Friday, March 27, 2009

Ceremony and the Servant

I have on occasions written about our penchant for rituals and ceremonies. There is another. This is giving a name. This applies not only to the newborn which of course must have a name but also to inanimate objects like buildings, extensions, localities, towns and cities. These need not be new constructions. Even the old names will be changed at will. Britishers called Bengalooru as Bangalore because it felt better for their tongues to pronounce. Now the locals, 60 years after the Britishers left , realized that we must go back to Bengaluru which is what my city is now called and persons like me find it hard to accept the new name. Worse, the newscasters call it Benglur! Which is neither of the two names! Similar fate befell Bombay which has become Mumbai .Worse was the case of Madras. It is now called Chennai! Did they do it because they did not like the first three alphabets of the old name and renamed it, I don’t know.

We had some nice names for towns and roads in old city, of course named after British officers who rendered commendable public service. Thus Albert Victor road became Alur Venkat rao road, South Parade became M.G.Road. Most names have been changed to Indian ones. The latest is renaming Fraser town as Pulikesi nagar! There are two roads in old cantonment. One is called Cockburn road and the other is Osborne Road and they have left these two names unchanged! Who says we Indians have no sense of humor!

Before we take up any construction project an inaugural is held. This is done on an auspicious occasion [even government buildings are begun after consulting astrologers for this auspicious moment].This goes by the name foundation laying ceremony. A stone plaque with inscription giving the ultimate use of the building and who were all the dignitaries present on the occasion and the date. Our towns and cities are replete with these abandoned mementos with the intended construction never done! They however make useful perches for our omnipresent crows and for the stray cattle to have a good rub.

In some buildings you find more than one plaque! Don’t be surprised. Each time an expansion takes place the process repeats! Our government servants want spacious well appointed chambers. Even our messengers and attenders want the dignity of a chair and desk. This means constant need for additional space. There is continuing construction activity to build office space. Kindly don’t be under the illusion that work gets faster with the provision of additional space. On the contrary it gets delayed. More employees means the files have to move several notches more. More notches mean more delay. It is said a common Indian is getting throttled by reams of beurocratic paper. Any surprise why it is so?

There is a huge [but beautiful] structure called Vidhan Soudha where legislative business is held, here in Bangalore. We disgruntled citizens call it Nidhana Soudha. Nidhana in Kannada language means slow! There is a prominent plaque displayed with the legend,’ government work is God’s work’! This is true. The government [means those who work for government] is God. The government workers are called in India as government servants. They should be called sons of God and thus a privileged class. In modern India the government is for the government servants by the government servants and also it is from them.

Abraham Lincon who said government is from the people for the people and by the people, be dammed.

This is India and here we the people are servants of the government!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Democracy, Bollywood and Cricket

I sometimes wonder what is holding us together as a nation. We are so many and we owe our allegiance to different creeds and ideologies. We are two hundred million people in two hundred nations. We elect our leaders rarely based on virtues of honesty and ability but on issues like caste, religion, money and muscle. This we have been doing since the past 50 years and it has progressively worsened and as you can see from the headlines in our newspapers, that we are a poorly governed country. But we have managed to remain as a nation. How is it possible? It could be that these divided loyalties make us realize the larger issues of nationhood and prevent us from destroying the democracy. It is like Rumpole the lawyer defending a petty criminal and getting him off so that he remains a petty criminal and carries on and doesn’t graduate to serious crime. So though they are not our best specimens, our politicians in their own flimsy way have kept our nation going.

What else is keeping us together? There are two and these days I feel these two have contributed more to keep our identity as Indians going, more than our politicians. Let me deal with the first one. It is the great Indian Cinema. Especially the Hindi Cinema [popularly called Bollywood]. Exclusively produced in the city of Mumbai. Hindi is a language spoken and or understood by a majority of us. There are two types of these movies. One is called the commercial cinema and the other is called art cinema. Commercial cinema produces the largest number of movies and is viewed by almost all Indians, whatever may be their allegiance to other interests be. They may be rich, poor, Hindu [and many sub classes], Moslem, Christian, Sikh, Buddhist, Jain etc, they all watch this commercial cinema. All commercial movies have a simple formula. It has a story which revolves around heroes and heroines, villainous characters and evil and good. Ultimately the good triumphs and the viewer is happy. There is no real need for our heroes and heroines and of course our villains to know how to act. Acting is a byproduct. What they should know is how to dance and they must be good looking and well muscled. The heroines must be well proportioned and be prepared to show as much of it as possible. An average Hind formula movie has at least ten song and dance sequences, and the same or more number of fights. These will keep the audience spell bound for over ninety minutes.

The art cinema, surprisingly, is not dead yet. These are movies which are occasionally made that depict the real India and her struggles. It is, therefore, rarely entertaining. An average Indian doesn’t want to see on the screen what he is experiencing in his day to day life. He wants to live in world of illusion at least for those three hours. It is no wonder that these reality cinemas rarely make enough money and that they are still being made is surprising. What I have written about Indian cinema is what I think and is not supported by personal experience as I am not a movie goer, having decided long ago that it is waste of time and money. But my surmise that Hindi Cinema is one of the binding forces of our nation has many takers.

The other is cricket. Here I can write with some authority, having been an avid follower of the game for the past 50 years. Of all the mad habits the Britishers left us behind such as never using hands to eat food and wearing dark coloured suits in midsummer, playing and watching cricket, the last named has the maximum following. Few mad Indians still do follow the first two. It is not uncommon to see an Indian desperately trying to eat masala dosa with a fork and knife or profusely sweating in a dark suit. But the trait of watching cricket is across the board and is a universal habit. Before the advent of television this addiction was confined to the playing arena and a few thousands who actually watched and few more who listened to the running commentary over the radio. Now the viewership has grown so much that it is estimated that one in ten Indians watch or follow the fortunes of Indian cricket.

It has been attributed to late Bernard Shaw who described cricket as a game played by twenty two fools and watched by twenty two thousand! Going by his definition we are a nation of fools given the popularity. 50 years ago there was only one version that is now called test cricket. This went on for five days and often ended in a draw [honorable name for neither side winning]. Drawing the test match, especially when played between India and Pakistan, was the boring norm. Though test cricket still retains its popularity in some quarters, the shorter versions, the 50 over and 20 over cricket, has over taken test cricket in popularity ratings. This is because, in this short version of cricket, there is certain to be a result and the game ends in a day or few hours.

Indian cricket over the years has produced some outstanding individual cricketers but rarely a team which won consistantly.There was more losses and draws than wins for the team. Individual brilliance of a Kapildev or Tendulkar doesn’t win matches. It needs a team of good players led by a captain who has qualities of leadership. After Mansoor Ali Khan, who was Indian team’s captain more than 40 years ago, we have not had an outstanding captain who won matches for us till the advent of a man called Mahendra Singh Dhoni, two years ago.

M.S.Dhoni, popularly called as Mahi, is one of those rare persons who are born to lead. The way he walks, talks, thinks and acts is that of a leader and under him the team India has won match after match in almost all countries. This applies to all forms of the game. There are some outstanding players but the credit of knitting the team together and make them play as a unit goes to this one single individual, M.S.Dhoni. It is not an easy job. This team which played recently in New Zealand, has members belonging to different religions, castes, language and they come from all parts of this large country. Earlier years, we were not well known for our physical stamina and build. This team looks and behaves different. They no longer appear small either physically or in their deportment. They have no fear. The two openers we have, are small built men. One of them is Virender Sehwag. Seeing him you won’t believe he can hit the ball that long and that hard. He probably is the best hitter of the cricket ball in world cricket today. One has to see the helplessness on the face of the opposition when he cuts loose. There is all-round consternation. He reminds me of the West Indian cricket writer S.L.R.James who wrote about a West Indian batsman who had a simple philosophy. I will try my best and see that the wicket keeper has no job to do. Sewag once said,’ the ball is there to be hit and I will hit it. In the process if I get out so be it’. There is another called Yuvaraj Singh who believes that a ball which can be hit for a four can also be hit for a six. He hit an English fast bowler for six successive sixes in one over!

One outstanding leader can make so much difference and team India is now probably the best one day team in the world. When are we going to produce a political leader of the caliber of Mahendra Singh Dhoni?

End piece

In a county cricket match Freddie Trueman was bowling. Reverend David Sheppard was one of the slip fielders. Trueman hurled the ball at the batsman who edged it. The ball went between the legs of Dave Sheppard and sped to the boundary. Freddie gave one of his famous glares directed more at Dave than at the batsman. The next ball met the same fate. Dave, all apologies told Freddie.’ I am sorry’, Freddie replied,' not you, your mother’.
Another version, Dave apologized and said, ‘sorry, I should have kept my legs closed,’ No, not you, your mother’, replied Freddie.

Story told to me by a friend.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

When death comes calling

These incidents happened many years ago.

I was called to see the father of a patient of mine, a seventy-year-old gentleman who was on bed and quite still. One look at him and a quick examination, I knew he was dead. As I knew the son, I took the liberty of announcing the death in front of all the relatives [none of them knew me] gathered around. This led to utter consternation and they just couldn't believe that a man who was hale and hearty a few minutes ago was now dead. The person most affected was the wife and she was so over taken by the shock that she came to me and gave me a violent shove which sent me reeling back. Fortunately her son who was my friend held on to me and prevented me becoming a casualty!

Quite shaken, I told my friend to come next morning and collect the death certificate. Next morning he did not come and I began wondering did the dead man really dead? The dead man’s son came to me few days later and told the remaining part of the gory story. The old lady who did not believe me [the young and inexperienced doctor] made the son and others take the dead body to a nearby hospital in pouring rain only to be told that he was indeed truly dead. The death certificate was issued by the hospital [those days the procedure was less fussy than it is now]

Contrast this to another incident which also happened many years ago. An Anglo Indian elderly patient and friend of mine developed one of his frequent chest pains and I had gone to see him the previous night as he had chest pain. The ECG showed no major changes from the previous one and his heart rate and blood pressure were stable with no evidence of heart failure. He had chronic Ischemic heart disease and I thought this is another of his numerous episodes and came back home after reassuring his elderly wife that all will be well and continue the ongoing medication.

When I went next morning to check on him, I found a collection of friends mostly known to me, quietly sitting and I found that my friend had died in sleep the previous night. The gracious widow took me aside to her kitchen and told me, ' doctor this had to happen, you had long ago told me that George was living on borrowed time, thanks for all you have done for us.’ Seeing me almost in tears, she offered me a glass of wine to make me feel better!

Different communities react differently to death. The first one belonged to a community who are basically emotional and they have to express their grief in a manner which is loud and
demonstrative, where as in the second instance the expression was more sedate. In the first instance I was able to take the histrionics of the relatives in my stride but in the second instance it took me many years to overcome the grief and the feeling of guilt!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Taken for a ride.One more

Another story from the past.

He always came accompanied by another young man. This young man first came into the clinic, confirmed that I am available and after that both of them would come in. He would then dismiss the youngster and would ask him to wait outside. He was well past 60 and was of reasonable health except for age onset blood pressure, he had no major illness. Though there was no real need for him to come every month and despite my advice that he needs to come only once in three months, he visited me every month.

His dress was always the same. He had a white trousers and shirt on, over which he wore a dark coat. All these were long past their prime. By the mannerisms and looks I took him to be a retired rather impoverished school teacher. I treated school teachers at concessional rates and this man too was treated that way though often he tried to pay my normal fee which I politely declined. I took it for granted that the yougman was the son and came with his father as kind of physical and moral support. Though the sequence of events as described above was unusual in a father and son relationship.

The consultation was brief and to the point. He wasted no time in gossip, would attempt to pay my regular fee and on my refusal would thank me with a smile and take his leave.
One day in the office I found him talking to a group of persons outside and these appeared important by the mannerism and the way they had dressed. They apparently had come in search of him and having found him were discussing some matter of importance. After a while he came in leaving his son outside. After the consultation was over I couldn’t help asking him about the crowd waiting outside. He said they were traders from Coimbatore who had come in search of him. I was intrigued, what this retired schoolmaster has to do with traders from Coimbatore? I asked him. He guffawed and said,’ I grow potatoes and vegetables in my farm and they come to buy from me’. I sat there looking at this poor man, who with his extended family was one of the largest producers of potatoes and vegetables in his family’s 100 acre farm!

The youngster who chaperoned him was his driver and man friday!

Looks can be so deceptive!

The old man is no more but the members of the extended family comtinue to be my patients.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Jacaranda and Tabubias

Jacaranda and Tabubia are unpretentious trees when not in bloom. Jacaranda is slender and willowy and the Tabubia [except T Rosea] are small, gnarled misshapen trees.

We, here, in Bangalore are fortunate to see these exotic imports from Latin America in full bloom. The Jacaranda is all mauve blue with a carpet of blue underfoot. It is blue above and blue below. The Tabubia Argentica [Tacoma] is all golden yellow with no leaves at all. It is all one riot of flowers. The pinkish Tabubia rosea is also in bloom and this biggish tree has this year seem to object to the traffic pollution and the blossom is far less than the previous years. This is at least true in the trees that I am watching. The other Tabubia, Tabubia Avallanediae is a magnificent little tree with pink bunches of flowers all over with no leaves and the bloom is just over as I write. These trees arrived in India around three hundred years ago and have gone native in the sense they have become part of us, especially urban Indians.

While the likes of me are agog with appreciation of the beauty of these trees in bloom, have you known people who have fallen in love with them? I have known several. Mrs. Nafeeza Rahman is one of them. Her love is her Mango tree in her courtyard. This maverick hybrid does not follow the normal fruiting pattern of the regular mango. When the other mango trees are flowering this one fruits! As this fruiting time coincides with Id milad, Mrs. Rahman thinks it is Allah’s doing. My observation that all fruits are Allah’s creation does not go well with this tree lover. The fruit’s appearance is also strange. It is big but less than that of a Malgoa and when ripe the skin remains green and the taste is between that of Malgoa and Raspuri. When I said this to Mrs. Rehman, she said, ‘don’t compare my special fruit with the ordinary run of the mill Raspuri’ my aam [Mango] is Allah’s gift. Her love does not stop at admiring the tree. From the time it flowers to the time it fruits, she sits and spends time in watching it. Lately she has taken to doing this with a pair of binoculars!

I came to know about her love when she came to me with severe anxiety some years ago. An agitated and sleepless Nafeeza told me about her problem. The mango tree! The unwieldy branches where causing problems to her neighbor, who wanted her to prune the errant branches. There was no choice. The prospect of cutting the branches was the cause of her anxiety and depression. She asked me, ‘will it hurt’? I did the mistake of laughing. This woman who eats meat morning, noon and night is asking me whether her mango tree will experience pain when being cut. She said after seeing me laugh and the reason why,’ the two are different that tree is being hurt in front of me; the meat I eat is different’. When I asked her how it is different, she cut the conversation short by telling me, ‘you don’t understand, you have no feelings for my tree’.

I had to give her medication to sleep and I was told later, that on the day the tree was pruned she stayed away from home and her grief took a lot of time and medication to heal.

This, however, has not prevented her from gifting me every year when her beloved tree fruits!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The way we do

We Indians love ostentation. It goes beyond class and creed. We all do it. The occasion to splurge can be anything from a simple naming ceremony to a major event like a wedding. There are many other rituals, occasions and festivals to indulge in this trait. There are families who save and save and make their daily lives miserable only to splurge all their savings on a daughter’s marriage. A birthday can be such an occasion if there is no other opportunity in sight.

Historically Indians respected two types of persons. One who has given up everything and leads an ascetic’s life and the other is the one who exhibits extreme ostentation. This was well understood by the British who ruled us. They followed the examples of our Nawabs [Muslim rulers] and Maharajahs [Hindu kings].They too dressed gorgeously in bright coloured [usually bright red] tight fitting material [most uncomfortable considering the weather conditions] with as many decorations stuck on or attached to from head to foot. They also built huge mansions and used only a small portion of these to live. All this was more to impress the natives than for convenience. In the course of time they got used to this miserable way of dressing and excelled in it!

This ostentation is thus a national character and has percolated to even professional bodies like that of doctors. These bodies periodically hold continuing medical education meetings and conferences and I am forced to attend these. Most often I am happy to be in the audience. But occasionally I have to suffer being on the dais. Let me explain to you the conduct of one such day long professional conference. This will come as no surprise to Indians who read my blog but to those non Indians it will hopefully provide some merriment.

The conference begins with registration of the delegates. Outside the venue, spread across several tables, sit the members of the reception committee. The duty of these members is to welcome the delegates, confirm their registration and give them the detailed information as to the subjects and the speakers. This is not all. There is also the job of handing over what has come to be called as delegate bag and other goodies. The delegate bag can vary from a mini suitcase to a hard cover document holder depending on the level of splurge. The goodies vary from toiletry, stationary, writing material, clothing, drug samples and promotional material on display. You should see to believe the glee on the faces of receivers of these goodies and the attempt made by each of them to garner as much of these as possible and stuff them inside the delegate bag.

A word about the delegates. If one considers the cost of holding such conferences it comes to around 1500 to 2000 Indian rupees in a reasonable conference venue for about 200 delegates. Normally the delegate fee is fixed around a nominal 200Rs. Where is the rest of the money coming from? Yes, you guessed it right. The drug and equipment manufacturers foot most of the bill including that spent on the gifts. Some pharma companies even go to the extent of carting the delegates from far off places and foot the bill of their stay and entertainment. Here I must digress and tell you a real life story.

Some years ago I was the convener of a national level conference with the registration of nearly 1000 doctors. It was a three day conference and on the second day of the conference I saw a commotion at the reception. A doctor from Bengal was bitterly complaining about the ill treatment that he had to undergo because of the mismanagement by a pharma company which had sponsored him. He was in fact looking for that company’s local representative. He had arrived a day late because the car which was hired for this worthy’s use for a trip to Ooty [a popular hill station 5 hours away] broke down on the way back and this doctor was forced to take a bus with a halt at a town on the way over night. The ignominy of it all! All because of the incompetence of the pharma company and he wanted to vent his ire at the local representative of that company. I knew where that youngster was but did not tell this to the delegate who after a while quitened down. I talked to the youngster later who had successfully dodged this doctor. In my heart of heart I felt this was a punishment from gods above for extreme avarice.

Thus most of the expenditure is sponsored and we doctors who can easily pay for our learning will not do so as these companies are there to spend for us. It is demeaning but who cares when there is someone to pay and which fool will refuse?
Because of all this involvement and goodie distribution, the registration takes more than an hour. The timing for this is 7.30 am to 8.30 am. Before they listen to the talks should they not be fed? So they are given breakfast which simultaneously goes on with the process of registration and sometimes beyond.
It is a sight for sore eyes to see the delegates doing the balancing act of holding the plateful of food in one hand and the now heavy delegate bag in the other!
The actual conference which was to begin at 9 am actually begins at 9.15 am with the first talk which lasts for 45 minutes. We now have what is called as inauguration. If you are wondering why this inauguration that too after the first talk, here is the explanation. If one has the inauguration at 9 am then, of the expected audience of 200 there will be about 20 in the hall. If you delay it by an hour then you will have at least 100. Why have a ceremony at all? Why can’t we get along with the conference with just a few minutes of welcome? You westerners don’t know the importance of ceremony in our scheme of things. There are important people to be honored, there is a chief guest who should give a talk, then there is the president of the local body who has to have his say, then the secretary has also to speak a few words which may stretch to quarter of an hour. There has to be an invocation to gods for the success of the conference and lastly there has to be a vote of thanks. All this will take anywhere from one to two hours of valuable time. When I made bold to tell the committee on one occasion I was made to shut up as no conference can take place without giving an opportunity to all these important persons to speak and then to thank the sponsorers.

An additional feature of our function is gift giving and floral offering. This is another hilarious aspect. Everyone who has anything to do with the conference is publicly honored with a memento. A popular gift is a watch mounted on a decorative wooden platform. One enterprising president of the local association saved a lot of money by buying these in bulk and used these for the next four years!

After this laborious and often boring inaugural is over, the delegates get down to the serious business of learning. But the boredom of the inaugural is not easy to get rid of. To help them do so, a cup of coffee is served soon after the inaugural function. Despite the announcement that they must get back within the next 15 minutes, it is half an hour before they get back to the next talk.

If you are under the impression that the master of ceremonies just calls the speaker to the dais and lets him get on with the talk, you are sadly mistaken. There is another ceremony before each talk. Two doctors are called on to the dais. One is called the chairman and the other co chairman. The chairman is asked to introduce the speaker and the subject and the co-chairman moderates the Q and A session and thanks the speaker. The M.C takes time to introduce the chair and the co-chair as these two would otherwise take offence [are they also not important people?] Now chair and co-chair are comfortably seated and the speaker is at the podium. The chairman starts the introduction of the speaker. Of all the funny things we do at these conferences this takes the cake. The introduction starts with eulogies. How brilliant the speaker was as a child, how different he was even at that tender age and the way he sucked the milk out of his mother’s breast, this goes on till he finished his brilliant education and the how he was then let loose on the patient population and the tremendous service that he has rendered since then. Needless to say all the information is provided by the speaker before hand and he sees nothing amiss in this. Now that the audience is made aware of the greatness of the man who is going to speak, the talk begins with thanks form the speaker. Beginning clich├ęs like, now that you have had a cup of coffee and awake you can hopefully follow what I am going to say or it is always difficult to keep awake after a hearty lunch etc. Needless to say the introduction ceremony has eaten into the actual talk time and the speaker has now the job of condensing his talk of 35 mins to 15 mins. He has prepared 45 slides and he will not leave the audience at peace unless they see all of them. At breakneck speed he will go through all of them and still will not be able to finish his talk in time and there is usually no time for Q and A. Now it is the turn of the co- chair. He will heap praise on the speaker with all the adjectives he can muster. Now the chairman gives a gift to the speaker for the wonderful job done and cochairman and the chairman exchange gifts or the M.C will call two more important persons sitting the audience to come over and do the gift giving. This eats into the time of the next speaker.

Around 1pm comes the lunch break. In a conference where learning is the motive the luncheon should be simple and not take more than half an hour. But we do things in style. Our lunches usually have five courses with a three course dessert to top it with. Even a full hour is not enough. This is also the time for delegates to visit he various stalls where the drug manufacturers exhibit their products. There again are incentives for doctors to visit these. So when all these are over the delegates reassemble at the hall at least an hour late. So what should have begun at 2 pm will now start at 3 pm. Same thamasha described above repeats till the end of the conference. What should have been over by 5 pm gets over by 6.30 or 7 pm.

This is followed by a photo session for the hard working committee members. Time is spent on congratulating each other for the wonderful job done and then at last, worn down by the day long productive and unproductive work, the team leaves for home.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Gandhi,his sandals,spectacles and eating bowl

Indian news media is all agog with the news of Gandhi’s personal effects are being auctioned in distant Newyork. Words like we will never allow this to happen. This [a pair of sandals, spectacles. A bowl and a plate] is our heritage and auctioning them is blasphemy. It was great fun watching these guardians of our tradition suddenly becoming fond of what were once used by the Mahatma. A nation which has forgotten Gandhi and has gone in the direction exactly opposite to what he preached is now crowing over these! I wish they get auctioned and someone who reveres Gandhiji and looks after these buys them and not my government which only has lip sympathy for this great man.


Talking about mind I was thinking about the sex drive that controls human behaviour. The location in the brain is a body called Amaglyda and the chemical responsible is dopamine which is reponsible [it is not that simple]. If it is the same chemical that motivates sex why it is different for men and women? A male is ever fascinated with the female breast but not vice versa [?]. But who knows if men were to have big breasts, would they be more attractive to women? While surfing the internet I came across the news that many men who have bigger than normal breasts are getting surgery done to get them removed. A new name is coined for big male breasts. Moobs!

Moobs can be normal or can be due to some illnesses when the surgery may be indicated. But normal moobs should not be removed unless the wife of the moobs owner permits!?

Recycling used syringes and hepatitis B outbreak

Improper strerilsation and use of recycled syringes was the cause of the recent outbreak of hepatitis B in some parts of Gujarat region of India. Hepatitis B unlike hepatitis A is a very serious infection and can result in considerable morbidity and moratlity.It has some peculiar features. One is that it can only be transmitted by contaminated blood and blood products. That is if you swallow a sample containing this virus, unless you have an ulcer or abrasion in your gastrointestinal tract you will not get it. But having sex with a partner who is a carrier of this virus, or coming into body contact [contact sports] can be risky. So also those who deal constantly with blood and blood products [surgeons, dentists, blood transfusion workers, hemodialysis workers]. Effective immunization is available and it is important to immunize children more than adults, though vaccine manufacturers don’t say it. The percentage of children becoming carriers is very high in contrast to adults. Carrier state involves the risk of the carrier developing cancer liver and Cirrhosis of liver after a lapse of ten to twenty years [both are deadly] makes it necessary that all children must be immunized. This is not so in low risk adults. Nevertheless, to eradicate this illness from our country universal immunization has been advocated.

Now coming back to the epidemic. When plastic disposables came to be used in preference to the old steel and glass reusable [after heat sterilization], I had wondered when this epidemic would arrive, given our mania for injections and the unscrupulous elements who would wash these repack and sell again as new syringes. This has now happened. Adulteration is rampant and reuse of plastic contaminated syringes must have been going on for a long time and quite a few of the unexplained cases of hepatitis B we see must be due to this. Hepatitis B virus unlike the AIDS virus is robust and survives outside the body for years and washing the syringe with detergents will not kill it.

Then what is the solution? No doctor or institution should discard the syringe where it can be accessed. They have to be destroyed and then discarded preferably incinerated [equipment to do this is available] Patients should not demand injections and most illnesses don’t need drugs in the injection form. What about quacks? [Qualified and unqualified] I have no answer. Quackery exists as long as the society remains ignorant and uneducated [love for injections is an Asian and African phenomenon].

So next time you visit the doctor, don’t insist on injection. The drug given by injection takes 15 minutes to reach the blood and that given by mouth takes one hour. Therefore there is really no advantage. It is all in the mind.

Sunday, March 1, 2009


I read with increasing dismay and anguish the stray attempts at intimidation of women who don’t conform to certain norms set by the conservative society. This society needless to say is dominated by men who have not understood women as human beings with their own value systems which are at times far superior and far ahead of times to that of men.

Indian thought has venerated women for their motherhood and their ability to procreate and thus give life. Is that all our women capable off? Should they forever be subservient to men? Which norm of human behaviour dictates this hegemony of men over women? What kind of culture is this which allows the attack on women who are seen outside wearing clothing which is comfortable and easy. And why should they not visit pubs/ If drinking alcohol is bad for women it is more so for men who are more given to excesses. My own feeling is that, all this is due to inherent inferiority complex and inability to bear and watch women doing well in all spheres of activity and men losing out. There is also the sex part of it. A woman who is educated and well informed will not give in easily and will not allow to be treated as a sex object to titillate and satisfy the male. She will no longer be satisfied with motherhood and child bearing, she wants to do more and asset herself and is doing it very well. This is the provocation. The moral policing is in fact the worse form of immorality that I have had the misfortune to witness.

Women should carry guns and shoot these goons. I, a normally non violent soul, will not hesitate to do so.

King of fruits and queen of flowers

For us Indians the king fruit is Mango and the queen flower is Jasmine. I am aware some of you may place Rose above Jasmine but my choice is Jasmine. But most agree that Mango is the undisputed king. Both these are indigenous and get mentioned in texts written more than 1500 hundred years ago. I like Jasmine not because it is a favorite of the ladies [it is] but because of its elegance and scent. No other flower has the extraordinary scent of the Jasmine. A Jasmine shrub when in bloom tells you that he [she] is there from a distance. The flower itself lays no claim to the beauty of the rose or the hibiscus but the fragrance of Jasmine it is the creation of gods. Unlike rose bush it needs no pampering, grows anywhere, needs little care and little or no insecticide use and unlike rose it can be woven into a variety of garlands and hairdos. In the south the young girl’s braided hair is often decorated with Jasmine and is a favorite flower in most Indian marriages.

Mango with its rich sweet pulp and flavor is the Indian’s favorite and is the king of fruits. Some of you, Americans in particular, with your peculiar noses, don’t like the scent of the Mango and I am very surprised! Such a devine gift to mankind and there are persons who dislike this fruit! Like the Jasmine there are hundreds of varieties but the most popular is the Alphonso [exported]. Its second cousin is our own Badam. In the north it is the Dussheri. The little Apus may weigh as little as two ounces and the giant Malgoa as much as a kilogram, but to me the tastiest is the Badam. Those of you, who reside out of India, when you get a chance, have a go at Alphonso [the fruit arrives in the US market sometime in May/June]. You will then realize why I call it the king of fruits.

Right now the mango trees are in full bloom and the fragrance of the flowers herald a bumper crop and hopefully the prices will be affordable this year.