where Thanos has snapped his fingers to wipe out half the living creatures of the universe. Without most of the world's superheroes, the surviving crew is fighting for options to bring back their families and friends from dust.
Avengers films come to their 'Endgame' at world premiere
As most superhero, or good-guy-fights-bad, movies go, Endgame follows an expected trajectory of trials and errors, some that lead to disastrous and often heart-wrenching results before they find the track that works. Loved heroes will show unexpected sides and emotions, although understandably so. More promising than others, the remaining band together to fight for their own personal reasons this time rather than just for the greater good of the world.
Fans can expect explanations as to how exactly the crew bands together within the first 15 minutes of the movie itself, having found themselves in literally different parts of the universe, left for dead.
As far as fan theories go, viewers have dreamed of scenarios that are not remotely close to what actually happens in the movie, save for one key theory which does not turn out the way viewers hope it would. However, Endgame tries to rise above most superhero movies by pushing the boundaries of expecting a simple happy ending with neatly tied loose ends.
Endgame promises to be a roller-coaster ride of hopes lifted and dreams crushed, comedy and tragedy, and in part emotionally confusing. There is also, as always, an avalanche of really cool graphics and stunts which makes one yearn for at least one superpower to join them on screen.
This also happens to be the last time actors such as Chris Evans, Robert Downey Jr., Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Hemsworth will be reprising their famous characters, which by no means seals their MCU fate in either direction.
The only major disappointing element in this movie for me was the dramatically reduced on-screen time for many of my favoured characters. As the later Avengers movies go, this last one will see an ode to the origin of the Avengers in the MCU with its choice to focus on specific characters right from the start.
However, the movie is best viewed as a last chapter to the movie series, in which the loss of on-screen time can be compensated by storyline arcs from the previous movies that just happened to converge at a choice time in the larger story, as well as the dilemma of aptly showcasing the sheer number of people who have to appear on-screen in this 3-hour film. Many theatres and fans are already preparing for this experience with massive movie-marathons before they watch Endgame.
As far as deaths that occur or those who are brought back, if any at all, I will strictly follow the #DontSpoilTheEndgame rule.
The movie also displays some spectacular graphics, following the standard of its previous movies, as well as interesting costume and make-up changes for each of the main characters, keeping in tune with the natural progression of time and storyline. Looks have especially been crafted to mimic the characters' changing emotional states throughout the movie rather than simply superhero necessity.
As viewers, we expected our fellow audience to emote out loud at strategic moments, as we have come to expect in Indian movie theatres. However, we were pleasantly surprised to note that the movie was gripping enough to lose oneself without needing to acknowledge each dramatic point with loud cheers or collective gasps, thereby allowing each other to experience the movie without being interrupted. It could also be that viewers in Dubai are much different to those in India, but I like to think that MCU fans are of the same feather and were simply spellbound by this spectacular movie.
One of the PSAs that have been issued about the movie is that, unlike all other MCU movies, Endgame will be breaking tradition of not showing any post- or mid-credit scenes. Although this was kind of obvious, with the movie being staged as the finale to the major storyline in the series, a bunch of us were quite optimistic and stuck around to test the veracity of that news. Unfortunately, it’s true.
The movie has also raised the bar for a set of characters, who are expected to have stand-alone movies coming in the future, who will showcase arcs that will either be set after the Endgame or as historical deep dives.
Vinita Abraham
Vinita Sonny Abraham is a post-graduate in Performance Studies and has trained in piano and ballet.

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UK dancer Marina Collard: From performances to craniosacral therapy - November 30, 2015


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Books: A weekend of unusual journeys

Journeys - A Poet's Diary, 100 Days to a Younger Brain
Journeys - A Poet's Diary, 100 Days to a Younger Brain
This weekend, journey into the innermost chambers of the diary and mind of renowned Indian poet-scholar A K Ramanujan; Hop onto a train - or eighty - that take you around the world; And finally, begin the 100-day sojourn to a healthier and well-exercised brain.
1. Book: Journeys - A Poet's Diary; Editors: Krishna Ramanujan and Guillermo Rodríguez; Publisher: Penguin; Price: Rs 599; Pages: 351
The hitherto unpublished personal diaries and journals of late poet-scholar A K Ramanujan, who wrote in both English and Kannada, have been published as a book.
Edited by his son Krishna Ramanujan and Guillermo Rodriguez, an active promoter of Indo-Spanish cultural relations, the book ‘Journeys: A Poet's Diary' includes accounts from his travels, his thoughts on writing, many improvised as well as early poetry drafts, and dreams. As per the introduction penned by Rodriguez, the book brings together a selection of the unpublished diaries that trace Ramanujan's ‘journey' - in his own voice - as a writer and poet, and his maturing as a unique intellectual luminary.
The title comes complete with a foreword by film-theatre personality Girish Karnad and opens a window to the author's innermost thoughts and his creative process. 
2. Book: Around the World in 80 Trains - A 45,000-Mile Adventure; Author: Monisha Rajesh; Publisher: Bloomsbury; Price: Rs 599; Pages: 326 
After her book "Around India in 80 Trains", author Monisha Rajesh has turned to world travel, which she shares with us in a new book called "Around the World in 80 Trains".
After quitting her job in 2015, she carefully plotted a route that would cover 45,000 miles - almost twice the circumference of the earth - coasting along the world's most remarkable railways; from the cloud-skimming heights of Tibet's Qinghai railway to silk-sheeted splendour on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express.
Packing up her rucksack - and her fiance, Jem - Monisha embarked on an unforgettable adventure that took her from London's St Pancras station to the vast expanses of Russia and Mongolia, North Korea, Canada, Kazakhstan, and beyond.
3. Book: 100 Days to a Younger Brain; Author: Dr Sabina Brennan; Publisher; Hachette India; Price: Rs 499; Pages: 296
Your third journey this weekend could extend upto a 100 days. One day, one exercise at a time, this new book coaches you to maximise your memory, boost your brain's health and defy dementia.
Packed with essential information needed to empower you to make informed choices everyday about your sleeping, eating and lifestyle habits that will benefit all aspects of your life from work to relationships and achieving your personal goals, this motivating book contends that complicated neuroscience is not needed to look after your brain, inspiring you to do at least one small thing every day to radically improve your brain's health.
Authored by a research psychologist and neuroscience expert, it is not just a read-only book, but allows you do chart your sleep, stress, mental, social, heart-health, physical activity, attitude, and brain health profiles through interesting exercises and questionnaires. 

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How polo-playing Manipuri women are breaking barriers, leading a quiet revolution

Women of Manipur, the birthplace of modern polo, are challenging the stereotypes that polo is a game for men
Women of Manipur, the birthplace of modern polo, are challenging the stereotypes that polo is a game for men
Polo, often thought of as a game of the rich, has also been generally dominated by men. However, a quiet revolution is taking place at the very place where it all started -- the northeast Indian state of Manipur, which is considered the birthplace of modern polo.
While men had been playing this game here for centuries, the spotlight has now shifted to women of the state who now field five professional polo teams to compete with the world's best. These Manipuri women from humble backgrounds are not only shattering stereotypes that polo is a game for men, but also that it is the privilege of the rich.
L. Somi Roy, conservationist and partner at Huntre! Equine, has been one of the main crusaders for women's polo in the state and sees it also as a campaign to save the iconic Manipuri pony, whose numbers have been declining over the years. He says while Manipuri women traditionally did not play polo as it was an equestrian game coming out of a martial tradition, in modern times, in the 1980s, they got inspired by their male relatives.
"The All Manipur Polo Association encouraged them. About 40-45 per cent of polo players in the world are women. So we are just catching up. It's pretty gender free as a sport, so it puts them on the level of men when they play together," Roy tells IANS. 
While Manipur produces one-third of male players and three-fourths of women players in the country, Roy says most of these players from an isolated, economically-underdeveloped state are not members of the Indian Polo Association.
Yet, the state has India's longest polo season -- November to March -- with two international and four state tournaments, including the Manipur Statehood Day Women's Polo Tournament, the only such tournament in India where teams from the US, UK, Canada, Kenya, Australia and Argentina have participated alongside Manipuri girls.
The matches are held in Imphal's Mapal Kangjeibung Stadium, the oldest running polo ground in the world.
Filmmaker Roopa Barua, who started documenting the story of women's polo in Manipur in 2016, says a young polo sisterhood is developing in the state that ploughs on despite adversity and political turmoil.
"Around 2014-15, there was an effort to bring in international women players to play in Manipur. Part of this effort was to create a campaign to save the Manipuri pony which is endangered. I saw a symbiotic relationship developing and I followed this story for four years," she tells IANS.
This documentation culminated in a film which intends to take the story of these strong women players to the world. The documentary film, "Daughters of the Polo God" was showcased earlier this month at the IAWRT Asian Women's Film Festival in New Delhi, and would also be screened at the Bombay Stock Exchange on March 26.
"Manipuri players are natural horsewomen and extremely athletic. As I stayed on throughout the tournament, I saw that women's polo was becoming a growing story. The symbiotic relationship between women's polo and the endangered Manipuri pony was a very unique concept," Barua said.
Nineteen-year-old Tanna Thoudam, one of the protagonists of the film, was inspired to play polo when she saw some women players playing in a match in 2010. 
"Their enthusiasm lit a desire in me to play polo. I've felt close to horses since my uncle brought them home. But before that, horses roamed about everywhere. My family was not very well off and my uncle couldn't afford to buy a horse," she says.
Tanna joined the Assam Rifles Polo Club in 2011 and became the only junior to make it to the final Manipuri team for the 2017 Statehood Day Women's Polo Tournament. "It was the happiest moment of my life."
Thoinu Thoudum, founder of the Chingkhei Hunba Polo Club, says it is good to have a women's tournament as it encourages girls to start playing polo while also showing solidarity and respect for women players.
Jetholia Thongbam started playing polo in 2016 and carried on even after her sister stopped playing following her marriage. She believes that Manipuri players are becoming better every year by playing with international players.
"Playing with the United States Polo Association (USPA) team was a great experience. Though their skills are very different from ours, we could learn a lot," she says.
N. Ibungochoubi, Secretary of the Manipur Polo Society, says the relationship between Manipuris and horses is special.
"Horses for centuries here are owned by people, they are trained, they are broken. And then they are let loose to graze freely in the open wetlands of Manipur."
But lately, the Manipuri ponies have lost their home to urban blight with their numbers declining from 1,893 in 2003 to just around 500 in 2014.
This is where this symbiotic relationship between humans and horses can potentially be a game-changer.
"Here is one (polo) community whose welfare is so closely tied with the welfare of the animal on which the game is played. We felt that since India did not have any women's polo tournament, Manipur could be, and should be, the home of women's polo in India," Somi Roy says.
He adds that going to play polo in Manipur is like going to Mecca. 
"For people who know the history of polo, Manipur is a special place - that's where it all came from. And then we say it's going to be played on the original Manipuri pony, and then we tell them that it is on the world's oldest living polo ground. It's a fairly irresistible invitation," Roy adds.
(The weekly feature series is part of a positive-journalism project of IANS and the Frank Islam Foundation.)

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How to Behave During Prom Night – The Do’s and Don’ts

Behavior is super important. Not just on prom night, but also in day-to-day life. You may have one of the best prom dresses at the event, but with poor etiquette, then the dress will make no difference.
Back in the day, using utensils at the dinner table was a must-know. This included table manners while at it as well. 
However, with changing times, manners and etiquette have also changed. Well, using utensils is still a must-know, but it’s also important to remain social throughout the night and not spend your entire night on Facebook.
On the other hand, it’s crucial for you to master basic manners. For example, sneezing into a handkerchief and excusing yourself when you need to get away from the group for a while. Read on to find out more about good etiquette.
What it Means to Have Proper Etiquette
Good etiquette or manners involves gesturing to people around you in order to leave a good impression on them. In contrast, poor etiquette will drive away those near you including your date. Examples of good etiquette include smiling to show politeness and holding back your comments so you can through them well.
However, as said before, times are changing and for prom, good etiquette touches on arrival time and your outfit. Good etiquette is easy to master. All you have to do is think of what those around you will think of you when you display those actions.
Simple compliments such as “you look stunning” can make you smile the entire day. Don’t you think it would be nice if you did the same to others? Apart from making them feel good, you’ll create an awesome rapport.
Once you think of other people, good etiquette will be second nature. Parents often remind their children to use statements such as “thank you” and “excuse me” to show good etiquette. While your parents may not be at the prom night with you, always remember these basics.
The Do’s
Good etiquette is more than just thank you and excuse me. There’s more. Take a look:
? Search and ask out your date in good time
? Don’t be late
? Pick up your date at the door
? Bring a boutonniere or corsage
? Choose your outfit with the night’s theme in mind. You don’t have to buy an expensive dress or tux. Search online for cheap prom dresses that still maintain a stylish and modern look.
? Chip into conversations and engage with people around you.
? Eye contact is important during conversations.
? Honor all agreements including splitting the costs.
? Personal space is important. Respect each other’s space.
The Don’ts
The last thing you want during this special occasion is drama due to bad manners. Maintain class instead of inviting bad manners.
? Don’t poach your friend’s date.
? Don’t be late
? Don’t forget to bring a boutonniere or a corsage for your date
? Avoid rolling your eyes
? Don’t forget about the night’s theme when choosing your prom outfit
? Don’t make jokes about your date
? Don’t ignore your date’s family
? Don’t forget table manners while eating
? Avoid invading personal boundaries
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Wind turbines are impacting ecology in Western Ghats

A Sarada superba lizard on the Chalkewadi plateau in Satara district in the northern Western Ghats which is the site of one of the largest and longest-running wind farms in the region. (Photo: Abi Vanak/India Science Wire)
A Sarada superba lizard on the Chalkewadi plateau in Satara district in the northern Western Ghats which is the site of one of the largest and longest-running wind farms in the region. (Photo: Abi Vanak/India Science Wire)
Wind energy, considered a clean source of energy, does have a carbon footprint and is also known to disturb bird life. Now a new study done in the Western Ghats has found that wind farms in biodiversity-rich areas can have deeper ecological consequences beyond already known impacts.
The study has found that wind farms reduce the number as well as activity of predatory birds which, in turn, results in an increase in the density of vertebrates like lizard on the ground. And since lizards have less fear of being preyed by birds, they are becoming less stressful. It means wind turbines are acting as new apex predators in the food chain in the local ecosystem, says the study published in journal Nature Ecology & Evolution on Monday.
The predatory bird species affected include Buteo, Butastur and Elanus and the density of lizard that showed an increase in numbers is Sarada superba, a fan-throated lizard endemic to the area.
The study was done in the Chalkewadi plateau in Satara district in the northern Western Ghats which is the site of one of the largest and longest-running wind farms in the region. Large parts of the plateau and the adjacent valley are in the Sahyadri Tiger Reserve and Koyna Wildlife Sanctuary. These protected areas do not have wind turbines, and were chosen for comparison. Researchers found almost four times more predatory birds in areas without wind turbines than around wind farms. They found more lizards around wind farms. This, researchers said, can be attributed to there being fewer predatory bird attacks near wind farms.
In order to record changes in the physiology of lizards, researchers measured hormonal stress reactivity. They captured lizards and took blood samples, and quantified the level of stress hormone, corticosterone.
Blood samples were collected from lizards picked up from both sites – areas with wind farm and area without wind farms. The lizards picked up in the wind farm region had lower levels of the stress hormone and allowed humans to get closer before fleeing, indicating that they experience less predation.
“Our central discovery is that wind turbines can act as top predators, by reducing the density and activity of birds, their prey are now released from the typical level of predation. This release causes a range of changes in lizards,” explained Dr Maria Thaker of Centre for Ecological Sciences at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore who led the research, while speaking to India Science Wire.
"The ecological findings from our paper were exciting because it showed that wind farms are like top redators, and their impact can result not only in the decrease of bird activity (which was known previous), but it also indirectly increases the density of lizards, and changes the morphology, behaviour and physiology of those lizards. Adding or removing a top predator has wide-scale consequences for ecosystems and our study shows that anthropogenic structures can do just that," she said.
The research team also included Amod Zambre and Harshal Bhosale. 
(India Science Wire)

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Vajpayee: A man of moderation who raised India's global stature

Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee
Former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee (93), who died on Thursday, will go down in history as a person who tried to end years of hostility with Pakistan and put development on the front burner of the country's political agenda. He was also the first non-Congress Prime Minister to complete a full five-year term. 
Even though he lived the last 13 years of his life in virtual isolation, dogged by debilitating illnesses and bedridden, he has left an enduring legacy for the nation and the region where he was much loved and respected across the political spectrum and national boundaries, including in Pakistan. 
In the tumultuous period he presided over the destiny of the world's largest democracy, Vajpayee stunned the world by making India a declared nuclear state and then almost went to war with Pakistan before making peace with it in the most dramatic fashion. In the process, his popularity came to match that of Indira Gandhi, a woman he admired for her guts even as he hated her politics. 
He also became the best-known national leader after Indira Gandhi and her father Jawaharlal Nehru.
After despairing for years that he would never become Prime Minister and was destined to remain an opposition leader all his life, he achieved his goal, but only for 13 days, from May 16-28, 1996, after his deputy, L.K. Advani, chose not to contest elections that year.
His second term came on March 19, 1998, and lasted 13 months, a period during which India stunned the world by undertaking a series of nuclear tests that invited global reproach and sanctions.
Although his tenure again proved short-lived, his and his government's enhanced stature following the world-defying blasts enabled him to return as Prime Minister for the third time on October 13, 1999, a tenure that lasted a full five-year term. 
When finally he stepped down in May 2004, after an election that he was given to believe he would win, it marked the end of a long and eventful political career spanning six decades. 
Vajpayee had gone into these elections riding a personality cult that projected him as a man who had brought glory to the nation in unprecedented ways. The BJP's election strategy rested on seeking a renewed mandate over three broad pillars of achievement that the government claimed -- political stability in spite of the pulls and pressures of running a multi-party coalition; a "shining" economy that saw a dizzying 10.4 percent growth in the last quarter of the previous year; and peace with Pakistan that changed the way the two countries looked at each other for over 50 years.
The results of the elections could not have come as a greater shock to a man who was hailed for his achievements and who was named by Time magazine as one of the 100 influential men of the decade. 
Success didn't come easily to the charismatic politician, who was born on Christmas Day in 1924 in Gwalior, Madhya Pradesh, into a family of moderate means. His father was a school teacher and Vajpayee would later recall his early brush with poverty.
He did his Masters in Political Science, studying at the Victoria College in Gwalior and at the DAV College in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, where he first contested, and lost, elections. He began his professional career as a journalist, working with Rashtradharma, a Hindi monthly, Panchjanya, a Hindi weekly, and two Hindi dailies, Swadesh and Veer Arjun. By then he had firmly embraced the ideals of the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh (RSS).
But even as he struggled to win electoral battles, his command over Hindi, the lingua franca of the North Indian masses, his conciliatory politics and his riveting oratory brought him into public limelight.
His first entry into Parliament was in 1962 through the Rajya Sabha, the upper house. It was only in 1971 that he won a Lok Sabha election. He was elected to the lower house seven times and to the Rajya Sabha twice.
Vajpayee spent months in prison when Indira Gandhi imposed Emergency rule in June 1975 and put her political opponents in jail. When the Janata Party took office in 1977, dethroning the Congress for the first time, he became the foreign minister. 
The lowest point in his career came when he lost the 1984 Lok Sabha polls, that too from his birthplace Gwalior, after Rajiv Gandhi won an overwhelming majority following his mother Indira Gandhi's assassination. And the BJP he led ended up with just two seats in the 545-member Lok Sabha, in what looked like the end of the road for the right-wing party. In no time, Vajpayee was replaced and "eclipsed" by his long-time friend L.K. Advani.
Although they were the best of friends publicly, Vajpayee never fully agreed with Advani's and the assorted Hindu nationalist groups' strident advocacy of Hindutva, an ideology ranged against the idea of secular India. Often described as the right man in the wrong party, there were also those who belittled him as a moderate "mask" to a hardline Hindu nationalist ideology. Often he found his convictions and value systems at odds with the party, but the bachelor-politician never went against it.
It was precisely this persona of Vajpayee -- one merged in Hindutva ideology yet seemingly not wholly willing to bow to it -- that won him admirers cutting across the political spectrum. It was this trait that made him the Prime Minister when the BJP's allies concluded they needed a moderate to steer a hardliner, pro-Hindu party.
He brought into governance measures that created for India a distinct international status on the diplomatic and economic fronts. In his third prime ministerial stint, Vajpayee launched a widely acclaimed diplomatic initiative by starting a bus service between New Delhi and Pakistan's Lahore city. 
Its inaugural run in February 1999 carried Vajpayee and was welcomed on the border by his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif. It was suspended only after the 2001 terror attack on the Indian Parliament that nearly led to a war between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
The freeze between the two countries, including an eyeball-to-eyeball confrontation on the border for nearly a year, was finally cracked in the spring of 2003 when Vajpayee, while in Kashmir, extended a "hand of friendship" to Pakistan. That led to the historic summit in January 2004 with then President Pervez Musharraf in Islamabad -- a remarkable U-turn after the failed summit in Agra of 2001. Despite the two men being so far apart in every way, Musharraf developed a strong liking for the Indian leader.
His unfinished task, one that he would probably rue, would be the peace process with Pakistan that he had vowed to pursue to its logical conclusion and a resolution of the Kashmir dispute. 
He was not known as "Atal-Ji", a name that translates into firmness, for nothing. He could go against the grain of his party if he saw it deviate from its path. When Hindu hardliners celebrated the destruction of the 16th century Babri Mosque at Ayodhya, he was full of personal remorse for the apocalyptic action and called it -- in a landmark interview to IANS -- the "worst miscalculation" and a "misadventure". He even despaired that "moderates have no place -- who is going to listen to the voice of sanity?"
In his full five-year term, he successively carried forward India's economic reforms programme with initiatives to improve infrastructure, including flagging off a massive national highway project that has become associated with his vision, went for massive privatisation of unviable state undertakings despite opposition from even within his own party.
While his personal image remained unsullied despite his long innings in the murky politics of this country, his judgment was found wanting when his government was rocked by an arms bribery scandal that sought to expose alleged payoffs to some senior members of his cabinet. His failure to speak up when members of his party and its sister organisations, who are accused of killing more than 1,000 Muslims in Gujarat, was questioned by the liberal fraternity who wondered aloud about his secular proclamations. He wanted then Chief Minister -- now Prime Minister, Narendra Modi -- to take responsibility for the riots and quit but was prevailed upon by others not to press his decision. 
A day before his party lost power, Vajpayee was quoted as saying in a television interview that if and when he stepped down he would like to devote his time to writing and poetry. But fate ruled otherwise. The man who once rued that "I have waited too long to be Prime Minister" found his last days in a world far removed from the adulation and attention -- though across the nation people prayed for his well-being -- surrounded only by care-givers and close family whom he even failed to recognise. 

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Somnath Chatterjee: A die-hard Marxist forsaken by his party

For long the voice of Opposition, Somnath Chatterjee was the first Communist Speaker of the Lok Sabha and one who defied his party and refused to quit the post over the Indo-US nuclear deal in 2008, leading to his expulsion from the CPI-M.
From championing the cause of the downtrodden as one of India's finest parliamentarians and barristers and settling effortlessly into the role of wooing investors to industry-dry West Bengal, Chatterjee donned many a hat with ease and aplomb during a four-decade public career.
The tall, heavily built man with a majestic personality evoked awe at first sight. But beneath that stern exterior lay a tender heart that cared for the poor.
His aggressiveness, baritone, legal acumen and sharp debating skills were big assets not only for the CPI-M but for the opposition benches as a whole in pinning down the government during his three decades in the Lok Sabha. But beyond that, Chatterjee always came out as an affable person, gentle in his manners and rising above petty politics.
Perhaps it was this quality that stood Chatterjee in good stead in stewarding the Lok Sabha as Speaker from 2004 to 2009. Excepting Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee, who once hurled papers and her shawl towards the Speaker's podium, no other MP ever accused Chatterjee of being partisan in conducting the House proceedings.
The rivalry between the two went a long way back. It was by upsetting the CPI-M stalwart in the 1984 general elections from Jadavpur that Banerjee - then a youth Congress leader virtually unknown in state politics - cut her teeth in politics. That was Chatterjee's only electoral defeat and the beginning of Banerjee's ascendancy.
However, Banerjee too mellowed and in 2012, a year after taking over as West Bengal Chief Minister, she had proposed his name along with those of Manmohan Singh and A.P.J. Abdul Kalam as her choice for President.
Chatterjee was perhaps the right disciple of his mentor and the late Communist patriarch Jyoti Basu, who shared a similar high-society upbringing and educational qualifications.
Through his political life and even after he was expelled from the CPI-M in 2008, Chatterjee remained close to Basu who had a great liking for Chatterjee. So much so, that as West Bengal Chief Minister, he coaxed and cajoled Chatterjee to take over as chairman of the West Bengal Industrial Development Corp (WBIDC) to woo investors. 
Chatterjee put his heart and soul into the job, met industrialists and toured various countries, inking MoUs worth thousands of crores of rupees, though it was another thing that very few of the pacts matured into industrial projects on the ground. The opposition in Bengal lost no opportunity to make fun of Chatterjee, jokingly calling him "MoU da".
Another interesting contradiction lay in Chatterjee's family ties. Though he remained a Marxist all his life, his father Nirmal Chandra Chatterjee was a Hindu revivalist and one of the founders and one-time president of the Akhil Bharatiya Hindu Mahasabha.
Parliamentarians from the BJP had at times made mocking reference to the "Marxist Chatterjee" by highlighting this aspect.
Born on July 25, 1929 in Tezpur in Assam, Chatterjee studied at the Mitra Institution School, Presidency College and the University of Calcutta. 
He then proceeded to England to earn B.A and M.A degrees in Law from the Jesus College, Cambridge. He was called to the Bar from London's Middle Temple and started legal practice as an advocate at the Calcutta High Court.
Chatterjee joined the CPI-M in 1968. He was elected to the Lok Sabha for the first time in 1971 from Burdwan in a bye-election as an independent candidate backed by the CPI-M. The seat had fallen vacant after the death of his father Nirmal Chatterjee.
He made it to the Lok Sabha on the CPI-M ticket from Jadavpur in 1977 and 1980 and from Bolpur in 1985, 1989, 1991, 1996, 1998, 1999 and 2004. From 1989 till 2004, he served as the Leader of the CPI-M in the Lok Sabha.
Chattterjee rose to become a central committee member of the party but was expelled on July 23, 2008 "for seriously compromising the position of the party".
Chatterjee had then contended that the office of the Speaker was above party affiliations and he ceased to be a CPI-M member once he took over the job.
In an interview to IANS, Chatterjee had called his expulsion the "saddest day of my life,... I was sad then, I am sad now also. It is not like weather that it will change".
West Bengal CPI-M leaders, however, constantly kept in touch with him, and even sent feelers that if he applied again admitting his mistake, he would be readmitted. But the principled man steadfastly refused, while making it clear, that he would be game if the party on its own took him back.
But that was not to be. And to the last day, Chatterjee remained party less, while nursing a void deep in his heart.

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Karunanidhi: A colossus in Dravidian politics

M. Karunanidhi (File photo: IANS)
M. Karunanidhi (File photo: IANS)
Muthuvel Karunanidhi was one of the last links to the Dravidian movement that ushered in the rise of backward classes in politics and the end of Congress rule in Tamil Nadu five decades ago on the plank of social justice.
A five-time Chief Minister, the 94-year-old Karunanidhi, who strode the public life of Tamil Nadu like a colossus, also played a key role in national politics when he aligned with Indira Gandhi in 1971 and reaped rich rewards in elections. 
But he staunchly opposed the Emergency of 1975-77 during which his government was dismissed on corruption charges. He was banished to the opposition ranks till the death of his friend-turned-foe and iconic film hero M.G. Ramachandran or MGR in December 1987.
Under Karunanidhi, the DMK occupied a prime position in the UPA governments at the Centre in 2004 and 2009 and earlier in the NDA government under Atal Bihari Vajpyee, an alignment that surprised many given the party's Dravidian moorings.
He was a wily politician who succeeded his mentor C.N. Annadurai or 'Anna' as Chief Minister in 1969 and kept a stranglehold on the party and government. He remained the President of the DMK for nearly 50 years, a rare feat in any democratic country. 
He always sported dark glasses, which became his trademark identity, and in later years a yellow stole, which critics said was against the atheism he preached.
With the death of his arch rival J. Jayalalithaa in 2016 and his departure now, Tamil Nadu is left with a void.
Born in Tirukkuvalai in the erstwhile Thanjavur district on June 3, 1924, Karunanidhi was a multifaceted personality -- journalist, playwright, script writer -- whose fiery dialogues as an iconoclast in films unleashed changes in Tamil Nadu's social scene.
He joined the Dravidian movement as a teenager under the tutelage of the late social reformer 'Periyar' E.V. Ramasamy and Anna. 
'Kalaignar', as Karunanidhi was called for his proficiency in arts and literature, fashioned theatre and cinema in a way that gave a fillip to the Dravidian movement and the rise of DMK as a major pole in Tamil Nadu. 
Karunanidhi's political fortunes rose when Anna broke away from the DK to float the DMK in 1949. The box office hit of Tamil movie 'Parasakthi' for which he wrote the script and a 'rail roko' agitation in Kallakudi near Tiruchirapalli made him known throughout the state.
He ascended to the DMK throne and the Chief Ministership following the death of party founder Annadurai in 1969.
Karunanidhi had the party in his strong grip till the end despite presiding over two major splits and being out of power continuously between 1977 and 1989.
Born in a poor Isai Vellalar (a backward caste) family, he was named Dakshinamurthy by his god-fearing parents Muthuvel and Anjugam. He later changed that to Karunanidhi, a Tamil name shorn of any Brahminical or Sanskrit tinge.
He also took part in the anti-Hindi agitations of 1937-40 and published a handwritten newspaper 'Manavar Nesan' (Friend of Students) and later formed the first student wing of the Dravidian movement, Tamil Nadu Manavar Mandram.
The anti-Hindi agitation was revived by the DMK in 1965, leading to massive anti-Congress sentiments amid much violence. 
Karunanidhi also published 'Murasoli', a monthly which grew to become a weekly and the DMK's official daily. Last year it celebrated its platinum jubilee. 
He contested his first Assembly election in 1957 from Kulithalai successfully and since then has not lost any of the 13 elections he contested.
His fortunes gained further strength when the DMK won the 1967 elections and Annadurai made Karunanidhi the Minister of Public Works.
After Anna's death in 1969, Karunanidhi became the Chief Minister. He led the DMK to a landslide win in 1971. 
Bad times started soon after. Perceiving the popularity of movie hero and party leader MGR as a future threat to him, Karunanidhi began sidelining him and ousted him in 1972.
MGR floated the AIADMK that took power in 1977. He cultivated the Congress well -- sharing liberally the Lok Sabha seats while retaining his hold on the Assembly -- to effectively consign the DMK to the opposition benches.
DMK's fortunes revived in 1989 when it won handsomely, assisted by a split in AIADMK, with one faction led by its founder's widow Janaki Ramachandran and the other by Jayalalithaa.
However, in 1991, the DMK government was dismissed in the wake of heightened activities in Tamil Nadu of Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers whose vocal supporter he was. After Rajiv Gandhi's assassination by a LTTE suicide bomber in May 1991, the AIADMK under Jayalalithaa swept to power.
The DMK suffered a second split in 1993 when Karunanidhi saw fiery speaker Vaiko as a threat to his son M.K. Stalin's ascendancy in the party and expelled him.
After that it was a see-saw battle with people choosing DMK and AIADMK alternatively. In 2006, the DMK was voted back to power for its populist promises.
In 2011 Karunanidhi promised more, but the DMK lost the battle. In 2016, too, it suffered the same fate.
A staunch opponent of Congress and its dynastic rule during earlier days, Karunanidhi later changed tack and paved the way for his progenies' progress within and outside the party.
He brought his sons -- through his second wife Dayalu -- M.K. Alagiri and M.K.Stalin -- into the party. Alagiri became Union Minister while Stalin was declared the political heir. However Alagiri was dismissed from the party later for anti-party activities.
Karunanidhi made Kanimozhi, his daughter by his third wife Rajathi, a Rajya Sabha member.
After the death of Murasoli Maran, his nephew, conscience keeper and the party's face in Delhi, Karunanidhi got the former's second son Dayanidhi Maran a Cabinet post in the central ministry in 2004 and 2009.
With coalitions becoming the norm at the Centre, the DMK started siding with BJP and Congress to get cabinet berths.
It was the Sarkaria Commission which first stamped Karunanidhi as corrupt in the matter of allotting tenders for the old Veeranam water project. 
Though Karunanidhi was jailed several times during his long political innings, what shocked many was his midnight arrest by the Jayalalithaa regime in 2001 on corruption charges.
His wife Dayalu and daughter Kaimozhi were questioned by the CBI over corruption charges. 
When the Sethusamudram Canal Project got mired in controversy, Karunanidhi shocked the nation by wondering aloud whether Lord Rama was an engineer to build a bridge across the sea. 
Karunanidhi donated his home at Gopalapuram to a trust to convert it into a hospital for the poor after his and his wife Dayalu's lifetime.
Karunanidhi is survived by his two wives Dayalu and Rajathi, sons M.K. Muthu, Alagiri, Stalin and M.K. Tamilarasu and daughters S. Selvi and Kanimozhi and grandchildren.

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Once in a blue bloom: Kerala's famed neelakurinji set for rare mass bloom

The kurinji bloom in the shola-grassland ecosystem in 2014. (Photo by Prasad Ambattu/IANS)
The kurinji bloom in the shola-grassland ecosystem in 2014. (Photo by Prasad Ambattu/IANS)
Starting late July, the Anamalai hills near Munnar in Kerala will be resplendent, clad in a purplish blue carpet. The famed neelakurinji (Strobilanthes kunthiana) will burst into flower - a phenomenon that occurs once in 12 years. Hundreds of thousands of visitors are expected to flock to the Munnar hills to behold the spectacle that lasts up until October.
Munnar is home to the highest concentration of neelakurinji plants in the country - spread over 3,000 hectares of rolling hills. Each shrub reproduces once in its life time and dies after flowering. It takes another 12 years for the seeds to sprout again and grow up to 30 to 60 centimetres high, for another glorious bloom.
The neelakurinji belongs to the genus Strobilanthes, which is a tropical plant species found in Asia and Australia. There are about 450 species of Strobilanthes in the world, of which 146 are found in India and of them, about 43, in Kerala.
The blooming of neelakurunji this year has ensured the fourth most important place for the Western Ghats in the Lonely Planet's 2018 Best in Asia.
According to Prasad Ambattu, a journalist and a resident of Munnar, there are two 12-year cycles simultaneously going on in the Anamalai hills. In one cycle, the last neelakurinji bloom was in 2006 and the next one is now, in 2018. In the other cycle, the last bloom was in 2014.
The mass flowering neelakurinji provides a feast for butterflies, honeybees and other insects. The purple flowers hold a large amount of nectar, which especially attract the eastern honeybee (Apis cerana).
"This honey from the neelakurinji is very special. It lasts for about 15 years without getting spoilt," said G. Rajkumar, chief coordinator of the NGO Save Kurinji Campaign Council. He added that the honey is supposed to have medicinal properties.
Rajkumar also said that the ecosystem that supports the kurinji plants plays a major role in bringing water to the Amaravati river which is a tributary of the Kaveri river, a main water source for Tamil Nadu. "The Kurinji reserve is in the catchment area of Amaravati river," he said.
The tourist boom begins
The forest department expects a large number of tourists to arrive in Munnar during this season, said Lekshmi Rajeshwari, forest range officer at Devikulam, which is part of the Eravikulam National Park, the prime destination where neelakurinji will bloom.
"One million tourists, including travellers from Europe and the United States, are expected to visit this amazing place this year," she said. 
Last October, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had communicated through a social media post that around eight lakh (0.8 million) tourists are expected for the bloom season and the state government aims to introduce a series of measures to protect the Eravikulam National Park. As an unprecedented number of tourists will visit the region, the government plans to restrict the numbers entering the park and the amount of time they spend there, said Vijayan's post. Action on waste management and required tourist facilities are to be in place to safeguard the national park.
Encroachment on the neelakuri habitats
The Kurinjimala Sanctuary was declared in 2006, during the previous mass flowering to protecting the neelakurinji and its habitat. "This sanctuary gives the rarest, most spectacular view of neelakurinji," said G. Baburaj, an environmentalist. "But it is eyed by many," he added, elaborating that the area is being encroached on by resorts, hotels, plantations and small farms.
To put an end to the encroachments, the Kerala government passed an ordinance in 2006, for protecting the Kurinjimala Sanctuary. Since a number of settlements came under the area in the sanctuary, which was raising a stir among locals, the government, in the ordinance, authorised a sub-collector to adjudicate land claims after hearing complaints.
The proposed land that came under this ordinance included 2,041 houses, more than 53 government offices, 12 schools, 62 temples, churches and even banks. There were allegations against local politicians for forging title deeds of land ownership in the areas declared as protected.
However, for Kurinjimala to be declared as a wildlife sanctuary permanently under the Wildlife Protection Act of 1972, there is need for the settlement officer (in this case the Devikulam sub-collector) to go through the settlement of rights process for those who have inhabited or have rights over the land. This has now happened.
In November 2017, the Kerala Government decided to redraw the boundaries of the Kurinjimala Sanctuary - a move which had invited criticism alleging that it was to support the encroachers.
Following the controversy, Pinarayi Vijayan had promised that the reserve's area will not be reduced at any cost. He told media representatives that a committee will be formed to study the issues at the reserve and it will look in to the settlement concerns.
There is also a case pending in the Kerala High Court, demanding a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) enquiry into the involvement of the local member of Parliament in fabricating documents for the land. Similarly, there are hundreds of such encroachments in the reserve, claims environmentalist G. Baburaj.
Protection for neelakurinji habitat finally declared
Now, in the latest decision as of April 2018, the Kerala cabinet has decided to ensure that the proposed Neelakurinji Sanctuary will have a minimum of 3,200 hectares. Though the cabinet had decided not to evict people with title deeds, it plans to redraw the boundaries in cooperation with the revenue department.
The cabinet decision includes appointing a settlement officer, conducting drone-based survey to identify the forest land and amending The Kerala Promotion of Tree Growth In Non-Forest Areas Act 2005 to prevent growing acacia and eucalyptus in the reserve forest area, all meant to benefit the Kurinjimala Sanctuary.
(In arrangement with, a source for environmental news reporting and analysis. The views expressed in the article are those of 
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From 'sui-dhaaga' to sustainable fashion: Rural women weavers find new identity

Designers Amit Vijaya and Richard Pandav with artisans from Rajasthan. (Photo: IANS)
Designers Amit Vijaya and Richard Pandav with artisans from Rajasthan. (Photo: IANS)

What happens when women from "silai schools" in rural India up the ante under the expert guidance of fashion designers? They not only hone their skills and amplify their earning potential but also learn about fashion, gain confidence and respect and the permission to move out of their homes.

Consumer durables company Usha International Ltd, in collaboration with IMG Reliance, has launched Usha Silai, an ethical and sustainable fashion label which has clothes sewn by women from Usha Silai School and mentored by designers.

The label is a movement to eliminate gender disparity and bring rural women into the world of high street fashion garment construction.

Four clusters were identified for this initiative -- Kaladhera in Rajasthan, Mastikari in Bengal, Dholka in Gujarat, and Puducherry -- and select women from these clusters were mentored by designers Amit Vijaya and Richard Pandav, Sayantan Sarkar, Soham Dave and Sreejith Jeevan.

The initiative aims to reverse the migration of skilled workers by empowering them with skills and resources to create clothes and accessories that can be retailed in the urban fashion market as well as create the go-to-market strategy for them.

Rinku Mandal and Devdasi Mondal from the Kolkata cluster feel that their standing in their community has grown manifold after working on this venture.

"We got to know about new skills and we have learned how to work as a team," Rinku told IANS.

Devdasi said that in addition to the usual silhouettes, they have learned to texture hand-embroidery and how to dye products, which have helped them create high-end fashion garments.

Irudhayamary and Metildamary from the Puducherry cluster feel their confidence has grown immensely ever since they began working on the label, and that they now take pride in showing their work around.

"There is an increase in confidence, increase in respect from the customers at Silai School since we have begun making quality garments," Irudhayamary told IANS, adding that they feel proud that the dresses made by them are used at fashion events.

The first collection from each cluster under the Usha Silai label was showcased at the Lakme Fashion Week (LFW) in February this year.

Metildamary said they have got "more exposure to the fashion world".

"We are now able to make any new design by seeing the garments. We are making garments that reflect our Puducherry culture -- with waves, window, pintucks and glass panels," said Metildamary.

Sunita Devi from the Kaladhera cluster in Rajasthan is proud she has her "own identity outside my home and in the home".

"Now my family does not stop me from going outside my home. My decision also has value in my home. Before being associated with this fashion label, I didn't know about fashion. In fact, the first time I heard the term fashion was when I underwent the fashion label assessment in Kaladhera.

"I had never seen fashion clothes in my life. I have only seen clothes which are sold in the local market," Sunita told IANS.

The same is the case with Rekha Ben from Dholka cluster in Gujarat.

"I have felt a lot of change in my life. I got a new identity after working on this fashion label. People (in my community) did not know about me before the training, but now many people know me as a good member of society. I am getting good work orders from local markets because my skills have improved," she said.

Priya Somaiya, Executive Director, Usha Social Services, says the idea behind Usha Silai was to facilitate the manifestation and expression of the creative potential in rural women.

"To recognise their ability to learn and hone their skills to sew and stitch, and later cut, draft, and patter-make to a level that could cater to the demands of the fashion industry. By empowering them with the skills to tailor high fashion garments, Usha Silai has grown their earning potential manifold while ensuring continuity of work," Somaiya told IANS.


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China Garden -- a success story that could have been scripted by Bollywood

(This is the first of two exclusive extracts from "Secret Sauce", an in-depth look at 40 of India's most iconic and successful restaurants, not just as landmarks and must-visit destinations but also as businesses that have stood the test of time and upheld their standards of dining and culinary excellence. From a 100-year-old no-frills eatery in Bengaluru to an award-winning dine-out venue in Delhi, from inventive cafes to nationwide chains that have scaled admirably, this book is a sumptuous treat for aspiring food entrepreneurs, foodies, and anyone interested in the success secrets and inner workings of the restaurant business in India.)
In its heyday you could, on any given evening, be dining at China Garden and have Goldie Hawn, Imran Khan or members of Bollywood's Kapoor clan at a table nearby. Playing charming host to his celebrity clientele would be Nelson Wang, relishing every moment. It must have been hugely gratifying for the man who had done various odd jobs as he made his way up in life, including being a shoe-maker and a limbo dancer, who also performed fire-eating tricks.
Born in 1950 in Kolkata to Chinese immigrants, Nelson left home and sought his fortune in Hyderabad and Bangalore (now Bengaluru), before landing in Bombay (now Mumbai) in the early 1970s with a suitcase and a little cash. Desperate, he was willing to do anything to make a living and so he joined Frederick's, a Chinese restaurant, as an assistant cook and was paid a modest sum of Rs 20 a month. He learnt on the job and harnessed the skills required in a kitchen devoted exclusively to Chinese cuisine. It was here that his love for food emerged as well, and that, backed by his admirable work ethic, saw him quickly become a key worker at Frederick's.
While he was still employed there, Nelson received an offer from the owner of a small, failing restaurant, China Town, to run it on a partnership model. China Town was just a hole in the wall with three tables on the ground floor and one upstairs.
Supremely confident about his cooking skills and food, Nelson took up the offer. Soon, customers were queuing up to take away food from China Town and word spread about Nelson Wang's cooking. The restaurant's commercial success and Nelson's frugal lifestyle allowed him to save enough to buy a flat for his family by the early '80s. Having made his way up the hard way, Nelson's top priority was to provide well for his wife and children. "He thought nothing of working twenty-hour days," says his son, Edward Wang, who now manages the Kemp's Corner outlet of the restaurant in Mumbai.
We've often noticed that fortuitous events occur at crucial junctures for successful restaurant businesses. For Nelson it was the arrival of the burly, food-loving cricket administrator Raj Singh Dungapur. A regular at China Town, he was also the President of the Cricket Club of India (CCI) at the time. Utterly impressed by Nelson Wang's cooking and attitude, Dungapur invited him to open a Chinese restaurant at the CCI. The China Man was the big break Nelson Wang was hankering for and would catapult him into a different league.
Even while working at the elite CCI, Nelson continued running China Town. His day would begin at 5 a.m. with a visit to Crawford market and end at 2 a.m. the next day. His family saw very little of him, but his wife was uncomplaining and a steady support. He drew the energy for this hard routine from his dream to open his own restaurant. He continued to practise thrift and saved every rupee he could. The opportunity to open his own business finally presented itself when Om Navani, also a fan of China Town and China Man, offered Nelson a space to open a bigger, more posh, Chinese restaurant.
Instead of entering into a partnership with Navani, Nelson borrowed money from friends and bought space in Om Chambers at Kemp's Corner for this new, ambitious venture. Edward Wang says that his father believed, adamantly even, in being his own master and owning the spaces in which he would run restaurants. It is part of Mumbai hotel lore that Nelson Wang turned down an offer from Ajit Kerkar, then Chairman and MD of the Taj Hotels, to open restaurants in the chain's properties. He was determined not to give up his independence.
Nelson's vision for his restaurant was grand. He was clear that it would take shape in a space that he owned. His business acumen was sharp and he understood the value of real estate assets. Eventually, China Garden opened and Mumbai was bowled over. Spread across more than 7,000 sq ft, and with a vast lobby, it had makrana marble flooring, spectacular all-white interiors, water fountains and monogrammed napkins for privileged regulars. It was the dining place to be seen in, in the Mumbai of the '80s. Nelson Wang had never studied English, having only been to a Chinese school in Kolkata. But he was suave and charming and found himself perfectly at ease amidst his celebrity clientele.
Soon, Nelson was a celebrity himself and was invited to Bollywood parties and glitzy Mumbai gatherings.
Even with all the hype about the style and extravagance of China Garden, Nelson Wang was clear that the food would always be the hero in his business. Before opening China Garden, Nelson and his wife spent time travelling to Hong Kong, Bangkok and the Philippines to study their local cuisines. Nelson would never simply recreate a dish from elsewhere. According to Edward, one of his father's greatest strengths was his understanding of 'palate'. So, he could take any Oriental dish and tweak it to suit his customers.
Edward remembers that his father would experiment and innovate all the time. China Garden was, for instance, the first to put kimchi on the table. His specialities such as teppan soba noodles on a sizzler, pepper chicken, glazed chicken oyster chilli garlic, and corn cream, which the vegetarians love, all became star dishes.
As the business grew, Nelson gradually started grooming his two sons to run it. His advice to them was simple: Never give up CCI (that was his expression of gratitude to the place that launched him on his successful journey), be conservative while expanding and start restaurants in spaces you own. Nelson had made some smart real estate investments along the way, taking bank loans wherever possible. With the Indian economy on the upswing post 1992 and the subsequent real estate boom, his insistence on owning the spaces in which his restaurants were located was validated.
Nelson also believed that personal attention was a crucial factor in China Garden's success. Even today, all the restaurants are operated by family members with complete loyalty to the brand and the business. Financially, the group is in sound shape and all the bank debts have been paid off. The family business now includes a restaurant in Pune, two in Delhi and, of course, the China Garden in Mumbai, besides the outlet at CCI...
...With age catching up, Nelson Wang has bowed out of active involvement in China Garden and spends much of his time in Canada. But he's always there to provide guidance for Edward and his elder brother, Henry, who carry on the legacy. That, Edward says, is both a huge responsibility and a rich reward.
How Chicken Manchurian came to be
It was Nelson Wang who created the Chicken Manchurian, which has morphed into paneer, gobi and baby corn variants now commonly available at not only every Chinese eatery but also south Indian tiffin joints and street carts. Chicken Manchurian was Nelson Wang's response to requests from CCI members who said 'Kuch alag karo', make us something unique. Essentially, the dish consists of chicken pakoras tossed in soy sauce and condiments. It first bowled over diners at the China Man and went on to become the ubiquitous snack it now is.
(Jayanth Narayanan is an entrepreneur and restaurateur. Priya Bala is a food writer and critic with several years of experience in studying restaurants. In 2016, they co-authored Start Up Your Restaurant: The Definitive Guide for Anyone Who Dreams of Running Their Own Restaurant)

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God's committed soldiers - from the Crusades to conspiracy theories

Title: The Templars - The Rise and Spectacular Fall of God's Holy Warriors; Author: Dan Jones; Publisher: Viking/Penguin Random House; Pages: 449; Price: Rs 1,199
From Sir Walter Scott to Umberto Eco to Dan Brown, or the video game Assassins Creed to the film "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade", they are shown as a sinister, villainous organisation or fanatical and overzealous guardians of some holy relic, treasure, or esoteric secret. But who were the Knights Templar exactly? How did they earn this reputation? And is it justified?
Originating in the early 12th century as an order of warrior monks to protect Christian pilgrims in the recently-conquered Holy Land, the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon (or the Knights Templar, or simply Templars) went on to become the Crusaders' feared shock troops.
They also, as we learn in this rigorously researched but thrilling work liberally interspersed with contemporary accounts, became Europe's first multinational corporation with extensive interests in hospitality, finance and transportation, and owning huge tracts of land and choice properties across the continent -- all tax free and beyond any local secular or spiritual regulation.
But within a few years, in the early 14th century, they were discredited, suppressed and totally disappeared -- with their existence continuing only in all kinds of speculative fiction and conspiracy theories down to the present day, says English historian Dan Jones.
"The Templars were holy soldiers. Men of religion and men of the sword, pilgrims and warriors, paupers and bankers," and though one among several religious orders that came up in medieval Europe and the Holy Land during the Crusading era, "they were by far the best known and the most controversial", he says.
In this book, Jones recounts the Templars' meteoric rise, flourishing fame and equally rapid downfall in a welter of charges "designed specifically to cause outrage and disgust" but happening so suddenly and violently that seven centuries hence "they remain objects of fascination, imitation and obedience".
The Templars feature in fiction, TV shows and films as "heroes, martyrs, thugs, bullies, victims, criminals, perverts, heretics, depraved subversives, guardians of the Holy Grail, protectors of Christ's secret bloodline, time-travelling agents of global conspiracy" and more, which may be entertaining but isn't true, he says, as he seeks to tell their story "as they were, not as legend has embellished them since".
The goal, as he says, is to show that "their real deeds were even more extraordinary than the romances, half-truths and voodoo histories that have swirled around them since they fell".
In the racy narrative in four sections, "Pilgrims" details the Templars' origins, "Soldiers" about how they transformed from a "roadside rescue team" into an elite military unit, which not only guided pilgrims, but the entire army of the King of France, and "Bankers" about how they laid the foundation of modern banking.
Finally, "Heretics" deals with their troubled last half-century in which their fortunes ebbed with the Crusaders' defeat and eventual expulsion from the Holy Land, and covetous eyes hungered for their huge wealth.
In course of this, we see the Templars at battles of the Crusades across three continents, fighting in the vanguard of Crusader armies from Syria to Egypt, and from Palestine to Spain. They are also seen financing wars, providing loans to pay kings' ransoms, helping kings with financial management, collecting taxes, building castles, running cities, interfering in trade disputes, engaging in private wars against other military orders, carrying out political assassinations and even playing kingmakers.
Along with how they were so gifted in fighting, making money and so on, why they were feared by their enemies (their organisation for one) and hated by various sections (for their wealth and influence), Jones shows their interactions with an extraordinary gamut of people. These range from kings and sultans -- brave or brilliant, cruel or covetous -- to popes and prelates, of steadfast integrity or known for being influenced by power, pressure or pride.
As the story traverses from the fields of France to the stony battlegrounds of Palestine and back, it doesn't only explain some dynamics of a period of religious conflict but also "the relation between international finance and geopolitics" and "the power of propaganda and myth-making".
That is the Templars' real legacy and the reason why they are still of interest -- and Dan Jones is the one who must be read, not Dan Brown.
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Book review: A valid argument for a life less technological?

Title: Why I Am Not Going to Buy a Computer; Author: Wendell Berry; Publisher: Penguin Classics; Pages: 64; Price: Rs 50
In this era of high technology, expressing disinclination to use a computer would be tantamount to declaring yourself a fossil. But have the ubiquitous computers -- or rather the technological progress they embody -- been an unqualified boon for us?
There may be no simple answer; and in any case, it would differ on a generational basis -- from those who have practically grown up with computers, and their elders, who can still recall a world where they were not that common.
But there are some -- among both sections -- well aware that the growing presence of computers in every field of human activity also raises a few concerns. Artificial intelligence (AI) and its consequences is one, but slowly but steadily diminishing human ingenuity, knowledge and endeavour -- and even thinking -- is a rather bigger, though lesser-known, problem. Take anyone who turns to Google to find a fact, or a spelling -- to find, not to cross-check (William Poundstone's "Head in the Cloud", 2016, is a worrying read in this regard).
However, it was nearly three decades ago that American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic and farmer Wendell Berry invoked these concerns while setting out his reasons for not investing in a computer to help him in his writing. As this book, reproducing his 1987 piece for "Harper's Weekly", shows, some of his points are still valid even now. While dealing with the US of the late 1980s, some will also strike a chord across time and space. 
Stressing he did not "admire" his reliance on energy corporations and wanted to be "hooked" on them as less as possible, Berry holds this is the primary reason for not acceding to the demand of several people that he get a computer.
Asserting he "did not admire the computer manufacturers a great deal more than I admire the energy industries", he says he was familiar with the former's "propaganda campaigns that have put computers into public schools in need of books".
Berry also argues that the stand that computers are "expected to become as common as TV sets in 'the future' does not impress or matter to me" for he does not see them advancing, even a bit, anything that matters -- peace, economic justice, ecological health and so on.
He goes on to list his nine standards for useful technological innovation. However, all this barely covers two (A4) pages -- but then there are a selection of letters, mainly critical, his article evoked, especially his quips about his wife's role in his writings, and his joint rejoinder to them, questioning "technological fundamentalism".
But what occupies most of this book, among Penguin's special printing selection from 50 classics, is a longer essay titled "Feminism, the Body and the Machine".
In this, Berry, expanding on his previous arguments, gives an eloquent and reasoned, yet provocative, pitch on how technological progress, or even the modern economic system that props it up, may not always be very positive, since it may be dehumanising us.
This, he polemically but cogently argues, has made the modern household "the place where the consumptive couple do their consuming" and "nothing productive" -- well almost nothing -- is done. How the aims of gender equality cannot be served by women submitting to "the same specialisation, degradation, trivialisation and tyrannisation of work" that men have, and the fact that work can be a gift too is overlooked.
Berry also deals with the shortcomings of modern education where "after several generations of 'technological progress'... we have become a people who cannot think about anything important" and goes on to question the very purpose of all this progress, which is not having a too salutary effect on our lives -- family or personal -- despite its promise of "money and ease".
There is much more which merits a careful consideration, though many of us will dismiss this as an obscurantist rant. But as Berry, now over 83, says: "My wish simply is to live my life as fully as I can."
Do we need devices for this? 
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At 104, his passion for driving remains undiminished

C.R. Robert Michael D’Souza
C.R. Robert Michael D’Souza
Driving has been a passion for C.R. Robert Michael D’Souza ever since he was 18 – which was way back in 1932. It continues to remain the focus of his life, but sadly, deteriorating driving conditions, a growing number of motorists with deplorable habits and rapid urbanisation of cities have deprived him of the joys of driving.
Says the still sprightly 104-year- old, living in a quiet area of Mangalore, the vibrant hub of south Karnataka: “I have driven all kinds of vehicles including military ones, buses and trucks. But now I just use my car.” He now provides services to a family living near his home.
Michael was born in Ooty on a plantation on October 16, 1914. His father had, over his lifespan, married five times and had about 30 children. “I could study only up to standard VIII,” recalls the ageing Michael.
He joined the British Indian Army after getting his driving licence and worked for a decade as a driver and mechanic. “Those were tough days,” recalls the centenarian, speaking in a mix of Kannada and English, when this journalist met him at his Mangalore home last month.
Later, he joined a power company before getting into the public works department (PWD) in the erstwhile Madras Presidency (Mangalore was part of it then), and had continuous service of 37 years, mostly driving vehicles around the state.
Mangalore as home
In 1949, his job brought him to Mangalore, which has since become his home. Michael married and lived with his wife for several decades, though the couple never had any children. “I have a younger brother in Ooty now and many children and grandchildren of my other siblings come often to Mangalore to meet me.”
His wife, who passed away about five years ago, was hard working, recalls Michael. “One night she vomited and I took her to a hospital. Fortunately, she did not have to struggle and passed away soon thereafter,” he adds.
Michael was a heavy smoker – up to five cigarette packets a day – but gave up smoking nearly a quarter century ago. And after his wife’s death, he also gave up alcohol. “Earlier, I would shower with some little brandy added to the water, take a peg and then go to sleep,” he says.
Of course, he’s grateful that he’s had a hassle-free life for the past more than a century. “I’ve only gone through one operation, for cataract,” elaborates Michael. “I never took English medicine or got admitted to a hospital in those days.”
Sadly, his first stay in hospital was one after completing his century. “Many television and print journalists had come to Mangalore to interview me,” recalls Michael. “I went to a function in the morning, but couldn’t go to the evening one as I couldn’t sit or even stand.”
He was hospitalised for a fortnight – and was slapped with a hefty Rs 49,000 bill. “But after that the videographers and journalists were not seen,” he says.
No interviews, photographs
And when he turned 102, many called him up again, asking him whether he would pose for pictures. “I warned them not to come home,” says Michael. “I do not give interviews to any journalists now.” (The exception, fortunately, was this one).
The centenarian driver continues to be a busy man. Living in a small house, he only has a dog, cats and a few birds as company. “Of course, God is always there,” he remarks. “I get up at around 4 in the morning, and start cleaning the house.”
Michael is multi-lingual and speaks Kannada, Tulu, Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and even English.
Asked about his favourite passion – driving and cars – he recalls that cars and even roads in the past were much better than today. “I still remember taking just 30 minutes to travel to Udupi from Mangalore,” he says. “Today, even after widening of the highway, it takes more than 90 minutes.”
He bemoans that not many motorists follow rules or traffic signals. They overtake arbitrarily from the right or the left. “I ask policemen to take action against such motorists, but they are helpless.” And when motorists blow their horns at this ageing driver sitting behind the wheels of his car, he tells them to fly off.
When he was young and in the military, he had bought a motorcycle for a mere Rs 200. Of course, today cars and other vehicles are prohibitively priced. His driving licence was renewed for five years, and the officials at Mangalore transport department told him that next time when he comes, they will renew it for a lifetime.
Michael has not travelled abroad and also does not have a passport. Has he taken flights? “I aim to go on the last one, which will soon take me away forever,” he quips. The centenarian prays to God daily, pleading with him not to hospitalise him for a month or two, but to take him away quickly and painlessly.
Nithin Belle
Nithin Belle
Nithin Belle is a journalist who has worked with several publications including Indian Express, Mid-Day, Bombay magazine and Gentleman magazine. He also worked with the Khaleej Times in Dubai for several years, covering both regional and international news. He has been writing extensively for many Indian and international titles since his return to the country. His other passions include photography.

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Recipes: Assorted Pakoras, classic tea-time snacks

Assorted Pakoras
Cabbage pakoras are a very tasty snack and also easy to cook. There are varieties of pakoras available in India, but the most common and favourite of all the vegetarian people are onion pakoras and cabbage pakoras. Pakoras are usually served as snacks which are available in all of India but in the south, people also call it as bhaji.
There are numerous Indian snacks recipes that can be prepared easily at home and one such classic appetizing tea-time snack or a rainy day treat is a pakora. It is easy to make. We will show you a few easy step-by-step recipes to make a few different varieties of them. 
Turmeric powder - 1/2 Tsp.
Chili powder - 2 Tsp.
Salt to taste
Ajwain/Carom seeds - 1 Tsp.
Besan/Gram flour - 2 cups 
Oil for deep frying
Take a few cabbage leaves and cut off the center thick stalk. 
Roll up the cabbage leaves together and cut them up. Make sure they are not too thin. 
Put these cut up cabbage in a large mixing bowl. 
Add turmeric powder, chilli powder, salt, ajwain, gram flour (Besan) and mix all the ingredients together. 
Gradually add a little water and mix well. 
Meanwhile, heat some oil in a pan. 
Drop these coated cabbage leaves into the oil. 
Deep fry it until it is a crisp golden brown colour. 
Now, carefully remove the pakoras from the pan, draining all the oil. 
Beetroot - 1 grated
Carrot - 1 grated
Onion - 1 thinly sliced
A piece of Ginger chopped
Green chilli - 1 finely chopped
Ginger & Garlic paste - 1/4 tsp.
A few chopped Coriander leaves
A few Curry leaves
Salt to taste 
Red chilli powder - 1 tsp.
Besan (or) Gram flour - 2 tbsp.
Rice flour - 1 tbsp.
Oil for frying
In a mixing bowl add all the ingredients, i.e. beetroot, carrot, onion, ginger, green chilli, ginger-garlic paste, coriander leaves, curry leaves, salt and red chilli powder. Mix all the ingredients together until they are blended nicely.
Now, add the besan (or) gram flour and mix gently. 
Now, add the rice flour to the mixture and mix again.
Heat some oil in a kadai. Once the oil is hot enough, drop the batter mix gently into the kadai, a little at a time.
Deep fry the Beetroot Carrot Pakoras until they are nice and crispy. 
Crispy Beetroot Carrot Pakoras are ready to be served!
Bread slices 
Paneer - 200 gms
Mint & coriander chutney [Recipe]
Date & tamarind chutney [Recipe
Oil for frying
For Batter:
Besan/Gram flour - 1 1/2 cups
Turmeric powder - 1/4 Tsp
Salt to taste
Chili powder - 1 Tsp
Ajwain/Carom seeds - 1 Tsp
Make Batter: In a mixing bowl add besan/gram flour, turmeric powder, salt, chili powder, ajwain/carom seeds and mix well.
Gradually add water and mix well. It should be a thick batter. Keep aside.
Cut the paneer into a thick slice. 
Take 2 bread slices, spread mint & coriander chutney on one slice. On the other slice spread date & tamarind chutney. 
Place the paneer slice on top of the bread slice and close it with another slice. Cut the sandwich into quarter size.
Heat oil for deep frying.
Dip the bread paneer sandwich into the batter and gently drop into the hot oil.
Fry till it turns golden brown color.
Enjoy the bread paneer pakora served hot.

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Creativity has no age limit, says 70-year-old self-taught photographer

At an age long past retirement for most people, who would prefer to lie down on a planter’s chair on the verandah, 70-year-old Professor (Dr) Rama Bharatha Varma is on the move, in constant pursuit of his latest hobby, photography.    
‘Moments and Movements’ is the title the professor has given to the exhibition of 60-odd photographs and paintings now on display at the Lalit Kala Academy here.
What makes the exhibition interesting is that Varma, now 70, had taken to photography only three years ago. Having decided to take it up as a hobby, he lost no time in walking into the nearest photography equipment store and demanding a “good camera”.
Having selected a Canon 550D that then cost Rs. 90,000 including original lens, he ventured forth, happily clicking away at anything that caught his fancy. However, he found to his dismay, that nothing has been captured in the camera. Off he went to the shop again to complain, only to be told that a memory card needed to be inserted first!
He then decided to read up a few books and armed with the knowledge gained and the camera, he gradually built up quite a big collection. The camera became a part of his body whenever he went out or even while sitting at home.
Fascinated by the crows fluttering about, he managed to capture quite a few shots of them sitting on electric wires, pottering about the ground in search of food and the like. Once, standing outside a shop, he looked up and found a tangle of wires overhead and took a picture that he likens to human life, with innumerable connections, cross-connections and confusions.
Some of the photographs on display, like the one about the Vivekananda Memorial in Kanya Kumari, at first sight, looks like a finely-crafted painting. It has colourfully painted boats, in various shades of reds, blues and yellows in the foreground and the memorial, with its saffron domes, set against cloudy skies on the rough brown rock with a small patch of green lawn, floating in the light blue waters of the sea.
Nature forms a major theme in the collection. Water bodies like serene deep blue lakes, the sea with gently rolling waves, sun rays turning the water into molten gold, sunset at Kanyakumari are on display. One or two photos are of elderly bulls lying down, their skin scarred with a lifetime of hard work and cows nuzzling each other.    
Varma has been an academician for the past 48 years. “After being a professor of English in Tamil Nadu for 32 years, I switched to management studies after taking a few PG degrees in that discipline. I worked in a management institute in Bangalore and later joined DC School of Management Studies promoted by DC Books in Vagamon and Thiruvananthapuram. Later, I became its Group Director and Chief Operating Officer,” he says.
He retired from service about a year ago after having met with an accident that resulted in a major head injury, He credits his recovery to his passion for photography as also to poetry and painting. Throughout the recovery stage, he says, his mind was full of plans for new projects.
(Dr) Rama Bharatha Varma
(Dr) Rama Bharatha Varma
About his foray into poetry, he says, “I have been writing poems in English for the last 35 years and published 500 poems that have received favourable reviews from national and local dailies.” So far, he has published four volumes of poetry titled ‘Spark and Fire ‘In Love with Life’, ‘Loom of Life’ and ‘Let Us Face the Facts’. The last mentioned book has a preface by renowned Malayalam poet Ayyappa Panicker and an endorsement by eminent novelist and filmmaker M T Vasudevan Nair.
Varma is a self-taught painter who picked up the brush rather later in life, at the age of 50. Similarly, about photography, he says he became interested in it three years ago and started studying more about it from books and experimenting with a good camera. The display at the exhibition includes 22 paintings, mostly abstracts, executed in vibrant tones of reds, yellows and white, radiating positive energy.
“The exhibition is the result of these activities. I am very passionate about all these things even at the age of 70. Creativity has no age limit. This exhibition is also intended to inspire the visitors to take up some hobby and pursue it to discover something new within you,” he adds.

Mexico should be among your top travel destinations, will remind you of India

Panoramic view from the Pyramid of the Sun - the Pyramid of the Moon can be seen on the right
Panoramic view from the Pyramid of the Sun - the Pyramid of the Moon can be seen on the right
Mexico is not quite on the radar of most Indian tourists who end up travelling to the more popular destinations  in Europe, the United States or the Far East. But I got to travel to Mexico City on a short business trip recently and enjoyed every bit of it.
In many ways, Mexico will remind you of India. It is close to the equator, and at the same time, shows extremes in climates; both our cuisines are spicy and use similar spice blends; both have long coastlines of about 7,000 km; both have ancient civilisations in their history and have rich cultural traditions.
(In fact, the chilli came to India from Mexico. Pop quiz: Do you know which fruit went to Mexico from India? - Answer at the bottom of the article.)
So, when I arrived in Mexico City, barring the jet lag from the 28-hour long journey, I felt almost at home. I reached late at night and after a good night's rest, the first order of business was to order a proper Mexican breakfast.
I stayed at the Wyndham Garden Hotel in the Polanco area, a decent budget business hotel in the heart of the city. The rooms are expectedly average, the service is efficient, and the food, although limited in options, was excellent. A light breakfast, consisting of fruit, toast and coffee, was included with the room - which was not what I was expecting when I was told continental breakfast was included - and anything more had to be ordered over and above.
A major issue that non-Spanish speakers will face in Mexico is that there aren't many people, especially in shops and restaurants, who know English. So, one has to rely on translator apps and dictionaries to communicate or use sign language generously, along with sporadic use of English words and hope the other person understands.
Fossilised mandible of large mammoth like creature(Museum of Anthroplogy)
Fossilised mandible of large mammoth like creature(Museum of Anthroplogy)
Back at the breafast table, I decided to dive right in and order Chilaquiles  from the breakfast menu. I had, of course, no idea what it was -  the waiter just said, "tortillas, queso" (tortillas, cheese), and then asked "Con pollo?" (with chicken? I said, okay), "Salsa verde, roja?" (I said, green), after which he took off to get the order.
I was, of course, completely intrigued. Not long after, my order came - and I quickly understood why the waiter had been so sparse in his description. The dish was literally a shallow pool of green salsa, in which tortilla chips and chicken strips were swimming, with a sprinkling of cheese all over, and a blob of refried beans on the corner - and tasted amazing!
I had come to Mexico to speak at a business event. On the way to the event, I was struck by how some neighbourhoods of Mexico would not have been out of place in Delhi, the only difference being that the signs were all in Spanish. Another thing that stood out was that Mexico City has a predilection for the bright pink colour. The logo of Mexico City is in pink, and all the city vehicles (taxis, trucks, buses, vans) are painted pink. Many houses have also painted their outer walls in pink. One would imagine all this pink would look garish, but somehow, it all fits in, and looks natural.
Head dress(Museum of Anthroplogy)
Head dress(Museum of Anthroplogy)
The event was catered by a local Indian restaurant, called Bukhara, run by a genial Sikh gentleman, who had come to Mexico in the early 1990s. The food was traditional Indian catering fare - chicken tikka, seekh kebabs, fish tikka, pulao and dal makhani, rounded off by rasmalai and cardamom chai - and, was surprisingly good. The crowd had almost polished off the entire stock of food available.
That evening, the jet lag finally caught up with me and I crashed early for the night, without having any dinner.
The next day was to be another packed day and, because it had been a good 14 hours after my previous meal, it was no surprise that I was at the restaurant early morning, waiting for it to open up. After I finished my allotted fruit appetizer, I turned my attention to what was going to be the main act that morning. Mexican Scrambled Eggs, it was, with Chorizo. The Mexican bit was the fried beans and a tortilla chip
Mexican Scrambled Eggs
Mexican Scrambled Eggs
Wyndham Garden has a restaurant on their top floor, which overlooks the Chapultepec Castle, and the surrounding park - which makes for a wonderful scene, as the sun streams into the restaurant when it rises from behind the palace, and the scrambled eggs were a perfect complement to the view.
Chapultepec Castle, located on top of Chapultepec Hill in the middle of the Chapultepec Park at a height of 2,325 meters above sea level, has served as an Imperial residence, the Presidential home and is now the National Museum of History. The castle was a film location in 1996 for Romeo and Juliet, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.
During the day, we grabbed a quick bite at McDonald's - where the local options are lathered in salsa and habanero sauce. The evening was hosted by my colleague and his wife, where they treated me to some great home-cooked Indian food.
After the meetings next day, I had about half a day remaining in Mexico City, and I decided to explore the sights. (Tip: If you are going out in the city for a meeting or sightseeing, keep at least an hour's margin for travel time, as Mexico City's traffic is famously unpredictable, and your schedule can get out of gear quite rapidly, if you are not prepared.)
Since, I had limited time, I decided to first see the most popular place in Mexico City - the Pyramids of Teotihuacan.
The Pyramid of the Sun
The Pyramid of the Sun
The Meso-American civilisation that grew near Mexico city established itself in the valley of Teotihuacan, and built their famous flat-topped pyramid temples here. Teotihuacan is about 50 km from the city, and it takes about an hour by taxi to reach here. Mexico City is surrounded by hills, and combined with its latitude, makes the drive out to Teotihuacan a natural scenery treat. I would describe it as very similar to the drive from Mumbai to Lonavala, interspersed with many fields and structures reminiscent of North India.
Once there, I finally understood what the fuss about the pyramids were, and why everyone I had met had recommended that I spend some time to visit them. The Teotihuacan pyramid complex has two large pyramids - the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon and many smaller ones around it in neat lines. I was struck by the near precise angles at which the pyramids are constructed, restricting and framing views at strategic positions. Both pyramids have tall, narrow, steep steps cut into the side, where one can climb all the way to the top, and see the entire valley in one view without any obstacles.
Pyramid of the Moon
Pyramid of the Moon
The taller of the two pyramids is the Pyramid of the Sun, and the climb is about as high as about 10-12 storeys, and barring one super-athlete, who ran all the way to the top, and skipped circles around all of us, everyone there found the climb extremely strenuous and scary at times. If you are planning to climb the Pyramids, you must have good walking shoes, and stamina.
These pyramids were discovered, much like the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt, many centuries after their original creators and inhabitants had abandoned them. However, unlike the Pyramids of Giza, these were used as temples and residences for the society's elite, and the rest of the society grew around the Pyramids. Similar pyramids and structures exist throughout Mexico, which indicate many such societies had developed in parallel.
The gift shops nearby have many intricate items on offer, especially various articles made of obsidian, which was apparently the preferred traditional material for many objects from Mesoamerican era, and local liquors, including tequila and mezcal.
After making the arduous trek to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun, and back down, I ambled across the entire complex, admiring the various buildings and their symmetry. Another remarkable fact: the acoustics in this complex are so perfect, that sounds from one end echoes sharply to the other without losing much coherence.
After spending about an hour at the Pyramids, I then headed back into the city, and went to the next hot spot for tourists - the world famous Museum of Anthropology
The Facade of the Museum of Anthropology
The Facade of the Museum of Anthropology
Set up in the 1960s, the Museum attracts many visitors to its extremely well-designed exhibits, covering the history of homo sapiens, starting from Homo australopithecus all the way to the modern-day American. The museum requires at least 3-4 hours to cover it properly, and has some amazing artefacts, including fossils of, possibly, a mammoth, and many, many objects of use from those times. The museum is a veritable archive of Mexican heritage, and it is highly recommended to get a guide (or an audio guide), as most of the exhibits are in Spanish.
While going back to the hotel from the museum, I was pleasantly surprised to discover a fairly large and quiet park commemorating Mahatma Gandhi and his contribution to humanity. The park has a large statue of him, but I, unfortunately, did not have much time to spend there - next time perhaps...
What I was able to see and experience, was a just a tiny portion of what Mexico (or even, Mexico City) has to offer. Just like India, there is much more than what I have written about, and if you have a week to spare, Mexico City should definitely figure among the top of your list of travel destinations.
Although there are no direct flights to Mexico City from India, there are many one-stop flights from India via France, Germany, Netherlands and the US.
There are any number of options for stay in Mexico City. Wyndham Garden Hotel, a budget hotel, is where I stayed and it is a good economic option for tourists and families. 
Taxis are quite expensive - Uber is a recommended option, or else, one could also look at buying tickets to the Hop-on Hop-off buses.
(Answer to pop quiz: Mango)
Panoramic view of the temple buildings in front of the Pyramid of the Moon.
Panoramic view of the temple buildings in front of the Pyramid of the Moon.

The City of the Taj is a good option for a short getaway

We wanted to take a short break from Delhi recently and, after considering various options in the region, zeroed in on Agra. Most of us had been there before, but not together as a family. And one of us had not visited the place,  and that was  good enough reason to make the trip to the city of the Taj -- the monument of love.
Summer is  not the best time to visit Agra, but we had no choice as far as the dates were concerned. 
The Taj Mahal
The Taj Mahal
Our last trip was about a decade ago (and that, too, was in June!). Since then,  the 165-km six-lane controlled Yamuna Expressway from Greater Noida, near Delhi, to  Agra has opened, cutting the travel time considerably. That is the route we took, and it was one of the smoothest drives we have had in India, with the journey taking about three hours. We made sure the driver of our Toyota Innova stayed well within the speed limits and stuck to his lane, and that made the trip enjoyable, without the tension associated with travel on wide highways.
This is the expressway on which an Indian Air Force (IAF) Mirage-2000 successfully landed near Mathura on May 21, 2015 as part of the IAF's plans to use national highways for emergency landings by fighter aircraft. That will give you some idea of the quality of the highway and you cannot help feeling a sense of pride as you race ahead.
From Delhi, we drove through Noida and then Greater Noida and before long we were on the Yamuna Expressway. We left around 1 pm on a Sunday afternoon, after brunch, but the efficient air-conditioning in the car meant that we did not suffer on account of the heat outside. Our aim was to reach Agra long before sundown, and that we did, with more than a couple of hours to spare.
A view of the mosque at Fatehpur Sikri
A view of the mosque at Fatehpur Sikri
Once you leave Greater Noida, there is not much to see on the way to Agra. The expressway does not pass through any towns and there is hardly any inhabitation for long stretches, unlike the National Highway (NH)-2, which is the older and longer route and passes through towns such as Faridabad, Ballabhgarh and Mathura.
It may not be a very wise decision to drive in the night on this route, given the stories you read in the newspapers about crimes on the highway. Ideally, you should leave early in the morning and try and reach Agra by noon. Winter is the best time to visit Agra, but you have to be very careful because of the thick fog that is likely in these parts and the consequent traffic risks.
Fatehpur Sikri
Fatehpur Sikri
There are three toll plazas along the expressway at Jewar (38 km), Mathura (94 km) and Agra (150 km). Jewar, by the way, is the place where a new international airport has been planned, one which will bring Agra even closer to tourists from other parts of India and abroad. All three have good food courts and other facilities, including reasonably clean toilets. We are the sort who like to stop for short breaks on road journeys and we did this at Jewar on the way out and just outside Agra and Mathura on the way back. There is a wide choice of food and drinks, especially at Mathura and Jewar, and there were lots of families enjoying themselves in these food courts.
There are any number of options at Agra as far as hotels are concerned -- from luxury properties to modest ones. On our previous trip, we had got a good deal from the Taj. This time, we  booked ourselves rooms at Sterling Holidays' Agra Regal Vista for our stay. It is small hotel but quite exceeded our expectations. The check-in was a smooth process, the rooms were comfortable, all the fixtures worked, and room service and housekeeping were effficient. We took the breakfast-dinner package and enjoyed the food at each of the meals. The spread was limited, but the quality was good and consistent. What we appreciated even more was the restaurant's and the hotel's willingness and ability to respond to our requests. A good place to stay for those travelling on a budget and well located on Fatehabad road in the city.
What many people try and do is to make a day-trip to Agra and squeeze everything into a few hours. But we think it is much better to stay in the city for a couple of days and enjoy at leisure what the Taj and other monuments have to offer.
Based on our experience from the previous time, we asked the hotel to arrange for guides for us, and they found us two -- one for Fatehpur Sikri and the other for Agra on the following day. These guides were slightly more expensive but much better than the ones we would otherwise have ended up picking at the monuments. 
The Angoori BaghEntrance to Agra FortA view of the Taj Mahal from Agra Fort
The Angoori Bagh; Entrance to Agra Fort; A view of the Taj Mahal from Agra Fort
After a quiet evening and a relaxed dinner, we set out early next morning for Fatehpur Sikri, a fascinating city built by Mughal Emperor Akbar in the 16th century about 36 km from Agra. Legend has it that Akbar, then 26, did not have an heir and went to a saint, Shaikh Salim Chishti, who lived at Sikri. He blessed Akbar, who had three sons after that. As a gesture, he built a whole new city in Sikri and named it Fatehpur Sikri, the City of Victory. It is a superb example of the splendour of Mughal architecture and has featured in many Bollywood movies. It was meant to be a joint capital with Agra, but was soon deserted because it did not have a proper water supply system. 
Fatehpur Sikri is a fine example of a combination of Hindu and Muslim architecture and attracts thousands of tourists from around the world today. There is a fair bit of walking to do to see all the structures, but they are worth every bit of the effort you make. In particular, the Diwan-I-Khas, the Panch Mahal, a five-storeyed building which offers a panoramic view of the surrounding areas, the tomb of Salim Chishti, Buland Darwaza, the 54-metre high gateway built in 1575 and the Diwan-I-Aam and the Jama Masjid are some of the major attractions. Listed as a World Heritage structure by UNESCO, Fatehpur Sikri is clearly one of the places people must visit at least once in their lives.
We were back in Agra by noon and, after a quick lunch, went to the Taj Mahal. Again, there is a lot of walking involved, and it would be a good idea to equip yourselves with a bottle or two of drinking water. 
Even if you have been to the monument before and have seen hundreds of pictures, nothing quite prepares you for the majestic beauty of the structure when you first set eyes on it from the gateway. You will be overcome by a variety of emotions as you enter the complex and slowly walk towards the mausoleum.
Before that, we hired the services of a photographer, who took pictures of us outside the entrance and then at various points inside the complex. At the end, when you come out, you get an album of pictures.
As is well-known, the monument, often described as poetry in marble and one of the wonders of the modern world, was constructed by Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal, who died in 1630 A.D. Its construction began in 1632 and was completed in 1648. More than 20,000 workers were said to have been employed to build the mausoleum. It stands on a raised, square platform (186 feet x 186 feet) and is a part of a vast complex that includes a large garden, a mosque and several other grand buildings. 
As things turned out, Shah Jahan was imprisoned by his son Aurangzeb in the Agra Fort for nine years, which he spent just gazing at the Taj Mahal across the Yamuna.
A part of the Agra FortA part of the Agra FortThe Diwan-e-Aam at Agra Fort
A part of the Agra Fort; A part of the Agra Fort; The Diwan-e-Aam at Agra Fort
Agra Fort, which we visited next morning, is also a UNESCO World Heritage site, about 2.5 km northwest of the Taj Mahal. It was built by Akbar in red sandstone and served as his residence and military strategic headquarters. The vast complex has splendid palaces in red sandstone and marble, built by Akbar and later Jehangir and Shah Jahan. Among the buildings that have survived are such exquisite structures as the Sheesh Mahal (Glass Palace), the royal dressing room adorned by mirror-like glass-mosaic decorations on the walls; the Diwan-I-Aam, where ordinary people could communicate with the rulers and which once housed the Peacock Throne; and the Diwan-i-Khas, a private hall where the emperor met kings and other dignitaries.
There also the Anguri Bagh, Khas Mahal, a white marble palace, various mosques, and Musamman Burj, an octagonal tower with a balcony facing the Taj Mahal.
Other places of interest in Agra include Sikandra, the mausoleum of Akbar; Itmad-ud-daula, the tomb of Mir Ghiyas Beg, a minister in the court of Shah Jahan and the first tomb in India that was entirely made of marble; and the Red Taj Mahal, the tomb of Dutch soldier John William Hessing built by his wife Ann Hessing in his memory after his death in 1803. 
Tourism is a major contributor to Agra's economy but the city has a lot of manufacturing units, too. Among other things, it is known for its leather industry.
An important fact we noticed was that the city appeared to be a much cleaner place as compared to what it was on our earlier visit. Also, there are now any number of good restaurants. We tried one of them, Pind Baluchi, and enjoyed the experience.
All in all, thanks to the expressway, Agra is a good destination for a weekend getaway from Delhi.
Photographs: Kevin Verghese Sam

Review: Malayalam movie Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum is a winner all the way

Fahadh Faasil , Suraj Venjaramood and Nimisha Sajayan in a still from the movie Thondimuthalum Driksaakshiyum
Fahadh Faasil , Suraj Venjaramood and Nimisha Sajayan in a still from the movie Thondimuthalum Driksaakshiyum
Dileesh Pothan's Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (The Evidence and the Witness), starring Fahadh Faasil and Suraj Venjaramood, is one of the most watchable Malayalam movies of recent times,
The second directorial venture of Dileesh is amazingly realistic, on the one hand, and remains entertaining throughout, on the other.
It is the story of a theft, in which the paths of Prasad (Suraj), his wife Sreeja (a superb debut by Nimisha Sajayan), the thief (also Prasad, played by Fahadh) and the cops at a police station, including assistant sub-inspector Chandran (Alencier Ley Lopez) cross.
The story starts out in the backwaters of Alappuzha and then moves to a village in Kasargod, and soon develops into a gripping and realistic police drama.
There are no heroes and villains here, and by the end, the audience can empathise with almost each  one of the characters. A winner all the way, by any standards.
In the Delhi theatre where we saw the film, there were English sub-titles, and that should encourage non-Malayali moviegoers to watch it.
The movie marks the return of the Dileesh-Fahadh pair after the hugely successful Maheshinte Prathikara, and fully lives up to expectations. There are moments when the film seems to lag, but, on the whole, it retains audience interest all the way with several moments of situational comedy even while addressing larger issues.
The film's strong point is its casting, with a host of newcomers, led by Nimisha, who have come up with commendable and mature performances. Fahadh and National Award winner Suraj are, of course, brilliant but each one of the minor characters, including each of the policemen in the film, is convincing in his or her role, and that is what sets the movie apart. 
Rajeev Ravi's photography brownish frames, Bijibal Maniyil's music and, above all, Sajeev Pazhoor's screenplay have also played a major part in turning the movie into a veritable work of art. Clearly, this is one of the best films to come out in India in recent times.

Even minimal physical activity can lead to happiness: Study

People walking about in Shimla, India. Photo: NetIndian
People walking about in Shimla, India. Photo: NetIndian
Even minimal levels of physical activity can have a positive effect on happiness, the largest-ever smartphone-based study examining the relationship between physical activity and happiness has revealed.
The study, conducted by researchers from the University of Cambridge and the University of Essex, is based on reports from more than 10,000 individuals.
It found that physical activity, whether or not it is classified as exercise, can have a positive effect on emotional well-being. 
The results, reported in the journal Plos One, also demonstrate how smartphones can be used to collect large-scale data to examine psychological, behavioural and health-related phenomena as they occur in everyday life.
Using data gathered from users of a mood tracking app for Android phones, the researchers found that modest levels of physical activity – even if it could not be classified as exercise – can increase a person’s reported emotional well-being, regardless of their baseline level of happiness. They also found that people reported being happier when they were physically active.
Earlier, studies in this area have focused on the relationship between exercise and happiness, with mixed results. Some studies have found that happier people report exercising more, while others have found no relationship between happiness and exercise. Much of this past research has relied solely on retrospective self-reports, on data collected at only one time period, and on small samples.
For the new study, data on physical activity was passively gathered from smartphone accelerometers, and participants were also sent a short survey at two random intervals throughout the day which asked questions about their emotional state.
Users reported their emotional state on a grid, based on how positive or negative, and how energetic or sleepy, they were feeling. Users were also asked a handful of questions about how their mood compared to normal.
The activity data was then averaged over the course of the day, so while the researchers could not pinpoint what participants were doing at any given time, they found that participants who had higher levels of activity throughout the day reported a more positive emotional state.
“Our data show that happy people are more active in general,” said the paper’s senior author Dr Jason Rentfrow, from Cambridge’s Department of Psychology and a Fellow of Fitzwilliam College.
“However, our analyses also indicated that periods of physical activity led to increased positive mood, regardless of individuals’ baseline happiness. There have been many studies about the positive psychological effects of exercise, but what we’ve found is that in order to be happier, you don’t have to go out and run a marathon – all you’ve really got to do is periodically engage in slight physical activity throughout the day.”
“Most of us don’t keep track of all of our movements during the day,” said study co-author Dr Gillian Sandstrom from the Department of Psychology at the University of Essex.
“A person might track whether they went for a walk or went to the gym, but when asked, most of them probably wouldn’t remember walking from the desk to the photocopier, or from the car to the office door,” he added.
“This study shows how mobile and wearable technology really can allow social psychologists to perform large longitudinal studies as well as open a direct and permanent connection with the users for advice and intervention,” said study co-author Professor Cecilia Mascolo from Cambridge’s Computer Laboratory.
The research was supported by the UK Engineering and Physical Research Council’s UBhave (Ubiquitous and Social Computing for Positive Behaviour Change) project.

Filmmaker Biju rues lack of concern for nameless people like municipal sweepers

Physician turned film director Biju is deeply disappointed at the lack of concern among the people and the authorities for the faceless, nameless people like municipal sweepers and those belonging to marginalised sections of the society.
Suraj Venjaramoodu in a still from the film Perariyathavar
Suraj Venjaramoodu in a still from the film Perariyathavar
Physician turned film director Biju is deeply disappointed at the lack of concern among the people and the authorities for the faceless, nameless people like municipal sweepers and those belonging to marginalised sections of the society.
He took up this issue in his National Award winning film “Perariyathavar” (Names Unknown) that depicts the plight of a sweeper, whose services were yet to be regularised, through the eyes of his son. They are forced to vacate their makeshift home next to the rail tracks as the colony was bulldozed for redevelopment work. 
It won two awards at National Film Awards 2013--for Best Film on Environment Conservation/Preservation and the best actor award for Suraj Venjaramoodu. 
Suraj, usually known for his comedy roles, plays the lead role with conviction and brings out the pathos and suffering of a single parent trying to bring up a small child in the absence of his dead wife. 
The film, commercially released in August, 2016, was screened by Clone Cinema Lovers, in association with Kerala Union of Working Journalists at Kerala House on September 25.
At a question-answer session that followed the screening, Dr Biju said the residents of Brahmapuram in the vicinity of a designated open air garbage dumping yard in Kochi had abandoned their houses and shifted elsewhere following unbearable stench and filthy conditions. 
These houses, situated among dust covered trees and stunted vegetation, were being rented out to migrant labourers from the eastern and North Eastern states, he added. 
Meanwhile, almost on a daily basis, Kerala newspapers carry full page advertisements about multi-storied housing projects offering every sort of luxury, tennis courts and swimming pools, including full compliance with ‘Vastu’ principles. However, they seldom talk about waste disposal.
In the absence of any system of garbage removal on the part of promoters of the luxury villa/flat projects, residents in almost all cities and towns in Kerala are forced to pack the household waste in plastic bags and take it in their cars to be thrown on the roadside or vacant plots.
Then it becomes the thankless task of the faceless, nameless sweepers, employed by the city corporations, often on temporary basis. In the film, the main actor is seen picking up garbage tied up in plastic bags, abandoned on the footpaths and roadside and carefully depositing in waste bins.
Even while taking a bath in a polluted stream near his house, Suraj, who remains nameless in the film, collects all the plastic waste and deposits on the banks of the stream.
Dr Biju, in the making of the film, had drawn upon various incidents reported in the newspapers and his own experiences. Thus, the viewer gets glimpses of the protest by local residents against a garbage dumping yard, rape of a little girl, the protest by tribals in a forest area, being sought to be displaced in the name of development. The last mentioned incident provides the climax in the form of police firing on the protestors.
The filmmaker said several people, after seeing the film, had asked him questions like “where in Kerala can you find people sleeping on the pavements and bus stands?” In fact, the shots appearing in the film are from footage recorded by the film unit during their travels across the state.
A controversy had erupted over remarks Dr Biju made in a Facebook post against renowned film maker Adoor Gopalakrishnan describing the latter’s latest movie ‘Pinneyum’ as an amateur movie. Adoor, on his part, accused Dr Biju of jealousy and lack of knowledge about movie making.
Dr Biju said a filmmaker of Adoor’s standing should have at least watched his movie and pointed out the flaws before making such a statement.  
He also regretted that most of the film critics, who could write realms and realms about commercial films, chose to ignore “Perariyathavar”.  
While the film had undoubtedly succeeded in raising awareness about the issues, it fails in bringing an emotional connect with the viewers. Unlike a commercial film, there is hardly any drama or neatly tied up conclusions.
There are no negative characters, except the unseen hands of powerful vested interests in the form of the government and the industry. 

Coal to acetylene - the pit stop fixes

The manufacture of acetylene from coal is a path-breaking production route for the Indian chemical industry.
The manufacture of acetylene from coal is a path-breaking production route for the Indian chemical industry.
Coal, found in abundance in many countries, is a wonder feedstock for several major industries and utilities. During the early industrialisation era, coal was used as feedstock in the manufacture of most chemicals, which were derived through mainly the coal-to-acetylene route. 
However, the abundance of crude oil and natural gas has led to these replacing coal, and this proved beneficial for large-capacity production of polymers and petrochemicals despite the process being a complex one — a process using steam crackers. 
This production route requires significant unit sizes in order to realise economies of scale, and remain viable. It is indeed a good option when crude oil is available in plenty and at low cost.
In the case of relatively low volume, ’fit for purpose’ chemicals, the crude oil and natural gas route may not be a viable option especially when such feedstock is imported and the ‘mother’ feed molecules are obtained from mega scale plants that require considerable capex outlay. 
The last decade has seen significant volatility in global crude oil prices. However, even at falling prices, dependence on imports for feedstock poses a risk especially when large production setups are built around such imports. 
For several countries like India, China, Australia, Indonesia, etc, coal as a feedstock is available in abundance and at low prices. It makes sound business sense to exploit this feedstock instead, with due processes plugged in for efficiency.
Acetylene is a very versatile and reactive molecule and is known to be the ’mother of organic synthesis’; many chemicals can be derived from acetylene with relative ease. Manufacturing of relatively low-volume chemicals — for example VCM/PVC, VAM, acrylics, BDO, etc — can be potentially considered through the coal-acetylene route, which is a relatively low capex option more suited for distributed production. 
Further, this process facilitates the capture of the carbon content as a valuable chemical product and hence contains carbon emission.
The manufacture of acetylene from coal can be made efficient and cost-competitive through integrated process interventions at every stage of the production life cycle:
Managing the quality of coal: Coal drying, coal beneficiation, de-ashing of coal, efficient coal handling, and feedstock management and coal conversion.
Managing the conversion process: The process involves conversion of coal to carbide, carbide to acetylene, and conversion of acetylene to product molecule.
Energy integration and optimisation
Plant and process efficiencies
Managing the carbon fototprin: Coal ash management, carbon capture and re-utilisation.
Effective project evaluation, design and execution through the entire project life cycle.
Mahesh Marve
Mahesh Marve
Tata Consulting Engineers, through its wide knowledge base and expertise in coal, chemicals and logistics systems, can provide holistic support for this potentially path-breaking production route for the Indian chemical industry and contribute to the ‘Make in India’ campaign in a truly meaningful way.
Courtesy: Tata Review
Mahesh Marve is senior vice-president and chief technology officer, Tata Consulting Engineers

Nita Ambani becomes first Indian woman to be nominated to IOC

Nita Ambani becomes the first Indian woman to be nominated into the International Olympics Committee (IOC). Her roles as Reliance Foundation founder, FSDC founder, Mumbai Indians IPL team owner backs up her nod.
Nita Ambani
Nita Ambani
Nita Ambani, the Founder and Chairperson of Reliance Foundation, was on Friday nominated as a candidate to be a member of the International Olympics Committee (IOC), the supreme authority of the Olympic Games, by its Members Election Commission.
Part of a list of eight members who were selected by the Commission, she is the first Indian woman to be nominated to the IOC, and will go on to create history if she gets elected in August 2016 at the 129th IOC Session.
Reliance Foundation is the philanthropic arm of energy and petrochemicals major Reliance Industries Limited (RIL).
Ms. Ambani, the wife of RIL Chairman and Managing Director Mukesh Ambani, has been involved in promoting different sports in India with focus on young talent through her grassroots programs, which has reached over 3 million children around the country. 
This proved to be a defining point for the Commission to enlist Mrs. Ambani as an appropriate candidate and as India’s representative.
Her nomination comes at a time when a new procedure was followed to select the candidates. 
“It is recognition of India’s growing importance on world stage. I believe in the power of sports to shape the future of our youth. Sports bring communities and links cultures and generations together, so I’m really excited about this honour,” Ms. Ambani told a News18 correspondent.
The new approach also involved integrity checks by the IOC Ethics Commission which further strengthens the appeal of Ms. Ambani’s nomination. She was selected based on her illustrious career. 
Nita Ambani is also the Founder and Chairperson of India’s Football Sports Development Limited, through which she has shown extraordinary commitment to developing sports talent in India.
Led by Ms. Ambani, the Reliance Foundation Jr. NBA Programme has reached out to nearly 2 million children across 2,200 schools in India. She is also the owner of Mumbai Indians cricket team.
As a member of IOC, Ms. Ambani will participate in various sessions where the core elements of the Games will be discussed. Selecting the host city and discussing issues will be some of the responsibilities that Ms. Ambani will assist in as a member.
The IOC’s role is to supervise, support, and monitor the organization of the Games; ensure that they run smoothly; and make sure that the rules of the Olympic Charter are respected. 
As a member, Ms. Ambani will be at the forefront of this supervision for Indian players who will participate in the Games.
The Executive Board (EB) of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) will propose in all eight new members, including Ms. Ambani of India, for election at the 129th IOC Session ahead of the Olympic Games 2016 this summer.
The addition of eight new members would bring the total number of Members to 99. The 129th IOC Session is scheduled to take place from 2 to 4 and on 21 August 2016.
Once elected, Ms. Ambani and the other new members will continue to be members until the age of 70.
"The list is the result of the first targeted recruitment process for IOC Membership as outlined in Olympic Agenda 2020, the IOC’s strategic roadmap for the future of the Olympic Movement," a press release from IOC said after a meeting of its EB at its headquarters in Lausanne, Switzerland on Friday.
It said a new set of criteria was applied by the IOC Members Election Commission, which proposed the list of candidates to the EB. The Commission devised a procedure aimed at targeting new members with skills and experience needed by the IOC. The new approach includes integrity checks by the IOC Ethics Commission.
"The proposed candidatures represent a cross-section of expertise from the worlds of sport, culture, medicine, sociology, business, law and management. Gender equality is guaranteed with four women and four men on the list," the release said.
Apart from Ms. Ambani, the other candidates are athlete Sari Essayah of Finland, who is chairperson of the Finnish Christian Democratic Party; Italian bobsleigher Ivo Ferriani, president of the International Bobsleigh and Skeleton Federation; Luis Moreno of Colombia, President of the Inter-American Development Bank; Auvita Rapilla of Papua New Guinea, Secretary General of the Papua New Guinea Olympic Committee, ANOC and ONOC Executive Committee Member; film producer Anant Singh of South Africa; Tricia Smith of Canada, Olympian, rower, President of the Canadian Olympic Committee; and Karl Stoss of Austria, Chairman of the Managing Board of Casinos Austria AG, President of the Austrian Olympic Committee.
“These eight candidates that we are proposing to the next IOC Session are a strong and varied group of individuals that are experts in their respective fields and will make great contributions,” said IOC President Thomas Bach. “They have been vetted by new criteria in keeping with the recommendations of Olympic Agenda 2020. These candidates will add extra strength and diversity to our already universal orchestra of IOC Members.”
The International Olympic Committee is the supreme authority of the Olympic Movement. It acts as a catalyst for collaboration between all parties of the Olympic family, from the National Olympic Committees (NOCs), the International Sports Federations (IFs), the athletes, the Organising Committees for the Olympic Games (OCOGs), to partners and United Nations agencies. The International Olympic Committee (IOC) shepherds success through a wide range of programmes and projects. It ensures the regular celebration of the Olympic Games, supports all affiliated member organisations of the Olympic Movement and strongly encourages, by appropriate means, the promotion of the Olympic values.
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