Saturday, June 21, 2008

Indian Institute Of Advance Studies, Shimla

Welcome to The Indian Institute Of Advance Studies, Shimla!

The building was completed in 1888 to serve as the Vicaregal lodge. The whole Indian subcontinent was ruled from the Summer Capital of Shimla, from this building in fact. The basic plan of this building was conceived by the Ninth Viceroy, The Marquess of Dufferin and Ava, with the sanction of Lord Randolph Churchil. The Principal Architect was Henry Irwin of PWD. Grey limestone was quarried from a site five miles away and transported on mules to create this huge edifice in a mock-Tudor or Scottish baronial style much favoured by Victorian Britain. It was the first Government Building to have electricity, also European style kitchen and laundries housed in their own five-storey wing.

The surrounding lawns, gardens and terraces, which form part of the 331 acres were expanded during the Viceroyalty of The Marquess Of Lansdowne (1888-1894). Successive Viceroyalties continued to alter and add but the main building never lost its Victorian character. Lord Irwin added the Main Entry in 1927. A staff of 800 including 40 gardeners were employed here at that time. Mainly used for entertainment of the Viceroy’s guests.

The Lodge witnessed many historical events as well. In the struggle of Independence and the negotiations that led to the partition, crucial meetings with Mahatma Gandhi, Jawarharlal Nehru and Mohammed Jinna took place here.

After Independence in 1947, the building became part of the estate of the President Of India and was renamed Rashtrapati Nivas. It was our second President, Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan himself, an eminent scholar who was instrumental in establishing here the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies in 1965 as a residential centre for research in the humanities and the Social Sciences. It has one of the best libraries in the country, with books in Philosophy and Religion and other subjects, which are ancient texts as well. The woodwork in the building, was all done with red wood brought from Burma. This 120 years old building is in the hands of ASI and needs lots of repairing and renovation which may cost the Govt of India, huge sums of money. Hence, the work is slow. In my opinion, having seen the structure and majesty with which it still stands, it is a world heritage building. Thankfully, at least the genius of British Rail, the passage from Kalka to Summer Hill, through 102 tunnels in the hills, has been given World Heritage status. may the same follow with IIAS.

Forget Me Not

The Route that the Toy Train takes - Kalka-Shimla-Kalka has been given World Heritage Status!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

First Person: Born Again

“He was coming for me, angry that I could dare to run away from him. I was trembling….afraid, I would be caught. I have tried to run away so many times, but he got me every time. He would this time too.

I could hear him on the streets, screaming – You f**king bast**ds! I know she is there. And if you don’t let her out now, I will break every bone in your body….

I was petrified. I saw it happen many times. I was scared for the people who had sheltered me. I pleaded, let me go. They did not listen to me. Maria held me back even as I ran to the door to flee back to hell. I could not fight their combined strength. I gave up….I cried……helplessly!

Slowly, the sounds died down. He had left. He had lost me. Forever.

Seven years with a man who had come to India to study but had stayed on for more than ten. Deep in drugs, he did not have any income to feed us. I was his Bank. His supplier of food and drugs. Yes, I! For if I did not, then the rain of batons on my back would keep me at home for over a week. This meant that the School I went to teach, cycling twenty kilometers to and fro everyday would cut my salary and we would be left with little or nothing to run the rest of the month. So we would have to borrow from the perennial crowd of men who came to our small house, uninvited, to spend time with him, do drugs and do women. To keep them out and also to save my skin from battering I gave in to his demand of drugs.

Then one day, a couple from Europe came to stay in the room next to ours. They were from an organization called Children of God. A very quiet couple but occasionally I heard them singing some lovely songs, not hymns but music with meaning, sounds that enticed my ears. One day, the lady and I both met at the common water collection area where there was a tube well. I smiled – You sing beautifully, I said. Thank you, she said simply. My name is Maria. I am Neelam, I introduced myself.

And from that day onwards, I began to visit their room regularly and taking part in their music. Maria’s partner, John, was a guitarist. Maria sang from her heart and most often than not, I simply cried right through the singing. It touched my heart so deeply.

As the tears flowed, I realized I was feeling lighter and better. It was as if I was being cleansed so thoroughly. A very heavy weight was being lifted from my shoulders.

In the days that went by, I became more and more disinterested in my own life with my partner. I felt I was de-linked with him. He sensed it and somewhere he knew it was because of my visits to the room where Maria lived with John. He put an end to that.

You will not mix around with those guys. They are evil. But, my voice which had gone muffled before, rose from its aches again – I will, I heard myself saying, surprised at my own self. I had forgotten the strength of my voice. Or was it someone else who was speaking through me? I will visit them again; you cannot stop me, I said emphatically.

A sharp slap landed me on the floor. My ears thundered. But, the day of my escape from captivity had dawned.

It was only two or three days before I was whisked away from my jailed condition, by my friends to a place, in the nearby hill station. The struggle for my independence had begun from within me. Too many years in the hands of a powerful depot, had made me powerless myself. I could not find my feet to stand up again. My knees gave way. Nobody could understand why I lived with this pathological man. Not even my family. Until, He gave me strength, slowly, one day at a time, to rise again. I was a new born child, cradling in his arms, my friends Maria and John always with me.

Who am I, I asked myself one day. And a voice from within said to me –

“You are born again. You are a child of God.”

The hour was early morning. I could hear the ringing sound of the milk bottles as the milkmen carried them from house to house. I was lying on the floor, my college friend on her bed. There was nothing more to say. We had been talking the whole night, lying in exactly the same position, the lights off and the ceiling fan going round and around, whirling the air above and around us. I had heard the story of her conversion to Christianity, but until now, I did not know why and what caused her to do so.

We, Bathsheba, as she was called now and I had met after almost fifteen years. We were very close to each other because there was a common bond of loss we both carried in our hearts from our childhood, a pain we had concealed from the world so cleverly. Yet, whenever, we met anyone in our lives who shared the same pain, we were instantly bonded.

And it is the same pain that became her balm as well. A journey made from childhood to reach her destiny - her life with a living God.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Change We Can Believe In

Change We Can Believe In
. Yes, I borrow from Barack Obama, his catchy statement to believe that as Indians we can!

In the first ever, opinion poll on environment, conducted by CNNIBN in partnership with CSE and Outlook Magazine and telecast on 5th June 2008 - most Indians ranked environment pollution as their second worst, problem in a list of six and believe that air, water and noise pollution will get worse. Needless to say the first is, rising prices.

The panel comprised Science and Technology Minister Kapil Sibal, Dr Subir Gokarn, chief economist for Standard and Poor in the Asia Pacific region, CSE director Sunita Narain, Rahul Ram, lead vocalist of music band Indian Ocean, and Ramachandra Guha, historian and writer.

Most Delhiites will agree that the city is choking because of the high pollution level, which incidentally is back to the pre-CNG days. And no prizes for guessing that the biggest contributor to the pollution are automobiles.

Ironically, Delhi is also one of the few Indian cities to have done more than its fair share to cut air pollution in the last six years.

Polluting industries have been relocated, government buses, three-wheelers, and taxis run on CNG, 15-year-old commercial vehicles are off roads and there is a tighter control on power plants, but none of this is able to combat 4.5 million registered vehicles with 1,000 being added every day. Add to this, an ever increasing number of diesel vehicles and the future looks completely dismal.

“The gains that we had made in switching buses to CNG is being nullified because of increase in private diesel vehicles and pollution caused by them,” Vivek Chattopadhyaya from the Centre for Science and Environment explained.

Indians may regard air pollution as the country’s worst environment problem but they think industries are the top culprits for this and vehicles next. Is it a case of ‘my car doesn’t pollute’?

“Everybody wants to think he or she is good, nobody wants to admit that they might have something to do with environmental problems. The mindset is if it’s green—haryali—it can’t be polluting. Nobody thinks that better public transport can take the burden off the environment too,” said Ram.

People’s good intentions won’t end pollution; environment-friendly policies will need hard work and long-term commitment, said Gokarn. Polluting industries will have to be taxed and environment-friendly ones given incentives—tasks that require effort and coordination, he said.

People have to pay some price for a better environment, said Guha. “Cities will have to stop shifting the burden to the countryside. Delhi is situated on the Yamuna but the river is dead; Varanasi is on the Ganga but the river is dead. Urban Indians need to think about the footprint of their activities on the hinterland.”

“People are not being asked to give up their cars, but give them affordable, convenient and the best option to travel,” said Narain.

The survey’s findings reflect the “maturing of the environment” in India. “Urban Indians are realizing the problem that is staring at all of us,” she added”

We do. And how! And we find that it is already too late. We need to pull up our socks and - Be The Change We Want.

And this has to begin with you and me. Industry has to be forced to change. If we as customers, refuse to buy, products that are environmentally unfriendly, they will be forced to change their mindset which is always, profits at any cost.

It has to begin at your home and mine, in schools, colleges, indeed everywhere, we need to teach and follow what we preach, on becoming conscientious citizens of the world.

Strategies To Use To Combat Environmental Damage

Say no to diesel cars. And SUV. Take a bus to office and leave your car at home for weekend use. Opt for car pools, cut down on the number of private vehicles. Use buses, Metro, eco-friendly modes of communications whenever possible, like bikes, CNG, LPG, electricity run vehicles.

Walk! Its good for you

Junk bottled water. Demand clean water. Insist in free water as a basic human right

Use less water, to discharge less sewage. All the sewage finally goes to the rivers. Think when you flush. Insist your colony recycles its waste-water and reuse it

The tiger is beautiful. So are the tribal who co-exist with them. Demand justice for both

To make your beautiful home green, harvest rain water, use water saving toilets, segregate garbage and compost kitchen waste. Use CFL bulbs, and solar hot water heater

Impose economic sanctions against the US for rogue climate behavior

Do not use any product which uses plastic to pack food or other stuff. This will put pressure on manufacturers to make recyclable packaging

Levy a global “greenwash service” tax on corporate. Make them fully liable for products that damage the environment, today and tomorrow

Do not first adopt wasteful and environmentally bad habits and then become green. Think of the last person. Do not first buy processed food and then ask for organic and home-made food. Do not first eat junk food and then go on diet. Enjoy biodiversity in food and lifestyle. Shun McWorld

Use less of everything that you use in your daily life. Not greed of some but need of all is the only way ahead.
- Courtsey Down To Earth June 1-15 issue (

I would like to end with Kapil Sibil’s most wonderful statement – “We have to understand that we are not inhering a world, but we are borrowing a world from our children”.

Green revolution: Air is what's bothering Indians
State Of The Environment Survey, Air Pollution , New Delhi
What Indians worry about most? The air we breathe
Pollution, India's biggest bother

Further info on Global Warming