Shib Shankar Patra is one among thousands of die-hard Argentina fans in Kolkata and there’s nothing unusual about it. But then die-hard fans at times can be weird too and the 53-year-old Mr. Patra has that weird streak in him.Next best thingTrying to garner enough savings from his modest earnings through a tea stall, Mr. Patra harboured a dream — to watch ‘The Albiceleste’ live from the stands in Russia. But when a Kolkata-based travel agent informed him that his savings — a princely amount of ₹60,000 ($900) is not enough to fund his World Cup trip (travel agent gave him a budget of ₹1.5 lakh), he decided the next best thing — paint his entire three-storeyed building in Argentina colours.“I don’t smoke or drink. I have only one addiction and that is Lionel Messi and Argentina. I don’t earn much but ensure that bulk of my earnings is kept aside for these indulgences when World Cup comes calling,” Mr. Patra, owner of a tea and snack stall in North 24 Parganas’ Nawabganj township said.You don’t need a GPS to track Patra’s house once you get down to Ichhapore Railway Station. Ask any cocky teenager or elderly uncle about “Argentina Chaayer Dokan” (Argentina Tea Stall), they will be more than happy to oblige.The street leading up to his tea stall-cum-house is dotted with Argentina flags.Every four years coinciding with the World Cup, Mr. Patra gives his building a fresh coat of light blue and white shade. Enter his three-room apartment and the craziness hits you instantly. All the walls are painted in Argentina colour, even the small prayer room. The walls of each room adorn a life-size poster of Messi.Addiction can be contagious but if its ‘Messi mania’, Mr. Patra doesn’t mind that his wife Swapna along with his children — 20 year-old daughter Neha and 10-year-old son Shubham are equally mad about the fleet-footed genius. “My kids know everything about Messi. The food he likes, the car he drives, everything,” Mr. Patra says with a glint of pride in his eyes.
This is the gateway to the Thar desert. Churu in Rajasthan sits in the middle of unending sand dunes that roll away on all sides. Temperatures here dip below freezing point in winter and zoom to over 50 degrees Celsius in summer.This has been one such summer. The people of Churu know they must not venture out during the daytime, but needs must. Fetching and storing water is the chore that takes precedence over all others. It is not an easy task when the sun blazes down like molten gold.The only ﬂora that braves the heat and the terrain are the Phog and Kair bushes, and the Khejri, Royara and Babul trees.Drinking water is scarce in almost all the villages and towns of this region and the groundwater is salty. Some homes have made provision for rainwater harvesting and, those who can aﬀord it, have water puriﬁers.In summers, most families drink raabdi, a traditional drink made from bajra(pearl millet) and chaach (buttermilk). Heatstroke is an ever present danger and nobody ventures out bare-headed.Churu’s summers are too severe for any agriculture to be possible. Instead, the ﬁelds are all tilled and lie in wait for the monsoon.The main occupation in the countryside is livestock and dairy farming. And for the villagers, ensuring that their cattle and goats are fed and watered is a primary concern. This summer, grazing lands too are drying up.Churu is home to the Tal Chhapar Sanctuary, famed for its blackbuck population. But May and June are not the months to spot wildlife; not one animal ventures out in the heat.This year, on June 1 and 2, Churu recorded its highest ever temperature at 50.8 degrees Celsius. According to skymetweather.com, this is the second all-time highest maximum temperature recorded in the history of India.Of the 15 hottest places recorded in the world in the past few days, eight were in India and the rest were in neighbouring Pakistan.(IMAGES AND TEXT BY SANDEEP SAXENA) read more
Reiterating that it was his government’s aim to ensure that every family was provided with an LPG connection, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday said that the Centre had fulfilled its promise of providing eight crore free gas connections to women from economically weaker sections under the Pradhan Mantri Ujjwala Yojana (PMUY) well ahead of the projected deadline. He was addressing a State-level Empowered Women’s Meet of Self Help Groups (SHG) organised by the Maharashtra State Rural Livelihood Mission (UMED) in Aurangabad.The occasion witnessed the handing over of free LPG gas connections to five women beneficiaries, thus completing the Central government’s target of eight crore free gas connections under the scheme, almost seven months before their deadline of March 2020.“The resolution that our government had taken to provide eight crore free gas connections under Ujjwala Yojna was fulfilled today, seven months ahead of the planned date,” said Mr. Modi, adding that the programme had gone a long way in empowering women from the BPL category by preserving their health and making their kitchens ‘smoke-free’.Ayesha Sheikh Rafique of Aurangabad became the eighth crore person to benefit from the scheme and was felicitated by the Prime Minister with four other women.“The first target under the Ujjwala scheme [when launched in May 2016] was to provide five crore connections. The target was later increased to eight crore connections and I am happy to say that within 100 days of the forming of our government, this has been achieved… The work was not only limited to giving gas connections. A massive infrastructure was put in place as new LPG bottling plants were installed to meet the demand,” Mr. Modi said.Commenting on the agrarian crisis and water scarcity in the State’s parched Marathwada region, the Prime Minister said that the proposed Marathwada Water Grid was a laudable project which would bring much relief to the farmers and households in the area besides help solve irrigation problems.“Women in the rural hinterland of Maharashtra and elsewhere have to face much trouble in collecting water. The great Socialist leader Ram Manohar Lohia in the 1960s had said that there were two main problems facing the Indian woman: sanitation and drinking water… But despite so many governments and leaders after that, it is only our [BJP-led NDA] government that had the resolve to solve these pressing problems,” said Mr. Modi.He also said that the Centre was planning to spend ₹3.5 lakh crore in the next five years on the ambitious ‘Jal Jeevan Mission’ which aims to resolve potable water problems across the country.Stating that SHGs were not only a means of enhancing economic security, but also a tool for social transformation, Mr. Modi said that his government was determined to ensure that every woman in the country availed of SHG subsidy benefits.“Should the need arise, then under the SHG subsidy benefit, women can withdraw ₹5,000 from their Jan Dhan bank accounts on zero overdraft charges. They will also receive loans upto ₹1 lakh under the Mudra Scheme,” the Prime Minister said.Addressing the audience, Mr. Modi said his government was committed to the safety and growth of women and said that society needed to change its attitude towards women.“Keeping this in mind, we passed a strict law for triple talaq for the benefit of women from the Muslim community. Now, awareness needs to be spread about this,” he said.He further said that he had full confidence that all resolutions taken by the Central government in the last five years, be they financial reforms or social schemes, would be carried out by 2022, the 75th year of Independence. read more