July 05, 2020
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The Subcontinental Menu

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The Subcontinental Menu
Illustration by Saahil
The Subcontinental Menu

Unlikely Friends

Pakistan has an unlikely ally in the deep south of India—the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, or DMK—in its perception war over Kashmir. When the DMK announced its August 22 protest in Delhi demanding release of J&K leaders, Pakistan’s foreign ministry tweeted that India’s major Opposition party with the third highest number of MPs was opposing the scrapping of Article 370. As DMK’s rivals heckled the party, its president M.K. Stalin decided to skip the protest at Jantar Mantar. Instead, he asked parliamentarian T.R. Baalu to do the honours. Stalin wanted to keep away from the media in Delhi, which would have questioned him on the arrest of P. Chidambaram. The DMK has displayed a muted opposition to the action against the former FM.

The Blue Whale Challenge Winner

It was no simple jigsaw puzzle. Blue whales have 356 bones and can be as large as 100 feet—even Usain Bolt would take 10 seconds to dart from the creature’s head to toe. But none of this deterred Kumpatla Balaji, who was besotted with recreating the skeletal structure of the largest animal on earth using bone fragments washed ashore. It took him two months to put together a 32-foot skeleton using remains of several whales found on the Machilipatnam coast in Andhra Pradesh. He used plaster of Paris to mould the missing bones and screws to join them together. The artefact has been on display at the Coringa Marine Museum in Rajamahendravaram, where Balaji works as a research scientist.

Smart Trash in Swachh China

Finally, a facial recognition story that does not evoke the dystopia of a Black Mirror episode. Under a pilot project in Beijing, smart dustbins not only ‘recognise’ residents’ faces, they also reward those who efficiently segregate waste. People have to register on an app and sort their kitchen waste from recyclables such as paper, plastic, metals and textiles. QR-coded trash bags help authorities figure out who’s throwing what and whether it’s in the right bin. The prizes for impeccable trashy habits range from groceries such as salt and eggs to erasers and toilet rolls. However, there’s a catch—the smart bins refuse to open up and swallow waste from people they don’t recognise.

Rail Roti Test Derails Jobseekers

Imagine having crammed volumes and maintained a punishing exercise regime for years to crack written and physical exams, only to be rejected for not making rotis fast enough. That was the sorry fate of thousands of candidates applying to be cooks with the Railway Protection Force. They had to make at least two chapatis from scratch in just four minutes. The criteria were stringent—the rotis had to be a respectable size and those using more water and flour than required were eliminated. The test also stoked regional divides—candidates from the south complained that residents of the north, where wheat is the preferred cereal, had an undue advantage. With 4,000 aspirants for 35 openings, however, most of them will have to look elsewhere to earn their daily bread.

Crying Over Unspilt Curd

The floods in Kolhapur and Sangli have washed out festive spirits in Mumbai, more than 350 km away. This Janmashtami saw fewer ‘dahi handi’ events—those human pyramids contesting to break a suspended clay pot of curd that carries a cash prize. While many organisers had discontinued the event because of restrictions on sound levels, and the height of people forming the pyramids, others attributed their decision to the floods. “My brothers in Kolhapur are in distress. How can I celebrate?” lamented Ram Kadam, the BJP MLA for Ghatkopar West. A member of the Dahi Handi Samanvay Samiti was not impressed with his ­explanation: “May I point out that Ram Kadam was the lone politician to ­organise a grand dahi handi in 2009 even though a swine flu epidemic had killed many.”

The Iron Paw of Tatmadaw

“Bring the world closer together,” reads the mission statement of Facebook. In ­Myanmar, however, Facebook posts and comments are bringing dissenters closer to prison. The Myanmar Army, known as Tatmadaw, has taken inspiration from politicians in the world’s largest democracy across its border and clamped down on criticism on social ­media. Since 2016, at least 25 officers have filed defamation cases against 78 individuals who censured the military on Facebook.

Kashmir Ki Kali, In Bhojpuri

Dulhaniya Kashmir se le aaib (I will bring a bride from Kashmir). The line from O.P. Raj crooning to a jarring synth Bhojpuri melody is trending on YouTube. As is his other composition, Kashmir mein leb do ­katta zameen (I will buy land in Kashmir). Raj is among many lavishing poetic tributes on the Modi government’s move on Kashmir, with lungfuls of nationalism. Aha! Raj says he is not commenting on Kashmiri women, nor on land-grabbing, but on “building relations” between the state and the rest of India.

A Trek To Dethrone Putin

If the spiritual powers of a shaman are to be believed, President Vladimir Putin’s days in power are numbered. Alexander Gabyshev, a shaman from Sakha Repblic in ­Siberia, is walking to Moscow in an eccentric effort to banish the Russian ­president from power.

The 51-year-old left Yakutsk, capital of the vast Sakha ­Republic, on March 6 this year and is expected to reach Moscow in 2021, after travelling for about 8,000 km. If he succeeds in his endeavour to overthrow Putin, he would achieve a feat that many of the Russian president’s detractors have been unsuccessfully trying for years.

Gabyshev calls his quest divinely ordained and insists that Putin is a manifestation of dark forces which must be exorcised to save Russia from ruin, say media reports.But God has put one condition: He has to reach Moscow on foot, which should allow him to muster the strength needed for the final showdown.

Gabyshev hopes to gather companions over the course of his voyage. However, so far only his dog and a friend who is chronicling the journey are perma­nently by his side. These chronicles, which take the form of video addresses from roadside camps and short exchanges with passing drivers and long-distance truckers, have won Gabyshev a huge following in Russia.

Gabyshev calls his 4,800-km journey on foot divinely ­ordained and insists that Putin is a ­manifestation of dark forces which must be exorcised.

The vlogs have inspired bloggers and journalists to accom­pany the shaman for a few kilometres along his journey and listen to his forceful opinions on the state of the country. Hundreds of other viewers have turned up to provide Gabyshev moral and material support, occasionally offering him stay in their homes.

The shaman’s odyssey comes during tense times for Russia. In Moscow, thousands continue to protest against the electoral commission’s refusal to register independent opposition candidates for upcoming local elections. Popular anger is simmering over socio-economic and environmental issues, such as the raising of the state pension age, wildfires in Siberia and pollution in Russia’s north.

Gabyshev’s speeches may be theatrical, but they are not simply the ravings of a lunatic. Rather, they are pieces of political commentary which deeply resonate with Russians concerned about the future of their country.

Ultimately, Gabyshev may have an unlikely ally in the Russian constitution. Putin is nearing the end of a second consecutive term as president, making him ineligible to run as a candidate in the 2024 presidential election.

Illustrations by Saahil; Text Curated by G.C. Shekhar and Alka Gupta

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