Saturday, March 31, 2007

Seven Samurai

Path breaking in its truest sense

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Seven Samurai is one of the greatest action movies of all time. The great Akira Kurosawa showed the world the infinite possibilities of highlighting emotional conflicts and its intensity in an action film. It also gives us a glimpse of the class divide prevalent in Japan at the time. It simultaneously tugs at your intellect while mesmerizing you with the visuals.

The story starts off with a village being attacked by a gang of bandits. The villagers were fed up with the constant threat of these bandits and want to do something about it. They consult the village elder and he counsels them to hire samurais. Not all are happy with this as they feel the samurais are expensive and would lust for their women. The elder however is firm and advises the villagers to find poor samurais (“Hungry Samurais” in his words) to help them in exchange for nothing more than food and board.

A few of the villagers set off to find these samurais at a nearby town but are initially fruitless in their efforts. But they are able to recruit on kind hearted Ronin called Kambei. He is then able to help them recruit a few more from the Ronins passing through the town. The recruited team includes: Kambei (The first ronin to be recruited and by default the leader of the group), Katsushiro (a young samurai very much impressed with Kambei and wants to be his disciple), Gorobei (Kambei’s deputy), Shichiroji (an old friend of Kambay), Kyuzo (a master swordsman), Heihachi Hayashida (a friendly Samurai whose humor sense helps the group to keep its spirits).

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The seventh member of the team is actually the most complex of them all; Kikuchiyo. He first comes off as an eccentric and maybe even insane. He does not seem to have the finesse of a Samurai. As the story progresses we realize why he is like that. Kikuchiyo is not a Samurai. He was born as the son of a farmer and he aspires to be Samurai in an effort to leave the life of a farmer behind him. He later on proves to be a vital link in the relationship between the farmers and the samurais. The villager do find their hungry samurais, but they are hungry not for food but for honor.

The seven thus formed goes to the village to help the villagers defend against the threat of the bandits. The fragile relationship between the samurais and the villagers, how they manage to overcome their differences for the common good, and their eventual triumph over the bandits forms the rest of the story.

Even though on the face of it Seven Samurai appears to be a simple story of good and evil, it is in fact more complex than it may seem to appear. There are various underlying complex themes that open a window into the societal conflicts and the lifestyle of the people at the time.

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The samurais for instance are shown as ordinary men who happen to possess great skill and resourcefulness. They are however alone in the world for all their skills. The plight of a Ronin (master less samurai) is even more pitiful as he does not have a livelihood until he is employed by another master and have to resort to menial jobs to earn his living. In the end only 3 of the samurais are left alive after the final battle. One of them even has to let go of his love for a young girl from the village because she chooses a life in the village to a life with him, prompting Kambei to say “The winners are those farmers. Not us”. He means that it’s the samurai’s masters who are always the winners. The samurais come out of each battle either alive or dead but never victorious.

The villager’s plight is even more depressing. They are a lot who live their life in constant worry. They worry if it rains as they are afraid if it might rain too much and spoil their crops. They worry if there is no rain as they begin to think that a drought might be imminent. In the movie this is best illustrated when fearing the bandits the villagers go to get the samurais. Then once the samurais arrive the villagers begin to worry if they would take a fancy for their women folks. So they hide them instead. But when Kikuchiyo raises a false alarm they again come running to the samurais along with the women pleading for protection.

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Kikuchiyo is the vital link in making the farmers more understandable to the Samurais. When the samurais are enraged upon discovering a cache of armaments (obviously taken by the farmers from defeated samurais) Kikuchiyo gives one of the movie’s most emotional moments. During his outbursts he says that the farmers are not saints but are conniving foxes. They claim to have nothing but they have everything. He says dig the floors or search the barns and you will find plenty of grains. If they smell a battle they hunt for the defeated. But he turns around asks who made them that way. He accuses the Samurais of oppressing the farmers, destroying their houses and villages, raping their women and plundering their harvest. And if they resist, the samurais would kill them. How else do they expect a farmer to behave?

The movie is also path breaking in some of the styles it has used to tell the story. As Michael Jeck says in his DVD commentary it is one of the first movies to have used the now common tool of recruiting and training sequences for telling a story about a team. This technique can be seen in some of the sports movies even today. Kambei’s introductory scene, where the hero is seen to perform an act of valor unrelated to the main plot of the movie, has also been repeated many times.

The genius of Kurosawa is reflected in the way he tells the story using lights and brilliant camera work. This is ably supported by some of the most brilliant editing that you will ever find in a movie. Long sequences are used so that we never lose out the vitality of the battle sequences. Some of the more intense sequences like the death sequences are shot in slow motion to make it more poignant. His sudden close ups enhances the emotions of the characters and leaves no one in doubt of what the character is going through. His deep shots of the various groups, be it the samurais or the villagers, showcases their unity as well as their division. His cast is also superb led by the vetran Takashi Shimura as Kambei and Toshiro Mifune as Kikuchiyo.

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Seven Samurai is one of those movies which attain perfection and has attained immortality among movie lovers. Even though many have used some of the tools that Kurosawa has used they have not been able to get the audience involved in an action movie as much as Kurosawa was able to. The remake of Seven Samurai, “The Magnificent Seven” was mediocre in comparison. Even our own “Sholay”, a brilliant movie on its own and inspired from The Seven Samurai, falls a few notches below the original. It was truly a path breaking piece of work in all it sense.

Reviews of Akira Kurosawa's Major works

Akira Kurosawa

Rashomon (1950)

Ikiru (1952)

Seven Samurai (1954)

Hidden Fortress (1958)

Yojimbo (1961)

High And Low (1963)

Red Beard (1965)

Kagemusha (1980)

Ran (1985)

Rhapsody In August (1991)

Friday, March 30, 2007

Cobra Snake

Snakes of the World - Part III

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Cobra. (Family; Elapidae, Genus; Naja)

Of all snakes cobra is the most glamorous one, a cobra with its fearsome hood and the “spectacle design” on the rear; is a sight that can garner fear and respect, there is no wonder cobra is worshiped in many parts of the world. About a dozen species have been known of which Africa and Asia share the most numbers. All the species of this Genus is poisonous.

Indian Cobra (Naja naja) as per Malcolm. A. Smith and (Naja tripudiens) as per E. G. Boulenger. The neck of this snake is laterally dilatable thus forming its characteristic “hood” giving it a very special status among the snakes. The bi-spectacle (binocellate) mark at the hind is most popular where as single spectacle (monocellate) is also available as in Naja kaouthia. The author may quote three instances from Hindu Mythologies to express how cobra is intertwined with human culture and mythologies.

Lord Siva is said to wear a big live cobra around his neck wherever he goes, as snakes are accepted as a symbol of virility universally the myth must be derived from that aspect Lord Siva is worshiped in the shape of phallus also adds credibility to this view.

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“Anandan” as per Hindu mythology is a gigantic cobra which has a hood in the size of a banyan tree, on which there are thousand heads, it is on his in the shade of his hood God Vishnu the Lord of the world relaxes and conducts his business!

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>“Kaliyan” is yet another mythological cobra which poisoned and polluted an entire river by name “Kalindi” and turned it dark-blue! “Kaliyan” used to swallow anyone who happened to get in the river; Lord Sri Krishna had a mission to execute this serpent! Krishna when he was an infant completed his mission only after performing a dance playing his flute on the hood of this fearsome giant-snake to enthrall his admirers.

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Buddhist worship the Indian cobras as they believe these holy snakes gave shade to Sri Buddha by spreading its hood over him while Buddha slept

Cobras prefer to lay eggs on termite pits and the females volunteer the duty of protecting the eggs at this time they may be very aggressive and dangerous. At a season they lay about 40 eggs, and about sixty days to hatch. The young ones come out are golden colored and very cute but they have small fangs and poison glands. This coloration has given rise to many superstitions. These young ones are mistook for holy-serpents with divine powers Hindu mythologies and Indian folklores are rife with imaginary stories about these magical serpents!

1a. King Cobra (Naja bangarus). It is largest among venomous snakes in the world and grows up to 18 feet and mainly feed on other snakes. Its bite can kill a man within 2 hours and an elephant within 3 hours! In the London zoo the first king cobra visitor was placed along with six other cobras due to ignorance of the care-taker. In the next day for the horror of the authorities they could find only one instead of seven (6+1), the king cobra proved who he is by swallowing the other six by the night! While the king was relaxing after a sumptuous supper poor zoo authorities were tearing their hair no knowing how to report the news to the higher-ups!

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King-Cobra builds its own nest for laying eggs, this is a very rare phenomenon in the family of snakes as they generally encroach the burrows of rodents for a living! The King-Cobra is devoid of the spectacle mark which is the “trade mark” of ordinary Cobras. They mate during rainy seasons and lay eggs April-May months. Generally 20 to 30 eggs are laid during a season. Guarding the eggs is the duty of the females. The young ones when hatched crawl away as if they have nothing to do with the mother!

1b. Venom Spitting Cobra (Naja Nigricollis) can spit venom in two streams to a distance of several yards and kill a victim without contacting it. It is done by the contraction of the muscles around the poison-glands. In the zoos keepers take precaution by wearing goggles when feeding these monsters! Otherwise they will have to pay with their eye-sight for the oversight. Fortunately these venom “spitters” are found only in Africa!

There are numerous folk tales about these wonderful snakes which could not be included for the sake of brevity

Snakes of the World - Part 1

Snakes of the World Part – 2. - Evolution in Snakes

Snakes of the World Part - 3. - Cobra

Snakes of the World Part - 4. - Viper

Snakes of the World Part - 5. - King Cobra

To be continued...

Ineffective BCCI

Pointing Fingers Indian Cricket Style

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Indian cricket is at it again!!! They are back to doing what they do best when faced with a crisis; pass the buck to someone else. And there has been a lot of that in the past few days and fingers have been pointed at all and sundry. In the midst of all this nonsense there is a former captain’s meeting with the board due next week. Hopefully at least these former greats will be able to knock some sense into some brainless cricket authorities.

The BCCI has always been a divided body, what with politics and power mongering always taking more importance than the welfare of the game itself. The new regime however brought with them a lot of hope and there was a genuine feeling that things would be different. One gets the feeling that the new regime is more interested in the balance sheet than the well being of the game in the country.

Right now everyone from the players to the selectors to the coach is being blamed for the debacle. The board president indulges in grand posturing and says that changes would be made to the team. But will that solve the problems afflicting Indian Cricket? The answer is a resounding no!!!

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Indian cricket’s problems are much deeper than what changing the team or even the captain and the coach could solve. The system itself is rotting. The number of teams in the domestic league is a joke. You can’t have tough competition and a true test of a player’s ability if you have 30 teams in a league. First class players score tons of runs and pick up buckets of wickets in domestic circuit but come up cropper when pitted against tough international opponents.

One can argue that the two tire system has brought about a change but it is only marginal. And the fact of the matter remains that the international players rarely come back and play in the domestic circuit. You can’t blame them too considering the amount of workload they are under in the international circuit.

The saddest part in all this is that even though we have 30 teams in the circuit the BCCI is not represented by the whole nation. There are no cricket associations in some of the states in the east like Sikkim. While a state like Maharashtra has 4 associations. This proves that even after becoming the richest sporting body in the world the BCCI has fallen woefully short in spreading the game to every nook and corner of this nation. Unless they do that we will miss out on talent and the opportunity to tap the country’s full potential.

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The selection policy is also flawed. When you pick selectors based on their zones there is bound to be parochialism, and the quota system will always be a hindrance to selecting the best possible team for the country. Why can’t we pick 5 bale selectors, irrespective of their place of origin, and assign each zone to them. The zones allotted to each should be rotated at regular intervals of time so as to avoid any one selector getting too attached to the zone assigned to him.

The pitches in this country do not provide anything to the bowlers. If at all they do provide some assistance it is to the spin bowlers. But they are made ineffective because the boundary of grounds across the nation is becoming shorter and shorter everyday. The logic behind this is that people love to see runs being scored. So in an effort to avoid being pulverized by the batsmen on flat batting tracks the spinner bowls flat and quick which quickly makes them ineffective as potent wicket taking bowlers. Add to that the short boundaries and the spinner has no other option but to bowl flat and quick. And we lament that India is not producing young spinners anymore.

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Young talent in this country is not properly groomed. Opening up a plethora of cricket academies alone is not the solution to this. They should be given enough opportunities to hone their skills. They should be playing against tougher opponents to gain the necessary temperament needed to survive at the big stage. Above all they should have an exposure to as many different kinds of conditions as they possibly can. Right now they are reared on flat tracks which serve no one. Bowlers get disheartened. The batsmen are found wanting if there is even the slightest of movement or pace in the pitch. If India is to improve on their away record then they have to learn to play on fast bouncy pitches that are found around the world.

What the BCCI, before making all round changes to the team, has to do is to take a look at itself in the mirror and be honest about what they see. If they are to shake up anything then it is the system itself that should be shaken up first. I am not saying that the players, coach and the selectors are not to be blamed. But they will only be as good as the system allows them to be. So if the BCCI genuinely has an interest in the welfare of the game then they should start the drastic changes from within themselves. Otherwise cricket might go the hockey way and then they wont have anything left even in the balance sheet to talk about.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Evolution in Snakes

Snakes of the World Part – 2. - Evolution in Snakes

Image of Vine snake, Ahaetulla nasuta - courtsey:

Snakes v/s Roaches.

All the animals and plants which we see today were quite different in shape and size they sported millions of years ago; they all have undergone many changes and adaptations in accordance with the changes in living conditions. Many have perished as they could not adapt with the changing situations. Dinosaur is a glaring example for the process incidentally it also may be stated that the dinosaurs were closely related to the present reptiles of which the snakes belong. The cockroaches are a special case as they got stabilized in the present form millions of years ago and they undergo no changes yet survive!

Snakes are orchids of the animal kingdom.

Coral snake image courtsey:

Snakes as such are in the process of evolution regardless of the genera or species the present forms of snakes were derived from primitive forms even now the family of snakes have not been stabilized and the process only going on. In that case we can compare the orchids of the plant kingdom with snakes as both are un-stabilized and under going the process of evolution. Wide varieties seen are telling examples in such cases.

Keeping an eye!

1. No eyelids, no problem!

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When snakes adopted a burrowed life the eye-lids became a trouble! As sand particles got in to it, evolution came to the help and eye-lids were totally replaced by a transparent membrane which allows contact with sand no problem, and the eye freely move under the membrane as if under a watch-glass.

2. All ears not a separate one!

Snakes have no ear holes and they are totally deaf, so they need not be worried about sand particles would enter! But its skin is sensitive to receive turbulences of the earth.

3. Has a sharp tongue

Poor eyesight and lack of ears do not matter as the tongue –which is forked- is able to sense the situations very sharply; this tongue is retractile in to a sheath when not in use. For an animal living in a burrow ears and eye often fail to detect approaching foe but skin does not fail.

4. Limbs a hindrance!

Vestigial (non functional) limbs in phython - Image courtsey:

It has been proved that snakes were once like lizards sported limbs but the necessity to move fast on the land and burrows crawling on legs proved in-efficient and spinal movement (using ribs and muscles) was resorted leaving the limbs un-used and they degenerated when they became only a hindrance to smooth movement. These useless limbs in most species of snakes became extinct leaving only remnants of hind-limbs in certain species of Boas and pythons.

5. Adaptations for feeding.

The jaws of the snake is another point undergone evolution, the nature of swallowing preys without cutting in to pieces required large mouths, rigid bones were a hindrance to this process of swallowing (deglutination), evolution endowed snakes with loosely paired jaw-bones both joined with flexible ligaments.

Changes in teeth and the “glands”

The dentition in snakes also sport evolutionary patterns, swallowing preys as such making teeth without normal functions, along with teeth the poison glands –which are modified salivary glands- also have changed in varying degrees in some species they keep pace in some not.

Snakes shed their teeth occasionally and new ones replace the old quickly. In primitive varieties a uniform dentition with solid teeth is still available as in some species of Colubridae this condition is called aglyphous as in Natrix).

The next stage is the Opsithoglyphae where the grooved posterior teeth with fangs attached to the upper-jaw is visible they are generally harmless to human.

In the front-fanged snakes (sea snakes and the coral snakes) known as Proterglyphae the anterior maxillary teeth are grooved and connected to the poison glands. All these types are poisonous.

Vipers are solenoglypha a further improved version where the fangs are capable of raising and lowering as they are attached to short maxillary bones which are vertically movable.

6. Changing of the costumes!

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As they crawl on the surface their get bruised very often therefore nature has made it so adaptive such conditions that they change their skin at frequent intervals and get new attire as a gift from the almighty totally free!

7. Oviparous or viviparous? Both!

Image courtsey: shibu bhaskar

The relevance of the snakes in evolutionary process is more evident in its exhibition of both characteristics of procreation as even in same genera there are species showing both features, when pythons lay eggs Boas give birth to young ones. In Vipers most of them give birth to young ones when some of them lay eggs!

Snakes are on a course of evolution and it is the responsibility of human beings to see that the poor reptiles be given a chance to complete it, the present trend if continues there may be no snakes left to evolve, as these reptiles are exterminated in alarming rate either for commercial exploitation or by pure ignorance and superstitions. By saving them man can go long way in saving the earth’s ecology which will serve his own interest too.

Snakes of the World - Part 1

Snakes of the World Part – 2. - Evolution in Snakes

Snakes of the World Part - 3. - Cobra

Snakes of the World Part - 4. - Viper

Snakes of the World Part - 5. - King Cobra

To be continued....

Anand Jon Controversy

Dirty Fashion

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The recent rape accusation against Anand Jon has brought the light the fashion industry’s dark side once again. Whether or not Anand is guilty is something for the courts to decide. But an earlier charge in 2003 where he was charged with committing lewd acts on a child and a probation that required him to have a 52-week sex therapy session does not make his case stronger. He was subsequently warned against meeting any person under 18-years of age without the presence of an adult.

The incident shows that there is a lot of dirt lurking under a lot of glitter in the fashion industry. Exploitation of the models was always suspected though I must say I believe that nobody can force a model to do something if she stands her ground. The charge against Anand though, is more rape than casting couch.

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The thing is that in the cut throat world of high fashion the models do the extremes to get ahead. Most of them are on the brink of anorexia. The will power of these young ladies to subject their bodies to torture is really astounding. So it is also possible that Anand in turn is a victim of professional jealousy and that he was trapped by models he had rejected earlier. One only needs to watch the reality model hunt show “America’s Next Top Model” hosted by Tyra Banks to know about cut throat competition in the fashion industry.

But what definitely is not the case is that this is a case of racism. The glamour and entertainment industry currently is more global than any time in the past. So it would be absurd to claim that Jon is a victim of racism. We in India cry racism the moment something happens to our people in the west. The same was the case in the Shilpa Shetty episode, when a cat fight between the ladies of the Big Brother celebrity show was given the color of racism. We need to accept that our people are just as prone to succumb to their emotions as anybody else.

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The scene is no different in the Indian fashion industry either. Only difference is that most of the nasty episodes are swept under the rug here than in the west. In recent times the biggest scandal to break out was the murder of model Jessica Lal and its subsequent court circus. There have been other murmurs too about the sexual exploitation of models in the industry. Rumors of casting couch in the industry are quite prevalent.

Drug abuse in the industry too is rampant. It was best illustrated when Prasad Bidappa a leading designer in the country was caught with possession of marijuana in Dubai. Shivani Kapur's alleged drug abuse and subsequent hospitalization is another case that comes to mind.

If Anand Jon is found to be guilty, then it would be completely erratic and foolish on his part to have his image tarnished thus. In an industry where image is everything Jon’s transgressions could cost him just more than his career. It could cost him his freedom. And with 4 more models coming out with similar allegations recently it seems entirely possible that Anand will have a tough time proving his innocence.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Ajanta Caves

Ajanta Caves - 30 Caves Where History Prevailed While Time Slept.

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Not scarred by time.

Believed to be built between 2nd century B.C. and 4th Century A.D., Ajanta caves are located about 100 kilometers from Aurangabad district of Maharashtra state in India. The rich carvings, murals and sculptures of these caves offer real surprise to the visitors who flock to these caves in large numbers. Primarily built as a Buddhist monastery Ajanta is the premium tourist location in India not only for the rare sculptures it offers but also for the unique preservations of a culture that once prevailed. In a sense Ajanta caves preserved India’s history by placing it in its lap and protected it from predators of all hues for sixteen long centuries.

(By“predators” it is meant about the tribal-thugs from the neighboring Afghanistan and surrounding areas who come on horse-back with weapons and get engaged in loot and kill spree in which destroying the invaluable works of art was done just for pleasure. The precious materials generally stored in places of worship acted as a lure for these barbaric tribes. Gazni, Ghori etc were well known aggressors who routinely looted Indian temples and destroyed the sculptures by routine).

Captain John Smith finds his place in Indian history.

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It seems strange that these wonderful caves were lying un-noticed for centuries surrounded by tall mountains, thick forests and a river that glides and occasionally jumps down through a series of water falls. The Ajanta caves were discovered by Capt. John Smith a British soldier who happened to be there on course of an expedition. Mr. John Smith was lucky enough to enter in to the pages of Indian history through the discovery of this treasure cove. That was in 1819 long, long after the disappearance of Buddhism from this part of the land, and India was being ruled by the “British East India Company”.

A Buddhist education center.

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These caves altogether 30 in number are located in the shape of a horse-shoe and contain all the characteristics of Buddhist architecture. They were intended to be monastery and contain “Chaitya” (prayer-hall) and “Viharas” (residential facilities for monks). Cave numbers 9, 10, 19, 26, and 29 belongs to the “chaitya” prayer-hall sections and 1, 2, 16, and 17 are “vihara” or monasteries.

A work which took more than four centuries.

As the construction of these caves took four long centuries the change in the architecture style that occurred between these long periods is visible in the 1st and 2nd phases of construction. The first phase built in the Mahayana period of Buddhism is rich with flourishing works of art esp. interior paintings. The antechamber of the door-way is adorned with finely etched “Bodhi-Satvas” are known as “Padmapani” (bears flower in hands. Padma = lotus, pani = hand) and “Vajra-pani” (which bears diamond in hands vajra = diamond).

Buddha in all postures.

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The Mahayana phase is rich with religious imageries of supernatural beings where as the other phase the “Hinayana” is devoid of such beauties. Some characters and events of the “Jataka” tales appear on the walls of these caves. Buddha in most of the postures appears in these sculptures. Caves 9, 10, 12, and 15 come within the Hinayana phase.

A touch of surrealism.

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The sculptures and the murals well depict the way of life that existed in that time. Numerous sculptures of Yakshas, Kinnaras, Gandharvas, Apsaras (all mythological characters with supernatural powers believed to visit world from heaven and interacted with human beings) etc add some add some touch of surrealism to the entire atmosphere.

River Wagura knows more!

Want to know more about the life that existed in that bygone era ask it to the numerous water falls in the Wagura River that murmur while passing nearby the caves they could tell a thousand stories, no historians or archaeologists can.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Snakes of the World


Spare the snakes they are our friends.

The service rendered by snakes to the ecology as well as to the human beings goes un-noticed and these poor reptiles are subjected to most inhuman treatment in the hands of man, mostly out of ignorance and superstition. This article is intended to convey some information regarding the peculiarities of common snakes found in Indian Peninsula as well as other parts of the world.

Worshipped as well as hated!

Their habitat, feeding habits, size and shape, whether venomous or not etc are given along with some of the mythologies associated with snakes. Snakes are worshipped, feared, hated and misunderstood. Even in this age of scientific advancements man generally remain as ignorant of snakes as in the 18th century. Snakes are not responsible if Satan came in their shape!

Asia the paradise of snakes!

Asia with its temperate and tropical climates is rich in the varieties snake species as well as the numbers of each species. It is believed that there are altogether 2500 species of snakes in the world which are classified in to 15 families of which only 3 are venomous. The Indian sub-continent has about 388 species classified under 91 genera belonging to 11 families, of which about 50 species are venomous. There are no snakes in the arctic and Antarctic regions, New Zealand and Ireland also are said to be devoid of them. Madagascar is yet another surprise as there are no venomous snakes there.

Order, Family, Class, Genera, Species all jargons, fear not!

For scientists snakes are vertebrate animals belonging to the “sub-order” Ophidia (Serpents) which is included in the “Class” reptiles (Reptilia).Reptiles are cold blooded animals which crawls on the earth touching their ventral parts on floor. The famous dinosaurs were giant reptiles which ruled the earth before becoming extinct. Snakes once had limbs which were lost millions of years back in the course of evolution and yet they travel faster than those which crawl on legs!

Costume conscious!

Snakes cast off their skin about four or five times a year, as they crawl through the land their skin suffers wear and tear hence nature has kindly granted them this ability to get it changed periodically as if the skin is their attire! The arrangements of scales on the skin can be helpful in identifying the snake.

Wide variety!

Snakes vary widely from species to species in size when burrowing Typhlopidae (blind worm-like tiny creatures) which grow only 4 to 6 inches to the giant constricting type Boidae (Boas, Pythons and anacondas) which grow to a length exceeding 30 feet. Most of the snakes lay eggs (oviparous) as some give like vipers and birth to tiny ones!

They are just one of the five reptiles.

Reptiles in which snakes are included are classified by the scientists in to five “orders”, they are Crocodilia (crocs), Chelonia (Turtles, tortoises etc), Lacertilia (lizards), Ophidia (Snakes) and Rhynchocephalia (Tuatara) - now represented by only one species the Tuatara or “Sphenodon punctatus”.

This is the first among a series of posts on snakes to be published here at our blog. Images used in the article unless mentioned otherwise are from Mr Shibu Bhaskar - Naturalist: Coconut Lagoon. Kumarakom.

Snakes of the World - Part 1

Snakes of the World Part – 2. - Evolution in Snakes

Snakes of the World Part - 3. - Cobra

Snakes of the World Part - 4. - Viper

Snakes of the World Part - 5. - King Cobra

To be continued....

The veil controversy

Shouldn’t it be a matter of choice? Or is it?

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The veil controversy has been simmering in Europe for some time now following France’s ban on religious symbols and Jack Straw’s comment of how he treats females who meet him while waering veils (He asks them to remove their veil before talking to him). The controversy more than anything reflects the west’s trepidation over anything Islamic. Though I must admit that the radical members of Islam has done nothing to allay these fears.

After 9/11 and other such terrorist activities the image of a Moslem the world over is that of bearded, hyper charged mullahs and imams. It is this very prejudice that has forced man,y the world over to take an apprehensive stand when dealing with members of the Islamic community and their issues. The most liberal of the community never have their voices heard and hence the radical’s voice becomes the only voice of the community. If you listen to these people speeches you hear that they repeat the phrase “for all of Islam” quite often which is not true.

Coming back to the veil controversy there are many in the west who welcome this. They say that they are intimidated or feel uncomfortable when they see a person in veil or a headscarf. The Islamic community on their part is absolutely against the banning of the veil citing religious reasons.

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There are other pertinent social issues in play too. While the women in the community are supposed to conceal her identity and feminity, the men of the same community are free to wear anything they want. The subjugation of women to the extent of obliterating their identity is scary.

I personally am of the opinion that it should be a matter of choice. It is a matter of individual freedom. Governments should have more important things on their minds than what their citizens should and shouldn’t wear. Any individual, as long as it doesn’t affect the freedom and rights of others, has the right to exercise his freedom. Hence other than in matters like security checks and personal identification, people should be allowed to wear veil if they chose to do so.

But then again to put forth another point of view, women in most cases are forced to wear the veil in some countries because of religious pressures. Here again I would stick to my view that it should be a matter of choice. It is equally wrong to force someone to wear something as it is to force someone not to wear something. Women should have the freedom to wear what they want to wear.

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But it is debatable whether Islamic women have that choice in the real world. Peer pressure and societal norms force them to wear the veil even if they do not want to. This is something that the community has to sort out for itself and that would happen only when the more liberal of them takes a stand and let their voices be heard against the radicals. They would do well to remember that female leaders in Islamic countries like Benazir Bhutto of Pakistan, Begam Khalida Zia of Bangladesh and Megawati of Indonesia all go unveiled. That itself show that the religious interpretations of the veil is not uniform.

As for the notion of feeling uncomfortable when seeing someone in a veil, it is not just a veil that can make you uncomfortable. During a trip to the local mall yesterday I saw guy whose jeans were so low I could see his butt cheeks. I saw another young girl wearing tops that were so short and so tight that one wondered why she bothered to wear anything at all. But I tolerate it. For all I know the girl could be a model student and the guy might be an executive out to have a good time for a night. Who knows?

And isn’t that the basic principle of them all? Tolerance? Tolerance of someone else’s faith. Tolerance of someone else’s expression of that faith. We do not fear or get intimidated by a nun’s habit so why should we be intimidated by the veil. A few radicals do not represent the whole community and that is what we should keep in mind when dealing with any individual from that community.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Singapore the Pearl of the East

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A Phoenix in real life.

Once remained as a fisherman’s village and passed through numerous turbulences of history; Singapore has traveled much to become the world’s fourth largest financial center after London, New York and Tokyo. The name Singapore is for Singa = Lion + pore = pur = land - meaning land of the lion in Malay with its origin in Sanskrit. Singapore was literally burned down by the invading Portuguese in 1613, that later colonized it. But like the phoenix of the legends it arose from its ashes to one of the most happening place in the world.

In the beginning “Tomasek”!

Singapore was earlier known as Tomasek (meaning sea-town) in the early times. It is a group of 63 small islands situated at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. Jurong is the largest among these while Pulau, Tekong, Pulau-Ubin etc are among the major ones. Singapore has a rich culture to its credit ranging from the12th century, the remnants of its architecture and monuments had been recovered by the archaeologists.

There comes the Empire.

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Singapore was being ruled by the Sultanate of Johore when the Portuguese set it in to flames; the British who came a bit late (in 1819) banished the Portuguese and took control of the islands. It was Sir Stafford Raffles who reached in to a treaty with Sultan Hussein Shah of the Johore dynasty, paving way for an era of British rule in to this land. The British have been helpful in giving this fisherman’s island a modern fit and finish.

Had to be Shonan for a while!

World War II also brought its own perils to this tiny group of islands in the form of Japanese soldiers under General Tomayuki Yamashita in February 15, 1942 they defeated the ill-prepared British army stationed there and took control of the island. After gaining control the Japanese changed the name of Singapore in to “Shonan”, and Singapore had the ill-fate to live with that name until September 12, 1945 when the British recaptured it and got the real name back.

Then “Crown Colony”, with all burdens!

The British granted “Crown Colony” status to this state which meant that the government of Singapore was answerable only to the British Crown; later in August 1965 sovereignty was allowed making it a free state under Lee Kwan Yew. At the time when Lee took over the charge of the “crown colony” in 1959, Singapore was not what it is today, Un-employment, shortage of houses, illiteracy etc were rampant and to crown all these the strife between ethnic groups were also of common occurrence.

Starting from the scratches!

Mr. Lee Kwan Yew was undaunted by all these problems, he started to tackle the challenges head on, with panache and proved to the world that there is nothing un-attainable to one who is bold and committed. Opening up of trade, improvement of infrastructure (port, roads, rail MRT (mass rapid transit) were all something he brought out of his sleeve to tackle poverty and un-employment.

Real revolutions!

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Education was made compulsory and those who violated laws were seriously dealt with frequent ethnic violence which dogged this state were efficiently tackled by iron hands.

Military service was made compulsory to all male citizen, these were just some of his revolutions! Compulsory military service strengthened the forces and made Singapore not a sitting duck to invaders. Mr. Lee’s tenure was rather prolonged 1959 to 1990, these 31 long years were more than enough for Mr. Lee to develop a mere fisherman’s village in to the glittering pearl of South Asia.

He made it clean.

Mr. Lee was stringent in cleanliness, spitting on the roads, littering, polluting etc were All subjected for heavy penalties. As Mr. Lee was aware that only physical hygiene was not enough for a model state as real neatness should be in the minds of its citizen, he sprang upon the corrupt elements and proved to the world that corruption can be banished from government as well as from land itself. As a result Singapore arose as a nation with least corruption in the world; “Transparency International’s” report has declared the same in their report.

There is much to be seen!

Singapore is not just clean it has much to offer for the visitors the well refurbished historical locations, ultramodern buildings which spell class in architecture, well preserved ethnic neighborhoods (China-town, Little India etc), top class museums, the botanical garden with more than 3000 varieties of rare orchids, an undersea aquarium which is similar to a wild safari where fish and a variety of sea animals roam free while spectators are caged in big glass houses!. Bukit Tima Hill is the highest hill and an exclusive tourist location it is about 538 feet in height.

Mind your language!

Almost all languages like Chinese, Tamil, Malay English, Singlish etc are widely used in this land. English has been awarded the official status. “Singlish” is a mixture of local languages with English and was once very popular. Of late it is being discouraged by the government as it has backwardness attached with it.

Expanding sideways!

Land being at high premium nearby sea gets reclaimed when small islands get joined with bigger ones and bridges connect islands together. Singapore is expanding sideways its initial area was about 224 Sq. Miles it is now about 269 Sq. Miles! The onus to upkeep of all the wonders rest on the “Urban Development Authority” which is the government agency for the development works going on, it is to be admitted that the agency is doing a tremendous job. It is Singapore doing a creditable job is only a way of life and not an aberration as is the case elsewhere.

Never learn anything!

It seems strange that the rulers of the third world have studied nothing from the glaring examples of Singapore. They pay occasional visits to Singapore to avail the luxuries, roam all around for sight-seeing and return as ignorant as they were. The money spent by them in this island is waste, as long as they study nothing from them, if they had spent some time to learn any lessons regarding management of a nation from Singapore, the whole world would have been a much better place!

The legacy remains.

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Mr. Goh Chok Tang followed Mr. Lee when he relinquished office in 1990 as the second Prime Minister of Singapore. Mr. Hsien Loong the eldest son of Lee arose to be the third Prime Minister in 2004. For the fortune of this island nation both of them followed the foot-steps of Mr. Lee and the “Lee legacy” goes on as usual. As a river sung “men may come and men may go, but I remain for ever!

A good team with a good leader!

The author’s request to the visitors to this island is to enjoy the marvels offered by this island nation and return enlightened to their land, tell it to everybody about what this little nation has achieved through commonsense and hard work. A good team with a good leader is wonderful, and that is Singapore. When a bad team with a good leader is amicable, a good team with a bad leader would be a disaster unfortunately most of the third world nations belong to the third order and hence they remain as third world nations.