Thursday, 26 November 2020

Mysterious new mushroom species glow like the Northern Lights in Meghalaya forests

A mushroom documentation project in the forests of Northeast India has revealed not only 600 varieties of fungi, but also led to a new discovery: a bioluminescent — or light emitting — variety of mushroom. The new species — named Roridomyces phyllostachydis — was first sighted on a wet August night near a stream in Meghalaya’s Mawlynnong in East Khasi Hills district and later at Krang Shuri in West Jaintia Hills district. It is now one among the 97 known species of bioluminescent fungi in the world.  

Michele P. Verderane

How the scientists found it

During the monsoon season, a team of scientists from India and China embarked on a fungal foray in Assam. Over the course of two weeks, they were amazed by the vast diversity of fungi in the region: hundreds of species of fungi were spotted, some of which were new to science. After hearing reports from locals of “electric mushrooms”, they headed to West Jaintia Hills District in Meghalaya. It was a drizzly night and a local person guided the team to a bamboo forest, which is part of a community forest, and asked them to switch off their torches. A minute later, the group was awestruck by what they saw: in the midst of the darkness an eerie green glow emerged from dead bamboo sticks that were smothered in tiny mushrooms. The fungus emits its own light—a phenomenon known as bioluminescence.

Natural torches for residents

Interestingly, local residents used the glowing bamboo sticks as natural torches to navigate the forest at night. Steve Axford, a fungal photographer who accompanied the team, set up a small studio and took photos.

Upon closer observation, the team noticed that only the stipes (stalks) of the mushroom lit up and they suspected it could be a new species, said Gautam Baruah, who leads the Rural Futures initiative at the Balipara Foundation in Assam and is a co-author of the report. A detailed examination in the laboratory had confirmed their suspicion: it was a new species from the genus Roridomyces—and the first fungus in this genus to be discovered from India.  

This mushroom was only found growing on dead bamboo (Phyllostachys mannii). Special elements could be present in the bamboo substrate that this fungus prefers, said Samantha Karunarathna, senior mycologist at the Chinese Academy of Sciences and lead author of the report She added that more research is needed to understand why they grow on this bamboo species. So far this mushroom is known from Krang Shuri, West Jayantia Hills District and Mawlynnong, East Khasi Hills District in Meghalaya.

Michele P. Verderane

Lights serve a purpose

Only a few species of glowing fungi have been reported from India. Two have been reported from the Western Ghats, one in the Eastern Ghats, and one in the state of Kerala, among others. Glowing fungi have also been spotted in the forests of Maharashtra and Goa (part of the Western Ghats) but they have not been scientifically reported. Karunarathna believes the actual number of bioluminescent fungi in India should be higher.

Michele P. Verderane

A 2015 study showed that bioluminescence in Neonothopanus gardneri, a large, bright mushroom that grows at the base of young palm trees in Brazilian coconut forests, is under the control of a circadian clock. The activity of the enzymes involved in producing light peaks at night and this regulation implies that the lights serve a purpose.

(Source: India Times)

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Nepal’s elite failed to preserve Gurkhas’ 200-year history. But folk songs kept it alive

 In ‘Ayo Gorkhali’, former British Gurkha regiment officer Tim I. Gurung stitches together a history of his community that goes beyond soldiering and bravery.

The history of Nepal won’t and can’t be complete without the 200-year-long history of the Gurkhas.

I am not an expert on this subject. However, I’ve tried to find and read as many books as possible in researching this subject and found out that my choices were somewhat limited. The Gurkhas have a vibrant, diverse and distinguished history, especially during WW I and WW II. Unfortunately, they were mostly limited to oral history. As we didn’t bother to preserve them, they were mostly lost when the storytellers died. The damage is already done. They are mostly all gone and never going to be recovered again.

Display at the Gurkha Museum in Nepal | Wikimedia Commons

Nepali writers outside the country were more active than the ones inside when it came to writing about the Gurkhas. Indra Bahadur Rai, PaariJaat, Daulat Bikram Bista and Bhupi Serchan were some notable names, who wrote about the Gurkhas. The powerful poems of Bhupi Serchan brought the stories of Gurkhas to the masses and evoked emotions. Dr. Harka Bahadur Gurung, a geographer, anthropologist, author, and artist known for his conservation works, was one of the champions of the Gurkhas. Being a son of an Indian Gurkha himself, he spent his childhood and youth in an army garrison. The Gurung surname also helped. He had done a lot of research and writing on the subject and was the leading scholar on Gurkha matters, and any writer who had come to Nepal in search of the Gurkhas’ matter could not have done their job without consulting him. Almost all the books about the Gurkhas that I have seen so far have forewords by the eminent Dr. Gurung or mention his name. That clearly showed the influence and respect he had had among the writing communities. In brief, if anyone had done something for the Gurkhas, it was Dr. Gurung.

The interest and endeavour shown by the new generations on this particular subject are noteworthy. Basanta Thapa of Himal Books has published a trilogy of Gurkha-related books. Lahureko Katha (The Story of the Gurkhas) by Bharat Pokhrel, Basanta Thapa and Mohan Mainali is a collection of the stories of Gurkha war veterans and compiles a list of thirteen real, detailed and heartbreaking stories of Gurkha veterans who fought in WW II. British Samrajyaka Nepali Mohora (Nepali Footprints on the British Empire) by Jhalak Subedi is the second one of the detailed and up-to-date books on Gurkhas, and the book covers the history of the Gurkhas in general. This book is based on the life of former GAESO president Padam Bahadur Gurung.

The third and last book of the trilogy is Warrior Gentlemen: ‘Gurkhas’ in the Western Imagination by Lionel Caplan, a professor at the School of Oriental and African Studies, London and an expert on South Asian politics, including Nepal. British-Gurkha (From Treaty to The Supreme Court) is another good book on the Gurkhas and published by the British-Gurkha Study and Research Centre, Nepal.

Peter J. Karthak, the writer, musician and veteran journalist, who passed away in April 2020 was an authority on Gurkha-related subjects. Lt. Col. (Retd.) J.P. Cross is another enlightened author who has tried to bring the Gurkha legacy to the world through his various books. During the process of researching this book, I read some of his books as reference and found them very helpful. ‘Cross Saheb’ was the Commanding Officer of BGC Camp Pokhara when I joined the British Army as a recruit in 1980, and I still remember the speech that he delivered to us in fluent Gorkhali.

The main problem the intellectuals from Nepal have with the Gurkhas is that they always think of Gurkhas as na├»ve, thick-headed and sometimes even cocky. They don’t consider the Gurkha stories worthy of being written about. As a result, the Gurkha legacy has been neglected by all.

The singers and musicians of Nepal have compensated for the shortcomings found in the written word. Nepal is indeed rich in folk songs. We have a wide variety of folk songs in our society. The Gandharwa/Gaaine (the singing caste) with their one-size-fits-all-type of music instrument called sarangi, must take credit for continuing the old tradition. They did indeed sing a lot about the Gurkhas. Their songs genuinely reflected the actual situation: the pain of separation, and the agony of waiting, for the Gurkha community as a whole. Listening to their songs was the only way of forgetting their pain within the community, especially in the time of wars. Crowds would grow wherever they started singing.

Here are some examples of the famous folk songs of Nepal regarding the Gurkhas in the past.

● Cassino Attack Jandama Dekhina Ankha Dhuwale, Chhadyo Saathile … (On the way to the Cassino attack, they couldn’t see through the billowing smoke and were left behind by friends.)

Gaai Palyo Banaiko Bhaglai, Chhora Palyo Germanko Dhawalai … (I raised the cow for the tiger of the jungle, and so were my sons in the battle with the Germans.)

● Ghar Ta Mero Himali Pakha Beisi Ho Re, Kun dinko Sanyogle Bane Lahure … (The Himalayan slopes and valleys are my home, which day’s luck made me a Lahure?)

● Lahureko Relimai Feshanai Ramro, Rato Rumal Relimai Khukuri Bhireko … (The fashion of Lahures makes my dear so lovely, with a red handkerchief for my love and sporting a kukri.)

The song below was sung by a singer named Jhalakman and heard in the aftermath of the Nepalese revolution of 1950.9 WW II had ended only a few years ago and the song clearly showed the pain, agony and misery of the people whose sons had gone to war and there was no guarantee they would return safely home again.

Aama Basi Dharti Naroya Aama, Banche Pathaula Tasvirai Khichera,

Don’t sit on the ground and cry, my dear mother, I will send you a photo if I survive,

Baba Runchan Barsha Din, Aama Runchin Jindaji Bharilai Hajura,

Father will cry for a year, and mother will cry for a lifetime, my dear!

Hai Barai, amale sodhlin ni khwoi chhora bhanlin, ranhai khulyo bhandias

Mother will ask where is my son; tell her the war had just begun

Babale sodhlan ni khwoi chhora bhanlan, ranh jitdaichha bhandias

Father will ask where is my son; tell him I am winning the battle

Dajaile sodhlan ni khwoi bhai bhanlan, aunsai badhyo bhandias

Elder brother will ask where is my brother; tell him his share has increased

Elder sister will ask where is my brother; tell her the gift has decreased

Bahinile shodlin ni khwoi bhai bhanlin, maiti ghatyo bhandias

Younger sister will ask where is my brother; tell her you’ve one fewer brother now

Chhorale shodlan ni khwoi baba bhanlan, topi jhikei bhandias

Son will ask where is my father; tell him to take his cap off

Chhorile shodlin khwoi baba bhanlin, sunchurako daan diyas …

Daughter will ask where is my father; tell her to forget about the gold bangle

Priyale shodlin khwoi swami bhanlin, baatai khulyo bhandias
Wife will ask where is my husband; tell her the way is cleared

Bhaujyule shodlin ni khwoi dewar bhanlin, khasi kaat bhandias

Sister-in-law will ask where is my brother-in-law; tell her to celebrate at her will

Saathile shodlan khwoi lahure bhanlan, mayamaar bhandias
Friend will ask where is my lahure; tell him to forget about me

The other famous song that every Gurkha must have sung at least a few times in his army career is the one called Resham Fiririri … During the recruit training especially, song and music play a significant role in the training, and a session of dances and songs was held every evening. No one was spared and all had to dance or sing in their turn and as far as I was concerned, the dance and singing sessions were the ones I would have liked to forget. I was shy then. But now, I can afford a smile or two at my misery.

Resham Phiriri, Resham Phiririi
The fluttering sounds of my silk handkerchief …

Udera Jaun Ki Dandai Ma Bhanjyang, Resham Phiririi
Shall we fly over to the mountain pass? The fluttering sounds of my silk handkerchief

Eknale Banduk Dui Nale Banduk Mirgalai Takeko
Single-barreled rifle, double-barrelled rifle pointing at a deer …

Mirgalai Maile Takeko Hoina Maya Lai Dakeko
My aim is not pointed at the deer but you, my love …

Resham Phiriri Resham Phiririi

The fluttering sounds of my silk handkerchief …

This song was said to have been collected from the villages near Pokhara, composed by Budhi Pariyar, and sung by Sundar Shrestha and Dwarika Lal Joshi through Radio Nepal. Although the official song came out later, the original song was already famous before that, especially among the Gurkhas, among whom this song was undoubtedly the most popular one.

Singing and dancing skills were one of the criteria for promotion in the army. Young soldiers with a feminine face and a slim body were encouraged to dance as a ‘Maaroni’ (man dancing in a woman’s attire). They were in massive demand for special events, especially in Dashera (Dashain) and other festivals. Some of them did achieve the rank of Gurkha officer or senior NCO through this particular skill, and all the Gurkha battalions had a few such talents of their own. The senior officers were quite fond of these dancers.

In time perhaps, the Gurkhas will be written about more, especially in Nepali literature.

Excerpted with permission from Ayo Gorkhali: A History of the Gorkhas by Tim I. Gurung, published by Westland, November 2020.

(Source: The Print)

Tuesday, 24 November 2020

Qatar farm starts harvesting saffron for first time

A Qatar farm has started harvesting saffron for the first time in the country and is eyeing 25 percent local market share.

Jaber Al Mansouri, owner of Saffron Qatar

Saffron Qatar, located in Um Lushoosh, North of Qatar, marked the opening of the harvest season today and was attended by officials from Ministry of Municipality and Environment, Qatar Chamber and Hassad Food.

“We are very happy to inaugurate the first farm in Qatar that produces saffron, as these plants are usually found in Iran, Morocco, Afghanistan, Spain and other countries. Today we celebrate the inauguration of the farm,” Jaber Al Mansouri, the owner of the farm, said.

The farm uses latest technologies for cultivating saffron like hydroponic - soilless – and also using soil in special containers.

“We want to expand the project to increase the produce to supply to the local market as a Qatari product. We expect to meet 25% of Qatar market needs,” Al Mansouri added.

(Source: The Peninsula)

Truly down-to-earth and humble, Brad Pitt personally delivered groceries to low-income families

Brad Pitt may be an A-list actor, one of the most recognized celebrities across the world, and a pretty big deal no matter where he goes but today he has proved is a man with a heart of gold. 

Last week, Brad Pitt was spotted personally delivering and distributing groceries to countless people so that they can get a meal on the table for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Because of his attitude and just how casually he was dressed, most people had no idea that they were actually getting their groceries from THE Brad Pitt. 

An eye-witness who is supremely impressed to see Brad Pitt doing this work and not just pay countless people to do it was remarkable. 

Brad Pitt distributing groceries / Daily Mail

"Brad really did seem like a hero, the man did not stop all day.  He was completely committed, you could see it wasn't a case of him turning up and showing his face. He had his gloves on and he was involved as much and probably more than anyone else there. His heart was in it and it was just a hats-off moment," the eyewitness told Daily Mail. 

Another source was equally excited to see the Oscar-winner doing this extra-ordinary charitable work for absolutely nothing in return. 

“It was Brad Pitt like you've never seen him, with his guard totally down, laughing, joking and chatting” and he “didn't seem to have a care in the world," another eyewitness told Daily Mail. 

Are Indian celebrities except for Sonu Sood taking note?

(Source: India Times)

Monday, 23 November 2020

Mahatma Gandhi's great-grandson Satish Dhupelia dies of COVID-19 in South Africa

 Satish Dhupelia's sister Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie confirmed that her brother had died of COVID-19 related complications after he contracted the disease in hospital.

Satish Dhupelia, the South African great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, succumbed to COVID-19 complications here on Sunday, three days after his 66th birthday, a family member said.

Dhupelia's sister Uma Dhupelia-Mesthrie confirmed that her brother had died of COVID-19 related complications after he contracted the disease in hospital where he had been under treatment for a month due to pneumonia.

"My beloved brother has passed on after a month of illness with pneumonia, a superbug contracted in hospital and then COVID-19 also contracted while he was being treated. He suffered a major cardiac arrest this evening," Uma said in a social media post.

Satish Dhupelia, the great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, succumbed to COVID-19. (Photo | Facebook saindians)

Besides Uma, Dhupelia leaves back another sister, Kirti Menon, who lives in Johannesburg, where she is active in various projects honouring the memory of Gandhi.

The three siblings are descendants of Manilal Gandhi, who Mahatma Gandhi left behind in South Africa to continue his work after he returned to India after spending two decades.

Dhupelia, who spent most of his life in media, especially as a videographer and photographer, was also very active in assisting the Gandhi Development Trust to continue the work started by the Mahatma at the Phoenix Settlement near Durban.

He was renowned for assisting the needy in all communities and was active in a number of social welfare organisations.

Tributes poured in from his friends and dear ones.

“I am in shock. Satish was a great humanitarian and activist,” Politican analyst Lubna Nadvi said.

"He was also a great friend of the Advice Desk for Abused Women, and always assisted the organisation in whichever way he could,” Nadvi added.

Dhupelia was also a member of the Board of the 1860 Heritage Foundation, which on Monday November 16 commemorated the arrival of the first indentured labourers from India to work on the sugar cane fields of Durban.

On the day, in one of his last Facebook posts for which Dhupelia was renowned, especially for his humour, he wrote: “Let us also not forget that we still need to stand together to achieve our final goals of equality for all and an eradication of poverty”.

Funeral arrangements of Dhupella have not been announced yet.

(Source: TNIE)