Sunday, March 27, 2011

Growing Old.

She still likes to get up and eat ice cream in the night, sometimes. She loves exercise as much as Nutella, and handles both with equal aplomb. She enjoys fruit in multiples of 1 (no fractions), and doesn't think too highly of folks who share, say an apple, which she thinks should be eaten whole anyway.

She pours over fashion pages , chuckling at outlandish setups, remembering how she saw something similar in Bandra another day; audible oohs, aahs, and aais on seeing some real dressy stuff. She will occasionally pine for an oversize handbag and fill it up with stuff she doesn't need actually, because she thinks it looks good. This despite having a huge variety of bags at home. A mental pout against some one's pooh-poohing some unjustifiably and inordinately high priced stuff. A defiant turn of a magazine page in the face of all the ugly fair-and-lovely ads, with photo shopped overexposed faces.

She's never liked the typical "ladies" bikes , and she now rides what looks like a unisex bicycle to her part time work, at dawn. Fancy squarish handlebars and all, as she bends over, her backpack clutching some decently powerful clavicles and scapulae. Keeps to her side of the arterial road outside. She did that, till one early morning Honda type, swerved left enough to graze her bike, grinned and sped away, for fun, it seems. So now she walks that part of the road with her bike on the sidewalk, and makes up by riding fast later on the inside roads.

She has always been the permanent trier. Slog, jump, sweat, speed up, and you still remain that centimetre short. Of the final winning post. Be it in studies. Be it in doing up the hair. Be it in wishing the shade of lipstick was the other one. Be it her long distance glasses which she had hoped would be totally rimless, but aren't. Be it in sports.

And she has always been that child in kindergaarten, who stopped in a race , looked back, saw her friend stuck, and went back to help her, allowing both of them to trudge to the winning tape together, long after the competitive types, had bested it....

Sometimes, life gives variety. One year she participated in a twelve hour dusk to dawn, timed long distance swimming event . She had earlier been very good about practice and warm ups, and started with no thoughts other than to keep cutting through the water, arm over arm, minute after minute, hour after hour. She swam, as if in the zone, smoothly like in 5th gear on the highway, interspersed with sips of stuff given in the water by indulgent family and friends, not losing the opportunity to demand those pieces of melt-in-the-mouth chocolate, which she was convinced , powered her, to what eventually became a win.

Unusual for her.

But she came home after a thousand pats on her back, and skeptical looks from some , to a nice cup of cocoa and a decent Sunday nap. She wouldn't have to fight for the paper. She would get up when everyone had finished with it.

This year she did the event again. A year which has been known for a huge variety of pursuits for her. The practice suffered, but the urge to cut through the water remained strong. Several potential competitors chatted and asked if she was participating. Some joked and told her they would follow her closely, and pull at the last minute. It secretly tickled, that folks should be so concerned about her plans.

Somewhere after having done 9 kilometres in the water, she was the recipient of of an unintentional kick of a strong fellow swimming in her lane. She doesn't know who it is, doesn't want to know. These things happen. She looked up at those cheering her on, shook her head, and carried on.

This time, her preparation must have fallen short. Or her initial enthusiasm must have exceeded the advice that says, start slow and steady, warm up gradually. Her arm refused to come out of the water. She tried and tried. Changed the stroke. Rested the arm and just floated for a while. To no avail. They advised her not to overstress the arm, and the pain was growing by the minute.

Physical pain hardly makes her cry, but this was unbearable . She decided to abandon and come out.

This had never happened to her, ever. She was in great pain. Physical as well as mental.

The arm took no pressure. Changing into dry clothes was difficult but managed somehow. Came back to thank her friends, and wish her participating friends.

She opened her bag. She still had her chocolates inside. She gave them to the official in the next lane, so those swimming in that lane, her erstwhile closest competitors ,could enjoy the sweetness and energy.

She was walking back amidst the trees outside with her mother, who was carrying the huge amount of paraphernalia to be taken home in the car. They stopped where her bicycle was. Her mother suggested they load it in the trunk of the car and drive home. She refused. She would cycle home. If need be walk the cycle if the arm couldn't handle it on the slopes.

But as she turned to look for her cycle key, she took a deep ,disappointed but tired breath, shook her head, and looked up at her mother saying, "You know, maybe its my body telling me it is getting old ....!"

"OLD ? AT 25 ?"...............

(This was something new. Maybe she had been reading too many magazine articles. Maybe she's been seeing older folks in gyms, struggling with the weights and arms. Maybe she suddenly has, in a way grown up a bit more. After all, you never stop learning.)

Much after a warm bath, some ointment massage, some medication , icing, and a decent light meal, she was lying down , still in considerable pain , watching some program on TV, a pillow supporting the truant arm. After a while, she struggled to get up, and went into the kitchen. She took out two bowls, looked back, and waved them at her Mom, who was awake and reading something .

Nothing like a decent scoop of chocolate ice cream, after a traumatic tired day.....:-)

Don't know who is growing OLD..... things mostly appear unchanged, anyway !

Friday, March 25, 2011

The Importance of helmets.....

Manisha Devi, one of this country's National kabaddi players, who played for India, was returning home from practice, one evening, in Patna, Bihar. She never reached home. She was shot dead by a Central Reserve Police Force(CRPF) jawan, who shot her with his AK47 rifle. Why ? Because he had been asking for her phone number, and she had refused.

Two young girls from Jaipur, studying in college, and returning home from classes one evening, walking home together. Two guys riding by on a motorcycle, threw acid on their faces, and escaped. Why ? They had rejected their marriage proposal. The girls were critical, and scarred for life. The fellows lived, and were later arrested.

300 kilometres away from Lucknow, some 6 members of a family got infuriated, because the village Panchayat decided to construct a Community Hall in an open space in front of their house. They threw acid on the 12 village Panchayat members, who all suffered burns and 3 of them critically.

Not shocked enough ?

Arokia John, of Nagercoil, Tamil Nadu, was 75, and had a medical problem, which made him cough a lot. Despite the medication he was advised , there was no observable change and he continued to cough continuously. Unable to tolerate this, his son, picked a boulder, hit his father, and killed him, to stop the coughing from disturbing his sleep.

Seventeen year old Salman Asifullah Khan, was waiting at Mumbai's suburban Matunga Station, to catch a train. A fast non-stopping train sped by. Someone from the speeding train, on a dare from his friends, kicked Salman in his abdomen. While the sick minded fellows congratulated each other on their aim, Salman ruptured his liver, bled hugely, and was declared dead by the hospital 75 minutes later.

What makes people behave like this ? Did these kind of events happen earlier ? Or do we just hear more because of more mediums of communication ? Newspapers 40-50- years ago, only occasionally came up with news of gory deaths like this. One didn't hear so much in the daily course of one's life, and certainly not, say, on a busy road while going to school or work. There were violent people, serial killers, and so on, and investigations happened. But violence wasn't casually done as it is today .

Is it a function of societal evolution causing pressures ? Do some people have an unthinking automatic response to these pressures? Do people feel threatened ?

So has something unpleasant evolved in us ? Does our environment have anything to do with it ?

We need to understand how our brains have evolved.

The earliest and simplest brain, called the Reptilian brain is what we share with the birds and reptiles, and it controls the basic stuff like, hunger, temperature control, fight-or-flight fear responses, defending territory, maintaining a sense of safety, obsessions etc.

The next part to evolve was around this central 'Reptilian ' part, and is called the Limbic system.We humans share this part of the brain with cats, dogs, horses, rats etc. Their brains, and this part of our brains, are extremely similar. This mammalian brain allows us to have feelings., and has something to do with moods, memories and hormone control.

Finally, the next level of evolution has to do with what is called the cortex. This allows us humans to do things like complex social interactions, advance planning of activities, reasoning out things, learning languages and so on. Our cousins , the Chimpanzees, cannot do some of these things, as their cortexes are much smaller.

It would seem like those who perform violent acts as indicated above might have a severely badly evolved cortex, thus allowing them to base their reactions , more on the limbic part of their brain, like the cats and dogs. It might even be appropriate to say, that they do not use their reasoning systems enough in the cortex, and are given to what we call knee jerk reactions to events.

While intrinsic developmental levels of the complicated anatomy of the brain may be a factor, does the environment matter ? Does it make a difference if you grow up with saintly folks, or maybe, a house where drinking, and abuse is the norm?

Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center’s Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) Research Center have shown that in a person who watched violent programs, say on TV, those parts of the brain that suppressed aggressive behaviours, simply became less active. This is not a conjecture, but there is neurological proof. People who were repeatedly shown violent activities on TV, and their brain activity studied, were also later on given personality tests , which ended up confirming their reduced ability to controlling aggressive behavior.

Think of the onslaught of films that glamorize violence, and horror. In my childhood, we had films, but along with strict parental standards, that decided whether we needed to see a particular film in the first place, the violence in the actual films was a bit controlled. Then there was also, no television for us, bombarding us with the stuff 24 x 7.

Today, no film is complete unless it shows mindless violence (the gorier the better) and demeaning treatment of women. In the big rush to keep up with the Joneses, it has become imperative to earn more and more, and children are growing up, almost on auto-pilot with wrong settings. And this is further complicated by an attitude that applauds a male destructive child and calls him macho.

Parents are unable to give time to children in the big rush to be able to afford "more and bigger" everything.

Except possibly their brains. And the cortex.

Sometimes it is fashionable to attribute an attitude to a similar parent. Implying it is in the gene or the DNA. But even this has been proved invalid. We all carry all kinds of genes. What matters is whether a particular gene is "expressed" or in simple words ,"activated" .

Scientists at the University of Virginia, did experiments with water fleas, which are actually eaten up by fish. They bred some water fleas in an aquarium where chemicals were added to the water to simulate a fish environment in smell, feel etc. Another bunch of water fleas were bred in normal water, having nothing to do with fish. All these fleas had the same genes/DNA. It turned out that those that were habituated to the fishy smelly aquarium, developed a kind of "helmet" system , that made it difficult for fish predators to swallow them. The other flies, of course , were a meal for the fish.

Which goes to prove that environment really decides which of our genes will be "expressed" and which will lie quietly beneath.

And so, on an individual level, the importance of providing our children with the right environment , the ability to evaluate and judge the good, bad, whatever, and the guts to take an important, even possibly unpopular decision.

Sometimes I think this water fly theory even works for us as a society. Corruption and Greed has inordinately increased in our society and much of it has to do with those in power. They are the Big Fish, and we are the water flies.

But skimming around in a water body teeming with corrupt, lying, and cheating powerful predators, has allowed us , as a society, to developed "helmet" systems like the Right to Information Act (RTI), Public Interest Litigations (PIL's), informed mass protests, and so on. True, some of us water fleas get sacrificed at the alter of excessive population sizes, but by and large these are the "helmets" we have developed, from our basic gene , which is that of a learning society with empathy .

I dont really know if there is any further evolution possible in our brains. But I do know, that there is a "plasticity" that our brain has. The ability to train parts of our brain meant for a given purpose, so that they can also do something else. And that requires us to learn.

Like, we as a society , have so many abilities in innovation and manipulation of things, but we need to have enough plasticity to realize how to use it for our own good.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Twittering times

This post highlighted by Global Voices - The world is talking, are you listening?

Maybe its my proletarian background, and my idea of how an outfit's utility should be judged (Can you run for a bus in it, without getting entangled in the sleeves?).

But I despair for the nation every time they have this immense waste of time, space, yardage, not to mention money, and hold , what are hitherto known as Fashion weeks. We recently had a Lakme India fashion Week 2011, where resortwear was highlighted .

Supposedly. And someone went haywire with headwear.

Whats more, it turns out that a blog friend who actually dresses in the approved "running for the bus" fashion , and hairstyles approved by the elders (read nicely oiled ,washed , sundried and braided hair) was charged with sitting through it all and sending Twitter and Facebook updates to her clients . We will refer to the Blogfriend as Guru in what follows :

(This does not purport to be the actual twitter conversation, or even close it. Any unintended resemblance, coincidence or similarity may be attributed to my newly enhanced sense of e-humor . This line to scroll fast from left to right at the bottom of the page . )

Guru Here comes the first. Inside info. The flowers and branches have LED lights. You sneeze and they light up #jairamramesh #blogadda #lfw

B12 @Guru I thought she was practicing for the Happy Dent ad, u know , hanging from chandeliers # TVads #lfw

Guru @B12 Municipal authorities planning to use this as street lights. Doctors declare pollution as ideal for frequent sneezing. Atishoo . #newdiscoveries #jairanramesh #savemumbai #lfw

Guru Folks check out the towel ladies during the World Cup drinks break. Rolled in twos. #wc11 #lfw

A1 @Guru Didnt know Ness Wadia/Bombay Dyeing was that desperate after selling his Punjab team. #wc11 #ipl #lfw

Guru @A1 @K1 towels and turbans to match. Me thinks there is a Matching Scam #ipl #wc11 #lfw #cbi

Guru @A1 @K1 Breaking . My foot. Ouch . Not Safe. That was Preity stamping.... #lfw #ouch

Guru : Here comes the Dabba award winner. Recycled computer and TV dabbas. Color sponsored by Asian paints. and Fiskar scissors #lfw # jairanramesh #recycle

X23 @Guru @DMK Has MRF tyres entered fashion industry? Diversification ? #chennaisuperkings #mrf #srinivasan

Guru @X23 Whirlpool has commissioned the dabba saree, from its fridge packing boxes. Berger and Asian Paints tussle. #environment #lfw #uselessintherain

Guru : Just back from Backstage. Almost became part of this ladies outfit. Inspired by roadside scavengers #lfw #recycle

Ugich @guru I see she has swiped your black and white ribbon belt, wasnt that an athletics prize in school? # gurukul #scam #unmatch

Guru @ugich @piracycontrol So much plagiarism, piracy. She tried to leave for London . the Customs are investigating the wraps.# gurukul #scam #unmatch

Ugich @guru Take care,. For a moment thought she stole your braid. Maybe she did. Just check...#lfw #recycle #raddiwala

Guru Folks, 21st century headgear dedicated to AirIndia. Can see some VIP's in the audience, wiping their brows, with the passenger sachets. #lfw #aviation #airindia

AB1 @Guru Securely tied down. But wrong color. Should be Red. #lfw #aviation #airindia

CD @Guru Looks like there's a bird hit. Feathers at neck. Waise bhi its not going to take off #lfw #aviation #airindia

Guru @AB1 @CD Am planning to wear this on the flight back. Injuries possible in economy. Will fly Business Class. Yoohoo #lfw #aviation #airindia #freeupgrade

Guru We're on to the second part. Dedicated to Gaddafi. Maybe its him. See the false military honors . Thats why the mask. #lfw #libya #gaddafi #highlife

Aji @Guru Do you see how his left hand is in a sling? Camouflaged in the ribbons ? What happened ? #lfw #libya #gaddafi #highlife

Guru @Aji Coming to the stage, the ribbons were trailing behind in style. Then she got entangled. So just threw them across the shoulder. #lfw #libya #gaddafi #highlife

Aji @Guru Whats with the mask ? #lfw #libya #gaddafi #highlife

Guru @Aji Its a combination of glares, inhaler, and beer glass. Microphone on shoulder. Ideal for sudden speeches. #lfw #libya #gaddafi #highlife

Guru @Aji Aiyyo. Just bent closer to see the shoes, one of his medals fell on me. All fake. Hmm. #lfw #libya #gaddafi #highlife

Guru Folks, this one sponsored by Adarsh builders of Mumbai . Like their highrises, the model rises high . #lfw #builderlobby #adarsh

Rajd @Guru Do they expect anyone to wear this monstrocity ? Shaaa! #lfw #builderlobby #adarsh

BRakha @Guru @Rajd Any significance of the big lips ? #lfw #builderlobby #adarsh

Guru @RajD @Brakha It means they wont testify in court. Shows how the environment lobby has encircled them. #lfw #builderlobby #adarsh

Guru @RajD @Brakha Notice the dried leaves in the waist length chain. And the shameless building on the head #lfw #builderlobby #adarsh

Guru @RajD @Brakha Those loudspeaker things and vanes attached to hands. Blatant shouting and lying. And the building will stay. On her head. #lfw #builderlobby #adarsh

Guru Ever wondered what happened to the cement bags after your house repairs ? #lfw #recycle #hotair

Shanta @guru Aiyyo, where do I store the coconuts now?#lfw #recycle #hotair

Guru @Shanta Builders to designers. New linkages They've banned these on the Bandra Worli SeaLink though #lfw #recycle #hotair

Guru @Shanta Two models got out to pose, and a speeding mercedes air shockwave blew them into the sea . CBI investigates. #lfw #recycle #hotair

Shanta @guru Aiiyo ! I am shocked too. #lfw #recycle #hotair

Guru Top secret. Just revealed Unnamed sources indicate this as a cheerleaders dress for an IPL5 team #lfw #ipl #cows #

HW @Guru Pakka kya ? Which team ? #lfw #ipl #cows

Biba @Guru We're taking them to court. Cant have Cow bibs. Brand name Infringement. Stay tuned . #lfw #ipl #cows

Baburao @HW @ Biba @Guru Me Baburao. Owner of Kolhapur Kings. Bibabai can have the skirt #lfw #ipl #cows

Baburao @HW @ Biba @Guru Our models will wear nauwari. This is the necklace.#lfw #ipl #cows

Guru Sheesh. I've been hear all afternoon. And they come out with this boxed lady. With boxer shorts too. #lfw #dabba #cricket

Shanta @Guru Aiyyo ! Inspired by Ravan, no ? But why not a decent dhoti ? #lfw #dabba #cricket

Karuna @Guru @Shanta This is the new model cricket helmet. Extra gloves, chewing gum, towels in side boxes #lfw #dabba #cricket

Karuna @Guru @Shanta You can always say the ball snicked the side dabba. Not out. And the bowler doesnt see where you are looking. Ponting just placed order ! #lfw #dabba #cricket

Guru You know what, this lady walked the ramp earlier. I felt very uneasy. But I am not Page3. Just a simple Hoipolloi #lfw #ordinaryperson #manonthestreet

Guru The first sensible outfit. So representative. Of us. Mouths shut in shock. Pricetags all over clothes. Tied up in inflation. And no one to look up to ........#lfw #ordinaryperson #manonthestreet

Guru See ya folks, And no I didnt think anything was worth buying, even if they paid me . #lfw #ordinaryperson #manonthestreet

I am just wondering, why anyone would appoint someone to come and actually sit through all this ?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Change. A small recipe.

I pledge to go beyond the hour!

A lot of folks will now follow the Earth Hour movement. On 26th of March, food will be cooked early, folks returning from work (yes, like Blogadda, many work on Saturday), will either return before 8:30 pm or after 9:30 pm. Folks will light candles, and organize balcony and terrace parties, those under pressure of studying for exams, will enjoy the official respite, and most folks will continue fanning themselves will newspapers and hand fans, trying to swat away the omnipresent mosquitoes that now feature themselves in various varieties in Mumbai, thanks to the perils of "development" . At 9:30 pm. there will be a rush for the TV remote as there is a tussle between the World Cup watchers, News watchers and Saas Bahu types.

I have never really been a fan of mass projects like this. I know someone who once suggested a voluntary effort cleaning up parts of a nearby lake which was attacked by viral weeds, and now dry, was easier to clean. A couple of hours in the early morning , and a handful of folks turned up, with another few chipping in with tea for the tired folks. Cut to a time when folks held placards and chained themselves to each other, and stood on the shores of the lake, screaming about the saving, filmed by TV cameras, and a huge number of folks turned up in their protesting best. The viral weeds continued to propagate.

I have since then felt, that this has to be a lifestyle change. At some small level, at least. By each one of us.

And so we come to the story, of my friend B.

Women in Maharashtra, celebrate Makar Sankranti in January, and among other things Haldi Kumkums are held for ladies during the following period . The tradition is, that along with anointing the foreheads with Haldi, Kumkum, applying swabs of Indian attar on their wrists, and sprinkling the invited ladies with cool rosewater from specially designed traditional sprinkling holders, the ladies are also gifted, a symbolic amount grains, pulses, and even fruit, to signify the winter harvest time.

A special feature of these Haldi Kumkums in Maharashtra is the giving away of something like small new utensils, plates, glasses, bottles , plastic containers and other useful items. As a child, I would tag along with my mother and her friends , and get excited about these giveaways, which were literally called "loot" in Marathi.

B. works, and is a busy lady, and very fond of traditional forms of everything. She has a massive collection of cottons and silks, with a small collection of synthetic sarees that come out during the monsoon. A family member of hers was stuck in the huge cloudburst flooding that happened in Mumbai on 26th July, and ever since then she has made it her life's mission to reduce plastic and convince others to reduce their use too. It's easier said than done.

She was once inventorying her synthetic sarees, and decided to retire a few. What she did was managed to find someone who agreed to stitch bags for her. It was a lady who had a sewing machine at home, and was glad of the extra income. between them they designed bags, that were stitched in one piece, so that the handle was part of the main body. B got several unwanted but good synthetic sarees cut up and made into such bags. The material was soft, thin, but strong, there were few joints which could rip, and the bags were very colorful, thanks to her choice of sarees. One could fold many such bags into a small size and carry them in one's purse.

On the day of the haldi kumkum, in addition to the usual "loot", ladies were presented these bags, and requested to avoid taking plastic bags from the vendors of fruit and veggies. No utensils were gifted to the ladies.

B. even took several set of these bags to her office, and presented them to many people. So many ladies got this idea and went and contacted the lady who stitched them, till it became too much for her. So they got hold of someone else and convinced her to stitch these kind of bags after learning from the original lady.

It's a small effort, but besides reducing the consumption of plastic, it has introduced a new way of thinking, a new mindset in the folks using these. These bags are easily washable, dry very fast and so convenient; besides every woman has some sarees she doesn't like.

In my childhood, we always carried our cloth bags. Plastic bags were rarely offered; and then they were hoarded by us for their fancy printed designs. We, as a people were not polymerised then. A trip to the main vegetable market, would involve hiring a sturdy fellow with a huge tough cane basket, who would carry your vegetables for you. He earned, you saved your back, and the vegetables got home without being crushed and scratched.

Recycling of stuff was a lifestyle , and not a topic to organize conferences on. Packaging something showed your affection and not your ability to splurge on fancy papers and clips. And yes , plastic bottles, were a complete rarity. So our garbage smelt different, our seasons were well defined and according to expectation, and although we had to take preventive inoculations in school from time to time, we didn't have epidemics on the scale and variety that we see today, with every year sporting a new strain of some old disease. It was about living a biodegradable lifestyle.

Today, we live in a plastic world, with even plastic minds, which are so easy to mould and bend. The creation of plastic has its roots in the use of petroleum. Which really is the energy we need to save today. Electricity creation needs petroleum products, transportation needs petroleum, our various industries need it too. The least we can do is reduce unnecessary usage of plastic. And save that energy.

It will not happen by someone passing legislation about acceptable "microns" of plastic for bags. It will not happen by creating mounds of plastic garbage and then complaining about it not being cleared. We all know what clogged the storm drains across Mumbai, when the terrible cloudburst happened on July 26th in Mumbai. And it will not happen by hyping a particular hour on a particular Day, and then everyone jumping on a temporary bandwagon.

A small lifestyle change. Something easy to do , for everyone, in a society where tailors are available, and many homes have sewing machines. There are suburbs of Mumbai, where such things are now strictly practiced and shops have signs saying "we don't give plastic carrybags". It will take time, but I am sure there will be a change.

There is much to be done, addicted as we are to creating e-waste today, as needs have been shoved aside and they've become hobbies. We have become people who pay obeisance to obsolescence. But that's a story for another day.

The father of our Nation would be horrified at us today. I think he suspected what would happen , when he said that "Earth provides enough to satisfy every man's need, but not every man's greed".

He also said “Be the change you want to see in the world.

This was just a small idea , to make a change in your life and the world, beyond the Earth hour......for all the remaining 364 days, and more.....

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Banking of a different type.....

Many years ago, almost 12 or so, my father was scheduled for a major surgery of the prostate gland. We were asked to ensure that a certain amount of the required type of blood was available. Most Indian hospitals and blood banks, at least then, had a system, where you mobilized ,for them, the required amount of blood (never mind the blood group), before they released the necessary amount of the correct blood for your surgery.

I had been a blood donor several times in my relatively younger days , in several blood donation camps, but this was the first time I was seeing how the stuff is used by people in need.

I went around the various recommended reliable blood banks, and offered to give blood. I should have remembered, that donated blood had to have a certain quality level. The haemoglobin level in my blood, was disastrously low, thanks to years of menorrhagiaic problems,. They summarily rejected me as a donor, my mother was barred due to her age (late seventies), and there was no one else .

I had to hunt around for blood donors in a hurry, and was gratified to find a nephew and his cousin, who promptly got on to their two wheeler, and rushed to the blood bank, to donate blood for my father. The entire blood donation went off in a perfectly ordered manner, I was given a receipt paper to present on the day that the surgery was and they would release the required blood.

In my childhood, my father, who was in the civil services, would be posted at various district headquarters as the head, and he and my mother would always participate in the various health drives, inoculations, and checkup camps that would be held, as a means to encourage others to do so, and to indicate that it is a safe thing. These camps were always conducted by well equipped doctors from well known hospitals.

I learnt from observing them, and have been a blood donor several times in my college days and even much later after the children happened. And it was very natural, that as adults, my children too continued this tradition. I have always gone along just to confirm the facilities, and organizer credentials, and generally be around.

Since then, my children too have followed up, and one of them, who is in India , donates blood every year.

The place where I stay, has a tradition of celebrating a Founder's day. A blood donation camp is always organized then. By those who are deemed second level employees.

Doctors from one of Mumbai's most well known hospitals conduct this event in one of our vast halls, and what is amazing is to see students, both girls and boys pouring in throughout the day, to donate blood. The ones missing are always older middle aged men and women, so many with sedentary jobs, many of them well settled in life. Some, of course, have a health problem and are aware as to why they cannot be a blood donor. Some stay away knowingly, some, knowing my enthusiasm for this, kind of cross the road to the other side when they see me, and some are just convinced that something terrible will happen if someone pokes them with a needle.

I write this to explain the whole procedure.

You fill up a standard form on arrival where among several other questions, you indicate if you have had any serious sicknesses in the past, and when; if you take any regular medication and if so, then for what ; if you are a woman, they also ask if you are pregnant. They take your weight. They then prick your finger and a drop of your blood is dropped into a Copper Suplhate blue solution of a known strength. The rule is that a drop of blood with haemoglobin levels more than or equal to 12.5, sinks in the solution. Which makes you acceptable as a donor. (For years and years in my fifties, I used to curse the red drop of my blood that refused to sink, and they would apologize and reject me . Now the drop of blood happily sinks in the solution, but they shake their heads and reject me due to age restrictions. ).

Once this is done, they give you a sterilised small test tube, which you take to another person, who makes some notings of numbers, names, and stuff, stores the test tube , and hands you, what, is a blood bag, marked with your reference details.

You are then assigned a doctor and a station where you lie down. After the necessary checks like blood pressure etc, the doctor sets up the blood donation paraphernalia, and about 300 cc of your blood gets collected in a short time in the blood bag. It must be added that this amount of blood does NOT impoverish your body, and is made up by your clever body in a short period of time.

There are several doctors keeping an eye and attending to the donors. Once the stuff is done, they clean the needle perforation on your skin , and put a decent bandaid , fold your forearm towards your shoulder (like you do after a blood test) and ask you to lie down, relax for a while, holding your hand in that position. You get up after a while, and they offer you refreshments tea, coffee etc, at a table, where you sit with the other donors.

The aforementioned test tube will later contain some of your blood, which will be tested for severe infections like AIDS, Australia Antigen Malaria, Dengue etc. Your blood will be accepted only if there are no infections found, and only then, will it enter the blood bank.

There are people who are frightened of needles, there are people who are upset at seeing blood. It's not a permanent condition, and it is possible to change this. The first effort takes a huge amount of initiative and guts, then it is very simple. Think of all those who join medical colleges each year. Many of them cannot stand actual cadaver dissections, and they faint, and throw up. But that changes, or you wouldn't have so many doctors passing the final year.

Then there are those who have been told that weakness pervades the body if you donate blood. So they don't. Typically, a worried mother tells that to her son. And he believes it, till he goes away to college, sees his friends donating blood, takes an initiative, passes the initial checkups at the blood donation camp, and never really looks back after that.

Then you have people who suffer from unimaginable excesses of superiority. So much so that they associate superior with pure and subordinate with impure. They doubt and suspect every cup of tea from the office canteen (because the hoi-polloi drinks from it), they make a huge fuss about cleaning and smells and stuff. Someone gives them a book and they wipe it with a disposable tissue , before they open it. They suspect all injection needles, all doctors except those at 5 star hospitals, and ignore the fact that disposable syringes, and other sterilised stuff is routinely used everywhere .....

These types often have exalted ideas about their own blood, and are given to making insensitive comments about adopted children. These folks run miles from anyone talking about blood donation, always claim to be busy, unless of course the conversation is happening with people who count greatly in the scheme of career type things. In general, these folks are not worth the trouble.

I have always admired the armed forces , the police and railways when they hold camps. Their top man comes to inaugurate , and then quietly rolls his sleeves up , lies down on a makeshift patient bed, and donates his share of blood. The subordinates follow the example, and you get a whole lot of motivated people; more important, large volumes of blood collections. There are photographs. Some appear in the press. And you feel good when you read that report.

But what gets me really upset, is some boss types, that come smiling into the enclosure with measured steps, walk around the layout, hands behind, minister style, observing the foolish buggers donating their blood. They nod their heads at the folks enjoying a tiny plastic cup of tea/coffee, with the standard glucose Parle G biscuits, in a plate on the table. They then sit down, a noticeable distance away, someone offers bouquets, then tea and coffee, someone takes pictures. No questions about the volume of donors this year, the details of the collaborating hospital and so on. No speeches. Due to a severe lack of interest and knowledge.

This time there was an old lady sitting away from all this, to one side, waiting for her daughter, who had just donated blood. The youngster was resting a bit and having a cup of tea with biscuits, and waiting to collect her certificate before leaving . That would enable her to collect a free bag of blood from the state blood bank, should anyone need it in an emergency.

The old lady has been going every year, so they know her. An elderly person from the organizers came up to her, and offered her tea and a bouquet. For being a regular, it seems.

She politely declined, saying this was not a free for all social event, and that it should be restricted to those donating blood. They insisted. Then she insisted. No blood, so no tea, and no bouquet.

The voice must have carried a bit. The elderly organizer's eyes twinkled a bit.

And then some folks quietly made an exit. Sedate, powerful, ministerial style......

Monday, March 07, 2011

Celebrating Kashibai

March 20,2011 (This entry won the 2nd prize at the FemInspiration Contest hosted by Women's Web.)

Celebrating " FemInspiration" 100 years of celebrating Women's day . My entry for a contest celebrating that .... .

36 years ago, the place where I came to set up house, was considered the back of beyond, heavily wooded, a gated community, (where gate was more important than community) with just one main outer road, very few shops, but a wide range of assorted shanties that cropped up almost overnight beyond the boundary wall. One was setting up house for the first time, and looking for household help, was imperative.

That's how Kashibai entered our lives. She came to us by word of mouth.

Probably then in her early twenties, she belonged to the same village in Gujarat as her husband. The father-in-law was a railway employee, a sweeper for the Central Railway, based at Mumbai's suburban Dadar station. Although he lived in some kind of railway accommodation, he had acquired some kind of tenement near where we lived, and that is where Kashibai and her husband lived , with their young son.

The husband had some sort of temporary shift job of sweeping and cleaning on platforms , and Kashibai worked houses in the mornings , till he left for his work. A very cheerful, uneducated , yet street smart and aware lady, she understood my need to have her come very early in the morning before I left for work, 2 hours away by train. For someone who was just getting started with her own household, she had great empathy for the various disasters and mess ups that happened in my kitchen.

Then one day , her father-in-law passed away, while on duty. Once the formailities of death were completed, her mother-in-law, decided to return to her native place in Gujarat. Consequently Kashibai's husband was taken in his father's place.

Soon after that , she came and told me that she would have to leave her job at my house. Both of us were unhappy about it; me, because we had developed a relationship of trust, and she because she said I never treated her as someone lower down the so called societal ladder, which was not what she experienced in other houses .

I also learnt something then that I didn't know. About Kashibai. And her son.

Turned out, that her son was differently abled, had movement and growth problems, wouldn't be able to go to school , and so on. So far she and her husband were managing , since he would be home early mornings till she returned and she would then be home after he left. The child was well looked after .

Now that the husband's job was permanent with the Railways, with benefits and stuff , he had well defined timings, and this being his first year he couldn't afford to be absent or late.

Simultaneously, the area in our vicinity, which was hitherto considered equivalent to almost a jungle, appeared to be developing , and one could see several high rises, roads and vehicle densities increasing in the area.

Someone informed Kashibai, that larger salaries were to be had, if you worked with folks who lived there. A full day of work, at someone's house would earn Kashibai more than what she would earn in 5 houses like mine , without the travel to every different house. Some one had told her about some school in the city where her son could get some treatment and she needed to save up.

The question was where to leave the child, with both husband and wife slogging away in search of good money. And so she got one of her brothers from her native place to come and stay with them. He wanted to learn, and she promised to send him to a night school.

I wondered as to why she didn't get a female relative to come who would also manage the house and cooking, and in a way share in her own work.

Kashibai shook her head. Leaving a young woman at home , alone like this was not advisable, from the point of view of outside dangers, but also from possible family complications, that could arise from two people like her husband and the relative being left alone like this in a small house.

And so they started off. Kashibai , now working, nay slogging at a fairly upmarket house, where she was supposed to do all kinds of housework, till evening, as well as giving massages to the lady of the house. She got paid a decent sum, something that wasn't the norm in my community. Her husband would leave very early in the morning and return by late afternoon. Her brother would basically be at home during the time no one was, and look after her son, and study, for the night/evening classes that he attended daily.

Kashibai and her husband, managed some savings, and their free travel family passes, being a railway family, surely helped, when she had to take her son to the suburban Mahalaxmi station, to travel further to the Institute for the Physically Handicapped.

Kashibai and her husband are now much older and both are retired. He ,officially from his railway job, and she, after a lifetime of slogging and difficult decisions, because she was getting on in years and having some medical problems. The brother who came to stay with them, studied up to the Plus two stage, and now has a job as a peon.

I often wonder at the native wisdom inherent in everything Kashibai did.

She never went to school herself, and her husband had the bare rudiments of it. He was lucky to be bequeathed his father's job as a railway sweeper, since his father died on duty. She was really the one entity that held the family together, and in a society where sometimes education , money and an ""up"bringing" still teaches nothing to men born with silver spoons, her husband is to be applauded, for not letting his ego come in the path of anything that was decided, keeping their only child in mind.

Maybe he got his thinking from his parents . From his mother, who possibly visualized clashes with her daughter-in-law, once she was widowed, and decided to move back to her native place; and preferred to value happy relations from a distance. She and Kashibai have very cordial relations to this day, and have often helped out each other during emergency health situations.

Kashibai's brother looks back at the time he came to stay , as a time well spent, because he got a chance to study and later get a job. He always wanted to come to Mumbai. Not many people in his village got that chance then.

The little child, developing at his own destined pace, grew up , always with someone at home caring for him, and was never left in a situation where he was locked up by himself. Differently abled or not, he had a mind, and he had emotions, and these were nurtured by the whole family in an excellent way.

I wonder what would have happened if Kashibai would have come under the influence of someone who attributed her son's disability to the rage of some God, and got her entangled in a series of religious events. I wonder what would have happened if there was someone else in the immediate family who would have probably enjoyed playing a faulty spoke in the family wheel, creating problems on a different level.

I like to think that Kashibai would have faced this, with great courage, good sense, and in a determined fashion.

She doesn't even know there is an International Womens' Day. She doesn't participate in any kind of rallies where you hold placards, and hands, forming chains, and possibly walk behind some leader-type , flaunting political glares on television the next day.

We meet sometimes, by chance in the vegetable market. I ask after her son, and she asks after my children. We crib about the price of onions, milk, corruption, crowds in buses and trains, and the sad state of Mumbai's roads.

Then she goes back to her crowded home, to tackle another thing. Now that the brother is married, and his wife is expecting, Kashibai likes to fuss over the young girl's food likes and dislikes.

And I go back to mine, to prepare lunch, and possibly sit down to reading a bunch of papers and some magazines, displaying photos of extremely photogenic well made up women, posing just so, all giving their take, in back and white, on what Women's Day means to them, possibly before leaving for a seminar on the same subject, somewhere in this city....... .



Just my small tribute to the Kashibais of India, on Women's Day 2011......

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Designer winds.....

For many years, I used to think that "bottled water" was a scam.

(Maybe it still is. Who knows. If they can do fodder, 2G, 3G , games, and telecom, water should be child's play. In case it happens, remember you read it here first....).

As late as 1994, I remember going on a train trip to the northeast, and being amazed at folks going haywire stocking up on "Bisleri' under different names. We still lived in an era of old special water containers (wrapped in green felt), used in train trips, and there used to be a bit of an excitement, getting off at various stops and running to fill the water, with one eye on a train that might suddenly leave without you.

I mean, I drank tap water, boiled and cooled tap water, and sometimes filtered tap water at various points in my life, both in India and abroad. And despite the availability now, of brand names, that make you think of the Himalayas, and melted ice water, I still remain faithful to the tap. Assorted short term visitors from abroad clutch their Bisleris, and these days it doesn't bother me so much. And it's good that water is supposed to be , as they made us learn in school, tasteless, colorless and odorless. That's why the fancy name marketing......

But what does bother me is when this business of "marketing" natural stuff, is taken to ridiculous levels.

Some lady in Germany, has got cows to pass gas, and bottled that smell in a can. She sells it as Cow Fart, and some folks from very dense urban areas are paying like 5 British Pounds or US$9, PER CAN, to enjoy the "pleasure.

Apparently, those who have shifted to the cities in Germany, often crave for the smell of wet straw, barns, and intoxicating air in the vicinity of a constantly chewing herd of cattle.

They buy this can, remove some paper on top, stick their nose in, and open the can. The smell apparently transports you to an organic heaven. And you can order these cans online, saving you from polluting the air with Mercedes and Bmw laced exhausts. Carbon Credits and all that.

I see an immense opportunity for India here. In fact I can foresee a future where Germany will outsource this to us, since it will then cost them , maybe 1 British pound (including taxes), given the unlimited resources that we have in this field.

You see, Indian cows mostly eat vegetarian stuff, lots of green leafy stuff, mixed with straw and so on. German and Western cows, are offered meat. Digestion chemistry indicates, that Indian cows have to chew more, mix more saliva for a longer time in their food, and have better digestion, causing less methane gas to exit as a fart. Western cows have huge amounts of methane being exhaled. This methane is a contributor to global warming.

Our esteemed Environment Minister, Jairam Ramesh ought to be delighted with this industry outsourcing to India.

Besides , for the real entrepreneurs, the sky is the limit as far as marketing goes.

You could export Mango blossom Cow Fart, where the cows have fed in pastures in the coastal mango belt of Maharashtra, and naturally the soil will have special properties. Maybe something called Areca Cow Fart, sourced from cows wandering for food in the areca nut plantations. A special premium version meant for rich German ex-farmers could be sourced from tobacco fields on the Maharashtra Karnataka border, and this could be marketed as Gutka Fart. And you could also market a limited edition version of what could be the Nasik Onion Fart, now that onions are cheaper and probably lying around everywhere for the cows to feed on.

(Of course, Mumbai cows have been known to eat plastic bags, along with leafy stuff and food inside, as they scavenge around. So for the ordinary public, that keeps track of expenditures , they might even try introducing a cheap version of something called a Poly Mer Fart....)

The western suburb of Goregaon in Mumbai , in its infancy, was home to a huge number of cattle sheds, some of which you can still see, as you go by in a bus. A lot of milkmen , in the earlier days, would cycle with milk cans to deliver milk from these sheds every day. Consequently, and notwithstanding the real estate booms and cowshed decimation happening these days, it stands to reason that the Goregaon soil probably has a special flavor, if one might call it that.

And so it is not impossible, that the next rage in Cow Fart cans would be a special royal premium designer range, consisting of smells like Petrol Dung, Oil of Straw, U R(e)ine (reine = queen in German ?) Whiff, Dung Fire, Cement Gas, Concrete Promises etc etc.

While we are aware of the importance of cows to India, it may not be out of place to ponder over what other smells might be marketed, given that so many of our people now inhabit the western world, and might be desperately looking for these , in a terribly sanitary First world.

Like the platform smell of a newly cleaned and washed train, waiting for passengers at Mumbai's CST station.

Like the smell of drainage, sewage and destroyed mangroves between Bandra and Mahim stations of the suburban Western Railway.

Like the smell of pungent potato vadas being fried at a roadside vendor at Flora Fountain.

Like the smell of the sea and the fish at Versova.

Like the smell of Coriander, Cumin , Cinnamon, Cloves masalas being ground, as you pass by the small factories outside Kanjurmarg suburban station on the Central railway.

Like the smell of frying Ginger and Garlic when someone is cooking Biryani for Sunday lunch....

Like the smell of jasmines, in the evening at the flower market in Matunga....

And the smell of a Puja in temple, replete with roses, mogras, jasmines, camphor, incense, ghee, and milk

The smell of burning crackers at Divali

The smell of milk boiling over and cascading on to the metal stove surface

And of course, the smell of ripening mangoes, laid out on a shelf....
But I digress. What were we talking about ? Cow Fart Aroma ?

I hear one of the political parties is unionizing the cows, and they will be going in a delegation to Delhi, to sit in protest outside Parliament.

Demanding reservation.

Of green areas for them. .......

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Tough patients and straight A's.....

Doctors get trained in many specialities. Even super-specialities.

But I sometimes wonder if they have any special courses on "Geriatric Communications" for doctors.

And so what do you say of a sprightly active grandpa in his late 70's who suddenly found he couldn't sit or stand, urged his equally geriatric wife to massage all kinds of medicinal oils and mixtures on his back after having her crush some leaves by hand on a stone (no blenders and mixers allowed) ?........ And when this had no effect and he was convinced with great difficulty to see the orthopaedic doctor in the neighborhood, he rubbished all suggestions of an MRI/X-ray etc, and as a special favour agreed to show some year old X-rays to the doc ? And would you believe , the doctor, patiently explained about vertebrae, and some pain relieving medications, , as grandpa shook his head with a skeptical look , till the very perceptive doctor, brought the subject around to Yoga asasnas , which Grandpa was an expert at , and loved to talk about ? He convinced grandpa to take some pain relievers which would get back his movement in the house, and save grandma from doing all the various leaf grindings and stuff .

And what do you say about a grandpa, who although scheduled for a surgery, listened to some wrong advice from someone trying to push their own protocols, told off his original doctors at a leading hospital , in a ringing voice on the phone, cancelled his surgery, and then suffered through a plethora of infections, complicating his case, and reducing his family to helpless tears ? And when he finally, unabashed, agreed to go back and get everything done by experts at the earlier advised place, his wife profusely apologized on his behalf, to the hospital chief, a well known and highly regarded doctor. And when she wondered if they would still conduct the surgery( she would understand if they refused), the doctor said , " Why do you worry so much ma'am ? We deal with geriatric patients all the time, we know such behavioral issues. Our own parents sometimes tell us off :-) when we advise some new fangled stuff.....Please to come by and get organized for the surgery.."

And what do you say of someone in his middle eighties , getting sudden intense abdominal pain, and rushing with his daughter to the hospital, where they advise an ultrasound, after a quick physical exam. There is the usual water drinking protocol so the bladder remains full, to allow clearer ultrasound reflections; and in the middle of the whole thing , when the sonographer has found something worrying, grandpa announces he needs to go to the loo, right now, this instant , else , and tries to get up ! The sonographer has probably dealt with this before, he calms grandpa, ( all the while doing some clicking stuff on the screen ) to record the various views and details, and someone rushes with a urine pot, to the intense relief of a worried daughter..

Back at the hospital, the duty physician gets the ultrasound report, which shows an aortic aneurysm beyond the danger mark, and advises grandpa to get admitted for a complete physical to be completed in 24 hours. Grandpa rises to his 6 feet height, looks angrily at his daughter who appears to agree with the doctor, and says, " Admit her if you want, I am going home " .

His daughter meets the senior doctor the next day with the ultrasound report, and explains the attitude of her father, and profusely apologizes in advance. Her father has adamantly refused to come, rubbishing the whole ultrasound science. The doctor patiently explains the affliction , risks, dangers, and the care to be taken, and then writes a message for his geriatric patient in big letters (for cataract eyes), admiring his dedication to yoga, indicating which exercise were contraindicated and which would help, why he needed to take some medicines, so he could maintain his activity level, which was by itself amazing. The daughter is to show it to her father on her return and grandpa can call the doctor directly if he has questions. The daughter, totally overcome with his thoughtfulness, apologizes again for her father's words earlier. And the doctor says, "Please don't . This is how old folks are. My parents are the same age. They educated me , allowed me to become doctor, helped me start this hospital. But when I recommend that they undergo some pathological tests, for some old problem, my father tells me off (in my own hospital ), and rubbishes everything saying these are just new ways of making people spend unnecessary money. !....."

But then what would say about a grandpa, of 86, who slipped on the stairs , fell, with a bad injury and bleeding on the forehead; lost blood but still yelled at everyone who said he needed stitches and some antibiotics, and threw the antibiotic ointment across the room, shocking the attending doctor, a young chap, new to such things; his daughter came over from another city, and after some usual wordy duels, simply took him back with her to her house. Took him to visit her family doctor, at the local hospital, to ensure things were healing, and to ask about what things to be careful with. The daughter had briefed her family doctor on the great opposition to antibiotics. The doctor checked things out, asked how it happened, nodded , and he smiled and nodded back at her. She mentioned the antibiotics, recommended some blood tests related to anaemia/sugar etc and asked him to not go out too much in the dusty environs for some time (though walking on the terrace was OK, provided someone was with him). And before he could say anything, she said if he didn't take the medicines, she would have to admit him as an inpatient and give the meds intravenously through a drip.......

It worked like magic. Grandpa liked the doctor, didn't want to antagonize her, nodded, and returned home with his daughter, quietly at peace with the antibiotics for the next 5 days. He did the blood tests with a smile, which became wider on seeing the results. The wound healed well, and he came to see the doctor again before he insisted on returning to his own house. Much thanking and smiling.

I don't know whether any of these doctors took geriatric communication classes in medical college. If they did, they probably got straight A's, thanks to their own family experiences.....

Grandpa returned to his own house, well healed and yet a bit weak.

Turns out that Grandma, used to know her daughter's family doctor.

Grandma was now no more , but she would have smiled and highly approved this doctor's way of dealing with this geriatric patient....

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The 38 year old challenge ....

Just joined Thursday Challenge !

Todays theme is "CARS" (New, Old, Sedans, Convertibles, Station Wagons, Sports,...)"

Thanks to a suggestion by IHM, reposting an old favorite :

Return of the fighting Fi(a)t