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Ancient Nalanda University revived

Classes opened on 1 September at the Nalanda University, an ancient international centre for learning in Bihar, after a break of over 800 years with 15 students, its vice chancellor said.

“We have formally started the academic session of Nalanda University Monday morning in the International Convention Centre at the Buddhist pilgrim town of Rajgir,” Vice Chancellor Gopa Sabhrawal said.

Rajgir is about 100 km from Patna. Sabhrawal said the ancient Nalanda University functioned from 413 AD to 1193 AD.

Classes for the School of Historical Sciences and the School of Environment and Ecology have started for the first session 2014-15.

She said there was an introduction session for students as well as faculty members as it was the first day of the classes, revived after over eight centuries.

“We have completed the first step towards a big mission for revival of ancient Nalanda university. Now more hard work has to be done for it,” she said.

Sabhrawal said that the launch of the academic session of the university was a low key affair because the formal inauguration would take place in mid-September after formal opening by external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj, who will be chief guest, and university will also invite ambassadors of the East Asian countries.

She said that till now 15 students have been enrolled in the university and more will be enrolled in coming days as the process of their application scrutiny and interview is still on. “We strongly hope that more foreign students will join the university because our thrust is research along with study,” Sabhrawal said.

The formal inauguration is expected in mid-September, Sabhrawal said.

Source: The Hindu, September 2, 2014

India’s Mars Orbiter Mangalyaan 22 days away from Red Planet

India’s Mars Orbiter Mission Mangalyanaa is all set to create history. In the next three weeks the Mars mission from India is all set to enter the Martian orbit after completing a really, really long and eventful journey.

When the Mars Orbiter reaches its orbit it will complete an 11 month long journey. The spaceship has already completed 300 days in the space while speeding towards its destination, it will still take 22 days to reach there.

It is India’s biggest space project and its success will propel India to the top space nations in the world. While China is making strides and working on its space station plan, India has shown to the world that it is playing catch up game pretty fast not just with China but also with Japan and European Union if not with Russia and US space agencies.

There is no denying the fact that enthusiasm is sky high among ISRO scientists and other space enthusiasts in the country. ISRO in a latest tweet said, “Mars Orbiter Mission completes 300 days in space. Just 23 days more to reach Mars”.

The project that cost Indian space organization ISRO Rs 450-crore or $72 million seems to be lose change compared to other similar project. A similar US Mars Mission cost the US tax payers some $800 million. Mangalyaan was sent into space from Andhra Pradesh’s Sriharikota by India’s famed Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) on November 5, 2013.


New lease of life for rare movies

Regarded as the country’s first indigenous feature film, Raja Harishchandra has been lying in a vault in the National Film Archive of India in Pune for years now. With the government all set to clear the setting up of a National Film Heritage Mission soon, this film, along with many more rare and exceptional works, could soon be restored, digitised and made available in the market in DVD form.

Piloted by the Information and Broadcasting Ministry, the proposal to set up the National Film Heritage Mission is likely to be put up before the Union Cabinet soon. To be set up at a cost of Rs 597 crore, it is essentially aimed at preserving India’s filmic legacy — most of which exists on fast-deteriorating celluloid reels.

The plan envisages setting up of 30 new vaults — at a location contiguous to the 19 existing vaults of the National Film Archive of India (NFAI) in Pune — to store and preserve the country’s cinematic legacy. A sum of Rs 30 crore would be spent to construct these 30 new “temperature-and-humidity-controlled” vaults, ministry sources said. The Jayakar Bungalow, which houses the NFAI, is where the Mission will be housed and the NFAI will be the executing agency for the project.

“There is an immediate need to set up proper storage facilities for our cinematic legacy. Also, we need to introduce restoration techniques to digitise and clean up some of the rare and old prints that have been either lying in the National Film Archives or elsewhere. And most importantly, we need to have professionals in place to assess which films need to preserved on a priority basis,” a senior I&B Ministry official said

A committee will be set up to decide which films need to be taken up first for restoration or preservation. “Already, over 9,000 films have been preserved in NFAI. Then, there are a whole lot of rare celluloid reels that are scattered all over the country, some with producers, others with private individuals. The Mission will make efforts to procure those prints and restore them,” the official said.

Source: The Indian Express, September 3, 2014

 India, Japan to work together in fight against sickle cell anaemia

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has sought Japan's help in treatment for the sickle cell anaemia (SCA), a deadly disease commonly found amongst tribals in India.

Japan and India will now work together in developing a treatment for the hereditary disorder where the red blood cells, which carry oxygen around the body, develop abnormally.

PM Modi, during his five-day official visit to Japan, discussed the issue with Nobel Prize winner for Medicine (2012) Shinya Yamanaka when he visited the Stem Cell Research facility of the Kyoto University on Sunday.

While the disease is common in many parts in India, it is found mostly among tribals in some parts of Gujarat and Orissa, as well as in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

Sickle Cell Disease is a serious disorder in which the body makes sickle-shaped red blood cells. "Sickle-shaped" means that the red blood cells are shaped like a crescent.

Normal red blood cells are disc-shaped and look like doughnuts without holes in the center. They move easily through blood vessels. Red blood cells contain an iron-rich protein called hemoglobin. This protein carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body.

Source: Agencies, August 31, 2014

 Internet-connected villages offer positive glimpses

At the sole internet centre in Chandauli, a dusty village in Rajasthan's Alwar district, about 170 km northeast of Jaipur, the 20-odd kids glued to their laptop screens are visibly excited by the world wide web, and all of them, without exception, are on Facebook. Thirteen-year-old Vishal Kumar rapidly scrolls down his timeline and stops at a photo posted by a friend.

Asked if his Facebook friends are all from his school, he says, "No, no, I have other friends, too." He can type in English but does not understand much of it, but that is no impediment as he quickly shows us how Google Translate comes to his aid. He answers all our questions but never once takes his eyes off the screen.

About 10 km away, in Vijayamandir, Sonu Yadav, a final-year graduate student of political science and Hindi literature, is making a poster on Microsoft Paint. It is going to take him a few more weeks to be as comfortable with Facebook as Kumar and Sapwan though he is seven years older than them, but it is a welcome start. Yadav hopes to help his father in his real estate business with his computer and internet knowledge, according to his instructor.

These boys would not have been able to enjoy what is taken for granted among their counterparts in the cities had it not been for the efforts of the Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF), a 12-year-old non-governmental organization whose objective is to provide last-mile connectivity in India's hinterland. It operates 50 community information resource centres (CIRCs) across 20 states that train people in the basics of the computer for free or for as low as Rs 200 for a two month course. The CIRC in Chandauli is wirelessly connected to the CIRC in Vijayamandir, which relies on a BSNL broadband connection.

The Indian government announced the National Optical Fibre Network (NOFN) in 2011. As part of the plan, the Indian government has set a target of providing broadband connectivity to 2.5 lakh villages (India has about 6.41 lakh villages, according to the 2011 Census) and making as many schools Wi-fi-enabled by 2019. Digital India will be the umbrella programme for the government's initiatives in the area and will entail an expenditure of Rs 1.13 lakh crore in existing and new plans.

About a third of India's 252 million internet users, and a fourth of mobile internet users, are in rural areas. But internet penetration in villages, at 8.6% compared to 37.4% in cities, has a long way to go, and this is the statistic Digital India hopes to change. The target of the mission is to make 10 lakh people digitally literate by end-2015.

Another focus area in the Digital India programme is e-governance. Besides making government services available on internet and mobile platforms, the key challenge will be to take the 2.5 lakh panchayats in the country online.

Thanks to the internet, people in far-flung areas have access to better healthcare; and communities dependent on the arts and crafts, which were losing their way, are also getting a leg up in preserving and enhancing their local culture and traditions, which sometimes has economic benefits, too.

For instance, Chanderi in central Madhya Pradesh, known for its handwoven sarees, has come a long way in the past four years, thanks to DEF's efforts, with over two-thirds of its youth digitally literate having access to Wi-fi and, earlier this year, the launch of a website to sell its wares.

Similarly, in Mungaska near Alwar, folk musician Umar Farooq is relying on the internet to ensure his Mewati community's rich musical heritage is not lost. "We have recorded our traditional songs and will soon put them up on a website," says Farooq, who got an invitation to play in Dubai next month on Facebook.

Source: The Economic Times, August 31, 2014

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