Veganism

Over the past few years, the concept of veganism has become largely popular. Many famous personalities have also started switching into veganism. According to Wikipedia, “Veganism is the practice of abstaining from the use of animal products, particularly in diet, and an associated philosophy that rejects the commodity status of animals.” There is a specific pattern of eating involved in it which includes only plant-based food items. Vegan people replace dairy products with plant based milks like soy, scrambled eggs with scrambled tofu, honey with maple syrup and similar other options. They also refrain from using other animal products like clothing from animal products and leather. It is a lifestyle which attempts to decrease animal exploitation as much as possible.

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The term “vegan” was first coined by Donald Watson in 1944 when he founded the Vegan Society with a small group of vegetarians, who broke away from the Leicester Vegetarian Society in England. It is said that the term “vegan” was constructed by combining the first and last letters of “vegetarian.” At first it was used to mean “non-dairy vegetarian” and by May 1945 vegans started abstaining from “eggs, honey; and animals’ milk, butter and cheese”. They chose to not consume dairy or any other product of animal origin along with abstaining from meat like vegetarians. In 1951, the Society changed its definition to “the doctrine that man should live without exploiting animals”. It is currently defined as “a way of living that attempts to exclude all forms of animal exploitation and cruelty, be it from food, clothing, or any other purpose.” Interest in Veganism started from the latter part of 2010s as more and more vegan stores opened increasing vegan options. These have started to be increasingly available in supermarkets and restaurants across the world.

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Reason behind going vegan

Vegans generally choose to avoid animal products for reasons like Ethics, Health and Environment.

People who support the ethics of the practice are called Ethical Vegans who strongly agree to the belief that all creatures have the right to life and freedom. So, they oppose killing a conscious being to simply consume its flesh, drink its milk, or wear its skin — especially when alternatives are available. They also oppose the psychological and physical stress that animals may endure as a result of modern farming practices. For instance, the small pens and cages in which many livestock animals are forced to live between birth and slaughter, the farming industry’s practices of the grinding of live male chicks by the egg industry or the force-feeding of ducks and geese for the foie gras market. Ethical vegans also protest against animal cruelty and raise awareness about ending all forms of cruelty towards animals.

Some also choose veganism due to its health benefits. Plant-based diets may reduce the risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and premature death. Lowering the intake of animal products may likewise reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease or dying from cancer or heart disease. One can also avoid the side effects linked to the antibiotics and hormones which are used in modern animal agriculture. Studies show that there is a relation between vegan diets and lower body weight and body mass index (BMI).

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Vegan diets are high in dietary fiber, magnesium, folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin E, iron, and phytochemicals; and low in dietary energy, saturated fat, cholesterol, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, calcium, zinc, and vitamin B12. There is also the possibility of nutrition deficiency because elimination of all animal products may lead to nutritional deficiencies. Some of these can only be prevented through the choice of fortified foods or the regular intake of dietary supplements. Vitamin B12 supplementation is considered to be very important in some cases.

Some people avoid animal products and shift to veganism for the environmental impacts. It is widely known that animal agriculture is a very water intensive process. The UN report of 2010 suggests that animal products need more resources and produce a higher percentage of greenhouse gas emissions than plant-based options.

Are online classes being able to replace traditional classrooms?

With the rise of the pandemic and the extended lockdown, educational institutions have been prompted to shift towards online teaching. While initially digital classrooms seem to be a great alternative, whether it can successfully replace traditional classroom teaching is a question yet to be answered. Online teaching has also posed a threat to students belonging to the economically backward sections of the society. In a country like India, a great percentage of students do not have the access to such means or find it difficult to avail those options.

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According to survey findings there is a noticeable change in behavior and habits following the forced lockdown among the school goers. The sleep cycle and sleeping pattern of nearly 50 per cent children have been disturbed. It also indicates that 13 per cent of children have no regular pattern of sleeping. As a result, 67 per cent of parents think that their child’s screen time has gone up by at least 50 per cent during the lockdown. Increased screen time is known to severely affect concentration levels and leading to insomnia and other sleep disorders. The fear of pandemic has affected children in the worst way, nearly 40 per cent of the children who were surveyed, have been known to have mental health and unaddressed anxiety issues.

Schools and Colleges have set timetable in such a way so that there are breaks in between classes but because of network connectivity issues, students have started logging in earlier, which have lessened the break times. A teacher said in an interview, “In the first month, things were fine but with time students are losing interest and a kind of boredom is setting in even for the bright kids. For students in senior classes or those who will appear for board exams there is pressure from teachers and parents which is taxing.” After attending classes online, many students are also sitting for online tuition or extracurricular activity classes.

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Teachers of many schools have reported that students have become “more subdued” in class and their energy levels have decreased than before. According to psychiatrists and teachers, months of being inside and attending classes from within the screen has made students “fatigued” and “demotivated.” Even students who are academically strong have not been responding in class like before, teachers said. They have observed that the “naughty and mischievous” ones who would always be up to some mischief in classrooms have become “quiet and subdued” during online classes.

Psychiatrist Jai Ranjan Ram said to a newspaper, “Teachers are trying but online classes are not the same as what school was for children. No wonder they are feeling demotivated and fatigued. They have to attend continuous classes on the screen, at times not on laptops but on phones. All this while there is monotony of the same environment. It’s difficult to maintain a sense of well-being. In an online class the nuances of non-verbal communication are completely lost.”

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Sneha Priya S, Co-Founder & CEO of SP Robotic Works, has said, “Covid has proven to be the turnstile for education in India. The current situation has unearthed the immense potential of platforms with experiential and interactive learning which engage children in practical tasks and logical reasoning.”

In a physical classroom, students and teachers would even discuss things not related to academics and eagerly share their experiences. While there are downsides, there are also some positive aspects to it. Educational institutions have been closed for months at a stretch. With online classes there is the possibility to catch up with studies. Many students feel that at least in an online mode there is some form of interaction which helps them in these trying times. Online classes have made possible for students and teachers to get back to their routines within safe conditions. They also provide students with something to look forward to everyday. But amidst the current social conditions, students long to go back to their campuses. As we adjust to the ‘new normal’ many young people who are at the beginning of their career are also uncertain of what challenges they might face in the future.

Unlock 4 : New Covid Rules

The Government of India had announced a lockdown over the last few months due to the Coronavirus pandemic. A lockdown was imposed on the whole country from the month of April. The lockdowns were imposed as a preventive measure for the pandemic. Since rates of infection have still not gone down, these measures are being continued. Recently there has been a change in the guidelines and a new system of “Unlock” is being introduced in the country. Today, a new set of guidelines were announced regarding the unlock. The Ministry of Home Affairs has issued a new guideline about the opening up of more institutions and activities. Metro train services and open air theatres are to be allowed in areas other than Containment Zones. A new set of lockdowns is being extended in the country and the rules will apply to zones where there are active cases and places labelled as containment zones. Other zones will have less strict Unlock rules. These guidelines will be extended in the country till 30 September.

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The Centre has said,”The new guidelines, issued today, are based on feedback received from States and UTs, and extensive consultations held with related Central Ministries and Departments.” After issuing the guidelines, the Home ministry also announced opening up of more activities, like the resumption of Metro train services and open air theatres. Closed theatres have not been permitted to be kept open. Until further notice they will be closed. The re-opening of activities rule will only be applicable in areas outside the Containment Zones, said the Ministry. The Centre has allowed the states and Union Territories to permit up to 50 per cent of its teaching and non-teaching staff to be allowed to go to the schools for online teaching and other official and related work. States will also be allowed to permit students of classes 9 to 12 to visit their schools, but only in areas which are not included under the containment zones, said the government order. The Centre, however, has allowed reopening of higher education institutions. But this is only for research scholars and post-graduate students of technical and professional programmes which require necessary laboratory or experimental works in labs or other institutions. The previous Unlock 3 guidelines which were issued on July 29 had allowed the opening up of yoga institutes and gymnasiums. It had also removed restrictions on movement of individuals during night curfew.

School, colleges and other educational institutions will continue to remain closed for students, said the Centre on Saturday as it issued guidelines for the fourth phase of easing down the COVID-19 restrictions – “Unlock 4” – beginning September 1. This will be continuing for a month. The Home Ministry, issuing the guidelines, announced opening up of more activities, such as restarting of Metro train services and open air theatres. According to the Ministry, the re-opening of activities will only be allowed in areas outside the Containment Zones.

The Unlock3 guidelines issued on July 29 had allowed opening of yoga institutes and gymnasiums and removed restrictions on movement of individuals during night curfew. In its latest order, the States have also been asked not to impose any local lockdown restrictions in places outside Containment Zones. According to the government data, India’s COVID-19 numbers rose to 34,63,972 with a single-day spike of 76,472 new infections, while the death count climbed to 62,550 in 24 hours.

Cultural Heritage Sites in India

India is a country which has a host of spectacular sites, ranging from glorious historical monuments to diverse natural heritage sites. UNESCO World Heritage Convention has recognised many sites across the world for their cultural heritage. India has the 6th largest number of world heritage sites with 38 such sites. Here are some sites among those, which one shouldn’t miss while exploring the country.

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Taj Mahal, Agra

The Taj Mahal is a funerary mosque, built by Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his third wife Begum Mumtaz Mahal. Set against the Mughal Gardens, it is a pristine architectural monument made of white marble. It was built in 16 years by thousands of artisans under the Chief Architect Ustad Ahmad Lahauri and is considered as a masterpiece.

Khajurao, Madhya Pradesh

The Khajurao is a group of monuments located in Madhya Pradesh and is attributed to the Chandela dynasty. It is known for its unique artistic architecture which has survived since the 10th century. Out of the 85 temples built originally, only 22 temples are there at present.

The PInk City, Jaipur

Jaipur is a fort city in Rajasthan, built according to grid plans of Vedic architecture. The urban planning of the city shows influence of ancient Hindu, modern Mughal and western cultures. Originally built as a commercial capital, the city is an intersection of commercial, artisanal and traditional center.

Elephanta Caves, Maharashtra

The Elephanta Caves is a group of sculpted caves on Elephanta island, located in Mumbai harbour. It is dated to 5th century and it consists of 5 Hindu caves and 2 Buddhist caves. The architecture is characterised by rock cut stone sculptures.

Sundarbans, West Bengal

The Sundarbans are the largest mangrove forests in the world and is both a national park and a tiger reserve. It is situated in the Sundarbans Ganges river delta and is formed by the deposition of sediments from 3 rivers – the Ganges, Brahmaputra and Meghna. It consists of dense mangrove forests which is the home to the Bengal tiger, the salt water crocodile and various birds.

Fatehpur Sikri

Also known as the City of Victory, the Fatehpur Sikri was built by the Emperor Akbar. It includes a set of mosques, monuments and temples built in Mughal architectural style. It was built as a city which had several monuments, buildings, palaces, public spaces and courts. The site has monuments like – the Jama Masjid, the Buland Darwaza, the Panch Mahal, and the Tomb of Salim Chishti which are popular tourist attractions.

Monuments at Hampi, Karnataka

These are a group of monuments in the Hampi town in Karnataka. Located on the banks of the river Tungabhadra, it consists of Dravidian temples and palaces. It has been admired by travelers of the 14th and 16th century and is still a very important cultural and religious center for Hindus and Jains.

Sun Temple, Konark, Odisha

The Konark Sun temple is a renowned temple, located on the coast of the Bay of Bengal and built in the form of the chariot of Surya, the sun god. It is constructed with sandstone and decorated with beautiful stone carvings. It was constructed under the rule of King Narasimhadeva I of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty.

Final Year Exams: Supreme Court to Announce Its Verdict Tomorrow

University Grants Commission’s (UGC) had passed on a circular on July 6, regarding the conduction of the final term university examinations during the novel covid 19 pandemic. The Supreme Court will pronounce its verdict on the pleas challenging the UGC circular.

UGC had earlier approached universities to view and get the status about the exams. It received responses from about 818 universities (121 deemed universities, 291 private universities, 51 central universities, and 355 state universities). Out of the 818 universities, 603 have either conducted the examination or are planning to conduct it in some time. While 209 others have already conducted examination on either on-line or off-line mode and 394 are planning to conduct examination in on-line or off-line or in a blended hybrid mode towards August or September.

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A bench headed by Justice Ashok Bhushan, R Subshash Reddy and MR Shah, had reserved its judgment for the matter on August 18. They will be pronouncing their judgement after a detailed hearing continuing for 2 days.

Last week, four states and Union territories – Maharashtra, Delhi, West Bengal and Odisha – had urged the apex court to give directions to the UGC to not impose examinations on lakhs of final year university students during the present condition. The court had concluded the hearing but deferred a judgement on the issue. Some states said they were not consulted before taking the decision regarding examinations and selecting the UGC guidelines. They have also said that the state governments have the power to take health related decisions in the interest of the people. The UGC Guidelines did not make sure of this and the opinion of the states were not taken into consideration while the guidelines were constructed.

A group of as many as 31 students from different universities across the country had approached the Supreme court and opposed the UGC circular dated 6 July. In that plea, the students have opposed the direction given to all universities in the country to finish taking the final year examinations before 30 September. The students have made a petition and requested for the examinations to be cancelled. They have suggested that the results of students could be calculated on the basis of their internal assessment or mid-term exams and past performance in previous years/semesters. In the petition it was requested that mark sheets of students should be issued before July 31. The petition was filed by students from across 13 states and one union territory. One of the students, among the 31 petitioners, who had tested positive for coronavirus have asked for directions from the UGC about the examinations. He has asked the UGC to adopt the CBSE model and conduct an examination at a later date. This is specially for the students who are not satisfied with their marks and the assessment of the papers. The plea suggested that previously planned examinations should be cancelled, keeping in mind the interests and health of the students in such a situation of the country, when the number of cases were rising every day. All educational educations across India were closed for the past few months due to the pandemic situation and the lockdowns. Most institutions have however started taking classes for intermediate students in the form of online classes/ lectures.

The Supreme Court will give its judgement and provide a verdict for the students, in a batch of petitions submitted for challenging the revised guidelines of the University Grants Commission (UGC) to conduct final year exams by September 30 of this year.

2000 Rupees Notes Not Printed By RBI In 2019-20, Currency is Still Valid

Rs. 2000 notes were introduced by the Government of India after the announcement of the demonetization of 500 and 1000 rupees notes in November, 2016. Currently, it is the highest denomination currency note of the country. According to the annual report of the RBI, the Rs 2000 denomination note was not printed at all during 2019-2020.

These notes were introduced after the government announced demonetisation of old Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes 4 years back. At that time, those two denominations had accounted for 86% of the then total currency in circulation.

The number of Rs 2,000 denomination notes had peaked at 3.36 billion units in 2017-18. This number had dropped to 3.29 billion in the years 2018-19. It has again fallen to 2.73 billion in 2019-20. The currency note presses of the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) did not print even one Rs 2,000 note in the last year. This happened because the presses did not receive any order for printing those. This seems to indicate a conscious decision for starting the trend of decreasing the number of notes which are circulated. The 2000 notes under circulation was 50% in 2016-17 and it has come down to almost 22% in 2019-20. These figures are based on RBI’s Annual Report for 2019-20, which was released on August 25 2020.

It is also known that RBI has also disposed a disproportionate share of Rs 2,000 notes in the soiled category. This has raised many questions on the government’s plan about the 2000 denomination note. In January, 2019 the was an indication that the Rs. 2000 notes were not being printed any further because there was adequate supply.

A total of 176.8 million pieces, which is quite a high number, of Rs 2,000 notes under the category of soiled notes were disposed of in 2019-20 by the RBI. While in 2018-19, just 1 million Rs 2,000 notes were disposed of and in 2016-17 or 2017-18, no Rs 2,000 notes were disposed of. Both the 2000 and 500 denomination notes were introduced after demonetisation. In 2019-20, the share of Rs 2000 notes which were disposed of was 6.5% while that of Rs.500 notes was 0.6%. Out of the 22 billion currency notes printed in 2019-20, more than 50% of those were of the Rs 500 denomination. Due to these changes in currency composition, the Rs 500 notes has reached a very high share in the total currency under circulation.

The Minister of State for Finance Anurag Singh Thakur had told the Lok Sabha on March 16, 2020 that, “Printing of bank notes of particular denomination is decided by the government in consultation with RBI to maintain the desired denomination mix for facilitating transactional demand of public. No indent was placed with the presses for printing of Rs 2,000 denomination notes for 2019-20. However, there is no decision to discontinue the printing of Rs 2,000 bank notes.”

A government official said that, “The Rs 2,000 notes were introduced in 2016 to quickly fill the gap created by demonetisation of Rs 500 and Rs 1,000 notes. It was the need of the hour. Gradually, with increased supply of smaller notes, including new notes of Rs 100 and Rs 200, and with growing popularity of digital transactions, the urgency to issue new Rs 2,000 notes is no longer there. But this does not mean that there is any move to discontinue Rs 2,000 notes. Increasingly, commercial banks are also using more and more smaller notes because their customers often find difficulties in getting change for Rs 2,000 notes.”

Black Man Shot by Police in Wisconsin, Protests Follow

Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man was shot in the back by the Wisconsin police in the city of Kenosha. The incident happened on Sunday, while he was walking towards his car and was shot several times in the back. His three young sons witnessed the shooting from the car and were screaming after seeing their father being shot. Video footage of the shooting was shared on social media, which was taken from across the street, it shows the father-of-three leaning into the car. An officer is seen grabbing his shirt after which seven shots were heard. It is unclear what had happened before the video recording begun. He survived the shooting and had a surgery. His father had told the newspapers that his son is paralyzed but the doctors do not know whether its permanent.

At night, groups of protesters defying a dusk-to-dawn curfew gathered outside the courthouse. They confronted law enforcement officers in riot gear outside the county courthouse which was blocks away from where Jacob Blake was shot. They were shouting and tossing water bottles after which they were responded with tear gas and pepper balls.

Despite the curfew, demonstrations erupted on Sunday night, which lead the authorities to close public buildings. Governor Tony Evers have ordered National Guard troops to be deployed in the city to maintain order. He has condemned the incident and “the excessive use of force” and called for a special legislative session next week in order to reconsider police reforms. Protestors marched on the streets from Monday night into Tuesday morning. Many commercial and government buildings and vehicles were set ablaze. The disturbances and protests had slowed down by early morning. According to a protestor, the police used tear gas, rubber bullets and smoke bombs to disperse the crowd. Protestors were marching peacefully but a small group suddenly got violent and started setting fires and breaking glass. The instigators who were seen were reported to be white. After the demonstrations ended, the police and demonstrators had worked together to clean the debris.

The incident occurred three months after the death of George Floyd on May 25. The Black man was pinned to the street under the knee of a white police officer in Minneapolis. The incident sparked protests, against police brutality and racism within the U.S. criminal justice system, across the country and abroad.

Black Lives Matter activists have demanded the arrest of the officers involved in it. Attorney Crump, who also has also represented Floyd’s family, said in a statement, “Blake had been trying to de-escalate a domestic incident when the officers first shot him with a stun gun. As he was walking away to check on his children, police fired their weapons several times into his back at point-blank range.”

Sunday’s shooting had been termed a “domestic incident’ which the police responded to. According to a police statement, they had immediately taken him to the hospital. Authorities have given no further explanation of the details of the incident or what had led to the shooting. The officers who were involved in the shooting have been placed on administrative leave. The Wisconsin Department of Justice said on Monday that the investigation is underway.

Books on Indian History which You Must Read

Indian History has been the theme for many books. Whether its fiction or non-fiction, there are plenty of books which deserve to be on the list of must-read books written on the topic of history. These books give one a detailed understanding of India’s history.

Be it comprehensive historical books or fictional accounts of a historical incident, there are many options for you to choose from. If you are a person who loves both reading and history then the following 5 books are just the right choice for you.

The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen

Amartya Sen is an Indian Economist and writer who had won the Nobel Prize in 1998. This book is a collection of essays and it will help one understand the Indian polity. It focusses on the importance of public debate, argument and intellectual diversity in the Indian civilization of the past. Sen writes about his view on how and what will lead to the success of democracy in India.

India After Gandhi by Ramachandra Guha

Ramachandra Guha is an Indian writer and researcher whose areas of interest include society, politics and history. India After Gandhi is a book describing the journey of modern India, from post-independence from the British in 1947 until the 1990s. The book will provide one with a thorough understanding of India’s social and economic spheres. It covers the country’s political history over the later part of the 20th century.

The Last Mughal by William Dalrymple

William Dalrymple is a Scottish historian, writer, critic, art historian and curator. He has won several awards and prizes for his writings. The book is a comprehensive description of the time period when the Mughal empire started declining in India. It will be a treat for people who love reading history. It is about the last Mughal ruler, Bahadur Shah Zafar II, and it provides an account of 19th century India with the tale of the emergence of the British Raj.

Another famous book by him is White Mughals which is his fifth major book, it tells the story of the love affair between James Achilles Kirkpatrick and Khair-un-Nissa Begum at the backdrop of nineteenth century Hyderabad.

The Discovery of India by Jawaharlal Nehru

Jawaharlal Nehru was India’s first prime minister and he wrote this from 1942 – 1946. This book was written by Nehru when he was imprisoned by the British. It is a tribute to the rich cultural heritage and legacy of the country. It provides an account of all major developments in the subcontinent from the period of Indus Valley Civilization to the last years of the British rule.

The Palace of Illusions by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni is an award-winning writer, novelist and poet. The book is about the tale of the epic Mahabharata, written from the perspective of Draupadi (Panchaali). It tells the story of the woman who fights, endures a lot living in a patriarchal world. It is a historical fiction which traces the historical tale and the life of Panchaali.

Was the Environment Healing During the Pandemic?

While the outbreak of the Covid 19 pandemic prompted lockdowns in many countries all over the world, the resultant decrease in emissions may have improved the health of our planet. Incidents where endangered animals have been spotted in certain areas were all around social media.

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The worldwide disruption caused by this has resulted in great impacts on the environment and the climate. Also, the considerable decline in travel has caused many regions to experience a large drop in air pollution. Carbon emission rates have reduced across countries significantly. There have been many instances where considerable changes in environmental conditions were observed. In China, lockdowns and similar measures have resulted in a 25 percent reduction in carbon emissions and 50 per cent reduction in nitrogen oxides emissions. One scientist estimated that this may have saved at least 77,000 lives over the course of two months. When compared with indexes of last year, pollution levels in New York have decreased almost by 50% this year. Satellite images have shown that Nitrogen dioxide emissions have started to decrease in Northern Italy, Spain and United Kingdom.

As most people had to stay at home due to lockdown and travel restrictions, many animals have been spotted in several cities. Sea turtles were spotted laying eggs on beaches they once avoided. This was found in coasts of the Bay of Bengal due to the lowered levels of pollution and human intervention. In the United States, dangerous vehicle collisions with animals such as deer, elk, moose, bears, mountain lions were very common. These incidents have reduced greatly and the rates fell by 58% during March and April. Endangered animals were visible in urban cities. A group of Nilgai deer were spotted on the roads of Noida near New Delhi. Dolphins which were seen in the Ganges many years ago, were also spotted in the river during the lockdowns. Several migratory birds were spotted across cities.

Gabon, an African country, had decided to ban the human consumption of certain animals like, bats and pangolins. This was done to reduce the spread of zoonotic diseases because the novel coronavirus is thought to have transmitted to humans through these animals.

According to a study published in May 2020, it was found that the rate of daily global carbon emissions during the lockdown in early April fell by 17%. This could possibly lead to an annual carbon emissions decline of up to 7%, which would be the biggest drop in emissions since World War II according to the study. Researchers suggest that these decreases are mainly due to the reduction of transportation usage and industrial activities. It is true that rebounding and returning to our previous routine and lives could diminish these reductions due to the more limited industrial activities. Due to the reduction in flights, air pollution levels have also dropped significantly.

Temporary changes have affected the environmental conditions. However, whether this pandemic will have a lasting impact on the environment is yet to be known. None of us would have wanted to lower emissions in this way, but it has shown us what we can do together in times of need. Covid-19 has shown us the importance of lives, health services, jobs and mental health. It has also shown us the difference that people and communities can make when they work together – this has given us hope that we can show the same zeal while dealing with climate change and saving our planet.

College and University Admissions 2020

Students are very worried about their careers as all admission procedures have been delayed due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Many have expressed concerns over the delay and cancellation of exams for they might lose an academic year. Final year students are suffering the worst. Many students of intermediate years in have started their classes in online mode for now.  

Delhi University has scheduled its entrance tests for admission to 10 undergraduate and 86 masters and MPhil/PhD programmes from the 6th of September. The exams will be computer based and will be conducted by the National Testing Agency. They will take place from September 6 to 11 in three slots from 8 am. There will be 24 centers across the country. 1.47 lakh students have applied to the masters courses, and 21,699 students have applied for MPhil and PhD programmes. The undergraduate course entrance tests will be held for 3 management courses, journalism, education and a few specialised disciplines. 

Students are also worried about sitting for exams in this condition. There is the issue of social distancing and also wearing a mask, gloves and shield for 2 hours while appearing for an exam is quite taxing. The centres are located in specific cities so there is also an issue about travel restrictions and hotel accomodation. Some exam dates have also coincided with others as DU’s joint admission test for management courses and Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) is supposed to take place on the same day that is September 7. There is another problem about the masters aspirants as most of them have still not finished with their final year exams and yet to receive the degree. Students are waiting for the University to make an announcement and provide some clarification regarding the issue. JNUSU president Aishee Ghosh has expressed concern over the issue of students who are badly affected by floods and the pandemic. Many of them might not be in a position to appear for these exams in a specific centre.  

Jamia Milia Islamia has extended the dates of application for admission. The last date to fill the online application form has been extended to September 14. Students seeking admissions in any undergraduate course at the university can apply at the official website, jmi.ac.in or jmicoe.in.  

The applications for admissions under the sports category will end on September 16. This is applicable for students who play aports at the national, state, regional or university levels. Under the sports quota, students will be enrolled in both undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Sports including boxing, badminton, athletics, cricket, hockey, shooting, football, tennis, table tennis, volleyball, and wrestling will be accepted for the courses. 

The Jamia Milia Islamia University has been ranked amonf the top universities across india. Over 21,000 students are enrolled across 270 programmes in Jamia. This year, it has introduced 19 new courses including two MTech programmes, two MSc, and one MLib course. Among the undergraduate courses BSc aeronautics, four BVov courses, diploma in hospitality management, and three postgraduate diploma courses including entrepreneurship, innovation and design thinking.  

New sessions across colleges and universities have all been postponed due to the pandemic. The application deadline has been extended for almost all courses including free UPSC tutoring classes that are made to support candidates belonging to minorities, SC, ST community, and women as well as NRI admissions.  

Climate Change

The phenomenon of rising temperatures of the Earth resulting in change of climate, seasons, rainfall patterns etc. is called Global warming. Global warming and its effects are together referred to as Climate Change. While these changes have been seen before but the rate of change has increased rapidly from the middle of the 20th century. Findings from different recognized scientific organizations support these claims. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “human influence on climate has been the dominant cause of observed warming since the mid-20th century”. The emission of greenhouse gases as a result of human activities have been one of the largest causes for this. Fossil fuels, Chloro-fluro carbons (CFCs), deforestation, rise in different forms of pollution are all behind this.

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Temperature change is also accompanied by loss of snow cover, melting permafrost, frequent natural disasters like cyclones. Land surfaces heat more quickly which have resulted in heat waves, forest fires, increase in desert area. These temperature changes are the highest in the Arctic region. Changes in environmental conditions have led to extinction of several wildlife species in forests, coral reefs etc. Rising carbon dioxide emissions lead to rising sea levels, ocean temperatures and ocean acidification. These changes bring in frequent droughts, extreme weather conditions affecting the equilibrium and natural balance.

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Almost all countries have come together for climate change under the umbrella of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The convention aims to “prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. It has instructed policy makers that there is much greater risk to human and natural systems if the warming goes above 1.5 °C compared to pre-industrial levels. Under the Paris Agreement, nations have made climate pledges to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, but even after following those, global warming would still reach about 2.8 °C by 2100. To prevent this from happening and limit the warming to 1.5 °C, methane emissions need to decrease to near-zero levels and carbon dioxide emissions should reach net-zero by the year 2050.

Governments should act immediately and policies should be constructed to reduce fossil fuel emissions, increase reforestation, forest prevention, use of low carbon energy technologies, food preservation. All societies should work together towards dealing with future global warming problems in a scientific way. Development of more resistant crops, better disaster management should also be considered.

Several international movements have taken place like Fridays For Future where school students take time off from school to aware people and demand climate change action from governments. They demand action from political leaders of the world for the fossil fuel industry to convert to renewable energy and take immediate measures for climate change. This movement was publicised after Greta Thunberg started a protest outside the Swedish parliament with a poster saying “School strike for climate”. She is an environmental activist who has spoken at several internationally recognised platforms. She started her journey as an activist from the time when she had convinced her parents to change their lifestyle for reducing their carbon footprint. She is known for her straight forward manner of speaking at public platforms and criticizing world leaders for their failure to address climate change. She has participated in the United Nations Climate Change Conference (2018) and UN Climate Action Summit (2019). She has also got several awards and made it into the Forbes list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women (2019). Though her popularity at such a young age has made her a target of critics, but she continues to work and struggle towards her goal with indomitable spirit.

Street Food Around the World

One of the best ways to know about the history and culture of a place is to try out its cuisine. Not only does it provide one with a delicious treat, it also speaks a lot about the place and its people. Local cuisines range from elaborate meals to roadside snacks. But I feel, to get the real taste of a place you need to try out its street food. While trying out various dishes from the streets you get to explore a place in the best way possible. Here are some amazing food items from all around the world!

Aloo Chat – South Asia

It is a dish which is made with boiled potatoes, cut into cubes and mixed with different spices and chutney. It is popular in Pakistan, parts of Northern and Eastern India and Bangladesh. Aloo chat is a snack or side dish and it varies from region to region in terms of spices and taste.

Crepe – France

Crepe is a popular pancake like pastry which is popular in France and Belgium. They are made with all kinds of fillings and flavours. There are two types of Crepe – ones that are sweet that are made with wheat flour and ones that are savory which are made with buckwheat flour. Sweet crepes are eaten with fruits, custards, whipped cream or chocolate and savory crepes are served with eggs, mushrooms, cheese and ratatouille.

Chuan – China

Chuans are a type of kabab served with spices like black pepper, cumin seeds, sesame and red pepper flakes. These meat kababs are roasted over charcoal or deep fried in oil. It originates from the Uighur and other Muslim communities of China.

Gelato – Italy

Often confused with ice cream, Gelato is an Italian dessert made with milk, sugar, cream, nuts, fruits and toppings. It is much low in fat than traditional American ice cream and has more flavors which makes it a rich and delicious dessert. There are a lot of flavors including vanilla, chocolate, hazelnut, pistachio.

Hot Dog – United States of America

It is a classic American street food and you can find it in food trucks and restaurants across cities like New York and Chicago. A grilled sausage is served in between a steamed hot dog bun along with mustard, ketchup, onion, cheese and chilli. There are a lot of varieties which differ in shapes, taste and sizes.

Mango Sticky Rice – Thailand

Mango Sticky Rice, also called Khaoniao Mamuang is a popular Thai dessert. It is also eaten in Cambodia, Vietnam and other Southeast Asian countries. A specific form of sticky rice is mixed with coconut milk and is served with Mango slices. The coconut milk is added so that the rice absorbs all the flavour and tastes sweet. It is popular during the peak mango season in Thailand during the summer months of April and May.

Naan – Central Asia and Middle East

Naan is a traditional bread which originated in Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent. It is made with flour, water and ghee. Additional ingredients like milk and yoghurt are also added in different varieties. Made in a tandoor oven, it is a flat bread which is served with other items like curries and fillings. It is served hot brushed with butter and ghee.

The Joys of Volunteering

Volunteering is a voluntary act of an individual of doing some work for the society as community service. It may include different forms of work. Some volunteers are specially trained in a particular field while some offer to help and join hands for a good cause freely. Volunteering has different sectors like medical, disaster management, education and upliftment of community. There are several NGOs and organisations which offer volunteering opportunities.

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It can help you to make new friends, advance your career, and feel better. Taking some time out of our busy schedules and finding time for volunteering can be difficult for some of us. But you can start small for the sake of trying it out. Volunteering lets you help and reach out to people from different backgrounds and create social change in your own little way. It provides vital help to individuals and gives you a chance to make lives better. Surely it makes people’s lives better but it gives you greater benefits. Give a little time to volunteering and you will get a lot in return!

It helps you feel happier and healthier. Once you start volunteering, you will meet a lot of new people from different communities. Working with underprivileged communities makes us more aware of our surroundings and feel grateful about our own lives. Also, when you start doing something new it gives you a fresh start and brightens your mood. Most of us love doing new things. Volunteering will also help you spend some quality time outside of work. It will bring both fun and fulfillment to your life. It will help you combat better with issues of mental health like depression and anxiety. It will also improve your mood and give you immense joy. Seeing the smile on the face of a child will surely brighten your day.

You will meet a lot of new people. Your fellow volunteers will either be from similar fields as yours, which will definitely be a positive side or they will be from completely different walks of life giving you a chance to know about a lot of new things. If you are a person who struggles with making new friends, it is a great opportunity for you to start new friendships. Once you start working as a team with others, you will share your ideas and share responsibilities for carrying out a task. While working and planning together it is most likely that you will become great friends. This will also make you a more social person and increase your communication skills. Volunteering helps you to network with a lot of people. Especially if your career path values societal issues, it will be really helpful for you to meet important people and make connections.

Lastly it will help you enhance your career prospects. Almost all companies or educational institutions value a volunteering experience. They will be glad to know that you have been a part of something so meaningful. Volunteering increases your chances of getting selected and helps you improve your resume. It will also give you experience of working with a team and make you a more empathetic and responsible person.

The Enlightenment Age

The Age of Enlightenment, also called the Age of Reason was an intellectual revolution which dominated Europe during the 17th and 18th century. Enlightenment was the emergence and creation of ideas which challenged the existing notions of the world. It questioned the existing set of ideas and conceptions about religion, society and politics. Before this period, Europe was essentially a land dominated by religion. This intellectual movement was carried out by the Enlightenment philosophers like Baron de Montesquieu, Voltaire, David Hume and Adam Ferguson.

According to some, the beginning of the Enlightenment was after the publication of René Descartes‘ philosophy of ‘Cogito, ergo sum’ (“I think, therefore I Am”) in 1637, while others belief the publication of Isaac Newton‘s ‘Principia Mathematica’ (1687) began the Scientific Revolution and the beginning of the Enlightenment.

The philosophers and intellectuals challenged the clergy men who supported the traditional view of society. These new ideas influenced cultural practices like writing, painting, printing, music, sculpture and architecture. There was also significant progress in technology and medical science.

The key ideas of the Enlightenment were Reason, Empiricism, Science, Universalism, Individualism, Secularism, Freedom and similar others. The thinkers stressed on the primacy of reason to establish rationalist ideas based on fact. The key to expanding human knowledge was shifted upon empirical facts and scientific experiments. This concept of scientific reason was considered universal and could be applied to all situations. Philosophers opposed all traditional religious authority and stressed on the importance of knowledge free from all religious biases. They pointed out the creation of a form of knowledge which was not influenced by any religious ideas or superstitions. A secular idea was born and this spread quickly throughout Europe. This led to the belief that all individuals are same and equal despite their religious and philosophical views.

It was the idea of Individualism which was the starting point of all scientific knowledge. Science was the supreme form of knowledge as scientific facts were based on observation and experiments. This led to an increase in objective ideas and decrease in belief of superstitions. The philosophers wrote in a very direct way and took clear positions. They wrote about important changes and transitions going on in the society. A traditional social order was replaced by a modern State. The formation of a political State took place and the powers shifted from the hands of the Church to the State. Society was no longer dependent on the traditional religious institutions. It was believed that the application of reason and scientific knowledge could remove the cruelty and injustice from social institutions. The works of Voltaire instilled a desire for new ideas and belief in progress among the Europeans.

Thinkers like Saint Simon greatly influenced the societal processes. According to him modern society was threatened by anarchy and disorder. To bring back social order a Science of Society would be necessary. He constructed a ‘Social Physiology’ to bring order and stability in the society. He believed that modern society would flourish if science and industry were used for the service of humans. A major social re-organisation would be necessary to bring about order and proceed towards a successful social change which would bring about societal progress. Although his ideas were neglected at first, as Europe became engulfed with disorder and war, these ideas started influencing people. Eventually Saint Simon became a key figure in the liberal political movements of Europe.

Succulents

Succulents are indoor plants which can grow with very little water. They are ornamental plants and are used to decorate spaces for their interesting shapes and colours. If you are in search of house plants which can thrive with little care succulents are for you. Over the last few years succulents have grown very popular. There are hundreds of unique varieties and one doesn’t need gardening skills to care for them, anyone can grow them. They have special water storing tissues which help them to grow even in very dry conditions which is not favorable for most other plants. So, they are ideal for growing in your living room. They are also very easy to find in nurseries and shops.  

In botany, succulent are plants which are thick and fleshy to retain water in arid climates or soil conditions. The word succulent comes from the Latin word sucus, meaning ‘juice’, or ‘sap’. These plants may store water in various structures, such as leaves and stems. The natural habitats of these water preserving plants are in areas where there is high temperatures and low rainfall, like deserts. Having the ability to thrive on limited water sources, such as mist and dew, succulents are equipped to survive in an ecosystem with scarce water sources. In horticulture, the term succulent regularly excludes cacti. However in botanical terminology, cacti fall under succulents.  

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Some easy to grow succulent varieties are –  

Burro’s tail – It is a trailing succulent that looks good in a hanging basket or container so it can drape over. The stems can reach up to 3 feet long and have gray-green leaves which looks like the grains of rice. Although it rarely blooms, pink or red flowers might be visible at the end of the stems in summer.  

Christmas Cactus – It has flat segmented stems like crab claws which gives it the nick name crab claw cactus. It also prefers a bit more moisture so you can water it whenever the top inch of soil in the container is dry. Keeping it in bright light near a window, can make it bloom in winter.  

Hens and Chickens – It is a very common type of succulent and is characterised by flower like structures with round edges. They are actually two different plants which look very simmilar. They have star shaped flowers.  

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Aloevera – It has long slender leaves with sharp teeth like edges. It’s well known for its sap which is used to treat skin diseases and heal wounds. Aloevera is a easy to grow houseplant and is tough to kill.  

Snake Plant –  They have thick, stiff and pointed leaves which grow straight up to 3 feet long. Having a patterned marking makes it look like a snake and hence the name. It will multiply and grow leading to filling the whole pot. It might require you to divide it in different pots.  

African Milk Tree – It is capable of growing upto nine feet tall in natural habitat, and it isn’t actually a tree. As a houseplant, this succulent reaches up to three feet tall, producing upright, triangular, branched stems bordered with short sharp thorns. The tips of the green stems have small leaves with a reddish tinge. 

Zebra Haworthia – It has striking stripes and spiky foliage which makes it look like a rare and exotic plant, but it’s often available at plant shops and is very easy-going when it comes to taking care of. It will stay small within 5 inches.  

B. R. Ambedkar

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was an Indian economist, politician and social reformer. He was also known as Babasaheb Ambedkar. He campaigned against social discrimination against the lower castes or Dalits of the country. Completing his doctorate from Columbia University and The London School of Economics, he gained reputation as a scholar for his research in economics, law and political science.

In the early phases of his career, he was an economist, professor and lawyer. Towards the later phases, he was actively involved in campaigns for India’s independence. He published journals and advocated for political and social rights for Dalits. He made a significant contribution to the establishment of the state of India. He was the first Minister of Law and Justice of India and the chief architect of the Constitution of India.

He had a Marathi family background and was from the town of Ambadawe in Ratnagiri district of modern-day Maharashtra. Ambedkar was born into a poor Mahar (Dalit caste), who were treated as untouchables and faced a lot of socio-economic discrimination. Although he attended school, Ambedkar and other untouchable children were segregated from the rest of the children and given little attention by teachers. They were not even allowed to sit inside the class. He had to sit on a gunny sack which he took home after school. When they needed to drink water, someone from a higher caste had to pour that water from a height as they were not allowed to touch the water vessel. It was usually the peon who did this for him and on days when the peon was not available, he had to go without water. He had later described this as “No peon, No water” in one of his writings.

During British rule, Ambedkar’s effort for the political representation of the oppressed untouchables of India bore fruit in the 1920s. The colonial state was forced to include two members from among the Dalits in the Round Table Conference in 1930. This eventually led to the framing of the Government of India Act, 1935.

From 1927, Ambedkar launched active movements against untouchability. He began public movements and marches to open up public drinking water resources for all. He led a satyagraha in Mahad to fight for the right of the untouchable community to draw water from the main water tank of the town. He also began a struggle for the right of Dalits to enter Hindu temples. In a conference in1927, Ambedkar publicly condemned the Hindu text Manusmriti (Laws of Manu), for ideologically justifying caste discrimination and “untouchability”. He ceremonially burned copies of the ancient text. On 25th December 1927, he led thousands of followers to burn copies of Manusmrti. Since then 25 December is celebrated as Manusmriti Dahan Din (Manusmriti Burning Day) by Ambedkarites and Dalits.

In 1956, he converted to Buddhism, initiating mass conversions of Dalits which eventually led to the Dalit-Buddhist movement.

A few days after completing his final manuscript ‘The Buddha and His Dhamma’, he died in his sleep on 6 December 1956 at his home in Delhi.

The Casteless Collective

The Casteless Collective is a Chennai based Tamil indie band. The band currently consists of 19 members including Tenma (leader and music producer), singers Muthu, Bala Chandar,  Isaivani,  Arivu and Chellamuthu, Dharani (Dholak), Sarath (Satti), Gautham (Katta molam), Nandan (Parai and Tavil), Manu Krishnan (drums) and Sahib Singh (guitar).  

Formed in the year 2017, the band was started by Pa. Ranjith and Tamil Indie Musician and Composer, Tenma, founder of Madras Records. The band’s name originated from the phrase ‘Jaathi Illadha Tamizhargal’ which was coined by the 19th century anti caste activist C. Iyothee Thass. He was a social activist who urged Dalits across Tamil Nadu to register themselves as Tamils without caste in the first Census in 1871. The band makes music to protest and rebel against the age-old caste-based discrimination and violence. Their songs are political which speaks against the inequalities of the caste system and oppression of women and minorities in Tamil Nadu.  

The leader and music producer of the band, Tenma was preparing to put together a group of indie musical artists for the Madras Indie Collective in 2017 when he got the idea from Pa. Ranjith, of training Gaana musicians for it. They prepared auditions for over 150 applicants and looked for artists who had a socio-political motivation in their lives as well as musical strengths. A mixture of Gaana, hip hop, rap and folk musicians were brought together. About 19 singers were selected for the initial ensemble.    

It has broken caste boundaries by engaging with the current social and political issues in the state. Instead of making music for entertainment alone the band has tried to eradicate discrimination through its music. Their main intention is “to create political awareness through music and art” because “art which makes us question discomfort is beautiful”. The band is a collective without caste which aims to eradicate caste based and religious discrimination through music.  

Jai Bhim Anthem (2018), Quota (2018), Magizhchi (2018), Vada Chennai (2018), Thalaiva (2019), Dabba Dabba (2019) are popular singles of the band.

The Casteless Collective had their very first concert on January 2018 in Chennai. It was their first performance in front of more than 4000 people. The 19 members including one female artist, all dressed in identical grey suits gave a wonderful performance. Their cries of “Jai Bhim!” were greeted with thunderous applause. They had not expected such a big enthusiastic crowd and it was a very emotional experience for all of them. This was also because most of the artists came from small backgrounds and they had mostly performed in one or two funeral processions. The instrumentalists who played katte and chatti were really overwhelmed as these instruments were restricted to only funeral events. 

It was not a concert that had people head-banging or jumping to the beat of drums. Instead, the audience listened to the songs with rapt attention. They broke into applause and shouts of agreement whenever the lyrics hit home. The Bhim Rap, a song on BR Ambedkar’s life and work, was met with a very enthusiastic reception. So was the Rap song that condemned honour killings in the name of caste and caste pride which was a major social evil in Tamil Nadu. Another popular track, Madrasin Magizhchi, spoke about the small joys of living in Madras, despite being poor.  

They say that people often ask them about the song lyrics and the stories about their experiences, so a discussion has begun. The band believes that social problems cannot be solved unless it is spoken about. Without discussions around caste-based discrimination one cannot attempt to eradicate the social evil. Their songs have already fulfilled their aim and created a stir among people. We hope that the band achieves greater heights and reaches out to everyone out there who has been a victim of caste discrimination and that it becomes successful in eradicating the malpractices of the system. 

Beautiful Island Getaways

Island destinations offer beautiful beaches, exotic food and interesting tales of history and culture. Such islands are present all across the world. Iconic beaches, striking landscapes and coral reefs will make one fall in love with these beautiful islands. Most travellers would keep such destinations in their travelling bucket list. Some of these iconic travel destinations are mentioned here – 

Santorini – The iconic island city of Greece, is a very popular travel destination which is a must visit in every traveller’s list. The turquoise waters, aromatic Mediterranean flavours and historical tales will surely make you admire and fall in love with the island. It was devastated by a volcanic eruption in the 16th century BC, which has shaped its rugged landscape. The two principal towns Fira and Oia are situated along cliffs above an underwater crater. The unique red and black sand beaches due to the volcanic setting of the island makes some picturesque sites. Visitors can walk around the lanes of white washed villages and find some great restaurants and shops.  

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Cyprus – This Mediterranean island is a home to both Greek and Turkish descendants which makes it a rich cultural amalgamation. The honey coloured beaches, ancient ruins will appeal to every traveler. It is known as the jewel of the Meditteranean. History enthusiasts can admire the Hala Sultan mosque while beach lovers will love the vibrant waters of Nissi Beach. While in Cyprus, one can also visit the city of Paphos which is the mythical birthplace of Aphrodite, the ancient Goddess of love and beauty. The traditional food include grilled meat kababs, pork marinated in coriander, fried halloumi cheese, olives, pitta bread, lamb, rabbit stews, root vegetables, chickpeas and artichokes. 

Maldives – Situated in the Indian Ocean, this island is a paradise for all beach lovers. It consists of a chain of about 1,200 small coral islands and sandbanks (some 200 of which are inhabited), grouped in clusters. The archipelago was inhabited as early as the 5th century BC by Buddhist peoples, from Sri Lanka and southern India. It has striking beaches and exceptional diving spots. You can also try activities like snorkeling at Hulhumale beach, or take a pleasant evening stroll at Cocoa Island during the sunset. The Grand Friday Mosque and Male’ Fish Market are also some popular spots. 

Phuket – This dreamy Thai island in the Andaman Sea with its dreamy white beaches with mountainous rain-forests will give you the best views. The towns are full of ornate Buddhist temples like Wat Chalong. The southernmost tip of the island, Promthep Cape, is something which you wouldn’t want to miss. You can also enjoy shopping and dining in Patong. Phuket has a tropical climate and it is usually warm, cool or rainy. It can however get quite hot in April and May. The tourist season is from November to February when it has a cool and dry weather. It is famous for a number of things like exotic beaches, vibrant nightlife, colourful night markets, delicious seafood, white marble Big Buddha and scuba diving.

History of Chocolate

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The first thing which comes to our mind when we hear the word chocolate is a candy or a dessert which tastes sweet. At present, Chocolate is one of the most famous food items in the world. It is consumed worldwide in different forms and is loved by foodies. At first thought we think of it as something to eat and not drink. Chocolate has a very different history and the story behind its popularity is quite an interesting one. The history of Chocolate dates back to about 450 B.C. when it was originally consumed as a bitter drink mixed with spices or corn puree. It originated in Mesoamerica where the Aztecs believed that the cocoa or cacao seeds were the gifts of the God of wisdom. It was used as an aphrodisiac which gave the drinker strength. The sweet pulp of the cacao fruit surrounding the beans, was also fermented into an alcoholic beverage at that time. Today local folks of South Mexico are still known to make such drinks.  

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The word chocolate came from the Aztec word “xocoatl” meaning a bitter drink brewed from cacao beans. The cacao tree has a Latin name “Theobroma cacao” meaning Food of the Gods. In pre-modern Latin America, the cacao seeds were considered so valuable that it was used as a currency. It was one of the essential items in rations of the United States soldiers during war. According to a 16th century Aztec document 100 cacao beans could be exchanged for a good turkey hen.  

The cacao tree is native to Mesoamerica where its cultivation, consumption and cultural use began. When pollinated, the seeds of the cacao tree form a sheath, within which 30 to 40 brownish-red almond shaped beans are embedded in a sweet viscous pulp. The beans are bitter but the pulp is sweet which may have been consumed by humans at first. The cacao pods grow in a wide range of colors, like pale yellow, bright green, purple and crimson. The texture may vary from sculpted to completely smooth. The plantation of the cocoa trees is a tough process. When in natural environment, the trees can grow up to 60 feet tall but in plantations they grow only up to 20 feet.  

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Chocolate was prepared as a sweet by the European people when it arrived there. It got popularized among the rich people and eventually among the common. Christopher Columbus first came across cacao on his fourth mission to America, when he and his crew seized a canoe full of native goods for trade. He took the beans back to Spain. After it got imported to Europe, it was used as a medicine for treating abdominal diseases because of its bitter taste. After getting sweetened with the addition of sugar or honey, it became a court favorite and chocolate established a foothold in Europe within hundred years.  

In 1828, a Dutch chemist found a way to make powdered chocolate and this product became known as the Dutch cocoa. This led to the creation of solid chocolate. The first modern chocolate bar was made by Joseph Fry in 1847 by making a moldable chocolate paste. By 1868, a small company called Cadbury was making chocolate candies in England. A few years later milk chocolate was made by Nestle. In the 20th century the word chocolate includes a variety of sweet treats. Modern day chocolate is made from the hardiest but least flavorful cocoa beans and it is often said that it has more sugar and additives than actual cocoa.  

Graphology

Graphology is the study of hand writing to assess the personality traits of a person. It is the evaluation of physical characteristics and patterns of a handwriting to identify personality characteristics. It is also used to identify the writer and their mental state during the time of writing. The word graphology has been derived from the Greek word grapho meaning writing and logos meaning study or discussion. Graphology has been used by European psychologists and counsellors. It says that there is a relationship between personality, conducts, intellectual level, temper and character in handwriting. Hand writing can be analysed according to pressure, size, slant, zones, layout (margins, spaces between letters, words and lines). At present there are also some AI tools and websites which can be used.

 Alfred Binet conducted a study on handwriting and called graphology “the science of the future”. In 1929, Milton Bunker founded The American Grapho Analysis Society. It made two different branches in the world of American graphology – graphoanalysis and holistic graphology.

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Graphologists

The works of some graphologists are mentioned below:

Max Pulver had authored three graphology books (from 1931 to 1949) and several articles. He has worked on pressure, intelligence, and crime. He developed the theory of symbolism of space and founded the Schweizerische Graphologische Gesellschaft (Swiss Graphological Society) in 1950 and was its president until his death.

Camillo Baldi was an Italian philosopher who worked on a variety of subjects. His best known essay on graphology was the first detailed investigation of the discipline.

Robert Saudek was a Czech-born graphologist. He was also a writer of novels, stories, poems and plays. He had considerable influence on the content and standing of graphology worldwide and published numerous articles in many languages like The Listener, the Journal of Social Psychology. He founded the Professional graphology society in the Netherlands and started two academic periodicals: in Dutch and English. Many graphologists worldwide today refer to Saudek’s work without knowing the origin. He published Experimental Graphology in 1929. Saudek examined the speed in handwriting and quantified handwriting by using a microscope, caliper, pressure board, ruler, protractor and slow-motion pictures. He also dealt with graphological phenomena in terms of the experimental psychologists.

Sheila Lowe is a British-born novelist and graphologist. Her first book was published in 1999 and was a bestseller in the Complete Idiot’s Guides series. In 2007, the first edition of Poison Pen, the first of her Claudia Rose forensic mystery series came out, published by Capital Crime Press. She is at present the president of the American Handwriting Analysis Foundation.

Studies

There have been studies in the U.S. on handwriting and sex. According to the research sex could be determined through writing at a significant level. Studies on ethnicity, race, age, nationality, sexual orientation, weight have got mixed results. According to the Hungarian Parliamentary Commissioner for Data Protection and Freedom of Information, handwriting analysis without informed consent is considered to be a privacy violation.

Controversy

Graphology has been a controversial topic for about a century. Some suggest that empirical studies have failed to show its validity to perform personality evaluation. Although it has got support from the scientific community in the mid twentieth century, recent researches have rejected the validity of graphology as a tool for assessing personality and job performance.

New Covid-19 Cases in New Zealand

On Tuesday, New Zealand announced that Auckland, its largest city, would be shutting down since 4 new cases has been found in the city.  It is the first case of domestic transmission for the nation after remaining covid free for 102 days.

New Zealand’s fight against Covid was recognised across the world. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was congratulated for her effective method and governance. A vigorous and decisive response to the pandemic had effectively curbed down the rates of infection. The Pacific island nation of 5 million citizens was considered to be the safest place as it remained Covid free for 100 days at a stretch. It had made a record of zero new cases of community transmission of Covid-19. From a first case on Feb 26 to the last one recorded on May 1st, the whole process of elimination took about 65 days. The nation was placed under lockdown for weeks when the virus first broke out and it had achieved a milestone of 100 days. After the last case was recorded on May 1st, the government had warned from before as countries like Australia and Vietnam which were once free from the virus are now fighting a second battle.

The Director General of Health had said that the 4 new cases are from a single family in South Auckland. It is the first local case in 102 days. The patients had no international travel history and contact tracing has been started.

With the announcement of shutdown, media reports suggested that people have started panic buying. The Prime Minister has made a surprise news conference and announced that Auckland will have Level 3 restriction from Wednesday as a “precautionary approach”. According to it, people should be staying at home, away from work, school or any social gathering. Any gathering of more than 10 people will not be allowed. This restriction would be applicable for 3 days, until Friday. This was done to assess the situation and gain further information about contact tracing. Immediate steps have been taken to find the source of the infection and to prevent further spread. There is an added concern because the source of the virus is not known this time. Travelling to Auckland, on North Island, would be restricted for people other than the ones who live there. The rest of New Zealand would go into Level 2 restriction from Wednesday for 3 days. Social gatherings would be restricted and mass gatherings of over 100 people would not be allowed. Since sources are unknown for the new cases, it is expected that there could be a rise in numbers in the coming few days.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff has said, “I am urging Aucklanders to come together like we did last time to stamp out community transmission. Please remain calm, please do not panic buy and please follow the lockdown rules.” People have been instructed to use masks and to avoid all kinds of social gathering. Jacinda Ardern has told reporters, “No other country in the world was free of community transmission as long as New Zealand. Together we have beaten the virus before. We can do so again.”

New Zealand elections are scheduled to happen on September 19. The break of new cases was unexpected. Till now, the government has fought against the situation and done quite well as a result Ardern’s Labour Party has got a lot of support before the elections.

The Kite Runner – A Book Review

Author – Khaled Hosseini

Publisher – Riverhead Books

Country – United States

Language – English

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is a historical fiction which is set in Afghanistan and America at the times of the Soviet Afghan War. It is one of the most loved books by readers across the world. The Times describe the book as “Heartbreaking”. It was a number one New York Times bestseller for over two years, with over seven million copies sold in the United States. It has also been made into a motion picture after being a best selling novel.

The book is a beautiful and endearing tale of two friends, Amir and Hassan who grew up together in ”a peaceful but prejudiced Kabul”. They share a beautiful bond of friendship but the surrounding social prejudice intervenes in it. During their childhood years, they spend their days flying kites along the streets of Wazir Akbar Khan district. Amir occupies a special place in Hassan’s heart and he expresses his love for Amir in a few words, ”for you, a thousand times over”. These words happen to be the book’s most iconic lines. Hassan who was the servant’s son was a Hazara and suffered tremendous social and cultural discrimination for that. During a kite flying event, an incident changes their relationship forever. Eventually Hassan and his father move out of their house.

Their lives change dramatically when the Taliban arrives in Kabul and the Soviet Afghan War changes the entire atmosphere of the country. After 5 years, Amir and his father escape the country and move to America to start a new life. Amir continues to suffer with guilt for the past. It is after he grows up to be a successful writer that he receives a call from a familiar voice of the past and goes back to Kabul. The story takes a different turn at the end when Amir discovers the truth that his relationship with Hassan was deeper than he realised.

Born in Kabul, the author draws inspiration from his own life as well but the plot and characters of the book however are fictional. The characters of the book are beautifully woven and the story is unforgettable. Several conflicts within the plot makes the readers fall in love with the characters. The book created some controversy within Afghan readers as it portrayed Pashtuns as prejudiced towards Hazara people. The racial and religious extremism is deeply saddening and the violence is frightening. The kite has been portrayed as an important symbol which represents Amir’s guilt for his betrayal towards Hassan and thus he does not fly a kite after that incident until the very end.

The book encourages its readers to look at the world in a new way and provides a different perspective for a country which has long been stigmatised. The message conveyed by the book towards the ending offers some hope for its characters and also for war torn Afghanistan as well. The book is highly recommended and it is sure to make a lasting impression on readers.

Different Kinds of Face Masks to Protect Yourself from Covid-19

Since the beginning of this year, “masks” have been one of the top searches across Google. One common query which everybody has is that whether masks are effective and  which is the most effective kind of mask.

Face masks are generally of 3 types: Cloth masks, Surgical masks & N95 Respirators

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Cloth masks

When people are in public places, along with distancing and hygiene, it is advised that they wear a mask since it is not possible to maintain a 6 feet distance always. Cloth masks prevent the spread of the virus to a considerable extent. These masks are recommended for the public rather than N95 respirators which are needed for frontline health workers. Cloth masks can be easily made at home at a low cost. Take two rectangular pieces of cloth and place them together. Insert elastic or rubber bands in both the sides and stich the cloth on the sides. Remember to change a cloth mask once it gets wet. While wearing and removing them, make sure to not touch the area which covers the mouth and nose. Wash your hands before and after wearing them. Although they provide less protection than surgical or n95 masks, it is known that they reduce the risk of transmission by some degree. Cloth masks can also be used in combination with a face shield for better protection. The Centres for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) has suggested any covering and advised everyone to wear cloth masks for protection from asymptomatic patients. So these are probably the most advisable for the public till now.

Surgical masks

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Surgical masks are disposable ones which protect us from sprays, large particle droplets and prevent the transmission of potentially infectious respiratory secretions. Surgical masks vary in design but usually they are rectangular in shape and blue in colour. The masks have a metal strip to adjust over the nose and are tied to the face with elastics at both sides. Although they are useful in protecting from the virus, there is an environmental hazard attached to it because these are disposable single use masks. So they contribute to landfill medical waste.

N95 Respirators

N95 Respirators are found to be the most effective in protecting against the virus since it can prevent the transmission of small particles by 95 percent. This includes virus and bacteria. The masks are usually circular or oval in shape and fit to the face very tightly. They must have the right fit because if they do not fit properly they can’t give full protection. These do not fit properly on people with facial hair and children. In a recent study it has been found that the masks can be re used after heating them in a covered pot or rice cooker for 30 minutes at 65 degree Celsius. The use of N95 is usually not very advisable to the public because of some reasons. First of all its not very comfortable to wear for a longer period of time. Secondly it is required for medical and frontline workers. So its very important that they remain in stock. A recent factor which emerged is that the valves on these respirators can be a risk factor and may not prevent the transmission of droplets entirely.

Apart from masks one needs to follow basic hygiene rules. Washing hands with a soap for atleast 20 seconds in a correct manner is extremely important as suggested by the World Health Organization (WHO). The use of hand rubs and sanitizers with alcohol content is also advisable. Physical distancing of 6 foot is to be maintained. The most effective way to prevent oneself is to avoid any kind of gathering or crowds.

Reading Habit

One of the many goals which we want to achieve in life, developing a reading habit should be one. It may seem tough at first but with time and practice, everyone can achieve it. While some have mastered it, others might be struggling to be consistent with it. Many of us have tried reading at some point of time and failed to keep at it consistently. This may happen because of a number of reasons but none of them mean that we can’t start with it again and give it a try. One of the most common ways in which people start reading is starting with a list of “Good books to start reading with”. The internet is flooded with such lists and many people have shared their suggestions. A book which has some literary value, is easy and engaging is a great choice to start with. According to many bloggers and writers the following list of books can help someone who has been trying to start reading for a long time.  

  • The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
  • The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
  • The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • The Harry Potter Series by J.K Rowling
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • Train to Pakistan by Khushwant Singh
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While it may work for some, others may not find it helpful. One of the common things which we fail to notice is the fact that most of us can’t bring ourselves to sit down with a book. This may be due to lack of time. In the middle of a busy day we fail to make time for reading. External factors like a proper surrounding can also be the reason for us getting distracted and impatient. So for people who can relate with these, a few suggestions can work. First of all, set a separate time for reading. Look at your schedule and take out a time which may be ideal for starting a new activity. Setting aside a specific time of the day for reading will help you focus more and be attentive.

Second, create a good reading atmosphere. Clean your surroundings and de-clutter everything around you. Attention depends a lot on external factors and an unkept background can often make you inattentive and disturbed.

Third, make a reading list. Write down all the books which you want to read next and keep ticking them off once you’re done. This will be like a to-do list and will motivate you to read. You can also take up reading challenges like ‘Ten books in a year’ or ‘One book a month’. Remember to start small and go one step at a time.

Fourth, start reading with a friend. Select a book and make a plan to discuss with your friend once you complete it. You can also start talking about it among yourselves and discuss about what may happen next. This will make you definitely finish the book and also speed up your pace.

Fifth, be consistent. Make it a point to read everyday. Even a small 15 minute would do. Once you skip a day it will become a habit and you’ll start repeating it. The same goes for the opposite. Once reading everyday becomes a habit you have developed the habit of reading quite well. So happy reading!

8 Good habits to develop

Habits are a necessary part of our life. Most of us develop many habits throughout our lives. Although it may seem small or trivial habits can influence a person’s life in many ways. Some can lead to drastic changes in life over a period of many years while some can lead to changes in a month. Good habits can make one transform their lives with time and help to achieve new heights. While bad habits may slowly lead to reduction in the quality of one’s life. The following list features some of the habits you can develop in order to become a better person and achieve success in life.

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  • Maintaining a journal – Writing a diary or a journal is a very helpful practice for self-growth. It also helps you to improve your writing skills. Jotting down your thoughts or even writing about your daily life can be a simple yet helpful practice. It helps you to form the habit of gathering your thoughts and expressing yourself. Years after when you go through that journal it makes you realise how far you’ve come and also revisiting the past and engaging with memories is something which we all like to do once in a while.
  • Setting up a routine – Humans like to go about their day in an orderly manner. No matter what profession you take maintaining routine and order is something which is necessary for all. Setting a routine beforehand also helps you to have a look at your tasks and helps you complete them. You can also try and make a to-do list which is extremely effective for completing tasks.
  • Reduce procrastinating – Procrastination is a habit most of us have. Leaving our work for the last minute is a very common practice. Reducing procrastination can lead you to slowly move away from it and make you more punctual.
  • Reading habit – Reading a book everyday for even as little as half an hour can work wonders for your life. Books help you build vocabulary and helps you gain knowledge. It also makes you a better writer and story teller. People who have a habit of reading books from a very early age are found to have better memorization capacity.
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  • Exercise – Exercising often is a very healthy habit and helps to maintain a healthy mind and body. Doing simple exercises or yoga will also secrete hormones or endorphins which will boost your mental outlook and help you have a good mood. Exercises will result in a better posture too.
  • Meditate – – Meditating for a while helps us to calm our minds. There is no fixed rule as to how one should meditate. One can just sit and close their eyes for some time or follow a meditation guideline. According to some studies, painting or colouring simple shapes can also act as a form of meditation.
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  • Gardening – You need not know a lot about gardening. A small cactus near your desk or a simple flower plant can do magic. Watering them and taking care of them will help you make some time for yourself in a hectic or busy schedule. Plants can help you exercise the idea of effort. It helps you build patience and improves your life.
  • Smile – Having a positive outlook towards everything is a secret to having a happy and better life. A smile can help you brighten your day and maintain a positive relationship with people around you.

Indian Folk Art

India has always been portrayed as a land of cultural and traditional diversity. Every corner of the country has a distinctive cultural identity which is represented through different art forms. These art forms can be collectively put under the topic of Indian Folk Art. Each region has a different style and pattern of art which is practised by the rural folks. These art forms are colourful, simple and reflect the rich heritage. The country is home to around 2500 tribes and ethnic groups. So every state has a unique and interesting form of folk art.

Previously these were done using natural dyes and mostly used for decorating walls and houses. These forms which still exist today, have undergone many changes through all these years including change of medium, colours and pattern. Here are such art forms which give us a peek into the cultural heritage of different regions of the country.

MADHUBANI

Madhubani, also known as Mithila art, was developed by women of Mithila in Northern Bihar. It is characterised by line drawings, colourful patterns and motives. These were practised for hundreds of years but were discovered in 1934 by a British collonial officer during an inspection after an earthquake on house walls.

PATACHITRA

The word ‘patachitra’ derives from the Sanskrit words patta, meaning canvas and chitra, meaning picture. It is one of the oldest art forms of Odisha. It is done on canvas and portrays simple mythological themes through rich colours and motives. Some of the themes include Thia Badhia – depicting the temple of Jagannath, and Panchamukhi – depicting Lord Ganesh as a five-headed deity.

WARLI

Warli is the name of cultivator tribes belonging to Northern Maharashtra and Gujarat. Though discovered in early seventies, the roots of the art form can be traced back to as early as 10th century A.D. Mostly featuring geometrical shapes, they potray daily life, hunting, fishing and festival scenes. They show a common human figure through a circle and two triangles, which move in circles resembling the circle of life.

RAJASTHANI MINIATURE PAINTING

The art form is introduced by Mughals who brought in persian artists for creating the art. The Mughal emperor Akbar built an atelier for them to promote the artwork. They trained Indian artists who produced it in a new style inspired by the royal lives of Mughals. Eventually the paintings made by these Indian artists came to be known as Rajput or Rajasthani miniature. They are characterized by strong lines and bold colours made from minerals, precious stones, even pure gold and silver.

TANJORE ART

Orijinating in Tanjavore, about 300kms from Chennai, this art form evolved under the rulers of the Chola empire. Characterized by brilliant colour schemes, decorative jewellery with stones and remarkable gold leaf work, these paintings mostly consist themes of gods and goddesses.

KALAMEZUTHU

Simmilar to Rangoli and Kolam, this art form originated in Kerala. It mostly consists of the representation of deities like Kali and Lord Ayyappa on temple floors. Natural pigments and powders of mostly 5 colours are used by the makers and the art is done by bare fingers without the use of any tools. The 5 colour shades are made from natural pigments like – rice powder for white, burnt husk for black, turmeric for yellow, a mixture of lime and turmeric for red and the leaves of certain trees for green. Lighted oil lamps brighten the colours in the figures which usually feature anger or other emotions.

National Handloom Day to be celebrated on August 7th

National Handloom Day is celebrated on the 7th of August annually in India. It is observed to create awareness about the importance of the textile industry in the economy. It began as an initiative to honour and provide work to handloom weavers and artisans. 7th August was declared as National Handloom Day by the Union Government in 2015 to generate awareness about the industry and its social importance. The day is celebrated through different functions and events across the country. Workshops are conducted to spread information about work opportunities among weavers and their families. Handloom fairs, exhibitions, parades, panels take place during various events.Through the celebrations of this day, handloom products get a wide recognition.

Handlooms have gradually emerged as the largest cottage industry. Almost 95% of the world’s handicrafts are from India. Weavers create from different natural fibres like cotton, silk and wool.While we celebrate the diversity of India’s art and crafts, its also important to address the problems and needs of the artisans. They should be provided with the knowledge of techniques, prices, and modern technology.

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Different schemes like Reservation of Articles for Production Act of 1985 and Handloom Census have been introduced so that artisans can benefit from them. Social media campaigns like #iwearhandloom have popularized the craft in recent times to an extent. These crafts should be included in contemporary industries so that younger generations can know about them and start supporting the cottage industries.

Historical Significance

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August 7 was declared as the Handloom day in 2015 to revive the roots of handloom and to commemorate the Swadeshi Movement which began on the same day 115 years back. The first National Handloom Day was inaugurated on 7 August 2015 at the Centenary Hall of Madras University in Chennai. The movement was launched in Calcutta Town Hall on August 7, 1905 as a protest against the Bengal Partition by the British Government. The movement was started to facilitate the use of domestic products and production of goods within the country for boycotting British goods. There were also instances of burning British goods. When Lord Curzon announced the partition of Bengal in July 1905, the Indian National Congress started the movement. It led to the spread of revolutionary anti colonial and anti British movements across the country. Further movements like the Non Cooperation movement and the Satyagraha movement developed from the Swadeshi movement.

In recent times, the day is celebrated to spread awareness and develop consciousness of the public regarding textiles and the handloom industry which is extremely important for the socio economic development of the country. Handlooms and crafts empower artisans and represent the diverse cultural identities present in the country. They are eco-friendly and sustainable crafts which also function as the livelihood of so many people.

Celebrations this year

This year is the 6th National Handloom Day and the day will be celebrated through a virtual programme which will be conducted by the Union Ministry of Textiles. The textile minister Smriti Irani will be the chief guest for the event. The event will be observed with all the handloom clusters across India, 16 NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology) campuses, 24 Weaver Service Centres of different states and National Handloom Development Corporation.

Lebanon Explosion: Massive explosion kills more than 100, thousands injured

There was a massive explosion in the port of Beirut on Tuesday, 4th August 2020. The explosion have resulted in the deaths of more than 100 people and 4000 injured. Much of the cities ports have been affected and buildings have been damaged. Hospitals have been filled beyond capacity and hospital authorities are pleading for blood supplies and generators. The injured had to be taken to hospitals outside Beirut. Streets are filled with ambulances and vehicles carrying the wounded and injured. The explosion has devastated the country, which was already in the middle of a financial crisis along with the corona virus pandemic. The economic condition was terrible with about half of the people living below poverty line.

Witnesses reported a massive mushroom cloud going into the sky and red fumes coming out of the site. At first people saw white dense fumes being emitted, after few seconds the big explosion happened sending a big white mushroom cloud and brownish red fumes into the sky. Residents said that they were thrown off their feet onto the ground by the tremors of the explosion. Windows and doors of building have been shattered across the capital. Local media have shown people being stuck inside rubble, damaged cars on the road and broken buildings. The port of Beirut has been heavily damaged. According to Germany’s geo-sciences centre, tremors of about 3.5 magnitude earthquake were reported to be felt and it reached as far as Cyprus, which is about 200 kilometres across the Mediterranean.

President Michel Aoun and Lebanon officials have blamed a warehouse, storing 2750 tons of Ammonium nitrate unsafely, close to the port for the blast. The Ammonium nitrate, which is used as a fertilizer and as an explosive, was stored in the site for about 6 years and there was a lot of negligence regarding the removal of it all these years. It was brought in by a ship which arrived at Beirut in 2013 and it was not allowed to leave due to some dispute. Since then the confiscated Ammonium nitrate was stored in the warehouse. It has been reported that a fire had started in one of the warehouses and then it spread to the warehouse containing the Ammonium nitrate. The explosion site is close to the place where a car bombing happened in 2005 which killed the former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Army helicopters have helped in extinguishing the fires at the port. Emergency teams had started working. Red Cross has said that a search operation is working for finding over 100 missing people. Residents of Lebanon have reached the site and hospital and have started helping the injured. In a statement released by Unicef, it has been mentioned that their staff and their families have also been affected, some have been injured, others have had their homes damaged as a result of the explosion. Their child protection partners are providing psycho-social support to affected children and their families. Officials have informed that an investigation is being done to find out the exact reason behind the explosion and to know what had triggered the Ammonium nitrate. A number of port officials have also been kept under house arrest for the investigation. The future of the port is in danger as thousands of people have been left homeless in the middle of crisis. The President has declared 3 days of mourning and the government has declared 3 weeks of state emergency in the capital of Beirut. The Lebanon Prime Minister has requested for international assistance because there has been mass casualties and nearly half of the city has been damaged enormously.

Incredible Festivals Around the World

Festivals happen all over the world and exploring them can be an extraordinary experience for anyone who enjoys culture and art. The following list includes some of the most colourful, amazing festivals which are celebrated in different places around the world.

Yi Peng Lantern Festival in Thailand

The Yi Peng lantern festival is a very unique kind of festival celebrated in Northern Thailand during a full moon light. It was traditionally celebrated as a festival to mark the end of the monsoon season. It is a spectacular sight to see thousands of sky lanterns floating in the sky and beautiful flowers floating on the Ping river.

Holi in india

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Holi, also known as the festival of colours, is mostly celebrated by Indians during Spring. During the festival people play with colours and engage in dance, music and festivities. It also represents the arrival of ‘Basanta’ or Spring. The traditional festival includes fun filled games and water gun fights.

Winter lights festival in japan

This is one of the illumination festivals which one must attend. The incredible Winter Light festival takes place in a park in Kuwana City of Japan during November to March. Attracting thousands of tourists, the festival is one of Japan’s finest illuminations. The park also has a variety of restuarents.

Golden Retriever Festival In Scotland

Known as one of the happiest places on Earth, the Golden Retriever Festival is organized by the Golden Retriever Club of Scotland. It is a mass gathering of Golden Retrievers along with dog lovers in the ancestral home of the breed in a Scottish Village. In 2018, the celebration of the 150th anniversary of the breed was done with the gathering of about 360 Retrievers.

Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta in USA

The biggest hot air balloon festival in the world, Albuquerque balloon fiesta is  a nine day long event held in New Mexico during early October. Guests have the rare opportunity of seeing the inflation and take off of around 600 colourful hot air balloons. It is the most photographed event in the world.

la tomatina festival in spain

The La Tomatina Festival is held on the last wednesday of August on the streets of Bunol town in Spain. It is a fun event where participants from all around the world throw squashed tomatoes at each other. The week long festival is also famous for its parades, fireworks, music and dance. The tomatoes are provided to the participants before the start of the event. In order to maintain safety participants are encouraged to wear goggles and water trucks are placed across streets.

Florida Keys Underwater Music Festival in USA

The festival is usually celebrated to draw attention to the conservation of the coral reef. It is a wonderful festival for divers and music lovers. The festival takes place in a sand area near the coral reef. Hundreds of divers and underwater musicians play songs on the theme of Ocean. It is being celebrated every year for the last 25 years.

ice & snow sculpture festival in china

The Harbin ice and snow festival takes place during the month of January in Harbin of Heilongjiang province of China. Attracting thousands of tourists it features an international competition of ice sculptures and illuminated snow block buildings. Multicoloured lights illuminate the ice and snow formations creating a spectacular sight at night. Artists who construct the ice sculptures use ice from the frozen Songhua river.

Oktoberfest in Germany

The largest funfair in the world, Oktoberfest takes place from the end of September to beginning of October in Munich City of Germany. The festival attracting around 6 million people around the world includes amusement rides and traditional food. 6 breweries around Munich serve around 7 million litres of beer every year.

8 Amazing places to visit in India

India – a land of diverse landscape, language and culture, offers a variety of destinations for travellers to add to their bucket list. Whether its heavenly mountains, historical forts or peaceful beaches, every nook and corner has something beautiful to offer. These exotic places will surely take your breath away.

Dal Lake, Kashmir

Being one of the most prominent lakes in India, Dal Lake is also known as Srinagar’s Jewel. Pristine clear water with the backdrop of heavenly hills and mountains is sure to take your breath away. A Shikara ride in the Dal Lake is a must to explore in Kashmir. Shikaras are beautiful houseboats which are used to travel across the lake. The lake also has a travelling market. With an old world charm, the lake gives you a breathtaking experience.

The Rann of Kutch, gujarat

The Rann of Kutch is a salt marsh in the Thar desert located in the border between India and Pakistan. It is one of the largest salt deserts in the world. It is a really popular exotic travel location. The Rann festival is the best time to visit when the region celebrates with crafts, handwork, cultural and musical performances. It is famous for its colourful and intricate crafts. On a full moon night, the sparkling salt desert looks spectacular and is a treat to the eyes.

Andaman and Nicobar Islands

The Andaman Islands is an Indian archipelago of about 300 islands scattered in the Bay of Bengal. Its palm lined beaches and coral reefs is sure to give you a wonderful experience. The islands are known for its popular tourist sights like Havelock Island, Neill Island, and Wilson Island. You can also enjoy exotic sports like Parasailing, Snorkeling, and Scuba Diving.

Pangong Lake, Ladakh

Also known as Pangong Tso, it is a beautiful lake situated in the Himalayas. The beautiful lake situated on a height of 4350 m, attracts tourists from all over the world. The alluring blue waters is a sight to soothe sore eyes. The best time to visit the lake is summer because in winter the whole lake freezes into ice. It is also a great place for bird lovers as it is home to different birds like cranes, seagulls and rodents.

Backwaters, Kerala

The Kerala backwaters are a network of lagoons and lakes on the Arabian sea coast. With its rivers and inlets it is connected with almost 900 kilometres of waterways. The picturesque site with its lush green landscapes and diverse wildlife is a popular tourist attraction of South India. You can visit the backwaters by boat or shikara from Alleppey. Watching the sunset from a shikara in the midst of green landscapes and serene waters will give an experience of a lifetime.

Valley of flowers, Uttarakhand

Valley of Flowers is an Indian national park, located in North Chamoli and Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand. With rare and exotic Himalayan flora it is located in the dense forests close to the Pushpawati river. The beautiful meadows with blossoms of Alpine flowers is a treat to any nature lover. The best time to go on a trek to the Valley of Flowers is March to October as during this time the valley is also known to change colours due to its colourful blossoms.

Loktak Lake, Manipur

Loktak is the largest freshwater lake in Northeastern India. It is mostly known for the unique sight of floating phumdis which are heterogeneous mass of soil and organic matter at various stages of decomposition. It is the most popular tourist attraction around Imphal. Being almost like a miniature inland sea, the lake mesmerises all visitors.

Living root bridge, Meghalaya

Located in the Khasi and Jaintia hills, the suspended root bridge is made up of a species of the Indian rubber tree with a very strong root system. These are estimated to be around 500 years old and attract tourists all around the year. There are dozens of these root bridges near Cherrapunjee. Since they are located in very remote places you may need a guide to reach there. The spectacular bridges in the Meghalayan villages will be a treat to any traveller.

So happy travelling!

The Psychological Connection to Hobbies

Most of us have had a childhood interest or a hobby which was our favourite pastime. With not much to do all day, we would spend our time engaging in different unique and creative activities. Not only saving us from boredom, these hobbies have provided us with lot of benefits and shaped us into becoming what we are today.

Almost everyone had a favourite pastime activity which would keep us busy in our childhood. Starting from painting, doodling to collecting stamps, pebbles, train tickets and what not. When asked about their hobbies many people were found to narrate happy tales of their childhood. In today’s busy world where it is difficult to even take a day off from work, we tend to lose touch with our creative sides. Thinking about our childhood days makes us realise how long it had been since these hobbies were a part of our lives. Sports, music, crafts have all been pushed aside in adulthood by our busy schedules and responsibilities. In the midst of all these we have not realised how important these had been in shaping us and how amazing it would be to revisit these days by going back to those hobbies.

As children we had many different ways to spend our times. Some of us were into painting and crafts, some were into musical instruments, while some had the interesting habit of collecting stuffs. All these hobbies seem simple but studies show that there is a lot more to it.

There’s a lot of factual information about the importance of art in a child’s development. Researches show that individuals who have been into art and crafts in their childhood are found to be more expressive and have better communication skills. Experimenting with art makes children open to broader ideas and help them handle unexpected situations with ease.

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Collecting is believed to be a psychological impulse. Collection is a historical practice and it ranges from stamps, books, tickets, coins to leaves and pebbles. People maintain the habit of collecting due to various reasons. Some collect due to an interest in the things that the collections represent, while others view collection as a pleasurable form of owning something. The different aspects attached with it makes the psychology behind it so interesting. It has been known that individuals who had the habit of collecting grow up to be careerist individuals in future. As the saying goes “An individual’s childhood is reflection of their life”. Collectors are also known to make better social connections and more friendships.

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Individuals engaging with music from a very young age tend to enjoy musical instruments. Engaging with music makes us happy and lifts our spirits. Studies show that music improve our brain functions and it keeps the brain active. It has also been known that music helps in retaining information and develops memory. Children who have had such hobbies grow up to be smart individuals.

Google had encouraged its employees to devote 20 percent of their time to side projects of their interest. It was a very innovative decision on the part of the company and it yielded amazing results. It has been known that following this, employees have performed more productively in their work and have achieved more. There are innumerable ways in which hobbies help in one’s overall growth and development. Most of us have lost touch with these but we can surely try and revive those habits. In fact, discovering childhood hobbies can make our lives better and make us happier. It feels amazing to revive those countless memories we have with an instrument or a habit. This will also help us become more productive in our work. Investing one’s time in areas of interest alongside their career can yield incredible results and, in the process, will make us better individuals with a more holistic outlook towards life.

Covid-19 Rapid antigen tests across India

With the increase in Covid-19 cases, many state governments across the country have started conducting rapid antigen tests to speed up the process of testing.

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The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) had previously approved the use of Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) kits for the detection of Covid 19. The test uses nasal swab samples for detection and can be performed outside laboratory settings. The kit is able to give quick results in about 30 minutes so it will be possible to conduct large number of tests. The Rapid Antigen Tests (RAT) will be conducted in both Covid 19 hospitals and containment zones. According to ICMR guidelines the test needs to be conducted under strict medical supervision and the kit temperature need to be maintained between 2 to 30-degree Celsius. Also, after the collection of the sample, the test needs to be conducted within an hour for a correct and effective result.

The test can be used on different categories of patients – Patients with influenza like symptoms and suspected of being infected with covid 19, Asymptomatic patients who are hospitalised and belong to high risk groups with other comorbidities, and Asymptomatic patients undergoing surgical/non-surgical procedures like dental surgery, dialysis etc.

It has been pointed out that the rapid tests are very specific to the virus but not as sensitive as RT-PCR (Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction) tests. ICMR guidelines suggest that patients getting positive results can be considered a true positive while patients getting negative results should be tested following a RT-PCR method for a reconfirmation. SD Biosensor, the company which has been allowed by the ICMR to manufacture the test kits suggests that a negative result may be possible due to either a poor-quality specimen or if the concentration level of the antigen in the specimen is lower than the sensitivity of the test. There is also the possibility of difference in sensitivity between individuals of different age groups.

Many states including Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh and Delhi have started with these tests. The Madhya Pradesh government has planned to increase the number of testing to 2500 per day with the introduction of the rapid tests in the state capital Bhopal. Once the tests give good result it will be implemented in other districts as well. Previously RT-PCR test method was being used to conduct tests which required a laboratory setting and was more time consuming. Using the more simplified rapid antigen testing method and as a part of the ‘Kill Corona’ campaign the government has decided to reach out to larger sections of the society. The West Bengal government has also started using rapid antigen test kits. State minister Firhad Hakim has introduced the rapid antigen testing in parts of South Kolkata where about 50 people underwent the test. According to him these kits will help in detecting the infection in a speedy manner. According to Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) officials the tests will be conducted across 16 boroughs of the civic body. From the results the positive reports were also sent to the health department. Rapid tests were also conducted across Delhi, but the Arvind Kejriwal government had been pulled up by the Delhi high court for over dependence on the tests. This is because the Delhi government had asked all healthcare facilities to conduct RAT testing on individuals having a ‘high risk’. It has been said that the Rapid tests are quicker but not as reliable as the RT-PCR tests. The RAT tests have a possibility of giving false negative reports. If the test results are positive, one can be sure of the result but in case of negative results there is a possibility of the results being false, so one cannot entirely rely on them. All patients getting negative reports need to be examined once more with the RT-PCR method.

While the RAT testing has led to high number of tests, the issue of false negatives is something to be concerned about. As a result of the mixed reactions on the RAT tests it is yet to be known whether they can be used a reliable method of testing in future.