Saturday 21 February 2009


“He who does not know foreign languages does not know anything about his own.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The United Nations (UN) International Mother Language Day celebrates language variety and diversity worldwide annually on this day, February 21st. The day was chosen as it commemorates the killing of four students on February 21st, 1952 in Bangladesh, because they campaigned to officially use their mother language, Bengali, in Bangladesh. It is a public holiday in Bangladesh, where it is also known as Shohid Dibôsh, or Shahid Day. People lay flowers at Shahid Minar (The Martyr’s Monument), they purchase glass bangles for themselves or female relatives; eat a festive meal and organise parties. Also it is on this day that prizes are awarded or literary competitions are hosted. It is a time to celebrate Bangladesh’s culture and the Bengali language.

At the partition of India in 1947, the Bengal province was divided according to the predominant religions of the inhabitants. The western part became part of India and the eastern part became a province of Pakistan known as East Bengal and later East Pakistan. However, there was economic, cultural and lingual friction between East and West Pakistan. These tensions became critical in 1948 when Pakistan’s government declared that Urdu was the sole national language of both West and East Pakistan. This sparked protests amongst the Bengali-speaking majority in East Pakistan. The government outlawed the protests but on February 21, 1952, students at the University of Dhaka and other activists organised a protest. Later that day, the police opened fire at the demonstrators and killed four students. These students’ deaths in fighting for the right to use their mother language are now remembered on International Mother Language Day.

The unrest continued as Bengali speakers campaigned for the right to use their mother language. Bengali became an official language in Pakistan on February 29, 1956. Following the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, Bangladesh became an independent country with Bengali as its official language. The Shahid Minar (Martyrs’ Monument) in Dhaka, Bangladesh, pays homage to the four demonstrators killed in 1952. The monument was built three times. The first time it was built on February 22nd-23rd in 1952 but the police and army destroyed it within a few days. Construction the second time started in November 1957, but the introduction of martial law stopped construction work and it was destroyed during the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971. The third version of the Shahid Minar was built to similar plans as the second version. It consists of four standing marble frames and a larger double marble frame with a slanted top portion. The frames are constructed from marble and stand on a stage, which is raised about four meters above the ground. The four frames represent the four men who died on February 21, 1952, and the double frame represents their mothers and country. Replicas of the Shahid Minar have been constructed worldwide where people from Bangladesh have settled, particularly in London and Oldham in the United Kingdom.

An International Mother Language Day monument was erected at Ashfield Park in Sydney, Australia, on February 19th, 2006. It consists of a slab of slate mounted vertically on a raised platform. There are stylized images of the Shahid Minar and the globe on the face of the stone. There are also the words "we will remember the martyrs of 21st February" in English and Bengali and words in five alphabets to represent mother languages on five continents where people live.

On November 17th, 1999, UNESCO proclaimed February 21 to be International Mother Language Day and it was first observed on February 21st, 2000. Each year the celebrations around International Mother Language Day concentrate on a particular theme. On International Mother Language Day the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and UN agencies participate in events that promote linguistic and cultural diversity. They also encourage people to maintain their knowledge of their mother language while learning and using more than one language. Governments and non-governmental organizations may use the day to announce policies to encourage language learning and support.

The Linguapax Institute, in Barcelona, Spain, aims to preserve and promote linguistic diversity globally. The institute presents the Linguapax Prize on International Mother Language Day each year. The prize is for those who have made outstanding work in linguistic diversity or multilingual education.

Here is Sonia, singing a Bangla song: “Oneek Shadonar Pore”.

Friday 20 February 2009


“Don't dig your grave with your own knife and fork.” - English Proverb

The addiction of people to junk food and obesity is one of the new epidemics that seems to be plaguing more and more people in western-type nations around the world. Yesterday I saw a story on satellite TV news of a 42-year-old woman in Greece who weighed over 300 kg (660 lb)! She had not left her home for 11 years and finally she had to be taken to hospital by an emergency medical team (helped by the fire brigade) as she had an acute medical condition that threatened her life.

Although this is an extreme example, it highlights the problem and makes us focus on a health issue that will become increasingly important in years ahead. Obesity is defined as an excess proportion of total body fat. Someone is considered to be obese when their weight is 20% or more above normal weight range. “Morbid obesity” means that a person is either 50%-100% over the normal weight range and is sufficiently overweight to severely interfere with health or normal functioning of the body.

Obesity occurs when a person consumes more calories than they burn. For many people this means they eat too much and exercise too little. But there are other factors that also play a role in obesity, such as age, genetics, psychological problems, illness, medication, environment and gender. These factors are all collectively less important and less frequently implicated in obesity than the most common pair: Eating too much and exercising too little. As we age, this problem becomes accentuated as our metabolism slows down and even though we may eat the same as we did when we were younger, we put on weight.

One of the most distressing aspects of obesity may be the emotional suffering it causes in the obese person. Most Western societies place great emphasis on physical appearance, often equating attractiveness with slimness or muscularity. In addition, many people wrongly stereotype obese people as gluttonous, lazy, dull-witted, or all of these. However, more and more evidence contradicts this assumption. Obese people often face prejudice or discrimination at work, at school, while looking for a job, and in social situations. Feelings of rejection, shame, or depression are common amongst them. People should consult their doctor if they are having emotional problems related to obesity, or need help losing weight.

Even if you are within the normal weight range or even if you are less than 20% over the normal weight range, and you have a “potbelly” or “spare tire”, you carry more fat in and around your abdominal organs. Fat in your abdomen increases your risk of many of the serious conditions associated with obesity. Women's waist measurement should fall below 89 cm (35 inches). Men’s should be less than 102 cm (40 inches). If you have a large waist circumference, you should talk to your doctor about how you can lose weight.

Sensible eating habits, not drinking too much alcohol, avoiding fattening foods, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, regular exercise, reduction of stress, meditation, yoga, adequate hydration and a good social life all help to fight obesity.

Wednesday 18 February 2009


“One does evil enough when one does nothing good.” - German Proverb

Today for those of the Greek Orthodox faith it is “Pork Thursday” or Tsiknopémpti (literally, “smell-of-cooking-meat-Thursday”). This name is given to this particular Thursday by the Greek Orthodox people, as on this day all the faithful must eat meat (usually pork). The meat-eating festivities continue on Saturday and Sunday this week, representing the last dietary fling before the Great Lent.

A similar custom used to be observed in Britain in the old pre-secularisation days: Shrove Monday (the day before Mardi Gras - Pancake Tuesday), was also called Collop Monday, meaning the day on which the meat forbidden during Lent had to be consumed in the form of “collops” or “rashers”. Mutton collops or bacon collops were eaten on this day together with eggs. Merry making and the playing of practical jokes was also a custom on the Shrovetide days. Carnival as such was not celebrated in England.

Generally on this day in Greece, families gather together and have great feasts with much drinking, carousing, dancing and masquerading. This masquerading is part of Apokriés (Carnival), which represents the last opportunity before the next 48 days, which are devoted to fasting, contemplation, prayer and a cleansing of both body and soul before the Easter Holiday. Note that in the Orthodox faith one has to fast even on Sundays during Lent, whereas in the Western churches, fasting is relaxed on Sundays, even during Lent.

When one thinks about it, fasting as a religious observance is widespread throughout the world and is a tradition in many different religions. It is attuned very much to the farming and agricultural seasonal cycles and makes allowance for periods when animals and animal products must be put to other uses except as food (for example, hatching of chicks from eggs, the allowance of calves and lambs to be fed with their mothers milk, etc). On another level, the abstinence from many of the rich animal product dietary elements allows the body to be cleansed and detoxified and has a very beneficial effect on health. All of these religious observances were borne out of hundreds and hundreds of years of observation and ritualisation of much empirical knowledge.

It is in these days of plenty, of the loss of traditions and of the lack of religious observance that we forget these important lifestyle choices, rites and ceremonies - to our detriment. Our life is becoming more and more centred on surfeit, instant gratification of our basest desires (be they linked to gluttony, lust or envy) and a routine that makes each day of the year resemble one another. Who would have thought several years ago that one could shop 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year? Who would have thought in the past that we could buy fresh tomatoes or cherries in the midst of winter or have apples year-round, or have meat every day? Who could have thought that we could spend a fortune on clothes, shoes on a regular basis, even though we had not worn out (and repaired several times the clothes and shoes we had)? Who could have thought that our whole existence can become centred on consumerism with some people actually becoming physically sick unless they can buy “things” every day? “Things” they may never even use nor actually need…

In the meantime this fixation on consumption and selfish instant gratification has changed our society in all sorts of ways, some gross and easily observed, some more subtle, but all the more dangerous because of that. We are losing so much in our modern society of what was good and pure and honest. It makes me now appreciate why some closed religious groups like Orthodox Jews, strict Muslims, the Amish are trying to preserve centuries-old traditions against the rising tide of secularisation, consumerism, erosion of some of the basic human values and the rise of the individual’s rights and demands, to the detriment of the community as whole.

The economic downturn may force many people to re-examine their lifestyle, their priorities, their life choices and their basic wants and needs as individuals as well as members of a family, a community, a national or geographic group, or even as citizens of the world. Amidst all of the concerns and the negativity expressed in relation to the recession, we may benefit in the longer term from such an experience. Add to that climate change, terrorism, massive shifts in populations, increasing crime rates, dwindling natural resources, increased competition for living space and standard of living, and we may have a much wiser generation growing up in the next ten years or so. Or we may see quite the opposite – the complete and utter breakdown of Western civilisation as we know it…

What do you think?

Tuesday 17 February 2009


“Life is a shipwreck but we must not forget to sing in the lifeboats.” - Voltaire

Love can be such difficult emotion to describe, especially when one considers its myriad of forms and the varieties of the contexts it can be expressed in. Even the love between people who share a life together, can have many shades and tints, the hue of which is determined b the relationship they share. We all love our parents, our children, the rest of our family, our dog, our cat, our friends. The love we all yearn for, however, is that between two partners in a relationship that transforms two former strangers into a couple who share all and whose two separate fleshes become one…


I’ll be reborn,
Like a drooping snowdrop flower
Peeking from a cover of snow;
Like a pure white lamb in Spring;
Like an emerald blade of grass,
From dark, dank soil emergent.

I’ll be resurrected,
Like the swollen seed sprouting;
Like a gentle wave on quiet shore
When it’s stirred by the zephyr;
Like the first star, bright,
On velvet twilit sky of evening.

I’ll become free,
Like prisoner released from an unjust confinement;
Like mist of the valley
When it’s caressed by rising sun;
Like the bird that soars so high
When first released from its cage.

I’ll be redeemed,
Like a promise finally fulfilled;
Like a sin confessed and forgiven;
Like the pure metal released from ore
Under the purifying flame of fire;
Like a dusty road washed clean by a rain shower.

I’ll be comforted,
Like a traveller who at last
Sees his welcoming home shore;
Like a desert wanderer, who sick of mirages
Finally arrives at the real oasis,
Like an orphan who can feel a mother’s love.

I’ll be reborn,
I’ll be resurrected,
I’ll become free,
I’ll be redeemed,
I’ll be comforted,
I’ll live my wasted life over,
When you come into it…


“I've loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night” – Galileo Galilei

Have you ever stood beneath a clear night sky out in the countryside somewhere, away from the glare of city lights, hearing only the quiet sounds of the night? The chirp of a cricket, the hoot of an owl, mysterious rustlings of undergrowth and the occasional swish of the wind in the tree boughs? Have you gazed up at the immense sky strewn with flashing stars, sparkling like gemstones, traced out the constellations, observed a planet or two, looked at the great river of the milky way? I have had this experience may a time, but perhaps nowhere as awe-inspiring as in the Australian Outback, where the solitary location, the knowledge that the any other human being is probably more than 200, 300 kilometres away, and also of course, the perfect conditions for viewing the starry sky.

One feels very small and insignificant in this type of situation, with the great inverted bowl made of deep blue velvet and embroidered with thousands of diamonds. The earth around one seems to be an endless plain and the night sounds soon fade into one’s subconscious so that one can hear perhaps what the ancients called the “music of the spheres”… The glittering light show above one’s head is awesome and terrifying in its enormity, when one considers the infinity of distances radiating outward into outer space, the amazing knowledge that some of the light beams that strike one’s retina have been travelling for millions upon millions of years.

The night sky and the stars have fascinated human beings ever since they developed a consciousness of the world around them and their place in it. Is it small wonder that they chose to populate the sky with their gods as soon as they had conceived of the idea of the divine? The heavens above inspire and terrify us; we look upwards in prayer and consternation; we fear the unknown above and our awe is mirrored in our fascination with all things to do with space. Astrology came long before astronomy, and scientific method still has not managed to slay the beasts of the zodiac.

On January 15th this year, astronomers from around the globe gathered in Paris and celebrated the official beginning of the International Year of Astronomy, 2009 (IYA2009). It is no coincidence that this year also happens to be the 400th anniversary of the discovery of the telescope. 400 years ago, in the University of Padua in Italy, professor Galileo Galilei, a precocious Italian of relatively modest achievement, had the bright idea of turning a modified spyglass toward the night sky. What he saw forever shattered the ancient Earth-centered cosmos. Galileo very nearly risked the wrath of the Catholic Church and excommunication, and it was grudgingly that he recanted his revolutionary ideas, all the while muttering under his breath that the “earth did indeed move around the sun” (against the geocentric ideas of the Church at that time).

In honour of some of the famous astronomers of the past, here listed, IYA2009 will be a good year for the cosmos!

Aristarchus of Samos (Greece 310 BC - ca. 230 BC);
Claudius Ptolemaeus (Alexandria, after AD 83–c.168);
Nicolaus Copernicus (Poland 1473 - 1543);
Tycho Brahe (Scania, Denmark 1546 - 1601);
Galileo Galilei (Arcetri, Tuscany, Italy 1564 - 1642);
Johannes Kepler (Germany 1571 - 1630);
Giovanni Domenico Cassini (Genoa, Italy 1625 - 1712);
Christiaan Huygens (The Hague, Netherlands 1629 - 1695);
Sir Isaac Newton (England 1643 - 1727);
Sir John Frederick William Herschel (Berkshire, England 1792 - 1871);
Percival Lawrence Lowell (1855 - 1916);
George Ellery Hale (USA 1868 - 1938);
Edwin Powell Hubble (USA 1889 - 1953);
Clyde William Tombaugh (1906 - 1997)
Vera (Cooper) Rubin (USA 1928 -);

Sunday 15 February 2009


“The most wasted of all days is one without laughter.” - e.e. cummings

At the weekend we watched a British comedy series on DVD. We certainly needed a little bit of a laugh and this was just the right thing to do it. I had not seen this when it was broadcast on TV, and as it was on special at our video store I bought it simply because I liked the blurb on the back. It is “The Worst Week of My Life” (2004), a well written and acted British farce that delivers the type of light-hearted humour that one expects from the country that knows how to laugh at itself.

The premise of the series is very simple: It is only a week before the wedding of Mel (Sarah Alexander) and Howard (Ben Miller) and there are hundred and one things to take care of. Well, of course everything that can go wrong does and Howard gets himself into progressively hotter and hotter water. It is nothing new, you may think, it’s been done before (remember “Meet the Parents” of 2000?). However, it is strangely novel and refreshing and there is a laugh a minute guaranteed, even more of you see it as the bit of fluff that it is.

The comedy here, sure enough, sometimes is quite predictable (and that is when one cringes for poor Howard…), but at other times the jokes come in from left field and one cannot help but dissolve into full belly laughs. The other benefit is that there is no canned laughter in the soundtrack (I really dislike that!) and one can spontaneously and naturally laugh when one feels like it, instead of being compelled to by the cue card.

The bride-to-be’s upper class parents can’t stand the sight of poor Howard and much of the humour is derived from his devious ways of trying to ingratiate himself into their good favours. However, in the course of just one week he crawls into bed and gropes his future mother-in-law, accidentally throws the family dog into a cement mixer while it’s on, destroys a valuable painting and injures (nearly fatally) the beloved grandmother. And while he thought he had almost won them over, his own father turns up, sexually involved with a lap dancer with as much class as a public toilet.

Well, it’s not Ibsen nor is it Molière, but it’s not pretending to be anything else except an amusing television sitcom. I believe a sequel or two has been made (post nuptials). We needed to laugh last weekend and this was just the thing. Maybe we wouldn’t have found it as funny under other circumstances, but seeing there was quite a bit of emotional charging during the past week, this was wonderful. Have a look at it if you lay your hands on it, you will be quite amused!


“Not all those who wander are lost.” - J.R.R. Tolkien

For Art Sunday today, a painting from the Art Gallery of South Australia, which I saw last time visited Adelaide. It is H.J. Johnstone’s “Evening Shadows – Backwater of the Murray”, painted in 1880. This was the first acquisition of the Art Gallery of South Australia. “Evening Shadows” is also Australia's most copied work of art. Not only did Johnstone paint at least four versions himself; it was also painted by students in Adelaide around the 1890s and early 1900s as an art school exercise. More than 90 copies of the painting (made by both skilled artists and enthusiastic amateurs) are known to exist.

This is a large oil painting (120.6 cm x 184.1 cm) depicting a twilight scene on the backwaters of the Murray River (Australia’s longest river), in the late 19th century. The fading light has almost turned the giant red river gums that dominate the scene into silhouettes, exaggerating the bulk of their trunks and the twisted angles of their limbs. Two aborigines are sitting alongside a bark hut and a campfire, while a mysterious third person is about to cross a fallen tree that spans the river to join them. This is an apparently timeless, pre-British colonial scene; however, a small clue, the blanket around the shoulders of the old man, reveals that contact between indigenous people and British colonists has occurred. The nagging thought that this small group of people might be all that remains of an entire community alters the meaning and mood of this striking image. This could be an illustration from an antipodean horror story.

It is an excellent example of an approach to landscape painting popular in Australia in the later 19th century, known as “picturesque landscape” this style of painting involved capturing the moods of nature through dramatic interpretations of remarkable natural motifs such as waterfalls, mountains and rivers. It also demonstrates the way in which European models of picturesque landscape painting were adapted by Australian colonial artists to offer city audiences dramatic interpretations of the Australian bush - by the late 19th century, Australia had become one of the most urbanised countries in the world, with most of its population concentrated in the coastal capital cities; even so, many city dwellers still identified with the bush, including Johnstone, who romanticised it for this audience

It is a significant work by Johnstone, a painter and photographer who established a reputation as a painter of picturesque views - depictions of the tranquil waters of the Murray, Goulburn and Murrumbidgee rivers form the greater part of his output; majestic red river gums often featured in his landscapes, which were frequently populated with Indigenous people, or British explorers and pioneers.

It is an outstanding example of the way in which some artists working in the late 19th century combined photographic realism with symbolism. Twilight, no matter how realistically depicted, often represented the end of something. In this particular painting it is the Australian aborigines, who were assumed at the time to be on the brink of extinction. “Evening shadows” further alludes to this notion through the powerful sense of stillness created by the mirror-smooth water and the gathering gloom
Enjoy your week!