Amid a staunch defence by Beijing of its policy to put Muslim Uyghurs in training camps, rights groups including one of exiled Uyghurs have accused the Chinese government of “distorting facts” and forcing the community to give up its religious and cultural identity.
Top Xinjiang official Shohrat Zakir on Tuesday told state media that Beijing was fighting “terrorism and extremism” in its own way but in accordance with United Nations resolutions.
“Today’s Xinjiang is not only beautiful but also safe and stable. No matter where they are or at what time of the day, people are no longer afraid of going out, shopping, dining and travelling,” Zakir said, referring to the violence between the Uyghurs and Han Chinese that has rocked the region in recent years.
Dilxat Raxit, spokesperson of the World Uyghur Congress, however dismissed the official stand.
“Xinjiang officials of the Communist Party of China recently announced that ‘vocational skills education and training’ is to eliminate terrorism. It is completely distorting the facts and fabricating lies,” Raxit told HT over email.
“After being exposed, they (the government’s attempts) were renamed as skills training. Millions of Uyghurs were forced to give up their cultural beliefs, abandon the language used by their ancestors, and asked them to switch to Han Chinese names and diets. Is this the technical training they claim to provide a means for Uyghurs to make a living?” he said.
Raxit demanded the Chinese government should allow foreign media to visit the camps and conduct “unimpeded interviews”.
Human Right Watch’s Sophie Richardson demanded that China release the children of inmates from state institutions.
“One million Turkic Muslims are credibly estimated to be detained in unlawful political education camps in Xinjiang, along with an unknown number arbitrarily held in detention centers and prisons, under China’s abusive ‘Strike Hard Campaign against Violent Terrorism’,” Richardson said in a statement.
Chinese state media said the criticism of the camps was “western geopolitics”.
“Those Western forces don’t care about the welfare of the Xinjiang people. They would rather sacrifice stability in Xinjiang and the lives of hundreds of thousands for a single geopolitical victory over China,” the Global Times tabloid said in an editorial.
“Even Chinese authorities find Xinjiang’s governance a thorny issue, so how can Westerners have the sincerity and patience to rack their brains to offer suggestions? They are just messing up the whole thing and creating a narrative against China,” it added.
MUMBAI: Advertising sector watchdog ASCI investigated complaints against 208 advertisements in June, of which 179 were regarding misleading claims including those of Reliance Jio, SpiceJet, PepsiCo India, Hindustan Unilever, among others.
It noted that out of the 208 advertisements, the advertisers promptly ensured corrective action in 63 of them as soon as the complaints were received.
The consumer complaints council (CCC) of Advertising Standards Council of India (ASCI) upheld 89 advertisements from a total of 145 evaluated by them.
Amongst the 89 advertisements which it held misleading, 25 belonged to the healthcare category, 27 to education, 15 to food and beverages, five to personal care and 17 were from other categories, it said in a statement.
ASCI upheld the complaint against PepsiCo India’s Quaker Oats’ two ads finding them misleading by ambiguity and omission of the direct reference of comparison in the voice over itself.
It said that the ads said ‘Quaker Oats me hai 2x more protein and fibre’ was qualified with a disclaimer ‘per serve comparison with cornflakes. Reference: Atlas of Indian Foods’, which was not legible and not as per ASCI guidelines on disclaimers (font size, contrast, hold duration).
“The advertisement’s claim ‘two times more protein’ was misleading by ambiguity and implication and the commercial under reference contravened ASCI’s guidelines for celebrities in advertising,” it said.
The watchdog pulled up SpiceJet for the visual of a man inserting loose wires into a power socket and getting an electric shock, and also shown repeating this act again, which it termed as an unsafe and a dangerous practice, which manifests a disregard for safety and encourages negligence.
ASCI also considered Hindustan Unilever’s Lifebuoy soap advertisement to be misleading by ambiguity and implication.
“The television advertisement when seen in totality creates an impression that Lifebuoy is recommended by doctors… In view of the Code of Medical Ethics prohibiting doctors from endorsing any product and in absence of any market research data indicating that medical professionals in general recommend the advertised product, such visual presentation was considered to be misleading by ambiguity and implication,” it said.
It also upheld the complaint against Kraft Heinz India’s Complan advertisement claim that ‘only one cup of Complan has protein equivalent to one egg and other health drinks provide protein equivalent to half egg only’, as they were not substantiated and was considered to be misleading by ambiguity and exaggeration as well as in contravention of the ASCI guidelines on disclaimers.
The regulator also noted that PepsiCo India’s New Tropicana Essentials-Fruits and Veggies advertisement did not provide any supporting evidence to show that Tropicana Essentials was a ‘new’ product at the time of publishing the advertisement and found the claim to be misleading.
ASCI also pulled up Reliance Jio Infocomm advertisement’s claims of offering the best network and being the world’s largest mobile data network for misleading by ambiguity and implication as they refer to only consumption of data and not the extent and infrastructure of network.
Similarly, it found Myntra advertisement’s claim, ‘here’s Rs 300 on us’, as misleading by ambiguity and omission that the offer is only on select products, and that the offer is subject to terms and conditions.
It added that the advertiser did not provide the terms and conditions of the offer nor a link showing the same which would have informed the customer about the conditions.
The regulator also noted that in Yatra.com’s advertisement, the claim offer related to the fare type ‘refundable’ was misleading by ambiguity regarding the extent and conditions of the refund, and by omission of a qualifier to mention that it is subject to terms and conditions.
It also found Rasna’s advertisement claim, ‘natural fruit energy’, was inadequately substantiated and is misleading by ambiguity and implication about the fruit content in the product.
“The visual of celebrity Kareena Kapoor when seen in conjunction with the claim is likely to mislead consumers regarding the nature of product benefit and contravened the guidelines for celebrities in advertising,” it said.
NEW DELHI: The Indian rupee surrendered all the gains made during the day and settled 13 paise lower at 73.61 against the US dollar on Wednesday amid steady capital outflows and strengthening of the American currency. The US dollar strengthened against its rivals ahead of the Federal Reserve’s release of minutes from the September meeting.
The Indian rupee also came under pressure following a heaving selling in domestic equities.
At the Interbank Foreign Exchange, the rupee opened on a higher note at 73.43 and gained further ground to hit an intra-day high of 73.37 against the US dollar.
But eventually, the Indian unit erased all the gains and finally settled the day at 73.61, down by 13 paise.
The domestic currency climbed 35 paise to end at nearly two-week high of 73.48 per dollar Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the benchmark Sensex Wednesday fell 383 points to end below the 35,000-mark in highly volatile trade, breaking three sessions of gains as investors booked profits.
The broader NSE Nifty too dived 131.70 points, or 1.24 per cent, to close at 10,453.05.
Unabated foreign fund outflows also had an impact on the domestic currency. Foreign investors sold shares worth Rs 1,165.63 crore Tuesday, provisional data showed.
The Financial Benchmark India Private Ltd (FBIL) set the reference rate for the rupee/dollar at 73.4846 and for rupee/euro at 84.9800. The reference rate for rupee/British pound was fixed at 96.8684 and for rupee/100 Japanese yen was 65.47.
We like to divide the world into vegetarians and non-vegetarians. But of course it is not so simple. What about people who won’t eat eggs saying that they are non vegetarian foods but will happily drink milk? In the West, there is at least a degree of consistency: vegans won’t eat any animal product including milk.
But in the West, things get complicated; there are many so-called vegetarians who eat fish. Why? Well, because fish is not meat. There are others (like Phoebe in an episode of Friends) who won’t eat anything that has a face. So some vegetarians say yes to oysters and scallops and no to prawns.
And even among non-vegetarians, there are things that most Indians will not eat. Nearly everyone I know is horrified when I tell them that Nepalis make a papad from fried blood or that black pudding is not a dessert but a sausage made with blood.
I know people who love fish but feel uncomfortable if the fish is served whole, appearing to stare accusingly at diners as if it is blaming them for having had it murdered for their delight.
Phoebe won’t eat anything that has a face. (Youtube)
Though I am a good Gujarati, I was brought up a non-vegetarian since birth. Even so, there are things I will not eat. I won’t eat any kind of offal: no brains, no liver, no kidneys, no hearts, no testicles, no tripe and so on.
At first I thought it was some Gujarati gene asserting itself (do you really want to eat the lining of sheep’s stomach?) and avoided anything that sounded a bit yucky. Bit by bit though, I have overcome some of my prejudices. The belly of a fish can be more delicious than it sounds as anyone who has had toro sashimi will tell you. Just because you don’t like liver (which I hate) it does not follow that you won’t enjoy foie gras (made from duck or goose liver).
But, a strong organ meat taste still remains a no-no for me. Last month, my friend Sameer Sain, a man who has been everywhere in the world and eaten everything worth eating, took me to lunch at Bombay Canteen, a restaurant we both like. Sameer made me try a brain dish that he thought was fabulous and we then went on to the gurda kapura (which, I think, is testicles; but I don’t really want to know!) which Sameer relished while I looked pained.
I am sure Sameer, who has a discerning palate, was right about how good both dishes were. But sorry, those strong offal tastes just don’t work for me.
The problem is that not everything tastes like you expect it to. Gaggan Anand makes a super-light, fluffy brain dish that gets rid of the organ flavour. I have had black pudding cooked with scrambled eggs (by Richard Neat who was the UK’s youngest two Michelin star chef in the 1990s) and loved the combination.
And then there is bone marrow.
If you are of a squeamish disposition, then bone marrow does not sound appetising. It is a gelatinous substance at the centre of bones and seemed to me to be vaguely “ugh”. For many years when people sucked the marrow out of mutton bones, I felt mildly repulsed. Even when they told me that a Nalli NIhari made use of bone marrow flavour, I was unimpressed.
Then, in 2012, I went to the Singapore Gourmet Summit which was a really big deal in that era. Among the chefs who was cooking was Fergus Henderson of St. John, the London restaurant. Henderson introduced nose-to-tail eating to the Anglo-Saxon world and is an enormously influential chef so I was keen to meet him. We met up at the restaurant in Sentosa where he was doing a pop-up and he kindly insisted I stay for lunch.
Henderson’s signature dish is bone marrow with toast. And as the great man was present himself in the kitchen with only a sous chef or two, it seemed the perfect opportunity to finally try the Western world’s most famous bone marrow dish.
St. John restaurant in London, which serves excellent bone marrow. (Youtube/cranetvlifestyle)
When it arrived, I was entranced. Henderson’s bone marrow had a sweet, light, buttery quality about it that complemented its essential meatiness. He served it with toasted sour dough bread, salt and a parsley salad. You put a bit of the marrow on the bread, sprinkled a little salt on it and popped it in your mouth. Next you had a bit of the parsley salad which complemented the marrow perfectly.
It was love at first bite; I had rarely eaten anything that delicious.
A year later, Henderson’s bone marrow dish had become so globally famous that it began turning up on menus everywhere. In America, chefs tried to come up with new marrow dishes or just riffed on the Henderson classic.
Two years later, when I was in New York, I read about a new restaurant in the West Village called The Marrow whose specialty was – as the name suggests – bone marrow. I duly went along, liked the restaurant, had a long chat with the very knowledgeable lady sommelier and ordered the bone marrow.
It was delicious, served on the bone and came with a coating of something I couldn’t quite identify. They explained that they paired bone marrow with uni or sea urchin, a match made in West Village heaven.
Or was it?
When I went online to check on the restaurant (the New York Times gave it just one star which I thought was unfair) I discovered that a controversy had begun. Apparently, before The Marrow opened, Eric Ripert, the chef at the Michelin three star New York restaurant, Le Bernardin, had already started pairing sea urchin with bone marrow. Food bloggers accused The Marrow of ripping Le Bernardin off. The chef at The Marrow said he had no idea that Ripert already served this dish (yeah, sure….) but Ripert himself was gracious. He did not deny that it was his creation but said that he was flattered that other chefs wanted to try the same combination. And in no time at all, marrow and sea urchin became a classic pairing.
Good for Ripert. Not so good for the Marrow which closed in two years time.
The world has now gone marrow-mad especially after Anthony Bourdain said he wanted marrow to be his last meal on earth. (Sadly, it was not.) Too many of the marrow dishes on Western menus however seem to me to be derivative of Henderson and Ripert’s versions so I keep looking for new takes on the marrow.
Over the last few months I have found three killer versions. The first is at a Thai restaurant in Bangkok called 100 Mahaseth. Their marrow bone is smothered with charcoal and roasted and then covered with Thai spices. I ate it once and dreamt about it for weeks.
The next time I was in Bangkok a few months ago, I arrived in the middle of a storm. But I braved the rain and the howling wind to make the trek to 100 Mahaseth (which was nearly empty because of the storm) and order two portions of the marrow.
Anthony Bourdain had said he wanted marrow to be his last meal on earth. (AP)
A few weeks ago, at Hoppers in London, I came across a dish called Bone Marrow Varuval. I associate Varuvals with semi-dry dishes (but then I am no expert on South Indian cuisine) but this was a marrow bone with a spicy Indian gravy. It was so amazing that I went to the kitchen to ask the chef where the recipe was from. It turned out they had invented the dish at Hoppers.
Then, last Friday in Milan, at a one-Michelin starred restaurant called Alice, I had a marrow dish to beat all marrow dishes. An osso buco is an Italian veal shank and many chefs focus on getting the meat tender. But Viviana Varese, the Chef at Alice, turned it into a dish where the marrow was the star, topping it with a carpaccio of Piedmontese Beef.
I loved it so much that I went back to Alice only to eat the Osso Buco on my last day (Monday). The chef was surprised to see me back so soon and though the rest of her food is fabulous (a second star must surely be on its way), this is the dish that has stuck in my memory.
Why don’t we make more of the marrow in India? Well, as alert readers may have guessed, there is a problem. The best, juiciest and largest chunk of the marrow comes not from the goat but from the cow. And beef is now a problem in much of India.
My guess is that the marrow from a buffalo will work in most dishes but restaurants have begin to shun even the buffalo (which is holy to nobody except perhaps for Italian mozzarella-makers) for fear of being accused of serving beef.
So we won’t see a marrow varuval in India soon. Italian restaurants will make lacklustre osso bucos and Thai restaurants will steer clear of the 100 Mahaseth-style marrow.
Which is a shame. But it still makes my original point: don’t assume that there are things you can’t eat. Even if you hate glandular meat as much as I do, there are always unusual foods waiting to be discovered.
No liver or kidneys for me. (And certainly no testicles!)
But it has been six years now and I am still madly in love with the marrow!
New York: Seven NFL teams received an off-season “targeted intervention” for higher than normal practice concussion rates, league medical executives said Tuesday, according to multiple reports.
At league meetings in New York, medical officials said their interactions with teams included discussions with football operations staffs, an exam of practice habits and drill designs plus talks with team staffs regarding top protection level helmets, USA Today and ESPN reported.
“In six of those seven clubs, the numbers did go down after the intervention,” NFL chief medical officer Allen Sills said, adding, “that group as a whole had 23 (pre-season) practice concussions in 2017. They went down to nine practice concussions in 2018.”
None of the seven teams involved in the extra-intense concussion prevention measures were identified.
Sills and NFL executive vice president of health and safety Jeff Miller said pre-season concussions in games and workouts were down 13.2 percent this year, 79 in all down from 91 in 2017. There were 71 reported concussions in 2016 and 83 in both 2014 and 2015.
The league also reported zero concussions on kickoffs in this year’s pre-season contests compared to three last year. The league enacted new rules this season aimed at reducing injuries on high-speed kick coverage plays.
“This is good. But no one is claiming victory,” Miller said, adding, “there’s a lot of work to do. We have played six weeks of the regular season and have 11 weeks ahead of us, plus the post-season before we evaluate whether some of the tactics we’ve talked about have been successful. We are pleased with where we are so far, but we’re far from declaring victory.”
The league has stressed to referees that defenders should be penalized for landing with most of their weight on quarterbacks. NFL officials called 53 roughing the passer penalties in the first six weeks of the season compared with 38 last year and 32 in 2016 over the same span.
But such calls are down since a conference call with referees last month to clarify techniques in roughing the passer hits. After 34 roughing the passer calls in the first three weeks, there were only 19 in the past three weeks.
Panaji: Early local lore tells of the Ranes as feared Maratha raiders, who would ride into erstwhile Goa and plunder wealth from the region’s wealthy folks.
In contemporary times, the Congress over the last two days, must have felt the heat of yet another raid — to be more specific by a descendant of one of the several Rane clans — Health Minister Vishwajit Rane, who has claimed credit for the switch-over of two Congress MLAs into the BJP’s pocket.
Now-former MLAs, Subhash Shirodkar and Dayanand Sopte on Tuesday, joined the BJP at a formal ceremony in the national capital, putting not just the Congress in a tight spot, but also BJP’s allies Goa Forward and Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party.
File image of Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar. Reuters
The switch-over has left the Congress and the BJP tied at 14 legislators each, with the Congress no longer in a position to claim the single largest party (in the state Assembly) status and exercise their privilege before the Governor to stake claim to form a government.
It also leaves the ruling allies Goa Forward and Maharashtrawadi Gomantak Party, some of whose members were flirting with the Congress with a toppling game in mind, with very little room to manouvre, especially now after the BJP’s central and state leadership have threatened them with the dissolution of the state Assembly.
The brisk 24-hour manouvering has also jettisoned Vishwajit Rane,47, as one of the contenders for the chief ministerial position, especially with incumbent Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar’s recovery from advanced pancreatic cancer prolonging for several months now.
“He (Vishwajit) must have told the BJP High Command, that he will get two Congress MLAs, so make him Chief Minister,” Congress secretary A. Chellakumar said on Tuesday.
Rane, a three time MLA (twice on a Congress ticket) insists it is his mission to demolish the Congress in Goa.
“I will demolish the Congress party. They will be reduced to 10 by Christmas-New Year. Save your flock. That is my message to Rahul Gandhi. Leaders in the Congress are tired of Rahul Gandhi,” Rane told IANS.
When asked about chief ministerial ambitions, the Health Minister, opted for a more humbler approach.
“I am just a partyman who wants to keep doing the work given to him. I personally harbour no such ambition,” he said.
The son of former four-time Congress Chief Mminister Pratapsingh Rane, a new entrant to the BJP — Vishwajit Rane resigned as Congress MLA after the 2017 Assembly polls to join the BJP.
He has shared the perks of power during the BJP’s first stint in power with Parrikar at the helm two decades back.
While the Health Minister’s father was a Congress MLA and Speaker, who shared a healthy working relationship with Parrikar, the latter had appointed Vishwajit Rane as head of a government corporation much to the chagrin of the Congress leadership in Goa.
While he was a part of the Congress, however, Vishwajit Rane’s outspokenness, his penchant for the dramatic and constant threats to the party’s leadership about contesting assembly elections as an independent rather than on a Congress ticket, has more often than not peeved his peer as well as seniors within the party.
Despite the fact, that he is one of the few MLAs confident of winning his bastion of Valpoi, and the growing anti-government sentiment in recent times, a large chunk of the state BJP leadership is wary of what he could bring to the table.
“He is a man in too much hurry and cannot lead a cluster of MLAs. He can win his constituency without any party support, but that does not mean he is necessarily a team player.
“He has always got his way around Congress leadership because of his father’s reach in the party. Can he function in a more disciplined, structured organisation like ours?” a senior BJP leader said on condition of anonymity.
Caste calculations also appear to bear against Rane’s shot at the top post.
While the Parrikar regime’s appeasement of the Brahmin community has stoked mass dissent against the ruling set-up, Rane’s Maratha roots may not bear much advantage, considering that the BJP needs to woo back the Bhandari (non Brahmin, non Maratha caste grouping) voters ahead of the Lok Sabha polls, if not a mid-term poll, which is also an option on the BJP’s table.
His ‘raid’ exploits apart, the newcomer tag could also serve as a deterrent for Rane’s chances, as members of the BJP’s state core committee have gone on record, that the party needs a chief ministerial candidate who has solid BJP credentials.
Party sources said, that Rane is up against Union Minister of State for AYUSH Shripad Naik, state BJP president Vinay Tendulkar and Speaker Pramod Sawant for the Chief Minister’s post.
New Delhi: Air India’s turn around efforts have become more difficult with overall increase in operational expenditure and fierce competition, its chief Pradeep Singh Kharola said as he emphasised the need to generate revenues in every possible manner to “stay afloat”.
The government is also working on ways to bolster the national carrier, which is financially stressed and is estimated to have a debt burden of more than Rs 50,000 crore.
“Our path towards turnaround has become more difficult with the market throwing fresh challenges by way of rising fuel costs, a volatile currency and overall increase in operational expenditure – besides, of course, fierce competition,” Kharola has told employees.
In a message on the October issue of ‘Samvaad’, a newsletter for employees, Kharola said airlines around the world are going all out to adopt strict control over expenditure and increase efficiencies.
Representational image. Reuters
Rising oil prices have been hurting the airlines industry and last week the government cut the excise duty on jet fuel to 11 percent from 14 percent. Fuel costs account for a major chunk of an airline’s operational costs.
“We are also going through a critical fiscal situation and it is imperative for us to rationalise expenditure and optimally utilise available resources.
“We will have to tighten our belt adopting strong fiscal discipline and streamlining of our functioning without compromising on our operational efficiency,” Kharola said.
In recent months, the airline has also initiated measures to save costs.
Further, the Chairman and Managing Director said the airline needs to focus on generating revenue in every possible manner to stay afloat.
The system of working has to be reset by way of trimming all unnecessary frills and keep improving the bottom line “otherwise our survival will be at stake”, Kharola said.
“We have to now stand on our own feet and learn to be self-reliant,” he added.
On 10 October, Civil Aviation Secretary R N Choubey said the government is likely to finalise a revival package for Air India in a month.
“Whenever there is a need for financial support to Air India, it will be examined on need basis and such financial support on need basis will be provided. I only wish to tell you that all support will be provided.
“Air India’s competitiveness and efficiency will not be compromised. We have nearly finalised the package and there will not be any problem for Air India. Within this month yes. Certainly,” he had told reporters in Hyderabad.
Earlier this year, the proposed strategic disinvestment of the airline, which is surviving on taxpayers’ money, failed to take off.
The Paris-based Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) on Tuesday identified 21 countries and jurisdictions that posed a “high risk” to global cooperation on tax evasion by offering citizenship for a price.
Several Indian citizens – including economic offender Mehul Choksi – have accessed investment schemes that lead to citizenship in such countriesin recent years. OECD said such schemes pose a challenge to the Common Reporting Standard (CRS) developed in 2014, to which India is a signatory.
Countries and jurisdictions such as Antigua and Barbuda, St Kitts and Nevis, and Cyprus grant citizenship or residency rights, called “golden passports”, that can be used by foreign nationals to hide assets by escaping reporting under CRS.
The OECD analysed 100 CBI or RBI (citizenship/residence by investment) schemes across the world, including in the UK, and concluded that 21 posed high-risk to the integrity of CRS. It also published guidance to identify and prevent cases of CRS avoidance.
It said: “Potential high-risk CBI/RBI schemes are those that give access to a low personal tax rate on income from foreign financial assets and do not require an individual to spend a significant amount of time in the jurisdiction offering the scheme.”
Such schemes, it said, are currently operated by Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Colombia, Cyprus, Dominica, Grenada, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Monaco, Montserrat, Panama, Qatar, St Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Seychelles, Turks and Cacos Islands, the United Arab Emirates and Vanuatu.
Citizenship of Malta, for example, enables a foreign investor visa-free travel across the European Union and several other countries, besides extending opportunities to conceal assets under the CRS.
“In particular, Identity cards, residence permits and other documentation obtained through CBI/RBI schemes can potentially be abused to misrepresent an individual’s jurisdiction(s) of tax residence and to endanger the proper operation of the CRS due diligence,” OECD said.
It was when Amit Samarth was studying medicine at the Indira Gandhi Medical College, the fitness bug bit him. He knew that he was out of shape so Amit joined a gym and eventually lost 25 kgs. The challenge to reduce body weight was first among many ordeals he had undertaken in due course of his life. In 2016, Amit finished his first full Ironman Triathlon – a race consisting of a 2.4-mile (3.86 km) swim, 112-mile (180.25 km) bicycle ride and a marathon 26.22-mile (42.20 km) run, raced in that order, without a break. In 2017, Amit finished Race Across America (RAAM) – a 5,000 kms ultra-distance road cycling race from the west coast to the east coast of the United States of America.
This year in August, the Nagpur-based Amit broke the ultimate barrier when he became the first Asian to compete and finish the Trans-Siberian Extreme, a gruelling 9,100 kms cycling race that starts from Moscow and ends in Vladivostok, covered in 15 stages and should be completed over the course of 25 days. The Trans-Siberian Extreme is the ultimate test of human’s endurance levels.
In a free-wheeling chat with Firstpost, Red Bull athlete Amit talks about finishing the most difficult race on the planet, his love for endurance sports, future challenges and more.
Dr Amit, you said competing and finishing RAAM is a life-changing experience. Why did you feel like that?
Race Across America is a 5,000 km bike race and when I did that race, I was a rookie. I was doing something like that for the first time. I cycled 5,000 km across the continent of North America under 12 days. There’s a physical as well as the mental aspect to it. It’s life changing because your mental boundaries expand and that’s why after finishing the RAAM, I thought about doing the Trans-Siberian Extreme. I got in touch with the race organisers, explored more about this race and started training. Trans-Siberian is just amazing, it’s very very hard, you know. It’s 9,100 km bike race but after doing that and RAAM, you feel like ‘oh I can do anything now’. You can achieve any goal, you get that kind of confidence in your life.
Amit Samarth competing in the third stage of the Trans-Siberian Extreme. Image Courtesy: Denis Klero/Red Bull.
We know that RAAM and Trans-Siberian Extreme are physically very demanding and exhausting. But what about the mental strength aspect? How do you develop that?
See, there’s a physical training, but you can never ride 9,100 km in your training. My maximum distance in my training was 300-320 kms in one time, so there’s a limitation to your physical training. But when you do the actual race, you depend on your mind to do those extra kilometres which you’ve never done in your training. How do I develop the mental strength? Well, when you are training, you also visualise the race in your mind. There’s a lot of visualisation that goes in your mind like how to get go about in difficult times. These things develop a mindset to do such things and you build it up. You build it up physically and mentally, and you get into a zone. Then when you get into the race, you release all that energy into the race. That’s how I do it.
Trans-Siberian Extreme is a 9,100 kms race and it takes massive effort to finish it. Did you ever feel like quitting during the race? Was there ever a crisis period during the race for you?
Actually, I had more problems during RAAM than Trans-Siberian Extreme. I got dehydrated once during RAAM in Arizona, then I had fever also. In Trans-Siberian, I didn’t many health problems, but after the third stage, I was very sore. I felt like I couldn’t continue, but eventually, I recovered. I used to go and start the race in every stage and you have other riders also so you get motivated. If these guys are doing it then I should also be able to finish it. I used to take it stage-by-stage, not thinking much about what I have done already, you know, only think about the next couple of hours.
So, you never thought about quitting?
Yes, I have had those kinds of thoughts. But there were also expectations back home, a lot of people were following me. A lot of endurance cyclists in India were following the race. They were excited because, for the first time, an Indian is trying to finish the race so that was also my motivation. I used to post my video after every stage, and a lot of people used to comment. So that was my big motivation.
In Trans-Siberian Extreme, how many hours you used to ride in a day?
See, it depends on stages. Every stage has a cut-off time. If a stage is just 350-380 kms then you take small breaks. In Trans-Siberian definition, 350 to 400 kms stage is short. Long stages are 650-700 kms. The tenth stage is 1,054 kms, the 13th stage is 1364 kms so here, the definition of cycling totally changes. It expands to a totally different level altogether.
Does age play any role in such gruelling competitions? You are 38 so did you ever feel the age factor while doing these extremely tough endurance races?
This is the best age to do such things. Because, this is not a boys’ race. If you look at endurance sports, the best athletes are after 35. The prime of any endurance athlete is 35 to 45 years. You need a matured body and a matured mind. A person who has seen the world, who has gone through a lot of training.
After finishing RAAM, you participated in Trans-Siberian Extreme, which is almost twice the distance. Tell me about your training methods and did you stick to the same modules or did you make any changes?
I got to learn a lot from RAAM so actually, I trained less for Trans-Siberian Extreme when to RAAM. I did a lot of quality training for Trans-Siberian rather than a lot of junk training. I had specific training days, including a lot of rest in between to recover my body. Rest was a part of my training, you cannot train every day because if you do that, your body’s performance will go down. I was a far better rider during Trans-Siberian as compared to RAAM.
There endurance races can become very lonesome. We are talking about covering 9000 kms over a period of many days in places like Siberia. How did you cope with loneliness?
See, I have always been a solo sports guy so I can handle the loneliness. Maybe other riders cannot handle loneliness. Siberia is all jungle; sparsely populated area and some city will come after 300 or 400 kms. Siberian mid-highlands are all hills and when you’re on top of the hill, you’ll see the road going hundreds of kilometres. It’s mentally breaking, and that’s why I call this as a ghost riding.
“I have always been a solo sport guy so I can handle the loneliness.” Image Courtesy: Pavel Sukhorukov/Red Bull.
For us, outsiders, it’s like willingly putting your body through torture, considering the difficulty of such races and the extreme conditions in play. Why do you do it?
Yes, it is a torture. I would rate Trans-Siberian Extreme as the most difficult race on the planet. So, when I did the RAAM, I thought why not I try this, and I like taking on challenges. After RAAM, I had the momentum. I already finished the 5000 kms so I quickly took this opportunity and finished Trans-Siberian race. You know, in all these races, you actually suffer a lot, but when you do it, you have a lifelong story to tell. If you run a marathon, what story do you have? Thousands of people do it. The Trans-Siberian Extreme, I have a story to tell you, to school children, it also inspires others to think beyond, break their barriers. For me also, everything is also like breaking a barrier.
How many crew members accompanied you during the race?
I had a two-member crew with me, their names are Dev and Chetan. They were there with me throughout the race. The organisers provided us with a car and driver along with other help like physios and medical teams. Trans-Siberian is the most amazing race organised ever. We were only six riders, but for six riders, they had an 80-member team. Last year, there were 10 riders and only four finished. This year, we had only six riders and four finished so we had a better success rate.
What about funding part when it comes to participating in these races? How difficult it is to find sponsors?
It is difficult to find funding for something like this because this is not cricket. But endurance sports are also growing and this time I was able to find sponsors. RAAM also played a big part because I had a success story to tell to my sponsors. For Trans-Siberian race, I was partly sponsored by corporates and the rest was crowd-funded.
Now that you have finished the most difficult race on the planet. What’s in store for future? What kind of challenges are you setting up for yourself?
After the Trans-Siberian race, I took almost one-month off. I was not doing much training because I needed my body to give recovery time. Now that I have started training again, I can feel my eagerness is back. Mentally also, you get recharged to train more. I might do RAAM again, but I would try to be among top three guys to finish the race. Of course, I would also like to do Trans-Siberian again. For Trans-Siberian, I was all self-coached. Right now, I’m at a level where I don’t need a coach but an advisor will be helpful, because you need somebody to push you. Maybe, I’ll hire one in future but it all depends on sponsors.
Bollywood superstar Salman Khan, who became a part of a celebration for 20 years of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, says the film’s director Karan Johar is the “busiest man” in the Hindi film industry today. The actor has urged the filmmaker to work with him again.
Salman was addressing the media through video conferencing at the grand celebration here on Tuesday. Karan had approached many established actors to play the part of Aman Mehta in his directorial debut Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, but eventually Salman gave the nod to play the part.
Talking about how he got agreed to do Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Salman said, “Karan Johar met my sister Alvira and he told her that ‘It’s my first film and I have signed Kajol and Shah Rukh Khan. There is a small but important role for which I am looking for a star but I am not finding any star to play that part’.
“So my sister Alvira told me that ‘He is a really good guy. It’s his first film and you should help him in his first film’. After that, Karan Johar met me at party that time, I told him that I will do it for my sister, Yash (Johar) uncle, Hiroo (Johar) aunty, Karan Johar and Shah Rukh, and that’s how I became a part of the film.”
Salman said he had even liked the script of the romantic drama, which was about love and friendship. “I was pretty impressed with Karan’s writing. Karan was very clear in his head at that time and he made really good film.
“It was a different kind of film and it had its signature style and after that, he established different kind of cinema. Today, he is one of the most successful director and producer that we have in the industry. He does hosting, writing and acting too, so, I think Karan Johar is the busiest man in the film fraternity.”
Salman also wished Karan and Shah Rukh for their future endeavours, saying, “I am very happy for Karan and I am happy to be part of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. I wish this film remains an inspiration to all the young filmmakers. I wish the best of luck to Shah Rukh and Karan. I wish they keep on doing their best work.” In the end, Salman took a jibe at Karan saying, “Someday yaar… someday, work with me again.”
The celebration was attended by a slew of celebrities including Rani Mukerji, Kareena Kapoor Khan, Manish Malhotra, Neelam Kothari, Shweta Bachchan Nanda, Sanjay Kapoor, Maheep Kapoor, Shashank Khaitan, Jatin-Lalit, Twinkle Khanna, Ananya Pandey, Bhavna Pandey, Tara Sutaria, Shakun Batra, Ayan Mukerji, Janhvi Kapoor, Ishaan Khatter, Sana Saeed, Hiroo Johar, Sidharth Malhotra, Badshah, Varun Dhawan, Farida Jalal and Archana Puran Singh.
(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)