Saturday, December 31, 2011


I just read something a FB and blogger friend posted. 

A must read ; please read this.

Today is the last day of the year. Some, looking back, thinking, and some, looking ahead, hoping, wishing.

And then it occurs to you that for some, there may not be a next year.

And so you try and think of what you and they have enjoyed together. When time wasn't an issue. And whether , now, so many years later, you can recreate that. And it really never has anything to do with the physical capabilities of the person, or for that matter, yours. 

L was in his late eighties. A whimsical determined person,  who was very fit till a year ago, and  had doctors begging him to get off the treadmill during a stress test, which he thought was a complete lark. At some point age simply caught up , and he was now bedridden . His mind sometimes played games, and he would notice people but not recognize them. Except those he saw daily.  He had tons of what he called walking friends, but not, say, a key close friend. And these were the ones he missed , along with the walking. Something he indulged in daily , in the nearby park. And he would look longingly at the park when they put him in a wheelchair and took him to the balcony, to enjoy the flowers and fresh air.  

So one  Diwali, when more family was around, they hired a stronger wheelchair, capable of handling rough pebbled roads.  He had to be lifted from his bed , onto a chair-with-wheels, and then carried down the stairs two floors, to the waiting new wheelchair. The cycle-repair man outside the gate offered to help in the lifting. And before you knew, he was settled into the chair, a monkey cap on his head, assorted  bags, and catheters hidden behind a warm shawl that was wrapped around him. The sky was getting overcast. And they wheeled him down the road to the park, much to the delight of the old fruit seller outside , and some of the neighbors. The former came over with apples, the latter smiled and waved. Some joined in.

A few minutes later he was in the park. He didn't recognize some friends, but there was a great deal of smiling and handshaking, and nodding .  There was a kind of smile on his face that you show when you smell something wonderful.  Maybe it was the flowers, the trees, the children.  And suddenly there were a few raindrops.  He came out of his dream in panic. Wanted to rush home. And one of the neighbor's kids rushed over with a huge umbrella, and held it over him. He was safe.  So many old neighbors came out to meet him, knowing that he may not recognize them.  One of them was his doctor. But it was time to go home. The raindrops , went away like they came. But the umbrella remained, and the kids. And so they reached home, and carried him upstairs.  He rested, happy , but tired. And for the first time in many days, slept well that night.  
And then , a few years later, there was T.,  a career and family woman,  unmarried,  herself in her 80's, paralyzed waist down after a massive stroke,  who had friends ranging in age from 30 to 75. Who would all come to see her and chat. Sometimes, she would get confused, and speak something repetitive. Other times, she would make a comment that would stun someone in her field of expertise, which was medicine.  What she really enjoyed in her fitter days, was going to one of Pune's best "hangouts" and enjoying excellent South Indian breakfast and coffee with her friends. This was something we did without fail when we met her on our trips to Pune. 

And so a day was quietly fixed when her family members would be there, particularly the young grandkids, and a whole bunch of us went over to the hangout place which made and packed everything piping hot and fresh for us. She was known to them, and I like to think the food had an additional special ingredient that day.  Her family was kept in the loop, and they organized the table ware. We landed up in her room, and she  greatly enjoyed her repast, amidst the younger kids tucking in , like idlis were going out of fashion, and the others doing a more sedate job, between unobtrusively trying to help her with a shaking spoon, and blaming it all on the size of the wada.  She lay back on her raised bed, tired, but happy at the scenario.  A niece-in-law came in with coffee for everyone.  T just had water.  She was really full. In body as well as mind.  The kids showed their photos and artwork, she beamed. There was a lot of ribbing happening. It isn't clear if she understood the references, but she listened, and looked at peace.

Life went on. And one day,  both L and T were no more. Their respective families  mourned and continue to mourn.

But what is remembered is not their sickness, inabilities, and  troubles, but the smile that played on their faces, their sense of belonging and fulfillment  of mind and small wishes, and the joy,  that they continued to be a part of all of us.       

I recently posted about a family friend in her 90's, who lies in a virtual coma, tubes through her nose , a prayer bead necklace clutched in her hand. Her son -in-law, regularly recites , at her bedside, some Sanskrit prayers that are her favourites. Nobody knows if she can hear. (She never responds when called). But the minute he starts the prayers, her fingers move across the prayer beads!  

And so it seems, that along with the anatomy Hardware and  the memory-managing Software that defines us, there is also something called Mindware.

Maybe all living beings have that.

This is the amazing  thing that fires up and functions, extra well, in one's  last days,  regardless of the analysed-to-bits anatomical and physical systems. 

Something that lights up the eyes, of someone , who may not see another year.

And creates wonderful comforting memories, for those who will

Mindware.  It was always there.  

Like the coming New year.  2012.

Greetings !

Friday, December 23, 2011

Counselling in the time of Stitching .......

There is a certain character Pune City has, or should I say, had,  when it was still a city with so many Peths (historical city sections) , all with their own special attitudes, based on the type of residents,  with small  lanes and ancient stone wadas , and assorted old small temples at various sudden corners, with what can only be called , shocking , obstinately given friendly names implying a sort of backslapping familiarity with the Gods.  Like Patrya Maruti , Khunya (Murderer) Murlidhar, Chimnya (Tiny ) Ganpati, Jilbya (Jilebi lover) Maruti, etc. 

There was something like a  never-give-up, keep-trying,  ignore-your-actual-imitations attitude  in the residents, and everyone lived  in the active knowledge of whatever was happening  with the neighbors. There was an attitude of bravado in how life was lived, religiously, in the vicinity of the abovementioned friendly Gods, aware of family and social responsibilities,  despite lack of space, and assorted conveniences. But a deep ancestral belief , in the historical friendly Gods.   

There were a lot of old Mom-and-Pop hole-in-the-wall type establishments that existed in the pre modernization days, which suddenly reaped a harvest of extra square-footage  in the new city development windfall. 

DD Tailors was a men's tailor's shop, that suddenly saw an expansion in those days. From a small place in a leafy lane presided over by a middle-of-the-road Shiva temple at the base of a massively spread banyan tree, it was now situated  in a new building that happened, when roads around the temple were widened for the ever increasing traffic and new buildings came up in place of the old.   Tailoring was what the old man owner knew, but he ensured that his children were educated well,  and one of them ended up doing software in the US.  He himself, continued to stitch what can be called standard, conservative style , traditional clothes for men.

And thereby hangs a tale. And was told to me by AJ.

About 3 years ago, AJ who lives in the US, and was visiting Pune , was recommended this shop for getting some traditional Indian stuff stitched, and paid this place a visit. As it often happens, there was a lot of family chitchat between discussions of measurements, yardage quality, shrinkage,  how things had changed , old Pune , etc etc. And the old man was intrigued to know that AJ lived  in the same area  as his son , who was working in the US.  When AJ went to pick up the ready clothes, the man sat him down for a cup of tea, and poured out his worries

His son had recently had an arranged marriage. The wife was with him in the US. But some new alarming facts were emerging. She had married him under false pretences, and was actually interested in someone else. An ambitious type, she looked upon this as gateway to her future, and was whiling away her time till the "someone else" got there.  Of course, her being resident in the US,  would enable her to arrange his visit.  
The son was torn between this  girl he had liked on an arranged first acquaintance, followed by more meetings and a marriage. His family liked her. And now this.  After a year of trying to find a middle path between expecting her to change, managing his own career and life pressures, and worrying about family being shocked,  he told his parents about this. In the sort of milieu in which he grew up, the D word was never an option. The interesting thing was, that the son had offered to divorce , but the girl  would refuse, because she needed to stabilize before getting her friend over.  The girl's parents simply washed their hands off, and also cut off relations with their daughter.

The old man, looked troubled, and seeing that AJ was in his early 60's and a longtime resident abroad and lived nearby to the son, poured out this story . He then asked if he (AJ)  could  generally call the couple up, speak  to them, give the lady a "talking to" ,  and help in this situation. In the age old Indian tradition, of elder community ombudsmen playing peacemakers/problem solvers, he agreed.  The worst that could happen was that he would be asked to stay out and shut up.  But there was no harm trying.

AJ himself had excellent negotiating skills, was known for them, and although he was intrigued by this assignment, his born-and-brought-up-in-the-US college going kids were totally aghast. You simply didn't call folks up and question them like this. But AJ had promised the tailor, and he would call, once. He would see how they responded.  

In any case, the call did take place. He had a nice introductory chat, introduced himself as a long time resident in the US since his twenties, with familiar references to the area of Pune where he grew and they grew up. Mentioned knowing the father. Spoke to both.  Looked like they thought he knew about US laws, rules and stuff.  He first tried to play peacemaker and help them get things back on track. The lady demurred. He then kind of picturized a bleak and tough future for the lady if she blatantly continued messing around with other's lives under false pretences, and suggested she do what she wanted, but on her own, independently and  unshackled, and be responsible for the legal consequences.

That was the first and last call. They were adults, and would figure out things. This was a gentle shove in what everyone thought was the right direction.

Cut to the  early dawn hours  in the US, 2 weeks ago. AJ's pone rang at 5 am.   It was someone who didn't realize that the time difference now was 13.5 hours, and not 12.5 hours.  It was the old tailor. Calling after 3 years.  AJ was scheduled to visit Pune, wanted to get some stuff stitched, had called the place, the old man was out, but AJ had left a message for him. And the old man was calling back.

He was calling to say that , yes, he would certainly be doing the stitching in the short time AJ would be there, discussed the fabric etc, and then  changed the subject. In a style typical of folks who grew up before the telephone calls abroad became routine,
he spoke fairly loudly in "announcement style, and in a hurry (lest the call suddenly end).

  He was inviting AJ to a family lunch in his house.  Turned out that  the son was visiting his folks. Post that famous phone call, things had been shaken up a bit, moved, possibly in the right direction, the lady had agreed to a divorce. By and by, it happened. She had moved on. No one wanted to know where. The son was now happily married to someone else , the couple was visiting Pune and would be in town when AJ came. The old man was overcome, and wanted AJ to come have lunch with them.

AJ is expected in Mumbai in a few days. He will in Pune  for a short time, with his wife. I know he will not have time for , maybe a lunch. But I think they will have an impromptu small party when he goes to pickup his stuff, the entire tailor family will be present in their silks and finery, there will be sweets, and savouries, and possibly, Mrs Tailor might  insist of presenting Mrs AJ with a fancy silk sari, with the son and his wife doing all the namskarams and feet touching amidst the tinkle of her  green and gold bangles.

Just a little bit of Divali, a little bit of Christmas, and some good times, before everyone gets back to the work at hand , in the year 2012 .......



Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Life Phantoms

Have been reading about Phantom Pains. Nothing to do with a hurt Phantom, squinting painfully through his purple mask  in the old comics. 

But these are supposed to be pains arising out of something that simply isn't there. In your body that is.

Typically experienced by someone, say, who has lost a limb  traumatically, and it has been amputated. And he still continues to feel all kinds of heat and unbearable pain in it, as if the limb is there.

Think of someone who , say, skidded , going very fast on a motorcycle in the rain, was thrown by the impact, but to complicate matters, his jacket got stuck on the handle bar etc, making his shoulder and arm muscles bear the brunt of the push and pull. The arm got badly dislocated, and the nerve connections between the upper arm and spine simply got yanked out.  (No, I am not making this up, but this is a true story.).  This resulted in the entire hand withering away, becoming useless,  when reattached back at the shoulder, and the man kept having unbearable pain, continuously in his bad arm, which was , for all purposes ,  nerve dead.     

Turns out that our nervous system functions in a convenient type hierarchy.  While the decision making properties of the Brain are supreme,  some of the instant decisions are left to what are called "nociceptive" neurons in the spinal column.

Remember how you sense the heat and instantly pull your hand away above a hot griddle , or refrain from touching it? Remember how you instinctively duck as you sense something useless being thrown at you ?  What happens, is, that in such cases, the nerve sensation travels up through the arm nerve-bunch (brachial plexus), and reaches the spinal neurons through further connections called ganglia.  These nociceptive neurons do some processing of the sensation, and act automatically, before relaying the pain message to the Brain . And they keep doing this all the time, whether we are aware of it or no. Like when we shift positions in a chair to enable circulation, or relieve strain on a particular muscle etc. We call this a reflex action.

The nociceptive neurons in the spinal cord, continue to be busy relaying pain messages to the brain, pretending they are  activating reflex actions in the limbs, even when the nervous infrastructure is completely bashed up as in the case of the fellow above.  This is the pain the brain processes, and the injured person feels.  The culprits are the nociceptive neurons, or should I say, now deceptive neurons , which have become slaves to habit, as such.

It has occurred to me that life around us is much similar to this.

We have a Head supreme person at the top , like a PM. He has all these levels of subordinates under him, all of whom, need to report to him, and sometimes they take decisions by themselves.  These could be bureaucrats, elected folks, regional heads, rural officers etc .  Even when there is sometimes no appreciable work, these guys pretend to be busy, creating a impression of work, simultaneously cheating the public in the process, by creating obstacles .  The public suffers, and the Head or the PM, continues to suffer under the misconception that his subordinates are doing truthful meaningful work.  Phantom problems (where there need to be none)  are created for the public, complicated by introduction of corrupt practices.

The question arises as to why the brain cannot take all the decisions and avoid the pesky nociceptive neurons.  The same as asking why everything cannot be handled by the PM or Head.

This will lead to long approach lines, or in the case of the body, long nerve fibres all creating chaos, connecting individually to the brain. Leaving a decision to the spinal neurons, without consulting the brain, would possibly be those few life saving seconds you needed....

And so we have a hierarchy.  Its the price we pay for evolution. For democracy. 

Unfortunately, we have no value for it.

Like middle managers pretending to the CEO of a company , to be busy with work, when there is none,  the spinal neurons  pass so many wrong,confused, and noise type signals to the CEO Brain, that the mind perceives this as a continuous constant pain in a limb , which has no sensory supply , because it is simply not there.

And so we are, as a people,  getting used to the mess created by corrupt phantoms , that complicate our lives, our law ad order and our safety.  Because democracy gives us freedom and we badly and irresponsibly abuse it.

Is there a solution ?

In medicine, there is. Neurosurgeons use cryosurgery or thermal surgery to kill off the spinal neurons left over from the accident. It's a very delicate surgery , done with a lot of care and finesse. Else there may be untold effects like paralysis or loss of one or more senses.

In life, we need to seek a solution, by proper investigation, honest decision makers, stiff punishments, and at all times, honest democracy.

Watching what is happening in our supreme legislatures, I sometimes wonder , whether this will be a sensitive careful surgery, or a random hit , hoping that magically , something improves.

If we only learned from our bodies.... 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Cars,Rats and Tobacco.....

This might be a strange post from someone who did a post on Life of the Death Stick, approximately  4 years and 9 months ago,  and got two very abusive comments, which were  left there, because of the tenor of the comments, and a wish expressed therein that "You are a @#**#@* , in need of a thrashing.......".

Reading those comments (by the same person) was psychologically and sociologically  educative.

But I then realized, that the basic plant, the tobacco plant, cannot be blamed if some over evolved, misdirected, deaf, folks, decide to use it in such  a way , so as to mess up their lungs and blood vessels big time. Once the tobacco leaves packed in a narrow cylinder play with fire , so to speak,  the game is over.  Particularly, for a fool, at the other end of the cylinder. 

There is nothing bad about the tobacco plant , per se.

Back in the old days , half a century ago, I remember  old clothes cupboards where I often came upon small sachets of some powder, which , it turned out, was tobacco powder. Contrary to what you might be thinking, no one in the house secretly smoked. Apparently, dried tobacco powder used so, was a way of keeping clothes insects and moths away.

In  recent days, one has had a dramatic demonstration of constructive tobacco use. Particularly in the week that just went by.

The ground floor of our building is for parking. And the building is nestled amidst lots of greenery, old trees,  other dilapidated structures,  and a lot of construction materials, strewn around , thanks to the urge to modernize . All these years, our 38 year old  Fiat stood in senior splendor, exhibiting all her wear and tear amidst her creaking steering wheel, gears and groaning cylinders and pistons. (Ye gads, I just described myself ! Never mind ....)

The old car is now retired  since the last two years, and gone to the native place , and its place has been taken , by a bigger modern Indian-make car.  No problems since arrival,  and I always touched wood, when such thoughts cruised through my mind.  Maybe it's a statement about the environment, maybe I touched insufficient wood, but a few days ago, rushing for some errands in anticipation of a flood of house guests, I dashed to the car to go someplace, and was shocked to see, that a full gas tank suddenly showed up at zero. The ignition key turned  and made the requisite noises, but something refused to fire.  It still showed zero gas.

Lots of phone calls, messages, and SOS's later  two guys , mechanics, on a two wheeler drove in, and looked in all the parts of the car, front, back and below , shaking their heads. Asked us if we had rats around the place. They then yanked the entire back seat from its moorings, and their eyes lit up. There was a wire junction type thing, nicely chewed up wires on one side, some of which were hanging lose.  Some circuit had been broken, and had affected the working of the gas gauge. Contrary to what I thought, no one had stolen the gas.

 Maybe rats in technological institutions have a Chewable Car Priority List, headed by , say, Korean, Japanese, and American  cars, Indian cars coming last.  No wonder they refused to have anything to do with the 38 year old Fiat , even when we once forgot to put one of the windows up.  Now that there was a new Indian car, it kind of appeared at its place in the list.  And it took the rats 2 years to actually run through the list and reach us ! 

  They (the mechanics, not the rats), decided to remove the part, rewire it, do a nice strong insulation around it all and reconnect the chewed up stuff.  The manufacturer would have had us replace an entire unit extending to the front and back. And I wanted to know  what we could do, to keep our car off the rat's Favourite Hangout list.  I wasn't looking forward to any more last minute surprises in the car, and didn't want this to happen again elsewhere.

Turns out that the solution was to keep small plastic pouches of tobacco powder (available at the local paanwalla)  strategically stuffed and strewn  at key places  in the innards of the car.  They didn't have the tobacco with them , but would get our car started, and asked us to come to their nearby garage, where they would do this 10-minute job for us.

Naturally, I had visions of something lighting up and bursting into flames inside the engine etc. But this doesn't happen if the pouches are intelligently placed . The rats hate the smell of tobacco, and amazingly, the amount that we humans imbibe against good advice, is fatal for rats, simply because of their small size.  The rats sense the tobacco and stay away .

So we now have a modern car, with automatic windows, power this and that,  decent pickup, and a body studded with tobacco pouches inside.

Driving in Mumbai often involves, sudden illogical  braking, random stops, and pushing the  engine to make it through an abnormally short traffic light, and kind of abusing the gear in which you are driving.

Yesterday, returning from a full day outing with house guests, we did all of the above while returning, very close to home,  and as we drove in,  there was a smell.  A familiar smell.

At other times, there would have been comments on woman drivers, not changing gears as required, driving with the foot on the clutch,  knocking of the engine, pushing it too hard etc etc.

This time, as I unbelted from the seat and got out, I took a deep breath, walked around the car,  sniffed again, and said, "Ah! Must be the tobacco pouches roasting ! ".... and there were heads nodding in agreement all around.



Monday, December 12, 2011

Insourcing , Outsourcing....

I am just back from visiting an old lady,  J.,  aged 90, who was a family neighbor once.  A very spirited lady, it was shocking to see her lying, so frail now, at half her normal weight, in a Fowler's bed, a tube running through her nose,  eyes closed.  I had run into her daughter and got this news, and it was difficult to believe that someone with so much spirit would see such a day.

J and her husband had no children. Early on, her own married sister, offered her own  second born  child at birth, a daughter,  to J and her husband, to bring up as their own daughter.  When the little girl  was in her teens , J lost her husband, and ended up becoming both father and mother to this girl.  By and by , the little girl grew up, became a teacher, and got married to a wonderful person.  There were mother-in-law problems and the young couple was asked to leave, strangely, the husband's house.  J opened her house and heart to them.  Grandchildren happened, grew up , even got married themselves,  and J continued making a great fuss over everyone.   Today J, tired after a full life, doted upon by every family member, lay oblivious to the world, in her own dreamtime. Her daughter had called and told us, and this is how we saw her.

I wonder how her life would have been if her own sister had not made this most precious gift of a daughter for her.  No announcements, no declarations, just a quiet, thoughtful, determined action.

And then I thought of someone else closer to me in age. Possibly quite younger, but no longer in the flush of, what we call, youth.  After many years of seeing just the couple, one was delighted to see them over the last few years, tending to a baby , enjoying its progress, milestones, and now fussing over the school annual day stuff, and running behind a little kid, trying to ride a bicycle. Much like a similar case like J's, except, here the man's brother helped.  Offered his newborn second child. With his wife's complete co-operation.   And life for this couple, changed.

Such events were fairly common in the old days. 

Solutions to life's questions were found in extended family situations.  This  philosophy had much to do with the ethos of life then.  Today , that ethos is missing. There is a lot of stress on the individual by himself/herself, as opposed to an individual as part of family group.  Consequently, the ability to see some one's success as a bit of your own, and vice-versa does not happen.  The common question that arises is "why should I....?".  and never "What can we do ?"... 

For a long time , I didn't know,  that there was  a word called "outsourcing". And when I learned about it, it took me a while to understand what it meant.  While it follows that one must know about the concept of "sourcing" before  starting to look for "outsourcing",  one didn't do so explicitly, because, it was assumed , that  you would , naturally be doing/involved in /performing your own work. If you were unable to do it, bad luck. And it probably wasn't for you. Or maybe you tried it at some other point in time,  when your capability and the time was different.  Sourcing  as a word really wasn't in my colloquial dictionary. You just got on with whatever you had to do.

Throughout my childhood, in the 50's and early 60's, unless it involved hundreds of folks visiting you at one time (like for weddings etc), I simply don't remember anyone "ordering" out for things.  Aunts, family members, friends pitched in, others dropped in to sample stuff, but stuff got done, whether it was food, flowers or whatever . Clothes stitching  , made to order by tailors was  the only thing becoming popular, and even there I remember some folks who simply did their own stitching , frocks, blouses and all, even shirts, and we kind of looked upon them with awe.When someone was sick, or an elderly sick person came to recuperate or to get medical attention and stayed with you, everyone chipped in to help. Nothing really was readymade as such, and the combined ingenuity of the entire family worked wonders . 

Today, almost everything can be ordered, or as I learnt, outsourced.  On a casual family level, even meals. And I don't mean getting someone to come daily and cook.  These are folks who come with utensils, food, serving chaps, do the dishes, and go back.  There are people who will come and clean your house, without you secretly checking if this or that corner has been bypassed surreptitiously. While in some places  you can traditionally outsource mourning to professionals, you still mourn , leaving the public manifestation to the "experts". The latest was the outsourcing of screaming delirious crowds  to welcome Tom Cruise at the Mumbai airport, here to promote his film. Paid hourly. Handsomely too. 

There are people available now for standing in line for you at various places where you get forms (night queuing extra). Unlike in my childhood, where  appearing for exams was a given, folks kept an eye on you,  those who cheated  were not applauded, examiners caught and exposed them, and word about them got around very fast.  Today, unlike the old days, there are all kinds of id-cards you need to have, but you still hear about someone who outsourced his exam-taking to someone else.  Outsourcing is a very widely held tool for getting drivers licences, and it took an hour once, for my shocked, open, gaping mouth to close, when someone casually mentioned that they had "ordered" one, from some place up north for a price.    

I thought there were fields where this outsourcing wouldn't work.   Because I realise that you cannot outsource the taking of medicine in life .  Pharmaceutical or otherwise. Giving someone else an electric shock, doesn't stop your heart from defibrillating,  and you taking iron doesn't cure someone else's anaemia. Putting a plaster on a friend's ankle doesn't cure your fracture,  someone else taking a deep breath doesn't expand your lungs.

But I was wrong.  Outsourcing had now hit medical science in a way that would have Hippocrates confused. 

I read the news item of actor Amir Khan and his wife announcing the arrival of their son.  Through the services of a surrogate mother. And it hit me, that today, you could outsource birth of your child. Like in all outsourcings, India offered cheap services compared to the rest of the world.  

I don't know what to think. This country has such a huge population, that it seems kind of silly to add to it by manipulated births.  There are so many children in orphanages, looking for a set of loving parents  and the security of a home.

But then one must give folks the right of having a kid that carries their genes.  And so those that feel strongly about this, go in for In vitro fertilization techniques, and hire a womb to see the pregnancy through.   There are issues of ethics, morality , legality, and money involved  and enough has been said about those.

But I just wonder, how a a foetus, implanted in the uterus of a rented womb, that gets its daily living nourishment from a totally unknown mother, can remain aloof from the environment. I mean, does a plant that grows inside, at the bottom of  the river Ganga, remain completely unaffected and unchanged if you transplant it into the Yamuna or Bramhaputra ? 

Nurture ( and not just nature) has been shown to matter majorly in the case of adopted children.  It is mind boggling to wonder , if the foetus absorbs anything unique from its sudden new environment where it gets comfortable over the next 280 days.

And then I ask myself, whether folks like J's sister, and the person's brother,  exist today. Whether that would be acceptable as a solution  to a couple. Whether, parents/parents in law even thought of this as a solution.  I also notice , that  as a technique or solution-of-choice, outsourcing , as such, and the alacrity with which it is embraced, kind of exponentially reduces over the years .

And then I wonder whether there will be a further scientific advance like artificial external uterii.... , or whether we will again look inward . Maybe a Western country will come up with something like what J's sister did. And they will call it by  fancy sociological name. Naturally, we will call it modern, and slavishly follow it, now that the West  has approved of the idea,

I think I am still confused.   Maybe they will call it Insourcing ?     

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Rs 585,000,00,000 ? ONLY ?

Money has always been money, with the same magnitude of importance. Whether you talk about it now, or say, 30 years ago.  The concern was the same.  All this holds true, if you belong to the unfortunate tribe classified as "general tax paying public".

When I started working,  particularly  in a government organization, 35 years ago, I was at one point introduced to the concept of "someone in audit, raising an objection ".

It's not as if millions in funds were being squandered here and there.  I was simply directed to go attend an  IT workshop at a place  about 25 kilometres away for 4 days. This was not a residential program, and would involve daily commuting.  While I was well versed in the science and art of creative bus and train travel thanks to my previous job in the city,  I was advised by "experienced folks" to check out what my transport "entitlement" was .   I was told that I was entitled to taxi fare.  Wow !

I duly attended the aforementioned workshop, kept track of  number plates of taxis , and jotted down the details, of those, the time, and the fare paid , faithfully.   On return,  in addition to doing a report for those who had recommended me for the workshop,  I had to fill up some forms for conveyance expenses.   And send them to what was referred to  by everyone I know, as "admin".

I was duly called one day, and informed, that taxi fare was simply not for me, and I was being granted rickshaw fare .  Granting  me a closed vehicle with 4 wheels, for transport, would be objected under audit rules . And I was being given the expenses for an open three wheeler .  Not that this made a dent in my meagre nonexistent  fortune, but this was my introduction to a bunch of people called "Audit".  The conscience keepers for expenses incurred and submitted for justification.  

Towards the end of my career in the aforementioned job, I once noticed a discrepancy in salary, and checked up the rules in the  book of service rules.  My doubt was confirmed, and I approached the admin types with my doubts.  The whole thing was pooh-poohed in the manner a brilliant scientist would pooh-pooh, say, me writing about  subtraction-with-carry.   I was told the various steps, that were followed ,before a decision was taken. How things went through "audit",  before implementation.   And how they couldn't be wrong.

That same evening I ran into a friend from Audit in a wedding reception we attended ,  and  between jeera rice  and  hare-bhare kababs, we chatted about this . Corporate types do the same stuff and call it networking.  Just saying.  

Something must have a rung a bell and my friend said she would check and get back to me.  The next day, I heard from her. I was right, and admin was wrong. They owed me. Some. And when I asked her if I should write out an application with n copies for redressal , she told me, that things were in process, a note had been put up by audit, and I would be getting my dues, without raising my finger, pen or voice. 

And so  I ended up having immense respect for "audit", as someone who ensures money is being spent as per rules, points out anomalies and discrepancies, and defines how to right them.

Turns out, in some cases it is never so.

The Unique Identification Authority of India, initiated its UID card project under the experienced stewardship of Nandan Nilekani, who ventured into government after a very successful lifetime innings at Infosys.   We even ended up going for our biometric  cards  thing a few months ago, and I even blogged about that !

Today, I read in the papers, that after spending Rs 585,000,00,000 (give and take a couple of zeros here and there, I am sure),  the Parliamentary Committee on something or the other has moved that this project  be abandoned/stoppedThe Home Ministry has problems with it, the Finance Ministry has problems with it.  And so,  because Parliament decrees so,  the project will be stopped.   Just like that.  And no one ever bothered about how much has already been spent on the project.

There have been loud whispers in the press about certain sections of government being unhappy with it .  Simultaneously, there were also news items indicating how so many millions of people have now been covered under this, how anyone  could open a bank account  based on this single citizen identification,  how folks get buy their grains from the public distribution system, using this , and so on and so forth.

Did someone, doing and auditing job for the government take cognisance of this ?  No.  Did so many auditing agencies of the government that operate at state and even lower levels  think of looking into this? No. Did anyone ever get National audit types like Comptroller and Auditor General  (CAG) into the picture as all this money was being spent ? No. Must we wait while all the money is completely wasted before  some watchdog wakes up and demands a report on the costs and benefits? 

Are wishes of Parliament subject to audit ?  When doubts are being expressed , occasionally in the press and elsewhere about the veracity of information , and biometric security aspects  of the UID, do we have a national auditing entity that says, "Wait. Lets look into this before we spend any more money"....?

They say the Rupee is losing its value.

Maybe in the eyes of the Reserve Bank, Ministries, and those who are , as I call them, zero-enabled (ie every additional zero enhances them). Maybe in the eyes of those to whom it is just a statistic.  Maybe in the eyes of those , for whom everything in life is paid for.

To me , the rupee still has value.

It doesn't depend on the dollar.  I keep track about what it buys for me.  How much or how how little. I am careful about how I spend it.  I  pay my taxes, like so many others of my ilk. And I agonize when I get cheated.  Because one has worked honestly and for long to earn it. 

What is really sad, is when  folks think of the magnitude of scams currently being investigated,  and say, that this quantity Rs, 585,000,00,000 "isn't that much" !

   Even half that would have built some bridges across rivers, where children have to wade through water to reach school, or built a hospital in an area where normal medical help is 24 hours and a mountain away.

What has really lost value,  is not the currency, but those folks that purport to rule us, and represent us , and  decide  how to spend the money earned from the taxes that I pay. 

I guess we stay tuned for the next. Scam, that is. 

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

The Guava Crisis....

Just came across this momentous piece of news.

Pakistani authorities  have arrested a monkey that had strayed across the border from India. 

Many things make news between India and  Pakistan, ranging from buses,  borders,  trains, ministerial talks, to  actors, actresses, singers, not to mention authors and writers, and yes cricketers.

But we do not "capture" these folks.

Yes, we  run after them, applaud them, crowd them, interview them,   make films with them, put them in TV shows,  and so on. The only folks who get treated differently, are those who arrive with guns, mostly surreptitiously, and sometimes , not so surreptitiously. 

While some events have necessitated guarding the borders in minute detail,  preventing infiltration by illegals, and  checking documents of those legal, through border posts, the concerned officials , are taking the entry of the monkey very seriously.

It seems the monkey entered  through he Cholistan area of Bahawalpore in Pakistan.
Cholistan is a desert area adjacent to the Thar desert area in India. This would have roughly qualified as an extension of Rajasthan, had partition not happened in 1947, when we got our Independence, and Pakistan was created.

It is possible, that in this dry weather , the monkey may have ventured northwest  in search of water. It is also possible, that the parents and grandparents of this monkey had not educated this fellow, about the Politics of Partition.

  Locals in Bahawalpore saw it, unsuccessfully tried to capture it, and then called security.  The poor monkey,  designated as Bobby by the Paksitanis , is now in zoological custody .

How do you know the monkey is from India ? Did it carry any documents ?  Did it have an Indian passport ?   Did it speak with an Indian accent ?  Did it ask , "Do you know who I am ?"  Did it have an RFID ? 

While officials in Bahawalpur are tight lipped about this, every effort is being made to  ascertain whether the monkey was acting alone, or was it a part of a new infiltration scheme.  Pakistan is using Google Earth to study the  network of trees with big branches  along the border, and plans are a foot  to   demand that these trees either  be trimmed or removed, to prevent further Simian Swings. Unfortunately,  the Google Earth pictures on the Indian side, hitherto clear , are currently fairly hazy .....

A committee of expert doctors in Pakistan have ascertained that the age of the monkey is 4 years, and he has currently been housed in the Bahwalpore Zoo, with another monkey, Raju, who is a Pakistani national.

A comprehensive Monkeyscan was conducted on the monkey, Bobby, to ascertain if he was carrying anything else besides his anatomy.  The President  has appointed an special investigation  committee (SIC)  and the Indian High Commissioner to Pakistan has been called for a meeting by their Foreign Office.

In the meanwhile,  certain sections of the  media in India have been reporting on a certain pigeon that had strayed into Indian airspace a few years ago and was captured, and how it was investigated by the authorities for being a carrier of messages. No one knows where that investigation report is....

Hardliners in both countries are insisting that the secretary level talks be kept in abeyance till the real facts behind the "arrested monkey" emerge.   The Indian Parliament was once again adjourned  as no one from the ruling party was able to give satisfactory answers on the Monkey episode, or MonkeyGate , as it is being called now.

Breaking news :

BNN-ICN is reporting that thanks to a cousin of Julian Assange  who has a doctorate in  Simian  Communication Systems  ,  the zoo authorities (where the monkey is in custody), were able to tap the conversation between the Indian Monkey Bobby and Pakistani Monkey Raju, over several days.  Bobby is supposed to have confided to Raju, that he had learned that Bahawalpur was famous for Guavas, and thought this was a good time to generally take a tour of the region, and get his fill of the fruit. But alas,  his greed ended up being his  problem, he was caught and localised to this zoo.

The only thing is , now that Julian Assange is like persona-non-grata here, no one in the government wants to believe  this.

I wonder what the world has come to when a small monkey hankering after a guava can trigger a crisis.     


Disclaimer : Other than the real news of a monkey being arrested  for trespassing, and stories about the pigeon long ago, everything else is the result of exercising the imagination, and any resemblance to anything in real life, is entirely coincidental, and plain magical . 

 Most of these observations are a result of the intense glossal movement in the mala or bucca. Those rolling the Occuli to Google for help.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Ambitions through the ages.....

What one aspires to be, at various points in ones life, is often a function of the person's age, his environment, and as we grow older,  the monetary benefits.  It wouldn't be wrong to say, that in urban India, it really has very little to do with a person's aptitude, unless of course you happen to be some kind of genius, artist , or a person with, say,  overpowering infrastructure systems (like some people who , as a family of four , actually slum it out in a 27 storey building, all for themselves.)

The best time to have ambitions is when you are a kid. 

Like when you lie gurgling  in a crib, amidst admiring family members , all pointing out how you resemble  them,  your real ambition, is to get that big toe into your mouth.   

My ambition in kindergarten was to be like my teacher, an AngloIndian beautiful lady called Mrs Rowe, who wore lovely frocks, lipstick, high heels, and played the piano and sang nursery rhymes with us.    This advanced to simple things later, like being class monitor, where you jotted down names of those who didn't listen to you, you got to walk with the teacher importantly to the library to lug back stuff to class.

At one point, after a visit to the Sathe Biscuit and Chocolate (then a competitor to Cadbury in Pune) factory near Pune,  and seeing a plateful of stuff  for us  , I thought it was the thing to be the owner of a chocolate factory.   I mean you just opened drawers and everything lay before you, yours for the asking.

There was also an ambition to be a skater , after watching a Abbot and Costello film where a tottering Abbot on skates, simply fell down because a little skating girl, simply blew air at him.

By and by  , reality kicked in, aptitude tests were done, advices taken, and one went to college to do pure sciences.

Many years later, in the middle  eighties, a little boy who was learning to cycle and admired the home delivery grocery boys who came on their cycles everyday ,  declared his ambition to be a home delivery chap. I mean nothing was better than cycling around the whole day, particularly when you carried a load of biscuits and chips and stuff.   By and by, he went through all the phases of police, engine driver, cricketer and so on.

The trouble happens when you leave school.   I have seen hordes vying for engineering and medicine admissions, regardless of whether they were interested or had aptitude.  Ambition was then simply about aiming to be  an engineer or a doctor.

A few years later,  business and commerce caught on, and everyone rushed to get a commerce degree, doing a chartered accountant course on the side.  Business diplomas were the most popular. Throughout all this, computers reigned supreme, and the country reeled under an IT obsession dotted with .coms.....

Today, the field has widened. There is Mass media studies, event management, law, and all kinds of stuff where folks are rushing.  An ordinary liberal  Arts degree,  sometimes suffices to get a BPO job.  Pure sciences are treated like step siblings.

Basically the fun in having an ambition has gone.   Because of the sheer numbers you  encounter. People, procedures, types of commuting, restrictions etc etc.

And then, I recently encountered a young man, who had organized a senior citizen card issuing program  as part of his membership in a political organization.

Not that folks mistake me for being half my age :-), but it helps to flash a senior citizen card, while trying to enter from the front door of a bus,  or advance to a shorter line  in a queue meant for senior citizens, at various places. You also qualify for discounted rates for tickets .

He sat at a desk flanked by large portraits of leader types, standing in benevolent poses , two flunkies on each side (of him, not the portraits), lots of forms being filled, signed by him, and  continuous calls on his several cell phones.

I wondered  if there was something else besides an altruistic gene that caused this.

And then I found out.  Stupid me. How dense could you get in your old age ?

The latest in ambitions was to become a politician , and even better still, an MP. 

I mean where else, can you enhance your assets  by 300% in 5 years ?  Where else can you vote yourself three fold hikes in salary, plus full pensions after 5 years (even if you graced the Hall only for a total of 1 day ?

  As an elected MP , you will  receive an assured income of Rs 1.3 lakh (a salary of Rs 50,000 plus constituency allowance of Rs 40,000 and office or stationary allowance of Rs 40,000) a month.  You are guaranteed , vehicle loans of 4 lakhs, at a very low rate of interest . Free petrol, free telephone, free housing,  and free shut-eye when you make unallowed changes to the housing at government cost. Furniture, electricity also paid by the state.  Free first class rail travel across the country, priority bookings, and 34 free air trips a year, for self and companion.  Even the spouse has a special travel allowance  , presumably to watch her husband, run to the well of the Parliament to protest about something.

Just for attending valid Parliament sessions , regardless of whether they are adjourned , wasted or whatever, the nation pays the MP 1000 Rs a day.   Of course, it is not all serious work . You get to be members of junkets like MP's travelling to study the use of Hindi in Norway, ways of fixing CCTV's  on the roads in London,  public transport in places like California, where there are 4 cars in a 3 member family, and say, maintenance of statues in New York, maybe ?

The nicest part of this job, is that  that , just like the Princes and Rajas of the pre independence days,  you can train, manoeuvre and  arrange for your offspring to follow in your footsteps in Parliament !

Should you stray , (and I don't mean away from the group during junkets)  in a sudden criminal moment, you will only add to the 150 MP's who have criminal cases against them in court. Should you really be suspected of committing a well documented crime , you will  then join the 73 MP's who are currently being investigated for serious criminal charges like rape and murder. Till you are convicted, you are always, assumed to be , what else, pure .

Of course, , out of the 543 MP's in Parliament today, 315, or 60% are millionaires, not all to the manor born.  And so there is a good chance that you can intern with them follow them,  and possibly be the 316th millionaire very soon.

Now who in his right mind, would want to spend years in college, commuting  like cattle in the suburban trains,  being laid off  from a job because the company is going bankrupt, standing in queues for everything,  learning the real meaning of "being taxed" , trudging through hip deep water in the monsoon, suffering power and water cuts at the height of summer, seeing fellows who never braved all this all their life, being hailed as the saviours of the nation, and being halted and troubled by avaricious police because you didn't see the light changing  behind an inconveniently placed political banner ? 

I don't blame the guy. I just hope I get my Senior Citizen card soon .....

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Back to the Future ?

I often go back and read, something I wrote a few years ago on this blog, just to see how I feel today, about what I wrote then .  Sometimes it still makes me laugh.

Am posting a link to something I wrote about what happens to one's blog after one dies .  
Read  Apres Moi- the blog or Back to the  Future .

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Learning....and how !

The two English newspapers ( also  a Marathi one) that I get daily , in my house now , are still the same two papers, that we used to get in my childhood. There was no television, we didn't have individual radios, and I had never heard about earphones.

Reading the paper was something we were encouraged to do daily, simply to improve our general knowledge, our perception about our country, as well as familiarize ourselves and improve our practice of a language, that was not our mother tongue.

One of the biggest differences between then and now, is the amount of crime related and cheating related things that are reported  now. Yes, it can always be attributed to the the wild uncontrolled population growth , and the ease with which information can travel today.   Which it couldn't before.  But that information (that never reached the papers) could not have been all bad.

Today, ordinary actions like going to school, work, or even hospital, have an element of perceived danger. You don't breathe easy till everyone who has gone out to work/study/socialize has returned home safe. Children and misled, stolen,kidnapped, women are molested, folks are cheated. It has reached a point,where we suspect almost everyone, and then we assume entire sections to be corrupt , thanks to some representative conniving types.

 I wonder, as people, why we have turned out the way we are.Why we have learned that we need to be this way . To get ahead in life.

And as always, I turn to the human body, specifically the brain , because I often think life replicates the interactions in our anatomy.

Millions of neurons in our brain play the main part in learning. Different parts of the brain process different things like visuals, sounds, information, storage of memory etc. Neurons are all over the place, and they communicate with each other through created paths/dendrites, that intersect at what are called synapses, and pass on information.

So how does one "learn" ?

Suppose there is a lady walking towards you, and someone introduces her to you as Kamla. The image of the lady is processed by one part of the brain through the neurons there, while the details being told to you are absorbed and processed by another set of neurons. The two sets of neurons are said to have "fired" , in neurological parlance. (In neurological research it is actually possible to see specific parts of the brain light up in a representative way, on the experiment screen, showing a perturbation of those neurons. Hence the "fire" terminology.)

In addition,  there is a linking that happens between the two separate sets of neurons. It's like , one set of neurons generate some type of paths called dendrites, that kind of grow and reach out to where the other set has reached out, and forge a link. Meeting Kamla again and again, kind of underscores this link, and this makes it more pucca. This "highlighting " of the link, activates all the concerned parts of the brain when you see Kamla next, and you are said to have "learned" . You can even enhance this learning , by, say, associating her voice , wherein you create additional relational links to the audio processing neuron circuits. Repetitive events that involve these neurons enhance the learning. You create and store these memories, for later use.

In the real world, as our population increased, resources were perceived as scarce. It was necessary to "learn", to stay ahead. Not the academic type, but the street fighter type.

And so, some folks, had something,  that rung a bell in their heads when they saw an opportunity to grab easy money and power. Naturally, they recognized folks who showed up with links to the same money and power. They linked, highlighted and learned. Stored this . More and More.

And so , we have people who recognise a similarly corrupt person. Like the neurons, their ambitions fire, they forge links, which get stronger and stronger. eg Kanimozhi and A Raja. The learning happens, and they can recognize a compliant person when they see one. Forge links. Favours are exchanged over synapses, and financial , corporate and real estate dendrites are extended to each other. And so we have , scams happening all over the place. And it continues, drawing in more scammy human neurons, creating and potentiating more and more dendrite paths.  But in the real world.

The old days , when the world seemed different and safer , are like our childhoods. We had started out with millions of neurons and then continued to evolve our skills and learning as children. Who we linked up with was then , a supervised affair. By family and parents and school teachers.

Today, our population has proliferated, just like the millions of neurons in our brain. It has become impossible to ascertain all the links that are getting built up in the real world, just like,  a sometimes overburdened brain, coping with all the learning.

But there is a difference.

The brain has a finite size and is not infinitely expandable. As you create more and more learning and dendritic pathways connecting the often firing neurons, a time will come when we will exceed the available capacity, or will have to kill off the obsolete low-usage neurons to make way for the new ones.

There doesn't seem to be any such limit outside in the real world. The population increases by leaps and bounds, the variety and number of crimes that are being committed keep proliferating. Today's parents, like me , are clearly an extremely worried lot , say, compared to my parents, in their time.

Are the mindless killings, natural calamity deaths, careless deaths , and accidents that we see today, similar to the kind of adjustments made by the brain, to keep out and retire less important, low-use  neurons ?

Is this evolution ?  More important, is this how it should be ? And where does this all end ?

I wonder. And worry. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

"Adjourning" Days are here again !

The esteemed Members of Parliament meet again.

For a 21 day session, and are supposed to process 31 bills , which when signed by the President, are supposed to become law.

I've never figured out how they decide the length of a Parliament session.  Ideally,  that should get clear once the work on processing the 31 bills starts off, so they get an idea of how much time it takes.

Today , Parliament was adjourned  due to the condoling of the death of two members, and later due to the usual chaos , where the opposition was supposed to be  hampering the work of Parliament. Maybe tomorrow, someone will run into the well of the house, and shout slogans, and they will adjourn  the  house again.

4 hours were lost, costing the tax payer one crore Rs.

What's a few crores here and there ?  We are looking at scams running into hundreds of thousands of crores,  the possibility of a private airline being showered with a bailout of thousands of crores, albeit through banks, almost all of them nationalized. Government  still hesitates to announce the names of folks who have stashed such large fortunes in black money abroad, that recovery of these may even fund a metro railway system for some big city.

I doubt if anyone is seriously shaken up about Parliament sessions not happening and wasting crores. 

I just have one suggestion. What is this about  having "sessions" of Parliament ? Monsoon session, winter session, summer session ?  Like the various "fashion weeks" ? 

Presumably, the government needs preparation time before presenting the bills for discussion and voting.

Now that the preparation is done prior to the winter session, ( at least I hope so),  I have a suggestion.

Why not keep Parliament is session, not for just for 21 days , but till all 31 bills are passed, no matter how long it takes.   ?

(Reminds me of my school days, when the teacher would have us sit after school, and complete stuff which was due yesterday,  and we couldn't go home till we finished. This was also used as a punishment for unruly behaviour by folks in my class. The whole class got punished for a few folks behaving stupidly.  Just saying . )

There should be no concern about cost.  MP's live in subsidized conditions.  Food in Parliament is subsidized to such a level, I am not surprised that no one bothers about rising prices of food grains,  in the life of the common man.  Living quarters subsidized, communications and travel subsidized, laptops free,  junkets free,  publicity,  free.

Let them attend Parliament  without a break.  They can always shout slogans and run up and down  into the well of the house, to exercise their limbs.   The Speaker can keep attendance  through some buttons on the MP's desks.   They can have a special 2 hour break after every passed bill. 

Currently , they are objecting to the presence of a particular Minister in Parliament, because he is presumed guilty.  Other people , ordinary ones, have been thrown into jail for less.  And no one even stopped traffic for that, forget Parliament.

So get him into Parliament sessions  on Skype.  Those who don't want to see him can simply put their laptops (free) on standby or  hibernate along with their laptops.

But, for a change, get started on the 31 bills. Debate them , discuss them , even fight, call each other names, apologize, whatever.  Process the bills.  Some will pass, some will fail, but the session will end definitively.

We cannot go into the next session of Parliament again with a backlog of bills.

Ordinary citizens having backlog of bill payments,  are penalized, hounded, and humiliated.

This is but a small  price to pay, for MP's.

Just think.

They continue doing this (adjourning and delaying) for 5 years, and by law, they can retire  with a full decent pension with all kinds of assorted benefits, you and I can never hope to see in our lifetimes......   

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

i-Rich x-Childhood vs Rich Childhood

Sometime ago we happened to be at a Mall, and I saw some great excitement happening over some great purchase, and two grown up chaps, kind of victoriously walked out with two biggish things in two bags. I was told by my daughter that they had bought something like Xbox related stuff. Then I recalled that she had once gone with some friends because one of them wanted to purchase a PlayStation something for  a young nephew, all of 5 years.

To this day, I don't know what these things are. All I know is that these are setups that allow you to play interactive games on screen. And I am puzzled. I mean if I was a small child and was shown this stuff, I would certainly be attracted to it, and would probably get crazy about it , in time. But what prompts  sensible well meaning adults, to buy such  things for kids at an age when they should be playing outside with other kids ?  is it a false sense of prestige, a halo that says "we are the IT generation" ,  or is it a desperation to keep up with the equally ignorant Joneses ?

As a child, we were never at a loss,  for games to play. None of these needed special things like racquets. A ball was easily available everywhere. Gardens abounded, people had swings in houses,  and we even had games that we invented that we could play on staircases.  Weekend early mornings, we would take off to the Parvati Hill temple ,  with art stuff and eating stuff, pretend to draw sunrises, while polishing off some decent poha and lemon juice, and cucumbers sprinkled with salt and cayenne. 

On cold winter evenings (Pune had and continues to have  a terrific winter season), it got dark earlier and as children we would watch my father doing his yoga exercises. Much to everyone's chagrin, we would wait till he did Sheershaasan (headstand), and then climb on a stool to try and put books on his inverted feet, to see if he could balance them . (He could. ).  We even tried out some stuff sitting alongside, trying to outdo his hum while he did  Pranayam. And our hum always ended in a fit of giggles.

Thousands of  moons later, when my children were small, they too had the run of the colony where we lived, climbing trees, collecting some strange beans , which they would religiously pound with serious intent, believing they were making cork balls, which they thought was what was inside cricket balls.  Cycling was learned.  There were tricycle and bicycle races, prizes, sandwiches and lemonade. There were bars to keep vehicles away from the lake (opposite which we lived then), and it was primarily used by my daughter to do various acrobatic somersaults, hanging by the feet  and stuff, till one day she fell down in her great enthusiasm, and some folks brought her home, and she had some stitches done  on her chin.  The two wheeler ramp in the building (being near the lake, it was a bit raised) was used for running down the slope with blue underwear over full pants, and a blue bed sheet tied at the neck, trailing behind you, in what everybody was told, was superman, all this often watched by an ambling cow, with a disgusting snort.

Of course,  cricket, football et al existed.  BCCI had not yet become greedy about TV rights, so much of it was played between 2 buildings , with someone's car licence plate as the stumps.

The best was when we visited the grandparents in Pune. And the ultimate was when the cousins from the US were also there.

Mornings were dedicated to climbing hills, going to the Peshwe Park near which we lived.  My father would carry and endless supply of peanuts, jaggery and cucumbers, carefully packed by my mother. These would be imbibed after everyone had had their fill of swings,slides, merrygorounds, see saws and the like.  Sometimes there was a boat ride. Sometimes an elephant ride. Sometimes they simply ran behind the elephant as it majestically strode around with passengers. Back home, grubby and once all the baths took place, there was this story session with Amar Chitra Kathas.  All of them would sit cheek by jowl on the sofa crushed against their grandfather, who told these stories with much expression and acting, and it was entertaining to see the kids' expressions change.  There were favourite stories told again and again. They believed every single word of what was happening.  They would even recite some of the smart sayings by someone , by heart.

When walking around to the park became difficult because of undisciplined traffic, my father would take the car. One time they were so taken in by the story of Hanuman tearing apart his chest to show  Ram Sita and Laxman  standing inside, smiling, that my father ended up driving them to an old temple in a crowded part of Pune, where an entire external wall depicted this event. In brilliant color. I can just imagine this whole group standing there gazing at all that,  watched indulgently by old ladies in nine yard sarees who had come for a pravachan....

Back from their evening trips, my father would retire to do his yoga exercises,  and all of them learnt quite a bit of them just observing him.  They behaved much better than I did at their age, and did not try to balance books on by father's feet when he did Sheershasan.   

There weren't any TV shows and stuff then, simply because my folks hadn't bought a TV but there was no lack of excitement.  I don't ever remember playing with guns myself as a child.

I don't remember that my kids ever played with guns. But I do remember, that someone once  presented my son with a small wooden sword and shield , and he used it to run after a cow that had crashed through our fence and was messing up ,  what passed for a garden then. I am sure the cow was not impressed at all with the weaponry, but probably played heed to the shouting.  And left in a hurry. With a snort.

At one point the weather became hot, and my father decided to take the car. Some additional kids were visiting and the whole lot piled into the little Fiat.  My father started the Fiat, and there was a huge noise, with smoke coming from the engine side.  ( The previous evening they had taken the car through a huge pothole. By accident, but the children were thrilled no end with the bumps.  Apparently the battery left its mooring and fell sideways inside the engine enclosure. They reached home, but the whole night, acid must have dripped all over inside. The next morning, the ignition switch was reason enough for something to cause a minor explosion inside. ). Nothing could have delighted the kids more. This was like the movies, which no one took them to see.

I remember all this, and then I wonder, about  there being hardly any toy shops then. 

Today, besides having a wide variety of toy shops,  we have a dedicated populace that believes that life is all about sitting in front of a screen and playing, say, tennis, tabletennis, wars, chasing soldiers , or whatever. Many of these "games" are  "battles" with "killing" and "revenge". The excuse given , is that there are very few green spaces in cities.  Kids spend the entire day in studies and tuitions.  Internet means you write stuff in SMS lingo on Facebook, and say things you wouldn't have the guts to say to someone's face.

There are so many contraptions, fancy phones, cameras, music systems and so many parents rich enough, who have money to spare to buy these for the children, but not the time.  For their children.

I just wonder who had a richer childhood .


Friday, November 11, 2011

Cutting Music .....

I have always been curious about medicine and its practice , right from the time I was a teenager.  At one point in my late 20's  I had an opportunity to observe a Cesarean section delivery. I stood some distance away,  mask and all, behind a screen, in the OT and watched.

While I gaped in wonder at the proceedings, the cuts and use of various instruments, the emergence of the baby as it was lifted out, and the stitching up of things,  I was  marveling at how confidently the doctor went about the job.  It was a bit disconcerting to realise that there was some endless chitchat happening between the surgeon and the anesthetist, and the assistant doctors. And this chitchat had nothing to do with the patient, the incision , the blood or whatever. The entire operation went off beautifully, and the surgeon and the anesthetist kept on a running discussion on some new Marathi musical play that had come, and their opinion on the actors, and the writer of the play, some various inside information someone had heard, and so on.  This was in the 70's.

Today, the sound quality of music that is played has improved tremendously.  Numerous genres of music are there,  and music has become an important part of the environment. In its conservative piped in version, it is played in banks, malls, airports, lobbies, and so on. Recently , I  had occasion to attend to someone in the ICCU of a hospital, and they even had music, for us to "wait by",  as we stayed endlessly in the waiting area , day after day.

Music as therapy for the sick, has been researched and proved beneficial. There are surgeons , who listen to favourite music in the OT,  and patients who need less anaesthesia, when they listen to music on headphones while going under.  Possibly then,  the  music crescendos, and thrust-and-parry, of say, the late Bharat Ratna Pandit Bhimsen Joshi's "tanaas",  would co-exist in the OT, in delicate contrast to the quiet, careful, studied , detailed, careful investigation into some one's innards, a cut here, a cauterisation there, a snip somewhere else, and a slapping of tools into some one's capable hands. 

 There is new research to show, that music also improves investigative capabilities of doctors.

 I have just come across this .  And I don't know whether to be amused or impressed.

As reported on Oct 31, 2011 , it says ,"Physicians who listen to Mozart while performing colonoscopy may increase their detection rates of precancerous polyps, according to the results of a new study unveiled at the American College of Gastroenterology's (ACG) 76th Annual Scientific meeting in Washington, DC."

Adenomas(tumorlike growths )  are precursors to getting colon cancer, so anything we can do to be able to  detect more adenomas in the colon, during a given procedure, will save lives later on.

The above research suggests, in simple terms,  that the mental ability of a surgeon looking for polyps in the colon reaches a peak when music is playing.

Whether it could be better enhanced by playing Beethoven, Handel,  Yanni, Abba, Beatles, A. R.  Rehman,  Lata Mangeshkar, Asha Bhosle, Shankar Mahadevan or Lady Gaga is not clear.

That there is a connection between music and medicine has been known . Apollo, the Greek god of healing, was portrayed playing a lyre.  In a survey done in UK, it revealed that 90% of the surgeons had their sound systems playing music while operating, half of those even preferred listening to high tempo rock music, and strangely plastic surgeons played the most music, and ENT surgeons the least

However, while music and surgery seems to be a win-win thing most of the time, a study done in 2008 and published in a journal called Surgical Endoscopy  revealed that novice surgeons performed less well, while music was on in the OT, because they actually thought it was a distraction.  The prospect of trying to extract a shaky mass of something from someones abdomen while listening to , say, the loud leading bars of 2001 Space Odyssey , or even a fast paced Jai Ho ! might be a trifle disturbing.   Just saying.

But the question remains.

Why Mozart ?  and why , only the colon ?  And has anyone done any experiments , playing Mozart, looking for polyps in other places , like say, the nose,  or small intestine ?  Does the outcome of investigations improve when words are put to the music ?

Research can possibly come up with so many options, specifying anatomy-music combinations. Like colon-Mozart, colon-Beethoven, appendix-tabla-percussion,  adenoids-shehnai,  stomach- dholak/drums, gullet-flute,  pancreas-harmonium and so on.

But the real fun would be when specific songs could be played for specific purposes .

Like a coronary artery Stenting  being done to the very fitting tune of Bridge over troubled Waters by Simon and Garfunkel.

 Like  Bariatric (stomach stapling) surgery being conducted to the plaintive sounds of Let-it-Be  by the Beatles.

Like a tumor being removed or excised,   as Killing me Softly , is sung soulfully by Roberta Flack.

Of course, the ideal song to be played during, say,  Bypass Surgeries, Heart Transplants and so on would be  My heart will go on, by Celine Dion.   To be followed shortly by My heart is beating  from the film Julie.

Deviated Septum (crooked nose) surgeries would be done to the tune of Himesh Reshammiya songs, encouraging more powerful straightening of the septum.

What might be considered the most intriguing use of music in medicine  can probably be attribute to consultant urologist Ben Challacombe, in Guys Hospital, London. He does delicate robotic kidney surgery. While extracting and removing a cancerous tumor from a kidney , there is a 30 minute window in which this must be accomplished.  Normally , they have someone calling out the time.  Which probably feels intimidating , so to speak. So what he does is that he has 6 , five minute music tracks playing in the OT , starting at the beginning of the window period.   The music goes along well with his surgery, and he knows at any given time where he is in that 30 minute window.

Of course there are older surgeon types, who even listen to opera while operating,  though I wouldn't want to be around there while he makes cuts here and there, as some soprano really decides to belt out high pitched arias.

There is a lot of music in the sidebar of this blog page. One of the most popular songs of Marathi Cinema currently, has to do with a lavni dancer doing her stuff, telling the hero, in  a song that goes "mala Jaaoode na ghari, ata wajale ki bara " (= Let me go home, it's almost 12 now....).......and this song is there in the play list.

If I am ever a patient in a musical OT , I'd love to have this play as they wheel me out of surgery to the recovery room.


Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Book review : "The 7 Secrets of Vishnu

I received the book, "7 Secrets of Vishnu" by Devdutt Pattanaik, (Westland, 2011)  for review, as part of the Blogadda Book reviews program.

I have read the author in his columns published on Sundays in newspapers, and have found his take on our Hindu Mythology quite intriguing.  I liked his style of writing, and so I looked forward to reading  "7 Secrets of Vishnu".

Basically this is about the seven avatars of Vishnu.  These are Mohini, Matsya, Kurma, Trivikrama, Ram, Krishna , and Kalki, and the various stories that are associated with these  in our Mythology.    It is interesting to learn, that due to the variety of regions, societies, and cultures followed in our country, there are interesting variations on the basic stories; in the sense that stories that I heard in my childhood 50 years ago, are heard with a slight variation, by someone else , say in the deep south, and maybe eastern India.

The author looks at these avatars and the various stories, as something that teaches us values:  Spiritual aspects  and Material aspects; what is essential for our proper growth and development as a society and as human beings; and what happens when we do not follow things . There are many stories one may have heard earlier or read earlier about, but here the author goes to the trouble of explaining what it is trying to imply in the way we give importance to the development of our  spiritual and material lives.

The number of different characters introduced in the initial chapters are large. It becomes a bit difficult to remember who is what. And one tends to turn back the pages to check things out. It becomes difficult to digest all the happenings.  Then there are a few clarifications. One always thought that "Devas "  were Gods who could do no wrong. The author explains that Devas and Asuras are brothers . Then again, Vishnu is defined as representing the material aspect of living, while Shiva represents the spiritual aspect . Laxmi , the consort of Vishnu (as known to us from childhood) has an intriguing role to play, that representing the materialistic aspects of life, while Saraswati , the other consort (I didn't know that; always thought she was by herself)  emphasizes the spiritual facets of living. Both are needed,  and excess of any has its own consequences.

One admires the author's ability to corelate  our basic repetitive functions of farming, sowing and harvesting  to births and deaths/killings, and rebirths. 

A few questions on Lakshmi, and her flitting from the side of Indra, to the Asuras, and then to the side of Vishnu. Where one gets the impression, that she is smitten with Vishnu, but her being there or not is just fine with Vishnu. This treatment is a bit disturbing. 

What is very new for me, is how the author describes the various Yugs, Krita Yug,Treta Yug, Dwapar Yug, and KaliYug, and shows a correspondence with the four stages of our lives on earth.  It is also very interesting to learn of the earth/Prithvi, being looked upon as a cow, standing in different balance modes corresponding to the Yugas. The most balance on four legs, during KritaYug, and the least balance  on a single leg during  KaliYug.

The author, in the course of the various chapters also elaborates on how some names have come about, which is very interesting, eg. the name Prithvi for earth.

There is so much that one can write here, and so much the author has written. It is difficult to assimilate all this in one read. You need to refer to this book again and again.   The book is illustrated with some amazingly marked  intricate figures, where the author takes the trouble of explaining the specialities of the particular God in a particular pose or avatar. 

The chapter I enjoyed the most , was that about Krishna, as an avatar of Vishnu. The childhood, the mischief, the humanness of Krishna, the maturing and departure for Mathura/Vrindavan, the firmness and stoicism about leaving his nurturers behind, the amazing mixture of tough philosophy, advice, and guidance given during the Kurukshetra war, his sense of justice at comforting Gandhari at her loss of 100 sons , and listening to her curse him. One can go on and on.    

One gets a bit overcome with the sheer number of characters, human, half human and animal type in the book.  One reading of this book is not enough. Going back and reading a particular part again, would possibly enhance one's understanding in a nonlinear way.

I think older folks will enjoy this book more, than say folks in their late 20's.

Its an amazing book.  Though I dearly wish, they had provided an index at the back  for quicker reference.  

This review is a part of the Book Reviews Program at Participate now to get free books!

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

"S." in the time of 3-day weekends....!

My household help, "S.", a hitherto greatly admired lady in the blog world (she knows I write about her), came in this morning, after what must have been a great 3 day weekend for her. She had been telling me much in advance about going away for three days at this time, so as to not inconvenience me , and so that I could mobilize for S-less days, and schedule my stuff accordingly.

S. is a great follower of the late Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, and is a Buddhist. They have a community hall in their crowded locality, where she is an office holder of the local Buddhist Women's Association. Smart, "illiterate", sensible "S.", was earlier the treasurer, and would plan the community events with great care and attention. She probably did an excellent job, despite being unable to read numbers and alphabets , because she is now the President of the group.

Some local folks recently announced a bus trip over the 3 day weekend that just got over. Folks would be picked up, and would travel to the ancestral village of Dr Ambedkar , Ambavade, in the coastal Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. After spending some time at the memorial there and visiting with his remnant family, they would then proceed to his first wife, Ramabai's ancestral village , about 50 kilometres away, at Wanand , in the Dapoli area of Ratnagiri District. The idea was to spend some time there visiting, learning about her, talking to folks, have a late tea/snacks session, and then drive and spend the night at a hill station , Mahabaleshwar, about 110 kilometres from there.

The drive,  although  not a big distance in kilometres, was through several small internal roads,  some through hilly areas, away from highways, and so quite timeconsuming.  

The amazing thing was, that her overall family budget decreed that two people could go, and her family urged S and her daughter to do this trip. They took along the eldest grandson (he went free), a very talkative,curious fellow , all of 5 years, who had started school. With a new grandson in the family and other small grandsons, this would give a break to those who stayed at home, and S told me she thought it might do the eldest fellow some good to see places around where so much history happened.

S cannot read or write, but her descriptions of the trip would make a great travelogue. Leaving at dawn in Mumbai, following the coastal highway to  Dr Ambedkar's native village , Ambavade, way inland from the coast, and they reached there at 1 pm. Visited the village center, met and spoke with a nephew (of the great man) who still lives there. A simple village lunch was organized for them. Then to visit the ancestral maternal village of Dr Ambedkar's wife, Ramabai Ambedkar, a small village called Wanand, more on the coastal part (Dapoli) of the same district.

The late Ramabai(1896-1935), was married to Dr Ambedkar when he was 17, and she was 9 , in 1906. While he left to study in England, she continued to slog and support her siblings in their ancestral village in very difficult situations. On  Dr. Ambedkar's return, she was a great support to him in his campaigns, and was with him till she died in 1935.

This trip, for S, was to see and meet people in places , she had just heard about till now. Ramabai Ambedkar is greatly revered by folks, and S wanted her grandson to also see, how the rest of the country outside Mumbai lived.

The trip wasn't all educational and serious, she said. From Wanand, they drove 110 kms, to Mahabaleshwar, a very popular hill station , in the mountainous Satara District, to spend the night there. The entire route , after the recent monsoon must have been a wonderful green.

A great day spent sightseeing, visiting river origins, the famous Venna Lake, strawberry farms and factories making delicious strawberry stuff, and it was time to return to Mumbai on the third day. (Mahabaleshwar is famous for its strawberries).

An amazing and nice change for S, where meals and lodging was taken care of,  and she could just enjoy the trip.

En route, they passed and stopped at Pratapgadh, a wonderful mountain fort, made famous by Chhatrapati Shivaji, a great Maratha warrior King revered in the state. Her young grandson was dizzy with all the mountain climbs and descents, complained of "chest pain" (if you will) , and forgot all about it the minute they spied the steps ascending to the top of the fort.

Naturally, there were a bunch of things for sale , and the fellow was hoping to buy a big toy sword and shield, costing 150 Rs much to S's chagrin.

"It's all this TV stuff. He thinks he can charge around battling with it, and its just an invitation to get into situations where someone will be hurt ", she told me. And so she convinced him that a set of binoculars was better, and he could watch the stuff from the bus, and see things like birds, and animals, and sceneries that others couldn't etc etc. He could even later see the Thane creek from the hilltop, after he got home, and show his brothers and uncles.

I was amazed at the firmness with which S dealt with this. I know kids who create a racket in toy shops till they get what they want. Regardless of price. Some parents just give up, and give in. Between the sales person's strategy, a possible new reputation as a  stingy parent, and unwillingness to become unpopular and be criticized, some attach great value to the ability to spend money easily, and substitute money for reasoned thought.

And here was S, convincing a chap to enjoy a binocular; much cheaper than the sword by all means, but certainly more useful, and shareable.

But what was amazing was what she got for my daughter, when she came in this morning. In this whole fast paced , event packed trip, she had bought a packet of strawberry chews from the strawberry factory in Mahabaleshwar ! The thrilled recipient of these goodies, took a photo of it for this blog, before it was opened , and  shared with the family and , of course , S !

All I can say is , "wow!"......