Monday, October 20, 2014

Review of "God is a Gamer" by Ravi Subramanian

I received this book, "God is a Gamer" by Ravi Subramanian , as part of the Blogadda Book Reviews Program.

I had enjoyed "The Bankster" by the same author and so looked forward to reading this one.

As in previous books, this one too, involves  a bank. It also introduces one to something called Bitcoins, which is like international virtual currency, and this concept is really the heart of this novel. The people who introduced these, the people who manage these, and the people  who misuse these range far and wide across countries, banks, government, universities, investigative agencies, fundamentalists and so on , ranging internationally across Washington DC, New York, Mumbai and Delhi.  Phishing, which is something  that we all know is one of the side effects of doing things online, is also a major part of the narrative.

The story revolves around a huge cast of characters.  In India and the US.

A lady CEO of a leading bank, Malavika, and another senior functionary , Swami of the same bank, who cannot stand her and suspects her of being involved in unsavoury money transactions, and secret personal alliances.  The lady CEO's daughter, Tanya, who really comes across as someone who thinks she is playing her cards so well.  Then there is a person, Aditya, who is no longer with the bank and is the head of the biggest BPO in India, and is assisted by a person called Sundeep , who seems to be a bit of old-style. Then there is  Varun, Aditya's son, who suddenly appears from a jail in Goa, and takes over the BPO company successfully .  For some reason, he seems to know Tanya from before, and it is only towards the end that we learn why. 

In the US, we have the President himself, and his Chief of Staff , Mike.  Predictably, a Senator too, Gillian Tan along with his wife Nikki, and a daughter Gloria with surprising antecedents.   Then there are agents of the CBI/FBI, Adrian/Tony,  and a clever old hand  Dan Malloy who always comes up with smart solutions.

As if to link these folks , we have a fellow called Josh, who has evolved from an earlier avatar in India,  dabbled in all kinds of things and dicey folks, and currently is in the US, as the Sysad of a site specialising in drugs, pornography, and similar things, all paid for in Bitcoins, in a way, that the transactions are untraceable.

The novel revolves around bank phishing attempts in India  , and ATM heists using cloned credit cards in new York, causing losses of millions of dollars in the US and in the aforementioned Bank in India.  The BPO, which creates and does business in computer games, finds itself facing losses, and is conveniently taken over by Varun, who has lots of ideas up his sleeve that involve, things like Facebook.

There are murders, presumed suicides, supposedly corrupt ministers, ambitious upper rung institutional folks in government,  the mandatory Mumbai police.

Somewhere, one gets the feeling that there are too many characters.  The novel though proceeds at a brisk pace, across continents, maintaining high reader interest. The chapters in the book, are small in size, and very nicely edited. The book maintains reader interest throughout, and despite gaming, and bitcoins and such stuff being of minimum interest to me personally,  I found it enjoyable.

And yet, as a person, who grew up thinking games were something you played physically for recreation ,  and still think, computers are being misused for mindless games,  I am unable to figure out where God came into this.

God is NOT a Gamer.  He just helplessly watches them  play......

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!

Sunday, October 19, 2014


There is a tree inside all of us.

Emerging green from the moist dark labyrinths,  it is about a childhood, spent pretending to play with the wind, without realizing that one  tended to bend with it. It is also about observing what other tree folks did around you. Some bent and learned to straighten up, albeit slowly. Some simply crashed, and would be helped up and supported for a while. And some, pushed their roots deep in, and stood firm, as they could, in the wind.

It is about a teenage, when you think you have your feet roots firmly in, you notice others, big and small around you, and you marvel at the color of the others,  slowly developing amidst the green anatomy.  A teenage, when you firm up your base and spine, and realise that to be a real tree, you must take responsibility for those branches, and leaves and flowers that are to come later, thanks to your nurturing , using the wonderful sap from the earth, and the air above.

A settling in, well established now with branches taking you out into the world, , leaves spouting like ideas, sometimes in great order and sometimes in a bouquet; and flowers, introducing a new life stage , where it isn't all about the tree, but how it relates to other trees around. 

This is when the tree learns . That life is often about spreading your branches wide , to bring shelter and shade to those traumatised by the Heat of Life. That life is about offering your branches as a place for settling down, for those temporarily looking to build a home. That life is never perfect, and it is sometimes about scars created by those who get their joy from breaking you and cutting you.  That life still gives you hope again, as you dig deeper into your roots, get encouraged, and rebuild all over again.

That , on a good day, life is often about being the cynosure of other tree eyes, as fruits and buds adorn it, and admiring bees and birds home into the tree.  Being part of the Society Of Trees, means sharing the pollen across the land.

Sometimes, some trees have willful anatomical members. Tough looking roots, that grow the wrong way, down from the sky, to anchor themselves again in the soil. Perhaps, they know, that the tree is going to be widely admired , and of great social good, and needs all the support it can get.

And then again, life is all about birthing a fruit, nurturing it and then watching it move away.  Sometimes, simply misled by a pretty bird to fall down, sometimes carefully taken away by another fruit, and sometimes just a result of facing the rage of nature in torrential winds and rain.

Sometimes the fruits travel far and wide, and change in ways that cannot be imagined.  Sometimes, they mature earlier than usual, thanks to unsavoury chemical friends. And the tree sighs in the wind, and shakes down a few leaves and wonders what kind of world misleads and spoils.

And then again, it must decide, whether to welcome  an occasional  new attachment, a latching-on prior to a future meshing-in. There is much to teach the new attachment, and much to learn from it. And much to teach those around watching it all.

It is often about how to treat others living in your shadow.  About sharing your root resources with them.  About sharing what you have even when not enough.

Sometimes, it is about not hiding your emotions , and realising how it helps in stressful times, like the fall season before winter, when some folks simply turn an angry orange or a stubborn brown.  And realising, that these days too, must always pass.

It is difficult to be constantly aware all the time, worrying about everything and everyone.

And then once again, it learns, to look up at the sky,  gathering all its geriatric high branches together, and endeavours to put the previous life behind.

It has been an interesting, tough, occasionally thrilling, gratifying life. it is time to withdraw from the worries of growth and the occasional shaking of beliefs.

It is time to thank the stars for not meeting a woodcutter at any point,  though , it is , of course,  possible , that one may cease to exist given the  cement and concrete greed  that has recently appeared on the horizon.

It is now time to forget the growing, the tears, the smiles, the ambitious neighbors, and the newly developed sometimes creaky trunk.

It is clearly, time to simply look up at the sky, and celebrate the blue, and the gold as you smile at the One who put you there in the first place ...... 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tucking in.....

Boggling.  I know. I am not missspelling "blogging".....

It is difficult to define "boggling" , but the mind sure does that,  when I look back at the history of fashion, and how it has shaped society , in my lifetime.

I remember preparing to go to college in the mid sixties of the last century. I was to stay in the hostel, and a large bunch of gathered skirts (below the knees), with assorted matching blouses were promptly stitched, along with a few sarees with matching blouses, just in case. Since I played decent college level badminton, a white pleated divided skirt and a shirt, were the unlikely additions. It was understood that you didn't wander anywhere outside the badminton court in these short skirts.  Childhood pajamas graduated to housecoats as was the fashion in the hostel.

The very next year, it was decided that it was time to be sari-fied. One would be a full time sari person, and the wardrobe got replenished with all kinds of petticoats,  and standard cotton sarees. The sleeves ,necks, and lengths  of blouses were all predecided and long. And it didn't matter if you had to cycle each day .

Unfortunately, the very next year, chudidar kurtas suddenly came into fashion. Midriff cover won over parental approval, and all of a sudden , for the next two years, I was back to churidar kurtas, and occasional skirts.  Various relatives got great joy out of  commenting derogatorily on the skin tight aspect of chudidars.  I was even asked by aunt types , amidst guffaws , how long it took to put on one. Notice, that the parents said nothing, because they trusted me.

Around the time I graduated, pants happened. There were a lot of disapproving glances, or maybe, they were jealous glances. Pants were so much easier to wear than chudidars.

Across the last half century, fashion has really,  for the common person, revolved around skirts, blouses, kurtas, salwars, churidars, pants, shirts and sarees. The lengths have gone up and down, usages have been modified, things earlier thought of as shameless, are suddenly being touted as fashionable.

Today fashion is about redefining. 

Once all the neck shapes were tried, they tried no-necks.  What was earlier the neck, kind of expanded and sat on the arms, unable to decide whether to be a sleeve or a neck. Internal anatomic anchoring was still required, and all of a sudden, visible bra straps became fashionable. Just to be different, they then created a market for detachable plastic straps.

Unable to dip further in front, the saree blouse necks dipped alarmingly at the back.  Prompting someone (a male) , at a fancy do, to remark on an outfit (after a back view of the same),  as something with "only sleeves".

The downward trend continued. Pants slipped down the god given waists, which were a natural anchor . They now started at the hips, and were called low-waist pants. For the sake of staying on, they had to cling close to the skin.  At the ankle, out of sheer relief, they sometimes flared, sometimes straightened, and sometimes, preferred to keep gutlessly clinging.

While this caused  a lot of mirth, disgust and sometimes, bright eyes, in buses where you had to bend and sit,  the gents fashion people joined in with pants that were worn so low, it looked as if the person was waddling, and probably needed a good sensible whack and a pair of suspenders.     

If you look back, you will notice that fashion has been all about kurtas rising high and sinking way below. Salwars, blooming in Patiala comfort, or crunching miserly, or finally ending up being chudidars.  Dupattas , when they existed, often became stoles; and sometimes fell about gracefully.  Shoulders suddenly became fashionable, and sleeves disappeared, to anchor the outfit behind the neck.

Pants , with not much scope for wild fashion, suddenly gave in to the scissors. It is today, considered fashionable, to pay loads of money to buy a pair of pants, which have scissor cuts and  hanging threads , all across the front.  The last time I saw these were when nitric acid fell on someones pants in our college chemistry practicals, destroying a perfectly decent pair.

These are now called distressed genes, which is a disgusting an example of transposition of adjectives. I know someone who might be even more distressed.  The lengths of pants too went up and down. In the original well defined old world of full pants and half pants, we now had three fourth pants (fashionably called Capris; (why use Greek cities, what was wrong with calling them Kolhapurs?))  , and knee length pants, prompting my aunt to once ask someone if he was short of fabric.

And then we had Fashion Weeks. Days and Days of showing stuff you could never wear to work, or while running to catch the  7:30 am CST fast, or the standing room only bus, chock a block with office goers and students.  I mean, who would wear long trench coats, with buttons open, displaying some hot pants and fancy shirt inside ?  And when was the last time you saw a lady with a saree , and a palloo on the wrong shoulder, hanging like a marxist shabnam bag, trying to take public transport to work?  I mean, even in a AC car, that outfit to work would be too much.  And then there were outfits inspired by the combination of fabrics seen on the municipal sweeper lady;  two different pieces, used to fashion a make shift saree, because she must prioritise her funds towards the kids school fees, and deny herself  a new saree.

The fashion types, wore heels , something completely useless in a potholed city.  And then again, hats were introduced, incorporating hardware, flowers, twigs, plastic, and anything you could lay your hands on; in a city bent on destroying trees, the only thing that worked for the hoi polloi were good plain cotton hats.          

Sarees were de rigeur when I started working. And so one learnt to run and catch buses and trains amidst massive crowds with suitably anchored sarees, with palloos wrapped and tucked in here and there,  while our mothers rued the destruction of saree fabric with so many pins that were used. And very unconsciously , one learnt to tuck in the palloo at the waist, after taking it around the back.

This became such a habit, that even after I started working at a place within walking distance from home, with a lot of corridors, and interaction on two feet,  a friend with similar thinking and I, would unconsciously tuck in our saree palloos and walk rapidly down the corridors , to have a cup of tea, or on work to another building, often the butt of comments and jokes , from those, who walked the corridors, utterly gracefully in sarees with fancy palloos draped just so, and disciplined pleats.

The tucked in palloo stance needs further research. Maybe someone can study the origin and history. Maybe they will have a Fashion Week session dedicated to it.   A further piece of fashion could be pleats slightly hitched up  and tucked in , a la monsoon rains.  I am sure there will be people planning zardozi or swarovski on the palloo ends, and petticoat bottoms.  

So folks, here is a request.

When you see the show stopper actress, walking down hand and hand with the designer, as the models with tucked in palloos and hitched pleats, clap politely in the background , remember , that you heard it here first.....

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Pavlovs, Neuros and Living in Mumbai....

I have been a vehicle driver in India for the last 47 years. Four wheelers and two wheelers. Highways and congested gullies. By myself, and at times, with an entire gaggle of folks crowding the vehicle, in "zara sarkun ghya"  (~move and make place for one more) style.

Till now , it has never stressed me. The driving still does not.  What is now very stressful, is the change in the people on the road, be they fellow drivers, pedestrians or whoever.

One hears of someone getting enraged by the honking of someone behind them, stopping, emerging from the car and then picking a fight complete with fisticuffs and injuries.  One hears of some one's ego being hurt by an overtaking vehicle, and someone coming out from a car with a knife to avenge the insult.  One hears about underage kids with fake licenses driving recklessly scraping cars, resulting in the aggrieved people losing tempers, shouting  and getting breathless attacks.

Two days ago, at a major traffic intersection on an east west arterial road  of Mumbai, one was crossing the road, along with a team of young fellows carrying cricket bats and stumps  at the red signal.  The cricketwallas suddenly  questioned some bikers who had strayed way beyond where they were supposed to stop.  The bikers got off, attacked the guys, who retaliated with their cricket stumps. The thing deteriorated into a free for all, with assorted supporters of the cricket types joining in, and both sides viciously beating each other up, paying scant attention to folks trying to separate the two sides. No cops were anywhere nearby. 

I wonder what makes people do this.  What makes their brains go off at a tangent ,  where thought ceases to matter and animal instincts take over ?   Why do people feel threatened when questioned ?  What do they fear ?

A study of "why fear happens"  introduces the various brain parts involved in handling a threat or fear. 

Faced with some fear trigger, unconsciously  we process this in two ways.

The first , is the so called "low road" , where the Thalamus that senses the trigger, simply rushes the information to the Amygdala, which sets off the fight or flight response in the body, complete with raging hormones, rushing blood and what have you. 

The second way, is for the Thalamus to forward the sensed thing to the parts of the brain, that activate memories, and reasoning, trying to observe the environment and figure out why something has been sensed, and advise the Amygdala accordingly, to cool it or whatever.  This is like the "high road" where you take an informed decision as opposed to a kneejerk reaction to a fear stimulus.

One of the reasons we see the "low road" being chosen time and again in today's society, is because  we now replicate the parts of the brain in today's society.  

The thalamus senses the incoming trigger, and decides on the high road or low road.

If it is the high road, the sensory cortex tries to analyse the the cause and possibilities.  And sends its findings to the Hippocampus. 

The Hippocampus is the stable experienced elder, that tries to analyze things and take an informed decision on the threat taking into consideration, its observations,memories, learnings and history.

Both the high and low roads, end up at the Amygdala. Both with different instructions on how to react. 

 The Amygdala is the hothead. It decodes emotions, perceives threats, and stores fear memories.  And sets off what is called the "Fight or Flight" response.

Today's life is all about taking the low road. Young impressionable Thalamuses , influenced by political gundas, money matters and quick returns, continue to ignore stable and sage advise from  Sensory cortexes and Hippocampuses in society.    So many powerful Amygdalas in society just itching to get into a fight.

And the brain evolves. Over a period of time.  To think less and mindlessly act more.

Being thus , seriously conditioned.

I am not sure if Evolve is the right word. Maybe Devolve

Back in 1920, psychlogist John Watson,  managed to train an infant to fear white rats.  The infant actually enjoyed playing with the rats, but Watson , using Pavlovian techniques associated the appearance of the white rat with loud fearful noises, and managed to condition the child to fear white rats.  The child's Amygdala avidly learned and stored all this. And the child ended up fearing anything white and furry including Santa Claus' beard. This stayed so for more than 20 years.

Our politicians are our Pavlovs.  The young today are being conditioned to give knee jerk responses, so valuable in vote banks.

Sometimes, old folks like me tend to take the high road. We observe, watch, draw from experience and history , and decide that it is better to stay away, from those drunk on an unfortunate ill advised  "fight" response.

I sometimes wish there was a 3rd alternative to "fight or flight".

Like "wait" .

Who knows?    The neuro types might still discover it ......



Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Ruminations of a young aging mind....

Today's , (Sept 22, 2014 ) Times of  India, highlights an article titled  "Can menopause be erased in 20 years ? "...........

It has been a while since I have crossed the peak and started on the downward descent characterized by a big morcha of cells in my body, marching and/or swimming around (as the case may be) ,   carrying banners saying "Estrogen, Go back!".

 For a long time , it looked like the cells were losing badly.  I suffered immeasurably in the bloody skirmishes. You could call these the First and Second Endometrial Wars of Independence.  Energy loss, anaemia , all coinciding with the busiest part of life as we know it in middle class India.

At some point, the endometrium, like the British, gave up. And I celebrated Independence.  Menopause. 

Which is why, when I read the above article in the newspaper, I gulped.  It was like being colonized once again. 

The article refers to research being done at the SENS (Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence) Research Foundation, in Northern California. Senescence is a posh word for Aging. And the work is about finding a gap between when metabolic damage happens in our bodies , and the subsequent permanent pathologies, so that some re-engineering can be done with , say, stem cell therapies .

Stem cells , to put it simply, are "trained" cells, that carry algorhythms for a type of growth. Some offer a wide range of applicability and are called pluripotent stem cells. And some, are special purpose. Like, for example, stem cells, that when injected in a cardiac patient, will help to regenerate the heart muscle, and get things pumping normal once again. 

I do not understand this obsession with aging. 

And the obsession with having a world class uterus, ovary, and tubes like that of your twenties, when you are sixty. I actually know of someone who swore by HRT(hormone replacement therapy) to avoid the perils of menopause, and exulted in  sense of youngness, lesser grey hair et al. True, acquiring a suddenly new set of functioning ovaries, means child bearing then will have no age limit. With your reproductive hormones in full flow, women will presumably age slower.  And with no menopause, women will clearly have the various built in protections  related to cholesterol and osteoporosis and so on.

But I have a question. 

Unlike minds that are obsessed with opposing ageing in an individual, the organs of our body, are part of a set. The members of the set, the various other body organs, are all linked via arteries, veins, nerves, muscles and lymph. Even if you give a new lease of life to the ovaries, and thus the reproductive system, what happens to the rest of the body?  How do aging muscles handle an abnormally young uterus?  How do you handle old blocks in arteries that have built up over the years  and aging walls of the blood vessels? Will this sudden emphasis on one system, get compensated by afflictions to some other part of the body, which is still in original form, and not the new and improved version ? 

Like the human body, we as a society and as a people, have a life span, where we live in interaction with those around us. Sometimes, we are kids, sometimes we are teenagers, , sometimes family people, and sometimes geriatric folks.  Life is all about interacting with those around us, in different roles.  No one really grows up  unconnected. No man is an island.  And it is all about building bridges.  Each stage of life is not always about individual perfection. Roles change and mind set-ups change  with age. Levels of patience change. There is learning. Sometimes fresh and new, and sometimes by doing something again and again.  

How much stem cell therapy can you do ?  It's like, how any parts of a car can you change and replace before you find out that it is cheaper to get a new car ?

And if you really want to rectify non functional, or malfunctioning entities, why not work on things like trying  solution for Down's syndrome, various life threatening allergies, cancers and handicaps ? I understand that extensive research is happening  in stem cell therapies for these afflictions. But using stem cell therapies to abolish menopause sounds a  bit narcissistic.

I sometimes like to think of stem cell therapy as something akin to grafting on a plant. You graft a new variety of something on to a branch of a tree, and at some point, the tree and the graft accept each other's good points, and learn to grow as if they belong.  The tree doesn't make an issue of where the graft came from, and the graft is only too happy to be part of a whole system.

There is much for us to learn from this as humans. We still place great emphasis on "my genes", "my blood", "my complexion",  "my DNA", "my chromosomes" etc , and are , disgustingly  for an evolved being, incapable of handling grafts.

What you really need is some stem cells you can implant in minds.  To clean, educate and improve them....

Minds that have gone haywire, minds that are sick, minds that are violent, rigidly selfish minds and so on.  So that all these can get back on track. 

See , there is nothing cosmetic about it. Throughout life, the mind evolves, by interacting and learning. Your thinking actually decides your age better than your biological age. 

And it wouldn't be terribly wrong to say that Aging, really , is a state of mind.....

Friday, September 19, 2014

Spits and guts

"Mumbai Commuters, if you spit at the station, clean it yourself"   : Railways
So said a headline on September 19, 2014.

Easier said than done. Though this time, the cleaning staff  seems to be a the end of their tether, dealing with people who spit paan, spit and strew garbage all over the place,  asking anyone who objects,  "Kya yeh aapke baap ka hai ?"   .......

Took me back a few years. In fact, decades.

She was in her 70's.  Brought up with solid old world values, in a no nonsense way, she was appointed as one of the trustees of a very large well known temple trust in her hometown. The first woman trustee in its history.  She was known to all the older employees of the various temples, since she had been a devotee for more than 25 years and very regular. Back then , besides coming to worship, she also noted things like deforestation and encroachment on one of the hill temples, and met the concerned folks, got folks to donate trees, and in general was proactive. In a rare acknowledgement by the authorities, she was honored as a trustee in her mid 70's.

A beautiful historical heritage temple complex was renovated and notices about cleanliness put up all over the place.  When she was on her routine visit daily, everyone was on their toes, minding their duties , looking earnest, and so on. And one day, she saw a new young  priest intern, walking out from the sanctum santorum, across the courtyard, with a bucket of stuff. As he walked amidst the visitors, he turned and spat on the floor. And walked away.

She had him called back. Asked him to bring a bucket of water , a mop, soap , and so on.  And in front of everyone,  had him clean up a square metre around the spot.  He was told, that people looked up to him, and he should set an example rather than  flash his special position in such a uncaring manner.  Cleanliness. Godliness. Rules would be followed, if people saw him following them. Else we had no business putting up signs, and fining people and so on.

People watched. 

The lesson was learned. The other employees too learned a valuable lesson. The older employees nodded in approval.    Five years later, after an entire period where she questioned  purchases, and contracts given with an eagle eye, asked inconvenient questions, asked for references of previous work done, from people receiving work contracts,  the usual system kicked in, and she was replaced, by a person, who was actually once blacklisted by her as a vendor.

The system had sunk to its lowest level.  

She is no more, since the beginning of this century.  But many still talk about her and shake their head about what the world has come to.       

The effort of the railways is commendable.  The test will be in the implementation.  We as a country insist on enjoying the benefits because there is an element of "free" in it. We refuse to take responsibility.  What is not ours is open  to abuse.  Ask anyone who told a neighbor on the next seat, not to throw litter out of the bus or train window.  Ask anyone who is occupying 2 seats himself/herself, and is asked to shift.

You can fine people.  But there will be a subset of folks who will pocket them and shut their eyes.  Who will monitor these guys ? Extrapolate the thought and you will conclude that the top most person in authority must be spotless.  For the honesty to trickle down.

In the meanwhile,  at a busstop, I noticed a bike rider, trying to drive between the bus and the busstop, endangering embarking and disembarking passengers.  This is a common occurrence in Mumbai.   When I stopped him, and berated him, he glared through his helmet and asked ,"Kya yeh aapke baap ka rasta hai ?"......

I glared back, and told him, that it was not just my father's road (baap ka rasta), but my road too, since I paid municipal and vehicle taxes.  This was my bus,  my bus passengers. And there was no free-for-all.  As it often happens, the passengers gathered around, there were words. We got into the bus.

I wonder how many such altercations there will be at stations, stairs and escalators, between pan chewers, spitters , and ordinary public , not to mention, those monitoring such things.

I wonder what people think of political leaders who are shown on TV news chewing away to glory while talking unclearly, and someone suddenly rushing with a spitoon to catch the spitten projectile. 

Some will start flinging accusations, there wil be fights, and typicaly, someone will insist on installing CCTV's  on staircases and stations, as is the current fashion.  ( I have often suspected someone close to powers-that-be to be in the CCTV business)

What we need, is an example. Like the priest intern. 

And some fearless person, like the old lady . 

Wait and watch.

Mumbai CommurtersMumbai commuters, if you spit at the station, clean it yourselves: Railways - See more at:

Sunday, September 07, 2014

"Jumping " to conclusions...

The Information Age, has , as it were, sharpened the eyes, the ears, but numbed the part of the brain that evaluates things. 

The trouble is, having something appear on Page 1 of a national newspaper brings a certain "credibility" to  the news item,   that listening to a friend doesn't bring.  And so, in this age of limitless Fluid Intelligence, we gulp it all down. Without thinking.

And simply rush to a conclusion.  As is "jump". I now know how the phrase "jumping to conclusions " happened.

Today's papers highlight a news item  (" Cancer behind 70% of deaths in India's Atomic Energy Hubs ") ,  about prevalence of cancer as a cause of death in areas where the Department of Atomic Energy has its nuclear set ups. 

At a time when multinationals have been flooding us with items containing carcinogenic ingredients, and the populace is mindlessly lured  into undesirable lifestyles thanks to merciless marketing,  one can expect the above news to be made capital of , by those striving to be noticed.

 A friend, who as a closed community hospital doctor, observed patients  over the last many decades, and the prevalence of certain cancers among her female patients.  She knew many of these people socially.  And she often wondered if their  over usage of, and the proclivity to , using  various insect killing powders, lotions, chemical scrubs, not to mention blatant use of hormones-in-the-quest-for-looking-young-when-you-are-old  etc had a connection.  And did it have anything to do with the particulate matter in the house atmosphere having concentrations  of carcinogenic substances which the skin could absorb ?

Do we see news items  about these ?  No.  (Ha. They advertise in newspapers) 

Then , at a time when GP's are disappearing, and we remain blind to the patient's history, pulse, touch , gait, and  skin etc,  there is so much unnecessary radiation happening due to  overuse of technology like Xrays and scans. Even when MRI's is a safer option.

Do we see news items about these ?  No. Because  we use machines  in an unregulated way.  Sometimes to kill female foetuses.  And regulating the use depends on individual ethics. While rules are followed in the breach.

Olestra is an additive found in so many things like peanut butters, toothpastes, certain popular coffees. This is a fat replacement and causes diarrhoea, sticks to all the vitamins and minerals in your body, flushing them out.  Thereby denying you those, that protect you from things like cancer heart disease an blindness. It even affects your ability to absorb vitamins later on.

Do we see news items  about these ? No. (Ha. They advertise in newspapers)

Colas and Sodas. They contain high fructose corn syrup , which is harmful for teeth. Some even contain calcium carbonate and citric acid ; the citric acid is not of the type you see in fruits. Under heat and light, these substances turn carcinogenic.  And yet, our cricketers fall prey to easy money and endorse these for obscene sums, creating an entire generation of smitten unthinking kids.

Do we see news items about these ? No.  (Ha. They advertise in newspapers)

And then we have the shampoo wars, as if  your life depended upon clean, strong, tangle free, dandruff free, shiny, silky, smooth, colored, unsplit hair, never ever out of place.  Propylene Glycol and Ethylene Glycol are the star players in the carcinogenic stakes. You find them everywhere . Shampoos, cosmetics, hand sanitizers, hair spray, hair color , hair gel, massage oils, deos, baby wipes, even fat free ice cream !  And these 2 contribute to Infertility, Birth Defects, Nerve Degeneration, Heart Problems, Brain, Liver and Kidney Abnormalities, and Metabolic Problems.

Do we see news items about these ? No.  (Ha. They advertise in newspapers)
Go back to today's news item . About Cancer being the cause of death in 70% of deaths in Atomic Energy related areas in India.  
Most of these hubs, are residential campuses that are built around the set ups, with schools, hospitals , and other facilities. Many senior citizens come and live with their children who work there, because it is a peaceful protected life , away from the city hustle and bustle, and sometimes , there are grandchildren. 
We have a Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, that is very strict about safeguards for humans  working inside nuclear installations.  There are rules about protective gear, continuous working in a defined area, mandatory  radiation checks, and so on. These are strictly followed.   
Regarding the news item, is there any clarity about samples surveyed ?  Age brackets surveyed ?  Sample sizes ?  Final cause of death ?  Pre-existing illnesses ?  Hereditary illnesses ?  It is well known that several patients slip into depression for various reasons, which could lead to eventual death.

Unfortunately, in our pursuit of Fluid Intelligence, connecting, downloading, etc, we have learned simply to highlight things, without any supporting research related questions.  Highlighting Atomic Energy and Causes of  Death, is guaranteed to garner eyeballs, in a population that refuses to think and analyse. 
I would love to see  some articles about the carcinogenic ingredients in the  aforementioned, toothpastes, and shampoos, and deos.  
I would love to see an ad where , say, one of our sports icons, comes and says , "Guys , dont drink Cola; its harmful" , and pours it down the drain.   
I would love to see an ad of a  Page 3 type sensibly washing his/her hands with water instead of spraying hand sanitizer. 
I would love to see a baby being wiped with a soft fresh clean washed cotton cloth, instead of a baby-wipe. 

I know this will not happen.  Because , today, businesses run the News business. And advertisers are Gods. 

And it is more important to be seen eating a carcinogenic pseudo fat laden burger, as you smile into the camera displaying Olestra studded teeth, your ethylene glycol-supported makeup, and say, propylene glycol strengthened strands of hair which are so strong, they even shut your eyes to reality. 
On another note, why does this remind me of folks who promise all kinds of things, pull wool over your eyes,  just so you support them ? 
And then you find out that they are no good.   



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 ?.........