Prime Minister Narendra Modi will hold a meeting with chief ministers over the Covid-19 situation in the country on Thursday as the number of virus infections sees a huge surge due to the Omicron variant. India recorded 1,68,063 new Covid-19 cases in the last 24 hours, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare informed on Tuesday. Compared to Monday, the total number of fresh Covid cases is down by 11,660. India had reported 1,79,723 cases on Monday. A total of 4,461 cases of the Omicron variant of coronavirus have been reported so far.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday called Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar to enquire about his health condition after the latter tested Covid-19 positive. PM Modi wished him a speedy recovery from the coronavirus infection over the conversation. The Prime Minister also enquired about the health of veteran singer Lata Mangeshkar, 92, who was hospitalised after testing positive for Covid-19. The veteran singer was admitted to Mumbai’s Breach Candy hospital on Monday. “Didi is admitted to ICU after she was diagnosed with Covid-19. Dr Pratik Samdani is treating her and he says that there is nothing serious but she needs to be kept in ICU for precautionary reasons seeing her age. We hope she will recover soon. Please respect our privacy and keep didi in your prayers,” Mangeshkar’s niece Rachna said.
Union Minister Nitin Gadkari also tested positive for Covid-19 and is currently under home quarantine. A technical advisory group established by the World Health Organization said on Tuesday that current
Covid-19 vaccines may need to be updated to ensure they are effective against new variants like Omicron. “…the composition of current Covid-19 vaccines may need to be updated, to ensure that Covid-19 vaccines continue to provide WHO-recommended levels of protection against infection and disease by VOCs, including Omicron and future variants,” the body of independent experts said in a statement sent to journalists by the WHO.
Amid a surge in Covid-19 cases in the national capital, the Delhi Disaster Management Authority (DDMA) has directed that all private offices shall be closed except those that come under the exempted category. Private banks, insurance companies, courier services, non-banking financial corporations and companies providing essential services will remain open. Earlier, the private offices were working with 50% of workforce. The DDMA has also ordered that the dine-in service in restaurants and bars will be discontinued in the national capital. Earlier, the eateries and bars in the capital were allowed to run with 50% capacity to curb the spread of coronavirus. Delhi reported 21,259 new Covid-19 during the past 24 hours with a positivity rate of 25.65%, the highest since 5 May last year, informed the state health bulletin on Tuesday. In the past 24 hours, Delhi also reported 23 deaths, taking the total number of fatalities to 25,200 here.
The Delhi government will launch online yoga and meditation classes for Covid-19 patients in home isolation from Wednesday, Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said on Tuesday. Under the initiative, each Covid patient will be sent a link to register for yoga classes. From Wednesday, trained instructors will conduct hour-long classes in the morning and evening, he said. Each class will comprise 15 patients.
Meanwhile, the ICMR’s National Task Force for Covid-19 has decided against including antiviral drug Molnupiravir in the Clinical Management Protocol for Covid-19 as of now, official sources said on Tuesday. The experts of the task force cited safety concerns and argued that Molnupiravir was not of much benefit in Covid treatment to arrive at the decision in a meeting held on Monday. According to the Health Ministry, Molnupiravir is an antiviral drug that inhibits SARS-CoV-2 replication by viral mutagenesis. This anti-Covid pill got the Drug Regulator General of India’s approval on 28 December for restricted use in emergencies. Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) chief Dr Balram Bhargava had last week said that Molnupiravir has major safety concerns. He added that WHO and the UK have not included it for treatment.
A report from Haridwar said that the Haridwar administration has banned devotees from taking a holy dip in the Ganga river on ‘Makar Sankranti’ i.e., 14 January. “There will be a complete ban on Makar Sakranti celebration/holy dip on 14 January in view of a new variant of Covid-19 i.e., Omicron,” the District Magistrate’s order states. Even, residents of the district will not be allowed in the area of “Har ki Podi” on the day of the festival. “Night Curfew will also be imposed from 10 pm to 6 am in the district (on Friday),” reads the order.
A report from Mumbai said as many as 30 prisoners tested positive for Covid-19 at Arthur Road Jail in Mumbai, said officials on Tuesday. Mumbai on Tuesday reported 11,647 fresh Covid-19 cases, a drop of 2,001 from the previous day, taking the tally to 9,39,867, the BMC said. Two patients succumbed to the infection in the past 24 hours.
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vEMPIRE REPORTS STELLAR 2021 PROFIT LED BY GAINS IN METAVERSE PROPERTY, NFTS SALES
Decentralised metaverse vEmpire on Monday reported a stellar performance in 2021 with an annualized profit of over $18.5 million, led by gains in metaverse property, sale of NFTs and staking investments.
The year-end report, compiled by vEmpire, discloses its staking strategies carried out across Ethereum, Decentraland, Sandbox, Axie Infinity, and Starlink, leading to unrealized profit surpassing $ 4 million in the final quarter of 2021 alone. As early adopters of the Metaverse the entity’s NFT sales amounted to an additional $500 thousand and supplemented with newly acquired valuable investments, at roughly ninety percent below current market value, concluding its 2021 annualized profit at $18.708 million and a price-earnings ratio of 1.44, 20 times lower than the average company in the S&P 500 today.
For 2022, vEmpire’s objective will remain to spur growth and decentralization of Metaverses. “Our users have contributed to staking tens of millions of dollars worth of Metaverse tokens on our platform, which has enabled us to build a decentralized Metaverse investment portfolio that represents the largest in the industry,” said Dom Ryder, founder of vEmpire. “Overall we are extremely pleased with the performance and the quality assets we have acquired over the past quarter. I am pleased to say we are very much on track for the remainder of our roadmap. We are still incredibly early to the Metaverse,” he added.
vEmpire’s ETH pool allows access for more individuals to the expensive, but profitable, blue-chip NFT protocols like Bored Ape Yacht Club. vEmpire’s ETH staking pool was incepted with 518.7 ETH and its value, as measured by the lowest equivalent asset floor, is now 1,021.5 ETH, almost doubling in value.
Meanwhile, vEmpire’s Metaverse staking options in Metaverses like Decentraland, Sandbox, Starl, and others allow investors to partake in early allocation and investment of valuable plots within Metaverses.
FOOD: HOT FROM THE PRINTING PRESS
“Proof of the pudding,” they say, “is in the eating”. And, “Seeing is believing,” tells another adage. But, how do you react when a 3-D printed snack or steak is served to you on a plate? 3-D was once supposed to be the next big thing in cinema. There was a time when one had to wear special disposable glasses to experience the magic of 3-D. The characters seemed to leap out of the screen- the villains targeting you, the poor spectator cowering in the seat. But the technology never caught on. Large 70 mm screens and Dolby surround sound created the illusion of depth and immersion much better.
There have been attempts to revive it with films like ‘Avatar’ but with very little success. It’s only the kids and, adults who refuse to grow up who value 3-D effects in immersive Virtual Reality.
Those addicted to Science Fiction have always been open to the idea of many more dimensions than length, width and height. But, no need to digress into abstract realms of physics and mathematics. Hasn’t our food always been three dimensional? As a matter of fact, the seductive drooling anticipation of flavours triggered by aromas, lingering taste summoned up by memories uncannily in unguarded moments remind us that the fourth dimension –time has much to do with our enjoyment of food. What then explains the exciting buzz about 3-D Printed Foods?
3-D printers made their appearance more than a couple of decades back as an innovative application of pneumatic extrusion technology and were hyped as an invention that would have applications in diverse areas from architectural design to medicine.
The first generation of 3-D printers worked with plastic threads that could be squeezed through a nozzle liquifying them through the application of heat. Subsequent passes of the nozzle added layers over the first layer. The design of the object was fed into the computer and the printer produce cost-effective parts or prototypes. It took quite some time before chefs in the kitchen and technologists in food companies discovered this tool.
Low hanging fruit was plucked first. Companies like Hersheys tried these machines to make sugar sculptures and chocolate mousses. Then the Italian companies joined the race with pasta printers. Spaghetti with different sauces came out of the printer in individual portions closely resembling the traditional stuff. However, the 3-D printer can’t meet the needs of all cuisines. 2013 witnessed the experimentation with in vitro meat farming via a 3-D printer. This was not confined to mock-vegan protein-based meats but composing chicken, beef, pork, etc from derivatives obtained in a sustainable humane manner. The Indian Institute of Food Processing Technology at Thanjavur is one of the few places where the topic is being researched in the Indian context. It has printed customized snacks savoury cookies as per the wishes of schoolchildren in the neighbourhood.
Those working in the labs here have the Indian context in sharp focus. Most Indians like to have their meals piping hot. Preparing an Indian meal involves more than turning meat patties or mother sauces. Vegetables complement cereals and lentils. 3-D food printers have a long way to go before they can dish out ‘combos’ we are used to. The spicing is multi-staged and nuanced. Food is first infused with spice pastes that are stir-fried. Then finished with ‘tempering’. These operations are not easy to replicate in a printer.
The softest plastic threads are much harder and stronger than edible ‘yarn’ obtained from vegetables and lentils. Even if this obstacle is surmounted the problem of fragility of 3-D printed food structured would remain. The challenge of replicating shape, colour, texture and taste in recipes in non-Western cuisines is complex. The optimists keep suggesting by-products for the 3-D food printer. These machines can be used for recycling peels and waste to produce food-grade packaging or easy to chew food for senior citizens who have difficulty in mastication. The greatest obstacle at present is the high cost of 3-D printers for domestic use. Even in the commercial domain, post-printing processing costs aren’t negligible. The slow speed of printing has also retarded the proliferation of this technology. Issues of toxicity and contamination of ingredients as they pass through the ‘assembly line’ of the printer persist and will have to be addressed to allay the fears of consumers.
Magic of 80s: Raj Babbar & Padmini Kolhapure talk about their latest web series Dil Bekaraar
In this exclusive conversation as part of NewsX India A-List, Raj Babbar and Padmini Kolhapure spoke about their latest web series ‘Dil Bekaraar’ on Hotstar, which is set in the 80s.
Actors Raj Babbar and Padmini Kolhapure joined NewsX for a candid chat as part of its special series NewsX India A-List. In the exclusive conversation, the duo spoke about their latest web series Dil Bekaraar on Hotstar, which is set in the 80s.
Speaking about what attracted him to the show, Raj Babbar said, “My first priority is my work. I give a lot of time to a lot of things but I thought this is my identity. If I am known as Raj Babbar, it is because of Mumbai and the Hindi Film Industry recognised me as a performer. No matter where I go, people recognise me as an actor and then other adjectives on whatever I am. I realise that I should give priority to the actor side of me, which gave me this recognition and gave me a place in the society. That’s why I feel my first priority is my work.”
He added, “When I heard this story, I remembered a book that I had read sometime in the past. It was a bestseller at that time. It was called, ‘Those Pricey Thakur Girls’ and it stayed in the mind. When I heard this story, I felt very nice, a very interesting subject and I am doing a very beautiful role in it. I found the innocence of 80s, magic of 80s in this. That romance, the comedy, all of this is beautifully captured in this. The USP of the 80s that people used to think is evil is the corruption and the corrupt is the evil. These fiery girls, my 5 daughters, they are brilliant and also very fiery and ambitious. It is this very interesting thing, which attracted me. When I heard the narration and got to know that Padmini ji and Poonam ji are doing this, I said okay. I got this confidence that we will be in majority. Meher and Akshay are beautiful actors. They are very energetic people and it was fun working with them.”
When the same question was posed to Padmini Kolhapure, she responded, “The first attraction was Mr Habib Faisal. I have seen his work and he is a brilliant director. After working with him, I realised truly how meticulous he is. This script and this story demanded a lot of nuances to recreate the 80s era, which he has done brilliantly. He has lived that era and knows a lot about it. We have been there and done that so it wasn’t very difficult for Raj, Poonam or me to do this. More challenging probably for the youngsters because they don’t know what the 80s era was. I am sure that they would have had to work on every little thing. Second thing was the production house, so it was Smriti Shinde and Sobo films and then the OTT platform, which was Disney + Hotstar, so what better could I have asked for. You have Raj Babbar, Poonam Dhillon, Akshay, Seher, Aditya. This entire ensemble cast and to top it all, my role. It being a web series, it runs into a couple of episodes so it was not like I am playing a primary character in it but I am playing a very important role. It is a very colourful role, which I was quite amused while performing. Every time I would finish my role, I would just look back and laugh. I’d say to myself, what am I doing? It is really beautiful when you are an actor and performing such challenging roles. You realise what an actor you can be and what can come out. With a good director and co-actors, you can just create magic.”
END OF AN ERA: PT BIRJU MAHARAJ LEAVES BEHIND A RICH LEGACY
Such was his control on his footwork, he could stop all other ghunghroos and produce the sound of a single ghunghroo with delicate execution.
Pandit Birju Maharaj was arguably the greatest exponent of Kathak dance of his generation. Born as Brijmohan Nath Mishra, he inherited Kathak in his genes and grew up in the house of Kathak maestros such as his father and guru Pt Jagannath ‘Achhan’ Maharaj and uncles Pt Shambhu Maharaj and Pt Lachhu Maharaj. He added fascinating elements of ‘shringar’ and ‘abhinay’ to the illustrious legacy of Lucknow’s “Kalka-Bindadin gharana”.
Pt Birju Maharaj with Ambassador Surendra Kumar at the IAFA event remembering Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore at NMML.Pt Birju Maharaj lighting the inaugural lamp at an IAFA event, an evening of Indian Kathak dance and American Jazz at India Habitat CentrePt Birju Maharaj, Ambassador Surendra Kumar and US CDA MaryKay Carlson with participating artists at India Habitat Centre
Birju Maharaj had tremendous control on his footwork while dancing with agility. No doubt hundreds of tiny ghunghroos create a rhythmic sound. But with delicate execution, he could stop all other ghunghroos and produce the sound of a single ghunghroo! When a dozen dancers descended on the stage in dazzling dresses, dancing in unending circles as if in a trance, it presented an unforgettable spectacle.
He was a great story-teller and created dance ballets based not only on stories of Radha Krishna but a host of other subjects also. In fact, I met him for the first time at Ravindralay in Lucknow in 1975 where he was staging ‘Sham-e-Awadh’, an evening of the courts of the Nawabs of Awadh, which was a huge hit. He was a great choreographer who made Madhuri Dixit dance to his tunes in ‘Devdas’ and deservingly won Filmfare’s Best Choreographer award for Kamal Hassan’s ‘Vishwaroopam’ & Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s ‘Bajirao Mastani’.
Birju Maharaj was also associated with Satyajit Ray’s ‘Shatranj Ke Khiladi’ for dance sequences. Under his direction, his senior most and ablest disciple Saswati Sen, who has now grown up to be a guru in her own right, presented ‘Romeo Juliet’ in Kathak style in Glasgow, UK. For years, Birju Maharaj and Saswati made a fetching and graceful pair on the stage.
In 1984, when I was serving in Syria, a dozen of his disciples, including his sons Deepak and Jaikishan Maharaj, nephew Ram Mohan and favourite disciple Durga Arya, presented Kathak dance performances. In Damascus, when Durga Arya danced in 73 non-stop circles, the whole hall was in a frenzy. She was later presented with an embroidered ‘chaddar’ as a mark of appreciation.
In 1988, I met Birju Maharaj at the Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan in London at an event where Prince Charles, who had succeeded Lord Mountbatten as the Patron of the Bhawan, was also present.
In 2001, he came to our residence in Chicago along with Saswati Sen and endeared himself to everyone with his disarming simplicity and unassuming nature. He treated me like his younger brother and seldom said ‘no’ to my demands on his time. It was my tribute to him that the back cover of my coffee-table book “In the Minds of the Maestros” carried only Birju Maharaj’s picture. He released this book along with Dr Karan Singh at Ravi Shankar Centre in Chanakyapuri, Delhi, in the presence of Dr Sonal Mansingh.
In 11 years of the existence of Indian Academy of Fine Arts (IAFA), he appeared in several of its panel discussions such as “Kabira Kharayat Bazaar Mein” at India International Centre (IIC), “Remembering Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore” at Nehru Memorial Museum and Library (NMML) and “Pt Ravi Shankar, 90 Not Out” at Islamic Culture Centre, all in Delhi.
He and his disciples participated in IAFA’s musical soirée “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” at The Instituto Cervantes, Delhi. In 2019, a total of 24 artists from his ‘Kalashram’ participated in IAFA program, in association with the American Embassy, “An evening of Indian Kathak & American Jazz” which was also attended by the American Chargé d’affaires (CDA) MaryKay Carlson at Stein Hall in India Habitat Centre, Delhi.
Courteous to a fault and a man of a few soft-spoken words, he was a pleasing singer in Hindustani style. He could sing Thumris for hours. Though he was honoured with the country’s second highest civilian award Padma Vibhushan, Sangeet Natak Award, Kalidas Samman and dozens of other prestigious awards as well as two honorary doctorate degrees to his credit, it was the boundless love of his fans and admirers that he valued the most.
An outstanding artist of his stature should have been nominated to the Rajya Sabha long back and the Ministry of Culture should have offered him a decent accommodation for life. A ‘D-II’ type accommodation at Pandara Park provided to him certainly wasn’t appropriate for his stature and calibre.
He was the unofficial ‘cultural ambassador’ of India for over 60 years who enthralled thousands of connoisseurs of Indian classical dance in India and abroad. Maharaj was a Kathak legend who also produced dozens of dancers at ‘Kathak Kendra’ as well as at his own Kalashram. Now, several of his disciples have been teaching dance at their own institutes as is the case with Shovana Narain. Without Pt Birju Maharaj, the Kathak world will never be the same again. May his soul rest in peace!
The Author is a former Indian ambassador
ANTI-MILITARY PROTESTS WILL INTENSIFY IN SUDAN
Anti-military protests are likely to intensify in Sudan after security forces killed seven protesters. As per the local media reports, seven people were killed and dozens injured as the security forces used gunshots and tear gas to stop lakhs of protesters who were marching towards the presidential palace in Khartoum, the capital of Sudan.
The groups who were leading the protest movement told the media that in the coming days a massive protest against the massacre committed by the military would be organised. Spokesperson of one protesting group named Committee of Sudanese Doctors said, “They also fired live ammunition and stun grenades, the security forces did a massacre today, what we demand is civilian rule and democracy,”.
Many countries condemned the violence and the United States’s Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee is heading to Sudan to assess the situation and has called the military to end violence and respect freedom of expression. Political parties in Sudan had announced two days of civil disobedience in protest against the current violence.
Huge crowds have regularly taken to the streets demanding a return to civilian rule since the military coup on October 25. The power grab by military chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan more than two months ago dismantled a precarious power-sharing arrangement between the military and civilians established in the wake of the April 2019 ouster of longtime autocrat Omar al-Bashir.
Sudan, a country located in Northeast Africa is the third-largest country by area in Africa and the Arab League had seen many coups in the past and the current military coup resulted in the capture of the civilian government, including former Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok. The coup was led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan who subsequently declared a state of emergency. On November 21, Hamdok was reinstated as prime minister after a political agreement was signed by Abdel Fattah al-Burhan to restore the transition to civilian rule. The 14-point deal called for the release of all political prisoners detained during the coup and stipulated that a 2019 constitutional declaration continued to be the basis for a political transition. On January 2, Hamdok announced his resignation from the position of Prime Minister which led to this current wave of protest.
PROMINENT CITIZENS URGE KERALA CM TO SHELVE SILVERLINE PROJECT
Forty prominent citizens urged Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to freeze the proposed semi high-speed SilverLine railway project. The signatories include scientists and environmentalists.
In a letter to Kerala Chief Minister, these citizens raised serious apprehensions that the proposed independent high-speed railway system called SilverLine will spell disaster to Kerala society in multiple ways. They have pointed out that the two areas of exceptional concern are the state government’s fragile public finance and the increasing ecological vulnerability of the State. “What dismays us beyond words is that the Kerala government has come out with this fully debt-funded, foreign technology-based, the independent rail system in a unilateral declaratory fashion, without a much-needed political consensus and public debate. Therefore, we appeal to the Chief Minister to urgently take into account the following suggestions, made in the spirit of inclusive democracy,” the letter reads.
The letter suggests the Kerala government to drop this massive project until a diligent articulation of the priorities in the making of a New Kerala is in place.
It further said that the Kerala government should come out with a white paper spelling out the state of affairs in the transportation system, covering the existing five modes – road, rail, air, inland water and coastal waters.
The concerned citizens appeal to the government to rigorously explore all the options in enhancing the existing Indian Railway system in Kerala, citing it “more cost-effective than the currently proposed system” and to discuss the State’s transportation problems and its remedies in the Kerala Legislative Assembly.
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