Monthly Archives: June 2008

Mercedes McLaren Comes to Mumbai

The famous Formula One racing car McLaren Mercedes visited Mumbai this month. The car was exhibited at Hakone Racing Circuit at Powai, Phoenix Mills at Lower Parel, Oberoi Mall at Goregaon and Nirmal Lifestyles at Mulund.

The car is an exact replica of the car driven by Formula One ace driver Lewis Hamilton. The McLaren Mercedes team is one of the most successful teams in Formula One. They have won over 150 races. 11 Drivers’ Championships and 8 Constructors’ Championships.

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The Plight of Refugees

Every year 20 June is celebrated as World Refugee Day in order to highlight the plight of all the refugees in the world. In order to commemorate this day, I am dedicating this week’s post to the cause of refugees.

According to Euripides, “There is no greater sorrow on earth than the loss of one’s native land”. This is often the case of a refugee. A refugee’ is defined as “a person who has fled his country owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable or, owing to fear, is unwilling to avail himself the protection of that country.” This definition is according to Article 7 of the 1951 Convention and Protocol relating to the status of refugees. However, India being home to about 3,30,000 refugees, considers them as “aliens”. India, despite completing 60 glorious years of Independence, does not have any special laws for the protection of these refugees. India deals with refugees under the Registration of Foreigners Act, 1939 and Foreigners Act, 1946 which is applicable to aliens.

However, the Government of India is empowered to regulate the entry, presence and departure of these aliens. In India, wage earning rights and work permits have no meaning for refugees. Hence, they have no way of supporting themselves and thus remain in poverty. When they just enter India, they are taken to a transit camp. There the necessities are not easily available. Over a period of time, they muster courage to move freely within the country and hence they do not have to live in transit camps.

People flee from their mother countries due to civil conflicts, massive violations of human rights, foreign aggression and occupation, poverty, famine, disease and natural calamities. Reasons such as famine, disease and natural calamities are just passing phases. After this, they return to their own countries whereas the other reasons are long standing anxieties that may or may not be solved.

The Sikhs and Hindus migrated from Pakistan to India and the Muslims migrated from India to Pakistan during the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. India and Pakistan readily accepted and rehabilitated these migrants. People of Indian origin were forced to leave Burma (now Myanmar) under the programme of Burmanization. During Bhutanization, the people of Nepali origin were pushed to India and Nepal. Sri Lanka upon becoming independent sent the Tamil plantation workers who were taken to the island by the British back to India. Bihari Muslims were sent to India during the liberation war of Bangladesh though they wanted to enter Pakistan. India continues to host and assist refugee population from different countries especially Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Tibet. Thus, India is diverse of refugee population.

Refugees undergo many trials and tribulations. There is arbitrary arrest of newly arrived young men on suspicion of rebel connection. Sometimes, they are even deported for security reasons. The host country does not welcome them willingly and hence they do not develop a sense of belonging towards the host country. When the refugees flee and seek asylum into another country, they come empty handed leaving behind their belongings. They have to start their life in the host country right from scratch. They are not granted refugee status or given citizenship easily as they are considered liabilities to the country. They are often targeted and accused in case of thefts or terrorist attacks. They are subjected to assaults, both physical and mental. Since they come empty handed, they do not have documentary evidence of their educational qualifications, income, proof of residence and so on. Sometimes even if they have documentary evidence, it is seized upon arrival in the host country. They are often denied accommodation, health facilities, education, protection and the like. Sometimes, they are separated from their families. Though they want to go back to their country, they have no option but to stay at the host country hoping that their own country will become safe one day. Sometimes, the country builds high walls to shut out refugees and asylum seekers. This insensitive gesture is not justified. The Sri Lankan refugees in India face problems of a different genre. They are firstly labeled as terrorists as people consider them as members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ellam (LTTE). A large number of them happen to be Dalits. They are forced to flee because of their caste, only because they are Dalits. They face the problem of apartheid.

Any person seeking refugee status has to approach the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). In spite of not being a member of the 145 – nation signed 1951 Geneva Convention, India has allowed the UNHCR to function in India through its offices in Delhi and Chennai. Many refugees have spent years waiting for resettlement but end up becoming a burden to the government. They are pleading with the Indian Government to grant them protection and refugee status.

The lack of legal provisions and policies on refugees is one of fundamental flaws of protection in India. At the same time, India cannot be blamed for this because many people take advantage of the hospitable nature of the Indian Government. They flee for better prospects and to enhance their quality of life. This is not forced migration but migration out of choice. Thus, the Government is very careful in granting refugee status.

I feel that safeguarding the refugees is the responsibility of the international community. It is high time India becomes a part of the UNHCR Convention of 1951. India should also consider amending its Foreigners Act, 1946 and differentiate between a “refugee” and a “foreigner”. We should realize that refugees are not born refugees; they are made refugees. Hence, we should not ostracize them. This will be possible only through awareness in refugee issues that will sensitize the people to give the refugees a hassle – free stay in India.

 

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Will I ever get a credit card?

Journalists, lawyers, actors, politicians and the police are always envied for the kind of connections they have. This class of professionals have their way of getting things done in their favour. But these privileges do not coming knocking on their doors everytime. There are times when doors are shut only because of whom they are and the work they do.

Journalists, lawyers, actors and politicians and the police are black listed professions for banks when it comes to issuing credit cards and loans. Even if you want a credit card, it is a luxury. However, some of them have their way out.

I have applied several times for a credit card and have been refused every single time for the reason “profession not desirable” or “not credit worth”. What do banks mean by this? Am i engaged in some black business or something? I am a tax paying citizen of India. If I come within the tax bracket how can they classify me as not credit worthy?

After speaking to a number of banker friends, I got to know the real picture. Banks choose to harass the common man. In case journalists, lawyers, politicians, actors and the police default on payments and the bank uses harsh methods of recovery, the journalist will expose them in the media, lawyers will file a suit against them for harassment, the police, actors and politicians will use their connection against the bank.

Issuance of credit cards is the at the sole discretion of the bank but does that give them the right to deny credit to these professionals?

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Shoe Problem?

Being big made or small made is a problem in India especially when it comes to buying shoes. If you don’t get your correct size, you are left unsatisfied. There are very few shops that have the option of selling custom-made shoes.

I have a problem buying shoes of my size. I am very short and my height is 149 cm. My shoe size is 4. The normal shoe size of ladies is 5-10. Whenever I got to buy shoes, the shopkeeper sends me to the kids section and I get shoes with bows and buckles. During Christmas, I can get a variety of shoes with Christmas Trees, Santa Clause, Elves, Mistletoes and what not. Being a woman and an impulsive shopper, I cannot indulge in impulse shoe shopping. I am forced to order shoes. The good part about ordering shoes is that I can play around with the design and increase or decrease the height of the heel.

Fazal Shaikh is a Maharashtra State level basketball player and stands feet 10 inches tall. “My shoe size is 12 and this size is available only in a few shops and most of the time I have to order my shoes.”

Sruthi Gotipatti feels that the attitude of the shopkeepers must change. “My shoe size in 10 and I find it rather annoying when shopkeepers tell me that my feet are abnormal. Moreover, the shoes of those sizes are too ‘aunty-like’. It is high time shops stock adequate shoes of plus or minus sizes,” states Sruthi Gotipatti.

When it comes to clothes, the number of tailors and plus sized clothes’ shops in the city are many. “The plus sized stores do not have my size. Hence, I get all my clothes stitched. There are only t-shirts of my size available at select outlets” adds Fazal Shaikh.

Shopkeepers feel that they lose out on revenue when they stock odd sizes, the investment and infrastructure costs are high but the sales are low. But there are some shops which cater to people who have big feet or small feet. “We provide the facility for ordering shoes from any of our designs at no extra cost. The shoes will be ready in a week”, says Vipul Chheda, owner of an Adidas showroom at Parel. “We take order of shoes but we charge about Rs. 50 – Rs. 75 more depending on the nature of modification. We can make minor adjustments provided the design is similar”, adds Iliyaz of Bombay Shoe Mart located at Crawford Market.

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Charge Your Mobile Phone as You Exercise!

Bhaskar Ajgaonkar, a third-year information technology engineering student of Rajendra Mane College of Engineering and Technology, Ratnagiri, has developed a bicycle that when pedaled produces electricity and charges mobile phones of any brand.

This 19-year old resident of Dombivli, a distant suburb of Mumbai, was inspired by the two-seater cycle ridden by Shashi Kapoor and Amitabh Bachchan in the movie Shaan. He was in Class VII then. It was his father Vijay Ajgaonkar, an electronics engineer, who encouraged him. The bicycle with mobile charging facility took nearly two years and around a thousand rupees to build.

Bhaskar describes his device: “The circuit is so flexible that you can connect a cell phone of any brand for charging. The electricity generated through a dynamo is regulated through the circuit. Therefore your riding speed will not affect the current flow.”
An extra chain is attached to the rear wheel, which is connected to a micro-dynamo attached to the cycle carrier. As the cycle is pedaled, the dynamo rotates to generate electricity. The electricity is then passed towards the circuit fixed on the bell attached to the handle. The circuit has an LED that confirms reception of electricity.

A cable coming out from the circuit has a plug, which can be connected to a mobile phone to charge it. A chain is connected to the micro dynamo and cycle’s gear box. As you pedal the cycle forward, the chain rotates the gear box. The invention thus not only saves electricity but also helps the rider stay fit while he charges his mobile phone.

Bhaskar’s skills have brought him three national awards and several state awards. His most recent award is the KDMC mayor’s award. He has more than 25 innovative cycle designs to his credit. He has won a national award for presenting a prototype of this bicycle at a seminar conducted for Alternative Energy Sources at VPM Polytechnic in Thane in 2005. He took his project further by designing the micro-dynamo with the help of industry experts.

When asked why he decided to work on a cycle instead of cars, Bhaskar said, “The Wright brothers had a vision. They wanted to fly. Similarly, I felt there should be some innovation in cycles too.”

By December this year, Bhaskar hopes to complete the prototype of a talking cycle, which will have photo sensors fixed on it. “The bicycle will warn cyclists about potholes ahead and will say sorry to the rider if it misses one. In addition, this talking cycle will caution riders against unnecessary jerks and accidents.

Though his father Vijay Ajgaonkar is currently undergoing medication for cancer, it hasn’t deterred Bhaskar from pursuing his dream. He has written a book titled Cyclecha Zagat Mi which is due for release in December.

The budding inventor now hopes to to come up with a flying bicycle based on the airplane model created by the Wright Brothers.

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Music therapy with a special touch

“Music . . . can name the unnameable and communicate the unknowable”. This line by Leonard Bernstein holds true for the children of Priyanj Special School located in Goregaon West. As you enter the school, you are greeted by the smiles of enthusiastic children singing, banging the desk and making noise. These children look any other children but in reality they are autistic.

Apart from their regular sessions of special education, art and craft training, speech and language therapy, occupational and sensory integration therapy, individual counselling, self-help training and computer education, music sessions has made a big difference to these children in improving their social skills.

Eight-year old Raveena Poojari can play on the keyboard just any song that she has heard on the television while Vedant Roy, also eight-years old, can play on the keyboard any tune that a person hums. For Deepayan Dasgupta, music has made him talk; his speech has improved through music. Prathamesh Naik, Deepanyan Dasgupta and Devansh Rathor, all of nine years can learn any song and immediately sing in tune. “Music has made these children more verbal and has improved their social skills. Earlier getting them to talk was very difficult but now they have started responding to people,” says Dr. Reesha Dhulap, the school principal. Saurabh Jadhav can barely speak but once the bongo is handed over to him, he gets engrossed with it. “The children here are immensely gifted. They have never attended any formal music class but they have the knack of playing music just by ear. I just teach them the notes and give them the pitch. Raveena has the ability to remember song lyrics and has even written them in her exam answer paper!” adds Dinesh Kumar, the music instructor.

The school that started in the year 2000 has recently formed their own band that performs at various places. The school band consists of singers Devansh Rathore, Deepanyan Dasgupta, Vedant Roy, Ritika Shetty and Prathamesh Naik accompanied by Raveena Poojari on the keyboard, Saurabh on the bongo and Ingrid Lobo on the tambourine. The children are now in the process of learning to play the guitar.

When asked about the difference in teaching music to autistic children Dinesh Kumar answers, “While teaching these children, I have to wait for them to respond. I had never heard about autism before and after getting involved in teaching these children, I have gained lots of patience and satisfaction.”

Though these children have their limitations, they have emerged victorious with their special gift of music.

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Today’s aeromodeller, tomorrow’s pilot

Take a trip to Mahalakshmi Race Course on a Sunday morning and you could witness an exciting sport practiced there – aeromodelling. When the horses are not in action, aeromodelling enthusiasts fly radio-controlled, scaled-down versions of airplanes and helicopters. Aeromodelling is the art of making miniature aircraft models that look and fly like real aircrafts. It is a combination of craft, a bit of engineering expertise, coupled with creative imagination.

Aeromodelling is highly developed in the United States of America. With the lack of open spaces here, the hobby is suppressed,” says Ashok Baijal, the Deputy General Manager of State Bank of India, who frequents the race course every Sunday. “The race course is the only open space in Mumbai where we can fly planes for free”, says S. K. Mishra of Indian Hobby Centre. The Mahalakshmi Race Course has started a Flying Club that provides third party insurance for an annual fee of Rs. 200.

Categories of aeromodels

Static aeromodels are replicas of airplanes that exhibit minute details of real airplanes. They are incapable of flight. These serve as learning tools in the world of aircrafts. Construction of these models demands a high level of engineering expertise, craft, carpentry and knowledge about the aircraft. Flying aeromodels are capable of actual flight. They need considerations of weight, balance and strength. Their main focus is on the aerodynamics than just external appearances. Balsa wood, polystyrene foam, bits of glass fibre, cloth and plywood is required for its construction. Some plastic moulded parts like the propeller and spinner cones may be incorporated. Glow fuel (70% methanol, 10% nitromethane and 20% castor oil) is used to fly these airplanes.

It is beneficial for beginners to use kits rather than trying to build models from random sheets of balsa wood. The hobby is prevalent in India since almost three decades. However, aeromodelling kits are being imported since the last seven years. In Mumbai, aeromodelling kits are available on retail only at India Hobby Centre. The kit includes a plan of the airplane, pre-cut strips of Balsa wood and a manual on how to get started.

“There is no joy in buying readymade airplanes. When you create your own airplane, there is immense satisfaction. You’re first crash motivates you to rework on your airplane,” says Ashok Baijal. Mehernosh started aeromodelling with a zero budget. “I went to the race course and watched others flying. There is a skill to operate the remote control and I learnt it by watching others and flying their planes,” he says. His interest in aeromodelling initiated him to study aeronautical engineering. TYBSc student, Ralph Cornelius worked at India Hobby Centre and earned the body of an airplane which he assembled. His passion has motivated him to invest in a chopper.

Benefits of Aeromodelling

Aeromodelling is very useful for defence purposes and disaster management. “Through these airplanes, manless flights are possible during wars. Also, by attaching a camera, one can survey a disaster prone area and capture images,” says Ashok Baijal. “The government can start by encouraging aeromodelling as a sport and then look into its commercial benefits,” he adds.

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