The Intersection ●
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Our constitution was under attack (from natural elements). Protecting this historic document from deterioration was critical. When two boxes hooked up to nitrogen and oxygen cylinders were delivered to the Indian parliament in 1995, it was significant moment in the preservation of the Indian constitution. Padmaparna and Samanth investigate the science that ensures the protection of the very foundation of this country.
The Indus Valley Civilization was a Bronze Age civilisation spread across the northwestern regions of South Asia; it was one of three early centres of civilisations of the Old World, and the most widespread. In this episode we look at how the landscape evolved in the Western part of India during the Holocene. And how humans interacted with the changing environment. And what that can inform the current climate challenges we face.
What if the world spoke one language? And we never needed Google Translate? One man dreamt of such a language a century ago -- Esperanto. In this episode, we explore the life of Lakshmiswar Sinha, the most famous Indian Esperantist of the 20th century -- a man who at one time was a much sought-after speaker of this utopian language.
Humans take 3D vision for granted--we don't stop to gauge the distance of a cup of chai on the table before reaching out for it. It is a complicated process that requires highly-developed neural networks. Or does it? Scientists have found several animals, including insects, use 3D vision without brains as large as ours. Studying these creatures and their behaviour can help humans better design vision systems for our own kind and for the robots we build. On this episode, Padma and Samanth deep-dive into the fascinating phenomenon of 3D vision in the insect kingdom. Music: Josh Woodward
For many children, especially in India, the thought of picking up a science or maths book inspires terror. There's no fun in a system that promotes rote learning over curiosity and understanding. Fortunately, things are changing. Books that explain STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) concepts in an interesting and engaging way are finding space on children's bookshelves and in school libraries and inspiring kids to embrace the subjects instead of running away from them. On this episode of The Intersection, Padma speaks to the folks at Pratham Books--an organization that publishes titles on things from friction, bio-luminescence and evolution to subtraction, spiders and blue whales--about the importance of introducing children to these concepts at an early age and making science and maths more fun for them. Music: Josh Woodward
A recent study found that India's farmed chickens are dosed with the world's strongest antibiotics. This is done so that they're immune to diseases they could contract in the cramped, filthy quarters that they're kept in. All over the world, the meat industry treats animals cruelly, to meet our huge demands and this is contributing to our destruction of the planet. But a few scientists are working to change this. On this episode of The Intersection, Samanth and Padma break down the science of lab-grown meat and discover what it tastes like. Music: Josh Woodward
Labradoodles and Saint Bernards are great, but have you ever met a Chippiparai? This lithe stunner is just one of the handful of indigenous dog breeds that are still found around India. Sadly, many of these breeds are disappearing. On this episode, Samanth and Padmaparna speak to dog lovers who are doing their best to conserve these beauties and to a dog-loving civil servant who has studied homegrown breeds for most of his life and has even written a book about them. Music: Josh Woodward
Mars has captured our imagination for decades. Our neighbouring planet, easily identifiable as a red orb in the night sky, has inspired scores of research papers, sci-fi novels and alien flicks. People like Elon Musk are even figuring out ways to colonize Mars. But we need to know more about the planet before setting foot on it. What if there is something or someone that already calls Mars home? In this episode of The Intersection, Samanth and Padma speak to a group of scientists working here on Earth to figure out what we might find on Martian soil. Music: Josh Woodward
The Spanish Flu was the biggest pandemic of the last century. Five hundred million people were affected and over 14 million people died in India, the worst affected country in the world. But apart from taking millions of lives and disrupting families, the Spanish Flu also had geopolitical repercussions, including on India's freedom struggle. In this episode of The Intersection, Padma and Samanth learn about the Spanish's Flu's wide-ranging effects and how existing flus around the world share properties with the dangerous 1918 strain. Music: Josh Woodward
At some point of time, every human that has ever walked this planet has looked up at the night sky and wondered what the cosmos is trying to tell them. Tribes turned to the heavens when looking for structure and found ingenious ways to build their lives around the stars they saw every night, as Samanth and Padma discover in this stellar episode of The Intersection dedicated to ancient astronomy. Music: Josh Woodward
Stampedes are all too common in India--at temples, religious festivals, sporting events and most recently, at a railway station in Mumbai. Though it might seem like unpredictable, unorganized chaos, there are actually computational models that study such potential situations and help authorities, designers and architects avoid them. As The Intersection returns with a new season, find out why stampedes occur and what to do if you're stuck in one. Music: Josh Woodward
Isn't it odd that the word for "father" in Spanish ("padre") and Sanskrit ("pitru") sound similar? Especially given the geographic and cultural barriers that separate the two languages? As this episode of The Intersection discovers, there's a reason these languages can sound similar, and what's more, there's actually a way to trace the pronunciations of modern words, sometimes going back 8,000 years. Tune in to know more about the granddaddy of modern Indo-European languages and how a story may have sounded thousands of years ago. Music: Josh Woodward
You've probably heard of the Hyperloop, the high-speed mode of transport that could potentially change the way we travel. Dreamed up by entrepreneur and inventor Elon Musk, the Hyperloop promises to cut travel times substantially, promising to cover 500km in about 30 minutes. There's even talk of the Hyperloop coming to India, and connecting cities like Mumbai and Delhi, and Bengaluru and Chennai. But how does this transport system (that looks like something out of "The Jetsons") work? And is India ready for it? Or are there cheaper upgrades to the current rail network that would be more sensible? Samanth Subramanian and Padmaparna Ghosh find out in this episode of The Intersection. Music Credit: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske
Music has a power to move us; a few notes of a piece of music can make us feel intensely elated or deeply melancholic. Researchers have done significant work to find out how music connects to our brains and how just a few notes can trigger specific responses among us. This episode of The Intersection goes into the science behind the sounds of music. Music: Josh Woodward
We have been taught that like the mule, hybrid animals are sterile. They are generally considered to be ‘freaks’ because human beings are obsessed with ‘purity’ of species. However several experiments have shown that hybrid animals can be fertile and even evolve into a new species. This week, The Intersection tells the story of the Litigon in Kolkata to explain the politics around hybrids in the animal kingdom. Music: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske
Do people greet each other properly only when they have an agenda? What do we need to do make moments ‘truly’ memorable? What makes you relate to characters in movies? Do we live in a post-truth world where nothing can be trusted or even distrusted? Is Twitter finally enabling people to be their ass***e selves? On this last episode of Season 1 of Our Last Week, listen to Kunaal Roy Kapur and Anuvab Pal looking back at a year of conundrums.
In India, preservation and restoration of old manuscripts is not treated with the seriousness it deserves by libraries. Against this environment of callousness, Anand Akolkar wages a somewhat lonely war, from his humble home in Mumbai. He battles with the harsh elements of nature and an uncaring bureaucracy to preserve and restore old and dying manuscripts. A few thousand miles away in Dublin, we get a peek into the biggest library in Ireland and learn how seriously the preservation and restoration of books is treated. To change our attitude, we need to understand the value of knowledge transmitted through books and learn to cherish them. Music Credit: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske
With all Anuvab’s personal conversations with Kunaal are making it to the podcast, he laments their private lives have now become ‘conundrums’ for the benefit of the show’s producers. Which begs the question, do our personal lives even matter? For e.g. do the rights to Dhoni’s life belong to him or to the producers of his biopic? Also, how many middlemen do you need to get anything done? Can Indians ever have an event that doesn’t go into a crisis
Bird watching is not just a hobby that some enthusiasts undertake to pass their time, it can be an exercise in natural historiography itself. Historically and internationally, the contribution of amateur naturalists has been significant and often pioneering. Non-professionals have played a very important role in laying the foundations of Indian natural history since colonial times. And they continue to build on it today as well. Listen to Samanth and Padmaparna in this new episode as they tell us about the amazing bird watchers of Kerala. Music Credits: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske
Can a Global Citizen Fest really eradicate poverty where a head-exploding variety of celebrities get together to sing and dance for an audience hell-bent on enjoying itself? Are human beings beyond pleasing? What pleasure do us Indians get in circumventing the rules? What is the greatest sacrifice any RBI governor has ever made for India? How much work can you avoid by saying soldiers are dying? How much knowing is knowing enough? OLW asks the right questions once again.
39 volunteers. 59 countries. 136 airports. With 400 swabs collected over 3 years. That is what it took for researchers to determine the course of bacteria that affect thousands of people worldwide. Multi drug resistant bacteria are growing more powerful each day with microbiologists struggling to find a way to combat these pathogens. Samanth Subramanian and Padmaparna Ghosh talk to Frieder Schaumburg, the microbiologist who ran this study to understand the fight against these superbugs. Music Credit: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske
This week there are no conundrums, life itself has become a conundrum. Kunaal and Anuvab contemplate the brave new world where Trump is President and their cash is worth nothing. They are distraught that the basic promise printed on our bank notes has been broken. Anuvab looks for all things he can barter for some tandoori chicken and they talk about how Donald Trump as president will change how we fundamentally look at the western world.
People were asked to send in their selfies for a beauty contest judged by AI and the results were shocking. Of the 44 winners of the beauty contest, only one was dark skinned. Elsewhere Microsoft developed a self-learning chat bot, Tay, which was taken offline in just 16 hours because of its offensive behaviour. Are robots inherently racist? Or is it inevitable for them to echo and amplify the prejudices their makers hold? Music Credit: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske
Why doesn’t anyone in a position of power ever retire? Are people with a family business really that happy or are they better off with jobs? How our phone battery is giving us anxiety? As we get older, do we inevitably become the people we hated in our youth? Are WhatsApp groups another reason to hate our parents? OLW has answers to all of life’s important questions.
39 years ago, a radio telescope called Big Ear in Ohio received a sudden burst of waves that were most likely from a source near Sagittarius. The signal, called the Wow signal, named after Astronomer Jerry Ehman’s reaction to it, has never been heard again. But a few astronomers hope to find the mystery behind the source of the signal in the next few years and (hopefully) probe the possibility of a life beyond our planet. Music Credit: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske Sound Credit: NASA
Should you be obliged to tip for a service you have already paid for? What is the point of an air mile if it doesn’t actually equal a mile? Do you have kids only so that you can play on a bouncy castle in your 40s? Do you really need a temperature controlled bum shower (aka health faucet)? How do you handle a meeting that turns pointless while you’re in it? Life throws us questions and the OLW duo have the answers.
Bhutan was the first country to take into consideration the happiness of its citizens by measuring GNH (Gross National Happiness). Other institutions in other countries have also tried to set-up similar parameters around the measurement of well-being. But how do you measure something that is so subjective and so difficult to quantify. Samanth Subramanian and Padmaparna Ghosh talk to researchers about the challenges with measuring happiness and its correlation with economic growth. Music credit: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske
Kunaal and Anuvab are back with more conundrums about the events gripping the country and its borders. Anuvab is fascinated with Bollywood extras and how the Indian caste system plays out with how they are treated. The duo has a suggestion for a new act for the government, which would be a boon for doubting spouses. And Anuvab talks about a difficult time when he had to choose between greed and conscience.
In 1965, Captain Manmohan Singh Kohli, an officer in the Indian navy, led a group of CIA and IB officials on an arduous trek across 125 kilometres, for a covert mission to spy on China’s nuclear capability. They changed course a month into this arduous trek after encountering a severe avalanche and the story was soon forgotten. The abandoned mission only came back into the news, after a leak in the 1970s, when questions were raised in parliament about the dangers of the lost plutonium. In this episode of The Intersection, Samanth Subramanian revisits the mission and speaks to Vinod Jose on his fascinating story. Music credit: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske
Anuvab Pal and Kunaal Roy Kapur return with another set of fresh conundrums. Why we don’t take instructions very well. How we don’t follow our own dreams but follow someone else’s. And why a veteran film star went to an awards show dressed as a tomato. How Kunaal has a very keen sense of fashion, which is to be determinedly unfashionable. And how our self-expression is always about whom we hired to do it for us.
Communication is not limited only to the words we hear or the signs we see, it can go beyond that. Plants cannot speak, hear, see or move, so how do these plants communicate? Is their language made up of chemicals and signals? In this brand new episode, we cover the work done by scientists to study the relationship plants have with the complex ecosystem around them. Music credit: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske
Kunaal and Anuvab on the importance of that ONE signed piece of paper in India and how it can validate your ENTIRE existence. The duo on how being a freelancer is not very different from being a daily contract labourer. Kunaal on how India already has driverless cars. Anuvab on his visit to a business school.And why America is a nation of illegal immigrants.
A lot of what we see around is defined by its colour. When a new colour is added, there are exciting new possibilities in terms of shades that are possible and how they may be used. A new shade of blue was discovered in Oregon, USA which the makers called YInMn Blue, named after the elements it consists of - Yttrium, Indium and Manganese. This is exciting because it’s the first new blue in over 200 years. Padmaparna Ghosh speaks to Professor Mas Subramanian who developed this colour who tells us what makes the YInMn Blue so special. Music credit: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske Pic credit: Oregon State University
The Olympic games are on and Kunaal has been staying up to watch various events, he shares his unique (peculiar?) observations with Anuvab. The duo discusses a new set of games where you have to compete with the animals to win a medal/save your life. Anuvab reads an essay and finds fault lines in the Indian education system. Also the ultimate conundrum, is life elsewhere?
Are the floods in Mumbai, Chennai, Assam and other parts of India related to the wildfires in North America? In his new book The Great Derangement, Amitav Ghosh argues that these calamities are a direct outcome of climate change and our response to this has been inadequate. He also suggests that the Indian media is conveniently ignoring these very serious events because it is more fixated with Bollywood, Cricket and Politics (as a circus). Music credit: Josh Woodward
Polo matches with Dras’ who’s who (who?). Instead of Shanghai, Mumbai can become Venice. Inspired by Hitler’s house in Salzburg, the duo formulates a theory on natural beauty and ugly minds. Anuvab discovers some stunning facts about Victorian hygiene. Recipes for Indian cooking can be quite confusion, but Kunaal thinks they’re downright conniving.
The rich linguistic diversity of India is under threat, over 300 languages spoken by communities in geographically isolated areas have gone extinct and over a 100 more are endangered. As we move towards homogeneity in the name of progress, several indigenous languages across India are merging with more dominant ones. Meet V K Neelarao who concerned by the intrusion of Tamil in his original Saurashtrian language, made a film called ‘Hedde Jamoi’ to raise awareness for this dying language. Also on this episode, we talk to Dr. Arup Kumar Nath at Tezpur University’s Centre for Endangered Languages about how researchers and students are documenting and preserving disappearing languages and protecting a vital link with our past. Music credit: Josh Woodward and Chirs Zabriske Pic credit: www.andamanese.net
Have you been catching Pokémons lately? Anuvab and Kunaal have dreamed up an even better game, Passport Go, where each level you excel brings you closer to finally getting your passport. And what about too much specificity —do you really want to know where every tower of your phone company is? You just want to have ONE uninterrupted phone call! And have you ever automatically respected someone just because they were sitting behind a glass window? “Should you hit the dog?” The duo investigate whether self-driving cars will make us less human.
It took George A. Grierson about 30 years to finish his masterpiece —the Linguistic Survey of India, a monumental publication that documented 179 languages and 544 dialects across the extensive and diverse borders of India. Today these historic archives are available at the click of a mouse, but this compilation —of fables, songs, stories and epic poetry became a cornerstone of Indian language studies. Almost 100 years later, this epic work had a companion, when eminent Indian linguist Ganesh Devy’s People’s Survey of India was published. He identified 780 languages: some dead, some in the process of dying, some non-verbal and some that reflect the ones that Grierson recorded. Music by Josh Woodward and Chris Zibriske Pic Credit: Minna Sundberg
Why are Bengalis so obsessed with South American football? Is it Maradona and Messi or just the idea of a human being moving so quickly? As Brexit leads to Bregret, the practice of making up words is so confusing that you have no idea whether it’s about teeth whitener or a coal scam. Why ransom is the best strategy for getting smooth courier deliveries. “Deep down everyone wants to leave”, why getting a visa in India is such a big deal. What does being rude to waiters say about us? And what about waiters who are rude to customers.
A few decades ago the curator of the Government Museum in Madras approached nuclear scientist Dr. Baldev Raj with a problem; bronze Chola idols that were stolen were being returned or retrieved but there was no way to identify if they were real. This posed a challenge not just to Dr. Raj but all other scientists in India: how to identify the origin of a historical artifact? How to tease out its ‘fingerprints’ and find out the era it belonged to? And can you use science to tell fake ones from real? Music by Chirs Zabriske and Josh Woodword
Hens giving eggs is a usual occurrence, but Kunaal encounters a Coorgy cat who pushed coffee beans out of its backside! What did they call it though— potty spice latte? Anuvab wonders why restaurants have started barbecuing everything —pineapples, cricket bats and even children. Where do we draw the line? Also, do you want to scratch your head? Need to find where the remote is? Don’t worry— there’s an app for that! The duo shares it’s thoughts on Udta Punjab — and how some people in a concert might complain that they’ve never been peed on.
This episode of Our Last Week was performed LIVE at the Cheer! festival at the NCPA in Mumbai in front of a packed and by-and-large appreciative house (one uncle seemed very upset). For those of you who could not make it we bring you all the conundrums presented there right here. The OLW duo talks about (unique) biometrics in India, ISIS vs. Amit Tridevi and why healthy smoothies can by yucky.
Have you ever counted your clothes before handing it to your dhobi? That’s because everyone in India is a conniving thief! Kunaal explains why he doesn’t take working from home seriously— how can you make a presentation when you’re cooking an omlette? Anuvab gives saintly advice to all lost souls — you can be successful if you do something, even if that something is a corruption scandal or a terrible reality show. They wonder why millenials are like immature 12-year-olds—they don’t want to work in an office but a kindergarten, and why hating customer service people is a generational affair, is it in our genes or is it taught to by our parents?
How do you think the world will end? Nuclear war, zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion? While we may argue about the brutal method through which our race will perish, meet the 15 people whose job it is to debate the actual possibilities of total destruction of human kind, through a Doomsday Clock. This is an invention that measures symbolically how long our world will survive by taking into account various factors that threaten the world’s survival. On the latest episode, we tell you how very close we are to our own end. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Music by: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske
“Ma mati manush”— is that a campaign slogan or a password from Star Trek? Was the ‘Acche din’ slogan ‘inspired’ by the Chilean one ‘Happiness is coming’? In this season of elections, Anuvab Pal and Kunaal Roy Kapur decode campaign slogans. The duo talk about an African politician whose life story sounds like an episode of Game of Thrones and how anything that happens exactly as it is supposed to, is considered revolutionary in India. Lastly they are exasperated on being subjected to reading open letters and recommend people write ‘closed’ ones instead!
It is said that the artists and craftsmen who built the Taj Mahal had their arms chopped off on the orders of Emperor Shah Jahan, so they could never build such a structure again. The Taj Mahal is known for its perfection, Rabindranath Tagore thought it was “a tear on the cheek of time” and for centuries the architecture of this monument has fascinated both experts and the lakhs of tourists who flock here every day. However Dilip Ahuja, a scientist, also made a startling observation — that the monument known around the world for its perfection, wasn’t actually perfect. Music: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske
Why did Doordarshan’s news anchors talk in high-pitched English accents? And do IPL organisers think the sport is not entertaining enough, is that why you have movie promotions, cheerleaders, synchronized swimming and celebrity commentators to make the game more enjoyable. Summer vacations are here, Anuvab and Kunaal discuss the ridiculous children’s that are advertised, such as: advanced comedy for under 6-year-olds, how to write a novel in 4 days, skydiving from mars and such. And the most important conundrum of all: can Haydn and Bach stop terrorism?
Only a month ago, Chirag Roy, an experienced naturalist and passionate snake rescuer, was bitten by a venomous snake near the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve. The region, home to the four most venomous snakes in India was typically under-resourced. Rushed to a hospital 2 hours away, Chirag didn’t survive. India suffers the highest occurrence of deaths and loss of limbs due to snakebite. Regarded as a ‘poor man’s problem, the situation is compounded by superstition, ignorance and just plain apathy. Samanth and Padma talk to experts across the field about different types of venom, the aftermath of a cobra bite, the use of horses in the making of anti-venom and raising awareness about this very avoidable cause of death. Music: Chirs Zabriske and Josh Woodward
Anuvab brings his expertise on the British monarchy to this week’s episode and suggests the former Empire sent the less fun royals to India. Then talking about accountability in large organisations and how much Pepsi Indra Nooyi actually owns. Also, do urban folk ‘know’ something is ayurvedic if they can’t identify the smell? And Our Last Week actually solves the world’s problems with a simply brilliant tax-solution. Not even kidding.