Monday, May 6, 2019
Number of the day: 41

Forty-one passengers on a Russian Aeroflot passenger plane died on Sunday, when the aircraft caught fire after making a bumpy emergency landing in Moscow. The plane in question was a Sukhoi Superjet 100, but there are no plans to ground it as of now. Some survivors say that the plane was hit by lightning and then tried to make an emergency landing. Reuters has footage and the story.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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Akshay Kumar’s not-so-kesari citizenship

Akshay Kumar got into PR trouble over the weekend when he was forced to acknowledge that he was indeed a Canadian citizen.


It all started: with his “non-political interview” with PM Modi which was a deft PR exercise—and a very successful one, at least for the Prime Minister. Unfortunately, it backfired on the Bollywood badshah of bharatiya pride.


Unluckily for Akshay: Mumbai voted soon after the interview, and Akki was conspicuously missing in the parade of celebs flaunting their inked finger. Then came the clip of him brushing off a journalist who asked him about the missing digit.


Questions asked and answered: The clip set off a social media storm, and Akshay finally came clean with this tweet: “I really don’t understand the unwarranted interest and negativity about my citizenship. I have never hidden or denied that I hold a Canadian passport. It is also equally true that I have not visited Canada in the last seven years. I work in India, and pay all my taxes in India.” He went on to express his disappointment at being walloped over “a matter that is personal, legal, non-political, and of no consequence to others.”


But that just made it all worse: because Khiladi Kumar had long been playing fast and loose with the truth of his citizenship.

  • He told the Economist that he has “a strong affiliation with Canada and have a dual citizenship.” This would be legally impossible as India does not allow dual passports

  • Then on Times Now, he declared he had an “honorary citizenship,” adding “it’s a thing that people should be proud about.” There are only five people that currently have honorary Canadian citizenship: The Aga Khan, Malala Yusufzai, the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela, and Raoul Wallenburg (who helped jews escape the Holocaust). Sadly, there are no Bollywood stars on that list.

  • Since the citizenship wasn’t honorary, as this old Vancouver Observer story makes clear, Akshay actually applied for it—and chose to turn in his Indian passport. No shame there but certainly no cause for national pride 🙄. Though we are impressed that Akki—who grew up in Delhi, and then lived in Mumbai—became a Canadian “within weeks.”

  • And to top it all off, someone unearthed this clip of Akki saying “This is my home, Toronto is my home. After I retire from this industry, I’m going to come back here.” Oh dear.


What’s wrong with him being an NRI? Nothing. Alia Bhatt is very upfront about holding a British passport, as is her mother Soni Razdan. But neither of them have built their entire brand around being a “proud Indian.” Clearly, even Akshay believed his not-shuddh-desi passport would be a problem for his image—which is why he’s been fudging the facts. And that’s what got him into trouble.


The bottomline: Like they say: It’s always the cover-up, never the crime. In all this, we feel bad for the Canadians. They fast track his citizenship, make him Tourism Ambassador to India, and this guy spends all his time carrying on about ‘mera Bharat mahaan’. Chee chee, such ingratitude.

In related news: A number of Bollywood celebs including Boney Kapoor and Prahlad Kakkar declared their support for the BJP at an event dubbed ‘Celebrities with NaMo’. There was nary a sign of Akki.

The ugly mess of an election season

On the eve of the fifth phase (which kicks off today), the political battle took an even uglier turn.


Bhrashtachari No. 1: The PM took aim at ex-PM Rajiv Gandhi’s record—which is fair game (see: Bofors)—but linked it to his death: “Your [Rahul’s] father was termed Mr Clean by his courtiers, but his life ended as bhrashtachari no 1."

Why is this especially offensive? Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by an LTTE suicide bomber while on the election trail in 1991. Not something you’d need to reference when taking a shot at the opposition (clip here). Rahul’s tweeted in response: “Modi Ji, The battle is over. Your Karma awaits you. Projecting your inner beliefs about yourself onto my father won’t protect you. All my love and a huge hug.”


Thappad politics: A man clambered onto Delhi CM Arvind Kejriwal’s jeep and slapped him (footage here). Kejriwal said it was the ninth such attack, and pointed out that the Delhi CM’s security is the responsibility of the central government, i.e. the BJP. The police say the man is a disgruntled AAP worker.


Joothe nikalvata hoon: Maneka Gandhi is in the midst of a two-day suspension for threatening not to give jobs to Muslims who don't vote for her. So her son Varun decided to make up for lost time and attacked mom’s SP-BSP rival, saying, “I am standing here. I am the son of Sanjay Gandhi and I get my shoelaces untied by such people (joothe nikalvata hoon). " (clip here) The most grievous offense here is Varun’s nauseating elitism.  

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wondering how anyone could possibly swallow an AirPod

The ugly mess developing at the Supreme Court: A former Supreme Court worker accused Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi of sexual harassment. He claimed it was a conspiracy to weaken the judiciary. The Court instituted a three-judge panel to conduct an internal inquiry. The complainant walked out because—among other things—she wasn’t allowed to have a lawyer present. The panel, however, decided to carry on with the probe. Justice D Y Chandrachud has since written a letter to the panel asking it to address her grievances, calling the denial of legal assistance a “serious denial of fair process.” The Court’s Secretary General did not deny the letter, but emphasised that the in-house committee “deliberates on its own without any input of any other judge of this court." There are now rivalling versions of this story in the Times of India (anti-Chandrachud) and Indian Express (pro-Chandrachud), presumably based on which unnamed sources spoke to them.


Well deserved kudos for handling Cyclone Fani: Ten years ago, Odisha lost 10,000 people to the Super Cyclone. This time, Cyclone Fani claimed less than 20 lives. And that is all thanks to:

  • The Indian Meteorological Department whose accurate early warnings and tracking made the mass evacuations possible—as the UN rightly notes.

  • Police officers like Pinak Mishra who went door-to-door personally escorting residents to storm shelters (see news clip here)

  • The Odisha government whose heroic effort was hailed in a New York Times story titled ‘How Do You Save a Million People From a Cyclone? Ask a Poor State in India’.


Lanka bombers’ India itinerary: Sri Lanka’s army chief has confirmed that a number of the suicide bombers in the Easter Attacks visited Kashmir, Bangalore and parts of Kerala. He doesn’t know exactly what they were doing here, but it “definitely” involved but “some sorts of training or to make some more links towards the other organisations outside the country.” (Times of India)


Behold the indestructible AirPod: When Ben Hsu woke up, he couldn’t find one of his AirPods. And then he heard some beeping: “I checked under my blanket and looked around but couldn’t find it – then I realized the sound was coming from my stomach.” The device finally found its way out the usual orifices, but here’s the true miracle: it still worked and had 41% battery. (Cult of Mac)


Forty three year-old Charlize Theron was waaay too old: to play Wonder Woman. So its creators helpfully offered her the role of 34-year-old Gal Gadot’s mother. Also waaay too old: former model Helena Christensen who was chastised at length by the former editor of Vogue UK for wearing a bustier top at the geriatric age of 50. Happily, Christensen has an entire posse of other beautiful people, including Linda Evangelista and Naomi Campbell to rush to her defence. The Guardian makes excellent hay out of the entire incident.


Ashton Kutcher may testify in a serial killer trial: Back in 2001, the actor was dating one of the women who allegedly was murdered by a serial killer. He may be called as a witness because he visited her home on the night of the crime. Mercury News has the details on his involvement and the chilling case.


Thailand has a new emperor: King Vajiralongkorn was officially coronated over the weekend, and will now be known as Rama X, or the 10th King of the Chakri dynasty. He is known to be a bit of a bad boy. Also: he recently married his bodyguard who is his third wife.


Weekend reads you may have missed: include the following:

  • An Atlantic profile of the Indian Institute of Democratic Leadership, which offers an “Ivy League education in politics” for budding BJP netas.

  • A first-person essay in The Print penned by a young Muslim in UP who voted for Modi in 2014, and again for the BJP in the 2017 UP elections.

  • This Refinery29 report on the ugly truth behind the stuff that adds shine to your lipstick or eyeshadow—it involves 22,000 kids who mine mica in Bihar and Jharkhand.

  • This photo gallery from Quartz that captures the hellish life of a child in Gujarat’s salt mines.

  • 17 Totally Odd Facts That You'll Never Forget from BuzzFeed which totally delivers on the promise in its headline.

  • A Guardian story on a workshop that teaches participants to improve their sex life by using the two most important words in bed: ‘yes’ and ‘no’.


Your Monday am pick-me-ups: include the following:


  • Six of the greatest tabla maestros, including Zakir Hussain, jamming together. Short clip here, the entire performance here.

  • A very funny Kal Penn channelling a Gujarati gentleman named Ladies Bhai.

  • This brilliant clip of a football goal. No, it’s not the recent Messi beauty against Liverpool.

  • An awesome baggage handler at Honolulu airport breaking out his fiercest dance moves on the runway.

  • This giant pet lizard called MacGyver who thinks he is a dog.

  • This video clip of a happy Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman taking selfies galore with his unit as they celebrate his return to duty.

  • The lovely story (with photos and video) of a deaf man who adopted a deaf rescue puppy and taught him sign language.

  • A brave policeman who rushed into a burning home to extricate two dangerously combustible LPG gas cylinders.

  • This lovely tribute in Firstpost to Peter Mayhew, the man we knew and loved as Chewbacca.

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The best place for the best advice

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How to help birds get through a long, hot summer 

Every day brings more depressing news about disappearing wildlife. One cure is to do something about it, right in our own backyard. Many bird species (especially the beloved sparrow) are rapidly vanishing from cities thanks to eco-hostile development, and they are especially vulnerable during the summer. That said, the guide below holds true for any time of the year.


Water, water, water: A few basic earthen water bowls are enough to get you started. Add a larger bird bath if you have the space. The key here is hygiene. You need to clean the bowls regularly and change the water every day. If you also want to be good to the bees (which are essential for human survival), add a few large leaves to the bowl. They work like floating platforms which allow the bees to sip without fear of drowning.


If you or your apartment building has a garden, add a water fountain. Moving water attracts birds. The flowing and splashing slows bacterial and algal growth and discourages mosquito breeding—which is great for you and the birds.


Feed the feeder: Invest in a bird feeder. They’re inexpensive, more effective and far more hygienic than throwing food on the ground. You can pick up bird feed at any pet store. As for what’s in your kitchen, bajra and rice grains will work, as will cooked rice and fruits like papaya, banana and sweet lime.


Remember to put the food in an elevated area to avoid the risk of predators, and keep it in the shade and out of the rain. You can even hang a feeder on your balcony or outside a window. It typically takes time for birds to identify a new source of food, so be patient. Also: once you start, please don’t stop—birds will begin to rely your feeder for sustenance after some time.


Grow the right stuff: In India, we are razing down green spaces which sustained wildlife and replacing them with landscaped private gardens and apartment complexes. For example, grass is now a disappearing commodity as manicured or even fake lawns become the norm. Native species are being replaced with gulmohars and other types of trees because they are easier to maintain. What we grow in our gardens can make the greatest difference to the wildlife in our cities.


If you only have a balcony, grow flowering plants in pots that are friendly to birds and bees. Ask your local nursery, or shop at an online nursery like this one. In a larger garden, climbers offer shelter for smaller birds, and trees such as pipal, palash and jamun provide both shelter and fruit. Bushes like hibiscus and ixora have nectar that attract birds. And again: your eco-activism ought to start with your own building association. We make a lot of noise about almost every aspect of our apartment complexes except the green spaces.


Wild spaces for wildlife: Our perfectly maintained and manicured gardens are hazardous to wildlife. For starters, many rely heavily on pesticides which are toxic to birds, bees and butterflies. The first step is to go fully organic—we’ve done it and never looked back. The other is to let parts of your garden or balcony go wild. Don’t clean out the cobwebs or all the leaves, let the wildflowers alone, allow the creepers run free, and don’t over-mow the lawn. What we see as a ‘mess’ is valuable nesting material for birds.


Share building material: Increasingly, birds are turning to hazardous trash to build their nests. Those disappearing lawns are a big part of the problem. Growing even little patches of grass on a balcony can offer valuable nesting material. You can also put out dry grass, twigs, even pet fur, and pieces of twine.


Learn more: We learned the most from these guides from Daily O and the National Wildlife Federation. A lovely related read: this National Audubon Society story on reports of crows who leave gifts for humans who feed them. Nature Forever—a wonderful bird conservation NGO run by Mohammed Dilawar, who was named Time magazine’s Environmental Hero in 2008—is an excellent online shopping resource.


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