Book Review – Lizzie Collingham’s The Hungry Empire

It would be an understatement to say that the British Empire in its heyday was an engine of gluttony. But that is the story that Lizzie Collingham wants to tell in her book, The Hungry Empire: How Britain’s Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World. The Empire changed the world. There are arguments to both sides of the Empire’s deeds, that it did good is commendable, but the bad it did against the good is even more reproachable. 

Trade was the first area through which the Empire propelled its power. A small trading company that went on to rule more than half the world and engineered the largest empire in history. From the 16th and 18th centuries, trading became the driving force behind innovation, both political and economic. This trade disrupted the life-cycles of many cultures and countries that eventually became part of the Empire. 

This is what Collingham depicts in her enchanting history. The subject of this history is food. Food that drove trade and “helped to turn the wheels of commerce” (pg. xvi). Food that bolstered progress. However, with such progress, destruction went hand in hand. British traders settled in far off corners of the world for food, disrupting local cultures, and the people, even going so far as to annihilate entire native populations.

 

The food web that was woven by … [these developments] … created a truly global system that connected all five inhabited continents, drawing in even the most isolated and far-flung corners of the planet.

 

In this way, Britain changed the way the world tasted food. And yet, it should be noted that food was still just one aspect of commerce that British merchants were concentrating on. Indeed, with most histories “focus is usually on the story of maritime exploration and the quest for spices” (pg. 5). Among other things, Britain also traded in textiles, spices, tin, rubber, wood, dyes, etc. But food was important simply because it was a basic necessity that superseded all others; and trade thrived around food. 

The book starts with “fish day on the Mary Rose.” Salt cod was never popular in English cuisine, but it lasted long and could be used for long sea journeys. It laid the foundation of English expansion. The ship Mary Rose itself became a shipwreck that, upon its rediscovery, became one of the best artefacts for historians. There was evidence in the shipwreck of the presence of beef, pork, and salt cod, and other things that could last for long without spoiling and becoming inedible.

“Tea was the last of the new colonial groceries to arrive on the English market (pg. 79).” It was rare and expensive, and came to London through the Dutch East India Company. As Collingham writes, sugar was popular with the English and led to the sweetening of tea overtime. 

 

Collingham writes fluidly, without breaking her tone. Her main prerogative is getting the facts straight and putting them down in front of the reader. The pieces fall into place themselves. It is a fairly straightforward narrative that she has established. The author also supplies actual illustrations and colour plates depicting the history of food-making in the world. These illustrations complement the narrative easily.

Another thing of note is the recipes peppered throughout the book. These range from archaic recipes taken from old books that are still used in the kitchen today to authentic recipes passed down through families and friends across generations. 

 

Even from the start, despite all the history provided in abundance, there really ever was only one topic of focus under discussion in this book: food. There are nuggets of information, both fascinating and unheard of at the same time. For example, the medieval cosmic view was that black was the colour of melancholy so it was not used in food. A combination of ginger and saffron was used because it was yellowish in colour and that meant the nourishing energy of the sun. But, this world view changed with the arrival of black pepper. Collingham helps the reader wade through this sea of history without any problems whatsoever. 

Collingham is clearly fascinated by the effect the British Empire has had on the culinary arts and trade across the world. Sometimes, this fascination seems a bit laudatory, as if she can’t help admiring it. She doesn’t shy away from the fact that the Empire encouraged slavery or colonized countries like India, or that it appropriated cultures, even destroyed them. But she doesn’t openly criticize the actions of the Empire to a large extent. Since the topic is food, Collingham concentrates on that; sometimes to the detriment of any timely criticism.

The book is highly readable as an introduction to the past based on what is on your dinner plate.

 

 

Cover Image: AshPrad

Dr. Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life are Not Meant to be Broken!

If you have followed Dr. Jordan Peterson’s trajectory closely, you would agree that if nothing, he has at the least gotten under the skin of the shallow, lazy intellectuals who have been enjoying an extended honeymoon in the marketplace of intellectuals. Right from their stranglehold on the academia to their presumption of privilege to be heard first on all matters significant or otherwise, the foundations have been shaken. Now, some of them have gone to their study to revise the fundamentals of their worldview and the ones who were there only by the virtue of intellectual nepotism have unwittingly come out in open with their lack of depth and understanding about matters Dr. Peterson speaks of. Faced with such a situation, I have seen them doing, one of these two things – either they keep talking to the straw-man their professors had created for them back in their schools or they keep throwing off meaningless personal allegations against the man. This is such a common streak in Dr. Peterson’s interviews (mostly, the ones that have been taken by the flag-bearers of lazy intellectualism) that most of the time, he is not being heard. What we see instead is some sort of passive listening while their active brain is busy stitching its next net to trap him. On the other hand, Dr. Peterson doesn’t shy away from taking his own sweet time to listen so as to draft better responses and throw in an honest question at the end of it which even though seemingly honest, pops up only by design . In a few minutes, aware or unaware, the interviewer is choked for space and starts following Dr. Peterson’s streak. So, while the interviewer is already zoned out, Dr. Peterson is still in the ring, ready to land his knockout punch.

 

 

I heard of the book 12 Rules for Life in one of his talks on YouTube. Since, the subjects and delivery of his YouTube lectures had me hooked on to them already, I didn’t have much questions about going ahead and buying his book. Typically, you would place this book on the self-help shelf in a bookstore but even if the book is kept in the autobiographies section, it would make equal sense, if not more. This is because Jordan Peterson is not into empty lecturing and tall tales. He draws heavily from his own life, his struggles, and his attempts to understand the ever-elusive meaning of life to explain his rules. This works in favour of the book because a book that is meant to help you should have at least helped the author before taking birth as a book.

 

 

One must increase one’s strength by sadhana; otherwise one cannot preach. As the proverb goes: ‘You have no room to sleep yourself and you invite a friend to sleep with you.’ There is no place for you to lie down and you say: ‘Come, friend! Come and lie down with me.’  – Sri Ramakrishna (Gospel/Vol2/34.html)

 

 

Jordan presents the book as an antidote to chaos. What chaos is he actually talking about? Before he starts explaining the rules, while telling us about the title, he says, “Perhaps if we lived properly, we would be able to tolerate the weight of our own self-consciousness. Perhaps, if we lived properly, we could withstand the knowledge of our own fragility and mortality, without the sense of aggrieved victimhood that produces, first, resentment, then envy, and then the desire for vengeance and destruction. Perhaps, if we lived properly, we wouldn’t have to turn to totalitarian certainty to shield ourselves from the knowledge of our insufficiency and ignorance. Perhaps we could come to avoid those pathways to Hell-and we have seen in the terrible twentieth century just how real Hell can be.”

 

Now, if I had to count the attributes of today’s individual that contribute to the chaos Mr. Peterson is talking about, they would be the following –

 

  • Loss of Self-Esteem

    Too many in this world are being brought up with a sense of criminality about the human race. While a bunch of people keep working to make this world a better place, there are so many individuals who really believe that humans are not good enough for this planet. Add to this, the deliberate divorce from one’s own history, culture, and heritage being effected by the academia and popular media, our youngsters grow up without any self-esteem. They only know to loathe themselves and others with increasing intensity every day.

 

  • Playing the Victim Card

    We have become too touchy, we like flashing the victim card all the time to outshout others and make ourselves heard. We play the victim card when we are on the wrong, we play it when we have wronged someone else. This has far reaching consequences. One, nobody is ready to take responsibility for their actions. Two, the real victims are almost never heard or ignored and they keep suffering. Three, we end up living a life based on lies and deceit. We reduce ourselves to mere actors and manipulate our own worldview to see the world as a stage and everyone else as fellow actors.

 

  • Loss of Purpose

    This point in part is connected to the first point. Our world is more connected than it has ever been. With 24/7 internet life, online profiles, avatars, the need to flaunt or fake your happiness and success has migrated from our neighbourhoods to the World Wide Web. That world is naturally more fierce, less forgiving, and changing at a breakneck speed. So, individuals end up making stories and exaggerating their experiences instead of living a truly meaningful life with any sense of purpose.

 

  • Envy

    This is one aspect of our chaos that is not always addressed openly. This feeling is not unnatural but what we let it do to us is very much our own choice. While some people let it drive them to lead a meaningful life, most of the people let it destroy them one sad day at a time.

 

  • No Respect for the Other Person

    This other person can be your friend, family, parents, sibling, teacher, colleague, or somebody you don’t agree with on political issues. The lack of respect has made all our exchanges a zero sum game where either you are with me or against me. If you are with me, good. If you are against me, you are a fascist. The middle ground of mutual respect has perished. What am I talking about? Check this piece by Dr. Shashi Tharoor – am-i-a-closet-sanghi-for-mourning-demise-of-an-rss-man-somethings-terribly-wrong-tharoor

 

  • Handling Grief

    For all the interconnectedness chatter in the world, we are not really doing ourselves proud when it comes to making real connections. More families are going nuclear, people have fewer friends, we seldom know who our neighbour is, and trusting colleagues has become an impossible thing at work. While solitude can be empowering when exercised by choice of time and place, compelled loneliness leaves us terribly vulnerable in times of grief. When something happens to somebody close to us, we are caught helpless while trying to deal with our grief.

 

Now, this is of course not an exhaustive list, so you may add to it whatever you feel brings chaos to our life. Just one word of caution, when you start adding to the list, do not begin by thinking of the society at large. Instead, begin by thinking about yourself and your own life. Start by including the chaotic aspects of your own life. Human beings are not too different from each other. What you find in 1, you fill find in n. It is for this reason Dr. Peterson highlights the importance of changing the world by changing the self. In his Rule No. 6, Mr. Peterson says, “Don’t blame capitalism, the radical left, or the iniquity of your own enemies. Don’t reorganize the state until you have ordered your own experience. Have some humility. If you cannot bring peace to your own household, how dare you try to rule a city? Let your own soul guide you…”

 

 Be the change you want to see in the world. – Mahatma Gandhi

 

Mr. Peterson has addressed all the points mentioned here and more through his 12 rules. Every rule picks on one thing that he wants you to start doing. For each of his rule, starting from ‘Stand up straight with your shoulders back’ to the last one – ‘Pet a cat when you encounter one on the street’, Mr. Peterson explains the fundamentals, his reason for framing such a rule, the positioning of the rule in his own life, and the biological, psychological, and historical context to the rule. All these rules are an attempt to help an individual live a meaningful life. It’s not that all of these rules will sound new to you. On the contrary, you must have heard most of them at different points in your life. Many of the points Mr. Peterson identifies are in fact ancient wisdom of our sages. However, Mr. Peterson with this book lends a new seriousness to these rules that they deserve in modern times. A new teacher is good only if he helps you understand things that the previous teacher could not. So, if you have heard about these rules before and could not understand their import or function in your life, Mr. Jordan Peterson makes an excellent new teacher.

 

 

The world is the great gymnasium where we come to make ourselves strong. – Swami Vivekananda

 

 

The book doesn’t end where the 12 rules end. The author adds a beautiful chapter titled ‘CODA’ to conclude the book. The chapter features a ‘Pen of Light’. Mr. Peterson received it as a gift from his friend. I would leave out the details of this pen for you to read in the book. However, I must tell you that this book seems to have been written with the help of this pen of light, metaphorically if not literally. This book is an attempt of the most sincere kind to help individuals become stronger. Our popular culture values victimhood more than strength but it is your strength that helps you escape victimhood. By strength, one doesn’t refer only to the kind you use to thrash your enemies. Strength means something far deeper than that. Strength of character, of conviction, of intellect, of emotions, and of spirit is what today’s individuals need and the book, through stories of our author’s own struggles in his life, is an attempt at leaving you stronger that way.

 

My Maa passed away on 31st January, 2019 after hoping for about 14 months that she would be able to defeat pancreatic cancer. I have not been able to come to terms with her absence in my life. Perhaps, that will never happen. However, I wanted to look at other people and their grief in order to understand mine better. I began to read a lot of personal blogs of people to understand how other people have handled grief and how do they see the helplessness that comes along with it. Thereafter, I stumbled upon C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed. Jordan’s 12 Rules for Life reached me after that.

 

In the last chapter, Jordan narrates the story of his daughter Mikhaila who was diagnosed with polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) when she was about 6 years of age. He writes, “…it begins with a question, structured like a Zen koan. Imagine a Being who is omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent. What does such a Being lack? The answer? Limitation… If you are already everything, everywhere, always there is nowhere to go and nothing to be. Everything that could be already is, and everything that could happen has already has. And it is for this reason, so the story goes, that God created man. No limitation, no story. No story, no Being. That idea has helped me deal with the terrible fragility of Being. It helped my client, too. I don’t want to overstate the significance of this. I don’t want to claim that somehow this makes it all OK. She (talking about his client) still faced the cancer afflicting her husband, just as I still faced my daughter’s terrible illness. But there’s something to be said for recognizing that existence and limitation are inextricably linked….”

 

Something supersedes thinking, despite its truly awesome power. When existence reveals itself as existentially intolerable, thinking collapses in on itself. In such situations-in the depths-it’s noticing, not thinking, that does the trick. Perhaps you might start by noticing this: when you love someone, it’s not despite their limitations. It’s because of their limitations.  – Jordan Peterson

 

The healing perhaps never happens, or maybe it does. I’m not so sure about it at this point of my life. However, to ‘notice’ that there are many others trying to understand life and its ways just like I am, gives a meaning to my own struggle. Mr. Jordan Peterson, like many other teachers of the past, reassures my belief that my struggle is not irrelevant, it is not insignificant. That belief according to me is ‘strength’ and that’s what 12 Rules for Life – An Antidote to Chaos is about.

 

Nilgiri Mountain Railway train waits to depart from Ketti Station. The locomotive is No.37384. 26th February 2005 Photographer - A.M.Hurrell Camera - Minolta X700 (35mm film)

The Toy Train That Runs From Ooty to Coonoor

Ever since Shahrukh Khan danced atop a train for the famous song, Chhaiya Chhaiya from the movie Dil Se, toy trains have created a romantic idea of a train journey through the hills for me. When I recently got a chance to travel in the Nilgiri Mountain Railway that runs from Ooty or Udhagamandalam to Mettupalayam in Tamil Nadu, I felt like that childish romantic ideal was coming true.

 

I have travelled on the Neral Matheran toy train before as a child. Matheran is a cosy hill station close to Mumbai. That delight experienced was altogether different back then as I was only a kid who was simply excited by any prospect of travel, any prospect of being away from home and homework! Now, all grown up and supposedly an adult, travelling in a toy train is like bringing out, to be very clichéd, the inner child in you, to have the luxury of marveling at the train and its compartments itself, at the lush views and the fragrant eucalyptus forests; to stick your head your head out like a fearless child for a quintessential toy train photo while feeling the cool breeze graze your cheek.

Perhaps simply the word, toy train, is supposed to help us channelize our hidden childlike wonder!

 

1024px-Udhagamandalam_or_Ooty_railway_station_14.jpg
Ooty railway station in Nilgiri Mountain Railway, Tamil Nadu | Credit – Pinakpani

 

While I remember being utterly awestruck when travelling in the Matheran toy train because it was so different from the trains we are used to traveling in, part of my reaction to travelling in the Nilgiri Mountain Railway also included absorbing the historical tidbits of the train and the colonial stations it winds its way through.
As a child, I do not think I would have been impressed or even fathomed the age of the Matheran toy train but years later, knowing that the NMR has been running for over 100 years did transport me to a time when Coonoor and Ooty would have been just tiny specks of hill towns, with British people milling about amidst verdant forests to escape the heat, while the locals went about their daily lives.

 

Everything about this toy train ride was filled with excitement: from seeing it chugging into the station, to gaping at the antique engine, from boarding the train to hearing the final whistle blow! I caught the train from Ooty and was going to get off at Coonoor. The train’s ultimate destination was Mettupalayam near Coimbatore. In the seat opposite mine, was a family of three: parents and a daughter. I think I saw myself in that little girl, since I was as excited to be on the blue train of these blue mountains. As it slowly left the Ooty Station, I could hardly contain the thrill!

 

It snaked its way through the forests and the heady smell of the eucalyptus trees was overpowering. The most childlike happiness came from the girl sitting opposite me when she pulled out like a magic wand a bubble toy and blew bubbles in the air! Her father also joined her! At least it wasn’t only me whose inner child was roused in this ride! So ephemerally beautiful the bubbles were; floating away oblivious to the vistas below.

 

Passing under tunnels and navigating the bendy loops were the other highlights. Tunnels had all the passengers screaming in delight while the sharp bends in the route made us look at the train’s snaking figure and its contrasting beauty of blue against all the green.

 

The signage at Mettupalayam Railway Station, the start point of NMR. With an elevation of 325.2 meters above MSL from here, the train climbs for 5 hours a total of 42 kms to Ooty with 2203 meters elevation. |
The signage at Mettupalayam Railway Station, the start point of NMR. With an elevation of 325.2 meters above MSL from here, the train climbs for 5 hours a total of 42 kms to Ooty with 2203 meters elevation. | Credit – Gcheruvath

 

The entire train ride was steeped in the whimsical. Even the names of the train stations on the way brought out an old world charm. The first stop after Ooty was Lovedale. As expected, the station was miniscule, quaint, one of those that are stuck in time with their beautiful bright blue buildings and benches and the typical germanium flowers. All the stations (Ketti, Aravankadu, and Wellington) after that possessed a similar aura; they felt like they came straight out of a Ruskin Bond novel. They were frozen in time. Each time the train came to a halt at a station, the engine doors would open with the red flags waving and people would joyfully peer out to take in the views. As the train would depart, dozens of green flags were waved and you could hear the train whistle. All these were signals for the train’s departure. When was the last time you actually witnessed trains arriving and departing to the signal of flags? I couldn’t recall. I think I must have read about it in Malgudi Days! And so, it was amazing to actually witness it.

 

This is why travelling in the toy train feels like you are going back in time, not just to your childhood but also to a world where times were easier and simpler. The toy train gave me the space to be like a child again and to dip in a bit of nostalgia. Getting off at Coonoor, I felt absolutely satisfied. I took in the narrow criss-crossing railway tracks, the blue doors of the train all open, the vast blue skies and the teeming exciting crowds on the platform.

 

 

Cover Image: Nilgiri Mountain Railway train waits to depart from Ketti Station. The locomotive is No.37384. 26th February 2005 Photographer – A.M.Hurrell Camera – Minolta X700 (35mm film)

 

Book Review – Anukrti Upadhyay’s Daura

An enigmatic sarangiya player sweeps a district collector/officer off his feet with his magical tunes in a distant desert region of Rajasthan state in India. 

 

Sarangiyathe person who plays the sarangi (a rectangular string instrument).

 

No, Daura by Anukrti Upadhyay isn’t a romantic tale set in the twilight of the dusky dunes but the novel is steeped in different ideas of romance – romancing nature, the romance present in the state’s folktales and folksongs, romance of the music, and the most prevalent of all: the romance of the mysterious and the magical. 

 

Daura is Anukrti Upadhyay’s one of the first books in English. She also writes in Hindi. A District Collector or DC (a government officer who governs a division of the state called a district). He is unnamed and very enthusiastic about exploring the culture and tradition of the desert folks which is why he is often touring the district he governs (much to the dismay of his orderly, who is happy to be ensconced in his town life and engaging in urban activities rather than rural pastimes). The collector, on the other hand, shows kindness to their way of life, is happy to partake in it, and happier even to be regaled by their music and dance at the dak bangla (a bungalow) in the remote desert of the district. 

 

He is just and not a slave to his power. He does away with all forms of red tape to give back to the tribes people the land that is rightfully theirs. He is mesmerized by a sarangiya’s skill at playing his sarangi. But the sarangiya is a nomad, not one to be at the beck and call of superior government officials. Though, when he can, he does fascinate the DC with folk tales particularly one about a princess who turned into a tree to be freed from her ungracious suitors. The tree that has trapped the princess bears an eerie similarity to the one and only lush tree close to the bungalow. This tree’s origins itself are unknown, and no one can explain this green anomaly in the middle of barrenness. Except the sarangiya who not only is skilled at playing his sarangi but is also knowledgeable in the folklore of the desert. The sarangiya reveals how he had a vision of the princess through his music. The DC also got a glimpse, not once, but twice and the sarangiya attributed these visions to the DC’s strong faith. The DC then descends into a state suffused with these visions. He cuts himself off from the real world, from his work and inhabits the mythic to eventually become a myth himself. 

 

While the central character is the DC, his voice and thoughts come much later in the novel. Daura is told through the perspectives of several other characters on the margins. Their narratives are in the form of an interview. The interviews are part of the larger investigation being carried out by the state government to find out what happened to the DC. Thus, the voices of his orderly, of the tehsildar (the district is divided further into many talukas, which are further divided into tehsils and the officer responsible for a tehsil is the tehsildar), of the Nat girls (who belong to the local tribes who used to perform folk songs and dances close to the DC’s bungalow), the security guard, the camel herder come before the DC’s point of view. Their stories have a conversational tone because they are part of an investigation where the individuals are answering questions. 

 

The DC’s voice is seen through his journal entries.  After the journal entries, the novel depicts various persons conducting this investigation and presenting a plethora of reports. These include the medical officer, the Chief Secretary and the Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP). It is the SSP’s report that finally concludes the novel and sheds a bureaucratic light on a very mythic occurrence in the dak bangla: the merging of the DC into the tree and his transformation into a folk God of sorts. The people thereafter call him, Dev, meaning a male God. 

 

Anukrti Upadhyay has thus merged two disparate worlds of the rural people and their world of myths and beliefs with the rational, cold and calculating world of the government. This merger is possible by the unique form of this novel: a government report, but one which still retains its fable like tone (at least in the first half) because of its interview format that is able to bring out the features and views of each character. For example, the orderly is condescending toward the tribes and their way of life. He does not appreciate their friendly attitude with his sahib. He also detests the distant desert and its vast empty space he does not know how to fill. He supports the idea of status and believes that propriety befitting a person’s position must be followed strictly. The tehsildar is obsequious, yet hard working. However, like the orderly, he also believes that things should go according to a certain process and not in haphazard or arbitrary manner that the DC employed by bypassing the bureaucracy in doing his official work.  The security guard has a completely opposite outlook. He seems averse to facts and to rigid ideas of wrong and right. His unwillingness to admit anything as true or false perturbs the logical mindset of the investigator. He speaks in riddles and in a roundabout manner. His understanding of the world is subjective and not based on hard facts. 

 

The camel herder’s interview holds more concrete information about the sarangiya and talks of his own relation with the musician. Interestingly, the novel does not have a section dedicated to the sarangiya himself. He speaks in no interviews and writes no journals from which his own views can be gleaned. He is constructed out of the others’ voices and opinions and not his own thoughts. This element is also what heightens his aura of mystery which makes him illusory and imaginary akin to the many folktales he spins and weaves with his music. 

 

The narratives of the latter part of the novel are very matter of fact in tone as they stick to the point and do not reveal anything about the person other than the facts of their position or findings. The exception is the SSP’s report that includes verbatim (as possibly close to the original as it can be) conversations that he had with different characters in the book about events that led to the DC’s disappearance. The narratives also depict how the two worlds are as separate as can be. One is old worldly, superstitious yet vivacious and passionate and the other, though run by a modern democratic government, is more impersonal and factual. Yet they meet together and clash in this tale of two worlds.   

 

The ending of the novel is also an ending of the SSP’s report. He categorically states that all protocols have been followed in dealing with this strange matter and have been accordingly dealt with in keeping with prior permission and approvals granted by the officers involved. And with that one dull thud, the magical journey comes to an end. We see the crux of the story unfolding through myriad colourful characters which is then taken over by the soulless state machinery. The form of the novel also satirises the red tape and its lack of imagination and empathy in dealing with the public and the marginalised. It brings to focus the idea that the government may be replete with status, positions, and protocols but is bereft of any humanity. 

My Recipe For a Perfect Literature Festival

Jaipur Literature Festival (JLF) was first held in 2006 and it is perhaps the one event that gave the most impetus for literary festivals to blossom in India. It provided a space for spirited debates and discussions on myriad literary topics and in turn generated more interest in such literary events. 

However, over the years, JLF has been plagued by increasing controversies. Add to that, people who go there not for intellectual discussions, but to be seen and photographed. Similarly, the number of literary festivals that have come up throughout the country can at times fall short of their true purpose, becoming only events for a great photo op. 

 

Of course, that is not always the case. They still continue to be platforms where people can interact with many authors, writers, and speakers. Even the authors themselves get an audience to introduce their work to . Literary festivals can also introduce readers to new ideas and books to read. Thus, like any other aspect of our lives, literary festivals also have their pros and cons. 

Now that the JLF 2020 is over, I wondered what kind of a festival I would want to concoct and here is the recipe for my perfect literary festival. 

 

 

Book Releases

Having authors release their book and talk about it is a good practice that exposes readers to newer writers and their work. For example, in Tata Lit Live! I discovered Rehana Munir’s novel, Paper Moon which is about the protagonist, Fiza, opening a bookshop in Bandra in Mumbai. 

 

Literary Quizzes and Games

Literature does not necessary have to be about only private reading. Festivals do not always have to be about discussions and ideas. Perhaps, they can be spiced up by having some fun games such as quizzes or Pictionary revolving around literary themes. This also leads to better engagement with the audience. 

 

Author Signing

Lining up to get your copies signed is the best thing about literary fests. It is not easy to meet authors in this country. They can be overshadowed by the media and their publication houses, making them inaccessible to their readers. And if your favourite author happens to be an international one, good luck ever getting a chance to meet them! Having author signing is a great way for readers to interact with them and to be proud owners of signed books. It is any book lovers’ dream! 

 

Having it in smaller towns 

This is more to do with looking at the larger picture since organising a festival in smaller towns helps them be put on the tourist map as well. Jaipur attracts major tourists throughout the year and the literary festival has added another feather in the Pink City’s tourist cap. Smaller towns can get a different exposure through these festivals, wooing readers and book lovers to visit the town and its attractions. 

 

Enchanting locales

Associated with this is the location of the festival. If one is to have it in a small town, one can pick a touristy place for it. Diggi Palace in Jaipur is one example. The recently concluded Kerala Literary Festival 2020 also took place in Kozhikode, on the beautiful Calicut beach. Khushwant Singh Litfest’s location is the scenic Kasauli. These events have the potential to boost tourism, hopefully in an environmentally sustainable manner. 

Musical and Dance festivals organised in the country often cash on this idea such as the Elephanta Festival in Mumbai that uses the ancient sculptures as backdrop for mesmerising performances. 

 

Boosting Local Authors 

In connection to the above points, smaller literary festivals help local artists and writers to showcase their work and give them much needed exposure too. It is always a delight to appreciate local and regional writers. The Arunachal Literature and Art Festival is one commendable example.  

 

Out With Pretention!

However, what should be done away with in any literary festival are unnecessary crowds and pretentiousness. Everyone in India would appreciate a sparsely crowded event that offers a space to breathe and relax. Literary festivals really need to have better crowd control. Smaller, lesser known literary festivals such as ones in Kasauli  or Arunachal have fewer people turning up anyhow but definitely bigger names particularly JLF attracts huge crowds. People come from all over the country to attend the fest. 

Ticketing the festivals could perhaps be one such solution but one that might be opposed as well since these are some of the few places left in India that do not charge to be there. 

One of my major critiques of literary festival’s attendees is that they might not be there out of any genuine love for the topics or ideas. They might be pretentious attendees. They can be found anywhere, in all events actually because our world has become increasingly shaped by online presence. It becomes a norm to “check in” to places both offline and online and to show it off. 

I might sound quite a prude in saying this but for me, a screening test or tool that could detect only the photo takers would make it an ideal literary festival. 

 

Regional Languages and Poetry 

The recent anti CAA protests saw protestors expressing their dissent through the use of poetry and in North India, the poetry used were in regional languages. It is the true mark of poetry when people use it as a form of questioning and speaking out against injustice. Literary festivals most often focus on English writing and the prose form. They could have sections devoted to regional writing such as Bengaluru Literary Festival 2019 having engaging discussion on the state of contemporary Hindi Writing, discussing the role of women in Odia and Bengali literature or about Kannada Literature

Poetry slams would be another ideal way to encourage interest in poetry and audience participation. 

 

Book Review – Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey

This happened in 2015. I had a bad day and I wanted to take my mind off things. So, I walked into a movie hall, looked at the list of movies displayed on the ticket counter, and picked the next show which was just about to begin. I had no clue about whose movie it was or how good the reviews were. I had only learned the name of the movie a few minutes back while paying for the ticket. When the lights went off and the first dialogue played, I was super joyed because the voice from the movie told me that my day was going to get better from there. It was Tom Hanks’ voice and the movie was Bridge of Spies. Such happenstances are a rarity but when they happen they wash off all the blues and fill your days with a refreshing air of goodness. Imagine chancing upon a book the same way.

 

I had no idea that The Mysterious ailment of Rupi Baskey was the debut novel of Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar who also authored the famous The Adivasi will not dance. I also did not know that Hansda won the Yuva Puraskar for the book. Strangely enough, I didn’t even remember adding the book to my library. I was travelling and I badly needed some sleep. As horrendous as it might sound, I had picked the book so I could fall asleep quickly. I know how unforgivable it is, but I have been using books as sleeping pills lately, except this book wouldn’t let me sleep. I was tired and my eyes were begging to be shut. Yet, I kept peeping through half-shut eyes and still read. When I dozed off due to exhaustion, I woke up and tried to stay alert to continue reading. That riveting was the tale of Rupi Baskey or should I say Kadamdihi.

 

The book possesses you right from the first line because Hansda didn’t bother to take his readers through a long winding road to introduce his protagonist. She is right there on the opening sentence, squatting in the middle of a rice field to deliver her first child. Rupi arrives in Kadamdihi, a Santhali Village as a new bride and her husband Sido is one of those educated Santhali men working as a teacher in Nitra. The book follows the life of Rupi Baskey from the time she arrives in Kadamdihi and also some of the others whose lives are intertwined with hers.

 

Hansda calls his protagonist the strongest woman in Kadamdihi but you will realize that all of Kadamdihi or at least the women whom Hansda speak of in the book are no less stronger. The characters of Putki, Della, Younger Somai-Budhi are representations of women who are indeed strong of their own accord. Even the ones who crossed over to the dark side, like Gurbari, Dulari, and Naikay’s wife, display indomitable strength and conviction. As for the men in Kadamdihi, while Somai and Khorda are likeable, most men in Kadamdihi seem powerless as a puppet, in front of the dahnis. That way the dahnis rule, both in Kadamdihi and in the book.

 

It’s interesting to note that Hansda is a medical officer by profession and his debut novel is woven over the fabric of dahni-bidya or black magic. The world that he paints through his descriptions of dahni-bidya, is scary and exciting at the same time. I wonder if he drew his inspiration from the many patients with mysterious ailments he might have met during his career as a medical doctor. But, on the other hand, he introduces you to a faith that is more intense, unpolished, and very real nevertheless. The rolling eyes, women bathing naked under the moonlight, the food enchantment etc. might remind you of similar faiths across India and will only add on to your curiosity. At one point in the story, Hansda through Dulari almost justifies black magic as a weapon that women use to protect themselves. She explains how she did not have a choice and how she had to do what she did to reclaim what was rightfully hers.

 

When Hansda is not enchanting with the story of the dahinis, he is busy enlightening his readers with tidbits of information about this wildly beautiful state of Jharkhand. He sings to you, songs about the kadam trees and stories of how various gushtis came into existence. He explains how the villages are named after trees that are found in abundance, how each paaris have their own story of how they came into being, how marriage within one’s village is looked down upon and more. He also talks about Sarna religion that the Santhals follow and the caste discrimination in these villages. Above all, he introduces his readers to the political affairs of Jharkhand from the time Jaipal Singh founded the Adivasi Mahasabha in 1938 which demanded a separate state for Adivasis in Chota Nagpur area to the times of All Jharkhand Student Union under Besra. Hansda like most of us sounds disappointed with the political leaders of the state and tell us how these political leaders rode on the sacrifices of many young Adivasis who were hoping for a homeland for themselves.

 

For a book with such a compelling story with a lot of intriguing information, there is one challenge in reading it. Although the book is written in English, Hansda didn’t shy away from using a lot of native tongue during his storytelling. He doesn’t use the English equivalents even when they are available and many a time doesn’t even bother to explain what the word means. He instead expects the reader to understand from the context which we do most of the time. I learnt dahni-bidya means dark magic, dhai-budhi means midwife and more. Having to assume the meanings of these words has its own shortcomings apart from the fact that it slows down the reader, but I wouldn’t hold it against him. If English can find its way into the conversations made in the native tongue and that too in a very generous proportion, why can’t we make do with native words in an English narration? I would say I am rather grateful to Hansda for having introduced me to this new language which only makes me more curious about it.  

 

So, if you are looking for an engaging read or wanting to get off a reading block, go find Rupi and read all about her mysterious ailment.

 

mumbai-urban-transport-project

Urban India’s Public Transport is Yet To Arrive!

Consider the state of public transport in your city – How accessible is the network of public buses or trains…How cost-effective in terms of your intended destination? If you live in an Indian metropolitan city which has begun metro operations, is the situation better or has it become worse? Then consider India’s financial centre, Mumbai, with a population of 13.9 million and a governmental budget sufficient for an additional INR 36 billion for the construction of the Shivaji Memorial in Arabian Sea. Compare to Tokyo, Japan’s financial powerhouse, with a population of 12 million residents. Despite recent upgradation of Mumbai’s BEST buses, the stark contrast of public transport systems in both cities is testimony to poor planning in urban development, rather than access to resources. While Mumbai has the second highest migrant influx per year after Hyderabad, India’s annual rate of urbanization of 2.37% has burdened the public infrastructure in nearly 500 cities comprising more than 70% of the India’s urban population.

 

Although capacity building has become a developmental norm since decades, instead of adequate development that envisions future needs, governmental projects for urban transportation have been playing catch up. Despite initiatives for city-specific Unified Metropolitan Transport Authority(UMTA) and the Sustainable Urban Transport Project (SUTP) including capacity building projects being implemented under various schemes such as Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission and Atal Mission for Rejuvenation & Urban Transformation (AMRUT), India’s public transport system (Fig. 1) remains fragmented and lacking in meeting the requisite demand. 

Fig. 2: Mode Share in Various Indian Cities (2013) Source: Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs
Fig. 2: Mode Share in Various Indian Cities (2013) Source: Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs

 

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Rupa Nandy, Regional Head, UITP India (International Association of Public Transport)

According to Rupa Nandy, Regional Head, UITP India (International Association of Public Transport), the biggest challenge is that “there are no adequate public transportation systems that exist in India.” Combined with multiple authorities instead of a centralised authority, “seamless journey experience to the user” has been difficult to achieve. Although Kolkata (57%), Hyderabad (49%), and Mumbai (44%) utilize public transport than any other mode of transport, public transportation facilities in major Indian metropolitan cities are inadequate on varying parameters such as availability, frequency, capacity and fleet condition. Compare India’s population of nearly 1.37 billion to Singapore’s 5.70 million. Perhaps the hybrid challenges of developing urban transport can be addressed with best practices from Singapore’s development planning which has resulted in nearly 80 per cent of trips (4.24 million) in the country performed on Public Transport comprising of bus, MRT, LRT, Taxis.

 

To mitigate the burden of urbanization on infrastructure, the central and state governments have initiated multiple initiatives such as developing metro rail systems (Fig. 2) and technological integration through data sharing such as General Transit Feed Specification (GTFS). However, inadequate support from the public transportation available in many urban agglomerations in India has resulted in the expansion of private vehicle ownership and shared mobility services, which has caused traffic congestions across multiple cities. According to NITI Aayog’s Transforming India’s Mobility Report, “Citizens spend almost 1.3-1.6x additional time in peak traffic for our top four metros, compared to 0.6x for Singapore and Hong Kong.” 

 

Metro Rail in India (February 2019) - Operational (642 KM) and Under Construction (691 KM) | Source: Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and Maps of India
Fig. 2: Metro Rail in India (February 2019) – Operational (642 KM) and Under Construction (691 KM) Source: Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs and Maps of India

 

Adoption of technological solutions have been similarly fragmented. While Kochi was the first city to integrate GTFS data with the Chalo app for commuters, Delhi is rapidly integrating its public transportation system through initiatives such as the Delhi Integrated Multi-Modal Transit System, mobile applications such as PoochhO and the Common Mobility Card (ONE). NITI Aayog’s Transforming India’s Mobility Report suggests that economic loss of congestion has been estimated “at over USD 22 billion annually for India’s top four metros.” In addition, challenges in India’s urban transport development include safety issues such as adequate installation of CCTV cameras, and enhancing accessibility for persons with disabilities through the Accessible India campaign. 

 

Despite multifarious transport development schemes being implemented, including the Pradhan Mantri Jal Marg Yojana (PMJMY)’s mission envisages creation of 110 new waterways across the country, the diversity of India’s urban agglomerations present hybrid challenges for transit-oriented urban planning. Even as Nirmala Sitharaman recently announced a INR 102 lakh crore national infrastructure pipeline, the Indian Government has already begun multi-administrative integration, beginning with Indian Railways’ restructuring through the Indian Railway Management Service (IRMS). While effective utilisation of technological solutions can enhance seamless integration in multi-modal connectivity, customising city mobility plans for mode appropriateness are essential to developing the transport infrastructure and ensure productive deployment of resources. Even as public transport agencies in various small towns and metropolitan cities of India compete with ride-sharing services such as Uber and Ola expanding across the country, the hybrid challenges of developing urban India’s existing public transport systems will require faster adoption of technological solutions and strengthening integrations between multiple operators and agencies around the country.

 

Cover Image Source: World Bank

Gift Wrapping Our Way Out of Existence

‘Your delivery is scheduled to arrive today’, says the message on your phone. There was a time when you would have been excited after reading this but now it doesn’t matter. Ting Tong, the doorbell rings. The delivery guy brings your order in a white plastic bubble wrap envelope. Congratulations you have a new toy and a complimentary I-will-still-stick-around-way-beyond your-extinction envelope that lands straight in your dustbin, without even a goodbye.

Packaging products, right from bubble wrap envelopes to water bottles, form a major part of the solid waste – their quantity was estimated to be about 77.9 million tons in 2015. (29.7 percent of total generation)

 

But hey how is this your fault? It’s just the way it is, right?

 

The envelope is trashed and what you hold in your hand is probably a book. You can tell even if it’s wrapped in an average looking gift paper. It’s wrapped because it’s supposed to be your birthday gift. You tear it apart and find the exact book you had asked your friends to get. Surprise. Surprise. A temporary smile lands on your face. The book lands on your shelf. Gift paper lands in the dustbin. Again without even a goodbye.

 

Rude, a tree died for this bro!

 

Why do gifts even need to be wrapped? I wonder. Although the practice of gift wrapping can be traced back to 2nd century BCE China, modern gift wrapping practice only became mainstream after it was popularized by Hallmark back in 1917. It was an accident. They ran out of traditional tissues so they started selling colourful envelope liners from France instead. It was a hit. America loved it and eventually, it made it to the rest of the world too.

The psychology behind Gift wrapping says that it influences the recipient to rate their gifts more positively. The short-lived suspense of not knowing what exactly is your gift somehow seems to excite you. As you unwrap the gift, you wonder what’s inside. This curiosity feels good. But is it really worth it? Just a few seconds of our unnecessary pleasure sits on the planet for hundreds of years, asphyxiating anything that comes in its way.

 

Sure avoiding plastic packaging and switching to paper may be a good start but paper isn’t as environment-friendly as you would believe it to be. The problem begins where the paper begins. Wood. Deforestation. Loss of habitat. Loss of biodiversity. Soil erosion. Reduced water quality. And this is just the beginning.

We move on to manufacturing. Here come the chemicals, which seep into our water bodies through a poor waste disposal system. Chlorine, mercury, halogens, nitrates, ammonia, phosphorus, caustic soda – each of these chemicals used in making paper, damages the environment differently. And next is the disposal. Tonnes of paper make it to landfills every day and when they decompose, they release methane – one of the major greenhouse gases.

Paper manufacturing is also water and energy-intensive process. In India, the national norm of water consumption per tonne of paper is 200-250 kiloliter in large paper sectors.

 

That’s equivalent to a lifetime water supply for a family of four!

 

As water shortage becomes more commonplace, it’s going to get harder to manufacture paper. A technology upgrade is necessary. It is possible to make the paper-making process more eco-friendly. The technology is available to reduce water consumption, at least to half. The question is – how important is it? And do the decision-makers realise that?

So we can’t use plastic. We can’t use paper. What can we use?

 

The Three Rs.

 

1. Reduce

Our consumption is a major burden on the planet. And our demand is only growing. We don’t have any other habitable planet known to us. Even if we did, we have no technology to shift 7.7 billion people to a faraway planet. We talk about our end but our civilization has actually only begun. There are so many things that we haven’t discovered yet. There are so many things that we haven’t even seen. And we are already losing our only home?

We must act. We must act now. Big or small doesn’t matter. If it takes a gift wrapper, gift wrapper it is. Ask yourself – do you need it? Do you really need it? If the answer is no then you know what to do.

Okay, so if we are not buying new stuff, what are we replacing it with?

Stuff we already have!
Welcome to the second R –

2. Reuse

Newspapers. Brown bags. Shoe boxes. Pieces of clothes, our options are endless. Are you willing to be creative enough to use them? The Internet can always help.

Our last R brings us to –

3. Recycle

Fact is that we are drowning in our own trash. Fact is also that we are importing more and more waste paper from western countries. Special thanks to China for closing its gate, now all the western garbage comes our way.

We are not in any shortage of waste paper. India produces 62 million tonnes of waste every year. Paper makes a huge part of it. What we are in shortage of is an efficient collection and segregation system. We need better waste management and recycling facilities.

Although paper is one of the easiest things to recycle, there is a limit to that too. After repeated processing, the fibres become too short to produce new paper. In that case, virgin fibres have to be used. Ultimately, even with recycling, there’s no escaping cutting more trees, polluting our rivers and trashing our land.

 

Unless, and until, we start caring.

 

The gifting season is almost gone, gift wrappers have already been used, but when it returns which it inevitably will, I hope you choose to care.

No plastic gift wrappers and reduce, reuse, recycle as much as you can. And when it comes to online shopping, avoid it until sustainable packaging becomes their priority. They may not hear your voice alone, but they can’t avoid us if we all start speaking. Our planet, our only home, is worth it.

 

 

 

References:

repository.upenn.edu/
fespa.com/en/news-media/
icontrolpollution.com/articles
downtoearth.org.in/interviews
intechopen.com/books/
indiatoday.in/india/story/
bbc.com/news/
mapsofindia.com/my-india/
wiki/Paper_recycling
bustle.com/articles/
wikipedia.org/wiki/Gift_wrapping
wikipedia.org/wiki/Packaging_waste

http://www.personal.psu.edu/bfr3/blogs/asp/media-spoonfeeding-cartoon.jpg

Read Your Friends Close And Your Enemies Closer

While he was still a student, Swami Vivekananda had already read Herbert Spencer, John Richard Green, Immanuel Kant, Schopenhauer, John Stuart Mill, August Comte, Aristotle, Wordsworth, David Hume, Percy Shelley, and Charles Dickens among other writers. Dr. Ambedkar, during his lifetime, had collected more than 50,000 books at Rajgruha (his house in Mumbai). On being asked to furnish a list of books that influenced him, Leo Tolstoy sent an age-wise list of 50 books that influenced him through his lifetime. We can make a list of the most original thinkers and leaders in the world and barring a few exceptions, we will invariably find that they were and are the most avid readers you can find. They never shied away from reading ideas that challenged their own perceptions of the world. Now, in a world where our habits are defined by the ways of the internet, thanks to the algorithms that track our preferences and reading history, we keep reading what we keep reading. As a result, forget the ideas we do not like, we don’t even understand the ideas we actually like.

 

Reading is a different space in the mind, a battleground where ideas meet. Some ideas mingle and sign treaties while some meet only to fight and decimate each other. Now, if this open field keeps hosting only one particular kind of idea and never lets other ideas anywhere near the battleground, the mind becomes a complacent place. It forgets how treaties are signed, it forgets how battles are fought and won, and most importantly, it forgets how a battle of ideas is lost. It is therefore, the duty of a reader to keep the battlefield alive and bloody, so that the ideas may sweat more during peace and bleed less during the war. If that duty is not taken care of, a stronger idea keeps coming at you until you are annihilated and you surrender without putting up a fight! It is at this point that you make a choice between – getting co-opted by the stronger force or remain exiled till you prepare for the battle anew. Sadly, most of us get co-opted.

 

Apart from their personal struggle, a lot many change-makers of this planet took their own sweet time to understand their own self better. They read ideas from different corners of human development. They examined them first hand and reached their own conclusions. They sieved out things and kept what they needed. They strengthened their ideas by putting them to rigorous tests and only then, came out to talk about them to people. These people had minds of their own. It was impossible to co-opt them. It was impossible to overshadow them. It was impossible to disagree with them in totality. This happened because they were sincere in their efforts and they all found one or more element of truth for themselves. An easy identifier to mark such people is that you will find otherwise completely divergent groups trying to appropriate their ideas after they are gone. That happens because of several reasons. One, these men and women were not afraid of revising their ideas from time to time, so one group cites from one phase of their lives and another from another without understanding the context. Two, these people have already done the hard work of reading and filtering of ideas, so the appropriating groups have it easier if they just accept them as their Heroes and follow whatever they like in their repertoire.

 

Now, things would have been still better if people just did not want to read about ideas they disagreed with. However, we have people who do not even want to read ideas they like, ideas that appeal to them, and people they adore otherwise. This is partly their own laziness and partly peer pressure.

 

“Ambedkar was a great man”
“…yes, Ambedkar was a great man”
“why?”
“because he drafted the constitution?”
“ok, so have you read the constitution?”
“What? No! How can one read the constitution?”

 

This population bifurcates at the point ‘action’ comes into the picture. Case in point, a protest march in the name of Ambedkar. One set will stay at home and the other will join the march with all their zeal. The ones staying at home are more or less a harmless set. The one on the street is capable of burning buses and hurling stones at trains in peer pressure or on the command of the leader who has studied Ambedkar but knows what to conceal and what to reveal to effect a nihilistic vandalism. That’s why I wonder why people are so surprised to find protestors in Anti-CAA and Pro-CAA marches not knowing what CAA even stands for. The lot that doesn’t want to read but is eager to burn is the injurious one and the growth of such set should be a cause for worry for all of us. People who have read 2 more books or a few more wiki links than these gullible people are able to preach to them and drive them according to their own fancy. The gullible warrior is too lazy to do his own background work and hence, walks behind people who do it or at least pretend to do it.

 

This is one reason for the widespread reach of fake news. Any influencer puts out a piece of news that might be fake (intended or otherwise) and his followers start sharing the piece without a care for its authenticity or consequences. The followers do not like the idea of reading, they do not like the idea of fact-finding, they do not like the idea of getting corrected – what they like is – does that shared statement help them ascertain their own beliefs? If it does, click retweet. If not, hurl insults. The reading and the contemplative population remain a minority. It is  common to see someone who has not read Ambedkar swearing in his name, someone who has not read Gandhi speak about Satyagraha all the time, someone who doesn’t know Sanskrit talk of protecting it with all their might, someone who has never read Karl Marx dismiss him nonchalantly or fight for him tooth and nail.

 

If you have read this piece till here and if you know you belong to this set, there is nothing to be ashamed about. The systems of our world make it easier for you to fall prey to a bigger fish and get co-opted. We like people who agree with us. Online bookstores suggest you books on the basis of your reading history, streaming channels show you show suggestions based on your viewing history, news aggregators show you news according to what you have clicked before on their site, and friends gift you books according to your taste. It is a difficult arrangement. The battleground of mind is a difficult place by itself and that space should not be up for co-option by anyone anywhere. Start making the change today. Dust your armoury, sharpen your swords, and if you want to bring about a revolution of ideas outside, bring it inside your head first. To begin with, read. Then, come out of your ideological silos and read some more.

 

Of Toy Trains and Tunnels – Kalka To Shimla

Growing up in pre-millennial era, train travel was an inescapable part of holidaying. Almost every holiday started at the station. The bags were stuffed under the berths. Dad and uncles haggled with the coolies and we kids squabbled over the top berths. Finally, after a whistle and one lurch back and one lurch forward, the train rolled out. I loved that backward-forward motion and always exaggerated it a bit, it was the signal to the start of the holiday.

 

Were the trains less dirty in those days? Were the seats unstained with who-knows-what? Were my olfactory organs under-performing and I could use the loos without gagging? Perhaps my childlike senses had yet to develop to the hyper discerning level they are at now. Perhaps, I just didn’t care. In the last twenty years, train travel has not figured in my holiday plans. Air travel has become affordable. It is faster – every moment counts when there are only that many days you can take off work. But that’s not it. In all honesty, I’d rather change my destination than board a long-distance train. Snooty? Guilty as charged.

 

So, I surprise myself more than anyone else when I opt to take the train from Kalka to Shimla, popularly known as the toy train. Besides the rave reviews – most scenic train journey in India, exceptional panoramic views, and the likes – I am also wary of going by road for two reasons. One, I am not sure I have the stomach for the curvy mountainous road. And two, I have visions of the car tumbling down the hillside, splattering my bones and brains on the pine trees. Yes, I am morbid like that. 

 

Kalka to Shimla
Kalka to Shimla

 

All pros and cons weighed, I find myself at the Kalka station pre-sunrise. It’s a brrrry cold morning and I am layered up such that I have more clothes on me than in my suitcase. The station, almost gleaming clean, is a pleasant surprise and takes the edge off the cold. The train brings me shivering back to reality. Positives – the floral artwork on the bogey is cute, wood-panelled interiors are nice-ish and the pendulum-like seat backs can be slid to change direction. Negative – stained seats (why have we not yet discovered a solution for this?) and the characteristic grimy-ness associated with Indian trains. And the loo? I don’t intend to find out. The bowels and bladder have been emptied and I intend to keep them that way till I reach my hotel in Shimla. 

 

The first hour and a half passes in darkness interrupted by the occasional cluster of lights indicating human settlement. Not much to see outside, I Netflix and chill. It’s an hour and a half later that the first rays of the sun light up the vista that the Shivalik Express has been chugging through. And, all the accolades I had read on blogs in the weeks preceding this journey race through my head like a ticker tape. The sky is the perfect blend of dawn colours. The tree trunks are hanging on to the sloping hills at near precise angles. The route has many sharp curves and since I am in the middle bogey, there are times when I can see both the head and the tail of my train. The narrow gauge line that connects Kalka to Shimla was laid in 1903. It passes through 103 tunnels and crosses over 900+ bridges in the five hours it takes to cover a distance of 96 kilometre and ascend 1400 metre in altitude. 

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A little over two hours after it started from Kalka, the Shivalik Deluxe goes through the longest of the 103 tunnels. The Barog tunnel is a little over a kilometre long and takes 2.5 minutes to cross. At the other end of the Barog tunnel is Barog station. A row of squat buildings make up the station. The walls of all the buildings are whitewashed, the gables, accents and door-window shades are painted a cornflower blue and the rooftops are post-box red. Picture perfect. The train halts for 15 minutes for the attendants to load the bogeys with packed breakfasts, the standard Rajdhani fare of bread-cutlet or bread-omelette. The passengers stream out to stretch their legs and click the obligatory selfies. 

 

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The next leg of the journey all the way to Shimla is without any unscheduled stops. Many stations pass us by and the colour scheme of blue, white and red roofs is consistent. Some are adorned with quaint blue benches, others with pots of geraniums. At one station, a branch laden with bright pink flowers is angled across a wall with such precision that it is difficult to believe coincidence of nature could have achieved it without human intervention. Both, the parry that came up with this colour palette and the one that ensured its application need to be eulogized. 

IMG_20191229_094109

 

Unfortunately, it does not seem that they were allowed to apply their exceptional taste and influence on the towns that dot the hills. The houses are stacked like a toddler would stack his first set of Lego bricks without thought to colour, design, or symmetry, the kind that would only win applause from doting parents. Hoardings advertising lodges, products and services add to the cacophony of colours. The hillside along the rail-track which for the first leg had only been covered in vegetation is now speckled with wrappers, plastic bottles, discarded garments, and other ugly odds and ends. I suspect as man runs out of space and expands over the rest of the hills he will leave more of these breadcrumbs to mark his trail. 

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At 10:35 a.m., the train begins to slow to a crawl, its destination is around the corner. I am expecting Shimla station to repeat the blue and white. It does not entirely. I guess, sitting at the top of the pile, it needed to be set apart from its lowly subjects. But, the woodwork is artistic and the stone floor is gleaming. My breath does not catch like it did at the sight of Shoghi, Jutoh and others but it is easy on the eyes. I smile at the attendant and skip out of the bogey like I would have 20-25 years ago. The five hours had flown by. Netflix had been turned off after the first hour and I had turned not more than ten pages of my book. Mostly I had been engrossed in the images unfolding outside the window. In times, when it is usually about how fast can we get there, it had been a nice change of pace to take my time.

 

 

Note:
Photos & Doodle Courtesy – Himali Kothari.

 

The Seer Reading List for 2020

1 Book A Week For 2020 – The Seer Reading List

Congratulations to the readers who were able to meet their target of 1 book a week for the year 2019. Now, if you haven’t been able to do that or if you are planning to do it again in the year 2020, The Seer has come up with a list of books, one for each week, to help you select your books without breaking your heads. These books have figured in our list because we believe that they have something excellent to offer to their readers. This list is also a product of a personal need for the team as we have seen it first hand that the resolution to read 52 or 53 books a year hits a dead end when we have to handpick each book ourselves. A friend you can trust on this road, is a great help and that is what we have tried to do – be of some help in your reading journey for the year 2020. Please let us know of your To-Be-Read lists in the comment section so that we can add more books to our personal lists.

We have to thank one of the most prolific members of our team – Aakanksha Singh, who helped us in building up this list. If you wish to read her writings, please follow the link – https://theseer.in/author/aakankshatheseer/ . You may also write to us at contact@theseer.in for any feedback, suggestions, new ideas. We wish you and your family a literature laden 2020.

Happy New Year

53 Books To Read in 2020

Week 1

Sprout is a hen who dreamed she could fly and become free. You should read The Hen who Dreamed She Could Fly for that strong dose of inspiration to help you sail across your new year blues.

Buy it here.

Week 2

The winters are creeping up! Cosy up in the cold with a cup of coffee and a heartwarming read, Before the Coffee Gets Cold by Toshikazu Kawguchi.

Buy it here.

Week 3

Swami Vivekananda built a bridge between India’s past and its future. While he adored the India of the past, he also understood its limitations and took a modern approach to solve the country’s problems. Mr. Hindol Sengupta explores The Modern Monk in his book and brings to you many facets of his life that are not commonly known.

Buy it here.

Week 4

It’s the Republic Day week and who better to read than the maker of the Indian constitution – Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. Federaton Versus Freedom is a lecture he delivered on 29th January, 1939 at the annual function of the Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics held in the Gohale Hall, Poona (now Pune) where he talks about federal form of government and India’s future with it.

Buy it here.

Week 5

The International Holocaust Remembrance Day falls on 27th January. To commemorate and to remember, read Elie Wiesel’s Night where he narrates his own experiences in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp in Nazi Germany.

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Week 6

4th February 2020 marks Agha Shahid Ali’s 71st birth anniversary. He wrote about his home, Kashmir, extensively to capture the state’s suffering. We recommend you read his haunting poetry book, A Country Without a Post Office.

Buy it here.

Week 7

Even though we are perhaps living through some of the most productive and peaceful decades of recent human history, the variables of internet, social media, insta-gratification, post modern constructs, absence of purpose, and extreme politics have rendered our lives chaotic. It is from this chaos that the author tries to get us out through his 12 Rules For Life. Each chapter comes with a lot of research and examples from Dr. Peterson’s practice in clinical psychology.

Buy it here.

Week 8

Japan and its love for cats is absolutely adorable. The country celebrates National Cat Day on 22nd Feb each year. The Seer recommends reading the heartwarming The Traveling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa. Check out The Seer’s other favourite novels featuring cats from Japan.

Buy it here.

Week 9

Read the book before you watch the movie! A movie adaptation of  Little Women released in December 2019! If you haven’t watched the movie yet, WAIT a little bit more. Go on first and read the book. We promise it will be delightful! Little Women is a feminist classic that transports you to beautiful homes and a very British countryside.

Buy it here.

Week 10

 If you have read Maus by Art Spiegelman and connected with the graphic novel’s use of anthropomorphism, then Munnu: A Boy from Kashmir by Malik Sajad would make for a thoughtful read too. The graphic novel narrates the story of the titular Munnu amidst the political and military strife in Kashmir. The Kashmiris in this story are depicted as deer. 

Buy it here.

Week 11

What can be better than reading a book about books? One such beautiful novel, Paper Moon, by Rehana Munir, was released last year. The story revolves around the protagonist, Fiza, who sets up a bookshop in Bandra, Mumbai.

Buy it here.

Week 12

21st March is UN World Poetry Day.  Sumana Roy’s, Out of Syllabus, would make for a perfect companion this week to rekindle your love for poetry and to revel in the joys of myriad relationships that are etched in her poems.

Buy it here.

Week 13

12th March is World Theatre Day. My Story and My Life as an Actress is a translation of the autobiography of Binodini Dasi who started acting at the age of 12 in 19th century Calcutta. It was a time when theatre had not yet got the Bhadralok approval and women actors were chiefly hired from red light districts of the city. Her struggle, rise to fame, and yet the presence of unending sorrow in her life, makes her autobiography a heartfelt read.

Read it here.

Week 14

We recommend the stunning debut, Girl in White Cotton by Avni Doshi. It is a searing and caustic tale about a mother and daughter relationship. The story is remarkable for its depiction of a mother who defies any prescriptive conventions associated with being a mother. However, that has repercussions on her own daughter who has felt unloved and now has to take care of her mother.

Buy it here.

Week 15

Rilke in his letters has dug deep inside the human mind and heart and has come out with gems of wisdom that come only through experience and the love for your craft. Letters to a Young Poet is a must keep for every bibliophile. Also, since The Seer began with a short review of this book, we harbour a special attachment and recommend it strongly.

Buy it here.

Week 16

Urvashi Bahuguna’s Terrarium is an absolute delight. The winner of 2019 The (Great) Indian Poetry Collective, this collection beautifully portrays the small wonders of the natural and everyday world.

Buy it here.

Week 17

Eating God: A Book of Bhakti Poetry by Arundhathi Subramaniam who has edited the book is a collection of about 200 poems of Bhakti poets of the golden Bhakti period of India. Bhakti poems appealed to every stratum of the society because of lucid language employed without compromising on the deeper ethos of India’s tradition in spiritual devotion.

Buy it here.

Week 18

Kamala Das or ‘Madhavi Kutty’ as she is remembered fondly by some, has carved a special place in Indian literature. Grab her book Selected Poems that explores female sexuality, love, and life.

Buy it here.

Week 19

We think once in a while it is alright to judge a book by its cover! Appreciate the beautiful book cover and also the book within with The Stationery Shop by Marjan Kamali that tells the tale of love found and lost between Roya and Baman in the Iran of pre and post 1979 Revolution.

Buy it here.

Week 20

Memoirs made it big in 2019! The success of Becoming by Michelle Obama set the trend perhaps. If you still haven’t jumped on the memoir bandwagon, read Shanta Gokhale’s memoir, One Foot on the Ground. She was awarded the Tata Literature Live! Lifetime Achievement Award in 2019.

Buy it here.

Week 21

Beat the sweltering heat by diving into the cool depths of Ruskin Bond’s Roads to Mussoorie where he pays homage to the lovely town of Mussoorie. Celebrate his birthday on the 19th of May as the lovable author turns 87!

Buy it here.

Week 22

Gabriel Garcia Marquez is celebrated worldwide for his surreal landscapes and story narratives. But we think, one should also read some other lesser known magical realist authors. Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate is a delicious novel portraying the fabulist through the protagonist’s Tita’s love for cooking.

Buy it here.

Week 23

Having a midyear crisis? Tide over it by reading Camus’ essay The Myth of Sisyphus and learning how to embrace the banal!

Buy it here.

Week 24

June is celebrated as Pride Month the world over! Talking of Muskaan by Himanjali Sarkar is an imaginative and sensitive YA novel that brings out the reality of homosexuality and bullying in schools.

Buy it here.

Week 25

20th June is UN World Refugee Day.  Reading always enables individuals to see the humane side of any crisis rather than through the prism of hard and cold statistics often bombarded on us. Learn more about the Rohingya refugee crisis by reading First They Erased our Name: A Rohingya Speaks by Habiburahman, Sophie Ansel.

Buy it here.

Week 26

Homage to Catalonia is George Orwell’s personal account of his experiences and observations fighting for the Republican army during the Spanish Civil War. It make for an extremely interesting read and takes you into details of how a war from a foot soldier’s perspective is entirely different from the politician’s view.

Buy it here.

Week 27

Bohemian Rhapsody might have enthralled you with its brilliant portrayal of Freddie Mercury himself thanks to the sheer effort and power of Rami Malek’s acting, but if you are still hungering for more Queen related books, Goodbye Freddie Mercury by Nadia Akbar is the book for you! One of the characters, Bugsy, worships the iconic singer and all Queen Fans will relate!

Buy it here.


Week 28

Read engaging stories in verse, Circus Folks and Village Freaks by Aparna Upadhyaya Sanyal. There are 18 twisted tales of very peculiar characters that are sure to keep you reading all night! 

Buy it here.

Week 29

Pick up a light, breezy folklore collection, Greatest Folktales from Bihar. Interested in folk literature? Read The Seer’s 12 Folktale Collection Recommendations from India.

Buy it here.

Week 30

Stuck home because of constant flooding and pouring rain? Shaya Tales by Bulbul Sharma will transport you to a tiny hamlet in the Himalayas and into a tiny cottage in the mountains away from the grey of the monsoon blues!

Buy it here.

Week 31

Compare the Book and the Movie with the touching story of Wonder by R.J. Palacio. It is the story of August, who has a facial difference and only wants to be treated as a normal kid. The book was made into a movie in 2017. Let us know which is better? 

Buy it here.

Week 32

August is Women in Translation Month! Female writing is slowly getting its due, but translations not so much. Ah, we can change that too one month at a time. 


Khadija Mastur’s portrayal of an inquisitive and questioning protagonist Aliya in her novel, The Women’s Courtyard is laudable, making it one of our favourite books in recent times. It is translated from Urdu by Daisy Rockwell.

Buy it here.

Week 33

India’s Independence Day cannot be viewed insularly, without taking into account the horrifying after-effects of the Partition. One must therefore read and learn more before falling for raging rhetorical arguments. Qurratlain Hyder’s River of Fire or Aag Ka Darya in Urdu is a novel of epic proportions which portrays the seemingly impossible task of showing three countries’ history to the point of the Partition’s chaos.

Buy it here.

Week 34

The Roof Beneath Their Feet by Geetanjali Shree has been translated into English from Hindi by Rahul Soni. The novel beautifully chronicles the friendship and more between Chacho and Lalna who live in a cluster of houses that share a common roof. The roof becomes their escape. 

Buy it here.

Week 35

Hangwoman by K.R. Meera was shortlisted for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature in 2016. It is written in Malayalam and translated into English by J. Devika. The novel centers on Chetna Grddha Mullick who is appointed as the first female executioner in India. 

Buy it here.

Week 36

Celebrate Teacher’s Day on 5th September by reading the Freedom Writers’ Diary by the Freedom Writers and Erin Gruwell to see how an inspiring teacher can bring out change in students by encouraging them to write.

Buy it here.

Week 37

6th September is the day that 2 years ago in 2018, the SC ruled on Section 377 and decriminalised homosexuality. Read Amruta Patil’s graphic novel, Kari, to experience both Bombay and Kari and Ruth’s relationship.

Buy it here.

Week 38

13th September is Roald Dahl’s birthday. It is called the Roald Dahl Day. We would suggest to read Matilda. Matilda has a great understanding teacher who also appreciates her love for books!

Buy it here.

Week 39

The last week of September in the literary world is called Banned Books Week. Perumal Murugan’s One Part Woman or Madhorubhagan in Malayalam was banned after a petition was filed against it alleging that the novel hurt sentiments of a community and of women. The Madras High Court dismissed the petition in 2016.

Buy it here.

Week 40

Immigration is usually in the news for all the wrong reasons. Immigrants become an easy “other” for politicians to blame for the woes of a country that they refuse to solve. Nonetheless, in this globalised world, immigrants form an essential part of many countries’ cultures. Read a beautiful diaspora work, Americanah by Nigerian author Chimamanda Adichie. The novel traverses three countries, Nigeria, the UK and the US.

Buy it here.

Week 41

Agatha Christie published her first Hercule Poirot novel, Mysterious Affairs at the Styles in October 1920! Celebrate a hundred years by revisiting this classic whodunnit!

Buy it here.

Week 42

16th October is World Food Day, celebrated by Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) of the UN. Revel in an epicurean delight and read Andaleeb Wajid’s More than Just Biryani. Perhaps the novel will lead you to introspect your lovely memories with food and family too!

Buy it here.


Week 43

Enjoy the growing chill and the changing seasons by indulging in a children’s classic, Heidi. The story is perfect when you want to vicariously visit the mountains while being tucked inside the depths of a warm quilt.

Buy it here.

Week 44

October is also LGBTQ History Month in the US and Canada (while in the UK it is celebrated in February). So why not also think about LGBTQ history from an Indian perspective this month? We recommend reading Same-Sex Love in India: A Literary History edited by Ruth Vanita and Saleem Kidwai which analyses at length the literary representations of same-sex love in Indian writing since ancient times. 

Buy it here.


Week 45

On 2nd November 2019, the JCB Prize for literature for 2019 went to Madhuri Vijay’s The Far Field. If you haven’t picked it up yet, you must, as it is a powerful, emotive read about Shalini, based in Bangalore, who sets out to uncover her connections to Kashmir by finding out about how a Kasmiri salesman, Bashir Ahmed, is linked with her mother. So, immerse in this previous year’s winner while you wait for the 2020 JCB winner to be announced.

Buy it here.

Week 46

26th Session of Conference of Parties (COP) to the UNFCC will take place in Glasgow in 2020 from 9th to 19th November: Climate change is undeniably a major threat to our very existence on Planet Earth. We are already seeing its effects as is evident by the freak weather incidents and the climatic changes all across India. Yet it is also the one threat that we all conveniently ignore. In one of his few non fiction works, The Great Derangement by Amitav Ghosh takes this threat and hauntingly makes it real by looking at the consequences that will befall us because of our present ‘derangement’ in denying this climate crisis.

Buy it here.

Week 47

India’s Most Fearless by Shiv Aroor and Rahul Singh chronicles 14 stories of modern military Heroes of India. This book is a great addition to the military literature of India and makes for a gripping read.

Buy it here.

Week 48

The Seer celebrated 100 years of Amrita Pritam last year in 2019.  Celebrate the love between her and her longtime companion, Imroz through the touching collection of letters collated in In The Time Of Love And Longing by Amrita Pritam And Imroz. Read a detailed review here.

Buy it here.

Week 49

December is the Read a New Book Month. The idea behind this is to encourage readers to read something new they wouldn’t otherwise.

If you haven’t already started reading more LGBTQ stories, we suggest you pick up the coming of age, The Carpet Weaver, by Nemat Sadat. It portrays a gay relationship amidst the political upheavals in Afghanistan.

Buy it here.

Week 50

As the year draws towards the end, if you are wondering about your exaggerated optimism while making your 2020 resolution list, stop and pick up Manu Joseph’s Illicit Happiness of Other People to drown yourself in some dark humour.

Buy it here.

Week 51

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie is an absolute gem for all ages. Though it is stylised as a children’s fable with the protagonist, Haroun, going on several adventures to the places in the novel’s universe, Haroun and the Sea of Stories also comments on the power of stories and criticises the clampdown on freedom of expression and its censoring. Read a detailed review here.

Buy it here.

Week 52

While you fortify your resolution to join the swankiest of the gyms in your neighbourhood, don’t forget the food part of it. The Indian Pantry: The Very Best of Rude Food by Vir Sanghvi takes you on an amusing journey of the Indian pantry and leaves you much more informed about the food you eat.

Buy it here.

Week 53

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood is the sequel to her previously acclaimed novel, The Handmaid’s Tale. The novel takes place 15 years after the events in The Handmaid’s Tale and has three prominent narratives: of Aunt Lydia and two women who are the first generations of the dystopian country, Gilead.

Buy it here.

GadgetWise – Smartphone Apps That Will Make You Smarter in 2020!

5 million apps! That’s how many options are available in the leading app stores worldwide in 2019. With Google Play Store and App Store listing more than 2 million apps, the consumer is not only spoiled for choice but uncertainty as well. As you wade through the multitude of choices in this digital maze, worrying about having enough space on your memory card (or maybe not), the criticism of ‘too much time spent on the phone” might not consider the positive aspects that smartphones provide in terms of productivity and personal well-being.

From educational apps to productivity enhancers, from apps which track your health or exercise/diet to options for daily motivational quotes or regular happiness assessments; the multi-million dollar apps industry provides customisation that might come at a premium but is often available for free. If you’re looking for the best, these are the most popular apps among those downloaded:

 

Educational Apps

Dragonbox Algebra
Dragonbox Algebra

For students grappling with grueling school schedules which are increasingly competitive, mobile apps can provide an edge in academic preparation. While content libraries such as Epic and Khan Academy offer a range of educational material including audio-books and videos, games like Dragonbox Algebra 5+ and 12+ ensure math-haters have a fun way to learn the dreaded subject. 300 million language enthusiasts love Duolingo for its Candy-Crush approach to learning nearly 35 languages.

 

 

 

Wolfram Alpha
Wolfram Alpha

Available schedulers include iStudiez Pro and myHomework Student Planner, and knowledge wizards such as Socratic and Wolfram Alpha provide problem-solving ranging from a simple history factoid to bewildering questions in categories such as mathematics, science and technology as well as society and culture. Last-minute exam preparation is easy with Quizlet which allows you to create flashcards for note-taking or speed-testing your memory along with the option of downloading from among 335,784,000 existing study sets. Desmos Graphing Calculator is even being incorporated into school assessments and testing such as the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress by state organisations. While apps such as Tynker: Coding for Kids and SoloLearn offer free lessons in computer programming, online learning platforms such as Meritnation, Toppr, Gradeup, and Coursera have apps for mobile learning. So, even if your kid seems to be wasting time on their phone, they could just be self-starters engrossed in an educational app.

Medical/Health Apps

BlueStarHealth management has been made easier with apps like BlueStar and mySugr for patients with Diabetes, along with options to manage your medication with Dosecast and CareZone. While Medimetry, Doctor Insta, and Lybrate provide online consultation services; Portea and Zoctr assist with home healthcare services. Along with facilitating diagnostic tests, Docprime, Practo, and Credihealth also make booking appointments with doctors easier.

Even as doctor consultations anytime-anywhere is the recent healthcare trend, advances in mobile technology have ensured portable medical testing such as ultrasounds by Lumify and skin cancer screening by SkinVision. Updated information about clinical trials worldwide is also available from Guideline Central and Clinical Trials Mobile for those seeking to participate. In case of emergencies, there are apps such as VMEDO and Medulance which you can rely on for booking ambulances and finding registered blood donors near you.

Exercise/Diet Apps

In 2019, more than 800 million people use fitness apps worldwide for calorie counting, workout companions, or barcode scanning for nutritional information. As the digital fitness industry grows exponentially, verifiable data is important for diet plans to work. Among the leading weight loss apps, Lose It! offers a personalised analysis based on your daily diet log (including ‘Snap It’ for tracking portion sizes) to provide a projected date for achieving your desired weight. With curated nutritional information about ‘7 million+ foods, restaurant items and brands from around the world’ and integration with fitness wearables, Lose It! is among the most user-friendly apps.

Lose It!
Lose It!

Similar weight-loss apps include MyFitnessPal which has the additional feature of a barcode scanner and FatSecret which includes community support. While Fooducate grades food items based on scanned nutritional information, HealthyOut scans nearby restaurants for healthy options. Leading workout apps include Map My Fitness, Nike Run Club, Strava, Freeletics and Yoga Studio. On-demand workout streaming is also available from NEOU. If the motivation Diet Coach (Android/ iOS) offers isn’t enough, you can sign up for Sweatcoin (in select countries) and collect sweatcoins for outdoor walking/running. The sweatcoin is a digital currency which can be exchanged for goods from its 300+ partners.

Productivity Apps

Trello
Trello

From organisers that remind you about your schedule to integrated task automation, apps for productivity depend on personal requirements. While Evernote helps with note-taking including “meeting notes, web pages, projects, to-do lists”, IFTTT (Android, iOS) is ideal for automating tasks based on an an “If This, Then That” structure. Organising to-do lists are made easy with apps such as TickTick which includes shareable tasks, with Trello and ToDoist extending to project management features. Trello’s upgrades (Power-Ups) provide enhanced workflow integration with third-party services such as InVision, Jira, Salesforce and Slack. Of course, Dropbox remains one of the most popular integrations for online storage and sharing.

Self-Care Apps

SuperBetter
SuperBetter

According to the Institute for Health Metrics Evaluation (IHME), depressive disorders are among the top three causes for disability globally. Considering nearly 500 million people suffer from mental disorders worldwide, it is not surprising that self-care market is generating more than USD 10 billion in annual revenue. Apps to enhance well-being include gaming solutions from SuperBetter and Happify, meditative techniques from Calm and Headspace, and CBT mood trackers based on cognitive behaviour therapy such as MoodKit and Sanvello. While Breathe2Relax (Android/iOS) offers tips on diaphragmatic breathing for stress management, MindShift provides strategies for coping with anxiety. When all you need is a calming soundscape, Relax Melodies includes “100 soothing sounds and music” that can be combined for a meditative playlist. For that gentle reminder to ‘Rest, Hydrate, Fuel, Breathe, Move’, Aloe Bud is around to make sure you take care of yourself.

While the jury is still out about the accuracy of nutritional/healthcare information available on many apps, research suggests that apps which promote physical activity have been found to be generally effective. Considering consumer well-being in the digital economy extends beyond financial measures, the expanding app landscape can be harnessed to bring positive changes to your life. Whether tapping into a knowledge database or finding the fitness app that works for you, sometimes even a gentle reminder could be sufficient for self-improvement. 

List of apps mentioned in the report for your easy reference –

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