A Life Less Ordinary

Many of us wonder what the Army does in peacetime when there is no war on. Some people believe that they live a life of luxury, drink a lot and generally waste their time in playing golf or card games or hunting. This is far from the truth. As you know our army is deployed all along the Himalayan borders with China, and along the LoC in J&K. Most of these borders are inhospitable, uncongenial in climate, lacking in normal facilities. Even drinking water is not available in some areas. 

The army formations not deployed on the borders have been busy combating insurgencies in J&K and the Northeast. It is evident that only a small portion of the army gets a chance to stay in a peacetime cantonment, that too for short periods.

This chapter deals with army activities in fields and peace areas, to enable the reader to fully visualize the lifestyle of our solider and officers and their daily activities in peace and field stations.

Life in a Peacetime Location

A military station is called a Cantonment. Here a number of units are billeted in peacetime. A cantonment is a separate township under a cantonment board which is like a town committee or municipal board. It has some elected civilian members and others nominated by the station HQ. The cantonment board runs all the civic services like a municipal board. Most cantonments have normal bazaars and civil population like any small town or locality. The rules and regulations in a cantonment are however strictly enforced. Therefore, you generally find good roads and greater cleanliness in a cantonment as compared to other civil localities. A number of units are located in a cantonment depending upon the availability of accommodation. These units are generally grouped under a brigade or a sub-area (Static HQ). The station HQ is responsible for general administration, allotment of houses and barracks along with allied facilities.A unit, i.e. a battalion or a regiment, stays together in what is known as unit lines. These lines generally have a group of living barracks for troops, playground, armoury for weapons and unit office buildings. The JCOs’ and NCOs’ clubs and Jawans’ langars (community dining rooms) are also located here along with the unit canteen, recreation room, unit clothing stores, transport park and light vehicle repair sections etc. Barbers, washermen and safaiwalas (sweepers), carpenters, blacksmiths etc. posted to a unit also stay here. The family lines of a unit are located nearby where jawans can stay with their families for limited periods. The officers’ messes and living quarters are located slightly away from the unit lines. Married officers live in small bungalows allotted to them in the cantonment area. Bachelors are allotted single rooms near the officers’ messes.

There is no restriction in going in and out of a cantonment area for civilians but they cannot enter a unit line without prior permission from the authorities.

A Normal Working Day

In a peacetime cantonment the normal day of a jawan starts before sunrise. Once the Reveille bugle is sounded, jawans ‘fall in’ (assemble in rank and file) in sports kit. By now every jawan has shaved and washed and is ready for physical training (PT). His platoon commander –a JCO, normally inspects him to make sure that he is properly shaved and well turned out. He inspects his dress to ensure that it is clean and well ironed. Now the jawans are moved ‘on the double’ (running) or marched off briskly to the unit parade or PT ground. In this assembly the whole unit is together. Here the JCOs and then the officers join the parade. The PT, which is the first parade, involves vigorous exercise and running. After the PT, every one disperses for breakfast and assembles for various other training, parades or tasks after an hour’s break. Weapons training, firing, driving training and education classes, as applicable, are carried out till about 12’o clock. At this hour jawans are marched off to clean their weapons and return the weapons and equipment. After this, jawans proceed to the langars for lunch. Officers and JCOs now go to attend the office or administrative work as required.

 








INDIAN CULTURE

India is a diverse country, a fact that is visibly prominent in its people, culture and climate. From the eternal snows of the Himalayas to the cultivated peninsula of far South, from the deserts of the West to the humid deltas of the East, from the dry heat and cold of the Central Plateau to the cool forest foothills, Indian lifestyles clearly glorify the geography. The food, clothing and habits of an Indian differ in accordance to the place of origin.

The Indian culture varies like its vast geography. People speak in different languages, dress differently, follow different religions, eat different food but are of the same temperament. So whether it is a joyous occasion or a moment of grief, people participate whole-heartedly, feeling the happiness or pain. A festival or a celebration is never constrained to a family or a home. The whole community or neighbourhood is involved in bringing liveliness to an occasion. Likewise, an Indian wedding is a celebration of union, not only of the bride and groom, but also of two families, maybe cultures or religion too! Similarly, in times of sorrow, neighbours and friends play an important part in easing out the grief.

The global image of India is that of an upcoming and progressive nation. True, India has leaped many boundaries in all sectors- commerce, technology and development etc in the recent past, yet she has not neglected her other creative genius. Wondering what it is? Well, it the alternative science that has been continuously practiced in India since times immemorial. Ayurveda, is a distinct form of medicine made purely of herbs and natural weeds, that can cure any ailment of the world. Ayurveda has also been mentioned in the Ancient Indian epics like Ramayana. Even today, when the western concept of medicine has reached its zenith, there are people looking for alternative methods of treatment for its multifarious qualities.

With increasing complexities in one’s lives these days, people are perpetually looking for a medium through which they get some peace of mind. This is where another science, that of meditation and spirituality comes into the scene. Meditation and Yoga are synonymous with India and Indian spirituality. Meditation is one of the most important components of Yoga, which is a mind-body therapy involving a series of exercises. The word ‘meditation’ covers many disparate practices from visualizing situations, focusing on objects or images, thinking through a complex idea, or even getting lost in a provocative book, all qualifying as meditation in the broad sense. However in Yoga, meditation generally refers to the more formal practice of focusing the mind and observing oneself in the moment. Many people from India and abroad are resorting to yoga and meditation to de-stress and rejuvenate their mind.

Another widely followed phenomena in India is the Doctrine of Karma that preaches that every person should behave justly as every act or deed comes back in full circle in one of the births of an individual.

A very important aspect of India in the recent past is the emergence of the New Age woman. Women in India are predominantly homemakers, though this perspective is changing. In many places, especially metros and other cities, women are the bread earners of the house or are at par with their male counterparts. The increase in the cost of living/economy has also contributed to the rise in this aspect.

The beauty of the Indian people lies in their spirit of tolerance, give-and-take and a composition of cultures that can be compared to a garden of flowers of various colours and shades of which, while maintaining their own entity, lend harmony and beauty to the garden – India!

Things to Know About Korea

KOREAN CULTURE has survived for 5,000 years, despite the best efforts by hostile neighbors to stomp it out. If you know and respect Korean culture you will get much more out of your time in Korea.

1. Kimchi is culture

Kimchi is sliced cabbage, fermented with red chili sauce and anchovy paste. It is pungent, spicy, and sour. Koreans love it and eat it with every meal — usually on the side -– though they also use it as an ingredient in countless other dishes.

Kimchi is symbolic of Korean culture: it’s strong, distinctive, and defiant. Some foreigners can’t stomach it, but if you can, you will earn the locals’ heartfelt respect. It’s definitely one of the top food experiences you need to have in South Korea.

2. Shoes off

When entering a Korean home, you must remove your shoes. To do any less is a sign of great disrespect.

Koreans have a special relationship with their floor, on which they sit and often sleep. A dirty floor is intolerable in a Korean home, and they view Westerners as backward savages for remaining shod in our living rooms.

3. Soju

Korea is a drinking culture, and their national booze is soju, a clear, vodka-like drink.

Soju is drunk out of shot glasses, and like all liquor in Korea, it’s always served with food. Koreans drink in boisterous groups, regularly clinking glasses, while shouting geonbae! (cheers) and one shot-uh!

At night, you will see men coming out of norae bang (karaoke rooms) and staggering through the streets, laughing, singing and arguing. Just be sure to avoid the puddles of reddish-vomit often left behind, which are also known as kimchi flowers.

Koreans have strict drinking etiquette: never pour your own drink, and when pouring for someone older than you, put one hand to your heart or your pouring arm as a sign of respect.

4. Rice

Like the Japanese, the Koreans eat rice with almost every meal. It’s so ingrained in their culture that one of their most common greetings is Bap meogeosseoyo?, or ‘Have you eaten rice?’

Unlike the Japanese, Koreans usually eat their rice with a spoon, and they never raise the rice bowl off of the table towards their mouths.

Also, chopsticks must never be left sticking out of the rice bowl, as this resembles the way rice is offered to the dead.

5. Do not smile

Koreans are a warm and generous people, but you would never know it from the sourpusses they paste on in public.

Sometimes, the chaotic streets of the peninsula resemble a sea of scowls, with everyone literally putting their most stern faces forward. This is NOT true of the children however, who will invariably grin and laugh while shouting “Hello! Hello!”

6. Beware of elbows

Korea is a crowded country. It’s a cluster of stony mountains with only a few valleys and plains on which to build.

The result is a lot of people in small spaces, and folks will not think twice about pushing and jostling in order to get onto a bus, into an elevator, or to those perfect onions at the market.

Don’t even bother with “excuse me,” and beware of the older women, known as ajumma. They’re deadly.

7. Protests

South Koreans fought hard to achieve the democratic society they now enjoy, and are among the top in the world when it comes to exercising their right to protest.

Dissent is alive and well. Koreans protest with frequency and they protest with fervor –- on all sides of the political spectrum.

Protesters employ a variety of methods, from the violent (angry students regularly attack riot police with huge metal rods), to the absurd (cutting off fingers, throwing animal dung, covering themselves in bees).

8. Hiking

As Korea is mountainous, it should come as no surprise that hiking is the national pastime.

Even the most crowded of cities have mountains that offer a relative haven from the kinetic madness of the streets below.

Koreans are at their best on the mountain. They smile and greet you and will often insist on sharing their food and drink. Make sure to stop at a mountain hut restaurant for pajeon (fritter) and dong dong ju (rice wine).

9. Bow-wow

Yes, some Koreans do eat dog meat, despite some sporadic attempts by the government to shut down the boshingtang (dog meat soup) restaurants, in order to improve the country’s “international image.”

Dog meat is mainly consumed during the summer and by men, who claim that it does wonders for stamina.

10. Nationalism

Koreans are an extremely proud people, and sometimes this pride transforms into white-hot nationalism.

You see this nationalism displayed at sporting events, where thousands of Korean fans cheer their national teams on in unison, banging on drums and waving massive flags.

This nationalism especially comes to a boil whenever Japan is mentioned, as Japan has invaded them several times, and occupied Korea as a colony for almost the first half of the 20th century, decimating the country’s resources and conscripting thousands of their women as sex slaves.

INDIAN CUISINES

Although it is common for Indian restaurants to present dishes as part of a uniform, nationalized cuisine, in actuality, the food of India is as regionally specific and diverse as its population. These cuisines are heavily influenced by India’s history, conquerors, trade partners, and the religious and cultural practices of its populace. A little background on the commonalities and differences between India’s regional cuisines can turn your next Indian meal into an exhilarating, and deeply gratifying, adventure.

Common Culinary Threads in Indian Cuisine

Although Indian cuisine is highly regionally specific, there are certain common threads that unite the different culinary practices. Indian cuisine throughout the nation is highly dependent on curries, which are gravy-like sauce or stew-like dishes with meat, vegetables, or cheese, although the particular spice mixtures, degree of liquidity, and ingredients are determined by regional preference. Indian cuisine in general is also very dependent on rice, although Southern Indian regions use rice more heavily than other areas. All regional cuisines are reliant on “pulses” or legumes. Indian cuisine uses perhaps a greater variety of pulses than any other world cuisine: red lentils (masoor), Bengal gram (chana), pigeon peas or yellow gram (toor), black gram (urad), and green gram (mung) are used whole, split, or ground into flour in a diverse number of Indian dishes. Dal, or split or whole legumes, add creaminess to dishes that don’t use dairy, and protein to vegetarian diets.

Perhaps the most defining characteristic of Indian cuisine is its diverse use of spices. Indian spice mixes often use upwards of five different spices, sometimes combining 10 or more. Chili pepper, black mustard seed, cumin, tumeric, fenugreek, ginger, garlic, cardamom, cloves, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, saffron, rose petal essence, and asafoetida powder ( a spice that has an overly strong scent when raw but imparts a delightful flavor akin to sautéed onions and garlic when cooked) are all used frequently in various combinations. Garam masala is a popular spice mix, cardamom, cinnamon, and clove, with the additional spices varying according to region and personal recipe. Mint, coriander, and fenugreek leaves offer their pungent, herby flavors to dishes throughout India.

Outside Influences: Conquest and Trade

The cultural impact of trade is evident in the India’s cuisine, with specific regions and dishes bearing the mark of foreign influence. India’s spices were highly coveted by Arab and European traders; in exchange, India received many goods that greatly influenced its culinary tradition. Portuguese traders brought New World imports like tomatoes, potatoes, and chilies, which have become deeply integrated into Indian dishes. Arab traders brought coffee and asafoetida powder.

India’s periods of conquest have also greatly shaped the development of its cuisines. Mughal conquerors, who occupied India between the early 1500s and late 1600s, infused India’s culinary tradition with Persian flavors and practices. The effect is notable in the use of cream and butter in sauces, the presence of meat and nuts in dishes, and specifically in dishes like biryanis, samosas, and pulaos, which draw heavily on Persian cuisine.

Although British control of India introduced soup and tea to the country, it had little impact on its cuisine. The colonial absorption of Indian cuisine into British culture, however, has deeply affected the translation of Indian food abroad. Chicken Tikka Masala, a popular dish on many Indian menus, is in fact an Anglo-Indian creation and is commonly known as “Britain’s true national dish.” Even Western concepts of Indian “curry”-the term is applied to a multitude of gravy and stew-like dishes-are derived from British interpretation of Indian cuisine. Curry powder is also a British creation: a blend of Indian spices that were originally paired together by colonial cooks.

India: Diverse Population, Diverse Gastronomy

India’s population is highly diverse, with cultural identities heavily influenced by religious and regional particularities. Ayurvedic teachings, emphasizing equilibrium between mind, body, and spirit, have exerted an influence over Indian cuisine in general, dictating ingredient pairings and cooking practices. While this philosophy is a common influence throughout Indian cuisine, the ways in which Ayurvedic food rules are applied differ according to religion and regional culture. Approximately one-third of India’s population is vegetarian, dictated by their Hindu, Jain, or Buddhist faiths. Consequently, a significant portion of India’s dishes throughout the country are without meat. Additionally, religious beliefs affect other dietary restrictions that shape India’s cuisine: Hindu followers abstain from beef, because cattle are sacred in this faith, while Muslims believe pork to be unclean and never eat it. Depending on the dominant religious beliefs of a region, the cuisine in a particular area may omit certain ingredients to comply with religious law.

Northern Indian Cuisine:

Perhaps the most prevalent culinary style found outside of India, Northern Indian cuisine reflects a strong Mughal influence. It is characterized by a high use of dairy: milk, paneer (an Indian mild cheese), ghee (clarified butter), and yogurt are all used regularly in Northern dishes. Samosas, fried pastries stuffed with potatoes and occasionally meat, are a distinctive Northern snack. Clay ovens known as tandoors are popular in the North, giving dishes like Tandoori Chicken and Naan bread their distinctive charcoal flavor. A significant number of Northern dishes make regular appearances on Indian menus. Dal or Paneer Makhani are popular vegetarian dishes, consisting of dal or paneer cooked in a creamy sauce of tomatoes, onions, mango powder, and garam masala. Saag Paneer and Palak Paneer are two similar dishes made with spinach, cream, and paneer, differing slightly in consistency and spices. Korma, another menu staple from Northern India, is a creamy curry of coconut milk or yogurt, cumin, coriander, and small amounts of cashews or almonds. It can be served with different meats, usually chicken or lamb, but sometimes beef, as well as with paneer for a vegetarian dish.

Western Indian Cuisine:

Western Indian cuisine is distinguished by the geographic and historical particulars of its three main regions: Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Goa. Maharashtra’s coastal location is responsible for its fish and coconut milk-dominant cuisine. Gujarati cuisine is mostly vegetarian and has an underlying sweetness to many of its dishes due to Chinese influence. Since the dry climate of this region produces smaller vegetables, this region is well known for its chutneys, which are popular Indian condiments that use cooked, fresh, or pickled vegetables and fruits with sweet, sour, or spicy flavors. Goa acted as a major trade port and colony for Portugal, resulting in a distinctive and unique blend of Indian and Portuguese culinary elements. Goan cuisine uses pork and beef with greater frequency than other regional cuisines in India. Vinegar is also a characteristic ingredient of Goan cuisine, another result of Portuguese influence. The prevalence of coconut milk, coconut paste, and fish in Goan cuisine results from its coastal location. Vindaloo is a traditional Goan dish that is an Indian restaurant mainstay, its name deriving from Vinho de Alho, a Portuguese marinade consisting primarily of garlic, wine, vinegar, and chilies.

Eastern Indian Cuisine:

Eastern Indian cuisine is primarily known for its desserts. These desserts are not only favored by other regions in India, but are frequently found at Indian restaurants, their light sweetness making an excellent finale to a meal. Rasgulla is a popular sweet treat consisting of semolina and cheese curd (chenna) balls that are boiled in a light sugar syrup. Eastern dishes favor mustard seeds, poppy seeds, and mustard oil, giving dishes a light pungency. Rice and fish also feature prominently in Eastern cuisine. Overall, Eastern dishes are more lightly spiced than those from other regions.

Southern Indian Cuisine:

Southern Indian cuisine is not typically found on many Indian restaurant menus and differs greatly from other regions. Its “curries” contrast differently in their textures and can typically be categorized according to the drier consistency, or those favoring a more soupy or stew-like presentation. Poriyals, dry curries consisting of a variety of vegetables and spices, accompany rice dishes. Sambars, rasams, and kootus, three common stew-like dishes, each differ in their primary ingredients and degrees of liquidity. Sambars are essentially tamarind flavored pea and vegetable stews that are more watery than curries from other regions, but are thicker than rasams. Rasams are more similar to soups in their consistency, and are composed primarily of tomato, tamarind, and a myriad of spices. Kootus are more similar to curries found in other regions, but, rather than being creamy like the dairy-based curries of the North, kootus get their consistency from boiled lentils.

Aside from curry-style dishes, Southern Indian cuisine is known for its tasty fried or griddle-cooked snacks. Dosas consist of a large crepe-like rice pancake that is usually filled with vegetables, chutneys, or masala curries. Utthapams are similar to dosas, but are thicker with the “filling” sprinkled on top like a pizza. Idlis and vadas are fried delicacies similar to savory doughnuts that are served as accompaniments to sambars and rasams. Apart from restaurants that specifically serve Southern Indian cuisine, the only South Indian food that is frequently found in Indian restaurants are pappadams, a fried crispy rice cracker usually spiced with black peppercorns.

COVID-19

Faced with an ongoing lack of protective equipment and testing supplies, medical professionals have been seeking alternatives to accurately diagnose cases of COVID-19, a pandemic that has caused more than 11 million cases and more than 530,000 deaths worldwide. Supplies of nasopharyngeal swabs were some of the first testing materials to run low in mid-March, prompting a pivot to nasal swabs. More recently, saliva-based testing has come forward as an attractive, low-cost alternative.

The first spit tests are already being sold to consumers, with more poised to apply for emergency use authorization from the US Food and Drug Administration soon. While saliva can be a crude sample for diagnosing disease using traditional PCR, it pairs well with a cheap PCR alternative known as loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP), previously used to detect outbreaks of Zika and Ebola in resource-poor countries. Propelled by a global pandemic, researchers in the US and the UK are now modifying LAMP and assessing its utility as a diagnostic tool for COVID-19.

“By diversifying the possible choice of assay, you diversify the supply chain as well,” says Robert Meagher, a chemical engineer at the Sandia National Laboratories who develops tools for diagnosing emerging diseases. Making additional testing options available to healthcare workers will help mitigate backlogs if one reagent or material runs low. 

Saliva-based testing also offers an improvement over the standard nasopharyngeal swab because people can collect their own samples with minimal discomfort—simply spit into a sterile tube and mail it to a lab for processing. And due to an emergency use authorization given to Rutgers University in May, some tests can now be carried out by patients in their own homes, allowing personnel and protective equipment to be saved for when they are most needed. Andrew Brooks, the director of technology development at RUCDR Infinite Biologics, the Rutgers-affiliated biorepository that developed the test, says the use of in-home testing “completely mitigates the risk of contracting the disease while you’re getting a test,” and requires only gloves. 

Several companies are selling Rutgers’s kits directly to consumers through online orders, although all tests must be sent back to its lab in New Jersey for processing. Positive results are reported to local health officials, and individuals are advised on how to respond.

Universities and clinicians alike are now planning to incorporate saliva-based sampling into their workflow for diagnosing COVID-19. The UK government recently partnered with the molecular diagnostics company Optigene to develop a pilot study involving more than 14,000 people to test the efficacy of its saliva test. In the US, the University of Chicago will use spit tests to clear patients prior to elective surgeries in its hospital for the next several years, Evgeny Izumchenko, a UChicago oncologist who helped develop the university’s test, tells The Scientist.

In another screening application, University of Illinois chemist Martin Burke laid out plans to use a new test designed by himself and colleagues on more than 50,000 students as they return to campus in the fall. “We imagine this will be just part of their orientation,” Burke said during a webinar on June 16. “So you get your housing information, your dining card, your ID card, and you also submit your saliva sample.” 

Despite the ease of sampling, saliva is not without its challenges. For PCR, the virus’s RNA must first be reverse transcribed into DNA, and saliva contains enzymes that chew up nucleic acids and inhibitors that interfere with the DNA amplification process used to detect the virus. As a result, saliva must often be purified before the DNA can be amplified. “It’s kind of a dogma . . . that you have to start with absolutely pure DNA or RNA,” Meagher says.

LAMP in the spotlight

While quantitative reverse transcription PCR remains the most-used method to diagnose COVID-19 regardless of how the sample is collected, many of the bottlenecks in the pipeline stem from the high cost and low scalability of the approach, says Meagher. A single benchtop thermal cycler, the machine that controls the temperature changes during the PCR, typically costs around $25,000 and can usually only run between 96 and 384 samples at a time.

To address these challenges, a team of researchers at Columbia University recently modified a LAMP protocol used by their fertility clinic to identify abnormalities in chromosome numbers in human embryos. Rather than count chromosomes, the tool now detects the presence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in saliva in as little as half an hour, changing the color of the sample from red to yellow when the virus is present.The team’s new test is one of several using LAMP. Unlike PCR, which creates new copies of DNA through cyclical temperature changes, LAMP reactions take place at a consistent 63°C, eliminating the need for complex machinery. The chemicals used in the reaction are also more robust against the enzymes and inhibitors in saliva, doing away with the need to purify each sample.LAMP has traditionally been deployed in resource poor countries because it requires less power and equipment than PCR. But under the current pandemic, the whole world has become somewhat resource limited, and Meagher stresses that LAMP can be just as useful in diagnosing emerging diseases in first-world nations such as the US.

‘Oxford of the East’

India’s first Prime Minister, the late Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, gave Pune the sobriquet of ‘Oxford of the East’ during a visit to the city in the late 1950s. So impressed was Nehru with the wide array of fine educational and research institutes in Pune that he felt compelled to give the city this label.

More than six decades later, Pune continues to live up to its rich legacy. The high quality educational institutions in Pune attract thousands of students from across India and even abroad every year.

Just to give you a sense of exactly how popular Pune is as an education destination, the current enrollment at the University of Pune, which is the mainstay of higher education in the city, stands at a whopping five lakhs students .

With 811 affiliated colleges covering more than 400 course programs in different disciplines, it has emerged as the second largest varsity in the country surpassing the much older Mumbai University.

It’s not just the University of Pune (now referred to as Savitribai Phule Pune University) that attracts students to its fold. The city has a number of other deemed varsities and private institutions of higher education that are extremely popular among Indian as well as international students.

Why Pune?

The question is ‘Why not Pune?’ Pune has everything that a prospective student would want when looking for higher education. Here are some reasons that make Pune the major student hub that it is:

1. Options galore: From undergraduate to postgraduate colleges; from research institutes to interdisciplinary centers; from language training to vocational courses – there is no dearth of educational options in the city. Pune is home to some of the leading institutions in the country that offer a whole gamut of academic options between them.  Whether you want to pursue engineering or film and television studies, whether its astrophysics you want to learn or Japanese – Pune’s topnotch educational institutions will not disappoint.

2. Affordable education: One of the unique things about higher education in India, true even more so for Pune, is its affordability. Students in Pune don’t have to worry about spending pots of money or taking out huge educational loans for their academic pursuits. What makes education in Pune more affordable is the relatively lower associated costs like boarding and lodging when compared to metros like Delhi and Mumbai.

3. Steeped in culture, yet modern: Pune has always been the cultural capital of Maharashtra. The city is steeped in tradition and has a strong connect with local music, theater, art, and literature. Yet, it has embraced modernity with open arms and has chosen to move forward with times. It has been more than receptive to global influences and provides the right mix of tradition and modernity that offers students an enriched environment to flourish.

4. Academic fervor: As established earlier on in the post, the city of Pune has always been at the forefront of education and academic research in the country. The city has an undeniable academic vibe and an educational culture that promotes open thought and debate. It’s safe to say that the educational environment in Pune is among the most conducive in the country for intellectual development of students.

5. Safety: Children in India spend a good part of their life in extremely protected environment. Making the switch from living with their family to moving to another city for higher education can be tough on both parents and their children. The fact that Pune is regarded as one of the safest cities in the country goes a long way in making the transition somewhat easier.

6. Cosmopolitan nature: In spite of being rooted in culture and tradition, Pune is unmistakably cosmopolitan in its outlook. People from different parts of the country have made the city their home and you will see a healthy mix of demographics anywhere you go. A cosmopolitan environment encourages people from outside to come to Pune for academic and professional pursuits. Such is the vibe in Pune that the city attracts more global students than anywhere else in India.

7. Facilities for students: Last, but not the least, easy access to facilities for students makes Pune the jewel in the crown of higher education in India. From accommodation specifically designed for students to student-centric eateries, from shopping malls to open spaces; from libraries to museums – Pune offers all this and more to its young population.

Top Educational Institutions in Pune

Now that we know what makes Pune the epicenter of higher education, let’s take a look at some of the city’s esteemed institutions:

1. University of Pune: Established in 1949, the varsity is home to 46 academic departments and 811 affiliated colleges. Prominent affiliated colleges include the College of Engineering, Pune, established in 1854.

2. Fergusson College: Founded in 1885 by the Deccan Education Society, FC was the first privately governed college in India.

3. Bharati Vidyapeeth University: Established in 1996, this university offers more than 250 courses and covers all major streams of education.

4. Symbiosis International University: A private co-educational, multi-institutional university with 19 academic institutions spread over 9 campuses in Pune, Nashik, and Bengaluru.

5. Indian Institute for Science Education and Research: Established in 2006 to promote excellence in research and teaching in the basic sciences.

6. National Defence Academy: Located at Khadakwasla, just outside the city, the NDA is a joint services institution for training young cadets as future officers of the Defence Services.

7. Armed Forces Medical College: Set up in 1948 in the immediate post-world war period, AFMC is responsible for training of medical undergraduates and post-graduates, dental postgraduates, nursing cadets and paramedical staff.

8. Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics: An autonomous institution set up by the University Grants Commission to promote nucleation and growth of active groups in astronomy and astrophysics in Indian universities.

9. Film and Television Institute of India:An autonomous institute set up under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting of the Government of India in 1960, FTII is India’s premier film and television institute offering post-graduate courses in film direction, editing, cinematography and audiography, acting, art direction, computer graphics and animation, feature film scriptwriting, etc.

10. Centre for Development of Advanced Computing: C-DAC operates India’s most powerful supercomputers PARAM and Padma.

Air Pollution and COVID-19

The nationwide LOCK-DOWN due to the pandemic has led to a drastic decline of NO2 emissions and reduced air pollution levels. It’s important that this is maintained even after the LOCK-DOWN lifts

In the middle of the devastating Covid-19 pandemic, an inimitable positive has been the significant global decrease in air pollution levels. Primarily, experts have measured nitrogen dioxide (NO2), one of the six major air pollutants (in addition to particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, ground-level ozone, and lead). NO2 has, like most other gases, natural and human sources.

Natural sources include lightning, oceans, and volcanoes. But, in urban regions, natural sources of NO2 account for a small fraction of the total NO2 levels; as per a 2005 report by Australia’s Department of the Environment and Heritage, natural sources of NO2 only account for 1 per cent of overall NO2 levels in cities. Human activity is almost entirely accountable for NO2 emissions in urban regions, with road transport being the chief cause. Planes, power plants and ships, all of which burn fossil fuels, are also notable human sources of NO2. Given this, it’s unsurprising that during the stringent global lock-downs, NO2 levels have dropped significantly in urban areas, especially in India’s densely populated cities.

Satellite imagery from the European Space Agency’s Copernicus Sentinel 5P satellite measure NO2 levels globally. These measurements correctly reflect emissions sources, because unlike other gases that can travel a considerable distance from where they’re emitted, NO2 has a short lifespan and dies before it can move very far. In other words, if the Sentinel 5P satellite captures a hotspot of NO2 over Delhi, it’s highly likely it was emitted from within Delhi’s vicinity. Satellite imagery is, therefore, a highly authentic tool for measuring NO2 emissions, specially if data with high levels of cloud coverage is precluded.

The global decreases in NO2 levels were first seen in China, where levels plummeted dramatically following the strict quarantine measures enforced in late January. As countries in Europe and North America followed China’s lead in late February and March, akin trends have been observed globally. India’s nationwide lockdown, in particular, has had remarkable effects on air pollution levels. With citizens quarantined at home, road transportation and power plant operations have come to a grinding halt, and pollution levels across the country, especially in typically smoggy cities, have fallen to dramatic lows.

Dramatic decrease

In Delhi’s metropolitan area, pollution levels have dropped most dramatically; NO2 levels from March 25 (the day quarantine began) to May 2 have averaged 90 µmol/m2 compared to 162 µmol/m2 from March 1 to March 24. In 2019, NO2 levels from March 25 to May 2 were also over this year’s levels, averaging 158 µmol/m2.

In Greater Mumbai and Navi Mumbai, akin trend has been observed as NO2 levels from March 25 to May 2 averaged 77 µmol/m2 compared to 117 µmol/m2 from March 1 to March 24.

In almost all other big Indian cities, similar drops in NO2 levels are evident, highlighting the national scale of India’s lockdown.

The country-wide drop in NO2 emissions during this lockdown has significant immediate consequences. Exposure to high levels of NO2 has substantial detrimental effects on human health. Short-term exposure to high levels of NO2 can result in worsened coughing, aggravation of existing respiratory diseases (asthma), and hospitalization, while longer-term exposure can lead to the development of asthma and increase one’s susceptibility to respiratory diseases.

Many researchers have hypothesized that the drop in air pollution levels may presently be saving a notable amount of lives, not only by reducing individuals’ vulnerability to Covid-19, but also by averting some of the world’s seven million annual deaths due to air pollution exposure. Yet, the dangerously high levels of NO2 in many urban areas before Covid-19 has probably resulted in far more virus deaths compared to the lives saved by this current drop in emissions. The pandemic and the subsequent decreases in air pollution levels due to the quarantine have illuminated a severe issue regarding ongoing high levels of air pollution.

Going forward

The terrifying reality is that despite human activity essentially coming to a complete standstill, current estimates suggest that carbon dioxide (CO2) levels will only decrease by roughly 5.5 per cent in 2020 compared to 2019. To put this in perspective, to meet the goal of limiting the global increase in temperature to 1.5oC, which many experts agree would stave off the worst effects of climate change, global CO2 emissions would need to decrease by 7.6 per cent each year. Similarly, air pollution and NO2 levels are expected to rise to their normal unhealthy levels when quarantines are lifted.

It’s crucial that when India’s lockdown inevitably ends, and people return to their normal routines, they aren’t forced to revert to their old behaviors. To make the current drops in air pollution levels long lasting, serious policy change needs to be passed. The reduction in road transport and the corresponding decrease in air pollution have illuminated that gas-powered cars are key drivers of air pollution. Electrifying transport, expanding public transportation, building more bike lanes, and finding other ways to incentivise people to ditch their cars would dramatically reduce India’s emissions from its primary human source of air pollution. It’s also important that these electric vehicles, and India’s cities more widely, are powered by clean sources of energy rather than fossil fuels.

It’s ironic that this devastating respiratory virus has illuminated another respiratory crisis.

‘Scotland of the East’

Situated in one of the Seven Sisters Of India (seven states), Shillong is the capital of Meghalaya state in country’s northeastern region. There are as a matter of fact numerous similarities between this place and Scotland, and this is reason why Shillong is called Scotland of the East. Moreover to prove that the naming is indeed done appropriately, here are a few points that justify it.

Though, each place has it’s own unique charm, but let’s just have some fun wondering about the similarities for the time being.

1. FIRST, the striking similarity between landscapes is actually a major reason behind the naming

Glen etive in Scottish Highlands

Shillong’s terrain is adorned with rolling and sky soaring hills bestowed with lush greenery. Most times, you can browse through pictures of both Scotland and Shillong, and you will actually get your mind baffled wondering which photograph is of which place! On a cloudy day the mist-laden pasturage look nothing less than a paradise.

2. The meandering roads amidst valleys make way for that ultimate road trip you’ve been dreaming of

Shillong Pass

The road to Mawlynnong, Cherrapunji, and the curvaceous road of the Shillong Bypass surely do allure just experienced drivers. You’d anyway rather sit at the backseat, so you can keek out of the window, let your hair flutter with the breeze, as the Himalayas unfold mesmerizing panorama before you.

3. Everyday is fun with cultural extravaganza

Culture in Shillong

The rich, colorful culture of Shillong makes it stick out. Just like the Scottish people, the tribes feel delight in presenting folk performances, and it’s fascinating to sit back and witness. You can also be a part of the act and join them as they are on it, but make sure you’re not spoiling the fun for others too. If not performances, you’ll be bewitched by handicrafts, tribal attires, and of course traditions. For a culture vulture, the perfect way to get an understanding of locals’ lifestyle is by staying in homestays.

4. The Scottish Highlands and the hills of Shillong razzle-dazzle with roaring waterfalls

Waterfall in Shillong

When you’re travelling through the valleys of Scotland and Shillong, be prepared to come upon random glistening waterfalls, especially if you’re visiting in the monsoon season.

5. The lakes of Scotland and Shillong hold stunning resemblance

Lake in Shillong

Alongside roaring waterfalls, Shillong and Scotland are embellished with lakes that are encircled with rolling hills. You can sit by for some time, or espouse this beautiful moment by boating on the lake. Keep aside any electrical device for a little while and just inhale the enticement in front of your eyes.

6. Many regions are undisturbed by heavy tourist crowd

Mist in Shillong

Even though Shillong in Meghalaya is a major tourist attraction in Northeast India, but you will come across a commendable balance when it comes to crowded attractions. There are numerous places in this place where you can pitch in your tent and connect with nature. Such is the natural beauty of this place.

7. The music festival scenario in Shillong is equally spellbinding as the Scottish one!

Music festival in Shillong

Scotland might be hosting some stunning music festivals, but believe me, Shillong will have your jaws drop too! The NH7 Weekender is a music festival which is one of India’s most awaited events. Famed artists like A.R Rahman, Steven Wilson, Farhan Akhtar and Fear Factory have performed in the festival.

We can come up with many similarities between Scotland and Shillong to justify its naming, but we believe, that the beauty of this beautiful Indian hill-station is one-of-a-kind, and that it cannot be compared with any other place in the world.

The Origin of Rajputs

Rajput, (from Sanskrit raja-putra,”son of a king”), were known for their courage, loyalty and royalty. They were the warriors who fought in battles and took care of all the governing functions. The Rajputs originated from western, eastern, northern India and a few parts of Pakistan. Rajputs enjoyed their eminence from sixth century to twelfth century. until twentieth century Rajputs ruled in trounce majority in the princely states of Rajasthan and Surashtra.

During the sixth century India was divided into caste systems which consisted of The Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and shudras. The Brahmins were known as the upper class Hindus who were only responsible for the scared works. The Kshatriyas were the warriors who fought in the battles and took care of the governing functions. The Vaishyas were the agriculturalists, landowners, traders and money-lenders and the shudras kown as the lower class Hindus who had to serve the above three castes. The Rajputs fall in the category of Kshatriyas. Throughout their rule in the northern parts of India, they built remarkable shrines, castles and forts and were great supporters of art.

The Rajputs had a widespread population, almost the entire subcontinent especially in the north, west and central India. They were found in Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Surashtra, Jammu, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar. The origin of Rajputs is a topic of argument till date. Authors, such as V.P. Malik and M.S. Naravane, consider that the period was not given to any specific community till the sixth century A.D, as there is no reference of the period in the historical records. Leaders and aristocrats from the intruders were called as Kshatriya in the Hindu caste system, though others who trailed and helped them- such as the Jats, Ahirs and Gurjars- were ranked as Shudra. At the same time, few congenital communities were regarded as Rajput. A few examples of these are the Chandels, Rathors and Bundelas. Aydogdy Kurbanov says that the integration was precisely, between the Hepthalites, Gurjars, and folks from northwestern India. Although, some researchers, such as C.V. Vaidya and Gauri Shankar Ojha did not accept these integration philosophies.

Rajputs are divided into vansh and vamsha. The vansh is further divided into Suryavanshi which means ” House of Sun”, who are descendants of Lord Ram, Chandravanshi which means “House of Moon”, descendants of Lord Krishna and lastly Agnivanshi meaning “Family of Fire God.” Under the vansh category there further subcategories which are, kul or shakh (branch), khamp or khanp (twig) and nak (twig tip). Kul serves as the primary identity among Rajputs and each one of them worships and is protected by their family goddess known as kuldevi. The Suryavanshi clans are Bais, Chattar, Gaur, Kachwaha, Minhas, Pakhral, Patial, Pundir, Naru, Rathore and Sisodia. In Chandravanshi we have Bhati, Chandelas, Bhangalia, Chudasama, Jadauns, Jadeja, Jarral, Katoch, Pahore, Som and Tomaras. In Agnivanshi we have Bhaal, Chauhan, Dodiya, Chavda, Mori, Naga, Paramara and Solanki.

When the British arrived in India, the Rajput states became colonies which in turn ended the reign of Rajputs forever. After India’s independence (1947), most of the Rajput states were merged to form the state of Rajasthan within the Indian union.

‘God’s Own Country’

Kerala was historically known as Keralam and it is located in Southern part of India on the Malabar Coast. Kerala has been a major source of exporter in spice since the very beginning. This beautiful state has the lowest population growth in India. The culture here is very deeply seated and rich and also shows off Aryan and Dravidian cultures.  The coastline here extends up to around 600 Kilometres. Kerala is apparently one of those tourist destinations which everyone wants to visit at least once in their lifetime with the rich natural diversity, food and breath taking backwaters. Here are the five reasons why Kerala is known as God’s own country:

Religion and cultural values:

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As per the Hindu Mythology, Lord Parsurama who was an avatar of Vishnu once threw his axe from Kanyakumari towards the north and as a result a land arose from the ocean which is now known as Kerala. This story exactly makes Kerala “God’s own country”. On top of that, till date Kerala has kept its religious values undefiled. People from varied religions and cultures reside here. One must visit the august religious places like Sabrimala, Kottayam, St.Francis church to appreciate the religious values of this land created by God.

Gift of nature:

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Kerala is gifted with the some of the incomparable flora and fauna. It is a land with diverse landscapes. The serene beaches especially the Kovalam beach, dense forests of Nilambur and Periyar, picturesque Athirappilly Waterfalls, the royal backwaters of Allepey and the beautiful tea plantation of Munnar make this place gods too must love to reside. Moreover, there are varied species of lovely animals living here. With this present of Flora and Fauna, Kerala is certainly “God’s own country”.

Scrumptious food:

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How can we forget the mouth-watering “South Indian Food?” Kerala is known for the Sadya. It is a customary feast with rice, sambar, Thoran, Olan and assortment of pickles and coconut chutneys. Not to forget the delicious Appam, Iddiappam that is served as breakfast throughout the state. It’s like a haven for any foodie. With so much to serve on one banana leaf, Kerala is certainly known as “God’s own country”.

Richness of the land:

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The soil of Kerala is highly fertile and rich in minerals. There are various non-native species of plants that grow in the soil of Kerala. The chief vegetation that grows here is Paddy, Coconut, Rubber, Banana, Tea, Coffee and many more. The land here is extremely fertile that spices like Pepper, Cardamom, Clove, Ginger grow here.

Thrill of adventure:

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Kerala is also renowned for some sports events. One of the most famed sports in Kerala is the Snake boat race. It is held in August or September every single year. It is so thrilling to see hundred rovers row a hundred and thirty feet long snake boat in synchronization.

God has painted this land with all sorts of colors and with all the diligent time and efforts. It is truly “God’s Own Country”.