Business & Finance, Science & Technology

Entering era of national digital currencies


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Imagine a world where all money is digital. Instead of carrying coins and notes in your purse, you’re keeping digital currency units in electronic wallets on phones, watches or other electronic devices. Paying at the farmer’s market, giving the kids pocket-money for lunch, settling the tab at a restaurant — all of this could happen digitally the way cash is handed over today: in real-time, irreversibly, with no additional fees, using legal tender fully backed by the faith and credit of the national treasury.

Around the world, central banks from England to China have publicly floated the notion of issuing their own national digital currencies. Conceptually, they like the idea of harnessing the upside of the digital revolution—mobile payments, in particular—while preserving the existing legal and regulatory set up. Practically, they expect significant cost savings, a reduction of operational and fraud risks in the current payments systems, and a strengthened ability to execute monetary policy.

From a consumer’s perspective, the prospect of a digital British Pound Sterling or Renminbi is still mind-boggling. Which means, of course, societies would not go completely digital overnight. Instead, central banks could start issuing digital currency units alongside notes and coins as base money and adjust the mix over time, according to uptake. Once critical usage levels are reached and network effects kick in, universal adoption could happen very quickly.

The key requirement for central banks to feel comfortable with issuing their own digital currency, and for consumers to embrace it, is ironclad integrity and security of the underlying technology. There are efforts to separate the blockchain technology from the libertarian concept of a private currency, e.g. Bitcoin, that central banks are unlikely to embrace. Such efforts to trace the exchange of digital money via a public ledger could be combined with the counterintuitive concept of creating cryptographically protected digital currency units offline and injecting them into current payments systems, much like central banks distribute notes and coins to retail financial intermediaries today.

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Blockchain would accelerate the settlement of transactions, and thereby improve the capital efficiency of making a transaction. It’s also more transparent, because any user has immediate access to all transactions on a blockchain. And it’s more efficient because it eliminates the need for intermediaries. It has the potential to redefine transactions and can change everything.

In most emerging markets and developing countries, financial inclusion is a major concern. The current formal financial system doesn’t cover the majority of working-age adult population. Smallholder farmers, self-employed households, and micro-entrepreneurs have to rely on the age-old informal financial mechanisms such as rotating savings clubs, moneylenders, and pawnbrokers. These mechanisms can be unreliable and very expensive.

For policymakers from the global south, the digitization of retail payment systems and financial services has become an important economic development priority. It offers the prospect of reaching far more people at far lower costs with the broader range of financial services they need to build resilience and capture opportunities. Wall Street is also obsessed with blockchain. JPMorgan last month announced it was launching a trial project with a blockchain startup.

The idea of a central bank-issued digital currency might well be the type of “soft infrastructure” investment that brings direct and immediate efficiency gains. But perhaps more importantly, it would also accelerate and help scale a wave of service innovations that help advance financial inclusion, stimulate economic growth, and ultimately spur social progress.

HT: Tilman Erbeck / WEF

Miscellaneous & Offbeat

Chance encounter with MS Dhoni


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Mahendra Singh Dhoni is the current captain of the Indian national cricket team in limited-over formats. An attacking right-handed middle-order batsman and wicket-keeper, he is widely regarded as one of the greatest finishers in limited-overs cricket. He holds numerous captaincy records such as most wins by an Indian captain in Tests and One Day Internationals (ODI), and most back-to-back wins by an Indian captain in ODIs. Dhoni is born and brought up in Ranchi. We all are proud of him. He is an icon.

I was today returning home from my institute via Delhi.  When I was going to board the Indigo flight in the evening, I was surprised to see Dhoni on our bus! He was also returning to his home in Ranchi. I went to him and asked for his autograph. He immediately signed on the back of my boarding pass.

Autograph of MS Dhoni
Autograph of Mahendra Singh Dhoni on the reverse of my flight boarding pass

Dhoni is a nice, warm and friendly person. We had some chat while the bus was moving towards the plane. He happily obliged me and two other co-passengers, when we asked for a picture with him. In fact, he himself took the selfie!

Selfie with Dhoni
Selfie with Mahendra Singh Dhoni inside the bus from airport terminal to the airplane

It’s a great memorable moment in my life and I am really excited. Six years ago, I met another all-time great ODI player, the Sri Lankan all-rounder, Sanath Jayasuriya, on our flight. We were travelling from Colombo to Bangalore.

Views & Opinion

What’s good for the goose


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शादी हुई … दोनों बहुत खुश थे!
स्टेज पर फोटो सेशन शुरू हुआ! …
दूल्हे ने अपने दोस्तों का परिचय साथ
खड़ी अपनी साली से करवाया…
“ये है मेरी साली, आधी घरवाली”
दोस्त ठहाका मारकर हंस दिए !
दुल्हन मुस्कुराई और अपने देवर का परिचय
अपनी सहेलियो से करवाया…
“ये हैं मेरे देवर ..आधे पति परमेश्वर”
ये क्या हुआ ….?
अविश्वसनीय …अकल्पनीय!
भाई समान देवर के कान सुन्न हो गए!
पति बेहोश होते होते बचा!
दूल्हे, दूल्हे के दोस्तों, रिश्तेदारों सहित सबके चेहरे से
मुस्कान गायब हो गयी!
लक्ष्मनरेखा नाम का एक गमला अचानक स्टेज से नीचे
टपक कर फूट गया!
स्त्री की मर्यादा नाम की हेलोजन लाईट भक्क से फ्यूज़
हो गयी!
थोड़ी देर बाद एक एम्बुलेंस तेज़ी से सड़कों पर भागती
जा रही थी! जिसमे दो स्ट्रेचर थे!
एक स्ट्रेचर पर भारतीय संस्कृति कोमा में पड़ी थी …
शायद उसे अटैक पड़ गया था! दुसरे स्ट्रेचर पर पुरुषवाद
घायलअवस्था में पड़ा था …
उसे किसी ने सर पर गहरी चोट मारी थी!
आसमान में अचानक एक तेज़ आवाज़ गूंजी ….
भारत की सारी स्त्रियाँ एक साथ ठहाका मारकर
हंस पड़ी थीं!

I found the above forwarded to me on WhatsApp and thought I would share it with this blog. ये व्यंग ख़ास पुरुष वर्ग के लिए है जो खुद तो अश्लील व्यंग करना पसंद करते हैँ पर जहाँ महिलाओं कि बात आती हैं वहां संस्कृति कि दुहाई देते फिरते हैं। It’s an excellent satire on men who enjoy male chauvinistic jokes but they start talking of culture and tradition if a woman reciprocates the joke. I salute the author who has written it.

Miscellaneous & Offbeat

Paraskevidekatriaphobia


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Today is Friday the 13th. Most people believe “Friday the 13th” as an ominous day. It’s a bizarre thing, but apparently true, that a substantial number of us would confess to feeling slightly anxious when the 13th of the month falls on a Friday. There is in fact a name for this phenomenon — and get ready because it’s rather a mouthful — paraskevidekatriaphobia.

ar128170187975501No-one is quite certain why people associate Friday the 13th with bad luck. While folklore historians say it’s tough to pinpoint exactly how the taboo came to be, many believe it originates from the Last Supper, and the 13 guests who sat at the table on the day before the Friday on which Lord Jesus was crucified.

But there are many other theories of how the ominous day came to be considered the harbinger of bad luck. The number 13 also holds some cultural, religious and mythical significance in history, which hints that it is a bad day.

The term paraskevidekatriaphobia was first coined in the early nineties by Dr. Donald E. Dossey, an American psychotherapist specialising in phobias and stress management, who reputedly claimed that that “when you learn to pronounce it, you’re cured!” The term is based on the Greek words paraskevi (Friday) and dekatria (thirteen) with -phobia as a suffix to indicate ‘fear’. So say it all together:  para-skev-EE-dek-a-tri-a-pho-bia.:-)

Not all cultures, however, believe Friday the 13th is unlucky. In Greek and Hispanic cultures, Tuesday the 13th is considered far more ominous. In Italy, Friday the 17th is spookier than the 13th.

Any month that starts with a Sunday will contain a Friday the 13th, and there can be as many as three of them a year. For what it’s worth to believers, there is only one Friday the 13th this year and it occurs today. So whatever you are doing today, do it safely and remember the best thing about Friday the 13th – is that it’s the weekend in the Middle East and the day after is Saturday, the weekend elsewhere! Enjoy the weekend!

Views & Opinion

The Empty Boat


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A monk decides to meditate alone, away from his monastery. He takes his boat out to the middle of the lake, moors it there, closes his eyes and begins his meditation. After a few hours of undisturbed silence, he suddenly feels the bump of another boat colliding with his own. With his eyes still closed, he senses his anger rising, and by the time he opens his eyes, he is ready to scream at the boatman who dared to disturb his meditation. But when he opens his eyes, he sees it’s an empty boat that had probably got untethered and floated to the middle of the lake. At that moment, the monk achieves self-realization, and understands that the anger is within him; it merely needs the bump of an external object to provoke it out of him. From then on, whenever he comes across someone who irritates him or provokes him to anger, he reminds himself, “The other person is merely an empty boat. The anger is within me.”

One of my school classmates, Aranjit Bhattacharya shared this story in our WhatsApp group today. It’s derived from a famous Zen anecdote based on the stories of Chinese mystic Chuang Tzu, revitalizing the 3000-year-old Taoist message of self-realization.

At first, I said that anger is just anger. It isn’t good nor bad. What you do with it is what matters. You can use it to build or to destroy. You just have to make the choice. Then I thought what to do when the other person evokes anger in me even when I am not at fault? From the parable of The Empty Boat by Chuang Tzu, I quote an excerpt:

If a man is crossing a river
And an empty boat collides with his own skiff,
Even though he be a bad-tempered man
He will not become very angry.
But if he sees a man in the boat,
He will shout at him to steer clear.
If the shout is not heard, he will shout again,
And yet again, and begin cursing.
And all because there is somebody in the boat.
Yet if the boat were empty.
He would not be shouting, and not angry.

If you can empty your own boat
Crossing the river of the world,
No one will oppose you,
No one will seek to harm you.

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Anger, in any form, is caused by frustration of a desire. In the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 2, Verse 62), Lord Shri Krishna says:

One develops attachment for the sense objects by thinking about the sense objects. Desire for sense objects comes from attachment to them, and anger comes from unfulfilled desires.

In the Shrimad Bhagavad Gita (Chapter 5, Verse 26), Lord Shri Krishna says:

Those who are free from anger and all material desires, who are self-realized, self-disciplined and constantly endeavouring for perfection, are assured of liberation in the God in the very near future.

“If you can empty your own boat… no one will seek to harm you.” I know, it’s easier said than done. Then again, it’s not impossible though. Every little thing we do, say or think, every thought we brood over, every emotion we harbour adds to the weight. You may not be able to entirely empty your boat, but don’t keep it overloaded either. Heavy objects sink faster!

Views & Opinion

Give Adarsh building to war widows


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No one favours corruption. The Bombay High Court on last Friday ordered demolition of the 31-storey scam-tainted Adarsh apartments in the heart of Mumbai and sought criminal proceedings against politicians and bureaucrats for “misuse” of powers, holding that the tower was illegally constructed. Now, that is a lot of cement and steel and a huge multi-storeyed structure. If the High Court has found it to be a scam and now wishes to have the officers involved face criminal charges so that the anti-corruption message goes out strong and clear, so be it.

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But where is the fault of the building? It is just standing tall and there will no economic benefit to the nation if it’s bulldozed to the ground besides adding a huge cloud of pollution and harassment to the neighbourhood.

Would it be less of a punishment if the Union Ministry of Defence takes over the building as is and then a panel was set up to allot the flats to the war widows for whom it was originally allotted? Take it away from the scam artists but don’t punish the building. We didn’t throw out the Bofors guns because of corruption. We used them effectively during Kargil war.

We would like to see the corrupt pay the price as much as would like to witness the war widows marching in and settling down. This will be our salute to the brave martyrs, who laid down their lives protecting the country. It also establishes a sensible precedent that illegal constructions will be taken away and made use of, not destroyed. It will be a justice for the corrupt to have to see the building prosper rather than turn it into rubble.

Business & Finance, History & Heritage

Ima Keithel – World’s largest all-women market


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From the dazzling array of fresh fruit, spices and textiles, the sprawling Imphal market in the Indian state of Manipur could be mistaken for any other bazaar in India but it has one distinct difference – all 4000 traders manning its stalls are women. Ima Keithel which translates as ‘mother’s market’ is a meeting ground and trading hub, run exclusively by women and is reportedly the largest all-women market in Asia and possibly the world.

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In a nation where Patriarchy has ruled and thrived over centuries, there are women who have stood tall on their own.

ORIGIN OF THE MARKET

Although there is debate over when exactly it was established, some say the market dates back to the 16th century. This female-only workforce originated during the ‘Lallup’ era when men from the Meitei community were called upon to serve the King leaving the women the responsibilities of commerce and farming. Lallup means war organization (lal means war, lup means organization). The Lallup system was the mainstay of the Meitei state system. The basis of the Lallup service was personal relation between the subjects and the monarch. Gradually Lallup had extended from military service to non-military, developmental works.

Researchers indicated that the Gazetteer of Manipur 1786 indicates that all the marketing of the country was conducted by women in open air and markets were mostly held in morning. Many markets were established during 1592-1652 in different places for business transaction. Traditionally women in Manipur have always been at the forefront, leading the way forward whether it was to fight alcohol and drug abuse, to protest against the draconian AFSPA or raise their voice against unjust economic policies.

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Only married women are allowed to run the stalls and family members pass their trade on to the next generation keeping the enterprising spirit alive. Ima Keithel market has witnessed to the liberal identity of women and gender equality in Manipur. Unlike other markets in Manipur, this market of Imphal has stood for the socio-economic empowerment of women for ages.

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Earlier the market was an amalgam of scattered sheds but now the market is housed in an RCC structure in Khwairamband Bazar.

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The Ima Keithel is proof of how significant and crucial a role women in this society play. It will continue to exist as an inspiring model for women’s social empowerment, liberal identity, revolutionary leadership, economic development and their right to gender equality in other states and nations.

H/T DailyMail

Event & Festival, Nature & Environment

Earth Day 2016: Let’s go green!


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Celebrated every year on April 22, Earth Day aims to encourage people across the world to be more environmentally friendly. Today, leaders from over 150 countries will officially sign the Paris Climate Agreement on Earth Day 2016. The deal was thrashed out in Paris last December in order to stem global warming. The signing makes this year’s Earth Day one of the most important in years. It’s the largest one-day signing of any international agreement, according to the UN.

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The historic agreement, which was adopted by consensus in the French capital in December, will be deposited at the United Nations in New York in a bid to get other countries to sign up to it. However, signing is only one step in a tortuous UN process for the deal to come into force. The process requires formal approval by at least 55 nations representing 55 per cent of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. In many countries, that needs a parliamentary vote. The agreement is scheduled to come into force in 2020.

The very first event for Earth Day was held in America nearly five decades ago on April 22, 1970 following a devastating oil spill. Now it is coordinated globally by the non-profit Earth Day Network, which describes it as ‘the largest secular holiday in the world’. Each year, festivals, parades and rallies are held in at least 192 countries to demonstrate support for environmental protection. It also has its own anthems – one of which is performed to the tune of Beethoven’s Ode To Joy, but with lyrics about protecting the planet.

According to recent WRI data, 10 countries produce around 70 percent of global green house gas (GHG) emissions.

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Among the top 10 absolute emitters, only two have per capita emissions that are below the world average. Canada, the United States, and Russia emit more than double the global average per person. On the other end of the spectrum, India’s per capita emissions are only one-third of the global average.

per_capita_emissions

The graph below expands the time period from 1850 to 2011, during which data only on CO2 emissions are continuously available. In this case, the five major emitters—the United States, European Union, China, Russian Federation, and Japan— together contributed two-thirds of the world’s historic CO2 emissions.

historical_emissions

Today is the perfect time for each of us to start thinking about the planet we live on and do whatever possible to save it … everyday. Let’s go green from now!

Event & Festival, Faith & Belief

Manda Festival


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With Sarhul festival over on Sunday, April 10, Manda festival was on Wednesday, April 13. While Sarhul is celebrated to mark beginning of New Year by worshiping trees, Manda is celebrated to pray for rain. The Manda festival takes place primarily in and around 100 km radius of Ranchi, especially in villages where the majority of the people belong to Munda and Oraon tribes.

The traditional festivals of the tribals are being celebrated even today with undaunted belief and maintaining its originality. The classic example in the genre is the Manda festival of Jharkhand. This festival is observed to appease the Sun God and pray for rain during the hot and dry month. In tribal society there is belief that Lord Shiva fulfills the desire of those people, who participate in the Manda festival.

During this festival, processions are brought out from the premises of the temple of Lord Shiva and taken to other villages. Farmers lie with sticks outside Shiva temple, as they wait for blessings from the main priest of the temple on a hot afternoon during the holy procession of Manda Festival. Hundreds of tribals participate in this annual festival for good farming, prosperity and good health.

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Scores of tribals carry stick as they pray and walk barefoot on a bed of red-hot steaming coal. The bed of fire is arranged before the village temple, known as Manda Sthal. Devotees after taking holy dip in village pond or river, complete the ritual of walking on fire.

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Hundreds of villagers from far and near assemble to watch the awesome ritual with abated breath. The fire-walkers are cheered loudly by the onlookers. The amazing part is that none of the fire-walkers sustain any burn injury. The ancient belief is that Lord Shiva protects them.

This year, the annual Manda festival assumes significance as Jharkhand is facing a water crisis. Ranchi, once the summer capital of undivided Bihar, has recorded maximum temperatures of above 40 degrees Celsius in April. The water level in dams of Hatia, Rukka and Kanke has gone down drastically.

H/T JharkhandStateNews

Event & Festival, Faith & Belief

Ramnavami in Jharkhand


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Today is Ramnavami and Ramnavami is celebrated by the Hindus to commemorate the birth of Lord Rama, who is believed to be one of the ten incarnations (Dashavatara) of Lord Vishnu. According to Hindu calendar, the festival is observed on Shukla Navami (the ninth day of waxing moon period) of Chaitra (March-April).

Unlike other regions where Ramnavami festival is celebrated for a day, it is observed in Jharkhand for a full month — beginning on the Shukla Navami  of Falgun and concludes nearly 30 days later on the day of Ramnavami, the Shukla Navami of Chaitra month when devotees of Lord Rama and Hanuman comes out on the streets in groups chanting and dancing to bhajans, wielding traditional weapons and lathis (sticks). Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand state, turns into a saffron city on the occasion of Ramnavami.

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Albert Ekka Chowk of Ranchi is decked up with saffron Hanuman flags and red & white Sarna flags for Ramnavami and Sarhul festivals. Unlike most of the Indian cities where a statue of a political leader occupies the prime landmark of the city, Ranchi has a statue at the main town plaza of martyr soldier of the Indian Army Lance Naik Albert Ekka, who laid down his life fighting during India-Pakistan War of 1971. He was awarded India’s highest wartime gallantry award Param Vir Chakra posthumously.

Thousands of youths religiously spend time in akharas (traditional gym) before the Ramnavami to practice and perfect maneuvers with their preferred weapon. Choices range from shiny steel swords to spears, khukris, knives, pharsa (axes), gupti (rapier) and even the Lathi (stick). The moves are practised to the thumping beats of huge drums called Nagaras and Tashas — traditionally used to herald the arrival of an army for war. It’s said that it symbolizes Lord Ram’s exemplary prowess in handling the divine weapons made in sage Agastya’s Agnishaala and other man-made weapons.

Huge processions are taken out by hundreds of participants, divided into small and big groups, led by marching troupes of devotees holding aloft in their hands huge colourful flags with beautiful pictures of Lord Hanuman in flying posture, hooked up on top of tall and dry bamboos, playing drums, bugles and nagaras, in ecstacy, at deafening pitch or staging mock war-like dances in the background of high beats of drums.

The city’s akharas take out processions starting after 3 pm and the festive fervour continues into the night. All the holy processions march from different places in the city to the Tapovan Mandir in Niwaranpur, where devotees pay obeisance and return to their homes. Power supply remains disconnected in the city from 2 pm to prevent any possibility of electrocution, considering the devotees carry large flags that may come in contact overhead electric wires.

Ram Navami in Ranchi 2014

Similar processions and festivities are also carried out in other nearby Jharkhand towns like Jamshedpur, Hazaribagh, Bokaro, Gumla. By popular tradition, all the dancing devotees in these towns also carry sharp lethal weapons in their hands while staging the dance at several places enroute from Hanuman temples to Ram temples.

Though there is no sociological research available to explain this phenomenon, as per folklore, Lord Hanuman was born in a cave near Anjan Gram in Gumla district. Anjan Gram is a small village about 18 km away from Gumla and around 130 km from Ranchi. Goddess Anjani was the mother of Lord Hanuman on whose name this place was named Anjan Gram. Anjani Gufa (cave) is at 4 km from the village upon a hill. It’s believed that mother Anjani used to live here. There is an idol of Mother Anjani with Hanuman in her lap near Anjani Gufa. It is known as the birth place of Mahaveer Hanuman.

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This idol of Goddess Anjani dates back to the ancient times. Many objects of archeological importance obtained from this place are placed at Patna museum.

Anjani

The Anjan Gram has a lot of religious significance and at the same time, offers a great deal of scenic beauty. This place is bounded by the plateau of Netarhat from three sides and Khatwa River. Many Shivlingas are seen over here. It’s said that there were 365 Shivlangas here and the same number of ponds. As per the folklore, Mother Anjani used to take bath in these ponds and pray at the nearby Shivlingas. Now just around a dozen can be seen.

Ram Lakshman Janaki
Jai bolo Hanuman ki!