Monday, March 29, 2010

Sports: Two girls from Hyderabad

You have probably guessed already that I am talking about the tennis ace Sania Mirza and badminton star Saina Nehwal. The former was born in Bombay (now Mumbai) on November 15, 1986. Saina’s date of birth is March 17, 1990. She was born in Haryana. The parents of both moved to Hyderabad. And both have done India proud.

Surprisingly, both Sania and Saina came into reckoning in 2003. Sania won the Wimbledon Girls Doubles title that year partnering Alisa Kleybanova of Russia. The same year the then 13 years old Saina won the Czechoslovakia Junior Open.

Sania Mirza’s rise in the women’s tennis arena was meteoric. India had never seen anything like that before. The whole nation stood up and cheered this beautiful girl who had become a star overnight. And she did not disappoint the millions. She became the first Indian lady to break into the coveted group of the world’s top 50 women tennis players.

Sania Mirza’s victorious march did not stop there. Even without winning many tournaments her rank kept on improving. In August 2007 her world singles rating was 27th, her best ever. Her top rank in doubles was 18.

Then the slide started. Probably the problems Sania faced took their toll. I had briefly mentioned that in a September 2008 post, At 22, can Sania Mirza make a comeback? . Subsequently she had to go through a broken engagement too. As on March 22, 2010, Sania Mirza’s rank was 92 in singles and 36 in doubles.

It is all so sad.

Saina Nehwal’s is a different story. She climbed the ladder slowly but surely. Apart from talent, steady hard work was her forte. Her potential was quite obvious to her father Dr. Harvir Singh and mother Usha Nehwal who was a former badminton champion in Hariyana. They gave her total support.

Saina was initially coached by Dronacharya Award winner SM Arif. She also had a stint with the former Indonesian badminton star Atik Jauhari. Now she is with the badminton academy of the Indian legend P. Gopichand.

2008 saw stunning performances by Saina Nehwal. She achieved what no other Indian woman had till then. She won Chinese Taipei Open, Commonwealth Youth Games, and World Junior Championships. She also reached the quarterfinals in the Beijing Olympics.

Sterling performances followed in 2009. Her world rank that year was 7, which another Indian lady, Ami Ghia, had reached in 1983. The year 2010 started on a high note for Saina Nehwal. She reached the semi finals of the All England Championships and her world rank has improved to 5. Outstanding achievement, at the age of 20.

Ami Ghia who is a national selector now says that Saina would become the World No.1 in course of time. The next two major events waiting for her are Asian Badminton Championships (New Delhi, April 12-18) and the Commonwealth Games (New Delhi, October 3-14).

It is possible that at one time Saina Nehwal was inspired by Sania Mirza’s achievements. Perhaps it is now the turn of Sania to take encouragement from the positive determination and dedicated effort displayed by the badminton ace.

Sania Mirza still has world class talent. If she applies herself single-mindedly, it may be possible for her to get into the group of top women tennis players. She is only reaching the age of 24. Many stars now ranked above her are older than that.

Anyway, India is proud of both these girls.

Also see: A rising hope squashed?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Our lilies of the balcony

There was a great deal of excitement in our home last week. My wife Annie was ecstatic. The potted lily plant in her balcony garden had flowered. She started telephoning/emailing everyone she could think of to break the happy news. Some of the close ones in Chennai came home to see the beauties.

I took a few photographs. Two of them are reproduced below (click to enlarge):

Stunning, aren’t they?

Lily is a fascinating flower. And an ancient one. Images of lilies discovered in Crete date as far back as 1580 B.C. These flowers which grow mostly in temperate and tropical areas have an important place in European mythology. There is a story that lilies of the valley grew from Eve’s tears when she and Adam were banished from Paradise. Lilies are also mentioned in the Songs of Solomon.

The Greeks claimed that lilies sprouted from the spilled breast milk of Hera, the queen of gods. That would have been the white lily, to start with. The Germans agreed with this story with difference that the milk was that of their Goddess Juno. The Roman’s maintained that there was a link between lilies and Goddess Venus.

In Christianity, lilies have a connection with Virgin Mary. Several paintings of the Annunciation (Angel Gabriel informing Virgin Mary about her conception of Christ) show the Angel carrying lilies. Here the flower signifies purity, chastity and virtue. The Egyptians associated lily with fertility. In China lilies are involved in Feng Shui, native medicine and even in cooking.

In ‘saying it with flowers’, lilies have an important role. The ‘flower language’ was developed to a high level during the Victorian era. The etiquette or stringent protocol of that period denied easy expression of feelings and emotions between men and women. To overcome this problem a subtle method of communication through flowers was created. Most of the blossoms commonly available in England and the way they were delivered to the recipient were attributed certain significance.

For instance, sending an orange lily could have meant ‘I burn for you’. Even dreams in which lilies figure are given certain interpretations. Some of the significance attached to lilies (of different colors) includes purity, innocence, wealth, pride, majesty, virginity, chastity, wealth, virtue, sweetness gratitude, beauty, royalty, chivalry, friendship and devotion.

Today, of course, the meanings of flowers have changed from Victorian times. It would be interesting to discuss the subject with a knowledgeable florist.

Lilies have been associated with royalty in the West. The fleur-de-lis which in French means lily flower has been used in many coats of arms and flags in Europe. It was carried by Frenchmen to many parts of the world. This beautiful design of a stylized lily is also used in art work.

Coming back to our lilies of the balcony, we neither know its specific name nor significance. There are many species in the lily (Liliaceae) family. But they were beautiful and we are waiting for more.

Reproduced below are some lily postage stamps of Soviet Union:

Photos: Top two by me. Copyright reserved. Last four images from Wikimedia Commons.

Related posts:

Photos: Lilies that grow in Kerala

Water lilies: here is a picture of nature's perfection, imperfection

Friday, March 19, 2010

Kerala: Sand from the lakes

Early last month Kerala received shipment of a rare kind. The vessel called at Cochin first and unloaded half the cargo. Then it sailed on to Quilon to discharge the balance. The Captain was welcomed with flowers.

Can you guess what the ship carried? It was not rice.

Well, it was plain sand to be used for construction. Kerala’s building industry was facing an acute shortage of quality sand to be mixed with cement. Almost all the known supply sources within the State were exhausted. Mining was done even in areas where it was prohibited. Price of sand shot up. Smuggling and black-market soon developed.

The dreams of many people to build homes were on hold. Among them was Kerala Government’s Rs.10000 crores (100,000 millions) construction projects specifically aimed at tackling the economic slowdown. Why this scheme was chosen to revive the economy when sand was already in short supply is not clear to me. But the Finance Minister received a lot of kudos from his friends. Not much significance was given to the fact that the scheme really did not take off.

Anyway, the import of sand was an effective idea. Some negative minds might have worried about obtaining sand from other states bringing in its wake ‘sons of the soil’ demands. But this consignment was from Gujarat and not Maharashtra. Gujaratis and Keralites have been friends for centuries.

Perhaps from the start of the Christian Era.many Gujaratis lived in Kerala for trade, mainly in spices. There is even a claim that Vasco Da Gama was guided by a Gujarati during his visit to Kerala in 1498 CE. The areas where they settled were the trading centres, Calicut, Cochin and Alleppey. Hundreds of Gujarati families still live in the first two cities mentioned. As the commercial importance of Alleppey faded the Gujaratis who lived in that port town moved away.

But can Kerala continue to get sand from Gujaral which is ruled by the controversial BJP Chief Minister Narendra Modi? This doubt arises because of what happened to the proposal to make the Hindi actor Amitab Bachchan Kerala’s brand ambassador for tourism. The tourism minister of Kerala is a member of the Polit Bureau of the CPI (M). But after Big B was invited formally to promote Kerala, another PB Member, Sitaram Yechuri said no. The reason is that Bachchan is also Brand Ambassador for Gujarat.

Anyway, Kerala is God’s own country. It survives in spite of its governments. Someone has thought of silted sand in the State’s many lakes and dams. These deposits can meet the requirements of the construction industry for quite sometime. Removing it will also increase the capacity of the reservoirs.

The work has already started. The first lot recovered from the lakes has been auctioned off. It fetched a price double that of what was anticipated. Estimates claim that this year the income to the government from this source would be rupees 300 to 400 crores.

Viva Kerala! (That is also the name of a football team which is doing better in the national circuit this year.)

Monday, March 15, 2010

BBC on Kerala’s drinking

On the 12th of this month Davey Jones was kind enough to, in a comment on my post Merry Mallus and mosquitoes, give the link to a recent BBC news article on the heavy drinking by Keralites.

It is an interesting piece. The link is:

Please do have a look at it. Some Malayalam newspapers carried the story this morning.

My recent posts on the subject are:

Kill the bottle

More on killing the bottle

Thank you Davey Jones.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The maiming of Munnar

Munnar-Devikulam area in Kerala’s tea country is, or, rather was, a beautiful hill station, undoubtedly one of the best in India. It is said that Arthur Wellesley, the 1st Duke of Wellington was the first white man to visit Munnar. That was in 1790.

In the 1870s JD Munro leased nearly 600 sq. kms there from the Punjar Chief, a subordinate to the Maharaja of Travancore, for agricultural purpose. The sahibs found that tea was the most suitable crop for the area which is known as Kannan Devan Hills. The altitude is 1600mts plus.

Muir & Co of Calcutta then took over the land. Then it was James Finlay & Co. In the 1960s Tata joined the venture and it became Tata – Finlay. Later Tata acquried the entire area and the name changed to Tata Tea. The venture could boast of 17 tea estates, 9 tea factories, 1 totally export oriented instant tea factory, and active interest in horticulture including floriculture.

Those who owned the company paid great attention to the ecology and environment from the very begining. This, coupled with the natural beauty of the place provided a delightful ambience to Munnar.

There is Anamudi, the 2695m peak that is the highest south of the Himalayas. The 97 sq. kms Eravikulam National Park originally marked out and maintained by the planters, is the home of the rare Nilgiri Thars (a type of Ibex). It is claimed that the park has 26 species of mammals, birds belonging to 132 species, 101 types of butterflies, and 19 species of amphibians.

The hill slopes turn blue once every twelve years when Neelakurinji (strobilanthes kunthiana) shrubs bloom. It is a big event that attracts thousands of tourists. The perennial streams and lakes in the area offer fishing that includes trout. There are also mineral water springs and a few waterfalls. Thousands of acres of manicured tea gardens add to the beauty of the hill station.

Here are some photographs (click to enlarge):

In 1971 the Kerala Legislative Assembly passed the Kannan Devan Hills Plantations Act. Under the provisions of this Act the Kerala Government took over 71,051.22 acres in 1974, leaving the Company 58741.82 acres for agricultural purposes. This is the extent of land that came into the possession of Tata Tea in 1982.

Only a fraction of the land the government annexed through this process was distributed to landless people. There was big scale illegal occupation of government lands. Also large tracts of forests were denuded and turned unsuitable for agriculture.

Thus browning of green Munnar started

It became noticeable with the tourist boom in Kerala. Illegal constructions, mainly of resorts began all over the place by people who were after quick money. They did not bother about the damage their unlicensed projects caused to the ecology and environment. Hill slopes were levelled, natural springs diverted for private use and concrete monstrosities including high-rise ones started changing the landscape.

Three years back, the Kerala Chief Minister (CM) VS Achudanandan (VS) decided to end the murder of Munnar. He sent a task force to evict the encroachers and demolish the illegally constructed buildings. An impressive start was made to save Munnar. And that was as far as it got. Reportedly, the CM’s own party and its allies were against the operation which died a quite death without achieving anything.

People soon forgot about Munnar. That is, till last month when a leading Malayalam TV Channel, Asianet News, telecast a feature that showed in detail what is happening in the area. It was a shocking revelation. The construction activities that were stopped three years back were either completed, or work restarted. And new projects too were on.

The Kerala State Government was quick to make the right noises. It was stated that all encroachers would be evicted. A group of ministers went to the Munnar-Devikulam area and claimed that they found Tata, the big bad boy from the North, was the biggest encroacher. They announced that the ‘illegally’ occupied lands would be recovered from Tata.

With cameras flashing, the ministers visited a check dam (sluice lake) recently repaired by the company. It was announced that the government would demolish the barrier and notice was issued to Tata for unlawfully restricting the flow of a natural stream. The matter is now before the High Court of Kerala. A similar check dam by a private resort, which the Revenue Minister had said would be demolished three years back, is left untouched.

In the meantime the workers in the vicinity of the check dam went on a strike in protest. It was their water source for the last 70 years, they claimed. But the Government has not modified its stand. Also, notices were issued to the old estate bungalows for operating as home stays while no meaningful action was taken against unlawful resorts.

The obvious attempt of the left front which rules the state was to cover up what was happening in Munnar by blaming Tata. But they overlooked a major detail. In 2005 Tata Tea had sold the estates and factories to its 12,000 odd employees at a much lower price than what was offered by others. For this purpose a new company, KANNAN DEVAN HILL PLANTATION COMPANY LTD, was formed. Tata has retained only a nominal interest in the operation and now confines its presence in Munnar mainly to running the general hospital, school and other welfare schemes.

The Communist parties who lead the coalition government in the state seem to be reluctant to take any stern action in Munnar. Will the people of Kerala swallow the Tata story floated by the government and keep quiet?

Who knows?

Photos: Wikimedia Commons.

Also see: Ecology: Vanishing Hills