At the Smokies: Tourists disturbing animals




On a recent visit to the Great Smoky Mountains in Tennessee, USA, I noted how well-maintained the premises of the national park are. However, it seems like they have to put in place a mechanism to stop tourists from venturing too close to the deer. While there are signboards telling tourists not to venture out of way or disturb the animals and plants, I saw several tourists who taunted the deer and tried getting too close. It only scared off the animals. In several places there is barb wire, but that didn’t really stop them. Wish there were guard towers or better fencing to discourage tourists from doing this.

Masonic temple

Masonic temple

I took this picture in Harrisonburg, Virginia. I wasn’t sure what a Masonic Temple was then but was curious assuming it to be something historically important. Turns out that these are actually lodges, associated with Freemasonry. And by lodges, the reference is not to the physical place but to the assembly of people. This is probably where they meet and work.

The symbol that you see on the doors is said to be one of the most prominent symbols of Freemasonry. It includes a square and a compass. The letter G in the middle is said to represent God.

UNCSW side event: Fight to stop violence against women

The United Nation’s Commission on Status of Women (CSW) is currently meeting in its New York headquarters. This year the theme is on prevention and elimination of violence against women and girls. The Commission, under the UN Economic and Social Council, is in its 57th year. Member countries participate during the ten days and at the end recommendations are made for governments to implement in their respective countries. Apart from the states, NGOs are also allowed to participate and hold side events.

A meeting such as this is extremely relevant to India, in the backdrop of increased reported cases of violence against women, the Delhi gangrape being a case in point. It was in this context that the Control Arms Foundation of India, The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict, and the Manipur Women Gun Survivors Network organised a panel discussion on ‘Six Decades of United Nations Commission on Status of Women’.

Panelists at the CSW side event. Left to right: Vanessa Farr, Rashmi Singh, Jody Williams, Minou Tavarez Mirabal, Arvinn E Gadgil, Binalakshmi Nepram

Panelists at the CSW side event. Left to right: Vanessa Farr, Rashmi Singh, Jody Williams, Minou Tavarez Mirabal, Arvinn E Gadgil, Binalakshmi Nepram

Panelists included Minou Tavarez Mirabal, Chair-International Council, Parliamentarians for Global Action, Arvinn Eikeland Gadgil, Deputy Minister, International Development, Norway, Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Rashmi Singh, Executive Director, National Mission for Empowerment of Women, Govt of India, Vanessa Farr, Feminist Freedom Fighter, and Binalakshmi Nepram, Founder, Manipur Gun Survivors Network, and Secretary General, Control Arms Foundation of India.

The two-hour event focused on the need to prevent violence against women, the role that men need to play in strategies, and demilitarisation. Vanessa Farr emphasised on the direct link between violence against women and global militarisation. “The enemy is poverty. There are no weapon systems in the world to prevent poverty”, she explained. Saying no to arms and ending impoverishment are key in this process, Farr said.

The sole male voice on the panel, Arvinn Gadgil said that specific people need to be asked the question, ‘What makes you adamant on this issue?’ The need for political will and putting pressure on parliamentarians, echoed.

Binalakshmi Nepram, hailing from the northeast Indian state of Manipur spoke of her own personal experience. She pointed to the state rank of the Department of Women and Child Development in India, and reduction in budget allocated to the department.

The CSW meeting concludes on March 15th.

Rules to follow in a classroom!

A notice for students, put up in a classroom of a private school in Bayonne, New Jersey

A notice for students, put up in a classroom of a private school in New Jersey

My elder sister is a teacher in a private school in New jersey. She teaches students between the ages of three and six. This notice she put up in her classroom is probably representative of the kinds of things the kids in her class did. ‘Use walking feet’ and ‘Hands on your own body’ – definitely sounds interesting!

Who eats an umbilical cord?

Many parents end up saving their baby’s umbilical cord, after it dries up and falls off. I recently heard of this old wives tale that if a woman cannot conceive, belief is if she consumes a piece of this umbilical cord, it would help her become pregnant. I have also heard that the umbilical cord once dry tastes rubbery. It is usually given with a banana, both to hide the taste and possibly the cord itself.

Medically, what I have heard is that the umbilical cord is a source of stem cells, similar to bone marrow. Therefore you have cases where the cord is preserved.

However, here are two bizarre stories that I found about oral consumption.

What’s all the fuss about Vishwaroopam?

Kamal Haasan’s Vishwaroopam is no big deal as was made out to be. The movie was banned briefly in Tamil Nadu, the south Indian state out of which it was produced by the veteran actor. The reason being that certain Muslim groups were protesting. While for the regular Tamil cinema-goer, the movie may seem to be amazing with the added plus of watching their Ulaganayagan (Universal hero). But for the Tamilian in me, the movie was quite a bore.

Vishwaroopam talks about a subject that has been featured in films across the world umpteen numbers of times already. Terrorism. Haasan has attempted to give a slightly different twist, and I must say failed almost completely. I say ‘almost’ only because of the first one hour of the movie. The first one hour of the movie is the kind of Kamal Haasan movie the Tamilian in me enjoys immensely. It reminded me a bit of Avvai Shanmukhi. (When Avvai Shanmukhi released not many of us had seen Mrs Doubtfire, so there was no question of comparing Haasan to Robin Williams. The movie was a massive hit. It was one of Haasan’s best roles.)

Haasan’s role as a middle-aged kathak teacher in New York City is a delight to watch. The typical Brahmin Tamizh. His feminine expressions. The way he struts across the street. And of course, the most important of all, his dance. Superb. Unfortunately, we don’t get to enjoy too much of this as his cover is blown. And that’s where the movie begins to fail miserably. The flashback to Haasan’s role as a mole (he is an agent of India’s Research and Analysis Wing) in the Al Qaeda is loose and uninteresting. For starters, they talk in Tamizh. While they claim to know Tamizh because of having hidden in Tamil Nadu, for a terrorist outfit that prides itself for its culture (in reality), they sure wouldn’t sit and talk in that language. (If you have read enough books about the Middle East, the Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, you would know this. I’m not sure why Haasan didn’t feel this could be an issue).

For a good 1.5 hours the movie revolves around what Haasan did in Afghanistan. Haasan looks so out of place amidst the Al Qaeda. If I were Omar (played by Rahul Bose) in real life, I would have so known something was up. But the Al Qaeda matter-of-factly took this man in and allowed him to train jihadis. Even the explanation that the Indian Army wants his head, which is shown in a poster, is not believable. The guys at Al Qaeda are surely not that dumb.

And so, talking about dumb, it seems like it is this unbelievable portion of the movie that raised heckles and caused all the banning nonsense. If people took issue to the fact that Haasan is a Muslim in the film and he talks about the Al Qaeda, I don’t understand what the issue is. No where does he bring religion in. He happens to be a RAW agent who is a Muslim by religion. The Al Qaeda happens to be an organisation that is primarily Islamic. Nothing controversial at all.

If anyone had to take issue, maybe the Brahmins, Iyers and Iyengars of the world could, objecting to the roasting of a chicken.

And maybe even George W Bush. His photo is seen used for target practice by the jihadis.

Even the ending of the movie with the Caesium bomb and defusing it using a microwave oven, is all just boring.

Andrea Jeremiah’s role is unnecessary. I’m not sure why she is even in the movie. Shekhar Kapur looks uncomfortable. Rahul Bose is okay. Pooja Kumar has done a decent job. Haasan’s role is interesting in the first one hour of the movie.

All in all the movie was definitely not very enjoyable. If I thought Dashaavataram was bad, this was definitely not better. I’m not sure why Haasan even made the movie. There was nothing really exciting about the story. If he made it for the fight sequences and audio effects, I’m not sure that is reason enough. After so many movies and so many years of acting, he may have made this movie to experiment, which he can afford to.But I, as a not-so-regular Tamil movie-goer, would like to see Haasan in a movie similar in genre to Panchathanthiram or Pammal K Sammandham.

As for Vishwaroopam 2, I’m not sure I’ll be in line to watch.

Note: I’m still trying to figure why the movie is titled ‘Vishwaroopam’. Plus, does India’s RAW really do so much work in reality?