Big shops and malls have become the ultimate markers of urban progress and prosperity. So much of urban imagery revolves around these glitzy, swanky buildings, selling dreams and possessions by the dozen. The people who work in these shops can’t afford that luxury, though. The working conditions inside many huge chains are terrible, with sales staff made to work overtime as a matter of routine and without any breaks. It is as dehumanising as the assembly line.

In our cover story this month (“Standing their ground”), Suresh P Thomas chronicles the protest of six employees of Kalyan Sarees, a big player in Kerala’s retail sector. The six women, part of the sales team, had to strike for 106 days before the management would accept their demands which included, among other things, toilet breaks and the right to sit down in the shop. It was a protest movement that escaped the media’s attention. For the strikers, who, in their words, are “poor, middle-aged, with not much education and a lot of financial problems,” this was their first brush with activism of any kind.

The treetops in a forest contain a world of their own. These canopies are amazingly rich in fauna and flora, and harbour thousands of species which have not even been identified or classified yet. The canopies also have an impact on global temperature and humidity levels. Research on canopies should be a priority, a large scale multi-disciplinary exercise across the country. Sadly, it isn’t. Even the few scientists who are actively engaged in canopy research, spending countless hours hanging by ropes on tops of tree that are 100 feet high, do so in face of immense hurdles, from funds to permissions. Akshai Jain’s fascinating narrative (“Life at the treetop”) documents the findings of India’s canopy researchers.

In other news, Rahul Gandhi’s return from a self-imposed hiatus has been welcomed as the second coming chiefly by career sycophants in the Congress and some in the media. Mani Shankar Aiyer, as if on cue, has compared Rahul Gandhi with Mahatma Gandhi. He is still seen as a toddler whose every unsure step is a reason for celebration. In his first two speeches in Parliament, Gandhi was his old self: tired clichés, a tiring earnestness, and an inability to present a coherent argument or ideology, all of which remain his weaknesses. For now he seems to have energised the handful of Congress MPs, and flustered the government. He has set the bar so low that an intervention by him in the Parliament is seen as a sign of revival in the Congress.

Saurav Kumar, Editor

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