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In these 3 years encompassing 2014 India elections, Brexit and 2016 US elections, Demonetisation, I have noticed a few things

Firstly, people are so embedded into their own bubbles of left and right political alignments that they have stopped seeing the other viewpoints and then debate

Secondly, with our “isms” we tend to follow only those news sources that appeal to our natural leanings (Scroll, Mint, Rana Ayyubs, most MSM for left or ABP, Zee News, Arnab for right). I have seen people trying to debate while always quoting from the same news website or journalist

Thirdly, we have started loving whiners. Whiners who don’t provide solution. I am complicit in that too but my sole redemption is that I have made an active effort to reach out to our legislators with solutions. We love Nandita Das, Sagarika, Rajdeep, Rana Ayyub whose calendars are stuck in 2002 and Arnabs, Zee TV anchors, Sudarshan TVs who are only chest thumpers.

Fourthly, elitism of the left and rabidity of right has only grown each day. While the self-styled intellectuals, product of DU, JNU, Jamia Milia poo-pooh the downtrodden Dehati, Patanjali loving Sanghis, the Sanghis have labelled all questioning people as Libtards, Presstitues. Otherism has only caused the widening of rift, in similar fashion that caused a rift between the Left and Right of US. Everyone knows what happened in India and US.

Then, we are enamoured by narratives, which are mostly anecdotal. While some want to hang the PM, others want to drive away journalist, leaders of opposition to neighbouring countries. If we believe in democracy, we must also believe in the judgements of Judiciary.

Then, not my PM, not my President. Same people who hail democracy, want their thoughts to be imposed on majority because majority can’t make right decision. So basically, democracy when things go my way, and oligarchy when they don’t

Then, I have read so many books, learnt so many philosophies that I am the best judge of what other want. Good books and philosophies don’t bring 3 square meals, job, education, roof, electricity to house of poor. While we can be sanctimonious lot quoting horrors of Orwellian dystopia, Nero-like demagogy, the poor man which is in majority hasn’t been able to go beyond 2 levels of Maslow’s hierarchy. For them these are just big words.

Finally, Ridicule – This is another problem. Make other feel like Macaulay’s child or a bhakt depending on whose side you are in.

Though these we are only widening the right between the two ends of the spectrum rather than working together.

I have not used fancy words as a) I don’t know many b) they mostly obfuscate or even hide the inherent lack of substance with profuse language. Many of you wouldn’t agree, criticize me, even point out it’s random incoherent thought. But guess what, it’s still a democracy and it kind of sucks the way it is.

I have always felt that Disney and Pixar movie have more to teach us adults that just being sources of entertainment for our next generation. I offer you Anton Ego’s last like from Ratatouille

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defence of the *new*. The world is often unkind to new talent, new creations. The new needs friends.”

And also, one isn’t a sceptic unless one has not completely seen the other side.

I have been one of those, but now I am trying to learn

Caveat – I don’t support Trump, and reluctantly support Modi.

Cheers

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Environment

A Choking City: What the Ongoing Toxic Week in Delhi Means for its People

Manak Suri

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A joke on the morbidity of New Delhi is circulating among Delhiites (people from Delhi) that while the lives of the citizens were disrupted in November last year due to ‘note-bandi’ (ban on currency), November of this year presents an even tougher test for the people with ‘saans-bandi’, a ban on breathing. The receding autumn or advent of winter was a once beloved season of a good number of people in the city who welcomed the change with a complete revamp of their wardrobes with colourful woollens. It is now characterized with bleak skies, an air of gloom and a little bit of grey in everything you see outside of your house.

For the past three days, I have been acutely aware of the air I am breathing, felt unproductive and apprehensive in spells for no good reason, and felt the need to confine myself to my house for as long as possible. These are some of the less apparent effects of the thick blanket of smog that has engulfed the national capital region. As a number of people donned with different types of masks on the roads and on Snapchat serve as a constant visual reminder of how the city is choking, a flurry of articles and news updates have presided over my feed. One of them included a horrifying viral video recording of vehicles ramming into each other due to poor visibility on the Noida-Agra Expressway as people scrambled to get themselves and their children out of the way, while some other articles argued about how currently breathing in Delhi for a day is the equivalent of smoking twenty cigarettes.

A sudden state of emergency

Less than two days ago, when the air quality in Delhi visibly worsened, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal likened the city to a ‘gas chamber’. The PM 10 and PM 2.5 levels in different parts of the capital have rocketed above the levels that are considered safe, and the Safar (System of Air Quality and Weather Forecasting And Research) has declared the air quality as ‘severe’ for at least the next three days after which the level may drop to a not so safe either ‘very poor’ level. In some parts of the city, the AQI (air quality index) was detected on monitors at 999, the highest possible reading, which suggests that the level might be even higher. The visibility during the early hours has also dropped to very low levels. Among the different reasons for the observed level of pollution in Delhi, slow winds at this time of the year have been identified as the prime contributor along with stubble burning by farmers in the neighbouring states of Punjab and Haryana. Combined with the dust particles present in the air, omissions from vehicles that plague the roads in the region throughout the day, and those from factories and construction activities, these factors dictate a recipe for creating uninhabitable conditions.

Making amends: A scramble for order

The Indian Medical Association on 7th November declared Delhi to be in a state of public health emergency, urging the Delhi government and other bodies to take adequate steps to ensure minimum risk to citizens, especially young children and the elderly, who are most likely to suffer from the effects of pollution. After a worsening situation, the government has ordered all schools in the capital to remain shut till Sunday, and has rolled out plans to implement the odd-even scheme for vehicles in the city from next week. Parking fee throughout the city has also been increased fourfold and the prices for travel by the metro have been substantially reduced for the time being to promote the use of public transport. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) has also banned all construction and industrial activities till November 14 in a bid to provide the citizens of Delhi a breath of better quality air. Mr. Kejriwal has also approached his counterparts from Punjab and Haryana over the issue of stubble burning by the farmers but it remains to be seen how the move plays out in the coming days.

As the government battles against the situation, the public is taking measures to protect themselves in whatever way they can. An increasing number of doctors and specialists on the matter have advised people not to go out for morning walks or outdoor activities so as to not inhale excessive quantities of toxic pollutants. Some doctors have even advised their patients to leave the city for the time being if possible. Air purifiers for houses and masks for travelling outside have seen a huge rise in sales as nearly everyone has become an expert on the subject of filters and N95 and N99 have become trending words from pharmacies to WhatsApp conversations.

A year ago, while New Delhi wrestled with more or less the same conditions, UNICEF had called on the rest of the world to consider the situation as a wake up call. “It is a wake up call that very clearly tells us: unless decisive actions are taken to reduce air pollution, the events we are witnessing in Delhi over the past week are likely to be increasingly common”, it had said in a statement. If we are doing better than last year, it is still not enough, and all one needs is less than a minute in the open to be convinced of that. As the world battles with the effects of climate change, India’s bid to have a major global footprint in the coming decades is bound to take a serious hit if so many of its cities, and especially its capital follow a trend of being unlivable for a chunk of time at the end of every year.

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India

At Attention! Is the National Anthem the New Test of Patriotism?

Manak Suri

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Source: www.baas.ac.uk

A fundamental question on patriotism has been plunged into the limelight during the course of the past few weeks: what role does the national anthem play for a country today? These few weeks have seen the populations of the larger countries of the world struggle with controversies surrounding their respective national anthems and the question has arisen in the midst of two unrelated incidents in the two largest democracies in the world. The result of these incidents has been an increasing divide between the masses in both the countries on what is acceptable in the name of your country’s anthem and where do we draw the line after which patriotism become an imposition. Let’s have a look at each one by one.

Kneeling for the American dream

During the previous season of the NFL, former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers Colin Kaepernick created a ripple across the United States when he knelt during the national anthem to protest against the racism and police brutality constantly faced by people of colour in the country. The act was adopted by a number of players to signal that ‘Black Lives Matter’ and spread through the season and into the ongoing one. More recently, while a number of teams and players have decided not to follow suit, the act has been propagated by yet more players, and the phenomenon has caught the scorn of President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence who have, among a good section of Americans, condemned the kneeling to be disrespectful towards the anthem, the flag, the troops that sacrificed their lives so their citizens could live the American dream, and to the country itself.

The President has also tried, although unsuccessfully, to push the league to get the players to stand for the anthem and also to fire the ones who don’t comply. “We’re proud of our country. We respect our flag,” said Trump at a campaign event in September. “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out. He’s fired! He’s fired!'”

Earlier in October, Vice President Mike Pence left the game between Indianapolis Colts and San Francisco 49ers after players from the latter chose to kneel in protest yet again. “I left today’s Colts game because @POTUS and I will not dignify any event that disrespects our soldiers, our Flag, or our National Anthem,” Pence later tweeted of the game.

It doesn’t take a second read to notice that the issue has been blown out of proportion by Mr. Trump and Mr. Pence, and they are not alone in this. A poll conducted by CBS shows that 65% of white respondents felt that kneeling during the national anthem is wrong, while 75% of black respondents approved of the act. The report also suggests that many Americans are not likely to be in support of the act unless they are told what its goals are. “No player is disrespecting our Country or our Flag. As thousands have shown in the past, it takes bravery and courage to speak and confront these issues as our players have, especially when it is unpopular with some”,  executive director of the NFL Players Association DeMaurice Smith said, giving voice to the true motive of the movement. The issue was never about patriotism, about the anthem or about the flag, much less about disrespecting them. It was always about racism, and more people need to know that. Moreover, the NAACP has argued that if a player were to be dropped out of a game due to the act, it would be a violation of his constitutional right to free speech. However, in light of such arguments, one may wonder where one must draw the line on what is acceptable in the name of the national anthem.

Wear your nationalism on your sleeve

In November 2016, the Supreme Court of India made it mandatory for all cinema halls in the country to play the national anthem before the screening of films sighting that “it would instill the feeling within one, a sense (of) committed patriotism and nationalism.” The issue garnered a lot of attention back then, with the central government backing the decision made by the apex court. The population, however, was strongly split. The episode has come back into the fold as a little more than a week ago the Supreme Court again hinted at a modification in its order, passing the responsibility of making the final decision on the matter to the government. The court has now expressed that while every citizen has a duty to respect the national anthem and the flag, the judiciary need not step in to make it compulsory, effectively going back on its mandate from eleven months ago. The court also turned down a plea by the government to not make any changes to its previous order, and the government has found a huge number of its loyalists among the masses standing by its side on the matter, creating such a huge division among the masses. However, in addition to completely botching up an issue that could have been avoided, the Supreme Court has thrown the debate on whether the national anthem should be played in cinema halls and other events in the open once again.

As many supporters of the move and the government have been quick to play the ‘anti-national’ card on the opposition, asking them why they cannot spare 52 seconds of their time to stand proudly for their country, it becomes important to ask why one has to show their patriotism by standing for the national anthem when they are out to watch a movie and more importantly, why patriotism needs to be forced on citizens.

“Why do we have to wear patriotism on our sleeves? People go to the cinema for undiluted entertainment and to ease out”, said Justice D.Y. Chandrachud, one of the judges on the bench who has been against the move since the beginning. “Why do you think that one who does not sing the national anthem is not patriotic? You do not have to sing the national anthem to prove your patriotism. Values are inculcated in a broad social and political culture and patriotism cannot be inculcated among people by the Supreme Court order making it mandatory for playing the national anthem in cinema halls,” he said.

When the president of the second largest democracy in the world, backed by millions of his supporters, calls a protest against racism by kneeling during the national anthem disrespectful towards the country, it doesn’t make us patriotic. Likewise, when a huge fraction of the population of the world’s largest democracy voices its support on the imposition of the national anthem (and by extension nationalism) on the people, it doesn’t make us patriotic either. In fact, it makes us seem quite the opposite: it makes us seem insecure of our patriotism.

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India

A comprehensive guide for visitors to Sunderbans

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West Bengal’s most famous landmark is undoubtedly the Sunderbans, which is located at the South Eastern tip of the 24 Parganas. It is a part of the world’s largest delta formed by the rivers of Ganga, Brahmaputra and Meghna. Of the entire delta, 4,262 sq kilometres of the Sunderbans is situated in India, while another larger portion is a part of Bangladesh. 2,585 sq kilometres of the Indian side of the Sunderbans is dedicated to India’s largest tiger reserve, the Sunderbans National Park.

How to Reach

Sunderbans is well-connected to Kolkata by an excellent transport network of road, rail, air and waterways. Hence one can rent a car in Kolkata and undertake a short two-hour journey (100 kilometres) to reach this amazing National Park and Tiger reserve. This is truly a once in a lifetime experience and visiting this UNESCO World Heritage Site is an amazing adventure for the entire family to embark on.

The nearest airport to reach Sunderbans is Netaji Subhash International Airport, Kolkata that is about 112 kilometres away. For those who love the rail, Canning is the nearest railway station from Sunderbans National Park (about 48 kilometres). The adventurous ones can opt for motorboats which can be hired from Sagar Island, Namkhana, Raidighi and Sonakhali.

What can you see in Sunderbans?

The most famous and popular inhabitant of the Sunderbans is the Tiger and there are over 100 of these magnificent cats roaming the dense forests of this delta and even swimming through the network of channels and mangroves. It is an exciting adventure as you cruise through the world’s largest mangrove sanctuary and its waterways, all the while relishing the breath-taking sights. You can use one of the reliable outstation taxi services in Kolkata that will transport you to the Sunderbans quickly and safely.

The delta is also home to reptiles like the Estuarine Crocodile, the Olive Ridley Turtle and the Monitor Lizard too, all of whom are a part of a conservation program to safeguard their population. Keep an eye out for the playful dolphins, the saltwater crocodiles, the water monitor and kingfishers when you ride out on this expansive water body. The Sunderbans was once home to leopards, rhinoceros, swamp deer and water buffalo, which have turned extinct over the past few decades. Those wishing to travel with the extended family can book an Innova taxi in Kolkata for a hassle-free journey.

When to visit

If you can endure the heat, then the months of March and April are perfect to visit the Sunderbans for increased chances of spotting the Royal Bengal Tiger. November to February is a relatively cool period and is preferred by tourists too. Remember that during winter, the park closes earlier since the days are shorter, while during summer, you can stay in the park for a longer time. A large population of migratory birds also visit this place during summer and this gives you an opportunity to spot them. Travelling from Kolkata for a short trip? It is now easy to book cabs in Kolkata and enjoy this amazing adventure with family and friends.

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