Monday, July 29, 2013

Blood Talk from Inner Space.....

I am trying to remember the first time I did a blood test as a child. And as good as my memory is , I simply cannot remember

Doctors in my childhood, learnt more from shining torches in our mouths, examining the color and surface of our tongues, lightly hammering our knees, pressing oedemic skin , and  shaking their heads or nodding them depending on the color of our eye and nails. Listening to pulses, blood flow and heartbeats revealed even more secrets to them.

Somewhere in the latter part of my teenage,  I realized what pathological laboratories did.  I went to the US for graduate studies, and in those days (circa 1969) , believe it or not, you needed to do a chest X-ray, Urine and stool tests, and some blood tests from "approved " doctors  before you applied for a visa. You then carried the stuff with you when you actually relocated.  This was my first tangle with blood and tests.

Today, it is a great business. The shining torches, and protruding tongues have given way to very specific blood tests, that tell you, how badly off you are, despite having the very best that life can offer you. There are acceptable and unacceptable ranges, you get traumatized over a one point drop in your haemoglobin and fifty point rise in your LDL.

And somewhere , away from the metros, in small towns and rural areas,  girls who are married off early, bear child after child in their family's quest for a male, and bit by bit destroy their own health.  The best of diet for the sons, unaffordability of necessities of life today , and stark unavailability of medical care in some cases. And you have an India where  the prevalence of anemia in pregnancy is almost 40-80%, the South East Asian  prevalence, according to WHO being 56%.

 About 4-16% of maternal deaths are due to anemia.  And besides being a risk factor for the mother throughout the pregnancy,  infants with anemia often exhibit prematurity, low birth weight, low Apgar scores, lower intellectual development , and so often, failure to thrive.  And should they thrive, such infants are at greater risk for cardiac problems as adults .    

And so it pleased me no end to hear Myshkin Ingawale at the TEDex talks 2012 .

Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012.

This guy,  an engineer  by training, a researcher from MIT  by profession, and an open an perceptive mind, thanks to his bringing up, combined facets of all these, and realized  on a visit to India, that it isn't enough for the technology to be smart , it has to be appropriate  for the situation. Listen to him :   

Here is a guy, who observed and studied the facilities (or the lack of them) available to a rural expecting mother. Brainstormed about them with like minded folks who strove together for an answer, and came up with a contraption that measures heartbeat, pulse and Hb by simply having the patient insert a finger into an enclosure.  No pricks, no pokes, no trauma of the emerging red..

Was HB  measuring not possible earlier ? Of course it was. But it needed trained staff to do blood pricks, chemistry knowledge, make blood smears, and analysis.  Many rural NGO's today work in maternal and neonatal health, and have trained 'Dais" that visit households and advise. Here was something simple they could carry with them and monitor the anemia and treat it. Without requiring a drop of blood.  It was that easy.  It took Myshkin and his team more than 32 trials and experiments before they succeeded, and he created his own company called Biosense  to promote this.

 This needs to be taken forward. Nay, it is begging to be allowed to go ahead.

Young  girls , in both rural and urban areas, need to be monitored for their haemoglobin content. With education made free for girls now, and more and more families realizing its importance, making such checks mandatory , in schools and even colleges,  would work wonders. Iron and folic acid supplementation can follow via improved existing systems where other NGO's could monitor quality of the medicines.

It might be a useful idea to investigate if stationary blood HB checking stations could be set up in the premises of , say, temples, and other religious places, frequented by women with families, often not allowed to go anywhere else, particularly in rural areas.  (I've never discovered the reason for weighing scales  for humans at railway stations; stations for checking HB make so much more sense. ).

Then I have suggestions for Biosense.

Newborn testing for blood thyroid values, has a bearing on the mental development of kids. Many babies are deficient coming as they do from areas with faulty iodine content in the soil and water (due to various reasons).  An untreated  hypothyroid  in a new born,  leads to developmental disabilities, and problems later. Even then , this test is NOT mandatory for newborns in India and the cost is currently prohibitive for the common man.  If Biosense can come up with a cheaper alternative to the existing testing technology, this would be like a gift from the heavens, for those who could be detected early, treated appropriately, and guaranteed  normal mental and physical milestones in their lives.

Another test I want Biosense to work on is the Vitamin D3 test . We wrongly think that being a tropical country, with people travelling to work  on foot and so on, we should be having a surfeit of Vitamin D3  in our bodies. Turns out, that thanks to atmospheric pollution levels,  various chemicals in our household cleaners, etc, our capacity to create D3 in the body has greatly reduced, This has a great bearing on the bone thinning in old age. On the other hand, indiscriminate augmenting of vitamin D3 in the body without testing is a very dangerous trend, followed by those who avoid getting tested because of the big cost involved. I hope Biosense comes up with something which can then be put up in little setups in banks and temples and libraries, which are places frequented by senior citizens.  Who can then check their own Vitamin D3.

Today having a smart technology is not enough.  It has to be geared to,  appropriate to, and  easy to handle, for  , say, a woman health worker, in a rural or urban area, given various cultural taboos, and societal restrictions, which will be some more time disappearing .      

Maybe the powers that be will then promulgate a Womens' Health Security Bill, that will provide these contraptions in large numbers across the country.      

I look forward to another TDX talk by Myshkin Ingawale an his team  in the foreseeable future.  Relating to neonatal/newborn TSH and Vitamin D3 for all

I wish these wonderful folks the best for their efforts ....

This entry submitted for the Indiblogger Franklin Templeton Investments - The idea Caravan Contest .




Thursday, July 25, 2013

Beautiful Memory Food....

I've never met her in person,  but it feels like I have.

My blogging friend Shruti Nargundkar, who is an education innovator, entrepreneur,teacher, instructional designer, curriculum and courseware developer in Melbourne.

This urge to "impart"  boils over and spills into her other life as  food blogger, where every dish has a story, a life, a personality, and she  is like a style coach for the Miss Food-Universe, planning and polishing every dish display, as she studs it with little diamond memories.

She clicks and  describes them all, in their delicious finery, salivating in colors, and educates the world.   

(All photos courtesy Shruti's blog)

Be it the simple Kande Pohe, glistening amidst coriander-coconut garnish winking at her at the squeezing of a lemon, reminding her of overnight bus rides and roadside breakfasts with her husband , in southern India.

Or  some strange purple beans that enrich a tomato-y vegetable stew, with an implicit crunch on a winter's day in Melbourne , which gets her daughters to rush home for a flavorful meal.

It could be the dignified conservative Idli, all puffed up in self importance ,secretly looking for the item number chutney, that gets her talking about chutney places Down Under.  

Or it could be the stuffy potato,  sacrificed at the alter of diversity-in-school-lunch-boxes-of-childhood, that now makes a grand comeback, baked, puffing and sitting for a meal adorned with veggie jewels, golden cheese, and butters melting and saying 'I told you so !"..


Maybe a rural brinjal, in its posh avatar as an aubergine, long and slender, that takes her back to her Middle East sojourn. She cuts them in long halves, scoops out some memories, smiles at those  garlic, onion, tomato , chillies, mint, oregano folks gatecrashing, grills them and reminds them to meet the couscous types .... 

What do you say about a golden pumpkin raita, redolent with coconut, coriander, crackling with chillies, mustard and hing,  trying to act real posh while being presented as a dip - like traditional mangalsutras coming back into fashion again !

And the simple "thalipeeth" (roasted multigrain stiff pancake) of her childhood, snacked after school , straight off the griddle, as her mother poked holes in them which she thought was all about "my  thalipeeeth strongest !"; and how she made it now Down Under, with a mix of grains, so appropriate for a country with so many nationalities.  

Her work is a beautiful celebration of family, food and an amazing ability to make pictures speak, in support of some wonderful memories she writes about.    

Be it cakes pining to be united with fresh fruit,  little baby potatoes troubling shiny tired stuffy brinjals, awash in spicy masala, or traditional sweets enjoyed  on festival days of childhood, every picture has a story, that adorns, beautifies, and makes you want to pick it off the screen and have it yourself

Come to think of it, sometimes, I can even smell the stuff.   And I drool.

Hmmm. OK. Time to get back o the exercises. ....

Submitted as an entry for the "Tanishq ‘As Beautiful As Your Work’ contest " . Blog about women who make their work beautiful

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Systems, Sense and Stupidity.

I have been wondering if we have a talent for simply abusing any technology that science throws up.  While  a forest view of things is always preferred  in society,  we specialize in nit-picking with the individual trees.

Even where conception and birth of a child is concerned.

Time was when everyone thought their child was the best.  Growing up was full of surprises, trials, fears, solutions, guidance, giving confidence to the child, and watching as he/she made their way into the world. Yes , there were folks who could not have children, for whatever reason, and the science prevalent then, had no solution. So they either adopted children in the family ,  or enjoyed being part of a community, without any commitment from themselves.

In today's day and age, adoption  of children is finding more and more support, though there is a lot that needs to be done in changing mindsets of folks with some kind of tunnel vision, that allows them to make insensitive and stupid comments where such kids are concerned.

Surrogacy happened earlier, more as a mental thing. There was none of this stuff of explicitly outsourcing wombs. But someone in the family with their own biological children, had a heart large enough to bear a child and beqeath it to you, to bring up as your own. There was nothing secretive. I personally know at least two families  where this has happened. One in the last century, and one in this century.  And everyone is happy.

Later on,  IVF and other assisted technologies came up as a result of exhaustive studies and research, meant to help folks who had problems conceiving a child.

It was never meant as a thing for defining a chromosome mix of a prospective child.

This couple in Chennai , seeking a  high IQ level progeny,  placed an online advertisement in January 2012, seeking a sperm donor preferrably an IITian for artificial insemination for a compensation of Rs. 20,000  saying, that  the ideal candidate for sperms “should be an IIT student, healthy, no bad habits, tall and fair, if possible”. They even agreed to relax a bit on the "looks" part if he happened to be the ‘right person’, and the couple said they intend to “start a family filled with love and prosperity”.  Of course asking if they were looking for a male or female progeny would be a stupid question.  Prosperity often implies a  male progeny, in the minds of such folks, given the implicit dowry considerations in these legally antidowry days.

It is not clear, if these folks were aware of many other undesirable genes that could tag along with the specified one, and whether they thought this was like specifying details of a customised silk saree  to be woven in, say, Kanjeevaram.  I am just surprised they did not specify a JEE rank, graduation department, specific IIT, and final grade point average.   

Then today's paper, TOI, highlights this article on page 1.  Fairness today,  has ceased to be a mental quality, and now means "white" .  Couples are now going in for Caucasian  eggs/embryos, later on to be fertilised and implanted  in the lady's uterus , so that the progeny,  can be guaranteed to be Fair and Lovely.  This does not come cheap, and east European donors, who currently dominate the scene, charge in thousands of dollars.  There are people who have done this (from Hyderabad), gone to full term, and delivered a female child "as white as milk" according to the super ecstatic mother, who is looking ahead to a brilliant marriage for that child.

While the above may be the leading lights , there are  again, ordinary types, who cant bear the sight of some of their own parts, and go under the surgeons knife, to acquire,  dream vital statistics,  sharp noses, rounder eyes,  fuller lips, smoother faces, and lifted chins. Pop Idol Michael Jackson experimented further in trying to achieve whiteness, that actually gave white a new meaning.

While gardens may be beautifully landscaped,  forests cannot be landscaped.  And life is not about being a prizewinning landscaped  tree trimmed just so in a sanitized garden. It is about being part of a forest system, where there is natural growth and learning amidst a variety of trees. Some providing shade, some providing a leg-up to climb somewhere, and some simply rooting themselves firmly, in the interests of everyone around.  Those that do not produce beautiful flowers, sometimes produce amazing fruit. Some simply impress with their hardy attributes, and some, like a healthy grandparent , even provide kids with a place to swing on.  There is an ability to be a place of rest for birds ,  a shady place for travellers passing through their lives, and sometimes, it is about being a rock of support , standing tall and firm in stormy times.

I wonder how science will specify these qualities in a future progeny, for those "start-up entrepreneurs"  trying for designer kids.

If God was an IT systems designer analyst , he would get completely confused,  when testing the end product for quality assurance.

Imagine an online celestial site,  say,, where folks can specify wishes for what kind of kids they wish for.  There will be some registration data that specifies your own life details, the husband's details,  the in-law situation, , ages and so on.  Then there will be a section where, you will be asked  your specs for the child, that you wish  in your life.   Girl or Boy ?  Complexion ? Height ?  .

Then on special demand, version 1.2 of the system will be announced and folks will be able to specify what inborn talents, intelligence, possible future graduation discipline,  GPA,  threshold salary,  size of the arteries,  power of the heart (as a pump only) , shape of the nose, color of hair, shape of eyes and pupil color, length of eyelashes, voice quality, left and right brain powers .

Like so many systems announced today with great fanfare, this system will then hang, thanks to too many people logging in from the subcontinent.

Finally the system will crash .

I secretly hope they that will not succeed in restoring it back. 

If I were God, I would simply empty the Recycle Mental Bin, and press CTRL-ALT-DEL.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

.....As if Women Mattered....

Straddling , as I do,  the  middle of the last century and the  the "glorious"  advent of the 21st century, one has been witness to wide lifestyle changes in the lives of Indian women.

I was confused and curious as a child when I would observe the lady of the house sit apart  from everyone, be given her food from a distance, and a child who wanted to sit in her lap was told not to touch her.  No one bothered to explain the reason for something that looked like a punishment. Then a few days later, the same lady would be back to her routine activities. Strangely,  things were a bit lax when erstwhile resident grandmothers were away.

By and by , one learnt the reason and the biology. And today, we are so "progressive(?)  that we sit in front of our TV's , with family, watching  the merits and demerits of various sanitary pads on the screen (shown as experiments in absorbtion of blue liquids), as thin models in pastel clothes leap around . And assorted multinationals vie  to advertise their product with hugely inflated ad budgets and pretend to do a favor to the women of India..  

Like most items foisted on Indian women by multinationals,  these do not come cheap. And are even out of reach of the urban lower middle class.  

Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012.  

And I just heard , in the video below, a  gentleman called Arunachalam Muruganantham speak at TEDx.  About his efforts to come up with a decent, lowcost, swadeshi, sanitary pad, which would improve the health, dignity, and even, the ability to contribute to the family income ,  for the Indian woman.  His application of mind, single minded  goal, eventual success, being recognized and awarded by the powers that be, and the fact, that business schools now listen to him, as a respected visiting  academician, despite his so called basic education, is greatly inspiring. 

I have known about Arunachalam Muruganantham for sometime. And I admired his zeal, his questioning of certain customs followed by the women of his house, and his very open research at finding solutions and answers.

 The video simply confirmed my belief  that it needed a guy like him, unconventional in level of education, his attitude towards women, guts, and fearless in the face of an ostracizing rural society, to  design something,  as if women mattered....

His typical basic ignorance, his curiousity, the social rural family ethos, the female hierarchy, his out of the box thinking, he being persona-non-grata , and the final success that had him design a manufacturing setup that would make low cost sanitary pads, (Rs 3 per),   and his decision to sell these to womens' self help groups in villages, including some in the remote Himalayan regions, is an amazing saga.   

But behind all this, is a story of rural India waiting to be told.  A story which has a direct bearing on the education , dignity and health  of rural women.And it needs to be taken forward........

Ladies of Muruganantham's family had it better than most.

According to a study done by WaterAid, an international NGO that works at  improving access to safe water, improved hygiene and sanitation , particularly in rural areas, half our Indian population, which is female, menstruates a total of 2100 hours in their lifetimes. Barely 3% have access to,or  have heard of  or use sanitary pads.
Research done by Maria Fernandes of Wateraid indicated  that rural girls dropped out of school, once they reached menarche, simply because of lack of needed sanitation facilities, like decent bathrooms, sufficient water, and disposal methods. A prominent reason was also being the butt of teasing by boys, who suspected what was happening.  Where the women work in fields and tribal areas, it is even worse. Women from the Saharia tribe of Sheopur actually get locked up in a cowshed during their days, forcing them to use any material around like rags, straw, mud, ash, paper  and so on. Infections abound. A teenager in MP's Dindori district got infected by an insect that came along with the straw she used, and she ended up having her uterus removed. And it is not uncommon, for women to share the "cloths" washing them again and again, not to mention drying them in closed places out of shame, causing them to remain damp.

 In the face of the immense power wielded by multinationals, what Muruganantham has done , stands like a beacon of hope. 

But it is not enough to make sanitary pads available cheaply. Something else must happen to complement Murugananthanam's immense effort.

Our government has made the Right to Education a fundamental right, and education for women is free upto a certain level.   However, education is not about bricks and mortar alone. We have rural schools, where teachers do not go, because basic amenities are missing.  We have rural schools, where the money never reaches where it is intended. And why rural, even certain municipal schools in Mumbai have insufficient and inadequate sanitation facilities for girls, with almost zero maintainance for those that exist.

We need to think innovatively like Muruguananthanam did. Involve women in planning the educational facilities at the village level.  Local NGO's might be able to do a women census. There may be green construction methods that might be used to build schools, with as much emphasis on physical well being of girls , as mental. Maybe, instead of the usual channels whereby construction happens with shortcuts , and no supervision, and checking, corporates can be roped in to participate as part of their CSR.  It is not enough to put out ads on television, and announce schemes.

And instead of launching nationwide schemes , politically named , with no vigilance and followup, maybe a trial scheme can be launched, say across 3-4 districts of , say, Maharashtra.  The government can do its bit by making this attractive for corporates by giving  them tax concessions and the like. Get feedback from those for whom the schools are meant.  Involve the women of the area in self help groups that work on Murugunanathanams product.  Make it attractive for girls to come enjoy schooling and learn, like their brothers.

Then have someone from the corporate side come and evaluate after a few years and report. Make improvements. And then maybe, replicate  it in some more ditsricts, armed with the practical knowledge.

Like Murugananthanam, there will be a lot of experimenting, a lot of what he calls T and E methods.  Like in his case, there will be traditional opposition, folks will suspect your motives. So called political leaders will get into the act.

 Like Murugananthanam, there will need to be sustained efforts and no giving up.

However, unlike Muruganathanam , I am not sure the corporate types will get invited on TEDx. 

But I for one, will certainly look forward to some interesting stuff on television,  which will NOT be  about fair girls in fairer clothes, talking about changing mindsets , so one multinational product can be replaced with another.

It will be wonderful film, showing how some girls now enjoy going to school in a remote corner of the state, learning and interacting, with thoughtfully planned schools and facilities and   mothers urging them not to miss school. How their health situations have improved, and how their family income has possibly improved because someone somewhere works at a Muruganathanam-inspired self help group manufacturing the pads........ and how one of the intangible side effects has been a kind of sensitization of the males  of the village.....   something we badly need even in our urban areas today.


Submitted as an entry for the Indiblogger-Franklin Templeton Investments "The Idea Caravan"  Contest.   

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Vidi, Didici, Docui.....

She was one of those God fearing but rational  folks, who remained always grounded.

It meant she walked the talk.

Like when she volunteered to work for the consumer guidance society.

That was like forty years ago.  The fancy kirana shop at the choice location in one of Mumbai's poshest localities was reputed to be duping folks in the weights.  She was never one to sit in symposiums. And so one day I accompanied her with some of her assistants, as she went in to buy some stuff. When it came to weighing the stuff, she demanded to see the standard markings on the weights and the weighing machine. Notwithstanding  horrifying who-does-she-think-she-is looks from hi-fi-ladies, the manager trying to smile politely while seething inside, and signalling someone to disappear with the weights,  she just looked at her assistants, who  quickly took charge, checked the weights (which were counterfeit), and also the balance which was loaded  in the bottom, much in favor of the kirana shop.

They didn't have cellphones with cameras then, and she had to painstakingly make a report, collect the exhibits, and submit it for follow-up .  And she did that, sitting in that very hostile environment. I noticed much whispering between some hi-fi ladies, shaking of heads in sympathy with the shop owner.

And I learned that it isn't easy in life if you want to do good. Belief in what you are doing, is paramount, and you must do it within the frame work of rules.  Flying of at an emotional tangent is a  bad start for any good work.

Much later , in her old age , she was one of the trustees of a very important old set of temples in Pune. The  only woman trustee .  Not because she sat sedately in meetings, and prayed in her kanjeevarams, but because she had been an active devotee for more than 25 years, was environmentally conscious, fiscally prudent, and something they realized later, that she never hesitated to teach by example.

Like when amidst signs requesting folks to keep the courtyard clean, she once noticed a trainee priest returning back to some rooms with stuff after a pooja,  and he casually turned, and spat to one side.  She sent word to the head priest, that they should send someone with a small pail of water, soap, and  brush-mop. And then called for the careless trainee chap.  She then told the chap that we had no business putting up signs we could not follow ourselves, and that he should take the paraphernalia and clean up the area where he spat. Godliness required cleanliness. Both of mind and body.   She stood there while it was done. Thanked the chap , and we went on our way.  I am sure the chap cursed her. It was OK. It wasn't as if folks were queuing up to give her a prize anyway  :-)

 Old timer devotees, the new younger lot, and so many noticed this. And realised that she wasn't there to become popular and meant business.     

Of course, not all appreciated this. Some smirked , secure in their ivory towers. But she taught by action, how to stand tall, for your beliefs, of which honesty was a big part.  Your job was to do it well, and be grateful for what followed.  There was something to be learned from reverses.

Not far from being a senior citizen herself, she nursed her elderly mother-in-law with a terminal stomach ailment and  in her last days in a hospital. A trained nutritionist, who was quite strict with her own kids, she didn't blink an eye when the patient expressed a desire to eat soup and batata vadas. She checked with the doc, who knew the sad situation and advised her to comply. Hot homemade soup , and lightly spiced  vadas  duly appeared and were relished . And it was all about realizing that old age is another childhood, and it was important not to be a bystander and wash your hands off things, but to participate  in an informed manner on consultation with other folks like doctors. Sometimes it was ok for the heart to rule the head, but it was nice to be careful.

It was all about how you were inside;  your perception of your responsibilities , and how you went about doing them. Even if it was not the popular thing to do.

Many years later, her daughter and her husband were returning on their 2-wheeler from work, and barely missed an oil spill on the road. It was lunch time and the road would soon be crowded with school kids and elder folk.  The two got off, spent about 15 minutes, lugging sand by the handful from an adjoining construction heap, and covering the oil spill , so people would avoid it , or at least not slip.  This, as several folks whizzed past in a hurry. They had learned  from someone, and believed in what they had to do.

(Someone else noticed too. And they received an unsigned letter from someone who had been around,  a few days later, appreciating what they did. The irony made them smile. Good stuff remained secret. Bad stuff was publicised. But such are the ways of the world. And they saw and they  learned . And hopefully, in turn, taught....)

Vidi. Didici. As they would say in Latin. मैंने देखा, मैंने सीखा, as we would say in Hindi, मी पाहिले, मी शिकले in Marathi,   अहं अपश्यम्  | अहं ज्ञातवती अभवम्  | in Sanskrit....

She always said,  that quality and quantity are two attributes that most things have.  And one must strive for quality.

Quantity was all about Schools. Food. Art. Clothes.  Followers. Friends. Enemies. Even Money.

Quality was more elusive , more tough, more mindful, even unpopular at times.

"Quantity",  was like throwing money and buying a ready made decorative plant.

And the other, "Quality",  was like getting your hands dirty, to dig in the mud, water, and help  a drooping plant, help it grow up as a responsible member of the green, and feel good that it has taught you something. .

One has never forgotten that. And one tries to pass it on and teach it.

Vidi, didici, docui...

I am sharing what 'I Saw and I Learnt' at in association with

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Deep Potholes, Deeper Thought.........

(Bumping along, tilting, splashing mud, and rattling your bones, you often go into a rhythmic stupor as you travel on the Mumbai roads in the monsoon. If you are in a bus, you even pick up "break" dancing.  A sudden smooth patch, and sometimes those grey cells start whirring.....)

In a near perfect world, you think out of the box

In a perfectly imperfect world, with crumbling and fudged edges, you need to think out of the hole.

Like in Mumbai.  In the monsoons.

Reliable sources indicate that a high power municipal committee has been appointed to decide on the actual definition of "road"  in the 21st century. 

While several political leaders appear on the committee, it is reported that there is a suggestion that some heritage conservationists also be included, so that they may offer their expertise of concreteless, tarless roads, bumpy roads  that were traversed by great personages, sometimes in bullock carts  and horse carriages, in the history of the nation.

While the current computerized PMS, (or Pothole Management System) has enriched several folks with taxpayer financed fancy laptops,  the interface between  the system and the actual road surface  has malfunctioned.  While several 'contract' virus actions are suspected to be the cause, a high power technical committee has been constituted  to look into this.

Some city fathers have suggested naming of roads after powerful political types, as a solution, and naturally their own party leaders are the names of choice.  This would work well, as no one would dare tweet and say , "Desh ka Neta so-and-so is terrible and full of potholes" or "Avoid Padmabhushan so and so for a few days...".

The high power Municipal committee, hearafter referred to as HPMC, and completely unrelated to the Himachal Pradesh Market Committee,  has finally completed its deliberations,  and its recommendations are to be presented to the MCGM,MMRDA, and any likely Mumbai acronymed agencies who may be deemed to be interested.

Drastic changes in the environment require a drastic change in how we view things.

As per the committee, "road" will henceforth NOT refer to miles of smooth tarred or concreted surfaces.  By executive decree, "road" will be the name given to a collection of creative potholes connected by a few strips of concrete or tar here and there. 

In one felling swoop, the brilliant committee has solved the problem of roads, potholes, repairs and naming of all or one or more of the aforementioned.

From now on there will be no potholes. Nothing to repair in those pesky tarred strips braving it out smoothly , monsoon after monsoon. The entire PMS system is now obsolete, because there are no potholes to manage, and you cannot convert it to a  Tarred-strip Management System (TMS), as too much constant layering will insert a speed breaking perturbation into the whole system.

Bye-Bye Motors and Hanuman Motors dealers are rubbing their hands in glee envisioning a run on their shockabsorbers and suspensions, which were earlier reduced to being sold as buy-1-get-1-free .  Papollo Tyres have announced the plan to hire 200 new people as they forsee a great market .

A government spokesman, when  asked about this, mentioned that the government would now be following this Mumbai model all across the country.  A special agency called the   National Pothole Authority of India would be created by decree or ordinance, and its aim would be to create potholes all over the country, by using innovative and cheap road mixtures.When asked about how poor pedestrians, cyclists and other two wheeler types  would manage,  a senior minister of the government is supposed to have said that this entire project would  be  a game changer.

Stupid me.  I should have known.

Games and potholes.  And Fixing..... ?

What Fixing ?


Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Review of "My Stroke of Luck - Alphabet to Author"

I received the book "My Stroke of Luck - Alphabet to Author" by Vijay Santhanam, published by Hay House (2013) as part of the Blogadda Bookreviews program.

I have been fascinated by the workings the human brain, ever since I had the honor of caring for my father in his last days, and was intrigued  by it, as I observed him slow down, lose recognition of some people, then confuse events in time, and yet remember something with great accuracy and relevance, connected to all of the above.  One of my aunts in her eighties , a couple of years ago,  suffered a stroke followed by a coma for a week, and then emerged mentally totally unscathed  but paralysed below the hips.  So observing these folks, and their battles with their amazing brains  was a huge learning opportunity . And I wrote this.  My tribute to the Brain.

Vijay Santhanam  had this stroke when he was 41.  And the book is about his fight to recover, his realization about the level of his abilities vis-a-vis the earlier days,  his efforts to  build up some of his abilities even from scratch,  and most of all, his never-say-die attitude and the urge to try and return to what he was before.

He writes about his initial symptoms, his mental confusion, and about his being "dextracardia with situs inversus" (about having organs in his body,  transposed , that is, those on the left , appearing in his body , actually on the right and so on). When his stroke leaves him with his left brain affected, he wonders if his left is really, the left.  Turns out that , as brains go, he is like any other person. Left brain for mathematical, analytical, detail  stuff,  and right brain for intuitive, overall picture, design stuff.

While he must start learning language expression again, mentally and in the manner of enunciation and pronouncing, perception of numbers is also affected. His family, friends, doctors and therapists at the hospital in Singapore help him through the steps and encourage him at each step. This is a story of how having a perceptive, understanding doctor helps, and how every patient is different.  Learning to write is difficult but using a laptop was easier. Vijay Santhanam, a marketing manager, in a senior position with BP , had to learn to sign with his left hand all over gain, because  a troubled left brain meant his right hand was affected by the stroke .

A very dedicated cricket and Sachin Tendulkar enthusiast, he managed to push his recovery so much so, that he was able to visit India four months later to watch Sachin play at Mohali.   His great interest in chess, in cricket , and always an optimistic outlook that shouted " Yes, I can " , had him collaborating books, being the sole author of some like this one,  playing and following International chess, and even driving his car .

All this was very hard work, where he was required to be very sensitized to even slight abnormal manifestations and symptoms in his physical being.  Sometimes, the body indicates its fatigue and displeasure with a tantrum and you suffer from a seizure.  So you learn to recognize the signs, and take medication in time.

This is the story of a man, with a huge love of life, and a matching huge respect for what we call the human brain .  His descriptions of Broca's area ( expression of language) and Wernicke's area(comprehension of what is being sensed as language) , both members of the left brain community, are wonderful. His observations on how the brain keeps information in a brilliant "distributed" way , are something , that I have always suspected but never confirmed. Not being able to recite something, but being completely informed of its meaning. Not being able to differentiate between visual representation of numbers 2 and 3, but being able to conduct and understand  math operations. His ability to start learning Hindi all over again, and his observation, that language ability , without constant therapy slips to a threshold level,  after which it is difficult to recoup it, is enlightening.

This is a story,  of not just the triumph of the human spirit over such life threatening calamities.

It is the story of a system , so well designed, with so many checks, balances, redundancies, automatic backups,real time repair possibilities, and a built-in expert system for learning from effort and experience, that there can be, in my eyes, only One System Designer.  Above.

It may play chess with Kasparov, but no computer OS/hardware/software comes anywhere close to our Human Brain.. 

My  congratulations to Vijay Santhanam on an amazing, inspiring  book. 

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

Monday, July 01, 2013

Of tokens, banks and weddings.....

Sometimes, you get new ideas in the most unexpected ways.  And this one was triggered by a phone call from the bank.

One afternoon , there was a call from a different branch of my bank.  They wanted to know details of a transaction done through them 7 years ago.  And they were asking this, of someone, who could not remember where she kept the pickle bottle yesterday.

Someone was then, scheduled to send conference fees to China, and these had to be sent using some specific SWIFT code. Since we hadn't dealt with such stuff earlier, we went to our bank, only to be told that yes, they did have this facility, but the person responsible had fractured his hand, was on leave,  no one else could do this(!), and we should go to another branch some kilometres away and do the needful.  With great reluctance they agreed to call someone there before we went.

A massively crowded branch on a main eastern thoroughfare, in the industrial commercial belt, and we spent 2 hours there , in an elevated area , getting our work done and watching the milling crowds on the lower level.

This was the branch that had now called and wanted to verify our antecedents.

But seven years later  ?

While I refused to answer an unknown voice asking questions,  told them to verify our transaction details with our branch and troubled some lady who was only doing what she was told (she said that to me),  other details about that bank branch, came back to me vividly. 

At a time when our branch was still dodging snaking lines opposite various tellers based on account numbers, these folks had graduated to token numbers, and the huge number of customers, sat facing the tellers, in chairs placed in lines, in what I call "wedding-reception style" .

Which actually gave me some ideas.

 How many times, have you attended weddings, and stood in a long line that moved at snail's speed as folks went up to wish the bridal couple , and got clicked for posterity in their kanjeevarams ?  How many times, have you felt like sitting down for a while on the set on empty chairs , all facing the stage  ?  And how many times have you decided to eat first hoping most folks would have done the wishing line by then ?

Here is where we learn from banks.

 Every one at entry, at any wedding, along with haldi, kumkum, pedha, rose, perfume and rosewater spray , must also get a token number (one per family).  You go in, find yourself a nice seat , say, next to friends or whatever, and enjoy some innovative cool drinks being circulated.

Way up amidst the floral Ganpati, blinking lights, and bouquets stuck at an angle in the background on stage, there would be  an electronic board , that would display, say , 4  token numbers at a time, updating as and how each was "used up". Folks with those token numbers, would amble up to the stage, carefully climb up, and do their stuff, wishing the couple, gifting, folks touching their feet , so on and so forth,  As soon as their feet step off the exit ramp , a sensor would remove their number from the board and the next in line would automatically come up.


Think. You conserve your energy. You drink. You notice the in-law side folks sitting way up in front.  Suitably separate. You notice who is wearing what as they arrive on stage. You have detailed conversations with interested folks on the possible cost of the 25 kilo outfit worn by the  bride.  Then other people get to do the same when its your turn to go up, and you get a closeup of the folks on stage, and the 25 kilo outfit, and the beads of perspiration as a result of all that weight.

Such a civilized method.  No need for hundreds to lean on one foot and then the other, in their uncomfortable mandatory finery, while sudden VIP's are ushered on to the stage.

Of course, like all systems , this one will also have hiccups. There will be unconcerned folks who dash up to the stage the wrong way, to relay a message , triggering a confused response from the sensor.  There are kids who might climb up directly on to the stage, enamoured by the throne like chairs in red velvet with gold embroidery. There may even be a perfectly valid tokened guest, in the habit of skipping steps, who simply misses the step with the sensor that senses exits, causing the numbers to stall ...

There may be people who enter without a token number. You cannot send them home like the Passport Seva Kendra does.  So you club them with a family already having a token.  Of course, the possibility of this facility being grossly abused cannot be denied.  There will be unreturned tokens, lost tokens, found tokens.

You can of course link your cell phone number to the token number, and design a system that sends you a message two numbers before yours.

Depending on the total number of guests expected over a finite number of hours, folks can decide on he optimum quantity  of token numbers on display at any given time above the dais.

Wedding planners will have various types of Apps they will offer for streamlining the "Meet the couple" token system.

As an example of what limits one may go to, chips can be embedded in the grooms mojris or shoes, that simply turn the token-no display completely off, once he , along with the bride, descends the stage , via the exit ramp, to finally go home. 

I mean, the sky is the limit. 

But then, I look at the people in my bank branch today, sitting with tokens and troubled expressions, in chairs arranged wedding-reception style, waiting for hours, because the number of open windows are not enough. And sometimes, the person that you wish to meet, suddenly gets up, and goes away,  the minute you reach the window. 

No bank has folks going around offering cold drinks to clients, or even nice chilled water. Some banks do that for "preferred" customers, but we are talking about those who check their passbooks again and again, out of habit.

Maybe ,as a quid pro quid,  they, the banks,  can learn something from weddings as they are held today, .

Have round glass tables for people to sit and wait at. Keep Bisleri bottles at the centre.  Along with some decent glasses.   And small counters on each table that display the current token number being processed.  Instead of folks going around with cold drinks, have bank assistants going around asking folks what work they have come for, and guide them to the appropriate person, in or outside the window.

The possibilities are endless.  The sky is the limit, for services. 

But somehow, I think the weddings are winning, and the banks are coming a poor second.

Unlike weddings, it isn't very pleasant being welcomed by a tough looking fellow in a uniform, and holding a gun.  Just saying....