Thursday, August 30, 2007

Hometruths from an educated illiterate lady.

September 7, 2007 is International Literacy Day.

(Over two-thirds of the world's 785 million illiterate adults are found in only eight countries (India, China, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Indonesia, and Egypt); of all the illiterate adults in the world, two-thirds are women; extremely low literacy rates are concentrated in three regions, South and West Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Arab states, where around one-third of the men and half of all women are illiterate .......)

They also say that when you educate a man, you educate just one person; when you educate a woman, you educate an entire family . So true ..

(The following is a true story told to me, by the illiterate, smart lady who has been our family's household help for the last 25 years.)

In her words .....

" It's the story of the five of us. And I was the youngest of the children.

It begins with the five of us. My parents, my two brothers and me. Father worked for one of the biggest Engineering Colleges in Mumbai, in the department that did repairs all over campus. When I was little, every evening, , I'd accompany him to the Market Gate, where he would buy some leafy vegetables , and then sit for a while, chatting to the cobbler, his friend . In the old days, the college was not so big, and there were fewer people. At sundown, the darkness used to frighten me...all those trees, chirping crickets, hissing slithering creatures, and I would clutch my father's fingers tight as I skipped along home with him.

My two older brothers were in school - the huge school near the Market Gate. I used to feel so proud to see them going off each morning in their blue pants and white shirt. Sometimes I felt like going myself. Aaiyo ! How would I wear those blue frocks ? Exposing the knees and skirts billowing in the breeze ? Aaai would be furious. So I used to avidly pour through my brothers' books, and pretend I was studying them.

Years passed , and both my brothers left school. One passed 10th grade , the other did not. I was married off to someone recommended by our relatives in the native village.

At first it was exciting; a new life, new energy, new places. I had five children. One after another. Four sons, one daughter.

The more I did, the more they asked. They said I came from the BIG city, Mumbai. Who did I think I was? And then I heard the stories about the drinking. Every day, at sundown, it was so different from back home. Then the beatings began .

Children cowering.



How to live.

How not to live.

Then I heard about the Other woman. And decided I did not want to hear any more.

I confided in someone who worked in the textile mills in Mumbai and had come for a visit to the village. I asked him to tell my father and mother . That was the smartest thing I did.

My father and mother came. No words were necessary. The only words exchanged were with my husband's elder brother, who nodded. There were whispers, nods, fingers pointed at me , snide comments of other women folk. But my father carried my youngest , my daughter, in his arms , and asked me to walk ahead of him. With my mother, head held high.

I was back on campus. My children once again learned to be children. My father put them in the big school near the Market Gate. I started helping my mother , who worked as a household help in about four houses. She too was getting old. There were daughters-in-law in the house. They had their own households. So I took over my mothers work.

Like they say about the teachers in the college, when my mother grew old, she "retired".

Life has come full circle for me. My children, the sons, studied with the help of the uncles, indulged in by the grandparents, and I decided my daughter too would study, and get all the opportunities I never knew I could have.

This time it was my mother who supported me. My father was getting old. His sons were now working, one in the college and the other as a temporary worker elsewhere. So while I worked various houses doing housework and cleaning, my mother would wait to make fresh hot chappaties , for her granddaughter, when she came back from school. Looking on proudly as she struggled to do homework, sometimes with the help of her brothers, sometimes despite them.

And then came the day, I don't ever want to father collapsed one day on his way home from visiting a friend. He was rushed to the hospital. I ran all the way from working at someone's place, got my daughter from her school, and rushed to see my father. He was the one who had confidence in me, no doubt prodded and cajoled by my mother, who could see that my daughter should get opportunities I did not .

My mother was "super-un-educated", but super smart otherwise. She sat stoically at his bedside, occasionally coming out when his friends from department at college, came to see him, surreptitiously wiping her tears and looking somewhere into the distance....

He died two days later. My children missed him a lot. He motivated them to learn. He and my mother never went to school. But were more educated that many of the sirs and ladies I worked for, if you know what I mean.

Today , I am the same age my father was, when he came to bring me back from a hell , that I prefer to forget. I am both father and mother to my children. My daughter got married a few years ago. We had a reception in one of the halls on campus just like the folks I work for . My sons decided to give her a wedding she would never forget.

In some ways, she never forgot her wedding.

It was the beginning of seven months of a different type of hell. The husband had lied about his job, and never had one. The only place he could act superior, was with his wife. Aided and abetted by his parents. Whats more, he drank. And she was at the receiving end.

She did not have a father to call; just an old mother, and brothers.

But she had an education, she could read and write, and do simple sums, and was good at assorted craft work.

And so one evening she ran. And jumped on to a running suburban train that stopped at a station near our college. No footwear, dressed in the one sari that she had been wearing through the day. She went through the slush and mud and up the hill, and appeared at her mother's doorstep at 10 o'clock one night.

Was history repeating itself ? I don't know. There was no time to dwell on that.

I just opened my heart out to her. So did her brothers. She was not going back. She had an education, and we would look for a job for her. She would stand on her own feet, and not be trampled.

I think the world has changed . My daughter has a daily job at a place where they make ready made clothes. She also works and freelances on the sewing machine that one of the ladies I work for, gave her. Her grandmother can't see now. But her eyes light up when ever we visit. She is very proud of her granddaughter.

And all this because of someone who thought I should have a better life; someone who thought education is useful, and helped me send my daughter to school; you know, its not so much about what subjects you study ---its about learning to see a problem, and deciding how to solve it. My daughter went to school, then learned from life itself.

What education gave her was confidence.

Then I hear from the ladies i work for, about families where they celebrate someone's pregnancy in the house (with elaborate rituals), and then after finding out that it is a girl child, they force the daughter-in-law to abort. I have heard of girls undergoing four to five abortions.

All these people went to college.

I also hear about daughters-in-law being physically assaulted, humiliated and burnt, by the in laws, who operate as a group, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law et al, and then deny that anything happened. And it all happens because they all want more material wealth , but from the parents of the girl. Pictures on the wall depict the son holding a scroll in his hand, wearing something like a cape, like you see in movies on TV , in a court scene.

These people too, went to college.

Then there are families where the unhappily married , educated , daughter taking refuge with her parents, is sent back forcefully to gleeful in-laws who continue to torture her for money and her refusal to follow immoral paths. The parents , in the meanwhile, keep up their shameful head in a society that is unaware of all this. After all, they are educated people . How can they be involved in all this ?

They all went to college, did'nt they ?

Sometimes I really wonder, am I literate, illiterate, educated, or uneducated ? "

End of story. Happy International Literacy Day !

Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Information Fatigue Syndrome (IFS) : Drowning and Getting Entangled in the Net

"Tis true: there's magic in the web of it...."
so said William Shakespeare, in Othello Act 3, Scene 4.

Little did he realise what kind of magic the web was going to be !

My friend S., treats the Net, like a secret doctor, whose face she does not need to see. Faced with a weird leg pain one day, she searched and zeroed in , upon a term, called "claudication", and immediately got alarmed. Worried sick, she found out about blockages in the femoral artery that flows through the leg, and discovered, that a observant doctor can hear and differentiate between blood flowing sounds using the stethoscope, and tell whether there is a blockage, causing the aforementioned pain.

Her doctor, an amazingly wise and tolerant lady, and used to sudden scientific discoveries , as such by S., did the needful checking on artery sounds, and declared Sara's arteries just fine.

S. is in her thirties, but her apprehension, tension, loss of appetite and general state of anxiety affected her whole family till the puzzle was solved.

This is a minor example of what is happening all over the world today , like an uncontrolled explosion.

There is a huge tidal flow of information coming at us. Waves lapping at the feet are initially enjoyable, but the information wave is in danger of becoming a tsunami....

Think. (On the other hand, maybe you should not).

Every year, we publish a thousand books daily across the world. Every day, approximately 20 million words of technical information are recorded. A reader capable of reading 1000 words per minute would require 1.5 months, reading eight hours every day, to get through one day's output, and at the end of that period he would have fallen 5.5 years behind in his reading.....

America publishes nine thousand periodicals a year. Overall, more new information has been produced within the last 30 years than in the last 5000.

Electronic activities, like the telephone, email, fax, web cams, digital imaging, and , finally the World Wide Web, have been throwing up quantities of information so vast, that it is impossible to assimilate all of it, organise all of it, or understand this shortcoming.

Across the world whether its business, scientific studies, casual searches, advertising , or news propagation , people are finding it difficult to handle the flood of information directed at them. They are being faced with choices they never knew existed, and no one has time to look through all of them. In a classic mismatch between the speed of human thought and that of light, we are today facing and suffering from the symptoms of what may, be accurately defined as an Information Overload, or Information Fatigue Syndrome.

Its not a question of piles of transcribed papers on your desk; cluttered desks arise from cluttered minds; or maybe vice-versa. Bureaucrats, business executives, teachers, doctors, lawyers and other professionals, are aware that no sooner they get through the stuff on their desks, the computer will be ready to spew out more. Who is to go through this unlimited information, and how much of it will actually end up being knowledge? Does the additional information make you anxious about the fact that maybe you have not read the entire data, and that there may be more relevant stuff yet to come? How do you know when to stop ? At what point do you freeze everything and get on with your work , which was due, sometimes, yesterday ? Is the human brain equipped to handle information overloads like this ?

And so we come to what has been called "Information Fatigue Syndrome" or IFS by British psychologist David Lewis, who was researching the connection between Information overload and poor health, stress, tension, and sometimes, even lack on analytical ability. People with IFS become unable to perform in-depth analysis, which leads to difficulty in reaching conclusions. Other psychological problems involve irritability, tension, feelings of helplessness, and mental anguish. Fatigue, stomach pains, failing eyesight, insomnia, headaches, forgetfulness, bad temper, and computer rage, are some additional problems people face.

We plug in our minds to the great information socket and tune out. Never mind that most of the feedback we receive is irrelevant. The Internet has now become like a continuous TV program, with commercials indistinguishable from the actual program. Information keeps hitting you with regular waves, and the sheer quantity has disabled you from analysing what is useful and what is not.

Being a consumerist society spoilt for choice is also an unavoidable side effect of having so many avenues for easy spitting-out of information. Do we need to know details of 20 different styles of jeans to choose from, 24 flavours of jam, 38 types of breakfast cereal and 22 models of mobile phone, and that is just naming maybe 5% of the items on which numerous choices are available ?

Children have not escaped the Information fatigue Syndrome either.

Two hundred sixty-five Texas fourth and eighth graders responded to a survey asking them whether they had experienced information overload, what strategies they used to reduce the overload condition, and what words would describe their feelings while overloaded. Turns out that the fourth graders had a higher overload percentage than did the eighth graders, 86 percent compared to 67 percent. Can this say anything more about the increasing sophistication of the older children in manipulating masses of information and their growing experience with informational analysis and synthesis?

Among other questions, the students were queried about their feelings when overloaded with information.

Among fourth graders, the most prevalent feeling was that of being confused and frustrated. Then came, being mad, angry, or even furious. When asked to associate a physical symptom with a sense of being overloaded, they responded with headache, tiredness, depression, or sickness .

When eighth graders were queried in a similar manner, the findings were slightly different. Ten eighth graders, all male, responded with vulgarity. While boys responded with anger and cursing, the girls described themselves as tense, stressed, or experiencing panic. Interestingly, fourth grade girls felt as if they were exploding and bursting, and responded to overload with irritability. By eighth grade, fatigue and panic have set in. Either the older girls learned to internalize overload or their active anger had been socialized out.

Maybe we need to do a "rethink" on dealing with open ended searches that spew out tsunamis of information. Is Attention Deficit a defiant response that indicates a planned ignorance and inattention to the information overload ? Are adult stresses related to the realisation that complete control over work activities is an impossible proposition ? Do we need to think of using faster and faster computer speeds in other ways ? Was there a life before the Internet, email and instant communications ?

There are some things e can do to avoid being a part of the Information Fatigue Syndrome.

STOP being an "informavore" (informavore (in.FORM.uh.vohr) n. A person who consumes information.)

Reduce passive information intake : This means we reduce interaction with any media that we do not actively interact with. If your search throws out 2,800 links, do not pursue a hundred of them in a wild quest for knowing more. There is just so much information you can process and remember. (Think of how you mindlessly watch asinine commercials when watching a TV program, without worrying about the utility of it all).

Be still : Learn to occasionally rest your mind. Different people have different techniques. Some folks can instinctively meditate anywhere. Some need to indulge in vigorous physical exercise to bring on mental peace. A rested mind is a smart mind. Tune out the "noise "factor", and you will then see the main points.

Learn to "flow" : This is the complete opposite of information fatigue. "Flowing" is the ability to concentrate on one activity so as to be able to mentally exclude anything else. Have a daily checklist of stuff to do in the house before starting work. Make it a habit of doing that without fail, daily. (You actually check your email more regularly than that, don't you?)

Turn off email, your browser and all telephones (for a while everyday) : Alarming , as this may sound to some electronically challenged folks , there is a world beyond emails and browsers. There also existed a fairly peaceful world before cell phones appeared on the scene, and we were all doing just fine , thank you.

Get physically comfortable : An uncomfortable posture in a fashionable but stressfully shaped chair does nothing for you. Sit in a comfortable sofa, have some soothing music playing. Music that brings back memories is even better. Too many machines in the room and the thermostat setting going for a toss , either too cold or too hot , is an invitation for the onset of information fatigue. So pay attention to your physical environment and get comfortable.

And finally, whatever work you do, remember, that while you may be aware of the desired results, over focusing on the goal to the exclusion of everything else doesn't necessarily get you faster to the goal. A balanced approach with some pitfalls and troubles probably ends up teaching you a lot more in the long run.

Come to think of it, maybe acronyms came about consequent to people becoming lazy about writing the details, given the vast information sea they were drowning in. And so we had folks saying ROTFL and pretending to be smart, whereas it was much more fun to perform that and interact with someone else. And only dumb types learnt to say YMMV; for heavens sake, EVERYONE'S mileage varies, that's what being a different person is all about and that's what makes everyone else exciting and interesting.

In one of the great ironies of information age , it appears that while information can be trivially copied and the information bandwidth continues to widen, the individual's attention bandwidth is as narrow as ever. You abuse the bandwidth, and network problems ensue. We see that everyday in offices of psychiatrists, psychologists, and school counsellors. Its all a question of balance.

At the end of the day, the human brain and human mind is vastly superior to the computer. Like someone said, if you drop a ton of apples on a computer, it will not come up with the theory of gravity.....

Maybe the solution to IFS is as simple as a wastepaper basket ?

Monday, August 20, 2007

A completely irrelevant history of Achilles' heel and Duryodhana's thigh....

As a child I heard the story of Duryodhana's thigh, and as I grew older, Achilles and his association with the heel was something one read about and wondered. One tends to think very respectfully about folks after whom things are named.

But Achilles was different. And Duryodhana still needs to have a thigh muscle named after him, I should think.

Duryodhana , who can be described as a wild, wilful, brave, spoilt prince of the Kauravas , maybe found in the great Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. Achiiles , it turns out , has a similar background, only it is based in the various Greek Islands, and his activities were chronicled by Homer (not Simpson) in the Iliad, which was probably written, as a way of remembering folks with all lenghty, unpronounceable, Greek names and their multifarious activities with and without Gods. Truly humbling, and my sympathies to all the Greek school children of those days who had to learn to spell.

Both Duryodhana and Achilles had births, which, would leave all the world's doctors gaping in wonder, with their mouths ajar, almost permanently. In both cases, women were prominently involved in communicating with the then current Gods, and basically getting them to do what they wanted to do themselves.

The Mahabharata is all about the fight between the Kauravas and Pandavas, the former the evil, and the latter, well, not evil. The Kauravas were a hundred, the Pandavas, five. The Pandvas were born to Queen Kunti, in the usual way, except for one episode , where , unlike the female fratricide practiced today, Kunti let go , one of her sons, into a basket in the river, as the child was not fathered by her royal husband, but by the Sun God. (Where was the husband when all this was happeneing ?)

The Kaurava 's King Dhrutarashtra was blind, and his queen Gandhari was in competetion with Queen Kunti . Frustrated about not delivering before Kunti, she beat her womb , and really messed up her delivery ; what emerged was a hard grey mass. Well, excessive prayers to various sages, resulted in the mass being broken up into a hundred pieces, each being buried in a pot of clarified butter or ghee, for a year, after which , someone cracked the pots open, and a hundred sons emerged from them, the eldest being Duryodhana.

Well, a year and nine months of development , in such a high cholesterol, high fat environment,certainly made Duryodhana a strong child. He was also a thoughtless, yet scheming, disrespectful, greedy person. Legend has it, that he was made up of thunder, and was very very strong. He spent his entire life, scheming, cheating, playing people off against each other, granting material favours to people he liked, and insulting and abusing the Pandavas, to the extent, that their wife Draupadi (five Pandavas had 1 wife, but that is another story), was dragged into his court and disrobed as part of his celebration of winning a bet against the Pandavas, as well as also to greviously insult them . He further sealed his own fate, and showed his lack of class, by slapping his thigh and inviting Draupadi to sit there.

Draupadi , of course was stronger , mentally, than all the guys, and she called upon Lord Krishna to come save her honor. Lord Krishna did his part by programming the thing inbto an infinite loop, by converting her clothes into an endless saree, which Duryodhana kept pulling gleefully, till his facial muscles got fatigued, his triceps and biceps drooped, but the saree went on and on!

The Mahabharata is the story of the fight between Kauravas and Pandavas, and the avenging of this insult of Draupadi, kind of moderated by Lord Krishna, one of the most people-friendly and popular Gods, who sometimes displayed human values....

Towards the end of the war between the two, when all kinds of great and decent warriors on both sides were killed off, Duryodhana vowed to kill Bhima , his counterpart at the Pandavas , who was similar to him in attitude and strength, but not evil. Duryodhana's mother, true to her willful and irrational way of looking at things, following the dictum ,"my son right or wrong" , decided to do her stuff to make him invincible. Duryodhana's father the king, was blind. In an act of super dedication, Gandhari went through life with her eyes covered with a bandage, and in the process achieved some great powers of sight. Every thing she "saw" became invincible.

She told her son , that prior to the next day's war session, that he should have a bath and appear before her, "au naturel" , so that she could look at him, and every square , or should I say, cubic centimetre of his body could get immunity and become invincible.

Well, there went Duryodhana, fresh after a bath, mace in hand, slowly and proudly, as they say, streaking around, when he ran into Lord Krishna, who managed to give hima complex, just ridiculing him no end for walking around and facing his mother like this, given that he was a grown up man now. Duryodhana, with his high fat birth circumstances, had probably so clogged his neuronal synapses, that he lost sight of his mother's main objective. In an attitude and lack of application of thought, reminicent of typical politicians today, he simply covered himelf around his hips and faced his mother, who was, simply stunned speechless by his denseness, but ended up making him invincible everywhere , except in the hips and thighs area.

Lord Krishna, made this handicap known to Bhim of the Pandavas, who finally killed Duryodhana by simply beating his thighs to pulp with his mace; and, as legend has it, drinking his blood.....

And so it was all about knowing a persons susceptible points.

Achilles, had he known Duryodhana , would have probably understood all these happenings and even approved, so dramatic was his own birth history.

One abiding strain that runs through the Hindu and Greek mythology is the participation of Gods in routine human events. Where as in the Mahabharata, Gods have participated in a tricky advisory capacity, in the history of Achilles, Goddesses seem to be ruling the situation. In addition Gods routinely came down to participate in wars , intrigues and weddings on earth, sometimes interfering in things defying all logic.

Achilles was the son of a person called Peleus and a divine sea nymph called Thetis. One of the conditions of Achilles's parents' marriage (the union of a mortal with a divine sea nymph) was that the son born to them would die in war and bring great sadness to his mother. Thetis, was greatly ambitious and wanted Achilles to be immortal and invincible.

One version about how she tried that says that she smeared him with ambrosia and held him over the fire, to burn away his mortal properties , so to speak. Peleus, was properly aghast and he dragged the poor kid away. The father then put the young kid under the care of the Centaur Choron , who educated the boy.

The second version says that Thetia held Achilles upside down (by the heel), to get him to immerse in the sacred river Styx. It seems everything that the sacred water touched became immortal ; and poor Achilles was left with a mortal heel, where his mother had held him.

In the meanwhile, some Goddesses got interested . Eris, the Godess of discord (yes, there is such a department), got cheesed off as she was not invited to the Peleus-Thetis wedding. She landed up anyway, and angrily threw a golden apple into the proceedings, which a lot of other greedy goddesses reached out for. (It is amazing how the apple , a proletarian fruit, appears again and again in crisis situations, whether in gardens or weddings....).

In a set of steps that defy logic, one of the influential Gods, Zeus, landed up and said the judge would be Paris, the prince of Troy. The goddess who would be basically able to bribe Paris well, would win. Turns out , that one of the goddesses , promised this guy Paris, someone else's wife , called Helen. Both Paris and Helen were visions of beauty , and this completely arbitrary and irresponsible behaviour on the goddess's part makes you realise where todays powerful people get their ideas from.

Helen was actually married to Menelaus, King of Sparta. Paris set out on a so called polite visit to Sparta. Menelaus treated him with great honor, (similar to , say, how the Queen of England would treat, say, George Bush). Then the King went off to attend a funeral somewhere, which gave Paris an opportunity to run off with Helen, and take her to Troy. (Shame on you, Helen).

The entire Trojan War, was the result of all kinds of supporters of Menelaus getting together to fight Paris , attack Troy, and get back Helen. People made all kinds of predictions; a seer, some Calchas , said the war would be lost unless Achilles fought . Achilles mother, Thetis, then dressed him like a girl, and spirited him away to Scyros, another place, to keep him from being drafted into fighting a pointless war. While there he met Deidameia, and they had a son Neoptolemos. Various people with completely unpronounceable names like, Odysseus,Palamedes,Cinyras,Agamemnon, and others, managed to manoevre around , trick Achiiles into revealing his presence and get him to come and fight Paris at Troy.

Several customs come to light here. It was usual for someone to predict something arbitrarily, and suggest solutions if you did not want something to happen. The gullibility of the general population was shocking, but that of the rulers was just disgraceful. (It happens even today ...).

The solutions were mostly about sacrificing beautiful women at some altar, to appease , supposedly some God, but probably to satisfy someone's secret enimity with someone else. Sacrificing one's daughters was not uncommon.

The siege of Troy and the Torjan war lasted ten years, in which many folks died. Paris and Menelaus (stealer and husband respectively of Helen), fought a duel, and just when Paris was about to be killed, the Godess Aphrodite saved him. Guys called Cycnus, and Troilus, were killed by Achilles. In the ninth year of the war, one Agamemnon got into a fight with his colleague Achilles, and Achilles went off in a huff. With the best fighter having semi-retired , one of the Troy fighters called Hector had a dream run in the war, and became powerful. Achilles in the meanwhile had a bunch of affairs with, Patroclus, Troilus, Polyxena, daughter of Priam, Helen, and Medea, not all of them female. (How Helen appears in this list, simply boggles the mind. Guys, that was the end of the trojan war right there !) . But no. Agamemnon got panicky and begged of Achilles to return.

Thetis, once again had a goddess prepare a suit of armour for Achilles, and Achilles more or less ran through the Trojans, basically slaughetring everyone including an Amazon Queen and an Ethiopian King, and of course Hector. Hector's dead body was tied to Achiiles' chariot and dragged all over. Achilles held funerals for his loyal soldiers, blithely sacrificed a bunch of ladies at the altar, and held funeral games in honor of the departed.

Achilles's career as the greatest warrior came to an end when Paris, with the help of the God Apollo (once again making you wonder about the standards of morality amongst gods), killed him with an arrow which pierced him in the heel, the one vulnerable spot, which the waters of the River Styx had not touched because his mother had held him by the foot when she had dipped the infant in the river.

No amount of godly interference, pious prayers of strong minded mothers, and direct communication with an assortment of highly wilful gods, could save either Achilles or Duryodhana from their respective fates.

Homer wrote the Iliad in honor of all the Greek going ons and the Mahabharata was pennd by Vyasa . What is amazing is that despite the lack of any hugely outstanding qualities, a great amount of fuss is being made of Achilles. He was brave , but so were some thousand other folks with highly unpronounceable names defined by Homer. Standards and ethicswise, he was not at the top of his class.

As if this was not enough, the term “Achilles’ heel” was first used by a Dutch anatomist, Verheyden, in 1693 when he dissected his own amputated leg. Before him, some anatomical afficiando, decided to honor Achilles, by naming ater him , the strong tendon that connects the muscles of the calf of the leg with the heel bone : the “Achilles’ tendon”.

India has its own system of medicine , Ayurveda, and ancient Sanskrit texts refer to the scholarly books ("Sushrut Samhita " ), by Suhsrut, the father of Indian Medicine, outlining surgical procedures, anatomy , medicine and various treatments. Maybe, religion was so much a part of everyones spiritual and material life then, that no one named any thigh muscles or tendons after, say Duryodhana or any other nasty person from the scriptures.

Maybe if Hippocrates had had something to do with naming muscles, Achilles wouldnt have got his heel, so to speak.

But what can you say ? After all one man's thigh is another man's heel.

And thigh or heel, we need to remember, that at the basic level, the susceptibility is all up there, in the head.....

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Shakespeare's loaded question : Whats in a name ?

No-Name-Calling week, was declared and celebrated this year in January. Early next year it will becelebrated from January 21-25, 2008.

Why ?

Words hurt.

The younger a hurt person is, the more of an effect it has . In schools, it is routine for some students to be the target of frequent taunts based on their weight, height, intelligence, and sexual orientation/gender expression. Paticularly, in British schools, bullying, by the seniors , was the norm, and you were supposed to emerge, unscthed, and "bloody but unbowed" , as they say, through that.

Sometimes this resulted in a permanent scar on the person's psyche. It affected the students studies, confidence, self respect and attitude towards the world.

"The Misfits", written by James Howe, is a novel about four best friends who band together to face seventh grade in the face of such name callying and bullying. It describes how they formed a group and fought school elections on a no-name-calling platform, and impressed their principal so much, that they initiated a "No-name-calling-Day" at the school.

First celebrated in 2004, the No-name-calling week has been celebrated every year since then , and has consisted of educators, parents and schools working together and discussing and implementing ways to reduce and remove bullying in the community.

While young children today may learn , it is inetersting to note that "name-calling" in some form, as always existed, the world over, historically speaking.

Calling people names, or Name-calling has absolutely nothing to do with knowing somebody's name and calling out to him and her. But it has everything to do with calling out to someone in a very offensive way, so as to be hurtful.

In the olden days, people did not sport easy names like Bill, Al, Dick,Rajiv,Deepak, Arun or , for that matter, George. They had impressive sounding, multisyllable names like Cornelius, Olivio, Marlborough, Spencer, Abraham, Venkatraghavan, Solapurwalla, Setalvad, Figueredo-de-Albuquerque, Boutrous-Boutrous-Ghali, Mountbatten , and such which basically made it difficult to get up and abuse the person easily.

The Greeks and Romans, not to speak of the Egyptians , were very fond of names that nobody could spell or pronounce, but then most people did not take English 101 in those days. You had names like Persepolis, Polyxena, Atridae, Philoctetes, Neoptolemus, Telamonian Ajax, Laomedon, Tyndareus,-just to name a few.

Calling out to "you XXXX XXXX Neoptolemus Ajax" or whoever, wasnt either practical or cool. And so they resorted to duels. While name calling was all about dishonoring someone, duels, (which by today's criminal standards could be deemed culturally sanctioned murder), were all about "restoring on's honor" and an inextricable part of daily life.

While Greeks and Romans could embellish duels, with human sacrifices on the side in the names of various assorted Gods (who commanded them to do that), huge wars like the Trojan War , were often conducted on a matter of individual honor and prestige, and neighboring countries joined the fracas. The more the merrier.

Closer to home, it is not unusual to realise that several prominent political figures were , through the various ages of history, often involved in duels for the most flimsiestof reasons. Abraham Lincoln nearly had to slash at a tax auditor with a saber because he claimed in print that the man smelled badly. Mark Twain , while working as a nespaperman in Nevada in 1864 challenged a rival and only escaped injury through the guile of his "second" (a supposed arbiter, or a person who might be called the dueler's "homey" in today's parlance). At "Bloody Bladensburg," an infamous dueling field near Washington, D.C., many of the country's politicians brutally mowed each other down over second-hand rumors. San Francisco , at one time had the dubious honor of being the Duelling Capital of the nation.

While its been a long time since someone went around Washington DC waving a sword , name calling continues actively to this day. Rush Limbaugh, even took on Chelsea Clinton when she was, would you believe, thirteen, and called her a Whiye House Dog. In a effort at name-calling people his own size, he then attacked Democratic leader Tom Daschle and actually called him "El Diablo" or "the Devil Incarnate", complete with the music of "Devil in a Blue Dress" wafting in the background. He evn further explained that Daschle could be Satan in soft-spoken disguise. He even questioned his patriotism by calling him Hanoi Tom, and Tokyo Tom.

While powerful rulers from the middle east often use completely unparliamenrtary language to describe Bush, Venezuelan President Chavez got into the act by called Bush El Diablo.

Recently , referring to answers given by Presidential hopefuls (2008) to questions about them meeting leaders of Iraq,Venezuela,Cuba etc, Barack Obama called Hilary Clinton, a "Bush Cheney Lite".

Talk radio host Michael Savage, announced that developing countries like Venezuela were "turd world nations"; that Latinos "breed like rabbits"; and that women "should have been denied the vote".

If this were a tennis match between the Us and Venezuela,, we would now be at deuce.

Speaking of tennis , Wimbledon and England come to mind.

No 10, Downing Street, the historical abode of all British Prime Ministers, has been at the recieving end of the name-calling slugfest, and word has it that all the 50 men and one woman who have held the job since Sir Robert Walpole took control in 1721 have been beqeathed rude names. Most have hated them.

Most recently, Tony Blair has been called Bush's Poodle,by his opponents. Then The US president complicated matters saying "He is bigger than that !"(June 27, 2007)...

It has not mattered whether the British Prime Minister was a member of ruyalty or a commoner. The sixth primeminister John Stuart , Earl of Bute, was called Jack Boot; the tenth, Augusttus Henry Fitzroy was described as "the Turf Macaroni"; the twentieth, Frederick Robinson, was nicknamed the "Blubberer"; Sir Robert Peel the 24th occupant was disdainfully called the "Orange Peel"; Benjakin Disraeli , the 29th occupant of 10 Downimg St, was often dismissed as "Dizzy"; Harold Macmillan, the 44th occupant was openly called "Mac the Knife". On generous days , he was often called SuperMac; Jobs and Wozniak probably could not ever match that. Arthur Balfour, sometimes called Bloody Balfour , was actually happy that no one called him by his earlier names, "Pretty Fanny" , "Clara", "Niminy-Pimminy" and "Lisping Hawthorn Bird". As can be expected, he never married.

Much more recently, Tony Blair referred to the current Prime Minsiter as a "big clunking fist"; Margaret Thatcher , the Iron Lady, was derided as the "Milk Snatcher", and Edward Heath, endured "Grocer Heath" , a reference to his very ordinary origins in a society where class was anecessary attribute.

Things can get very alarming in places like India, where recently the Chief Minsiter of a Southern State, while replying strongly to the opposition leader in the State Legislature , declared as to how the "opposition leaders mother must have been ashamed to carry him in her womb ". The Indian Parliament, (now a far cry from the time when debates there were a treat to watch and a lesson in oratory and behaviour)
a few years ago witnessed a Prime Minsiter about to lose a no-confidence motion being called a namby pamby, and "non-worker".

The study of English always required , at some point , a study of Shakespeare. he is even quoted to have made a loaded statement like "Whats in a name ? ", and the mentioned roses.

Today, thanks to the World Wide Web, there exist sites where one can choose adjectives and nouns fron three columns, and make up original sounding personal insults such as "paunchy claybrained flap dragon", "tottering tickle-brained moldwarp", "frothy guts-gripping whey-face", and " beslubbering dread-bolted horn-beast ", all listed under the heading "Shakespearan Insults".....

In the face of such adults who thrive and get drunk on power calling other people names, the No-Name-Calling Week comes as a breath of fresh air, in a world polluted with offensive words, accusations , fights and wars.

In a world where any schoolchildren reading newspapers are subjected to such news, it remains to be seen , what effect such a no-name-calling week will have. Sometimes, children are known to dsiplay more sense than adults.

Hopefully, seeing all these illbehaved, abusive, foulmouthed namecallers, will have a telling effect on today's children , and while politics is a lost cause in this regard, the children will grow up to be co-operative, polite yet independent citizens with a better control over their vocabulary....