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    Come December, Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts get decked up with festive spirit. Though Christmas is celebrated on December 25, the preparations to mark the birth of Jesus Christ begins more than a month ago. Be it preparation of cakes, cribs or kuswar (the traditional sweets made during Christmas season), each of these requires a lot of time, patience and creativity.

    While cakes and cribs are common in other regions also, kuswar is something unique to coastal cities of Karnataka. The basic ingredients of kuswar sweets are wheat, maida, sugar, coconut and jaggery. Some of the popular kuswar sweets are nevryo, kideo, gulio, kokkisan, rice laddu, tukdi and of course, cakes. In fact, over 20 different traditional
    recipes are used to prepare these sweets and savouries. Once it is made, the delicious kuswar is distributed among friends and family as a gesture of goodwill.

    Most of the Catholic families get busy preparing these Christmas
    delicacies in December. Of late, people prefer to buy kuswar from bakeries as many find making these sweets a time consuming process. Elders feel that the present generation is not keen about these traditional sweets.

    One can see temporary bakeries set up to sell kuswar. Several bakeries prepare gift packs in which almost all the preparations are included. As a part of the tradition, many Christians exchange the kuswar with their brethren and people from other communities.


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  • 12/17/17--21:08: On a literary trail
  • Those who want to spend their weekends in a serene place with some nostalgic moments and cultural insights wont find a better place than Kuppali, the native place of Rashtrakavi Kuvempu, around 20 km from Thirthahalli town in Shivamogga district. Kavi Mane, the poets ancestral house-turned-museum not only showcases the lifestyle of typical Malnad dwellers, but also throws light on the eventful childhood of the great author.

    The poem titled Nanna Mane (My Home), penned by Kuvempu, is engraved on stone in the premises of the house. The areca plantation around the house and the lawn in the front enhance the beauty of the location. The picturesque Sahyadri mountains and the chirps of birds are sure to remain in the visitors memory for a long time.

    Though Kuvempu spent most part of his life in Mysuru, his experiences from Malnad region and the fond memories of his growing up years in Kuppali had greatly influenced his life and works. In fact, his emotional attachment with the Malnad region is clear in his literary creations.

    Visual treat

    The sculptures of Kanooru Subbamma, the protagonist of the novel Kanooru Heggadithi, and Nayi Gutti with his dog Huliya, characters from the novel Malegalalli Madumagalu, have been installed at the entrance of the art gallery. The sculptures are designed by artist H N Krishnamurthy. These sculptures help people visualise the characters portrayed in his novels. The paintings that depict scenes from his novels, including Gutti and Thimmi enjoying sunrise, and Aitha and Peenchalu enjoying rustic dance in nature, provide a glimpse of Kuvempus narratives.

    Above all, Kavishyla, a rock monument made of megalithic rocks and dedicated to Kuvempu, is on top of a hillock. It is said that the place was a constant source of inspiration to Kuvempu and he penned many poems sitting here. In order to attract tourists and literary enthusiasts, the Rashtrakavi Kuvempu Pratishtana based in Kuppali has developed the place aesthetically and maintained it meticulously.

    Manappa, who is in charge of Kavishyla, said that the place where the poet has been laid to rest is the most visited place at Kuppali due to its ambience and the breathtaking view it offers of the dense Sahyadri mountain range. "While around 500 people visit the place every day, during holidays, the number reaches 2,000," he said.

    Upholding his values

    J K Ramesh, a former member of Rashtrakavi Kuvempu Pratishtana, said that the Pratishtana has played a crucial role in transforming the poets memorial into a cultural centre by organising various programmes including seminars, theatre workshops, film appreciation camps, painting and cartoon workshops, etc. These events are held at Kuvempu Centenary Bhavan throughout the year in collaboration with various associations. The social messages and values of life propagated by the author have been executed here. Mantra Mangalya, a distinct wedding ceremony advocated by Kuvempu, is the best example for it. Under this model, no religious rituals are performed when the couple enter into wedlock. The bride and the bridegroom are made to read Kannada shlokas (hymns) written by Kuvempu that include the messages of fundamental freedom and the significance of the institution of marriage.

    Explaining the features of Mantra Mangalya, Ramesh said this model disallows dowry and recognises marriages across castes and religions. Horoscopes have no place here. The wedding expenses are kept minimal. The guest list is restricted to close relatives and friends. Around 10 such marriages take place here in a year.

    G Prashanth Nayak, Kannada professor at Kuvempu University, said, "Kuvempu was progressive in his thoughts. He made a street sweeper the protagonist in his play Jalagaara and thus gave recognition to working class people." Above all, his Vishwamanava Sandesha (Message of Universal Man), where he says, "Every child, at birth, is the universal man. But, as it grows, we turn it into a petty man. It should be the function of education to turn it again into the original universal man", transformed Kuvempu into a Rashtrakavi, writer of the nation. "Kuvempu was the first writer who depicted the beauty of Malnad region extensively in his works and thus introduced it to people across the State," he said.

    Hampi Kannada University has set up a study centre in Kuppali. One can also see the memorial built in memory of Poornachandra Tejaswi, noted writer, thinker and son of Kuvempu, here. We can also find a display of Tejaswis wildlife photos in the art gallery.

    There is a steady flow of tourists, students and literary enthusiasts from across the State and even from neighbouring states to the place. Those who travel to Sringeri, Horanadu and Chikkamagaluru take a brief halt at Kuppali as it is situated on the way to these tourist destinations. People from various parts of the country visit the place after reading about Kuvempu and Kuppali. Hampa Nagarajaiah has written a book on Kuvempu in English titled Kuvempu-
    Vignettes of man and mission. This book has been translated into 12 languages. A documentary on Kuvempu is also screened in the home theatre for interested visitors. Accommodation facilities are also available for those coming from far-off places.

    Rashtrakavi Kuvempu Pratishtana was formed in 1992. Hampa Nagarajaiah, president of the Pratishtana, visited Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of renowned playwright William Shakespeare, to know how the childhood home of the writer was developed. "The office-bearers of the trust visited Santiniketan in West Bengal, which had been developed on Rabindranath Tagores principles of humanism, internationalism and a sustainable environment. We also visited the houses of prominent writers across the State. The objective was to transform Kuppali into a cultural centre, that attracts even those who havent read Kuvempu," said Kadidal Prakash, assistant secretary, Rashtrakavi Kuvempu Pratishtana.

    Well-known poet Chennaveera Kanavi said, "The place exudes positive vibes. I believe that this is the real strength of literature. The museum will be beneficial for students and literary lovers to know and understand the poet. There is a need to develop native places of all major writers on the lines of Kuppali."

    Ranadheera, a research scholar, feels that Kuppali is like a window to Kuvempus literary works. A visit to the place will help students, particularly literature students, improve their knowledge about the writer and understand the base for his works.

    The Pratishtana instituted the National Literary Award in the name of Kuvempu in 2013. It has also been entrusted with the responsibility of developing the poets birthplace in Hirekodige village of Koppa taluk, Chikkamagaluru district.

    The trust also publishes and sells all the works of Kuvempu. Besides, the trust runs a mobile van service to make his books available across the State. Kuppali has set a model as to how a source of literary inspiration can be developed into a vibrant cultural space as well as a preferred tourist destination.


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  • 12/17/17--21:10: A distinctive paddy variety
  • Boregowda, a farmer in Shivalli village on Mandya-Melukote Road, is popular as Bhattada Boregowda (Paddy Boregowda) for his paddy conservation efforts. Inspired by Natavara Sarangis paddy diversity fields in Odisha, Boregowda initiated paddy conservation efforts in Mandya district in 2007. Thereby, inspiring hundreds of farmers to shift from high-yielding varieties to indigenous ones. Later, he came in contact with pioneering farmer plant breeders and learnt the basics of developing farmer bred varieties. In 2008, while walking through his Gandhasale (a paddy variety) field, he observed a distinct ear of paddy that reminded him of Sona Masuri, a high-yielding variety.

    "Then Sona Masuri was the most sought-after variety for its fine grains, and there was no local variety that could compete with it," says Boregowda. He collected the grains from that ear, and cultivated them in a separate patch in the next season. For the next four years, he continued the experiment through seed selection and separate cultivation.

    By 2012, a new variety was developed and cultivated in two acres. He named the variety as Siddasanna, in memory of his parents Siddegowda and Sannamma. That year, he kept aside the entire harvest for seed purpose and distributed it among those who were interested. Through Save our Rice campaign, the variety reached farmers across the State. Pioneering organic paddy growers from various regions of the State started cultivating this variety regularly. Together, all these growers now sell over 100 quintals of Siddasanna seeds per year.

    The variety, which is easy to grow, resistant to pests and diseases, and suitable to cultivate in both the seasons, soon became popular among growers. The tasty, superfine grains attracted the consumers as well. As a result, the number of Siddasanna growers increased by the year and this year, in spite of extreme rainfall variability, over 500 farmers have grown Siddasanna paddy. The variety has spread to Odisha, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana as well.

    The disease-resistant quality of the crop and quality rice are the two major reasons for the growing popularity of the variety among both growers and consumers. People believe that this farmer bred variety can be a good alternative to Sona Masuri. "Those who try Siddasanna soon become regular consumers. We have sold over 60 quintals of Siddasanna rice last year," says B Somesh of Sahaja Organics, Bengaluru.

    Interestingly, agricultural scientists have played a key role in popularising this variety. While Dr N Devakumar of University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore documented the characteristics of this variety, Dr M P Rajanna, senior rice breeder at VC Farm, Mandya has provided necessary technical assistance for the production of quality seeds.

    Siddasanna seed production is also done at the Organic Farming Research Centres in Navile, Shivamogga and Naganahalli, Mysuru. Organic farmers feel that it is time the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore acknowledges the variety and releases it through proper channel. One can contact Boregowda on 8904453841.


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  • 12/17/17--21:24: Festive colours under water
  • Your Christmas tree is nice - really, it is. Its just the right height and shape, so green, and it smells so good. You definitely picked the best one in all of the land. But thats where you messed up. The most beautiful Christmas trees dont grow in soil. Theyre not even plants. And you shouldnt take them home or decorate them.

    Allow me to introduce a sea creature that will put your Christmas tree to shame: Its name is Spirobranchus giganteus, but most people call it the Christmas tree worm. These animals live on coral reefs in tropical and subtropical waters around the world, building tiny, tubular homes with their own secretions of calcium carbonate. They emerge from these tubes to filter feed, procreate and breathe with a part of their body called the branchial crown.

    You cant miss these bright, spiral-shaped cones while snorkelling, if you know what to look for. They look like miniature decorated firs. "Theyre really pretty, very colourful, very festive and Christmassy," said Orly Perry, a marine biologist studying them as a doctoral student at Bar-Ilan University in Israel.

    Most of the trees, which come in pairs, protrude no more than an inch from the tubes opening. But they make up for small size with colourful displays that look like the work of a talented candymaker. Many spiral out in a mixture of purples, greens and whites where Orly works on the Gulf of Aqaba in the Red Sea near Eilat, Israel. But they come in many other colours, too, and some even don an appropriate solid winter white.

    Male and female Christmas tree worms reproduce by casting their sperm and eggs into the water in synchrony. Fertilised eggs develop into larvae that find a coral to make home. They dont burrow into it. Instead, they latch on to a dead spot or wound and start making their tubes. By adjusting the tubes growth rate to match the corals growth, the worm keeps up with the coral growing around its tube and maintains an entrance to its home.

    Choosing the right coral

    Settled Christmas tree worms stay for life - up to 30 or 40 years. "They cannot say, This is not for me and move," said Orly. "Its crucial to look for the right place." These places arent random. The larvae seem to know which corals are which. Some worms of the Spirobranchus genus prefer certain coral species or types, typically less aggressive ones. And a few like artificial surfaces. Orly found a potentially new species in the Gulf of Eilat that prefers plastic buoys and pieces of metal on piers and staircases.

    The larvae may follow signals from elderly worms to locations that have worked well for others of their genus. In those preferred habitats, they grow big. "This is kind of like humans. If you stick around in a place, you feel comfortable, then everything is happy," she said. "In the case of the worms, it affects their size."

    Corals benefit, too. Researchers have found that Christmas tree worms may protect some corals from bleaching, algal smothering and predation from animals like crown-of-thorns starfish. Once stuck, Christmas tree worms cant run, but they can hide. Sensing touch, chemicals and light, they can perceive danger. When the crown-of-thorns starfish approaches, the worms retract, vanish into their homes and slam shut an organ called an operculum - just like a door.

    But the worms spend most time out of their tubes feeding, all year, day or night: which kind of means for corals, its Christmas all the time. For a spectacular display, experienced snorkellers can head out at night with a UV flashlight when their coral neighbourhoods fluoresce.


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  • 12/17/17--21:28: Naturebites - 19 December
  • Threats the red pandas face

    The red panda is an animal with soft reddish-brown fur and it is only seen in the temperate forests of the Himalayas. Unlike the popular misconception, the red panda is not closely related to the giant panda. In fact, the red panda is put in the Family Ailuridae all to itself, and is more closely related to raccoons, weasels and skunks. But like the giant panda, this small mammals diet is also made up of mostly bamboo, although it may also eat smaller mammals, birds, flowers, fruits and berries. But the red panda is facing a lot of threats today.
    Estimates put the current global population of red pandas at around 10,000 and it has been classified as an endangered species.

    A group of researchers conducted a study on red pandas and the factors that affect its population in the Dhorpatan Hunting Reserve in Nepal. The researchers hypothesised that a greater number of red pandas would be found in areas that have less human interference, a high number of Arundinaria species of bamboo (which makes up 81.7% of the red pandas diet in this reserve), and a higher amount of forest cover. As local communities that live in the reserve depend on bamboo for their livelihood, conservation plans for the red panda would have to take into account the interests of both the panda and the indigenous communities, say the researchers.

    Picking up on environmental cues

    In Medieval Europe, some called bees the smallest birds. Today, we call the smallest hummingbird the bee hummingbird. And now a group of researchers say we should embrace our history of lumping the two together. The way scientists study bees could help them study hummingbird behaviour, too, they argue in a recent review published in Biology Letters. Scientists first compared the two back in the 1970s when studying how animals forage.

    The idea is that animals use a kind of internal math to make choices to minimise the work it takes to earn maximum rewards. Researchers at the time focused on movement rules, like the order in which they visited flowers. It was "almost like an algorithm" for efficient foraging, said David Pritchard, a biologist at the University of St Andrews in Scotland who led the review.

    Hummingbirds and bees had similar solutions. But the study of optimal foraging overlooked what animals learned about their environments. As the field of animal cognition emerged, hummingbird and bee research diverged. To be fair, hummingbirds and bees differ. For example, bees rely solely on flowers for nectar and pollen; hummingbirds also eat insects, which may require that their brains work differently, Beth Nichols who studies behaviour at the University of
    Sussex in Britain said.

    Tracking dolphins with algorithms

    Researchers have tried deploying underwater sensors to eavesdrop on the clicks dolphins use for echolocation. Sifting through all these data, however, becomes a headache. A machine learning program may be able to help. In a study published in PLOS Computational Biology, scientists from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, USA introduced an algorithm that was able to analyse 52 million dolphin clicks. Wanting to monitor how dolphins were doing after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Kait Frasier and her colleagues placed acoustic sensors around the Gulf of Mexico.

    It was Kaits job to go through the data and identify dolphin clicks. She wondered if she could leverage the machine learning techniques used by Google and Facebook to improve on the process. The program that was developed grouped together five-minute chunks with similar average click rates and frequency profiles. While it previously took her three weeks to analyse a years worth of recordings from one site, the algorithm took about four days to sort through two years of data from five sites.

    South Pacific

    South Pacific is a six-part documentary series from the BBC Natural History Unit that looks at the natural history of the islands of the South Pacific region. The South Pacific islands extraordinary isolation has created some of the most curious, surprising and precarious examples of life found anywhere on Earth like the giant crabs that tear open coconuts and the flesh-eating caterpillars that impale their prey on dagger-like claws.

    The South Pacific covers a vast area, and less than 1% is land. Filming took place over 18 months in a variety of remote locations around the Pacific including Anuta, Banks Islands, Papua New Guinea, Palmyra, Kingman Reef and Caroline Islands. Each episode of South Pacific takes us through some of these in a thematic manner. For instance, one episode deals with its wildlife diversity, while another deals with how humans colonised even the most remote islands. To watch the documentary, visit www.bit.ly/2o06pjU.


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    The Management Effectiveness Evaluation (MEE) for tiger reserves in India is an assessment that is taken up once in four years. Five teams have been constituted by the National Tiger Conservation Authority (NTCA) to take up the exercise during 2017-2018. One such exercise was undertaken in the tiger reserves of Arunachal Pradesh. This state has three tiger reserves: Pakke, Namdapha and Kamlang. The team of which I was a part of conducted the MEE in Namdapha and Kamlang tiger reserves recently. The two tiger reserves are connected and are located in eastern Arunachal Pradesh. In fact, Namdapha Tiger Reserve shares a part of its border with Myanmar.

    The two tiger reserves (TRs) have wide altitudinal gradient, ranging from 500 metres to 4,500 metres. The vegetation here ranges from tropical wet semi-evergreen and evergreen, up to alpine forests. These are unexplored forests of enchanting beauty and dense evergreen vegetation with more than 150 important timber species and valuable medicinal plants. Many perennial water bodies make the area an ideal abode for different aquatic and avifaunal species. Overall,
    the area has a great wildlife, natural and
    bequest value. However, there is a big challenge to put in sustained efforts for conservation.

    Inaccessible pathways

    Further, people from some of the landlocked settlements in areas like Vijaynagar and Gandhigram access the markets of Miao in the Changlang district of Arunachal Pradesh by walking through Namdapha TR. Lisu families, who migrated from Myanmar after the Second World War, cleared the tree growth and created the settlements. Subsequently, ex-servicemen of Assam Rifles were rehabilitated in some portions, displacing the Lisu families. They occupied areas by clearing tree growth in many pockets of Namdapha Tiger Reserve.

    A road was aligned along the left bank of River Dihing, which flows through the tiger reserve for 120 km, to provide access to the families residing in areas like Vijaynagar. Despite the fact that the contract was awarded four years ago, the road is still not motorable beyond the 17th mile. As a result, this makes the tiger reserves protection difficult beyond this point. No other TR in the country is so inaccessible.

    The places on the only road aligned in Namdapha, called Miao Vijayangar Road (MV Road), is referred with mile number starting from Miao. On this road, the TR extends from 10th mile to 79th mile. The total length of this road is 95 miles.

    Along this road, forest camps are located at 10th, 17th and 25th mile. Lisu settlements in the tiger reserve are also located along this road. The last survey done by the Forest Department was in February 2012, which revealed that there are settlements at the 38th, 52nd, 56th, 60th, 67th, 70th and 77th mile.

    The situation in Namdapha is such that forest officers are stationed on the fringes of TR, while Lisu families live deep inside the reserve.

    The Namdapha Tiger Reserve has three ranges located at 17th mile, 25th mile and a place called Farm Base, which can only be approached on foot. The range unit located at the 17th mile has six anti-poaching camps, four of which can only be
    approached on foot after crossing the river. This can be contrasted with the work being done in other states. For instance, the roads in all Protected Areas in several states like Karnataka are maintained and repaired regularly. The
    anti-poaching camps in these states are even located in remote corners so that no patch of forest is without surveillance.

    Crossing the river is not the only issue. The bridle path leading to these places that are covered with thick vegetation also makes it difficult to approach them. These are required to be cleared annually after rains. Thus, for the large part of the year, nearly 90% of TR remains unguarded. Similar paths get covered by vegetation in Karnataka and several other states during the rainy season, but they are periodically cleared for the movement of the patrolling party.

    Kamlang Tiger Reserve is equally inaccessible. The TR extends over 980 sq km of forest area. It is situated in Lohit district and shares its southern boundary with the western portion of northern boundary
    of Namdapha TR. There is no motorable road in this TR and forest staff cover
    hardly 10% area on foot during routine patrolling.

    Intensive monitoring needed

    As carrying firearms and hunting is a common practice in Arunachal Pradesh, both the tiger reserves face the threat of poaching. This is, in fact, the main threat that the wild animals face. Poachers use country-made firearms, bows, arrows, snares, nets and traditional traps. There is a need for a sustained awareness campaign to dissuade these people from hunting. Illicit removal of cane in both the TRs is also a matter of concern.

    Additionally, the managements of both the tiger reserves have been monitoring the status of tigers. So far, the results are very discouraging. Camera traps in Namdapha Tiger Reserve in 2014 had confirmed the presence of three tigers. In 2015, it had confirmed the presence of only one tiger while in 2016, no tiger was captured on camera. Thus, it has been concluded that the tiger number is dwindling in Namdapha.

    Kamlang is a newly notified TR and the system of monitoring with camera traps is yet to be put in place. Intensive monitoring of tigers, co-predators and prey animals must be carried out in these reserves as they do in the tiger reserves in other states like Karnataka and Madhya Pradesh.

    The combined extent of these two tiger reserves is comparable to the best tiger landscape comprising Bandipur, Nagarhole, Wayanad and Mudumalai, which is home to nearly 300 tigers. Together, Namdapha and Kamlang tiger reserves have a wonderful habitat and if protection is stepped up, they have the potential to compete with the best tiger landscapes of the country.

    The MEE team took up extensive walk in both the TRs and hardly any signs of wild animals were observed. The habitats are intact and the management will need to follow the tiger reserve management guidelines of states like Karnataka and create enough infrastructure like roads and anti-poaching camps to enable the forest personnel to do proper surveillance.

    (The author is retired principal chief
    conservator of forests, Karnataka)


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    How this sausage gets made

    When you slice into a salami, you are enjoying the fruits of some very small organisms labour. Like other dried sausages, salami is a fermented food. Its production involves a period where manufacturers allow microbes to work on the ground meat filling to create a bouquet of pungent, savoury molecules. Traditionally, the bugs find their way to the sausage from the surrounding environment. But these days, industrial manufacturers add a starter culture of bacteria to the meat instead.

    A study published in the journal Applied Environmental Microbiology found that salami made with wild bugs scored higher with tasters than salami made with a starter culture. During the experiment, the researchers had a salami manufacturer create two batches. A starter was added to one batch and not to the other. Researchers saw an explosive growth in the starter bacteria. Very soon, they began to produce molecules that are usually made later. In contrast, a rainbow of species cropped up gradually in the other salami, generating a more complex - and apparently more pleasant - array of scent and flavour molecules.

    Cold suns, warm exoplanets

    Somewhere in our galaxy, an exoplanet is probably orbiting a star thats colder than our sun, but instead of freezing solid, the planet might be cosy warm thanks to a greenhouse effect caused by methane in its atmosphere. NASA astrobiologists from Georgia Institute of Technology, USA have developed a comprehensive new model that shows how planetary chemistry could make that happen.

    The model, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, was based on a likely scenario on Earth three billion years ago. The new model combined multiple microbial metabolic processes with volcanic, oceanic and atmospheric activities, which may make it the most comprehensive of its kind to date.

    DOCUMENTARY

    Antibiotic Resistance

    Antibiotics constitute one of the most consequential medical advancements of the past century. We rely on them to battle infections and disease, and theyre often the first line of defence in emergency rooms and physician offices across the globe. But what happens when they stop working? This may sound like an apocalyptic premise, but the warning signs are undeniable.

    Antibiotic Resistance, produced by ABCTV Catalyst series, examines this oncoming crisis from the inside. The medical community is looking within and urging for more awareness in order to curb the liberal use of antibiotic drugs. Antibiotic Resistance takes us through various industries where researchers are working feverishly to combat this potential calamity. To watch the documentary, visit www.bit.ly/1rDkuRz.

    Healing silk mats

    Researchers at the Karnataka University, Dharwad have explored the wound healing properties of silk mats made from the silk of a wild species of silkworm, Antheraea mylitta (A. mylitta), commonly called the tasar silkworm. The study finds that tasar silk mats serve as a good scaffold in tissue engineering applications as it enables the attachment and growth of cells. The findings were published in the journal Scientific Reports.

    In order to understand the physical, chemical and mechanical properties of silk mats made from A. mylitta, the researchers conducted a series of tests. They found that as compared to silk mats derived from Bombyx mori (B. mori), A. mylitta silk mats were less porous, more dense and had an almost continuous sheet of sericin, the protein which makes silk conducive to being a good scaffold material.

    In addition, silk from A. mylitta had specific amino acids that facilitate greater cell attachment. The researchers then tested the new tasar silk mats as scaffolding to grow keratinocytes - a type of skin cell. Although the new silk mat was compatible with the cells, the densities of cells on the former were significantly higher. They also cultured cells on A. mylitta silk mats without the sericin content and found that now the cell densities were much lower than the untreated mats. This confirms that the presence of a high content of sericin is one of the features that enables A. mylitta silk mats to be good scaffolds.

    High energy electrons

    An international team of scientists have for the first time calculated the power radiated by high energy electrons in radio galaxies and galaxy clusters. When high energy electrons diffuse in the magnetic fields of a galaxy cluster or radio galaxy, it emits huge amounts of radio waves.

    The amount of power radiated by this process however, still remains a mystery, as the lower limit of the electron energy distribution
    is still not fully understood.

    For their study, the scientists used a phenomenon called Sunyaev-Zeldovich Effect to measure the lower limit of the momentum of the electron. By studying the amount of energy gained by the photons of the cosmic microwave background, the scientists could determine the lower limit.


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    Around 1920, Justo Daza, an experienced mine worker, and Fritz Klein, a mining engineer, were scrambling over the steep mountainside terraces of Chivor, a legendary emerald site in northeast Colombia. They were breaking rocks apart with long iron poles and explosives packed into drill holes. They were hunting for new emerald veins and not finding any. Lets move on, Fritz said. This area is dead. No, no, no, Justo insisted. Theres emerald here, I know it. Fritz shrugged: OK, one more shot - but thats it.

    They upped the dose of explosives and blasted open a gaping hole that revealed promising glints of a mineral vein. Fritz thrust his arm into the hole and began rummaging around. He fished out bits of quartz, feldspar and apatite - a phosphate mineral like that is found in bones and teeth. He probed deeper, until finally his hand closed around something big, dense, faceted and thrilling.

    Without even looking, Fritz knew hed struck green. The prospectors had unearthed what would come to be called the Patricia Emerald: a dazzling 12-sided crystal with a weight of 632 carats and a verdant colour so pure and vivid youd swear the stone was photosynthesising. Fritz sold the find for tens of thousands of dollars, while Justo, predictably enough, "was given $10 and a mule," said Terri
    Ottaway, museum curator at the Gemological Institute of America.

    A geochemical recipe

    Yet, the public arguably got the best deal of all: the stone was later donated to the American Museum of Natural History in New York, USA. Today, the Patricia remains one of the largest uncut emeralds in the world. In its raw, columnar beauty, the Patricia encapsulates an often overlooked feature of gemstones, especially the ones we deem precious - diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds. Their real power lies in what they reveal about the dynamo that forged them: planet earth. For scientists, a gemstone is a message in a bottle. Except the message is the bottle, a glittering clue to the extreme physical, chemical and tectonic forces at work deep underground.

    Moreover, many of the qualities that helped lift the Big Four to prominence in the first place - their exceptional hardness, the depth and brilliance of their colouring, their rarity - are also key to the jewels scientific value. Precious gems are born of strife, of shotgun marriages between hostile chemical elements, and theyre tough enough to survive cataclysms that obliterate everything around them. "Earth is an incredible, giant chemical laboratory, and its a dirty place to grow crystals," said Jeffrey Post, curator of the Smithsonians National Gem and Mineral Collection. But those impurities grant gems their colour and character "and give us vital information about the crystal structures themselves."

    The rules of gem science are not cast in stone. Researchers lately have been astonished to discover that some of the worlds largest and most valuable diamonds, which can sell for hundreds of millions of dollars, originated 250 miles or more below the surface, twice the depths previously estimated for earths diamond nurseries. Some diamonds turn out to be surprisingly youthful, a billion years old rather than the average diamonds two billion to three billion years of age. Other researchers have linked ruby creation to collisions between continental landmasses and propose that the red jewels be called plate tectonic gemstones.

    Stealth science

    A team at the University of British Columbia, Canada analysed newly discovered sapphire deposits in Canadas Nunavut territory and concluded the stones there were generated by a novel three-part geochemical recipe unlike any described for sapphire formation elsewhere in the world. You start with limestone sediments containing just the right mineral impurities and you squeeze and heat the rocky mass to 800 ° Celsius. You add fluid and allow to cool. Finally, just when the growing mineral assemblage shows signs of instability, you inject another shot of fluid and lock the crystal into place. Total cooking time: about 1.75 billion years. "If one step is left out," said Philippe Belley, a geologist, "you dont get sapphires."

    In the past, geologists often dismissed gemstones as baubles and gem science as oxymoronic. "Gems were considered crass commercial materials and beneath the dignity of an academic," said George Harlow, curator of earth and planetary sciences at the American Museum of Natural History.

    Jeffrey calls it stealth science. "Its a great way to get people in the door," he said. "If you put up a sign that says geology, nobody comes. But if you say, This way to the Hope Diamond, then everybody wants to know more." George suggested that precious gems gained their reputation in part by their association with gold.

    As insoluble stones, the gems ended up concentrated at the bottom of stream beds, often in the vicinity of similarly insoluble gold. Long prized for its ductility, beauty and resistance to oxidation, gold was considered the property of rulers and kings, so why not the glittering stones found beside it? "The word diamond stems from the Greek terms for indestructible and that which cannot be tamed," George said. Diamonds are not indestructible, but they are the hardest substances known, given the top score of 10 on the Mohs scale of hardness - that is, resistance to scratching.

    Behind a diamonds untameability is its 3D structure, a repeating crystalline lattice of carbon atoms, each one strongly bonded to four neighbours atop, below and to either side. Persuading large numbers of carbon atoms to lock limbs in all directions requires Stygian whips of high heat and pressure, as until recently could only be found underground. In theory, the earths mantle, which is thought to hold about 90% of the planets carbon supply, is practically glittering with diamonds at various stages of formation.

    Getting those jewels to the surface in bling-worthy condition is another matter. Diamonds must be shot up from below quickly or theyll end up as so much coal in your stocking. Researchers have discovered diamonds that had blundered crustward slowly enough for their carbon bonds to expand, leaving a stone with the shape of a diamond but the consistency of graphite.

    Gareth R Davies, a professor of geology at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and his colleagues have recapitulated the reversion process in the laboratory. "Yes, we get diamonds and turn them to graphite for research," he said. Researchers can also fabricate diamonds in the laboratory, although the results are more often destined for industry.

    Bright colours

    Colouration mechanics figure more prominently still in the genesis of coloured gemstones. After all, sapphires and rubies are built of the same basic mineral, corundum, a crystallised collaboration of aluminium and oxygen that would be transparent and colourless if not for some artful chemical doping. With a Mohs hardness score just a point shy of diamonds, corundum becomes a red ruby through the timely addition of chromium atoms. Recent research suggests chromium is shoved up to the crust from earths mantle when continental landmasses bang together.

    A sapphire is a corundum crystal of any colour but red, although many people consider a true sapphire to be blue. In that case, the blue results from electrons bouncing back and forth between near-homeopathic doses of iron and titanium atoms sprinkled throughout the crystal. "Its called intervalence charge transfer," said George. "You almost cant measure the amount of iron and titanium, but the small effect produces a dramatic colour."


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    When you drive towards an intersection, the sight of the light turning red will make you step on the brake. This action happens due to a chain of events inside your head. Your eyes relay signals to the visual centres in the back of your brain. After those signals get processed, they travel along a pathway to another region, the premotor cortex, where the brain plans movements.

    Signalling the brain

    Now, imagine that you had a device implanted in your brain that could shortcut the pathway and inject information straight into your premotor cortex. That may sound like an outtake from The Matrix. But now two neuroscientists at the University of Rochester, USA say they have managed to introduce information directly into the premotor cortex of monkeys. The results of the experiment were recently published in the journal Neuron.

    Although the research is preliminary, carried out in just two monkeys, the researchers speculated that further research might lead to brain implants for people with strokes. "You could potentially bypass the damaged areas and deliver stimulation to the premotor cortex," said Kevin A Mazurek, a co-author of the study. "That could be a way to bridge parts of the brain that can no longer communicate."

    In order to study the premotor cortex, Kevin and his co-author, Dr Marc H Schieber, trained two rhesus monkeys to play a game. The monkeys sat in front of a panel equipped with a button, a sphere-shaped knob, a cylindrical knob and a T-shaped handle. Each object was ringed by LED lights. If the lights around an object switched on, the monkeys had to reach out their hand to it to get a reward. Each object required a particular action. If the button glowed, the monkeys had to push it. If the sphere glowed, they had to turn it. If the T-shaped handle or cylinder lit up, they had to pull it.

    After the monkeys learned how to play the game, Kevin and Marc had them play a wired version. The scientists placed 16 electrodes in each monkeys brain, in the premotor cortex. Each time a ring of lights switched on, the electrodes transmitted a short, faint burst of electricity. The patterns varied according to which object the researchers wanted the monkeys to manipulate.

    As the monkeys played more rounds of the game, the rings of light dimmed. At first, the dimming caused the monkeys to make mistakes. But then their performance improved. Eventually the lights went out completely, yet the monkeys were able to use only the signals from the electrodes in their brains to pick the right object and manipulate it for the reward. And they did just as well as with the lights.

    Bypassing cues

    This hints that the sensory regions of the brain, which process information from the environment, can be bypassed altogether. The brain can devise a response by receiving information directly, via electrodes. Neurologists have long known that applying electric current to certain parts of the brain can make people involuntarily jerk certain parts of their bodies.

    But this is not what the monkeys were experiencing. "The stimulation must be producing some conscious perception," said Paul Cheney, a neurophysiologist at the University of Kansas Medical Centre, USA, who was not involved in the new study. But what exactly is that something? Its hard to say. Marc speculated that the monkeys "might feel something on their skin. Or they might see something."

    What makes the finding particularly intriguing is that the signals the scientists delivered into the monkey brains had no underlying connection to the knob, the button, the handle or the cylinder. Once the monkeys started using the signals to grab the right objects, the researchers shuffled them into new assignments. Now different electrodes fired for different objects - and the monkeys quickly learned the new rules.

    Marc speculated that someday scientists might be able to use more complex arrays of advanced electrodes to help people who suffer brain damage. Strokes, for instance, can destroy parts of the brain along the pathway from sensory regions to areas where the brain makes decisions and sends out commands to the body.

    Implanted electrodes might eavesdrop on neurons in healthy regions, such as the visual cortex, and then forward information into the premotor cortex. "When the computer says, Youre seeing the red light, you could say, Oh, I know what that means - Im supposed to put my foot on the brake," Marc said. "You take information from one good part of the brain and inject it into an area that tells you what to do."


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  • 12/18/17--16:24: Of catchy characters
  • On an uneventful day after work, Ella Longfield boards a train back home from work in London. Lost in her thoughts, she is obsessing over her decision to buy a trashy magazine in order to appear more "with it" to younger people - a typical bad decision in the day of a woman barrelling towards a midlife crisis. She is a mother, has a loving husband, and is engaging in a mental duel with herself about decisions she wishes she had made differently. Two young men, ostensibly of questionable backgrounds, board the same train, and proceed to flirt with two young women who are on their first visit to big bad London. The flirtation leads to the twosome making plans to show the girls around, and Ellas maternal instincts prompt her to protect the young women, another decision she grapples with before choosing to stay silent.

    A day later, Ella learns of the disappearance of one of the girls she saw on the train - beautiful Anna Ballard. Cut to one year down the line, and Anna still hasnt been found. Ella is not just consumed by guilt over her inaction and refusal to follow her gut instinct on that fateful night, but also has been receiving threatening letters that are driving her to desperation. Added to the letters, new evidence comes to light that the other girl with Anna on the train, Sarah, may not have told the entire truth about what really transpired the night Anna disappeared. Is there more to Annas disappearance than meets the eye? And why is someone targeting Ella? Who is this mysterious letter writer? How are all of these characters connected? Read Teresa Driscolls I am Watching You to find out.

    Driscoll, a former journalist and BBC TV presenter, has covered her fair share of crime during her journalist years, and is said to draw upon her experiences while on the crime beat to inform the characters and plots of her mystery novels.

    As a narrative writer, she pays close attention to characters, and each one feels fleshed out in this novel, a feat that is difficult when writing about a ragtag bunch of characters with more dissimilarities than you can count on your fingers. You can tell that Driscoll reaches into a fount of empathy she has obviously felt towards the families she must have encountered while covering crime for over 25 years.

    From the lead character Ella Longfield, whose narrative is recounted in the first person, to Annas parents, who are themselves battling marital issues, to Sarah and her parents, to Matthew the private investigator looking into the letters that Ellas been receiving, and a horde of secondary and peripheral characters that make up this London mystery, not one of them feels like they dont belong in the story.

    Driscolls greatest achievement has to be that she makes her readers genuinely care and feel invested in each of these characters, their individual quirks, their backstories, lifes little details that haunt each of them, their foibles, and flimsy attempts to stay together. And she makes the reader feel like they can relate on some level to every single one of them.

    You will remember not just their stories and their connect to this mystery, but also their names, something you dont really expect from a novel that is home to so many characters in a little under 300 pages. The narrative itself flits between first-person and third-person accounts, where some of these characters become the custodians of their link to the story.

    To help things along, Driscoll calls to attention who the narrator is at the beginning of each chapter: the witness, the father, the private investigator, the friend, and the ominously italicised Watching to distinguish the letter-sender from the rest of the bunch. Sentences and paragraphs and indeed chapters, are rendered in a staccato move-the-plot-breezily-along fashion, so pacing also gets a big yes.

    Where Driscoll falls short is the biggest disappointment of all: plot. The whole joy of reading a mystery novel for someone who loves mystery novels is to be able to pick up on the clues the writer peppers her narrative with. Speak to any mystery buff you know, and they will tell you they knew who the murderer/killer/culprit was somewhere halfway into the novel.

    The mystery reader always picks up on clues, and solves the mystery, and that is the most fun part. In her bid to construct a patchwork quilted narrative, Driscoll makes the cardinal sin of not being able to tie it together, and the ending comes so very out of left field that the reader is left with a zombie-like feeling of what-in-the-world-just-happened. Perhaps stringing together this interlaced narrative demanded so much in terms of characterisation that the plot had to inevitably suffer. Or perhaps Driscoll was so invested in her characters that she was confused as to whom to pin the tail on towards the end.

    Worth a read for the characters, but not so much if you like a good mystery.


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  • 12/18/17--21:56: The Will to laugh
  • He has almost completed reading the Bhagvad Gita and plans to go to Rishikesh next time. For Hollywood superstar Will Smith, reading the holy book while in India is like channelling his "inner Arjuna".

    The actor, who was on his fourth trip to India, said he loves the country and its history.

    "I have been here a few times. I love the history. I am 90 percent through with the Bhagvad Gita... and to be reading it and to be here, my inner Arjuna is being channelled. I am going to go to Rishikesh next time. I am definitely going to be spending a lot more time here," he said.

    The actor, who was on a one-day visit, brought along the cast - Joel Edgerton, Noomi Rapace and director David Ayer - of his latest Netflix movie Bright for the premiere in Mumbai.

    As he took the stage at a fan event, he won over the crowd, who had waited for hours to see him, with his exuberance.

    Will fondly recalled the great food he had at Bollywood star Akshay Kumars place during his last trip.

    "The last time I was here, we had a party at Akshays place. I loved the food. It was the best food I ever had in my life," he said, adding that he did not feel it would be right to call the Bollywood actor and get some food over as he was only staying for a day.

    His co-star Edgerton said he attended a Bollywood award function and visited the sets of Ferrari Ki Sawaari the last time he was in India.

    "I came here in 2012. I visited the set of Ferrari Ki Sawaari and I went to a Bollywood award function and presented the best film award with Vidhu Vinod Chopra. He got up in front of everybody and said, This is my friend Joel, you have no idea who he is, Google him. I went red in the face but it was amazing," the Australian actor said.

    Both Edgerton and Ayer had stories about Smiths "always happy" attitude and how it sometimes got to them.

    Asked who the prankster on the sets was, everyone pointed to Smith.

    "I like to have fun but Joel had to go through three and half hours of make-up every day. So he was not in a joking mood. He was not very jokey," Smith said.

    Bright is set in an alternate version of present-day Los Angeles in which Orcs, Elves and humans live side-by-side.

    Edgerton, who plays the role of an Orc police officer opposite Smith, said his highlight was sitting in a car and waving at people at traffic lights in his full Orc make-up to scare them.

    "Will likes to have too much fun and he is a little bit too positive. I remember, one day he comes to me and he is in this positive mood and he is like, Whats up and I am like, Will, leave me alone."

    Ayer said he was racing against time to complete the film as they were behind schedule and Smith would try to cheer him up.

    "For some reason, I like to shoot in the dark and in the rain. It looks good. Will Smith will come singing Christmas carols and songs and I was very angry because we are behind schedule. No matter how hard he tried, he could not make me happy but I think I succeeded in making him a little sad," the director joked.

    Smith said he enjoyed working on the sci-fi crime drama, out on Netflix on December 22, because it gave him a chance to look at racism from the other side.

    "It is about racism and how we treat each other. In this film, Elves are the top of the society and Orcs represent those who do not have and humans are in the middle. Rapace, who plays the role of a Elf, Leilah, said the film had multiple layers and offered an interesting perspective.


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    DJ Stalvart John found his home in electronic music almost a decade ago and is now a familiar name across the country with a series of gigs, international radio shows and a couple of well-received records. The Bengaluru-based producer opened the stage for Red Bull Music Academy North Stage of the Magnetic Fields Music Festival that took place recently at Alsisar Mahal, Rajasthan.

    In a chat with Rajitha Menon, Stalvart talks about what drew him to music and what makes him stay there.

    How did you get into this field?

    I was always interested in music from a young age though I have not received any formal training. I was initially working with a lifestyle magazine in my hometown in Kerala and we organised parties where we would get artistes from outside. When my friends told me I had a flair for this, I started doing a podcast series called Trancemitor in 2011 which was widely appreciated. Then I got a slot in a UK-based radio and from then, its been constant evolution.

    What has changed in the field since when you started out?

    Dance music culture in India is growing rapidly now. The crowd is not that huge but there are new festivals and clubs coming up all the time, even in small towns. We are not there yet but the transition is happening.

    Requisites for being a DJ....

    Good music sense and curiosity to dig deeper. You also need patience because the process of getting people to listen to you will take some time. There are a lot of DJs out there. It will be hard to make your music stand out.

    What are the misconceptions that people have about this profession...

    People are relating us to rave culture, drugs and alcohol. But for us, its all about music at the end of the day.

    Thoughts about Magnetic Fields...

    Its my first time and I was super excited. I opened the Red Bull Music Academy stage, which is one of the main stages in the festival. There was a huge crowd of music lovers there and playing for such an audience is both exciting and tough. Exciting because they are there for the music and tough because they are deeply aware about what they are listening to.

    What music do you listen to in your spare time?

    Everything. When I am chilling at home, I listen to genres like jazz, ambient, old disco and so on. Everyday I listen to dance music that I play so I like to listen to completely different things otherwise.

    Musical inspiration...

    Joey Negro, Kerri Chandler, Dr Packer, Pink Floyd, Fela Kuti... the list goes on.

    Favourite venue...

    I love playing in Pondicherry. The kind of music I play works perfectly there due to the presence of a large population of French expatriates. I have the most fun there since the crowd is very open-minded.

    Thoughts about Bengaluru crowd...

    Its a mixed crowd but I like it here. People are willing to come to a gig just for the music but the problem is that there are only limited venues here. But whenever I play, I always have fun.


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    Papa CJ has had many firsts in the standup comedy world. He has won awards for being the best standup comedian in Asia. Hes also the only Indian to have shot a solo special with Comedy Central Asia. He has performed over 2,000 shows in 25 countries and Forbes Magazine has given him the title of the global face of Indian standup.

    Papa CJ was in the city recently to host the Black Dog Easy Evenings at Manpho where he showcased his love for the stage. He spoke to Anila Kurian about how the comedy scene in India has changed over the years.

    How was the show?

    It was just as the tagline of the event says, let the world wait. It was a night to turn your phones off and just focus on the show. It was
    all about being in the moment.

    For someone who has been a part of the comedy scene in India for a long time, how do you think it has changed over the years?

    Theres a lot more opportunity and everybody has an access to the stage now. Having said that, the way one presents themselves these days needs some working on. And expectations of the audiences have also changed so the comedians are constantly trying to make their work stand out.

    What do you think makes good comedy content?

    You need to have the confidence to make people laugh. Usually, everyone goes for the easy joke and then do the observational ones. But because of the nature of the medium these days, many experiment with the edgy ones. It doesnt always work unless you have the confidence to pull it off.

    So what can a comedian do to improve his work?

    It takes a lot of time to be comfortable with yourself. If youre trying to say something that you dont believe yourself, know that the audience will see through it. The beauty is when you find that and have a voice of your own. The audience will teach you but you need to be willing to learn from them too.

    How important do you think it is to be original with your work?

    Well, as someone who has performed in different parts of the world, I can say with confidence that every Indian comedian on the planet is accused of copying Russell Peters. Thats just how it is. So producing original content is critical but its important to know that its okay to approach the same subjects but have a different point of view.


    Is there a type of comedy that you dont like?

    Ive evolved enough over time to look back at my own old videos and accept that they were terrible. It shows that Ive grown. Having said that, I dont like roasts as they are hurtful. Insult comedy is not something I enjoy.

    Whats something that your audiences have taught you?

    Humility. I believe that you are only as good as your last gig and if you dont deliver on the spot, then youre just not good.


    What do you do when you goof up on stage?

    Whenever I tell a joke and I see that people havent laughed, especially when I know that my joke is good, I usually say, "I have done over 2,000 shows and if you dont laugh, you are the problem. I know I am good so I am judging you for not laughing".

    What do you think about the places you perform at?

    America is the McDonalds of comedy; they want everything like fast food. In Europe, its like fine dining; they have the patience to listen to a three-minute story that you know will pay off at the end. But in India, English language is different in different parts of the country. Here, the more local and topical it gets, the funnier it is.

    What does your day off look like?

    I dont have a day. I have a night. I really dont surface before lunch (laughs).


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    Actor Parul Yadav, who is currently shooting for the Kannada version of Queen titled Butterfly, says that she cant better Kanganas benchmark-setting performance in the film but shes glad that she had ample freedom to give her own interpretation to the character.

    The shooting for the film is progressing at a brisk pace and Parul points out that she enjoyed the transition of moving away from being an introvert in the first half of the film to a more confident person towards the end.
    In an interview with Nina C George, Parul talks about her experience of working in the film.

    How is it to be a part of the remake of Queen?

    The film has a universal theme which women of all age groups will be able to connect with. I feel honoured to be chosen for the Kannada version. Queen is being remade in four languages.

    Are you happy working in a remake?

    I was a little apprehensive about taking up a remake because Kangana has already left an imprint with her stellar performance in the original version. I was a little unsure if I would be able to match up to those standards. But I have, in fact, surprised myself in this film and performed exceedingly well.

    Was it easy to relate to the role?

    The character that I play is that of a naive and innocent girl. Having been raised in Mumbai for most part of my life, I found it difficult to suddenly slip into the character of a shy girl. I didnt want to fake my innocence, so I attended a workshop. It helped me understand and emote the character in a better way.

    What were some of the preparations for the role?

    Since I am from Mumbai, I usually take promptings for my Kannada projects. But here when the director Ramesh Aravind asked me not to take any prompting, I was a little taken aback. But I took it as a challenge and mugged up the dialogues which I rendered without any difficulty. I had to also style my hair in such a way that it looked natural. I am glad that the character is shaping up well.

    On working with Ramesh Aravind...

    It was nice to work with Ramesh Aravind because he is open to suggestions. I always feel that a director should not be like a dictator but must be friendly. Ramesh commanded and not demanded respect.

    Did you face any pressure?

    I have had sleepless nights because I was constantly under the fear of being compared to Tamannaah, Kajal Aggarwal and Manjima who are acting in the other versions. I know that comparisons are bound to happen. But here I discovered that I perform well under pressure.

    Any other projects in the pipeline?

    I have been asked not to sign any other project till I am done with the shooting of Butterfly. So I am taking it slow and easy for now.


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  • 12/18/17--22:00: A homely celebration
  • I never had any formal training in culinary arts. I learnt whatever I know from my mother. Food is a big part of my culture. Hailing from Darjeeling, there are some special dishes that make the cuisine unique.

    Coming to Bengaluru and working in a kitchen was never something I intended to do. I learnt under various chefs who taught me everything I know today.

    Over the years, Ive learnt a lot about European cuisine. But Ive never stopped learning about Indian food as it is very close to my heart.
    Working at The Smoke Co. as a sous chef has been a learning experience for me. Theres always something new to experiment on and learn about when youre working in a kitchen. It makes me work harder every single day.

    The food that I make here allows me to get in touch with my roots as smoking food is something we do back home as well. Thats why the recipe of nati chicken is very close to my heart.

    Its been over 10 years since I celebrated Christmas with my family. Back home, it was always a special occasion for us. We would often start the day by going to the church and come back to prepare a lavish and delicious meal. We would also invite all of our relatives
    and friends home and celebrate like theres no tomorrow.

    I now celebrate it with my colleagues at work. Its the busiest time of the year for a restaurateur and I am happy that I can enjoy the day doing what I love.

    What makes me miss home less is preparing dishes like the nati chicken.

    This recipe is interesting because we use the ash of the chicken feathers as well. You only need a bit of the ash to coat over the chicken (make sure you dont add too much as it will easily become bitter). Its a simple recipe that anyone can make at home and make this festive season a delicious one.

    Ingredients

    * Whole nati chicken, 1

    * Mustard oil, 100 ml

    * Onions, 200 gm

    * Tomato, 100 gm

    * Chopped garlic, 100 gm

    * Chopped ginger, 50 gm

    * Whole sliced green chilli, 50 gm

    * Turmeric powder, 5 gm

    * Cumin powder, 5 gm

    * Chilli powder, 5 gm

    * Coriander power, 5 gm

    * Chicken feather ash, 5 gm

    Method

    * Burn the whole chicken with the feather to make feather ash. Once that is done, collect the ash and wash the chicken and pat it dry .

    * Cut the whole chicken in bite-size pieces.

    * Crush the feather to make powder.

    * Pour mustard oil into a kadhai. Fry cut onion, garlic, ginger, chilli and tomato. Fry till oil appears.

    * Add the cut chicken and fry to mix the base masala with the chicken.

    * Put all the dry masala powder along with feather ash.

    * Add salt to taste and fry till brown colour.

    * Add water and simmer for one hour and a half as natti chicken it is hard to cook.

    * Serve hot with rice.


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  • 12/18/17--22:00: The wick talks...
  • Imagine Christmas carols in the background, hot cocoa in hand and the warmth and brightness from beautiful Christmas candles in your room. This is the season for festive shopping which includes unique Christmas-themed candles. Candlemakers in the city shared the popular designs of the season with Metrolife.

    Rameet Kaur loves making traditional Christmas tree and themed-candles and her brand is called Meehrr Handcrafted Candles. "Ive worked on the theme White Christmas this year. Ive created white and gold candles apart from red and green candles which have shimmer on them," she says. Since red, green and white are the colours of the season, candles in these colours are always a hit. "Soothing and warm colours in ylang ylang or cedar wood fragrances are also preferred choices. Most of my other candles have fruity aroma like peach, wild orange and pine," she adds.

    Neha Nagpal is breaking the tradition of candle colours with her creations through Kolour Theory. These come in subtle colours like cream and pink. She has made pillar candles with floral prints which are heat-embossed. "The pillar candles are plain. I have made mini cloche jar candles in vanilla and fruit fragrances," she explains. The good thing about the cloche candles is that once the candle burns out, it can be refilled with wax or used as a decorative piece.

    Gel candles are popular this season for their aesthetic appeal, says Namrata Navalkar. "Using mineral oil, they are moulded into crystal containers and mason jars. Ive added embellishments like pearls, shells, pebbles, pine cones and stones in them which gives them a unique look," she says. Soya wax candles in pickle jars are another popular item, she adds. "This wax is extracted from soya beans, is solid in colour and is environment friendly," Namrata adds.

    Tanvi Shah, a paper crafter and decoupage artiste has rolled out her designs on candles for the season. Through her Facebook page Paper Fantasees, she has been putting out Christmas-theme printed candles. "I have been doing decoupage for quite some time and I find it a versatile craft. They look great on coasters and furniture among others. Candles in red in shapes like pillar, round or square give the essence of the festival," she says.

    Its not just candles but even candle holders that are going through a transformation, points out Sonal Shah, who makes decoupage candle stands. She has a Facebook page called Purple Tulips-Expressions on Glass.
    "These stands hold tea light candles and are a great festive addition to any room or even the Christmas table," she says.

    So, what are you waiting for? Go light that candle!


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  • 12/18/17--22:00: The princess brides
  • This has been the year of celebrity weddings, the most recent one being the wedding of Virat and Anushka. A big congratulations to both of them and my best wishes for a happy married life.

    An Indian wedding is all about flamboyant colours, elaborate rituals, lavish spreads, boisterous music, gorgeous locales and the complete family coming together in a celebratory mode. The preparation and excitement increases when a celebrity gets married. Everything from the location to whats on the menu to who all are on the guest list is followed closely by the media and fans. And of course, the outfits are the cynosure of all eyes!

    Known for setting trends, what a celebrity wears for his/her wedding always becomes the talk of the town. Most celebrities are known to go to their favourite designer to create that dream outfit which would make them look their best.

    Dressing up a popular face, who has already been seen in many beautiful avatars in their reel life, for their real life wedding, is a job with lot of pressure. There are high expectations, not only from the bride who wants to look her best on the most special occasion of her life, but also from everybody else out there who are eagerly waiting for minute by minute updates.
    However, it is a beautiful experience to be a part of such an important occasion of their journey. And when you see that smile on the face of the bride and receive appreciations for your creation, you feel content and satisfied.

    My recent experience with celebrity bride Aashka Goradia was an amazing one. Aashka and my friendship go a long way back and it was lovely to design a beautiful lehenga for her sangeet. The lehenga captured their love story in its own unique way. It was specifically designed in blue colour as that is the colour of the eyes of Brent, Aashkas husband. It was the colour of his eyes that Aashka noticed about him the first time they met. She looked absolutely gorgeous in the outfit and she herself was very happy and satisfied, which made all the efforts worthwhile.

    My other dear friend Geeta Basras wedding was also a memorable one for me. I was part of each and every ritual and had designed the outfits for both Geeta and Bhajji for their wedding, including the mehendi and reception.
    Geeta, though from London, wanted everything traditional and Indian. Both Geeta and Bhajji were very clear about what they wanted and it was lovely to dress them up on their D-day.

    That said, every girl is the celebrity on her special day and I am privileged to be a part of this memorable moment of many brides.


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    Since her childhood, designer Sayesha Sachdev knew that she wanted to venture into the world of fashion. Under the influence of her mother, herself a part of the industry for over two decades, fashion and style came naturally to Sayesha.

    After launching her own design label SY:SH-The Design House in 2015, Sayesha shot to fame due to the use of sustainable fabrics and dyes in her designs and also for her bold and daring collections.

    In a conversation, the designer, who recently launched her collaboration with The Bombay Attic, gets candid about her work and the non-glamorous side of it.

    What made you choose fashion designing as a career?

    It is not exactly my primary career. I generally bring out a collection every year and then stick to doing collaborations with various companies. As Ive seen my mother work in the fashion industry ever since I was a kid, I have always been drawn towards this field. After working with various designers and spending hours in factories, I eventually decided to launch my own label that focuses primarily on sustainable clothing.

    Why sustainable clothing?

    As someone who has grown up as a part of the industry, I have seen the not-so-glamorous side, the behind the scenes that most of the world does not get to see. Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world. This inspired me to bring about a change. My aim was to inspire people, especially the younger generation, to spend wisely and on things that are necessary, as its not always about the glitz and glamour and wearing the top brands. I also wanted to use my label to appreciate the craftsmanship and the labour of several men and women who spend hours in factories; sustainable clothing is the best way I could do this.

    How has your experience in the industry been so far?

    Honestly, it has been quite amazing. From what Ive experienced, people have been quite open to the concept of sustainable fashion. I have no complaints. Yes, being a young woman in any industry is a challenge but the fashion industry is more welcoming of women when compared to the rest.

    Do you plan on going beyond sustainable fashion?

    Im open to the idea. But it is important to me that my work always promotes sustainable and ethical fashion.

    What are your future plans for the brand?

    My next collection launches in 2018. It is a Spring-Summer collection that will involve fabrics like hemp and natural dyes. My goal with this collection is to make anyone who wears it feel powerful and confident.

    What according to you will be the top trends of 2018?

    I feel the colour ultraviolet or violet, in general, is going to blow up. Other than that I believe people are going to be way more welcoming of sustainable fashion. Well be seeing many brands that will embrace sustainable clothing.

    Any advice for amateur fashion designers and entrepreneurs?

    They need to understand the importance of global perspective, I cant stress this point enough. I believe designers today have such a niche understanding of what they can do, they are afraid to experiment and take risks. It is always important to remember that any idea you have, no matter how absurd it may seem, is always worth taking the risk.


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  • 12/18/17--22:02: Walk down the aisle in style
  • This season is all about being edgy and glamorous - celebrating the individuality of style through a multitude of trends. Since the wedding season is in full swing, there is a huge demand for Indian outfits.

    The concept less is more is making a comeback this season and now it is all about interesting silhouettes. Heavy traditional ensembles are out and easy silhouettes are taking its place.

    Fashion is moving towards more comfortable outfits like statement pieces where the look of the outfit is kept minimal with light embroidery. Layering is another option that people look for, for different occasions.

    Fashionistas are moving away from the traditional colour palette and cuts to experimental colours like rustic shades of red, pink and blue and modern easy outfits. Having said that, lehngas will always remain a favourite but the focus is shifting from heavily embellished garments to minimal and comfortable ones. Black, white and red and other such classic colour combinations are out of style now. And unusual colour combinations are all set to grab peoples attention.

    Saris can never go out of fashion. And this wedding season too, it is making its way to becoming the number one on the trend chart. Pre-draped saris is an in-thing now. It is a perfect outfit for the modern Indian woman, who has a tough time draping the nine-yard piece. It is easy-to-wear and looks extremely chic.

    Capes are still dominant this season. Embellished, sheer embroidered capes are one of the hottest trends. They can vary in shapes and lengths and one can team it up with lehengas, drape skirts or long dresses.

    Jackets too are catching the eye of fashionistas for they are trendy and give a rough yet stylish touch to ones look. Embroidered floor-length or waistline jackets can be teamed with Indian outfits like lehengas, saris and gowns, especially if you dont want to carry a dupatta. Jackets are also a great way to revamp an old outfit.

    Long kurtas are back. You can team them with palazzos, flared pants or a long skirt, making it a perfect outfit for wedding functions or casual parties. Anarkalis are also trending.

    Velvet is another option that people can look forward to this wedding season. From jackets and dresses to saris and lehengas, nothing says royal more than a velvet outfit. Velvet lehengas with high waisted embroidered pants and capes are a completely new silhouette which will let you make a statement.

    Another big trend are belts. Embroidered belts can add a lot of bling if teamed with draped tops, kurtas or any simple outfit. You can add fringes and tassels to make it look more dressy. Fringes and tassels are another favourite this season; they can add dimension and texture to a plain outfit. Another trend, my favourite one at that, is asymmetrical layering. It adds a fun element to a look without making it seem too heavy and overdone.


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  • 12/18/17--22:02: 'Tis the season for buying!
  • Whoever said money cant buy happiness simply didnt know where to go shopping - this adage has become the abiding principle in the magical world of shoppers where one simply does not have too many clothes or shoes!

    The festive period is generally a time to be merry and online sales and discounts at physical stores play a big part in getting people into the spirit of the season. As retailers go all out to woo customers with lucrative offers, the target audience themselves is quite happy to go on a swiping spree.

    Says Rekha Manish Gajria, director at Bulldog Sports Management Academy, "Christmas and New Year sales have a special charm to them. The atmosphere feels so positive and festive and almost every brand offers special deals. It makes you want to splurge and indulge even when you dont really need anything. It is like a must do year-end ritual for me."

    Akshitha Basavaraju, operations head at a chain of pre-schools, says, "The word discount always has a positive connotation for me. It is akin to winning a prize when you find that beautiful dress you have been eyeing a while at a fraction of its original price. I went for one such festive sale last weekend and bought western formal wear. It was designer clothing so I was very happy that I wont see it on every third person I meet."

    However, like the proverbial coin, indulging in some retail therapy has its flip side too. You stand the chance of being saddled with things you dont really want and breaking the bank in the process.

    "I personally love shopping and festive sales are a big reason for me going to the malls. It brings in some happiness after a long week at work and lets you have some time for yourself," says Shruthi Ramesh Kumar, an industrialist at Chaitanya Hi-Tech and Preci-Tech Pvt Ltd. "But what we should also realise is that when we are in that festive mood with a willingness to empty our purses, it is the perfect time for the market to trap us. It might be difficult to resist the sales but we can end up buying things which we would definitely not use. There are also times when we see that the amount we paid is not proportionate to the quality of the item," she adds.

    The best way to do this is to keep an eye out for the good deals and be aware of what you are putting in your shopping cart, says fashion blogger Pranwesha. "For an avid shopper like me, the sales at the retail stores were never enough. And then came the online shopping websites! They have some great deals; you just have to keep a close eye on the promo codes and best deals. The best way is to check the rates every fortnight," she says.

    So while there is no harm in taking after Carrie Bradshaw who summed up a shopaholics faith by saying I like my money where I can see it; hanging in my closet, make sure the sight of that spent money doesnt make you cry. Happy shopping guys!


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