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  • 12/10/17--19:00: A fort of many tales
  • The sky is dense with dark clouds as we head towards the fort town of Ballari. The twin rocky hills, Ballari Gudda and Kumbara Gudda, tower over the townscape and come into view much before we enter the town. One of Karnatakas oldest forts and its pride, the citadel lies at the centre of the town and stretches over a circumference of 2 km. The fort is located atop Ballari Gudda, a monolithic hill.

    The history of Ballari town is a long one that traces its beginnings to 300 BC and continues through to the Vijayanagar empire, which was founded in 1365 CE. In this period, it was ruled by several dynasties, including the Mauryas, Satavahanas, Pallavas, Kadambas, Badami and Kalyani Chalukyas, Southern Kalachuryas, Sevuna dynasty and the Hoysalas. Following the fall of the Vijayanagar empire in the 16th century, Ballari experienced turbulent times. Later, Hyder Ali made it his stronghold, and then it subsequently came under the sway of the British imperialists around 1800 CE when it served as their cantonment.

    Many legends

    Ballari was once part of an area also known as Kuntala Desha, ruled by the Western Chalukyan kings. Subsequently, it was also known as Sindavadi-nadu and Nolambavadi-nadu. It is interesting to note the various legends associated with the naming of Ballari. One of the myths credit Balari as being another name for Goddess Durga. According to an inscription belonging to the Talakadu Ganga Dynasty, Ballari is derived from the old Kannada words vallari and vallapuri.

    As per another such fable, Ballari came to be named after Indra, the king of gods who annihilated the demon Balla. One other tale indicates that Ballari is derived from the word balla, meaning a measuring cup used for quantifying grain. The story goes that a devout merchant community which passed through the town could not find a Shivalinga to worship when they halted here. They turned a balla upside down, symbolically for a linga, and offered prayers to it. In time, a temple was built around it and dedicated to Shiva as Balleshwar. Even today, the locals celebrate Maha Shivaratri at the temple with great pomp and pageantry.

    The upper and lower forts into which the Ballari Fort is segmented were built during the regime of two different rulers, Hanumappa Nayaka and Hyder Ali, respectively.

    Without much delay and before the rains decide to play spoilsport, we proceed to the Upper Fort, also known as Hill Fort. The fort, which is built on an isolated monolithic granite rock, was constructed by Hanumappa Nayaka, a vassal of the Vijayanagar Empire. The structure rests atop the Ballari hill, on a spur of the Sandur hill range bordering Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh.

    We begin our climb to the polygonal-shaped Fort Hill via an uneven flight of steps that run parallel to a winding path created by rocky boulders. Little children, evidently natives of the town, seem to have a field day bounding their way through these rock surfaces, often sliding down as if on a regular play-slide. We halt several times during our climb of over 600 uneven stone steps to reach the top. The views of the town that sprawl below are spectacular. We are overcome by a sense of pride as we see, from every point of our halt, the fluttering national flag of our country, as it is held majestically atop a soaring flagstaff located at the centre of the town.

    The semi-elliptical-shaped Ballari Gudda is rocky with a mix of abundant granite and feldspar boulders, with barely any greens except for a variety of cacti. The fort itself is built of cyclopean masonry comprising granite, set in lime mortar with musket holes and circular bastions at periodic intervals. The view of the plains spread below us is spectacular. We weave our way through a maze of structures that once served as stables for horses, cisterns, ponds, water conduits and watchtowers. Most of these structures, though in ruins, provide glimpses of bygone times. It is yet again heart-warming to see Karnatakas State flag hoisted on a pole on the forts main turrets. This east-facing turret also has a huge mural of the Indian flag which is visible from the approach road below. As we walk the length of the fort, we come across a tunnel, supposedly leading to Srirangapattana and Mysuru.

    Hyder Ali who captured the fort in 1769, renovated and modified it with the help of a French engineer. On the eastern mount of the fort, he added the lower fort. History records that the engineer was hanged for having erroneously calculated the height of the fort, which unfortunately, was visible from the neighbouring Kumbara Gudda. This jeopardised the security of the fort. On the east gate of the fort, we see the Frenchmans grave, which locals consider to be the tomb of a Muslim saint. The Lower Fort has a 30 feet long, 40 feet wide deep moat around it. We reach this section of the fort via one of the two gates, from which it is accessible. At one time, the structure had in its portals, armoury, barracks and garrisons.

    When the colonialists took over the town, they added a store, lodge, post office, a church and an accompanying orphanage, and some private residences. Today, however, the lower fort is home to government buildings, educational institutions and edifices of worship, which include the Kote Anjaneya Temple just outside the eastern gate. With these attractions, the edifice is an appropriate destination for both history buffs and travel enthusiasts.

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    Anything can be achieved with a strong will and hard work," says Prakash, a proud nurseryman from Pakegowdana Palya near Hesaraghatta on the outskirts of Bengaluru. The quote stems from his experience of transformation from a humble farmer to a successful nursery owner with an annual turnover of three crore rupees.

    Fifteen years ago, just like his fellow vegetable growers, he used to raise seedlings on raised beds and transplant them after a month. Even slightly higher rainfall post transplanting would ruin the crop. Besides, this practice demanded higher seed rate and higher cost towards the seed. To avoid all these, he thought of producing seedlings in trays with cocopeat as the growing medium. The Indian Institute of Horticultural Research, which is located close to his land, came to his help through technical guidance.

    Prakash started with eight plastic trays using which he produced 800 seedlings. This effort resulted in quality seedlings, better crop and reduced crop period. Farmers in the neighbourhood realised the advantages of this method and requested for such seedlings. This led to the establishment of a nursery called Ekalavya Sasya Kshethra. It is through constant practice and experiments that he learnt the nuances of raising good quality seedlings and nursery management. In 15 years, the number of seedlings produced per month has increased from 2,000 to 50 lakh. Nearly 30 people assist him throughout the year. All of them are happy about his caring ways which go beyond the workplace. His family also actively contributes to the success of the enterprise. All these have helped him provide quality service consistently.

    Two years ago, he established a two-acre poly-house nursery exclusively for raising vegetable seedlings. He has also set up a nursery unit at Shastry Palya, 14 km away from his first nursery. Here, he has given stress on rainwater harvesting and constructed a pond with a water holding capacity of 80 lakh litres. Seedlings are placed on a raised platform made of mild steel welded mesh, which leads to better growth and quality seedlings, owing to better light availability, aeration, good drainage and reduced pests and diseases. We can also find blue and yellow sticky traps, which protect seedlings from sucking pests, in the nursery.

    He also manages a nursery of ornamental and flowering plants and a nursery of capsicum seedlings.

    Now he supplies seedlings to not just his neighbouring farmers, but also to growers across Karnataka and other states like
    Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Haryana and Chandigarh. His service does not end at supplying the seedlings. He urges fellow farmers to follow sustainable cultivation practices and helps them
    in getting their soil and water quality

    An expert that he is now, Prakash is available for suggestions and guidance at any time of the year. He has understood that the growers success translates to his success.

    Of late, nematodes and soil-borne diseases are affecting the plants for which he is planning to opt for grafted vegetable seedlings, which are resistant or tolerant to these problems. One can contact Prakash on 9448306101.

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  • 12/10/17--19:12: Snippets (Dec 12)
  • Refining radio observations of the sun

    While staring at the sun, a question that sometimes pops up is how do we know what the sun is made of, if the light from the sun is blindingly bright to our instruments? We study such objects by looking at them through forms of light other than visible light. This could include radio, infrared, X-rays and UV rays. Solar radio observations, especially, could reveal unique insights into the outer solar atmosphere. One challenge in studying the radio waves is distinguishing the intrinsic properties of the source of the radio waves from the effects of radio wave propagation.

    In the new study, the scientists have been able to characterise the fine structures produced during a radio burst. Their observations have shown that the spatial characteristics are guided by the effects of radio wave propagation more than that of the intrinsic emission source of the waves. These observations could allow for better models of the solar surface, with a better accuracy of source brightness temperatures, giving us an accurate picture of the sun.

    Charged with UV light

    In a recent study published in the journal Energy Technology, researchers from Indian Institute of Science have designed a supercapacitor that can be charged using UV light. The researchers have used novel electrodes based on the integration of UV light sensitive zinc oxide nanorods and electrochemically active nickel cobalt oxide.

    When light falls on zinc oxide, photo-charges are released and these add on to the number of charges present that builds up on the oppositely charged electrodes. More charge accumulates on the electrodes, thus resulting in larger capacitance. The use of these integrated nanostructures makes the device compact and can be used as a self-powered energy storage cell.

    The formation of stars

    The current cosmological model to explain our universe, the 'Big Bang' model, aims to describe all the phenomena we observe, which includes the galaxies and their evolution from earliest times to the present day.

    One of the major problems faced by the standard form of this model is that it has predicted a star formation rate which is far too big. All the star forming material in galaxies should have been turned into stars when the universe had only a fraction of its present age, 13.8 billion years.

    However, over half the galaxies we see, mainly the spirals, are very actively forming stars right now. This discrepancy between theoretical prediction and observation has forced to look much more closely at processes which can slow down the rate of star formation during the lifetimes of galaxies, collectively known as star formation quenching. Without quenching, the standard Big Bang model fails to predict the universe as we know it.

    There have been a number of mechanisms proposed for quenching, for example 'feedback' from supernovae or active galactic nuclei which breaks up the star forming clouds and reduces the star formation rate. One of the mechanisms has been published in the journal Nature Astronomy.

    The metal cores

    Scientists have long pondered how rocky bodies in the solar system got their metal cores. According to research conducted by The University of Texas at Austin, USA, evidence points to the downward percolation of molten metal towards the centre of the planet through tiny channels between rocks. The finding calls into question the interpretation of prior experiments that sought to understand how metals behave when planets form.

    The research suggests that once the isolated pores grow large enough to connect, the molten metal starts to flow, and most of it is able to percolate along grain boundaries. This process would let metal trickle down through the mantle and form a metal core. The study appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    In the Womb: Identical Twins

    In the Womb: Identical Twins, directed by Lorne Townend, examines the elusive mysteries of the human species from its earliest stages. Utilising highly advanced 4D ultrasound imagery and computerised graphics, it illustrates the processes that determine both the similarities and the differences between identical twins while they develop in the womb.

    Born from the same fertilised egg, identical twins often share common physical attributes, social interests and personality traits. However, it's the differences between these identical twins that provide the greatest potential for new discoveries to be made.
    The documentary's revelations deepen our understanding of the human species, and show us that there is much we have yet to learn. To watch the documentary, visit

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  • 12/10/17--19:24: Naturebites
  • Unique genetic variation

    Once known for its green cover, Bengaluru has lost 78% of its green cover in the last two decades due to rapid urbanisation. The citys fig trees, however, have withstood the onslaught. Aiming to evaluate the loss of green cover, researchers from the Indian Institute of Science studied the genetic structure and diversity of the cluster fig tree population in Bengaluru. For the study, the researchers collected leaf samples from individual trees from different locations across the city. The study revealed that the population of cluster fig trees in Bengaluru has a fairly robust genetic structure, with no signs of inbreeding.

    Inbreeding results in low genetic diversity that could cause loss of fitness and increase the risk of extinction for small population of individuals. However, in the case of the cluster fig trees, the credit for maintaining healthy population probably goes to their pollinator fig wasps, which live in a special mutualism with the fig. The DNA extracted from the collected leaves was used to conduct a genetic analysis called microsatellite analysis. "The fig-fig wasp mutualisms is especially helpful for the fig trees in maintaining a healthy population genetics even though trees occur at low densities, and is located far from each other," states Anusha Krishnan, an author of the study.

    How a giant tortoise gets off its back

    The giant tortoises of the Galápagos Islands have no natural predators, but their shells represent a mortal danger of their own. When flipped over, the animals — who regularly weigh in at more than 90 pounds — often struggle to find their feet. If they fail, they eventually die. And for a giant tortoise with one shell type, the saddleback, big spills are a regular part of life. "The saddlebacks live in places where you have a lot of lava rocks, so they should fall more often," said Ylenia Chiari, a biologist at the University of South Alabama, USA, comparing them with domed tortoises, another type that lives on flatter terrain.

    Domed tortoises have rounded shells, and saddleback tortoises have flatter shells with flared edges and a raised neck opening. Ylenia thought the shells on the saddlebacks had evolved to make it easier for these tortoises to get back up, and set out to test her hypothesis in a study that was published in the journal Scientific Reports. She was wrong, but her research offered additional insights into the anatomies of these tortoises and how they might have evolved to get back on their feet.

    The larger size of the saddleback's neck opening allows the saddleback to extend its longer neck farther, which biologists long assumed was a trait that helped the tortoise reach food in a drier climate. The shell's larger front opening also allows the saddleback tortoises to use their long necks to help pick themselves up.

    Birds that rapidly evolved bigger beaks

    Conservationists have been warning of the damage invasive species can cause to habitats and native animals for years. The population of North American snail kites — birds that use curved beaks and long claws to dine on small apple snails in the Florida Everglades, USA — had been dwindling, from 3,500 in 2000 to just 700 in 2007. Things began to look particularly bleak in 2004, when a portion of the Everglades was invaded by a species of larger snail that the birds had historically struggled to eat.

    But the number of snail kites in the Everglades grew during the decade after the invasion of the larger snails. The reason, according to a study published in Nature Ecology and Evolution, is that the snail kites have rapidly evolved larger beaks and bodies to handle the bulkier snails. The researchers found that beak and body sizes had grown greatly (about 8% on an average) since the invasion.

    A Climate of Change

    Produced as a prelude to the 2015 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the documentary A Climate of Change relies on the expert insights of several scientists to debunk the scepticism of global warming deniers and advocate for greater urgency in preventing further planetary abuse. Armed with easily understandable testimony and clear and concise evidence, the documentary hopes to put an end to the debate and begin the search for real solutions to an ever-worsening global crisis.

    Each of the scientist interviewed in the documentary concurs that the entirety of the issue is not solely caused by humans, but further catastrophe can be avoided if we are willing to take the appropriate steps to act. The film makes great use of statistics to illustrate the extent of the crisis, but it realises this alone is not enough to affect real change. To watch the documentary, visit

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    At a time when male actors had the lion's share of the powerful roles in the Malayalam industry, she was one woman who stood up to them. She took a long break after marriage, only to return with a powerful role in 'How Old Are You?'.

    Actor Manju Warrier was in the city for the launch of Kalyan Jewellers' store in Malleswaram. Manju, who is also the brand ambassador of Kalyan Jewellers, talks to Harini Naidu on her second innings.

    Which is your favourite spot in Bengaluru?

    I have come to Bengaluru only a few times. There is a lot to explore for me in this city and I am eager to see more of it.

    Why have you not ventured into other film industries?

    I am really looking forward for great opportunities. Thankfully discussions are happening and if everything goes well, then something might come up next year.

    Which is closer to your heart, dance or films? How do you juggle both?

    Both are close to my heart. They are like my hands and there is no need for me to juggle because I am not that busy a person and I have equal time for both (laughs).

    Who decides the expiry date of a woman's dream? What is your dream?

    My dream right now is to do good work. I think women are at par with men. I see them standing up for their rights and making a mark in their respective areas.

    What is your upcoming movie 'Odiyan' all about?

    It is a thriller. I am honoured to work with Mohanlal sir and learnt a lot from him.

    You made a comeback after 14 years. Where you apprehensive?

    It was not planned at all in my case. It just happened by chance and I'm blessed to receive such a warm welcome from people and for appreciating my work.

    Any tips for women getting back to work after a break in their life?

    Just be confident and be 100% sincere to what you do, and things will eventually fall in place.

    How was it to act with Amitabh Bachchan in the commercial?

    I thank Kalyan Jewellers for that. If it was not for them, I wouldn't have met him ever. You learn a lot of things from him on how to be grounded despite being hugely successful. He extends mutual respect and warmth to the people working with him.

    Any actor that you want to work with?

    I haven't yet worked with Mammootty sir. I had longed to work with Sri Jagathy Sreekumar, but it has not been possible due to certain circumstances.

    'Bhanu' in 'Kanmadam' or 'Bhadra' in 'Kannezhuthi Pottum Thottu'? Which would you rate as the best?

    Both are equally close to me. I cannot differentiate between any of my characters.
    Will the audience get to see a 'Bhanu' or 'Bhadra' again?

    I really hope such works come up.

    Are you excited about the new phase in commercial Malayalam cinema?

    I can't really say that the change has happened now as the change as always been there right from the beginning. Any good change is always welcome.

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  • 12/01/17--20:08: Stains of a kitchen disaster
  • There is something to be said about the utter humiliation of making a disaster in the kitchen. The feeling of inadequacy, the helplessness at why everything has gone wrong, and the gnawing worry of how to fix it. Twenty years ago, this was my reality most of the time I ventured into the kitchen.

    Thats why I love the technology that we have today. I know its making zombies out of us, into people who cannot react without the comfort of a screen, but how much easier it is to tap that very screen and get what you want.

    For instance, chances are you wont make that many disasters in the kitchen, thanks to apps like Tasty or Tastemade where you can see how the dish is supposed to look at every stage, right on your phone. Or, if things dont work out, one can always simply tap on Swiggy or Zomato and order something. Technology has made life so much easier for everyone, and humiliating memories like some of the ones I have wouldnt exist at all.

    The one memory that is seared into my brain is the time I made tomato soup for my aunt without the help of Knorr or Maggi instant-soup packets. I did everything wrong. The soup looked horrid, a dull and unbecoming red with chunky pieces of tomato in it that didnt seem to magically become smooth. I didnt know that we had to puree it. I didnt know how much I ought to season it. And I certainly didnt know that I shouldnt pour a beaten egg into it.

    Adding the egg just compounded the disaster, and now I had bits of floating egg in the soup while my aunt wanted to know when the soup would be ready. I was nervous and upset, and knew that while I could tell her the soup wasnt good, she would still want to see what it looked like.

    I had to stop her from seeing it at any cost!

    I couldnt exit the kitchen without bumping into her, sitting in the hall outside. I couldnt dump it into the dustbin either, because what would I tell her if she decided to check it?

    And of course, I would be berated about the waste of money on ingredients, which seemed to be the primary concern of most women, including my own.

    I was unhelpfully reminded of my several forays into the kitchen earlier where I had tried baking cakes in the newly minted microwave. I had no idea that baking cakes in the microwave took mere minutes, not half an hour as was usually the case with OTGs. In my defence, I was only 11.

    I would bake sponge cakes for 30 minutes and then wonder why they had become rock-hard, resulting in my family members bringing out hammers and pretending toothaches whenever I baked.

    Of course, there was also the lecture I had to listen to on the waste of butter and sugar.

    But the question of how I could get rid of the tomato soup remained. How I wished I had a wand so I could whirl it and make the mess disappear. My cousin who was lingering around came up with absurd ideas, such as trying to flush everything down the toilet. I was tempted, but how would we walk past my aunt without her knowing what we were doing?

    My cousin offered to hold up her kameez and asked me to pour the soup into the cradle that formed and suggested running to the toilet and flushing it immediately. I didnt know whether to laugh or cry, and thankfully, I did no such thing.

    I admitted defeat and went outside and told my aunt that the soup was not good and so I wouldnt be serving it to her. She muttered something about girls who didnt know how to make something as basic as soup, and I slunk away from there.

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  • 12/01/17--20:16: Bloody scene in an act
  • They are streaming out from your bedroom, ma - almost like an exodus! I killed about eight or nine and left them for you to see. Amused on seeing the WhatsApp message, I visualised in my mental landscape loads of them, uprooted from their homes, moving out lock, stock, and barrel to safer destinations. Chuckling to myself, I was soon immersed in my work, the message forgotten.

    It was on the way back that it flashed in my mind again, and I stopped at the nearest outlet to pick up an aerosol of insect spray. Alighting from the car, I pushed open the gate. Even before I could turn the key in the door, I saw some lying dead near the doorstep.

    Sidestepping them, I made my way inside. Nothing in the drawing room. The few in the bedroom were apparently dead by the looks of them, more as I spotted an aerosol of insect spray close by. The bathroom door was ajar. I pushed it open. Horror of horrors! They were everywhere, dead or wriggling as they held on to the last wisp of life. Bloodstains smeared on the floor stood out in stark contrast against the cream tiles. It couldnt have been a more dreadful scene. Nothing short of a bloodshed! Only the weapons were missing! It had to be cleaned up, and quickly at that! I rushed to the back of the house to get the broom and a dustpan.

    But what met me outside was worse - hundreds of them, dead or crawling about in a stupor as they made one last effort to escape the jaws of imminent death. The scene on the other side of the house was equally terrifying. "Hell is empty and all the devils are here," I murmured to myself. A peep over the neighbours wall and it was no different there.

    Not to be outwitted, I got cracking. Swish, swash, the sound of water rang out loud as I tried to obliterate all traces of the bloodbath, inside and outside the house. At the end of an hour, I stretched out my sore back, but not before ensuring that the plastic bag was securely fastened with a twine, lest they should come alive in the night, and kept it aside to be cleared by the garbage truck…

    Big, fat, ugly rodents pushing their way out of waterholes, gully traps and dirty drains making a beeline towards homes… Dead rats everywhere! As in Camuss city of Oran. An epidemic! The bubonic plague! I screamed, only to wake up, drowned in a sweat bath. Thank god! It was only a dream.

    "Did you spray any insecticide, amma?" the maid asked the next morning. "No, why?" "There was a strong smell and traces of oil around the house when I came in the afternoon." But of course! How foolish of me! The pest control. I muttered, as the mystery of the dead cockroaches was cracked.

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  • 12/01/17--20:30: A fairy-tale life
  • Nyhavn in the maritime city of Copenhagen sits like a fairy tale with its gorgeous coloured houses leaning against each other like old friends. Many of these old sailors quarters have been reimagined into trendy cafes, hotels and restaurants offering superb views of sailboats in the waters below. I was on a floating picnic in a solar-powered GoBoat.

    As we glided along the canals, our host, Guiseppe Liverino, pointed to a lovely, tall white house wedged between a brown building and a cream one. "This is the home of Hans Christian Andersen, who lived in Nyhavn between 1845 and 1864." I couldnt believe I was staring at the house of Denmarks gift to world literature. Marked No. 67 with a plaque honouring him, I almost expected words and fairy tales to waft out of its tall windows.

    Apparently, he lived in House No. 20 earlier, where he wrote Tinderbox and Little Claus and Big Claus.

    Ironically, the legendary fairy tale writer and poet who populated our childhood dream-scape with unforgettable characters led a life of penury. So poor was he that he was kicked out of the home I was staring at, because he couldnt pay his rent. He then moved a few hundred metres across to the other side, to live in a red house, No 18, where he met the same fate after two years! Without a penny to his name, Andersen allegedly sought out moneyed folks by pretending to be rich. Eventually, when the wheels of fortune turned, he was too old! There was something tragically beautiful about his story, and I wished I could step into his The Galoshes of Fortune to discover his Copenhagen. I had the perfect opportunity the following day.

    If there is one guided city walk you need to do in Copenhagen, it should be the Hans Christian Andersen Tour. Run by guide Richard Karpen, who literally transforms as he dons a top hat, a tailcoat and an old-world umbrella, and insists you call him Hans! American-born Richard may be from The NY Bronx, but is a Dane at heart who stays in character as he gives insights into the life of Copenhagens most famous writer of childrens books.

    The author was born in 1805 and died at the age of 70, leaving a body of work that continues to inspire generations.

    Andersen was born to a poor family in the Odense countryside and raised by his shoemaker father and washerwoman mother. His early life in Odense and subsequent travels around Funen Island (Fyn), where he lived in various manors and castles like Broholm Castle, Hindsgavl Castle and Valdemars Castle, inspired him to ink several of his stories. By 30, he had four fairy tales under his belt, and the rest is history.

    His books have been translated into every major language in the world. So when Richard said, "Each year, the only books in more publication are the Bible, Shakespeare and the IKEA catalogue," we believed him. The very name H C Andersen evokes a wave of nostalgia. As the author of bedtime stories like Thumbelina, Tinderbox, The Ugly Duckling, The Princess and the Pea, The Emperors New Clothes, and The Little Mermaid (which inspired Copenhagens most recognised and famous landmark on a rock at Langelinie promenade), he created characters and tales that left many enchanted.

    So the journey begins

    Having penned many long travelogues and the most unforgettable quotes on travel, it wasnt odd that in his autobiography, The Fairytale of My Life, he wrote, "To travel is to live," which became his motto for life.

    Andersen travelled 29 times outside Denmark spanning 10 years of his adult life - to Italy, Greece, Turkey, Spain and Portugal and the West, up to Norway, by horse carriage, and the Far East by ship! Though he never married, he fell in and out of love, often with ladies way out of his league. Living in a classist society, women wouldnt marry him because he was too poor. But a broken heart is often the rock bed of a successful poet or writer.

    By the end of his life, Andersen was rich, famous, and welcomed into the homes and feted by royalty. However, he was too old to marry. Having been denied a mature, physical or lasting relationship, people say he never really grew up. He wrote 1,000 poems, six novels, 40 plays and 175 fairy tales. "My whole life was the greatest fairy tale," he had once remarked, and it seemed true.

    Bachelors bust

    Inside City Hall stands a wonderful marble bust of storyteller extraordinaire Hans Christian Andersen. Though a life-long bachelor, the latters bust was placed near the civil marriage ceremony room, perhaps to bless relationships to turn into fairy tales! Newly married couples often pose or clink champagne flutes against City Halls alluring backdrop after signing their marriage contracts inside.

    We walked around the old city, along its cobbled paths and ancient landmarks. We found neoclassical architecture around the Bridge of Sighs and the Old Fountain of Charity at Gammeltorv (the citys oldest market square), visited the lovely Cathedral of Our Lady nearby, and marvelled at the brick wonder of the University Library and the Law Facultys vibrant 1850 wall frescoes before halting at The Round Tower or Rundetaarn, whose library hall became Andersens favourite spot for inspiration. For 20 years, Richard had kept the citys visitors rapt with these stories. Indians love him as he shares a great love for our culture. And, he doffed his top hat with a familiar, "Achcha ji, namaste. Bhagwan ki marji, phir milenge. Uparwale ki daya?!" and left me agape.

    Copenhagen was full of surprises! There was so much more to experience. But I stood by his large bronze statue on H C Andersen Boulevard that sat gazing at Tivoli Gardens. He had a book in one hand and a cane in the other, and his knees shone from people repeatedly sitting on his lap for an archetypal selfie at Copenhagen.

    I didnt need another prompt to enter the ornate gateway of Tivoli Gardens and its fairy-tale setting to experience Den Flyvende Kuffert or The Flying Trunk, a classic Hans Christian Andersen ride.

    The ride is named after the 1839 fairy tale of a young man who squanders all his money. Left with only a few belongings, he gets a magical trunk that transports him to Turkey, where he meets the Sultans doomed princess locked in a tower. After impressing the Sultan and his queen with his stories, they agree to let him marry the princess despite a curse of unhappiness. The excited lad buys fireworks, flies around the countryside, setting them off in celebration. One spark tragically falls on his trunk, burns it to ashes, and he can never fly to meet the princess in the tower again. So he wanders the world on foot, telling stories.

    And telling stories was all that Andersen did right up till his final resting place at Assistens Cemetery in Copenhagen, where I paid homage. As a writer and poet, H C Andersen was definitely Denmarks national treasure who has inspired movies, plays, ballets, books, and will continue to delight people for generations to come.

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  • 12/01/17--20:52: In the divine ravines
  • As we meandered past a sea of crowd (mainly auto and cab drivers) at Ajmer Railway Station, I wondered what Pushkar would be like - hot, cold, crowded, rainy? I hadnt read much about it, and while going up the hills of the Aravalli Range somewhere between Ajmer and Pushkar, I wondered if we were going to a hill station, but much to my amusement, we werent.

    A short drive of around 16 km from the city of Ajmer, famous for its Dargah Sharif, Pushkar is an unassuming lakeside town tucked in the centre of the biggest state of our country, Rajasthan. A sleepy settlement wrapped around the holy Pushkar Lake, it reverberates with divinity and is reminiscent of its more-crowded counterparts of Banaras, Rishikesh and Haridwar. But that being said, it can get pretty crowded here during the season, with the famous Pushkar Camel Fair.

    However, we were lucky as we visited the place during the monsoons, an off season.

    We reached the hotel after a long journey, and voila, the entire lake lay still right in front of us, ready to embrace us and recharge our batteries instantly.

    Home to one of the few Brahma temples in the world, people from far and wide come here to pray, especially for their ancestors. There are 52 bathing ghats around the lake where you can sit and meditate, sip a cup of tea at the innumerable cafes around, or just gaze at the sun going down.

    A filmy touch

    With a large number of hippies and Western tourists flocking in, Pushkar is like a scene from the Bollywood films of the 70s. The main attractions here are Pushkar Lake, Brahma and Savitri temples, and camel safaris. Those looking for a relaxing holiday thats easy on the pocket are in for a treat here as the entire city can be covered by foot. All you need to do is stroll around the lake and you will see bustling bazaars, overcrowded guest houses, busy street vendors, and tourists on rented two-wheelers.

    However, the one place you need transportation to reach is Savitri Temple, dedicated to the wife of Lord Brahma. A short distance from the centre of the town, taxis and autos take you to the base of the temple, which is atop a mountain. From here, you need to take a cable car to reach the peak. Many trekkers go up the mountains, especially to catch the sunrise.

    We chose the former, and though it was hot inside the car, the views around were breathtaking: the sprawling lush green Aravalli Range, the lake - a tiny blob of water - and goats grazing in the ravines of the mountains around watchful shepherds. Once we came down, we decided to visit the famous Brahma Temple of Pushkar, the only one of its kind in the world. Over 2,000 years old, legend has it that Lake Pushkar was created out of a petal that fell out of Brahmas lotus. Another story goes that Brahmas wife Savitri, furious on seeing Gayatri Devi take her spot during a yajna, had cursed him that he would never be worshipped. She later reduced the severity of the curse by allowing his worship only at Pushkar.

    On the camels...

    A visit to Pushkar is incomplete without the famed camel safari that takes you into the mesmerising Thar Desert. As we moved slowly away from the heart of the town into the arid lands, we took in the sights of the yellow fields around us. There was a quick stop in the desert for touristy things like posing for photographs wearing traditional Rajasthani garb and enjoying a chilled kulhad of lassi at the Diya Aur Baati Hum (yes, the serial) stall. The locals take pride in the fact that many popular serials and hit films have been shot here. We even saw the magnificent thakurs haveli from Karan Arjun on our way back.

    Though the safaris can be undertaken at any time of the day, sunrise and sunset are the ideal times to go for them. The golden rays of the sun, cool air, silence of the sands - the setting is straight out of a dream. There are also packages available for night safaris.

    It was still bright when we returned from the safari post sunset. We decided to sit down at one of the ghats and gaze at the twinkling lights going down the pristine lake waters. As hundreds of pigeons flew around us and we soaked in the sights and sounds of the divine, I had the song When the Lights Go Down in the City playing in my head.

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  • 12/01/17--20:58: Stories from the past
  • When I first told my folks that Id be going to Jerusalem, their reactions ranged from mild concern to complete disbelief. Enshrined in the Bible as the site of Jesuss resurrection, but also uncomfortably close to the disputed territory of Palestine, Jerusalem is not the obvious choice, even for an intrepid traveller. Yet, setting aside all political and religious proclivities, it is a magical city that reverberates with stories from the past.

    We drove to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv Airport encountering beautiful groves of coniferous trees along the way. They used to be more plentiful, our gentle and knowledgeable guide Shelly Eshkoli told us. Little patches of flowers surrounded by circular fences, and houses with graceful, curved balconies welcomed us to the main city. Some of the balconies had portly Jewish women in them, while others were only populated with empty chairs. The women wore skirts, youngsters strolled around in shorts, and the city did not seem all that conservative.

    We were put up at a lovely little hotel with psychedelic videos playing at every level and a wonderful white-washed terrace on the third floor. That night, we dined at Eucalyptus, an al fresco restaurant renowned for its recipes inspired by the Bible.

    The chef descended upon our table with myriad fragrant herbs that he grows in his own garden. Under his guidance, I performed the maklouba ritual, which involved moving my hands seven times over the tureen containing the biryani-like dish, with a wish in my heart, and upturning it at the seventh incantation to create a perfect mound on the table.

    That wish is yet to be fulfilled, but I believe the Universe has set the ball rolling. After dinner, we strolled around the Teddy Kollek Park area, with the Tower of David glimmering in the distance.


    Jerusalems Old City is full of meandering cobble-stoned paths that will sometimes take you up long flights of stairs to reveal stunning views of the Dome of the Rock shrine and other times, compel you to enter beguiling shops filled with Armenian ceramics, oxidised bracelets and pretty handwoven bags.

    At the Western Wall, which is connected to Temple Mount, I was a little taken aback to see Jewish men and women (in separate areas) murmuring lines from a prayer book and wiping away tears periodically while they touched their heads to the holy wall. We would learn later that they were mourning for the mistreatment Jews have borne over the ages.

    During my first summer job in Mumbai, I had a Jewish boss who would often tell me how much he suffered knowing that his ancestors went through such horrors. So it wasnt hard for me to believe that the people at the temple truly felt so deeply about the darkness in their history.

    The mood was positively sombre, but a little while later, awe replaced our despondency as a new guide, David, took us to the newly restored underground portions of the Old City. Here, we laid our eyes upon marvels such as a ginormous section of wall that was manually transposed, and perfectly preserved bathing chambers that smelt of times gone by. We exited this strange amber-lit world to be confronted by the sounds and the colours of the Arabian Quarter.

    A basket outside a shop held an array of shofars and ibex horns used in Jewish celebrations and prayers. At the food market, I asked excitedly for some Israeli halwa, only to be told sternly that they only stocked Palestinian halwa. The Jewish Quarter was quiet in the afternoon but for a bunch of young boys playing football in the grounds of a school close to the Defenders Monument.

    We roamed through the restored Christian Quarter with its ancient structures and squares that seemed frozen in time. A couple of adorable Jewish boys selling balloons screamed, "No photos!", and we almost dropped our cameras.

    The sun was strong and we found respite in intermittent patches of shade, often joined by other thirsty walkers. But the most spiritual experience of the Old City for me was the Church of Holy Sepulchre, a vast complex full of sacred shrines and Jesuss burial tomb.

    The night before, I had dreamt of a Catholic friend and I felt a deep impulse to bless a Cross for him at the tomb. Id purchased one carved from the olive tree at one of the shops outside the church and placed it upon the tomb like everyone else, closing my eyes and holding my hands together in prayer. For a Christian, it would be a great fortune to be able to pray at that tomb, we were told. I considered myself quite lucky too.

    Life goes on...

    After a quick lunch of shawarma and fruits, we continued our exploration of the ramparts and the treasures of the Old City. At one point, we encountered a troop of Indian soldiers. We learnt that they were there to train from the Israeli military force. Evidence of Jerusalems political turmoil can be found in the military personnel stationed outside many major landmarks.

    But as Shely said, life in the city goes on. And the ancient doors inscribed with Biblical motifs remain as beautiful, whether gunfire has pierced the air that day or not.

    That night, we feasted on authentic Mediterranean fare at Medita, followed by a mesmerising sound-and-light show at the Tower of David. We couldnt make out much from the Hebrew commentary interspersed with meagre English translations, but we understood enough to know that Jerusalem had been through a lot. No city this beautiful ought to be so beleaguered and we wished fervently that the plea for peace at the end of the show would find resonance across all the neighbouring territories.

    A little away from the main city but still part of Jerusalem District is the achingly beautiful village of Ein Karem, an important pilgrimage site, as it was the birthplace of St John the Baptist and the place of the Visitation.

    At the Church of Saint John the Baptist, we saw the Biblical passage beginning with Blessed be the Lord God of Israel written in a dozen different languages. From there, we walked across fairy-tale paths embraced by gardens and picture-postcard views of mountains and orchards to reach the tiny Marys Spring. Shely was right - Ein Karem was a much sweeter goodbye to Jerusalem than the grave Holocaust Museum.

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    Nearly 50 years ago, when Shivappagouda, a progressive farmer, bought a bulldozer to flatten his rugged land, the machine became the neighbours envy and the owners pride. Impressed by its prowess, he ventured to purchase 20 more such units. Soon, neighbours began to swarm his fields on the pretext of lending him a helping hand to till his land, often simply to get closer to these giant machines.

    Shivappagouda did not stop at this. He also opened a garage to repair his machines that occasionally threw tantrums. Little did Shivappagouda realise that the penchant for machines would soon grip the entire village. Within a few years, most of the farmers began using bulldozers. Today, the bulldozer business is the backbone of the economy of Bannikoppa, a small village in Yelburga taluk of Koppal district.

    Their success story lies in hard work, planning, cooperation and experience. While purchasing bulldozers is not an easy task, finding spare parts is even tougher. Neither do they have the financial backup nor do the banks support them. The farmers purchase old machines, spare parts and motors, assemble and transform them into giant machines, which are useful in large-scale construction projects like housing, railway, road-laying and transportation. The farmers often mortgage their land or avail loans to assemble spare parts at their garages.

    Those who worked with Shivappagouda and mastered the tricks of the trade are now entrepreneurs in their own right. At Bannikoppa, your worth is measured by the number of vehicles you own, says Mahesh, a gram panchayat member who owns a bulldozer. If qualification, salary and family name are the deciding factors for seeking an alliance elsewhere, at Bannikoppa, the number of vehicles owned by the family is the deciding factor! It has also helped them sail through in times of drought. The bulldozers of Bannikoppa are quite popular in Karnataka and neighbouring states.

    According to Basavaraj, a garage owner, old machines and motors are purchased through the agents who buy them from the auctions of various government departments. They also visit the scrap dealers in Kolhapur and Kolkata to purchase the spare parts. They reassemble, revive and transform what they buy into tippers, JCBs and bulldozers. They either sell these vehicles or rent them out to construction companies on an hourly or monthly basis, depending on the deal they fix with the contractors.

    Giant machines have provided direct or indirect employment to hundreds of people in and around Bannikoppa as many work as drivers, mechanics, cleaners, assemblers, garage owners and entrepreneurs.

    Their business will thrive as long as the construction companies continue to hire their vehicles. The track-doubling of the Hosapete-Tinaighat railway line and the four-laning of the Hosapete-Bhanapur stretch are among the projects that have kept their hearth warm.

    It, therefore, comes as no surprise that the residents of Bannikoppa have set their village apart from the rest, as the entire community is part of an industrial movement.

    (Translated by Jyotsna P Dharwad)

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  • 12/03/17--20:56: Jowar on your platter
  • The rhythmic tapping of jowar dough on a flat surface signals that the meal is ready in any house or khanavali (traditional eatery) in the undivided Dharwad district. The thali (meal) of this region, the heartland of jowar rotis, invariably has fluffy, soft jowar roti along with curries like badnekayi enagayi (brinjal stuffed with spices and dipped in gravy), chutneys, jhunkad wadi (solidified gram flour with chilli), pudi (dry powder of a variety of lentils), menthe soppu (fenugreek leaves), a salad of tender cucumber, radish and onions, and rice with curds.

    Though North Indian and continental foods have made their way into the urban areas, it is jowar roti (also called as bhakri), which reigns supreme in the kitchens here. Be it the soft roti or kadak roti (a crispy variant of roti with more shelf life) or the jolada nucchu (jowar flour stirred into semi-liquid form with vegetables) or jola baana (For this, jowar is first pounded and soaked overnight. It is then boiled and eaten with curds, onion, garlic and coriander), jowar is the staple food of the region.

    Return of millets

    Of late, a lot of people across the State have begun understanding the importance of millets in ones diet. But millets, which have strong connections with the soil and climate of this region, have traditionally been part of the food basket of Dharwad district. "Minor millets like navane (foxtail millet), haraka (kodo millet), sajje (pearl millet), baragu (proso millet), which are known for their nutritional properties, are used in a variety of dishes," says Professor Pushpa
    Bharati, an expert on millets.

    In addition to this, she says, the thalipittu (mixed flour roti), which is made from an assortment of lentil and cereal flours and known for its nutritive value, is also popular among the people of the region as breakfast food. The curry of sprouted lentils is an integral part of everyday meal. The region is also known for its pudis, which provide nutritional supplement. There are powders of gurellu (niger seeds), agasi (flax seeds), ellu (sesame), shenga (groundnut), putani (chana dal) and karibevu (curry leaves). Some of these pudis are sprinkled on salads, curries or stuffed into vegetables.

    Festival food

    The festival foods of Dharwad region are quite interesting. During Nagarapanchami, people prepare at least 20 types of undis (laddus) like shenga undi (groundnut laddu), godhi undi (wheat laddu), kumbalkai beeja undi (laddu with dried pumpkin seeds), antina undi (laddu of dry fruits, edible gum and jaggery), ellu undi (sesame laddu), tambittu (laddu made of chana and jaggery), navane undi (foxtail millet laddu), avalakki undi (beaten rice laddu), etc. Besides, they prepare aralittu (powder of popcorn made of a special type of jowar and eaten with milk and sugar or with stuffed dried chilli, curds), usuli (spicy mixture of sprouts), etc.

    "All these dishes are highly nutritious and heat up your body in the rainy season," says Vishweshwari Hiremath, a food expert and member of Academic Council of the Folklore University at Gotagodi in Haveri district. She adds that during the month of Shravana, hoorana holige, hoorana kadubu (fried wheat dumpling stuffed with boiled pulses) and kucchida kadubu (wheat dumpling which is fried or steamed in water) and godhi huggi are a must. During Deepavali, snacks like karchikai, chakli, kodubale are common. These snacks are exchanged with neighbours, which in turn promotes social bonding.

    Seasons choice

    Ramu Moolagi, a folklore expert, explains that many dishes here are season-specific. This is either based on the seasons harvest or because they provide the nutritional supplements necessary for that particular season. For instance, during Sankranti people prepare huggi (kichdi made of rice and green gram), sajje rotti (bajra roti), shenga holige (groundnut holige), madali and mixed vegetable curry with carrot, peas and brinjal. All these ingredients are harvested in that season. Sajje is also known as winter food as it supplies the seasons dietary requirements. This apart, every full moon day is celebrated in a unique manner here with varied dishes. For instance, on Sheegi Hunnime day, which falls in October-November, pundi palye (curry of pundi leaves), kucchida khara (steamed green chilli chutney), stuffed capsicum vegetable, sandige (papad-like crispy snack) and akki payasa (rice pudding) are prepared.

    On Ellu Amavasye day (which falls in the month of December), traditionally people, in groups, go to fields and offer the harvest to mother Earth. They then prepare dishes like mixed vegetables, pumpkin, ellu holige (holige made of sesame) and undagadubu (dumpling made of jowar) and have them in the field itself.

    In addition to the home-made sweets, the most popular ethnic sweet of Dharwad is the pedha. With a history of 175 years, it has a Geographical Indication (GI) tag. Though there are many major producers of pedha in Dharwad now, the unique sweet was originally prepared here by the Babusingh Thakur family, which had migrated from Uttar Pradesh in the 19th century.

    For tea break, the people dive to road-side push carts, eateries or canteens which make girmit. It is a type of dry bhel made of puffed rice topped with onion, chilli and shev. This is often relished with mirchi or bhaji made of hot chilli. Savanur khara (mixture) is another favourite snack. Hubballis Durgad Bail boasts of a legendary eat street serving many such snacks.

    Dominated by the Lingayat population and influenced by the 12th century social reformer Basavanna, a large population of this region consumes vegetarian food. However, for those who love non-vegetarian food, the Savji community (SSK community) prepares tasty non-vegetarian foods like the akanee mutton biryani. The curries with grainy texture and Savaji masala go well with roti and kuska rice. Be it jowar-based recipes, various chutney pudis, badnekayi enagayi or kempu chutney made using the famed Byadagi chilli, eating whats in season and local crops lie at the heart of the food culture of undivided Dharwad district which comprises the present Gadag and Haveri districts as well.

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  • 12/03/17--20:58: Bidar's distinctive doors
  • There are numerous structures in Bidar that stand testimony to the ingenuity of the artisans and the creative capacity of the kings who ruled the region in different periods of time. Among them are five specially-designed iron doors (called as darwazas) found in Bidar Fort and Old City. Of them, four doors, Sharjah Darwaza, Mangal Pet Darwaza, Fateh Darwaza, Shahaganj Darwaza, found in the fort area, are built during the regime of Bahamani sultans. These magnificent doors are built using teak wood and sheesham wood. Iron frames are fixed on the borders of the doors. The height of these doors is about 30 feet. These doors were later renovated under the Nizam rule. One can see iron panels on the doors, with Arabic script on them.

    "These heavy iron doors have saved the fort and its people during invasions," says historian Samad Bharati. Sentry rooms and watchtowers can be seen on both sides of these doors. Here the access road winds in S shape as straight accessibility may lead to breakage of the doors during the time of wars. The doors are fitted with iron nails to stop even the elephants from breaking into the fort.

    After the Nizams took over the fort, they renovated the darwazas as per their interests. The modified design is seen clearly in Sharjah Darwaza. Writer Basavaraj Ballur feels that the authority concerned should make concerted efforts to save these distinctive doors.

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    Two years after a tsunami devastated parts of Japan, a small black-and-white-striped fish washed ashore in Long Beach Peninsula, Washington, USA. The barred knifejaw (Oplegnathus fasciatus), which is native to Asian waters, had made the 7,000-km trip in the stern well of a deserted fishing vessel set adrift by the giant wave. The knifejaw found in 2013 is just one of the hundreds of species carried across the Pacific Ocean to North America by debris - estimated to weigh a total of nearly 1.5 million tonnes - that was swept out to sea after the Tohoku earthquake in March 2011.

    As extreme coastal weather events such as hurricanes, typhoons and tsunamis become more intense and frequent as a result of climate change, researchers warn that such mass migration events could also become more common. James Carlton, a marine ecologist at the Maritime Studies Programme of Williams College and Mystic Seaport in Mystic, Connecticut, USA, and his colleagues worked with more than 100 volunteers to look for tsunami debris along North American shores, including the west coast of the United States and Canada, as well as Hawaii.

    Over almost five years starting in 2012, they intercepted 634 objects that could be traced back to the tsunami, ranging in size from small fragments of plastic to fishing vessels and mooring docks. Between them, they carried from Japan 289 species of living invertebrates and fish, the researchers report in Science. Some of the creatures had survived adrift for several years.

    Migration concerns

    Thats just a fraction of the "thousands or tens of thousands" of objects estimated to have landed in North America, says James. And he suspects there are more to come. "Many of these can subsist in the ocean for longer than we could imagine," he says. "We had no idea this would last into 2017."

    The team began its search when a 165-tonne dock - made of concrete, steel and polystyrene foam - washed up on the coast of Oregon, 15 months after the disaster. This megaraft was coated with almost 100 different species. It was a harbinger, James says, of the need to monitor what else might be coming. More recent debris has not been so species-rich; only one object hosting more than 20 species has been found since summer 2015.

    The teams finds included gooseneck barnacles (Lepas sp.) that blanketed the bottom of a wrecked fishing boat and a Japanese limpet (Siphonuria sirius) that had hitched a ride on a buoy. Most of the creatures arriving were invertebrates: mollusks, annelid worms, cnidarians (jellyfish and their relatives), crustaceans and moss-like marine invertebrates called bryozoans. It is unusual for vertebrates such as the knifejaw fish to be carried so far, says Gail Ashton, a marine ecologist at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Centre in Tiburon, California, USA.

    The mass migration raises the concern that some of these trans-Pacific passengers might establish invasive populations on the North American coast. None of the species has been spotted doing so yet. But "the fact that theyve lasted in the ocean for four or five years shows theyre pretty hardy," says Gail. And by the time any species do settle, says James, it could be too late to do anything about it. Once a population is common enough to see, he says, "it becomes harder to manage eradication."

    Such a huge rafting event is unprecedented, say the researchers. Japan has seen only two other earthquakes with magnitudes comparable to Tohoku in the last few centuries; they occurred in 1896 and in 1933. "If you look at photos of the same coasts in those years, there are small villages with wood houses," says James. "Back then, a tsunami could not generate this sea of plastic we saw in 2011."

    Biodegradable objects such as wood would rarely survive such a long trip. The study underscores the far-reaching consequences of plastic in the environment, says Jenna Jambeck, an environmental engineer at the University of Georgia, USA. "Once something enters the ocean, it becomes a global problem."

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  • 12/03/17--21:22: Naturebites

    Reasons for the disappearance of tigers

    The dwindling population of wild tigers has always been of great concern. While several efforts are being made to control the illegal poaching of tigers in India, the decline in the number of tigers is also strongly affected by other factors like the loss of habitat. Scientists from the Kalakkad Mundanthurai Tiger Reserve (KMTR), Tamil Nadu and the Salim Ali School of Ecology and Environmental Sciences, Puducherry have studied the natural causes that led to the near complete absence of tigers in KMTR for over two decades. The scientists believe that such an absence is linked to the low numbers of large hoofed herbivores, which are the primary prey for tigers.

    They looked at how the banning of cattle grazing in the KMTR plateau affected the populations of large carnivores and their prey. They argued that ban would leave more vegetation for the prey and lead to an increase in their population. This would mean that the tiger population would increase too.

    However, while there were improvements in the prey population, their density was still low. The scientists found that the plateau had large herbivores enough to only sustain around 11 tigers per 100 square km area. This study might help us better understand the complex dynamics between predators and preys in a forest.


    Similar prey, but two very different necks

    It was a question that dogged biologists: Why the neck? Imperial cormorants, lanky, long-necked creatures that live on the southern coasts of Argentina and Chile, spend much of their time immersed in the frigid waters of the ocean. They dive to chilly depths to hunt fish.

    But the cormorants have neighbours: Magellanic penguins. Their stout, well-insulated bodies seem like a much better choice for hunting in this unforgiving environment, while the slender, exposed necks of cormorants are like gloveless hands in January. "They would lose heat," says Agustina, a researcher at the Instituto de Biologia de Organismos Marinos in Argentina. "So whats the advantage?" As it turns out, that long, flexible necks offer real benefits when you hunt like a cormorant, according to a paper published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

    While cormorants shed heat in the ocean, this energy loss may be offset by being able to move only their head, not their whole body, when they snap up prey. Cormorants prowl among the rocks and see their prey only when they are very close, their heads shooting out to grab it. Researchers found that a cormorant uses half as much energy by just moving her head and not her whole body.

    A long neck does mean a certain amount of heat is lost, and the cormorants gawky profile is not as streamlined as a penguins form. But in a species that moves a bit slower than penguins, the benefit of being able to hunt more efficiently may outweigh these downsides.


    Developing in two generations

    A study of Darwins finches, which live on the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean, has revealed direct genetic evidence that new species can arise in just two generations. The arrival of a strange bird to a remote island in the Galapagos archipelago 36 years ago has provided direct genetic evidence of a novel way in which new species arise.

    In a recent issue of the journal Science, researchers from Princeton University, USA and Uppsala University, Sweden report that the newcomer belonging to one species mated with a member of another species resident on the island, giving rise to a new species that today consists of roughly 30 individuals.

    The study comes from work conducted on Darwins finches, which live on the Galapagos Islands in the Pacific Ocean. The remote location has enabled researchers to study the evolution of biodiversity due to natural selection.



    In geological terms, were currently living in the Holocene stage of the Earths existence; a period of time when all the elements have proven most beneficial to our species. But our unfettered growth has left a massive footprint upon our planet, and its ramifications may soon usher in a new geological epoch. Anthropocene, a short documentary produced by the ABC-TV Catalyst series, examines the characteristics and the consequences of this oncoming age.

    From singular events such as the first nuclear weapons test of 1945 to the unprecedented industrialisation thats occurred in nearly every region of the world, our Earth has undergone more rampant change in recent times than any other period in its history. Geologists call this period the anthropocene.

    In the midst of the climate change debate, Anthropocene examines the crisis our planet faces from a fresh perspective that is not often considered by the mainstream. To watch the documentary, visit

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  • 12/03/17--21:24: Saving our coastlines
  • Searching for a lovely romantic spot on sandy shores, far from the maddening crowd? Your search has just been made harder by a complex process called erosion. This is not the physical process of sand being eroded, although that is the unfortunate outcome. What is pertinent here is an erosion of legislation. Beaches, the outpouring of longing for stasis between land, rivers and oceans, are the epitome of change. Change has never been faster than today, with about half of our countrys coastline under threat of disappearing forever.

    Chipping away at the rock of our environmental legislation, are small tweaks, amendments that slipped past public scrutiny; one affecting rivers, another affecting industry, a third affecting coastlines. No one could see what it was all adding up to, perhaps not the amenders themselves. Indias disappearing beaches reveal the cumulative impact of complex processes involving dams on rivers, construction and mining along the coast, falling groundwater levels and impacts of climate change.

    Without public scrutiny

    As the rich monsoon claims the land every year, the land relinquishes bits of herself as the sediment that fertilises the shallow ocean. Rivers race to erase this relationship, scouring the rock to create sand and delivering it to the coast at their estuaries. The ocean then steps in to layer this sand and sediment along the coast, and the water currents shape these formations into beaches.

    But various little safeguards that were put in place to keep our rivers fresh and flowing and our oceans clear and bountiful have disappeared. The most recent was the October 2017 amendment to the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification (CRZ), 2011, to allow mining of atomic minerals like uranium and thorium. More significant than the actual removal of sand and sediment for mining in fragile coastal ecosystems is the fact that there was no opportunity provided for public scrutiny or feedback on the proposed amendment.

    According to an article by researchers from the Namati Environmental Justice Programme, this is just the latest in a series of such amendments that have been notified without public scrutiny. Another important amendment that bypassed public opinion was the serious issue of lifting regulations on groundwater withdrawal along the coast, near urban areas.

    The 2016 report of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Water Resources states that Indias groundwater is already severely depleted. With urban areas already facing issues of saltwater intrusion into groundwater, the impact of allowing further groundwater withdrawal, could seriously impact drinking water supplies of coastal regions.

    A more insidious threat is the gradual loss of public spaces to private property that serves commercial interests. One aspect of this involves the definition of the coast, or more specifically, the High-Tide Line (HTL). Under the Coastal Regulation Zone Notification, 1991, areas within the first 500 metres of the high tide are protected from development by law. However, the HTL itself was not defined until a recent coastal zone mapping exercise, by the National Centre for Sustainable Coastal Management, which controversially left out ecologically sensitive areas and wetlands in Tamil Nadu.

    Further, fishermen suggest that the real HTL is actually further inland than that marked on the map. Marking the HTL further out to sea opens up more area close to the sea for construction and development. At the same time, another amendment does away with the requirement of coastal tourism infrastructure to provide a pathway outside their premises allowing public access to the beach. Not only does this physically restrict public access to the remaining beaches, but it also allows for more dense development along the coast.

    The construction of hard, cement structures on beaches that are made of shifting sand produces unusual patterns of erosion along the shore. This is most starkly visible as a consequence of the construction of ports with breakwaters and other hard structures in the sea. The most famous example is that of the beach in Puducherry, which was eroded after the construction of the port, just south of the beach.

    According to a report by PondyCAN, a non-profit organisation that works on coastal erosion, natural sand deposition flows from south to north along the Puducherry coast, but this was blocked by the jetty, breakwaters and other hard structures built by the port. Consequently, beaches to the south of this construction received all the sand, and beaches to the north received no sand. The regular erosion continued on both sides of the port, with the result that sand from the Puducherry beach was only eroded and not replaced causing total loss of the beach.

    Coastal development, along with other industrial development, was also enabled by amendments to the Environmental Impact Assessment Notification, 2006. In March 2017, for a period of six months, proposers of development that violated norms set by the Environment Protection Act were allowed to apply for post-facto clearance - a process that renders the already controversial impact assessment process completely useless. In light of all these changes, an overall picture emerges, of the very land we live on being eroded from under our feet.

    The standard response to such visible erosion has been to artificially deposit sand in order to create beaches. This is not a new idea. The Marina Beach in Chennai was actually just a sand ridge formed in the estuary of River Cooum. It was turned into a beach through active modification and artificial deposits of sand by the British.

    Karnatakas plight

    The coasts along Udupi and Dakshina Kannada districts have already been earmarked for extensive tourism development. Currently, tourism infrastructure is interspersed with fishing villages, but with the new CRZ amendment, tourism projects could cordon off all access to the beaches.

    The implications of added human pressure on the delicate coastal ecosystem and the requirement of additional groundwater are compounded by the Union Governments Startup Coast initiative, intended to ease pressure on Bengaluru and develop coastal Karnataka as a supportive environment for startups. This raises issues that currently plague Bengalurus startup-friendly environment, including groundwater depletion and pollution, extensive construction and lack of area for rainwater seepage. All these would have been subject to extensive scrutiny under the previous CRZ laws, but will now be considered legal forms of development.

    The Mangaluru-Malpe area is particularly threatened, not only by extensive coastal construction in the form of existing ports and harbours, but also in the form of the proposed harbour at Kulai. In addition, the Yettinahole project and the Paschima Vahini project threaten the loss of freshwater inputs into Dakshina Kannadas waters, threatening to completely destroy the coastal fisheries. The fishermen had a sneak preview of the impacts of reduced freshwater inflow in the years of 2016-17 when monsoons were weaker than usual, and therefore fish catches had greatly declined.

    Environmental legislation has myriad consequences because natural processes in the environment are so interconnected. Public awareness that there is no issue too small to slip unnoticed is the first step to restoring Indias coast. Environmental governance requires public participation rather than apathy. Safeguarding Indias beaches requires constant vigilance, regarding even small amendments to Indias environmental laws.

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  • 12/11/17--21:36: Juhi set to croon in Kannada
  • After crooning for a song in Pushpaka Vimana, actor Juhi Chawla will be seen again in a Kannada movie titled Very Good 10/10. She has not only appeared in a song in the movie but has sung it too.

    Calling the experience as memorable, she says that she is happy to return to a familiar space and catch up with some old friends in the film industry. She has now been signed on as the narrator for EPIC Channels television series Sharanam where she will take the viewers on a eventful journey to some of the most revered pilgrimage places across the country. She has also signed a couple of projects in Bollywood. In an interview, the actor talks about her new show and how she enjoys juggling work with family time.

    Tell us about your new show Sharanam.

    I was very excited when I was asked to come on board for Sharanam because I found it to be a very enriching experience. I am sure that everybody who watches it will be charmed by what they see. The show takes you on a trip to some of the most revered pilgrimage places across the country such as Somnath Temple, Shirdi, Velankanni church and the Golden Temple. There is something about these places that really takes your breath away.

    How was the experience of narrating the show?

    I enjoyed it because you get an insight into the history of the place, the stories that made it so popular and the mythological aspects. I wish I could travel to these places for the show but with so many people there, I am sure we will not be allowed to enter with our cameras.

    What made you sign the song in Very Good 10/10?

    It is a childrens film and the song is similar to those sung during the morning assembly in schools. I liked the tone of the song. The director wanted me to sing the song and appear in it, which I gladly agreed to do.

    How was the experience of singing the song?

    I made an effort to understand the meaning of every word that I was singing and worked towards getting the pronunciation right. I am particular that I must know the meaning and essence of the song before I sing it.

    Do you come to Bengaluru very often?

    I used to travel to Bengaluru quite often, but now that frequency has reduced. I now come for guest appearances and IPL matches. But whenever I am in Bengaluru, I never leave without giving Ravichandranji a call. He is the only friend I have there. I remember how, during the shooting of Pushpaka Vimana, he asked me what I wanted. The only thing that I told him was to bring some food from his house which he gladly did.

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  • 12/11/17--21:44: The view from the top
  • Capturing those special moments when youre travelling has become a must-do thing these days. These photographs are seen as a return ticket to a moment you once cherished.

    But for many passionate photographers and travellers, the way they capture these photos is as important as the final product. So much so that they dont mind investing in high-end gadgets like action cameras, GoPro cameras and drones.

    For IT professional Arun Kumar Kulal, travelling every weekend with his GoPro camera is a must. In fact, hes popularly known as GoPro man on social media!

    "Its been a few years since I started using a GoPro camera. I found it very difficult to stop at every location, take out my DSLR, set it up, take the picture, pack it back and follow the same procedure every time I found a new spot. But with GoPro, I can click and record moments on the go," he explains.

    Apart from capturing pictures, his interest for recording moments has unexpected benefits. During one of his trips when he found a bike lying on the
    road, he took to social media to identify the owner.

    He says, "I was on my way to a new place and I found a bike lying on the road. I wasnt sure if the rider was safe or not. I put up a small video of that on my YouTube channel. A week later, I got a message from a person claiming that it was his bike. He was indeed hurt and had been taken to the hospital
    at the time."

    With the technology of a GoPro being updated regularly, transferring the pictures to your phone has become simpler. Jan Joseph George, a traveller and a member of the GoPro family, says, "You dont need a computer or a USB cord to transfer the pictures anymore. Just by using the app, I can instantly upload it to my social media pages."

    And as the equipment is waterproof, one can also take pictures underwater. "Many buy a GoPro and assume that you will get a good picture no matter what. Its important to know that locations and the way you take the picture also matter. I recently
    went to Meghalaya and the water there was so clear. I took some beautiful underwater shots. Its great if you are an athlete but a good eye for details also makes a big difference."

    Another equipment that travellers are taking with them is a drone. It allows you to take aerial shots and show a place like youve never seen it before. However, you arent allowed to fly it everywhere - depending on the place, you will need written permissions from the authorities.

    Nathaniel is the chief adventure officer at and often packs in his drone while travelling.

    He explains, "Ive only used the drone about 60 to 70 times so far and the picture quality is amazing. I make sure that I take prior permission before I use it. If it is a reserved forest or a restricted area, I dont take the drone with me at all." Known as Garminion on social media, Nathaniel makes sure that he doesnt disclose the places name unless he trusts the person who is enquiring.

    "I like visiting places that are unexplored. And if I tell people about every place I go to, it might become a frequently visited place. I dont want to contribute to making the place dirty. Im happy with capturing my images with my high-quality equipment and having people admire it from their screens."

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  • 12/11/17--22:02: Vroom for adventure
  • An urge to explore new cities and experience them is what drives this couple to literally go places.

    After having worked in several parts of North India for most of their lives, Ayesha Barse and Merajuddin Ansari didnt waste time when an opportunity to relocate to Bengaluru came their way.

    The duo work in the hospitality industry and this also made it easier for them to find jobs of their choice in Bengaluru. Ayesha works as a senior HR professional and Merajuddin is an executive chef with a hotel.

    Elaborating on what prompted them to choose Bengaluru, Ayesha says, "We lived in Pune before this and we were told by a lot of our friends that the people are warm and welcoming here and that the weather is good. These two factors further influenced our decision."

    It is Ayesha who first moved here and joined her new workplace and Merajuddin soon followed suit.

    "This is a growing city that has tremendous opportunities for work and networking," says Ayesha.

    It has been a little less than a year since the couple moved here and they say that it didnt take them too long to feel one with the city. "Our work keeps us both very busy and this leaves us with very little time to mix with people outside our respective work places. But having said that, I must say that I have managed to make some really nice friends and that has also helped me settle down here," she adds.

    Theres no better way to explore the city than on a bike or by foot. Both Ayesha and Merajuddin have followed this belief. They love riding and one of the first things that Merajuddin did after moving here was to buy a Royal Enfield. "We thought the best way to explore the city and places around it was on our bike. So weekends are set apart for our bikes rides. We have so far ridden to Nandi Hills and Bannerghatta National Park. We wanted to first visit places inside the city and then maybe move farther away," adds Ayesha.

    Who doesnt like to experiment with food? Merajuddins profession as a chef and Ayeshas work in the hospitality industry has only added to their interest in food. "We are experimental eaters. We like frequenting Toscano, Whitefield Social and ordering from Paradise Biryani. Some of the restaurants at Phoenix MarketCity and Forum Mall in Whitefield are also nice," says Ayesha.

    She adds that they have also tried the brunch at Shangri-La, enjoy the oriental food at Zuri and head to Coyla at Four Points by Sheraton whenever they have time. While their experiments with food continue, the couple also watches their diet. "We didnt really watch our diet during the first few months after moving here but now we make the most of the fresh vegetables sold by farmers near our home. While we love our food, we have slowly begun to regulate our diet to maintain a healthy lifestyle," elaborates Ayesha.

    While the couple have settled down here, they dont seem to take too well to the massive traffic jams they encounter regularly. "The traffic here is unbelievable, it is worse than Mumbai or Pune. Thankfully, we chose a place close to my office but my husband has to battle with crazy traffic during the evening. I had only heard about the nightmarish Bengaluru traffic and now I have experienced it too," she says.

    Ayesha wonders why people here dont take to carpooling in a big way, "This would reduce the number of four wheelers on the road. Had the traffic conditions here been better, I feel people could meet more often," she signs off.

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  • 12/11/17--22:06: 'I am not always talkative'
  • It was on a whim that Shirley Setia decided to display her musical prowess online. The Indo-Kiwi singer recorded a cover version of Tum Hi Ho, from her house in Auckland, and entered it into a contest by T-Series. Her entry was chosen as one of the overall winners from lakhs of entries and there has been no looking back for the chirpy youngster since then.

    Shirley has shifted base to Mumbai and recently lent her voice to the movie A Gentleman.

    Last month, she released her new single Tu Mil Gaya with Artist Aloud, a talent and independent content platform. The track will soon be available on platforms like Hungama and Wynk. The YouTube star spoke about her melodious journey so far..

    How did you get interested in this field?

    I never thought I would ever become a singer; it all just happened spontaneously. I uploaded a video on YouTube, which went viral, and that motivated me to keep doing more videos.

    What platform do you enjoy more - live shows or the digital space?

    I think both have a different vibe. I absolutely love interacting with all my fans online but nothing can replace the feeling you get when you see them in person, singing along with you as you perform.

    The most memorable moment in your singing career so far?

    I have had many. The most recent one was when my Bollywood song Disco Disco released. I was with my parents and brother in Europe - they were all so happy and proud. I dont think I will ever forget that moment.

    How was the experience of working in Bollywood?

    It was great! I had an amazing time working with Sachin-Jigar; both of them are super sweet and guided me on how to get the best take for Disco Disco. I also met Sidharth Malhotra when he was dubbing his rap for Bandook Meri Laila and he said that his entire team loved Disco Disco.

    Tell us about your new song...

    Ever since I moved to India, I have been wanting to work on more originals. My new song Tu Mil Gaya is all about giving love a chance, being spontaneous and living in the moment. I am an overthinker so just being in the moment doesnt come easy for me. In a way I was telling myself to just go for it through this song.

    Your musical inspirations...

    Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, Kishore Kumar, Asha Bhosle, KK and Arijit Singh.

    If not a singer then...

    I would most probably have been working in the digital media marketing space.

    What music do you listen to in your free time?

    Pretty much all Ed Sheeran songs! I am a huge fan.

    Three things about you that no one knows...

    Firstly, I love to drive. Secondly, despite being a musician, I sometimes like to listen to nothing and just sit in silence. Thirdly, I am not always talkative - it depends on my mood.

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