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How horribly wrong can experiments in science go?

The Kashmir Monitor




By Priyadarshi Basu

It has always been a central tendency of the human condition to strive for progress. Along the way, mistakes happen, with innumerable such instances in history. Hope being another admirable human trait, we tend to pick up the pieces and move on. But what happens if things go so horribly wrong that the future inexorably descends into abysmal, seemingly endless dystopia?

This is the primary tenet of a lot of speculative literature and science fiction novels, starting from George Orwell’s 1949 classic 1984, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, and even the modern day Suzanne Collins classic, The Hunger Games.


Rajat Chaudhuri’s new dystopian novel The Butterfly Effect deals with yet another set of human experiments gone wrong. In that sense, several characteristics and tropes of dystopian fiction are evident here. This is of course a common occurrence in the evolution of this genre. For example it, is difficult to imagine whether The Hunger Games, published in 2008, would have existed without Stephen King’s The Running Man (1982). But Chaudhuri’s unique and imaginative story structure sets it apart.

The Butterfly Effect has a nested structure where both the first and last sections are titled “Captain Old and the Living Dead of the Darkland”, the second and penultimate sections are titled “P.I. Kar’s Korean Adventure”, and so on. Even so, it initially feels like reading disjointed independent stories in the first few sections of the book. That the stories narrated in these sections take place in different timelines and geographical locations pronounces this effect. Chaudhuri’s virtuosity stands out when he later weaves these tales together and we are treated to the artistry of a creative storyteller.

Another striking aspect of this novel is the horrifying believability of the story. But plausibility has its pitfalls. When Ray Bradbury published Fahrenheit 451, which presents a society that burns books and clamps down on intellectual thought, the book itself was banned for promoting “questionable themes”. The truth in it was too close to reality for comfort.

As disjointed as the first few sections are, Chaudhuri heightens the effect by changing his narrative style in each. The first of the “stories” is about a futuristic dystopian world called Darkland, policed by dysfunctional genetically-modified humans and ruled by an authoritarian dictator. This section is painted bleakly, dispassionately and sometimes violently, which must be how the characters themselves feel. Here is a railway station scene where a retired policeman-cum-hired assassin has arrived to receive a mystery visitor:

“The decrepit mass of humanity stirred, gathered their sagging energies and plodded along to the edge of the platform. Behind them they left forgotten bags and walking sticks, empty IV pouches and puddles of poop which Old carefully avoided as a Canadian engine hauling twenty-six rusty coaches chugged into the station. And the world was engulfed by smoke belching from the chimney, which gurgled out of the skylights and the clerestory windows of the centuries old station building, escaping into the moonless night, like black thoughts bubbling out of the ears of a maniac. Who would have guessed that carbonophilic steam desire would be resurrected to patch together a banjaxed population?”

In the next part of the book, where Chaudhuri introduces us to detective Kar and his assistant, in present day Calcutta, the authorial tone and concerns become quintessentially Calcuttan and the scenes warmer, probably reflecting Chaudhuri’s love for the colourful and chaotic old city. This is happening in a bar:

“The patrons got more drunk with each passing minute and a jockey sitting at the next table began to warn everyone about the dangers of betting on horses. ‘This guy, he owned three Mercs man and now you see him, begging near the Indian museum,’ he went over and over again. His friend, an elderly musician, tried to tone him down saying that the world was not interested to know about the pitfalls of gambling while another man at that table began to lament about the deteriorating quality of modern Bengali songs and how the music of yesteryears could make one cry. This last one began to hum a tune.”

When the detective arrives in Korea and travels to the mountains in a later section, the writing becomes poetic and tender, as if Chaudhuri himself regrets the impending doom that is often foreshadowed here. This is also one of the most captivating sections of the book:

“The grass was a fiery green. He caressed it with his hands. The stalks were cold from the night rain and looking closer he noticed little pink flowers peeping out of the wet earth. Somehow they reminded him of the red blooms of blood on the icy mountain pass that Miss Park had mentioned.

As he kept looking at the little flowers, he was enveloped by a pleasant perfume. The flowers were growing bigger, the stalks grew taller, the petals spread out wide, the scent was thicker now, stronger.”

From quite early on in this novel, we get the feeling that the character of detective Kar, who gets an assignment to find a group of lost Indian tourists in Korea, is closest to the author. However there are equally important characters like the geneticist Tanmoy Sen and the enigmatic internet parlour hostess Jiyoo Park in Seoul. That Kar is close to the author’s heart is also evident from the fact that Chaudhuri has imported him from his previous novel Hotel Calcutta, where Kar has his own story, and made him a protagonist in this one.

Sen, however, is the pivotal character in The Butterfly Effect – by my reading the novel is built around him, though there could be many alternate readings of this magic box of narratives. The sections developing Sen’s character, whose quest, so to speak, is for a Holy Grail of genetic engineering, are closely interlinked, while the mood oscillates between self-doubt and hyperactivity, reflecting his inner conflicts.

Perhaps the mood switches also reflect the fact that the narrative here travels from India to England, and between Calcutta and London, both Victorian metropolises, but quite different in character and temperament. There is a Victorian flavour to the London scenes, like one taking place in an old gin-palace, and there are also descriptions which bring Edgar Allan Poe to mind.

“The violinist was smoking a briar. The acrid smell of tobacco had filled the lounge room right up to its crumbling ceiling and with each drag the fire of his pipe glowed even brighter, like the beating heart of an animal wide awake in the abyss of night.”

Chaudhuri’s focus on genetic engineering in the novel is backed by detailed research. An environmental activist himself, the author has taken pains to understand the biotechnological aspects required for the generation of genetically modified organisms. As a scientist, I have to say that his understanding of how modern genetics laboratories and equipments function is authentic. The gene transfer, manipulation and editing technologies described in the book are already a reality. How human beings use these technologies is for the future to reveal, but Chaudhuri’s implicit warning through the vehicle of a novel is to be deeply pondered upon.

One peculiarity of the book is a studied withholding of romantic possibilities and storylines. There are instances where romantic connections begin to manifest themselves, especially between the character named Ujaan and a Korean woman, but the author seems reluctant to venture deeper. It seems this is a conscious choice.

Perhaps the author is so intent on making his point that he felt romance would be a distraction, but given that love is universally a signature of hope, it might have given the reader a modicum of respite from the gathering gloom of Darkland. Yet, this gloom and darkness compel us to wonder what the future will be like.

(The writer a geneticist by profession and an avid reader of fantasy and science fiction. Source:

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Brazen statements on job shortage

The Kashmir Monitor



By Mihir Swarup Sharma

Back when Narendra Modi was just a candidate for the post of Prime Minister, he seemed to understand what India’s biggest problem was: jobs. He promised tens of millions of jobs would be created if he were voted to power – India’s unemployed young people would be transformed, he promised, into an army for development.

Four years later, this promise has turned into a weapon for the opposition. His predecessor, Manmohan Singh, pointed out last year that young Indians were “desperately waiting for the jobs that they were promised.”


The Modi government’s response has been typical: not harder work, not economic reform, but bluster. Two recent statements from senior ministers who should know better stand out. Piyush Goyal said that the large number of people who are lining up for jobs in the Railways that he oversees – over 15 million applied recently for a minuscule number of vacancies – did not in any way mean that there is a shortage of jobs in India. And Human Resources Minister Prakash Javadekar, whose job is indeed to prepare the Indian workforce for employment, has insisted that each and every sector in India has witnessed job opportunities. “We have to find out why people with post-graduate degrees apply for sweeper jobs in the government,” he said.

Well, minister, the answer is staring us all in the face: that there simply aren’t enough high-quality jobs available. Yes, even low-skilled government jobs provide security; but in a growing economy, the private sector should also be creating enough and better-paid jobs in such a way that security would be rendered irrelevant.

The fact is that when millions of Indians turn up for jobs that they are manifestly overqualified for, it cannot be seen as anything other than a failure of economic management on a massive scale.

There was not even the slightest remorse expressed by the ministers for whatever combination of circumstances may have arisen in the economy to cause this sort of desperation on the part of job-seekers. Nor was there an iota of compassion for these young job-seekers or a comprehension of the lack of choices they face.

Mr Javadekar even said that “people who do not work out of choice cannot be called unemployed”. Is it possible that Modi Sarkar imagines that everyone without employment prefers to watch things on their Jio phone rather than earn a living? It is impossible to overstate how out of touch that sentiment is. Even in the best case scenario, which is that the minister was referring only to the worrying decrease in the labour participation rate of women – fewer women in India are working, while in the test of the world more women worked as development progressed – it still reveals an inability to understand the real problems faced by job-seekers. If women are not going out to work, it is not out of “choice”. It is because neither law and order nor their social relations in their community have allowed them to do so. Is this not something a government should be concerned about – if, that is, it values half of India? Or should it just dismiss the crushing of womens’ aspirations as “their choice”?

The ministers complained that there was not enough data to prove that jobs were not being created. This seems to undercut various other claims made by government apologists that jobs are indeed being created – on the basis of the pension records kept by the provident funds, for example. Many economists have poked clear holes in this theory. At best, that reveals that under pressure from demonetization and the GST, some jobs are coming into the formal sector – but it does not reveal whether or not jobs are being created overall. While it is amusing to discover that not even the Modi government ministers believe its own propagandists, the politicians’ statements are still important. Their complaint about the lack of official data is shared by many.

Yet data is scarce, of course, for a very specific reason: the survey of unemployment in the country, conducted by the Labour Bureau every year from 2010 to 2016, was discontinued by the Union Labour Ministry – in a strange coincidence, the Survey showed sharp job losses after the National Democratic Alliance government came to power in 2014. So when the ministers – and earlier the Prime Minister himself – complain that there is no data on employment, what they should instead explain is why the government chose to stop collecting data on employment.

The reason, of course, is that this government does not want the release of any data that would reveal the true state of the economy. The manipulation of the backseries of GDP data revealed exactly how desperate it is to whitewash its unusually poor record.

The Modi government seems to believe that voters are comically stupid. That they will not only believe that jobs are being created, but also that mobs of people applying for a few government jobs is a sign of how many other jobs there are. That they will also believe that a lack of data that the government has itself organised can be replaced by earnest assurances from the Prime Minister and his Cabinet that large numbers of jobs have indeed been created.

The most reliable independent source for jobs data are the reports from the Centre for Monitoring the Indian Economy, or CMIE. Their latest report, issued earlier this month, indicated that 11 million jobs had been lost in 2018. Think about that – 11 million jobs were lost, not created. This comes at a time when most economists believe that we need to create between 6 and 12 million jobs a year just to keep pace with the number of people entering the job market. Nor were previous years better – demonetization in particular wreaked havoc, costing millions of jobs.

There is little doubt, therefore, that Modi has failed to keep the promises that he made before being elected. The question is whether he will be held accountable for those promises. Perhaps if the Prime Minister or his colleagues had been open about their failures and accepted that they understood where they had gone wrong and how more jobs could be created going forward, they might have been able to retain some credibility. Instead, they have chosen to deny that a problem even exists and to pretend instead that the promises have been fulfilled. This is brazen even by the standards of Indian politics.

There are good reasons for greater urgency. India’s window to create high-quality manufacturing jobs – the sort that helped countries like China move up the income ladder – is closing. More and more processes are being automated, and the scope for mass manufacturing that takes in lower-skilled workers and gives them solid secure employment is narrowing. But the World Bank has insisted in a recent report that there is still enough time. Given its vast numbers of young people, it is India that should be benefiting from these last decades in which manufacturing will matter. But instead the government has failed to undertake genuine economic reform, relying instead on adulatory press handouts and ministerial statements – managing the headlines and not the economy, as Arun Shourie put it. India’s young people, lining up in their lakhs in the hope even of a job as a government sweeper, deserve better than this callous indifference to their fate.

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Is Rahul Gandhi emerging as a reliable brand?

The Kashmir Monitor



By Shuchi Bansal

The Congress’s recent victories in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh have put the spotlight on its president Rahul Gandhi.

While an earlier column spoke of brand Modi and whether he has lost some of its sheen, little has been said on Rahul Gandhi and if he, as a brand, has come of age. Or whether, despite his party’s recent wins, it is too early to think of him as a dependable brand.


Interestingly, the resurgence of the Congress and that of Rahul Gandhi in particular seems to represent an almost textbook example of a challenger brand.
The Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) unexpected poor performance is also perhaps a classic case of what a market leader should avoid—complacence, overconfidence and petty-mindedness being on top of the list.

“While it’s true that Rahul Gandhi has a long way to go before he can match the perceived stature and the personal popularity of Narendra Modi, he has certainly been able to narrow the gap between them. I would say this is an outcome of some of his bold initiatives helped to a great extent by the missteps of the latter,” says Samit Sinha, managing partner, Alchemist Brand Consulting.

Dheeraj Sinha, managing director (India) and chief strategy officer (Asia) at Leo Burnett, agreed that Rahul Gandhi has emerged as a viable challenger with the recent wins in the Assembly elections.

However, he argues that challengers don’t win the game in India, leaders do. “Will Rahul be able to position himself as a viable leader of the country is the question. Just being a challenger won’t make it happen for the Congress,” he says.

Advertising veteran Sandeep Goyal who has done his doctorate in human brands, says that a challenger brand is defined by a mindset. It has ambitions larger than its conventional pool of resources and is prepared to do something bold. The most common narrative associated with the challenger brand is that of the underdog.

However, challenger brands are today more often focused on “what” they are challenging rather than “who” they are challenging.

“Rahul Gandhi is, therefore, by definition, truly a challenger brand. The important thing that everyone seems to be missing out on is that he is cleverly not really challenging Mr Modi but challenging incumbency, unfulfilled promises, growth agenda, and the performance of the current government, ‘mistakes’ like demonetization and GST (goods and service tax). In politics, these are really the ‘category drivers’. Rahul is also focusing on disenchantment/ unhappiness with jobs/economy, which is really challenging the ‘user experience’ with the current government,” says Goyal.

Sinha feels that Rahul’s underdog image helps him. He began his political career as a fumbling novice, which earned him the Pappu sobriquet.

“It’s because not much was expected of him is why his stock goes up every time he exceeds expectations, even for accomplishments that are less than extraordinary. On the other hand, his rival suffers a huge disadvantage for having set unrealistically high expectations, and whatever be his achievements, they are bound to fall short of the promise. This has no doubt negatively impacted both his credibility as well as popularity, which has helped Rahul Gandhi seize the narrative. When one starts at the bottom, the only way is up. The converse is equally true,” points out Sinha.

Brand Rahul seems to be gaining some traction. “His speeches have improved both in form and content. He is more consistent, more combative.

The hesitant, reluctant brand Rahul of yore is slowly but surely transforming into an astute leader who has pedigree and lineage,” feels Goyal.

Of course, none of this guarantees a defeat for the BJP, or a victory for the Congress, in this year’s general elections. Goyal says that as of now, brand Modi is stronger and better resourced, but beginning to fray at the edges.

Also, a bit hurt, if not bruised. In 2014, brand Modi epitomized “hope” and “progress.”

“In 2019, he cannot stand for Hindutva or Ram Temple or The Cow. That would be a big mistake. In 2014, brand Rahul was untested and nascent. In 2019, he is portraying himself as progressive, secular, empathetic and pedigreed… Both brands have their own appeal,” he says.

As Leo Burnett’s Sinha says, leadership brands need to appeal to the whole market.

Will brand Rahul be able to cover this distance from being a challenger brand to the leader brand in the next few months remains to be seen.

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Your waste: someone’s taste

The Kashmir Monitor



By Zeeshan Rasool Khan,

While we every other day listen to boastful claims that the country India is developing fast. It has become very difficult for most of us to accept the brute reality that here the people die because of hunger. Yes, death due to starvation is the unthinkable, reality of India. According to sources, about 14.9% of the Indian population is undernourished. Half of the world’s hungry live in India. Thousands are those who do not know if the next meal would be availed or not. Reports say, everyday 20 crore people have to hit the sack with an empty tummy. In the year 2018, many cases of hunger-death were reported in India. This bitter truth is being cloaked with bragging. Global Hunger Index 2018, which has placed India at a 103rd place out of 119 qualifying countries, is a testimony to this fact that India is not what media shows i.e., all is not well within the nation with respect to common masses. Howbeit, it is not any matter of berating the nation. There is no question of cutting anyone to size in connection with this issue. Instead, it demands serious contemplation from everyone irrespective of our positions in society.

One of the root causes of hunger is poverty that has been challenging to every developing country and India is no exception. Despite the reports of GHI, which says, the poverty level has reduced by 0.9 % since 2011 we must accept that our efforts have been too meagre to achieve any feat in this direction. Let us accept we have failed in defeating poverty. But, that does not mean we will rest on our laurels and let poverty-stricken die. If we cannot eradicate the gigantic issue of poverty but we have immense potential to secure poor. If we cannot build palaces for indigents, however, we can provide them shelter to hide at least. If we cannot raise their standard of living but there is no doubt that, we can mitigate their problems. Likewise, if we cannot provide them with sumptuous food, at least we can make sure that they will not sleep hungry, die due to hunger and starvation.


There is no dearth of food. Credible reports suggest that India produces sufficient food to feed its population. However, access to the available food is lacking. And this inaccessibility is partly due to low income of people and mostly due to our behaviour of wasting food. It has been estimated that nearly one-third of the food produced in the world for human consumption is wasted every year. This wastage starts from processing continues up to packing, supply management, and consumption.Due to imperfect packaging methods and inefficient supplying system, a considerable amount of food is lost. According to one estimate, about 40 percent of fruits and vegetables and 30 percent of cereals are wasted and do not reach the consumers because of improper packaging and supplying techniques. Prevalent ways of processing and subsequent supplying of paddy and other grains result into wastage of a part of it. Common Fruit growers know it better, while packaging, what quantity of fruits is wasted. Fully ripened fruit is often discarded as ‘rotten’ because of apprehensions about its transportation. Same is the case with vegetables and other foodstuffs.

These squandered grains, discarded fruit and vegetables make a large part of wasted food. Imagine if these grains, ripe fruit, and vegetable reach any poor, how great it would be. At the consumption stage, significant levels of food wastage occur. The gluttony, most people are indulged in is itself a form of wastage. Some people eat like a horse without thinking about health risks that overeating leads to. They keep on inviting ailments rather than getting any benefit but never cogitate, how by exercising moderation in eating we can help others. The excessive food that we take can easily become a morsel for a destitute.

Our weddings, events, restaurants, hostels, and houses are a major source of food wastage. At weddings, a huge amount of food is wasted. A large amount of food including multiple dishes are served, which results in leftovers that finally finds a place in trash bins. It would have been far better to have control mechanism at our weddings for prevention of food-wastage. However, even in absence of a mechanism, we can play a significant role in reducing wastage of food by best use of leftovers. Leftovers from weddings and even from our homes, restaurants, hostels, and hotels are often thrown away. But there is an option for us to make better use of it. We can recycle leftovers. We can make many other dishes from it, which can be used for the next meal. Massimo Botturra of Italy – the world’s best chef has come up with this innovative idea. He has founded the association namely ‘Food for Soul’ with the motive to fight food waste. He uses surplus food /leftovers productively to tackle food wastage and nourish poorest people of the city. Most of Hoteliers and restaurateur, across the world particularly India, have followed suit that is a good sign. Others, who are not aware of this idea, should imitate the same .So that more and more necessitous are benefited. In fact, using leftovers to feed the poor living in our vicinity would be one of the finest uses of leftovers. By this way the uneaten edibles from our homes, restaurants, etc. can fill the bellies of many and eliminate their hunger.

Efforts are on throughout India and fortunately, in our state too, to reach out the hunger struck population. No doubt, some NGO’s are working to utilize extra cooked food and give it to needier. But, the challenge is big and efforts are small. Broad-gauge efforts are required that must be started from the individual level. While processing, packaging, supplying, and consuming, utmost care needs to be taken to check the frittering. Through this mindfulness, we can preserve lot of food and can make it available to the poor. In addition, if everyone would refrain from wasting food and take care of penurious people of respective communities, we can ensure food availability for a maximum number of deprived people.

It is worth to mention, feeding hungry cannot obliterate hunger as it is related to several problems. However, we cannot deny the fact that hunger itself is the root of various other troubles. Hunger deprives a person from growth. It increases the vulnerability of a person to a myriad of complications, which can have an adverse impact on social, behavioural, emotional, and physical health of a person. Satisfying one’s hunger can make him eligible to earn livelihood otherwise his destiny is elimination. So, we must think logically to gain the best of both worlds.

(The writer can be reached at: [email protected])

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