Extinction is forever: The last of the orcas of Prince William Sound

Extinction is forever. Every time I mull over this thought, it brings into focus for me, more than ever, of our responsibilities as a species, of the succinct realization of our inter-relatedness and common fate with all other life forms inhabiting our shared ecosystem. My interest in orcas (Orcinus orca) go back a long time, lapping up accounts of their inherently amiable, extremely social disposition, swimming the oceans in tightly knit mother-centred families and extended families or pods, as they are called. Never had the good fortune of encountering one in person, but the closest I got was through the writings of marine biologist Eva Saulitis who spent long years intimately observing and comprehending the lives of a tiny, threatened orca population in the waters of a scenic inlet known as Prince William Sound in the Gulf of Alaska, Alaska, USA. Among other marine life forms in Prince Wiliam Sound, Saulitis spent the most time studying a genetically distinct orca ecotype known as the AT1 or ‘Chugach’ transients (transients being mammal eaters.) Read More…

Majid Majidi: آواز گنجشک‌ها (The Song of Sparrows) | 2008

In a ‘cinemascape’ of lyricism and allegory, Majid Majidi inhabits a space that is uniquely his own, where, with a flourish of quiet sentimentality and poetic poise, he unfurls for us a spiritual fable of a righteous man placed in the pastoral rural and the materialistic urban. Majidi is a relatively later figure in Iranian cinema, but to my mind, certainly not a lesser figure. In a telling moment in آواز گنجشک‌ها (The Song of Sparrows,) the protagonist Karim (played convincingly by the inimitable Reza Naji) breaks into a nostalgia soaked song that brings smiles to the saddened young boys surrounding him – “Our flowers have withered, our eyes are crying, I remember the good old days….The world is a lie, the world is a dream ….I’ve passed my youth in pain in this world.” The pastoral rural marked by close family ties, community living, and proximity to the ‘living world’ lies in stark contrast to the transactional, corrupting and materialistic core of the urban, and in straddling these seemingly incompatible universes, Karim has to be committed to his essential righteousness, to his faith. Read More…

Käthe Kollwitz: Etching and cutting the Human Condition

My recall of a Kollwitz woodcut is from many years ago, titled ‘Die Mütter’ (The Mothers) – a huddled heap of bereaved and bereft humanity, seeking to console and comfort each other, with futility, for they appear to be calcified by a known or unknown terror. That woodcut remained etched in my consciousness for a long time, tucked away in some obscure drawer, but always there, always gnawing. The work of 19th C / early 20th C German artist Käthe Kollwitz, is not one of tentative, delighting probing but of cathartic, universal anguish. Unleashing a visceral chronicle of human suffering and struggle – through depicting injustice, poverty, and the terrible price of mindless man made conflicts, her work achieves an emotional tenor and intensity that resonates beyond her immediate circumstances in Germany of the early 20th C. Read More…

Ibn Khaldūn: 14th C foundations of Sociology, Historiography and Economics

My first brush with the north African philosopher-thinker of the ‘Middle Ages’, Ibn Khaldūn, was at the Universidad de Sevilla in España, intrigued as I have always been, with the circumstances and the contexts of the rise and fall of civilizations. With Andalusian and Yemenite Arab roots, Ibn Khaldūn was ‘Tunisian’ by birth, and his extensive and ground breaking work out of north Africa during the ‘Middle Ages’ was discovered by the occident much later. This belated discovery could probably be partially attributed to barriers of language, along with, I suppose, a degree of disdain and intellectual suspicion of that which is non-occidental. Having said that, it is only in retrospect that we can appreciate Ibn Khaldūn’s remarkable contributions to the foundations of a scientific study of society and civilization. Read More…

Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT), Ireland: Fiosraigh PhD Scholarships 2015

The Dublin Institute of Technology (DIT) Fiosraigh Dean of Graduate Research School Award recognizes the outstanding achievement by individual students and is open to talented students who wish to pursue a PhD on a full time basis. Applications are invited from students of any higher education institution, in Ireland or internationally.

The Irish word ‘Fiosraigh’, which means to explore or inquire, underlines the purpose of this scholarship programme which is to promote the exploration and application of knowledge.

Applicants should develop their research in liaison with the potential supervisor/supervisory team in one of the following research thematic areas:

Society, Culture and Enterprise
New Materials and Devices
Information, Communications and Media Technologies
Environment, Energy and Health  Read More…

The importance of Anas Aremeyaw Anas.

The world has not seen the likes of Anas Aremeyaw Anas, and I am not sure there will be another like him in quite a while. A lawyer who disguises as a Saudi Sheikh and camouflages himself as a rock, and no, he is no supporting actor in a television sitcom. Anas, based out of his native Accra, Ghana, encountered rampant societal evils in and around his country, and his response to those evils was to embrace unorthodox undercover investigative journalism. Clearly cutting away from the mainstream, dumbed down, market driven journalistic practices and the hollow promises of highbrow talking head journalism, Anas puts forth simple and lucid principles that govern his kind of journalism, namely: Naming, Shaming and Jailing. Purists may cringe, but I must say, I tend to nod my head in agreement this time, when Anas articulates that the ends justify the means. Anas’s work is governed by a moral compass, so to say, in his relentless pursuit of the unmasking of societal ills and evils and in particular the perpetrators and collaborators of such ills and evils, from human trafficking to human rights violations to corruption in high office, to superstitions and blind beliefs. Read More…

Jeff Nichols: Take Shelter. 2011

“There is a storm coming…like nothing you have ever seen, and not one of you is prepared for it” screams Curtis (played by the very talented Michael Shannon) in American director Jeff Nichols‘ film ‘Take Shelter‘ (2011). I would say nothing quite prepares one for a film like ‘Take Shelter’ as strands of the real and the non-real interweave to create this tapestry of a brooding, melancholic and menacing exploration of notions of anxiety, marriage and commitment, and communication in interpersonal relationships. This is probably one of the few films from that year that made me sit up and take notice of the classic independent cinema. A theme of a married couple with a young child going through difficult and intense times is a theme that has played on screens in darkened halls over decades now, and therein lies Nichols’ genius, for he takes this familiar as a doorbell universal theme, and retells it with a mastery and a quiet restraint far beyond his years. Read More…

MP Ranjan           I choose not to write ‘obituaries’. Well, I find most of them well meaning, but, most times unbearably eulogistic, with the expected greatness of a life well lived, heaped and thrust upon the recently departed. He passed away yesterday, and I recall that November afternoon, sixteen years ago when I first conversed with M.P. Ranjan in the quiet confines of a rather atmospheric room at the National Institute of Design (NID), Ahmedabad, India. He was chairing an interview panel and I was the interviewee, and my chair was placed to face the panel chair, expectedly so. After the panel’s round of questions seemingly got over, I looked across the mirror like table top, to the serious but friendly faces, to finally rest on the panel chair, the bearded gentleman who appeared to be watching me very closely. Then he spoke. “So, what are your fears?”. Read More…

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