Hit by outbreak, life comes ‘Full Circle’ for iconic New Delhi bookstore

Hit by outbreak, life comes ‘Full Circle’ for iconic New Delhi bookstore
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Full Circle, a bookstore and eatery nestled in New Delhi’s Khan Market, has been forced to shut shop due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. (AN photo by Sanjay Kumar)
Hit by outbreak, life comes ‘Full Circle’ for iconic New Delhi bookstore
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Full Circle, a bookstore and eatery nestled in New Delhi’s Khan Market, has been forced to shut shop due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. (AN photo by Sanjay Kumar)
Hit by outbreak, life comes ‘Full Circle’ for iconic New Delhi bookstore
3 / 4
Full Circle, a bookstore and eatery nestled in New Delhi’s Khan Market, has been forced to shut shop due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. (AN photo by Sanjay Kumar)
Hit by outbreak, life comes ‘Full Circle’ for iconic New Delhi bookstore
4 / 4
Full Circle, a bookstore and eatery nestled in New Delhi’s Khan Market, has been forced to shut shop due to the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. (AN photo by Sanjay Kumar)
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Updated 13 June 2020

Hit by outbreak, life comes ‘Full Circle’ for iconic New Delhi bookstore

Hit by outbreak, life comes ‘Full Circle’ for iconic New Delhi bookstore
  • Other traders in reputed Khan Market say low sales, high rents forcing them to shut shop, too
  • The Khan Market is one of the most sought-after destinations in Delhi

NEW DELHI: Cakes, coffee, and conversations — that’s what Pallavi Singh says she will miss most about Full Circle, a famous bookstore and eatery nestled in the heart of New Delhi’s iconic Khan Market, which has been forced to shut shop due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak wreaking havoc across India and its capital.
“I used to visit Full Circle once or twice a month. My friends and I have spent many evenings there, discussing life and literature at its coffee shop, Cafe Turtle. I cannot believe it is closing down,” Singh, 32, a Delhi-based writer and researcher, told Arab News on Saturday.
The popular hangout, which Singh used to travel nearly 20 kilometers to visit every month, is among travel guide Lonely Planet India’s “must-visit places” in New Delhi and takes pride of place at Khan Market, too. 
However, due to low sales and spiraling costs, its owner said last week that the bookstore and coffee house was shutting after 22 years in business.
“It was a particularly difficult decision for us to make, since running the bookshop was not a mere business for my family, but a way of living,” Priyanka Malhotra, who is the second generation in her family to manage Full Circle, told Arab News.
Malhotra is one of several traders who said they had no option but to pull down the shutters during the “overwhelming and uncertain times.”
“Many landlords and tenants have come to satisfactory agreements, wherein the former waived off the rent for the lockdown period and agreed to reduced rents post lockdown. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to come to a resolution that would allow us to sustain operating out of a retail space such as Khan Market,” she said about the area, which has been listed by global property consultant, Cushman & Wakefield, as one of the 20 most expensive retail locations in the world, with a retail value of $243/sq ft.
The shopping center was originally built to house refugees migrating to India after the partition of the Indian subcontinent in 1947.
Named after and in honor of Abdul Jabbar Khan, a brother of popular Pashtun leader and freedom fighter Abdul Ghaffar Khan — also known as “Frontier Gandhi” for his nonviolent way of struggle in the erstwhile North West Frontier Province (NWFP) — the Khan Market, over the years, has emerged as one of the most sought-after destinations in Delhi.
A majority of the 80 shops in the area are owned by businesses serving exotic Asian cuisine. There are, however, a few grocery stores in the area too, which are considered expensive when compared to other markets in Delhi.
However, the two-month lockdown and a June 3 directive issued by the government for the reopening of malls, shops and restaurants, resulted in four other renowned shops, besides Full Circle, closing within a week of reopening on June 8.
“Not more than 50 percent of the seating capacity shall be permitted in a restaurant,” one of the guidelines issued by the Home Ministry said.
These include Sidewok, a 16-year-old Asian cuisine restaurant, and Smokey’s BBQ and Grill, a regular on the fast food scene in the area after opening its doors to residents six years ago.
Neither of the owners of the two stores was available for comment when contacted by Arab News. However, a Sidewok employee said the “high rent was the main issue” for the closure of the restaurant.
“The government guidelines say that a restaurant cannot utilize more than 50 percent of its total seating capacity and this regulation makes it difficult for any restaurant to sustain the business,” he said.
With half the seats empty, it meant a 50 percent cut in profits too.
“It is a tough situation for both shopkeepers and the landlords now. Many landlords are dependent on rent to sustain themselves, and they cannot negotiate beyond a point,” Sanjeev Mehra, president of the Traders Association of Khan Market told Arab News, before adding that getting things on track was a work in progress.
“Some landlords have negotiated the rent agreement anew, and some are in the process of doing so. The eateries find it difficult to sustain because they have to operate with half the eating capacity, and they have a time limit of 9 p.m. However, I don’t think one should question the future of Khan Market,” he said.
It is little consolation for regular customers with an emotional attachment to the place, who said that things would “never be the same again.”
“It is regrettable that some of the places which I used to visit with my friends have closed down. Going to Khan Market will never be the same experience again,” Yashi Raj, a student, told Arab News.
Singh agrees, reminiscing about the time spent in the company of great friends, coffee and conversations.
“With Full Circle closing down, it’s like a part of my life spent at the place is gone, too.”


Myanmar teen describes junta’s brutal treatment of detained women

Myanmar teen describes junta’s brutal treatment of detained women
Updated 14 May 2021

Myanmar teen describes junta’s brutal treatment of detained women

Myanmar teen describes junta’s brutal treatment of detained women
BANGKOK, Thailand: Beaten, kicked in the groin and threatened with sexual violence — a young Myanmar teenager detained by the junta’s security forces has described the treatment suffered by some women and girls behind bars.
Shwe Yamin Htet, 17, and her mother were arrested on April 14 in Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial capital, which has been blanketed with heavy security since the military seized power in a coup.
As they were walking to a friend’s house from a morning protest, she said, they were stopped by two security trucks.
“They forced us to crouch face-down on the ground,” Shwe Yamin Htet told AFP.
The high school student then faced six days of fear and anxiety, held with women who alleged torture and abuse by police behind closed doors.
Shwe Yamin Htet said she herself had to endure a police officer molesting her during an interrogation session.
The teenager was released on April 20, but her mother was not as fortunate — Sandar Win was instead taken to Yangon’s Insein prison.
“My mother is my only family,” she said. “I’m very worried for her safety and life.”
To secure her release, she said, she had to sign documents saying she suffered “no torture” behind bars.
“It’s the opposite of what they have done,” Shwe Yamin Htet said. “It is totally unacceptable and unfair.”

Political prisoners
Her mother is among more than 3,800 civilians arrested and still languishing behind bars since the February 1 coup, according to local monitoring group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Little is known about the conditions of detainees across Myanmar, as those released rarely speak out about it.
Shwe Yamin Htet said she and her mother were taken first to a local police station where they were questioned separately.
“I was touched by a police officer, who told me he could kill me and make me disappear,” she said.
“If I didn’t push his hand away, I’m sure he would have continued.”
She added that her mother was slapped twice during her interrogation.
The following day, they were taken to a detention center on Yangon’s northern outskirts where they met other women, some of whom had bruises all over their bodies.
One of them — a woman who had been in a relationship with a foreigner — was beaten so badly she could barely talk or eat, Shwe Yamin Htet said.
“We had to feed her fried egg and rice,” she said. “She told us she couldn’t urinate because her women parts had been kicked during the interrogation.”
The National Unity Government — an underground group of ousted lawmakers opposing the junta — has announced it is investigating the “allegations of sexual and gender-based violence against women and girls in unlawful detention.”
“These cases are indicative of the wider pattern of sexual and gender-based violence committed by Myanmar’s military that has persisted for years with impunity, particularly against ethnic minority women and girls in armed conflict areas,” it said in a statement.

Rights and dignity violated
Another woman held in the same detention center as Shwe Yamin Htet recalled similar experiences.
Ngwe Thanzin — a pseudonym to protect her identity — told AFP she and four others were protesting in Yangon’s South Okkalapa township when they were arrested.
“I was kicked in my face for having a black mask in my bag,” she said, adding that security forces also yelled misogynistic abuse at them.
The women were then taken to the same detention center as Shwe Yamin Htet, where Ngwe Thanzin said she was handcuffed so tightly it left marks on her wrists.
“They also threatened us saying they could kill us and make us disappear without anyone knowing it,” she told AFP.
During her three-night detention, she said she saw a 19-year-old girl bruised so badly she could barely stand.
“They don’t beat or torture in front of other people. But when people were individually interrogated, they came out with bruises.”
AFP was unable to independently verify the allegations made by Shwe Yamin Htet and Ngwe Thanzin.
Repeated attempts to contact the junta spokesman for a response went unanswered.
And junta-appointed Minister of Social Welfare Thet Thet Khine — who chairs a National Committee on Prevention and Response to Sexual Violence in Conflict — could not be reached for comment.
Ngwe Thanzin said the least the junta could do was have female security personnel available to interrogate them, instead of men.
“All our rights and dignity were violated and abused,” she said.
“Since we have no rights, I felt we were like water in their hands.”

US tells citizens to ‘reconsider’ travel to Israel due to conflict

US tells citizens to ‘reconsider’ travel to Israel due to conflict
Updated 14 May 2021

US tells citizens to ‘reconsider’ travel to Israel due to conflict

US tells citizens to ‘reconsider’ travel to Israel due to conflict
  • The travel advisory level was stepped up to Level 3, out of a maximum of four

WASHINGTON: The US State Department on Thursday urged citizens to “reconsider travel to Israel” due to the recent surge in violence between the Jewish state and Palestinians.
The travel advisory level, which had been lowered in recent weeks due to improvement in the country’s Covid-19 situation, was stepped up to Level 3, out of a maximum of four.
“Reconsider travel to Israel due to armed conflict and civil unrest,” the department said in a statement.
“Rockets continue to impact the Gaza periphery and areas across Southern and Central Israel, including Jerusalem,” it said.
“There has been a marked increase in protests and violence throughout Israel.”
Washington was also advising that Americans “do not travel” to Gaza due to “Covid-19, terrorism, civil unrest, and armed conflict,” as well as avoiding the West Bank due to pandemic-related travel restrictions.
The travel advisory came as Israel pounded Gaza and deployed extra troops to the border Thursday as Palestinians fired barrages of rockets back, with the death toll in the enclave on the fourth day of conflict climbing to over 100.
 

 


London Bridge terror attack could not have been prevented, says MI5 officer

London Bridge terror attack could not have been prevented, says MI5 officer
Updated 13 May 2021

London Bridge terror attack could not have been prevented, says MI5 officer

London Bridge terror attack could not have been prevented, says MI5 officer
  • Usman Khan killed two people in 2019, less than a year after his release from jail on terror charges
  • An inquest into the deaths aims to determine whether the attack could have been predicted

LONDON: A senior officer from MI5 on Thursday denied that the British security agency could have prevented a deadly terror attack in London, despite receiving warnings that the terrorist wanted to “die and go to paradise.”

Usman Khan, 28, killed two people and wounded three with a knife near London Bridge in November 2019 before being shot dead by police. The attack happened less than a year after his early release from a prison sentence for plotting to bomb the London Stock Exchange.

An inquest into the deaths of Jack Merritt, 25, and Saskia Jones, 23, at a prisoner-reform event in Fishmonger’s Hall, next to London Bridge, has heard that Khan was allowed to attend the event despite concerns from some officials that he posed a security threat.

But the senior MI5 officer, referred to as Witness A for legal reasons, said the attack could not have been prevented. She said the intelligence services had been aware of Khan since 2008, when he was a member of British terror group Al-Muhajiroun, and knew he had been involved in violent incidents while in prison.

Asked by the counsel for the coroner whether there was also evidence that Khan “wanted to die and go to paradise,” Witness A said: “There was information to that effect.”

The court also heard that while in jail Khan had remained in contact with his co-defendants from the failed Stock Exchange bomb plot, and other terrorists outside of prison.

But in 2015, MI5 decided to close its investigation into him. Witness A said she felt the decision was the right one.

“We had carried out quite a significant period of investigation while he was in prison, we received a steady stream of intelligence while in prison, and we saw no activities of national security concern, therefore it was the right time to close the investigation,” she said, adding: “We cannot investigate people forever.”

She also told the court that MI5’s review of the case after the attack concluded that it “could not have taken any actions or materially changed the outcomes of this case. The investigative and operational decisions taken by MI5 in this case were sound.”

Since the attack, Britain has introduced stricter counterterrorism measures for dealing with known extremists and offenders. New laws have removed the possibility of early release for convicted terrorists, and stepped up the level of monitoring of after they are released from prison.

The inquest continues.


From remote Baloch towns, young Pakistani creators of humanoid bot unveil ‘Bolani’

From remote Baloch towns, young Pakistani creators of humanoid bot unveil ‘Bolani’
Updated 13 May 2021

From remote Baloch towns, young Pakistani creators of humanoid bot unveil ‘Bolani’

From remote Baloch towns, young Pakistani creators of humanoid bot unveil ‘Bolani’
  • Aziz Ullah Shahwani and Mukhtiar Ahmed Rodini are physics students at the University of Balochistan
  • Self-funded robot took them six months to make from scratch with ‘zero support’

QUETTA: It’s an unlikely trio in an unlikely place — two smart young Baloch students stand proudly outside their university in Quetta with an all-white, 5-foot, 4-inch humanoid robot between them.

Aziz Ullah Shahwani, 24, and Mukhtiar Ahmed Rodini, 25, are physics students at the University of Balochistan, and the robot they created, named Bolani, is their final project.

“I didn’t take any interest in technology-related experiments until I graduated school due to the absence of a physics teacher in my native district Kalat, but when I came to Balochistan for my master’s degree in physics I decided to invent something new, something no other student in the history of the university has done,” Shahwani told Arab News.

Coming from the remote Kalat and Sorab districts in Pakistan’s restive southwestern Balochistan province, Shahwani and Rodini are largely self-taught, and said that they received close to no financial support during their endeavor from their university or the government of Balochistan.

The two boys from distant Pakistani towns worked for six months to conquer the impossible, working on advanced 3D software, and even welding and painting the body of their robot themselves.

“While making Bolani, I learned the use of new software and 3D printing,” Shahwani said.

“Because I have designed Bolani by myself on solid work software, it was an unforgettable experience,” he continued.

Bolani is named after the famed mountain pass Bolan, roughly 127 km from the capital Quetta, south of the Hindu Kush mountains.

For now, Bolani can move forward and backward, he can move his eyes, neck and jaw and can shake hands with human beings when Shahwani gives him the command through an app installed on his mobile phone.

Rodini, who assisted Shahwani in building Bolani, said they wanted to create something new instead of submitting research papers like everybody else.

“We took assistance and guidance from our professors because after thorough searching we could not find robotic circuits and motors in Quetta ... later we installed locally purchased motors in order to finalize Bolani,” said Rodini.

“Bolani cost us Rs50,000 ($326) and due to the lack of financial assistance, we used iron and steel to shape the humanoid robot,” Rodini said.

He added there had been “zero support” from the university’s higher authorities and provincial government.

Shahwani and Rodini are now planning to upgrade Bolani with additional features like voice and face recognition sensors that will allow the robot to talk.

Prof. Ajab Khan Kasi, head of the physics department at the University of Balochistan, supervised the students while they built Bolani and said their creation was a “milestone” in the history of the university.

“It took six months to complete the robot and during this period, Aziz and Mukhtiar have done all the processes with their own hands ... even the welding, coloring and mechanical work on Bolani,” Kasi told Arab News.

“The humanoid robot has been working in nine-degree freedom, which allows him to move his hands, neck and eyes,” he said.

Shahwani said he will continue with his studies and hunt for support from the government and his university to add the sensors.

But until that happens, he added, they would not feel disappointed.

“Because we are inspired by Pakistan’s Nobel Prize winner Dr. Abdul Salam and the young Dr. Yar Jan Baloch who works as a space scientist in Cambridge University,” he added.

“We are following in their footsteps.”


England’s coronavirus death rates twice as high in Muslims as in Christians: Report 

England’s coronavirus death rates twice as high in Muslims as in Christians: Report 
Updated 13 May 2021

England’s coronavirus death rates twice as high in Muslims as in Christians: Report 

England’s coronavirus death rates twice as high in Muslims as in Christians: Report 
  • Data from the UK’s statistics office also revealed that atheists were the least likely to die, on average, from COVID-19
  • Ethnicity and faith are difficult to separate, and understanding the disparity in fatality rates is a complex problem, experts say

LONDON: Data on COVID-19 death rates in England has revealed that Muslims are by far the worst-affected religious group, with death rates twice as high as among Christians, and nearly three times higher than atheists.

Data from the UK’s Office of National Statistics (ONS) showed that, up to the end of February this year, 4,191 Muslims had been killed by the virus.

Muslim men had a death rate of 966.9 per 100,000 people, while that of women was about 519.1 per 100,000.

Muslims were followed by Hindus — 605.2 among men and 346.5 for women — Sikhs — 573.6 and 345.7 — Jews — 512.9 and 295.4 — and Christians — 401.9 and 249.6.

Atheists, as a group, were the least affected, experiencing 336.6 deaths per 100,000 among men, and 218.2 among women.

The ONS report did not examine the cause of the disparity between religious groups.

However, after factoring in other risk indicators such as age, wealth and location, it said: “After adjustments, the Hindu population and Muslim men were disproportionately affected throughout the pandemic.

“For other religious groups, the excess risk relative to the Christian group was only observed in the first wave (Jewish and Buddhist men) or second wave (Sikh men and women and Muslim women).”

Experts have suggested that ethnic minorities are more likely to be on low incomes and working in public-facing jobs that increase their exposure to the virus. 

When the ONS stripped out the effects of people’s health and lifestyles, the death risk supposedly linked to faith dropped significantly. 

Previous research has shown that South Asians are the worst affected ethnic group.

“For some religious groups, there is considerable overlap with ethnic background. This means that it is difficult to separate the observed association between COVID-19 mortality risk and religion from the risk associated with ethnic background,” said the ONS report.

A separate study by Queen Mary University in London, published in January, found that black, Asian and ethnic minority people were up to 50 percent more likely than white people to die of COVID-19 in hospital. It also found that the likelihood of needing significant medical intervention through a ventilator was 54 percent higher among Asian patients — many of whom are Muslim — than for their white compatriots.