Sunday, February 26, 2012

Potholes in the Brain ?

If evolution was a long road, let me just say that we are probably now at the biggest pothole.

Nestled and protected within  temporal lobes of our brain (situated low behind our temples), are two almond shaped structures, called the Amygdala(e). They are part of, what we might call, lower brain structures along with the brain stem, and are something we have in common with all animals, like pigs, cats and so on.  The amygdala(e) manage how we deal with fear, aggression and so on.  Remember the hissing, growling and teeth baring, of an animal when threatened?   The amygdalae help us produce rage, when required, as a reaction.

However, as humans, we also evolved what is called  neocortex,  situated higher up in the skull behind the eyes, which in simple terms, is called the higher brain; which is blessed with an ability to recognize, interpret, reason out, and take a balanced view of things, based on learnings . 

Recent happenings  have forced me to question the existence and development of this neocortex, in those who take pride in calling themselves evolved humans.

Saif Ali Khan , presumably blue of blood, behaving atrociously in a a restaurant, and along with some others, physically exhibiting his oversupply of brawn, and a confused neocortex, when he does more than fisticuffs, smashes someone's nose,  and hits and pushes down folks,  closer to his late father in age.  All because he was making a lot of noise and someone asked him to pipe down.

A gentleman in a village near Satara (a prosperous district in western Maharashtra), educates his daughter  , enables her to qualify as a medical social worker; she joins one of Pune's oldest hospital , a few hours away by bus,  shares a place with colleagues,  and returns home one day to visit her folks ,  only to be bludgeoned to death at night as she slept, by her own father, because she rejected a marriage alliance arranged for her by him.

Outside the gates of the area where I live, is a huge east west arterial road of 8 lanes, and a traffic signal.While people of all ages and carrying all kinds of stuff try and hot-foot it across when the cross traffic stops for  a red signal, two days ago, around 10 pm, a biker, almost rammed into a gentleman who was crossing, because he was getting impatient and started before the light turned green. The gentleman , slightly elderly, stopped ,  and pointed the red signal to him.   The biker shoved him aside, went a few metres ahead, stopped, parked, returned menacingly, and beat the elderly guy up.  All happened  in a blink of an eye, and then folks rushed in to stop the chaos.

I wonder why Saif Ali Khan, the Satara gentleman, or the biker, are such slaves to their amygdalae.  Are their neocortexes underdeveloped ? If so why ?  Is it education ? Is it bringing up ? Is it the environment ? Is it a faulty diet ?  Is it a lack of parental attachment as a young child ?

 Saif Ali Khan was a star kid (twice, over cricket and films), "studied" in England away from his home as a child. The period in which he entered Bollywood, the popular genre has been action films, full of violence, alcohol admiration, swear words, terrorising, and power. Obscene amounts of money being paid to actors has turned their heads.  

The gentleman from Satara hailed from the place that gave us the Champion of women's education in Maharashtra, Mahatma Jyotiba Phule; but I wonder if his childhood was all about being fawned over as a son, while his sisters bided their time before being married off and left to their fate ?  It would take generations for this mindset to disappear. This man simply couldn't tackle being disobeyed by a daughter.       

What do you say about the biker, at a time when it has become a sport to race these on Mumbai's roads  at night,  traffic rules are there to be bent, till they break or you break, and the general understanding is, that if you get caught, some fancy papers exchanged normally do the trick.  The stress of commuting, delays, work, personal social problems, inadequate housing    is immense, and they think it is therapeutic to blow their top, often at the cost of someone's life .

These guys may be representative , but newspapers are full off such news stories. Gang style retributions for perceived insults,  in middle class societies, senior citizens left to wither alone in houses, ordered honor killings , and everywhere, crass displays of money, possibly black.  Desperate, desolate and depressed women ending lives by jumping from upper floors of buildings.  Relatives and neighbors, once considered trustworthy, now secret molesters , keep making frequent headlines, while other lives are marginalised.  

Are we bringing up a generation with animal instincts ?  Inability to reason ?  Are people suffering from the use-it-or-lose-it thing where their neocortexes are concerned ?   

I've read stories bout cats crying.  I've heard about dogs who listen to doctors so well, you wonder if they have a secret neocortex. 

Maybe it is now time for scientists to do experiments with human folks.  

Make them run through mazes.  

Measure their reactions when stressed with something. 

 Ascertain which part of their brain neurons fire when they are shown pictures of say,  prison, police, weapons, fire , money , and even possibly, sometimes, their families.

 Maybe they will come up with a solution. Maybe they won't.

But we will learn something, about how to control these folks.

Like the Mumbai potholes. 

There has to be a solution. Sometimes they see it, sometimes they don't.

 But we learn how to live despite them.... :-(

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Dark Optical Splendour....

Winner of the "My Sunglasses, My Style"  Contest at Blogadda 

Audrey Hepburn is supposed to have said ," My look is attainable. Women can look like Audrey Hepburn by flipping out their hair, buying the large sunglasses, and the little sleeveless dresses ..."

Hmmm. Excuse me.

That's because she never met someone like my late mother-in-law.  

There is nothing more impressive than a tall lady , with a shining translucent complexion, wearing a traditional earth colored kanjivaram saree, with a stubborn white cotton blouse, a long mangalsutra round her neck, diamonds in the ears, a decent size tikka on the forehead and a set of brown  black mafia style (the type Karunanidhi wears) sunglasses properly set on her eyes.  I have always loved these kind of sunglasses, and there was nothing more regal when she wore them, shortly after her cataract operation in her 70's , in the non-phaco-emulsification surgery days, when you emerged from the OT is sunglasses and kept them on for 10 days in hospital, while the stitches dried.

Perfect for hiding your eyes from visitors, one could simply take a nap, when faced with visitors you didn't like, and no one found out if you opened your eyes by mistake; you could be looking at the door and no one could see that you were not listening to them.  These glasses really suit everyone, right from the three year old grandson who wants to try them on, to the daughter and daughter-in-law wanting to protect their contact lenses. The frames never went out of fashion, and will always keep coming back if they do. 

 And GKB opticals has these !  Model  SUNDRIVE M-001 0

 You can even use them after the cataract has healed .  In alternate use, such glasses fit firmly behind, over the bun of your hair, and provide a firm basis for anchoring all the lovely jasmine gajras  on special occasions. 

  Naturally, carrying them in dabbas that click shut is passé.   Authentic heirloom white blouses, often had a pocket at the lower part of the blouse near your waist.  (Very thoughtful, and something all current designers need to note , busy as they are deleting shoulders etc from blouses....).  These glasses maybe smartly kept in these pockets, and pulled out at a moments notice to examine someone's new necklace or jari embroidery. Alternatively, they do set off a lovely Kanjeevaram when tucked in at the waist,  say, next to a bunch of keys. Highly recommended  especially for senior ladies, not obsessed or impressed with the current rimless mania.     

While these may be fine for everyday wear, it is imperative to have a special pair for special occasions,  like attending the afternoon bhishi of the colony ladies, Mrs. H's  daughter's engagement celebration  or, say,  a special meeting .   Mumbai being very dusty, thanks to the constant digging of roads, one must have adequate protection while zooming around in autos. You need sideways protection in glasses as the ricks are open on the sides.  

What better than these OAKLEY FatCat 03-358 model glasses  !  In a special wrap-around styling......

One has to change with the times . These glasses come, in what one may call, dainty ladies' colors.  They provide amazing protection around the sides of the eyes, preventing you from taking a sideways look at, say,  what Mrs so-and-so. next to you,  was looking at  in the jeweller's shop. It also keeps your eyes protected from all the dust coming in from the sides.  

These glasses, when combined with mangalsutra style holders that  attach   to the frame on the side, ensure that even the biggest pothole faced by you in a rickshaw, will not damage and dislodge your glasses. They will simply  slip down and rest on the leheriya border of your modern saree.  You may of course, have chains in pure gold and tiny pearls anchored to your glasses  for special occasions. Given our traditions in gems and jewellery,  really, I mean the sky is the limit then for using these fine set of glasses .  


These glasses have inbuilt decoration on the sides, which lends itself to further innovative applications . Since these are wrap-around glasses ,  it is natural that one may want to wear them around the neck, as a choker occasionally.  For those with daughters approaching size zero, a la Kareena Kapur ,  the possibility of using these amazing glasses as a cummerbund in the next Lakme India Fashion Week, cannot be denied. 

Of course, there are several other styles  that  would look good  too. There is a lot of variety today in clothes and hairdo's . Sometimes, the entire hairstyle consists of leaving the hair open, like we did after a head bath on Sundays in our childhood 50 years ago !.  In this fast life, all that flying hair, would really go well with Rayban aviator style glasses. You know, you may not fly, but your hair does, as you rush about. It always impresses the cops if they happen to catch you for going through a red signal.  Makes you look kind of corporate and busy. And maybe Page 3. 

 And yet, I believe in the here and now . In being yourself, and not giving in to fashion diktats. And having multiple uses of things like sunglasses.  

But I will let you in on a secret.  What I really hanker after are those clip-on type attachments that one may wear on ordinary prescription glasses. My late father had one of those, and I've always wanted to kind of turn them up (like a cap visor) , say while checking a bill or something, then click them down, and then leave in dark eyed splendor for the next appointment.

What to do ! We old folks are, as they say these days, like that only!

This entry is a part of the contest at brought to you by GKB Optical Sunglasses

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Nothing changes ....or does it ?

Mumbai is having civic elections, and suddenly television is full, of various parties showing up what is wrong with Mumbai and blaming it on other parties. There are folks promising good water supply, green spaces, cheap housing , security for citizens, and all kinds of things , hitherto considered Utopian in Mumbai.   No one believes these lofty claims, and everyone has seen through the greed of the politicians.

At the ground level however, things remain the same and no one cares.

Over the last several years I have been doing the rounds of courts, as part of the handling of paperwork related to my late parents .  A lot of my time is spent sourcing stamp papers of various denominations, and getting all kinds of documents prepared, and notarized.

I had blogged earlier about doing this in Pune, and the amazing experiences one had there, in unexpected places selling stamp papers , amidst building ruins,and bus-washing places.  I thought Mumbai, being the state capital would be a bit different.

It was. :-)

At one of the courthouses in a western suburb which is a huge bus and train terminus, you get accosted by various black coated folks asking you what your work is. Some  say they will do it for you, and quote atrocious fees. So you kind of flit around in the courtyard chock-a block with advocates, and settle on someone.

 Then you get in line for the stamp paper.  There are stamp papers which must bear your name, and stamp papers which needn't. Naturally , mine are the former, and i get in a queue, that snakes artistically below a high window. Advocates, can buy their stamp papers on grounds without much gradient.  I reach the window, only after i climb on two large stones, and a huge cylindrical drum, only to learn that the denomination I want is not available/finished, and so I get the higher one.

 A lot of typing, disappearing, xeroxing, climbing stairs, later, I get what I need.  Actually I badly need a cup of tea.

I need to notarize stuff . Its on the 3rd floor. There is an elevator, but I am told it is only for judges.  I wonder what happens to older people, those with handicaps and so on, and I am told, the elevator is unreliable, and it stops at random.   I stay away.

Things are in place for higher levels, Us lower humans simply watch and listen. 

Then someone told me about a courthouse , in the eastern suburb, where I could go. Last week I went there.

Broad roads, lots of trees,  there didn't seem to be darting advocates anywhere.  I reached at around 10:30, to see a bunch of cops, and someone who looked like a plainclothesman/detective, standing and chatting. Before I could feel good about the nice environment, I found out that they sold NO stamp papers at this courthouse.  The guy who had the licence to do so, cheated, and had his licence confiscated. They hadn't yet found an honest replacement.

But every missing stamp paper thing has a silver lining. I was told by the staff of a Notary  at court, that I could get stuff "franked" ; ie you typed up the stuff and some bank authorized to do so would"Frank" it for the amount of the stamp paper.

After a huge search, I found a bank at the bottom of the hill where I reside, and traipsed down there,  by the side of the swank new 8 lane (or 10 lane; depends) road. The sidewalks have been given step motherly treatment, and most places you tangle with huge digging being done by the utilities. Someone has washed the courtyard outside the bank, and I land up inside with wet footwear and no entrance mat. The front office guy is very helpful, and I see a hope.  He asks me to pay at the counter.

The cashier gives me a look reserved for those "guilty until proven innocent", fingers the currency notes, and returns one back saying "Give another one, this one has a tear".  

I thought banks were supposed to replace soiled notes (so long as the pieces were connected naturally) . I request him .

"No. We do not replace notes. We are not the State Bank. Go there." And he glares.

I replace the note.  Once again the suspicious look.

" OK. Take these receipts and you will have to wait for an hour! "

There has been  no other customer  except me,  my documents for franking are with them, and I have no choice.  I decide to sit and wait it out, reading noticeboards, messages on my phone about valentines deals and some such.

Ten minutes later the front office calls me , and has me sign for my franked copies.

I rush out on my way to the court, for notarizing the papers.  I alternate between good and bad experiences.  I've just had a good one. I wonder what bad one lies in store.  I soon find out.

 I need to dash through fast traffic, perpendicular to it,  and cross across, through all kinds of construction debris under a flyover, to the other side to get a three wheeler to court. A few jumps and leaps later , and to the vast amusement of some folks, I find a vehicle to take me there.

The driver knows some shortcuts, and it costs me half as much to reach there today. I am thrilled.  I rush in to get my stuff notarized at the fellow who did it earlier. Work done, fees paid, I need to get home fast, and I find a 3 wheeler after much effort.

 It is noon.  He needs to get back to school duty in 45 minutes but is willing to do this quick trip.

He has much to say.

" One day left for civic elections. This place is a madhouse today. People brought in from outside on payment, to walk in processions ad shout at meetings. All these fellows hold illegal meetings and block roads. The supporters are plied with food and alcohol, and they act rude. Why must I vote for these chaps who call themselves social workers on a dais and revert to being a goonda the day after elections ?  I do this school transport work as my social contribution. What have they done?"

We are on the highway, and he speeds up.

" All the children of leaders are in the fray. None of them have worked a job from 9 to 5. How will they know the problems of people in Mumbai ?  Do they know what it is to miss a daily wage that puts food on the table ?  .....At first I thought I won't vote; but now I will. That's our only chance to throw the bad guys out...."

We reach my neighborhood, and I get off so he he can rush back in time for his school duty.

Its been a day of pluses and minuses changing by the hour.  There are times when you feel encouraged, and then , possibly disgusted.

No one really worries about the ordinary person in Mumbai.  Big projects are announced , started and  presumably completed  and whats most important, paid for.   So everyone gets their cut.

But there is some hope. Like the rickshawallah. 

He waits for the red light to change,  as he watches an election candidate jeep with flags, run through the  light, and just miss someone taking a U-turn.

I turn around and walk back to my building, amidst a bunch of trucks, loading up on wood from so many trees that have been cut on campus. Why ?  I don't know.

Like I said, the day has alternated between good and bad.  

At my level, nothing has changed....


Monday, February 13, 2012

Life Algebras

The reason for this post is another post by a friend.

Till you learn algebra, you are always in a world of constants.  Then you get introduced to "variables" , which are things that take on different values.

Life is a kind of algebra too.  Some things in life are constant, some take on various values throughout their tenure,  you build equations, look for solutions, add acquaintances, subtract bad experiences, multiply resources, and divide stuff with your near and dear ones. Sometimes you are calculating, and sometimes you exceed "limits".......

When I went to school , writing instruments were introduced and remained constant for fixed unchangeable periods. "Slate pencils" in kindergaarten.  We used pencils to do classwork and homework, till class 6. I do not ever recall being flooded with pencil ads, sharpener ads or eraser ads. I cannot recall insisting on a particular pencil brand or color. There were these fixed pencils everyone always bought, and they were taken to class in a rattling metal box.

Somewhere in class 7, we started using precursors to the fountain pen. These were long reed things, with disposable nibs that you attached. Our school desks ( we each had one desk) , boasted an inkwell on the top right hand side. We spent 2-3 years, writing our lessons and homework with these nib-pens, and I distinctly remember the class monitor walking around with a giant ink bottle, filling everyone ink wells. Fountain pens were simply banned. And ball point pens were persona non grata.

The graduation to fountain pens was like an achievement, once we reached class 9. Or maybe , it was 10.   Suddenly, the desks had no ink wells,  We all thought we looked really smart with pens clipped on to the uniform down the front. Even then,  we used the same fountain pen for years. Spare nibs were  carried  always. We even carried blotting papers.  This being a girls' school, we possibly escaped the sport of shaking the pen and squirting ink drops on the back of some one's uniform frock.

By this time "compass boxes", later referred to by modern folks as "geometry boxes"  were a part of the school bag.  It was possible, traditional and expected, that once bought, we use the same compass box throughout our school years, and possibly even later. I remember using the same compass box, a green and orange tin affair, with possibly brass instruments  inside, throughout school and college. And the banged up , color-scratched, slightly rusted , terribly aged look gave it a kind of seniority.  For some reason we never lost set squares and protractors.

Watches were not "accessories". I remember my mother giving me her old simple watch to use as my own, in standard 9, because she thought I might get carried away answering a particular exam question, at the cost of all other questions. I proudly wore it,  learnt how to allocate time to a question paper, and not be surprised or upset when there were only 10 minutes left. I used this watch right till my 2nd year in college.   My parents then gave me a new watch,  as a special reward for doing well academically, and I used this for years, till the early seventies after I started working in Mumbai after post graduation.

And then there were phones. We got our first telephone connection (and our first ceiling fan; don't ask what the connection was) , when I was in the 8th grade. We tended to shout over the telephone initially, since we had an idea where our friends lived. Our time on the phone was minutely monitored, and  bills were scrutinized, not because  we made spurious calls, but because  folks were convinced that billing types made mistakes, that totals  needed to be rechecked. Calls to other cities had to be booked, urgent life situations called for lightening calls that cost the earth, and we made a list of points to be spoken; no unnecessary niceties and comments; you paid through your nose.

Another constant in our lives was that of no pocket money.  Our parents gave us whatever was required after a lot of thought.  We asked , and were never really upset when we were denied things. For some reason, I always had whatever I wanted, and remember more of what I got than what I was denied.  Till I went to college and lived in the hostel, I had never had reason to wilfully buy anything; and when I did,  reasoning out with self and planning had become second nature.

Today,  buying stuff in stationery shops has become like a hobby.  Ball point pens, which were banned in school in our time, now come in versions, and technologies. Children in middle school use them and handwriting suffers. Everything that was a more or less constant in our time, is now a massively changing variable. The old style compass box is extinct, and we now have plastic boxes, with fancy implements. Every time a new style  appears, the old ones are discarded. Watches are changed depending on outfits.  The old rotary black phone is almost extinct, and every child now sports a cell phone, with  ring tones from movies , the types of which were simply banned for us in our childhood.  I don't really remember things like toy shops from my childhood, though I do remember cycle shops that sold ordinary utility style tricycles and bicycles which we extensively used in hand me down fashion.   Language abilities today, are going for a toss, with the abbreviated  messaging on phones and on things like Twitter.  Friends , even good friends, now tend to be variables rather than constants.

I often wonder , if this tendency to live in variables  is good.   The ideal situation is where you have a nice mix of constants and variables,  a lot of it having to do with concern and respect, and very little of it having to do with money.  For that matter Facebook.

Variables also invariably lead to the concept of use and throw.  So we have use and throw plates, use and throw bags, use and throw pens, use and throw electronic unrepairable cheap Chinese items.

I wonder if we are leading up now , to,  use and throw friends, use and throw parents, use and throw employees, use and throw utensils,  and for an avaricious government, use and throw voters.

Algebra was all about finding the value of an unknown, called X.  Or Y . Or Z.  And determining its value, a constant for the situation in question.  

Far from it,  we have ended up adding more unknowns in our lives.  So much of giving in to peer pressure, working parents,  the interchangeable status of money and time , one for  the other,  and such an overflow of  unnecessary information, that at the end of the day,  that at the end of the day, we tend to forget, if you excuse the expression, the ABC's  of life ......         

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

The Big C

The papers are full of cricketer Yuvraj Singh and his fight with the Big C. I have also known many folks who have battled the same scourge, and come out successful, because of the amazing specific treatments that are available today, across a range of impressive technologies and pharmaceuticals.

One of the reasons, that we have reached this stage, is because , we have a perfectly detailed map of how things are functioning  inside our bodies . Not only that,  but whenever , there have been new advances in the body maps,  pharmaceutics, or even diagnostic tools,  concerned people have made exhaustive documentation, and made it  freely available.

It was not always so. (You can tell I am reading Emperor of Maladies.....).

 Hippocrates, who postulated stuff around 400 BC, defined the human body to be composed of 4 humors or fluids. Blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm. In balance, they defined good health. Out of balance , you were sick.   Claudius Galen, a Greek doctor (AD 160) who treated Romans, defined various illnesses specifically ; like inflammations were related to blood, pus stuff was  related to phlegm, jaundice was related to yellow bile.  Dr Galen specifically  dedicated "trapped" black bile to define cancer, and depression, a perceptive combination. Till about 1533, cancer treatment was all about gory surgeries, hacking of infected body parts, deaths by infection and so on.  Andreas Vesalius , a medical student ,came to Paris from Brussels to study anatomy in the steps of Galen, was aghast at the absence of a "body" map to guide those doctors performing these surgeries, and set about actually "mapping the human body, muscles, nerves, bones, blood vessels et al. He sourced bodies from graveyards, prisons, and such places, and exhaustively mapped and publish his detailed drawings of normal anatomy. More than 200 years later, Matthew Bailie in London, created a similar atlas of a diseased body. Somewhere between 1846 and 1875 anesthesia came into the picture, along with an ability to control wound infections (sepsis), and this formed a very sturdy base on which all kinds of cancer surgeries were done.

Today , amazing nano technologies and pharmaceutical treatment at the genetic marker level are at the forefront of cancer treatment, and many cancers, hitherto considered uncurable,  are now treatable. At the root of all these advances, is clearly, the landmark mapping work done by people like Vesalius and Bailie. You no longer did approximate cuts and hacks.  They laid down the rules of how you approached the body and the diseased section.

Our society today, is afflicted buy one of the biggest cancers one can think of.


It was not always so.

About 50 years ago,  corruption, like cancer was  not so common or prevalent; possibly , it existed, but was not recognized. Unlike cancer, it was never a matter of life and death, and so it progressed,  step by shameless step,  eating into minds weakened by lack of idols, lack of morals and lack of scruples, but dazzled by prospects, like cancer, of limitless expansion.  Money and power was an excellent DNA.

There has never been an effort to seriously eradicate this cancer; simply because  system maps created to handle this, always have left a loophole. There has been an effort at piecemeal eradication, like in a specific office or department or ministry or section.  It's like concentrating only or eradicating , say breast cancer, without worrying about its possible spread elsewhere.

There has been no  Hippocrates, no Dr Galen, no  Andreas Vesalius, no Matthew Bailie.  The anesthesia has been all about deadening and  repressing the opinions of a discerning and angry public,  under the guise of appointed committees. , whose reports are summarily dismissed. The sepsis continues unabated in society, infecting all sections.  The cancers in society not only spread in numbers, but they have an uncanny ability to pull towards them, sections of society, at higher and higher levels.

We desperately need to have an overall map for handling this, and a set of surgeons and doctors, who will ruthlessly perform radical surgeries, unconcerned with the presumed importance of a particular organ in society. 

Until then, welcome to a world where, society cancers puffed in their malignant selves, proudly move around, destroying a small brave muscle here, an unwilling-to-lie nerve there.   Watch them, hoodwinking powers of "law" radiation,  and countering the chemotherapy discomfort with some "anticipatory "  arrangements.  

Sometimes,  the proverbial  "shoe" thrown by fate,   hits in the form  of a temporary arrest in a jail.  But this "arrest"  of this cancer, is more in the nature of covering it up, malignancies and all, so as to hopefully fade from the public eye.

We keep hearing of candidates in elections having criminal antecedents. Parties have hundreds of such candidates.

If and when they get elected, can we  ever expect them to make rules for the eradication of the Corruption Cancer ?

Can a surgeon with a diseased hand ever operate on a  cancer  and remove it ?   Can money ever rain from the skies ?  Will Mumbai ever be free of potholes, and flooded monsoon roads ?  Will we ever get over our craze for fairness of skin ?    Will money meant for child welfare ever reach those it is meant for ?   Will we ever learn to provide for storage of grains, that currently rot in the rains, while the centre and states point their carcinomic fingers at each other ?

There are no answers. For the above. One may only hope.


But I am glad that real cancer research progresses by leaps and bounds; that we have excellent doctors who practice and  translate that into individual therapy regimens for patients,  and that folks like Yuvraj Singh and many other folks of various ages ,  can now have a good prognosis, and return to their active useful lives again ....