DISAPPEARING FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Pampered "separatists" of Kashmir

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It was way out of the ordinary for the Pakistani High Commissioner to invite leaders of several “separatist” groups of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K) to come to Delhi to meet his Prime Minister’s adviser Sartaj Aziz who came to India recently to participate in Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). Even more extraordinary was the Indian government’s latitude in allowing them to travel to Delhi to keep their appointments with Aziz. At least one of the separatist leaders – the most vitriolic one – was till recently under house arrest. Obviously, the Government of India went out of the way to lift the restrictions to enable him to travel to Delhi.
Syed Alishah Geelani
The leaders included the who’s who of the separatist groups. They were Mirwaiz Omar Farooq, Jammu and Kashmir Liberation Front chief Yaseen Malik, the hard-line Hurriyat chairman Syed Ali Shah Geelani and Asiya Andrabi of Dukhtar-e-Millat, the women’s separatist organization of the state. Meeting Aziz separately, the groups asked him for a lasting solution to the Kashmir “dispute” as if by articulating this wish the Pakistan government and its Army would rush into the quagmire to find a “lasting” solution. They seem to be having the misconception that they represent the people of Jammu and Kashmir although they have never contested any of the elections that have taken place in the state.
While there is an elected government in place, these small separatist groups have only been obstructing peace and progress of the state by calling for frequent shut-downs and strikes under the threat of terror and indulging in violence. They are, in fact, fifth columnists who take orders from their masters across the borders. One of them, Yaseen Malik, had even been caught on camera sharing a platform with Hafiz Saeed, the chief of Laskar-e-Toiba, a radical outfit of Pakistan that organizes terror attacks in India in collaboration with the ISI of the Pak Army. And, Asiya Andrabi talks to Sartaj Aziz in Indian capital about her wishful thinking relating to accession of J&K to Pakistan. It is as seditious as sedition can be but the government did not seem to have reacted to the reports for action against her.
It is the softness of the Indian government that allows such meetings, both in India and Pakistan so much so that the Pakistani establishment reckons them as “routine consultations”. There can be nothing “routine” about these meetings and, for all one knows, these are held to foment more trouble within J&K. There is no earthly reason for the leaders of these minor groups to meet the representative of a foreign inimical power for “consultations”. When the Government of India is not in the “talk” mode with Pakistan the “consultations” of the latter with the separatists of J&K on Indian soil seems ludicrous and outrageous.
Only the other day, on a call given by Syed Ali Shah Geelani, October 27 last was observed as a “Black Day” as on that day the Indian troops, allegedly, commenced their “occupation” of Kashmir. This was stated by SA Shamsi of Jamait-e-Islami, which organized a dharna (sit-in) in Islamabad, attended by leaders of Pak Occupied Kashmir. The Kashmiri separatists, whether in India or in Pakistan, have by their statements made the history of post-Accession Kashmir stand on its head.
 Everybody knows whatever these cranky separatists wearing blinkers have been broadcasting are absolute falsehoods. Indian Army had no reason to enter Kashmir had Maharaja Hari Singh, the then ruler of the State of Jammu & Kashmir, not acceded to India in 1947 at the same time asking the latter for assistance to throw out the Pakistani regulars who along with tribal raiders had invaded his State. The Indian government did not send its troops until the Maharaja had also obtained the consent of the most prominent democratic leader of Kashmir, Sheikh Mohammed Abdullah. The Maharaja had to do it as otherwise the Government of India wouldn’t extended its help.
Inviting the Indian Army was thus a joint decision of the Maharaja and the most popular leader of Kashmiris. Besides, the Indian Army had gone into Kashmir when it had become Indian Territory. By no stretch of imagination, therefore the Indian Army in Kashmir is an "Occupation Army". It is there to protect its own territory that includes Jammu & Kashmir. In fact, it is Pakistan which has illegally occupied a big chunk of Indian Territory in Kashmir by sheer violent aggression. If there is any "army of occupation" in Kashmir it is the Pakistan Army which is in forcible occupation of what is known as Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
 Even the objective commentators in Pakistan have expressed grave doubts about Pakistani position on Kashmir. In a recent article, Ayaz Mir, the level-headed and objective journalist, has admitted that three wars, including the one of 1947,  waged by Pakistan have met with only failure in meeting their objectives, that is, of wresting the entire state of Jammu & Kashmir from India.
What is more surprising, however, is that Imran Khan, the Teheriq-e- Insaf chief, supported the dharna and the Black Day saluting the Kashmiri people for their sacrifices in rejecting the "Indian occupation". Having been educated in Oxford and having been honoured and feted in India several times during his frequent visits apart from his numerous cricketing trips he should have known the history of Kashmir better. Perhaps compulsions of politics make politicians reach for their oft-used blinkers and Imran now is a diehard politician.
Prof. Waqar Ashraf, one of the participants at the dharna in Islamabad reportedly said, "Freedom is a right wherever one lives and Kashmiris’ right should be given to them. They cannot be forced to live in a country they did not wish to belong to and even the UN Charter is against it.” One can have no quarrel with this line of thinking. Kashmiris, like other citizens of India, have the right to choose the place and the country where they wish to live. They have the absolute freedom to leave and go and live in any country where they find conditions more congenial. None and, surely, neither government of J&K nor the Government of India, would ever stop them from exercising this basic right.
Similar sentiments were felt when a row was kicked up on the non-inclusion of Parvez Rasool, a Kashmiri cricketer, in the playing eleven of the Indian cricket team while on tour in Zimbabwe earlier this year. Very strong comments on this veritable non-issue were reported from Kashmir emanating from the state's knowledgeable chief minister down to some anti-Indian Kashmiris. Some of the latter said they were not happy when Rasool was included in a team that represented India. Some others said that they were certainly not happy when the lad was picked to play for India and that they would not be happy even if he did well for India, especially so while playing against Pakistan.
It is quite clear where such people’s sympathies lay broadcasting as they did their acute antipathy for the country they lived in. They seem to have forgotten the gratitude and happiness of their forebearers when this country went and rescued them from the clutches of the Pakistani marauders in 1947 sacrificing many precious lives. If, however, they have aversion for this country they, too, have the liberty to migrate out to whichever country they find more inviting. None in this country would begrudge their decision to do so. One recalls, similar advice was tendered to people with similar attitudes in their respective countries by the governments of Australia and Netherlands.



Saturday, November 23, 2013

Destinations: Singapore

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A short hop from Kuala Lumpur and we were in Singapore - a flight of around an hour. There was a proposal to use the railway train from Kuala Lumpur. We were given to understand that it was very comfortable where one could book one’s specific seat or berth. The first class of the train reportedly offered far more comfort than the similar class of railway compartment in India. Somehow the plan had to be dropped as berths for so many people were just not available. We, otherwise, would have had a chance to see a bit of the Malaysian jungles. Famous all over the world for its facilities and services, the train is likely to be speeded up soon as a decision is in the offing to make it a high-speed line with trains touching more than 300 kms per hour, nipping off some hours from the current 7 hours’ travelling time.

Singapore skyline from Oberoi Imperial
Singapore has a long history but its modern avatar took birth in 1819 when it was acquired by Sir Stamford Raffles to function as a trading post for the East India Company with the permission of the Johor Sultanate that had sovereignty over it.  Eventually, in 1824 the Sultanate yielded sovereignty over the territory to the British and in 1826 Singapore became one of the British Straits Settlement territories. (One can see shades of Indian history) Occupied by the Japanese during the World War II, it was recaptured by the British who later withdrew from the Settlements in 1946. Singapore joined the Malaysian federation in 1963 only to be expelled in 1965. Tunku Abdul Rahman, the then Malaysian Prime Minster, pushing for affirmative action in favour of “Bhumi putras” (sons of the soil) could not stomach the multi-culturalism of the Singapore patriarch, Lee Kuan Yew. Lee was against discrimination and ghettoisation of ethnic communities – Chinese, Indians and the native Malays. Contrary to Malaysian expectations, the new City State of Singapore started taking giant leaps towards progress and prosperity after its expulsion.
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 We landed not at Changi Airport but at the old Paya Lebar airport. The airport at Changi was still in the works. We were told that the area around the airport had potential for urban development but projects could not be undertaken due to the air traffic passing over it. Singapore is hungry for land and any land that could be used for residential or commercial purposes could not be allowed to remain unexploited. Even in 1981 the authorities were planning for an airport at Changi where the planes would have to approach the runway not over land but over the sea. Perhaps, that’s what they have achieved by creating an airport at Changi.
Put up in the Oberoi Imperial, a five star affair, we again faced the same problem of inadequacy of funds. With the split rates of daily allowances we could not have had even breakfast at the hotel. While the room had all the trappings of a 5-starred outfit the pretentious provisions of the government for officers on tour abroad proved pretty inconvenient and tiresome. We had necessarily to dine out.

 In 1981 Singapore was not yet one of the “Asian Tigers” but, on hindsight, it appeared to be well on its way towards achieving that sobriquet. It was a vulnerable tiny city state and, located as it was on the busy sea lane between east and west, it had always been fearful of being overwhelmed by super and regional powers. And yet within the limited confines of its territory devoid of natural resources export oriented industries were being set up, housing projects were being implemented, and a tough administration had been largely successful in tying up all the loose ends of the administration to optimize utilization of its limited land base, minimize consumption and boost productivity Its main economic activities were in those days were oil refining and banking.
                                                                                                                                                                    
Jurong township
A remarkable effort to industrialise the small city state was in Jurong – an uncharted territory of swamps and marshes not many years ago. Away from central business district and residential areas, the place was found fit for industrialisation. Now it is a thriving industrial estate with scores of industries that were set up along with even low cost housing with all the necessary paraphernalia like schools, hospitals, dispensaries etc for a decent and fulfilling life of the residents. When we were taken around to view the place it was shrouded in dust because of the ongoing frenetic construction activity. Now, of course, things should be much different – built and fully functional and aesthetically pleasing to the eye.

Competence was expected in every aspect of administration and officers were expected to be businesslike. No frills or no beating about the bush, one had to be straightforward in dealing with every matter relating to the state. A small incident was very illustrative. At tea at the Singapore Institute of Public Administration I asked an Englishman sitting by my side what he was doing at the Institute. On being told that he was teaching English to officers when I said that it was an English-speaking country, he said that was true but Lee was very finicky about the language used on paper. If even a secretary wrote pompous or archaic English he would land up at the Institute for a brush-up. Seems inconsequential but tells a lot about the man behind Singapore’s push towards prosperity. 

The government being highly competent and largely corruption-free the management of the city couldn’t be better. The tough administration penalises for deviations – minor or major – with fines, sometimes very stiff. Lee used to say that Singapore is a “fine” country. One wouldn’t find a speck of dust or any litter anywhere. I had to look for a trash bin to discard my cigarette butts. For us it was an experience used as we are to presence of muck, dirt, litter and trash in our midst. Unlike in India I happened to notice beautiful tropical gardens developed under the flyovers. Unlike our civic bodies Singapore administration is very high on aesthetics. Even as late as earlier this year I found muck and trash under one of the South Delhi flyovers where migrant families were also living – and presumably multiplying.

High-rises and greens
 Likewise, the traffic on the roads was excellently managed although number of cars was not negligible. To avoid congestion even in those early days a car could get on to the High Street only if it carried not less than four passengers including the driver. This applied even to taxis. I don’t know whether it was true but we were told that one could own only one vehicle at a time. If one owned a car he/she wouldn’t get another from the government or corporate house or any other source. If a vehicle was allotted by the employer one couldn’t buy a vehicle for one self. The same was true of houses; one couldn’t own multiple houses. One could understand the law in view of scarcity of land. There were definite plans for reclamation from the surrounding seas but mostly for productive purposes.

 In this land-scarce country the Indian High Commissioner had a huge rambling old ill-maintained bungalow with extensive grounds. A batch-mate of mine from the Foreign Service was the High Commissioner who gave the group very welcome samosas and good Indian tea. His tips for shopping were very helpful, shopping having been on everybody’s mind. Singapore those days was known for all kinds of stuff – electronic or non electronic – and was known to be cheap an image Singapore was keen to wipe away.

The High Commissioner had suggested the CK Tang mall which was supposed to be good but one had to bargain rather hard. Situated in the Orchard Road, the heart of Singapore, its facade was not pretentious like the ones we see today. Nonetheless, the insides were something which I found fabulous. It was my first experience of a mall and it was amazing to see a whole floor dedicated to cosmetics and women’s perfumes. From it an escalator took off for the men’s section on the first floor. Different MNC brands had cornered huge areas. The sales persons, generally Chinese girls, were very friendly and persuasive. Packed with electronic stuff and cameras that were virtually non-existent in the pseudo-socialist India of Indira Gandhi it was indeed very tempting. Only the lean wallet held most of us back. Within my limited means I shopped like never before. In any case, in 1981 it was a whole new experience in shopping.

Singapore by night
I patronised Tang’s food court and enjoyed the delectable Indonesian and Malaysian cuisine. The night time hawker style food market was another experience. As darkness fell scores of hawkers with their colourful lanterns on push carts and offering delectable stuff would converge on the streets. But nothing would ever be touched by bare hands. Like in Kuala Lumpur, none of the sales persons would ever touch any foodstuff with bare hands. Out on the streets also I saw fruit sellers selling pieces of papaya, melons, guavas etc wearing plastic gloves – a practise that has not been adopted in India yet. I tried to persuade the local sweet shop to have gloves or tongs used by his salesmen but to no avail.

Soon the pleasant stay came to an end. We were up one early morning to catch a Cathay Pacific flight for Bangkok where we had a daylong lay-over before hitting Delhi.



Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Airport musings

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In order to escape the noisy, ear-splitting Diwali of our Idgah Hills in Bhopal, where residents have loads of money to burn by way excruciatingly loud bombs by hundreds for days before and after the ‘D’ Day, we took a flight to Goa via Mumbai. We chose Goa for our escape as Diwali there is reported to be far less raucous and much more civilized and, I dare say, certainly more dignified. The flight to Mumbai was at 7.40 in the morning arriving at Mumbai before 9.00 and the flight to Goa was more than 5 hours later at 2.30 PM.

Called Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, the Santa Cruz Airport of earlier times, does not have a lounge for passengers transiting through it. We are pretty prompt in Indianising the old Western names but we are very tardy in upgrading the facilities. This is true of this Airport as it is true of many other outfits and institutions. Hence we had to wait at the crowded, rather inadequately provided departure lounge for all of those five hours and more.

Sitting on a chair that was not meant for being sat on for long hours I saw through the skylight a large number of planes fly away.The Santa Cruz airport, barring its international arrival area, those days used to be wide open to the public. Anybody could get into it. For example, all of us could go right up to the glazed walls of the arrival lounge from where we could see bigger planes mostly of foreign airlines and Air India parked up in front. Almost all international airlines - from SAS to BOAC to KLM and Pan American down to Quantas would touch down at Bombay. It is here that I happened to see an Air India Super Constellation one of which had crashed near Djakarta in 1955 before the famed Bandung Non-Aligned Conference killing many Chinese delegates. We saw all these planes through the glass panes as none even in those days could step on to the tarmac. However, those who were keen on an unrestricted and better view would go on to the terrace of the then single storey structure of the Airport and crowd around its parapets to ogle at the aircraft landing or taking off or even those that were stationary.

Obviously, the airport was a pretty busy one, a far cry (naturally) from what it used to be more than fifty years ago. Watching the planes fly away one after another my mind flew across more than fifty years to 1955 when my sister and I were visiting  during the summer vacation an uncle of ours who used to live and work in what was then Bombay and who was very fond of watching planes flying in and flying out. Whenever he could squeeze out some time he would take us out to show us the sights of Bombay. And whenever there was nothing much to do after his office in the evenings he, along with our aunt, would drive us down to the Santa Cruz airport. Parking the vehicle in front of the Airport building we would all saunter down to the arrival lounge for domestic flights. Civil aviation in India in those days was in its infancy and, hence, not many flights would be arriving. The arrival area was, therefore, largely unoccupied.

 Today getting into the Santa Cruz airport, or for that matter into any airport in the country, just like that is impossible. Those were the terror-free innocent days when men were simpler and uncomplicated. Securing of lives and property, both public and private, was not an activity of such a mammoth proportions as it has become today. True there were deviants even then; there were thefts, robberies, rapes and murders - the crimes that could be taken care of by the usual policemen. But, the menace of organised terror that seeks only to kill people in as large a number as possible had not yet made its appearance. All public and private places vulnerable to terror attacks have therefore had to be closed to the casual visitors and specialised security personnel have had to be engaged to guard them.

 Providing security from stray unexpected bombings in dense urban areas or premeditated armed attacks such as those on the Indian Parliament in 2005 or on Bombay in 2008 or preventing hijacking of passenger aircraft like the one of Indian Airlines in1998 or for crashing into predetermined targets like in 2001 on the World Trade Centre in New York have become
the most obsessive activities of governments the world over. On the back-room boys, on installation of systems for relentless vigilance and logistics of the foot soldiers of the security organisations mind boggling sums are being spent in order to provide failsafe security to people all over the world. All because some people of a particular faith do not like people of other faiths - a persuasion that is unquestionably medieval in character. One cannot but hark back to the statement of Ajmal Qasab, the young Pakistani participant in the Mumbai terror attack who, to his misfortune, was captured alive. Sent along with others on a suicide mission he said they were mission was to kill as many as possible from among Hindus, Jews and others for no apparent reason. As it appears now, preparations for this attack had been going on for at least three years. His parent jihadi organisation seems to have an assembly line that produces in continuum terrorists who are prepared to remorselessly kill or get killed in the service of their faith which, incidentally, makes loud claims to be a religion of peace. So efficient is the brainwashing of young minds by the purveyors of terror.

Sitting there in the departure lounge of the Mumbai Airport I wondered how things have changed and how life has become restricted with public organizations   becoming more and more restrictive, taking away the small pleasures and the absolute freedom that we once used to enjoy without any let or hindrance - all because of a few thousand creepy and sneaky terrorists who never come upfront to attack but do so by stealth and surprise.

Today at the same Santa Cruz airport  or any other airport of the country, forget about a casual visitor, even a passenger holding a valid ticket has to clear at least three layers of security checks before emplaning. And then one cannot carry any fluids, not even drinking water, in the plane. In the US even shoes have to be taken off for security checks as a suicide bomber once hoodwinked the security personnel by carrying a bomb into a plane concealed in his shoes.

From what is happening all around looks like there is going to be no let up in terror – hatred of one community for another relentlessly enlarging its area of influence. Those carefree and innocent days of half a century ago seem like gone forever.

Photo of an Air India plane is taken from the Internet




Monday, November 11, 2013

Indo-Pak peace process, why flog it when it is dead



A
run Jaitley, leader of the Opposition in the Upper House of Indian Parliament, very tersely said 
recently in New York that “terror and dialogue can’t coexist”. This was in the context of the Indian government’s keenness to continue Indo-Pak dialogue. Even as he was speaking infiltration bids continued on the Line of Control (LoC), the border between the two Kashmirs.

Thankfully, a belated statement from the External Affairs minister came earlier indicating that it was really no time for India to resume dialogue with Pakistan. The statement has come almost three weeks after a case of
massive infiltration in the Keran Sector of the Line of Control (LoC) in Kupwara region in Jammu & Kashmir. The infiltrators numbered 30 to 40 militants. In the fortnight-long military operations that ensued 5 Indian soldiers were injured and some 8 militants were killed, the rest are presumed to have either returned to where they came from or killed. A large cache of arms and ammunitions was recovered.

It seems better sense has since prevailed on the Indiaqn Government which appeared to have been hell-bent on resuming the “composite dialogue” with Pakistan, a dialogue that got stalled after the January 2013 ceasefire violations. Since then not only a new democratic government is in place in Pakistan but there have been around a hundred ceasefire violations by Pakistan Army and its “affiliates” – all violent and some very barbaric. 

Nevertheless, Manmohan Singh went and shook hands with the Pakistan Prime Minister at New York. It was no more than a photo-op, though, mercifully, the PM was reported to have stated that the talks could not be resumed unless Pakistan refrained from violence on the LoC. That unfortunately is not within the control of the civilian government. It is the Pakistani Army that calls the shots and it is this rather intractable entity that determines the time and place of resuming its operations on the LoC. 

There has been a perfidious history of such meetings. These have either been accompanied or followed by hostile activities by Pakistan in the state of Jammu & Kashmir and elsewhere in India. Kargil War in 1999 was an example of it. Even as the then Indian Prime Minister Vajpayee bussed to Lahore on his peace initiative the Pakistan Army and its proxies were surreptitiously moving into the Indian Territory with a view to snapping the supply lines to Siachen. Now again, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh quite gratuitously went and shook hands with his Pakistani counterpart the latter’s Army and its proxies had moved into the Keran sector of J&K. The common factor, both in 1999 and 2013 is Nawaz Sharif who was also reportedly connected with the 1993 Mumbai bombings that claimed as many as 250 victims. 2005, however, saw the attack on Srinagar Tourist Reception Centre when Parvez Musharraff happened to be the military dictator in Pakistan. That too took place a day before the bus-link to Muzaffarabad in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir form Srinagar was inaugurated, another initiative for peace by the PM. Unmindful of the mindless terror the service was inaugurated but without any tangible dividends.

When the PM, somewhat incredibly, conveyed to President Obama that Pakistan was the epicenter of terror, perhaps, it would have been better if he had named the Pak Army as well, as it, with the assistance of the terrorists, the “non-state actors” and their several organizations it maintains and runs, is the one which plans, trains and equips to unleash terror in India at times and places of its choosing. Somehow the government under Manmohan Singh has allowed an impression to go around within the country and abroad that it is soft and is incapable of adequately responding to the indiscretions of the Pak Army on the LoC. The PM himself has repeatedly refrained from holding the Pak Administration and its Army responsible for Indian casualties on the LoC. It is the watchful Indian media, the Opposition and the civil society that forced his government to change its stance when Indian soldiers were gruesomely beheaded well within Indian Territory and held Pakistan responsible for their gory death. The Indian President was more forthright and, calling a spade a spade, asserted that the so-called non-state actors do not “parachute down from heaven”

One wonders as to why, despite the repeated violations of the 2003 Cease Fire and violence on the LoC, the PM has been keen on pushing ahead with the long-suffering “peace initiative”. Aware as he is that any amount of talks with the democratically elected government would never be allowed to proceed, leave alone yield any positive results as the country’s armed forces are deeply radicalized and are anti-India down to
their very core. They would never allow peace to prevail between the two countries. Apart from ensuring their wellbeing, the continued enmity serves to achieve their radicalized religious objectives. Hence, if one has to talk to Pakistan, one must talk to its Army. That, however, is impossible as no self-respecting democracy would ever negotiate with the armed forces of another democratic country.

Indian people have been deeply outraged by repeated violence on the LoC resulting in frequent Indian casualties and yet the ruling combine, unmindful of the public sentiments, was keen on talks with the Pakistani PM. MJ Akbar, a senior Indian journalist, made a telling comment by asserting that the UPA has displayed “phenomenal indifference to public rage”. He not only had in  mind the Indian PM’s keenness to continue the peace process with Pakistan, he also had in mind the UPA’s attempts to negate the judgment of Supreme Court regarding disqualification of convicted MPs and the decision of Chief Information Commissioner to bring political parties within the ambit of Right To Information Act.  

With a pathological hatred for “Hindu India” that has been assiduously cultivated since the partition and nurtured and strengthened with the liberal doses of the tonic of “Jihad” since the late 1970s the Pak Army brass, their radicalised subalterns and proxies would never buy peace with India even if the whole of J&K is gifted away to them on a silver platter. Regardless of all efforts – back channel negotiations, people-to-people contacts, a liberalized visa regime or trade and commerce – the radicals in the armed forces and outside would never allow normality in the region It is they who call the shots, the peaceniks, if any, are few and far between and they squirm at the prospect of violent retaliation.

It, therefore, appears logical that we should let Pakistan be in its rigid, unchangeable manner. The accident of geography and history has made us neighbours necessitating, at least, minimal relations – without any frills as, understandably, the relations between the two can never be like those of US and Canada – stable and mutually beneficial.

Contextually speaking, therefore, India must shake off its weak and infirm image, secure its land and sea borders, be watchful of their breaches and equip itself with adequate military muscle to pose enough of deterrence for any misadventure. 

Notes:
1. This blog was written about two weeks earlier
2. Both the photographs have been taken from the Internet