Friday 31 August 2018

In Japan, the most important rule for language translation is often broken

I’ve had many a tourist tell me I could get rich by proofreading the poor English on signs, menus and pamphlets in Japan. Their reference to such wealth does not mean to highlight the actual compensation involved for professional translation but rather the immense volume of work available for such a person.

These well-meaning travelers who have been assaulted by so much translation gone awry are presuming Japan is aware of the problem. And that they care.

In fact, sometimes Japan seems to prefer to promote bad English. After being commissioned to write an article in English on the Seto Inland Sea for a government-subsidized tourism website, the Japanese editor added various erroneous Japanese-English subheadings such as “Let’s rent bicycle!” The very end of the article lists “Genaral Information.” This alternative spelling runs a close second to that by another public sector entity near my house where a sign claims they offer “infarmation.”

When we think of poor English translations, we often think of funny English or relatively harmless typos such as those above. Such flaws originate because a foreign language is being translated by someone who doesn’t speak that language. But it’s actually far more complicated than that.

While most people think the only qualification one needs to translate is a knowledge of the foreign language (also called the second or target language), there are two qualifications even more important than language ability.

The other day, a Japanese friend asked me, “Can you check this English translation for any mistakes?” She was in charge of an art exhibit featuring flyers for the event written in Japanese with English translations inserted where appropriate. She was hoping I would correct “any mistakes” by the following day, when she would be taking the circulars to the printer for a second printing. With the 10-day exhibit already into its first day, she had prepared a preliminary 100 copies of said flyer to give out to the initial attendees.

That evening as I opened the file on my computer to look it over, an exasperated groan emanated from my office, the same painful sound native English speakers all over Japan emit after opening such “already translated” documents. This was no simple matter of correcting a few errors; it would require a complete rewrite.

Farm facts?: A sign on the Seto Inland Sea island of Shiraishi that's meant to inform visitors also amuses them. | AMY CHAVEZ
In an attempt to honor the original translation, and to avoid any losing of face by the original Japanese translator, I attempted to rework their translated text. But the more I found myself having to consult the original Japanese version for meaning, the more I realized how difficult this task was going to be. So I consulted my Japanese friend to make sure it was OK to disregard the original translation and start at the beginning with the Japanese text. She agreed, saying, “Sure, but remember I need it by tomorrow!”

Next, I had to visit the art exhibit to really understand what they were trying to relate in their eight numbered points about the artworks. Although there is a pervasive idea in Japan that you shouldn’t have to explain art, I nonetheless felt it would be prudent to at least give English speakers an idea of what they were being asked to come and look at, since none of the artists was famous enough in his or her own right to attract a following.

I was able to catch the last hour of the exhibit that evening, and in the morning, weaving the physical with the metaphysical aspects of the artworks, I came up with a translation I felt was true enough to the original Japanese, but still offered hints of intrigue for foreigners whose curiosity I was hoping to pique.

I’m sure a professional translator would have done a better job than I. And I surely would have encouraged my friend to find a more appropriate person, but she did not have a budget for that. My intention was only to help her out as a friend, knowing this was strictly volunteer.

Unfortunately, this is the situation many NPOs and government-subsidized agencies find themselves in. Both public- and private-sector projects often treat translation as something minor and not worthy of investment. But translation should be considered another component of PR, and a good translation (like a good tweet or a good Instagram photo) will generate more interest than a word-for-word translation — or worse, an incomprehensible one.

The first rule of translation is to always translate into your native tongue. For example, just because I speak Japanese as a second language does not mean I can translate into Japanese successfully. I should only translate Japanese into my mother language, which is English.

Thus, native Japanese speakers should translate from English (their second language) into Japanese (their first), not the other way around. The only exception is bilinguals — those who have two mother tongues, having grown up speaking both Japanese and English with native proficiency.

The second factor to look at is who is doing the translation. Why has that person been chosen to translate? Is it only because they’re a native speaker? Or because they’re convenient? A friend? Because they’ll work for free? These are the wrong reasons to choose a person to translate.

Instead, you should first ask: Can the person write well in their native language? Do they know the difference between spoken and written English? Colloquial and formal? Are they familiar with the rules of grammar? If someone can’t write clear, concise, grammatically correct sentences in their native language, how will they translate another language into clear, concise, grammatically correct sentences? You want a person who not only knows the language, but who is a decent — preferably accomplished — writer in that language as well.

Only after you’ve secured the first two requirements should you consider the proficiency of the translator in the foreign language. This is not discounting second-language proficiency. It just means that this should be the third consideration, not the first. That’s quite a few qualifications to go through before arriving at the seemingly simple task you are hoping to accomplish — a translation.

As Japan continues to court more and more foreign tourists, the nation must learn to respect foreign languages as much as its own. Investing in proper translations of signs, menus, brochures and pamphlets into English (or any other language) is paramount.

Translation is not just rendering information from one language into another, but presenting that information in an attractive enough format to convince people to read and act upon it. Otherwise, why even translate?

(Source: JT)

This is what White House staff call Ivanka Trump behind her back

Flynn, Dubke, Shaub, Corallo, Spicer, Priebus, Scaramucci, Bannon, Gorka - the list of departed staffers from the Trump White House grows longer and longer.

The surviving cabal at the head of President Donald Trump's dwindling retinue appears to be the faction led by First Daughter Ivanka Trump, and her husband Jared Kushner.

Alongside the plethora of military officers who now hold civilian posts in the administration.

According to Vanity Fair, the White House aides that remain have an unflattering nickname for the Assistant to the President.

One former staffer told Vanity Fair:

Excuse me, this is not a royal family, and she's not the princess royal.

'Princess Royal' is the nickname that has apparently stuck.

One assumes this is a reference to nepotism, rather than any likeness she may resemble to Anne, Princess Royal.

Aides should be wary, as President Trump has been at his most volatile when opponents attack his family.

At a G20 summit, after the First Daughter 'sat in' for President Trump while he absented himself, the President took to the airwaves to defend his daughter from accusations that she benefited from nepotism.

If she weren't my daughter it would be so much easier for her...It might be the only bad thing she has going, if you want to know the truth.

(Source: indy100)

Bell on historic village clock could be silenced after noise complaints

Recently repaired 119-year-old timepiece in Delph, Greater Manchester, too loud for some

The bell on a historic village clock may no longer toll after villagers claimed its newly restored 24-hour chime was too noisy.

The clock, a prominent centrepiece in the moorland village of Delph in Greater Manchester, has been keeping time for the past 119 years.

But custodians of the Millgate Arts Centre on which the clock sits could be hit with a noise abatement order if the hourly chimes are found to be too loud.

Oldham council confirmed a complaint had been received about the volume of the bell.

Ian Shepherd, the chair of the arts centre, has been inundated with responses on social media after raising the alarm about the intervention by environmental health officers.

“Most are of the opinion it is like sheep and owls; it’s part and parcel of living in a community like we do,” Shepherd told the Saddleworth Independent. “Most want to hear it chiming all night,” he added. “However, there has been a complaint to the council who could deem it to be a statutory nuisance.

“If certain levels of decibels are exceeded, legally they cannot ignore it. I am aware churches have been forced to silence their bells under a noise abatement order because they have been considered too noisy.”

A clock and brawl story? Millgate Arts Centre in Delph, Greater Manchester. Photograph: David Dixon/Geograph
Under one possible compromise, the chimes could be restricted to daylight hours.

The clock first rang out in 1899. But last month it had to be repaired by Cumbrian clock experts after a hammer mechanism got stuck. Locals wanted it to chime in time for Whit Friday as it traditionally starts off the celebrations in the morning.

Edna from Edna’s Cosy Café told the newspaper: “I actually don’t mind it, I don’t hear it a lot because of people talking. I can only hear it when I sit outside.”

Claire Holland from Redmonds Solicitors, whose new office is directly opposite the arts centre, said: “Everybody is really upset that someone’s complained. You can’t get much nearer than me and it doesn’t bother me.

“From a business point of view clients have asked where has the bell come from and say it’s really nice. It’s like bringing a traditional thing back into the village.

“It’s not an issue at all, I just think it’s a really nice addition to the village and I am glad that they have restored it.”

Jayne Dixon, who posted a comment about the clock on Facebook, said: “My boss used to wind the original clock up twice a week in the early 60s. Nice to have it working again.”

Audrey Barrass said: “I lived on Millgate for 18 years and heard the clock every night. It was lovely. Accept what should always be in Delph or live somewhere else.”

Another local, Jake Green, added: “I lived at Millgate for the best part of 30 years. The bell can’t have been more than 10 metres from my bedroom and it never bothered me.”

An Oldham council spokesperson said: “We are looking into things and are considering all the options before any decision will be made.”

(Source: The Guardian)

Naked-mole-rat queens control their subjects by having them eat poop

Feces turn subordinates into better caretakers for the colony’s pups.

Naked mole rats are intensely social creatures, and poop is a central part of their social lives.

For one, they like to roll around in the designated toilet chambers of their large underground colonies, picking up the distinctive odor that marks them as a colony member. As wee little pups, they “beg” for poop to eat—literally chirping and scratching at adults’ butts. It’s a way, scientists think, of passing on the gut bacteria needed to digest tough roots and tubers.

And according to a new study from Japan, naked-mole-rat queens use their hormone-rich poop to govern their subordinates. When the subordinates eat the hormone, it turns them into attentive caretakers of the queen’s own pups. It’s mind control, via poop.

Naked mole rats had interested Kazutaka Mogi, a biologist at Azabu University, because of their unusual social structure. Like ants and bees, but unlike almost all other mammals, naked mole rats live in large colonies where the queen is the only female that reproduces. Her subordinates take care of the pups, and they never make sex hormones of their own or become sexually mature. Mogi and his team had investigated parenting in mice, and they knew that hormones play a key role in triggering parental behaviors in mammals. If the bodies of the subordinate naked mole rats aren’t making any hormones, how do they become such attentive caretakers—to pups that aren’t even their own?

It’s worth pausing here to reflect on how bizarre naked mole rats are in so many other ways. They are underground mammals that have lost their hair and sight. They don’t feel pain. They can survive 18 minutes without oxygen. They’re unusually immune to cancer. It might not be so far-fetched that their queens communicate through poo. Even if they weren’t making sex hormones themselves, the female subordinates’ attentive parenting would imply that they get the hormones somewhere, Mogi’s team reasoned. Plus, naked mole rats are known to eat feces. They decided to test the idea.

The team collected fecal pellets from pregnant queens and gave them to a handful of subordinate females, which soon became much more responsive to the cries of pups. Then they repeated the experiment to make sure the hormones were really the key component of the poop. This time, they took fecal pellets from nonpregnant queens and added estradiol—a type of estrogen—to only half of the pellets. Only the naked mole rats that ate the estradiol-supplement poop became more responsive to pup cries.

Mogi was excited. He had never seen hormones work like this before. Hormones are powerful mediators of behavior, but their effects are normally limited to the body of the animal making them. Here the queen seems to be making hormones to alter the bodies of totally separate animals. Insect colonies have sometimes been called superorganisms for the way thousands of individuals behave as one unit; in this case, hormones seem to be acting on naked-mole-rat colonies as a single superorganism.

Sue Carter, an endocrinologist at Indiana University, points out that research from the ’80s has suggested mother mice regulate their babies’ development through feces as well. “The whole idea that one organism would voluntarily ingest and be regulated by the fecal by-products of another,” she says, “makes us wonder what is going on,” especially since we humans are conditioned to be disgusted by waste.

Chris Faulkes, an evolutionary ecologist at Queen Mary University of London who studies naked mole rats, says he wishes the study had presented more evidence that female subordinates naturally eat the feces of queens. Naked mole rats definitely eat their own poop; it helps them get more nutrients out of their food. And queens have been documented to eat poop from other adults. Faulkes has never personally observed female subordinates begging or eating feces from a queen, though he also hadn’t been specifically looking for it. (Mogi told me his team did observe adults eating the queen’s feces out of habit.)

The paper also references in passing that, especially after the queen gives birth, female subordinates’ nipples sometimes become enlarged—despite the fact that they make no sex hormones of their own. Perhaps the hormones in the queen’s poop explain it. But Faulkes says he has also noticed whole colonies with “massive” nipples and others where the nipples of non-breeders never really develop. “That’s something that has really fascinated all of us mole-ratters for decades,” he says. And the mystery endures for now.

(Source: The Atlantic)

Increase in 'Rat Fever' cases in Kerala after floods, alert issued for 5 districts

An alert was issued by the Directorate of Health Services for Thrissur, Palakkad, Kozhikode, Malappuram and Kannur.

Following the floods in the state of Kerala, health department officials are now reporting an influx in the number of cases of leptospirosis, also known as ‘rat fever.’ The Directorate of Health Services had on August 28 issued a leptospirosis alert stating, “There is a sudden increase of Leptospirosis from Thrissur, Palakkad, Kozhikode, Malappuram and Kannur districts. All of them had indirect contact with flood water. You may take this situation very seriously and alert the entire clinical team of your district. Any fever with myalgia to be taken as Leptospirosis and to be treated accordingly until further orders.”

Speaking to TNM, Dr Jayashree, Kozhikode District Medical Officer (DMO) said, “We normally see a number of people presenting with leptospirosis around the monsoons, but this year following the floods, we expected to see more people coming in with symptoms of it.” She said that out of the people who’ve presented with symptoms, 28 cases of leptospirosis have been confirmed in Kozhikode. The DMO added that there are 64 people who are suspected to be suffering from leptospirosis, whose reports are awaited.

In 2017 alone, there were 1408 confirmed cases of leptospirosis reported in the state of Kerala, of which there were 80 deaths reported. In 2016, there were 1710 cases confirmed of which 35 succumbed to the infection.

“Leptospirosis or ‘rat fever,’ is a zoonotic infection which is caused by the bacteria leptospira,” explains Dr Keerthi, a Medical Officer from Chennai, adding, “A zoonotic infection is one which is spread to humans through animals. It is transmitted either through direct contact with body fluids, usually the urine, of an infected animal, or through contact with soil or water which has been contaminated with infected urine.”

The symptoms people commonly present with are fever, headache, nausea and vomiting, muscle pain, and excessive tiredness.

Infected animals can shed the leptospira through normal bodily secretions, most commonly through urine. If this comes in contact with a water body, it will contaminate the water. Should a person with any small cuts or injury wade into this water, there is a chance of the same being transmitted to them.

Dr Jayashree further clarified that the risk of acquiring leptospirosis can be greatly reduced by avoiding wading into water which may have been contaminated by infected animals. In situations where it is not entirely possible to avoid the water, whether due to the nature of one’s profession or even in calamities such as the recent floods seen in Kerala, protective clothing and shoes are to be worn to reduce the chance of contracting the infection.

“Roughly 9 out of 10 people present with a mild form of the disease, with complaints of fever, headache, nausea, joint pains, fatigue and the likes. In some extremely rare cases, someone might present with a severe form of the illness wherein their kidneys and liver are affected, this is called Weil’s Disease,” adds Dr Keerthi.

When asked why the disease is commonly called as ‘rat fever,’ Dr Keerthi responded, “It has been noted that the fever is commonly spread through the urine of infected rats.”

Leptospirosis is diagnosed by blood and urine tests. Those found to have contracted the infection are treated with doxycycline and supportive measures as deemed necessary.

As the state slowly rebuilds itself, measures have been taken to ensure that people who have come in contact with potentially contaminated water are given preventive medication.

(Source: TNM)

Thursday 30 August 2018

Air pollution is making us dumber, study shows

Air pollution could be more damaging to our health than previously thought, according to a new study, which found that prolonged exposure to dirty air has a significant impact on our cognitive abilities, especially in older men.

According to the study published Tuesday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, breathing polluted air causes a "steep reduction" in scores on verbal and math tests.

Researchers at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) examined data from the national China Family Panel Studies longitudinal survey, mapping the cognitive test scores of nearly 32,000 people over the age of 10 between 2010 and 2014 against their exposure to short- and long-term air pollution.

The team found that both verbal and math scores "decreased with increasing cumulative air pollution exposure," with the decline in verbal scores being particularly pronounced among older, less educated men.

"The damage air pollution has on aging brains likely imposes substantial health and economic cost, considering that cognitive functioning is critical for the elderly to both running daily errands and making high-stakes economic decisions," study author Xiaobo Zhang of Peking University said.

Cognitive decline or impairment, which could be caused by air pollution according to the study, are also potential risk factors in developing Alzheimer's disease or other forms of dementia.

Pollution exposure was measured using data on air quality, which includes three air pollutants: sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter smaller than 10 micrometers in diameter.

Air pollution linked to 3.2 million new diabetes cases in one year

Poor hardest hit
While the study adds to the already numerous health concerns regarding air pollution, it will be of particular concern to developing nations, whose smoggy cities could be hampering national economic development.

"The damage on cognitive ability by air pollution also likely impedes the development of human capital. Therefore, a narrow focus on the negative effect on health may underestimate the total cost of air pollution," Zhang said. "Our findings on the damaging effect of air pollution on cognition imply that the indirect effect of pollution on social welfare could be much larger than previously thought."

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), nine out of every 10 people on the planet breathe air containing a high level of pollutants, with the worst affected regions being Africa and Asia.

Of the world's top 20 most polluted cities, as measured by the WHO, all are in developing countries. Almost all cities in low to middle-income countries with more than a million residents fail to meet minimum WHO guidelines.

City dwellers aren't the only ones breathing in smog either, a study in January found that 75% of deaths related to air pollution in India were in rural areas.

While some countries, including China, are taking measures to address air pollution, this will also potentially effect economic growth.

Meanwhile, the wealthiest city dwellers are able to buy their way out of smog.

In Beijing, the rich are specially designing their homes and buying appliances to filter out pollutants in their air and water, while poorer residents are stuck breathing in the unfiltered smog, affecting not only their health but also, according to the new study, their cognitive abilities.

(Source: CNN)

It is now illegal for chefs to boil lobsters alive in this country

The common cooking practice of boiling live lobsters in water was just outlawed by the Swiss government after animal rights activists and some scientists argued that lobsters' central nervous systems are complex enough that they can actually feel pain.

The new Swiss law says that lobsters "will now have to be stunned before they are put to death." The Swiss government order also said that lobsters are no longer permitted to be transported in icy water, and should instead always be handled "in their natural environment." This new practice will go into effect March 1, according to The Guardian.

Stunning a lobster before killing it is an effective way to make sure the animal does not feel any pain, Robert Elwood, a Queen's University Belfast professor told Newsweek.

Lobsters may feel more pain than we thought. Pixabay
"If stunned electrically or if the brain is destroyed mechanically, they are effectively dead. They would not recover consciousness if left in an attempt to do so."

Italy recently passed a similar law saying that restaurants are not allowed to keep live lobsters on ice before boiling them.

Some scientists argue that lobsters can feel pain, but the scientific community is divided on this.
The scientific community can't actually agree on whether or not lobsters feel pain. The Lobster Institute in Maine argues that the lobster's central nervous system is primitive and insect-like, so they can react to stimuli but don't actually have the brain power to process pain.

But Robert Elwood said that this is probably a false assumption. He has performed experiments on crabs by offering them a choice of two shelters: one that consistently emits shocks, and another that does not. The crabs always left the shelter with the shocks.

He argued that the experiment results are "entirely consistent with the idea of pain."

(Source: Insider)

Hong Kong woman marries stranger after being 'tricked' by work

A 21-year-old Hong Kong woman has said she was tricked into marrying a complete stranger on the mainland while taking part in a "mock" wedding.

The woman has said she was told that she had to play the role of a bride in a simulated wedding as part of her training to be a wedding planner.

During the ceremony she and the man signed a genuine marriage document.

She only realised she was actually married after returning to Hong Kong, where she sought legal help.

Local police were unable to help due to a lack of evidence that a crime had taken place, so she approached the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (FTU).

"It's a new form of marriage scam," Tong Kamgyiu, director of the Rights and Benefits Committee of FTU, told the BBC.

"I feel disappointed and cannot believe it's even happening in modern Hong Kong."
The woman did not realise she was married until she returned to Hong Kong
'Taken advantage of'
In May, the 21-year-old - who has not been named - saw a listing on Facebook for a make-up artist apprenticeship.

But after applying, she was convinced by the firm to switch to a wedding planner role.

She was given a week's worth of free training in Hong Kong and was told she needed to participate in a mock wedding in the Chinese province of Fujian to pass the course.

In July, she signed a marriage application document in a local government centre. According to the South China Morning Post, the company told her the marriage would be "void" afterwards.

But after coming back to Hong Kong, one of her classmates convinced her that it was a scam.

She remains married for now and may have to apply for a divorce. It is unclear who the man she married is, or if he entered Hong Kong after the marriage.

"The 21 year-old lady was taken advantage of while she knew nothing about the circumstances," said Mr Tong.

"Her biggest loss is to have a marriage record and it has caused her psychological damage."

Each year, Hong Kong police see an average of 1000 cross-border marriage scam cases.

Chinese residents who are married to a Hong Kong partner are able to apply to reside in the city.

(Source: BBC)

Anti-climax as Neelakurinji blooms in idyllic Munnar devoid of tourists

At long last, Neelakurinji (strobilanthes kunthiana) bloomed in Munnar after 12 years. However, none is there to enjoy its fascinating glamour. Though Munnar expected to host over 8 lakh tourists – nearly double the number of tourists arriving there in a year – during the flowering season, hardly a single visitor has turned up at the hill station.

Reason: The torrential rain, floods and disconnected roads. Though an exact figure of the overall loss incurred to Munnar is unavailable at this point, it nothing less than Rs 750 crore, said experts. With road connectivity yet to be restored completely and security concerns of tourists rearing their head, tourist inflow to the hill station is yet to resume.

The triple whammy has shattered the dreams of hoteliers, shop owners, taxi drivers and people of other allied sectors, who invested huge sums for renovation and ensuring sufficient stocks, of welcoming a large number of people during the Neelakurinji season. For Mithlaj, who runs a spices shop and elephant safari in Valara near Adimali, the loss is more than he can afford.

Neelakurinji mainly blossoms abundantly at Rajamala, Eravikulam National Park, located along the Western Ghats. (Photo | Balan Madhavan/
“I renovated my shop shelling out around Rs 17 lakh and purchased additional stocks expecting a good season. Everything went in vain,” he said. There is around 70 such spices shop in Munnar and Thekkadi alone.

Anticipating higher demand for the elephant ride, Mithlaj had also booked two jumbos at a monthly rent of Rs 40,000 each, besides spending nearly Rs 7,500 daily for the food and care of the elephants and their mahouts.“Usually, I earn Rs 60-70 lakh per month during a season. I expected to earn double during the Neelakurinji season,” he said.

Hotel and resorts worst-affected
The worst-affected sector is the hotel and resort industry, which had got overwhelming response from national and international tourists during the Neelakurinji season.“Most of the hotels and resorts were booked to capacity in August. However, all the bookings were cancelled owing to the rain and floods,” said Dileep Pottenkulam, executive committee member of the Munnar Hotels and Resorts Association (MHRA). Those who leased hotels and resorts for the season for hefty sums are also in deep trouble. While the Tourism Department records 558 accommodation centres, including hotels, resorts, homestays and others in Idukki, unofficial statistics says Munnar alone hosts nearly 600 accommodation units.

Inaccessible roads play spoilsport
While everyone hopes things will get better soon as the rain has subsided, the partially cut-off roads may delay arrival of tourists. “We are not in a situation to make preparations for the Neelakurinji season now, taking into account the huge responsibility of rebuilding Munnar. We also can’t allow heavy traffic through the damaged and cut-off roads,” said Devikulam tahsildar P K Shaji.

The Kochi-Dhanushkodi NH is damaged at several places between Neriamangalam and Munnar. The Munnar-Marayur-Udumalpet Road has been cut-off for nearly a week after the Periyavara bridge got washed away in the flood. Due to the road widening work between the Munnar-Devikulam-Poopara-Theni route, heavy traffic is not possible. The district administration is also yet to lift the tourism ban imposed during the flood and landslides.

(Source: TNIE)

Wednesday 29 August 2018

Now, an app to rent boyfriends and 'cure' depression

A new app called Rent A Boy|Friend was launched in Mumbai and Pune on Friday with a motive to fight depression.

The app's founder is Kaushal Prakash, an interior designer turned entrepreneur, who thinks having boyfriends, or boy friends, can cure mental illness.

He claims to be a victim of depression, and hopes to do his bit in fighting it, reports DNA.

The app: How does this app, claiming to have all answers, work?

Prakash claims his app connects women to 'gentlemen', who can just be a 10th or 12th pass. The men (read boyfriends) are all A-grade models who have been selected after rigorous auditions, said Prakash.

The women can 'rent' them.

The parameters are looks and communication skills (no surprises there)!

He also claims to have run a thorough criminal check on all men listed on the app and website.

Platonic bond: Just talk: No sexual relationships, no private meetings

The app is definitely not for hook-ups. That's what Prakash claims. He said there will be no private meetings or sexual relationships between the boyfriends and women who rent them.

Ironically, men listed on the website flaunt their well-toned six-pack abs.

But why are only men on rent? Because "rent a girlfriend sounds weird in India but it's ok abroad," asserts Prakash.

Money matters: What's in it for men? Money, of course

Prakash asserts the website ( works on a commission basis. 70% of the rent will go directly to the men.

And there are demarcations as well. For Rs. 3,000 per hour, you can get a celebrity boyfriend, for Rs. 2,000 a model boyfriend and a commoner for Rs. 300-400.

These men are capable of giving 'emotional advice', says Prakash.

Fact: At Rs. 500, you can psychiatric help for 15-20 minutes

But helping you rent a boyfriend isn't the only thing this app does. A toll-free number lets people get 'psychiatric help' for 15-20 minutes by paying Rs. 500. However, Prakash didn't give clarity on the qualification of people working at this call center.

Reaction: Psychotherapist tells why rent-a-boyfriend app is problematic

Notably, Japan has a booming rent-a-family industry. Founder of 'Family Romance', wherein professional actors behave like real family, Ishii Yuichi claimed his company helps people cope up losses.

But Prakash's idea isn't similar, as it's seeded around the notion that a partner may cure depression.

A Mumbai based psychiatrist said this was taking advantage of people who don't know the impact of mental illness.

Fact: It's like a racket to cover mental health, says psychotherapist

"It seems to me like RABF is trying to cover up a racket with a mental health service, which also means they are discounting the 16 years of training some of us mental health experts have to undertake," the psychotherapist added.

(Source: Yahoo)

AAP makes MP nominee Atishi drop Marlena from her name because it ‘sounds Christian’

The party doesn’t want to give the BJP a handle to queer the pitch for it in East Delhi, from where Atishi, who is actually a Punjabi Rajput, will contest in 2019.

Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) member Atishi Marlena, who was declared the party’s East Delhi Lok Sabha candidate Monday, has dropped ‘Marlena’ from her Twitter handle and publicity material to dodge rumours that she is a Christian, sources told ThePrint.

@AtishiMarlena will now be @AtishiAAP on Twitter.

A party source told ThePrint that Atishi is from a Punjabi Rajput family. Her surname is a tribute to communist icons Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin.

According to the sources, the AAP never felt the need to address the issue in public before, but “times have changed”.

“Ever since she was appointed prabhari, a rumour began to be spread by political parties in the constituency, especially the BJP, that the AAP had given ticket to a Christian,” a senior party leader told ThePrint.

“The party gave it due thought and requested her to drop the Christian-sounding ‘Marlena’ from her publicity material,” the source added.

Atishi, who has previously served as an adviser to deputy chief minister and education minister Manish Sisodia, was declared the prabhari (in-charge) for the East Delhi Lok Sabha seat in June.

Another senior party leader told ThePrint, “The AAP is a Delhi-based party and we have high chances of winning in Delhi. The party did not want to compromise on it and hence decided to nip any rumour in the bud.”

The party’s official website still carries Atishi’s full name. “It will also be changed on the website very soon,” a source said, “Changing it on mediums that are more visible was a priority.”

The source added that even “small things mattered” as the party headed into the election season. “The BJP has a huge machinery. They have already started spreading the rumour that Atishi is a Christian. Once it gains momentum, it will be a gigantic task for the party to convince the voters that it’s not true,” the source said.

“In India, caste and religion matter a lot during polls. Ideally, it should not, but practically it does. If Atishi were Christian, it would neither have been a matter of shame nor a thing to hide. But the BJP wants people to believe she is Christian,” the source added.

The party has not yet asked Atishi to drop her name from official documents, the source said.

(Source: The Print)

Japan gets first female fighter pilot inspired by 'Top Gun'

Japan has appointed its first female fighter pilot, the latest achievement in the national push for greater gender equality in the traditionally male-dominated country.

1st Lt. Misa Matsushima, 26, joined the Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) after graduating from the National Defense Academy in 2014, becoming one of the 13,707 servicewomen who make up a mere 6.1% of all Japanese troops. She finished her training earlier this week, and was officially named a fighter pilot in a ceremony on Friday, said the JASDF in a press release.

"Ever since I saw the movie 'Top Gun' when I was in primary school, I have always admired fighter jet pilots," Matsushima told reporters Thursday.

Misa Matsushima in the cockpit of an F-15 fighter jet.
"As the first female (fighter) pilot, I will open the way. I would like work hard to meet people's expectations and show my gratitude to people who have been supporting me. I want to become a full-fledged pilot, no different from men, as soon as possible."

"I hope to be the one to inspire more people to become a pilot," she added.

Matsushima, who is from the eastern city of Yokohama, got her pilot's license in 2015, before advancing to fighter pilot training. She will now be stationed at the Nyutabaru Air Base, and begin flying F-15J fighter jets.

The F-15J is a twin-engine fighter designed for air-to-air combat with other jets, capable of carrying eight radar and infrared missiles. It can reach top speeds of Mach 2.5 -- 2.5 times the speed of sound, or 1,918 mph.

Misa Matsushima receiving her certificate from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.
"The first female fighter pilot aircraft of the Air Self Defense Force is born," said the JASDF in a tweet Thursday.

The JASDF didn't accept women until 1993, when most positions became open to female applicants.

However, women were still not allowed to fly fighter jets and reconnaissance aircraft until the ban was lifted in 2015, as part of a government initiative to increase the number of women in the workplace, according to the JASDF statement.

Across Japan, women have long been relegated to performing household duties and administrative roles, often referred to as the "mommy" track. However, facing an aging population and shrinking workforce, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe pledged in 2013 to empower working women.

This new "womenomics" policy also reached the military; the Defense Ministry launched a series of initiatives last April aiming to increase the number of women in the Self Defense Forces to 9% by 2030.

Misa Matsushima, 26, has become Japan's first female fighter pilot.
By contrast, women make up 16% of the US enlisted forces, according to think tank Council on Foreign Relations (CFR).

However, with previously restricted positions in Japan's Marine, Air, and Ground Self Defense Forces now open to women, new female leaders have started taking the reins. In March, Japan's navy appointed the first female commander of a warship squadron, local media reported.

The military's social media, too, regularly shows female personnel, with one post showing a "day of female shifts."

(Source: CNN

Why do homes in the UK have separate hot and cold taps?

British homes have certain quirks which can puzzle people from overseas. Why are there separate taps for hot and cold water? Why are there pull cords instead of light switches in bathrooms? And why are there wheelie bins outside front doors? We asked the experts to answer these questions from curious visitors.

Why are there separate taps for hot and cold water?
"I've always wondered why you have two taps completely separated from each other in the same sink," asked Claudio Marongiu, 28, from Italy. "You burn or you freeze, it seems like there isn't another choice."

Batool Fatima, 36, who moved to Cheshire from Pakistan six years ago said she had not warmed to the idea and it had been hotly debated in family conversation.

We asked Kevin Wellman, chief executive officer of the Chartered Institute of Plumbing and Heating Engineering.

"This tradition dates back to a time when hot and cold water were kept separate to prevent contamination through cross connection," he said.

Traditionally the hot tap is on the left and the cold on the right in the UK
"Cold water came from a mains supply and was fit for drinking. Hot water would be serviced by a local storage cistern often situated in the loft.

"This caused an imbalance of pressures which meant that if incorrect taps and valves were installed one stream of water could force its way across to the other."

Water bylaws prevented hot and cold water being mixed because water that had been sitting in a tank in the loft was not deemed safe to drink, he said.

As far back as 1965 a code of practice called CP 310 advised that wherever possible hot water taps should be placed on the left.

"One of the reasons to maintain that over the years was reported to be so that the visually impaired would always know which sides the hot and cold were on," said Mr Wellman.

"When mixer taps came into vogue there was still a requirement to make sure water didn't mix until it came out of the tap," he said.

"So if you look closely you might be able to see the hot coming from the left hand side and the cold the right."

Why do bathrooms have string as a light switch?
Tourists may be puzzled as to why the British pull a string from the ceiling to turn on the light in the bathroom.

Fahmi Othman, 26, from Malaysia, asked us to enlighten her about this British quirk that baffled her on annual visits to the UK.

John O'Neill is technical engineering manager at NICEIC, a registration body for the electrical contracting industry.

He said: "In the UK we follow British Standard Requirements for Electrical Installations.

"These consider the bathroom to be an area of increased risk because the body could become immersed in water in the bath.

"The body's resistance to electricity drops significantly when immersed or partially immersed in water.

"We judge it more likely that contact with live electrical parts would likely increase the effect of an electrical shock, and under some circumstances shocks could be fatal.

"It's not about having wet hands because you can have sockets and switches in the kitchen - it's about immersion. You should not be able to be in the bath and reach out and switch anything on.

"Pull cords are allowed because you cannot come into contact with the switch."

Mr O'Neill said other countries allowed power sockets and switches in their bathrooms but it had nothing to do with a difference in voltage.

"It's about perceived risk and the regulations in place in this country," he said.

Why are there bins outside front doors?
"Why is it that outside every beautiful home on every street in the UK there's garbage bins standing out like the pride and glory of every home?" asked Stephanie Taylor Jamal, 46, who moved to Watford from Bangalore in India.

She said although rubbish overflowed on the streets in some parts of her home city, wheelie bins were kept out of sight at home.

"This is such a beautiful country - to find these bins so carelessly tossed right in front of homes - the quaintness of the town or city is lost," she said.

Elizabeth Shove, professor of sociology at Lancaster University, told the BBC: "Having bins relates to the institutionalization of rubbish collection which is likely why they are kept outside."

The 1848 Public Health Act introduced the first municipal household refuse collections. At this time people burned their rubbish and deposited the ash in ashpit privies in the back yard wall for collection.

"By the 1900s, ashpits were no longer capable of handling household wastes," according to a paper co-written by Ms Shove. "Their fixed location in backyard walls made collection arrangements inflexible and the small capacity made it unsuitable for higher volume wastes."

Metal bins in the 1950s gave way to large plastic bins in the 1960s and these were put outside the front of houses for bin collections by road.

Homes in areas with a high population may not have outside space at the back or sides for bins to be stored, leaving residents no choice but to keep them outside their front doors, said a National House Building Council report into "bin blight".

(Source: BBC)

Tuesday 28 August 2018

India’s first biofuel aircraft takes off successfully: Will air travel get cheaper?

The 72-seater aircraft was Spicejet’s Bombardier Q400 (VT-SUI) and was flagged off by Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat from Dehradun’s Jolly Grant airport.

Travelling by air just got more green. On Monday, India’s first biofuel-powered aircraft successfully completed its maiden flight from Dehradun to Delhi.

As reported in NDTV, the 72-seater aircraft was Spicejet’s Bombardier Q400 (VT-SUI) and was flagged off by Uttarakhand Chief Minister Trivendra Singh Rawat from Dehradun’s Jolly Grant airport.

Aircrafts powered by biofuels are sure to have an impact, both on travellers and the environment, and here are some significant features about them that you should know.

The Spicejet’s Biofuel plane with the pilots n Monday. Source Twitter- AVM Amit Aneja
Biofuel is partially made from renewable resources such as agricultural residue, non-edible oils and bio-degradable parts of industrial and municipal waste.

Dehradun-based Indian CSIR-Indian Institute of Petroleum developed the biofuel for the trial flight. It was rigorously tested to ensure flight safety and has been in development for years. The biofuel used here was a 25% mix in the right engine of the aircraft, while the left engine ran on standard aviation fuel.

One of the main reasons for the conception of biofuels is to reduce the pollution that is associated with common crude fuels. Biofuels release significantly lower emissions when burnt. NASA has determined that 50% aviation biofuel mixture can reduce air pollution caused by air traffic by 50-70%.

Biofuels are much cheaper than aviation fuel, making them not just eco-friendly but cost-effective as well. Compared to aviation fuel, biofuels have a straightforward extraction process which is neither as costly as oil refinement nor as tedious. Additionally, biofuels are said to keep the engine running for longer, require less maintenance and bring down overall pollution check costs.

The best part about biofuel is that it is made of recycled materials, which makes them incredibly sustainable. So, while oil deposits may run out, biofuels can be harvested day in and day out as only plant and organic decay are needed.

Apart from all this one additional fantastic piece of information is the fact that close to 500 farmer families were involved in the making of the biofuel for the Spicejet flight. They were involved in producing the partially-refined biofuel which uses oil extracted from the seeds of the Jatropha plant.

(Source: TBI)

Scotland to offer free sanitary products to all students in world first

Scottish government unveils £5.2m scheme to help ‘banish scourge of period poverty’

Students at schools, colleges and universities across Scotland will have access to free sanitary products as part of a £5.2m scheme to fight period poverty.

The Scottish government is the first in the world to make sanitary products available free to all of its 395,000 pupils and students to help “banish the scourge of period poverty” - when girls and women struggle to pay for basic sanitary products on a monthly basis, significantly affecting their hygiene, health and wellbeing.

A recent survey of more than 2,000 people by Young Scot found that one in four respondents at school, college or university in Scotland struggled to access sanitary products. Moreover, research by the grassroots group Women for Independence revealed nearly one in five women had experienced period poverty.

The Scottish government said it worked closely with partners including the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla), Colleges Scotland, Universities Scotland and the Scottish Funding Council on the scheme.

The communities secretary, Aileen Campbell, said: “In a country as rich as Scotland it’s unacceptable that anyone should struggle to buy basic sanitary products.

A recent survey by Young Scot found that one in four respondents at school, college or university in Scotland had struggled to access sanitary products. Photograph: kellyreekolibry/Getty Images/iStockphoto
“I am proud that Scotland is taking this world-leading action to fight period poverty and I welcome the support of local authorities, colleges and universities in implementing this initiative.

“Our £5.2m investment will mean these essential products will be available to those who need them in a sensitive and dignified way, which will make it easier for students to full focus on their studies.”

Councillor Alison Evison, the president of Cosla, said while the primary aim of the scheme was to ensure no young person missed out on their education through a lack of access to sanitary products, “it will also contribute to a more open conversation and reducing the unnecessary stigma associated with periods”.

Hey Girls, an East Lothian-based social enterprise company set up to tackle period poverty, will be a major provider in the initiative. The company, which launched in January this year, is supplying sanitary products directly to a number of local authorities including the City of Edinburgh council, Glasgow city council, South Lanarkshire council, West Lothian counci and Stirling council, as well as Glasgow Caledonian University.

It is also the main provider of menstrual products to Fareshare, which will distribute them to communities across Scotland.

Celia Hodson, the founder of Hey Girls, said the move marked “a real milestone in the fight against period poverty”.

The Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon, who is bringing forward a member’s bill to create a statutory duty for free provision of period products, added: “This is another great step forward in the campaign against period poverty. Access to period products should be a right, regardless of your income, which is why I am moving ahead with plans for legislation to introduce a universal system of free access to period products for everyone in Scotland.

“No one should face the indignity of being unable to access these essential products to manage their period.”

Last week, it was announced that North Ayrshire council would provide free sanitary products in all public buildings.

(Source: The Guardian)

America soured on my multiracial family

When my wife and I adopted our daughter from Ethiopia in 2010, we did so full of hope. In the years since, we’ve faced ugliness that has robbed us of our optimism—and left us fearful for the future of our country, writes David French in The Atlantic. Read on: 

here are three fundamental, complicating truths about adoption. First, every single adoption begins with profound loss. Through death, abandonment, or even loving surrender, a child suffers the loss of his or her mother and father. Second, the demographics of those in need of loving homes do not precisely match the demographics of those seeking a new child. Adoptive parents are disproportionately white. Adopted children are not. Thus, multiracial families are a natural and inevitable consequence of the adoption process. Third, American culture has long been obsessed with questions of race and identity.

Combine these three truths and you will not only begin to understand the challenge of adoption, you’ll also gain insight into a darkness in American culture, a darkness that scorns even the bond between parent and child. I know this firsthand. Amid the stories of adoption in America is the story of my family—the story of my youngest daughter.

I’m an Evangelical Christian, and ever since I was a young man, two Bible verses have tugged at my soul. The first comes from the Book of James, and defines “pure” religious practice in part as looking after “widows and orphans in their distress.” The second, from the Book of Galatians, declares an eternal truth: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” As a result, my wife and I not only felt called to adopt, but we believed that race was no barrier to unity for a family of genuine faith.

And so, in the summer of 2010, we journeyed to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to pick up our youngest child, Naomi Konjit French. As with every adoption story, hers begins with profound loss. Her unwed mother surrendered Naomi to her grandmother and grandfather and then disappeared from her life. Her grandparents were subsistence farmers, barely able to eke out a living. Then, her grandfather died, and Naomi and her grandmother began to starve. By the time Naomi was two years old, she weighed barely more than 14 pounds. That was her condition when she was abandoned again—this time lovingly turned over to an adoption agency. Her grandmother simply couldn’t keep her alive.

Think about the trauma. As a toddler, she’d already experienced death, starvation, and abandonment. And soon enough, she’d experience displacement. This American family arrived, scooped her up, and flew her halfway across the Earth. Within a day she was in a new land, living with people she did not know.

From the instant we saw her, we loved her with our whole hearts, but any adoptive family can tell you (indeed, any family at all can tell you) that love does not heal all hurts. There is pain that can last a lifetime.

I will never, ever forget the moment when we told our daughter her story—when we held each other and wept shamelessly and publicly in a pizza parlor in Middle Tennessee. (Parenting tip: Never have the tough conversations in restaurants.) It was a hard night, but our bond has grown, and we can speak more freely about the difficult past. In fact, one surprising consequence of that conversation is that Naomi has developed even more curiosity about (and pride in) the country of her birth. It was as if lifting the veil of secrecy freed her to embrace her heritage.

Day by day, we love each other and we fight through that pain, the consequence of trauma and loss. How does a little girl attach to a new mom after losing a mother and a grandmother in rapid succession? How does a father bond with a little girl when the only man she was ever close to died before she was old enough to speak? And early childhood malnutrition carries with it developmental challenges that can last long after she regained her health and strength.

All of this is hard, but many families face far greater challenges. And, as we remind ourselves daily, we’re blessed beyond measure. Naomi is growing up in an intact home with siblings who love her deeply. She’s part of a church and a school community that are dedicated to helping her flourish. Her parents have good jobs, and the days of material deprivation are long past.

But hovering just outside the frame—and sometimes intruding directly into our lives—is a disturbing reality. There are people who hate that our family exists. Actual racists loathe the idea of white parents raising a black child, and ideological arguments about identity raise questions about whether a white family’s love can actually harm a child of a different race. And, sometimes, people even question whether adoptive parents truly love their children, claiming that parents adopt to “virtue-signal” or simply to ostentatiously demonstrate their open-mindedness.

Before we adopted, we of course knew that there has long been political opposition to transracial adoption. In 1972 the National Association of Black Social Workers famously declared white adoption of black children to be a form of “cultural genocide.” But that was decades ago. By the 21st century, American churches were fully engaged in an adoption movement. Families continued to adopt domestically, but they also reached out (like we did) overseas. By 2004, the peak of international adoption, Americans brought home 22,884 children, many of them with special needs, many of them of different races from their new parents.

In 2010, the year we adopted, the Washington Post’s Michael Gerson wrote a piece that reflected the heartfelt views of countless adoptive families. It was the “noblest thing about America,” he said, that “we care for children of other lands who have been cast aside.” And what of multiracial families? His answer was our answer: “Instead of undermining any culture, international adoption instructs our own. Unlike the thin, quarrelsome multiculturalism of the campus, multiethnic families demonstrate the power of affection over difference.” There was a spirit of optimism, of hope that we could actually live the promise from Galatians, and in living that promise help change the nation we loved.

But then came a backlash. Claims of cultural imperialism, wounded national pride, and rare, sad horror stories of exploitation or abuse soured foreign nations against American families. And at home, identity politics and even outright hostility against the Christian adoption movement triggered attacks from some on the left—attacks that were soon to be matched and exceeded by attacks from a racist right.

The first significant blow came from the Obama administration IRS. The adoption tax credit (a significant financial aid to adoptive families) was made fully refundable for the 2010 and 2011 tax years. The IRS responded with mass-scale audits of adoptive families. In 2011, it audited a staggering 68 percent of families who claimed the adoption tax credit. In 2012, that number hit 69 percent.

My family was caught in the dragnet. So, at the same time that we were integrating a new child into our home, we were also combing through adoption receipts trying to prove to the IRS that we had indeed adopted, that we had indeed spent the incredible sum we reported, and that we hadn’t defrauded the government. Thousands of families faced the same task, often with far more complex adoptions featuring receipts and records written in languages they couldn’t decipher. An October 2011 GAO report indicated that the IRS “had not found any fraudulent adoption tax credit claims, and there had been no referrals of adoption tax credit claims to its Criminal Investigation unit.”

Next, in 2013, Kathryn Joyce, a writer and journalist who studies and reports on American Evangelical Christianity, published a book called The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption. It was a blistering attack on the Evangelical adoption movement, claiming the adoption industry was rife with corruption and that Evangelicals were in the grips of an ominous “orphan fever” that was motivated primarily by a desire to evangelize orphan children. The book received significant coverage. Joyce wrote essays in the New York Times Sunday Review, and Mother Jones. She was interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air.

We quickly discovered that if you’re the white parents of an adopted black child, and you’re in the public eye at all, men and women will viciously criticize you for having the audacity to believe that you can raise your kid. At times, the criticism was direct and personal—most of it directed at my wife. It was one thing to face hostile comments on blogs or random tweets. It was another to face angry direct messages and sometimes-tense personal encounters in public. Family and friends were aghast. Look at what the left does and says to loving families, we remarked to each other. Look at what they believe about faithful Christians.

Then, sometime around the summer of 2015, we began to notice a shift. The attacks on our family came less and less from the left, and increasingly from the alt-right—a vicious movement of Trump-supporting white nationalists who loathe multiracial families. They despise international adoption. They call it “race-cucking your family” or “raising the enemy.” Heaven help you if they find you online, and find us they did. In part because I criticized their movement directly—and in part because I refused to support Donald Trump in 2016—they came after us with a vengeance.

They lifted pictures of my then-7-year-old daughter from social media and photo-shopped her into a gas chamber, with Donald Trump pressing the button to kill her. They put her image in slave fields. They found my wife’s blog and filled the comment section with gruesome pictures of dead or dying African-Americans. They made me wish for the days when “the left” came after us; at least progressive critics didn’t want my daughter to die.

We’re an extreme case, mainly because my wife and I are both writers and we’ve both offered very public (and controversial) political commentary. Not every adopted family has been audited by their government, attacked online from left and right, and seen their child threatened by racists. No one should believe that our experience is the experience of every adoptive family. But many, many families have their own experiences of hatred and ignorance.

White parents see racism directed at their black kids. Cruel people use social media to accuse parents of raising kids as fashion statements. Others lecture them on their inherent inability to meet the needs of children of color. The hate our family received may have been more prolific because of who we are, but that hate is real, it is part of American life, and it will find its way to all too many families that looks like ours.

In the years since we brought our daughter home, overseas adoption has plummeted—down 72 percent since 2005—and it’s not hard to see one of the reasons why. A broken American culture inflicts itself on nations abroad and families at home, and attitudes shift. In 2010, before we left for Ethiopia, the primary response from friends and acquaintances reflected the hope and joy of the moment. “Are you so excited?” they asked—offering the cheerful rhetorical question always asked of expectant parents. Since then, I’ve seen the question posed to adoptive parents change: “Are you ready?” people wonder, as they seek to prepare parents for problems to come.

For our part, we’ve sheltered our daughter from all these attacks. One day she’ll learn. One day I’m sure we’ll hold each other again—this time not in a pizza parlor—and weep for the hate directed at her because of her beautiful skin, a hate designed to wound her precious soul. We’ll do our best to guard her heart against those who would seek to turn child against parent, to claim that her parents’ love was somehow suspect and their faith a source of oppression rather than a source of life and hope.

We love our daughter more than we love our own lives. But the idealism of 2010 is gone. Then, we thought our family reflected the future. Now we know that was naïve. Now we know that while the promise of Galatians—the promise that we are “all one”—is true in the Kingdom of Heaven, in America it does not yet apply.

What Kerala can teach us

Ordinary people in Kerala have done extraordinary things in the past fortnight. Lounge presents stories of heroism, courage, empathy, common sense, quick thinking—and, above all, humanity

The hashtag relief workers
Using a viral hashtag #doforKerala, a volunteer group from Kochi collects supplies from across the country

Kochi-based Facebook group, Anbodu Kochi, has emerged as one of the key groups coordinating relief and rehabilitation for victims of the Kerala flood, collecting essential supplies from across the country and delivering them to local residents. The group is not new to flood-relief work. “We started in December 2015 during the Chennai floods, when a group of us volunteered to take supplies to Chennai,” says Sumesh Soman, one of the founding members of the group. Since then, they have been engaged in a host of local activities.

In July, Anbodu Kochi distributed relief material in Kuttanad, one of the first places in Kerala affected by rains. “For the first time, our volunteers were on the ground for distribution,” says Soman. The experience came in handy when the collective resumed state-wide operations on 11 August, after Wayanad was flooded. With #doforkerala, the group called for material donations (it doesn’t take monetary contributions) to be delivered to centres in Thiruvananthapuram, Chennai, Bengaluru and Mumbai. The material was to be distributed to relief camps, or via the district administration. The navy and Coast Guard also stepped in, airdropping supplies. By 20 August, the group had sent 1,654 tons of relief material to 120,000 people. According to Soman, 300 volunteers are involved in unloading, sorting and preparing material for distribution.

“The first phase of operations is almost over and we will now enter the rehabilitation phase,” says Soman. As people return to their homes, they will need cleaning material, clothes, other items to rebuild their lives. The volunteers are now focusing on bulk donation of such material. The operation isn’t without its challenges—Soman reveals how some supplies were taken by people who seemed to be in need and sold. “We have a system to limit such incidents, but we also want to make sure that people get the help they need,” he says.

To get in touch with Anbodu Kochi, write to or contact it via its Facebook page @anbodukochi.

—Sohini Dey

Fishermen rescue a baby in Alappuzha.
Our Lady’s blue army
Fishermen in their country boats save thousands of people stranded in Alappuzha district, becoming heroes overnight

When fisherman V. Patrick Fernandes, 65, reached Chengannur in Alappuzha district on 18 August, rising flood waters had turned large stretches of land there into small islands, leaving tens of thousands stranded.

For those who couldn’t be rescued despite the three-day-long government-led mission using air force choppers and navy boats, fishermen like Fernandes turned saviours. They came in droves, sailing their country boats into the rising waters to save lives, and at the risk of damaging their equipment—their only source of income.

A significant majority of the fishermen are church-going Christians, says Johnson Jament, coordinator of the Kerala Independent Fishermen Society, a local educational group.

When the government realized it was short of boats, and that military men lacked the knowledge to navigate local waters, it contacted the local churches, he says. Once the local priests called, hundreds of fishermen signed up for the government’s rescue operations. Under the guidance of the fisheries office, they boarded lorries with their boats and were transported to inundated areas.

“We could not see a piece of land for long stretches, it was water everywhere in Chengannur. Imagine coconut trees standing half covered in water and dead cows floating,” says Suresh Robert, a fisherman.

“We rescued 21 people by noon on 18 August, including a pregnant woman. Once they were brought safely to a relief camp, we set out again without even having tea. By the end of the day, we had saved about 50 people,” says Fernandes.

Jament says 100,000-150,000 lives have been saved by the fishermen since 18 August. “While the air force helicopters saved seven lives on Saturday (18 August), 500 fishermen’s boats saved thousands of people just on Saturday,” says a police official, who did not want to be quoted.

The government has offered to pay the fishermen diesel charges and a daily bata (per diem) of ₹3,000, but some of them have politely refused, saying it demeans their humanitarian spirit.

According to the state fisheries department, 750 fishermen will now be trained to become disaster responders at the Mumbai maritime training institute.

—Nidheesh M.K.

The newsroom warriors
Local media sets an example in how to respond to a crisis responsibly

The government is doing its best. This is not the time for complaints or blame...the situation is unusual and unprecedented. Each one of us should enrol ourselves in rescue and relief measures.” This call for action did not come from a politician—this is how television anchor Shani Prabhakaran of Manorama News began her show, Counterpoint, on 16 August.

The Kerala news media, including newspapers, TV channels and websites, has responded to the crisis in an exemplary way, with a balanced blend of civic responsibility, honesty and positivity. “We took some decisions early on, and one of the first was to not use these three words in any story: bheethi, pedi, aashanga (fear, terror, apprehension),” Prabhakaran told Mint.

Networks had to cope with their own internal trauma—reporters and loved ones stranded, missing or dead; lost equipment; reporter movement at a standstill. Despite this, TV channels acted like 24x7 live display boards without the attendant hysterics and blame game prevalent on national television. They opened their own helpline numbers, received SOS calls, connected stranded people to rescue operations and vice versa.

Asianet News decided to drop ads for non-stop flood coverage, despite the peak Onam season. On 15 August, News18 Malayalam started a 24x7 helpline, staffed by people with bilingual skills, and later initiated the “open your hearts, open your homes” campaign to bring together volunteers to accommodate affected people in their houses. Despite their printing presses, staffers and equipment being under siege, Malayala Manorama and Mathrubhumi were published every day. In Pathanamthitta district, one of the worst affected, the Manorama desk operated from a staffer’s residence.

Radio channels became the last touchpoint. Radio Mango did live coverage for three days, shelving recorded programmes. Each journalist has taken hundreds of SOS calls, worked nights, helped out at relief centres, raised donations—all while doing their core job as journalists. “Nobody has asked me for leave yet,” says Prabhakaran.

—Nidheesh M.K

A message on a rooftop in Aluva for Commander Varma (left) and his team. Photo: PTI
Commander Vijay Varma and his angels
The commander’s crew has airlifted over 100 locals in Aluva

Over the last month, the navy brought all hands on deck in flood-ravaged Kerala. One of the most life-affirming stories is of Commander Vijay Varma’s rescue of 25-year-old Sajitha Jabeel. His team flies the lightweight Chetak helicopters and are nicknamed “God’s own angels” in Kerala. On 17 August, Jabeel went into labour and sent out a distress call. Commander Varma responded immediately. “The nature of the operation was challenging. Jabeel was in a small balcony of the mosque in the middle of a thickly congested neighbourhood where there was no place to land and hardly any room to winch up and down,” says Varma, adding that this was the toughest mission in his 18-year career as a pilot. When they identified the mosque, they still found it hard to locate Jabeel as the roof was covered with plastic. She couldn’t be spotted easily on the balcony on a lower floor. After communicating with people on different roofs through sign language, Varma’s team discovered that there were not one but two pregnant women in adjacent buildings.

Since Jabeel’s case was urgent, she was rescued first, and the other woman a few hours later. When they reached Jabeel’s coordinates, it was a task for Commander Varma to lower his craft amid gusty winds and space constrictions to send the on-board doctor down to check on her. He held the craft steady as his winch operator lifted Jabeel on board. Jabeel was airborne in 30 minutes and taken to Sanjivani hospital in Alappuzha district, where she gave birth to a baby boy.

Jabeel’s story is one of almost 100 rescues and countless food and medicine airdrops undertaken by Commander Varma and his angels. On 20 August, a few days after the evacuation of two women stranded on a roof in Aluva, Varma spotted a large “Thanks” shaped out of bedsheets at the same spot, a message for him and his fellow pilots.

—Diya Kohli

An NDRF member distributes food and other necessities in Alappuzha district. Photo: Raj K. Raj/Hindustan Times
Crossing the bridge over troubled waters
An NDRF constable saves a child in a heroic move across a flooded bridge

When the shutters of the Cheruthoni dam in Kerala’s Idukki district were opened on 14 August—for the first time in 26 years—the water level rose steadily, inundating roads, flowing over bridges and entering homes. The National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) was going about its rescue operations on a war footing as a young father stood across a bridge in Idukki, an ailing child in his arms, uncertain whether he would be able to cross the bridge that was barely minutes away from being submerged in the rising waters.

Kanhaiya Kumar, a constable with the NDRF’s fourth battalion, dashed across, grabbed the child from the man and ran across the bridge just as the slope alongside gave way. The man followed him.

Kumar, who has been serving with the NDRF for six years, brushes off the accolades, saying: “This is my job. I didn’t look left or right and just did what I had to do. I was lucky that we made it just as the water hit the bridge. Saving lives in such a situation is my duty.”

—Shaswati Das

The man who saved a village
Panchayat member M.A. Chacko’s night vigil ensured a dramatic rescue of Panamaram’s villagers

After a couple of weeks of heavy rainfall, Banasura Sagar—India’s largest earthen dam, in Kerala’s Wayanad region —was on the verge of overflowing. In the early hours of 9 August, employees of the Karnataka State Electricity Board (KSEB) made the decision to open the gates. But they did so without consulting the district disaster management authority or giving advance warning to residents of the villages nearby. There was no alert, even as hundreds of thousands of litres of water rushed into the Kabini river.

Downstream, over 120 families in Panamaram village were sleeping peacefully in their homes, unaware of the impending deluge. But M.A. Chacko, a member of the Panamaram panchayat who lives 2km from the village, was on vigil. The 52-year-old had spent the past four nights awake, worried that the relentless rain would cause the river to overflow. But even he hadn’t imagined the scale of the disaster that was rushing towards the village.

“In a matter of minutes, I realized that water had come up to my shins,” Chacko told online news portal The News Minute. “I went door to door in my ward and woke up the residents, urging them to leave.”

Once the village had been alerted, he arranged for jeeps and large vehicles to transport people to the nearest camp and boats to take livestock to a safer area. One of the last to leave, he had to swim through the snake-infested waters to safety.

—Bhanuj Kappal

The team of doctors on their way to Kerala. Photo: Twitter@qtfan
Doctors beyond borders
A team of nearly 100 doctors from Maharashtra is providing medical assistance in relief camps

On 20 August, Maharashtra medical education minister Girish Mahajan and a team of 95 doctors and nursing staff from Mumbai’s JJ Hospital and Pune’s Sassoon Hospital were flown to Thiruvananthapuram on two special Indian Air Force aircraft with medicines and relief material. “Our team is going to the worst flood-affected areas. We have taken all of the necessary medicines with us…our aim is to make sure that diseases do not spread,” Srinivas Chavan, head of the ENT department at the Sir JJ Group of Hospitals, told the news portal My Medical Mantra.

Earlier this week, Union minister of state for tourism Alphons Kannanthanam tweeted a list of resources that would facilitate the task of rebuilding—packaged dry food, electricians, plumbers, carpenters and “doctors and nurses who can go down to the villages as there is apprehension about the possibility of outbreak of (diseases)”. The use of preventive medicine and the effort to curb the outbreak of waterborne diseases as the floodwaters recede is an essential task for these professionals, who are fanning out to shelter camps in districts like Pathanamthitta, Ernakulam and Thrissur. “They are going to be there for almost 10 days,” says Mukund Tayade, dean of JJ Hospital. “If they communicate the need for another team, we will send them.”

Updates from the medical team are being shared on the @CMOMaharashtra Twitter handle.

—Vatsala Chhibber

A collection centre at Kerala House, Delhi. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
The corporate crusader
Amazon has mobilized its logistics network to collect and distribute relief material from across India

Rescue operations are winding down in Kerala, and the focus has now shifted to relief and rehabilitation, with over a million citizens in relief camps. As people all over the country scramble to get food, water and supplies to those affected, India Inc. has contributed considerable technical, logistical and financial resources to the relief effort, with Amazon India leading the charge.

The e-commerce giant joined hands with NGOs Habitat for Humanity, World Vision India, Goonj and Oxfam India to set up a microsite that makes it convenient for people to donate essential products for relief camps. People can pick items from each NGO’s list of essential products and Amazon will coordinate with them to ensure that they’re delivered where they’re needed the most. “In addition, the Amazon Operations team is working to provide relief kits to the impacted areas, and providing drinking water to our impacted service partners, associates and immediate communities,” the company said in a statement.

Amazon India is using its on-the-ground resources to deliver supplies, as well as collect donations from customers, and ensure that the necessary items are in stock. In addition, Amazon employees have donated lakhs of rupees through the Amazon Cares employee volunteering portal. “Our thoughts are with those affected by the recent floods in India,” the statement said.

—Bhanuj Kappal

Several IAS officers mobilized relief material. Photo: Pradeep Gaur/Mint
The red-tape radicals
IAS officers are taking quick, pragmatic decisions to save the day

You are making history,” K. Vasuki, an IAS officer and district collector (DC) of Thiruvananthapuram, told people at the Cotton Hill collection centre in the state capital on 19 August. A video clip of her impromptu speech, less than 3 minutes long, went viral—making Vasuki a public hero for her work in mobilizing relief.

Earlier this month, reports say, Vasuki had warned residents of the consequences of the heavy rain. When it started turning lethal, she began mobilizing youth by putting out a call on social media. Heeding her call, college students came together to collect money, buy provisions and deposit them at collection centres. As the relief material started flowing in, Vasuki opened additional centres to store the items. Under her direction, the sorting, repackaging and distribution of material was streamlined. The system has been functioning with machine-like precision.

Other bureaucrats in Kerala are also being fêted for working day and night to restore order in their devastated districts. Among them are Thrissur collector T.V. Anupama and Prasanth Nair, an IAS officer and former collector of Kozhikode, under whose watch an army of volunteers is working tirelessly to arrange relief material for millions of people.

As Vasuki said in her speech, this collective effort is a historic moment. “You are showing the world what Malayalis can do. In my opinion, you are working like soldiers who fought for freedom,” she said.

—Somak Ghoshal

The animal savers
An experienced team of six has been saving stranded animals

Among the most heartwarming rescue stories has been that of 18 dogs saved on 19 August. “The incident took place on a riverbank where the water level had risen to three times its height,” says 26-year-old Nishanth Ravi, whose team was responsible for the operation. “A local breeder had kept these dogs inside her house and we had to get into the water and rescue them by boat.”

Rescued dogs in Kottayam. Photo: Nishanth Ravi
Ravi heads a team of six especially trained individuals—all under the age of 30—which has been working tirelessly in Kerala, rescuing animals caught in the calamity. The Chennai-based Cloud No. 9 rescue team has done commendable work for the last six years in disaster-struck regions, including the 2013 Uttarakhand floods, the 2015 Chennai floods, and the 2017 Kaziranga deluge. The team was prepared to reach Kerala earlier, but couldn’t since routes were either blocked or unusable. Last week, they were finally able to negotiate densely forested, landslide-ridden Idukki to reach Kottayam. Since then, they have carried out 20 successful rescue operations—saving over 75 animals—across Thiruvalla, Kottiyam, Kochi and Chengannur.

“We receive 14-15 calls every day, and we try to attend to as many as possible. We had to rescue some cows that were tied up in neck-high water level...we managed,” says Ravi.

—Radhika Iyengar

People being airlifted by the Indian Navy. Photo: Reuters
Digital disinfectors
A local start-up fights fake news and misinformation with its social networking app

Natural disasters are also a breeding ground for misinformation and digital chaos. In fact, the Kerala chief minister had to take to Twitter, requesting people to “abstain from spreading misinformation on WhatsApp & social media networks”.

In the midst of this chaos, Kozhikode-based social networking app QKopy has been helping the city traffic police and other authorities to curb the spread of wrong information.

“It’s like a digital communication broadcast solution,” says Rajiv Surendran, one of the co-founders. “As far as the user is concerned, their mobile number is like a unique ID. If you create a post or an update on the QKopy platform, people who have your mobile number will get those updates (on the app). We are controlling fake messages and forwarded content from other social media (platforms). Nobody can make a fake account on QKopy since the number acts as an ID and address for the propagation (of information),” explains Surendran over the phone.

The Kozhikode traffic police has created an account on QKopy to disseminate important information. When the department creates a post, every user who has saved its number gets an update on the app, which is being used by roughly 20,000 users in and around Kozhikode. Organizations like the National Health Mission and Life Mission Kerala are also using QKopy in different districts of the state.

The app is available on Android, iOS. For more information, visit

—Nitin Sreedhar

Villagers working on the embankment. Photo: Gireesh Chandra Prasad/Mint
The amateur dam-builders
Villagers pitch in to build an embankment in Thrissur

Building an embankment on a flowing river is an expert job even with the right equipment. Yet a team of 21 people, supported by local residents, managed it with their bare hands in Arattupuzha, Thrissur.

Arattupuzha is one of the worst-affected areas. On the night of 17 August, the Karuvannur river changed course to enter a thickly-populated area. Two dams on feeder streams were opened during the torrential rains. The river flooded houses in villages like Panangulam, Ettumana, Pallissery, Chirakkal and Kurumbilavu.

Only an embankment, difficult to build when the water level is high, could keep further flooding at bay. The Armed Forces were focused on rescue operations, say eyewitnesses. The administration had to find another way. So, 21 people were called in from Kuttanad, a rice-growing region. They sought to block the water with a structure built across the river with palm trees and bags of concrete.

“These people are experts in handling such events as Kuttanad has several embankments like this and they can do the job. Once the water is blocked, all the downstream villages can be saved,” said state education minister C. Raveendranath, who was overseeing the work on 20 August.

—Gireesh Chandra Prasad

(Source: Live Mint)