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Sunday Long Reads: Mughal Gardens, social distancing, shows that comforted us this year, and more

Here is your Sunday reading list

Make things topsy-turvy: Now that separateness is the norm, we realise how much of a significant social contract touch is in our lives

Social distancing is now the norm, but segregation has always been around

Touch, like love, reveals itself more fully once it is in retreat

Nine months of not touching anyone except my mother, and I am down a mineshaft of memories about touch: what was permissible for whom, the shock of implied touch where none existed, sanguine touch, and touch that inverts all presumption.

During the long months of self-isolating, my childhood stepped out of its shadows, bemused at the social-media hoo-ha about not being able to hug friends. Despite growing up in a family where hugs were the norm and a culture that emphasised embracing as a form of greeting, I grew up not hugging friends. Where I was growing up in Rajasthan in the 1980s and early ’90s, I never saw others hug in public. Classmates shook hands formally occasionally, say, when you first met someone, or when you wanted to say “Congrats” or “Happy Birthday”. Violent touch was a different matter.

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How polar bears and ground squirrels would had helped us survive the lockdown

Rodents — from the great clan of ground squirrels — and other insectivores also hibernate.

To sleep through bone-chilling winters is, alas, the luck of several animal species and insects, for hundreds of years. To qualify for true hibernation, the body temperature and the heart rate must drop as the animal goes into a deep, deep sleep. By this yardstick, it is argued that polar bears do not technically hibernate but go into a state of torpor for the winter months after stuffing their faces and putting on thick layers of pure fat before snuggling down under the snow. But polar-bear moms also give birth to their cubs at this time — and all babies need warmth and milk, which the mama bear has stocked up on.


New Words from 2020

Illustration by Suvajit Dey

For a year that left us speechless, 2020 has been full of words. A few have expectedly, been dangerous to health. A word like “unprecedented”, for instance, has single-handedly converted us into a nation with very poor liver health. It has been rigorously proven by an unscientific study that if a person took a sip of a drink every time they read or heard the word “unprecedented” this year, their liver would be shot to hell by now.



The web shows that thrilled, entertained and comforted us this year

A still from Queen’s Gambit.

Stories that can take you out of yourself, even momentarily, are worth paying attention to: just how did they shift your axis? In any other year, I would go looking for the unusual, veering towards stuff that was a little off-kilter. But as these months wore on, during which we hunkered inside, fearful of a virus that has no cure (yet), I caught myself actively leaning towards tales of human upliftment.
So, yes, I did succumb to the quirky charms of Lyra Silvertongue and her daemon, Pan, in the second season of His Dark Materials (Disney+ Hotstar). The series is based on Philip Pullman’s classic trilogy featuring parallel universes, a host of fantastical creatures, a fascinating fight pitting good and evil, and endless adventures.


Beyond the Mughal Gardens: The rich history of Rashtrapati Bhavan’s gardens

Though the layout of the garden was in place by 1917, the planting was taken up only in 1928-29.

Written by Pawan Kumar Sain

On November 13, 2019, Prince Charles, the longest-serving heir apparent to the British throne, walked down paths quite familiar to British aristocracy. He was taken to the Herbal Garden in the Rashtrapati Bhavan, where he planted a champa sapling. Accompanied by President Ram Nath Kovind, the Prince of Wales not only exuded charm but also exhibited childlike curiosity when experts from the Ministry of AYUSH briefed him on the medicinal properties of various plants in the garden. He was told about the collaboration between the All India Institute of Ayurveda and the College of Medicine, UK.


How two filmmakers see the year 2020 come to an end

Filmmakers Bhaskar Hazarika and Vasan Bala give their fictional takes. (Photo: Getty)

From the frying pan

By Bhaskar Hazarika

I stepped out of the lift on the 37th floor and headed towards the penthouse apartment of rising Bollywood star Rishi Sangwan. I rang the bell and waited for the door to open, listening to the babble of voices and ambient party music from inside the apartment. I glanced at my smartphone to check the time. It was 10.43 pm on December 31 — the last day of this most the wretched year 2020 AD. I was here not just to ring in the new year and bid a relieved farewell to this one, but also for my first — and I hoped not the last — mask-burning party.


The biggest lesson from 2020: compassion and selflessness

Life lessons: A tale of two cities — New York City and Hebron (Photo credit: Suvir Saran)

As the pandemic goes on, it shows no mercy. Death and sickness stalk us. Life as we knew it 10 months ago is eroding. Stripped of the veneers of civility and development, 2020 has shown how little we have progressed since the end of the World War II, even as we speak of the world as a global village.

Disparity has always been the despair of humanity. In recent decades, we have seen it reveal the rot in our midst, one that we have to accept as being of our own making.



Why the sci-fi writer must not be blamed for a dystopic year

Cyan Bioluminescence on San Diego Coastline Beach at night at Swamis Beach in Encinitas, San Diego, California.

There’s a bad habit that news/culture commentators often have: whenever something really bizarre and illogical happens they compare it to sci-fi or fantasy. The aim, probably, is to underline weirdness, but this habit always makes actual writers of speculative fiction (such as myself) chafe — fiction, even physics-exceeding imaginative fiction, is compelled to obey internal logic and narrative consequence. Reality, and the news, are not. There is no better example of this than all the news of 2020.



First published on: 27-12-2020 at 12:05 IST
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