Wednesday, 20 September 2017

No, Mughals didn't loot India. They made us rich

They remained as Indians, not colonists. They had encouraged trade by developing roads, river transport, sea routes, ports and abolishing many inland tolls and taxes. Indian handicrafts were developed, writes Rana Safvi on DailyO. Read on: 

India gained independence in 1947 after a long freedom struggle with British imperialism. Perhaps because of that, lack of historical knowledge and sense we see all conquests as colonisation.

Colonisation is described by professor Harbans Mukhia as "governance of a land and its people, now on behalf of and primarily for the economic benefits of a community of people inhabiting a far-off land".

The Mughals came to India as conquerors but remained as Indians not colonists. They subsumed their identity as well as the group's identity with India and became inseparable from it, says professor Mukhia, giving rise to an enduring culture and history.

In fact, Mukhia goes on to say that this issue of Mughals being foreign was never a discussion point till quite recently, so well had they integrated and assimilated into the country they had made their own.

There was no reason for it either since Akbar onwards all were born in India with many having Rajput mothers and their "Indianness" was complete.

Babur had invaded India at the behest of Daulat Khan Lodi and won the kingdom of Delhi by defeating the forces of Ibrahim khan Lodi at Panipat in 1526 AD. Thus, was laid the foundation of the Mughal Empire.

Most of the Mughals contracted marriage alliances with Indian rulers, especially Rajput. They appointed them to high posts and the Kachhwaha Rajput of Amber normally held the highest military posts in the Mughal army.

It was this sense of identification with the Mughal rulers that led the Indian sepoys who stood up in 1857 AD against the British East India Company in the first war of Indian Independence, to turn towards the aged, frail and powerless Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, coronating him as emperor of Hindustan and fighting under his banner.

From 16th century to 18th century, the Mughal kingdom was the richest and most powerful kingdom in the world and as French traveller Francois Bernier, who came to India in the 17th century, wrote, “Gold and silver come from every quarter of the globe to Hinduostan.”

This is hardly surprising considering that Sher Shah, and the Mughals had encouraged trade by developing roads, river transport, sea routes, ports and abolishing many inland tolls and taxes. Indian handicrafts were developed. There was a thriving export trade in manufactured goods such as cotton cloth, spices, indigo, woollen and silk cloth, salt etc.

The Indian merchants trading on their own terms and taking only bullion as payment, leading Sir Thomas Roe to say that "Europe bleedeth to enrich Asia".

This trade was traditionally in the hands of the Hindu merchant class who controlled the trade. In fact, Bernier wrote that the Hindus possessed "almost exclusively the trade and wealth of the country". The Muslims mainly held high administrative and army posts.

A very efficient system of administration set up by Akbar facilitated an environment of trade and commerce.

It was this which led the East India Company to seek trade concessions from the Mughal empire and eventually control then destroy it.

A very interesting painting in possession of the British Library painted by Spiridione Roma, named The East Offering Her Riches to Britannia, dated 1778, shows Britannia looking down on a kneeling India who is offering her crown surrounded by rubies and pearls. The advent of the famous drain of wealth from India started with the East India Company not the Delhi Sultanate or the Mughals.

Edmund Burke was the first to use the phrase in the 1780s when he said, India had been "radically and irretrievably ruined" through the company’s "continual Drain" of wealth.

Let us examine India’s economic status prior to its becoming a British colony.

The Cambridge historian Angus Maddison writes in his book, Contours of the World Economy 1–2030 AD: Essays in Macro-economic History, that while India had the largest economy till 1000 AD (with a GDP share of 28.9 per cent in 1000AD) there was no economic growth. It was during the 1000 AD-1500 AD that India began to see a economic growth with its highest (20.9 per cent GDP growth rate) being under the Mughals. In the 18th century, India had overtaken China as the largest economy in the world.

The changing share of world GDP 1600–1870 (in million 1990 international $)

Source: Angus Maddison, The World Economy, Paris: OECD, 2001, p. 261, Table B-18
In 2016, on a PPP adjusted basis, India’s was 7.2 per cent of the world GDP.In 1952, India’s GDP was 3.8 per cent. “Indeed, at the beginning of the 20th century, "the brightest jewel in the British Crown" was the poorest country in the world in terms of per capita income," former prime minister Dr Manmohan Singh once said.

Since it's established now that the Mughals did not take away money, let’s talk of what they invested in. They invested in infrastructure, in building great monuments which are a local and tourist draw generating crores of rupees annually.

As per figures presented by the Ministry of Culture in Lok Sabha, just the Taj Mahal built by Shah Jahan has an average annual ticket sale of over Rs 21 crore. (Last year saw a drop in visitors to the Taj Mahal and figures stood at Rs 17.8 crore.) The Qutub Complex generates over Rs 10 crore in ticket sales, Red Fort and Humayun’s Tomb generate around Rs 6 crore each.

A beautiful new style known as Indo-Islamic architecture which imbibed the best of both was born.

They invested in local arts and crafts, and encouraged old and created new skill sets in India. As Swapna Liddle, covenor of INTACH, Delhi Chapter, says, “To my mind, the greatest Mughal contribution to India was in the form of patronage to the arts. Whether it was building, artisanal crafts like weaving and metal-working, or fine arts like painting, they set standards of taste and perfection that became an example for others to follow, and brought India the global recognition for high quality handmade goods that it still enjoys.”

Mughal paintings, jewels, arts and crafts are the key possessions of many a western museum and gallery as they were looted in and after 1857. Some can be seen in Indian museums too.

Art and literature flourished. While original work was being produced in the local and court languages, translation work from Sanskrit to Persian was also taking place. Akbar encouraged the translation of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata to dispel ignorance, which led to communal hatred.

The Taj Mahal, which was built by Shah Jahan, has an average annual ticket sale of over Rs 21 crore

Dara Shukoh’s Persian translation of the Upanishads named Sirr-e-Akbar taken by Bernier to France where it reached Anquetil Deperron, who translated it into French and Latin. The Latin version reached the German philosopher, Schopenhauer, who was greatly influenced by it and called the Persian Upanishad, "the solace of his life". This awakened an interest in post-Vedic Sanskrit literature amongst the European Orientalists.

It wasn’t only the Mughal emperors who were building, but Hindu mansabdars and traders too were building temples and dharmshalas in many cities, especially Banaras. Madhuri Desai in her extremely well-researched book, Banaras Reconstructed, writes: “The riverfront ghats bear an uncanny resemblance to the Mughal fortress-palaces that line the Jamuna river in Agra and Delhi.”

It’s dangerous to generalise history, especially on communal lines. While economic deprivations for the common man existed, as they did and do in any society, as Frances W Pritchett, professor emerita, Columbia University, says, “The impression one gains from looking at social conditions during the Mughal period is of a society moving towards integration of its manifold political regions, social systems and cultural inheritances.

The greatness of the Mughals consisted in part at least in the fact that the influence of their court and government permeated society, giving it a new measure of harmony.”

Thus, to say that the Mughals looted India is a falsification of facts.

It’s always best to read history in history books where one can get facts not on WhatsApp forwards where people often share false data and information as per their own bias.

Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple opens its doors to Yesudas

Yesudas, a born Christian, had sought permission to pray on the occasion of Mahanavami or Vijayadasami day.

Born Christian, but also a follower of Hindu religion, veteran playback singer KJ Yesudas applied for permission to pray at the famous Sree Padmanabha Swamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram.

A meeting of the Executive Committee of the temple has decided to allow the singer to visit the temple on the occasion of Mahanavami or Vijayadasami day which falls on September 29 and 30.

Born in a Roman-Catholic family, the singer had earlier sought permission many times from Guruvayur Sree Krishna Swami temple to pray, but it had been turned down. Yesudas said that despite singing numerous songs on Lord Guruvayoorapan, he is yet to see the deity at the famed Sree Krishna Temple, Guruvayoor in Thrissur district, as the temple bars non-Hindus from entering.

But he regularly visits Sabarimala Ayyappa temple in Patthanamthitta district and Kollur Mookambika temple in Karnataka without any restrictions.

In 2008, he was denied entry by the Kadampuzha Devi temple in Malappuram district.

“I am deeply pained at the experience I had at the temple. Even cats and rats can go near the God. Why Yesudas is barred?” he had reacted then.

Yesudas has sent the permission request to  the temple authorities through a special messenger.

According to the temple, anyone who believes in Hinduism is given permission to pray. The letter given by the legendary singer affirms that he is a believer of the customs and rituals of the temple.

When TNM reached out to V Ratheesan, the executive officer of Padmanabhaswamy temple on Sunday, he said there were no procedural barriers in giving permission to Yesudas.

"The temple administration has always permitted people who believe in Hindu faith to enter the temple. Yesudas, as we all know, is very vocal about his belief in Hindu faith. A meeting convened on Monday by the temple committee will discuss the matter," Ratheesan had said.

Asked who was the authority to give the final word in the matter, the officer said: "There is no question of who gets to say the final word. Allowing people who believe in Hindu faith is not new to the temple. We already have a procedure that is being followed for so many years."

Govt support for temple entry

Reacting to the matter on Monday, Kerala Minister for Devaswom Kadakampally Surendran said that the LDF government was in support of allowing entry to people to all temples, irrespective of their religion.

"Everyone who believes in the faith must be allowed to enter temple and worship. However, every temple has its own rules and we cannot change them all of a sudden," the Minister said.

Yesudas, in his singing career that has entered its 56th year, has recorded more than 1,00,000 songs in 14 languages.

He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1975, Padma Bhushan in 2002 and the Padma Vibhushan in 2017.

(Source: TNM)

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks on Rohingya Muslims - here are 10 takeaways from her speech

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday said the government is prepared to begin a verification process for those Rohingya Muslims who wish to return. Since August, over 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have reportedly fled Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday addressed the Rohingya crisis, saying her government was prepared to begin a verification process for those who wish to return to the country.

Suu Kyi, who skipped the on-going UN General Assembly session in New York, delivered a State of the Union address in English on live television. Since August, over 400,000 Rohingya Muslims have reportedly fled Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi delivers a speech to the nation over Rakhine and Rohingya situation, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar September 19, 2017. (Reuters Photo)

Meanwhile, the Indian government told the Supreme Court on Monday that there are approximately 40,000 illegal immigrants in the country.

Here are the top quotes from Aung San Suu Kyi’s address:
Our government has not yet been in power for even 18 months; we will complete 18 months at the end of the year. It is too short a time to expect us to meet and overcome all the challenges that we are expected to do. This does not mean we are not ready to overcome the challenges.

I am aware of the fact that the world’s attention is focused on the situation in the Rakhine state. Myanmar does not fear international scrutiny. We are committed to a sustainable solution that will lead to peace, stability and development for all communities.

We feel deeply for the suffering of all the people who have been caught up in the conflict. Those who have had to flee their homes are many, not just Muslims and Rakhines, but also small minority groups. The government is working to restore the situation to normalcy.

Since September 5, there have been no armed clashes and no clearance operations. We are concerned to hear that numbers of Muslims are fleeing across the border to Bangladesh. We want to find out why the exodus is happening. We would like to talk to those who have fled, and those who have stayed — more than 50 per cent of villages of Muslims are intact and are as they were before the attacks took place.

The government is working hard to enhance existing relations with Bangladesh. We hope to take forward the arrangements with regard to the security at the border, which we are trying to implement together.

Myanmar is prepared to start the verification process of refugees who wish to return. Those who have been verified as refugees will be accepted without any problems and with full assurance of security and access to humanitarian aid.

There are allegations and counter-allegations. Action will be taken against all people, regardless of religion, race, political affiliation who go against the laws of the land and violate human rights as accepted by the international community. Our government has emerged as a body committed to the defence of human rights.

Myanmar wants peace rather than war, harmony rather than conflict. The government wants to put an end to the suffering to our people as quickly as possible. We don’t want Myanmar to be divided on the basis of religious beliefs or ethinicities or political ideology. We have the right to our diverse identities.

We invite our friends who understand and sympathise with our aspirations and problems to join us to find new paths and answers towards peace, stability and harmony.
We would like to make our country a nation within whose border everybody can live in security and in prosperity.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Cyclist Mark Beaumont breaks around the world record

Mark Beaumont has broken the world record for cycling around the world - by 44 days.

The 34-year-old, from Perthshire, arrived in Paris one day ahead of schedule having cycled the 18,000-mile route in 79 days.

He set a new world record of 194 days in 2008. Since then it has been broken by other riders, with the previous record set at 123 days.

To achieve his goal, Mark needed to cycle an average 240 miles a day.

He was on his bike for more than 16 hours a day and only slept for five hours each night.

Inspired by Jules Verne's classic adventure novel Around The World In Eighty Days, he began his journey in Paris on 2 July and cycled through Europe, Russia, Mongolia and China.

He then cycled across Australia, up through New Zealand and across North America before the final "sprint finish" thorough Portugal, Spain and France.

During the trip, Mark was also awarded the Guinness World Records title for the most miles cycled in a month, from Paris to Perth in Australia, verified at 7,031 miles (11,315km).

On completing the expedition, the Edinburgh-based cyclist, said: "This has been, without doubt, the most punishing challenge I have ever put my body and mind through. The physical and mental stamina required for each day was a challenge in itself, but I had an amazing support team around me.

"The success of cycling around the world in 80 days shows that what seemed impossible is possible and has redefined the limits of endurance sport.

"Each stage brought different challenges including different climates, which I had to adjust to quickly. Stage one through Russia and Mongolia was unknown territory, so to complete this phase and come out with a second Guinness World Records title is a real achievement."

Mark Beaumont on the last leg of his journey
He added: "I am very grateful for the support I've received from people all over the world, from fellow cyclists joining me on the road to messages and wishes online.

"The experience has been incredible, and I'm excited to share this journey for years to come."

During the trip the cyclist was exposed to sub-zero temperatures in the southern hemisphere and smog from forest fires in North America.

He had two falls - one of them in Russia requiring emergency dental treatment from his back-up team - but otherwise everything went to plan.

He said: "Ultimately, the magic ingredient that you need to be able to do something like this is grit, just the ability to suffer.

"Physically, of course, I'm incredibly sore but what you learn very quickly is there's a big difference between hurting and being injured. I'm not injured, although it will take time for the body to recover.

"For one thing, I think I'd struggle to walk up and down a flight of steps at the moment because I've not really walked since 2 July."

A crowd of well-wishers was waiting for the cyclist as he pedalled up to the Arc de Triomphe, completing the 240 miles of this last leg.

Mark began long-distance cycling at the age of 12 when he rode 145 miles across Scotland.

He was supported by a team including a mechanic, nutritionist, physiotherapist and manager.

The adventurer is raising funds for Orkidstudio, which works to benefit communities worldwide through innovative architecture and construction.

Five amazing facts about Mark Beaumont's 80-day challenge:

  • Mark Beaumont has been cycling across the world. He's travelled over 17,000 miles, riding for 16 hours a day, functioning on around five hours of sleep each night. He is on his way to smashing his around-the-world-in-80-days target. Here are some amazing facts about his attempt.

  • It's not all been by bike and it hasn't all been smooth sailing. Mark has taken four flights, been a passenger on a ferry and had two crashes while travelling across four continents.

  • There is a big team behind Mark and they've had to deal with some pretty unusual things. They've been involved in a car crash and had to dig themselves out of sand after getting stuck in it. They even had to try their hand at dentistry after Mark cracked his tooth when he crashed.

  • The route is always changing. When the team plot the journey on a map, they don't know how good or busy the roads are, so the route has to change to make sure that Mark does not have to ride alongside big lorries or on really busy roads. He has to cover 18,000 miles over the course of the whole journey in order for the record to count.

  • Wind is a tool and the weather is very important. If Mark is riding against the wind it slows him down a lot, but if he has a good tail wind it can help to carry him a bit so he rides faster.

  • He's not done it all on his own. At times it's been a really sociable event. Even his friends from his first journey ten years ago have met him at certain points along the way. Mark looks set to smash the current world record and may even beat his own target of 80 days and get to Paris a day earlier than planned.

(Source: BBC)

What the world’s emptiest international airport says about China’s influence

An airport in Sri Lanka is designed to handle a million passengers per year. It currently receives about a dozen passengers per day, writes Brook Larmer on the NYT. Read on: 

The four-lane highway leading out of the Sri Lankan town of Hambantota gets so little traffic that it sometimes attracts more wild elephants than automobiles. The pachyderms are intelligent — they seem to use the road as a jungle shortcut — but not intelligent enough, alas, to appreciate the pun their course embodies: It links together a series of white elephants, i.e. boondoggles, built and financed by the Chinese. Beyond the lonely highway itself, there is a 35,000-seat cricket stadium, an almost vacant $1.5 billion deepwater port and, 16 miles inland, a $209 million jewel known as “the world’s emptiest international airport.”

Mattala Rajapaksa International Airport, the second-largest in Sri Lanka, is designed to handle a million passengers per year. It currently receives about a dozen passengers per day. Business is so slow that the airport has made more money from renting out the unused cargo terminals for rice storage than from flight-related activities. In one burst of activity last year, 350 security personnel armed with firecrackers were deployed to scare off wild animals, the airport’s most common visitors.

Projects like Mattala are not driven by local economic needs but by remote stratagems. When Sri Lanka’s 27-year civil war ended in 2009, the president at the time, Mahinda Rajapaksa, fixated on the idea of turning his poor home district into a world-class business and tourism hub to help its moribund economy. China, with a dream of its own, was happy to oblige. Hambantota sits in a very strategic location, just a few miles north of the vital Indian Ocean shipping lane over which more than 80 percent of China’s imported oil travels. A port added luster to the “string of pearls” that China was starting to assemble all along the so-called Maritime Silk Road.

Sadly, no travelers came, only the bills. The Mattala airport has annual revenues of roughly $300,000, but now it must repay China $23.6 million a year for the next eight years, according to Sri Lanka’s Transport and Civil Aviation Ministry. Over all, around 90 percent of the country’s revenues goes to servicing debt. Even a new president who took office in 2015 on a promise to curb Chinese influence succumbed to financial reality.

To relieve its debt crisis, Sri Lanka has put its white elephants up for sale. In late July, the government agreed to give China control of the deepwater port — a 70 percent equity stake over 99 years — in exchange for writing off $1.1 billion of the island’s debt. (China has promised to invest another $600 million to make the port commercially viable.) When the preliminary deal was first floated in January, protests erupted in response to the perceived sell-off of national sovereignty, a reminder of Sri Lanka’s colonial past under British rule. “We always thought China’s investments would help our economy,” says Amantha Perera, a Sri Lankan journalist and university researcher. “But now there’s a sense that we’ve been maneuvered into selling some of the family jewels.”

As the United States beats a haphazard retreat from the world — nixing trade agreements, eschewing diplomacy, antagonizing allies — China marches on with its unabashedly ambitious global-expansion program known as One Belt, One Road. The branding is awkward: “Belt” refers to the land-bound trading route through Central Asia and Europe, while “Road,” confusingly, stands for the maritime route stretching from Southeast Asia across the Indian Ocean to the Middle East, Africa and Europe. Still, the intentions are clear: With a lending and acquisitions blitz extending to 68 countries (and counting), OBOR seeks to create the ports, roads and rail and telecommunications links for a modern-day Silk Road — with all paths leading to China.

This is China’s long game. It’s not about immediate profits; infrastructure projects are a bad way to make money. So why is President Xi Jinping fast-tracking OBOR projects amid an economic slowdown at home and a crackdown on other overseas acquisitions? Economics is a big part: China wants to secure access to key resources, export its idle industrial capacity, even tilt the world order in its favor. But there is also a far greater cultural ambition. For centuries, Western liberalism has ruled the world. The Chinese believe their time has come. “China sees itself as a great civilization that needs to regain its status as leader of the world,” says Kadira Pethiyagoda, a fellow at the Brookings Institution Doha Center. “And America’s retreat gives China the space to do that.”

It’s tempting to see OBOR as a muscled-up Marshall Plan, the American-led program that helped rebuild Western Europe after World War II. OBOR, too, is designed to build vital infrastructure, spread prosperity and drive global development. Yet little of what China offers is aid or even low-interest lending. Much OBOR financing comes in the form of market-rate loans that weaker countries are eager to receive — but may struggle to repay. Even when the projects are well suited for the local economy, the result can look a bit like a shell game: Things are built, money goes to Chinese companies and the country is saddled with more debt. What happens when, as is often the case, infrastructure projects are driven more by geopolitical ambition or the need to give China’s state-owned companies something to do? Well, Sri Lanka has an empty airport for sale.

Sri Lanka may be a harbinger for debt crises to come. Many other OBOR countries have taken on huge Chinese loans that could prove difficult to repay. For example, Chinese banks, according to The Financial Times, recently lent Pakistan $1.2 billion to stave off a currency crisis — even as they pledged $57 billion more to develop the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor. “The projects China proposes are so big and appealing and revolutionary that many small countries can’t resist,” says Brahma Chellaney, a professor of strategic studies at New Delhi’s Center for Policy Research. “They take on loans like it’s a drug addiction and then get trapped in debt servitude. It’s clearly part of China’s geostrategic vision.”

This charge conjures the specter of colonialism, when the British and Dutch weaponized debt to take control of nations’ strategic assets. China insists it is nothing like a colonial power. Its appeal to developing countries, after all, is often based on a shared negative experience of colonialism — and the desire to have cooperative “win-win” trade and investment relationships. Unlike Western countries and institutions that try to influence how developing countries govern themselves, China says it espouses the principle of noninterference. If local partners benefit from a new road or port, the Chinese suggest, shouldn’t they be able to “win,” too — by securing its main trade routes, building loyal partnerships and enhancing its global prestige?

The last time China was a global power, back in the early 1400s, it also sought to amplify its glory and might along the Maritime Silk Road, through the epic voyages of Zheng He. A towering Ming dynasty eunuch — in some accounts he stands seven feet tall — Zheng He commanded seven expeditions from Asia to the Middle East and Africa. When he came ashore on Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) around 1406, his fleet commanded shock and awe: It was a floating city of more than 300 ships and some 30,000 sailors. Besides seeking tributes and trade — the ships were laden with silk, gold and porcelain — his mission was to enhance China’s status as the greatest civilization on earth.

After Zheng He’s death at sea in 1433, China turned inward for the next six centuries. Now, as the country has become a global power once again, Communist Party leaders have revived the legend of Zheng He to show China’s peaceful intentions and its historical connections to the region. His goal, they say, was not to conquer — unlike Western empires — but to establish friendly trade and diplomatic relations. In Sri Lanka today, Chinese tour groups often traipse through a Colombo museum to see the trilingual stone tablet the admiral brought here — proof, it seems, that China respected all peoples and religions. No mention is made of a less savory aspect of Zheng He’s dealings in Ceylon. On a later expedition, around 1411, his troops became embroiled in a war. Zheng He prevailed and took the local king back to China as a prisoner.

The unsanitized version of Zheng He’s story may contain a lesson for present-day China about unintended consequences. Pushing countries deeper into debt, even inadvertently, may give China leverage in the short run, but it risks losing the good will essential to OBOR’s long-term success. For all the big projects China is engaged in around the world — high-speed rail in Laos, a military base in Djibouti, highways in Kenya — arguably its most perilous step so far may be taking control of the foundering Hambantota port. “It’s folly to take equity stakes,” says Joshua Eisenman, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “China will have to become further entwined in local politics. And what happens if the country decides to deny a permit or throw them out. Do they retreat? Do they protect?” China promotes itself as a new, gentler kind of power, but it’s worth remembering that dredging deepwater ports and laying down railroad ties to secure new trade routes — and then having to defend them from angry locals — was precisely how Britain started down the slippery slope to empire.

SBI collects Rs 235 crore in minimum balance fine in 1st quarter

SBI has realised Rs 235.06 crore as penalty from 388.74 lakh accounts for not maintaining monthly average balance in the 1st quarter of the current fiscal, an RTI query has revealed.

State Bank of India (SBI) has realised Rs235.06 crore as penalty from 388.74 lakh accounts for not maintaining monthly average balance in the first quarter of the current fiscal, an RTI query has revealed.

“An amount of Rs235.06 crore has been realised from our 388.74 lakh accounts which did not maintain monthly average balance in the first quarter ended 30 June,” SBI said in its reply to an application filed by Neemuch-based RTI activist Chandrashekhar Gaud.

The RTI activist said the bank has not revealed the categories of accounts on which the fine has been levied for non-compliance with its minimum balance requirements. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
This information was furnished by a Mumbai-based deputy general manager rank officer of the bank’s operations department, he said.

However, the country’s top bank has not revealed the categories of accounts on which the fine has been levied for non-compliance with its minimum balance requirements, the activist said.

Gaud appealed to the state-run lender to review its policy of levying penalty for non-compliance with its minimum balance requirements in the interest of the poor account holders.

(Source: Live Mint)

The mystery of the photograph that revealed a different side of MS Subbulakshmi

The iconic image of the Carnatic vocalist and Balasaraswati, in silk pyjamas and with cigarettes, reveals them as girls who just wanted to have fun, writes Vinita Govindarajan on the Scroll. Read on: 

One day in 1937, two young long-haired women in saris stepped into a small photo studio in Madras. They changed into striped pyjama suits and struck a pose in front of the studio camera. One of them leaned languidly against a chair, while the other’s eyes focused on something outside the frame. Both of them held cigarettes.

The world-renowned Carnatic vocalist MS Subbulakshmi and the legendary Bharatanatyam dancer Balasaraswati were just having a bit of fun.

“The two teenaged friends both became world-famous artists,” wrote Douglas Knight J in the biography Balasaraswati: Her Art & Life. “From strictly disciplined households, the two asserted their independence by secretly arranging this photograph of themselves dressed outrageously in Western-style sleepwear and pretending to smoke cigarettes.”

This iconic photograph was first made public only 73 years later, in the 2010 biography of Balasaraswati penned by her son-in-law Douglas Knight J. By this time, the successful careers of these artists were so highly revered over decades, almost deified, that this picture quite suddenly threw light on a whole new aspect of their lives – just two young friends attempting to do something unconventional.

“Neither of them wore western clothes, they didn’t smoke – nothing like that,” said Aniruddha Knight, Balasaraswati’s grandson and a professional Bharatnatyam dancer. “It was just to do something different. All they could do throughout their lives was concentrate on their learning and career. This is just a step away from all of that.”

MS Subbulakshmi and T Balasarawati

Public image
Nobody knows who the photographer was or where exactly it was taken. But the publishing of this picture received mixed feedback for humanising these celebrities.

The stir caused by the release of the photograph among fans of both luminaries is perhaps understandable, particularly in the case of Subbulakshmi. While both women were known to be torchbearers in the traditional South Indian art forms, Subbalakshmi’s persona, according to several accounts, underwent a drastic transformation after her marriage to T Sadashivam, a writer with a nationalist worldview.

According to TJS George’s biography M.S. Subbulakshmi: The Definitive Biography, Subbalakshmi’s career and public image was steered and moulded by Sadashivam from that of a talented young devadasi – a community that has traditionally taken to performing arts – to an the ideal, devout Brahmin wife.

“We can see clearly how MS’s style changed just from her attire,” wrote the acclaimed Carnatic musician TM Krishna in the magazine The Caravan. “Gone were the puffed sleeves and casual saris. Even more dramatically, gone was the MS of that early, fun photograph in which she is pictured with a young Balasaraswati, in Western-style sleeping suit, sporting an unlit cigarette in her mouth. We can now only visualise her in conservative smarta-brahminkattu, the style in which she draped her sari.”

In 1945, Subbulakshmi shot to national fame with her portrayal of the saint Mirabai in the movie Meera. According to TM Krishna, the fact that this was the last film she acted in shaped her persona, “etching the image of Meera forever on the frame of MS”.

Image credit: MS Subbalakshmi as Meera courtesy West Virginia State Archives, USA
Focus on the art
Film historian Theodore Bhaskaran said that when he once approached Subbulakshmi’s residence to interview her for his book on the history of Tamil cinema, her husband Sadashivam told him that she was not interested in talking about her film days. Bhaskaran said that much of the writing on MS Subbulakshmi’s life has downplayed her cinema days, as if it was not respectable.

While Balasaraswati followed the matrilineal traditions of the devadasis by staying with her extended family in her original home, and taking a partner who also supported her art, this was not the case with Subbulakshmi. Nevertheless, both of them went on to be lifelong friends. Each features in the other’s biographies, albeit in brief references: Balasaraswati performs at an event organised by Subbulakshmi, Subbulakshmi is supportive of Balasaraswati when her partner RK Shanmukham passes away.

A photograph of the gorgeous, T Balasarawati Photo:Antara/Facebook

Knight said that the photograph of the two friends in the studio was published so that people would understand that these artists were also regular people with different facets to their personalities. Although hundreds of fans appreciated this move, he also received a lot of criticism saying that it was disrespectful to their memory.

But Knight is of the opinion that rasikas, or aesthetes, should only concentrate on the art of these performers, while respecting their personal life.

“It is a very important picture that goes to show that not everyone was born with a nine-yard saree or does everything with tradition,” Knight said. “That is our own perspective, and we don’t like things that fall out of it. We all need a jolt sometimes.”

It rings for Shakuntala

Wendy Doniger looks into the trope of jewellery that occurs so prolifically in myth, literature and culture and ties it to a wellspring of desire and eroticism, writes Sreemoyee Piu Kundu on the Outlook, reviewing the book, The Ring of Truth: Myths of Sex And Jewelry. Read on: 

Renowned American indologist Wendy Doniger’s new book, The Ring of Truth: Myths of Sex and Jewelry, commences with a rather interesting personal anecdote about Doniger’s mat­e­rnal uncle Harry, who her mother claims is a ‘gemologist’.

“Every weekday of his life, well into his eighties, he went from his home in New Jersey into the Diamond Exchange in New York; he also claimed to have inv­ented a way of making perfect dia­monds, very cheap, and to have been somehow cheated, or threatened, out of his formula by the De Beers cartel. Whenever Uncle ­Harry came to our house for dinner, after the dessert plates were cleared, he would take out of his inside breast pocket a rolled-up piece of black velvet, which he would unroll and unfold to reveal a series of pockets, each containing a piece of lov­ely jewelry, or a few unusual gems, particularly fire opals, all suspiciously inexpensive, no questions to be asked. My father would be pressured into buying some of them, and I still have several pieces that I cherish, tho­­ugh every time I wear them I glance about nervously in fear that som­eone will come up to me and claim ownership of it. So the dicey side of jewelry is in my blood.”

It is this generous splattering of personal narratives that dot the book’s central, all pervasive theme—why are sex and jewellery, particularly finger rings, so often and so viscerally connected? Why do rings feature so prominently in stories about marriage and adultery, love and betrayal, loss and rec­overy, identity and masquerade?

What is the mythology that makes finger rings symbolic of permissible, or as the case could perhaps be, impermissible love throughout the world—panning cross cultures and civilisations and people. And while the book can be a bit tedious for the average Doniger fan in terms of its sheer volume and attention to detail, what makes it a fascinating historical and cultural presentation—I can see being kept in libraries and taught in universities—is the sheer swiftness and felicity with which Doniger shifts from Sanskrit and Greek epics and the plays of Kalidasa and Shakespeare, vib­rant folklore and familiar fairy tales to touch upon Hollywood and pop songs, while establishing just how rings have time and again essayed a key role in drastically altering the course of human eng­agement and action.

The character of a woman is also refl­ectively linked through the prism of jewellery. To establish the critical link, Doniger, for instance in the section called Sita’s Jewels, draws attention to the phrase ‘dimmed with constant wear’, as a compromise move (as was her amb­ivalence about wearing jewellery into the forest in the first place).

“In general,” writes Doniger, “the married woman who wears jewelry in her husband’s abs­ence is a bad wife. But, since Sita is a princess, jewelry is an essential part of her being; therefore she remains a good wife even when she wears her jewelry in exile from her husband”. In the same way, Doniger draws attention to the friction between royal jewellery and an innocent girl of the forest, linked symbolically through the folk motif of the ring in the fish.

“Here again the king’s signet ring, like Rama’s, is an essential clue (as it is throughout the genre of kings who use signet rings to seduce their female subjects), but unlike Sita and Ratnavali, the heroine of the story has no jewelry of her own”, she states.

“I wrote several articles about rings almost 20 years ago, and gave lectures on them too. Each time I gave a lecture, someone in the audience would come up afterwards and tell me a story about a ring. Later, as I was teaching courses on Sanskrit texts, Greek myths and Shakespeare plays, and watching old movies, I began to notice the rings in them too,” claims the 76-year-old Doniger in an  interview to the media.
While describing the great role rings have played in actuating human agency, Doniger flits from Sanskrit, Greek epics, Kalidasa and Shakespeare, folklore and Hollywood with great ease.
She reiterates this same, evocative int­er­est over 316 pages that concludes with Tom Zoellner’s quote on the ring through the story of the first girl he loved. “I still believed—despite all my scepticism—that an engagement ring did carry some kind of mystical charge, even though logic said otherwise.”

The ring, concludes Doniger, “conjures up deep-sea­ted ideas about jewelry and women and desire and deceit that continue to hold us in their thrall, no matter how much we learn that blatantly contradicts our gut feelings or even the song that our culture is singing at the moment. And so the myth carries the day; the ring rings true”.

Qatar set for world's largest water reservoir

In a major milestone for Qatar, the Qatar General Electricity and Water Corporation (Kahramaa) is constructing what would become the largest water reservoir in the world. The project is being implemented in view of the population growth and urban development witnessed in Qatar, Head of Water Projects Section at Kahramaa Eng. Jabr Rashed al Nuaimi has said.

The Water Security Mega Reservoirs Project was launched in several phases, starting with the sites study and design phase. The sites for the reservoir were selected in five locations based on population distribution in the country.

Reservoir rendering. Credit: HLG

The reservoirs are planned to be constructed in five locations -- Um Baraka, Um Salal, Rawdat Rashid, Abu Nakhla, and Al Thumama.

The second phase of the project comprised site equipping and drilling works which was completed successfully. The third phase entailed the construction of water reservoirs, the largest in the world, with each reservoir having the capacity of 100 million gallons of water.

In a report broadcast from Umm Salal site on Qatar TV, Nuaimi revealed that more than 70% of construction on the reservoirs has been completed and the facility is now in the testing phase. Besides, the water pipelines work is almost 95% complete and is now in testing phase, and will be connected to the five reservoirs.

The next phase involves construction of the pumps building, which is a very important part, for which the latest technologies have been used. A considerable progress has been made in construction works.

The linking phase comes next, where the reservoirs are linked with each other through water pipelines with distance of up to 660 km. The pipelines, which link the reservoirs from North to South, are imported by air from France and Japan through the largest cargo aircraft in the world which weigh about 70 times the Eiffel Tower.

Reservoir construction. Credit: Kahramaa

The project aims to raise the strategic reserves of water to last until 2026. The total value of the contracts is around QR17 billion. The project, announced in mid-March 2015, was launched to build mega water reservoirs and extend water pipelines in mid-May of the same year with a total capacity of about 2,300 million gallons of water.

This strategic project entails the largest expansion of Qatar’s water reserves ever with the objective of raising the country’s strategic water reserves to 2026 as a first phase.

The Water Security Mega Reservoirs Project will deliver storage capacity of about 2,300 million gallons of water in 24 huge concrete reservoirs, with a capacity of about 100 million gallons of water per each reservoir as a largest concrete reservoir in the world.

The designs of the second phase have been created in a way to be in line with the water demand in the country until 2036. The number of reservoirs will reach 40 with a capacity of about 3,800 million gallons of water.

Network of reservoirs. Credit: Kahramaa
This is one of the most pivotal projects in Qatar as it raises the strategic water reserves to meet future needs, thereby ensuring water security and the quality of services provided by Kahramaa.

In addition, 650 km of large-diameter water pipes will be extended during the first phase. The reservoirs will cover an area of about one square km in each location.The design and the locations
of the reservoirs will enable Kahramaa to receive desalinated water from Ras Laffan in the north and Ras Abu Fontas in the South and will also facilitate linking of these reservoirs with the existing water distribution network to meet the demand of the rapid population growth.

(Source: Qatar Tribune)

Steve Smith warns India have weapons other than spin

Australia were undone by spin in the first one-day international but skipper Steve Smith has warned his side need to be ready for India's other bowling weapons.

The tourists were frustrated by wrist spinners Yuzvendra Chahal and Kuldeep Yadav, who took five wickets between them, to go down by 26 runs as they chased a rain-shortened target of 164 in 21 overs.

Australia had brought in local bowler KK Jiyas ahead of Sunday's game to practise facing a left-arm wrist spinner and Smith said the performance in Chennai was disappointing but that his side have got to be ready for more.

"We certainly haven't just been focusing on wrist spin. We've been facing our fast bowlers in the nets and other net bowlers as well," Smith said.

"There hasn't just been that focus on spin bowling, that's for sure. India have some quality seamers as well," he added.

It was fast bowlers Jasprit Bumrah and Hardik Pandya who rattled the Australian top order before the spinners moved in.

Leg-spinner Chahal and Yadav also slipped in a few knuckle balls - bowled with fingertips and released in a way to reduce any kind of rotation on the ball - for shock value.

Smith insisted there were no surprises in the game, as Australia had prepared for all challenges.
"The guys knew what they were going to come with before this game. Everyone had seen the footage and watched a bit of the series in Sri Lanka where they bowled quite a few (knuckle balls)," said Smith.

"It wasn't any surprise to us. Batting for 20 overs is difficult when you're losing wickets and trying to go quite hard.

"It didn't work out as we would have liked but we've got to turn things around in a couple of days' time in Kolkata," he added.

Smith also believes Australia spinner Adam Zampa has to respond, after taking a beating against Pandya whose 83-run blitz took India to 281-7 in 50 overs.

Pandya smashed the leg spinner for a four and three successive sixes in one over to bring up his third ODI fifty.

Zampa did make Pandya his only wicket of the innings. But the bowler's 10 overs cost 66 runs.
"I guess the message to Zampa as well was to try and bring his length back a little bit. He was bowling very full and Hardik looked like hitting every one of those for six," said Smith.

"As soon as he got his length back a little bit and made him go across the ball he got him out."

Chahal, who returned impressive figures of 3-30 in his five overs, felt there is no added expectation on the Indian spinners in such a high-profile series.

"No pressure as such. We don't think a lot about what's happening. We go by the situation of the wicket and since both of us are attacking, we go for wickets.

"Wrist spinners are mostly attacking and when your captain is so attacking you get more freedom to attack," he added.

The teams travel to Eden Gardens in Kolkata for the second ODI on Thursday.

(Source: ToI)

Eight decades on, Bengalis continue to tune in to ‘Birendra Krishna Bhadra’ for Durga Pujo

Mahishasura Mardini, the famous 90-minute musical piece was first composed in 1931 under the direction of Pankaj Kumar Mullick. It was only recorded in 1966, after which the recorded version was played everywhere, writes Arnab Mitra on the Indian Express. Read on: 

It’s that time of the year, yet again, to welcome Ma Durga; when the heart-piercing and oh-so-familiar strains of ‘Mahishasura Mardini’ will emanate from every Bengali house across India and, possibly, the world. Eight decades after it was first recorded, there is still no comparison with the sonorous voice of Birendra Krishna Bhadra that still rules the heart of every Bengali. But who is this man whose reverberating voice even the great Uttam Kumar could not replace?

In 1905, Bhadra was born Ahiritola, North Kolkata to Kali Krishna Bhadra, a well-known linguist, who had been awarded the title ‘Roy Bahadur’ in the year 1927, and Sarala Bala Devi, daughter of the then police court lawyer Kalicharan Ghosh.

After graduating from Scottish Church College in 1928, Bhadra joined All India Radio, Kolkata, and became the lead vocal of Pankaj Kumar Mallik’s ‘Mahishasura Mardini’. Apart from a legendary radio voice, Bhadra was an amazing play writer and director, whose oeuvre includes ‘Mess No. 49’ and directed a theater production ‘Saheb Bibi Golam’, authored by Bimal Mitra.

In 1952, he dramatised Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s ‘Subarna Golak’, and even acted in plays such as ‘Blackout’ and ‘Sat Tulsi’. An accomplished author too, his bibliography includes ‘Hitopadesa’, ‘Bisvarupa-darsana’, ‘Rana-berana’, ‘Bratakatha samagra’, ‘Srimadbahagabata’, and he even has a film script ‘Nishiddha Phal’ (1955) to his name.

Birendra Krishna Bhadra (

“One of the great stalwarts of radio drama production at AIR Kolkata, Birendra Krishna Bhadra was himself a good actor. Bhadra and Bani Kumar had mastered the art of editing scripts to perfection. Bhadra was a celebrated playwright as well,” Dr Manas Pratim Das writes in ‘Radio Play: The Kolkata story’.

“One particular play that upheld the acting and production faculty of Bhadra was Proloy. Written by Sachindra Nath Sengupta this was declared by Bhadra as the first two-hour play for radio. It was first drama at AIR Kolkata to be preserved,” Das wrote.

Mahishasura Mardini, the famous 90-minute musical piece was first composed in 1931 under the direction of Pankaj Kumar Mullick. The script by Bani Kumar is a combination of a narration, hymns and Bengali devotional songs on the creation of goddess Durga to kill the demon king Mahishasura.

For several years, Mahishasura Mardini was played live with well-known artistes including Manabendra Mukhopadhyay, Arati Mukhopadhyay, Supriti Ghosh, Bimal Bhusan, Utpala Sen, Tarun Banerjee, Krishna Dasgupta, Dwijen Mukhopadhyay, Pratima Banerjee, Shyamal Mitra, Sandhya Mukhopadhyay, Sumitra Sen, Ashima Bhattacharya, Shipra Bose and Pankaj Mallik. It was only recorded in 1966, after which the recorded version was played everywhere.

All India Radio, Kolkata, has tried several times with different voices, one of it was by noted actor Uttam Kumar in 1976, but none of it managed to create the magic woven by Bhadra. The legend passed away on November 3, 1991, at the age of 86, leaving us the legacy of his unmatched, haunting voice that continues to mark the beginning of Pujo in Bengali households on the day of Mahalaya.

People doing pitri tarpan on the day of Mahalaya. Mahalaya marks the beginning of ‘Devipaksha’, putting an end to ‘Pitripaksha’ (

And though many gawk at the thought of having to wake up at around 4am to tune in to AIR, it’s also available on YouTube, as well as on an app called ‘Mahalaya’ for Android and IOS users. It also broadcast in Hindi for the pan-India audience. This year, the Durga Puja starts on September 19 (Mahalaya) and will end on September 30 (Bijoya Dashami).

Come Tuesday, we will be setting our radios to the frequency of Birendra Krishna Bhadra’s Mahishasur Mardini, will you?

Translation fails that will have you ROFL

If you're running a business in a tourist-heavy country, having signage in English is a smart move. Your smarts go out the window, however, if the English translations you display are horribly, hilariously wrong. We understand that not everyone knows the language well enough to do it all off the top of their head, but please - don't trust Google Translate to give you anything but an absolutely literal conversion of whatever you type in.

Well, to be fair on Google Translate, it's possible that some of these errors were just honest typos. Either way, scroll down to see the funniest mistranslations people have come across during their travels, and vote for the ones that had you howling. Anyone up for a nice 'decomposed Moscow mule' later?

(Source: Borepanda)

Swami Vivekananda's 120-year-old 9/11 speech

The Hindu monk’s speech on religious tolerance and primacy of man has been hailed as one the greatest orations in history, writes Sandipan Deb on Live Mint. Read on: 

The current issue of Intelligent Life, the culture-technology-lifestyle sibling of The Economist, poses the question “What was the greatest speech ever?” Six writers were asked to give their choices. Mark Tully, BBC’s former bureau chief for India, has chosen Swami Vivekananda’s speech at the first World’s Parliament of Religion in Chicago in 1893. Picks by the others include Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, Nelson Mandela’s speech at his trial in 1964, and Hillary Clinton’s speech on women’s rights at Beijing in 1995.

Most literate Indians are aware of Vivekananda’s speech (I hope), or at least its beginning: “Sisters and brothers of America”. What is less known is that the several thousands of delegates—most of them Christians—were so impressed with this 30-year-old Hindu monk’s words that he was invited to speak five more times over the next fortnight at the congregation. As Tully notes, New York Herald said, “Vivekananda is undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions.” “He was relevant then and is relevant today for his constant affirmation that all religions are paths to God, and his call for tolerance,” writes Tully.

What was so dazzling about that speech?
It’s just 458 words long, so could not have lasted more than five or six minutes (It was also delivered extempore). Vivekananda speaks on one single theme: what he believes is the core value of Hinduism, and the most precious one. “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance,” he says.

“We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth... I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: ‘As the different streams having their sources in different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.’”

To go back a little. The way that Vivekananda arrived at the vast hall of Chicago’s Art Institute is itself quite an incredible story. After the death of his Master, Ramakrishna Paramhansa, Vivekananda had lived the life of a wandering mendicant for nearly seven years, travelling the length and breadth of the country. The more he saw the wretched condition of the Indian masses, the more convinced he was that what they needed was less religion and more spirituality (Don’t be put off by that word, Vivekananda’s version of “spirituality” was pragmatic, robust and even physical).

Centuries of oppression, poverty and obscurantism had crushed the Indian spirit. What they needed first and foremost, he decided, was inner strength, a confidence that could help them achieve their potential. God, he felt, need not be worshipped on an empty stomach. Two square meals a day were far more important than a visit to a temple, and those meals could come only when a man realized the power inherent in himself, his own divinity, that God resided inside him, as He did in all Creation (If you take “God” and “divinity” out of this observation, it is fundamentally no different from a humanist/atheist argument).

It is our duty to make sure that Vivekananda is not appropriated by any polemicist or politician,
or even any religion. Photo: HT

Money earned literally through begging door to door, and donations from three South Indian kings, enabled Vivekananda to reach Chicago in July 1893. On arrival, he learnt to his dismay that no delegate would be admitted to Parliament without proper credentials from a bona fide organization. Vivekananda was a lone monk representing no organization, and even if he had been, the last date for registration of delegates was past.

In addition, the Parliament was two months away. He had neither the money to return to India nor to live for two months in Chicago and take a chance at gate-crashing the convention. Unwilling to accept defeat, and being told that Boston was a cheaper city than Chicago, he boarded a train to that city. On the way, a wealthy lady co-passenger got into a conversation with him, and was impressed enough to invite him to come and stay in her country home.

Vivekananda accepted gratefully, and through his hostess, happened to meet J.H. Wright, a professor of Greek at Harvard. The young monk’s calm wisdom astonished him, and he wrote to the chairman of the committee for the selection of delegates, a friend, and bought him a ticket to Chicago. But when he reached Chicago on 9 September, Vivekananda discovered that he had lost the address of the committee.

Walking the streets, he kept asking people about the Parliament, but no one knew anything, and he spent the night in an empty boxcar in a railroad freight yard. Next morning, he started off on his quest again in the richer neighbourhoods of the city. After hours of being shooed away by butlers who saw only a bedraggled foreign beggar when they opened the door, he sat down, exhausted, on the pavement.

Miraculously, the door of a mansion across the road opened and the lady of the house appeared, and asked him whether he was a delegate to the Parliament of Religions. Mrs George Hale, whose family would become lifelong friends of Vivekananda, invited him in, and after he had cleaned up and eaten, took him over to the office of the committee and had him registered.

The convention began the next day, 11 September. Yes, it was a 9/11.

As speaker after speaker representing all the major religions of the world gave lengthy speeches from prepared texts, touting the superiority of their particular faiths, the young man from India realized that neither had he ever addressed such a large gathering (nearly four thousand people), nor did he have any written speech. Frightened now, he kept postponing his turn on the stage, till he had no further excuses left, and had to go up and face the audience.

With his very first lines, he established his credentials with a simplicity and pride that must have awed the listeners who would anyway have been intrigued by the looks of this handsome young man in a saffron turban and dress from the East who spoke perfect English. “I thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world,” said Vivekananda. “I thank you in the name of the mother of religions, and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.”

This was a man who had never been out of India, had spent years tending to the poor and the diseased as he searched for the divine, and was speaking entirely off the cuff of his soul. In the next five minutes that he spoke, he electrified the audience—and, one can’t help but surmise, shamed many of the speakers who had preceded him. For he spoke of the validity of every great religion and against all forms of faith-based intolerance.

“Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth,” he said. “They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now.” There is obviously no record of this, but there would have been very few speakers at that grand convention who had shared hovels with lepers and gone without food for days to seek a greater truth.

In his concluding address on the last day of the convention, Vivekananda again stressed harmony and acceptance. “Much has been said of the common ground of religious unity. I am not going just now to venture my own theory. But if anyone here hopes that this unity will come by the triumph of any one of the religions and the destruction of the others, to him I say, ‘Brother, yours is an impossible hope.’ Do I wish that the Christian would become Hindu? God forbid. Do I wish that the Hindu or Buddhist would become Christian? God forbid. The seed is put in the ground, and earth and air and water are placed around it. Does the seed become the earth, or the air, or the water? No. It becomes a plant. It develops after the law of its own growth, assimilates the air, the earth, and the water, converts them into plant substance, and grows into a plant. Similar is the case with religion. The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth… Holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world… If anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart.”

Writes Tully in his piece to explain why he chose this speech as the greatest of all time: “Vivekananda’s speeches at Parliament resonate today for the many who claim to be spiritual but not religious, who reject religion based on faith and seek experience of God. He said: ‘The Hindu religion does not consist in struggles and attempts to believe a certain doctrine or dogma, but in realizing—not in believing, but in being and becoming.’ And, looking to the future, he said, ‘It will be a religion which will have no place for persecution or intolerance in its polity… Its whole scope, its whole force will be centred in aiding humanity to realize its own, true, divine nature.’ That is the religion so many seek today.”

Have there ever been truer words spoken about the sheer waste and stupidity of religious schisms than what that fiery young Indian said on that 9/11 day 120 years ago?

To read about Vivekananda today—and what he preached and practised throughout his tragically short life (he passed away at 39)—is to wonder that such a man walked the streets of this nation. Of course he was a Hindu, and he was proud to be one. But his philosophy transcended religions and he had little respect for rituals and ceremonies. His constant focus was on the spirit of Man.

“This world is the great gymnasium where we come to make ourselves strong,” he wrote. “Each individual has to work out his own salvation; there is no other way, and so also with nations… Men in general lay all the blame of life on their fellowmen, or, failing that, on God, or they conjure up a ghost, and say it is fate. Where is fate, and who is fate? We reap what we sow. We are the makers of our own fate. None else has the blame, none has the praise. The wind is blowing; and those vessels whose sails are unfurled catch it, and go forward on their way, but those which have their sails furled do not catch the wind. Is that the fault of the wind?”

The year 2013 is his 150th birth anniversary year. It is our duty to make sure that Vivekananda is not appropriated by any polemicist or politician, or even any religion. It is our duty to make sure that his name is not taken in vain (to use a Christian term) and his words are not used to push any agenda other than the greatest good for all men. Let us not deify him either (he never could give up smoking, though he tried hard enough); he would have hated that. He was a man, and a man among men. That is what we owe him.

Monday, 18 September 2017

Hurricane Maria: 'Significant' strengthening likely as storm nears land

Hurricane Maria is forecast to rapidly strengthen over the next two days as it takes aim at Caribbean islands devastated by Hurricane Irma just days ago.

"Significant strengthening is forecast during the next 48 hours, and Maria is expected to become a dangerous major hurricane before it moves through the Leeward Islands," according to the National Hurricane Center's latest update.

In its 5 a.m. update, the hurricane center placed Maria about 100 miles (160 kilometers) east of Martinique and about 130 miles (215 east-southeast) of Dominica.

The storm is currently a Category 1 hurricane with winds of 90 mph, and is forecast to continue moving toward the eastern Caribbean at 13 mph.

"Maria is likely to be at category 3 or 4 intensity by the time it moves into the extreme northeastern Caribbean Sea," the center said in its forecast.

Hurricane Maria is expected to keep strenghening as it heads toward the Caribbean
Maria is one of three storms churning in the Atlantic Ocean, but it poses the most danger to the hurricane-battered Caribbean.

"On the forecast track, the center of Maria will move across the Leeward Islands late today (Monday) and tonight and then over the extreme northeastern Caribbean Sea Tuesday and Tuesday night," the NHC said.

Maria has prompted a hurricane warning for Martinique, Guadeloupe, Dominica, St. Kitts, Nevis and Montserrat.

A tropical storm warning is in effect for Antigua and Barbuda, Saba, St. Eustatius and St. Lucia. A warning is typically issued 36 hours before the anticipated first occurrence of tropical-storm-force winds.

A hurricane watch has now been extended to Puerto Rico and its islands Vieques and Culebra. A watch was earlier put in place for the US Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands, St. Maarten/St. Martin, St. Barthelemy and Anguilla -- many of which were devastated when Irma blew through the Caribbean, killing 44 people. A hurricane watch is typically issued 48 hours before the anticipated first occurrence of tropical-storm-force winds.

Torrential rainfall could cause deadly flash flooding and mudslides on islands that it crosses. Maria could dump 6 to 12 inches of rain across the Leeward Islands -- including Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands -- through Wednesday night.

Hurricane Jose
Meanwhile, Hurricane Jose has weakened slightly as it churns north, but is sill threatening "dangerous surf and rip currents" along the US East Coast in the next few days, the hurricane center said.

Early Monday, the Category 1 hurricane was about 280 miles (450 kilometers) east-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and moving north at 9 mph.

"Maximum sustained winds have decreased to near 85 mph (140 km/h) with higher gusts. Some gradual weakening is expected during the next couple of days, however, Jose is forecast to remain a hurricane through Tuesday," the NHC said.

Hurricane  Advisory 7: Maria Forecast to Become a Major Hurricane as it Moves Near The Leeward Islands. 

While the center of Jose is expected to stay off from the US East Coast, "swells generated by Jose are affecting Bermuda, the Bahamas, and much of the US east coast," the NHC said.

"These swells are likely to cause dangerous surf and rip current conditions for the next several days in these areas."

Tropical storm watches are in place for portions of the eastern coast of the US stretching between Delaware and Massachusetts.

The hurricane center said that Jose would produce heavy rain as it passes near southern New England and the mid-Atlantic on Tuesday and Wednesday, but that based on current forecasting the risk of flooding would be "limited in scope."

Tropical Depression Lee
Lee, the third storm in the Atlantic, fizzled from a tropical storm to a tropical depression Sunday, the hurricane center said.

As of Monday morning, Lee was about 1,060 miles (1,710 kilometers) west of Cape Verde.

Lee's maximum sustained winds have sputtered to 35 mph, and are expected to further weaken in the coming days.

(Source: CNN)