Category Archives: Reviews

A confused biodiversity congress: First impressions from the 2nd Indian Biodiversity Congress

For every complex problem, there is a simple solution, and it is invariably wrong

Madhav Gadgil, quoting HL Mencken at the 2nd Indian Biodiversity Congress

I had an opportunity to attend the 2nd Indian Biodiversity Congress that started

The Congress was fairly well attended with many young students and academia, but crucually lacking policymakers

today in Bangalore. What was quite amazing was the diversity of speakers in terms of their background/disciplines and the political establishment line-up for the inauguration (Veerappa Moily, Ananth Kumar, R Ashok and few others). Both of these only augur well for the biodiversity movement in the country. But a scan through the very poorly edited “Book of Abstracts” reveals (to my mind) the confusion among the contributors and editors as to what the congress means and should stand for. Continue reading

Refly speaking

If I have seen further, it is by using a good reference manager…

Well, Newton certainly did not have a great reference manager, nor did he

Early Greek illustration of a quote made famous by Newton; of seeing further standing on the shoulder of giants

perhaps need one. Those were days (at least in the Western world) when the best way to “catch up” on emerging research was to attend one of the society meetings, where papers would be read out.
For example, most of the present-day understanding of Mendelian Genetics comes from the work on pea plants by  the Gregor Johann Mendel, a German-speaking Silesian (in present day Poland) Priest. Continue reading

Aloha Oe: A review

 

The Call of the Wild by Jack London is one of his better known books

Aloha Oe is a short story by Jack London, an American author. The story is set in the wharf of a Hawaiian Island, where a ship is just departing with the coterie of a Senator who is just winding up a junketing trip to the island. The senator is accompanied by his daughter, Dorothy. The entire story is set among the festivities surrounding the departing ship on one hand and Dorothy’s reminiscences of her brief yet memorable time she spent with a hapa-haole, Stephen. Dorothy, Stephen and the senator Jeremy Sambrooke make up the characters in this story.

The author begins with a vivid narrative of the setting at the wharf. He portrays a noisy wharf bustling with music and mayhem surrounding the departure of the Senator and his group. The author brings out the music and noise by the use of such words and phrases that almost reproduce the feel of sounds – diapason, hubbub, “…singer’s voice rising birdlike…”. There is a lot of attention to detail; the movements on the promenade, the music playing, the kind of people around who the story is about and even those that the story is not about. However, the story is neither about the festivities nor about any of the people who are described. These are merely the context for the main theme of the story.

The author also dwells on the wave of emotions that are ebbing through Dorothy’s mind as she is readying herself to wave goodbye to the island. She is only coming to terms with the fact that she is soon not going to see Stephen only as the ship is setting sail. The author seems to portray this as Dorothy’s early days of entering womanhood from being a young girl, who looked on Stephen as her playmate. In spite of going to great lengths in describing their brief romantic interlude, the author does not develop this further, nor does he give the reader an indication who will or will not happen about these two. The entire point of view presented is that of Dorothy, who is unable to understand what she is going through. On one hand, she is faced with a wave of emotions drawing her towards Stephen, and on the other, she is faced with the hopelessness of the situation, given that Stephen is of a different social and racial class.

The story is clearly about the young daughter’s (perhaps) first brief affair and her coming to terms with understanding her own attraction towards Stephen, the underlying theme of the story is the divide between social classes. The author introduces this divide when the daughter recollects an incident at Mrs. Stanton’s tea party, where a an apparently derisive reference is made to someone of mixed blood as a “half-caste” and how the others have to be cautious about this. The story portrays the subtle yet tangible undercurrents of race and class in the society through the recollections of conversations at this party as well as a “test” that the daughter conducts through asking her father if Stephen could stay with them, if and when he comes to the mainland, to which her father answers “”Certainly not…Stephen Knight is a hapa-haole and you know what that means.” The story uses the premise of a brief romantic involvement to portray an underlying theme of social class and race. In a brief description of the farewell ceremony to a junketing senator, the author has been able to communicate the subtle racial and social class theme.

In summary, the story is about social class and racism presented through the eyes of a young Dorothy, daughter of a rich senator who has had a brief romantic encounter with Stephen, a Hawaiian youth of mixed racial ethnicity.

 

Of scorpion stings and antivenoms

Indian red scorpion on BMJ Jan 2011 cover

I was quite puzzled by the general lack of information and clarity over treatment of scorpion stings. A phone call from a friend requesting urgent help from a remote forested area triggered me to put together this blog on scorpion sting response. Continue reading

Dazzled and deceived

Thanks to a recent British library membership acquisition, I got hold of this book by Peter Forbes – Dazzled and deceived: Mimicry and Camouflage. The book effortlessly leads the reader through a journey that begins in earnest with the comma butterfly flying across a garden and slowly winding its way through personal lives of luminaries in biology, through the private struggles and public lives of the proponents of various sorts of camouflage for both sides in the two world wars, artists and naturalists. There has been much talk about the role of camouflage nets in the winning of the Second battle of El Alamein in World War II. The battle was quite important – it got Churchill to apparently ring bells all over Britan, signifying the impending end to the war. Continue reading