Tuesday, November 18, 2008

CHANDRAYAAN 1 - India on Moon

The MIP crashed at a place called the Shackleton crater in the south polar region of the Moon and put the Tricolour on the Moon. The crater also is possible site for future human missions to the moon.

The Shackleton crater has an undulating terrain with hills and valleys. Since the valleys are in the moon’s permanently shadowed regions, it could harbour water and ice.

What was extraordinary about the historic event of Chandrayaan -1’s probe landing on the moon on Friday night was that the spacecraft was built in India, it was put into orbit by the Indian rocket, PSLV-C11, and the launch took place from Indian soil.

When I was in school in late sixties, one of the favourite topics for English essay writing and science project was ‘visit to the Moon’. I remember making visits with my friends to USIS (United States Information Service, earlier version of American Centre) and the Russian Centre to collect printed material on these countries’ space programmes. We were so enamoured with those glossy magazines and what a thrill we got in collecting them for free.
Then on July 20, 1969, US won the race when it succeeded first in landing a manned flight onto the surface of moon. The newspapers next morning (Television had made its token appearance in Delhi only, was in its very early days of infancy, and we did not have it) were full of pictures and story of man’s first steps on the Moon. Neil Armstrong had become a hero and a role model immediately. The same day I happen to go to my father’s business premises where I also met our octogenarian Munimji. Munimji was a very respectable member of our family who not only handled the accounts of our business firm but also the affairs our joint family as well. He was part of all family decisions, and was consulted for all matrimonial alliances of my father’s generations. When my father reached his marriageable age, my grandmother had sent Munimji first to my Nanaji’s house to approve the family and the prospective bride. At the shop that day in July, 1969, there was more number of newspapers. All were discussing the moon-landing, about the site, possibilities of living on moon etc. Our Munimji listened to all this for a while, and then thundered – ‘it is all bakwaas (bulls..t); no one has landed on the moon; it is all amrikan propaganda’. No body opposed him! Little did he realize that he would later find support for his disbelief not from Russians who were beaten in their race to Moon, but from the Americans only.
On February 15, 2001 the FOX television network aired a program titled Conspiracy Theory: Did We Land On The Moon? This program showed alleged evidence that NASA faked the moon landings. This hoax theory has been around for several years, but this is the first time it has been presented to such a wide audience. This programme is freely available on CD and I watched it during my Antarctica days. What it says basically is that NASA was in such a hurry to beat Russians in their landing on Moon that it hatched a major conspiracy to fool its own people as well as of the world (If you can not make it, fake it). There are now websites on this topic and NASA as well as many independent experts and scientists have strongly and scientifically refuted the claims of advocates of hoax theory.

The lunar probe of Chandrayaan 1 has landed on the south polar region of Moon. The area where it landed is Shackleton crater. South Pole and Shackleton are so intimately linked with Antarctica! But Shackleton, being a great hero of early Antarctic exploration, has been honoured at Moon too.

After joining many prestigious clubs (nuclear club, satellite club, Antarctica club, Arctic club), we are over the moon now. Many people ask what India is achieving in establishing bases at such formidable and inhospitable places like Antarctica and Arctic. And now why Moon? There are many scientific as well as geo-political answers to such doubts. I shall not go into that. But it is a great feeling that we are over the Moon!

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Ship Pirates

Having spent two months on the ship this year, and passing through some risky area of the Indian Ocean while sailing from the Antarctic Ocean via Cape Town and Indian Ocean, news such as ship piracy in such area of course attracts my attention. While on the ship, I was quite surprised to learn that ship piracy is a regular risk with the ships and its crew especially cruising in the Gulf of Aden. During my daily visits to the Radio Room at M.V. Emerald Sea for making/receiving phone calls from home, or collecting/delivering emails, I would see printer regularly printing alerts from the maritime bureau. If you ever thought that the ship pirates in current times existed only in the Hollywood, then improve on your information and general knowledge. They are every where in different oceans with high speed boats and modern weaponry. Fortunately, we were safe in Antarctic Ocean; so far no incident of ship piracy has ever been reported from this continent. In fact the menace of the ship piracy is so rampant that many maritime bureaus have dedicated and specialized crime services to collect and disseminate information to alert the ships about the risky areas. There are many famous books and movies on sea pirates, the latest being Pirates of Carribean. There are now dedicated websites on this subject.

It is a big relief now to the families of all the sailors on board the ship, MT Stolt Valor. It was hijacked by pirates 38 nautical miles off the coast of Yemen in the Gulf of Aden more than two months ago while it was on its way from the Suez to Mumbai. The Hong Kong-registered ship was carrying a cargo of oil and chemicals. Apart from 18 Indians, the crew members also included two Filipinos, a Bangladeshi and a Russian.
At any given point there are one lakh Indian sailors on foreign seas; India is the largest suppliers of sailors and yet there is no system in place to ensure their safety. There have been so many such incidents in the Gulf of Aden, this was the 54th incident this year.
Surprisinghly, despite such high numbers, India is neither a part of the UN Coalition Force that patrols the area nor is there any set protocol for dealing with such incidents.
Last week only, the Indian Navy was able to prevent the hijacking of m.v. Jag Arnav in the Gulf of Aden because it was an Indian ship. The Stolt Valor was, interestingly, Japanese vessel registered in Hong Kong. Owning and registering of ships is also a complicated process. M.V. Emerald Sea, for example, a Greek ship, was registered in Liberia to save the taxes. Liberia and Panama remain very attractive cities for registration of such huge vessels as they do it at very cheap rates.

Some of alerts received on M.V. Emerald Sea
Warning Warning Warning: piracy prone areas
Somalia: heavily armed pirates are now attacking ships further away from the coast. Ships not making scheduled calls at Somali ports are advised to keep at least 200 nm from the coast.
Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania: 19 incidents have been reported in 18 months. Pirates are targeting ships preparing to anchor. Ships are advised to take extra precautions.
Chittagong, Bangladesh: 62 incidents have reported in 2 years. Pirates are targeting ships preparing to anchor. Ships are advised to take extra precautions.
Other risky areas:
South and Central America and the Caribbean waters
Brazil – Santos
Peru – Callao
West Africa – Lagos

Some actual and attempted incidents:

December, 2007, Dar Es Salaam: Pirates boarded a container ship drifting. They broke padlocks, removed container lashings bars and stole ship stores and cargo.
November, 2007, Belawan, Indonesia: duty quarter master onboard a product tanker at anchor noticed two robbers hiding under windlass. Crew alerted, robbers jumped overboard and escaped in a boat waiting below.
November, 2007, Arabian Sea: A reefer underway detected a small boat on radar at a range of 4 nm approaching from the starboard side; alarm raised, lights switched on. The boat moved away.
November, 2007: In the Gulf, a suspicious craft approached a tanker. Master sounded general alarm, increased speed, crew mustered and fire hoses standby. The speed boat closed at 0.1 nm, and when it noticed crew alertness, aborted approach and moved away.
November, 2007, Somalia: A car carrier noticed an unlit boat at 3 nm off the port bow with a speed of 19 nm. The boat reduced speed to match the speed of the vessel. Another unlit boat observed at 2 nm. Master raised alarm; crew mustered and switched on deck lights. Both boats moved away.
November, 2007, Vietnam: Robbers armed with knives boarded general cargo ship at berth. Port security informed. Ship stores stolen.
November, 2007, Malacca straits: an unidentified small watercraft approached a chemical tanker underway. Alarmed raised, the craft came within 150 meters and aborted the attempted.
November, 2007, Mozambique: Robbers boarded a container sip at berth and stole ship store amid tight anti piracy watches. The ship had shore security personnel deployed by the port security. In addition there were armed security guards on the shore side.
November, 2007, Hoogly river, India: Six robbers armed with knives boarded a chemical tanker at anchor, via the poop deck. Crew raised alarm and activated anti-piracy measures. Robbers jumped overboard and escaped, with ship’s stores in their waiting boat. No injuries to crew. Reported to harbor pilots but no action taken.
November, 2007, Mogadishu, Somalia: A general cargo ship was boarded and hijacked by seven armed pirates while at anchor after discharging cargo at Mogadishu. Pirates took control of the bridge, engine room and steering room. There was a fight between the crew and the pirates. Six crew members were injured. An U.S. warship rendered assistance in rescuing the crew and ship.
September, 2007, Haiti: Robbers armed with knives boarded an anchored general cargo ship unnoticed. Ship’s general alarm sounded and crew mustered, robbers jumped overboard and escaped with ship’s stores. Attempt to contact the local authorities were futile.
September, 2007, bonny river anchorage, Nigeria: five robbers in two motor boats armed with guns and knives boarded an anchored chemical tanker from the bow using ropes and hooks. Duty crew spotted the robbers and raised the alarm. The robbers broke the locks on the forward store and stole ship’s stores and escaped. Bonny signal station was called many times, but did not respond.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Chandigarh....the city beautiful

Ever since I left Chandigarh way back in 1982, I have looked for opportunities to visit Chandigarh again and again. There are so many pleasant memories and experiences associated with the city. It has not yet disappointed me in my so many visits in last 25 years. Though these visits are now never for a longer period, not more than 2 nights usually, but the visits and meeting with old buddies always refreshes me. Chandigarh has changed in so many ways, and yet it has remained the same in its character. It has expanded in all directions. Like NCT region of Delhi which now encompasses Noida, Gurgaon, and may be Sonepat also, Chandigarh’s unofficial boundaries now engulf Mohali, Panchkula, and may be Raipur Rani. It is not uncommon to find letters for Panchkula also mentioning Chandigarh in the address. The traffic has multiplied manifold; the ubiquitous cycle, the most common mode of transportation earlier, has rapidly been replaced by motorcycles and small cars. Traffic jams, unheard earlier, do occur now on some roads. I used to own a cycle then; and would enjoy using it for various errands, and also on many occasions with Chitra on carrier at the back. Later I also put a small seat in front and would take Ishu for fun ride in the campus. It was a bit of unusual since very few docs in PGI used cycles, and perhaps none to use it as a family transport.
My hobby for bird watching really took off from the woods adjacent to the hostel. There were many resident and visiting birds there and gradually I learnt to recognize them. I still remember my joy when for the first time I made a spot recognition of golden oriole and grey hornbill.
We got lot of visitors from Delhi who would visit us for various reasons: medical consultations in the hospital, just to visit and spend some time with us, or on their way to Kasauli or Shimla. We were always on lookout which hostle-room’s occupants were away on home vacation so that we could accommodate our own guests. Besides usual tourist attractions, we would always entertain them at the first floor cafeteria which they found so spotlessly clean. They found it amusing to see the caloric value of each item of food served there.
Some of the friends we made there are our closest friends now and we value their friendship. People of Chandigarh were warm, simple, and yet fun loving; unlike Delhi. I also tried my hands to learn to speak Punjabi; speaking same language is a key tool to communication and it proved very useful to establish rapport with patients. My skills to speak Punjabi were OK if some linguistic expert did not sit on judgment. However, what I learnt most at Chandigarh and which I continue to cherish is to take pride in my profession.

So when there was another opportunity to visit Chandigarh for a meeting, I jumped at it. And the organizers of the meeting booked my stay at the UT guest house in sector 6. It has just been renovated and its sprawling lobbies would put ordinary 5-star hotels to shame. The best part of the guest house is its close proximity to the lake. I went there for my morning walk. I was visiting it after so many years, may be after two decades, but was very happy to see it as clean and unpolluted. On the opposite side, one could still see the clear land and greenery with no encroachment. When we were there, visits to lake, rock garden, rose garden, 17 sector market were quite frequent. What I also liked very much there was the cactus garden in the Punjab University. It had at that time some amazing variety of cacti. I have not been to all these places now in so many years now, but would like visit cactus garden once again.
The roads and various sectors continue to be clean and uncluttered. It is such a contrast from Delhi where you could not pass a stretch of one km without the road being dug up, or huge dump of garbage. Unauthorized floors or extensions are not visible, at least on my short visits. However, with third generation having now grown up, the Chandigarhians will be facing tremendous pressure for the need to have an extra floor above their houses.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The Scent of Fruits and Vegetables

You read any health column; invariably, you will be told umpteen number of times the value of fresh fruits and vegetables in your daily diet to ward off modern life illnesses like diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, or heart attack. You can also ward off pernicious illnesses like prostrate cancer, colon cancers, or even Alzheimer’s disease. We all take the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables in India almost for granted. I now know from my personal experience how much one can miss even the mere sight of fresh fruits and vegetables. I have now known what the sight or scent of fresh fruits or vegetables can do to boost up your morale and improve your mood. We were returning from Larsemann Hills (69° 25´ South, 76° 15´ East), Antarctica on M.V. Emerald Sea and by the time we reached Cape Town, we were already on board for nearly six weeks. We had exhausted all our supplies of fresh fruits and vegetables and were getting slowly sick of frozen stuff. Only potatoes and onions were unfrozen, but they had also started sprouting inspite of being stored in the cold room of ship. As luck would have it, our ship anchored on ‘fruits exporting dock’ of Cape Town harbour. South Africa is a major fruits exporting nation, and crates after crates were lying all around ready to be loaded on to vessels going all over the globe. During our short trip to the city, I was thrilled to see the quantity, variety, and looks of so many different kinds of fruits. Of course, our mess committee did not disappoint us, and made sufficient purchases of fruits to last till we reached Goa two weeks later. When we set sail again after one night’s halt at Cape Town, I refused to have any daad-chawal-roti for next three days and thrived very well on fruits and salad.
Who can forget the scintillating and award winning performance of Al Pecino in ‘Scent of a Woman’, but scent of fresh fruits and onions can excite people so much if they have not set their eyes on fresh fruits and vegetables for six months, you can very well gauze by reading Ashit’s account. He is the current wintering member of our 27th IAE team.

The scent of the fresh vegetables and fruits
Guest Column by Ashit Swain

I never imagined that the scent of the fresh vegetables and the fruits will be so sweet aromatically. I could never have thought that this much of urge for the fresh things would be there with a large group of people who stay for a common cause in the harsh wintering period of Antarctica.
From my first day at Antarctica, I have been exposed to so many wonderful things. At one side, where some of the natural beauty is unparallel, the other side focuses on the different attitudes of the human beings. Towards the end of October, skua and penguins have reached Maitri and generated intense interest among the members. Even though these birds of Southern Hemisphere generated intense excitement in most of the members here, all did not participate in showing their eagerness to watch them. However, with their arrival, summer season has begun. Very soon lakes will melt on which I have traveled a lot with the vehicle and walked length and breadth for various scientific and other interests. The accumulated snow will melt away and the landscape will change entirely.
With the start of the summer season, the flight service between Cape Town and Novo airbase in Antarctica has started and we are once again reconnected to the mainland. The de-induction has started. With the inaugural flight coming on 31st October, we were told, there was a huge parcel for Maitri. The news spread like fire to all the members that some important things for Maitri station have reached airport. Very soon, there was a guessing game began on the possibilities of things which are coming. Some members were of the opinion that the most crucial parts of the vehicles must be reaching; others were of the opinion that this must be the fresh vegetables and fruits package; or it could be some vital and delicate scientific equipment. The suspense was increasing every hour. It was taken into the custody at the Novo airbase and reached Maitri late afternoon, and no time was lost in opening the packets. To our great delight, there were apples, oranges, lemons, onions, carrots, leafy vegetables, broccolis, coriander leaves, ginger, garlic, green chilies etc. All of us were excited and extremely happy to see all this and wanted to touch it and smell all vegetables and fruits. We were setting our eyes on them after a long gap of more than nine months. The sight of fruits excited us, but it was not comparable to the sighting of the onions, which were long missing in the kitchen.
For fair distribution, apple, orange, onion, carrot and lemon was equally divided among all the members. I would not have seen my share so closely, if I were there in India. But with the fresh stock in my hand I saw it more closely than ever. It seems I had already forgotten the taste of lemon, apple, orange etc. I smelled the lemon. It was so sweet. When somebody is away from it for a long time, only then the importance of the very common things can be best felt. The green, orange, yellow, light pink and reddish orange colors of the fruits and vegetables could attract all of us together that starting from the youngest to the oldest, all are very happy to get, see and feel it. Even penguins and skua had not generated that much interest or excitement!
Very soon, the plans were made to prepare the salad and omelets, with the fresh stock of the new things. It was like a festival; possibly more numbers of persons were seen in the kitchen area to prepare the dishes of their choice, keeping Narayan Singh aside. I wish subsequent incoming flights will bring more fresh stocks. To appreciate fresh fruits and vegetable with all the five senses, you have to be Antarctica and spend the polar nights here. Not a big deal!


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