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On Friday evenings, vans and tuk-tuks usually form long queues before Jaffna’s only shopping mall. There’s a hint of exquisite perfume in the air. Mothers in kurtas mind their colourfully attired children. Single young men sporting oversized wrist watches zip around on motorcycles. Though rare, one can even sight a few women in high heels.
Multiplexes screen the latest Indian blockbusters. Pizzas, hot chicken wings and ice cream sell like, well, hot cakes.
Even as the boisterous crowd inside the mall swells, hundreds of tradesmen and shopkeepers around the city perform a peculiar ritual: they kindle little bonfires in front of their stores, symbolically seeking the good by burning the bad.
This bruised and battered city of 88,000 (2012 figures) does have a lot of bad to burn, forget and let go of.
Located on the northern tip of Sri Lanka, Jaffna was once the bastion of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)—the dreaded terrorist group wiped out in 2009.
The nearly three-decade civil war between the LTTE-led ethnic Tamil minority and the government led to between 80,000 and 100,000 deaths and estimated economic losses of $200 billion–roughly five times the size of Sri Lanka’s GDP in 2009.
Its land once riddled with landmines and air constantly pierced by bullets, the capital of the country’s Northern Province has over the past few years been fighting a new battle: rebuilding itself.
A sudden turnaround story
Conflict taught Jaffna the virtues of thrift; for decades, it was on survival mode. “War-time economy was about producing one’s own food, using bicycles instead of cars and kerosene lamps instead of electric ones,” N. Vithyatharan, a senior journalist, recalls. There were no goods to spend on, so the locals accumulated wealth.
This saving habit, along with transfers from families abroad, gave Jaffna’s Tamils relative prosperity over those in the mainland’s Vanni region to the south. So, in recent years, many Hindu temples in Jaffna have been renovated. Several high profile restaurants have sprung up. Billboards of money transfer companies are found everywhere.
The city railway station was rebuilt with government funds and train connections with Colombo restored in 2014.
Tourism, though still anaemic, is growing. The city’s cultural institutions are expanding. Houses are getting rebuilt and new vehicles bought.
People, in general, are on a spending spree. The average monthly household expenditure in Jaffna district grew from Sri Lankan Rs22,725 ($158) in 2009 to Rs35,405 ($246) in 2013. The provincial GDP has doubled.
Clearly, the economy has come a long way since 2009.
Old and new
Globalisation has funneled itself into Jaffna mostly through India. Often, people know more about what’s happening in New Delhi and Chennai—capital of the south Indian state of Tamil Nadu—than in Colombo. Although their families have been in Sri Lanka for centuries, they’ve always thought of themselves as nearly Indians. They watch Indian television channels, listen to music from Tamil Nadu, and sometimes are even unsure whether to cheer for Indian or Sri Lankan cricket team.
Middle class city dwellers are fond of western fast food and Indian pop culture. Expensive gizmos are the new status symbols. Though still conservative—Jaffna isn’t the best place in the world to party—the locals are turning increasingly consumerist.
“The lifestyle of Jaffna’s people has changed and so has their spending pattern,” says N. Natharupan, vice-president of the local chamber of commerce and industry.
Old timers, however, miss the pre-war days. “Jaffna will never be the same again,” they murmur. The city’s social fabric has changed, they rue. Many original occupants who survived the war moved to other parts of the country, or left Sri Lanka altogether. The “nouveau rich” have taken their place and are eager to show off, say those who claim to remember “good old days.”
And it’s not just the people who have changed.
Take, for instance, the city’s eclectic architecture—a confluence of colonial and south Indian ideas. “Many old homes were destroyed in the shelling. Some old buildings were demolished to construct new ones in the manner seen in Indian movies. Today, it (the city) feels more like some random south Asian settlement,” says P. Ahilan, a professor of fine arts, Jaffna University.
The bustling city centre is rather chaotic and disorganised, with a jungle of wires and crude concrete blocks. Most of the buildings are colourfully plastered. Some old houses now have fancy glass facades and some new constructions have glittering logos on their grey and red walls.
Right after the war, Jaffna went through a phase of exuberance. But this was also accompanied by disappointment and tragedy.
Expectations were high, including those of businessmen. Assuming that the local economy would now grow, some borrowed heavily to increase their holdings.
But the bubble burst. S. Sunthareswaran, a manager at the Colombo-based Hatton National Bank, says, “At that point, we noticed increased payment frauds and cheque returns.” That was one of the symptoms of the coming crisis.
“In 2013, newspapers reported over 30 cases of honour suicides by businessmen, mostly small traders, in Jaffna. Now bankruptcy has become quite normal and broke entrepreneurs just abandon their businesses and run away,” says Natharupan.
After one of his clients had killed himself, Sunthareswaran wrote an article explaining how the post-war economic change resulted in suicides. After it got published, trade organizations urged businessmen not to buy too much. But some problems remained.
Banks were among the first institutions to reopen after the war and proliferate. They started giving away loans on very bad terms, at least from the lender’s point of view, says M. Nilanthan, political columnist and university teacher. Farmers were some of the worst sufferers. They would also get lured by private finance companies into buying vehicles, paddy cutting machines and tractors that they didn’t really need.
Many of them, too, committed suicide. With almost 6,000 people (288 per 100,000 inhabitants) killing themselves every year, Sri Lanka has the fourth highest suicide rate in the world.
“They (banks) would extend loans prior to the harvest. Farmers would then splurge on, for instance, a flat TV for Rs (Sri Lankan) 50,000 (roughly $345),” explains Nilanthan. “But when they sold their crops, they couldn’t make ends meet. Unable to pay the installments, they then sold the TV for Rs 40,000, ending up with no money and no TV.”
The business challenges
Decades of conflict has left northern Sri Lanka’s Tamil little to restart their lives with. Industrial machinery was destroyed and buildings flattened. Skilled workers either fled or got channelised into the war. But something else weighed heavily on the economy: systemic bias.
Many local entrepreneurs feel they are being discriminated against by the state.
Credits: Quartz India
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