Thursday, April 23, 2009

Farakka Water Flow

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Bengali Blogs

Of late I have started writing more in Bengali and here is a list of my Bengali Blogs :

1. Sachalayatan : This is my main blog site.
2. This is the secondary one in wordpress, here I keep backups.
3. This is for publication in mukto-mona, a secular humanist site.
4. Last but not the least, my favourite somewhere blog.

Please come and read those pages as well.

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Friday, August 17, 2007

The News in China

Today I was watching a Chinese news channel broadcasting news in English. It’s like news broadcast by Doordarshan 20 years ago. There are no specialists present in the studio to discuss things. There is on boring woman taking pain of going through the entire news. There are no graphs, no analysis, nothing. The Chinese news is also similar to this one only. The media in China are at least 20 years behind of Indian counterpart. Everywhere in the news, the signature of socialism is bright and visible.

Let’s dig deep into the news contents. It was showing the Chinese premiere visiting Afghan and Iranian counterpart to talk to them. The reader summarized their comments without any analysis. Next, the domestic issues were presented. The price of pork (main source of meat in China) has been gone down this week by 1.2%. However, the other meats (Chicken and Lamb) have jumped once again. At the end of the scoop, she reminds us that price of pork has been doubled this year due to the shortage of sources. It’s really pathetic. I think if the price of Chicken doubles in any state of India within a year then that could be a good enough cause to vote that particular govt. out of the power. Poor Chinese people seem to forget protests and they have to live in a harsh capitalist society. It seems even USA is less capitalist than ‘Communist’ China.

Next the news about pollution came on screen. China is banning half of the cars from the roads of big cities to reduce the pollution. This is a reaction to the reports that most of Chinese cities are over-polluted. The reader added that the aim is to offer the Olympian guests a better China. The way to achieve half-ban is very simple – ban odd numbered cars on a day and the even ones on the next (between 8am to 8pm possibly). So, if you are a patient and need to use the car, I don’t know what you’d do. Should you wait for a day? Or take permission from some authority to drive (nothing similar was mentioned though)? Only China knows.

The trade news consists of the statements made in a single press conference. Some minister had warned a few countries not to carry out anti-dumping investigations on various Chinese products. He threatened them that China will deal the issue through WTO, in case any negative steps are taken. It seems like single news but the news composer has managed to disintegrate the news into two parts – one against some ‘friendlier’ nations (like Russia and Mongolia) using friendlier tones and the other against some rich competitor nations (like US and Canada) using harsh words. The selection of words was really praiseworthy, who says Chinese are weak in English?

Only in a few lines the reader completed the ‘irritating’ issue of China blocking the entry of Taiwan in the UN. China does not recognize it as a sovereign state, since it considers Taiwan a part of China (no reference to people of Taiwan at all, it seems that Taiwan is a barren no-man’s-land). So, that’s what Taiwan is.

The last one was on Chinese children in a ‘summer camp’ organized by the Govt. (once again!!!). The children are taught some self-dependency and creativity. They do learn organizing rooms, washing own clothes and dishes. And the afternoon is open for all to play. That’s the nicest piece of news I watched. The focus on quality of children is something totally missing in Indian Govt activities. I can China in multiple ways, but the foresight to create ‘quality’ children is really nice and should be replicated in India as well.

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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Einstein on Religion and Science

Any Scientific minded person who considers himself as a religious or an atheist, should read thses wonderful articles of Albert Einstein. These are, in a sense, an eye-opener to me, that how beautifully one could express how religion and science can be reconciled. There are four master-pieces, all of them are worth reading at a stretch. I know there will be many religious people claiming that Einstein was a ‘deeply religious’, but what I found here, that he defined the religion in totally a different way to build himself as ‘deeply religious’. Let’s go through a few excellent quotes.

On how the religion has come :

“With primitive man it is above all fear that evokes religious notions - fear of hunger, wild beasts, sickness, death. Since at this stage of existence understanding of causal connections is usually poorly developed, the human mind creates illusory beings more or less analogous to itself on whose wills and actions these fearful happenings depend. Thus one tries to secure the favor of these beings by carrying out actions and offering sacrifices which, according to the tradition handed down from generation to generation … This, though not created, is in an important degree stabilized by the formation of a special priestly caste which sets itself up as a mediator between the people and the beings they fear …”

Problems in the above definition of religion and his own view :

“Common to all these types is the anthropomorphic character of their conception of God. … I shall call it cosmic religious feeling. It is very difficult to elucidate this feeling to anyone who is entirely without it, especially as there is no anthropomorphic conception of God corresponding to it. … The individual feels the futility of human desires and aims and the sublimity and marvelous order which reveal themselves both in nature and in the world of thought. Individual existence impresses him as a sort of prison and he wants to experience the universe as a single significant whole. Buddhism, as we have learned especially from the wonderful writings of Schopenhauer, contains a much stronger element of this. “

On morality :

“A man’s ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hopes of reward after death.”

In praise of religion (article 1 and 2):

“The highest principles for our aspirations and judgments are given to us in the Jewish-Christian religious tradition. If one were to take that goal out of its religious form and look merely at its purely human side, one might state it perhaps thus: free and responsible development of the individual, so that he may place his powers freely and gladly in the service of all mankind.”

Defining a religious person and religion (Article 3) :

“a person who is religiously enlightened appears to me to be one who has, to the best of his ability, liberated himself from the fetters of his selfish desires and is preoccupied with thoughts, feelings, and aspirations to which he clings because of their superpersonalvalue. … Religion, on the other hand, deals only with evaluations of human thought and action: it cannot justifiably speak of facts and relationships between facts.”

In support of Science :

“For example, a conflict arises when a religious community insists on the absolute truthfulness of all statements recorded in the Bible. This means an intervention on the part of religion into the sphere of science; this is where the struggle of the Church against the doctrines of Galileo and Darwin belongs.”

This is exactly where he sounds like an absolute Atheist :

“Nobody, certainly, will deny that the idea of the existence of an omnipotent, just, and omnibeneficent personal God is able to accord man solace, help, and guidance; also, by virtue of its simplicity it is accessible to the most undeveloped mind. But, on the other hand, there are decisive weaknesses attached to this idea in itself, which have been painfully felt since the beginning of history. That is, if this being is omnipotent, then every occurrence, including every human action, every human thought, and every human feeling and aspiration is also His work; how is it possible to think of holding men responsible for their deeds and thoughts before such an almighty Being? In giving out punishment and rewards He would to a certain extent be passing judgment on Himself. How can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to Him? … The main source of the present-day conflicts between the spheres of religion and of science lies in this concept of a personal God. “

How religions with ‘personal God’ will play around Science :

“To be sure, the doctrine of a personal God interfering with natural events could never be refuted, in the real sense, by science, for this doctrine can always take refuge in those domains in which scientific knowledge has not yet been able to set foot. “

A request to religious leaders to modify their approach to religion :

“In their struggle for the ethical good, teachers of religion must have the stature to give up the doctrine of a personal God, that is, give up that source of fear and hope which in the past placed such vast power in the hands of priests.”

Again restricting religion in the domain of idealism and attitude :

“As regards religion, on the other hand, one is generally agreed that it deals with goals and evaluations and, in general, with the emotional foundation of human thinking and acting, as far as these are not predetermined by the inalterable hereditary disposition of the human species. Religion is concerned with man’s attitude toward nature at large, with the establishing of ideals for the individual and communal life, and with mutual human relationship.”

On in-community brotherly love :

“For while religion prescribes brotherly love in the relations among the individuals and groups, the actual spectacle more resembles a battlefield than an orchestra. “

Overall, I feel the articles are really great. The gist is - Science and Religion are friends is they stay in their own ground. Science should not try to guide what is worthy and what is worthless, what we should do and what we should not. At the same time, Religion should not try to describe how the nature works, neither should it insist anything to be ‘created’ by God as a person. He condemned the idea of ‘religion of fear’, that is, the idea to tell people to be good only because some Omnipotent God will punish them otherwise after death. Overall, these come under one of the best read articles of my life time - they sound very strong.

Links once more.

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Around Shanghai

After long dilemma, I walked out of my home in this weekend at last. I went to see the real and fake marketplaces of Shanghai, as well as the riverside.

I started from my closest Xujiahui metro station. The station has a couple of lines passing through it – line 1 and line 4. My destination was the station named ‘Shanghai Science and Technology Museum’. In the platform, there was a set of ticket counters along with automated ticket vending machines. As a newcomer, I did not risk the vending machines, rather went to the counter and bought the tickets. Then passed through the check-in gate (similar to Kolkata Metro), and took the stairs to reach the platform. The platform looks similar to any of the Kolkata Metro platform except one piece of add-on. There is a single platform shared between up and down lines – and each end of the platform is covered by glass frames. The glass-frames also have doors placed in between. When a train stops, each of its doors stops at one of the doors of the frame, then both opens up simultaneously. The reason is crystal clear: there is no scope for anybody to jump in the line, either accidentally or to commit suicide.

There were five stoppages between Xujiahui and People’s square – the place where I had to switch to line 2. It took around five minutes a station. In People’s square, however, the add-on was missing. I felt probably safety is beaten by the cost – what is affordable for a posh station like Xujiahui, is not affordable for another station. However, I went up and then walked about half a kilometer through an underground tunnel, to reach the line 2 station. The directions are in English and Chinese, so there is no trouble if you follow them. But, please don’t at least expect anybody to speak English. The line 2 actually goes under the river to reach my destination, although there is no unique experience for that as the underground tunnel is as dark as it is in any other places. Ultimately, after five more stations, I reached the destination.

The metro is really crowded, even in the weekend. I can easily project the situation in a weekday – office time. It would be no better than a Kolkata Metro experience. The frequency of trains is high – a train in a couple of minutes. Even in the weekend, all seats are occupied in every train, although standing is comfortable. And there is crowd in the platform, at the escalator, inside the tunnel or at the shops. I heard that China is the most populated country in the world. I saw it today.
Most of the ‘Shanghai hawker’s market’ is underground, attached to these metro stations. The beggars and footpath-sleepers also find comfortable home out in the stairs of the Metro. There are escalators, but they are only to go up. To go down, you have to take stairs. Shanghai streets are almost free of beggars, may be because the authorities are too strict about them. The authority keeps the city ‘look clean’ but the real beggars come out of their den at night. I could see a glimpse of them underground. The pattern of the beggars is same as that in India – ranging from a blind playing a flute to a mother carrying a child. However, it seemed to me, they are a little bit better dressed than their counterparts in Kolkata.

Leaving aside the crowd and beggars, when I reached the station and came up to the open air, I was really charmed. The grand building of ‘Shanghai Science and Technology Museum’ is in front of me. It requires a little knowledge to estimate that it’s been a grand product of a huge investment (later I came to know that the amount is 1.78 billion yuan, i.e. 9 billion Rs) to promote science among the children. Although I am a little bit skeptic of how this kind of museum can promote scientific mind, I have no option but to respect the efforts made. After taking a few photographs, I walked into the market. I had already read about it in a site that asked foreigners to start bargaining at one-fifth of the quoted price. I did it and bought a kimono type dress along with a cotton shirt with Chinese handicraft. The cost was 80 and 100 yuan respectively. I did everything perfectly, from starting with one-fifth to sticking to it and act as I am not that interested in the object. Yet, at the end the owner was happy to sell it, and I was a little bit irritated as it seems I got ‘cheated’. However, the consolation is clear to me - how shamelessly can you bargain? Blaming my ‘shame’ to put lowest digits to bargain with, I started for Nanjing Road, again via Metro.

The interesting thing that I saw in that small market was a shop named ‘Gulistan’. As per the hoardings, it serves Turkish and Uighur foods, but they are no different from Indian kebabs. It is a gift of Chinese western part that is closer to central Asia and India.

The Nanjing Road is the shopping capital of Shanghai. It is said that an investment of $2 billion is being added to this road by 2010. It is not a traditional road as it was a few decades ago. Now it’s a pedestrian road, paved with tiles, with high-rises on both sides. I started walking towards the bund (river) and the old Shanghai came close to me. There are old style buildings, with arch shaped cantilevers, and red colored building supported by additional steel structures outside. The ground floors of these buildings are full of shops, mostly selling clothes, jackets and chop-sticks. It is absolutely a cousin of Kolkata Esplanade area, only missing a couple of cinema halls. The old narrow roads, the market beside, the traffic jams and red buildings, all point to a colonial cousin of Kolkata been nurtured by the British half a century ago.

I took a ride to the sightseeing spot of the bund (river). It was an underground journey, crossing the river in a small single compartment closed trolley. I bought the ticket at 45 yuan and ultimately it was useless. I thought I would see a bit under the river, but it was just another blind tunnel. On the other side, the arrangement for watching the river was fully perfect, with lash green lawns and pavements beside the river. The tallest building of Shanghai is also located nearby, although it’s difficult to recognize it as a ‘building’ at all. It looks more of a tower, with a couple of spherical balls attached to its belly. Later I discovered that those balls are basically restaurants with 360 degree view of the city. I am already planning to visit the place once more and obviously to visit the restaurant in the evening.

The river was another cousin of the Ganges, although less wide. However, the skyline is full of skyscrapers. After spending half an hour beside the muddy river water, I started back.

At the time of return, the Nanjing road looked closer to the fifth avenue in NY than Esplanade of Kolkata. The gorgeous lighting and the innumerable shopping malls does not only show the advances China has made in last couple of decades, but also signifies how we have lost our ways in a harsh, capitalist world. The Nanjing Road Metro station is full of beggars, yet nobody dares to come up and create inconvenience to the rich pedestrians, who are busy in window shopping. Is it a good move for the Government to deny them a few bucks more? Or is it good to keep them away underground? I know, it takes a full-length debate to come to conclusion. However, leave apart morality, that’s how China is going ahead.

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