Saturday, August 30, 2014

Easy Flows , Uneasy Questions....

There is something called Fluid Intelligence, and then there is something called Crystalline Intelligence.   Read all about it here.

The fluidity is all about our ability to acquire and process information. The crystalline aspect is about our ability to distill from the flow, and store information as knowledge.

A quick observation of the world and society around us, indicates that  we may be folks with almost unlimited capability in fluid intelligence;   it is all about knowing where to connect, how to connect, and how to download.   When it comes to crystallizing  things into absorbed knowledge,  we suffer due to  unavailability of time, which is necessary to learn, understand, analyse, and appropriately store information, deep inside us somewhere.

Having said this, I must then also state that there is Social, there is Media, and there is Social Media.

Presumably, man/woman is a social animal,  and there is a lot of reflection, appreciation of others, giving of time and resources, and  information exchange involved.    Media is all about unilateral  bombardment of information, unconcerned about the value of that information. The fluid intelligence is in spate, cheating us temporarily into believing we are learning.  In actuality, we become part of a herd.

Social media  is a name given to  this flow.

The current obsession of displaying predecided actions/signs to show your support to something,  quote "publicly" unquote,  is a fine example of everything above.

Starting with something as simple  displaying pink bows to show support for Breast Cancer.  Or displaying a certain "status" on your Facebook page to show your support for something.   How many actually go and learn about the 7 warning signs of cancer ?  Or about who should get tested for certain cancer markers ? How many offer to accompany a person with a doubt about cancer, for a checkup ?  And how many, are the tough, firm-shouldered friend, who brings sense to the procedings , when family types collapse all around ?

There are campaigns for things against fairness creams, things supporting adoption, the girl child and so on. 

You end up sharing a picture, or a status  and become one of the thousands supposed to be supporting the cause.  How many actually end up rejecting a dark potential spouse (and blame it on family pressures)?  How many deridingly comment on someone's complexion and looks while some uninformed person giggles and nods ?  How many still regret not having a son?  How many intellectually support adoption ("It's such a good thing to do...." ), while being emotionally mercenary and making insensitive comments about it , to an adopted person in their vicinity?  It is, actually,  a huge nontrivial number.   And all these folks put up righteous statuses and flow with the herds.

The currently mind boggling campaign about Amylotrophic Lateral Sclerosis(ALS) or Lou Gherig's Disease, where  well known people had a bucket of ice water poured over their head, to show their support for it.  It then went viral on social media, with people challenging others to do this and/or donate a hefty sum to the cause. You paid up if you did not want ice water over your head. It even became a thing to do for publicity and never mind if you thought Motor Neurone Disease was something to do with cars, and you couldn't care who Lou Gherig was and why he died. Hollywood did it, so Bollywood followed.  

Fluid intelligence on full flow.  You can tell names of one hundred celebrities who dunked their heads with buckets of ice water, but you never bothered to learn about the signs of ALS.  You display pink bows and crosses on your FB status for Breast Cancer, but you still shy away from accompanying someone to one of the biggest crowded leading Cancer Hospitals in the country, because, deep below you think it is contagious, and you cant bear the sights.  


Somewhere there has to be some thinking. Crystalline intelligence, generating some permanent useful knowledge. 

How prevalent is ALS ? In the world ? In your country ? Is that among , say, the top 5 maladies affecting folks in your country ?  Who is behind these social media campaigns ? Given all the fluid intellgence facilities, links, connections, and networks, has anyone researched  things ?

Turns out that  as per the ALS association Annual report of 2012,   7.71% of their Annual budget went towards ALS research, while 63.63% of their budget went to what are called "Other Program Activities " .  The Tax Return of ALS also reveals, something else. 

Salaries for the leadership of the group:

Jane H. Gilbert – President and CEO – $339,475.00
Daniel M. Reznikov – Chief Financial Officer – $201,260.00
Steve Gibson – Chief Public Policy Officer – $182,862.00
Kimberly Maginnis - Chief of Care Services Officer – $160,646.00
Lance Slaughter - Chief Chapter Relations and Development Officer – $152,692.00
Michelle Keegan – Chief Development Officer – $178,744.00
John Applegate – Association Finance Officer – $118.726.00
David Moses – Director of Planned Giving – $112,509.00
Carrie Munk – Chief Communications and Marketing Officer – $142,875.00
Patrick Wildman – Director of Public Policy – $112,358.00
Kathi Kromer – Director of State Advocacy – $110,661.00

Total administration costs were just under $2 million. “Other salaries and wages” (Part IX line 7) were $3.6 million, with another half million dollars in “pension plans” and “employee benefits.” Expenses for non-employee labor were about $4 million, and “travel expenses” exceeded $1.3 million.

So total costs for labour to run the association was around $12.5 million, from revenues received totaling $24 million.

Over 50% of what the ALS Association receives appears to support salaries of people working for the Association, based on these tax returns.

Draw your own conclusions. 

And then you wonder if pharmaceuticals are behind this Ice Bucket thing to "popularize" the issue.  Some of them appear in the list of Corporate contributers to the ALS association. Sanofis Aventis, Pfizer, Merck, Biogen....

And then you think about the most pressing need in your country at the moment .  

And wonder if a similar campaign can be done for adequate toilets for women in rural areas, maternal health, newborn thyroid screening  to ascertain where supplemental stuff needs to be given to kids, in iodine deprived water areas, like some part of the Gangetic plain. (A subbnormal thyroid leads to later developmental disabilities, affecting a family's future and there is a easy medical solution) . Or possibly, in a country obsessed with mobile phones, a cell phone technology based blood values checker, for pregnant women in rural areas, who do not have easy access to maternal health checkups. 

Every year we hear about Japanese Encephalitis raging in Eastern UP and Bihar/West Bengal, and babies falling prey to it.  One doesnt see a campaign on FB to publicise and work on this, so something may be done for getting the vaccine, with proper storage facilities, and healthcare infrastructure to the needed area.  


Fluid intelligence is not wrong or bad.  One needs connectivity, and practice to do it.  But for someone, who grew up in times of zilch connectivity of the e-type, and tons of connectivity of the teacher, book, laboratory  and reading type, and then thought about it, sometimes by rote and sometimes otherwise,  to learn things over a childhood, it seems,  that today, no one has time for the crystalline variety of intelligence.  Learning, Analysing and coming to your own conclusions, and inspiring others. 

And the Fluid type seems to be an undending flow.

 Now I hear it is about rice.......



Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Review of "Private India" by Ashwin Sanghi & James Patterson

I received this book for review as part of the Blogadda Book reviews  program

"Private India",  published by Arrow Books in 2014, is a book of fiction,  co-authored  by Ashwin Sanghi and  James Patterson. James Patterson has a history of collaborating on other books in this series, , such as Private London, Private Berlin, Private L.A. and so on.  Interestingly, Patterson also holds the copyright to this book, although he is part author.

Random people , seemingly unconnected,  being killed in Mumbai.  The killer apparently has a signature, along with strange items that are left at the scene of the crime, attached to the dead.   The investigation is being conducted by  Private India, the Mumbai Branch of the world famous investigative agency, and their Indian set up is headed by Santosh Wagh, an ex Mumbai cop, aided by Nisha Gandhe , also an ex Mumbai cop. Jack Morgan, the international Head, is also part of it. 

The entire novel is about Santosh Wagh and his team , trying to find out the connection and trend in the objects associated with each murder ,  and in the process  dealing with a string of folks, who appear to be unconnected, but end up being associated with each other in the most terrible way.

I have read Ashwin Sanghi before. There is a lot of research and mythology associated with his books. There is also a seamless flow associated with the narrative in his  books.

Unfortunately , it is not so in this book. It feels like someone made a list of all things  "Mumbai" , and wove a tale around it.

And so you have mentions of terrorist bombings, underworld, corrupt police, folks at high echelons of government associated with  prominent crimes.  You have orphanages, red light districts, kidnappings, mention of forced beggings , fancy spas, page 3 people, women and men in high places in government involved in spurious activities, cops in cahoots with the mafia, police atrocities, abandoned mill land where crimes are done, crimes against women.  

As if this is not enough, there are people undergoing sex change  surgery,  random wanderings into the Parsi Towers of Silence in a semi finale  which pours disrespect  on the dead of the community, by graphic discussions of the so called heroes getting entangled in the remains.

There are a lot of questions. 

The whole idea of Mumbai Police handing over the investigation of something to a private agency  after some cop calls his boss  and gets the OK.  This doesn't happen. Heck,  there are problems transferring investigations from one precinct to another precinct, or between cities, in real life.

Then there is this business of randomly shifting bodies from Cooper Hospital morgue to the posh investigative labs of Private India. It is not as easy as it is described, and the authors seem to have taken a lot of liberties to suit their narrative.

Somewhere in the narrative , the authors have tried to connect RDX, terrorist explosions, dormant  Mujahideen members quietly doing their stuff. The local Don holds the password to stop the carnage.   The connection between the aforesaid murders and this explosion plan, is not very clear.

The Mumbai Police are shown in a very bad way, represented by Rupesh. Everyone , except the police autopsy person, is nameless. To me , this is a very lopsided representation of Mumbai.  I get the feeling that there was more and it was edited out. 

Way at the end, there is a chapter called "Private. Where it all began"  and it says to "turn the page" .   What follows is a bunch of pages totally unconnected to the novel.  Maybe that was intended to be another story.

This book doesn't leave you at an edge , wondering what is next.  You get the impression that Mumbai is full of sleazy , corrupt, evil, mercenary , moneyed types, and you read on to see if some normal type person makes an appearance.  I am just wondering how they left out Bollywood. 

For me, this collaboration of two authors has not worked.  It is , clearly, a step down, from Ashwin Sanghi's earlier books.

I wouldn't buy this book. Period. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

MotiBindu, Phacoemulsification and other stories......

The first time she heard about cataracts in the eye, was way back in her  childhood,  when someone referred to it, exotically as "Motibindu" in Marathi, or literally, the Pearly Point. It was supposed to ripen like a fruit, and was then harvested  as such in a complicated surgery. 

A cool  Mumbai morning in August 1977. (Yes, that was before global warming set in.)

A lady in her late sixties,  in crisp white saree, and a knitted saree cardigan (to guard against AC) , got ready to be driven to an eye clinic in a Western Mumbai suburb. Her entire extended family, including her doctor daughter in law had arrived, and they would shortly reach the clinic where the cataract surgery was  scheduled. Assorted sisters in law  from within  and outside Mumbai had also arrived. Strangely there were no parking problems on one of Mumbai's most crowded roads.  Everyone watched the comings and goings in the OT, and a hush descended as the doctor went in. The old lady, wished everyone and entered the OT , with her elder doctor daughter-in-law, who had been kindly allowed to be present.

Sometime later, she was wheeled out into the room, with a big bandage over her eye, and gently lifted on to the bed by expert attendants. A whole gaggle of relatives who had gathered , and spent time talking to each other about so and so's cataract, how it was messed up, how so and so corrected it, suddenly hushed up, peeped in to see the patient and left, promising to come again.

Then started 10 days of what can only be called a cataract festival.

Literally hundreds of blood relatives, and relatives by marriage descended into the suburb, and the younger daughter-in-law, was allocated the chauffeuring job, of transporting elderly types from home to clinic and back, along with assorted lunch dabbas, dinners and tiffins for the patient. The patient, despite a traumatised lens area,  was in her absolute element , instructing people about how cooking oil at home needed to be replenished, how you couldn't buy it on a Saturday , and how someone needed to rush in the middle of everything to someplace to order and have it delivered.  The younger daughter-in-law would often wear jeans and kurtas to the complete consternation of some disapproving elder ladies , who had no clue about clutches, accelerators, and the possibility of entangling your feet in saree pleats , while driving a bunch of loudly talkative folks back and forth on one of Mumbai's arterial high traffic roads.

There were suggestions about how a sneeze  would shake the eye stitches and nullify the surgery, and how no pickles with mustard and hing were to be brought in the lunch. There were folks who visited the patient and mentioned horror stories of failed cataracts. There were indirect and direct discussions about other relatives who visited.

And there was one visit, where  a grandma type sat next to the patient, and whispered to her, asking, how she tolerated her younger daughter-in-law wearing, "these jeans". The patient lady, "patient " in more than one way, a new dressing over her eyes, and looking straight ahead and up, explained, that girls then, did many more activities than before, her daughter-in-law was fulfilling a crying need of transporting elderly people in comfort by driving them and food back and forth, and in any case , the daughter-in-law always dressed appropriately in traditional clothes for other occasions as required, and so the old lady had nothing to complain. The grandma type, suitably admonished, was heard mentioning to others , how lucky the driving daughter-in-law was.

By and by, ten days passed, stitches were examined, decisions taken, and the suspense finally ended as the stitches , bandages et al were removed,  black no-nonsense mafia style sunglasses , totally out of character with the patient in question, were worn, and everyone, patient, extended family and all, returned home, via a visit to the local deity at the temple. The entire family except for diabetic types (including the patient) enjoyed some celebratory sweet stuff specially made by the patient's sister.   And so ended the saga of the cataract.

Cut to 2014.

Another cataract surgery. Hospitals, lobbys, computers spewing out paper after paper, bills after bills, medical records and so on. Special hospital clothes to be worn by the patient. One relative allowed with the patient, and made to sit in a waiting area much away from the sterile spaces.  Patient spaces populated with all kinds of infrastructure like oxygen supply, ECG machines, bells, tables that slide, etc.

There were seven cataracts scheduled that morning. No relatives supplying advice, no waving to them by the patient, just one bed after another, trundled into the OT.  One bed after another, trundled out of the OT after 25 minutes, the operated eye covered by a specially shaped cup type thing using tape. The aforesaid driver daughter-in-law , this time,  automobile-disabled due to potholes,  was called in to see the patient, and stay for some time in the recovery area.  Patients were given a choice of snacks. Unlike in 1977, sneezing (which did not happen) was clearly not an issue, as a sambaar with red chilly tadka proved.

Patients were instructed, NOT to turn to the side of the operated eye, when they slept, as they waited. Relatives were strictly told they could wait outside. The daughter-in-law has a habit of listening to such instructions, and on her way out ,  was aghast to see a young patient , in a bed near the doorway, sleeping exactly on the side of the operated eye. She rushed back  to the recovery room junior doctors still in their surgical greens and shower caps, to tell them about this.  They came urgently, to advise that patient, and straighten her out , literally.  And the aforesaid daughter-in-law returned to the waiting area, having done her good deed for the day .

Three hours and few checkups of reddened , occasionally watering eyes, the patient returned home, wearing mafia style dark glasses, uncannily like those of the old lady in 1977.

Phone calls and emails happening, several types of drops to be put in the eyes every so many hours, useful instructions, all written down in a discharge summary, and a followup appointment in the following week.

Thanks to the modern Phacoemulsification technique, there are no stitches to be removed, no eureka moments after ten bandaged days, the patient goes home and spends some bored times checking emails on the PC, and watching TV even on the first day, observing MP's fighting in Parliament.  Immediate relatives, drop by at home , and return , pleased about the progress.

And life goes on. 


I am just wondering, if a time will come when they will have drive-in cataract operations by robots.

And like, the mother-in-law worried about cooking oil reaching reorder levels , instructing folks to avoid Saturdays while ordering it,   I wonder if the robots, will also alert you if your car is running low of gas or oil ?.........        


Friday, August 08, 2014


Times have changed.

"Aunty" is now a look, as opposed to a family status.

Aunty is a typical Indian concept as opposed to say, Aunt. When I was a child, it was not considered polite to call ladies who were your mother's age, as Mrs So-and-So, or even So-and-so-Tai.   We always called them Aunty, Kaku or Mavshi , the last two referring to Marathi nomenclature for paternal and maternal aunts.  Many of my non-marathi friends called my mother Aunty.  I often suspect, that those of us who grew up with a  no nonsense conservative approach to personal beautification , kind of seamlessly slid into Aunty states as we grew up. 

Being an Aunty simply implied that you had transcended a generation.

However, it has occurred to me that even then,  calling someone a "Kakubai" had certain connotations, that were never applicable to , say Maavshi or Aunty.  A girl, who was gung ho about two tight plaits, a sari draped over both shoulders, never wore skirts, and, as they say "walked watching her nose in front of her" was often called a Kakubai. Strangely, I do not recall any corresponding nomenclatures like Kaka being used for fellows with similar inclinations.

Clearly , we never thought there was anything demeaning in being called an Aunty. It was an acknowledgement of our status.

Aunties evolved just like everyone else, modern aunties took to salwar kurtas and jeans, sometimes to the consternation of some who shook their heads to the chorus of "We didn't have such stuff in our time!

Thanks to things like online shopping, one gets to read reviews of items one is interested in buying.

Looking through some clothes items as a present for someone much younger than me  ( I am ancient),  I looked through a review posted by someone, and was aghast to read, that although it looked nice on screen, the reviewer lady felt, that in actuality, based on the material and the fit it gave her an "aunty" look.

Her words, not mine.

I mean, she could have said, she was disappointed in the fit, and felt cheated in the material, and the color and so on.

 Thanks to globalization , instant access to visuals and entertainment, and consequent upgradation in the need and value of advertisements in commercial space,  today's women grow up feeling that they must keep up with trends. 

As a corollary, those who defy these trends, in dress, behavior and sometimes, even attitude, are today dubbed "Aunties".

So.  (The urge to call Aunty a "state of mind" is very much there.  But that phrase has been misused by powerful folks. So I desist.)

Someone who haggles and bargains with a vendor while buying something quoted at a completely unjustified astronomical price, is an Aunty.

Someone who wears sarees the old traditional way, and thinks nothing of hitching it up, displaying mismatched petticoats,  to cross potholed roads in the rain, is an Aunty.  Tucking in the palloo at the waist , as part of your normal way of dressing, to convert into a handsfree environment, is considered the height of Aunty-ism.

Someone whose kurtas still pine to reach the knees, and whose dupattas encircle her above the waist is an Aunty.

Someone whose eyebrows rise at the sight of a young girl wearing a bare midriff top on jeans, or a  extra-loose-falling pair of trousers on a chap , and tells them so,  is an Aunty.

Someone who accompanies you to the doctor and thinks nothing of asking hitherto embarassing questions  is an Aunty.

Someone who thinks paying  one hundred rupees for a masala dosa , and a similar amount for a tolerable coffee in a fancy cup in a five star hotel,   is a complete ripoff ,  and says so, is an Aunty.

Someone who still cringes at swear words and hitherto prohibited abusive words being used loudly in public places as part of so called normal conversations , and tells someone off, is an Aunty.

Someone, who completely ignores the massively matching jewellery in shops, and insists on wearing, possibly in addition to her traditional mangalsutra, assorted other traditional  mismatched items, to honor someone who gifted them, and moves around completely obvious to everyone else, is an Aunty.

And someone, who expresses shock, and is aghast at so called beauties on television and even otherwise, wearing sarees way below the waist,  palloos that hang to one side like shoulder bag straps, with blouses that have only sleeves so-to-speak, and speaks out about it, is an Aunty.

There is an entire generation that gives inordinate importance to not looking their age.  They think nothing of subjecting their bodies to pharamcological excesses, within and without, to achieve their goals.

The Auntyfication has been a phenomenon that has its roots in these folks.   And the rise in psychological consulting, family conflicts, support centres etc for young folks, is a direct consequence of such pressures.

Strangely, Aunties work, earn livings for families, multitask,  and often are there when blame for something is apportioned.

 "Uncles"  have never evolved the way Aunties have.  I have never heard a fellow say that such and such a outfit/shirt/trouser makes me look like an "Uncle".   A pronouncement from an "Uncle", in a family situation is treated akin to law.   

And so the Auntification continues. In politics, too. Even in Parliament, where recently Uncle MP's gave speeches on how Aunty MPs should dress, and NO ONE raised a word in protest.

Thankfully, I have transcended the Aunty stage.  Am well on my way to an Aji (Grandmother) stage. At least mentally. 

Most vegetable vendors call me that .  Linking Road, Bandra stall owners don't blink an eye when I demand outrageous bargain prices, and most often, give in.  The traffic cop outside at our seven road intersection, doesn't rush me as  I cross the road with my bags of veggies. The same cannot be said of Uncles  and boys in fancy cars and bikes respectively, accelerating in place, in high rpm's intolerance,  at the red signal.

Maybe, as is the current trend, we should demand reservation . For Aunties ?