POSTED BY Freya Dasgupta ON Jun 29, 2015 AT 23:48 IST ,  Edited At: Jun 29, 2015 23:48 IST

It perhaps is just a coincidence but countries — where at one point in ancient history, successful, prosperous civilisations flourished — seem to be in the doldrums. Some are in the grips of major financial crises while others are zones for major conflicts. 

One needs only a brief glance to realise that these major civilisations aren't quite living it up in the 21st century. 

Ancient Greek Civilisation:

The Greeks don't have the oldest civilisation but clearly it has been one of the most influential. Unfortunately, Greece is on the brink of bankruptcy. With an austerity referendum scheduled for July 5, Greece is struggling to pay back its creditors, known informally as the Troika (consisting of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank). If in the upcoming referendum, it votes for "yes" it will be subjected to "strict and humiliating" austerity. If it goes with "no" it might no longer remain a part of the European Union. 

Mesopotamian Civilisation:

The region between the Tigris and the Euphrates river systems — presently known as Iraq — was once where civilised societies started to take shape. Already a land plagued by years of dictatorship and ravaged by war, it is now under the "caliphate" of the Islamic State who have been seizing one city after another. Once the intellectual centre of the Islamic world, Baghdad under constant threat from the IS and frequent air strikes by the US targeting the militants is a distraught city today. With the IS cutting off water supply and deliberately drying up marshes — much like dictator Saddam Hussein — Iraq is definitely headed towards an environmental catastrophe.

Ancient Egyptian Civilisation:

The land of pharaohs and pyramids and sphinxes saw a revolution in 2011 that put an end to dictator Hosni Mubarak's rule. Muslim Brotherhood's Morsi took over and was ousted in no time by the military leader Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Morsi, an Islamist, has been sentenced to death which if carried out will enrage Brotherhood's supporters and lead to widespread protests if nothing else. Getting rid of a dictatorship hasn't done much for the freedom of press in Egypt either since more often than not, journalists are imprisoned, mostly for having affiliations with the now outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. 

Indus Valley Civilisation:

The region witnessed the largest exodus in history during the Partition in 1947. Well, at least a portion of the exodus while the other bit took place on the Bengal frontier. The region remains a conflict zone for the two brothers separated at birth — India and Pakistan — and their never ending squabbles over border issues, more importantly Kashmir. Frequent ceasefire violations, infiltration and military green define the land of the five rivers. Add to this Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan, Al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Jamaat-ud-Dawah and Indian Mujahideen and you have the perfect recipe for a civilisational disaster. 

Chinese Civilisation:

At least 30% of China's Great Wall from the Ming era has disappeared over time due to adverse natural conditions and reckless human activities. But that's not the only thing in China that is crumbling. The Chinese stock market took a 7.4% dive on June 26 that left it down 19% in just two weeks. Once the fastest growing economy in the world, China suddenly seems unable to keep up with itself. In the meantime, it remains embroiled in the South China Sea dispute, vehemently defending its claim over the largest portion of the territory which is supposed to be rich in natural resources even as it pledged to cut down on its carbon emissions.

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POSTED BY Freya Dasgupta ON Jun 29, 2015 AT 23:48 IST, Edited At: Jun 29, 2015 23:48 IST
POSTED BY Aaryan Salman ON Jun 29, 2015 AT 20:11 IST ,  Edited At: Jun 29, 2015 20:11 IST

The legalisation of gay marriage in the USA has drawn global attention to the World's "Champion of Liberties". While it is time to rejoice, see what Obama told the world under the Shadow Of Lady Liberty over the years.

In 1996, the then Illinois Senator Barack Obama in a questionnaire said: 

"I favor legalising same-sex marriages, and would fight efforts to prohibit such marriages."

In 1998, in another questionnaire he responded mentioning "undecided" when asked if Illinois should recognise same-sex marriages

In 2004, as a Senate candidate he said he "wasn't a supporter of gay marriage"

"I am a fierce supporter of domestic-partnership and civil-union laws. I am not a supporter of gay marriage as it has been thrown about, primarily just as a strategic issue. I think that marriage, in the minds of a lot of voters, has a religious connotation. ..."

In 2008, President Obama opposed gay marriage calling marriage a ‘union between a man and a woman'

"I believe that marriage is the union between a man and a woman. Now, for me as a Christian, it is also a sacred union. God's in the mix."

In 2010, the President said that he doesn't support same-sex marriage but his feelings are "constantly evolving" on the issue.

And this is what the President had to say after the US Supreme Court legalised same-sex marriage.

"It's a victory for the allies and friends and supporters who spent years and even decades working and praying for change to come,"

"I know a change for many of our LGBT brothers and sisters must have seemed so slow for so long,"


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POSTED BY Aaryan Salman ON Jun 29, 2015 AT 20:11 IST, Edited At: Jun 29, 2015 20:11 IST
POSTED BY Landing Lights ON Jun 26, 2015 AT 21:38 IST ,  Edited At: Jun 26, 2015 21:38 IST

Eminent economist Jagdish Bhagwati has sparked off yet another exchange of letters (this time in the pages of the Financial Times). The irony is this latest battle is that Bhagwati — Professor of Economics and Law at Columbia University and an authority on globalization — is being accused of "committing an error (rare for him)" and being afflicted by a "socialist myopia".

These are strong reactions, indeed. 

Writing on the issues of the Rohingyas of Myanmar, Bhagwati makes an argument that rich countries should fund the countries that are willing to take in the refugees.

In the present instance, Gambia is offering to take in the Myanmar refugees, and others in East Asia where the refugees seek to land may follow. In all these cases, it is only logical that prosperous and humane countries such as the US and Switzerland establish a fund to mitigate the financial cost of these nations' generosity. Arriving at such an international compact should now be of the highest priority.

To be fair, Bhagwati also goes on to argue that one cannot apply to same yardstick to refugees from Bangladesh.

That many of the poor are fleeing from poverty in Bangladesh ought to be a wake-up call for these populists, and a compelling argument for the pro-growth and hence poverty-reducing reforms in India in 1991 and the additional reforms now in store under the Modi government. The rich proponents of populism can, but the poor cannot, live on populist slogans.

On both counts, he faced stinging attacks. In a letter to, Christopher Ruane writes that this is 

a tyrant's charter. To suggest that rich countries ought to underwrite such schemes purely because of their economic success is a form of socialist myopia.

Another letter writer Krishnamachar Sreenivasan, Distinguished Professor of Information Technology, Central Institute of Technology, Kokrajhar, Assam, couches his critique in gentler terms. 

Jagdish Bhagawati, whom I admire, has committed an error (rare for him) by viewing a complex refugee problem in black and white terms. Refugees, wet and hungry and barely reaching the shores, are not looking for cashier checks but a warm blanket and a cup of hot tea.

Of course, Professor Bhagwati is no stranger to tough positions, but there's no denying the renowned economist has been picking up many fights. After openly supporting Prime Minister Narendra Modi — also via a letter to the Economist — Bhagwati famously took on economist Amartya Sen on the growth-versus-development debate. He downplayed religious tensions in India. More recently, his protégé economist Arvind Panagriya — vice-chairman of the NITI Aayog — has been in the news for not having much of role in the new Modi government.

What's behind all the anger, Bhagwati Sa'ab? 

Earlier, the late Vinod Mehta suggested Bhagwati was upset about not getting the Nobel Prize, while another economist of Indian origin Amartya Sen has received one.

"Although Bhagwati lobbies for it ferociously and although he considers himself to be a better economist than Sen, the folks who matter refuse to consider his petition. For this reason, Bhagwati and Sen avoid getting into the elevator together...

Finally, can I make a request to the judges in Stockholm? Please give Jagdish Bhagwati the Nobel prize and put him out of his misery. Without it, he is making a big nuisance of himself."

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POSTED BY Landing Lights ON Jun 26, 2015 AT 21:38 IST, Edited At: Jun 26, 2015 21:38 IST
POSTED BY Outlook Web Desk ON Jun 25, 2015 AT 23:46 IST ,  Edited At: Jun 25, 2015 23:46 IST

Reputed photojournalist P. Anil Kumar, a regular contributor to Outlook and various other publications, has been awarded by the Telangana government for outstanding achievements in his field.

The government felicitated him with a memento and a cash award of Rs 10,116 on the occasion of the first anniversary of the state's formation.

Apart from Outlook, Kumar's photos have been covered by more than 25 overseas news agencies and media houses including AP, AFP, Reuters and New York Times. National agencies like PTI and publications such as Hindustan Times, Times of India, ABP Group and Malayalam Manorama Group have also featured his work.

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POSTED BY Outlook Web Desk ON Jun 25, 2015 AT 23:46 IST, Edited At: Jun 25, 2015 23:46 IST
POSTED BY Freya Dasgupta ON Jun 23, 2015 AT 21:14 IST ,  Edited At: Jun 23, 2015 21:14 IST

What if stuff written in a book almost two decades back came to haunt the present? What if a house which was the centre-stage of action in a work of fiction became a witness to mysterious occurences twenty years later? Except this time as fact, which more often than not is stranger than fiction.

Shading his eyes, he threw a glance diagonally across at number three Robinson Street. He caught a brief gliumpse of a large, old-fashioned colonial mansion, within high walls and surrounded by ornamental palms. He noticed that the front of the house was covered with bamboo scaffolding and that the driveway was littered with piles of bricks and cement....

All he could see of the mansion was the high wall, plastered with handbills and painted slogans; the brilliance of the surrounding lights seemed to have deepended the shadows around the compound. Going over to the steel gates, he sae that they were fastened by a heavy chain. He banged on the gates, just in case there was a watchman inside to let him in. There was no answer. Stepping back, Murugan looked up at the mansion's looming sillouhette; it was much more imposing close up than he had expected. 

Suddenly there was a power cut and the light went out, all the way down the street. There followed an instant of absolute stillness; everything seemed to go quiet, except the chirruping of the cicadas in the nearby trees and the trumpeting of conches in the far distance. In that instant Murugan heard the soft bell-like ringing of metallic cymbals, somewhere within the mansion. He looked up, at the shuttered windows above, and saw a flikering, orange rectange materialize in the darkness.

Amitav Ghosh's The Calcutta Chromosome was published in 1995. Loosely based on the life and times of Sir Ronald Ross, the Nobel Prize-winning scientist who achieved a breakthrough in malaria research in 1898, the novel revolves around Antar who discovers the battered I.D. card of a long-lost acquaintance — L. Murugan — a man obsessed with the medical history of malaria and of course, Ronald Ross.

The framework of the novel is entirely factual even though the events are fictional and Ghosh draws upon Ronal Ross' Memoirs which were published in 1923. 

According to the book, Sir Ronald Ross stayed at House no 3 on Robinson Street

Cut to 2015.

A report in the Firstpost:

On 11 June, the Kolkata Police arrived at the doorstep of a house in Central Kolkata as locals alerted them about thick smoke emanating from one of the windows. They weren't exactly prepared for what they stumbled upon after they broke into the house.

The charred body of a 77-year-old man was found inside one of the bathrooms in the house. A fully-clothed skeleton of a woman was found in one of the bedrooms. Two bags full of bones - of dogs - were also found in one of the rooms. The only living person, a man in his mid-40s was also found in the house.

Address? House no 3, Robinson Street. The same house where Ghosh's Ronald Ross lived. 

If this hasn't spooked you out a little, here is something else.

In 2011, a Ghosh fan went in search of the Ronald Ross trail and even blogged about it:

Luckily the first lane that we went into was called, what else but Robinson Street. We hurriedly went on to find number 3, the house Ross lived in. Number 3 really existed, though it was now someone else’s house. Some Dey is the present owner of the house.

(Research courtesy: Deborshi Barat)

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POSTED BY Freya Dasgupta ON Jun 23, 2015 AT 21:14 IST, Edited At: Jun 23, 2015 21:14 IST
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