Sunday, February 25, 2007

Controlling Vehicular Pollution: A Social Need

This article was written for the CBSE Essay writing Competition, February 2007.

Special thanks to Chandrarao Ma'am for asking me to come up with this.

***

Pollution is defined as an adverse change in the characteristics of the environment. Simple enough to understand, but the real implication of pollution is far more complex. Pollution, as we know, is of five varieties: air, land, water, noise and thermal. Of these, air pollution has the most detrimental effect on mankind.

Air pollution has several causes: industrial gases, forest fires, volcanic eruptions, automobile emissions, aerosols etc. Of these, automobile emissions take up a large share. Every year, millions of vehicles are manufactured. Each of these in turn, produces large quantities of smoke. Furthermore, automobile maintenance centres and workshops have not grown substantially over the past decade of industrialisation. Petroleum refining however, has gone up substantially. Thus, we have a perfect recipe for doom! More and more cars use inefficient, under-maintained engines that give more smoke than energy. It’s not just the domestic consumer; governments also seem indifferent to this escalating problem. A common sight on the average Indian road is that of a large, ramshackle, government-run bus expelling huge volumes of smoke and poisonous gases, which often contain lead. Nobody seems interested in sending the bus to a maintenance centre. Even the traffic police turn a blind eye to this menace, behind their newly-bought gas masks! To add to this, the rapid economic growth has seen spending-power grow tremendously, fuelling the automobile industry. So as India buys more and more cars, the humble bus and local train are given a miss. Many cars in India do not conform to National and International standards like the Euro-II and Bharat-II. A good share of Indian drivers does not know the meaning of ‘unleaded fuel’. A car engine is taken for a check-up only when it stops working for good!

Thus, we see that vehicular pollution is rising at a breath-taking pace. A natural corollary to this is human diseases and ailments. More and more children are being born with asthma. Lung cancer, bronchitis and emphysema are also showing their ugly heads a little too often. On a larger scale, global warming is taking on monstrous proportions, and the ‘ozone hole’ is growing wider. Carbon monoxide poisoning is indicating a disturbing trend. Lead poising is also following suit.

However, all these are shown a blind eye. People still depend on the government to take care of this. Although it is a prime responsibility of the government to control pollution (including noise pollution!), people – you and me – must take up the role of environmentalists. Thus, pollution control takes on a new dimension in the modern world; wherein every individual, every community takes up the great responsibility of taking care of our planet. This completely shifts the focus of conserving the environment from government policies to social need. The need of the hour is for communities to come forward and try their very best to live in harmony with the environment.

Going back to vehicular pollution, there are many things that we can do to control automobile exhausts. First and foremost, stop using your car. Or at least reduce its usage. There are ample bus and local train services. Avoid unnecessary driving. When you could simply walk down to the local market, why drive? Maintain your vehicle and take it for regular quarterly checks. Read the vehicle’s manual carefully (most of us don’t) to know the best way to keep your car fit. Ask for “premium” and unleaded gasoline, as these emit less smoke and cause less pollution. Even if you have to spend a little more, it’s still worth it. Drive wisely. Plan the shortest possible route and drive during low-rush hours. Turn off your engine at traffic signals. Minimise the use of car air-conditioning. Don’t break or accelerate suddenly. Refuel regularly. Use appropriate coolants as suggested by your manufacturer. Awareness needs to be created. Societies should maintain limits on carbon emissions at the micro-level, while the government does it at the macro-level. The “don’t-blame-me” attitude must go. This is our planet, we are responsible for it.

A major overhaul is required in the common mindset to tackle the pollution peril. Awareness is the easiest way to do this. Governments, municipalities, village-administrations and even registered societies must organise camps and meetings to create understanding.

Planet Earth has not been gifted to us. We have bequeathed it. And with it comes responsibility; the responsibility of taking care of our children, our families, our friends, our neighbours, our community, our nation, and our world. There comes but rarely an opportunity to serve the six billion people of the world. It’s time we came together to take advantage of it. Remember, every hand counts.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

The Class 10 Farewell: A Review

This post refers to the Class 10 Farewell, 2007 conducted on February 19 in the quadrangle at Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan's Public School, Jubille Hills, Hyderabad, ANDHRA PRADESH. Well, here's a fair review of the event. Any and all CONSTRUCTIVE criticism is welcome.

Goodbye and Get Lost?

Event: The Class 10 Farewell
Date: 19 February, 2007
Scheduled Time of Start: 1:00 PM (Actual: 2:00 PM)
Rating: ** of 5 (Avoidable)

The very fact that the programme started an hour late signalled doom.

But then again, management skills come with experience. And Class 9 has a lot of time to get that experience. They need it.

The show began in traditional Bhavan's style: the school prayer, a speech by the Principal, speeches by the members of staff and the lamp ceremony. All that was, of course, managed by the teachers, as was the "official" Prize Distribution ceremony, where Sushanth (10D) and Sharanya (10E) bagged top school awards.

The rest of the show wasn't so good though. As soon as the cultural programme neared, the mic went dud! And unfortunately, it stayed like that for the major part of the programme. Although this had been a common problem in the school for many years, the way it was handled was unique to say the least. And I don't mean that in a positive way.

The most distracting part of the show was the fact that the anchors kept changing every five minutes. In fact, the joke among the audience was that there were more anchors than dancers! Well, that would have been bearable, had the quality of the anchors been good. Sadly, that was not the case. Vivek could not be heard no matter how loud he spoke. And Shoumik made an utter fool of himself!

Does that sound too harsh? Well, when the anchor runs off the stage, screams at the audience (who scream back) and points at any members who hadn't clapped for a particularly (un)interesting performance, he definitely deserves such bright criticism!

The only praise I can devise for the show was that the idea of handing out prizes (chocolates, really) in the form of balloons was innovative. And of course, Class 9 also deserves full praise for at least putting together a modest show when half their time had been scrapped. After all, I myself am aware of how crippling a dearth of time could be.

But at the end, the show could have been much better. A realistic script, a planned schedule, and a lot less anchors could have done wonders for the show. And of course, someone should have stopped that atrocious girl who began the show, from reminding the audience that it was the very last day of their stay in the school. After all, the atmosphere was supposed to be a happy, peaceful one!

My last word on the programme is that Dheeraj and Rohita still have some way to go. But I must take my hat off to the closing ceremony, wherein every single student sang the National Anthem with gusto, a hitherto unheard of event in my three years in the school!

An event which could have made history, but ended up being washed down the drain. And that too, without even a vote of thanks!

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Movie Review: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory


OK, so I don't really like movies much, and I'm way behind the times, but still, i saw this movie on HBO (Home Box Office) yesterday, and decided to review it, just for practice!


A Sweet Movie (literally!)


Name: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Rating: *** of 5 (Good)

The fact that I enjoy chocolate was the main purpose for me watching this movie. But after seeing it, my definition of chocolate changed greatly! Now i wonder where I could get a 3-course stick of chewing gum, or maybe a romantic ride down a river of chocolate!

The movie began quite impressively, with a step-by-step guide to the making of the world famous Wonka bar. And from here on, we are treated to a large number of flashbacks from Wonka's life, starting off with him building a 100% chocolate palace for Prince Pondicherry in New Delhi!
Charlie is the typical child of a poor family: humble, and happy. He lives with his four grandparents (who sleep all the time), his mother (who seems to only be able to cook cabbage, albeit for financial reasons) and his father, who works at a toothpaste factory.

Now, Willy Wonka (well portrayed by Johnny Depp) is supposedly some genius chocolate-maker, who lives in a secret chocolate factory, coincidentally a few blocks away from Charlie's house (a shack, really). During his semi-annual (!) haircut, he suddenly realises that he needs an heir. And poof, he releases 5 golden tickets, the finders of which would be welcomed to a tour of his factory, and the rest his history.
Naturally, the first four are rich, snobby kids, and Charlie becomes the fifth, who goes to the Factory with his grandpa (a former Wonka employee).
Then we are treated to some truly fine imagery and imagination. And I must say, the Oompa Loompas (or whatever they're called) were quite musical, and every song they sang was quite entertaining, even though it came after some (un)fortunate child was ejected from the Factory.

Now, the strangest part of the movie was the fact that Charlie's parents seemed to be like distant viewers (why do they just stand there whilst a flying elevator crashes into their house?) who do nothing but hug and stare! But apart from that, the idea of a "happy family" is well-portrayed.

And the end is quite predictable, with Charlie inheriting the Factory, though after a few hours of negotiating with a dentist (Mr. Wonka Sr.).

All-in-all, the movie was a wholesome family movie, and Johnny Depp's performance (and get-up) deserved great applaud.

Take your kids to watch the movie, and make sure you buy them some chocolate after that. And while at the confectionery store, take a look at the variety. After all, nothing is impossible!

Friday, February 9, 2007

A good site for Indians!

I don't usually encourage advertising, since I am not out to gain any money here.
But after viewing sites like HowStuffWorks, Yahoo! Answers and About, I found that Indians could use a good site for India-specific information, as most of the information on the above sites tends to be based on teh assumption that we are US or European residents.
The best site I found so far would be IndiaHowTo, which has detailed articles on many useful topics - all targeted towards Indians.
I suggest you to visit it.

Suicide Point

This story was written and submitted by me for the ITC Classmate Young Author's Contest 2006. It didn't get through, but I felt u might wanna read it!
The original topic was A Bend in the Road. I re-interpreted it.

Suicide Point

They called it suicide point. This was the place that had claimed over 30 young lives. Suicide point was located at a sharp corner on a hill. This corner was unfenced. The police could never understand what caused the deaths. They say that while driving in the night, they might have missed the warning, and fallen off. But there was one problem. A car was never found at the scene of the "crime". So naturally, the locals assumed these souls had committed suicide. Hence, suicide point.

***

James Perkins was a young man, in his early 20s. Like all youth of his age in the town of Hangleton, he had a passion for parties: ones that went on till the wee hours of the morning. He would spend the whole night, having a rocking time, and would still reach work in time. That was just his gift.
But that night, he had to go home early; he had an important meeting the next day. It was misty that night. While he was driving back home, he noticed a woman on the road. She was wearing a red dress with a black jacket.
"Need a lift?" he said.
She stared at him. It was a strange stare. It was... different.
Then she ran away.
"Hey, no, I won't hurt you!" he shouted behind her, but she disappeared across the bend in the road. James drove back home.
That night, he had a dream. He was running... into a strange mist. He saw that strange woman. And then... he heard her scream.
And he suddenly woke up, covered in sweat. he didn't understand what had happened. He could just think of one thing: the woman on the road.

***

James has a horrible time at work the next day. He just couldn't concentrate. All he could think about was that strange woman.
He had to work overtime to make up for his poor performance.
That night, when he was returning home, he chose an unusual road: one that he never took when he went home from work. He didn't know why he did. It seemed as though he was not himself.
And then he saw the sign, SUICIDE POINT.
He didn't understand. Why did he come here?
And then, he saw her again. The woman in the red dress and the black jacket. She was crying. She came up to his car. He couldn't move, he felt as though he wasn't himself anymore.
"Come back here, tomorrow night," she said. And then she ran away... across the bend in the road. The bend that everybody called Suicide Point.
James couldn't sleep that night. He couldn't stop thinking about her. He didn't understand why. He felt as though he wasn't himself anymore.
He decided to skip work the next day. He couldn't concentrate any more. All he could do was think about that woman.

***

He went there the next night. He didn't understand why. He felt as though he wasn't himself anymore.
There she was, sitting on a stone. She looked at him. He felt a strange feeling, as though his blood had frozen. He went near her.
"Thank you for coming," she said.
"Who are you? Why did you ask me to come here?" he replied.
"My name is Carol. I wanted someone to talk to before i killed myself."
"Kill yourself! What do you mean?"
"I cannot live anymore. No one loves me. My husband has left me. My parents disowned me when I was fifteen. My siblings refuse to acknowledge my existence. No one loves me. I don't want to live anymore."
"No, you can't do that," he said. "Can I... can I help?"
He didn't know why he said that. He felt as though he wasn't himself anymore.
"You cannot help me, I will die," she replied.
"Please don't say that, come live with me," he said. He didn't know why.
She ran away. He ran after her.
"No Carol, don't go. Please, let me help you," he shouted as he ran.
And then James stopped running. He was standing at the edge of the cliff. He was standing on Suicide Point. Carol had disappeared.

***

The next day also, he skipped work. He couldn't stop himself. He felt strange, as though Carol had done something to him. he felt scared, he didn't know what to do.
He decided to write a letter to his friend, just to make sure he hadn't gone mad.
He picked up a sheet of paper with a picture of an eagle on the top. And he wrote everything. He explained how he felt when he first met Carol, and how she had disappeared... at Suicide Point.
But just when he had finished signing off, he decided it was a bad idea, and tossed the letter into the bin. He didn't know why. He felt as though he wasn't himself anymore.

***

He went back the next night. Carol was there, waiting.
"You came back!" she exclaimed.
"How could I not?"
"I'm going to die tonight. Thank you for being the last person to talk to me."
"Please don't say that," he said. "Carol, I love you."
He had no idea why he said that. He felt as though he wasn't himself.
"I love you too," she said.
And then they kissed. Only for a moment.
Then she ran away. He ran behind her. He had to, he couldn't stop himself.
And then she heard her scream.
He couldn't feel the ground under his feet anymore. He had fallen off the edge of the cliff: off Suicide Point.
Moments before his death, he turned back to see Carol standing on the edge, screaming. And then she disappeared into thin air.
Moments before his death, James Perkins finally understood why he felt so strange. He understood how Carol kept disappearing. He understood that she was a ghost, a wandering spirit. He understood the secret, of Suicide Point. If only he had told someone...

***

SUICIDE POINT CLAIMS ANOTHER LIFE
This was the newspaper headline the next day. Like the others, the police were baffled. They finally declared it a case of suicide. The case was closed.
John's housekeeper decided to clean up his room, to rent it to someone else. She picked up the bin to empty it. It only had a piece of paper in it.
She picked it up and unfolded it. It had a picture of an eagle on top...

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Indian Apartheid

This is not a pun on the South African version of Apartheid, I, in know way support racial discrimination. However, this has been written taking the meaning of Apartheid into account - "separateness" (Wikipedia)
This has been written taking into account this article published in MSN News in collaboration with NDTV.com.
Apartheid had one important feature: separate things for separate groups. Racial swimming pools, racial pool houses, racial educational institutions and... racial banks.
Let's not confuse this with reservations: I do not fully support 49.5% reservation, but I do say that reservation should be there to a smaller extent: maybe 10%. But that's not my point. Reservation is meant to uplift a community. OK. But why communal banks? Does the government think that an honest, tax-paying Muslim would have trouble going to ICICI Bank or SBI to start an account? Or does it feel that our banking system is over-burdened? Or has it just failed to introduce 49.5% reservation in banks?
Why do we need reservation on the basis of religion? Why have communal distinctions? The Sachar Report claims that Muslims are backward, does that mean that all Hindus are modern and stinking rich? Why has communalism sprouted up so suddenly?
It was fine (!) as long as it was in educational institutions: but now in banks! Why? What good would it do? Would they provide superior interest? Would they be under the jurisdiction of the RBI? And if not, who would regulate them? Surely not the Ministry of Minority Affairs, which must have more work to do than handle a whole set of banks! And wouldn't this lead to a parallel system: sort of like the system of dyarchy that the British introduced?
What will this lead to next? An Indian version of Apartheid-South Africa's Reservation of Separate Amenities Act (1953) [Wikipedia]? Would we then see minority public toilets (too help the deprived maintain their hygiene) or maybe minority stock exchanges (to help the minorties BE A PART OF THE SYSTEM)!!
But I just wonder what would happen if I converted to Islam (no vengeance intended)? Would I be applicable for these benefits? WOW! Pakistan got its wish, eh! But really, we all know that in India, any thing can happen through the backdoor. What if I bribed an official and got my birth certificate changed to indicate that I am a Muslim. Wouldn't I now enjoy all those reservations? What will the government do about this?
Well I feel its disturbing to see a future superpower being demarcated into the minorities, majorities and "others". How can the government keep this up? How long can we take this vote-bank politics (which it is, undoubtedly)? Only time will tell...
But it seems ironic that the country that was the first to raise its voice against Apartheid in SA (Source: Interview with Archbishop Desmond Tutu, THE WEEK, February 1, 07) and that had a great leader who fought for equality (read, Mahatma Gandhi) could fall pray to such tactics!

All CONSTRUCTIVE criticism is welcome.

Let's begin

To continue my time on blogosphere, i decided to start Opinions 24x7 to express my views on various topics.
I apologize if any religious, minority, lingual, or other group has been hurt by my views, but this is only to express my views on the Democracy we call the Internet!