Monday, March 11, 2019
Number of the day: 0
That’s the number of survivors of an Ethiopian Airlines crash which killed 157 passengers and crew. On its way from Addis Ababa to Nairobi, the plane plummeted within six minutes after take-off. The aircraft is a Boeing 737 MAX 8—the same as the Lion Air plane which crashed in Indonesia in October, raising questions about its safety. There were four Indians on board.
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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The great tandav of democracy

Let the loktantra games begin! The government announced the schedule of the national elections, and here is everything you need to know.


The dates:  Voting will kick off on April 11 and run through May 19 in seven phases.


The results: will be declared on May 23.


The electorate: Ninety crore or 900 million citizens of the world’s largest democracy are eligible to cast their vote—of which 15 million will be first time 18-19 year old voters.


The details: Here are some specific states and dates that might be of interest to you.

  • Tamil Nadu will vote during the second phase on April 18, along with Puducherry.

  • Maharashtra will vote in three phases: April 10, 17 and 24. Mumbai votes April 24.

  • Karnataka will vote in two phases: April 18 and April 23. Bangalore will head to the polling booth on April 18.

  • Delhi will vote in the sixth phase on May 12.

  • West Bengal will vote in all seven phases, no less! Kolkata will go to polls on May 19.


The biggest surprise: the decision not to hold state elections in Jammu & Kashmir. The state has been in limbo since the ruling coalition between the BJP and Mehbooba Mufti's People's Democratic Party fell apart in June, and is under governor’s rule as of November. The Election Commission cited the lack of adequate security forces to handle the sensitive situation in the state after the Pulwama attacks. However, state opposition leaders questioned the government’s motive. While Mufti criticised its “sinister designs,” Omar Abdullah tweeted, “PM Modi has surrendered to Pakistan, to the militants & to the hurriyat. Well done Modi Sahib. 56 inch chest failed. #slowclap.”


However, four other states: Arunachal Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Sikkim and Odisha will be going to polls as expected. And there will be critical Assembly by-elections in Tamil Nadu which will decide the fate of the ruling AIADMK government.


Anything else? There was immediate speculation over the long-drawn election schedule—and the number of voting phases allotted to various states. Bengal constituencies, for example, voted in four batches in 2014, but now different parts of the state will vote in each of the seven phases—perhaps giving the government more time to campaign in the state. On the other hand, the entire state of Tamil Nadu will complete polling in a single phase.


Bottomline: National elections is a moment of celebration for citizens, a riotous, glorious assertion of our democratic power. But for the Indian voter, the next couple of months will often times feel confusing and exhausting. We will be inundated by a cacophony of constant campaigning, frenzied news coverage, and a myriad claims and counterclaims. Our election promise: we will do our very best to help you exercise your constitutional right as an informed citizen. In the midst of this relentless noise, our goal is to help you find your democratic bat signal. And we will soon be seeking your advice on how best to do so. Here’s wishing all of you an inspiring election season!


Learn more: Here are some pieces that offer more than just dates and schedules:

  • Indian Express analyses the 27 Assembly elections contested since 2014 for clues to the outcome. Mint looks at battleground states like Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra.

  • The Hindu and The Telegraph have more on the politics of the extended election schedule, including dates, number of phases etc.

  • The Wire looks at the latest polling and sees a Balakot factor at work for the BJP.  

  • The Print has a wonderful story about a temple in Pulwama, and the Muslim community helping to build it—in the midst of the ‘sensitive’ situation in the state.

  • News18 reports on the parties rapped by the Election Commission for using Abhinandan Varthaman’s face on their election posters.


That Women's Day Thing

OK, so International Women’s Day happened, and everyone from big brands to big media did their annual bit to acknowledge half of the human race. Here are some things that caught our eye.


The predictability of it all: News coverage followed what is now the standard IWD template. Print boilerplate quotes from ‘achievers’ -- i.e. usual suspects who have made it big in business, entertainment or sports.  Examples: this yawn-inducing Axios fluff piece titled ‘Women leaders give their 1 big thing’ or Indian Express series of video interviews dominated by Bollywood (the exception being Arunima Sinha, the first female amputee to scale the Everest).


The truly good stuff: included these overlooked gems.

  • National Geographic’s brilliant photo-essay highlighting how women photographers access a world hidden from men;

  • Marie Claire’s list of 19 groundbreaking female discoveries which were credited to men;  

  • A must-watch ICICI Prudential ad celebrating women train drivers, Indian Air Force pilots, ISRO scientists, policewomen and more;

  • And this very clever video from Greenply Plywood challenging our own internal biases about what a woman can do.


The tragically tone deaf: tributes were aplenty. But fashion designer Sabyasachi Mukherjee scored the booby prize with his Instagram post featuring a plus-size, dark-skinned model wearing one of his bridal lehengas. The accompanying message: “This International Women's Day, celebrate confidence.” The unfortunate subtext: it takes “confidence” for a not-skinny or light skinned woman to wear a Sabya creation -- which is typically the preserve of skinny, light-skinned models on every other day of the year. Also this: Sabya used the same term—‘confidence’—to describe this plus-size client back in June. The word Sabya was looking for and somehow never found: ‘beautiful’.


The bottomline: International Women’s Day is oftentimes criticised as a token acknowledgement of women. But its coverage made us wonder if even that token acknowledgement is a privilege awarded only to those who are deemed exceptional—and that too in a narrow set of fields.

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making marvelous plans to watch Brie Larson kick ass


‘Captain Marvel’ storms global box office: Marvel’s first female superhero flick rocked its opening weekend, making $455 million worldwide. It’s the biggest ever for a female-fronted film, and second-largest for any superhero pic after ‘Avengers: Infinity War’. Hollywood Reporter has the numbers, but also worth your time: Washington Post’s colourful and engaging look at the evolution of a superhero who started out as a man only to be replaced by his ‘love interest’.

That other Ambani wedding happened: and it was relatively low-key by, umm, Ambani standards. The guest list swapped out Hillary Clinton for Tony and Cherie Blair and former UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. And all the Bollywood A-list dutifully danced at Akash’s baraat (video clip here). But there was no global mega-star a la Beyonce. Vogue India has the best Insta round up of the event. India Today put together an unusually snarky best/worst dressed gallery.

Nirav Modi has a brand new look: and it’s making headlines around the world. The absconding jeweller was caught on camera by The Telegraph (UK) wandering the streets of London, sporting a handlebar moustache and a £10,000 ostrich jacket. Much ink has since been spilled on his lavish life as a “fugitive and refugee.” What Twitter learned from Telegraph’s video of the Modi encounter: how hard it is to hail a cab in London. What we learned from Modi’s jacket: Criminals have uniformly bad taste. See also: former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort whose wardrobe includes $15,000 ostrich leather jacket, $9,500 ostrich vest, and a $18,500 python skin coat.

You’re never too old to exercise: So your misspent youth didn’t include a shred of athletic exertion. But new research shows that late-bloomers who start exercising later in life—as late as their forties or fifties—reduce their mortality risk just as much as people who've been working out their whole lives. Good news for exercise-phobic caterpillars, and so unfair to dutiful health-obsessed ants. (Popular Science)

Not just another hooch death: Illegal liquor recently killed more than 150 people in Assam. That’s exactly the kind of headline we skip past in the newspaper. But the story of hooch deaths is far more complex and tragic, as Indian Express reveals in this story on the tea estate workers whose lives have been devastated by the recent events. It’s an eye-opening read that taught us something of significance. (Indian Express)

Meet the bloodsuckers of Madurai: The city now contains more than 50 species of mosquitoes which consume up to 100 litres of human blood a day. The reasons for the city’s plight are exactly the same as any other Indian city: pollution and unplanned urbanisation. (Times of India)

Tech money ruins San Francisco’s ‘free love’ culture: A city once known for its freewheeling sexual practices is now the hub of “organised intimacy” events such as ‘cuddle puddles’, ‘mass gazing’, and ‘heart f**cks’. There’s a lot of crying, bonding, and exploration… but not much sex. (Vice)

Bad news about Indian philanthropy: Super-rich Indians who make more than $50 million are giving less to charity than they did five years ago—with the prominent exception of Azim Premji. More damningly: The number of such Ultra-high net worth individuals (UHNWIs) has actually grown by 12% over the same period of time. We’ve grown richer and stingier. (Mint)

Best mama-baby reunion ever: was organised by Wildlife SOS and the Maharashtra Forest Department. Watch mama leopard discover her lost nine-week old cub. It’s the perfect Monday morning pick-me-up. (Scroll)

Man meets whale’s mouth: South African diver Rainer Schimpf unexpectedly found himself inside the mouth of a very large whale, which quickly spat him out. The gracious Schimpf said, "I'm sure it was a surprise for the whale as well." Yes, there is a must-watch video.

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The best place for the best advice

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How Not To Catch A Bug On The Plane

Flus and flights are a match made in travel hell. Worse, multiple studies have found far nastier germs than the common cold—including fecal matter—in places you’d least suspect. So you need to up your air travel protection asap, and here’s how.

Pay up for the right seat: Lots of passengers love the convenience of an aisle seat—which is literally the worst place to sit on a plane if you’re planning to stay healthy. The reason: aisle seat holders come into far greater contact with their fellow passengers. That’s everyone who lurches past and holds on to your armrest or the top of your seat. As recent scientific research shows, there’s a huge difference in potential exposure between an aisle and a window—which is relatively isolated and far, far safer.

Zero bathroom breaks: Use the airport bathroom before you board. They’re relatively clean, have auto-flush, and you can properly sanitize your hands even if you touch something gross. The cramped airplane toilets are used by hundreds of passengers before they’re cleaned—and not very thoroughly at that. They might clean out the bowl, but the flush button, faucets, and door latch? We don’t think so. The good news: Most domestic flights are short enough to time your bathroom visits. If you’re flying long-distance, use a paper towel as a glove. Touch nothing with your bare hands.

Wipe down the tray table: The only place dirtier than the bathroom on the plane? That handy table you use to eat, work on your laptop, or worse, rest your head. A 2015 study found that tray table surfaces have more than eight times the amount of bacteria per square inch than the lavatory flush buttons. Why? Because passengers use them to change diapers, discard their used napkins and tissues etc. And airline staff rarely have time to clean them between flights. So pleeease whip out those sanitizing wipes and give it a good wipe down the moment you sit down.

Hands off that seat pocket: in front of you—the next most popular space to discard gross, germ-infested waste. Since it is made of a soft material, it absorbs and holds on to germs for far longer than even a hard surface like the table. And most unsurprisingly, the crew at best clears out the trash, but the pocket itself is rarely disinfected.

Turn on your air vent: That gust of cold air creates an invisible air barrier that keeps you safe from floating viruses. The turbulence blocks the germs and forces them to the ground more quickly

Adopt a ‘blanket’ policy: Most domestic flights don’t offer them any more, and you are likely better off for it. The blankets are rarely fresh on short flights even if they come wrapped in plastic. On long-haul journeys, keep the blanket away from your face just to be safe. And always bring your own pillow.

Coat your nose: Your body’s primary barrier against respiratory illnesses is the mucus in your nose. But with only 10-20% on-board humidity, air travel will inevitably dry you out. One effective solution is to keep the schnoz hydrated with a saline nasal spray. Or you can do a Meghan Markle—who takes her cue from Leonardo di Caprio, no less—and coat your nostrils with a dab of Neosporin: “Not only does it create a barrier for germs, it also lubricates the skin in the nose. That’s important because when the skin cracks, germs can come running in, so the coating of the Neosporin doubly protects you.” It’s easier in India to pick up some Bacitracin, and we hear Vaseline works just as well.

Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: Also good for keeping that mucus nice and moist: water, lots of it. And stay away from alcohol and caffeine as much as possible.


Above all, never touch your face: Do pack a hand sanitiser to keep your hands clean—since washing them in the bathroom is counter-productive. But to be safest, keep them away from all points of potential entry, i.e. mouth, nose, and eyes.

Learn more: That’s just the basics. Here’s more gyaan if you want it.

  • ThisIsInsider has 10 tips to stay and feel healthy, including some handy advice re motion sickness.

  • Independent offers a clear-eyed, scientific assessment on how likely you are to catch something on a plane.

  • Time lists the dirtiest places on an airplane. Daily Mail reports on the not-so-healthy state of standard airline hygiene and practices.

  • Catching a flight inevitably entails navigating the security line, which involves navigating one of the greatest health hazards in an airport: the plastic trays that hold your laptop.

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