The role of NGOs in development

Synopsis : The role the NGOs play in the development work, animal rights, human rights and numerous other fields are very important because they fight for the rights of people, animals and the environment where the governments fail. They help with free medical aid to the very poor, set up sanctuaries for orphaned animals and rescue abused children from slavery and bonded labor. They protect the whales and dolphins from illegal slaughter and they often suffer in the hands of criminals who profit.They are the unsung heroes of the world.

The role of NGOs in development

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 MSF doctor helping African children ( Source – MSF photos)

I started out as a volunteer agronomist in Vietnam when I was a bit over 22 where I worked with the farmers in the TayNinh province west of Saigon. It is called Ho Chi Minh City or HCM city now  but I still prefer Saigon because it brings back all the memories some good and some bad of that era when dodging bullets was a part of our daily life so to speak. I worked in Vietnam during the war when some areas were out of limits and others were relatively safe although not completely safe as you will learn if you read my life story in widbook.com/ebook/the-untold-story.

I worked with a few NGOs ( Non governmental organizations) that worked in Vietnam and were doing wonderful work helping refugees so I got to know some of them after the Tet offensive when a large number of refugees started to come in and had to be sheltered and supplied with essentials. My job was to go with the Saigon University students who were all volunteers and pick up supplies from the ministry and deliver them to the refugee centers scattered around the city. Some time it was soap, rice or nuoc mam and at other times gasoline, grass mats etc. I had to tie a Red Cross flag on my jeep so that everyone would know that we were in the relief business and not shoot at us.

There were numerous NGOs working in Vietnam at that time doing many things to help the people. Some were teaching, others doing relief work like us or working with farmers in agriculture but they all had one thing in common that was the constant danger to their lives. Some died serving the people and others were injured. A few were captured by the Vietcongs and kept as prisoners for many years but there was  also the risk of malaria, diarrhea, many types of tropical sickness or food poisoning that came from eating street foods that were not very hygienic.  These brave souls took it in stride and kept on working and helping that won the admiration of the common folks.

Some reported on the government corruption and army brutality to the press and paid a heavy price while others did what they could while working under very difficult circumstances to say the least.

Some were helping run orphanages and others worked as nurses to care for the wounded and sick so the NGOs played a vital role in the matter of helping people in Vietnam during that horrible war.

I often feel that these unsung heroes are not often truly appreciated by the corrupt people in the government because they often were at odds .The NGOs often fought corruption and talked to press that made them unpopular with the officials. Young people are often idealistic and want to help those who need them without any consideration for their own safety and health. They certainly were not there for money because they survived on pittance

All over the world there are numerous NGO that are involved at the grass roots level in poor countries where they teach, set up orphanages for children and animals rescued from poachers, some plant trees and others are helping with health related issues. In Nepal one brave woman is rescuing girls from brothels who were kidnapped by the criminal gangs and sold as slaves while in other countries they try to stop deforestation and pollution of water by big corporations.

In India one NGO is rescuing dancing bears and has created shelters and sanctuaries where these abused animals are given proper veterinary care and food. Others are trying to save and rescue the bears from the bear farms in China where these poor animals are tortured by making their story public. The naming and shaming the wrongdoers works to some extent but also has risks. These NGOs are often asked to stop their work and leave the country. They work in famine stricken countries bringing food and other necessities to starving people, they collect money through donations to help many and take photos, videos and write to news papers to expose the gravity of the situation.

Thanks to these NGOs and their admirable work, many governments have started to realize how serious the climate change issue is and what they must do to reduce the carbon emission worldwide. This has led to discussion and signing of treaties that may help reduce the pollution and global warming.

They fight big corporations that use pesticides indiscriminately poisoning the food chain and have sided with the Native Americans to protect their rights to clean water and their way of life.

No matter where you look, you will find NGOs working to help the poor and oppressed people everywhere. But their battle is an uphill battle because poachers are hell bent on killing the rare animals for profit and the big corporations are using slave labor to extract minerals for profit often in cahoots with corrupt officials who get rich with bribes.

Wars cause famine so it is manmade.  People in Ethiopia, Somalia and in many countries in the middle east are suffering due to wars that are fought there through proxy by other countries so farmers cannot grow food that causes famine.

Even if there are no wars, the climate can be the reason for low rainfall or no rainfall that causes the famine. The Governments in poor countries are ill prepared to deal with the massive number of people affected so they allow the NGOs to help .It is so bad in Somalia and other countries that the NGOs. have to bribe the corrupt officials so that they are allowed to bring the food to the needy.

There are the religious NGOs as well who help during flood and famine in India and the Red Crescent and the Red Cross people help where the help is needed. They helped in Iran and Pakistan where the earthquakes and flood caused misery of epic proportions.

The most admirable work is done by the Medecin Sans Frontiere ( MSF) people who are called doctors without border. They are doctors and nurses who risk their lives to work in war torn countries and bring their expertise to help people hurt in the war and work under appalling conditions. Recently an American plane bombed their hospital in the Middle East killings scores of doctors and patients even though the hospital was clearly marked as a hospital.

These wonderful people take time off from their regular jobs to volunteer to work in countries where people are dying of ebola or war and often get killed themselves.

There are doctors who perform surgery to correct the cleft lips of children for free and there are doctors who do free eye surgery as a gift to the very poor who cannot afford it.

So the NGOs play a very important role in the development everywhere and are the first to show up to help when a disaster like typhoon or earth quake hits a region.

I only wish that there was more awareness and support for these NGOs who do the admirable work to help people. They are the true angels but the bad people want to clip their wings because these angels show a bright light on the wrong doers. I know how hard it is for the NGOs to work in some countries because of my own experience of working in Vietnam during the war so I have full sympathy for them and wish them all the success.

 

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Unsung hero of the Green Revolution: Dr.Surajit Kumar De Datta

Synopsis: The Green revolution in rice that came about due to the efforts of many scientists at the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines was a boon to the farmers everywhere because they were able to triple their production with the new varieties and many countries became self sufficient in rice which is their major staple food. The scientist who was singularly responsible for the testing and the verification of the new variety called IR-8 in agronomy trials was a young agronomist called Dr. Surajit Kumar De Datta that led to the Green revolution is an unsung hero who is the subject of this blog.

The unsung hero of the Green Revolution : Dr. Surajit Kumar De Datta

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Dr. Surajit Kumar De Datta

One of the most important foods in the world is rice that billions of people call their staple. They grow it in the tropical Asia but also in other climates where the conditions permit the farmers to grow it and with good results. But most of the world population lives in South and South East Asia where rice is grown extensively.

In the 1960s, there were hundreds of varieties that farmers grew under irrigated and rain fed conditions, in tropical and sub tropical climates but they had one problem in common. It was the low average yield of 1400 kg/ha.(1.4 t/ha)

There are many reasons for this. The varieties tended to grow tall and lodged in high winds during typhoons or heavy rains, thus reducing the grain yield. These were traditional rice varieties that had few panicles that form the seeds, low number of tillers per plant and did not respond well to fertilizer. So the scientists at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) started to look at ways to produce a variety that would be high yielding and would not lodge.

The world needed more food because the rice growers could not meet the demand of the consumers, so in the ‘60s, IRRI was set up in the Philippines as the primary research center where a select group of scientists from all over the world began the process that would eventually lead to the development of a new type of rice plant that would be called High Yielding Variety or HYV.

The plant breeder at IRRI started to cross many varieties collected from different regions of Asia and narrowed the field down to a tall variety from Indonesia called Peta and a  semi-dwarf variety from China called Dee Geo Woo Gen (DGWG).

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The miracle rice IR-8, next to its parents Peta and DGWG  (source: IRRI photo archive)

When Peta was crossed with DGWG, a new type of rice plant was born that was shorter than Peta but stronger and more upright than DGWG. It had the architecture that let the leaves absorb more sunlight and had profuse number of tillers that had panicles loaded with seeds that were heavy.

The agronomist who tested this new variety for the first time at IRRI was a young scientist called Dr. Surajit K. De Datta. He published his ground-breaking results in scientific journals as well as IRRI publications to record his findings which were nothing short of spectacular. Never had a variety of rice yielded 9.4 tons per hectare.  The breeding line 1R8-288-3 was widely publicized as Miracle Rice, which was named as IR8 by IRRI.

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Miracle rice “IR-8” (source –IRRI photo archive)

The results of the research at IRRI carried out by Dr. De Datta produced the following nitrogen yield response curve that clearly established IR8’s superiority as an HYV over other varieties tested.

nitrogen Effect of levels of nitrogen on the grain yield of indica rice varieties. IRRI, 1966 dry season. (extract from Dr. De Datta’s report in the Agronomy journal 1966)

Reference:  De Datta, S. K., A. C. Tauro, and S. N. Balawing.  1968. Agron. J. 60: 643-647.

It was an advanced breeding line called IR8-288-3 that was released by the seed committee of IRRI as IR8 in 1966 as the first modern semi-dwarf indica variety. Dr. De Datta was a member of that committee which was chaired by Dr. Chandler.

That is what started the Green Revolution in rice cultivation and the pioneer agronomist and scientist who spearheaded in identifying the high yielding potential of IR8-288-3  was Dr. De Datta. He obtained excellent results at the IRRI farm where it produced the highest yield of 9.4tons/ha with the highest level of applied Nitrogen.  Simultaneously, Dr. De Datta’s research trial in the farmer’s field in Calauan, Laguna ,IR8 produced close to 9 tons/ha.  In another farmer’s field  in Bukidnon, Mindanao, IR8-288-3 yielded 7tons/ha without any fertilizer and 10.3tons/ha with a high dose of Nitrogen fertilizer.

Drs. Peter Jennings and Hank Beachell were renowned for their contribution to make the cross and advancing and selecting the breeding line which Dr. DeDatta tested in multiple sites for yield potential. Beachell got the World Food Prize award. Dr Chandler, the Director of IRRI at the time, also got the same award for his leadership of IRRI.Dr. Mano D. Pathak of IRRI, Entomologist at IRRI conducted extensive research on insect pest resistance of the HYVs which benefited IRRI’s breeding program.

Contribution to Green Revolution

The term “Green Revolution”, as described in Wikipedia refers to “the transformation of agriculture that occurred from the 1940s through the 1960s, when farmers used the discoveries of science, planting higher-yielding rice varieties to great success. In 1968, Dr.De Datta, then an agronomist at the institute, published his findings about IR8, a variety of rice that yielded 5 tons of rice per hectare with almost no fertilizer and 9.4 tons per hectare with fertilizer. This was nearly 10 times the yield of traditional rice and came to be known as Miracle Rice (see note on the reference).

The introduction of IR8 and new management practices changed a hungry landscape to one of food self-sufficiency in Asia. It is difficult to overstate this achievement; rice sustains about 3.5 billion people either partially or fully for caloric intake around the world, mostly in Asia.” (source-adapted from Wikipedia)

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Dr.De Datta explaining the rice yield results to an interested President Marcos at IRRI, Philippines (source: IRRI photo archive)

Ferdinand Marcos, then President of the Philippines, visited IRRI in June 1966, and was very impressed by Dr. De Datta’s research results at IRRI farm and subsequently received 2kg of IR8 seed from IRRI, which the Philippine Seed Growers Association headed by its President Abel Silva then multiplied it in Laguna farms. It was then spread to various parts of the rice growing regions of the country. This was done under a program called Masagana 99 that made the Philippines self sufficient in rice production in about three years’ time. This was a promise made by President Marcos to the nation which he fulfilled during his Presidency.

Spread of IR8 across the rice-growing regions of Asia

IR8 was introduced to many countries including India within that period, where the farmers in the south India were very happy to get more than 9 tons of rice per hectare. The IR8 was then firmly established as the miracle rice as it spread rapidly from South India to the rest of the country.

I was working in Vietnam in 1967 with my rice farmers and soon heard of this Miracle Rice when I visited IRRI in early 1968. IRRI at that time started testing IR8 in an area north of Saigon but I was able to get some seeds to plant in TayNinh that later spread to many farmers.

The cultivation of IR8 spread rapidly in tropical Asia because of its high yielding characteristics but its cooking quality was not very good so the scientists kept working on developing better quality grain and succeeded in breeding and releasing many rice varieties later on but none surpassed the high yield of IR8.

The rest is history. For his research findings, Dr. De Datta was awarded the Norman Borlaug Award in 1992 for the Green Revolution and for Outstanding Contribution to Agricultural Sciences in India by the Vice President of India who later became the President.

Later in 2004, in recognition of his great contribution to the self sufficiency in rice in the Philippines and as a pioneer in the Green Revolution, Dr. De Datta was awarded the Presidential citation by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo of the Philippines.

However, in spite of Dr. De Datta’s monumental contribution in the identification of IR8-288-3 with the record yielding capacity in 1966, dry season, all the write-up on Green Revolution in rice failed to  recognize Dr. De Datta’s contribution to IR8 adequately and in most cases none at all.

I came to know about this omission when I found an article published by The Better India recently where the credit for the Green revolution was given to others, and where Dr. De Datta’s name was misspelled and merely mentioned in passing. That is when I started to think about the injustice of it all and thought about setting the record straight.

Dr. De Datta’s quiet contribution to rice farming in rural Philippines and Haiti

I came to IRRI as a research fellow in 1974 and worked with Dr. De Datta who was then the head of the Agronomy Department. He became my mentor and sent me to the Bicol region to execute testing of a program that he had designed with other IRRI colleagues, called “yield constraint studies in lowland rice” where I worked with the rice farmers and obtained very good results. I measured the yield gap between what the research stations and the farmers got, and accounted for the constraints. Here again it was Dr. DeDatta and his pioneering research that was behind the success in the Bicol region of the Philippines.

Years later in 1984 I found myself working in Haiti and in search of strong rice varieties to improve local rice cultivation in the Les Cayes area. When no others would help, it was Dr. De Datta who sent me seeds of  10 High Yielding rice varieties from IRRI. Of the 10 that he sent me, one variety which I named Amina, gave high yield and was so liked by the farmers that I set up a seed multiplication cooperative in Bruny, Les Cayes with the USAID funding to spread its cultivation. Another IRRI variety that I named Colette also proved successful with the farmers and spread in the Les Cayes area where I tested it and proved its merits.

Behind all the success, it was Dr. De Datta who was always ready to help me wherever in the world I worked, so I was very thankful on behalf of my farmers.

Biography (an extract from Wikipedia):

Dr. Surajit Kumar De Datta is an Indian American agronomist who is best known for his high yielding variety of rice IR8 that contributed significantly to the Green Revolution across Asia”. He worked 27 years at the International Rice Research Institute in Philippines helping Southeast Asia get self-sufficiency in rice production. His 641pages-book on rice production,Principles and Practices of Rice Production, published by John Wiley, New York, is considered an authoritative opus in the field of rice cultivation. He has also written two books namely, “Availability of Phosphorus and Utilization of Phosphate Fertilizers in Some Great Soil Groups of Hawaii” in 1963 and “Availability of Phosphorus to Sugar Cane in Hawaii as Influenced by Various Phosphorus Fertilizers and Methods of Application” in 1965. Dr. De Datta’s research in rice production at IRRI contributed to the green revolution that helped Southeast Asia gain agricultural self-sufficiency.

A Green revolution pioneer:

After serving IRRI, Philippines for over 27 years where he was the Principal scientist and Agronomist, Dr. De Datta joined Virginia Tech where he served both as Associate Vice President of International Affairs and Director of the Office of International Research, Education, and Development (OIRED)  where he managed a portfolio of USD 150 million in donor-funded grants mostly from the USAID in his 20 year-tenure at Virginia Tech.

The programs ran with these grants improved lives in developing countries by promoting economic development, food security, sustainable natural resource management and gender equity. As Associate Vice President for International Affairs, he provided leadership in establishing Virginia Tech’s regional centers in developing regions of the world.

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Dr. S.K De Datta receiving an award in Chicago in 2009

Awards:

He received numerous awards during his distinguished career and was made a fellow of the American Society of Agronomy ( ASA), a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), Soil Science Society of America( SSSA) ,Crop Science Society of America (CSSA), Indian Society of Soil Science ( ISSS)and  National Academy of Agricultural Sciences in India,(NAAS).

He is the recipient of awards for International Services in Agronomy, Crop Science and Soil science in the United States, a distinction as the very first scientist received in the USA.

Dr. De Datta has advised a total of 77 Master’s and Ph.D. students in his career including myself. He has published 366 journal articles, technical bulletins, and other reports in the areas of soil science, soil and crop management, and weed science. He has served on numerous boards, societies, and committees.

He has been an active member of the American Society of Agronomy (ASA), Soil Science Society of America (SSSA) since 1963 and a member of the Crop Science Society of America (CSSA) for over 15 years, served as an A-6 Chair( International  Agronomy division of ASA) and organized symposia and was a member of the Agronomic Science Foundation (ASF) board serving the Tri societies of America ( ASA, SSSA and CSSA) for two terms.

Dr. De Datta is retired and currently lives in Davis, California in the United States.

It has been my great privilege to know him and write this blog.

Note: The complete report of the results were published by the Agronomy Journal, Vol.60, Nov.-Dec. 1968, pages 643-647

References :

  1. “SK De Datta’s Contribution to the Green Revolution”. Virginia Tech. Retrieved 8 October 2014.
  2. “Dr. Surajit Kumar De Datta”. Virginia Tech. Retrieved 8 October 2014.
  3. “SK De Datta’s Contribution to the Green Revolution”. Virginia Tech. Retrieved 8 October 2014.
  4. “Availability of Phosphorus and Utilization of Phosphate Fertilizers in Some Great Soil Groups of Hawaii”. Scholar Space – University of Hawaii.
  5. Availability of Phosphorus to Sugar Cane in Hawaii as Influenced by Various Phosphorus Fertilizers and Methods of Application. Google Books.
  6. “S. K. De Datta to be named American Association for the Advancement of Science fellow”. Virginia Tech. Retrieved 8 October 2014.

 

Note :  My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese  languages at the following links as well as my biography:

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Speed of technology

Synopsis : We are dazzled by the speed of technology these days but it seems that new technologies are coming up to replace the present with no end in site. It is almost unbelievable that now you can talk to anyone anywhere free on Skype or send or receive messages, photos and documents also for free . The speed at which the technological world is changing lives everywhere is nothing short of wonderful. But does it serve all the humanity or are we leaving behind the poor and and the uneducated ? Do we often consider the dark side of the technology?

Speed of technology

Speed of technology

Source : Google photo

There was a time when I remember that we used to memorize the multiplication table so that we could do mental arithmetic that required that kind of memory. We had to instantly recall how much was 17 time 5. We used to write the numbers on a slate with a chalk and do the numbers. Even in high school it was the same story .Without memory you could not pass the math exam. You had to remember the formula and how to solve them.

Then came the calculators that were electronic but the digits lit up in green color and cost about 20 dollars which was a huge sum in those days but it was with pride we showed our simple calculator to our friends who marveled at its design and how instantly it showed the result of any calculation. This was a huge improvement over Facit machine that had a handle on its side that you had to pull down each time you punched the numbers.

This was followed by the scientific calculators that could do statistical and many types of scientific calculations in an instant that put the slide rule into dustbin. I never mastered the slide rule anyway but people were using slide rule even in NASA calculating how much fuel the rockets had. The Chinese never gave up their abacus and claim that they can calculate complex arithmetic on it in seconds but it can only do plus or minus or simple math.

The technology was coming and changing the way people did their daily chores. I remember going on a study tour and saw for the first time a big room full of machines in Delhi that they called a computer. It was made in Russia and could do lots of things at a pretty good speed but it seemed so big, noisy and needed air conditioning because it generated heat and had to be cooled down. It was very expensive but was given to India as a gift. This was the year 1962.

No one really knew what a computer was and what it was supposed to do .The personal computers were not invented yet and no one knew what a micro chip was let alone what it was supposed to do. The Germans developed the enigma machine which was a very complex code making machine that had millions of combinations and permutations but a stolen machine was brought to England where a team of math wizards took a long time to break the code to learn the secret of the German communication during the war. The machine they built occupied a whole room that had mechanical parts and  gears that turned and spit out a single letter or number after churning and turning forever so it took time to decode the cipher.

May be the Russian computer was also like that but we don’t know because no one knew what was inside those huge machines and how they functioned. At this time came the transistor which was a major breakthrough in electronic technology that sent all the vacuum tubes in radios to dustbin forever. Those tubes became the obsolete technology overnight and people got transistor radios instead. It did not need to warm up like those glass tubes.

Imagine how many thousands of lives could have been saved during the last war if they had this technology to communicate with the troops in the front line. Their radios were primitive and with very limited range so often the commanders could not reach their troops only a few kilometers away. But in 1993 I had a two way radio in Sudan where I could use it to communicate with my staff 600 or 800 kms away easily and often could listen to people talking to Kenya from Sudan. It was smaller than a book in size. The transistor made radios smaller, more compact and could be put in a pocket and taken anywhere. Then came the radio cassette players that put the reel type tape recorders out of business. The cassette itself was marvelous, small and could play music for an hour. There was no need of threading the tape anymore. Just slide the cassette in, press a button and record anything or play music.

At its heel came Sony walkman. You could now listen to music in full Dolby stereo using your headphones and keep the gadget in your pocket. The stereo itself was a novelty in our community when I brought my first stereo from Algeria. It was made in France and the speakers were from Holland and the sound was so good that people stopped on the road in front of our house to listen. That was the year 1973. No one had TV yet. We played long playing records called LPs on the record player that played LPs one after the other in a stack and turned at 33 rpm. But no one knew what was coming and how it will change the music industry forever.

Then came the compact disc or CD which was a marvel because no one could believe that such a small disc could store hours of music that was crystal clear. Philips invented it but I am sure even they did not foresee how it would change the world the way it did.

There was an English scientist who figured out how to make a cell phone that ran on a battery and could send and receive signals wirelessly so the primitive cell phone was born that looked like a big papaya or a gourd but the technology was born that would revolutionize the communication industry that would have a great impact on people’s lives worldwide. With new smaller microchips , the cell phones started getting smaller, flatter and more and more powerful each year until it started to look like a credit card that would fit into your pocket. The battery technology improved by leaps and became thin but stored a lot of power and best of all could be recharged. The incredibly sharp color screen of high resolution became touch sensitive and you could scroll up or down with your finger tips to read news, send e mail, see someone on skype, write on facebook or send sms messages to any one anywhere anytime or just use it as a phone.

The old fashioned CRT type TV that was only black and white now started to come in color but satellites were not yet in the sky . That would change with Yuri Gagarin in the 1960s that would bring in the new era of worldwide communication technology and the TVs started receiving signals from satellites that could now beam a program to any TV anywhere through a dish and a small receiver. Now for the first time in our human history we could see and hear what is happening in other countries in real time. Then the TV technology exploded on us and all of a sudden the CRT box type TV became obsolete and flat jet black TV with dazzling color called High Definition TV with 1080 pixels came that was like the space age TV. It became very thin and screen was now curved with no limit to size followed by 3D TV that needed special goggles to watch.

But before this happened , let me go back to 1984 when Intel 286 computer was the latest in our office that used big floppy discs that were very limited in storage capacity and the hard disc could only keep 20 MB of data. We learned to do a few things like using Word and Lotus and few other programs that were primitive compared to what they evolved into later. Then came 386 and the more advanced computers kept on coming year after year with greater storage capacity and smaller discs. It now stored data on a compact disc where you could store data, photos, music and all sorts of things. Then came VCD, DVD and Blue Ray discs that could now store movies and videos. I sent to my brother a CD that had 70 movies in it or about 140 hours of watching time just in one CD. He could not believe it and showed it to his friends who had never seen anything like it.

The hand held video recorders that used tapes now started using small discs to store data digitally. Then they got rid of the discs and started using a small device called flash drive that stores immense amount data on a very small drive that looks like a candy. I have one that stores 16 GB of data on it but I have heard of flash drives that store 32 GB now.  Students wear their flash drive in a chain around their neck and carry their theses in it.

But the computer technology kept on improving at a dizzying speed and programmers kept making new programs that were better and faster and could do more things than before. Not too long ago I thought a 100 GB hard disc was huge but now they have 1 TB of space in a hard disc and probably will go much higher than that in the near future. Our daughter brought an external drive where she stored hundreds of movies in high resolution that I plugged into our HD TV to watch movies.

What has brought about the revolution in computers is the internet and how it has spread globally in a relatively short period of time and has changed the way we write, communicate, listen to music, download music, share files, share anything, read anything, find anything for sale or put up ad for anything for sale. We can use skype to see the person anywhere in the world and talk in real time and pay nothing. All you need is a monthly plan of cable TV and computer connection in one package and you have 24 hour  internet connection and 50 channel TV programs that come to your home via satellite for a fixed fee.

The powerful search engines brought knowledge to anyone who could type .It seems there is no limit to the amount of knowledge on any subject stored by these search engines like google which has become a part of the lingo. You can read any news paper in the world in any language, can translate any language into another superfast, you can play video games with someone online in another country, you can look for a friend or soul mate on  line so dating services are booming.

Google now offers instant translation from any language to any language so you can write in English and the google will translate it to a language of your choice in seconds. This way you can communicate with a person not knowing his language at all. It is really wonderful and awesome.

The era of computers has opened up the education in a way that was not possible a short time ago. Now people in remote areas can learn lessons on line using a camera to see the instructor or learn to play musical instruments from a teacher sitting in another part of the world. The possibilities are limitless.

The advent of digital technology made the 35 mm cameras obsolete. Now a digital camera can take very high resolution photos in color and store 5000 photos in a memory card smaller than a postage stamp and can recall any photo instantly and send it over the internet to any part of the world in seconds. I feel sorry for the Kodachrome and Ektachrome film makers because no one buys them and it has completely disappeared from stores. If you have a color printer at home, you can print your digital photos anytime in dazzling colors. The printers now come with scan/print/photocopy features all in one package.

The smart phones now look like they are from the science fiction. They are thin, small and have huge memory.  The incredibly sharp color screen of high resolution became touch sensitive and you could scroll up or down with your finger tips to read news, send e mail, see someone on skype, write on facebook or send sms messages to anyone anywhere anytime or just use it as a phone.  It can do many things a desktop PC can all wirelessly. Phones now come with GPS that shows where you are anywhere in the world. I have a Galaxy pad that has incredibly high resolution aerial photos of any part of the world that I can zoom to see in great details. I can see the village in Mali where we built our round house and see the house and the street in Phnom Penh where our daughter lives in great detail or the house in Philadelphia where our son lives.

The electronic e book reader like Kindle is nothing short of wonderful. I have one that stores 1000 books and can download wirelessly any book a book seller has to offer in any part of the world. You don’t have to go to a bookstore anymore. You can also download millions of e books from the internet for free. Once I downloaded Mein Kamph by Adolf Hitler for free when the bookstore in Canberra wanted 70 dollars for it.

The free blog sites in the internet have made everyone a writer of sorts. I have many sites where I regularly publish what I write that are read by thousands in different countries.

I used to go to the telegraph office to send a message that they typed often misspelling the content and was costly. This was replaced by telex that was typed on a ribbon and fed through a machine. Then came Facsimile machine that could take a written or typed page and transmit its content to any part of the world but that too became obsolete when the internet came and sending messages, photos or documents became very easy and fast. You can now chat in real time with anyone anytime anywhere in the world, send him music or photos or videos. The e mail has put the post office out of business in many countries. The phone companies must be cursing. They became the big time losers because people can talk on Skype for free. There are many other such services that are also free.

But what has become standard in automotive technology was unheard of a few years ago. Now the cars have numerous microchips that monitor all functions of the car, control the temperature inside and out and control the brakes that do not lock up but break at 20 times per second. The cars have microchips that control the fuel, the ignition and even monitor the tire pressure or when the air bags need inflating.

The gasoline or diesel burning cars have become better cars for sure but better and more efficient cars are on their way already that threatens to make  the gas or diesel automobiles obsolete in the near future and will have all electric powered vehicles that are silent, super efficient and pack up to 1000 HP under the hood. They are totally wired to the internet and are a marvel of electronic wizardry that is hard to believe. They can be recharged in a short time and the range is increasing with every new model. One car claims it can run 640 kms on a single charge and promises better range in the future. They are expensive right now like all new technology but the prices keep on dropping every year as the competition kicks in. If one day all vehicles will be electric then just imagine its impact on reducing global warming. It can happen in the next thirty years or so.

So I have seen this explosion of technology in every sphere imaginable in every industry that has brought tremendous changes in how we live, enjoy music, communicate, do banking, pay for things, transfer money from one place or a country to another, get medical treatment in modern hospitals where the doctors use innovative technology to diagnose your problems etc. People in many countries are moving toward a cash less society where people use smart cards to pay for anything and receive their salaries directly into their account that shows up on the smart phone.

In India the Government now pays directly into the account of a person who needs to be paid cutting out the middleman. I have seen all these new technologies in my life time that my father did not know anything about but I also know that someday our grandchildren will laugh at us and say Grandpa , are you still using those things that are obsolete now?

The danger of new technology:

But all technologies have a darker side to it as well. The new technology has given the governments unlimited power to snoop on your phone conversation, read your e mails, and take surveillance photos through thousands of cameras everywhere of private citizens who go about their normal routine business. It gives them power to know what you write in Twitter or any blog or in any social media like facebook,  instagram, linkedin or other numerous  sites . They can read your e mails read your keystrokes, know your IP address and your passwords. They know where you live and what you do all without your knowledge and they generate massive data base on millions and billions of people. Through your credit card use they know what you pay for, where and when. They know the details of your personal life that you would rather keep private but now nothing is private anymore.

They have people sitting at computers doing nothing but snooping on people whole day just in the name of national security and watch 24 hours a day any person of interest but they also have computers that are totally automated that read millions of e mails everyday to find anything that may be of interest to the government. Granted most ordinary people have nothing to hide but they get snooped on just the same. Whistle blowers like Assange and Snowden have leaked data and e mails that prove the wrong doings of the government that snoops on ordinary people so they are being vilified and called all kinds of names. The whistle blowers are being punished for exposing the wrong doings of the NSA in the United States.

Then there are thousands of people with time to kill on their hands who think of nothing except how to make mischief through the internet.  They make spyware disguised as something else and send it to you that can harm your computer, infect your mailing list and do many bad things. They can steal your data, your sensitive information and sell it to other bad people.  This is the hazard of new technology which has the possibility of abuse if the data are wrongly used. In totalitarian countries they keep tab on political dissenters, activists and journalists even if they have legitimate reasons to dissent. But the surveillance and snooping goes on worldwide and no one is spared.

There is a story I would like to tell here.  There was this Japanese computer expert who was actually an American hired by the CIA and sent to China to snoop on sensitive defense  related matters so he went to the office of the most senior Chinese Defense minister to install sophisticated computers there and also maintained them if there were any technical problems to solve. He was an expert in these matters. It was all very legal and above board on the surface. So one day he brought a big bouquet of roses and chocolates to the personal secretary of the minister. She was a plain looking woman who never had anyone give her roses and chocolates so she was very impressed.

Then he invited her to have dinner with him  in expensive restaurants and wined and dined to her simple heart because she never had a boy friend and no one showering so much attention on her so eventually she ended up sleeping with this Japanese American IT expert.

Then one day he showed up in her office and saw her listening to music in her computer while the minister was away so he asked what type of music she liked. She answered that she liked Jazz among other things so the next time he brought her a Jazz CD and told her that it is his only copy of rare Jazz music so she can copy it and return the CD to him which she gladly did.

This CD has a secret program that installed itself in the hard disc of the computer of the secretary that she never knew anything about. She trusted this fellow after all the chocolates, roses and fine dining. This secret program turned on the computer at midnight when the office was closed and copied all that was recorded that day like the minutes of secret defense meetings etc. and sent it automatically to a bakery in a small town USA which was a front for the CIA. From there it went to Langley where the Chinese script was deciphered to read what was in those transmissions.

It went on for some time until one night a janitor who cleaned the offices in the Ministry late at night heard the computer turn on by itself with a light blinking which he thought was unusual so he reported it to his supervisor who in turn reported it to others. Soon other computer experts came and examined the hard drive and after interrogating the secretary found that it had a malware installed. The Japanese American expert had disappeared in the mean time but the poor secretary was not so lucky. She was taken away and never heard from again. It sounds like a typical Ludlum novel and probably is but this sort of thing goes on as a routine.

In our college days there was the scandal of Profumo and Kristeen Keeler in UK if you remember. It was the same sort of thing but less sophisticated because there were no computers those days although roses and chocolates were plentiful and fine dining was just a hop away.  This story highlights the danger of technology in the wrong hands. The Mataharis and their honey trap is not fiction.

We now live in the age of instant access to data base, to communication, instant movement of money around the globe and e commerce but with it comes the challenges posed by such technology that can threaten your bank account, your livelihood, your credit ratings and your personal life in a way that was not possible a few years ago.  We benefit from the technology but it comes with a hefty price tag.

The future :

The technology has not stopped improving and innovating so we do not know in which direction the world will go twenty years from now. May be the technologies will be more wearable and smaller like a watch that will serve as your computer as well as your health monitor. May be your clothes will generate power from light and power all these gadgets you will keep in your pockets. May be your watch will project a 3D image of someone in the air while you talk to him across the globe, may be your shoes will generate power that will keep your pace maker in sync. The days of self driving cars and trucks are here already so the robotics is taking over in factories and other places. There are robotic surgeons that can do complicated surgeries and soon there may be robotic planes, trains, ships and even submarines. We know that the drone technology has taken off in a big way and they are testing drones to deliver goods directly to your homes.

3D shapers can make parts of any shape and design. Some call them printers but they do not print anything. So what will the future bring? What new technology will be so revolutionary that it will change our lives again? We don’t know. Who knows where we will go in twenty or thirty years?  Can you guess?

 

Note :  My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese  languages at the following links as well as my biography:

Mes blogs en français.

Mis blogs en espagnol

Blogs von Anil in Deutsch

Blogs in Japanese

My blogs at Wix site

tumblr posts    

Blogger.com

Medium.com

Anil’s biography in English.

Biographie d’Anil en français

La biografía de anil en español.

Anil’s Biografie auf Deutsch

Anil’s biography in Japanese

Биография Анила по-русски

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What’ s in a word ?

Synopsis : What is in a word? Sometimes it can change your entire life. Good words have a positive impact on someone who may be inspired by it and take measures to improve his life. Bad words on the other hand can have devastating impact and can demoralize a person so always speak good words but not harsh truths.

What’ s in a word ?

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Source : Google photo

I often think about what words mean and how they can impact someone’s life in a positive or negative way. A kind word, a kind gesture, a kind sharing of a book can change lives in a manner that is very interesting and gratifying.

I have written about a very kind and friendly person called Kaloda who lived in our neighborhood who one day gave me a book to read so that I could develop the habit of reading English books. I read all kinds of books and get to know and enjoy knowing all kinds of things I wouldn’t have had I not been given this gift by Kaloda so long ago.

I try to share my experience with people because I always hope that people can learn something from it and apply in their life the lessons learned. Some of my lessons I learned in a hard way so I can warn others not to repeat the same mistakes I made as a younger person.

I will share with you a few cases where someone listened to me what I had to say and did what I asked them to consider that changed their lives forever.

Case 1. I lived in El Obeid in Sudan where there is a sizeable population of Syrians who are Catholics. It is a dusty, drab and featureless town of cement hands holding a Koran in one and a gun in the other decorating the town squares and where all the mollahs compete with each other in who can shout the loudest five times a day. But in this dusty and drab town is a Syrian club which is like an oasis in the desert where the Syrians get together, play bingo and celebrate Easter so I used to go there and join them because they were so friendly.

Here I got to know a beautiful girl of 17 whom I will call Esther. She was a vivacious young girl who liked to play volleyball and enjoy life. All these Syrian children were fond of me because perhaps they found in me a sympathetic person who would listen to the stories of their dreadful life under a very strict Sharia Law abiding country where the mollahs never stopped castigating the Syrian girls for wearing short skirts.

One day Esther invited me to her house for a party which her father had organized for celebrating Esther’s engagement to a boy I knew so I was very surprised because she was just a child. How could she think of marriage so early? So I went to her house and found her father a bit downcast. When I asked him why he was not happy, he said his daughter is a very hard headed person who does not listen to him and is now getting engaged at this early age. Esther’s mother had died so he felt helpless and almost pleaded with me to put some sense into her because he felt that she might listen to me so I sat down with her and explained that she was too young to get married and she should wait at least one year or two .

I did not ask her to cancel the engagement and said that the waiting time will be good for her if she could get some computer training in the mean time and learn how to type. She did not react and kept quiet but her father who was listening was very appreciative and thanked me profusely.

My time in Sudan was ending so I returned to the Philippines but one day I received a letter from Esther that made me very happy. She wrote that she took my advice seriously and has gone to Khartoum to take up computer science and enjoying it too. She had broken her engagement to that Syrian boy because she realized that it would have been a big mistake to live in El Obeid all her life producing numerous kids who would have no future in a Moslem country like Sudan.

I encouraged her to continue her studies and wished her good luck. A few years later I received an e mail from Sydney and it was from Esther. She and her family had immigrated to Australia where she found a good job as a computer trained person. I couldn’t be happier and congratulated her.

Case 2: When I was in Vietnam working as a volunteer agronomist, a college mate but not a class mate who was from South India joined our agricultural team and was assigned to work in areas near Saigon. He was a specialist in animal science so he set up poultry projects etc. but he was homesick and craved for his Tamil food and language so he started visiting the Tamil temple in Saigon where he met with his countrymen and was happy because he could speak his language with them who also shared their food with him. Later I came to know that it came with a price.

We used to often talk about our future plans after leaving Vietnam and he learned that I wanted to go to the US for higher studies so I was saving all my stipend to pay for my education there. He then confessed that he was in trouble because the Tamils took advantage of him and borrowed money from him that he was having a very hard time collecting. He asked me what to do so I said that he should forget about the money he had given because these Tamils are very crafty. Instead he should save from then on every penny he can and prepare for his education somewhere.

Strangely enough my words had the desired effect and he started saving his stipend and asked me where he should apply for admission because he too wanted to study at Calpoly in California where there was a very good college of animal science. Again I suggested that he should apply to several colleges just in case Calpoly does not accept him and said that the University of Wisconsin has a very good reputation in the animal science there so he applied and got admitted there. Calpoly did not accept him but it did not matter and he was very happy to go to Wisconsin.

The last I heard from him was that he had graduated and found a good job somewhere although he had to struggle while a student just like myself but somehow made it through and is happily settled in the USA somewhere. I have lost contact with him but feel that it was a happy ending for him just like Esther.

Case 3: A couple had a child who was born with a genetic disorder and her brain filled with water that had to be constantly drained. She was a beautiful child and about ten years of age, vivacious and lively girl except that she had this problem that had no solution and she died of it. The couple was very sad and heartbroken but I happened to be visiting them this time and felt their sorrow. So I suggested that they should find a healthy baby somewhere to adopt and give him or her all the love they can and raise as their own. A child always brings joy to the family. The adoption in India is not very popular because of built in bias and tradition while in other countries it is not so.

After some time had passed, I received a letter from him that he had found a healthy baby girl and adopted her. Now the couple is very happy and the baby is growing up fast. Just the other day I received an e mail from her that said she is in high school and doing very well. I had given the couple a lot of money so perhaps that too helped. Again happy ending.

Case 4:  My sister was a school teacher somewhere so I suggested to her one day that she should take some time off from her job and enroll in a Masteral program in her chosen field of geography so she did and got promoted to a higher position in her college right after her MS so that too ended  well because she followed my advice.

Case 5: A classmate of mine in college was a real rascal who always skipped classes and was not prepared for the final exams that were due in April so one day he told me that he will surely fail because he fooled around so much and now the exams were coming soon so what to do. I told him to come to our house at night and study together so he used to come every night and we studied hard whole night month after month sitting inside the mosquito met with a table lamp in our outer porch .This hard work paid off for him handsomely and we graduated together with good grades. He then got a MS and Ph.D somewhere and found a good job in Delhi and lives a successful life.

Case 6: My brother lived in the old house that my father and I had built but I said to him many times that he should sell it and move to Delhi to be near his only daughter and grand children so finally that is what he did and is very happy so that ended well as well.

Case 7: Our daughter is a computer expert and an IT specialist who graduated from the University of Canberra but found a job not related to IT and not a well paying job either so I gently suggested that she will be happier if she found a job in IT because that is her line so she applied and was accepted by an Australian government agency out of several hundred candidates and she really shined there in her profession because she listened to me. So what is in a word? It is a whole lot more than one gives credit for but there is a catch. It is worth something only if people listen and follow. Those who did do not regret it as seven above cases prove.

 

Note :  My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese  languages at the following links as well as my biography:

Mes blogs en français.

Mis blogs en espagnol

Blogs von Anil in Deutsch

Blogs in Japanese

My blogs at Wix site

tumblr posts    

Blogger.com

Medium.com

Anil’s biography in English.

Biographie d’Anil en français

La biografía de anil en español.

Anil’s Biografie auf Deutsch

Anil’s biography in Japanese

Биография Анила по-русски

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What is coincidence?

Synopsis: We are often surprised by certain coincidences in our life and we wonder if there is a coincidence or if it is planned by a higher authority, so that we are only pawns in the game of life. It’s something to consider.

What is coincidence ?

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Source : Google photo

Some people say that there is no such thing as coincidence in life because everything happens according to a pre determined plan so who determines the plan for you if you do not believe in coincidences? This is a topic that requires some introspection because I find lots of people who discuss it but never come to any satisfactory conclusion.

Has it ever happened to you that you met someone for the first time in your life and immediately felt a connection? Is it a coincidence that you met that person at a given time and place not of your choosing but felt something happened during that meeting?

Have you ever felt that the steps you took in life were all interconnected somehow and brought you to where you are now? I think it is worth the discussion and I hope you will read this blog and react to it one way or the other.

So I will start with my own experience in life that led me to believe firmly that indeed there is no such thing as coincidence and everything happens for a reason. It is a well known fact that we all grow up under circumstances different from each other and are a product of the environment in which we grew up. Some people grow up in homes where they see the parents quarrelling over petty matters everyday leading to domestic violence and divorce later. Some are on drugs and that alone has its consequences that are too horrid to even write about. Children growing up in such homes grow up with a lot of problems that their parents can’t cope with. Dropping out of school and getting into trouble of drugs and sex is common with them. Some run away to get into more trouble.

One thing leads to the next and before you know your teen age daughter is pregnant when she is barely 18 and has dropped out of high school or you teen son is wearing tattoo, earrings and is a drop out who hangs around with the wrong people who push him deeper and deeper into the abyss that he can’t climb out of. Is it all due to chance and a series of coincidences? Do the circumstances force a person to make these choices and how these circumstances come about in the first place ?

I will therefore present here a number of cases that will prove that really there is no such thing as coincidence and everything happens for a reason.

Case 1 :  I met an American fellow one afternoon when I was a student and knocked on his office door to ask some questions regarding an ad he had placed on the school notice board. I had seen the notice many times but ignored it but on that day I took a step that literally changed my life forever. It is all written in my biography (The untold story of Anil) so I will not write about the details here again.

I will only mention that because of this meeting, I went to Vietnam as a volunteer agronomist that was my first stepping stone in life. There were others who were selected to go to Vietnam but only I took this step. Later one more college mate joined me in Saigon because he was encouraged by the step I took so wanted to do the same. The others did not go due to their own reasons so it is not worth writing here about it. Was it a coincidence that I met the American fellow who later became a good friend and we met again in the United States under different circumstances? He happened to live in St. Paul where I was to receive the award at the Macalester College so was that too a coincidence?

Case 2 :  This case is the most compelling evidence that there is no such thing as  a coincidence. I was flying to Tokyo from Hong Kong one day in late January of 1969 and was sitting in my assigned seat in the Pan Am flight but the flight was delayed because one passenger was still missing. He finally showed up and sat down next to me. After taking off he started talking to me and asked where I was going and what I did etc. so I told him as briefly as possible that I was working in Vietnam as a volunteer agronomist and was going to Tokyo. I really did not feel like telling my life story to a complete stranger so I was brief but he seemed very interested in me and kept asking more questions because he was very impressed that I as a very young fellow was working in Vietnam helping the farmers in the middle of a fierce war.

Later when he knew more about me and the fact that I was not really going to Japan which was just a stop but going to the USA, he became more curious and wanted to know if it was my first visit to the US etc. which it was. Later he learned that I was going to Minnesota to receive an award for my work in Vietnam but I was going first to a small town in California called San Luis Obispo where there is a very good college where I was seeking admission as a graduate student. They wanted me to take TOEFL to prove that I spoke English so I was going there personally to sort it out with the admission officer. At that point he said to me “Young man, you just passed your TOEFL”. When I asked what it meant, he said his name is Dr.Kennedy and he was the President of the said college in San Luis Obispo.

I could not believe it. All this time I was a reluctant conversationalist because I generally speaking do not talk to anyone on a plane and just mind my own business, read a magazine or listen to music. But here I was sitting right next to the President of CalPoly where I was seeking admission in the future. I would have never met him if I was in a row ahead or on the other side of the aisle or anywhere else on that huge plane but on a random date, on a random flight I was given a seat next to him by the PAN AM . Was it a coincidence? I don’t think so. I was predestined to meet Dr.Kennedy on that plane. He continued on that flight to the USA while I got off in Tokyo but he called from Honolulu his admission officer who gave me a warm welcome at CalPoly and gave me the admission slip right away.

Case 3 : I met a gentleman once in Saigon who said that he was from the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and was the head of the Rice Production Training Program at IRRI so we started talking about what I was doing in rice research and extension in the province west of Saigon. It was just a chance meeting because I did not go to Saigon often but on that day I just walked in and met this gentleman and started talking about rice in which he was greatly interested. He turned to a friend of mine who was present who in fact had introduced me to the visitor and said “ I would like to see this young man at IRRI someday where he can learn a lot more about rice and research “ and left.

The rest is history that need not be repeated here. I was selected as a trainee to go to IRRI shortly thereafter when such an opportunity came along and eventually ended up at IRRI as a research fellow many years later. This was my third stepping stone and it was definitely not a coincidence that I met this gentleman on a random date in Saigon where I went rather infrequently.

Case 4: I went back to Los Banos sometime in July of 1969 to spend a month supervising the rice training for some volunteers bound for Vietnam and Laos and one day went to IRRI to see an American who seemed friendly. I had no particular reason to see him on that day and wanted to say hello. But on that day the deputy director general of IRRI walked in while we were talking and I was promptly introduced to him. When he was about to leave, I said something like “ Sir, I would very much like to come back to IRRI to learn more about rice and research methodologies if only IRRI could give me a scholarship to do so .” He was surprised at such direct talk but being a gentleman came back in a few minutes with an application form and asked me to fill it up and send it to him. IRRI will then evaluate my case and come to some conclusions. Many years later IRRI invited me with a research fellowship because they said my qualifications were excellent.  Was it a coincidence that on that day I met this gentleman without knowing who he was and why I just blurted out a request for scholarship?

Case 5:  When I arrived at IRRI in 1974 and stayed there for six months learning about research methodologies and planning to go back to India because my scholarship of six months was ending, the head of the Agronomy department one day asked me to go to Naga to check out the possibility of working in the area to do some serious research on rice yield constraints. I did not know where Naga was because I did not know the geography of the country so he showed me on the map, gave me a ticket and I went to Pili where I was supposed to stay and work in surrounding villages. Was it a coincidence that my future wife was waiting for me on that day I arrived at Pili to look for a house to rent? I met her at random and right away knew that something had happened. We would get married six months later. Again was it a coincidence that I went to Pili when I did not know where it was and was it a coincidence that I just happened to meet my future wife on day one? Was it a coincidence that I was sent to Pili and not anywhere else?

Case 6: I was reading the yahoo. India news the other day in my computer and saw an article published there by someone about the Green revolution in rice and who did what. It was a poorly written article at best but included the name of the former head of the Agronomy department at IRRI who had sent me to work in Bicol so long ago. The curious thing is that I do not read Yahoo India news everyday and perhaps once a month so why I opened the Yahoo India news on that day, I honestly do not know. So I kept on reading and felt that something was not right so I sent the article to my former mentor and head of the agronomy department of IRRI who now lives in the United States in retirement and asked for his comments. He said that a great injustice was done to him by not giving him the credit because it was he who was the person who started the Green Revolution in rice by publishing his research results first.

That led to the recognition of IR-8 as the miracle rice that spread throughout Asia and elsewhere but others received awards and accolades. I was shocked and decided to do something about it and write a blog to publish the truth so that people will know who the real hero was. It will soon be published so check it out in my various blog sites. Was it a coincidence that I just happened to read Yahoo India news the other day when normally I do not read it even once a month? As you know the articles appear briefly only once on a given day and disappear the next day so why did I open Yahoo India on that day? Was it a coincidence or was I destined to be the one to write a blog about it and spread the truth?

Case 7 : I have a friend who was doing his Ph.D at IRRI at the same time I was doing mine so we kept in touch over the years even if I was working in other countries and he was frequently travelling as well but one day he came to my house in Naga where I had settled and told me that I should move to Los Banos where our kids can get a good university education. So I thought about it and found that his suggestions were not without merit and decided to come to Los Banos. He promptly found a lot for me to buy where I would be able to build my house and settled down in our new house in 1994. We also bought the adjacent lot that we called our eco garden where I planted fruit trees but one day decided to sell it because we really did not need it so guess who bought the lot? It was my friend who had asked me to come to Los Banos in the first place. Was it a coincidence that he went to see me in Naga and because of that we came to Los Banos and later he ended up  buying the lot next door to build his own house there someday? You be the judge.

Case 8: I go back to 1965 when I was just a fresh graduate and had applied to the Air Force academy of India for admission to be trained as a fighter pilot of the Indian Air Force. To my surprise I was invited by the Air Force to go to Delhi for an interview all expenses paid by first class train travel etc. Now an interview does not mean that they would have selected me but it was the first and a very important step so I was naturally excited and wanted to go but my father who was very sick told me that the Air Force was not my proper choice so I should forget about it. So I did not go to that interview and started on my Master’s program. Was it a coincidence that at that time I was invited to go to Vietnam? I don’t think it was a coincidence.

Case 9:  Now I want to write about other cases where I could have died but did not. One was when my American friend and I were walking to and fro on the side walk in front of the USAID office in Saigon where we were to meet someone. As I walked away from the gate, I heard an explosion behind me. Someone in a motorbike threw a grenade at the gate and severely injured a lady who happened to pass by at that moment when I was in that spot a few seconds ago. Was it a coincidence that I was walking away from the danger not knowing that it was coming?

Case 10: I was cowering in the corner of my kitchen with a Vietnamese friend of mine one night when the mortars kept landing on the police station just across the narrow lane. The sound was deafening and it could have easily landed on my house killing us all instantly but it didn’t. Was it a coincidence that the Vietcongs were so accurate that they spared my house that night?

Case 11: I was about to cross a culvert in the Hau Nghia province on my way to Saigon one day when the land mine blew up the culvert near me . Only a few more seconds later I was supposed to pass that culvert but did not and someone else got hurt that day. Coincidence again?

Case 12 : My friend from IRRI was travelling in Bangladesh one day in a van when all of a sudden a truck ahead of the van loaded with iron rods braked suddenly  and the steel rods came flying through the van and impaled the passenger sitting next to my friend and missed him by a few inches only. My friend had a very lucky escape that day but was it a coincidence that the steel rods missed him by a few inches that day but killed the person next to him?

I could go on with many more examples but the point is that these cases prove that really there is no such thing as coincidence. Everything happens because of a predetermined plan. The question therefore is who makes the plan? Is it God ?

quoteseverlastin-einstein-coincidence

 

Note :  My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese  languages at the following links as well as my biography:

Mes blogs en français.

Mis blogs en espagnol

Blogs von Anil in Deutsch

Blogs in Japanese

My blogs at Wix site

tumblr posts    

Blogger.com

Medium.com

Anil’s biography in English.

Biographie d’Anil en français

La biografía de anil en español.

Anil’s Biografie auf Deutsch

Anil’s biography in Japanese

Биография Анила по-русски

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Obsession with death

Synopsis : We are obsessed with the rituals of death. Only the manner and the methods vary according to cultures. Some go to great length in expenses and others do it simply so why we are so obsessed with death? The blog notes various cultures where the rituals are taken seriously.

Obsession with death

Man has always been obsessed with death. He has made elaborate rituals to be followed after someone dies and perpetuates the myth that somehow these rituals will lead to the Nirvana of the soul. The ancient man who did not have a lot of resources at his disposal to carry on elaborate rituals that entailed a lot of expenses had to rely on his wits to give a proper burial and show respect.

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The Egyptians made the funeral an art form where the rich spared no expense to give the proper burial to the deceased. It started with building a massive often underground crypt that took years to make so every Pharaoh was pre occupied with his posterity long before his time came. He undertook the construction of his pyramid or underground crypt and closely supervised the construction with emphasis on details like his wars, his life story, his reign and his good deeds all to be written or painted in hieroglyphs on the walls of his crypt with painstaking details. He saw his sarcophagus where he will sleep for eternity and instructed it to be decorated with gold and precious jewels.

He told his minions exactly what he will need in his afterlife that often included his concubines among many other precious things so these poor women who probably hated the old man had to be buried alive and the tomb sealed. Then the ghouls took over who were specialists in the art of preserving the body because it was no simple affair. It took weeks and months to do it by wrapping the entire body in scented linen soaked in preserving fluids after removing all the organs and emptying the skull of its contents and keeping them well preserved in myopic jars separately. The inside of the body was then filled with body preserving substances.

Then the body now called mummy was placed inside the decorated wooden casket that looked like the Pharaoh embellished with gold leaf and painted beautifully by the expert artists in myriads of colors. This was then placed inside the sarcophagus that was often carved out of solid granite or alabaster while the victims to be buried alive trembled in fear. These were the elaborate and very expensive rituals for the rich in Egypt long time ago.

The poor people who did not have such resources did the best they could and buried their dead in the desert often marking the spot with a simple rock.

The Romans were very practical people so they did not believe in all these elaborate rituals of Egyptians whom they considered decadent and inbreeding effeminates so they made huge bonfire and reduced their dead into ashes because it was the practical thing to do and hygienic too. The Hindus were also very practical people who perhaps learned a thing or two from the Romans or was it the other way around? The history does not say.

The Native Americans who followed and hunted the wild game for their sustenance did not have a permanent settlement because of their constant moving camps so had to seek a way to give a proper burial to their departed souls so they wrapped the bodies and often placed them high in trees to keep out the wild animals or covered with piles of stones where there were no trees.

So different people in different parts of the world developed their own methods and rituals that are still followed today although elaborate mummy making has gone out of style in most parts because no one has that kind of money. The pyramids and the crypts are for the tourists to see and photograph although I am sure it was not the original idea. The thieves over the years made a beeline to the crypts and broke into them to steal what they could to sell in the black market and still do. Just go to the remote villages in Egypt and pass the word around that you are looking for stolen artifacts and soon some thieves will show up with goods wrapped in dirty clothes and bargain hard to get the most value.

This is how the parchments of ancient Biblical texts called the lost gospels of Judas etc. were discovered. The illiterate villagers did not know the value of it so probably sold it for a pittance but that is getting away from the main story here.

When I was working in Mali, West Africa, I came to know about a strange and gruesome ritual still being practiced in the rural parts of the Ivory Coast where they buried heads of people along with the deceased so the Malian farm workers were often the victims. I saw one such grave myself in the northern part of the Ivory Coast. It is so bad that when some old geezer croaks or about to croak who was a village chief or a clan chief, the Malian farms worker just flee because hanging around is not good for their health so to speak. This has given rise to bounty hunters who supply the required heads for a price and perform a service. They also make 100% profit so it is a good business all round.

But the Christians  started the practice of burial although some did not fare so well and were fed to the lions alive by the Romans in the early part of their history  thus saving considerable expense and feeding the lions as well who were always kept hungry for such feasts. Romans were penny pinchers in such matters and claimed the practicality of it too because to them the Christians were just lion food for free.

They also decorated both sides of the Appian highway with the severed heads of their victims of war on stakes to show their aesthetic sense as well .Thankfully the Romans have gone now and the Appian highway is just for the camera toting tourists who take photos of anything just in case they miss something during their prepaid short and organized tours.

So I too walked the Appian highway once to see what was there to see with a German boy in tow and found a restaurant by the road side that looked very inviting so we went in for a cold beer but were surprised to find no one inside. This was very strange so we walked out pronto because we had seen too many mafia movies and did not want to investigate further. Who knew what we could have found?

So further down the road we came upon a sign that showed the way to a vast underground city of the dead  and sure enough a large group of tourists who were being lectured by a guide while they clicked their cameras furiously. We then joined the crowd because the guide could not remember all the faces anyway .To him perhaps all these weird foreigners looked alike so we took advantage of this fact and joined the tour for free.

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We descended a steep ramp that brought us to dimly lit tunnels that extended for kilometers and were so vast that no one had fully mapped them while the guide kept on saying that people should stay close to him at all the time and no one should venture out on his own. Many have died doing so and never could find their way out of the maze. On the walls on both sides of the tunnels were hand dug crypts stuffed with skeletons of untold number of Christians who were thus buried in secret. The Romans were after live victims and were not really interested in dead people anyway so these underground places remained hidden for centuries until someone in the tourist department thought of a way to make some money out of it, hence the guided tours.

But just go to Rome and Paris and you will come across some gruesome places where the bones are kept. Just in the vicinity of the Roman coliseum, there is a place where you have to climb the stairs to a height of some 60 feet or so to come to a door on a massive wall and will not realize what is inside until you step in and go past the tourist traps and cheap trinkets, photos etc for sale room and enter deeper after paying the obligatory entrance fee. This place is run by the monks of some order who collected bones for centuries and arranged them in an artistic way so all the thigh bones are placed together in a floral way

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and all the finger bones in another way and the skulls together. Some of these monks must have been sick to take pleasure in this sort of hobby but it is good for business and the yokels pay to see these morbid collections so they feel that probably their effort was worth it after all. I warn you that in such tourist traps, photography is strictly prohibited because they want you to buy their expensive slides and photos although they cannot keep an eye on everyone so I am sure some people try.

Paris is another city where they have vast underground tunnels under the very street you are walking on without any awareness of what lies underground. They say that hundreds of thousands of skeletons are piled up there since no one knows when and no one cares. The locals avoid them like plague but the gullible tourists are another matter.  During the last war the French insurgents hid in these tunnels that the Germans did not dare to pursue because they did not know the extent of it but the locals knew. Now some drug addicts and weirdoes take shelter there because no one bothers them. They are also not afraid of ghosts that might still be lurking there.

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Now let us go to Ghana and see what they do when someone croaks. They make very elaborate coffins that look like a coke bottle or a jalopy and paint them in cheerful colors. The makes and the models of these coffins come in numerous shapes and sizes and are only limited by the imagination of the coffin maker. Now why would anyone want to be buried in a coke bottle is another matter that is perhaps not worth writing about so I will move on. Some traditions are just too weird.

Coming to Asia where the Hindus practice simple rituals have made funeral also simple. People in the community volunteer to carry the deceased in a quickly made bamboo stretcher to the cremation ground where after some bargaining with the undertaker they make a huge pile of wood to burn the body. It does not make any impression on them that millions of trees are felled for this purpose all over the country because it is the tradition.

Hindus do not value the body and take the Biblical words dust to dust seriously .The followers of Jesus could learn a thing or two from the practical Hindus who probably picked it up from the Romans or the Greeks. Good practices usually find their way into a culture if it saves them money.

But here in the Philippines it is a different matter. Here when someone dies, the hospital quickly informs the Funeral parlors that they have hit a jackpot so they waste no time in getting the body because there is a fierce competition among the parlors and a fight to get into the action is not unheard of. The hospitals also make a killing from the commission they earn from the funeral parlors. They are all commissioners here. They also hold the body until all the bills are paid so the bill meter keeps running at full speed if the relatives cannot come up with the money.

Once the deceased is in the hands of the funeral parlor people, they hold the relatives captive with their elaborate and expensive funerals packages. These packages include the rental of the hearse, cost of the coffin, balloons, band playing “I did it my way” ( Sinatra probably turns in his grave) or some such melody, guides to control the crowd or guide through the traffic, church services, embalming and many such sundry items to jack up the price of the “Puckage” as they call it. Now there are cremation services being offered as well in some places but the cost of the “puckage” still remains high because they have to charge for the electricity. ( the imported oil makes it expensive  etc.)

I still do not know how poor people can afford to pay ransom like this because death spares no one.The cost of purchasing a piece of land in the cemetery can be very high but don’t worry. They take credit cards and you can pay off the bill over a long period of time including the interest of course.

In America the business of funeral is run by professionals who promise to take care of everything for you for a hefty fee that you can pay using your plastic card. They have fancy air conditioned waiting rooms with nice chairs where they play music while the body burns in an oven. Later they will offer you a cheap ceramic jar to bring the ashes home but here again it is a part of the package deal you can seldom opt out of.  Those who prefer burial in a cemetery have nothing to worry about either. There too the parlor will arrange for an alcoholic old priest to say a few words that he has memorized by heart and delivers flawlessly because he has a lot of practice. He is not called a funeral priest for nothing.

So dying is a profitable business all around no matter how you cut it. But the Japanese and the Chinese have taken the business a step further being also a practical people. As you know Japan is a small rocky country for the most part so finding a grave site is harder than finding the hen’s tooth. Now they have built multistoried buildings in the heart of big cities everywhere that are called columbarium here in the Philippines but I do not know what they call in Japanese.  There you have rows after neat rows on both sides of the alleys on every floor the niches where people keep the ashes in jars. The name and other info are printed on a plaque to identify the owner of the ashes. It is all done very professionally by well dressed men and women who take their jobs very seriously and charge a pretty penny or Yen for it.

This solves the problem of finding a field where they can bury people. They have taken a step further by building   skyscrapers where on some floor you can play electronic golf and on other floors a columbarium or fancy shops selling Sony play stations and other stuff. It is all business after all. The Japan Inc has earned its name well.

The Chinese on the other hand make fancy grave stones carved with Chinese letters and painted in gold colors, embellished with a dragon or two to signify the wealth of the deceased. You just have to go to Hong Kong and visit some of these sites to know how lavish they can get. However, when it comes to lavishness, no one can beat the Mexican drug lords. There they start building their very fancy and elaborate mausoleums in marble and granite to make sure that they have a good place to lie dead in because they never know when the police will catch up with them to shorten their mortal lives.

If you go to their funerals, you will know who their associates are just like the mafia funerals in the US where the FBI people show up dressed as undertakers or gardeners but it may not be good for your health if you know what I mean. Mexican cemeteries are full of such elaborate mausoleums. These crooks perhaps visited Taj Mahal at some time in their lives or saw photos.

Now I come to the last part to discuss why posterity is so important to some people and why some people obsess with death so much. Among the Hindus death means just a transition to a new life somewhere else because of their belief in reincarnation. The body is discarded like old cloth and new clothes are put on meaning a new life somewhere so nothing remains of a person, not even the ashes that are thrown away in the Ganga river. A photo is hung on the wall for a while but that too disappears after a generation so no one knows who they were.

But in other cultures that are heavily influenced by the Christian faith, people practice elaborate rituals and pay for all the expenses. Then every year on the All Soul’s Day they gather in the cemeteries to clean the grave, paint it and put joss sticks and keep a watch for thieves who steal expensive bouquets of flowers to sell them somewhere else. Here in the Philippines this annual ritual often ends up in murder when someone tries to muscle out someone for a parking slot or over other simple matters.

So people obsess because their culture demands it, their tradition demands it and some people show off their wealth at the time of funeral. In other cultures they do not demand it so people keep it simple.

I really appreciate one thing about the Muslims. They say that in death everyone is equal so a Saudi King is buried in a simple wrap in a grave just like a pauper and the emperor of India Aurangzeb is buried by the roadside covered only by earth. They do not obsess with what happens after they are gone. May be that is something to think about seriously. I know that I do.

 

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The military industrial complex:

Synopsis : The countries fight wars for various reasons and to support the war,they set up vast military industrial complexes to make war materials that later become their prime export earners to fuel other wars. Such complexes are never dismantled after the war in the name of preserving jobs so it comes under scrutiny here.

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On a day of infamy on December 7, 1941, the skies over Pearl Harbor in Hawaii suddenly filled with fighter bombers with the emblem of the rising sun on their wings. No one knew what was happening  but it did not take them long to find out when the bombers dived  low over the navy yards and dropped their bombs like rain on unsuspecting sailors who were going about their routine of scrubbing the decks.

They looked up in horror and saw ships after ships ablaze and people dying all around them in very large numbers. This had never happened on American soil until then so there was panic everywhere. The fact that this attack on Pearl Harbor happened  as a result of economic warfare that the US was waging on Japan was over looked by the uneducated and the patriots alike and a sense of outrage prevailed that led the US to declare war on Japan soon.

Up until then the war was being fought in Europe to contain or defeat Hitler but now another front opened up gobbling up resources that were meant to fight the war in Europe. The Americans realized for the first time that they had a worthy adversary in Japan that had brought war to their safe and secure shores and had destroyed in a short time the entire Pacific fleet of US war ships and planes on the ground without any inkling of what was to come.

The US government had mobilized their factories to produce war materials to fight the war in Europe which was taking its toll. The Nazi submarines played havoc on supply ships and made a graveyard of them in the Atlantic so they needed more ships, more guns , more bombs  and more planes to drop them with. But now with the war with Japan starting in the east, they made more war materials , ships and weapons that McArthur needed to defeat the enemy so the factories worked 24, 7 to produce them in large quantities.

There was such a shortage of rubber, tin, steel and metals of all kind that people were asked to collect them and the factories then melted them down to make weapons and munitions. The whole country woke up to this new reality that their homeland was under threat for the first time so they had to do what they could to protect it. The citizens of Japanese descent living peacefully were rounded up and placed under guard in concentration camps like Manzanar in the middle of nowhere and the rabble excited by these opportunities looted their beautiful homes and treated their fellow citizens in this abominable way that caused deep and lasting anguish among the people of Japanese descent.

Now let us see what happened after the war was over. Hitler was defeated and people hung Mussolini by the lamp post. But the Japanese were still fighting on in the Pacific and had to be dealt with so a secret group of scientists developed the ultimate weapon of war called the atomic bomb and the eager military men convinced the government that dropping the bomb on Japan was the only way to end the war because they were taking heavy casualties everywhere.

The rest is known. USA was the only country in history to ever use the bomb on civilians in Hiroshima and Nagasaki that killed hundreds of thousands of civilians and left a legacy of death and destruction a single bomb could cause. It ended the war surely so the soldiers could go home to their mundane lives in their backwaters somewhere.

But the military industrial complex that produced the war materials remained and were refurbished after the war to continue to make planes, tanks and bombs that has not stopped since 1945. If anything, it has grown to be the most sophisticated military industrial complex on the planet and has become the number one arms exporter of the country earning them billions of dollars in revenue and keeping hundreds of thousands of people in jobs of making bombs and bullets.

Selling of weapons, planes and tanks to countries that want them to fight their war with their neighbors has kept these factories going and even expanding, such are the demands. The weapons have become more sophisticated and lethal and demand a hefty price tag that many countries are willing to pay to acquire them but it also give USA the power to dictate its terms and conditions for the sale of weapons. If the clients want more of them then they must agree to the terms or else the spare parts and future deliveries might be in jeopardy.

USA has dominated this industry because it is so profitable. When the military hardware are destroyed in a proxy war somewhere, there is no problem. New shipment will be made albeit at a higher price. There is such a demand for the military hardware that the factories in the US cannot supply them fast enough.

The worker who makes bombs and bullets in these vast factories does not care where it goes and where it is used because that is not for him to know. He is just an employee who gets his paycheck on time that keeps him and his family in gravy.  The fact that these bombs and bullets are raining down on civilians in the Middle East or somewhere else does not bother him because he just makes them.

If the US does not make war materials then someone else will and supply the clients. The governments make more money from the sale of planes and tanks than the shiploads of food that the poor countries can’t pay for anyway. One fighter jet can cost 150 million dollars that could build thousands of homes, feed a million people for a year or build scores of schools and hospitals but that is not the priority of the seller. It is just good business to make the hardware and sell it to those who want it. What they do with it is not the seller’s problem.

So the United States has not been able to move away from this business of making war materials after the last world war because it is just good business because there is always a war to fight somewhere. Yesterday it was Vietnam, today the Middle East and tomorrow who knows where but surely there will be always wars and it will mean windfall profit for the makers of war materials.

The logic is like what the godfather said in the movie. ” If we don’t sell it, someone else will so we might as well keep control of it”. They were talking about drugs but it could apply to military hardware as well. Many countries spend more money on war materials than on food for the poor, housing, schools and hospitals.

The Pentagon employees number in thousands who control this vast network of factories and what they make. They keep close tabs on the production, schedules, inventory, delivery dates, supply of raw materials to make these weapons and thousand other sundry items. They study new weapon systems, new technologies to make the bombs smarter and kill more people. They study how to automate the wars by the drones and the officers then visit the factories to see what is going on.

These military men who are responsible for the delivery of weapons and planes and tanks to the clients are wined and dined by them to get the most favorable terms and the most lethal of weapons.

People often resort to war to solve their problems of a bad dictator, bad neighboring country or bad something or other instead of talking and negotiating for a solution. Sometimes a war is brought to them even if they did not threaten the US like using the Gulf of Tonkin issue to start the war in Vietnam or using fake reports of WMD that Saddam Hussein was accumulating so he had to be stopped. Who cared if Hans Blix was right and they were wrong? A war had to be fought and money to be made in Iraq.

This is the logic. The money has to be made and the factories must keep on going to keep thousands employed. So as long as this logic is used, there will be always a client somewhere that will justify a new war, a new fake report of WMD or a new Gulf of Tonkin or Persia somewhere.

I could imagine a beautiful world without war, refugees, starvation and mutilation, without destruction of once beautiful cities, schools and hospitals. I could imagine what a wonderful world it would be totally at peace where everyone had food, shelter, clothes, education and means to earn a good living. I could imagine a world where there will be no more AIDS, Cancer, Malaria and other diseases. But I know that it is a utopian dream and will remain so unless the welfare of people comes first and money making from war comes a distant millionth.

 

Note :  My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese  languages at the following links as well as my biography:

Mes blogs en français.

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The joys of festivals

Synopsis : Who does not know the joys of festivals? This is the time when we all let down our guards and purely enjoy the colors, the sounds and the rituals that the festivals offer in every country. Life would be boring without the festivals.

The joys of festivals

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The joys of festivals

When I was in Algeria working in Mostaganem, I was invited by my office mates to the Id ul Fitr festival in their village. This was unprecedented because in India the Moslems never invite you to their festivals and the Hindus do the same so I never had a chance to see how the Moslems celebrated until then.

So very happily I took the bus to their village and found my friends waiting for me at the bus stop to bring me to their home. There I was received like a royalty and made comfortable. Then the feast began that included very sumptuous meals of delicious lamb mutton on couscous with raisins and many side dishes. The ladies of the house kept bringing more food and urged me to eat but I was so full I could burst. They put the food in a big platter from which everyone eats.

The couscous is a national dish of Algeria but also for the entire Maghreb that includes Tunisia in the east and Morocco in the west and is made of bulgar wheat kernels that are cooked to perfection with butter and raisins. It is really very good   when topped with delicious lamb.

Later we were given water that was kept in a goat skin bag hung from a tree that was sweet and fragrant because they put some herbs in it and I was told that the goat skin cools the water and makes the water so nice to drink.

We then went to see a movie but I can’t remember what it was all about but do remember their superb hospitality because not once they asked about my religion and I theirs and showed me friendship that is hard to believe. I have seen this hospitality in Moslems when I was asked to stay with the farm manager of Oued Rhiou where I was staying in a barn full of insecticide and fertilizer. The farm manager called Mohamed invited me to stay at his house because he felt that I as an Ingenieur should not stay in a barn .I was doing some research and experiments on rice in that area so with some trepidation I moved in with him and stayed there for a month. His lovely and young wife prepared my room and put a radio and a flask of water there every day.

This would never happen in India where the separation due to religion is rigorously maintained and my Moslem classmates would never invite me to their festivals but in Algeria it was different and they saw nothing wrong in inviting a Hindu to their home and during their festivals.

I think the time of festivals is the time to bring people of different culture together so that a bond is created and greater understanding is made of how other people live. The festivals are a time when people relax and enjoy because it is such a respite from the drudgery of routine life. It is the time to make merry, eat fabulous food, wear new clothes and shoes, clean and whitewash the dwellings, make new friends and bring joy to the routine life of the average man.

The farmers made the harvest festival the highlight of their hard life of plowing, planting and harvesting so it was their way to show thanks to the harvest patron saint called San Isidro de Labrador here in the Philippines but all over the world, the farmers show their appreciation to their saints and Gods for the bumper harvest so they celebrate.

Among the Sikhs, they dance in joy after the harvest in very colorful clothes when men and women all dance together in steps called Bhangra dance which is truly amazing. You would not believe that those burly Sikhs could dance so nimbly.

In Mexico which is a Catholic country, they have huge festivals after the harvest  when they dance, sing and put out dazzling display of native costumes along with sumptuous meals and tequila that makes some people go overboard but they enjoy it just the same.

In America the farming is mostly done by large corporations and massive mechanization by which they have edged out the small private farmers so their festivals do not have much to do with farming as such but more to do with their national holidays like 4th of July or country fairs where kids bring in their sheep or goat or pigs for competition and win some prizes. This is to encourage children to raise animals in their farms and become successful farmers in the future.

The carnivals where the organizers put up Ferris wheels and merry-go-round for the kids to enjoy are done by professionals and not farmers but people enjoy just the same because it makes a break in their boring rural life. Various kiosks are set up to sell handicrafts and many things. The rodeos and country music keep people entertained. I attended one in the Mojave desert town of Rosemond once.

I had the privilege of participating in many such festivals and carnivals in many countries and got to know how people enjoy. Once I was in Tokyo and joined their Bongodori festival  where people danced around  the drummers in their traditional clothes of yokatta and fancy kimonos and thoroughly enjoyed it even if I could not understand the Japanese music or their language because people accepted me as a participant and it did not matter to them that I was a foreigner.

This is the beauty of festivals when people open their hearts to strangers and try to make them feel welcome to join in their celebration. If you happen to be in Munich during their beer festival, you will be filled with beer until you cry uncle and made to dance with their buxom lasses who will throw in a few kisses at no extra charge just because everybody is celebrating and in a jovial mood.

I think that the joyful celebrations are very ancient in tradition in most countries because it served a very important social function. It brought people together to have fun and forget their petty differences and problems. In England the royalties organized May festivals when love was in the air so pretty young women and dashing young men danced together with an eye on their future bride or husband so it was called the spring festival after the long gloomy and often harsh winter to coincide with the nature’s bounty at that time.

In other countries like in India, there are numerous festivals mostly regional in nature but celebrated with pomp and pageantry that is breathtaking. Just go to Annam festival in Kerala sometime in October or Pushkar fair in Rajasthan in November or Bengali Durga Pooja in October and you will see a very different India at that time. Then there is Holi which is the color festival and Divali which is the festival of lamps just to name a few.

What we as kids waited for anxiously each year was the Durga Pooja festival when we got new clothes and shoes and when the parents were somewhat lenient so we tried to stretch the limit a bit but it was great fun just the same.

Once we were in Mexico city enjoying the celebrations there on the occasion of the feast of Guadalupe in front of the basilica of Guadalupe and were amazed at the sheer number of people dressed in Aztec fineries and feathers joyously dancing to music. The pick pockets were busy as well is another matter but we took lots of photos to remember that day.

In Africa where I spent quite some time of my life, I saw many dances in villages where the farmers and their kids enjoyed the fun after the harvest and often joined them dancing and beating their crude homemade cymbals making a racket.

Their balafonists and guitarists are superb to say the least and made music to liven up the crowd that waited to see the birdman and what he would do. This birdman was a mysterious fellow totally covered in feathers and wearing a mask of a bird who just chirped like a bird which was then interpreted by a shaman who asked questions regarding the weather, the harvest and sundry items and got his reply in chirps that he claimed to understand.  People enjoyed these shows immensely. The fire was kept going , the kids fell asleep and the women just let them lie in the dirt but the show went on until wee hours  such was their enthusiasm.

In Vietnam I was amused by their opera that they showed in small towns and were actually itinerant artists dressed in traditional flowing clothes who jumped and shrieked with the clash of cymbals and ear splitting flute music that kept people spell bound and entertained though I could not understand a word of it.  There was a serious war going on there in 1967 so people really needed this brief respite and enjoyed it.

Here in the Philippines the fiesta is taken seriously and all the barrios celebrate their patron saints all over the country but not on the same day so there is a fiesta going on somewhere every day. People prepare a lot of local dishes and offer to anyone who cares to eat it. The beer, the lambanog made from coconut sap and various other concoctions flow freely and some people get tipsy but hey it is fiesta. The fiesta of Lucban in Laguna is well known where their patron saint San Isidro de Labrador who is the saint of farmers is celebrated.

The tomato throwing festival in Spain, the chasing bulls and other dangerous sports are all part of their celebration where some people get hurt but hey it is only once a year so let us do foolish things and get dirty. Who cares?

I like safe festivals .The fire walking and piercing the cheek and nose etc. is not my thing but some people feel that fire walking is fun and do it every year even if they get burned. Running in front of crazy bulls who are hell bent on goring you is also not my thing but ask a Spaniard  why he takes such risks and he will say Oh it is fun. The bungee jumpers also claim it is fun until their rope snaps one day.

The point is that the festivals serve a very useful purpose of bringing people together. How else could I have tasted the wonderful lamb and couscous during their Id ul Fitr in Algeria if they had not invited me?

 

Note :  My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese  languages at the following links as well as my biography:

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The tyranny of traditions:

Synopsis: Every country has it’s tyranny of traditions. In Africa it can be welts and enlargement of lips while in other it may be the making the necks long with brass rings. The Indian traditions also call for the anointment of a Brahmin at a certain age with strict Hindu rituals that I had to undergo. But traditions fade if it is continued without any explanation or  meaning.

The tyranny of traditions:green-tea-hp-tyrrany-of-a-paycheck

Source : Google photo

When I was 16 years old, I was told by my parents that I will have to undergo the ceremony that will proclaim me as a Brahmin. It is like a baptismal ceremony for the Christians when they dunk you in water to make you a good Christian as if the ceremony itself is paramount that will define you from then on.

They said that for me it was a necessary tradition because they had an obligation to anoint me as the good Brahmin because that is what the tradition called for. So the invitations were sent and food was prepared, gifts bought and the priest came to turn me into a good Brahmin in one shot.

On the given day a barber came to shave my head leaving a bit of rat tail that was a sure sign of a Brahmin and pierced my ears with a silver ring sharpened at the end but it hurt the same though I put up through all these inconveniences just so that the tradition was maintained.

I had to cover my head with a saffron cloth and ask for alms that people gave that was mostly money but I was not supposed to look at anyone just don’t ask me why because that too was the part of the tradition so I had to play my part. The girls who normally were shy to look at you and talk had a field day and I could hear their whispers but not see their faces because of the stupid veil and could not answer back so I let it pass. My day would come later when I will not have to cover my head in the cursed saffron cloth.

Then an uncle came to teach me some mantras in Sanskrit that I had to memorize and repeat everyday on demand like during the meal time. This is where it gets weird. I could not speak for one year during the meal time and could only nod or shake my head if I wanted something and I had to place bits of food in five places like a dice marked with dots for the ancestors before I ate my food. This was all part of being a fully fledged Brahmin now.

But the accoutrement that signaled my status of Brahmin was my sacred thread that I had to wear for the rest of my life. This thread with 14 strands in it signified that I was a Brahmin and the rat tail ensured it when people could not see my sacred thread which was hidden behind my undershirt. Don’t ask me why there were 14 threads and not more or less and what it meant because honestly I do not know because no one told me. So much of Hindu tradition entails a blind belief and people just have to follow the tradition without asking why. Those who ask too many questions are regarded with suspicion so it is better to keep quiet and get it over with so that you don’t rock the boat so to speak.

But the worst part was yet to come in the form of a wooden shoe called kharam that you had to wear while going to the holy river Ganga for some ceremonies. That too is part of the tradition but try walking in these infernal wooden shoes and you will know how hard it is to maintain this tradition in this day and age.

To make the matter worse, this piece of tradition was designed perhaps intentionally to make life difficult for the Brahmin just to remind him that being a Brahmin meant making some sacrifices. I had blisters to prove that I made more than my fair share .Walking several kilometers to the river was not only painful but extremely awkward because the shoe had only a platform and a peg that you had to hold with your big toe and the next one to it and no straps so the damn thing kept sliding left or right under my feet which was really an experience I will not wish my enemies to go through as a punishment.

Luckily like some traditions, it lasted only a short time just to satisfy the traditionalists so I never wore those infernal wooden shoes again because I did not have to. That is the funny part of tradition. No one will ask you later why you discard all the traditions like wearing the sacred thread and wooden shoes and cut off your rat tail because once you are a Brahmin, you remain one just like the Christians after the dunking in the cold water.

This was brought home when one day I happened to be bathing in the Ganga river when a fellow asked me to fetch some water for him so I took his brass pot, filled it with water and handed it to him when all of a sudden he realized that OMG I was a Brahmin may be because my sacred thread was showing and fell on his knees because he felt that he had committed a sin by asking a Brahmin to fetch water for him and was inconsolable.

This is the power of being a Brahmin that the Hindus try to perpetuate through the ceremony because the Brahmin is at the top of the society where he commands respect and certain benefits that accrue from it although it seems so archaic these days.  The constitution does not favor the Brahmins like in the old days but go to any river in South India to bathe, and you will be chased away by the fanatics who say that the ghats are reserved for the Brahmins only.

For female Brahmins, they must wear silk saris and a nose pin of diamond otherwise they are not Brahmins. This happened to my sister who was not allowed to bathe just because they did not believe that she was a true blooded and very respectable Brahmin because she did not have a nose pin and was not wearing silk at that time.

Thus the tradition continues generation after generation perpetuating a myth that some people are born in the caste and cannot change it. This leads to all kinds of mischief because a higher caste policeman will not look into any complaint by a low caste woman who says she was raped and needs their help to find and arrest the culprit. Instead they will blame her for her rape because they may believe that the low caste women are unchaste and perhaps consented to sex for money and calling it a rape if the money was not paid or enough.

The caste system that has been practiced since who knows when is strictly maintained by the self declared guardians of the society who see advantages in maintaining the system perhaps just like the white supremacists of South Africa who maintain that they are a superior race therefore entitled to certain privileges. This is playing out again in many countries where the racist people are claiming once again their God given right to rule over other less fortunate mortals.

Now I see the tyranny of tradition in many countries where in the name of tradition people perpetuate certain privileges they expect from others just because it has always been so. But the younger educated generation has started to question the validity of these traditions like in India where the so called lower caste people are getting education and jobs and no longer feel that they are inferior to anyone.

The Brahmins conspired to keep the education to themselves and made it punishable for lower caste people to learn to read and write that would threaten the status quo and may diminish the power of the educated Brahmins. This was also true in many ancient civilizations like in Egypt and Mesopotamia but it has no meaning in this day and age.

The idea of continuing a ritual or a practice just because the tradition demands it eventually erodes the foundation of that tradition because you cannot ask blind obedience from a person with education because he will ask what and why of these traditions and discard them if he does not get good and convincing answers.

I know I have discarded them because no one could answer my questions and believe that they themselves did not know and followed blindly what their forefathers taught them.

One tradition that is still being followed blindly is the Sanskrit chants during the religious ceremonies. The priest says something that everyone must mimic even if they do not understand what the chants mean because no one understands Sanskrit. I suspect that many rogue priests do not know it either but no one can question their authority.

The Mollahs are smarter because they teach Arabic to the kids in their madarsas so that later they can read and understand Koran but the Indians learn some basic Sanskrit in high school that they soon forget. They are not required to read their religious Vedas and Upanishads in Sanskrit because no one does.

The Roman Catholics were required to hear the mass in Latin not too long ago so they mimicked without understanding a word of it until the Vatican relaxed the rules so now the mass is heard in their local languages which they understand.

But the Hindus believe in tradition so they continue their obsolete traditions and language like Sanskrit. It even convinced some people to start reading the news in Sanskrit that no one understood so was discontinued. This is the tyranny of tradition I am writing about.

You have to move with the times and not insist on traditions that have seen better days and are not being followed by the more educated and savvy generation that uses Google when looking for answers.

But in many countries, the tyranny of tradition continues. In Egypt it is the tradition to force females to undergo genital circumcision although it has been outlawed by the government there. Especially in rural areas such laws are not implemented so this barbaric practice continues even today. In other countries like Burma, they put brass rings around the neck of women to stretch them in the name of beauty. In Southern Ethiopia they have the tradition of inserting discs in the lower lips of women that their government is trying to discourage but to no avail. The welts created on the face and the body on some tribes in South Sudan to distinguish one tribe from another is also a tradition that continues although there are easier and less painful ways to gain distinction.

But I think the worst tyranny of tradition is found in India where the caste system is practiced and where the lower caste people are treated as untouchables and are denied their basic rights by the upper caste people.

May be someday this practice of discrimination will be discontinued as India modernizes and opens schools and job opportunities to all irrespective of their caste. The old people will die with their hateful traditions and the younger generation will learn to treat others with dignity and respect they deserve.

 

Note :  My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese  languages at the following links as well as my biography:

Mes blogs en français.

Mis blogs en espagnol

Blogs von Anil in Deutsch

Blogs in Japanese

My blogs at Wix site

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Medium.com

Anil’s biography in English.

Biographie d’Anil en français

La biografía de anil en español.

Anil’s Biografie auf Deutsch

Anil’s biography in Japanese

Биография Анила по-русски

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A curse in Kashmir

Synopsis :  Kashmir is like a paradise where the dark shadow of curse has descended making people there suffer daily. It is a political and military stand off between two adversaries that seems to be at an impasse since 1947 .No one knows when this curse will be lifted and people  will regain their paradise.

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Source : Google photo

A curse in Kashmir

A Moghul emperor said that “if there is a paradise, it is here, it is here, it is here”  He was talking about Kashmir that indeed was a paradise hundreds of years ago .

Imagine a cool place surrounded by snow capped lofty hills of the Himalayas and a lake so clear that you could see the bottom, where the shikaras plied with beautiful flowers, fruits and exquisite handicraft made by the nimble hands of beautiful women of Kashmir who came to your houseboats on the Dahl lake and looked at you with their emerald green eyes and all their simplicity and smiled in their innocence that melted your heart at once. This was SriNagar before the curse of Kashmir descended on them.

Imagine the scent of deodar trees and the pine needles in the air where the air is so pure and cold that it hurts the lungs but invigorates you. Imagine a people  mired in poverty but with the heart of gold .

That is the Kashmir the Emperors of India talked about when they said it is paradise  inhabited by truly wonderful people who were not only beautiful, they were generous and very friendly who welcomed all to their paradise.

Kashmir sits at the top of a great country called India where the paradise is in trouble ever since the Pakistani troops invaded parts of it and occupied it forcibly that brought the curse of poverty, warfare and bloodletting to a people so gentle that it devastated them.

It was the year of 1947 when the Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir said that his princely state of Kashmir will join India but the new country of Pakistan had other ideas and claimed the entire Kashmir just because there were some Moslems there and attacked Kashmir with large number of troops.

Mountbatten who was still the governor general of India during the partition refused to send in the army to defend Kashmir and drive out the invaders although he had the power to do so. This emboldened the Pakistanis and they advanced toward SriNagar the capital.The Indian army stopped them but the damage was already done.

The Indian defense minister was Sardar Patel who said that the Indian army was ready to defend its territory and he should be authorized by the prime minister to do so but Nehru dithered and quickly signed a cease fire agreement sponsored by the newly founded United Nations that sealed the status quo called the line of control where the UN troops still patrol after 50 years of independence. So this tragedy was created by Nehru and his fear of a war with the neighbor. Mountbatten did not help in the matter for his own reasons but now all are dead and the cancer has spread to such an extent that the life for the Kashmiris who were peace loving and gentle people has become living hell.

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Source : Google photo

If you go to Kashmir and visit SriNagar, you will find that the flower that was called Kashmir is wilting under the on slaught of heavy police and military presence everywhere making normal life difficult. North of SriNagar it gets worse near the line of control where the Indian troops concentrate and face the insurgents across the line of control and fire whenever the terrorists fire at them. There are constant exchanges of gunfire and people get killed on both sides although it must be said that the insurgents suffer the most as the Indian army is well equipped and trained and very well supplied.

The tourism that was the mainstay of the economy has come to an end and all the jobs that depended on tourism has vanished making a poor people poorer.

The barbed wires and land mines litter the defacto border that is like a heap of dry leaves that are ready to catch fire and burn the whole forest down. The situation is tense and extremely volatile but its effect on the population has been nothing less than catastrophic. People can’t move around frequently like they used to. They cannot get on with the normal lives like they used to. They do not know what is in the future and how the problem of Kashmir will be solved that was created by a fearful leader like Nehru who was advised not to sign the cease fire agreement and chase out the invaders militarily but he signed.

India has fought three wars with Pakistan since 1947 and the 4th one is in the offing. It is not a matter of if but when so both sides are arming themselves to their teeth with all kinds of weapons and the Moslem terrorists from Pakistan are running amok on the other side where they have established training camps and from where they plan their attacks on India.

Recently India surprised the terrorists on the other side with a sudden surgical strike and killed scores of them and destroyed their training camps but it does not solve the problem because the Pakistan government actively supports, trains, arms and funds these terrorists to cause mayhem in India. The attack on the Indian parliament and Mumbai a few years ago brought the two sides very close to war again but cooler heads prevailed so the troops were pulled back at the last hour.  But will the cooler heads prevail again if such a confrontation looms somewhere? No one knows.

Now look at the rest of India and see how it is making progress in agriculture, in industries, in the infrastructure development building new roads, bridges,  airports, school, hospitals, bringing electricity to all corners of the country, making the country digitally wired , expanding railway lines  and improving the government services . The GDP is growing at a fantastic rate and India is making phenomenal progress in every sector one can think of lifting millions out of poverty by giving them better opportunities while Pakistan lags behind except in their fervor of the hate campaign against India that has become their national agenda.

I was struck by the scene at a railway station one night somewhere waiting for my train when I saw a freight train pass by loaded with new military hardware like trucks, tanks, artillery etc. It took a long time for the train to pass through as it was at least one kilometer in length. India makes these hardware  and the factories work 24, 7 to churn them out for only one purpose- to use them when the time comes to defend India.

Imagine the resources that are tied up in the manufacture of all these hardware  that could be used somewhere else and help develop the country if there were no threats from outside?

Imagine if there was peace in Kashmir ? Imagine if Kashmir once again became the paradise it once was that could bring prosperity to its people? The tourism could flourish again creating jobs for everybody. The Kashmiri handicraft like pashmina shawls and carpets that are world famous for their design and quality could once again be made and the trade revived that would bring smile on their sad but beautiful faces.

The Indian government has not stopped building roads and railway lines to join Kashmir with the rest of the country even if the mountainous terrain poses serious challenges to the engineers. Many hydro electric dams have been built on a massive scale that generate power that are being distributed to remote villages for the first time.

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Source : Google photo

Kashmir is a jewel that shines even if covered with the dirty rags of violence and uncertain future because the people of Kashmir are irrepressible and smile even through their misery and poverty.

No threat of war and insurgency can dampen their spirit to reclaim their lost place in the paradise. All they are asking is peace. Is that too much to ask?

 

Note :  My blogs are also available in French, Spanish, German and Japanese  languages at the following links as well as my biography:

Mes blogs en français.

Mis blogs en espagnol

Blogs von Anil in Deutsch

Blogs in Japanese

My blogs at Wix site

tumblr posts    

Blogger.com

Medium.com

Anil’s biography in English.

Biographie d’Anil en français

La biografía de anil en español.

Anil’s Biografie auf Deutsch

Anil’s biography in Japanese

Биография Анила по-русски

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