Wednesday, April 24, 2013

For the modern Jatayus.....

About  15 years ago,  my late mother had occasion to be present for someone's angioplasty in the US.  On her return, she remarked on something she found to be very thoughtful and impressive.  Turns out that a few days a day before the actual event, the doctor met the entire family, and explained to them at length , in a way they could understand, about what procedure he would be performing; the pre and post  procedure scenarios; he handled questions with great sensitivity, answered them at many levels from beginner to med-student.  Regardless of what was the final outcome of that procedure, she thought that this experience was something we could emulate here, but mostly didn't.

Which makes a lot of sense in these E-enabled days.  Most times, as we celebrate fancy medical hardware and spiffy software, we give humanware the royal ignore.

I don't live in a place where Apollo Hospitals exist. But some similar types do.

I haven't, with some luck, managed a serious hospital stay, of some duration for almost 25 years, but one recent experience of mine was in emergency cardiac care (for someone else). An alert staff, quick appearance of cardio expert on duty, quick relevant communication, and a procedure under way, without waiting for paperwork to be completed. Waiting outside the Cath Lab, with reassurance from folks passing in and out of it on duty, and finally , once it was over, a one on one session with the consultant cardiologist who took pains to explain the problem, the solution, and the success, with the help of  a saved computer file , which depicted the actual procedure. It isn't as if we understood the details. But the visuals helped, our relatively basic questions were seriously answered, post operative ICU stuff was explained, and we felt we were getting somewhere.  

Apollo Hospitals indicate a plethora of cutting edge technologies that they follow in their premises.   Radiosurgery, Liver Transplant,  Bone Marrow Transplant,Hand & Microsurgery, Infertility Care, Cosmetic Surgery, Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery , Birmingham Hip Resurfacing, Stem Cell Transplant, Emergency & Trauma Services, Minimally Invasive Coronary Artery Surgery, Bariatric Surgery, MRI-HIFU - Non-Surgical treatment of Uterine Fibroids, Robotic Surgery,The Renaissance Robotic Surgical System, PET-MR Suite, G scan - an Open Standing MRI scanner.... the list is endless.

If I didn't know better, and hadn't met folks who were at the receiving end of some of these things, and  are today having an improved quality of life and activity, I would say these are like modern designer treatments......

Somewhere in all this brilliant expertise, is normally a patient, flummoxed by what is going on.

Some get tongue tied in front of an impressive doctor, some blindly follow what the doctor says, and some like me,  ask what the world thinks are stupid questions, because the body in question happens to be mine, and I need to know the inputs and outcomes.

I despair sometimes, because "Modern Healthcare" seems to be about  recommending the latest drugs, regardless of the need, where something simple may suffice. Just last week, I had personal experience of being recommended a particular drug (by a fancy big hospital clinic) which was actually like killing an ant with a nuclear bomb.  The drug had so many undesirable side effects for patients with certain predispositions. Coincidentally, I also heard then about a friend in another city, who was advised the drug and ended up in the ER .

 My idea of modern healthcare would be the ability to reap the benefits of the new technologies and learnings, after things were explained to me , and my questions, however stupid, answered.

My idea of modern healthcare in hospitals like Apollo and others , would be to  create a intermediate strata of health care professionals that would do what GP's did in the old days.  Talk and learn about the patient. His lifestyle. His habits. His family situation. History.  Physiological and Anatomical Predispositions.  His health complaints. His attitude. Condense  and upload these facts into a system where someone else can understand the patient later, if need be.

My idea of modern healthcare would be a system  which would make it available to all strata of society, by subsidizing those who would not normally afford it. Not through compulsory government directives, defining "Charity" cases  and so on, but by involving corporates in CSR, who tie up with them for employee benefits . 

My idea of modern healthcare would be to reassure patients about to undergo investigative procedures , with a small pre-procedure chat on what was about to happen.  I have seen so many technicians simply bark out instructions . Like when I went for my one and only MRI, they were in such a hurry to load me on to the sliding plank, I had to ask what I needed to do should I need to sneeze, cough etc, in a procedure where I needed to not move at all.  Whereupon they suddenly dumped a clickable bell on to me and disappeared.

My idea of modern healthcare would  allow me access to relevant websites with accurate information , not influenced by Pharma companies,  hyperbole, or careless content writing.   Many years ago I learned about neonatal thyroid checking as a way to preempt possible  developmental problems later on for the child.  I learned that this was not being done  routinely at all for newborns. The blood test is considered expensive. I checked with the website for the  Indian Academy of Pediatrics.  And was aghast to read that so many "milligrams" of eltroxin was the treatment.  (The treatment even for folks my age , is in micrograms) This was rank carelessness, in failing to check content before and/or after uploading. Creating websites for publicity and accuracy be damned. I did write to them  about this. But then, I am not a doc .

My idea of modern healthcare , would be a judicious use of preventive measures for checking for modern diseases.  Limitless scans and Xrays  every time you go to a new doctor, for something that can sometimes be diagnosed by touch.  So much radiation without a concern for the body. If I were a cell , I would protest, vociferously.

My idea of modern healthcare would be education of ordinary people on the excessive usage of chemicals in our daily lives. In the various cleaners advertised and used, the sprays to make our houses smell like flowers, and bodies smell like soaps. All containing fake estrogens detrimental to our body, that remain particulate in the air while we think we are suckers for cleanliness, and dirty the body while keeping the house superclean.  

......Almost 30 years ago, when my kids and their cousins would crowd around their grandfather after dinner, to listen to him tell tales from the Ramayan , with visuals from Amar Chitra Katha, and a voice with expressions and role-playing by the grandfather, the favorite was always Hanuman.  And they loved to repeatedly hear, about him carrying an entire Meru mountain because he couldn't identify the actual medicinal herb , Sanjeevani, that grew there, which,  a badly injured Lakshmana needed, before he could get well and fight Ravana.

One day, the story of Jatayu , the Garuda bird, was on by popular demand, he had just been fatally  hurt trying to save Sita, his end was near, and in the middle of it all, a little voice piped up, " Why didn't they call  Hanuman ?  He could have got some stuff and saved Jatayu ?"   and grandpa had no answer .....    Little minds do not comprehend time as a dimension.  They just remember the useful information.  Besides, Gods did magical stuff.
Currently we have mountains of knowledge . So many powerful Lakshmans benefiting from the medicinal Meru, brought in by Hanuman Pharma.

 Our healthcare will actually be said to be modern , excellent, and touching all our lives,  when we actually use it to treat the Jatayus.

Submitted as an entry for the  "How does Modern Healthcare touch lives?" contest organised by Apollo Hospitals    and Indiblogger .

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Diamond in her …..

This article was chosen as one of the winning entries in Godrej Eon Woman of Substance Contest

We are each the authors of our own lives.

Sometimes it's a mystery. Sometimes almost a fiction book. Maybe , even a Mills and Boon at times. Sometimes it is, like the current fashion, a trilogy.
 It isn't easy being a woman of substance.   And a woman of substance, never writes about herself. Particularly,  if she is illiterate, and can write only her first name.

And so I take it upon me to applaud the woman of substance in my life.

No, she didn't have a rosy childhood, though her birth was celebrated just like that of her brothers. But she never went to school.  She was married at 14, into an unfortunate alliance, and spent the first 6 years, begetting 4 children, working the fields, collecting and selling cow dung cakes to earn for food, being beaten, and having things violently thrown at her by a manic spouse.  An amazing set of parents , rescued and  brought her back with 4 kids.

Think of what substance she was made of, when you hear that she sent all 4 children, including a daughter to school, and saw them complete class X.  Today 3 sons have jobs, and the daughter works in a hostel mess, much in demand .

Think of what substance she was made of, when years ago she heard of a tenement being sold in the slums across the main road, and judiciously decided to make an investment, taking loans from everyone whose houses she worked, and some chit fund she participated in.  With all her children working, she has paid off the loan.

And think of what substance she was made of, when you hear , that no one, but no one messes with her daughter in the queue for water each morning. Some local hero once tried that, and everyone remembers the stinging slap he got. It isn't about her  being a threat. It is all about demanding what is allowed by law. Like a peaceful opportunity to collect her daily water needs.

Think of what substance she was made of, when she was thrilled to bits when one of her daughters-in-law completed XIIth,  and she was the first person to encourage her to do a library assistants course, and later an MSCIT, state IT certification.  Today the daughter-in-law works in a health NGO. And no son of hers dares get a complex because his wife is more educated.

Think of what substance she is made of, when a bunch of ladies , were paranoid about someone pregnant being outside during an eclipse, and she calls me on the phone to ask me to check on the "Komputar" , about eclipse timings and where it was visible, so that a sensible decision could be taken.

Think of what substance she is made of, when a "social worker" lands up at her doorstep, recommending sterilizations and dangling government monetary payments to her  as part of some scheme; her innate awareness of child bearing years, modern birth control methods, and unscrupulous folks, had her drive away that lady in no uncertain terms.

Think of what substance she is made of when you hear what she did at the retirement function of a close relative , who is also a social worker in the community.  While the people presented him with shawls and cloth  pieces, and statues and coconuts, her family collected their contribution in an envelope, and gave it to him, so so he could use it to help someone in need.....and her daughter-in-law gave a short speech before the presentation.

Think of what substance she is made of, when concerned about getting her small grand kids into a good school, she toiled ceaseless to acquire the necessary caste certificate;  the good-for-nothing husband had one, but had changed his name , making it useless for her. She went looking for him at his new place of work, and met the man who answered now to a different name. To her credit, her entire set of in-laws stood by her, and she was able to get a brother-in-law to do the needful, so she could apply .  

Think of what substance she is made of, when her daughter was cheated in her marriage, gave it a chance, and then one day returned.  She was welcomed back, now works, and has her old maiden name legally back, thanks to her mother insisting on it.  She now also has a bank account jointly with her daughter.

Think of what substance she is made of, when those folks whose houses  she works, blindly rely on her in times of crises, like a family member. Seeing two young kids sitting forlornly by themselves at home ignoring food, with the rest of the family away at a cremation of someone close,  she got them together, cooked fresh hot food for them, and cajoled them into eating it , and waited till the family got back.
Her grandsons  now go to school. One of them recently taught her how to write her name. Only the first name.  She is completely thrilled to bits as she carefully writes and shows me.   

The only time I saw her in tears was when one of her sons fell suddenly sick and had to be kept in the ICU. Folks offered help. But. She sold all her ornaments, visited all gods of all religions, and raised the resources .  As she told me, "the real jewels are the kids. I dont care about what I jewellery I have to sell".......

She is the most amazing single mother I know, who has risen , literally from the ashes, that a burning life gave her before she was 20.

She is the real woman of substance I have encountered in the last 35 years that I have known her. My household help , "S" ,  which is not her real name. (Real name and details will be revealed if necessary, later)

I continue to me amazed.

She recently came with a worried look, asking about where Aadhar cards were being done, now that the initial card rush was over. Her 2 sons needed to apply. I told her that the earlier place would have that information and that I would check there .

"Tumchya Komputar war baghaa na !  lagech kalel ki !  (~ "Look on your computer ; you will get to know immediately there, isn't it ?").

I think Nandan Nilekani would be amazed  too .

So would Google.  With this woman of substance....  

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Sole, sole, burning bright !

Thousands of moons ago, when I first set up house, there was this big urge to make pickles at home. So I once ended up cutting 1 kilogram of some very hot green chillies, Indian style, on a traditional cutter or Villi as it is called, where the chillies , held by you, move and the blade remains stationary.  I have never forgotten the subsequent burning of the fingers.

Why do I suddenly mention this ?  Because for the last 6 months or so, both my soles (of my feet) , in a particular position, simply burn as if they are slathered with 1 kg of ground chillies each. 

After lots of experiments like soaking them in cold water, rubbing them with cooling stuff/oil/lotions, upping my intake of Vitamin B, checking other values in blood tests etc,  rectifying situations where warranted , the situation marginally changed, but continued in full blown fashion.  There were no problems standing up/walking etc. The burning began when my lower limbs were horizontal, like when I slept or when one sat with the feet up.

For a non engineer, non doctor, with too much imagination, I decided that it had something to do with flow of stuff in the foot/ankles when the toes were perpendicular to the ground. I had been taking Ecospirin, as many my age do , that thins the blood and this burning business started , roughly after that. Maybe stuff was flowing down too easily away from my toes, leaving the nerves there bereft and screaming for attention.  I even stopped Ecospirin, and that had absolutely no effect.

There was a general consensus that one should consult a Pain Clinic.  A very posh hospital , where one had an earlier good experience for some other stuff, had such a clinic, and one managed an appointment.  There was an expectation that they would have methods of quantifying something about the conduction amidst  nerves and muscles in the lower limbs. Maybe they would do a physical exam, and some qualitative  and quantitative tests that would indicate a singularity somewhere. 

The visit began. I had summarized my medical background history on a printed page. The doctor pulled a scribbling pad and started writing down things while talking to me. I have had swellings on my ankles for donkey's years, which go when i put the feet up. They pass the 40 seconds test and are not a pitting edema, and so there is nothing cardiac about that. (I hope this confused you. Ask your doc....  :-)   ).

There was no physical examination of the ankle, no twisting and turning of it by the doc, to generate and check assorted pains, no poking with needles to check if I felt a sensation. No hammering lightly with hammers etc. Just a question asking if I sometimes got a sensation of the foot "going to sleep".  How a foot that is burning can go to sleep really boggles the mind. Never mind.

Then there was  some hurried writing. Two meds that I need to take for 15 days. Appointments with endocrinologists. Mentions of MRI's.  The whole thing was worrying me. I had tried the usual pain reliever stuff .  This was some thing new with a dicey name like Pregabalin.

I dashed over to my family doctor/friend's clinic, and showed her the prescription sheet. She has known my system for the last 30 years. I was already taking a Vitamin D supplement thing which he had written down. She advised me that Pregabalin, the other med, was something to stay away from.  She felt I didn't need that. It had some really strong side effects, least of which was drowsiness.  Since she knows that I will checkout the info, she showed me the information from the standard drug reference MIMS. The side effects were enough to put me into a dead faint. I came home and checked out the drug on Google.

Read about its adverse reactions here .   And take your time recovering ......

Then this appeared in the paper a few days later. A guy got so smitten with Pregabalin and its pain relieving properties, that he routinely overdosed, and ended up having unbearable abdominal pain, which turned out to be stomach ulcers of the worst kind. 

And I now wonder, what happened to the earlier style of doctors where they reached conclusions from watching your gait, the way you sat, the way you got up, your pulse,  the type of edema  investigated with poking, your breathing, pulse,  stethoscope checks , blood-flow sounds in the legs , Xrays and so on.  Other doctors one has been to over the years, for oneself and the children, even have you lie down, and then twist and turn limbs to ascertain the exact pain point or reason.

 I have now researched on the Net, and found some exercises meant for folks with burning soles of the feet. These do not need fancy tunnel type contraptions, or electric heat , magnets or swinging upside down on ropes etc. You can do them by yourself .  on a thin mattress, or mat.  And they actually explain there why you can get such a pain, and the gradual way to reduce that pain, with knowledge of anatomy.  

You can read about them here. I have downloaded all the videos and have started on them. Some very small changes. But they are happening.

But it makes me wonder. Is the modern age medicine so machine oriented that hands have lost the ability to glean information ?   Is modern medicine a function of the fact that patients are so well off that fancy recommended checks like MRI are done at the drop of a hat ?  Is there something to the school of thought that says, working in a vast government hospital, perhaps in large cities and even mofussil areas, gives you an unparalleled experience regarding  ailments and their treatment by examining the patient with touch  before throwing the switch on machines ? Are extremely strong medicines being advised unnecessarily , and sometimes without informing the patient ?

My household help, "S", suffers from high BP  and takes a daily pill.  She recently had a set of giddy sensations, loss of energy, extreme fatigue and headache, and some doctor gave her two injections (she does not know of what), told her,  her BP was low, but continued her  BP  reducing pills !  He forgot to tell her to stop those pills for a few days till the diagnosis was complete. She then went to my doc , who checked her out, BP, sugar and all, and diagnosed a spondylitic pain which was causing the trouble. The doc taught her some therapeutic neck exercises, 15 days of wearing a neck collar from my vast collection of ankle/knee/wrist/rib/back belts, and all her troubles have gone. 

S and I. Two different scenarios.

We have both undergone  checks recommended for older ladies, that are available today, so things like the Big C etc can be detected early and treated.  These things are useful.  One discusses these reports with one's trusted family doctor and confirms findings.  

What worries me , is what if it had been S in my place, and the doc blithely advised this strong medicine ?  How would she know about it ? That med would have debilitated her and kept her at home, destroying her livelihood. 

I am sure the particular medication I avoided, may be used for some specific traumatic situation or condition. It was not an ordinary pain reliever.  It was neuropathic.

I just wish we question more things and try and understand them before blindly accepting them.   

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Here Comes The Sun !

You want to know How I met The Sun ?   

Well , in my time , it was all CMP.  Cleanse , Moisturize, Protect. You cleansed as soon as you woke up, moisturized hugely with all the sweat as you did your compulsory 30 surya namaskars,  and then you protected yourself with a decent bath and some sensible clothes.

It is still CMP.  Of a different kind, and suryanamaskars have given way to the Bollywood Style Harlem Shake. While clothes and skin fight over who gets seen more and so on.  Read on .... 

At the cost of sounding redundant, let me just say that the weather, the Sun, the distance from the Earth, the various revolutions and rotations, have remained basically unchanged over the last half century or so. And summer, to me,  has always been about looking for shades, cottons, swimming, tanning, aam-pannha, nimbu-paani and ice.

This was true 50 years ago and remains so even today. (Am one of the few folks who are qualified to say that....  :-)  )

If you have a daughter in her twenties,  you soon realize that  in addition to the above, it is now all about protecting the skin , by means of various lotions, which actually smell quite nice. If that daughter also actively swims, then  you also, learn about sunscreens. None of these existed in my childhood, which was really concerned with ambehaldi, cream and  milk  being slathered on the face at bath time, all year round, and you never ever cribbed about summer, as the mangoes added to the Sunny Gold.

So it came to pass that we found ourselves at the Indiblogger-Neutrogena Blogger meet at the Marriot. As if the noonday Sun was not enough, there was a surfeit of yellow, in the banners, the drapes, the tees being worn by some official types, and even the small Chinese umbrellas on which  you wrote your name as part of a blogger pool. To add to it, one of the catering chaps walked in with huge glass jars with oranges which presumably were part of the decor.

Times have changed. Girls today know a lot about cosmetics and stuff. To my eternal amusement, every one almost looks like they have stepped out from a magazine.   Compared to my time, that is.

I must say, that the organizers very thoughtfully  also distributed Freshner Wet Tissues, and moisture wet masks, with cutouts for eyes, nose and lips. Naturally, the older folks (like me and a friend)  immediately tested those, and other folks rushed to take photos.  And no, Ms Rai, Ms Kaif and Ms Kapoor  have nothing to fear from us.

And then we  avidly listened to who I called a Neutrogena Rajkanya, as she emerged  on the stage, in a brilliant yellow bejewelled gown to compere the proceedings amidst a whole bunch of yellow umbrellas   framing a photo of the lovely Prachi Desai , whose face stared down at us amidst Ultrasheer Sunblocks, Bodymists and  Ultrasheer Moisture.

After a session of blogger familiarization where the Chinese umbrellas played a major part in getting rank unknowns to meet each other and win prizes (headphones), an effort by the organizers to  hark back to their school days and school teachers, by making us sit away from our friends ,  and some introductory stuff from the manufacturers, Tara Sharma of the Tara Sharma Show appeared, again in a sunny yellow dress to address folks about how the products work for her, and her show about bringing up her kids. A very charming articulate lady,  unbelievable as a mother of 2 kids,  with an amazingly brilliant  skin quality, she ended up giving  prizes to some smart folks dressed in, what else, yellow !

Every person coming to talk about Neutrogena had this great smooth and silky skin, right from a special lady from Thailand , to the Rajkanya, to Tara Sharma Saluja. Very impressive.

You took care of your skin using the mantra of Cleanse, Moisturize and Protect.  One learnt that protection from the sun was all about protecting our skin from Ultraviolet radiation of two types.  One, UVA, that aged the skin by penetrating way inside, and the other, UVB,  that disturbed it on the surface  and burned  the skin, discoloring it. Most sunscreens simply tackle UVB. Helioplex, was the result of tweaking the  technology that introduced a skin protective agent against the UVA , and was the  speciality of Neutrogena.

Just in case the chemicals got us confused, the Neutrogena Rajkanya introduced groups to the umbrella and ball game.

One group stood around with yellow umbrellas with holes, and another group stood at a distance , simulating the sun, and tried to chuck UVA and UVB balls through the holes. The umbrellas represented various sun protection creams  A great way of teaching about UVA , UVB, whole lets them through, and who bars the way.

A great tea break later,  things got serious, and we had doctor types doing experiments to demonstrate the Neutrogena product versus some other product, in their capacities to protect.  Many questions, even more answers with technical details, research findings  and so on.

There were Indiblogger tees, prizes , and hampers from Neutrogena for everyone. 

The meet kind of culminated in folks doing the Harlem shake  on stage, where the huge model of the Ultrasheer SPF 50 Sunblock tube , was really pushed around.

Some folks were doing a fairly hyper version of the whole thing, and later , some sportingly climbed on stage to do a more "wilambit"  (slow action replay) version.

Being fairly slower than "wilambit",  and out of great concern for the structural stability of the stage yours truly watched all the fun from a distance.  

Which brings me to something.

We can be very hyper about all this. Keep slathering stuff on our faces and bodies, in an effort to keep the skin away from the Sun.  We can religiously calculate minutes and do repeat applications of stuff, and perform a countdown before emerging into the Sun. There are mists, and sprays, and almost invisible lotions.

Or we can be at a  comfortable pace,  judiciously choosing to use these products, along with drinking lots of water, chhaas, citrus fruits,  eating light but nutritious  and allowing our skin to also feel good from inside.

The application of the mists and sunblock, might probably avoid your getting too tanned.  That is probably important in a country where getting tanned is equivalent to being incredibly stupid.
I hope Neutrogena does not succumb to the "Fair is Lovely" stuff in their ads. I hope they highlight how wonderful healthy dusky and brown skins can look and be.  I hope they emphasize the importance of hydration and good diet too.

A lot of our young people go overboard and mess up with excessive chemicals being absorbed by their skin.  Affecting Vit D3 levels in our bodies, leading to many health problems, typical of today. 

In ancient days, Egyptians were known to use Jasmine, lupine and  rice bran extracts as sunscreens and sunblocks. Organic stuff, more body friendly, but I can't see today's folks-in-a-hurry  doing this. Maybe chemicals from these substances are now extracted and present in the lotions.  I don't know.

So learn, educate yourself, use the various products judiciously.

The Sun, has been here longer than all of us.

He watches, and performs. And is probably as delighted to see a lovely, healthy, smooth, well-hydrated skin as all of us.    

Submitted  as an entry for the Neutrogena and Indiblogger contest on "How I met the Sun" ,  subsequent to the Meet on 7-4-2013.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

On the ramp with Edna ......

The world appears to be greatly concerned about my hair.

I am being inundated with shampoo .  And conditioners. Claiming to perform all kinds of miracles . Straightening the hair. Curling the hair.  Bonding the split ends. Moisturizng the hair. Shining the hair.  I wait with baited breath for shampoos that automatically trim, cut and comb my hair too. 

The latest is that they want to know my take on ramp-ready hair.  ( I cannot stress enough that I never played marbles in my childhood with Tarun Tahiliani,  never went to the same school as Ritu Kumar, and was never on backslapping terms with parents of folks like Masaba, Vikram, Rocky, Nachiket or Swapnil...and yet they ask...?).

Ramp ready hair ?   

You don't know what that is?  Neither did I .

Ramps and I go back a long way .  Mostly, it has been a huge plank of wood which connected Mother Earth with something like a loading area of a truck, or a landing, where walking up  steps was not possible.  I've walked several ramps, when we moved houses 4 times till now, and twice for my late parents.  Then during my years in the US as a grad student, ramps were always on ramps or off ramps, and there was a technique of speeding or decelerating on the ramp, as you drove your car on to and off a freeway. 

Some ramps called life ramps,  really go a long way back. And one has always walked these ramps, in different styles of hair.

Like this shampoo called Tresemmé, launched by Ms Edna Emmé in 1947, which is almost as old as me.

Like my Life Ramp. And it has been an entertaining exercise, looking back and walking that ramp, with special reference to hair and shampoos. 

At the beginning of the ramp.....The best hair one probably had. Shining, soft, wet, curly, with wisps that needed no conditioning. You didn't really need a shampoo or a conditioner at that point.

Regardless of whether it stood up, stuck to your scalp, curled  or stayed limp, it was a wonder. Someone simply had to ruffle your hair  and everything was OK.

Further up the ramp, mess was the word they used when they didn't want to deal with the tangles. Fine , thick, curly hair, nourished by a shampoo, falling in rings all around.   Wet hair, sneezes, refusal to dry, and folks scrubbing it. And one tried to avoid folks who wanted to tie it in bows. Though I must say gajras and clips were OK....

The danger years. When you observed everything someone else did. With brushes. Combs. Clips.  Dryers. Your curls kind of gave up and began to straighten out. You surreptitiously experimented with tubes and lotions, and sometimes high heels were tried for effect.

Then someone would shout at you as you looked through some falling bangs, and tell you that your eyes would get spoilt and you would get glasses.

 In the preteens,  some great oiling of hair, and a braiding . Two tight braids, the requirement at school. Black ribbons with bows. Done just so.

The experimental hair science became a bit more exact. Regular hair washes, proper drying, combing out and detangling.  Washed hair, when wet, was never ever braided. Brushes were never used, and were never in fashion. Mothers looked at the combs after combing and shook their heads. Sometimes these braids were turned up. But never in high school.

Teenage was the golden age of hair. You poured over magazines with friends, quietly snipped away some locks, to create , what you thought was a brilliant set of bangs.

You oiled and washed and conditioned your hair several times a week. You did all kinds of tight rubber-banding to get a frizzy effect, and other times, combed out your hair is natural curls about your face. Tying up hair was a no-no.

Those of us who had frizzy hair hankered after straight, and vice versa.  Mothers never agreed to fiddling around with the God-given quality of your hair. And all this hair was always left open, and you constantly fiddled with it  for style.

College days, outings, celebrations, saw glossy hair, curled for the occasions, cascading on both shoulders. There were special cuts, layers, and an obsession with split ends, which caused a lot of cribbing. You mastered the art of making your curls bounce around your face as you walked. On a hot day, you casually twisted it up ensuring a few tendrils kind of cascaded down your cheeks.

The campus queen had arrived.
College annual days, friends weddings, family weddings, and you excelled , with a bit of help from your friends, in twisting your hair up, into a chignon.  Freshly conditioned, combed, hair, gracefully wrapping up one side, adorned with delicate flowers and jewellery, and pinned firmly into a bun. Some called it a knot.

The name is unimportant. What matters , is that this was the ramp ready style for the D-days then.

Then there were the traditional festive  family days. An early morning wash of hair, wearing of just washed clothes, and a family prayer get together.  You wore traditional clothes, and traditional jewellery, and your hair was up in a no nonsense khopa style. So ramp ready for the festival of lights and the new year, and you adorned it with jasmine and mogras under the keen eyes of your aunts.
Striding along the life ramp, swishing your now more than waist length hair.  There were folks in the house, and many more at the Tresemme Youtube Videos  marveling at, guiding and helping you take care of your hair. helping you with special shampoos, oils and conditioners.

You sat in front of the dressing table , as someone combed out the tresses, jet black, smooth, and shining. Mothers urged you to braid it, or pile it up. But it was more fun, tying it at the neck, and walking with a swish of the huge pony tail.

Have you seen the haughty looks which are standard on the ramp ? Well the life ramp has them too.

Hair greatly shampooed, conditioned, and blow dried straight. Combed up and knotted and clipped, with it all cascading down gracefully, across a back, secretly tattooed, without your maters knowledge. Smart clothes, confidence,  and greeting  everyone with a smile, and a shake of the mane, as it falls forward, and enraptures folks with its grace.

Some days are special on the ramp. Some days, friends join you on your ramp walk. Its is all about smooth, well set hair, piled high up, as you walk, head held high, on heels.  Not that you need the elevation, since you are already flying high with the imminent life changes. But the hair pulled up, highlights you eyes, and the shine within...  
Some stages on the ramp are formal. You wear formals, greet people formally in the company of a formal companion, carefully move around, smile a lot, and enjoy being the cynosure of all eyes, with the beautiful jewellery, hair adornments, and a great sense of clean comfort. The only way to proceed now is to the top . You look back, smile at those who've been part of it all, shared your tensions and cribs, you push back an escapist tendril, and turn to leave.
And so there are special ramps and day to day ramps.  You need to step from the former on to the latter.  It is all about coming home. Letting your hair loose, sitting with a cup of tea, tired feet up.  Energised, you get up, decide to have a bath,  wash your hair with Edna Emmé's shampoo, slather on conditioner, and wait. Thinking about how great the ramp walk has been . The experience. The applause. The appreciation.  You emerge, dry your hair, gently comb it, and twist it into a homely bun at the nape of your neck.

A few strands of hair escape, and curl down the sides of your face. You push them back, and notice a tinge of grey happening.  You smile, pick up a cup, and sip the remaining tea.

Edna Emmé , in 1947, decided to call her shampoo Tresemmé in honour of her own tresses.  I am almost as old as Edna's shampoo, and now it is  a Tresemmé life...

 I like to think, that had she been around today, her hair might have resembled mine.

Grey, in streaks, with some dark ones defiantly holding on.

She might have approved of the ramp walk. And then again, she and I might have done a senior citizen ramp walk together, reached the end, and smiled our thank you's before turning back.....

(All pictures courtesy Google images)

Submitted as an entry for the Indiblogger "TRESemmé Ramp Ready Hair" contest.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Living in Mumbai....

Mumbai has been my Janmabhoomi. My Karmabhoomi. And now my Vanaprasthashrambhoomi.  I do not know if the last word exists. But I just coined it.

 This is a city, where sitting in a public bus taking my daughter to school, I was hit in the eye, with a liquid-filled plastic pouch, by a random person, situated in the evacuated slums, on the bus route. The pouch hit me and then spilled over across my shoulder on to the knees of the person sitting behind.

But then , this is also a city, where a total stranger found my ID card on the road  in a posh locality near where I live in much more ordinary surroundings, called me up, and asked me (or my husband)  to come to our colony gate, so he could hand it over to me, as he proceeded to his workplace.

Yes, this is a city, where you may get jostled and purposefully touched in a very bad way in a crowded bus, and this is also a Mumbai, where  passersby suddenly mobilize to thrash someone after you shout at someone who has been causing you grief.   

The same city where you emerge with heavy bags from a supermarket, step unknowingly into a disguised pothole, and fall straight in front of a three wheeler, only to have the driver brake with  jerk, rush out to help you, with his passenger ladies, offering you a drink of water from their bottles.

 And sometimes, you lie stunned, experiencing the Bystander Effect, as some Honda guy whizzes past through red lights , in closed tinted glasses, ear to the phone, unaware that a human has been touched and pushed to the ground.

Somewhere in this city, the population has soared ahead of the infrastructure, global brands salivate at a population that seeks them with stars in their sometimes misguided eyes, and magazines which were once avidly read for their thoughtful content now fill ninety percent of their pages with ads, showing facetious expensive stuff that you could possibly buy only in lieu of your next house EMI.  

Large clutches of  greedy eaters, salivating for the same piece of the pie, whether  it is the land pie, or the power pie, or sometimes the consumer pie.  In the complex system of claiming your pound of flesh by those who make things available to us, , women have become the worst sufferers. Outlandish prices for homes,  the need for both parents to work to pay EMI's,  schools that actually follow profit oriented business practices,  the weird shape of the city, and the  disobedient traffic, that makes commuting a time consuming  affair.

Women in Mumbai have always borne the brunt.  My generation (I am 63), has been the sandwich generation, that emerged breaking the old shackles , to work, only to find that mindsets take time to change, and we are neither here nor there.  Today's young, Mumbai's Generation Next,  have rushed headlong into a lifestyle where everything is ready to use and is lapped up thoughtlessly, unaware of the pitfalls to our bodies and our homes.

And so , we have studies being done of incidences of various cancers in Mumbai, the risk factors, the warning signs, the sociological distributions, the lifestyle aspects of it all. Girls are reaching puberty earlier than before, television has eaten into recreation time outside the house, and the latest is that young women show tendencies leading to Poly Cystic Ovarian  Disease.  The chaos outside their life, in transport, food, work, and education, is, reflected in the hormonal chaos within their bodies.

As if this was not enough, there is an overall behavioural desperation shown sometimes by a certain type of a male Mumbai citizen,  whose role model is the Bollywood villain.  Rules are to be broken. He troubles women on the road,  he threatens folks into joining him in something he thinks is a pastime, but is actually a crime;  he forsakes education for acquiring status enhancing things under false pretences.

Unless you are one of those who thinks Mumbai ends at Bandra, or who has always travelled in AC Chauffeur driven cars, or who never knows the current price of a dhaniya bunch, or who thinks smart phones are phones that match smart clothes,  this is not a good time to be a Mumbai woman.

And so a bunch of bloggers gathered recently , for an Indiblogger meet , "Mumbai For Women " at the 175 year old TOI offices opposite the Old Lady of Boribundar.  The paper folks have been doing a set of articles and write ups regarding  aspects of women's lives in Mumbai, based on some surveys that were carried out.  It was nice to see that the staff involved appeared to be someone just like us . I mean they worked, and took trains home late at night, and were not the type that worried about what to wear for a soiree that evening at the Taj.

The idea was to see what things were workable for women.

 One of them being the pan-railway helpline, valid across all the 3 , Central Railway, Western Railway, and  Harbour line branches. A call to this number,  9833331111,  elicited action within the hour, lost things were found, troublesome folks evicted from compartments.  We heard personal stories about using this. Great news.

The health surveys have highlighted danger signs to look out for for what are today   lifestyle diseases, as well as  the big C warning signs. There is information about preventive checkups that women may get done with a suggested frequency. There is information about diet and mental health, and the interconnection.

Education surveys have indicated a mismatch in those doing well in college, and then sticking on and doing well at work; mostly due to the aforementioned sandwich generation problems, mindsets, and  unhelpful city infrastructure.

Crime against women is very much there; in spades.  The trouble is , those that are commissioned to handle that problem, namely our police, do not exist in the required quantities for common folks, appointed as they are to provide special security for politically powerful folks.    

Sometimes I wonder if Mumbai women have a "tolerant" gene.  

To travel day after day, climbing into trains that allow 15 seconds for 50 women to climb in, and then stand, moulding your body to any available space , standing, getting shoved,poked, and glared at.

To work in places, that think providing decent toilets for women, is of lowest priority, and allocate no money for the maintenance of the toilet, in case it exists.

To climb, on the run, into a lurching bus, and get a foothold on the second last step, and stand in the wind for ten minutes supported by strange hands,  else you miss your connecting train.    

To be pushed, and overtaken by fellows running to catch trains, up and down ill maintained railway staircases,  as you struggle with a small child, or a basket of stuff you bought at the wholesale market.

One of the reasons Mumbai works, is that someone ends up seeing the humor in all this.

Yes, Humor.

I was once travelling  Southwards into the city on Western Railway, by the second class ladies compartment, at what might be called, the height of rush hour.  Some ladies got in with baskets of fish along with me, and kind of defined a place on the floor for themselves. It was a motley crowd , of students in convenient outfits, working housewife types , in uncrushable practical sarees, small kids in their uniforms going to their schools, and a bunch of girls, who looked alarmingly untouched by all the wind and the chaos. (Our trains have permanently open wide doors) . They stood on pencil heels, dressed like models, with exemplary poses, not a hair out of place, and occasionally pursed their lips as if to adjust their lipstick , in what appeared to be a superior posture. They tried to ignore everyone around them and their mediocrity, and daintily wiped their mascara-ed eyes ensuring that the false eyelashes didn't fall out.

The trouble was they stood right in the middle of the exit-entry passage . Various people squeezed around them and got on and off the train, and at one point the fish ladies got up. They thought the beautiful ones would notice. They didn't.

 Then in a ringing voice, that the whole compartment could here, they called out saying ," ओय   पद्मिनी , जरा  हालचाल कर कि ….  माश्याच्या टोपल्या बाहेर जायच्या आहेत ,  चाल बाजूला हो , नाहीतर सगळा सेंट माश्याचाच  होईल हो   (~ Oye Padmini, come on, MOVE lady ! Move aside to let the fish baskets  go out, else your perfume will be of fish....).

The entire scene of  western haughty model types being called Padmini  (named after a beautiful queen in our history), the no-nonsense practical ringing tone of the fish ladies, mobilising to disembark in their very practical no nonsense Koli sarees, and the Koli ladies' sneaking suspicion that this Padmini might be in the beauty business , had everyone is splits.

There could have been the usual wordy duel.  There wasn't.  because folks had a sense of humor.

Even Padmini smiled. ....

Here is a lovely video produced by the Times of india Folks as part of their Mumbai for Women campaign .  Enjoy !

Mumbai For Women