Thursday, 31 December 2015

Modern educationists still confused - When should a child start school?

How early do parents start looking for schools for their toddlers? The time when parental anxiety over schooling sets in appears to be receding by the year, and now, it starts when the child just about turns one.

With the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) not laying down clear cut rules on the age criteria for pre-nursery, nursery and even class one admissions, schools have set their own limits. Though the department announced norms last January, both for kindergarten and Standard One, the order was altered midway leading to much confusion.
Adding to the mess is the varying criteria adopted by the top city-based schools while offering admissions for pre-nursery.

Admission age ranges from two years six months to three years 10 months depending on the school. For lower kindergarten (LKG), the range is from three-and-a-half years to four years 10 months.
Many managements and teachers say that parents request them to admit children young, citing that their child’s date of birth falls a few months short of the cut-off date. However, early childhood educators warn that both managements and parents should not enrol children into formal schooling before the age of four.

Manilal Carvalho, principal, Delhi Public School Bengaluru East, says, “During every admission season, parents plead with us to admit their child even though they are underage, as they fear that they may lose out on one year. But I explain to them that enrolling a child who is not ready for schooling would make it very difficult for the child to cope. Despite this, they insist that we admit them.”

Pre-school or nursery?
Another dilemma parents face is whether to enrol their child in the pre-school or nursery section of a full-fledged school. For instance, Pooja S., parent of a two-year-eight-month-old has decided to enrol her daughter in the pre-nursery section of a popular school. She says, “I did not want my child to travel many kilometres and be in a formal school environment. But I took the decision as it would ease the transition to LKG. More important, I can avoid the hassle of trying to obtain admission in LKG.”
However, Ms. Carvalho said that many schools have more seats in LKG as compared to nursery to accommodate children from other pre-schools.
Saranya Sundararajan plans to enrol her two-year-two-month-old son in a Montessori pre-school between the age of three and six. “I do not want regular schooling as I do not believe in black board-based education in the early years. I prefer an interactive life-based education in his initial years,” she explains.

Trainers without training
Whether the parents chose to enrol their child for kindergarten or Montessori, early educators feel that many school managements and pre-schools are not adequately trained.
Rajalakshmi M.S., Head of the Department, Early Childhood Education and administration course, VHD Central Institute of Home Science, says that pre-school should not introduce formal writing until the age of five. “The fine motor coordination and neuromuscular development of the child would not have set in until five years. There is a need to ensure that pre-schools teach age appropriate skills. While they can allow them to read and colour using crayons, they should avoid asking the child to use pencil until the age of five,” she says.

She also said that although many pre-schools project themselves as Montessori schools, they either do not follow the Montessori Method or club it with the traditional chalk and board method. An advocate of a multiple intelligence approach, Ms. Rajalakshmi said that a good childhood centre should ideally have corners and the child should be left free to choose whether he/she wants to play with pictures or engage with numbers through games and activities.

“I have seen many children in UKG being taught the tables. The child has the ability to grasp and will learn it by rote, but without understanding anything. Therefore, there is a need to be very careful about what the child learns in the first few years as they are the formative period.”
She pointed out that there is no regulatory mechanism and uniformity and each pre-school has its own syllabus and curriculum.
Divya B.A., a Waldorf early childhood educator, said that parents often tend to set difficult goals for the child, which is not achievable. “Parents and schools should not urge children to write when their hands are not ready. In fact, once their motor skills are developed, they will be able to write in a couple of months,” she said.

DPI promises new norms
With the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) not laying down clear cut age criteria for pre-nursery, nursery and class one admissions, schools have set their own limits. The lack of standardisation has been a matter of concern for parents.
Last January, the department had issued a circular during admissions under the RTE quota that the lower age limit for LKG admissions would be three and upper limit would be four years and six months. For class one admission, the lower age limit was five and upper was six years six months.
However, in March the department retracted the circular and extended the upper limit for both LKG and class one admission by three months, which led to confusion.
While Section 20 of the Karnataka Education Act 1983 highlights how the age should be computed, it fails to fix an upper and lower limit for admissions.
Officials said that since both orders were issued in the form of a circular, they have very little legal binding. They are hoping to issue age criterion shortly.


This child-centric approach was developed by Maria Montessori. The fundamental principle is for educators to believe that a child is naturally eager to learn and gain knowledge. This method facilitates the physical, social, cognitive as well as the emotion approach of the child. The teacher acts merely as a facilitator and the child learns at his/her own pace.

This term was coined by Friedrich Fröbel. The child learns through singing, drawing and games. However, this method involves guided learning. Play and other activities are designed to make the child learn.

This method was founded by Rudolf Steiner. It aims to integrate various faculties in the child and gives importance to imagination and hands-on activities. Teachers have a lot of autonomy in designing the teaching methodology and curriculum. The assessment of a student is integrated into day-to-day activities while testing is introduced at a much later stage.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Red meat triggers toxic immune reaction which causes cancer, scientists find

The body views red meat as a foreign invader which must be stamped out
Red meat has been linked to cancer for decades, with research suggesting that eating large amounts of pork, beef or lamb raises the risk of deadly tumours.
But for the first time scientists think they know what is causing the effect. The body, it seems, views red meat as a foreign invader and sparks a toxic immune response.
Researchers have always been puzzled about how other mammals could eat a diet high in red meat without any adverse health consequences.
Now they have discovered that pork, beef and lamb contains a sugar which is naturally produced by other carnivores but not humans.
It means that when humans eat red meat, the body triggers an immune response to the foreign sugar, producing antibodies which spark inflammation, and eventually cancer.
In other carnivores the immune system does not kick in, because the sugar – called Neu5Gc – is already in the body.
Scientists at the University of California proved that mice which were genetically engineered so they did not produce Neu5Gc naturally developed tumours when they were fed the sugar.
"This is the first time we have directly shown that mimicking the exact situation in humans increases spontaneous cancers in mice,” said Dr Ajit Varki, Professor of Medicine and Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the University of California.
"The final proof in humans will be much harder to come by.
"This work may also help explain potential connections of red meat consumption to other diseases exacerbated by chronic inflammation, such as atherosclerosis and type 2 diabetes.
"Of course, moderate amounts of red meat can be a source of good nutrition for young people. We hope that our work will eventually lead the way to practical solutions for this catch-22."
Red meat is a good source of protein, vitamin and minerals, but an increasing body of research suggests too much is bad for long-term health.
Health experts recommend eating no more than 2.5oz (70g) a day, the equivalent of three slices of ham, one lamb chop or two slices of roast beef a day
A study published by Harvard University in June suggested that a diet high in red meat raised the risk of breast cancer for women by 22 per cent.
In 2005 a study found those who regularly ate 5.6oz (160g) of red meat a day had one third higher risk of bowel cancer.
The average person in the UK has 2.5oz (70g) meat a day 3oz (88g) among men, 2oz (52g) among women) but 33 per cent have more than 3.5oz (100g) a day.
Previous research has suggested that a pigment in red meat may also damage the DNA of cells lining the digestive system.
The new research was published online in the journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Beef eating bad for environment, says United Nations body

Beef eating bad for environment, says United Nations body
Beef eating has impassioned the nation, with politicians of all hues duelling like bulls in rage. Religious taboos are one aspect, but there is also a very strong environmental angle for not eating beef.
The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) has dubbed beef as a 'climate-harmful meat'. It is very energy intensive to produce every gram of beef, on an average every hamburger results in 3 kg of carbon emissions to the atmosphere. Today, saving the planet is really about ensuring sustainable consumption and meat production is, unfortunately, a highly energy intensive exercise.
eat eaters in general and beef eaters, in particular, are among the most unfriendly to the global environment, reports the United Nations body, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) in Rome. It may come as a surprise, but globally beef production is one of the leading culprits for climate change. Some even suggest that beef is the devil or the 'shaitan' of the meat production industry. That having said, the lynching of a man on the suspicion that he consumed beef can never be justified in any society.
Experts suggest that giving up beef will reduce the global carbon footprint on earth far more than avoiding the use of cars!
Here is why, if one examines the numbers closely livestock production contributes more towards global warming than does the transport sector in total, through emissions of gases that result in changing the climate.
According to FAO, the livestock sector is responsible for 18% of the global greenhouse gas emissions as compared to the transport sectors' 15%. In a study 'Livestock's Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options', the FAO concludes that "the livestock sector is major player (and its contributions to climate change has) a higher share than transport".
Earth lovers are voicing their concern and shaming meat eaters, most recently Laurence Tubiana. The charismatic French Ambassador for Climate Change Negotiations for the big climate summit to be held in a few weeks in Paris said, "This over consumption of meat is really killing many things (there has to be a campaign) that big meat consumers should stop that. At least try one day without meat."
According to a 2012 estimate by Ministry of Agriculture, India is home to 512 million livestock of which cows and buffaloes together account for 111 million animals. Most of the animals in India are not reared for slaughtering but prized for milk and ploughing. UNEP estimates that in 2012 the world was home to 1.43 billion cattle.
So do not start feeling guilty that Indians are highly environment-friendly when measured on the scale of meat eating and livestock numbers. A landmark 2012 study 'Growing greenhouse gas emissions due to meat production' by UNEP finds that on an average Indians consume only 12 grams of meat per person per day which is almost 10 times lower than the global average of 115 grams.
In comparison, the US leads with over 322 grams of meat being eaten per person per day with China at about 160. Hence, on an average a meat-eating American contributes 25 times more to global warming as compared to a non-vegetarian Indian.

A 2012 estimate by the Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries says the country produced 5.9 million tonnes of meat of which poultry's (mostly chicken) contribution to the total meat production is about half with less than 5 % of the meat coming from beef.
In comparison in 2009, the world produced 278 million tonnes of meat, which means that India accounts for just about 2 % of the world's meat production while housing 17 % of the world's population. There is no doubt that meats provide the vital protein and nutrients needed for proper human development. Milk is a healthy substitute.
It may sound astounding but beef production on an average requires 28 times more land and causes 11 times more global warming as compared to other livestock categories found a 2014 study by the prestigious Yale University in US, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences which concluded that "minimising beef consumption mitigates the environmental costs of diet most effectively".
Tim Benton of the University of Leeds, UK, not associated with US study felt "the biggest intervention people could make towards reducing their carbon footprints would not be to abandon cars, but to eat significantly less red meat".
Beef production is also bad for water conservation since cattle rearing for beef require almost 10 times more water as compared to staple crops like wheat and rice. In contrast, pork production uses three times less water as compared to beef ranching. Cattle also emit a highly potent climate-changing gas called 'methane' in their farts and through belching. Also called 'marsh gas' this inflammable gas is produced in the guts of cattle by the bacteria as they digest the food of ruminants and methane is 21 times more potent than carbon-di-oxide in causing global warming.
Using data from a Swedish study the UNEP says "in terms of greenhouse gas emissions the consumption of 1 kg domestic beef in a household represents automobile use of a distance of 160 kilometers".
This means a car travelling all the way from New Delhi to Agra would cause about the same amount of global climate change as is done by consuming just one kg of beef! No wonder beef is considered highly environmentally un-friendly.
Nevertheless, at the same time in dry and arid regions of the world livestock are considered a 'savings bank' by local people as they form part of the life-saving kit to overcome the harsh environment.
Meat eating may not be 'green' but as more and more people become affluent, meat is becoming chic and fashionable. FAO estimates that by 2050 the global meat consumption will rise to 460 million tonnes. The global environment watchdogs the UNEP recommends a shift to 'less climate-harmful' meats and emphasises that "healthy eating is not just important for the individual but for the planet as whole". 

Saturday, 19 September 2015

This family prays and stays together

photo 4

On any given day, the rather-congested commercial suburb of Koti in Hyderabad is not ideally a destination people staying in Banjara Hills, like moi, would like to venture to, especially with the disaster that the nowhere-near-completion L&T Hyderabad Metro Rail project is, spells to the already harassed commuters.
But, like they say, good things come to those who persevere. Like Chappan Bhog, the spread of 56 delicacies offered to Lord Krishna, after he lifted Govardhan Pahad on his little finger for a whole week.
Who are we, lesser mortals then to get hassled by minor hindrances like traffic snarls, to be able to partake of Chappan Bhog? Especially when your hosts are an ever-warm and extremely hospitable Gujarati joint family of Viren Shah, a food entrepreneur popular on Hyderabad’s social circuit, because of his inherently helpful nature.
Every Janmashtami, about 150-200 guests from within their joint family and a few relatives and close friends are invited to the Nandotsav which has been a family tradition since a century. While his ancestors moved from Gujarat to Karwan, in 1722 , the eighth-generation Shah remembers Janmashtami celebrations as a young child at their ancestral haveli in Koti, where the family moved to in 1922 or so.
“My grandfather Parmanand Shah used to preside over the celebrations and I have seen him take personal care of each and every guest. We all have been continuing with the tradition and will always uphold the legacy, hopefully in the next few generations too.”
A couple of days before the festival, the women of the household get up at the crack of dawn to do sewa, or make the sweetmeats, savouries and snacks to be offered to Bal Gopal on his birthday. Be it methi muthiya, sev, adrak papdi, different kinds of rice, shrikhand, kulfi, barfis of different kinds, Gujarati farsaan, everything is to be prepared personally, with only the general supervision of a ‘maharaj’ to oversee and help with the arrangements.

“I think it’s the warmth of the family and their devotion to Lord Krishna which makes the Prasad so delicious,” shares a guest.
But will the joint family of 18 members currently staying under the same roof, sustain the pressures of a modern, nuclear family? And carry on family traditions like these?
“Of course, we will, I am sure it will, ” answers Shah with some confidence.
I see a child counting the sumptuous spread and remarking, “Mummy, these dishes are more than 56,” and I smile to myself. The love for Krishna and his ways are infectious.

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Beef Ban pan state of Jammu & Kasmir! Hurray!

Map of jammu and kashmir state

Srinagar: The Jammu and Kashmir High Court on Wednesday banned the sale of beef across the state. It has also asked state government to take steps to ensure that the ban is strictly implemented.
The order stating the ban was issued by divisional bench of J&K High Court while hearing a petition which sought ban on sale and consumption of beef.
Despite the orders issued on Wednesday, beef shops in the state remained open on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the Peoples Democratic Party-Bharatiya Janata Party government has not reacted to the ban so far. Enforcing the ban will be a huge task for the government in a state where majority of the population consumes beef.
Earlier, the Haryana and Maharashtra government had imposed a complete ban on the sale of beef in any form in the state.
It also comes at a time when the Bharatiya Janata Party is under fire for banning meat in Mumbai for 4 days during the Jain festival of Paryushan.

Saturday, 22 August 2015

PMO Seeks New Cowboys as Saviors

Roadbloack is the mother of the BJP-led Central government’s innovation. After deciding to put on hold the proposed national ban on cow slaughter due to political and legal reasons, it is coming up with innovative ways to encourage cow rearing while taking measures to discourage killing of cows.
Taking the lead in this is the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). It has asked Minister of Agriculture Radha Mohan Singh and various other ministries, including the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, to come up with “innovative ideas” to make cow rearing a profitable practice. The directive came after the Ministry of Law and Justice opposed a national ban on the killing of cows. The ministries have also been asked to think out of the box and do “serious research” to find out more about productive ways in which cow waste can be used.
The ministries are doing exactly that. The Ministry of Agriculture has decided to encourage production and marketing of products made from cow dung and urine. The government will also encourage marketing of a cleaning liquid made from a mixture of cow urine, neem and a fragrant that can replace phenyl.
“While phenyl is made out of chemicals not good for human health, this liquid is 100 per cent natural. Cow urine has inherent medicinal components, which should make it more attractive,” said an official with the ministry. He added that the product will be available at all kendriya bhandars across the country and will be made mandatory in all government spaces.
The government also plans to give subsidies to NGOs working in this area. “Making products out of cow urine and cow dung will make cow rearing a more lucrative proposition. The government hopes to dissuade farmers from selling cows when they become old. It will also help gaushalas across the country,’’ the official added.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Vedic Vidyalayas: The newly emerging trend

ALLAHABAD: Vedic Vidyalayas have recently emerged as the latest trend.  In contrast to last year’s figure of 150, the numbers for the Prayag entrance test have doubled up. The Times of India reported how   around “400 children, aged between 9 and 11 years, came to Prayag (Allahabad) from across the country on Wednesday to take the entrance test for 25 seats in two such schools. Most of them were from Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and UP”. Both written and oral tests were held as a part of the entrance. Credits:,d.c2E&psig=AFQjCNEyzpAYvcqYg3m6PaqT25p4C_Rb6g&ust=1437121046703847
These Vedic Vidyalayas are run jointly by Vishwa Ved Sansthan (an organ of Vishwa Hindu Parishad) and Maharshi Ved Vyas Pratisthan (Pune) and offer a seven-year course in Vedas.  There are around 35 Vedic Vidyalayas in the country. Eight out of these are located in UP, two in Prayag and Haridwar and one each in Kashi, Mathura, Ayodhya, Rishikesh and Lucknow. Apart from these, Vedic schools have also been set up in Manipur, Kolkata, Jammu, Pune, Amrawati and Pushkar.
Shubham Tripathi, who had brought his son from Jaipur for the test, offered his opinion upon the rising trend of Vedic education. “Two years back, yoga was not too popular but today International Yoga Day is being celebrated across the world. Same is the case with Vedic education.”
Maharshi Bhardwaj Ved Vedang Shikshan Kendra, Prayag, principal Acharya Pankaj Sharma said, “Many western universities offer graduate level courses in Vedas, Sanskrit, Hindu philosophy, yoga, ayurveda, jyotish and medicines. Meritorious students get a worldwide exposure as various universities are on the lookout for such students. Demand for acharyas and experts is on the rise in western countries.”

British school makes Sanskrit compulsory in their curriculum!

In the heart of London, a British school has made Sanskrit compulsory subject for its junior division because it helps students grasp math, science and other languages better. "This is the most perfect and logical language in the world, the only one that is not named after the people who speak it.  Indeed the word itself means 'perfected language." --Warwick Jessup, Head, Head, Sanskrit department "The Devnagri script and spoken Sanskrit are two of the best ways for a child to overcome stiffness of fingers and the tongue," says Moss.  "Today's European languages do not use many parts of the tongue and mouth while speaking or many finger movements while writing, whereas Sanskrit helps immensely to develop cerebral dexterity through its phonetics."

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Agastya samhita - secrets of Pushpaka vimana

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Back to natural living!
Sriram and Karpagam working in their field. Photo: B. Jothi Ramalingam
Karpagam points outside her window: “This is the view I wake up to every morning.” Ragi and neem seeds are drying in the sun. Parrot green paddy fields roll out into the distance, their borders dotted with palm trees. A gentle breeze drifts in — there is no need for a fan, even though it’s peak summer in this quiet village near Maduranthakam in Tamil Nadu.
A commerce and management graduate, Karpagam was a top-ranking executive in a shipping company, her job taking her around the world. While volunteering with a non-profit organisation, she met her husband Sriram “We both wanted the same things in life,” she says. Sriram is an IIT-IIM graduate, degrees he dismisses. “Why is it important?” he asks. “What is more important is what I was doing (or not doing!) for society.”
Five years ago, the couple quit their lives in Bombay to take up farming. How did their families react? “Violently,” Sriram laughs. “They were shocked,” says Karpagam. Eventually their parents came to respect their decision.Reading Gandhi and Kabir, Sriram realised that “Nature, and not human beings, is supreme”. What bothered him most was the chemicals in the food he ate everyday. “It’s poison,” he stresses. He was sure he wanted to quit and “do something with food”. Karpagam says, “I had an out-of-body experience one day,” when she was sales manager in a company. “I suddenly thought, ‘will the world stop because a new model of car is not sold every six months’?”
The transition itself wasn’t difficult. “We hit the ground running,” smiles Sriram. “Farming is physically taxing, that was our only worry. Mentally, we were both prepared.”
Today, they grow rice, groundnut, sesame, ragi, green gram, and urad dal. They distribute some of the produce to family members; the rest they sell. “We spend about Rs. 15,000 on one acre of paddy and make about Rs. 25,000. Commercially, I can make much more but there’s no point escaping an exploitative society only to return to it,” says Sriram.
They farm and drive away parrots and cows from their field. In the evenings, they read, blog, or do their accounts. These well-educated farmers quote Dharampal, Wendell Berry and Gandhi, but don’t consider them as inspirations. “Less than 200 years ago, this is how people lived. Our inspiration is our farmers. We are alive because of them,” they say.

Friday, 15 May 2015

Toyota Shows How Their Car Runs on Cow Manure!

There are those who don't believe that hydrogen, as an alternative fuel, is a feasible source. Yes, Elon Musk and Carlos Ghosn, we are looking at you. But for all these non-believers, Toyota came out with an answer in the form of the fuel-cell car - Mirai, which has already seen the light of production in Japan but the company has plans to introduce it in other markets soon.
As part of their Earth Day promotions, the company released the first episode of its series of Toyota Mirai ads called 'Fueled By Everything'. With this ad it tries to prove how hydrogen can be stripped from cow manure to power the Toyota Mirai.
It's very clear that through these ads, Toyota takes the cheeky road for there are many who have called hydrogen a bullshit fuel source. So the apt thing to do here was prove that it is indeed bullshit that powers the Toyota Mirai. The video essentially shows how hydrogen can be harnessed by processing cow manure, and therefore says that it isn't all that difficult.

Toyota Shows How Their Car Runs on Cow Manure

The Mirai is the Japanese carmaker's first mass-production hydrogen-powered fuel-cell car, and it comes after 20 years and millions of dollars of investment in research and development. This is how it basically works.

The gas goes through a hydrogen fuel cell stack that mixes oxygen with the hydrogen and this reaction, in turn, generates electricity to charge the on-board battery. The Toyota Mirai is powered by a 114 kilowatt fuel cell stack along with a 113 kilowatt electric motor on board. The combination of hydrogen and oxygen creates pure water, which is dumped via the tailpipe while driving or when the vehicle is parked.
According to Toyota, 0-100Km/h takes around 10 seconds and the range expected from the car in real world driving conditions is about 550km. If you were wondering how long it takes to refill the tank, well you'll be surprised if I say 5 minutes. Currently Japan has only 10 hydrogen stations, though there's a plan to take that number up to 100 by the end of 2015.
The car is currently priced at around Rs. 35 lakh in Japan and the price could dip a little with select markets offering government incentives.

Monday, 16 March 2015

‘Darbha’ grass, a natural preservative

Darbha (Desmotachya bipinnata) is a tropical grass considered a sacred material in Vedic scriptures and is said to purify the offerings during such rituals.

A systematic research by SASTRA University researchers

Traditional tropical grass, Darbha, has been identified as an eco-friendly food preservative.
This finding was evolved in a research study undertaken jointly by the Centre for Nanotechnology and Advanced Biomaterials (CeNTAB) and the Centre for Advanced Research in Indian System of Medicine (CARISM) of the SASTRA University, Thanjavur, under the supervision of Dr. P. Meera and Dr. P. Brindha respectively.
Darbha (Desmotachya bipinnata) is a tropical grass considered a sacred material in Vedic scriptures and is said to purify the offerings during such rituals.
At the time of eclipse, people place that grass in food items that could ferment and once the eclipse ends the grass is removed.
A systematic research was conducted by the SASTRA University researchers, in which cow’s curd was chosen as a food item that could ferment easily.
Five other tropical grass species, including lemon grass, Bermuda grass, and bamboo were chosen for comparison based on different levels of antibiotic properties and hydro phobicity.
Electron microscopy of different grasses revealed stunning nano-patterns and hierarchical nano or micro structures in darbha grass while they were absent in other grasses.
On studying the effect of various grasses on the microbial community of the curd, darbha grass alone was found to attract enormous number of bacteria into the hierarchical surface features.
These are the bacteria responsible for fermentation of cow’s curd.
During eclipse, the wavelength and intensity of light radiations available on the earth’s surface is altered. Especially, the blue and ultraviolet radiations, which are known for their natural disinfecting property, are not available in sufficient quantities during eclipse.
This leads to uncontrolled growth of micro-organisms in food products during eclipse and the food products are not suitable for consumption. Darbha was thus used as a natural disinfectant on specific occasions, say researchers at SASTRA University.
Further, the scientists say that darbha could be used as a natural food preservative in place of harmful chemical preservatives and the artificial surfaces mimicking the hierarchical nano patterns on the surface of darbha grass could find applications in health care where sterile conditions were required.
This entire research was funded by the SASTRA University’s Research Fund.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Family of six lives off less than $90 a week!

SELF-SUFFICIENT: The Vinbrux family, from left, Christel, Judy, Richard, Danny and Sarah.

They're an intriguing family, the Vinbruxes. There's an Amish look to their hairstyles and clothing. You can put that down to home barbering and wardrobes from local op shops. From their conversation and the books on theirshelves it's clear that they're well educated. Richard gained a degree in agriculture and qualified as a master baker in Germany and produces fabulous fare for the weekly Oamaru Farmers' Market while Christel holds a Masters in home economics from Germany and there's nothing she can't do with raw ingredients to make delectable meals.  
Christel and Richard arrived in Oamaru in 1998 with the first four of their five children, bought 12.5 hectares of undulating farmland, set up an Icelandic horse stud to generate an income and began farming according to the biodynamic principles of Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner. Their home is built from logs and furnished with rustic German antiques. A reconditioned Shacklock stove cooks the food and heats the house. Pitch-roofed outhouses in the yard are painted in fanciful colours. One of these is a bakery with a wood-fired brick oven while another is a dairy equipped for producing cheeses, yoghurt, separated cream and milk. There's a brew house for making hooch. 
Weekly grocery bills for the household of six plus a few Woofers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) come to about $90, which covers such staples as flour, rice, salt, sugar and olive oil. Other than that, they eat what they grow in the vegetable gardens and raise in the paddocks. Most of the land is in pasture that supports the livestock: horses, sheep, cattle, pigs, hens, goats, bees, geese, turkeys, ducks and pigeons. There are any number of mouser cats with dogs for stock work and companionship. Over the years they've planted a 1.5-hectare mixed wood lot, a half-hectare orchard and another half hectare in vegetable beds.
THE SIMPLE LIFE: "Most of the time we can live quite comfortably off the smell of the rag that was lying next to the oily one," Richard says.
Tessa Chrisp
THE SIMPLE LIFE: "Most of the time we can live quite comfortably off the smell of the rag that was lying next to the oily one," Richard says.
Running a small farm like this is a full-time job for several people. Christel describes their daily routine: "Every day starts with a big German-style breakfast of good coffee, bread, meats and cheeses for all the family. Then at 8am Judy (14) and I go out to do the milking. When we return the cows to the paddocks Danny (17) is there to feed the pigs and bring the milk to the cheese house. 
If Richard is not baking he might make cheese or just separate the milk and cream, then the shed is washed and cleaned. All that takes up to two hours. Then Judy and I feed the rest of the stock with hay or haylage. Milking and feeding the animals takes us to about 11am, sometimes later. After lunch Judy does her schoolwork and the rest of the day is for garden and kitchen work – that's usually me with help from Judy when she's finished her studies, while Richard and Danny do general maintenance and farming chores."
Richard gets up at 4 or 5am on four days of the week to make bread and pastries for the bakery in Oamaru which he set up to train their second son Jan (25) and on Sundays to stock Jan's stall at the Oamaru Farmers' Market. After the evening meal the family relaxes. They read, maybe watch a DVD, and are early to bed. 
BEE CHARMER: Danny takes pride in working with his imported Carnolian bees and doesn't bother to wear his apiarist'€™s hat and veil unless he is doing something intrusive in the hives.
Tessa Chrisp
BEE CHARMER: Danny takes pride in working with his imported Carnolian bees and doesn't bother to wear his apiarist'€™s hat and veil unless he is doing something intrusive in the hives.
While eldest son Fabian (28) went through a conventional education, Christel and Richard home-schooled the other children. They made the decision after Sarah (now 19), who was born with an intellectual impairment, made much more progress with home tutoring than at school. "With home schooling you can tailor the lessons to the individual kid," says Richard. The young Vinbruxes read widely, are well grounded in the basics, bilingual in German and English and remarkably more mature than others their age. From their earliest years they have been articulate, confident and respectful around adults and well able to prepare and cook meals while still of primary-school age. "We sometimes have 20-year-old Woofers who can't cook even the simplest meal," says Christel.
The biggest risk in this way of life, they say, is depending on only one income stream and not being alert to other money-generating opportunities. That's why, in addition to the horse stud, they have established another niche for themselves with their self-sufficiency school. This offers both residential and day-long courses in different aspects of self sufficiency to people who want to get back to the land and to townies wanting to learn how to keep hens or make their own cheese. Or sauerkraut. Or bratwurst. Or…
The younger members of the family are also making or planning their contributions to the household finances. While Fabian lives and works independently, Jan lives in town and trains at the family-owned bakery in Arun Street. At 25 he is not interested in living in a big city. "I like small towns and Oamaru in particular. Besides the interesting people here, it's easy to get almost anywhere by walking but I'm also thinking of getting an electric bicycle." 
MILKING TIME: The cows munch grains while they're being milked, and the ducks take advantage of the spillage.
Tessa Chrisp
MILKING TIME: The cows munch grains while they're being milked, and the ducks take advantage of the spillage.
Danny will open a butchery next to the bakery this year, having recently spent four months in Germany learning to make traditional small goods. Judy milks four goats by hand and says, "After I've finished my schooling and when I'm 18 I plan to go to the Swiss Alps and learn more about breeding and running goats and how to make more and different cheeses. Then I want to have my own goat herd here on the family farm and make my own cheeses and sell them."
Sarah loves baby animals and it's her job to feed the lambs and calves, the dogs and pups. She stacks the breakfast plates every morning, sweeps the floor, hangs up the washing, folds laundry.  She says, "Every morning I go with Mum to tame the foals." 
Christel smiles. "She's very quiet and patient with the young horses and gently introduces them to wearing the halter." The family agrees that Sarah is a joy. Every morning she wakes up singing. 
This life of self-sufficiency requires commitment and dedication. "On one level you are far freer than other people but on the other hand there are a lot of things that have to be done – like milking twice a day," says Richard. "We take one day off in the week but someone needs to feed the animals and milk the cows so we take turns and try to finish up by 11am. We never take a holiday as a family. The children go to stay with friends and family both here and in Germany." 
Richard and Christel have taken trips to Germany, but not as a couple. There always needs to be one or other at home on the farm. Nor can they afford to eat out as a rule, but world-renowned restaurateur Fleur Sullivan wishes them a happy wedding anniversary when they turn up at Fleur's Place in Moeraki for their annual seafood dinner.  
Richard sums up their way of life: "If anyone wants this life they need to be able to live very simply. If we were prepared to pay for the things we'd like to have we'd need to find jobs off the property. But this is the life we have chosen and we still choose it every day. We would rather work for ourselves than for money."  
Would they recommend this life to other people? "Only if the whole family is behind it and you really love to do these things," says Christel. "And," adds Richard, "you don't think physical work is demeaning." There is no drudge work on the Vinbrux farm. Living self sufficiently is grounded in a philosophy where manual work is enjoyed and celebrated. Richard says, "Getting rich was never a big part of our life plan. If we didn't have the self-sufficiency base we wouldn't be able to sustain ourselves financially. Most of thetime we can live quite comfortably off the smell of the rag that was lying next to the oily one. You need to set yourself up so that you can do with very little money if things are not going well. We can make do with about $20,000 for a few years in succession but notfor ever . Sometimes we have a windfall that brings in another $10,000 or $15,000 and that allows us to make repairs, build or buy something we've done without before." Christel adds,"But we eat like kings even if we don't have lots of money."

FAMILY FEAST: Home-made dairy products and four different types of Richard's bread are a regular part of the breakfast and lunch menus.
Tessa Chrisp
FAMILY FEAST: Home-made dairy products and four different types of Richard's bread are a regular part of the breakfast and lunch menus.
Christel and Richard brought four mares and a young stallion with them from Germany to set up a modest Icelandic horse stud that would give them a regular income in New Zealand. Christel is the horsewoman in the family. She estimates that she's put about 100 horses "under the saddle" over the years. Because of their peculiar flowing gait ( toelt ) and gentle nature, Icelandic horses are popular among people who ride for pleasure. Christel explains: "They have been bred for more than a thousand years and all the bad-tempered traits like bucking, biting and kicking have been bred out of them. If a horse didn't behave it got eaten, whereas with other breeds if the mare didn't behave people said, 'Oh well, we'll just breed with her' and those characteristics showed up in future generations." These stocky, placid Icelandic horses live to about 30 and can be ridden until the age of 18 or so. They sell from $6000 to $20,000 for an imported stallion.

Sunday, 8 March 2015

Cuba bans cow slaughter!

NEW DELHI: Even the secularists will find themselves hard put to link this one with the Sangh Pariwar. But the fact that Cuba is breeding cows would definitely give the advocates of Hindutva something to moo about. 
In fact, the Sangh which could actually take a cue from the Cubans. According to a report in MIT's Technology Review magazine, Havana recently passed a law under which cow slaughter was made punishable with a jail term. 

It is not as if Fidel Castro's beefy regime has developed an overnight fondness for cows. But Cuba hopes cows will help rebuild its economy which is in tatters. Hence, the country has decided to undo some of the damage inflicted in the nineties when an impoverished populace ate up a large chunk of its cattle population. 
How will multiplying the cows help the country? 

According to the MIT report, Cuban sugar catered to entire globe's sweet tooth before the 90s, but with Russia, India and China starting to produce cheaper sugar in abundance, the country was relegated to a minor player. 
Cuban policy-makers then decided to retrain their energies on two rather low-tech strategies for growth: growing cattle stock and boosting tourism. 

According to the report, there are two key factors that go in favour of Cuba's newfound love for cattle. Its multiplication policy can work because almost 80 per cent of Cuba has a lush green cover which was once cleared for sugarcane production in the 70s and 80s. 
The South American country also gets abundant rain and has no natural predators like wolves and big cats which compete with humans in preying on cows. Its policy-makers therefore find the conditions more suited to raising cattle than agriculture. 

The key to this policy, of course, lies in not killing the cattle for a few years, but in letting them breed and multiply for the next several years as part of the exponential growth strategy. 
Therefore, Cuba has made it mandatory for its citizens to procure a permit to kill cattle. And getting one is very difficult in the communist country. 

Is there a tech lesson here for all similar under-developed countries? 
How about an all-party a delegation of Members of Parliament visiting Havana to study the enforcement of the 'ban cow slaughter' legislation? Mooo.... 


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