Sunday, October 2, 2016

Turbulent times

This post is long delayed, and hence covers a lot of mileage, due to long journeys, all through troubled parts. Although, just about everywhere is troubled these days, including, home. It's more a case of troubled times than troubled parts.

July was Europe: Slovenia, France and Germany. Summer in Ljubljana was beautiful, flowers everywhere, and dragon statues on the bridge. However, there was shocking news  every night. Bombs in Turkey, terrorist attacks in Nice and Rouen, terrorist attacks in Munich, protests in Berlin. The streets looked deceptively peaceful, but the long lines in airport security and the number of policemen in the streets gave clues to the tense state of affairs. There was a huge protest outside the Berlin Hauptbahnoff. Angela Merkel's humanitarian generosity was provoking xenophobic backlash. (There were anti-protest protests too. Good for those guys).

August was the U.S: blue skies, fresh air and the Rocky mountains. All looked idyllic, but the presidential race was hotting up. Xenophobia and misogyny were rearing their ugly heads again. Who knows what the election results will throw up, and whom it will affect? No country is truly sovereign these days, as everyone knows.

September was back home again. Dead silence in the newspapers on Kashmir, despite numerous indications of trouble. The Uri attacks and `surgical strikes' blew the lid on the bottled hysteria. All the chest thumping nationalism was woefully similar to that seen in other parts of the world. Saner voices were dubbed `anti-national', exactly like elsewhere. Xenophobia, and a preoccupation with immediate interests, seems to have become a worldwide theme.

The pictures belie the simmering discontent. All looks so pretty and so peaceful. Maybe that is the real truth, and  all the turmoil is superficial and  a passing phase. The pundits claim the world is becoming more peaceful, not less. Otherwise, as ordinary citizens, we are fearful. Let's hope the learned ones have got it right!

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Brigadier Sir Nils

This blog has been following the career of  Sir Nils Olaf, a king penguin, a member of the Norwegian Kings Guard, a long time resident of Edinburgh Zoo, for many years now (see earlier post).
Rising through the service ranks of  a corporal, a sergeant, a sergeant-major and a colonel-in-chief, and after being knighted in 2008 (the occasion celebrated in the previous post), Sir Nils was promoted to Brigadier, by the King's Guard, who were in Edinburgh yesterday to take part in the Military Tattoo. Sir Nils received his promotion with composed pride, after inspecting his comrades at arms, who maintained absolutely straight faces. (See news item and video). Congratulations, Sir Nils!

This blog post by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Happy Birthday, Chennai

Today is the 377th birthday of our city by the sea. Happy Birthday, Chennai, and may global warming never destroy your climate, or your coastline. The city has been through a harsh test, but managed to emerge with its characteristic resilience, leaving the smiles of its citizens intact. (Sometimes we new Madrasis wish the citizens would have less patience!) However, there is something to be said for those who go through disasters, and come out still armed with their usual good nature. We hope the next year will be nicer, to all of us. Meanwhile, the celebrations are on. The MahaVishnu of Mount Road is always the most informed about all that happens here. So here are the full details.  
Hope to see everyone at the numerous festivities.

This blog post by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Juno and Jupiter

Juno's reached Jupiter, and is in a Jupiter orbit, as everyone with a news feed knows! Nasa's spacecraft  Juno has a very intensive scientific programme planned, including an investigation into the unusual stability of the solar system's biggest coherent structure, the famed red spot of Jupiter. More updates as information trickles in.  Meanwhile, a picture of the red spot from an old friend.

A picture of the little red spot of Jupiter by New Horizons, taken when it flew by Jupiter in 2007.

This is a polar map of Jupiter (South pole) constructed from images taken by the Cassini spacecraft.
(Thanks, Ashutosh). Dynamics aficionados will note the effects.

This blog post by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

NASA photos. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Hill station holiday

Last month was the right month to head for the hills, and escape the oppressive heat of the plains.
There's of course no way of escaping the jostling crowds at New Delhi's T3 terminal, except via the jostling crowds at New Delhi Railway station. However, everyone else is also in a good mood, since they are  escaping to the hills, too. In fact, everyone is in such a good mood that Air India staff escapes being slaughtered, even after announcing that the flight to Kullu is cancelled, and there is no other flight till the next day. (Passengers look murderous, Jet Airways staff looks smug, but there is no riot). On to Chandigarh, (no, no cancellation), and out into the heat of the afternoon, a reminder that we are still in the plains.

An early start to Chail, up the hill road, in a rickety bus. The perfectly good two lane road of ten years ago, is in the process of being expanded into a four lane highway, and is currently a nightmare, with bulldozers, excavated hill sides, and invitations to land slides. The valiant bus crawls its way clinging precariously to the side of the road. The driver is brilliant. Various faces turn green and water bottles are passed around to quieten queasy stomachs. One tea stop and sundry jacaranda trees later, the rain starts. Various cheerful stories also start, e.g. of people who left for Shimla, sixty kilometres away, on a day like this, and were rescued by helicopter fourteen days later. The bus slows to a crawl, but we end up safely at Chail's palace hotel, merely a little damp due to the rain inside and outside the bus. Chail was the summer capital of the Maharaja of Patiala, who was kicked out of Shimla by the Viceroy for his hell raising antics, and built Chail Palace in a huff.

Chail palace is charming, with huge rooms, antique furniture, log huts and an annexe and a pine forest all around. It's unlikely that the pictures are the  Maharaja's pictures. (The death of Socrates?)
They also throw in a few monkeys.

The lights of Shimla can be seen across the hill.

There's a pretty little garden. The village is a one road village, but there is a stadium, a military school, and a Kali Mandir with a spectacular sunset, an unexpected view of the snowline, and, guess what, solar panels. A few days here, is a few days out of time, out of the hassles of day to day existence, until it is time to go back.

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

Tailpiece: Day to day hassles? What do you mean day to day hassles? See below.

Self: How can you lose my bag on a Chandigarh Delhi flight?
JA:  Not to worry, we already sent it to Chennai.
Self:  But I'm here in Delhi.
JA:  Not to worry, we will get it back.

Not to worry, they did. Took time, though!

Friday, June 3, 2016

A planetoid called Pluto

Our favourite planetoid Pluto is in the news again. The United States Postal Service has released two beautiful stamps showing the eternal pair, the New Horizon space craft, and one of its wonderful  pictures of Pluto, in fact every one's Valentine picture of Pluto, with the heart shaped region, the Sputnik Planum,  featuring prominently.

The USPS has added to the bonanza by releasing a set of 8 stamps each one with its own planetary member of the solar system.  Pluto, which got bounced from its status as a planet, and demoted to being a dwarf planet, a while ago, has been consoled by giving it its own stamp, together with that of its intrepid explorer.

Neither planets nor planetoids have ever looked more gorgeous, albeit thanks to digital enhancement. Now that NASA and USPS have done their bit, we look forward to our own pair, ISRO and India Posts, to give us our own set of stamps from ISRO's space explorations.

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

Friday, April 22, 2016

JNU/HCU/IIT and all that

This post is a bit late. On the other hand it is perhaps better to wait till the dust has settled down to write on controversial topics. The last six months have witnessed turmoil on several academic campuses, with strong similarities between the incidents that occurred on each one.

The saddest case occurred on the Hyderabad University campus,with a  tragic culmination in  the suicide of the young and promising Dalit student, Rohith Vemula. What started as a simple case of a scuffle between two student groups, and the consequent rustication of one student group, went out of hand due to mishandling and political interference, and resulted in the loss of a young life. Subsequent events were even more bizarre, with reports of vandalism on campus, the entry of the police,  the arrests of students and faculty, and verbal and physical violence towards protesting students.

The story at Jawaharlal Nehru University involved `anti-national' slogans raised at a student event involving Kashmiri students, the arrest of Kanhaiya Kumar, the president of the student union, subsequent attacks on him at the courts, and the hunt for  those who were actually involved in the incident, who may or may not have been the students finally identified as the culprits.

The incidents at IIT were milder, as befits its sober and nerdy image. Arguments between  students belonging to two student societies, resulted in the withdrawal of recognition  to one of the concerned parties, allegations and denials of political interference,  and the subsequent restoration of the status quo, albeit with more restrictions on the organisations than existed  before.

What is startling is the similarity between the incidents on widely separated campuses, which could have been handled peacefully within the rules of the academic institutions, provided they had been applied with some vision and concern, and the opportunity they provided for outside interference. Even more startling is the reaction of the general public, which  includes berating students for taking interest in societal and political issues, questioning their academic and familial credentials, and even going to the extreme of estimating the cost of their student stipends and recommending that they start `earning their living' and stop being `a burden on society'.

 There are several broad issues involved here, and many of these have already been discussed threadbare in public fora. We would only like to focus on one here. Universities and academic institutions are meant to be places where notions of society, state and culture are discussed, and to provide platforms for opposing points of view. The norms and regulations of academic institutions are supposed to have evolved to a point where differences of opinion can be sorted out in a democratic, orderly and peaceful manner. It will be  best if politicians and the public allow them to do so.

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.