The Intersection

The Intersection


Every fortnight, The Intersection narrates stories that meld culture, science and history in India. Through interviews, anecdotes and original research, Padmaparna Ghosh and Samanth Subramanian bring alive the rich breadth of human imagination and knowledge, making for a riveting listening experience. The incessant punning — well, that's just a bonus.


#46: How Our Vocabulary Evolved Over 8,000 Years  

Isn't it odd that the word for "father" in Spanish ("padre") and Sanskrit ("pitru") sound similar? Especially given the geographic and cultural barriers that separate the two languages? As this episode of The Intersection discovers, there's a reason these languages can sound similar, and what's more, there's actually a way to trace the pronunciations of modern words, sometimes going back 8,000 years. Tune in to know more about the granddaddy of modern Indo-European languages and how a story may have sounded thousands of years ago. Music: Josh Woodward

#45: Decoding The Hype around Hyperloop  

You've probably heard of the Hyperloop, the high-speed mode of transport that could potentially change the way we travel. Dreamed up by entrepreneur and inventor Elon Musk, the Hyperloop promises to cut travel times substantially, promising to cover 500km in about 30 minutes. There's even talk of the Hyperloop coming to India, and connecting cities like Mumbai and Delhi, and Bengaluru and Chennai. But how does this transport system (that looks like something out of "The Jetsons") work? And is India ready for it? Or are there cheaper upgrades to the current rail network that would be more sensible? Samanth Subramanian and Padmaparna Ghosh find out in this episode of The Intersection. Music Credit: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske

#44: Music and Emotion  

Music has a power to move us; a few notes of a piece of music can make us feel intensely elated or deeply melancholic. Researchers have done significant work to find out how music connects to our brains and how just a few notes can trigger specific responses among us. This episode of The Intersection goes into the science behind the sounds of music. Music: Josh Woodward

#43: Fantastic Hybrid Beasts and Where to Find Them  

We have been taught that like the mule, hybrid animals are sterile. They are generally considered to be ‘freaks’ because human beings are obsessed with ‘purity’ of species. However several experiments have shown that hybrid animals can be fertile and even evolve into a new species. This week, The Intersection tells the story of the Litigon in Kolkata to explain the politics around hybrids in the animal kingdom. Music: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske

#42: Preserving Books -  From Mumbai to Dublin  

In India, preservation and restoration of old manuscripts is not treated with the seriousness it deserves by libraries. Against this environment of callousness, Anand Akolkar wages a somewhat lonely war, from his humble home in Mumbai. He battles with the harsh elements of nature and an uncaring bureaucracy to preserve and restore old and dying manuscripts. A few thousand miles away in Dublin, we get a peek into the biggest library in Ireland and learn how seriously the preservation and restoration of books is treated. To change our attitude, we need to understand the value of knowledge transmitted through books and learn to cherish them. Music Credit: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske

#41: People Power-Coming Together for Science  

Bird watching is not just a hobby that some enthusiasts undertake to pass their time, it can be an exercise in natural historiography itself. Historically and internationally, the contribution of amateur naturalists has been significant and often pioneering. Non-professionals have played a very important role in laying the foundations of Indian natural history since colonial times. And they continue to build on it today as well. Listen to Samanth and Padmaparna in this new episode as they tell us about the amazing bird watchers of Kerala. Music Credits: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske

#40: (Super) Bugs Without Borders  

39 volunteers. 59 countries. 136 airports. With 400 swabs collected over 3 years. That is what it took for researchers to determine the course of bacteria that affect thousands of people worldwide. Multi drug resistant bacteria are growing more powerful each day with microbiologists struggling to find a way to combat these pathogens. Samanth Subramanian and Padmaparna Ghosh talk to Frieder Schaumburg, the microbiologist who ran this study to understand the fight against these superbugs. Music Credit: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske

#39: Racist Artificial Intelligence = Racist Us  

People were asked to send in their selfies for a beauty contest judged by AI and the results were shocking. Of the 44 winners of the beauty contest, only one was dark skinned. Elsewhere Microsoft developed a self-learning chat bot, Tay, which was taken offline in just 16 hours because of its offensive behaviour. Are robots inherently racist? Or is it inevitable for them to echo and amplify the prejudices their makers hold? Music Credit: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske

#38: Aliens on the Radio #Wow, via Big Ear  

39 years ago, a radio telescope called Big Ear in Ohio received a sudden burst of waves that were most likely from a source near Sagittarius. The signal, called the Wow signal, named after Astronomer Jerry Ehman’s reaction to it, has never been heard again. But a few astronomers hope to find the mystery behind the source of the signal in the next few years and (hopefully) probe the possibility of a life beyond our planet. Music Credit: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske Sound Credit: NASA

#37: Measuring Happiness: My GNH Is Bigger Than Yours  

Bhutan was the first country to take into consideration the happiness of its citizens by measuring GNH (Gross National Happiness). Other institutions in other countries have also tried to set-up similar parameters around the measurement of well-being. But how do you measure something that is so subjective and so difficult to quantify. Samanth Subramanian and Padmaparna Ghosh talk to researchers about the challenges with measuring happiness and its correlation with economic growth. Music credit: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske

#36: A Cold-War Spy Story, From the Sixties  

In 1965, Captain Manmohan Singh Kohli, an officer in the Indian navy, led a group of CIA and IB officials on an arduous trek across 125 kilometres, for a covert mission to spy on China’s nuclear capability. They changed course a month into this arduous trek after encountering a severe avalanche and the story was soon forgotten. The abandoned mission only came back into the news, after a leak in the 1970s, when questions were raised in parliament about the dangers of the lost plutonium. In this episode of The Intersection, Samanth Subramanian revisits the mission and speaks to Vinod Jose on his fascinating story. Music credit: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske

#35: Tinder for Vegetables? How Plants Communicate With Potential Mates  

Communication is not limited only to the words we hear or the signs we see, it can go beyond that. Plants cannot speak, hear, see or move, so how do these plants communicate? Is their language made up of chemicals and signals? In this brand new episode, we cover the work done by scientists to study the relationship plants have with the complex ecosystem around them. Music credit: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske

#34: YInMn - A New Kind of Blue  

A lot of what we see around is defined by its colour. When a new colour is added, there are exciting new possibilities in terms of shades that are possible and how they may be used. A new shade of blue was discovered in Oregon, USA which the makers called YInMn Blue, named after the elements it consists of - Yttrium, Indium and Manganese. This is exciting because it’s the first new blue in over 200 years. Padmaparna Ghosh speaks to Professor Mas Subramanian who developed this colour who tells us what makes the YInMn Blue so special. Music credit: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske Pic credit: Oregon State University

#33: How We Are Failing to Respond to Climate Change  

Are the floods in Mumbai, Chennai, Assam and other parts of India related to the wildfires in North America? In his new book The Great Derangement, Amitav Ghosh argues that these calamities are a direct outcome of climate change and our response to this has been inadequate. He also suggests that the Indian media is conveniently ignoring these very serious events because it is more fixated with Bollywood, Cricket and Politics (as a circus). Music credit: Josh Woodward

#32: Vanishing Voices: What We Lose When We Lose a Language  

The rich linguistic diversity of India is under threat, over 300 languages spoken by communities in geographically isolated areas have gone extinct and over a 100 more are endangered. As we move towards homogeneity in the name of progress, several indigenous languages across India are merging with more dominant ones. Meet V K Neelarao who concerned by the intrusion of Tamil in his original Saurashtrian language, made a film called ‘Hedde Jamoi’ to raise awareness for this dying language. Also on this episode, we talk to Dr. Arup Kumar Nath at Tezpur University’s Centre for Endangered Languages about how researchers and students are documenting and preserving disappearing languages and protecting a vital link with our past. Music credit: Josh Woodward and Chirs Zabriske Pic credit:

#31: Mission Impossible - Surveying Indian Languages and Dialects  

It took George A. Grierson about 30 years to finish his masterpiece —the Linguistic Survey of India, a monumental publication that documented 179 languages and 544 dialects across the extensive and diverse borders of India. Today these historic archives are available at the click of a mouse, but this compilation —of fables, songs, stories and epic poetry became a cornerstone of Indian language studies. Almost 100 years later, this epic work had a companion, when eminent Indian linguist Ganesh Devy’s People’s Survey of India was published. He identified 780 languages: some dead, some in the process of dying, some non-verbal and some that reflect the ones that Grierson recorded. Music by Josh Woodward and Chris Zibriske Pic Credit: Minna Sundberg

#30: How Metallurgy is Helping Us Piece Together Our Past  

A few decades ago the curator of the Government Museum in Madras approached nuclear scientist Dr. Baldev Raj with a problem; bronze Chola idols that were stolen were being returned or retrieved but there was no way to identify if they were real. This posed a challenge not just to Dr. Raj but all other scientists in India: how to identify the origin of a historical artifact? How to tease out its ‘fingerprints’ and find out the era it belonged to? And can you use science to tell fake ones from real? Music by Chirs Zabriske and Josh Woodword

#29: Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock, say Hello to the Doomsday Clock  

How do you think the world will end? Nuclear war, zombie apocalypse or an alien invasion? While we may argue about the brutal method through which our race will perish, meet the 15 people whose job it is to debate the actual possibilities of total destruction of human kind, through a Doomsday Clock. This is an invention that measures symbolically how long our world will survive by taking into account various factors that threaten the world’s survival. On the latest episode, we tell you how very close we are to our own end. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Music by: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske

#28: The fault in our Taj  

It is said that the artists and craftsmen who built the Taj Mahal had their arms chopped off on the orders of Emperor Shah Jahan, so they could never build such a structure again. The Taj Mahal is known for its perfection, Rabindranath Tagore thought it was “a tear on the cheek of time” and for centuries the architecture of this monument has fascinated both experts and the lakhs of tourists who flock here every day. However Dilip Ahuja, a scientist, also made a startling observation — that the monument known around the world for its perfection, wasn’t actually perfect. Music: Josh Woodward and Chris Zabriske

#27: Snakebites, anti-venom and a country that lets the problem slither away  

Only a month ago, Chirag Roy, an experienced naturalist and passionate snake rescuer, was bitten by a venomous snake near the Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve. The region, home to the four most venomous snakes in India was typically under-resourced. Rushed to a hospital 2 hours away, Chirag didn’t survive. India suffers the highest occurrence of deaths and loss of limbs due to snakebite. Regarded as a ‘poor man’s problem, the situation is compounded by superstition, ignorance and just plain apathy. Samanth and Padma talk to experts across the field about different types of venom, the aftermath of a cobra bite, the use of horses in the making of anti-venom and raising awareness about this very avoidable cause of death. Music: Chirs Zabriske and Josh Woodward

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