Going Back to the Roots

Last week a friend from France was visiting, and we had bhindi vegetable for lunch. The conversation turned to what this vegetable was called, and how it was eaten, in different parts of the world– from crisply fried Lady’s Fingers, to Okra soup.  This not particularly fancy nor exotic vegetable boasts of a long list of synonyms including gombo, gumbo, quingombo, okro, ochro, bamia, bamie, quiabo!

Fruits and vegetables are such an integral part of our daily diet, but most of us are not aware of their intriguing histories. Many vegetable names simply refer to their shape, colour and taste. In the case of Drumstick, this makes sense, but to imagine bhindi as Lady’s Fingers does take a leap of imagination!

The names of many vegetables and fruits in English have their origins in languages like Latin, Spanish, and French; and sometimes the original meanings lie hidden in their names.

Eggplant was given its name by Europeans in the middle of the eighteenth century because the variety they knew had fruits that were of a whitish or yellowish colour, and the shape and size of goose eggs. The purple variety that we are most familiar with, and call baingan or brinjal may have been derived from the Sanskrit vatimgana. This word travelled through Persian to the Arabic name al-badinjan, and further filtered through Portuguese and Catalan to become aubergine in Britain and Europe.

Cabbage gets its name from Middle French caboche which means ‘head’. It was derived as a diminutive from Latin caput which means head as it resembled the head of a person.

Orange, the fruit on the other hand, was not named for its colour, but the other way round.  The word is believed to have its origins from the Sanskrit naranga; which explains why, in several Indian languages, it is called narangi.

Pineapple seems to be a simple joining of two English words–pine and apple.  But surprisingly this word was originally used for what we call pine cone; although it is inexplicable why an inedible, hard piece of a tree should be called a pine ‘apple’. To confuse things further, melon is the Greek word for apple!

In a similar vein, Gooseberry has nothing to do with geese. It was originally gorseberry, derived from the ‘gorst’ which meant rough. This berry was so called because it grew on a rough and thorny shrub.

Raspberry comes from the German verb raspen which means to rub together or rub as with a file. The marks on the berry were thought to resemble file markings.

Strawberry is a corruption of ‘strayberry’ which was so named because of the way the runners from this plant stray all over the place!

Currants were so called because they first came from Corinth. Cherries got their name from the city of Cerasus. The term grape is the English equivalent of the Italian grappo, and the Dutch and the French grappe, all meaning bunch. Raisin is a French word that comes from the Latin racenus, a dried grape.

Kiwi however takes the cake! It is so called not because it originated in New Zealand—the home of the Kiwi bird. It is the Chinese missionaries who brought the fruit to this country, and they called them Chinese gooseberries because they were from China and similar in flavour to gooseberries. It wasn’t until the 1960s, when New Zealand began exporting the fruit, that people started calling it Kiwi fruit.

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Vegetable or Fruit?

And then there is the tomato. In culinary terms we consider it a vegetable; but this is actually a fruit in terms of its botanical characteristics—it is edible, contains a seed, is at least somewhat sweet, and grows on a plant.

16 October is celebrated every year as World Food Day. This marks the date of the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.  Let each day be one of thanksgiving and celebration of the food we eat, by whatever name we may call it. After all, a mango by any other name will taste just as delicious!

–Mamata

 

Technology And the Sweet Smell of Success

c51a218268e55a64559428ab06f2eff5Last week, at a Rotary event, I heard Kavita Misra speak. She  is a woman-farmer-entrepreneur from the backward district of Raichur, Karnataka. A diploma and PG in Computer Applications, she was married into a traditional family. Though offered a lucrative job in an IT major 20 years ago, she did not take up the offer as her family was not happy to have her take a job. Her husband threw her the challenge to stay in the village and do something. He gave her an acre of land—which was rocky, barren and water-less. Because that was all that was available there. From there to becoming the millionaire famer-entrepreneur she is today was a long and hard journey.

The most important lesson to me was the role her technical education and training have played in her success. Her actively seeking new and better methods of farming, and quick adoption of innovations has been at the heart of her achievements.  And it brought to me that if we want a paradigm shift in the way farmers do agriculture, they need to be more comfortable with technology, in sync with scientific developments and more technically savvy.

To give an example, Kavita is one of the most successful sandalwood growers in the country, and has sandalwood nurseries which sell sandalwood saplings all over India. Sandalwood is one of the very high value trees, and farmers who cultivate it can earn in crores. The tree fetches about Rs. 1 crore per tonne. A 15-year old tree yields about 15 kg of heartwood (though waiting 20-25 years gives more yields), and one acre can support about 300 trees.

One of the biggest challenges in sandalwood cultivation is theft. Given the high value of the wood, thieves and smugglers are constantly looking for ways to get into plantations and make away with trees. Farmers usually deploy guards and guard dogs, apart from physical and electrical fences.

Recently, Institute of Wood Science and Technology (IWST), has developed a microchip which can be inserted into the growing sandalwood trees, and linked to a smart phone. And you can monitor your tree from anywhere in the world! Alerts go to the farmer as well as the nearest police station if any movement of the wood is detected.

This has been developed, field tested and improved over two years by IWST and Hitachi India Pvt. Ltd. There were many problems to overcome..from the battery size which was too big for the tree trunks to bear, to need for increasing battery life, to the sensitivity of the chip to wear and tear and exposure to the elements.

Even though it is expensive, progressive farmers like Kavita have been able to see the potential and have quickly come forward to adopt the technology and popularize it among others. It is this mind-set and appreciation of the benefits of technology which will be game-changers in agriculture.

–Meena

Remembering the Post-age

World Post Day is celebrated on 9 October each year. This is the dpost box india.jpgate on which the Universal Postal Union was established in 1874, in Bern, Switzerland. It was declared as World Post Day at the UPU Congress held in Tokyo in 1969. In just 50 years technology has hugely changed our modes of written communication. Soon there will be an entire generation that has never handled pen, paper, envelopes and stamps, and will never know what the age of physical post was all about. I do feel sorry for them!

Here is my small way of celebrating World Post Day!

An Ode to Letters

The last time I wrote a letter? Why, just today!

I need it like therapy, at least once a day.

I do not twitter nor tweet, tho’ the world finds it so neat!

Instagram and Snapchat…What’s that?

I like my words to be spelt as they must, and sentences that don’t rust.

Alas, now I too must type my words and SEND an e-mail.

Oh for the days when they were penned, and were snail mail!

I so miss the prelude, the preparation and the process…

Choosing the paper and filling the pen (with an ink called Quink!)

Trying to capture the words as they tumbled and tangled and dangled,

Protestations and lamentations, explanations and vexations.

Reports to parents, and advice to sisters, news to share and opinions to air.

Musings with friends–from mundane to surreal,

Sweet nothings to that someone special!

Drafting and crafting late into the night,

Stashing the sheets in the envelope, before first light.

To the post office the following day, to weigh and decide

The stamps to be bought, and pasted on the top right side.

Then drop into the big red box with swish and a wish,

And the delicious anticipation of the letter in return… a month, a week, a fortnight,

Counting the days, awaiting the post, what a splendid way to spend days and nights!

I cannot think of anything better, than the sheer joy of penning a letter!

For the dinosaurs who lived through the age of pen and paper, and those who may only read about it in history books!

–Mamata

A Smile A Day

It is the face that launched a thousand (and more) emoticons. It is the ubiquitous SMILEY! Probably one of the most recognizable icons across the world, this simple graphic had humble beginnings, and an interesting history.

The original version was created in 1963 by an American graphic artist and ad man Harvey Ross Ball. He was commissioned by an insurance company that had recently been merged with another, and was facing low employee morale. His brief was to create a visual icon to accompany a morale-boosting ‘friendship campaign’ that the company was planning to launch.

smiley.jpg
The original Smiley face Source https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/

Harvey Ball  picked up a black pen and a yellow piece of paper and started with just a grinning mouth on a perfect circle. Then he realised that this could be easily inverted to send a “frowney” message, and he added the small oval eyes. The left eye was deliberately created slightly smaller than the right, and the right side of the mouth thicker, larger and slightly off centre, in order to humanize the drawing through its imperfection. Thus emerged the world’s first Smiley Face! The design took Harvey ten minutes, and he was paid $45 for it.

 

The company first produced this design on a hundred buttons with a 7/8 inch radius, for its employees. But soon their clients also started requesting these, and the company ordered thousands of buttons. Soon the face started appearing on posters and signs also. It is not known to what extent it boosted morale, but the round yellow graphic made up only of two dots and a lopsided line was an instant hit!

Neither Harvey Ball nor the company had thought of taking a trademark or copyright on the design. With its unanticipated popularity, it was only a matter of time before the immense commercial potential of this was exploited. In the early 1970s, two brothers Bernard and Murray Spain added the tagline ‘Have a happy day’ (later changed to ‘Have a nice day’) and copyrighted the logo/slogan combination in 1971. The Spain brothers sold an estimated 50 million Smiley Face buttons, as well as an avalanche of other Smiley merchandise including coffee mugs, T-shirts, posters and, you name it… Beginning in 1996, Walmart tried to claim ownership of the design which they started using in their stores and TV ads. The disputed case dragged on for 10 years before they lost their claim to the Smiley Face.

Over the years as Harvey Ball saw how his simple idea for sharing a smile had changed. He observed that “Smiley has become so commercialized that its original message of spreading good will and good cheer has all but disappeared. I needed to do something to change that.” In 1999, he announced the formation of the Harvey Ball World Smile Foundation, a charitable trust that supports various children’s causes. Its slogan is “Do an act of kindness – help one person smile!”

Harvey Ball died in 2001 at the age of 79. He never regretted the fact that he did not make a penny more than $45 from the million-dollar industry that his Smiley spawned. He was satisfied that the smiling face, “has gone around the world. It’s reached everybody. Its message is as good as you can get.” Proud to be its creator, he often said, “I made the world smile.”

To spread his message, the first Friday in October is celebrated as World Smile Day. A reminder that a smile can make a difference!

–Mamata

A Gandhi for Every Poet

Among the thousands of events to mark Gandhiji’s 150th anniversary, the one I was privileged to attend was indeed special. A evening of ‘Gandhi music’ by the renowned Shubha Mudgal, at the Bangalore International  Center.

What made it special was that it was not the usual ‘Ashram bhajans’.  It was a bit disorienting to not have the performance begin with ‘Vaishnava Jan’ or ‘Raghupati Raghav’ or even ‘Ekla chalo’. But one was soon in the flow…not only of Shubhaji’s voice, but also the unknown…at least to me…songs.

This was a collection of poems on Gandhi and about his leadership of the freedom movement which the artist had researched, curated and set to music. Nothing else could have brought home more powerfully how wide and deep the Mahatma’ s influence was. There were pieces written by literary figures. A Bhojpuri folk song which talked about the charkha. A Holi song from Uttaranchal urging people to get immersed in Gandhi’s colours. A poem by someone who had lived in Gandhi’s ashram for 30 years and had written 500 poems reflecting on his experiences. A contemporary poem written a few years ago by an educational administrator from the Delhi government.

But the one that left a special mark was a song by a courtesan. In a characteristically out of the box move, Gandhiji had apparently addressed a ‘Tawaif Sabha’ in Benaras to urge them to do their bit for the freedom movement. His request was they should include  at least one protest song in their performances. In response, one well-known artist, Vidyadharibai, wrote and presumably performed a very powerful song castigating the British.

And the evening was limited to Hindi songs. It is mind-boggling to think what wealth of poetry there must be in all our languages! How did Gandhiji touch so many people, so many different kinds of people, people in so many places? How did he relate to all of them and all of them to him? Businessmen, farmers, rich, poor, professionals, weavers…..How did he inspire them and change them all?

The memory persists down generations. But the change?

—Meena

Gandhi, in and on Newspapers

It is Gandhi week, and newspapers are full of articles and pieces aIMG_20191001_104301.jpgbout Gandhi, his thoughts and deeds. This year it is with renewed vigour as it marks the 150th anniversary of Gandhi’s birth. Being the prolific writer that he was, and the wide spectrum of subjects and areas on which he expressed his thoughts, every writer today can find some words of wisdom from Gandhi with respect to whatever they may choose to contribute for the ‘Gandhi special’ editions.

Gandhi himself was no exception to the pressure of meeting a newspaper deadline. Sometime in the second half on 1917 he wrote: I promised the Editor a contribution for the Diwali number of Hindustan. I find that I have no time to make good the promise, but thinking that I must write something, I place before the readers my views on newspapers. Under pressure of circumstances, I had to work in a newspaper office in South Africa and this gave me an opportunity to think on the subject. I have put in practice all the ideas that I venture to advance here.

Continuing, he went on to express his views on the business and ethics of newspapers of the day.

Newspapers are meant primarily to educate the people. They make the latter familiar with contemporary history. This is a work of no mean responsibility. It is a fact however, that the readers cannot always trust newspapers. Often the facts are found to be quite the opposite of what has been reported.  If newspapers realised that it was their duty to educate the people, they could not but wait to check a report before publishing it. It is true that often they have to work under difficult conditions. They have to sift the true from the false in but a short time, and can only guess at the truth. Even then I am of the opinion that it is better not to publish a report at all if it has not been found possible to verify it.

How interesting that the same debate about Fake news, and news used to provoke and promote dissension and distrust, continues to rage even today, albeit now, in the context not only of the print media, but all other media also.

Equally thought provoking and relevant are his concerns about the potentially dangerous role that newspapers can play.

It is often observed that newspapers publish any matter that they have, just to fill in space. This practice is almost universal. The reason is that most newspapers have their eye on profits. There is no doubt that newspapers have done great service. …But to my mind they have done no less harm. …many are full of prejudices, create or increase ill will among people. At times they produce bitterness and strife between different families and communities. …On the whole, it would seem that the existence of newspapers promotes good and evil in equal measure. 

He continues with his canny observations on how revenue from advertising tends to override other journalistic responsibilities. And this was over a hundred years ago!

It is now an established practice with newspapers to depend for revenues mainly on advertisements, rather than on subscriptions. The result has been deplorable. The very newspaper which writes against the drink-evil publishes advertisements in praise of drink. Medical advertisements are the largest source of revenue, though today they have done and are doing, incalculable harm to people.  I have been an eye witness to the harm done by them. Many people are lured into buying harmful medicines. …No matter at what cost or effort we must put an end to this undesirable practice or, at least, reform. It is the duty of every newspaper to exercise some restraint in the matter of advertisements.

Ironically my newspaper today has ten full-glossy pages creating aspirations of ”dream” lifestyles, and wooing consumers with advertisements of state-of-the art luxurious residences, gadgets, and holidays; and profligate indulgences in food, drink, clothes, cosmetics and more. The other ten pages has the kind of news that Gandhi had been so concerned about (violence, intolerance, discrimination and disparity), along with a sprinkling of pieces about the Gandhian tenets of simplicity, honesty and truthfulness, and introspection! Contradiction, or comfortable and convenient co-existence? Something to think about indeed!

Written by Gandhi sometime before 14 November 1917 (originally in Gujarati) Source: Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi, Vol.14. https://www.gandhiheritageportal.org

–Mamata

 

Environmental Scolder-in-Chief

E_SDG goals_icons-individual-rgb-13“You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!’ said Greta Thunberg to world leaders at the UN.

And that is a scolding they will not forget in a long time!

Greta, the girl, who in her teens is shaking up the world! Deeply concerned about the climate crisis, and even more concerned that world leaders were not taking it seriously, a few years ago, Greta took off from school to protest outside Sweden’s Parliament, calling for action on climate. She tried to get some of her school mates to join her, but no one was interested. So she took time off from school every Friday, and sat alone outside Parliament for three weeks, holding signs which said ‘School Strike for the Climate’, and handing out pamphlets. Her strikes found their way to social media and started attracting worldwide attention.

As time went on, inspired by her, more school children joined in, and organized protests in their own communities. This developed into the School Climate Strike movement, or ‘Fridays for the Future’. And there have been strikes involving tens of thousands of school children in major cities of the world.

So strong were these voices of the youth that Greta was invited to address the United Nations Climate Change Conference in 2018. Her advocacy is forcing governments to acknowledge that they need to do more for the future generations by taking climate action.

Greta is not just about advocacy and telling other people what to do. She challenged her family to adopt more a more environment friendly life style and reduce their carbon footprint. And she succeeded! Her family is vegan now, and her mother has even given up her career as an international opera singer—which involved a lot of air travel– in order to reduce her carbon footprint!

Greta herself made the headlines once again when in August 2019, she sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from Plymouth, UK to New York, US in a 60ft racing yacht equipped with solar panels and underwater turbines to participate in some key meetings. The 15-day voyage demonstrated that it was possible to reduce emissions and do a carbon neutral transatlantic crossing serving. Greta attended the UN Climate Action Summit in New York City and COP 25 (Conference of Parties) Climate Change Conference in Santiago, Chile.

Greta has told the world what young people expect. Will world leaders and adults like us be able to step and do what it takes?

–Meena

Dragonflies

The beginning of autumn

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Photo: Revati Pandya

decided by

the red dragonfly

Shirao

The September morning sky is dotted these days with dragonflies. It is an uplifting sight—to see them gliding gracefully, flitting, swirling and swooping like dancers against the canvas of blue sky and white clouds. I remember several Japanese Haiku that celebrate the dragonfly.

Dragonflies play an important part in Japanese life and culture. They are associated with autumn as well as spring, and are seen as harbingers of life and prosperity, birth, and renewal, happiness and strength.  Japanese art, literature, textiles, and design, as well as literature (especially haiku poetry) reflect this close association and respect. The red dragonfly is considered to be sacred. One of the popular traditional pastimes of Japanese children has been catching dragonflies.

The dragonfly is one of the oldest of the insect species, which has inhabited our planet for almost 300 million years. It is natural that these insects have become an integral part of folklore in many cultures which have developed their own beliefs associated with the form and life cycle of insect.

In China, people associate the dragonfly with prosperity, harmony and as a good luck charm. Amongst Native Americans, it is a sign of happiness, speed and purity.

In many parts of the world the dragonfly also symbolises adaptation, transformation and renewal. In Native American culture it was seen as a sign of resurrection after a hard struggle. This is probably associated with the metamorphosis that the insect undergoes in its life-cycle, from a drab larval stage in which it spends most of its life before it emerges as a graceful and colourful adult. Once it emerges, it has a very short time to live its adult life, but it seems as if it flies freely with no regrets. The Dragonfly’s scurrying flight across water represents an act of going beyond what’s on the surface and looking into the deeper implications and aspects of life. Thus it symbolises the virtue of living in the moment and living life to the fullest, while at the same time looking deeper.

Across cultures, the dragonfly has been associated with magical qualities and mysticism. This may be associated with the fact that they exhibit the phenomenon of iridescence, which means that the body of the dragonfly can reflect and refract white light to create beautiful colours that change depending on the angle of light or the angle from which you look at them. Thus they also symbolize illusion–making others see you the way you want them to see!

Dragonflies are respected by fishing communities. In some places it is believed that plenty of dragonflies over a particular spot meant there were plenty of fish around. If a dragonfly hovered near the fisherman, he took it as a good luck sign.

I had not realised what a deep and rich association the dragonfly has in so many cultures. However I have not found much about this association in Indian culture. We do tend to somewhat overlook, let alone write poems about, these flying insects as they neither catch our eye as butterflies do, nor intrude into our daily life as flies and mosquitoes do.

But I did come across something that makes immediate sense for me. Seeing swarms of dragonflies means that rain is on the way; and as our  monsoon still lingers this year, maybe they will bring more rain! And, more practically, that dragonflies are very useful in helping combat the mosquito and other pests that constitute their prey. I definitely consider having them around my house as a symbol of health and good luck!

See this dragonfly….IMG_20190924_084456_Bokeh__01.jpg

His face is

practically

nothing else but eyes.

Chisoku

–Mamata

 

 

How a German Town Became a Tamil Shrew

Well, not exactly a shrew, but a very sharp, savvy, aggressive woman!

emden

Ok, lets wind this story back!

In Tamil, ‘Emden’ (or ‘Yemden’, as pronounced in Tamil) is used to describe a person (usually female?) who gets things done, who brooks no interference or resistance or opposition.

‘Yemden’ is used in various different tonalities: If an old lady is using it to describe her favourite niece, it is in a tone of admiration for the go-getter whom no one can fool; if describing a not-favourite neighbour’s daughter, the tone is somewhat deprecatory—as in ‘what a badly-behaved girl’; if used for a much-disliked sister-in-law, the tone is definitely derogatory—as in ‘such an aggressive, uncouth person—bad addition to the family’.

When I was young, I thought it was a Tamil word, so casually was it used in conversations. It was much later that I learnt the etymology of the word. The origin of the term is convoluted:

On the night of September 22, 1914, in the early days of World War I, the German cruiser Emden entered the Madras Port. Harboured there were several oil tankers belonging to Burmah Oil Company (a British company). Capt. Karl von Muller who was in command of Emden, fired at them. Within minutes, five tankers went up in flames, destroying close to 3,50,000 gallons of fuel. 
And forever imprinting that night in the memories of the people of Madras and Tamilnadu, as a night of terror, of war, of aggression, of bombs, of fire. Capt. Muller was to later write: “I had this shelling in view simply as a demonstration to arouse interest among the Indian population, to disturb English commerce, to diminish English prestige.” He certainly succeeded in arousing interest, considering that more than a century later, the word ‘Emden’ continues to be a part of Tamil vocabulary!

Emden the town which lent its name to the ship is fairly non-descript. It is a seaport in the northwest of Germany, on the river Ems. In 2011, it had a total population of 51,528.

Emden the ship has a slightly more interesting (if bloody) history. SMS Emden [was a Dresden class light cruiser built for the Imperial German Navy, and armed with ten 10.5 cm guns and two torpedo tubes.

Emden spent most of her career in the German East Asia Squadron based in China. During World War I, Emden captured nearly two dozen ships. Apart from the attack on Chennai, Emden launched a surprise attack on Penang and in the resulting Battle of Penang, she sank a Russian cruiser and a French destroyer.

Capt. Müller then took Emden to the Cocos Islands, where he landed a bunch of sailors to destroy British facilities. There, Emden was attacked by an Australian cruiser  which inflicted serious damage and forced Müller to run his ship aground to prevent her from sinking. Out of a crew of 376, 133 were killed in the battle. Most of the survivors were taken prisoner. Emden‘s wreck was quickly destroyed by wave action, and was broken up for scrap in the 1950s.

–Meena

PS: I do sense a gender issue here, with a bias against strong women! Even the use of term ‘shrew’ is on the same lines–apologies!

PPS: Ironically, the city centre of Emden was almost completely wiped out as a result of Allied bombing in World War II, which destroyed nearly all historic buildings. The most severe bombing by the RAF took place on 6 September 1944, when roughly 80 percent of all houses in the city centre were destroyed. In the collective memory of the city, this date still plays an important role. 

PPPS: Wikipedia is the main source for information on the Emdens.

Ozone Story

September 16 was proclaimed as the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer by the United Nations General Assembly. It was on this day in 1987 that the Montreal Protocol to control production and consumption of Ozone Depleting Substances was signed by various countries at Montreal, Canada. Since then this day is used as an opportunity to bring to public attention the importance of the Ozone layer and the threats to it caused by human activities.

The theme for this year’s World Ozone Day is ‘32 Years and Healing’. This celebrates one of the few success stories in the gloom and doom of news about the environment. The healing is the outcome of three decades of international cooperation to protect the ozone layer and the climate.

On reading about this I felt a sense of satisfaction at having contributed in a teeny-tiny way to the healing effort. It was in 1997 that the Centre for Environment Education got engaged in a variety of projects to raise awareness about the issue to a wide range of audiences—from school children to policy makers. As part of this we developed educational material that could communicate the somewhat complex science in a simple way, as well as motivate people to take action to prevent what was then an ominously growing hole in the ozone layer.

Today both the science and the understanding has advanced greatly, but it is still useful to remember some ozone basics.

OOOzone: When it is alone, it is called an oxygen atom. When two oxygen atIMG_20190917_152811.jpgoms get together, it is called oxygen molecule or just oxygen. When three oxygen atoms get together, it is called an ozone molecule!

Where is Ozone? A thin invisible layer of ozone gas is found in the upper atmosphere 15-60 km above the earth. This is called the ozone layer.

How much Ozone? There are only one to ten units of ozone in every million units of gas or particles in the upper atmosphere. Instruments measure ozone in parts per million (ppm).

What does the ozone layer do for us? In the upper atmosphere, the ozone layer acts as a natural shield. It protects the earth and its inhabitants by absorbing the harmful part of the ultraviolet radiation from the sun. Too much ultraviolet radiation is dangerous for all living creatures—humans, animals and plants.

What kind of danger? In humans it may increase the rate of skin cancers, eye problems and cataracts; and also weaken the immune system. It can reduce crop yields as plants will have reduced leaf size and germination time. It could kill phytoplankton—the base of the food chain in water and disturb the entire aquatic food chain. It can also damage paints and fabrics, as well as plastic.

How is the ozone layer damaged? By the use of Ozone Depleting Substances (ODS) which include chemicals called CFCs and Halons, which are released through human activities, and which float into the upper atmosphere.

In the last thirty years since the awareness about the danger from these substances was recognised, there has been a consistent effort at national and global levels to phase out the ODS, through policies, international agreements, and R&D in industry to find better substitutes. The Montreal Protocol has led to the phase-out of 99 per cent of ozone-depleting chemicals in refrigerators, air-conditioners and many other products.

However there are still products in the market that could potentially be threats. As consumers we can all play a role in protecting the layer that protects us, through the choices we make. Here are some tips on what we can avoid. Avoid aerosols whether for pesticides or perfumes. Avoid Styrofoam glasses and plates; use reusable steel and glass vessels. Avoid foam mattresses and pillows, use traditional cotton or coir products.  We must also remain vigilant to tackle any illegal sources of ozone-depleting substances as they arise

While we can celebrate success this year, this day is also a reminder that we must keep up the momentum to ensure healthy people and a healthy planet.

–Mamata