Thursday 30 March 2017

Meet the Kerala Collective trying to make sustainable menstruation a reality

Non-biodegradable, toxin-filled, disposable sanitary pads are a problem - but what’s the solution?
Have you ever wondered what happens to your sanitary napkin once you dispose it off? Largely, there are three possibilities, according to Shradha Shreejaya, ecologist and coordinator at Thanal Trust, a green NGO in Kerala:

1. In case women choose to dispose off a sanitary napkin in a dustbin, it’s probably going to end up in a landfill. There, it will stay for hundreds of years, buried under a piling mountain of trash. The pad contains super absorbent polymers and a layer of polyethelene (both made of plastic), ensuring that it doesn’t decompose easily.

2. If the sanitary napkin is burnt, it releases toxic chemicals which harm the environment. Because of the elements of plastic used, the pads can combust completely only when heated to a temperature of 800 degrees Celsius for 4-5 minutes. Without this, the plastic won’t be burnt completely and will just add to the non-biodegradable waste pile.

3. In case they are flushed down the toilet, the pads are bound to block the drainage. Because of the absorbent gels and material used, these pads collect moisture and waste, do not disintegrate easily and choke pipes. The blockages caused often require people to go into manholes and remove them with their hands.

So what’s the solution? The Sustainable Menstruation Kerala Collective (SMKC) says, go the bio-degradable and toxin-free way.

Shradha is one of the people heading SMKC, and the Collective brings together various anti-menstrual taboo campaigners from Kerala, like The Red Cycle, #happytobleed and Code Red. They also have on board gender rights and environment activists and organisations.

SMKC has also roped in local producers of sustainable menstrual hygiene products like reusable cloth pads, biodegradable and toxin-free pads and menstrual cups.
SMKC’s goal: To make sustainable menstruation products and practices a reality.

Shradha has always held a keen interest in environment and waste management. But her interest in sustainability and menstrual products piqued in 2014 at a conference in New Delhi. She moved to Thiruvananthapuram from Puducherry after completing her education in 2016.

She observed then that in Kerala, women seemed to have more access to menstrual hygiene products – disposable sanitary napkins mostly.

“But there was a certain indifference along the lines of “what’s there to talk about it?” The debate was turning political (the Sabarimala issue, #happytobleed campaign) without addressing the sustainability issue,” Shradha says.
So in December, she began reaching out to people for SMKC through a Facebook group. Many people joined in, including local manufacturers like V-Cup (menstrual cups), Ecofemme (reusable cloth pads), and Kanika (non-toxic pads) among others, as well as activists working towards environment, waste management and gender equality.

“There was already so much conversation and scope to work on sustainable menstruation products in Kerala itself but there had been little connection between all of them,” Shradha says. She adds that they spent the first three months just reaching a common understanding, before they began reaching out to people.

Their interaction and planning resulted in a campaign called ‘Celebrate Menstruation’ on March 8, International Women’s Day, in Thiruvananthapuram.

The team set up camp at Manaveeyam Veedhi, where they put for sale sustainable menstrual hygiene products including cloth pads and menstrual cups. In Calicut, they did something similar on March 9 and also held screenings of documentaries and panel discussions. Shardha says that the response was quite overwhelming, with over 600 people showing interest and buying the products.

One of the key achievements was that the mayor as well as the deputy mayor of Thiruvananthapuram took note of the campaign and pledged solidarity. The deputy mayor, Rakhi Ravikumar, even said she would actively participate in the campaign, Shradha says.

Issues to be tackled
While SMKC has been off to a good start, there are plenty of practical issues to be dealt with – the lack of clean water and sunlight for one.

The fact that menstruation is still talked about in hushed tones is no secret. In such a scenario, what does a school girl do if she wants to wash and dry or store her cloth pad when she’s at school? Or what do working women do where with the used cloth pad at work?

Shradha says they are well aware of these issues and therefore, the collective is trying to address them by working on different levels – by speaking to healthcare officials, by holding discussions in educational institutions and by taking it up at corporation level.

The Red Cycle, an organization working to raise awareness about menstruation and debunk taboos and myths, is one the members of the Collective who has taken up the educator’s role. So far, they have held two sessions in two government colleges (a law college and a medical college) in Calicut.

A problem that Shradha says they face with healthcare officials is that they don’t believe them when they talk about the connection between using disposable sanitary pads and health risks for women.

“There is a lack of interest, and hence, lack of concrete research in women’s reproductive health. We can’t prove to them without doubt that the dioxins in those pads increase risk of cervical cancer and infertility. But if A uses B and A has C and this is repeated often enough, we can deduce a connection between A and C right?” Shradha argues.
Another problem with healthcare professionals is that even when women go to them to ask about alternatives to disposable sanitary pads, the healthcare professionals aren’t aware about the alternatives either.

At the corporation level, SMKC is trying to speak to Panchayats and the Thiruvanthapuram Municipal Corporation to make them accountable for promoting sustainable menstruation hygiene products as well as proper disposal of sanitary pads.

SMKC is also trying to make infrastructure a part of their efforts – this would help school girls and working women correctly store or clean reusable sanitary napkins at school and work respectively.

“All of this is still a work in progress. There are a lot of things we have yet to figure out and we’ll do it along the way,” says Shradha.

Sustainable menstruation and gender rights

Apart from normalising menstruation and making sustainable menstrual hygiene products accessible to women, SMKC sees a deeper connection with women’s rights.

For one, the manufacturers they are promoting through the Collective are local ones, which also provide employment to many women too.

“The linear economy model doesn’t work here where we assume that these alternative producers will not be able to compete with mainstream brands because they do not have the capacity to scale it. There are production and consumption patterns which can help these small groups within their capacity,” Shradha says.

MK Balamohan, a gender and queer rights activist explains, “The reason alternative products like cloth pads and menstrual cups are expensive is also because not many people buy them. You make them more popular, it will automatically involve more people and the prices will go down.”

Shradha says that because the premise of gender equality is the right to choice, they do not endorse a blanket ban on disposable sanitary products. However, if sustainable alternatives are made popular, perhaps they will help reduce sanitary waste to some extent.

“There are a lot of accessibility and awareness issues to be addressed. But if they are available and women are more aware about how they sanitary waste is affecting the environment, I am quite sure they will at least think about acting on it. Even if a woman uses a cloth pad for two days out of five, it will create a significant impact,” she says.

(Source: TNM)

A letter to my husband in this weird phase of marriage

Katie Parrish is a mom to two kids and wife to a wonderful husband… but like all couples, her marriage isn’t perfect. Her experiences have given Katie a heart for the struggles of women in all situations and life stages. So she decided to put pen to paper and give us some insight into her life.

Her goal above all, is to be open and honest with her readers. To teach them that in marriage, the most important thing to appreciate is each other. And when things get ‘weird’, her words below might just be the perfect response.

To my husband in this weird phase of life:

Life is weird right now, huh?

We don’t mean it to be. It just is. We work to get paid to pay everyone else and it always seems like there’s always more month than money. There are two very little people who are the bosses while we try so hard to maintain control. We’re pulled in so many directions that are often times opposite of each other.

So we fight. We fight about parenting decisions and whose turn it is to change a dirty diaper. We fight about money and how many times we chose to eat out last week. We fight about bedcovers and laundry and toilet cleaning. We fight about stupid things that we eventually forget what we’re fighting about and start fighting on principle alone.

And its exhausting. So much is demanded of us. Schedules, household, obligations, endless cups of juice and their impending spills on the carpet. 6am alarms that are hungry babies and potty trips. Saying no to a snack fifteen minutes before dinner for the entire fifteen minutes. Finally sitting down for the first time in two hours just in time for someone to need you immediately. Sometimes its tough to catch a breath, much less a break to go pee in peace.

We sit in silence a lot. Not because we don’t have anything to talk about, but simply because we’re tired of talking. Sometimes I realize there are important things I haven’t told you because we just haven’t talked about them. I wish for that closeness we had when all we had to talk about was each other and our time was consumed with each other. Right now, sleep is better than sex and playing games on our phones is more relaxing than a conversation.

This is not to say I am unhappy. This is the life I’ve always dreamed of. I love nothing more than you and our children. Exhaustion from your beautiful lives is better than anything I can think of.

But my heart longs for you more than anyone else.

And I know its so hard right now. But I’m hanging on. Because I’m going to need you.

I’m going to need you to tell me everything is going to be ok when I cry on their first day of kindergarten. I’m going to need you to hold me when the phone call of bad news comes in. I’m going to need you to drive after we drop off our babies at their college dorm room and to talk me down from trying to go rescue them from the bad decisions they will make there.

I’m going to need you to hold my hand while we sit together in the church pew at their wedding. And I’m going to need you to dance with me at the reception. And I’m going to need you to hold me that night while I recount all the memories of their little lives and cry about how they aren’t mine anymore.

I’m going to need you when the wallets and the schedules get a little bit looser. When there’s no one yelling for juice or covers or crying about non-existent dinosaurs living in their closets. When there are no bottles to wash and no toys to step on. When they are only here for the weekend, and instead of a month’s worth of questionable dirty laundry, they bring our grandchildren with them. I’m going to need you to buy me a porch swing and I’m going to need you to sit beside me and hold my hand and tell me how grateful you are for this life we built together.

And in the meantime of all this needing you, know this: I want you, too. I want you to be there with me every step of the way.

So if this means we sit in awkward silence while we wait for this phase of life to be over, that’s fine. I’ll just sit close to you so that you know I’m here and I’m not going anywhere. I might even hold your hand. The one that is not playing Cookie Jam, of course.

I love you, and I’ll continue to love you through all of it.

Silence is fine, as long as I’m with you.

I don’t know about you, but Katie’s perspective really changed my view on tough times in relationships.

(Source: Inspire More)

Most bottled water is filled with fluoride, here’s a complete list of brands to avoid

Water is essential for all life on planet including us, human beings. We cannot survive without water and that’s a fact. But what kind of water are we drinking? We know that tap water is not all that it’s supposed to be so we turn to bottled water, expecting it to be of better quality and healthier for us. But in reality, almost all bottled waters are filled with fluoride and fluoride can have a devastating effect on the human body. Some people may think that fluoride can be beneficial, protect our teeth from decay, while others argue that too much of it can actually damage our teeth and also have other adverse side effects. Where does the truth lie?

Whichever group you belong, the pro or anti-fluoride, you should get well informed and know all the facts before you make a decision. Almost all major brands of water are filled with fluoride and we’re drinking them without even knowing what we’re getting exposed to. That’s why we decided to compile a list of all the bottled water brands that contain fluoride as well as those who don’t contain, so that you’re well informed and decide which one to buy. You should have all the information at your disposal and make an informed decision on your own, without being tricked into buying something you don’t want.

But before we proceed I’d like to mentioned a few of the health risks associated with excessive fluoride exposure.

Firstly, we have to mention fluorosis, which ironically is a permanent deformation of the teeth. Something that’s supposed to protect your teeth can actually damage them beyond repair. Fluorosis usually happens within the first 8 years of life, in children, when their permanent teeth begin to grow. Excessive exposure to fluoride during this fragile period can lead to fluorosis.

One of the most common (and somewhat ironic) side effects of fluoride exposure it fluorosis, which is permanent deformation of the teeth. It is usually caused in children during the first eight years of their life, when their permanent teeth are beginning to form. Overexposure to fluoride during this time can cause fluorosis. Fluorosis leads to teeth staining, from yellow to dark brown, irregularities in the surface of the teeth and large, noticeable pits that can form holes in the teeth.

Secondly, fluoride, or overexposure to it, can negatively affect cognitive development in children. According to a study from China, children who grew up in areas with high levels of fluoride in their drinking water scored, on average, considerably less on IQ tests compared to children in lower-fluoride areas.

The senior study author Philippe Grandjean said that this is a result of the toxic effect fluoride has on a brain in development. He said:

“Fluoride seems to fit in with lead, mercury, and other poisons that cause chemical brain drain. The effect of each toxicant may seem small, but the combined damage on a population scale can be serious, especially because the brain power of the next generation is crucial to all of us.”

Here’s a list of bottled water brands that contain little to no fluoride and are safe for consumption:

A Better Water
Agromas Natural Mineral Water
American Fare
American Star
Aqua Fresca
Aqua Panna
Aqua Pure
Aquarius Natural Mineral Water
Arbor Springs
Arlington Springs
Aquafina Water
Aqua Systems
Aqua Von
Artesian Wells
Augusta Medical – Daniels
Badger Water
Besco Pure Premium Drinking Water
BIOTA Colorado Pure Spring Water
Black Berry Farms
Blue Ice Natural Mineral Water
Callaway Blue
Century Springs
Chippewa Spring Water
Citi Stop
Classic Selection
Clearly Arctic
Clear Mountain Spring Water
Clover Company Limited
Cold Country
Cohutta Mountain Spring Water
Cowboy Squeeze
Crowne Plaza Drinking Water
Crowne Plaza Natural Mineral Water
Cruel Jacks Spring Water
Crystal Mountain Spring Water
Crystal Point
Crystal Ridge
Crystal Spring Natural Spring Water
Culligan Water
Dakota Splash
Deep Rock
Deep Rock Crystal Drop
Deep Rock Fontenelle
Deja Blue
Desert Quench
East Phils
Eco Quest
Equatorial Natural Mineral Water
Essentia Water
E Water
Family Pantry
Famous Ramona Water
Flowing Springs
Food Club
Founders Square Bank
Fresh Brands Artesian
Fresh Brands Distilled Water
Fresh Brands Drinking Water
Fresh Market
Glacier Bay
Glen Summit Springs Water
Glen Summit Distilled Water
Glenwood Inglewood
Gordon Food Service
Great Bear
Great Value
Hidden Valley Natural Mineral Water
Hillcrest Distilled Water
Hillcrest Drinking Water
Hillcrest Spring Water
Hilton PJ Natural Mineral Water
Hinckley Springs
Hi-Sprint Drinking Water
Hi-Sprint Natural Mineral Water
Hog Wash
Hon Less Natural Mineral Water
Ice Jam
Istana Natural Mineral Water
Joe Muggs
Joe Ragan’s Pure Water
Junior Johnson
Just Squeezed
KLGCC Natural Mineral Water
Kroger Bottled Water (Reverse Osmosis)
Krystal J Artesian Water
Krystal J Distilled Water
Leroy Jenkins Ministries
Logansport Savings Bank
Masafi Pure Natural Mineral Water
Mercurio Produce
Mesra Drinking Water
Mesra Natural Mineral Water
Misty Mountain
Monadnock Mountain Spring Water
Mountain Energy
Mountain Forest
Mountain Valley Spring Water
Mutiara Natural Mineral Water
Nantze Springs
New Frontier Bank
Niagra Mist
Nicolet Distilled
Northern Illinois University
Oasis Pure Drinking Water
Oasis Sparkling Water
Ogallala – Clear Cool Water
OUI Drinking Water
OUI Natural Mineral Water
Parmer Pure H2O
Patriots Choice
Pelangi Natural Mineral Water
Penta Ultra Premium Purified Drinking Water
Piggly Wiggly
Polaris Water
Pristine Natural Artesian
Purely Sedona
Quick Stop
Rain Soft
Refresh Natural Mineral Water
Reiser Drinking Water
Request Foods, Inc.
Rip Time
Roundy’s “Purified Water”
Safeway – Refreshe
Sam’s Wine & Spirits
San Faustino Natural Mineral Water
San Pellegrino
Santee Springs
Scheopner’s Water
Sequoia Springs
Silver Creek Purified Water
Silver Creek Spring Water
Sky Drinking Water
Smart Water
Snow Valley
Stator Bros. Markets
Summit Mountain
Summit Springs
Summit Valley
Teton Mountain Lodge Spring Water
United Dairy Farmers
Vitamin Water
Veta Drinking Water
Whistler Water
Whole Foods 365
Woodland Spring Water
Wyoming Machinery “Catipillar” Spring Water

There are plenty to choose from and not worry about the potential health hazards you’d be exposing yourself.

Now here’s a list of bottled water brands you need to avoid because they’re known to be high on the fluoride content:

Belmont Springs
Crystal Rock
Crystal Springs
Deer Park
Diamond Springs
Hindley Spri
Ice Mountain
Kentwood Springs
Mayer Bros.
Mount Olympus
Nursery Water
Poland Spring
Pure Flo
Puritan Springs
Sierra Springs

(Source: Reflection of Mind)

Beards are filled with fecal bacteria and are ‘as dirty as toilets’

This is about to be great news for the razor blade business; turns out men’s beards are shockingly dirty. According to a new study, beards contain just as much fecal matter as a toilet. KOAT 7 reports that after swabbing a number of beards, a New Mexico microbiologist made the shocking discovery, says an article published on the View Health

“I’m usually not surprised, and I was surprised by this,” said John Golobic with Quest Diagnostics.

While some beards had normal amounts of bacteria, others had enough to cause serious illness.

If you’re strongly pro-beard, hand washing and a through beard scrubbing are encouraged to keep it clean.

Things to do at the Qatar International Food Festival 2017

The 8th Qatar International Food Festival is much bigger this year with the theme "A Different Side of Food". Hundreds of food enthusiasts are expected to throng the venue to sample mouth-watering cuisines offered by some of the best restaurants and cafes in the country.

When: Starting today (March 29), the 8th QIFF will be on for 11 days till April 8
Timings: 2pm to 10 pm on weekdays, and till 11pm on weekend
Where: Hotel Park overlooking Doha Corniche
Price: Food would be available in the range of QR5 to 35, apart from Dinner in the Sky priced at QR500.
Parking: Hotel park has four levels of underground parking with over 2,500 spots.

Accompanied by live entertainment shows, flavours from numerous countries will be available with their stalls at the Cultural Zone.

Divided in to zones, there will be 130 restaurants, hotels and food carts participating this year. Main zones will also include live cooking theatre, health zone bringing food-related awarness, Hotel zone will offer 4- and 5-star culinary experiences.

Also participating will be food trolleys and trucks that gained popularity during the Shop Qatar festival.

Daily fireworks display at 8pm and outdoor screenings of food-related movies from 9pm.

Live Cooking, Dinner in the Sky, garden picnic (inclusive of food basket and blanket), high tea and fine dining pavilion are special festive experiences this year.

Apart from Children's food zone, there will be a edutainment in the form of daily screenings of Siraj, Siraj, Qatar Foundation's 3D animation children's TV series.

Also book lovers could explore cook books and food-related literature at QIFF library.

Chef's Table will offer diners an opportunity to join international chefs for an interactive cooking and dining experience at the participating 5-star hotels. The charges vary from QR280 to QR1,500. You can book the table online through QIFF website.

Chef Andrew Bozoki
On March 29: He will serve Japanese Cuisine at Nobu Doha. The dinner is priced  at QR 1,250 per person.

Originally from Germany, Chef Bozoki began his culinary career in the country’s southwestern region of Baden-W├╝rttemberg. Leading the largest Nobu in the world, Chef Andrew Bozoki has over 15 years of international five-star hotel operations and restaurant experience. Bozoki joined Four Seasons Hotel Doha in December 2014 from the One & Only Reethi Rah Resort in the Maldives, where he served as chef de cuisine at the resort’s popular Japanese restaurant Tapasake. Prior to the Maldives, he served as sous chef at acclaimed Nobu Dubai, where he achieved success for his flawless technique, creativity and commitment to creating extraordinary guest experiences.

On March 30: He will serve Pan-Arab Cuisine at Marsa Malaz Kempinski. The dinner is priced at QR995

“Unbeknown to him, Julien Al Khal started his career under the nurturing care of his talented grandmother. Realizing his love and passion for the culinary world, Julien enrolled to The Swiss Business School for Hotel & Tourism Management. After passing with Distinctions Julien began his journey to success, applying his passion and knowledge to every opportunity that was presented to him. Starting his culinary journey at Cuisine Et Vin in Lebanon, Chef Julien has had the opportunity to work in well-known establishments such as: Louis Phatheon Beach Club Hotel in Cyprus, Shangri-La Hotels & Resorts Dubai, Crowne Plaza Kuwait, Sheraton Park Tower Hotel London, Spice Management Group Lebanon, Blends Management Company Lebanon and to present at Marsa Malaz Kempinski, The Pearl – Doha.

Chef Julien has been sure to not just place his magic touch into the dishes he creates, but has ensured that everything from the design of his kitchens to the spices he sources are of the best quality for himself and his staff to create memorable dishes.

“I want to create a memory for my diners, a picture may be worth a million words but a flavour can be associated with a feeling of warmth, nostalgia and love. The dishes I create should entice your taste buds and remind you of that moment you shared with a loved one, colleague or friend!””

On April 1: He will serve Indian Cuisine at Melia Doha. The dinner is priced at QR1,500.
Sanjeev Kapoor’s is more than a chef. He is one of the most famous faces on Indian show-business. His show has run for more than 18 years, a record that has not been broken yet. He was also part of the “Master Chef India” jury panel, on Seasons 3 and 4; and his books are bestsellers with more than 200 titles, translated into 7 languages.

His popularity and contribution to Indian cuisine granted him the “Best Chef of India” National Award. Today, he’s ranked 73rd on the Forbes list of top 100 Indian celebrities.

In addition to these achievements, he was invited to the Rachel Ray’s cooking show, representing India as “Food Ambassador”. Recently, he was one of the speakers at “Worlds of Flavour” at Graystone, California; an international festival organized by the Culinary Institute of America.

On April 4: He will serve Chinese at Marriott Doha. The dinner is priced at QR280.

Xudong Zheng, a chef hailing from China boasts a decade’s worth of experience. Having worked in big cities like Lahore, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Zheng currently is a chef at the Asia Live Restaurant which is located in the Doha Marriott Hotel and has been working here for almost 3 years.

Due to his experience in different cities, he has an idea of the taste preferences of different countries. Apart from all this, some of his achievements from his glittering career is winning the “Manager of the 2nd quarter” at the Doha Marriott in 2016.

Adding to this, his article “Chef has own recipe for success in Pakistan” was published in the Chinese newspaper, China Daily in the year 2013. He has numerous experience in different types of restaurants. His valuable knowledge in the Chinese cuisine will definitely be a treat for Chinese food lovers.

On April 4: She will serve Arab Cuisine at Sheraton Doha. The dinner is priced at QR1,000.

Chef Manal Al Alem has a wide experience in cooking and recipe preparation. She spent 30 years working with recipe testing, tasting, and teaching in order to produce recipes with guaranteed nutrition, mouth-watering taste, and look.

Since 1983, she has played a major role in producing new dishes and enhancing existing merchandise items for big F&B manufacturers. She participated in advertising food products, and in judging cooking competitions in the Arab world. Additionally, she contributed in many cooking related festivals, interviews, forums, meetings, and conventions.

On April 5: He will serve Indian cuisine at Marriott Doha. The dinner is priced at QR280.

Born in India, Ali Zafar has over a decade’s worth of experience in the field of Kitchen Management. Ali specializes in Indian Cuisine; Awadhi, Rajasthani, Kashmiri, Gujrati, Kebabs, Biryani and much more.

Apart from working in India, he has also worked in Thailand, The Lux Resort in Maldives and is currently working at the Doha Marriott Hotel at the Taj Rasoi Restaurant. He has worked in the states of Punjab, New Delhi, Kolkata, and Bangalore. Graduating with a Bachelors in Hotel Management from IHM-Kolkata, Ali went on to achieve his Executive MBA from the Karnataka University.

Working with Indian cuisine does bring in the prospect of some mouth-watering food which will satisfy the tastebuds of those who will be tasting it.

On April 8: He will serve steakhouse specials at Marriott Doha. The dinner is priced at QR480.

Erhan Afacan, a Turkish born chef boasts a really good career with bags of experience under his name. He is an ambitious and hardworking chef and is always on the lookout for challenges and opportunities. Having done his Culinary Arts from the Anatolia Cooking Occupation School, Erhan is well- versed in 3 different languages i.e. Turkish, English and Russian. His experience in the culinary world is one to admire.

He has worked in Kazakhstan, UAE, Russia and his home country Turkey and has cooked amazing food wherever he went. However, one of his achievements was in Sochi in 2014 where he was catering for the mountain venues of the Games in which he made a daily VIP buffet for sportsmen and journalists. Some of the important people he cooked for in Sochi are The Russian President Vladmir Putin and American Actor “Steven Seagal” Apart from this, he has won the “Best opening of the best signature restaurant “and due to this he appeared in the Timeout magazine. A chef of his stature is sure to serve nothing but the best.

On April 6: He will serve his specialities  for QR1,500 at Sharq Village and Spa.

Chef Fawaz Al Omaim boasts an experience of more than 9 years in dining operations. During this time, he has provided operational consultancy to numerous restaurants in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Having stayed in the USA for almost a decade, Fawaz developed his cooking talent in a multi-cultural environment.

He has also contributed in most of the Gulf-based festivals, including the Qatar International Food Festival. Recently, he was involved in contributing to the cooking for charity initiatives in the Syrian refugee camps in Turkey and Jordan.

(Source: The Peninsula)

Evidence suggests preschool is a waste of time and money

Every parent wants their child to have the best life possible. Often, that means giving them the best education they can get, beginning with sending them to a good preschool.

It's a reasonable approach, except for the fact it might be dead wrong.

A growing body of evidence suggests that preschool doesn't offer kids anything they can't get more easily — or more cheaply — through other means.

The sooner parents and policy makers take these findings seriously, experts argue, the quicker kids can start reaching their full potential.

For kids in need, money goes further than school
The most convincing evidence that kids don't need preschool to succeed comes from a recent report by Russ Whitehurst, a senior fellow in economics studies at the Brookings Institution. Whitehurst's report analyzed four major studies of the Earned Income Tax Credit, a refund issued to low-income families based on their income levels and how many kids they have.

His research found that per dollar spent, kids tended to do better in their later years if their families received money directly, rather than if they went to preschool. Studies have shown that more money early on translates to better test scores, higher college entry rates, and even higher incomes as adults.

Security is the biggest mechanism at play, Whitehurst tells Business Insider. "If you're bringing home $21,000 and the government gives you another $3,000, that can be a big deal," he says. Additional funds free parents up to take more vacations, buy better cars, go to more museums, and generally do things that enrich kids' lives but might otherwise cost too much.

In the US, the leveling effect of extra cash for low-income families is critical. Psychologists have known for years that gaps in childhood development widen over time. Small advantages turn into massive ones, even as early as preschool. If a wealthier kid goes to a school with more resources, a poorer child already has to play catch-up.

Instead of focusing on cash handouts, governments and politicians have instead tried to rectify this imbalance by supporting universal preschool as a way to give all kids the opportunity to start their education at the same time. "Just as kindergarten became the new first grade in a previous era, we now see pre-K becoming the new kindergarten," Whitehurst says.

It may be a positive step, but one Northern European country has taken the opposite approach, rejecting formal early education altogether. And it's working.

In Finland, books take a back seat to playtime
American parents might look upon the Finnish school system with horror: Kids in Finland don't start their formal education until they're 7 years old, many of them still illiterate. Compare that to the US, where kids typically begin kindergarten at age 4 or 5, preschool even younger, books already in hand.

The biggest difference between the two systems is what each expects from students. Preschool in the US is designed to build "student readiness" — the skill of being a student who can study and learn capably. Finland has preschool, too, but it's effectively playtime.

Finnish preschool children learn how to play nice together, how to be fair, how to say "I'm sorry." In both spontaneous and structured settings — think games of tag or teacher-guided activities to build teamwork — they fulfill their primary duty of being kids, moving fast and loose and making plenty of mistakes that turn into learning opportunities.

And unlike American preschool, Finland's system is wholly paid for by the government, leveling the playing field in a way American preschools have yet to match.

The result: By age 15, Finnish students dominate in global tests of math and science. The fact they waited a few years before learning what everyone else was studying only helped them.

There's hope for American preschoolers yet
Just because America isn't Finland doesn't mean kids can't reap the benefits of the Finnish model. Parents just have to know where to look. And that place might be "Sesame Street."

In the 47-year run of "Sesame Street," there have been more than 1,000 studies about the cognitive and social benefits of watching the show. Researchers have found that kids who watch "Sesame Street" enjoy up to 67% higher literacy scores by age 4, 40% better social skills, and 127% greater interest in eating vegetables than kids who don't watch.

Ostensibly, these upsides are the entire point of "Sesame Street." PBS crafted the show in 1969 as a more educational alternative to Saturday morning cartoons and junk food. Kids learn about culture, race, disability, and poverty. They learn acceptance and openness before bias or pickiness can creep their way in — all perks that preschool also tries to teach kids, except for the fact that "Sesame Street" can do it equally well, and in an environment where kids spend more time.

As economists Phillip Levine and Melissa Kearney note in a 2015 report on the benefits of "Sesame Street," the show essentially functions like Khan Academy or MIT OpenCourseware, two of the biggest massive open online courses (MOOCs) that let people learn for free.

"In essence," Levine and Kearney wrote, "Sesame Street was the first MOOC."

The conversation at the top needs to change
Politicians may love talking about investing in education, but as Whitehurst and others have shown in their research, the better investment is in families.

Low-income kids reap immediate rewards when their parents have more resources and more time to spend with them. And for families that aren't struggling, the Finnish model highlights how governments should empower parents to take a more relaxed approach to raising kids, rather than one that prioritizes starting their academic career as early as possible.

Finns find success because they've embraced an old idea, not a new one. They let kids be kids. As long as a society can do that on equitable terms, the rest pretty much falls into place.

(Source: BI)

Kosher curry that's more faith than fusion: The rich tradition of Indian Jewish food

It's not quite brisket vindaloo or matzah ball curry, but there is something distinct about the collision of influences in Indian Jewish food.

There's a heady aroma of coconut milk for one. It's used everywhere, substituted for cream in curries to avoid the mixture of meat and dairy, which is prohibited in the Talmud.

If it sounds like the latest addition to the dreaded trend of culinary fusion, it shouldn't. The culture and traditions of Indian Jews stretch back thousands of years, although globally, the demographic remains relatively small.

Only a few thousand still live in India and others are dispersed around the world. It's why Esther and Ken Daniels consider themselves lucky to have met on a volunteer army program on an Israeli army base.
Esther Daniels holds a typical Indian Jewish dish of coconut rice and chicken curry.

Both were born in Mumbai (then Bombay), but Ken moved to Canada as a child to a small town in Wabush Labrador Newfoundland.

His family were the only Indian, Jewish, and certainly only Indian Jewish family in town.

After meeting in Israel, he and Esther stayed in contact. Eventually they got married, to the delight of their respective parents.

"My dad couldn't be happier," says Ken Daniels.

"Indian Jewish is our heritage, that's our background."

"My dad was overjoyed," says Esther. "He wanted to keep our faith alive."

A convergence of traditions
So what does it mean to be an Indian Jew?
Ken Daniels
Ken Daniels says for his family, there's a big difference between culture and faith.

"Indian culture is very important to us, but we identify as Jewish. That's our faith."
That doesn't mean the two don't frequently intersect.

Esther says some of her fondest memories come from her childhood in Mumbai, coming home to a special meal in celebration of the Sabbath.

"Friday night was so special," she says. "Walking home from school, you could smell the puri!"

It's a tradition they continue to observe in their outer suburban Melbourne home.

Friday nights might mean goat or chicken curry, served with coconut rice.

A Jewish enthusiasm for potatoes sees them served as a fixture in special meals, prepared, for instance, with peas and a hum of green masala paste.
Potatoes and spices feature prominently in Indian Jewish food.
While their house is full of ceremonial objects and mementos that link to their faith, the kitchen cupboards very much point to India.

"European Jewish food is more rib-sticking — because they come from a cold country," says Esther, as she adds fresh ginger, fennel and turmeric to her curry.

"They have noodles, kugel and roast, matzah balls and Gefilte fish.

"I have such close Ashkenazi Jewish friends, and I love their matzah ball soup.

"But they say, 'no don't eat that, make me what you're making!'"

(Source: ABC)

Get brownies and burgers as 'prasad' at this Chennai temple

Pop goes the prasadam at a little temple in Padappai, a suburb on the outskirts of Chennai, which has replaced traditional south Indian offerings like tamarind rice and sweet pongal for a more trendy dedication of burgers and brownies, cracker sandwiches and cherry tomato salads. And Food Safety and Standards Authority of India certified ones at that, with manufactured, expiry and best before dates stamped on every serving.

It isn't just the menu that's modern at the Jaya Durga Peetham, the service is too. Here, you will find visitors slipping token into vending machines to collect boxes of their 'pret-a-prasadam', prepared with precision in the automated temple kitchen.

K Sri Sridhar, a herbal oncologist who helped set up the temple, says his idea to serve up desserts and sandwiches as part of the temple prasadam has rustled up quite a bit of interest among locals and tourists. "The idea was to show that anything that is nutritious and prepared in a clean kitchen with a clean mind can be served to God. It doesn't have to be only traditional dishes," says Sridhar.

A few months ago, the temple even introduced the 'birthday cake prasadam' for its devotees. "We maintain a computerised register of their birth dates and addresses and door deliver a cake prasadam to them. It's a hit among the elderly devotees, because coming from the temple it adds a special touch to the occasion," says Sridhar.

On Saturday, for instance, 81-year-old Subbulakshmi was more than pleasantly surprised when she received a cake prasadam. "It was so pretty with flowers and icing," says the 81-year-old, adding it was her first surprise cake ever. "And it came with an agar deepam (a traditional oil lamp) instead of candles which was so nice. Just like they light at the temple," she adds. "When we set up the temple we thought we should give Gods the food we relish," he says. Guess nothing says that better than a butterscotch mousse.

(Source: ToI)

Wednesday 29 March 2017

Being an older mom comes with some major advantages

Children of older mothers are less likely to face harsh discipline, and more likely to thrive, says a lovely article on HuffPo:

Women in developed countries are waiting longer than ever to get pregnant ― and that may actually be a good thing for their children, according to new research.

Women are usually told that getting pregnant later in life is worse for both the mother and the baby. The conversation tends to focus on declining fertility and potential health complications, often casting older motherhood in a negative light. Women are often warned not to have children too late, to avoid a higher risk of birth defects or autism (which at this point is only tenuously connected with advanced maternal age).

But when it comes to a mother’s well-being and her child’s social-emotional development, there are significant advantages of getting pregnant later in life.

A new study on nearly 5,000 mothers in Denmark, published in a recent issue of the European Journal of Developmental Psychology, finds that older mothers are less likely to yell at their children and impose harsh punishments, and that the children are less likely to have behavioral, social and emotional issues.

“When estimating the consequences of the rising maternal age, it’s important to consider both the physical and psycho-social pros and cons,” study author Dion Sommer, a psychologist at Aarhus University in Denmark, said in a statement released Wednesday.

In Denmark, the average pregnancy age is 30.9 (compared with age 26.3 in the U.S.), and the number of women over 40 having children has quadrupled since 1985.

For the study, the researchers checked up on the mothers’ children at ages 7, 11 and 15. They found that children of older mothers have fewer social, emotional and behavioral issues at ages 7 and 11, but not by age 15. They also observed that the older mothers were less likely to scold and harshly discipline their kids.

This makes sense, considering that older mothers are generally more educated and financially stable, and often have greater relationship stability. But even controlling for these factors, the researchers found that advanced maternal age was still a significant factor in and of itself. Why? Age may come with greater psychological maturity, the study’s authors say.

“We know that people become more mentally flexible with age, are more tolerant of other people and thrive better emotionally themselves,” Sommer said. “That’s why psychological maturity may explain why older mothers do not scold and physically discipline their children as much.”

Creating a positive and less disciplinary environment, in turn, leads to a healthier and happier upbringing.

It’s not the first study to point to real advantages of having children later in life. A 2012 study published in the British Medical Journal found that older mothers had healthier children, and other research has shown that older mothers tend to enjoy improved well-being during pregnancy and immediately after giving birth. Another recent study determined that children of older mothers show increased intelligence and cognitive ability.

Of course, there are also plenty of studies finding positive outcomes associated with younger motherhood. The bottom line is that we can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to the best age for motherhood, and the younger-is-better equation doesn’t always hold up. 

Mao Zedong ordered all the sparrows to be killed because they ate too much grain

Environmental disasters are common in the history of mankind, but not many can compare to the onw which began in 1958 in China. Mao Zedong, the leader of the People’s Republic of China, decreed that all the sparrows in the country were to be killed. He decided that China could do without pests like sparrows. Mao thought that sparrows ate too much grain and it seemed rational to him for all sparrows to be killed.

According to Mao Zedong, sparrows were getting in the way of the economic development of the People’s Republic of China. During the next three years, 45 million people died in a famine caused by economic mismanagement, environmental disaster, and state terror.

Mao Zedong undertook several massive campaigns in an attempt to modernize and improve life in China. The Four Pests Campaign was one of these drives, part of the Great Leap Forward between 1958 and 1962. Killing all the sparrows was part of this campaign.

People were mobilized to eradicate the birds. They used beating drums to scare the birds from landing, forcing them to fly until they died of exhaustion. People tore down sparrow nests and shot sparrows down from the sky. The result of the campaign was to push the birds close to extinction in China.

There is no information on how many sparrows there were in China in 1958. But if there was one for each person, there would have been more than 600 million. Hundreds of millions were killed. This lead to a problem the next year. It was noticed that insect infestation of crop fields had soared. Sparrows ate pests such as locusts, and after the campaign, the locusts lost their major predator. This meant that killing the sparrows was counter-productive. The sparrows, it seemed, didn’t only eat grain seeds. They also ate insects.

Locust populations boomed and they ate everything in their path. Grain production in most rural areas collapsed and a massive famine began. People ran out of things to eat and millions starved. The official number of fatalities from the Chinese government was 15 million. However, it’s estimated by some scholars that the fatalities were as high as 45 or even 78 million.

The Great Famine remains a taboo topic in China more than 50 years later. People started to eat other people, parents ate their kids. Kids ate their own parents. Thousands of people were murdered for food. In his book Tombstone, Chinese journalist Yang Jisheng estimated the deaths at over 36 million people. His book was quickly banned in China.

Mao ordered the end of the campaign against sparrows, replacing them with bed bugs in the ongoing campaign against the Four Pests. The aim of the campaign was to increase agricultural output, but during the Great Leap Forward, rice yields substantially decreased.

Maybe Mao Zedong wanted to conquer nature. However, his policies led to a famine in which millions of lives were lost.

(Source: The Vintage News)

He paid a heavy price when diesel was accidentally filled instead of petrol

The Karnataka MLA had purchased the Rs 1.65 crore-Volvo on Saturday. He He paid a heavy price when diesel was accidentally filled instead of petrol, says an article published on TNM: 

If you're looking for ultra-modern luxury, you could do little better than the Volvo XC90 T9 Excellence -- with its 410 BHP engine, its ultra-luxe interiors complete with personal massagers and more. Too bad, as Mangaluru City North MLA Mohiudeen Bava found out, cutting-edge technology can go all too wrong when confronted with an old-fashioned goof-up.

Daiji World reported that Bava, who became the first Indian to buy the newly launched Volvo XC 90 T9 Excellence for Rs 1. 65 crore on Saturday has to send his car back to the service centre.

When Bava’s son went to the fuel station, the attendant erroneously put diesel into the petrol hybrid vehicle, Daiji World reported.

Reacting to the incident, the Congress MLA was quoted as saying, “As I was in Bengaluru for the Assembly session, my son had taken the new car to the fuel station. Though my son had instructed him (the attendant) clearly to fill petrol, when my son went to pay, he found that the staff had filled diesel.”

Most SUV cars in India run on diesel which may have been the reason for the attendant’s blunder.

However, Bava handled the situation rather maturely saying, “As the saying goes 'to err is human', it is common to make mistakes and we respect humans more than machines." He added that the attendant apologised for his mistake and the dealer was contacted to repair the car.

Bava is the chairman and Managing Director of Bava group of companies, a group that is largely into mining in Mangaluru. In 2013, he had declared in his election affidavit that he had assets worth Rs 15 crores. In 2008 however, he had assets worth Rs 1 crore.

Media reports suggest that putting wrong fuel in a car is not that uncommon as it might seem. As many as 150, 000 people in the UK accidentally filled the wrong fuel in their car every year. The damage and repair cost varies on a case to case basis.

Experts suggest the damage can be nominal if the mistake can be spotted at the fuelling station itself, then it can be rectified by drawing out the wrong fuel from the car.

But if one turns on the ignition, the repair costs can be very expensive and the car should be stopped as soon as possible if the engine is turned on.

A petrol engine running on diesel can break the injection pump and the overheating caused by the unburnt diesel can also result in overheating of the catalyst.  An earlier report by Daiji World said that the hybrid luxury car was bought from a Bengaluru showroom and the MLA was looking for a fancy number for the car.

Bali named as world's best tourist destination for 2017

Famous for its volcanic mountains, iconic beaches and coral reefs, Indonesia's resort island of Bali has topped TripAdvisor's best destination list for 2017. The crowd-sourced travel guide has named it the best tourist destination for the first time despite being a popular travel hotspot for many years, says an article published on Business Today: 

The Indonesian island Bali was described as a favourite destination for both adventurers and those in need of a little relaxation, with its white beaches, great diving and dense jungle treks contributing to its popularity.

The Awards also highlight current travel trends. Last year, London took the first place, but this year it dropped to the second position. Unsurprisingly, given its enormous cultural impact, history, cuisine and number of spectacular landmarks, Paris has been a mainstay on TripAdvisor's destination awards for years and is on the third spot this year. The city of Rome moved three notches up to take fourth position. Elsewhere, New York continues to be popular with global travellers, climbing four places to fifth position.

"We're excited to reveal our community's favourite travel destinations for 2017 and recognize these iconic places with Travellers' Choice awards," said Barbara Messing, chief marketing officer for TripAdvisor in a press release.

Award winners were determined using an algorithm that took into account the quantity and quality of reviews and ratings for hotels, restaurants and attractions across destinations worldwide, gathered over a 12-month period.

Here is the complete list of traveller's destination choice according to TripAdvisor:

 1. Bali, Indonesia
 2. London, United Kingdom
 3. Paris, France
 4. Rome, Italy
 5. New York City, United States
 6. Crete, Greece
 7. Barcelona, Spain
 8. Siem Reap, Cambodia
 9. Prague, Czech Republic
 10.Phuket, Thailand

No CCTV, No cashier; but customers keep this Makkah bakery business from going bust

Collecting money from customers without fail is the essence of business. For that you need a cashier at the ‘point of sale’. The practice dates back to centuries if not millenniums. And then came cameras to watch out for the troublemakers and shoplifters. Having a camera, or sense of a camera kept tricksters from performing their art.

But a bakery owner in Makkah defies all these norms. No camera, no cashier. A cash box reminiscent of charity box makes people pay and at the end of the month owner gets more or less what he expects.

“Take what you want, and pay what you want” is what drives the owner Ghazi Hassan Tass, according to Al

The site further reports that the income of the bakery went up after they got rid of the cashier.

The owner also says people proved that they were trustworthy and that the idea was successful.

He went further: “Whoever cannot afford the bread is welcome to take it for free and whoever doesn’t have the amount, can pay the next time.”

He concludes that the experiment proved successful after a year and a half into the implementation.

(Source: The Peninsula)

Why I moved back to India after 10+ years in USA

I am, what they call, a US Return. After more than a decade living in the United States, I moved back to India for good.

When I announced I was moving back to India permanently, some of the responses I was given were

* "Are you SURE?"

* "Let’s see how long you last”.

* "I am happy to see you walk the talk"


* and the insipid "Ok cool"

 But why did I move back? Wasn't it a normal, successful and happy life in the United States?

 Yes, but on paper.

I had a job: I worked for Google, consistently rated #1 company to work for. I had status: active in the Indian Googler network, organizing events for thousands of Indian Googlers. I had a life: Lived in the city of San Francisco, paying drops of blood for a rent (to live a more happening life away from the suburbs). I had comfort: I took a leather seated wifi enabled luxury bus to work. I had social circles: platefuls of friends, acquaintances and girl friends I could run to for dinner, party or a good chat. I had health: I visited the celebrity barry's bootcamp, I was fit and had access to the best of San Francisco food experiences.

But I was unhappy.

How much can you hang out with friends? You still sleep alone. My life in Sunnyvale, the suburbs of America, revolved around lunch and dinners with friends in Indian restaurants, Chaat Paradise, Chaat Cafe, Chaat House. I got sick of it. I was too dependent on my friends for a happiness that was evasive. I wasn’t exactly happy when I was with people, but always sad and empty when I was alone. Soon, with age, friends started falling off the grid after they got married. Does marriage bring happiness in America? I don’t know. I’d ask, but no one will tell the truth.

“Hate something? Change something” became my philosophy. So I moved out of the suburbs. Moving to the dense city of San Francisco changed that feeling of sickness. There was a lot I could do on my own. Life was better. I could run on the beautiful Embarcadero road next to the bay waters, watch the eyeful twinkling lights of the bay bridge, and eat real mexican food. I no longer spent my life in a car, and could walk to the shopping center, or take a bustling train to any part of the city.

But the life soon got exhausting. My high rent meant that I had to save money on other things. Saving money led to tiring decisions like walking to places instead of taking taxi, cooking my own food instead of ordering in ($16 for a masala dosa!), slogging over house cleaning on my own after 4 hrs of food photography and the mess that it necessarily created to achieve the creative outcome. If money could solve that problem, it couldn’t have solved my 3 hour commute. I would return home at 8:30 pm from a tiring bus ride from office, only to spend 45 minutes to wash the stained vessels dumped in the sink.

The pleasant work of Writing, Photography, the will-power consuming work of Exercise, and the unwanted children of Cleaning, Cooking, Organizing, Folding, seemed to fill up every open space of time I had, and then exhausted, I filled up the rest of my time with the brainless task of resting with Netflix.

I couldn’t keep up.

I hired a helper from, a company through which you could hire house help. At $25 per hour, I got a girl who could help me fold my laundry, clean the kitchen and basically do everything I couldn’t do alone-- miraculously, I was up and about and enthusiastic to work when she’d visit.

The relief was short lived. I could not afford to hire help and I woke up every morning with an emptiness in my heart. I woke up wondering what my purpose in the US was. I woke up missing India. Over 3 years in the city of San Francisco, I slowly and surely, got obsessed. I wanted to help India, like how you’d want to help a malnutritioned child in Africa-- but it's all in the head. Thought, in this case, doesn't count. I worked hard for the Indian Google Network, my only easy outlet. I thought of a program to make it easier for NRI’s to volunteer in India. I created a proposal called ‘Dharti’, tried for a tie up with an IIT, tried to get an impact fund sponsorship. Nothing went through.

It was not meant to be.

4th Dec 2015. I was adjusting my sari. I was at my cousin's wedding in Indore and my 8 yr old nephew looked at me and suddenly asked.

“Aye, why you stay in America?”

“I … because... I...” the answer didn't snap out, surprisingly. I tried again. ”.....Because my job is good”.

“Because my job is good?”. An echo in my head added a question mark to my answer. It was my subconscious asking myself --“Really? Job is the reason to stay in America?”. The answer didn’t feel real or reason enough to give an innocent 8 year old.

That moment, a seed was planted. By my nephew. What is the real reason I live in the US and not India? I questioned myself.

3 months later, It was getting progressively and exponentially difficult to manage my apartment. I knew I wanted to pursue food photography and writing, but it just wasn't scaling.

“You must come back to India” my brother in law told me on the phone.

“I’m afraid” I said tightening the hold around my phone.

“Why are you afraid?” he asked

“What if I don’t like it? Silicon valley has the smartest people!”

“You think there are no good people in India?”, he asked firmly.

I went silent.

I set the phone down. I was still afraid. How can I leave this land of opportunity? Can I leave this life? I have a car with a sunroof, I can drive alone at night, I have access to the best people, the place is neat and clean, I am earning in dollars, I can afford an international vacation, the best men are here in silicon valley aren't they-- All these founders, engineers, VC’s!

I parked the idea aside, unconvinced. And moved along another month.

Life has its own way of convincing. After long stares into the beautiful bus view to office, a question soon bubbled up,

“What is the one thing you will regret when you’re 50, and settled in Fremont California with a minivan and a child with an American accent”

The answer was always the same “I will regret that I didn’t go back to India”

On the night of a weekend in May, I was restless. The weekend chores were looming on me and I knew I could not keep up. But that night I didn’t want to keep up. I walked to the mirror and looked at the image, the image of a hypocrite. Someone who praises India, misses India, but yet stays abroad. I didn’t want to be that hypocrite, rolling in regret every day of my life.

So I made that decision. On my last bus trip from office, I played a song. Aye Mere Pyare Watan from Kabuliwala. You must watch it.

(Source: Linkedin)

Bengaluru man can run an AC house without paying a rupee in electricity bills

Ugadi is one of the biggest festivals in Karnataka, and marked with holiday and merriment. Bengaluru resident Dinesh Pagariya has more than one reason for celebration.

His new house is slated for a housewarming and pooja on the day, but that isn’t the only reason. Even before its formal inauguration, Dinesh’s house has captured attention for its completely eco-friendly initiative.

Dinesh’s new house has successfully harnessed solar energy from scratch, and did not seek even a temporary Bescom connection.

A city-based real-estate developer and nature enthusiast, Dinesh has always emphasized on living a green life, from running an off-grid office operation to taking an electric-powered car over conventional vehicles. “I keep renewable energy as the criteria for all my activities.” He found himself deeply interested in solar energy and found an opportunity to incorporate the technology when he built his cousin’s house two years earlier.

“We wondered why we should have to keep taking power from the electricity department,” he says. “Why don’t we generate our own power? My cousin’s house was somewhat smaller in size, and I thought that I could fix any errors more efficiently.”

There were no errors and the construction success motivated the builder to take a more ambitious approach. He decided to build his new house, in Bengaluru’s Jayanagar neighbourhood, on the same principles of solar-powered energy.

Built in 12 months, the house has set new standards in green construction, setting up a solar unit at the site from the very beginning.

While installing solar units is becoming popular among many ecologically conscious people, to use solar power during construction remains somewhat rare. Builders and architects remain somewhat sceptical of the process of green architecture. Fortunately, Dinesh found an ally in his architect, Ganesh Kumar of Studio 69, who encouraged him to continue the project despite the initial challenges.

Ganesh says, “I always try to make an environmentally-conscious angle in my building. If there is a tree, I plan the architecture around it. Dinesh approached me after he saw some of my houses. He has a beautiful plot—I kept the solar energy in mind before starting and also the trees. It wasn’t as challenging as it seems because he was clear about what he wanted.”

Construction began with the installation of a small power plant atop the worker’s shed. The plant was upgraded as the building proceeded and eventually shifted in a higher capacity over the completed house.

Further, Dinesh and his team employed thin solar panels, conventionally used for commercial solar power generation, which makes it possible to generate full power on cloudy days. These thin panels can also be stepped on and the engineering team installed over 100 panels on the rooftop to generate all the electricity needed.

The only challenge in undertaking such an ambitious initiative, according to Dinesh, is in the mind.

A self-confessed fan of Elon Musk, Dinesh says that a challenge in his venture was really the hesitation in getting started. “Initially it looked challenging but my architect encouraged me and it gradually got easier. We hoped to finish in one year and that is exactly what we have done. And now we have a fully air-conditioned house, which runs on renewable energy.”

Following the success of his solar ventures, Dinesh has also founded JJJ Solar, a renewable energy firm where he is joined by like-minded experts who he had worked with on previous projects. Invested in eco-friendly principles, they hope to educate people on renewable energy and collaborate to build more solar-powered commercial properties as well as houses.

To contact Dinesh Pagariya’s team at JJJ Solar, click here.

Tamilian wedding mag causes a furore over racy shoot in Canada

This may not be the first time that an international magazine or lifestyle brand has drawn flak for cultural misappropriation. Vogue Arabia did it with Gigi Hadid donning a burqa on their cover, Nike's ad targeted at women in the Arab world did more than just raise the ire of the people, and now, the Canadian Wedding magazine Jodi has created a stir among members of the expatriate Tamil community.

The photo featured on the cover of Jodi, an annual publication catering to a niche audience of Tamil Canadians, portrays a Tamilian bride sitting on a floral throne wearing a traditional Kanjeevaram sari. The sari's drape, however, isn't quite in the traditional norm, exposing the model's albeit shapely legs peeking through. While the model, Thanuska Subramaniam, said it was sad that critics did not appreciate the female talent and creativity behind the shoot, many readers aren't too impressed.

While several critics are voicing out against the magazine for sexualising content and cultural misappropriation, designer Naushad Ali is puzzled and amused by the controversy. "I'm not sure what you want me to say. I honestly don't understand what is wrong with the image, I think it is beautiful," he opines. "Consider what women in Tamil Nadu or Kerala used to wear pre-independence or even post," he urges. "Their saris were simply draped around their bodies, and most of the time without even a blouse. I think the photo looks stunning. Intolerance is a worldwide phenomenon. With the evolution that clothing has gone through over past decades, who truly knows what is traditional and what is not."

Commenting on the image, Chennai-based fashion photographer Karthik Srinivasan says, "I have done many such photo shoots for South Indian magazines, where we have draped the sari differently - like a veshti (somewhat like a dhoti, as worn by men). Creatively, these pictures look stunning. Now, with the internet, people just spend most of their time finding or creating controversy. There is nothing new about this picture, in fact, many Indian photographers have shot such pictures. In my opinion, I think this is a striking picture, with very clean lines and lighting."

Celebrity stylist and designer Chaitanya Rao, however, agrees with the dissent. "If it's supposed to depict the Tamil bride, then definitely it’s not right," he says. Taking an objective stance, he adds, "But if it's purely a creative shoot, then I don't see a problem. However, people ought to focus their energy on more pressing issues around the globe, rather than create such controversies," he adds.

Celebrity photographer G Venket Ram agrees for the need of creative freedom, on behalf of image makers. "I had seen the image of this South Indian bride flashed across the internet. Being a photographer in pursuit of transcending stereotypes, I don't find it offensive. It's a different take on styling, considering the fact that Tamilians are staying away from home, and can be influenced by wedding gowns, for instance, which have slits right up to the thigh."

(Source: Indulgexpress)

Story published: Mom's cheating

One of my stories published in Kannada Prabha Yugadi Special Issue 2017. 

Travel piece on Tiger's Nest Monastery in Bhutan

My travel piece on Tiger's Nest Monastery in Bhutan has been published in Vishwavani Yugadi Special Issue 2017. Here's the link:

Happy Ugadi - The Hindu New Year

Ugadi is the beginning of Hindu New Year. It marks the onset of spring, of new life and new beginning.

Ugadi has two terms — Yuga and Aadi means beginning of new age. The onset of spring also marks a beginning of new life with plants getting new life, with fresh and tender shoots and leaves.

Ugadi marks the beginning of a new Hindu lunar calendar with a change in the moon’s orbit. It is a day when predictions made for the New Year. Panchangas are read in temples and homes. Ugadi is a season of spring coming with fresh crop of mangoes. Mango and neem tress fill the fresh aroma making the air healthy.

According to legends the creator of the Hindu pantheon Lord Brahma started creation on Chaitra Shuddha Padhyami or Ugadi.

Great Indian Mathematician Bhaskaracharya’s calculations proclaimed Ugadi as the beginning of the New Year, new month and new day.

On Ugadi day, we wake up before Sunrise, take oil bath and decorate houses with fresh mango and neem leaves. Women draw rangolis in front of their houses.

According to legends, Lord Subramanya and Lord Ganesha were very fond of mangoes. Lord Subramanya exhorted people to tie green mango leaves to the doorway signifying a good crop and well-being. So, people use mango leaves and coconuts on every auspicious occasion to propitiate gods.

We normally cook Pachadi — a combination of five ingredients — Mango, neem flowers, jaggery, tamarind and coconut. The ingredients reflect our life, a combination of sweet, sour and bitter tastes. Special dishes like Holige and Puliogre are prepared along with Pachadi. I started my preparation yesterday itself and badly miss yummy Holige prepared by my mom.

Ugadi is considered to be the most auspicious time to start new ventures.

Happy Ugadi!

Tuesday 28 March 2017

Ariel Levy has written a thoroughly modern memoir

In “The Rules Do Not Apply,” a writer for The New Yorker interrogates the hoary conceit of “having
it all” after a harrowing miscarriage and divorce, writes PENELOPE GREEN on NYT:

Just before Thanksgiving 2012, Ariel Levy, a staff writer at The New Yorker, flew to Mongolia to report on that country’s mining boom. She was 38 years old and five months pregnant, and on her second night there, she miscarried in her hotel room, delivering her son in a torrent of blood that nearly killed her. Her son would not survive, but Ms. Levy detailed in a heartbreaking essay a year later that would win her a National Magazine Award that after she yanked the placenta from her body, crawled to the phone and called a local doctor, she took the boy’s photo.

“I worried that if I didn’t,” she wrote, “I would never believe he had existed.”

The essay, titled “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” was a brutal read. Ms. Levy wrote of the feeling of her son’s skin, “like a silky frog’s on my mouth,” and of the image of a white bath mat someone had thrown over a bloodstain next to her bed that would slowly darken as her blood seeped through it during the five days that she spent holed up in her hotel room. Back home, she wrote, she sobbed, bled and lactated in an awful storm of hormones and grief.

Before the miscarriage, she had considered herself lucky: buoyed by the gains of third-wave feminism, successful at her chosen career, legally married to a woman and carrying a baby made by a friend’s donated sperm. Afterward, as she wrote, she felt buffeted by a different kind of fate, something more Shakespearean or biblical, “the 10 or 20 minutes I was somebody’s mother were black magic; there is no adventure I would have traded them for.”

And yet. Not only did she lose her child, but her marriage also fell apart. This felt like a karmic smackdown, and Ms. Levy wanted to interrogate her own responsibility for such a sequence of grim events. That is the intellectual backbone, anyway, of “The Rules Do Not Apply”: her memoir, out March 14, that lays the groundwork for what happened in Mongolia and picks up where the essay left off, raising, once again, that hoary conceit, the one about women and “having it all.”

“I felt like this very fortunate beneficiary of the women’s movement,” she said during a recent interview in her bright, one-bedroom walk up in Chelsea. “I got to have all these choices, and the rules” — biological, historical — “did not apply. So it was a very shocking experience to find myself, childless and alone at 38. I felt like a complete failure, on the deepest level.

“Some of it was like someone in a Jane Austen novel, getting her comeuppance, but some of it, most of it, was feeling like a mother, but where’s the baby? There is no child. Then you’ve got a little identity crisis on your hands.”
Ariel Levy at home in Manhattan, a one-bedroom walk up that she bought when she was married..

Ms. Levy bought the apartment during her marriage, when she and her former spouse, now a recovering alcoholic, separated for a time. She lives there alone, attended by two amiable, rotund cats. On a Friday afternoon, she was preparing for an appearance at the 92nd Street Y, where she would be interviewed by her friend Lena Dunham.

“This thinking that you can have every single thing you want in life is not the thinking of a feminist,” Ms. Levy told the audience that night. “It’s the thinking of a toddler.”

“T-shirts!” Ms. Dunham said, “T-shirts for all! Hashtag toddler.”

A thoroughly modern memoir, the elements of “The Rules Do Not Apply” seem plucked not from the script of “Girls,” which has also been exploring reproductive issues of late, but “Transparent” — even “Portlandia.”

When Ms. Levy, at 30, marries her girlfriend, her left-leaning parents are put out not because she is a lesbian, but because they are against the square traditions of marriage. “Are you impressed with how cool I am about all this?” her father said when she brought home her first girlfriend. She has a gothic affair with a brutish and unhinged transgender man who hacks Ms. Levy’s computer. When Ms. Levy conceives a child with the sperm of a dear friend who is rich enough to pay the child’s college tuition but wants a hands-off relationship to parenthood, you imagine a sort of Michael Cunningham utopia for Ms. Levy and her wife in their house on Shelter Island. Or perhaps a reality show. Simon Doonan and Jonathan Adler, colorful exemplars not just of same-sex marriage but also of Manhattan’s creative class, are their neighbors.

Of her generation, Ms. Levy writes: “Sometimes our parents were dazzled by the sense of possibility they’d bestowed on us. Other times, they were aghast to recognize their own entitlement, staring back at them magnified in the mirror of their offspring.”

Ms. Levy, who in person speaks in the vernacular of her era — “dude” and “girl” are her preferred terms of address — presents a memoir often festooned with self-mocking irony. It’s her second book. “Female Chauvinist Pigs,” out in 2005, wondered just how liberated the heroines of “raunch” culture actually were. She knows she is a different sort of cultural clich├ę, a bisexual Wesleyan graduate who never quite learned to mind her pronouns. She wears her Jewish-urbane sensibility lightly. Before her wedding, Ms. Levy writes of trying to woo her wife’s Minnesotan mother, whose strongest expression of emotion was the phrase, “Oh, honestly.” In conversation one day, Ms. Levy lets loose an “Oy vey,” startling her soon-to-be mother-in-law. As she writes, Ms. Levy had to explain, “That’s what my people say when we mean, ‘Oh, honestly.’”

She grew up, in Larchmont, N.Y., as an outlier. She was the only child of 1960s-inflected parents who didn’t fit in with the suburban ethos of her neighborhood: her father wrote copy for Planned Parenthood, Naral and NOW, among other organizations; her mother worked with Down syndrome children and opened an after-school day care. And there was a family secret hiding in plain sight: Her mother was engaged in a long-term affair with a grad-school classmate who would appear periodically, camping on blankets in the living room.

By her account, Ms. Levy was a brash, overly-verbal, unpopular child who took to her diary for companionship, using a notebook to puzzle her way through a hostile social environment at school and the weirdness at home. “That was my lifeline,” she said. “People didn’t like me, I was loud and aggressive. People can take it from a 42-year-old, but when you’re a little kid, and people are like, ‘You’re loud and awful,’ you think, ‘I guess I am awful,’ so writing and figuring out how to put things into words was the way I felt better.”

Not long after college, she got a job at New York magazine, where she was mentored by the editor John Homans. David Remnick, editor in chief of The New Yorker, hired her away after a lunchtime courtship during which Ms. Levy suffered a bad case of flop sweat. When she tells her father about her new job, he says, “Well, nowhere to go but down.”

Ms. Levy has spent much of her career profiling women who are, in her words, “too much,” like Caster Semenya, the African runner with elevated levels of testosterone who upended the way the Olympics thought about gender; Lamar Van Dyke, a founder of a band of lesbian separatists from the 1970s; and Edith Windsor, the octogenarian lesbian whose suit against the United States paved the way for the legalization of same-sex marriage. Last week, Ms. Levy profiled the photographer Catherine Opie, once an S&M aficionado and darling of the Whitney Biennial, circa 1995, unpacking her homey radicalism.

While a gay or bisexual woman like Ms. Levy would seem to be the ideal image for what is now called “intersectional” or multilayered feminism, Charlotte Shane, a writer for The New Republic, recently accused her of second-wave feminist sins — or the “dangerous failures of neoliberal feminism” — in a piece headlined “Ariel Levy’s Infuriating Memoir of Privilege and Entitlement.”

“It’s unlikely many black women or Arab women or undocumented women would presume a similar degree of permission and mobility,” Ms. Shane wrote, “regardless of their exposure to Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan.”

This line of argument amused more than rankled Ms. Levy.

“If one of my students at Wesleyan tried to take down a writer,” she said, “I’d say, ‘white and from Larchmont’ is a good start but you need more of a case.”

She added: “I think it would be difficult to argue that I’m a net-negative for womenkind. I’ve tried pretty hard to bring in unusual female voices and perspectives. Not just young women and not just white women, either. I don’t know that I’m the best target for improvement. I don’t know that I’m the problem.”

Her friend Mr. Doonan would label Ms. Levy a first-wave feminist, like his own mother, who served in the Royal Air Force during World War II. “She’s like those fearless viragos,” Mr. Doonan said of Ms. Levy. “She’s uniquely intrepid. Tremendously grateful for opportunities and never complaining. That isn’t in a way a contemporary thing. People tend to see things through the lens of victimhood, but Ari takes full responsibility and carries on.”

Ms. Levy is deferential to her ex-spouse, whose alcoholism arguably tanked the relationship, though Ms. Levy said, “We made a fine mess together.” She gave her a pseudonym, Lucy, and she also gave her the manuscript to read before she showed it to anyone else. Lucy suggested no changes. “She said, ‘It’s your story, I’m not going to censor you,’” Ms. Levy said. (The identity of the baby’s father is even more veiled, in keeping with his wishes, she said.)

“I don’t come from addicts,” she said. “My parents never drank. What I did know about was something being amiss in the house, there being a secret, and knowing — knowing — something’s off.” When she attends an Al-Anon meeting, reluctantly (because its jargon irritates her), she learns a “profound concept,” she said. “The idea that you’re off the job, that it doesn’t matter if you figure it out, you can try and persuade the person at the center of it that there’s a problem but you’re never going to get anywhere, so just punch your punch card out. You’re done.”

She added: “It’s not that I have no regrets, but I no longer think, for example, I shouldn’t have gone to Mongolia. It wouldn’t have mattered. People say, ‘Oh, it would have been better to have miscarried in New York.’ I’m not sure about that. There’s no way your baby is going to die in your hands and you’re going to be, like, ‘Well, that worked out well!’”

When “Thanksgiving in Mongolia” landed on his desk, Mr. Remnick said he read it right away, against his habit. “I couldn’t get out of my chair,” he said. “It’s not as if I hadn’t known what had happened; we had been talking even when she was still there. The world is full of personal essays. My illness. My divorce. My delight. They are everywhere. Arguably there are too many. Among the average ones, there’s a kind of grasping aspect to them. When they connect, as Ari’s did, there’s really nothing like it.”

She is a joyful person, and a joyful writer, he added. “No question she has an absolutely magnetic personality,” he said. “One imagines Joan Didion hanging around the Doors and Haight-Ashbury was a recessive presence. Ari ain’t recessive.”

As it happens, Ms. Levy’s adventures fit into an older tradition than the memoir/exposes, “the autopathographies,” as James Atlas wrote, introducing the wave of literary memoirs from the early 1990s — Mary Karr, Susanna Kaysen, et al — that have dominated the form for decades. When her marriage finally ends, Ms. Levy strikes up a correspondence with the handsome South African doctor John Gasson, who had treated her in Mongolia.

The memoir ends ambiguously, with Ms. Levy pondering a flight to South Africa. But in real life, she and Dr. J., as she calls him, conducted an epistolary romance through email that continued to blossom. There would be setbacks, as Ms. Levy tried — “400,000 times,” she said — to get pregnant through IVF treatments, until “my heart was broken and I had no money and I was like: ‘Girl, it’s done. Let it go.’”

“Not everybody gets everything, but you get some stuff,” she continued. “You get other stuff.”

She and Dr. Gasson, a rotational doctor whose work schedule at a clinic in Nigeria is five weeks on, five weeks off and who also writes, are engaged. If either one of them can get it together to file the paperwork, she said, they will marry. As to where they will live, she added, “We’re going to be mobile. The fact that I cannot bear a child works rather well with that. Given that I have no choice in the matter, that’s the upside.”

And so, despite all the postmillennial complications of Ms. Levy’s coming-of-age tale and her sexual fluidity, in the end she gets the guy. Who says modernity killed the marriage plot?

Or as Ms. Dunham put it, Ms. Levy “fully is like hitting it with the hot doctor in the book.”