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With a microscopic organism upending life as we know it, the realm of books was among the few which held its own, operating near normally in this tumultuous year. The flow of new titles, across all genres, continued unabated and provided readers a safe haven for a troubled psyche. For avid readers, confined to homes and deprived of opportunities of external sources of leisure, it was a dream opportunity to work through pending piles and acquire fresh material.
But amid the host of autobiographies and biographies, examinations of political partisanship – and their social effects, new looks at the history and more, as well as a wide array of fiction for all tastes and moods, the worst health crisis the world faced in over a century, found its own niche.
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While there is no shortage of books on coronavirus, some representative ones could include physician and evolutionary biologist Frank Ryan’s “Virusphere: Ebola, AIDS, Influenza and the Hidden World of the Virus”, which explains why epidemics are inevitable and their benefits, science journalist Sonia Shah’s “Pandemic” about the interplay of history, politics and science in tackling the scourge of disease, and John Barry’s “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History”, which not only chronicles how the Spanish flu of 1918-20 devastated a world already laid low by years of war, revolutions and other upheavals, but also shows how the political handling is as important as the medical measures.
A contemporary look at this aspect can be found in legendary journalist Bob Woodward’s “Rage”, his second book on the maverick presidency of Donald Trump.
An Indian perspective is provided by “The Coronavirus: What you Need to Know about the Global Pandemic” by Dr. Swapneil Parikh and Maherra Desai, and “Till We Win: India’s Fight Against The Covid-19 Pandemic” by Dr. Chandrakant Lahariya, Dr. Gagandeep Kang, and AIIMS Director Dr. Randeep Guleria.
But with the virus mutating into new variations and universal vaccination still a long way off, the last word on coronavirus is still to be said. But some signposts can be found in Fareed Zakaria’s “10 Lessons for the Post-Pandemic World” and the prolific Kiran Manral’s “Raising Kids with Hope and Wonder in Times of a Pandemic and Climate Change”
The coveted Nobel Prize for Literature was won by American poet Louise Gluck, who draws on classical mythology, family life, and nature in her precise and spare rendition of certain traumatic facets of the human conditions such as pain and loss — both personal and public — but also longing and self-realization, while the Booker went to debutant Scottish-American writer Douglas Stuart’s “Shuggie Bain”, a semi-autobiographical story of a young boy maintaining a fraught relationship with his alcoholic mother.
The world of literature was also left poorer with a galaxy of veterans bidding adieu including controversial English philosopher and writer Roger Scruton, 75, British academician Christopher Tolkien, 95, the son of the great fantasy novelist J.R.R. Tolkien and the one who drew the maps for “The Lord of the Rings”, American “Queen of Suspense” Mary Higgins Clark, 92, Clive Cussler, 88, known for the “Dirk Pitt” series of marine adventures, Urdu poet Rahat Indori, 70, Hindi poet Manglesh Dabral, 72, Soviet/Russian writer and satirist Mikhail Zhvanetsky, 86, British spy novelist John le Carre, 89, and Urdu author and literary critic Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, 85, known for his penetrating analysis of the poetry of Mir Taqi Mir.
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Some of the year’s notable offerings included former US President Barack Obama’s “A Promised Land”, an account of his eventful first term, J.K. Rowling’s non-Harry Potter world “The Ickabog”, a cautionary fairy tale about inept leadership and demonization of the ‘enemy’, Hari Kunzuru’s “The Red Pill” and the irrepressible Moni Mohsin’s “The Impeccable Integrity of Ruby R”, but there was much more.
While it is virtually impossible to make a list of books that could even approach a representative section let satisfy each palate, some suggestions/recommendations in various genres can be attempted.
In non-fiction, there is astrophysicist Janna Levin’s “Black Hole Survival Guide”, which not only seeks to demystify one of the most perplexing celestial objects, but also shows the unflattering role of humans in the cosmos, Tim Harford’s “How to Make the World Add Up: Ten Rules for Thinking Differently About Numbers”, an engaging guide to avoiding getting bamboozled by statistics, and Michiko Kakutani’s “Ex Libris”, a personalized introduction to 100 key books, old and new, for those without inclination/opportunity to read the originals in full.
On the humanities side, Richard Eaton’s “India in the Persianate Age: 1000-1765” seeks to show how the country’s pre-colonial history was not a binary construct as long politically propagated, Anne Appelbaum’s self-explanatory but disturbing “Twilight of Democracy: The Failure of Politics and the Parting of Friends”, and the very vital “Bad News: Why We Fall for Fake News” by Rob Brotherton, who’s earlier “Suspicious Minds” explained why conspiracy theories have a receptive audience.
In fiction, consider Curtis Sittenfeld’s “Rodham: What if Hillary hadn’t married Bill?” exploring this tantalizing premise, Mieko Kawakami’s “Breasts and Eggs”, an account of the female life experience (and commodification thereof), and former ISI chief Lt Gen Asad Durrani’s “Honour Among Spies”, about the dangers of asking inconvenient questions about issues the establishment would prefer to be forgotten.
For aficionados of whodunnits, two authors take them to places that were long ripe for the genre – Mark McCrum in “The Festival Murders” (literary festivals) and Kiran Manral in “The Kitty Party Murder”. For a rarely-invoked locale, there is Sujata C. Sabnis’ “Blood on the Sands”, set in Kutch.
If Rick Riordan, whose finale to “Trials of Apollo” series came out or even Roshani Chokshi’s Aru Shah series (third out now) are not to your taste, Anuja Chandramouli, who has a penchant for a lyrical but contemporary refashioning of Indian mythology, had “Mohini: The Enchantress”.
We can only hope that 2021 is as abundant. (IANS)
GENEVA — The battle to stem climate change may be lost as new information indicates the Amazon rain forest is turning from a carbon sink – or area that absorbs CO2 – into a source of carbon dioxide, the World Meteorological Organization warns.
The latest edition of the WMO's Greenhouse Gas Bulletin reports emissions of carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide once again broke all records last year.
The U.N. agency's report warns the concentrations of these greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere are driving climate change. It says carbon dioxide, the single most important greenhouse gas, accounts for approximately 66 percent of the warming effect on the climate.
The secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization, Petteri Taalas, says about half of CO2 emissions remain in the atmosphere for centuries. He says the other half is taken up by oceans and land ecosystems.
He says it is not clear for how much longer forested areas, often referred to as the lungs of the Earth, will continue to act as effective carbon sinks.
"We have already seen some alarming indications that, for example, Amazonian rain forest ecosystem, which used to be a major sink of carbon, has become now a source of carbon, which is alarming," Taalas said. "And this is related to deforestation in the area and also changes in local climate because of this deforestation."
Oksana Tarasova, who heads the WMO's Atmospheric and Environment Research Division, says the WMO only now is revealing this new finding because it has taken nine years of observation to gather the measurement data set needed to understand the changes taking place. She says not all of the Amazon forests are turning from a carbon sink to a net producer of carbon.
"So, the Western part of the Amazonia still continues to work as a carbon sink at this point. But we do not know for how long that will continue this way," Tarasova said. "We are making the measurements there and keeping our track of what is happening there. … I would take the whole Amazonia as a whole that is seen that it is a sink, but its capacity is substantially reduced."
Meteorologists say climate change negotiators at an upcoming conference in Scotland must take concrete action and make concrete pledges to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.
They say setting carbon-neutral targets will not work in stemming climate change. They also warn the world is heading toward a temperature rise of 2.5 degrees Celsius by the end of this century. This, they say, is far more than the Paris Agreement target of 1.5 to two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. (VOA/RN)
Keywords: Climate change, amazon rain forest, UN Agency Warns, World Meteorological Organization, greenhouse gas emissions.
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Receiving compliments is something that a majority of us enjoy. Compliments, after all, make us feel good about ourselves. Sometimes compliments intended to be flattering turn out to be a tremendous turn-off, and in some cases, they are insulting. 'Beauty with brains is one of those compliments. So, is 'beauty with brains' a compliment? Without further ado, I would confidently say- NO! It doesn't matter what your gender, colour, or identity is. The answer is clearly a no.
Beauty with a brain suggests that you can only have one of these qualities and that you are an 'exception' if you possess both. "Oh, Wow! You are a beauty with brains" is a phrase that women often hear. This statement is used when a female exhibits characteristics that indicate she is intelligent. People are taken aback if they see a wise and beautiful woman because women are stereotyped to be either beautiful or brainy. The concern with this is that it is naturally assumed that men are intelligent. Women, on the other hand, are supposed to have a natural beauty. If she isn't attractive according to the norms laid down by society, it is expected that she would at the very least be intelligent. When someone manages to be both, it is regarded as a significant accomplishment.
People are taken aback if they see a wise and beautiful woman because women are stereotyped to be either beautiful or brainy. | Photo by Unsplash
Women are being stereotyped into two attributes: being attractive and being intelligent, and they are being conditioned to think that these characteristics cannot exist together. When you tell someone that they are not beautiful, you are implicitly attempting to fit them into the so-called "beauty standards" that today's era is so preoccupied with maintaining. And that is a significant issue. We are not required to fit in; we should take the risk of being unusual.
Many movies, television series, and even advertisements depict the female lead as someone who is the attractive one, well-dressed, with a face full of makeup and lovely hair. On the other hand, the intelligent girl is usually the one with unkempt hair, strange fashion sense, and little to no makeup.
While our generation has been the target of insulting and sexist slurs that have caused us to question our abilities on several occasions, let us work together to reverse the trend. Let us educate each other that beauty and intelligence can coexist and that we are all beautiful in our way and don't need to fit in the so-called standards set by our draconian society.
Keywords: women mental health, beauty, brains, men, intelligence society
Malgudi, a small fictional town in South India has been part of the childhood of most Indians. It is an old, shabby, and peaceful town that is unruffled by politics. The stories set in this small town ring the sense of belongingness in the hearts of its readers. The familiar feeling that feels like home resonates with their soul. And teaches important life lessons to the readers through simple tales. Malgudi Days is one of the books that every Indian child should read. The book is a compilation of 32 short stories that paint a beautiful picture of small-town in India around the '60s and '70s
R. K. Narayan, one of the most well-known and popular writers within India and outside India is the creator of this town and the occurrences of this town. The stories follow the characters Swami and his friends through their everyday lives. Be it the story of fake astrologers who scam and loot the people by his cleverness, or the story of a blind beggar and his dog where the money blinded the man with greed; each story has a lesson to learn, morals and values hidden in it. As the stories are simple, easy to understand yet heart-touching it makes it easy for the kids to connect with each character and imagine the story as if the reader themselves were the protagonist of the story. In simple words, we can say that R.K. Narayan simply told stories of ordinary people trying to live their simple lives in a changing world.
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As written during the Indian Independence movements and finally published in 1943. The stories in the Malgudi days beautifully encapsulated the transitioning milieu of the British era to post-Independence India. Each of the stories portrays a facet of life in Malgudi and simultaneously a life in an Indian town. R.K. Narayan was one of the first writers who pioneered Indian writings in the English language and the book was later republished outside India in 1982 by Penguin Classics. Thus, the book enjoyed a worldwide audience. The New York Times even described the virtue of the book as "everyone in the book seems to have a capacity for responding to the quality of his particular hour. It's an art we need to study and revive."
The beautiful storytelling of the book was assisted by beautiful illustrations allowing the children to let their imagination teleport them to the world of Malgudi. All the illustrations in the book were illustrated by the world-renowned cartoonist, R.K. Laxman who is also R.K. Narayan's younger brother. The illustrations complimented the scenes from the stories and excited the children, keeping them engaged in reading the book for hours.
The illustrations complimented the scenes from the stories.Pixabay
The short stories from Malgudi Days were later adapted into a television adaptation in 1986. This show was directed by actor and director Shankar Nag. It was filmed both in Hindi and English, containing 54 episodes and the first 13 episodes respectively. Later the series was revived for additional 15 episodes. The show featured several popular celebrities from the Kannada film industry of those days – Girish Karnad, Vishnuvardhan, Ananth Nag, Arundhati Nag and Vaishali Kasaravalli, to name a few. The series was premiered on the Doordarshan channel and became the window into the town Malgudi for many. The show did not only excel in its storyline the TV adaptation elevated the storytelling as the show was technically very sound and stood out in its fantastic detailing in terms of locations and sets. With the cinematography being creative The Malgudi days- TV series once again warmed the hearts of both young ones and adults.
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Malgudi- our childhood home
Malgudi days hold a special place in the hearts of whoever has read the book as a child. With the detailed descriptions of the town and stories one almost gets a feeling that they've visited the place themselves. The characters, Swami and his friends feel like they were all readers' childhood friends. The surreal feeling of being home in the world of Malgudi. The world of Malgudi is intimate, warm, lifelike, and engaging. The setting is modern, and the life portrayed in these stories is contemporary. Still, there is an old-time air about It. R K Narayan once described Malgudi as "Malgudi is where we all belong, and where we wish we lived."
Keywords: Malgudi days, Malgudi, R K Narayan, R K Laxman, storytelling, our childhood home Malgudi