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Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Positive Body Image

"For the first time ever, a Victoria’s Secret model walked the runway with natural hair. Rather than bending to VS’s traditional beauty standards, 23-year-old Angolan model Maria Borges rocked the runway sans wig, weave or even extensions. For Borges, it was a history-making in a personal way."

Monday, November 09, 2015

Yellow Journalism

In a Whatsapp group, one of my batch mates reported how some newspapers printed photos from a raid on three restaraunts by the police in Agartala. One of the couples were legitimate, engaged and to be married soon. Some were obviously not working girls, but seeking to have private time with their lovers.  Is that so bad? Where in an otherwise repressed society would you be able to do that? Do you seek blessings from your parents to gain carnal knowledge of your partner? That would be wonderful, to be able to communicate and learn about safe sex from your family. But we’d rather you had half-baked ideas and set to explore on your own, and ended up in the lock-up for the night.

Though we all agreed about the need to shut down shady businesses in our hometown, we debated the necessity to publish those pictures for public consumption.  Scandal-mongering is an old tactic used by media houses when there is no substantial news to report. But there is another reason too- sensationalism sells. Period.

For instance, The Statesman (headquartered in Kolkata) was considered a good, clean English daily newspaper while we were growing up in Agartala. The Telegraph, on the other hand, had supplements every Thursday called Telekids which had cartoons and articles for kids, a Friday spread of movie celebrities, and a Sunday magazine, Graphiti, with articles on food, art, and lifestyle. Since the later was more entertaining to my elder brother and me for different reasons, we tried to convince our parents to start subscribing to The Telegraph instead of The Statesman. Though the editorial section of The Statesman was one of the best in the country, we pleaded to stop our substantial diet and feed on junk. I don’t remember reading one single news article in The Telegraph after the subscription changed. All I read was Telekids and Graphiti.

I am not saying that one is better than the other, but every time we pick up entertainment instead of news, we are breaking the pen of another honest reporter. The scare headlines with no substantial news live on.

When checking out at a grocery store in the US, I often see magazines with celebrity gossips lined up. The cover page has the most outrageous claims- from promises of revelations of murder and blackmail to lurid details of the divorce of a celebrity couple, who cheated whom and so on. Pick your poison. Tom Cruise? You will find a series of cover stories: (Suri) Abandoned by Daddy, Tom’s Secret plan for Suri, Why Katie Left Tom, 30-year gay secret (with John Travolta and their weeklong getaway) and Inside his(Tom’s) life alone. With $2.99, you can peep into the private lives of glamorous icons. You can be a part of their misery, happiness, wedding, bereavements. You can reach out and be a part of something influential, beautiful and unreachable otherwise.

Now, I have no issues if People publishes celebrity gossip. But if Time starts to follow suit, I will be very, very uncomfortable. Unfortunately, the articles on the Times’s page in Facebook has some of the most substandard articles with clickbait headlines. Then there is always something, ’You will never believe…’ even for the lamest facts.

The primary duty of a reporter is to report facts, without personal, moral or political bias. But they are humans too. And they have mouths to feed. If you don’t want to be served the same recycled bullshit, you have to say it out loud. You have to demand something intellectually more stimulating, social issues that matter to your community, etc. But that doesn’t happen overnight. Is our education system failing our younger generation? Is community service a compulsory subject at school? Are you taught to value your leisure and trained to utilize it for the greater good? Or a pack of tissues and a nudie mag is all you need for the weekend?

The whole system is intertwined. We can not expect moral stalwarts when the precedence is set very low. Parents can manage the microenvironment of home. But once kids step out into the real world, they will see friends either wasting time loitering in the mall or taking extra language courses for higher education in Europe. Of course, they are free to choose, but there have to be some solid examples of those walking on the right path.

I am no one to judge the mechanisms of a functional society. I wasted a good amount of time at the mall as an undergrad until I started taking the extra coaching for a foreign language. But I don’t want the future generation to make the same mistakes. I want them to be wiser than I was at their age. I want them to know what is important and come up with innovative solutions to the problems that ail us.

The women in those pictures will obviously end up being social pariahs. In a small town, a reputation is very important. The press has to be more responsible for what it chooses to report. But the responsibility is also with each one of us. Our choices build the society.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Witch hunting

Salem in colonial Massachusetts was well-known for its witch 'trials'. From June to September of 1692, nineteen men and women were accused of possessing 'supernatural' powers in return for their loyalty to the Devil. The convicted were carted to a barren slope called Gallows Hill and hanged till death. A powerful reminder of the consequences of irrational fear and mass hysteria.

We may look at this part of history with contempt, but we still need a scapegoat to cast our sins upon. It is not uncommon to take out our pitchforks and look for a 'witch' when things go wrong. Some people have trouble accepting that the unhappiness stirring in their lives is not owing to the influence of an extraneous factor, but the repercussions of their fallacies.

As long as they keep looking outward, they can never address the source of their unhappiness. And more is the need to find someone else responsible for it- a horrible boss, an inconsiderate spouse, a conniving in-law, a despicable neighbor, even God or Fate.

This evasion of moral and personal responsibility leads only to one path- towards Gallows Hill of the strength of our character.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Norway trip 2015

We flew to Longyearbyen from Oslo via the international terminal, even though Svalbard, an archipelago of islands north of the mainland,  is Norwegian territory. In fact, we had to make sure that we had at least 2 or multiple entry Schengen visa for re-entering Schengen zone from Svalbard. There is a passport check inside the airport. Norwegian Air took about 2 hours 40 minutes to reach the northernmost commercial airport. As we descended, the view of the Arctic landscape promised an adventure of a lifetime.

An American named John Munro Longyear started the Arctic Coal Company in 1906 in Spitsbergen (German: Spitz= Peak, Bergen= Mountain), now Svalbard. The settlement of 500 people, formerly known as Longyear City, is now called Longyearbyen (Norwegian, byen= city).

There are no indigenous people in Svalbard. Everyone is a migrant from another part of the world. Established as a mining town, now most of the mining facilities are closed, except for Mine 7, which takes care of the local needs.

At 78-degree north parallel, the sun sets at 3:20 pm and rises at 10:13 am in October. The sun stays below the horizon for four months after October 25. Common sense is to hire guns to protect against polar bears if you travel outside the fortified settlement. Warning signs are all over Svalbard, including on paved roads, asking people to watch out for polar bears. An adult male can weigh up to 800 kgs.

We heard stories of polar bear fatalities and attacks on tourists. The most recent one was in May when a British tourist was dragged from his camp. One of our guides also narrated how a polar bear, who he named Genghis Khan, ate so much dog food that he could barely move. It had to be airlifted and translocated to another part of Svalbard, miles away from the city.

Some Facts

Since snow boots can be messy, most establishments (like hotels and church) ask you to leave your shoes outside. The permafrost melts and uncovers graves, pushing the dead bodies to the surface. Also, the cold prevents the bodies from decomposing. Hence, it is forbidden to die in this Arctic town. The dead are transported to other parts of Norway or their home country to be buried.

During our hour-long day trip around the island, we also learned that pregnant ladies are sent to Tromsø three weeks before delivery.  The local hospital deals only with emergencies and the doctors from the mainland are usually tele-connected during the procedure.

330 ft above sea level and 550 ft inside a permafrost mountain is the global seed vault - an insurance against doomsday for humanity. All nations have their own seed repository, but this is the safest given the location and low-temperature conditions which make it a natural freezer. It has the capacity to store 4.5 million types of seeds.

We were also told that all the buildings came pre-constructed to Svalbard from the mainland and are a stacked reconstruction of the modules. It takes maximum 5-6 months to reconstruct an average building. Piping is insulated and above the ground.

Camp Barentz

Camp Barentz in Advent Valley is about 10km from Longyearbyen. A bus took us to the camp site, away from the city lights and into the Arctic wilderness. The hosts served a rustic reindeer stew cooked over a camp fire in a pot, coffee brewed over the open fire, Akvavit (typically ~40% alcohol by volume) shots to keep us warm, and brownies named 'polar cakes'. The evening concluded with a presentation on the northern lights.

Red and green auroras by Frank Olsen, Norway 

Northern Lights

The expression norõrljós (northern lights) first appeared in Kongespeilet (King's Mirror), a guidebook on how to be a king. It described the phenomenon of northern lights so the king could explain it to his subjects. The Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei named it after Aurora (Roman goddess of Dawn) and Boreas (Greek name for northern wind).

The Inuits of Greenland believed that the lights were the spirits of their children, playing in their afterlife. The Saamis of Lapland believe that they were the energy from the souls departed. The Japanese consider it is extremely auspicious to see the lights and a baby conceived under a sky with northern lights is truly blessed.

The tale of Aurora starts in solar storms when plasma from the Sun blows into space. After 18 hours, they reach Earth. The Earth's magnetic field deflects the storm and funnels it into the daylight side called the daylight aurora. The southern hemisphere experiences the Aurora Australis.


At higher altitudes, red light is visible, followed by green. The ionized nitrogen produces the visible blue. There are also infra-red and X-ray northern lights that are not perceptible to the human eye.

Dog Sledding with Green Dogs

When we went to the dog yard, most of the dogs were yelping, 'Pick me! Pick me'. The handlers said that they are elated to see tourists because they know it is their time for a run. There were 150 dogs total. Half of them run for a week and are then allowed to rest in a yard in the mountains. A sled team can be of 5-8 dogs.

Heading towards the mountains, the leader awaits our command to start running after a small break
First, we picked the leader of the pack, who was a quiet, blue-eyed male. Soon, the rest of the team joined in. They love to run. The moment the handler says, 'Aha' signaling them to start, they start running with all their might. Initially, the dogs are full of energy, and they want to run fast, but the handlers don't let them do so to conserve their energy for the way back when they have to run against the wind. In summer, the handlers stop occasionally to give water to the dogs. In winter, the dogs eat ice when they are thirsty.

Our team was a group of seven Alaskan Huskies, which is not a pure breed but a mix of Siberian huskies and Alaskan malamutes. They are very efficient sled dogs, and even the breeders can not predict what kind of puppy will be born. A second-generation trait might resurface in the fifth generation.

On our way back, we were caught in a snowstorm. The dogs were running against the wind, so they became slow. I lost sensation in my limbs and was feeling tired. If I thought I knew what 'cold' meant until that moment of my life, I was grossly mistaken. Soon, we were back in our hotel and were having hot chocolate, warm waffles and a conversation with our Polish handler/guide. 

He said there are dog races that span across 2000 km of Arctic snow, desolate of any standard rescue facilities. Many get lost during inclement weather. He was a handler for a team and carries the dog tag of his favorite dog.

Later in the evening, we attended the Dark Season Blues Festival at a local pub where people were dancing to the tunes of live bands who come from all corners of the world for the festival.

It is surprising how warm these people are in spite of the cold weather. Most of them choose to live their entire lives in Svalbard. The hotels usually give perks to those who work in tourism- like a hot shower or discounts for the breakfast buffet. How little you really need to be happy!

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Old and new

The first coat of paint on an old patio chair. SG advised me to throw them away and get new furniture. I tried finding something I like online, but I didn't get exactly what I was looking for. Also, there is a joy in reclaiming old things that everyone thinks is past its prime.

The man at Home Depot suggested spray paint for beginners, but I wanted to feel a brush in my hand. It was therapeutic, though it  took several coats for the color to show. Of course, first, I used a fine grit sandpaper to make the surface even and then wiped the dust with a cloth. On a sunny day, it takes about 15-20 mins for the paint to dry to the touch. Make sure you do it in a well-ventilated area.

I spray-painted a table top just to see the finish. Prefer a brush. The flowers are acrylic paint. As you can see, I spilled water on the middle flower. Tried to fix it before I sprayed  the varnish. Maybe it is not a good idea to leave it in the rain, in spite of the top coat. We will see.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015


যারা যা ভালবাসেন তা দিয়েই গোটা পৃথিবীটাকে বিচার করেন। কেউ টাকা ভালোবাসলে সব কিছুর দাম নির্বাচন করেন। কেউ ভালবাসা ভালোবেসে বারে বারে খুঁজে বেড়ান সোনার হরিণ। কবিতা লিখলে সব কিছুতে ছন্দ চাই। নিজেকে অতিরিক্ত ভালোবাসলেও মুশকিল। তখন সব কিছুতেই চাই তার অস্তিত্বের স্বীকৃতি, গুণগ্রহণ ...

Sunday, September 20, 2015

What is success?

I see talented people systematically exhausting themselves every day. They spend hours at work and come home too tired to engage in anything else. Sure, the pay (or the promise of it) is good, but is it worth giving up everything else for it?

The definition of success changes with age. It meant getting an 'A' in school. There was an examiner who assigned those grades. In life, who does the scoring? How do we know if we are doing things right? I think the greatest mark of success is your happiness. If you are prone to irritation, anxiety, losing focus and are constantly overwhelmed by deadlines, you are not in a good place.

You should enjoy your work. Spend time with your loved ones. Take occasional breaks. Get at least 7-8 hours of sleep every day.Have a balanced diet. Get some exercise regularly. And engross yourself in some creative pursuit that rejuvenates you- at least once a week. An extremely linear lifestyle is heading towards a breakdown you can not foresee.Life is a marathon, not a sprint.

It is especially true in start-up cultures where the first few years are crucial. If you are a small business owner, it is a lot like raising a child. Everything else becomes secondary- your health, your friends and family, your sense of balance.

Take a step back, reduce distractions, strive for efficiency. Don't be Sisyphus condemned to roll a stone up a hill in Hades- only to have to start all over again.

Ask yourself- how well are you meeting the four energy needs:
  1. Physical (sustainability),
  2. Emotional (security),
  3. Mental (self-expression), and 
  4. Spiritual (significance).

Visualize a typical day at work. What are the non-essential tactical duties that you need to minimize? Do you start you day by replying to emails or on phone calls and consequently waste the most efficient part of the day in housekeeping tasks that can be done even when you are tired?

When you don't feel appreciated at work, is it because you are NOT an asset to the organization, in spite of the long hours you pull? Self-awareness is the first step to transformation. Don't keep habits that don't serve you well. Have a plan and work on it. This requires a certain degree of openness to yourself and humility. Not the humility that is covertly aimed at winning praise, but the humility that frees you from the need to project an image that makes you stand above others. After all, the greatest freedom we need is the freedom from ourselves.