Monday, September 09, 2019
Road of the day

Mahatma Gandhi Road in Kolkata is the slowest arterial road across India’s six largest metros. The city also has the longest commute time. On average, a 10km commute takes 39 minutes, compared to 26 minutes in Hyderabad—which is the fastest of the lot. The same distance takes 29 minutes in Chennai and Delhi, 34 minutes in Bengaluru, and 37 in Mumbai. Mint’s in-depth data analysis offers more details and maps.

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The biggest news story today, explained.

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The ancient origins of Indians

Two highly significant genetic studies on the Indus Valley Civilisation (aka Harappan civilisation) made big headlines around the world. Here’s what they said, and why they matter.

An intro to the Indus Valley Civilisation: Also known as the Harappan civilisation, it thrived 4600 years ago. The IVC emerged sometime around 3000 B.C.E. and had collapsed by about 1700 B.C.E.  It was spread across northwestern India and parts of what is now Pakistan, and was the largest civilisation of its time—larger than the Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilisations combined. It was also the most sophisticated: IVC was one of the first large-scale agricultural societies with anywhere between 1 million to 5 million inhabitants spread across five central cities.


The Indus Valley mystery: Little is known about the people of this civilisation or why it declined. Due to the hot climate (and rains) which degrade ancient remains, scientists have long struggled to retrieve DNA from excavated skeletons. 

The studies: The latest breakthrough was made possible by a cutting-edge technique which extracted DNA from the petrous bone of the inner ear of a woman’s skeleton—excavated at the Rakhigarhi site in Hisar, Haryana. This is the focus of one study. The other compares a collection of 523 genomes—300 to 12,000 years old—from a region spanned by Iran, Russia, and India.

What did they find? Two studies were published in two separate journals, Cell and Science. But their findings essentially support the same timeline of our ancestry:

  • People of the IVC were a genetic mix of west Asians from the Zagros region of Iran and First Indians—these are migrants from Africa who became the first modern humans to reach India around 50,000-65,000 years ago.

  • The language of the IVC was likely Dravidian.

  • The shift from hunting and gathering to agriculture happened independently in the IVC—and was not ‘imported’ by later migrations.

  • People of the IVC had no ‘Aryan’ DNA. 'Aryan' in this case refers to people from the Eurasian Steppes (think modern Kazakhstan) who brought with them Indo-European languages (an early version of Sanskrit).

  • This means that the Aryans migrated to India many centuries after the decline of the IVC. 

Umm, what does this tell me? It explains the genetic ancestry of all of us. Author Tony Joseph uses a great pizza analogy. Think of the First Indians out of Africa as the base of our ‘genetic pizza’. The IVC genes are the sauce. And subsequent migrations—including the Aryans—are cheese plus toppings.  

That’s nice but why does that matter? Ah, because it challenges two popular Aryan-related theories:

  • The Aryan Invasion Theory—beloved of colonialists and fascists—claimed that Aryans originated in Europe and then colonised India by defeating the Dravidians. They were also credited with all the achievements of ancient Indian civilisation. 

  • The Aryan Migration Theory is championed by Hindutva ideologues—and it turns the invasion theory on its head. According to this, Aryans originated in India and are responsible for the oldest Vedic texts. They then spread across Asia and Europe.


Turns out neither are true. Aryans, in fact, originated in Central Asia and simultaneously migrated to Europe and India around the same time. And this explains the linguistic connection that binds together the family of Indo-European languages. 


Learn more: Smithsonian has the most in-depth piece on the IVC DNA sequenced by scientists. The Atlantic offers an engaging overview of both studies and links their findings. Tony Joseph in the BBC analyses the Aryan Migration Theory. And Quint offers the most readable account of our genetic ancestry—based on a study published last year but its findings have been mostly reconfirmed by the latest research. (Lead image credit: India Shastra)

The heartbreak over Chandrayaan

The mission to land a spacecraft on the moon ended in failure in the early hours of Saturday. We quickly break down the deluge of coverage that ensued.

The background: Remember the Mars Rover that gathered and transmitted data from Mars? Well, Mission Chandrayaan 2 aimed to land a Moon Rover to do the same. The primary aim: study the extent and distribution of water on the moon’s surface and below it. (Our previous explainer has more details)

All went well until Saturday: The GSLV Mk-III rocket delivered a module containing an orbiter, lander and rover into the Moon’s orbit. The orbiter was circling the moon as per schedule, and the lander detached itself in order to land on the surface. Once there, it was supposed to release the rover to carry out experiments. 

What went wrong? The lander Vikram was equipped with thrusters to make sure that it makes a soft landing on the surface. They act like brakes that are applied at various intervals to slow the lander down, and correct its orientation so it lands on its legs. One or more of these did not perform as required in the last five minutes. 

  • An ISRO scientist told the Times of India, “At this point, the thrust might have been more than optimal, impacting the lander's orientation. It's like a car losing direction due to sudden braking at high speed.” Translation: it may have hit the brakes a bit too hard.  

  • But an Indian Express report suggests that the ‘brake’ underperformed and the problem was speed: the lander did not slow down at the required rate and was travelling too fast when it hit the surface.

The result: Either way, the lander deviated from its assigned trajectory and we lost contact with it. The lander may or may not have crash-landed on the surface. Or it may just have lost its ability to communicate. 

Vikram spotted! The orbiter captured a thermal image of the lander on Sunday. ISRO sources tell Times of India that it has not landed on its legs, and the chances of establishing contact “ look less and less probable.” We will know more in the coming days as the orbiter (which is still in place) gets a closer look.

So this is a failure then? Sure, but a very fruitful one. The history of science is littered with ‘failures’ which enable our greatest successes. As Anand Mahindra tweeted, ”The communication isn’t lost. Every single person in India can feel the heartbeat of #chandrayaan2. We can hear it whisper to us that ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.’” Meanwhile, the orbiter will continue to send back lots of valuable information over the next 7.5 years. 

What to watch: Here are the key clips which went viral over the weekend:

  • This live clip shows the first signs of things going awry, and the PM Modi being informed right after. It ends with ISRO chairman K Sivan confirming the loss of communication.

  • This clip features Modi making an impromptu and lovely speech to the team of scientists—offering much-needed support and sympathy. 

  • The most watched and praised clip: Modi consoling a heartbroken Sivan.

  • One ugly note: This clip of NDTV reporter Pallava Bagla berating a senior ISRO official because it was he and not Sivan who came out to speak to the press. He has since apologised.

What to read: Here’s the best of the coverage:

  • Indian Express has an excellent read on what can still be salvaged from this mission.

  • Deccan Herald has a lot more detail on the likely issues with the thrusters.

  • India Today on the history of lunar failures—only 21 of the 46 attempted landings have succeeded, and we are in illustrious company indeed.

  • Both Israel and India attempted a lunar landing this year—and both failed. This video compares the two by placing them side-by-side. Skip ahead to the 14-minute mark for the critical phase.

  • Indian Express profiles the men and women behind the mission.

  • Scientists tell The Telegraph why it is wrong to pretend that the mission is “95% successful.”

  • The Atlantic explains why a lunar landing is extremely difficult to pull off—even decades after putting a human on the moon.

  • If you’re curious about that sort of thing, Mint rounds up foreign coverage of the event.

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Wondering what you did to deserve that long history bhashan

Post-Dorian desperation in the Bahamas: Thousands of survivors are scrambling to be evacuated from the islands devastated by the hurricane—which has killed 44 and left 76,000 people homeless. (ABC News)

Trump cancels peace talks with the Taliban: The US prez nixed plans for a secret meeting with the Taliban at Camp David. The reason: the terrorist organisation has refused to accede to calls for a ceasefire—and recently killed 30 people in two separate suicide attacks. And this while the US is negotiating a withdrawal accord which will hand over Afghanistan to the Taliban. The other outcome of the cancelation: now everyone knows that Trump was planning to huddle with the Taliban just days before the 9/11 anniversary. Nice! (Al Jazeera)

Legendary lawyer Ram Jethmalani is dead: The man who represented everyone from Amit Shah to the assassins of Rajiv and Indira Gandhi passed away at the age of 95. Times of India offers a colourful tribute to his highly colourful life. Quint looks at his relationship with the BJP which recently expelled him from the party.

Your Kashmir update is here: The Telegraph reports on an affidavit filed by Kashmir Times editor which reveals how security forces monitor and intimidate the media in the Valley. Also a must-read: Historian Ram Guha in Hindustan Times on the five tragedies of Kashmiri Pandits.

Serena Williams loses US Open final: She was beaten 6-3 7-5 by 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu. Williams called her performance “inexcusable,” but Brit tabloids pounced on the opportunity to call her bestie Meghan “unlucky”—she flew to New York to cheer Serena on in the final. 

Censors are coming for your Netflix, Amazon Prime etc: The government is readying plans to censor streaming content—which may soon need certification much as movies in theatres. This comes on the heels of the Shiv Sena lawsuit accusing Netflix of peddling “Hinduphobic” content. (

Two reasons why biology is unfair: One, smartphones are more likely to cause neck pain in women than men. Two, vegetarians face a higher risk for stroke than meat-eaters.

New York’s new rat elimination plan: involves alcohol, lots of it. Think ‘drunk drowning’! (The Guardian)

Weekend reads you might have missed: include the following:

  • Watch this BBC report on Bigo Live, the hottest new streaming app which is making a pile of money for Indian dancers and singers.

  • Also a must-watch: This powerful Quint video on the lives of lesbian couples in small-town India.

  • This raw and moving LinkedIn post penned by a CEO who unexpectedly lost his little boy. It is perhaps the most real thing you will read on that now-cliched subject called ‘work-life balance'.

  • Times of India explains why recent rate cuts won’t help folks with bank loans—and may hurt those who have bank deposits.

  • The Print uses extensive satellite data to argue that China has made a serious incursion into Arunachal Pradesh. 

  • The Hindu has a heartwarming feature story on a roadside tea-shop which is a famous literary salon in Kerala. 

  • Scroll carried a lovely first-person meditation on memories of a dead mother and her love for crows.

  • Supreme Court Justice Deepak Gupta’s stirring speech on the importance of dissent and the gross misuse of sedition laws.

  • India Forum offers an excellent and engaging long read on the function of English as a marker of privilege.


Your extra-special Monday quota of sunshine items: include the following:

  • The brilliant news that Gillian Anderson will play Margaret Thatcher on the Netflix series ‘Crown’.

  • This inspirational clip of an elderly Mexican woman best known and loved for dancing in the streets. Also, we +100 the accompanying caption: “Growing old is mandatory but growing up is optional ❤️”

  • This priceless clip of a pooch getting his nails clipped… move over, Meryl Streep!

  • This equally lol clip that proves some stalkers are just plain adorable. Though the cat, i.e. the stalkee may disagree.

  • The good news that H&M has stopped buying Brazilian leather in response to the Amazon fires which are primarily caused by cattle ranching.

  • This mash-up of SRK’s best ‘Koffee with Karan’ moments. Fast-forward to the 2-minute mark to the best bit: Shah Rukh offering a sensual reading of a butter chicken recipe.

  • This squirrel which gives a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘stop to smell the roses’. 

  • This funny lesson on the proper use of a helmet—very handy in these perilous times of insanely high fines.

  • Finally, an excellent example of the incorrect use of ‘mansplaining’. 🙈

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The best place for the best advice

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How to get on a healthy social media diet

We all know that social media platforms can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety and depression—which in turn has birthed the latest wellness trend: social media ‘fasting’. But giving up your most addictive pastime is way harder than giving up, say, carbs. In fact, it is useful to think of social media like fat or carbs or sugar. They’re all good for you, but in moderation. Here’s a guide to crafting a healthy social media diet that keeps you connected and sane.

Set strict ‘meal’ times: The biggest problem with social media is that it is always available—any time we are bored, trying to procrastinate, waiting for something or someone. And there you are… still scrolling for the next couple of hours. The solution: set ‘social media’ times during the day just as you would for meals. And no ‘snacking’, please! Spending way too much time on Facebook during work hours? Opt for the News Feed Eradicator—the desktop browser extension eliminates your news feed and replaces it with inspirational quotes. Don’t worry, it’s all still there on your app.

Portion control: Ok, let’s be real. We all cheat. But if you do catch yourself sneaking a peek at your Insta feed, we suggest keeping a safety net in place. Go into the Settings tab and select "Your Activity." When you set a daily limit—say 30 minutes—the app will remind you when you exceed it. You can do the same on Facebook. (more details on both are here) Also: turn off your notifications. That’s just unnecessary temptation. 

Intermittent fasting: It’s also a good idea to just tune out entirely at regular intervals. You can set your phone on airplane mode—but that can be inconvenient for anyone trying to call or message you. The other solution is to delete the Insta/ Facebook/ Twitter app from your phone for a day or two. It makes giving into temptation that much more burdensome. But make sure you don’t get caught in a delete-binge-delete cycle. Stick with your portion control protocols when you log back on.

Say no to mindless ‘grazing’: Social media can be an excellent way to connect with others—but not if you spend all your time mindlessly browsing other people’s posts. Research shows that passive consumption of social media content increases social anxiety and depression. So make it a point to do something when you are on a platform. Post, comment, message or join a Facebook group. Use it to actively nurture social connections which also helps all of us feel a little less lonely and left out.

Finally, purge the toxins: All of us have people and handles on our social networks who are more likely to make us feel bad—either because they are relentlessly negative or insufferably happy. Make liberal use of the ‘mute’ and ‘unfollow’ buttons. You deserve it! 

Failing at all of the above? Install Binky and scroll away!

Learn more: Refinery 29 has more on Instagram fasting. CNet teaches you how to mute that annoying person on Instagram. Mashable has 11 social media hacks that optimise your social media time. On a more positive note, Quartz teaches you how to make friends on Twitter—no, following brands, celebs and news sites isn’t the way to do it. And Harvard Business Review outlines two strategies to separate the personal from the professional on social media.There are nasty people everywhere and the office is no exception. Your boss, colleague, even employee, can be an asshole. And here’s how you can stop them from ruining your work life.

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