Monday, 24 January 2022

Har Gobind Khorana is ours too

 A DAWN article on Har Gobind Khorana (1922-2011) threw me back 50 years when I, along with 600 other students had packed 26-100 (MIT’s largest lecture hall) to hear him speak. Being clueless of the basics of molecular biology, I understood little and left halfway through. Curiosity had driven me there because this famous MIT professor had won the 1968 Nobel Prize and started a brand new field — protein synthesis via nucleotides. More interestingly, he was a Lahori with bachelor and master’s degrees from Punjab University.

Alas! Lahore, to its misfortune, does not know — nor cares to know — who this man was. The same holds true for another of its sons, Subrahmanyan Chandrasekhar (1910-1995), who became a Nobel Laureate in recognition of his definitive work on the death of stars. Today a Nasa satellite named Chandra scours the skies for neutron stars, black holes and other unusual astronomical objects.

The story of Abdus Salam (1926-1996) is too well known to repeat here. Winner of the 1979 physics Nobel, he studied at Government College (GC) Lahore and later taught at Punjab University. However, no road or landmark in Lahore bears Salam’s name — or that of Khorana and Chandrasekhar. While a GC affiliated institution called the Abdus Salam School for Mathematical Studies nominally exists, to display his name on its signboard could be dangerous in a city often gripped by religious fervour.

Less well known is the story of Chowla and Chawla. At GC there have been two mathematicians in number theory. One was Sarvadaman Chowla, an accomplished mathematician who headed the mathematics department from 1937 to 1947. Being Hindu, he left Lahore after the rioting began and went to Princeton University, then the University of Colorado at Boulder, and eventually became professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He died in 1995 and was celebrated as a famous number theorist by the American Mathematical Society with several important theorems to his name.

Unless Pakistanis learn to value the works of non-Muslims, science in Pakistan shall remain dead.

The other was Lal Muhammad Chawla who graduated from Oxford in 1955 and then taught at GC for many years. With rather modest professional achievements, he had only one well cited paper. As a Google search of his publications reveals, Chawla was more interested in writing religious books than advancing mathematics. However, the GC math society is named after Lal Muhammad Chawla and not the more famous and much more accomplished Sarvadaman Chowla. No Hindu scientist is celebrated in Pakistan.

Rejecting non-Muslims of high professional merit has come at devastating cost to Pakistan. For one, it lost those who could have helped the newborn country establish a scientific base. For another, it became difficult to create institutional meritocracies. After Partition, many clever ones played the religious or ethnic card and undeservedly rose to positions of high authority. In time they became institutional gatekeepers with catastrophic consequences.

The weakness of science education in Pakistan is too evident to belabour here. Unsurprisingly, our best and brightest young people usually go for soft stuff like medicine, law, and business. Unlike in China or India, hardly any opt for tough, demanding, scientifically oriented careers. So, how can we persuade our children towards them? What stories to tell them about science and scientists? Most importantly, who should be their role models?

This brings up a civilisational problem. Over the last 300 years — which is how old modern science is — there are no Muslim subcontinental names associated with first tier (Nobel calibre) scientific accomplishments (after 1974 Salam must be excluded). Notwithstanding the valiant efforts of Sir Syed Ahmad Khan (1817-1898), Indian Muslims shunned science and the English language. Thus, even at the distant second or third tier level, one finds barely a dozen names.

Since one cannot find Muslim science heroes who belong to the soil, books for Pakistani children inevitably valorise Arabs from the Golden Age such as Al-Battani, Ibn-e-Shatir, Ibn-e-Haytham, etc. While these luminaries of Muslim science were genuine path-breakers, they do not serve well as role models. For one, persons from centuries ago cannot inspire today’s children. For another, excitement is inspired by those ‘of your own kind’. Arabs, however, are visibly different from people around here.

Ancient Hindu scientists could have found some place in Pakistani books. However, they are excluded on ideological grounds because ‘woh hum main say nahin hain’ (they are not us). Instead, many Pakistanis anxiously seek ancestral roots in Arabia, Afghanistan and Central Asia. But modern laboratory tools are ripping apart dearly held myths of racial origins. Now several genetic marker studies are suggesting that the subcontinent’s Muslims have descended primarily from local Hindu converts with only a few per cent admixture of Arab or Central Asian genes. Excluding Hindu scientists from our books is absurd.

Ideology and science are like oil and water — they refuse to mix. Science cares only about facts and logic, not personal likes and dislikes. History is replete with examples of failed attempts to fuse science with cherished beliefs. When Stalin sought to impose his Marxist views upon Soviet biology through his chosen tout, Trofim Lysenko, he nearly destroyed agriculture and forestry.

Soviet Russia’s good fortune was that it had a scientific community robust enough to counter Lysenko’s meddling. Pakistan has not been so lucky. It has an abundance of charlatans pretending to be scientists but just a few who deserve to be called such. While there is a science ministry, several scientific bodies, and hundreds of institutions that purport to teach or do research in science, no community of genuine scientists exists. High-sounding scientific bodies — such as the Pakistan Academy of Sciences — are a joke. They command no respect internationally and should be dissolved.

Every kind of intellectual endeavour, science included, needs an enabling cultural and social environment to flourish. Science suffocates when scientists are judged by their religion, race, ethnicity or any criterion other than scientific achievement. Before Pakistan can produce any science worth the name, it will need to overcome its deeply held prejudices. It must learn to value all who share the common heritage of humankind. The day we count Khorana, Salam, and Chandrasekhar as our very own, Pakistan will have begun breaking the shackles of scientific under-development.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, is an Islamabad-based physicist and writer.

Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2022

(Source: Dawn)

Sunday, 23 January 2022

‘Bard Al Azariq’ - coldest days of the year - in Qatar

The ‘Bard Al Azariq’ days, which are the coldest days in Qatar, will begin on Monday, Qatar Calendar House (QCH) announced.

QCH said that the days will start from tomorrow, Monday, January 24, and will last until next Monday, January 31, and these eight days are considered the coldest days of the year.

Qatar has been experiencing relatively cold weather during the last few days with temperatures dipping below 10 degrees Celsius in some places early in the morning.  

As per Qatar Meteorology Department report temperatures were ranging between 9-14°C today morning and the lowest temperature recorded this morning was 6°C in Sawda Natheel.

Apparent temperatures ranging between 0 and 13 degrees Celsius was felt around Qatar early in the morning on January 22, 2022, with the lowest apparent temperature of -2.4 degree Celsius felt in Abusamra.

Difference between the actual temperatures and the apparent temperatures: Actual temperatures are those recorded by thermometers, while apparent temperatures are those felt by humans and are related to several factors, including atmospheric humidity and wind speed. The higher the wind speed in the winter, the greater the feeling of coldness.

(Source: The Peninsula)

Daughters to inherit fathers’ self acquired, inherited properties, to get preference over others: SC

 In a significant verdict, the Supreme Court on Thursday said the daughters of a male Hindu, dying intestate, would be entitled to inherit the self-acquired and other properties obtained in the partition by the father and get preference over other collateral members of the family.

In a significant verdict, the Supreme Court on Thursday said the daughters of a male Hindu, dying intestate, would be entitled to inherit the self-acquired and other properties obtained in the partition by the father and get preference over other collateral members of the family.

The judgement, which came on an appeal against the Madras High Court verdict, dealt with the property rights of Hindu women and widows under the Hindu Succession Act.

“If a property of a male Hindu dying intestate (without a will) is a self-acquired property or obtained in the partition of a coparcenary or a family property, the same would devolve by inheritance and not by survivorship, and a daughter of such a male Hindu would be entitled to inherit such property in preference to other collaterals (such as sons/daughters of brothers of deceased father),” a bench of justices S Abdul Nazeer and Krishna Murari said.

The bench was dealing with the legal issue concerning the right of the daughter to inherit the self-acquired property of her father, in the absence of any other legal heir.

Justice Murari, writing the 51-page judgment for the bench, also dealt with the question of whether such property will devolve on to the daughter upon the death of her father, who died without a will, by inheritance or shall devolve on to “father’s brother’s son by survivorship”.

“Right of a widow or daughter to inherit the self-acquired property or share received in the partition of a coparcenary property of a Hindu male dying intestate is well recognized not only under the old customary Hindu Law but also by various judicial pronouncements...,” the verdict said.

Referring to the legal provision, it said the legislative intent was to remedy the limitation of a Hindu woman who could not claim an absolute interest in the properties inherited by her but only had a life interest in the estate so inherited.

“Section 14 (I) converted all limited estates owned by women into absolute estates and the succession of these properties in the absence of a will or testament would take place in consonance with Section 15 of the Hindu Succession Act, 1956...,” it said.

If a female Hindu dies intestate without leaving any issue, then the property inherited by her from her father or mother would go to the heirs of her father whereas the property inherited from her husband or father-in-law would go to the heirs of the husband, it said.

“The basic aim of the legislature in enacting Section 15(2) (of the Hindu Succession Act) is to ensure that inherited property of a female Hindu dying issueless and intestate, goes back to the source,” it said.

Dealing with the facts of the case, the bench set aside the trial court and the high court’s findings dismissing the partition suit of the daughters.

The apex court said, “...since the property in question was admittedly the self-acquired property of a father despite the family being in a state of jointness upon his death intestate, his sole surviving daughter will inherit the same by inheritance and the property shall not devolve by survivorship.

“Thus, the impugned judgement and decree dated March 01, 1994, passed by the Trial Court and confirmed by the High Court vide judgment and order dated January 21, 2009, are not liable to be sustained and are hereby set aside,” it said. 

(Source: Republic World)

Saturday, 22 January 2022

Here's everything you need to know about red sandalwood featured in Allu Arjun's 'Pushpa'

Here's some trivia about Red Sandalwood or Blood Sandalwood and why it is in demand

Pushpa: The Rise starring Allu Arjun and Rashmika Mandanna in the lead roles and Fahad Faasil as the antagonist has become a gigantic success after its release. The movie was released in multiple languages on OTT platforms and created quite a stir. 

The story of the film revolves around Allu Arjun who is a smuggler of red sandalwood or rakta chandan and becomes a rich man. But what is about this red sandalwood that changed the guy's life in no time? Here's some trivia about Red Sandalwood or Blood Sandalwood and why it is in demand: 

What Is It? 

Red Sandalwood or red sanders, saunders wood and ruby red — is highly regulated wood that is red in colour and has medicinal properties. There’s a high demand for wood in the national and international markets. However, the rare plant species are listed as ‘near threatened by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), due to its overexploitation.

Where Are They Grown? 

The species is extremely rare for a reason which is that it isn't easily available everywhere. These trees grow only in the Seshachalam hills spread over four districts of Andhra Pradesh- Nellore, Kurnool, Chittoor, Cuddapah bordering Tamil Nadu. Basically, they are only grown in Eastern Ghatsthe soil in the area — its water content, acidity, aeration and the availability of nutrients. 

What Are The Medicinal Properties?

It has a lot of medicinal properties. It is recommended for treating digestive tract problems such as diarrhoea and loose motions, fluid retention, and breaks up mucus to make it easier to cough up. It is also known for its blood purification properties. Apart from these, wood is also used as a flavouring agent in alcohol especially wine. 

It Is Unlike Other Sandalwood

Sandalwood in general is used for several purposes. In India, it is used during prayer rituals or in temples due to the calming fragrance of the wood. The fragrance is also popularly sold in the form of beauty products and perfumes. However, the red sandalwood has no fragrance whatsoever so when it is burnt, it would seem like the regular sandalwood. 

Special Task Force Protects These Trees

According to The News Minute, this sandalwood is sold for millions in the international market. So, naturally, the smuggling of this rare species is in full swing just like it was shown in the movie. Thus, Special Task Force s deployed to protect these trees. There are strict laws in India to stop its smuggling. There is a demand for these woods in many countries including China, Japan, Singapore, UAE, and Australia. It is most smuggled in China. Here the demand for this sandalwood is high because China makes furniture, decorative items, traditional instruments from it.

(Source: India Times)

Friday, 21 January 2022

‘The truth is biased’: Prashant Panjiar on the backstories of four decades of photographing India

 The veteran photojournalist’s latest book is a chronicle of the country’s journey through economic liberalisation.

When people discuss a photographer’s talent, they often speak about a photographer’s eye – that unique vision that individual photographers bring to their work.

But looking over four decades of Prashant Panjiar’s images in his new book, That Which Is Unseen: Back Stories From My Years in Photojournalism, it’s clear that another part of his face has also been at work: his nose.

A giant flag at Hindon Air Force base. | Prashant Panjiar, Outlook, from 'That Which Is Unseen', by Prashant Panjiar

Panjiar, who spent significant portions of his career with leading newsweeklies India Today and Outlook, has an uncanny ability to sniff out momentous events and to be in the right place at the critical moment: in the Chambal Valley with its legendary dacoits in the 1980s; in Punjab during the Khalistan movement, just before Blue Star; in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, when the Babri Masjid was demolished.

Edited excerpts from a conversation at his launch event in Mumbai.

You were in Ayodhya on December 6, 1992, when the Babri Masjid was demolished. You got the only pictures of the domes collapsing. How did you manage that?

India Today had three teams tailing Bharatiya Janata Party leaders as they made their way to Ayodhya for a symbolic kar seva. My brief had been to follow LK Advani. Tens of thousands of karsevaks had gathered in front of the Babri Masjid-Ram Janmabhoomi. That’s where all the camera crews and photographers were too. But Advani and the other leaders were some distance away on the terrace of a structure called the Ram Katha Kunj, from where they were making speeches.

From here, I only had a view of the domes.

The Babri Masjid demolition. Credit: Prashant Panjiar, India Today, from 'That Which Is Unseen', by Prashant Panjiar.

As the karsevaks began to break the barricades at the site, all the journalists there were systematically attacked. All their cameras were smashed. Many colleagues were badly injured. Some were locked away by karsevaks so there would be no evidence of the demolition. But on top of the Ram Katha Kung, people thought I was with the Vishwa Hindu Parishad so I could photograph right throughout. That is how I was able to take photographs of when the domes actually fell.

Twenty years after this, the story was still with me because I was called in to depose in the Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry into the demolition. I went to Lucknow to depose. But it was such a farce. All the lawyers were in cahoots with each other. I don’t know whether my testimony would have made any difference.

But it’s a reminder that what journalists do is pretty important, isn’t it? After all, we pride ourselves on producing the first draft of history…
All I knew at that point in time was that I had to keep my head down, don’t show my emotions, and just keep on photographing – because if I had shown any kind of emotion, I would have been thrown out of there.

I kept quiet and I listened. That’s an advantage we photographers have over reporters: we can eavesdrop. Many politicians and others don’t think we’re listening. They think we’re deaf. But we are actually privy to a lot of inside information.

During your stint with Outlook, where you joined as associate editor in 1995, some of the pictures that readers best remember you for being outside of the world of politics.
At Outlook, I could choose to do a lot of the stories that I was interested in. For instance, we had started doing profiles of writers. Many of them were childhood heroes, so it was great to be able to see and photograph them. I shot VS Naipaul when I was in London to research for the 50th year of Independence issue.

And then there was that serendipitous picture of Allan Sealy. Did you prompt that child to pose that way?

Author Allan Sealey. Credit: Prashant Panjiar, Outlook, from 'That Which Is Unseen', by Prashant Panjiar.

No, no, I actually prompted Alan Sealey. In a portrait, you’re always negotiating with the subject. He had only a little time. I had to photography where he was staying, so decided to take him to the park behind his apartment. He put on that pose himself. And the kid just walked into the frame. I think half of our work is luck.

Your book is, in a way, a chronicle of liberalizing India. Through its pages, we see a country getting more prosperous, more flamboyant. It’s a country that’s getting more jingoistic in some way, and displaying more religiosity. But you also depict the many losers. What, to you, have been the challenges of photographing this story?
After 1995, we’d started doing stories about how cell phones were spreading everywhere, about shopping malls and the construction boom. When I left Outlook in 2001, the sexy story of the Great Indian Middle class and how they were going to buy everything was everywhere. I did stories on India’s super-rich, for example.

There was an amazing amount of construction happening across India. I did a book called Pan India Shared Habitat, which I’d been photographing with a panoramic camera, featuring some of these new landscapes of demolition and construction. Many artists were thinking about these themes too at the time.

But after some time, it seemed like an overload. It seemed like anytime I did an assignment for a foreign publication, the photo editor in New York or in Hong Kong would ask me to do one picture of a shopping mall, even though it wasn’t necessary for the story. I just got fed up.

A photograph you shot in Bhuj in the aftermath of the 2001 Gujarat earthquake gets to the heart of the moral dilemmas that we face as journalists. What were your thoughts about it?

The Gujarat earthquake happened on a Friday and the magazine had already gone to press. We all convened for an emergency meeting in the Outlook office. We said that we needed to cover this. Vinod Mehta, the editor, was hesitant because he didn’t know if we’d get the story in time for our deadline. We had a major shouting match. I realized that there’s no way we’d win unless we had a plan that worked.

So we had two colleagues from the Bombay office fly in that evening and two of us went in from Delhi. We got there by dawn. I carried a portable scanner. We spent the day in Bhuj, dashed to Rajkot 250 km away where there was a lab that could process the film and then file the pictures on the dial-up internet lines that we had at the time.

When it was very close to our deadline to leave Bhuj, I went into this building that had collapsed. This boy, Prakash, was stuck inside. It was a Cabinet of Dr Caligari kind of scene. The roof had collapsed, the floor was uneven – and the boy was trapped.

A scene from the Gujarat earthquake. Credit: Prashant Panjiar, Outlook, from 'That Which Is Unseen', by Prashant Panjiar.

People had tried to prise him out but it seemed impossible because a slab had collapsed on his chest. So I made the picture and I got out. We were told that the Army was coming to rescue him. We filed the picture – it was used as the lead picture in the story.

When we came back later, we found that Prakash had been rescued but he died shortly afterward because his body had been crushed for so long.

Later, someone asked the question that is put to so many photographers: should you be helping somebody or should be taking a picture? I thought about that a lot.

Often that’s not the choice that we have to make because you’re not in a position to help anybody – and other people are better equipped to do it. But the real question is whether to photograph or not to photograph. It raises the question of whether the subject is in a position to consent to their picture being taken.

Could I have asked him, can I take your picture? That would have been too effing stupid. But should I actually have taken the photograph? To shoot or not to shoot: that’s the moral dilemma, actually.

As a photojournalist, how does personal ideology influence your work?
Early on in my career, I had a discussion with a senior editor at India Today and asked if as journalists we were supposed to be unbiased and objective. He said, no, whether you’d like it or not, the truth is biased. That kind of stuck with me.

I came from Left-wing politics and that has always informed my work as a journalist. Because of my politics, I became aware of how the visual image can enhance or demean someone. It’s easy to present India in contrast, to juxtapose the rich against the poor, the powerful against the weak and to use stereotypes. That was something many of us did unconsciously when we started street photography.

After seeing Satyajit Ray’s Jalsaghar when I was in university, I was interested in the idea of people who had gone into oblivion. That’s why I decided to shoot the former maharajas of India. I later did an exhibition called King, Commoner, Citizen. The idea of that show was that when you photograph someone in India, you have to be aware of your own position of privilege and that you have to accord the same respect to both the powerful and those who don’t have power.

I’ve benefited from what I believed in. I think it’s important for us photographers to have a worldview. You might call it an ethic, a politics, whatever you like – to have a view of what you believe in is important.

Writers and reporters bring their opinion into their work. Why shouldn’t we as photojournalists not have that right too?

Prashant Panjiar. Credit: Manish Sinha

That Which is Unseen, images and texts by Prashant Panjiar (Navajivan Trust).

(Source: Scroll)