Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Oath of Hippocrates

Party conversations.Politics.Corruption.Ethnic violence.Rape.Cricket. And if you are above sixty, state of health, medications, and yes doctors. “And they take the Oath of Hippocrates!” says one vociferous friend, “you may as well call it Oath of Hypocrites,”  Laughs all around, vigorous nodding, sound support. Most of us are eager to quote anecdotes. Time to raise my voice. “Don’t tar everyone with the same brush,” I venture, at the risk of sounding supercilious. “There are kindly souls in the medical fraternity. I have been lucky. My doctors are understanding and compassionate, they don’t exploit us…perhaps I choose such doctors…”my voice trails off as I see eyes popping and brows knitted together in disbelief. “please introduce us to these wonderful doctors, you would be doing us a favour,” I decide to watch them explode. For bottling up angst causes stress, haven’t we been told a million times?

When health has become almost a paranoia for most of us, doctors are part of the package. India ranks second only to China as the diabetic capital of the world. We are living longer, average lifespan has been pushed to 65, and modern technology has made it possible to survive the most difficult of odds, but the pattern of survival has become different. Do we want to linger, suffer, with the quality of life deteriorating, just to prolong our lives in an offspring-supportless environment? The answer lies in locating and staying with doctors and medical services you trust, and people who help you get on in life. For get on you must irrespective of age.

You might choose a doctor because he is eminent, and top of his profession. “Yes we did, and we ended up waiting four hours to see him, and came back with very little satisfaction.” Don’t choose him because he is eminent.  One of the docs described is forbidding looking with a stern visage and strikes fear into the hearts of his patients. They sit before him expecting a death sentence to be pronounced. “Why should they fear me?” he asks, A kindly soul with a heart of gold..the fear barrier has to be broken before realization dawns that he is compassionate. “ I am so overawed that I forget half the things I have to ask him and before I know it I am ushered out.”  

When an appointment is made with a doctor, please put down every single doubt which crosses your mind, before you see him or her. Normally, BP is checked, your heartbeats, your pulse, a cursory glance at your old records, then a prescription given, to you who sits there dumbstruck, then you are out.  Remember your rights as a patient. You need to know why certain medicines are prescribed and what effect they will have. You need to ask if you take them before food or after food. And, since most doctors specialize in illegible writing, you have to ask them to decode it and note it down in your handwriting provided it is not worse than the doctor’s. Ask the doc if the medication has side effect or contraindications. Tell him about any allergy you might have. Write down the list of medications given to you on your last visit and hand over the paper. This registers better than just “getting it off your chest”.

For all my worldly wise advice, I learnt my lesson through a bitter experience. I was prescribed Osteophos70  once a week. With implicit trust, I didn’t go through the accompanying literature, had it first thing in the morning, and started my usual exercises, bending and stretching. I threw up, suffered intense pain in the abdomen and was in bed the whole day! Only a little later, a friend acquainted me of the strictures, , upright position and empty stomach. Stay still for an hour, she suggested. My husband suffered severe reaction after a few weeks of this wonder drug and could not eat for his tongue was blistered. We were told later that this could lead to allergies for some. Moral of the story, read the literature accompanying any drug.
Choose your doctors with care, it really pays to be fastidious. Do enough research, talk to your friends, find out more about them. If you are the restless kind like me, don’t spend hours outside the doctor’s consulting room. You will find someone else just as good, only not so busy. Find a doctor who has more patience than patients, who will listen to you, and will talk to you and explain things in a way you understand. “There is this doctor who is reluctant to see patients, at the same time can’t close shop. He spends exactly five to ten minutes with you. By the time your driver reverses the car, you have one foot outside his consulting room. And he charges a bomb,  though admittedly his treatment works.”

When you have a rough idea of what the doctor’s fees are don’t crib. Come on, hehas  to make a living. And if he is as bad as you make him out to be, just don’t go there! Of course there are malpractices as there are in every profession. The cuts from prescribing expensive diagnostic tests, links with hospitals who expect doctors to advise hospitalization and the ICU. There was this doctor friend who wanted me to co-author a book especially written for his patients, where the malpractices of the medical fraternity was pointed out with candour. Though I admired him for his guts, I pointed  out that he could be sued.. After taking a legal opinion he thought better of it and just as well!

In these days of specialization, it is good to have a family doctor, the kind my father was. He used to visit his patients and most of them were helped by the touch of his hand and saying they were not so ill as they thought. Only in cases where the prognosis was not good would he call in other specialists for an opinion. Our bleeding knees were administered good old iodine and the nurses would blow on the wound when it hurt like hell.  Squeasy stomach, and Carminative mixture was given or Hewletts mixture!  Medicines were compounded to suit your disease. Ah, those were the days.

But when you discover a doctor that you like so much, don’t turn into a hypochondriac and run to him at the drop of a hat, as he too has a job to do, besides placating neurotic patients!!

Counter Attack

Every one of us should be mentally and physically equipped to respond to attack, says Joe Rodrigues, who conducts self-defence workshops for women

In the wake of rise in crimes against women in recent times, deep concern has been expressed across the country for women’s safety. Nirbhaya has become a household name, and memories of her are triggered whenever a young woman from our homes is out on the road unescorted.
“Women of all ages are targets for assault,” said Joe Rodrigues, founder and former director, Breakthrough Communication Services Pvt. Ltd. Joe was on a short visit to Chennai with his wife. “Every one of us should be mentally and physically equipped to respond to attack,” he said in an interview.
The Mumbai-based Rodrigues has developed a module on self-defence for women, which consists of a three-and-a-half-hour programme with demonstrations followed by on-the-spot practices that can be easily mastered. It is a complimentary package offered by Rodrigues who has conducted many such programmes in colleges and schools, even in far off Shillong and Guwahati.
Thousands of participants from diverse backgrounds such as public sector undertakings, transnational corporations and voluntary organisations have benefited from Rodrigues’ 30 years of training experience. His lectures cover areas such as stress management, assertiveness, creativity, leadership, motivation, communication and negotiation skills.
Why did a man who specialised in copywriting, client servicing, public relations, who was head of publicity in Roussel Pharmaceuticals and later in CIPLA, turn to this unusual vocation? “My love of teaching,” he said, simply. When your communication skills are strong, your messages have an impact. And for people like Joe, his skills are channelled towards a receptive audience, providing them with the tools to cope with the aggressive, deviant behaviour of perverts in today’s society.
He gave graphic examples — body language, to begin with. “If you hold yourself erect, and your head high, and swing your arms as you walk on the road, the message you convey is ‘here is a woman who cannot be trifled with.’ People actually move out of your path.”
According to Rodrigues, there are two kinds of predators — Force Predators and Friendly Predators. Force Predators generally believe in a sudden attack where the victim is totally unprepared, and fear leads to surrender. The foremost myth to be challenged is the one that labels woman as the weaker sex. Like animal predators, the human predator can also recognise the weak that are easy prey. They believe in isolation, and drag the girl to a lonely spot. The Friendly Predator preys on the gullible nature of the woman and traps her into trusting him and then makes his move.
There is no standard formula for self-defence, and every scenario is different. A woman’s instinct and gut feeling is not to be ignored. “Fear could paralyse her, but with mental preparedness, fear could be transformed into rage which galvanises her into action.”
The four ‘stays’
Four “stays” are mantras for protection. Staying fit with physical exercise. Staying away which means avoiding places and situations that could be dangerous and not wearing provocative clothes. Staying alert in public places. A predator who finds you distracted, say with your mobile, finds you easy prey. Glen Levy, Rodrigues’ guru, recommends that you don’t stay while being attacked. Flight is a sure way of escape.
Distract the attacker. Rodrigues quotes the instance of a man, a regular walker on Marine Drive, Mumbai, who spied three men surrounding another walker and one of them had a knife open. He just walked up to the group, as if he noticed nothing amiss and touched the victim on the shoulder, and said, “The others are waiting at the usual place for breakfast, let’s go.” Saying so he pulled the man and they moved quickly out of range of the attackers who were surprised at this unexpected intrusion.
Rodrigues demonstrated a few “measures”. In self-defence you could pinch the attacker. He asked me to pinch the flesh on the inside of my upper arm, and twist it sharply. Ouch! It did hurt. Another vulnerable spot is the inside of the thighs, of course, not so easily accessible. He demonstrated certain grips on the wrists that are hard to break.
These are but few of the “tools” Rodrigues teaches, but the entire gamut is best learned in the Self Defence for Women workshops, part of his Women Empowerment Series. He is willing to conduct workshops for groups of women, especially at women’s colleges and can be contacted at

Saturday, February 1, 2014


As kids we had an abhorrence of weddings.  True to form our parents trotted us through every ceremony till we knew the rituals by heart …mercifully the family tree was not in such abundance so the number of weddings were limited.
The only attraction was meeting our cousins,  nieces and nephews, some of them who were much older than me, and some first cousins  old enough to be my mother.  One nephew in particular, took churlish delight in introducing me amidst gasps as his aunt, a habit which he has not given up!. We were strictly told not to “play” with each other but sit primly watching the goings on. No wandering about even accompanied by strong looking male cousins as we would be easily kidnapped what with the jewellery we wore.
The best event was the wedding reception. The bridal couple relinquished the comfort of the sofa to shake hands with well wishers, trying to balance the flow of gifts . They would finally abandon all hopes of sitting till the long queue eased off. The plastic smiles they wore slowly morphed into grimaces.  The most entertaining event was the kucheri. No one bothered to listen to the singers warbling, the women were most engrossed in sizing up each other’s clothes and jewellery and viewing eligible young “girls and boys” who were paraded at weddings. The mridangam player and the nadhaswaram artiste would engage in the funniest of facial contortions, and we would imitate them and convulse into laughter till we were ticked off severely by an adult at this show of deep disrespect.
Weddings stretched to three days and if you were closely related you attended every single one of them. I thought that with the passage of time,  rituals would coalesce into a single window, and a one day wedding. On the contrary wedding celebrations have ballooned into a display of wealth, and aesthetics at a price. It does not matter that you are South Indian. You have a mehndi ceremony for “close women friends and relatives”, the sangeeth, the mappillai azhaippu, muhurtam and wedding reception, making it a five-day wedding.
Out comes the jewellery from the bank and preparations are afoot as every invitee likes to look her best. The men have it easy, or so I think. The pandal d├ęcor could cost anywhere between 2 to 5 lakhs depending on how much you want to spend and you could extend it further. You have event managers who supervise the flow, and in some cases are assigned the task of welcoming!
The best part of the wedding according to me is where every guest is accorded warmth and made to feel that his or her presence added to the wedding something which the family takes on, not strangers. On one occasion there was neither the event managing team nor the bridal couples’ relatives as we entered the mantapam. A smiling stranger insisted we go straight for breakfast, and we headed in the direction he pointed and enjoyed all the delicacies. Lo and behold there were no familiar faces, and as we stepped out we realised we had stumbled on to the wrong dining hall, and hastily beat a retreat to the wedding on a different floor.
“The food prepared is enough to feed an army” said a young nephew fired with idealism of youth and determined to get married under the trees or on the beach when his time came. To prove his point that anyone could partake of the wedding feast, he along with two other bright young men, all of them still in college, and suffering hunger pangs, spruced themselves up and walked in. The girls at the reception giggled and sprinkled rose water on them and offered them buttonholes  and kalkand. As they walked to the dining area, interested relatives ogled at these eligible boys wondering whether they belonged to the groom’s  side or the bride’s  and made a mental note to find out who they were. The boys scooted as soon as they  had their meal, and after several namaskarams to the men who fed them.
Whatever food is left over could be distributed to homes where the poor and needy could have a feast.. The illai saapad has its disadvantages, as much of food served is often left uneaten. Gifting  is another debatable and difficult issue. You cannot really gift something to a couple blessed with everything. Money in envelopes could get lost in the mela. Flowers, even expensive bouquets are tossed out as no one has the time to arrange flowers. And yet, can we  attend a wedding without taking something?
According to me, one  good idea is the gifting of a book, if you know what kind of persons they are. Books on marriage, cookbooks, self help books..there are plenty to choose from . Gift coupons from popular stores work well. The nicest idea we encountered was a little line in a simple wedding invitation. It requested  persons who wanted to gift the couple something  to make a cheque however small in favour of a charity  they were supporting. The envelopes were dropped into a box kept for the occasion after you wished the couple, and there was no surfeit of unwanted gifts.
When we ape the west so much why don’t we think of having a bridal shower?  The bridal couple provides a list of what they propose to buy, and the invitees discuss among themselves what they want to give them. It goes against our Indian way of thinking but I think it is so so practical without spending money on stuff which they would find useless..
One of the best weddings we have attended is on the beach, with just a select crowd of 100 people. Of course the only concession was hiring a white steed, for the groom, who, being a German enjoyed carrying off his precious love after the ceremony.  A priest solemnised the wedding in English  for the benefit of the groom and his family. The thali was tied amongst the strains of soft nadaswaram recorded music. The guests were taken to a restaurant booked for the occasion and we all came back happy.

I just keep wondering whether we will retract from these kind of social customs which have become a way of life, or will weddings stretch longer or whether we will come back again full cycle…it remains to be seen.

Why apologise?

I wonder why, as a nation we are apologetic over most things. More so South Indians.  We are apologetic over our complexions, our idlis, our being Madrasi and yes, on eating rice.  There are fixtures in the minds of many that being descendents of Dravidian culture, we are short, dark complexioned and unsophisticated. And that all populace south of the Vindhyas are Madrasis, irrespective of whether they hail from the great city.
Over the years the little waves of change have created the new Dravidian, who has adopted much of the Northie culture, if only to prove himself or herself and to others that we are none the inferior. We have inculcated the mehndi ceremony and the sangeeth into our already long three day weddings. The wedding crowd do not sport the mind-blowing, vividly coloured traditional Kancheepuram silks, but they favour bling saris, the ghararas and lengha cholis, glitzy with an overkill of design and colour. The salwar kameez for instance which was exclusively the preserve of the North is here to stay in South India and this craze, fashion, or comfort garment  has trickled down to the lower echelons of society, where it is difficult to tell the mistress from the maid.
Just today a friend sent a book to me which was to be reviewed in Gym 3S. My fair complexioned,  good looking, voluptuous maid with her jil-jil salwar kameez, replete with “gold” jhumkis and a glittering bindi, opened the door. My friend’s driver bent double with his namaskaram and bade my maid “good morning” and gave her the book. “Amma had sent you this book madam.” Madam took it without a by-your-leave, flashing that million dollar smile and namaskaramed him with equal ardour. Hovering in the background aware of my simple cotton sari, I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry…
And yes, removing rice from the daily menu has become another food fad for us. I find that the Gen-next have banished rice from the table and apart from the few morsels that they take if the curry served merits it, it is a strict no-no.  The Gen-Y will soon say “Rice? What’s that?” Chapattis, phulkas, parathas (never mind if they are layered with oil) have become ubiquitious in a daily diet. I have heard very lofty expressions from the younger generation who claim that they don’t cook rice in their homes and that they eat only chapattis and bread!  As if it gives them a badge of excellence for ‘graduating’ in their food habits! I love my rice and proclaim it with impunity, but my own family is not exempt from the exclusion of rice most times.
Rice to me (in small quantities) is a comfort food, in any form whether it is ven pongal, lime or tamarind rice or biriyani! It is ancient, sacred, benevolent and nourishing and is the second most eaten cereal grain in the world. I know a couple of nephews who went off carbohydrates and on a high protein (Atkins) diet and soon enough two of them developed gout, and had to face another health problem.  It’s not that I am advocating rice, as wheat grain is extremely nutritious and yes, has carbohydrates but what I’m trying to say is that you don’t discard  what you are used to in your daily diet. For God’s sake you need your carbs more so for the amount of energy expended these days, in multi-tasking. Though no one admittedly, heaps   mounds of rice on the plate as was the custom in the old days.
After a great deal of research, international dietetics and nutrition experts advise that the best way to diet is to eat the food of your region, food you are used to but in small quantities and of course exercising every day. Eating out is the order of the day, and since so much international cuisine is at your door, the  kids  look down upon simple home cooked fresh food.
It was a great experience to visit the IRRI, the International Rice Research Institute, on our visit to the Philippines some years ago. IRRI is playing a key role in helping provide solutions to some of the many problems faced by rice today. The goal of IRRI is to conserve, contribute and create rice species of the world. IRRI was established to help farmers in developing countries grow more rice on limited land with less water, less labor, and less chemical inputs, and to do so without harming the environment. It was amazing to look at the different varieties of rice laid out as exhibits.
The ancestor of rice is Gondwana’s Grass a wild weed grown about 130 million years ago! The thirteenth century Bengali poet Ramai Pandit describes more than 50 varieties of rice grown in Bengal!
So, whether you hail from the North, South, East or West, think twice before you say no to rice….and to the other factors so part of your heritage.