About: the world this week, 10 July to 16 July 2022. People burst in Sri Lanka, herd moves in Italy, Tennis, Lions of India’s Emblem, and the father of India’s internet.


People Burst in Sri Lanka

Over the past few weeks we read about ‘cloud-bursts’, when heavily pregnant clouds could no longer hold, and suddenly delivered an ‘avalanche of the elements’ causing stirring changes in our lives, on Earth. How about ‘people bursts’, for a change?

What the quitting United Kingdom (UK) Prime Minister said aptly of his country was heard by a Herd in far away Sri Lanka: “A Herd moves by instinct and when a Herd moves, it moves”.

Late last week and growing into this week we witnessed a fascinating spectacle of a real ‘people burst’ in Sri Lanka revolting against the abysmal management of the country’s affairs. People suddenly appeared like ants from nowhere swarmed and overran the Presidential Palace and later, the Prime Minister’s residence: the crowds were so large that any security personnel, police, or other forces were simply overwhelmed, and ‘instinctively’ stepped aside to allow the herd to have its way.

The storming people did not do much damage, other than invade and occupy. Potential Olympic swimmers were seen effortlessly doing back-flip dives in the Presidential Swimming Pool; future Chefs began cooking food in the Kitchens for the people to fill their starving stomachs, and others ran over the Presidential Gymnasium, testing the push & pulls, to stay-fit for the coming weeks, months, and years. They sounded the bugle in unison, “We will not leave until the President and the Prime Minister quit”.

Well, both offered to quit and the President cleverly used the chaos to escape to Maldives and then to Singapore, while the Prime Minister got himself promoted to ‘Acting President’, which now needs to be made legal.

Later, safe in Singapore after a round of shopping in Changi Airport, and after defying calls for his resignation, Gotabaya Rajapaksa finally resigned as President of Sri Lanka through an email to the Speaker, who then made the official announcement. The Ex-President ran fearing being arrested by the new regime, whenever it takes over. Guilt written all over?

Singapore generally does not grant requests for asylum and it remains to be seen where the Ex-President would flee next.

Why wouldn’t the President stay back, face the music, accept mistakes made, and drum-up solutions?

The Herd Moves to Italy

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi offered to resign after his populist coalition partner in the Government, Five Star, withdrew its support in a major confidence vote.

The crisis was triggered when Five Star leader Giuseppe Conte refused to back the government’s Euro 23 Billion package of economic aid for families and businesses, arguing Draghi was not doing enough to tackle the cost of living crisis.

Even though the government comfortably won the vote of confidence in the Senate with the help of other parties, the man dubbed ‘Super Mario’ had warned repeatedly that without Five Star’s support the government could not continue. He said the pact of trust that had sustained the unity government had gone.

Mario Draghi, a former head of the European Central Bank has been leading a unity government since February 2021.

However, Italian President Sergio Mattarella, who had appointed Draghi to lead Italy’s post-Covid pandemic recovery, and save the country from endemic instability, refused to accept his resignation. He has now called on Draghi to address Parliament to provide a clear picture of the political situation. And once the fog lifts, he might stay on – see Five Stars!

Mario Draghi had improved Italy’s sphere of influence and overall was very well-appreciated for the work he was doing. In a recent survey he was among the top three leaders of the world, ranked 3rd on the list of most popular leaders in the world in 2022, after Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador- second, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – first.

But then this sums it up: “Italian politics is always so hard to understand, we just forgot about it while Draghi was in power,” said an Italian.

Looks like Italy has a President who stays the course and tries to keep a capable Prime Minister governing in Government.

Tennis in Wimbledon

While clouds and people bursted elsewhere there was a volley of tennis balls bursting all over Wimbledon in the United Kingdom. No herds here, only the rogue elements single-handedly crushing through victories.

Serbian Novak Djokovic beat Greek Nick Kyrgios in the Wimbledon 2022 Men’s Singles Final with a score of 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 to win his 7th Wimbledon and his fourth successive title.

In a new role as the quiet man of Centre Court, the relentless Djokovic fended off a noisy Kyrgios in an absorbing Wimbledon final in the broiling heat of the All England Club, with temperatures exceeding 35 degrees Celsius.

Djokovic showed he had no better way to celebrate his wedding anniversary with wife Jelena; to move on from the emotional turbulence of being deported from Melbourne before this January’s Australian Open; and from the disappointment of losing to Rafael Nadal in the quarter-finals of the French Open.

Astonishingly, UK’s Andy Murray remains the last man to beat Djokovic on Centre Court, in the 2013 final.

“He’s a bit of a God,” sad the losing Kyrgios.

Meanwhile, in the Women’s Finals, a new Wonder Women, Elena Rybakina, all of 23 years, stepped up when it mattered most to overcome world No.2, Tunisian Ons Jabeur, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 in the Wimbledon final last Saturday. And become the first Kazakhstani player to clinch a Grand Slam Singles Title, and the youngest champion since Petra Kvitova in 2011.

Elena Rybakina said she was incredibly nervous, but she never showed it, and Wimbledon watchers never noticed – eyes were on the balls!

Lions in India

This week India’s Prime Minister unveiled the National Emblem – huge at 6.5 metres (m) height – on top of the upcoming new Parliament Building: a perfect replica of the original Lion Capital of Ashoka at Sarnath except that its size is about 3 times the original. A priest said a hymn at the inauguration, which translates as, “May earth provide for us, bless us, and illuminate our minds”.

India’s Opposition Parties were quick to roar that the Lions looked fierce, showed teeth, were too aggressive, and were not the least stately. And that the Government was attempting to change the Sate Emblem to suit ‘its own designs’.

India’s National Emblem is an adaptation of the Lion Capital of Sarnath, an ancient sculpture dating back to 280 BCE, of Emperor King Ashoka The Great. The original Lion Capital commissioned by King Ashoka, during the reign of the Mauryan Empire is now on show in a Museum in Sarnath, Uttar Pradesh. It is a magnificent 2.15 m tall sculpture – including the base- of four Asiatic Lions standing back-to-back representing power, courage, confidence, and pride; facing the four cardinal directions, North, South, East, and West. The Lions have an open-mouth roaring stance announcing Buddha’s message of Dharma to the world. They are mounted on a base or an abacus with a frieze of sculptures of a lion, a horse, a bull, and an elephant, each separated by wheels or dharma chakras (eternal wheels of law). The four animals are the Guardians of the four directions: the Lion of the North, the Elephant of the East, the Horse of the South, and the Bull of the West. The abacus in turn is mounted on an inverted lotus, the universal symbol of Buddhism.

On 26 January 1950, a representation of the Lion Capital of Ashoka placed above the motto, Satyameva Jayate, ‘Truth Alone Triumphs’, written in Devanagari script and extracted from the Mundaka Upanishad – the closing part of the holy Hindu Vedas – was adopted as the State Emblem of India.

The National Emblem version used all over India was, at that time, sketched by a 21 years old art student, Dinanath Bhargava, of Visva Bharathi, Shantiniketan, who was pursuing a three-year diploma in fine arts. The story goes that for a month, every day, Dinanath travelled the 100 km distance between Shantiniketan and Kolkata only to study the behaviour and mannerisms of Asiatic Lions at the Kolkata Zoo to make a realistic representation. He was handpicked for the job by the then Principal of Kala Bhavan Shantiniketan, Nandlal Bose – a noted artist and painter.

I have no doubt that the National Emblem atop the new Parliament looks exactly like the original Lion Capital atop the Ashokan Pillar- but to a lager scale. The noise being made about it being different is much ado about nothing.

Angles matter, mind it!

A Hero: Father of India’s Second Independence Day

The Internet has become such a sine quo non in our lives that we simply take it for granted, almost like the air we breathe. And fume and burst when it goes down. Step back a moment and ask, who brought the internet to India?

The father of the internet in India is the almost forgotten – how dare we – Brijendra Kumar (B K) Syngal. As the head of the then Videsh Sanchar Nigam Limited VSNL, Syngal launched the first ever internet in India in the five cities of Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, and Pune, on 15 August 1995. With this launch, India became one of the first countries in Asia to have a commercial internet service.

But, the euphoria of India’s second Independence Day quickly vanished and turned into a nightmare. Dial-up access, using modems, and bad connectivity, meant delayed connections, busy signals, dropped calls, and ‘an assured disconnection’ every few minutes, all of which shackled the system. Internet tariff charges were astronomical, at best obscene as the pornography a select percentage chose to use the internet for.

Syngal got the signal and said “Quite simply, the charges are too much, the quality of service is poor,” And what Syngal did next was audacious: he called in the media and admitted: “I goofed up. I goofed up big time”. He admitted that his market intelligence was wrong, and that the service was plagued by serious technical problems and that it was a bit of an amateurish venture to start without studying the infrastructure backbone. Syngal then asked India to give him 10 weeks to fix things. “I can assure you that at the end of 10 weeks, possibly before that, you will have a system that India will be proud of,” he said.

Syngal and his team got cracking, created a bank of servers, rang the phone department to improve connectivity, pushed modem makers to ensure quality devices, moved from copper to fibre-based cables, and slashed tariffs by half, and more. He took about eight weeks to get the new system up and running, and stable. And indeed, he did it.

India needed access to physical undersea cable connection to power the internet for which the asking price was more than USD 100 million for a share of the cable. Syngal was told this kind of money was out of question as the country had only a few weeks worth of foreign exchange left. Hence, he negotiated with the cable consortium, and won an agreement to stagger payments. He also successfully secured forex loans. A deal was signed in 1991, and connectivity began three years later. And the rest is history.

R K Syngal was the son of a civil servant father and homemaker mother. The family migrated to India in 1947, during partition. He studied Electronics & Communication Engineering at the prestigious Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) – Kharagpur.

Later on, under the chairmanship of Syngal, VSNL was founded in 1986 as a Government of India owned telecommunications service provider of the Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications. VSNL was completely acquired by the Tata Group and renamed as Tata Communications on 13 February 2008.

In 1998, Syngal and his team joined Reliance where he became Chairman of Reliance Infocomm. He remained with Reliance remained until his resignation in 2001.

Late last week, on 9 July 2022, R K Syngal died aged 82. He came to be known as ‘the father of India’s internet’. It’s awfully sad that India has not recognised him the way it should – unless I’m missing something. How many of us know what he did? Time to go undersea and learn our history to ride on the shoulders of great unknown pioneers before us.

More roaring stories coming-up in the weeks ahead. Stay connected with World Inthavaaram.


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