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Why the Navajo Nation Banned Genetic Research
February 11, 2018
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In 2003, Carletta Tilousi, a member of northern Arizona’s tiny Havasupai Tribe, listened to a student’s doctoral presentation. She was there to hear the results of a diabetes study conducted, in part, with her DNA.

Or so she thought. As the student spoke, Tilousi realized that her DNA—and that of other members of the Havasupai Tribe—had been used for other studies, too. Some of the findings, it turned out, challenged her tribe’s traditional stories by suggesting the Havasupai people did not originate in Arizona. That genetic analysis, tribe members worried, could potentially pose a threat to their claims to their traditional lands.

Tilousi’s case is part of the reason that the Navajo Nation, the second-largest federally recognized tribe in the United States, continues to ban research using its people’s DNA. Since 2002, Navajo leaders and community members have opted out of genetic research because of suspicions about how their DNA would be used and a long history of distrust of the medical community’s motivations and methods.

In August 2017, a group of Navajo Nation leaders and community members came together to decide whether to lift the moratorium. “Navajo leaders, researchers, tribal members and even medicine men are pretty much in consensus,” reports Pauly Denetclaw for the Navajo Times. It’s now likely that the Navajo Nation will lift the ban.

The specifics of the new policy are still being hashed out. But one thing is already clear: This time, the Navajo Nation will be in control of their own people’s DNA.

That’s a dramatic break from the past—one in which Native American people’s bodies and genetic material have been violated and used without consent.

Native Americans’ bodies have been subjects of curiosity and medical experimentation since Europeans began to colonize North America. In the 19th century, academics applied pseudoscience like phrenology, which claimed that skull shape reflected intellect and morality, to Native Americans. According to historian Marren Sanders, phrenologists used the skulls of Native Americans to “prove” that “the Indians were ‘more ignorant and vindictive, blood-thirsty and cruel in war,’ and would ultimately ‘prefer extermination to slavery.’”

Casts of Native American heads from the 19th century that are part of the phrenology collection at the Museum of Man (Musee de l'Homme) in Paris. (Credit: Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images)
Casts of Native American heads from the 19th century that are part of the phrenology collection at the Museum of Man (Musee de l’Homme) in Paris. (Credit: Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images)

Phrenologists weren’t the only people interested in Native American bodies. Anthropologists and museum curators were too. Over the course of the 19th century, they collected Native American remains, even digging up graves, out of a desire to compare them to those of other races.

Often, these practices were used to justify the mistreatment of Native Americans, fueling mistrust in any scientific use of people’s bodies. And experiences like those of Tilousi made it even more difficult to trust researchers.

Though Tilousi and other Havasupai Tribe members thought they were donating DNA to a research project on type 2 diabetes, the material was also used for studies on things like schizophrenia, inbreeding and the tribe’s geographical roots.

To Tilousi and other tribe members, that felt like a violation. Though each of those topics is relevant to the scientific community, they are taboo within Havasupai culture. Genetic evidence that the Havasupai people migrated from the Bering Strait directly conflicts with the tribe’s understanding of its origins. Those stories hold that the Havasupai has always lived in Arizona, and that belief underlies the tribe’s claims on its traditional lands.

Some questioned the need to do scientific research about the genetic origins of Native Americans at all. As Kim Tallbear, an expert in racial politics in science and member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate Tribe asked The Atlantic’s Rose Eveleth, “We know who we are as a people, as an indigenous people, why would we be so interested in where scientists think our genetic ancestors came from?”

Though the researcher who used the Havasupai Tribe’s DNA for other purposes maintained she had received informed consent, the Havasupai Tribe sued. Eventually, it received a $700,000 payout. The case was compared to that of Henrietta Lacks, an African-American woman whose cells became the basis of thousands of medical studies and breakthroughs without her or her family’s knowledge or consent and without compensation.

Rex Tilousi, elder and spiritual leader of the Arizona Havasupai tribe, speaking during a news conference after a settled lawsuit alleging Arizona State University scientists of misusing blood samples to study schizophrenia, inbreeding and ancient population migration. (Credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP/REX/Shutterstock)
Rex Tilousi, elder and spiritual leader of the Arizona Havasupai tribe, speaking during a news conference after a settled lawsuit alleging Arizona State University scientists of misusing blood samples to study schizophrenia, inbreeding and ancient population migration. (Credit: Ross D. Franklin/AP/REX/Shutterstock)

Tribal sovereignty and a history of misused remains aren’t the only reason to question genetic research using the DNA of Native American people. To many Native Americans, there are serious ramifications for using a person’s biological material—whether they’re alive or dead.

“To us,” explained Frank Dukepoo, a Hopi geneticist, told the San Francisco Chronicle, “any part of ourselves is sacred. Scientists say it’s just DNA. For an Indian, it is not just DNA, it’s part of a person, it is sacred, with deep religious significance. It is part of the essence of a person.”

Now, reports Sara Reardon for Nature, the Navajo Nation will likely lift the ban and put a policy in place that dictates how testing is done, who oversees the genetic material and information about the DNA, and what’s done with the material once it’s been used.

That’s big news for scientists. The ban’s end means they’ll have the chance to work with genetic material donated by people from the Navajo Nation—material that could yield new scientific insights, fuel discoveries and potentially improve the health of Navajo people themselves with the development of specialized treatments based on genetic information.

Will the lift of the Navajo ban increase Native American participation in genetic studies? It’s hard to tell. But even if the use of Native Americans’ DNA becomes more common, misgivings will likely linger.

“As Native Americans, we have a problem with trust because we have been violated so much,” David Begay, a pharmaceutical scientist at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque and a member of the Navajo Nation’s human-research review board, told Reardon.

Those violations may end in the future, but new policies won’t undo the pain of the past—or make it easier to move forward without justified suspicion.

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Native American Cultures The buffalo was an essential part of Native American life, used in everything from religious rituals to teepee construction.
February 11, 2018
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Many thousands of years before Christopher Columbus’ ships landed in the Bahamas, a different group of people discovered America: the nomadic ancestors of modern Native Americans who hiked over a “land bridge” from Asia to what is now Alaska more than 12,000 years ago. In fact, by the time European adventurers arrived in the 15th century A.D., scholars estimate that more than 50 million people were already living in the Americas. Of these, some 10 million lived in the area that would become the United States. As time passed, these migrants and their descendants pushed south and east, adapting as they went. In order to keep track of these diverse groups, anthropologists and geographers have divided them into “culture areas,” or rough groupings of contiguous peoples who shared similar habitats and characteristics. Most scholars break North America—excluding present-day Mexico—into 10 separate culture areas: the Arctic, the Subarctic, the Northeast, the Southeast, the Plains, the Southwest, the Great Basin, California, the Northwest Coast and the Plateau.

The Arctic culture area, a cold, flat, treeless region (actually a frozen desert) near the Arctic Circle in present-day Alaska, Canada and Greenland, was home to the Inuit and the Aleut. Both groups spoke, and continue to speak, dialects descended from what scholars call the Eskimo-Aleut language family. Because it is such an inhospitable landscape, the Arctic’s population was comparatively small and scattered. Some of its peoples, especially the Inuit in the northern part of the region, were nomads, following seals, polar bears and other game as they migrated across the tundra. In the southern part of the region, the Aleut were a bit more settled, living in small fishing villages along the shore.

The Inuit and Aleut had a great deal in common. Many lived in dome-shaped houses made of sod or timber (or, in the North, ice blocks). They used seal and otter skins to make warm, weatherproof clothing, aerodynamic dogsleds and long, open fishing boats (kayaks in Inuit; baidarkas in Aleut).

By the time the United States purchased Alaska in 1867, decades of oppression and exposure to European diseases had taken their toll: The native population had dropped to just 2,500; the descendants of these survivors still make their home in the area today.

The Subarctic culture area, mostly composed of swampy, piney forests (taiga) and waterlogged tundra, stretched across much of inland Alaska and Canada. Scholars have divided the region’s people into two language groups: the Athabaskan speakers at its western end, among them the Tsattine (Beaver), Gwich’in (or Kuchin) and the Deg Xinag (formerly—and pejoratively—known as the Ingalik), and the Algonquian speakers at its eastern end, including the Cree, the Ojibwa and the Naskapi.

In the Subarctic, travel was difficult—toboggans, snowshoes and lightweight canoes were the primary means of transportation—and population was sparse. In general, the peoples of the Subarctic did not form large permanent settlements; instead, small family groups stuck together as they traipsed after herds of caribou. They lived in small, easy-to-move tents and lean-tos, and when it grew too cold to hunt they hunkered into underground dugouts.

The growth of the fur trade in the 17th and 18th centuries disrupted the Subarctic way of life—now, instead of hunting and gathering for subsistence, the Indians focused on supplying pelts to the European traders—and eventually led to the displacement and extermination of many of the region’s native communities.

The Northeast culture area, one of the first to have sustained contact with Europeans, stretched from present-day Canada’s Atlantic coast to North Carolina and inland to the Mississippi River valley. Its inhabitants were members of two main groups: Iroquoian speakers (these included the Cayuga, Oneida, Erie, Onondaga, Seneca and Tuscarora), most of whom lived along inland rivers and lakes in fortified, politically stable villages, and the more numerous Algonquian speakers (these included the Pequot, Fox, Shawnee, Wampanoag, Delaware and Menominee) who lived in small farming and fishing villages along the ocean. There, they grew crops like corn, beans and vegetables.

Life in the Northeast culture area was already fraught with conflict—the Iroquoian groups tended to be rather aggressive and warlike, and bands and villages outside of their allied confederacies were never safe from their raids—and it grew more complicated when European colonizers arrived. Colonial wars repeatedly forced the region’s natives to take sides, pitting the Iroquois groups against their Algonquian neighbors. Meanwhile, as white settlement pressed westward, it eventually displaced both sets of indigenous people from their lands.

The Southeast culture area, north of the Gulf of Mexico and south of the Northeast, was a humid, fertile agricultural region. Many of its natives were expert farmers—they grew staple crops like maize, beans, squash, tobacco and sunflower—who organized their lives around small ceremonial and market villages known as hamlets. Perhaps the most familiar of the Southeastern indigenous peoples are the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole, sometimes called the Five Civilized Tribes, who all spoke a variant of the Muskogean language.

By the time the U.S. had won its independence from Britain, the Southeast culture area had already lost many of its native people to disease and displacement. In 1830, the federal Indian Removal Act compelled the relocation of what remained of the Five Civilized Tribes so that white settlers could have their land. Between 1830 and 1838, federal officials forced nearly 100,000 Indians out of the southern states and into “Indian Territory” (later Oklahoma) west of the Mississippi. The Cherokee called this frequently deadly trek the Trail of Tears.

The Plains culture area comprises the vast prairie region between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains, from present-day Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. Before the arrival of European traders and explorers, its inhabitants—speakers of Siouan, Algonquian, Caddoan, Uto-Aztecan and Athabaskan languages—were relatively settled hunters and farmers. After European contact, and especially after Spanish colonists brought horses to the region in the 18th century, the peoples of the Great Plains became much more nomadic. Groups like the Crow, Blackfeet, Cheyenne, Comanche and Arapaho used horses to pursue great herds of buffalo across the prairie. The most common dwelling for these hunters was the cone-shaped teepee, a bison-skin tent that could be folded up and carried anywhere. Plains Indians are also known for their elaborately feathered war bonnets.

As white traders and settlers moved west across the Plains region, they brought many damaging things with them: commercial goods, like knives and kettles, which native people came to depend on; guns; and disease. By the end of the 19th century, white sport hunters had nearly exterminated the area’s buffalo herds. With settlers encroaching on their lands and no way to make money, the Plains natives were forced onto government reservations.

The peoples of the Southwest culture area, a huge desert region in present-day Arizona and New Mexico (along with parts of Colorado, Utah, Texas and Mexico) developed two distinct ways of life.

Sedentary farmers such as the Hopi, the Zuni, the Yaqui and the Yuma grew crops like corn, beans and squash. Many lived in permanent settlements, known as pueblos, built of stone and adobe. These pueblos featured great multistory dwellings that resembled apartment houses. At their centers, many of these villages also had large ceremonial pit houses, or kivas.

Other Southwestern peoples, such as the Navajo and the Apache, were more nomadic. They survived by hunting, gathering and raiding their more established neighbors for their crops. Because these groups were always on the move, their homes were much less permanent than the pueblos. For instance, the Navajo fashioned their iconic eastward-facing round houses, known as hogans, out of materials like mud and bark.

By the time the southwestern territories became a part of the United States after the Mexican War, many of the region’s native people had already been exterminated. (Spanish colonists and missionaries had enslaved many of the Pueblo Indians, for example, working them to death on vast Spanish ranches known as encomiendas.) During the second half of the 19th century, the federal government resettled most of the region’s remaining natives onto reservations.

The Great Basin culture area, an expansive bowl formed by the Rocky Mountains to the east, the Sierra Nevadas to the west, the Columbia Plateau to the north, and the Colorado Plateau to the south, was a barren wasteland of deserts, salt flats and brackish lakes. Its people, most of whom spoke Shoshonean or Uto-Aztecan dialects (the Bannock, Paiute and Ute, for example), foraged for roots, seeds and nuts and hunted snakes, lizards and small mammals. Because they were always on the move, they lived in compact, easy-to-build wikiups made of willow poles or saplings, leaves and brush. Their settlements and social groups were impermanent, and communal leadership (what little there was) was informal.

After European contact, some Great Basin groups got horses and formed equestrian hunting and raiding bands that were similar to the ones we associate with the Great Plains natives. After white prospectors discovered gold and silver in the region in the mid-19th century, most of the Great Basin’s people lost their land and, frequently, their lives.

Before European contact, the temperate, hospitable California culture area had more people—an estimated 300,000 in the mid-16th century—than any other. It was also more diverse: Its estimated 100 different tribes and groups spoke more spoke more than 200 dialects. (These languages derived from the Penutian (the Maidu, Miwok and Yokuts), the Hokan (the Chumash, Pomo, Salinas and Shasta), the Uto-Aztecan (the Tubabulabal, Serrano and Kinatemuk; also, many of the “Mission Indians” who had been driven out of the Southwest by Spanish colonization spoke Uto-Aztecan dialects) and Athapaskan (the Hupa, among others). In fact, as one scholar has pointed out, California’s linguistic landscape was more complex than that of Europe.

Despite this great diversity, many native Californians lived very similar lives. They did not practice much agriculture. Instead, they organized themselves into small, family-based bands of hunter-gatherers known as tribelets. Inter-tribelet relationships, based on well-established systems of trade and common rights, were generally peaceful.

Spanish explorers infiltrated the California region in the middle of the 16th century. In 1769, the cleric Junipero Serra established a mission at San Diego, inaugurating a particularly brutal period in which forced labor, disease and assimilation nearly exterminated the culture area’s native population.

The Northwest Coast culture area, along the Pacific coast from British Columbia to the top of Northern California, has a mild climate and an abundance of natural resources. In particular, the ocean and the region’s rivers provided almost everything its people needed—salmon, especially, but also whales, sea otters, seals and fish and shellfish of all kinds. As a result, unlike many other hunter-gatherers who struggled to eke out a living and were forced to follow animal herds from place to place, the Indians of the Pacific Northwest were secure enough to build permanent villages that housed hundreds of people apiece. Those villages operated according to a rigidly stratified social structure, more sophisticated than any outside of Mexico and Central America. A person’s status was determined by his closeness to the village’s chief and reinforced by the number of possessions—blankets, shells and skins, canoes and even slaves—he had at his disposal. (Goods like these played an important role in the potlatch, an elaborate gift-giving ceremony designed to affirm these class divisions.)

Prominent groups in the region included the Athapaskan Haida and Tlingit; the Penutian Chinook, Tsimshian and Coos; the Wakashan Kwakiutl and Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka); and the Salishan Coast Salish.

The Plateau culture area sat in the Columbia and Fraser river basins at the intersection of the Subarctic, the Plains, the Great Basin, the California and the Northwest Coast (present-day Idaho, Montana and eastern Oregon and Washington). Most of its people lived in small, peaceful villages along stream and riverbanks and survived by fishing for salmon and trout, hunting and gathering wild berries, roots and nuts. In the southern Plateau region, the great majority spoke languages derived from the Penutian (the Klamath, Klikitat, Modoc, Nez Perce, Walla Walla and Yakima or Yakama). North of the Columbia River, most (the Skitswish (Coeur d’Alene), Salish (Flathead), Spokane and Columbia) spoke Salishan dialects.

In the 18th century, other native groups brought horses to the Plateau. The region’s inhabitants quickly integrated the animals into their economy, expanding the radius of their hunts and acting as traders and emissaries between the Northwest and the Plains. In 1805, the explorers Lewis and Clark passed through the area, drawing increasing numbers of disease-spreading white settlers. By the end of the 19th century, most of the remaining Plateau Indians had been cleared from their lands and resettled in government reservations.

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Should America Take Down Monuments That Romanticize Conquistadors?
February 11, 2018
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Calls to remove Confederate statues have been on the rise since August 2017, when white supremacists held a violent rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. However, those aren’t the only types of monuments that have drawn recent criticism. In September, protesters painted the hand of a Christopher Columbus statue red in New York City, decapitated a statue of St. Junipero Serra and doused it with red paint in Santa Barbara, and painted the foot of a Don Juan de Oñate statue red in Alcalde, New Mexico.

All these monuments have one big thing in common: They depict men who systematically killed and enslaved Native peoples while advancing Spain’s foothold in the New World.

“There’s a bigger issue here, and that is what it means to tell the truth about history,” says Stephanie Fryberg, a professor of American Indian Studies and Psychology at the University of Washington. Depicting Columbus as heroic—for instance, by honoring him with a statue—presents a “sterilized, romanticized version of history.”

Columbus, who is credited with establishing European presence in the Americas, captured over a thousand Native people and took them to Spain to be sold at slave auctions. He also served time in a Spanish prison for the violence he inflicted upon the people of Hispaniola (the Caribbean island that includes the Dominican Republic and Haiti).

Painting Columbus’ hand red is a way of drawing attention to the blood on his hands, just as painting Oñate’s foot highlights the conquistador’s penchant for chopping off Native Americans’ feet (a protester also removed one of the statue’s feet in the 1990s). Oñate is famous for establishing the Spanish colony of New Mexico in the mid-1500s, but also for leading a massacre that killed 800 Acoma Pueblo people.

Statue of Juan De Onate in Alcalde, New Mexico. (Credit: Mario1952/Flickr Creative Commons/CC BY 2.0)
Statue of Juan De Onate in Alcalde, New Mexico. (Credit: Mario1952/Flickr Creative Commons/CC BY 2.0)

Statues of Serra, especially, have been targeted since 2015, when Pope Francis designated the Spanish Franciscan friar as a saint. Some people consider Serra an important evangelizer of what is now the American West. Yet his mission captured Native Americans and used them as forced labor.

What, then, should be done with these statues? Christopher B.Teuton, professor and chair of American Indian Studies at the University of Washington, isn’t sure. But he does think these historical figures need to be recontextualized through accurate historical education. “I think issues surrounding the colonization of North America continue to be ignored and erased in American history,” he says.

“When we celebrate these figures unreflectively, and have monuments made to them—such as Oñate—that just continues that colonial narrative that is such a huge part of American history,” he says. This narrative “includes ideas such as that North America was empty of people, or that Native peoples received Christianity and so-called civilization in exchange for their lands.”

Fryberg agrees that these statues present an inaccurately laudatory view of figures like Columbus, Oñate, and Serra. Continuing to reify figures who hurt Native Americans can be harmful for indigenous groups and non-Natives alike, she notes.

“When [Native American children] get an accurate view of history, then they can see their people as people who have survived, overcome, resisted, and pushed back,” she continues. “Moreover, for non-Natives, when they only know the sterilized version of history, they don’t have accurate empathy or compassion for the plight of Native people.”

Indeed, a tweet from filmmaker Ava DuVernay shows how different perspectives can reframe conversations around history: “If someone kidnapped your child and sold them, where would you want us to put the statue of that person?”

In this instance, DuVernay was talking about Confederate monuments. But the question could easily be posed regarding Columbus, or even one of the newest saints.

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Delhi’s Khan Market Moves Up 4 Place In World’s Costliest Retail Spots
November 15, 2017
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National capital’s upscale Khan market has moved up four positions to become the world’s 24th most expensive retail location even as it continues to be the costliest to hire a shop in India, according to Cushman and Wakefield report.Monthly rentals at Khan market stood stable at Rs 1,250 per sq ft in the past one year, but still its ranking improved. In the 2016 report, it was placed 28th.”Delhi’s Khan market has emerged as the most expensive retail location in India and has clinched the 24th position in global rankings,” the consultant said.The rise of Khan market in the global rankings since 2016 is because of a drop in rentals in some key global markets, it added.New York’s Upper 5th Avenue retained its numero uno position while Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay and London’s Bond Street were ranked second and third, respectively.The survey took into consideration over 400 retail locations globally across 66 countries for the annual survey.”The retail sector in India has remained cautious in activities even though there was a visible momentum in leasing across main streets as well as shopping centres,” said Anshul Jain, Country Head and MD-India, Cushman and Wakefield.Leasing activities across most key micro-markets were led by food and beverages and fashion and lifestyle brands, he added.In the Asia-Pacific region, Indian markets fared better, with Khan market coming in at the 11th slot. Gurugram’s DLF Galleria and Mumbai’s Linking Road secured 19th and 20th positions, respectively.”These micro-markets have been commanding high rentals as these are established retail destinations due to factors like their geographic locations allowing access to larger catchment for the retailers,” the consultant added.Khan market in New Delhi and Linking Road in Mumbai have also had a strong presence of high-end global and domestic brands.Within India, Connaught Place in New Delhi recorded the highest year-on-year rental growth of 11.8 per cent at Rs 950 per sq ft a month.”Connaught Place, which had slipped from its previous superior retail destination status, saw renewed interest from retailers across categories , As Reported By NDTV.

According to the Newspaper,The location has gone through a reinvention in the last few years, with the metro construction being completed and making it easily accessible from across the city,” the consultant said.. . .

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No threat to Mallya’s life in jail: India to tell U.K court
November 15, 2017
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India will soon convey to a British court that fugitive liquor baron Vijay Mallya will not face any threat to his life in jail, if extradited in connection with a Rs 9,000 crore loan default, officials said.

The Indian government’s assurance will be conveyed to the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London through the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) which is arguing the extradition case of Mallya on behalf of the Indian government.

The decision has been taken at a high-level meeting chaired by Union Home Secretary Rajiv Gauba and attended by representatives of various authorities, including the Ministry of External Affairs, a home ministry official said.

The meeting deliberated on the response to be filed in the U.K court, rejecting Mallya’s apprehension that he will not be safe in Indian jail if sent back to India to face trial in the Rs 9,000 crore Kingfisher Airlines loan default cases.

With a detailed assessment of security cover given to prisoners in Mumbai’s Arthur Road jail and Delhi’s Tihar jail, the Indian government will tell the U.K court that when extradited, Mallya may be lodged in Arthur Road jail where he will get full security cover as an undertrial prisoner, the official said.

The Westminster Magistrates’ Court will start hearing the extradition proceedings from December 4 and a reply by India would be filed in the next few days.

The British court will be told that prisoners, both under trial and convicted, get full security cover.

It is the duty of the State to ensure security and Mallya’s apprehension about threat is “misleading”, India will tell the court.

India will soon convey to a British court that fugitive liquor baron Vijay Mallya will not face any threat to his life in jail, if extradited in connection with a Rs 9,000 crore loan default, officials said.

The Indian government’s assurance will be conveyed to the Westminster Magistrates’ Court in London through the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) which is arguing the extradition case of Mallya on behalf of the Indian government.

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A.P.J Abdul Kalam – My Life – Second lesson
November 15, 2017
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The children all walked to school together. Our school was the Rameswaram Elementary School and the only one in the town then. We walked along the cobbled roads together, chatting and playing little games. We had to carry only a few books with us and no one took schoolbags. The school building had rows of classrooms and a small playground. In the class I sat with Ramanadha Sastry, my best friend. We had known each other from the first day we came to school and been friends ever since. He and I loved to chat and somehow we never ran out of things to say to each other and do
together.

One day, we decided we would build boats made of leaves and keep them ready in case it rained. Whenever we got a break between classes we took up our pile of leaves and made little boats out of them. Imagine our joy when it actually rained that day! Our whole fleet of boats set sail on the many puddles. If I saw an ant or some other insect I carefully made sure it got a ride on my boat to safety. I don’t know if the ants were any grateful for this unexpected joyride, but we were thrilled to see them clinging on to the flimsy leaf boats and sail away.

Ramanadhan and I sat next to each other in class too. Once it so happened that a new teacher joined our school. As soon as he entered the class, he saw from our attire that Ramanadhan was a Brahmin and that I was a Muslim. These were divisions we had never thought of earlier but the teacher was not happy that a Hindu and a Muslim boy were sitting together. He made me get up and go sit elsewhere. I was shocked and heartbroken. I remember crying because I had been made to give up my seat next to my best friend. And, who knew that a Muslim and a Hindu boy could not sit together?

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A.P.J Abdul Kalam – My Life – Second lesson
November 15, 2017
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That evening, my mother made special poli (a flat chapatti-shaped sweet) to celebrate. We all loved polis and ate many helpings till we were told we’d had enough and sent off to bed in case we got tummy aches! My love for this sweet endures to this day, and when I travel in south India, I have friends who make it at home and bring it to me wherever I am. I make sure to steal a few minutes from my schedule and enjoy this sweet dish that carries so many memories of childhood for me.

As a child, my day started very early. It began with my mother gently shaking me awake very early in the morning, before sunrise. ‘Abdul, wake up kanna,’ she would call affectionately and I got up, wiping the sleep from my eyes. I had two places to go to before school. One was the Arabic tuition class that all of us attended. There, we learnt to read the Koran. After it was over, I went to my Mathematics teacher’s house. He took a special class for students who showed promise in the subject. I have always loved learning about numbers and their rules and patterns. Addition and subtraction and multiplication and all the other basic functions I had learnt very quickly. Now I was raring to know about more complex problems. My teacher had started the class for students just like me and I enjoyed going there and grappling with number problems in the early hours of the day.

I ran back home once the class was over. My mother would have a hot meal ready. We all ate our fill. In our school, children did not carry tiffin boxes and water bottles so I ate the mid-morning meal hungrily, enjoying the rice and vegetables and chutney and dal. Some days she would make piping hot dosas and I still remember their thick crispy texture and the spicy powder smeared on them.

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A.P.J Abdul Kalam – My Life – Second lesson
November 15, 2017
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In the morning, we woke to a world turned topsy-turvy. Trees lay uprooted and some houses had lost their roofs. Everything was under water. Our school was closed for the day so we could all help out our parents in cleaning up around the houses. We had an additional damage. The boat that we used to take pilgrims across to Dhanushkodi and back had been swept away into the sea. My father was upset and at the same time calm as he planned to get a new one. In the days that followed Jalaluddin helped him build a new boat that lasted many years.

In this way, the days of my earliest childhood went, filled with many moments of happiness and some sad days. I kept the faith in my parents and teachers and looked forward to days of hard work and learning. I realize now that it was a happy and contented time.

‘Vanakkam, Aiya! I have some good news for you!’

It was my Mathematics teacher from class 4 and he was standing just outside the house and calling out to my father. He looked quite excited, so we all rushed out to greet him and invite him inside. My father offered him a seat and then looked on expectantly.

‘Abdul, come up here, to me,’ my teacher beckoned to me. I was standing with all the other children, peeping from behind my elder brother. I came up shyly to him. He pulled me close affectionately, then turned to my father and said, ‘Abdul has scored full marks in Mathematics in the exam! And not only in Mathematics but in Science as well, and he has done very well in English and Tamil too! We teachers are very proud of him.’

I was so pleased to hear this result. But I was even more pleased because my teacher had taken the trouble to come all the way to my house to tell us about this. He had finished his work at the school, and then instead of hurrying back home he had come here, to share his pride and happiness with my family. Our school was small, but it had many such teachers like him. They taught us with love and care and felt the same joy in our achievements as we did.

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A.P.J Abdul Kalam – My Life – First lesson
November 15, 2017
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With Jalauddin’s words in my ears I would lie back and look up at the twinkling stars and the moon. My dearest wish was to reach for the sky. I actually wanted to be out there, up in the sky, among those stars, studying them, flying close to them, learning where they had come from. The wonders of the sky held a special fascination for me and if I knew then that my work as an adult would have me building satellites and rockets that travelled far above the earth and studied the sky and the land below, how happy I would have been!

Jalaluddin was one of the first people to inspire me to think beyond life at Rameswaram. He himself had studied more than most others in the family and recognized the love of books and learning that ran in me. He became a friend to me, inspiring me by telling me about famous people’s lives, or how the world was like. At the same time, he also helped my father out in his work.

Our family had a ferry business and our boat took pilgrims who came to Rameswaram to Dhanushkodi by sea. I, too, used to sit in the boat sometimes and go to Dhanushkodi and back with all the pilgrims. But one day, there was a terrible cyclonic storm. It started getting windy in the evening and by sunset the waves had become bigger and wilder. The wind picked up by the minute and howled over our homes. The rain was fierce and started coming down in sheets. We were all safely inside our houses, sitting in the light of the lamps, trying to be the closest to our mother as the thunder rolled and the lightning flashed. All through the night the storm continued and we fell asleep still sitting close to one another.

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A.P.J Abdul Kalam – My Life – First lesson
November 15, 2017
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The most exciting job that I had as a child was that of collecting newspapers. Rameswaram had a tiny railway station, but the train that passed through did not stop
there during the days of the War. But this train also brought the town’s newspapers. So the only way for the newspapers to get collected was for someone to stand at the door of the chugging train and throw the bundles on to the platform. I had the job of standing on the platform to collect these bundles of newspapers and taking them to my cousin Samsuddin who distributed them across the town.

In the morning, I could be found waiting at the railway platform, my ears tuned to hear the whistle or clattering of the wheels of the train. Then it would come into view, rushing up busily, puffing smoke and making a lot of noise. Waiting to catch the first glimpse of the train’s smoke, I started thinking about how steam engines work and the complex machinery required to turn steam into locomotion. This was where my fascination with engines and with the story of the invention of the steam engine began.

I would be hopping from one foot to another, anticipating the newspaper bundles getting thrown out of the moving train. Then there they would come, landing with big thuds near my feet. The person inside would wave at me as the train chugged away whistling and puffing steam. I would pick up the bundles and take them away. They would be heavy but in my youthful excitement, that didn’t matter.

In the evenings, when school was done, I went to meet Samsuddin again. Then, he and another cousin would read from the newspaper, telling about all that was happening in the world outside our town. How I longed to go out and see parts of this world for myself. They read aloud about the War, the unfolding freedom movement in India, little snippets of local news, the prices of various commodities. Everything seemed so big and important and faraway. Jalaluddin, a relative who had moved to Rameswaram on work and with whom I shared a special friendship, would tell me, ‘See, Abdul, you too will go out there one day and see more of this world. You must study hard and go to a big school and then college.’

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