Wednesday, September 28, 2011


The phrase, "What a woman !"  has multiple applications, as I discovered.  The message  widely varies depending the situation, the person saying it, the object of the remark, and so on.

A crematorium in a biggish city.  Mid morning winter sun streaming in through the old trees  on the river bank, where the crematorium stands. A friend had lost her only remaining parent, her father.  Relatives, and friends were gathered around, and there was much whispering. There were no male offspring of the deceased To some it mattered a lot.

She stood purposefully by her father's body. She would accompany him upto his last moments as a physical being, whether in life or death.  There was some discussion. Who would perform the few formalities that were considered the last rites  She spoke up and said she would.

There was some sudden dissension in the group. Some male cousins thought this was all wrong.  Some older folks, who knew the girl and her devotion to her father, saw nothing wrong . They stood by the girl. Who went ahead and performed the formalities, and then actually gave a shoulder to the stretcher that carried her father to the electric  set up.  The so called, male cousins, walked off in a huff, even before the actual cremation,  unable to bear what they thought was an insult. 

They thought they had lost face. But didn't realize that they never had one in the first place, given their atrocious attitude.  They probably went, "Shaa! What,  a woman ? Oh no ! "  as they muttered while leaving. The rest of the group, probably stood around  the girl,  in support, remembering how she cared for her father, and went, "What a woman ! ".....

Go back several decades and imagine an illiterate girl married to a senseless violent man , in her village, at the age of 14.  He would not just beat her, but tried to completely smash her mind. They would return from family trips where he wouldn't eat anything; he would return home and ask the wife to make bhakris, regardless of how late it was. She would make some chutney for him, freshly grinding it to serve with the hot bhakri of the griddle.  He would take that, smell it, the spread the chutney all over the bhakri face, and then smash the whole thing into her face.  (She told me this story).

Today she stands on her own feet  having left him  2  decades ago. She worked houses, educated her kids, now has grand kids. She encourages her daughters-n-law to take classes and work,  her sons are gainfully employed, and she bravely supports a daughter who came away from a bad marriage, after being cheated, herself. And at the end of the day, she is always out to help people, , has learnt to talk to officers in offices, bravely, and doesn't hesitate to tell off a son if she thinks he needs it. I know so many people who would simply stand, applaud, and say ,"What a woman !  What a woman !".  (Most folks would recognize her as my  household help, S, who has been with me for 25 years, and has been extensively blogged about.)

What really will make you wonder is this true story.

Out one evening  for dinner at a neighboring suburb, we were walking  on the sidewalk , as the place was some distance away, and there was a family of 4 ahead of us.  Their little fellow skipped ahead, and the older sister followed with the parents.

Newly constructed sidewalks  often have some stuff pending, in the sense, that it is not uncommon to see a thickish pipe at an very small angle to the road, sort of protruding , instead of running just below the side walk surface.

All of a sudden, we saw the woman fall down. It was dark, and she had tripped over one such protruding pipe, and was on all fours in a split second. I think she hurt her knee very badly.

Almost instantly, her husband, in a loud ringing voice , got upset and shouted ," "What a  woman ! ("Kya aurat hai ! "~What kind of a woman is this ?).  "  

I was totally aghast. The woman picked herself up, and sat on one of the stones on the side of the sidewalk, clutching her knee. She looked up at her fuming  husband,  and in a shaking voice, held out her arm as if to say "stay out",  simply shouted  and asked everyone to stay away from her. She asked them to carry on, and that  she would do whatever needed to be done  to get self  up and attended to.  And they stood around, the children, confused, and the man, probably wondering how the words, betraying his own chauvinist  convoluted thinking came out like this.  Suddenly, as an afterthought,  the husband looked around to shout at someone, spied us , and started yelling about how people left careless construction half finished , dangerous and so on. No one was fooled, I helped the woman up , and we went out separate ways.

I saw the husband looking on dazed, as if he didn't say what he did.  (Which we all heard).

But clearly , he was  or simply pretended to be,  more bothered, about her fall hurting the Earth.

It was like, "What kind of a woman trips and falls on a rusted iron protruding pipe, when out for a family dinner ?  What a woman! Shaaa ......"

Three women. Different occasions. Three different societal strata. Same disrespect,  same abuse.

And then one wonders, why,  when enlightened parents can bring up daughters  who stand shoulder to shoulder with sons in responsibilities , guts , capabilities and so on,  does no one pay any attention to sons

Or is it that their default development, good, bad or terrible,  is always considered the gold standard ? 

Had the guy fallen after tripping on the pipe, there would have been an almighty fuss, cribbing, limping, swearing, cancelling the outing, xrays, assorted folks rushing around with ointments, ice  etc in a your-wish-is-my-command   mode.

It really has nothing  to do with money, education, or prestige.

It's the mind-set........and its careless nurturing.   


Thursday, September 22, 2011

Stem Cells of the Mind ?

Living in today's world, where obsolescence is built in , one never ceases to be amazed at the Human Body. No one really knows, absolutely everything about it.

True, thanks to brilliant instruments, amazing diagnostic techniques ,tests, and fast computer analyses, we keep learning newer and newer things about our bodies.

And the most path breaking type of research happens to be taking place in a field, which has to do with how a human is actually formed. The process, the cellular magic , that has been happening since time immemorial. Fertilization of an ovum and sperm, each loaded with what may be called attitudinal genes, equally, striving towards the formation of a human with a full complement of chromosomes.

You yourself, wonder, as you sit reading this, how that little single fertilized egg, that latched on to a caring uterus wall, actually ended up becoming you, complete with your interesting intellect, your musical ear, your nimble fingers that do origami, and your confidence, that gets a class quiet, as soon as you enter in......

At the base of everything is the amazing ability of a single cell, to subdivide, and make copies of itself. The inspiration and energy to do that comes from the instructions coded in the DNA , which sits in the nucleus of the cell. It is very interesting to notice how this process develops.

The fertilized egg, undergoes some changes before getting implanted on to the wall of the uterus. It takes about 5 days, and during this time, the embryo, is actually called a blastocyte. It develops and forms an internal set of cells, an outer set of cells, and an intermediate set. The outer ones develop into a placenta, and the pregnancy is on its way soon. But what intrigues us, is the inner most set of cells, in this 5 day period.

Once the fertilized egg implants itself in the uterine wall, the innermost set of cells, keep subdividing into copies of themselves up to a point. After which the same subdivided cells, by some precoded instruction within, start specializing. Some become brain cells, some become heart cells, some become skin, some become liver, and so on and follow a preplanned pattern to form the necessary organs, which you eventually get to see vaguely, when you accompany a pregnant dear one for an ultrasound exam.

The smart scientists have realized that the main wizards here are the cells that get created in the 5 days before latching on to the uterine wall. Why ? Because these are hitherto "general" embryonic stem cells, which, with the necessary scientific knowhow can eventually become cells that specialize in building a particular organ like the heart, or even brain.

These are called stem cells . And you end up appreciating the nomenclature, as you visualize a soft plant shoot, developing into a firm stem and later a stout trunk , which leads to the creation of a wonderful tree, complete with leaves, thorns, roots, flowers , branches and so on.

For some time now, scientists have known about the existence of special purpose stem cells , such as the bone marrow cells. One often hears of people being asked to donate bone marrow to someone suffering from a particular form of cancer. There are issues of the donors bone marrow matching that of the patient. And doctors screen the various donors for a perfect match.

Today, scientists have found, that many of our organs, eg brain, muscles, etc, have besides the accomplished trained cells , so to speak, some stem cells that lie dormant within actual organ . These cells, are activated automatically by our bodies, under specific circumstances, to repair and heal the particular organ in difficult times. How they get activated, how they lie quiet, and how much of a repair they can conduct and how well , is something that is coded in the cells, as instructions.

But the scientists are actually interested in the embryonic cells in the blastocytes. Which are , what could be called , "bahuroopi" cells, that actually at that point are general purpose embryo cells, with the capability of later on becoming special purpose cells.

Where do they get these cells ?

Thanks to In vitro fertilization techniques today, once a fertilized egg is implanted in a woman's uterus, and is likely to thrive, most of the extra fertilized eggs in the petri dish, would be going waste. These instead , now make it to various Life Sciences Labs , where they are preserved and studied , and the secret of how they can be made to specialize is deciphered.

Once we know that we can make the general purpose stem cells into special purpose stem cells, we need to realize that the sky is the limit as far as usage goes.

So many older people today suffer from things like Alzheimer's disease, and Parkinson's disease, which are caused due to the death of certain cells in our brains. An ability to utilize the stem cells here, would be a gift from the Gods for these geriatric patients.

Diabetes which is now rampant, is often caused by non working insulin producing cells in the pancreas. Those that suffer from Type 1 diabetes, because of this, often suffer from an early age, and must take medications/injections for life, that cause other restrictions and complications in other bodily functions. Just think what a wonderful future these folks could have, if we could introduce in their pancreas, stem cells that not only produce insulin themselves, but multiply and make copies of themselves.

There are so many diseases , like Multiple Sclerosis , again a life changing disease, which has to do with nerve cells deficient or even missing something called myelin. Stem cell therapy for such a situation is also being studied. Burn patients, could get a new life, if we could implant stem cells, that are trained to become skin cells. So very relevant in our country where the current census is showing up a skewed sex ratio, and women's issues are still dictated by misinformed ultra conservative male gramsabha heads.

So stem cells therapy , if we learn the intricacies of it all, is likely to become the technology of the 21st century . It certainly will not be something in pill form, but will be a careful procedure, carried out under proper medical supervision. Very recently, scientists have found that one can harvest these embryonic stem cells from the cord blood, soon after a baby is delivered. Several companies now offer to store these cells for your child's future.

We can look forward to our favourite cricketers not having to undergo complicated operations to heal broken limbs and abused parts, thanks to stem cell therapy. Maybe some artist who has lost his voice will be able to regain it back, by treating the voice box with stem cell therapy. We can imagine and we can speculate.

But I often wonder, if we could repair minds. Has anyone been able to identify special purpose stem cells for the mind ? Is there a way, we can treat our criminals, and psychotic people with these ? Can alcoholism , that has destroyed so many families, be cured by treating the addiction manager in the brain with this therapy ? Does that sound Orwellian ?

Research is still on. There is the matter of the ethics in harvesting the embryonic stem cells from the blastocytes, and playing around with them. Before these kind of technologies happen in our country, there will have to be laws and rules .

But we are a strange people in this country . We do not respect laws and we revel in breaking rules. Its like a disability itself.....

Like I said before, we badly need some nurturing and repairing of hurt, and disabled minds. Our forefathers knew various forms of it, like meditation, penance, prayer, and an aptitude for leading a balanced life.

We, the modern, improved version, sorely need Stem cell therapy for the Mind.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Book Review : The Immortals of Meluha.

(I received this book as part of Blogadda's book review program.  And the coincidence was, that I had just been listening to a friend who had just returned from a trip to the Kailash Manasarovar in Tibet, and had been showing me numerous photographs she had taken there.  So when I approached the book, with the  photo of Lord Shiva on the cover, I was prepared to read about someone Godlike, without human failings , who did miracles etc.)

Author :Amish Tripathi
Publisher :  Westland Ltd. (this edition): 2011
Pages : 411. Softcover paperback.

But this was different.

This is a story about a certain civilization as it existed in India, according to the author , around 1900 BC.  Shiva is a Tibetan lad who lives on the Manasarovar shores, worried about protecting his village from invaders. Along comes a messenger from the western land of Meluha, a captain Nandi, who convinces these people to immigrate to Meluha on the West, where the Sapt-Sindhu rivers flowed.  There are special deals for immigrants, no worry about anything. And Shiva and his tribe decide to move.  To what is perceived by them as an almost perfect land.

The story is all about Shiva's discovery of this land, his understanding of its people,  the Suryavaunshis, and their societal set up.  Shiva  is idolized by the Meluhans as the Neelkanth,  because of the translucent blue patch he develops on his neck on imbibing Somras. The author develops various characters like Sati,  and Bruhaspati, who leave us in no doubt as to who they are supposed to represent. Everything supergood, must have an opposite superbad entity to keep the balance, and the Chandrawaunshis are described as a debauched tribe who now occupy Ayodhya, Lord Ram's birthplace, the same Lord Ram who is revered by the Suryawaunshis.   There are the mandatory violent attacks on Shiva and Sati, by someone defines as belonging to the Naga society. There are references to Nagas having an understanding with the Chandrawaunshis.

There are wars happening which are led and won by Shiva, giving the Meluhans the benefit of his brilliant planning and leadership.  There are self doubts and questions in Shiva's mind after he visits Ayodhya. Sati , who he has married ,is an unusual strong woman of very  strong and liberated sensibilities.

One starts out expecting this to run closely with the story of Shiva the God, who, in our mythology,  is a serious , tough God.  The author develops the story, treating Shiva as a normal human, who smokes marujuana to relax, can crack jokes and is always there for his friends,  pursues Sati with a single minded devotion, and goes through doubts and mental torment like any of us.  The author very creatively describes the origin of "Har Har Mahadev"  . Just when we think, Shiva is now finally a God,  his human qualities flutter through.

It's not a book that will keep you awake.  But you chuckle at times, after being brought down to earth from your Godly expectations.  The left brain, right brain properties of Meluha, and the Swadweep land (to the east)   respectively, and how the population lives, are very intriguing. The most heart warming episode is that of the Vikarma brigade  offering themselves and actually fighting in the war. These are people who are segregated as untouchables because their bad luck is related to their sins in their past life.  Shiva is troubled, and brings an end to the Vikarma theory.

The book doesn't end. It just pauses.  You wonder what will happen next.  But it sets you thinking. The fertile west, the troubled, disciplineless eastern lands,  the treatment of Vikrama untouchables,  the strange Maika rules that mean biological children have no relevance unless of course, you are royalty,  and the succession rules being relaxed for the existing Emperor of Meluha, when he succeeds his father, when the rule of the land is different.

It all rings a bell.  The pace of the book is a bit slow, but the author manages to get you intrigued, as you wonder how it will all end.

It doesnt really end. For that you must wait for the next book in the series.

Rating ***1/2   

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

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Wanderings of a future vestigial mind......

 vestigial  (v-stj-l):
Relating to a body part that has become small and lost its use because of evolutionary change. (American Heritage Science Dictionary )

 I've been intrigued by  vestigial organs, ever since I was plagued with a bad low back pain, several decades ago, which continues.  And as is my habit, I plagued all my doctor friends with questions.

Turns out, that we all have a tailbone, left over from the days, when we had more swinging lifestyles in jungles, and enjoyed swiping other people with tails, not to mention hanging from branches and so on with the help of tails.  I had often wondered  why a bone was there, when a tail looked so fleshy and pliable, and was amazed to know that inside a tail, there were structures similar to vertebrae in our backs.  By and by , as we became bipeds with celebrated celebral cortexes, used our front(upper)  limbs to fight and balance, the tails vanished, and what remained was , only the place to which they were attached, the tailbone.

Remember the time you tried to hold on to the floor platform edge of a moving crowded doubledecker bus as you tried to jump and climb in, and were pulled in by some good Samaritans ?

Well, if you only had not lost the Palmar Grasp reflex......

Babies have it. You hold out your finger , and their own fingers curl around it to hold tight. Even their toes curl in when you make them sit. This is an ancient leftover reflex, from the time of our monkey ancestors. Baby monkeys, clutched their mothers  at the belly with both hands and feet, leaving the mother's  both hands free, to navigate her movement away from danger. Human babies have this reflex till abut six months, after which it disappears and becomes vestigial.

Having done several leaps into moving trains and buses, and yearned for a grip at the edge of the surface,  I am just wondering if this "palmar grasp" thing can stop being vestigial and come back.

Wisdom teeth are supposed to be a vestigial throwback to the times when we nicely chewed all our vegetables,  straight off the trees, without the benefit of butter and pressure cookers.  Many people wonder why they are called wisdom teeth.  What can you say when sometimes wisdom also looks like it is becoming vestigial ?  Today these are often removed, with additional trouble. You are damned if you remove them and damned if you don't.

Remember the last time you got goosebumps ?  This is also a vestigial reflex.  Our ancestors  were hairy folks, and under stress,  the hair would stand up , and form a layer of protection, besides  forming an insulating warming layer. This would also make  the animal look larger to a predator.   Today we have evolved with not as much hair, and we mess around cosmetically, with what is left of it.  But the body skin  never forgets, and so the next time you get goosebumps after hearing a scary story, be grateful to your ancestors....

There are also some muscles in the ears which are vestigial. Macaque and other monkeys, have these muscles highly developed, and they are able to move their ears voluntarily  at will, to hear dangerous sounds better.  We too have these muscles, but they are useless. (You might think it is better to turn your ears instead of a big head to hear what others are surreptitiously saying about you, but no .)

Though it seems some folks with practice are able to move their ears at will.  But then this inability is compensated  by our ability to move our head in a horizontal plane, which is not so in most monkeys.  I've often thought we lazy humans, with our refusal to listen to wise  people, simply lost out on this ear moving ability.

Having delved into the past, I naturally worry how we will evolve into the future.

For one thing , we will definitely have uneven limbs, with one hand shorter .  Why ?

Decades and centuries, of constantly walking around with your hand to the ear, continuously talking into the phone, will harm the musculature of the upper limb. Whatever skirts the outer edge of the elbow  will kind of wear out. And whatever covers the inside edge of the elbow will be squished into oblivion. All with the permanently bent upper limb.

I am simply amazed at the people I see, on their way home from work, one hand on their bag, the other stuck to their ear, one behind the other, walking  in an involuntary rhythm, constantly talking to someone on the phone. Watch them on escalators,  food courts in malls,  buses etc.    As a "side" evolution, it may not be unwise to presume, that certain neck muscles habituated to fixing eyes on monitors and chin muscles habituated to adjusting and speaking into hands free microphones, may also decide to gracefully end their utility.

And now that we are such an advanced race, it makes sense to think of mental evolution.

The first thing that I anticipate is the enlargement of the parietal lobe of our brains , which is just above our foreheads, and  contributes to the understanding and processing of numerics, and quantities.

Notice how the human race as represented in India, now refuses to count in anything less than crores. There is an entire set of folks, with such developed parietal lobes, that they have amazing understanding about numbers and money, and how they can make both, by hook or by crook. The current stream of corruption scams this year is just a beginning.  Not for nothing, does the figure of ET, the extraterrestrial creature get designed  with a big head. 

Something else in danger of going vestigial is the rods in our eyes. There are rods and cones inside our eyes, that convey to the brain a sense of dark-and-light, and color, respectively via the optic nerve .

I can only talk about the Indian side of things, and suffice it to say, that given the national aversion to anything dark, like a complexion,  the rods in our eyes will soon become vestigial rods.  Given the tendency of our brains to  develop neuroplasticity, I presume that the cones will then takeover that job of the rods, and will be able to show the dark in all its hues and colors, instead of black and white.    The occipital lobe in the cortex at the back of the head that deals with vision issues, will simply bulge with all the overwork.

So stay tuned to see folks with huge foreheads and lumps at the back of their heads. It is clear that hairstyles will have  to change, Though the possibility of beauty standards drastically changing cannot be denied. 

 I know there is a brain area that processes thoughts and reasoning. I just wonder what part of the brain allows thoughtlessness.  That and the area that controls violent emotions  will be the next to enlarge with overuse.

And so sometime , say in 2050,  a Google image search (if it still exists then on screens) will  show folks like us  when someone searches on  vestigial brains . With what they will call small parietal lobes, excessive rods in the eyes,  equal length of upper limbs, and , maybe, just maybe, we being described as the last of the peaceful tribes.

One of our greatest scientists, whose brain was preserved and studied, Albert Einstein, Nobel Prize winner in Physics in 1921, who died in 1955, could actually see the connection between technology and evolution then when he said:

It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity.

 I think he had something else besides rods and cones in his eyes.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Headers from Over The Hill

Two women. One 78, the other 61.

Both stay about 12,000 miles apart.  They have never met.   But both have found interesting things to do post their retirement.

One in the West Coast of the US,  writes stories, and has a very popular photoblog

The other, on the West Coast of India,  started out with this blog,  then started commenting in verse on various photos that people published on their blogs, eventually encouraging her to maintain a poetry blog.

At one point she commented in verse on several photos published by the elder one.  The subsequent appreciation was so nice that she decided to try her hand at stick figures in art,  the only  innovative thing being the pictures tended to reflected  events in the elder one's life, like going camping, shifting house etc.

The other nice thing was that you didnt have to draw things in perfectly proportionate ways in the stick art. One hand could be double the length of the other, you could assume weird acrobatic postures, and it was all considered OK.   (At least , no one raised a hue and cry).

These were headers, made by the younger for the elder's photo blog,  and, I think, greatly enjoyed  .....

 The outcome of all this was that the two bloggers,  now have a blog of their own, which displays all the funny headers made by the lady in India, for the blog of the lady in the US.

Welcome to "Headers from over the Hill "  ......

All kinds of reactions are greatly welcome.  Both the ladies are fairly adept at dodging throws of the rotten type, like tomatoes, eggs etc. Luckily , and not being in "power", we will escape shoes, which appear to be currently in fashion.

Do have a look , and tell us what you think.

P. S. You might appreciate the music on that blog, which is not the Ga Ga type, but sung by people who stuck to names their parents gave them. Hmm. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

When a comment became a post .....

IHM wrote a post on how life was for women in India , who lived in the 1920's, 30's, 40's after reading a book about Women in Kerala during the same time period. There were so many interesting comments on her post with people recalling the lives of their own mothers and grandmothers. I wrote a comment too, which actually became as big as a post. :-)

Just reproducing it here....

I realize, that although the society I live in is patriarchal, matriarchs in the family have really lived amazing lives.

Like what do you say about someone born in 1919, the second child and only daughter, amongst 3 children. Her memories of her own mother were a bit hazy, as she passed away in her early childhood, after her younger brother was born. Her father, never married again, wanting to spare his children from "step-ness" . He himself had had a hard childhood, had literally studied under lamps, with great effort and dedication, and consequently risen to a good job with the government in those days. They lived in Indore then, and all his children went to school. The daughter did particularly well, and there is a gold medal in maths from some Ajmer Board, that is greatly prized in the house today. For its non commercial value.

And what do you say about someone who was sent to Pune's Fergusson College by her father to study for her degree ? Lived in what was called the Ladies Residency then. Started missing her father so much, that she once ran away back to Indore, only to have her father bring her right back. And she went on to make some lifelong friends in college, from different parts of the country.

Don't know if it was the opportunity to travel across the country, or what , but she got more than an education when she finished college. By then her father had shifted to Pune and stayed with his married son. Her marriage was fixed in 1941 with the son of a family friend. The background and attitudes towards ladies in that family were much different. Children followed.

And what do you say about what happened when she had a chance to travel abroad ? When her eldest was one year old, her husband had an opportunity to attend a university in Brooklyn. With no suggestions forthcoming from her in laws, her father agreed to take care of her year old son, and encouraged her to accompany her husband , and do a degree there herself. She travelled alone by a plane making several stops (there are photos of her with the pilot next to the plane !) en route to the US to join her husband who was already there, and a few years later returned with an MA in Child development from Columbia University. That was 1948.Another daughter and son were born, and the family with 3 children lived in Pune.

And what do you say about someone who dedicated all her energies to her childrens' education and bringing up, even maintaining a separate household in Pune for the children , when her husband was transferred to places with questionable educational facilities. Everyone was together in the holidays, allowing the children to see many different parts of India, due to their father's job. Once the kids started college, the household reverted to a single household at whichever place her father's posting took them, the last being Mumbai.

And then what do you say about how she brought up her own ? Her daughter was , like her, one of 3 children. She was given almost all the opportunities the sons got, sometimes even more. The daughter played sports, both for her school and college, in the appropriate garb , greatly encouraged by her. She herself always wore sarees, but realized her daughter's life was to be different. And it helped that they lived in a colony, where weekend mornings, someone would string a tennis net across a tennis court marked out in a large gap between two houses, and one could be treated to a sight of middle aged women women in tucked-in sarees, whacking shots across the net. (Eat your heart out, Sharapova).

And what do you say about her, who was so different , in a gutsy way. But was always involved with the extended family in various ways. She was great friends with all her husband's maternal cousins, and there was a constant flow of folks coming to stay, and various traditional functions being held to celebrate something or the other. Someone was always asking her to come along for some medical stuff happening in the family. Her mother-in-law had several sisters, and so many of them came to stay with her , much older to her , just because they liked to visit her. They liked that she drove a car in the crowded roads of Pune, and took them to visit many places.

And so what do you say of someone to whom age was just a physical count, and minds were more important. All her children decided on their own, what they were looking for in prospective partners in life, and she and the father never forced their opinion on any one in this regard, but were always available to listen and give opinions.

And finally, what do you say about someone, who although getting on in age at 83, and afflicted with typical old age maladies, still braved a 23 hour plane trip, all alone, to be present at a grandson's graduation in the US ? As avidly as she attended her her daughter's daughter's swimming races back in India, where she and grandpa loudly cheered. ?

To her education was not a label. You had to show the benefits of it. One of the biggest gifts she gave her daughter was that of strength of mind, the ability to say NO, based on your own convictions, however unpopular they may be, and to handle failure and treat it as a stepping stone, rather than something to make you collapse....

She was ahead of her times , and her life almost spanned the previous century. She passed away suddenly at the turn of the century, after a brief hospitalization, with only her daughter by her bedside.

Her daughter's family had adopted a little girl, and many years later , (when the little girl had grown up), while traveling once in a rickshaw with her own daughter, she said " You know, in your future, if you ever get the feeling that you are alone, there is no one , and so on, this little girl of yours will always be there for you. She is so young now, but she has something special. I see it in her."...

Mothers have a way of being right. I know. She was my mother.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Watching Big Brother

Time has come, to do something about this.

In city after metro city, folks go off to work, watched by their family members. And it has reached a point where no one breathes easy till the person returns home.

Somewhere, sometime, suddenly, there is a blast,  and you keep dialing numbers, and panic when no one picks up.For some unfortunate families, it means finding out that their loved one is injured and in hospital. And families and friends rush there , to help in whatever way they can. It is often not clear who is where, in which hospital, but there are huge boards put up with lists (has happened in Mumbai) , and some helpful souls also help put these online, so people can get information.

While one has nothing to say about the investigation part of these calamities, there is one uniquely Indian habit,  or should I say Indian politician habit, that we need to do something about.

Some ministers, opposition leaders, not to mention even those who hold no position in the cabinet or anything, all make a beeline for the hospitals. Spiffy white clothes, suitable expressions, surrounded by  "officials" and security, they make the rounds of wards, ensuring that TV cameras capture them as they pat the shoulder of a chap who has 3 tubes attached to his face and a bandage around his chest.  The chap's desperately worried family has been asked to step out, way outside the hospital premises  and wait. And never mind if they still do not know the prognosis, never mind if it is a child asking for a parent.  The doctors who could have attended to the huge amount of patients waiting in the Out Patients Department, walk sedately with the VIP visitors.

For what ?  Do these politicians even know anything about medicine and/or anatomy? Can they contribute anything anywhere ?  Do they ask about specific injuries and possible healing ?  Can a hand that tightly fists up when a new machine needs to be approved for a hospital,  actually empathize with the man in trauma, waiting for all of it to get over ?  The higher the post of the visitor, the more complicated the visit.

Suddenly all resources are diverted towards the visitor. Roads are blocked, traffic is halted, and that probably includes, patients in ambulances. Todays television news showed people who waited for 2 hours outside a hospital ,barred from coming in even to enquire, completely ignorant about their patient's condition, all because some minister with his posse of security was visiting.  Relatives of the seriously injured are fobbed off and asked to stay out.  Then the politicians go back and announce compensations.  There too, with an eye on votes.

I have a suggestion. Which will allow doctors and hospital to get on with their jobs.

We are now so technologically abled, that people give job interviews on Skype, use I-phones, and web cams to see family events in real time across continents. So many functions which earlier involved standing in queues, fighting with rule breakers, and  shuffling  from toe to toe while the service window is closed for lunch, are now done online by us.

Give all these ministers and MP's (including the PM), huge screens in their offices. Have some kind of cameras, massive web cam type things set up in all public hospital wards and the VIP offices. The ministers etc can talk to everyone in the hospital , ward by ward, the superintendent , doctors and so on.  Sick people in wards, who are able,  can ask the minister things and hopefully get a meaningful answer.  The camera in the ward can always zoom in on someone who the minister wants to know more about.  All you need is  one dedicated fellow who can walk around and zoom with the  camera. Television companies who advertise screen-in-screen facilities can be asked to offer expertise.  And there can be set times during the day when these VIP interactions take place. 

All these worthies in new Delhi and elsewhere, who wish to do this, can schedule their hospital interaction sessions amongst themselves.  So you can have the home minister checking with folks in the orthopaedic ward, while the PM  talks to the injured children in their ward, or the ladies ward.  Several minister types can simultaneously e-visit.  In the meanwhile patient admissions can continue unhindered  in the OPD.  You will not need posses of policemen trailing and going around with the dignitaries, dragging all the outside dirt into the wards;  worried sisters, brothers, parents can comfort those in trauma, and those hurt badly, at their bedside.

This system can even be used  where the destination is changeable.  Like  the PM , and any assorted minister type, need not waste aviation fuel and fly down to visit patients , like, after, say,  the Mumbai Monsoon deluge, or floods elsewhere. Today's news mentions the Comptroller and Auditor General of India remarking adversely about  VIP flights not being reimbursed to the exchequer.

All this will involve creation of some IT type jobs  in places like hospitals, and some hardware experts. With the increasing digitisation of scans, and tests, we already have a huge bank of qualified people, suited to a hospital environment. We have so much expertise in this, we even have a ministry for information technology.

Just think. No  sirens and cars cruising in with red beacons. No blocking of traffic,  No sudden flurry of changing dirty bedsheets in wards. No sudden issuing of blankets, hitherto declared unavailable. No shoving of family members to stand outside the hospital braving the sun and rain, till the so called VIP leaves. No automatic functional shutdowns in hospitals for the duration of the visit.

Some side benefits would be that during peaceful ordinary times too, the big worthies could check up on what is going on.

They will then see what we all see, and not just what is shown to them.

 I wonder why such a thing is not being thought of.  We have had it up to there with CCTV cameras that don't work, or films that are corrupted.  Blast after blast,  one has seen these VIP visits, which are a complete waste of time, money and knowledge.      

Of course , one anticipates huge objections to this, from the anti-big-brother-is-watching-you  type folks .   Privacy issues.  Rights issues.

But it is now time for Big Brother himself to be watched, by the public, that pays taxes, believes in him,gives him an occasional benefit of doubt, and sometimes, even votes for him.

Keep all ministers out of the equipment ordering and installing  process. Tihar Jail is anyway full.  Have this system proliferate across the country. And name someone like Mr Narayan Murthy to head the thing.

Just a suggestion , from someone, almost as old as the country, and not liking the direction in which things are going.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Repost : Virtually Real Ganpati Bappa.....बाप्पा मोरया रे .......

Reposting something, I wrote 3 years ago. It still holds.

Ganpati Bappa had decided on it , long before Dr Douglas Engelbart , invented the keyboard mouse, while working for the Stanford Research Institute. Not one for flying chariots, eagles, and the like ,he decided that the mouse was His vehicle of choice, in his endeavours to preside as the wise and problem solving God.

It's interesting to realize that in today's world, mouse clicking and pointing leads us to huge stores of information, much of which we use for problem solving and research. I can just visualize Ganpati Bappa, popping a delicious 'modak' into the mouth, chuckling and smiling , and patting his mouse on the back, and enjoying his current festival season, as he sees countless devotees rush back to their laptops and pc's after the pujas.....

She was a great admirer and worshipper of Ganpati. Every personal, educational and other milestone that the children achieved in their life, was celebrated, with a thanksgiving puja (service) to Ganpati Bappa. She followed the thanksgiving rituals, more out of a sense of gratitude, and instilling an awareness, than fear or some kind of rigid adherence to rituals. For many years, the short 2 day Ganpati celebration at their house would have a special event of some scholars reciting the Vedas, in unison,and the sound reverberated and percolated in all the nooks and corners of the house. Followed by a delicious repast of traditional seasonal and festival delicacies for everyone.

By and by , her children grew up and had their own celebrations of Ganpati Bappa across the world. After a lifetime of organizing her own Ganpati worship and festivities, she began visiting her daughter, whose children wanted to experience the whole excitement of welcoming, worshipping, celebrating, and then bidding a watery goodbye to Ganpati Bappa on immersion day.

They were relaxing one afternoon after lunch,, admiring the Ganpati decorations done by the children , and talk veered around to the daughter of a family friend, who had had a very complicated limb surgery and was learning to walk again.
This was being done in the face of a lot of questions as it was a sort of surgery that was actually not mandatory, but important to the girl. The girl was very gutsy, and they decided to invite that family over for an evening with their Ganpati Bappa, to coincide, with the girl's maiden outing after her surgery.

By the time the friends arrived, with the girl pushing her self up the ramp with her walker, wincing with pain, albeit happily, the children and grandchildren of the house, had rushed out and organized a cake with the girls name ,with "well done" inscribed on it, and there was much hiding and smiling when she arrived.

Everyone crowded around the girl, and she was completely surprised by the excitement, as they implored her to cut the cake. '

She did so, eyes full, her parents watching indulgently, the younger kids planning on which piece to aim for, and grandma landed up with a silver plate.

"Wait. Lets dedicate this as "naivedyam" (blessed food) and then you can have it. "

Cake ? Naivedyam? Eh ? (Things like cakes,with egg in them are a no-no, and almost amount to blasphemy. The naivedyam is a very traditionally defined thing).

They looked at her, perplexed; she, of the rigorous pujas and yearly Veda recitations, who always insisted on her daily interactions with Him, in a freshly washed cotton saree, just
pulled from drying on the clothesline; whose pujas were never highly audible to us, but were heard by Those in Whose honor they were done.

"You are celebrating some one's success and progress. While your own effort is very praiseworthy, remember someone Up There, who looks out for you, and remember Him in all your good times. It doesn't matter what the food item is, and what it is made of. It is the thought and faith behind it that makes things sweeter..... Just pray, virtually offer a piece to Ganpati Bappa, and then distribute the stuff."

It simplified a lot of things for her daughter, who was often confused between being religiously correct, correctly religious, following certain prevailing norms, and often reasoning out certain things by herself, in an effort to make religion and spirituality interesting and convincing .

One hears folks doing research on virtual reality today. Virtual has taken on a new meaning in this age of IT.

But thanks to Ganpati Bappa, and his virtual enjoyment of cake , many years ago, that family learned what
virtual reality could be. And was. And is.