Sunday, August 31, 2008

Paronychial Tales......पायाला लगलिये कळ, अणि अश्रू गळं.......

When we were children, late evenings, after playing, homework and dinner, often found us sprawled around our grandmother, avidly listening to stories from mythologies. We even had choices, and most of the time Lord Krishna won , hands down. Grandmothers then, had an infinite supply of these stories.

Grandmothers then even had a huge supply of home remedies , which were quite happily accepted by the children, most of whom would normally beat PT Usha at sprints, if confronted with a spoon of Castor Oil.

Today, not many children have the good fortune to have grandparents stay with them, and thanks to the age of IT, the Internet has replaced the GrandNet. Interestingly, the Internet has also partially replaced grand folks in the case of health remedies.

If you cannot reach your doctor, rush to Google, is the new mantra.

Very recently, someone started getting random and sudden electric shooting pains , with burning sensations in their big toe.

Some family members ,are actually secret medical types who have completely missed their vocation in life. So they rush to examine, press toes here and there, notice at what point someone gives a piercing wail. An ointment that was used to treat their own sprain (on trying to lift ten kgs of raw mango ), is actually suggested. No effect. Then they see a raised throbbing structure , probably a vein on the surface near the toe, when the pain occurs. Aha. Ice it. So ice wrapped in some cloth is applied. No success. Raise your feet on a bunch of pillows and sit. How much more ?

Time for the Internet.

Depending on how good you are at specifying search terms , you may get desperate, complicated, serious or correct answers. Turns out that this symptom of shooting pains in the big toe, with burning sensations etc, can be caused , among other things , by Metatarsalgia (pain in the ball-of-the-foot area), Morton's Neuroma (inflamed nerve near the Big Toe), Sesamoiditis (angry bones in the pushy tendons going to the big toe). Incidentally, Mr Morton sounds influential enough to have his named attached to something called Morton's Toe , which is nothing but the Big Toe being shorter than the next toe. Very smart.

But what was really exciting was to suddenly realize that Sachin Tendulkar himself had some kind of Sesamoiditis problem. The family member knew very little about the game, but was terribly up-to-date on Sachin's injuries.

The last fact immediately brought a sense of virtual relief to the patient, a cricket fanatic. (Talk of mind over body....)

By and by , the family doctor, who was by now highly used to being consulted about alarming and life threatening conditions , was reached, , and all these fancy names were mentioned.

And thereby hangs a Paronychial tale.

This is being mentioned here , so as to educate people on simple conditions which unfortunately trigger desperate Internet searches followed by visions of surgeries and amputations and so on.

The above condition is called paronychia. Many times, particularly where a lot of travel is done on foot, and more so in the wet season, one tends to ignore the nails of the toes. We don't realize it when we acquire fungal infections, and the nails start getting discolored. Many times, nail and toe pain is attributed to someone stepping on your toes in crowded public transport and so on. What happens is, that this ignored condition, makes it ripe for some bacterial infection to enter your skin through the nail area, something which has great potential , in the monsoon season, when we also sometimes wear closed rubber shoes. The situation is ripe for pus. Because the skin around your toes is thick, you don't see any whitish discoloration, but what really makes you aware of it, is the sudden electric, shooting and throbbing pain that randomly happens, and a super sensitive skin surface that just burns with pain.

So what is the solution?

First, get some glycerin. Dip a piece of cotton wool in it, and wrap it around the toe area , covering it lightly so as to keep it in place. Glycerin being hygroscopic , does its work.

Get a bottle of tincture iodine. With a small piece of cotton, or a dropper, saturate the area between your skin and nail with iodine. Do this several times a day, and leave the toe open to the air. Your toe should look a dull and dirty yellow ochre, like you played with Holi colours and forgot to wash your toe.

In the meanwhile, the bacterial infection needs to be killed. This is done either by antibiotic ointments or oral antibiotics. This is something that must be done in consultation with the doctor. Sometimes, it is necessary for the doctor to simply lance the pus out of its sac. A very traumatic thing for those who are blood-and-needle-disabled.

A mighty "mycin" dose of the stuff for a few days, and the Big Toe is back doing what it does best.

But, just in case, you are, say, allergic to glycerin and terrified of iodine, and in great tension till the doctor prescribes the mycin (for your sins), you might do what my grandmother would have advised.

Bathe your traumatized toe, in a basin of warm water, to which salt has been added, for say, twenty minutes. And do this as often as you can.

No google, no neuroma, no surgery , no Mr Morton, no sesamoid stuff, with or without Sachin Tendullkar.

Simply grandmother, doctor and paronychia.......

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Games of a different type वेगळी माणसें वेगळा खेळ ......

One of my most abiding memories from my childhood, is coming home from school, flinging the school bag, having a cup of milk with some simple snack, and then rushing out to play with my friends. I still remember some of the hiding places we had when we played a very involved game of hide and seek. Twice a week, our school had compulsory evening games for everyone. We thrived on netball, badminton, volleyball, and no one was a whiz or champion.

Parents then, frowned on bookish types rushing off to attend , say algebra classes, when they should be going to playgrounds, or similar exciting places. By and by, some of us took up some kind of formal coaching, like in badminton and table tennis. The emphasis was never on outfits and smart looks; just some decent no-nonsense practicing.

Weekends meant you got up even earlier, and went hill climbing. The icing on the whole thing was carrying fresh mom-made sabudana khichadi in a dabba and having it with your friends after you reached there.Once we even carried paper, paints, and brushes , (in addition to idlis and limbu sherbet), climbed the hill at sunrise, and sat and painted , what I still think, were amazing masterpieces, featuring the sun, the rise, and a minute spot of sabudana khichadi, in the corner. Regulars on the hill stopped by to admire our output, patted our backs and went on.

I never imagined the day would come when someone would come home from school and/or work, and sit down to play tennis on a PC Yes, there is this game called Tennis Elbow, where you can tell how many people are playing (singles/doubles), are they warming up, playing a match, what the strong strokes of each player will be, who is going to be the guy with big volleys and so on and so forth, all this followed by statistics at the end of the game telling you who made how many unforced errors, who served aces etc etc.

There is also Cricket, Billiards and Snooker. All on a machine. And so many people play Chess against machines, and possibly get angry with winning machines.

Today, thanks to television, sponsorships have become more important than a game. The more you watch, the more they sponsor the telecast, and vice versa. Cricket is being viewed by scores of parents , as time well spent, in terms of lifetime monetary returns; whether a child has a specific aptitude or not, cricket is King. Badminton, table tennis , and squash come a distant second. Squash occasionally rises a bit higher, because US universities value sports proficiencies while deciding on admissions.

Amazingly , however, Dahi handi , is now being treated as a special event sport. Folks wear t-shirts with team logos, their practice is documented and publicized in great detail, insurance companies rush to insure the climbing youth, who might just possibly involuntarily descend later. Opportunistic politicians offer 5 figure cash prizes to those taking maximum physical risk. (Thanks to the IPL extravaganza, reports indicate that ,
somewhere in North Mumbai, some politicians had recently organized a dahi handi with cheerleaders from east european countries doing their cheerleader acrobatics and "display" on a special stage, in minimal outfits, watched by goggle-eyed types, while somewhere nearby, the young and nimble footed Govindaas, tried to complete their pyramids and break the handi ). The publicity value , traffic disturbance , and chaos is tremendous.

While Dahi handi is NOT in danger of becoming an Olympic sport, it has occurred to folks that whenever there has been a political interference in sport, that sport has suffered, and the politicians have prospered. (With the sole exception of cricket, where everyone has prospered, or possibly the politicians have stopped being political. Maybe).

Whether its hockey, struggling like a fish with non functional and faulty Gills; track and field, boxing,wrestling, where parents move mountains to provide their children with nutrition, time and education; shooting, where the powers that be cannot find funds and proper lead times for ordering ammunition for practice, and even swimming, where this year there seems to be no Arjuna award for the sport, despite two guys swimming their hearts out in the face of zero encouragement to their sport; the politicians have appropriated it all

In the old days, one never saw so many young people "hanging around" on the periphery of "politics". Till it became a game.

Actually, in India , the biggest sport is politics.

Observe the rush of people vying to be a part of it. It needs hardly any physical expertise, other than the ability to bend ,blend, and appropriately exercise the wrist flexors, extensors, pronators and supinators muscles , in an effort to blindlessly applaud. Never mind who.You need an ability to walk vague distances, shouting something or the other. Occasionally exercise your unpuffed triceps to fling stuff at some one's house or police.

As you advance further in the sport, you learn to distribute much more than plagiarized speeches, and blatant lies. You actually start dealing in what really matters. The medal of a good politician : money . Ability to flaunt this gets you power. Make roads where some actually exist. Buy machines you don't need. Including buses and cars. An ability to bring religion into everything is an added plus. Appropriate public "exercises" help. And never mind that someone you helped won something. The picture on the hoarding , MUST be yours. The aspiring winner.

Cut to Olympics 2028 .

Doordarshan types , droning on, India having just won 5 gold medals in Synchronised Bending and Flitting,Laryngeal Calisthenics, Hide,Hide and Seek, Parade Wandering and the like....

Oh my ! Sir Abhinav Bindra, Olympic Chairman is walking up to award the medals, and ....who is that guy with white hair and paunch, getting the gold? ....

Beta, pass me my glasses, will you ? Now that I am 80, it gets a bit difficult to get up as well as see..... And i keep forgetting . But didn't I see that guy in Parliament a few years ago ?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Praising the dark, and looking for light, sportingly..... मना तुझा रंग कसा ?

At first they lived in an old house by the lake. Just four flats. Lots of places to explore, chasing cows bent on destroying the garden,and monkeys on trees, hissing at her with teeth bared. But, careening down the two-wheeler entry ramp to the building, wearing shorts, and a blue chaddar representing a superman cape, was then the supreme activity of choice.

There was a sloping entry into the lake close by, which was restricted by a bunch of bars, designed to stop cars , unwittingly left in neutral gear, from quietly sliding into the lake. When she was 4, she was convinced that the bars were actually her personal preserve , for doing tumbles and turns across the top horizontal bar. Folks out for a walk in the evening would stop by and have serious conversations with her, as she swung , feet up and head down; some would occasionally offer to give the quick short shove required to turn across the bar, applaud , and carry on.

Cycling was another trial. The road there , was reasonably clear of traffic, but had an alarming unpredictable bovine population that would emerge in dark lumbering glory , from the woods, on to the paved road. And so she learned to cycle , always at a hurried speed, with one shoulder raised, as a result of trying to look for emerging cows from the corner of her eye.

By and by, they shifted to a semi high rise ; well, semi by today's standards. 6 floors. When she was little, she would dash up the stairs to see if she could defeat her parents coming up in the elevator. Her school shared a wall with the building, and the admired thing was to enter the school by the wall, instead of the school gate.

She joined dance classes, and karate, and her folks delighted in seeing the karate class doing their fitness practice on the school grounds.
Early morning table tennis classes introduced her to the concept of warm-ups. Her persistent cough , earlier attributed to imbibing secret quantities of tamarinds and ice creams , miraculously went away.

Then she joined swimming.
Today, 13 years later, has remained with it. Lots of workouts, several competitions, moderate successes, moderate disappointments, but behind it all is the great enjoyment she gets out of the training of swimming.

Many times, it is a case of either or both parents being in that sport. In her case, although both her parents were in sports when young, it was never swimming, but more like racket and bat sports.

There are two ways people take interest in sports. Serious sports.

They simply love the sport.

Or its a cool calculated move a la BCCI , designed to optimize returns of more types than one.

Some parents have unlimited resources. Some have unlimited imagination. Some more, are highly resourceful in an unlimited way. Some parents have unlimited time. Some make , unlimited time for their child, when it is a question of training.

And so we have Bindra who had it all laid out for him, but he did his part 200%. Then there is Sania, who has reached great heights, with dedicated help from both her parents and assorted sponsorships. Leander Paes and Mahesh Bhupathi had fathers who pointed them into the path, and stayed to guide them through. Saina Nehwal, who showed a lot of spunk, and Anjali Bhagwat whose folks gave them so much support . Then there are the Bhiwani Boxers.

There are so many, whose parents had nothing to give but mental support. Difficult travel, unsatisfactory arrangements, irregular scheduling, lack of sponsorships, lack of a semblance of support from associations purporting to support their particular sport. An alarming amount of officials, who miraculously appear at international meets, and disappear into babudom later. Selection systems based on criteria that have nothing to do with the sport.

This cannot go on....

Our communities are not sensitized to sports. The Times of India on its sports page will desist from giving news about a local state level swimming meet, or a schools table-tennis tournament; but the pride of place will be given to the questionable exploits of the girlfriend of one of UK's professional footballers, complete with photos in missing clothes. It is there every single day .

Captains of industry, who open up their profit laden treasuries to support something like Mood Indigo, hesitate, when requested to consider sponsoring a sports meet at the same educational institute, for a fraction of the cost. They want visibility for their brand, but not while the hard work is in progress. Like all those who hanker after power, they want it easy......

And the strange thing is, as the aforementioned girl realized, that status and/or education really has nothing to do with people's attitudes. Towards sports, and the practice of it.

Late one summer evening, she is back from swimming practice, full of beans, trailing her paraphernalia, running ahead of her mother , to stop the elevator which is about to take off.

There is a couple inside . Both doctorates. Middle aged. 2 kids. With each child more academically brilliant than the other. They move and make place for the girl and her mother. Smile indulgently. (Some folks think "patronizingly" is the word that really fits). At the girl, who is busy fixing the sipper bottle that has just fallen out of her bag; swimming paraphernalia, speedos, and the like are very expensive, and this nice automatically-closing-sipper-bottle has been sent by an indulgent uncle from the land of Michael Phelps.

They look up at the girl's mother. And bring forth the question which they have been wanting to ask all along, ever since they started noticing this girl doing her swimming , since several years.

"Why do you send your daughter for swimming ? Ap ko nahi lagta ki wo kali ho jayegi? (Dont you realize that she will turn black/dark ?)"

Speechlessly, I rested my case then.

I helplessly, rest my case now.

And you really wanted to know why we have only ******one individual medal at the Olympics in the last so many years ? 

****** Attaboy Vijendar,  prove me wrong....(august 21, 12:50 pm)

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Class is temporary, form is permanent. लिहावे व फॉर्मरुपी उरावे

No, I didn't get it wrong.

Contrary to what most people will smirk and conclude, this is NOT a post about defending Tendulkar,Dravid,Ganguly and any other cricketer of your choice around whom Mendis went around in circles, so to speak. It is not even a post about some permanent fixtures on the political scene, who are seen hobnobbing one step below the throne, regardless of who comes to power.

It is about the permanency of forms in our lives.

I always thought that I was firmly,happily, and permanently entrenched in what is commonly known, as the middle class. No more.

Depending on just who is itching to classify us for some unknown ulterior or decent motive, forms are today a permanent fixture in our lives.And one of the purposes of filling in these countless forms, seems to be to slot us into some type of class; lower, lower middle, middle, upper-middle, privileged,creamy layer, non-creamy layer, advantaged, disadvantaged, etc etc. Of course, no one can really make up their minds about the classification, and so we end up filling more forms.

The first form I personally filled up , that I can remember is the form to appear for my school certificate exam. Computers had not appeared on the scene and folks were not obsessed with codes and categories. Then came admission forms to college. Notice the singular usage of the noun. You went to the college you liked, fitted in with their criteria , and got admission, without being 134th in a line of 200 applicants , trying to protect themselves from rising rain waters while simultaneously seeking admission in 3 colleges..
Exams , of course , brought forth more forms to be filled, where the emphasis was on the items of learning rather than what kind of person was learning. When the results came, a single person was declared the topper. There were no conveniently defined classes like girls/boys/night school/ etc etc.

Ration card forms, and consequently the cards themselves, were actually at one time greatly hankered after, sometime after my teenage years. Intricacies of adding names, deleting names, changing addresses, all involved forms, which were suitably complicated with faded printing.

Passport and visa forms came next.
Besides the usual stuff , they always want to know if you have fought with/murdered anyone, been convicted, sent to jail, sent tadi-paar, etc. Suppose it was true, did they really think I would advertise it in the affirmative to the whole world ? They also wanted to know some identification marks which you bore; like I am just wondering, if someone finds me fallen in a ditch on the roadside, will they check if I have a mole on the inner side of my little finger, to identify me?

In the olden days (60's and 70's), banks really cared about you. Today, special desks are strategically placed there to entrap people into filling forms for some credit cards being publicised by the bank. Unsuspecting customers with time on their hands, ladies with visions of spending time in Malls, are invited into a plastic life. Buy what you like, when you like, as much as you like, and then watch us have fun clobbering you with "interest".

The advent of what is euphemistically called IT got the election commission into a dedicated dither. Every citizen needed a card. Some more forms. Proofs. More people ended up filling forms than was correct. And a lot of people got election cards without being citizens, thanks to the flood of application forms, and bad checking. But no one has learned a lesson. Now individual states are talking about issuing citizen cards.

Welcome to form chaos.

The passing away of the old generations and the entry of the new into the "form"al world is even more chaotic. Transfer forms, Indemnity forms, Oaths, electronic clearing, dematerialisation, rematerialisation, and of course, the great new discovery, the form for acquiring the PAN card. Time has now come to apply for these cards at birth-- a baby's introduction to the world of forms. While some companies have standard paperwork for applying for lost securities, I recently came across one company, which kind of rubbed salt into the wounds by insisting that we get an FIR from the police. This is actually worse than filling forms.

While the RTO has its own methods of troubling everyone with its forms, what has really begun to bother me is that the Municipal folks are now contemplating loudly about having special forms, and consequently, cards, for bicycles. Please. Its difficult to visualise kids cycling to school, with licence plates, and overzealous constables whistling them down because half the plate has been knocked off by a passing motorcycle.

Some forms, treat us like we are middle class; monetary fees mentioned therein are something that do not cause you to faint.

Some forms treat us like we are wallowing at the bottom of crowd of illiterate goons; the forms are full of convenient phonetic spellings, and dire warnings and penalties ; makes you feel like the secretary of the goonda class.

Some forms display loftiness , mostly in their disdain for three digit currency amounts, and all 4 digit fee amounts and stuff are preceded by the word "only". These are those that think that the city starts at Nariman point and ends at Haji Ali.

So while I swing wildly between being the esteemed member of the lower middle class, the hoi-polloi, the feet-firmly-stuck-on-the-ground-a-la-fevicol middle class and the sophisticated plastic ("only ten thousand rs") upper class, what remains a constant is that I need to subject myself to filling forms, regardless of my life stage, and needs.

It doesnt matter whether you are Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Saurav Ganguly, or simply anyone else who is doing badly. Just a little bit of loss of class.

No worry.

Like I said earlier, class is temporary, folks, but form is permanent.........

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Unraveling tangles and knots गुंतता मार्ग हे ....

It has been my secret wish, that all the Maharashtra ministers should shift residences to the suburb where i live. It is scenic, has a lake, hills, forests, crocodiles, fish, temples, churches, masjids, gurudwaras, 5-star hotels, malls, and whats more, is close to both airports in Mumbai ; a very important thing when you always need to fly off to the capital , sirens blaring.

Why ?

(Aeons ago, I lived with my parents in some proletarian government flats, in one of South Mumbai's poshest areas, which looked down on a huge expanse of ministers villas, with endless lawns, numerous cars with beacons, and pilot cars to clear the roads. If you were in a BEST bus lumbering behind such a car, you always reached office early. And if there was a hint of a pothole in the morning, by evening the road would be smooth as, as Lalu Prasad Yadav says, Ms. Hema Malini's cheeks.)

That is the only way, they will stop digging the roads here. Earlier it was like a hobby, with telephonewallas being the most skilled exponents, closely followed by the water pipe entrepreneurs. My visitors from abroad have never seen a normal road on their way to our house, and have remarked on it. In all the excitement of handing out lucrative contracts to various diggers , footpaths have become totally unfashionable.
We now have roads in the midst of potholes, rather than the other way around.

And so , hope sprang (eternal ?) in my mind when I heard of the impending visit to our campus by the First Citizen of the Nation to preside over the special Convocation. I had visions of my autorickshaw gliding over smooth roads, something I never expected would happen in my liftetime. Someone said the First Citizen of the Nation would come by helicopter. I fervently hoped against that.

All of a sudden, we started seeing more police jeeps on campus, carefully driving around; cops keenly observing people ,(like me, carrying 500 gms of karela and two papayas)
, with tough,questioning , unsmiling looks. A mother in a hurry, zipping on to the road in front of the jeep, with 4 kg of vegetables, and 3 school children riding pillion, was given pitying looks; they were now other things to worry about. (See ya later, ma'am). Everyone entering campus was questioned. My household help was worried; six different chaps checked her id-card, and one of her friends was not allowed in at all, because her id-card( kept in a bag she tucked into her waist,) fell off somewhere when she got off a hugely crowded bus in torrential rain, a day earlier, and now she had nothing to show. Mumbai police had those metal barricades put up on our very low traffic-density campus, just in case a primary school kid on his trainer-wheels bike decided he had to cross the road, during his lunchtime trip home, regardless of the Occasion. Whistles. Walkie-talkies, terraces populated by plain clothes types, serious faces, a systematic identification of every participant in the day's program, photo passes, rehearsal drills. Very exciting.

I now realise, that either the municipal types have a hotline to the weather gods, or they are just good statistical forecasters. One day to go for the great First Visit.The potholes, and craters on the roads outside continued to proliferate. No action. Earlier a trip to the market would be rewarded with the acrid smell of burning tar mixed with the smell of wet earth, diesel exhaust, and frying wada pau flavours. This time the tar was missing.

Then a day before the First Arrival, traffic was thrown into chaos by sudden large scale pothole repairs, , nay fillings. No one knows what they were filling the potholes with, given that that a proper blind eye is always turned to such activities by our city managers. A day later, after the First event, and another batch of heavy rains, all the stuff got washed away and we were back to roads in the middle of craters. Some guys went laughing all the way to the bank, and some folks on motorcycles, ladies riding pillion, limped home holding their backs.

Given all this hype , the actual Convocation event was a lesson in common sense, as opposed to pomp and ceremony. The First Citizen of the nation, arrived with State dignitaries in ordinary Ambasaador cars, not hitherto known for their shock absorbers and suspensions The weight of the State rests very amiably on the First shoulders. A dignified walk at the head of the academic procession, the resounding National Anthem sung by the students, and the First citizen took her seat on the dais, , smilingly looking at all the excited parents and guests. Awards of ,medals and prizes. Names announced. Students coming up to have medals placed around their necks. Some touching the First feet , like one would for a grandparent. Restrained applause, in august company.

And then it happened. One of the medal ribbons got tangled. Knotted inadvertently. The scholar stood patiently, seeing the search for a solution of this terribly low tech problem, in a high tech technological ambiance. The head of the Institute tried . No success. Then the First fingers automatically took over. The picture of the Head of State trying to unravel a knot, using an expertise of so many years of attending to her children, was just what was needed to bring a fresh spray of lighthearted fun into the proceedings. First there was a hint of applause. Then it grew. The students thought it was wonderful. Parents joined in. BUT THE KNOT REFUSED TO UNRAVEL ! The President thought there had been enough effort, and she simply smilingly handed over the medal to the student, patting him , as the way it was knotted it wouldn't go over his head. He would probably remember it all his life, and never hear the end of it from his classmates. The applause was deafening.

Several speeches later , the First Citizen departed, across potholes ready to shed their fillings .A noticeable reduction in tension. Several deep breaths. The police cars are now where they should be, monitoring traffic jams at junctions, and testing the salutes of the constables, as they struggle to manage the traffic, with one eye on a possible sahib who might just whiz past, beacons flashing. Occasionally a two wheeler will get special attention.

Cars and two wheelers, dipping sideways as they manoeuvre the freshly washed away fake-filled deep potholes. Vehicles coming to sudden standstills, and folks veering suddenly to avoid six inch ditches.

The First Visit is over.

The battle of the Pothole has just begin.

There is going to be some tangle of traffic. Someone will try and unravel it.

Unlike what happened earlier to a First Knot, I just hope this time the knot is completely unraveled

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Binary Life असावं का नसावं ?

Life is never binary. Never has been. Some think it's all about being yes or no, one or zero, black or white.

This has really never been truer, for example, in medicine. The recent journalistic explosion over a couple going to court in order to being allowed to undergo an abortion , past the prescribed limiting age of the foetus, and the possibility of the foetus being detected with a congenital heart problem . The reports of the ultrasonography, being interpreted in various way. Experts giving their variable opinion. Varying levels of danger to the mother being perceived by trained investigative eyes. Diametrically opposite conclusions being drawn by medical types, people calculating the costs of existence of the foetus with various life saving treatments once it enters this world, and the Dean of a major public hospital attributing his changed committee opnion, to a typographical error....(again black and white).

Takes me back to my childhood, in the fifties, where our neighbours were a family of 5. The oldest , a girl who was my brother's best friend. Her brother was a child afflicted by something that accumulated fluid in the brain. To this day, I do not recall seeing that child ever standing up, or even sitting up. We would all be playing in his room when indoors, and his smile was always part of our group. We communicated with him, regardless of his responses, in a very natural way; no one said anything about any therapies to anyone. His mother tended to him like she tended to all her children, but with a lot of extra physical interaction that was mandatory, given his muscular inabilities. His every new improvement, transient or permanent was celebrated , less as a milestone, but more as a blessing from someone for a beloved child. No one told his parents about "expected life spans " and stuff like that, but at one point it was thought that it might be a good idea if this child had another sibling.

I wonder what must have gone through the parents' minds at that point. I wonder if other older family members had anything to say. I dont know if any grandmother types did any special deals with God for a male offspring. I know the children of the family were delighted and so were we, when it was a healthy boy. That new child was the biggest thrill for his brother and sister, and became the centre of our playgroup in his childhood

What has stayed with me always, is the smiling countenance of the mother, the playful way in which the father would greet the older boy when he returned home from work daily, how the siblings would throw their bags aside, after returning from school, to go to him, and the sheer delight on the face of the differently abled child, so specially wanted, by everyone around him.

It says a lot about society then, when I recall that this child was never spoken about in difficult terms by our parents. I am sure, his parents consulted the best medical people. There were medications and treatments. Some worked, some did not. They were not superhuman, and I am sure that once in a while the mother would give way to tears in the company of my mother who was her best friend. That was what friends were there for. No one discussed and wrote anything about support groups and such things.

And so the other children of the family, grew up, learning about life , and how to tackle reverses and slowdowns; how to empathize, how to judge people over a lifetime of observing attitudes in adverse situations; and how to accept great defeats along with outrageous victories.

There was no law; but there was faith. There was an implicit understanding of the sick child's right to have a loving family for whatever time he would be on this earth. There was sense of acceptance of what is known in sanskrit as "prarabdha", or understanding your present state of life as a result of your karma in past life. Life was lived in a continuum, and not in reports that spoke in ultimatums,limits, hazy digital pictures, and probabilities of survival .

One may or may not believe in reincarnation and past karma. But today, all that the wonderful parents of the boy underwent in making life cheerful and tolerable for the little sick boy, is something that psychologists, psychiatrists and mind-body medicine proponents have been advocating , as if it is a new thing.

Something to be said, in living life as part of a whole, rather than living as if each part of the whole needed to be super perfect.

That little boy is no more. His parents, too are no more. But I am sure his siblings are today, very balanced individuals, bringing soothing stability into the lives of their own families.

I wonder if we need to take a call on how deep technology should interfere in life. Despite IVF, and other acronymized methods of conception, it is a fact that no one has been able to replicate the uterus in its ability to nurture, develop, protect and introduce to the world, a child , in complete dynamic hormonal and other balance with the mother's body. The human body has been known to have amazing resources for healing itself, and it is a fact that when this is not possible , in-utero, foetal development comes to a standstill by itself, is so detected and acted upon by doctors.

How many scans will you subject the mother to ? How many hazy digital pictures will you examine, constantly coming to conflicting conclusions about the foetus, who may be simply trying its best to work out its problems in cooperation with its mother's body systems, anyway , in the time it has, left, in the womb? Are there not doctors who feel that the foetus's problems may NOT worsen further, in the remaining period in the womb, and this may be a treatable problem when the child is older ? Who gives anyone the absolute right to decide to kill the foetus, based on statistics, pixels, ability to display 1/0 situations, , and the questionable eyesight of a big officer of one of Mumbai's big public hospitals?

(Some prefer to see this as an issue of a woman's right over her own body. This makes sense when the issue is of impending hurt or physical health-disadvantage (with no possible other solution), to the mother. Yes, then she has a right to say," I wont go through this, save me." . It doesnt make sense when this is possibly the first child , and medical opinion is divided on the possibility of normal outcome, and not so divided on the possible danger to the mother's life if abortion is attempted. Plenty of birth control methods are available, in the first place to the couples who do not want a biological child. )

Life in certainly not binary. Between the tough and traumatic , 0 and 1, there are many continuum stages of 0.1, 0.2, 0.25, 0.3 ...... 0.8,0.9.... 0.99.... some happy, some not so happy.

Between the peaks and troughs, a lifetime of continuous learning .

If we only did.

As non-digital as can be .

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Plastic of the mind ऐक रे मना ....

I have always thought of plastic as something that typifies the age in which my generation grew up. Till the early nineties, when drinking water started appearing in bottles, it had never occurred to me that water in homes, could come from anywhere but a tap, from where it was collected in vessels and then , sometimes boiled by overzealous, health-oriented parents, put in glass bottles and cooled . People who adapted too readily to "ready-made" drinking water in plastic bottles were often looked down upon by folks who thought it was a fad, (which it probably was anyway)......

There came a time when taking water to your workplace/school etc in a , say, Bisleri bottle was very impressive, regardless of the fact that you were reusing the plastic, and had just filled it from your kitchen tap. Bisleri , like Xerox entered the vocabulary as a common noun.

No more.

Today , we have a surplus of everything plastic, some of which we need to moderate and some, which we need to actually throw away.

Early human anatomy researchers were fond of documenting how various lobes/parts of our brain controlled our various senses, and how a disturbance or injury to that part could throw us into a particular 'sense'less abyss, that would deny us the use of say eyes or ears or movement. Turns out that this is not strictly true. There is something called 'neuroplasticity' of the brain , which says, that there is no such rigid demarcation in which anatomic part of the brain controls what, say, in an absolute way. Experiments have shown that you can train the brain to use parts of the brain meant to aid a particular sense, to also handle another sense. And its not a switch-on, switch off situation. The brain learns, and remembers.
Maybe some of this "plastic-ness" could apply to minds.

While this spells good news for those afflicted with strokes,deafness,learning disabilities and so on, what is worrisome, is actually the mind. I have not been able to figure out if the brain is part of the mind, or vice-versa; all I know , is, there is a connection, tenuous, strong, or whatever, but it exists.

In the last few decades, one has observed that minds, per se, have become more plastic; easy to mould.

In my childhood, I am sure religious bigots existed. There were religious social problems, but one did not hear about communal incidents on the scale that we hear it today. The sheer scale of the variety of information available to me as a teenager, about 42 years ago was not anything close to what my children experience today. Then, there was a limit, unconsciously defined, on, what you could pass an opinion about. There was a set of virtual disciplinary rules you followed and kept to, by instinct and tradition, say, at a given age. While some may define this as a straitjacketing of the mind, it actually helped us focus on the respective life stages, in an optimum way. Minds were moulded, but over a long period of time, which allowed contemplation and observation of the world in its nitty-gritty form and lessons were learned.

Over the last few decades, the "plasticity" of the mind, has been abused.

It has been "used" to indoctrinate children, misguide youth. The information revolution has not helped. The world over, we have created religious bigots, who glorify cheating (for a supposedly great cause),dying,killing,destroying , and completely obliterating the fabric of a decent peaceful society.

And just like "plastic wastes" have become an environmental problem, so have these "moulded" members of society. And so we see training camps for misguiding youth in the name of religion. Improving the lot of the less fortunate of your country is never on the list as a possible objective. And while the young of today are having their minds messed up, at some level the cult of the individual is gaining ground .

It will take more than a Kyoto Protocol, or United Nations Sanctions to change this.

We are today realizing that "plastic" is unbreakable in more ways than one. Mumbai always had the sea, always had tides, and storms and heavy rains. What it did not have earlier, was the plastic waste that clogs the drains that wash away the rain water and waste of the city into the sea. Half hearted attempts to decide on guilt free micron levels of plastic shopping bags bags does not help.
(And the fact that the magnitude of shopping as an activity, per se, has gone up by immeasurable leaps and bounds is another thing altogether...)

And so, the plasticity of the mind, needs to be controlled in constructive ways and directions. We need to worry about the waste and misuse of this plasticity , and how it is dirtying the fabric of society. Minds need to be taught to think and not just follow. No amount of government protocols, fatwas, threats etc may work. It must happen at the level of family and community. Excessive uncontrolled plasticity of a mind is the worst side effect that our neuroplastic brains can have.

I wonder if we are plastic enough to try ?