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Friday, October 28, 2016

Nature’s Paradise: Manas National Park!

The night vigil prolonged almost into the wee hours. We were perched on the wooden balcony of the forest bungalow hoping against hope to have a darshan of the uncrowned king of the jungle. The darkness was impenetrable and the air was still. Except for the night forest sounds and the thin cackle of the river flowing behind the bungalow there was absolute silence. We were asked to look for a pair of luminous glows coming out of the thick forest beyond into the open courtyard in front of the bungalow. We were told that the animal’s eyes burn at night and that they normally prowl around the bungalow—not for hunting, only for maybe an evening stroll. We were a little scared too if the animal tried to jump into the balcony. However, we were given assurance that the height was good enough, and the animal never becomes aggressive unless provoked dearly. Finally, we had to give up and agree with the general opinion that the animal is rarely sighted there since years.

That was a long time ago at the Mathanguri Forest Bungalow, most sought-after even now, of the Manas National Park of Assam—better known that time as Manas Tiger Reserve. It is a sad commentary that the numbers of the majestic Royal Bengal Tigers are dwindling fast in India. That time the tiger population at Manas was about 125 which decreased to around 60 at present. No doubt, the National Tiger Conservation Authority recently disapproved plans of tiger preservation in 16 states of India including Assam some time back. This puts the onus on the Assam government to thrash out more practical ways to preserve the beautiful species.

The Manas National Park consists of the core area of the sprawling Manas Project Tiger Reserve, which encompasses an area of 2,837 sq. km running into five districts of Assam. The Park has several dense reserve tropical forests and vast stretches of grasslands. The significance of Manas lies on many counts. Considered among the best national parks in the world, Manas is also a Biosphere Reserve, an Elephant Reserve, an Important Bird Area (IBA), and a World Heritage Site. It is a prime tiger habitat that had the country’s second highest concentration of the great cat till the late 1980s and is one of the earliest Tiger Reserves of the country, formed in 1973. In view of its pristine natural eco-system representing the overall biota of the region, it was elevated to a Biosphere Reserve in 1989 under the UNESCO’s Man and Biosphere Programme. It was recognized as a World Heritage Site in 1985 as a site of outstanding universal value.

The Mathanguri forest bungalow is situated just by the side of the Manas River, named after the serpent Goddess Manasa of Assam. Water of the river is crystal clear and you can see the river bed littered with stones of various sizes, shapes and colors. Sitting down on the rocky shore you can look beyond to the blue hills of Bhutan on the other side. A view of such natural purity and beauty that it leaves you glued to the spot never wanting to go back to the mundane concrete jungles ever. This nature’s paradise does not offer you much in terms of amenities in the guest houses, but it is more than compensated by the ecstasy you feel looking around and imbibing the spirit of pristine nature.

Manas National Park lies on the gentle slopes of the Himalayan foothills and is located on the north bank of River Brahmaputra. It is bounded on the north by the Royal Manas National Park in Bhutan, on the south by the populous North Kamrup district of Assam and on both east and west by buffer forest reserves which are part of the Manas Tiger Reserve. 

Among the 22 endangered mammal species found in Manas are the pigmy hog, the hispid hare and the golden langur. In fact, Manas boasts of the only viable population of the pigmy hog, the smallest and rarest wild boar, anywhere in the world. It is also the only place where you can see the big five of the Indian jungles – the tiger, the elephant, the rhino, the buffalo, and the gaur. The avian population is impressive too with nearly 500 species of birds of which ten are listed in the Schedule I of the Indian Wildlife Protection Act. For the tourists the Park provides excitements like white water rafting on the Manas river, trekking, elephant rides and arranged trips into Bhutan on the other side.

This nature’s paradise was in dire straits due to social unrest and insurgency for a decade from the late eighties. However, the vibrant and immensely diverse biosphere emerged successfully again attracting lots of tourists in the last few years. The World Heritage Site was also restored.

Manas National Park is connected by air, rail and road. The nearest airport is Guwahati and it is about 4 hour’s journey by road. By rail, Barpeta Road is the nearest railway station from where you can travel 40 km to the Park by car or bus. The best season is from October to March. If you love nature and want to be in her lap then Manas National Park is the ideal destination for you. 

(Photos by Sivasish  Thakur

Monday, October 24, 2016

Cricket ODI: Kohli-Dhoni Push Gives India 2-1 Lead in Mohali Against New Zealand!

A brilliant century, his 26th ODI ton, and an unbeaten knock of 154 by Virat Kohli steered Team India to a 7 wicket victory over New Zealand in Mohali on Sunday and a 2-1 lead in the five-match ODI series. As a much-awaited silver lining Captain Cool under pressure, MS Dhoni joined the vice-captain in the chase of 286 runs promoting himself to no.4 position in the batting order and contributing a solid 80  runs consisting of 3 sixes and 6 fours. The duo came together when India were is some spot of trouble losing both the openers at 41/2 in the 9th over and added 151 runs taking the team score to 192 in 36th over when Dhoni fell to Henry. Mohali has been a high scoring ground with the chasing team winning in the last three consecutive matches. Dhoni kept on winning the toss in this Series, and here he naturally chose the fielding option once again.

Put into bat the Kiwis started well and were in a position of strength at 153/2 in only the 29th over looking good for a total of over 300 runs which was really required to create some pressure for the might of India batting. But it was not to be. As is seen regularly in this tour of India, New Zealand again had a middle order collapse losing 6 wickets for just the addition of 46 runs at 199/8 thanks again to some inspired bowling by Amit Mishra and Jaspreet Bumarah. But for some rear-guard action by Neesham and Henry that finally took the score to 285 all out the match would’ve been a rank walkover for India. However, the Kiwis must have been aware of the fact that in the last match they made India cower with a total of only 242 runs.

If at all the visitors enjoyed any hope of creating some pressure it all went up in the air as Taylor dropped a regulation catch offered by Kohli early on when he made just 6 runs. That was unpardonable and the costliest lapse, and from that point onwards Kohli was unstoppable. With a steady Manish Pandey at the end overs, Virat Kohli saw India home in the 49th over. With two matches coming up—on 26th and 29th—the Series is still open. One question that comes to mind is that India perhaps would not be looking for a win riding on a Virat Kohli great knock every time. The other batsmen need to fire, particularly Rohit Sharma. The Indian bowlers have been doing a good job so far, but they too should learn to apply pressure when odds are hugely in their favour. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Cricket ODI: New Zealand Win Thriller, India Captain Cool Fails To Finish, And BCCI Jolted!

When your home team loses you always try to find out reasons or issues responsible for that loss and try to justify that had that being different things would have been positive. Although this is a natural reaction of the home team fans, one must take in the overall picture too. There is no denying the fact that New Zealand dished out a professional and gritty performance in the second one day international (ODI) match played in Delhi yesterday against India and won deservedly. The match was an entertainer down the wire as the narrow margin of 6 runs for the win made it abundantly clear.

On a traditionally slow Kotla pitch New Zealand, put into bat by India, did not get bogged down by the early loss of Guptil for a duck, but carried on the momentum with Skipper Kane Williamson hitting a superlative century and contributing for two major partnerships. The Kiwis looked set for a big score, but some tight bowling by Mishra and Bumrah accounted for 6 wickets for just 21 runs at the later stage. Therefore, the final target of 243 set by them seemed not too tall and was considered gettable by the batting might of India. However, spirited bowling and magnificent fielding by the visitors made it difficult for India, and losing wickets at regular intervals India folded up just 6 runs short. It showed the rather over-dependence of the home team on Ajinkya Rahane and Virat Kohli. Rohit Sharma fell cheaply again like in Dharamsala. Matured Pandiya ignited last hopes of an exciting victory, but as he got out in the penultimate over the match was sealed.

The home team fans were rather disappointed ruing the issues they thought responsible for the dramatic loss. Some thought on a traditionally slow turner India should have opted for batting after winning the toss. Then, the looming question of Captain Cool, MS Dhoni still donning the shorter format team cap. He is known to be finisher in such encounters. However, he could not do so yesterday and rather struggled to make 39 runs in as many as 65 balls. When Dhoni came into bat the situation was not that difficult with runs coming quite easily. After the match Dhoni lamented that if any batsman could have batted for few minutes more India could have won. Of course, he is also included in that. Now, rather than blaming Dhoni one must credit the Kiwis for their never-say-die attitude and professionalism. The match was a thriller and had the ups and downs all throughout providing absolute entertainment to all concerned.

New Zealand made the ODI Series level at 1-1 with three matches to go. They lost the Dharamsala match earlier, maybe not quite recovering from the Test whitewash of 3-0 dished out by the Viral Kohli led Test side. More than that, the rollicking Rahane and Kohli partnership made it very easy for India in that first ODI. New Zealand has been a very competitive side in the shorter format and despite the absence of retired Brendon McCullum the side is not weakened. We can look forward to some exciting one day encounters in the coming days. For India Suresh Raina is expected to come back in the next match. However, who will make way for him is not clear, because though Rohit is out of form he is not likely to be dropped, and Kedar Jadhav is playing quite well. Axar Patel could be the option as Raina can also bowl.

Meanwhile, the richest cricket board of the world, BCCI is made to bite the dust by the Supreme Court in regard to Lodha Panel recommendations. The characteristically arrogant Board has been trying to stall the reforms and asked for more time in the last hearing. The Supreme Court has come down heavily on their defiance and today froze all transactions between BCCI and the state cricket associations even stopping release of funds for match purposes till the Board implements the reforms recommended by Lodha Panel. The apex Court also asked Lodha Panel to appoint an independent Auditor to scrutinize BCCI accounts. 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Bollywood Is Not A Unified Whole!

Bollywood is actually a misnomer. In true subservience to Hollywood this name was coined since the Indian Film (Hindi) Industry was located in Bombay—which ceased to be so long back and Mumbai took over. Therefore, if at all, this industry should be called Mullywood! Anyway, Bollywood consists of a vast assortment of producers, directors, actors, music directors, lyricists, singers, production managers, spot boys and a huge lot of technicians in various categories ranging from cinematography to post-production labs. Basically all these people are individuals and thus all have right to their own opinions. Difference of opinions has been a celebrated hallmark of democracy—particularly in the largest democracy called India. If this democratic right of having one’s own opinion is universal why Bollywood be an exception? We cannot jump to the conclusion, as many self-motivated individuals engaged in media or politics often do, that ‘Bollywood is divided’.

That the righteous difference of opinion applies equally to Bollywood is made amply clear by the mind-boggling types of movies being churned out by this industry over the decades. Every producer or director has his/her own way of approach to filmmaking, own concepts or ideas and own intellectual types or standards. Likewise, all actors or singers or technicians have their own forms of expression that may be termed as excellent or poor. Else why would this industry make movies like ‘Pistolwali’ or ‘Hunterwali’ and also ‘Mother India’, ‘Sholay’, ‘Black’, ‘Neerja’ and so on over the decades? Grading of A or B or C for movies has been too apparent all the time. If some desperate souls still try to ‘unite’ Bollywood based on the celebrated ‘masala formula’ (an unholy but deliberate mix of entertainment ingredients) of Hindi films, they must admit now that the formula has come to a natural death quite some time back as the evolving audiences of the country saw through it. Therefore, it is almost surely established that Bollywood has difference of opinions within and this has nothing to do as the industry being ‘divisive’.

There is thus absolutely no problem if someone in Bollywood supported the continuance of Pakistan actors in Bollywood films and some opposed it, if someone even slammed the Prime Minister of the country and if some rallied with the government. The problem lies elsewhere.

There are always opportunity seekers, particularly from some sections of the media and politics sectors, waiting for every kind of expression, and thanks to social media opinions are now never private. The celebrities enjoy huge fan following and so their tweets go viral if the concerned tweets are controversial. The opportunists take full advantage of this and try manufacturing ‘mass ‘opinions’ thus contributing to the on-going tirade of labelling the whole country as ‘divisive’ ‘intolerant’ or ‘propagandist’. The currently popular term of ‘polarisation’ is also an off-shoot of this, particularly nurtured by some sections of the media not realising that in the process they are getting polarised and losing the principles of objectivity or neutrality. This ridiculous tirade to misinterpret ‘difference of opinion’ has led to even categorisation or sub-categorisations of universally accepted terms like ‘patriotism’ or ‘nationalism’. True anti-nationals are relishing this new-found chance.

When Bollywood biggie Karan Johar expresses himself, his mode of expression may well be controversial, he does so from a practically business point of view as the release of his film has been caught up in the melee. Maybe he preferred that mode of expression to avoid hounding from the opportunists. And, it is woefully wrong to label him as ‘giving in to the so-called ultra-something forces’ thanks to misinterpretation by the ever vigilant opportunists. If fact, every individual or association or company is guided by certain interests, and nobody could be so selfless as to defy one’s own interests on this planet. This ‘self-interest’ is also universal and often this also leads to ‘difference of opinion’ which is again lapped up by the waiting opportunists.

At the macro level the ‘self-interest’ leads to ‘vested interests’, and in India the sway and the clout of the vested interests can never be denied—at every level of activity and existence. In the present fluid situation it is hazardous to express one’s opinion—for or against or anything. However, for nonentities or non-celebrities there is not much fear of being labelled something. Therefore, at least at an analytical or argumentative level, this writer would like to suggest that the overwhelming power-play of the vested interests got severely affected by the change of government in 2014, and so, since then every effort has been made to hold the government responsible for anything under the sun. This is, of course, open ended and not mutually exclusive.

Coming back to our basic subject, Bollywood has only difference of opinion and the industry is not divided or ‘divisive’. If it has problems presently, these can be solved too. 

Monday, October 17, 2016

LinkedIn: Not A Forum For Political Discussion?

During the course of publishing a post on LinkedIn on current affairs concerning India I had come across quite a few reactions and comments that made me a little inquisitive. Since the post involved a kind of political behaviour rampant in India and some issues regarding international diplomacy the discussion thus ensued veered towards politics. And yes, there came comments from different members or non-members vociferating that LinkedIn was not the right forum for politics.

Now, almost all will agree that LinkedIn is not a job portal notwithstanding the fact that a lot of HRD managers and recruiters regularly use this as a place for talent hunt. More truthfully, most of the members here are already employed—looking naturally for greener pastures. There are many commentators on LinkedIn who say that not having a profile here is a cardinal sin or even suicide in today’s times—no matter if you are employed or not. Therefore it is also agreed that this networking place is crucial for all across all sectors of the economy of the world. It is also likely to be agreed upon that LinkedIn is not Facebook, because in the latter only family albums are mostly appreciated and not views or articles or links.

LinkedIn is quintessentially meant for professionals. Now, the word ‘professional’ basically comes from ‘profession’ or the type and nature of work one is doing. In that sense everybody is a professional in his or her field that may range from business/marketing to filmmaking/media/writing. There is some scope for disagreement here concerning who is rightfully considered a ‘professional’, because the modern-day usage of the term signifies people who are expert, innovative and ruthless strategists. By this definition some get unfortunately excluded leading to separate terms like Army men, Policemen, Bureaucrats, Lawyers, Doctors, Journalists, Vendors and the like. It is not right at all not to call all these people professionals. However, the moot point here is that nowhere in this networking hub you find any bar on entry of anyone practising any profession. All people ranging across all professions have thus the right of entry and to express their opinions or give inputs about their expertise on their specific fields on this forum.

You find a whole lot of groups too in LinkedIn on various subjects of interests, and experts say that formation of groups indicates higher levels of maturity among members. Groups on movies discuss even film reviews while groups on books discuss literature or highlight book releases. So it is either already there or hugely possible that a group of media personnel is also formed giving a layman’s analysis of political developments leading to a most productive discussion. Would this forum restrict such activities as not ‘right’ for the forum?

As a terrific innovation LinkedIn also offers you to write and publish your posts here and the Pulse may very well put you in a highly interactive platform, making you famous for your writings alone. Now, members of various professions would obviously write about their fields of expertise, and therefore, you must expect a wide variety in the type and nature of posts. Personally speaking, I was delighted having this platform and started writing on all fields of my interests. Of course, most of my writings on subjects like Cricket or Sports, Humor, Fiction, Movies or so on got totally ignored. Okay no problem in that, but nobody objected to such content as not being right for the forum. More interestingly, my few posts on content that involved current affairs and bits of politicking earned maximum views.

I would like to put in perspective, therefore, why politics is being singled out and considered as anathema for LinkedIn. When one lives in one’s country one cannot ignore political developments of that country or for that matter international events too, because only we talk of the global economy. God forbid, in the event of wars or extreme tensions breaking out involving several countries all professions or professionals of those countries would be severely impacted irrespective of whether it is business/marketing or anything else.

As an afterthought, there is no disclaimer or anything of that sort on the website of LinkedIn discouraging or barring entry of politicians into its fold! 

Friday, October 14, 2016

Test Cricket: Skipper Virat Kohli Hopes For India!

Virat Kohli recently made it clear that he should never be compared with legendary Sachin Tendulkar, but it must be said that after Tendulkar he seems to be the main Indian contender to make or break records. In 48 Tests so far Virat hit 13 centuries including a double ton and 12 half centuries having a batting average of above 45. In 2012 Virat was made vice-captain of the Indian test team and since then he had been in the reckoning for the skipper’s post consistently with one of the most outstanding Indian skippers Mahendra Singh Dhoni having both cricketing and non-cricketing ups and downs.

However, Virat Kohli’s entry as India’s Test captain was quite dramatic. First, he was named captain for the Adelaide match against Australia in December, 2014 as Dhoni pulled out due to an injury. He made two centuries in the two innings in that match and nearly pulled in off in favor of India.  Virat showed his positive frame of mind by going for an outright win instead of laboring for a draw. He became the fourth Indian to make a ton on test debut as captain. His second innings century was hailed by Australian commentators as the finest fourth innings performance ever witnessed by them. After the two losses in the series came the dramatic twist—MS Dhoni retired suddenly as Test captain and left his team in the lurch down under.

Virat Kohli was then formally announced as Indian Test skipper from the Sydney test in January, 2015. He hit 147 in the first innings of that match and became the first batsman in Test cricket to hit three centuries in his first three innings as test captain. The Sydney test ended in a draw.

In his less than two years tenure as Captain Virat Kohli won 10 out of 17 test matches played so far having the best winning rate as compared to other Indian captains. Although this is far too short a period for that it may still hold a lot of promise for future considering his performances, strategy and aggression. He had two away series—in Sri Lanka and in West Indies and two domestic series—against South Africa and New Zealand and, a one-off Test against Bangladesh that ended in a draw. India under his leadership broke the jinx of never winning a Test Series in Sri Lanka by winning 2-1 in 2015 and this year won 2-0 against the West Indies. In his two domestic series India beat South Africa 3-0 with one match drawn in 2015 and whitewashed New Zealand 3-0 this year. In the recently concluded Test series against New Zealand Kohli also became the first Indian skipper to hit a double ton in the third and final Test in Indore. However, his string of domestic Test victories has been marred by the controversy of providing tailor-made spinning tracks to the host team.  On his series win against New Zealand Virat dismissed the controversy by defending his spinners, R Ashwin and R Jadeja, as two of the best spinners of the world who utilized the conditions much more than the opposition.

The acid tests for Virat Kohli as skipper would be the away Test series, particularly in Australia, England and South Africa, in near future. However, with his extraordinary batting prowess, his strategically positive leadership and all the cricketing years left in him Virat Kohli may well usher India into a new era of winning more and losing less matches in the years to come. The unique record of his big individual scores almost always translating into wins for his team could also augur well for Team India.  

Thursday, October 6, 2016

India: Something’s Not Right!

When you log in to your Gmail account and it is not working properly then Google promptly tells you ‘Something’s not right’! It keeps on popping up till order is restored. I think Google should consider adding this tag to ‘India’ whenever any reference is made to this country! However ruefully, you must admit such a necessity particularly after what you’ve witnessed recently over the most successful Surgical Strikes executed by India on Pakistan.  

I thought at least the anti-terror sentiment was universal, but not in this country. For some people of this country terrorists are also human beings and therefore their ‘human rights’ are of paramount importance. These same people don’t utter a word about ‘human rights’ when soldiers and cops are slaughtered brutally, but in case of all kinds of criminals they become extremely vocal. They consider doing or saying anything under the sun as their ‘democratic right’. There have been so many instances in recent times in India when such people openly supported terrorists just by way of trying to assert their democratic right. Great thing about India is that such condemnable acts are being tolerated. And, these are the people who condemn our society or country as intolerant. This peace-loving land called India tries to keep on the peace & dialogue track despite all odds and even at the cost of being labelled as ‘soft’, particularly in view of ceaseless ceasefire violations and killings of Indian soldiers by Pakistan. When evidently Pakistan sponsored terrorists killed 19 soldiers at Uri in Jammu and Kashmir, India said enough was enough and acted tough which was completely unexpected for our neighbouring country.

Like they did earlier in Myanmar, India, with the Indian Army, executed the tremendously effective Surgical Strikes in Pakistan occupied Kashmir on the wee hours of 29th September, 2016, eliminating around 40 terrorists preparing to infiltrate into India along with a few Pak army personnel. The sheer unexpectedness of the act almost paralyzed Pakistan, unable even to give a reaction initially. However, as is usual, they got into their time-tested ‘denial mode’ and dismissed it as just another skirmish, a violation by India this time, across the Line of Control. It was not at all difficult to guess the turmoil in their mind—how could India do it! And, how desperate they possibly were to get the video of the Indian strategic strike!

And then, our terror-friendly great ‘democratic’ leaders got into the act of helping out Pakistan. They asked the Indian Government to prove the Surgical Strike! They asked the Government to make the Surgical Strike video public! Any layman would know that such videos should never get released in public obviously for strategic internal security and defence reasons. One political leader went to the extent of calling it a fake! Who are they actually—terrorists in disguise or plain simple traitors or political strategists of the lowest order?  What right they have to discredit the sentinels on our border and the brave soldiers who fight relentlessly, defying increment weather, only to protect our country and us? What India failed to do over the decades this government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi finally achieved it through strategically fool-proof planning with the Army, and therefore, along with the brave soldiers the ruling government has to get some of the credit. Are these political leaders, just because they are in opposition, so naive as not to understand this simple fact? They should also have the knowledge of distinguishing a weak government from a strong government.

Positively speaking, even after this ridiculous aftermath of the Surgical Strike the Indian Government is going strongly ahead to isolate Pakistan and neutralising their terrorists constantly trying to infiltrate and do brutal attacks on Indian soil. Yes, if something’s not right then it should be set ‘right’ pretty soon. The menace of terror emanating mostly from Pakistan should be eradicated completely, only then the common people of both India and Pakistan will feel safe. More surgical strikes should be planned and executed till the last terrorist is neutralised. Further, when something’s not right between two countries nobody should ever expect normal things to go on as if nothing’s the matter. Terror must be rooted out, come what may, come what some people would say. A strong government can always accomplish that. Jai Hind! 
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