Guru Purnima: Biggest Supermoon of 2022

July’s full Moon orbits closer to Earth than any other full Moon this year, making it the biggest and brightest supermoon of 2022. During the 13 July supermoon, the Moon appeared as much as 14 per cent brighter and 30 per cent brighter, according to Space.com. But it is unlikely that you would have been able to spot this difference with your naked eyes. Nonetheless, it’s fun to know that the full Moon you’re looking at is the closest, biggest, and brightest of the year.

The difference in distance between the Earth and the Moon happens because the Moon’s orbit around the Earth is not a perfect circle. The Moon lies at an average distance of 382,900 kilometres from the Earth but its apogee and perigee (closest and farthest points from the Earth) change every month. This happens because the shape of the Moon’s orbit changes over time due to the influence of the Sun and other planets. But one thing that is out of the ordinary is when a full moon happens at the same time as an extreme perigee.

For Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains, this year’s 13 July full Moon is Guru Purnima (Guru Full Moon), celebrated as a time for clearing the mind and honouring the guru or spiritual master. Guru is the person, who shows the right path and enlighten us with knowledge and who brings us out to the light from the darkness. In the yogic tradition, the day is celebrated as the occasion when Shiva became the first Guru, as he began the transmission of Yoga to the Saptarishis. Many Hindus celebrate the day in honor of the great sage Vyasa, who is seen as one of the greatest Gurus in ancient Hindu traditions and a symbol of the Guru-Shishya Tradition.

The Algonquin tribes of what is now the northeastern United States called this the Buck Moon. Early summer is normally when the new antlers of buck deer push out of their foreheads in coatings of velvety fur. They also called this the Thunder Moon because of early summer’s frequent thunderstorms.

The Europeans called this the Hay Moon for the haymaking in June and July, and sometimes the Mead Moon (although this name was also used for the previous full moon). Mead is created by fermenting honey mixed with water, sometimes adding fruits, spices, grains, or hops.

For Theravada Buddhists, this full moon is Asalha Puja, also known as Dharma Day or Esala Poya, an important festival celebrating the Buddha’s first sermon.

As the full moon day of Waso (the fourth month of the traditional Burmese lunisolar calendar), this is the start of the three-month annual Buddhist retreat called Vassa.

Several other names for this month’s Moon also reference animals, including Feather Moulting Moon (Cree) and Salmon Moon, a Tlingit term indicating when fish returned to the area and were ready to be harvested. Plants are also featured prominently in July’s Moon names. Some of our favorites are Berry Moon (Anishinaabe), Moon When the Chokecherries are Ripe (Dakota), Month of the Ripe Corn Moon (Cherokee), and Raspberry Moon (Algonquin, Ojibwe).

Bahurupi: Dying Folk Culture of Bengal

Bahurupis are wandering folk performers who portray several hundred characters who are mostly mythological in nature like Lord Shiva or Lord Krishna. They are street performers who assume disguises to entertain rural masses. They wear glittering, eye-catching costumes of mostly Hindu gods and goddesses and adorn their faces with elaborate make-up. They wander from village to village to perform and in return get contributions from the audience.

Bahurupa, Bahu (many) and Rupa (form) are Sanskrit words, closer to the English word Chameleon, which means one who changes its colours or textures often. The word is popular as Bahurupi in Bengal as an art form. Among the oldest performers of social entertainment in India, bahurupis, who are experts in disguise, often acted as spies for kings. It is considered one of the ancient professions. The references of bahurupi can be traced back to Jataka tales (circa 4th century BCE).

They generally belong to the ‘bediya’ (byadh) tribe whose primary profession was hunting in earlier times. They used to trap birds with nets and sell them in the local markets. After the enactment of the forest laws, the bediyas were forced to abandon the forests adjoining Mayurakshi River. They took up alternative professions as snake charmers, monkey charmers, herbal medicine sellers etc.

Photo by Soumya Bandhopadhyay

For most performances, there is a story structured into the persona of the performer himself within his make-up, costume and role. The bahurupis usually dress up as mythological characters such as Lord Shiva, Lord Rama, the demon king Ravana, Radha and Lord Krishna, goddess Kali, Ardhanarishwar, Lord Hanuman, witches, and djinns. Dressing up as animals, such as tigers and monkeys, is common too.

Their art form now has a cultural identity; it is not merely a means of livelihood. Yet, the social status of these artists remains precarious.  The bahurupis are witty and streetwise. They entertain their audience in various ways — frightening, teasing or chasing them around, or performing a mock fight. The audience applauds and appreciate their sense of humour and unpredictable behaviour.

The bahurupi’s audience is as varied, fluid, and flexible as the bahurupi himself. This is perhaps, the only known folk performance where the performer does not have a fixed platform or village or place. He wanders from one village to another to perform at fairs and add meaning to his impoverished life.

My first encounter with a bahurupi happened through an immensely popular Bengali literary work titled Srikanta by ‘Katha shilpi’ Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay. I still remember how my younger self was extremely amused by the brief appearance of Chhinath (Srinath) bahurupi, who had dressed up as a tiger and created a ruckus in the quiet household of the eponymous protagonist of the novel. Somehow, the character stayed in my mind and eventually became a cultural marker of the golden age of Bengali literature that we look back on with a sense of fondness and pride.

“বেশ করিয়া দেখিয়া ইন্দ্র কহিল, দ্বারিকবাবু এ বাঘ নয় বোধহয়। তাহার কথাটা শেষ হইতে না হইতে সেই রয়্যাল বেঙ্গল টাইগার দুই হাত জোর করিয়া মানুষের গলায় কাঁদিয়া উঠিল, পরিষ্কার বাংলা করিয়া কহিল, না বাবুমশায় না, আমি বাঘ ভালুক নই। ছিনাথ বহুরূপী।”

শরৎচন্দ্র চট্টোপাধ্যায়

There was a time when the bahurupi performed throughout the year, going from door to door in search of his audience. His mainstay was what he could collect from them on a day-to-day basis. Without having to ask, the mistress of the house would offer him gifts in kinds such as rice, pulses, vegetables, fruits, sweets and condiments. This was never thought of as beggary or charity and was given as the price of the performance.

This once-popular folk art form is now vanishing in rural Bengal. Its practitioners have for generations earned modest amounts from their performances. But because audiences now increasingly prefer other forms of entertainment, the younger generations from Bahurupi families are being forced out of the profession.

Photo courtesy: Firstpost

Newer forms of entertainment such as television, cinema and the internet have encroached heavily upon the traditional folk-art forms. Globalization, urbanization, and modernization have rendered their art ‘obsolete’.

Without the younger generation engaging in the profession, the future of the bahurupi performance is endangered. The community urgently needs support to ensure that the rich bahurupi culture continues.

Dollar-Rupee Heading 80

The Indian rupee has plunged more than 6 per cent against the US dollar this year and tumbled to record lows against the American currency in recent weeks, weighed down by broad strength in the greenback and as investors retreated from domestic share markets.

The rupee hit a fresh low against the US dollar yesterday amidst continuing foreign portfolio outflows, rising oil prices, and a record trade deficit, leading to concerns over a wider current account deficit. The Indian rupee closed at a record low of 79.37 against the US dollar.

This is in spite of the Indian central bank’s conviction and actions to stall a freefall. The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has attempted to save the vulnerable rupee. Most recently, the bank decided to sell US dollars. By selling US dollars, the bank is aiming to boost demand for the Indian rupee in the market and stabilize it in the coming months.

While the RBI maintained that it won’t let a runaway decline in the rupee take place, analysts predict that a fall to ₹81 a dollar is on the cards.

Since the war in Ukraine broke out in late February, the RBI has expended its foreign exchange reserves in order to shield the rupee from steep depreciation. Since February 25, the headline foreign exchange reserves have declined by USD 41 billion.

India’s June trade deficit widened to a record $25.63 billion from $9.61 billion a year ago amid a rise in crude oil and coal imports. The trade deficit widened as there has been a rise in imports after a surge in global crude and commodity prices following the Ukraine war, and rising demand for coal and other goods fuelled by the domestic economic recovery.

Forex reserves down $4.5 billion to $596.4 billion, shows RBI data. During the week ended June 10, the fall in the forex reserves was on account of a dip in Foreign Current Assets (FCAs), a major component of the overall reserves. Expressed in dollar terms, the FCAs include the effect of appreciation or depreciation of non-US units like the euro, pound and yen held in the foreign exchange reserves.

Nomura says, adding that the latest measures taken by the government on curbing gold imports by raising the import tax to 15 per cent and export tax on petroleum products may not help in reining in the widening trade gap.

Foreign brokerage Nomura cites, “weakening India BoP dynamics, aggressive Fed hikes and rising US recession risks,” to aim for the 82.00 level in the third quarter. Nomura expects the local currency to rise to 81 in the fourth quarter.

Dollar-rupee pullback remains elusive until the quote remains beyond the previous weekly range, between 79.10 and 78.85. That said, the 80.00 threshold lures the bulls. I don’t think ₹80 is a runaway depreciation by any metric. It’s a modest adjustment of a currency with deteriorating fundamentals.

Emerging market currencies have been falling against the dollar amid geopolitical tensions in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine war, concerns over growth, high global crude prices, sustained inflation and central banks worldwide adopting hawkish monetary policy approaches.

What has triggered this fall in the rupee?
By some measures, the US dollar is at its strongest relative to the euro and yen in twenty years. As is often the case with market forces, that is good news for some and bad news for others. The dollar is strong right now for a few reasons.

After years of easy money, the Federal Reserve is raising interest rates. Higher interest rates mean higher returns for investors, and money goes where money grows. So that’s been bidding up the price of the dollar.

The dollar index has surged by almost 10 per cent this year due to the extremely hawkish actions by the Federal Reserve. In its bid to fight the soaring inflation, the Fed has hiked interest rates by more than 150 basis points this year. And analysts expect that the bank will boost rates by another 75 basis points this month.

The analysts say the dollar is likely going to remain strong for the next three months, possibly to the end of the year. The Fed wants to maintain a strong dollar so that the dollar can remain the world’s major reserve currency.

The Indian Rupee has been adversely affected mainly by the foreign institutional investors pulling out funds from the equity market, rising crude prices, the deteriorating trade balance and dollar strengthening. The Fed is expected to hike rates by 75 bps in the July meeting, while the RBI meeting is not due until August, which could narrow the yield differentials between India and US, and might further weigh down on the rupee.

Nomura Holdings has said there are increasing signs that the world economy is entering a “synchronised growth slowdown”, meaning countries can no longer rely on a rebound in exports for growth and have also “prompted us to forecast multiple recessions”. On the likelihood of a recession, US-based brokerage firm Goldman Sachs in its report has said it sees a 30 per cent probability of US entering a recession in the next year and a 25 per cent conditional probability in the second year if one is avoided in the first. Bank of America Securities also sees a roughly 40 per cent chance of a US recession next year, with inflation remaining persistently high. Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell says a US recession is a possibility, but not inevitable. Morgan Stanley economists expect a mild euro-area recession at the end of 2022.

Even as analysts are fearing of the US going into a recession in the next one year and the impact cascading globally, experts believe that the impact on India will be moderate and short-term. They say that the recession will pull down the prices of commodities globally, which can help the country sail through tough economic times. Also, India is majorly a domestic consumption economy, and as long as internal economic factors are positive, there won’t be any significant negative impact of a US recession in India.

As things stand right now, the Federal Reserve is by far the most hawkish major central bank in the world. In fact, it could cause the US dollar to be a bit of a wrecking ball against almost everything else, especially emerging market currencies.

Digital Transformation in Healthcare

Today we deliver healthcare to patients. Yet, the future of healthcare is working with people and populations to manage their health to stay well. Healthcare of the future creates the conditions for provider teams to enter into a partnership with their patients, using technology to meaningfully connect people to providers, making it possible for them to be in control of their own health and wellness journey. This is a major shift towards a digital health ecosystem approach that connects and empowers people and populations to manage their own health and wellness.

Digital healthcare doesn’t mean telemedicine. Digital healthcare refers to everything relating to the digitization of healthcare and medicine, whereas Telemedicine is just one element of Digital Healthcare, more specifically, providing patients with the opportunity to take part in a real-time virtual consultation with healthcare practitioners.

Digital healthcare, is a broad, multidisciplinary concept that includes concepts from an intersection between technology and healthcare. Digital health applies digital transformation to the healthcare field, incorporating software, hardware and services. Under its umbrella, digital health includes mobile health (mHealth) apps, electronic health records (EHRs), electronic medical records (EMRs), wearable devices, telehealth and telemedicine, as well as personalized medicine.

The application of information and communications technology to provide digital health interventions to prevent disease and improve quality of life isn’t a new concept. However, in the face of global concerns—related to ageing, child illness and mortality, epidemics and pandemics, high costs, and the effects of poverty and racial discrimination on access to healthcare—digital health platforms, health systems and related technology continue to grow in importance and to evolve.

According to Deloitte Insights, digital health employs more than just technologies and tools; it also views “radically interoperable data, artificial intelligence (AI), and open, secure platforms as central to the promise of more consumer-focused, prevention-oriented care.”

Advances in AI, big data, robotics and machine learning continue to bring about major changes in digital healthcare. Also, alternations in the digital healthcare landscape continue developments in ingestible sensors, robotic caregivers, and devices and apps to monitor patients remotely. Digital healthcare innovations are designed to help save time, boost accuracy and efficiency, and combine technologies in ways that are new to healthcare.

Another significant application is blockchain-based EMRs, which aim to reduce the time needed to access patient information while improving data quality and interoperability. Blockchain’s benefits—access security, data privacy and scalability—are attractive in digital healthcare.

The digitization of health information led to the rise of healthcare big data. The emergence of value-based care also contributes to the emergence of healthcare big data by spurring the industry to employ data analytics to make informed business decisions.

By analyzing patient records, the software can find inconsistencies between a patient’s health and prescriptions and then notify health professionals and patients of a potential medication error. A large volume of recurring patients flocks to emergency rooms. Using big data analysis can help identify this type of patient and develop preventive plans to keep them from returning.

According to one recent report, the global digital healthcare market is projected to grow from an estimated $147bn in 2019 to $234.5bn in 2023. Much of this growth is being driven by the urgent need to innovate in chronic diseases such as cancer, diabetes, mental illness, heart disease and respiratory disease. Approximately half of all adults worldwide today are living with a chronic condition, and global spending on chronic conditions is projected to reach a healthcare- system bankrupting $47trn by 2030.

Doctors also can benefit from advances in digital healthcare. Digital tools give doctors an extensive view of patient health by significantly increasing access to health data and giving patients greater control over their health. The result is increased efficiency and improved medical outcomes.

Digital healthcare has the potential to prevent disease and lower healthcare costs while helping patients monitor and manage chronic conditions. It can also tailor medicine for individual patients. However, there are some challenges too.

Due to the massive amounts of data collected from a variety of systems that store and code data differently, data interoperability is an ongoing challenge. Additional challenges relate to concerns ranging from digital literacy among patients and the resulting unequal access to healthcare to issues related to data storage, access, sharing and ownership.

Additional concerns relate to technology and ethics. For example, when medical robots are used, who is responsible for mistakes made during surgery: the hospital, the technology developer or manufacturer, the doctor who used the robot or someone else?

Hate Speech Isn’t Freedom of Expression

BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma recently crossed a line in a televised debate causing much embarrassment for the Indian government worldwide. The suspension of Nupur Sharma for her alleged derogatory remark against Prophet Mohammad is a victory for civility. In this case, the push-back was entirely in the realm of opinion and condemnation, which is where it should be. Regrettably, the situation went bad the last Friday in many cities across the country when the disruptive forces among the Muslims indulged in violence taking her two-week-old remark as an excuse.

It’s hard to say if there is more hate in the world today or not. My instinct is no. The hate that we see today is certainly nothing new. But there are some new factors that impact the spread of this hate. First, social media makes it relatively simple to see speech produced in communities outside of one’s own. Different communities have divergent opinions about what kind of speech is considered “acceptable.” With social media, speech that might be seen as acceptable by its intended audience can easily be discovered and broadcast to a larger audience that doesn’t share the same speech norms. The digital world has made it all too easy for repellent and unedited use of language to offend many people.

What is Hate Speech?
Hate speech is defined by the Cambridge Dictionary as “public speech that expresses hate or encourages violence towards a person or group based on something such as race, religion, sex, or sexual orientation”. Hate speech is “usually thought to include communications of animosity or disparagement of an individual or a group on account of a group characteristic such as race, colour, national origin, sex, disability, religion, or sexual orientation”. Legal definitions of hate speech vary from country to country.

As per the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the term “hate speech” is more than a descriptive concept used to identify a specific class of expressions. It also functions as an evaluative term judging its referent negatively and as a candidate for censure.

Hate speech is in itself a denial of the values of tolerance, inclusion, diversity and the very essence of the human rights norms and principles. Religious belief is sometimes the source of putative cases of hate speech, and sometimes its target.

The type of expression most often cited as the paradigm case of hate speech is slurs. Slurs are typically characterized as a type of insult that targets race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, ability, politics, immigrant status, geographic region, and other categories.

Fine line between Freedom of Expression and Hate Speech
Free speech is sacred to any democratic society. Hateful statements, from a legal perspective, can be classified as opinions.  However, the sometimes painful bite of unfettered speech leads many to ask two perfectly logical questions: At what cost? And for what pain?

Upholding free speech is hugely important to open societies that respect human rights. An effective approach to tackling hate speech could be self-regulation and content moderation by public and private institutions, media and the Internet industry, such as the adoption of codes of conduct accompanied by sanctions for non-compliance.

On the presumption that hate speech is harmful — both particularly harmful for the members of targeted groups, and also generally harmful to democracy — the natural question that follows is: what should we do about it?

Awareness and counter-speech are also equally important in fighting the misconceptions and misinformation that form the basis of hate speech. Counter-speech is any direct response to hateful or harmful speech which seeks to undermine it.

Sectarianism, bigotry, and their horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization, and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now… If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world it is this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if some people still dream of the exclusive survival of their own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity them from the bottom of my heart, and point out to them that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance: “Help and not Fight”, “Assimilation and not Destruction”; “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension.”

Swami Vivekananda, Chicago, 1893

Hate speech is a menace to democratic values, social stability and peace. As a matter of principle, hate speech must be confronted at every turn and be tackled in order to prevent armed conflict, crimes and terrorism, end violence against women and other serious violations of human rights, and promote peaceful, inclusive and just societies.

satyaṁ brūyāt priyaṁ brūyān na brūyāt satyam apriyam
priyaṁ cha nānṛitaṁ brūyād eṣha dharmaḥ sanātanaḥ

Manu Smṛiti 4.138

Speak the truth in such a way that it is pleasing to others. Do not speak the truth in a manner injurious to others. Never speak untruth, though it may be pleasant. This is the sanātana-dharma.

International Day for Countering Hate Speech: 18th of June
Marking an important milestone in the fight against hate speech, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution on “promoting inter-religious and intercultural dialogue and tolerance in countering hate speech”. The resolution proclaims 18 June as the International Day for Countering Hate Speech, which will be marked for the first time in 2022.

World Hypertension Day (17 May)

On 17 May, we celebrate World Hypertension Day (WHD), a day dedicated to highlighting the importance of monitoring blood pressure and bringing global awareness to over 1 billion people living with high blood pressure worldwide.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), blood pressure is the force exerted by circulating blood against the walls of the body’s arteries, the major blood vessels in the body. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is when blood pressure is too high.

Hypertension or high blood pressure occurs when the blood pressure rises to an unhealthy level. The disease is very common and develops over a course of years. Narrow arteries cause more resistance and increase blood pressure. This force can cause damage to blood vessels, and lead to heart attack, brain stroke, kidney damage, or nerve damage.

Blood pressure is written as two numbers. The first (systolic) number represents the pressure in blood vessels when the heart contracts or beats. The second (diastolic) number represents the pressure in the vessels when the heart rests between beats. Hypertension is defined as a systolic blood pressure consistently above 140 mm Hg and/or diastolic blood pressure consistently above 90 mm Hg. It is considered to have touched a dangerous level when the blood pressure measurement goes over 180/120.

Around 1.13 billion people around the globe live with hypertension which is a major cause of cardiovascular disease and premature death worldwide. However, only 1 people in 5 have it in control while others still face the risk of developing complications from it. The incidences of hypertension have seen a sharp rise across the world and while earlier it was common in the older age groups, now we get to see many new cases of young people with hypertension.

High blood pressure is called silent killer not without a reason. Most of the times, there are no noticeable signs of hypertension and even if you have some symptoms, you may not immediately act upon it dismissing it as routine tiredness, work pressure or exertion. High-stress levels, obesity, poor dietary habits, and a sedentary lifestyle are some of the major causes of hypertension in young people. Prolonged hypertension also puts a person at a higher risk of several medical conditions like chronic kidney disease, stroke, heart failure and others.

The Theme

The theme of WHD for 2022 is Measure Your Blood Pressure Accurately, Control It, Live Longer. It focuses on combating low awareness rates worldwide, especially in low to middle-income areas, and accurate blood pressure measurement methods.

The History

WHD was first inaugurated in May 2005, and ever since it has become an annual event. The main purpose behind the celebration of the WHD is to promote public awareness of hypertension and to encourage citizens of all countries to prevent and control this silent killer, the modern epidemic.

The Significance

The day focuses on creating effective communication about the importance of raising awareness on the early diagnosis of high blood pressure and avoiding complications of advanced stage complications.

There are some factors that cause hypertension that we cannot control, which include age and a family history of hypertension. However, leading a healthy life may prevent hypertension.

Woke up to yet another fierce dust storm in Baghdad | Climate Crisis

We awoke today to an ochre-coloured sky – and a thick blanket of dust covered the roads and buildings with an orange film in Baghdad, Iraq. Since the beginning of April 2022, Iraq has been hit by a series of severe dust storms. This is the eighth dust storm since mid-April to hit Iraq.

A fierce dust storm has yet again engulfed an already climate-stressed Iraq and has sent at least 4,000 people to the hospital with breathing problems, as per some local news media. Earlier this month, the most recent sandstorm led to the death of one person with another 5,000 hospitalized.

The thick cloud of dust which has blanketed the Iraqi capital of Baghdad has led to the closure of airports, schools, and many public offices across the country. But the banks are open and working normally. We had to brave through the blanket of dust to our offices. Visibility was low and drivers kept car headlights on to see the road.

The sandstorm drastically reduced visibility to just 300 metres at Baghdad airport, prompting authorities to close airspace and halt flights, state-run INA news agency reported.

Dust storms in Iraq are most common in late spring and summer, provoked by seasonal winds such as the “shamal” that blows in from the northwest. Researchers suggested that La Nina conditions in the equatorial Pacific can lead to an earlier onset of shamal winds. Recent observations suggest that La Nina may be persisting into a third consecutive year.

Dust storms are common in Iraq, but some experts believe they are becoming more frequent due to climate change. The storms are expected to become more frequent due to drought, desertification and declining rainfall.

The Impact

Sandstorms know no borders. They threaten to wreak havoc on a region that’s vital to the global economy. Home to three strategic waterways and almost half the world’s known oil reserves, the Middle East is crucial to global trade and energy supply. A glimpse of the destructive power of the storms was seen in March 2021, when the Suez Canal was blocked for six days by a ship that was blown off course by a sandstorm, holding up almost $60 billion in trade. Twelve percent of global trade passes through that chokepoint.

Dust deposition has wide-ranging health impacts, such as causing and aggravating asthma, bronchitis, respiratory diseases, and infections and lung cancer. Populations far from the source regions are exposed to a wide range of air quality related health problems when long-range atmospheric transport carries dust.

But the storms wreak their greatest havoc on the health of the Middle East’s people and their economies. According to the World Bank, the phenomenon costs the region’s economy USD 13 billion a year. The effects of climate change will only intensify these problems. Temperatures in the Middle East are rising twice as fast as the global average and climate models predict a decrease in precipitation over some key parts of the region.

Globally, the welfare losses from dust are approximately 3.6 trillion USD, where costs are about 150 billion USD and over 2.5 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on average in MENA. Costs range from ruined agricultural crops and damaged machinery to the closure of ports and airports and hours spent cleaning up roads and other infrastructure. The World Health Organization estimates that 7 million people die from poor air quality every year, which is at least partly attributed to dust.

The natural-color images on this page were acquired with the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) instruments on NASA’s Terra and Aqua satellites. The image above was captured by Aqua MODIS on May 16, 2022. (Source: NASA)

Climate Crisis

Experts are warning that the phenomenon is only getting worse. It’s driven partly by climate change that’s making the region’s landscapes hotter and drier, and warping weather patterns to create more intense storms.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has ranked Iraq as the fifth most vulnerable country to climate change. In recent years, it has increasingly witnessed extreme heatwaves with temperatures reaching above 50°C. Iraq’s mean annual temperature also is predicted to increase by two degrees Celsius by 2050, while the mean annual rainfall is projected to decrease by 9 percent (World Bank Group).

As much as 31 percent of Iraq’s surface is desert. Traditionally known as “the land between two rivers” or Mesopotamia, lush and fertile, Iraq is increasingly experiencing extreme climate events, compounding environmental fragility and water scarcity. Water flows from the Tigris and Euphrates have diminished due to upriver damming in Turkey and Iran. The river basin has seen the second lowest rainfall in 40 years, with effects being felt across the region.

Years of inappropriate farming practices and mismanagement of water resources have exacerbated the effects of an already dry climate and contributed to increasing rates of desertification.

According to The World Bank, northern Iraq — between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers — has the highest density of dust sources in the Middle East. The environment ministry of Iraqi Government has warned that over the next two decades, Iraq could endure an average of 272 days of sandstorms per year, rising to above 300 by 2050.

Considered one of the Arab region’s most vulnerable countries to climate change, Iraq faces a unique set of environmental challenges. The impacts of changing weather patterns have already made themselves felt in recent years, with a higher frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and rising environmental degradation throughout the country.

Trip Down the Memory Lane | Judhajit & Tania

Our beloved son, Judhajit married beautiful Tania on 3 May 2022 in Dumka, Jharkhand. We hosted the reception party in Ranchi on 6 May 2022. Wishing my son and his beautiful wife a happy and blessed marriage.

It seemed just a few years ago, Judhajit came into our lives and now he got married and beginning a new chapter in his life.

Judhajit came into our little world. Lucknow, 15 October 1992.

Turning a boy into a man is one of the hardest things a parent can do. As I look back across the years, so many pictures flash on the memory screen that just as I begin to see one clearly, another slides in, blotting out the first, itself to be pushed aside by the next and the next and the next. Sometimes, I wish I could just rewind back to the old days and press pause… just for a little while.

This video was on display at the Reception ceremony

This lovely video has been created by my cousin, Suvajit Roy Choudhury collating their pictures, taking a trip down memory lane to rekindle their days as they grew up.

I have been looking forward to this day since you came into our life. Congratulations on your wedding, my son! It is not an easy road, but with each other, marriage will be the best thing you’ve ever done. Married life has ups and downs, but there’s no impossible mission with a great couple like you. May your marriage be an assortment of all precious things of life that have not been discovered yet.

Proto Armageddon | Episode 19: End of Amoris

Pacing up and down the floor like drops of sweat formed and ticked down her forehead; Amoris tried to form contact with her other brethren.

“FAILED!” rang the notification. “INSUFFICIENT INPUT!” message followed.

Roaring in anger and frustration, Amoris franticly started to search for something in her poorly managed rusty room, which looked as if could topple at any given moment. After scavenging for some time, she found what she was looking for and a faint smile started to creep on her face. But her moment of happiness did not last for long as a rift formed in front of her, and a blue clawed hand appeared through it grabbing Amoris by her neck and pulling her through the rift.

Screaming and trying to free herself from the grasp, Amoris appeared in front of Inna and Attir.

“Scoundrel! You dare do this to a GOD. Do you know the repercussions of what you just did?” screamed Amoris.

“Apologies, my lady. I had to drag you down this way. But what can I say You are a hard nut to crack. I tried so many things to make you come to this realm, but you just would not listen. Ultimately had to resolve to this.” greeted Inna.

“Ack! Ew! Ptooey ptooey!” Amoris spat on Inna’s face, “I don’t accept anything from a demon scum.”

A grin formed over Inna’s face as she gave a glare of killing intent towards Amoris and kicked her belly. As she was flying away from Inna, she grabbed Amoris’s hair and pulled and bashed it on the floor. The floor cracked where Amoris landed on her face. Inna walked to her and pulled out Amoris’s head from the floor and said “Is that enough from a demon scum?? Hahaha!!” laughing.

Amoris as she tried to recover from the blow she just suffered started thinking that where it all went wrong. She was remembering the time she first became God. How wonderful it felt to receive all the offerings and returning blessings. What happened? When did things start taking a turn away from me? She then remembered and started to search for the item she had found before being grabbed by Inna. As she reached for the item she held it tightly in her hands and started to chant Ellurie rivada and a bright light started to shine over her dispelling Inna’s hold as she rose up floating in the air and laughed “Hahhahaha!! Time for round two kid.”

Ellerio spra chanted Amoris, as she felt all high and Godly. A hyper glowing rotating magic circle formed in front of her as she aimed toward Inna. A spear of golden bright light materialized and was shot that pierced through Inna in an instant. It happened so fast that even Attir could not fathom what just happened.

“Puny insect, even the thought that you can even scratch a God is a wild goose chase. I may have been downgraded, but in no way in any instance, I am killable by demon scum.” Said Amoris with a smirk. The sperium device did its work. Although this boost will not last forever, I better wrap this up fast and said, “I guess this was enough schooling for you newbie”.

She stared down at the place where Inna was impaled and realized that something is not right. The demon who could pull a God from their realm could not be this easy to get. Then again, she was struck by a God thought Amoris as a slow-growing grin appeared on her face. Slowly she noticed that her surrounding was getting darker as if the darkness itself was embracing her. Her mind started to relax, and her body started to fatigue. Before she could react a blue whip-like tail started to coil around her neck slowly tightening the grip.

“Hello, darling. How was your dream? Was it wonderful? Alas, it is time for you to wake up. Wakey! wakey! You must be wondering How did this happen? To understand that you will have to first know that I am not just any demon scum. I am the Demon Scum!!” Inna whispered to Amoris’s ear.  “Hahahahha! I am the adopted child of THE DEMON KING, one of the Demon king candidates. So naturally, the power-up from the sperium is nothing in comparison to the real deal; hence meaningless to me. No last but not least you must have been wondering why I sought you out. What can it be? ARMAGEDDON of course.” Said Inna laughingly to which the reaction of Amoris was of total despair.

The tail grip kept tightening as the beautiful face of the God disfigured slowly. The shock of the revelation was big enough for her to lose all hope she had and surrendered thinking “Maybe this is what atonement feels like.”

“Awweee! Feeling sorry now?” said Inna. “You cannot be forgiven for the betrayal ever in this eternity. You should perish knowing that your sacrifice could have ended the last war but chose to survive and the irony it is, your death that will start this war.” 

The grip tightened at last bursting the head off with pressure building up due to obstruction in the circulation of the spiricules.

“Rugessio” chanted Inna and the scattered spiricule in the atmosphere started to condense into the Relic of the last war. After a short time of concentration and meditation, all of the Godly spiricules were successfully condensed into the Relic.

“Now Tyrant onto declaring of the initiation of the Armageddon” stated Inna.

A Musical Evening in Baghdad

One of my colleagues Jaffar asked me a couple of days ago if I am interested in classical music performances. When I replied in the affirmative, he invited me to accompany him to the concert after our office work. It was on yesterday. It’s a performance by the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra at the National Theater in Baghdad.

After our office hours, we went to a restaurant near the National Theater, named Mariam restaurant. We had our lunch, tikkas and Iraqi breads, followed by two rounds of tea.

We then walked down to the National Theater. It’s nearby. The scheduled time to start was 6:00 PM. We reached there on time and bought VIP tickets to sit near the stage.

The Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra began as the Baghdad Symphony Orchestra in 1944. The orchestra became officially known as the Iraqi National Symphony in 1959 when it began to receive a salary from the government. The Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra was abolished by the Iraqi Minister of Culture in 1962 and rehearsed underground until 1970 when it was re-established. Since its revival in 1970, Iraq’s national orchestra has survived decades of upheaval with the resilience of the artists and credit to music lovers and connoisseurs of Iraq.

While waiting for the gate to open we found a nice music-loving crowd comprising mostly of young people. It’s nice to see the interest in classical music among the young population in Baghdad. The event wasn’t publicized. The audience heard about it via social media, and word of mouth. It’s a strategy widely used in Iraq’s cultural world to avoid disruptions by ultra-right religious elements.

After some waiting, the gate opened. We took our seats. The show started around 45 minutes late, at around 6:45 PM. It started with a poem reading. It was in chaste Arabic and so it went over my head. It was conducted by Kareem Wasfi, who has been with the symphony for the past 25 years. He began as a cellist, and in 2005 — when the country was reeling from brutal sectarian violence — he became its conductor. He also gave his performance on the stage. The audience erupted in applause when the conductor arrived and quickly fell silent as the first notes are struck at the concert. It was good to see some young female instrumentalists in the group.

The concert was over at around 8:00 PM. The performance of the orchestra was pretty good. The theatre was quite full. The audience enjoyed the live classical music performance with silence and applause at the end.

It was a wonderful musical evening. I enjoyed it very much.