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Yes, that’s right I am talking about India’s crack commando unit – the National Security  Guards. For almost an year now I have got to interact with the men, their life at work & of course, their weapons!!

The government leaves no stone unturned in trying to project them as one of the best in the world, well on that front there’s no doubt that they indeed are. One look at their training facilities in Manesar & the rigour that each of the men have to go through to make the cut do make them ready for any eventuality. A closer look & things are not really so very rosy. A few very disturbing observations:

1)    It took years for the bureaucrats to actually think of & then reject the sanction of air-conditioned buses for the minimum comfort of travel for members of the elite sky marshal force (52 SAG) in the searing Delhi summer. The sky marshals are probably the best in the world when it comes to shooting at close quarters especially within an aircraft.

2)    Before the 26/11 attacks took place the NSG was actually denied the right to purchase sophisticated weaponry, an absolute necessity when it comes to a firefight in closed environs. The reasons cited were overshooting of the budget.

The 26/11 attacks on Mumbai were an eye-opener & a blessing in disguise for the NSG & the national security apparatus. Hope we really learn from these blunders…reminded me of Bob Dylan’s iconic song “……Yes, ‘n’ how many deaths will it take till he knows, That too many people have died? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind, the answer is blowin’ in the wind!!

Benjamin Franklin couldn’t have been more apt when he wrote those famous lines! I happened to come across an interesting article in out of all places, the ET on the travails of war!! I also happened to watch the brilliant movie The Thin Red Line by Terrence Malick.  Just goes on to prove that out of intense agony, bloodshed, pain arises intense philosophy. A couple of poems penned down from the WWI era which really makes us think:

“If I should die, think only this of me:

That there’s some corner of a foreign field

That is forever England. There shall be

In that rich earth a richer dust concealed. A dust whom England first shaped, made aware;

Gave once her flowers to love, her ways to roam;

A body of England’s breathing English air,

Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.”

Rupert Brooke


In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses row on row,

That mark our place; and in the sky

The larks, still bravely singing, fly

Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago

We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,

Loved, and were loved and now we lie

In Flanders fields.”

John McCrae


” You smug-faced crowds with kindling eye,

Who cheer when coldier lads march by,

Sneak home and pray you never know

The hell when youth and laughter go.”

Siegfried Sassoon

Yes, We Can!!

These three words have suddenly empowered the human struggle across the world cutting across colour, caste, creed & religion!! Not for nothing…! I have been an active Greenpeace supporter since my college days & I received a mail from them today featuring the writeup & the video! The contents of the mail are as follows:

Dear XXXX,

After one year of fighting an uneven battle against India’s most powerful and respected corporation, it’s come down to this…

We haven’t won yet. It’s that painfully simple, but also that painfully complicated.

Because even though the Dhamra port hasn’t stopped, and its impacts on the ancient habitat of the Olive Ridley Turtles aren’t going away anytime soon, what you’ve achieved goes out like a shockwave in the halls of online activism.

Nearly 115,000 Tata customers have done everything they could. From writing emails, sending faxes and making long-distance calls, to delivering roses, lighting candles and sponsoring newspaper ads.

Together, we’re doing everything we can. It’s the Tatas that have lost a chance to live up to their claims of placing the planet before profits, a chance to show that their reputation of being environmentally-responsible has some substance, and a chance to honour their promise that if the port were found to be harmful to biodiversity, they’d stop construction, no matter what stage it’s at.

While you’ve done everything within your means to stop the port, it’s now time for us to get on with what Greenpeace does best. Over the next few months, we will continue the hard lobbying, the behind-the-scenes work and, when necessary, the direct confrontations that you’ve provided us the legitimacy and credibility to carry out.

In the weeks to come, my colleague Gene will be talking to you about another critical battle we’re fighting on the climate front. I hope you will extend to him the support and energy that you’ve brought to this campaign. Until then, watch a video that captures one year of an incredible environmental battle. It’s our tribute to all the supporters, volunteers and cyberactivists who have walked with Greenpeace down this improbable road. View it, share it, and take pride in what you’ve achieved.

In solidarity, Ashish Fernandes

Ashish Fernandes
Oceans Campaigner, Greenpeace India

PS: Our work must go on, and it can’t go on without the support of ordinary citizens just like you. It’s precisely because of your contributions that we can stand up fearlessly to any corporation and government that commits environmental crime. To keep us fighting fit, please become a supporter and give whatever you can.

Wings of Hope

I have been involved with environmental activities for quite some time now. I guess, it’s a much needed catharsis after the crazy schedule of the week. Recently, I came to know about this NGO, NEWS from a friend. A Saturday afternoon couldn’t have been more well spent!! They have been doing phenomenal work since 1991 in the field of environment & ecological conservation in the Sunderbans.

I happened to catch up on one of their recent studies & here it is – quite heartening facts about the almost extinct Bengal vulture.

Introduction

Vultures inhabit the lowest rung in the food chain. They act as scavengers, primarily feeding on dead carcass and thus performs the important function of cleaning up the eco-system.

But nature’s most efficient scavengers are on the verge of extinction. Nine species of vultures have been recorded from the Indian subcontinent of which five belong to the genus Gyps. The White-backed vulture (Gyps bengalensis),Long billed vulture (Gyps indicus), Slender-billed vulture (Gyps tenuerostris)were the most populous species. But a rapid decline was noticed in their population in the last decade. The worst affected species was that of the Bengal Vulture or The White – backed Vulture ( Gyps bengalenesis). <!–[if gte mso 9]> Normal 0 MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 <![endif]–> In the last 12 years, a shocking 92% decline in their population was observed, leading conservationists to declare them as a rare & threatened species.

Bengal vultures are easily distinguished due to their white ruff of soft feathers around the base of the neck and a broad whitish band along the underside of the wings and an overall heavy brownish – black appearance. These are usually seen in small groups , perched hunched up on tree-tops. Usually late risers, very often seen asleep on a branch with head tucked under the wing till the sun is well up. This is possibly due to their dependence on thermal currents for gliding.

The breeding season stretches from October to March. The nest is an untidy mass of twigs and sticks along with leaves. Normally one egg is laid in a nest. Incubation period lasts for about 45 days. The young is fed on regurgitated goblets of meat. Both sexes share their domestic chores.

A study was conducted by a team of bird – watchers from “Nature Environment & Wildlife Society”(NEWS) on a group of vultures that were sighted within the premises of the Victoria Memorial and on two trees near the Race Course.

Duration of the Study

Field observations were made on the bird community from last year, 18th of April, 2008 to be precise and continued till date.

Site of Study
In and around Victoria Memorial and The Calcutta Race Course.

Observations

  • When the study was started , the NEWS team spotted a total of 19 bengal vultures (Gyps bengalensis)in the area around Victoria Memorial.
  • 3 vultures died thereafter. The Forest Department carried out a post mortem on the bodies of the vulture, it revealed the presence of bits of glasses in the stomach of one vulture. The other vultures were found to have empty stomachs. Previous studies attributed the cause for the decline of the vulture population on the use of Diclofenac. But along with that, food shortage also seems to be a problem.
  • There were sightings of a nest in one of the trees within the campus of Victoria Memorial . But the nest fell down during a storm.
  • Two new nests were again seen around end of December. On the 28th of December, a vulture was seen brooding in one of the nests.
  • Around 15th of February a new census revealed the existence of 14 bengal vultures in the same area.

On the 26th of February , a baby vulture was seen, its white head drooping down along a twig.

  • On the same day, another vulture in the other nest on the same tree was repeatedly attempting to chase off any crows that came in the vicinity of the nest and seemed to be brooding. After some time its mate was seen coming out of the nest after which it went into the nest. So, another baby is expected to be seen within the next few days.
  • On the 28th of February, a new chick was seen in the other nest at 5 pm in the evening. It was energetically attempting to bite at the crows that were pestering it. Perhaps, it would need that sort of verve to lead the population into the future.
  • On the same day, a new census revealed 23 vultures. That was really heartening!

Discussion –

It seems that the White – backed vulture or the Bengal Vulture ( Gyps bengalensis )is thriving as of now in this area in and around the Victoria Memorial. However, the source of their food remains a mystery , since the pilkhanas has been shifted from in and around Kolkata. So it is assumed that they must be flying long distances and then coming back to roost. Or it might be that they are surviving on the bits and pieces accumulated from dustbins or streets.

Another factor that might be an imminent threat to the thriving vulture population is the omnipresence of its scavenging competitor, the crows. Due to the greater number of crows in the city, the vultures might be losing out on food and to a certain extent, shelter. Even if they are 4 times larger, one does know how much of a pest the cunning crow might be when it comes to snatching food from the vulture’s nest or biting the young vultures.

Whatever might be the fact, whether the population grows or not is something that conservationists shall have to wait and watch.

Investigators – Sanjib Banerjee & Tiasa Adhya.

Comments
The forest department has set up a vulture breeding centre at Rajabhatkhawa which is yet to prove itself. But this is great news for the conservationists that they have bred in the wild and successfully given birth to chicks. Now, it is the responsibility of the forest department to handle these nature-born chicks!

An Inconvenient Truth

I happened to catch up on the widely acclaimed movie by Al Gore, a couple of days back. I have been quite sensitive about environmental issues since my college days & have been an active Greenpeace India member for the last 5 years. But then, this is something I had definitely not bargained for….if this is how we keep on abusing our fragile planet, Doomsday is not very far off!!

Former Vice-President of the US, Al Gore brilliantly portrays the damage we human beings have already done & are continuing to do to the environment. What is even more unnerving is the absolute lack of political will across countries to do something about it!! To start off with, here are a few pointers as to how we can try & bring about some change to mitigate the impact. Remember, the old adage, “Charity begins at home!”

#1 Replace a regular incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent light bulb – CFLs use 60% less energy than a regular bulb. This simple switch will save about 300 pounds of carbon dioxide a year.

#2 Clean or replace filters on your air conditioner – Cleaning a dirty air filter can save 350 pounds of carbon dioxide a year.

#3 Wrap your water heater in an insulation blanket – You’ll save 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year with this simple action. You can save another 550 pounds per year by setting the thermostat no higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

#4 Turn off electronic devices you’re not using – Simply turning off your television, DVD player, stereo, and computer when you’re not using them will save you thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide a year.

#5 Unplug electronics from the wall when you’re not using them – Even when turned off, things like hairdryers, cell phone chargers and televisions use energy. In fact, the energy used to keep display clocks lit and memory chips working accounts for 5 percent of total domestic energy consumption and spews 18 million tons of carbon into the atmosphere every year!

#6 Plant a tree – A single tree will absorb one ton of carbon dioxide over its lifetime. Shade provided by trees can also reduce your air conditioning bill by 10 to 15%.

#7 Avoid heavily packaged products – You can save 1,200 pounds of carbon dioxide if you cut down your garbage by 10%.

#8 Keep your car tuned up – Regular maintenance helps improve fuel efficiency and reduces emissions. When just 1% of car owners properly maintain their cars, nearly a billion pounds of carbon dioxide are kept out of the atmosphere.

#9 Check your tires weekly to make sure they’re properly inflated – Proper inflation can improve gas mileage by more than 3%. Since every gallon of gasoline saved keeps 20 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, every increase in fuel efficiency makes a difference!

#10 When it is time for a new car, choose a more fuel efficient vehicle – You can save 3,000 pounds of carbon dioxide every year if your new car gets only 3 miles per gallon more than your current one. You can get up to 60 miles per gallon with a hybrid!

Developing countries like India are & will continue to be the worst affected by the impact of global warming. It’s high time, we responsible citizens do something about this. For starters, I would suggest people to watch the movie & be better informed about the catastrophe that is gradually unwinding itself.

For people addicted to the internet, here is something what you can do. Check out www.climateprediction.net . This is  the world’s largest climate forecasting experiment wherein the power of the internet is most effectively harnessed. In layman’s terms – you get to donate some amount of your computer processor time & resource to help simulate the climatic models & experiments that are being conducted by the Oxford University’s Department of Atmospheric Physics. Once a person is registered with them, you get to install a software & based on your computer configuration some amount of work is assigned to your machine. You do not have to do anything, while your computer is in use the simulation is being carried out in the back end. At the end of a stipulated period of time, the work done on your computer is uploaded on the servers at their end & you get to earn credit points. Not that it matters much tangibly, but then you get to do your own small bit for this gargantuan endeavor. I was quite appalled to see only 171 users from India who have signed up for this. In a country of a billion people & where internet penetration is quite high in the urban areas, I am sure we can do better than this.

Let’s all give it our best shot before it’s too little, too late! Adios!!

Salaam Major!

Ever since the terror carnage in Mumbai last week, I had an inkling of something on these lines. Major saab (as I call him) had been incommunicando all this while, quite understandably so. Today’s morning call confirmed my “suspicion” – the voice at the other end was all too familiar – “Hey, Writs Ki khobor….”
Well done, Major…as always you have been leading from the front & doing us proud! Nihil Ultra!

A Bong & his Bitchings…

Many of the readers out here have pointed out my apparent proclivity to comment on the Bong & his idiosyncracies…I am not refuting that, but then their idiosyncracies have a strange way of getting at me. I am not complaining either…as long as they warrant a blog action.

     The Bong & his inquisitiveness towards a colleague’s pay-check & material wealth is not new to many of us.  Well, on these lines, the most recent that I have been party to, also happens to be (quite annoyingly) one where I have been at the receiving end.

    A colleague-friend of mine, a die-hard Bong (one who swears & lives by his umbrella on any given day of the year) happens to be amongst those one-in-a-zillion mortals who gave up a fully funded post-grad course abroad & came back coz he was missing his room & home ambience out here in Kolkata. I remember gaping at this individual when he first told me of his trysts out there. You wouldn’t miss him in a crowd….a smooth talker, one who quite literally has the gift of the gab & quite a pleasing personality..well, not always!
 

      At work it so often happens that batchmates & peers do have a significant salary differential…I guess it’s nothing untoward in this age where compensation is quite directly proportional to performance. Now, it happened to be that we are not at par vis-a-vis our official remuneration! This friend of mine quite jittery at the fact & having felt let down…decides to vent his ire on me. Now, the term ire in this context should not be taken literatim. For quite some time now, I am having to put up with ridiculous queries as to how much I am saving & why I should not be saving so much by doing this(read ENJOYING LIFE)..that & GOD knows what! My dear friend even thinks that I am on the verge of a geriatric breakdown – something which according to him octogenarians experience! Get a life, dude! And to add to that, there are quite a few of his tribe who have added to my misery!! I keep wondering what is it that they want….is this the Bong’s way of expressing envy or going green with jealousy?
   Wish I knew….the old & time-proven adage of “A Bengali is one who thinks he is the smartest & poorest at the same time” just couldn’t be more apt…talk of a regressive society that is thriving in the “cultural capital” of India.

       “If the radiance of a ten thousand suns

        were to burst into the sky

        that would perhaps be like

        the splendour of the Mighty One. “

On July 16 1945, when the first atom bomb was experimentally exploded in the desert of Alamogordo, New Mexico & as the stupendous conflagration lit up the entire sky, Robert Julius Oppenheimer, standing ten thousand yards away, began to hum spontaneously, the above lines from the Bhagavad Gita.

       Cutting down to the present day in the Indian context – the Left are out to prove a point with their ideology against “US Imperialism” with regards to the Indo-US nuke deal. I sometimes wonder what it is it that they are after? Is it a knee-jerk reaction that they are experiencing, especially since the US is involved or is it genuine concern for India’s sovereignity? Well, if its the latter I think they are trying to hoodwink the average Indian – what with one of their prominent comrades openly proclaiming support & apparent justification for China’s attack on India’s borders during the Indo-China war of 1962.

       They really need & could do with “The Mighty One”  someone who can show them the way out of the mess of ideologies that they have woven themselves into.

      I happened to catch up with a recent episode on Devil’s Advocate – a primetime show on CNN IBN, hosted by Karan Thapar. Couldn’t have asked for anything better! Check it out!

Well, am back after a pretty long hiatus….the mind has not really got to wander of late & therefore a paucity of quality intellections, I guess!!

          Had been to NJ out of compulsion…but then am not here to regret it! It was here, in NJ that I got to experience my first interaction with a Pakistani – a Khan from Lahore, one evening!! Thought of penning down the excerpts of my conversation with him at his place in Lawrenceville, NJ.

Khan: “Good Evening, where you from?”

Me: “Evening, am from Kolkata , India…out here on work!”

Khan: “Oh I see, you are a bangali babu, is it? Kolkata…was that part of Bangladesh(East Pakistan) earlier?”

Me: “(wtf)!! Yes, I am a Bengali…oh no, Kolkata was never a part of Bangladesh!!”

Khan: “I see…so where do you work?”

Me: “Am working for Dow Jones out here…as an employee of Cognizant!”

Khan:” Ok…Software guy…eh!?! So, you must be watching Bollywood movies…?”

Me: “Yes, I do..but am not a regular at it!”

Khan:”You must have seen Rajesh Khanna in…Anand…Babu Moshai…(smiles)!!”

Me:”Yes, but not the whole movie..!”

Khan:” How about Pakeezah….don’t tell me you have not watched it!!…Man, Pakeezah was brilliant…Meena Kumari, Raj Kumar….Inshallah! When will we get to see another like that? Meena Kumari…she was what passion was all about!!”

Me:”I plead ignorance, Mr. Khan but have just heard of the movie…!”

Khan:” Hmmm….so are you a fan of SRK?”

Me:”(cursing him under my breath)…Oh not much…I would prefer Amir Khan, I guess..!!”

Khan:”(smiles)”

.

.

.

Khan:”Its getting late…hope you liked the brownie..?”

Me:”It was awesome…wouldn’t mind dropping in for more!!”

Khan:”You are most welcome, my boy!! Good Night…Allah Hafeez..!”

Me:”Good night…Allah Hafeez!”

     Well, talk of confidence-building-measures (CBMs) between the two countries & all the parleys between our governments..!! That I guess, speaks volumes about the present scenario between the two countries..what with Kolkata being at one time a part of Bangladesh-which reflects the average Pakistani’s utter disregard for the territorial integrity of India…& his passion for Bollywood icons & their films. 

 

 

 

Oh N..!!

        I had kind of promised myself when I started off with my blog that it would be on concrete, rational stuff that I indulge in or would love to someday..!! Probably, the “indulgence” part got/is getting the better of me for quite sometime now! Not that I am not enjoying it…but then I would rather not let it go too far..!! Well, out of all this came out :

                                                    Oh, N (sigh)
                                                   Oh, oh, oh, N
                               I can tell by the dimple on your chin
                     You’re in beautiful shape for the shape you’re in
                                            An’ I’m in shape for N

                                                      Oh, N
                                               Oh, oh, oh, N
                           When you wander inta my dreams at night
                               Your remarkable form is a pure delight
                                            I go, go, go for N

                                                        NN
                             You’re a little bit like ev’ry girl I’ve ever seen
                                Oh, your separate parts are not unknown
                            But the way you assemble them’s all your own

                            All yours and mine, dear N (yours and mine, dear N)

                                                                      Oh, N
                                                                 Oh, oh, oh, N
                                            Say you’ll wait for me out by the rocket base
                                               And we’ll both blast off into outer space
                                                           At oh, oh, oh-oh, N

                                                                       NN
                              Come away with me now in the rocket-propelled machine
                                        We’ll come home by the way of a drive-in spa
                                                Just a little this side of Shangri-La
                                     And there I’ll stay with N (there I’ll stay with N)
                                                          There I’ll stay with N 

     Now for all of you bewildered readers as to from where all this evolved, check this out! So much for indulgence & irrationality!

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