Friday, September 30, 2011

Emotional blackmails - I

What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist. -Salman Rushdie

I remember reading that if people of faith kept their beliefs to themselves and did not fly planes into buildings, the rest of us should not have any problems with their beliefs. That is true of course but it often doesn't happen that way. And when somebody has suffered a stroke, it is to be expected that various suggestions will come from all sides. It is also obvious that Jaya was the main target of fear and guilt induction.

So she will be told, 'You didn't pray hard enough.' Or someone will coax her into keeping some fast, promising her the moon and at the end of the period when obviously nothing happened, she will be told, 'You didn't fast properly.' Or some people will ask Jaya to do some PT at various temples and when she shows reluctance, they will quickly fire their dart, 'Can't you do even this much for your husband?' If god is part of the conversation, there is a social sanction to say whatever comes to one's head, the emotional state of the other person be damned. And this is to be respected! Jaya could listen to these snide remarks with a shrug in part because she knew that as far as I was concerned, these superstitions 'pass by me as the idle wind/ Which I respect not.' As Rajesh Khanna sang in one situation in the movie 'Amar Prem', 'Logon ka kaam hai kehena.'

In The Trouble With Testosterone, Robert M. Sapolsky writes:
But religion is not just a handful of precepts that form the dominating core of one’s particular beliefs.......Religion is not just a foundation of thought and faith. Nor is it just a set of moral imperatives, or a set of cultural values to be shared with a community. In its traditional, orthodox incarnations, it is also a collection of small habits, behaviours, and prohibitions, a myriad of everyday activities and sayings. “Religion is meant to be bread for daily use, not cake for special occasions,” said Henry Ward Beecher. If the devil is in the details, then so is God, and for the average practitioner, religion is in the rituals and rules of quotidian life.
A stroke is hardly an everyday occurrence so it is to be expected that the suggestions for propitiation will go through the roof. In the weeks following my stroke, Jaya was goaded by the exemplars of piety to do pujas, say prayers, keep fasts (it seems to have become a popular pass time nowadays), visit temples, etc., accompanied by accounts of their benefits and dark insinuations about the harmful effects of neglecting them. This at a time when she was struggling to come to grips with medical terms that she had never heard of and was shuttling between home and hospital because Sujit was less than a year old.

Then there were the horoscope aficionados. There is a mindset among many in India that if something bad happens to the husband, the wife's horoscope is to blame. Every other person found some lacuna in Jaya's horoscope which could be rectified by performing some ritual. I am quite sure that many of these same personages would have been giddy with delight at the wonderful things that they could find in it before our marriage. When it was found that Jaya was not too concerned about her horrorscope (termed by Jaya), attention shifted to Sujit. It was suggested that my stroke was due to some flaw in his horoscope.

I used to frown at suggestions that Jaya meet some godman. I was not going to agree to let her be another pawn in the spiritual supermarket. I had an idea of how these things worked. You will be in an environment where you will be surrounded by like-minded people and intense peer pressure can be exerted. You will be bombarded from all sides with stories of various miracles that are attributed to the amazing powers of the godman. You will be encouraged to participate in the group activities and the value of the group will be constantly reinforced. In this atmosphere of pressure to conform to the will of the majority, the emotionally weak will find it impossible to refudiate the tall claims coming from all sides. It is considered a virtue to target emotionally vulnerable people to sell them religion. Some of these hirsute weirdos may come home and give me lectures filled with terms of obtuse profundity like 'universal energy' and 'bad karma'.

When Jaya meets some new person who doesn't know us, she avoids mentioning anything about me as far as possible. If some stranger asks her, 'What is your husband doing?' she will reply quickly, 'He was working in Indbank.'Most people will not notice that she said 'was' and not 'is'. With luck, the conversation will follow the lines of 'ING Bank? No, Indbank. - Is that Indian Bank? - No, this is its subsidiary. - Is it the same as Indusind Bank? - No, this is different...' By the time all the confusion ends, Jaya would have excused herself.

It is easy to understand why Jaya was reluctant to talk about me. It will be déjà vu all over again - there will be the initial shocked reaction and standard questions which will eventually culminate in a suggestion of yet another quack or godman with miraculous powers (everybody knows one) who they will insist we meet. If they are told that many such people have been suggested to us before and we have met some of them, we will be told that those guys can only talk(!) while their person is the real McCoy.

It is not surprising that Jaya sometimes tells me that it is easier to take care of me than to deal with many people.Perhaps they were giving their suggestions with the best of intentions and only wanted my quick recovery but that doesn't change the reality. The path to hell is paved with good intentions.
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it
Most of these incidents happened a long time ago and Father Time has started erasing memories. (We all experience it in the case of books.) Jaya's memory is worse than mine which is good in a way because it means that she does not dwell on insensitive comments made long ago. The only problem is that it deprives me of some blog fodder. I also would have forgotten many of the incidents if I had not noted them down as and when Jaya and I remembered them. I came across this list of Propaganda and Debating Techniques and felt that many of these tactics had been used against us. Unfortunately, I can't remember the details of most of them.

When someone tells me about a godman with miracle powers whom I should meet, I feel like saying what Rhett Butler told Scarlett O'Hara in Gone with the Wind, 'Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.'

Monday, September 26, 2011

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Bat missiles

Just finished reading Natural Acts by David Quammen. In it there is a bizarre story about the US spending $2 million during World War II on research into a plan to use thousands of Tadarida brasiliensis, the Mexican free-tailed bat carrying a small payload of napalm for firebombing Japan. It was dreamed up by a dental surgeon from Pennsylvania named Lytle S. Adams.
Seems that Dr. Adams was driving home from a vacation in New Mexico, where he had gazed wide-eyed at millions of T. brasiliensis, like one continuous pelt of lumpy brown fur, covering for acres the ceiling of the Carlsbad Caverns, when news of Pearl Harbor reached him. In first froth of patriotic outrage and desirous of doing his bit, Adams thought of those bats. In less than two months, as the American Heritage article has it, Adams "somehow got the ear of President Franklin Roosevelt and convinced him that the idea warranted investigation." Under the circumstances, "somehow" seems rather tantalizingly elliptical, but maybe FDR needed a little dental surgery and Dr. Adams pitched his idea before the gas had entirely worn off. Next he managed to interest an eminent Harvard chiroptologist (a bat expert, not a foot doctor) named Donald R. Griffin, and before long the National Defense Research Committee had signed on as a sponsor. By now it was known as the Adams Plan. Eventually the army's Chemical Warfare Service, the NDRC, and the navy (no reason submarines couldn't release bats too) were all implicated in the buffoonery.
A test was conducted where groggy bats with tiny parachutes and a load of napalm were dropped from planes. The testing failed due to a variety of reasons and only resulted in the 'waste of innocent animals'.
Yet there was poetic justice. A few other bats, armed on the ground with live napalm units but spared the lethal jump, escaped from their handlers. These escapees flew off toward the nearest buildings - as indeed they were supposed to do, though preferably in Japan - which happened to be the airport hangars. The hangars thereupon burned. So did a general's automobile.
People do become batty in wartime.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


From this post , I came across this site which gives many free courses from world class universities.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Smell and taste

I breathe through the tracheostomy and very little air passes into my nose so I can smell an odour only if it is strong.The limen for smell would be undetectable for me. Jaya sometimes asks me whether I can smell a gas leak or the perfume in a room spray. I will have no idea about these things.I am not the best candidate on whom 'ambient scenting' techniques can be tried. I will not be good in recording an olfactory history. I can't resist writing a bit about evolution here. In Your Inner Fish, Neil Shubin writes:
Humans devote about 3 percent of our genome to odor genes, just like every other mammal. When geneticists looked at the structure of the human genes in more detail, they found a big surprise: fully three hundred of these thousand genes are rendered completely functionless by mutations that have altered their structure beyond repair. (Other mammals do use these genes.) Why have so many odor genes if so many of them are entirely useless?


Yoav Gilad and his colleagues answered this question by comparing genes among different primates. He found that primates that develop color vision tend to have large numbers of knocked-out smell genes. The conclusion is clear. We humans are part of a lineage that has traded smell for sight. We now rely on vision more than on smell, and this is reflected in our genome. In this trade-off, our sense of smell was deemphasized, and many of our olfactory genes became functionless.
In my case it is doubly true that after my stroke, I have become more reliant on my eyes and my ability to smell has diminished because of reduced air flow through my nostrils.

I don't know how much role smell plays in one's attraction towards food. Perhaps my indifference towards food is because I can't smell most of them. The ones I can smell will probably be too spicy. I don't think my taste buds have been affected. I sometimes eat a little bit of sweet semi-solids like ice-cream or custard or some soft chocolate.

A strange happening over the past couple of years has been that sometimes when feeding is given, I have an expression like that of a person who has just quaffed a glass of some particularly bitter Ayurvedic concoction. It is strange because I cannot taste feedings and I cannot smell them most of the time. Doctors are not able to say why this is happening. Maybe it is just a supratentorial problem. Since it lasts only for a few minutes at feeding time and since, like the description of the Earth in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, it is 'mostly harmless', we have not bothered too much about it.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

A tragedy

One of my classmates at IIMA, Ved Prakash Arya died a few days ago after an unbelievable accident, sending shock waves through our batch. Another classmate, Rashmi Bansal pays tribute.

Ved used to sit next to me in class (we had a fixed seating arrangement) and it was fun to be with him. I did not meet him after we graduated. After my stroke, I have not been following corporate news so I was unaware of his successes. I remember a friend telling me that Ved was doing well. The next thing I hear about him is this tragedy. This has come as a huge shock.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ramachandran's blog

Via this post on Panda's Thumb, I learn that V.S.Ramachandran has a blog. Alas, he has not updated it for a while.