Monday, 26 October 2015

The Teacher

Photo credit: Roel Wijnants

As a kid we were often asked to write essays on 'My favorite teacher' and to be honest I always made up stories because there was no one I idolized. That was before I met 'Prabha Tiwari Madam'. She used to teach Hindi to higher secondary students and taught me when I was in class 7-8 ( also, she was our class teacher for that period). What was so special about her that out of hundreds of teachers, only she made an impression for lifetime?

Unlike most of the desirable teachers, 'Prabha Tiwari Madam' didn't fall into the category of 'soft spoken, sweet and always smiling' persona. She was a 'no-nonsense' lady. She used to come to school riding a cycle, not the ladies cycle but the kind men used in olden times (in sari!). Even in those days, she was the only woman to do that. I remember distinctly this small habit of hers because she always looked so dignified and elegant riding that cycle. She never cared about all the eyes staring at her. It took me more than couple of years to understand what it meant to have pride and self-esteem.

She was an excellent teacher of course and being a literature teacher gave her enough opportunity to stretch her lessons beyond textbooks. Her classes would often end without we even so much as open the book. She encouraged us to think freely, have debates and discussions. She challenged us to question what was written in textbooks. Her classes from far from orthodox.

Although she was never vocal about her love for us, she treated us like her family. She used to take us for picnics and on occasions invite us home for evening snack! I can't be sure if everyone loved her the way I did, but they all admired her. She commanded respect.

Even now, her eloquent speech echoes through my heart. It would be quite impossible to even try explaining how advanced her teachings were, but let me give an example. During one of the discussions on Ramayana, she explained why Sri Rama was a 'Mahapurush', and not God. Sri Rama, even though supremely virtuous, was flawed. He banished his wife even though she was innocent and thus failed as a husband. Hence, he will always be 'Mahapurush', greatest human being, but not God. To this day, I have never met someone who has the courage to address such a sensitive topic in such a way to a seventh grader!

There are a hundred different reasons why I would always be in awe of her, but most importantly what I really admired was that she treated us like equals. She treated us like adults, someone willing to consider new ideas, tolerate differences and audacity to push our limits. And even if we were too young back then to understand all this, we tried our best to grow up with that values.

I lost touch with her when I shifted to Bangalore, and it's been more than 15 years since my last class with her but she still inspires me. And I know, of all the people who made me who I am, she would remain an integral part. My teacher 'Prabha Tiwari Madam'.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Why I Chose Not To Be God-Fearing

There was a phase in my life when I had to go through the trauma of choosing portfolio's for "arranged" marriage. Yes it is not something I am proud of and am glad it's all in the past. But one thing which struck me while reading "About me" section of these candidates (at least most of them) was "I am very honest and God-fearing person". What the hell do you mean by "God-fearing" person??

Now, before I dwell into this subject let me clarify my stance on this topic. I believe in God. I am not very religious but I do occasionally go to temples. I completely understand people who are ardently religious. That said, I respect agnostic/atheist people too. But what I don't understand is why should you be God-fearing? If you want to convey you are religious then say that instead of using such cliche term.

Why should you be fearing God? Because He is supposed to be super powerful and if you were to disappoint Him you will be punished? It reminds me of something Richard Dawkins once said

“Do you really mean to tell me the only reason you try to be good is to gain God's approval and reward, or to avoid his disapproval and punishment? That's not morality, that's just sucking up, apple-polishing, looking over your shoulder at the great surveillance camera in the sky, or the still small wiretap inside your head, monitoring your every move, even your every base though.” 

After all, isn't God epitome of justness and forgiveness? So, until of course you are such a big sinner that you are constantly in fear of convicted, you should be fine. But the real reason why mostly this phrase is used is because people think they are adding a "positive" quality by dragging God's name into their bio-data. Somehow, it will make them desirable for the marriage material (ideal person).

We love bragging about our spirituality and keep our traditions in high esteem and honestly there is nothing wrong with that. But at least, try not to give a bad name to God by portraying Him as someone we need to be scared of. It may be used in very innocent manner but it sends a very wrong message.

Don't be 'God-fearing', be 'God-loving'!

Friday, 16 October 2015


Photo credit: Matt Reinbold

If you ain't going bananas over banana yet, wait till you find out these mind blowing facts about them...

  1. The banana plant is not a tree, but a herb. In fact, it's the largest herb on the Earth. And botanically speaking, banana is a berry!

  2. Eating banana can cheer you up(literally)! Bananas are the only fruit to contain the amino acid   Tryptophan and Vitamin B6, which together help the body produce seratonin, the so-called "happy hormone" which helps improve mood and overall feelings of well-being.

  3. Bananas have high nutritional value and are a healthy snack. They are low in calories and have no fat, no sodium, and no cholesterol. They contain vitamin C, potassium, fiber, and vitamin B6. Eating two bananas can give you enough energy for a 90-minute workout!

  4. It's extremely hard to extract juice from bananas, even though they're 75% water. Their molecular structure is just not very squeezable. The currently available banana juice is blended banana, not squeezed banana. If you don't believe me, try squeezing a banana.

    Scientist at Mumbai based Bhabha Atomic Research Centre(BARC), Nuclear Agriculture and Bi-technology division(FILPY), have developed a bench level technology for extracting almost 60%-70%  of the total soluble materials of banana in the form of juice and left over pulp can be dryed into powder. BARC has already patented this technology!

  5. More than 100 billion bananas are eaten every year in the world, making them the fourth most popular agricultural product, following only wheat,rice and corn.

  6. To know one's surprise, India is the leading producer of bananas. But what's interesting is we are not even in the top ten banana-exporting countries (we are ranked 24th). So we must really love bananas, but not as much as people in Uganda who are the largest consumer of bananas. The average citizen eats around 190 kg of the fruit every year – roughly three bananas a day!

  7. Bananas as we know them may soon be extinct – and it’s happened before. Until the 1950s, the Gros Michel variety was top banana, but it was effectively wiped out by Panama disease and had to be replaced by the Cavendish (most popular across the world). That's because they have nearly no genetic diversity -- the plants are all clones of one another. One aggressive bug or disease is all that it would take to wipe bananas out completely.

  8. Fibre taken from banana plants can be used to make clothes . The banana fibres were reported to be elegant and highly versatile. It is classified as medium quality fibre and perform very well in combination with other fibres for making articles like handicrafts,currency etc.

  9. Bananas are naturally radioactive. Yes, you read it correctly. They contain small amounts of the isotope potassium-40, which is radioactive in nature. You don't need to worry though as this naturally occurring radiation has very little effect on the body.

    Although, the fruit is sometimes used to explain quantities of radiation. For example: the radiation exposure from consuming a banana is approximately 1% of the average daily exposure to radiation, which is 100 banana equivalent doses (BED). The maximum permitted radiation leakage for a nuclear power plant is equivalent to 2,500 BED (250 ╬╝Sv), while a chest CT scan delivers 70,000 BED (7 mSv).

  10. Oh by the way, a cluster of bananas is formally called a "hand" while a single banana is called a "finger" ( seriously!).

Friday, 9 October 2015

Life After Marriage

Let me get this straight, I am not going to give any new insights on marriage or how to live your life after marriage. I am just going to share my experience (if 1 year counts) and what to expect in the least.

To begin with you would find tons of people telling you how your life is going to change completely. That your good old carefree days are over. Basically a whole list of good/fun things over. How you will have to be responsible and mature and lot of other "grown-up" talks, which will drive any sane person to anxiety attack!

For those of you, who have never shared your room it will be little difficult initially, but mostly it's like having a roommate! You come home to someone who loves you and cares to know how your day went. You talk, watch movies or TV series together, occasionally you have arguments but like any other healthy relationship you make up. It is surprising how quickly humans can get accustomed to having a company. You set few ground rules and respect other persons space. It's really not scary as you are made to believe.

Another very annoying thing I was implied was about my social life. You are being told that "Now you can't go out and party whenever you want" or something in those lines. Which kind of came out true because once you are married people don't call you to single parties! I really had tough time convincing people that I have no problem with meeting friends or having the same relationship with them as before. Few of my friends stopped calling me altogether and when I called back I was told "I didn't know what would be appropriate time to call now that..." (??). In fact, I had to persuade my husband to contact his friends to go for " boys night out" because they assume he won't go out anymore !

I won't say there are no changes what so ever. Yes, you have to be considerate towards other persons feelings. Sometimes, you may have to watch a movie you aren't die hard fan of or maybe eat something you wouldn't otherwise but it's nothing too dramatic.

I was always a wild one, had bit of a commitment phobia and still hate to be tied down. So I kept waiting for all those nightmares which I was warned against and they never turned up. What I realized was you change only as much as you want to. Yes, you may find people who have changed a lot after marriage but that's only because they choose to change.

Life still throws you problems every now and then and you still have to go through your mess. But you find comfort in knowing that someone is there to share it with you. Of course, you don't have to be married to feel that kind of love and you could have perfectly blissful life alone. But don't just assume that marriage is going to ruin your idea of perfect life.

Never let anyone fill you up with ideas about how a married life is going to be. Every person is unique and when two people get together they create something which is as unpredictable as possible. In lot of ways marriage is like life itself, full of surprises, ups and down, something you have to go through yourself to understand and hope that at the end of the day you will have more of happy memories than that of sad.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Why so Evil?

                                                                                      Photo credit: Brian Suda

Whenever something good happens, I often hear people say, don't tell to everyone "nazar lag jayegi" (getting an evil eye). Funnily, many a times evil eye or not those moments are being ruined as well. But more I think, it makes even less sense than before.

I mean if evil eye concept should have worked than why does it only works locally? Why doesn't Bill Gates gets any poor just because millions of people feel jealous! But then what about all those bad things which happen immediately after those happy occasions? ( and trust me they do)

Well, I guess its the balance of life. It's not about whether you share it with people or just keep it to yourself. But when you feel that profound happiness, you kinda run out of your quota (eventually). We anticipate too much, our expectations are all time high so obviously we have to come down at some point. I have personally tried the option of keeping good news to myself just to see if it works ( no am not that jobless as you think) and what I felt was it sometimes does and sometimes doesn't. So we are back to probabilities. At the end somethings are destiny ( no it's not an excuse for not working hard, this stuff exists!)

It is assumed that people like hearing problems in others life or they feel comforted by others suffering. Maybe some but I am sure there are lot of people who actually feel sad or depressed by it. For example, when I hear someone break up or if someone fail after they struggled for years, I truly feel morbid. Not because I am an angel or something but because somehow I try to connect to all these stories. When I hear someone achieve their dream I feel hopeful that maybe I can do it too. I am sure many of us feel encouraged by others success.

I think we underestimate humankind. I agree it has it's own flaws, as I said there will be some folks who would try to pull you down or make you feel miserable but there are lot of others who genuinely believe in goodwill.

What's important to remember is everyone has their share of good and bad going on (not in equal share I agree). But it does, it's just that somethings are more visible than others. Someone may look healthy, rich and successful but for all you know he will be more unhappy than you and me for reasons unknown to us. When we see or meet someone we should not judge them or compare ourselves to them. Because you can only compare materialistic things, you can never compare your lives in true sense.

So forget about getting evil eye and things like that, when you are happy don't restrain yourself. Regardless of whether you "shout it out from rooftop" or not, good phase will end. But when you are part of it, celebrate it with your friends and family without any hesitation and maybe you will outlive beyond this cycle of good-bad.

No bird in a cage has ever come to know what the mountain winds feel like, by staring at the free flying birds, wishing that they would fall from the sky!
                                                                                                       ― C. JoyBell C.

Friday, 2 October 2015


Photo credit: NIAID

Recently I came across a documentary "Resistance" and it opened my eyes to a whole world of antibiotic resistance. Regardless of your preexisting interest in public health, once you learn a little about antibiotic abuse, you won’t be able to ignore it.

I always believed that too much of antibiotics is not good for health. Often when a doctor prescribes a 5 day medicine course and if I feel well after 2-3 days I skip the last day. I mean I know doctors say you should complete the course but I thought it was only so that the microbe doesn't come back again. Unfortunately I was in dark like most of the people.

what are antibiotics and what does it mean by antibiotic resistance?

In a very broad  term, antibiotics are poisons which kills bacteria but doesn't kill us. But that's like a Cinderella story, and we know life ain't that straight. So what happens is, when we give antibiotic it either kills the bacteria but if it survives what we have is a survivor bacteria who is even stronger than before! Which means the medicine which you are using today to fight against a particular bacteria may not work tomorrow. Simply because they have become immune to it.

Why do bacteria become resistant to antibiotics?

There are number of reasons, top most being evolution or as best said "survival of the fittest" which is a natural phenomenon. However, the current higher-levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria are attributed to the overuse and abuse of antibiotics. It is very important that we dwell into details of how we are overusing or rather abusing antibiotics which in turn helps them get stronger

  1.  Giving wrong doses of antibiotics to people
  2. People take wrong doses or because they don't take full prescription 
    (When stopping taking antibiotics early or just when symptoms subside, there could still be a few infectious microbes left which would re-populate with greater resistance to that antibiotic) 
  3. Give antibiotics to healthy beings (including animals)
  4. Excessive spraying of antibiotics in fruits and vegetables
  5. Exposure of antibacterial agents through everyday items we use. From hand wash to dish wash!
And these are not imaginary or futuristic talks, about 70 percent of the bacteria that cause infections in hospitals are resistant to at least one of the drugs most commonly used for treatment. Some organisms are resistant to all approved antibiotics and can only be treated with experimental and potentially toxic drugs. For example Neisseria gonorrhoeae (the cause of gonorrhoea) are now almost always resistant to benzyl penicillin due to over usage of penicillin.

Antibiotics play a gigantic role in fighting infectious diseases. At first glance, it may seem that antibiotic resistance is only going to effect a small range of diseases. But truth is without antibiotics, we can't even have a surgery! It will falter the entire medical system.

Today almost all the livestock we consume are being fed with antibiotics as a precautionary measure. Farmers or poultry folks cant afford to take risk because it's not as profitable. We keep spraying antibiotics randomly one after another thinking we are protecting ourselves. True we manage to kill lot of microbes, but the one's that manage to survive are going to be immune to everything we have. What if one of these microbes is disease causing? What then? We will be left completely disarmed.

Of course, one can argue that even human beings are not fragile and we can get resistant too to these microbes. Yes , we can. But how are we going to achieve that? Today we stay far away from earthly stuffs. We hardly get our hands dirty or dig our feet into unknown environments. At the first onset of fever or illness we gobble up antibiotics! We are so overcautious that we have cocooned our body into this pompous being. We are rusted whereas these microbes are very much active and "in shape".

Surely if the situation is this critical there must be lot of research going on and pharmaceutical companies would be coming with new and improved antibiotics.Right?

From 1983 to 1987 there were 16 new antibiotics made and approved by the FDA, from 2003-2007 there were 5, and since 2008-2011 there have only been 2.(source)

Why is pharmaceutical companies not investing in antibiotics?

It takes an average of 12 years for an experimental drug to travel from the laboratory to your medicine cabinet. That is, if it makes it. Only 5 in 5,000 drugs that enter preclinical testing progress to human testing. One of these 5 drugs that are tested in people is approved. The chance for a new drug to actually make it to market is thus only 1 in 5,000. Not to mention billions spent for the potential risky affair.

Now looking into the antibiotic resistance pattern, it is very much possible that by the time drug reaches market it would have already become resistant to that drug! So you see, its a catch 22. Why would investors invest money in something so risky when they can make huge profit out of something like Lipitor or even Viagara which gives long term returns and bound to be blockbusters.

Are we doomed?

Well, being a optimist I would say, not yet. What we need is awareness as to what is happening, why it is happening and what we need to do to prepare ourselves for future. As an individual, we can always choose to follow some minimum precautions, like taking antibiotics only when we really need to and taking the full prescription or avoiding overuse of antibacterial products. Of course, it is a tiny step but its a step we are obliged to take.

"Each generation doubtless feels called upon to reform the world. Mine knows that it will not reform it, but its task is perhaps even greater. It consists in preventing the world from destroying itself."
                                     -Albert Camus