Sunday, 24 April 2016

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

An outstanding ,433 pages long novel by Jessie Burton  demonstrates to  us  why we are blessed to have a habit of reading.A strong story told in a way that each chapter closes with  a feeling of suspense, raising moral issues  entwined in the course of life, a young woman coming of age as a feminist  and bringing alive  and with accuracy   the ambience and history of  late seventeenth century  Amsterdam  and its people , make you want to read it without break.Yes, Jessie Burton has  put into it everything  -  marriage ,emotions , suspence , love , greed , power  justice , betrayal , revenge , secrets , openness,  honesty , corruption , magic , art  prophecy,imagination  and  death.It is a rare debut novel.It is a compelling page -turner.
               The book is based on  the life of real Petronella  Oortmann , her doll's house and her husband Johannes  Brandt , set in Amsterdam .Her short name is Nella .The novel shows how 18 year old Nella  grows in four months  into an independent , mature woman  , ready to face life with confidence , despite all shocks   and challenges that this world gives to her.The book opens with newly married Nella  coming to her husband's house for the first time.She is poor but now married to a rich merchant Johannes .The rich husband  brings her a costly wedding gift of 3000 guilders.It is a cabinet  , showing the complete house of Jahannes.She does not understand the purpose of this kind of gift , and inwardly feeels insulted .But still ,she tries to decorate it with  lute , and other miniature toys which she orders from a miniaturist .The miniaturist is fond of sending her extra things and some messages like "Every woman is the architect of her own fortune."Being young and inexperienced, and due to some coincidences , Nella begins to believe  in the prophetic powers of the miniaturist .
                           Though Johannes is one of the best merchants of Amsterdam , evoking envy  from the less successful ones, he has tried to build the economy of Amsterdam .He has independence of character and stands tall .He has  married Nella on the insistence of his sister Marin whom he loves .He has a loyal maid Cornelia ,and has got a male help Otto who being black is not accepted in Amsterdam society.His concept of love is that" it is hard to love a person  you know too well.When you have truly come to know  a person , when you see beneath the sweeter gestures, when you see the rage and the pitiful  fear each of us hides-then forgiveness is every thing .We are all in desperate need of it ."And everybody is not so forgiving .
                      One  day ,Nella goes to see her husband in his place of work .There she finds her husband in a compromising position with a younger man Jack Philips.One  family acquaintance Frans  Meermans  , who has grudges and envy against Johannes  , comes to know from Jack  about  sodomy , and they   report against Johannes report to authorities.Nella comes to know of it through Meermans and tells Johannes to escape .But authorities arrest Johannes  when he is escaping on a ship , and put him in Stadhuis prison .Nella meets him in prison .She spends more time with her husband in prison than she has spent in the whole of their four- month marriage.Nella finds  some depth in Johannes and tries to bribe witnesses and prays hard for his release.A comaradeerie and sweetness develops between them , but it is too late.Johannes is sentenced to " punishment to be weighed down at the neck and to be drowned in the sea, this Sunday at sundown".
 Nella realises  that she was actually distracted by the cabinet and the minaturist.She realises that  she has to hold herself  on her own .With this , she smashes and destroys everything connected with the miniaturist and the cabinet.She goes to the Pastor Pellicone and succeeeds in bribing him so that he permits  her sister in law Marin to be buried within city walls, despite being tainted  as a relative of Johannes.Johannes's sentence is executed on Sunday.
                 Nella is left alone , without husband and his sister.With  the help of Cornelia , she decides to begin her life once again ,with a hopeful tapestry with"no one is to weave it but ourselves".
                 I recommend you to read this  extra-ordinary  debut novel.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Air Pollution in India and its Impact

                     Often, Lucknow skies are shrouded in a mist  that indicates chronic and extreme air pollution. This mist does not evaporate during the day but  only  seems to get thicker. Outsiders coming from cleaner cities,both  foreign and Indian , can immediately detect the difference in air quality. Lucknow air has a strange smell and taste. It can be choking at times and can cause  an irritating  cough.This is not only the story of Lucknow. The whole of north India is submerged in its own polluting emissions.
      Air pollution causes irritation in nose, throat, lungs and eyes. It causes breathing problems and aggravates existing health conditions such as emphysema and Asthma.Frequent exposure to polluted air increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Particulate matter in the polluted air can induce hardening of the arteries, triggering cardiac arrhythmia or even a heart attack.People afflicted with heart disease, children and older people are more sensitive to and are affected more by air pollution .Inhalation of particulate matter  has  adverse health impacts and there is understood to be no safe thresholds below which no adverse effects would be anticipated. The biggest impact of particulate air pollution on public health  is understood to be from  long term exposure to PM 2.5  which increases the  age specific mortality risk , particularly from cardio vascular causes. Several plausible mechanisms of this impact on mortality have been proposed although it is not yet clear which is the most important. Exposure to high concentrations of PM (e.g. during  short term pollution episodes) can also exacerbate lung and heart conditions, significantly affecting quality of life, and increase death and hospital admissions. Children, the elderly and those with predisposed respiratory and cardio vascular disease are known to be more susceptible to the health impacts from air pollution.
                           The largest source of air pollution in cities is from vehicle exhaust fumes. In large cities, over 80% of the fatal pollutants that cause lung damage comes from cars, buses, motor cycles and other vehicles on the road.The pollutants like sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide come from factories, automobiles and industrial or manufacturing plants. These gases react with water molecules in the atmosphere to produce acid rain.
                                   India  is the country with the worst air quality in the world. According to World Health Organisation, India has 13 out of top 20 cities in the world with the highest level of PM 2.5 air pollution.Delhi tops all the cities in the world  with highest (153)  level of PM 2.5Lucknow is the  tenth most polluted city in the world with level of PM 2.5 at  96. A list of top 20 cities in the world with the highest level of (Particulate Matter) PM 2.5 micrograms per cubic metre are as below: [source: W.H.O. Report, 2014].Out of 20 top polluting cities in the world,5 are in Uttar Pradesh.This calls for Uttar Pradesh government to  come up with a series of steps  to control  air pollution  on a war footing , by taking the help of all stake holders.
PM 2.5
Delhi (India)
Patna (India)
Gwalior (India)
Raipur (India)
Karachi (Pakistan)
Peshawar (Pakistan)
Rawalpindi (Pakistan)
Khormabad (Iran)
Ahmedabad (India)
Lucknow (India) 
Firozabad (India)
Doha (Qatar)
Kanpur (India)
Amritsar (India)
Ludhiana (India)
Idgir (Bangladesh)
Narayonganj (Bangladesh)
Allahabad (India)
Agra (India)
Khanna (India)

  This requires serious efforts   by the Government of India, governments of U.P. and governments of other states.    This also requires real time monitoring of  air pollution , especially of PM2.5.   Monitors need to be installed in all big offices and schools.
Masks  are somethings we can look for, in order to protect ourselves from this  growing  air pollution .
We also need to change our mind set and work together to protect our environment.
Education Boards should make environment education compulsory subject because  environment preservation can happen with massive awareness and action oriented activities by the students. Environment should be one of the subjects in grade 12  th so as to provide opportunities to the students for specialisation in environment. Schools can organise environment awareness seminars and conferences for students, parents and other education establishments.They  can minimise the use of air- conditioning gadgets. They  should celebrate clean and green Diwali.
Students, teachers and parents can use car pool for transportation to reduce carbon emissions and air pollution. They can also use cycles and non fossil vehicles.

We can request our Prime Minister and  Chief Minister of the State to start a campaign against air pollution. Campaign against air pollution should become a National Campaign.Media should partner with schools and voluntary organisations  for environment education projects.
We need to plant more trees. Strict enforcement  needs to be be done against felling of trees. Even for infrastructure projects, minimum number of trees should be felled.

In Bhutan, government has made a policy of no motor vehicles on one Sunday of every month.Certain zones of some cities (like London) have been declared as congestion zones and motor vehicles are strictly banned from those areas. In Delhi, this policy is followed on 22 nd of every month in some areas. A study showed that there was 30% decrease in air pollution level on those days.In Sri Lanka , Government has passed  very  strict laws when it comes to air pollution .People have to ask permission to fell trees grown in their homes.Government is encouraging cars that run with electricity.The government is also raising awareness among people by hosting a lot of environmental  programmes.   In Bangla Desh , all buildings should be designed  so as to have  at least 20% greenery.The government does not allow people to drive cars that are  older than  20 years of age.   Tehran is the most polluted city in Iran .The government of Iran has made a policy that restricts  the number of cars that are on road on  depending on the number  plates of the car.In Manila also the same practice is going on .
                   It is clear that in India , we have really taken the issues related to air pollution very lightly, over the last five decades.As a result , air pollution has become  alarming and a potential health hazard at a national level.India is the most polluted country in the world from the point of view of  air pollution at PM 2.5 micrograms  per cubic metre. .This calls for all  the more urgent action  , because air pollution affects the health of children and the very old  more than that of adults.That requires a very strong  and vigorous campaign for awareness, education , policies and action at local , regional ,state and national level.(This article was published in March 15,2016 issue of the magazine Tree Take  , Lucknow ,India)