An Old-Fashioned Tribute to Diversity

C634E548-70B1-4F19-97D5-C821011F64A4The last telegram in India was sent at 11.45 p.m. on the 14th of July, 2013. The telegram service in the country started in 1850 on an experimental basis, and was made available to the public in 1854. It connected us across the vast country, the harbinger of joys and sorrows. The arrival of a telegram definitely did give rise to butterflies in the stomach and a rise in blood pressure.

But there was a class of telegrams called ‘Greetings Telegrams’, which brought only joy. The Postal Department had kindly put together greetings-phrases to cover many occasions, and one had to only choose the number and the message would be handed over to the recipient in a specially-designed happy format.

What struck me when I recently went through the list of greetings telegrams was a sense of India—all our celebrations and special occasions—religious and secular, national and personal. The list obviously does not cover the entire gamut. But one can see the effort for inclusivity—whether of religion or community or region. And also a sense of evolving sensitivity. Additions of Parushan, Ravidas Purnima, Bihu or Ugadi at later numbers do definitely indicate this evolving sensitivity to me.

The intriguing ones are of course the ones on elections!

No. 100 on the list was a condolence message, something often needed but only informally on the ‘Greetings’ list!

Today, this list and its evolving nature might be called political correctness at best (tokenism, appeasement or pseudo-secularism would also definitely be bandied),  but for me, it is my India! Here is the list:

 

  1. Heartiest Diwali Greetings (1)
  2. Id Mubarak (2)
  3. Heartiest Bijoya Greetings (3)
  4. A Happy New Year To You (4)
  5. Many Happy returns of the day (5)
  6. Hearty Congratulations on the new Arrival (6)
  7. Congratulations on the Distinction conferred on you (7)
  8. Best Wishes for a long and Happy married life (8)
  9. A Merry Christmas to you (9)
  10. Hearty Congratulations on your success in the Examination (10)
  11. Best Wishes for a safe and pleasant journey (11)
  12. Hearty Congratulations for your success in Election (12)
  13. Many Thanks for your good wishes which i/we Reciprocate Most Heartily (13)
  14. Congratulations (14)
  15. Loving Greetings (15)
  16. May Heaven’s Choicest Blessings be showered on the young couple (16)
  17. Wish you both a happy and prosperous wedded life (17)
  18. Kind Remembrances and all Good Wishes for the Independence Day (18)
  19. Sincere Greetings for the Republic Day Long Live the Republic (19)
  20. My Heartiest Holi Greetings to you (20)
  21. Wishing the function every success (21)
  22. Many thanks for your kind message of Greetings (22)
  23. Best Wishes for your successes in the examination (23)
  24. Best Wishes for your success in Elections
  25. Convey our blessings to the newly married couple (25)
  26. Heartiest Pongal Greetings (26)
  27. Heartiest Gur Purb Greetings (27)
  28. Greetings on the occasion of Parvushan-a day of universal forgiveness (28)
  29. Heartiest Onam Greetings (29)
  30. Best Wishes on your wedding anniversary (30)
  31. Wish you a happy retired life (31)
  32. Wish you a speedy recovery (32)
  33. Heartiest Ugadi Greetings (33)
  34. Congratulations on your victory (34)
  35. Wish you a Happy Bihu (35)
  36. A Happy Easter (36)
  37. Heartiest Greetings on Buddha Jayanti (37)
  38. Heartiest Congratulations on Greh Pravesh (38)
  39. Heartiest Guru Ravidas Purnima Greetings (39)
  40. Heartiest Greetings on Navroj
  41. Heartiest Greetings on the Occasion of Jhulelal Jayanti
  42. Healthiest Greetings on the Occasion of Makarsankranti
  43. Healthiest Greetings on the Occasion of Chatrapatimaharaja Shri Agrasen Jayanti

 

–Meena

 

 

 

 

LEGISLATING GENDER QUOTAS

In our work with communities, the term SP is common. It stands for Sarpanch Pati—the husband who is the de facto Sarpanch, though his wife is the elected representative in the woman-reserved constituency. A few weeks ago, there was a news item about some state government prohibiting SPs from taking decisions!

Women not able to act in spite of legislative provisions—if we think it is a rural phenomenon, it would be a mistake.

Gender quota challenges play out in corporate India too—only differently.

The New Companies Act 2013 mandated that all listed companies and large public companies should have at least one woman on their Boards.  I decided to take a look at the representation of women in Boards in large companies in India to get a feel of this.

A quick examination of the top 30 BSE companies threw up these interesting facts:

  • Yes, all of them have complied with the law and had at least one woman directors.
  • But taking into account the total number of directors in these 30 companies, less than 15% of them are women.
  • Only one of the 30 companies had a woman in the Chair.
  • There was no company which have women as a majority on the Board or even half the directors as women. Most companies have between 11 and 20 percent women directors.
  • Every company has four mandatory committees (sub-committees of the Board). In the 30 companies studied, there are therefore, 120 mandatory committees. Of these, women were represented in less than half.  Only 15 Committees were chaired by women
  • ‘3’ is a magic number as far as women representation on Boards goes. Many researchers have averred that this is the minimum threshold which ensures that women directors are able to bring into play their strengths and contribute meaningfully to board processes, and hence corporate governance and management. It is found to be the minimum required number for women board members to make a difference and bring into play their value-addition. Only 10 percent of the companies studied had three or more women on the board.
  • A very small proportion of directors are internal women directors, especially those holding the position of Executive Director.

185909EC-97D6-40FF-B8C1-89710FC3916C

Large companies in India are seen to be fully compliant with the law, and none of them has missed out on appointing one woman director to the Board. Some have gone beyond, and have appointed two. But very few have facilitated the condition which would really make women representation effective—viz, having three women on the board. Hence it seems that much more has to be done in terms of making the participation of women directors effective. Apart from absolute numbers, it would seem that proportion of women on the boards could also do with enhancement.

The serious under-representation of women in the position of Board Chairs is a matter of concern.

Equally the fact that very few women directors are internal. Such internal representation of women in top management positions is a strong signal for the women employees of the possibilities of career progression.

 

Also, the representation of women on mandatory committees, and their leadership of these is another area that corporates may need to focus efforts. Board Committees are where a significant amount of detailed work happens, and Committees have the scope to delve deep into the important issues facing the corporation, and setting the tone for governance. Poor representation and low leadership of mandatory Board Committees by women is hence another missed opportunity.

While it seems that we comply in name, it does not seem that we are really interested in complying with the spirit of the legislations or the underlying inequities which they are trying to correct.

–Meena

Prejudice and An Epic Production

D3962893-2848-4398-B173-3992ED5AACE1Over 30 years ago.

A stage adaptation of the Mahabharata opened in Paris. Directed by Peter Brook, it was the first-ever stage presentation of the entire epic, and ran to 9 hours. It had a multi-racial cast—21 actors from 16 countries. Mallika Sarabhai was the lone Indian on the cast, playing the central role of Draupadi.

While many art-forms tell stories from the epic, usually it is only parts or specific episodes from the Mahabharata which are staged. This was the first (and till now, the only) time, the whole epic was adapted for the theatre. First made in French, later there was an English version too.

It made history.

It toured the world.

It did not come to India.

Why? Because there were protests in India against people from Africa playing key roles and depicting the Pandavas and some of our other heroes and heroines. There were especially strong reactions to Mamadou Dioume of Senegalese origin playing Bhima. (There were no problems with an Italian playing Arjuna, or a Pole playing Yudhishtra though!)

Peter Brook saw the Mahabharata as a universal tale, transcending time and geography, exploring the human mind and motivations. The depths the human character could plumb, as well as the heights it could reach. He saw it as the story of the race of man. And in this context, the diverse cast made sense.

Alas, the protestors in India could not see this.

We do not often think of racism as one of the many isms that mar us.

But it is there!

Along with:

Communalism

Casteism

Sexism

Regionalism

And many others.

And I don’t think any one of us is free of some prejudice or the other.

It is the time to dig deep and surface our biases, recognize them, and then grapple with them.

Not easy, but as we are becoming increasingly aware, life is not easy!

–Meena

World Environment Day

June 5: For an ex-Environmental Educator, the date has huge significance.

June 5 in 1972 was the day the first UN International Conference on the Environment kicked off in Stockholm, Sweden. And since then, the day is observed as World Environment Day.

What was this Conference about? Well, it was called the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment. While it was termed a conference on the Environment, developing countries and NGOs brought to fore the need to link Environment with Development, insisting that the environment could not be considered in isolation. Today, this seems obvious, but back in  those days, this point had to be lobbied for, fought for and agitated for.

8D551BAC-437F-4270-B3D1-AE80E880F80D

India can be proud of its contribution to this paradigm shift in thinking. Mrs. Indira Gandhi who attended the Conference, famously said in her address ‘Poverty is the biggest polluter’. Interestingly, India had even then realized the importance of Environmental concerns—Mrs. Gandhi was the only Head of State (other than that of the host country Sweden), to attend the Conference.

By contrast, the event to mark the 20th Anniversary of this conference, popularly called the Earth Summit and held in Rio de Janeiro, had 108 Heads of States in attendance!

Equally in contrast is India’s own attitude towards the environment. The high standards we set for ourselves and the world are certainly being diluted by our policy decisions and actions—now more rapidly than ever.

This, coupled with the disasters we are seeing around—from COVID to cyclones–all in some way or the other related to humankind’s exploitation of the environment, make it important to observe World Environment Day with even more seriousness than ever.

And while we are here, here is a quick look at WED themes over the years.

1973 Only one Earth
1974 Only one Earth (during Expo ’74)
1975 Human Settlements
1976 Water: Vital Resource for Life
1977 Ozone Layer Environmental Concern; Lands Loss and Soil Degradation
1978 Development without Destruction
1979 Only One Future for Our Children
1980 A New Challenge for the New Decade: Development without Destruction
1981 Ground Water; Toxic Chemicals in Human Food Chains
1982 Ten Years after Stockholm (Renewal of Environmental Concerns)
1983 Managing and Disposing Hazardous Waste: Acid Rain and Energy
1984 Desertification
1985 Youth: Population and the Environment
1986 A Tree for Peace
1987 Environment and Shelter: More Than A Roof
1988 When People Put the Environment First, Development Will Last
1989 Global Warming; Global Warning
1990 Children and the Environment
1991 Climate Change. Need for Global Partnership
1992 Only One Earth, Care and Share
1993 Poverty and the Environment
1994 One Earth One Family
1995 We the Peoples: United for the Global Environment
1996 Our Earth, Our Habitat, Our Home
1997 ·         For Life on Earth
1998 For Life on Earth (Save Our Seas)
1999 Our Earth – Our Future
2000 The Environment Millennium
2001 Connect the World with a World Wide Web
2002 Give Earth a Chance
2003 Water
2004 Wanted! Seas and Oceans
2005 Green Cities
2006 Deserts and Desertification
2007 Melting Ice – a Hot Topic
2008 CO2, Kick the Habit – Towards a Low Carbon Economy
2009 Your Planet Needs You – Unite to Combat Climate Change
2010 Many Species. One Planet. One Future
2011 Forests: Nature at your Service
2012 Green Economy: Does it include you?
2013 Think. Eat. Save
2014 small island developing states
2015 One World, One Environment
2016 Zero tolerance for the illegal trade in wildlife
2017 Connecting People to Nature
2018 Beat Plastic Pollution
2019 Beat Air Pollution
2020 Time for Nature

–Meena

Anarkali At My Window

BFCA646E-31A4-47A9-AB75-B961DD704B3ELockdown has certainly make us more observant and has given us new ways of looking at things. There is a pomegranate tree whose top I can see from my window—and considering I spend eight or nine hours working in that room, it is very central to my vision! It is currently flowering, abuzz with bees, and fruits have started forming.

I have always wondered why Anarkali*, the beauty who stole the to-be Emperor Jahangir’s heart and brought him to loggerheads with his father Emperor Akbar, was called so. Was the flower so beautiful that our most famous beauty was named for it? I never did think so.

Well, my recent close encounters with the tree and flowers have given me a greater appreciation of the beauty of the flower. Bright waxy orange blossoms which stand out against the green of the leaves, and a nice shape. And bees drawn to them by the dozens, as maybe men, young and old, were drawn to Anarkali (one version is that she was part of Akbar’s harem, and that rivalry between father and son for her favours was at the heart of the dispute).

But maybe more than just the beauty of the flowers, it is the associations that the ancient fruit has, that makes the pomegranate so much part of the imagination. It is one of the few fruits which is mentioned in the texts of many religions.

Starting from ancient Greek mythology–in the story of Persephone’s abduction by Hades, lord of the underworld, the pomegranate represents life, regeneration, and the permanence of marriage.The story is that one day while out gathering flowers, Persephone was kidnapped by Hades and taken down to his kingdom. By eating a few pomegranate seeds, Persephone tied herself to Hades.

Pomegranate is mentioned in the Vedas and is an important part of Ayurveda. It is a symbol of fertility and abundance, and one of the nine fruits offered to Goddess Durga.

In Buddhism too, it is significant. The Buddha received many valuable gifts from wealthy disciples. But it is said that a poor old woman’s gift of a small pomegranate was the one that delighted him most. It is also said that he once offered a pomegranate to the demon Hariti, which cured her of her alarming habit of eating children.

It finds a place in Zoroastrianism too. In Persian mythology, Isfandiyar eats a pomegranate and becomes invincible.

In Islam, the fruit is considered a symbol of harvests, wealth, and wellness. Legend has it that each pomegranate contains one seed that has come down from paradise. Along with olive, dates and figs, it is one of the four sacred fruits in Islam.

In Judaism, it is believed that each pomegranate has 613 seeds—one for each of the Bible’s Commandments. The Song of Solomon compares the veiled cheeks of a bride to the two halves of a pomegranate.

1A6133BD-4C41-49AA-BA38-4EED5DB8E6ADThe pomegranate is a symbol of resurrection and life everlasting in Christian art, and the pomegranate is often found in devotional statues and paintings of the Virgin and Child, as in Bottecelli’s ‘Madonna of the Pomegranate’ shown here.

I shall delight in the beauty of the pomegranate flowers for now. I shall try to get a few fruits before the parakeets get them all. And I shall let thoughts of all the health and prosperity they will bring me help me through the Lockdown!

–Meena

*Anar= Pomegranate. Kali= Flower

 

Will Our Children Ever Visit a Museum?

60741174-E9F0-4271-8CC5-20144451BD0CWhy the sudden question? Well, because May 18th  is International Museum Day—observed as such since since 1977. The idea is that on this day, museums engage with their stakeholders and highlight the importance of the role of museums as institutions and the role they play in society.

And as with everything else, Corona is forcing us to re-examine many things that we took for granted.

Statue of Artemis, Ephesus Museum, Turkey

 

And museums are one of them. A museum is ‘a building or place where works of art, scientific specimens, or other objects of permanent value are kept and displayed’. There are over 55,000 museums in the world.

How many will survive COVID?

Museums by their very nature are places which need to be visited by the public—in other words, queues, groups, crowds. What shape will that take in the post-COVID world? Surely there will be a fall in numbers visiting.

Moreover, of recent years, many exhibits in museums are interactive—requiring you to press buttons, handle things, etc. All of that will have to be re-conceived. That will cost money. Financially, some may be able to survive, while others may be forced to shut down.

And there is another threat—the threat to the security of artefacts and exhibits during this time. Already, on 6th April, thieves  forced open the glass doors of the Singer Laren museum in the Netherlands and made off with its most valuable exhibit, a Van Gogh oil painting called “Spring Garden, the Parsonage Garden in Nuenen in Spring”. The theft highlights concerns of having high-value items in unattended locations as entire regions lock down.

On the other hand, many museums are re-inventing themselves, and taking the occasion of lockdown to go online. Several already had virtual tours, but many others are putting their exhibits online and developing virtual ways for audiences to see and experience them. Many including the Smithsonian have already made a number of tours available online.

Even more interesting is the effort of some museums to study and preserve the experiences of COVID even as it is happening. The Victoria and Albert Museum for instance is preparing to launch Pandemic Objects, an online series examining how a range of unremarkable items have become charged with new meaning and purpose. The exhibition will capture things like the variety of homemade signs cropping up in shop windows around the world, explaining new delivery services and warning people to keep 2m apart. Another focus of this exhibition will be to examine if the pandemic is revealing something new about things that are normally taken for granted. For instance, the upsurge in baking and related activities. The series is likely to examine why this should be so—it is not as if bread is not available. Why then has baking become so popular—maybe the ‘tactile and meditative quality of the process, along with a desire to feel self-sufficient’ asBrendan Cormier, senior design curator says?

There will be a new normal in museums as in everything else. Museums as buildings to be visited may go down in popularity, but the re-interpretation of “museums as an important means of cultural exchange, enrichment of cultures and development of mutual understanding, cooperation and peace among peoples” will become even more relevant than before.

–Meena

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Lady with the Graph

As we celebrate the 200th birth anniversary of Florence Nightingale this week, it is time to let go of our romantic notions of a do-gooder with a lamp in one hand, soothing the fevered brows of soldiers with the other—a visual firmly ingrained in most of our heads, thanks to illustrations from our textbooks.

Of course she did that! She was very hands-on and did make rounds of the soldiers’ wards night and day, to care for them.

But she was much more.

She was a statistician par excellence, and in 1860, was elected the first woman Fellow of the Statistical Society.

Her meticulous approach to collecting data and analysing it, at a time when even deaths were not properly tallied in the war hospital where she worked, led to a better understanding of the situation and to reducing deaths. For instance, analysis by her and statisticians appointed by the British Government led to the conclusion that 16,000 of the 18,000 deaths in her hospital were not due to battle wounds but to preventable diseases, spread by poor sanitation. By using applied statistical methods, she effectively made the case for bringing in better hygiene practices, and thus saving lives. (Early example of evidence based policies, which won the Noble Prize this year!)

AB931E80-8551-4152-98DC-257E5EE9C79FFlorence was also one who shook up systems and brought in systemic changes. She battled with entrenched bureaucracies most of her working life, in order to bring about these changes. She was aware that it would be difficult to convince decision makers of the need for change, and maybe out of this requirement was born what is today counted as her major contribution to statistics—the first infographics ever made. The best-known of the infographics she invented are what are called the “coxcomb” diagrams, understandable by even the public. ‘The coxcomb is similar to a pie chart, but more intricate. In a pie chart the size of the ‘slices’ represent a proportion of data, while in a coxcomb the length which the slice extends radially from the center-point, represents the first layer of data. The specific organization of Nightingale’s chart allowed her to represent more complex information layered in a single space. In her coxcomb during the Crimean War, the chart was divided evenly into 12 slices representing months of the year, with the shaded area of each month’s slice proportional to the death rate that month. Her color-coding shading indicated the cause of death in each area of the diagram.’*

There are many who believe that if she were around today, she would have brought very strong statistical analysis of The COVID situation to bear on policy making, and advocated for solutions based on pure, hard evidence (the implication obviously being that today’s solutions are not fully there!). But it is the duty of the present generation to ‘stand on the shoulders of giants’ and do the needful! No point in wishful thinking.

We in this country also have to thank her for her campaign for clean drinking water, famine relief and sanitary conditions in India—based on statistics and data she collected.

–Meena

*https://thisisstatistics.org/florence-nightingale-the-lady-with-the-data/

 

Orange is the New…

5218618B-E3FF-4DD6-8514-CF97668775D6In the case of demarcation of COVID zones in India, Orange is the New Freedom! Lucky enough to fall into this zone, I can now do some things I could not last week. But since my neighbouring zone 5 kms away is Red, there is nothing very exciting I can do. But I suppose it is all in the mind.

But as promised, this blog is not going to be Corona-obsessed. So moving on, it is about traffic lights—where the COVID classification zones in India seem to have had their origin.

Traffic lights were actually invented much before automobiles., to control the movement of horse carriages. (Tongas, camel carts etc. in India sometimes follow traffic lights and sometimes do not. I have never quite figured out if the same rules and fines apply to them as to cars and scooters. But maybe not, for after all, such things come under the Motor Vehicles Act!)

On Dec 10, 1868, the first traffic lights were installed outside the Houses of Parliament in London—red for ‘Stop’, and green for ‘Go’. The idea itself was borrowed from the railways, which had been using lights for its traffic control for quite some time.

The very first traffic lights were gas-fuelled, and were manually controlled by a policeman. But being gas-fuelled, though they prevented road accidents, there were incidences when the traffic lights themselves exploding. It is not known if this led to fatalities, but considering that horse-traffic accidents themselves may not have led to too many fatalities, it may have been a close-run competition.

The early 1900s saw the invention of automobiles and a significant uptick in road traffic, and the need for better systems of traffic management was becoming clear. It was in 1912 that an American policeman Lester Wire, came up with the idea of electric traffic lights, and the first one, based on his design, was installed in Cleveland, Ohio in 1914.

The very first electric traffic lights, like their gas-fuelled predecessors, had only the red and green. Some of them had a buzzer sound in place of the amber light to indicate that the signal was going to change soon.

It was in 1920 that another American policeman William Potts invented the first three-coloured traffic lights and Detroit became the first city to implement them.

But why Red, Green and Orange (or Amber)?

RED: This colour is probably used to symbolize STOP because in many cultures, red symbolizes danger. It makes a lot of sense scientifically also, because Red has the longest wavelength of any colour in the visible spectrum and hence can be seen from a greater distance than any other colour.

GREEN: Originally, in the railways, White was used for the all-clear signal, but train   mistook the light of the moon or stars for the “all clear”. This led to derailments and train collisions. And hence, a change was required from White. It seems that it was decided that now  Green (which till then used for ‘Caution’) would be used for GO. Also, the green wavelength is next to yellow on the visible spectrum, meaning it’s still easier to see than any colour other than red and yellow.

YELLOW/AMBER/ORANGE: When the Green switched over to mean GO, then it was decided that yellow would be used for caution. Also, yellow is very distinct from the other two colours and hence suitable.

Here is wishing all a rapid move to GREEN and SAFETY!

–Meena

 

Women and the Vaccine

8A469CF6-0898-430D-A845-0891A2DF7944

Lady Mary Montagu

In 2020, it is not surprising that there are many women playing a prominent part in developing vaccines to protect us against the current scourge—Covid 19. I know nothing about this field, but a casual search threw up many names—Prof Sarah Gilbert, Dr. Kizzmekia Corbett, Dr. Nita Patel. And Dr. Patel had a good explanation—she says that lab work in science is mostly done by women, so it is not surprising that women are prominent in the race to find the vaccine.

But it was not always so. Even though women have played a critical role in the development of many vaccines, they have not always got their due.

A8B3BB67-7240-4270-8ABC-F7F482BB6F30Polio was a dreaded disease in the early 20th century. It left death in its wake, but even more, it paralysed. Till date, there is no cure for polio, and the only defence is vaccination. Jonas Salk rightly deserves the credit for the polio vaccine, but there were two women, without whose work things would not have happened as they happened, when they happened. One was Dr. Isabel Morgan of Johns Hopkins University, whose work was a turning point in understanding host immunity to polio and on use of killed-virus (vs. live-virus) as the basis of vaccines for this disease. The other was Dr. Dorothy Horstmann of Yale and her team, whose work is said to have paved the way for oral polio vaccines.

Other women to whom we owe a safer world are: Dr. Anna Wessels Williams, who developed a diphtheria vaccine; Drs. Pearl Kendric and Grace Eldering who developed a vaccine for whooping cough; Dr. Margeret Pittman, whose work led to the vaccine against meningitis and pneumonia; Dr. Anne Szarewski, whose breakthroughs helped to develop vaccines against cervical cancers; and Dr. Ruth Bishop who led the team which developed a vaccine against rotavirus which is a major cause for diarrhoea in children.

But the best for the last! The most amazing story is of the woman who introduced the concept of immunization to the Western world, Lady Mary Montagu. Born in 1689, she was a path-breaker in many ways. But her contribution to vaccination is the one we are going to focus on here. She was a brilliant and beautiful woman, whose beauty was marred by an attack of smallpox in 1715. Earlier she had lost her brother to it. So it was no wonder that the deadly disease was something she worried about where her children were concerned. Lady Mary’s husband Lord Edward Montagu was posted to Constantinople as Ambassador in 1716. There she interacted closely with Turkish women and got to know their customs. One of these was the practice of variolation, wherein women would take the pus from the smallpox blister of someone who had a mild case of the disease, and introduce it into the scratched skin of uninfected children. Lady Mary observed that children thus infected never did contract the disease seriously.

She developed such a strong belief in this that she got the Embassy surgeon to inoculate her five year old son.

When she got back to England, she promoted this procedure with all her passion, but the medical establishment blocked and resisted it. The reasons are probably two-fold—it was seen as an Oriental folk treatment, not a Western, scientific one. And it was being promoted by a woman!

In 1721, a smallpox epidemic struck England, and Lady March had her daughter also inoculated. She persuaded the Princes of Wales on the efficacy of this, and the Princess had her two daughters inoculated. And though it took a long, long time for Jenner to come along and develop a safer technique of vaccination, using cowpox rather than smallpox virus, the concept started taking root, and the foundation for vaccination had been laid!

With thanks to all the back room girls (and boys) helping find vaccines and cures, as well as all front line workers.

–Meena

 

Have You Ever Seen, A Penguin Come to Tea?

Why would a Penguin ever come to tea? But so goes the nursery rhyme my foster-grandchild and I are currently hooked on.

If I were to write the poem, I would say

‘Have you ever seen, a penguin out at sea’.

Would make a bit more sense.

Of course, the other argument is, why should nursery rhymes make sense?

6A7544E4-A7BF-48E0-9512-51C1F4F1AFDCBut that is not the subject of the blog today. April 25th is marked as World Penguin Day, and that is the occasion of the blog. This day coincides with the annual northern migration of Adelie penguins.

Any ‘Day’ is a way to focus attention and raise awareness about an issue. Penguins evoke immediate love and interest. And hence are a great species to highlight when it comes to conservation education in general, and education about the species in particular. Alarmingly, of the 17 recognized living species, 11 have been listed as Vulnerable or Endangered, and hence awareness about penguins is important. And talking about penguins also ensures we talk about the health of the waters where they spend 75 percent of their lives.

It was only very recently that I saw my first-ever penguins in the wild. It was an unforgettable experience—a visit to the Omaru Penguin Colony in New Zealand, where visitors can spend a few hours freezing on stands, waiting for Little Blue Penguins to come home to their colony for the night. And believe me, it was worth every chilly bone to see this phenomenon. Groups of ten or more penguins coming in over a period of about an hour, after spending the whole day in the waters feeding—for themselves and to regurgitate for their children. What a hard life! The Little Blue Penguins are really tiny, just about a foot high. And we were lucky enough to see pair of chicks—cuddly balls of down.

And to end, some trivia:

  • The origin of the word ‘penguin’ is not clear. It may either be derived from a synonym for ‘great auk’, a bird familiar to Europeans who thought penguins looked like auks when they first saw them. (Great auks are flightless birds not related to penguins. They became extinct in the 19th century).  Or it could be from the Latin pinguis, which means fat or oil.
  • Some prehistoric species of penguins stood almost as tall and heavy as an adult human. Today, the largest species, the Emperor Penguin, stands at about 3 1/2 feet.
  • Although except one, all species are found only in the Southern Hemisphere, most do not live in extreme cold areas like the Antarctic. Many are found in temperate areas too.
  • There are two names for penguin collectives—when there is a group of them in water, they are called a ‘raft’. When there is a group on land, it is called a ‘waddle’.

Here is to World Penguin Day, may their tribes increase!

–Meena