Summer or Simmer!

It is hot in my city, absolutely scorching and I miss my walks through the office garden. I feel my skin burn everytime I have to be in the open and the tap waters are perpetually hot, be it early morning or late evening. This dry kind of heat penetrates my soul and dehydrates it to the core. I am snappy and irritating to be around and always dreaming of ice creams and popsicles, so yes, when I am in office meetings, I am really not listening, my notes are usually full of doodles of ice cream cones and faces transform to chocolaty glaciers. I am not used to extreme temperatures and every summer, I suffer a heat stroke. My family members have gently advised me that it’s only a state of mind; that I need to shut myself off to the surrounding heat. Is that really possible? Would imagining myself in an igloo solve the problem? I don’t think so. The constant ice cream images dont help either.

And I am humbled by everyone who has to work outdoors during this peak heat, especially those indulging in physical labor. Yesterday, my daughter’s homework (she is in grade III) was on interviewing the person who cooks at home and find out their struggles and how she could support them in their work.

I had tried pushing myself as the cook at home, as a potential interviewee, which she quickly ‘shooed’ away as ‘you are not the official cook, only the weekender experimenter’ and I clearly heard the Thank God! in her expressions that the household did not have to bear my recipes during most of the week. Instead she interviewed Manju who makes dinner for us at home every night. Manju is the representative of a quintessential Indian support system for working mothers like me. I am only blessed to give her full independence of my kitchen on weekdays, so that I don’t have another ‘to do’ item on my never ending list. And gratefully, my daughter likes Manju’s culinary skills, so I am fine with it too.

Manju was very amused with my daugther’s questions and it came as no surprise that her main struggle was to tolerate the kitchen heat, the hot stoves in the several households she sustains with the food she makes everyday. As to the support she requires from my daughter, it was a measly glass of cold drinking water after her chore at our home. Even though Manju and I share ups and downs in our otherwise healthy relationship, my appreciation and respect for her and for all those champion support system reps like her, did increase after yesterday. It also helped my daughter be more cognizant about everyone around. Though she is a better and far more empathetic person than I am and I hope this trait stays with her as she grows older.

As a public health research enthusiast, I am glad that several cities have a ‘heat action plan’ this year and are attempting to generate awareness amongst community on ways to beat the heat, in addition to capacity build care givers on responding to heat related illness.

Temperature tolerating clothing based on chemical and electrical principals is also in the market. These can bear extreme temperature shifts and are suitable both for cold and hot weather. Some of these are being tested in soldiers who are posted at extreme weather conditions. I look forward to a day when cheaper versions can be worn by construction workers, road repair men, community care givers and the Manjus at every home. Here’s to innovations for community health and to a safe summer everyone!


Strength of Prayer, of wanting nothing

When I was sixteen years old, I traveled on my own on a train for 2 days to see my relatives in another city. Even though I grew up in a very protective environment, my parents did give me the independence to discover myself from time to time. And although my parents called every day during that particular trip and came to take me home after two weeks of what was originally planned to be a full month of ‘independent’ vacation; at the end, I did get to stay with all my cousins for a good enough time and had a great summer that year.

On that train journey when I was greatly enjoying being on my own, I chatted up with some of my co passengers. It was the age of bewilderment and innocence. Not even for a moment did I feel nervous about talking with total strangers. I remember some of them bought me snacks and tea and I accepted gratefully. If it was today, I would have thought multiple times about accepting things from strangers. I have also killed the innocent urge to strike up conversations with people I don’t know.

On this trip for at least a part of the journey; one of my co passenger was a young yogi who would probably be in his early twenties. He had a pointed beard and knotted his hair on top of his head in a bun. He wore orange garments, sat straight and had ear phones in both ears. He would open his eyes from time to time and look outside the window, not to gaze at anything particularly but probably to add meaning to whatever he was listening. At some point, we had started talking. He was on his way to North India to help people devastated by a recent flood. He worked with Bharat Sevashram and seemed very happy with his life.

We were talking about God and divine presence and he had asked me if I prayed. I have never been overtly religious. My parents are practicing Hindus, actually quite orthodox, but have never forced me to abide by or follow any practice. As a result, my faith has been an evolution, metamorphosing over the years with my own life’s experiences, changing with my perceptions of the divine. At sixteen, I had laughed and told the Yogi that I prayed before exam results came out. He had asked me not to request for anything the next time I prayed.

I had been amused, how could one not ask for anything while praying. Wasn’t this the sole purpose of believing in a greater presence, of having an assurance that the most powerful can fulfill every need?

I did not understand him then, but now, over time, I have realized how powerful it is to pray and not ask, but thank. I find a deep peace in my daily prayers and praying for others. It has allowed me to overcome the biggest obstacle in my own life; my own self. One does not have to follow any religion to pray. You could think of the universe, the strength of the cosmos as being the most powerful and pray keeping that strength in mind. It is wonderfully satisfying to think of oneself as the tiniest dot amongst the vastness and that one doesn’t have control over everything.

Like many conundrums in my life, I am a partial atheist. An unusual believer. I did study science, but have never felt a need to give up my faith in both the divine and in science. Cant they co exist? I understand how Darwin would have felt, while learning to be a clergyman and discovering that evolution was the key to life forms. However, he may have been an unusual believer himself.

Like my parents, I do not expect my daughter to practice any particular faith, however, I do not think I could bear the thought of her traveling on her own, away from home, not at sixteen and perhaps not even at twenty!

Ship of Theseus


If a ship is replaced part by part up to a point where not a single original part remains in it, is it still the same ship?

This is a central theme of the philosophical paradox and has been reflected in the 2012 movie of the same name (which I happened to watch yesterday….yes I know, I am late by a mere 5 years!). The film depicts the journey of three people who have had an organ transplantation, cornea, liver and kidney respectively. I wish the filmmaker would have delved a bit more on how the transplantation changed the recipients. Especially since the corneal transplant was done on a blind woman who was a talented photographer and would rely on sounds to capture pictures, before the surgery. After the surgery, I wonder if there was a difference on how she would perceive photography, now that she had both sight and sound to rely on.

But on a deeper level, we have all gone through periods of breaking down, learning and then moving on in life. At each of these ‘episodes’ we have given up a part of ourselves as in our beliefs, and gained some qualities to face life, become stronger. So even if we may not remain our ‘original’ factory setting self, the constant learning, re-learning has made us the person we are. Hence, by the Theseus paradox, we may not be how we started, but we are still our own unique self.

I believe that life’s constant motion of shaping our thoughts takes us on our path to spiritualism and our higher selves; however, we have made a mess of everything with soul, re birth, immortality etc. in this mix.  It would be simpler to just focus on the process of creating and re creating ourselves and getting through life, while being ethical with our surroundings.

However, ethics for me can be different from for instance, the monk in the film, who would walk miles and miles without footwear so that he doesn’t hurt insects on his path. A part of the monk did change though, as he was shown advocating against using animals in research at the beginning of his story and finally made peace and went through a liver transplant and medication regime, to survive liver cirrhosis. Both transplant technology and pharmaceutical industry use research on animals at some point in their development, and that was something the monk had to come to terms with.

It’s very difficult to go through the metamorphosis of having our principles crumble and regain our strengths, but that is exactly what makes life interesting as well. And perhaps we should not tag it with whether it was the right thing to do or wrong, since it was for that moment in our lives, we chose the best thing for ourselves.

One health- isn’t it a bit late for that?

While discussing a school assignment on different birds with my second grader, we watched videos of humming bird drawing out honey from flowers and weaver birds weaving artful nests. I also told her about the first time I had seen green pigeons. A pair of these green birds had made a nest close to my window and I had watched over them for a couple of months, till two young little birds were added on their family and then the four had flown away together… on their onward journey. There is something satisfying in bird watching and the way they conduct themselves. Unlike any other member of the animal kingdom, birds are perhaps the most sober and dignified and sometimes great entertainment!

The assignment also had a question regarding which birds had her parents seen when they were young and were rarely seen nowadays. When I was growing up in my grandmother’s house, we were often surrounded by sparrows and sometimes a couple of cawing crows. I don’t see sparrows anymore, especially in the cities I have lived as an adult. I tried finding some data on sparrows, unfortunately there is not a lot of research done on them. Their numbers are low and the ones who made it have migrated to greener, less polluted suburbs and villages. Two things caught my eye in the past week. The term ‘one health’ which really means to have everyone who deals with human, animal and environment health on one platform. Since 60% of diseases in man have some sort of origin in animals and since in turn, man has contributed to effectively denude the environment off more than 60% of its resources, now man has decided that we should all work together if we are to save ourselves from animals and the depleting environment. This is the big health jargon of 2017 that will be used over and over on all research applications, debates and talks this year and perhaps till we move on to something more ‘in’.

The CDC page on One Health, mentions “One health recognizes that the health of people is connected to the health of animals and the environment (”. Isn’t it funny that it took us till 2017 to recognize that our health is connected to other beings around us? The real reason is perhaps that as researchers, we have all built our silos of working with our own folks with our own perceptions, like a medical professional may not be seen as a talented basic researcher, a  PhD is seen to be focused only on their bench work and not understand diseases, and veterinarians, well they have been completely dismissed from participating in any ‘serious research’ related platforms. As researchers, we have let our insecurities and sometimes dire selfishness keep us from sharing our results, collaborating and even talking openly about our interesting findings. When we cannot build bridges across our own fraternity, how will we come together on an unified ‘one health’ platform and work together to better our environment?

And why veterinarians alone? We should also partner with anthropologists who learn from living with communities who are closer to nature. The indigenous tribesmen of any country have been practicing living in harmony with nature for as long as the human civilization. We should perhaps seek our ‘one health’ answers from them.

The other item that I found interesting was that telomeres seem to grow longer in space. Isn’t it interesting that telomere which dictate ageing in an individual, grow longer in space? Was the incident a one off, or was it due to space being untouched by pollution, untouched by man as yet? Anyways, since we haven’t been able to find another earth to call our home yet, we should like our own spiritual growth, ‘look inwards’.

Would one health change our perceptions about working with each other for a better world?….only time will tell. Till then, I hope someone somewhere works on sparrows and  brings them back to my neighborhood!



The old man and the garden

The institute where I work, has a beautiful garden. On cold wintry lunch hours, when the courtyard is filled with faculty and students out to soak the mid morning fleeting sunshine, one cannot not notice the vibrant colours of Asters, Marigold, Dahlias, Cosmos and red and yellow leaves of ornamentals. Every morning when I arrive for work, I see the gardener, an elderly gentleman, tugging along, alone in the garden. He works early mornings and late evenings. He usually hums an earthy tune, sometimes breaks into a rasping cough, sometimes looks around his pots and foliages, in the most paternal way possible. One day when he was pruning a Neem tree, I had gone forward and asked him for some leaves. I like the bitter taste of Neem and Bittergourd, especially if they are cooked with Tomatoes and Brinjals.

The gardener had given away the youngest, tender, rusty leaves of pruned branches to me and advised that these were the best to taste and easiest to cook. I had asked him how long he had been with our organization. He had always been with us. And he had always been a gardener ever since he could remember. He seemed so happy and proud as he looked around his canvas. I felt so content just knowing that a simple life is enough for people even in this year of 2017. A life of nurturing and caring and putting in love into whatever one is doing. He also tends to his plants in a most unhurried way. It seems like he has reached a place where time doesn’t matter.

As I debate over faculty development programmes, attending International meetings and conferences, bagging large funded projects, with my other faculty colleagues, my thoughts go over to the old man and the garden. Did he never need to build his skills or go on an exchange programme to enrich himself? How did he teach himself of scientific ways of manuring, pollinating, asexual plant breeding? How does he know that certain plant need only certain angle of sunlight and some need more water than the others? Is experience enough to teach one everything there is to know about ones professional needs? Or is it necessary to reach a stage where lines between professional life aspirations and personal life satisfaction blur and become one?

Like Earnest Hemingway’s book, sometimes one doesn’t need tangibles, certificates, physical acquisitions to assure oneself of one’s worth. Sometimes feelings suffice, small joys and a knowing in what you have and what you had are enough to keep one going. It doesn’t matter if there are storms in your way, what you will build with love will keep you coming back and you wouldn’t even realize the storms you have weathered to reach your happiness.

RIP Ms Fisher

Our childhood is often hinged on special fictional characters that have an impact on our imagination as we grow up. Sherlock Holmes, Feluda, Jo from Louisa Alcott’s Little Women, Jupiter Jones are some familiar with mine. However, of all, Princess Leia by far had the strongest impression and even today there are moments when the Start Wars characters help me smile. My first Star Wars movie was the Return of the Jedi, which I watched in the late 80s with a group of neighborhood friends in our homely defence camp movie theater, aptly named ‘Manoranjan’ (Hindi for entertainment). For the cheapest movie tickets in town and the no frills, no balcony, close to home experience, it was a real treat to sit back relax in a familiar audience setting and lose ourselves to the world of imagination. Although it would be the last movie hall on this planet to show any particular film, sometimes after 3-4 years of its release, we still loved to watch movies in Manoranjan.

Since the 80s, I have watched the Return of the Jedi at different time points in my life and like a good book, it has been a new experience, a new understanding, each time. This particular movie was no less than any Bollywood high grosser. It had action, emotion, a great plot and lots of comedy (also a great background score). What’s not to like in a strong woman, a nation’s decision maker, fighting for her nation? Add to it a personal dimension of a lost and found brother, a controversial father and George Lucas’s exemplary project execution and of course Han Solo’s crooked charm!

Princess Leia had great leadership qualities and was skilled at rational persuasion. She was liked by all forms of creatures in the movie and her empathy bonded her people together. I also liked that Lucas had not made her out a superwoman with super powers; rather he stuck with her as a more human self, with normal physical limits, albeit with an active, thinking mind and expert in handling arms. I almost named my daughter Leia and I do hope mine outgrows her fascination with everything Barbie and takes notice of fictional characters that have strong individualism who do not rely on certain ways of physical appearance or a wardrobe filled with pink or fuchsia colored apparel, to lead a healthy, happy life.

As another year flies past, I hope 2017 will be a year for great books, great science, great movies and great examples of world peace. As every country moves towards a more nationalistic way of thinking, they don’t exit from international collaboration. Would I ever be able to watch Star Wars, sitting in a small movie theater in an Indian city without some form of international collaboration? And wouldn’t it be a form of foolishness not to invest in a global market, for any type of business?

But coming back to the Return of the Jedi, and although I am saddened at Ms Fisher’s untimely and sad demise, her portrayal of Princess Leia will live on till the end of time and hopefully, continue to inspire many more to come.

Sribble, Srabble….

Journey Home….

Tiny feet, tiny toes, delicate fingers, dot for a nose

Curly locs, cutest smile, brownest eyes with specks of starlight

While you sleep on my lap, sighing sometimes, without a care,

I wonder if you will find my home, to your liking, worth your share

Would you accept me as your mother, my darling little pixie glow?

For I have always known you are the one, from where I came and where I go

We have woven our dreams together in the past, with threads of hope, with desires to last

And even though I haven’t nourished you with my blood and with my health

I will raise you, as mine, with all my soul and all my strength.

But while you sleep on my lap, sighing sometimes, without a care,

I wonder if you will find my home, to your liking, worth your share….



You are seven

This year you are seven and soon you will touch eleven,

and then a fine woman you will be, with truth in your step and courage in your hair

through all this though, I wish you joy, for a life that matters, a life that cares

and through it all, I wish you love, a love fulfilling, a love with dreams, with hopes to share

and most of all I wish for you, a life without a hint of pain

For all the pain should end with me, all hardships I am ready to gain

May the sadness in my eyes, never touch your sacred space

For you my darling pixie glow, may only laughter and tenderness remain!