August 15, 2020
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The Subcontinental Menu

From the hip-hop kids of Karachi who address social issues to astronomers of Sri Lanka who have discovered two new exoplanets, read this and much more in The Subcontinental Menu.

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The Subcontinental Menu
Illustration by Saahil
The Subcontinental Menu

When Rifles Fail To Report

For the all the gun-toting cops and goons, Bihar, infamous for crime, happens to be the safest place to play Russian roulette. At the funeral of Jagannath Mishra, the former chief minister of Bihar, 21 policemen cocked their rifles and got ready to give a booming salute. Spine erect, muscles tense and head raised, they placed a careful finger on the trigger and let loose—only to release a resounding silence. A senior officer hurriedly intervened and checked the arms, but he was as ineffective in getting the guns blazing. The Opposition, expectedly, is going all guns out against the ruling parties and accusing them of “complete failure” of gunmint (oops, government).

Separated At AIIMS

Four years ago, Jaga and Balia shared not just parents, but also their heads. They were born with a rare condition known as craniopagus, which occurs amongst only 2.5 per cent of conjoined twins. Two years ago, a team of 30 doctors performed an unprecedented operation in AIIMS, Delhi, to separate the twins joined at their heads. It was conducted in two stages two months apart; the first lasted 25 hours. Two years later, the doctors have finally discharged them from the hospital and they returned home to Odisha. The surgery and their survival is a marvel—50 per cent of such twins are not born alive, while 25 per cent die within 24 hours of birth.

The Lankan Exoplanets

While India has been riding high on the Chandrayaan, astronomers in Sri Lanka have discovered two new exoplanets, that is, planets outside our solar system. A team of scientists, led by 28-year-old Mahesh Herath of the Arthur C. Clarke Institute for Modern Technologies, pored through data collected by the NASA Kepler/K2 mission spacecraft. It took Herath and his team 30,000 datasets and eight months to discover the two planets. Only 4,000 exoplanets have been discovered so far. Considering that’s less than 0.5 per cent of the available information, many more of them are lurking in the depths.

Chasing Elephants, On The Rocks

In North Bengal, seeing a pink elephant is commonplace—especially for those high on whiskey or rokshi. Intoxicated people chasing elephants are responsible for 36 per cent of the deaths caused by the ­animals, says a study in Plos One, a science journal. Lest it conjures scenarios of high folks trying to play pin the tail with wild elephants, the authors have specified that many of them were trying to stop the jumbos from destroying their fields and homes. The other deaths were a ­result of encounters while going home in the dark (20 per cent), collecting firewood (7 per cent) and defecating in the open (8 per cent). Between 2006 and 2016, 476 people died in elephant attacks in the ­region—home to 1.8 per cent of India’s jumbo population, but it records 12 per cent of deaths by elephants.

Hip-Hop Kids Of Karachi

Her brother doesn’t allow her to step out of the house, but that hasn’t stopped Eva B, the singer’s stage name, from becoming a rap sensation. She is one of the many hip-hop artistes to emerge from Lyari, one of Karachi’s grittiest neighourhoods infamous for violence and poverty. However, unlike a lot of rap music in Pakistan, their songs are not about hot chicks and fancy cars; they address social issues and describe life in their deprived neighbourhood. Even clerics, usually disdainful of music, approve of it. “It is far better than drugs or booze. Music is helping them stay away from such things,” says Jameel Ahmed, who runs a madrasa in Lyari.

Ram Rahim, The Gardener

Gurmeet Ram ­Rahim Singh is a many of many talents: saint, ­musician, actor and assumer of names (His Excellency Hazoor Maharaj Saint Dr is his preferred prefix). The Love Char­ger ­singer, serving a prison term for rape, has added ­another rhinestone to his much-studded turban—gardening. He has been growing potato, tomato and bottle gourd in jail, earning him Rs 18,000, which is not a patch on the crores his Dera made (or makes). His saintly ways have impressed prison authorities. “Gurmeet has not shown any VIP attitude or asked for extra favours. He keeps his head low, hands folded and greets people,” vouched an official.

Doggone Brain Meddling

Humans have systematically altered the brains of dogs through selective breeding for favoured behavioural traits over hundreds of years, say a Harvard University study. Most modern breeds were dev­e­loped in an intentional, goal-driven manner relatively recently in evolutionary time and brain sizes do not scale commensurately to a dog’s build. A Chihuahua (about a kg) and a Great Dane have similar-size brains. We reckon parallel research on humans (the worker bees) may reveal similar traits.

Not Finnished Yet

Afro hair seems to be back with a bang, not only as a style statement but also as a political one.

A number of black Finns are taking on racism by deliberately flaunting their Afro hair in public. Interestingly, this has come at a time when there is a marked increase in the support base of right-wing parties in Finland and other parts of Europe in the wake of a raging debate over immigration from Africa and West Asia.

According to Statistics Finland more than 50,000 people with African background live in the country, which has a population of 5.5 million. The BBC interviewed Michaela Moua, a girl born to a Finnish mother and Ivorian father and one of the five Afro-Finns behind Finland’s only annual event dedicated to Afro style, the Good Hair Day.

“You don’t see us in Finnish society. We’re a visible but invisible minority,” she was quoted as saying.

In a Finland where race-­related violence is common, the Good Hair Day is an attempt to seize the debate on immigration by Afro-Finns.

The hair event, created to celebrate Afro hair, was born four years back. But it has started getting more noticed now ­because the questions of immigration and diverse ethnicity in Finnish society have also started getting prominence in the political narrative. Moua says the event, which consists of workshops and panel discussions, was born out of necessity.

“We wanted to create an event that not only celebrated Afro hair but was also educational and offered advice on how to take care of Afro hair, especially for mixed race families,” she says.

But she was quick to point out that although the event is about hair, the issue combs deeper.

Beauty standards prioritise Western beauty ideals and being brown or having Afro hair is not seen as beautiful in Finland. “A lot of us were born here but regardless, society tells us we are not Finnish. Who gets to be Finnish and what does being Finnish mean?” asks Moua.

Since its independence in 1917, Finland has been a trendsetter in many fields and consistently scores well on areas like stability, freedom, public safety and social progress. But it also has the highest rates of race-related harassment and violence in the EU.

“We don’t want to be objects. We are creating our narrative now and with projects like the Good Hair Day we are creating a safe space to talk about our experiences, to talk about our hair and offer advice and support to one another. It’s empowering. We are here to uplift our community,” says Moua.

Illustrations by Saahil; Text curated by Alka Gupta

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