2023 Week 22

After 2.5 years, I have finally made it to my hometown, Mumbai. At the end of May, I was at Mulund, the northernmost suburb on the central railway. After this is Thane, which is a separate district altogether, but because of how Mumbai sprawls, Thane is usually considered a suburb of Mumbai, but administratively, it is separate. And on Friday, I finally made it home! I now have the slightly over 1000 km trek to Bengaluru and then the 7000 km trek back to Singapore before I can end this calculation.

This month, I read seven books, a mixture of fiction and non-fiction and this brings the total number of books I read this year to 38. I am very comfortable with my reading goals for the year and will most likely surpass them.

Today’s quote is from the ancient Greek philosopher, Plato who founded the Academy, a philosophical school where he taught the philosophical doctrines that would later become known as Platonism. According to Plato, self-mastery and self-control is the ultimate triumph for an individual. By conquering one’s own shortcomings and cultivating self-discipline, one can attain a state of inner harmony, balance, and virtuous living. This victory over oneself implies gaining control over one’s thoughts, emotions, and actions, aligning them with reason and moral principles. In Plato’s philosophy, this self-mastery was seen as an essential aspect of personal growth, ethical conduct, and the pursuit of wisdom. It involves understanding one’s own nature, recognising one’s flaws, and actively working towards self-improvement. Ultimately, this victory over oneself leads to a more fulfilling and virtuous life.

GG is busy with her internship and as much as she likes doing it, she is only now realising how mentally demanding accountancy can be. This is good because she goes into university with open eyes and can navigate what she wants in a career in this field. Some of BB’s friends have gotten their conscription notices and we are waiting now to see when he has to enlist. This will be a new phase in his life and I can’t wait to see how it unfolds for him.

That’s all from me this week. Stay safe and enjoy your weekend!

In My Hands Today…

Ants Among Elephants: An Untouchable Family and the Making of Modern India – Sujatha Gidla

Like one in six people in India, Sujatha Gidla was born an untouchable. While most untouchables are illiterate, her family was educated by Canadian missionaries in the 1930s, making it possible for Gidla to attend elite schools and move to America at the age of twenty-six.

It was only then that she saw how extraordinary — and yet how typical — her family history truly was. Her mother, Manjula, and uncles Satyam and Carey were born in the last days of British colonial rule. They grew up in a world marked by poverty and injustice, but also full of possibility. In the slums where they lived, everyone had a political side, and rallies, agitations, and arrests were commonplace. The Independence movement promised freedom. Yet for untouchables and other poor and working people, little changed.

Satyam, the eldest, switched allegiance to the Communist Party. Gidla recounts his incredible life — how he became a famous poet, student, labor organizer, and founder of a left-wing guerrilla movement. And Gidla charts her mother’s battles with caste and women’s oppression. Page by page, Gidla takes us into a complicated, close-knit family as they desperately strive for a decent life and a more just society.

A moving portrait of love, hardship, and struggle, Ants Among Elephants is also that rare thing: a personal history of modern India told from the bottom up.

Festivals: Vesak Day

Tomorrow is Vesak Day, also known as Buddha Purnima or Buddha Jayanti, is a significant holiday in the Buddhist calendar. It commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death of Siddhartha Gautama, also known as Buddha, the founder of Buddhism. The holiday is celebrated on different days in different countries, but it usually falls on the full moon day in May.

The day of Vesak is considered the most sacred day to millions of Buddhists around the world. The origins of Vesak Day date back to ancient India, about two and a half millennia ago, in 623 BC, when Buddha was born in Lumbini, a small town in present-day Nepal. According to Buddhist tradition, Buddha was born on the full moon day in May, attained enlightenment on the same day several years later, and passed away on the same day at the age of 80. These three events are celebrated as Vesak Day.

The celebration of Vesak Day varies from country to country and even within different schools of Buddhism. However, some common practices are observed by most Buddhists on this day.

One of the most important practices on Vesak Day is the offering of alms to monks and nuns. This practice is called dana, which means giving or generosity. Buddhists believe that offering food and other necessities to monks and nuns is a way of accumulating merit, which can lead to a better rebirth or even liberation from the cycle of rebirths. In some countries, such as Thailand, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka, it is customary for laypeople to wake up early and line up along the streets to offer alms to the monks.

Another important practice on Vesak Day is the recitation of the Buddha’s teachings, or sutras which contain the wisdom and teachings of the Buddha, and Buddhists believe that reciting them is a way of showing respect and gratitude to the Buddha. In some countries, people gather in temples to recite sutras together. The lighting of lanterns is also a common practice on Vesak Day as Buddhists believe light symbolises wisdom and enlightenment, and lighting lanterns spreads this wisdom to others. In some countries, such as South Korea and Vietnam, people hang colourful lanterns at home and in public places. Buddhists also engage in acts of kindness and compassion on Vesak Day including donating to charities and volunteering at local hospitals or orphanages.

Vesak Day is a public holiday in many countries with significant Buddhist populations, including Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, and Malaysia. In many of these countries, Vesak Day is celebrated with elaborate ceremonies and processions, which often involve the participation of government officials and other prominent figures.

Some common practices observed during Vesak Day include the gold gliding of Buddha statues, the consumption of vegetarian meals, the lighting of oil lamps, the performance of charitable deeds or volunteering, as well as the participation in religious talks by venerable monks. Devout Buddhists will go to temples to attend activities such as chanting scripture, listening to sermons, the three steps one bow and bathing of the Buddha ceremony. The celebration also includes the practices of Giving, Virtue and Cultivation and the doing of good and meritorious deeds.

In Singapore, devout Buddhists will visit their nearest temple, prepare their offerings and engage in many rituals. One of the most popular rituals is the bathing of the Buddha. Worshippers crowd around basins or pools decorated with garlands of flowers and dominated by a small central elevated statue of the child Siddhartha. Ladlefuls of water are scooped from the basin and poured over the statue, in remembrance of the Buddha’s birth. Other common practices include monks chanting and acts of generosity by Buddhist organisations and temples like the freeing of caged birds and animals, and visiting and giving alms to the poor and needy. Silent marches or meditations in the evening end the daylong celebration.

In Sri Lanka, Vesak Day is celebrated as a three-day festival, during which the streets are decorated with colourful lights and people gather in temples to meditate, listen to sermons, and offer alms to monks. In Thailand, people celebrate by visiting temples and offering food and other necessities to monks.

The Four Noble Truths, the cornerstone of Buddhist teaching, include the reality of suffering, which teaches that pain is an intrinsic aspect of life and is produced by the impermanence and instability of all things. The cause of pain is explained as craving and attachment in the truth of the reason of suffering. Attachment to things, people, and ideas, according to Buddhists, causes misery since everything in the world is ephemeral and prone to change. The reality of the cessation of suffering provides hope by teaching that suffering may be terminated by letting go of craving and attachment, the ultimate goal of Buddhist practise, which is attained by gaining Nirvana, the state of perfect peace and liberation from the cycle of rebirths.

The Four Noble Truths, which make up the core of Buddhist doctrine, include the truth of suffering, which believes that all things are ephemeral and unstable and that suffering is an inevitable component of life. The cause of suffering is explained as craving and attachment through the truth of suffering. Buddhists believe that as everything in the world is fleeting and prone to change, attachment to objects, people, and ideas leads to suffering. By demonstrating that suffering could be terminated by letting go of craving and attachment, the ultimate objective of Buddhist practise, and realised by achieving Nirvana, the state of perfect peace and freedom from the cycle of rebirths, the reality of the cessation of suffering offers hope. When considered collectively, the four Noble Truths offer a guide to leading a life that is meaningful and rewarding, free from pain and brimming with wisdom and compassion.

Vesak Day is a day for introspection and contemplation as well as festivity. The deeply significant day is a chance for Buddhists to ponder the Buddha’s teachings and how they might be applied to daily life. It is a time for reflection, renewal, and rededication to the teachings of the Buddha, as well as an opportunity to express gratitude, compassion, and generosity towards others. Vesak Day reminds us that the Buddha’s teachings are still relevant and inspiring today, offering a path towards greater compassion, mindfulness, and inner peace.

In My Hands Today…

Beyond the Border: An Indian in Pakistan – Yoginder Sikand

Beyond the Border, based on two journeys that Yoginder Sikand undertook to Pakistan, covering Lahore, Multan, Hyderabad (Sindh), Moenjo Daro, Bhit Shah, and Islamabad, among others, is a strikingly unconventional account of what life is like for “ordinary” Pakistanis. The Pakistan he discovers only remotely resembles the stereotypical Muslim nation of the Hindu imagination. From Shiela, the daughter of a feudal lord, named after her mother’s Indian best friend to a rundown local eatery owner who offers the author free food because Sikand is the first Indian to visit his stall, encounters with Pakistanis from all walks of life draws up a very different picture – that Pakistan is a country as diverse, paradoxical and rich in narratives as India.

Departing from the fiercely polemical rhetoric common in Indian and Pakistani accounts of each other, Yoginder Sikand, not only gives lie to the strategist’s view of the India-Pakistan divide, but dispels the myths that have filtered into the Indian psyche about Pakistan being the terrible other. In this brilliantly perceptive and quirky travelogue, he illuminates the Pakistani side of the story, while telling his own tale of exploration and self-discovery.

World Milk Day

A drink which every human being is intimately familiar with, milk is a white liquid food produced by the mammary glands of mammals and is the primary source of nutrition for their young, including breastfed human infants before they can digest solid food. Immune factors and immune-modulating components in milk contribute to milk immunity. Early-lactation milk, which is called colostrum, contains antibodies that strengthen the immune system and reduce the risk of many diseases. Milk contains many nutrients, including protein and lactose.

Milk is a staple food in many households around the world. It is a rich source of calcium, protein, and other essential nutrients that are important for the growth and development of the human body. However, the production of milk has a significant impact on the environment. The dairy sector is responsible for a significant amount of greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and deforestation.

As an agricultural product, dairy milk is collected from farm animals. According to Statista, the volume of cow milk produced worldwide has risen steadily over the last several years. In 2015, 497 million metric tons of cow milk was produced worldwide, by 2022 that figure had risen to around 544 million metric tons. India is the world’s largest producer of milk and the leading exporter of skimmed milk powder, but it exports few other milk products. New Zealand, Germany and the Netherlands are the largest exporters of milk products. The US CDC recommends that children over the age of 12 months should have two servings of dairy milk products a day. More than six billion people worldwide consume milk and milk products, and between 750 and 900 million people live in dairy-farming households.

To celebrate the importance and nutritive value of milk as a global food, the Food and Agriculture Organization or FAO of the United Nations established World Milk Day. The day has been observed on June 1 each year since 2001 and is intended to provide an opportunity to bring attention to activities that are connected with the dairy sector. June 1 was chosen because many countries were already celebrating a milk day during that time of year.

The day provides an opportunity to focus attention on milk and raise awareness of dairy’s part in healthy diets, responsible food production, and supporting livelihoods and communities. FAO data shows that more than one billion people’s livelihoods are supported by the dairy sector and that dairy is consumed by more than six billion people globally.

The theme for World Milk Day 2023 is “Reducing the environmental footprint of the dairy sector while providing nutritious foods and livelihoods” The 2023 theme will focus on showcasing how dairy is reducing its environmental footprint, while also providing nutritious foods and livelihoods. This theme highlights the importance of sustainable dairy farming practices that can help reduce the environmental impact of the dairy sector.

One way to reduce the environmental impact of the dairy sector is to promote sustainable farming practices. Sustainable farming practices can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and deforestation. For example, farmers can use renewable energy sources such as solar or wind power to power their farms. They can also use organic farming practices that do not rely on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Another way is to promote the use of alternative dairy products like soy milk, almond milk, and oat milk which have a lower environmental impact than traditional dairy products. They require less water and land to produce and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

World Milk Day is an opportunity to celebrate the dairy industry while also promoting sustainable dairy farming practices. By reducing the environmental footprint of the dairy sector, we can ensure that future generations have access to nutritious foods and livelihoods.