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  • 11/19/17--16:48: The Bohemian rhapsody
  • The latest collection from Global Desi is categorised under two sections - The Global Desi Fall and Global Desi Festive collection.

    The Global Desi Fall is for the free-spirited, modern woman of today. Here, the garments come in eclectic motifs, modern silhouettes and soft fabrics with a mix of styles, cuts, and prints.The Global Desi Festive collection features crop tops, skirts, dresses, coordinates and kurtas in both light and dark hues, with foil prints adding just the right amount of sparkle. The fabrics play with each other with velvet taking centre stage, offering an opulent yet edgy touch.

    Elaborating on the collection, Anita Dongre, chief creative officer at House of Anita Dongre Limited, says the latest offering consists of flat knits which are enhanced with abstract pattern jacquards, dimensional quilted-textured layering and woven fabrics in decorative techniques along with India-inspired prints. "We have always derived inspiration from India in our design methods. We cater to a diverse audience, offering a variety of silhouettes to suit their needs. You can pick and choose between our dhoti-pants, palazzos and trousers to style with a crop top, tunic or a kurta," says Anita.

    There are maxi dresses, tops, tunics and jumpsuits for winter. There is also an interesting mix of capes and jackets in colour palettes of deep red, indigo, black and steel grey.

    The brand also accessories, that are designed keeping in mind the trends and consumer preferences. "The collection includes a range of Bohemian accessories that enhance the boho chic style. There are handbags, belts and scarves in vibrant colours and attractive prints and motifs," says Anita.

    She adds that the jewellery with tassel detailing perfectly expresses ones boho style.


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    Grace, elegance and needlecraft shimmer - these are some of the hallmarks of designer Sonaakshi Raajs creations. A firm believer in catering to people with a sense of style, irrespective of age, Sonaakshi is a Bollywood favourite with names like Deepika Padukone, Kriti Sanon, Sonam Kapoor and Jacqueline Fernandez figuring in her client list. She was also the stylist for movies like Heropanti and Munna Michael.

    Her collection was recently exhibited at the fashion and lifestyle exhibition Divalicious, the brainchild of Vanita Bhatia, that was held in the city for the first time. The celebrated designer spoke to Rajitha Menon about her new collection and more.

    What would be a quintessential Sonaakshi Raaj creation?

    A quintessential Sonaakshi Raaj creation would be a form flattering, drapey or structured feminine yet sexy silhouette.

    When did you know that you wanted to be in the fashion industry?

    Ever since I was a child. Way back, during the early years of my schooling I realised I wanted to be a designer.

    What is your idea of style?

    Style is always about ones personality and never about trends.

    If you could recreate an iconic look by giving it your own twist...

    Speaking of iconic looks the first thing that comes to my mind is Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. I loved the cut waist bodysuit with shorts and thigh high boots. Maybe I could give an evening look to the silhouette by giving it a black pallet and adding chrome studs.

    Favourite celebrity muse?

    It would be difficult to name just one. Each woman that I have designed for has a special place because of their distinct personality and sense of style. Some of them are Deepika Padukone, Sonam Kapoor, Jaquelines Fernandes, Malaika Arora and Bipasha Basu.

    Tell us about your new collection.

    My new collection Skin can be described as modern whimsical line. It is a peep show with embellished sheer silhouettes that weave like a dream around a womans body. It has our signature elegance with eloquent drapes.

    Misconceptions that people have about a fashion designer...

    That its a glamorous life. But theres a lot of handwork, challenges and hours of endless work that goes into it. But then, life wouldnt be fun without challenges.

    What garment would you personally be most uncomfortable in?

    May be a bikini. But Id love to design them.

    What do you do in your free time?

    Watch movies. I love films, they are a source of inspiration for me.


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  • 11/19/17--16:54: Exploring the unknown
  • Exploring the unknown

    Bengaluru-based band Blushing Satellite has carved a niche for itself in the music circuit over the years. The band members believe that it is their urge to explore new tunes and connect with the audience that has set them apart from the other bands of their time.

    The band is led by Ramanan Chandramouli on guitar and has Arjun Ramdas on bass, Prabhu Muraleedharan on drums and Mahesh Raghunandan on vocals and guitars. Ramanan Chandramouli takes time off to talk about what inspires them to make music and more.

    What was the inspiration to form a band?

    It was out of desperation that I decided to put this band together. I wanted to form a group of musicians whose only purpose was to create and lose themselves in music. There is no desire for success, fame or money; only pure expression.

    How do you describe yourself as a band?

    We approach music as a spiritual experience and look at it as a form of catharsis for us as well as the listener. We believe in writing songs that do not follow a cliched format of verse and chorus that most follow, but instead choose to invite the audience on an inward journey through melodic soundscapes and intricate rhythms, inspired by African and African American music.

    What makes your band different?

    I think there are lot of bands playing metal and rock in Bengaluru. But the focus of our music is on the groove. The rhythm section, that is bass and drums, provide the focal point for the entire arrangement and composition. This is not the case with most bands where the focus is more on the guitar or the vocals. Our lyrics are also heavily based on eastern philosophy.

    What according to you is the definition of music?

    Good music is that which makes your mind stop and you are left suspended in a beautiful space, lost in it. Our manifestation is music made of vibration, intervals and rhythms.

    What defines you as a band?

    Our eagerness to explore the unknown and discover ourselves in the process. All answers lie within that which is infinite and intangible.

    You just released your first album... tell us about it.

    Our debut album is called The Union. The title refers to the union of Shiva and Shakthi, Yin and Yang, ego with the higher self and vibration with silence. The music is a humble offering to the universal mothers
    unconditional love. The album is meant for turning the attention inward and bringing about peace and healing.

    Why did you decide to call yourselves Blushing Satellite?

    Blushing Satellite refers to someone who has a crush on you and they are constantly revolving around you in their thoughts.

    How has the music scene in Bengaluru helped you grow as a band?

    The feeling of home brings about a different emotion and a higher dimension within you as a performer.
    Its nice to have familiar faces in the crowd rooting for you and cheering you on. We also enjoy getting out of the city to play at music festivals which are held in nature and away from the noise and chaos.

    Where are you performing at the moment?

    We are currently performing at IndiEarth Xchange 2017 in Chennai. Its a great platform that provides for networking and broadens our perspectives on the world of music.

    What kind of crowd do you like?

    Our only expectation from every gig is for a respectful audience so that we may channel the highest and purest expression of ourselves.


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  • 11/19/17--17:00: A reel life crisis
  • Sanjay Leela Bhansalis magnum opus Padmavati has been mired in controversy since the beginning. Right-wing groups have been protesting against the movie for the alleged portrayal of Rajput queen Rani Padmini in bad light. Now the Censor Board has added to Sanjay Leela Bhansalis woes by rejecting his application for the movie, citing "technical deficiencies" in the form. Bengalureans share their thoughts on the issue with Metrolife.

    Ashcharya Prabhu, Freelance marketing consultant
    "I feel people should let it go. Filmmaking is a dedicated process which needs a lot of hard work. The filmmaker is trying to give us a story - watch the film for the love of cinema rather than looking at historical elements. Even in history, we are not absolutely sure of what is fact and what is fiction. These stories are passed down over generations and nobody knows how much of it is actually true and concrete."

    Sadhana Upadhya, Actor
    "These protests are baseless. The movie is not even been released yet. Then how can anyone comment on content? If people had felt that their culture is being distorted after watching the movie and then protested, it would have made more sense. Every movie involves a lot of effort and a responsible filmmaker would do some research."

    Nagacharan, Filmmaker
    "These are all speculations. How can they decide anything without watching the film? It hurts to see that the independence of a filmmaker is taken away with such protests. There is a lot of research that is done before one decides to make a movie. The small groups who are raking up these issues are just using these protests as a platform to become popular."

    Tony DCruz, Businessman
    "These protests are a way to create a hype just before the release of the movie. I have read an article on the internet and there is no record of any relationship between Alauddin Khilji and Padmini. If they have shown something like that in the movie, then it is purposely done to provoke. The more controversial it is, more the excitement and curiosity.

    (As told to Surupasree Sarmmah)


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    When ancient evil returns from the shadows to conquer Earth, six brave people must unite to defeat it and protect their home and the people they care about.

    Oh, how the year ends for comic book movies. This year alone, we have had 4 films based on Marvel properties, with all of them being received well by critics and fans. On the other hand, theres DC, with far less luck and just one universally loved film so far. So hopes werent high when Justice League came along, with the rumours of significant reshoots, major plot points cut or consolidated, and a particularly critical aspect removed entirely.

    However, it seems DC has managed to present a film that can be considered a good reprieve from the doom and gloom of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Justice League is here, and it is ready to help save the DC cinematic universe.

    Picking off pretty close to right where Batman v Superman ended (with the world mourning the death of Superman), Justice League carries us through the adventures of Bruce, concerned about Lex Luthors prediction before he sent the man to Arkham, and Diana, who is just trying to save people and be in the shadows. Clearly, Steve Trevor still haunts her, and Batman makes a point to rub salt into that particular wound at one point, as the veteran Dark Knight and the immortal Amazon try to recruit super-powered individuals to combat a threat that no one is equipped for, what with Superman being dead and all.

    Of course, nothing ever works perfectly in this world, though Barry is the exception, and the two have more trouble than they can afford to try to get the team together. But when the aforementioned evil, Steppenwolf, comes to light to reclaim three Mother Boxes to transform Earth into Apokolips, even the most reluctant must come together after having their backsides handed to them by the obnoxiously tall person who commands an army of bugs with guns.

    The films characters come together beautifully when they do, even when their beef is with each other than the greater problem, but unfortunately, the film fails to address the long-running problem of the underwhelming villain who exists only to be punched into oblivion. Steppenwolf may have a towering physique, but his presence is scantly felt; the Parademons feel like a much bigger threat than himself, even though he is able to kill Green Lanterns and fight the Old Gods head-on with little worry.

    The plot is definitely one of the films stronger points, despite the lacklustre bad guy. From the way the film handled a world without Superman to the flashback of Steppenwolfs first invasion to the final act (well, for once, Hollywood chose an area that isnt China or the US for the endgame), everything comes together in a cohesive way, a far cry from Batman v Superman, perhaps because the film is more focused about where to go, while BvS felt like it was too busy setting up multiple branches in case something went wrong going forward to focus on the core story. The reshoots definitely seem to have helped in some cases, though cutting away most of Aquaman and Cyborgs backstories doesnt help the film a lot.

    However, the soundtrack is definitely not something that can be praised. Danny Elfmans Batman theme from 1989 and Rupert Gregson-Williamss excellent tribal theme of Wonder Woman aside, there is hardly anything that stands out. The films credits surprised me more because it mentioned John Williams classic Superman theme from the Christopher Reeves era, but I fail to recall any moment where I heard it in the film.

    Overall, the film achieved what it set out to do: Create the Justice League, give us just that little tease of the real big bad (solid confession: I geeked out good when Steppenwolf said "For Darkseid"), hinting at potential allies for the fully-formed team, and most of all, showing a Superman who is finally true to the comics, in both appearance and character. For this film, I would recommend staying until the credits end.

    What works: The League, the plot
    Whats meh: The villain
    What doesnt work: The soundtrack

    Score: 8/10.Justice League Review: A good film, bogged down by the villain problem

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  • 11/09/17--18:34: Good vegan, bad vegan
  • I have no argument with people who adopt a vegetarian or vegan diet for health, religious, environmental or ethical reasons. But I object to proselytisers who distort science or the support for dietary advice offered to the more than 90% of us who choose to consume animal foods, including poultry and red meat, in reasonable amounts.

    Such is the case with a recently released Netflix documentary called What the Health that several well-meaning, health-conscious friends urged me to watch. And I did try, until I became so infuriated by misstatements - like eating an egg a day is as bad as smoking five cigarettes, or a daily serving of processed meat raises the risk of diabetes 51% - that I had to quit for the sake of my health.

    The argument

    Please understand: I do not endorse inhumane treatment of farm animals or wanton pollution of the environment with animal wastes and misused antibiotics and pesticides. Agricultural research has long shown better ways to assure an adequate food supply if only regulators would force commercial operations to adopt them.

    Nor do I endorse careless adoption of vegetarian or vegan diets for their names sake. A vegan who consumes no animal products can be just as unhealthy living on inappropriately selected plant foods as an omnivore who dines heavily on burgers and chicken nuggets. A vegan diet laden with refined grains like white rice and bread; juices and sweetened drinks; cookies, chips and crackers; and dairy-free ice cream is hardly a healthful way to eat.

    Current dietary guidelines from responsible, well-informed sources already recommend that we should all adopt a plant-based diet rich in foods that originate in the ground, "fleshed out" with low-fat protein sources from animals or combinations of beans and grains. However, here too careless food and beverage selections can result in an unhealthful plant-based diet.

    A large study recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology examined the relationship between plant-based diets of varying quality and the risk of developing coronary heart disease among more than 200,000 health professionals. The participants, who started the study free of chronic disease, were followed for more than two decades, submitting their dietary patterns to the researchers every two years.

    Based on their responses on food-frequency questionnaires, the participants diets were characterised by the team as an overall plant-based diet that emphasised plant foods over animal foods; a healthful plant-based diet emphasising healthful plant foods; or an unhealthful plant-based diet. Any of the diets could have included various amounts of animal products.

    Healthful plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, as well as vegetable oils, coffee and tea, received a positive score; less-healthful plant foods like juices, sweetened beverages, refined grains, fries and sweets, along with animal foods, received a negative rating.

    A logical conclusion

    The more closely the participants adhered to a healthful plant-based diet, the less likely they were to develop heart disease in the course of the study. Those with the least healthful plant-based diet were, on average, 32% more likely to be given diagnoses of heart disease. In a prior study, the researchers found a similar reduction in the risk of Type 2 diabetes. The team, led by Ambika Satija of Harvards Department of Nutrition, concluded that "not all plant foods are necessarily beneficial for health."

    In other words, you dont have to become a strict vegetarian to protect your heart. Simply reducing your dependence on animal foods, and especially avoiding those high in fat, is helpful. In fact, "a diet that emphasised both healthy plant and healthy animal foods" was associated with a coronary risk only slightly higher than a diet based almost entirely on healthy plant foods, the researchers found.

    On the other hand, overdoing "less healthy plant foods" and less healthy animal foods like red and processed meats, the study showed, significantly increased the risk of developing heart disease.

    The more plants and the fewer animal products you eat, the lower your carbon footprint. But to be truly beneficial, the plants you choose must be nutrient rich.

    Short of becoming a vegan, you can improve your diet, protect your health and add variety to your meals with a few dietary adjustments.

    Making veganism easier

    For most, veganism as a concept, comes from a sense of responsibility: towards animals or animal products and towards the need for a healthier lifestyle. While many have considered turning vegan at some point, the most predominant reason why people dont go through with it, is because they consider it difficult to maintain a vegan diet. However, being conscious and keeping these few things in mind can help you become a vegan:

    * Dont forget your proteins: Once you give up the meats, eggs and milk products, you may end up depriving your body of protein. While plant-based foods can provide you the required amount, remember to include adequate amounts in your daily
    diet.

    * Dont limit your food choices: Most of us assume that becoming vegan limits our food options. This, however, is a myth. There are alternatives for almost everything. For instance, milk can be replaced with soya or almond milk. Eggs and paneer can be swapped with tofu, and meats can be replaced with soya chunks or nuggets.

    * Avoid processed snacks: It is easy to fall prey to the processed food available off the shelves, for mid-meal snacking. However, processed foods are usually high in sodium or sugars, which make them unhealthy. Vegan foods like sunflower/flax seeds and almonds are fuss free, convenient snacks that can be eaten anywhere and anytime.

    * Drinking water is not passé: While veganism does increase your consumption of fruits, including those with a high water content, you must still strive to consume at least two litres of water every day. If you get bored or tired of drinking plain water, you can mix it up by adding slices of citrus fruits or add mashed fruits like strawberries, cranberries, or slices of cucumber.

    * Start small: Going vegan can be a big adjustment for your body and can make you uncomfortable. Try starting your transition by being a part-time vegan - keep one meal/snack time in a day wherein you will consume moderate servings of non-vegan foods that you have been used to. Gradually decrease your cheat days from once a day to once a week and so on.

    Madhuri Ruia
    (The author is a nutritionist)


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  • 11/09/17--18:38: Cure through music
  • Eleven-year-old Ankit is diagnosed with autism and showed self-injurious and agitated disruptive behaviour. After six music interventions of listening to fast-paced classical music, he showed a decrease in baseline anxiety-related behaviour patterns. After two years, he now eagerly looks forward to music therapy sessions.
    Music therapy is a process wherein music is used to resolve behavioural issues. Whether the patient needs help socially, cognitively, physically, emotionally, or developmentally, music can help achieve the required goal. It has been proved that the foetus responds to sound from the 24-26th week of pregnancy. While sounds are greatly altered as they pass from the outside world to the ear of the foetus, there is more than sufficient stimulation to be heard in the womb. Specific sounds heard by the foetus in the womb provide a strong foundation for later learning and behaviour.

    The cognitive neuroscience of music shows that when making music, the sensory cortex, auditory cortex, hippocampus, visual cortex, cerebellum, amygdala, prefrontal cortex, and motor cortex are all firing at once and this relates to the multi-sensory experience of making music because each of these sensory systems is tied into a specific part of the brain.

    Children who undergo musical training have better verbal memory, second language pronunciation accuracy, reading ability and executive functions. Learning to play an instrument as a child may even predict academic performance and IQ in young adulthood. One of the most significant benefits today is the positive potential of classical music, especially towards children with special needs.

    Autism

    Music can be an engaging and attractive intervention for children with autism. Research has shown that 80% to 90% of individuals with autism respond positively to music as a motivator. The application of music can be used to enhance attending behaviours and reduce distractibility, and to engage the child. Autistic children, though deficient in language, are generally able to process music as well as children their age who do not suffer from a learning disability. This often makes music of special interest to autistic child.

    Down syndrome

    Down syndrome is an autosomal abnormality caused by an additional chromosome 21. Children with Down syndrome have specific physical abnormalities from birth, and may have heart defects, visual impairments, and immune system deficiencies. One of the most important therapies for Down syndrome children is auditory therapy. Down syndrome children have great difficulty in auditory vocal processing. They have trouble learning to coordinate the movements of the lips and tongue that are required for speech. Music is a key element of the auditory therapy needed by Down syndrome children. Most music therapists use classical music in auditory therapy because of how it stimulates the brain and calms the nervous system at the same time.

    Cerebral palsy

    Here, brain damage is caused by brain injury or abnormal development of the brain that occurs while a childs brain is still developing - before birth, during birth, or immediately after. Cerebral palsy affects body movement, muscle control, muscle coordination, muscle tone, reflex, posture and balance. Research has shown that music therapy helps with alertness because the beat or rhythm of the music helps a child build connections within the brain that help them concentrate and focus.

    Learning disabilities

    Classical music provides benefit to all children because of its ability to create pathways in the brain, stimulate the brain and calm the nervous system. Improved ability to focus, concentrate and remain calm are positive affects for children with hyperactivity disorders, Aspergers syndrome and ADD. In addition, the stimulation of the brain and creation of new pathways may help these children to improve their ability to perform certain tasks, especially spatially related tasks.

    (The author is a child mental health practitioner & a musician)


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  • 11/19/17--20:16: Battling speech disorders
  • Stuttering, puberphonia (a man speaking in a high-pitched voice post-puberty) and other communication disorders have a lot of misconceptions surrounding them. For instance, the notion that, stuttering is caused by a lack of confidence or a person with puberphonia is effeminate. The people ought to know that these are treatable conditions. Radhika Poovayya, director, Samvaad, says ,"Our movies depict people with stuttering in a negative light. They are often the butt of jokes and are portrayed as less confident. We want the Censor Board to ensure accurate and realistic portrayal of stuttering and other speech disorders." She has petitioned the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting through Change.org towards the cause. She is the right person to do so because in her long career as a speech pathologist, she has witnessed several adults and children struggle with faltering speech, and has treated many of them successfully.

    Camps and rallies

    This is not the first time that Samvaad is creating awareness about communication disorders. It has conducted rallies against noise pollution, held camps in rural areas about early identification of hearing loss and staged a flash mob. "Creating awareness about the field, although very important, is just one aspect of our activities. We have diagnostic and therapeutic facilities for the entire range of speech and hearing disorders and offer a Bachelors and a Masters programme in speech pathology and audiology. We also conduct infant hearing screenings at local hospitals," says Radhika. Besides being a speech pathologist and audiologist, she is a trained behaviour therapist.

    Samvaad was started in 2005 with affiliation to Bangalore University and recognition from the Rehabilitation Council of India. Its academic programmes are much appreciated by the students. Many of the alumni have found good jobs in India and abroad. Over the years, the institute has also seen a steady rise in the number of patients, and now there are therapy centres in Domlur and Marathahalli. With the help of local doctors, they recently conducted a speech and hearing camp in Chitradurga district.

    At the institute, children with autism, cerebral palsy, mental retardation and communication disorders undergo diagnostic testing and then receive therapy. Auditory Verbal Therapy (AVT) is also offered to children with hearing loss, specially those who have undergone Cochlear Implantation surgery. Cochlear Implants (CI) are electronic devices that directly stimulate the inner ear and benefit even those with a profound degree of hearing loss. They are expensive and Samvaad foundation, which oversees the social service activities of the institute, has managed to raise funds for needy children, those who had not benefited from conventional hearing aids. Samvaad has tied up with the Alexander Graham Bell Association for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing in USA, a well-known name in the field of rehabilitation of hearing-impaired children, to train its staff in AVT.

    Adults also form a significant portion of Samvaad clientele. Those with hearing loss, speech and language disorders, voice disorders or even swallowing difficulties benefit from individual therapies provided at the institute. While the above-mentioned activities are all based at the institute, Samvaad also wishes to take its services to the community itself. For this, it conducts regular speech and hearing camps. It also has outreach units at five primary healthcare centres in Bengaluru, where the staff works with grass roots level workers. A neuro-rehab centre for stroke patients is also being run. Patients referred by government hospitals are charged only a nominal fee.

    Success stories

    When Jayaraman, a successful businessman, had a stroke and developed aphasia (inability to speak after a stroke) his family was devastated. Over six months Jayaraman slowly improved. With rigorous and persistent training from therapists and full involvement of the family, he is now able to speak in short sentences and has even returned to work. Geethas daughter was not speaking or walking even at the age of three. Having been told earlier that the child has mental retardation and unable to take the child to distant centres, she had given up hope. At Samvaad, she was offered a helpers job. Now Geethas daughter has started saying a few words and with a job in hand, Geetha is urging her previously reluctant husband to take the child to a physiotherapist. She is confident that the child will walk soon.

    While success stories like these are many, there are also those who dont benefit. Seeking treatment very late or not following the instructions can result in less than satisfactory outcomes. Speech and language therapy takes time and effort. The earlier a child is brought the better. Even adults who have concerns with regard to their communication should seek professional help at the earliest. For more information, visit, samvaadinstitute.org.


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  • 11/19/17--20:24: A sculptural splendour
  • While travelling from Hassan to Arasikere, you will pass through many sleepy villages and most of them have lesser-known marvels of Hoysala temple architecture. One such village is Haranahalli, which is 35 km from Hassan and 8 km from Arasikere. It houses two modestly sized Hoysala temples. The first one I visited was the Someshwara Temple. In typical Hoysala style, it is built on a platform which not only adds to the visual beauty, but also provides the devotees a path for circumambulation around the temple. Unfortunately, the platform is in a bad state with loose stones.

    The temple has a star-shaped shrine (ekakuta) connected to a hall through a vestibule. The hall has screens in front and is closed at the back. The sanctum houses a linga and the hall has some minor shrines. The tower atop the sanctum is not too ornate and the kalasa, which is usually placed at the apex of the tower, is missing. There are plants growing out of the tower too. The priest mentioned that this was already leading to water seeping into the sanctum.

    From the rear, the temple looks like it is a trikuta (three shrines). The wall images are good but not comparable to the ones in Belur or Halebidu. The base has six friezes of various animals and creepers, but they are incomplete at most places. The interior of the temple is richly decorated. Unfortunately, two later additions mar the beauty of temple - a large bull above the southern entrance and a small shrine attached to the lateral entrance of the temple.

    A few hundred metres from this temple, across the road, is the other temple which is a Vaishnava one and is surprisingly well-maintained. It is complete and devoid of later additions and is definitely the better of the two. Both the temples date back to about 1235 AD and are built with soapstone. The Lakshmi Narasimha (or Keshava) Temple is a trikuta with three shrines located around a common hall with the central east-facing shrine given more importance. The southern shrine houses Venugopala, the northern shrine houses Lakshmi Narasimha and the eastern shrine houses Keshava. All the three idols are finely carved in black stone and are a treat to the eyes. The doorways to the shrines too are carved to perfection. Only the central shrine has a tower and a nose. The tower, though complete, lacks the kalasa, and is devoid of the usual ornamentation. The front of the hall is partially open with screens. The temple is as usual built on a platform.

    The sculptures on the outer walls of the temple are of superior quality, comparable to Somanathapura. The sculptures include that of Varaha, Dakshinamurthy, Bhairava, Kalingamardana Krishna, Rati-Manmatha, Saraswati, Brahma, Vishnu etc. Mallitamma, one of the best-known Hoysala sculptors of the 13th century, was the main sculptor of the Keshava Temple. He is believed to have worked on the temples in Nuggehalli, Hosaholalu and Somanathapura. His signature can be seen on one of the panels at the temple.


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  • 11/19/17--20:32: Theatre that binds
  • A theatrical effort in Kyalakonda village of Shiggaon taluk in Haveri district has improved not only the school atmosphere but also the village life. It all started eight years ago, when Krishnamurthy arrived in the village as a school teacher. Officials sympathised a seemingly introvert Krishnamurthy when they came to know about his posting in the Kyalakoonda school, as they knew the villagers apathy towards the school and also the infighting between various groups, which affected the society. Nothing deterred Krishnamurthys enthusiasm to serve in a village school. As he is also from a village, he knew the nuances of village life. The last period of the school was allotted to him and he decided to use theatre as a medium to arouse the students curiosity in academics and social life.

    The next step was to involve students in decorating the school compound wall with their artworks and public awareness messages. Every year, the Department of Public Instructions gives a grant to paint school compounds. That fund was efficiently utilised to make the school premises attractive. The students also raised a beautiful garden in the school premises. Gradually, the villagers started getting involved in the activities. The last period became the favourite session for the students, and parents didnt bother if it extended beyond school hours.

    As the stress on theatre activities increased, elders also participated with zeal. The school turned into a hub of cultural activities, which in turn improved the village environment. With constant practice and dedication, the school drama troupe has won several laurels - both at state and national levels. Even the villagers willingly support these activities, which have brought in harmony and camaraderie among them.


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    As Hyder Ali was shaping his political career in southern India, in England, Peregrine Bertie succeeded his father in January 1742 as the third Duke of Ancaster, according to a genealogical account. He raised a regiment of foot for the king of England during the rebellion in Scotland in 1745, according to The Gentlemans Magazine. Allan Chivers in The Berties of Grimsthorpe Castle, notes that Peregrine was a leading horse racer who started a number of famous racing lines. As a military administrator, he was probably aware of the happenings in India. In fact, he was transferred in a year from the post of the master of the horse to the queen to that of the king. This transfer was due to the changes within the East India Company (EIC) in England, alarmed by the acts of the English prime minister, Lord Chatham, to curb its influence, which by then controlled huge resources and land across India.

    In 1760, an overconfident English army, led by Major Moore, tasted its first defeat at the hands of Mysoreans, under Hyder Ali in Trivadi near Pondicherry. And through that decade, Hyder Ali continued to spoil the aims of EIC in India. Did the military acumen of this Mysorean ruler play a role in Peregrine naming his foal Hyder Ally in 1765? This may not be surprising as another race horse breeder in England named a foal Tippoo Saib after Tipu Sultan in 1769. Clearly, the military and political deeds of this father-son had a deep impression on the British psyche.
    Interestingly, foals within America were also being named Hyder Ally (and Tippoo Saib) in the 1770s. In 1775, the colonies in erstwhile USA rose against Great Britain, declared independence and raised their own flag. Around the same time in Mysore, Hyder Ali with help of the French, gave the EIC its worst reverses in its military history. The Americans received news of Hyder Alis successes on August 23, 1781, writes Frank Moore in his Diary of the American Revolution. On October 19, 1781, the British land forces led by Charles Cornwallis surrendered to the Americans, led by George Washington. This was celebrated at Trenton, New Jersey with 13 toasts accompanied with a discharge of artillery nine days later. One of these was for "The great and heroic Hyder Ali, raised up by providence to avenge the numberless cruelties perpetrated by the English on his unoffending countrymen, and to check the insolence and reduce the power of Britain in the East Indies."

    But the British still ruled the seas. According to James Fenimore Cooper in History of the Navy of the United States of America, Pennsylvania state purchased Hyder Ally, a small merchant sloop and equipped it with 16 six-pounder guns to help protect the American vessels. On April 8, 1782, Captain Joshua Barney commanded Hyder Ally to a decisive victory over General Monk, a much larger British ship, in the Delaware Bay. Philadelphia city burst in celebrations and ballads were sung through its streets.

    The world today is considered a global village. But it may surprise us, that even in the 18th century, seemingly local political events and humans made an impact on lands and societies far away. Hyder Alis name echoing across the proverbial seven seas in the distant North Americas daily life for many decades is testament to this.


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  • 11/19/17--20:40: Along the river of terns
  • You cant really write about the true beauty of Bhadra Tiger Reserve; all you can do is just fail trying. But its the words that fail, not you. As a traveller though, there is an additional burden of shame. Because, out here you have to look at paradise in the face, see it for what it is, and how it was lost, and almost not regained. And all of it happened, just because of the greed and the folly of humans.

    Nature lovers can never forget December 31, 2005. On that day the Supreme Court halted the mining operation of the Kudremukh Iron Ore Mining Company Limited (KIOCL), which had ravaged some of the pristine areas of the Western Ghats. The court struck at the very root of a massive government-owned, export-oriented, profit-making corporation.

    Today, as the boat cuts through the massive expanse of the Bhadra backwaters, with just the blue of the waves and the white of the heaving foam rushing beneath you, its difficult to imagine that 10 years ago, upstream of this same river, the water was red due the tailings discharged from the Kudremukh mines, the iron ore of which was such a poor grade that 65% of it was waste. Theres a mountain of debt we owe to those who fought against and stopped this; so that Bhadra wasnt lost, so that the water could live again, and could tell a new story.

    Symbiotic relationships

    You get on to the safari boat at six, when the sun is still in slumber. Flocks of egrets and cormorants skim over the waves, diving in and darting out of the rippling sheets of water, as the session of morning fishing begins in earnest. There is the impressive osprey, bold and mighty, a picture of grace and power, perched on the long-dead trees that stick out of the water, eyes wide and piercing, locked on to the tiniest hint of prey that only it can see.

    In the lifting darkness, the boat rounds a bend on the bank of the river, and suddenly the water ahead is trembling with a streak of crimson as the sun rises from behind the forest that cloak the surrounding hills. Even though the winter is mild here, there is a nip in the air, and mist rises from the water like a ghost waking to life, lit up by the first shots of gold from the distant sun.

    However, it is only when the morning trickles on that the greatest story can be seen - and that story is of the river tern. An arrow of a bird, it is often a white bullet in the air, capped with a streak of red and black, and such a joy to see against the backdrop of olive and brown. In winter, they are mostly in singles and pairs. But, from March to June, the skies and the islands on the river will be choked with them as they dig in here for their annual breeding ritual. This beautiful bird is symbiotic with Bhadra and the life that it now teems with.

    But even as are youre on the river, you cannot forget the forest that cradles it. The teak and the rosewood stand tall on the banks, their crowns tinged with the hint of scarlet that comes with winter. It is a joy to soak in the same forest as we go for a walk in the evening along the village paths that line the edge of the tiger reserve, pausing ever so often to watch Malabar pied hornbills emerge from the canopy of trees and sail out over the expanse of sky that sinks into the valley beyond.

    In the dark folds of a wild cinchona tree we think we see something shift the shadows; as we stop and peer, two big eyes stare back at us - its a brown fish owl looking back at us with unmasked curiosity. Later, on the drive through the forest, the jeep comes to a halt at the bend; there is snap of bamboo and a creaking of wood, and a giant tusker steps out, pausing in our path and sniffing the air for any scent of concern, while we watch frozen in awe, dwarfed by its close-up immensity. White-socked gaur, massive and imposing, with muscles that shine violet and ripple with every stride, are a sight to see, yet pretty common in the reserve.

    In the evening we gather for the sunset. Standing at the bank and hearing the water gently lapping at our feet, we watch the sky fade into black, even as the lights of the Lakkavalli Dam begin to come on. You cant help but remember that this is where Kenneth Anderson had shot the Lakkavalli man-eater. Tonight, as if to mock the distant faintness of the stars that dust the sky, the lights on the dam seem to burn a little proudly, perhaps unaware that the same man-eater had become so much of a pest it that was only after Anderson had shot it, could the stalled construction of this very dam resume again!

    The paths of humans and those of tigers have always crossed in this land, and it is not surprising that the big cats, like so much else in the natural world, have come off very much the worse for it. Tigers, which had once roamed unfettered across great swathes of the Western Ghats, have made a comeback here, after all the years when they were battered and beaten. The machines have fallen silent, the men and the cattle are going away, leaving the forest behind to heal.

    The path ahead

    Bhadra is the first tiger reserve in the country to complete a successful village relocation programme. The original relocation plan was introduced in 1974 and was implemented completely by 2002 when the 26 villages in the sanctuary were successfully relocated to M C Halli, about 50 km away.

    This land has suffered long and suffered hard. Any atonement of humans today is dwarfed by the pillage of the past; but sins, howsoever grave, must open a door to redemption, though immeasurably small and delayed it may be.

    Today, this land is learning to forget its past, and this is the forest where humans are making way for the tiger and the river tern. And even the biggest cynic cannot deny that it is undoubtedly a story of the greatest hope and optimism. So this is how hope still floats, on the waters of the Bhadra.


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  • 11/19/17--20:40: Carving out diverse cultures
  • Uttara Kannada district in Karnataka is bestowed with a great amount of cultural, sociological and geographical diversity. Situated in the midst of Western Ghats, more than 70% of the district is covered with forests. As a result, it has a rich share of flora and fauna. Uttara Kannada is also known for its picturesque waterfalls, scenic spots, biodiversity hotspots, beautiful beaches, historical forts, pre-historic monuments and places of worship, within the thick cover of greenery.

    Similarly, there are some tribal communities who are either forest dwellers or agriculturists or residing at the seashore and river banks. The tribes of this region include Siddis, Kunabis, Halakki Vokkaligas and Gowlis. These tribes are known for their distinct cultural and social practices.

    The Siddis are said to be of African origin, and are a unique ethnic group with agriculture as their main occupation. They are hard-working and well built. Gowlis are essentially cattle herders and are admirers of Lord Krishna. Halakki Vokkaligas, who are predominantly agriculturists, dwell in the coastal taluks of the district.

    The sculpture park

    The Shalmala Shilpa Vana (Shalmala Sculpture Park), located in Chipgi village of Sirsi taluk, has lifelike concrete displays of various tribes and their lifestyle. Thereby, providing the visitors a glimpse of the tribal lifestyle of the region in one place. It would be an anthropologists delight to spend a few hours in this beautiful park, and watch the near-natural display of the ethnic groups of the district. The park has a big pond for rainwater harvesting and a playground for children.

    Shalmala Shilpa Vana was opened to the public in 2013. It is a Karnataka Forest Department initiative and the sculptures were made by the team of T B Solabakkanavar, a sculptor specialised in carving rural images. After paying a small entrance fee, one walks through a model of the districts famous rock formation, Yana. Once you have passed the entrance, you will be greeted by an artificial waterfall, by the side of a sign board displaying a detailed map of the park.

    If you choose to enter the convention centre first, then you can see the illuminating display of photographs taken at different parts of the district. The display includes geographic details, flora and fauna, spices etc. Images of wild animals like leopard cat, deer, black panther etc., photographed using camera trap, are also on display.

    Lifelike display

    Once you come out of the convention centre, a walkway leads you to the outdoor wonder, where concrete sculptures of tribal families are placed. First comes a display of a Siddi dwelling. The Siddis have a unique style of folk dance called damami. A set of dancers, both men and women, clad in leafy outfits are seen dancing to the tune of beating drums. A few steps ahead, you see the house of a Siddi family, where a Siddi woman is cleaning the portico of her house, built using straw, bamboo and some wooden poles, even as some of her chicken, cow, dog and goats look on. A man is seen relaxing in front of the house and a few kids are standing by the side.

    Then comes a typical Gowli house, with a simple thatched roof overlooking a small paddock in front of it. A woman is washing the utensils and a little boy is playing. Another woman is milking her buffalo, just by the side of the house, and a few birds pecking around. A flock of sheep is grazing, as a typical Gowli man wearing a dhoti is coming towards the house with two pots of water on his shoulders.

    Similarly, another house displays the lifestyle of Halakki Vokkaligas. Here, elderly women and a few children are playing in front of their house. There are a few more statues representing some of the daily activities of the tribals, like a Gowli man grazing his cattle in the forest, a fisherman catching fish at a pond and so on. It is noteworthy that these life-size structures look real. Life of the fisherfolk is beautifully displayed in one of the corners. A fisherwoman is seen leaving her house with a bamboo basket of fish on her head. Even her little son has a fish in his hands. An older woman is grinding something in a stone-roller grinder.

    The park has life-size concrete structures of some of the wild animals too. These include tiger, bison, bear, wild dog, fox, deer, lion-tailed macaque, monkey and sambar. All of these are placed under the naturally grown huge trees within the park, giving a realistic view to onlookers. "The park gives a near-real experience of wild animals and tribal lifestyle. It is one of the not-to-be-missed locations in Sirsi," says Ravikiran, a native of the town.

    Shalmala Shilpa Vana has a childrens park too. It includes some of the low rope courses like horizontal ladder, tyre swing, swinging ladder, tunnel cross and mini zip line. They are designed using available trees and shrubs. "The names of all the trees are mentioned in Kannada and English along with their botanical names. Hence, it becomes a good nature learning experience too," says Disha, a student.


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  • 11/19/17--21:02: Naturebites
  • Naturebites

    RIOT OF RED

    How beets became beet-red

    As the seasons change, a riot of red shows up in the world around us, showcasing some of the most vivid hues that plant biochemistry can create. The red pigments in maple leaves are the same kind that light up the cranberries. But beets have evolved another way of being red. In a paper published in New Phytologist, biologists reported that they have discovered a key step in the evolution of this process. The pigments that give red beets their incandescent hue are called betalains. Theyre made using an amino acid called tyrosine, the starting material for thousands of compounds made by plants.

    Plants modify tyrosine by adding other molecules to create an array of useful substances. Intrigued by the process, Hiroshi Maeda, the senior author on the paper, collaborated with experts to study how the plants make betalains from tyrosine. A tyrosine-making enzyme, which in most plants gets turned off after a certain amount is made, stays on longer in beets, producing an overload of the amino acid. This, it turns out, is likely the pivotal change that gave beets the starting
    material they would need to develop their special red.

    INVASIVE SPECIES

    Hunting bad ants

    Tobias is a Labrador with one job: sniffing out invasive Argentine ants wherever they hide. Hes really good at it, and with his help, a fragile island ecosystem may be spared a repeat inundation with the pests. Santa Cruz Island is 25 miles off the coast of Southern California, USA. The islands rich, rugged environment is threatened by Argentine ants, one of the worlds most successful and wily invasive species.

    The ants are nearly impossible to get rid of; it had never been done with an infestation as large as Santa Cruzs. But Christina Boser, an ecologist, devised an aerial assault, dropping tiny sugar water beads spiked with diluted poison from helicopters. The campaign, largely in 2015 and 2016, appears to have killed off the ants. Still, if even one colony has survived, this elaborate effort might have been wasted. Thats where Tobias comes in.

    Once he pinpoints the faint pheromone scent left by this particular species of ant he will sit down and look at his handler, Kyren Zimmerman, who is with the non-profit Working Dogs for Conservation. In March, Tobias and Kyren underwent weeks of training. Then they took a choppy ferry ride to the island and got to work. By summers end, the pair hadnt found any new ant colonies - a great sign that the eradication really worked.

    COOL BEGINNINGS

    A volcanos super-eruption

    A supervolcanos underground ocean of magma is not the seething, red-hot molten lava you might imagine. Instead, it is likely at a low enough temperature to be solid. That is according to a new analysis of volcanic leftovers from an ancient California super-eruption, which shows that the magma melted shortly before the volcano erupted. The findings, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, might help scientists forecast when such volcanoes pose a threat.

    The super-eruption in question occurred 7,65,000 years ago, carving a vast volcanic depression that is 20 miles long and 10 miles wide, now known as Long Valley. In the process, it ejected a giant quantity of ash and hot gas over one nightmarish week. "It would have completely wiped out everything within 50 km of the caldera," said Brad Singer, a geologist and the studys co-author. Scientists do not expect Long Valley to erupt again, but given enough time another supervolcano will likely scar our planet.

    DOCUMENTARY

    Blue Planet II

    Blue Planet II is a 2017 British nature documentary series produced by the BBC Natural History Unit. It is narrated and presented by British naturalist, Sir David Attenborough. The seven-part documentary sequel comes 20 years after the original series, which set out to explore the deepest and darkest realms of the worlds oceans.

    Blue Planet II features more aquatic animals and has used ambitious filming techniques to capture them in their natural environment over a period of five years. Some never before seen animals have been caught on film for the first time, like the Hoff Crab. It also shows new landscapes such as the so-called boiling sea phenomenon in the Pacific Ocean. To watch the documentary, visit www.amzn.to/2zIrWCk.


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  • 11/19/17--21:08: The flies can't all be bad
  • For each person on Earth, there are 17 million flies. They pollinate plants, consume decomposing bodies, damage crops, spread disease, kill spiders, hunt dragonflies. Some have even lost their wings so as to live exclusively on bat blood, spending their lives scuttling about the fur of their hosts, leaving only to give birth to a single larva - usually. "Thats why I love them. They do everything. They get everywhere. Theyre noisy. And they love having sex," said Erica McAlister, a curator of Diptera - flies, to the rest of us - at the Museum of Natural History in London.

    Erica has captured her affection for the Diptera in The Secret Life of Flies, a short, rich book by turns informative and humorous, both a hymn of praise to her favourite creatures and a gleeful attempt to give readers the willies. Her book is also the source of the 17 million number, which, she pointed out, is just an estimate. Like other fly writers before her, Erica has more than fun in mind. She wants to remind the world at large of the importance of flies to humanity, and to the planet. They are not just something to swat.

    Without them, to take just one example, there would be no chocolate. Erica herself hates chocolate, but she is fond of the kind of flies that pollinate the cacao plant - a variety of biting midge. The midges are tiny, mostly blood-feeding insects, but the chocolate midges like nectar and carry pollen from one plant to another. Biting midges are, in fact, part of Ericas speciality.

    She is fond of all flies, but focuses on those that are included in the lower Diptera, which include mosquitoes, black flies and, as she puts it, "everything thats bitey, stabby, nasty." Her life among flies involves both museum work and field research. For her, this is a dream job. She recalled the first time she went behind the scenes at the museum, as a student, before she actually worked there. "Id been let into a building that had 34 million insects. I said, Oh hello, I quite like you."

    Many flies do an enormous service for us and the planet by cleaning up all sorts of the biological worlds detritus, from dead wood to the slime in drainpipes. Drain flies, or sewer gnats, are actually cleaning up human mess. Occasionally, however, they may have a population boom that sends the adults into the air, which is annoying; if the bodies disintegrate into tiny particles in the air, they are potentially harmful to human health.

    And, of course, there are the flies that feed on dead bodies - the 1,100 species of blow flies, favourites of forensic detective shows. The maggots of these flies, like the very attractive bluebottle larva, devour corpses of mice and men and everything else. Within science, flies are one of the great subjects of laboratory study.

    Or rather, the fly: Drosophila melanogaster, commonly known as the fruit fly, although Erica points out it actually belongs to a group called the vinegar flies. They are easy to work with and share the same
    basic DNA as all life. Historically, they have provided much of the foundation for modern genetics. And now, they may provide deep insights into neuroscience and other fields.

    Flies can be startling in their appearance as well as their behaviour. One Middle Eastern fruit fly has patterns on its wings that look something like spiders. No one knows why. Another fly, Achias rothschildi, must swallow air to inflate its eye stalks when it first emerges as an adult.

    There are, Erica notes in her book, limits to even her affinity for flies. Houseflies, for instance, may be affected by climate change. According to one projection, the population could increase by 244% by 2080. "Thats a lot of flies," she writes, "even for my tastes."


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    As the winter sets in, Indian cities are grappling with high levels of air pollution. Delhi, a megacity with the worst air quality as per a recent report by World Health Organisation (WHO), has recently adopted an emergency action plan to combat air pollution called the Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP). It is formulated by a Supreme Court-mandated panel and suggests a slew of measures to control pollution on severe and very poor air quality days in Delhi and its national capital region (NCR).

    Bengaluru, which recorded near 46% rise in the level of air pollution this Diwali, aims to become the electrical vehicle capital of India. To this effect, the Karnataka government has announced its Karnataka Electric Vehicle and Energy Storage Policy 2017, which will not only make the state a hub for production of cleaner fuel vehicles, but also bring down air pollution and reduce dependence on the fossil fuels.
    A recent report by the Indian Institute of Science on the transport sector of Bengaluru has suggested that by stressing on electric vehicles, the city can reduce emissions by 84% in 2030 and even 90% by 2050.

    Apart from Delhi and Bengaluru, several other Indian cities have dangerously high levels of air pollution. For instance, the Central Pollution Control Boards (CPCB) data of September 2016 had ranked Hyderabad as city with the worst air quality among the monitored South Indian cities.

    This years Diwali data of the Telangana State Pollution Control Board showed the particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres, or PM2.5, surged in Hyderabad to a 24-hour average of 112 μg/m3 as against the national daily average standard of
    60 μg/m3. WHO has a much lower guideline limit of 25 μg/m3 for 24-hour mean PM2.5.

    The situation was no better in Chennai where a cloud of smog descended on the city on the Diwali night. As per news
    reports, the levels of PM10, another indicator of air pollution, touched 777 μg/m3 at Sowcarpet in north Chennai, which is four times the level compared to 180 μg/m3 last year. The daily average standard of PM10 is 100 μg/m3, as mentioned in the national ambient air quality standard of the CPCB.

    A public health concern

    Air pollution is a serious public health concern in India. The State of Global Air 2017, a special report on global exposure to air pollution and its disease burden has claimed that Indias worsening air pollution caused some 1.1 million premature deaths in 2015. India has experienced the steepest increases in air pollution levels since 2010 and now has the highest PM2.5 concentrations among the countries studied in the report.

    This is extremely worrisome because as per the WHO Global Urban Ambient Air Pollution Database, as urban air quality declines, the risk of stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma, increases for those who live in the cities.

    Air pollution is rising across the cities of the world. A new WHO air quality model, released last year, reported that 92% of the worlds population lives in places where air quality levels exceed WHOs ambient air quality guidelines for ambient annual mean of PM2.5 at 10μg/m3. PM2.5 includes pollutants like sulphate, nitrates and black carbon, which penetrate deep into the lungs and in the cardiovascular system, posing the greatest risks to human health. The situation is worse in low and middle income countries, such as India, where 98% of cities with more than 1,00,000 inhabitants do not meet the WHO air quality guidelines.

    Sources of air pollution

    There are various sources of urban air pollution in Indian cities including inefficient modes of transport, household fuel and waste burning, coal-fired power plants and industrial activities. According to a 2010 report prepared by TERI, the major sources of PM10 in the city emissions are transport (42%), road dust re-suspension (20%), construction (14%), industry (14%), diesel generator (DG) sets (7%) and domestic (3%).

    For Delhi, a pollution source inventory and source apportionment study was carried out by the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur in 2015. This study assessed 13 key pollution sources and their relative contribution to different pollutants. Road dust (38%) dominated the particulate inventory in the study, followed by vehicles (20%), and industry and power plant sources (11%). In the case of nitrogen oxide inventory, industry (52%) lead with more than half the share, followed by vehicles (36%).

    The study observed that vehicles were the most consistent and dominant sources of pollution throughout the year in Delhi, while most other sources were variable. Clearly, a variety of sources are contributing to air pollution in the urban centres, thus, cities need comprehensive plans to control the pollution.

    Disaster alert system

    According to the Centre for Science and Environment, New Delhi, air pollution is responsible for 10,000 to 30,000 deaths annually in the capital. Last November, the Supreme Court of India (SC) directed the government to frame and implement a Graded Response Action Plan (GRAP) to control air pollution. The Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change notified the plan in January this year. This plan is designed like a disaster alert system, which directs governments to take tougher and tougher actions based on the level of air pollution.

    The key measures, which are listed under the moderate and poor categories, are already in force through the year, with state governments monitoring progress. From October 17, 2017 to March 15, 2018 the very poor and severe categories have come into force in Delhi-NCR to curb dangerously high levels of pollution.

    Various agencies in Delhi have been assigned actions to take when pollution touches moderate (air quality index of 101-200), poor (air quality index of 201-300), very poor (air quality index of 301-400) and severe levels (401-500), based on the air quality index. For instance, when PM2.5 levels cross 300 μg/m3 or PM10 levels cross 500 μg/m3, entry of trucks will be stopped (except essential commodities); and construction activities will also be stopped. If PM2.5 crosses 250 μg/m3 and PM10 crosses 430 μg/m3, brick kilns, stone crushers, hot-mix plants are to be shut down.

    Whereas Delhi has put in place a legal plan to control air pollution, none of the other cities have such a plan to protect their residents from the impacts of air pollution. The cost of inaction is going to be insurmountable.


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    Gold has been one of the most sought after metal in the history of humankind. In the past, alchemists tried very hard to transform other metals to gold. Even Isaac Newton was fascinated enough to devote a considerable part of his time to those efforts. However, it was only possible when physicist Ernest Rutherford and his associates began doing artificial transmutations in the 20th century.

    It was only later that the Big Bang theory and nuclear fusion theory showed how certain elements were made. The former proposed that the universe was created at some instant and that certain elements could only have been created moments after the Big Bang. Hydrogen and some amount of Helium were made about 3,80,000 years after the Big Bang. The latter showed that stars shine because of the nuclear fusion reaction and also make new elements. Elements up to Carbon in the periodic table make up lighter stars, while elements up to Iron in the periodic table make up massive stars.

    The end points of heavier stars are interesting since they are accompanied by an outpouring of enormous amount of light which shows up as a supernova. They also leave behind compact and dense objects like neutron stars or black holes. However, the problem was how to make elements like gold with 79 protons and 118 neutrons from iron, with only 26 protons and 30 neutrons. It was obvious that a neutron-rich environment is necessary for the process to happen.

    This was proposed in 1957 by the astrophysicists Geoffrey Burbidge and Margaret Burbidge, Fred Hoyle and William Fowler. They stated that heavier elements like gold and uranium could be made at the time of death of heavier stars, that is, when protons and electrons join together in the collapsing core to make a copious number of neutrons. With time, there were doubts cast about this as scientists argued that so many neutrons cannot be present to make heavier elements. So, physicists had to look for alternative processes.

    Spotting light and gold

    In the 1970s, Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor had observed a Binary Pulsar, which had two neutron stars circling each other with decreasing separation. It was hypothesised that they would collide after millions of years. These findings provided, for the first time, an indirect evidence for gravitational waves.

    There were also theoretical proposals in the 1990s that such neutron star mergers could make heavy elements like gold. These collisions were also given the name Kilonova, which is considered to be more powerful than a supernova.

    Gravitational waves had been predicted as early as 1915 by Einstein. Very sensitive instruments - called the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) - were set up at two locations in USA to detect these waves in the mid-1990s and upgraded in 2014. And, in early 2016 the first observations of gravitational waves were made. Since then, LIGO confirmed three more events. These were said to have occurred as a result of a merger of two massive black holes.

    The original LIGO instruments, along with a third one in Europe, again detected gravitational waves on August 17, 2017. But this signal was unique as it was much stronger. It was surmised that the waves occurred due to a collision of neutron stars. The first one to detect the accompanying electromagnetic waves was Fermi, a NASA satellite, which detected a gamma-ray burst. Scientists have long suspected that neutron star mergers could create gamma-ray bursts. There was also a rush among the scientists to work quickly to observe visible and infrared light from the collisions aftermath.

    The detailed optical and infrared spectrum of the kilonova were looked forward to since it could contain the fingerprints of the heaviest elements in the universe. The observers were able to spot the signature glow of platinum, gold and other r-process elements for the first time. A Nature paper stated that the early stage of the observed outflow was dominated by lighter elements while later, there was an emergence of a heavy-element composition.

    The event, which is called GW170817, has provided alternative theories of gravity, a clear origin for a cosmic explosion and a strong evidence for the formation path for some of the heaviest elements in the universe. Also, for the first time, a gravitational wave detection has been linked to the rest of astronomy! This enormous effort involved more than 4,000 scientists, and papers were published in leading scientific journals.


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    As one of the exceedingly rare members of her species to live beyond age 110, Goldie Michelson had divulged her secrets to longevity countless times before dying last year at 113. "Morning walks and chocolate," she told the steady stream of inquisitors that marked her final years. Unlike the growing ranks of nonagenarians and centenarians, those who breach a 12th decade, known as supercentenarians, rarely face protracted illness or disability before they die, a boon that many of them have ascribed to personal habits.

    But even as they indulged the notion that exceptionally healthy longevity can be explained by lifestyle, each agreed to donate DNA to a private effort to find the secrets in supercentenarian genes. The full genetic sequences of some three dozen genomes of North American, Caribbean and European supercentenarians are made available by a non-profit called Betterhumans to any researcher who wants to dive in. If unusual patterns in their three billion pairs of As, Cs, Gs and Ts - the nucleobases that make up all genomes - can be shown to have prolonged their lives and protected their health, the logic goes, it is conceivable that a drug or gene therapy could be devised to replicate the effects in the rest of us.

    Fewer variations

    The rare cache of supercentenarian genomes comes as studies of garden-variety longevity have yielded few solid clues to healthy ageing. Lifestyle and luck, it seems, still factor heavily into why people live into their 90s and 100s. This appears to have come partly from having inherited fewer than usual DNA variations known to raise the risk of heart disease, Alzheimers disease and other afflictions. That is not enough, some researchers say, to explain what they call truly rare survival, or why supercentenarians are more healthy than centenarians in their final years.

    Rather than having won dozens of hereditary coin tosses with DNA variations that are less bad, scientists suggest, supercentenarians may possess genetic code that protects them from ageing. But the effort to find that code has been challenged, as a group of leading longevity researchers put it in a recent academic paper, in part by the difficulties in acquiring supercentenarian DNA.

    The DNA sequences that were released, were acquired almost single-handedly by James Clement, the founder of a company advised by the prominent Harvard geneticist George Church, who has devoted a part of his laboratory for research into the reversal of ageing. James collected blood, skin or saliva from supercentenarians in eight countries over a six-year period.

    Complex traits like height, body mass index and disease risk - called phenotypes - typically arise from a combination of hundreds of places in the genome where the DNA alphabet differs between individuals. Zeroing in on which variations affect which phenotypes requires the statistical power of tens of thousands of DNA samples - almost certainly a deal-breaker when it comes to supercentenarians, whose verified number, worldwide,
    hovers at about 150. On large swathes of the planet, where birth records are sketchy, identifying verified supercentenarians is virtually impossible.

    Still, some researchers hope that despite the limited number of available genomes, it will be possible to identify the secret sauce of supercentenarians with methods used to uncover the genetic basis for other rare conditions. No one quite knows how many genomes might be necessary. "This is what we call an extreme phenotype," said George. "The farther out you go on the bell curve, the more likely you are to find something, even with a small sample size."

    As the goal of slowing ageing to extend human health span has gained traction in the scientific mainstream, research has largely been limited to animal studies. A secretive Google spinoff called Calico, for California Life Co, is said to be scrutinising the genome of the naked mole rat, celebrated for a life span 10 times longer than that of most of its rat cousins.

    But what works in shorter-lived organisms often does not translate to humans, whose average life span in developed countries is approaching 80 years. So despite the limitations of James database, several prominent researchers have already expressed interest in it. "This could show the utility of starting a bigger collection," said Paola Sebastiani, a longevity researcher at Boston University, USA.

    Sequencing the genome

    It was an inauspicious start, James admitted in an email to a friend in 2011. The first supercentenarian James had lined up to visit had died at 113 before he could reach her home. Once elderly people reached the age of 110, James learned, the chance of dying within the next year is roughly 50%. To improve the odds of getting samples he lowered his target age from 110 to 106. "Its better to get there when they are alive," he said.

    The kind of ultrarare mutations that supercentenarians might harbour, George believed, were not likely to be detected with standard techniques, which scan only the places in the genome where DNA is already known to vary between individuals. To look for as-yet-uncatalouged variations would require sequencing all of the supercentenarians six billion genetic letters, an expensive procedure.

    When he and James first discussed the idea in 2010, the cost was about $50,000 per genome. But the price was falling. And with the financial support of a handful of like-minded individuals, "it just seemed," James said, "like something I could do."

    Losing precious samples

    Crisscrossing Europe in 2011, James hit his collecting stride. But there were some bumps. He had ordered an inexpensive kit that allowed him to prick a supercentenarians finger and deposit a drop of blood on a card to preserve it. Within a few months, he had blood samples of 15 people.

    It was not until he had switched to hiring a phlebotomist to perform blood draws with a needle did he learn that the cards were defective. "We could not detect any DNA," read an email from the laboratory. Still, James had 23 good samples in hand. James quickly discovered 2,500 differences between the supercentenarian DNA and those of controls. But even with help from graduate students in Georges lab, it was hard with such a small group to know which were significant.

    In 2016, I was invited to accompany James to Clarences home. As much as I looked forward to meeting him, I was not prepared to envy his win in the genetic longevity lottery. The prospect of shifting todays average life span to that of the known limit of all humanity is disorienting. An average life expectancy of 80 in some ways seems generous - it was 48 when Clarence was born in 1906.

    Clarence died this summer. His DNA was sequenced a few weeks later, and last month James uploaded it to the database. Whether, in combination with the genomes of his fellow supercentenarians, the rest contains the secret to a long, healthy and happy life remains to be seen.


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  • 11/09/17--17:58: Taste of the sea
  • Its been over 25 years since chef Naren Thimmaiah joined the Taj Group of Hotels and with each day, he falls more in love with his job. A commerce graduate, Narens original aim was to pursue an MBA. However, fate had different plans, as he was meant to be one of the most loved chefs in the country in addition to being the executive chef of The Gateway Hotel.

    Also the face of Karavalli, the iconic seafood specialty restaurant of the plush hotel, Naren believes in giving 200% to everything he does. "This was the first job I took up after completing my studies and I am still here," he laughs.

    In an interview with Living, Naren speaks about his early years and experiences in the food industry.

    Tell us a little about your childhood and your love for food.

    I lived in Coorg throughout my childhood. So being in the lap of nature and eating seasonal and fresh produce was the norm - to me that was the way of life. Those were the days when all your produce was grown in your own estate, paddy fields and vegetable gardens. My mother being a great cook, really helped me develop a love for good food and understand it well. Almost every day, there was something to look forward to from moms repertoire!
    My fondest memory of those days is plucking curry leaves from the backyard for her along with my two brothers. After completing 10th standard, I moved to a hostel where I saw how different cooking in bulk was from cooking for your loved ones at home. I also learnt to eat my dessert first since if you didnt get to it fast enough, it would get over!

    How did you foray into the culinary world?

    I graduated in commerce and my original plan was to pursue an MBA. But that was the time when Mangalore University introduced a course in Hotel Management. I looked at it as a great opportunity and decided to take it up.

    When did you realise that you wanted to be a chef?

    During my college days, we had six semesters and at the end of each one, we had to work in a hotel, which helped us realise our true strengths. It was during a campus interview when my principal told me to give cooking a shot since I was good at it.

    How did you develop the fondness for coastal cuisine?

    Soon after I joined The Gateway Hotel, I had to work in every section of the kitchen. Its a norm for the trainees to do so the first two years. That was the time I realised that south-western coastal cuisine (basically south Indian coastal cuisine) was my favourite. Not only was I familiar with it, but it was also a cuisine that showed great potential in terms of acceptability.
    Being part of the opening team of Karavalli helped too. Thanks to the concept of the restaurant, which focusses on home cooking and digging out old recipes, I travelled to coastal areas like Goa and Mangaluru to learn the basics of home-cooked seafood. I was familiar with it anyway since I had studied in Udupi.

    Who are your inspirations?

    My mom for sure! I realise now that her delicious meals helped me understand food better. Her cooking methods, though laborious, gave me an insight into the finer nuances of cooking. My brothers inspired me a lot too, as it was along with them that I would often try out many dishes, not knowing that the process would help me later. My team is another source of inspiration for me because they have been with me during all my highs and lows in the kitchen.

    What are the hottest trends in cooking right now?

    Though trends must be followed because thats the way a cuisine evolves, one should also know when to stop. Having said that, the latest trends are regional food, niche ingredients, single-estate products and sustainable cooking.


    How has travel influenced your cooking?

    Though I travel more within the country to learn about regional food, I keep going to Singapore thanks to different food festivals and chef-exchange programmes. The city is culinary melting pot and every time I go there, its like a new Singapore with new concepts. Although our food industry is thriving, we are lagging behind when it comes to the latest concepts.
    I learnt a lot from my journey to Europe too. I visited five countries there and learnt that you should stick to the concept that you believe in. They use the best quality ingredients and are still so proud of all their traditions.

    How does one make cooking easy?

    Cooking is an art as well as a science. Since most of us arent born with the innate skill of turning whatever we cook into an extremely tasty dish, practice is the key to perfection. Also ensure that there is a method to madness! Being organised in whatever you do is the basic mantra.

    Any tips to keep in mind while cooking seafood?

    Seafood is the most tender of all meats and can get spoilt real fast. So, ensure that the catch is fresh. Keep the marinade light. You need to taste the meat and not the masalas! Also, never ever overcook! Around five to seven minutes of cooking should do the trick.

    Recipes

    Allapuzha Meen Curry

    Ingredients

    Coconut: 1 (grated)

    Red chillies (Byadagi): 25 gm

    Turmeric powder: 5 gm

    Raw mangoes: 2 (skinned and chopped)

    Whole green chilli: 50 gm

    Curry leaves: 1 sprig

    Small onions (shallots): 75 gm

    Rock salt: to taste

    Coconut oil: 50 ml

    Seer fish (cut into cubes): 300 gm

    Method

    * Grind grated coconut and red chillies to a fine paste and strain.
    * Wash the fish and marinate with salt and turmeric powder.
    * Add little water to the ground coconut and boil for 10-15 minutes.
    * Add the raw mango pieces, curry leaves and slit green chillies.
    * Simmer for 8-10 minutes.
    * Heat the coconut oil and add the sliced small onion and fry till golden brown.
    * Add the remaining curry leaves and temper it with the gravy.
    * Add the fish cubes to the gravy and cook for 3-5 minutes and check the seasoning. Serve hot with boiled red or white rice.

    Tiger Prawn Roast

    Ingredients

    * Tiger prawns: 6
    * Onion (sliced): 200 gm
    * Tomato (sliced): 100 gm
    * Chilli powder: 50 gm
    * Turmeric powder: 5 gm
    * Garam masala powder: 5 gm
    * Saunf powder: 15 gm
    * Salt to taste
    * Cooking oil: 75 ml
    * Lemon juice: 15 ml
    * Curry leaves: 1 sprig

    Method

    * Marinate prawns in lemon juice, salt, chilli powder and turmeric powder. Keep it aside for five minutes.
    * Heat oil in a pan. Add the onions, curry leaves and sauté for 5 minutes.
    * Add the powdered masalas, stir well for a minute. Add the tomato and cook it well.
    * Add the marinated prawns and cook them in the masala till it reduces.
    * Finish with a dash of lemon juice and check the seasoning.


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  • 11/09/17--18:02: An ode to potatoes
  • Herb-tossed fries

    Ingredients: Four large potatoes, thinly sliced; 2 quarts of oil; 2 tbsps of freshly chopped basil; 2 tbsps of freshly chopped cilantro; 2 tbsps of freshly chopped parsley; 2 tbsps of freshly chopped oregano; 1 tbsp of flaked sea salt and ½ tsp of garlic powder.

    Method: Add the sliced potatoes to a bowl of ice water and let them sit for 30 minutes. Remove the potatoes and place them on towels, patting them dry. Add the oil to a large pot. Once the oil is hot, add the potatoes in batches and fry until slightly golden. Remove the potatoes and place them on the paper towels to drain. Let all the potatoes cool for about 10 to 15 minutes. Make sure the oil is still at 350 °C and fry them in batches again. This time, fry until they are even more golden and a little puffy. Cover these potatoes with lots of the herb salt. To make the herb salt, combine the basil, cilantro, parsley, oregano, salt and garlic powder in a bowl and mix.

    Mexican bean-stuffed potatoes

    Ingredients: Three large potatoes; 400 gm of rajma cooked; 2 tbsps of tomato salsa; 2 tbsps of coriander chopped; 2 spring onions chopped; ½ tsp of chilli powder; ½ tsp of paprika; salt; black pepper and 75 gm of cheddar cheese, grated.

    Method: Preheat the oven to 180 °C. Thoroughly wash the potatoes, and prick each several times with a fork. Place them on a tray, and cook in oven for 45 minutes. Make sure you turn them over every few minutes to ensure they cook evenly. Meanwhile, add the cooked rajma to a large bowl. Mash them roughly. Add the salsa, fresh coriander, spring onions, chilli powder, paprika, and a good pinch of salt and pepper. Mix well. When the potatoes are soft, cut the tops off. Use a spoon to create a hollow in the centre of each potato, leaving around a centimetre of potato flesh around the edges to help the potato hold its shape. Stuff each potato with the bean mixture, and top with the grated cheese. Bake for 15 minutes, until the cheese has melted.

    Dauphinoise potatoes

    Ingredients: Around 50 gm of butter; 350 ml of heavy cream; 350 ml of milk; 2 bay leaves; 2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed; 500 gm of peeled & sliced potatoes; nutmeg; salt and white pepper powder to taste; 50 gm of cheddar cheese and 50 gm of parmesan cheese.

    Method: Preheat the oven to 170 °C. Rub roughly 10 gm of butter around a 20 cm baking dish. Take the cream, milk, bay leaves and garlic in a saucepan and place over a medium-high heat. Slowly bring to the boil, then turn down and allow it to simmer for a few minutes before taking off the heat. Slice the potatoes into one-inch slices and transfer to the dish. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg and toss them well before spreading them out. Discard the garlic and bay leaves and pour the cream over the potatoes and grated cheese, between the layers and sprinkle on top. Dot the surface with the remaining 40 gm of butter and place this in the oven for 45-60 minutes until the potatoes are tender and the cream has been absorbed. Place the dish under the grill for a few minutes to get an even golden brown colour.


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