Save Our Seas

Author: Afreen Ahmed

Oceans clearly play an essential role in life on Earth, yet because of their vastness, humans tend to use their waters as dumping grounds for many waste materials. This practice has increased as land areas for such wastes diminish. Oceans also receive all of the pollutants that are fed to them by the rivers of the world. Even when ships are not actively engaged in dumping wastes, they are themselves sources of pollution, most notably, the giant tankers that have caused numerous massive oil spills. 

As a result, by the late 20th century, ocean studies indicate that what had once been thought impossible is now becoming a reality. The oceans as a whole are showing signs of environmental pollution. Even the surface waters of the oceans are increasingly plagued by obvious litter. Some of this litter washes ashore to render beaches unsightly, while other such debris entangles and kills many sea birds and mammals every year.

More insidious than these litter problems are the effects of toxic contaminants from wastes that are dumped in the ocean. These chemicals can upset delicate marine ecosystems as they are absorbed by organisms all along the food chain. Even the paints that are being used on many ships can be hazardous.

The need to address the matter of ocean pollution has been recognized at national and international levels. According to the UN, about 8 million tonnes of plastic waste is dumped in the seas annually. It has been discovered at the deepest point of ocean, in Mariana Trench in the western Pacific Ocean. Scientists now believe “plastic is literally everywhere.” The reason why it is so difficult to clean the existing plastic from the ocean is because of the sheer amount of trash that currently exists. 

So the idea of attempting to “clean up” the ocean is a quixotic one. Can these projects really make a difference?

The answer is yes, but not as expected.

Smaller technical solutions can make an impact in a localised area. Two rubbish-sucking Seabins were recently installed in Sydney’s Darling Harbour. The devices suck in water, trapping rubbish in a mesh bag, and recirculate the water back into the environment. There are 450 Seabins in 26 countries around the world, in 60 harbours throughout the US, Europe, and now the Asia-Pacific, collecting on average around 4kg of marine litter a day – or about 1.4 tonnes a year.

Another local installation, known as Mr Trash Wheel, is making a difference in Baltimore’s Inner Harbour, on the US’s north-east coast. As the wheel turns, it collects litter from the harbour and stores it in a barge for later removal. These are good examples of small-scale clean-ups that can have a local impact. What these clean-up projects are good at is increasing awareness of the plastic problem. The real goal is to stop plastics from entering the water in the first place.

However, that can’t be extrapolated to the open ocean or the global plastic crisis. What we really need is policy change, and behavioural change, and that’s just starting to happen. 

Things have changed rapidly in the last 12 to 18 months, the announcement of enormous bans on single use plastics and microplastics, with countries banning single-use plastic bags worldwide, and fast-food giants committing to phase out plastic straws in their stores.

No matter how insignificant it seems, the world could see very real impacts for the health of the ocean and the broader health of planet.

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Too many mouths

Author – Vignesh

‘So, while I’m here being confessional, I guess I have a sudden urge to say something that I’ve never really been able to air in public. So, a declaration that I’m really nervous about…..Loud and proud, right? So, I’m going to need your support on this….’ It was 2013 Golden Globes awards. A famous Hollywood actor standing on the stage along with fellow actor Robert Downey Jr. as a hall full of famous figures sit and watch her fidgeting ‘I..am…’ she holds the mike as well as her breathing, as the crowd leans to the edge of their seats expectantly. ‘single’ she says and the hall erupts in laughter. This was Jodie Foster trying to explain that she indeed was homosexual, yet shying away from even uttering the word ‘gay’. Today we know that the USA and the rest of the world which includes India has come so far.

TEDx Talks releases a video on Youtube on November 16, 2016, named Homosexuality: It’s about survival-not sex. The speaker: Dr James O’Keefe MD tries to justify that same-sex marriage and being gay was only nature’s response to the overpopulation of humans. He says ‘You all have gay genes in you!’ as the crowd gets really uncomfortable. He goes on to say that homosexuality is not against nature but rather a part of natural selection. A loving couple that doesn’t reproduce but takes care of its herd is exactly what an overpopulated planet like ours needs and that nature knows it.

On 15th March 2019, Brenton Tarrant, the 28-year-old Australian who the media describes as a white supremacist walks into a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand and guns down 51 Muslims. Minutes before his attack, he posted a 74-page declaration text that serves as a “justification” for his act whose details were disturbing and bizarre. He details that all the environmental problems that we face including global warming were a consequence of overpopulation and the world is in a desperate need of population control. The reason why chose a mosque was because, in his own belief, Muslims were the ‘highly fertile’ group. So why is a well thought out and a profound doctor and a terrorist worry about the same thing? Overpopulation is a recent concern that is brought up by endless pop culture releases in different media, from the books like Dan Brown’s The inferno to the movies like Kingsman and of course, Avengers: Infinity war but is it really a problem?

population bomb.jpg

The whole argument that too many mouths to feed equals a problem hinges on the fact that we have limited food. Any resource is professed to be a zero-sum which is the concept that anything that is gained on the consumer’s side is lost by the other side: the source, that is the planet that provides us with the resources. It’s not wrong to think that way. After all, with the water crisis that our country is facing right now and we are told that there is only a constant volume of water existing on our planet and we are running out of it.

It still begs the question: have we really understood the problem though?  Yes, there’s no denying that an increase in demand at a short period of time calls for attention but is population control really the solution? Well, no.

There is another resource that we are running out of. Fossil fuel. We have fuel rates increasing and the government to put the blame on. After all the cold wars and the fight against terrorism paraded by the USA in order to obtain control over oil for years. Now, all that has settled down a bit and now the talk is shifted towards making Electric Vehicles and how to pioneer a way to be oil – independent. Statements that water will be the resource that the countries would be fighting each other for in World War 3, not oil have gained attraction. It is intriguing to think that both oil and water are limited. Yet, the fight for oil has settled down a bit. How did that happen? That is because, while in a technical sense resources are limited, they are really not.

We used lamp oils derived from seeds of canola, sunflower and in extreme cases, by killing whales from the oceans to light our homes. We had our existing populations do the heavy lifting such as moving wheels and machinery, that mined coal which in turn powers up printing machines that would imprint news texts on papers made out of uprooted trees to pass information. Did that lead to an inevitable doom? Did the trees and whales go extinct as the population exploded? The truth is, what we call resources is only limited by our very own imagination. Anything has value only we value them. If we just start to think differently, we may never run out of resources.

In the year 1879, Thomas A. Edison takes credit for inventing the bulb which turns electric energy into that of light. Transistors are invented by American physicists Bardeen, Brattain and Shockley right after World War 2. Now, we have the unlimited source of electromagnetic waves that power up industries and offices letting people work 24/7 through electricity and the transistors revolutionising the same industry with computer electronics and automated machines as well as of course, the smartphones we use to share information. We didn’t stick to the papers or the oil lamps. We innovated. We developed. More population doesn’t mean just more mouths to feed, it also means more minds to think and more hands to work. The real solution to the problem of overpopulation is not genocide or homosexuality, it is, after all, education. Enabling the existing population to think or work is enough to find new resources as we go.

Have you ever heard of the meme that everything in the world is invented by Indians? The invention of diodes followed by that of transistors was by Jagadeesh Chandra Bose. The invention of ‘zero’ of course is credited to Aryabhata. Endless new areas on mathematics unexplored to this day were claimed by Srinivasa Ramanujan. Even the advances in optical fibre technology, on which the today’s internet run on owes the fundamental optics starting scattering effect of light, a phenomenon that was first discovered by Sir C V Raman. Why is it that all the groundbreaking ideas originate from the land that is the second most populated? Countries around the world are making new efforts to eradicate carbon-emitting businesses. India is pushing its automobile industries to make electric vehicles as it is seen to be the future. A future that is independent of oil. Engineers are looking for new ways to produce fresh water every day in labs through researches. The future is not dark. Apocalypse is not nigh as long as there are researches, universities, labs and funds. It’s us, the students who think, create new ideas and innovate!

Cooking And Compilations

“Maa! Tell me this. Why is it that I can put in the right amount of salt almost every time? I have never cooked, never been taught about it, then how can I be so accurate with it?” I asked as I sprinkled salt over the pan to caramelize the onions. I must have been cooking some paneer dish, since I cannot cook non-vegetarian food at home. I made dinner that night and everyone felt fulfilled. It was the first time that the biggest food critique, my dad, passed my cooking. I had only cooked Maggi before this, which according to him, is not worth calling food.

“Shivam, you’ve been called to the staff room.” I had been at my best behavior, so I was pretty sure it was not about something I had done. I walked to the staff room and saw a bunch of other kids surrounding Nivedita Ma’am. She was my class teacher in sixth class and she taught English. She called me close and said, “You have a decent pronunciation. If I give you something, will you be able to read it on stage for the morning assembly?” I was excited; it was going to be my first time on stage if you ignore the Bangla play I did in the third standard where the teachers had to feed me my lines by the end. I had to recite the English translation of our national anthem, my first gig.

I was in the fifth standard. Until now, my computer lab was only about presentations but today was going to change my life. “Today we are going to learn about QBASIC: Quick Beginners All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code. It is a programming language; you can make calculations and even draw with this. It is a lot like LOGO, but it can do a lot more.” I learned the most fundamental program that day. The “Hello World” program. I learned a lot of QBASIC that year, all of which I have now forgotten.

“Before performing in front of everyone, I would want you to take part in the debate. I have written something you can use.” She handed me a two-page long speech. It was perfect. Never have I been able to recreate a speech of that caliber, even though it has been ten years since then. It started and ended with a quote, it even had a poem in between. It was perhaps too good for me. On the day of the competition, I choked. Nevertheless, my assembly presentation went nicely.

“I have always noticed that people with sharper minds have very accurate assumptions when it comes to cooking. They add the right amount of salt, spices, tomatoes, etc.” my mother replied. The conversation ended, but I will be honest, it was not the first time I was cooking. I had made Maggi many times before this. Sometimes I would add a lot of vinegar or soy sauce. However, I had never had difficulty adding ingredients I had tasted. I would add anything I found in the kitchen: Pickles, Garam Masala, raw spices, Chat Masala, absolutely anything! Except for the aforementioned mistakes, I was always proud of my creations. It tasted different every time and Maa would always look forward to my new experiments. 

I cannot continue this without mentioning Dhananjay sir. He hammered down the basics of programming into his students, especially the interested ones. It was the only class I looked forward to, in my last two years of school.  Eventually, I realized, anything that a human can do, can be programmed. Some decisions and repetition of certain steps, a permutation of these could describe anything our human mind can comprehend. He would never tell us the shortcuts until we mastered the basics. We would print patterns, sort numbers. Arranging numbers in ascending order can be done in one line. Nevertheless, he made us develop our own way to do it, after which he told us about the existence of the shortcut.

 

These three hobbies influenced me greatly. It was not until recently that I realized how similar they are.

 

A good dish needs a good recipe. There are hundreds of ways to cook but it all starts with choosing the right ingredients. They must be fresh, their taste and textures should complement each other and the spices. The way they are prepared can make a huge difference. Dicing, fine chopping, grating, Julienne cutting, blending, etc. can give a wide spectrum of flavors and taste to the same ingredients. Roasting, shallow frying, deep-frying, steam cooking, etc. are all possible ways and each of them can highlight a different aspect of the same ingredient. The taste should make the person hungrier with every bite while eating half the time and make them feel fuller with every next bite for the next half.

A good speech is always less than 5 minutes long. A good lecture should not have more than 15 minutes of explanation. You need roughly 5 minutes to change the opinion of a person or to implant an idea in the crowd’s mind. A rhetorical question or a statement, preferably a joke, with a deeper meaning is always good to start with. The type of language you use, how formal you are and how you present controversial statements could make or break your speech. You should divide it into sections with interconnected topics. The most crucial step is to connect with the hearts of the crowd. I have never won any prizes for my public speaking, but I have always received a better response from my crowd than my competitors have.

A good program must have comments. After some experience, one can always tell a good code apart from a bad one. When reading a good code, you can visualize what is happening in each step. There are varieties of ways to solve a problem and optimization is the key. Choosing the right language for the right problems is a lot like choosing the right weapon to hunt. You cannot hunt birds with spears. For a problem with strings you would choose Python or JavaScript, for a numerical problem C and for a problem where you need copies of similar items, you would want to use Java.

My best code would be the menu-driven attendance management system I made, using a 2-Dimensional linked list. It was an absolute beauty. All the functions well connected, no bugs, extremely fluid and highly interactive. My masterpiece. I have come all the way from QBASIC and I still have miles to go.

From choking up in my first speech, I gave a monologue for my school farewell. It was filled with witty remarks and anecdotes from my final couple of years at school. Everyone found it relatable and had a great time. I had left my final mark, spoken my final words at school. Another good speech I gave was the one where I prepared to go for a competition but it turned out to be just an exhibition performance. I spoke crystal clear, everything went perfect and the audience was left spellbound. Once, when I had to deliver a poem written by our school’s late great director, my mic malfunctioned and every “sh” came out as an “s” and it came out as a detestable rustic accent. I now write my own scripts, they are nowhere near the first script I got, but the audience always loves it. My dream is to pull off something like Mark Antony from Julius Caesar. I can never speak well during my practice presentations, but I absolutely nail it when it matters.

I am still improving my cooking. I can follow recettes but I cannot combine non-powdered spices to create the real magic of food yet. My best dish would be the Shahi Paneer I made before coming back from my summer vacation. I can also not forget how I once messed up Anchari Paneer by using twice the amount of spices than necessary. If the first were a swim in a lake on a sunny summer day, the latter felt like walking bare feet in the desert and licking sand out of thirst.

Once you light the stove, introduce yourself on the podium or submit the code for checking test cases, there is no turning back. You have to prepare and keep all the ingredients handy; you cannot chop onions while frying your spices. They need care, five extra seconds of frying and you have vaporized their flavors. You have to ensure you are speaking in a flow, every expression, direct or indirect is visible on stage. You might think you covered it up, but a long enough pause, a slight fumble that you correct by repeating the words, it’s all noticed and you lose all the recognition from your audience. Every time you build and compile your code, the entire CPU, all of the hardware engages to comprehend what you have instructed the computer to do. Even if you asked it to do a never-ending job, it will do it until stopped. This could crash the system; damage the hardware, this small bug is enough to destroy the entire motherboard. One lazy person created the Y2K problem, which could have ended up with us losing all our digital data as we entered the new century.

All three of them, are the same. It is all about living in the moment, enjoying what you are doing and not thinking about anything else in the world. Every time I put on the frying pan, step on a stage or compile my code, time stops. My mind clears out, and all I can think of is what I am doing. My senses become sharper than a doe in an unknown part of the forest. A slight change of smell and my dish might be ruined, a short hum and my speech is gone, and a missing semicolon is like a murder amidst a crowd. I cannot afford to make a mistake, if I make one; I have to live with it. Every hobby is an escape from the daily life, where you live the moment with no pain from the past or worry about the future. “A hobby might not define who you are, but it definitely affects some aspects of your personality.” I leave you with this statement to ponder upon and the fact that Adolf Hitler made great paintings (like the one above), to support the above statement.

Unsolved-The arrow of Time

Author: By Aditi Chandrasekar 

I had been reading a book by Brian Greene a few weeks ago, titled “The Fabric of the cosmos”. While the entire book was filled with revelations and existential puzzles, one specific part stuck with me for a few days after I returned the book to the library. It talked about a concept that was first put into words by a Sir Arthur Eddington-the ‘arrow of time’. This basically refers to the characteristic of time that it is directed forward. Somehow, we are all inherently aware of this dogma of time-that the past is behind us and the future is ahead. When I first came across this, it seemed obvious to me that it should be dismissed as a subjective matter. I formulated this “arrow of time” as just a sort of fulcrum of our perception of the world. But when I started contemplating the objectivity of ordinary incidents and their asymmetrical nature-for example, a glass window shattering, a sandwich being eaten, and even extraordinary processes like the journey of a star from dust to a white dwarf, my mind begged to have a substantive answer to the question-Why does time never go backward? In Sir Arthur Eddington’s book “The Nature of the physical world” published in 1928, he first addresses the concept in a part that goes: 

‘The great thing about time is that it goes on. But this is an aspect of it which the physicist sometimes seems inclined to neglect. In the four-dimensional world . . . the events past and future lie spread out before us as in a map. The events are there in their proper spatial and temporal relation ; but there is no indication that they undergo what has been described as “the formality of taking place” and the question of their doing or undoing does not arise.’ 

As the world started coming to terms with Eddington’s stuff, there was an increased pressure on physics for an explanation as it had realized that there is a deep puzzle behind familiar phenomena. Many advances have been made but the conundrum is far from solved. To distinguish the past and the future, the arrow was defined as the direction in which entropy or disorder increases. Classifications were made-the thermodynamic arrow of time, cosmological arrow of time, quantum mechanical arrow of time, psychological arrow of time etc, Intriguing possibilities were contemplated-worlds not within the constraints of entropy gradient in which we are born, new physical models which conflict with our ordinary asymmetric perspective. But the long years coupled with the minimal progress, beg the question-have we simply hit an impenetrable barrier of the universe? 

ALL STRINGS DETACHED

Author: Nikita Suryawanshi

 

“You only lose what you cling to”-Buddha

While maturing from children to adults, there are many people that we interact with; many things and experiences we come across. A connection to many of these ensues and hence we bind them to ourselves through strings- emotional or mental strings. These attachments are the ones that we carry forward as memories. Some of these strings push you to become a better person but some of them hold you back, not letting you discover your entire potential. However we do not easily let go of them. Call it irrational or melodramatic thinking, all of us have something or someone that is very close to us. Be it that toy from your childhood that you don’t play with any longer, the article of clothing that doesn’t fit you anymore or the friendship which never ended on a good note.

But there is a very unique bliss in the art of detaching the strings. Letting go is a very difficult task, I agree. Yet there is a surreal feeling that follows when you are aloof. I am not saying that we should cut all the baggage that we carry around. No; that’s never going to be possible. But maybe, once in a while, we deserve to give ourselves a break. Why drain the energy out of our minds and bodies for something that may not even be worth it? We have the right to insulate ourselves from things and relationships that are toxic and only bring us distress. 

By letting go, we are freeing ourselves from emotional bondage. We learn to detach from others choices, understanding that their life lessons are not ours to manipulate. Detachment allows us to be in the world but not of it. True detachment is not a separation from life, but the absolute freedom within you to explore living with joy and ease.

Putting it simply: unwind, relax, take that trip you have been planning, complete your bucket list and enjoy doing it. Let your mind be at peace with itself.  When you have loosened the strings pulling you back, you give yourself the liberty of being who you are. You start treating yourself with love and respect, regardless of all expectations and judgments. The only expectations that matter are those that you have from thyself and thy life. When we learn to set intentions with detachment, magical things begin to happen for us. If something still does not work out, then close that door with acceptance and move on into another open door. 

Detachment from this world does not mean that we should own nothing, but that nothing should own us. We give away our power and freedom when we become attached to things, emotions, situations, and people. This does not mean detaching from a person we care about, but from the pain of negative involvement. Detachment gives us wings of freedom to choose our experiences, yet allows us to be present enough to feel deeply and to truly experience living. 

Accepting Perspectives

 Author: Nikita Suryawanshi

 

Wayne Dyer quoted- “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” 

Perspective, as described by the Oxford dictionary, is a particular attitude towards something; a way of looking at things or situations. For me, perspective is but a simple truth of life which we sometimes willingly choose to ignore. For a long time, humans have divided judgement on actions and reactions into only two categories: right and wrong. But how can we decide whether something is right or wrong if everyone is looking at it from a different angle? Every individual has his/her own unique personality which makes them stand out in the crowd. Everyone’s “way of looking at things” is different. 

Most of the arguments that we normally get engaged in occur due to different point of views. When conferring about, say, a recent crime, one might be sympathizing with the victim while someone else may have put themselves in the shoes of the accused. The reason of the argument is that the other person has a different perspective on things. He is looking through his pair of glasses at the world, as well as we all do. This means that we filter everything by our personal history, our beliefs, motivations and concepts that we hold true. But what is correct for us may not necessarily be so for another.

Our choice of not understanding and accepting another outlook is what turns discussions into debates. Somewhere, it causes unrest in our own minds. Often we are afraid that seeing the other perspective could lead to us losing the argument … or worse, to get a disadvantage. But the true value of another perspective lies within seeing more of a situation and therefore being able to make a better judgment for ourselves as well as the other person. I personally feel frustrated when the person I am conversing with doesn’t try to look at things the way I do. So here’s my main question: why inflict so much torture on our minds?

I recently finished reading To Kill A Mockingbird. Reading reviews of the book, I noticed people talking about the upsetting discrimination based on the caste and colour of an independent underlined by the author. For me, however, the highlight of the book is the way the narrator grows mature when she starts accepting her neighbor for who he is. From being curious and apprehensive about his way of living life, she transforms to a person who looks at the world from his eyes, accepts his choices and in the process learns that he cares for her in his own special way.

My point, simply put, is that things seem to get complicated when we keep on opposing. Instead, life becomes plain sailing when we start accepting. Someone is acting in a particular way depending on how they perceive that situation. To acknowledge and respect another person’s perspective can only lead to a more positive outcome. The self growth accompanied by acceptance is incomparable. Not only does it broaden our horizons, it brings us peace of mind too. If you get a bigger picture, you get a perspective that is able to solve a situation that seemed unsolvable first.

The greater good is to recognize others and their viewpoints. After all, they say open-minded people do not impose their beliefs on others. They accept all of life’s perspectives and realities, doing their own thing in peace.

The Minor Majority

I am a nationalist.
There. I said it.

And I’m not ashamed of being dubbed one. I’m just sick and tired of how this concept has become one associated with rebels and radicals.
With the rise of the so called ‘pseudo-liberal’ junta in our country, nationalists being compared to terrorists is not uncommon.
Our country has just recently passed 3 landmark judgements. The abolishment of Triple Talaq, removal of Article 377 and allowing women to visit the Sabarimala Temple.
Now these judgments are instrumental, and they have given relief and happiness to millions of Indians.

However, our so called ‘Liberals’ don’t seem satisfied.
Rehana Fathima recently raised furore all over the state of Kerala after breaking into the Sabarimala Temple without permission and causing nuisance.

In doing so, she instantly made headlines all over the country, in a bid to revive her dead modelling career. But did she ‘really’ need to do it?
Fathima doesn’t really care about Lord Ayyapa, the main deity at the Sabarimala. She just wanted to prove a point. In the midst of that, she created nuisance at the temple and hurt the sentiments of thousands of ‘true’ devotees. Did she really need the publicity so bad?

Such stunts are quite prevalent in our country now. They seem hidden to the public eye. But after some observation, I’ve seen that these stunts are quietly ubiquitous.
‘Sanju’: A biopic on Sanjay Dutt, released to much fanfare this July. While the movie was enjoyable, the hidden assault on Hinduism was in very bad taste. While it is well known that Dutt was friends with Dawood Ibrahim, the film decided to portray underworld via a Tilak-clad Ganpati devotee. Now this is not a one off instance. Who can forget the ‘Shiva’ scene in P.K?

Even during festivals, there is sudden increase in news articles about the harms that firecrackers pose towards animals and how Idol immersion is bad for water bodies.

I do agree that these practices are harmful but the way our media portrays Hindu festivals is obnoxious and cynical. Where are they when Bakri-Eid or Moharram is on?

Similarly, why didn’t Rehana Fathima chose one of a thousand mosques where women aren’t allowed?
Why didn’t she hesitate to do the same at a place considered sacred by people of another faith?

‘Oppression’.

This is the word which would’ve been in the headlines if Sanju included Dawood. If articles got published on Bakri-Eid. If Fathima trespassed a mosque. If a person from the minority community is asked to stand up for the national anthem.
Why can’t we call a spade a spade and drop the victim mentality?
It’s high time facts stop being twisted to suit one community and target another.
It’s high time we start treating others as equal.
It’s high time we stop disgracing nationalism.

A SIMPLE SORRY

The doorbell rang once, then twice and thrice in quick succession. I burst through the doors as soon as they opened, shaking myself dry. The rain was falling in sheets as if to complement my sour mood. I’d just had a big fight with my friend which involved a lot of cursing and shouting. To top it all off, I’d pushed her into the mud and was gone before she could get up. My mother asked me what was wrong and it all came pouring out- how it was all her fault and I had done the right thing. She made me sit down and explained calmly that no matter what had happened, I should apologise for pushing her.

I’ve heard this argument at least a thousand times till now-how apologising makes you the bigger person, how you should learn to forgive and forget. It didn’t make a lot of sense to me back then and things haven’t changed over the years. I judge people within seconds of meeting them, and most of the opinions I form are harsh. And if they do anything to even remotely justify my thoughts, I rant about it to whoever is listening. My parents no longer explain things to me “calmly” and I blame them for not taking their daughter’s side in everything. Sometimes I say sorry, but it doesn’t reach my eyes, so I don’t think anyone is buying it. I have a gift of being unfazed by everything happening around me. You may think I’ve been very rude to you, but chances are that I haven’t attached any importance to the incident and am blissfully ignorant of your anger. I’ve seen people giving “sorry notes” to their friends with a chocolate inside it. What’s the logic? Are you trying to win them over with food? Does putting it down in writing help you feel better? Why invest so much time over such a silly thing? All this was before I joined college and lived in a hostel for the first time. There is something very different about living with someone other than your parents. You form such deep-rooted friendships that they start feeling like family. I was still the same, forming opinions about all my roommates as soon as I met them, rude as ever. But as they turned into friends from roommates, I finally understood why people apologise. You don’t apologise to make yourself feel better, you do it out of love or respect for someone. It’s alright to set your ego aside if it makes someone happy. You write “sorry notes” because the person is important to you. The apologies don’t come easily, but at least I’m trying. I guess some things can never be taught, you have to realise them on your own. Maybe this is what growing up is all about?

 

                                                                                                                -Sonal Mahanta

Four Seasons

Four Seasons

A ‘season’ can sometimes refer to a time in life instead of the weather. But does that mean everyone experiences it differently?

Arya ran to class, not just through the shaded walk but also in the sun and up the stairs. Not because her professor was firm about his students keeping the right time, but because she wanted to. Her new red top stood out and her ID tag was shiny. Her perfect hair fell over her shoulders with ease. She carried a full bag to all her classes and didn’t mind climbing six floors with it. Of course, she still had to look at her schedule on her phone after each lecture, it had just been a week. And since it had been just a week, she ended up being in some wrong classes too. But that didn’t bother her; no one was looking or judging and she loved hearing from other teachers.

It was either silly games with her new classmates during the breaks or strolling around trying to get the college map imprinted onto her mind. And the sun or the time didn’t matter. The boys did. The food and her room did but only a little. There was the occasional guilt of not ending up at a better college stemming from comparison with old school friends but she didn’t want that on her mind that day.

After a midday call with her parents on her yet-to-be-ported sim, she decided to spend the afternoon in the library and so began her seemingly long walk to the library, across the campus. She went through the shelves as though she knew all the subjects being taught in the college. She noticed an empty spot and pulled out some heavy books she thought were interesting and walked towards the seat. On her way, she bumped into a weary-looking girl. She gave Arya a judgemental look for carrying the books. A scanning glance, bottom to top, and she walked away.

 

“These freshers are such dorks”, Asmi thought to herself as she walked away from a girl carrying, what she could only label as tomes, in one of the aisles of the library. She had been there the past hour juggling adroitly between a group project and some work for her club. However, her willingness to spend a perfectly good hour during midday in the still library stemmed from her frustration due to her boisterous roommates. And now, her frizzy pony bobbed as she walked briskly towards her first class of the day. It had been three weeks but she was always late to class. Fearing her professor might ask her to turn back and leave, she started running.

She walked in and skirted along the twisted aisle right to the last bench where she expected her bunch to be, but it was empty. She wondered where they were as she sat down. Her eyes weren’t on the board, they were on her phone. She scrolled through group chats and memes while also wondering how she needed to get her laundry done soon. After a while, the professor started the roll call and Asmi’s eyes went up only to realize that she had spent the past forty minutes in the wrong class.

Disappointed, she left the class and walked a few steps before bumping into her friends. They judged her, but more importantly, they understood her. “You should cut yourself some slack and slow down. The semester just started. Isn’t that the same shirt you wore yesterday? Maybe I should hook you up with someone. That’ll make you dress better”, said one of them. And suddenly, her troubles faded. They all went out for their routine milkshakes after the remaining classes and it always helped Asmi to unwind with friends and food. But the day was far from over, she had yet to finish up on her assignment and make the daily pilgrimage at night to her club meeting. She attended them religiously. The peaceful walk back to her hostel, alone in the dark, was the best part of her day. That night, however, she walked beside her trusted senior and friend.

 

Aastha was contemplating if the club and her position there was worth her time anymore as she gave her junior some advice on college life. She had just started dating a boy and between a relationship and academics, she felt the need for more personal time. Returning to her room, she sank into her bed knowing tomorrow would be another chance at being productive. No texting, no calling, just some much-needed rest. She woke up early the next day and walked to class in her worn out denims, with one notebook and her hair tied in a bun. The classes rolled by, after all, it had been two years now and she knew what it took to get by five of them continuously – don’t look at the watch frequently and now there was someone with her who made it easy. She was secretly proud of the fact that she had not yet sat through a wrong class this year.

She didn’t exactly have free time, for hobby or even friends. It all went into her meetings with teachers to chalk out plans of execution for her research project and of course, improving her grades and skills. She had applied for and was awaiting a research grant. While most others still hung out often, the uncertainty of the impending future hung heavily on Aastha’s shoulders. It seemed to affect her more than it affected her friends. She couldn’t remember the last time she had lunch or dinner with them but sitting on her laptop and working for hours peculiarly filled the void. The good part was that it had made her humble and understanding. She didn’t mind now if her friends couldn’t make time for her; she had learned to live by herself and do things that truly mattered.

After giving it a lot of thought through the day, she typed a long and hard goodbye message to the club members, choosing the project over them. The people had grown to be a part of her through three long semesters but somehow, she felt happier that evening. More time for herself. She called her mentor to thank her for her guiding light.

 

Aradhya was in the middle of ironing her formals late in the evening when she got a call. It was a lost yet determined soul she had given some insight and knowledge to, a year back. “My investment paid off!” she figured as Aastha thanked her and wished her luck for her interview the next day. “I’ll buy you a milkshake if I land the job”, she promised Aastha. She was ready is all she had heard from her friends, her roommate, and her parents but for the first time in a long while, she had trouble sleeping that night. It was understandable.

She got up early the next day before the alarm went off. While getting ready, her phone rang. She knew it was her parents, calling to wish her luck perhaps. Her roommate always eaves-dropped on her call but this time around, there was nothing to hear as Aradhya was dead silent. “Her parents shouldn’t let her know that the university rejected her application right before the interview. She was preparing herself to lie to the panel about not pursuing higher studies to get an offer, but now, the very question will shake her up. How the tables have turned! Poor girl!” she thought.

Aradhya had a stern expression on her face after the call. Afraid to ask her more about it and throw off her focus from the interview, her roommate just wished her luck. She got ready silently and walked out with her files. There was nothing more to lose now and she had a certain poise in her walk. You’ve got to believe me when I say that she was the most confident person among the lot that got interviewed that day.

A year later, Aastha and Asmi walked into the milkshake joint. As Astha reminisced how she and Aradhya had celebrated there, she wondered if the milkshake would symbolize a tradition. Little did she know that Asmi was going to walk back with Arya that night.

We are all responsible.

2017

It was a partially sunny day. The wind was strong but there was no rain yet. Joshua was waiting in the queue with his KTM RC 390 in a petrol bunk somewhere on the East Coast Road twenty kilometres away from Chennai.

‘Last year, around this time, it was sixty-six rupees per litre! I remember it very distinctly’ Joshua said frustratedly.

Vicky, sitting behind him, replied ‘Now it’s eighty-one per litre. I know’

‘Greedy rich shareholders and spineless government’ Joshua cursed.

‘If the fuel was cheaper, what would have happened? ‘Vicky asked.

‘We would’ve visited Pondicherry more often, have fun more often’, Joshua replied.

Vicky sighed with a smile, ‘Yeah, but you would have turned more fuel into greenhouse gases. You will be contributing more to the climate change that’s happening. Any commodity that is harmful to the environment should be costly. That’s the only way you would use it less’, he explained

Joshua moved the vehicle forward as the queue moved and then he turned to Vicky ‘I agree Mister Civil Engineer. Enough with your environmental advice’ he jested.

 

It was unusually a sunny day in a developing locality somewhere in Ernakulam district, Kerala. Mohan Raj was looking around the construction site for the Senior Engineer. ‘Engineer Sir!!’ He greeted him outside the construction site.

The Engineer came walking through the busy site among the brick workers and cement heaps all over the place. ‘Hello sir!’ he greeted back ‘How are you sir? How is Chechi?’

‘All are doing well! My wife also came to the town with me, actually!’ Mohan replied as the both walked towards the nearby tea spot ‘Now she is in her brother’s house here’.

‘Oh, okay sir’ The engineer replied ‘Two glass tea! Both strong!’ he ordered as the both sat down on the old wooden bench painted blue.

Mohan Raj took out a bunch of affidavit papers from the file holder he carried. ‘I have brought all the originals and xerox of the approval certificates sir! All the approval work is done and I brought it as you asked.’

The Engineer checked the papers ‘Okay sir. The work will be complete within two months. Your Resort will be ready!’ he promised

‘Two glasses of strong tea!’ The chai maker called.

The Engineer took the glasses and gave one to Mohan ‘So, are you leaving Bangalore after the Resort is opened sir?’  he asked.

‘No, no’ Mohan laughed ‘I work in public sector sir! I can’t just leave the job. My wife’s side of the family will take care of the resort. Her brother will oversee the hotel’

‘Oh, okay’ The engineer sipped the tea

‘Sir, the materials used in foundation are effective, no? The final cost is less than estimated which is good, but still’, Mohan asked.

‘Sir, there are no land slides reported in this locality for the past fifty years. It’s just one floor building, there nothing to worry!’ The Engineer sounded confident

‘What about the drain?’ Mohan asked

‘I suggested typical Kerala style roof, but you wanted flat roofs. All the rain will reach the ground as per my design and moreover your hotel is built in a land area that is slightly higher compared to the neighborhood, and the rainfall is getting lesser every year, there will be no flooding problem even if you ask for it!’ The Engineer replied with a laugh

‘You can’t be sure about the rainfall with all the Climate change and global warming sir’ Mohan said worried.

 

2018

Vicky focused his phone camera. The pottery wheel spun round and round as his grandmother pressed her four fingers tightly on the clay to bring the pot into shape. He was finally spending his vacation in his native as he wanted.

‘Throw the phone away!’ she said annoyed

Vicky pressed the ‘add to story’ button and slipped the phone in his pocket.

His grandmother held his hand and pulled it towards the clay. ‘Wet your hands with the clay! Don’t assume it’s dirty. Clay is not dirty!’

‘I know Aachi, I study Civil Engineering!’ Vicky said smiling as he pressed the edge of the clay.

‘We have to bring it to shape as fast as we can. Soon the sun will dry the clay, and when it dries it will be strong as a stone!’ she exclaimed

‘So, then wet it more. If you add more water, it will take longer time to dry’ told Vicky’s little sister sitting next to them painting dried out pots.

Vicky was curious what answer his grandmother would give.

‘It doesn’t work like that! The soil is strong without water, it is weak, out of shape and can be molded when you add a little water, the more water you pour the clay itself will become watery and flow away’ she replied

‘That’s exactly what my Soil Mechanics sir told!  So it applies to all soil.Not just clay!’ Vicky said stunned.

‘So, if you pour more water, all the soil will erode like water? Even all the sand in my school ground?’ Vicky’s sister asked

Vicky was lost in thoughts ‘All you need is to pour more water’ he thought.

 

Mohan Raj was standing there not knowing how to answer his wife. He kept on calling to the phone number of the Engineer, but the number was unreachable. He was nowhere to be seen.

His wife was sitting in the corner along with her mother in the corner of her native house crying out loud, mourning in the pain of loss. In the middle of the all the crowd of relatives that surrounded, was the body of her brother wrapped up and ready to be taken

The unusually heavy flood that hit Kerala didn’t exempt Mohan’s brother-in-law. The ground level of the Resort building which was higher than the neighborhood dissolved into eroding soil and moved the Resort building along with its shallow foundation causing the single floor building to collapse. There were no guests at that time. Only two servants and Mohan’s brother in law.

If the authorities didn’t approve the construction, if the Engineer wasn’t that dumb, would the dead be alive?

If there was no climate change, if there was no such unusually record-breaking rainfall this year, would all the built-up structures that have collapsed be saved? Can we even blame anyone in particular?

The severe rainfall was two and half times the usual rainfall and it’s the highest recorded in the last hundred and eleven years. The Indian government was formed only seventy-two years ago while the state of Kerala was formed sixty-three years ago. Although the causality was not dangerously high, the property damage is about twenty thousand crore which the people of Kerala cannot recover from for years to come. This year’s flood is one of the obvious phenomena that happened as the direct result of Climate change, the human induced climate change. We are all equally responsible to take care of our planet and all of its changes and challenges.
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