Monday, November 18, 2019
Worst Product of the day: I-Virgin

‘I-Virgin - Blood for the First Night’ offers “fake blood for the first night” in the form of a capsule containing “high quality blood powder.” Pop it in a few hours before your suhaag raat encounter, and it will dissolve and release a blood-like substance—just in time to offer evidence of your unsullied virtue. Yes, this is real and available on Amazon for the low, low price of Rs 3,100. News 18 has more of the appalling details.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The alarming election outcome in Sri Lanka

Former defence secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa coasted to an easy victory in the presidential elections—and the nation’s minorities are very afraid.

What happened? On Saturday, Sri Lanka went to polls for the first time since the deadly Easter Sunday attacks—where 250 were killed when an ISIS-inspired group bombed hotels and churches. Gotabaya won convincingly with 52.25% of the votes, while his main rival Sajith Premadasa trailed with 41.99%. But the vote also revealed a deeply polarised nation. 

Tell me more, please: Gotabaya swept the Sinhalese vote, while the Tamils and Muslims threw their weight behind Premadasa. The reason: Gotabaya ran a campaign entirely focused on national security—and his record of having brutally crushed the Tamil insurgency as Defence Secretary: "We guarantee that there won't be room for extremist terrorism in this country again, just as we ended the terrorism before." 

Is that a bad thing? That ‘get tough’ rhetoric is particularly ominous for minorities because of Gotabaya’s record and family ties. 

  • Gotabaya—nicknamed ‘the terminator’ by his own family—has been accused of committing serious war crimes during the final phase of the civil war in 2008-09. These include creating military death squads who hunted down Tamil fighters and any critics of the government.

  • Point to note: The war claimed over 100,000 lives, the vast majority of them Tamil.

  • Earlier this year, two Sri Lankans filed separate lawsuits against Gotabaya. One was filed by a Tamil torture survivor, while the other alleges that he killed a prominent journalist. 

  • Since then,10 others have filed US cases alleging that they were tortured, raped and sexually assaulted by security forces under his command.

  • Gotabaya committed these atrocities while serving as Defence Secretary under his brother, Mahinda, who was president from 2005 to 2014. As The Guardian notes: “Under Mahinda Rajapaksa, all dissent was crushed and journalists and campaigners were routinely attacked. The police and the judiciary were also under the control of the Rajapaksa family.”

  • Why does this matter? Having already served two terms as president, Mahinda could not contest the elections due to Sri Lanka’s term limit law. However, Gotabaya has promised to bring Mahinda back to power in the prime ministerial elections next year. 

That doesn’t sound good at all: Nope, and certainly not for Sri Lanka’s minorities. As a prominent Muslim leader said, “It is all our worst fears realised.” OTOH, a priest told Reuters, “A third-world country like us needs a tough leader like Duterte - he is doing whatever is needed to rid his country of evils… Gotabaya is accused of crimes but he is tough and that is what we need right now to bring back some order.”

What does this mean for India? Gotabaya’s victory is a bit of a mixed bag for New Delhi, and for these reasons:

  • The biggest worry is the Rajapaksas’ cosy relationship with China. Under Mahinda, China invested heavily in infrastructure projects in the island nation, which in turn put Sri Lanka heavily in debt to Beijing. Beijing acquired control over Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port in 2017 in partial payment of the same. 

  • The other concern is that Gotabaya’s ascendance could revive the conflict with the Sri Lankan Tamils—which in turn will become a major factor in Tamil Nadu politics. 

  • OTOH, both Colombo and New Delhi advocate a strongman approach to Islamic terrorism, which may offer common ground.

Point to note: Sources close to Gotabaya have been at pains to strike a conciliatory note, telling the Indian Express: “A strong president in Sri Lanka will make sure that India is the closest friend… Now there is a warm relationship between Gotabaya and Delhi. He will follow the same policy that we followed earlier — China is a trade partner, while India is a relative.”

The bottomline: After the election results were announced, Gotabaya tweeted, “As we usher in a new journey for Sri Lanka, we must remember that all Sri Lankans are part of this journey.” Let’s hope the Rajapaksas’ memory doesn’t fail them in the future. 

Learn more: The Guardian offers the best overview. Want to get all the details at a glance, check out Al Jazeera’s excellent set of infographics. Associated Press has details on Gotabaya’s tainted record. For a more wide-ranging profile, read BBC. Sri Lanka’s Sunday Observer explains why the media fears the return of Gotabaya. Indian Express has more on warming ties between Gotabaya and New Delhi.

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Throwing cheese slices at your delighted dog

Chidambaram’s ‘get out of jail’ card: On Friday, the Delhi High Court turned down the former Finance Minister’s bail plea. But the judgement included a number of strange paragraphs—copy/pasted from an entirely different case, including the ‘facts’ that were relied on in order to deny his bail! Chidu is expected to appeal the High Court decision in the Supreme Court. Something to remember: The apex court recently granted bail to Karnataka Congress politician D.K. Shivakumar and slammed the Enforcement Directorate’s petition. The reason: it too had blindly copy/ pasted sections of an earlier petition opposing Chidambaram’s bail—even referring to Shivakumar as the former Finance minister. 🤦🏽‍♀️ (Deccan Herald

Prince Andrew’s disastrous BBC interview: The Prince has been under siege in the press over allegations made by a victim of billionaire pedophile Jeffrey Epstein—a guy accused of abusing underage girls and pimping them out to his wealthy friends (and who hung himself in a prison cell). Virginia Roberts Giuffre claims that she was forced to have sex with Andrew on multiple occasions by Epstein. And there is a photo of the Prince hugging her as well. So he decided to do himself zero favours and gave an interview where he claimed (story here, watch the entire interview here):

  • He had no recollection of Giuffre or taking a photo with her, saying he is “not one to, as it were, hug, and public displays of affection are not something that I do.”

  • Cue lots and lots of incriminating photos to the contrary. 

  • He claimed to have taken his kids to Pizza Express on the day he is supposed to have had sex with her for the first time—a bizarrely specific memory of what he did on March 10, 2001.

  • Cue a flood of hilarious reviews of Pizza Express. 

  • Asked why he stayed at Epstein’s house—two years after he’d been first convicted of being a sex offender—he offered up this insanely clueless response.

  • Plus: he expressed no compassion for Giuffre and no remorse for associating with Epstein or his “unbecoming conduct.”

  • The verdict of viewers, experts and the media: "I expected a train wreck. That was a plane crashing into an oil tanker, causing a tsunami, triggering a nuclear explosion level bad."

Delhi’s tap water is toxic: A first-of-its-kind government report has bad news for residents of most major cities. Of the 21 cities tested, “Delhi’s water samples failed on 19 parameters, including odour, TDS, PH, turbidity, colour, nitrate, ammonia, chloride and aluminium.” Almost as bad: Chandigarh, Bengaluru, Chennai and Kolkata. The best of the lot: Mumbai, with Hyderabad and Bhubhaneswar coming in a close second. (Indian Express)

A sex survey of Gen Z and Millennial Indians: shows that they think about sex a lot, are open to experimenting—but still have pretty crap sex IRL. According to a Tinder survey of urban Indians, 50% of women and 46% of men (?!) say they have faked an orgasm. Top excuse for getting out of doing the nasty with a Tinder date: ‘Too tired/have been working all day.’ More things change... (Quartz)

Your Delhi pollution update is here: 

  • First, the good news. Next year, Delhi may get its own anti-smog tower, similar to the one used in China—dubbed the world’s largest air purifier. It will be 100 metres tall and clean 75 million cubic metres per day. 

  • Ok, the bad news: Twenty-one members of Lok Sabha and eight Rajya Sabha members were supposed to attend a key meeting to tackle pollution. Only four MPs showed up. News Laundry has the lame excuses offered by various parties.

  • Soon, there were ‘Missing’ posters for Gautam Gambhir—who was spotted gorging on jalebis instead, but only because he has to financially “support my family.”

  • But more fortunate Dilliwalas can now drown snort their woes at the upscale OxyPure oxygen bar where clean air comes in different flavours: peppermint, orange, cinnamon, eucalyptus, lavender, spearmint or lemongrass. 

  • Far more useful, Broadsheet subscriber Aparna Jain’s much-needed personal tip: a great air purifier for the car.

Kerala does a U-turn on Sabarimala: Last year, the communist government championed the cause of women devotees who tried to enter the temple—even offering police protection. This year, the Kerala police have already stopped 10 women from entering the premises. (Indian Express)

Dog medicine goes viral in South Korea: over claims it cures human cancer. No, we aren’t making this shit up. Also: a US doctor thinks the claim is worth investigating. (South China Morning Post)

Shiv Sena is officially not a BJP ally: They will sit in the seats allotted to the Opposition in the Lok and Rajya Sabha. (Times of India)

Essential care for the terminally ill: A new study finds that the last year of a person’s life is exceptionally hard—and not just due to physical distress. Women, young adults and those facing financial hardship are far more likely to suffer from debilitating depression, as well. Why this matters: end-of-life care rarely focuses on mental health issues. Something we all need to keep in mind as we care for elderly parents during their final years. (Science Blog)

‘Arthashastra’ may be lost forever: The original manuscript of Kautilya’s ‘Arthashastra’—one of the oldest books on governance, military strategy and the dharma of rulers—is slowly falling apart in a room in Mysore. It is stored at the Oriental Research Institute which can’t afford air-conditioning or a dehumidifier to protect the 2nd century artefact. (Mint)

Things that make you go ‘WTF’: include the following:

  • An Iraqi protester brought along his lion to protect himself from the police at a demonstration. 

  • The UP police threatened to charge a student under the National Security Act because he tweeted about stubble burning in his neighbourhood.

  • This headline and story: “Man tries to rape woman in Noida park, strangers intervene, then they rape her.”

  • These seriously creepy rules for an Airbnb rental.

Weekend reads you have missed: include the following:

  • Quartzy on a millennial generation that never wants to leave their home. 

  •  The Atlantic looks at India’s Tik Tok stars who are both alarming and amazing. A related read: TechCrunch on Tik Tok kicking off social ecommerce on its platform.

  • Mel Magazine has a great read on the latest iteration of ‘Charlie’s Angels’—which is feminist and a bit meh. 

  • Mint, however, loves Season 3 of ‘The Crown’. We agree.

  • The Economist’s 1843 magazine has a long, immersive profile on Vinesh Phogat, the world’s leading female wrestler.

  • New York Times has an alarming story on the toxic contamination of tofu. The reason: the tofu is cooked in boilers powered by burning plastic waste. Yup, you may want to reconsider that healthy tofu scramble.

  • Reader’s Digest offers a lovely roundup of the working class authors of India, from former maid Baby Halder to beedi-seller Laxman Rao.

  • Historian Ram Guha in the Hindustan Times explains why the Gandhis owe it to India to get the hell out of its politics. 

  • BigThink has ten video games that help kids learn and improve their cognitive skills—and aren’t the ‘educational’ kind that bore them to death. 

  • Huffington Post has a list of ten short and wonderful books to read if you’re struggling to finish that 500-page tome.

Your daily quota of sunshine items: includes the following:

  • A Washington zoo is saying bye-bye to their beloved charge, Bei Bei who is going back to China. Best bit: His adoring zookeeper saying ‘Who’s a good boy’ to a four-year old panda. Want more panda: here are photos of panda twins waving at their naming ceremony in Belgium.

  • This amazing reconstruction of a 7000 year old woman, one of the last hunter-gatherers of Sweden. 

  • The world record for highest standing jump that is a sight to behold. 

  • The excellent news that Grofers is hiring women in warehouses—which is traditionally a male preserve. 

  • This rather large cat trying very hard to get onto a chair. Yup. That’s it. And it’s funny as hell. 

  • ET, is that you? Or just a baby owl. No, we’re not exaggerating. 

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The best place for the best advice

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How to conquer everyday anxiety

Editor’s note: We lead extremely busy and often stressful lives. The trite words like ‘multitasking’ and ‘second shift’ mask the emotional wear-and-tear of constantly juggling multiple responsibilities—and the toll begins to show in our body, our work and our relationships. Executive Editor Sunainaa Chadha explains how she learned to rein in the demons of anxiety IRL. 

Soon after I had my baby, my anxiety levels began to uncontrollably spike. The occasional bout turned into full-blown anxiety attacks. Adding to it all: chronic insomnia. But why? I had a lovely baby, husband, fulfilling job and the privilege of hiring help. I finally got my act together when I stopped dismissing my misery, and took the first steps to deal with my anxiety. I learned that the smallest actions—if done with discipline and regularity—can have a huge impact on my mental health.

Draw a quadrant: It’s morning and you are in the uber or on the metro. Take out a notepad, and divide the page into four columns: Do, Delegate, Delay, Don't. Now categorise everything you planned to do that day under those columns. It’s a simple hack that prevents the everyday panic triggered by a long to-do list. Yes, you plan to make calls, send that memo, book the family holiday, take your kid to her class, catch that Zara sale and do the weekly grocery shopping. But you don’t have to do it all yourself. And you don’t have to do it all today. And some of it, you don’t have to do at all. This simple practice reminds you of that—every day!

You are what you eat: Your body needs fuel. When we are hungry, our blood glucose level drops—which triggers the release of stress-related hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. So any diet that requires you to starve yourself is a bad, bad idea. You already know all the gyaan about cutting back on sugar, coffee, booze etc. Just don’t skip meals or substitute a bag of chips for lunch. And keep some nuts or seeds in your bag to stave off hunger-induced crankiness. 

Create a routine: We can’t always have predictable schedules, but you can aim to do similar tasks at similar times—i.e. work, meals, family time, ‘me’ time and sleep. Routines reduce stress because they let you function on autopilot. 

Know your triggers: Keep a ‘stress diary’. Note down what you were doing, who you were with and how you felt. It will help you minimise people and activities that trigger your anxiety—and manage them better. For example, I would get extremely stressed every time I had to deal with this awfully mean colleague. I would spend so much contemplating the conversation in my head that I would start stressing even before seeing her face. Initially, I thought it was work in general that was stressing me out, but once I figured it was her, I just came up with a mechanism on minimising contact with her and delegated the ‘reporting’ to someone else. (I only figured this out one week into the journal)

Put it in a jar: There will always be days you wake up feeling like shit, and then it will inevitably go downhill from there. That’s when I turn to my happiness jar. Either when I wake up or before going to bed, I write a little note that documents something that I am grateful for that day. At the end of the month, my husband and I read them together. Trust me, within three days you will feel a noticeable change in your mood. 

Talk back to your thoughts: Mindfulness is all about being aware of your negative thoughts and speaking back to them. So catch yourself every time you start to think something like ‘I will never get this done’ or ‘I am so bad at this’. And then talk to yourself and you will quickly see that most of our negative thoughts are not based on fact. Human beings often mistake emotion for reality. Thoughts are just that… thoughts. 

Don't panic about panicking: Feel a panic attack coming on? Do a breathing exercise or check out this useful guide on ways to stop the panic attack.

Move your body: Do some kind of exercise. Take a walk, a yoga class. C’mon you know the drill. It’s amazing what even a half hour of exercise can do to your stress levels.

Swap a dry brush for your blue screen: Yup, no phone or TV at least one hour before you go to bed. But here’s what I do instead. I shut all screens by 9 pm. Apply some light lavender oil on my body and then use a body brush—it is instantly relaxing! Add some soothing music and focused breathing, and end it with a yoga nidra meditation. I sleep like my baby these days!


And finally, 🤗🤗🤗: Physical affection releases oxytocin, the happiness hormone. And you can never have enough of that in your life.

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