Nov 30, 2008

Lifestyle - SriLanka;Musical links with the past


Two nights before the United States created history by voting in the first African-American to the most powerful office in the world, Sri Lanka’s national capital witnessed a unique and melodious spectacle: a live concert of music, and dance by a band known as Kaffirs, a 12-member troupe of Sri Lankans of African origin.
The Kaffirs, who have a fascinating history, are perfect example of continuity with change. Their complete assimilation into Sri Lankan society while retaining links with their roots is a tribute to the tenacity and adaptability of the human race.
Coming to the island
The Kaffirs came to Sri Lanka with the Portuguese, the first colonisers of the island nation in 15th century, as soldiers and labourers. They speak perfect Sinhalese and Tamil but have forgotten the language of their ancestors.
After centuries of assimilation, three characteristics continue to link them to their past: Roman Catholic faith, African music and curly hair. The Kaffirs originally spoke a form of Portuguese Creole. Today there are approximately 1,000 Kaffir descendants (200 families) in the Northwestern Province in Puttalam district and another 15 families live in the East, near Trincomalee and Batticaloa.
The November 2 concert was organised by an international NGO to showcase the amazing diversity of cultures in a country ravaged by conflict for over four decades. Concert coordinator Jesse Hardman, who works for Internews, an NGO that supports local media worldwide, told the audience that the event is an important reminder of “the importance of celebrating and supporting the amazing diversity in Sri Lanka and as a way to promote ethnic, religious and cultural understanding”.
The Kaffir’s past remains largely unknown and their oral history unrecorded. Barring an odd reference in scholarly works on the country’s colonial past, the Kaffirs rarely figure in the recorded history of the country.
Victor Ivan’s photo-essay Paradise in Tears: A Journey Through History and Conflict — a treasury of 442 photographs covering the period from 1800 to 1994 — has a photograph of the Kaffirs dating back to 1890s.
The sketchy records show that when the Dutch defeated the Portuguese in 1658, many African soldiers switched alliance. Some began fighting for the king of Kandy, a Dutch ally; while others worked as labourers in the building of Dutch fortresses.
According to one Dutch governor, around 4,000 Kaffirs helped to build the Dutch fortress in Colombo in the late 1600s. At night, they were segregated in an area appropriately called Slave Island. That area in Colombo is still referred to by that name.
In 1796, the British took over and continued the colonial tradition of using the Kaffirs as soldiers.
In the 1800s, the British Third and Fourth Ceylon Regiments included 874 Africans. When the Third Ceylon Regiment’s detachment in Puttalam was disbanded, the soldiers were given land to settle there. Some Kaffirs held a relatively elevated role because their military skills were in demand.
However, their story largely is one of extreme hardship, according to Widyalankara of the University of Colombo. “The colonial rulers who brought the Kaffirs into this land treated them harshly. Some travel documents from the 17th century talk of how the Kaffirs often attempted to run away and hide themselves amid the Sinhalese. The story of Ceylon Kaffirs is a tragedy because they were severely suppressed by their colonial rulers,” he says.
Musical tradition
The Kaffirs kept their musical traditions alive even as their community became increasingly assimilated with Sinhalese and Tamil culture. Most surviving members work as domestic servants and labourers. Only a few members still speak the Portuguese Creole of their ancestors and there are few, if any, African influences in their clothing, food, or language.
“Our grandmothers and grandfathers were always playing this music,” George Sherin Alex, a member of The Kaffirs, said. “And we listened very carefully because we love this music. We are addicted to it,” added Kovilaga Lowstey Christy, also a member of the band. “We dance exactly like our grandmothers and grandfathers did.”
The Kaffirs in Puttalam call their music manja, a Creole version of the Portuguese word manha derived from marchinhas or little marches. The songs contain just six or seven lines, sometimes fewer, which are repeated again and again.
But each song can last as long as an hour, starting with a slow beat and increasing in tempo until the music reaches a crescendo of drumming, shouting, and clapping.
The Kaffirs use instruments like the double-headed dholak and the tambourine-like rabana, played by both men and women, and also everyday household items like spoons, bottles, and coconut shells.
Also performing that night was Naina Marikkar Bawa, a fakir of Indian descent who sings Sufi-inspired songs of faith and devotion in the streets of Puttalam. He mesmerised the audience with his rich voice and skilful beats of the tambourine.

Personality - Indira Mahajan


Indira Mahajan hangs on to the piano as if for dear life; as if the power of her voice would carry her slight frame right off the stage if she let go. Her expressive face is, by turn, despondent, delighted, and filled with rage and agony as she sings of love, loss and wooden horses.
Mahajan, a soprano — and recipient of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ 2008 Marian Anderson grant — is performing from the repertoire of humanitarian and American contralto, Marian Anderson, at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater.
Long list of accolades
By all accounts a rising star in the rarefied galaxy of accomplished opera singers, the award is just the latest in a long list of accolades coming Mahajan’s way, starting with the Dallas Opera’s Maria Callas Award for outstanding debut artist (for her role of Musetta in “La Bohème”) and the New York City Opera Debut Artist Award. With performances at Carnegie Hall and the Lincoln Center (with the New York Philharmonic under Bobby McFerrin) already behind her, Mahajan has drawn consistently high praise for her solo and operatic performances and has carved a popular niche for herself in the role of Bess in Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess”.
Mahajan’s journey into the world of the arts began with violin lessons at the age of five. “I cannot remember not wanting to perform and not wanting to be an artist,” Mahajan says, as she remembers the early days of piano and ballet lessons, and voice training under her mother. But affinity for music and achieving success as an opera singer are completely different. A singer must keep up with her changing voice, be studious and be able to learn lengthy parts in foreign languages; overcome the self-doubt that comes with trying to live up to expectations born out of early triumphs; audition for work but learn to face the inevitable rejections.
At this juncture in her career, the Marian Anderson grant is a ringing endorsement of her tenacity and talent. Indira Mahajan and her role model, Marian Anderson, are also connected, if you will, by a not-so-visible thread. In 1957, as the U.S. State Department’s goodwill ambassador to India and the Far East, Anderson, a foot soldier in the war against racism in America, made it a point to visit Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial in New Delhi to pay her respects. Fifty years later, Mahajan is on an India quest of her own, albeit on a very personal level — she is on a mission to find a piece of her heritage.
Born to Bhushan Kumar Mahajan of Dalhousie, an engineer, and Barbara Mahajan of North Carolina, a Juilliard-trained opera singer and performer, Indira grew up in New York under the diverse cultural influences of her mixed parentage. Her father died when she was very young, and Mahajan credits her mother — and her close relationship with her father’s extended family in the U.S. — for ensuring that the Indian part of her identity equation was nurtured.
Western Classical music and jazz on the family’s music system shared space with Ravi Shankar; trips to the opera alternated with countless viewings of Bollywood movies (“Indian movies were like musicals … and that’s what drew me,” she recounts with obvious delight). Her mother, an excellent cook, Mahajan says, taught her the intricacies of Indian cuisine.
Mahajan unequivocally attributes her success to her family’s support not only encouraging her passion for a career in the arts when the norm in Indian families was engineering or medicine or marriage at a certain age, but also bolstering her confidence through the long, difficult years of study rendered harder by the uncertainty of finding work at the end of the training.
Visiting India
In spite of this happy interplay of cultures growing up, there is still one thing Mahajan has been unable to do — visit her father’s birthplace and meet her extended family in India. As a child she was afraid of flying and lost the few, short-lived opportunities to go home with her father, but “the older you get the more important it is to have that kind of connection … now that I am an adult, I’m just craving it,” she says, excitedly describing her impending plans to finally visit India with her aunts.
On the stage, Mahajan concludes her performance with a spiritual, “He’s Got the Whole World in His Hand”. Her back is ramrod straight; her entire body seems intent on pumping enough oxygen into her lungs and abdomen so they can energise her formidable vocal chords. Her daily yoga practice is clearly paying off.

Art - India;Mantles of Myth


To most of us, it would be a great surprise if we were told that a group of 16th and 17th century Bengali artisans from the tiny fishing village of Satagaon rendered some of the most powerful depictions of the Old Testament and Greco-Roman mythology as embroidery on cloth for the Portuguese and English markets. The surviving Satgaon quilts are now museum pieces and no trace remains of how traditional mythological Hindu stories and scenes gave way to biblical and classical themes.
Elsewhere, a horse is in mid gallop with its rider holding a spear poised to charge, the caparisoned elephant tears away in fear while the merry deer is leading the snarling tiger further and further away into the forest. Improbable scenes in today’s world one might say, but if we were to visit the lanes populated by the naqshabandhi weavers of Benares, the Shikargah (hunting scene) pattern continues to be woven, inch by inch, painstakingly assuming the form of a sari or a length of brocade. The origins of these patterns are supposedly Persian though they are also seen in Chinese brocade and, over the centuries, have been successfully woven across the country, from the Paithani weaves of Maharashtra to the Kanchipuram saris of south India. However, the beginnings of the story depicted in these textiles have been lost to the looms of time and therein lies a poignant tale, the origin of the narrative in Indian textiles.

Indian textiles have evolved with the development of civilisation and its significance is hallowed by tradition. According to the Rig Veda and the Upanishads, the universe is a continuous fabric with a grid pattern upon which cycles of life are painted. In the Atharva Veda, day and night are said to spread light and darkness over the earth as weavers throw a shuttle on the loom. Amidst the thousands of different fabrics woven, printed, embroidered, and painted across the length and breadth of India, there are a small but significant number of textiles that clearly depict a narrative, a story in them. These vary from the rarefied Chamba Rumal in Himachal to the more accessible Phulkari from the Punjab. Religious textiles like the painted Kalamkaris from Andhra, the Pichwais of Krishna as Srinathji, and the Tankha paintings of the Buddhist are amongst other textiles which depict myths and legends associated with the gods. Other textiles like the womb loom shawls of Northeastern India are mantles of merit depicting valorous deeds performed by the wearer of these shawls. These shawls tell the tale of men and their prowess but are recorded into popular myth by the woven skills of the women across several tribes.
In their contemporary form, some of these textiles, often created by poor marginalised women in remote communities, show shockingly accurate portrayal of the trials and tribulation of the girl child in India. Depictions of female infanticide, dreams of education and the wish to empower themselves come across clearly in Phulkari from Punjab. The Sujni and Khatwa embroidered textiles of Bihar and Bengal depict contemporary themes on textiles, as women are exposed to wider markets and have greater independence in their lives. These artists thrive on new experiences and have discovered the ability to draw a story; a story of the change in their lives as they become literate, gain independence and grapple with the social and material demands of changing times, causing a change in one’s sense of identity when narrating one’s story.
Story of a civilisation
The history of a civilisation is essentially the sum of several parallel registries of history. Narratives transformed as oral traditions, songs, rituals, objects and in the performing arts are commonly understood and explored in India. However stories, myths and legends as seen in the narrative textiles of India are often consigned to the realm of decorative material culture. The focus now moves to the narratives depicted in Indian textiles. These textiles have evolved with the development of civilisation and often have social, religious and ritual value and carry narratives of our origins and legends of our ancestors and gods.
Their lack of public visibility does not mean that serious study has not been made in the depiction of these stories, though very often they have escaped the mainstream discussion of history. Siyahi’s Mantles of Myth: The Narrative in Indian Textiles (December 13-15, 2008, ) is a conference focusing on the origins of the stories depicted in these textiles from their evolution to their current, contemporary form. From the mythology of the cloth to the role of Khadi as the narrative of India’s freedom struggle to the evolution of the first Indo-Western garment brought about by the Portuguese inquisition in Goa, this conference brings together some of the world’s leading textile experts, art historians, performers, authors, fashion designers, musicians and narrators who celebrate India’s story telling tradition as seen in its glorious narrative textiles and help the cause of preservation and perpetuation of these textiles narratives.
Filling in gaps
Narrative textiles remind us of the riches of material culture in traditional communities and the wealth of accumulated knowledge which is generally ignored. They augment the existing verbal and oral literary traditions that record and map cultures. Understanding and translating this is an important step, possible only by fathoming its multiple histories in myriad tongues and forms. “Mantles of Myth” is an attempt to understand, learn and share our varied and rich cultural patrimony.
The writer has conceived and curated Mantles of Myth, and is the Founder-Director of the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing at Jaipur. He is currently Associate Director at the Alkazi Foundation at Delhi and Curator, City Palace Museum, Udaipur.

Lifestyle - India;Iam Hindu,You Are Muslim (G.Read)


It is widely believed that the awareness of identity does not take shape in a child’s mind before early adolescence. A study of four to eight-year-old Hindu and Muslim children living in the Daryaganj area of Delhi reveals that children as youn g as four years already begin to identify with their religious group and develop prejudice towards other religious communities. Daryaganj is a residence-cum-trading area with a mixed Hindu-Muslim population. The presence of Muslim families is quite marked in Daryaganj, yet it is not a ghetto like some other Muslim-dominated areas of Delhi.
My interaction with children revolved around tasks which required them to respond to material and symbols of both religions and to imagine themselves in real-life situations where an encounter with the “other” religion routinely takes place. The study revealed that four-year-old Hindu children were already quite fully submerged in the rituals and common practices of their religion. The passion and respect with which they talked about Hindu idols conveyed that they not only identified with the family’s faith, but also took pride in it. They folded their hands and bowed repeatedly while referring to Hindu gods and goddesses during the conversation. But it was when they were shown the symbols or material associated with Islam that they asserted their Hindu identity by emphasising that they were not Muslim. When shown symbols of Islam, the most common response was, Ye Musalmanon ka hai, main to Hindu hoon. Mujhe nahin pata.(This is Muslims’, I am a Hindu. I do not know.)
A strong consciousness of one’s religion figured in the interaction with Muslim children also. They also expressed their faith in the family’s religion in a pronounced manner. Most of them recited the related verses of the Koran when they picked up the rosary and their hands rose in a spontaneous manner as if they were offering prayers. These children also asserted their religious identity by distancing themselves from Hindu symbols while readily showing familiarity with them. For instance, when they were shown an image of Hanuman, they said: Ye Hanuman hai. Hinduon ki moortee hai. Ham to Musalmaan hain (This is Hanuman. It is an idol of Hindus, whereas I am a Muslim.) The Muslim children were aware that there are things which are used by both Hindus and Muslims, such as incense, kalava, diya and sweet offerings. In contrast, the Hindu children were absolutely clueless about this overlap.
Ignorance of other customs
The conversations held with Hindu children revealed that they were by and large ignorant of the practices and rituals of Islam. All the Hindu children said that Muslim men wear rosary in their neck. Not even a single Hindu child expressed familiarity with the story of the Prophet, whereas their counterpart Muslim children recognised relevant Hindu mythological tales instantly when they were shown pictures depicting these myths. Hindu children talked about things related to their own religion passionately and expressed their prejudice toward Muslims with equal passion by conveying their disgust with the help of facial expressions and gestures. For example, they were very negative when talking about the veil worn by Muslim women. There was a pronounced fear and scepticism in the statements made by Hindu children. They viewed Muslims as people who always stay together and make a threatening crowd. These children perceived Muslims as an undifferentiated mass of people who cannot be trusted and who can turn violent anytime. Muslims do not exist as individuals in these Hindu children’s minds.
Interestingly, Muslim children did not use any pejoratives while articulating their awareness about Hindus. They were relaxed while talking about Hindu temples and symbols. They saw the other’s faith just like their own. These children were aware that it could be a source of tension if one visited religious institutions of the other religion but they did not use this awareness to show prejudices against Hindus. The conversations with Muslim children not only conveyed considerable familiarity with the practices and symbols of Hinduism, but also a degree of positive interest and tolerance. This is in contrast to the ignorance and negative feelings that Hindu children had conveyed.
Negative impact
The study points out that early socialisation, which takes place in the family, creates attitudes and prejudices which are in conflict with the stated goals of educational policy. It reminds us that the education of small children cannot rely on rituals like taking a pledge in the morning assembly that all Indians are brothers and sisters. There is a need to address children’s socialisation more directly and comprehensively. Most of the present curricular material is reluctant to acknowledge cultural identity in childhood. A beginning has been made in the National Curriculum Framework (NCF 2005) to overcome this situation. The study provides evidence for the relevance of NCF’s concern that schools must engage with children’s socialisation at home and in the neighbourhood. The greatest challenge lies in teacher training which, at present, ignores the task of sensitising teachers towards the child’s socialisation at home. The teacher has to be equipped with the abilities to create an ethos in the school in which the effect of socialisation can be loosened up to enable children to reflect on their own socialisation. This will make them capable of developing a rational outlook as visualised in the Constitution of India.

Lifestyle - India;Groceries & Courtesy


Standing amid the odourless and efficient hum of a giant supermarket I looked around to see if there was anyone of my vintage. I suddenly felt like sharing memories of the leisurely grocery-shopping of the early 1960s when I used to accompany my moth er to a store on a steep little road off Commerical Street in Bangalore. Since every other shopper in Foodworld looked at least a hundred years younger than me, I entered the past to bring it into focus today.
Old world grace
Those were the days when groceries were called “provisions”. Chetty and Sons only looked small from the outside; inside, it was rich in scents and old-world grace and probably led off into enormous godowns. Its owner, stout and cheerful, had kindly protruding eyes. His caste-marks were always superbly painted into place on a shining forehead and his always-white shirts made even my freshly laundered school uniform look dull. He seemed very old to me but was probably only in his mid-thirties.
I would climb down from the cycle-rickshaw and onto the wooden stool in Mr Chetty’s shop, and after the customary courtesies of coffee offered and declined, my mother would consult her list and open the chant....
“Two kilos red chilli. Andhra, long.”
“Long- red rande....” would proceed Chetty’s translation in a shout to the back of the shop as he swept his head and neck theatrically in that direction.
“Long- red....rande...” would come the subservient echo from the caverns.
“Five kilos urad...” (mother)
“Firsta? Seconda?”(Chetty) about the quality his customer was willing to pay for, as he nodded expertly, moving his shoulders about confidently, and tapping a tune on the table, in total control of this personalised service.
“Half – half” my mother would say mysteriously and unhelpfully and the ceremony of relaxed shouts and calls back and forth would resume.
From rice to salt, from Blanco to Cinthol talc, from Sunlight soap and Royal gum to Cheetahfight matches would take about an hour. No one seemed to be in any particular hurry and a glance at the rickshaw would find its owner dozing on the seats pushed back and flattened into a sort of makeshift bed.
Meanwhile a handcart would be readied outside the shop with its handler expertly loading packed items on to it. When did I last see “provisions” being weighed, slid expertly into funnel-shaped newspaper containers then wrapped, flicked about, and sealed off with twisted string before being handed over like accomplishments?
I used to sit on that stool throughout the proceedings wondering if I would get a boiled sweet or a toffee. Sometimes Chetty would offer me one which I always politely refused at least once, before accepting it with a show of reluctance and inward rejoicing, while my mother pretended not to notice: a silent and elegant little game with no losers. Finally my mother and I would wake the rickshaw-puller and climb back onto our hastily reconstructed seats and go home, the cart with our provisions following us at a leisurely pace.
Then there were traders in eggs and oil who came to our doorstep. The enna-kaaran arrived dressed in his professional gear. The powerful smell of gingelli oil came off him in waves as he approached the house. What joy it was to watch the golden flow of oil from its tin. “Amma, I’m opening this seal just for you...” he would say as he unsealed a new container.
“Watch while I go indoors to fetch the money...” was my mother’s instruction and the oil-seller would smile at me, suppressing a laugh while he finished his work. He had been supplying oil to our household for years, but there was still a class-mistrust which he endured humorously. When I think about it now, I wish we had been friendlier. I never once offered him a sweet or asked if he had a daughter my age.
Eggs and bread
As for the seller of eggs! His ponderously shaped basket was lowered to the ground as carefully as if there was a baby sleeping in it. Selected eggs were then placed in a deep bowl of water. Both buyer and seller would watch with equal fascination to see which eggs lay flat, signalling that they were still fresh. If they stood up defiantly they were “bad” and were returned. The seller of coconuts was equally tested, fruit by fruit before purchases were settled.
And as for bread... Freshly baked and delivered at the gate in a large, shabby but practical tin box balanced on the carrier of the bread-man’s cycle. You could set your watch by the thump and rattle of his arrival at the hour of tea and milk.
Fifty monsoons have come and gone since that time. And through it all, obeying Time, the Earth has thundered through Space faster than the top speed of a Ferrari, taking with it many things we thought would never change.I often wonder where all those suppliers and grocers went, and how they stitched themselves into the boom of a city which became unrecognisable in the last five years of the century we left behind.

Personality - Prahlad Kakkar


There was a time when Prahlad Kakkar wanted to be an army general and a horse breeder. Traces of such youthful dreams though are now found only in his cowboy hat and flowing hair.
But Kakkar, a man of many interests, doesn’t wear just one badge of identity. Adman, restaurateur, scuba diver, cigar manufacturer, what makes this charmer with a roaring laugh different is his penchant for turning hobbies into callings.
Making a mark
Even making a mark in the big bad Ad world early in life couldn’t hold Kakkar; his love for cooking found a simultaneous pride of place. He takes you by surprise when he says, “Every office of mine has had a full-fledged kitchen attached.” He gave in to his interest by starting two restaurants in Mumbai.
His love for cigars too found a way to a manufacturing unit in the Philippines, and his passion for scuba diving has also panned out in a similar fashion. Today, he runs two flourishing diving schools in Lakshwadeep.
Recalls Kakkar: “It was a total accident .” During a scuba diving trip in Mauritius, while the others went under water, he “sat like a scared dog on the boat”. With much difficulty, he gathered courage to jump into the water. “Initially it was scary and I was cold in the water, but I soon found the undersea world so fascinating, it gave me a high.’ So he signed up, along with wife Mitali, for a training course. “I am a certified scuba diver today,” he proudly states. Though his wife “can beat him any day”, he adds with a naughty laugh. She is a qualified instructor at their diving schools.
Early days
Recollecting the early days, Kakkar says, “We started going to Lakshwadeep for scuba diving and ended up starting a school there and then another. In the last 10 years, we have 3000 people in the alumni corpus.” What draws him to underwater “is the silence where you can hear your own breathing, communicating with your partner only with hand signals. It is a true buddy sport. If you run out of air for instance, it is your buddy who would come to your rescue.”
Some of his exciting moments under sea include “coming face to face with a shark once, seeing turtles and dolphins swim by”. Says Kakkar with his inimitable chuckle, “Under water you are weightless and for someone like me who has never been on the slimmer side, it is a great feeling.”
Besides scuba diving, what has caught Kakkar’s appeal lately is yoga. He does it thrice a week. And before he says I have a plan; you ask, is he giving it a business touch. He repeats the naughty laugh, adding, “I am not quite ready yet.”
This column features little known aspects of well known personalities.

India - Selling One's Child (V.G.Read)


For a brief moment, a humble, impoverished dalit couple from Bolangir district of Orissa, Lalita and Shyamlal Tandi, acquired national infamy. The press carried a series of sensational stories of how the parents had sold their girl child Hema for a f ew thousand rupees, and there was wide official and public outrage and anger. The opposition lashed out at the State government in the legislative assembly. Ministers scolded district officials. An embarrassed ruling coalition responded by requesting the speaker of the assembly to personally investigate the child sale.
In a few days, amidst a haze of dust, an impressive convoy of official white ambassador cars, with flashing red beacons and peremptory sirens arrived in the startled remote hamlet Kundaputula. The pilot jeeps led them to the earthen home of the guilty parents. The speaker, aided by members of legislative assembly, senior officials of the State and district government, and local politicians, threw a volley of questions at the couple. “Why did you sell your child?” they asked accusingly. The man, Shyamlal, squatting in a corner on his haunches, simply stared. Looking stunned, miserable and shamed, he was speechless in his defence. It was the mother, Lalita, who, weeping inconsolably, tried to explain: “None of us would have lived, neither our daughter Hema nor us, if we had not sold her.” She intoned repeatedly, “We had no other choice.”
No sympathy
But her interrogators were not at all convinced. “Just because you are poor, it does not mean you sell your child. What kind of parents are you?” Lalita sobbed in reply, “It was because we loved our daughter so much that we sold her. Do you not understand? We sold her because we loved her.” Not one among those who had gathered for a transient moment, like a flash in a film, in that unfortunate hovel, indeed could understand.
It was not so difficult when Shyamlal was still strong in body. They owned barely half an acre of an un-irrigated upland farm, and it bore for them most years just enough gurji or coarse millets to feed the family for at most a couple of months. But even this lifeline betrayed them in successive drought years. There was no regular work in the village, so they migrated for seven years to the steel city of Bhilai, in neighbouring Chhatisgarh. They were employed at a construction site, and built a makeshift home of piled brick walls and a stretched plastic sheet for a roof. Lalita laboured side by side with Shyamlal, and together they earned enough to feed their three children, and even set aside some money. Hema at that time was just a baby.

Their troubles began when the head of their elder, four-year-old son Harendra swelled alarmingly. The hospitals in the Bhilai steel plant were not open to migrant workers, and they could not afford the private doctors in city. So they returned desperately to their village. The doctors in the Titlagarh government hospital demanded such extortionist bribes to operate on the boy that they settled for the more modest demands at the Tukla village Primary Health Centre. The illness cost the little boy his hearing, and the family five thousand rupees of their savings.
Shyamlal returned to Bhilai, but presently fell ill himself with pneumonia. There were secondary infections and sores around his mouth and on his eyelids, probably because of malnourishment. He could not close his eyes, his fever raged, and he rapidly lost weight. Lalita was alarmed that she would lose him, so she decided to submit this time to the demands of the Titlagarh government doctors. He required several injections every day. The doctor wanted a hundred rupees for each injection, and when they begged him he brought it down to sixty rupees.
Alive and indebted
The illness ravaged his health, but he ultimately survived, debilitated, with recurring pain in his back, and unable to undertake hard manual labour as in the past. The family was poorer, this time by another 12,000 rupees. Their savings gathered over half a dozen years of uninterrupted family toil in the construction sites of Bhilai evaporated completely. Lalita had a well-off relative, Ram Prasad, also a dalit, but he was fortunate to get a government job in the office of the Block Development Officer. He lent them money to pay the doctors.
Since then, the couple looked for work within the village. People employed them for tasks like paddy cutting, wood cutting, carrying soil and grazing cattle. But employment in the village is irregular, averaging eight to 10 days in a month. There are sometimes two to three months a year when they find no work at all. And wages are half of what they get in the city. There is barely enough food for the family; it was impossible to repay Ram Prasad’s loan.
How did they manage with so little? How do they survive even today in their unchanged circumstances? The word they used when they explained to me was “control”, in English. “It is with ‘control’ that we live”. When they earn, they eat better. They regard a full stomach as God’s special gift, but one that He grants sparingly. On bad days, they mix a fistful of rice in a pot of water, and let it ferment overnight. This is the food for the entire family.
As their unpaid loan to Ram Prasad mounted, with no prospect that they would ever be able to repay it, he suggested one day that they give him their younger daughter in adoption, and in return he would write off their loan. Lalita insists that he made the offer in kindness, and that he had no daughter, and therefore wanted to raise their Hema as his own child. Shyamlal was still very sickly. It was the decision of the girl’s mother to accept her relative’s proposal. The transaction was recorded on stamp paper; the parents did not know what was written but they pressed their inked thumbs to the sheet of paper, and their daughter left their home.
Little is hidden in a village, and the news spread quickly. A child’s sale is always a sensational story. The first person who came to their door was a stranger they did not recognise. He was fat and dark-skinned, and he asked them about their daughter. They learnt later that he was journalist in a local newspaper. Soon the story spread to the newspapers in the State capital, and then the national press. Within weeks, a crowd of senior politicians and officials reached their homes, and asked them why they had sold their daughter. Latika tried to explain, but they did not seem to listen. They went away very angry.
Ram Prasad was jailed for illegal trafficking for 15 days. When he returned, village elders accompanied Shyamlal to his home to demand that he return the child. He refused, saying that he loved the three-year-old girl like his own daughter, and was unwilling to let her go. But they returned with policemen in tow, and Ram Prasad reluctantly gave in.
What happened later
Years passed since I had heard about this story. I decided to search for the family to learn what had happened to them after the child was restored. I found their hutment with difficulty. It had the oppressive odour of long, unmet want and settled sadness.
I learnt that the child Hema was dead. Within less than a year of her restoration to her family, she contracted jaundice. She was too malnourished to fight the infection, and died quietly. “If they had let Ram Prasad keep the child, she would have been alive today”, her mother said wistfully. “Ram Prasad has money to feed her. We have none”.
No one visited them then, or since, except the local policemen. They came when they heard of the death. From the threshold, they saw the corpse of the dead child and the inconsolable parents. They just bowed their heads and left without a word.

India - Toilet Revolution


Rekha is a landless labourer in the village of Bishangarh in Haryana’s Kurukshetra district. All around her poorly constructed open brick house, where the rain pours in through the rafters, are lush fields of potato and wheat. She lives there w ith her husband, an agricultural worker like her and her three children, a girl and two boys. Between the two of them, on the days they get work, they bring in around Rs. 150 a day. Her husband gets paid twice as much as her.
Rekha’s pride is her outdoor toilet, built on the corner of her small plot. She has no money to build a door. A jute curtain does the job. But she has a constant source of water. So the toilet remains clean and there is no smell. The design is a simple one, easy to maintain, with a soak pit that we are told will not pollute the water table.
Talking point
The toilet revolution in Bishangarh and other villages in Kurukshetra district has become a talking point. It draws visitors from around India and the world who look on in wonder as well-built Haryanvi women lustily shout “Jai Swatchatha” (Long live cleanliness) and show off the toilets attached to their homes. Each costs around Rs. 1,200. The poor, like Rekha, get a subsidy. The others pay what they can and the rest comes from an NGO run by the local MP, young Navin Jindal, whose beaming countenance greets you at every street corner as you drive through the district.
Bishangarh has received the Nirmal Gram Puraskar, the prize instituted by the central government in recognition of villages that are free of open defecation. It is one of hundreds of villages across the country that are qualifying for this award. The women in the village, who are part of the Nigrani (vigilance) Samitis, go around with torches, sticks and whistles early in the morning. If they catch anyone defecating in the open, they blow the whistle and shine the torch on the crouching figure. This, they believe, embarrasses the individual to the point that they will not do it again.
There is no question that the toilet revolution has made a huge difference to the lives of women, as well as elderly men and children. No more do they have to scramble in the dark in the nearby fields. Women, especially, would have to go before dawn or wait until after dusk. The absence of toilets assaults their dignity, lays them open to sexual harassment and has a direct impact on their health. Not anymore.
Is it sustainable?
But questions remain. Can this be sustained without policing? Will people change their habits so easily, particularly men who feel no embarrassment defecating in the open? Can it work without a subsidy? Is it possible in villages where there is no water? Where there is no electricity? In Kurukshetra district, out of 418 villages, 412 are electrified. And will it work in villages with caste and communal divides, where the villagers are not willing to cooperate? In Bishangarh, the majority belongs not just to one caste, but even one gotra (clan). The woman Sarpanch is also from the same caste and gotra. Hence, getting everyone to work together is a little easier. Women I spoke to acknowledged that the situation would have been different if they had been a “mixed” village, in terms of caste.
One also hopes this will the first step in enhancing women’s status. For, women are visible in their support of the toilet revolution. Yet in Haryana, and Kurukshetra district, the sex ratio remains skewed in favour of boys. And dowry has not disappeared although some women insist it is declining. If one goes by what Rekha’s 18-year-old, college-going daughter Babita has to say, it has increased. “People pay upto Rs. 10 lakhs”, she says ruefully. And marriage, of course, is inevitable, she adds. What other option is there?
Babita is lucky that she has got as far as she has in her education. In government schools around this country, adolescent girls are dropping out, or missing school, because there are no toilets. So when they get their monthly period, they simply don’t go to school. In Kurukshetra district, all the schools have toilets, claims the indefatigable Sumedha Kataria, the Additional District Collector who is also the force behind the sanitation movement in the district.
Bigger challenge
Of course, urban sanitation is an even bigger challenge and intimately linked to the almost insurmountable problem of providing housing for millions of urban poor. You can build community toilets but until you solve the housing crisis in cities, you really will not be able to deal effectively with sanitation. For women especially, the absence of toilets is a far more traumatic experience in cities than in villages as there are practically no secluded places.
Some of the more innovative projects on show at the recent Sacosan III (South Asian Conference on Sanitation) in New Delhi — which incidentally was virtually ignored by the “national” media in the capital — were those where village self-help groups are using simple technology to manufacture sanitary napkins at low cost. This is being done in several States and in at least one location in Tamil Nadu, the increase in school attendance of adolescent girls has been dramatic.
Toilets, sanitation, sanitary napkins, defecation — these are not things we like to talk about. Yet, this is such a fundamental issue that affects all our lives — especially if we happen to be poor and women. Half of India defecates in the open. The government hopes to get all these 600 million people to start using toilets by 2012. That’s a lot of toilets to build in just four years.

Columnists - Bill Kirkman;Business Unusual


Mention bonuses for bankers and you unleash a torrent of fury, directed at the bank bosses, whose bad judgment, and incompetence, is seen as being a main cause of the international financial crisis. In the U.K., the government is being urged to impos e rules on the banks (which have been bailed out with government — that is taxpayers’ — money). Some banks are fuelling the flames of criticism by indicating that where bonuses are concerned, it will be business as usual.
In The Observer, Will Hutton, Executive Vice-Chair of the Work Foundation, has written: “We can’t go on with a system in which directors essentially award themselves bonuses for non-performance”.
Wide prevalence
For obvious reasons, it is the bonuses for bankers on which most attention is directed, but the bonus culture applies much more widely. For example, in 2008, according to a survey carried out in association with the Chartered Management Institute, directors and managers received a higher rate of increase in salaries and bonuses than in 2007, and the average director’s bonus rose from GBP 61,511 in 2007 to GBP 78,223 in 2008.
The fact that bonuses have become so much a part of the reward structure in employment raises some questions which are more wide-ranging than what might be called the “bankers’ bonus bonanza”. The fundamental question, surely, is whether bonuses are actually necessary, or desirable, at all, except possibly as a means of recognising outstanding performance beyond the call of duty. Should they be paid to people who are just doing their jobs well? Is it not reasonable to expect people who are doing a job which they have chosen to do, for the pay which they have agreed, to do the job well? That, after all, is what they are being paid for.
As I pondered this, I realised that this is a concept with interesting origins. The principle of “a fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work” was set out by Friedrich Engels, the collaborator of Karl Marx, in an article in the Labour Standard May 7, 1881. Perhaps not surprisingly, for Engels, the founder of “scientific socialism”, it was not straightforward. What, he asked rhetorically, are a fair day’s wages and a fair day’s work? For the answer, he declared, “we must not apply to the science of morals or of law and equity”, adding, “what is morally fair, what is even fair in law, may be far from being socially fair. Social fairness or unfairness is decided by one science alone — the science which deals with the material facts of production and exchange, the science of political economy”.
This, obviously, is a long way from the simple question: Would it not be better to concentrate on pay rather than bonuses? Of course, if that were the system, questions could still be asked about the differential between the pay of those at the top of organisations and those lower down. It is, however, surely worth considering the question of job satisfaction. It has been shown that the happier people are within their job, the more satisfied they are likely to be. That could be seen as a pellucid statement of the obvious, but the interesting issue is what factors contribute to job satisfaction. Pay is clearly one of them, but there are others, such as a sense of involvement in the work, and the relationship with one’s bosses.
Sources of satisfaction
From my own experience, I can certainly vouch for the fact that in the various jobs that I have done, my satisfaction has come from believing in the value of the work, having good colleagues, and having a high regard for the organisations that I worked for. If the pay had been terrible, the satisfaction would have disappeared, but given reasonable salary levels, the non-pay factors were crucial. (The logic of this, it could be argued, is that bonuses should be paid to people doing dull jobs but somehow I don’t think the bankers are basing their case on the dullness of their work!)
Of course my question about concentrating on pay rather than bonuses is not as simple as I have suggested. Nevertheless, I do feel that there is a case for looking at the bonus issue in principle, not just in the light of the current international financial crisis.
(Incidentally, if you seek precedents for the “fair day’s wages for a fair day’s work” far earlier than Engels, you could do worse than read the parable of the labourers in the vineyard in St. Matthew’s Gospel.)
Bill Kirkman is an Emeritus Fellow of Wolfson College Cambridge, U.K. Email him at:

Lifestyle - Heading the other way (G.Read)

The number of letters I received in response to “Living A Simple Life” made me realise that there are many who follow the rules of simple living, and even more, who desire to do so. For simplicity to work as part of the ahim sa way, many felt that there has to be a spiritual element to it. Mr. Sreedharan pointedly asked, “What merit is there in giving away what I am not intrinsically fond of? One must give away what one loves most.”
What does one love the most? It is the self — so getting rid of the harsh parts of the self that one loves and clings to …the anger, bitterness, jealousy, .greed, possessiveness, prepares us inwardly for an outwardly simpler way of life.
In these days, when life is about climbing the ladder, being on top, in control, being the strongest, the best, being “right” and, ultimately, judging and competing with others, this inner preparation is necessary to be able to give up those outward things which seem to hold our hearts.
The way down
When everyone is wanting to climb up the ladder to cling to power, and be in control, living simply, is also “climbing down the ladder”. Mr. Ananthu and his wife relate, “We shifted from our professions — she was a professor, I was in the corporate world as a software engineer — to a simpler life. For 15 years, we were at the Gandhi Peace Foundation in Delhi, then we set up ‘Navadarshanam Trust’ and shifted to a village in TN, and have tried experimenting with eco-restoration, simple housing, farming, health and food and energy.” There are many more like them who have willingly given up powerful positions and lifestyles, to “climb down”, to share their knowledge and skills with those who are poor and marginalised. Part of “climbing down” is to recognise that there is a vast section of society that needs us and doing something about it.
Along with simplicity comes freedom. The freedom that enables us to be ourselves without the pretence and support of all the material things that surround us. The freedom to accept ourselves as we are, without wanting to change because of what fashion or adverts suggest. The freedom, too, to relate to each other as human beings, without being self-conscious or wary of the other. At the local corner shop where I buy vegetables, the vendor knows me and asks almost a hundred questions about my family. I in return ask about his. It takes time. Next to me is a lady who is not angry or threatening me because we take so long, but is friendly and curious as she asks me how to cook the gourd I have just bought. I tell her the recipe. The freedom of just being able to talk to each other and treat each other as human is facilitated by the grocer who has made simple living an enviable art. Here, time is to be spent bonding. “You can’t pay today? No problem, pay tomorrow or whenever,” he says. Those who have the freedom that comes from living like this, wear it about them like an attractive shawl. We admire it and want it so much for ourselves, but find that it is not for sale.
Acts of compassion
One of the products of a simple life is tenderness — a word we don’t often use these days. For a simple person, tenderness comes easily. My driver is a man from a small hill-top village near Vellore, where people still matter to each other. One day, during the summer, I stood in a long queue which snaked out into the road. I had a bottle of water tucked into my arm. An old man with dry lips came up and asked me for some water. The well-to-do men and women standing in the queue beside me told me not to give him any. “The minute you give it to one person, another will come up and there will be no end.”
Well, I did give the man some water, and within a few minutes, more raggedy, old people circled me. My driver, standing nearby, had seen what happened. He quickly went to the nearest shop and returned with several bottles of ice cold water, which he generously distributed to the old folk. Their faces lit up at this unexpected treat. Each one now had a whole bottle of deliciously cold water. They pressed the bottles to their faces, and revelled at the iciness. Some washed their hands and faces pouring a tiny bit on to their hands and splashing it all over themselves. They even sprayed it on each other, squealing as the chill water hit them. It was wonderful to see.
Later, I asked my driver what had made him do such a thing. “I too have a very old father and mother,” he said. “I thought, what if it was them, walking around in the heat.” Then he added shyly, “Actually it is my birthday today and my sister gave me some money to buy a shirt. I don’t need another shirt,” he said. Tenderness like this towards others comes from having a heart that always beats with compassion, and shows us humanness in all its pain and beauty.
Be what you want to be
The hermit on a mountain lives a simple life, but he doesn’t have to struggle the way we do with busy lives and complicated relationships, so there is little merit or challenge in the kind of life he leads. For us today, the challenge in leading a simple life is to become people who can give away their most precious possessions to those who need it, and still feel content and rich; feel deep compassion for those who need it and still feel the vulnerability of being open and sensitive to others; and to live with the freedom to be what we want to be, rather than be moulded by consumerism and advertisements.
Living a simple life like this is not easy. It will not eliminate the complexity of our modern life to which we are all bound to some extent. But if we try, what it will do, is to allow us to live in harmony with all the complexities around us, so that we do not feel fragmented and soulless.
If you wish to share your story in the ahisma journey, please write to the author at www.ushajesudasan,com or

Lifestyle - Big Fat Indian Wedding

Do you remember the weddings of 30 years ago? The shamiana, the halwai, the gana-bajana? The family politics, the old biddies exchanging gossip in whispers — the racing-against-time to me et muhurats? Always, the wedding ceremony itself was set for an unearthly 2 in the morning; always, always, it was January or February; and everybody froze to a kulfi — except the bridal couple in front of the fire or an old gramps in thermals or the priest. I’m talking of weddings in the North, because that’s what I saw — maybe the South shows more restraint. My poor kids have no idea what fun those Punjabi weddings used to be — they are so “designed” now, so standardised.
I remember cousins’ weddings. We young girls would get silk lengths well in time to have them stitched and sequined for the Big Day. Additional help would be hired for the kitchen and, three or four days before the wedding itself, a halwai would set up his manufactory in the backyard.
When the “functions” started, so did the Grease Party. The first events would be the mehndi and choora. These were completely women’s affairs including the menus: pakoras, chaat, tea and “soft” drinks. Mothers were too busy to look after chitterlings, so much carbonated drink was imbibed by us. As the years passed, this mid-afternoon activity slipped to the evening, and a few men from the immediate family started making an appearance. Greeted with catcalls and much teasing, they would be co-opted into the singing and dancing. But with them came the other kind of spirits. Innuendo-laden songs became more meaningful and I suspect that Cuba became very Libré among the ladies. And with the appearance of the men came the Chicken Tikka.
Cliché today
Today, to talk of chicken tikka at North Indian weddings is such a cliché. Now it’s sushi and salmon rolls, batter-fried tofu and roast duck with asparagus. Back then, most guests, unless they were baratis of the groom’s party, didn’t stay for dinner, respecting the tradition of not increasing the burden on the bride’s family. So as a casual guest, not one of the extended family who had travelled to attend festivities, you could expect to be served only two things at the “Reception of Barat”: salted cashews and those little nuggets of sweetened paneer, chhena-murki. Occasionally platters of green cardamoms were passed around. Dinner would be alu-poori, vegetable pulao, chicken curry, the special khoya and makhana curry, and what to me is the signature dish of those dinners, the accompaniment to dahi badas: the improbably pink, impossibly sweet tamarind chutney with sliced bananas. Ooh — it was vile — but how much space it occupies in my memory. Dessert would be gajar ka halwa sprinkled with chunks of khoya. I’m sure there were many variations, and many more dishes on the menu, but I remember these. And the innumerable cups of thrilling “espresso”, smelling faintly of instant coffee, frothed up noisily by machine’s steam-making apparatus. I loved the sprinkling of drinking chocolate powder on top and always asked for more of it.
Now there’s another kind of wedding with much display of wealth. But to comment would be unfair because didn’t families always do their best to give their daughters a splendid wedding? And, in any case, tastes differ.
The décor. I have been to a wedding where I was told that a planeload of flowers had just been flown in from Thailand. There were 165 desserts and three tables of digestifs: paan, supari and chooran, which was probably all to the good, after the wicked spread at dinner which had “live” pasta stations, dals tempered to order by a white-toqued chef and served in a silver katori, a zillion kinds of kababs, miniature rotis straight out of the tandoor, a sea of salads — with the mandatory imported cheeses and charcuterie, the staggering array of desserts including the “traditional”: the cutest, thinnest, coin-sized jalebis, and the “exotic”: fruit (imported, puh-lease!) flambéed before your popping-out eyes… You get the drift and you’re not impressed.
Familar proceedings
Because now you’re familiar with the next stage. The setting is one’s own garden or farmhouse — five-star hotels are out — the décor is unique, because the marquée wasn’t hired from some tent-wala, however posh; it was made to order as per the bride’s wishes. It complemented her outfit, or maybe it didn’t but just looked sophisticated, all black-and-gold, with chandeliers and napery to match. And the caterer: but that term is a mistake. At a recent wedding, a fellow guest, parent of a nubile girl, asked a waiter who the caterer was (he was brilliant) and the response was: Caterer? Why do you want know? Sir is an artist, who only deals with celebrities, not people like… And the food was verily Festival of India. Each dish had a tiny card announcing its name and provenance. Appams and stew from Kerala, Tunde’s kabab from Lucknow, biryani from Hyderabad, biryani from Lucknow, alu-poori from Benares, fish tikkas from Amritsar, chingdi malai from Bengal, etcetera, etcetera. The food was divine — the service was “authentic”: the biryani was in shining brass handis on smouldering coal angeethis built into the garden, the appams steamed in cheena chattis. The gilawat ke kabab off a gigantic tawa truly melted in the mouth, the parathas were crisp and flaky. But how much could one eat? I was delighted to meet a 20-year-old nephew who was doing the dinner justice. So I settled for merely the best: Amritsari kulchas, the like of which I have never had before. They were hot, golden-brown-crisp and filled to bursting. Supposed to be laden with white butter and accompanied by chutney and some chana-type curry, these needed nothing because the shell was pastry, brittle and flaky. So yes, a wedding caterer can be an artist, and may the tribe prosper — their cooking is inspired and they have the confidence to stick with one cuisine, abjuring the temptations of Thai curries and Mediterranean antipasti.
The author is a Delhi-based food writer. She is with the ASER Centre.

Lifestyle - India;Moved by movies


Movies were invented so that we can take our minds off terrible happenings in the world like wars, stock market crashes, a spouse’s suspected extra-marital affair etc. So that’s why it’s become a great idea to escape problems and se e good films like “Pearl Harbour”, “Wall Street” and “Fatal Attraction”…Ooops, sorry. Perhaps I should have chosen some other examples here…
Anyway to rewind a bit — let’s go back a few decades, when both the movies as well as language weren’t as colourful as they are today.
I remember my children used to wonder, when they were small people, whether I was born when God was still perfecting the concept of colours, as everything on earth then was black and white, judging from our family photographs and the movies made in that era. Also, they discovered people of that era spoke silently, with lots of hand gestures. And walked very very fast. Well, that’s what all movies of that time showed them as evidence. (But my kids also figured out that Beethoven was the music director for almost every movie then —from Charlie Chaplin films to Mickey Mouse cartoons).
Popular activity
Anyway, going to the movies became very popular all over the world after colour came in. Though scholars of human behaviour, and several Ph.D. dissertations on the history of movies, point out that this trend should rightly be attributed to the invention of popcorn.
Well, around the early 1950s, sex was introduced to movies (bashful young couples, most of them unmarried, began to hold hands as the lights dimmed in the movie hall). And shortly thereafter, violence too came in (the man behind the ticket counter used to snarl “No Change!” and looked really murderous when one gave him a five rupee note, while buying a balcony ticket for Rs. 1.25).
Those were also days when smoking became a widespread habit in India, as droves would leave the hall (after placing a handkerchief on the seat) badly needing a smoke while the Films Division of India played something called the Newsreel — and even Melville De Mello’s distinguished voice did nothing to enhance the B&W footage of our national leaders doing namaste while stepping off Dakota planes.
But the smokers would all rush back to their seats when a rare treat came on: Advertisements! Nobody wanted to miss rotund teenage models; for example, someone called Rekha with her bouffant hairdo, cavorting with a bottle of Gold Spot. Not even the ad where a man in a white coat, who made us all believe he was a doctor (what a revolutionary idea!) who would hold up a tube of toothpaste for a whole minute and give a sermon on its virtues, ending with “Colgate stops bad breath” (although with the imperfect sound system of those days, we heard it as “Colgate Tops Bad Breath”.) Advertisements then were so well loved, with some fans going to movies just because they were showing a brand new ad for Tik 20, a cockroach killer, or Himalayan Bouquet “Snow”, India’s all-in-one cosmetic.
But no matter what film we saw those days, comedy or tragedy, historical or hysterical, they always had a very patriotic ending. The National Anthem was played at The End, and a grainy film of the tricolour fluttered on the screen, making us stand in stiff attention.
Meanwhile America had innovated on the movie experience, and invented the Drive-in Movie, though there are instances of movie-goers driving in late and watching the action of a torrid love story for a whole hour before realising they were watching a car, and the screen was in the opposite direction.
Coming back to India, every city had their first movie halls with Western names like “Liberty” and “Casino” and “Plaza” (even if the current trend is to have righteously Indian names like Satyam, Sivam and Sundaram). And despite wearing age-fighting creams, and visiting botox specialists, some people in parties unwittingly reveal their true age by saying in a swoon of nostalgia: “Remember how we used to just walk in for tickets, without advance booking, to see movies in “Casino”? (Omigod, wasn’t Casino demolished soon after the British Raj? You were already born then?)
Well, a lot has changed, including the change you get back after pushing a 500 rupee note through the ticket counter these days, and even though new-age kids are now flocking to theatres to watch films with names like “The Skull-Smasher Who Loved Me” and “I Know Who You Killed Last Summer”, I still admire them as they have a pretty good knowledge of old Hollywood classics. And often use famous lines from old movies. I hear that even 10-year-olds today yell at their parents “Show me the money!” And after shopping for the latest upgrade in mobile phones, today’s youth always tell the store-owner “I’ll be back”.
And I’ve heard of the pre-teen too, who saw her current boyfriend hanging out with another girl at the school cafeteria, and said quite nonchalantly, “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

Health - Truth about C-Sections


Once a caesarean; always a caesarean
It’s a common belief that if you have one caesarean delivery, you have to have caesarean sections in your future pregnancies. This is not true. Having a surgical delivery does not mean, as it once did, that you’ll have your future children by caesarean section as well. In fact, about 70 per cent of women who try a vaginal birth after caesarean (VBAC) succeed.
Whether to do a C-section or not in the future pregnancies will depend on the indication of first C-section and the status of the current pregnancy. For example, if it was a recurring indication like a contracted pelvis, then definitely you need a surgery again. However, if it was for some indication like foetal distress, then vaginal delivery is possible. However, the labour will have to be monitored strictly.
Mother-child bonding is less after a C-section
This is absolutely false. There is no difference in maternal child bonding after C-section. In fact caesareans are now done under regional anaesthesia, in which the mother is awake during the procedure, she can immediately start bonding with the baby.
No breast feeding after C-section.
It’s a common belief that one should not breast feed after C-section as there is a fear of the stitches opening up. This is however not true, and a mother can breast feed her baby immediately after the surgery.
C-section babies are healthier than babies delivered vaginally.
This is again not true. Babies born vaginally are as healthy as babies delivered after C-section.
No exercises after C-section.
Most women believe that they cannot and should not exercise because they have undergone surgery. This is not true. Gentle exercise such as walking, pelvic floor or abdominal exercises are actually beneficial and will help in recovery. However, after a caesarean allow a minimum of six weeks for the incision to heal before beginning a strenuous exercise programme.
C-sections are always associated with backache.
This is not true. Some women may have backache for few days after C-section. This is usually due to the injection given in the lower back for spinal anaesthesia. This can be avoided by drinking lots of water and avoiding use of a pillow for first few days post surgery.
Dietary restrictions after C-section.
Most women advise a variety of dietary restriction like avoiding milk, ghee, rice during the post-operative period as according to them this can impair healing of scar. This, however, is just a myth and the patient can resume her normal diet within a day or two after caesarean.
The writer is a Gynaecologist and Infertility specialist based in Mumbai

Health - Orthognathic Surgery


A perfectly symmetrical face is considered to be the most beautiful and attractive in all ages and all regions. However, not all are fortunate to have a symmetrical face with normal proportions.
In addition to the skull, eye and nose, the upper and lower jaws bones are the most important to provide the framework for the face. The upper jaw (maxilla) and lower jaw (mandible) grows through childhood, but main growth happens during adolescence.
Any growth disturbance leads to facial asymmetry. Some of it manifests during early childhood, but many of them show up during adolescence. Adolescence is a very important period of life and facial difference puts the teenager at risk of psychological disturbance and distorts self-image.
The Orthognathic surgery aims to improve facial appearance by reshaping and repositioning facial bones and the jaws along with the teeth. With present advances in medical field, orthognathic surgeries are safe.
Lower jaw
In the case of excess or deficiency of the lower jaw, the protrusion of the lower jaw is very visible from the side. In profile, this is seen as prominence of the lower part of the face and particularly the lower lip. Some individuals may also have asymmetric jaws. Apart from the deformity in the patient’s appearance, there may be problems with chewing and speech in some cases.
Some individuals with mandibular retrusion appear to have a small and/or underdeveloped lower jaw causing gum deformities. The overgrowth bone can be set back and fixed. The small mandible can be advanced or distracted to bring it to normal proportions.
Excess or deficiency of upper jaw is caused by less or restricted growth of the upper jaw. It is more commonly found in cleft lip and palate and following trauma to the upper face.
Due to poor growth and development of the upper jaw, these individuals may appear to have lower jaw protrusion even if mandible growth is normal. Excess of upper jaw will cause a gummy smile or protruding upper teeth. The height of the upper bone can be reduced and fixed which will correct the gummy smile and protruding teeth.
Jawbone deformities are caused by protrusion of both jaws, resulting in a “gummy smile”, with excessive show of front teeth. This often causes difficulty in closing the lips and therefore in concealing the front teeth. These individuals often compensate by trying to hide this with a tight lip closure, making their lips appear small and constricted.
The treatment differs according to age and degree of protrusion. Generally, from the teenage to young adult years, the patient may require orthodontics to correct the condition. However, in the older people and in severe cases the problem needs to be addressed by a combination of orthodontics and surgery to the jawbones.
Corrective surgery
Though these are major surgeries, the majority will not have any complications. Most incisions are placed inside the mouth and are not visible. In rare cases incisions may need to be placed on the skin but these are camouflaged and not obviously visible to a casual observer.
After surgery, the patient will be on a diet of liquids and semisolids for a few weeks and also need to take care of oral hygiene. Most go back to work within 10 days depending on the extent of surgery.
Occasionally there may be complication following surgery. Some may have sensory disturbances following lower jaw surgery, which are reversible. However this numbness does not affect daily life or the movement of the lower lips.
Other rare complications are bleeding after surgery, infection and exposure of plates.
However, the important feature of this surgery is acceptance of new face by patients. Young patients adapt to the new face quite happily. However, after 30 years, the patients may find difficult to adjust to the new face.

India - NSG Commandos likely for metro cities

Sandeep Dikshit
NEW DELHI: The Centre is planning to position commandos in metropolitan cities and large States in order to reduce the response time to situations like the latest Mumbai terror attacks.
This proposal emerged at several high-level meetings here, including the one convened by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the other by Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil.
Dr. Singh has convened an all-party meeting for Sunday to brief and consult the political leadership.
Now that it was believed that the terrorists took the sea route to Mumbai, the government decided to have better coordination among the Navy, the Coast Guard and the police in an institutional mechanism to expeditiously upgrade coastal security.
The issue of registering all fishing boats with the police was also discussed.
In Mumbai, “all operations are over. The National Security Guard has formally reported the completion of Operation Black Tornado at all the three places, which are being sanitised,” senior Union Home Ministry official M. L. Kumawat told journalists here on Saturday evening. The death toll in the attacks was put at 183 — 20 security personnel, 22 foreigners and 141 Indian civilians.
Mr. Kumawat said nine terrorists were killed and one was captured. “There are no more terrorists in Mumbai. All have been killed or captured,” he said on the basis of inputs from the Maharashtra police.
While denying that there was delay in despatching NSG commandos to Mumbai, the official said the government was planning to place commandos at select locations so that the ‘golden hour’ was not lost in travelling to the place of a terrorist attack. These commandos would be rushed to the site and they would hold the fort until reinforcements arrived from their base at Manesar on the outskirts of the national capital.
Mr. Kumawat declined to answer several queries on the grounds that any disclosure at that stage was not in the interest of investigations into the Mumbai terror strikes. “The Maharashtra police has solid leads and is working on them.” The NSG recovered four AK-47 rifles and pistols each, besides live hand-grenades and several rifle magazines. The inventory at the Taj hotel was still in progress. The security forces rescued about 600 people from Nariman House and the Oberoi and Taj hotels.
Dr. Singh reviewed the security situation at his meeting with the Defence Secretary, the Home Secretary and the chiefs of the three armed forces, besides the Coast Guard Director-General and the Intelligence Bureau Director. Earlier, the meeting convened by Mr. Patil was attended by the Home Secretary, the Chief of the Naval Staff, the Coast Guard DG, the Vice-Chief of the Army Staff and senior officials of his Ministry.

World - Saudi King;Oil must be $75/barrel

CAIRO: Saudi Arabia’s King says the price of oil should be $75 a barrel, much higher than it is now, but his Oil Minister indicated on Saturday that OPEC will not decide whether to cut output until the body meets again next month.
Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi said that the OPEC would “do what needs to be done” to shore up falling oil prices when the group meets on December 17 in Algeria, but for now it was “too early.”
Mr. Naimi, whose country dominates OPEC, told reporters at an interim meeting of OPEC Oil Ministers in Cairo the bloc needs to wait until the Algeria meeting to assess the impact of earlier production cuts.
Other Ministers, however, did not decisively rule out cuts, with top Libyan oil official Shokri Ghanem saying “all options are open” ahead of the Ministers’ meeting. The comments came after King Abdullah told the Kuwaiti newspaper Al-Seyassah in an interview published on Saturday that oil should be priced at $75 a barrel.
“We believe the fair price for oil is $75 a barrel,” he said, without saying how the price could be raised.
“The price of crude stood at about $147 a barrel in mid-July. On Friday, the U.S. benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude for January delivery was trading at about $54 per barrel.
The King was echoed by Qatar’s Oil Minister Abdullah Bin Hamad al-Attiya, who told the Arab news channel Al-Arabiya that prices needed to rise to guarantee investment into the oil sector.
“The price between 70 to 80 [dollars a barrel] is the one encouraging in investment and developing new or current oil fields. It falls below 70 [dollars], the investment would freeze, which will lead to a crisis in supply in the future,” he said. — AP

Lifestyle - A roof for the orphaned


Policy makers and care-givers woke up late to the impact of HIV on children orphaned by the disease. While many support programmes have been initiated, a lot still needs to be done.

Apart from linking them up with healthcare services, an effort is being made to re-admit children into government-run boarding schools or vocational training schemes …

It is estimated that approximately 15 million children have been orphaned by HIV-AIDS worldwide. Another startling figure is that everyday, about 1,800 new HIV infections in children under 15 are added to this figure, mostly by mother to child transm ission.

Undoubtedly, the impact of AIDS on children begins long before they become orphans. Prashant, who is all of 11 and living in Metpally in Karimnagar, tells you in a matter-of-fact manner, but tinged with helplessness, how he nearly stopped going to school. “There was no money in the house. I was prepared to walk four km everyday to go to school. There are no buses that come to our village. On some days I would get lucky because my best friend Satish would give me a ride on his scooter, when his sister was not there. I want to study well and become a teacher, but my grandmother and aunt found it difficult to educate me and instead wanted to send me to work.” Such stories abound in different parts of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka.

In many instances, much of the trauma they experienced in the years when their parents were in the terminal stage appears less daunting than the challenges and utter devastation they experience after their parent’s death. In Gundlavalli Village, in Karimnagar, Lakshmi, 17, is now taking care of her two siblings, Rajitha, 15, and Malleshwari,11, after her parents died of AIDS. In contrast to her present woes, the past looks far more blissful. “Before my mother passed away, I and my sisters used to go to school. We did not face any hardship. Mother used to make bidis and sell bangles. We did not suffer in any way. When I used to ask her to show me how bidis are made, she would scold me and ask me to study well and not waste my time. Today I am rolling those very bidis as a source of livelihood. I make Rs. 500 a month and another Rs. 200 as a daily wage labourer. Out of this, I am paying Rs. 300 to repay a loan my mother had taken.”

Late response

The response to HIV’s impact on children began five years ago. According to Dr. Damodar Bachani, the Deputy Director-General, NACO, the national estimate that 70,000 children are living with HIV has been arrived at because of the decisive steps the government took to prevent vertical transmission from mother to child by offering voluntary testing to all pregnant women who come to antenatal clinics.

However, when it came to the larger issue of vulnerable and affected children, most organisations that began working on this issue in States like Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh had absolutely no idea about the magnitude of the problem. “We began by identifying and developing a database on children orphaned and affected by AIDS, across 12 districts of Karnataka. In Bagalkot district alone we found 1,800 children in need of different levels care and support,” states Dr. L. Troy Cunnigham, a specialist working in the field of care and support on orphans and vulnerable children and part of a consortium of organisations, led by University of Manitoba and Karnataka Health Promotion Trust to implement an integrated HIV prevention, care and support and treatment project for children affected by HIV. They found that most children were highly malnourished, a vast majority had very poor quality of shelter, care and support and most importantly, completely bereft of any kind of psychosocial support and were silently coping with the trauma of having witnessed their parents’ plight during the terminal stages of the illness.

Realising the urgency of the issue, Prashant and Lakshmi represent the small group of children who are now being reached out to in different parts of the country.

Reaching out

An international NGO, Alliance India, has got a grant from the Global Fund to reach out to 65,000 families in select districts of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Karnataka with a package of services. Apart from linking them up with healthcare services, an effort is being made to re-admit children like Prashant into government-run boarding schools or link them up with vocational training schemes and many social welfare and anti-poverty schemes, including access to free ration. In other districts of these high prevalence States, there are institutions like the Clinton Foundation and the Children Investment Fund Foundation of Denmark providing similar kind of assistance

Similarly, in Bagalkot, the community, under the leadership of the Taluk Village Health Committee of Jamkhandi Taluk, has responded in a meaningful manner. Representing 32 Village Health Committees, this federation decided to address this issue in a concerted manner. Supported by the NGO Ujwala, and the lead agency, the Karnataka Health Promotion Trust, they conducted a survey of the children in need of community care and support. Of the 250 children in need of support, they found that 50, having lost both parents and with many having no extended family to take care of them, were in extreme distress. The Village Health Committee responded and initiated a residential school, admitted 31 of the children most in need into the school and decided to take care of all their needs, from food, clothing and shelter to healthcare and education.

Speaking about this effort, Shantha Poojary, a Village Health Committee member, stated that once the Deputy Commissioner and Revenue Department sanctioned them a building free of cost, they had a lot of work to do as it was an unused and run-down property. “We had to clear the entire ground — it was full of wild thorny plants and weeds — and clean the premises, raise funds from the community to do some minimum renovation, repairs and get the school going. Women VHC members alone contributed Rs. 6,500 to this effort. In the process, we all got so attached to this school that we decided to name it as Namma Makala Dhama, or Our Children’s Residential School,” she explained.

Major challenge

Despite all the efforts that are being made, one major challenge that is emerging for organisations involved in mounting a qualitative response to the problem is the reluctance of donors to provide long-term funding to such initiatives. Exasperated by the short-term and piecemeal funding support that the Care Home in Delhi, managed by the Naz Foundation, India for nearly 40 children orphaned by HIV, is currently receiving, Anjali Gopalan makes it clear that she is sick of the double standards adopted on this issue. She states that in the name of affordable and sustainable low cost care, the models of care and support that are being encouraged all over the country is to ensure some minimum needs and protection for the child. “Today they are over-emphasising the cost factor and experimenting with just about anything that provides some modicum of support to the children. I am sure they will shudder at the thought of applying the same standards of care and support to their own children.”

Lifestyle - Hope after HIV


With nutritional management and medical care, a HIV positive person can live a reasonably long and healthy life. A message of hope on World Aids Day which falls tomorrow...

Good nutrition and medical care can increase bodily strength and delay the onset as well as the frequency of opportunistic infections.

In popular imagination, being HIV positive is seen as a premature death sentence, ridden with extreme pain and suffering. What is less well known is that with good nutritional management and prevention of infections, a HIV positive person can lead a long and reasonably healthy, normal life.

Early detection is crucial. If the virus is detected early on in an otherwise healthy person, if the person can afford two square meals a day, and if quality medical care is available whenever opportunistic infections occur, then a HIV positive person can live for several years even before ART (Anti Retroviral Therapy) becomes necessary. Contrary to popular perception, management of HIV does not begin with ART drugs. However, ART, together with continuing nutritional and medical support can further increase lifespan by 20 years or more.

This is not just a story of distant possibilities. I met several such positive people on a recent visit to Guntur and Rajahmundry. Both towns lie in the high prevalence HIV zones of Andhra Pradesh: districts Guntur and East and West Godavari.

Sarita is a healthy young woman of 33 with smiling eyes and a pleasant face. She tested positive nearly 13 years ago after her husband died of AIDS. So far she has not needed ART as her CD 4 cell count has remained well above the threshold of 200. CD4 are a variety of white blood cells that form the internal defence mechanism of the human body; they generate an antibody response to attacking organisms in the blood. It is these cells that the virus attacks, compromising the body’s immune system, and making it vulnerable even to those pathogens that would not cause disease in a normal, healthy immune system. The infections resulting from these pathogens in HIV positive people are called opportunistic infections. The frequency of opportunistic infections in a HIV positive person depends upon the bodily strength of the host and the virulence of the virus. Good nutrition and good medical care can increase bodily strength and delay the onset as well as the frequency of opportunistic infections. ART drugs, once initiated, suppress replication of the virus and delay weakening of the immune system.

Dr. Lalita, Sarita’s supervising physician, says that Sarita can carry on for another three years without needing ART. Once she begins ART, Sarita can live for another 25 years. Altogether, Sarita’s lifespan may well equal yours or mine.

Vital need

I met Sarita at a HIV community care centre in Guntur run by a church based group, the National Lutheran Health and Medical Board. Sarita and other HIV positive people like her have been coming to the centre for many years to understand how to manage their condition. Another faith based organisation in the region provides a fixed food ration of 10 kg rice and two kg of dal to HIV positive persons. This ensures that those with low incomes or even with no income manage to have two square meals a day. Nutritional intervention studies suggest that early improvements in the energy and protein intake of people living with HIV help to build their reserves and reduce their vulnerability to opportunistic infections. Sarita is not well off, but together with the free ration, good medical care, and her family’s acceptance and economic support, she has managed to remain healthy.

Seetha is a new patient at the Guntur centre. At 26 years, she had three children; the youngest she carried in her arms. She discovered she was seropositive when she went to the government hospital for a tubectomy. She had acquired the virus from her husband who tested positive more than two years ago but did not disclose his positive status to her. Dr. Lalitha examined Seetha and found no physical problems with her. She referred Seetha to the government hospital for a CD4 cell count test. It is vital to monitor CD 4 cell count in HIV positive persons so that ART can be started on time — neither too early nor too late. CD4 cell count is an expensive test and none of the patients who come to these centres can afford to get the test done privately. To get it free from the government hospital, the organisation and the local network of positive persons had to wage a long but successful battle. A strong network of HIV positives has grown in Guntur. This network, named “HAPPEN”, ensures that patients receive the services they are entitled to, especially free CD4 testing and a regular supply of ART.

So now, when Seetha goes to the government hospital to get her CD4 count tested, an experienced member of the HAPPEN network will accompany her for guidance and support.

I know that Seetha is in good hands. Yet, I am overcome with anger and regret, knowing that the virus that entered Seetha’s fragile body could have so easily been prevented. But Dr. Lalitha, who has no doubt seen hundreds of Seethas, allays my helpless rage with her quiet determination: “Now that she has come here we will prolong her life”.

Management of opportunistic infections is another critical component of care for prolonging lives with HIV. Not all patients can be as fortunate as Sarita and Seetha in keeping acute opportunistic infections at bay. Venkatesh, 37, one such patient at the Rajamundhry HIV care centre which is part of the town’s old and historic Lutheran General Hospital, tested positive in 2005 and acquired the virus through blood transfusion during a surgery. Dr. Ramiya, the gentle young doctor at the centre, walked me through Venkatesh’s clinical case history: 9/2/07: cough with expectoration, fever and weight loss; 3/3/07: CD4 count down to 51, TB lymphadinitis, ART started at Kakinada hospital; 13/3/07: TB node swelling, gastritis, mouth ulcers; 11/4/07: jaundice; 14/4/07: rashes on chest and arms, oral candidiasis; 22/5/07: loose motions; 23/5/07: admitted with acute diarrheal disease; 4/6/07: cough, LN swelling; 18/6/07: pain over LN, cough, shivering; 3/7/07: loose motions 6 episodes; 3/8/07: loose motions; 8/9/07: pain in the throat; 5/11/07: itching and rash; 3/2/08: oral thrush; 19/5/08: tingling sensation in legs; 16/6/08: body itching; 30/7/08: pruritis.

Venkatesh has survived all these infections, many of which were potential killers, and still lives. His TB was cured and he regained much of the weight that he had lost. He has more strength now to fight against opportunistic infections. This is what quality medical care can do.

These centres run on limited resources with small teams of one doctor, one counsellor, and two or three nurses. At the Santhinilayam Hospice in Chilakaluripet, there is only a part-time doctor. Limited in-patient facilities are available for patients who need temporary hospitalisation. All three centres together manage around 3,000 HIV positive persons. All services are free or at very nominal costs as most patients cannot afford to pay. Patients like to come here because of the good medical care that they receive, the encouraging absence of stigma, and the pleasant and courteous staff. They are not made to feel like medical “untouchables”. Despite frugal staff strength, Lalitha, Ramiya, Ranga Rao and their competent teams live and breathe human rights as they handle their HIV patients with an innate, natural dignity and infinite compassion.

Comprehensive HIV management also requires that care and prevention go hand in hand. Around 86 per cent of HIV incidence in India is due to unprotected sex, primarily between sex workers and their clients, and also between MSMs (men who have sex with men). Men who engage in risky behaviour pose grave risks of infecting their spouses and unborn children.

Putting others at risk

What explains the behaviour of these men? I tried to find out more from Rajayya, a lorry driver who dropped in as a new patient, along with his wife, at the Guntur centre. They were both HIV positive and he was also afflicted with another sexually transmitted disease. Dr. Lalitha and I spoke with him about HIV prevention. Did he know how HIV could be transmitted? Yes, through blood transfusions, infected needles and by visiting sex workers, he replied. Did he know how sexual transmission of diseases could be prevented? Yes, by using condoms. Did he visit sex workers? Yes, sometimes, he admitted. Did he use condoms? No, not with sex workers, but with his wife he did… sometimes. Had he seen the baskets of condoms that are available at roadside dhabas on the highway? Yes he had seen them. Why did he not use condoms consistently? No response. Could he tell us what he knew about how exactly condoms prevent HIV from being transmitted? He looked lost and shook his head.

Venkatesh on the other hand had explained to me quite well how the virus was contained in semen and could be deposited in the woman’s body if a condom was not used. Not surprisingly, Venkatesh’s wife is still HIV negative!

Use of condoms

While I cannot draw conclusions from these two cases, I find them compelling examples for advocating aggressive and scientific promotion of condoms not only to prevent new infections in high risk groups, but also to protect the regular partners of those who have already acquired the infection.

This essay is as much about persons living with HIV as about their care providers and the services available to them. But, there is also another objective. Before my visit, I was told that the Board was finding it difficult to keep all their centres afloat and were considering closing down a few of the services. I hope that by writing this article I have convinced them not to do so.

Health - Assessing the lungs


Pulmonary function test gives information about the extent of lung disease.

Twenty years ago, when I started my practice and decided to do pulmonary function tests to assess lung function, my colleagues ridiculed me. Everybody knows about a blood test, a sugar test, a ECG but a test to diagnose lung disease was not known.

This is understandable, as in India, any cough is TB unless proved otherwise. All asthmatics in that period would have had anti-TB medication at some point in their life.

Twenty-five years later, the situation remains the same in non-metropolitan areas. Lung Function test is an important component in screening for chest disease but, to my surprise, many have not even seen a spirometer. So here is the basic information on pulmonary function test.

What is Pulmonary function test?

Pulmonary function tests are done to assess one’s lung function. It requires simple equipment like Peal flow gauge or a spirometer.

When are they ordered?

Pulmonary function tests are ordered when one is suffering from asthma, or COPD or is undergoing a surgery — whether cardiac, pulmonary or abdominal. It is important to know lung function before the surgery because the lung plays a major role during anaesthesia and in the post-operative period. If the lung function is not assessed preoperatively, recovery will be delayed in the post-operative period causing anxious moments to patient, physicians and attendants.

Is it possible to diagnose diseases?

No. But it will tell you that the function of the lung is not normal and that this needs some care either as medications or some further tests like CT scan or bronchoscopy.

What is a spirometry?

It is a technical word used for pulmonary function tests. A person is asked to breathe through the mouth piece into the spirometer. The machine calculates the values based on the speed at which he blows and the volume that he has blown and a print-out is obtained.

Though it is effort-dependent and children may find it difficult, when done properly in appropriate circumstances the information can be mind blowing and decisions with regards to the type of anaesthesia and management in post-operative period will be altered.

Is it useful in smokers?

Yes. It is possible to diagnose smoking-induced lung disease by doing special tests. Routine spirometry tests do not detect defects in lung function as nicotine gets deposited in small airways to start with. Only after the majority of the small airways are affected does the nicotine get deposited in the large airways. This is when they start experiencing the symptoms. By this time the damage to small airways is permanent and nothing can be done. Many smokers live in the false belief that if they stop smoking their lungs will come back to normal.

But smoking-induced lung damage takes long to manifest and hence there is great reluctance to seek advice in contrast to cardiac events, which are sudden and shake the whole fabric of the family.

Pulmonary function tests can be used to diagnose illnesses like asthma or COPD and also to screen people on a mass scale. It should be compared to a BP apparatus. With a spirometer one can assess a person’s lung function with ease.

The writer Senior Respiratory Physician based in Chennai. E-mail

Tech - Talk to the Web — and it will talk back!

Anand Parthasarathy

Bangalore: Websites are so ‘yesterday’! Say hello to ‘voice sites.’

Technologists have agonised on how to take the benefits of the Internet to the world’s billions who can neither afford nor access a computer. If they cannot read or write, this makes the task even more challenging.

IBM’s network of scientists based in eight research labs worldwide — and led by the India team — has developed a technology that might be the answer to this challenge. It is called Spoken Web and uses Voice Sites and Voice Links, in a manner similar to the way we harness websites and weblinks today.

One can browse the Web on a normal telephone line: no PC, no keyboard, just by using voice. Checking email, carrying out an e-commerce transaction or going to one’s favourite information site — they can all be achieved by simple speech. A dream today, it will be a reality within five years, says Guruduth Banavar, Director, IBM India Research Laboratory.

With less than 17 per cent of the world’s population having Internet access, Spoken Web is seen as an important way to bridge the gap. It is one of five innovations unveiled by IBM this week, part of its annual ‘Next Five by Five’ list — five technologies that have the potential, within five years, to change lives for people everywhere.

Other innovations on which IBM scientists are working include solar panels built into asphalt on roads; personal genetic maps that will tell you precisely what health hazards you will face in the rest of your life; memory aids to overcome today’s information overload and digital shopping assistants.

World - For a community-led role in counter-terrorism

Sreeram Chaulia

 As India haemorrhages from and mourns the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, a sense of despair and hopelessness is sinking into the national psyche. From every corner of the country, people are staring blankly at one another and wondering whether the dark night of random and indiscriminate violence aimed at innocent civilians will ever end. To use Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul’s phrase, terror-ravaged India is a “wounded civilisation” that is simply unable to concoct the right medicine for a phenomenon driving public insecurity and fear.

As one of the world’s oldest civilisations, India has the resources and genius to ensure human survival and societal preservation for ages. Had there been no respect for the sanctity of life and the dignity of the human person, India would never have acquired the status of what Jawaharlal Nehru called “an ancient palimpsest on which layer upon layer of thought and reverie had been inscribed.” At no point in history since Harappa and Mohenjo daro has India become barren, depopulated, evacuated or extinct.

The sheer continuity of habitat and social life that characterises India over aeons is a tribute to the live-and-let-live philosophy that permeates the ideational structure of this nation. While the political stage has seen scores of staccato entries and exits over centuries, the social sphere has shown a seamless resilience underscored by the values of tolerance and a balance between individual and community interests. The core strength of India has always been its social fabric and values rather than political unification under a single state, or flourishing economic growth. India illustrates the fact that statehood and wealth production are ephemeral, but society is eternal.

Societies with long experience of being knit together have reserves of trust and solicitousness that can serve as problem-solving institutions. Despite the alienating and individualising tendencies that have crept in due to the onset of urbanisation and integration into global capitalist nodes, India still possesses the treasured asset of ‘community’, which can come to its rescue when terrorist bombs and grenades are snuffing out any semblance of protection for citizens.

Thus far, the typical reaction in the media and among civilians themselves to every new terrorist outrage is to look up to the security establishment for clues, investigations, prosecutions and justice. This is understandable since the state apparatus bears the primary responsibility for protecting citizens and it has the force and legal appurtenances to go about the task of keeping law and order. In Max Weber’s language, the entity with the “legitimate monopoly over violence” is the state. When faced with the grave threat of terrorism, the state machinery will naturally be expected to be the first line of defence for citizens. But what is to be done if the state is incapable of delivering the public good of security despite repeat runs of the same diabolic horror of terrorism?

Armed vigilantism of the Salwa Judum variety in Chhattisgarh is not an alternative because of its heavy costs in terms of human rights abuses and misuse of delegated authority by anti-social and anti-national elements. Vigilance, as opposed to vigilante behaviour, is the rational and sane option. However, this term has been pushed in India into an individualistic frame, wherein each citizen is exhorted to be ‘vigilant’ in public places and ‘watchful’ about unidentified objects or suspicious actions. This narrow interpretation of vigilance is time-bound because it is implemented just after a violent incident or a terrorist attack, when the memory is fresh.


For vigilance to get institutionalised, it needs organisation and mobilisation at the community level. To reiterate, India’s unique selling proposition as a civilisation is social capital and social knowledge gathered at the grassroots. While many of us chafe at the excessive interference of ‘society’ in our personal lives, the fact is that community life in India is most vibrant and pervasive. What is happening in which particular household in our neighbourhood is often public knowledge because of a certain visceral curiosity and thirst to sustain community norms and values. Unconsciously, even those of us who detest ‘social pressures’ and meddling in private life, gather information about our environs.

In traditional societies, where the size of communities is so small that one knows everyone else, crime and violence are handled through the institution of ‘community self-policing.’ A set of designated residents who might enjoy public goodwill and good reputations would form neighbourhood watch committees and engage in constant monitoring and communication about untoward events or disputes that have the potential to flare up and destroy the peace. Interestingly, membership in such committees is voluntary and unpaid. The incentive to participate in self-policing is a mixture of individual and group interests which are under threat from, say, cattle rustlers, assaulters or crop stealers. Upon discovery of a crime or violation, the guilty would be subjected to a slew of penalties ranging from moral shaming to legal punishment.

Elinor Ostrom’s path-breaking book, Governing the Commons: The Evolution of Institutions for Collective Action (1990), offers dozens of examples of community self-policing from around the world that succeeded, even in the absence of a corollary state enforcement machinery. The logic of these cases is simple: people can find solutions to their own problems, provided they are aware of their inherent strengths as a community.

The time has come for urban Indians to organise themselves into neighbourhood watch committees through community consensus mechanisms to keep a steady eye on iffy or errant behaviour and share information among themselves and with point persons in the police and intelligence agencies. Moderation and patriotism are the twin ideal qualifications to staff these committees, which should operate within a designated territorial limit so that the concept of neighbourhood is not so outstretched that the project is unfeasible. Members should join out of genuine concern to prevent future terrorist attacks and maintain amity rather than for financial rewards. This will distinguish the committees from police informants and spies, who are paid for titbits of data.

For a voluntary community-based self-policing movement to emerge, Indians have to break free of the prisons of individualism and ‘what is in it for me?’ thinking. Criticising politicians and the ‘system’ is a facile and hypocritical approach behind which hides the narrow self-interest of citizens who want security to be handed to them on a platter without having to stir a leaf. The numerous social service organisations and institutions across India, which have popularised the voluntaristic model of action, have a big role to play in building community self-policing to prevent or at least reduce the likelihood of terrorists and their accomplices misusing the hospitality of our proverbial ‘galis’ and ‘mohallas’ (lanes and localities).

Cynics can pooh-pooh self-policing either as an airy-fairy daydream that cannot inspire enough Indians to make an honest attempt or as a completely inadequate defence against a terrorist monster that has no fixed local roots and plenty of foreign sponsors. But if ever there is a time for innovative and sober action, it is now. Civilisations that fail to act with savoir faire will end up like the dinosaurs.

(Sreeram Chaulia is a researcher on international affairs at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs in Syracuse, New York.)