Archive for July, 2012

Olympic Symbol and Symbolism


Baron Pierre de Coubertin, founder of the modern Olympics, was a French aristocrat with an enormous waxed mustache that hung on his face like a rogue accent mark. In 1914, the baron announced that he had designed a symbol for the 20th anniversary of the Games. “This, truly, is an international emblem,” he wrote of the five rings, linked together to suggest the unity of humankind. But where did the baron get his idea for the design? In 1984, a sports historian named Robert Barney was exploring a Greek archaeological site when he leaned over to tie his shoe and noticed a symbol etched into a weather-beaten stone: five linked rings. His heart fluttered. As it happened, Barney specialized in the history of the Olympics, and he believed that he had just stumbled across a breakthrough: Had Baron Coubertin — decades before — seen this same etching? Had it been his inspiration?

The truth behind Olympic symbol

The truth behind Olympic symbol

Actually, it had not. The “ancient” carving, which fooled historians before, turned out to be a relic of Nazi filmmakers. When Leni Riefenstahl passed through Greece to document the torch ceremony for the 1936 Olympic Games, she stage-crafted a mythic backdrop. Someone — perhaps a set designer — hacked that stone into an ersatz relic of antiquity. It was pure Goebbels-style kitsch: the Nazis would have liked us to believe that the Olympic symbol emerged from the mists of Delphi.

In fact, the design simply burst forth from the imagination of a baron with effulgent facial hair. Baron Coubertin believed in sport as a kind of religion “with its own church, dogmas and ritual.” And when he cast about for a logo, he may have been inspired by — of all things — an advertisement for Dunlop tires. The baron had been perusing a magazine illustrated with five bicycle tires at around the same time that he invented his design, according to the historian Karl Lennantz.

The Olympic rings were inaugurated in June 1914, the same month that a bullet felled an archduke and sent the world tumbling into war. It has since become one of the most-recognized logos in the world and a symbol for peace.



A Chocolate Lover’s Dream Come True

Some of you must have heard the famous saying by British comedian Jo Brand: “Anything is good if it’s made of chocolate.” And she was so true! Like Brand, I can shamelessly confess I’m a chocoholic.

I have had a serious chocolate eating habit all my life and keep binging on dark, bittersweet chocolates – the darker the better. In college, I always had a couple of small bars in my jhola. I can never resist a chocolate dessert, and sometimes I use the ‘punch’ that chocolate gives me, to work late at night or late in the afternoon. Well, this evening was special as I  attended a local chocolate event: Choco Mania, which was held at the recreation club in our locality.

high on chocolate

high on chocolate

As one of the chief guests – being addressed as an eminent journalist – (though I’m not a food reviewer, have always been into technology journalism), I was asked to do the honour of cutting a chocolate cake and saying a few lines on chocolate – Why people have fun and are passionate about this commodity. I did justice to venerate my most cherished addiction so to say.

There were 10-12 stalls offering homemade chocolate products and one stall offering hot coffee with chocolates. In these stalls, you’ll find everything from chocolate biscuits to cakes, and chocolate mousse to chocolate cocktails. There was an assortment of flavoured chocolates such as raspberry, strawberry, orange and mint.

And there I was – with a group of crazy Samaritans, tasting different chocolates and discussing them, much later did I realise I was overdosing on chocolate. Well, most of them were delicious, and even though I had promised myself to only have a tiny taste of each, I started nibbling more and more of what came my way. It was kind of a funny event, instead of feeling like my chocolate was a guilty pleasure, I was expected to be serious and intelligent about it. Most of them were dark chocolate, which was all the more tempting for me.

When I finally left the event venue (with a box of free chocolate that was gifted to all special guests), I felt as though I had eaten more chocolates than ever before in my life. I swore to myself I didn’t want to see chocolates again, at least for the next couple of weeks and I’ll try to stick to this dictum (I should). But this evening was awesome! I felt almost drunk on chocolate. It was quite an event!!! A chocolate lover’s dream love true!

These are a few of my favourite quotes…

Every once in a while, we need a pick-me-up to continue writing. Here are some of my favourite inspirational nuggets. Print them out, tape them to your wall, and refer to them whenever you need some guidance and self-discipline.

write and inspire yourself and the world around – SB

Here’s my favourite list of quotes by and on writers.

“Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very”; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”
Sylvia Plath
“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.”
William Faulkner
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.”
Stephen King
“I have to write the story I want to write. I never wrote them with a focus group of 8-year-olds in mind. I have to continue telling the story the way I want to tell it.”
“You can never read your own book with the innocent anticipation that comes with that first delicious page of a new book, because you wrote the thing. You’ve been backstage. You’ve seen how the rabbits were smuggled into the hat. Therefore ask a reading friend or two to look at it before you give it to anyone in the publishing business. This friend should not be someone with whom you have a ­romantic relationship, unless you want to break up.”
“I learned never to empty the well of my writing, but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it.”
Ernest Hemingway
“Authors with a mortgage never get writer’s block.”
Mavis Cheek
“My own experience is that once a story has been written, one has to cross out the beginning and the end. It is there that we authors do most of our lying.”

Those in Peril

I don’t know how many of my contemporaries have read Wilbur Smith, but I believe, he is one of the competent writers of our times. I’ve never been a die-hard fan of Smith, but managed to read only two of his books – barring the one I’d just finished reading. That makes it three.

With all the twists and turns…

When I first read ‘When the Lion Feeds’, I found it quite exciting with vivid descriptions and a rich plot. Later, I found another of his novel ‘River God’ of the Egyptian series quite compelling. I must say he impressed both times. The recent book which I read – ‘Those in Peril’ was in parts engaging. It is not based on any of the dynasties that he has written about in the past. Rather it’s about the Somali pirates.

The story runs like this: “Hazel Bannock, is a rich independent widow whose private yacht is hijacked by pirates and her daughter held for ransom. When legal means of recovering her daughter prove fruitless, she turns to the ex-military head of her private security, Hector Cross, an intelligent strong willed man of action, who will take actions that governments could not and executes the mission to rescue.”

There are plenty of twists and turns – even though an overall good read it has some strong racism towards Somalis. They were typically the ‘bad guys’ who get almost everything wrong and have to perish and the ‘good guys’ are good at everything.

It is well written, at times brutal. In between I was kind of lost. I skipped a couple of pages which I found pretty dragging. However, there was also some good descriptions of Africa and a bit on relationships – which made sense.
Those having an interest in action thriller should go for it. The book failed to completely satisfy my appetite and the “knight in the shining armour” act was a little too unreasonable, may be, given my age.

But this morning as I was having a discussion with a friend on the book, he told me ‘Those in Peril’ will be adapted to a movie soon starring Tom Hanks. Don’t know how true… but will look forward. I would want to read more of Smith. May be I’ll go back to the Egyptian series.

Can You Taste the Climate Change?

Rising minimum temperatures and falling rainfall in Assam valley are affecting the distinctive flavour of tea produced in the region

Watch out! Climate change may now be altering the taste of your morning tea. Yes, you read that right. According to a recent report by the Government of India entitled ‘National Action Plan on Climate Change’, change in the climatic conditions results in rising temperatures and reduced rainfall pattern. And this has not just led to the reduction in tea production, but also altered the distinctive flavour of India’s most popular drink!

Assam Tea Anguish

My Humble Cup of Tea Tastes Different!

My Humble Cup of Tea Tastes Different!

Indian tea, particularly, the Assam tea, produced in the North-Eastern belts of India, is in trouble. Tropical Assam state, with its high humidity and lush greenery, is India’s main tea growing region, producing nearly 55 percent of the country’s tea crop. Overall, India accounts for 31 percent of global tea production. But a gradual rise in the temperature, change in rainfall patterns and a dip in tea production have left plantation owners shattered. Moreover, with tea plantation business hitting North East, India’s position in tea production and export in the world market will disintegrate. The Assam tea is popular world over for its strong and characteristic taste and any adverse alterations may hamper the demand for this tea in the international market.

As per the report, Rainfall in the Assam state, which features high hills and previously abundant rainfall, has dropped by more than a fifth in the last six years, and the minimum temperature has risen by an entire degree to 19.5 Celsius. This is cutting into the ability of the over 300,000 hectares of Assam tea gardens and the well being of the residents, thereby adversely impacting the production of tea. Tea is usually grown in the lowlands of Assam, unlike Darjeelings and Nilgiris which are grown in the highlands. The Assam tea bush grows in a lowland region, in the valley of the Brahmaputra River, an area of clay soil rich with the nutrients of the floodplain. Previously, experts have already suggested that the impact of climate change will begin to show first on the footsteps of the Himalayas, and in lower regions first. Research suggests that as global warming will make higher altitudes warmer, there could be a shift in vegetation and biodiversity from the foothills to upward.

Scientists of Tea Research Association (TRA), Jorhat, Assam found out that while the quality of tea and its flavour depends on a lot of factors including soil nutrients, fertilizers used, etc. experts are hinting that this time around, the decline in quality is a result of the changed weather pattern.

This is an alarming news for the tea planters because the tea industry is one of the most profitable industry in Assam and an impact on it could mean a serious blow the state’s economic situation. The industry employs a large number of workers, both men and women, who are also being hit in the case of any serious economic downfall. There is therefore an urgent need for various stakeholders to step in and try to monitor the situation closely to avoid any manageable impact.

Initiatives on sustainability

With the funding from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), New Delhi, TRA has started a new dedicated project to study the impact, vulnerability and adaptation of tea to climate change. This is a part of network project launched by ICAR all over India to study the overall impact, vulnerability and adaptation of Indian agriculture to climate change. At TRA, scientists aim to study the behaviour of different tea clones to elevated carbon dioxide and temperatures using future climatic scenarios, which will be build up using advanced computing techniques and climate models. Besides, TRA scientists will use simulation models after thorough parameterization and validation to estimate future yields. Apart from this, an in depth study will be carried out to study the soil carbon pool in tea areas and carbon build up will be monitored by addition of organic matter in tea soils. TRA officials believe that an attempt to see carbon sequestration in tea system will also be made. While all these studies will be carried out in this new climate initiative, the impact on tea quality will be monitored at each stage. For carrying out these studies, TRA is said to have created separate climate laboratories in its new dedicated Climate Research Facility, where advanced research on climate will be carried out and more emphasis laid on the sustainability of tea production and the flavour.

While TRA has a lot of plans up its sleeves, the tea crisis in the Northeast terrain calls for immediate intervention by the Tea Board of India, policy community, scientists and of course, tea lovers. Currently, a number of activist groups have petitioned the government to put money towards funding research that would examine climate change in relation to the flavor and shortfall in tea crop. Meanwhile, the Tea Board of India has also announced its plans to research on activities aimed to mitigate effects of climate change on Assam Tea crops.

Time to Act

Amid the initiatives by government, activities and others, tea plants in Assam continue to sob. So does tea lovers who miss out on the original flavour. According to Aditi Nan, a London-based environmentalist, “There is a huge demand for Assam tea abroad, and this is due to its strong, bright flavor. However, the flavour has changed from what it was even 5-6 years back.” She laments that the present Assam tea lacks the creamy and strong flavor and this will sharply hamper the demand for this variety of tea overseas.

Experts believe that Assam tea is just another victim of global warming. The bearing of global warming will eventually add up to change not only the environmental landscape but also the economic landscape of the world in the years to come. Here’s hoping to wish all the best to the Northeast tea industry for now.

(This article was also published in Core Sector Communique Magazine)

An Entrepreneurial Ecosystem is All We Need

Even though India is home to some of the best known outsourcing service companies, offering jobs to hundreds, it has been criticized time and again for the lack of its entrepreneurial ecosystem. Entrepreneurship is essential for a country’s economy to thrive. However, dearth of true seed capital, funding, stringent regulatory norms of the government and lack of awareness are some of the reasons that had apparently hindered the entrepreneurial spirit in India.

However, it is encouraging to see that the scenario is changing. I would rather believe the entrepreneurial ecosystem has just started to emerge. In fact, the recent announcement by the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Micro Small and Medium Enterprises, Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Information Technology to promote angel investment and early funding to startups in India can be a turning point in this regard.

As per the announcement, a special group has been formed to facilitate angel investment and venture capital funding. The group aims at encouraging investments from the government and the private sector and would recommend steps to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem. The group will also look at policy issues with startups and encourage participation.

If all this is implemented well, the entrepreneurial landscape in the country would be altered. If we examine the issue by reeling back to five years from now, the current situation is certainly better. But there is a long way to go. A report by the Department of Science and Technology stated that less than 30% of incubated companies in India sustains, the rest perish (According to DST, a successful business is one which has managed to survive at least five years). The success rate is between 65% and 70% in the US, Canada and several other developed economies. And this is seriously a matter of concern.

The need of the hour is therefore an entrepreneurial ecosystem that should be nurtured and promoted in the Indian economy. Whether it is manufacturing, retail or IT,  startups play a significant role in bringing to the market new and innovative products, services and offerings that its larger counterparts often ignore or fail to offer. Besides, small IT firms and startups also play a role in job creation at various levels. It is therefore important for entrepreneurship to be nurtured and promoted in the country.

Talking specifically about technology startups, until now, only a handful of IT or management institutes support incubation centers that encourage aspiring IT professionals to think out of the box and pursue their own ventures. Even if there are some innovation training programs for IT startups in India, most of the time, those in the smaller cities and towns in India are  left out.

Early stage funding is an ongoing problem that remains the major challenge with startups. Venture capital is difficult to get in India, even when a product or service is ready for the market. Angel funding is more or less non-existent. Although it is encouraging to see that the regulatory environment in India has improved, and online formalities have started to emerge, the power of the Web has not been utilized in our country – thanks to the poor broadband penetration!

Be it the current policy framework, education or governance – every structural impediment calls for immediate and concerted actions. From this perspective, the government’s recent initiative  – if effectively executed and monitored – can encourage exciting business ventures and lead to a holistic entrepreneurial ecosystem in india.  All we can do is just wait and watch!