Punjabi Jingle Bells: A desi version of Christmas…why not?

Here’s a little mystery: why do most TV stations in tropical Asia dream of white Christmases?

Browse through the dozens (or hundreds) of channels that we Asians can now access on cable, and the chances are that many are displaying gently descending snow flakes, decorated evergreen coniferous trees, Santa Claus and other well known images of Christmas.

Nothing wrong with that – except that snowy Christmases aren’t very common close to the Equator — unless you climb to very high elevations. And for our friends in the southern hemisphere, this time of the year is actually summer! But hey, why let any of these facts get in the way of a nice fantasy?

Speaking of unusual or indigenous Christmases, I just came across this very funny version of ‘Jingle Bells‘ by A R Rachman, who won two Academy Awards for Best Original Music Score and Best Original Song at the 2009 Oscars for Slumdog Millionaire.

“Jingle Bells” is one of the best known and commonly sung winter songs in the world. It was written by James Lord Pierpont (1822–1893) and copyrighted under the title “One Horse Open Sleigh” on September 16, 1857. Despite being inextricably connected to Christmas, it is not specifically a Christmas song.

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Ahead of tsunami, journalist foresaw coastal disaster in Sri Lanka: “A Catastrophe Waiting to Happen”

Dilrukshi Handunnetti in Deep Divide film

Contrary to a popular belief, journalists don’t enjoy being able to say ‘I told you so!’. They much rather prefer if their investigative or analytical work in the public interest are heeded in time.

A few months before the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, my friend and journalist Dilrukshi Handunnetti wrote an investigative story on how coastal zone management laws and regulations were openly flouted by developers. She cautioned that it was a ‘disaster waiting to happen’

She had no idea how forcefully her point will be driven home before that year ended.

“Little did anyone realise the price coastal communities would have to pay for the greed of a few dozen developers,” she said after the tsunami, interviewed for Deep Divide, a South Asian documentary on environmental justice that TVE Asia Pacific produced in 2005.

Watch Deep Divide – story from Sri Lanka:

Here’s the blurb I wrote at the time to promote the story:

Sri Lanka’s economic activities are concentrated in coastal areas: 80 per cent of the tourist related activities are found there, along with one third of the population. Seeking to accelerate economic growth, the Sri Lankan government took measures to develop the island’s coastal regions. Shrimp and prawn farming was encouraged, while many incentives were provided for developing tourist resorts along the island’s scenic beaches.

As the shrimp exports grew and tourist arrivals increased, there was a ‘cost’ that only local residents and a few environmentalists cared about: mangrove forests were cleared, coral reefs were blasted, and the coastal environment was irreversibly changed.

Shrimp farming damaged mangroves, aggravated tsunami impactCoastal zone management regulations and guidelines were openly flouted by developers. Local communities were the last to benefit from this development boom — they watched silently as their fish catch dwindled and their coastal environment was pillaged. But little did anyone realise the price coastal communities would have to pay for the greed of a few dozen developers.

When the tsunami struck, there were very few natural barriers to minimise its impact. More than 40,000 people died or went missing, while hundreds of thousands lost their homes and livelihoods. It was the biggest single disaster in the island’s history.

Dilrukshi reflects: “Post-tsunami, people realised that the mangroves have protected these little, you know, landmass. And where you find a little bit of protected mangroves, you also find the landmass protected.”

She adds: “I think we have committed lot of excesses and we have been made to answer for those sins. Hereafter, we cannot afford to not do it right.”

Filmed on location in India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, Deep Divide explores the reality of environmental justice in South Asia — home to 500 million people living in absolute poverty, or 40 per cent of the world’s total poor. Everywhere, it finds environmental injustice. This investigative film builds on the work by three local journalists, who act as our guides to understanding the complexities and nuances of development amidst poverty and social disparities.

Environment For All book coverThe origins of Deep Divide go back to 2002. Panos South Asia, a regionally operating non-profit organization analyzing development issues, awarded media fellowships to selected journalists from five South Asian countries to explore specific cases of environmental injustice in their countries. They were to investigate issues as varied as land degradation, food and water insecurity, rising pollution, and mismanaged development.

Their findings were initially published in the local media – in the newspapers or magazines they worked for. In 2004, Panos South Asia compiled the articles in a book titled Environment for All. Three stories from this book were adapted into the documentary, directed by Indian film maker Moji Riba.

Children of Tsunami: No More Tears…

where Children of Tsunami stories were filmed for much of 2005

Four countries, eight locations: where Children of Tsunami stories were filmed for much of 2005


They have never met each other. Some have never travelled beyond their native village. On December 26 2004, the sea rose and rose and took everything they cherished.

Documented over the year, locally-based filmmakers returned to Asia’s battered coasts in India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Thailand to track the healing and the hurt through the eyes of children.

Asia’s recovery process from the tsunami is being captured through the stories of three girls and two boys aged 8 to 16 years.

Of different races, worshipping different Gods, they live on different shores in different countries. They are the tsunami generation, sharing the vulnerability of a child and the legacy of the tragic tides.

Young survivors of the Asian tsunami let us into their lives to personalise the mass of statistics, aid pledges and recovery plans. “Children of Tsunami” is a tapestry of intimate stories, woven by voices of individual and collective resilience, heroism and recovery.

Children of Tsunami: No More Tears – Part 1 of 3

Part 2 of 3

Part 3 of 3

Duration: 24 mins
Year of production: 2005
Countries filmed in: India, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Thailand
In each country, a locally based production crew carried out filming for TVE Asia Pacific.

Regional Production Team
Supervising Producer: Bruce Moir
Production Assistant: Yohan Abeynaike
Production Manager: Manori Wijesekera
Executive Producers: Joanne Teoh Kheng Yau and Nalaka Gunawardene

Co-Produced by: Channel News Asia, Singapore
In partnership with TVE Asia Pacific

Broadcast Asia-wide on the first anniversary of the Asian Tsunami, 26 Dec 2005

For more information, visit: www.childrenoftsunami.info

See also: Channel News Asia – Making of a pan-Asian news channel

A Lasting Wave: Looking back at Indian Ocean Tsunami of December 2004

The undersea quake that triggered the Indian Ocean tsunami on 26 December 2004 was so powerful that it was felt around the globe, as far away as Alaska. Likewise, the killer waves that hammered the coasts of South and Southeast Asia left such a trail of destruction that it was like a lasting, unceasing wave.

On the eve of the mega-disaster’s fifth anniversary, I’ve been busy writing, talking and reflecting on what it meant for me personally, and my media profession and fellow Asians in general. I recently filmed an interview for Thai Public Television (TPBS), where my friend Pipope Panitchpakdi is doing a tsunami+5 documentary.

And I’ve just been talking to Andrew Bast of Newsweek who has written a personalised look-back titled A Lasting Wave.

He was in Sri Lanka at the time of the tsunami, and spent two weeks working as a freelance reporter covering the aftermath for the western media. His piece sums up the mixed bag of lessons and recovery efforts that Sri Lanka, one of the hardest hit countries, has accomplished in the half decade this that momentous day.

An excerpt: “Five years later, life in the affected countries has resumed, and the world has learned immensely valuable lessons about responding to catastrophe. But as with any human endeavor, some opportunities have also been lost.”

Read full text:
A Lasting Wave: Five years after the Indian Ocean tsunami, reflections on what was lost and what was learned. By Andrew Bast, Newsweek

Media melee at Copenhagen: Chasing a hazy story in a crazy conference?

Polite or dodgy? Did anything more than this happen in Copenhagen?

What happens when over 3,500 journalists from all over the world roam around a two-week long UN conference that saw plenty of loud bickering and hot air in the name of saving the planet from global warming? Well, the media pack adds to the noise levels and hot air, for sure — and they are not above bickering themselves.

At least, that’s the report from Copenhagen, where the UN climate conference COP15 ended on Dec 18 with a watered down, disappointing something called the Copenhagen Accord.

Darryl D'Monte

I’ve just read an interesting report filed from the Ground Zero of that half-event by my Indian friend (and senior journalist turned climate columnist) Darryl D’Monte.

He says: “The media in Copenhagen has been an unmanageable and unruly lot. There are some 3,500 of us covering the summit, most having come this week, and journalists – once again, the electronic media – don’t think twice about carrying on conversations at the loudest decibel levels, turning the room into a virtual Tower of Babel. The TV crews in particular are like packs of wolves. They station themselves at every available nook and corner where some VIP may enter and exit and try to get that exclusive byte as he or she makes an appearance“.

Read the full story at InfoChange India:
Media melee at Copenhagen, By Darryl D’Monte

Was it a non-event, half event or what?

Remembering Dr Cyril Ponnamperuma: Inspirational maverick of Sri Lankan science

Dr Cyril Ponnamperuma: erudite, cultured and articulate


On 20 December 2009, we mark the 15th death anniversary of Professor Cyril Ponnamperuma, one of the best known scientists produced by Sri Lanka during the Twentieth Century.

I grew up reading about him in school text books as a living icon of modern science: a developing country scientist whose brilliance and hard work took him to the highest echelons of global science, and one who was respected in the West and East.

He was both an internationally recognised researcher on the origins of life on Earth, and an early promoter of science and technology for development. His interests and involvements transcended his own discipline and homeland. He worked closely with the Pakistani Nobel laureate Dr Abdus Salam to promote science and infrastructural facilities in developing countries.

I focus on the few years from 1984 to 1990, when he served as science and technology advisor to two Presidents of Sri Lanka. Concurrently, he served as director of the Institute of Fundamental Sciences (IFS) from 1984 to 1990, and was also founder director of the Arthur C Clarke Centre for Modern Technologies (ACCCMT) from 1984 to 1986. In these positions, he worked simultaneously on several fronts covering science policy, institutional building, fund raising, capacity building and public engagement.

Dr Cyril Ponnamperuma analyzing a moon sample at NASA

I’ve just written a tribute, recalling my own interactions with him in the last 1980s, when he was dividing time between Sri Lanka and the US. It’s published online at Groundviews website.

As I note: “Erudite, cultured and articulate, Ponnamperuma was a journalist’s dream: he could sum up complex issues in simple and engaging terms and metaphors — but these were more than mere soundbites. He was full of insights and anecdotes that humanised both science and its practitioners.”

After looking back at his accomplishments and failures of his Sri Lanka years, I contend: “His biggest accomplishment — and lasting legacy — was not so much buildings, laboratories or institutions, but sparking off the interest in science among thousands of young people. That is much harder to achieve, and also impossible to quantify in Rupee or Dollar terms…”

In this essay, I recall both his accomplishments and failures. I ask why his passion for public science was not shared by many fellow scientists in Sri Lanka, who wanted to remain aloof of non-scientists and the community. Ponnamperuma’s tried to bridge this gap, and for this sin he was harassed and driven out of Sri Lanka and back to the United States where he returned to his research and teaching to the very end of his life.

“Chemistry is the ‘other woman’ in my life,” Ponnamperuma used to joke. It was while working at his university office in the US that he suffered cardiac arrest and rushed to a Washington hospital, where he passed away on 20 December 1994. He was 71. His sudden death came as a shock to all those whose lives and careers were touched, influenced and inspired by him.

Read my full essay:
Dr. Cyril Ponnamperuma (1923-1994): A Passionate Champion of Public Science

Richard Bach: Of love and freedom…

Thank you, Richard Bach, for this and many other pieces of timeless wisdom…