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 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
POSTED BY Freya Dasgupta ON May 19, 2015 AT 21:16 IST ,  Edited At: May 19, 2015 21:16 IST

Narendra Modi has a thing for selfies, everyone knows that by now. But there is something else he is fond of, it’s almost a hobby. Modi loves coming up with the most bizarre acronyms and alliterations. Whether he is on a diplomatic mission to some foreign land or launching a scheme or addressing a rally, acronyms just pour out of him like verse from a poetic soul.

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POSTED BY Freya Dasgupta ON May 19, 2015 AT 21:16 IST, Edited At: May 19, 2015 21:16 IST
POSTED BY Freya Dasgupta ON May 07, 2015 AT 20:19 IST ,  Edited At: May 07, 2015 20:19 IST

Rabindranath Tagore would have turned 154 today. 

Much has been said and written about the poet. The Nobel Laureate himself wrote and published three autobiographical works — Jibansmriti (My Reminiscences), Chhelebela (My Boyhood Days) and Atmaparichay (Knowing Oneself). There is also a collection of letters that he wrote to his brother's daughter Indira between September 1887 and December 1895, which were put together in Indira's own hardbound exercise books in which she copied them out. A selection of these letters were revised and edited by Tagore himself before he published them as Chinnapatra in 1912. 

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POSTED BY Freya Dasgupta ON May 07, 2015 AT 20:19 IST, Edited At: May 07, 2015 20:19 IST
POSTED BY Freya Dasgupta ON Apr 09, 2015 AT 20:35 IST ,  Edited At: Apr 09, 2015 20:35 IST

Ten months into his term as Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi has graced the Indian media with his first-ever interview after taking over the country's premiership. Amidst increasing voices of disapproval over its proposed changes to the Land Acquisition Bill — which has been branded anti-poor — and concerns over his government’s lack of performance by industrialists, Modi has taken stock of his achievements of the last 10 months in this exclusive interview to Hindustan Times. 

Although the interview is in Q&A format, the questions are more like sub-heads. They are there, but they don't ask much. Both the questions and the answers seem to move towards a pre-determined goal — to highlight the PM's achievements. 

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POSTED BY Freya Dasgupta ON Apr 09, 2015 AT 20:35 IST, Edited At: Apr 09, 2015 20:35 IST
     
 
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