Saturday, October 25, 2008

India Shopping for Coal Mines in Appalachia

Coal minesMountaintop coal mining in Virginia. Appalachia looks good to India. (Photo: Michael Temchine for The New York Times)

As Clifford Krauss pointed out last spring, the United States, in response to increasing global demand, has become a major exporter of coal for the first time in years, forcing domestic buyers to compete with others from countries like Germany and Japan.

Now it appears that India — a giant in coal production itself — is doing some window-shopping of its own in American mine towns, not just to secure exports, but to invest.

(And all this at a time when the globe is ostensibly embracing a migration away from fossil fuels and the reduction of C02 emissions.)

Following up on a tidbit published in India’s Business Standard last week, our New Delhi bureau chief, Somini Sengupta, confirms today that Santosh Bagrodia, India’s coal minister, and Partha Sarathi Bhattacharya, the chairman of Coal India, were on a shopping trip in the Appalachians last week.

Ms. Sengupta wrote in an e-mail dispatch:

State-owned Coal India Ltd., part of a five-company consortium, is searching for coal mines in the United States, Canada, Australia and Indonesia to satisfy India’s sharply rising demand for coal to feed its power plants.

India already imports 50 million tons of coal every year, and its demand is projected to grow. Indian officials say buying coal mines is a better way to secure supply and at potentially better prices. ‘If we want to make foreign coal available in the country it should be through acquisitions,’ said Mr. Bhattacharya, chairman of Coal India, who accompanied the Indian Coal Minister on the trip to the United States to explore private financing for the projects.

Mr. Bhattacharya said he was prepared to invest more than $4 billion from his company for the acquisitions, which are still in their nascent stages. He said he was encouraged by falling prices of mines in the United States.

As a percentage of total production, foreign direct investment in coal production in the United States dropped precipitously in 2004, from 21 percent to 14 percent, when RAG (Germany), RWE (Germany), and Itochu (Japan) sold their interests, according to data released earlier this year by the Energy Information Administration.

The largest remaining foreign companies active in coal production in the United States, according to the E.I.A., are Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton (Australia) and Scottish Power.

Coal India, the largest producer in India, began signaling its interest in investing in foreign energy sources as far back as June.

“Of course, it’s a buyers market,” Mr. Bagrodia, told Ms. Sengupta. “Money is not a problem.”

Nepal ex-king told to pay bills

Former king Gyanendra of Nepal leaves the palace in Kathmandu with his wife Komal
Gyanendra left the main royal palace in June

Nepal's former royals must pay unpaid bills of more than $1m within 15 days or power to their homes could be cut off, the state utility company says.

The Nepal Electricity Authority (NEA) says the former royals must pay arrears dating back several years for power to 22 palaces and bungalows.

It is a further blow to a family which ruled for centuries before the monarchy was abolished in May.

There was no immediate response from ex-King Gyanendra or his family.

'Clear the bills'

The former royals still own many palaces and bungalows in the capital, Kathmandu, and elsewhere in Nepal.

"We have given him 15 days to clear the bills," said a senior official at the NEA, Deepak Prasad Upadhyay, Reuters news agency reports.

"If this is not done we'll cut off the power supply."

The BBC's Surendra Phuyal in Kathmandu says the public demand may be a way of putting pressure on the former royal family.

It is not clear when the bills date back to, or which buildings they cover.

Gyanendra left the main palace, Narayanhiti, in Kathmandu in June. It has been nationalised along with several other palaces.

He took over from his elder brother who had been killed in a palace massacre in 2001.

Mass protests in 2006 ended a year of absolute rule by the unpopular Gyanendra and ushered in peace talks with Maoist rebels who had fought a bloody decade-long insurgency.

They won most votes in landmark elections earlier this year and now lead the government of Nepal which became a republic in May.

Gyanendra has been living in a former royal hunting lodge near Kathmandu.

Indian PM in Asia-Europe summit

Manmohan Singh arrives in Beijing
Mr Singh is expected to meet a number of world leaders on the sidelines

India is due to make its debut at the highest level at an Asia-Europe meeting where the global economic crisis is expected to dominate the discussions.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has arrived in Beijing to join leaders of 44 countries at the weekend for the seventh Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM).

Mr Singh will meet a number of world leaders on the sidelines of the summit.

Climate change, trade, energy and food security are also expected to be on the summit agenda.

Mr Singh arrived in Beijing after a three-day official visit to Japan.

It is still unclear whether Mr Singh would formally meet Pakistani PM Yousuf Raza Gilani, who is also attending the summit.

Mr Singh told reporters in Tokyo that the global financial crisis had revealed the vulnerability of global finance.

"The crisis has choked credit flows and predictably spilled over to the stock market. We have to prevent the liquidity crisis from becoming a crisis of confidence in the international monetary and financial system," he said.


The EU Commission president Jose Manuel Barros has said the bloc must achieve "unprecedented" co-operation with Asia to resolve the economic crisis.

"The present gathering could not be more timely," Mr Barros told reporters in Beijing. "We face challenges which don't respect any borders.

"No-one in Europe or Asia can seriously pretend to be immune. We are living in unprecedented times, and we need unprecedented levels of global co-ordination."

Mr Barroso said the world needed Asia - particularly China, India and Japan - to "be on board".

"It's very simple: we sink together or we swim together."

Mr Barroso also said the situation was "a great opportunity for China to show a sense of responsibility".

Friday, October 24, 2008

Fish farming in Malawi's dustbowl

By James Morgan
Environment reporter, BBC News

Fish pond at Zomba West
Fish farmed in these ponds help keep the children of Zomba West healthy

This seems an unlikely place to go fishing for your dinner. The dusty scrublands of Zomba West have been brittle dry since April, when the rainy season ended.

The place is spookily deserted today - the funeral of the local chief. In the marketplace, we find only one stall open, run by children. And all they are selling is fish.

"When we first started fish farming - people thought it was mad - they told us it will never work here," says Esther Fikira.

She leads me to a series of dirty green ponds, dug into the baked clay soil.

The water is murky, almost stagnant, but Esther assures me there is a big haul of tasty "chambo" (a local delicacy) lurking just below the surface.

"If you had only seen the benefits this community has had from eating these fish," says the 50-year-old, wading in, "then you will know why I will never give my pond away."

Esther Fikira
Esther Fikira weeds out one of her fish ponds, in West Zomba

Dry county

There are now 700 fish farmers like Esther here in the bushland settlements to the west of Malawi's former colonial capital, Zomba.

You may have heard of the fiction novel Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Well, this is the real thing - an ambitious food security project developed by the WorldFish Centre, a member of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

They are introducing small-scale aquaculture to ensure families in Malawi have enough food and income to buy maize - even in years when droughts affect their crops.

The project assists farmers by digging small, rain-fed ponds of about 10x15m on their land, or anywhere the soil is suitable for retaining water.

Families like Esther's use the ponds to rear common fish species - which in Malawi means chambo (a species of tilapia) and mlamba (catfish).

At WorldFish's local headquarters, just along the road, Dr Daniel Jamu and his team of scientists are breeding new varieties of chambo - selected to grow fast, fat, and feed happily on whatever waste is left over from households.

Esther uses manure from her goats and chickens to keep the pond high in nutrients which allow plankton to thrive. The fish eat the plankton, and when they grow to full size, they are harvested, usually every six months.

Farmed fish for sale at roadside market
Fish are now a source of income for families in West Zomba

Trading up

She sells most of her fish - raising enough money to buy maize when the harvest is poor, and to help feed and clothe the orphaned children she takes in.

"Before we had the ponds, this area suffered from a lot of poverty," she explains. "We didn't eat meat, and we lacked any source of income.

"But with the coming of the fish ponds, we had so much leftover to sell, I had enough money left over to buy fertiliser, with the government subsidy."

When the ponds are emptied, a rich layer of silt can be dug from the base - to use as fertiliser. Esther uses hers to grow maize, which in turn ensures that her goats and chickens keep popping out manure for the pond.

It's a perfect circle. "Or what we call an integrated agriculture-aquaculture (IAA) system," says Joseph Nagoli, of WorldFish. "This isn't high input fish farming. This is simple and sustainable."

Previous attempts to introduce aquaculture in Malawi have failed, he says, "because people who took up fish farming thought there was no longer any need to grow maize. The message was wrong. Now we see fish is just one part of a family's agriculture".

Their latest research project aims to quantify the nutritional value of different species of tilapia.

Soil from the ponds is used as fertiliser
Silt from the fish ponds is used to keep soils fertile for crop planting

Healthy harvest

The fish supply essential protein, calcium, and vitamin A - essential for children and the elderly, and those with HIV/Aids.

Almost one-fifth of Malawians aged 15-49 are infected, and each year tens of thousands die of the disease.

But good nourishment can prolong the life of HIV/Aids patients by up to eight years, according to research by the World Health Organisation.

WorldFish has introduced aquaculture to 1,200 HIV affected families in Malawi - doubling their average annual income and increasing their intake of fish by 150%.

Esther has already seen the impacts first hand.

"The nutritional impact of the fish was very obvious - on the children, the elderly, and most especially on those with HIV/Aids," she says.

"I have a neighbour who was very sick. Now she is able to work in the fields - to make a living."

The challenge now, says Nagoli, is to expand aquaculture from "a sector to an industry". WorldFish has a target of 8,000 households in Malawi - equivalent to 40,000 people.

Daniel Jamu
Daniel Jamu oversees tilapia breeding at the WorldFish research centre

Fortunately, there is already a healthy appetite for fish among the country's 11 million population. Malawi may be landlocked, but it has had a thriving fishing industry, based largely in Lake Malawi and Lake Chilwa.

"It may surprise you to know, that the biggest source of protein for Malawians is not chicken or beef, but fish," says Dr Jeffrey Luhanga, technical controller of Malawi's Ministry of Agriculture.

"We have a policy - a fish every day."

But just as staple crops are under threat from climate change and over-intensive farming practices, so too is Malawi's fishing industry.

Out of stock

Lake Chilwa provides around 20% of the country's catch - 17,000 tonnes - but at a depth of just 7m, it is highly vulnerable to drought - having completely dried up as recently as 1995.

"Nobody knows what will happen with climate change," concedes Mr Nagoli.

Meanwhile, the lake's fish stocks are already suffering from over-fishing and environmental degradation.

Fisherman, Lake Chilwa

The lake's resident population of fishermen - who live in floating reed huts, on the marshy shorelines of Chisi island - are watching their livelihoods evaporate.

As dusk falls, I cross to the island by motor boat, weaving through the reeds, until we find a fire alight in one of the floating huts.

"The catch is not good," says Mr Irons - an elderly veteran, who uses traps to catch his tilapia. "The other fishermen use nets, and they are taking all the catch. I get bigger fish, but I don't get as many."

He worries for his family. They live miles away and he sees them very rarely. If the stocks dry up, he won't have any income to support them.

WorldFish are working to introduce sustainable fishing practices - to ensure the survival of both the fish and the fishermen.

"Urban" fish farming could be the key to their success in the longterm - by easing the burden on Lake Chilwa's precious natural resources.

"You know the old saying," says Dr Luhanga. "Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day.

"Teach him how to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

Recession fears hit Asian markets

Man watches stock figures in Tokyo
Key exporting countries have seen their share price fall

Asian share prices tumbled for a third day in a row as investors feared a global recession would badly hit company earnings.

Japan's Nikkei closed at a five-and-a-half year low, down 9.6% after the electronics giant Sony halved its full-year profit forecasts.

India's Sensex fell more than 10% to its lowest level in nearly three years.

South Korea's market plunged 10.6% as chip maker Samsung announced a 44% fall in its third-quarter profits.

Seoul's Kospi benchmark share index ended at 938.75 points, the first tim it has closed below 1,000 points since May 2005. It has lost more than half its value so far this year.

It is the Seoul market's worst weekly fall - 20.5% - since records began in 1987.

'Exports hurting'

More records were set in Tokyo, where the Nikkei dropped below the 8,000-mark for the first time in more than five years.

Investors remain worried over growing uncertainty about the state of the global economy
Yutaka Miura

Yutaka Miura, of Shinko Securities in Tokyo, said a profits warning from Sony was "yet another indicator that the global economy is really slowing".

"Investors remain worried over growing uncertainty about the state of the global economy," he said.

A strong yen is causing concerns about Japanese export earnings, as the US dollar fell below 96 yen, its lowest level for 13 years.

"The stronger yen is hurting Japanese exports, which is a big part of that country's economy," said Linus Yip, of First Shanghai Securities in Hong Kong.

Meanwhile Asian countries have re-committed themselves to establishing an US$80bn emergency fund, as leaders from across Asia and Europe gathered in Beijing to discuss the global financial meltdown.

The deal would enable countries to borrow from the fund when facing a liquidity crunch.

Emergency fund

Elsewhere in Asia, India's central bank cut its economic growth forecasts for the year to 7.5% but warned that a deep and protracted global downturn was likely.

However, the bank left its key interest rate unchanged after its surprise cut earlier this week.

At one point India's Sensex fell below 9,000 for the first time in two years.

The Indian rupee fell to its lowest ever level against the US dollar before recovering some ground.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng and Singapore's Strait Times both fell 8.3% while in Sydney the ASX index fell 2.64%.

Weak earnings

Thursday was another volatile trading day on Wall Street after a slew of weak corporate earnings stoked fears of a United States recession.

The main Dow Jones index fell as low as 8,251 points before closing the day up 172 points or 2% at 8,691.

The technology-heavy Nasdaq in contrast lost 0.73% to close at 1,603.9 points.

It was the Dow's first rise in three days and contrasts the sharp falls seen in Asia this week.

Raped Indian nun denounces police

The nun appearing in Delhi
The nun now refuses to co-operate with the Orissa police

A Roman Catholic nun raped in the Indian state of Orissa, allegedly during a riot by Hindus, has publicly denounced local police.

The nun held a news conference in the Indian capital, Delhi, in which she demanded that national police take over the investigation.

The Orissa police have been heavily criticised for delays in the case.

More than 30 people have been killed in anti-Christian violence in Orissa's Kandhamal district in recent months.

Thousands of Christians have been made homeless.

The 29-year-old nun lodged a complaint on 25 August alleging rape by a member of a Hindu mob. The first arrests in the case were on 3 October.


The nun's head and face were covered with a scarf as she addressed a brief news conference in Delhi.

Smoke rises from the rubble of a Christian orphanage destroyed in Orissa
Orissa has seen weeks of violence

She alleged that a Hindu mob attacked the Christian prayer hall where she worked in Kandhamal in Orissa.

She said a group of some 50 men tore off her clothes. She was then raped, before being paraded down the road.

"They had already torn away my blouse and undergarments... and they went on beating me with hands on my cheeks and head and with sticks on my back."

She said that when she asked for protection from local police officers, they did not move. And later, she said, they were unwilling to hear the details of her ordeal.

"I was raped and now I don't want to be victimised by Orissa police," the nun said.

The violence in Orissa began after a Hindu religious leader was shot dead.

Although left-wing Maoist rebels in the state claimed responsibility for the killing, hard-line Hindu groups blamed the minority Christian community for the death.

It is the worst outbreak of communal violence against Christians since Indian independence. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described it as a national shame.

A heavy security presence in Kandhamal has brought the situation under some control now.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Every Grain of Sand

One man's experiences of impermanence teaches him the art of letting go.

By Keith Kachtick


Miami Beach is not a place you'd expect to stumble upon a gathering of Tibetan monks. But one New Year's Day several years ago, during the final weeks of a dissolving four-year marriage, I did just that. My wife and I had planned to fly to Miami from Manhattan—our five-day trip to warmer climes intended as a last-gasp attempt at reconciliation. But, long story short, I ended up spending the holidays in South Beach alone. Boy, was it depressing.

On the day I found the monks, I had barely eaten. After trudging for hours along the deserted dunes, bundled against a surprisingly chilly wind in a wool sweater and faded jeans, I peeked into a small community center on the beach near my crumbling art deco hotel. A sign above the entrance read "Enjoy Tibetan culture and art." Inside, six Buddhist lamas from a monastery in India huddled quietly over a six-by-six-foot platform. The monks were on day two of a weeklong project to create a sand mandala, a richly metaphorical depiction of the universe made of millions of grains of vibrantly colored sand.

I joined a handful of visitors seated in chairs arranged around the cordoned-off platform. Some guests closed their eyes. One silently chanted a mantra and thumbed her mala beads. Most of us were barefoot. The only noise came from the gentle crashing of the ocean waves, no more than 50 feet away, and the tiny stick each monk stroked over the grated surface of his chakpur, the metallic straw-like funnel through which he directed the brightly hued sand, grain by grain, onto the slowly blossoming mandala. One monk kept a fold of his maroon-and-saffron robe pulled over his mouth to prevent his breath from scattering the sand.

After a short while, I felt an unexpected calm wash over me; it was the first moment of genuine ease I'd had since first learning from my wife that she was considering a divorce. For months I'd been holding tight to broken promises and spending so much energy wishing things were different that I felt as though I'd forgotten how to breathe.

No Need to Panic

Sitting there, I recalled hearing that a spiritual journey is akin to falling from a plane without a parachute. Terrifying. And that's what my life felt like at the time. Like many other people, I sometimes desperately grasp for material comfort and cling to expectations for the future in a misguided attempt to stop the sensation of plummeting into oblivion. But watching the mandala unfold reminded me that panic is unnecessary because the parachute is unnecessary. Why? Because—as yoga teaches us—there's no ground to ever hit. We're all in perpetual free fall. One breath to the next. One exuberantly lived life to the next. The monks weren't going to preserve the intricate mandala for future generations; they were creating a symbol of the transitory nature of all things and would destroy the design almost as soon as it was complete. But the mandala was no less beautiful for its impermanence.

The monks' absolute mindfulness, punctuated by an occasional hushed comment or chuckle, proved both mesmerizing and deeply soothing. I stayed for more than three hours, until the center closed for the night. During that time, the monks never stretched their backs nor glanced at the clock. No matter how far they leaned over the table, they somehow never disturbed the sand. Despite a dozen arms stretching over the mandala, the effect of their collective work was a sense of profound stillness.

The proximity of the monks' delicate artwork to the briny mist and rolling whitecaps of the Atlantic Ocean reminded me of another unlikely shoreline meditation I once witnessed: the Santa Barbara Sandcastle Festival, held every summer on East Beach in Santa Barbara, California. From dawn until dusk, bare-shouldered teams equipped with buckets and rakes, melon scoops and putty knives, deliver wet sand to 16-by-16-foot plots to make enormous and impressively detailed sand sculptures, some as large as a mobile home. Past entries have included scaled replicas of the Taj Mahal and the Manhattan skyline, a 20-foot dolphin morphing into a mermaid, Hogwarts Castle, and an eerily realistic laughing buddha as rotund as a VW van.

While they're diligently working, the sand artists are intent, as if nothing in the world is more important than crafting their sculptures. And yet, at the end of the day, as the sun sinks beneath the horizon, the artists and their friends and families gather cross-legged on the dunes, sunburned and quietly exuberant, to watch without complaint as the tide washes their creations away.

Like the sand mandala, this event is for me an inspiring illustration of sunyata, a fundamental tenet of yoga. Sunyata, often translated from Sanskrit as "emptiness," is what Shiva, the Hindu god of destruction, represents: that everything eventually falls apart and becomes something else. This cosmic recycling dance is implicit in Shiva's jig-lifted leg, with which he's often depicted in Indian statues and paintings and in Natarajasana (Lord of the Dance Pose). Realizing sunyata's significance, not just intellectually but also experientially, is essential for becoming enlightened. For truly awakening.

Nothing Lasts Forever

Though it sounds paradoxical, sunyata is the core of what yoga and Buddhism generally affirm is a coreless reality. To fully understand yoga and Buddhism, you must not only recognize but also be OK with the fact that everything—every thing—is a sandcastle, and that material stuff, any compounded phenomenon, sooner or later falls apart and washes away with the tide. This magazine is a sandcastle. My marriage is a sandcastle. So too are the yoga studio I own, the bike that gets me there, the century-old pecan tree in my backyard—even my achy but faithful body. I find this a sobering and empowering truth, and it leads to some compelling questions: Who am I really? What am I? And what, if anything, actually dies?

In Miami I began to more fully appreciate that moving toward enlightenment means, in large part, knowing that the wisest way to hold something (or someone) is with an open palm. William Blake understood sunyata when he wrote,

He who binds to himself a joy Does the winged life destroy; But he who kisses the joy as it flies Lives in eternity's sunrise.

The challenge—and it's a challenge that can separate enlightened behavior from unenlightened—is to love the sandcastle no less for its transitory nature. To treat each precious moment as if it's the most important thing in the universe, while also knowing that it's no more important than the moment that comes next.

I returned to the Miami community center the following morning and sat alongside the Tibetan monks and their evolving sand mandala for much of the day. And the morning after that. Three days after my return to an empty Manhattan apartment, the six monks completed their work. What had made watching them hour after hour such a sweetly challenging meditation was my knowing from the start how it would end.

After a collective bow of respect, they'd brush their beautiful creation into a multi-colored heap, pour the heap into an urn, and empty the urn's contents into the ocean. Similarly, with a growing sense of peace, I gradually surrendered my dying relationship with my wife to the tidal pull of the cosmos.

Keith Kachtick wrote Hungry Ghost and edited You Are Not Here & Other Works of Buddhist Fiction. He is the founder and director of Dharma Yoga, in Austin, Texas.

On the smokers' trail in Delhi

India recently introduced a nationwide ban on smoking in public spaces. The BBC's Geeta Pandey joined an enforcement team in the capital, Delhi, to see if the new law is being taken seriously.

On a raid with Delhi's anti-tobacco officers

At New Delhi railway station, signboards now announce that it's a smoke-free zone.

"Smoking and spitting are strictly prohibited in this area," the boards say.

This is one of India's biggest railway stations and is used by nearly half a million people daily. Thousands of people crowd the platforms.

I'm here with a team of anti-tobacco enforcers from the Delhi authorities who are looking for people violating the ban on smoking in public places which came into effect on 2 October.

It covers an exhaustive list of places which are defined as public.

Surprise visits

"We are yet to do a review of how the ban's doing, but we've got positive reports from various states and it's quite satisfactory," says Dhiraj Singh, a health ministry official.

In Delhi, officials say, they are working hard to enforce the ban.

Anti-smoking squads pay surprise visits to restaurants and pubs, bars and offices, hop inside buses and raid the railway stations.

Taxi driver Babu
Taxi driver Babu says he will smoke when no one's watching

The team this afternoon at New Delhi station is headed by Dr RP Vashishth. He says since the ban, fewer people are lighting up in public.

"Now that a lot of awareness has been created in the country, now that the raiding squads are going from place to place, the violations have come down in numbers.

"The government of Delhi has declared the city to be totally smoke-free by 2009. So we are going in phases, to ensure the ban is complied with. We are here to enforce the rules, to see that there are no violations."

The first catch of the day is a woman sitting in a crowd who has just lit up a beedi - a small hand-rolled cigarette common in India. The enforcement team swoops.

It's clear she has not heard of the ban. She folds her hands and apologises. She is let off with a warning - don't ever smoke in public again.

"Unlike in England where legal awareness is high and compliance is high, in India awareness and literacy are very low, so it's important to create awareness," explains Dr Vashishth.


Our next offender is a taxi driver, Babu.

"Don't you know it's illegal to smoke in public? You'll have to pay a fine of 200 rupees ($4)," Dr Vashishth chastises him.

"Sorry sir, I don't have 200 rupees. I'm a poor man. Please give me a concession," Babu pleads.

Dr RP Vashishth
Dr Vashishth says fewer people are smoking in public since the ban

Dr Vashishth advises him to quit smoking. "It's not good for your health or that of the others around you," he tells him.

Babu nods in agreement. He is let off with a reduced fine of 30 rupees.

But as soon as the raiding squad leaves, he makes his scepticism known.

"I respect the team here. They know I don't have much money so they reduced the fine for me. I know smoking is banned here, but what can I do? I'm addicted. As to whether I'll smoke in public in future, I'll just have to be careful. If no one's watching, I will."

The next man the raiding squad catches is visibly angry. He refuses to give his name to the officers and begins to argue with them.

The officers threaten to arrest him and send him to jail. In the end, he gives in. He has to borrow money from a friend to pay the fine.

"There are people from different sections of society. You have to fine them accordingly. You can't expect everyone to pay 200 rupees," says Dr Kamaljeet Singh Bansal, who is part of the raiding team.


"Sometimes we encounter hostility too. People get violent. Then we have to take help from the police. Most offenders comply once the police arrive," he says.

As the team is coming to the end of their shift, they chance upon an old man smoking a cigarette.

Mr Moitra (left) being fined by a member of the anti-smoking squad
Mr Moitra says he will never smoke in public again

"I didn't know I couldn't smoke even in the open area," the man, BN Noitra says. "There is no board here, nothing that tells us that we can't smoke here. But these officials came and fined me 50 rupees," he says.

"It was a mistake. I'm sorry I will not do it again," he says.

As the anti-smoking raids have become a regular feature in many Delhi areas in the past fortnight, the smokers are finding out the hard way that lighting up in public can be a very expensive proposition.

For the raiding squad, it has been a successful day - they have been able to get the message across to the smokers that the ban is here to stay.

It is being taken seriously, at least in Delhi.

Watch video:

Learning About Lovingkindness

Use metta meditation to open your heart, to yourself and to the world.

BY: Sharon Salzberg

From "Lovingkindness" by Sharon Salzberg. Copyright 1995 by Sharon Salzberg. Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston, Mass.

What unites us all as human beings is an urge for happiness, which at heart is a yearning for union, for overcoming our feelings of separateness. We want to feel our identity with something larger than our small selves. We long to be one with our own lives and with each other.

If we look at the root of even the most appalling violence in this world, somewhere we will find this urge to unite, to be happy. In some form it is there, even in the most distorted and odious disguises. We can touch that. We can connect to the difficult forces within ourselves, and to the different experiences in our lives.

Metta is the ability to embrace all parts of ourselves, as well as parts of the world. Practicing metta illuminates our inner integrity because it relieves us of the need to deny different aspects of ourselves. We can open to everything with the healing force of love. When we feel love, our mind is expansive and open enough to include the entirety of life in full awareness, both its pleasure and its pains. We feel neither betrayed by pain nor overcome by it, and thus we can contact that which is undamaged within us regardless of the situation.

Metta sees truly that our integrity is inviolate, no matter what our life situation may be. We do not need to fear anything. We are whole: Our deepest happiness is intrinsic to the nature of our minds, and it is not damaged through uncertainty and change.

In cultivating love, we remember one of the most powerful truths the Buddha taught--that the mind is naturally radiant and pure. It is because of visiting defilements that we suffer.

Our deepest happiness is intrinsic to the nature of our minds, and it is not damaged through uncertainty and change.

The word "defilement" is a common translation of the Pali word kilesa, which more literally translated means "torment of the mind." We know directly from our own experience that when certain states arise strongly within us, they have a tormenting quality--states like anger, fear, guilt, and greed. When they knock at the door and we invite them in, we lose touch with the fundamentally pure nature of our mind, and then we suffer.

By not identifying with these forces, we learn that these defilements or torments are only visitors. They do not reflect who we really are. The defilements, or the kilesas, inevitably arise because of how we have been conditioned. But this is no reason to judge ourselves harshly. Our challenge is to see them for what they are and to remember our true nature.

We can understand the inherent radiance and purity of our minds by understanding metta. Like the mind, metta is not distorted by what it encounters. Anger generated within ourselves or within others can be met with love; the love is not ruined by the anger.

Metta is its own support, and thus it is free of inherently unstable conditions. The loving mind can observe joy and peace in one moment, and then grief in the next moment, and it will not be shattered by the change. A mind filled with love can be likened to the sky with a variety of clouds moving through it--some light and fluffy, others ominous and threatening. No matter what the situation, the sky is not affected by the clouds. It is free.

The Buddha taught that the forces in the mind that bring suffering are able to temporarily hold down the positive forces such as love or wisdom, but they can never destroy them. The negative forces can never uproot the positive, whereas the positive forces can actually uproot the negative forces. Love can uproot fear or anger or guilt because it is a greater power.

Love can go anywhere. Nothing can obstruct it. "I Am That," a book of dialogues with Nisargadatta Maharaj, includes an exchange between Nisargadatta and a man who complained a great deal about his mother. The man felt that she had not been a very good mother and was not a good person. At one point, Nisargadatta advised him to love his mother. The man replied, "She wouldn't let me." Nisargadatta responded, "She couldn't stop you."

The Pali word metta has two root meanings. One is the word for "gentle." Metta is likened to a gentle rain that falls upon the earth. This rain does not select and choose--"I'll rain here, and I'll avoid that place over there." Rather, it simply falls without discrimination.

The foundation of metta practice is to know how to be our own friend.

The other root meaning for metta is "friend." To understand the power or the force of metta is to understand true friendship. The Buddha actually described at some length what he meant by being a good friend in the world. He talked about a good friend as someone who is constant in our times of happiness and also in our times of adversity or unhappiness. A friend will not forsake us when we are in trouble nor rejoice in our misfortune.

The practice of metta, uncovering the force of love that can uproot fear, anger, and guilt, begins with befriending ourselves. The foundation of metta practice is to know how to be our own friend. According to the Buddha, "You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection." How few of us embrace ourselves in this way! With metta practice, we uncover the possibility of truly respecting ourselves. We discover, as Walt Whitman put it, "I am larger and better than I thought. I did not think I held so much goodness."

Seeing the goodness in someone does not imply ignoring the difficulty qualities or unskillful actions. Rather, we can fully acknowledge these difficulties, while at the same time we choose to focus on the positive. If we focus on the negative, we will naturally feel anger, resentment, or disappointment. If we focus on the positive, we will forge a connection to the person.

Looking at people and communicating that they can be loved and love in return gives them a tremendous gift. It is also a gift to ourselves. We see that we are one with the fabric of life. This is the power of metta: to teach ourselves and our world this inherent loveliness.

Weird Asia Halloween Costumes

As Halloween gets closer and closer, many people get more desperate to finally decide what they want to dress up as for one ghoulish night of fun.

Believe it or not, Asians love to dress up in costumes, and it doesn’t even have to be Halloween. Here are some of the coolest, creative, weird, and strange costumes we found from all over Asia.

Lion-O of the Thundercats:

costume_thundercats Weird Asia Halloween Costumes picture

The Pile of Crap:

halloween11 Weird Asia Halloween Costumes picture

Michael Jackson… sorta:

halloween-micheal Weird Asia Halloween Costumes picture

Coke Machine:

coke-machine Weird Asia Halloween Costumes picture

Monkey, Banana, and the Cockroach:

japanese-costumes Weird Asia Halloween Costumes picture

Every year around Halloween Kawasaki, a city near Tokyo, hosts it’s annual Halloween parade. The costumes seen at this amazing parade are so exceptional and elaborate it will blow your mind.

Here are some pictures from the Kawasaki Halloween parade.

kawasaki-parade Weird Asia Halloween Costumes picture

337288 Weird Asia Halloween Costumes picturecrazy-nurse-300x233 Weird Asia Halloween Costumes picture

ivy Weird Asia Halloween Costumes picture

337285 Weird Asia Halloween Costumes picture

More photos of the Kawasaki Parade here and here.

India media hails Moon mission

The unmanned Chandrayaan 1 spacecraft blasts off
Chandrayaan will compile a 3-D atlas of the Moon

Indian newspapers have hailed the successful launching of the country's first mission to the Moon on Wednesday.

The unmanned Chandrayaan 1 spacecraft blasted off smoothly from a launch pad in southern India to embark on a two-year mission of exploration.

Awesome headlined the Hindustan Times newspaper.

The newspaper said that India's premier space agency, Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro) had become commercially successful, and that the Indian Moon mission had cost a lot less than Japan and China's missions.

"Isro's competitiveness lays the basis for making India a nation with a competitive space industry - far more difficult than making it merely space capable," the newspaper said.

'Our baby's on its way' headlined The Indian Express.

"[The launch realised] an ambition once considered by many as sheer lunacy," the paper said.

Over The Moon, headlined The Times Of India.

"People who grumble that India never anticipates the future till it arrives would do well to eat their words now. And of course, who can deny there is always pride and a sense of accomplishment in doing science at the cutting edge," the newspaper said.

Moonahoy! headlined Mail Today.

"A lot has been said about the scientific objectives of the mission. No doubt they are important, but by themselves they would not have been worth the expenditure.

"Of much greater importance is the statement that the mission makes to the world. It states that India is determined to be one of the major space-faring countries of the world, notwithstanding the far greater sums being spent on them."

Scientists applauding the launch
Newspapers said the mission is a tribute to the 'Indian genius'
The Pioneer said the mission was "essentially a tribute to India's inherent genius".

And The Hindu hoped that the mission would "catch the imagination of young Indian men and women who are to become tomorrow's pool of talented scientists, the lifeblood of such programmes".

"The Indian space agency is also looking at missions to Mars, to asteroids and comets, and even one to study the Sun. At the heart of such missions of space exploration is the ability to do good science," the newspaper said.

The Asian Age said that "riding [on the mission] are not just the nation's hopes and dreams, its mission is being keenly followed by space scientists in more advanced nations".

The Telegraph said "the significance of Chandrayaan-1 goes beyond national pride".

"This mission not only gives a measure of what scientists in India are capable of achieving, but also places their work in a global context. It is a matter of no less pride that other than the four indigenous instruments, the Chandrayaan-1 is carrying three made by the European Space Agency, two from Nasa and one from Bulgaria."

"Although it is impossible to predict the outcome, the journey to the moon might change people's lives radically. For one, it could unlock the mysteries of Helium-3, a rare source of nuclear energy."

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

India sets its sights on the Moon

By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News, Sriharikota


Indian space countdown begins

On an island off the Bay of Bengal in southern India, the mood is upbeat but also slightly tense.

This is the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota - India's launch pad for its satellite missions.

It's now being prepared for what is the country's most ambitious space venture to date, an unmanned mission to the moon.

Its indigenously built satellite, Chandrayaan-1 - the name is Sanskrit for lunar craft - will blast off on an Indian-built rocket, the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, early on Wednesday.

For the country's space scientists, it marks a major milestone.

India has successfully developed its rocket and satellite technology. More than a dozen Indian satellites currently orbit the Earth.

But this latest mission is the first time it is sending a spacecraft beyond the Earth's orbit.

If successful, India joins the Asian powers China and Japan, which have already undertaken their own lunar missions.

But it's doing it at a fraction of the cost - $80m compared to China's $187m lunar probe launched last year and Japan's $480m Kayuga mission.

Search for water

Chandrayaan-1 is being launched on India's PSLV, which has had only one failure in 13 launches.

In April, it successfully launched 10 satellites in one go, shattering a world record held by Russia.

So why is there renewed interest in the Moon, 36 years after the pioneering Apollo manned missions?

Chandrayaan 1 in the clean room (ISRO)
Chandrayaan is India's most ambitious space venture to date

Indian scientists say there is still a lot to be learnt about Earth's nearest neighbour.

"There is a wealth of information that exists about the Moon. At the same time, there is also certain questions which are not answered fully," says MYS Prasad, associate director of the Satish Dhawan Space Centre.

"For example, 41% of the Moon's surface cannot be observed directly from the Earth. The experiments that Chandrayaan will carry out are designed to enhance this knowledge."

The mission's main objectives are to create a three-dimensional atlas of the Moon, study its chemical and mineral composition, look for Helium-3 - which could be a future energy source - and search for the presence of water-ice.

Chandrayaan-1 will also carry a Moon Impactor - a smaller satellite that will be ejected on to the lunar surface and will be used for a closer inspection.

An idea suggested by the former Indian President, APJ Abdul Kalam, the impactor will also be painted with the Indian flag and thereby, symbolically, it will be "planted" on to the Moon.

International interest

But this is more than just a national project.

The satellite is carrying a total of 11 instruments, including high-resolution cameras and spectrometers that will help it in analysing the lunar surface.

While five of the instruments are Indian, six of them have been supplied by US space agency (Nasa), the European Space Agency (Esa) and Bulgaria.

Chandrayaan 1 on launcher
The mission will launch from an island in the Bay of Bengal

They are being carried free of cost - an indication of how much India wants this mission to be seen as a collaborative one that can benefit everyone.

Some, like Wing Commander Rakesh Sharma - the only Indian astronaut to be sent into space - believes this is the way forward.

"During the Cold War era, there were ideologies attached to successes of this kind. No longer. I believe the time for competition is over," he says.

"These kinds of missions and aims are beyond the capacity of any one country. They have to be collaborative."

But there are some who believe that the mission is being driven by more than just altruism.

In their eyes, India is aiming for a slice of the lucrative commercial satellite launch business.

Deep Space Network (BBC)
Chandrayaan will be monitored from India's Deep Space Network
"To be in the commercial satellite launch business you need to prove yourself. Each of these satellites is very costly and a foreign country will be very careful before they entrust (one) in your care," says N Madhavan, senior editor at Business Today magazine.

It's one reason why India believes that the investment it is making in its space programme will pay off in the long term, despite the huge costs for a country where at least a third of the population lives on less than a dollar a day.

It makes for some startling incongruities.

Forty kilometres south of the city of Bangalore lies the village of Byalalu set amidst rolling hills.

A freshly built tarmac road ribbons its way through farmland and dusty villages. Children play by its side and water buffaloes draw wooden carts.

But just ahead, rising out of the countryside is a majestic white dish antenna, 32m in diameter.

This is India's Deep Space Network. For the next two years, scientists and technicians here will monitor Chandrayaan-1 and download its data.

For the moment, local villagers are excited - if for no other reason than because the station has given them some immediate work.

Many of them are helping to build the roads and buildings that are still not quite finished.

That itself, for many here, justifies the mission.

Watch the Video:

Man Writes Calligraphy Using His Own Tears!

Truly defying some natural laws, this Chinese man can write calligraphy with water he shoots from his own eyes.

Ru Anting, aged 56, actually sucks up the water with his nose and then sprays it through his tear ducts!

Ru told the press that he has had this special talent since he was a child. He discovered it quite by accident while swimming one day in a local river.

“Sometimes I would swallow water while swimming, and once I accidentally discovered the water I swallowed could be shot out through my eyes. My friends were all shocked to see it.”

This weird skill lay dormant until the 1990s when he lost his job in a local fertilizer factory where he had worked for more than twenty years.

He then began to hone his spraying talent and after three years of intensive training, he found he could shoot water from his eyes accurately up to 10 feet!

Ru has demonstrated his strange talent at the Lotus World Park in Shanshui city, Guangdong.

He wrote the following four characters on a board covered with red paper: Fu Ru Dong Hai, which translates into fortune as vast as the sea.

Kleenex anyone?

Monday, October 20, 2008

Jet Airways reinstates 800 staff

Jet Airways crew celebrating the company's decision to take back retrenched employee
The retrenched crew rejoined work on Friday

India's biggest private airline, Jet Airways, has reinstated more than 800 of its employees whose dismissal on Wednesday sparked public protests.

Its chairman, Naresh Goyal, said the move had been his alone and apologised "for all the agony you went through".

Reports suggest that the government persuaded Mr Goyal to take back the employees, but he denied this.

The company had announced it planned to lay off a total of 1,900 staff in the coming days in an effort to cut costs.

India's once booming aviation sector has been hard hit by soaring costs, mainly due to global fuel price rises.

Earlier, Air India said it was planning to offer nearly 15,000 of its employees leave without pay for up to five years.

A spokesman for the state-owned airline stressed that the offer would be voluntary.

'Tears in the eyes'

Jet Airways had announced on Wednesday that some 800 cabin crew who were recently recruited for a planned expansion programme would be laid off, and that it expected to cut a further 1,100 jobs.

The management will have to understand sometimes in a family there are disagreements but the father of the family decides
Naresh Goyal
Chairman, Jet Airways

Hundreds of Jet Airways employees held a protest in Mumbai after hearing about job cuts, while many politicians demanded an investigation.

Late on Thursday, Jet Airways chairman Naresh Goyal said that he had personally decided to reverse the cost-cutting decision and reinstate the cabin crew.

"I apologise for all the agony you went through," he told a news conference in Mumbai, adding that he could not bear to "see tears in their eyes".

"The management will have to understand sometimes in a family there are disagreements, but the father of the family decides."

Mr Goyal also stressed that the decision had not been the result of political pressure or meetings with any concerned parties.

Federal aviation minister Praful Patel told reporters that he had spoken to Mr Goyal about resolving the problem.

"I had also told him that in 24 hours we must find a resolution to this problem, otherwise we in the ministry would certainly not be very happy with the approach of Jet Airways," he said.

"Wisdom has [now] prevailed and we are all happy."

Channels showed pictures of reinstated Jet Airways employees celebrating the decision and returning to work on Friday.

On Monday, Jet Airways announced a code-sharing alliance with another private Indian airline, Kingfisher, to help cut costs.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

India stocks sink to two-year low

A stock broker in India near his market monitor
International financial turbulence is hitting Indian shares

Indian stocks have slumped to a two-year low on the back of fears that the global financial crisis will lead to world recession.

Shares on the Bombay Sensex exchange sank 606.14 points, or 5.7%, to close at 9975.35.

It is the first time since June 2006 the exchange has fallen below 10,000.

Correspondents say that the global slowdown and the weaknesses of the US economy have directly affected India, where investors are in "panic mode".

Indian shares have lost nearly 50% of their value this year.