Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Cup runneth over .....

In India, it always feels that we are never away from anything "cricket".

I often wonder whether cricket is as much entwined in the daily life of the populace of other countries as it is in India.

What do you say about a country , where the entire population stays awake the whole night to watch India win the world cup in 1983 in England, and as dawn approaches, there are wild celebrations, including a guy sitting on top of an elephant and distributing sugar to the ecstatic masses on the road, on one of Pune's main city thoroughfares , all to the intense confusion of the elephant , who , so far, simply took children and families for a ride in a very responsible and sedate manner, and probably looks down disdainfully about this much ado about three sticks, a bat and a ball....

What do you say about a country , where as more and more people claim toe-space in a unhealthily packed suburban train in Mumbai, three guys hanging at the door, half in and half out, avidly discuss, wind blowing through their faces, how the umpire turned a blind eye to someone who was clearly bowled by Kumble, and the guy who is 3/4ths in and 1/4th out of the train compartment , gestures to some inside chaps to move a couple of more centimeters, so that the 3 cricket faithfuls , blowing in the wind outside, get slightly enhanced protection, all in the interests of having a continued discussion on the topic . I sometimes think even the pickpockets in Mumbais' suburban trains have a modified schedule during cricket matches.....

And what can you say about a country where, electronic shop owners, displaying various fancy TV's , turn one of them a wee bit at an angle, so guys who can probably only afford 1/10th of a remote , can stand outside and watch the match with bated breath, as Sachin Tendulakr strides out with his bat at the fall of a wicket, head held high, shoulders straight, despite the entire nation's burden of expectation resting heavy on them.....

What can you say about a country, where in a group of ten people speaking 9 languages between them, and watching cricket, standing for hours outside the newly cleaned glass front of the electronic store, there needs to be no exchange of any words whatsoever; they all speak the same language and their expressions and eyes say it all....

What can you say about a country, where a long time ago, the people in the stadium reacted angrily to some repeated bad umpiring , and some thoughtless people started throwing stuff and running on to the field , preferring strenghth to good sense; while the "security" surrounded the teams and huddled them away into the pavillion, some bravehearts rushed on to the field and stood guard over the pitch, to protect it, from those, hell bent on destroying it; and there were no praises that were sung about it.....

What do you say about a country with so many religions, that if everyone decided to fight everyone else on religion or language alone, generations would go by and we'd still be futilely fighting; but someone in Calcutta organises a special puja ceremony to propitiate the Gods for the benefit of the Indian Cricket team, and you see photos the next day, of guys of various religions, sitting at the function with serious faces, all probably praying seriously to their own Gods, and it doesnt really matter who is doing the rituals so long as Sachin gets his century, Ganguly follows in his footsteps, and Dravid and Dhoni do their thing.

What do you say about a country where marriage halls incurr a loss , in a heavy marriage season, simply because no one wants to schedule a marriage reception that clashes with , say, a Indian Pakistan one day International, with the series tied at 2-2; The wedding folks probably have serious issues on which the bride's and groom's sides do not agree, but on this they are united. To schedule a reception on such a day, is just not Cricket....

And what do you say about a guy in South India, constructing an entire Ganesha temple; and , in keeping with the habit of Indian Gods who appear in several popular forms, he dedicates this temple and names it Cricket Ganesha; it is probably good business sense as ordinary middle class folks, come in and perform specific ceremonies, for the success of their favourite players, all earning the priest a decent fee......

And how do you treat a cricket crazy senior citizen , who was beside himself, watching India needing 4 runs to win and one ball to play; and all that excitement is more than his heart can handle, resulting in a traumatised family rushing him to the nearest Intensive Care facility, while Dravid, smiling in his restrained fashion, jabs his bat in some direction, and walks back to the pavillion with Dhoni, quietly planning what to say at the prize ceremony....

What do really say, about a country, where terrorism is destroying lives, child malnutrition has increased, crime has increased, prices of essential commodities have reached the roof, but the esteemed Members of Parliament, take up the issue of player selection and deselection in speech after speech, fearing an enraged home constituency. There are demonstrations, effigies of assorted people are burned. The Speaker himself, makes a statement in Parliament , the whole thing is politicised, and newspapers report everything gleefully, then write chiding editorials, and the game of cricket continues as before.....

And what do you say about people, who start speculating on why Tendulkar's back problem suddenly surfaced before the final one day match, and motives are attributed to all kinds of people who have actually "dropped" him under the guise of a back needing a rest; and they all forget, that his selecetion for the World Cup is a given, some other guys need to be given a chance to play this match, and maybe Tendulkar the father of a 6-7 year old little boy, really badly wants to attend his son's first football interschool match , where he is captaining the school team.....

But the final cake is really taken by this Gujarati family , who organised a "one day international cricket match" between the bride's side and groom's side, as part of the pre wedding festivities, at the Oval in Mumbai, where they rented a part of the ground, erected a pavillion, complete with commentators on the P.A. system analysing the play , drinks interval , third umpire (God only knows what he did). The only thing inetrnational about this was the mother-in-law's Tiffany earrings. The audience came in all the pre wedding finery, there were comments and hooting, some ladies did the mexican wave; lunch was served to all the invitees; . The Oval ground in Churchgate is not really designed for such social occasions. At the end of the day, those that wanted to visit the bathroom had a problem, and true to the spirit in which the game was played, the solution was found at Churchgate Station, which saw a whole bunch of ladies in finery, old folks with gilt edged walking sticks, acoompanied by muddied young people with knee pads rushing in to use the loos, before returning to the "pavillion" .

Well ? How do I know all this ? My friend (who was the groom's aunt) attended, and her husband batted at no 4. Out for a duck.

We are like that only......

Thursday, February 15, 2007

The secrets of Flax......

Great things come in small sizes. And they have great histories behind them.
(I am not sure I am quoting anyone there, much as it sounds like a "saying". I just made that up. ).

And so it is with the seeds of the plant
known as the flax plant. Today, the importance of flax seeds as a part of our
diet cannot be emphasized enough.
It has almost a world wide presence, being native to ,
Egypt, India, Iraq, South and Central America, Kurdistan, Peru, Spain, Turkey, Venezuela, USA, Canada, China, and much of Europe.

Flax originated in Asia about 5000 years ago and has been used for thousands of years in what are considered the older civilisations of the world. According to some, flax is thought to have originatd in Mesopotamia, and some believe that it has been known to folks even in the Stone Ages.

In the middle ages , when things got pretty exciting with witches , sorcery, burning, etc, the blue flowers of the flax plant were considered a surefire protection aganist sorcery. In Bohemia, where less violent life styles were the order of the day, children were encouraged to dance amoong the flax pants, so as to improve upon their looks. (I am continually amazed at the abysymmal ignorance of folks like Revlon,Neutrogina,Loreal and assorted "beauty types" about this. But we shall let that pass...).

As if all this was not enough, flax, per se, was under the Divine Protection of the Teutonic Goddess , Hulda, who is supposed to have guided the mortals, regarding the growing and subsequent uses of the flax plant. It is , however a continuing mystery what has happened to all these goddesses , in todays world, where deforestation is rampant,, and mountains are being quarried and flattened , all in the name of progress. I guess , sometimes, even the Gods may have had enough....

Flax seeds and cloth were found in Egyptian tombs as far back as 23rd century BC. Flax seeds are mentioned in the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments and are mentioned by Homer in the Odyssey as being used for sail cloth and cords.

The earliest use of flax seeds in the field of cooking, may be attributed, like several other things, to the Greeks. In both that civilization and in ancient Rome, the health benefits of flaxseeds were widely praised. After the fall of Rome, the cultivation and popularity of flaxseeds declined. (The continuing involvement of Rome, and its citizens, in all the exciting chapters of human development will be the subject of another study , maybe !).

But flax came into its own , once again, thanks to Emperor Charlemagne. Besides being the architect and shaper of European history, he did not allow his grandiose royal lifestyle to close his eyes to the lifestyles of the ordinary and non-famous. He observed the culinary, medicinal, and fibrous uses of flax seeds, by the populace, and was so impressed, that in the 8th century B.C. he actually passed a law making compulsory, the growing and consumption of these seeds. This was the entry of flax into Europe, and would have more repurcussions than Europeans ever realised, and we are not referring only to the medicinal, intestinal clearing properties of flax.

Flax, is a slender, grass-like, annual plant with narrow leaves that blooms with small light blue flowers in early summer. Flax is planted in the early spring, and ranges in height between eighteen to thirty inches. When the seed pods replace the flowers the flax is considered ready to be harvested.

Thanks to Empereor Charlemagne's masterstroke, Ireland began growing the best quality flax around 1000 BC.

And just when you thought all you do with flax is eat, listen to this...

uring the eighteenth century, in Ireland, flax was the only cash crop produced by the vast majority of the people, especially the small farmholders. Why flax ? Becuase it was what made Irish Linen , Irish Linen. The stalks of the Flax plant were processed and provided to the manufacturers and weavers of the linen. Potatoes and oats were produced to feed the people and animals. Production of the crop during the summer, and weaving the yarn during the winter kept the people occupied all year round. They became highly skilled at the industry and their craftsmanship was known and recognised far and wide. Irish Longford linen was equal to the best in the world. When the famine hit Ireland, and folks migrated across the Atlantic to the New World, a lot of the flax went along with them, and grew and prospered in the USA.

The question arises as to whether , with all the well known properties of flax for the betterment of one's health, were the irish aware of it ? The answer tells you why some foods are native to some areas, but everyone does not use that foodstuff the same way. It turns out that
although the Irish climate was found to be very suitable for growing flax, short harvests were not favourable to ripening the flax seeds, therefore no seed or linseed products were produced. The crop was harvested for linen production only while it was in full flower. In dryer climates linseed and linseed products were used for a more widely varied number of products, such as animal meals, oil, paint, varnish, French polish, soap, animal laxatives, oil cloth and linoleum. Pectin was also extracted by boiling.

All across the world today, flax , which is basically an oilseed , is primarily used for its lubricative and medicinal properties.

Hippocrates, the father of all modern medicine, actually wrote of using flax seeds for relief from abdominal pain.

In many countries, historically, flax seeds were part of the seasonal diet. Today in western countries, using flax seeds in muffins, cakes etc, has become an innovative and beneficial thing to do.

But it is interesting to note that in the non-coastal regions of India, a dry ground spiced flax seed mixture is the condiment of choice , eaten with great relish in the winter season, along with freshly rolled whole wheat and other grain tortiillas. Today, during winters, farmer households , will typically make a wonderful dry mixture of dry roasted and gropund flaxseeds, cayenne pepper, salt and garlic, and this is stored in a earthen vessel . A freshly roasted tortilla, with a crushed fresh onion, sprinkled with this flax misture, is the lunch of convenience for the farmers, as they rest under the shade of a mango tree , at lunchtime. Across more urban or more prosperous households, variations of this mixture are seen. People often go overboard in the pursuit of stuff that would tickle the tongue, as opposed to comfort the heart, and you see people adding all kinds of things to this mixture, such as other oilseeds and coconut etc, that completely defeat the medical benefits of flax seeds.

What are these ?

Researchers believe that the lignans, fiber, and omega-3 fatty acids (EFA's) found in ground flax seed are essential to good health. EFA's or essential fatty acids ( Linolenic acid and Linoleic acid ) are not produced by our bodies, and flax seeds are an excellent source. The Omega-3 component is the magic stuff. Those people who eat certain types of fish, do obtain this in their diet, but for those who swear by a vegetarian diet, flax seeds then become the only source. (Mixing up all kinds of other oilseeds etc in these flax seeds mixtures , simply dilutes the benefits).

Roasted flax seeds, powdered coarsely, have a wonderful nutty taste. Those who need a spicy tingle on their tongues, may add a variety of spices here like cayenne pepper etc. But it even tastes wonderful with a pinch of salt.

Flax seeds contain both soluble and insoluble fiber. About one-third of the fiber in flax seed is soluble, and soluble fiber can aid in lowering cholesterol and regulating blood sugar levels. Two-thirds of the fiber in flax seeds is insoluble. Insoluble fiber aids digestion by increasing bulk and preventing constipation. These characteristics seem to have a role in reducing incidents of colon cancer.

What is interesting is that to get all these benefits, one must use ground
flax seeds. Flax seeds, per se, by themselves, whole, are not digestible. They need to be roasted well and ground coarsely to be digestible as well as to obtain the required medicinal benefits. Ground Flax Seed is rich in protein, B vitamins, vitamin E, beta-carotene, calcium, potassium, magnesium, manganese and zinc. The fiber benefits of flax seed can only be found in the ground flax seed.

Then there is Flax seed oil. A lot of people experiment with taking a fixed dosage of flax seed oil. The main thiing to remember is that the nutrients available in the flax seed, get depleted and destroyed in the process of extracting the oil. Besides fibre , flax seeds contain what are known as Lignans and ALA (alpha linloleic acid -omega-3). These lignans are of immense interest, as for possible use in breast and colon cancer as well as some kidney diseases. Conversion to oil only leaves the fibre for your usage. So its very desirable that the seeds be cosumed in preference to the oil. In addition, it is observed that flax oil goes rancid very fast.

Remember that flax seed must not be consumed raw, and /or whole. The unbroken seed has a tendency to pass unchanged through the human ailimentary canal . If at all roasted seed is to be eaten whole, it must be nicely chewed before it is ingested.

Flax seeds, due to the fibre they provide are an ideal food for those suffering from constipation.

Eatern medicine systems often link the skin , and bone health with the ability to clear one's intestines daily in order to throw out the toxic body wastes. So it goes without saying that its is not surprising that consumption of flax seeds is also known to help people with acne and other skin problems, as well as some cases of arthritis.

Regular intake of flax also helps in improving your heart health. The quickest way to improve your "good" cholesterol or HDL , is to have a regular intake of flax every day.

One however, needs to be careful of not over doing the flax, as for those with very sensitive guts, and with a tendency to get your colon muscles into peristalsis very easily, this may mean quick and fast trips to the toilet for a while.
Flax seeds are an astringent, and have , basically, a laxative action.

Very recently, research has been done to see if fish oil or the omega-3 variety of oil (for which non fish eaters patronise flax) , has any effect on brain function. It appears that the Omega-3 oils may help in concentration and is actually a nutrient that the brain can use.
Omega-3 fats seem to work by making the thin fatty membranes that surround the nerve cells in the brain more flexible. This allows more neurotransmitters to be successfully transmitted between nerve cells, increasing our ability to think faster and concentrate better. Omega-3 has also been shown to have a number of other effects that control harmful inflammation (arthritis) and even possibly prevent depression.

So what is the ideal dose of flax seeds ? About 25 to 30 gms of flax roasted seeds is suggested.

But remember, you cannot make huge quantities of ground flax , as it does not keep well over time. Flax oil, as we know, gets rancid very fast; the ground flax loses its flavour as well as its nutrients if kept for a long time.

The trick is to grind a small bottle full of flax along with other benficial tasteful things like cayenne pepper, garlic, salt. It tastes winderful on pasta, toast , and even pizza.

Like they said in an ad, when I was younger, "Try it, you'll like it". .

Flax seeds are very small seeds , but as we see often in life, its the small things that have the biggest impact.....

On a completely non technical note, and surprising as it may seem , flax has been the inspiration for poetry for some people.

In the Boston Poets First Edition,
Wendy Mnookin, a poet living in Newton , Massachussets writes :


Laundry hangs out its stripes,
the counter shines. Even the cat
feels the satisfaction of Tuesday.

For his third birthday
my son asked for a white cake.
I baked angel food,
brought recipe and egg whites and beater
to the cabin in Maine.

He cried when he saw it.
He meant a not-chocolate cake.
He meant a yellow cake.

I heat the oven for bread,
measure flour and flax,
proof the yeast in warm milk.
Apples plead for their skin, thin

and necessary covering.
When I wash my hands,
flax seeds cling to my fingers,
the hems of my sleeves.

Gathered in deep waiting, seeds
have all the time in the world.


Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Lost , on life's main street.....

A life, with its usual preocuupation with work, the family, children's education , and then facing the eventide, as it rolls in bringing a sudden emptiness as you retire, looking askance at an emptying nest, and wondering what life has in store for you.

A friend of ours , one among a set of several sisters and brothers, a most beloved aunt of so many nieces and nephews, one day, just forgot everyone. Just like that. We spent our vacations at her place, almost every summer; and never having married and had children herself, she indulged in us , and looked forward to our visits. We could get up late, play to our hearts content, and there would be these interesting things she would make for us at mealtimes.

She lived alone. She knew everyone in the neighborhood, and did her shopping almost on fixed days during the week.

One fine day, she didnt turn up for her shopping. Acquaintances who knew her and often met her there, thought maybe she was just taking it easy. Then she came in the next day, and shopped. But she did not go home. The manager of the place saw her sitting outside on a bench, doing nothing. Walking up to her, an old customer, he wished her, and smiled. Hardly any response. He got talking to her. And realised , that although she spoke to him well, it was as if she did not know him, and she had forgotten how to reach home.....

Small towns have bigger hearts.

He drove her home himself, let her inside, and informed her neighbor about what had happened.

This was the beginning of getting lost. This continued in a heart breaking manner, till she stopped recognising us when we came to visit, couldnt place her own sister on the memory mind screen, and occasionally exhibited so much confusion in day to day activities, that we often wondered how she could be the same favourite aunt that we spent our childhod holidays with.

Today, Alzheimer's Disease, which my aunt was finally diagnosed with, has started affecting folks as early as their late fifties and early sixties. The number of people with the disease doubles every 5 years beyond age 65. Alzheimer's disease (AD), basically involves the parts of the brain that control thought, memory, and language. Scientists still do not know what causes AD, and there is no cure.

Losing her way home, and forgetting her address was just the beginning. Then there was this money confusion. The checkout lady was the first to notice. She once handed her entire wallet to the lady at the counter. Thanks to her previous good karma, she did not ever get cheated, but this became a worry factor.

There is lots of research going on regarding what might cause this disease. What is known, is that such people have what are known as amyloid plaques, or something like nerve tangles in their brains. These can be seen in scans. Various blood tests may also test for various protein levels , unique to alzheimers patients.

But to you and me, it is useful to know, what are the typical signs, and scenarios where the Alzheimer "behaviour" as such may be recognised by the family members and friends.

The Beginning:

One of the first things you are likely to notice is that the person easily forgets recent events; as recent as where he went with everyone 2 days ago. And there is no awareness that he or she has forgotten something either.

The person will usually suddenly develop trouble remembering words. Occasionally a similar sounding word which doesnt even exist in the dictionary will be used. Sometimes, these folks get repetetive about what they are saying. Remember, they dont know they are being repetetive; its their brain tangle asserting itself.

One of the biggest changes is that the person simply loses enthusiasm about doing things. A sudden turn off. There is trouble organising things, including thoughts. Sometimes when the person realises this based on reactions from around him, he or she simply stops talking.

Typically, the person will start misplacing things around the house. This is often a precursor to getting obsessive about hoarding and searching for trivial things.

Simple actions are confusing. The person will hold on to a toothbrush, not knowing what to do with it. All this leads to some kind of withdrawl into self, which appears to be a logical next step, in a world where simple day to day living starts getting so problematic.

Money gets confusing. They forget how to use money. Forget why they have come where they have come. Sometimes, as in my aunt's case, they give their entire wallets at the check in counter, whether or not it contains the money.

You can try conversation, but there are no guaranteed answers . If you press on, there is anger, and clamming shut. Decision making is very very difficult for them and traumatic. So they stop thinking about it. Even simple things like asking them what food they would like, ellicits a quick reply saying something like "whatever you are having"....

The biggest danger is that of losing their way going to places they would normally reach with their eyes closed, so to speak. This getting lost factor is often the first indication to the family that something is amiss. Other behavioural factors often get attributed to old age, dementia, etc.

The next progression .

At some point, the person starts mixing up people around him. Things become really difficult for the family when a dedicated caretaker family member is questioned as to their identity. Its not uncommon to have a complete mixup between wife, sister, mother, brother, son etc.

There are changes in the persons appearance; inattention to dress, disturbed sleep, behaviour pattern changes.

One curious habit often displayed is a propensity for cutting up paper and tissues. Just like that. And these could be just bathroom tissues, or they could be documents found somewhere. These are often cut up with a great deication to the act.

These folks often get restless towards late afternoon and evening; pacing around, fingering and rattling doorknobs, fiddling around with the drapers is common.

Sometimes the sense of time temporarily disappears. The person wakes up at night and is convinced it's time to get to work. Intellectual work is problematic and there is a definite difficulty is following written requests. Completing tasks is difficult. The person tends to shout and fight , cursing, hitting and abusing people; kicking is also not unknown. It is sometimes amazing to see a perfectly mannered person, become a complete slob with sloppy manners.

Imagination plays its tricks. While watching TV,the person sometimes things it's all happening to him or her. The next step is to make up stories to suit onesself. They will ofte say "XYZ is coming to pick them up" as a completely baseless remark, where XYZ may not even be around.

What becomes difficult is when they start attributing imaginary motives to people, like some member of the family "out to get him". "stealing" , and sometimes, "even accused of having affairs" etc. Its a hard, pathetic attempt by a tangled mind to find a straight path , in what continues to be, for them , a path through the dense jungle, dotted with beasts, some mental, some physical.

Things get serious when they start forgetting things like how to use the toilet seat . Very often such folks need a full time caretaker to attend to their bathing and other needs, as they even lose cntrol over their dressing . What is more, inappropriate dressing , forgetting what is public behaviour and occassionally disrobing etc in pyblic is not uknown.

These are very traumatic times for both the Alzheimers patient and his family. Solutions are very person centric; what works for one person may not work for the other. Interactions with society etc are reduced. It is not unknown for a person to suddenly take things belonging to others and claim they are his, followed by angry outburts, and petulance.

One interesting observation is that whatever the minimal conversation, repetitive or otherwise the person may have with those around him, is often peppered with completely nonsensical gibberish words, made up by the patient,

Deep in the woods:

This is the serious Alzeimers stage.

The person recognises no member of his family. Simple acts like eating and swallowing become difficult; partially due to physical limitations , and partially due to forgetting what food is in the mouth for.

Emptying the bladder and stools is something that happens spontaneously, as they slowly forget about how its done.

Predictably, the person often mumbles a lot, tries to touch and pat things and even cries. The toughest times happen when the person developes problems regarding walking. They forget how to walk, and stumble around , and often fall. In some cases, there are seizures.

Loss of weight is a common feature, and many times, there is a thinning of the skin. All these factors, indicate a dangerous possibility of devloping bedsores, which become a real test for caregivers , of, say, a diabetic patient, in particular. The skin reddens and tears easily.

What is worse , is when one tries to apply skin healing dressings and other stuff, the person shouts and screams, sometimes even hitting out.

Sleep increases. With a complete sense of loss in space and time.

For the caregivers , its a huge punishment to see an earlier active wonderful family member reduced to a stubborm weak, slobbering , confused mass.

For the patient, it has been a long , long trip, on the main road of Life, through well known spots and markers , but now the world has changed so much in his eyes, that there is no looking back or going back.

He is completely lost on Main Street itself.

So where do we go from here ? Are we all condemned to a variation of this maybe, in our old age ? Did our ancestors suffer from something like this ? Is this a result of technology allowing people to live longer and longer, but physiology not enhancing its performance at the same rate ? Does this have something to do with the tons of medicines and chemicals we ingest, as quick and fancy cures , applauded by the medical fraternity as "cutting edge" ?

In the meanwhile, researchers have come up with suggestions for how to live in our old age, trying to keep this terrible disease at more than an arm's length away. The Mayo Clinic people have suggested several activities, vis -avis keeping those parts of our brain healthy, which would normally get tangled into an Alzheimer's jungle .

Learning is the key to all. One needs to keep learning. To exercise the mind in the correct useful manner. Its not rocket science or nanotechnology .

One could try , for example :

* Learning to play a musical instrument
* Playing Scrabble or doing crossword puzzles
* Interacting with others
* Switching careers or starting a new one
* Starting a new hobby, such as crafts, painting, biking or bird-watching
* Learning a foreign language
* Volunteering
* Staying informed about what's going on in the world
* Reading

An active brain produces new connections between nerve cells that allow cells to communicate with one another. This helps your brain store and retrieve information more easily, no matter what your age.

In this modern age, where people are conversing more with machines than with other humans, maybe thats what we all need to try.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

A fairly drastic history of Valentines Day.......

Valentines Day today is all about Declarations. Someone is someone else's Valentine. If someone is not, then someone is depressed. If someone is NOT depressed, society reacts in such a way, that someone has no recourse, except to get depressed, thanks to things like Hallmark etc.

What is this big hype all about ?

Actually there are several stories. Some have to do with the Romans and the wolves, some have to do with priests, then some have bishops involved.

Turns out that the ancient Romans had a festival called Lupercalia. The name has something to do with "lupus" or wolves. Far from being soft and romantic, this particular festival was, well, pretty drastic.

First of all, it was in honor of a deity which was connected with the she-wolf that is supposed to have protected and reared Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. This deity was also supposed to protect the goat herds and shepherds from the wolves. Where do the shepherds and goatherds come in , in Rome, you might ask.

Well , those were NOT the days of Global Warming, Inconvenient Truths etc , and Rome , as such, was surrounded by virgin wilderness and forests, where packs of wolves simply ran wild. But there was a price to be paid for all this environmental bliss....

The Lupercalia festival began with a sacrifice of, inexplicably, 2 goats; and a dog. Two priests were led upto the sacrificial place , and (no, they did not follow in the goats footsteps), blood from the sacrificial mess was anointed on their foreheads. This was followed by a grand feast and since no one was interested in the goats skin, they simply made stuff out of it, which they then ran around Rome, waving . Any woman who crossed their path , simply got whacked with it.

Just in case you think someone then took up cudgels on behalf of the women, NO. The women were told and presumably they actually believed that a whack from these guys waving the goat skin stuff bestowed fertility on them.

Interestingly, these goat skin lashing weapons were called "februa" and the business of lashing was called "februatio". In Latin, both words meant something similar to "purification".

So thats how the month got its name. February.

Later on Rome became a walled city and a powerful empire, Throughout the tumultous years the Lupercalia continued to be followed.

Its very clear that this killing and waving of goats skin and whacking women into fertility must have been on the approved list of hobbies for most Roman emperors and their noblemen or whoever. When Roman armies invaded France and Britain, they took their R and R habits with them.

They took the Lupercalia customs there. One of these is believed to be a lottery where the names of Roman maidens were placed in a box and drawn out by the young men. Each man accepted the girl whose name he drew as his love - for a year or longer. (I suppose after running trying to avoid a whack, and then having to give in, the women didnt have much of a choice. Nor was there any Goddess etc, who could have a complementary festival, where say, maidens rode around on horses etc, whipping guys who crossed their paths, convincing them that it was good for their war training and strength.)

In the slightly less violent and dramatic stories about Valentines, there are actually , according to the Catholic encyclopedia, three guys, or should I say, saints, vying for the honor. One was a priest in Rome, the second was a Bishop of Interrama (now called Terni) , and the third, lived and died somewhere in Africa.

Some say the priest and Bishop are actually the same person. Well, same or not, they too had to face some dramatic events, from a Roman king called Claudius, the (what else) Cruel. (We have come such a long way; we just say, Mr Bush, the President; Mr Blair, the PM , and Queen Elizabeth (followed by like n titles , none of them having to do with cruelty).

The priest used to preside over a wonderful temple near the palace. A permanent Holy fire burned there and the citizens came there to seek the priest's blessings and hear his sermons. In the menawhile, Claudius, true to his name, kept waging wars here and there, and got the idea of the Draft. All young men were supposed to join up, married or not. Well, the young guys had girlfriends they didnt want to leave, and so they went to the priest and secretly got married to their girls. Seeing that folks were not joining up, Claudius declared that the priest would do no more marriages or celebrate engagements and that all the guys needed to report to boot camp.

Well, this priest was what we call a "consciencous objector". He sort of defied Claudius the cruel, and kept performing the marriages and stuff. What happened was not surprising. Claudius decided to be really cruel, and sent his soldiers to arrest the priest and threw him into the dungeon, where he stayed till he died on February 14, AD 270. Pope Gelasius put a Christian Spin on this by saying that this day was to honor St Valentine, who was killed by Claudius while pursuing Christianity.

Claudius had a thing about persecuting Christians, so according to another story, he threw a guy named Valentine in jail for following and propagating Christianity. This guy was very smart. He converted the jailor and his entire family to Christianity; in addition, he fell in love with Julia, the jailor's daughter who was blind, and restored her eyesight. The jailor was ecstatic but Claudius was furious. He sentenced Valentine to be execeuted. History says, that on the morning of his execution, Valentine sent a message to the daughter, saying, (what else) , "From your Valentine !"

The nations in Europe all have their competetive hangups with each other. Just in case the Romans thought they had a copyright over Valentine, the Norse had a saint by the name of St Galantin, whicj means, "lover of women" . The G in Norse is not pronounced like "ga" (like in , eg., garbage ), but more like a "V". So Galantin simply became St Valentine.

(And we dont say anything about the French, who insist that the word comes from "galantine" which translates to gallant and/or lover.)

It so happened, that the Christian officialdom did their best to counter all the excitement about the wolves, and whacking, fertility rituals, drawing names of women from baskets, and going around with them for a year, fighting against Claudius etc etc. It ruled against folks following pagan rituals. Finally, they found that it made better sense to officially redefine the day as their own, instead of declaring bans.

And so we have Valentines Day, being celebrated on February 14th, dedicated to a Christian Saint. King Charles the II, officially restored Valentines Day to British Society. Notwithstanding the fact that folks called Puritans came over to the New World in 1629, Valentines Day in America went through the same opposition as it did from the Church in England. It took another 100 years for Valentines Day to be firmly established in the American scheme off things.

The first U.S. maker of valentines, to succeed on a commercial basis was Esther A. Howland, of Worcester, Massachusetts, In 1847, after seeing a British valentine, she decided to make some of her own. She made samples , took orders from stores , hired staff of young women and set up an assembly line to produce the cards. Howland expanded her business into a $100,000-a-year enterprise. (Oprah, eat your heart out)

In all this romance,adulation,beauty and other exalted stuff, there did creep in some some folks, who thought things needed to be normalised a bit. Everyone was not the epitomy of beauty, fashions changed, some people were downright mean, though pretty, folks had fights, and so we had what were called the Penny Dreadfuls. A nice normal American version designed to warm the cockles of the hearts of all little boys in America , who cant stand girls....

In the last part of the 19th and beginning of 20th century, some decided to tell it like it is. They sent these "penny dreadfuls" , (cards that cost a penny) , saying stuff as below, and then sat back and enjoyed......

'Tis all in vain your simpering looks,
You never can incline,
With all your bustles, stays, and curls,
To find a valentine.

I shudder to think what would have happened if the goat skin stuff was still prevalent then. Maybe this time the guys would have got whacked ?