Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Mother Brain

The interrelationships of the various organs and systems within our body, and their similarity with the way our lives are organized and led, has often fascinated me. I first heard of hormones when, as a child, I made fun of a hirsute neighbor lady, and was sharply rapped on the knuckles by my mother, who explained things to me. There were some things you couldn't then do anything about.

Puberty happened, then a settling in into motherhood, changes in life, niggles of middle age, menopause, and the hormones are now old friends.

The first great piece of knowledge I acquired, was that there is more to hormones than just estrogen, progesterone, androgens, and testosterone. The dada types are the pituitary (administrative head type) hormones, the adrenal (trouble reaction tension) hormones, thyroid hormones and stuff like insulin.

Clearly, the Brain is the manager here. The various organs involved in generating hormones are like the children of a mother. All with attitude, none similar, sometimes going out of control, but many times saved by the sister/brother hormones from going astray, since they are all in it together so to speak.

Like in any family, let's say , some are girls, (estrogen-types), some are boys (androgen types). In addition, some are fairly high strung, some are headstrong, some love to eat , and even live to eat. Some of the children appear to be a bit mature for their age, and always consult their mother, when in doubt. But with all the variety, its a family that is together, thanks to a invisible virtual management by the mother.

I have always felt that the Brain is like a Mother. It has these little nudges it gives to set in motion stuff, that affects the performance and behaviour of its children, the various hormones. And the children know, that all of them must learn to get along, in some sort of dynamic balance.

And so the Mother Brain uses the Pituitary kid to send messages to the girls and boys, regarding their correct behaviour . If the levels of the estrogen girls and androgen boys fluctuate out of limits set by the mother, she knows, and adjusts things in the neighborhood. Like any mother who gets more alert as pubertal ages approach, the brain and pituitary too, change track sometimes, and set in motion more complicated checks and feed backs.

Then there are some children, regardless of age, who are so willful, they simply love to fight at the slightest provocation. There are also those , who prefer to turn their backs and run away. It's always fight or flight, as they say. These adrenaline kids, keep playing with situations in their lives, with the help of fellows like ACTH ( named so in the style of acronymed Bollywood movies ; viz; DDLJ,HAHK , or maybe the movies copied their acronyming style).

It's the mother's job, to ensure that the fighting kid doesn't go out of control, and the timid turn-your-back-and-run kid, starts learning to face things, and so she gets all the feedback and sends out messages again, sometimes with the help of other hormone kids that the kids listen to.

Of course there are gluttonous kids. They are always hungry. They gorge on things like pasta, bread, cakes,jilebis, gulabjamoons, and all fried stuff. Some kids don't really gorge on stuff like this, but have ancestors who did. The liver and gallbladder kind of throw their hands up in disgust, and the cells all over the body close their doors to any more glucose. As an energy factory, we are in trouble.

Much like the Mumbai roads and drains in the throes of a wild monsoon; they gorge on so much junk,plastic, trash and stuff, that the drains simply close up. Anything more is summarily rejected, and so we keep being flooded with rainwater and dirty stuff .

Much like the gluttonous fellow's blood being flooded with sweet stuff like glucose, that has been rejected by his cells. The kid loses all ability to judge how much is enough ; food or insulin. And the Insulin fellows get disturbed. Sometimes even non-glutton types suffer from this, but it is a bit complicated.

Like in any united family, everyone chips in to help, and the most influential kid decides the outcome, within the limitations set by the Mother Brain.

Just think, there are high strung folks, timid folks, guys messing around with digestion and insulin, and some kids behaving in ways contraindicated to their bringing up. A mother faced with so much tension, might do a couple of things.

One, gird herself up again , despite her now advancing age, and other weakened faculties, to tackle the wayward kids, kind of overextending herself energy wise and otherwise, causing various organs like the heart to overwork and puff up with over pumping.

Two, she could get all upset, depressed , start imagining things, get easily disturbed, palpitate, and take a break from managing the kids, causing a general mental and physical slowdown,in the house, which isn't good either..

And so the mother, the Brain, decides that the time has come to change the environment a bit to make things easier. Like adjusting the carburettor of a car to make the engine run slow, because the current setting has too many dangerous carbon byproducts lining the pumping cylinders.

So the Mother Brain with the assistance of the eldest, the Pituitary, , kind of sends memos down to the Thyroid gland, cranking its working downward or upward. The end purpose is to to ensure that all the children can live relatively healthily, in a peaceful useful manner, and so the thyroid gland adjusts the carburettor screw so to speak, resulting in folks being called hypothyroid (engine slow) or hyperthyroid (engine fast).

Like in all families, despite all the efforts, some of the kids get classified as gone cases. But the Mother Brain , like in real life , never gives up, keeping a sideways eye on what is going on at all times, keeping the other kids in the loop.

It is amazing how the Brain Mother Authority, senses the children's abilities, shortcomings, strong points, reactions to external forces etc, and nudges each of them into adjusting in an optimum way. True, exciting times may reduce, food may be boring for sometime. Sometimes the limitations put on some child, affect a particular organ or a particular body function too; but it is understood, that it is either that, or a complete catastrophe. And there will be , comparatively, a sense of overall peace amidst the kids.

Hormones are like that. Children of the Mother Brain. All in a balance, living as members of one family, adjusting with each other in a fine way, so as to not trouble any one too much. Of course these are not all the children. There are several more cousin types, too many to name here, ( some making their grand appearance only during special times, like our Union ministers during calamities ) which also get influenced by Mother Brain to change behaviour during certain situations..

Depending on the social and cultural milieu one hails from, the question may be asked as to why not "Father" Brain. In some cases , probably a Father figure control applies. But I have always thought that a mother is always more in touch with the minds of children. Its not whether she is always at home or at work. The thing is the awareness is there. Always.

And then there is the final convincing reason from the chromosomes. Mothers are XX. Human beings are basically designed to be XX. Due to a genetic situation, one of the X's, loses a lower limb, and XX becomes a lame XY, a male.

I know someone who calls XY, as langdaa (~lame)....

It makes sense to have a fit female brain, than a lame male one.......

By the way, ever heard of Father Earth ?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

National MRI Musings

They taught us parts of the respiratory system in class six. And I had nothing but the greatest admiration for the poetic rhyming tendencies of the guy who decided to name the Larynx (voice box) and Pharynx (gullet/neck part of digestive tube).

The larynx engineering was a bit beyond me, but for many years after that , our family doctor always ended up hearing how my pharynx was inflamed, while ordinary folks cribbed to him about sore throats, and infections.

Then I found out that doctors have a different way of expressing things. Preferably in illegible style, and in desperate abbreviations, inspired , possibly from Latin, which , clearly, is not part of the medical curriculum.

I've mixed up FUO(fever of unidentified origin) with UFO(Unidentified flying object), and UID (Unique Identification numer) with IUD(Intrauterine device), and wondered why the nurse read something-something STAT and promptly gave me an immediate oral injection dose of vit D3, when I was kind of actually mobilizing to face a deep poke with a needle in the arm.

Having said that, I can see how one can apply these secret words in daily life.

Like, say, (possibly tongue in cheek, or , as they say, "glossal" movement in the "mala" ) a doctor mother , seeing off her doctor daughter on her first day of her first job might say :

Coffee ad lib , agit aq ft, cf b.i.d

B.M a.m

Wash e.m.p. ex aq, B.S.A, a.l., a.s., a.u., o.d, o.s., o.u., ft soap emuls., NPO, NTE 10 minutes, rep.

admov. pulv. makeup, ad lib.

If NKA, admov perfume nebul. prn., chewing gum p.o.(NTE 4) , admov.

gtts o.u.

si op. sit cash q.s., disp. U.d.

Sometimes s. a.

would mean :

Use coffee freely, mix in water, and make coffee, twice a day. A morning bowel movement recommended.

Wash as directed with water, body surface area, left ear, right ear, then both ears, left eye, right eye, both eyes, make a soap emulsion, nothing by mouth (don't swallow), not to exceed 10 minutes. Repeat.

Use powder makeup freely (as much as you want) . If no known allergies, apply a spray perfume , as needed. Chewing Gum, by mouth, not to exceed 4.

Apply drops in both ears.

If there is a need for cash, use sufficient quantity, dispense , as directed.

Sometimes use your judgement ! (Exclamations mine. I don't think doctors do exclamation marks)

If you thought that was difficult, wait till you see what an MRI report of a certain Mr Suresh Kalmadi indicated. He , the Chairman of the Commonwealth Games Org Committee, is currently in jail on corruption scam charges, and consequent to feeling dizzy after several tete a tete's with the chief jailor, was sent to hospital for an MRI scan of his brain, with several folks talking about Dementia.

Which is a very creative thing to do.

Earlier our politicians took recourse to chest pain, uneasiness, breathlessness, and got themselves admitted to ICCU's, complete with their security apparatus.

In these e-days, when a scam is not a scam unless it is in thousands of crores, it is in the fitness of things that we talk about MRI scans instead. That' s like a step up. ( You need to keep still and unmoving as the scan proceeds. I should know. I had one done and wrote a post, " MRI Rock, " about it . And possibly, if you move even a bit , the picture could be conveniently misleading).

His report says. :

......he is suffering from 'diffused cerebral atrophy with old ischemic changes in brain parenchyma with calcified granuloma in caudothalamic groove on left side (of his brain)'.....

This is like describing the Mumbai roads MRI scan and saying :

.... the road is suffering from diffused unidentified potholes, with old plumbing related age-related problems with the road body (parenchyma = tissue). Occasional tar and stone granulomas(inflamations) , have calicified (become pucca). About the caudothalamic grooves on the left side, its pointless to say anything because our roads have developed so may grooves everywhere. .....

Of course, one is an assesment of a person for dementia, which, not too surprisngly would include interesting abilities like the ability not to remember things, and cognitive difficulties. The other is the description of a real endless malaise affecting the Mumbai roads and therefore, its million hardworking citizens.

Luckily ,( for us, that is, ) Dementia is not based on MRI reports alone. There are many other check ups and evaluations involved, and these will be done. I guess one needs to have a massive road scam, for someone to take the Mumbai Roads MRI report seriously.

Today's paper, in addition to citing latest research from George Washington University about how our brains become smaller as we age , has also indicated some eminent opinions on Kalmadi's dementia question , also mentioning his diabetes, and hypertension , which could cause the above enunciated changes as in his MRI report.

I was beginning to get worried.

I mean Mr Kalmadi is just a bit older than me. I have one of the afflictions (not dementia) , that he has. If a walking,talking, scheming, shoe-dodging person can have such problems , what about me ? An ordinary woman, who still gets confused when asked how many zeros in a crore ?

But I digress. I now have hopes for the Mumbai roads. If they can solve Mr Kalmadi's problems, they can solve Mumbai's road problems.

After all the reports are so similar, na ?

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ups and Downs in Mumbai

I've been trying to think of how to solve the pothole problem on Mumbai roads. It is also eminently clear that the Mumbai I am referring to is predominantly the northwestern, northeastern, northern and a bit of the Central suburbs.

South Mumbai, like the favoured queen , in the old one-king-multi-queen-one favorite queen-all-others-demoted stories of my childhood, gets its cosmetic and civil engineering come-uppance at the slightest perturbation noticed by the powers that be. The favoured Queen, even has a necklace named after her, Marine Drive, and a slight crack on its face, has the authorities rushing with corrective action and funds.

I lived in those parts till the mid seventies. And I never ever felt like commenting on the roads. Shifting to the northern suburbs, and later commuting to the city for work for a few years, is something my lumbar vertebrae cannot forget. Growing construction, new roads, the same old rain, but an additional new feature, the potholes. Watch !

As reported by Clara Lewis/TNN, the Municipal Corporation has budgeted more than Rs 3,600 crore on improving roads in the last decade. But Mumbai’s road surface still peels off every monsoon. So where does all the money go?

Certainly, to contractors who are responsible for upkeep of roads. Contractors, of course, spend some of the money on mending roads but often do it so creatively, that they need to be called back again after a few months. But contractors do not get to pocket all the money they save; a part of this money has to be funnelled to a section of politicians and officials who decide municipal contracts. The budget is approved by the standing committee, which often makes changes in the way money will be spent. “Contractors often tell standing committee members where the money should be deployed and last-minute changes are done according to their wishes,’’ a standing committee member said.

I have now come to the conclusion that no amount of fancy concrete mixtures, imported road machines, and municipal whistle blowers can solve this problem.

One needs to look for a out-of-the-err....-pothole solution .

My moment-of-revelation happened, in the early part of this century, when the President of India was to preside over the convocation(commencement) ceremony at the Institute on whose campus I reside. By tradition this is always in August, in the midst of rains, which have been around from June. Those days, I had occasion to travel daily to the western suburbs and return in the evenings by bus, and between the pouring rain above, the leaking waterdrops in the bus, and deep extensive potholes on the road, the only thing that kept us from getting hurt as the bus tilted in a pothole, was the human shock absorbers packed cheek by jowl in the bus.

Two days before the great event, there was massive police and municipal presence on the roads, there was the terrible stench of tar and bitumen, as road rollers, and road workers with shovels hindered the bus speed even more. The potholes were being filled on a war footing. The President of a country cannot be subject to potholes , bumps, and dips, and so the road condition was made as smooth and exemplary.

2-3 rainy days after the event, returning home one evening, I banged my head on the bus ceiling (I was standing in the aisle) as the bus went through a newly created pothole, which had probably forgotten all about the President, now that the repair staff and police had vamoosed.

And so now I have a solution.

Shift the residences of ministers to the suburbs. Currently, they stay in sprawling mansions in South Mumbai, with gardens trailing into the sea. Bang in the middle of a Northern suburb we have a huge green area (Aarey Milk Colony) , where the Government dairy is, and the government has seen it fit to rent/lease out areas of this to film studios. The massive acreage is hugely wooded, and has excellent infrastructure of motorable roads inside, where buses also ply. The government could construct sylvan villas for its ministers here, using ecofriendly materials. Those wanting to maintain cows and buffaloes of their own , would be encouraged, and there would be no risk of a fodder scam à la Bihar state, because there would be so much fodder naturally around.

There has been a precedent for such uneconomical shifting. The British functioned from Shimla in the North in the summer, to keep away from the Delhi summer heat, and the Viceroy even had a separate summer lodge built there. The Maharashtra state legislature, shifts lock,stock,barrel, and secrets, to Nagpur (in Central India) in the winter, to conduct the winter session away from Mumbai, though I think this is done to improve the quality of Nagpur roads on a yearly basis.

So shifting ministers to the Aarey Colony sylvan surroundings ( gurgling brooks, salubrious breezes, wildlife, with an occasional leopard thrown in for ministerial excitement) should not be difficult. Plenty of parking spaces, and the massive security traffic will ensure that roads will be as smooth as actor Hema Malini's cheeks as she dances in the rain in a Hindi movie. The highways leading from South Mumbai, to the northern suburbs will be attended to an a war footing, police presence will be noticeable.

Very recently the wife of Maharashtra's chief minister, drove to a northern suburb of Malad to inaugurate a exhibition, and spoke out against the road and the traffic as she suffered through the ups and downs. Think of what will happen if a whole bunch of ministers wives, travelling to South Mumbai for social events , get cheesed off and speak out against roads and traffic.

In the meanwhile, the Mumbai papers are full of citizens like a rickshawalla whose vehicle got stuck in a pothole, and he got injured when the steering handle hit him in the abdomen; he now carries construction rubble in his ricksha, and instantly fills a pothole when he sees it, before crossing it.

A friend of mine , who decided to work (to enhance her technical knowledge) outside campus for a few years on lien from her job (where she walked to work in 10 minutes), developed scoliosis, from excessive abuse of her vertebral column in bus travel over large time periods. I don't even want to imagine what patients in ambulances, and pregnant women have to suffer, as they oscillate through the potholes.

In the meanwhile, South Mumbai, which is currently accustomed to getting the best of everything , before everyone else (remember the story of the multi-wife king, and the favourite queen), might at some point , feel the pinch , and possibly yearn for potholes.

As a special for them only, we offer these pothole stickers. A decent pasting of these across prominent roads in South Mumbai, and the hi-fi folks there can get a taste of how the common suburbanite travels, with all the anxiety, but none of the bumps and bangs.

Is someone (ouch) ,(bump), (aiyyo, my back!) listening ?

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Not Cricket.....

For many years, long long ago in India, "minister", was considered a verb.

As a public "servant", you "ministered" to the needs of the citizens. Your "skills" and your "management" came from practice. Then one day, "management" became something you learned in a college by paying through your (clogged) nose, "minister" became "administer" where the only moving parts (instead of limbs and brain) were hands, automatic filling pockets, and a keen nose sensitized to a certain smell.

Shortly thereafter, "minister" became a noun, and has remained so, unchanged. Or perhaps, only changing for the worse.

And so it came to pass, that while children and youth across the country, wanting to excel at sports, braved trains, crowds, heavy kitbags, expensive kits, searing summers,torrential rains, bad facilities, terrible food, and worried parents, a whole bunch of political administering types, took over, surreptitiously, and not so surreptitiously, the control of sports.

It was the policy of "Nex(t) us!". You could play,practice, and slog all you wanted, but those in charge, would be THEM. There were so many discussions over "(t)ea" and few other secret things, that it actually came to be called a "Nexus".

The sports-political Nexus.

Click the graphic below for a clearer view. (Though I suspect some folks prefer things a bit vague and fuzzy).

So we come to the elections for the Presidentship, of what is increasingly being called the MCA, expansion as above. (And I always thought it was the Mumbai Cricket Association).

One of our illustrious cricketers, who has made centuries in the game, at the Mecca of Cricket too, and even served for a while in a learning position at the MCA, decided to offer his candidature for President of the MCA. Besides being an iconic cricketer, an initiator of systematic cricket coaching for young school children, he is someone with a keen eye for spotting cricketing talent.

But he never knew the unwritten prerequisites for the job.

Which the opposing candidate had in plenty.

Such as : Belonging to the ruling party; being able to sign on important documents, and then being able to say, that your position demanded that others worry about nitty-gritty facts, you did as you were told; a knack for participating in at least one scam per year; an ability to see the disaster tourism potential in any five star grevious city carnage; a love for hobnobbing with movie folks, and an ability to casually effortlessly flit , over short durations, from one Union ministry to another, like heavy industry, to rural development, to science and technology.

If you or your kin are associated with the sugar industry, you really qualify for the job. After all, the MCA history is studded with magnates from the textile, education, and sugar industry. Who knows, polymers and chemicals may be Reliably next. What really is decisive is your ability to read domicilary addresses and disqualify potential "Powar"ful competitors.

So what if you cannot hold a bat, so what if bail(s) is something the Court grants to a crook, and so what if you often get stumped, when questioned about things Adarsh. You are your own umpire !

Besides the opposing candiddate had history on his side. Who ever heard of a cricketer heading the MCA. Sheesh.

And whats more, he had "Powar"ful backing. Assorted cutlery, yes-men, all organized to vote.

Three previous MCA presidents were (ex) chief ministers of the state. Since 1992 they had ensured, that the Presidency of the Mumbai Cricket association, remained with the political heavyweights.

And so the Ministers vs Cricketers game, ended .

Lots of underhand bowling, one presumes. A first innings majority for the Minister. The cricketer, to his credit, ran an impressive 136 (versus the minister's 181).....

But like in all crucial matches, it rained. Copiously. The pitch was queered. And they had to go by the Yourworth-Who-is Rule.

(Me thinks, there should have been a third umpire, or at least and election replay. Maybe I should learn to do artistic snazzy actions like Billy Bowden, or glare like Daryl Harper).

Of course the real cricket loving types were disappointed. The Cricketer himself, smiled and accepted, that just knowing, playing , advising, living and breathing cricket was not enough. You had to know how to rent stadiums for money , you had to know how FSI for buildings next to stadiums could be increased to numbers like say , maybe 36, you had to be well versed in the finer points of appointing sponsors for the team.

You did not need to know how to run between the stumps, but you had to know how to read between the lines.

Stupid me. And I thought this was a game.

It probably is.

But it is not Cricket.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Maximum City, Minimum Value

It's happened again.

And nothing has changed.

Politicians queueing up to fly to Mumbai and visit hospitals , for votes and photo-opportunities.

The usual speculations about who did it. By now , even the man in the street can tell who the announced suspects could be. But instead of doing quiet investigations, keeping things close and away from the newsfolks, unneccesary announcements about who did it, every few hours. A free update for the perpetrators on how far they need to escape.

The visit of the Chief Minister of the state to hospitals, followed by a midnight visit from the nation's Home Minister. Accompanied by a posse of police who actually should be somewhere else, augmenting the law and order and investigations in the monsoon city. Both making announcements over television, that could have been actually made by a specified spokesman. MP's from Mumbai giving sanctimonious advice from Delhi over TV. Opposition leaders arriving the next day to show their faces.

Once again, the ordinary man on the street, assorted truckdrivers and car owners, the cab drivers (who planned to strike at midnight (then cancelled that), but ferried the injured to hospitals free of charge), even folks who only owned their two legs (and not much else) and Mumbai citizenry with outstandingly large hearts did their stuff despite those who purport to be in power.

The announcements about which investigative types are flying in from where.

The hopelessly understaffed Mumbai police started their investigations way before the so called national Investigative Agency and National Security Guards platoons got on to planes to be flown from new Delhi and Hyderabad.

So many years on, so many blasts, so many terror strikes, deaths, lifetime life changing injuries, , and the powers that be still do not understand that investigation teams need to be posted in places like Mumbai, not flown in 3 hours later in the throes of a heavy monsoon rain that washes away proofs of the heinous deeds.

There is a sense of deja vu....

I wrote a post when the 2006 train blasts happened.

Amazingly, it looks like every single thing written there looks like it was written for yesterday .

Like I said, Nothing has changed. Except our perception of a PM now hemmed in by politics......

I reproduce that post below. (Published by Indian Express , July 19, 2006, in printline/ed. page)

Resilience in the time of Rudeness

Words have specific meanings. Words like Spirit. Resilience. Coming from the mouths of those whose entire career is based on buying and selling of human votes and emotions, they almost sound like abuse.

For years together, its been a pattern. Grandiose plans are made to safeguard people. Committees with names and unpronounceable acronyms are established. The head of the committee, his prestige doesn't depend on what good work he does, but whether he has a car with a flashing light and a siren, and a police constable hanging on for dear life to the car. Meetings are held. No one talks of any expenditures less than several hundred crores. Lips are licked in anticipation of being designated a supplier of stuff to the office. Networks buzz overtime . Maharashtra asks. The centre reduces, or sometimes, even refuses.

We have heard for years that the police force needs to be augmented . They don't have money for it. Statues in the sea are more important. Statues in parks are even more important. They feel no shame withdrawing police from after-hours duty in the ladies compartment of trains, and putting them on security detail at railway stations, post the blast. Why the security detail could not be drawn from all those politicians who are granted X,Y and Z+ security (for their families as well), is not clear. What is clear is that families of these folks need complicated security, so they can drive and spend relaxing time at the various posh coffee shops and restaurants and malls around town.

Why should a train carrying working women, returning home after a crushing day at the office, not looking forward to a two hour crowded commute, cutting vegetables in the train to save time, be given protection from predating males , who have traumatised and maimed so many women in an about to be empty compartment, in the recent past? These guardians of our law and order , prefer to morally police us. Energy is expended in banning bar dancers, slapping court cases on your political rivals, and basically forgetting the people who put you there in the first place.

The recent blasts in Mumbai, proved all over again, that we don't really need a government in Maharashtra. When the crunch comes, the people of mumbai are absolutely capable of taking care of themselves, and whats more , others. Within an hour of the blast, the various injured were well on their way to hospitals , if not actually already admitted. The "aam janata" came out on to the highways and arterial roads to stop vehicles, and request them to take passengers in their cars, those folks that were stuck miles away from their houses due to the blasts. Entire building societies chipped in with blankets , food stuff and transport; the slum dwellers who may not know if they will have a house next week, ran out with bedsheets for transporting patients, and climbed into the train to extricate the casualties, using whatever little they had at hand. College students returning home, found out that they could help the police control the traffic and keep things a bit more organised.

And people who I cant classify (and wont classify) under any category but saviours, even stood out in the rain handing water bottles, tea, hot snacks , food packets and even simple accommodation , to those people returning home from work, standing for miles together , crushed in a bus, because their train was blown up, and others were stopped; and those unknown folks who stayed on at hospitals , contacting relatives, comforting the hurt till some family member turned up.

They did this in the recent floods, and now the blasts. And they will do it again, because its ingrained. (Readers Digest , please note: one cannot learn this, like eg, saying thank you, wishing others, holding open doors . Some of the folks we are talking about , don't even have a door, forget holding it open. Some get all embarrassed if you say thank you to them, and almost feel insulted. And i cant think of a more useless thing to do than say "Nice day, isn't it?", while hanging on to 5 square inches of an open door in a moving train, trying to avoid torrential rain, or a burning summer day. )

That is what one calls the spirit. Resilience is the ability to keep on showing this spirit, blast after blast, flood after flood, carnage after carnage, one inefficient shameless government after another.

Our so called elected representatives don't need to waste their time passing resolutions in the legislature, when they should actually be amidst the people who elected them , trying to make their lives a bit more tolerable. Announcing Rs 50,000 dole to those injured, and Rs 1 Lakh to those dead , is not the end of the responsibility. The government should ensure that money needed for special medicines for the blast patients is directly paid to the municipal and state hospitals. Relatives of patients shouldn't have to trudge in and out of hospital buying medicines written up by doctors. The Railways, also announce a monetary compensation. I can just see a bunch of unscrupulous ears perking up and hands being rubbed in glee by people who see a great source of income , on the side in all this, ensuring that papers move.

And there needs to be a rule that only the Prime Minister and /or Home minister can come and visit the scene of the catastrophe. Seeing a politician holding your hand, and mouthing inane nothings, has nothing to do in improving your vital signs like heart beat, blood pressure, etc. For them its a photo opportunity. A Khota opportunity , if you really want to know. And all those cars that swish into the hospital porch , supposedly as security detail for the politicians, simply end up splashing monsoon dirt on those waiting outside, not knowing if someone is dead or alive, and what direction their life will take from now on.

So those in power need to stop commenting on Mumbais spirit and resilience. It sounds like a convenient thing in the mouths of the parasitic, moneyvorous people in power. It almost sounds like abuse , from the mouths of those that know not what it really means.

Learn something from the one man, who despite being elected , has never been a politician , and despite being elected by a party, has never really belonged to it.

Dr Manmohan Singh, the PM. Three days after the blast, he and his wife paid a visit to the hospitals . One patient, with one leg and one arm fractured , sat up to salute him. Those with visceral burn injuries tried to give a hint of a smile , so pleased they were to see him. Patients couldn't stop talking about the empathy that radiated from the man and his good wife as they made their rounds, quietly reassuring people, strong and firm. Then he got on television and sent a no nonsense message across the border, with no sparing of words.

Governing in Maharashtra is all about squabbling and power, and talking rot. And , of course , making money . These guys don't deserve an electorate like the people of Mumbai.

Mumbai has the SPIRIT and RESILIENCE despite them.

It will continue to have it, irrespective of blasts, floods, carnages, and moneyvorous politicians.

And never mind those guys who declared us the rudest people on earth.

(Maybe they simply looked at our politicians. Eat you words, Readers digest. ).

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Review of "The 6 pm slot" by Naomi Datta

I received the book , "The 6 pm slot" by Naomi Datta, for review, as part of the Blogadda Book review program.

The main theme of the book appears to be the workings of an entertainment channel, YTV, and the people of various ethical persuasions (or the lack of them )that work there. The one person who may be considered the main character is a young woman Tania, who is assigned to produce a badly needed show , to pep things up for the channel at 6 pm.

The predictable ingredients are a tunnel-visioned client (phone manufacturer), assorted in-charges and supervisors at the channel, unnecessarily high on fake style, attitude, and limited vocabulary.

Towards the last 30% of the book, the anchor of another news channel (YNN) makes an appearance , and the author describes the workings at a slightly more upmarket channel, but equally prone to dramabaazi.

The first 70% of the book meanders, a bit slow, amidst the various personages at the entertainment channel. It's not terribly clear what everyone does, apart from wandering about with attitude. Nobody seems to be supporting anyone else wholeheartedly. Unlike what is conveyed when you see an actual reality program on television, people seem to be completely rude, disrespectful , and demeaning to someone we think is the main person of the program. A big eye opener.

There are people like Bose and Stetson, who really appear to be totally dispensable (as far as the book goes), with not much to do. Then there are people like Harish, who might be a combined caricature, and is probably the eternal survivor in all this muck.

Penny pinching in a world of pound splurgers is obvious.

Amazingly, most women working at the channel office (except Tania) seem to be one step away from smart modelling stardom, while the actual downmarket (~ vernacular ?) starlet chosen to anchor the new phone-in reality program is treated like anatomical dirt, accentuated , by what is considered her unaccented language and perceived minimal IQ.

Manufacturing fake phone callers, implausible life situations, blatant in-the-face demeaning of those considered less than "with-it" , all for the sake of eyeballs of the public at 6 pm, and TRP's.

The last 30% of the book moves at a faster pace. The machinations of the big anchor chap at the news channel YNN, every one's public persona , how it is at odds with what they really are. The way folks behave in this book makes you lose faith in humankind.

The only tolerable person is Tania, the one main person, who with Aditya (I still haven't figured out what he does other than make smart pithy comments), sort of emerges OK from it all.

One channel's failure-scapegoat is another channel's find.

You cant help trying to relate folks in this book , with prominent folks in television channels and anchors today.

I read this book over several days. Its not something you cannot put down once you start.

The initial 70% of the book could have proceeded at a faster pace, to maintain interest.

But a sense of anger and disgust grows on you as you learn about the manipulations, blatant lies, demeaning of innocents, and cheating of the public.

And finally, it looks like using cuss words in every sentence is mandatory. Apparently, the people on the entertainment channel use the f-word to describe every single person, program, channel, tea,coffee, anatomy parts, other employees, expenses, food, clothing, profit, superiors.

Kind of defeats the English.

It never stops. It is excessive. And totally disgusting. And the book is replete with it.

The actual television channels , in a show of righteous indignation (or is it?) , beep things out when presenting to the public.

I wish the book had a built in beeper.


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

Monday, July 04, 2011

Strong Tea of Life .......(edited)

I sometimes read , in various magazines, and the Net, various stories, where women ask for advice, outlining their problems in detail. It often has to do with interfering in laws or even parents, jealous spouse, thwarted ambitions, abuse, and so on. And what is notable is that these are all folks from a strata of society, where they basically don't have to worry where their next meal is going to come from.

And then I heard this story. From the lady herself.

She literally grew up as a daughter of the fields. Living with her parents , a sister, and two brothers, in a small dilapidated structure on a farm on the outskirts of Pune, she resisted every effort of her father to send her to the village school. The older children went, but she preferred to wander around, climb trees, collect cow dung to make it into dried fuel cakes, which someone actually bought for 15 rupees a basket. There was nothing better than working in the fields, and then learning from /helping her mother at home. Every so often, she would be part of a group gathered around to help someone who was sick, and years of participating, made her a kind of repository of native plant cures on various human conditions. The chance of a minuscule permanent government job, with all its attendant future benefits, had the family gravitating to Mumbai.

In her sister's wedding, some folks suggested a boy for her, her parents and the boy's parents agreed, and she was married off at 14 , and went to live again on another farm near Pune.

She was the mother of 4 children, (3 boys and a girl) before she was 21. Her marriage was a classic case, of, parents of a boy thinking "he will improve after marriage". He didn't. Verbal and physical abuse, unwillingness to stick on to any job, drinking, and inability to be a provider to his family, had her scrimping on what little she got, and starting off on her cow dung collecting again. She worked in the fields to keep the little mouths fed and sent her kids to the local school. The husband was a social misfit, and took pleasure in denying her the few outings she enjoyed with her kids and extended family of in laws. Not to mention the beatings, and drinking.

Came a time, when her parents thought things had gone too far, and she was brought home to a better life. She worked very hard, listened to whispers, but was surrounded by folks who cared for her.

For the last 25 years, she has worked houses, educated her kids , taken loans an
d risks , acquired a minuscule tenement, been socially active amidst the ladies group in the slum area where she lives. She is possibly the most educated person I know, who never went to a single school anywhere.

The children remember the father, and have visited him on occasions that would have demanded his presence, but the man refuses to acknowledge them. She is on excellent terms with her erstwhile in laws, and attends their social functions and vice-versa. She keeps her eyes and ears open, is convinced that her kids must be educated , and now that the kids are married, and have small children, she pays a completely preposterous monthly fee, so the grand kids can attend a good school in the neighborhood, where the ladies she worked for send their children.

It means there are almost no new clothes , it means you deliberately do not dream, it means you learn to share a lot as family, and it means you stand up for each other.

Very recently her family decided to apply for caste certificates for the sons. She has her own caste certificate thanks to her father, and her kids need to show that of their father/grandfather/uncle. Her certificate is of no use.

And so she disappeared a week from work, and went to search for the children's father, because he was not to be found in the village. She thought she had heard that he worked as a helper in a state transport workshop, and she went there to meet up.

The watchman barred her at the gate. She showed the guy the photo she was carrying and mentioned by name who she wanted to see, saying this was a case of a woman wronged.

And she was totally stunned to hear that the guy in the photo existed, but the name was wrong. So she asked if she could see the man, her husband. They called him to the office. And she got the shock of her life. The man was the same, but he now went around under another name . His entire work record, his savings with the company, retirement benefits were all under a totally different name. He flatly refused that he was in anyway connected to her, although the world and the office could see that he was the same man in the photo she carried.

She now had a problem, of claiming to be a wife of someone who didn't exist . His caste certificate with the new name wouldn't help, as the children's school records showed the original name. No one knows if he officially changed the name. Chances are he didn't. Chances are he was in trouble with the law, and did this name change to acquire the workshop job, by making payments here and there , and nobody wants to talk.

I asked her if she could get her in laws to identify him. They could do a affidavit to that effect. There was even a suggestion earlier that if she filed for a divorce (which wouldn't make a difference to her now anyway, after 25 years of no contact) , she could then have her children apply for a caste certificate , based on hers, as she the mother who took care of them, would be the only head of family.

How do you file for divorce when the other person's existence is not clear ? The guy now claims to be someone else. There is even no record of the death of the original chap. Why this is bad, is because there is some ancestral land in the village, and her children would have a right to that. No one knows if the fellow's name is on that piece of land record, and if so, with what name.

How much time can a person spend following up on all this , if you work at a job that pays you by the day ? 2 of her three sons, one daughter, and one daughter-in-law, fall under that category; you earn today if you work today. All the people she herself works for, do not subscribe to the theory of cutting her emoluments because she misses a few days.

And so she ends up making endless trips to Pune, her village, her husband's village, her in-laws , her lawyer and so on. Faced with a guy, who exists but says he doesn't. Doesn't acknowledge that she is a wife and that he has fathered children. The strange thing is there is no "other woman" .

She is hell bent on applying for the children's certificates because it entitles them to apply for a guaranteed house , possibly a small government tenement, and she thinks she will , in the meanwhile check out the situation on loans, from employers, well wishers, her bank where she manages with a thumb impression and some savings.

The latest I have heard, is that she has managed to get her brother-in-law's certificate, and apparently that proves, that her husband (whether he exists, existed, or not) is of the same caste. She is now paying some lawyer to do the paperwork, he has promised to get the caste certificates for not only her children , but their children as well.

I hope things work out for her. She has never cribbed about that husband of hers, ever, in all these years. Never considered him worth wasting any time on. The children went to call him for their marriages, and, except him, everyone from the in-laws attended, and she was pleased with that. She is on excellent terms with her in laws.

She has never done a hue and cry about her situation, but will fight to ensure that children get what is theirs according to the law of the land.

This was S., my household help. She told me the story about the husband, with changing names, after she came back from her most recent trip , in her on going fight. She has tried court cases, where he will get defined as her husband, and benefits will accrue to her kids. But he never turns up, and she only ends up spending money of travel.

I don't know what the current lawyer is going to do about the caste certificates. Maybe what he has charged is a fee, for getting things to move fast, who knows.

But in a country, where the premier investigative agency, drags its feet on investigations on worthies who have stashed monies abroad, and cases where the guilty have got away because some timing rules were ignored by the prosecution, I have nothing but admiration, for a woman, who has battled problems, single handedly , all her life, without making a public issue of it, preferring to do whatever was required for the common good of the family.

In the manner of folks asking for solutions on the Net , I wonder if anyone has a solution for S. ....

Eleanor Roosevelt , one tough lady herself, said something that fits this situation to a T.

"A woman is like a tea bag - you can't tell how strong she is until you put her in hot water".

S., is surely , one amazing cup of some really strong tea !

Update as of July 7, noon : A young friend who read this post, contacted me with a wish to help with her legal costs. S. also works for someone else in the same building as this young friend. They met, had a wonderful chat, and the young friend, a research scholar, handed her a decent sum to help her with the legal costs. S. is greatly pleased.

Thank you, and greatly appreciated.

Friday, July 01, 2011

I need a change ....

The Dell fellows want me to write on how my gadgets reflect my personality.

For this , I have to go back to the days when I started developing, what could be called a personality.

Those were almost gadgetless days.

Black rotary telephone happened when I was in 8th class, and was soon followed by a single ceiling fan, which was considered the height of splurging and luxury. I started wearing my mother's hand-me-down ladies watch when she thought it would help me finish exams on time. Of course , bicycles (if you consider them gadgets at all) were really the most common thing we students depended on, and naturally none of them had any fancy gears and stuff, because it was considered useful to make efforts and trudge up slopes and stuff, as a favour to your quadriceps.

And so, tens of decades (50 years to be precise) later, when my life is suddenly subject to what I call an electronic tsunami, my choice of gadgets, and their adjustments, always reflects, what my daughter calls "boring old style".

As someone who took to cell phones long after they became the norm, I always hankered after the simpler ones. Ability to make calls was enough. I didn't think messaging was a necessity. The thing that thrilled me the most was that it had a flashlight. My one luxury was a caller tune. I suddenly found that you could have absolutely any thing as a caller tune, and to this day, I have one of the oldest songs in Marathi, which says stuff like , "My body is the safe box, and my worship/bhakti is the deposit inside, Oh God, open the door and come in !".....if this has you doing what they call ROTFL, see the actual song below.

Of course, these days , watches have also become full of variety. Just in case you lost track of day and date , not to mention tides and phases of the moon, watches today come with all these things. While I admire those that can depend on such things, I try and use one head gadget that I was born with to remember the day and date. My watch is actually a nice analogue one, with a dithering second hand, and has my children's photo on the dial.

Of course, cycles have given way to motorized fancy two wheelers, and 4 wheelers now have power-and -automatic everything. We still have a bicycle in use in the house. And when we recently replaced our 38 year old Fiat with a more recent car, skeptical-me ensured that all the doors and windows did not have automatic locks. Nothing like locking with turning keys and rolling windows by hand. Beeping locks that sound like someone throwing up may be fashionable, but wait till you get stuck unlocking things, on a crowded main road, in the monsoons in Mumbai.

The one gadget that I have actually taken to is the digital camera. It has a lot to do with my disgust at loading actual films in dark enclosures, and then clicking an entire roll, only to find out that the entire roll is blank, and nothing moved when I thought 36 exposures were happening. It also has a lot to do with the fact, that there isn't too much of setting and adjusting to do here.

And so , I have gravitated to technology that is simple and quick. Having worked in my youth, with computers that looked like almirahs , and a keyboard interface that looked like a power station control room, I took to PC's with alacrity when they appeared on the scene. They certainly made life simpler, by doing away with things like punched cards. I have been a late entrant into the color monitor stakes, and it took a bright flash of something at the back of my old monitor and everything going dark, for me to start using a color one. Same happened when the LCD monitors appeared on the scene.

I must say, I have taken to laptops, like, say, a thirsty person takes to water. Akin to how one regards child prodigies, I look on in wonder , at the speed with which things work on laptops, the sleek DVD drives embedded into the body, the mountains of gigabytes that are piled up in the hard disk inside, and the unobtrusive USB ports, that offer themselves to innumerable contraptions, from cameras, to chargers, to microphones, to web cams, coffee-warmers, reading lights and possibly many other things I don't know. A boring grey-black has given way to cool blues and perfect pinks, though I think it is the height of stupidity to have actresses in laptop commercials , change their clothes to match the laptop colors, and walk around holding it as if it was a scarf.

I like the fact that it gives mobility to my work. I can carry something done by me to show someone. Of course, the latest gadgets, the wireless net-connect contraptions, are very useful things, though one tends to raise an eyebrow at folks sitting at airports, bus stops, school classes, under trees , and other places, and playing multi player games on them.

And so my gadgets reflect a personality, that says, you control the technology, let it not control you. Just because cell phones now come with cameras, video-shooting capabilities, maps, GPS, radios. TV, alarms, recorders, clocks, games, stopwatches, and Internet, it doesn't mean you stop using your head. You don't need to watch TV on your phone standing cheek-by-jowl in a bus , you don't need to constantly play games with cats and balls, when you should be studying something serious, and telling someone a joke and having a wonderful laugh over something, is a hundred times better than messaging the joke to 100 people with a click.

I like wallpapers on my screen, and most of the time they are family photos, animals or landscapes of seascapes. I do not enjoy half clad singers, ga -ga types or go-go types, fancy dressed actors, or anything outlandish.

Come to think of it, it seems these Dell Inspiron laptops have customizable covers. It would be nice if my laptop could somehow show me on the cover, so folks would know, who, the laptop sitting to one side on the table, belonged to.

Sometimes, all this technological innovation stuff even inspires old fogeys like me to dream of something unique. Like having some face-recognition, face-capturing stuff which would reflect the latest me on the laptop cover, and use that as an additional security check before anyone can power the laptop on.

I guess sometimes personalities define gadgets, and sometimes gadgets end up nudging personas of people.

I hope the Dell types are listening.

They wanted to know how gadgets reflect my personality. I am here to say, that life is all about lots of take, and a bit of give, and sometimes, just sometimes, a personality learns something from the gadget too.....

Vive la Change !


This post is written for the "Change is easy - how your gadgets reflect your personality" contest sposored by Indiblogger and Dell Inspiron