A Case for Homemade Alcohol in Kerala

I am pretty sure my dear readers are well aware of the political situation regarding availability of alcohol in Kerala, my home state. Considered one of the prominent states in India with regards to consumption of alcohol, Keralites have been criticized even by the former President of India who said that Kerala is submerged in liquor. But I am tempted to ask – are things so bad in Kerala?

Some Statistics

According to the World Health Organization census of 2010, India is not even on the top 100 highest drinking nations. If I counted the list right, India ranks 118th which is in no way a bad thing especially by the fact that India is the second most populous country in the world. Now what is the status of Kerala? According to the National Sample Survey Office, Kerala ranks 18th in the consumption of alcohol and other habit forming substances. A state ranked 18th in a country that is ranked 118th globally statistically adds up to nothing in the grand scheme of things. I think more reforms should happen in states like Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Arunachal Pradesh than here.

The Sad State of Affairs

From the lessons we learned from statistics, it is clear that most of the issues that the media and the government is painting for us follows the Malayalam phrase – ഊതി പെരുപ്പിക്കൽ (Oothi Perupikkal) which means “blowing out of proportion”. For little or no reason this subject is brought up in the news to create some kind of a sensationalism to push forward an agenda. And the last time I checked, it has not done anyone any good. I will give a few examples:

  • The Dry Day Nonsense – “Dry Day” is a day that is observed with total abstinence from liquor. Theoretically it should mean no one consumes liquor on that particular day. But is it working? For the past few years Kerala has been observing “Dry Day” on the 1st of every month. That’s great but one should note that the clever people here buy and stock their required alcohol on the previous day itself. Recently a new “Dry Day” has been imposed on Sundays. Has that changed anything? Absolutely not. People are buying and stocking on Saturdays. So what is this game that the government is playing? Creating an impression that it is doing something and in effect doing nothing!
  • Capitalizing on a Non-Issue – Till date I haven’t understood what the anti-alcohol fellows really want. Last day I heard in the news that tourists are coming to Kerala not for drinking but for sight seeing. That may be true, but how many tourist spots are there across the world where alcohol is banned? Not many I guess. I will let the readers Google that for me. Banning liquor altogether or restricting it in unrealistic ways is going to adversely affect the tourism in Kerala which is an excellent source of revenue for the state. The curious aspect of this problem is that a total ban is not going to be implemented in many five star hotels. So what is going on here? Banning the local bars and liquor shops but letting the big fishes run does not seem fair and proper. It looks more like a sinister agenda which the government is liable to explain.
  • Accidents and Crimes – Most people site accidents and rising crime levels on alcohol consumption. I am not sure whether that correlation is correct. Crimes take place due to several factors most of which are poverty, competition, disputes, intolerance, ignorance and plain hatred. Alcohol may aggravate these situations and tendencies but that is not the only factor. A violent and evil person will commit a crime even if he/she is not intoxicated. And is alcohol the only intoxicant? These days even young students in schools are coming up with increasingly fancy methods to intoxicate themselves (including smelling the paper correction liquid) thereby coming under the influence of anti-social elements. Next is the possibility of accidents. For that all I can say is that even sober people cannot drive properly in the roads of Kerala let alone an intoxicated one. I think if the government moves forward with reforms in constructing better roads than wasting time on non-issues, we will have lesser road accidents, drunken or otherwise.

Considering the sad state of affairs, what can be done so that both people and the government are happy?

An Elegant Solution

This is where the requirement of brewing and distilling at home becomes important. There are several countries where brewing and distilling at home is permitted and I think the people of Kerala should adopt that practice and the government should allow the same by making it legal. Of course it should be restricted to only personal use as it is done in the countries where it is legal. It is not only an elegant solution but I think it is the only solution in our current circumstances. The following are some of the advantages of brewing liquor at home:

  • Regulated Drinking – A proper liquor requires time and effort from inception to consumption. It can span from a few days to several years depending on the type of liquor being produced. With all the efforts involved in producing good quality liquor from brewing to distilling to aging in wooden barrels, the producers won’t feel like doing binge drinking which is touted up as a major problem in the state. In fact the person will start respecting his health more and will drink only within the healthy limits as is done in most countries known for drinking.
  • Understanding Scientific Method – An educated person knows that knowledge of chemistry can improve the quality of medicines, food and of course liquor. Creating a better brew will push the person to learn more about the chemistry behind the processes involved thereby giving him a deeper understanding and insights into science. From setting up the apparatus to monitoring progress to making notes about changes and patterns are all part of scientific method and liquor brewing is a fantastic hobby to inspire scientific thinking.
  • Quality at Low Cost – Taxation on liquor is seriously a big problem. And is the liquor sold in Kerala worth the money spent? Certainly not! The “Indian Made Foreign Liquor” is one of the most idiotic liquids I have ever consumed. It tastes bad to say the least and has all sorts of additives that creates the feeling “Why on Earth did I even drink it?” So why bother spending all that money on something which is nothing more than flavor mixed spirit? Buying an imported liquor is not possible for many people. But if they can follow the exact procedure in producing imported liquor at the comfort of their homes, they can have the quality that they desire at a much lower cost. Further, the creative hobby of homebrewing and distilling also lets people customize the process to produce the flavor and feel that they like the most.
  • Solving a Paradox – Wine which contains alcohol anywhere from 8% to 20% is allowed to be made at home. Beer which has only 5% to 6% alcohol is not allowed. That makes no sense. Why can’t I make beer at home when I can make wine?

If government wants to forfeit their revenue made from liquor that is fine with me. But please let people make their own stuff for their own personal use. Even if the government implements a total ban, what is the guarantee that there won’t be an illegal inflow of liquor from outside?

A Caveat

I believe my point has been made clear. Some information I have given in this article are referenced whereas others are my own assumptions and inferences and should be taken as such. However, the readers should not misunderstand me. I neither endorse alcoholism nor intend to promote drinking habits among any person from any place in any form. Drinking like any other habits should be restricted to people who have attained the age to make their own choices and decisions. However, I couldn’t help but point out the seemingly nonsensical ways by which the current government is creating an issue just to show that they are doing something.

References

Mars Orbiter Mission – The Journey Ahead

Mars Orbiter Mission - "Mangalyaan"

Mars Orbiter Mission – “Mangalyaan” (Artist’s Impression)

It makes me proud to write the sequel to the article I had written on 5th November 2013, the day India launched her first mission to Mars. The remarkable level of precision achieved by ISRO scientists while inserting the Mars Orbiter spacecraft also known as Mangalyaan into orbit this morning shows the technological prowess that the country has achieved ever since it started its space programme.

Today as ISRO is celebrating its most critical success, I can’t help but remember the scene from the film Contact where Eleanor Arroway played by Jodie Foster talks about what it means to be a visionary. Seeing far into the future is the mark of all visionaries especially those working on space programmes. It takes a lot of thinking to stop oneself from asking the question, “Will this help common people?” I was asked the same question back on 2008 when the Large Hadron Collider was started. Whether scientific endeavors help people immediately is not the right question to ask in my opinion.

As I have mentioned in one of my previous writings, it is hard to predict what would come out of a new scientific project. For example, nobody knew that nonstick frying pans, PET Scans, WiFi and other things that make our lives more meaningful would come out of research in space sciences and technology. These are things that came as spinoffs while scientists worked on various space related projects. Thus there is no way we can disregard endeavors into space just because they are too expensive.

MOM Mission Summary (Image by ISRO)

MOM Mission Summary (Image by ISRO)

Since I mentioned expense, the MOM is actually less expensive compared to the Mars missions of other countries such as the USA and the former Soviet Union. Even our neighbor who recently had the audacity to declare hostility to us after a bilateral meeting failed to achieve what we have. Even though the mission is less expensive with a small payload, I think we should look at it as a stepping stone to greater missions.

MOM has made India the only country that succeeded in a Mars mission in the first attempt. It won’t be enough to just admire our scientists on a blog post like this but I have to do it nevertheless. Now that we know how to put a satellite around Mars, the next logical step obviously would be to make a landing. But before going that far we must launch more satellite-like missions. Also I think we should try missions that are similar to the Phobos-Grunt of Russia. The ability to bring back samples from such a far away place should be the next stage in our space programme. Returning to Earth is also important for human missions to Mars. Settlement is one thing but the ability to return to Earth equally important

Since we are developing our indigenous lunar rover, we will also be able to develop a Mars rover like the ones used by NASA. So, looking into the future, I can say that we will soon be able to achieve whatever USA and USSR did during the Cold War era. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the level of success of future missions by ISRO would be even greater than what was achieved by the cold warring nations considering the advancements in technology.

PSLV - The workhorse of Indian Space Programme

PSLV – The workhorse of Indian Space Programme

What more can we think about? Will there be a human spaceflight to Mars by ISRO? Will we overtake NASA before 2030? A quick look at the ISRO website and Wikipedia will reveal that India is indeed taking deep space missions seriously. Next year the solar mission called Aditya – 1 and a mission to Venus is planned by ISRO. And there are preparations already underway for a human spaceflight of a crew of two. And of course there is the Chandrayaan – 2, which as I mentioned before will use a rover.

Thus the time is not far before Indian astronauts walk the surface of Moon and Mars and also venture into the far reaches of deep space. To quote Star Trek, “To boldly go where no one has gone before” will be and should be the motto of our future endeavors into space. As we advance into a high-tech future social issues such as poverty and war would cease to exist as we become a technologically advanced super civilization!

The Purpose of Life?

G. K. Chesterton once said,  “Do not be so open-minded that your brains fall out.” Variations of this quote has been used by many. For example Richard Dawkins has been heard saying, “By all means let’s be open-minded, but not so open-minded that our brains drop out.” It reflects a slight amount of frustration prevalent among the atheist community to which I also belong. We must be inclusive to other ideas that may or may not contradict with our own but we shouldn’t be too inclusive that it amounts to frustration.

The Uninvited Argument

Recently an interesting incident took place at my workplace. As an atheist I often have uninvited guests who find entertainment in taking up meaningless debates with me. What annoys me is that the people who come to argue with me already make an assumption that I do not know the answers to their questions. Further, they don’t have the patience to listen to the answers I give. And when they find that I do have the answers, they get uncomfortable and impatient and often threatened.

I was talking about a recent Malayalam movie “Prabhuvinte Makkal” to my co-worker. It was an openly atheistic movie targeted against the so called “living Gods”, the frauds who prey on the money of desperate naïve masses. Another co-worker of mine objected to it and I told him that it took me several years to convince myself to become an atheist and that it was not a one day process. He joked saying that it is better for me to find an atheist girl because otherwise there would be conflict everyday. As we were laughing, another colleague of mine arrived at our bay and asked what was being discussed. So my co-worker told, “The subject is atheism“. Immediately he made a statement, “There is definitely a force behind everything in the universe.” Being a fan of Carl Sagan, I knew that if we had to pursue the question of existence courageously, we must ask the next question, “Where did the creator come from?” I did exactly that. An argument ensued thereafter. The following is a rough transcript of it (from my memory):

Colleague: “If you don’t answer with another question, shall I ask you something?”

Me: Sure. But if your answer requires me to counter with a question, I would certainly do that.

Colleague: Okay. Which came first? Chicken or egg?

Me: That’s not a question because egg laying reproduction evolved over time much before birds even came into existence. So I would say it is neither chicken nor the egg that came first.

Colleague: Just because Darwin said something doesn’t mean we have to accept it.

Me: Come on! In the past 150 years since Darwin’s work, every possible experiment has been conducted on evolution and it has passed every time. In fact the theory is so powerful that it has been applied in so many different fields. Next time you take an antibiotic, think about Darwin.

Colleague: I won’t do that!

Me: See, this double standard is what makes me irritated. You want all the benefits of science but still want to speak against it.

Colleague: I am not speaking against science. Tell me this – Is there a diameter to the universe?

Me: The observable universe has a diameter of a few billion light years. Why?

Colleague: Has science been able to find out what is beyond that?

Me: No. But does that mean that you should fill in that gap with a God? Shouldn’t we wait for more scientific data to explain things?

Colleague: Where did atoms come from?

Me: Through the process of nucleosynthesis. Initial atoms were formed during a transition from radiation dominated phase to matter dominated phase. Heavier atoms were cooked inside stars.

Colleague: What is the purpose of life?

Me: To propagate our DNA. That’s the prime directive. Everything else is optional.

Colleague: It’s a big question as to whether everything God or everything is science.

My Interpretations

The last statement of his is meaningless and you would have already guessed that the conversation didn’t go well. He didn’t allow me to complete most of the sentences that I have mentioned here. Most of the time he would cut me off and ask the next question. This is a tactic employed by many creationists. The idea is to frustrate the opponent in order to “win” the argument. Finally he said that he will wait for the return of another colleague from long leave so that he will have back up to argue. And after every answer I gave, he was simply smiling and shaking his head like a fool.

The chicken or egg argument is a very funny one. Anyone who cares to look up the evolutionary history will know that egg laying has been there long before birds walked the earth. From fishes to amphibians to reptiles to birds, there is so much convincing evidence for the transition. I have repeatedly written in my previous blog posts about evolution and its applications. Darwin is not the only scientist who worked on evolution. There have been thousands since him but creationists are still stuck with Darwin. Every experiment that one can imagine has been conducted with evolution and every time the theory and its predictions have been proven to be right. If that is not evidence for its correctness I don’t know what is.

By definition universe means all that there is. When we take that definition into consideration, “beyond the diameter of the universe” doesn’t make any sense. Of course, being able to observe is limited by the technology of our time. There may be a multiverse but that is a concept in cosmology that is not agreed upon by many. And my great debater didn’t mention multiverse in his argument because if he had I would have sat with him and discussed some more. According to him, being unable to know what is beyond the observable universe due to lack of advanced technology is somehow evidence for God. He is unwilling to concede to the fact that science is progressive in nature. He can’t accept that what was not known in the past is now known and therefore science will definitely figure out more things in future. How hard is it to grasp?

I am not surprised that many people do not know where atoms came from. Few months ago when I was talking about stellar nucleosynthesis to a friend, he was surprised to know that heavy elements are cooked inside stars. My issue is the reluctance of people to look up and figure things out in this information age. I am not saying that we should run to Google on each and every thing or be in front of the computer reading Wikipedia all the time. But it is definitely advisable to read at least once in a while about subjects like oceanography, astronomy, geology etc. It doesn’t hurt to know how the world we live in works.

Coming to the main topic of this article, what is really the purpose of life? I have been asked many times this question. Being an atheist doesn’t mean we lack any “purpose” in life or any moral values. Just because we exist does not mean that it has to “mean” something or there is some kind of “divine purpose” behind it. We exist because our parents gave birth to us. Since we live in a society, we do have certain obligations to set goals in life and try achieving it but again that is not mandatory. Nobody is forbidding us from going and living in a jungle if we so choose. So do atheists live with ethics and morals? Yes we do. And frankly our morals are in fact found to be far superior to religious people.

What would convince me?

Having said all of this, suppose I agree that there could be a God, what should be the nature of the evidence to convince me? Evidence as I wrote before can be direct or indirect. For example, the CMB (Cosmic Microwave Background) may contain tell tale signs of a pre-big bang event. Scientists believe that events prior to the big bang event may have produced certain signatures in the CMB that can be detected and interpreted. I am not saying you should go and check CMB for the evidence for God. I am trying to show you the nature of evidence that you should bring to the table. The idea that a God wants to create the universe and maintain it without any shred of his/her/its existence doesn’t digest well in the mind of a person with scientific curiosity.

Now, if you bring a cosmologically significant evidence doesn’t mean I would convert immediately. I will ask for peer-reviewed evaluation of your evidence. It should be scrutinized by other scientists and its validity checked. Further, the experiment you suggest should be repeatable and produce the exact same results. If the scientific community rejects your “evidence”, I wouldn’t accept it either.

Still I will ask the question “Where did the creator come from?” and that my dear readers is a question that creationists keep evading every time. What’s wrong in admitting if we do not know the answer? It’s not an offense to not know an answer. The offense is not accepting that fact and continuing to take up circular arguments that never get anywhere.

So in conclusion, my creationist friends should stop feeling threatened by atheists. We are not evil people with evil agenda just because we don’t agree to your prehistoric beliefs. In fact we are much less evil than you are. And we really don’t need a God to be moral. If you require a God to distinguish from right and wrong then you probably need psychiatric help in my opinion.

Why Study Astrophysics?

The study of our universe

Cosmology – The study of our universe

I am often asked why I am so obsessed with studying astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology etc. which serves no practical purpose to anyone. The people who ask such questions entertain the notion that anything that does not give immediate monetary benefit is not worth pursuing. In this article I will try as much as possible to highlight the benefits of pursuing pure science such as astrophysics. I will be using the words astronomy and astrophysics interchangeably as differentiating the two is not the main aim here.

I am not a professional astronomer. I study the subject out of pure passion or as hobby. However, I can certainly answer this question. Astrophysics to me is an eternal subject. The study of our universe will continue as long as the universe exists and therefore the subject of astronomy will stay on for trillions of years into the future (or at least till any intelligent species can make the study.)  We exist because the universe exists and that makes the study of our universe the most important of all subjects in my opinion.

A person who does not have any training in astrophysics or for someone who thinks he or she is too “practical” may not be convinced with this answer. For such people, any subject should have the potential of generating immediate revenue. In their point of view, the trendiest subjects that have a career potential in the market are the ones people should be pursuing. That point of view is not essentially wrong. However, these so called trendy subjects are like soap bubbles. They form and then get destroyed after a period of time. People pursuing them always run a risk because if the subject of their choice goes down in popularity, they are forced to learn the next trending subject in the job market.

Space science as a subject does not suffer from this problem. It has lived on ever since the dawn of human civilization and is bound to continue into the foreseeable future. Besides, making money in my opinion should not be our pursuit as a race of intelligent beings. Our world is slowly moving towards a non-monetary one and thus our real pursuit should be the attainment of knowledge and its applications.

Astrophysics - A pure science

Astrophysics – A pure science

As I said, astrophysics is a pure science. If you ask any astrophysicist as to whether a particular theory found by him or her has an immediate application in daily life, he or she may say that there aren’t any. However, the same thing can be told about many other subjects. I have added some references that will tell you about many subjects that fall into the category of being “useless” to the “practical” folks but are still pursued by thousands. Hence, it is not something that one must criticize astronomy with. No subject is useless. In the hand of the right person, the scope of any subject is limitless.

If you are willing to delve deep enough, you will know that astronomy is actually a field with a lot of practical applications. Of course the applications come indirectly and eventually but the impact is profound. Astronomy is a frontier research field. In order to do any kind of research in it, you need cutting edge technology. The study of astronomy thus pushes the limits of our current technology thereby contributing to the development of new and innovative methods in terms of instruments, processes and software to get things done. Therefore, pushing research in astronomy will push research in other fields when these technologies are used in the broader sense.

The benefits of astronomy comes from technology transfer i.e. by transferring the technology that was originally invented for astronomy into various applications in the industry. Some areas where we can see the fruits of research in astronomy are optics, electronics, advanced computing, communication satellites, solar panels and MRI Scanners.  Even though it takes time before an application of a research in astrophysics finds its way into our daily life, the impact it eventually makes is worth the wait. Astronomy also has revolutionized our way of thinking by constantly giving us new ideas throughout history.

Let’s now look at a few examples where the research in space sciences and technology is helping humans around the world:

Medicine

MRI Scanner

MRI Scanner

Perhaps the most important application of astronomy for us would be its technology transfer to medicine. Both astronomy and medicine requires us to see objects with ever more precision and resolution in order be accurate and detailed in our analysis. The most notable among the applications is the method of aperture synthesis. It was developed by the radio astronomer Martin Ryle of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. His technology is now used in Computerized Tomography which is commonly called CT scan. It is also used in Magnetic Resonance Imaging or MRI and Positron Emission Tomography or PET in addition to other imaging methods.

The Cambridge Automatic Plate Measuring Facility has collaborated with a drug company whereby blood samples from leukemia patients can be analyzed much faster. This helps in better accuracy in medication.  The method that is now used for non-invasive way to detect tumors was originally developed by radio astronomers. It helped increase the true-positive detection rate of breast cancer to 96%.

The heating control systems of neonatology units, i.e. units for newborn babies were initially developed as small thermal sensors to control telescope instrument. The low energy X-ray scanner used for outpatient surgery, sports injuries etc. was developed by NASA. It is also used by the Food and Drug Administration of USA to study the contamination in pills. The software that is used for processing satellite pictures is also helping medical researches to do wide scale screening of Alzheimer’s disease.

The Earth System

Asteroid 2011 MD

Asteroid 2011 MD

Our planet is under the constant influence of the Sun and our climate depends on it greatly. Studying the dynamics of the sun and other stars thus help us have a better understanding of Earth’s climate and its effects. Studying the solar system, especially asteroids tell us about the potential threats that they pose to the Earth. We do not want to be wiped out like the dinosaurs and studying potentially hazardous objects give us insights into how we can protect ourselves in time of a catastrophe. Even the recent passage of the asteroid 2011 MD dangerously close to Earth is a reminder that we should accelerate development of technologies to prevent an impact. Missions to asteroids also give us opportunities to test our technologies in future space exploration and also give insights into subjects such as geology.  It is also important to do space exploration as part of our long term exploitation of space based resources.

Industry

Charge Coupled Device

Charge Coupled Device

In industry, there are many technology transfers that can be cited. For instance, the Kodak Technical Pan was a film originally developed to use in solar astronomy to record the changes on the surface structure of the Sun. It is now used by industrial photographers, medical and industrial spectroscopy specialists and industrial artists. Until recently, the Technical Pan was also used to detect diseased crops and forests, in dentistry and medical diagnosis. It was also used for probing layers of paintings to check for forgery.

The Charge Coupled Devices or CCDs were first used in astronomy in 1976 as sensors for astronomical image capture. This Nobel Prize winning discovery not only replaced film in telescopes but also in personal cameras and mobile phones.

IDL or Interactive Data Language is used for data analysis in astronomy. It is now also used by companies such as General Motors to analyze data from car crashes. This means that astronomy is contributing to research in vehicle safety.

IRAF or Image Reduction and Analysis Facility is a collection of software written by the National Optical Astronomy Observatory. It is used by AT&T to analyze computer systems and to do graphics in solid-state physics.

Communication

GPS - Global Positioning System

GPS – Global Positioning System

Radio astronomy has given birth to excellent communication tools, devices and data processing methods. For example, the computer language FORTH was first developed in order to be used at the Kitt Peak Telescope. The founders of the language also created the company named Forth Inc. and the language is now being used widely by FedEx for their tracking services.

The satellites of Global Positioning System rely on distant astronomical objects such as quasars and other distant galaxies to determine accurate positions. So, next time you use GPS, remember the stars.

The most common everyday communication application of astronomy would be Wireless Local Area Network or WLAN. Astronomer John O’Sullivan in 1977 came up with a method to sharpen images from a radio telescope. It was later found to be useful in strengthening radio signals in computer networks thereby giving birth to WLAN.

Aerospace and Defense

Aerospace and Defense

Aerospace and Defense

Astronomy and the aerospace industry share many technologies that include telescope instrumentation, imaging and processing techniques for images. A defense satellite is basically a telescope that is pointed towards earth and thus use very identical technology and hardware to that of astronomy. The methods used to differentiate between rocket plumes and cosmic objects in stellar atmosphere models are similar as well. They are studied for use in early warning systems.

A device called solar-blind photon counter was once invented by astronomers to measure particles of light from a source without being overwhelmed by the particles from the Sun during the day. It is now used to detect the ultraviolet photons coming from the exhaust of a missile thereby aiding in UV missile warning system. It can also be used to detect toxic gases.

Energy Sector

Solar Panels - A source of clean energy

Solar Panels – A source of clean energy

The techniques developed to detect gravitational radiation produced by massive bodies in acceleration is used to determine the gravitational stability of underground oil reserves. That is a fantastic application in the energy industry.

The methods in astronomy can also be used for finding new fossil fuels in addition to evaluating the possibility of new renewable sources. Companies such as Texco and BP use IDL to do analysis of core samples around the oil fields. The graphic composite material that was initially developed for an orbiting telescope array is now being used by Ingenero in their solar radiation collectors.

The technology used in X-Ray telescopes to image X-Rays is now being researched for plasma fusion. If successful, it would lead to a boom in clean energy in future.

Education and International Collaboration

Astronomy in Schools

Astronomy in Schools

Astronomy is a great tool to stimulate young minds. If you want children to pursue careers in science and technology, astronomy can help a lot. It engages the minds of kids and helps them keep up to date with the happenings in the scientific world. This therefore affects not just astronomy but other subjects as well. Modern science is a more collaborative effort. And astronomy has been instrumental in bringing together many countries to collaborate on projects that require telescopes and other instruments located at multiple points in the world. Researchers travel around the world to work on these facilities. This brings in many other advantages such as cultural transfer as well.

From the examples I mentioned and countless other examples that you can find online, it is pretty clear that the study of the universe is very beneficial to humanity. There are many people around the world who are interested in the study of the universe but are thwarted by the pseudo-pragmatic folks who think the subject is useless. My suggestion to anyone who wishes to study the subject would be to not let others tell you how practical or impractical that subject is. If they do not like what you are doing, it is their problem, not yours. Half the people who advice you against the subject do not really know anything about its breadth and depth.

The Sextant - An ancient celestial navigation tool

The Sextant – An ancient celestial navigation tool

As mentioned before, astronomy changes the way we think and look at this world. Even before writing was invented, humans have looked up at the sky to make decisions regarding when to plan the crops, how to keep track of the days and months or how to navigate the seas. Some of the greatest quests of human kind would not have been possible if methods to study the skies weren’t invented. Where we came from and where we are going are deep philosophical questions that are yet to be answered. In my opinion, studying the cosmos using rigorous science is the only way to finally know the answer.

Before I end, I must thank astronomers Marissa Rosenberg and Pedro Russo and all the other eminent people whose insightful articles I have referred to create this write-up. I have added them as reference for anyone who wishes to read more about the advantages of investing their time and effort in studying astronomy, astrophysics, cosmology and related areas, which are considered pure science without any immediate practical value by many.

My father often quotes the old saying, “People will come and go, but the institution remains.” I would like to rephrase that and say, “People who oppose the study of our universe will come and go. But the universe will remain.

Bibliography

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The Illusion of Consciousness!

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley

Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley

Recently I have come to discover that there are so many great movies that I have been missing all these years. I am particularly referring to the Alien film franchise starring Sigourney Weaver as Ellen Ripley, an officer who is in an endless battle with an alien species in all the four installations of the movie. I can’t help wonder why I didn’t bother to watch this great movie so far. Today I finished watching the fourth installation and I must admit that I feel inspired by her character. I would certainly like being an officer like her in a spacecraft on a deep space mission. Anyway, the one thing especially in the fourth movie that caught me thinking is the resurrection part. Ripley was resurrected through cloning using the blood sample collected before she kills herself in Alien 3.

I am perfectly okay with cloning Ripley to resurrect her using her blood samples. But what puzzles me is that she possesses the memories of her past life once the process is complete. That simply doesn’t make sense. There was no way the memory could have gotten stored in her DNA. Obviously the memories weren’t stored in any retrieval unit either because there was no mention of that in the film. My problem is not whether she had her old memories or not. My problem is with the concept of consciousness. Let’s take cloning itself for example. If I clone myself completely and then transfer all my memories into this new person, he will lead his life thinking that he is me unless of course the final memories which contains information about the cloning is transferred as well. Even then there will be a confusion as to who is the “real me“.

Quantum Teleportation in Star Trek

Quantum Teleportation in Star Trek

So, unlike the villain’s point of view in the movie The 6th Day, we don’t get to live forever as our clones are the ones who look and feel exactly the same way as we do and also can possess our memories through transfer. But they are still not us.  A similar problem exists with Quantum Teleportation. The information of me is first transferred to the destination. For that the quantum states of all the particles that in my body must first be retrieved and stored into the teleportation system. Then I should be destroyed at the source. The information transferred will then be used to recreate “me” at the destination just like in Star Trek. Again it is a problem because the person at the destination will be my copy and not me. If the process fails to destroy me then I will be here at the source and to make matters worse, there will be another person who looks exactly like me and having my memories created at a destination thousands or even millions of miles away.

Atoms and Consciousness

Atoms and Consciousness

I don’t know how can the people who say this is not a problem justify it. However, when I think about it, the person sitting and typing this blog post right now is really not “me” either. Since my birth, the atoms in my body has been replaced through life’s processes such as consuming food, expelling waste, taking bath and so on. It is entirely possible that none of the atoms that originally made up my body in 1984 exists in my body today. But I still have the feeling of self or the feeling of consciousness about myself. That is quite hard to explain. Why do I feel this “uniqueness” about myself? So much that creating a clone of myself will not assure me immortality. It only assures the existence of another person like me.

Most of us are afraid of death as it brings to an end all the beautiful experiences that life offers us. Being truly immortal thus would mean keeping alive all the cherished memories and experiences forever. With more advanced technologies, the time is not far before we can backup our own memories. But will there be a way to store and retrieve the feeling of “self“? If I transfer my awareness of self to a computer, will the “self” leave me to enter the computer or will I still have it? If I still have the feeling of self then what is it that got transferred to the computer? These are not easy questions to answer and I am not sure whether theology can answer them any better because of the problems I just described.

Future Spacecraft to The Stars

Future Spacecraft to The Stars

I have a lot of faith in science. I feel that some day science will understand what exactly it means to be self-aware and also find a way to transfer this consciousness of self into a machine or a clone without creating the paradoxical situation mentioned above. I wish such a breakthrough happens during my lifetime. When the human race leaves Earth and starts to colonize other planets and reach distant stars in the future, I would certainly like to have a piece of that action. I seriously don’t wish to be in a situation where my consciousness dies with me and I miss all the great things the future human race will achieve. I would want my consciousness of self with all its memories to live forever either in a being like me or as a sentient being if the technology of the future allows.

The Four Roads to Atheism

I have met very intelligent religious people. I have also met very dumb religious people. Curiously however, I have never seen a dumb atheist. All atheists I know personally and all the ones I have read about and seen in the media happen to be exceptionally intelligent people. This is not a proclamation that I am very intelligent though I am an atheist. Rather from what I have observed, an atheist always comes out as a thinking person. I am yet to come across an atheist who does not think for himself or herself.

In this article, I wish to describe the four roads that one can take in order to discard their religious faith and become an atheist, if they so choose. These are also roughly the paths I took to convince myself and I think that any atheist who shunned his or her religion would have taken the same four paths. I hope that the reader will start thinking once he or she has finished reading this article. Please forgive me for including many quotes from famous atheists here. I hope they don’t bore or provoke you. 

Without much ado, the four roads to atheism are as follows:

The Road of Science

Let us begin with a quote from Bertrand Russell – “When you are studying any matter or considering any philosophy, ask yourself only: what are the facts, and what is the truth that the facts bear out. Never let yourself be diverted by what you wish to believe but look only and surely at what are the facts.

Science is not just physics, chemistry and biology. Science is a way of thinking. It is not a product, but a process. It is a way of critically and skeptically looking at things. The interesting part is that you don’t have to be a scientist to think scientifically.  This basic understanding regarding science is necessary to understand the scientific path to atheism or even atheism itself. If you believe that science is just a bunch of theories written in textbooks, you are missing the point.

When we look at our civilization, we see that things that were not known at one point of time are known today. History is proof that what we do not know today will be known tomorrow. Ancient humans didn’t understand why seasons change, why water flows, why things fall, why lightning occurs and so on. They feared these phenomena and started associating divine and/or supernatural entities to them. However, as time went by our species eventually did find the right answers and discarded the divine entities associated with each phenomenon one by one. Today we have convincing and evidence based answers to all those questions that intrigued the minds of ancient humans. Except for a few extremely religious people, no one really worships the thunder god or the water god today. Similarly, when we understood that Sun is just another star undergoing nuclear fusion of hydrogen, the need to worship it as a God vanished (unfortunately there are still people in India who worship the Sun).

The point is that the more we understand nature, the more God becomes unnecessary.  As Neil deGrasse Tyson puts it, “God is an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance.

Knowing and accepting evolution as a real scientific fact is the next step. I have written many posts on evolution that can brief you about its current status and why it is such an important scientific theory. Of course there have been people who read those articles and told me, “No matter what you say, I will still not believe in evolution.” I feel nothing but sympathy for them because they purposely are shutting themselves off the beauty and awe that science can inspire about our wonderful world.

Thinking as I said is an essential characteristic trait of an atheist. Ernest Hemingway famously said, “All thinking men are atheists.” One must show the courage to think and question established beliefs. Only then intellectual growth will happen. You don’t need a genius level IQ in order to question religious beliefs or compare them with real science. All it takes is a little guts and willingness to learn.

The unknown is not supposed to be feared. It is supposed to be studied. I fully agree that all that we see in our universe must have an origin. Our quest as an intelligent species therefore should be to work hard enough to find out how things really originated or at least pay some respect to the people who are working on those big questions at this very moment rather than thrusting outdated, medieval, pre-medieval superstitions and Bronze Age myths on them and others.

It is very easy to say, “I don’t know the answer, therefore God did it.” It takes extraordinary courage and intellect to say , “I don’t know the answer, therefore let’s find out. That in my view is the real beginning of wisdom.

The Road of Philosophy

Philosophy is that branch of thought that asked questions like where do we come from, where are we going, what is the meaning of life, what is the purpose of life etc. Philosophy can be termed as the ancestor of scientific thought, even though today they are two distinct disciplines. Atheism born out of philosophy rejects the notion of a creator based on logical and philosophical arguments. Contradictions in the concept of a supreme creator is often the source of arguments against God. For instance, an all powerful and yet loving God wouldn’t allow evil to pervade in this world. The Greek philosopher Epicurus (341 – 270 BC) once said:

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

Carl Sagan quotes Rig Veda beautifully in his epic documentary Cosmos, which you can listen to in this video. Statements such as these abound in philosophy so much that we can’t help wonder why the concept of God survived for so long. What I think is that philosophy, which was part of the then education system was available to only the very powerful people in the social hierarchy. It is possible that philosophical notions weren’t handed out to the common man as it is today. Sadly, even though all religious and philosophical texts are available for purchase, the mindset is still maintained by many.

Hinduism, the religion I left has profound atheistic notions. In fact, atheism exists at the core of many religious texts. The Rig Veda, the Upanishads such as Brihadaranyaka, Isha, Mundaka and Chandogya etc. are atheistic in nature. If you are interested, there are Wiki articles on Atheism in Hinduism and Irreligion in India which describe the origins and development of atheistic traditions in India. Many notable personalities in modern India such as Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhagat Singh, Subramanyan Chandrasekhar, Amritya Sen, Javed Akhtar, Kamal Haasan and many more have been and are atheists.

I reiterate the fact that a thinking person will turn in to an atheist sooner or later. The only question is when he or she starts thinking.

The Social Way

I remember talking to a friend of mine. He told me that humans should respect someone or something and therefore believing in God is necessary. I asked him to respect other humans and he was dumbstruck by that reply. That is what we are lacking in our society today. We hardly are willing to treat another person with respect. Ironically, we whine a lot when people don’t treat us with respect. Anyway, the social way towards atheism stems from a historical and contemporary awareness about various aspects of societies in the world.

A person aware of societies will also be aware of the damage religion has done to the society. When I think about the evils of religion, a very unpleasant picture comes into mind. All organized religions in my opinion have caused great evil in this world. For instance, the organized religions of the world are so keen on oppressing and subjugating women, which is totally wrong. The aspect of respecting another human being comes into picture when I question religion in terms of society. The way religion has treated women without respect and dignity is unjustifiable. And it is not just women. The treatment of different races, homosexuals and even members of other religions has been pretty bad throughout history.

Richard Dawkins in his marvelous book The God Delusion has said:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.” 

There have been people highly annoyed by this sentence of his. But when I think about it, there is no other better way to describe the God of the scriptures. And there are people who really take the evil things written in the scriptures literally and act accordingly. Religion has poisoned the minds of many and is still continuing to do so.

According to Steven Weinberg, “Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.

This pretty much summarizes the damage religion can do to the minds of people. The Crusades, mass conversions, terrorist attacks, honor killings and many such evil have been caused because of religion and not the lack of it. In fact, I have never seen an atheist going around burning trains, doing suicide bombings, taking part in communal violence,  doing honor killings or any such despicable evil acts.

Atheists are highly rational people whose only wish is the progress of humanity. We don’t threaten others to follow our way of thinking. All we do is to use logical reasoning to educate people about how things are and then leave it to them to make their own decisions. 

The Empirical Way

People are almost always surprised when I tell them that I do not believe in God. They look at me like someone who has just landed from another planet or as a messenger of evil who has come to attack and falsify their most cherished beliefs. The kind of questions they ask are sometimes very funny and I intend to make another post regarding that. There was this friend of mine who once asked  whether it was “science” that is holding everything together or not.  I was taken aback by her ill phrased question. She thinks science is some entity that atheists use to replace God. That is the main reason in the initial paragraphs, I defined what science really is.

The empirical way is all about testing and finding things for yourself.  Getting experimental data to prove or disprove something is critical in drawing conclusions. If you can test things yourself and find whether the God hypothesis is true or not, there is nothing else more entertaining and informative than that. You can start with thought experiments. For example, if you study for the exam and pray, you will pass. If you study and don’t pray, you will still pass. But if you don’t study and pray, there is no way you will pass. I have actually tested this in my life and I have found that it doesn’t work if you just pray and don’t study.

If you pray or really believe in something or someone, it ought to get your things done. It can be clearing an exam, getting job, marrying someone, buying a house etc. Unfortunately, events don’t work that way. Another experiment is checking out coincidences and studying the probability that those events would have happened anyway. The following video shows a young Prof. Dawkins doing a simple experiment to prove that coincidences do not mean anything in the supernatural realm:

It is not hard for us to find out instances in our daily life and make experiments out of them. I do that all the time. There are plenty of events in my life that allude initially to the possibility of a God. However, when I sit and think about it and start eliminating the most improbable causes, very soon I find that the events have nothing to do with a God at all. Therefore, I can confidently say that God is a highly improbable entity or just a figment of human imagination.

The key behind testing God is finding out natural explanations for things that happen. Only when you have exhausted all the natural explanations for a particular event, that you should consider the possibility of a supernatural (if you want to). What I do is, if I exhaust natural explanations, I leave it there until I find some new natural explanation later  because I believe that everything in the universe is knowable. It is only a matter of time before we figure them out. There is no such thing called a miracle. They are just happy coincidences that have very natural explanations if someone bothers to find them.

To conclude, being an atheist is a very intellectually fulfilling experience. It is a process of continuing growth and it is something that teaches us about how rare and precious we are as a species of extraordinary brilliance. But being an atheist can be hard if you are surrounded by religious people. My advice to those who want to follow these four paths to atheism would be to make sure that you make a good friend circle of people who are not afraid of thinking freely. As Phil Plait puts it, “Teach a man to reason and he’ll think for a lifetime.

The Imperfect Design – Evidence for Evolution!

Image of a beatufiul eyeOf all the species in the world, the evolution of human beings is the most controversial. People, especially religious ones cannot stand the idea that humans don’t have a divine origin and existence and that we are related to the other animals. For fans of creationism or intelligent design, it is hard to accept that humans underwent the process of evolution to reach the current state. They often site the human body especially the eye as a perfect example of design as our body is too complicated to have evolved naturally according to them. Well, I am okay with it provided when a trained person looks at this so called “design”, he should not be puzzled as to why certain parts are in a particular way because when we look carefully at the human body, that is precisely what we feel.

Therefore I would like to call on the scientific and engineering outlook of the reader in this article because I am going to site a few examples where it is required for you to think as to whether we are actually designed or not. Let me first talk about design as we understand from our lives. Any good designer would design a machine or a drawing with the minimal amount of defects. Further he or she would make sure that the design is simple and optimized enough so that troubleshooting is easy later on. Furthermore, he or she would make sure that there is a logic behind putting a component in a particular place. Therefore a good designer can easily make out whether a machine’s design is defective or illogical in some way by looking at it.

I request you to look at the following few examples to have an insight into what I mean:

  1. The Recurrent Laryngeal Nerve – It is a nerve that supplies motor function to the larynx and travels from the brain to the larynx. However, it does not take a direct route. Instead it goes all the way to the heart, wraps around a major artery and then goes up to the larynx. It is puzzling as to why the nerve takes such a detour for no reason. In fact, in giraffes, the nerve travels 15 feet to the heart and then goes up to the larynx which doesn’t make sense. If we were designed, then the designer would simply put the nerve in a direct route from the brain to the larynx. It’s as simple as that. What really happened is that  the fish like ancestors of modern tetrapods had the nerve direct as the heart was above the gills, as it is in modern fishes. But over the course of evolution, as the neck extended, the heart became lower in the body and unfortunately the laryngeal nerve got caught on the wrong side of the heart. A designer’s eye would easily dismiss this as a bad design. In the following video, Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins will demonstrate the detour of the recurrent laryngeal nerve in a giraffe.
  2. The Human Eye – This is cited as the most perfect example of intelligent design.  But from an engineering perspective, it is not perfect at all. A person who make a camera will make sure that all the wiring is at the back of the film and not in front of it. Similarly if a eye is designed, then obviously all the nerves should be behind the retina. Unfortunately in human eyes, the nerves are in front of the retina. And where the optic nerve leaves the eye, there is a hole that creates a blind spot, which is the reason why our eyes jiggle. We don’t have a functional reason for our eyes to be this way except that historically the common ancestor of all vertebrates did not have a better retina available to work with. Now, those of you who want to bring in God’s “divine purpose” behind this should know that an octopus’s eye doesn’t have this problem. All the wiring is behind the retina for the octopus. In fact, the octopus eye is a much better “design” compared to humans. This link will tell you exactly what I mean by blind spot. The famous German psychologist Hermann von Helmholtz once said that if an engineer had given him the human eye, he would send it back. The video here would show you how the eye can actually evolve naturally without any divine intervention.
  3. Vestigial Structures – An engineer or designer would want his design clean. He wouldn’t want an unwanted component in the machine without serving a purpose. As in the human body and in other species, there are plenty of structures that do not serve any particular purpose. Right from the DNA to visible organs, one wonders why a designer would put them there. The answer as to why these vestigial structures such as the pelvis in snakes, human appendix, the male nipples, the tail bone etc. exist comes from evolution. These are relics from a common ancestry where these structures once had a function. As humans evolved, some of these functions either stopped or changed thereby creating these vestiges. Not only in the organs but also in the DNA we find vestiges. There are several genes that form part of what is called genetic junk. The only reason they are there is because evolution didn’t clean it up properly.
  4. Fatal Errors  – Image of Ectopic Pregnancy - Courtesy Mayo FoundationThere are some really fatal mistakes in the human body. Only because of modern medical care that we can counter death caused by these flaws. For instance,  in women, the fertilized egg can mistakenly implant into the fallopian tube, cervix or ovary instead of the uterus  causing ectopic pregnancy because of a cavity between the ovary and the fallopian tube. Before modern surgery, this used to kill both the woman and her baby. In men, the testes develop first in the abdomen and then migrate to the scrotum. This creates weak points in the abdominal wall where hernias can form in future and without modern surgery, it is a sure way to die. The human pharynx is yet another design flaw. It is the passage used for both ingestion and respiration, which increases the risk of choking. And as mentioned above the appendix is a vestigial organ that serves no known purpose. However, if you get appendicitis, it is a sure shot way to die. 

These are just a few examples of imperfections in the seemingly perfect human body. There are hundreds of such examples and in some cases the design flaw is so much that it can be fatal as described above. A designer with any level of logic or common sense would never create a body like this. Therefore the only conclusion that can be made is that either there is no designer or the designer is a very bad designer. Everything from top to the bottom in our body is trade-offs that came about through millions of years of evolution. It’s an undeniable fact.

Naadan Chilli Chicken Recipe

You may call it Naadan  or Country chilly chicken or whatever you want but it is one of the tastiest versions of Chilli Chicken I have ever had, thanks to a famous chef who described the dish to us and my parents whose exceptional culinary skills inspired me to learn cooking. This version is different in its preparation and the exquisite taste that it derives out of it. Without further ado, let me get on with the materials required.

Requirements:

  1. Chicken, cut in small pieces – 500 gm
  2. Green chilli, cut along its length – 8
  3. Ginger, cut in very small pieces – 2 table spoons
  4. Garlic, cut in small pieces – 2 table spoons
  5. Vattal Mulaku (Refer: Capsicum annuum),  ground into paste after boiling in vinegar – half a cup
  6. Refined oil – half a cup
  7. Tomatoes, cut in small pieces – 1 cup
  8. Capsicum, cut in pices – half a cup
  9. Salt – to taste
  10. Onion – cut in cubical pieces – 1 cup
  11. Water – half a cup

Preparation:

  1. Shallow fry the chicken pieces after applying salt and red chilly powder
  2. On a hot pan, add half cup refined oil and saute the ginger and garlic along with onion and green chilli
  3. Add Vattal Mulaku paste and salt to this mixture along with the half cup water and stir for a couple of minutes
  4. Add the fried chicken and tomato and close the pan for 10 minutes
  5. Add the capsicum and turn off the flame.

The particular aspect of this chilli chicken preparation is that it does not use any artificial color. The red color of this dish comes from the paste that we prepare after boiling the Vattal Mulaku in vinegar and grinding it into a paste. Some people fry the chicken after chilling it from 2 to 24 hours. I don’t suggest that because even otherwise the dish is perfect. It is better to serve this chilly chicken dish with bread. You may try it exactly the same way as described here or make your own modifications. Let me know your feedback.

Mars Orbiter Mission – A step in the right direction for India

mangalyaan

Mangalyaan in orbit (Artist’s Impression)

People often criticize scientific endeavors especially the ones pertaining to space travel as a waste of time and money. The Mars Orbiter Mission of India also known as Mangalyaan had its share of criticism throughout its development. In the midst of all this, the craft lifted off to space today, 5th November 2013 at 2:38 PM IST and was inserted into an orbit around the Earth with remarkable precision a few minutes later. This first step is a remarkable milestone in the history of Indian Space Program. Of course it is only the first of the three stages of the entire mission but it is something worth to be proud.

When the Indian Space Program was started in 1969, little did anyone know that India would become part of an emerging Asian Space Race. Our technologically superior neighbor has made excellent strides in the field of space travel. They had their first man and first woman in space using indigenous technology and now they are building their first space station. However, India’s achievements should not be seen in a lesser light because the focus of ISRO is more on unmanned missions. And having been able to start off successfully in a Mars mission is something that should invite our neighbor’s envy.

PSLV-C25 Rocket on the Launchpad

PSLV-C25 Rocket on the Launchpad

Mars has never been an easy target for space faring nations. The first ever mission to Mars was by the erstwhile Soviet Union as early as 10 October 1960. The heat of Cold War would have been probably the driving force to attempt a Mars mission just 3 years after Sputnik. The high failure rate see throughout the historic timeline of Mars exploration had made many a person including me quite apprehensive of the Mangalyaan mission. Even the recent failure of Phobos-Grunt and Yinghuo-1 mission of Russia and China in 2011 made people raise their eyebrows when it was announced that India is eyeing the red planet. It is exhilarating to finally see the probe lift off the ground in the PSLV-C25 rocket. ISRO’s faith in PSLV has paid off once again and we are on our way to become the fourth nation to reach Mars if everything goes according to plan.

India is a country with great economic and cultural divide. It may be justified to ask whether the mission was worth the 4.5 billion rupees spent on it when other national priorities such as women’s education and healthcare in rural India could be easily met with the amount. After all it is just a satellite that will orbit around Mars and send back signals of what it studies. People can ask what difference is this mission going to make. It is a difficult question to answer and would require vast amount of research. However, one thing can be said about it. Comparing India’s Mars mission to that of United States or Russia may be utterly unfair in my opinion. United States and Soviet Union had too much funding during the cold war to perform mission after mission despite the number of failures they encountered. And still they can afford to send rovers and other advanced instruments to deep space and afford to fail in it. This is India’s first interplanetary mission and should be compared to Mariner – 9 of United States which was launched back in 1971. Mariner – 9 was an orbiter mission and that is exactly what Mangalyaan is all about and must be seen as such. It is true that USA and USSR were having landers and rovers back in the ’70s but that fact should not be used to demean India’s mission.

Mars Orbiter Trajectory

Mars Orbiter Trajectory

Mars Orbiter Mission of India is a step in the right direction. We may have poverty and prejudice within Indian society but one must see the bigger picture. As part of the human race, it is our duty to explore and colonize other planets. Saying that it will ensure the continuity of our species might be too much of a cliche but that is most certainly a part of interplanetary mission. Interplanetary missions in its true sense has not yet taken place since that would mean going to a distant planet and coming back. For that reason I am not very fond of the Mars One program that is currently seeking volunteers. A true interplanetary mission must ensure that participants are capable of going back and forth between the planets. Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama did not maroon themselves in the places they explored. They did go back to their homes to tell the stories about their journey. It is important thus for any manned or unmanned Mars mission to go there and return in order to be fully interplanetary. Anyway, I feel very proud of my country’s capability to perform a feat that many have failed in. Our two hostile neighbors in my opinion should learn from us instead of taunting us unnecessarily over petty border issues.

Uzbek Plov Recipe

The Uzbek Plov also known as Stalin Biryani or Soviet biryani is an exceptionally delicious style of biryani from Uzbekistan. Widely claimed to be Stalin’s favourite dish, this rice and mutton based recipe from Uzbekistan is easier to prepare compared to other conventional biryanis. It is also known as Osh and it can be made as follows:

Materials Required

  • Lamb Meat cut in cubes(preferably of a fat lamb)
  • 2 – 3 cup Basmati Rice (or Uzbek Rice)
  • 3 – 4 big carrots cut in very small pieces
  • 2 Onions cut in medium pieces
  • Green chilly cut in small pices
  • Vegetable Oil
  • 4 – 5 garlic with skin
  • Salt
  • Black Pepper powder
  • Other spices if necessary (cinnamon, clove etc.)
  • Coriander Leaves

Preparation:

This dish is to be prepared in good flame in the beginning and hence the vessel you use must have a thick bottom. This ensures that the meat doesn’t get charred. Wash the basmati rice and keep it soaked in lukewarm water before you start the preparation. Once you set aside the rice, follow these steps:

  • Pour the vegetable oil in the main vessel and wait until it gets heated.
  • Once the oil gets heated up, add the mutton pieces and fry them until they become light brown.
  • Add the onion, carrot and green chilly to this and mix them until the the onion turns golden brown.
  • Add salt, pepper powder and other spices that you have selected and continue to mix. You can reduce the flame at this stage.
  • Spread the mixture evenly. Filter out the water and add the rice to this mixture. Make sure that the rice completely covers the mutton, carrot and onion mixture. You should stop mixing at this stage.
  • Pour water to this without disturbing the rice distribution. The water should completely submerge the rice.
  • Once the water starts boiling, close the the lid. Reduce the flame further.
  • Wait for 10 minutes and check whether the water has been absorbed into the rice. Place the garlic pieces on top of the rice.
  • If the rice hasn’t got cooked at this stage, create a small opening at the center of the mixture and add water there without disturbing the structure.
  • Close the lid and wait for another 20 minutes.
  • Turn off the flame and keep the vessel undisturbed for 30 minutes.

You can add coriander leaves after 30 minutes and mix the dish well. When adding water the second time, be sparing in the quantity used because you should not overcook the rice.

Your Uzbek Plov is now ready. You can use Yougurt Kachumber as a side dish. What makes the taste so exquisite is the lamb fat. The mutton gets fried both in the vegetable oil and the fat that comes out of the meat. The first time I prepared this, it didn’t come right. So don’t be disheartened. Try again and you will be fine. The day I saw this recipe in the newspaper, things were a mess but I learned from my mistakes and so should you. This recipe has one extra ingredient, which is green chilly but trust me, it makes the dish amazing. Let me know your feedback!