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- THE HIDDEN GEMS OF ST. STEPHEN’S
In the hustle and bustle of life, one rarely pays attention to the myriad of treasures that one passes by regularly. The St. Stephen’s college campus is a treasure trove with many such unexplored places that await the attention of the junior members of the college. Here are six of these precious places that you should definitely visit and spend some time at: 1. Chair Circle This aesthetic sitting area on the chapel walkway provides students with a peaceful retreat from the hubbub of academic life. The presence of greenery, comfortable seating, and aesthetically pleasant surroundings contribute to a positive mental state and encourage students to think outside the box, brainstorm, and engage in artistic pursuits. They add character and charm to the college grounds, making the campus an attractive place to study and spend time. 2. ANGA Tree Tent Nestled in front of the Allnutt North Gentlemen Association residence block, you'll discover this picturesque photo spot ( some call it a tent house, others call it a manger). It's a place of peace and tranquility, where you can escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life. The creeping vines contribute to its enigmatic allure. As for the structure itself, it's a canvas for diverse interpretations. Some may perceive it as a woman, others as a ghostly presence, and still, there are those who see it as a mountain. The beauty lies in the multitude of perspectives it inspires. So don't miss out on visiting this enchanting spot and becoming enveloped in the sheer beauty of nature. 3. Hiking Wall The hiking wall or the Eshwaran Bharatan Memorial Wall is unique to St Stephen’s and something every Stephanian is proud of. Located outside the college gymnasium and located between some tall and green trees the hiking wall provides for an adventure within college. Home to the St Stephen’s Hiking Club, this intimidating-looking structure has provided many fun and adventurous evenings within the college. It has been the destination for new bonds to form and old ones to flourish. With climbs organized everyday at this venue, the college hiking wall provides for a platform to cultivate a sense of competition along with that of thrill. In partnership with the college hiking club, there is an assurance of safety as well as enjoyment at this gem of the college. 4. Corona Wall What’s the first thing that comes to your mind when one says Science Dhaba? The food? The gazebo? Not the Corona Wall, right? One of the walls of the Science Dhaba is aptly called the ‘Corona Wall’. During the lockdown, a group of students were stuck on campus with no means to go back home and so, they decided to paint this wall. The wall aesthetically covers the various aspects of college life, from the dogs and monkeys on campus to the various sports played. The students, along with the teachers on campus, have signed their names. Do give this wall a visit! 5. Art Gallery Wait. Do we have an art gallery on our campus? Sadly, the Art Gallery beside Room AS3 goes unnoticed by most people due to its location, locked behind the red and blue chambers away from easy sight. But one can go inside through the doorway in the AS3 room. This newly constructed area is different from the usual architecture of the buildings in college and may not be filled with drawings and paintings all the time but the calmness and serenity of the space which is also built in a way that the old huge tree is preserved enhances its tranquility. A perfect picture spot with its natural essence and white aesthetics! 6. Founder’s Grave St. Stephens College goes back decades and started with a college of three teachers and five students and its principal, Sir Allnut who also taught Logic and Literature. Interestingly Sir Allnutt rode about Delhi on a tricycle whilst assuming other important roles such as the Head of the Cambridge Mission from 1899-1917 and the Canon of Lahore from 1910. Some of his most cherished roles were the revival of Sanskrit in the College and being behind the first and impactful batch of the college with BA and postgraduate students. Sir Allnutt died on 7th December, 1917 and his death anniversary is still commemorated as the Founder’s Day of the college. He was buried at the Thompson Road Cemetery (now the Delhi Railway Station marshaling yard) and his remains were subsequently reinterred in the College Chapel on 1 May 1979. Today, that Founder's Stone behind the most central and important location in College, which is the College Chapel represents the foundation of St. Stephen’s college and his prominent legacy which will be carried on for generations to come. So as you navigate your life in college, do not forget to explore this wonderful space which has multiple secrets to unveil and many stories to tell.
- Framing Women’s Sports Rethinking How We View Our Female Athletes
In a 2020 BBC survey conducted in India, 42% of respondents felt that women’s sports were not as ‘entertaining’ as men’s. This notion, which has been around since the advent of female participation in sports, has often come to be perceived as an indisputable truth. Perceptions of this nature rely heavily on normative beliefs regarding femininity and gender stereotypes, helped along in no small part by stakeholders such as the media and sports regulatory authorities. The most pressing issue with the media’s treatment of female athletes is insubstantial and differential coverage, which has impeded their visibility and potential popularity. In the US, the coverage of women’s sports did not manage to supersede coverage of dogs and horses until 1992. The argument typically put forth to explain the gap in coverage is circular - the media showcases women’s sports rarely and infrequently compared to their male equivalents, which leads to them having fewer viewers and generating lesser interest, and this lack of popular interest is then touted as the reason for their lack of coverage. Even when female athletes do receive media attention, their portrayal in the news is often significantly different from that of their male counterparts. Their athleticism, instead of being the sole focus, is frequently framed as tangential. Instead, their image, physical appearance, sexuality and private lives are given considerably more attention. In an interview with tennis star Sania Mirza, journalist Rajdeep Sardesai asked her about her plans for motherhood and ‘settling down’. When Hungarian swimmer Katinka Hosszu broke a world record and won a gold medal at the 2016 Rio Olympics, the NBC broadcast coverage panned to her husband and coach, and a commentator said, “And there’s the man responsible”. In a report on the media coverage of women’s sports, Dr Murray Phillips notes that “Women were often photographed in inactive shots, in relationship caricatures or as models; men were more often shown in active poses, less in relationships and never as models. Similarly, the writing that described women’s and men’s sports reinforced a gender dichotomy. Women were stereotyped by their physical traits, their clothes, their emotions and their relationships; men by courage, aggression and toughness…” Women were stereotyped by their physical traits, their clothes, their emotions and their relationships; men by courage, aggression and toughness… Media portrayals of female athletes are regularly linked to their alignment with conventional standards of beauty and the performance of femininity. Their outfits and body shapes are subject to undue scrutiny, often at the expense of reporting on their athletic accomplishments. The objectification of these athletes by reducing them to their desirability denigrates them both as women and as athletes. This issue is exacerbated by the dress codes enforced for various sports by their respective overseeing administrative bodies. The regulations that female outfits are subject to have drawn considerable scrutiny in recent years for their active and conscious contribution to the sexualisation of these athletes. Dress codes in sports have historically been dictated by commercial interests and devised almost entirely by men, many of whom seem to subscribe to the adage that “sex sells” when it comes to the promotion of women’s sports. While regulated form-fitting or lightweight outfits serve technological and functional purposes in sports such as gymnastics or swimming, the same cannot be said for others such as women’s beach volleyball and handball. Beach handball requires women to wear bikini bottoms when they compete, while men are permitted to wear shorts. The International Handball Federation rules even include specifications on the nature and style of this apparel, stating that the bottoms must be “a close fit”, be “cut on an upward angle toward the top of the leg” and have a side width of no more than 10 centimetres. Despite claims that these stipulations “increase athlete performance”, there is scarce evidence to prove it. The regulations go on to state that these rules are necessary for coherence with the “sportive and attractive image of the sport”. In 2021, the Norwegian women’s beach handball team was fined 150 euros for switching out their bikini bottoms for shorts. The Federation drew global criticism for its unfair dress code and soon amended its rules to allow women to wear shorts. However, parity between the sexes has not yet been achieved in beach handball - women’s shorts are required to be of a “close fit” while men’s shorts simply are not allowed to be “too baggy”. Television angles of female athletes lean into the existent focus on aesthetics over athleticism. Female athletes are subject to objectifying camera angles ten times more often than their male counterparts. For example, camera angles tend to linger on the backsides of female athletes during coverage of beach volleyball, ostensibly to capture the strategic hand signals they pass to each other. During the 2012 London Olympics, tabloids ran photo spreads covering the women’s beach volleyball event that had scarcely a set or spike in sight. Then-mayor of London and later Prime Minister of the UK, Boris Johnson, described these players to have been glistening “like wet otters.” Unsurprisingly, most of the reasons as to why this belief is so easily internalised can be traced back to good old-fashioned sexism (as it almost always can be). Simply put, women athletes are made to be viewed as women first and athletes second. People feel as though women’s sports are intrinsically not entertaining as they are never seen simply as sports - the prefix of ‘women’s’ is inseparable from their judgement of them, which is subsequently clouded by the same. Unsurprisingly, most of the reasons as to why this belief is so easily internalised can be traced back to good old-fashioned sexism (as it almost always can be). The significance of the role of the media and regulatory authorities when it comes to moulding public perception of these sports cannot be overstated and deserves far greater critique and critical attention than it currently receives.
- Don't We Keep Coming Back?
We are all chasing our dreams, or maybe are on the journey of finding them. Although not necessary, it does require moving out of our comfort zones. Sometimes, this could mean changing the primary basis of our identity - our home. The truth is, this could happen at any point of life - school, college, or work. Change is probably something that disrupts most of our routines, flow of thought or even our behaviour in some scenarios. Let's say one starts using a different pen than usual or takes a seat different from their so-called 'spot'. Now, this wouldn't necessarily be something that increases your anxiety level. For some, it does, and it feels like their productivity compromised. A fear might even begin to creep in that something bad might happen to them that day. Moving away from one's home or hometown - the place where they made their most cherished memories and spent good moments with their loved ones - is more or less like a domino effect in this regard for many people. This is because when most of us crave stability in all spheres, this shift is a tricky one to tackle. To be honest, it can feel like the whole world around you is falling apart. When one spends many sleepless nights on whether to take this decision or not, or even after one takes it, the realisation that this is a make or break situations sets in at some point or another. For example, it wouldn't be wrong to admit that many tasks that we consider to be 'trivial' can start eating time off our schedule. This could be washing one's own clothes or trying to be an experimental chef turned miracle worker, whipping up dishes in a jiffy with just a handful of ingredients and little to no equipment. We end up bumping into memories of home from something as simple as a cup of tea , a whiff of curry from someone's tiffin, or maybe just the drizzling raindrops that you see from your window. All these occasional happenings are often very intimidating at first. Nevertheless, let's make an effort here to see the brighter side of all the changes we undergo in our lifestyle. On this journey, we end up learning what we are capable of and discovering the undiscovered realms within ourselves. Being responsible for ourselves and our decisions (to a certain extent) sheds a lot of light on the potential we possess. Above all, the change brings a lot of independence into our lives, which helps us be more creative and adventurous. Even so, at the end of the day, it is on us to channel this energy in order to influence our long term goals for the better. Long story short, this is probably just one of the bumpy rides you will take in your life, where you meet new people, forge lifelong bonds with some and end up breaking away from others, learn new lessons and forgo some others. Ultimately, it is YOUR journey. The circumstances around you might have changed. Still, I believe that there will be a part of that abode or people you call 'home' deep in your soul, and also a part of you which identifies with what Benjamin Button said in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: "It's a funny about coming home. Looks the same, smells the same, feels the same. You'll realise what's changed is you." The shining beams in the night sky are no longer the stars that my mom pointed out when I was little; It's the trail of that bird that I long to hop on soon, that engineering marvel which takes me back now, at least in dreams. Maybe I am getting used to finding meaning in this noise, or adjusting to the surprises that the weather presents everyday. Now, maybe, the brick and mortar of my blood, sweat and tears might create that heavenly place right here, but then, would I ever really be here? Because I just keep coming back, never really knowing if I miss that abode, the lives in it or just the breeze that swayed back there. Or maybe not, 'cause, people and problems are really just the same. They may look different from the outside, but all they want is, me understanding them, their purpose and that I can do, wherever I am as long as I am myself: not trying to be you or anyone else, just me, as I am or maybe a better ME that I try to be everyday.
- One Week, Two Elections, Three Lessons
My first month in college residence introduced me to the phenomena of college elections. If there is something in the college close to the SUS (Students Union Society) elections, it is perhaps the JCR (Junior Combination Room) elections. In a single week, I had witnessed JCR as well as Block Representative elections. In this swift period, I got to see politics unfolding first hand and got to hear opinions from candidates, campaigners and observers about events and outcomes. It may sound like an oxymoron, but despite being a student of Political Science, I stay at a distance from real politics. Nevertheless, I never miss a chance – as a voter – to exercise my right and responsibility, and – as a student – to analyze the events, their results and the reasons and factors at play. Here I share three conclusions I have arrived at from my experiences in the past week. 1. Showing up is important Each residential block has two block reps – one each from the second and third year. My block ran into these elections days before the JCR. Dr Mahesh Gopalan, our block tutor, came and instructed each one of us to put down names of two candidates – one from each year – on a ballot. Each of us was told to go to our rooms and do so in secrecy. Long story short – one of the candidates I voted for won, and one of them lost. The one who won managed to do so by a margin of just two votes. Back in my room once the whole business was over, the realization struck me: the candidate won by two votes, and I had voted in his favor. It meant that if I had voted for the other candidate, the final count of ballots would have ended up being equal for the two candidates. That would have resulted in a clearly different situation. This deciding vote need not be my vote – it could have been anyone’s. But just one vote on a different side, and the outcome would be different – like the final hair turning the scale! Two days later, I would find myself sitting in the mess during breakfast and listening to discussions about JCR among other mess-mates. Someone quipped, “There are so many of us! How much does my vote count?” I was quick to jump in, “Everything in this world!” Especially when there is no sweeping majority, our vote is really a deciding factor. Even otherwise. 2. When things get political, nothing remains isolated Discussions are not the only things that happen in the mess. I came to hear of some hushed argument that erupted in the mess a couple of days before the JCR elections. It led to certain differences between two groups. The argument in itself had nothing to do with the elections. The matter snowballed however, and seeped into elections. It ended up being a determinant issue, and the results that came were reflective of these differences. This has many parallels with the larger elections. An accident, a military misfire, a crime, a foreign visit, an unexpected calamity – whenever these and other such incidents happen during an election period, even though they could have otherwise been isolated events, end up being decisive for the elections. This is rooted in human weakness: we tend to remember and prioritize things on the basis of their recency, and end up ignoring both the larger picture and the past experiences. When things get political, there are no isolated events. 3. Zoon politikon: No exceptions? From February till a month ago, I was pretty much impressed by the coexistence of various groups in the college. I saw an almost absence of ‘political’ ambitions at the cost of someone else, and a mutual respect among members of all communities and geographies towards each other. JCR and Block Rep elections, sadly, did not conform to this incomplete ideal that I had cradled for two semesters. Elections brought out all forms of the politicisation of identities along with conscious discussions about who we are and where ought we to belong. As Prof Ayde reiterates Aristotle in his classes, man is zoon politikon. Unlike what I had wrongfully imagined, it is as true here at the melting pot that St. Stephen’s is, as anywhere else.
- Towards a Greener Menstruation
In a scenario, where safe menstruation for every female is imperative, the amount of steadily growing menstrual waste is an equally acute environmental issue, and it is this double issue that we’ll have to deal with while looking into ‘issue of menstrual waste in India’ and to ensure a ‘Greener Menstruation’. Menstruation, the normal biological process that is experienced by menstruators in their menstruating years (12-45 years approx.) is no longer a taboo, at least in the educated circles. But is it the case everywhere ? The clear cut answer is a big ‘NO’. The sad reality is that in a country where Goddesses are worshipped which includes the menstruating Goddesses such as in the Kamakhya temple , there still exists a social stigma, taboo and a notion of ‘impurity’ to what is termed as ‘periods’. Arunachalam Murugantham, better known as ‘Pad-Man’ after Bollywood actor Akshay Kumar’s blockbuster film, brought about a revolutionary invention that made the use of sanitary napkins in rural India possible. With low-cost options of sanitary napkins being developed to promote hygiene and women’s safety in rural areas. It seems there is one part of the problem that has still not been addressed either by the eloquent Swacchh Bharat Abhiyan, that is; the part that comes after the use of these sanitary napkins: menstrual waste disposal. It is this dichotomy of inaccessibility of safe menstruation products and the unsustainability of the menstrual products that the nation has to deal with to strive towards ensuring a greener menstruation. While a large part of the menstruators are struggling to deal with their menstruation, due to the inaccessibility of the menstrual hygiene products, the other chunks of the menstruators have access to quality menstrual hygiene products that help them deal with it better. While the availability of the menstrual hygiene products like sanitary pad, tampon, menstrual cup etc, that improvise substantially over time is of great advantage to the menstruators, the amount of damage that these products and its increased consumption produces is often neglected or not given adequate attention by anyone. Infact, India produces approximately 9000 tonnes of Sanitary waste every year, almost equivalent to weighing the Statue of Unity Four times. However, this particular waste disposal issue still largely remains a ‘silent problem’ in India. Have you ever given a thought to what happens to your menstrual waste after you dispose of it? When a used menstrual hygiene product is thrown away in the bin one out of two things is going to happen it either ends up sitting in landfilled sites taking up space and contaminating the soil (Since it is the non-biodegradable waste, this stays up in landfills for up to 500 years. The end result – overflowing landfills causing endless harm to the environment) or just going to end up incinerated releasing toxic chemicals like dioxin and furan into the air that it also damages the plants, animals and the humans and it is to be noted that these are the two methods recommended in the guidelines issued by the Government of India for the promotion of menstrual hygiene. The inadequacy of proper disposal mechanisms further worsens this. According to Menstrual Health Alliance of India (MHAI), the number of menstruating women in India who use disposable sanitary napkins stands at a staggering 121 million. Disposable sanitary napkins are made of 90% plastic and keeping in mind the adhesives, packing, etc., each pad is equivalent to around 4 plastic bags. If we estimate the number of pads used per cycle to a modest 8, it equates to roughly 12 billion pads disposed per year. According to a report, each of these pads can roughly take 400 to 500 years to decompose due to their largely plastic ingredients. Despite the massive waste generated in the country, India does not have separate laws governing the disposal of sanitary waste. Only two cities – Bengaluru and Pune – have laws on segregation of sanitary waste wherein the sanitary waste must be separately handed over along with the dry and wet waste of the household. Next on the line, disposable tampons can be up to 90% plastic and amount to the equivalent of four plastic shopping bags in one single-use product that means people who menstruate are using 20 or more tampons over the course of every period, amounting to the equivalent of 80 plastic bags per cycle. When tampons and applicators are flushed down the toilet, they can end up in the ocean when sewer systems fail and harm ecosystems. Tampons can take up to 20 years to break down in marine environments and can cause health complications or death when ingested by animals. Canada and Mexico City have included tampons in their single-use plastics bans for this reason. When the chemicals used in tampons, such as dioxin chlorine and rayon, end up in landfills, they also end up getting soaked up by the earth and are released as pollution into groundwater and the air. However, Menstrual Cups unlike tampons and menstrual pads, which absorb the fluid, collect it and thus can be reused. If compared with using 12 pads per period, use of a menstrual cup would comprise only 0.4% of the plastic waste generated. Thus,on comparing the considerable amount of pollution, and the years taken for decomposition, the reusable menstrual cups seem to be a more feasible option than the plastic made sanitary pads and tampons. On the other hand, more sustainable is the cloth pad, which however can’t be generalised as a convenient option for all. It is here that the need of adopting and improvising on the various methods implemented to ensure safer and greener menstruation comes into picture. It might be the small steps and initiatives that were started among the very few people in their locality which may sprang into being the onus of structural change all across India. For example, the Papna Mau village has got a low cost common incinerator to decompose the used sanitary pad, then there are projects such as Baala, Eco femme,and Goonj- My Pad initiative that uses various eco-friendly materials to manufacture menstrual pads and hygiene products, while the example of Kerala’s little village of Kumbalangi stands on the pedestal by raising awareness as well as providing all the menstruators of the locality with menstrual cups that would help to reduce the menstrual waste to a large extent. However, the First and foremost thing to be done is to raise social awareness to do away with the taboos associated with menstruation that even prevents the use of menstrual cups in several parts of the country. And proper guidelines and mechanisms have to be ensured for the safer disposal of the sanitary products. No doubt, that while ensuring safer and comfortable menstrual products to the menstruators is necessary it is also equally the need of the hour to provide them with more eco-friendly alternatives, that could help India tackle its issue of mounting Menstrual waste and thereby ensuring and moving into a safer and greener menstruation.
- The Juncture of Nature-Nurture
Unveiling our connection with the divine, the curtain of nature-nurture. How we are connected with not just each other but the cosmos. Structures of the universe reflected within our very being. Witnessing the beauty not just from within but actively being influenced by the world outside of us. A universe so beautiful and precisely defined with infinite variables living and breathing within it. Maybe the beauty lies in knowing the unknown, discovering the unknown. But have we even looked properly? The personality of each and every individual we meet has been influenced by a web of factors. Personality is nothing but the true nature that characterizes the moral right and wrong of the individual in question. This web is broadly defined into two - nature and nurture and thus we argue that the creation of the universe and the personality of, each and every growing individual within the universe stands at the juncture of nature-nurture at every stage of life. Every stage in the developmental cycle of humans with its respective developmental goals is influenced by these factors and mold us into the individuals of today. Nature is the geometrically defined gene code that we all inherit that influences our physical appearances, and nurture is the very existence of our environment in this universe in space and time including our early childhood experiences, how we were raised, our social relationships, and our surrounding culture. The gene code is defined as a limiting factor within which the environment influences change. This change can be quantified on either side – positive or negative. Both are interdependent and independent with the aim of defining us and forming our traits. The interplay of nature-nurture sets variability and diversity into motion. The interplay of nature-nurture sets variability and diversity into motion. Not just in humans, even nature has its set of specified ‘gene’ codes often adapted in the form of sacred symbols which explain the creation of the universe. Sacred Geometry studies these existing hidden symbols to decode the creation and continuation of our species which otherwise get ignored by the common eye. For example, the flower of life explains the 6-day genesis and the Metatron’s cube encompasses the platonic solids which define the basic elements of the earth. Our DNA which follows the golden ratio, the infinite fractals that are seen on leaves, seashells, and pinecones are not only inherited in their truest forms but also open doors for change as the world around us changes.
An unlikely comparison between wars and garlands, a heart-breaking state of affairs and the complete breakdown of a system. The war widow cried herself to sleep last night, but not for reasons you might think. Her protector was tortured for information he didn't have, in a faraway land, of sunny mornings and pleasant evenings, not for the widow though, she hates the time difference, and rightly so. Her lover was taken away, but she doesn't sleep alone. She sleeps with nightmares of birthing penniless teenagers, of hunger-stricken parents, of the cancer, caused by rotting memories. Thoughts of hanging herself are too expensive for her. So, she gets seduced by the nightmares, every night, every day. But this story is not about her. Let's start from the start. I'm a war widow too. Except, I was in the war. I, too, was tortured, stabbed, undressed, felt and humiliated, the Sun fell that day. It was not very long ago, my mother had told me about the tale of a naked young girl, found on the streets, raped, depraved and disposed of. I was the naked girl, and the naked girl was me. The war widow’s lover fought for his home, so, a garland was put around the widow’s neck. She choked, but at least, the flowers were easy on the eyes. Do you know what is not easy on the eyes? Monsters. I’ve heard it's not a bad word, I've heard it's Latin for the messenger of catastrophe. But I have questions! What happens? When the catastrophe turns you inside out. When your mind is incinerated, your body, eviscerated. When the uninvited fall, claims to have been enticed by the natural exercises of your being, of your mundane acts of laying, walking, covering and uncovering. I’d say, this monster is a bad word. Meanwhile, the war widow is tormented by the realities of hollowness. An empty bedside, and regretful salutes, of trunks of baby pictures, and of a fingerless wedding ring. So, when I told her about my war. She was numb, a little less than I was left that night. I tell her of the horrors of sleepless nights, suicidal thoughts, murderous wonderments, bloody scars, still numb. Then, she asked me about my monsters. “Did they meet their fate?” She monotonously asked me about my insaaf. But I don't like talking about my monsters. I see them everywhere, on high teas, and at birthday parties. I see them in mirrors, for they are omnipresent, and the opening of their dimension is at every nook and corner. But I decide to speak to her, For hollowness and blood connects us. The numb widow and I have something more in common. You must remember The easy-on-the-eyes flowers. She frowns at me in ambiguity. I tell her “I saw my monsters wearing garlands on TV last night.” She was no longer numb, and cried herself to sleep that night.
- The Age of Anthropocene
The words Climate Change and Global Warming are often bandied about. Phenomena, deadly enough to wipe out our entire species and yet, in popular perception, far enough into the future to not warrant any immediate remedial action. If our planet’s long history of 4.5 billion years could be condensed into a single 24 hr day, the modern human has been a part of that history for less than 3 seconds and yet, our impact has been one of the most influential. But in order to understand why, we need to take a quick dive into the past; into our extensive and yet, relatively short history as inhabitants of this planet. For even though the past cannot change, the knowledge we have about it and the way we look at it, is constantly changing. Our journey into the history of our species begins with a relatively recent discovery, that of the fossil Sahelanthropus in Chad, Africa. The fossil, discovered at the start of the 21st Century, dates back almost 7 million years and is believed to be our oldest ancestor. It’s discovery has helped scientists better understand the long evolutionary journey that led to the creation of the modern human. It is believed that our story begins in Africa, where diverse groups of early humans, driven by changes in the Earth’s climate, interacted to generate the unique genetic make up of modern humans. The modern human, i.e homo sapiens evolved only around 200,000 years ago, in what we now call the Middle Stone Age. This era saw great advancements in the types and ways stone tools were manufactured and used, which significantly altered the nature of our interaction with the surrounding environment since we were now more lethal hunters and thereby, acted as a catalysing agent in the process of our evolution. The period that followed witnessed the first great human migration. Drastic changes in the Earth’s climate and landscape, specifically lower sea levels, enabled the passage of early humans out of Africa through the middle east and into the rest of Eurasia. These climatic changes were characteristic of the Pleistocene Epoch, a period during which a succession of glacial and interglacial climatic cycles took place, ultimately ending in the Holocene Interglacial or Holocene era. This period, which followed the Pleistocene, was characterised by warmer and more stable conditions. It was during this period, beginning close to 12,000 years ago, that mankind’s activities grew into a sizeable geological and morphological force, allowing the development of modern civilisations as we know it. Now, as our period of relative stability begins to waiver due to rising temperatures, we are witnessing the end of the Holocene and the start of a new epoch- the Age of Anthropocene. Over the past 250 years, since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, the world has enjoyed an era of prosperity and development. Due to great technological and medical advancements, mankind’s impact on the Earth has increased manifold, outweighing even the impact of many natural processes. This means that human beings have now become the most significant geological force on the planet- a frightening thought! In the past, the biggest threat to the survival of a species were drastic changes to the Earth’s climate as a result of natural, unavoidable disasters such as asteroids and volcanic eruptions. For the first time in history, this is no longer true. The climate change we refer to today is unlike that of the past. It is purely man made. Unnatural. A result of greed. Humans have such power to impact the natural world, that we find ourselves at the hinge of history. Our actions have a lasting, likely irreversible impact on the Earth’s systems and processes. What we do in our lifetime will determine the future of mankind.
- The Power of Harmless Flattery
Ah, childhood! If I could go back in time and experience those moments again. I didn't yearn to be a grown-up. I was the oldest in my generation so I had enough power to boss around the brood that followed after me, thanks to my parent’s big families. Being the firstborn, I had enough influence over my uncles and aunts, enjoying all the attention and warmth of the family for a period. Moreover, I came into a family with very few females, so I was received with much anticipation. I thoroughly basked in that glory till the younger ones came along; one by one. But even then, I was the big sister. I never bullied them, but they would probably have a different story. For the time being, it's my story, so I decide to place on record that I was a very gracious big sister. Summer holidays and school holidays were times when all of us came together at our ancestral home. One day, all of us were sitting together and playing. My ammachi (grandmother) called out for me. I picked myself up very reluctantly, knowing I couldn't say anything. As I approached my ammachi, I had a look of displeasure on my face because I knew she was going to give me some chores to do. She said, “Maria, please fold Grandpa's shirts and keep them in the cupboard.” One look at my face, and my grandmother knew what was going on in my mind. Then, she told me, "Do you know why I called you from that lot? It's because only you can do a perfect folding. Grandpa always says that when you do it, it doesn't even have to be ironed.” My face lit up and I took to the task with all my prowess. In my excitement, I forgot about my cousins playing on the other side of the house and most importantly, I was so preoccupied with impressing my grandparents that I took no notice of the fact that I had never folded my grandpa's shirts before! And oh my, did I not do a good job! So here was my first management lesson from my grandmother, who was no MBA graduate. She not only got the work done but also got the best out of a cranky 10-year-old with harmless flattery. Flattery is a word with a bad reputation, often considered in a negative context. But is it always that bad? Flattery feeds directly into our ego and self-identity. It makes us feel good about ourselves, so naturally, we are not immune to its charms. It affects our behavior outside of our awareness. We tend to respond more positively to situations, people, and products that make us feel good about ourselves; so says the psychologists, not me! Like the child who said the emperor is naked, sometimes we need to be brutally honest. But it's okay to boost each other’s ego once in a while and lift self-confidence with small words of praise and flattery. Believe me, it works like magic!
- SOS: Indian Art and Culture
They say that art appreciation is also an art form. The art and culture of any nation is the backbone of its civilization. India stands apart on the global stage as the amalgamation of multicultural, pluralistic value systems, beliefs, traditions, fairs, festivals, rich classical music and dance forms, handicrafts etc. But people who understand and appreciate Indian art and culture are a dying breed. One can always argue that there are more pressing problems than cultural illiteracy that ails our country. But given the current state of affairs the very ethos of the Indian civilization, which is in great part embodied in our art and culture, it will die a slow and painful death. In these harsh times when artists of great talent languish in sheer neglect, is it not the need of the hour to salvage and reclaim the legacy of our heritage, a heritage that has taken thousands of years, and the toil of numerous artisans, poets, singers, dancers, sculptors, architects, performing artists et al to develop and preserve? Enter the advent of smartphones; the concept of what a person does with his or her leisure time has undergone a sea of change. Ask the average Indian youth of today if they have ever heard of a Raag Malhar or Bhairavi and I'm sure the answer would be a big no. Forget our parent’s generation, how many of us have been directly or otherwise been exposed to the classical arts and literature of our great country. Maestros like Bismillah Khan, M. S. Subbulakshmi, Bhimsen Joshi, Zakir Hussain, Hari Prasad Chaurasia, Shivkumar Sharma, Allahrakha, Kishori Amonkar, Ravi Shankar, Amjad Ali Khan, Vishwa Mohan Bhatt and so many more that are such intrinsic parts of the repository of rich Indian classical music, are probably just names one recalls from the GK textbooks. In the words of a former diplomat who is deeply concerned about the depletion of cultural enthusiasts or rasiks (people who enjoy and understand Indian art and culture), “India must rank as one of the most unique civilizations of the world, marked by great antiquity, substantial refinements and unprecedented audacity of thought. Why, then, do successive governments treat culture with such disrespect?” According to him, very little investment has been made in terms of money and priority when it comes to culture with the Ministry of Culture being clubbed with other subjects like tourism and at the same time inadequately budgeted, often leading to negligible development. “India must rank as one of the most unique civilizations of the world, marked by great antiquity, substantial refinements and unprecedented audacity of thought. Why, then, do successive governments treat culture with such disrespect?” Comparing this glum scenario with efforts put in by China and other Southeast East Asian countries by way of investing in state-of-the-art museums and galleries, along with art districts, rows of streetside cafes and art programs, one can only wonder at the commitment of our politicians towards our “Bhartiya Sabhyata” which the current dispensation often alludes to. There are two unfortunate consequences of this neglect of our cultural heritage- Cultural Indifference and Cultural Illiteracy. The former refers to the total lack of interest in our heritage, leading to a loss of balance between popular and classical culture. Can you imagine a jam-packed auditorium for a Bharatanatyam performance versus any crowd-pulling Bollywood dance number? In London, Hyde Park visitors throng both pop group shows as well as those showcasing western classical music. Our National Gallery of Modern Art hardly gets 30,000 visitors annually compared to the millions in the West. The second fallout which is cultural illiteracy refers to cultural militancy which compensates for one’s lack of knowledge. Culture becomes nothing but a mere slogan in the hands of the uninformed, which does unimaginable damage to the highly complicated fabric of our heritage. Modern India needs to reclaim the legacy of our great cultural heritage. Probably the faintest idea about Indian classical culture survived in the collective memories of the pre-millennial generation. Minimal exposure to the real India has only worsened the issue. Popular culture is held in great sway (mostly Bollywood and West based) in this land of the Natya shastras and amid the remnants of great dynastic monuments. Where are the world-class museums and art galleries that this country needs, and more importantly, where are the audiences for it? A revival of the arts through proper preservation and education at every possible level is the only solution to save it from the brink of extinction. The time for merely paying lip service to it has long passed. Proactive measures are urgently required to bring back the lost glory of our artists, most of whom languish in deprivation. Acknowledge, respect and uplift them. Cultivation of interest and promotion of our arts through popularisation via various media channels is a must, and most importantly, institutional investment in the arts and culture will surely bring back the audiences and keep India's unparalleled cultural tradition alive.
- Indian Films – A Stereotypical World Sans Reality
From the time the very first feature film “Raja Harishchandra” was produced in 1913, the Indian Film Industry has come a long way. The “Parallel Cinema” movement in the 1940s led by pioneers like Satyajit Ray gave way to the “Golden Age of Indian Cinema”, as described by many film historians. It was in the late 1970s that a criticism arose that the film body wasn’t doing enough to encourage Commercial Films. Then slowly came the rise of the Masala Films as we call it today. Unfortunately, as commercial films evolved, there came a time where content mattered less and viewership mattered more. To quote Walt Disney, a pioneer of the American animation industry: “Movies are powerful tools that have the ability to influence people. Therefore, it is important to use it in the right manner.” Films are powerful tools that have the potential to accentuate society’s most crucial and existing problems to a large mass of people. Unfortunately, not everyone in the film industry uses this powerful tool in the right manner. Many commercial films play a critical role in implanting and penetrating various stereotypes into people’s minds. “Movies are powerful tools that have the ability to influence people. Therefore, it is important to use it in the right manner.” The impossible beauty standards displayed in films and media has standardised beauty among the Indian public, the perfect body showcased in Indian films place some people under traumatic pressure to attain these standards. The age-old obsession with fair skin in India that mainly started during the colonial era persists in Indian society to date and is now mainly propagated by the Indian Film Industry. Despite Indians possessing a varied range of skin colours, most films only portray actors and actresses of fair complexion. A lot of us would have noticed the common convention of casting a dark-skinned person as a villain or a sidekick. What’s even more disheartening is that these stereotypes are depicted in kids cartoons as well, including popular ones such as ChhotaBheem. Indian cartoons rarely depict diversity, and consequently, we are teaching the young generation the same stereotypes instead of eliminating them. Indian Films vividly associates beauty, social status, personality and success with something so insignificant and trivial as skin colour. If you are dusky or don’t have the conventional body, people say it is a privilege to be cast as a lead actor or actress-but is it? One problem here is that being beautiful means being fair or having the conventional body type; the other is that it's high time that looks took a back-seat and talent became the parameter in the Indian film industry. Indian film industries cannot shy away from the fact that they have played a major role in normalising rape culture. From the 1970s to the 1990s, there was an obligatory inclusion of a rape scene, wherein the hero came to save the heroine. Nowadays, it’s a mandatory dance/item number in most Indian films. The dance sequences usually happen as a celebration; we are teaching the younger generation that commoditising a woman’s body is normal and an act of celebration. There is a dearth of representation of certain communities in Indian cinema. Moreover, sometimes the representation of certain communities is misleading to the public. From a country that boasts of diversity, we certainly have failed to showcase the diversity in our cinema. A lot of times there has been a misleading representation of certain communities in terms of ethnicity, religion, and even sexual orientation. For eg., the representation of the LGBTQ+ community in Indian cinema. There are very few, or none at all, to represent such minorities. Another question to be answered is: Should films depict violence? Violence has become an integral part of cinema that most of us couldn’t think about doing away with it. Yes, violence of all forms is present in society and we have to depict the reality in our films, but the question remains; is it portrayed in the right manner? There is a common practice to romanticise violence in films. Normalising the depiction of toxic relationships where the men are physically or verbally abusive and manipulating. Furthermore, justifying these actions as expressions of love is misleading society as a whole and several generations to come. These practices have normalised the idea of “toxic masculinity”. Additionally, actors who have called out such misogyny in films haven’t mustered any significant support. Recently I have noticed a huge rise in crime films that showcase disturbing crime scenes. Moreover, at times the film is depicted in such a manner the crime or murder is justified. The thought that it is alright to commit a crime if the purpose is right is a theory that has been attached to certain films. Consequently, what we are losing is the right and the ability to think for ourselves. In short, films should encourage people to be averse from practising any form of violence. But unfortunately, that isn’t always practised in films. People end up glorifying violence. Many actors responded by justifying that these are “R” rated films and the audience should know what to watch and what to follow as adults. Well, we have got to understand that we live in a country where a majority of the population worship and idolize heroes and heroines. We even elect them. We are inspired by the characters that the actors play on-screen and love to imitate them. Hence, these actors have a responsibility to fulfil. And I absolutely agree with the fact that there are a handful of people in the Indian film industry who are consistently working hard towards eliminating these practices and norms in the industry but they require tremendous support which we are indeed capable of providing. The film industry ought to realise the power they possess and channelise it in the right manner, I truly hope that they do realise that “with great power comes great responsibility”.
- Revenge Bedtime Procrastination: What is it and how you probably have it.
It’s pretty darn dark outside, and raining; I’m in my room, with the fan running and the tube-light switched on; I take a quick glance at the bottom-right of my screen: “04:17”. After berating myself for such obviously unhealthy behaviour for the next 3-or-so minutes, I, with the memory span of a goldfish, then proceeded to jump right back to where I was, probably browsing YouTube, or watching some anime, or some TV series, or some movies, or listening to some music, or... Had it been a one-time thing, or a sparse occurrence, I wouldn’t be writing a 500+ worded article for ‘The Stephanian Forum’. And it’s highly probable that I’m writing this very piece quite late into the night too! (Oh, the irony!) Back a couple of years ago, I pushed the blame towards adolescence and teenage hormones, but now I am a full-fledged adult (no, not sarcasm), and have come to realise that this is a chronic issue. As someone who ‘successfully’ goes to bed post 3 AM every single day, and getting only 4-5 hours of sleep while at it, it is something that I recognise as a serious threat to my health and well-being, yet am unable to do something about it myself. So as any 21st Century human would do, I immediately went to the aid of the internet, and found out about the term ‘Revenge Bedtime Procrastination’. As defined by the ‘Sleep Foundation’, “bedtime procrastination or revenge bedtime procrastination is a psychological phenomenon, where people stay up later than they desire in an attempt to have control over the night, because they perceive themselves (perhaps subconsciously) to lack influence over events during the day. It describes the decision to sacrifice sleep for leisure time that is driven by a daily schedule lacking in free time.” It is something that stems from the lack of leisure and lack of control of my actions during the daytime, which I believe will resonate with a lot of people, especially teenagers. “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” isn’t some offhanded comment that your grandpa made in your childhood days; when one loses leisure time in their life, they try to seek more ‘play’ by sacrificing their health, staying up for more hours, and sleeping for much less than the required minimum. And with the advent of the internet, it has become all the more easier to find newer ways to entertain yourself, with all the media in the world to consume right at your fingertips. And no, don’t get me wrong, it isn’t my intention to blame everything onto the internet (like a certain generation); far from it actually. Doing so would be factually incorrect - a false causality – and a classic case of whataboutism. The problem arises, as I stated earlier, from a lack of control over one’s life, living a life that one has no input on. And no, I don’t aim to provide a solution to this either; frankly, I’m not qualified to do so. Instead, the intention of writing this article was solely to raise and spread awareness about such a relatively unknown issue. Of course, with the magic of the internet, I shall provide sources to help people with similar conditions as that of mine. Hoping it comes in handy! https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-hygiene/revenge-bedtime-procrastination