August 03, 2020
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The Subcontinental Menu

What does the world's first robotic citizen Sophia want to conquer? If you smell a rat in your neighbo­urhood, who ya gonna call? Read all the juicy gossip here...

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The Subcontinental Menu
Illustration by Sajith Kumar
The Subcontinental Menu

Loss Of Heaven’s Mandate

Makaibari tea is well known as a premier brand; when PM Narendra Modi visited Queen Elizabeth  in 2016, he presented her with a packet. And its proprietor, “Rajah” Swaraj Kumar Banerjee, is just as much an icon in his own right. But he is now preparing to ride off into the sunset on one of his beloved horses. He’d already sold much of his stake in the company to the Luxmi Group in 2013, and now he’s announced his intention to give them the rest. He took the decision in the wake of a fire that ravaged his bungalow, located within the 1,600-acre garden. As he said, “Everything was lost. I had a samurai sword valued at $2 million (Rs 13 crore) among many artefacts and memorabilia. Perhaps, the incident was a signal from the heavens that I had to go.”

Priestess Of The Unknown Shore

The sounds of Rabindrasangeet resonate in the background, while bride and groom chant English hymns—and the priestess solemnises the marriage, wrapping up the whole thing in an hour. Sound unfamiliar? Such wedding ceremonies are often conducted for inter-religious, inter-caste and inter-ethnic couples by Nandini Bhowmik, Calcutta’s first Hindu priestess.  A Sanskrit professor at Jadavpur University, Bhowmik takes time out from her other commitments, which include involvement with several drama troupes, to serve in this role. She has officiated at about 40 weddings over the past decade, including that of her own daughter. Notably, her ceremonies do not inc­­l­­ude the Kanyadaan ritual, as she considers it regressive.  She said that she does not face any conflict with traditional priests, and donates most of her earnings to an orphanage.

Sophia’s Choice

Artificial Intelligence has revealed its plans to ascend to the top. Sophia, the world’s first robotic citizen, was speaking to an audience in Kathmandu during an event organised by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), when she expressed a desire to be the first non-human to conquer Mount Everest. Having been recruited by the UNDP as its first ‘innovation champion’ to promote sustainable dev­elopment in the Asia-Pacific region, she is also reported to have said, “Machines and robots are here to make life easier. With the help of the int­ernet, we can connect remote parts of the country to the rest of the world and deliver quality education and other services.” Sophia, who once famously picked Shahrukh Khan as her favourite actor, has come a long way since her joke about wanting to kill the human race.


The Great Exterminator

If you smell a rat in your neighbo­urhood, who ya gonna call? Well, one particular contractor with sup­­er­human abilities may be a good bet.  Called in to exterminate the 3.2-lakh-strong rat population of Mah­­­­arashtra’s Mantralaya—secretariat—in Mumbai, he finished the job in a week. This was an impressive feat and, as BJP leader Eknath Khadse pointed out, “if the contractor is to be believed, he killed 45,628 rats in a day, or 31 rats per minute.” In comparison, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation killed 6 lakh rats across the city in 2015 and 2016. Khadse told reporters that “the contractor was paid Rs 1.5 for every rat.” The governm­ent had been concerned about rats chewing thr­­­­­­ough files and cables and decided on the step. It’s apparently worked like a charm!

Gudatipally’s Would-Be Husbands

Soon to be underwater due to an upcoming res­ervoir, Gudatipally village in Telangana’s Siddipet district is already flooded—with a deluge of bachelors. The young men are struggling to find brides because, when asked by the girls’ families, they cannot satisfactorily explain where they would live after marriage. The village, with a population of about 4,000, will be submerged by the Gouravelli reservoir project (to be completed this December). One young farmer said that although his father has five acres of land, his parents have been trying to find him a bride for a year, with the talks always breaking down when the question of post-nuptial residence comes up.  The village has seen only six weddings in the past two years.

A First Anchorwoman

The news has gone viral on Pakistan’s social media and is being hailed as a milestone: the country has its first transgender news anc­hor. Marvia Malik, 21, a journa­lism graduate from Punjab University, is working as a trainee anchor at the Lahore-based Kohenoor News channel. Malik was pleased with the attention, but felt more needed to be done to improve the lot of the community. “I want to show the country that we are more than objects of ridicule...that we are also human,” she said. The Pakistani Senate recently passed a bill to protect the 10,000-strong community’s rights.

A Juicy Flutter In Bangla

Thousands looked on as two men held down another in Dhaka and slit his throat—a video of the deed was shared over 10,000 times on social media. The ‘dead’ man’s brother got a phone call, saying the body was in Chittagong.  A search turned up nothing, but police soon arrested a film make-up artist; it turned out that the latter had been hired by the ‘victim’, Adel Shikder, to help him fake his death to escape a betting debt—he’d bet and lost 150,000 taka (Rs 1,16,387) on Bangladesh winning the Nidahas Trophy final against India. The ‘blood’ in the video had been tom­ato juice. Shikhder was apprehended in Faridpur district the following day.

Recipe For Unrest

With just two months left for the term of the Pakistan National Assembly, speculations are rife about parliamentary polls in the country being postponed indefinitely.

Though Pakistan has a history of long spells of military rule, the last two democratic transitions, from one elected government to another, were smooth. This had raised hope that the country was on the democratic track. However, whether the practice of the last two terms will be repea­ted this year is a question doing the rounds.

Much of the speculation has been generated from the current political situation in Pakistan.

The uncertainty began last year with the ouster of Pakistan Muslim League (N) leader Nawaz Sharif from the prime min­i­­ster’s post on corruption charges. Indications suggest that the Supreme Court’s final ruling, due in months, may convict Sharif, preventing him from contesting the elections.

If Sharif is convicted while PML (N) is at the Centre, it would lead to chaos. If Musharraf is put on trial, the army will not like it.

“Cynicism abounds with the gathering storm on the country’s political horizon,” says political commentator Zahid Hussain in the English daily Dawn. Reflecting the prevailing mood, Hussain writes, “While the so-called Bajwa doctrine has provided fresh impetus to the perennial doubters,

other factors too have contribu­ted to this climate of political uncertainty.” He cites the judicial overdrive and the National Acc­o­u­ntability Bureau’s blitz against politicians and bureaucrats have also fuelled conspiracy theories. “It is an extremely unpredictable situation and no one seems to be in charge,” he adds.

If the SC ruling against Sharif comes while his party is still heading the government, it can lead to chaos. Many feel the verdict may come under a non-party interim administration.

According to Hussain, since the military has promised full backing to the judiciary, and all state institutions are bound by the Constitution to get the court order implemented; the highly restive political situation is not ideal.

“It will be hard for any government to deal with a court ruling against the Sharifs on the eve of the general elections,” adds Hussain. Added to this volatile mix is the court’s decision asking former army chief Pervez Musharraf to return to face trial on sedition charges.

It will not be easy for the military leadership in Pakistan to watch its former chief tried for treason. Musharraf

ended his self-exile and returned to the country in 2013 on the assurance of the then military leadership. Can the generals now ignore that deal? Uncertainty surely is casting its long shadow over the impending elections.

Illustrations by Sajith Kumar

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