Punarapi jananam punarapi maranam

The news of my uncle, Raj, woke me up this morning, leaving me in intense shock and disbelief that words cannot explain. My mom’s cousin, whose father was instrumental in providing my mom with the financial and moral support to complete her education of three graduate degrees in the 1970 India. Since then, my mom and us have ever been in close ties with their family, silently honoring the great man with our gratitude. His son of mere 50 years passed away this morning due to a cardiac arrest after a complaint of stomach indigestion.

The cyclone ‘Varadah’ had begun its way storming through the streets and shores of Chennai, leaving hundreds of homes without power or phone connections. Raj’s octogenarian parents had gone to his room with a glass of hot milk to soothe his stomach, only to witness the horrific sight of their son who had already passed away. No symptoms, no sounds. Silently, unknowingly, and abruptly. In what was a worse case scenario, the storm that had just reached in-land, had slashed their telephone lines, rendering them helpless. The couple stayed alone for over 3 hours, with their son. Only, their son wasn’t there anymore.

A brand new mom had been born. My best friend had delivered her son late last night. Prayers had been answered. Tears merged with smiles. A baby’s cry reverberated the hospital floors and in the hearts of my friend and her husband. A new life is welcomed. Life feels hopeful and beautiful. I leaped in joy as I saw the text message. I’ll call them first them in the morning, I had promised myself.

Today, the full moon is in conjunction with the constellation Karthigai (Pleiades). One of my all time favorite Indian festivals of light, called Karthigai Deepam. I pray for Raj Uncle. A simple man, ever helpful and ever radiating the positive spirit of life amidst the many challenges life kept repeatedly throwing at him. He deserved lot more happiness and love. His octogenarian parents sure do not deserve to experience this agony of watching their son pass away. I pray for their peace. For their strength. I pray for the new little bundle of joy a fulfilling happy life.

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Book?

I’ve been rallying this idea about a writing a book for a few months – year now. There are a few ideas I have in mind – some topics which I would love to research about and put it down in writing. But there is one topic which I want to write for the sake of documenting my personal experiences. Something I would like for my niece, nephew, or perhaps my own children in the future. I want to write a book on what it is to be born and raised in a joint family system.

Just putting this thought out in the open! I have my thesis defense in a few weeks. The time will come.

Ciao.

yeh honsla

Yeh Hosla Kaise Juke,
Yeh Aarzoo Kaise Ruke

This courage will not bow [bend]
This desire will not stop
Manzil Muskil To Kya,
dhundla Sahil To Kya,
Tanha Ye Dil To Kya

The goal, journey is difficult so what
Horizon is hazy so what
I am alone and lonely so what
Raah Pe Kante Bikhre Agar,
Uspe To Phir Bhi Chalna Hi Hai,
Saam Chhupale Suraj Magar,
Raat Ko Ek Din Dhalana Hi Hai
,
The road is laden with thorns so what
Whatever happens I must walk
Sun may hide the evening
But night must pass
Rut Ye Tal Jayegi,
Himmat Rang Layegi,
Subha Phir Aayegi

Season will change
Courage will show the results
Again there will be light and morning
Hogi Hame To Rehmat Ada,
Dhup Kategi Saaye Tale,
Apni Khuda Se Hai Ye Dua,
Manzil Lagale Humko Gale

Nature or God will bless me
There will be heat, but I will be under tree, shade
I pray to the God that
My goal will meet me, my desire will be fulfilled
Zurrat So Baar Rahe,
Uncha Ikraar Rahe,
Zinda Har Pyar Rahe

I will try hundred times
The results will be positive
Every ones love stays alive
Yeh Hosla Kaise Juke,
Yeh Aarzoo Kaise Ruke

This courage will not bow [bend]
This desire will not stop

Courtesy: http://realityviews.blogspot.com/2009/06/yeh-honsla-lyrics-in-english-and-hindi.html

The laughter of children brought back life into the backyard. Montessori school, little tiny tots. Middle school, raging teenagers. Their lives and of mine are separated by a mere fence. Empty mind, yet far from a deep, meditated sleep. Scoring a bucket list of things-to-do brings hope and cheer. The morning kiss, sunshine through the window, and the quiet humming sound of the bird were so missed. Deepening happiness through deliberation.

The profused sense of wanting digital anonymity and obsession weaned me out of the need to check emails. Left over breakfast batters and a post-match analysis swept the mind and its circling pattern. Awareness, retaliation, acceptance and proaction replace chaos with order. Mother’s voice. Reminiscing the selfless love of a childhood street vendor.

Finish strong. Duty. Dedication. Discipline. Doing what needs to be done, doing more than what was needed. Dedicating thy self. Doing the right thing. Demonstrating character. Time will be the best judge.

 

Of hopes, aspirations, yearning and despair

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I recently read that the United States Immigration Reform Act of 1965 was created to amend the 1952 McCarran-Walter Act, which allowed for preference to skilled laborers and relatives of US citizens. This government action had started to bring about a cultural social change, that we can well relate to today. In the 1960’s,  United States had only a few thousand Asian-Indians. Quickly by the mid 1980s, over 300,000 Asian Indians had already emigrated from India, and to this day the numbers have amplified exponentially.

I am part of “those” Indians, also affectionately called “new immigrants,” to distinguish us from the “old immigrants” of European descent. In contrast, Asian foreigners immigrated to the land of opportunities as highly educated, skilled professionals, and came primarily from the urban middle class. Today, including my husband, I have nearly 50 extended family relatives spread across the North Americas.

Last night, I couldn’t help but wonder what motivated us to leave our country? And more importantly, when is a good time to talk about our return to the homeland?

Many Asian Indians immigrated for financial factors and educational reasons. The high rate of conversion between the Indian Rupee and the $USD$ together with the desire to support family members back in India is/was highly lucrative. I will be frank so far to admit that my illustrious cousins who first made their way here, who left to the Americas for professional and social opportunities, were also driven by the mentality that emigration is prestigious – ‘Foreign education is better than indigenous training’. For a while, the British colonization had left an indelible mark in the mindset of the Indians that the fair skinned, English-speaking foreigners were truly superior and worthy of emulation. English began its way up in the political, social, educational and administrative realms of the new India. Every middle class family strived to become educated, literate and slowly English was morphed into a medium of instruction in schools. We love our English, however Indianized it sounds. As new India was struggling with its overwhelmingly large democracy, bureaucratic rules, bribes, corruption and unreasonable social caste systems led to unfavorable working conditions. A social change was inevitable and steadily, Asian-Indians had begun to place a great deal of emphasis on foreign education to seek career advancement and better professional stature.

So that’s how and that’s why (among other many, many reasons) we have immigrated here. But what lies in front of us? What is it that I truly want in my life experience? Sometimes, I miss the jasmine flowers. Often, I miss the camaraderie we shared with my vegetable vendor. Sometimes, I dearly miss the crowd. I miss my aging parents and uncles/aunts. I miss watching them age gracefully. I constantly worry when I do see them age gracefully. The emptiness in our newly furnished apartment exudes a subtle mockery of my comforts while my parents still chug along their mundane, lonely lives. Without their children by their side. Am I selfish? 

I met my husband here and we are happily married. But these are some of my most recent changes in my life. Did I really stop and make every decision along my way? Or did I just follow along as life ebbs away. Am I among the herd of aspiring students who hastily applied to International Universities to grab that coveted scholarship to earn the doctoral degree? Did I really immigrate only for educational reason? If not, what are the other reasons? When can I talk about how long am I going to be here, before I return home? What is home? What if my husband does not want to return to our home country? Or what if we put off the decision until the situation has gone beyond our control?

Do we always get to exercise our choice in life decisions?

So many questions. 

Bring the Spring in!

“What a strange thing! to be alive beneath cherry blossoms.” ― Kobayashi IssaPoems

Precisely! Spring is in the air. Today evening during my walk I discovered the first signs of spring – newly emerged flower buds, lush green leaflets among a brown withered bush and the first pink floret peeking from the cherry blossom trees. I yielded to the temptation of taking out my smartphone and clicking a few shots.

Here are a few of them. As I walked through the neighbourhood, the freshness in the air brought a spring in my step. I love the change in seasons.

As I welcomed the Californian spring, I somehow dearly missed my Canadian snow. Have a lovely spring, everyone! Image

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#100happydays

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Last night while driving back home – we heard this beautiful talk by Dan Gilbert. Usually while driving, we are not the kind who will patiently lend a ear to talks that require us to listen intently and reflect upon. But I found this talk very interesting.

I am a big big fan, I suppose that’s okay to say that, of the current Dalai Lama. I love his clarity of thought, and articulation. I admire his philosophies on compassion, for it’s not easy to preach compassion and happiness without sounding overly idealistic or cliched. He is my rockstar. I feel fortunate that his talks, interviews and books are accessible to me. Happiness is truly a conscious state of mind. Consciously, I say, because any thought is a deliberation. It is a choice, afterall.

I’m taking the #100happydays challenge. I have chosen to avoid the publicity that it entails by posting it on facebook or social media. I will be personally emailing my every happy day to the challenge directly. Are you going to join me in the happy day challenge? Please do! 🙂

The Moneyball Effect: How smart data is transforming criminal justice, healthcare, music, and even government spending

TED Blog

When Anne Milgram became the Attorney General of New Jersey in 2007, she was stunned to find out just how little data was available on who was being arrested, who was being charged, who was serving time in jails and prisons, and who was being released.

[ted_talkteaser id=1914]“It turns out that most big criminal justice agencies like my own didn’t track the things that matter,” she says in today’s talk, filmed at TED@BCG. “We didn’t share data, or use analytics, to make better decisions and reduce crime.”

Milgram’s idea for how to change this: “I wanted to moneyball criminal justice.”

Moneyball, of course, is the name of a 2011 movie starring Brad Pitt and the book it’s based on, written by Michael Lewis in 2003. The term refers to a practice adopted by the Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane and assistant general manager Paul DePodesta in 2002…

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The child called my father

Often we find ourselves amidst the constant need to appear or behave in a certain societal norm for acceptance. Be it our everyday clothing, to the unending social obligations we spring ourselves into constantly. As we grow older we are also expected to behave and interact with others in a certain stereotypical manner, said by nobody but assumed by many to be ‘age-appropriate’. A simple instance would be that of the ridicule men receive when they happen to be emotionally stirred to shed a few tears. Why is a man’s sensitivity often dismissed? How many of us subtly mock at that 65+ year old Aunt who still takes a liking to bold makeup and unabashedly waves her hands in sync to the latest movie song? Or the latest family member addition to our Facebook Friends’ list, who constantly ‘like’ and ‘comments’ on your every single post with utmost spontaneity and an earnesty that brims with brutally honest comments about your looks. What if they were to cheerfully join your friends’ comments by expressing their “our-5 year old-who-is–now-soo-grown-up” comment! We cringe for a second, with a billion clouding images of “why do they keep posting things like youngsters do? That’s not age appropriate! My friend’s parents never seem to say such a thing…”. Or in other words, our first reflex reaction morbidly resembles that of the teenager within us – judging others’ enthusiasm.

The motivation for this post comes from my experiences with my dad. An outrightly honest and genuine personality, my dad is fondly known for his straightforward manner of speaking and social interaction. Come to him for help, he will outstretch his limits, be it financially or otherwise, to get that done then and there. A fun-loving, motorcycle fanatic, music buff and an amazing singer, my dad is both quick to earn and quick to spend on his family and their comforts. An engineering genius, who aced his school and University education, had far less luck with business. A quick learner and passionate family man, his life experiences have been the pillar of support in teaching me about failures, taking risks, and the never ending hard work that life necessitates. An early riser, an extreme hard worker, my dad placed huge importance on sincerity and orderly structure in daily life. At times, his demeanour and altruistic personality have made our family lives challenging for my mother. But the most lovable trait in him, is his child-like enthusiasm. His expressions are sometimes open and outward, generating a mocking ridicule by others. But the few of us close to him know best how much that enthusiasm reflects his sincere, unpolished and true affection he can so easily show to others. My 67-year old father has zero tolerance to pain or hunger. But when it comes to sharing and celebrating another person’s happiness, there is nobody to match my dad and his two brothers. I have been fortunate to have the experience of two paternal uncles as father-figures. Together, their lives have shown us that you are never too old to share the spirit of celebration and the joy we can radiate by wishing the best for others!

Taking the effort

I was recently thinking why relationships with members of the closer family circle, mainly between siblings, require effort to maintain. Ironically, isn’t family one of the most close and dependable ties we make? Why then, as we grow older, is it becoming increasingly difficult to acknowledge gaps, understand differences and make changes to adapt ourselves to the ever-dynamic sibling relations? In fact, there is no reason to impress the importance of having close, healthy relationships for our well being – friendships, for eg.- of which a lot has been talked about. In most cases, friendships also need a fair measure of effort, spanning sometimes over several years and several testing time periods, to help keep the relationship healthy, deep and mutually endearing. We have all had our share of experiences with good friends, bad friends, and friends who fall among the spectrum between the two. By making mistakes, sometimes the same one repeatedly, we have learnt how to hand pick and maintain our close and selective niche of friends. 

But why is it then we stagger when it comes to family? Not extended family of uncles or aunts, but of close family of brothers, sisters and their families. Siblings, in particular, depending on the family dynamics, are presumably your oldest friends. It is an incredible relationship, but requires effort. As years rolled out growing up together in the same household, somehow our priorities, interests, perspectives on life, career, support, love, affections, needs and wants, were being pitched out in completely haphazard directions. In my experiences, a time might come when we will unknowingly, or unwittingly withdraw the adhesion holding our sibling relationship. We will be thrown into focusing on our own lives, and soon one day we will realize the growing gap. It takes us even longer to acknowledge and accept those differences that our personalities have accumulated over time. Differences in personality and interests are often the attractive qualities we seek in our friends and even in romantic relationships. But we seem to miserably fail in learning to acknowledge and celebrate these differences among members of our own family. Sometimes we fail in embracing these differences in your siblings, and of those including the new relationships in the lives of our siblings. As families grow in size, relationships will start to becoming intertwined, often pressing against the wishes of the-then childhood siblings you once were. We will find ourselves amidst this, trying to find the balance that our parents seemed to effortlessly carry with their own siblings.

Truth is there will be no balance like you imagine it. But if you took the effort to keep the relationship at its pedestal it so deserves, you can create that inner balance.  Clichéd it is, but I will say it nevertheless: it is far easier to break a relationship than make and sustain one. We can come up with a gazillion complaints and reasons for the perceived differences between us and our siblings. But, whatever be it, it is silly. It was silly when we were growing up, it is silly now, and it might just well continue to be silly as we grow even older.

We have superior digital communication that have brought us closer to each other than we had ever imagined. But I’ve realized that for family relations to be nurtured and maintained, we need to go back in time, and simply: spend time together. Expel the need to have similar interests to have a conversation. Expel the need to judge one another’s weaknesses or dissimilar life experiences.  Just patiently embrace the differences, you will slowly re-align with the sibling you knew best.

A journey of thousand miles, have begun now.

I had this beautiful, spectacular experience of witnessing the ongoing Monarch Butterfly Migration at the National Bridges State Park, Santa Cruz. Unfortunately, my camera lens has only a narrow zoom/magnification. Hence, I’ve used here images from the worldwideweb. (Courtesy-link provided below the image)

As  you are reading this, hundreds and hundreds of bright yellow color-spotted Monarch butterflies are migrating away from the fast-approaching winters in Northern Canada and United States, towards the bright, sunny, tree tops and eucalyptus canopies of Mexico, stopping intermittently through the Fall warmth across western California, Mid-west and East Coast. They organize themselves into tightly packed intricate clusters, hanging from the tree tops, and if I wasn’t told to look for them through a telescope, I would have never known about their wonderfully-deceitful camouflage.

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simple.m.wikipedia.org/

Right here in these clusters, these butterflies rapidly mate, feed, store their energy reserves, and either rest here throughout the winters, or continue on their milkweed-migration-hopping to reach their final destination paradises. This is the annual ritual of several thousands of winter Monarch butterflies (that can live up to 8 months in comparison to their captive summer counterparts which live only for 2-6 weeks), that can employ a complex interplay of visual, chemical, and olfactory sensors to detect milk weed flowers.

Butterflies from the Western and Eastern sides of the Rockies, somehow begin their journey down south in October, and reach locations in Southern California, or Mexico, respectively by January-Feb. That’s a long, long, journey. The Park Ranger I spoke with told me that, while the Mexico-bound flies are aided by the direction of the wind, the California-bound flies are forced to fight against the winds. Scientists have suggested the following as possible cues these butterflies use to signal the migratory event: wind patterns, changing smells of wilting flowers, their changing vibrant colors, the fresh smell of newly blooming flowers, the changing tastes of floral nectar, the visibly changing sunlight patterns, length of day/nights, and temperatures, to name the top few. However, the exact answer to explain how and when these butterflies can so brilliantly find their routes to their respective destinations, particularly in an orchestrated event that systematically happens every single year, to exactly same destinations, is still entirely, UNKNOWN.

Thanks to efforts by citizen scientists who have managed to brilliantly track these butterflies, we now have several high-caliber, simple-easy to understand citizen science projects that are currently shaping our knowledge about these Migratory patterns:  Monarch Watch and the Journey NorthDue to the numerous risks involving weather patterns, predator attacks and habitat changes, often it is the fifth generation of the butterflies that eventually reach their destinations. Through spring season, these butterflies actively mate and nearly double their populations, which subsequently begin their return travels to the north. And a few months after, the cycle repeats, and just like their ancestors did, these butterflies begin their south-bound Migration. Sadly, their numbers are sinking. Last year, over 1,50,000 butterflies fluttered their way into the small canopy of Eucalyptus trees in this State Park. This year, the numbers haven’t crossed 30,000.

My park ranger gave me one final tip: if you want to help, plant a milk-weed in your back yard. No matter where you are, a Monarch Butterfly will find its way to your home. She smiled. And I well knew she wasn’t exaggerating.

explore

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How do we react to confusion? Cross roads? Unknown Paths? Some of us stress out, some of us address the possible solutions calmly, and few others just pick something based on a gut feeling, and the rest would all-together procrastinate the thoughts for finding solutions, and just wait there.

Have you been unsure of which career track to choose? As I pass through everyday, contemplating my next career move, I find myself at the mercy of the spirit of exploration. “Fear not! come, what, may” – as my ever encouraging mom would say, let me take the step and explore this direction, before I make a decision.

Last many weeks, I’ve been exploring my options for pursuing a career in Nursing, after I finish my PhD. I don’t necessarily expect to make a decision today, but the idea of a change , of a certain-uncertainty is making me feel very young and very hopeful.

My 2 cents on chiropractic therapy

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An injury three weeks back forced me to tend to my lower back. Since an appointment with my family doctor could not be met for another two weeks, I used a combination of home remedies including BENGAY® massages, Advil, hot bag/cold bag press and simply lying down on flat surfaces. While they all gave temporary relief, nothing seemed to better the pain. Since we happened to find a Groupon for Chiropractor massage, we thought – why not? (the fact that a certified-medical therapy-by-certified-doctors was offered on a 93%-off discounted Groupon sale must have indicated something, but I was too desperate, so I conveniently chose to ignore).

On the day of my appointment, I spent a good 30 minutes reading up on several articles on chiropractic treatment. Bad idea, number 2. Unnecessary information clouded my mind. Anyway, I left to the clinic hoping for a nice, pain relieving therapeutic massage. What I will describe in the coming paragraphs will give a glimpse into MY personal experience (skepticism and opinions) on chiropractic therapy. Of course, I am no physician, and my experiences here do not constitute a medically certified recommendation for or against chiropractic medicine. If you happen to be a chiropractic doctor, please take no offense. I am naturally interested in understanding the medical terms used by my doctors (on me), so as always, I took to researching about them myself. The University of Google, and a few brochures at the doctor’s clinic are all of my bibliography. 

It was a small, home owned Chiropractic clinic. The doctor met with me first, announcing that their expertise lied in vertebral subluxation therapy, which collectively refers to symptoms of pain concerning the spine that have resulted from mild-to-medically significant displacement of one/many spinal segment(s) in your vertebral column. Furthermore, my doctor (and is a common practice among most chiropractors) extrapolated that this vertebral misalignment can *directly* affect neurological functions and lead to dysfunctional neuromuscular, neuroskeletal and other internal organs in the body. In the vocabulary of non-chiropractic Medical doctors, a mild structural displacement is not considered a subluxation, in fact a vertebral subluxation would be an actual displacement of a vertebral segment (which is a severe condition) and will be visible on an X-Ray. The claimed displacement or vertebral subluxation by chiropractors are NOT necessarily even visible on X-rays. Hence, there are several controversies about the actual definition of vertebral subluxation and the supposed effects on overall health, within the chiropractic profession itself

As we began talking, the doctor used a hand-held computerized device to detect my vertebral subluxations. Asking me to stand upright and straight, she applied the device on 6-8 points along each side of the spine – starting from my neck-shoulder region, all the way to my lower back. Basically speaking, this device measures two things: temperature on the surface of the skin, and electrical activity of the underlying muscles. After few continuous beeping from the computer connected to this device, it computes these two data values and displays a series of multi-colored bars on either side of a vertical line (which indicates my vertebral column). These bars are aligned as an overlay on reference-value bars, so that any misalignment of vertebral segment will no longer be aligned above the reference bar. The color of the bars indicates the severity of subluxation in that vertebrae, and the length of the bar displayed numbers in negative values, which presumably indicated how off-set my vertebrae were from a normal, well-aligned vertebrae. The values near my neck and lower back were in the orders of thousands, and negative. Diagnosis: my spine is officially severely misaligned – nearly 1000 fold relative to a normal well aligned vertebrae.

Being a researcher myself, I have realized that it takes experience to know how much to believe numbers. Numbers are powerful, when correctly computed and statistically accurate. As I was trying to comprehend the extent of this purported diagnosis, I was frantically reminding myself that I am a moderately active 29 year old researcher who spends a big chunk of the day bending over a research bench, who can also comfortably get into that tiny door of my three-year old niece’s jumpy house and run 5K in under 45 minutes. All that had happened, was an acute injury and sprain to my lower back, and I need some relief. I had no chronic pain whatsoever. However within those few seconds, those graphic bars made me feel very sick and abnormal. My doctor’s expression on her face only confirmed my paranoia as she quickly recommended follow up tests and treatment to “correct” the multiple vertebral subluxations that I had been harboring in my back.

This, which I later found out, is a common critique of most patients who underwent annual physical exams at their chiropractor’s. Many patients reported in online reviews (assuming they were genuine, and not fake) that they – who were otherwise leading a healthy musculo-skeletal-life with no neurological or physical symptoms, were persuaded to undergo treatments to correct several vertebral subluxations so as to prevent development of symptoms in the future. I should point out that other chiropractors might use a combination of other devices to diagnose and locate these subluxations. However, based on this incident of mine, I couldn’t help buy find flaws in this type of clinical diagnosis. A text-book style diagnosis entirely based on comparing computer generated numbers and supposedly normal-reference values, without testing the movements in my body and my abilities to flex my spine and back muscles? Perhaps it would have convinced me better to know how their reference values were generated. Do they factor in the race, ethnic group, age, gender, lifestyle, medical histories, etc.? Well, mine wasn’t. The next day I got a chance to chat with my family physician, with whom I asked about the significance of surface electromyography and thermography. I was told that these were routine and valid clinical tests that are performed to detect any disturbance to blood flow on the skin, and to test for muscle function. However, my family physician accepted that it has not yet been scientifically and medically proven that these tests are sufficient to correctly *locate* chiropractic vertebral misalignments, which are a bit different from the muscular system. I should again point out this is a personal opinion of my family physician and can, in no circumstances, replace actual backing by scientific literature (which I clearly don’t have here).

Soon after my X-rays were taken. I was given a back press using two hand held electrical devices that were producing a low electric current, resembling that of a lumbar traction. It lasted for about 15 minutes, during when the doctor placed the devices on my back and… was gone. For 15 minutes. I was a bit peeved that I was left there with electric-traction pads vibrating on my back without any supervision.

And my back pain faithfully remained with me.

The doctor came back in and very briefly gave me a few stretches. One particular stretch was on my neck – without a notice, she held my jaw and the back of my head with her hands, and darted a quick, sudden twist to my neck, causing a cracking-type noise. Of course she performed the stretch deftly with her skillful hands and it caused no pain, but it definitely jolted me for a second bringing my hands to my neck to check if it was still in there. I felt silly, and a bit amused. I think I have seen this in movies, and it felt cool, but this obviously did not help the main problem I came to the clinic for – lower BACK pain.

I left the office making the next appointment to see the Doc to discuss my X-Rays. After three days, and with my back pain still worse, I cancelled my appointment.

Those were my two cents on my chiropractic-experience. My intention was definitely not to trash this alternative medicine of chiropractic therapy. I merely wanted to share my experience and the bit of research I did afterwards. But by no means, should this deter you from trying this out for yourself, after all – my experience could simply be one isolated incident with probably a not-so-good doctor. Awareness is the key, so please go check it out for yourself! There are success stories of people who have benefitted from alternative medicines. I was just not very impressed with my experience, and will NOT go back to chiropractic therapy.

Cheers, and wishing you good musculo-skeletal health!

Related links on the www:

1. Journal of Chiropractic Medicine: http://www.journalchiromed.com/

2. The American Chiropractic Association: http://www.acatoday.org/

3. Some news articles related to chiropractic therapy:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-18356045

http://movies.nytimes.com/2012/09/21/movies/doctored-a-defense-of-chiropractic-aid.html?ref=chiropractors&_r=0

http://www.cnn.com/HEALTH/library/back-pain/SA00080.html?iref=allsearch

Back in the summer of ’00

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As we grow older, we begin to understand the dynamics of our expectations from our lives. What then seemed like burgeoning beetles of tough times crawling into our psyche, we know that these petty, as they may seem now, childhood experiences are in all means, humbling and crucial.

I was recently invited to a wedding from a school friend. In our school days, he was a school topper, a math guru and my class mate, we shared a few classes together. He is now pursuing his Doctoral studies from a prestigious institution in the States. As I was looking through my inbox to find his email id to send him my post-wedding congratulatory note, I happened to chance upon the emails we had exchanged a few years back. This friend of mine, and me, and some many other 12th Grade students were among those who succumbed to the blight of the Indian education system.

We fell into the category of students who were striving hard and meticulously to top school exams in Biology, Social Sciences, Chemistry, Physics, Math, and the languages, all the way through middle school and high school, so that we could get admission into THE (so-called) top ranked ‘best’ school in the city. We were in the last two years of our schooling, at the pinnacle (no exaggeration, that was exactly how it was perceived) of our career curve: college admissions. Sadly, those two years did not turn out the way we had planned it go. Slowly, as the pressure kept mounting, we were unable to handle the pressure positively, and began losing our perspective on things.

The exploding population, limited number of affordable National Institutes, the lack of awareness of non-professional degree programs, and the cherry-on-the-top being the reservation a.k.a caste system regulations, are just a few of the many social issues responsible for creating that humongous mental pressure on every student appearing for the State wide and National wide Examinations conducted for streamlining admissions into University Programs. While some students survive, some reign in success, some students succumb to the pressure and are shocked in disbelief.

Having gone through this personal setback myself, I can still feel the scar of my 12th Grade School experience that had uninvitingly imposed itself on me. For me, for my friend and for all others who had such similar tragic experiences, what came afterwards had drastically changed the path of our careers, friendships, self confidence, and our understanding of life and the society.

Congrats my friend – I am proud of you, too.

 

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A scientific tool takes a look at a possible causal-effect of the caste system in India.

World

Kumarasamy Thangaraj traveled 840 miles (1,350 km) off of the eastern coast of India by plane, then ship, then six hours by car, then ship again to collect blood samples from an isolated tribe of hunter-gatherers on the Andaman Islands. Their blood, he explained through an interpreter, would help him understand a pivotal moment in India’s genetic history. The tribesmen had never heard of a gene before or an academic study for that matter, and the whole pitch struck them as an interesting diversion from their usual routine of spearfishing.

“They mostly laughed,” Thangaraj says, before they offered up their arms in exchange for food. A few needle pricks later, they returned to their boats to fling short wooden spears into the water with uncanny aim, while Thangaraj made the long journey home to Hyderabad. He deposited the latest samples into a blood bank, alongside another 32,000 samples from…

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News: Gang rape of a woman photo journalist in Mumbai, Aug 2013

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Pains my heart, disgusts my soul and my racing pulse writhes in anger.

My heart skips a beat every single time I am transformed to a mute spectator witnessing this news shouting out loud on the headlines. If there be truth in dharma, if there be an inkling of truth in humanity, may the rapists and those who have knowingly or unknowingly taught them that this act of rape is their birth right, be bloody punished to death. Immediately. Stripped off their rights to court proceedings and stripped off their rights to even qualify for the Human Rights Commission.

Yada Yada Hi Dharmasya
Glanirva Bhavathi Bharatha,
Abhyuthanam Adharmaysya
Tadatmanam Srijami Aham.

I don’t think I want to believe this anymore. To hell with Dharma.

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Years of cultural conditioning appears to leave us with fascinating zones in our psyche. As the Avittam star shines distinctly today in this month of Aavani, it also heralds the time for renewing the Brahman’s sacred thread, poonal – to a fresh new one. It was a scurried morning of activities. Cleaning, ablutions, setting out the religious paraphernalia, cooking, and observing silence, as the male member of the family chants the verses and changes his poonal. These pre-planned structured and deliberated activities transformed the usual quiet and predictable cereal-milk-oat meal mornings. It was a bit of work and preparation, but somewhere amidst the morning hustle, arose this inner feeling of quietness and comfort. A feeling that resonated with a certain familiarity of smells, sounds, duties, orderliness and … the warmth of my childhood and of my joint family.

As I finally sat down with my breakfast, the quietness of the burning oil lamp and the scents of the Vedic sacred ash casted a serene awareness to my senses.

Hi there, wisdom teeth. Too bad, evolution booted you out.

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“When did you last have your dental clean up/exam”, asked the front desk nurse. I thought for a long time, trying to visualize the mental image of the dentist so that I may be able to place the time point of my earlier visit. No idea. But I know, this was long before I started graduate school. “7 years”, “or so”, I said. Then I stood there, witnessing a quick stare, darted by an expression of disapproval on my nurse’s face.

I made a trip to a dentist a few days back. After a rigorous hour and half appointment consisting of X-Rays, drilling and intense poking, I was seated next to the dentist who was pouring over my results. Turns out, that my calcified arrangement of my ectodermal tissues a.k.a teeth, were in near-perfect condition. While I was cheering inside, mentally putting off my next doctor’s visit for another 7 years, my dentist eyes sparkled. He said, very flatteringly – “you have genetically superior teeth”! I giggled, not knowing why. His remark was based on my absolute inability to possess the supernumerary structures, pompously called wisdom teeth.

No kidding, wisdom teeth are extremely painful, annoying, irritating, unnecessary, and expensive, and sometimes even dangerous to get rid of. Someone out there, had that sense of humor to name it ‘wisdom’ teeth, although it was historically named to signify the time at one’s life during which these molars usually begin to appear – between 15 & 25, an age bracket where many would have (supposedly) pursued wisdom by way of education or through life experiences. That name, however, was clearly oblivious to the irony it had created among uninformed school students who thought they weren’t wise enough to have extra molars erupting from beneath their gums. While most of the us – members of the constantly evolving human race- have been genetically selected against the need for these extra molars in our jaw line, a few of us still develop them. Clinically, they are vestigial structures, which were critical for human ancestors to be able to chew harder food and foliage. Importantly, teeth was crucial for survival of the prehistoric man who valued his sharp teeth for attacking, clutching and consuming his prey. As we evolved, we began standing up and used limbs for that purpose. Moreover, having numerous teeth was probably advantageous at a time when survival meant the fittest (the medical insurance then, was also pretty bad, just like it is in the States now).

A quick google search indicates that over 35% of the world population don’t have wisdom teeth, while it is intriguing to me why some of us still do. A few chromatin modifier genes have been implied in expressing the PAX6 gene responsible for wisdom teeth eruption. However, not much genetic data seems to exist on PubMED (a medical database of research findings). Moreover, without any evolutionary advantage for not having those extra molars, it is likely not to become extinct.

Now with full genomes of most organisms being sequenced, living or fossilized, we now have access to understanding the millions of genes (which gave rise to anatomical structures) that our ancestors possessed and those we don’t anymore. But not all vestigial structures that became extinct are useless to us now. There are tons of examples for that, but I’ll share the one I just found out. While reading this article, I found out that human ancestors had once harbored the gene L-gulano-γ-lactone oxidase that allowed them to synthesize their OWN vitamin C! Modern man, unfortunately doesn’t have it.

So, crank up on those berries and lemons.

Ciao!

Hands on Latte Art Heart

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Every weekend, we have started a ritual of making a Latte using our South Indian Filter Kapi apparatus. We obsess over our old stainless steel kapi filter, by washing it well and glazing the filter portion over the stove top briefly. Then we quickly grind our fresh coffee beans, measure three table spoons of coffee powder into the filter, and pour hot boiling water directly into the filter until it fills up to the brim. We don’t have a fancy steamer or a espresso machine. So we spend the next 5-7 minutes creating the foam or the froth in our coffee mugs. Since we use skim milk, creating the froth is slavish, hard labour. Once our coffee liquor, or the di-kok-shun as we call it, is ready to go, we pour it over our milk. Mix in a teaspoon of sugar, and it’s ready!

The last time we did this, I craved for the next step on the Latte ladder. The latte art heart. That creamy, chubby heart – right in the middle of your coffee.

We wanted that.

So we tried this.

But we ended with up with a drizzle of milk over the di-kok-shun. 

But we have the next Saturday coming up soon.

Mindfulness

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Imagine sitting in a busy coffee place, by yourself. You are holding a steaming cup of latte, fresh to devour. Happy thoughts, an energetic spirit rises within.

I love my times in the coffee place. Not being a coffee addict somehow helps me take the focus out of that drug at hand and simply focus on my morning thoughts.  Today, my visit to the coffee place was eventful, mindfully.

I am writing my Doctoral thesis now. After a six year, highly stressful and nearly frustrating experience with experimental work on fruit flies, I’m closer to the end than ever before. After a three year hiatus of strongly surviving our long distance marriage, I have finally moved in with my husband for the months of thesis writing. No words can explain the peace we feel in our lives now. In spite of fully knowing that this will expire quickly again in a few months when I will move back for a little bit, to finish the last leg of my thesis and defense – we are totally relieved and thankful for the small joys we are fortunate to have now. Today at the coffee place, I stared at my thesis introductory chapter outlines, and was drifting away into minutes of mindless, unconstricted distractions. I was seething inside, momentarily getting mad at myself for my lack of concentration. But it was in vain.

My cerebellum was churning out several dozens of thoughts at the same time, tangled and fleeting. I should have rented a nice wide angle Canon Lens for my trip to the  Yellowstone national Park. May be I should have read the reviews online before hand. When was the last time I read those reviews? Man, they have new offers. My cousin would have known. Let me contact him and see what the newest photography thing he has done. Wow, he’s changed his Facebook profile. 154 likes. in less than an hour. People are just being nice. Did he like their pictures a dozen times before, which is why they are returning a favor? I love his panoramic pictures. Fantastic shots. Another close relative is visiting our city, but he Facebook messages us instead of calling, faithful to my husband’s prediction. We wanted to invite him home for a nice dinner. Stupid fellow. In that case, my husband is also right about me planning my day better for writing. I planned, but my results section need to be worked on first. I have 30 publishable figures, from six years of extensive hard work. Is that less. I should have never have stuck this through, I should have definitely removed my supervisor from my committee. Oh his passive aggressive behavior.  I should have spent more time unwinding everyday so that I could have got a better perspective on my stress. I should taken more of the lovely walks I used to enjoy clicking pictures of nature and people. I should rent a lens this weekend. I should have rented one on our last trip to  Yellowstone national Park…

My coffee is still steaming hot, I should put away my smart phone and find a place to sit. I carefully remove the lid hoping for it to cool faster. I quickly realize that I should start my day on a better note.  With a stronger, positive focus. I chanced upon this lovely article about Mindfulness. Or rather, being mindful. The Smṛtyupasthāna Sūtra is an ancient discourse, collection of anecdotes and Sanskrit shlokas, about the importance of being mindful in our every living moment. Simply put, it refers to keeping our mind actively tuned in to what is happening now. NOW. Not even a minute or decade before now, or what might happen later next year. Just now. The awareness is called Smrithi in Sanskrit. This concept of ‘being aware’ is multi-dimensional, a topic of extensive spiritual, psychological and religious connotations that attempt at exploring its deeper meanings. One of the best example is checking your breathing. I have been fortunate to have learnt from a Yogacharya that keeping a count on one’s own breathing rhythm is the best approach to create a sense of inner awareness.  In this 2-3 minute exercise, first start taking a slow, deep inhalation through the nostrils (make sure to keep the mouth closed throughout the exercise). As you inhale, count the number of seconds you inhaled in. Start exhaling out of your nostrils, taking *twice* the number of seconds as the inhalation. Repeat 3X. Can you do this exercise for a whole 2 minutes without breaking the flow?

I found out today that mere 2 hours of video gaming can *structurally* alter one’s brain. It is thus of no question what we can achieve to positively (or negatively, or just naturally) influence our mind (or that brain region controlling our interpretations and emotions).  Being fully aware of our present moment is an art, challenge and a wisdom known to a very very very few of us.  Try the breathing exercise, you will know.

And as a self note, no matter how big or small your thesis is, enjoy the moment. I’ve been waiting for this time, for six long years…

Persistence

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On an odd day like today, when your month long research experiment turns out to be a disappointing failure, it is annoyingly painful to make your choice of reaction towards it. Historically, I will hear my mother say, persistence – try again. I naturally radiate inwards and suspect my self-efficacy and loathe my foresight and swing all the way to questioning my scientific expertise. Why didn’t this experiment work?  As I walk backwards through the  ritual of trouble shooting it, I frustratingly ponder over possible causes for those 4 weeks X 4 hours each day worth of time and effort, gone down the drain. I know this will pass, and I will repeat the experiment (differently) and try again.

As a virtue, ‘persistence’ has always intrigued me.

Building a social movement for science: a look at how citizen science is redefining the scientific approach

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In our 4G-network-shrinking-world, social media communication has revolutionized sharing accurate information reliably and instantly. So reliable that fieldwork research traditionally conducted only by scientists is now being transformed into community- based science projects, involving non-scientist science-loving volunteers called ‘citizen scientists’. Scientists are stepping out of their Ivory Towers of Universities and research laboratories, to engage with the society and lend their expertise and knowledge to develop sustainable, general public scientific initiatives – called citizen science. 

Dr. Erin Bayne Associate Professor at Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alberta, has pioneered a successful citizen science project in collaboration with conservation biology students and over 1800 citizen scientists, to collect data on avian mortality in Edmonton, the results of which are published in Wildlife Research (2012). Dr. Bayne is enthusiastic that “academicians can now use technology to easily train interested [citizen scientists] to collect large amounts of data that would otherwise be impossible to do them ourselves”. But he cautions, “Citizen Science efforts without a good understanding of scientific principles of data collection and experimental design are doomed to failure”. Exciting projects like this are springing up all over the world. Take for example, the project created by Louise Emmons, Bret Whitney, and David Ross Jr that culminated in a fascinating and an incredibly useful audio CD which compiled characteristic sounds of over 100 mammalian species in the Costa Rican rainforests. This is part of the several citizen science initiatives at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, which since 1966 has enlisted the help of over 200,000 volunteers worldwide to classify bird observations and collectively generate what is today’s largest and most comprehensive repository on bird data. Across the globe, technology has empowered citizens to voluntarily take up the role of scientist to systematically collect scientific data in diverse areas – from physics to geology to marine biology. Be it FrogWatch Canada or Hummingbirds @ Home that study human-environmental interactions influencing animal populations, or Project MERCCURI or μBiome that populates microbial data from hundreds of human volunteers to understand dietary and lifestyle impact on human health. The Zooniverse: Snapshot Serengeti project can bring cheer to wildlife photographers interested in processing thousands of live snapshot images of ecosystems, while gamers get to play against the EyeWire Project and map their retinal neuronal cells to study brain functions.

Citizen scientists have access to some incredible mobile apps and premade kits to share collected data with scientists, who will then compile and analyze statistical trends to make the data publishable in refereed scientific journals and conferences. Strikingly, these research findings rely entirely on volunteers such as yourself, your grandmother, your neighbors’ kids, hockey players, or the cab driver that drives around the city making thousands of observations…anyone, with little or no scientific training. But why engage volunteers when scientists could simply program supercomputers to collect data? Of course, computing has advanced the art of data analyses, but citizen science relies on public engagement, and exchange of ideas and opinions between science experts and science enthusiasts. Like-minded youngsters and adults have a unique intuition, passion and scientific curiosity that when shared in a meaningful approach, can exponentially scale up the reach of these projects. Suhel Quader is heading two such assignments in India: Seasonwatch, a 20 year project studying changes in seasonal cycles of plants and Migrantwatch, a published 4-year research effort studying migratory patterns of birds indicative of seasonal changes. On the advantages of citizen science, he says “they help adding to the scientific knowledge base and also change us as citizens — to care about the environment and develop a relationship with what is around us.”

What’s next for citizen science?

Scientific innovations impact the air we breathe, the food we eat, the distances we travel, and the way we now perceive media, communication, education, health and society. Technology has democratized accessibility to scientific information, and created higher scientific awareness and visibility of public amongst policy makers and decision makers. Shouldn’t science then be included in our powerful public policy decisions? During the 2012 US Presidential election campaign, ScienceDebate.org invited thousands of concerned citizens to post what they thought were the country’s central science issues, and the top questions were then posed to the candidates. Marvelously, citizens from all walks of life freely began debating on topics ranging from economics to space expeditions to belief systems. This citizen science initiative was highly popular and a great success, because it was solely based on the interest and intent of the common man’s quest for the right of information and assessment of the impact of science and technology in their lives. As more citizen science projects innervate societies, larger communities are engaging in real life scientific projects that are gradually transforming the way science is perceived and performed, and with the power of technology and media, we may not be far from when citizens could influence how tax money should be assessed when budgeting funds for scientific work. As US anthropologist Margaret Mead rightly said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it is the only thing that ever has”.

***A version of this article can be found here.

 

Everyday musings

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Well, I’m pretty sure most of my musings in the immediate future are going to harp around the beginning of the end to my Ph.D.  This period has quite surprisingly been a lot more fun than I anticipated. Grad school life is like childhood in a protected household. You feel secure (which you will realise only when you get out!) and time moves s-l-o-w-l-y, before you realise that your peers from high school have long been “employed”, bought a house and celebrating vacations at beaches on the Pacific. Remember, you are still a student. Closing my PhD is my everyday prayer. But the transition to finding that coveted job and finding our way through the ‘real’ world, is quite frankly daunting. We’ve experienced that feeling before. Nothing new, right? Only difference, I’m 10 years older, and my peers  from high school have long been “employed”, bought a house and celebrating……..

Big deal. I love my life and will do things at my pace! I have no regrets! Perhaps, the attitude is the key. The attitude I’m talking about -the much clichéd: let go the anxiousness – and take things as they come – mantra. Annoyingly true. Implementing it, of course, is a totally different thing.

I’ve been in Academia, pursuing a doctorate in Molecular Biology & Genetics, for last five years.  If you were to ask me for my elevator pitch (via a blog), I’ll say I began studying the biology of how fruit flies metabolise their cholesterol. Why care? Are more fruit flies dying of  heart attacks recently? No. Or well, probably no. As biologists, we are often interested in understanding the basic biology of how things work, even of research areas that may never become of applied, therapeutic use one day. Importantly, this kind of basic biology work is what gets into text books and enhances our understanding of simpler life systems and biochemical pathways.  Or simply put, this approach led us to understand, say how the amount of sugar in our 2000-odd calorie diet directly influences how insulin is produced in our pancreatic cells to protect our brains from a coma. Am I concerned that fruit flies will drink too much beer and kill themselves? I’m afraid not. But during evolution, a few amazing things happened (in addition to evolution itself, that is!) and animals without a vertebra (spine) or a red blood evolved simultaneously. Even when spaced out across several species in the animal kingdom, one particular sub-species of such insects that can fly and feed off yeast and fruit, evolved our own majestic fruit flies, proud owners of a complex genome that closely match the genome of the current-day humans by over 80%! Fruit flies are thus genetically very superior and can be comparable to humans on nearly every biological aspect. Moreover they only have 4 chromosomes, allowing geneticists to prize the scope of genetic manipulations  that can be done with the fruit flies. In my research, I wanted to understand what happens when a cholesterol molecule reaches the cell. A ton of literature and vast clinical trials have been done in humans based on some key findings about cholesterol trafficking in a vertebrate cell. However, some unknowns remain, and I chose to use a living fruit fly cell to unravel those pathways and interacting genes.

Only, the ‘unravelling’ will take you more than six years, several changed projects, a few hundred failed experiments , and lots and lots of fly-pushing! But the reality is, that this is reality. As grad students in science, we will crib about the tribulations of our Ph.Ds. But we all know, that IS the beauty and awe of science. My first attempt at making the simplest of the Indian drink, chai was a total disaster. Today, science allows me to sequence my own genome on my desk.

So, there’s lots to do out there! Whether or not your Ph.D itself was stellar, I earnestly believe that this Ph.D training will help me take off.

Big, big data everywhere, now is not the chance to blink!