Tag Archive: the hindu


Cow dung cakes are another poisonous option. Photo:AP

 

The shocking truth – The Hindu. Excerpt

They saw electric light for the first time since India became a free country. A curious news-item reported that Mohanlalganj, a village just 20 km away from Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh, was connected to the electricity grid for the first time in March this year. Why should we be surprised? After all, an estimated 400 million people in this country that boasts of generating electricity through nuclear power are not connected to the electricity grid. All they hold on to is the promise of light but the tunnel has remained dark and they certainly have seen no light at the end of it.

The lack of electricity apart, there is a tragic twist to the Mohanlalganj tale that speaks of callousness compounding indifference. When people in the village realised that they had finally got electricity, scores of them rushed to the electricity pole that was the source of the “current”. And in their excitement, they touched the electric pole that had finally made them an electrified village. In so doing, they did not expect to be shocked. But that is precisely what happened. The electric supply authority forgot to install insulators. As a result, anyone who touched the pole received an electric shock and many were injured. How can anyone overlook installing insulators? In this instance they did. And needless to say, no one has been hauled up or held accountable, nor have the injured been compensated.

Electric power is a basic component of development. No one will argue that without electricity, the backwardness we see in our villages will continue. Children suffer because they cannot study after dark. Everyone suffers because there is no electricity to pump up water, thereby forcing people, especially women, to walk miles searching for shallow sources of water. Yet even as all this is well known, somehow “electricity for all” still seems a distant dream.

………………….. Yet, the reality in an India that is forging ahead on so many other fronts is that 83 per cent of rural households still continue to depend on firewood, wood chips and cow dung for cooking energy. The task of gathering the firewood and the cow dung falls principally on women. Even today, if you go to any village, you will see women bent double carrying head-loads of firewood.

The daily grind. Photo: Lingaraj Panda

The story does not end there. While the daily search for cooking fuel increases the amount of work women have to do every day, they come home and literally line their lungs with poison when they light their stoves. Women, children and the elderly sit in poorly ventilated rooms as traditional chulhas using firewood and cow dung belch out poisonous fumes. The chulhas are not just inefficient, in that they use more fuel to generate less energy, but are also dangerous because of the smoke they emit.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, there were many different efforts made to introduce smokeless chulhas into village homes. This effort was the result of growing awareness of the health impact of indoor pollution on women. But these campaigns slipped on to backburner. Surveys suggested that the smokeless chulhas were not being accepted. Instead of investigating why this was so, the efforts slowed down.

Of late, there has been a renewed push for smokeless chulhas. But this is being fuelled by the realisation that soot from millions of wood fires is contributing to global warming. So there are funds available now for introducing more efficient chulhas that can work on cleaner fuels.

I believe that the campaign for smokeless chulhas never found enough takers among policy makers because the issue concerned women. It is women who cook. It is women who collect fuel. Mostly they do it silently, without complaining, because they have been socialised to accept that this is their work. The men, for whom they do this day and night, also do not question because they too believe that this is “women’s work”.

As a result, the urgency of dealing with something so basic as cooking energy and clean fuel does not make its way into the air-conditioned rooms where energy policy is made. Even if it finds a voice, it is not put on the front burner, or backed by the funds and political will that could make a difference.

Fuel for food | The Hindu. Excerpt

Switching to renewable energy sources  in the country’s midday meal programme will save millions of rupees. But only a few kitchens are doing anything about it, says Keya Acharya.

This is a story of facts and figures and sheer size. Of an auditorium-sized room dense with hot steam from cooking. Of seven tonnes of cooked rice and four tanker-loads of steaming sambar that needed 70 pairs of hands for cutting two tonnes of vegetables. Of a further 250 kg of masala used daily, along with 1000 coconuts, 3000 stainless steel vessels, and 30 one-tonne vehicles carrying food to 300 schools for 200,000 children in Karnataka, 75,000 of whom are from Bangalore alone. This is the kitchen of the Adamya Chetana Trust at Basavangudi in Bangalore, working with the State government in the midday meal (MDM) programme.

India’s flagship MDM is the world’s largest such programme, feeding 12 crore children in over 12.65 lakh schools around the country, with a central budget of Rs. 13,215 crores. The Central Government gives cereal grains to each State, along with financial help for setting up kitchen-cum-storages, and LPG in some areas. Each primary school child’s meal is allotted Rs. 3.70, and Rs. 4.70 for standards VI to X. State Governments pitch in with fuel and financial assistance. A basic cereal menu of 100 gm of uncooked rice per primary school child and 150 gm for higher classes is mandated. Accompaniments of dal or sambar , vegetables and curd are standard in menus in the southern States, while northern Indian schools have chapatis .

Photo: Monica Tiwari

Some ten kilometres from Adamya Chetana, en route to Kanakpura, the Akshaya Patra (AP) kitchens of ISKCON resemble cooking factories, with each storey of the building handling one part of the cooking process. Huge chutes connect each floor through the ceiling, sending food materials down to the next process. Thus, the top floor, with huge silos of grain, handles the ‘dry-cleaning’ of eight tonnes of rice and two tonnes of dal daily, then sends this down the chutes for washing and then down again directly into steam vats for cooking. Using 500 litres of oil daily for cooking (2000 litres if it is a ‘special rice’ day), this AP kitchen cooks 120,000 daily meals for government schools in south Bangalore alone. A GPS with special software tracks its 35 trucks, while all staff are connected through ‘walkie-talkies’.

But there’s something more impressive than these volumes, these mind-boggling logistics. Till a year ago, Adamya Chetana used 350 litres of diesel per day, or an equivalent of 60 LPG cylinders for generating steam for the giant vats used in steam-cooking. The fuel costs alone per meal then worked out to 60 paise per child. Last year, Adamya Chetana switched to biomass briquettes for steam generation and to biomass pellets for cookstoves for ‘tarkas’ needed in chutneys and dals . Using one tonne of briquettes (at Rs.5.50 per kg) per day to generate 12,000 kg of steam from a boiler requiring 10 HP to pump in water, energy costs have come crashing down to an incredible eight to nine paisa per child in 2013. “When we cook for thousands, every paisa counts,” says Tejaswini Ananthkumar, head of Adamya Chetana.

Energy costs come down further if the numbers are higher: on diesel in 2006, fuel costs were 60 paise per meal, which then came down to 20 paise per child for 50,000 meals cooked on LPG, and today the kitchen in Bangalore cooks 75,000 meals on nine paise for fuel cost per meal, using steam and two smokeless ‘chulas’ designed by ASTRA at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. At the AP Kanakpura kitchen, 4000 kg of briquettes are used to ensure food is cooked at an optimal 93 degrees Celsius, so that it remains safe for eight hours.

…………………Though centralised kitchens, such as these two, are only in urban areas constituting less than 25 per cent of MDM, switching to renewable energy even in urban MDM will amount to savings of millions of rupees to the public exchequer.

The picture is dire in rural areas, where there are now 577,000 MDM kitchens (with 24 lakh helpers). Almost all are run on firewood, some on dung-cake, or on government-supplied LPG, with fuel costs currently estimated to be 30 to 40 paise per meal, says Sejal Dand, Gujarat State Advisor to the Supreme Court Commissioners.

…………….“Assuming each child gets 200 grams of cooked food, at least 24 million kg of food is cooked daily”, says Rao. “Hundreds of thousands of tonnes of food is being processed every day by the government at public expense, and still the government has no fuel policy, not even one on its agenda.”

In spite of a national renewable energy policy, highlighted by the national action plan on climate change and committed to reducing 25 per cent of carbon emissions, mindsets are straggling. Twenty two out of 29 States have failed even in their policy obligations to purchase at least 5 per cent renewable energy from the national grid, with the national capital Delhi being the worst offender, having virtually no renewable energy supply in its chain. The mid day meal appears to be no exception to the current milieu.

Tejaswini adds, “There is little research on renewable energy cookstoves. Unlike the fuel energy sector, there is no lobby to push this. On the one hand, the government gives subsidy for energy, on the other, it pays no attention to alternatives,” she complains, highlighting the need for building a local industry to help the MDM.

“Coconut shells, even tender coconut husks, can be used as alternative fuel,” says Tejaswini. “This will reduce fuel costs, remove urban organic waste, promote local industry, and very importantly, it will reduce our country’s need for foreign exchange in petroleum imports,” she says.

Irregular supply to large-scale applications is currently the biofuel industry’s bugbear, with numerous biomass systems unable to run at par. But, as biofuel manufacturers point out, the organised growth of the industry is hampered by a lack of government help for collection, storage, transportation or marketing, thus making the middleman king in this industry too.

Davangere’s Surya Biofuels says it manages only by stocking bio-waste during harvesting season for crops such as groundnut and paddy, while Manjunath Oli of Alternate Fuels in Bangalore says they designed their own briquette-machines at Nagpur. Oli also complains of the lack of government price controls on husking mills. “They put any old price they want (on the waste),” he says.

Appropriate technology, meanwhile, is receiving some attention. Svati Bhogle of the Bangalore-based TIDE (Technology Informatics Design Endeavour) and her team designed an energy-efficient biomass cookstove, currently being marketed in Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. “Our data from schools show a saving of 3.6 tonnes of firewood per school per year, a reduction of one hour’s cooking time and a safe cooking environment,” says Bhogle.

From 2011 to early 2013, SSMI’s recommendations on fuel savings, nutrition and health became input for a series of interactions involving academicians, technologists, NGOs and the ministries of women and child development, human resources and new and renewable energy. SSMI hopes to establish a methodology through baseline studies to be undertaken in Andhra Pradesh, which could help towards policy subsequently.

“For several years now SSMI has been raising its voice about the problem of fuel energy,” says Rao. “It is time for the Government of India to get serious.”

Meanwhile, the two early ‘MDM conservation pioneers’, Adamya Chetana and Akshaya Patra, are trying to become ‘zero waste’ operations. Akshaya Patra composts its kitchen waste, while piggery farms collect all Adamya Chetana’s kitchen scraps, and starch from the rice is re-used in the sambar . This year, the trust is deciding on ways to reuse 65,000 to 75,000 litres of water everyday.

AkshayaPatra has recently found a solution, treating and reusing 80,000 daily litres of starch back into vegetable-washing, and is looking for ways to reuse its treated water, two lakh litres daily, back into the kitchens. Conservation in the MDM is a distinct possibility.

Taking a knife to a classic | The HinduExcerpt

Thoughts on Hitchcock’s Psycho, Gus Van Sant’s remake of the film, and the ruthlessly butchered version shown on television

Psycho is widely seen as the progenitor of the modern-day slasher film, yet watching it today, I wonder if that credit shouldn’t actually go to the movie Hitchcock made immediately after — The Birds, where the “slashing” came through beaks and talons instead of a knife gripped by an unforgiving hand. In a sense, yes, the famous shower scene opened the sluices for everything graphic and gory we see today, but behind it all is a nagging moral tone that seems very much a vestige of the 1950s (Psycho was released in 1960) — hardly “modern-day”.

…………… The most touching aspect of Psycho is that the heroine, Marion Crane, dies after she decides to go back home and hand over the money she’s stolen and face the consequences.

Today, though, God is largely absent from the screens, and when we see bad things happen to people, we do not think of it as His vengeance. The Birds is truly a modern-day movie, in the sense that it’s all chaos. Birds swoop in and attack and then, just as suddenly as it all began, it ends. People are punished — apparently — for nothing at all, for nothing more than simply existing with the usual shades of human foibles.

They do nothing more to invite misfortune on themselves than, say, the victims of the serial killers in The Silence Of The Lambs or Se7en or Zodiac (though the serial killers themselves could probably be traced back to Psycho). That’s what we see and know today, that innocent folk suffer and die all the time, and that’s why The Birds, more than Psycho, appears to me the progenitor of the modern-day slasher film.

These thoughts came about a few weeks ago when I was unwell, confined to the indoors and thrown at the mercy of television channels. There’s clearly some kind of unwritten law that the day(s) you’re actually free to watch hours of television, there will be nothing worth watching — but by some stroke of luck, I stumbled into Gus Van Sant’s 1998-remake of Psycho, a “modern-day slasher film” at least with respect to the year of its release.

The film, as you may know, is a scrupulous attempt to replicate the Hitchcock classic. The non-numerical lettering of the date is the same: FRIDAY DECEMBER THE ELEVENTH TWO FORTY THREE PM. The cop who questions Marion, who’s fallen asleep in her car, still wears creepy dark glasses that block out his eyes. But it’s in colour — so we see, for instance, that the bars that fracture the screen in the opening credits are green. And the stolen amount has increased from $ 40,000 to $ 4,00,000.

Despite what’s been said, Van Sant’s film is not a shot-for-shot remake. In the opening scene in this version, Marion and her lover are in bed, after making love. In the older film, the implication is still that they’ve made love, but because of censorship restrictions, they couldn’t be shown in bed together — and we see him standing beside the bed.

Then there are changes in the characters. In the older film, we get the feeling that Marion was making it up as she went along, whereas here, she has a crafty gleam in her eyes, an I-pulled-it-off look. The theft seems premeditated, and thus we don’t feel sorry for her when she’s killed. And because of this change, we don’t understand why she repents, why she wants to go back and return the money.

For 1998, it’s strange that Van Sant didn’t feel free enough to do more with the scares, because, seen today, the original Psycho is hardly scary, more interesting as a director’s showcase than as a thriller that will make you jump out of your seat. The new film, therefore, is little more than a curio. And it was even more of a curio on TV, after the censors got through with it. This is what happens in the famous shower scene: Norman’s mother comes into the bathroom, she lifts the knife, Marion screams, and… we cut to Mother leaving.

Stabbing, clearly, is too much for Indian television, never mind that our masala movies such as Rowdy Rathore, featuring far more graphic violence, are allowed to run almost untouched.If Psycho is known for anything, it’s the shower scene, and now there’s no shower scene. ……………..

All play, no work | The Hindu.   Excerpt :

   …….Walking into Sutradhar is like walking into an Enid Blyton novel. Colourful fish dangle from the ceiling. Wooden shelves overflow with stuffed animals, puppets, blocks, puzzles and wooden cars. A poster listing “101 ways to praise a child” marks the entry to the staff offices. This non-profit retail and workshop space in Bangalore sells toys and games and conducts workshops for children aged 10 and under.

With young children, toys (dubbed teaching and learning materials) have an important role. Play is how they learn,” says Mandira Kumar, founder and chairperson of Sutradhar. The organisation also conducts research related to early childhood education. Their central theme is the ‘power of play’.

Sutradhar says their toys have been designed for specific purposes. For instance, babies watching the hanging fish learn how to focus their eyes on colour and movement; toddlers rolling wooden cars learn motor skills, and so on.

Kumar says that when it comes to early childhood, “India doesn’t have a great knowledge base.” Few are aware that the most critical development in children happens before the age of six — when they learn vocabulary, motor skills, and social skills essential for their future. “I’m really an advocate of the young child; If you don’t do it in the early years you’re only going to address the situation later,” Kumar says.

The lack of focus on early education first struck Kumar when she was travelling the country as the all-India education coordinator for Child Rights and You (an organisation that remains Sutradhar’s biggest funder). Although she saw many initiatives focusing on primary education, she rarely encountered programs dedicated to improving education for the early years. She founded Sutradhar in 1995 to be what she calls “a single-window resource centre” for supporting and promoting national efforts in this direction.

………Educators are hungry for these types of techniques. Sarah Misra, the head of curriculum and training at Chrysalis High School in Bangalore, says, “Children in pre-primary are the most curious, and the biggest quality you need in science is curiosity. Yet, none of the preschool curricula has science.” Sutradhar’s science workshop gave her more than just great ideas for her classroom: it also changed her approach. “It taught me how to step back and let the child take over. Teachers usually rush in and give information, but we must let the child experience things,” she says.

Shanti, the facilitator in charge of primary grades in a free school run by the NGO Drik Pathshala, says she was amazed at children’s capabilities. “Even four-year olds can do division for three, four digits using the exercises from the workshop,” she says.

Not all educators are so optimistic, though. Kumar says that some struggle with the content. “Unfortunately in India, because the teacher has not been educated in a playful environment, play is sometimes seen as alien..”

Sutradhar’s material is especially appealing to educators and parents who have children with disabilities, something Kumar says customers revealed. In response, the staff designed everything from puppets for a psychologist to a parachute for a movement therapist to beads for a special educator.

Sutradhar’s staff routinely conduct months of research while designing materials. They also publish reports, and Kumar is writing a book.

Chattarji says Sutradhar’s training sessions unite educators — from NGOs serving the poor to elite private schools — in a common mission.

However, Sutradhar’s focus on young children excludes them from RTE, which covers children 6-14. “We are concerned that RTE does not specifically address issues of early childhood learning,” Chattarji says, a view she shares with organisations ranging from multilateral NGOs to trade unions. Including early childhood in RTE could help pre-primary educators advocate more training, smaller classes and better facilities. More importantly, it would recognise that education begins before class one.

from small beginningsClockwise from the left: The Deccan Pen Stores at Abids, Halim Siddiqui, The Deccan pens pens range, Limited edition pens from Conway Stewart. Below: a 1932 photograph of the store, a 1924 Urdu poster for Duro Pens, FrancePHOTOs: G. RAMAKRISHNA

    Penning their story | The HinduExcerpt:

Cityscape With an 85-year-old legacy, The Deccan Pen Stores in Abids is the oldest pen shop in the city.

     ………………….Walking into the new branch at Greenlands, you notice fading black and white posters hanging on the right wall of the store, giving visitors a taste of their 85-year old history. After a few years of selling fountain pens door-to-door, Siddiqui set up his first shop in Abids in 1928. “During that time, Abids had F.D. Khan Cloth stores, a library and our shop,” recalls Halim. “This picture was taken in 1932 when we got our first English speaking salesman, all the way from Bombay,” he says, as his eye travels to the old poster.

…………“He would design them and send them to Europe for manufacture with the Deccan brand name.” Today, The Deccan Pen Stores has a 30-year old manufacturing unit and makes their own pens. “But we make only fountain pens,” Halim reminds us, “because we personally recommend that anyone who enjoys writing must do so with a fountain pen.”

However, the most important facet of the store, according to Halim is the pen repairing section. “It is the backbone of our business,” he reiterates. “In the Thirties my father travelled to Europe and brought back many tools and repairing tables which serve us till date. My eldest brother who sits at Abids shop, gets pens worth Lakhs of rupees from all over the globe for repair,” he points out. Halim himself recently repaired a 1903 model Waterman pen which came all the way from France. Like his brothers, he learnt the craft of pen making and repairing by simply dismantling pens and putting them back together.

Why sell pens in a time when people are writing less and less? Although the value of pens as writing instruments has gone down, people still collect and gift pens, Halim tells us.

“These days the customer knows more about the pen than I do because they have looked it up on the internet,” he concludes.

The Swadeshi connection

Andhra Pradesh holds a special place in the history of fountain pens in India. Not too far away from Hyderabad, in Rajahmundry, pen maker K.V. Ratnam, made what came to be known as the ‘Swadeshi’ pens. They were called so because when Gandhiji gave a call to boycott foreign goods in 1921 he called Ratnam and advised him to make pens that would be useful and affordable to the common man.

Ratnam then made an ebonite pen and sent it back to Gandhi who wrote back on July 16, 1935 saying “Dear Ratnam, I must thank you for the fountain pen you sent me… I have needed it and [it] seems to be a good substitute to the foreign pen, once in the bazaar. Yours sincerely, M.K. Gandhi.”

Ratnam pens have since gained popularity all over the country with dignitaries like Rajendra Prasad, Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi, V. V. Giri, S. Kasturi Iyengar of The Hindu , Archibald Nye, Governor of Madras and Gandhi himself were all said to have owned one. One of the first pens he made was sold to Nyapthi Subba Rao Pantulu, a freedom fighter and one of the founders of The Hindu . The Ratnam family continues to make high quality pens out of their home in Rajahmundry.

A date with pens

1702: The oldest surviving fountain pen was made by M. Bion, the chief instrument maker of the Kind of France.

1819: John Scheffer made significant advancements which enabled the user to control the flow of ink by pressing a button

1832: John Jacob Parker made the first self-filling fountain pen. Until this, pens were filled using funnels or eye-droppers

1884: Lewis Waterman receives a patent for making the first fountain pen which was truly reliable and leak proof

 

 

 

It’s time for sound intervention | The Hindu.   Excerpt:

Acouple of years ago, 18-year-old Ram couldn’t communicate and was even incapable of making eye contact. Now, after many sessions of Carnatic music therapy, this boy with autism shows expressions on his face and is able to speak a little. Fifteen-year-old Tejas has got over her stammer, while 50-year-old Lalitha has gone back to her cheerful self after undergoing depression following menopause.

This transformation was brought about by Carnatic musician and music therapist Rajam Shanker, who works with various medical and rehabilitation professionals and organisations in India and abroad. A member of the World Federation of Music Therapy, Life Member of NADA Centre for Music Therapy and Research and other organisations, Rajam has made presentations on therapeutic aspects of Carnatic music at prestigious forums such as the European Music Therapy Congress at Cadiz, Spain, and the World Congress of Music Therapy at Seoul, South Korea.

……………Carnatic music has always been acknowledged as a structured art form with a fantastic repertoire of ragas, swaras , shruti and talas . “This structured framework allows for calibrated delivery of music therapy. Its potential for infinite improvisations also allows it to be tailored to suit different individuals, making Carnatic music an effective tool for therapy. Besides, Indian classical music has a spiritual connect,” says Rajam, who uses Carnatic music to treat autistic children and adults, slow learners, those with neurological problems, and those undergoing depression. Based on an individual’s age, health and emotional status, work schedule, colour and food choices, body constitution, etc, Rajam arrives at the precise raga and the right pitch for treatment. She starts by making the person listen to the raga. Those undergoing treatment are gradually made to sing if they can. While singing is more potent, it is not an absolute necessity; lyrics of the song are not sacrosanct; and musical training or knowledge is not a prerequisite either. Rajam employs nada anusandana, the ancient tradition of evoking sound from the body’s energy centres. She explains, “The human body responds to physical and neural communication, and music, deployed in a calibrated dosage evokes a positive response.”While singing is more potent, it is not an absolute necessity; lyrics of the song are not sacrosanct; and musical training or knowledge is not a prerequisite either

 

 

What is your real age?

What is your real age? | The Hindu.

 

Exercise is definitely the closest we have to an anti-ageing pill. Expensive skin creams that promise to make your wrinkles disappear, cosmetic surgery, laser ablation and botox are but superficial solutions. They cannot come close to the benefits attained from a regular heart-pumping, well-planned exercise routine.

There are two aspects to ageing. Your chronological age, which is calculated form the day you were born and the number of years you have lived, and your biological or “real” age, which refers to the current condition of your physiological body at the basic cellular level. The two are not necessarily the same. An individual may chronologically be 30 years old, but have the body and mind of a 45-year-old. She could be overweight or underweight, lethargic, with inadequately conditioned muscles and deficient lean body mass. She may have a poor immune system setting the stage for infection. She may have several degenerative lifestyle-related diseases like diabetes and hypertension. We see more such people these days. Young chronologically, but way beyond their years physiologically.

On the contrary, some individuals may be 45 years old chronologically and have a biological age of 25 in terms of energy, stamina, strength, mind power and pure joi de vivre .

What are the parameters to measure your real or biological age? Factors like blood pressure, blood sugar and other metabolic parameters, eyesight, condition of the lungs, heart, vocal cords, skin turgor, energy levels, physical appearance, condition and tone of muscles, mental acuity, memory, level of independence, fat percentage, lean body mass and fitness levels (cardiovascular endurance, flexibility, strength, agility, reflexes, balance, coordination and so on). Obviously, the advent of lifestyle diseases like diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol with the concomitant heart problems ages the body much faster than time.

What determines “real” or biological age? Good genes set the stage for a good or poor quality body. Environment and lifestyle choices, however, are the final predictors of the ageing process. No matter how good your genes, rapid ageing is inevitable if you subject your body to stressors like tobacco, alcohol, drugs and poor lifestyle choices like unhealthy food, lack of exercise and sleep.

The right kind of food is next. Foods with antioxidant properties and fibre like fruits, vegetables, berries, nuts, whole unrefined grains and pulses are the best options.

Have a regular fitness routine that includes some cardiovascular activity like, running, speed walking, cycling or aerobic sessions. This should be balanced with adequate strength and muscle building.

Flexibility decreases with age. Sustaining and improving flexibility of various body parts with modalities like yoga and simple stretches keeps the body limber, prevents pain and poor posture due to muscle imbalance.

Stress is a part of our daily lives. Eliminating it altogether is too much to expect. Managing stress properly, however, is possible with proper training, meditation, relaxing techniques, time management and a basic willingness to make the necessary lifestyle changes.

Simple things like developing a hobby, having strong family ties and/or close friends that one can count on and relate to.

Working at something you love or nurturing relationships, especially those with pets or children, can be enormously rewarding and add meaning to life.

Learning something new or developing a new skill improves neurological function. It appears that keeping the body and mind active slows the ageing process.

People who exercise regularly and make the appropriate lifestyle choices have been found to have not only higher longevity but also a better quality of life. A youthful body and mental attitude along with the maturity and experience that comes with chronological age is something to aspire towards.

There is nothing wrong with ageing. It is the most natural process of the human body and certainly cannot be arrested. It can, however, be done gracefully with every attempt made to remain independent and productive.

Related articles

How young do you feel? | The Hindu.

 

Your answers should shed light on your Real Age.

1. Are you excited, (or at least vaguely motivated) to get out of bed in the morning? Yes/No (Sometimes we are too fatigued to register excitement and just wish for a few more minutes of blissful sleep, but that is a different discussion altogether.)

2. Do you have a purpose in life or are you drifting along wondering what to do next? Yes/No

3. Do you have a cause/hobby you are passionate about? Yes/No

4. Do you enjoy life? Do you look forward to your days/ events? Yes/No

5. Do you have strong, nurturing relationships? Yes/No

6. Do you like the work you do? Yes/No

If your answer is mostly ‘Yes’, you are doing really well on your ‘life experience’ score! Much of how you experience life depends on your attitude. An enthusiastic, nurturing and positive attitude can keep you younger.

From a physical fitness perspective, the following questions are pertinent

7. Do you exercise regularly and eat healthy for the most part? Yes/No

8. Can you run up a flight of stairs and not be completely winded at the end (or middle) of it? Yes/No (Indicates cardio vascular endurance or stamina)

9. Can you touch the floor standing up without bending the knees? Yes/No (Indicates the flexibility of the hamstring muscles at the back of the thighs and lower back, which tend to get tighter with age. Stretching regularly keeps all the muscles limber.)

10. How many proper push-ups and squats can you do? This varies with fitness levels. Increasing the number of push-ups and squats can help improve your strength.

11. How fast can you walk a mile? How quickly do you recover from the exertion? (see box for answer)

12. What is your fat percentage? (see box for answer)

A collection of recycled articles at Jamien Rao's studio Photo: Nagara Gopal         A mirror framed with leftover wood at Jamien Rao's studio Photo: Nagara GopalAll that junk | The Hindu. Excerpt :

At Jamien Rao’s office/studio in Sainikpuri, it’s understandable if you feel like a kid inside a candy store. Except that one wouldn’t be staring at candies but beautiful utilitarian artefacts made of recycled materials. “Recycled doesn’t mean shabby and cheap,” insists Jamien, whose firm has designed the interiors of hospitals, corporates and plush villas. In addition, if one is willing, he will minimise wastage and also turn leftovers in construction material into usable articles. Jamien is the face of the studio that has on board a psychologist and a host of creative minds that specialise in arts and crafts.

An acrylic sheet mounted over a layer of bamboo makes up the roof. The walls are cemented on the outer side while the bricks are bare but for the painting on the interiors. A piece of plumbing pipe has been remodelled to serve as a table lamp. Several pieces of measuring tape, discarded at construction sites, have been put together on a metal surface mounted on a granite stone to make a unique lamp shade.

The tables and chairs in his office and the garden and the wrought iron pot holders are all made of discarded materials. Old LP records and floppy discs have been turned into wall clocks, wine bottles have been filled with Christmas lights to become decorative lamps, leftover wooden pieces frame a mirror, water bottles have been turned into pots and a dish antenna doubles up as a canopy in the garden area.

Step by step, he proved himself and got clients to trust him. “There are times even people around you might ridicule you. One needs to be strong and determined,” he says.

Jamien knows it’s impossible to avoid scrap but his team minimises wastage. How does a psychologist fit into his team? “I found a lot of difference between what we communicate and what is perceived by clients. A psychologist can help bridge this void, especially in choosing the right colours and textures and making the interiors an extension of the client’s personality,” he explains.

As he takes us on a tour around his studio, he talks about peculiar problems that crop up: “Hyderabadis are Vastu conscious and don’t want old stuff coming into a new house. But many change their minds seeing how we remake stuff,” he says. One problem he still grapples with is his age. “When people read about our work online, they come expecting to meet an elderly gentleman. Very often I get asked ‘who is your boss?’ I tell them this is my firm and it takes them a while to get to trust me.”

Simple and sublime |

The Hindu. – excerpt :

(T)his book fathoms all.”

The book that eminent modern British poet W.B. Yeats referred to when it was published in 1912 went on to win for its author Rabindranath Tagore (then 51) the Nobel Prize in literature the next year. Gitanjali: Song Offerings thus became the first and, as it happens, the only literary work by an Indian to have won the revered prize. Significantly, this was also the first instance of the Swedish Academy awarding the prize to an Asian.

………………… The first instance of this tremendous impact is seen in Yeats’ reaction. He was among the earliest European admirers of Tagore and also wrote an excellent ‘Introduction’ to Gitanjali . The reason why this ‘Introduction’ became famous in literary history is the book’s powerful impression on Yeats and the candour with which he expressed it: “I have carried the manuscript of this translation about with me for days, reading it in railway trains or on the top of omnibuses, and in restaurants, and I had often had to close it, lest some stranger would see how much it moved me”. It is a measure of the emotional potency of the verses that they could, even in translation, produce such a profound affect on a mind already acquainted with fine literature.

Gitanjali remains to this day among the most popular books in modern India. What explains either the book’s staggering impact on its first readers in the West or its abiding popularity? Is not the highest excellence in art supposed to be inimical to wide currency? Is not a book of “religious” poems of a decidedly “idealistic” inclination not likely to find favour with the masses? Yes, but Gitanjali is a glorious exception. For, this book illustrates those rare instances when the highest excellence in art reside in matter that is also the simplest and the most profoundly human. Tagore’s admirer Yeats, the Nobel jury of 1913, and his readers across Europe were all struck by this genuine greatness that was simple and sublime at the same time.

A consummate artistry of form that seems effortless is here integrated with substance that speaks powerfully to most fundamental and the loftiest elements in human nature. With equal grace the book expresses the emotions of life’s every mood through poems that render, for example, the joys of children at play, the serenity of the boatman playing a lute on a boat in the river, the longings of the heart, the moods of the seasons and the agony of grief. The book partakes of the universally and essentially human and touches all that is above the worldly and the ephemeral in us. Reading these poems, we feel like saying with the poet: “When I go from hence, let this be my parting word/that what I have seen is unsurpassable” ( Gitanjali , 96).

All the myriad notes struck by the book resonate with a devoted love for the Creator, the poems being images of the poet’s heart turning to God with “praise, prayer and profound devotion”. But such is its elemental power that even a non-believer is moved by the pure love of life embodied in them: the reverence, the simplicity, and the naturalness expressed in the appreciation of life in all its moods breaks the barrier of scepticism and fills us with what Yeats identifies as an “insidious sweetness”.

Yeats likens the poet’s voice to St. Francis and to William Blake. It is akin also, we may note, to that of G.M. Hopkins, who resembles Tagore in his fervent admiration in life of God’s “grandeur” and “glory” (cf. God’s Grandeur and Pied Beauty by Hopkins). Yet while the English poet professed the austerity of a Christian saint and was ridden with guilt for being a lover of God’s world, Gitanjali gives no inkling of any such feeling. It is instinct only with innocence and spontaneity that co-exist easily with profound thought and devotion.

As we “fight and make money and fill our head with politics”, and die a little each day Gitanjali promises to renew life in us and to give us the quiet peace of the soul that modern living has made difficult to attain.

 

Boost your spirit with cocoa nibs

Writing on chocolate | The HinduExcerpt:

Although I have been seeing nibs on menu cards for a while, I only took note of them when I tripped upon a bag at an intriguing coffee shop in Auroville. We were in the kitchen with Marc Tourmo, a Spaniard who relocated to India to start one of the country’s first new wave coffee shops in 1995. Determined to be at the helm of what he’s convinced will be a huge food trend, Marc’s been studying Indian cocoa nibs and their uses. He opens a bag and poured the fragrant, jagged little bits into my palm. “Eat this, and you’ll be in heaven,” he chuckles.

What are these mysterious nibs anyway? Well, they’re basically raw chocolate. The cacao bean goes through many stages of peeling, roasting and prepping before it’s ready to be turned into a bar of chocolate. Cocoa nibs are the final stage, before the addition of sugar, milk and flavourings. With a delicate crunchy texture, and a rich, earthy and slightly bitter taste, this the purest hit of chocolate you’ll find. Admittedly, it does take some getting used to. Mostly because our taste buds are trained to expect sweetness from cocoa.

To learn how to enjoy its intense flavour, you can start by sprinkling it over cookies, cakes and granola, so you get used to the flavour, while enjoying the familiar aroma. Then, experiment with incorporating it into regular recipes. Celebrity chef and food writer David Lebowitz makes his Banana Bread with three tablespoons of cocoa nibs, for added texture. His blog also lists recipes for ‘Shallot, Cocoa Nib, Beer and Prune Jam.’ Proving that nibs don’t necessarily have to go into desserts, he also uses them in his pizza, adding the nibs for what he calls a “nice savoury crunch, as well as a bit of chocolate flavour.”

An animated discussion on Chow Hound (the community for the food obsessed) is rife with suggestions on ways to use them — ranging from sprinkling them over brownies for a ‘grown up’ dessert to adding them to cereal, smoothies and ice cream. For people who just want the flavour, you can steep the nibs in panacotta, ice cream or custard and then strain out the pieces. Alternatively, use it as a rub when creating a marinade for meat.

Why bother? Well, if you’re a chocolate addict (and let’s face it, most of us are), this is a great way to get all the benefits of cocoa without the calories of sugar. According to FitDay, an online diet journal, one ounce of cocoa nibs has 130 calories, 13 grams of fat, 10 grams of carbohydrates and three grams of protein. They state that it’s “one of the best dietary sources of magnesium as well as a good source of calcium, iron, copper, zinc and potassium.” They add that these nibs also have higher antioxidant levels than blueberries, red wine and green tea.

Marc loves them for their abilities to boost your energy and spirits. (Cocoa is well-known for its ability to release endorphins.) He’s found an easy way to get his fix. “I roast the raw cocoa like peanuts in a pan, then peel the skin and take out the crunchy bean. I take a full date, and put the bean in it. It’s sweet, delicious and healthy. Since the market is still young, Marc’s only selling beans right now, so customers have to do the roasting and peeling themselves. “When you crush cocoa, it begins to oxidise very fast. So it’s safer to sell the bean whole. But it’s quick and easy to roast and peel,” he says, adding with a grin, “just like peanuts.”

(Marc’s cocoa beans cost about Rs. 360 for 250 grams and are available at auroville.com)

BACK TO TRADITION Whole grain and high-fibre millets Photo: P. V. Sivakumar

What’s in your food? | The Hindu.

With lifestyle diseases so rampant today, shouldn’t we turn our attention to clean and safe eating practices, asks GEETA PADMANABHAN

Clean food is a simple concept; it’s what eating was always about, said Dr. David Katz, Director, Yale University Prevention Research Centre. “Food that’s clean is food that’s for the most part real, not encumbered with things that compromise health: artificial flavourings, artificial colourings, sugar substitutes.”

Eat locally-grown, organic food, says clean eating pioneer, chef Ric Orlando in his book We Want Clean Food. This food doesn’t need long commutes, so is less cruel on the environment. Look for natural chicken, sustainable seafood, grass-fed cow’s milk. Fry food with non-genetically modified oils.

Ingredient awareness

Clean eating is also seen as ingredient awareness. It is the antidote to the argument that population is increasing, land for growing food is shrinking; therefore walk into labs to “create” food, or “augment” food that is average in nutrients. So you have cornflakes with calcium, biscuits with protein, beverages with vitamins A-Z, bread with probiotics. We get packaged food with a list of ingredients we have no clue about. Books such as Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, the documentary Food, Inc. and the wide coverage given to Michelle Obama’s healthy eating campaign (grow your own food, buy food at the local farmers’ markets) have tried to check this trend.

You can’t deny clean eating equals good health. Heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes have all been traced to what goes into what we eat. Ivy Larson, co-author of Clean Cuisine claims her multiple sclerosis symptoms were lessened when she went on a clean diet of whole foods and no packaged items. Start with one “clean” meal a day, she writes. Stock fruits and vegetables — even frozen ones — for a quick and safe meal. Buy food that has the shortest “ingredients” list.

Not a new thought

“Safe eating is a lifestyle, rather lifestyle correction,” is Ananthoo’s explanation. New age, non-communicable diseases are called lifestyle diseases (NCD). Safe eating is correcting one’s alienation and understanding of food and food habits. It is getting close to the production, processing and consumption of food. When you do that, you automatically set right your diet. Not a new thought at all, he points out. Full-length epic books were written about safe eating 3000 years ago. Ashtanga Hrudaya by Vaag Bhatt was one. Ayurveda has dincharyam, ritucharyam and diets for various ailments. Treatment and medication through food was tried by our civilisation long ago.

For forty-five minutes this self-health promoter shocked the audience at a Residents’ Association meet with details of what goes into the processed foods we buy, what is done to keep imported fruits fresh, how fruit/vegetable growers poison their produce to increase shelf life. “I once distributed magnifying glasses,” he said, “and asked the audience to read the ingredients list on packaged food. I try to bring a quick insight into food, diet habits and how industrialisation of food is spinning out of control.” Safe food is a win-win proposition, he said. “Your insistence on healthy nutritious food results in best production practices and better livelihoods for farmers.”

Eat traditional food, go organic, do what you can to consume safe food, was Anantha’s mantra to the crowd. High residues of toxic chemicals in fertilizers and pesticides are left over in the produce. More harm is added through additives, carcinogenic colours and un-named preservatives. “Both sugar and jaggery come from the same cane, but the process makes one harmful, the other safe.”

At the end of the meet, a complete meal of millet dishes — Saamai Kootanchoru, Thinai sweet (jaggery) pongal, Varagu sambar rice, Samai curd rice, Keerai masiyal and paanagam — was served by Nalla Keerai volunteers. Yummy!

DOS AND DON’TS
– Buy pesticide-free organic food in your locality.
– Understand the ingredients; reject food with ingredients you don’t understand.
– Avoid pre-processed/canned/frozen foods.
– Avoid refined products such as maida, sugar, refined oils/rice.
– Consume whole grains. Always opt for plant-based, low-fat food.
– Opt for traditional varieties of rice, eat them unpolished.
– Include millets (foxtail, kodo, barnyard, ragi) for balanced nutrition.
– Avoid all soft drinks. Go for fresh fruit juices and tender coconut water instead.
– Most toothpastes have nicotine and even SLS — a proven carcinogen. Move to herbal tooth powders and non-foaming pastes.
– Imported food stuff has genetically modified ingredients. Watch out!

‘Artistic labour is power’

‘Artistic labour is power’ – The Hindu.

Prasanna always had a rebellious streak. He quit IIT to pursue his passion for theatre. Inspired and initiated into theatre by B.V. Karanth, Prasanna joined the National School Drama (NSD). During the Emergency, he returned to Karnataka and founded Samudaya, a radical theatre movement for workers and masses. They staged street plays, protest plays and propagated their political thought in villages. For a while he was a visiting faculty at NSD. For a couple of years, he worked for an independent television company in New Delhi. He gave this up and left the capital.

That was a phase when Prasanna was disenchanted with theatre and almost gave up on his passion. The man who created noted stage productions like Tughlaq , Gandhi , Thai , Neele Ghode , Ek Lok Katha , Shakuntalam , The Ascent of Fujiyama moved to Heggodu, a small village in Karnataka. Here, he started Charaka, a multi-purpose women’s cooperative, while occasionally writing and sometimes dabbling in direction and teaching. A Sangeet Natak Akademi awardee, Prasanna is currently a Tagore Fellow at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla. Prasanna recently released his book Indian Method in Acting at the Kulasekhara Theatre Festival in Kochi and talked about theatre, activism, Charaka and more. Excerpts from the interview.

Photo: Thulasi Kakkat

The state of regional theatre today…

There is a huge crisis, what I call machine-induced culture, where cinema and television have taken over entertainment. For the common man, this is theatre. We now have a huge number of artistes and audiences watching television and cinema instead of theatre. The participatory element of theatre is gone. Theatre has also become technology-driven. The actor has slipped into the background.

Is there a deep divide between urban and rural theatre?

People’s theatre is dying because of impoverishment in the villages. Gradually we have been seeing performances in the villages reducing, in small towns too. In the 1940s and 1950s there was this attempt to revive and keep it alive through the Indian People’s Theatre Movement and the like. They went to the people, connected with them and theatre returned. Then in the 1970s and 1980s Habib Tanvir and B.V. Karanth tried. But the situation is still bleak.

How did Charaka, the women’s cooperative, happen?

At times you tend to become inarticulate because of anger and frustration. I lost faith in the arts. When I left Delhi and NSD, I knew I was going to almost quit theatre too. Those were difficult times; I was confused, angry, frustrated. Charaka made me cool down and look at life positively. I have not given up theatre but now I do it on my terms, from Heggodu with either the villagers or someone who wants me to teach or direct.

Intellectual, spiritual or artistic labour is not labour but a power. People in villages tend to leave in search of better pastures. I tried to stop this. Charaka is engaged in producing naturally dyed cotton handloom garments, marketing it under the brand name “Desi”. It is a self-sufficient cooperative in the sense that once raw yarn is purchased, everything else happens in-house. The workers are their own paymasters here and earn handsomely. We have 11 Desi retail outlets across Karnataka. The demand for the products is so high that we cannot start any new outlets. Desi has been very successful, beyond my dreams.

How tough was this initiative for a theatre activist?

Initially there was a lot of resistance. Groups tried to stop me from doing this because I had this Marxist tag. But it was a learning experience. I learned that, in a village, you cannot be a “red rag.” You cannot be branded. A whole lot of changes happened in me ideologically. I still believe in socialism, but I don’t believe in pushing angrily for it.