Rate Race —

Ila Kapadia

It has been just over 50 years since a first heart transplant was successful. In 2015  an Italian surgeon Mr. Canavero from the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation group made an amazing announcement that he is working on perfecting a procedure to graft someone’s head on to a new body. He first hoped to perform this on a terminally ill patient.  After that he expects most recipients to be with muscle wasting diseases and  patients with muscular dystrophy and tetraplegia.

Now not only organ transplant but many intricate surgeries to major organs have become routine. Fertilizing embryos in the laboratory is well established. However, a leading newspaper has reported that tissue and organ transplant would be considered barbaric in the generation to come as research has advanced in the possibility of growing body parts from a person’s own tissues.  Similarly, it has been just over 60 years since the structure of D.N.A. molecules and location of the genes were discovered. Now, genetic engineering has advanced to such an extent that genes leading to serious medical diseases are identified and progress is being made to remove such genes at embryonic stage.  

Over the past six -seven decades Medical Science has progressed by leaps and bounds. The cures for many killer diseases like smallpox are eradicated from the world. The development of various vaccinations against measles, whooping cough, diphtheria, polio has reduced childhood misery and mortality drastically. The antibiotics and penicillin are excellent cures for most infections. The  awareness for better sanitation and addressing poverty has increased life expectancy.

However, it seems the whole mankind is in the  pursuit of pleasure and leisure. Overeating and the consumption of exotic rich and junk food has become part of daily life leading to obesity, especially in the developed countries. This has been the major factor leading to heart attack, cancer and type -2 diabetes and stroke.  The race to increase income level to fulfil desires, to follow the fashion and trend, achieve higher and luxurious standard of living and achieve a well paid career path has increased the stress level leading to stroke and alcoholism, drug abuse. WHO (world health organisation) reported that Smoking also is a major factor causing cancer, coronary and respiratory diseases

B.B.C. had relayed two programmes, titled as above – HOW TO STAY YOUNG, conducted by well-known journalist Angela Ripon and Dr. Chris Van Tulleken, a doctor by profession and research scientist. Based on the latest study, they demonstrated how lifestyle affects our body and brain. One of the keys to address obesity is to eat a balanced diet, avoiding red meat, dairy  products and reduce two white poisons i.e. sugar and salt. Chris Tulleken assured that even reducing the intake of these items has great effect. Research shows vegan diet is the healthiest of all. Adding lentils and chick peas which contain high resistance starch, helps to break down stored internal fat around the major organs. The epidemic of obesity has become so imperative that not only advanced western countries but OECD countries (organisation for economic co-operation and development) have taken steps to bring public awareness. The displaying of the amount of the nutrients and daily requirement of these on the food packaging has been made mandatory in many countries to guide the public in controlling their diet.

B.B.C. news brief of 27th July 2020 revealed that 2/3 of adults and 1/3 of children in primary school are obese in England. Nearly 8% of critically ill patients in intensive care unit  have been morbidly obese compared with 2.9% of the general population. As a result govt. has now banned buy one get one free offer of unhealthy food, displaying of sweets at the checkout and advertisement of unhealthy food before 9.00 p.m. Restaurants will have to display calorie count on the menu.     

The invention of labour saving domestic equipment has reduced the physical activities which help free flow blood circulation in the body. The motor driven vehicles have become part of our daily life. We use cars even to drop children to school, missing the walking opportunity. Researchers have proved regular exercise is vital for healthy living and 30 minutes daily walk is the best form of exercise.  However, the B.B.C. program showed that dancing or similar activity is better for blood circulation than walking as it exercises all parts of the body including our brain.

To prove the theory Angela Ripon and Dr. Van Tulleken presented the research experiment. 75% of the way our brain ages and shrinks depends on the lifestyle. A research scientist Dr. Francesca gave a written test designed to check the level of memory, problem solving and cognitive skills to a group of volunteers. She then divided the group into walkers and table tennis players. After ten weeks she tested both the groups, giving them the same test. The result of the experiment revealed that walking increases neurons and connections in the brain leading to improved memory and alertness more than playing table tennis. However, not only table tennis players were physically stronger but the complex use of the brain and coordination, increased the cells in the cortex, the outer circle of the brain, resulting in the expansion of the brain. This improved the  executive functions like planning, organizing and complex thinking.

The hectic materialistic lifestyle we are living results in stress, another factor triggering stroke, causing heart attack and mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, panic attacks etc. It also shortens the life. Angela Ripon and Chris Tolkin reported a study where one of identical twins living in a stressful environment had his body age reduced by five years more than his biological age compared to his brother the other twin living in a stress free environment.

Yog and meditation have proven to release stress. Positive outlook i.e appreciating half glass full rather than half glass empty, facing the difficulty and focusing on the solution of the problem rather than pondering on the problem will help. The children should be moulded to be resilient from early childhood to face difficulties, harsh and hard incidences which are  part of life, guided to solve their problems rather than parents solving for them. Cases of students taking extreme steps of committing suicide cover the newspapers for not achieving expected results. Turning the failure into opportunity and looking at other options will prove success. `Try your best but prepare for the worst` and having a backup plan, prepares one for unexpected adverse events and outcomes.

Last but not least, pondering on spiritual thinking also can avoid emotional roller coasters. Containing anger, greed, infatuation, jealousy  and achieving a balanced mind can restrain stress. Though one works hard for a particular goal one may not get success for various reasons i.e. one may fall ill, have an accident on the day of exam or performance. In Geeta, a part of Hindu epic Krishna preaches Arjun in the battleground `karmanye vadhikarste ma faleshu kadachan` -  just work, don’t think of the result. if you deserve you will get the success

In addition, social interaction is just as important. Learning a new skill, language, musical instrument or drawing, improves mental sharpness and wires the brain. Eating purple colour fruits and vegetables (high in Anthocyanin) i.e. blackberries, blueberries, aubergine, is beneficial. The main source of food for people in a village called Okonova in Japan is purple coloured sweet potatoes, a powerhouse of nutrients. The reason why they live longer comparatively.

Though some people lead healthy lifestyles for the body as well as brain, with increasing age, they develop Dementia. A disease which affects the functions of the brain. With an increase of 200000 new cases of dementia every year in U.K., as reported recently, seeking early help is vital. Exploring the possibilities to help this condition further and find the cure has been absolutely inevitable.  

So Angela Ripon followed a study, conducted in U.S.A. over many years. The study group was 600 nuns of the School of Sisters of Notre Dam. These nuns were asked to write their biography when they joined the institution. A psychologist analysed that those who had a high level of education wrote complex and extensive writing whereas those who did not, their writing was sparse. Research Scientist Michael Neil believed that those who had a high level of education were less likely to get Alzheimer's as education stimulates and challenges the brain from early childhood and continues throughout life and stops the development of  dementia. 

Apart from taking periodic cognitive tests, 600 nuns agreed to donate their brains after their death. It was found that brains with dementia not only shrunk in size but these had a lot more reduced volume. Furthermore, brains with dementia had sticky protein substance which coagulated the pathways of the brain, killing the neuron cells. That deteriorated the functions of the different parts of the brain.

The journalist then visited the Patterson Air Base where an amazing experiment to see if electric stimulation had increased the memory, alertness and attention whilst the airman was given a virtual surveillance test. His performance was twice better with the electric stimulation. She herself took the test to see if an older person like herself (she is 70 years) performed better with the stimulation provided. It was found that her performance was 25% improved.

Another study performed an experiment on mice to see if giving blood of a young  mouse to an old one had any significant improvement in the memory and alertness. After receiving the blood, the old mouse was markedly quicker to find the escape rout in a maze establishing the possibility of improving the brain functions of an old person with the similar method.        

Retirement age in Britain is 70 years when a person would have accomplished his worldly responsibilities and duties. As per statistics published in 2017, life expectancy in Britain is 80 years. Following the guide lines not only will increase the life expectancy but will increase the quality of life. With a healthy mind in a healthy body a person has good 10 to 15 years to follow his passion, hobby, travelling to fulfil his life time yearning. It`s `time to let go rat race` control emotions, greed, infatuation anger as said in Geeta to achieve mental peace to reach Param Shanti – Eternal Peace.

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Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features

The Pandemic Is A Portal

Arundhati Roy

Who can use the term “gone viral” now without shuddering a little? Who can look at anything any more — a door handle, a cardboard carton, a bag of vegetables — without imagining it swarming with those unseeable, undead, unliving blobs dotted with suction pads waiting to fasten themselves on to our lungs?

Who can think of kissing a stranger, jumping on to a bus or sending their child to school without feeling real fear? Who can think of ordinary pleasure and not assess its risk? Who among us is not a quack epidemiologist, virologist, statistician and prophet? Which scientist or doctor is not secretly praying for a miracle? Which priest is not — secretly, at least — submitting to science?

And even while the virus proliferates, who could not be thrilled by the swell of birdsong in cities, peacocks dancing at traffic crossings and the silence in the skies?

The number of cases worldwide this week crept over a million. More than 50,000 people have died already. Projections suggest that number will swell to hundreds of thousands, perhaps more. The virus has moved freely along the pathways of trade and international capital, and the terrible illness it has brought in its wake has locked humans down in their countries, their cities and their homes.

But unlike the flow of capital, this virus seeks proliferation, not profit, and has, therefore, inadvertently, to some extent, reversed the direction of the flow. It has mocked immigration controls, biometrics, digital surveillance and every other kind of data analytics, and struck hardest — thus far — in the richest, most powerful nations of the world, bringing the engine of capitalism to a juddering halt. Temporarily perhaps, but at least long enough for us to examine its parts, make an assessment and decide whether we want to help fix it, or look for a better engine.

The mandarins who are managing this pandemic are fond of speaking of war. They don’t even use war as a metaphor, they use it literally. But if it really were a war, then who would be better prepared than the US? If it were not masks and gloves that its frontline soldiers needed, but guns, smart bombs, bunker busters, submarines, fighter jets and nuclear bombs, would there be a shortage?

Night after night, from halfway across the world, some of us watch the New York governor’s press briefings with a fascination that is hard to explain. We follow the statistics, and hear the stories of overwhelmed hospitals in the US, of underpaid, overworked nurses having to make masks out of garbage bin liners and old raincoats, risking everything to bring succour to the sick. About states being forced to bid against each other for ventilators, about doctors’ dilemmas over which patient should get one and which left to die. And we think to ourselves, “My God! This is America!”

The tragedy is immediate, real, epic and unfolding before our eyes. But it isn’t new. It is the wreckage of a train that has been careening down the track for years. Who doesn’t remember the videos of “patient dumping” — sick people, still in their hospital gowns, butt naked, being surreptitiously dumped on street corners? Hospital doors have too often been closed to the less fortunate citizens of the US. It hasn’t mattered how sick they’ve been, or how much they’ve suffered.

At least not until now — because now, in the era of the virus, a poor person’s sickness can affect a wealthy society’s health. And yet, even now, Bernie Sanders, the senator who has relentlessly campaigned for healthcare for all, is considered an outlier in his bid for the White House, even by his own party.

The tragedy is the wreckage of a train that has been careening down the track for years.

And what of my country, my poor-rich country, India, suspended somewhere between feudalism and religious fundamentalism, caste and capitalism, ruled by far-right Hindu nationalists?

In December, while China was fighting the outbreak of the virus in Wuhan, the government of India was dealing with a mass uprising by hundreds of thousands of its citizens protesting against the brazenly discriminatory anti-Muslim citizenship law it had just passed in parliament.

The first case of Covid-19 was reported in India on January 30, only days after the honourable chief guest of our Republic Day Parade, Amazon forest-eater and Covid-denier Jair Bolsonaro, had left Delhi. But there was too much to do in February for the virus to be accommodated in the ruling party’s timetable. There was the official visit of President Donald Trump scheduled for the last week of the month. He had been lured by the promise of an audience of 1m people in a sports stadium in the state of Gujarat. All that took money, and a great deal of time.

Then there were the Delhi Assembly elections that the Bharatiya Janata Party was slated to lose unless it upped its game, which it did, unleashing a vicious, no-holds-barred Hindu nationalist campaign, replete with threats of physical violence and the shooting of “traitors”.

It lost anyway. So then there was punishment to be meted out to Delhi’s Muslims, who were blamed for the humiliation. Armed mobs of Hindu vigilantes, backed by the police, attacked Muslims in the working-class neighbourhoods of north-east Delhi. Houses, shops, mosques and schools were burnt. Muslims who had been expecting the attack fought back. More than 50 people, Muslims and some Hindus, were killed.

Thousands moved into refugee camps in local graveyards. Mutilated bodies were still being pulled out of the network of filthy, stinking drains when government officials had their first meeting about Covid-19 and most Indians first began to hear about the existence of something called hand sanitiser.

March was busy too. The first two weeks were devoted to toppling the Congress government in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh and installing a BJP government in its place. On March 11 the World Health Organization declared that Covid-19 was a pandemic Two days later, on March 13, the health ministry said that corona “is not a health emergency”.

Finally, on March 19, the Indian prime minister addressed the nation. He hadn’t done much homework. He borrowed the playbook from France and Italy. He told us of the need for “social distancing” (easy to understand for a society so steeped in the practice of caste) and called for a day of “people’s curfew” on March 22. He said nothing about what his government was going to do in the crisis, but he asked people to come out on their balconies, and ring bells and bang their pots and pans to salute health workers.

He didn’t mention that, until that very moment, India had been exporting protective gear and respiratory equipment, instead of keeping it for Indian health workers and hospitals.

Not surprisingly, Narendra Modi’s request was met with great enthusiasm. There were pot-banging marches, community dances and processions. Not much social distancing. In the days that followed, men jumped into barrels of sacred cow dung, and BJP supporters threw cow-urine drinking parties. Not to be outdone, many Muslim organisations declared that the Almighty was the answer to the virus and called for the faithful to gather in mosques in numbers.

On March 24, at 8pm, Modi appeared on TV again to announce that, from midnight onwards, all of India would be under lockdown. Markets would be closed. All transport, public as well as private, would be disallowed.

He said he was taking this decision not just as a prime minister, but as our family elder. Who else can decide, without consulting the state governments that would have to deal with the fallout of this decision, that a nation of 1.38bn people should be locked down with zero preparation and with four hours’ notice? His methods definitely give the impression that India’s prime minister thinks of citizens as a hostile force that needs to be ambushed, taken by surprise, but never trusted.

Locked down we were. Many health professionals and epidemiologists have applauded this move. Perhaps they are right in theory. But surely none of them can support the calamitous lack of planning or preparedness that turned the world’s biggest, most punitive lockdown into the exact opposite of what it was meant to achieve.

The man who loves spectacles created the mother of all spectacles.

As an appalled world watched, India revealed herself in all her shame — her brutal, structural, social and economic inequality, her callous indifference to suffering.

The lockdown worked like a chemical experiment that suddenly illuminated hidden things. As shops, restaurants, factories and the construction industry shut down, as the wealthy and the middle classes enclosed themselves in gated colonies, our towns and megacities began to extrude their working-class citizens — their migrant workers — like so much unwanted accrual.

Many driven out by their employers and landlords, millions of impoverished, hungry, thirsty people, young and old, men, women, children, sick people, blind people, disabled people, with nowhere else to go, with no public transport in sight, began a long march home to their villages. They walked for days, towards Badaun, Agra, Azamgarh, Aligarh, Lucknow, Gorakhpur — hundreds of kilometres away. Some died on the way.

Our towns and megacities began to extrude their working-class citizens like so much unwanted accrual.

They knew they were going home potentially to slow starvation. Perhaps they even knew they could be carrying the virus with them, and would infect their families, their parents and grandparents back home, but they desperately needed a shred of familiarity, shelter and dignity, as well as food, if not love.

As they walked, some were beaten brutally and humiliated by the police, who were charged with strictly enforcing the curfew. Young men were made to crouch and frog jump down the highway. Outside the town of Bareilly, one group was herded together and hosed down with chemical spray.

A few days later, worried that the fleeing population would spread the virus to villages, the government sealed state borders even for walkers. People who had been walking for days were stopped and forced to return to camps in the cities they had just been forced to leave.

Among older people it evoked memories of the population transfer of 1947, when India was divided and Pakistan was born. Except that this current exodus was driven by class divisions, not religion. Even still, these were not India’s poorest people. These were people who had (at least until now) work in the city and homes to return to. The jobless, the homeless and the despairing remained where they were, in the cities as well as the countryside, where deep distress was growing long before this tragedy occurred. All through these horrible days, the home affairs minister Amit Shah remained absent from public view.

When the walking began in Delhi, I used a press pass from a magazine I frequently write for to drive to Ghazipur, on the border between Delhi and Uttar Pradesh.

The scene was biblical. Or perhaps not. The Bible could not have known numbers such as these. The lockdown to enforce physical distancing had resulted in the opposite — physical compression on an unthinkable scale. This is true even within India’s towns and cities. The main roads might be empty, but the poor are sealed into cramped quarters in slums and shanties.

Every one of the walking people I spoke to was worried about the virus. But it was less real, less present in their lives than looming unemployment, starvation and the violence of the police. Of all the people I spoke to that day, including a group of Muslim tailors who had only weeks ago survived the anti-Muslim attacks, one man’s words especially troubled me. He was a carpenter called Ramjeet, who planned to walk all the way to Gorakhpur near the Nepal border.

“Maybe when Modiji decided to do this, nobody told him about us. Maybe he doesn’t know about us”, he said.

“Us” means approximately 460m people.

State governments in India (as in the US) have showed more heart and understanding in the crisis. Trade unions, private citizens and other collectives are distributing food and emergency rations. The central government has been slow to respond to their desperate appeals for funds. It turns out that the prime minister’s National Relief Fund has no ready cash available. Instead, money from well-wishers is pouring into the somewhat mysterious new PM-CARES fund. Pre-packaged meals with Modi’s face on them have begun to appear.

In addition to this, the prime minister has shared his yoga nidra videos, in which a morphed, animated Modi with a dream body demonstrates yoga asanas to help people deal with the stress of self-isolation.

The narcissism is deeply troubling. Perhaps one of the asanas could be a request-asana in which Modi requests the French prime minister to allow us to renege on the very troublesome Rafale fighter jet deal and use that €7.8bn for desperately needed emergency measures to support a few million hungry people. Surely the French will understand.

As the lockdown enters its second week, supply chains have broken, medicines and essential supplies are running low. Thousands of truck drivers are still marooned on the highways, with little food and water. Standing crops, ready to be harvested, are slowly rotting.

The economic crisis is here. The political crisis is ongoing. The mainstream media has incorporated the Covid story into its 24/7 toxic anti-Muslim campaign. An organisation called the Tablighi Jamaat, which held a meeting in Delhi before the lockdown was announced, has turned out to be a “super spreader”. That is being used to stigmatise and demonise Muslims The overall tone suggests that Muslims invented the virus and have deliberately spread it as a form of jihad.

The Covid crisis is still to come. Or not. We don’t know. If and when it does, we can be sure it will be dealt with, with all the prevailing prejudices of religion, caste and class completely in place.

Today (April 2) in India, there are almost 2,000 confirmed cases and 58 deaths. These are surely unreliable numbers, based on woefully few tests. Expert opinion varies wildly. Some predict millions of cases. Others think the toll will be far less. We may never know the real contours of the crisis, even when it hits us. All we know is that the run on hospitals has not yet begun.

India’s public hospitals and clinics — which are unable to cope with the almost 1m children who die of diarrhoea, malnutrition and other health issues every year, with the hundreds of thousands of tuberculosis patients (a quarter of the world’s cases), with a vast anaemic and malnourished population vulnerable to any number of minor illnesses that prove fatal for them — will not be able to cope with a crisis that is like what Europe and the US are dealing with now.

All healthcare is more or less on hold as hospitals have been turned over to the service of the virus. The trauma centre of the legendary All India Institute of Medical Sciences in Delhi is closed, the hundreds of cancer patients known as cancer refugees who live on the roads outside that huge hospital driven away like cattle.

People will fall sick and die at home. We may never know their stories. They may not even become statistics. We can only hope that the studies that say the virus likes cold weather are correct (though other researchers have cast doubt on this). Never have a people longed so irrationally and so much for a burning, punishing Indian summer.

What is this thing that has happened to us? It’s a virus, yes. In and of itself it holds no moral brief. But it is definitely more than a virus. Some believe it’s God’s way of bringing us to our senses. Others that it’s a Chinese conspiracy to take over the world.

Whatever it is, coronavirus has made the mighty kneel and brought the world to a halt like nothing else could. Our minds are still racing back and forth, longing for a return to “normality”, trying to stitch our future to our past and refusing to acknowledge the rupture. But the rupture exists. And in the midst of this terrible despair, it offers us a chance to rethink the doomsday machine we have built for ourselves. Nothing could be worse than a return to normality.

Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.

We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.

Copyright ©️ Arundhati Roy 2020


Category :- English Bazaar Patrika / Features