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Issue 10

University Spaces: Where the ‘Personal’ Becomes the ‘Political’

Politics in India often termed as ‘unreasonable’ and ‘non-educational,’ restricts our perception of a successful education to that of studying science. These professional fields of study encourage students’ engagement with science and development, more than social and political advancements. Moreover, they are not primarily concerned with ensuring social justice or equality. Indian psychologist and social theorist Ashis Nandy refers to science and development as the two new reasons of state besides national security, that have emerged since WWII. Indian elites have treated science “as a sphere of knowledge which should be free from the constraints of day-to-day politics.” As Pratap Bhanu Mehta puts it, confined to mere economic growth and transactional language of goods and service, the term ‘development’ leaves out the ideas of freedom, and democracy. Universities catering to these ideas of freedom and democracy act as influential spaces for student resistance movements, and motivates them to participate in national politics by upholding their liberal stances. 

Science Says, “Politics, You Stay Away”

Politics involves the establishment of an egalitarian society and requires a developing relationship with technology to ensure each other’s survival as well as their contribution towards resolving societal ills. However, the Indian middle-class have come to view technology as a “source of legitimacy for science” and as a way of tackling all complicated social and political problems. This perception of technology operating in a political vacuum is termed as technicism, according to Schuurman. It maintains the political domination of the apolitical, technocratic, modern elite upon decision-making processes. This notion of science and technology results in their promotion by Indian elites as apolitical, according to Nandy. At the same time, it marginalizes available social and political solutions, by extremizing their excesses, as well as associating credible politicians, academics, journalists, activists, and students as anti-nationals. Science and technology, therefore, serves as a sole “escape from the dirtiness of politics” for most Indian elites. 

Although science and technology are perceived in isolation from politics, the question arises –  isn’t politics everywhere – in our personal spaces as well as educational institutions? Educational spaces, especially university campuses in India have allowed for the most expressive manifestation of politics in the past as well as the present. This engagement with leadership within universities encourages students to actively participate in national politics and pursue it as a career. There have been various student leader-turned politicians in India – Arun Jaitley, Prakash Javadekar, Shashi Tharoor and Nupur Sharma, to name a few. Alongside Kanhaiya Kumar who contested the 2019 Lok Sabha elections from Bihar’s Begusarai, Aishe Ghosh, the incumbent President of the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students’ Union stands as a Left-Congress alliance’s candidate in the West Bengal Assembly Elections. She says, “it is a big responsibility, but my politics will remain the same. The issues we fight for in JNU are an extension of what is happening across the country … I will carry these issues that I fought for in JNU to the people of West Bengal.” These narratives of students participating in national politics make one wonder, what is it about university campuses that produce eminent politicians in a country where most families are obsessed with wanting their child to pursue professional careers in science?

Technical Institutions in India: Technology and Social Empowerment?

The debates preceding India’s Independence, between political and scientific players entailed an establishment of a desirable relationship between politics and technology, however, their legacy appears to have been forgotten with time. The establishment of four IITs by the American team in India considered social patterns, political and cultural traditions as mere obstacles in their way, accompanied by the lack of imagination of the era to highlight the intersections of the two fields. Even though Humanities and Social Sciences were integrated into their curriculum, their scope remained limited thus, preventing intellectual culture, and the possibility of links between technology and social empowerment. 

The perceived free-of-politics atmosphere of the sciences is not to claim that technical institutions have never participated in national protests. Protests by students of IITs caste-based and religious discrimination is not unheard of. However, the constant monitoring of these spaces by state authorities seems to act as an impediment to their action towards other national issues. The existence of this vacuum is exemplified through a recent example, where a circular released by the IIT-Bombay administration warned its hostel residents against participating in “anti-national … activities.” The director called the Institute that “of eminence, with the primary purpose of producing high-quality engineering graduates and research that could be of help to the society at large.” 

It is crucial to note that these notifications arrived when students were protesting against the controversial CAA-NRC and the violence that occurred on university campuses like JNU, AMU and Jamia Millia Islamia. Concerned about its ‘scientific temper’ coming under scrutiny, the director further asked “its staff and employees to refrain from making statements that could ‘embarrass the relations’ of the institute with the central government.” Moreover, the desperate attempt of the government to control these institutions is evidenced by the news of the HRD Ministry issuing orders to technical institutions to keep a tab on their students’ social media accounts. The point here is not to focus on the legitimacy of this notice, instead, the possibility of its occurrence in the near future, with the most recent lateral surveillance and cyber volunteer programs. This incident marks the reduction of the intellectual agenda of the IITs to that of “suppliers” to the demands of the market economy to suit the goals of development, defined in technicist terms of industry, market and state. 

University Spaces As Challenging Hegemonic Structures

Universities either promoting a culture of politics or dismissing them is a consequence of the field of study and the cause that they stand for. Central universities such as Jamia Millia Islamia, JNU, DU, AMU, HCU, Osmania and many more are often under attack for their anti-governmental stances. This attack is not confined to the students alone but is an intimidation process to label them as violent. However, their rigorous curriculum on arts, humanities along with sciences, allows for critical thinking and acts as a space for imagination enables students to engage with social and political subjects perhaps more than what one witnesses in technical institutions. It is these imaginations that lead to knowledge-production, that challenge hegemonic structures and present alternate narratives beyond the binaries produced by the status quo. Universities offering engagement with political science and related branches of study as a part of their curricula cannot survive without the collective aspirations of their students. Students function as enablers of resistance movements and engage with politics beyond socially constructed ideas of the term, furthering research possibilities within academia. 

“University works as a form of mediation between theory and practice,” claims sociologist Gaurav Pathania. Additionally, the space of the university acts as an equalizer. That is, it provides equal access to tools of resistance such as technology, digital media, and brings students from diverse backgrounds together within a common physical and social space for registering protests, which also fosters empathy amongst students. Apart from classrooms acting as a formal space for expressing opinions, it is the informal spaces within university campuses where “social education happens.” Hostels, dining halls, chai/dhaba spots, and libraries allow space for both interpersonal as well as ideological conversations. The expression of collective stances through art installations in these areas encourages others to contribute towards the cause at hand. 

Pathania claims them to be spaces where “private lives of people come together as public.” That is, where the personal becomes the political. These resistance movements, therefore, necessitate academic freedom in universities. Without the freedom to read and express ideas that do not adhere to the status quo, it is nearly impossible to extend these conversations to the realm of national politics. Understanding the intersectionalities of technology, society and politics, along with interdisciplinarity within academia is crucial to resisting the dominant socio-political structures in one’s daily life. The liberating space of a university complements major global movements, adding to their students’ ability to bring significant change through their political leadership. Instances of students becoming future leaders enhances the credibility of political academia, thus, erasing the notion of commonly associated “dirt.”  

Picture Credits: PTI

Ariba is a student of English and Media Studies at Ashoka University.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 10

Women in STEM: Nipped in the Bud.

The gender imbalance in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) related jobs in India is apparent even without examining statistics. A quick look at historical leadership positions in organizations allied with STEM such as CEOs of Biotech companies, Chairman of the Indian Space research Organization (ISRO), Director General of the Indian Council of Medical research (ICMR), Director of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Presidents of the Indian National Science Academy (INSA), Aeronautics Society of India (AeSI) and Indian Mathematical Society (IMS)  to name a few, additionally highlights how stark this gap is among the higher ranks. 40% STEM graduates are women but they share only 14% STEM-associated jobs (PIB, January 2021) and this begs the question of why there is a disproportion between women choosing STEM education but not employment.

Government programs supporting the education of the girl child have had a substantial impact in increasing the numbers of primary and middle school educated girls. Incentives at the level of higher education in the form of reservations or financial support have vastly improved but not equalized the gender imbalance. Studying the gender composition of various disciplines in STEM education reveals intrinsic biases and perceptions of what constitutes a suitable job for a woman. Women receive tacit signals to condition their career choices not based on their own aptitude or interest but the convenience of a work schedule that allows them to fulfil their obligatory duties as care-givers. Thus, teaching-focused careers which usually have fixed and predictable hours are encouraged by parents over research-oriented careers within science. With respect to engineering, computer science is considered eminently more ‘suitable’ and only a few women graduate with degrees in fields like aeronautics, mechanical engineering or civil engineering with this number reducing even further when representation in core engineering jobs is considered.

Are we raising future daughters, sisters, or mothers and not future individuals?

Higher STEM education is often seen as an additional qualification to increase marriage prospects for girls rather than a means to make them financially secure individuals with the ability to make independent, informed choices. Learned behavioral traits that are important for developing STEM career goals in children such as decision making, critical thinking, curiosity and making independent choices outside of care-giving duties are either neglected or actively discouraged in a girl child from a young age. Family chores and activities such as assisting adults with minor electrical repairs, finance-associated tasks, playing computer games, household science experiments, help in the kitchen, cleaning and sewing are segregated based on gender. This fails to nurture interest and even leads to lack of awareness of certain STEM career options in young women. Preconceived notions, archaic attitudes (“girls are bad at mathematics”; “boys are better at engineering”, “biology needs a lot of memorization which suits girls”, “girls are caring so should become nurses”, “women can’t be surgeons, they are too delicate/emotional”) condition and limit a certain STEM expertise or profession with a gender. This conditioning may not always be obvious even to the most educated among us and may unintentionally trickle down to those we have influence over.

Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics and not diamonds are a girl’s best friend!

Encouraging gender equity in STEM careers needs diverse approaches at various levels but the foundation has to be laid early on. The thinking that gender is not a limiting factor for a career choice should be encouraged from a young age in all children using real-life role models and literature centered on the idea. Awareness about the current existence of implicit or obvious situations of gender bias and discussions about specific situations should be a part of education at all levels. Women from all socio-economic backgrounds should have free, accessible avenues to learn about the various career options in STEM through workshops, community initiatives and CSR endeavors. The latter will ensure that they themselves can either be inspired, bring awareness to people under their influence, not participate in gender bias themselves and help create a support system that bridges the gender gap in STEM careers.  

Rama Akondy is an Associate professor of Biology in the Trivedi school of Biosciences. She received her PhD from the National Institute of Immunology (New Delhi, India) and worked at Emory University (Atlanta, USA) first as a post-doctoral researcher and then as junior faculty. Her primary area of interest is understanding immunological memory in humans by observing how our immune system reacts to viruses, vaccines and tutors. Her proudest moment has been when a figure from her paper made it to a textbook! (Plotkin’s Vaccines). 

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 10

Unpacking History: The Nexus Between Politics and Academic Freedom

Academic freedom is defined as the freedom of thought and inquiry granted to faculty and students of educational institutions to pose questions and think critically about subjects of academic importance. The reason this freedom is granted to the academic community is that universities, and institutions of education, in general, are considered to be spaces that probe the truth, and for true intellectual activity to flourish, they need freedom of thought and expression. However, another reason why academic freedom is stressed is because of the dangers it faces – from the state and from the larger public. As the world is inching towards authoritarianism with a number of right-wing populist governments at power in some major countries, the question of academic freedom is as pertinent as ever. With the recent resignation of two prominent scholars from Ashoka University, the question is driven home with discussions about academic freedom in India. 

Unfortunately, this isn’t a one-time phenomenon, in either India or other democratic countries. It has been the case for decades that the ruling dispensation in most democratic, as well as autocratic countries, has been wary of the academic community and has tried to stifle its voices. Time and again, the freedom of universities, faculties and students in places around the world has come into question by the state and has often been curbed through laws and regulations. In some instances, even violence has been used to clamp down on the freedom of these voices. This piece shall explore some historical instances of academic freedom, or the lack thereof, in different countries around the world at different times. Through it, we wish to shed light on the chequered history of academic freedom and the role of the academic community in fighting for their right to freedom of thought and expression in academic settings. 


Recent Events at Ashoka University
In a dramatic turn of events, academic Pratap Bhanu Mehta’s resignation under dubious circumstances has brought Ashoka University’s integrity under the scanner. Mehta wrote in his resignation letter that the founders of Ashoka had made it “abundantly clear” that his association with the institution was a “political liability”. Following Mehta’s exit, renowned economist Arvind Subramanian also put down his papers, citing the fact that “Ashoka can no longer provide a safe space for academic expression and freedom”. The resignations have garnered global attention with a large number of accomplished academics signing a petition expressing solidarity with Mehta and disapproval of Ashoka’s founders’ and admin’s handling of the issue. Calling it a “gross violation of academic freedoms”, students of the University announced a two-day boycott of classes to protest against these developments. Pertaining to the fact that this is not the first time that a faculty has been mired in controversy due to their political opinions, students and faculty are now apprehensive of the wider implications that external political pressures on the University will have on their freedom of speech and expression. There is also growing scepticism regarding the inevitable downfall in the quality of education that the University promises if this continues.   

The History of Academic Freedom 

Academic freedom as a concept emerged during the Middle Ages, with scholars and philosophers in Europe asserting their right to enquiry and stating independence from the monarchs of the day. However, the universities of the period in both Europe and America were heavily influenced by the Church, and were also dependent on it for funding. As time progressed, a form of mixed system developed in America in the 18th century where colleges were dependent on private donors as well as states for funding, but the faculty still did not have a strong say in the running of universities or in matters of academic freedom. It was only during the American Civil War that academic freedom as a concept was used by academics, and was seen as just as important as civil liberties. 

Academic Freedom in The United States

The question of academic freedom in the United States was extremely important during two periods of history – first during the Cold War in the 1950s at the height of McCarthyism, and then again after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, which led to the War on Terror. These external political circumstances had a deep impact on the academic community and there were issues about what was being taught, and by whom. At the height of McCarthyism, the Red Scare of communism enveloped most of U.S. policy and behaviour in the 1950s, and university professors were targeted by the FBI for having connections with ‘subversive’ organisations, namely the Communist Party. Faculty at colleges such as Harvard, Yale, and the State University of New York, to name a few, had to sign documents stating they weren’t affiliated with Communists, or they ran the risk of being removed from their teaching positions. This was protested by many for infringing upon the First Amendment rights of the professors as well as the larger academic freedom of these universities. While in 1967 this academic freedom was codified in the Constitution of the U.S. after the case Keyishian v. Bd. of Regents, 385 U.S. 589 (1967), it routinely came under threat even after that period. After the September 11 terrorist attacks in America, the country adopted a stringent foreign policy known popularly as the War on Terror and took action against terrorist groups in Afghanistan and other regions. While universities had always criticised U.S. foreign policies, the period after 9/11 saw harsher consequences for those professors and intellectuals who dared question or criticise the government’s policies. From news anchors to senators, there was major pushback against academics who tried to speak or write against government policies, with emphasis on the need to “support the war”. There was also a grave fear among presidents and administrators of the universities about the consequences of this criticism, which is why many of them distanced themselves from the faculty and students that engaged in this criticism. Academic freedom was therefore not guaranteed in either public or private universities in the U.S. and was subject to popular perception, government policy and the political atmosphere of the period. 

Academic Freedom in Turkey 

The strained relationship between academic freedom and political pressures can also be understood by analyzing the case of Turkey. The country has had a contentious history with respect to ensuring academic freedom in higher education – exhibited through selectively granting the freedom to explore certain fields of inquiry while barring others and restricting faculty interactions with the press on certain subjects without official permits that are rarely granted. Moreover, a culture of self-censorship has persisted in Turkish academia, which becomes apparent when analyzing the restrictions placed on academics in terms of determining teaching materials, evaluation, and teaching techniques. It is interesting to note that these flaws in Turkey’s academic landscape have existed prior to the wave of right-wing populism that swept the nation upon President Erdogan’s appointment. While Erdogan’s tenure has been marked by stringent crackdowns on the activity of academics beyond the classroom, his government is not solely responsible for the poor state of academic freedom in the country.

Indian Universities and the Fight for Academic Freedom

What has been observed in varying degrees across the world, has been a part of India’s political landscape too. Although, traditionally, India has had a long tradition of academic debate and peaceful dissent such as in the Nalanda University in the 5th Century BCE, recently, academic freedom has evidently been on the decline. In the colonial setting in which contemporary Indian universities originated, the question of academic freedom was closely tied up with one’s position on political freedom. In an article for Economic and Political Weekly, Nandini Sundar notes that “while some educational institutions like Presidency College, Calcutta, Elphinstone College, Mumbai, Aligarh Muslim University (AMU), Aligarh, and St Stephen’s College, Delhi were embedded in the colonial project of inculcating English knowledge among the natives, there were others like Jamia Millia Islamia, Visva-Bharati, or the Vidyapeeths set up by Gandhi which had an explicitly nationalist project, wherein the ideas of political freedom coalesced with the ideas of pedagogic freedom.” Even in the other regional colleges, both students and faculty periodically strayed to the nationalist cause, especially during the non-cooperation movement of 1921–22 and Quit India Movement in 1942, boycotting classes, or participating in strikes. 

However, in the postcolonial matrix, the idea of universities as spaces of academic freedom was subordinated to the idea that educational institutions are sites of nation-building. This was embodied in the setting up of the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) and the Indian Institutes of Management (IIMs), as “institutes of national importance” where its reputation and ideals were perceived to be closely linked to the state’s aspiration. 

The coming of the BJP government in 2014, however, has created a credible threat to academic freedom in India, with the state actively suppressing any narratives that don’t align with its own ideology. According to the recently published International Academic Freedom Index, India scored an abysmally low score of 0.352, followed by Saudi Arabia (0.278) and Libya (0.238). The police brutality against students at Jamia Millia Islamia University in 2019 in Delhi has further raised concerns about the state of academic freedom. When this is taken in context with the anecdotal accounts of researchers in India complaining of book bans, cancelling of a particular seminar, change in the curriculum by the state, and filing of criminal cases against political leaders – a grim image of the future of India’s academia emerges.

The Way Forward

An obvious question that emerges from this is how can we reimagine the future of India’s academia in the wake of rising state interference in academia? Such a challenge will not only require far-reaching structural changes but also a commitment to fiercely defend values and ideals of freedom. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 is a step in the direction of structural change by envisioning academia without political or external interference. For instance, the policy states that the faculty will be provided with the “freedom to design their own curricular and pedagogical approaches within the approved framework, including textbook and reading material selections, assignments and assessments.” However, what remains to be seen is how well these policies are implemented on the ground and whether they live up to their promise. In the meanwhile, the solidarity extended to Ashoka University and resilience showed by academicians both in the country and abroad can be a guiding example of how as a unified community, one can fiercely defend the values that academia stands for – dissent, dialogue and democracy. 

Picture Credits: Shreya Sharma 

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 10

Issue X: Editors’ Note

In the past year, a major breakthrough in Science has been the Covid-19 vaccine but as the pandemic continues to take centre-stage in our liveswe wish to use this issue as an opportunity to highlight other important developments in Science and Technology. As footage from NASA’s Perseverance Rover driving on Mars’ terrain first came in, we saw the new possibilities that space exploration holdsKartik Tiwari, a student of Physics and Philosophy, captures this sense of wonder and takes on the claim that humans will walk on Mars in the next decade. On the flip side, Aarohi Sharma critically analyses how this endeavour may become equivalent to that of colonization as she explores the world’s obsession with colonizing Mars and what this obsession represents.

With the development of scientists being able to communicate with people while they were lucid dreaming, Ashana Mathur writes about the intersection of psychedelics and their contribution in enhancing creative thinking and problem solving skills. We still can’t forget the Covid-19 vaccine, thus, Amrita Singh breaks down how the immune system actually works, how vaccines confer immunity and what distinguishes all the different vaccines on offer. 

We are also in the midst of the campaigning for two major elections, one in West Bengal and the other in Tamil Nadu. Maya Mirchandani and Gilles Verniers expertly analyse how Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress takes the lead in fielding and supporting strong women candidates in view of a larger and more gradual trend of inclusion, also contributed to by other parties. With larger than life banners, to small party symbols painted on the walls along the roads, Nandan Sanskriti Kaushik explores how street art and poster culture become an important campaign tool in Tamil Nadu.

As Ashoka University made the news for the sudden resignation of two of its esteemed faculty members, it raised important questions about academic freedom in India and, so our staff chose to collectively explore the historical evolution of academic freedom across the globe.

This issue also covers other current events as with a nuanced economic analysis of the public sector bank strike from March 15th-16th by Advaita Singh. Given the apprehension with which Indian lawmakers still regard cryptocurrency, Tanish Bafna breaks down the anxieties around a new regulatory bill and what it might mean for the future of cryptocurrency in India.

On the other hand, Rohan Pai unpacks the recent water crisis in Delhi to reveal its legal and political roots, highlighting the need to resolve internal disputes to prevent a future water crisis in Delhi, Haryana and Punjab. Rujuta Singh examines police brutality and violence against women in view of the role that power and positions of authority might play. Madhulika Aggarwal presents a critique of the content-sharing platform: OnlyFans and how it might be perpetuating the commodification of female passing bodies underneath its convenience and user-autonomy. 

Ananya Rao explores the future of menstrual health and hygiene in a post COVID India, examining infrastructural and societal taboos hurdling the cause. Outside India, Harshita Bedi investigates what the recent Sri Lankan burqa ban means for religious minorities and why the burqa has become a threat to a majority in Sri Lanka. Alexandra Verini examines the prospects of Utopia in today’s world, exploring the question of whether imagining perfect worlds benefit our present and future or do they set us up for failures and disappointment? 

We hope that this issue enables its readers to piece together their own understanding of this moment in time and see that despite our challenges, we are still hurtling towards progress—whether it’s scientific discovery or our ability to think for ourselves, to study popular claims beyond face value and to question the world around us. 

— Akanksha, Devika, Muskaan, Ridhima and Saaransh

Categories
Issue 10

Decimating the Ego: Exploring the Discourse Around Dreams, Drugs and the ‘Trip’ to Scientific Discovery

In his address for the German Chemical Society in 1890, renowned chemist August Kekule recounted how the idea of linking atoms came to him one day when he fell asleep by his window and dreamt of gambolling atoms. Twinning and twisting, the atoms morphed into a snake seizing its own tail and this image inspired Kekule’s structure of the Benzene molecule. 

Seen as divine instructions, spiritual communication and an expression of our innate desires and fears, dreams and the unconscious mind have always fascinated human civilizations. With advanced technologies in the field of neurobiology and Oneirology (i.e. the scientific study of dreams) at our disposal, modern scientists have been able to stray away from mere theories and get an actual glimpse into our dreams. A study published in the journal Science Direct On 18th February 2021, illustrated how for the first time, scientists were able to communicate with participants while they were lucid dreaming (a form of dreaming wherein the dreamer is aware that they are in a dream state and can actively participate in their dreams, interact and engage with and even modify their environment). Using electrophysiological signals, people were able to perceive questions from an experimenter and provide answers to basic yes-and-no questions and even solve elementary math problems. 

This is a major breakthrough for the scientific community as we have finally been able to get an insight into the dream state, a state of unconsciousness that has inspired many scientific discoveries like The Theory of Relativity, Theory of Evolution, The Periodic Table, etc. Srinivasa Ramanujan, the eminent, self-taught Mathematician, claimed that his formulas were presented to him in his dreams by the Hindu Goddess Namakkal. He would see visions of flowing blood (the symbolic mark of the Goddess), followed by a hand that would write various elliptic integrals. He dedicated his work to proving these theorems which led to the discovery of the infinite series, elliptical functions, the analytical theory of numbers, continued fractions, and more than 3000 mathematical theorems. 

In her book, The Committee of Sleep, Deirdre Barrett arrives at a simple explanation for why so many scientific and artistic discoveries have been inspired by dreams. It turns out when the mind intakes data while awake, it can later synthesize it and process it in an extremely efficient way while it is in an unconscious state. That’s why sometimes the best solution when facing a difficult problem is to just sleep on it

Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory of the Id-Ego-Superego also helps substantiate Barrett’s theory. Although Freud’s theories have been widely contested, his ideas can still help us conceptualise the complex aspects of our conscious mind. In his essay, Beyond the Pleasure Principle (1920), Freud established that our conscious mind is made up of three elements – namely id (which is the primitive, instinctual part of the mind), ego (which is the realistic part that mediates and controls the desires of id) and the superego (which is our moral conscience). In an unconscious state, the id comes to life in the form of dreams, expressing our innate desires and primal fears, while the ego and superego are suppressed. Since there is less concern about social and moral values, dreams can often feel irrational and nonsensical, bizarre. But at the same time, this state of unconsciousness, allows us to freely explore our ideas in a new reality unbound by conventional logic and reasoning and unconstrained by rational, realistic thinking. Thus, enabling us to come up with creative solutions to complex real-life problems by providing us with the necessary conditions to look at our problems from an entirely new angle. 

Operating on the same principle as the Committee of Sleep theory, the use of psychedelic drugs have also shown a similar increase in creative thinking and problem-solving skills. Drugs such as LSD, Psilocybin, Peyote, etc. dissolve our ego and help us create new neural networks (by establishing new pathways and increasing  connectivity throughout the brain). This phenomenon, known as “ego death”, is an experience that changes the way we perceive ourselves, our personalities and how we look at the world around us. As people tend to lose their sense of self-identity they can dissociate themselves from worldly concerns and events. 

Research conducted by International Foundation for Advanced Study has shown that with the use of LSD, an astonishing number of subjects were able to achieve significant breakthroughs in their work and showed a significant improvement in three conventional creativity tests. Although there are risks associated with consuming these drugs (such as suffering from hallucinations or having a bad trip), these risks can be minimised if the drugs are taken in a controlled setting and administered under the supervision of an expert. 

Inspired by Aldous Huxley (the English writer English and philosopher), who noted his experience with psychedelic drugs in his book, The Doors of Perception, many scientists began micro-dosing on psychedelic drugs to enhance their thinking. Nobel laureate Dr Kary Banks Mullis claimed that he ‘seriously doubted’ if he would have been able to invent the PCR (i.e. a technique that facilitated easier isolation and testing of DNA) without using LSD. Other prominent scientists such as Francis Crick, the Nobel Prize winner who discovered the double-helix structure of DNA and Physicist Richard Feynman have also been known to use psychedelic drugs. Even Steve Jobs said that using LSD was “one of the two or three most important things he had done in his life.” 

Hence it is evident that there seems to be some correlation between the exhibition of higher levels of problem-solving and creative thinking skills, and our unconscious mind in the absence of ego, rationality and the laws of our reality. Although, it may take us a while before we are able to gather new and advanced empirical evidence. Psychedelic drugs defined the 1970’s era, and later, became integrated with the anti-Vietnam War movement. This led to the demonisation and stigmatization of psychedelic drugs and resulted in an immediate drop in funding for research related to psychedelic drugs. 

However, in 2020, 5 states in the U.S. legalized marijuana and this change in attitudes is credited to multiple reasons such as a decline in religious affiliation, punitiveness, and a shift in media coverage for the same. Today, organisations such as the Beckley Foundation are actively working towards conducting more research in order to understand the implications of psychedelic drugs on our minds and integrate their use in modern society. The new research projects in the field of neuroscience and the effects of psychedelic drugs, coupled with the recent breakthroughs in Oneirology, thus, hold tremendous potential for expanding our understanding of the unconscious mind and our ability to induce creative thinking.  

Ashana Mathur is a student of Economics, International Relations and Media Studies at Ashoka University.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 10

Covid-19 Vaccines: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

The number of times a day that you encounter the word ‘vaccine’ has probably gone up a lot in the last five months. There is a barrage of news articles, viral videos and unverifiable claims from our family Whatsapp groups coming our way each day. In this moment, understanding how vaccines work and getting rid of misconceptions has a huge impact on our personal lives but can be frustratingly difficult. What are the differences between all the Covid-19 vaccines out there? Why does the Pfizer vaccine have to be stored at -70 degrees Celsius? Is it true that Covaxin can give you Covid? What are vaccines, anyway? This article explains how the immune system actually works, how vaccines confer immunity and why the new mRNA vaccine technology is important. 

The Immune System is a Mad Genius

High school biology tells us of this supernatural-sounding, sophisticated defense mechanism residing in the body of each human being –– the immune system. Indeed, your immune system can fight against millions of pathogenic microorganisms that you constantly come in contact with. But how does it accomplish this feat? The immune system has two crucial abilities that protect you from diseases. First, it can recognize substances that are unwelcome in your body: pathogens such as bacteria and viruses. This is more complicated than it sounds, because our bodies are made up of cells that are similar in many respects to bacteria and viruses, and there are no well-defined rules that neatly separate healthy cells from pathogens. Second, the immune system can use biological pathways to destroy the recognized pathogens. The immune system can also recognize toxins such as dust particles –– the reason we sneeze and have a runny nose if it’s dusty or polluted. However, in this article we will focus on the interaction between the immune system and biological pathogens.

The first function of the immune system is like a text editor that recognizes incorrect grammar. We’ve all been caught red-handed while typing grammatically incorrect sentences in MS Word (quite literally –– MS Word informs us of this with a frustrating squiggly red underline). MS Word does this by using pre-defined grammar rules and checking whether sentences satisfy these rules. Now consider this. If the text editor in question operated like the immune system, it would literally construct every possible grammatically incorrect sentence, and then check each new sentence it encountered against this enormous library of incorrect sentences. Well, naturally, this  system is much less efficient than verifying a few grammar rules. But remember, there aren’t any analogous rules that the immune system can use to distinguish pathogens from healthy tissue. So, it does what it can…

Right now, floating around in your body, are approximately one trillion immune cells, each sporting a unique ‘antibody’ (for context, the human body has roughly 30 trillion cells). These antibodies are made of small bits of protein, combined in arbitrary ways (the way our inefficient text editor would make up wrong sentences by combining random words). Each of these antibodies ‘fits’ a particular molecule that your body might encounter on a pathogen. If that pathogen molecule happens to enter your body and encounter the corresponding antibody, the antibody will lock into place and trigger an immune system cascade that will either neutralize (i.e., make unable to function) or destroy the pathogen. If you’re paying attention, you would have guessed by now that everyone in the world is currently walking around with a Covid-19 antibody in their system. 

The natural question that follows is, why does anybody ever get sick? The answer is that it’s a numbers game. The likelihood that a single pathogen molecule will come into contact with its matching antibody in your body is very, very low. This likelihood gets higher as the pathogen replicates and produces copies of itself. Once the antibody-pathogen match occurs, your immune system starts producing many more of that particular antibody and starts destroying the pathogen copies. From there, it’s a race to see which group of cells (the pathogen or the antibody-containing immune cell) can replicate faster and conquer the other. 

Vaccines: Leveraging the Fantastic Memory of the Mad Genius

Once your immune system has recognized a pathogen and raised antibodies against it, it does something amazing –– it memorizes the pathogen by always keeping a bunch of the relevant antibodies handy. So the next time you encounter that pathogen, the likelihood of it matching up with its antibody is much higher, the process of triggering the destructive immune system cascade is much faster and you are much less likely to fall sick. This is where vaccines come in. Vaccines are modified pathogens that don’t cause disease but are still recognized by the immune system as a foreign object. When the vaccine is injected into the body, the immune system generates and maintains an army of the relevant antibody; when the real pathogen shows up, these antibodies fight for you and you are immune to the disease. The commonly held notion that vaccines ‘trick’ the immune system into raising antibodies is subtly incorrect. The immune system is functioning as intended when it produces antibodies against a vaccine, but it’s simply getting a leg up because the vaccine can’t actually cause the disease. 

How does one modify a virus to make a vaccine? The most commonly used and well-established technique is to inactivate it by heating it or exposing it to chemicals that denature the proteins that make up the virus (similar to what happens when you boil an egg). Covaxin, produced by Bharat Biotech, is an example of a whole-virion inactivated virus. Another common method is to take a different virus that is harmless to humans, and genetically modify it to produce a few proteins from the virus you want to vaccinate against. The harmless virus, when injected into the body, replicates and produces many copies of the proteins that were introduced into its genome. The immune system raises antibodies against these proteins that confer immunity against the harmful virus. Examples of such ‘viral vector’ vaccines are the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine and the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine. The advantage of viral-vector vaccines over inactivated virus vaccines is that there is no chance of the vaccinated person contracting the disease due to incorrect inactivation of the virus. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has fueled advances in a new type of vaccine that does not require a virus at all. You may remember from high school biology that proteins are made from mRNA, which is made from DNA (the genetic code in your body’s cells). These non-viral vaccine delivery systems make use of DNA or mRNA fragments that encode proteins from the virus that you want to vaccinate against. The DNA or mRNA fragments are packaged in such a way that makes them appear non-foreign (basically, they are coated with the same oily molecules – lipids – that form the surface of our healthy cells). When the lipid-coated genetic material is injected into the body, it is taken up by immune cells which use it to produce the virus’ proteins. In this case, you actually are tricking the immune system into doing something it ordinarily isn’t supposed to. Once there are enough of the virus’ proteins floating around, the normal function of the immune system kicks in and it starts making antibodies against the virus. 

Both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA vaccines. Their advantages are that they are more amenable to quality control and can be designed and manufactured in a short time scale. However, mRNA is much more chemically unstable than protein or whole virus, and so it needs to be stored at much lower temperatures. Another disadvantage is that since these mRNA vaccines have not been around for long, there is no data on potential long-term side effects. 

There are currently 12 different Covid-19 vaccines that have been approved, with loads more in the pipeline. As we race to get enough people vaccinated in time to achieve herd immunity, it is vital that we all participate in the effort by getting vaccinated ourselves and encouraging our close friends and family to do the same. I hope this article will help you navigate the debates and discussions with more confidence. 

Amrita Singh has a B. Tech in Biological Sciences and Bio-Engineering. She is currently pursuing a PhD in neuroscience at Janelia Research Campus in Virginia, USA.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 10

How Mamata’s Trinamool Broke The Glass Ceiling For Women In Politics

New Delhi: With 50 women candidates, or 17% of the 291 seats from where it is contesting a heated assembly election in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee’s Trinamool Congress (TMC) has once again taken the lead amongst states that offer the largest space for women’s representation in politics.

In the outgoing assembly, 14% are women, well above the 8% national average across Vidhan Sabhas, though slightly below the 14.6% in Parliament and significantly below the 24% worldwide average presence of women in elected assemblies.

When Mamata declared ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections that 41% of her party’s tickets would be given to women candidates, she translated her commitment to women’s participation in politics into action. If the rationale behind the “magic figure” of 41% appears unclear, it could simply have been that the “percentage was based on the number of women already in her shortlist”, said Tara Krishnaswamy of Shakti, a non-profit organisation that works to enable and increase women’s participation in electoral politics.

Of the 23 women who ran on a TMC ticket, nine got elected—the second highest contingent of women parliamentarians in the Lok Sabha, after the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). That said, data suggest that while the TMC sails ahead of its opponents on this issue, the relatively higher participation of women in Bengal politics is part of a longer trend of gradual inclusion to which more than one party has contributed.

An examination of the profile of TMC women candidates over time also indicates that their inclusion in the party could well be the by-product of an instrumental approach to ticket distribution, rather than from the adhesion to a normative principle of equality that would prevail over electoral strategy.

TMC party members suggest that the inclusion of women in the party may be incidental to a selection strategy that does not consider gender to be either a particular advantage or an impediment to the party’s electoral prospect, even though Mamata has come out publicly in favour of women’s quotas.

“She is already committed to 33% reservation, but Mamata Banerjee has always tried to consider 50% women candidates,” said Dola Sen, the TMC MP in the Rajya Sabha, who has spent the last three decades as a trade union leader in West Bengal, and been a part of Mamata’s own efforts to develop and consolidate women’s solidarity into concrete electoral gains since the Nandigram and Singur movements.

Gradual Inclusion Of Women In State Politics

Since 1962, only 238 of the 4,119 individuals elected into the West Bengal State Assembly have been women.

Until the late 1980s, women barely made 2% of all legislators, a state of affairs to which both the Congress and the Left contributed equally. But starting in 1992 with the 73rd Amendment, which set up a three-tier panchayat system, women’s representation has risen steadily among candidates.

In the 2001 election, which took place after the split with the Congress and the formation of Mamata’s Trinamool Congress, women accounted for 9.5% of the members of the state assembly. From 1991 onwards, the percentage of women candidates has increased by about 1.5% in every election.

However, data gathered by the Trivedi Centre for Political Data shows that besides the TMC, other parties, especially the Left have also contributed to that rise.

For instance, even if the old generation of the CPM and its allies did not feel the need to extend their egalitarian views to women, the Left’s newer generation, led by Buddhadeb Bhattacharya, was more inclined to include women among their candidates. In 2011, the state’s Left combine, including Communist Party of India (Marxist), Communist Party of India, Forward Bloc and Socialist Unity Centre of India, gave 49 tickets to women candidates–higher than the 32 given by the TMC. And, significantly higher than the national parties: Congress has not given more than 10% of its tickets to women candidates to date, and the BJP, which has been fielding more women recently, increased its number of women candidates from 23 in 2011 to 32 in 2016.

Mamata Banerjee addressed a public meeting at Nandigram on 18 January 2021/ALL INDIA TRINAMOOL CONGRESS

As it opened the door to a greater inclusion of women in politics, the TMC took the lead in the past three elections. The party has also received considerable publicity for its inclusiveness–perhaps by virtue of getting many more women elected than its opponents. Sixty-two women from the TMC have been elected in the past 15 years; the Left has managed only 111 women in 54 years.

Profiles In Diversity

In the patriarchal world of politics, women politicians get easily stereotyped. While much of the media focus is on the five actresses fielded this year by the TMC, few are paying attention to the 46 other women contesting.

An examination of incumbency data reveals that men and women politicians in the TMC share the same turnover.

It is still early to make pronouncements about the 2021 candidates, but an examination of the 2016 women candidates reveals that the TMC recruits a diverse lot of women candidates. In 2016, only two of the party’s 45 women candidates were film or television stars; 17 belonged to political families (mostly wives of politicians); and 14 got elected.

In terms of occupation, 14 were self-declared housewives; the occupations of the rest were split between education (nine), social service (11) and business (six), among others.

That Banerjee consistently manages to identify such a large number of women candidates in the first place also must mean that she assiduously scouts for talent and sends out feelers to find the right women to offer tickets to, Krishnaswamy said.

As far as we could determine from the 2016 candidate list, only three of the women had any prior experience in local municipal bodies. A few others also seem to have emerged from the party’s organisation or familial connections while 18 ran for the first-time. Another 22 had already been elected twice or more times.

The TMC’s 2016 women candidates were also varied in terms of caste: 19 upper castes, 13 in SC-reserved seats and two in ST-reserved seats. There were only three women candidates from a backward class background, while nine were Muslims. It is worth noting that the TMC is probably the one party that offers the most representation to Muslim women in India. Like their male counterparts, most of the party’s women candidates were highly educated (24 graduates and above, while two were 8th pass candidates).

One cannot conclude that the TMC recruits “a certain type” of woman candidate, nor can we reduce their inclusion among the party’s candidates to a publicity stunt. But it is evident that the party chief believes that celebrity and star power help win seats.

Banerjee has “good equations with youngsters not only from film but also TV stars. She goes to their marriages and celebrations, spends time with them,” said political journalist Jayanta Ghosal. As a result, she has developed strong personal attachments with ‘Tollywood’, he said.

But could the candidature of these celebrities appear exploitative at times, especially in constituencies where strong local female politicians have been overlooked in spite of years of grassroots work?

While giving tickets to celebrities is a formula that has generally worked well for the TMC in the past (especially in heavily contested seats where inner party rivalries are at work) it also raises questions about whether this is a deliberate strategy to keep complacent old-timers on their toes and balance whatever power challenges they may throw her way with newcomers who will be loyal.

Like all political leaders, Mamata, too, puts a premium on personal loyalty. “People who are new, have the least expectations. Most candidates talk about the party, Mamata’s achievements and schemes. No one is campaigning on the strength of their own work,” said Krishnaswamy.

Compared to most other parties, the TMC stands out by making women political actors rather than mere figureheads for electoral mobilization. Unlike other women chief ministers who work in a quasi-exclusively male environment, Mamata has surrounded herself over time with women contributing to party work or to the cabinet.

Five of her 42 ministers are women, some holding several important portfolios or portfolios not immediately connected to women’s issues, like agriculture, fisheries, SMEs or land reforms.

Her party’s organisation includes large numbers of women office holders, and many women play a prominent role in campaigns.

That Mamata has consistently supported strong women in politics and led by example, is no secret. Nor is the fact that the TMC is one of the only parties on India’s political map that seeks to consolidate women as a powerful vote bank through political participation, rather than sops.

Her genuine desire for inclusion of women in politics is evident, and her supporters say a result of her own political struggles. “Unlike so many other Indian politicians who are women, Mamata Banerjee never had a man helping her – with due respect to others, she is no one’s daughter, wife, widow or girlfriend,” said Dola Sen.

“Look at me, for example,” she said, “We are independent, efficient and competent politicians with or without reservation!”

Gilles Verniers is assistant professor of Political Science at Ashoka University and Co-Director of the Trivedi Centre for Political Data.

Maya Mirchandani is assistant professor of Media Studies at Ashoka University and senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation.

Niharika Mehrotra, an undergraduate student in the Political Science major, assisted with data collection

This piece was republished from Article 14 with permission of the author. 

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 10

Riding the Elephant: A Memoir of Altercations, Humiliations, Hallucinations, and Observations

This book written by comedian, actor and former host of The Late Late Show Craig Ferguson features some of his most witty and thoughtful writing till datenarrated in a Scottish accent no less. If you’re a huge fan of his hilarious yet poignant late night show stint, with his trusty skeleton robot sidekick Geoff, then this book is the natural next step. If you’re unaware of The Late Late Show then do yourself a favour and jump down your nearest Youtube rabbit-hole of old interview clips from the show for a good laugh. I’m biased towards his interview with the late Robin Williams, which features just two good friends, who also happen to be incredible comedians, catching up. 

That’s what most interviews on his show felt like: just fun conversations without any of the glamour, pretence or hyperactive games in late night TV today but plenty of self-awareness and just a hint of self-loathing. This book is also like a conversation with an old friend: about his childhood crush and the huge pimple he sported one school-day, his brush with alcoholism and his sobering experience of rehab alongside tidbits from his comedy career and a brutally honest tell-all of certain American television networks. There’s an emphasis on the audiobook because there’s something oddly calming about a Scottish American cursing and recounting his past experiences to you as you run errands, do some laundry, or peacefully fall asleep.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).

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Issue 8

Boomers’ Guide to Gen Z: Intro to Texting 101

Gen Z in its natural online habitat can seem intimidating and a little baffling. I would know, despite technically being a part of this generation, I spend more time than I’d like to admit deciphering it. If you’ve ever had to google what “afaik” or “iykyk” means then this is for you. Texting etiquette is central to Gen Z culture, highlighting how we’ve expertly moulded language to create communities and best express ourselves online. 

I’m risking my fragile membership by undermining the very first principle of Gen Z communication: don’t explain it. Two things happen then: first, it’s not as funny anymore and second, it may open up the community to potential detractors. Remember the wildfire term “on fleek”? as soon as it spread too far like on the Ellen Show, it immediately lost all its charm. 

Although there is no consensus on Gen Z’s age, suffice it to say that we don’t remember a time before the Internet. Most are already tired of Facebook after having joined back in school, instead migrating over to Instagram—away from constantly being tagged in embarrassing family photos. That said, we do simultaneously possess an instinctive understanding of this ‘culture’ while being unable to explain it to anyone or ourselves. So, here’s to trying: 

Let’s start simple: texting or calling? 

Easy, texting. Of course, as with anything, there are outliers who would disagree. However, it’s common practice to watch the phone ring into oblivion and then immediately text: “hey, you called?”. 

Texting unfolds throughout a busy day of multi-tasking. We text in windows between or during online classes, while taking a break or just in bed procrastinating sleep. That’s not to say we’re anti-calling, it just costs us an exponentially larger amount of effort given our waning attention spans. Texting is great for a quick dopamine fix and we’ve been wired to love the ring of a notification ever since some got their first smartphones at 12. When we call, we are required to focus on nothing but the person’s voice. In other words, it’s a big deal. So if a gen z-er in your life offers to call, take it as the ego-boost that it is. 

Now that we’re talking texting, what are some dos and don’ts?

Seen-zoning is a thing, and possibly a social weapon of war so, beware. 

This one is difficult to pin down, sometimes it’s intentional and sometimes it simply isn’t. In budding romantic relationships, leaving someone ‘on read’ is often a carefully cultivated art of courtship. For example: “I want to text them, but I don’t want them to think they’re all I think about. Wait, are they all I think about?” which can then spiral into dangerous overthinking territory. This rationale prompts some of us to leave texts unattended for a pre-selected range of hours. 

In new friendships, it can become a matter of not seeming too eager but eager enough. In unwanted interactions or advances, it’s often a retreat onto safer shores. Sometimes, it’s just thinking that you already replied or just not having the energy to tend to all your burgeoning messages. It’s safe to say that no one has those blue-ticks switched on anymore. 

Source: @jaboukie on Twitter

Ghosting, on the other hand, is a harsh reality when seen-zoning is taken to its extreme. This is when a person stops texting you cold-turkey, and fades away first from your phone and then life. Needless to say, this is the nuclear missile in your arsenal of social weapons: only last-resort, and always destructive.

Source: https://tinderandblind.com/category/contributor/

Irony is the key 

Too many exclamation marks or emojis in one text is, as we like to say, just not it. However, if you do it ironically? That’s a different story. It’s a subtle art of balancing out the unassuming enthusiasm we encounter in family groups while showing that we’re not serious about it. For example, you’ll see gen z gravitating towards (too many) off-center emojis for the desired effect. 

To flip this over, some just won’t use any emojis at all. 

Instead, they’ll use 🙂 or a :)) or a ^___^ but rarely a 😀 and god forbid if someone goes for a xD unironically. They can all mean different things too, a 🙂 can be a naively friendly ending to a text, passive aggression or sometimes just plain anguish. 

Exhibit A: “i just got my 5th assignment of the day haha i love college :))))))))))” 

Translation: They don’t love college. 

Choose Your Own Case 

Notice the all lower-case register? This is for when you want to present yourself as nonchalant as it contains the non-verbal signal of informality. To achieve this, it’s best to blacklist autocorrect off your phone. 

Speaking of lower and upper-case, we like to switch things up or “sWiTch tHinGs uP”. This is the texting equivalent of siblings fighting when one mocks the other as soon as they turn away.

Source: https://knowyourmeme.com/

Gen Z humour is absurdist and cryptic. It’s gratifying to have something that only you and your friends can laugh at, while your parents shoot you their best “what did I do wrong” look. 

Source: posted by u/Explodernator343, Reddit

To Full-stop or Not to Full-stop

In a 2015 study, participants rated “texts that ended with a period as less sincere than those that did not” while no such difference was found for handwritten notes. This can be confusing: should one subvert grammatical rules for the sake of appearing amiable to a gen-zer? Linguist Lauren Collister calls herself a “code-switcher”, mirroring the texting tendencies of the recipient: if someone is informal, then she might drop the uppercase but if someone ends with a period, then she does too. 

The way we communicate is no less better or worse than how older generations used to—it’s just different. Every generation, be it the Boomers, Gen X or Millenials all created their own vocabulary, finding respite in the exclusivity of an inside joke. If Gen Z is starting to show the tell-tale signs of a cult, then you’re well on your way to understanding and maybe even moonlighting as one of us—grammatical warts and all. 

Devika is a second-year Economics and Media Studies major, an aspiring coffee-snob and always on the hunt for a new addition to her already overflowing to-be-read list.

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Issue 7

From the Screen to your Couch: Here’s to Binging with Babish

Courtesy: Youtube, Babish Culinary Universe

There’s just something about food in movies, TV shows and anime: it looks unachievable-y better. Yes, it’s the colour-grading, the impeccable cinematography and the breathtaking animation but I would go as far as to say: it’s also the story and what it means to you. I feel an odd attachment to Ratatouille that has little to do with the dish and everything to do with the movie. So, the Youtube algorithm inevitably caught on and presented me with Binging with Babish— a channel where cinematic food is serious business.

Andrew Rea cooks all of this food better than you ever could but it truly is more about the journey—filled with witty quips, shiny kitchen equipment and fancy camera angles—than the “destination” (not least because we can’t eat the food). Watching Babish whip-up food from Seinfeld or Friends not only leaves me giddy with childish nostalgia, but also with a little too much faith in my own culinary abilities. That’s really not too bad given the times we find ourselves in. We could do with a restful break from all the stress—whether it ends in great food or just a “huh, so Homer Simpson really wasn’t kidding around with those waffles”.

We publish all articles under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noderivatives license. This means any news organisation, blog, website, newspaper or newsletter can republish our pieces for free, provided they attribute the original source (OpenAxis).