Sunday, November 30, 2014

Vietnam is minting its millions by exporting pepper

Vietnam has displaced India as the biggest supplier of pepper – this has been reported by the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization. It appears that the pepper farmers of Vietnam are prospering because of their black and white pepper products.
The price of black pepper at about $9 a kilogram – it was $2 a decade ago. White pepper, on the other hand, costs as much as $13, a threefold gain. This is as per the International Pepper Community (IPC) which is a producer group in Jakarta.
The profits are rolling in because consumption has exceeded supply for about eight years and the increase has been boosted by the growing demand for seasoning as Asia eats more meat – this is the opinion of Greg Estep, the global head of spices and vegetable ingredients at Singapore-based Olam International.
Obviously, Vietnam is prospering when commodity producers have to accept a slump in prices from crude oil to iron ore to soybeans.
The surge in the $2.5 billion pepper export market contrasts with a fourth consecutive year of declining commodity prices as supply gluts emerge. Vietnam's crop expanded 15-fold over two decades, displacing India as the biggest supplier, the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization says.
As far as statistics of the IPC goes, Vietnam harvested 122,000 tons last year, while Indonesia produced 63,000 tons and India 58,000 tons, according to IPC data.
Incidentally, pepper is cultivated on vines, which grow best in tropical climates from 460 meters above sea level. Vietnam's harvest runs from February to April. As per FAO, pepper and ginger are the oldest traded spices and, while the first exports were recorded 4,000 years ago, trade took off from the 1400s subsequent to Europeans pioneering maritime trading links with Asia.

Do not go in for aisle seats in flights – it could be dangerous

Many passengers prefer to choose the aisle seat in flights because that way they can avoid getting squeezed in between other passengers or between the wall of the aircraft and the passenger sitting next to him.
However, choosing aisle seats in flights are fraught with unseen dangers – in the opinion of Chuck Gerba, a microbiologist from the University of Arizona who is a leader in infectious diseases, these seats are the ones that could carry the highest number of germs because of the number of people it gets exposed to as they walk by or even touch so that they do not lose their balance.
Therefore, people should avoid aisle seats since whoever occupies that seat would be more likely to come in contact with, and be contaminated by, other passengers on the flight.
It seems when members of a tour group with norovirus came down with symptoms of uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea during a flight from Boston to Los Angeles, they had to make regular visits to the bathroom. The extent of contamination forced the plane to go in for an emergency landing in Chicago to enable the infected passengers to be taken to the hospital.
Subsequently, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention in the US contacted all passengers on the plane to establish if anyone else had contracted the virus from the flight and their findings revealed that most of those who had caught norovirus were sitting in an aisle seats.
Hence, they were more likely to have made contact with the infected passengers who were walking back and forth to the bathroom because the affected passengers would have been holding onto the aisle seats to maintain their balance – accordingly, the risk of contamination was increased.

Britain mulling idea to ban high-sugar food for children

Alarmed at the growing rate of obesity among children, Britain is toying with the idea to ban high-sugar content foods for children.
As per the latest Health Survey for England it is revealed that 28% of children aged between two and 15 were classed as overweight or obese and that a number of popular children's breakfast cereals contain as much as 30% sugar.
If it had its way, Labour would outlaw high levels of sugar, fat and salt in children's food and have GPs prescribe exercise. This has been indicated by Andy Burnham, the shadow health secretary. In his opinion, many more actions would be necessary to tackle lifestyle problems as part of NHS reforms. He has added that it was a matter of grave concern about the level of sugar being fed to children and pledged it was time to tackle the food industry.
He has remarked that he was considering how to impose a mandatory maximum limit on fat, salt and sugar in foods that are consumed by children. One method would be to tackle lifestyle and Andy Burnham has suggested that family doctors should refer patients for exercise to help them tackle weight and healthy eating problems.
Incidentally, the Action on Sugar group of specialists are concerned with sugar and its effects on health and wants a ‘sugar tax’ imposed. As per this group, one in five 10 to 11-year-olds in the UK are now obese, while one in three are overweight. In order to check this trend, some measures should be introduced to cut added sugar in food by 40% by 2020, to cut fat in foods and to ban sports sponsorship by "junk food" companies.

Age-old proverbs in new capsules (5)

In the course of this blog I have written only a couple of lines on each proverb – but, children have to write essays on them and when they grow up, they have to carry these thoughts to their work places in whatever field they may finally land up in. These and other similar proverbs would crop up in their speeches, in their interactions with subordinates, colleagues and even superiors. Therefore, with these last six samples, I would like to close this session of dissecting and analyzing our knowledge base –
Take care of the pennies; pounds will take care of themselves – pennies today have been regaled to the level of ‘installments’. Whatever is on offer is yours if you agree to repay the installments. Your financial loss is the financier’s gain. He is investing his pounds; you take care of his pennies.
The pen is mightier than the sword – journalism is not what it should be. The media, in whatever form, is controlled by people who have different reasons for promoting certain individuals or conglomerates. Anyone who works with him has to toe the line that he has drawn, overstepping is viewed seriously. Since you are pocketing his cheques on the first of every month, obviously you cannot revolt. Exceptions may result in unpleasantness. Your pen is in his control and it is the sword that rules supreme, the pen is just a showpiece.
There cannot be smoke without fire – science has given us the ability to generate smoke without fire. The ‘tear gas shells’ used by the Police to disperse crowds is an example. The ‘smoke screens’ regularly employed on the screens to camouflage film celebrities while they change dresses for the song and dance sequences is another example.
Rolling stone gathers no moss – this was meant to convey the philosophy that one has to pursue something with dedication because continuity spells success. One should not keep jumping from one subject to another. The Jack of all trades ultimately becomes master of none. But, today job hopping pays dividends, especially in the IT industry.
The morning shows the day – yeah, tune in to the morning TV shows to know what pitfalls are in store for you, which roads will be closed for passing through of dignitaries, hence need to be avoided, which trains are running late, which flights have been diverted etc. The forecasts may not be accurate but, who cares – the TV anchor has done her job, the forecast are not her creations.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating – when you do something, it should serve some sort of purpose. He, who produces something that is not saleable, loses out on competition. His well-wishers shy away from him. His patrons vanish. Obviously, he has to carry out preliminary surveys and study the market before launching his product.
United we stand, divided we fall – the gist of coalition Politics was thought of by our ancestors when the wise old man called his sons to his deathbed and explained this truth. This type of unity becomes stale once the novelty wears off. Problems with such forced unity are encountered when there is a conflict of interests and bargaining powers come into play. You cannot get something for nothing hence, always, the equations are to be solved to everyone’s satisfaction. Then only can there be happiness all around.
Where there is a will, there is a way – all young girls dream of becoming a model for some product or another. The will is very much present – what is required are opportunities. Revealing a bit more than one usually does can impress makers of music videos (popularly known as remixes) and open up doors one felt would never open up. It is up to the individual to find the way to glory.
When in Rome, do as Romans do – this is especially true in our food habits. When one ventures out of his mother’s apron strings, he is faced with a whole lot of problems, major ones being related to his culinary habits. Wada-pau culture of Mumbai needs to be accepted by the Bengali from Kolkata as the Sardarji of Patiala needs to accept that idli-dosa as menu for breakfast in Bangalore. This is probably the reason why packaged and precooked food and associated masalas, marketed as Mothers’ recipes, have captured the imagination of our younger generation. There are many more proverbs. I have selected only a few to highlight the fact that the proverbs that we, our fathers and our grandfathers grew up with have not lost their relevance. Otherwise they would not find mentions in the school curriculum of today.

A few tips for ensuring domestic bliss

Today I had been to the market and had brought home some of the wonderful vegetables that are unique to winter, vegetables like green peas, cauliflower, carrots and new potatoes. While everyone knows about the first three, many may not know about the fourth – namely new potatoes. This is the freshly dug up potatoes that have a light layer of skin on its surface that can be rubbed off quite easily. This type of potatoes are lovely to make the dum aloo.
Anyway, this is not about making dum aloo but a small piece on how to ensure domestic bliss. Unlike western culture where marriage and divorce go hand in hand and where one-night stands and live-in does not raise eyebrows, we Indians do not believe in the concept of easy-come, easy-go. Yes, unhappy marriages in India do end nowadays in separation but that is not common. What is common is that Indian couples live out their lives irrespective of differences. They realize that adjustment is most essential in life and believe in compromises.
Once upon a time, the Indian family meant a joint family with parents and the children living together, at times with grandparents, uncles and aunts. However, over the last half century, things have changed. Children have moved away from parents in order to avail better employment opportunities. As a result, the joint family system has broken down and has given rise to what is known as nuclear families.
This has its plus and minus points – among the pluses are the chance for the children to be independent and live their own lives. In today’s world everyone is ambitious and, it is but natural that the children leave an impression in whatever they do. The parents can watch from a distance and, instead of sighing, should take pride in whatever their next generation does.
On the negative side, the separation affects their children – they miss out on living with grandparents and the familial bonding with others in the family like uncles, aunts, and cousins gradually weakens. Anyway – a few tips for domestic bliss to keep the better half happy and in good humor are to help out in the kitchen once in a while – not necessarily by washing dishes but also by carrying out small jobs like shelling the peas or skinning the garlics.
Of course – there is another tip provided by someone that I had come across once upon a time. It was the version of the husband. He had said that his wife takes all the minor decisions while he takes only the major ones. When pressed to clarify he said that she took all decisions of how to spend the money, when and where. He took decisions of whether Russia and the US should shake hands and become friends.

Z – The alphabet that comes last but is, by no means, the least

In my school days, I would struggle to find words starting with the last letter of the English alphabets namely ‘Z’ – my mind would go blank after zoo, zebra and Zulu.
The zoo is the abbreviation of a zoological garden which a large enclosure, suitably protected by fences and gorges where four legged animals was on view for the benefit of their curious two legged counterparts.
The zebra was one unique four legged specimen that is seen in the zoos and it remains a mystery even today – does it sport white stripes on a black background or vice-versa?
The next word, Zulu, would be used as a common noun to denote tribal characters who roamed the jungles of Africa, their ears and nose pierced with tiny human bones signifying that they belonged to a tribe who relished human tit-bits for breakfast, lunch and dinner!!
Later I came to know about a person called Zorro, a master swordsman capable of hiding his identity by just putting a patch over his eyes. With a sudden swish of his sword, he would leave his trademark imprint of ‘Z’ on all those who dared cross his path.
And, then came the zombies – human shaped robots controlled by unseen elements. They were there before anyone had ever thought in terms of ‘Star Trek’ and the likes.
In our youth, we were fascinated by the zip. It was associated with fasteners and, starting with purses and bags, these one day graduated to become a part and parcel of our apparel. Buttons on trousers became outdated, jackets and evening gowns switched over to zips. The zip, short form of zipper, was more convenient to use. Initially made of metal, the manufacturers switched over to nylon zips! Necessity is the mother of invention, they say. How right they are!!
The latest zip is, of course, the zipouch – to keep the veggies inside, zip up the pouch and store it in the fridge! Of course, the word zip carries a different meaning to the computer geeks. ‘Zip a file’ means to compress it into a fraction of its original size. As and when required, the file can be ‘unzipped’ to its normal size.
Zap is another favorite of computer pros – it means deleting the contents of a file while retaining its database structure.
After zip and zap, we naturally come to zoom! All TV sets have the options to view the offerings in either the normal or the zoom mode. Zoom means to magnify and is also the name of an Indian TV channel.

Death on railway tracks increasing – what will happen when Bullet trains arrive?

This should be some food for thought for the minister of railways and his team – how to reduce the growing incidences of death on the railway tracks in view of Bullet trains arriving in India. Agreed a totally new concept would have to be worked out to ensure that men and animals do not come on to the tracks and get killed. Probably a new route would need to be evolved but can the problem of men and animals wandering onto the tracks be really avoided?
The main reasons for such unfortunate deaths on railway tracks have been identified as trespassing, falling off trains, accidents and suicides. This has been revealed by a senior railway ministry official who is involved with the safety wing.
Obviously, the mindset of people need to change and, while accidents like suicides just cannot be stopped, others can be contained by proper policing and by punishing those who do not follow the rules.
As per statistics made available by the railways - there were 14,973 deaths in 2011 which increased to 16,336 in 2012 and, further to 19,997 in 2013. During 2014, the figure is 18,735 lives till October.
The railways on their part urge the passengers to use foot over-bridges and to avoid crossing of rail lines but, there have been instances when people crossing the lines get mowed down due to no fault of theirs. It could be due to surrounding atmospheric conditions like poor visibility during winter. Or – rushing to catch the train when sudden announcements are made about change in platform number of trains.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Miseries of tourists – Thomas Cook shells out £9400 as compensation

Caution for tourists – never be misled by big name tour operators. A British family from Kent, had gone to visit the picturesque island in the Ionian Sea for a relaxing getaway and have learned this the hard way.
They had had booked with tour operator Thomas Cook and stayed at the Corfu Sea Gardens hotel in September 2013. However, their holiday was ruined by illness just a few days after their arrival and they have been awarded £9,400 in compensation to be paid by Thomas Cook after they fell seriously ill at the Greek resort.
It seems the hotel they had been put up in was one where raw sewage leaked into baby pools of the hotel and the kitchen area was infested with rats.
The food appeared to be constantly re-served throughout the day and was often cold or undercooked. In addition, the restaurants of the hotel were infested with flies and the kitchen areas attracted rats.
Obviously, it was not the sort of holidays they had bargained for. And, due to the illness, mum-of-two 39-year-old nurse Tarina Phillips and three other family members had no other alternative but to seek medical treatment during their stay thee on holiday.
None in her family was spared – her 19-year-old son had to be taken to hospital by ambulance after complaining of serious stomach cramps. Her 37-year-old husband went in for treatment from an on-site doctor as his condition worsened - he had to be given intravenous fluids and antibiotics in an attempt to control his symptoms.
Their two-year-old daughter, who was one at the time, was affected by ‘severe’ weight loss during their stay at the hotel.
As Tarina explained, they started getting symptoms within the first few days and the illness lasted throughout their stay. While her daughter lost a significant amount of weight, her husband was had to spend most of his time confined in the hotel room.

Japan seizes the initiative from the US – sends probe to mine an asteroid

Japan is set to launch a space probe Hayabusa2 aboard main H-IIA rocket from Tanegashima Space Centre in southern Japan on a six-year mission to mine a distant asteroid. This has been disclosed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
The takeoff was scheduled for yesterday but had to be postponed due to bad weather.
The 31 billion ($333 million) project is to send a probe towards the 1999 JU3 asteroid in deep space. The activities of the probe would be to blast a crater in the asteroid in order to collect virgin materials unexposed to millennia of solar wind and radiation for study.
The objective would be to find answers to the fundamental questions about life and the universe.
Hayabusa2 is about the size of a domestic refrigerator and is expected to reach the asteroid in mid-2018 – it would be there for approximately 18 months studying the surface. Such a timeframe would allow Japan to go one-up over the US because the tentative plan of NASA is looking at a possible 2025.
Incidentally, President Barack Obama had suggested a mission on similar lines. He wanted NASA to try to seize or lasso an asteroid where astronauts could go and explore it for finding valuable data on how the planet Earth evolved and, as per reports of NASA, it is making progress on one of the most challenging parts of its ambitious asteroid-retrieval mission — to locate a suitable rock to shrink-wrap in space. It seems scientists have identified a dozen or so promising targets for the mission. The plan is to drag a small rock — or a piece of a larger one — into a stable orbit around the moon, where it would be visited by astronauts by 2025.

The black-white divide in America - Ferguson police officer who shot dead a black teenager resigns

It was another shocking incident of black-white divide that America witnessed four months back when a white police officer Darren Wilson shot dead a black teenager 18-year-old Michael Brown. It is hard to believe that this can happen in a country where the ‘n**r’ word is taboo and where Martin Luther King lived and Barack Obama rules.
The incident had similarities with that of another white George Zimmerman shooting dead an unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin in Florida.
As per latest information, Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed unarmed Michael Brown, has resigned from the Ferguson Police Department – he took this decision nearly four months after the confrontation. The incident evoked sharp reactions and led to protests in the St. Louis suburb and across the nation.
Incidentally, the officer had been on administrative leave since the shooting on Aug. 9 and his decision was conveyed by one of his attorneys who added that the resignation was with immediate effective.
It may be recalled that a grand jury had spent more than three months reviewing evidence in the case before declining in November to issue charges against Wilson who had told jurors that he feared for his life when Brown hit him and, therefore, reached for his gun.
Of course, the U.S. Justice Department is still conducting a civil rights investigation into the shooting and a separate probe of police department practices.
Following the shooting, Officer Wilson had gone into hiding and had not made any public statements but broke his silence only after the decision of the grand jury.
Incidentally, Wilson had a clean record and a few months before the shooting, he had received a commendation for detaining a suspect in a drug case.

Modern day slavery in the UK – over 13,000 held as slaves

When figures of slaves in the UK had been released by the National Crime Agency's Human Trafficking Centre, the number was 2, 744 but that appears to be the tip of the iceberg. A fresh study carried out by the Home Office puts the revised figure of slaves in the UK at an alarmingly 13,000.
The modern day slaves include women forced into prostitution, imprisoned domestic staff, and field and factory workers. They have been trapped in conditions of slavery.
Professor Bernard Silverman, who compiled the statistical analysis behind the figures and, in his opinion, this modern day slavery is very seldom revealed and, hence, it poses a major challenge to assess its scale.
As per the National Crime Agency, a large proportion of the victims documented in 2013 were from overseas, although the UK was the third most common country of origin apart from Romania, Poland, Albania and Nigeria.
In order to combat this evil, plans are being worked out for coordinated action across Government departments, agencies and law enforcement in the UK and internationally. The strategy would be on lines similar for countering terrorism and fight organized crime. The objective would be to identify those responsible for such activities and try and prevent additional cases apart from raising awareness for the victims.
In this connection it may be mentioned that modern day slavery in the form of bonded labor is rampant in India. As per this report of BBC indicates, people who are forced into bonded labor have no chance to escape and, if caught, they suffer physical injuries like cutting off the hands.
While reporting on the subject, CNN has revealed that the Walk Free Foundation has found that globally, almost 36 million people are subject to modern slavery. India, China, Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Russia account for nearly 22 million people (61%) who are suffering in bondage with the worst offender being India which accounted for an estimated 14.29 million people.
The report defines human slavery as "human trafficking, forced labor, debt bondage, forced or servile marriage, or commercial sexual exploitation."

Age-old proverbs in new capsules (4)

When I started this series of blogs, I wondered of how others would take them. In a world overflowing with grief and sorrow, we need to search for some form of light and make an effort to view Life in a lighter vein, from a different perspective. Hence, here goes some more proverbs to ponder over …
Nothing succeeds like success – the path to success is lined with currency notes and favors. To get something, you have to part with something. These are today’s watch words. Hence, success has strings attached. Tiny, invisible strings to those not in the know.
People living in glass houses should not throw stones – unfortunately, those living in glass houses do not know that they are living in glass houses. We love to lay the blame at others’ feet not realizing that when we point a finger at somebody, the four remaining fingers point back at us.
Rome was not built in a day – this is common knowledge. However, when a minister announces a plan it is invariably a hasty plan - constructing a bridge or a flyover or a railway line or some such item can seldom get completed in the course of the tenure of the minister. Even if he get reelected next time there is no guarantee that he would get the same ministry. In the bargain, haste makes waste.
Slow and steady wins the race – tortoises have learnt the tricks of the trade. They have mastered the art of taking life head on in the fast track. Today we do not use multiplication tables or slide rules – we punch out the answers in the calculators. We do not write letters – we send SMS. Remember the kid William (created by Richmal Crompton). He had his own typical methods of spelling – spell the word just as it is pronounced. We have come to that state. So, ‘love’ today is ‘luv’.
Spare the rod and spoil the child – the days when children used to look up to elders as role models have vanished. Wielding ‘rods’ to make errant children fall in line is absolutely taboo since such cases are viewed very seriously by reps of Human Rights Commission. Result – you have to keep your fingers crossed, hope for the best and be prepared for the worst.
Time and tide wait for no man – the hypothetical Time Machine could take you back in time. We have had several Hollywood movies on this theme – from the Space age, you can be transported to the Stone Age at the flick of a switch. Looking at the deteriorating qualities of various Public services, we complain that they are taking us back in time. On the other hand, we shoot videos at will on camera enabled mobiles and transmit them all over the countryside just to prove that we are moving with the times. As to tides, if our efforts to interlink all the major rivers do succeed, we could consider controlling the tides also.
To err is human, to forgive divine – yes, true even today. We have seen second rung political leaders shouting off their mouths in Public just to bolster their images and improve their standing with their superiors. Subsequently, they start whimpering for forgiveness. The best part of such incidents is that they are forgiven – in the interests of the Party. In Politics, you can commit murder and get away with it.

Drones are a new source of danger for aircraft

Drones used to be called UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and were operated by the law enforcing agencies in order to track down unwanted elements for elimination. However, with the introduction of drones for use by commercial establishments the sky is getting overcrowded and airlines are finding it difficult to avoid these airborne gadgets.
As reported by the Federal Aviation Administration in Washington, airline pilots have told safety administrators regarding at least of 25 near misses which could have been catastrophic. The incidents are from a Jet Blue flight arriving at LaGuardia airport earlier this month to close calls at Norfolk, Virginia and New Orleans, Louisiana.
Moreover, last month a drone came within 25m of a passenger plane landing at London's Southend Airport.
The dangers posed by drones in the air cannot be overlooked because companies like Amazon want to use drones to deliver goods and this unique unmanned aircraft industry is set to boom. FAA has estimated that in the US alone there could be as many as 7500 commercial drones in the skies within five years.
Google has entered the business of using drones for making supplies - in Australia, it made delivery of packages including chocolate bars, dog treats and cattle vaccines to two farmers in Queensland. The deliveries were made by a 1.5m-wide (5ft) single-wing drone prototype that has four propellers that move into different positions for different stages of flight and the goods fit into a gap in the middle of the wing. It made use of a fishing line like apparatus to lower the payload to customers from about 150 feet above the ground.
Other applications of drones in civilian life are in Bhutan, where these are used to deliver medical supplies to remote clinics and in Namibia the World Wildlife Fund is trying to spot wildlife poachers.

Does anyone recollect the Calcutta of old?

Calcutta has been renamed Kolkata and, along with a new name, the Calcutta of old has lost many of its landmarks and charms.
Does anyone recollect the Calcutta where marketing on the occasion of Durga Puja used to be in the Harlalka opposite Medical College or in the India Silk House on College Street or the Kamalalaya Stores on Dharamtolla Street? In those days, this Kamalalaya Stores was the only departmental store where one could get lost for the whole day, without realizing it. It stocked every conceivable object from safety pins to suitcases and had a Section devoted to toys and also wonderful refreshment room – a visit to both these was a must after completion of purchases. The purchases would automatically move to the Centralized Delivery counter located at the exit. In those days, very people owned cars and the uniformed guard at the gate would hail a taxi for you, if you so desired.
Does anyone recollect that purchase of new footwear for Pujas would be kept in abeyance till the day when all the latest designs and prices were disclosed on the last page of leading newspapers?
Does anyone recollect a park called Wellington Square where Political parties would organize meetings on Saturdays? Or the Hawkers’ corners in Shyambazar and Gariahat meant usually for those with shoe string budgets?
Does anyone recollect trudging along to see the Durga idols at the Headquarters of the Fire Brigade or the one at Beadon Street? Both were famous for innovative designs – I still remember the idol of the Fire Brigade where Asura was depicted as kneeling down in front of Devi Durga and pleading with outstretched arms for mercy.
Or the idols at Beadon Street modeled in lines of Ajanta frescos and the celebrations at Baghbazar where the fair was an added attraction.
Of course, there existed a great cultural divide between residents of the North and the South. Whilst the former were more conservative, their counterparts were more liberal, progressive and advanced. Soon after the release of that beautiful cinema ‘Hatari’, a restaurant of the same name sprung up on Rash Behari Avenue and became an instant hit. It would be patronized by the youth of both North and South. Subsequently, this divide kept growing, especially with people from other parts of the country preferring to settle down in pockets of South Calcutta. There were Malayalees, Maharastrians and Bangaloreans. Kolkata welcomed all of them with outstretched arms and, from them, emerged luminaries like Usha Uthup, Thankomani Kutty, Derek O’Brien and Dr. N. Vishwanathan.
Kolkata today has an underground rail system and above the ground it is a maze of shopping malls, flyovers and potholes. It has undergone change in color from red to a mix of blue, white and green but these are not indications of change in character or culture of the city. The roads get waterlogged even now, as it used to sixty years ago.
Does anyone recollect that song – ‘the ladies of Calcutta…’ sung by Peter Sellers in the film ‘the Millionairess’?

Goof up by TV news anchor on Doordarshan, India’s national channel

This was a major embarrassment for Doordarshan, the national TV channel of India, when a news anchor goofed up her words and the top man of Doordarshan has blamed it on shortage of adequately trained staff.
The incident pertains to the inauguration day of International Film Festival of India (IFFI) held in Goa. The Doordarshan anchor had introduced the Governor of Goa Mridula Sinha as the "Governor of India" and the clip, posted on YouTube, went viral. The anchor is seen talking to a number of people who were arriving for the film festival and it was carried live on November 20, the opening day of IFFI.
It seems she was totally clueless about how to interview personalities at such important events.
Needless to say that it attracted much criticism for Doordarshan on social media.
Jawhar Sircar, the CEO of Prasar Bharati which controls Doordarshan has quoted alarming figures as regards the staffing position of Doordarashan.
He has indicated that his people are looking into the matter and has agreed that such "gaffes" cannot be allowed to go on. He also added that with 18,000 vacancies in regular posts and no regular recruitment in the last 20 years the Station Directors had to depend on casual employees and many of them are not skilled enough.
Moreover, as far as supervisory staff are concerned, such cadres are as good as non-existent with 180 vacancies among 191 posts – hence, there is no one to check gaffes.

Tourism in India - visa-on-arrival to boost tourism

The tourism industry in India is awaiting a revival because it received only 6.58 million tourists in 2012 which is very low a figure as compared to other Asian countries like Thailand and Malaysia. Hence, the Ministry has extended the concept of visa-on-arrival to countries like the US, Australia, Brazil, Germany and Japan. Tourists from these countries can now avail of this visa-on-arrival in India.
Actually, visitors from 43 countries no longer need to queue up at local consulates, but can instead apply for them online and collect the visas at airports. This scheme will be available at nine major airports in India.
Till now, India offered visa-on-arrival to visitors from only 12 countries and others had to undergo a long waiting period before they could now whether they would be allowed to enter India after submitting their applications at visa processing centers.
In the opinion of tourism Minister Mahesh Sharma, the change would be boost to the tourism industry. But, it has to be agreed that unless there are better infrastructure like communication and hotels and unless the mindset of Indians change as a whole, unless they stop eve-teasing, it would be difficult to achieve the goal.
There have been innumerable instances of tourists falling in the traps of unscrupulous elements and leaving the country with a bad impression that gets talked about on social networking websites. That is certainly not desirable for tourism. Hence, if the minister of tourism wants full satisfaction, he would have to coordinate with other ministries to streamline the whole setup so that the tourist feels at home and carries back with him a good impression.
Incidentally, boosting tourism is on the agenda of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Strange Nepalese ritual – slaughtering thousands of buffaloes and other animals every 5-years

A strange ritual takes place once every 5-years in Nepal when over 250,000 animals like buffalo, birds and goats are slaughtered in the name of religion as the country embarks on a two-day religious festival where the animals are sacrificed to appease a Hindu goddess.
It is a Hindu ceremony and millions of them flock to it – it is held once in five years at the temple of Gadhimai, the goddess of power, in Bariyarpur, Nepal, near the Indian border. As per reports of PETA, the last time the festival was held, in 2009, more than 250,000 animals were killed.
The festival starts with the ritual ceremonial slaughter at dawn with a ceremonial sacrifice of five animals, namely a rat, a goat, a rooster, a pig and a pigeon – this is the ‘panch bali’. Then follows the 5000 buffaloes in a field near the temple, after which two days of ritual animal slaughter takes place.
The animal rights activists like PETA are campaigning to put a stop to this inhuman practice but in spite of their best efforts, the organizers of this Hindu festival have revealed that this year will be the biggest yet.
It seems nearly 2.5 million devotees have turned arrived for the festival, and as per a local government official the total number of animals that have been sacrificed just cannot be ascertained. The word is sacrificed instead of slaughtered.
The first day saw 6,000 buffaloes sacrificed – the animals were coralled into holding pens in the fields, along with at least 100,000 goats and other animals. The festivities will continue on Saturday when at least another 100,000 animals will die in the name of goddess Gadhimai.
The practice is to bury the heads of the sacrificed animals in a huge pit while the animal hides and skin will be sold to traders who have contracted in advance to buy them.

India must be grateful to the US for falling oil prices

India has experienced a drop in the prices of petrol from Rs 74 per litre to Rs 64 per litre since June and, if the trend continues and it goes below Rs 60/litre, it would be the first time that has happened since May 2011. The government of the day is happy at this advantageous situation but the credit should actually go to the US because of the fracking boom.
Within a very short time, the price of a barrel of oil has dropped from more than $100 to about $70, and gas is now cheaper than it has been in years thanks to America's fracking boom. Fracking is a process through which oil and natural gas are extracted out of shale located miles underground.
This has come as a bother to OPEC, the cartel of oil-producing nations that has historically been able to calibrate the price of oil - and ultimately gasoline - by increasing or decreasing supply. However, in view of the developments in the US, OPEC has announced that it won't fight the price skid by cutting production this time.
Observers interpret this as a sign that prices will continue to fall, and the more costly production technique of fracking could, in the long run, become cost-prohibitive.
The fact remains that while Saudi Arabia, the leader of OPEC, may not have too much of a problem with shale oil being available at $60 per barrel, other OPEC countries may not be able to withstand the steady production and the falling prices it brings. Venezuela and Nigeria need levels close to $100 or above to fund national budgets. Saudi rival Iran is also suffering with the price drop in addition to huge loss in revenue as a result of sanctions that have been imposed due to its nuclear program. Even the economy of Russia is in trouble, and falling oil revenues would mean a problem there also.

More than 120 dead, 370 injured in bomb attack in mosque in Nigeria

It was another dreaded Friday for worshippers of Kano, the second largest city of Nigeria when suicide bombers and gunmen attacked the main mosque and left 120 dead with another 370 injured. The gunmen opened attack after the suicide bombers struck and the incident bears the hallmark of the Boko Haram militants.
Reports indicate that hundreds of worshippers had been gathering to listen to a sermon from the city's chief imam and prayers had got under way at around 2pm, local time.
As per a witness, two bombs exploded, one after the other, in the premises of the Grand Mosque seconds after the prayers began.
The mosque's leader is the Emir of Kano, the second highest Islamic authority in the country and he had recently urged that people in the north of Nigeria should take up arms against Boko Haram. However, it is not known as to whether he was present at the time the attack took place. The Islamist organization Boko Haram has been fighting a guerilla war to bring about a hardline Islamic state since 2009 and is responsible for the kidnap of more than 200 teenage girls from a school in the northern town of Chibok in April this year. The girls are still in captivity.
Due to such attacks, over 1.5 million Nigerians who have been displaced by Boko Haram have been flocking to refugee camps across the country's northeast to add to the woes of the administration because the facilities are overcrowded and there is also a shortage of supplies.
Right now, the world is in the grip of terrorism carried out by three major outfits al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and the ISIS – each of them has a different agenda. While al-Qaeda wages war against the US, the Boko Haram wants Nigerians to prevent western cultures from taking over and the ISIS wants a totally Islamic State where only Muslims can stay.
Of course, the attack of anything that is western culture is not new to Nigeria – it has been in India also where outfits like the Ram Sena in Bangalore and the Shiv Sena in Mumbai rears its head once in a while.

No respite for Gaza – UN declares emergency after sudden floods

Over 400,000 Palestinians are trying to come to terms after having been displaced from their homes due to the 50-day summer conflict with Israel that came to an end in August. However, their lives are in turmoil again because of the sudden floods following two days of heavy rains – it has forced the UN to declare a state of emergency in Gaza Strip.
There are no reports of any casualty but hundreds of people have been evacuated and 63 schools are closed for the day in Gaza City.
It may be recalled that in October, international donors had pledged $5.4bn for rebuilding Gaza. But the heavy rains struck the small territory at a difficult time – even now, thousands of Gazan families still live in communal shelters or the ruins of their own homes after the conflict.
Moreover, in the Shejaiya neighborhood, where air strikes during the recent conflict had damaged many of the buildings, the residents are already in the grip of a cold and severe winter without any electricity or water.
The conflict in Gaza ended in August based on an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire – it was called between Israel and the Palestinians and under the agreement Israel agreed to ease its eight-year blockade of Gaza, while Egypt would re-open its border crossing and the militant groups and Israel would cease hostilities.
As per UN reports, the seven-week Gaza conflict that finally ended in a truce on 26 August had resulted in death of over 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians. The casualties also included 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel.

Age-old proverbs in new capsules (3)

This is the 3rd set of proverbs – old and time-tested bits of wisdom that have traveled down the centuries and are, in my inion, valid even today. Hope it does not bore you ….....
Every cloud has a silver lining – a stock phrase to soothe ruffled feathers. When faced with a problem that has no easy solution, it is customary to console the aggrieved by suggesting that he approach the actual Gods rather than the lesser Gods.
Exception proves the rule – some people thrive on exceptions. To them, anything out of the ordinary is not bound by any rule. When you board a train, it is expected that you will reach your destination in one piece. If not on schedule then probably several hours later. But – when you arrive at your destination in several pieces packed in a crate – the authorities say ‘this should not have happened. This is an exception.’
Give him an inch and he will take a yard – we see this happening regularly. In a bus, when you see an elderly person standing and offer him a seat by squeezing yourself, he reciprocates by going off to sleep by putting his head on your shoulder. Similar is the case in reserved compartments of long distance trains. You try to be nice to some short distance traveler and, in a very short time, regret the decision and wish that you had not succumbed to the ‘feel good’ factor!
Honesty is the best policy – therefore support only honest corruption. Do not be misled by so called well-wishers who try to win your confidence by saying that ‘aap ka chinta hamare upar chhor dijiye, hum sab kuch dekh lenge!’ He is bound to ditch you.
He laughs best who laughs last – laughter is an expression of happiness. Situations where one can laugh his heart out are fast vanishing. Laughing clubs have sprung up to remind us that laughter is the best medicine. Today, we have laughter forced upon us as comic interludes to break the monotony of song and dance sequences in our Bollywood movies. These movies transform our world into worlds of fantasy and make believe where lost siblings reunite in the last scene as the bad ones get thrashed. Everything miraculously fits into place in the last scene! How unreal!! How we miss the good old days of Laurel and Hardy, Mehmood and Kishore Kumar.
Look before you leap – this is especially true in the night when walking down to your house from the bus stop or the market. All the roads, lanes and by lanes in any city resemble craters on the Moon. Potholes abound – mischievous ones suggest that these are intentional creations of nearby slum dwellers. To rid you of your belongings. If you miss your step, they will shift you to the hospital.
Make hay while the Sun shines – thanks to technology, the Sun can be made to shine at our will. We have invented incubators – to control the production of poultry chickens. We also have scientific methods within our grasp of generating artificial ‘sunlight’ that can convert grass into hay. So hay need not wait for the Sun to shine.
Man proposes God disposes – you plan a journey and numerous hurdles appear. The train may be delayed indefinitely or be cancelled. The flight may not take off due to fog. If it does take off, it may not land at your destination – again due to bad weather. You feel these are what God had ordained. You are grossly mistaken. These are results of the ineptness of those in charge.

17th century vampire graves in Poland asks - are vampires real

The question of whether vampires ever existed continues to pester us and Hollywood has minted millions with fantasies revolving around the blood thirsty vampires of the likes of Count Dracula, the mysterious fictional character created by Bram Stoker in his 1897 Gothic horror novel.
Scientists have now identified potential "vampires" in 17th-18th century Poland – they were apparently buried with rocks and sickles across their bodies to ward off evil to prevent them from rising from their graves, as is generally believed. It seems in northwestern Poland, apotropaic funerary rites took place throughout the 17th-18th century – this was a traditional practice that was meant to ward off evil.
This came to light during excavations at a cemetery in northwestern Poland - six unusual graves were revealed. Some of the bodies had sickles across the bodies or large rocks under the chins of select individuals while others were normal burials.
A suggestion has emerged from the authors which could be a possible explanation behind these burials – it may be bodies of victims of the cholera epidemics that were prevalent in Eastern Europe during the 17th century. Belief has it that the first person to die from an infectious disease outbreak could return from the dead as a vampire.
Incidentally, Hollywood seized the opportunity to reinvent vampires in today’s settings through their Twilight Saga series consisting of five movies - the series has grossed over $3.3 billion in worldwide receipts and consists, to date. These are: Twilight (2008), The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009), The Twilight Saga: Eclipse (2010) and The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn in two parts (2011 and 2012).

Winter is here – so are oranges and a Bengali sweet dish called kheer-kamala

The temperature here in Nashik is today hovering around the 15-degree mark and the markets are flooded with oranges from Nagpur. Hence, the time is ripe for a favorite sweet dish of the Bengalis – the kheer-kamala.
This is a unique and lovable sweet dish of winter – I have not seen it in any shop and I wonder why some enterprising individual has not thought it fit to market this product till now. It is similar to raso-malai but instead of rasogollas, oranges are used.
Oranges are in abundance during winter, hence the preference. In Bengal, it is the Darjeeling brand of the fruit, and here in Nashik it is the Nagpur brand – both are equally delicious. As to the method of eating, some like it immediately after peeling – others love the juicy interiors in a liquid form as a juice. That is to be done up in a mixer and served with toppings of a scoop of ice cream or garnished with finely chopped cashew, almonds, pista etcetera.
And, there are others like me, who relish their oranges in a slightly different manner – in a pool of semi thick milk known better as the kheer-kamala.
To prepare this wonderful dish, one has to have plenty of patience because the trick is to boil down a certain quantity of milk to nearly half its volume over a slow fire. This allows the milk to gradually thicken and acquire a heavenly taste. The average time is around three hours for one liter of milk. Once the base is ready, it should be allowed to cool down at room temperature. During this waiting period, the oranges are to be peeled and the internal skin is gently removed along with the seeds. Four medium size oranges are sufficient for one liter of milk reduced to approximately half a liter. The mixture should not be stirred but the container should be gently shaken for the oranges to settle down comfortably in the bed of gravy. No, sugar is not necessary since any external sweetener would rob the dish of its out-of-the-world flavor.
For best results, it is to be served cold.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Planet Earth is too crowded – let us send message to Mars and go there

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of NASA's Mariner 4 mission to Mars, plans have been chalked out to use Radio telescopes on Earth to beam out 90,000 ‘hello’ messages to Mars – it would commemorate the launch 50 years ago of the first robotic probe to the Red planet.
The program has been developed by a US space funding company called Uwingu – the intention is not just to say ‘hello’ to whosoever may be listening out there but also to raise funds for its other projects. The program of Uwingu is called "Beam Me To Mars" and participants can send digital radio-wave transmissions of their names, messages and pictures to Mars for fees ranging from $5 to $99.
As per information, the transmission would travel at the speed of light and the messages will reach Mars within 15 minutes and it would be repeated twice.
The novel program has attracted a number of celebrities including actor and comedian Seth Green and actor George Takei, who portrayed Mr. Sulu on the television series "Star Trek."
As far as Man’s attachment with Mars is concerned, Mariner 4 had successful flown-by Mars and sent back the first ever pictures of the planet's surface – subsequently, over 20 other spacecraft have successfully visited, orbited or landed on the planet's surface. NASA at present has three orbiters and two rovers working on Mars – one of these is Curiosity. The European Space Agency and India each have one Mars orbiter.
With every passing day, our Planet Earth is getting more and more crowded and we would like to migrate to another world where there is no violence and where peace reigns supreme – our eyes have been set on Mars and efforts have been undertaken by various agencies like Mars One to train would-be astronauts to shift base to the unknown plant and rough terrain and set up a new civilization. The take-off of Mars One is fixed tentatively for 2023, when the first group of 4 men and women will land on Mars.

Rare albino dolphin caught by the Japanese will not be killed

Japanese fishermen chanced upon a pod of dolphins in a shallow cove in Taiji, Wakayama, central Japan. There were 12 dolphins and they killed 11 of them but spared a rare albino. They have captured it and transferred it into a small holding pen where they are trying to tame it and teach it to eat dead fish and adapt to human interaction.
They expect to sell the albino dolphin for at least £300,000 for being displayed in captivity. This has been revealed by the members of the Sea Shepherd conservationist group. These campaigners are trying to stop the controversial annual hunt of the dolphins in the town, as well as the sale of the mammals to aquariums.
It seems these rare, beautiful, and unique animals will spend the rest of their days confined to small tanks and will have to perform tricks for their food.
This controversial hunt takes place annually between September and March in Taiji, Japan and, while most of them are killed for their meat, some are sold live to aquariums around the world.
In the opinion of the Sea Shepherd group, the dolphins do not belong to Japan but to the ocean – and, since the beginning of the latest hunting season, 15 pods of dolphins have been slaughtered in the cove by Japanese fishermen accounting for the death of over 170 dolphins.
Moreover, during a four-day period in January the fishermen of Taiji had selected 52 dolphins for sale into captivity, slaughtered 41 for meat, and subsequently drove the surviving pod members back out to sea.
Incidentally, the locals do not see anything wrong in killing dolphins – to them it is just another animal slaughtered for its meat.

Fury of Nature seen in New York and Brisbane – snowfall and storms cripple lives

Lady Nature is unhappy at the way our environment is being destroyed and the ecological balance is getting disturbed and she is expressing it in her own unique way – by unleashing storms and snowfall in different parts of the world.
Over a four-day period, New York received nearly seven feet of snow – as per reports, the total snowfall in western New York was staggering. Wales Center and Hamburg witnessed an incredible 85 inches (seven feet) of snow. According to records maintained by the National Weather Service, the largest snow event on record in Buffalo, N.Y, was 81.6 inches in 2001 and that had accumulated over a period of five days.
After the large scale snowfall that crippled the life of New York, she has now moved on to Australia and crippled Brisbane, the third largest city. It was lashed by its worst storm in decades, with roofs flying off and wind, rain and hailstorm resulting in cutting power lines, flooding streets and injuring a dozen people.
As reported by the state-owned electricity supplier Energex, up to 90,000 homes had been without power, with trees and hundreds of power lines brought down by winds gusting at 87 mph and, as it gained in intensity, 68,000 homes remained blacked out.
The storm struck and caught commuters unawares – they remained stuck for hours in the stalled electric trains due to the power cuts. The electronic media went to town with the news and showed the devastation caused in the form of smashed high-rise windows and light planes flipped upside down on an airfield while cars were nearly submerged in flooded streets.
Queensland State Premier Campbell Newman has described the storm as the worst to hit the city of 2.2 million people since 1985.

Suicide car attack in Kabul by the Taliban kills one Briton

In a suicide car attack by the Taliban in Kabul on a British embassy vehicle, one Briton has been killed - he was one of the five who died in the attack. An Afghan national who was working for the embassy was also killed. This has been disclosed by Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond.
In addition, 33 others, most of them Afghan bystanders, suffered injuries when the suicide bomber rammed his explosives-packed car into the embassy’s four-wheel-drive. The injured are believed to include another Briton, a member of the security team, and five children.
According to a spokesman of the British embassy, the vehicle was not carrying British diplomats. The Taliban has reportedly claimed responsibility for the attack – it has said that it "targeted foreign invading forces" and boasted that the attack has killed many foreigners.
The attack took place in eastern Kabul near the Green Village international zone and the blast had blown the roof of the 4X4 vehicle and destroyed at least four nearby cars.
The attacker was travelling in a Toyota Corolla car and has, since, been identified as an Afghan national. Reports are there of another large blast followed by gunfire in the central district of Wazir Akbar Khan – this locality is occupied by several embassies and foreign compounds. Details of fatalities are not known.
Incidentally, the majority of NATO troops positioned in Afghanistan would leave by the end of 2014 ahead of the official end of their combat role. The last of the British troops have already left in October after 13 years fighting the Taliban.
Obviously, the Afghan government would now have a difficult time to combat the threat of the Taliban and ensure, on their own, the safety of their citizens.

Age-old proverbs in new capsules (2)

In continuation to my previous blog, here is another set of proverbs and it is for my readers to judge how relevant these age-old proverbs are today. So here goes …
Better late than never – considering the poor condition of roads and breakdown of the transportation systems in cities, late coming has become the rule rather than the exception. If it is not the bus then it is the late running of local trains or the traffic jams or the sudden passing through of some political dignitary. Many organizations allow late coming within limits.
Barking dogs seldom bite – in the civilized world, this is what we have noticed about those who ae into politics. It is customary for them to shout off their mouths to impress the audience. They know that they are putting on a show, especially during elections. We also know that it’s all a drama - they make hollow promises and do not mean what they say. We grin and bear it because the show must go on.
Birds of a feather flock together – yes, initially they do – but only till such time that they find their firm footings by which time it all becomes a fight for the survival of the fittest with no holds barred. The cream of the youth flock to coaching classes to secure one of the first hundred slots and the annual JEEs for admission to prestigious Institutions are the best example.
Charity begins at home – how so very right. First you must keep your wife happy, she has to cook your meals and keep your bed warm. Then keep your kids happy otherwise they will not allow you to enjoy your news spots. Then keep the bartan majnewalee happy otherwise she may suddenly vanish – leaving your wife mad as a hatter.
Cowards die many times before their death, the valiant dies only but once – life today is indeed tough. We must have faced some situation or another when we have wished that we were dead and wanted to see how the world goes on without you. And, for some of us, this takes place a number of times in our life.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you – this is what we must follow meticulously. When invited to a party, do not bring any gift. Instead bring a bouquet of flowers and an Archie’s card. Gifts have gone out of fashion because, usually, everyone brings the same or similar items – cheap products wrapped in attractive wrappings containing very little of use.
Do not count your chickens until they are hatched – this is especially true for those who love to purchase lottery tickets or participate in online lotteries that are reportedly doing roaring business. Do not begin building castles in the air because they will most certainly crash all around you like a pack of cards. Moreover, once the word leaks out that you have won a lottery, your life could become miserable. Becoming a millionaire is not a simple affair – remember the movie ‘Malamal Weekly’?

A peep into the world of TV commercials

Any program on TV, minus its commercials, is something that just cannot happen in India – these appear in between the news, in between TV soaps, in between the movies and even in between bhajans and devotional songs on TV channels meant for the religious minded. Movie channels have come up with a new concept – the concept of the ‘one-break’ movie.
Of course, these breaks have their importance, you can use the opportunity to finish off some unfinished work – like getting the rice off the hot plate or the gas stove or switch off the micro oven and take out the items from within. Most of the ads usually fall into a number of categories – like washing powder, detergent, tooth paste, cosmetics, hair dye, fast food (noodles, chips, biscuits), cold drinks, cooking oil, quick relief medicines, sanitary napkins, pregnancy kits, deodorants, condoms, mobile phones, jewelry.
Ads of drinks like whiskey are not allowed, hence there are surrogate ads that link the name of the brand with an innocent product like bottled water!!
Other ads belong to the insurance sectors and banks.
Then there are the public service ads like those of tourism and various policies and projects of the government of the day related to the betterment of the people and their lives.
During the cricket season, ads of the IPL teams occupy large chunk of the time. And, more recently, football teams have joined the fray. Tennis is trying to make an entry.
A new trend is of promoting movies through ads – in such cases, the title of the movie is important – it must be short and should have the power to blend into any product.
Then there are the funny ads are those that evoke instant laughter and remain etched memory long after the ad has disappeared – it takes plenty of creativity to come up with such ads and the visualizers deserve full credit.
And it is of interest to note that most of the ads run on all channels and in all languages – that is the beauty of technology – translation is no problem, readymade packages ae available that even imitate the voice pattern of the artistes.
There are a few ads specific to a region – like ads of mustard oil. Such ads are meant to woo the Bengali population and encourage them to switch brands.

International Space Station astronauts to enjoy turkey on Thanksgiving Day

The orbiting laboratory International Space Station (ISS) located 250-miles up in Space plan to celebrate Thanksgiving Day like their friends and families on Earth – thanks to the food scientists of NASA who have cooked up a zero-g menu for them. Those would be zero-g versions of classic Thanksgiving dishes scheduled for the celebration. The American astronauts who are at present living on the ISS are Commander Barry "Butch" Wilmore and flight engineer Terry Virts apart from Italian-born flight engineer Samantha Cristoforetti.
They would get a day off on Thanksgiving Day to celebrate the occasion.
As per the program, they would get together for some "traditional" Turkey Day fare — which includes smoked turkey, candied yams, green beans and mushrooms, cornbread stuffing and cherry-blueberry cobbler.
It seems the crewmembers can also enjoy some personal Thanksgiving favorites.
Commander Wilmore is from Tennessee, he grew up drinking sweet tea and he plans to have it up there in the ISS and share it with his fellow astronauts.
Incidentally, three Russian cosmonauts have arrived in the ISS o November 23 to complete the six member team – they are flight engineers Alexander Samokutyaev, Anton Shkaplerov and Elena Serova. Unfortunately, they would not get the day off, but usually dine together most of the days. As per traditions, ISS frequently hosts an international crew, and astronauts generally join in the celebrations of their crewmates.
For the records, Thanksgiving has been celebrated in the ISS since the first Americans came on board in 2000. However, the first ever Thanksgiving in space happened on board the Skylab in 1973 – it was the first space station of the US. The date was Nov. 22, 1973, and it had American astronauts Jerry Carr, Bill Pogue and Ed Gibson – but, on that first extraterrestrial Thanksgiving, there was no day off for the astronauts.

Water is precious – do not waste it

We all know that three fourth of the Earth’s surface consists of water and water bodies like the Dal Lake of Kashmir or the Hussainsagar Lake in Hyderabad or the Ulsoor Lake in Bangalore or the Rabindra Sarobar in Kolkata are the pride of the respective cities. Unfortunately, lack of maintenance and environmental pollution have resulted in them losing their charms.
People flock to artificial water parks to enjoy splashing in the waters and, till now, this precious commodity is available in abundance but, it will not last for ages. Our planet Earth supports living beings because of the availability of water and, whenever probes are sent to outer space, one of the mandatory exercises scheduled for them is to search for the presence of water.
If traces are discovered, it is presumed that living beings would not be far away and the ever enterprising Man could think of migrating to that alien location. Scientists have discovered some well laid channel-like affairs on the Martian soil and, proof is still awaited as to whether it is what we are searching for.
Water is most essential to our bodies; it is customary to offer a glass of water to any guest who drops in. As the machinery of the body functions, it consumes the water that is generated automatically by the body system, and hence regular replenishment is a must. We, therefore, drink water.
Once upon a time, it was the pure water drawn from the wells or the water pumped out manually from tube wells. But, over the years, the underground water reserve has depleted or has got contaminated. The contamination levels in some cases is harmful to those who consume it – hence, those who still use water from these sources have to get it filtered. In this connection, the pollution of river waters due to untreated effluents being discharged into the nearest body of water needs to be controlled since it has a direct bearing on marine life. Frequently we hear of dead fish rising to the surface of the water due to the presence of poisonous chemicals in the water.
With the growing population in the large cities, central storage systems have evolved; water is transported through huge pipelines for the benefit of consumers in the cities. The water is stored in large lakes and the availability is dependent on timely arrival of the monsoons. Then there are some parts of the country where water is brought in tankers and distributed to the village folks – here again, the water tankers come on specific days hence villagers have to store the precious commodity in any and every type of container available. In spite of regular Public Interest ads shown in the TV requesting people to stop wasting water, we see public taps which are always open - the control mechanism is missing, resulting in continuous outflow of water.
And, in metros, there is a craze for bottled water – in view of the spread of water borne diseases, no one wants to drink water that might lead to illness. The bottled water helps mitigate their sufferings. And, for variety, there are cold drinks offered by the MNCs and promoted by stars of the cricket world or of the film fraternity.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Ferguson protesters storm City Hall in St Louis because grand jury did not indict the white police officer

Ferguson is tense because here a white police officer Darren Wilson had shot dead a black unarmed teenager 18-year-old Michael Brown. The protesters stormed the City Hall of St Louis demanding that the 12-member grand jury review its decision of not to indict Officer Wilson. They were angry at a grand jury's decision not to charge a white police officer for the killing of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown. It seems more than 100 extra police officers have been called in after Ferguson protesters stormed into the City Hall in St Louis.
In order to quell the disturbances, the police arrested at least three people and locked down the site.
As per information, those activists who entered the City Hall were part of a group of about 200 protesters who marched and held a mock trial of Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson who shot dead Michael Brown on the 9th of August.
Reports indicate that a section of the protesters looted and ransacked local business and even set police vehicles and nearby buildings on fire.
Authorities are believed to have arrested 58 people on Tuesday as compared to about 80 on the previous night and there are reports of arrests from other parts of the county as the protestors continued to express their outrage over the decision of the grand jury.
Incidentally, this incident has lot of resemblances with the case of George Zimmerman shooting dead Trayvon Martin in Sanford Florida – that also was a case of a white neighborhood watch volunteer shooting dead a black teenager. Darren Wilson had shot Michael Brown 12 times!!
Incidentally, the reaction of US President Barack Obama was different in the recent case as compared to the Trayvon Martin case – he has said that the nation is built on the rule of law, and people must accept that the decision made by the grand jury.

Aussie batsman Phil Hughes dies on cricket field

Australian batsman Phil Hughes did not recover from the blow of a devastating bouncer to the back of his head while playing in the Sheffield Shield clash at the Sydney Cricket Ground. He breathed his last in hospital surrounded by family and friends, three days before his 26th birthday.
It seems he suffered a deadly blow from the cricket ball and it went on to damage a main artery in the back of his head which resulted in bleeding over the skull and prevented blood from going to the brain. It was a bouncer sent down by the bowler and Phil could not dodge it.
The left-handed opening batsman from Macksville in New South Wales had made his Test debut in 2009 at the age of just 20 and, the tragic development has sparked a huge outpouring of emotion from the Australian community. There are reports that the ambulance did not arrive in time.
Phil Hughes had played 26 Test matches and made more than 1,500 runs, including three centuries. Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the nation's thoughts and prayers were with Hughes' family since a young life was cut short while he was playing the national game and it was a shocking aberration.
The Sydney Cricket Ground, where Hughes' fatal injury occurred, has lowered its flag to half-mast as a mark of respect for the departed cricketer.
Incidentally, in 1998, an Indian cricketer Raman Lamba also died on the field during a game of cricket - it happened on February 20, 1998 when he was fielding at forward short-leg position – it was a game being played Bangabandhu Stadium, Dhaka, and the ball struck Lamba in the forehead and left him lying on the ground. He succumbed to the injury in the hospital.

Age-old proverbs in new capsules (1)

All of us have been brought up on proverbs. These are tiny bits of wisdom that have been carried forward from time immemorial and are thoughts that one keeps adding to his super computer so that he can draw on them for inspiration when the time to do so comes.
Many may think that proverbs are irrelevant today but, the basics remain, only, their interpretations might have undergone transformation.
A stitch in time saves nine – take your damaged apparels to the neighborhood tailor to do minor repairs because getting new ones is a costly affair and is gradually going out of our reach. In case of trousers, go for Bermudas – these are quite fashionable and come cheap, cheaper than trousers. Or – when indoors, wrap a lungi around your waist and keep the trousers exclusively for the office use and for use on special occasions.
As you sow so you reap – you may not always get the desired benefit because of unpredictable weather – blame it on global warming. The crops may wither due to delayed monsoons or may get washed away due to flash floods or may be burnt down by people who do not like your facial expressions or your hair style.
All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy – the Jack of today is an all-rounder, he plays cricket as well as shines in his studies. The players of today are adopted from their cradle and some of them are supposed to play and do nothing else. None of them become dull because all play and no work makes them crorepatis ten times over, especially in cricket.
A burnt child dreads the fire – this is a misconception, he learns how to tame fires quite early in life, hence it does not hold any surprises for him. In some parts of the world they grow up with firearms and bombs. In India, firecracker manufacturers find their profit lines soaring when they entice child labor into their webs.
An apple a day keeps the Doctor away – yes, this can certainly happen but, if all of us started following this practice, the doctors would be out of jobs, their profession would go on the blink. Hence, this is not applicable.
A friend in need is a friend indeed – the days of real friends in the style of the 1964 film Dosti and the 1975 film Sholay are still very much there in Bollywood movies. All our heroes and heroines sacrifice their loves at the drop of a hat. This provides opportunities for sad mournful songs interspersed with show-it-all types of songs in flashback.
All that glitters is not gold – how very right, the metal that glitters today is actually platinum. Gold seems to have lost much of its shine and charms.
A bird in hand is worth two in the bush – for some professions job opportunities are there for their asking. Yes – the software experts. Theirs is a high profile and one of the best paying professions. Job jumping is but second nature to them. They always have more than one bird in hand and are able to keep their employers on tenterhooks.
These are just a few proverbs that come to mind at the moment. The list is a long one from A to Z and I am still in A. Some of these proverbs transcend the barriers of language and equivalents are popular in regional languages. I hope to continue this series for some time.

Protect the environment, tackle global warming

In the recent past, there is a growing awareness about protecting our environment from harmful effects of mass scale exploitation in the name of development. The reason is that destruction of green gives rise to a phenomenon that goes by the name of global warming which, in turn, gives rise to melting of the ice caps at the Poles and increase in water levels in the oceans.
So far, so good – this much is known to practically everybody. What is not known is that schemes to tackle climate change could become a source of misery and prove disastrous for billions of people. However, our planet wants us to take some bold, strong and decisive steps.
A team of research scientists of three combined research projects, led by teams from the universities of Leeds, Bristol and Oxford, have explored the implications of this phenomenon in more detail. In the opinion of Dr Matt Watson of Bristol University it is difficult to understand the various issues related to geo-engineering, especially, how it might work, the effects it might have and the potential downsides.
It is understood that these studies made use of computer models to simulate the possible implications of different technologies. The major focus was on ideas for making the deserts, seas and clouds more reflective so that incoming solar radiation does not reach the surface.
Problems would be encountered when science intervenes in the climate to bring down temperatures like shading the Earth from the Sun or soaking up carbon dioxide. Like – sending up aircraft to spray out sulphur particles at high altitude in order to recreate the cooling effect of volcanoes or using artificial "trees" to absorb carbon dioxide.
Incidentally, such out-of-the-world ideas to control global warming have begun to come up since efforts to limit carbon emissions have more or less failed to produce the desired results.

Remembering Kolkata Maidan – the heart of the city

Calcutta (or Kolkata), was founded in 1690 by Job Charnok and the city celebrated its tercentenary a few years back. It had been a red bastion for 34 years and the Trinamool Congress took over the reins in 2011.
Those in power love to weave dreams and, it is gradually waking up to the reality that the city needs a lot of more attention to compete with other Indian cities like Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi or Chennai or foreign cities like Singapore and Hong Kong. Leaders want to make Kolkata into another London while the citizens wait for better, pothole free roads.
The Metro rail has infused some blood into the dying arteries of Kolkata as did the circular rail, the second Hoogly Bridge and a number of flyovers. But the fact remains that people who matter shy away from investing in the city because of the attitude of those in power and the red tapes and policies that continue to choke the best of intentions. Bengalis have been branded as intellectuals – a thinking not necessarily shared by others. Moreover, Bengalis are fond of white collar jobs and are said to abhor any activity where intelligence is not required. It is generally believed Bengalis consider themselves to be poets and novelists par excellence.
They also adore good foods which very seldom match with their constitution and proof of this lies in the number of medicines available in the market to cater to various types of illness associated with such disorders.
Another love of Bengalis are fairs and exhibitions like the book fair, textile fair, and leather exhibition. But, this is not about the likes and dislikes of Bengalis. This is about the Kolkata Maidan – a vast expanse of greenery that is fondly called the heart of the city.
Anyone who has visited Kolkata and not dropped by the Maidan has committed a crime of sorts because, even today, this place is one where there are sports clubs and used to be considered to be the breeding ground of footballers and cricketers.
Way back in the fifties and the sixties, a tram ride through the pollution free environments of the Maidan was a really satisfying experience. Greenery and open space on one side and the landscape of a bustling city on the other side!
However, over the years, it has lost its sheen. It was and still is being abused no end in spite of protests by environmentalists. Invaders have ravaged its innocence and choked its breath because unauthorized stalls cropped up in every nook and corner overnight. These, in due course of time, earned official patronage to become authorized.
In addition to this, the serenity of its surroundings was broken by the din and clamor of rickety State Transport buses even as burnt diesel devastated its natural beauty. Trees and bushes that were once planted by the city fathers to maintain the equilibrium of Nature just rotted away. In addition to these happenings, the construction of the underground railway system fondly known as the Metro rail snatched large portions of the Maidan to accommodate the infrastructure.
In the bargain, the size of the Maidan reduced and, to compensate this loss, the Millennium Park was created on the banks of the Ganga.
Another loss for Calcutta was the horse-drawn carriages that would be in front of the Victoria Memorial – the place where young and old alike could jog along and inhale fresh air in the mornings. Alas, nowadays, one has to pay an entrance fee to enter its grounds.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

America’s 9/11 and India’s 26/11 – how to tackle terrorism

Terrorists struck the Twin Towers in New York in 2001 – it was on 9/11, or 9th of September 2001. In India it was also on another ‘11’ – only, this 11 was for the month of November. And the year was 2008. Six years back, terrorists attacked Mumbai, the financial hub of India and killed 164 and left another nearly 300 wounded.
The terrorists had entered the city from the sea and had taken up positions inside posh hotels – they had made adequate preparations and had even stocked arms and ammunition in the hotel premises. The law enforcing agencies had no idea about what was happening till the attack came.
In the course of the retaliation by the Mumbai police and the NSG, several lives were lost and one terrorist was caught alive – he was, subsequently, hanged.
As a follow up of this act of terrorism, several suggestions were put forth to transform the Mumbai police force to an elite one with capabilities to handle threats following 26/11 – however, very little appears to have been done even though eight years have passed by.
In the Indian tradition, red-tapism and corruption rule supreme - and, it seems, the state had ordered 29 high-tech "bulletproof" speedboats to tackle possibility of terrorists entering from the sea. Unfortunately, the boats were not bulletproof after all. This is just one example.
Agreed – CCTV cameras have been installed at many places and metal detectors and other devices have also been positioned but when the need arises, the CCTV cameras are found to be unserviceable and there is no one to man the metal detectors. In any case, the very purpose of metal detectors at railway stations is defeated when there are yawning gaps on the boundary walls and fences – these have been made by locals who can get easy entry onto the platforms.
Incidentally, in February 2010, two years after the Mumbai 26/11 attack, there was a bomb blast in the German Bakery in Pune in which 9 people were killed and 60 injured.
And, more recently, West Bengal has been put to embarrassment by the disclosure that terrorists from across the Bangladesh border had set up bases in different parts of the state to train terrorists and carry out terrorist activities. These had been happening for quite a while and the police were apparently in the dark.
The bottom line is that tackling terrorism is everybody’s business because, when the terrorists strike, the bomb splinters do not kill selectively – the splinters cannot differentiate between the good and the bad.

Thieves steal ATMs not just in New Delhi but in the United States also

24/11/2014 - An ATM machine was stolen in New Delhi. A sweeper spotted the ransacked ATM of the Union Bank of India in West Delhi's Narela area. Along with the machine, the CCTV cameras installed inside the booth were also found missing, probably also stolen. It seems the ATM machine was unguarded and the thieves had broken the street lights before uprooting the cash dispenser.
This is not a new-age theft in New Delhi but it has happened in other parts of the world. The following incidents are from the United States.
11/6/2014 – a 40-year-old man of Tustin in Orange County had stolen as many as 40 ATM machines in the past year. His activities came to light in the course of an investigation into the theft of an ATM machine that was stolen from a Laguna Niguel business in February. The man has been arrested.
26/8/2014 – Fayetteville, Georgia – in a daring robbery of a Delta Credit Union ATM, a gang of thieves uprooted the 2000-pounds ATM and made away with it in a fork lift. The fork lift was also stolen from outside a Wendy's restaurant that was under renovation. The police have retrieved the surveillance video, mounted just above the ATM – it shows the forklift ramming into the 2,000 pound machine, the forklift uproots the ATM from its foundation and loads it into the back of a red pick-up truck.
Incidentally, theft of ATMs has become the rage today. Thieves have realized that instead of stealing credit cards and going on a shopping spree, it is better to steal the money dispenser itself – namely, the ATM.
Business Times of 7 October 2010 have described ATM theft as this recession’s hottest crime. It appears the crime has struck not only Texas with more than 100 instances of ATM robberies in 2010 but has struck San Diego where the figure was 28 and in Atlanta, as many as 35 machines have disappeared. Obviously, this a new era in crime has arrived.

Today’s topsy-turvy world thrives on mixtures

Yes, look around you and you will find people who thrive on mixtures. They are dissatisfied with what is being dished out – it is immaterial whether it is in movies or in music or in food - and, this desire has led to the evolution of mixtures and of packaging old wine in new bottles.
Take the case of fruit juice – it is now old-fashioned to ask for fruit juice of a specific type of fruit like the orange or the musambi or grape or apple. The order of the day is to order the mocktail – a concept similar to cocktail, only the mocktail is a mixture of more than one fruit juice.
One day my wife and I went shopping and had a delightful preparation of mango juice – it was labeled as ‘mango mastani’ and was a thick juice of mango, topped with a spoon of ice cream on which rested a few crisp fried cashew nuts, kish-mish and a large red cherry. A piece of pineapple was stuck in the rim of the glass. It was decked up as if it was a gift from above and it tasted heavenly. In those days, it was priced at forty rupees and was a steal. Incidentally, during summer, mango juice is available in street corners but the specialty here was the method of presentation.
We must have acquired the art of such presentation from foreigners. Mix appears to have its roots in some foreign country. Like the salads one has with meals, the veggies are so beautifully cut and arranged that you are inclined to be careful of how you take your pick for fear of disturbing the wonderful decorations.
Similarly for fruit salads and fruit puddings – a variety of fruits are presented in a base of sweetened substance that is good to the last drop.
And, in the Indian context, our own weakness for mixtures is nothing new – in Bengal they go by the name of chanachur, in Maharastra it is chivda. Then there is the jhal-muri in Bengal, and its equivalent is the bhel-puri of Mumbai. Khichdi is a quick-fix solution when one is too lazy to stay in the kitchen for a long time – put the ingredients together in a bowl, add water, allow to boil, and serve piping hot! While it is getting ready, fry some potato finger chips or papads or make an omelet and enjoy. The preparation is fantastic especially when it is raining cats and dogs outside and a visit to the market is fraught with risks.
The sambhar down South is similar in nature – it is a combination of veggies cooked in a base of pulses and served with rice.
Pulao and Biryani are modified versions of khichdi – the difference is that it takes more time to prepare and involves expertise. The art of making it delicious rests with the cook. Any and everybody cannot be entrusted with the task of making these mouthwatering preparations.
In short, all of us have this weakness for a mixed fare in our eating habits.

India can soon boast of bullet trains and super-fast trains

Prime Minister Narendra Modi is keen to bring the Bullet train to India and had broached the subject with Japan and China. His railway minister Suresh Prabhu has now approached French companies to collaborate in the field of safety, customer service and services of high-speed trains.
In keeping with the philosophy of the Prime Minister to ‘make in India’, the railway minister wants French companies to 'open shop' in India because the BJP government wants to eradicate the age-old concept that it is not easy to conduct business in India is difficult.
His invite was in the curse of addressing a seminar on Indian-French railways.
He explained that the intention of the Indian Railways is to plan for collaboration in the area of developing high-speed train network because there are premium commuters who are do not mind paying a high price while wanting to reach their destination faster.
This group of commuters desires better amenities and would not grudge shelling out more.
It may be recalled that during the visit of the Prime Minister to Japan in August, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had promised public and private investment worth $35 billion in India over the next five years. Japan had also agreed to offer financial, technical and operational support to India for introduction of bullet trains – this was a project to Narendra Modi and a high priority project high of the Indian government.
On the bullet train front China has also shown interest to participate and a team of Railway officials of the Rail Vikas Nigam are expected to go to Beijing to pursue the Delhi-Chennai high-speed corridor project – it would be 1754-Km long, the longest in India. The high-level team would complete necessary formalities with their Chinese counterparts for carrying out the feasibility study.
Obviously, the future of travel by trains in India appears to be bright – the only thing that the government needs to ensure that it does not turn out to be a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth. With so many countries at work to provide India the much needed platform of boasting of bullet trains, someone must ensure that there is no stepping on toes.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The thali – Indian concept of a cheap and full meal

Indians love to have a number of items in their daily meals and, hence, the concept of thali has emerged because here, on a single plate (or thali), you can find an assortment of food items – some of these you may not like but you do not have any choice to change the items on the standard menu. It comes cheap and, therefore, is an attractive option for those who have to be careful of how they spend their hard-earned money.
Mandatory items in any thali are four number of puris (or two chapatis) along with a container of rice. Set around the periferi of the thali are a number of smaller containers which contain the food items like dal, vegetables (both dry and with gravy), pickles or onion slices, curd and a sweet – additional helpings are given for dal or the vegetables but not for any other item. At times, a papad is also given.
The menu is set in the morning and runs throughout the day. Changes happen only the next day and these usually are in the mix of vegetables and the dal. That way, the restaurants can economize and maintain low prices to keep the customers happy since they need not cater for those who are choosy. For them, there are buffet meals in costlier eating joints where they can go also in for selective ordering to cater to their taste buds.
I have had the opportunity of tasting thalis in Nashik, Bangalore, Mysore and other places in south India when I had gone with my family to various tourist destinations like Sravanbelagola and Oooty and have found the fare to be more or less similar.
Take the case of a Rajasthani thali - there are umpteen number of small containers laid out all around the thali and each if these contain something special that just cannot be ignored.
The thalis also used to be popular in trains where the items would be brought in specially designed trays that had hollows punched out in the tray itself to accommodate the items. The curd would be served in separate paper cups. Later, the thalis were replaced by meals in casseroles – the puri or chapatis would be rolled into foils and the food items would be what you had ordered. These also would be in casseroles.

Stuck at Charbagh Railway station in Lucknow for 24-hours

I have traveled in different parts of India by Indian Railways and am used to delays in arrival of trains. It has happened when I traveled alone or with my family or had come to the station to see off my guests and have come to accept the fact that in India, there would be delays. These could be natural delays due to floods or fogs or could be delays due to pubic agitation over some issue or the other or could also be results of accidents.
However, when I got stranded at Charbagh Station in Lucknow for 24-hours, it was an event that could have gone into some record book.
Lucknow, lovingly called the city of nawabs, is well known for its ‘pehle aap’ syndrome and boasts of several historical monuments. Its railway station, Charbagh, is a magnificent building and, through its platforms run any number of trains.
I have visited Lucknow several times on temporary duty and usually traveled by the Kushinagar Express – and in one instance, even though I had confirmed reservations for my return journey to Nashik, I was stuck at the station for 24-hours and I was all alone.
The departure time of Kushinagar Express was half an hour past midnight. Therefore, as I had done on umpteen occasions in the past, I left my company’s guest house after a hurried dinner, booked my suitcase in the cloak room by 9.30 pm and wandered around the platform waiting for the arrival of my train to be announced.
Suddenly, I heard a totally different announcement over the PA and it got me floored.
It seems due to a flash strike by the motormen in Bombay, movement of trains was affected and, my particular train, the Kushinagar was running indefinitely late!! The PA system also informed that, in case one wanted to return his ticket, he could do so and claim full refund.
I had no intention of cancelling my ticket because there was no telling if the railways suddenly decided to run an extra train to carry the helpless passengers and that was the longest day of literally 24 hours that I had ever spent. The Japanese pride themselves on their tradition of punctuality but, our Indian Railway boasts of delays. When one is in the company of relatives and friends a certain of delay is tolerable, in fact pleasant. But, when it involves an individual, the resultant situation can play havoc with ones nerves and could, even, culminate in insanity!! Just imagine my condition – in order to while away the time, I would take a plate of pakoras on Platform No. 1. Then move over to Platform No. 5 for a cup of tea, return to Platform No. 1 to buy the newspaper and then, locate a vacant seat on which to sit down and read through the paper. At the end of it all, I found that I had been able to spend around twenty minutes or so.
There was, of course, a brighter side - I was able to observe from close quarters how a large railway station gradually wakes up from its slumber to greet a new day, how utensils are cleaned, how people huddle together and take their bath, how the puribhajiwala prepares the highly specialized concoctions that go garam-a-garam to fill hungry mouths, how the urchins beg for morsels of food to whet their appetites, how the elders among these urchins, especially, the girls combine together to form groups and work out strategies of making people part with a few coins. They have perfected the art of appealing to your basic instincts by revealing just enough to evoke your sympathies. Then, as the day progressed, the movement of trains picked up and the situation started to become normal except that there was no news of my Kushinagar.
Breakfast time rolled on to lunch time and then on to tea time. I had seen practically all there was to see in the nook and corners of each and every platform. I had chanced upon some beggars under one of the staircases, they were high on drugs. A group of foursome was gambling with a pack of cards. A couple of young girls were trying to solicit customers in broad daylight. In between, I tried to steal forty winks in the retiring room and stretch my legs. By the time darkness started descending, I was fit to crawl up a wall, any wall.
At last, by 10 pm, the PA announced the arrival of my beloved Kushinagar express and I immediately rang up my wife to pass on the good news. In those days, mobile phones were few and I had to stand in queue at the STD booth to connect with my wife.
Once that was done, I went over to the restaurant and had a really heavy dinner before boarding the train.