President & Group Managing Director: Dr.Shelly Ahmed | Editor in Chief & CEO: M H Ahssan

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Where Are India's Heat Hotspots?

Heat waves across the world have killed tens of thousands of people since the turn of the century. In the U.S., more people die from deaths related to heat than all other natural phenomena combined. Parts of West Asia are expected to become inhospitable to human life by the end of this century. 

And in recent years, India and neighboring regions have experienced several devastating heat waves, causing the country to increasingly focus on a growing global concern—rising temperatures as a public health threat.

By 2022 India’s population is projected to exceed China’s, making it home to one-fifth of the world’s population. As a developing country located in the tropics, India suffers from factors that make it vulnerable to heat waves: persistent poverty, poor sanitation, a precarious water and electricity supply and low rate of access to health care.

Lives can be saved by simple prevention measures that include educating people how to cope and having an organized response plan. Such measures can also be extremely cost effective. But in developing countries, resources are scarce. Therefore it would help if we knew which populations are at risk. To address this, researchers from the nonprofit RAND Corporation, supported by RAND’s Center for Asia Pacific Policy, developed a heat vulnerability index.

From our literature review, we identified key factors that contribute to heat vulnerability. These include extreme age groups (elderly and children), income, caste, health status and the green cover in each region. Data from each of the 640 districts in India on these vulnerability factors was then gathered from multiple sources (census, health surveys, and satellite maps) and statistically combined to generate a heat vulnerability index. We used the index to pinpoint locations where the population is most vulnerable to heat and identify where adaptation efforts are most needed. For our study, we partnered with researchers from the Indian Institute of Public Health Gandhinagar, the Public Health Foundation of India, and Emory University.

The most vulnerable districts were found to be in central India.

The most vulnerable districts were found to be in central India. With a high tribal population, these districts have historically had poorer health and education standards, and lower standards of living than other districts. These land-locked, high-vulnerability districts in the North and Central Indian plains are frequently targeted for focused development interventions. The index demonstrates that interventions in India should include adaptive measures to protect against the dangers of heat.

While most heat adaptation planning has been conducted for urban areas, our index indicates that rural areas (where the majority of Indians live) are vulnerable and should be targeted for heat-health action plans. While urban areas can often be warmer than rural areas in the vicinity due to human activities, our study shows that rural areas are more vulnerable due to their socio-economic characteristics. These are often outcomes of lower investment in infrastructure and services delivery. They also have distinct challenges. For example, timely response is hard to deliver there because of poor infrastructure and an absence of phone and internet service—underscoring the importance of prevention.

What responses might be cost-effective? In rich countries like the U.S., air conditioning has played a major role in reducing heat wave deaths, but it is unlikely to be a solution for India, because few people have access to air conditioning, due to its cost and the lack of reliable power supply.

Effective, low-cost short-term strategies in India could include alerts delivered through public messaging on radio and TV, mobile phone-based text messages, and automated phone calls to those who have access to these. Through these channels, residents can receive timely reminders regarding what to wear (light clothing) and drink (lots of water), and where to stay (indoors or in shaded areas). In the longer-term, taking heat into account when designing buildings could also be an important adaptive measure. For instance, shaded windows, underground water storage tanks, access to drinking water, and roofs constructed to keep homes cooler can all make a difference.

At the same time, solutions should be relevant to the regions affected. Presently, little is known about the measures that need to be customized for different regions. However, researchers could choose to focus on the strengths of areas that are likely to be more vulnerable. For example, rural areas may have advantages in terms of better social connections, thus making certain kinds of communication, such as text messages, more effective.

With ever-rising populations and temperatures, the burden of heat on health in India is likely only going to increase in coming decades. Understanding where population vulnerability exists is a critical first step toward protecting a population’s health. By developing and targeting local adaptation strategies, India can enhance its preparedness for this enormous public health challenge.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Will Superstar Rajinikanth finally enter politics?

His failure to live up to the expectations he often builds up has made such speculation a sort of amusement.

“Naa eppo varuven eppadi varuven nu yarukum theriyathu
aana varavendiya tithula correct ah varuven”
(No one knows when and how I will enter. But I will enter at the right time)

This was Rajinikanth’s legendary punchline in the 1995 blockbuster Muthu.

It is quite hard to keep count of the number of times Rajinikanth has “indicated” that he would enter politics. For the past 21 years, Tamil Nadu has, in frequent intervals, been subjected to this spectacle of its biggest cinema superstar threatening to take the plunge into public life.

And for 21 years, Tamil Nadu has remained disappointed as these “indications” usually fizzle out faster than the storms that Rajinikanth whips up on screen with a swirl of his foot to take down the villains.

On Thursday, the actor was at it again. Speaking at the conclusion of a meeting with his fans in Chennai, Rajinikanth, who is now 67 years old, asked his supporters to patiently carry on with their duties and wait for the “war” when he would galvanise them. The political system, he said, was bad. Put together, these views could mean the war is but a euphemism for elections.

His speech carried the stamp of film dialogues that helped construct his on-screen charisma. Off screen, the fact that these dialogues have never been followed with actions has made them a sort of periodic amusement which the media latches on to grab eyeballs.

But could this time be different? Have the tectonic shifts in Tamil politics after the death of former Chief Minister Jayalalithaa done enough to give Rajinikanth the confidence to test his luck in politics? Can the void created by the retirement of Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam president M Karunanidhi provide Rajinikanth the space to float a successful political outfit?

1996 elections
Rajinikanth’s tryst with politics began in the 1996 Tamil Nadu Assembly elections. In the run up to the polls, he had a face off with Jayalalithaa. Both their houses are located in the up market Poes Garden locality in Chennai. In 1995, the police apparently blocked the passage to Rajinikanth’s as Jayalalithaa, the then chief minister, was about to step out of her residence. The story goes that Rajinikanth had to wait in the car for close to an hour. Enraged, he got down and began to walk. A sizable crowd started following him.

A few months later, Rajinikanth slammed the poor law and order situation that prevailed in Tamil Nadu. The trigger was an attack on the residence of director Mani Ratnam, who had just released the movie Bombay at that point. The All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam responded by pasting posters carrying vulgar statements against Rajinikanth. This forced the actor to famously comment that even god would not be able to save Tamil Nadu if Jayalalithaa was voted back to power in 1996.

The accounts from that time are sketchy. But Rajinikanth seemed to have played a crucial role in firming up the Opposition alliance between Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and Tamil Manila Congress led by the veteran and Congress rebel GK Moopanar. The TMC leader quit the Congress after Prime Minister Narasimha Rao decided to ally with the AIADMK despite protests from cadres.

The DMK alliance swept the polls. Jayalalithaa herself lost from Bargur constituency. The victory was in large part credited to Rajinikanth’s intervention. In December, at a memorial for veteran journalist Cho Ramaswamy, the actor said he was responsible for Jayalalithaa’s loss in 1996 but later buried the hatchet.

Unofficial accounts from those involved closely in the alliance talks in 1996 indicate that Moopanar wanted Rajinikanth to enter politics and take on Jayalalithaa. He even offered to make him the chief ministerial candidate. This account has not been confirmed by either side though former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram, at a media event a few years ago, admitted that Rajinikanth had a great chance to become chief minister in 1996. Chidambaram was then with Moopanar.

Thereafter, Rajinikanth dabbled with politics on numerous times. In 2004, he took on Patali Makkal Katchi leader S Ramadoss after the latter mounted a campaign against his on-screen smoking. He said his fans would campaign against the PMK. But in an indication of his waning popularity, the PMK swept the seats it contested in.

Since then, Rajinikanth has made it a habit to deliver enigmatic dialogues about his future in politics. Each time he speaks about it, he does not rule the possibility of entering politics but would say that it was in god’s hands. Rajinikanth also lent his image to people who wanted to take advantage of his stardom. In 2014, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met him just ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, which sort of created an image that the Bharatiya Janata Party had the actor’s endorsement. This the actor denied a few days later.

Ambiguous stand
Rajinikanth has often been accused of taking ambiguous stands on crucial issues, something that came to the fore on Tuesday when he termed his efforts to help the Opposition in 1996 as a “political accident”. On the other side, he has also been charged of shying away from asserting himself on important issues. On Wednesday, when asked about the anniversary of the Mulliwaikal massacre, when thousands of Sri Lankan Tamils were killed on a small strip of land in 2009 during the conclusion of the civil war, Rajinikanth chose to evade the question. Unlike the other superstar Kamal Haasan, Rajinikanth chose to stay clear of controversies during the Jallikattu protests in January.

At times, his non-Tamil background has been invoked to explain his reluctance to assert his opinion. Born Marathi, his family lived in Karnataka. This once made him to go on a one-day fast on the Cauvery issue. Even on Thursday, he was forced to reiterate his loyalty to Tamil Nadu, when he said that he lived 44 years of his life in the State and was a “pure Tamil”.

The biggest criticism against Rajinikanth has been that he uses people’s expectations of his entry into politics to promote his films. The question of his political foray often crops up before a movie release and dies down later. In the films, he is known to look right into the camera and deliver politically-charged dialogues. This habit goes as far back as 1980, when in the movie Billa he famously said: “En kodi parakavendiya yedathula vera yevan kodi da parakum.” How can another man’s flag fly in a place where my flag should fly?

However, what makes this time different is the larger political context prevailing in Tamil Nadu. After Jayalalithaa’s death and Karunanidhi’s retirement from active politics due to ill health, a huge void has emerged. Tamil Nadu, a State driven by personality politics, currently lacks a charismatic leader. With his existing fan base, Rajinikanth has the best chance of filling this void. Also, given his age, Rajinikanth has very little time left to continue as a hero on screen. Politics, in that sense, could be his vocation in retirement.

Hardly anything is known about the intellectual basis of his understanding of crucial social and political problems. In a State dominated by Dravidian politics, Rajinikanth’s over-emphasis on religion and spirituality, both on and off the screen, has led to speculation over whether he might eventually take refuge in the BJP. Even if he floats his own party, it could turn out to merely be a milder version of the saffron outfit.

Many in Tamil Nadu were hoping that the end of Jayalalithaa and Karunanidhi eras would finally put an end to the cinema-politics nexus in Tamil politics. But if Rajinikanth is indeed ready to take the plunge, it could end up entrenching this bond even further.

‘Hanuman Da Damdaar’ has Salman Khan, animation, songs and a big-budget feel

The film positions the monkey god as a superhero.

There has been a profusion of films and television shows on Hanuman’s exploits, including VG Samant’s Hanuman (2005). Ruchi Narain’s Hanuman Da Damdaar is the latest addition to the list. The June 2 release focuses on the monkey god’s childhood and traces his evolution into a divine force. The voice cast includes Javed Akhtar as Valmiki, Salman Khan as Hanuman, Raveena Tandon and Saurabh Shukla as Hanuman’s parents, Kunal Khemmu as Indra and Hussain Dalal as Garuda.

Narain made her big screen debut as a screenwriter on Hazaaron Khwaishein Aisi in 2003 and her directorial debut with the crime thriller Kal : Yesterday And Tomorrow in 2005. After directing commercials for 12 years, Narain has chosen to make her comeback with a family-oriented animated film. Animation gives greater opportunities for creativity, she told in an interview.

What drew you to animation?
I have grown up watching animation films. They trigger your imagination more than any other medium. The kind of scope they give cannot be expected in any live action film. You can stretch the script of an animation film to fantastical levels. In live action, however, you are bound by the physical possibility of things.

How different was the experience in terms of the production?
If I knew how hard it was going to be, I may have thought twice about it. The medium is very different because everything is deliberate. In live action, you cast the actors and put them before a camera, and sometimes magic happens. But in animation, you have to make that magic happen.

Having said that, we did have a ball filming. Our only rule was that the line we literally fell off our seats listening and laughing to would go into the film.

Why did you choose Hanuman from all the Hindu gods?
In my mind and in my research, there was very little material on him, especially when he was a kid. As a writer and as a thinker, I would often wonder what would make someone so loyal. Nobody has the unwavering loyalty that Hanuman has. To be that loyal, you need a lot of conviction and strength in the face of opposition.

Usually when someone is all powerful, they tend to become the be all and end all. But Hanuman isn’t. And in today’s world, I found this personality to be even more fascinating. Nothing is about doing something for someone else or for a greater good anymore. It is a very relevant quality to remember.

There have been many films about Hanuman. What makes ‘Hanuman Da Damdaar’ stand out?
The story and the treatment of Hanuman Da Damdaar make the film different. There is a popular mainstream treatment. For instance, there is the song Confusion , which has been choreographed by Mudassar Khan. He got his crew to dance the sequence, which we then edited and gave to the animators. We have approached the production like a big feature film.

The trailer has many pop culture references, such as Salman Khan’s dialogue from ‘Wanted’.
Whatever you say, people associate Salman Khan with Hanuman because of Bajrangi Bhaijaan. There are certain lines in his films that you tend associate with Hanuman. The “Ek baar jo commitment kar di” line, in essence, also works very well for Hanuman. The meaning of the line echoes loyalty.

I wanted to tell a story in a way that people today can relate to. Also, in terms of language, there is a way we are used to seeing these stories depicted – which is very stuffy and highfalutin. What is made in your time needs to speak to you in your language. Language has to reflect and communicate with the people that you are making it for.

How did you select the voice cast?
In those days, narrators used to tell the stories and not write them. By virtue of the fact that the Ramayana was so widely transmitted, Valmiki must have been a great narrator. And I thought to myself, who is the greatest narrator in our industry? It had to be Javed Akthar.

Raveena Tandon has been someone who has worn her motherhood on her sleeve, which was perfect for Anjani’s role. And of course anyone would first think of Salman Khan for the role of Hanuman.

Sneha Khanwalkar, who has scored the film, has worked with you in ‘Kal’.
Sneha’s first feature film was with me, and I have always loved the way she thinks about music. While she is known for composing darker, edgier music, I wanted her for this film because her approach towards music is utterly unique.

Did you want to portray Hanuman as a superhero for children?
Yes, definitely. When you go to any kid’s fancy dress event, you see them all come dressed up as superheroes like Batman and Superman. Not one Indian character features in the lot. I want to be in a situation this time next year, where children would be dressed as Hanuman.

How strong is the market for children’s films, especially animation, in India?
I have a very different take on the notion of what a children’s film is. What ends up happening is that when children are cast in a film, people think it’s a children’s film. But a children’s film is something that is entertaining. In India, more children watch blockbusters because they are funny.

Are there more animation films in the pipeline for you?
Another animation film is definitely in the pipeline. Meanwhile, I am currently working on two films. One is a love story titled From A to Z, which is written and directed by me. The other film is a big-budget comedy, which will be produced by R.A.T. Films, my joint production venture with Ashutosh Shah and Taher Mithaiwala.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Fitness and fasting: Making exercise during Ramadan work for you

It’s a dilemma faced by many Muslims every year. INNLIVE breaks down how you can both fast and exercise.

Going to the gym on an empty stomach, without any water and slightly sleep-deprived during the long summer days of July may seem a little loony. Yet all across the world, many Muslims choose to do this. On the first day of Ramadan, my friend and I went to the gym, naively thinking we’d be the only Muslims there. How wrong we were.

Ramadan is a month of abstinence, introspection and a time to capitalise on every precious moment, as the heavenly reward for acts of worship are multiplied. However, whether to fit in an hour or so at the gym, go for a run or in the case of professional football players and Olympic athletes, competitively participate in their respective sports, makes for a tough decision.

My fear during Ramadan – one that I’m sure is shared by many other Muslim men – is losing too much weight. At the same time, Muslim women fear the opposite: putting on weight – which can easily happen either by overeating or eating the wrong things during the month. Both my mum and wife, for example, might be seen as going a bit to the extreme. They go to Spin classes while fasting. Yes, Spin – that intense indoor cycling workout.

Amid the barrage of conflicting opinions on the issue, here are some tips that fitness experts more or less agree on.

Should I go?
There is no right or wrong answer. It largely depends on how you feel and how in tune you are with your body. Dr Joseph Mercola, a popular health activist, urges us to use “common sense” in these situations.

Interestingly, a growing body of research suggests training while fasting has many health benefits.One example is that it’s a good way to shed fat.

If you really struggle with fasting, then perhaps it’s best to postpone your gym membership for a month. However, if one day you feel fresh, alert and energetic, go for it! (Just don’t overdo it.) Doing some light exercise when fasting is a good thing – it helps to keep the system working and blood circulating.

What time of the day should I exercise?
This largely depends on your daily routine. Sally al Awar, a clinical dietician based in Abu Dhabi, says you can “go for a walk or brisk walking before iftar”. Or, once you’ve had iftar, you can go for the more “strenuous exercise such as football or basketball” as long as you’ve already “restored water and glucose levels”. Rehan Jalali, a celebrity nutritionist based in California, believes weight training should be done after fasting, preferably just before suhur.

It’s important to find out what works best for you. You may find that you perform better doing weight training on an empty stomach, or that you feel more energised doing cardio after a light iftar meal.

Do keep workouts short, about 30 minutes to a maximum of 60 minutes.

Do light cardiovascular exercises – walking or cycling – to help burn calories and improve stamina, full body stretching to improve flexibility and detoxification, or mat exercises such as an abs workout and push-ups.

Do drink plenty of water between the hours of iftar and suhur. Drink water with sea salt or coconut water to increase the electrolytes in your body, which are essential for heart, nerve and muscle functions.

Do not do high intensity exercises like sprinting, stepper or heavy weight lifting (go for lighter than you would normally push) as it can cause joint or muscle injuries and also lead to complications such as low blood pressure, hypoglycaemia and dizziness.

Do not continue training if you feel weak, dizzy or sick. Although you are training, lowering your usual exercise intensity is essential to staying fit and healthy.

Do not eat lots of fried and fatty foods as it will counteract the good work you do at the gym.

A wise friend of mine from Canada tells me why he trains during Ramadan: “Ramadan is about disciplining the ego, so training during this month becomes more potent, since it takes much more discipline to train while fasting.”

Some train for spiritual reasons (as exercise can be a form of worship), while others train to keep fit, stay healthy and maintain a good weight. Whatever the case, Muslims should remember the ultimate goal of Ramadan: it’s a limited number of powerful days to gain proximity to God.

The holy month is all about training. So for those who are able to do it safely, exercise – in moderation – is a good habit to include in your Ramadan.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Human Interest Story: Six Best Global Festivals That Will Blow Your Mind

There’s something about festivals, be it a giant, joyous party or a respectful honouring of tradition; a seemingly bizarre adherence to ritual or a celebration of a quirky obsession – it’s a uniquely human thing to be involved in.

We like to get together to dance, sing, eat, laugh, drink, dress up, light fires, take our clothes off, throw tomatoes at each other, roll around in mud – just about anything really, but we seem to like doing it in really large groups with bags of enthusiasm. This selection from 50 Festivals to Blow Your Mind should give party-loving travellers plenty of ideas for their next trip.

Jasmine to chocolate: In sex-shy India, flavoured condoms are way more popular than regular rubbers

A sex worker blows a condom for decorating a tram during an AIDS awareness campaign in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata December 1, 2007. India has the world's third biggest caseload of people living with the deadly virus. After originally estimating some 5.7 million were infected in India, the U.N. reduced that estimate to 2.5 million.

In a country where talking about sex remains a taboo, and the act of buying contraception is often shrouded in secrecy, flavoured condoms are having a moment.

Burning Story: Indians spited by the H-1B clampdown can get another visa to work in the US—as long as they can spare $500,000

As the H-1B visa program goes on the chopping block, a 27-year-old visa is getting some new attention. Meet the EB-5.

The way things stand, most H-1B applicants come from India and Southeast Asia. They enter the H-1B lottery and then, if they receive a temporary work visa, may have to wait more than a decade for permanent residency.