Celebration of India´s Independence Day

Today is India’s 68th Independence Day and I am in Baghdad.

There was an invitation from the Indian Embassy, Baghdad for the flag-hoisting ceremony in the morning. We reached the embassy at 8:00 a.m. Soon the Indian flag was hoisted and the national anthem was sung. It was followed by customary reading of the President’s address on the eve of the Independence Day by Ambassador Ajay Kumar. A local Iraqi boy also gave a small, good speech. He gave a speech last year too.

There were some 30 Indian nationals also, who are returning to India tomorrow through Indian embassy. They are staying now at the premises of the embassy.

The embassy served us traditional Iraqi breakfast items — samoon and falafel.

A samoon is a rhombus shaped bread baked in brick oven. It is made with flour, yeast, water and salt. Quite conducive to stuffing as the interior is a bit more airy.

A falafel is a deep-fried ball or patty made from ground chickpeas and sometimes with broad beans also. Falafel is a common dish eaten throughout the Middle East.

Ambassador Ajay Kumar has joined the embassy a couple of months ago and this is our first meeting. We had a long chat with him after other guests departed. We walked back to our home at 11:00 a.m.

Happy Independence Day! Vande Mataram! Jai Hind!

Supermoon 2014

Today’s Sunday night is lit up by a supermoon. The moon tonight is closer to the earth that it has been in over 20 years, 14% bigger and 30% brighter than usual. The reason is because the moon is at lunar perigee.  This means the moon is about 30,000 miles closer to the Earth than normal. The August supermoon was the closest of all supermoons this year.  The moon will not be this close again until the full moon on 28 September 2015.

The scientific name for a “supermoon” is a perigee moon, perigee meaning “closest point to earth”. It refers to the phenomenon when the moon is in its “full moon” stage, and at its closest point to earth during its yearly orbit. With the moon being closer, it appears far bigger and far brighter.

This Sunday’s supermoon is estimated to be over 14% bigger and 30% brighter than usual. The moon was closest to the earth at 9:10 p.m. (6:10 p.m. UTC) and was 356,896 km away.

The supermoon on Sunday was the second in a trio of supermoons this summer, with one having happened on 12 July and the next one due to appear on 9 September. To have three in such close proximity is very rare and it is not expected that this will happen again until 2034. In general, supermoons occur on average every 13 months.

Today is Rakhi Purnima. I wish everyone Happy Raksha Bandhan. Raksha Bandhan is a Hindu festival that celebrates the love and duty between brothers and sisters.

Kahi and Geymar

One of our colleagues,  brought traditional Iraqi breakfast — Kahi and Geymar — to our department today in the morning.

Kahi and geymar combo is a popular, traditional breakfast in Iraq.

Kahi is a breakfast dish of Jewish Babylonian descent. It is made of very thin folded layers of filo-style dough, brushed liberally with butter/oil, and then folded and baked.

Kahi is eaten drenched in a light date syrup with a generous portion of geymar.

Geymar is another rich Iraqi breakfast food.  It’s thick, white cream traditionally made by skimming the fats off water buffalo milk.  A familiar counterpart will be the better-known clotted cream.

Thanks Ali for bringing this nice, traditional breakfast today.

A holiday in solitude

This year again we are having a nine-day long Eid holiday in Iraq including the weekends. Last time we had such a long Eid holiday was in 2012. I went to India then. I am staying here this year. As it’s a long holiday, the compound is near empty. I am practically spending the time in solitude.

We all need periods of solitude, although temperamentally we probably differ in the amount of solitude we need. Some solitude is essential; It gives us time to explore and know ourselves. Solitude gives us a chance to regain perspective. It renews us for the challenges of life. It allows us to get (back) into the position of driving our own lives, rather than having them run by schedules and demands from without.

It’s the time of total unwinding. We need to maintain some semblance of balance and some sense that we are steering the ship of our life, otherwise we feel overloaded, overreact to minor annoyances and feel like we can never catch up. As far as I’m concerned, one of the best ways is by seeking, and enjoying, solitude. No routine or time schedule, no office work and I also don’t check my emails and there’s no urge to respond to emails & messages. It’s an opportunity to stop doing for others and to surprise and delight myself instead. I get up when I feel, I cook food as I like, I eat when I am hungry, I sleep when I feel so, I read books, I watch movies, I pray, I meditate and I talk to myself. It’s the time to let myself slow down.

As Thomas Moore, author of Care of the Soul, says, “We seem to have a complex about busyness in our culture. Most of us do have time in our days that we could devote to simple relaxation, but we convince ourselves that we don’t.” It seems there is always something that needs doing, always someone who needs our attention. “Unfortunately,” Moore says, “we don’t get a lot of support in this culture for doing nothing. If we aren’t accomplishing something, we feel that we’re wasting time.”

Many of us feel compelled to measure our success in terms of acquisition and accomplishment. Often when we find ourselves with an empty hour, we spend that time doing chores or attending to our relationships. We avoid ourselves because we’re afraid of what we might find: a forlorn, flawed someone who’s missing out on life’s party. But solitude and isolation do not go hand in hand. We can retreat from the world for a time without being renounced by it.

There is a world of difference between solitude and loneliness, though the two terms are often used interchangeably. Loneliness is marked by a sense of isolation. Solitude, on the other hand, is a state of being alone without being lonely and can lead to self-awareness. Solitude is something you choose. Loneliness is imposed on you by others. Solitude is a time that can be used for reflection, inner searching or growth or enjoyment of some kind. Deep reading requires solitude, so does experiencing the beauty of nature. Thinking and creativity usually do too. Solitude restores body and mind while loneliness depletes them.

“Loneliness is the poverty of self; solitude is richness of self.” ― May Sarton

An afternoon in Mansour Mall

It’s been long time that we went out in Baghdad. So, we decided today to go to Mansour Mall. It’s the social pearl of Baghdad. We arranged for our visit and went there at around 5:30 p.m. The mall generally remains busy, but today it was empty due to Ramadan.

We walked inside the mall at our ease and slowly reached the top floor that houses the food court besides children amusement facilities. It was empty then, with a few people sitting. This floor always remains very crowded. Most of the restaurants/ food joints refuse to serve before the iftar. We found an outlet that was serving. We had barbecued chicken breasts and cola there.

By the time we finished our snacks, the place was full with people and there was hardly any empty table. It was around 7:00 p.m. then. We walked down to the supermarket in the basement of the mall for purchasing some groceries. Then we went to the food court again for dinner. But that time it was overcrowded. We got a pizza packed and returned home to eat it in the comfort of our home while watching television.

Germany humiliates Brazil

For Brazil, the World Cup is over. They were demolished, destroyed by Germans, just not defeated. They were ripped to shreds, picked up and dumped in the trash can right in front of everyone who loved them. Then, as a final measure, the can was set on fire.

Brazil’s footballing legacy is lost now. The legacy artfully crafted by a battery of legends year after year – Garrincha, Didi, Domingos Da Guia, Pele, Socrates, Zico, Ronaldo, Roberto Carlos, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Kaka, et al. All were very stylish, and classy and a treat to watch. They were the masters of this game. In fact, they defined and represent the Brazilian football. Yes, I am a fan of Brazilian football.

Unfortunately, Brazil lost its Brazilian touch. Of the current team, perhaps only Neymar can lay claim to that legacy. Brazil was often seen going physical to get win in the tournament instead of depending on their mastery, trickery.

Last night, it was Germany who was perfecting the Brazilian football and scoring at their ease. They scored 5 goals before the game was 30 minutes old! This included 3 goals in just 3 minutes. Brazil had never let in so many goals in a World Cup game or so many in a half. The goals rained in so thick and fast that Brazil could never withstand the German onslaught. It’s a pity that absence of two players Silva and Neymar could make such huge difference to the nation, which had won the World Cup more than any other nation! It was the worst defeat for  Brazil and that too in front of home crowd. It equaled the margin of its previous worst ever defeat — a 6-0 loss to Uruguay way back in 1920. Brazilians not only lost the match on their home ground, they lost their identity too. This is utterly unbelievable!

The other highlights of the game were record breaking 16th World Cup goal by Klose (record was held by Ronaldo – 15 goals in 19 games) when he scored the 2nd German goal at 23rd minute of the game (16 goals in 23 games) and the 1st German goal, which was Muller’s 10th World Cup goal at 11th minute. He became the 13th player to score goals in double figure in World Cup matches and he was wearing his jersey no. 13! He also became the 3rd player (after Cubillas and Klose) in history to score 5-plus goals in two different World Cups.

My heartiest congratulations to Klose and Muller and the German team! I wish that the Germans win the 2014 World Cup.

There was another record created during the match. Twitter Data has released figures of the German blitzkrieg of the Brazilians on the pitch, which garnered 35.6 million tweets, with a new Tweets Per Minute (TPM) record also being set with Sami Khedira’s goal in the 29th minute triggering a landslide 580,166 TPM.

A mountain named Mt. Sinha

The United States has named a mountain in Antarctica in honour of an eminent Indian-American scientist Akhouri Sinha, adjunct professor in the Department of Genetics, Cell Biology and Development at the University of Minnesota, whose pioneering biological research expedition during 1971-72 has provided critical data about animal populations.

Sinha was a member of a team that catalogued population studies of seals, whales and birds in the pack ice of the Bellingshausen and Amundsen Seas using USCGC Southwind and its two helicopters during 1971-72.

Mount Sinha is a mountain (990 m) at the southeast extremity of Erickson Bluffs in the south part of McDonald Heights. It overlooks lower Kirkpatrick Glacier from the north in Marie Byrd Land.

It was mapped by United States Geological Survey (USGS) from surveys and U.S. Navy air photos. Advisory Committee on Antarctic Names (US-ACAN) named the mountain for Sinha.

Sinha graduated with a B.Sc. degree from the Allahabad University in 1954 and M.Sc. degree in Zoology from the Patna University in 1956.

It’s a great honour, indeed.

Adultery is not a crime here, it’s a dish!

Kurt Vonnegut — author of novel Hocus Pocus — said: “My own feeling is that if adultery is wickedness then so is food. Both make me feel so much better afterward.”

You can openly enjoy adultery here as adultery is not a crime in this restaurant, it’s a dish.  ‘Chicken for adultery’ and ‘For adultery meat’ at this restaurant in Baghdad are to make you feel better afterward … maybe!

I later found that these are lasagne!!

Returned to Baghdad

I went to India on a two-week vacation on June 6 to attend to some family events. In the meanwhile, the security situations in Iraq deteriorated suddenly as ISIS overran large swathes of the north and west of the country and seized over half a dozen cities, including Mosul.

40 Indian nationals were abducted from a construction site in Mosul. 46 Indian nurses are also stranded in Tikrit hospital. These caused a great concern not only in India but around the world. The Indian media is giving wide coverage of the happenings in Iraq.

I was in communication with my colleagues in the bank. They informed me that the situation in Baghdad is okay and there’s no new development in Baghdad that might be a cause for worry.

My friends and relatives in India were apprehensive of my returning to Baghdad. Some advised me against it. However, returning to Baghdad is my call of duty. As always, my wife and my son stood by me. With their good wishes, prayers and blessings of my elders I began my journey from Ranchi yesterday.

The immigration official at the passport control desk refused me when I replied to him that I was going to Baghdad. I talked to him that I am working in Baghdad and was in India on vacation etc. He was acting on the travel advisory issued by the government of India on June 15 2014, wherein Indian nationals were advised to avoid travel to Iraq in view of the precarious security situation prevailing in Iraq. He then directed me to his senior. I talked to him and showed him my residency permit and ID badges in support. Also, I told him that I am a consultant and my bank arranges for my security. He then agreed to let me travel to Baghdad.

The incoming flight from Abu Dhabi to Baghdad was almost half full. This flight generally remains full. There were only a few foreigners like me in the flight. Fewer passengers meant less time through the immigration process.

As I cleared the immigration formalities, the driver called me to inform me that he’s already at the airport waiting for me. Thanks to my colleague Ali Alwan! I took my bag from the carousel and walked out of the airport terminal. We drove out of the airport and entered into the city. It looked normal. As we drove past the market area near our house, I could also see women walking around in the sun.

At the end, I reached my Baghdad home safe. I changed my dress and joined my office immediately.

It was a journey with mixed thoughts, some fears & apprehensions but it was a nice, safe journey at the end. After all, it had lots of good wishes of my friends and relatives and blessings of my elders besides support and prayers of my wife – Jaya and my son – Babai.

Jaya is advised hysterectomy

Jaya is suffering from chronic pelvic pain, dysmenhorrhea for couple of years along with lower back pain and leg pains. She was under medication but that didn’t solve the problem. We consulted Dr. Indrani Lodh, a gynaecologist in Kolkata. During our last visit, she repeated ultrasonography besides getting other diagnostic tests including CA-125 bio-marker test done.

After seeing the reports, she confirmed that Jaya is a case of endometriosis. Her left ovary is stuck with the back of her uterus. She even showed me on the monitor that her left ovary is stuck with the back of her uterus while doing the ultrasound test. The doctor suggested laparoscopic hysterectomy to remove her uterus along with ovaries and fallopian tubes.

The good thing is that CA-125 test confirmed that there’s no malignancy in my wife’s case. Thank God! CA-125 is a protein that is a so-called tumor marker or biomarker, which is a substance that is found in greater concentration in tumor cells than in other cells of the body. It is usually measured from a blood sample. CA stands for cancer antigen. CA-125 is used most often to monitor patients with a known cancer (malignancy) or as one of several tests in the workup of a patient suspected of having a tumor.

Back home, we again consulted another gynaecologist, Dr. Reshmi Roy at Santevita Hospital in Ranchi. She also confirmed endometriosis and suggested hysterectomy.

Both the gynaecologists said that there’s no urgency for the surgical operation, but it’s better got done as early as possible. We are planning to get it done during this winter season.

Many medical websites report that 20-33% women get hysterectomy done and 90% of them are for benign cases. Although, hysterectomy is quite common among women but still I am now worried for her. I hope that everything goes off well and Jaya recovers fast.