Sunday, August 30, 2015

A WORLD WITHIN - BY MEENAKSHI CHAUDHRY- A BOOK REVIEW






A WORLD WITHIN- A REMARKABLE STORY OF COPING WITH A PARENT'S DEMENTIA:
MINAKSHI CHAUDHRY- HAY HOUSE - PUBLISHERS INDIA- PAGE 241- PRICE RS 250/-

This is the prolific author’s thirteenth book. Her earlier books are very popular with children. Minakshi Chaudhry is a former journalist who now lives with her husband Rohit Kanwar in Shimla. A cancer survivor, she is the Founder-Trustee of Swarn Educational Welfare and Awareness (SEWA) Trust, a NGO working for the cause of breast cancer awareness and screening which has the laudable objective of reaching every woman in Himachal Pradesh.

The author has taken a personal diary approach in writing this book. While reading the book, one becomes involved with the characters and the love and affection for each other leaves a deep and lasting impression in one’s mind. The author (Rewa) lives in a close-knit family. They are four siblings strongly attached to each other and to their parents. The author describes how the greatest tragedy in their lives started unfolding on 3rd March 2012. Rewa’s Dadoo (father) could not recognize his wife Asha. It is a pathetic story of an intelligent and self-made man from very humble beginnings with almost nil parental affection who became a mathematics professor, who travelled extensively abroad with his family when he was posted in Nigeria, who was meticulous in his paperwork and record-keeping and who built a fortune for himself and his family by hard work, savings and by making shrewd investment decisions. But then a time came when he started gradually losing memory and from then onwards it was a downhill slide. A very proud man, at the same time modest, caring, friendly, helpful, charitable and a very practical and down to earth person. He didn’t believe in temple going,rituals and spiritual Babas. His religion was service to people which gave him immense happiness. Having lived a clean life with no bad habits and in a happy family environment, the diagnosis of dementia came as a deep shock to all family members. How could this happen to such a person? The author’s loving Dadoo was losing his mind.

Dementia is an omnibus term for a set of symptoms including impaired thinking and memory. It is often associated with cognitive decline as one ages. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia are often used interchangeably as many people believe that they are one and the same. In fact, the distinction between the two often causes confusion for the patients, their families and caregivers. However, issues other than Alzheimer’s can cause dementia. Alzheimer’s and dementia are still a mystery in many ways. This is why the two similar diseases are often mixed up in every day conversation and understanding. According to the National Institute on Aging (NIA), dementia is a brain disorder that affects communication and performance of daily activities and Alzheimer’s disease is a form of dementia that specifically affects parts of the brain that control thought, memory and language. Dementia isn't a disease. It is a group of symptoms that affect mental tasks like memory and reasoning. Dementia can be caused by a variety of conditions, the most common of which is Alzheimer’s Disease (AD). This is what the author’s father suffered from. AD destroys those affected in a slow and vicious manner. It strips a person of every unit of his/her dignity and self-esteem and that too bit by bit.. The afflicted behave in a manner totally uncharacteristic of themselves. It is a terrible disease which gives a horrific time to the patient and caregivers.

After introducing the readers to the shock of non-recognition of his wife Asha, the author goes back to January 2010 and from there onwards how it all started and continued till February 2012 when Dadoo had almost lost his mind. He lives but it is a lifeless life. The author’s love and devotion for her father is very deep and touching. Taking care of a dementia patient is a challenging task for the caregiver. There are moments when the patient can turn angry, abusive and violent. Great tact and patience is required. The patients also become repetitive, monotonous, irritating and suspicious. Rewa has experienced all these emotions of her father. Supported by a loving husband who is equally kind and helpful, the author and her husband keep reaching to their doting father and provide admirable support to their mother to enable her to maintain her mental balance and control against such heavy odds.

4% of India’s population of seniors (above 65) of 100 million people suffer from dementia. That makes it a whopping 40 lakhs. The prognosis is scary. There are no medicines/drugs to stem the rot of the brain. The incessant killing of the brain cells finally reach the lungs and heart. Medical research is trying to find out the cause and develop medicines to arrest dementia and AD. It looks a long way off yet. The only people who can really make a difference will be the near and dear family members who can provide the love, care and affection to their beloved ones. The problem of dementia/AD is not confined to India. It is a world-wide phenomenon and is spreading dangerously.

Minakshi Choudhry has written a very readable book and has written it in a simple and lucid style. While reading the book, I often shared her emotions and feelings as I too went through somewhat of a similar experience. It is always good to know what needs to be done if AD strikes our elders. We should be careful enough to detect it at an early stage. There are possibilities of some reversal then. However, if it advances, then there is no cure for this devastating disease which is irreversible. The author has created a much need awareness of Dementia and AD through her book. The book is a great and courageous daughter’s account of a loving father’s stolen life. It is anecdotal, informative, and extremely  readable. I strongly recommend it to children and parents. They might face the same predicament one day. There are many lessons to be learnt from this first hand and heart rendering account on how to cope with and manage an AD patient. Understanding this disease which can strike anyone beyond 60 and reaching out to them will greatly alleviate their loneliness and suffering.

PANKAJAM'S COOKING FROM THE HEART- A BOOK REVIEW


PANKAJAM’S : COOKING FROM THE HEART: BHARATHI RAVIPRAKASH: STUDIO THARA : PAGES 145: PRICE : RS 1450/-

Most grandchildren go gaga over their grandma’s culinary skills and traditional values. Bharathi Raviprakash is no exception. She is absolutely thrilled with her Thathi’s preparatory functions and the delectable food that is served. Cows are given a spanking bath, poojas are performed,food is offered to the Gods and then the finale. Food is served after these must-do chores are completed. And then she and her cousins are in seventh heaven.

Childhood memories don’t fade away easily. No wonder that the cousins got together to put together a cookbook spilling out the famous and time-tested recipes emanating from Paalakkad, Kerala of their dear octogenarian (93 years) grandmother Pankajam Muthuswamy. There are about a hundred of them. They are classical and yet cater to the needs of the younger generation who want to finish cooking in a jiffy. It is a bonanza of sorts. Not only are they shown the recipes for the daily sambhar, rasam and kootu, they are carried away to a whole new world of sweets like paayasams and kozhakattais,vella aval, mohanthaal and rava laddu. The initiate is taught how to make tamarind water, extracting coconut milk and even the difficult art of making pickles. The book has colourful pictures thus making the instructions appear simple and easily doable.

Pankjam’s grandchildren have done a great job of faithfully and meticulously reproducing the recipes of their grandmother so very lovingly that it would make any grandmother proud. Pankajam will always remain in the memories of her initiates for the unforgettable knowledge that she has transferred with so much affection and attention to detail. Like the flavor and aroma of her food which linger long, so will her recipes continue to remain embedded in the minds of the readers. Grab this amazing do-it-yourself cookbook and as they say the heart and soul of Paalakkaad will now be in your own kitchen.

Does the price look steep? Perhaps so, but then if you see it as value for money, I don’t think you would grudge it.
           

 

             

Saturday, August 29, 2015

EDTA CHELATION THERAPY - BY BHALCHANDRA V GOKHALE- A BOOK REVIEW

EDTA CHELATION THERAPY FOR DEGENERATIVE DISEASES: MULTIFIELDS : BHALCHANDRA V GOKHALE : PAGES 164 : PRICE RS 150/-

B V GOKHALE is a graduate engineer and a post-graduate from IIT, Mumbai. He showed promise for writing in his youth when he wrote a book in Marathi on the game of chess. He has written many books in Marathi particularly on the subject of computers which are still read by a wide section of Marathi knowing people.
After his first heart attack in 1999, he started a serious study on the subject of Chelation(pronounced as key-LAY-shun) therapy (CT). He suffered another attack in 2006 which was severe. His doctors advised him to go for bypass surgery. He rather chose CT of which he had acquired sufficient knowledge in the interim period between the two heart attacks. A keen learner, he learnt EDTA chelation therapy by himself because those who knew it would not divulge the procedures. He is today recognized as one of the leading proponents in the world of chelation therapy.
 
EDTA chelation is a therapy by which repeated infusions of a weak synthetic amino acid- ethylenediamine tetra-acetic acid (ETDA) slowly reduce atherosclerotic plaque and other mineral deposits throughout the cardiovascular system by dissolving them away. Chelation means “to grab” or “to bind” the toxins like lead, mercury, copper, iron, aluminum etc., and drive them away. Many cardiologists and cardiac surgeons dismiss this therapy as a fraud and highly dangerous. They assert that claims made by the proponents of CT are unproven and the theories are unsound.  However, in the USA where it has now become quite popular after many years of anti-propaganda and law suits, CT is recognized by law and practice as one of the alternate therapies available especially for those suffering from cardiovascular diseases.

According to the author, the world has mostly overcome infectious diseases but we are struggling to handle degenerative diseases. Surgical intervention even if it helps is short-lived and it generates many complications and side effects. CT is a safe and affordable alternative.

The author has painstakingly collected all the evidence in the form of Court judgments to allay the fears of the readers who get biased by the advice of their doctors and has presented them in a lucid manner. The book is an eye-opener for those who are seeking a less painful and cheaper method of reversing heart diseases as well as other degenerative diseases. It is a pity that in a large country like ours with a senior citizen population of nearly 100 million and about 80 percent of them living in rural areas and for whom expensive medication is prohibitive, CT has not caught on.

The author refers to Dr James Roberts, an eminent American cardiologist who started practicing CT and was ostracized by the medical community. They nicknamed him “dirty doctor”. He persisted with CT and now he is a stronger and smarter doctor.

The book has six chapters. The author starts with explaining what CT is all about, its safety and effectiveness and importantly how it helps in reversing degenerative diseases of the aged. Of particular interest is “My Advice” of the author. After the age of 50, he says, degenerative diseases start setting in and the symptoms are obvious. The therapy is tailor made to suit the particular individual combined with oxygenation/ozone therapy and that the full success rate is 80%. It removes metallic poisonous substances and excess cellular calcium from the body and reduces free radical activity. Even if it does not cure the disease in some cases, it brings lot of relief. One can also look at CT as preventive proaction rather than cure reaction to increase active longevity. CT supplemented with ozone therapy can result in multiple health benefits for the patient. CT has been effective for old age diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinsons says the author besides a number of other diseases which CT helps in curing.

The author is an active practitioner and has trained many cardiologists and cardiac surgeons. He also conducts seminars and training programmes to spread the therapy for reaching a larger number of people. He is a crusader in a hostile environment. But by his knowledge, passion and perseverance he has been able to position CT as an affordable medical remedy for overcoming degenerative diseases and enhancing the quality of life for the older sections of society.The book is an excellent introduction to CT and presents the views of the opponents as well as those who recommend it in a fair and impartial manner.Mr Gokhale’s talk on this subject can be viewed on YouTube.

'WISDOM FROM THE HEART' BY MADHU CHANDRA - A BOOK REVIEW

WISDOM FROM THE HEART- LIFE AND CAREER LESSONS FROM THE LIFE OF ASHIANA’S FOUNDER- OM GUPTA : MADHU CHANDRA : ASHIANA HOUSING LTD: PAGES 187

The author, Madhu Chandra, has been working with the Ashiana Group for more than a decade. She is responsible for their ‘Apna Asiana’ newsletter and for copy editing of their brochures. She is also a well-known journalist. Her association with the Group gave her an unique opportunity to closely study the leadership style of the founder of the Group, Mr Om Prakash Gupta. She has learnt very important lessons in the art and science of management. It was quite natural that she wanted to convey those lessons to a larger audience through this book.

OPG as he was popularly known in his circle of relatives, friends, other well-wishers and admirers established the Ashiana Group of companies as a Real Estate company literally from scratch. OPG graduated in engineering from IIT and went to USA to do his Masters. On his return, he decided to venture out on his own and broke away from the practice of  joining the family business. His fiercely independent thinking was appreciated by his father who gave his blessings to his strongly independent son. OPG had a vision. That of providing affordable housing of excellent standards to middle-class people. He decided to translate that vision into reality. He aptly named his group Ashiana which means nest or shelter.  He was not profit-driven like many others in the realty business and at the same time he understood that for long-term sustainability, his organization had to be run on sound business lines. He led his company with both his head and heart. He had some very strong personal values which he never compromised.He was kind, helpful, empathetic, sincere, hardworking and a great motivator and leader. He took Ashiana to great heights and the mantle has fallen on his capable sons after his demise two years back after fighting cancer for about 5 years.

Madhu Chandra recalls all the sterling qualities of OPG in the form of encomiums from his colleagues and some outsiders who came into contact with him. She has also written about his sterling qualities. His attention to detail, quick thinking, ability to face hurdles and take setbacks in his stride, endeared him to one and all. A pioneer in the setting up of retirement homes where the aged could lead a peaceful life free from hassles and worries and with round the clock security and medical care, he set up ‘Utsav’- residential complexes for senior citizens. With the population of the elderly on the rise and with a gradual shift from joint family structures to nuclear families, he realized that the time had come for elders to live separately with dignity and self-respect.

The book is a tribute to a great leader and visionary and a very good human being. His love for everyone, compassion and positive energy and thinking were qualities that endeared him to his associates and they reciprocated with the same warmth enabling the blossoming of fruitful and happy relationships. The book would be very useful for management students and young entrepreneurs who can learn many lessons from the various anecdotes spread over the book.  Success and trust does not come overnight. Hard work, modesty, respect for others, honesty, fairness, uprightness and clean dealings go a long way in building a lasting organization. OPG has shown that this is possible even in a not so conducive environment by leading from the front and by example.

OPG’s brother- in- law Sri Anil Agarwal, Chairman of the Vedanta group has written the Foreword to the book where he says that once he started reading the book,  he just could not put it down. The book ends with moving tributes from his two sisters and from his loving wife.

The  illustration on the cover page of ‘OM’ goes well with the wisdom of OPG which the book oozes through Madhur Chandra’s words. I strongly recommend this book to both young students and management practitioners who surely will immensely benefit from this book. OPG has left behind an indelible impression for generations to come.

'BEING MORTAL' BY ATUL GAWANDE- A BOOK REVIEW

BEING MORTAL: MEDICINE AND WHAT MATTERS IN THE END : ATUL GAWANDE : HOLT, HENRY &CO INC : PAGES 304 : PRICE : RS 383/- (Flipkart)

Atul Gawande has written three best-selling books and is a natural writer and a wonderful storyteller. ‘Complications’,’Better’ and ‘The Checklist Manifesto’ are his earlier works. He is a practicing surgeon, he writes for the ‘New Yorker’ and is a professor at Harvard Medical School. He is a director of a non-profit organization which works towards making surgery safer globally.

Modern medicine has been undoubtedly a great boon for mankind. Childbirth, serious injuries, complicated diseases- all of these have become controllable. However with regard to ageing and death, medicine remains counter-productive. Through his in-depth research and compelling personal anecdotes, Atul Gawande has explained the suffering his own family and patients have experienced at the terminal stage of their lives.

Assisted living homes for senior citizens and nursing homes fail in alleviating senior citizens’ anxiety over death. They adopt treatments which do more harm than good. The practices they adopt accelerate their death rather than slowing down the suffering. Left with no choice, the family goes along with the doctor’s recommendation.

The author has candidly admitted to the struggles that he has to face as a practicing surgeon. He closely examines the limitations and failures of his profession in the area of geriatric care by visiting nursing homes, hospices and geriatric clinics. He calls for a change in the philosophy of health care. All of them in this profession have been wrong about what their job is. It is not ensuring health and survival. It is to enable well-being. He compellingly argues that we need to come to terms with the reality of the eventual decline of the body, accept what matters most to us and adapt our society and the medical profession to allow people to die with dignity and self-respect. Instead of focusing on dignified living during the twilight years of senior citizens, medical professionals concentrate on the disease.

The book is divided into eight chapters each one of them a gem by itself. Chapters 2 and 8 are embedded with rich stories from his own family. He searches for models of care that help weak senior citizens’ ability to live a purposeful life. He offers many suggestions in this direction. Like adopting cats and dogs and bringing in kids to create some cheer and purpose in their lives. He also suggests splitting up floors into smaller spaces which are more homelike and help to close-knit the residents.

In the last chapters, Gawande argues that patients have priorities besides just prolonging their lives. He admits that in such cases “ we do not have adequate answers. It is troubling and has caused callousness, inhumanity and extraordinary suffering.”

Gawande explores the concept of decision making in medicine arising out of consensus rather than top down. The modern doctor “must ask, tell and ask.” There has to be a dialogue with the patient and what he is seeking is to be understood. The patient’s priorities must be paramount and the doctor must help in achieving them.

Admittedly, there are no perfect answers to the problems which senior citizens face at old age and particularly when their conditions are almost in a terminal stage. The goal should be to enable them to lead a good life till the end.

The end of the book offers a discussion on euthanasia. It is a tough call. Do we commit the mistake of prolonging unbearable suffering or the mistake of shortening valued life?

Atul Gawande has provided the readers with a deeply touching book on aging and death written with remarkable insight. He is appalled that we have turned aging into a medical problem rather than treating it at a human level. Old age and death are unavoidable but certainly we can handle them with care and sensitivity. I strongly recommend this outstanding book and urge every senior citizen to read it and breathe a whole lot of fresh air.

'MY EXPERIENCE WITH EPILEPSY' - A BOOK REVIEW

       MY EXPERIENCE WITH EPILEPSY- A TRUE LIFE TALE OF AN EPILEPTIC PERSON:


                   P. HARIDAS : NOTIONPRESS.COM : PAGES 235 : PRICE RS 550/-

P. Haridas is a first- time author. He has written an autobiographical book on how he battled with epilepsy which afflicted him since he was five months old. Books on this subject by Indian authors are very rare. The few that have been written on this disease are by expert physicians. This book is therefore very unique as it is written by a patient. What you read in the two hundred and thirty five pages are words literally from the horse’s mouth. In spite of this debilitating disease, Haridas led a near-normal life, excepting when seizures (fits) attacked him. Then all hell would break loose.

His is a close-knit and God-fearing family. His parents and his two siblings give him extraordinary support. He is extremely attached to them as can be seen from the various anecdotes in the book. Haridas has written in a simple and engaging style. In the early part of the book, he writes about his family and childhood memories. He graduated in Arts from Loyala College, Chennai. His father was the sole bread-winner till Haridas took up a job. The financial strain on the family was severe. Yet, the family members kept their heads above water by frugal living and performed household tasks in a co-operative manner. When Haridas took up a job in 1988, there was some improvement in the family’s fortunes. But medical expenses continued to take a big toll. He worked for almost twenty years in various organizations in Chennai and gathered considerable secretarial and managerial experience. He is now a freelancer. His epileptic attacks which fluctuated and kept coming left him on tenterhooks all the time. He could not perform to his peak potential. His underperformance irritated his bosses and he had many skirmishes and run-ins with them. All these incidents have been narrated by the author. A differently-abled person sadly often gets the short end of the stick. Haridas was no exception.

Epilepsy is a condition of the brain which causes seizures. There is an electrical disconnection between neurons. Unprovoked seizures twice or more after a time gap of 24 hours is a clear sign of an epilepsy patient. Haridas was a confirmed epileptic. The disease is challenging and directly affects the quality of life. 65 million people around the world suffer from epilepsy. India has an epileptic population of around 10 million people. Astonishingly, 95% of them do not receive any medical treatment. In fact, many of those afflicted and their parents do not know what they suffer from till seizures attack them. There are psychological, psychiatric, psychosocial and behavioural disturbances known to be associated with epilepsy. Epileptic patients suffer from a great sense of insecurity, frequent seizures and social unacceptance all of which lower their self-confidence and self-esteem. Good drug treatments are available for immediate relief. However, the general rule used to be ‘once an epileptic, always an epileptic.’ That picture has now changed.

After terrible suffering in childhood and in the prime of his youth, Haridas came to a stage when he decided to consider other options for treatment. He heavily researched, read books and surfed the internet for useful and pertinent information. Surgery appeared to show promise for a partial if not complete recovery. As the book progresses, Haridas dwells on his pre-surgery days and post- surgery days. He took the tough decision to go ahead with the neurosurgery entirely on his own in a split second armed with the knowledge that he had gained. The scar on his right forehead of the brain identified by Dr. Prithika Chary of Apollo Hospital was the marker which indicated the root cause of his epilepsy. For him there was no looking back. His parents were very apprehensive given the risks and totally rejected their son’s decision. But with gentle persuasion and statistics on how many patients had recovered after surgery, he was able to convince them that surgery was not a very risky option as thought out to be and that chances of partial/full recovery were extremely bright. In any case, Haridas says that he had come to the conclusion that life was not worth living in such traumatic conditions. He was immensely helped in arriving at this decision by Dr. Chary who recommended surgery and managed his case very ably. Surgical intervention has huge psychosocial benefits. However, there are risks involved. Haridas had a successful surgery. His seizures have almost stopped. Dr. Chary continues to give him support and advice during the post-surgical period.

Haridas’s main objective of writing this inspirational book was to make every reader know of the remarkable changes that surgery brought about in him and in his personality. His target audience mainly consists of epileptic patients, their families, care providers, doctors and surgeons. Surgery was an important landmark in his life. Haridas claims that he has experienced fifty stunning changes in his life after surgery. Each of these changes is narrated in the book. His ‘magical moment’ would be he says when people learn more about epilepsy, how it creates havoc in one’s life and how one has to cope with it. When medicines don’t work and life becomes hell, surgery becomes a strong and workable option, though it is expensive. It can bring about incredible transformation in health, attitudes and family relationships. Patients must come out of the fear psychosis that grips them when surgery is recommended to them. He has proved by example that one should face surgery happily and courageously with confidence in its success.

Greek physician Hippocrates (460-370 BC) widely known as the ‘Father of Medicine’ wrote the first book on epilepsy. Many books and articles have been published since then. This book is a very useful addition to the list of books written by the illustrious authors. Haridas has not waited for the long gestation period required for the book to see the light of the day if one approached book publication in a conventional manner. He decided to have the book published through an indie-publishing platform.  Notionpress.com did the job in a remarkably short time. Haridas has put his heart, mind and soul in writing the book. It is a superlative attempt in reaching out to differently-abled persons and for spreading the message that family love and belief in God can work wonders. Haridas has profusely expressed his gratitude to his surgeon for having changed the course of his life. Dr. Prithika Chary, he says, will remain etched in his mind till his last breath. Pages 224 to 234, eleven pages in all, have twenty-two touching testimonials embellished with sketches of flowers for a kind and loving surgeon from an ever grateful patient.

I have only one regret. This excellent hardcover book with good printing and appealing cover which also has a ‘kindle’ edition could have been moderately priced which would have helped in reaching to a larger number of readers. Haridas could consider publishing a paperback edition in the near future.

                                                   

Friday, August 28, 2015

' TAT TVAM ASI ' BY PINKY ACHARYA - A BOOK REVIEW



TAT  TVAM  ASI:  PINKY ACHARYA:  BECOME SHAKESPEARE . com : PAGES 115 : PRICE : RS 150/-

At first sight, one would have thought that this book belongs to the genre of philosophy. The book title ‘Tat Tvam Asi’ in Sanskrit gives that impression. After all, this is one of the four Mahaavaakyaas from the Chaandogyo panishad. And the cover page image by the author’s daughter conveys another impression altogether. It goes to the credit of author Pinky Acharya that this intriguing combination of title and image compels the reader not to brush it aside but to give it a serious look. Running into 115 pages, the book is in the form of short and personal real life soul-searching anecdotes and is an easy read. The author has used a very lofty and noble concept to trick the reader to understand in common parlance what the title means. The reader is the winner.

This is the first book of the author on a very profound subject. The three word title literally means “Thou Art That”. There are various interpretations of this short aphorism. What it essentially conveys is that we all are a part of the Almighty, the Supreme Godhead. This is not a book on Vedanta. But it carries the message of Vedanta in the form of importance of self-realization and that good values which if practiced can make a person happy. After all, every person seeks happiness. The author Pinky Acharya tries to highlight important values in people’s lives which if followed can bring about truly a societal transformation for the good of mankind.

The book has 21 short chapters each conveying a message for the reader. There is an illustration at the beginning of each chapter and at the end of most chapters a quotation from a famous personality which underpins the theme of the chapter. Having been fortunate to have been brought up in an atmosphere of love, kindness, compassion, empathy, devotion to elders and bhakti,the author is a personification of all these virtues and practices them in her daily life within her own family and circle of her near and dear ones. Here we come across not an academician explaining a concept which is very sublime but one who champions it by example as an object lesson for all ages and genders to lead a truly noble and useful life.

Pinky Acharya begins with a flying start. ‘You can’t change the world around you, but you can change the one within’. Look within and try to cleanse your soul. The first chapter on ‘Seva’ is very touching. How an elderly spinster reaches out to the have-nots and provides medicines and food supplies to them in spite of lack of funds at her disposal. She provides a cellphone to an incapacitated octogenarian to enable her to remain in touch with her daughter. She galvanizes old and lonely people for religious activity and arranges their visits to temples from Kashmir to Kanyakumari thus giving them hope and cheer and a meaning in life which they had totally lost due to their incapacities.

In each of the subsequent chapters, there is a lesson and a message. How technological progress has its upsides and downsides, how impromptu acts of kindness can resonate two hearts in unison, why one should cut one’s coat according to the available cloth, why one should respect food and not waste it (‘annam na nindyaat’), how a carpenter felt he was overpaid and travelled a long distance to return the extra money, how a well-to-do person decided to give up everything in life to follow his calling of helping the needy and less privileged by living minimalistically on the pavements, how we should sustain an atmosphere of good values at home for the young to learn and mould their characters, that wisdom and education are not necessarily the same, how some doctors are like good Samaritans and help the patient in the process of healing by giving appropriate medicines and subjecting them only to the minimal number of medical tests, how loss of vision due to an operation which went horribly wrong did not deter the lady from remaining positive and in channelizing her energies to purify her inner self, how the death of a child transformed the parents and spurred them to work ceaselessly for the cause of building a medical foundation to help poor children suffering from terminal diseases which became a mission for them thus converting their huge personal loss into an emotional societal gain, how understanding and empathy can build lasting relationships, how the food one eats reflects one’s personality, how the company one keeps indicates the character of the person, the feelings of a mother when she gives birth to a new life. how a septuagenarian lady teacher decided to earn a living for herself and her family who now are totally dependent on her earnings by leaving the amount of fees to be paid by the child’s parents to their discretion and not asking for some huge tuition fees and how the teacher is more important than what the teacher teaches. These examples and anecdotes leave a lasting impression in our minds. We realize that there are indeed such people around of outstanding character and values who make their own contributions to the improvement of society by their selfless deeds.

I have given a few examples above of the importance of moral values in one’s life emphasized by Pinky Acharya. They are very basic. Integrity, honesty, kindness, sympathy and empathy, love and compassion, eating the right type of food, keeping the company of good people etc. These values can uplift a person to great heights resulting in moral and spiritual elevation leading to a high degree of happiness which all of us crave for. One has to continuously soul- search and purify one’s soul.

The author is a deeply religious person and is blessed with a loving family. She shares her experience in a simple and engaging style rid of any mumbo-jumbo. She does not sermonize. She beseeches the readers to pause and think of how they are handling their lives in this modern age and materialistic world. How in our anxiety to become rich we are missing the essential values that transforms a person into a noble personality.

I recommend this book to the youth as well as to the middle-aged and seniors. There are lessons to be learnt by all. One should not get intimidated by the Sanskrit title on the cover page. It is neither a philosophical book nor a book containing some esoteric secrets. It is a book to read and lead a happy and contented life. Let the spark of the Supreme Godhead in everyone of us be lit and illuminate us by unfolding the divinity that is lurking in our hearts.

                                                  xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

" THE SILICON MIND " : MANIKARNIKA LAGU : A BOOK REVIEW


                                


     
     The Silicon Mind: Manikarnika Lagu: Become Shakespeare.com: Pages 367: Price Rs 250/-

The book belongs to the genre of science fiction and it is Manikarnika Lagu’s first novel. She has a doctorate in physics and as a teacher and researcher has contributed many research papers in scientific journals. This background eminently suits her to write a science fiction novel based on a subject as complicated and sophisticated as the neural chip project.

The story centres around the protagonist- young, handsome and successful medical practitioner Dr Aman Kapoor who is involved in a horrific car crash and falls into a state of comatose. Another important character in the story is Prof. Narayan Murthy aka Ray who is a brilliant neuroscientist and the founder of ‘Chetna Coma Clinic’, India’s state-of-the-art specialized care hospital located at Bengaluru. Ray has been collaborating with Prof John Smith also a neuroscientist based in USA in the pioneering neural chip project. They have jointly developed a neural chip, an Artificial Intelligence device, considered to be top of the line and way ahead of competition. It has the capability of enhancing human memory and substantially increasing computational skills. Though this discovery has been an outstanding success in theory, there really has been no volunteer yet prepared to take the risk of having a neural chip implanted in his/her brain even after a year of its discovery. This is a source of great disappointment, frustration and desperation to both Ray and John. As pioneers of a breakthrough scientific development, both the neuroscientists are deeply disturbed at the cold reception the neural chip has received. It has dashed all their hopes of receiving international recognition, money and fame. It had become imperative to urgently get hold of an unconscious patient in a state of coma to implant their neural chip into the human brain to find out its performance. This objective had to be achieved by means fair or foul, as time was running out.   

Immediately after the car accident, Aman is admitted to ‘Get Well’ hospital in Bengaluru. Ray’s technical assistant Murthy is able to have Aman transferred to ‘Chetna Coma Clinic’ in spite of resistance from Dr Tapan Dutta, Director of ‘Get Well’, who has excellent coma care facilities in his hospital. Murthy is helped in this illegal activity by one Velu Swamy- a crook, blackmailer and a money-extracting peddler who provides patients to doctors for their experiments. Aman now comes under the direct care of Ray. The arrival of a comatose patient in their clinic, gives Ray and his team hope and a golden opportunity to implant their discovery in Aman’s brain which would given them a testing ground and invaluable feedback on how it performs in the company of the natural brain.

The chip implant takes place under the supervision of Ray and John and a few specialists from the US. The complicated surgery is performed by a talking robot Haku. Haku has feelings and emotions too!  
A 2mm hole is drilled at a predetermined spot and an extremely sophisticated silicon chip coated with collagen is installed in Aman’s brain. The operation turns out to be successful though Ray keeps his fingers crossed hoping that complications should not arise at a later date.

Unfortunately for Ray after some lapse of time, Aman starts facing some burning problems in his hand and depletion of physical energy. He approaches Ray to seek answers to these unwelcome manifestations. Ray’s responses are unconvincing to Aman. He gradually loses faith in Ray and asks Manasi, a clinical psychologist, to study his CAT scans. Aman is able to obtain these images through Ishan, a journalist and Manasi’s friend. Ishan uses his contacts to break into Murthy’s office and is able to steal the floppy containing the required images. Manasi was sure that the scans would help in giving a clue to identify the probable causes of these weird occurrences. Manasi, a strong-willed woman puts her heart and soul into this project to ascertain the cause of these bizarre incidents. She is single-mindedly focused to enhance her reputation in her field. Aman meanwhile gets further perplexed as he seems to be exhibiting miraculous healing powers which he suspects will not last long. He accidentally discovers this when he attends to a young boy Sameer’s knee injury. The youngster is amazed that there is not even a scar where the wound near the knee which was dressed by Aman had occurred. Aman is deeply concerned that this would bring him fame and later a bad name if this newly acquired power faded away. He disappears for a while from the glare of the media. With the help of Ishan, Mandira makes rapid progress with her investigation albeit a few setbacks and is on the verge of almost hitting the bull’s eye. By a stroke of good luck, Sameer and his friend Sakshi meet Manasi. After finding out that Sakshi is Ray’s daughter, Manasi asks her to convince her father to remove the chip from Aman’s brain because that alone can save him. Manasi is convinced that the neural chip is the culprit. Sakshi who is a brilliant and smart girl agrees to help them for Aman’s sake as she respects him as a kind doctor. Sakshi has the ability to make her doting father Ray run around her in circles. But she insists on proof of the presence of the neural chip in Aman’s brain. Sakshi is convinced. She confronts her father. Ray realizes that the game is up and that his reputation will be in tatters. He realizes that prudence is the better part of valour. He and his team of John and Haku and other specialists perform the chip removal surgery.

Though a scientist by training, Manikarnika Lagu has shown great flair in writing. This sci-fi book has a lot of imagination and style in it. She provides just enough scientific and technical information on the neuron chip and its implantation without making it excessively boring for the lay reader. The conversations between the various interesting characters laced with Hindi expressions make the book humorous and a fun to read. She has even provided a glossary at the end of the book for those not so familiar with the Hindi language. As a clever author, she has also brought in an element of sex to keep the interest of the reader stimulated. There is an entire chapter where Mandira, a bored wife and patient of Aman, gets excited by his touch during her physical examination to the extent that her sexual fantasies enable her to have an orgasm.

Sci-fi writers and ‘futurists’ have a common vision. This is called singularity, a point when technology and our bodies meet. We then become different people and at a higher stage of evolution. There are already some courageous people (cyborgs) who have had technological implants into their bodies for a number of reasons and are reaping the benefit of enhanced functions of their body parts. ‘The Silicon Mind’ is a trailblazer and welcome book by Manikarnika Lagu. We need more and more books in this category. Suitably adapted, ‘The Silicon Mind’ has the potential of being turned into a Bollywood movie.

                          

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

MODI : MAKING OF A PRIME MINISTER : A BOOK REVIEW


MODI : MAKING OF A PRIME MINISTER : LEADERSHIP, GOVERNANCE AND PERFORMANCE : VIVIAN FERNANDES : ORIENT PUBLISHING : PAGES 160 : PRICE RS 299/-

The author, Vivian Fernandes, is a well-known journalist who has been in the field for about three decades. As a keen observer of economic policy and governance in the country and a frequent visitor to Gujerat during the last six years, he is eminently qualified to write a book on our new Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As the title of the book rightly suggests, he focuses on the three important pillars of Modi’s attributes- leadership, governance and performance.

Each of the ten chapters of the book has an interesting title. The kick-off starts with the fascinating victory of BJP in the recent national elections and achievement of a majority on its own at the Centre. The author calls it as a Modi tsunami arising out of his own charismatic personality, strategy and tactics, and a raising of levels of hopes and aspirations of people cutting across all differences of caste, creed or religion. It is a great opportunity that Modi has in his hands. To create a society on the basis of citizenship and not on identity and to re-engineer the BJP as a liberal and right of centre party. With a meticulously and painstakingly planned campaign and outstanding branding of Modi ( Abki baar, Modi Sarkaar), the juggernaut could just not be stopped by a weak and disintegrating opposition. The naysayers were many and very eminent people too. They questioned Modi’s emphasis on infrastructure over human development and threat to secularism.

The author is all praise for Modi for his performance as Chief Minister of Gujerat. He had a long and uninterrupted run which enabled him to keep in touch with the common people and ensure that his administration is rooted to ground realities. He made development a mass movement and not the privilege of a few intellectuals or politicians in power. The author explains how Modi dovetailed his government’s leadership with people involvement. He emphasized on ‘minimum government and maximum governance.’ Modi’s RSS background gave him the necessary organizational skills, and with his remarkable oratory he was able to capture the imagination of the audience wherever he went and convince them that “acche din aayenge.” Agricultural growth in Gujerat is an eye-catcher -8% average farm growth against a national average of 3.1%. The Krishi Mahotsav programme saw a rejuvenation of sorts in agricultural production and productivity and the author refers to it as a ‘celebration in agricultural outreach.’ Before the arrival of the monsoon about 100,000 officials from eighteen departments visit farmers in their villages to help them with testing of the soil and advise them on use of nutrients, hybrid seeds and crops for profitable cultivation.

With a cohesive administration and Modi leading from the front, minimum corruption, and use of technology, not only has Gujerat done well in economic sectors but in social sectors as well. Education levels have improved though healthcare is still lagging. The industrial sector too has made great strides in the last decade. With Modi pushing investors and entrepreneurs all the way, there has been a paradigm shift in the way the industrial segment operates. With six biennial Vibrant Gujerat investment summits held so far, Gujerat is considered the most industry-friendly state in the country. The share of manufacturing in Gujerat’s economy is 24% compared to all-India average of 16%.


Modi has reset tribal lives, says the author. Through high-yielding agriculture, dairy farming and skill development, tribal upliftment has been phenomenal. He does not believe in doles. “Give me power so that I can empower you” is his mantra. In his model, tribal farmers are not wedded to any crop. They are wedded to profit. Van Bandhu Kalyan Yojana resulted in income enhancement, employable skills for the tribals and a jumpover from low yielding varieties to smart hybrids.

The author points out similarities in implementation of programmes by Modi with the Chinese and calls it the Chinese style. Modi wants Gujerat to be the industrial locomotive and the hub of industrial activity. He is likely to achieve that status for Gujerat. Gujerat was referred to by the ‘Economist’ as India’s Guangdong. It has a strong infrastructure with a dense network of good roads, huge industrial estates, 25% of its 41 ports navigable during all seasons, a 2800 km long gas grid and it is self sufficient in power. Modi strongly believes in infrastructure development for economic growth.

The author is unbiased in his assessment of Modi. He lauds his achievements. At the same time, the black marks of the Gujerat riots, his intolerance for dissent, his dictatorial ways of working, his exclusion of certain communities in his growth vision, his strong Hindutva beliefs shown during his Chief Ministership are some worrying factors which are highlighted. Will he now transform himself to a real national leader and statesman and rise above discrimination and high-handedness and make the entire development process all-inclusive in actions rather in sloganeering is something that has to be seen over time.

Vivian Fernandes expects Narendra Modi to bring method into governance of the nation, keep his administration rooted to the ground and motivated and hold his ministers accountable, going by his past performance in Gujarat. Modi is a compulsive campaigner. Modi will like to make Indian society like the Chinese society- mobilized and not argumentative. Modi wants development to be a movement, like our freedom struggle; it must be inclusive and all must wholeheartedly be involved in it. If people have a sense of ownership, the outcome has to be spectacular. In Gujarat, Modi conducted a series of campaigns: Nirmal (sanitary) Gujarat, Nirogi (healthy) Balak (child), Kanya Kelavani (girl's education), Shala Praveshotsav (school enrolment festival), Beti Bachao (save the girl child) and so on. They were all successful in varying degrees.

In conclusion, Vivian Fernandes lists a few priorities for the Prime Minister:
Restructuring of the Railways, denationalizing the coal industry and breaking-up of Coal India, ensuring that electricity flows into all villages which have electricity connection, implementation of Goods and Services Tax, introducing labour reforms and raising the level of FDI in the defence equipment manufacturing sector thereby encouraging international defence equipment manufacturers to invest in India.

The book has a foreword by Raghav Bahl , founder and ex-editor of network 18 who has known Vivian Fernandes for about two decades. He admires his ability to go into details, to make enquiries and to fortify his arguments with facts and figures. The book is objective and non-judgemental. It praises Modi where it is due and does not overlook his weaknesses. Packed with innumerable examples of Modi’s out of the box thinking and his unique and homemade model of governance, the book is bound to appeal to those readers who want to see him as he truly is. Neither overblown for his achievements nor derided for some of his shortcomings.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: " WHO WROTE THE BHAGAVAD GITA? " BY MEGHNAD DESAI


1) WHO WROTE THE BHAGAVADGITA? : A SECULAR INQUIRY INTO A SACRED TEXT: MEGHNAD DESAI: HARPER ELEMENT: PAGES 191 : PRICE : RS 299/-


“The Geeta is the universal mother. She turns away nobody. Her door is wide open to anyone who knocks. A true votary of the Geeta does not know what disappointment is. He ever dwells in perennial joy and ‘peace that passeth all understanding.’ But that peace and joy comes not to the sceptic or to him who is proud of his intellect or learning. It is reserved only for the humble in spirit who brings to her worship a fullness of faith and an undivided singleness of mind. There never was a man who worshipped her in this spirit and went back disappointed”. - Mahatma Gandhi

Written into the frame of the ‘Mahabharata’, the Bhagavad Gita (BG) is universally accepted as one of the world’s great scriptures and whose teaching is of the highest value. It gives philosophical advice as to how one should lead one’s life, one’s duty in this transient world and it shows the exit route for the ultimate release or Moksha.

BG occurs in the Bhisma Parva of Mahabharata and comprises of eighteen chapters. At the beginning of the Mahabharata war, Arjuna suffers an existential collapse and declares that he will not fight. Krishna, his dear friend and charioteer takes in hand the task of treating Arjuna’s neurotic mind. Krishna conveys his message and exhorts Arjuna to “get up and fight”. In 700 verses, Krishna covers the entire gamut of Hindu philosophy. Arjuna ultimately realizes the meaning of “My Dharma” under the guidance of the Supreme Lord Krishna. In the last chapter of BG, Arjuna declares that all his delusions have ended.   


The author, Meghnad Desai, is a confirmed atheist, a well-known economist and Marxist. He has achieved eminence in the academic world and in public life in the UK where he has received honours for his contributions. He is also a recipient of Pravasi Bharatiya Puraskar in 2004 and Padma Bhushan in 2008. Triggered by reading D D Kosambi’s book on Indian history, the author was particularly attracted by his critique of BG. He dug deeper into the thought process of Kosambi and developed his own ideas on this sacred text. He was also influenced by reading Dr G S Khair’s book ‘Quest for the Original Geeta’ translated into English from Marathi. Interestingly, while doing his research, Desai found that the older authors of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries including Justice Telang who was the first Indian translator of BG in English had made a critical assessment of this sacred composition unlike the present approach of accepting it ‘in toto’ and as the last word. He decided to dig deeper and examine whether indeed BG had multiple authorship. The BG has 700 verses and eighteen chapters as generally accepted. There are different views about the number of chapters and the number of verses which are in variance with the accepted status. The author quotes Dr S. Radhakrishnan (former President of India) where he hints at the possibility that the cryptic advice given by Krishna to Arjuna was worked up into a poem of 700 verses by another author. Actually Desai goes on to establish that indeed as per his research and understanding there are three authors as concluded by Dr Khair with whom he was in full agreement. Dr Khair had named the three authors as Vyasa (119 verses), Vaisampayana(126 verses) and Souti (455 verses) who wrote it in different periods of time spread over 800 years. Dr Khair claims that he arrived at this conclusion after examining the style, concepts, vocabulary, terminology and the nature of BG’s contents. Desai who has gone along with Dr Khair’s theory has tried to prove his reasoning by attributing certain motives to these authors. The first author wrote during pre-Buddhist time around 600 BCE, the second author was a Buddha contemporary and the third author whom he considers as the Editor is supposed to have done it around 300 BCE. It was an attempt to deflate the popularity that Buddhism had gained and to inflate Brahminism which had seen a decline during Buddhist domination. And that the contradictions supposedly observed in the treatise may be attributed to the plurality of its authorship. In his attempt to question Krishna as the author of this religious and philosophical treatise, Desai quotes Swami Vivekananda who had hinted at the possibility of Shankaracharya (who wrote a famous commentary on BG) to have implanted it in the body of the Mahabharata. In short, the author’s attempt is to establish that the authorship is human and not divine.
   

Desai starts his book with the statement that he was thoroughly confused while reading the BG and that he could not make head or tail of it. He considers it as ‘ a confused philosophical book.’ He cites the examples of many Hindu terrorists who while fighting British colonialism used BG to justify their actions. He questions whether Krishna was a historical character. “Why are we respecting the text uncritically which has so many flaws?” According to Desai, BG has sections attacking lower castes and non-Aryan people and considers certain verses disturbing and corrupting. He concludes that it is a war-mongering scripture of the ruling class, misogynist and not suitable for a secular and modern India.

It is a natural state in untrained minds devoid of bhakthi to think on the above lines. Desai’s confusion would have been cleared had he approached a Guru in all humility and understood BG’s philosophy. Perhaps his intellectual arrogance came in the way. He should also introspect deeply over what Krishna says to Arjuna. “ I have given thee words of vision and wisdom more secret than hidden mysteries. Ponder over them in silence of thy soul and then in freedom do thy will.” Desai should know that his contrarian approach, interpretation of BG and questioning the authorship and philosophy of a ‘symphony which represents a peak of Indian spirituality’, reflects insufficient knowledge bordering on ignorance, a biased attitude and an inability to appreciate an outstanding philosophy which embodies the reasoning mind and brings out the essentials of karma and dharma and which is admired by philosophers all over the world. Sadly, Hinduism has become a ‘punching bag’. Many authors have attempted to beliitle Hindusim. His interpretation of BG will certainly hurt the religious sentiments of millions of Hindus. Would Desai have dared to write such a book on Islam or Christianity?

A discerning reader will naturally come to the conclusion that Desai has made a vain attempt to discredit a sacred philosophy through hollow and unsubstantiated arguments and to bolster a fanciful theory of multiple authorship of a sacred book universally accepted by Hindus as the voice of God.