Winged abandon

What joy it is when a little sunbird hops into your room by mistake? The little bundle of energy perks up all my sleeping cells as I look on with bated breath. Will he or she venture further? Ah, no the moment is over soon and the brown green peck of life discovers her mistake and flies out again.

There is something about birds that cheers me from my worst moods. A chirp or hoot turns a drab day into a heavenly one.

I do not know to identify the birds or their name, except a few handful. But that does not really matter if one is to appreciate these winged wonders. Watch two simple mynahs building a nest inside an urban chimney outlet. Spell binding to see the coordination. Of course the laborious work of a weaver’s go at home making has been brought home on whatsapp! Going more common, watch a crow splash itself in a pool of water. Or the way a drongo swerves and executes a few quick turns to evade a bullying crow. It is nothing short of magic.

Walking through a wooded path, being lucky to hear the whistling thrush or even a bulbul’s sweet notes give me a high like nothing else can. Seeing them is next best. The splendid colours, elaborate feathers, the graceful flight and perfect landings are sights to be seen many times over.

How often have i longed to hold and caress a tiny bird in my palms, to thank it a million times for the unlimited joy its kind have given me by their sheer presence.

Today, as trees and forests get destroyed and replaced by buildings, these sweet denizens of the planet are learning fast to adapt to urban surroundings. They are settling for windows and parapet walls to build their homes. But I wonder how long they can find food for their family? How long before they turn garbage pickers? Or worse, scavengers of the dead?

Perhaps in the struggle for survival, they will lose out. The colours will fade. The lilting songs die. Joy disappear..

Wait, why bother with tomorrow when today is all we have. Why not wait for the return of the sunbird and its family? Why not hope?



Split by default

There is nothing as clear and vivid as the polarisation in Indian society today. Not between the haves and have-nots. Not between the genders. Not between ruled and rulers. But between the so-called Left and Right in politics! Sad as it is, people no longer seem to be able to discern between good and bad. Everything is based on who is behind the move, which party.

Depending on which side you align with, anything the other does is seen suspiciously as a conspiracy against people. This is clear now with the demonetisation initiative. Those who support do so wholeheartedly without reservations. So also the other side, oppose with no reservations. In this divided, biased society truth is the first casualty. The rulers/politicians know the masses and how to manipulate them.

Try it out yourself. Anyone who supports the move is most likely a BJP supporter and anyone who opposes belong to the Congress or Left. There are none outside the definitions of party affiliations. If centre or left, you simply have to attack and tear down anything Modi and his folks do. If right, you see a virtue in everything he does. There are no doubting in-betweens anymore. How sorely we miss them.

Why cannot we look at each issue by itself and for its worth, rather than examine the labels for who is doing what??

In India especially, this polarisation has been led by a perceived or otherwise notion of minority appeasement for long by the Congress and Left. Into this gap plunged the BJP and became the upholder of the ‘majority’ rights. Much as Trump has emerged as saviour of the original (sic) Americans.

Since then nothing is grey anymore. You are with us or them. Chances are you will find very few Christians or Muslims voting BJP. So also, except for the ‘intellectuals’ bred mostly in Leftist educational corridors, the Hindu masses identify with the saviour BJP.

Was this desired? Such a polarisation based on religion? In an already divided and communally troubled country.

Since it’s all water under the bridge, what we can do now is to become alert and aware of how politicians manipulate us to suit their needs. Examine each issue in the country critically with god-given ability. We need to sever the chains that bind us to political parties and become free citizens. And clap for Modi or Manmohan or even Kejriwal and Rahul according to the good they do.

You may well ask if we are equipped to analyse complex issues like demonetisation and Kashmir independence without help from the intellectuals. The track record shows how blinded they are most times by their political affiliations. Why not in good old journalistic fashion listen to two sides, and then take a stand based on our own critical thinking? Surely we can rely that much on our faculties? Do we need someone to tell us who is a patriot and who a desh drohi? Finally, time will tell if it was about black money or black intentions.


Family members on a holiday

I was travelling yesterday in an autorickshaw (three-wheeled vehicles) when I first saw a driver using his whatsapp when waiting at a signal. Now, why should that surprise anyone at all? With the kind of mobile and social media penetration we see around us, it should be expected that we see bus drivers checking fb status, as also doctors or lecturers. All humans. All addicted.

The fear comes when one hears phone talk while under bright lights in the operation theatre, or on way to the toilet in the aircraft when spying pilots chatting on phone! What if??? The engine driver in a train could relax for a few minutes and get pulled away into a controversial conversation with a friend during a chat, and in the course miss a boulder lying on the tracks! A surgeon could get diverted by a call or beep from the phone and be late in tackling a sudden leak.

Guess we call it fate and move on to the next plane.. of existence!

What is it that technology has that ensures this addiction, like never before? Why have books not seen this kind of devotion? Is this about a sense of control? Is it just about pandering to the ego and status and self-validation that affirms our existence? Really? Some studies have also hinted at an increase in self-esteem from social connections and a fear of being left out or missing out on what everyone is talking about. A report said that 80 percent of posts in FB are about the user! Is it all an exercise in personal branding? But I have seen folks who just keep checking on others’ posts and images, not as much on their own.

Why do 50 percent of the people, or more, start their day checking their social media?

Why for instance do I feel the need to check whatsapp once in a while amidst work? That I thought was the best way to solve the puzzle. Boredom? Not when engrossed at something. Need for a change of scene, prompted by a lack of concentration? To some extent, yes.

Many of us have surely noticed during the last decade a change in our reading abilities. Where once we could sit and concentrate, today we find it a bit difficult. Idle chatter on the other hand  needs no concentration.

I can think of no better explanation than simple addiction — to a pastime that is entertaining and promising. Promising some new information all the time which could  bring a wow moment in an otherwise stagnating life.

There is so much that needs to be done around us, whether it is with lakes or garbage or water supply. Or empowering the deprived with education, skills and services? Once we get started, there is more excitement in addressing all that than in waiting for the next exciting news of a celebrity or innovative way to cut a pomegranate to flash on our smart devices. But somehow there are not many takers. Most are tired and unenthusiastic thanks to a job routine that leaves no place for joy. We are so happy to share do-good tales on whatsapp rather than be out there doing them. Virtual over the ‘real’.

Which takes my mind to a spiritual query. The world we live in is not real, say both our ancient texts as well as emerging science (quantum physics). Layers of reality exist says one, while the other talks of myriad manifestations of the absolute. Fine. Already we live in an unreal world and now we choose to add more unreality to it by stepping into the virtual world. One more screen has been added. Surely this will take us further away from the ultimate realisation?

Where next? This addiction to the virtual world could diminish our mental abilities. It takes us away from the present moment which slides past. What can be done besides the new fad of digital detoxification, which merely offers a break and not a change in the digital routine? Will everything we do need a machine media?

Or, could there be a new world order, where we are more connected to each other thanks to social media? Even if it is at the cost of disconnecting with the immediate family we live with?? I wonder…

It has been a disheartening month spent visiting hospital after a family member lost fingers of the right hand in an accident. Facts, already known, were reinforced. Of how these once venerated institutions of well-being have turned into pure money-spinning corporate ventures. All loose ends from the institution’s perspective are tied up to ensure its safety regardless of the work of its staff. Patients sign all kinds of forms in the short time to admission, with urgency of the patient’s condition taking precedence. The fine details get lost till after some procedure is derailed and life threatened. But then it is too late.

Doctors come and go, as they hop between the many stops in gathering the returns for a costly education. They have no time for bedside niceties or giving explanations for procedures done. A question can get at the most a curt reply, almost as though saying ‘you can not understand’.

In the light of recent exposes of illegal money made by medical colleges on admission of students, a fact already known, combined with the more scarier tales of degrees bought with money, one wonders at the knowledge of these students turned doctors.

Room rents are exorbitant. Final bills more so. But ask the cleaning staff or nurses and their salary and it can make you ask again. A pittance. Are they exploited?  IS there anyone to take up their cause? How well will a poorly paid nurse take care of her patient? Any wonder then that overdoses happen, due to sheer carelessness? It happened with us too, with a nurse in the next shift repeating a dose, and being stopped simply because we were alert.

The same is everywhere in any corporate set up. Profit sharing is simply not equitable. The majority of the staff on the shop floor made to slog for poor incomes while a few on the top make a haul, thanks to helping the firm with its cost cutting. How do these folks expect their workmen to do good work? Isn’t it common sense that the benefits have to be two-ways?

Both for the doctor and patient. Can a system not work to keep everyone happy? Why does corporatisation have to mean plunder of the innocents? The hapless? Especially when talking of the most humane of services.

I for one am no votary of the capitalist view of things, where the one with most money rules the roost. But I sure wish things were not so in the medical field. Lives should be ideally valued on par, whether that of a man on the roads or the one in the ivory tower. Can money ever make up for the joy a doctor can experience of a life saved or a heart set right?

Perhaps it is my recent reading of The Citadel but I hark back on a time when doctors were life givers. They did not rely on umpteen machine readings to diagnose a case, but on sheer experience and insight, and most important a human touch. Perhaps there were more failures then in terms of lives, but what use being alive if one is just a live mummy? That is what many patients from our ICUs end up as today. Stitched up and sewn and all new but restricted. Is it worth living life with a hundred drugs pumped in?

Finally, a question that beats me every time I think of it. How could the state or nation give up all controls on the most basic of services?


Sugar daddies crumble

For those who rely on science and research for everything, here is proof that even research can be fallible, seeing how it is done by humans!

Sugar industry documents accessed by a researcher at the University of California, San Francisco show that the industry paid three Harvard scientists in the 1960s to suppress the link between sugar and heart disease and play up the role of saturated fat. Using their position and research the scientists influenced the national dietary recommendations, which went on to paint saturated fat as the villain while letting sugar go unchecked.

This kind of influenced research continues even today, reports NYT citing research funded last year by Coco-Cola to play down the role between soft drinks and obesity. Similarly candy makers were funding studies claiming children who eat candy tend to weigh less than those who do not.

The documents published this week in JAMA Internal Medicine suggest that five decades of research into the role of nutrition and heart disease was intentionally misled by the sugar industry.

The Sugar Research Foundation paid the Harvard scientists the equivalent of today’s $50,000 to publish a 1967 review of research on sugar, fat and heart disease. The studies used in the review were handpicked by the sugar group, and the article was published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. Journals back then did not require disclosure of funders.

Avoiding eggs, butter and meat will not help lower blood cholesterol as the science relating diet to heart diseases is most probably flawed. A report issued last year by the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee of the US Department of Agriculture shattered the decades old belief that a diet rich in cholesterol has to be avoided. In fact, a low-carb, high-fat diet may be safer than a low-fat, high-carb one. At least till the next research or expose breaks that contention.

The processed food industry, especially sugar industry, was accused to have contributed to the burgeoning obesity and related diseases by covering up the ill-effects of consuming sugar.

In 2013 a review by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology discovered that there was no significant link between dietary cholesterol and blood cholesterol. There have also been accusations against the drug lobby for perpetrating the cholesterol ‘myth’ that high blood cholesterol causes atherosclerosis, coronary heart disease, etc.

Cholesterol in blood is an essential ingredient required by every cell membrane and is processed and recycled by the liver. It helps to produce cell membranes, hormones, vitamin D and bile acids that help digest fat. Cholesterol is also vital for neurological function.

Enter the superfood Coconut

One of the saturated fat foods that took a big fall back then was coconut oil. Now coconut is being touted as a ‘superfood’ loaded with vitamins, minerals and fibres that cure everything from skin blemishes to excess weight and cancer!

Compared to the polyunsaturated fats found in most vegetable oils, coconut oil contains 92 per cent saturated fat and is full of medium chain fatty acids or triglycerides which help burn fat and are more easily absorbed into the body than other types. The MCTS also have therapeutic benefits in certain brain disorders, epilepsy, etc.

In island populations where people tend to eat a lot of coconut researchers found that vascular disease is uncommon. Another study on 40 women found coconut oil increased HDL and lowered LDL to HDL ratio while decreasing waist circumference.

However, there are the critics who insist that larger studies are required before concluding beneficial effects of coconut oil on the heart.

Meanwhile, for those who prefer to go by what granny subscribed to, a word of caution. Conditions then and now are very different. A generous dose of fat consumed was accompanied by vigorous physical activity. So perhaps it is wise to strike the middle path and go by a balanced diet and not overdo on the saturated fat. Eat lesser than a full stomach, eat healthy food and give your system a break now and then. Joyful eating rather than mindless stuffing is the way to a blissful state.

A book for every time


Bored just a bit, I was rummaging my cupboard for some book to read. But for some reason the lot in store did not enthuse me. I had my collection of thrillers rubbing shoulders with classics and non-fiction. I picked a time-tested Agatha Christie, always an assured boredom chaser. But no, this time murder refused to send a chill. How about a Chase, the master pulp novelist with his plots of crime, passion and cold-blooded revenge? I agree even today that James Hadley Chase was a genius peddler of crime stories, unparalleled. His insight into human avarice, greed and passion as also the well-thought out plots cannot be denied. But no, not today.

As my hand ran through the lot, my brain kept saying no. And I was wonderstruck at how my tastes have changed down the years. Finally I settled for Cronin’s Citadel, the trials and growth of a young, idealistic doctor in a mining town of Wales. My mind recalled vaguely the story but the characters were no strangers. Good, cultured, sensitive, shy, hard-working, god-fearing. Some familiarity is reassuring. It comes with years of reading an author.

Cronin could still be read after so many years. The memory of Hatter’s Castle and The Stars Look Down warm the cockles of my heart, bringing with it a trust in humanity. Yes, Citadel it is for now.

But before Cronin there had been others.

Once upon a time in my teens, it was the legacy left behind by a few uncles that first set me and my siblings blazing off on the Western trail. Max Brands, Oliver Strange, Zane Grey … so coveted, so much fought over. Stories of the Wild West where a horse is a horse, and man is a man, and the faster one draws his gun from the holster, higher his chances of survival. Every word of the alien world was sucked in, every vista of the wide plains and high ranges travelled in the mind.

Today, as I gaze over a few lines from one of the books, I wonder what the hell! Who cares about them darned cowboys and their cruel games of branding cattle and taming wild horses, duh! How could I have gone gaga over them ruddy, brutish he-men??

The Westerns had been followed by a spate of thrillers of the time – Irving Wallace, Alistair Maclean, Robin Cook, Sydney Sheldon, Crichton, et al. Or the romantics like Denise Robbins, Harold Robbins, Georgette Heyer, A J Cronin, Pearl S Buck, and others. I have tried recently to pick one of those and read. It was a dead end on page one with most. Something said from up there in my head ‘no, no, not again’ or a more placating ‘not now’.

There were the life savers like Wodehouse, Christie, Maugham, Heriott, Erle Stanley Gardner, Colin Dexter, et al. I then went on to non-fiction or semi-fiction like Jostein Gaarder’s Sophie’s World and more, Bill Bryson’s science and adventure trails, Mitch Albom and the likes, briefly flirted with Paulo Coelho, and onto Eckhart Tolle, Herman Hesse, Osho, Devdutt Pattnaik. Gaarder, Hesse and Tolle have stayed on. But one can’t read them on sunny and rainy days alike. The mind must be awake.

In the ocean of past books, some of the above alone survive the test. I can go back to them again and again. To me these are the true classics that stand the test of time.

Again, not all can be read any time. There is a time and mood to pick a Maugham – to savour the sombre tenor of life lived through the eyes of a passionate and sensitive Larry or Phillip. As also to delve into a whodunnit from Christie where one begins by placing bets on the most unlikely character — best read on a rainy, gloomy day with a cup of tea in hand and murder at hand. Wodehouse can bring a smile or a guffaw or a roll in the cot (depending on your nature being melancholic or sanguine) anytime for sure, but even that one prefers at a certain time, certainly not on a rainy day.

Some folks believe there is a time for everything. They wait for things to fall in place. I have not been much of a believer, but of late I realise it is true for some things. Among them, books.



The Pope said it. The truth about media today, when he called journalism a form of terror being used to foment fear and hatred among people. He might have been referring to the situation in Italy and Europe in general, but one just has to look around to see what he means right here in India, all around us, all the time.

Look at the latest Cauvery water issue. Two states fighting for the most precious resource on the planet. Passionate protests on the streets, a suicide, threats and so on. As though there was not enough trouble a television channel in TN shows footage of locals in Kanyakumari beating up a driver of a Karnataka registration vehicle. As though that was not irresponsible enough, channels in Karnataka pick it up and beam it again and again.

What more does one need to whip up frenzy and anger? The ball has been set rolling by media and they can sit back and collect all the news they want for the rest of the day and more. Talk of creating news! Reminds me of an old Irving Wallace novel ‘Almighty’ with a similar plot where a media group head devises ways to set off news by simply creating it.

Whether it be a dalit issue or a more dynamite communal one, our media is ever so ready to pick a thread and make a rope of it, and then light it! It could be one of the many little incidents happening all the time in our country but by picking one, turning spotlight on it, stoking it in many ways by way of suggestions and applying not very subtle spin to it, the king and queen makers have their TRPs assured for a few hours.

We all know these issues are problems but by putting it on centre stage, throwing in some high decibel emotions, pitting one group against another, the issue turns into breaking news.  There is drama replete with tears, anger, revenge, pathos. There is bound to be a chain reaction set off somewhere as a result. Clashes,  deaths and injuries. What better name for media today than weapons of mass destruction?

But why are we the viewers being such sitting ducks? Why don’t we resist? We have seen enough to know the definitions of media today. Entertainment all the way. Sometimes it makes you laugh, at times enraged and also sad.

Can we do anything? Why do we continue to be informed and influenced by such an irresponsible media? Why not boycott them? Why not look for alternatives, for truth, for sources of authentic information? Why do we passively give in to the mischief mongers and their tactics?

Is it because we have got used to life with embellishments? We seek the gory, the dramatic, the violent because without all that life is ‘boring’? Or is it that we have become so polarised, so rigid we simply subscribe to anything that lends weight to what we believe. A sane, balanced voice has no audience. Just a thought, a doubt that came to my mind.

More than anytime, today there is need for all of us to keep minds open, think for ourselves instead of getting caught in the whirlwind of ‘public opinion’. Can we just allow our opponent to speak as we listen carefully? Can we see media for what it is today — live entertainment sources? And then watch all that is shown with a smile in our heads, of how well these entertainers do their job!

We would perhaps be a little more tolerant of each other, a little more forgiving and understanding. Instead of throwing stones and lighting buses afire, we could then talk to each other and see what best can be done to make everyone a little happy. After all, we are in this game of life together.

If for instance, Karnataka did not nurture the river by conserving the forests, there would not be much water flowing down. Do folks in TN realise that? Do they realise the harm from sand mining to the river bed? Are they doing enough with conserving water? Are the farmers in Mandya wastefully using water? Are we in Bangalore using water pumped up from Cauvery judiciously, or using it to wash cars and water lawns? More important, do we realise the damage we are doing to the Western Ghats as the biodiversity hotspot gives way to myriad power projects, eco tourism, etc?

And then if farmers in TN do not get water for their crops, it is the country that suffers. Not just a state. Why not call a third unaligned party to examine the practices and needs?

Why not joyfully share what little we have, instead of sparring over it?