Sunday, 31 August 2008

The Billionaires' Club: People who made it from a scratch


August 31, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Aug 30: Film actor-turned-politician Konidela Siva Shankara Vara Prasad or Chiranjeevi, has kicked off a debate in political and social circles in Andhra Pradesh, when he, in his inimitable filmi style, declared that he had a humble beginning and owed his success to his admirers.
"I have come a long way, from "Ganji to Benji" (from consuming gruel to travelling by Mercedes Benz)," he told half-a-million strong crowd in the temple town of Tirupati on August 26, while announcing the launch of his new political party, Praja Rajyam.
The film actor might have coined the now famous "Ganji to Benji" slogan to come closer to the common voter by identifying his past with the poor, but Chiranjeevi is certainly not the only one who had tread that road.
Quick to react was the State Congress president D Srinivas, who too sought to identify his past with the "poorest of the poor". "My mother used to roll beedis to make a living," Srinivas said. Telugu Desam president N Chandrababu Naidu quite often feels proud of his "humble past" saying his father was just a small farmer owning two acres of partly cultivable land in a backward village.
And former home minister T Devendar Goud, who had floated the Nava Telangana Praja Party after he quit the Telugu Desam, while regaling in his "ordinary past" argues that whatever fortune he had made was "all legal".
"I invested wisely in business and I have got huge returns,"
he says.
While politicians in the State are busy digging out their "humble past" to gain the much-needed sympathy in an election year, there are hundreds of businessmen, politicians, artistes and entrepreneurs who had made billions, beginning from a scratch.
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The Billionaires' Club
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1. Gali Janardhan Reddy, mining giant and Minister in Karnataka government.
It was indeed a rags to riches story for this controversial politician, who wields influence both in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Once a penniless man and son of a police constable, Janardhan Reddy is now worth more than Rs 5000 crore with an annual income of about Rs 300 crore. Janardhan Reddy owns a mine in Obalapuram, which yields superior quality iron. He also has business interests in aviation, film production and hotel business.

2. T Devendar Goud, Nava Telangana Praja Party president. While many politicians tend to hide their assets and declare only a minuscule portion of their properties, Devendar Goud does not like to undervalue his net worth.The reason is that all his properties are IT-assessed. Officially he is one of the richest politicians in the country. His assets are valued at about Rs 500 crore.
Born in an ordinary family, he rose to top position of home minister and later founded a regional political party for the cause of Telangana. His family was once involved in bricks business.

3. Shantanu Prakash, managing director of Educomp Solutions. Prakash had a real humble beginning in his early life.When he started Educomp Solutions with just two employees, little did he realise that he would be the proud owner of Rs 4,500 crore. He is the son of a SAIL employee in Rourkela. He invested just Rs 1 lakh 15 years ago.

4. N Chandrababu Naidu, former chief minister and president of Telugu Desam. Chandrababu Naidu has come a long way,
from being the son of a poor farmer, to being one of the most influential politicians in the country. His father had owned just two acres of partially cultivable land in backward village of Naravaripalle in Chittoor district.
The TD chief's family now owns the Heritage Group of Companies.The Heritage Group, founded in 1992 by Chandrababu Naidu, is one of the fastest growing private sector enterprises in India. The annual turnover of Heritage Foods is around Rs 700 crore.

5. DK Adikesavulu Naidu, MP and chairman of Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams Board. Hailing from a marginal farmer's family, Adikesavulu Naidu worked in an arrack shop in Chittoor for a paltry sum.Later he started arrack sales in Karnataka and is now worth about Rs 500 crore. Owns Srinivasa distilleries. Also holds partnership with liquor baron Vijay Mallya. He was APCC treasurer when PV Narasimha Rao was the prime
minister. He quit Congress and joined the Telugu Desam to become its MP.

6. Ambica Ramachandra Rao, the businessman, who is famous with his Ambica Darbar Agarbatti, started his career as a worker in a road-side eatery. By pledging his wife's mangalsutra, he launched a small unit to manufacture agarbattis. He built assets worth about Rs 200 crore.


7. G Mallikarjuna Rao, chairman of GMR Group, is worth 6.2 billion US dollars. He had to sell off his wife's gold ornaments to start his business. He is now placed at rank 198 in the world's richest list by Forbes. He stands at 14th position in India Rich List. Born in the backward Rajam village of Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh, GMR, as he is popularly known, started business with a small jute mill. His fortune turned when he bagged infrastructure projects including airports in Hyderabad, New Delhi and Istanbul.


8. Lakshaman Dass Mittal, chairman, Sonalika Group, began his life as a wheat thresher in Hoshiarpur. The net worth of three generations of Mittals now touches Rs 1,00,000 crore. He owns the Rs 3,000 crore Sonalika Group, whose tractor plant is certified by Washington-based Environment Protection Agency.


9. Dr Kallam Anji Reddy, chairman, Reddy Labs, is the son of a turmeric farmer in Tadepalli near Vijayawada. He served in the state-owned Indian Drugs and Pharmaceuticals Limited. His was the first company to take up drug discovery research in India. The company has revenues of about Rs 2,500 crore and is India’s second largest pharmaceutical company.


10. Rajnikant, film star, struggled a lot in his early life. He is one of the most influential and richest film stars in the country. He was reportedly paid Rs. 26 crore for his blockbuster Sivaji, the highest amount paid to any film actor in
the continent after Jackie Chan.Rajnikant had struggled during his early age. He had no money and began doing petty jobs in Bengaluru. He worked as a bus conductor for the Bangalore Transport Service (route No. 36) and it was during this time that he nurtured his acting talent.


11. MF Hussain, painter, is regarded as the 'Picasso of India' by the Forbes magazine. He is one of the best known artists in the country. He began his career painting cinema hoardings which earned just a few Rupees. He is the richest painter in the country. This talented artist rose to international fame from a humble beginning and now has become the highest paid painter in India. His single canvases have fetched up to 2 million dollars.

12. Sudip Dutta, chairman and managing director of Ess Dee Aluminium, used to earn Rs 15 a day working in a pouch making company. Persuades the owners of the foil company, who had lost interest, to sell it to him for deferred payments. He now owns 65 per cent of Ess Dee, whose name is the phonetic form of his initials and whose market capitalisation is Rs 1,413 crore.

13. Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, president of Biocon, began her career from the garage of her house with just Rs 5000 in her pocket. Today her company has 1,500 employees, and spans the gamut of R&D through to clinical research, with products on the market in the US, Europe and other countries.


14. N Prasad, Matrix founder, is the son of a retired army personnel. It was a quick rise to the billionaires club for this man from a small village in Krishna istrict. No other Indian pharmaceutical company has grown to a size of Rs 500 crore in such a short span of time.


15. Ram Chandra Agarwal, chairman of Vishal chain of retail stores, began his career in a rolling shutter company with a salary of Rs 300. Later opens a garment shop in Kolkata for a rental of Rs 1200. He is now the proud owner of Vishal Retail spread over 1.35 million sq ft and is increasing it to 8-10 million sq ft.

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Book Review - AIDS Sutra: The Human Side of AIDS


August 27, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Even three decades after HIV/AIDS was universally recognised as a major health hazard, it continues to be an enigma. People still hesitate to discuss HIV/AIDS in the public while the scourge continues to spread unabated. India had one of the first few cases of HIV/AIDS in the world after the disease was scientifically recognised and the problem has now assumed gigantic proportions. The figures and data speak for themselves.
The major hurdle health workers and social activists find in tackling HIV/AIDS is non-cooperation from society. Many still do not know what HIV or AIDS mean, as far as individual's health and future life prospects is concerned.
In this backdrop, 16 of India's most read literary giants have embarked on a journey that had never been undertaken. The result is AIDS Sutra, an anthology of essays by the likes of Kiran Desai and Vikram Seth. Each one of them had chosen a different path to explore the problem first hand and come out with possible solutions to remove the social stigma that's attached to HIV/AIDS.
Random House India published the landmark anthology on AIDS, coinciding with the World AIDS Conference held in Mexico earlier this month. Salman Rushdie encounters the hijras, members of a transgendered community in Mumbai at high risk for HIV infection while Kiran Desai travels to the coast of Andhra Pradesh, where the sex workers are most desirable. Then we have Vikram Seth explaining the history of a poem and its connection to the early days of the AIDS crisis.
William Dalrymple meets the devadasis, women who are "promised" to a god and thus acceptable to be used by men for sex while Nalini Jones chooses to document the unlikely romance of a man and a woman,both HIV positive, who found each other.
The anthology is the first of its kind effort to create awareness about HIV/AIDS from a totally different perspective. India today has about 30 lakh HIV positive patients. AIDS Sutra has the foreword by Nobel lauraete Amartya Sen while Bill and Melinda Gates write the introductory remarks.
Other authors who have contributed to the anthology are Siddhartha Deb, Nikita Lalwani, Shobhaa De, Sunil Gangopadhyay Amit Chaudhuri, Jaspreet Singh, Sonia Faleiro, Mukul Kesavan, Aman Sethi, Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi and Ambai. They all present before reader a side to India rarely seen before.
"This is a huge achievement. It is critically important to recognise that the AIDS epidemic is primarily a crisis of human lives. We have to avoid the errors of half understanding as well as those of ignorance. But first we have to stop blaming the victims and stop looking for reasons for leaving them to look after themselves. We are in it together", says Amartya Sen.
If statistics are taken into account, the scenario is really alarming. Official figures say that for every 100 people living with HIV and AIDS, 61 are men and 39 women. Prevalence is highest among those aged 15-49 (88.7 per cent of all infections), indicating that AIDS threatens the cream of society, those in the prime of their working life.
According to the UN, the AIDS epidemic will reduce the annual growth rate of the Indian economy by 0.86 per cent. In addition, incomes of HIV+ households are declining by approximately 10 per cent and expenditure on medical expenses for people living with HIV/AIDS are four times greater than non-HIV households. The proceeds of AIDS Sutra will go to help support children affected by the disease.
In a first of its kind exercise the authors, donning the role of investigative reporters, tell the human story behind the epidemic. They all talk to housewives, vigilantes, homosexuals, drug users, police and sex-workers.
Says Salman Rushdie,"India has always understood androgyny, the man in the woman's body, the woman in the man's. Yet the walking Ardhanaris among us, the third gender of India, still need our understanding, and our help."
After her visit to Peddapuram town in East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh, Kiran Desai presents the pathetic scenario inside the life and style of HIV/AIDS patients.
"What I had seen, really seen, were lives lived with the intensity of art; rife with metaphor, raw, distilled. The emotions of love and friendship, you'd assume would be missing or rotten, in these communities-existing even more so for their being sought amidst illegality, fragmentation and betrayal. These were lives lived beyond ordinariness, insisting on a personal story, not exchangeable with any other".
Shobhaa De tells how AIDS came home. She says, "I felt too embarrassed to probe into my driver’s sexual life, and I am glad I didn’t. It wasn’t my place and now, more than ever, it feels besides the point. Instead, I think how things could have been different. Had I been better informed, more tuned in, would I have recognised the early signals sooner? Would timely detection have extended his life?"

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Internet hoax reaches Mars


August 26, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Aug 25: An internet hoax that Planet Mars will appear as big and bright as the Moon on August 27 is flooding email messages in the city, creating a sort of scientific sensation.
Thousands of netizens in Hyderabad and other parts of the country have received email messages on the "spectacular celestial phenomenon" that will repeat only after 60,000 years. As enthusiast net users gear up to witness the phenomenon, astrophysicists debunk it as yet another internet hoax.
Presently Mars is away from the Earth after coming closer to it during December last year. However closer Mars may come to the Earth, it will never appear like the Moon. This is because Mars is farther away from the Earth than the Moon.
Every August the hoax about the Mars appearing like the Moon is circulated to keep the myth alive. This has been going on since August 2003, when the Mars came closer to the Earth.
Along with the Mars hoax, other internet hoaxes that have doing the round in
email boxes in Hyderabad are about a "fiery rainbow" in the skies in Canada,
a human tree in Nalgonda and the miraculous survival of two girls buried alive by their cruel father in Egypt.
"This month and next, Earth is catching up with Mars in an encounter that will culminate in the closest approach between the two planets in recorded history. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287. Due to the way Jupiter's gravity tugs on Mars and perturbs its orbit, astronomers can only be certain that Mars has not come this close to Earth in the last 5,000 years, but it may be as long as 60,000 years before it happens again," says the hoax email on the Mars.
About the "human tree" somewhere in Nalgonda district, the email hoax with pictures depicts a trunk covered with detailed images of many different creatures. The email claims that the tree is an example of an unknown species that grows in a dense forest in Andra Pradesh. "The tree is a completely natural living plant and that all of the animal figures on its trunk have mysteriously grown there naturally and without human interference," it says.
The most common hoax on internet is about some people in Africa who died after ants made their way into their brains. Another hoax is about the mysterious "Nareepol Tree" in Thailand that grows fruit in the shape of women. Yet another common hoax is that one can charge a mobile phone battery by touching the stems of peepal tree leaves to the terminals.

Monday, 25 August 2008

Suffering from diabetes? Eat fruits and vegetables



August 25, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Contrary to common belief that fruits will enhance the blood sugar levels and aggravate the health problems associated with diabetes, a team of scientists from the United Kingdom has found that a greater intake of fruits and vegetables will in fact decrease the risk of diabetes.
The UK research study showed that a higher plasma vitamin C level, and to a lesser extent fruit and vegetable intake, were associated with a decreased risk of Type 2 diabetes that commonly affect the adults. People suffering from Type 2 diabetes need not take insulin injections as against those suffering from Type 1 or insulin-dependent diabetes. Fruits and vegetables seem to work wonders in the case of "sugar" patients with Type 2 diabetes.
The results of the study gain significance from the fact that it was one of the long drawn research studies spanning about 12 years. More than 20,000 people, both men and women, were studied as part of the research.
The scientists established a strong, inverse relationship between plasma vitamin C level and the risk of developing diabetes. "The potential risk of developing diabetes was 62 per cent lower for those in the top quintile of plasma vitamin C, compared with those in the bottom quintile. A similar association was shown between plasma vitamin C and diabetes in participants who had a haemoglobin A1c (higher sugar) level of less than 7 per cent.
A weaker inverse association was found between the intake of fruit and vegetables and the risk of diabetes," the study pointed out.
Since fruits and vegetables are the main sources of vitamin C, the study suggests that eating even a small quantity of fruits and vegetables may be beneficial and that the protection against diabetes increases progressively with the quantity of fruit and vegetables consumed.
In another study conducted by a team of researchers from the University of Georgia, the oldest state-chartered university in the USA, some of the most commonly used dried herbs and spices may help block the inflammation believed to drive diabetes and other chronic diseases.
The Georgia researchers tested extracts from 24 common herbs and spices and found that many contained high levels of inflammation-inhibiting antioxidant compounds known as polyphenols. "Liberal use of cinnamon will have a great impact on your health", says researcher James L Hargrove.
Ground clove and cinnamon have more potential to positively affect health,
he adds.
In yet another study a team from the University of Warwick found that eating broccoli could reverse the damage caused by diabetes to heart blood vessels.
Broccoli contains a chemical called sulforaphane which works wonders with the circulatory system. People with diabetes are up to five times more likely to develop cardiovascular diseases such as heart attacks and strokes. Both are linked to damaged blood vessels.
Sulforaphane recorded a 73 per cent reduction of molecules in the body called Reactive Oxygen Species. Hyperglycaemia (high blood sugar levels) can cause levels of ROS to increase three-fold and such high levels can damage human cells.

Friday, 22 August 2008

Boost to India's nuclear energy programme: New uranium-thorium reserves found in Chittoor, Warangal


August 22, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Aug 21: Andhra Pradesh is now emerging as uranium-thorium hub of India with new reserves of these atomic minerals being unearthed in Chittoor and Warangal districts.
Uranium has already been found in Kadapa and Nalgonda districts while thorium reserves are noticed in Visakhapatnam, Prakasam and Nalgonda districts.
The latest finding of uranium-thorium in Manupatulagadda and Mallampalli areas of Warangal district and Allapakonta and Vembakam in Chittoor district makes Andhra Pradesh one of the important States, which will catapult India to nuclear energy age.
Researchers at the city-based Atomic Minerals Directorate have also noticed rare earth elements like Niobium along with iron, uranium and thorium in the middle Proterozoic sediments of Pakhal basin in Warangal district. The mineralisation occurs predominantly in brecciated quartzite of Mallampalli Group of Pakhal Supergroup.
"The Uranium-thorium-rare earth elements mineralisation in Pakhal Super Group has all features of the Iron breccia type mineralisation quite akin to Bayan Obo (niobium rare earth element) deposit of China. The brecciated Bayaram quartzites of Pakhal basin are high in iron content," says AMD explorers in their research study.
An analysis of the Pakhal quartzite shows high iron content (22 per cent ferrous oxide) with good concentration of Titanium (3.34 per cent titanium oxide) and Phosphorous (2.69 per cent in the form of Phosphorus pentaoxide). It also revealed uranium concentration of 0.022 per cent triuranium octaoxide and 0.31 per cent thorium dioxide.
AMD's team comprising UP Sharma, K Umamaheswara and Himadri Basu have presented the first account of uranium occurrence in conglomerate at the base of Satyavedu Formation of Upper Gondwana sediments of Palar Basin, near Allapakonta and Vembakam in Chittoor district.
Grab samples have analysed 38 ppm to 218 ppm equivalent triuranium octaoxide, 32 ppm to 232 ppm triuranium octaoxide with negligible thorium. Radioactivity in conglomerate is associated with chlorite, zircon and ferruginous material, they noted.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Interview with Kiran Desai: Night Claims The Godavari

August 20, 2008
By Syed Akbar
"It is hard to fight a battle for respect and equality when it is being simultaneously undone. HIV risk shouldn't be treated as merely a health issue, but also a wider issue of poverty and gender. Sometimes I feel feminism is a privilege, that the vocabulary is isolated within a privileged sphere," says noted Indian author Kiran Desai.
Kiran Desai, whose novel The Inheritance of Loss won the 2006 Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Fiction Award, toured East Godavari district of Andhra Pradesh recently for her essay, Night Claims the Godavari, wherein she vividly describes the lifestyles and ground reality in Peddapuram and other villages.
The author shares with Deccan Chronicle, her experiences with the women in the red light areas of East Godavari, in an exclusive interview. Night Claims the Godavari forms part of AIDS Sutra, an anthology of essays by 16 of India's best known writers. The anthology published by Random House India uncovers the country's AIDS epidemic. It is India's first charity book.
"What I had seen, really seen, were lives lived with the intensity of art; rife with metaphor, raw, distilled. The emotions of love and friendship, you'd assume would be missing or rotten, in these communities-existing even more so for their being sought amidst illegality, fragmentation and betrayal. These were lives lived beyond
ordinariness, insisting on a personal story, not exchangeable with any other," Kiran Desai says of the women she had come across in Peddapuram, a village notorious traditionally for prostitution.
Replying to a question whether HIV/prostitution reflect the defeat of feminism, Kiran Desai says, "I felt such humiliation as a woman, thinking that if this is what is happening to these women, then in a way, it is happening to all women. It is hard to fight a battle for respect and equality when it is being simultaneously undone.
She feels that HIV risk shouldn't be treated as merely a health issue, but also a wider issue of poverty and gender.
"Sometimes I feel feminism is a privilege, that the vocabulary is isolated within a privileged sphere."
Asked whether the problem of HIV and AIDS is overblown, Kiran Desai says she sees the problem as being part of wider problems of poverty that are certainly not overblown. "When you see a 13 year old who has been sold by her parents to earn her own dowry, you can just imagine the depth of despair.
I believe the extent of the epidemic was overestimated in India, but certain communities -- sex workers, lorry drivers, homosexuals -- remain exceptionally
vulnerable. On the good side, there are reports, I believe, of falling rates of infection in communities where aid workers have been active."
The author agrees there may be some cases of false HIV scare by NGOs to seek foreign funds. "Maybe there are some cases of this happening, but I think this is a cynical response. I really did not notice anything of the sort among the many NGOs I visited. I met exceptional people working with these women. People who had left their own children and families to live alone and in difficult environments, who
were made vulnerable by choosing to do this work.
On the actual status of HIV in Andhra Pradesh, Kiran Desai says she saw women who were extremely vulnerable to infection. "Among the communities reached by NGOs, I found widespread awareness of HIV risk. My question was if the women were able to use that information in vulnerable situations.
What if you were negotiating out of desperation and poverty, dropping your price to a few rupees? Could you really then demand that a man use a condom? The other sadness was seeing how limited the resources were for treatment. A lot of women did not take the test, for they could not afford to receive the news that they were HIV
positive. How could they afford not to work? There were obviously very sick women who were still standing on the highways each night."
On the policemen being involved in the sex racket, she points out, "Yes, I believe police brutality and extortion is a problem. But this is something I saw aid workers constantly trying to negotiate, working sometimes with sympathetic policemen, sometimes with men who were less sympathetic. I was shown albums of pictures of sex workers who had been arrested and beaten."
Asked whether legalising sex work will help solve the problem of HIV/AIDS, Kiran Desam says there are no easy solutions. "I don't know that there are easy solutions. Again, I think the problem is poverty -- the oldest problem creating the oldest profession. Of course this is made worse by their working in anonymous conditions. But is India prepared to legalise sex work? Can you imagine a family openly admitting
their daughter is a sex worker?"
She says she was told that certain communities had turned to sex work when other sources of income vanished, such as the Dommarisanis who used to depend on performing as acrobats. Then, of course, there are also women from the courtesan Kalavanthalu community, who feel a certain pride in their heritage, in their artistry linked to royal patronage, to the patronage of temples. Now they are reduced to frank prostitution.
Asked why she had chosen Andhra Pradesh for her essay, she says East Godavari has high infection rates. "Oh, I was asked to travel to East Godavari because of the high infection rates in this community, and perhaps because it is representative of the complexity of the situation all over India. Women from so many different communities cater to lorry drivers and men who are on the move, and are on the move themselves.
In Peddapurum I met sex workers from so many backgrounds. Young girls sold by desperate parents in far villages, wealthier women from the courtesan community "
Commenting on "secret housewife sex workers" in East Godavari district, she says she was surprised to meet these women. "They said their husbands could not afford to pay all their expenses, so the wives had turned to prostitution to support their families. Of course, this is a very frightening situation of AIDS entering the mainstream, and of the victims being hard to reach. This is also true of some men I met who were forced to remain secretly gay, who went home to wives and children after seeking sex in situations that obviously made them vulnerable."
On the Yoginis Kiran Desam says, "the Yoginis were the one community I did
not meet. They were spoken of with hushed sympathy by the other sex workers. These women aren't even able to access help. The practice is illegal, and they are not part of a supportive community like the women of Peddapurum. Often they have been branded witches, their property has been taken away from them, they have been driven to the outskirts of a village, free for any man to enjoy."
Your essay ends with a reference to rehabilitation of sex workers. Do you think rehabilitation will take away prostitutes from prostitution? To what extent will it solve the HIV/AIDS problem?
"I met some sex workers who so proudly told me how they had educated and married off their daughters. Others who showed me their embroidery, how they were trying to find other ways of supporting themselves. Certainly the more open society is, the easier it will be for these women to be access help and save their daughters from the same fate. I don't think any mother, given a choice, would sell her daughter into
prostitution."

Tuesday, 19 August 2008

Hyderabad turning hotter: City temperature soars up by 4 degrees Celsius


August 19, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, August 18: Hyderabad is turning into a "hot" city with the average maximum temperature soaring up by a degree Celsius every 10 years.
The city's mean maximum temperature rose by four degrees from 25 degrees C in 1960s to 29 degrees C in the 1990s. It now hovers around 30 degrees Celsius.
According to the national environment atlas released by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests, temperature in Hyderabad has been going up consistently in the last 40 years. Separate studies by the Botany department of Osmania University and the National Remote Sensing Agency have linked the increase in city temperature to increase in air pollution and built-up areas, coupled with reduction in the green cover.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the USA has already warned that one degree increase in temperature will have delirious effect on the environment in the long run. In case of Hyderabad the increase in temperature was four degrees C in four decades.
The city's "hotter" temperature has already altered the pattern of the rainfall in the last three decades. Meteorologists, who have observed the monsoon patterns in Hyderabad, report an increase of 34 mm in average rainfall in two consecutive 14-year periods. This also explains the phenomenon of "sudden downpour" affecting the city life.
The OU's Botany department, which conducted the environment study, found that "high densities and shortage of greenery and open spaces have vastly contributed to this rise in temperature". Environmentalists call this variation in urban climate as urban heat island effect and Hyderabad is currently experiencing this phenomenon.
"Increase in temperature may not have a direct impact on people's health, though it may increase their monthly expenditure in the form of more power consumption through use of air conditioners, coolers and fans. High temperature does not mean high radiation. So people may not fear about their health, but should be more concerned
about their pockets," says senior environmentalist Dr K Purushottam Reddy.
The Union Ministry of Environment and Forests seeks to blame the increase in temperature also on unchecked vehicular pollution, besides vast spread of concrete jungle. "The State government needs to make necessary amendments to the Motor Vehicles Act, to enable spot checking of vehicles and fines for owners, who fail to pass tests for carbon monoxide, hydrocarbons and lead emissions, giving scope for participation of the Residence Welfare Association and the service stations, who are the main state holders. As a rule there is a need to restrict the supply of
permit petrol and diesel only to vehicles which have PUC certificate," suggests the Environment Atlas.
A separate study by the city-based National Remote Sensing Agency has found that Bengaluru had much less dispersion in vegetation compared to Hyderabad and New Delhi.
Moreover, results from correlation analysis by NRSA team suggested that as population density increased, the entropy of vegetation greenness decreased in Kolkata, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Hyderabad compared to Chennai and Delhi. This in other words means that as the density of population increased, the vegetation greenness became more concentrated in these cities.

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Indian History: Dravidians Came First


August 17, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Aug 16: Dravidians are the modern representatives of the earliest settlers of the Indian sub-continent dating back to more than 60,000 years before present (BP).
A research study by the Anthropological Survey of India revealed that Dravidians along with tribes of southern and eastern region and those who speak Austro-Asiatic languages still harbour the genes that were inherited from the earliest settlers in India. This in other words means that Dravidians and certain tribal groups have been inhabiting the land for thousands of years now.
"The Last Glacial Maximum (period between 18,000 and 21,000 years ago) aridity and post LGM population growth mechanised some sort of homogeneity and redistribution of earliest settlers’ component in India.
The migration triggered by agriculture and associated technologies around 3,000 years before present, which might have marginalised hunter-gatherer, is coincidental with the decline of earliest settlers’ population during this period," Dr VR Rao, director of ASI, told this correspondent.
The "out of Africa" model postulating single "southern route" dispersal posits arrival of "Anatomically Modern Human" to Indian subcontinent around 66-70 thousand years before present. However, the contributions and legacy of these earliest settlers in contemporary Indian populations, owing to the complex past population dynamics and later migrations has been an issue of controversy.
The high frequency of mitochondrial lineage "M2" consistent with its greater age and distribution suggests that it may represent the phylogenetic (evolutionary) signature of earliest settlers. "Accordingly, we attempted to re-evaluate the impact and contribution of earliest settlers in shaping the genetic diversity and structure of contemporary Indian populations," he said.
This is the first time that an entire mitochondrial DNA lineage has been sequenced for a research study. Of the known Mitochondrial lineage in India, M2 with an estimated age of about 50,000 years is the oldest and largest in its class. The distribution of M2 is significantly more pronounced in southern part of India as compared to north.
The frequency of M2 among the Brahmin and Kshatriyas of Andhra Pradesh is not significantly different from that of other caste and tribal populations of the region. However, it is absent among the Brahmins and Kshatriyas of the northern states of India, while the frequency reaches nearly three per cent among other caste and tribal populations of the region.
He said the time depth and diversity of M2 lineage among the studied tribes suggested that the tribes of southern and eastern region along with Dravidian and Austro-Asiatic speakers of central India are the modern representatives of earliest settlers of India via proposed southern route.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Nara Lokesh Naidu makes public appearance:It's son rise time in Telugu Desam

August 15, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Aug 14: It's son rise time in Telugu Desam. Nara Lokesh, son of former chief minister and Telugu Desam president N Chandrababu Naidu, will make his first ever public appearance on Independence Day.
Lokesh, who has always been confined to the four walls of his bungalow and college, is making a formal entry into public life on August 15 by participating in a function organised by NTR Memorial Trust, controlled by the Telugu Desam. He will hoist the national flag at 8.00 am at NTR Memorial Model School at Telugu
Vijayam at Gandipet. Incidentally, Telugu Vijayam was the venue where his grandfather and TD founder NT Rama Rao taught political lessons to party leaders.
Earlier, Lokesh accompanied his father to the USA, the UK and Canada to raise funds for the memorial trust, which maintains the school. Never before a member of NTR family had participated in the flag hoisting function on Independence day at the school. It had always been a low-key affair and the function has gained political
significance after Chandrababu Naidu gave nod to Lokesh to hoist the flag.
Incidentally, it was the marriage of Lokesh with film actor N Balakrishna's daughter that brought NTR's family closer to Chandrababu Naidu after a gap of 10 years. The appearance of Lokesh in a public function particularly when Chandrababu Naidu is
away on his Meekosam rath yatra gains political significance.
The timing of Lokesh' public appearance has been reportedly fixed by Chandrababu Naidu, who is faced with the problem of political exodus from the Telugu Desam.
A few months ago Lokesh visited NTR Bhavan along with a group of his friends to show them the Telugu Desam office. The visit was kept secret and mediapersons were not informed. But the Telugu Desam leadership has sent media invites for Friday's flag hoisting function indicating that the appearance of Lokesh has Chandrababu Naidu's official nod.
The TD leadership, has however, sought to underplay the Friday's programme saying it was just a "school function" Nagam Janardhan Reddy, TD politburo member and party deputy leader in the State Assembly, told this correspondent that there was
no political significance to the programme being attended by Lokesh. "It is just a school function," he said.
With several senior leaders leaving the Telugu Desam to join the proposed political party of Chiranjeevi, Chandrababu Naidu has entrusted the major task of wooing the dissidents to his brothers-in-law N Harikrishna and N Balakrishna. And with Lokesh' informal entry it's going to be an all NTR family affair in the Telugu Desam.
Lokesh is the son of a third senior political leader in the State to show interest in politics. Chief Minister YS Rajasekhar Reddy's son YS Jaganmohan Reddy has already expressed his interest in politics while TRS chief K Chandrasekhar Rao's son K Taraka Rama Rao has already entered public life as party general secretary.

The "value-based" politics of N Chandrababu Naidu

2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Aug 15: After introducing service-oriented programmes in the party, former chief minister and Telugu Desam president N Chandrababu Naidu has now shifted his focus on promoting "value-based" politics in the State.
Chandrababu Naidu has asked his party cadre to concentrate more on politics with moral values instead of bringing bad name to their profession. The TD will also launch a campaign in the districts to free politics from murky dealings, selfishness and machinations.
The TD supremo announced the party's latest campaign while addressing TD workers at NTR Bhavan after unfurling national flag to mark Independence Day. The Telugu Desam will simultaneously take up social service activities like donation of blood, running of schools, grant of scholarships to poor students, planting of trees, fighting against social evils and awareness campaign on AIDS.
Recalling the sacrifices of freedom fighters during the Independence struggle, Chandrababu Naidu emphasised the need for rededication to improve the living standards of people through value-based politics. "The Telugu Desam has always stood for value-based politics. It fought against corruption in and criminalisation of politics. We should free State and national politics from criminals," he observed.

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Languages have no genetic basis, says CCMB


August 13, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Aug 12: Languages have no genetic basis, says a research study by the city-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology.
In an international study carried out by CCMB in association with the University of Tartu, Estonia, Universia di Pavia, Italy and the University of Cambridge, the researchers there was a "significant correlation between genetic variation and geography, rather than between genes and languages". This is other words means languages have no genetic basis.
"Human genetic diversity observed in Indian subcontinent is second only to that of Africa. This implies an early settlement and demographic growth soon after the first 'Out-of-Africa' dispersal of anatomically modern humans in Late Pleistocene. In contrast to this perspective, linguistic diversity in India has been thought to derive from more recent population movements and episodes of contact. With the exception of Dravidian, which origin and relatedness to other language phyla is obscure, all the language families in India can be linked to language families spoken in different regions of Eurasia," said Dr K Thangaraj, senior scientist with the CCMB.
Mitochondrial DNA and Y chromosome evidence has supported largely local evolution of the genetic lineage of the majority of Dravidian and Indo-European speaking populations, but there is no consensus yet on the question of whether the Munda (Austro-Asiatic) speaking populations originated in India or derive from a relatively recent migration from further East.
The research team analysed 35 novel complete mitochondrial DNA sequences from India which refine the structure of Indian-specific varieties of haplogroup "R". Detailed analysis of haplogroup R7, coupled with a survey of around 12,000 mitochondrial DNAs from caste and tribal groups over the entire Indian subcontinent, reveals that
one of its more recently derived branches (R7a1), is particularly frequent among Munda-speaking tribal groups.
More than one sixth of humanity currently lives on the Indian subcontinent. This population is spread across up to 40,000 endogamous and semi-endogamous culturally, linguistically, and socially differentiated groups. The majority of these groups or
populations are castes, but they also include nearly 500 'scheduled tribes' and 500 'scheduled castes'.
"Thus, the Indian subcontinent is an ideal region for studying the relationships between culture, geography and genes, and for developing interdisciplinary models concerning the demographic history of Homo sapiens or anatomically modern humans," he said.
It has been argued, that following the initial colonisation of Indian subcontinent, maternal gene flow from the west has been rather limited and largely restricted to the western states of contemporary India and Pakistan.
Consequently, the haplogroup richness of the Indian subcontinent appears to have formed in situ, and date back to some point in the later Pleistocene. Furthermore, this high level of genetic diversity may also be linked to the possibility that the South Asian population in the Pleistocene was demographically large in global terms.
Similarly, the Indian tribes speaking different Munda languages show generally the same mtDNA haplogroup composition as the Indo European and Dravidic groups of India. In contrast, the Y chromosomes of Indian and Southeast Asian AA speaking populations
share a common marker.

Monday, 11 August 2008

Consanguineous marriages prevent malarial deaths


August 11, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Consanguinity or marriage between close relation has always been associated with genetic disorders and high mortality rate in children born out of such wedlock. While geneticists world-wide are discouraging people from marrying their close relatives, a scientific study on the effect of consanguinity on malarial deaths reveals that this ancient practice, in fact checks mortality rate in places where malaria is highly endemic.
Incidentally, the he practice of consanguineous marriages is widespread in countries with endemic malaria. In these regions, consanguinity increases the prevalence of alpha thalassemia, which is protective against malaria. However, it also causes an excessive mortality amongst the offspring due to an increase in homozygosis of recessive lethal alleles. But when one measures the benefits of reduction in
overall malarial deaths against the genetic disorders, the practice of consanguinity has to be encouraged in malaria endemic regions.
The study was carried by a team of scientists at UAE University, Abu Dhabi. According to Mukesh M Agarwal, one of the researchers, they had selected a computer model of population growth and compared the sizes of inbred and outbred populations. The team obtained the survival likelihood for different alpha thalassemia genotypes.
"Human inbreeding enhances the speed of fixation of recessive and codominant alleles. Consequently, the elimination of recessive lethal alleles is increased by an excessive mortality of children in consanguineous populations.
However, an enhanced speed of selection of the codominant alpha thalassemia allele in such inbred populations increases the relative fitness against malaria. When
mortality from malaria is high, this increase in fitness could offset the loss of life resulting from inbreeding. Therefore, consanguinity augments the fitness of a population with endemic malaria through its effect on alpha thalassemia allele," the study pointed out.
When the death rate due to malaria is high, the net effect of inbreeding is a reduction in the overall mortality of the population. Consanguineous marriages may increase the overall fitness of populations with endemic malaria.
Interestingly, marriages between close biological relatives account for up to 60 per cent of all marriages in many parts of Asia, Middle East and Africa. A common finding among consanguineous populations is their long history of exposure to malaria. In fact, the frequency and degree of consanguineous marriages correlates with the geographic distribution and intensity of Plasmodium falciparum in the population.
Alpha thalassemia has become the most common monogenic disorder in humans potentially because it decreases the probability of death from infection with P. falciparum.
The UAE team restricted their study model to exclusively large populations as the effect of inbreeding on the selection of recessive and codominant alleles is significantly less in smaller populations.
Additionally, when malaria emerged as an epidemic infection 4,000 to 10,000 years ago, the agrarian revolution had already caused a population explosion, an epidemiological pre-requisite for the appearance of malaria as an epidemic infection.
Mortality from Plasmodium falciparum is the highest in the first five years of life and it decreases with subsequent infections. During a single epidemic, malaria can kill up to 50 per cent of a susceptible population.
When the mortality from malaria is low, consanguinity depresses the population with alpha thalassemia by causing an excessive number of deaths via recessive lethal alleles and by negligibly retarding the selection of alpha thalassemia allele.
"More consanguineous marriages should be encouraged to take place among alpha thalassemia-carrier families. Even in non-carrier families, consanguinity may not be discouraged despite its genetic dangers (like childhood deaths and increased congenital malformations). This is because for any specific morbidity to be noticed, the difference from the reference (non-consanguineous, in this case) has to be sufficiently higher than five per cent, but is generally much below this threshold,"
he said.
The UAE study also corroborates findings from India which has over 50,000 brotherhoods and the frequency of alpha thalassemia is higher in tribal than in city populations. In the pas, when human survival became adversely affected by malaria, intra-family unions resulted inbetter survival of the offspring.
"In our globalised world with greater than ever mixing of populations, diseases like tuberculosis and AIDS are still the leading causes of death. Protection against both is provided by codominant and recessive alleles, whose selection could be accelerated by inbreeding," the scientists suggested.

AIIMS classes on sex for the unmarried


August 11, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Aug 10: Getting ready for the marriage? Enrol with the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences for an exclusive two-day training course in sex education for a happy married life.
The India's premier medical and research institute has decided to conduct a pre-marriage training course for happy married life in a bid to keep the youth away from sex quacks and so-called sex specialists, whose ill diagnosis is leading to a spurt in HIV and broken marriages.
This incidentally is the first-ever sex education course, for people planning to marry shortly, being offered by a recognised medical body in the country. What's more, the participants will get a certificate from the AIIMS. However, those already married are barred from the admission.
The course is presently conducted at AIIMS campus in New Delhi and will be gradually extended to all medical colleges across the nation.Admission to the sex education training course is on first-come-first-served basis. The curriculum is exclusively designed keeping in mind the sexual and marital needs of the present generation of Indians, both men and women.
"It is a scientifically designed training course meant for people above 18 years. We are giving preference to those who are planning to marry soon. The curriculum includes human and sexual anatomy, sexual functions, sexual problems and their solutions, contraception, common sexual problems and sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS, besides expert medical advice on screening for genetic
diseases and making adjustments in married life," Dr Bir Singh, professor of community medicine, AIIMS, told this correspondent.
He said the AIIMS had taken up he course in view of high incidence of marital discord and sexual disharmony and increase in HIV/AIDS and STD cases among young couples in the country.
"Apart from stress in general life, it is believed that ignorance, myths and misconceptions about human body, sex and failure to adjust in marriage are the principle reasons for this. This course aims to help the youth in preparing physically, socially and emotionally for married life in a better way," Dr Bir Singh said.
Participants will also be advised on screening for certain genetic and acquired diseases before getting into nuptial alliance. Eminent specialists will take sessions in this exclusively designed participatory course.
"Our aim is to reach all people in the country. We want to introduce the course in all medical colleges that expert advice is available within their reach," he added.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Food Safety and Standards Act: Eateries to count your calories


August 6, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Our Special Correspondent
Hyderabad, Aug 5: Now, people will have the chance to control their daily calorie intake.
Pizzas, samosas, idlis, utappas, dosas, burgers and other food items served by restaurants should invariably carry the calorie information, besides the nutrition content.
The Central government has finally woken up on the Food Safety and Standards Act that was passed two years ago.
It has now set up the long-awaited Food Safety and Standards Authority to oversee the implementation of the FSSA, 2006, which among other things makes mandatory labelling of general food items served by food joints.
If the Centre has its way, every food item delivered through parcel service or carry home should be hygienically packed and the box/sachet should contain details on proteins, carbohydrates and fats including the cholesterol percentage. This will make people to understand what type of food and in what quantity they are consuming, so that they can regulate their total calorie intake. However, the rule does not apply to food served inside hotels or restaurants.
Presently only packaged foods contain such details and no freshly-made food items like idlis, pizzas, dosas and vadas provide nutritional information. Once the Act is fully implemented, every food item people order from restaurants or food joints will come in with full of nutritional facts and whether the food contains any genetically
modified ingredients. Every item should carry a label containing all these details.
The United States has already implemented such legislation to ensure that Americans do not consume more than the recommended 2000 calories a day. For Indians the recommended daily calorie intake is a little higher ranging between 2200 to 2400.
The idea behind the exercise is to "lay down science-based standards for articles of food and to regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import, to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption," says the Central legislation. It also regulates the manufacture, distribution, sale or import of any novel food, genetically modified articles of food, irradiated food, organic foods, foods for special dietary uses, functional foods, neutraceuticals, health supplements and proprietary foods.
Hoteliers, however, fear that they may not be able to implement the Rule since different customers have different food choices. "For big hotels it is OK. But for small hotels and restaurants hiring a nutritionist and analysing the contents in the food items is quite a Herculean task. For may it is practically impossible," said Jagdish Rao of Taj Mahal Group of Hotels.
But the Food Authority has planned to go ahead with the move by engaging a multi-skilled consultancy agency of for preparation of a blue print and assistance in structuring and operationalising the new regulations. The over all content of minerals or vitamins or proteins or metals or their compounds or amino acids should not exceed the recommended daily allowance for Indians). In case of enzymes they should be within the permissible limits.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Automated Underwater Vehicle: Maya to unravel secrets of Seas


August 4, 2008
By Syed Akbar
India's latest autonomous underwater vehicle, Maya, is all set to unravel the secrets hidden beneath the Deep and in the murky depths of rivers, lakes and natural tanks. Developed by the Goa-based National Institute of Oceanography, Maya, has been successfully tested for oceanographic studies, marine biology, water quality studies in fresh water reservoirs and dams and environmental monitoring of coastal waters and estuaries.
The country's first indigenously built autonomous underwater vehicle is now all set for large-scale commercial production. Scientists at NIO have utilised Maya for various studies and after successful results, they decided to transfer the technology to entrepreneurs.
Maya is a simple-looking yet sophisticated robot that's capable of passing on the secrets hidden in the unfathomable depths of oceans and seas. World-wide there are only 58 AUVs and NIO's successful testing of Maya has pushed India in the select league of nations with advanced technology in ocean sciences and technology.
According to senior scientist Desa Elgar, Maya is essentially made up of three parts. The first part is the free flooding nose cone of the vehicle, which houses the scientific sensors. This nose cone is swappable and is application specific. The second part is the sealed aluminium hull called the Core Pressure Unit, which contains the batteries, electronics, vehicle sensors, actuators, communication
systems and the electronics. The third part is called the tail cone and is
used to house the propulsion device.
Maya is rated for 200 mts depth operations and is capable of diving to different programmed depths and maintaining control of motion at those depths. It can follow mission paths that are pre-programmed.
Safety features enable the vehicle to return to the surface in case of hardware failure. The missions for the vehicle are loaded through a radio frequency link.
The AUV was used in different environmental settings including the Idukki reservoir in Kerala and a coastal station in the Arabian sea.
"Our experience in this project has confirmed the potential of small AUVs to work in confined spaces and in the open ocean, and as we have experienced, to discover unexpected processes in the ocean," said Elgar Desa. The vehicle was developed by R Madhan, P Maurya, G Navelkar, A Mascarenhas, S Prabhudesai, S Afzulpurkar and S
Bandodkar, besides Desa.

What are AUVs?

Autonomous Underwater Vehicles are essentially propelled robot platforms with on-board computers, power packs and vehicle payloads that enable automatic control, navigation and guidance of the vehicle.
They are used to acquire data from onboard sensors to sense physical, biological and
chemical properties in the ocean, in lakes, in estuaries, rivers, and dams. AUVs are novel to the extent that they can be programmed to dive and to maintain control at any given depth layer in a water body, to navigate by changing course at a chosen depth, to follow seabed terrain, and when a mission is accomplished to return ‘home’.
"A number of oceanographic problems need data acquisition without disturbing the environment. Shipboard profiling and towed instruments packages and samplers in such cases disturb the layer and can introduce errors in measurements. There are situations and places where divers are at risk and in these cases AUVs and Remotely Operated Vehicles equipped withappropriate sensors, power packs, and propulsion capability are able to address these problems to a large extent," the NIO team said.
In the case of Maya, NIO scientists have fitted Maya with sensors for oxygen, chlorophyll, conductivity, turbidity, temperature and depth.
The vehicle was programmed to dive to different depths in a staircase pattern up to 21 mts, and in the second mission at 1 mt depth up to 4 kilometres of continuous operation. It successfully collected data in the missions.
A single underwater motor is used to propel Maya. Two stern planes and a single rudder control diving and heading manoeuvre respectively.
The nose section on Maya is removable and different sensors can be fitted onto it for specific mission at sea.
Maya is designed to receive commands from shore and also send data over high-speed radio link. Underwater navigation uses the Doppler Velocity Log and a dead reckoning algorithm that estimates position below surface. Surface navigation is based on global positioning system.
"Maya has many applications in oceanography. It can collect standard oceanographic data in confined areas, carry out shallow water bathymetry using acoustic methods, detect blooms with the help of optical radiometers, and also work as a test platform for new sensor technologies," the NIO scientists said.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Andhra Pradesh declares war against obesity


August 3, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Aug 2: The State government is now on a novel mission: To discourage people from overeating.
The Civil Supplies Department has been entrusted with the task of taking up a massive campaign all over the State to discourage people from eating more than what's required to keep the body hale and healthy.
A five-member committee on nutrition set up by the State government has recommended that people should get adequate nutrition. While the malnourished will be asked to eat more, the well-to-do will be told to eat less. The State government has decided to earmark a part of its annual budget for the awareness campaign. It has also sought the help of the National Institute of Nutrition for the programme.
"Irregular diets are leading to overweight problems such as obesity. Obesity in our state and country today is still below 10 per cent and within manageable limits. Any laxity and business as usual approach today is a sure recipe for future nutritional disaster as is faced in western societies, especially in USA," Civil Supplies Commissioner Poonam Malakondaiah said in a circular issued by her.
The department also proposes to set up a special wing to counter overeating and its related problem of obesity and overweight. Though there are no government statistics on the number of obese people in the State, nutritionists and paediatrician point out that the problem is fast afflicting children. According to medical records, the problem is expected to increase to 60 per cent in the next 10 years in Andhra
Pradesh.
Andhra Pradesh ranks fifth in the country in terms of obese population. According to senior surgeon Dr TN Rao, obesity is fast assuming an epidemic proportion leading to a number of health problems including cardiac arrest and brain stroke.
The Committee recommended that government should earmark certain funds every year under the state budget to generate awareness on the need of balanced nutritional diet for the benefit of moderately and severely undernourished sections of population. Appropriate messages in local language with pictures may be disseminated through the vast network of PDS shops.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Eclipses: Special prayers by Muslims


August 1, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, July 31: It's not just Hindus, but Muslims too attach religious significance to celestial events like solar or lunar eclipses.
Muslims offer special congregational prayers on solar and lunar eclipses to invoke the Blessings of the Almighty.
Though they do not attach any superstitious belief to eclipses, it has been a practice since the times of the Holy Prophet to offer special prayers during the celestial event.
"Muslims look at any cosmic event as a sign of the power and existence of the Almighty God. During the time of the Prophet, a solar eclipse occurred. People hurried to link this to a worldly event, namely, the death of the Prophet’s
son, Ibrahim. But the Prophet said eclipses have nothing to do with it. He said when you see them glorify and supplicate God, observe prayer and give alms," said Moulana Hafiz Syed Shujath Hussain.
According to senior Islamic scholar Shaik Tajjuddin Shuaib, Muslims should offer special prayers, Salat al-kusoof (during solar eclipse) and salat al khusoof (during lunar eclipse). "It is better to offer it congregationally in the mosque. There is no adhan (general call to prayer). The time for the eclipse prayer lasts throughout the eclipse. The Prayer must be started during the eclipse, although it can end after the eclipse is over," he said.
Several mosques in Andhra Pradesh make special arrangements for the exclusive prayers for the benefit of the devout. Women are also allowed for the congregation, though most of them prefer to offer prayers at home.
Unlike temples, mosques are not closed to enable the devout to turn in large numbers. Many Muslims in India prefer to offer charity to ward off any evil, though Muslims in other countries do not attach bad omen to the celestial event.
"Though Islam does not encourage superstition, some Muslims in the country still feel that eclipses bring bad omen and to avoid it, they should keep indoors. Like orthodox Hindus, they keep pregnant women indoors fearing that children will be born with deformities if the mothers are exposed to the bad rays from the eclipse. We regularly come across many such Muslim families here," said Moulana Muhammad Abdul Karim.

Eclipses will vanish one day


August 1, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, July 31: Eclipses will come to an end and so will be the superstitions associated with them. Astrophysicists predict that there will be no eclipses of the sun or the moon 500 millions years from now.
And the reason? According to them, since the moon is drifting away from the earth gradually, a day will come it will go away so far from the earth that it will not be able to hinder the light of the sun.
The moon is moving away from the earth by 1.6 inches or four centimetres every year. If this phenomenon continues for another 500 million years, there will be no eclipses.
The argument put forth by space scientists is that the moon was actually much closer to the earth about a billion years ago than it is now. Then the earth had just 18 hours a day unlike the present 24-hour day. If the moon moves away further, then the earthly day will be say 28 or 30 hours.
There will be no eclipses when the average earth-moon distance increases by 4.6 per cent, which is about 17,000 kilometres. At the present pace (i.e. 1.6 inches a year), the moon needs 500 million years to go so far away from the earth so as not to cause eclipses.
Scientists also predict that the moon will not go on moving away from the earth for ever. After 15 billion years from present, it will stop drifting away.
Then the moon will be about 1.6 times farther from the earth than it is now. But, scientists also say that neither the earth nor the moon will survive that long. Because by then the Sun will become a red giant star and the human planet along with its natural satellite will vanish space literally!

Eclipses solve scientific puzzles


August 1, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, July 31: Eclipses may have inspired awe in God or thrown people into superstitions, but they are natural events most looked forward to by scientists.
Eclipses have always helped scientists to study Mother Nature including its eautiful Earth and awe-inspiring skies, besides serving as natural tools to solve many a scientific puzzle that have racked the human brain for centuries.
Astrophysicists have utilised eclipses to make astronomical calculations or to discover new elements. They have also studied the rays of the sun and the spectrometre.
The eclipse that occurred on August 16, 1868 helped Sir Joseph Lockyer and Monsieur Pierre Janssen to independently discover helium gas in the corona of the Sun. elium, incidentally, is the first chemical element to be discovered outside the Earth.
Albert Einstein is famous for his theory of relativity. And the total solar eclipse of May 29, 1919 helped scientists prove that Einstein was right. Scientists showed that gravity can bend light.
"Eclipses help us in many ways. Scientists stand to benefit the most as eclipses provide an opportunity for them to photograph and study the composition of the Sun's corona. Eclipse come handy to calculate the exact dimensions of the Sun," Osmania University Professor of astronomy Dr G Yellaiah told this correspondent.
On February 16, 1980 during the solar eclipse scientists have observed the variations in temperature on earth through radio study. They also studied the corona of the Sun. It provides an wonderful opportunity to study the elements on the father of the solar system.
NASA scientists specialising in ultra violet imaging plan to examine changes in the upper atmosphere by modelling the changes in airglow seen during the eclipse. Airglow is just that, an effect caused by solar ultraviolet light striking the atmosphere.
By observing how the glow is extinguished then ignited as the Moon's shadow moves across the globe, astrophysicists hope that they will be able to estimate oxygen densities at different altitudes in the upper atmosphere.

Eclipses through history : The myth and the reality


August 1, 2008
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, July 31: Eclipses, both solar and lunar, have always fascinated man. Eclipses have been associated with major events, good and bad, throughout the human history.
The earliest known eclipse recorded dates back to 4000 years. It was Chinese
astronomers who recorded the event that occurred on October 22, 2134 BC. The second ancient eclipse recorded in human civilisation was in Mesopoamia (present day Iraq). It occurred on May 3, 1375 BC.
Several attempts have been made to establish the exact date of the epic Mahabharata war. Prof R Narayana Iyengar of the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, has based his study of Mahabharata on eclipses and planetary positions that were referred into the epic. According to him, Mahabharata occurred between 1493 and 1443 BC.
"The 23-day Kurukshetra war between the Kauravas and Pandavas must have taken place in 1478 BC. This result may have an error band of one year, since the intervals between the three constraining eclipses are uncertain to the extent of one year," Prof Narayana Iyengar said.
According to historical records, Emperor Louis, head of the Frankish Empire of Western Europe, is said to have been so awe-struck by the total solar eclipse of May 5, 840 CE that he died shortly afterwards.
The Odyssey refers to a solar eclipse near Ithaca, which would correspond to 1178 BC. There is a reference to an eclipse in the Bible which could correspond to 15 June 736 BC.
On May 29, 1453 CE a rising full moon was eclipsed over Constantinople, then under siege by the Turk army. It is reported that this created such a dip in morale that in a few days Constantinople was defeated, leading to the end of the Roman Empire after 1130 years.
The expedition by Columbus was also linked to the eclipse of February 29, 1504.
More recently the eclipse (last of 20th century) of August 11, 1999 was linked to the fear of the new millennium. Several astrologers predicted catastrophes. But scientists brushed it aside saying technically the eclipse of 1999 was not the last of the last millennium. The Third Millennium technically started on January 1, 2001, as the ancients did not use the year zero.
However, the 1999 eclipse was the last of total solar eclipses of the last millennium. Though there were four solar eclipses in 2000 they were not complete, but partial.
Other notable eclipses in the history are: May 28, 585 BC that brought to an end the war between the Medes and the Lydians. The eclipse of April 10, 628 CE was attributed to the death of Japanese Emperor Suiko while that of May 1, 664 CE was linked to the death of the King of Kent Earcenbryht.

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