Sunday, August 31, 2008

The River Of Sorrow...


Nature can be beautiful, refreshing and kind. But on another day it can be brutal and devastating. Bihar is already a state that is writhing in poverty and disparity. As if the people of the state were not already suffering a lot, here comes another reason, almost every year...Nature.!.! Either its the extreme cold and heat wave that kill hundreds or Floods that just sweep a few more away. Floods is just one of the many of such rituals in Bihar. Floods strike, people are relocated, floods subside and people go back. Usually the floods every year are minor, and somewhat necessary to the agricultural sustenance. But this time it has been a massive catastrophe...! Not seen ever in this region since 1950.

The problem is that the river Kosi didn't like to stay where it is. All rivers change their course over a period of time. But most do so gradually and take take decades to alter their path. River Kosi, however does so abruptly. It overflowed apparently due to a breach in a dam in Nepal. The massive amounts of water from the melting Himalayans glaciers inundated large parts of Bihar. When the flood water settles down,the river will be in a totally different place...!! That's why its also called the "Dancing River". Thus the dance of death continues. And millions of lives have been devastated, homes destroyed and future of millions more is uncertain. No matter what the government does, the scale of destruction is so much that providing aid is quite difficult. And of course there is also all the red tape invlolved which takes time to untangle and some official in between will try to stash some aid for himself.

Which brings me to the point about man trying to control nature. No mater how much man tries to keep it in check ( dams, canals ), nature always finds a way to strike back. The only difference is that man takes at least a few years or decades to ravage nature. But when nature strikes all it sometimes needs is a few minutes or days. Who knows, maybe the floods were caused due accelerated melting of glaciers, as a result of Global Warming. India is always prone to the vagaries of nature. People generally are able to handle disasters of manageable proportions, quite well. But there are times when the balance of nature is ruined beyond hope. And when nature tries to get back into the equilibrium messed up by man, it does so rather violently. The result is what we sometimes see as really bizarre or as horrific fury of nature.

The only problem is that most of who perish in such calamities are those who already are one of the most downtrodden. Ah well... nature doesn't know to select it victims. Alas.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Who's da man..??

Some of you might have heard this story...anyway here it goes....
"In the 1936 Olympics, Helen Stephens won against her bitter rival Stella Walsh, in the 100 meter sprint. Helen won the race in 11.4 seconds. Fans and supporters of Stella Walsh protested that no woman could run that fast.Thus doubting whether Helen was a woman or not. The tests that followed concluded that Helen was indeed a woman. After about 40 years Stella Walsh got shot by a bullet, and her autopsy revealed quite a shock. In fact it turned out that it was Stella Walsh who was not completely female."
In another such case :
"German "woman" athlete Dora Ratjen competed in the 1936 Olympics and came fourth. In 1938 she set a world record at the European Championship. Later it was found out that Dora was actually a man, named Hermann Ratjen, forced to do so by the Nazis. He then went back to be a man, and was happy with his original identity."
So down the years, gender testing in major sporting event had become vital. You don't want a male in disguise to compete with women. With all his natural advantages, he will have a competitive edge over them ( what happened to Hermann's advantage when he came fourth...?? ).There needed to be some way to determine that a female was indeed a female. That is easier said than done...!

In the early days of Olympics, only men participated, that too in the nude. So there was no such problem. However in modern Olympics, where even women participate, such needs arise. Women athletes, pumped up with a lot of nutrients and rigorous training, become hard to differentiate just by visual examination. So initially these test involved physical examination by a panel involving female doctors. However the really degrading nature of this form of test led to banning it.

Soon, methods involving chromosomal tests began to be used. Even this was not without controversies. In some rare cases, certain female athletes failed the test because of some abnormal genetic variation called adrogen insensitivity ( probably Stella Walsh's condition). This enabled them to have male hormone producing abilities, giving them a slight strength boost, however otherwise they were completely female.

Down the years, several female athletes were banned following this test, but later reinstated after a long therapy process ( removing the male hormones, and taking away the 'advantage' ). Even an Indian athlete S.Santhi, who won the silver medal in the women's 800 meters had failed a gender test at Doha Asian Games. This completely shattering her personal life and her career ( imagine someone telling you that you are not a woman/man, after years of believing otherwise).

So, apparently looks cant be used to differentiate. Sometimes even hormones are messed up, and give false information. So even the International Olympic Committee is not sure of these methods to determine femininity. They had also stopped the tests till a more conclusive way was found out. However they are conducted. The controversy continued even in the Beijing Olympics, where gender testing was apparently done.

So as it may seem, there is sometimes no distinct lines to differentiate. They sometimes overlap. Even males have female hormones too. Some just like to think like someone of the opposite sex and wish to be so. Anyway, thats a different story. But the underlying fact is that, its what you believe yourself to be. Like Stella probably did not know or care of her condition and hence lived a life as a woman, and so she was one. However the case of Hermann was different, who thought on the inside like a man, no matter how he dressed up as. and done so with the intention to cheat. As far as Olympics is concerned, gender will always remain a contentious issue... especially now, after even transsexuals have been given the opportunity to participate in it too ( Conditions apply )....!!

Sunday, August 24, 2008

1G 0S 2B

Yes, that is the final medal count of India. None more can be hoped or wished for. Its definitely a lot better than what most of us expected out of this event. Seriously, how many would expected such a result...?? Our aspirations definitely did go up and down during the course of the tournament. We began to expect a possible Gold from every Indian, after a medal was won from a formerly invisible Indian sportsman...!

A country of ONE Billion population just managing 3 medals, speaks a lot about us as a sporting nation. But taking nothing away from those chosen few - Abhinav, Sushil and Vijender, who saved us from major blushes, i believe the country should have done a lot lot better.




When i see small countries like Jamaica* ( 6G 3S 2B ) whose population is probably just half of that of Chennai**, i cant help but think whats wrong with us? They had such an authority over a particular event that the whole world was amazed. Winning is one thing, but resetting the bar of success is a totally different achievement in its own right...!!! Hats of to the likes of athletes like "Lightening" Bolt.

Where a billion of us taking pride in an overall 3, there is one man who sweeps EIGHT...!! Michael Fred Phelps...! Awesome...! Now that is domination. Totally amazing show of human capability. He delivered, when the whole world, not just his country men, were expecting him to do so. That is remarkable confidence in ones own abilities.

Then, China of course. No matter what i say is not sufficient. Not only did they organize a terrific event. they have put up an even terrific on field performance. They have put up such a huge gap between them and the Americans in the Gold column. Pure domination. How i wish we Indians could emulate them at at least in a few aspects. Truly they are worthy of the whole nation's envy.

Well, these are just a few to speak off. For us, the THREE medals is a remarkable effort in its own terms. Those who brought it are our heroes in every sense. Even those who made a decent effort are to be greatly appreciated. They have braved the odds to stand out. We didn't even know them, let alone the hardships that they must have faced to reach this level. So lets appreciate their efforts, and not push them into oblivion from where no one hears or remembers them.

Not all who dream of succeeding in sports in India, fulfill it. Mostly they just remain as dreams, smothered by over zealous yet empty dreams of engineering, medicine etc. But these few did so. We need more such heroes to celebrate. Till then. we are entitled to celebrate the THREE that we brought home. After all this is the first time that we are coming back with such a huge "haul". So THREE cheers for India.

* Population of Jamaica 2,804,332 (approx)
** Population of Chennai (India) 4,352,932 (approx)


Friday, August 15, 2008

Independence.... Do we value it enough??

Its August 15th, our Independence day. But do we really feel, what it is supposed to invoke within all of us. A feeling of patriotism..?? Or is it just another reason to get a day off from school or work...?? Well, the really regretful fact is that we just don't feel that in us anymore. The reason being that we don't realize how precious something us, until we lose it. The younger generation is obsessed with money, and care little about social and national interests. The love and concern for the country and the country men is apparently absent in the youth of today. We just have it all to easy for us. Freedom was just handed to this current generation, so we don't know what it means to us.

That sense can only be inculcated in young minds, through regular doses of patriotism. And by being patriotic doesn't mean dragging little kids out on cold mornings, parading them around the ground, hoisting the flag and then give them sweets. Just imagine what kind of impression is being put on them. The idea in those innocent heads is that the price for getting them to salute the flag so early in the morning, is the measly 5oPaise sweet. If that is their idea, then the society has failed in their duty to explain it to them, what it really means. Instead of subjecting them to such treatments, and just telling them that we got our independence, why not tell them the real significance of the day. Where we would be without our independence, difficulties we would be in, our heroes.... etc etc. But not make it too boring, to make them doze of. Maybe hire one of those guys in dinosaur suit to put up a show for them. Our educationists make our studies itself so boring, expecting them to be creative in such an attempt might be a bit too much to ask.

Forget the kids for now, look at the grown ups ( obviously kids brought up in the above mentioned way ). Just because they feel lazy to come on a holiday to raise the flag and salute it, they hoist the flag a day before...!! What an idea...! Well... for me that is nothing less that a mockery of the entire essence of the independence DAY. Its supposed to be on that particular day. Its not Independence week, or Independence dayS, where they have a choice to do it over a period of time. Sheesh... why do you even take the pain then????

And where is the spirit and the enthusiasm? Do you see a dull Diwali or a dull Ramzan or a dull Christmas celebration...?? Are they not celebrated with a lot of pomp and splendor..?? Why is that absent in such days of national importance? Is it any lesser reason to celebrate? After all it has been just 6 decades since we got it, unlike the reasons for the other festivities, which happened ( or said to have happened ) thousands of years ago.

As a matter of fact, its not just hoisting the flag, or saluting it that shows your patriotism. It must be a feeling from within that binds us all who are Indians. It is a time when we look beyond our cultural, religious and linguistic differences. Its a time to be united and stand up to the fear, suffering and injustice in the society. However all is not lost. There are still some moments when we all come together invlountarily, along with the nation to celebrate... such as the recent lone Gold Medal. Those are the rare moments that we all cherish irrespective of the differences. Yes, all we need is a reason to bring that spirit in us. And we need as many reasons as we can get...!! We need good role models in society. During the days of the struggle, they used to be brave honest political leaders. But now... well.. you know how it is. Though there are a few good public figures even now, whom we all can emulate. The problem is that good people aren't allowed to do good. Because there is always someone who wants to do good to themselves, rather than for the overall good of the nation.

So lets not just treat it as a day just to laze around and watch TV. Instead, put in some thought about how fortunate we are, that someone else has fought for us, and given us something so valuable. The least that we can do is to follow a few ideals that the great nation was founded upon...!!
Jai Hind..!!


Monday, August 11, 2008

Abhinav Bindra: India's Golden Boy..!!

It seems my prayers as well as of the prayers of the one billion population has finally been answered. We have finally a reason to celebrate a sportsman, and that reason is not cricket. An incredible win at the 10m Air Rifle event and it must have taken more than mere prayers for Abhinav Bindra to achieve this. India finally clinches an Olympic gold after 28 years and its first ever in an individual event. Really it came as a pleasant surprise when i happened to see the news on television. At a time when everyone least expected, we have made it to the medals tally on the just the 3rd day of the games...!!

For those of you who missed it, here is the points table of the finals of the 10m Air Rifle event. And see how close the competition was...!! Amazing..!
1. Abhinav Bindra (India) 700.5
2. Zhu Qinan (China) 699.7
3. Henri Hakkinen (Finland) 699.4
4. Alin George Moldoveanu (Romania) 698.9
5. Konstantin Prikhodtchenko (Russia) 698.4
6. Peter Sidi (Hungary) 698.4
7. Stevan Pletikosic (Serbia) 697.7
8. Serguei Kruglov (Russia) 697.0

To hear the national anthem played at the Olympics, was one of the most glorious moment ever for any Indian. It was historical event for Indian and the sports in India. Could this be signs of more such glory to come? will it encourage a sporting culture which has not been seen in India. Is it time to forget about cricket for a while and sweep it under the carpet? Will it encourage more youngsters to follow his steps? Will it help to improve our sporting infrastructure? Will more parents in India encourage thier kids to be professional sportsmen? I sure do hope so.

Abhinav has shown to us all, what it takes to achieve at such a huge stage. Determination, hard work and nerves of steel. He has been through a lot of ups and downs in his career, but did not let that stop him. Showing little emotion, his smile spoke of his great feat. Since those who succeed, have little need to say anything. Their actions speak loud and clear. He has scripted one of the finest moments of Olympic history. The whole nation, without even knowing what the game is all about, is celebrating with the young fellow. Surely this will boost the morale of the other Indians at the games, and who knows, a few more might just be on the cards. Truly a heroic performance...!!


Chak De India...!!

Sunday, August 10, 2008

One World One Dream

That is the motto chosen by China for this edition of the Olympics...! And what a truly spectacular opening ceremony the Chinese put up..! Their years of tradition and culture reflecting in their efforts. The whole world was awed by the way they set off one of the most awaited sporting festival of the year...!! The effects, stunts and the fireworks were some of the most incredible stuff that I had ever seen. It was a sign of what they are capable of. It was a sign of even more breathtaking performance by the Chinese athletes...! Fielding one of the largest contingent, they are determined to prove a point to the world...!! They are here to show that they can beat the world, the best of the best.

Watch out world : Here come China...!!!
It must have been truly spectacular moment for each of the 10,500 athlete to be present in the middle of such fan fare. Being watched by 100,000 at the National Stadium and billions through their TV sets. They were the central focus, and not the world leaders, who just got glimpses of lime light. It was only the athletes that mattered, big or small, they were the stars, and will be so for the next few days...!! Awaiting to see records tumble and some of the most awesome performances by them. Yet all within the grasp of human achievement, in the spirit of fair play and good sportsmanship.

Truly there can be no better way to celebrate humanity. A congregation of people shoulder to shoulder, irrespective of culture, race, language, religion, nations or color. Justifying the motto :

"One World One Dream".

Official Website Of the Beijing Olympics:

http://en.beijing2008.cn/

Check out these pictures of the Opening ceremony:

http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2008/08/2008_olympics_opening_ceremony.html



Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Olympics : Waiting for the Glory...(sigh)

Just ONE more day for the Olympics - one of the greatest sporting event of the world. To bring glory in Olympics is one of the highest honor that a sportsman or sportswoman can achieve for his/her country. For most of them at least, sports is the only cause for existence. Their commitments and their country's support ensures that they succeed in their attempts. When the right amount of passion is put in to it, scooping a bucketful of medals comes as no surprise. When most big countries eagerly await their countries to top the list, we wait for ours to at least come up on the list....
Anyway, for us Indians, as usual its time just to pray for at least ONE or TWO medals. Even a bronze will do. We will make them a hero, give them a couple of awards, a good government house and job ( unless they already have all that ) and a few days of fame. End of story. And then what? Soon the Olympian will be lost from the memories ( like many have ), till some news comes up that he/she is dead. And what about the sport itself? Any attempts to further improve the sport and the player? Any research in to developing and popularizing it? I hardly think so... We just like to sit on our laurels till it hurts our butts ( like failing miserably in Hockey ).
I think we have abused the phrase "Its not winning or losing that matters, but how you play the Game". It seems more emphasis has been laid to the first half, while the second has been a bit misinterpreted. The second phrase, does not only mean playing fair and being a good sportsman, it also implies to give it your BEST. And are we giving it our best?? From our One Billion plus population, cant we pick up and train at least a few champions? When smaller countries are able to compete far better than us, then why cant we? In spite of the odds some stars do shine, but are they well supported and encouraged? Are they given enough facilities to be trained and a decent infrastructure to sharpen their skills? Mostly they don't get all that. They have to struggle to get the sponsors on their own or pay from their own pockets. Most funds that do get sanctioned, either ends up in some bureaucrat's pocket or is left unspent.

And don't even get me started on all the squabbles and the politics involved between the Federation and the players. Its really disgusting to know that it takes political pressure and bribes to make it to the world stage rather than their own skills. There is always some fiasco regarding this, each time a major sporting event is held. Charges of doping are a disgrace too. But are the players to be blamed? Or is their ignorance to these facts, that lands them in trouble? Most atheletes do come from really impoverished and less educated backgrounds. They just might not know what to eat and what not to. Those who train and coach them should be equally held responsible for this.

Do we not have the talent and the resources needed? Yes we have all that, but the intent is not there. That is the whole problem. If India has to be a Super power then sports is as vital as economy or political influence. Look at all the current super powers. All will have some recognition in major sporting events. Just look at China. An emerging power and India's closest competitor in the race. Not only do they make cheap consumer products, but also want to be the numero uno  in everything else that they do. Their government has been spending a lot on their athletes and their performance will definitely show this. They are eager to host the games, as well as prove a point against the best of the best, by beating them.

Sports is not just a leisure activity or just an entertainment. Its an opportunity to let the world notice you. Once even Adolf Hitler felt that losing the finals of hockey to the Indians at the 1936 Olympics, was disgraceful to the mighty Germans. During the Cold war, for the US and USSR, such sporting events were a bloodless method to show superiority. Though the significance of the games might not be so much today, but still it makes the world rise up and respect us... if not at least our National Anthem is played in front of the whole world to take notice. Isn't that a reason enough....??

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Who ate the Sun...??

The Solar Eclipse ( Eclipse - Greek for "abandonment" ),is one of the most feared phenomenon in almost every part of the world. Probably because the all seemingly powerful sun is rendered helpless by the moon. Since people attach great importance to such power and might,the entire event turns into a time of fear. But seriously all the superstitious beliefs were conjured up at a time when people didn't know what caused this "unholy " event to happen. But now we do know why it happens. However even today, at a time when people are digging up water on Mars, all this stigma attached seems very ridiculous. One thing for sure - the fear of the eclipse is a world wide phenomenon and cuts across various cultures and traditions, irrespective of their education background. Certainly though, a certain precautions need to be taken during the eclipse... for scientific reasons of course.

So i fired up my favourite web browser (Mozilla - FireFox 3 ) and went to and did some research on the superstition associated with a solar eclipse. And here are a few that i came up with. Of course since these are all myths,they varied from source to source. Religious beliefs and references:

  • Hinduism : The eclipse represents the demons - Rahu and Ketu - locked in celestial combat causing the sun to be eaten up.

  • Christianity : According to the Synoptic Gospels a period of darkness was associated with Jesus's crucification.

  • Islam : The Prophet was known to have prayed during an eclipse. Many Muslims offer special prayers during the eclipse.

Other than this there were some other bizarre superstitions as well. Indian Myths:

  • People should avoid going out during the eclipse so that they are not struck by any ill omen.

  • A pregnant woman should not view the eclipse, nor should she step out in the sun during an eclipse,or else the baby will be born with marks.

  • Handling scissors,pen or any other sharp objects by the woman, during an eclipse, will cause the baby to be born with cleft lips. Apparently even the husband should not do so during the eclipse, for the same reason.

  • One must pray for the duration of the eclipse, and take a bath afterwards, to cleanse of the evil which causes the eclipse.

  • Charity and offerings to the deity during the eclipse is also a popular belief. ( the charity part sounds good )

  • For the whole day people observe fast and do not eat any food,as the food gets polluted in the absence of the sun's rays.

  • People dispose the food and water once the eclipse is over because they become uneatable after the event.

Not just in India, but such beliefs were/are prevalent in so many regions of the world. Some of them are :

  • Chinese : An eclipse is caused by swallowing up of the sun by a dragon/serpent/toad/dog. They would shoot fireworks at it,and make loud noises hoping that the evil creature would go away.

  • Vikings : Two wolves would run after the sun,and an eclipse would occur when they caught it.

  • Romania :Evil demons would consume the sun, and in the darkness create havoc on earth. Fires were lit and church bells rung to ward off the demons.

  • Japan :Wells were covered to prevent poison from dropping from the sky,during the eclipse.

  • Native American : During the eclipse,the sun and the moon come down to visit earth.

  • Amazonian : Some tribes believed that the sun and the moon fell in love,but could not get together.They lived apart and came together during an eclipse.

  • Ancient Egyptian : the snake Apep attacks the boat of the Sun god, causing it to capsize. Many refer to the serpent eating the sun god, and others to a great hawk stealing Ra's glory.

  • Ancient Babylonian : The priest would bathe the king in cedar oil and myrrh to prevent the catastrophe.

Now we all know how and when an eclipse ( solar or lunar ) occurs. I meant the scientific reason of course. If not refer to your 4th grade science book ( or Wikipedia ).Yet we succumb to these the old folklore. With a few precautionary measures, an eclipse is nothing to fear about, and is just another natural phenomenon. Here are some real scientific fact about why a Solar Eclipse may prove dangerous :



"....... Danger to the eye is from heat ( infrared radiation ), UV ( ultraviolet radiation ), and from excessive blue light.......UV radiation can cause 'sunburn' to the cornea or outer surface of the eye, just like sunburn to the skin - same mechanism, similar damage, but for the eye it results in pain and vision loss....."
But other than this, everything else is just in your heads.....

Friday, August 01, 2008

A Siege within our own walls...

As if we didn't have any problems within the country, now we have the neighbour skirmishing the borders. Hmmm... well, we all know that the neighbour and the terrorists are waging the "war " with the same goal on mind. After all, we all know from where the terrorists get their technical expertise from. Whether they are working together at this particular time or not, is not for me to deduce. Highly possible though. Somehow the human minds work well while planning and executing evil.
Create chaos within the country to demoralize us, and then attack from outside. And i may go as far as to suspect that probably they had a hand in creating the political confusion as well. Ummm.... well...Maybe the idea is a bit far fetched, but thought provoking indeed. Somehow the external aggressor can be tackled comparatively quite easily, because you know when and where they will strike. The internal chaos may be hard to predict and control. The reason for that is the availability of the weapon of choice in abundance - misguided minds. The reason maybe varying - political, religious, economic or plain madness. To diffuse a bomb may be relatively easy, but the meaningless rage in the mind of a few psychotics maybe hard to extinguish.
And just how well are the security forces prepared to tackle the foe? Apparently they are way behind, as was evident in past few days. In fact the entire security system has been ridiculed by the "Hide and seek" drama. Almost unbelievable that such a thing could be pulled through. As if they were toying with the cops. Bombs on trees..??? Huh... what were they trying? Kill a few birds...? If it wasn't for the heinous nature of the event, its good enough to induce a few hours of laughter at least.
There is no miracle way to prevent all the unintentional internal "aid" to these forces of hate. Probably it will take a lot of reforms in the society. Maybe a huge dose of a patriotism. Probably a great secular leader to look up to. Politicians and citizens need to stick together and not allow petty differences to come in between our national pride. Politicians, after all rely on the insignificant differences for their benefits. If they continue to do so, then all that they will be governing over is a dead people. However it still is not assured. Hate does not always arise from misery or neglect. After all, several of the disrupting individuals have a well polished background. One rotten apple can rot the entire bunch, and the rotten apple may arise from the most unsuspecting of the places.
And where does religion fit in all this. Well... i am NOT much of a theist, but i suppose god is never was and never be in control. Ultimately its men who do bad stuff in the name of god. These so called religious leaders know well to issue Fatwas against Sania for wearing a short skirt, Rushdie for penning his thought, against the Vande Mataram, but no such thing against the organizations and individuals that spread hate. How ridiculously convenient, i must say.

Hate will breeds only more hate. Violence does NOT solve any problems, in fact it creates more. And as said "Only the dead have seen the end of the war". Unfortunately we all are in this open war. Here fight does not involve violence, but refers to resisting and standing united against misguided evil, and sticking to our basic human nature.
"I am prepared to die, but there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill." Mohandas K Gandhi