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“The First Impression”

Once again the month of June is here and the first thing that
comes to our mind is the tiny tots starting school, in fact
acquainting with their second home. The sight of several kids
coming to school clad in brand new uniforms and clutching just-out-
of-the-box school bags with an apparent innocence of ignorance
etched on their faces is indeed curious to watch. As the rains are
about to pour down not in the least dampening the spirits of those
starters at school, a stream of memories of my own first day at
school(which is not my present one) cascade back.
          Having spent my early childhood in nursery schools and
crèches, I never had the feeling of starting afresh when I entered
the wrought-iron gates of a Convent school which was to be my
alma mater. Unlike my counterparts who wore a look of utter
strangeness on their faces, I felt nothing different except wearing a
uniform. We were asked to be seated and then started the show of
the day! All my friends-to-be began crying loudly refusing to leave
their parent’s side. I watched all these proceedings silently and
eventually got to be the model kid whom other parents pointed out
to keep their wards quiet. Soon after, my new teacher joined us.
          As time flew, the smiling face of our teacher, the sweets she
gave and having familiarized with each other, we all made
ourselves at home. The bell rang shrilly for the break. As I finished
the snacks I brought, it started to drizzle, gaining strength after
each minute. I felt as if the rain was beckoning and suddenly,
without thinking twice, I found myself enjoying the first drops of rain
of that month. From a distance I made out the figure of my teacher
pursuing me in my wild attempt. Sensing danger, I ran for the
school garage nearby. As my teacher approached, I had already
climbed halfway one of the long poles supporting the bus shed.
She negotiated with me to come down using threatening words.
Having failed, she got a grip on my pink and white checked frock.
The rest happened in the fraction of a second. Undoubtedly, the
stitch of my frock at the waist gave way and I slid down the pole in
a jiffy. I followed my teacher to the class without a word. All the
time, my classmates who were dangling from the window bars and
some of them with fingers in their mouths resembled orangutans in
a  zoo.                                   
          In the evening, teacher narrated all the goings-on of that day
vividly to my father, making my fears come true. Reaching home, I
received a good telling-off from my father, with my eyes downcast
in the backdrop of absolute muteness. This put an end to the
exhilarating and emotional events of my initial day at school.

Salini Johnson,

Class: X-A,

Filed under: Creative Corner,

Why water droplets stick to rose petals?

Why water droplets stick to rose petals?


observing rose petals with water droplets glittering in the sunshine, some researchers in China wondered why the water droplets stuck to the surface of the petal. Even when they turned the flower upside down, the droplets didn’t fall off. “We work on the interaction of solid surfaces with water, including natural surfaces. When we saw rose petals with water droplets on them, we picked some petals for study,” said Lin Feng, the lead author from the department of chemistry, Tsinghua University,China.

Research followed observation and what has come to light is the petal effect—the physical basis of a rose to hold on to water droplets. This hints at its use in adhesives, paints and fabrics, says the study published in the American Chemical Society’s journal, Langmuir (Vol 24, No 8). It is the opposite of the lotus effect discovered earlier, which says that water droplets can roll off easily from lotus petals.

Rose petals have tiny outgrowths on them that are not visible to the naked eye. Called micro-papillae, these outgrowths give the petals sufficient roughness, with two fallouts. One, the petals become highly water repellent, a property called superhydrophobicity, and two, it makes them adhesive.

The micro papillae form a seal with water droplets allowing them to cling to the surface of the petal.

The experiment was conducted by Feng, along with scientists of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, Jilin University, Changchun, and the National Center for Nanoscience and Technology, Beijing. The researchers also developed a synthetic petal to test for varied applications.

According to Lin, the synthetic petals, which they used as moulds to make polymer films, could be used for paint coatings, functional fibres and microfluids. The most exciting application, she says, is in a laboratory as lab-on-a-chip devices. Surfaces could be used to transfer water droplets with the risk of contamination. This is a pre-requisite for analyzing micro samples.

Ashutosh Sharma of the Department of Chemical Engineering, iit Kanpur, says the material can be used to make water-retaining surfaces. He is confident of its use in other areas after further research is done.

Courtesy: Down To Earth

Filed under: Snippets,

Cyber Quiz




1. Roy Bostock is the chairman of…?

2. Name the world’s largest independent manufacturer of motherboard chipsets behind the new ‘Isaiah’ processor.

3. Which is the only Asian language amongst the 10 new languages added to Google Translate last fortnight?

4. Which big portal has teamed up with three subsidiaries of advertising giant WPP i.e. GroupM, 24/7 Real Media and WPP Digital?

5. What did Max Levchin and Peter Thiel co-found?

6. Which big online player’s first avatar was called Quantum Computer Services?

7. Which Nasdaq-100 company’s ticker symbol is CTSH?

8. Which industry leader in the personal peripheral market has its HQ in Romanel-sur-Morges, Switzerland?

9. Don Carty is the CFO of….?

10. Name the NSA supercomputer in Dan Brown’s ‘Digital Fortress’.




1. Yahoo! Inc.

2. Via Technologies.

3. Hindi

4. Yahoo!

5. PayPal

6. AOL

7. Cognizant Technology Solutions Corporation.

8. Logitech

9. Dell


Courtesy :V.V.Ramanan, Business Line

Filed under: YW-Cyber Quiz,

Amitav Ghosh

Nationality: Indian. Born: 11 July 1956. Education: Delhi University, India, B.A. in history, M.A. in sociology; Oxford University, diploma in social anthropology, Ph.D.; Institut Bourguiba des Langues Vivants Tunis, diploma in Arabic. Career: Since 1986 lecturer in sociology, Delhi School of Economics, Delhi University. Contibutor to Indian Express (New Dehli), Granta (Cambridge), and The New Republic (Washington, D.C.). Award: Academy of Letters, India, annual prize, 1990. Agent: Wylie, Aitken and Stone, 250 West 57th Street, New York, New York 10107, U.S.A.



The Circle of Reason. London, Hamilton, and New York, Viking, 1986.
The Shadow Lines. New Delhi, Ravi Dayal, and London, Bloomsbury, 1988; New York, Viking, 1989.
The Calcutta Chromosome: A Novel of Fevers, Delirium and Discovery. New York, Avon Books, 1995.
Countdown. Delhi, Ravi Dayal Publisher, 1999.
The Glass Palace. New York, Random House, 2000.


The Relations of Envy in an Egyptian Village. Trivandrum, Centre forDevelopment Studies, 1982.
In an Antique Land. New Delhi, Ravi Dayal, 1992; New York, Knopf, 1993; London, Penguin, 1994.
Translator, The Slave of Ms. H. Calcutta, Centre for Studies in SocialSciences, 1990.

Critical Studies:

The Novels of Amitav Ghosh, edited by R.K. Dhawan. New Delhi, Prestige Books, 1999.
* * *

Amitav Ghosh’s fictional world is one of restless narrative motion. His central figures are travelers and diasporic exiles: exemplars of “the migrant sensibility” that Salman Rushdie calls “one of the central themes of this century of displaced persons.” If in Rushdie’s metaphor “the past is a country from which we have all emigrated,” Ghosh’s conflation of time and space—and of distinct times and distant places—is even more extreme. He treats national borders and conceptual boundaries as permeable fictions to be constantly transgressed. Through the multiple criss-crossings enabled by a free-ranging narrative, discrete binaries of order and category give way to a realm of mirror images and hybrid realities. Reason becomes passion, going away is also coming home, and the differences between us and them, now and then, here and there are disrupted by the itinerant maps of a roaming imagination.
The Circle of Reason follows Indian characters from a Bengali village to an Egyptian town to an outpost in the Algerian Sahara. This first novel begins as a comic tale of unlikely conjunctions. The scientific Reason with which Balaram is obsessed combines Hindu ideas of purity and Western notions of cleanliness with Louis Pasteur’s microbiology; Balaram’s vision of social progress through weaving suggests both Gandhi’s nationalist self-sufficiency and a global multinational economy in which technology “recognizes no continents and no countries.” However, this eccentric version of Reason is almost wiped out in the novel by forces of unreason: ambition, paranoia, territoriality, and violence.
Balaram’s last disciple, the mysterious Alu, is chased across oceans and continents as a narrative of shifting, spooling time within fixed village space gives way to a linear-time, picaresque story spread across the international space of diaspora. In al-Ghazira, Alu’s charismatic socialism quixotically links the eradication of germs with the elimination of money. The final scenes in El Oued are more earnest and down-to-earth, favoring the migrant’s adaptive “making do” and “being human” over the purist strictures of science and religious tradition. Nevertheless, Reason and the past both circle back in the form of Balaram’s favorite book, the Life of Pasteur, which has also traveled from Bengal to Algeria, and which Alu can now “reverently” cremate.
Ghosh’s second novel is more somber, less fanciful in its politics, and quite stunning in the power with which its formal experiments in sequence and location resonate thematically. The Shadow Lines traces nearly a half-century of interlocking relations among three generations of two families, one Indian and one British, giving perhaps the definitive fictional demonstration of Benedict Anderson’s dictum that nations are “imagined communities.” When the same Hindu-Muslim conflict can take place simultaneously in Dhaka and Calcutta, the unnamed narrator must abandon his common-sense assumption “that distance separates, that it is a corporeal substance,” and his belief “in the reality of nations and borders.” The self, like the cosmopolitan cities it lives in, becomes a palimpsest, sedimented with history, memory, and others that the self has absorbed. The narrative mode echoes this intricate layering with its looping, Russian-doll-like nestling of story within story, place within place, memory within actuality.
The unnamed narrator, with his internationalized consciousness, wallows in an empowering sense of simultaneity and correspondence. Growing up with Tridib in Calcutta, he can “know” war-time London neighborhoods and see the English boy Nick Price as a spectral mirror image. His grandmother’s confusion between her childhood Dhaka and the present-day foreign city becomes symptomatic of the violence done to people by artificial borders and partitions (poignantly allegorized in her family’s divided house). If the novel valorizes the search for unbounded space and co-existing time, however, it refuses to endorse self-serving appropriations of “other” realities. When Ila compares her pleasure at bohemian living with that of war-time radicals, the narrator criticizes the “easy arrogance” by which she assumes “that times and places are the same because they happen to look alike, like airport lounges.” But after a futile argument about whether her London or his Calcutta is the site of real history and important politics, he realizes the shaky ground on which he too claims possession of people and places he has largely invented.
Ghosh thus recognizes the political stakes involved in drawing connecting lines, like airline routes, across the “shadow lines” of national boundaries and historical periods. His globe-shrinking project enables not only integration but also juxtaposition. The controlling metaphor of the airport lounge makes this point brilliantly: as replicated space (they all look alike) and individual place (each one is distinctive); as both attached to and detached from its national home; as a place where departures rub shoulders with arrivals, where everyone is always on the move. Full of complex cross-cultural encounters, The Shadow Lines makes a unique contribution to the debates over “difference” and “otherness” that have galvanized the contemporary post-colonial world.
Ghosh’s astonishing third novel, The Calcutta Chromosome, plunges into the colorful medical history of European research into malaria a century ago. It begins with the unlikely discoveries of Ronald Ross, an imperial army doctor in India who, despite ignorance of microbiology and erroneous ideas about how malaria is transmitted, nonetheless managed to win a Nobel Prize for helping understand the disease. In an ingeniously plotted narrative, Ghosh unravels some mind-boggling alternative possibilities for where Ross’s knowledge really came from and what it might—very radically—entail. Full of outrageous fantasy and “decentering” impulses that speculatively reroute European knowledges through Indian ones, the book imaginatively ventures into what Brian McHale, in Postmodernist Fiction, calls “secret” or “apocryphal” history. It does so through a genre—the mystery—that makes unlikely mental journeys, startling discoveries, and the revelation of secrets into its narrative life-blood.
Ghosh’s protagonist, the Egyptian researcher Antar, works in a near-future New York on a highly advanced computer. The machine, Ava, outlandishly blends the visionary empowerment of recent Internet hype—it really can do anything, speak any dialect, find any document—with the oppressive scrutiny of Orwell’s Big Brother—it won’t let Antar stop work early, and its invasive hologram technology respects no bounds of privacy. Antar and Ava investigate the disappearance of the long-lost Murugan, a self-styled authority on Ronald Ross, who went to Calcutta in 1995 on the trail of some suspicious anomalies he’d found in Ross’s work; he was last seen the day after his arrival. The narrative follows Murugan through two days of unsettling encounters and strange coincidences that augment and clarify his incipient theories; he also discovers an inextricable link between himself and one of Ross’s research subjects.
The discovery process shared by Murugan, the reader, and Antar follows a narrative rollercoaster that at times resembles a fun-house, a “laff in the dark” ride with a carefully timed sequence of grotesque surprises popping out at every turn. In stylized prose emphasizing dialogue and description, Ghosh employs conventional devices of the mystery, the high-tech thriller, the “hard-boiled” detective novel, the science fiction adventure, and the Victorian ghost story—all with such boldness and panache that it can be hard to tell if he is parodying the genres or “doing” them in earnest.
But after the novel’s controlling plot lays down the last bit of secret knowledge, it turns out to be very much about control, and about knowledge. And although Ghosh typically does not wear his politics on his sleeve, the implication of this novel’s secret history is that control of medical knowledge is wrenched away from Europeans in the past and bestowed on Indians in the past, present, and future. Unhoused from the apparatus and methods of European science, malaria is repossessed by the locals—rightful owners, perhaps, since it is they and their ancestors who have most often been possessed by its malign fevers. Understanding of the disease is reclaimed and redefined on distinctly Indian terms; in Ghosh’s version it has significance not just for science and bodily health, but also for spiritual health and worship, fate and predestination, reincarnation, time cycles and other notions more dear (by and large) to Indians than Westerners.
Ghosh is remarkable in his use of narrative structure to exemplify thematic interests. The Circle of Reason ‘s itinerant and wayward picaresque echoes the intellectual caprices of its characters, while The Shadow Lines makes impossible coexistences and disrupted metaphysical boundaries into real struggles both for its narrator and its readers. Similarly, The Calcutta Chromosome insists on a reading process that enacts its central ideas. It uses the controlled surprises and circuitous discoveries of the mystery-thriller to convey a story whose initial germ—malaria science—is all about circuitous routes to surprising discoveries. In Ghosh’s exacting hands that story becomes a feverish literary journey into a possible world where to find that one is following someone else’s agenda—indeed is totally trapped by it—can be paradoxically to achieve new mastery over the future agendas of oneself and others.

—John Clement Ball

Filed under: Author of the week,

The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama


The Open Road: The Global Journey of the Fourteenth

Dalai Lama

By Pico Iyer


Searching for the Dalai Lama


April 6, 2008, The New York Times

Do you get the impression that the Dalai Lama is not exactly the brightest bulb in the room?” a journalist asked Pico Iyer after both men left a speaking event by His Holiness. We know what he’s getting at. At a certain angle, the chirpy aphorisms, the generous stream of book forewords, the Hollywood entourage, all conspire to cast a hue of superficiality that few global pop icons escape.

In that light, it is possible to forget that the Dalai Lama is, in fact, a titan: a head of state, a doctor of metaphysics, a prolific author, a hyperrealist, a newshound, a godhead to the Tibetan people and the recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize — a man who embodies a “simplicity that lies not before complexity but on the far side of it.”

In “The Open Road,” Iyer takes a long, hard look at the many meanings of this deceptively simple man. At first blush, one might wonder why Iyer, best known as the author of many travel memoirs including “Video Night in Kathmandu” and “Sun After Dark,” would take on such a subject. The answer lies in the understanding that Iyer is not just a travel writer, and the Dalai Lama is not just a monk.

Iyer has set out to examine Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, as a part of a larger set of ideas and thinkers — a towering example of the cross-cultural interconnectedness that has been the author’s particular subject. Iyer has long wondered “how globalism could acquire depths, an inwardness that would sustain it more than mere goods or data could.” And “if our new way of living were to offer any real sustenance,” he posits, “it would have to be invisible, in the realm of what underlies acceleration and multinationals.”

Confused? Me too. A bit. But that’s O.K., because when you have a formidable writer who says I’m curious, catch me if you can, and a subject as rich as the Dalai Lama, it’s best to just hang on for the ride.

Iyer’s connection to his subject is also deeply personal. His father, a Bombay-raised Indian teaching political philosophy at Oxford, went to Dharamsala, India, to meet Gyatso in 1960, when both men were in their 20s, only a year after the Tibetan leader had fled to India ahead of his Chinese pursuers; the men started a lifelong friendship. Iyer himself first traveled to the Dalai Lama’s home as a teenager, and thus began a dialogue that would cover three decades and half a dozen continents — and become the grist of “The Open Road.” Weaving together these conversations (and many with the Dalai Lama’s brother, Ngari Rinpoche, and other Tibetans), along with vast research, Iyer has written an original exploration that occasionally loses the scent and wanders off trail, but largely delivers a trenchant, impassioned look at a singular life.

Right off, Iyer lays out the many paradoxes of a figure he considers one of the best- and least-known people on the planet. The Dalai Lama is a religious teacher who warns of the entanglements of religion and urges people to stay with their original faiths. He is a dedicated man of science, yet beholden to hundreds of religious rites. He continues to urge a controversial forbearance (rather than direct action) toward the Chinese, even as occupied Tibet is a whisper away from gone. He is a head of state, with all the attendant duties, who meditates for four hours every morning on, among other things, the roots of compassion and his own death. In what other person does this depth of monasticism and plenitude of frequent-flier miles so live together? Iyer doesn’t solve the conundrums; he digs toward the nature of what lies below. One man is not likely to have all the answers, he writes of the Dalai Lama, but — and here, Iyer could be addressing his own narrative — “it’s the questions he puts into play that invigorate.”

The Dalai Lama is, above all, what we want him to be. The Western world most wants him to be a fairy tale — a saffron-robed young leader from Shangri-La, where we think a hunk of spirituality is tossed in with every drought of hot butter tea. To the Tibetan people, he is regarded as a god, but to the outside world he is “a secular divinity of sorts, and for that there is less precedent.” Iyer challenges us to see him as one of a group of agents of transformation like Vaclav Havel, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, people who “change the world by changing the way they looked at the world.”

But the accessible Dalai Lama, whose voice can be downloaded as a ring tone and who crisscrosses the globe with a populist message of compassion and kindness, is only a part of who he is. He is mostly, and radically, a private man. We do not see, nor would most of us understand if we did, the vast esoteric side of Buddhism — a complex world of oracles, ancient enmities and high-level metaphysical pay dirt — that he also inhabits. As a monk, of course, the Dalai Lama spends much of his life steeped in the central Buddhist tenet of interconnectedness, engaged in inner work that supports, and even creates, new outward realities.

Case in point: Dharamsala. The creation of the Tibetan government and community-in-exile there is a hopeful experiment, “as compressed and bittersweet an image of the global village as I have ever seen,” Iyer tells us. With Dharamsala, the Dalai Lama envisioned a new, improved Tibet, doing away with many of the feudalisms and formalities of old and successfully building a refuge for, and incubator of, Tibetan culture. Iyer describes it as a remote outpost of searing spirit, entrenched longing and ramshackle reality. A place, above all, “consecrated to the idea that the problems of one place are the concerns of every place, in our ever more linked universe.”

The Dalai Lama’s commitment to modernize led, in 2001, to exiles in 37 countries electing the first Tibetan prime minister. There was a minor uproar when he included in Tibet’s new constitution a clause for his own impeachment. And he has suggested he could be the last Dalai Lama. All this planned obsolescence makes Tibetans uncomfortable, but it makes sense in light of the six words into which he distills Buddhism: “Change is part of the world.”

And what of Tibet itself? As recent events have shown, it’s hard to feel optimistic. The country teeters dangerously close to extinction by absorption. But Iyer tells us the Dalai Lama rests his faith on surprise, “the sudden result of what has been building invisibly for years.” We are reminded that the Berlin Wall came down seemingly overnight (just as it went up); one day apartheid simply seemed to collapse; butterfly wings, as the notion goes, can cause a tsunami to rise up on the other side of the world. “Until the last moment,” the Dalai Lama says, “anything is possible.”

Holly Morris is the author of “Adventure Divas: Searching the Globe for a New Kind of Heroine.”

Courtesy:The New York Times


Filed under: Book of the week, ,

Junot Díaz

Junot Díaz (born 31 December 1968) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning DominicanAmerican writer. He moved to the United States with his parents at age six, settling in New Jersey. Central to Díaz’s work is the duality of the immigrant experience.

Díaz was born in Villa Juana, a “barrio” (Spanish for neighborhood) Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.[1] He was the third child in a family of five. Throughout most of his early childhood he lived with his mother and grandparents while his father, Rafael, worked in the United States. Díaz immigrated to Parlin, New Jersey in December 1974, where he was re-united with his father.

He attended Madison Park Elementary and was a voracious reader, often walking four miles in order to borrow books from his public library. His father abandoned the family in the mid-80s; within months Diaz’s oldest brother was diagnosed with leukemia and the family was plunged into a period of severe poverty. At this time Díaz became fascinated with apocalyptic films and books, especially the work of John Christopher, the original Planet of the Apes films and the BBC mini-series Edge of Darkness. Díaz graduated from Cedar Ridge High School in Old Bridge, New Jersey in 1987.

He attended Kean College in Union, New Jersey for one year before transferring and ultimately completing his BA at Rutgers College in 1992, majoring in English; there he was involved in a creative-writing living-learning residence hall and in various student organizations and was exposed to the authors who would motivate him into becoming a writer: Toni Morrison and Sandra Cisneros. He worked his way through college by delivering pool tables, washing dishes, pumping gas and working at Raritan River Steel.

After graduating from Rutgers he was employed at Rutgers University Press as an editorial assistant. He earned his MFA from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York in 1995, where he wrote most of his first collection. Diaz has said he was stunned when he received an acceptance letter from Cornell because he had not applied there. Apparently his then-girlfriend applied on his behalf.[2] Díaz is active in the Dominican community and teaches creative writing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and is also the fiction editor for the Boston Review. He is a founding member of the Voices of Writing Workshop, a writing workshop focused on writers of color.


Won Pulitzer Prize for fiction 2008

His short fiction has appeared in The New Yorker magazine which listed him as one of the 20 top writers for the 21st century. He has also been published in Story, The Paris Review and in the anthologies The Best American Short Stories four times (1996, 1997, 1999, 2000) and African Voices. He is best known for his two major works: the short story collection Drown (1996) and the novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007). Both were published to critical acclaim and he won the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for the latter.

Diaz has received a Eugene McDermott Award, a fellowship from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, a Lila Acheson Wallace Readers Digest Award, the 2002 Pen/Malamud Award, the 2003 US-Japan Creative Artist Fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts, a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University and the Rome Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He was selected as one of the 39 most important Latin American writers under the age of 39 by the Bogotá Book Capital of World and the Hay Festival. In September of 2007, Miramax acquired the rights for a film adaptation of The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.[3]

The stories in Drown focus on the teenage narrator’s impoverished, fatherless youth in the Dominican Republic and his struggle adapting to his new life in New Jersey. Reviews were generally strong but not without complaints.[4] The titles in the collection include “Ysrael”, “Fiesta, 1980”, “Aurora”, “Drown”, “Boyfriend”, “Edison, New Jersey”, “How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie”, “No Face”, “Negocios”. Diaz read twice for PRI‘s This American Life: “Edison, New Jersey”[5] in 1997 and “How to Date a Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie”[6] in 1998. Díaz also published a Spanish translation of’ Drown, entitled Negocios. The arrival of his novel (“The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao) in 2007 prompted a minor re-appraisal of Diaz’s earlier work. Drown became widely recognized as an important landmark in contemporary literature—ten years after its initial publication—even by critics who had either entirely ignored the book[7] or had given it poor reviews.[8]

Díaz’s first novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, was published in September 2007. New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani characterized Díaz’s writing in the novel as:

a sort of streetwise brand of Spanglish that even the most monolingual reader can easily inhale: lots of flash words and razzle-dazzle talk, lots of body language on the sentences, lots of David Foster Wallace-esque footnotes and asides. And he conjures with seemingly effortless aplomb the two worlds his characters inhabit: the Dominican Republic, the ghost-haunted motherland that shapes their nightmares and their dreams; and America (a.k.a. New Jersey), the land of freedom and hope and not-so-shiny possibilities that they’ve fled to as part of the great Dominican diaspora.[7]

Writing for Time, critic Lev Grossman said that Díaz’s novel was “so astoundingly great that in a fall crowded with heavyweights–Richard Russo, Philip Roth–Díaz is a good bet to run away with the field. You could call The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao… the saga of an immigrant family, but that wouldn’t really be fair. It’s an immigrant-family saga for people who don’t read immigrant-family sagas.”[9]

In addition to the Pulitzer, The Brief Wondrous life of Oscar Wao was awarded the Sargent First Novel Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Best Novel of 2007.[10] The novel was also selected by Time[11] and New York Magazine[12] as the best novel of 2007. St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Los Angeles Times, Village Voice, Christian Science Monitor, New Statesman, Washington Post and Publishers Weekly also placed the novel on their Best of 2007 lists.


Short stories

  • “Ysrael” (Story, Autumn 1995)
  • “How To Date A Browngirl, Blackgirl, Whitegirl, or Halfie” (The New Yorker, December 25, 1995)
  • “Drown” (The New Yorker, January 29, 1996)
  • “Fiesta 1980” (Story, Winter 1996)
  • “The Sun, The Moon, The Stars” (The New Yorker, February 2, 1998)
  • “Otravida, Otravez” (The New Yorker, June, 21, 1999)
  • “Flaca” (Story, Autumn 1999)
  • “Nilda” (The New Yorker, October 4, 1999)
  • “The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao” (The New Yorker, December 25, 2000)
  • “Homecoming, with Turtle” (The New Yorker, June 14, 2004)
  • “Wildwood” (The New Yorker, November 18, 2007)
  • “Alma” (The New Yorker, December 24, 2007)


Filed under: Author of the week, ,

The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of War in Iraq

The Three Trillion Dollar War:

the true cost of the Iraq conflit


Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda J. Bilmes

Penguin, March 2008

Apart from its tragic human toll, the Iraq War will be staggeringly expensive in financial terms. In The Three Trillion Dollar War, Nobel Prize winner Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda J. Bilmes cast a spotlight on expense items that have been hidden from the U.S. taxpayer, including not only big-ticket items like replacing military equipment (being used up at six times the peacetime rate) but also the cost of caring for thousands of wounded veterans—for the rest of their lives. Shifting to a global focus, the authors investigate the cost in lives and economic damage within Iraq and the region. Finally, with the chilling precision of an actuary, the authors measure what the U.S. taxpayer’s money would have produced if instead it had been invested in the further growth of the U.S. economy. Written in language as simple as the details are disturbing, this book will forever change the way we think about the war.

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Filed under: Book of the week, ,

Deserving dignity


Justice for the disabled demands fulfilment of their rights to inclusive education, employment and social participation.

In the kingdom of ends everything has either a price or a dignity. What has a price can be replaced by something else as its equivalent; what on the other hand is raised above all price and therefore admits of no equivalent has a dignity. Humanity insofar as it is capable of morality, is that which alone has dignity.

– Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.

True equality for the disabled means more than access to buildings and methods of transportation. It mandates a change in attitude in the larger social fabric – of which we are all a part – to ensure that they are no longer viewed as problems, but as holders of rights that deserve to be met with the same urgency we afford to our own.

– Mary Robinson, ‘Foreword’, The Human Rights of Persons with Intellectual Disabilities.

DISABILITY strikes anyone – age, sex, community and caste are no bar. A software engineer has a brain injury, a labourer loses his arm, a child is crippled by cancer. Some people born with disability or who are affected as children learn early the hard lessons of social exclusion and family rejection. But disability – or being ‘differently abled’ as the more politically correct language of inclusivity puts it – does not mean that a person becomes less human. The desire to contribute economically, socially and emotionally to society is no less. In fact, the experience of disability can make a person strive all the more to be recognised as a valuable human being, able to give rather than always having to receive.

It is encouraging to note that the number of Indians suffering disability as a consequence of leprosy is rapidly falling and polio is comparatively on the decline. Yet other illnesses and conditions, many linked with poverty such as preventable childhood blindness, hearing impediment, cerebral palsy and lathyrism, a motor neurone disease caused by toxins in cheap lentils, continue to reinforce the link between disability and poverty. Poverty itself increases the likelihood of childhood disability through poor nutrition and difficulty in having access to neo-natal medical care. People who are both disabled and poor suffer a double burden even before caste, gender and community factors are added to the mix.

Tradition and History

Historically, the link between poverty and disability has been quite crucial to the place a disabled person could hold in society. The disabled are profoundly vulnerable to poverty. Loss of livelihood often follows disability and those born into it often have little option but to beg for food and money. The Hindu law in the Mitakshara and Dayabhagha codes disinherited those who were lame, blind, insane or afflicted with leprosy. Although Manu and other dharmasastric authorities directed that the family must maintain those denied inheritance on the basis of disability, the disabled remained excluded from the option of inherited wealth and security unless their “defect” could be removed by medical intervention or through ritual practice. Besides economic disenfranchisement, a disabled member of the family was also seen as a risk to future prosperity and marriage for other family members.

Hence, the disallowance of inheritance was not simply a legal matter, but a reflection of the karmic logic and social attitude that those who were infirm and disabled were less ritually pure. It is not that traditional Indian society neglected the disabled completely. Many steps were taken to care for the disabled, particularly the disabled poor, such as giving them alms and establishing choultries and langarkhanas that provided regular meals and, at times, shelter for those without other means of support. Such systems of charitable support, much like contemporary charity models of disability care, however, ensured that the disabled remained a category of the population outside the mainstream structures of society.

Moreover, providing food and shelter had more to do with obtaining spiritual favours for the giver than with improving the economic and social conditions of the disabled poor.

During the British colonial period the poor with disabilities were more vulnerable than any other group to colonial interventions. Those with financial and family support tended to remain hidden from the colonial purview. Those without such supports were more likely to seek help from government-run outpatient clinics such as the British Civil Hospital and Medical Dispensaries established in 1842. Usually as a last resort and when illness or scarcity made any livelihood, even begging, impossible, those disabled by blindness, deformity, illness or mental incapacity would seek food, treatment and shelter from specialised government or mission-run inpatient institutions, including leprosy and mental hospitals. Within institutional walls, poverty radically altered the identity of the patient. Class determined whether someone with disability was a patient with rights and autonomy or a prisoner who could not leave without permission. Colonial legislation reflected this distinction.

The 1898 Lepers’ Act, for example, targeted vagrant and poor leprosy sufferers for confinement while leaving those in employment to continue to live within the community. The historical record also attests to the critical importance of socio-economic status in enabling disabled people to live ordinary and constructive lives.

Poverty did not automatically follow upon affliction and disability, and where a reasonable socio-economic status could be maintained, the disabled person was able to live a relatively normal life. Records reporting on 19th and early 20th century leprosy cases throughout India describe the leprosy-afflicted persons working as lawyers, teachers, merchants, goldsmiths and shepherds and even selling food and drink despite clear evidence of the disease and its attendant deformities. Some, who continued to work and maintain middle class status, were able to remain within the family home and marry. Does this historical experience not teach important lessons?

Governments and policymakers, businesses and industries ought to realise that supporting the social and economic status of a disabled person through recognition and employment is as important to that person’s life as providing mobility and other structural support such as hearing aids, wheelchairs, transport and computers.

Policy Imperatives

In February 2006, the Central government adopted the National Policy on Disability, which recognises the value of people with disabilities as a national resource and undertakes to change the social and physical environment to support equal rights and full participation in Indian society for the disabled. However, to be recognised as a person and allowed to contribute, the disabled person still has to endure many forms of overt and subtle discriminatory exclusion from society. The weight of history is against official acknowledgement of the disabled and Indian society has been extremely slow in breaking away from it. British colonial governments took more than a century to begin formally counting the disabled in India.

The first decennial all-India Census of 1871, described by the anthropologist Barney Cohn as an act of colonial surveillance, included the counting of the “Infirm” defined as “insane, idiot, deaf and dumb, blind and leper” members of the population. From 1931 to 1981 the Indian Census excluded disability statistics in any form.

This tendency to forget the marginalised and disabled can be found in many modern nation-states. In 1970, fewer than 20 countries asked census questions to assess the nature and needs of their disabled populations. Public and international pressure mounted throughout the International Year of Disabled Persons in 1981 propelled nearly 60 countries, including India, to formulate some questions about disability in their national census. In India, however, 1981 marked only a brief appearance by disabled people in the Census statistics. Disability figures were subsequently left out of Census data until 2001. Instead, partial figures were gathered in the narrower context of sample surveying of socio-economic data, including poverty, slum and consumption figures through the 1981, 1991 and 2002 National Sample Surveys (NSS). Within the NSS, data on mental disability were not gathered until the third round in 2002. Census data collection on disability was only reinstated in 2001 after non-governmental organisations and government departments, including the Ministry of Social Justice and Empowerment, vigorously campaigned for the right of the disabled to be counted as full members of India’s citizenry.

From the viewpoint of social policy, the crucial question now is this: How many of the disabled remain forgotten and how many are truly included in the mainstream of Indian life? Are they seen as people with the same rights and aspirations as others or only as charity cases? As India continues to grow economically and reap the benefits of a globalised economy, the neglect of its disabled citizens should be viewed as a matter of social justice and development. By failing to support the disabled in developing their capabilities, India is missing out on a resource base of creativity, talent and drive.

The Persons with Disabilities (Equal Opportunities, Protection of Rights and Full Participation) Act, 1995, recognises in principle the value of disabled people and the constructive contribution they can make to the social, economic and cultural power of India. But this can be translated into reality only when there is allocation of sufficient financial and human resources and conscientious and effective delivery of various benefits and programmes. Just as urgently, various social attitudes and religious beliefs that are resistant to positive integration of the disabled into mainstream social life must be confronted and transformed through concerted effort and publicity campaigns in schools, colleges, media and other public fora. It should be noted that the welfare and rights of the disabled is not distinct from but closely linked to gender justice as most personal and professional care for the sick, the elderly and the disabled is given by women.

Socially and economically recognising and rewarding their work turns out to be an essential component in fulfilling the obligations of justice for the disabled themselves. In all these matters it is crucial to encourage the voice of the disabled so that they can contribute to and have a say in what is being done. Persons with disabilities are not simply “patients” to whom welfare benefits should be dispensed, but are human “agents” who can actively contribute to their own development and destiny.

Breaking Down Barriers


People with disability take out a rally in Bangalore on March 26.

Education and employment are the keys to improving the welfare, empowerment and social esteem of the disabled. But to realise these objectives, one needs a critical eye to take notice of the multiple deprivations that can co-exist with disability. The NSS measurement criterion for “extent of physical disability” includes indicators of self care such as the “ability to go to the latrine, taking food, getting dressed, etc”.

The sample survey showed that about 13 per cent of those disabled in rural and urban India were so severely affected that they were unable to care for themselves even with aids and appliances in place to support them. Even so about 60 per cent were able to care for themselves without aids or appliances and a further 17 per cent could manage with some support. Between 9 and 10 per cent, however, had no appliances available or were unable to find an appropriate aid to help them lead an independent life.

The figures for self care were slightly higher for those living in urban environments with significantly more of those living in rural areas being unable to have access to the necessary support equipment.

Given these figures, it is only reasonable to expect that at least 60 per cent of the disabled persons would be able to get full access to education. However, the NSS indicates that disabled people have relatively little access to education in both rural and urban areas. The survey showed that in rural India, nearly 60 per cent of those aged five years and above were functionally illiterate, with the proportion reducing to 40 per cent in the urban areas. Overall, not more than 30 per cent had education up to primary school, with less than 1 per cent of the disabled reaching secondary schooling and above.

Could this situation be improved? What are the factors limiting inclusion in education despite its support at legislative and national policy levels and the provision of special services and schools? One common cause is the lack of awareness of entitlements on the part of the disabled, accompanied by practical and administrative negligence in delivering them effectively. Even obtaining a disability certificate or a scholarship is made a cumbersome and long-drawn process.

Disabled beneficiaries who seek to get what is due to them are often at the mercy of local administrators and elites.

Further, despite the various recent initiatives by the government, resources for the education of children with special needs remain very limited. Few children have the mobility opportunities to travel to a suitable school. Even with subsidised transport fares, buses and trains can be inaccessible for a disabled child or can require resources a family cannot afford. Education is still regarded by some as a luxury that is available only to children who do not have work to support the family.

The intervention of government health workers, NGOs and informed well-wishers is essential to bring children and adults with disabilities into contact with the services and opportunities available. They can play an important role in explaining and interpreting the situation and needs of the child to the parents and can act as advocates in obtaining scholarships, medical treatment and disability aids for the child. More importantly, they can help break down social and emotional barriers to the child’s integration into family life, the local school and the community.

Disability and the effort to gain resources for the child can contribute to the whole family’s sense of empowerment and social acceptance rather than being a source of shame and fear. Technological advancements can no doubt enhance the freedom, learning capacities and independence of the disabled in many ways, but they cannot be a substitute for human warmth and assistance.

If education is a potential tool for empowerment in the armoury of the disabled, economically gainful employment is an actual and effective means to human dignity and social integration. Under the Persons with Disabilities Act, 1995, a total of 3 per cent of positions are reserved for people with blindness, hearing impairment or cerebral palsy. Special employment exchanges have been established throughout India to assist the physically disabled to find work. In addition, funds in poverty alleviation schemes are earmarked to help employ disabled persons, and private sector employers are given incentives to make at least 5 per cent of the disabled part of their workforce. Stories of inclusive employers and the success of their disabled workforces are slowly beginning to emerge.

Yet not many people are actually able to take full advantage of these opportunities. As in the general population, the vast majority of the disabled in the rural area are employed in activities such as agriculture and fishing and those living in the urban area are employed in manufacturing and artisan labour.

On the whole, only 26 per cent of the disabled are in employment, with 74 per cent being either not engaged in or unavailable for work. The experience of government job reservation and the special employment exchanges strongly suggest that physically disabled people are relatively easier to place in mainstream employment than those with mental disability. Mental disability proves one of the greatest challenges for those afflicted and for those who care for them.

One dominant factor contributing to the limitation of employment opportunities for disabled people in India is the lack of both school level and vocational education for disabled people aged 10 years or more. Physical and mental disability is for many the starting point for other disabilities. Lack of education, employment and poverty typically compound the initial affliction. Even those previously employed can experience catastrophic life change through the impact of disability. A marriage can be destroyed, children deserted and families broken up under the strain of disability. But disability does not mean the loss of humanity and the desire for social inclusion. If and when properly applied, economic and political planning can effectively minimise, if not totally eliminate, the impact of disability on human life and happiness. Disabilities are not defects, but another sort of differences in the garden variety of human life.

We appreciate disabled people and accommodate them in our social fabric and circles of friendship simply because they are as valuable and cherishable as anyone else.

Dr. John M. Alexander is the author of Capabilities and Social Justice: The Political Philosophy of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum, Ashgate, 2008. He teaches at Loyola Institute of Business Administration (LIBA), Loyola College, Chennai.

Dr. Jane Buckingham is the author of Leprosy in Colonial South India: Medicine and Confinement, Palgrave, 2002. She teaches at the School of History, University of Canterbury, Christchurch, New Zealand.

Courtesy :Frontline

Volume 25 – Issue 10 :: May. 10-23, 2008

Filed under: Article of the Week,


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