Friday 30 November 2018

2.0' review: Shankar and Rajinikanth's sequel is visually grand but underwhelming

While Rajinikanth is fun to watch as 'Chitti' once again, Akshay Kumar's villain is a let-down.

It's a bird! It's a plane! It's...Pakshirajan! Shankar's 2.0 , the sequel to Enthiran, is larger in scale and ambition from the first film. It feels like Shankar is making a statement - yes, we can combine our local 'Vada pochey' jokes with visual effects that can compete with international films. It's an ambitious project whichever way you want to look at it. This is a Rajinikanth film without an introduction scene or song. This is also a Rajinikanth film where the 67-year-old actor sports a flaming red tuft of hair and incredibly manages to own it yet again. There's a lot riding on the film and you can see the kind of effort that has gone into it, but one suspects that this could also prove to be its undoing. If the first film was Man Vs Robot, the second is Man and Robot Vs....? Mobile phones? Human greed? Human apathy? Human disregard for Nature?

In the sequel to Enthiran, Dr Vaseegaran (Rajinikanth) is up against a strange Birdman (he's named 'Pakshi'rajan) who is obsessed with snatching people's mobile phones away. Ironically, Vaseegaran's girlfriend Sana (who seems to have mythical levels of patience with him) from the first film, played by Aishwarya Rai, is reduced to a tinny voice in the mobile phone. Their romance, which played such a big role in the first film and gave us some truly memorable songs (2.0 has just two full-fledged ones, neither of them as good as the first film's album), is a mere footnote in this one. As mobile phones start flying from everyone's hands, scientist Vaseegaran is called to weigh in on the phenomenon. We know where this is going. It's a set up for the dismantled Chitti (also Rajinikanth) to be put back again and brought to life. Shankar exploits the 3D technology to a hilt - cellphones rising like a tsunami wave to engulf roads, homes; cellphones swarming to form shapes that dissolve and re-organise into looming threats, cellphones gliding into the insides of human beings (is that a comment on how we're consumed by technology and it also consumes us?) and ripping them apart.

It's not until the interval point that we're told why. Why is all this happening? Who is this villain who seems to abhor cellphones even more than the average principal of an engineering college? Unless you'd been living in an island without any cellphones for the past few years, you'd know the character is played by Akshay Kumar. You can see why the Bollywood plug is there. This is India's most expensive film made till date and it needs a pan-Indian appeal to make its money back. But Akshay Kumar's Pakshirajan is a complete let-down as is minor villain Sudhanshu Pandey whose acting batteries need urgent recharging.The lip sync is off in many places and neither of them is able to make an impact despite the imaginative fight sequences that Shankar conjures up. This is because we don't care about any of the characters on screen - when the bad Chitti comes in towards the climax, you can feel the audience responding at last. Here's someone they finally feel something for, because they remember how much fun he was in the first film.

Pakshirajan's back story is visually beautiful (in a poignant frame, we see him doubled up over mounds of tiny bird graves, each honoured with a white flower) but written in such broad strokes that you really don't connect with his angst about the birds. I wish Shankar had invested more effort into making the science convincing. The vague references to 'energy' and 'aura' rather reminded me of the bizarre pseudo-science videos on 'Avatar Clicks' that we see a bunch of young people listening to early on in the film. In the second half, especially, the growly voice that Akshay's character employs is distracting and you can barely make out what he's saying through the background score.

Amy Jackson plays Nila, a "domestic" robot (of course, it has to be a female robot), who comes to the rescue of both Vaseegaran and Chitti at different points in time. She's also the one to provide some unexpected comedy in the film, making Tamil pop culture references that are invariably funny, coming as they do from her. The first time Nila hears Chitti's name, her hair flies, just like a human heroine's would. And though the film somewhat confines her to being a "minsara samsaram" (you've got to applaud the brilliance of that line) to Chitti, at least the script gives her something to do other than look pretty. I did wonder though why Chitti had to molest her as soon as he turned into his "bad" avatar - in a perfect universe, a female robot would have some kickass self-defence techniques coded into her and she wouldn't have to resort to an exasperated expression.

The mokka jokes in the film land well most times - the scenes with Kalabhavan Shajohn (despite the pronounced Malayalam accent) and Mayilsamy, for instance. When a cellphone "invades" their home and "Unknown" flashes on the screen, Shajohn asks, "Who is this Unnikrishnan?". It's absurd comedy but it's also what gives a human touch in the midst of the graphics overdose. Rajinikanth is restrained for most of the film but Shankar unleashes him in the climax - the robot who did the "mehhh" lamb bleats in the first film mocks a bird's call in this one. It's impossible not to be entertained when Rajinikanth is playing the bad boy; he does it with so much relish. But the climax also gives one a sense of deja vu. The exponential number of Chittis running and forming armies was new when we watched Enthiran; we're now a pampered audience which wants more, something that will make us sit up again.

Despite the convincing VFX, we don't feel invested in the gladiator-style battle between the two, our relationship with the characters remaining robotic. I also didn't care much for the forced EVS lesson in the end - I wish our filmmakers would write scripts that make us feel the message rather than hold it up in neon towards the end like the moral stories we read as kids.

2.0 looks and feels like an extravaganza. It's the kind of ambitious film that you wish would succeed if only for the obvious effort put into it by the team. But if you ask me which film I prefer, Enthiran or 2.0, I'd go with the first one any day. Dot.

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Neither TNM nor any of its reviewers have any sort of business relationship with the film’s producers or any other members of its cast and crew.

(Source: TNM)

Madhumala Chattopadhyay: An anthropologist’s moment of truth

On Jan 4, 1991, more than 1200 kms from Indian mainland in the Bay of Bengal, a young Indian women anthropologist waded waist deep on the coral reefs to hand over a coconut to a man from the Sentinelese tribe. This was the first ever friendly contact with this hostile  tribe of the Andamans. Perhaps no people on earth remain more genuinely isolated than the Sentinelese, one of the few un-contacted people in the world, who have lived in the North Sentinel Islands of the Andamans for last estimated 60,000 years shunning any contact with the outside world. Their antiquity traced to the Palaeolithic age makes them the first inhabitants of India. There had been many attempts previously to establish contact with the Sentinelese, which however failed with contact parties being received with arrows, some even finding their mark. 

Given the hostile nature of the Sentinelese the contact parties would avoid approaching the tribe directly and watch them from the safety of their ships or leave gifts in remote part of the Island. This was the first time a woman was part of a contact expedition with the Sentinelese and they put their guard down. Presence of a woman indicated that the contact party meant no harm. This brave heart anthropologist is Dr. Madhumala Chattopadhyay, then a researcher ( initially a fellow and subsequently research associate) with the Anthropological Survey of India, who went on to spend six years researching the various primitive tribes of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. 

Madhumala is also the first woman to be accepted by another Andaman tribe, the Jarawas, with whom she established a friendly relationship, especially with the women folk. Unfortunately her accomplishment remains forgotten. Madhumala now works in the middle level bureaucracy of a Central Government Ministry in Delhi handling routine government files, an unseemly situation for a woman who built our first bridge to an unknown world. 

Madhumala does not wear her success on her sleeve, and is humble to the point of being reticent. Her book Tribes of Car Nicobar and journal papers remain standard reference texts in universities worldwide. We at met Madhumala and heard her incredible story. She concluded by saying “Never ever in my six years of doing research alone with the tribes of Andamans did any man ever misbehave with me. The tribes might be primitive in their technological achievements but socially they are far ahead of us”. We could but not agree.

An anthropologist’s moment of truth: This picture is of the first everbfriendly contact with the hostile Sentinelese tribe. Seen here, Madhumala handing over a coconut in person to a man from the Sentinelese tribe. Such are the moments every anthropologist dreams of. This requires years of preparation, persistence, courage, respect for the lesser known people of this earth and of course lots of luck. Some of the world’s most famous anthropologists including Alfred Radcliffe Brown had tried previously for this very moment but failed.
A twelve year old girl one morning in her home in Shibpur, Howrah, a suburb of Calcutta, happened to chance upon a small news item in the Telegraph newspaper which informed of the birth of a baby amongst the almost extinct Onge tribes of the Andamans. Excited the girl ran to her father, an accounts officer with the South Eastern Railway, and demanded that on their next vacation they visit the Onges’. Her father in order to brush off his pestering daughter remarked that only a researcher or a journalist is allowed to visit the tribes of the Andamans. This remark stuck and the little girl, Madhumala, was subsumed with the thought of becoming a researcher . The rigour and the hard work of being a field anthropologist – a branch of science which studies primitive tribes, was far from her mind. The romance and adventure of an unknown world beckoned this young girl.

After completing her schooling from Bhabani Balika Vidyalaya, Shibpur at the top of her class, Madhumala took admission in BSc (Hons) Anthropology, University of Calcutta. At the University admission counter Madhumala had enquired which department dealt with the study of tribes and was informed it was Anthropology. Back home her parents were a bit disconcerted on their eldest daughter taking up Anthropology. They enquired “what on earth is Anthropology”, to which Madhumala had replied, “this is my passport to the Onges”. Knowing how stubborn and steadfast their daughter could be, her parents did not object despite not being entirely convinced.

After a brilliant academic track record as an undergraduate and a post graduate student, including a seminal dissertation on “ Genetic Study among the Aborigines of the Andaman“, Madhumala applied for a PhD fellowship to the Anthropological Survey of India for doing field research with the tribes of the Andamans. The committee tasked to decide on the fellowship demurred- the prevalent notion being that it was not safe for a woman researcher to do field work amongst the tribes.

However, Madhumala’s impeccable academic record, her previous research work and a sterling approach paper for the fellowship was hard to overlook. So a way was proposed by the fellowship committee- Madhumala would be allowed to work in the Andamans on an Anthropological Survey of India fellowship if Madhumala’s parents were to sign an undertaking that if anything untoward happened to their daughter while doing research amongst the primitive tribes including loss of life, Anthropological Survey of India was not to be held responsible. It is to the credit of Madumala’s mother Smt Pronoti Chattopadhyaya ( her father being no more) that she signed the dotted line fully aware of the dangers involved, refusing to let her daughter’s childhood dream go unfulfilled. Little was it known then that Madhumala would go on to create history.

The three feet distance between the Jarawa woman and Madhumala in this picture encompasses 60,000 years of timeline – from the early man’s (women’s) hunter gatherer lifestyle to his(her) present forays to the Moon and beyond. Humankind has come a long way.

Madhumala for next six years would continue to research the various tribes of the Andamans which had in store many startling events and stories, some of which we will allude to in this article. Let’s fast track to the most seminal work done by Madhumala i.e. the first human contact with the Sentinelese.

Perhaps no people on Earth remain more genuinely isolated than the Sentinelese. They till date resist outsiders and are prone to attack. In 1880 a heavily armed British expedtion led by Maurice Portman, landed on North Sentinel and made what is believed to be the first exploration of the island by outsiders. Several days passed before they made contact with any Sentinelese. An elderly couple and four children were captured and brought back to Prot Blair. While the elderly couple died in captivity, the four children were given gifts and released back in the Sentinel Islands, never to be seen again. British did not pursue any further expedition to this Island.

Small contact parties sent by the Anrheoplogical Survey of India in the early 1970s were turned away by arrows. A documentary team from the National Geographic accompanied under police protection got the same fierce welcome in 1974. The documentary was interestingly titled “Man in Search of Man”. The film’s director took an 8-foot-long arrow in the thigh.
Current location of tribes in Andaman & Nicobar Islands

On January 4, 1991, MV Tarmugli, the Andaman Nicobar Administration ship,  lay anchor off Allen point on the south west part of the North Sentinel Islands. The purpose was to attempt a friendly contact with the Sentinelese. Not much was expected, probably like many futile missions in the past this probably would also to go down in the file as another wasted attempt. However unlike in the past, this mission had one difference, there was a women anthropologist in the contact team. At around 8 am in the morning the team of 13 including Madhumala set sail for the Island in a small craft. The key team members were Shri S. Awaradi ( Director ,Tribal Welfare, A&NI administration)-Team Leader, Dr Arun Mullick – Medical Officer ( for providing medical attention in case of sickness or injury) and Dr Madhumala Chattopadhyay-Anthropologist. The rest were support crew.

As the craft approached the Island three huts came into view. The dreaded Sentinel Island, Madhumala had read so much about was now in front of her. As the boat inched closer to the shore, Madhumala’s heart beat went up a notch – will the tribe show up. However the shore looked deserted. Seeing smoke coming out from another part of the Island, the contact party steered their boat towards that direction. Suddenly Sentinelese were there behind the trees- the most secluded tribe in the world had come to view. Most were men, four being armed with bows and arrows.

It was now up to the contact team to take initiative, and they started dropping coconuts in water which they had brought with them. Then something which had never been seen before happened. After a bit of trepidation a few Sentinelese men came sprinting and waded on the shallow continental shelf to collect the floating coconuts. The team was awestruck; the Sentinelese had accepted a friendly gesture. The team leader instructed that more coconuts be dropped and this time the Sentinelese brought a canoe to collect the coconuts in cane baskets. The women and children however maintained a distance and remained on the shore. A invisible wall however stood between the Islanders and the contact team. No party made the first move to bridge the gap further. Four hours rolled by, the contact party kept floating coconuts and the Sentinelese kept collecting them. Perhaps this was the farthest that the Islanders would go.

Sentinelese aim arrows as an Indian Coast Guard helicopter: After the Tsunami in 2004, an Indian Coast Guard helicopter went to check on the Sentinelese , the most secluded people on earth, whether they had survived the tidal onslaught. As the helicopter was hovering over the Islands, the coast guard commander Anil Thapliyal saw the Sentinelese come out of the forest shooting arrows. The Sentinelese had survived, based on their knowledge of nature and its movements. Never before has the Indian Coast Guard been so pleased at being attacked. Photo courtsey: the Indian Coast Guard
With coconuts over, the team went back to the ship to replenish their stock. It was 2 PM when the team returned. The process of dropping coconuts started and this time the tribe welcomed the contact party with shouts “Nariyali Jaba Jaba”. Madhumala recognised this cry to mean “more and more Coconuts”, a distinct Onge dialect, given her knowledge of a number of Andamanese languages. The Sentinelese in the second round had become bolder. A young Sentinelese youth waded up to the boat and touched it with his hands. Following him more men closed in to collect the coconuts.

In this moment of breaking the ice a Sentinelese youth who was sitting on the shore got up and aimed his arrow at the contact party. Fazed but not betraying fear, Madhumala gestured at the youth to come over and take his share of the coconuts. This was a moment of standoff, Madhumala refusing to remove eye contact and the arrow refusing to go down. The arrow was released but Providence intervened. As the marksman was about to be released , a Sentinelese woman standing nearby gave a push to the marksman, and the arrow missed its mark and fell harmlessly in the water. The woman had done that on purpose thus saving the contact party from either severe injury or even death.

Undeterred the team persisted. It was now the turn of the Sentinelese to be surprised. The contact party, including Madhumala, decided to jump into water. Knee deep in water, the space age man (woman) was looking eye to eye with one of the most primitive people on earth. It was not a meeting with the finger on the trigger or with a bow string pulled, it was a meeting between equals, with dignity and respect. The coconuts were not being floated in water anymore, but were being handed over in person. This was making of anthropological history.

Probably what changed the equation on that fateful day was the presence of a woman in the contact team who maintained her calm and took the initiative. A woman in the contact party indicated to the Sentinelese, who are extremely protective of their women, that the boat people meant no harm. For a brief moment the Sentinalese let their guard down, and allowed outsiders into their world.

Madhumala came back to the North Sentinel Islands as member of another contact party on 21 Feb, month and a half of the first contact. This time the welcome was enthusiastic. The Sentinelese climbed up on the boat to receive the coconuts. Thankfully no arrow was aimed this time.

While the ice with this hostile tribe was on the verge of being broken, Government of India decided to stop any more contact with the Sentinelese even for academic purposes. It was feared that outside contact might introduce diseases in this tribe. A justified move given the epidemics introduced by outside contact in other tribes of the Andamans. Today Sentinelese remain secluded and hostile despite the early contacts made. The 2011 census of this tribe was done from a distance of 1.5 kms from the sea shore through observation, given the risks involved in sending enumerators ashore. As recent as 2006, two fishermen who had strayed close to the shores of North Sentinel Islands were killed by the Sentinelese. Government of India enforces a 3 miles no entry zone around these Islands.

A Jarawa mother trusted her 3 month old baby with Madhumala,
this is a gesture of acceptance of an outsider by the tribe. Jarawa mothers
feed their babies from their mouth directly into the baby’s mouth, in
a similar manner as the birds feed their young
Madhumala continued her research for many more years in the Andamans primarily with the Jarawa tribe. The first friendly contact with the Jarawa’s had been made in 1975 by a joint team from the Anthropological Survey of India and the ANI Administration. Since then systematic contacts were made by administration, who took bananas, coconuts etc as gifts. However there were instances of hostile reactions from the tribe, and authorities had banned inclusion of women in contact parties.

In 1991 when Madhumala went; she was the first woman from outside to visit the Jarawas. As a precaution Madhumala remained in the motor boat while the men went ashore to meet the tribe. Seeing Madhumala, the Jarawa women began to gesture her to come ashore with the shout “Milale Chera” (friend come here). They started an impromptu dance to express their joy on seeing a woman in the contact team. This unexpected welcome from the Jarawa women for Madhumala prompted the team leader to send for the boat to bring Madhumala ashore.

As the boat neared the shore, five Jarawa men climbed on to the boat and sat across Madhumala looking at her with curiosity. Heart beating hard, Madhumala maintained her composure. Other members of the contact team were not sure how to react; a wrong move could have been disastrous. It was at this juncture that a Jarawa woman climbed onto the boat and sat besides Madhumala. The Jarawa woman gestured to the five men that the visitor like her was a woman. Madhumala at that moment embraced the woman which signified a gesture of friendship. No anthropology text book had taught this, this came from experience, empathy and the sense of self preservation. The Jarawa woman was thrilled at this gesture and made all the five Jarawa men to lie down on the floor of the boat as admonished children.

Madhumala with the Jarawa women. Madhumala is the first woman anthropologist who could assimilate with the Jarawas much before the Jarawa came out of their seclusion. Seen in the picture- food being cooked over fire by a Jarawa woman. Jarawas know how to make fire and use the drill method to produce it.
On landing , other Jarawa women surrounded Madhumala and started examining her skin texture and long hair with their fingers. The inspection involved pinching and scratching which had to be endured to earn lasting friendship. Satisfied the women offered Madhumala a hair band and a arm amulets as a token of acceptance in the community. Initial initiation ceremony over and Madhumala getting a friendly welcome, she became a regular visitor to the Jarawa territory. Her anthropological research with the Jarawas was mainly through observation. No sophisticated instruments could be used since the Jarawa had the propensity of claiming things which Madhumala brought as their own, including the pencils which Madhumala used for taking notes.

An interesting bond developed, and the Jarawa women would keep the Jarawa men at bay from Madhumala . She would be invited to the Jarawa huts, play with the children, share their food and sometimes also asked to lend hand with the household chores. Madhumala also became the resident doctor and would apply ointments to the injuries that the Jarawas would get inflicted with during their forays into the jungle for hunting and gathering. Despite her requests the administration refused to give Madhumala permission for night stay with the Jarawas. The visits revealed to to the Jarawas about the modern man (woman) as much as it revealed to Madhumala about the Jarawas.

Madhumala also did seminal work with the Onges’ and the Car Nicobarese. Amongst the Onge tribe, Madhumala was known as Debotobeti (doctor), because her anthropological research entailed checking the health status of the Onges including taking of blood samples. Many years later when on request of the Government of India, when Madhumala accompanied the then Secretary for Social Justice and Empowerment, Smt Asha Das, to the Islands, the Nicobarese recognised Madhumala and told the Secretary that their daughter had come back.
Amongst friends: Madhumala along with a young Jarawa girl helping in the daily chores. The bead necklace around Madhumala’s neck is a gift from the tribe.

Given her seminal work, universities including University of Cornell and University of California, Berkley offered Madhumala research positions. However her responsibilities towards her two younger siblings and aging mother kept her from taking up these assignments. She took up a regular job with the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, Government of India, where she is now employed as a senior research officer.

The government colony in Laxmibai Nagar in New Delhi where she lives is orderly and predictable, far from the verdant surroundings of the Andamans where every turn revealed something new. Her work remains forgotten. Ruth Benedict the famous anthropologist said “the purpose of anthropology is to make the world safe for human differences”. Madhumala has been true to her professional training.

(Source: Probashi

The Lovely London Bookshop That Heroes Forgotten Female Authors

At Persephone Books, women run the world.

It’s said that you aren’t a true literary great until you’ve been forgotten and subsequently rediscovered. By that logic, Persephone Books is producing literary greatness at a fearsome rate. Their modus operandi is to find hidden gems written by previously neglected women writers, and restore them to their rightful place in the literary canon. It’s a noble mission, and one which is happening right in the heart of London.

Photo: @kaylalkiteley

The Persephone Books store, a stone’s throw from Russell Square, is filled with nondescript grey books. It’s a muted, though still eminently Instagrammable display, but you know by now that you should never judge a book by its cover. Far more important is the content, and here a theme emerges. Persephone’s mission, since being founded by Nicola Beauman above a Clerkenwell pub in 1998, has been championing the female authors whom history has forgotten, reprinting their literature and bringing their work to a new generation of readers.

The store’s name is a deliberate nod to this: Persephone was the daughter of Zeus, and associated with both female creativity and spring (literally, a time of new beginnings). The authors featured are mostly female, and mostly wrote in the early to mid-twentieth century. There’s only one thing that binds Persephone’s collection together; as they say, “we only publish books that we completely, utterly love.”

They find stunning new reads in so many different ways – through word of mouth, through forgotten manuscripts, and by diligent research. Uniquely amongst London bookshops, the vast majority of their stock is works they’ve printed themselves, often given a foreword by prominent contemporary writers. Should you head down for a wander, you’re pretty much guaranteed to come across a stellar new read.

Photo: @kristinamcclend

Persephone has, at current count, published 130 previously out-of-print works, but perhaps their most notable success came early on. Book number 21 was Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day, which became a bestseller nearly 70 years after its first appearance, and spawned a Hollywood adaptation in 2008.

Fate, publishing whims, and the patriarchy may have held many of Persephone’s authors back, but one thing’s for sure. Nowadays, nothing is holding Persephone back.

Location: 59 Lamb’s Conduit Street, WC1N 3NB. Nearest station is Russell Square
Opening hours: 10am-6pm (Mon to Fri), 11am-5pm (Sat), 12-4pm (Sun).
Price: books cost £13.
More information: from their website.

(Source: Secret London)

Qatar's first light festival promises to wow residents

The biggest and the first International Light Festival in Qatar will be held at Lusail Marina in the first week of December.

Light Me Lusail, the three-day festival to begin on December 6, will feature vibrant light installations in the Eastern Promenade.

To be held from 6 pm to 11:30 pm, light art is an applied art form in which light is the main medium of expression.

Installation of internationally acclaimed artist and co-founder of Ocubo, which specialises in light video mapping projection, Nuno Maya will be present at the festival. Lusail, in a social media post, said that the artist explores the heritage and future of Qatar, which will be represented in a two-part installation at the arena. The concept of the passage is not only explored by public walking but through the perception of time.

Another popular installation that will be featured is NEST, an artwork by Indian light designers and architects Vikas Patil and Santosh Gujar. Based on bowerbirds of Australia, the organic architecture is built from recycled materials and includes multiple light sequence.

The event promises to be an immersive sensorial installation related to natural phenomenon yet focusing on external and internal sensation by leading the audience to experience an altered state, losing notions of space and time.

(Source: The Peninsula)

Mrs Obama made a great job of being first spouse. But why the need to play consort?

Whatever its dubious benefits, the public role of political partner is oppressive – and redundant

Reading Michelle Obama’s Becoming made me think – intermittently – about Philip May’s bins. As in: was that the last time we heard from him? And if so, is that solitary TV appearance, along with some tweedy churchgoing and posing with walking poles – to be his legacy as prime minister’s consort? Is that – with time plainly running out – it?

Failing some last-minute contributions, May has proved, from an entertainment, news and thus satirical point of view, a dismayingly unco-operative dud of a first spouse. And it’s not as if anyone anticipated amusement up there with Brigitte Macron’s state visit showstoppers, or Samantha Cameron in the fish shop or, earlier, Cherie Blair, in the days when she sized-up property with a conman and shared details of her fertility highs and lows.

Michelle Obama sparkles in her own right, as she promotes her memoir Becoming in Chicago, Illinois. Photograph: Kamil Krzaczyński/Reuters
But there was a reasonable expectation, given recent consort tradition, of Philip’s fashion fails, Philip’s halting confessions about juggling home and career and, at the very least, Philip’s revelations about the big heart pulsing within the Maybot. Think of Sarah Brown’s speech to the effect that Gordon Brown’s rages belied a secret tenderness. “The first time I met him I was struck that someone so intense and so intelligent could be so gentle, could ask so many questions, could really care.”

For his successors, however, Invisible Philip has been good enough to prove that the public routine devised for first spouses is not merely optional but redundant. Somehow, visiting first helpmeets have managed to go shopping without him. Incoming spouses will not – unless they choose to – need to agonise, like Mrs Brown and Mrs Blair, about how best to deploy this uncovenanted influence. “I was beginning to realise,” Blair writes in Speaking for Myself, of an outing in Tokyo, “that I didn’t simply have to be an appendage on these trips. I was starting to see how I could create a role that would be of real benefit.”

That Blair never quite demonstrated what, beyond top memoir material, these real benefits might be does not mean, as Obama has established, that the consort role cannot be used to good effect. Had she not embraced the position of Flotus, with performative and formal duties that far exceed the UK equivalent’s, we should not, for instance, have her new book, in which the stalling of her own promising career, so that her husband’s could flourish, surely confirms that whatever its sporadic benefits, first ladyship is all wrong. So long, anyway, as it’s unpaid and conceived as principally a range of retro hostess skills, including doting helpmeet, faultless dresser and wise matron, regardless of whether the incumbent is the lawyer Obama who dreams up the Let’s Move! campaign, or a trophy wife who wears, for a visit to children in a refugee camp, a parka reading: “I really don’t care. Do u?”
The UK’s first spouse, Philip May, left, is mostly photographed accompanying his wife to
church. Photograph: David Hartley/Rex/Shutterstock

 Not that Obama betrays any hint, in a brilliant and disarming memoir, of resenting the presidential demands on her

Not that Obama betrays any hint, in a brilliant and disarming memoir, of resenting the presidential demands on her, in particular, or the affront, in principle, to new-generation consorts required to enact highly costumed, practically Sealed Knot revivals of the marital rituals that once oppressed their great-grandmothers.

Had the first black woman in the White House objected to any of the above, the consequences – when you think that Hillary Clinton is still haunted by her loose talk about cookies in 1992 – can be readily imagined. Even without the cultural and political onus on Obama to perform the premier cookie-dough artiste’s job better than it had ever been done before, her natural approach to any task – “I’ll show you” – ensured that it was she who conferred dignity on the ludicrous position of presidential consort, as opposed to the other way around.

But what first ladies can never say is implicit. Once Obama has detailed, in Becoming, her search, as a highly qualified young woman, for a job that is fulfilling as opposed to high status, along with her intensifying “distaste” for politics and this premonitory entry, before marriage, in her diary – “I don’t believe the pursuit of one person’s dreams should come at the expense of the couple” – the absurdity of her then being asked, at precisely the moment she’s found the perfect job, to volunteer as full-time assistant to the president/the nation, is no more forgivable for being dictated by an impeccably progressive agenda.

Angela Merkel’s husband, Joachim Sauer, generally keeps a low profile Photograph: Christof Stache/AFP/Getty Images
Angela Merkel, after all, is progressive and the quantum chemist Joachim Sauer, far from hosting banquets or planting organic turnips, has spent much of the past 13 years, for all we know, quietly painting his nails.

Much, maybe too much, has been made of Obama’s incredible relatability. In wry passages about squeezing shopping into lunch breaks, or birthday parties into campaign trails, and her quest for tiny but perfect woolly hats for her daughters’ stadium appearance, she generates warm familiarity – but many more, delivered in the same engaging style, only underline her exceptionalism.

During a difficult period after Senator Obama goes to Washington, Michelle, in Chicago, has a three- and a six-year-old, a demanding full-time job and is missing exercise. “My fix for this,” she writes, “came in the form of my ever-giving mother, who still worked full time but volunteered to start coming over to our house at 4:45 in the mornings so that I could run out to Cornell’s [her trainer’s] house and join a girlfriend for a 5:00 am workout and then be home by 6:30 to get the girls up and ready for their days.” Anyone?

One reward for this staggering self-control was, shortly, the advice from a senator’s wife, that she exchange paid work for Washington, where the ladies’ luncheon clubs awaited her. Michelle refused. “Truly, I didn’t want to drop a thing.” That she subsequently dropped everything has been thoroughly vindicated. But no one else should have to do it.

(Source: The Guardian)

I’m raising a biracial daughter in Japan, where she’s surrounded by blackface

I live in Tokyo, in a homogenous society where 98.5 percent of the population is Japanese. My wife Haruki is Japanese, and my 4-year-old daughter Kantra is the only black girl in her preschool class. I remember when the Japanese delivery nurse called her Halle Berry immediately after my wife gave birth to her.

They were the first words my daughter ever heard. When the nurse sensed my confusion, she tried to improve her comment: “Naomi Campbell?”

Kantra was born in the summer of 2013. As a stay-at-home dad, I used online compilations of Sesame Street to teach her the alphabet, colors, shapes and numbers in English. I thought about getting a TV, but my wife explained to me that Japanese television programs regularly use blackface. Minus watching Japanese TV when visiting my in-laws, I never paid it much attention.

Tracy Jones with wife, Haruki, and daughter, Kantra.
I moved to Japan in 2011 and for the first two years, I couldn’t figure out if I was insane or if Japan was like America where, as a black person, I was accustomed to sensing white fear and the possible danger of it harming my body.

On subways in Tokyo, commuters wouldn’t sit or stand near me. I didn’t know if I was imagining a strange rush of anxiety or making them uncomfortable. People would keep their distance, but they’d stare at me curiously. When I’d make eye contact with them, it’d take them a minute to be jolted into the realization that there’s life behind the eyes that stared back at them. Taking escalators, waiting in line at grocery stores or bus stops, fidgeting women would clutch their purses or turn around to face me, as if to protect themselves.

Working as an English teacher, kids at school would tell me that I looked like Bob Sapp. He’s a former American mixed martial artist who bugs his eyes out and pretends to be an overgrown brute on variety shows. When I told Haruki about my students comparing me to Sapp, she said, “That’s why I’m glad we don’t have a TV. They’re just saying that cuz you’re black.”

On subways and train stations, seeing ads with Japanese people in blackface has been like getting spooked by the boogeyman. “Imagine if Kantra was watching TV every day and she saw that? She’d be terrified,” Haruki said.

But safeguarding Kantra from the box hasn’t kept her from seeing blackface.

“Daddy, what is that?” my 4-year-old asked me last November. We were standing in a subway tunnel, staring at an ad of a blacked-up Japanese man. “Sorry,” Haruki said to her, pulling Kantra away, “It’s bullying,” my wife said. “That’s scary,” Kantra replied.

The billboard was promoting the Japanese TV show “Chikyu Seifuku Surunante” (陸海空地球征服するなんて), which means “Taking Over The World.”

It was about a man in blackface that goes to the Amazon, joins a tribe and gnaws meat off a bone. For a lot of Japanese kids, those images shape their view of actual black people.

My daughter, Kantra.
Blackface teaches Kantra that she’s an ugly black joke. She’s “scary” and her curly hair is “funny.” I try to raise her to be proud of her beautiful bronze skin and brown afro, but the act in and of itself challenges Japan’s monoculture.

Kids who are half Japanese and half other, or non-Japanese, run the risk of being conditioned to hate themselves and those who reflect them. If one doesn’t fit within the collectivist Japanese framework, even if they are Japanese, they are forcibly hardened to conform.

 It parallels my childhood of growing up in white America, conflicted by having Southern black parents. With the backdrop of white classmates telling me that they’re better because they’re white, my family still ingrained in me a sense of black pride.

 I talk to Kantra similarly, but everything outside of our home commands a drastically altered conversation. Even though she was born and is being raised in Japan, she’s not considered Japanese because she doesn’t look it. At first, she didn’t understand why children wouldn’t play with her. Unable to explain racism to my toddler, I’d get frustrated. “Forget those kids. You’re not like them,” I’d say. I could’ve easily been talking to my childhood self. “Daddy’s not mad at you. Daddy loves you. You’re so fearless. Don’t ever lose that.”

When I go to pick up and drop off my daughter at school, the Japanese housewives remind me that I don’t belong here. Glaring at me, they seldom acknowledge my presence. I’m either invisible or a nuisance. For them, I’m a foreigner who’s supposed to be at work. To call myself a stay-at-home father is a euphemism for “I’m doing it wrong.” My presence highlights my child’s different features and upbringing.

 The mothers’ kids are their avatars, playing out a children’s version of excluding a foreigner, who is my child. The playground mothers are the same as the housewives; they are nice to Kantra to save face for their children, who would otherwise bully her. Here, children are taught the Japanese proverb: “The nail that sticks out gets hammered in.”

When Kantra was 2 years old, she ran up to a boy on the playground and asked him to play. The boy squared up to her like a boxer and swung, stopping his fist inches away from her smiling face. Children would flee from her as if she were King Kong. “Kowai (scary),” a girl said, gripping her mother like one would a life preserver to keep from drowning. “Come on, let’s go,” Kantra said, pulling the girl’s arm. It’s heartbreaking to witness her innocence denied.

Nearly every day, the message Kantra got was the same: Stay away. Through the years, Kantra learned to befriend mothers as a conduit to playing with their children. Now, she’s about to finish her first year of preschool. She can’t sit still and she constantly sings. Life pulses out of her. It’s exhausting for me, but I don’t want her to lose that. At school, she had to find her own way. She already knows that she’s different. “I’m brown girl,” she says. “I’m the same as Daddy, but different from Mommy.”

If one doesn’t fit within the collectivist Japanese framework, even if they’re Japanese, they are forcibly hardened to do so.
Besides me, Kantra’s teacher is the only other black person that Kantra interacts with. Though we chose Kantra’s school because she would be fortunate enough to be taught by a black African woman, it still proved difficult. At our first parent-teacher conference, my wife and I expressed our deep concern for Kantra being the only black child in her class. Pausing to unnervingly look at us, the teacher said, “We treat all the kids the same.”

During a second meeting with Kantra’s teacher and the school’s head teacher, I tried explaining that touching my daughter’s hair was a way of telling her that she was different. This was after the school ignored our specific request that we didn’t want people touching Kantra’s hair (including the teachers). “But what’s wrong with touching her hair? It’s so cute,” the head teacher said to me. She then proceeded to reach over and touch the hair of Kantra’s teacher. Embarassed, the teacher ducked and said, “Don’t.” I cringed and turned away.

Watching Kantra develop has further complicated my relationship with this country. As of late, Kantra’s been saying, “Daddy, I don’t want to go to school. I want to stay home with you and Mommy.” Oftentimes on rides home, she doesn’t want to tell me about her day. I can’t figure out if she’s just tired or reeling from a troubling experience.

In the morning, I make her look in the mirror and say, “I love myself. I am smart. I am beautiful. I am strong.” To confront an opposing environment, Kantra mimics my behavior. My awareness of influencing her turns my rage into an elastic band of patience.

After almost seven years, I have gotten used to Japan. Uncomfortable spaces have become familiar. I love Japan for giving me my family. We have a good life, and this country is beautiful. But for Kantra’s sake, we’re moving back to the U.S. after my wife gets a visa. She needs to be around more people who look like her. She has so much to be proud of, and she’ll never know it living here, where black people are seen exclusively through a Japanese filter.

For me, growing up in white America, I at least had black parents, older brothers, grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts. Because we lived in a predominantly white zip code, my folks used my aunt’s address to send me to a predominantly black preschool in a struggling black area with well-kept, colorful homes, and everybody was the same. After school, I’d walk to my aunt’s house, and it became part of some of my earliest memories, contrasting with my predominantly white neighborhood. Kantra’s experience has yet to vary.

I worry about how to raise Kantra to be a strong black woman while embracing the country that she and her mother come from. In Japan, Kantra will always be treated like an outsider. It doesn’t matter how well she speaks Japanese. Here, the closest thing to my daughter’s narrative is that of Ariana Miyamoto, a biracial young woman who was 2015’s Miss Universe Japan. Her win was controversial; most locals didn’t want her to represent them. Miyamoto “didn’t look Japanese.” It might’ve been acceptable if Miyamoto were a ganguro girl, one of the young Japanese girls who tan their skin to mimic black women.

These days, before storming the playground, Kantra stands on its edge, looking for kids that either look multiracial or non-Japanese. Upon spotting them, she dashes off and they play. Though Kantra looks different from almost all of her peers, Japan is her home, too. Scattered across this island, there’s a small population of kids like Kantra.

My wife and I are in awe of Kantra’s persistence. If she learns anything from us, we hope it’s empathy. We don’t teach her that she’s above anyone else. But when she comes home from school and says, “Daddy, black is different,” I tell her, “No baby, white is different.” 

(Source: HuffPo)

Thursday 29 November 2018

In Mount Everest region, world's highest glaciers are melting, receding

In this photo essay, the editor of the Nepali Times, Kunda Dixit, describes the dramatic changes underway in the ice and snow of the Himalayan Mountains.

For many tourists trekking to Mount Everest Base Camp, the trip is an adventure of a lifetime. The thin clear air, stark landscape and ice-tipped peaks pierce the inky sky providing Instagram backdrops.

However, what is stunning scenery to tourists is for climate scientists an apocalyptic sight. They see dramatic evidence all around of a rapidly warming atmosphere.

Visitors returning to the Everest region after many years will notice changes in the landscape: large lakes where there were none; glacial ice replaced by ponds, boulders and sand; the snowline moving up the mountains; and glaciers that have receded and shrunk.

All these features are visible from ground level right from the start of the trek in Lukla. The banks of the Bhote Kosi, part of the river system that drains the slopes of the Himalayas in Nepal and Tibet, still bear the scars of a deadly flash flood in 1985 that washed off a long section of the Everest Trail and the hydropower plant in the village of Thame. The flood was caused by an avalanche into the Dig Tso, a glacial lake.

Further up, near the village of Tengboche, the Imja Khola bears signs of another huge glacial lake outburst flood that thundered down the western flank of Ama Dablam in 1977. And below the formidable south face of Lhotse is Imja Tso, a lake 2 kilometers long that has formed and grown in the last 30 years. It does not exist on trekking maps from the 1980s. All these lakes were formed and enlarged as a result of global warming melting the ice.

Imja Tso, a glacial lake, did not exist on trekking maps 30 years ago. Today it is 2 kilometers long and 1 kilometer wide. Credit: Kunda Dixit/Nepali Times
"When I look at the Nepal Himalaya, we can see this is global climate change impact on fast-forward," said Dipak Gyawali of the Nepali Water Conservation Foundation and the Nepal Academy of Science and Technology.

Green and blue meltpools on the North Ama Dablam Glacier, where the vanishing icefall has exposed the eroded bedrock below. Credit: Kunda Dixit/Nepali Times
The Lobuje Icefall is now a hanging glacier, having retreated above the cliff. Credit: Kunda Dixit/Nepali Times
The terminal moraine of the Khumbu Glacier looms 400 meters above Dughla, a rest stop for climbers. This is the debris bulldozed down from Mount Everest and surrounding peaks over millions of years and represents the extent of the glacier's advance in the last Ice Age. Today, the surface ice on the world's highest glacier is all but gone due to natural and anthropogenic warming.

Khumbu Glacier, the world's highest glacier, has retreated as the planet has warmed. Its lower portion is largely covered by debris. Credit: NASA Landsat 8 image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon
For a dramatic glimpse of how global warming is changing the Himalayan landscape, there is nothing like the aerial perspective. The barren beauty foretells of a time when this terrain will be stripped of much of what remains of its ice cover.

The Khumbu Icefall carries debris and ice from the Western Cwm to the Khumbu Glacier, 1,000 meters below. Credit: Kunda Dixit/Nepali Times
The Khumbu Icefall funnels ice from the Western Cwm below Everest, Lhotse and Nuptse to the glacier below. The ice here has receded at an average of 30 meters per year in the past 20 years, but it has also shrunk vertically, losing up to 50 meters in thickness. Everest Base Camp was at 5,330 meters when Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbed Mount Everest in 1953; today it is at 5,270 meters.

A map shows base camp and how a key climbing route up Mount Everest changed after a deadly avalanche in 2014. Credit: Gregory Leonard, with data by Digital Globe and Mark Fahey/USGS, via NASA
The glacier is also getting flatter: the darker debris makes the ice beneath melt faster near Base Camp, but the thicker layers of boulders and sand further down insulate the ice. Glaciologists say this flatter profile means the ice moves slower, leading to more ponding and more rapid melting of the ice underneath.

The velocity of the glacier is about 70 meters per year at Base Camp, and it slows to about 10 meters per year further below. It's zero at the terminus at 4,900 meters. This means the ice is decelerating as it is squeezed, and the pressure is being released by the melting of the ice mass.

Khumbu Glacier is receding at about 30 meters per year and shrinking: Base Camp is now 50 meters lower than when Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay climbed Mount Everest in 1953. Credit: Kunda Dixit/Nepali Times
Researchers monitoring the supraglacial ponds say their area has grown by 70 percent in the past 10 years alone. The ponds are fringed by ice cliffs and caves that accelerate the melting. The melted ice has carved an outflow channel through the left lateral moraine, so there is no large glacial lake on the Khumbu like elsewhere in Nepal.

Scientists conclude that the Khumbu Glacier is not about to vanish, and the Icefall is not going to turn into a waterfall any time soon. However, the permanent ice catchment of the glacier above 6,000 meters could start to deplete under a worst-case scenario of 5 degrees Celsius warming.

(Source: Inside Climate News)

Concrete jungle taking shape atop Chamundi Hills

Rise in number of houses has led to leaking UGD pipelines, garbage heaps

“There used to be barely 100 houses here till a few years ago. Now, there could be more than 700,” rued Subbanna, an 85-year-old long-time resident of Veera Madakari Nayaka Street atop Chamundi Hills.

Even as the environmentalists have their daggers drawn against the State government for taking up developmental works including construction of a multi-level parking lot to accommodate 600 cars and 50 buses and a commercial complex to house 116 shops atop Chamundi Hills, the number of houses atop the hillock, which draws a large number of tourists and pilgrims, is perceptibly increasing.

Even though the Chamundi Hills Gram Panchayat officials deny having issued building licenses, house construction activity appears to be going on unabated.

“Only 80 to 90 houses, which were built a long time ago, are authorised. The rest had been built illegally”, said Poornima, Panchayat Development Officer of Chamundi Hills Gram Panchayat. During the last count, there were about 380 houses, she said.

“Whenever people approach us for a licence to build houses, we ask them to bring a no-objection certificate from Forest, Archaeology and Muzrai Departments. So, we have not issued any building licences. When we serve notices against illegal construction, pressure is brought upon us from higher-ups”, said Ms. Poornima.

Property tax
Chamundi Hills Gram Panchayat member Rathnamma, who admitted that the number of houses atop Chamundi Hills had increased several fold in the last few years, said property tax was being paid only by around 60 houses.

The increase in the number of houses has already brought pressure on the infrastructure, leading to leaking UGD pipelines and mounting heaps of garbage.

Ms. Poornima regretted that a survey of the land atop Chamundi Hills had not been taken up.

“It is up to the Revenue Department or the Forest Department to crack down on encroachment and illegal construction”, she said.

(Source: The Hindu)

Autism prevalence now 1 in 40 US kids, study estimates

A survey of parents across the United States estimates that one in 40 children has autism spectrum disorder, according to a study published Monday in the journal Pediatrics.

In other words, the condition was reported in 2.5% of children, representing an estimated 1.5 million kids ages 3 to 17.

A report released this year by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated the prevalence at one in 59 children or about 1.7%, based on 2014 data.

"Prevalence is not growing that rapidly, although the CDC's data suggests it is still growing," Thomas Frazier, chief science officer of the advocacy organization Autism Speaks, said in an emailed statement. He was not involved in the new report.

"What is happening is that these studies use methods that are a bit more liberal and inclusive than the CDC's methods," Frazier said, adding that he prefers the CDC's numbers but understands "that they are likely a bit conservative."

The new study is based on the 2016 National Survey of Children's Health, which was conducted by the US Census Bureau and which collected information from parents of more than 50,000 children up to age 17. To be included in the estimate, parents would have had to report that their child had ever received a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and that they currently had the condition.

The new numbers were also slightly lower than those in the 2017 National Health Interview Survey. It estimated that 2.76% of children had ever received such a diagnosis, which the authors of the new report note is a broader definition.

The fact that the new study relies on parental reporting -- which is not validated by health and education records, as in the CDC report -- may be a limitation despite the broad scope of the research, the authors say.

Frazier said the 1-in-40 figure is "generally consistent with previous parent surveys and other direct prevalence studies where researchers directly screen for and attempt to identify autism."

The parents in the new study also reported more difficulties getting the health care their children need, versus those with Down syndrome, or other behavioral disorder, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder.

"Though we've seen progress in recent years, this confirms what we know from our parents -- that many children face unacceptable delays in getting a diagnostic evaluation, even after parents, teachers or other caregivers have recognized the signs of autism," Frazier said.

In the new study, more than a quarter of children with autism spectrum disorder were taking medication for symptoms related to the condition, and nearly two-thirds have received "behavioral treatments" in the past year, the study says.

It also found a higher prevalence for autism spectrum disorder among certain groups such as boys, children of single mothers and households below the federal poverty level, compared with those at least four times above that income threshold.

The differences between the new study's numbers and those of the CDC study might be explained by the years they were conducted, the ages of children studied and where they lived, according to the new study.

The CDC report was based on data collected from 11 communities across the country but was not necessarily nationally representative, according to that report's co-author Daisy Christensen, surveillance team lead in the developmental disabilities branch of the CDC's National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities.

"Parents know their child best," Christensen, who was not involved in the new report, previously told CNN. "We want to encourage parents to be aware of their child's development, to be aware of the milestones that children achieve."

Autism spectrum disorder, a lifelong developmental disability, is characterized by problems with communication and social interaction with accompanying repetitive behavior patterns.

The authors note that it's difficult to compare the new report with prior iterations due to updates in how the survey collected its data and how questions were worded.

"We cannot tell what proportion was explained by internal survey changes rather than external factors," the authors wrote.

Still, the report comes as estimated prevalences of the disorder have been rising for decades.

"Over the '80s and '90s, the diagnostic criteria expanded to include more children," Christensen said, "so I think that's definitely a possibility for the increase that we've seen."

In the past, more than half of children identified with autism also had intellectual disability, and now it's about a third, she said. "And that's really consistent with identifying children who are perhaps at the milder end of the spectrum."

The new study's authors also note that universal screening recommendations in the 2000s may have led to a rise in prevalence among younger children, for example.

"Because there is no biological marker, [autism spectrum disorder] is a particularly challenging condition to track," the authors note.

But understanding how common it is allows health experts to distribute resources and get families the help they need, according to Frazier.

"Having prevalence estimates -- even if there is some variation -- helps us to advocate for improved screening, diagnosis, interventions and supports," he said.

(Source: CNN)

Wednesday 28 November 2018

The woman who decides if men can take a second wife

Islamic law, also known as Sharia, is often associated by critics with harsh punishments and hardline attitudes. But one of Malaysia's first female Sharia high court judges says her role gives her an opportunity to protect women in the Muslim-majority nation.

Judge Nenney Shushaidah presides over five trials a day and can hear up to 80 cases a week.

Malaysia practises a moderate form of Islam but conservative attitudes have been on the rise and the use of Sharia is growing as well. Under a dual-track legal system, thousands of Muslims use it to settle moral and family matters. Non-Muslims are required to follow secular laws that deal with the same matters.

She passes judgment on everything from financial cases to those involving the Sharia concept of Khalwat [unmarried Muslim couples being caught in compromising situations].

But her expertise lies in child custody and cases of polygamy - the Muslim concept of allowing men to marry up to four wives, which is legal in Malaysia.

Judge Shushaidah says there are many factors she considers before, for example, allowing a polygamous union.

"Every case is complex and different," she explained. "You can't generalise Islamic law and say it favours men and treats women badly... I want to correct that misconception."

Malaysia is a Muslim-majority nation

All those involved in a proposed polygamous marriage are required to be physically present in Judge Shushaidah's court.

"I want to hear from everyone, not just [the] men," she said. "I make it a point to speak with women to find out if they are on board with the arrangement. It is important that they agree to it because if I see any signs that say otherwise then I won't grant permission."

"I am female and I can understand most women would not like the idea. But it is allowed under Islam, and our Malaysian courts have enacted strict laws to govern this."

"A man has to have very strong reasons for wanting another marriage," she said.

"He must show he can look after the welfare of his first wife as well as the women who come after. He is not allowed to neglect the needs of anyone."

Judge Shushaidah added that some wives can be supportive of the idea.

'My robes remind me of the heavy responsibilities that come with being a Sharia judge'
She recalls, for example, a case which involved a seriously ill woman who could no longer bear children.

"She loved her husband and wanted me to grant him permission to marry a second wife. So I did."

She defends her religion's reputation for strict laws by arguing that it is capable of fairness.

But critics and rights groups argue Sharia is often misused.

"We have no objection to Sharia law that doesn't discriminate against women, gay people or social and religious minorities," Asia deputy director of Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson told BBC 100 Women.

"But the problem with Sharia law in Malaysia is that too often it does precisely that.

"Religion is never an acceptable reason to violate international human rights standards of equality and non-discrimination."
Critics and rights groups argue Sharia is often used to discriminate
For example rights activists were outraged by the recent caning of two Malaysian women convicted of attempting to have lesbian sex, and say Sharia law was misused in this case.

Judge Shushaidah would not address the case, but said: "Caning under Sharia law serves to educate offenders so as not to repeat the act again."

Judge Shushaidah also argues that Sharia does not always rule in favour of men.

"Our law exists to protect women's rights. It looks at their welfare and safeguards their livelihoods," she said.

"Islam holds women in high regard and as judges, we must return to its teachings and maintain worthiness using Sharia."

Her greatest concern lies with Muslim men bypassing strict Sharia court procedures by marrying overseas.

"He wouldn't be bound by Malaysian law if he marries abroad. Some wives actually consent to this to protect their husbands but they don't realise how it works against them," she said. "Our Sharia laws are in place to protect the interests of women and hold men accountable."

Women's groups like Sisters in Islam highlighted a "severe shortage of female representation" in the courts and a "strong sense of patriarchy" in the overall system.

"The Sharia legal context in Malaysia not only selectively discriminates against women, it vilifies them as the cause of social immoralities," said spokeswoman Majidah Hashim.

"State Islamic institutions... have done little to ensure women are accorded due justice. In fact, the recent prosecution of women under Sharia law clearly shows that their voices are alarmingly silenced and access to justice is worryingly stifled."This makes Judge Shushaidah's appointment a particularly significant one.

"Back in my day, most Sharia judges were men who questioned the need for women in the practice," said Judge Shushaidah.

"I never dreamed of becoming a judge," she admitted. "As a lawyer, I didn't know if I could take on such a senior role that dealt with complicated cases. And as a woman, I felt doubt and fear."

"Sometimes I do feel uneasy. As a woman, I must feel, and I'd be lying if I said I felt nothing. But I am a judge and I have to make sure I am always clear and objective. So in my judgment, I try and address this. I make do with the best evidence I get in court."

What is Sharia?
Sharia is Islam's legal framework, derived from the Koran, Islam's holy book; the Hadith, the sayings and conduct of the Prophet Muhammad; and fatwas, the rulings of Islamic scholars.
In Malaysia, it is applied to different degrees across the country's states.

(Source: BBC)

7 haunted places in Delhi that you (do not) want to visit

“Don't go there after sunset, it's unsafe.”

As a child, you must have heard a lot of scary ghost stories, but how many of us actually believe in ghosts? Do they actually exist? Can they be felt?

Believers will give an affirmative answer, while non-believers will perish the thought. But everyone is intrigued by supernatural stories, and the list of haunted places in Delhi offer the curious souls more than just an exciting story.

In case you happen to be in Delhi, you should totally visit these haunted places places at least once. But at your own risk!

I'm not saying you'll see a ghost, but you just never know.

Malcha Mahal
Located within thick forest, the entry to this palace has a signboard saying:





A community house of 1600 A.D., it was renamed to Wilayat Mahal when Begum Wilayat Mahal of Awadh was gifted the palace by the Government of India in 1985. Malcha Mahal still remains one of the most haunted places in Delhi, with a legacy of agony and death.

In 1993, Begum Wilayat Mahal committed suicide by drinking crushed pieces of diamonds and this gave rise to the sinister and haunted image of Malcha Mahal.

She left behind her two kids, Prince Riaz and Princess Sakina, who still live here, with few Dobermans and some royal treasure. And guess what? They don't keep any contact with the outside world.

Delhi Cantonment

The eerily silent Delhi Cantt finds a mention on the all India list of the most haunted places. Apparently, the paranormal protagonist here is a woman in a white saree who asks for a lift. If she is denied, she reportedly runs at the speed of your car. The woman clad in white sari was supposedly killed while hitchhiking her way to some place.

It is not so much the spirit that gives this place its distinction, but the number of people who have experienced her supernatural presence, making it a popular haunted places in Delhi.

House No. W-3, GK - 1
Legend has it, that house No. W-3 located in one of the posh localities of the city, Greater Kailash 1, has seen the gruesome murder of an aged couple, whose bodies were later found in the water tank.

The residents of the area complain about strange noises, screams and sobs coming from the house with some of them even claiming to see the ghosts of the couple.

Ugrasen Ki Baoli

As per the claims, the Baoli was earlier filled with filthy black water, which mostly attracted disheartened, discouraged and depressed admirers with magnetic effects. The fatal attraction of the mystic waters hypnotised people to their death by alluring them to jump into the waters. It is believed that the "Baoli of the unseen", used to beckon people to offer their lives and raise its water levels.

Feroz Shah Kotla Fort

Built by Sultan Feroz Shah Tughlaq in the 14th century, this fort now lies eerily between a cricket stadium and Delhi's Ring Road, and is supposedly occupied by a multitude of Djinns, invisible to the naked eye.

Every Thursday at the fort, locals come and light incense sticks, and offer milk and grains, in order to calm the ruffled djinns, who they believe can make their wishes come true.

Sanjay Van

Reportedly, a good 10 km stretch of forest is inhabited by spirits of children who can routinely be heard crying and shouting. The real deal, however, is the ghost of the woman in white. The woman is often spotted near the banyan trees, appearing and disappearing, leading to the reputation of Sanjay Van being haunted.

Khooni Darwaza

Khooni Darwaza, literally meaning the “Bloody Gate”, is a monument which has centuries of bloody history attached to it and legend has it that blood drips from its ceilings during the monsoon.

During the partition riots of 1947, hundreds of refugees were murdered at Khooni Darwaza while they were proceeding towards the refugee camp at Purana Qila, and their spirits still haunt this Khooni Darwaza.

Jamali Kamali Tomb

The Jamali Kamali is a marvel of Mughal architecture that built in 1528 right next to Qutub Minar complex. Situated in the Mehrauli Archaeological Park, this mosque was built to commemorate the tomb of prominent Sufi saint Jamali and his supposed partner Kamali.

During daytime the place is filled with people, kids, families and elders enjoying the open space but when it gets dark a different set of stories occupy the place. People are mentioned several abnormal sightings and feelings such as getting slapped by an invisible force, the feeling of someone breathing on their neck, hysterical laughter and the sensation of being watched by someone.

Parthasarthy Rocks
The Parthasarthy Rocks in Jawaharlal Nehru University are popular for being the highest natural point in Delhi. Students and visitors climb to the highest rock and enjoy a panoramic view of Delhi. But given the vast history of JNU, this spot is especially known for a few dark incidents.

Ex-students of JNU tell the story of two Northeastern Indian girls who were raped and murdered near the amphitheatre over a decade ago. It is reported that sometimes past midnight men, only men, hear sounds of girls giggling. The spot where this phenomenon is common, is now called the 'giggling girls' spot because of how often the sounds are heard.

Kamala Nehru Ridge
The Kamala Nehru Ridge is a massive forest area near the Delhi University that is frequented by tourists and residents alike. The place already has a notorious reputation for the horror monkeys spread on visitors.

There is a Khooni Jheel inside the ridge that is considered one of the most haunted places in Delhi. People tell the stories of a group of students who were brought to the Khooni Jheel and ragged horrifically. These students ended up killing themselves in the same spot. People who visit the Khooni Jheel late at night, feel paranormal presence and hear sounds of boy screaming, alluding to the group who died here.

P.S: This article has been compiled by studying various sources online and offline. I'm not trying to create rumours or defame any place. On that note, go ahead and explore away – at your own risk!

(Source: Tripoto)