Saturday, June 30, 2007

An Indian Restaurant in Shanghai

Today I visited the Indian Kitchen, an Indian Restaurant in Shanghai. To get the road direction, I called them up and some Chinese girls greeted me. As expected, the conversation with them was futile; they called up an Indian to carry on. Getting the tone of an Indian in a foreign land is like a song of a bird in the morning. I wished to carry on the conversation a little more, but it was a short-lived one. I got the road-map.

In the evening, I started for Indian Kitchen. Before that, I took the address from the internet and a Chinese transcript of the same from a colleague. The Chinese transcript proved to be the key to reach the restaurant. I could dare to ask the road direction (at least a few silent gestures and hand-directions) from the pedestrians. Contrary to the culture in India, whomever I asked was at least able to approximately tell us where the location is, despite the fact that it is not a famous place to visit. In India, most of the people on the roads of a busy city do not know about the surroundings at all. Soon, I entered he small roads from the broader ones. Astonishingly, even those smaller roads are equipped with pedestrian signals and cemented pavements. And the roadside were full of small restaurants, small shops and massage centers. The houses in the backyard are mostly like Indian houses (resembles saltlake in Kolkata or Jubilee Hills area in Hyderabad). Each one is an entity separated by tall wall surrounding it. The flat culture is thriving in Shanghai with skyscrapers all around yet these small houses do exists. They at least have a free sight of the sky and a few more trees than the flat-dwellers.

The entry to the restaurant was decorated in an Indian style, with garlands and portraits of Hindu gods. I entered and felt the deviation from my expectation at the first sight. The first and the most striking difference was the scarcity of Indians inside. Most of the customers, as well as the waiters were Chinese. However, after a close look, I saw that the kitchen cooks were all Indians – south Indians in particular. The Indian boy, with whom I talked to, met us with a smile. He’s Ambrose from Tamilnadu. I saw that he was communicating with other Chinese waiters at ease – of course in Chinese. Soon, I became familiar with another Indian boy. They came to Shanghai three years back, and can speak in Chinese. I did not ask him more questions, although I think I should have.

Although the waiters are mostly Chinese and as usual are very poor to communicate in English, they were dressed up in traditional Indian dresses. Men were dressed up in golden color Kurta-Sherwani and women in pink Salwar-Kameez, with golden color embroidery on it. The interior is decorated with Tanpuras and Tablas, to conjure up an Indian image. One can match the experience with a Chinese coming to India and having food at a so-called Chinese restaurant. The men and women are dressed up in Chinese traditional dresses and the people who come to eat are all Indians.

There were Chinese couples coming to experience Indian food for the first time. The waiter (Indian one), was explaining Indian course sequence to him – kebabs first, biriyani-curry next and gulab-jamun at the end. To simplify the choices, they have what we call an Indian aggregate meal that we call a thali in India, consisting of one item each from the all three sections. Besides, there were Indian versions of the Chinese foods as well. The couple ordered one such thali. Soon, the kebabs reached them and they were really happy with the food. We had a normal dinner with a lamb kebab and a curry-bread combination. The cost was 130 Rmb, with 6 Rmb tips. In Shanghai standard, I cannot call it costly.

Yesterday, while searching in the net, I found many Indian restaurants around. I was a little bit skeptic of how really an Indian restaurant is defined, since I know that Indians are not present in high numbers here. The entire concept of Indian restaurant abroad, serving NRIs a home-like food, has been trashed in Shanghai. There are Indian restaurants serving the local population, with the customized menus those suit the locals.

Tomorrow, I am planning to visit a nearby Uighur restaurant named Shanghai Xinjiang Fengwei Fandian. The Uighur-community is from the western-most province of China, named Xinjiang. They are mostly Muslims and have a strong cultural tie with Central Asia. After all, China is a big country. If Tibet is the link between India and China, then Xinjiang can be termed as the link between China and the Central-Asia, up to the Middle-East. Same can be said for the food as well. The special item they produce is the juicy lamb-roast (kao quanyang), costs around 40 Rmb. The item is so popular, that it is advised to call them up before to confirm the availability. The other speciality is a square-shaped noodle, named miantiao. The Uighur cuisine includes laohu cai (salads with cucumbers, onions and tomato slices), da pan-ji (chicken with spices) and Xinjiang-pijiu (Xinjiang black beer).The restaurant also has a dance program starting from 7:30 in the evening and I have no idea how it will be. Chinese culture may not be as diverse as the Indian one, but there is no reason to think that it is a monolithic one.

From the above description we can easily identify the similarity between Uighur cuisine and the typical Indian Mughlai cuisine. After all, the Indian culture is an ecosystem of several cultures. And that helps us survive more smoothly inside a different culture with higher adaptability.

India, China, Shanghai, Travel

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Friday, June 29, 2007

More of Shanghai

Of late I’ve been writing on several positive notes on shanghai. One turn-off I have in the streets at Shanghai is the presence of smokers. People do smoke everywhere and there are I am yet to see any no-smoking zone. In India, things did improve a lot in last few years. Especially in Kolkata, it improved a lot (given the Bengali passion for intellectual cigarettes). Like Western countries, women do smoke at a high rate, so do the street-vendors. The worst is that they throw cigarette-butts everywhere. The city is kept clean by sweepers, who really work well to collect so huge garbage.

By the way, I think I have talked about a football ground near to my apartment. It also has a synthetic track around it. Now the shocker is – it’s nothing but a high school!! I sometimes forget that I am living in a country that’s ranked second in the Olympics medals tally. Compare that to the situation in India. I can remember, before 1987 SAAF Games, West Bengal State Government literally ran out of money to build synthetic track at Salt Lake Stadium. And, these people have synthetic running tracks in their schools. It’s no surprise that they are the second and we are fighting to avoid the bottom.

Beggars are not that frequent visitors as they would have been in any Indian cities. The beggars here are more civilized also. Inside McDonalds I met a similar person. He had a poster kind of thing, written in clear bold English, that he’s deaf and dumb and should be helped. While coming back home, I encounter a person who collects begging money in his hat. One good thing about the beggars is that they are all old. In India, even I could have seen young men and women, who could have added value in Indian economy, begging at the streets. I hope that those sections will soon be removed from India also. And that would be an important step towards development.

Today is the birthday of Tanya Chen, the girl who sits beside me. They arranged a small cake (delicious!!) to celebrate. The cake is cut but there were no candles. Let me add an interesting spice to this trivial update. Steven (close colleague) told that in China, gifting clocks is culturally prohibited. The reason is somewhat amazing – the sentence “I gift you a clock” is similar sounding to another sentence “I wish your death”. So, it’s considered ‘ominous’. One can note the similarity with Indian culture at this point. Had the sentences been similar sounding in any of the Indian languages, it would have been probably considered a bad practice to gift a clock in India also. Both India and China, the old civilizations of the world, are yet to get rid of what we call social superstition or the society in general.

India, China, Shanghai, Travel

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Around the Shanghai Marketplace

Ultimately I’m back to blogging. I’ve just finished my first assignment. It’s raining outside. And I can’t just describe how heavy that downpour is. It’s completely dark outside, cars running with headlights on. From the 9th Floor, at 3:00PM, I can’t see the roads clearly. The Shanghai skyline has also been blurred completely.

I did my lunch with KFC burger once more. I’m now doing it for a couple of days, after the initial adventure with pure Chinese foods. I am yet to launch cooking operation at the apartment. This weekend I am planning to visit a few ‘Indian’ places nearby. We’ve got a restaurant at our target list – named Tandoor. Also, I’ve seen a restaurant named Salaam nearby, maybe I’ll also visit it. However, if the prices are exorbitant, I’ll refrain myself from having food at those. It’s foolish to run behind Indian foods where I have so many things to explore with such a little time in hand.

Yesterday, I went to a retail food store (similar to a Food Bazaar) and thought of buying some vegetables to cook. But, the prices prevented me to really buy anything. After taking the trolley, the first thing I was looking for was the chicken. I saw a semi-prepared chicken body (similar to Arambagh’s chicken), priced almost at 4 Rmb/100gm. I calculated it to be 220Rs and the idea of buying chicken was dropped instantly. Then I moved to other markets – to compare prices of beef and pork. But, they were no better. However, all these foods are a kind of ‘packet-preserved’ food; the prices for these kinds of foods are higher in India also. I thought that I should buy meat from a street-vendor, might I get a better deal from him. There were many different fish items kept at a place – all freeze. The point of surprise was the egg-section. There were so many kinds of eggs present there – off different sizes and colors. I am so habituated with seeing white eggs of a particular size (poultry and on a few lucky occasions – duck), I took time to adjust to the situation. Most of the eggs were dark yellow and faded red. Some of them were even ash-colored. Sizes range from 2 times a poultry egg to a normal egg-size. However, the biggest surprise was the absence of simple white eggs – can you believe it? I guess they are not at all popular in China. If you have so many options in eggs – do you think poultry-chicken industry can survive in China?

Next I moved to an electronics section of another retail shop. Looking at a tiny iron, I asked the price. It was marked in clear English – 218rmb. I was really stunned; I didn’t expect prices would be so high in Shanghai when we all know that it’s a low-cost country. I searched on the internet to get a view of the Chinese pricing structure. Actually the price is higher because of taxes. In India, prices are same at villages and cities. But the cities have the infrastructure. So, people flood into the cities. Here, in China, to prevent flooding of people from countryside, they have imposed high taxes on each item in cities. Of course they efficiently control the flow of goods. People, who live in cities, pay more tax to get better infrastructure, that’s why cities are cleaner and less-congested than Indian counterparts.

After the dinner (again with same burger), I went out to buy a headphone. It was an irritating absence since I was not been able to listen to the songs (Chinese songs yet to be explored and added to my favourites) and was not able to chat online. I started at around 8:30 PM and soon I discovered that a lot of stores are already closed. I crossed the busy crossing and entered a less posh area, to get a view of how Chinese items are priced at ‘real’ market – where from the local people buy things. Unfortunately, after walking for a kilometer, I could see only restaurants beside me!! There are so many restaurants in that area – from a small one to a big, decorated one, there were just too many variations. On the footpath, under a tree, a person was shouting with some black packets kept in front of him. It took a while to understand that he’s trying to sell those – and some people are coming to buy those. Do you know what they were? Octopus!! The buyers were probably the local restaurant owners. Indeed octopus and squid is popular food item in Shanghai.

After a crossing, I saw the market pattern got changed – now there are a variety of stores. The dominant one among them was the real estate. The prices were displayed outside and people go inside to see the model and the sample interiors. I saw prices generally ranging from 8000 Rmb to 15000 Rmb (per sq meter) for different places. A shop also had a map of Shanghai with different pins pointing at their different real estate locations. I heard that real estate price are not that high in Shanghai as in Indian cities, but I think it’s not the case. I have to ask a few people to get it confirmed.

There were a few cloth-shops as well. I entered one and quickly realized that it’s better to come with a Chinese colleague to help me. The shop was run by an old woman, who probably had no idea of English. When I was looking for the price tag, she took her calculator and typed in 1078 to let me know the price. She was intelligent enough to understand that I did not like the price (why should I? It comes to 5500Rs!!), hence she quickly multiplied the figure with 70 and divided by 10 (took 70%) and reduced the price to catch an attention. Yet, it didn’t come under my budget. So I left for the next shop. The next shop surprised me – it was written in clear English on top of shop-entrance that “Nicco(shop name) provides excellent post-sell services. Please don’t ask for abnormal discounts to bargain with our staff.” I understood their pain – the prices are indeed exorbitant. May be, they want to prevent entry of the poor by the message – who come inside and bargain.

I went into a darker ally beside the road, to see how the shops look like at that place. Most of them were wine-shops, selling beers and other drinks. One was a tailor-shop. And there were a few barbers’ shop as well. To the contrary of Indian experience, only the tailor-shop was run by a man – others were all women.

After another crossing, I decided to come back. So far I didn’t see any electronics shop – may be after a few crossings they are present in a series. I had no time to blindly look for those. Next I stumbled upon a small shop. It has everything – from pillows to knifes, from nail-cutters to nice pots and wooden racks. Nobody is inside; people are going in, picking up things and paying a woman while coming out. The woman is having a series of notes in between her fingers – in a fashion similar to bus conductors in Kolkata. I also gestured her whether she keeps headphones as well – the answer was negative.

Just after getting out of the shop, I had a head-on collision with a Chinese boy. In India, I could have avoided a similar one, but in China I couldn’t. I noticed him (and vice-versa) before the critical time one should take to avoid a collision. But, as a natural step, I took my left. Unfortunately, he took his right and we collided. I understand the difference of right-hand and left-hand driving system has lot more to do than we think of. May be is the crowd less disciplined streets of USA one cannot feel it, but I bet, in Shanghai, one will. When our natural step would follow the left side of the footpath or to avoid close collision, the other party will move right. It’s not really my fault, but it is called diversity.

Once more, I have managed to write up a lot on my experiences, hopefully people will enjoy these episode also. Of course, I’ll keep everyone updated on my China visit. The rain has stopped, I need to go now. Bye, see you!!

India, China, Shanghai, Travel

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Over to Shanghai

I boarded in the Flight to Singapore on Friday night, at NSCB Airport, Kolkata. Most of the flight members were Indians and the queue to check in the Singapore Airlines Flight was longer than any Air Deccan Flight. I was really surprised to find so many Indians traveling overseas, may be sue to my lack of knowledge of Indians in Singapore.

My next surprise came with Singapore Changi Airport. My father landed there in 1989 and told me beforehand that it’s going to be an experience. The airport proved him right. You never have to walk to reach the appropriate parking bay; the floor walks (something similar to escalator) itself. The size of the airport is huge – it takes at least 15 minutes for the flight to reach the terminal after landing, that too without any disruption. There are lanes for flights to reach the terminal. There are total 68 parking bays as per wiki. The other interesting aspects of the business-oriented country are the shopping malls inside the airport. Although I did not buy anything, I saw almost everything’s available there.

The next flight took off in the morning and I was quick to notice the change in demography. Almost all the passengers are Mongolians now; we are a tiny Indian minority out there. There are announcements and displays in Chinese, those I don’t understand at all. Also, a major shift in male-female ratio of the passengers – something that I hope to discuss about in details – is in favor of women.

The next major surprise was the city of Shanghai. I was expecting a city of High-rises with a brand-new airport and a broad highway. It is more than those. The high-rises are taller, the highways are cleaner and broader and the airport is bigger than that I expected. It may not be as hi-tech as Singapore, but certainly out of comparison with any Indian counterparts. In fact I am really proud of that India is indeed compared with China, and it is estimated that India will reach the current Chinese state within next 10-12 years. The striking thing at the first glance is that people are disciplined a lot – may be because they are citizens of a metro city.

I was lodged in a Service apartment – near a posh area in Shanghai. It’s not bad, but not at all well-furnished. We need more utensils to cook (may be the Chinese don’t). Otherwise, there are ACs, TVs (all Chinese channels), five-star like bathrooms and first-class furniture. I tried to browse the TV channels and interestingly found Indian serials been telecast. Soon, I discovered that they are dubbed in Chinese and the particular channel is dedicated to Indian Soap serials only. I am still looking for information on how popular these channels are. The channel has a green maple leaf as an icon. The serial I watched was “Koshish”. The owner of the apartment is a company named Orient Manhattan Ltd, who owns a lot of similar apartments in around the area. The COO, Susan, greeted us. She can really talk in English but often takes time to figure out the correct word to express. She has a small office at a nearby place where from I was able to make my first call back to India. I also came to know that in the same compound, there are more Indians, mostly from Infosys and ABN-Amro. She bought a couple of calling cards for us, which we actually got on the next day. ISD calls are cheap in China and possibly come with lower quality than that in India. The China Telecom calling cards cost 30RMB for 100mins (1 RMB = 5.5Rs roughly).

I was out for a walk in the evening around posh Hongqiao Road area. I was a little bit helpless without Chinese money; they call it Yuan, officially named as Renminbi. I walked around to find the huge twin-towers, where the Microsoft office is located. The area around is full of malls and wide roads. Most of the buildings are 15-20 floored, with a few classic exceptions. There’s a football ground nearby, alongside a few small shops also. The security guards are similar to Indian ones, except a small difference. I wanted to confirm whether the Microsoft office is actually located in that building, they did not understand at all. When they called their officer in charge, a suited person came up. He also did not recognize Microsoft, even after I showed back of my T-shirt - “Microsoft” written in English. He tried to pattern-match it with some of the existing sign-book entries, but unfortunately, none of the MS-employees visited the office on that Sunday. So, his efforts were all in vain. He said “sorry” (how did he know that!!) and I understood the situation. None knows English – not even the minimum to carry an informal conversation – except a few privileged ones.

The next morning we were straight to the office. Fortunately, due to the previous experience, the office security persons did recognize IDC entrants and there were no problems to follow. The office was another Microsoft office, with an exceptional view of Shanghai skyline.
The lunch was supposed to be the next interesting topic. There was a restaurant in the same Plaza. I went there, along with my Chinese colleagues. They were delighted to know that I was non-vegetarian and can have beef as well. Though they didn’t order beef, may be some secret instructions or experiences before, I was prepared to have beef. The ordered items were fish and pork. The pork items were really delicious and I want to have them more while in China. The fish were sea-fish mainly and nobody knew which fish it was!! All the preparations were in fact marinated and boiled. The gravy was delicious; some of them were in fact soup-like. The favorite one was the kebab like pork-pieces colored like beets. It was simply superb!!
Yesterday I went to a KFC and found out that HSBC credit-cards were not accepted there. Today, I saw my colleagues are paying by some special cards, meant to pay restaurant bills only. Some of the restaurants accept these cards and one need to ask the acceptability before they enter a restaurant. The system is still mostly cash-based with a few sporadic efforts of cashless transactions. In India, most of the class one restaurants do accept credit cards and also the overall banking is mostly cashless. In the evening, I had some food where we used the Chinese currency – 754 for $100. I went to McDonalds and the serviceman was clever enough to help me with pictured menu-card. I had a McChicken combo at 18.5Yuan. Similar food would cost around 150Rs in India – Rs50 more. In general, food costs more in Shanghai than in any Indian cities.

While coming back, I used a Metro Railway station to cross a road. Although there are flyovers, they are less in number and pedestrians do depend on Zebras to cross the dangerous roads. The Metro Railway appears to be similar one like one in Kolkata. It’s not as clean as one would have expected it to be. The station I visited was Xujiahui (District - Xuhui, famous for the Cathedral), clearly written in English at the entry. Later from the Wikipedia I came to know that the station could be the best landmark for our place. Also, the Shanghai Metro, is much bigger railways service than single-route Kolkata Metro. Shanghai has five key metro routes compared to just one each in Kolkata and Delhi.

The similarity with India was also visible in the attitude of the people. The bus drivers are shouting at the passengers at the stops, although the buses are better ones. The hawkers and roadside beggars are present at footpath, although they are better dressed up. Streets are full of people, although they look different from Indians. They are Chinese, out to add themselves in the world order. The weather was similar to that of Kolkata - hot and humid outside, cloudy sky with occassional drizzles.

The topic I wanted to really talk about was the women in China. They are dressed scantily in Indian definition of dressing, yet they are comfortable with that. It created an impression that dressing should be different for different ethnicity – because the shape and the structure of the body are different. Mini-est skirts and string-tops do fit them. The variety of skirts and tops are really Moreover, women do heavily participate in jobs, both in formal and informal sectors. The ratio should be much higher than India. One step towards joining the big-league of nations is to employ more and more women to increase the work-force and to build a society based on equality. The employment of women in all sectors is a must. In China, there are women bus-conductors, restaurant-“boy”s, salesgirls, bank-officials and hawkers – a majority of them. Emancipation and empowerment of women should be the next Indian goal – if India at all wants to become a China in future.

As I explore more and more of China, I will keep everybody updated. It’s only tiny part of Shanghai I have travelled across; let me wait for getting a chance to draw a better picture soon.

India, China, Shanghai, Travel

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Monday, June 18, 2007

Pushing the Limits of Speciesism

I heard about a lot of hybrids, but never of one involving humans, except in fiction stories. Now, those stories are becoming truth, may be sooner than I expected. Britain has dismissed the plan to outlaw an effort to create a human-animal embryo. Under the new guidelines, Scientists are allowed to create three different kinds of embryos. The Gurdian notes :

"The first kind of hybrid allowed under the bill, known as a chimeric embryo, is made by injecting cells from an animal into a human embryo. The second, known as a human transgenic embryo, involves injecting animal DNA into a human embryo. The third, known as a cytoplasmic hybrid, is created by transferring the nuclei of human cells, such as skin cells, into animal eggs from which almost all the genetic material has been removed."

The scientists will be allowed to grow such an embryo for only two weeks - to develop new treatments for incurable diseases such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. It also restricts the creation of "true hybrid" embryos, which would involve fertilizing a human egg with animal sperm or vice versa. It would also be illegal to put them inside human womb (don't know about the animal one). This kind of embryos would be the major source in the stem cell research.

The moral brigade is already started shouting against it. I got a few letters on the internet those describe it as 'Frankenstein science'. However, they might not know that Chinese have already created such an embryo for a similar purpose. Other experiments are proceeding quietly in research facilities around the world. At the Mayo Clinic, scientists created pigs with human blood. Stanford University in California is considering attempting to create mice with 'human' brains.

The new regulations came as a U turn over Britain's last decision to outlaw it. Many scientists like Dawkins put huge efforts behind it - to set morality free from religion. Dawkins said once that a human embryo is 'biologically nothing different from an Amoeba', yet we shout against its use in stem cell research as it is 'would-be-human'.

However these researches will definitely push to revisit our ancient way to describe a 'human-centric' morality. As Darwinian Evolution said and Genetics later verified, we are very closely related cousins. These experiments are taking that view a bit further. A rat with a human brain might possibly be able to suffer similar emotional pain to that of a human being. So, a 'human-centric' morality can be called an example of 'speciesism'. In this video, Dawkins talks in favor of animal rights and against speciesism.

"Today we live in a specisist world. We are automatically, without thinking, without question assume that there's one law for Homo sapiens and one law for the rest of the animal kingdom. That is speciesism. Now of course, if you object the speciesism, you are in a sense letting yourself wide open to reductio ad absurdum when people will ask - where will you stop? Should you care for cabbages because there is an evolutionary continuum between us and cabbages if you go sufficiently back? You'd be starved to death, if you are that insistent upon rejecting specisism. My answer to that is that we should not be any kind of '-ist' of that kind. We have rather a continuum as a sliding scale from Gorillas and Chimpanzees being very close to us and cabbages being very long way away. And there is no way why we should erect a wall at any particular fence. There are some animals who suffer, can think, can reason, can suffer emotions which deserve and must have a greater moral consideration from us than other animal."

He continued to make a case for other animals to be treated with minimal morality or to stretch the morality of our perception:

"What I am saying is that it's a matter of a merest accident that the intermediates happened to be extinct. That's the only thing that enables us to erect this great fence around Homo sapiens to say that there are humans in one side and the whole of the rest of the animal kingdom on the other side. It's very hard to make a purely scientific case for conserving any particular species. ... The only case I can make is the emotional case, and what's wrong with that? We are emotional beings. I feel emotional about it. I want to save gorillas, to save rhinos; I want to save these magnificent creatures which are built up over millions of years of evolution before they go forever. It's an irrevocable thing and that is an emotional argument."

I wonder what position the religious people would take on this since it cannot be called a 'human'. Will it have a soul? I'm pretty sure that liberalist and extremist religious people will fight once more. Let's wait and find out what their stance would be.

Reference : Dawkins write up on Speciesism. The list of books on speciesism at Amazon.

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A Letter to a Daughter

In his interview, Dawkins said about child-indoctrination and why he considers it as a child-abuse. He also mentioned that a true education of children should include teaching of all kinds of religion, including atheism. Also, they should be encouraged to have a critical view on religion, if they wish to. However, he did not actually mention how that kind of education will look like. In his letter to his 10 year old daughter Juliet, I can see a glimpse of that scientific education.

Dawkins classified belief into 'good' and 'bad' categories. He tries to answer the critical question on why anybody should 'believe' in science. He explains what is evidence and how carefully science gather it. He then cited three other popular reasons for belief - "tradition," "authority," and "revelation." He presented examples for all these and explained how they might drift one away from truth. He didn't only talk about religion, but also about language and other traditions. In the end he separates out the knowledge of "revelation", "tradition" and "authority" from the knowledge out of evidences and guided her to choose knowledge-resources carefully.

I cannot but quote a few lines from his letter. A wonderful similarity between detectives and the scientists are the way the find out evidences. Dawkins says :

"Often, evidence isn't just an observation on its own, but observation always lies at the back of it. If there's been a murder, often nobody (except the murderer and the victim!) actually observed it. But detectives can gather together lots or other observations which may all point toward a particular suspect. If a person's fingerprints match those found on a dagger, this is evidence that he touched it. It doesn't prove that he did the murder, but it can help when it's joined up with lots of other evidence. Sometimes a detective can think about a whole lot of observations and suddenly realise that they fall into place and make sense if so-and-so did the murder."

He even classified 'love' based on evidence and without evidence. He said :

"There are people with a strong inside feeling that a famous film star loves them, when really the film star hasn't even met them. People like that are ill in their minds. Inside feelings must be backed up by evidence, otherwise you just can't trust them."

And of course on child-indoctrination :

"It's a pity, but it can't help being the case, that because children have to be suckers for traditional information, they are likely to believe anything the grown-ups tell them, whether true or false, right or wrong. ... Millions of other people believe quite different things, because they were told different things when they were children. Muslim children are told different things from Christian children, and both grow up utterly convinced that they are right and the others are wrong."

Of course his most valuable guidance to her daughter comes with :

"And, next time somebody tells you that something is true, why not say to them: "What kind of evidence is there for that?" And if they can't give you a good answer, I hope you'll think very carefully before you believe a word they say."

I am trying to translate it in Bengali. In case I am done, I will update this blog to have that link too. Till then read the finest English letter from Richard Dawkins - the smartest intellectual.

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Genetics to Biotechnology

It was always a challenging task for human beings to produce the ‘human-hormones’ outside a human body. The reward was well known. A disease caused by the lack of this particular hormone can be cured easily by injecting that artificially produced hormone.

Let’s take the case of Insulin. A patient of Diabetes requires regular injection of Insulin since their body fails to produce it naturally. Until 70’s, the major source of Insulin was domestic mammals like cow and pig. Due to close evolutionary relationship with human beings, this Insulin was almost similar to human insulin in structure. Hence, these sources used to work for most of the cases. However, there were side effects of this method – like skin rashes.

The advent of a couple of technological breakthrough changed the entire scenario. First, the DNA was discovered. Then it was established that the amino acid sequence in DNA strands are actually replicated in ribosome to produce different proteins. In other words, the DNA code on the chromosome works as a template to the protein produced in the cell. The other milestone was the discovery of Recombinant DNA – a form of DNA that is achieved by combination, insertion and deletion of more than one DNA strands.

Bacteria have a second set of DNA molecules other than those in their Chromosome. This is called a plasmid. The successful strategy by a company named Genentech to produce Insulin uses these plasmids efficiently. Genentech researchers produced artificial genes for each of the two protein chains that comprise the insulin molecule. The plasmid is then inserted into the bacteria named E. Coli. The bacteria multiply and at the same time produced either of the two protein-chains, in presence of lactose. At the end, the bacteria are killed and the Insulin chains are separated. The protein-chains are then merged to produce Insulin.

The fact is that the person who discovered Recombinant DNA – Herbert Boyer, started Genentech. He was funded by a venture capitalist, Bob Swanson. They formed the World’s first Biotechnology firm, with a capital of close to $1000. However, when they were ready to launch their product, Eli Lilly was the market leader in Insulin business with 85% market share. Genentech avoided the collision and signed contract with Lilly to market their product. In September 1980, Genentech went public. The share price shoot up from $35 to $89 within hours of trading and both of them became instant millionaires.

The same concept of Recombinant DNA is used even today in Biotechnology, to produce artificial proteins, and getting used in every sphere of Life. A chapter of the book DNA : The Secret of Life by James Watson, is dedicated to various biotechnological efforts. The most interesting one is described like this :

So-called dragline silk, which forms the radiating spokes of a spider web, is an extraordinarily tough fiber. By weight, it is five times as strong as steel. … the silk-protein producing genes have been isolated and can be inserted into other organisms, which can thus serve as spider-silk factories. This very line of research is funded by Pentagon … soldiers may one day be clad in protective suits of spider-silk body armor.

Something that started with innovations ended up making money once more. With the advent of Biotechnology, the prime focus of research in Genetics took a new turn to include commerce in the agenda. For human society, the research that started with Watson-Crick Double Helix model slowly begins to produce fruits in direct application.


  1. DNA The Secret of Life by James Watson : Chapter Five titled as – DNA, Dollars and Drugs: Biotechnology
  2. Biotechnology describes the Insulin production process.
  3. Wikipedia
  4. Protein Synthesis described.
  5. History of Insulin.

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Writing in Bengali

For the first time I am writing in Bengali on the topics I cover in my blog. It's a great experience to write in mother tongue. The article, already published in the mukto-mona site, is again on the interview of Richard Dawkins. I was always skeptic about my Bengali writing skill, but ultimately somehow managed to produce something. One of the questions was eventually dropped from the translation since I was unable to get a fitting Bengali translation for 'compartmentalize'. I am really thankful to my wife for helping me out in crtical translations - she again proved that Bangladeshi Bengalis have superior control over Bengali. Thanks to Avijit Roy of Mukto-Mona for publishing my article. And of course thanks a lot to the Bengali word processing software, Bornosoft. It's really interesting to know that this excellent word editor (download the free version) has been developed by someone who is a doctor by profession!!

Coming back to my writing, I am planning to write up an article on Daniel Dennett's view of Atheism. Also, I am eager to write about DNA stuff I am reading from the books of James Watson. I would also write on brain and consciousness inspired by a book from V. S. Ramachandran. This time, I have to write in Bengali too. May be it will add a few extra hours of work in my weekend, but the pleasure I derive from the writing is priceless.

For next couple of months, I am going to stay at Shanghai, China. During the visit, I am planning to concentrate on China specific topics, especially on Chinese culture. I am already a little bit worried about the Chinese food and work-culture. Yet, nothing is wrong if I hope for the best !!

Bornosoft, Bengali software, Bengali editor.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Bengali Resources at Mukto-Mona

While I write on Richard Dawkins and Evolution in my blog, a group named mukto-mona have taken up their pens to write up in Bengali. It's great to see people scribing for Atheism and Dawkins in Bengali. Let me refer you all to some of the best resources available in Bengali.

1) The first chapter of The God Delusion.
2) A book on Evolution by Bonnya Ahmed - continued for multiple chapters. It is also available as a book at Bangladesh Ekushe Boimela.
3) A Richard Dawkins article on Religion and Evolution.
4) The Journey of Science to find Life - An excellent write up on modern science (especially focussing on the roots of Universe and what is Life) starting from Big Bang to Extraterrestrial life, divided into multiple parts.

The life of Charles Darwin is described in Bengali.

And of course, anybody want to publish their views in Bengali, can send it to them or join a yahoo group called mukto-mona. There are numerous good articles both in English and Bengali published at the site. I bet that anybody will enjoy most of them. To a Bengali living in West Bengal, I would recommend these article since they should know how close they are to someone living accross the border - in Bangladesh.

Atheism, Bangladesh, Bengali, Darwin, Dawkins, Evolution

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Friday, June 08, 2007

The Evolution FAQ

I was planning to write about Evolution FAQ for long. It's boring to fight against all apostates of Evolution visiting their own blogs. Rather, if I can prepare a platform at my own blog to fight those, I get a better opportunity pounce on them. By the way, let me first acknowledge that this particular piece is going to be mostly be compiled from various sources in Internet.

The evolution is best described as :
1. is a fact,
2. is also a number of theories,
3. is Science,
4. is also scientific,
5. is naturalistic and purely mechanistic,
6. is falsifiable,
7. is testable,
8. is predictive,
9. has been observed;
9a. in the field
9b. in the laboratory,
10. has occurred in the past,
11. is still occurring,
12. will continue to occur in the future.

Further, we can also note that evolution:

13. is not atheistic (nor Communistic, Marxist, Leninist, Stalinist, etc.),
14. is not evil,
15. is not mandated by law to be taught in US public schools,
16. is not a cosmological theory (i.e., "it don't do origins"),
17. is not a religion nor Religion,
18. is not determined by popular opinion (as can be said of any science),
19. is not a socio-political program or paradigm,
20. is not dependent on the supernatural,
21. does not claim that "Man came from apes",
22. is not progress,
23. has not, will not and cannot be proven (as can be said of any science),
24. Is not random nor relies on 'blind chance',
25. does not violate the second law of thermodynamics,
26. Does not deny (a) God(s), and finally,
27. Falsifying evolution does not prove Creation.

Sounds interesting? Continue reading ... By the way, my pick of the quote would be :

The honest scientist, like the philosopher, will tell you that nothing whatever can be or has been proved with fully 100% certainty, not even that you or I exist, nor anyone except himself, since he might be dreaming the whole thing. Th us there is no sharp line between speculation, hypothesis, theory, principle, and fact, but only a difference along a sliding scale, in the degree of probability of the idea. When we say a thing is a fact, then, we only mean that its probability is an extremely high one: so high that we are not bothered by doubt about it and are ready to act accordingly. The probability that evolution is the correct explanation of life as we know it may approach 99.9999...9% but it will never be 100%.

However I would like to pick up a few more so called technical questions to answer. The pick of the questions are :
1) What is the application of Evolution, or, in other words, can evolution predict anything?

A very good application can be the creation of hybrid species. These species are been created matching the environment they are going to live, so that they can maximize production. This is derived from the fact that nature does select. If everything were created, we would not be able to create new species.
Many predictions made by theory of evolution are proven true. Darwin predicted the existence of 'unit of heredity' that was proved to be gene. And, the genetic similarities the species share among them, are the living evidences of evolution. More recently, the same theory explains the existence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, who've mutated to resist antibiotic (e.g. penicilin), and 'selected' to become the majority and can resume attacks.

2) If humans are from monkeys then how does monkeys still exist?

Human beings did not evolved from monkeys. They share a common ancestor with monkeys. And a new species generally comes out of the other only if they are geographically isolated. So one can safely assume, that there were at least two groups of apes/hominoids, one evolved to become humans, the other became monkeys.

3) Even if we accept natural selection, what's the proof that it leads to speciation?

I should refer to the speciation events observed in the past in front of modern human eyes.

That's it from my side. I know I could have written a lot more than this, but somehow, I'm satisfied with this. If anybody else suggests me about any common misconception, I am ready to clarify him.
Further reference :
1) FAQ 1 A good technical one.
2) FAQ 2 brief but to the point.

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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Videos on Evolution

The Discovery channel on Evolution of life on Earth is amazing and entertaining. Here's the list of of the links -
part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7, part 8, part 9, part 10, part 11, part 12. The program is named as "Walking With Monsters". In fact the entire set uploaded by TruthTheory should be watched.

An knowledgable description of the process is found in Dawkins' video -
The evolution of the eye. The full video is available in part 1 and part 2, titled The Blind watchmaker. Another video, comparatively less attractive, was the Nice guys finish first.

The wonderful story of Human evolution is at 5 parts -
part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4 and part 5. The series is named as "Human Life - Evolution To Self-Evolution". It also lists the proofs gathered with respect to human evolution.

Evolution, Science, Dawkins, Darwin.

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Sunday, June 03, 2007

Towards a science-aware society

Of late I have been writing on the ill-effect of religion to resist the science and the scientific study of nature. After writing on the Memetics of the religions, I decided to look further deep to understand why exactly science is obstructed – is the religion the root cause or human nature itself blocks the development. I discovered that the intuitiveness, a virtue of a human being, is considered to be the worst enemy of science education. In other words, human beings are programmed to oppose science instinctively. The best explanation comes in favor of it by analyzing the natural learning process of a human being.

Prior to exposure to organized study of science, children use their intuition to judge and gather knowledge about the world they see – both physical and social knowledge. The examples social knowledge can include the identification of parents and close relatives. The physical domain experiences include the observational fact that objects fall in the ground or it hurts more if dropped from higher places.

The problem with teaching children the science is not what student is lacks, but what the student has already assumed to be the truth as per physical domain experience. As an example, once a child ‘knows’ that objects fall, it’s difficult to convince him that the Earth is spherical in shape, because they perceive that people should ‘fall’ out of the bottom half of the sphere. Also, a flat world fits their observation that they can see, sometimes, in a dilemma, they pick up a false idea of a flat livable flat place on top of a spherical Earth.

Michael McCloskey, a professor of Cognitive Science in John Hopkins University, conducted a survey among adult American students to find out how scientific they are. He took the domain of objects in motion, something that people both read theories and observe a lot of times in their day to day life. He presented diagrams to depict a physical condition and asked the students how the motion of the object would be in those conditions. He asked how a ball should continue after coming out of curved tube, what trajectory a ball should fall when dropped from a moving aero plane or from the roof and many more of these. The result was strikingly different from what was expected, people went by ‘common perception’ or what we see in life. Most of them told that the ball from the aero plane will fall straight, or come out of a curved tube in a curved motion. Interestingly, when asked about the motion of water out of a curved hose-pipe, they mentioned it to be straight, since it comes into their direct space of observation.

McCloskey concluded that everyone (children or adults) builds a naïve theory in their brain out of the observations they make. These theories are often wrong and also carry casual explanations along with them. These naive theories are dominant in ancient scripts and continue to be the base of pseudo-science. A sustainable knowledge of science needs to overcome these barriers of naïve theories within a human being.

To overcome this resistance, the establishment of trustworthy source is necessary. Children, when unable to verify most of the claims, try to verify the sources of the claim. To a child, parents and the closer relatives are the most trustworthy source. So, in case science teacher in school teaches them about evolution and parents back home opposes that, then, they are bound to take the parents’ one. Not only that, they grow idea about books and newspaper those are trustworthy. They tend to believe ideas from an adult who is confident and who can map their theories to real life. Most notable point here is the trustworthiness they gather, carries to their adulthood. And it holds true for religious, political and moral beliefs also. The idea to overcome science resistance is to inject science at every level of information source, so that people understand them as trustworthy, even if it conflicts the naïve theories in mind.

In India, the presence of naïve theories in the form of superstitions is very potent. One example I can pick up, is related to “Snakes eating milk and banana”. These theories are present from religious background and get verified by the children from their trustworthy adults. I used to believe that snakes really eat them as society elders talked about them. I came to the correct knowledge only after a science campaign run on television. The naïve theories (example: firm land should be kept idle for a certain period of time to retain land-fertility) present among farmers are also the result of their intuitions, and campaigners find them difficult to replace with modern science (following crop-rotation).

The discussion above points out that we need more prominent scientists to come up at the stage, at public debates or at television programs to articulate and defend science as a unique process of acquiring knowledge. The society today, if it is superstitious and religious like that of India, is a result of egoistic apathy of the scientists, who ignore their social responsibility to convey their message to common people. More research and more innovations might bring more money to them, but ultimately, in a democracy, people rules. So, a social awareness of the science is the only way people can become scientific, or at least can consider science as a trustworthy source of information.

Science, Cognitive Science, Atheism, Evolution, Society, India

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