Spinning a fictional yarn

“Books helped me realize what literature was, my family helped me realize what story telling was,” says Anosh Irani, as he makes the audience realize the craft which he used to weave his works – The Cripple and His Talismans, Dahanu Road, The Song of Kahunsha to name a few.

Away from the spotlight and hundreds of hawking eyes, he sits by the lounge to sign his books with a perpetual smile. Dressed in a white shirt and black trousers, the contrast is almost depictive of his character – honest and open-minded.

“Without Bombay and India, I wouldn’t be a writer.” he says when asked about his days in India, where he spent first 24 years of his life and then moved to Canada to pursue a career in writing.

“I wouldn’t have any stories to tell,” he adds. His works mainly come out as snapshots of the childhood which he spent in Bombay as is seen in his novels and essays.

Anosh Irani at the LIT FOR LIFE programme . Photo Source :R. Ragu

Anosh Irani at the LIT FOR LIFE programme .
Photo Source :R. Ragu

Speaking about the bridge between the two countries Canada and India, he says, “What Canada gave me was the distance – Not only geographical, but also the perspective of being away from Bombay.”

According to Irani, place is something which should matter the least for a story-teller. “It’s all about writing a good story and how good a novelist you are,” says Vancouver-based novelist.

When I open the album I see pictures of coffins: finger coffins, arm coffins, toe coffins. It surprises me how much I do not know about this city. Tomorrow I might meet a midget who is ten feet tall, a butcher who sells newborn babies, a boxer who works as an anesthetist in a hospital by knocking patients senseless” – While these lines from his novel, The Cripple and his Craftsmen, portray a gruesome picture of Bombay, one wonders about the delicacy of issues which might trigger the alarm of Taboo, a much infested disease in India today.

Irani waves off such thoughts with a careless smile as he says, “It’s all a work of fiction. There is no question in portraying Bombay in a good or bad light.”

This aptly takes one to the comment which he made in the session back in the hall. He said, “Books that make you feel good are bad.” Not surprising that his surreal description attracts readers in vast numbers today.

Being a recipient of several awards and a nominee for many, he holds dear the idea of award ceremonies for literary fiction. “Visibility”, he says pointing at the shelves of short-listed books for Hindu Literary Award “is vital for any writer. Awards are important to get audience.”

However, when asked about his favourite pick from the short-list, he dodges the question with a smile and instead says, “When one writer wins, four others don’t and your heart goes out to them.”

This article was published in The Hindu – Metro plus – Nxg On March 13, 2013. Here is the link to the published version – Spinning a fictional yarn

TB cure initiatives lack patients

Less than one fifth of the population in India remains unaware of the free medical treatment provided by the Government for Tuberculosis( TB) as it continues to remain in the top spot, putting the other diseases like HIV Aids, Sexually Transmitted diseases , Malaria, Leprosy and Tropical diseases behind,  in killing the maximum number of people in India every year.

The president of India, Pranab Mukherjee, in his message on the occasion of world tuberculosis day ( March 24th, 2013) said that “ Since 1998, due to the successful implementation of the DOTS strategy; more than 14.2 million people across India have accessed treatment (for TB).”

World TB day - 2013 themePicture Source : wikinewstime.com

World TB day – 2013 theme
Picture Source : wikinewstime.com

However, according to a Knowledge, Attitude and Practices (KAP) study done by the Akshaya Project, though 37% of the people knew about 6-8 month treatment to cure TB, only one-third of them visited a health facility for seeking an examination.

While there can be several reasons for this inhibition, the poor financial status of the families cannot be excluded. Directly Observed Therapy- Short Course(DOTS), under the auspices of Government, provides for free tests. “This unfortunately, as is evident from the figures, is not availed by the people,” said Ramya Ananthakrishnan, Medical Director of REACH – an NGO working in TB control.

The free tests given in the Government clinics include Sputum microscopy, a gold standard technique, which uses a phlegm indicator. The patients are asked to spit out the phlegm and the infection is confirmed by spotting the rod-shaped bacilli, using the indicator.

However, “If the Lab staffs test your blood (Mantoux test) and say that you have TB, then you are being taken for a ride,” said Ms Ananthakrishnan. These tests only say whether a person is infected. It doesn’t concur the prevalence of a disease.

If the sputum tests appear positive, then drugs are administered for 6 to 8 months ensuring a supervised, uninterrupted treatment. The first line of treatment includes the drugs – Rifampicin, Ethambutol, Pyrazinamide and INH. If these do not cure the disease, the second line of drugs are given, which include the (Multi Drug Resistant) MDR-TB  drugs. These are to be taken for another 18 to 24 months.

TB is caused by the bacteria – rod-shaped cells called Mycobacterium – which spread through air, when an infected person coughs. This sets up home in ones lungs and later reaches other parts of the body through the bloodstream.

Rod-shaped Bacterium(causes TB)Picture Source : jpkc.njau.edu.cn

Rod-shaped Bacterium(causes TB)
Picture Source : jpkc.njau.edu.cn

Ms Ananthakrishnan in her presentation emphasised on the need to cover ones mouth while coughing in public spaces and on the necessity to dispose the sputum carefully to avoid spreading to others.

She added that special care should be taken if a person is a smoker, a diabetic or a HIV positive patient, since in such cases the immunity is low.

Debunking the idea of TB being hereditary, Ms Ananthakrishnan said, “ anyone can get TB”. Her best advice is to seek medical help in case of a two-week cough as that is a typical symptom of TB which is sadly ignored by many. Other symptoms include Pneumonia, Cavities, Diarrhea, Fibrosis, swollen bones or spine depending on the type of TB and the part it affects.

According to a WHO report, 2009, India carries one fifth of the world’s TB burden, recording a shocking rate of two TB deaths every 3 minutes – A data which supports the statement of it being the TB capital of the world.

When wisdom is gone

“They just wanted to be a part of my body, and I said, ‘No! Get out!’ I didn’t mean it. You can come back if you want,” sobbed Abbie Kritz, a 19-year-old, who turned hysterical after her wisdom tooth was removed, according to a report in ABC news (March 2013).

Ask a person who has suffered the bouts of pain with the wisdom tooth trying to pierce its way out, or randomly growing in different angles, the story will be different. Though it isn’t sure whether it would be story of pain and torture, but sympathy would be the last emotion it would invoke.

Wisdom tooth, the late comer, plans to grow when a person is already in his or her late teens or early twenties with the other 28 teeth neatly aligned and comfortable. Now, asking for space to include four fat molars in the jaw, is asking too much. No wonder, it grows in weird angles, sometimes peeping halfway out or sometimes pushing its neighbour away so as to become a part of the alignment. This tooth has a name -‘impacted’.

NHS choices, United Kingdom’s biggest health website explains the different types of impactions depending on the position of the emerging tooth. It is as Mesial impaction if the wisdom tooth grows at an angle facing the front of the mouth. If the tooth grows straight,but then is unable to pierce out because it is stuck to the tooth which is immediately beside it, then it is called vertical impaction. When it grows horizontally, it is called horizontal impaction and when it grows somewhere distant from the immediate tooth, it is distal.

ImpactionPhotosource : www.esteticadental.com

Photosource : http://www.esteticadental.com

It is the most natural thing for someone to hesitate meeting a dentist. While one may ignore the partial growth, or the abnormal twist in its position, it is important to note that these hideous molars, if ignored, can lead to serious problems in the long run.

Dr Ravindran, BDS, M.D.S., Oral & Maxillofacial Surgery  says, “With the tooth-brush hardly able to pamper the deposits in the interiors, the wisdom teeth are mostly left with the food particles and bacteria which fester the growth of plaque.”

Plaque, like the locust affecting the fields, slowly breaks up the surface of the tooth and imparts the cavity to the adjacent tooth as well. It also releases toxins that affect the gums, making them red and swollen. In few rare cases, the wisdom tooth which still hasn’t burst through the gum can produce cysts.

While many of the problems mentioned could be treated by antibiotics and antiseptic mouthwash, there are cases where the removal becomes mandatory, according to a report in NHS choices.

In such cases, an appointment with the doctor might follow a X-ray, with an appointment for the surgery in a week or two. After the sedatives are given, the patient is allowed to lie down in the chair and wait till the area around the wisdom tooth is numb. If the tooth has still not emerged out, then the bone immediately surrounding the tooth is cut. Also, the visible area of the tooth is cut into small pieces for easy removal. A significant amount of pressure is applied to finally take the molar out.

Mani K G, a 30-year-old patient, who recently underwent the surgery says, “The whole process took an hour to complete, after which I found myself with a swollen cheek, with the flesh around the removed area stitched with a dissolving suture and a cotton stuffed into the now empty space where the tooth once resided.”

Though one wouldn’t experience significant pain, the swelling might prevail for a couple of days to a week’s time.

According to a study by Cochrane in 2005, the number of extractions could be reduced by 60 percent if they were done only when patients were in pain or developed a condition related to wisdom teeth. The group also said there is “reliable evidence” that suggests that removing wisdom teeth does not prevent or reduce crowding of front teeth.

Opposing this, the “Oral surgeons have long argued that if you don’t have your wisdom teeth removed at a young age, you are simply postponing the inevitable”, as mentioned in report in The New York Times (September 2011).

Dirk Van Tuerenhout, the curator of anthropology at the Houston museum was quoted saying in the Red Orbit (August 2007)that in a few years time “Our little toes were once vital for climbing trees, but might soon disappear, along with our appendices and wisdom teeth, vestiges of our vegetarian past”

Now, that would be a solace to the Homo sapiens who have to endure the pain of birth and removal of something which is absolutely unessential for survival.


A map showing the restaurants in Chennai

This is an attempt to chart out the restaurants in Chennai. The map is designed such that one can easily spot the restaurants with the red markers and upon moving the cursor on top of the marked spot, it is possible to get the information about the restaurant – which includes the address, Phone number and user review.

Below is the preview image of the map. The image is not available for free, hence the “ZeeMaps Preview – Do Not Use” messages. (The interactive map is however available. The link is given at the end of the page)

Restaurants in Chennai

Restaurants in Chennai

The data has been collected from the site – www. zomato.com, and the detail in each are the user reviews given in the site.

When I began creating this map, locating the restaurants in various places, there was an option given by the ZeeMaps site  to make the map available to the public for editing (it was named wiki), and I checked the box. So, if any of you residing in Chennai wish to add new restaurants and details into the map, you are free to do that. It would definitely help the map get a better look and content than it has now.


Below is the map.

Restaurants in Chennai


Not b‘old’ enough to be bald

While the audience cheered Natalie Portman’s look in ‘V for Vendetta’ and the crowd swooned over Matt Demon’s new shaven look for the sci-fiction movie, ‘Elysium’, there are a million people, even among the audience, who suffer from Philacrophobia, the fear of going bald.

While female pattern hair loss relates to thinning of hair predominantly in the top and front of the scalp, the male experience the much feared baldness, apart from the extensive hair loss in the frontal region and the vertex.

Raymond Sabourad, a French physician had said years ago, “We cannot cure baldness, nor restore hair to denuded scalps.” The present dermatologists have sure proved him wrong with the invention of various restoration techniques like application of creams and lotions; use of oral steroids and Minoxidil; and surgical treatments like free grafting which includes adding patches of hair in a course of sittings, transporting hair bearing skins and scalp reduction, which includes a series of operations to reduce the area of bald patch.

However, what still remains as an unlocked secret is the cure to baldness.

According to a Cochrane study, based on the trials conducted on nearly 2349 participants, it was found that Minoxidil helps in moderate increase of hair re-growth and hair density especially in postmenopausal women.

What the studies did not confirm was whether the re-grown hair is persistent and the treatment sustainable, though it is acknowledged that a certain amount of hair shedding occurs immediately after the treatment.

It was also found that a higher dose of Minoxidil (5% twice daily) causes itching, skin irritation, dermatitis and additional hair growth in areas other than the scalp and had to be strictly avoided by pregnant and lactating women. Skin treatments and oral steroids were also found to cause serious side effects.

Female pattern hair loss was found to have a significant social and emotional impact, leading to feelings of unattractiveness and low self-esteem.Department of Health rightly recognizes this distress that alopecia (read hair loss) causes and therefore allows wigs to be prescribed through National Health Service (NHS). Among the males, this anxiety is comparatively less as is evident from the 1999 study published in the Women’s Health and Gender-based medicine, which said that women seemed to be more upset than men by their hair loss.

It is also interesting to note Arnold J Soler’s work in Medical Hypothesis Journal which cites cultural evolution as a causative factor for baldness. According to him, excessive hair cutting, or certain types of hair cuts are few cultural practices which result in the degenerative process of the hair by preventing the hair sebum from reaching the base of the hair follicle.

While the clinical trials confirm and suggest a number of short-term benefits, there is a need to conduct studies to evaluate the long-term benefits of therapies, its safety, efficacy and impact on the quality of life.

Until then, let’s not forget the fancy wigs, which is by far the safest option.


Picking on ‘Rag Picking’

With the urban areas spreading their boundaries to the rural areas, there are more people who are out of jobs. These people are unskilled, uneducated and illiterate. The easiest way which they find to support their life is by rag picking which is a self-employed job without any specific work timings.

It is estimated that there are at least 15 lakh scrap and waste collectors in India alone.

The flexibility of it even encourages the women folk to enter into this profession as they can strategically decide on the time when they have to work and when they have to take care of their family. This explains the higher percentage of women employed in this profession.

Ragpickers constitute a huge informal sector which works in an organized way. They have different groups within the community who segregate specific items. While few focus on copper, few others would pick plastics, and few glass, metallic pieces, rubber products, e-waste and so on. These components when sold to a client would fetch them money depending on the market force then. For example, in Kodingyur, iron was prices at Rs 18/kilo, copper at Rs 350/kilo, Aluminium at Rs 60/kilo, bottles at Rs 35/kilo and Masalas (Tin and plastic) at Rs 30/kilo. The money received would be enough to just about keep their family from starving and get the basic necessities.

Trash industry as a whole in itself is worth $410 million worldwide per year.In 2005, SAAHAS, a Bangalore based Waste Advocacy group estimated that gold extraction alone from Bangalore budding e-waste recycling industry was worth $1 million.

It is said that the landfill emissions are projected to increase to nearly 75% in 2050. With the segregation process done by the rag pickers, the materials like plastics and other materials which can’t be disposed are removed from the heap of waste. This is turn reduces pollution when the heap is burnt in open or in incinerators.

According to the 2010 UN Habitat Publication, the waste pickers perform 50% to 100% of all ongoing waste collection with no cost to the city budget. Thus, the intervention of Garbage collectors brings in huge amounts of profits for the official garbage collection committee.  In Delhi alone, it saves the Municipal Corporation Rs 600000 in daily waste disposal costs.

Picture Source : www.zimbio.com

Picture Source : http://www.zimbio.com

However, for the amount of work they do there is no official recognition given by the Government. There is no insurance provided and no option of pensions in their field of employment. Also, there is no guarantee on a stable monthly income as the prices of the components which they pick change depending on the market force and are further manipulated by the clients or scrap dealers they work for. On an average they receive Rs 100 to Rs 150 for 8 hours of work.

With no footwear or gloves used while working, the ragpickers are susceptible to all sorts of diseases ranging from the respiratory problems to the heart ailments. There have been accidents, garbage avalanches which remain to be unspoken about or even urged for a solution. In 2001, Ragpicking was included among the hazardous occupations banned under Child Labour(Prohibition and Regulation) Act, 1986.

Children as young as 4 years old assist their parents in the job to supplement income for the family. This deprives them of the basic education which in turn deprives them of a better livelihood in the future. Without any footwear or health precautionary measures, they suffer from diseases which later aggravate and result in the low life expectancy levels in the community as a whole. This form of child labour is a usual sight in the landfills.

Children grow up without being aware that there are better opportunities outside the life they lead. Even though their parents work hard to ensure that at least their kids are rescued from falling into taking up this job, the meager income pressurizes every member of the family to contribute.

It is also observed that the rag pickers are usually from the lower castes. No Brahmins or upper caste people can be seen taking up these professions. Thus, there arises a question of caste discrimination and equality. If this is an impact of the rigorous caste issues which our country has been having for centuries, isn’t it time we erase it?


Yours lovingly

Nirmala blushed even before she grabbed the letter from the post master’s hand. She leaned on the closed-door behind her and read it aloud.

February 27, 2013


You are beautiful. Your grace can put the dawn and dusk to shame.

Yours lovingly

As if in reply, she ran to her balcony and smiled at the sinking sun.

Below, in the busy street, vegetable vendors were busy selling off their day’s stock, the chat shop was brimming with kids back from school and the cycle repair shop had a queue of bicycles in front, blocking the rest of the narrow road.

The claustrophobic atmosphere in the street reminded her of the stingy toddy shop of her dad’s, back in the village. She remembered dodging the sweaty dirty bodies who tried to touch her, while she hastily served them liquor. Extreme poverty had taught her resilience.

Later, she remembered crying out her worries to her friend, who would console her and say “Everything will be alright one day”.

Her bruised past now lay buried under her new dignified life as Mrs. Gupta, whose days revolved around her husband, serving him the best food, awaiting his romantic letters during the day, listening to his office stories in the evening and sleeping to his typewriter ticking away in the night.

You were right! Everything is perfect now – she smiled to herself and pressed the letter to her chest.

Picture Source: vermeer0708.wordpress.com

Picture Source: vermeer0708.wordpress.com

Arjun Gupta, on his way back to office stopped at his lawyer’s residence. He came out with a satisfied expression on his face.

Who would have thought it to end this way? He could still remember how her pale nervous face, with a child like innocence, had looked at him with anxiety, as he had put the garland on her neck. Though his marriage was a convenient arrangement between two families, he had loved her at the very first sight.

He enjoyed her chirpiness and laughter and the way she got excited by the smallest gifts. He would simply stand and admire her, while she told stories about her childhood, brimming with tears at one moment and shaking with laughter in the next.

How wrong was I to think she loved me too, he thought, as he brought his bike to a screeching halt.

Nirmala checked her appearance in the mirror for one last time, before she ran downstairs to open the door for her husband.

She had taken extra care to darken her Kajal and make her hair. She planned to talk about those lovely letters of his. What best way to show her gratitude than look the prettiest? she had thought.

“Is anyone home?” he asked, looking beyond her, across the hall, as she stood at the doorstep.

“Someone is in a bad mood today,” she giggled, trying to brush aside the disappointment.

He looked at her. That killing smile again. He cursed himself for letting her think he was upset.

“Oh nothing, how was your day, jaan?” he asked, trying hard not to think about what he had discovered the previous week.

My mysterious husband, she sighed. So romantic in letters, yet so detached in person. “Oh it was good, how was yours?” she asked casually.

“Good as well.”

Keeping his shoes aside, he went upstairs without another word.

Probably he had a tough day, she thought as she followed him.

Arjun Gupta weds Nirmala Ram, he smirked at the album which lay on the bed.

Clearly she set it all up to leave me no room for doubts. He unbuttoned his shirt, stepped into the shower and turned on the faucet in full force. He tried to find a reason, a fault or a short coming on his part.

He had found the letters stacked in the corner of the cupboard, behind the neatly folded saris, tied with a saffron ribbon. He had opened them thinking he was going to crack some new naughty surprise of hers.

He read the letters one after the other, convincing himself that it was nothing like what he thought it was.

Since then, he observed her actions closely. He would say he is leaving to office, but stand downstairs to see how she became someone else’ once he left.

He was appalled by the cheesy lines of the letters, but Nirmala as he had found, seemed to brighten up while reading those.

“Let the aroma of your skin reach me, love”, she would go to the balcony and catch her duppatta high up in the air. Her lover would look upwards through the spokes of the cycle wheel until she went inside.

She would hop down and take a stroll along the street, clutching the piece of paper which said, “Flowers would bloom on every inch of the ground where you walk,” while the cycle guy kept the rubber tyres aside to watch her.

The last letter took it a step further.  “Look at you. Your eyes would make anyone go speechless.” She sprinted to the streets, found the nearest shop and called out for some change. The cycle guy got up, wiping his tarred hand on his shorts, looked at her and asked, “Is everything alright?”

He had extended his hands to touch her cheeks. She had moved aside. But the sign of recognition couldn’t have been mistaken.

Arjun had left the scene, unable to take it further.

Later, he had sat contemplating the issue – I should probably talk to her.. No that would make her sad. I guess I don’t deserve her. Should I confront her? No.. She would die of guilt. Am old, she is so young… I think.. I think I should just move away from her life.

Convinced with his new decision, he had asked a lawyer to file divorce papers the very next day. Sooner the better, he had thought.

Nirmala lay on her bed staring at the new sealed letter, shocked by the turn of events in her own life.

Is everything alright?.. his voice carved out her past memories inch by inch. She recalled the long afternoons which they had spent by the beachside building sand castles, the whispering talks behind the temple and the promises they made while sitting under a dripping roof, too close yet scared to hug.

That was years ago. It was unfair that life had brought him to her life again.

Right then she craved to tell her husband about the only episode in her life that she had kept from him. She knew he would understand, and later give her a hug. The night would again be normal with the sound of his typing.

Through the heavy veil of tears, she opened the letter.

March 6, 2013


I mean no inconvenience to you. I thought you would be happy to see me. So wrong was I.

Yours lovingly

She read it again, trying to make sense of the words. She threw the letter aside, as if it had burnt her hand.

It was her friend all this while?

Confused and hurt, she wept.

Hours later, she numbly walked downstairs to answer the door.

It wasn’t her husband. Instead, a man introduced himself as the lawyer and told her to sign few papers. Along with those, he produced another typed letter from his bag – a letter, the first ever letter from her husband.

March 6, 2013

Hi jaan,

I was too much in love with you not to realise all this while that you loved someone else. Thanks to the letters.

Here is wishing you happiness for your new life with your old friend.

Yours lovingly