Thursday, 24 March 2022

Not smart but clever? The return of 'dumbphones'

Seventeen-year-old Robin West is an anomaly among her peers - she doesn't have a smartphone.

Instead of scrolling through apps like TikTok and Instagram all day, she uses a so-called "dumbphone".

These are basic handsets, or feature phones, with very limited functionality compared to say an iPhone. You can typically only make and receive calls and SMS text messages. And, if you are lucky - listen to radio and take very basic photos, but definitely not connect to the internet or apps.

These devices are similar to some of the first handsets that people bought back in the late 1990s.

Ms West's decision to ditch her former smartphone two years ago was a spur of the moment thing. While looking for a replacement handset in a second-hand shop she was lured by the low price of a "brick phone".

The Nokia 3310 phone is one of the best-selling handsets of all time, selling 126 million units. Getty Images 

Her current handset, from French firm MobiWire, cost her just £8. And because it has no smartphone functionality she doesn't have an expensive monthly data bill to worry about.

"I didn't notice until I bought a brick phone how much a smartphone was taking over my life," she says. "I had a lot of social media apps on it, and I didn't get as much work done as I was always on my phone."

The Londoner adds that she doesn't think she'll ever buy another smartphone. "I'm happy with my brick - I don't think it limits me. I'm definitely more proactive."

Dumbphones are continuing to enjoy a revival. Google searches for them jumped by 89% between 2018 and 2021, according to a report by software firm SEMrush.

And while sales figures are hard to come by, one report said that global purchases of dumbphones were due to hit one billion units last year, up from 400 million in 2019. This compares to worldwide sales of 1.4 billion smart phones last year, following a 12.5% decline in 2020.

Meanwhile, a 2021 study by accountancy group Deloitte said that one in 10 mobile phone users in the UK had a dumbphone.

"It appears fashion, nostalgia, and them appearing in TikTok videos, have a part to play in the dumbphone revival," says Ernest Doku, mobiles expert at price comparison site "Many of us had a dumbphone as our first mobile phone, so it's natural that we feel a sense of nostalgia towards these classic handsets."

Mr Doku says it was the 2017 relaunch of Nokia's 3310 handset - first released in 2000, and one of the biggest-selling mobiles of all time - that really sparked the revival. "Nokia pushed the 3310 as an affordable alternative in a world full of high-spec mobiles."

He adds that while it's true that dumbphones can't compete with the latest premium Apple and Samsung models when it comes to performance or functionality, "they can outshine them in equally important areas such as battery life and durability".

Five years ago, Przemek Olejniczak, a psychologist, swapped his smartphone for a Nokia 3310, initially because of the longer-lasting battery. However, he soon realised that there were other benefits.

"Before I would always be stuck to the phone, checking anything and everything, browsing Facebook or the news, or other facts I didn't need to know," he says.

"Now I have more time for my family and me. A huge benefit is that I'm not addicted to liking, sharing, commenting, or describing my life to other people. Now I have more privacy."

However, Mr Olejniczak, who lives in the Polish city of Lodz, admits that initially the switch was challenging. "Before I'd be checking everything, such as buses and restaurants, on my smartphone [when travelling]. Now that is impossible, so I have learned to do all those things beforehand at home. I got used to it."

One maker of dumbphones is New York company Light Phone. Slightly more clever that the norm for such products, its handsets do allow users to listen to music and podcasts, and link by Bluetooth to headphones. Yet the firm pledges that its phones "will never have social media, clickbait news, email, an internet browser, or any other anxiety-inducing infinite feed".

The company says it recorded its strongest year for financial performance in 2021, with sales up 150% compared with 2020. This is despite its handsets being expensive for dumbphones - prices start at $99 (£75).

Light Phone co-founder, Kaiwei Tang, says the device was initially created to use as a secondary phone for people wanting to take a break from their smartphone for a weekend for example, but now half the firm's customers use it as their primary device.

"If aliens came to earth they'd think that mobile phones are the superior species controlling human beings," he says. 

"And it's not going to stop, it's only going to get worse. Consumers are realising that something is wrong, and we want to offer an alternative."

Mr Tang adds that, surprisingly, the firm's main customers are aged between 25 and 35. He says he was expecting buyers to be much older.

Two phones pictured in 2005, two years before Apple released its first iPhone, and 11 years before TikTok. Getty Images 

Tech expert, Prof Sandra Wachter, a senior research fellow in artificial intelligence at Oxford University, says it is understandable that some of us are looking for simpler mobile phones.

"One can reasonably say that nowadays a smart phone's ability to connect calls and send short messages is almost a side feature," she explains. "Your smart phone is your entertainment centre, your news generator, your navigation system, your diary, your dictionary, and your wallet."

She adds that smartphones always "want to grab your attention" with notifications, updates, and breaking news constantly disrupting your day. "This can keep you on edge, might even be agitating. It can be overwhelming."

Prof Wachter adds: "It makes sense that some of us are now looking for simpler technologies and think that dumbphones might offer a return to simpler times. It might leave more time to fully concentrate on a single task and engage with it more purposefully. It might even calm people down. Studies have shown that too much choice can create unhappiness and agitation."

Yet back in London, Robin West says that many people are bewildered by her choice of mobile. "Everyone thinks it's just a temporary thing. They're like: 'So when are you getting a smartphone? Are you getting one this week?'."

(Source: BBC)

Wednesday, 23 March 2022

A study of prehistoric painting has come to a startling conclusion: Many ancient artists were tiny children

Researchers also believe that the painted handprints contain coded signals.

New research is shaking up our image of art-making in Paleolithic times, arguing that children or even toddlers may have been behind some of world’s earliest known art. The findings suggest that ancient rock painting was actually a family-oriented group activity, not a solitary male pursuit.

For a study published in the Journal of Archaeological Science, researchers from Cambridge University and Spain’s University of Cantabria examined 180 hand stencils painted in Spanish caves some 20,000 years ago. The study used 3-D models of hand paintings in Spain’s El Castillo, Maltravieso, Fuente de Salín, Fuente del Trucho, and La Gama caves, created by the Handpas Project.

These prehistoric images would have been made by blowing pigments through a hollow reed or bone onto hands placed against the cave wall—a process that would have made the outlines slightly larger than the hands themselves.

A) The photogrammetry process of making measurements using photographs. B) Experimental hand stencil. C) Experimental hand stencil 3-D model. D) Modern sample of scanned hands. Photo courtesy of Verónica Fernández-Navarro.

Accounting for that difference, the researchers found that up 25 percent of the hand marks were not large enough to belong to adults or teenagers. They guessed that they came from children between two and 12 years of age, with the majority of those likely made by three to 10-year-olds.

“Many more children’s hands came out than we expected,” lead author Verónica Fernández-Navarrogical told the Telegraph“It would appear that artistic activity was not a closed activity closely linked to male individuals and the survival of the group, as had been thought until now.”

Because the smaller children would not have been able to blow the pigment hard enough to create the markings, we can safely assume that their parents or other adults were helping them. Painting could have been an important communal activity for Paleolithic peoples.

Comparing hand measurement from a contemporary child and an ancient hand painting from a Spanish cave. Photo courtesy of Verónica Fernández-Navarro.

Fernández-Navarrogical is now working to further analyze the hand markings to determine if the gestures made in some images carry any meaning. She suspects that bent fingers in some of the hand silhouettes, which seem to appear in recurring patterns, could have been used as a form of non-verbal language.

“We want to find out if it is a code that they knew how to interpret, in the same way that we today interpret a ‘stop’ sign,” she added.

Children also believed to be responsible for what could be the world’s oldest art, a set of ancient hand and foot prints found in Tibet last year that were made between 169,000 and 226,000 years ago.

(Source: Art Net)

Tuesday, 22 March 2022

Afghanistan world's unhappiest country, Lebanon second saddest

Afghanistan is the unhappiest country in the world - even before the Taliban swept to power last August. That's according to a so-called World Happiness report released ahead of the U.N.-designated International Day of Happiness on Sunday.

The annual report ranked Afghanistan as last among 149 countries surveyed, with a happiness rate of just 2.5. 

Lebanon was the world’s second saddest country, with Botswana, Rwanda and Zimbabwe rounding out the bottom five. Finland ranked first for the fourth year running with a 7.8 score, followed by Denmark and Switzerland, with Iceland and the Netherlands also in the top five.

Researchers ranked the countries after analyzing data over three years. They looked at several categories, including gross domestic product per capita, social safety nets, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity of the population, and perceptions of internal and external corruption levels.

Afghanistan stacked up poorly in all six categories, a confounding result coming as it did before the Taliban arrival and despite 20 years of U.S. and international investment. The U.S. alone spent $145 billion on development in Afghanistan since 2002, according to reports by the U.S. special inspector general for Afghanistan.

Still, there were signs of increasing hopelessness.

Gallup did a polling in 2018 and found that few Afghans they surveyed had much hope for the future. In fact the majority said they had no hope for the future.

Years of runaway corruption, increased poverty, lack of jobs, a steady increase in people forced below the poverty line, and erratic development all combined into a crushing malaise, said analyst Nasratullah Haqpal. Most Afghans had high hopes after 2001, when the Taliban were ousted and the U.S.-led coalition declared victory,

"Unfortunately the only focus was on the war, the warlords and the corrupt politicians,” said Haqpal.

"People just became poorer and poorer and more disappointed and more unhappy... that is why these 20 years of investment in Afghanistan collapsed in just 11 days," he said referring to the Taliban's lightning blitz through the country before sweeping into Kabul in mid-August.

When Masoud Ahmadi, a carpenter, returned to Afghanistan from neighboring Pakistan after the 2001 collapse of the Taliban, his hopes for the future were bright. He dreamed of opening a small furniture-making shop, maybe employing as many as 10 people. Instead, sitting in his dusty 6-foot by 10-foot workshop on Saturday, he said he opens just twice a week for lack of work.

"When the money came to this country, the leadership of the government took the money and counted it as their personal money, and the people were not helped to change their life for the better,” said Ahmadi.

The report warns that Afghanistan's numbers might drop even further next year when it measures Afghans' happiness level after the arrival of the Taliban.

The economy is currently in free fall as the group struggles to transition from insurgency to governing.

(Source: The Peninsula)

Thursday, 17 March 2022

15 details about Disney princes that are often overlooked

Although Disney princesses are the main focus of viewers’ attention, the princes also deserve recognition. Over the decades, there have been several changes in the way they have been portrayed, going from being the generic Prince Charming to heroes with their own names and personalities. This is how they show details that reflect part of the plot and make them as relevant as their companions.

Disney’s princes reveal parts of their stories that are often overlooked in the excitement of the movies.

© Aladdin / Walt Disney Pictures and co-producers© Aladdin / Walt Disney Pictures and co-producers

1. Eric was the first prince to be rescued by his princess.

Disney princesses are almost always the ones rescued by their love. But in The Little Mermaid, Eric became the first prince in the franchise to be saved by the protagonist who, throughout the story, actually rescued him on 2 occasions: the first was when he fell into the sea and the second was when he confronted Ursula at the climax of the film.

2. John Smith really existed.

John Smith was a soldier and explorer who had been captured by the natives of America when he settled on their lands. It is believed that he was rescued by a girl of the tribe that held him hostage, but the accuracy of the event could never be proved.

The Disney version of John Smith, besides being physically different from the historical character, also had a different personality. While the real guy was authoritarian and had a hard character, the fictional Smith is kind and cordial. He was also way older than Pocahontas and they never had a romantic relationship in real life, according to certain documents.

3. The feather in Aladdin’s turban indicated when he was telling a lie.

Aladdin pretended to be Prince Ali, someone he wasn’t, when he first met Jasmine. He feared that she wouldn’t accept him for who he was, so he put on a fake façade, something that really annoyed Jasmine. Not only that, but every time he lied, the feather of his hat would flop over.

4. Li Shang was the first Disney prince to not kiss a princess.

In the first Mulan movie, Li Shang never kissed the protagonist of the story, even though they liked each other. Besides that, he was the first Disney prince to show gratitude and respect for the heroine’s attributes.

5. John Smith did not stay with the princess.

Because John Smith was injured in the first part of Pocahontas, he had to return to England for medical treatment. He invited her to travel with him, but she refused, as she felt she was needed in her tribe.

And in the sequel, Smith invited her to travel the world. Unfortunately, Pocahontas had already overcome her feelings for him, so she again refused. He then decided to let her go and leave on his journey.

6. Flynn was supposed to be an anti-hero.

The producers of Tangled wanted to move away from the classic Disney male hero, considering them “rather soft” at times. So they decided that Flynn, instead of being a prince, should be a charismatic and charming thief, adding a worldly touch to contrast with Rapunzel’s limited view of the outside world.

7. Hans is the only Disney prince to be a villain.

Of all the Disney princes, Hans is the only one who’s actually a villain. This makes him peculiar since he presents himself as a kind person who empathizes with the lonely princess, managing to make her fall in love after their meeting. Thus, he manages to manipulate her to finally reveal his true intentions.

While there were many villains pretending to be good at Disney, the case in Frozen is different, as Hans gave no hint of being evil. Usually, the viewer already knows when a character is evil and pretends to be on the protagonist’s side. But here, Hans managed to hide his true nature until almost the end of the movie.

8. Naveen kissed Tiana more than once.

Almost at the beginning of the movie The Princess and the Frog, Tiana kissed Naveen when he was an animal. However, there were also other occasions when they exchanged kisses, thus being the couple that has kissed the most in Disney movies.

9. Eric was the only Disney prince to become a father.

Although there are several Disney princess movies that had sequels, only in The Little Mermaid was it possible to see the main couple form a family. Prince Eric became the father of a little girl named Melody, whom he cared for with great affection. When she escaped to the bottom of the sea, he even moved an entire fleet to recover her.

10. Aladdin is the only Disney prince to be a leading man.

While there are many films with male protagonists, Aladdin is the only one in the “Disney princess” franchise to feature a prince as the main character. On top of that, he was the first to earn his royal title by marrying a princess.

11. Prince Phillip was the first one that had an actual name.

While in Snow White and Cinderella the princes’ names are never revealed, in Sleeping Beauty it is mentioned at some point in the story. He is also the first in the franchise to have more dialogue than his predecessors and to defeat a villain, thus fulfilling the role of prince and hero.

12. Snow White’s Prince Charming should have had a bigger role in the movie.

Snow White’s prince is perhaps the character with the fewest appearances on screen, as he is only seen at the beginning and end of the movie. It was planned for him to have greater relevance, but due to animation problems, the producers decided to cut his scenes.

13. Kristoff and Li Shang are tertiary characters.

What Li Shang and Kristoff (the Disney princes of Mulan and Frozen) have in common is that they are tertiary characters. Besides that, they also have other similarities such as being thoughtful, shy, and logical, compared to the princesses, who have a more adventurous spirit. And none of them got married until later, in the sequels.

14. Naveen and Beast did not show their human form in most of their films.

The films Beauty and the Beast and The Princess and the Frog have in common that the princes do not show their human appearance for much of the story. While Beast regains his humanity near the end, Prince Naveen is seen as human only at the beginning and during the denouement of the movie.

15. The Beast was inspired by buffalo.

When it came to bringing Beast to life, the creator of the character’s design said he was inspired by the head of a buffalo. But as he did sketches, he also integrated other animals such as a wild boar, a lion, a gorilla, a bear, and a wolf.

His goal was to create an animal-like figure, as he wanted to move away from the alien version of the original story. After taking parts of different creatures, he managed to create an anthropomorphic being that matched the environment in which the film was set.

What do you admire about the Disney princes? Which of them would you like to see in their own movie?

(Source: Bright Side)

Wednesday, 23 February 2022

Winter food: Discovering Lucknow’s obscure black carrot halwa – and Delhi’s rarer white version

 Both variants are markedly less sweet than the popular red gajar halwa.

A few years ago, I discovered Lucknow’s black gajar halwa the old-fashioned way: serendipitously while strolling around the city. After a visit to Rahim Nihari – to dine on the restaurant’s incredible paya, trotters and flaky kulcha – I stumbled out, satiated, and walked down Phool Wali Gali in Chowk. To my left was the beautiful Tehsin Masjid, a 200-year-old mosque, built by a high-ranking noble in the Nawab of Awadh’s administration. Just outside was Rahmat Ali’s sweet shop. It was in this hole-in-the-wall establishment that I discovered the existence of black carrots, which the people of Lucknow grate and turn into a halwa during the winter.

Lucknow's black carrot halwa | Shoaib Daniyal

The halwa was lovely. Slightly warm, it was markedly less sweet than the red carrot halwas I had eaten. The black carrots gave it an earthy taste, which was just a bit astringent on the tongue. It also had no khoya, a common confectionery ingredient across India, which is made by simmering full-fat milk for hours until the moisture evaporates, leaving behind the milk solids. Amir Ali, the owner of Rahmat Ali, had some strong views on the mass use of this ingredient: “It is a sign of laziness,” he said. “The real method is to use milk and reduce that. Since that takes time, people use a shortcut: khoya.”

Warming effect

The Arabic-origin word halwa means a variety of things across West and Central Asia. In India, though, it has always referred to as a lightly spiced, sweet pudding cooked in milk. The red carrot halwa is probably the most famous example of the dish, although several variants – with semolina, mung, chickpea, even egg – exist across the subcontinent.

In this panoply, the black carrot halwa is rare. Black carrots are grown in only a few places in North India. Even in Lucknow – arguably the world capital of this dessert – this halwa is not very well known. The few shops that do sell it are concentrated in the old city. In spite of – or maybe because of – this, the city’s older residents speak of fond associations with the sweet. “Kali gajar ka halwa was cooked in our house a lot when we were children,” said historian Rana Safvi, who grew up in Lucknow. Saad Rizvi, a restaurateur who also runs his own catering business, said it was a wedding season favourite: “At a shaadi, old Lucknow-walahs look for special sweets like kali gajar ka halwa.”

Amir Ali, the owner of Rahmat Ali, with trays of sweetmeats, including black gajar halwa. 

Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal.

The wedding season in Lucknow, as it so happens, falls during peak winter. In the Chaupatiyan neighbourhood, black carrot halwai Shiv Narayan Tiwari aka Tayya maharaj tells me that the sweet is intimately linked to the cold. “Jitna sardi hoi, utna biki,” he explained in Awadhi. The colder it gets, the more the halwa is sold. Tiwari explains this correlation using the “garam taseer” or warming effect of black carrots. Food cultures across India have various interpretations for foods that are hot or cold. The multiple meanings of hot in this context usually refer to something that is physically warming – as Tiwari claims black carrots are – or anything that is difficult to digest. More advanced versions of this theory go on to link emotions, ranging from anger to sexual desire, with the food you eat.

Early carrots

Tiwari takes me to his house, which is right at the back of his shop, and shows me a wicker basket full of black carrots. Squat and deep purple, the vegetable appears disquietingly alien after a lifetime of cheery red and orange carrots.

Black/purple carrots in a Lucknow halwai shop. Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal.

Ironically though, black/purple carrots were the first carrots humans managed to grow – a feat accomplished not that far from Awadh, in Afghanistan. The carrots were incredibly high in anthocyanin, which gave them their dark colour – a pigment also present in other similarly coloured foods like brinjals and blackcurrants. Black carrots were, for the longest time, the only carrots humans knew of. So when Roman Emperor Caligula, frequently portrayed in history as a sadist tyrant, fed carrots to his Senate in the hope of sparking off an orgy (the root vegetable was thought to be an aphrodisiac due to its somewhat phallic shape), they were probably similar to the ones stocked in Tiwari’s house.

By the turn of the first millennium, writes the monomaniacally thorough World Carrot Museum, red and yellow mutant variations were bred from the original black. The red version is India’s most common cultivar, simply called “desi gajar” or local carrot in Hindi and Urdu. The West’s most common version – that I first saw in a Bugs Bunny cartoon film – appeared in the 1500s in the Netherlands, as a sweet orange cultivar that was bred from the earlier yellow ones. Orange carrots have become easier to find in India over the past few decades. They are frequently called Ooty carrots, referring to a major centre of their cultivation in India.

Six colours of carrots. Photo credit: World Carrot Museum.

White knight

The black carrot fell out of favour in the West, driven at least partly by anti-anthocyanin colourism: being water soluble, its pigment often ran, staining dishes and pottages. It did survive in some places though, even if barely. In Lucknow, confectioners mention the region of Malihabad as a centre of production. Punjabis also consume black carrots in the form of kanji – a fermented drink with chopped carrots, mustard powder and ginger, believed to do wonders for digestion. Coincidentally, another black carrot fermented juice, salgam, is popular in Turkey.

White carrot halwa at Old Delhi's Shireen Bhawan. Photo credit: Shoaib Daniyal.

Even in North India, the black carrot is rare, and its only dish – the root is not used in savoury preparations – the halwa, is scarce. Delhi, close enough to Lucknow to share language and poets, has no black carrot halwa. But, as city historian Sohail Hashmi says, Delhi has its own eccentric take on the dessert: a white carrot version. “It was very popular once upon a time,” said Hashmi. “Especially at weddings.” The red halwa only came to the city after Partition, he says, with the Punjabi refugees from Pakistan.

The white variety is now near-extinct and available commercially at very few places. One of those is Shireen Bhawan, a sweet shop in Old Delhi. Keshavanand, a cook at Shireen, is full of praise for the white carrot: he claims it does not shrink when cooked, unlike its more craven red cousin. I tasted some: it was true. The carrots held their own with a more granular mouthfeel. And like the black variant, this halwa was markedly less sweet than its red counterpart.

Which is of course not to say that the red version doesn’t taste excellent, commonplace though it might be. Winter is a time for culinary indulgence. And halwas – of any colour – are a must. To riff off from a politician who is a lovely carotene orange colour himself: make carrots grate again.

(Source: Scroll)

Monday, 21 February 2022

From Panchatantra to Popeye, we owe our liking to food because of tales and cartoons

Kheer, khichdi, and Scooby snacks, the many foods that played a role in our childhood.

Have you ever wondered what the rose apple from Panchatantra’s ‘the monkey and the crocodile’ tastes like? Or what you could eat from the picnic spread in Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series? Even the plump, shiny, red apple from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves looked appetising, although it was poisoned. A lot about food has been seeped into our minds at a very young age – be it through cartoons, fairy tales, comic books, folklore, rhymes and bedtime stories.

From the witch’s house made of gingerbread, cake, and candy in Hansel and Gretel to Raja Hooja’s laddoos in Tinkle comics’ Tantri the Mantri, these stories were written with an idea that goes beyond just being a casual read….

A lot about food has seeped into our minds at a very young age... Image Credit: Shutterstock

A means to connect, eat and learn about food

Gulf News Food caught up with Rakesh Raghunathan, a food historian and raconteur based out of Chennai in India, who said that food bridged the gap between people, especially because people were opening up to the idea of various regional meals. “Folklores helped people connect to food easily, be it through temple prasadams or just prepared at home. The Hindu mythology, especially, had a very strong role in shaping meal patterns, where they would talk about how deities like certain ingredients like butter and dairy, which encourage people to eat the same. It also brought to light what was available in that region.

“If you look at ancient texts in Sangam literature from Tamil Nadu, it’s not just about how old certain ingredients are, it also emphasises how they are used in cooking. When it comes to children, these tales helped in getting them to eat, of course, but it helped in getting them to understand the ingredients and stir their imagination. Like the moral-based story of the grand mum, crow and fox really helped in picturing what a vada looks like.”

Raghunathan highlights that most of these stories follow a very similar pattern as well. “It would often be moral-based stories, with animals as the protagonists and the story would often surround food. I think it is a great way to help children understand their food better. Today, it’s much more elaborate and I think children like that a lot.”

We also spoke to 40-year-old Ratika Bhargava, who runs a social media page called 'CauldronSisterss' with her sister Riccha Khetan, which feature Indian food recipes inspired by fables and fairy tales. The sisters, who are from Jaipur in Rajasthan, India, said these folktales and stories shaped their passion for all things food. “When my sister and I were young, our grandmother used to tell us a lot of stories. She was paralysed at the time, but she always told us stories from Panchatantra when we went up to her.

“One story which we fondly remember is ‘Ganesh ji ki kheer’. The story is basically that the Hindu deity Ganesh takes the form of a little boy and comes to a village, where the people are getting ready to prepare for Ganeshotsav or the festival of Ganesh. Seeing this from the skies above, the deity Ganesh, decides to have a little fun with the people and disguised himself as a small, poor boy. As he descended from the skies in his new form, all he had with him was teaspoon of milk, a grain of rice and a pinch of sugar. While he went around the village asking for someone to help him make kheer or rice pudding, all the villagers mocked him except for an old woman.

“She helps the little boy out by making kheer out of what he has and suddenly the vessel starts overflowing with kheer. It’s a story that made us try out kheer for the first time and we would eat saying it’s a blessing from Ganesh. The idiom, ‘ganeshji ki kheer ho gayi hai’, is also often used among our families, when something happens in abundance. It’s because of this story that we actually understood that you only need three ingredients to make this dish.”

Bhargava believes that food stories hold the power to strengthen one’s relationship with food. She also added that it adds to the culinary choices we make growing up.

“Another story which really stuck to us was Birbal’s Khichri. We have loved khichri since then, and today we’ve experimented with it so much that we have over 60 ways to make it,” she added.

Stories layered with many meanings

These stories used food as a means to encourage children to eat their meals, learn about different kinds of food, thus reducing the fuss that comes in eating and finishing a meal. In addition to this, it also told of social issues along with a region’s culinary traditions and practises.

Raghunathan fondly remembers the story of kozhukattai, a rice dumpling made with a sweet filling using coconut, jaggery and cardamom, which was told to him by his mum, as a child. “The story of kozhukkattai is actually a tale of many meanings. The story talks about a man who eats a kozhukattai and learns about its name for the first time. On his way back home, he repeats it to himself in order to remember it. However, he jumps across a small stream of water and utters the word ‘athiribacha’ during the jump, forgetting what he had memorised. So, when he reaches home, he tells his wife he loved eating athiribacha and she should make it for him.

“Unable to understand what he meant, the husband beats her up, outraged by her impudence. Soon, the couple’s neighbour comes over after hearing the commotion, to which he says after seeing her injured forehead: ‘your head is swollen like a kozhukattai’. This story not only taught children about the dish and its ingredients, but also underlines the problematic issue of patriarchy that was prevalent in the south at the time.”

The story also tells readers about the abundance of rice and the use of coconut in south India. However, Kozhukattai, has a different story in the North, where the protagonist is the Hindu deity Ganesh, and the dumpling goes by the name ukadiche modak.

It’s not just fables, but also cartoons

Have you ever wanted to try Scooby snacks just because Shaggy and Scooby-Doo from the cartoon ‘Scooby-Doo’ ate it? Even the multi-layered ham sandwiches did just fine, right? What about the steak and turkey in ‘Tom and Jerry’? If you have wanted to eat them while you watched these cartoons, you are not alone, because so did these UAE kids.

“Yes, Tom and Jerry and Scooby-Doo had really tasty drawings and animations of food. But what I personally loved was the tubby custard Po made from Teletubbies. I’ve always loved that, and I wish I could make it. The same goes for Ratatouille, after I saw the movie titled with the same name. It was just so amazing to watch Remy [the protagonist] make it, you know? However, when I tried it in real life, I didn’t like it when I ate it, as much as I loved watching it being made. It visually helped me understand a little bit about French cuisine, and now I like watching anything that has food in it,” said 24-year-old Dubai-based Indian expatriate and Gulf News reader Karun Mathew.

“Growing up, Cartoon Network of the 1990s was one of the best things that happened to our generation. For instance, Dexter's Laboratory taught us that science was indeed cool. Or Captain Planet was our first environmental studies professor. But my all-time favourite was hands down Scooby doo, and my favourite characters were Shaggy and Scooby as they always depicted that food, especially sandwiches, gave them a certain level of strength to face any problem and get out of any situation. Naturally, I followed that and did not fuss about food ever,” explained 28-year-old Murtaza M P, an Indian expatriate based in Dubai.

“It did not make me hungry as much as it taught me about the importance of eating good food. In my head, food gave us power, hungry or not, you should eat the right foods to be able to function and conquer any situation. When I was a kid and even now, I experiment with sandwiches, it’s the fastest thing to make and watching them mixing different foods together would just help me experiment with my palette, for instance creating my own chicken and waffle sandwich. However, my love for food expanded when I started watching Anime. I watch them on my days off and surprisingly some of them are actual shows that have soulful stories about people and food for instance – shows such as Yakitate, are quite interesting,” he added.

The portrayal of food in her son’s cartoons encouraged 30-year-old Sakina Rokadia, another Indian expat in Dubai, to make hot dogs for her son. “I actually grew up watching Tom and Jerry – their refrigerator would always be so full with cakes, jelly, sausages and pies – and it would actually make me hungry because it was always showing the two chasing each other and that would make me wonder why they want it to so bad. I remember asking my mum to prepare dishes for me after watching them on TV, especially the big pieces of meat that they would show. In fact, my son asked to me to make hot dog for him after seeing it in a cartoon, and was excited to try an avocado based on a cartoon he had seen.”

Rokadia believes that these cartoons are a great tool for children, especially because it increases the awareness of different foods and cultures. “I don’t mind watching cartoons even now. I think it encourages children to know what different kinds of food is available, especially those that are far from the foods that we eat in our culture,” she concluded.

Do you have a dish you love to eat after watching a cartoon or reading a children’s book?

(Source: Gulf News)

Sunday, 20 February 2022

As BA.2 subvariant of Omicron rises, lab studies point to signs of severity

The BA.2 virus -- a subvariant of the Omicron coronavirus variant -- isn't just spreading faster than its distant cousin, it may also cause more severe disease and appears capable of thwarting some of the key weapons we have against Covid-19, new research suggests.

New lab experiments from Japan show that BA.2 may have features that make it as capable of causing serious illness as older variants of Covid-19, including Delta.

And like Omicron, it appears to largely escape the immunity created by vaccines. A booster shot restores protection, making illness after infection about 74% less likely.

BA.2 is also resistant to some treatments, including sotrovimab, the monoclonal antibody that's currently being used against Omicron.

The findings were posted Wednesday as a preprint study on the bioRxiv server, before peer review. Normally, before a study is published in medical journal, it is scrutinized by independent experts. Preprints allow research to be shared more quickly, but they are posted before that additional layer of review.

"It might be, from a human's perspective, a worse virus than BA.1 and might be able to transmit better and cause worse disease," says Dr. Daniel Rhoads, section head of microbiology at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. Rhoads reviewed the study but was not involved in the research.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is keeping close watch on BA.2, said its director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky.

"There is no evidence that the BA.2 lineage is more severe than the BA.1 lineage. CDC continues to monitor variants that are circulating both domestically and internationally," she said Friday. "We will continue to monitor emerging data on disease severity in humans and findings from papers like this conducted in laboratory settings."

BA.2 is highly mutated compared with the original Covid-causing virus that emerged in Wuhan, China. It also has dozens of gene changes that are different from the original Omicron strain, making it as distinct from the most recent pandemic virus as the Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Delta variants were from each other.

Kei Sato, a researcher at the University of Tokyo who conducted the study, argues that these findings prove that BA.2 should not be considered a type of Omicron and that it needs to be more closely monitored.

"As you may know, BA.2 is called 'stealth Omicron,' " Sato told CNN. That's because it doesn't show up on PCR tests as an S-gene target failure, the way Omicron does. Labs therefore have to take an extra step and sequence the virus to find this variant.

"Establishing a method to detect BA.2 specifically would be the first thing" many countries need to do, he says.

"It looks like we might be looking at a new Greek letter here," agreed Deborah Fuller, a virologist at the University of Washington School of Medicine, who reviewed the study but was not part of the research.

Mixed real-world data on subvariant's severity

BA.2 has been estimated to be about 30% more contagious than Omicron, according to the World Health Organization. It has been detected in 74 countries and 47 US states.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about 4% of Americans with Covid-19 now have infections caused by BA.2, but many other parts of the world have more experience with this variant. It has become dominant in at least 10 other countries: Bangladesh, Brunei, China, Denmark, Guam, India, Montenegro, Nepal, Pakistan and the Philippines, according to World Health Organization's weekly epidemiological report.

However, there's mixed evidence on the severity of BA.2 in the real world. Hospitalizations continue to decline in countries where BA.2 has gained a foothold, like South Africa and the UK. But in Denmark, where BA.2 has become the leading cause of infections, hospitalizations and deaths are rising, according to WHO.

Resistant to monoclonal antibody treatments

The new study found that BA.2 can copy itself in cells more quickly than BA.1, the original version of Omicron. It's also more adept at causing cells to stick together. This allows the virus to create larger clumps of cells, called syncytia, than BA.1. That's concerning because these clumps then become factories for churning out more copies of the virus. Delta was also good at creating syncytia, which is thought to be one reason it was so destructive to the lungs.

When the researchers infected hamsters with BA.2 and BA.1, the animals infected with BA.2 got sicker and had worse lung function. In tissues samples, the lungs of BA.2-infected hamsters had more damage than those infected by BA.1.

Similar to the original Omicron, BA.2 was capable of breaking through antibodies in the blood of people who'd been vaccinated against Covid-19. It was also resistant to the antibodies of people who'd been infected with Covid-19 early in the pandemic, including Alpha and Delta. And BA.2 was almost completely resistant to some monoclonal antibody treatments.

But there was a bright spot: Antibodies in the blood of people who'd recently had Omicron also seemed to have some protection against BA.2, especially if they'd also been vaccinated.

And that raises an important point, Fuller says. Even though BA.2 seems more contagious and pathogenic than Omicron, it may not wind up causing a more devastating wave of Covid-19 infections.

"One of the caveats that we have to think about as we get new variants that might seem more dangerous is the fact that there's two sides to the story," Fuller says.

The virus matters, she says, but as its would-be hosts, so do we.

"Our immune system is evolving as well. And so that's pushing back on things," she said.

Right now, she says, we're in a race against the virus, and the key question is, who's in the lead?

"What we will ultimately want is to have the host be ahead of the virus. In other words, our immunity, be a step ahead of the next variant that comes out, and I don't know that we're quite there yet," she said.

For that reason, Fuller says, she feels like it's not quite time for communities to lift mask mandates.

"Before this thing came out, we were about 10 feet away from the finish line," she said. "Taking off the masks now is not a good idea. It's just going to extend it. Let's get to the finish line."

(Source: CNN)