Monday, March 30, 2009


A few years ago when artist M F Husain publicly acknowledged his 'love' for Madhuri Dixit and called her his muse, he was ridiculed. More so because 80-plus Husain wasn't supposed to be 'young at heart'. That he had dedicated many of his paintings to the Bollywood star with 'a million-dollar smile' after watching her blockbuster Hum Aapke Hain Kaun over 50 times was clearly 'out of the ordinary' even for the eccentric Husain.

I had the privilege of a conversation on the topic with a friend. I use the word 'privilege' with care. For most of us catching up with our dear ones, simply stick to the routine 'Wsup?' and 'Hows life?' My friend said, "A muse is someone you cannot see or you cannot be with." Right. But that's a conventional definition. For, internet and technology have made us reach out to the world in such a way, that if you want to find your muse, you certainly would have the medium and means to. I told my friend, "I don't think Husain's never met Madhuri. And I'm sure he has met Amrita Rao, his current muse. (Husain was enamoured by her role in Vivaah, another Suraj Barjatya blockbuster).

It's not easy to find a muse. Even those who have one may not be able to acknowledge it. A muse is a source of inspiration - something that makes you create something new. A muse helps you push your boundaries and explore the unknown. It's what gives you strength when the chips are down. It's what you love without wanting to be loved in return. It can drive you crazy, for not having acquired it. It can give you a lot more pain that you think you can bear. It can make you ecstatic. It can leave you in misery. It's something you understand, yet not completely (and you don't really want to). It's something that stays with you in memory even when it's not there. It's something you can't live without even when it's not there.

A muse is not always tangible. And it needn't be a person. I had found a muse in Mumbai. It helped me explore more than I would have. It helped me know myself better than what I would have otherwise. Yes, I never publicly acknowledged it, for the fear of being misunderstood. I feared I would be told, "Muse is too strong a word for a city." Now I can because I no longer live in the city. It dawned on me when I sat watching the sunset at Priyardarshini Park at Napean Sea Road. Beauty! It made me want to capture the moment in an artistic way - poetry, photograph, painting. That's what a muse does to you. It urged me to do more than simply utter, "It's beautiful!" It made me pen down a few words.

The muse need not be a constant in your life. Look at Husain and how many he's had (Indian Goddesses, Madhuri, Amrita Rao, and whoever else). Nobody can define how and why a muse ceases to be one. It just happens. It's like you may have had a best friend for nearly 30 years and then suddenly wake up one day to find that he/she is no longer your best friend. Like mine did. I didn't realise when Mumbai was displaced by one of its inhabitants. But I guess it was because a person makes a much stronger connect than a city.

Most of us spend all our lives looking for things we would have found in people around us. It's not that I consciously looked for a muse, the way people look up the classifieds for partners. It just happened. One story, then another and then yet another...From being just a source, the person turned into a source of strength and inspiration. It took me some time to figure it out, till I had to answer that critical question, "What does this person mean to you?" I'm glad I know now.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Solar healing

Sunlight can offer more for good health than just Vitamin D. Read on to find out more about solar medicine

Eisha Sarkar
Posted On Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It's March and the temperature's touching 40 degrees. You curse the sun for it makes you sweat. But hold on, it can't be so bad. Light breaks where no sun shines. While most of us are well aware of why we need to bask in the sun to make vitamin D in our bodies, sunlight can help in other ways as well.

Take for example the solarium in Jamnagar, Gujarat (the only one of its kind in the world) where sunlight is used to treat patients suffering from skin diseases or how Sidha, a form of traditional Indian medicine, encourages use of solarised water to treat fever and colds. The sun can help combat chronic depression and can even help in weight loss. So don't shun the sun. Just use it to your advantage.

Window into the solarium

The solarium on the M P Shah Medical College campus in Jamnagar was built on the initiative of the ruler of Nawanagar state, cricketer Ranjitsinghi who happened to have got the idea after a visit to the solarium in Paris. It was designed by a French engineer, Dr Jean Saidman, and was operational from 1934.

Known as the Ranjit Institute of Poly-Radio Therapy, the solarium is 40 feet tall and the 10 treatment rooms are located in the rotating top section, which is 114 feet long and takes an hour to rotate fully. Maximal light exposure can be ensured by rotation.

"Some of the treatment rooms were equipped with filters which allowed through only rays of wavelengths considered suitable for the various diseases treated here. The lenses concentrated the light to two and a half times its natural intensity. The patients had to stay in the room for a stipulated period of time to get the full benefit of the treatment," says radiologist Dr Neela Baxi, whose father Dr K Baxi was the first Indian radiologist employed at the solarium.

A detailed photographic library provides before and after views of people treated for various conditions including, tonsils, sty, lymphoid hyperplasias, tuberculosis, leprosy and several skin conditions.

"The solarium no longer works because most of the lenses and concentrators were broken during the Gujarat earthquake in 2001 and we haven't been able to find replacements," says radiologist Dr N A Patel, who is in-charge of the managerial affairs at the solarium.

Rainbow healing and solarised water

According to Indian traditional medicine, solarised water is the cure for all ills. Water, when exposed to sunlight in a coloured container for at least an hour becomes irradiated and takes on some of the vibrational energy of that particular colour. This is called solarised water. The seven colours of sunlight (VIBGYOR) can be divided into:

1. Violet, Indigo, Blue (Cold Spectrum)
2. Green (Neutral Spectrum)
3. Yellow, Orange, Red (Warm Spectrum)

Green solarised water helps build up muscles, strengthen nerve centres and purify blood. It used for treatment of fever, typhoid and malaria, liver diseases, indigestion, small pox, boils, pimples, skin trouble, eczema, nightly seminal ejaculations, diabetes, boils, ulcers, headache, nervous trouble, dry cough, cold etc.

Blue, indigo, violet charged water is a good antiseptic. It is used in treatments for skin diseases, high blood pressure, old ulcers, dysentery, arthritis, over fatigue deafness, migraine etc. It helps ease childbirth. It is effective in treating tonsillitis, swelling of gums, toothache, pyorrhea and other aliments of the throat. However, it should not be used in case of paralysis, colds and anaemia.

Red solarised water can help treating anaemia and asthma.

Heliotherapy for cure

For skin: Dermatologists use heliotherapy (medical therapy involving exposure to sunlight) for the treatment of acne, psoriasis and other skin disorders.

For muscle: Heliotherapy is a chiropractic treatment used for muscular stimulation and relaxation and is the only known cure for Seasonal Affective Disorder, a cyclic mood disorder caused by sun light deprivation during winter.

For AIDS: Scientists at the Baylor University Medical Center have successfully used heliotherapy to destroy the AIDS virus and are developing heliotherapy to decontaminate blood for transfusions. Currently, AIDS research clinics use heliotherapy as an effective tool for boosting the body's immune system.

For cancer: Heliotherapy is used in cancer treatment too. Within hours, cancer cells begin to die leaving the normal tissue unharmed. Heliotherapy is used for irradiating blood of cancer patients.

In hospital wards: Heliotherapy used in hospital operating rooms reduces the bacteria count by a much as 50%. As a result, patients have been found to recover faster and have fewer post-operative infections. The maternity wards of most major hospitals use heliotherapy for the treatment of hyperbilrubinemia (neonatal jaundice), a condition found in over 60% of prematurely born infants.

While long-term overexposure to the sun and burning can result in skin cancer, premature aging and wrinkling, the science of heliotherapy supports that the sun also offers many benefits.

The story has been published in Times Wellness

Tuesday, March 24, 2009


When someone suggested to me that I should check out a village in Gujarat, I was more than ready to go. "But if you want to see poverty or tribals, Chandrapura in Panchmahal district is not the place," I was warned. It sounded strangely sarcastic. We city-slickers believe that the poor in India live in villages. Sure, there's a lot of poverty in rural India, but to believe that all villagers are poor is a stupid mistake.

I took heed of the warning. I visited Chandrapura after making a short trip to Kalol, which didn't seem any different from any small town anywhere in India. The HNG Glassworks factory announced my arrival at Chandrapura. Like all cities, towns and villages in Gujarat, Chandrapura too had a large gate at its entrance, which announced "Welcome to Chandrapura". I stopped the car at the gate and asked my driver Narendra to accompany me for a stroll down the village road - that was all that was there: a single road with a row of houses on either side.

There was the Samaj Ghar, the Gram Panchayat's office, the Shiva Temple and houses which didn't look remarkably different from those in Vadodara. (Had I come straight from Mumbai, I would have been pleasantly surprised by the dwellings, but not any more now.) Narendra said, "Bahut chhota gaon hai yeh. 700-800 log honge aur bas itne hi ghar. Par in Patel logon ke paas itna paisa hai ki inki ghar ek dum pucci hai." (This is a very small village with just 700-800 inhabitants who belong to the Patel community. The community is very rich. That's why you see a metalled road and concrete houses.)

I looked around. All the houses were shut and there was not a soul on the street. Lazy buffaloes chewed on fodder throwing us curious glances as I started taking pictures of them. We walked to the end of the street, which was also the edge of the village, and saw a woman sifting tuvar dal (the popular Gujarati sweet dal). I asked her if I could take her pictures, she shied away. It was only after I told her that I was from Mumbai and I was here to see a village did she agree to pose for the camera, though she would have preferred to get into her best saree.

Her companion, Narmada Ba (akin to Narmadaji), invited me to her place next door for a glass of water. I went inside as Narendra waited in the verandah. I looked around the modest living room. The signs of prosperity were pretty much confined to the external structure. But that was because she was a widow, she said. When her husband was around, their financial condition was much better. I couldn't grasp her chaste Gujarati so Narendra translated for me. She'd warmed to him as he hails from Gotri, where one of her sons works. "This house is over a 100 years old but we've got it renovated a couple of times. The houses here are all owned by Patels, who are farmers. The village has 700-800 residents out of which nearly 400 are tenants who work in the neighbouring General Motors plant and the HNG Glassworks factory," she said. Narmada Ba introduced me to Meeraben, her tenant, whose husband has been working at the GM plant for a year.

She talked about how people had made crores of rupees by selling an acre or two of land to CEAT for a new factory. The signs of prosperity are obvious. Every house in the village has two to three cars and/bikes in the garage. Most houses have been renovated over the last decade. Children no longer go to the Gujarati-medium primary school in the village but to the English-medium schools in nearby Halol. Most youngsters have moved to Vadodara and Ahmedabad for better education and jobs. Some have even gone abroad. She asked me what I did in Mumbai. I told her I used to work as a journalist with an English newspaper and I am now freelancing. Of course, she didn't know that The Times of India existed. I didn't push too much. I have figured from my travels in semi-urban India that people don't care too much about English newspapers. It's a language that can never voice their concerns.

I thanked Narmada Ba for her hospitality and told her I would be coming again when she offered me to stay on till dinner. I took her picture in front of her house as she wanted it and walked away towards my car.

I watched a girl wearing tight jeans and a sleeveless pink top sitting on a swing. That's progressive in terms of dressing, I had thought. As I walked towards the car, a voice from behind me said, "Aapne sab ka photo liya. Bas hamara nahin liya." I turned around and my eyes met Anil Patel's. Patel is a farmer. He owns around 10 acres of land and grows cotton. Patel told me he sold three acres of land to CEAT to make good money to send his son to California for further studies. "My other son is in Borivli, Mumbai," he volunteered. He said, "This is one of the richest villages in Gujarat. Everybody owns a car and everyone knows someone in the US. We live away from the crowd of the cities, yet have all the benefits at our doorstep." Now, that's development for sure: A place where people get all their amenities without having to go too far.

Why Chandrapura stands out:
1. The village is inhabited by people of just one community/caste i.e. Patels. In most Indian villages, you find a mix of people from different castes and religions.
2. Nearly half the residents of the village don't belong to the village but are tenants, which is more of an urban phenomenon.
3. The village is very clean, which contradicts the typical description of an Indian village.
4. The inhabitants are extremely prosperous thanks to the industrial development in the area.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Wow, we're going to die in the same year

How I love those Facebook quizzes! Now, unlike most people who use Facebook as a tool to escape the horrors of monotony at work, I actually have started Facebooking as a hobby. Two reasons:
1. I get to network...with my ex-colleagues, people from the industry, people who don't belong to the media but wish they were a part of it, people who use the media, those who wish to use it, people who want jobs in the media, people who are bored of jobs in the media, media bosses, editors, reporters, writers, freelancers, people who hate the media, people who know people in the media, etc, etc.
2. I like answering quizzes about me. Now, most people will scoff at that saying it's just an addiction. But no, it really helps me know about myself. Take for example the attitude test that I answered today. The result is:
"you are the sort of person who likes to take life slowly... just one day at a time.. you usually know the differnce between right and wrong. you believe in yourself. you put yourself in other peoples shoes and see howit feels to be them and then handle a situation accordingly.your attitude towards life is very positive.... you are liked by all and are a great friend.the flip side is that sometimes you care too much about other people and dont do what you really wanna do."

It's not that I didn't know this already. But when you put things down on paper, it makes a lot of difference. People may argue that it's a lot like the Zodiac. If you follow it regularly, you do believe it is true. But can it really be true for a whole lot of people around the world. A few years back, when Javed Akhtar was asked on a television show if he believed in the Zodiac he had said, "No. For that would mean that there are only 12 kinds of people in the world." He has a point, but I do believe that at some base level all humans can be categorised into 12 small groups. We may not all be the same, but we could be very similar.

Most of us wouldn't want to believe in the destiny that a bunch of quiz-makers have prescribed for us, but hell, we wouldn't stop short of giving even the most bizarre quizzes a try only to know, "Where will I stand in this one?" Having taken the "Who were you in the last birth?" (Pablo Picasso) and "What is your real age?" (26 years - that's actually as old as I am), I started taking the "Are you clinically insane?" quiz only to realise that the parameters for 'being clinically insane' were too far-fetched for even the clinically insane to answer. I had to abort the quiz. Not because I wanted to. But because I couldn't find the answers I wanted. The craziest I've done is "Which year will you die?" How I got into this one I don't know. Maybe because when I logged in I saw the freaky message that Waleed would die in 2015. It just urged me to find out mine. And then Waleed and I sat and matched our results and drew up a Bucket List. And though Facebook quizzes don't figure on top, they'll sure be on their way there.


The sight of a herd of camels craning their necks to reach out to the few leaves left atop a withered tree greets you on the outskirts of Rajkot in Saurashtra, Gujarat. A chhakda (cross between a tricycle-rickshaw and a cart with a capacity of 10) carrying 30 passengers tries to make its way through cattle on the Ahmedabad-Rajkot state highway even as turbaned men in white kedia (frock-like kurtas) and dhotis sip juice from beer mugs at a stall nearby. But that's just the outskirts. Come into the city and the skyline changes. It certainly is no match for Mumbai or Ahmedabad, but when it comes to malls and corporate houses, Rajkot can beat even Vadodara.

Capital gains Rajkot, founded by Thakur Saheb Vibhaji Ajoji Jadeja of the Jadeja clan and Raju Sandhi in 1612 AD, became the capital of the State of Saurashtra, headed by Chief Minister U N Dhebar after Independence. Rajkot was merged into the newly-created Gujarat State when it was separated from the bilingual Bombay State on May 1, 1960. Rajkot was named after its co-founder, Raju Sandhi.

Mahatma's domain The stone edifice of the Mohandas Gandhi Vidyalaya stands tall amidst the other structures along Jawahar Road, Rajkot. Parrots hide in crevices along the school's arched walkways that are lined with classrooms. This is where the Mahatma struggled hard to earn his grades. Ashubhai Chauhan, an office-bearer says, "This school, built in 1866 by the Nawab of Junagadh in the memory of the Duke of Edinburgh, used to be known as Alfred High School. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi studied here from 1880 to 1887. He appeared for the matriculation exams in November 1887 from the Bombay University and attained a second class. At that time, this was the only English-medium school in Saurashtra. We still have a collection of some of the examination papers written by Bapuji."
On a wall in the principal's office is a board that lists some of the illustrious alumni besides Gandhi, U N Dhebar (First CM of Saurashtra), cricketer D D Parsana, Dr Tribhovandas Shah (first doctor in Saurashtra) and Kesavlal Sanghani (first engineer in Saurashtra).
Gandhi had spent early years of his life in Rajkot when his father was the Diwan of the King of Rajkot. Behind the school is Gandhi's ancestral home-turned-museum Kaba Gandhi No Delo managed by the Gandhi Smruti Trust that still displays some of Gandhi's possessions.

Feeding the cows
A group of four cows saunter in through the gate of an huge 80-year-old house at around 7 am. Most city slickers would look at them in disgust and even shoo them away, the lady of the house carries two trays and puts them down before them. The cows chew on a mix of atta and gur as they survey the surroundings. The woman then puts a tilak on their heads and the cows walk away. Surprisingly, this isn't out of the ordinary. These weren't just a bunch of lazy cows, Sadhnaben, the woman of the household said. "They come in every morning to our door and we feed them. They've been doing this for years. It's auspicious for us that they stop at our home."

Temple town Most Rajkotians are deeply religious and predominantly vegetarian. While Swaminarayan Temple on the Kalawad Road and Ramkrishna Ashram are magnificent structures, there are others such as Mai Mandir and many Mahadeva temples that are not typical sites for sightseeing but see a throng of devotees.

Colonial legacy The British East India Company had founded the Saurashtra agency in Rajkot to moderate all princely states in the region. The regional headquarters and residency of this agency was at Kothi Compound. The British constructed many impressive colonial buildings and educational institutions, such as Connaught Hall and The Rajkumar College. The Jubilee Garden is a large, open park area in the center of the city featuring many monuments to colonial time. The Lang Library and the G T Sheth Library have a collection of thousands of documents and books on Rajkot and Saurashtra's history.

On the rocks! Now, don't get this wrong. Consumption of alcohol is prohibited in Gujarat, but the 'ice' is not. That explains why you see people waiting outside Satya Vijay Patel Ice Cream Parlour at Race Course Road at 2 am. There's good variety here - around 20 different flavours. And for those who don't fancy the run-of-the-mill stuff, there's always the option of having a kala khatta sorbetto-like mix at the Ram Aur Shyam Golawala near Ashapura Temple, says resident Falguni Hathi who adds that a visit to Rajkot is incomplete without savouring its frozen delights.

Tid-bits for travellers: 1. Rajkot is the place to buy really silver jewellery, so do carry enough cash on you when you're out shopping.
2. Water's too precious here. Most houses get water supply only for 20 minutes every alternate day. So please don't waste any. Also, you shouldn't be surprised if you're served only half a glass of water at a restaurant. Kids here survive on just two to three glasses a day. Opt for chhaas, it's available everywhere.
3. Mind what you eat and how much you eat if you are invited for dinner to a local resident's place. There's no way they listen to a 'no' or 'enough', so be well-prepared for that.
4. Summers are really hot so the best time to visit Rajkot is any time between November and February.

Pics: Eisha Sarkar

The story was published in the print edition of Mumbai Mirror on April 1. To read the story online, click here

Sunday, March 22, 2009

30 tips to keep you healthy this summer

Is the rising mercury bringing your blood to a boil? Wipe those beads of sweat off your forehead and read on to learn 30 tips to keep you cool and healthy this summer

1. Drink: Plenty of water. Your body needs water to prevent dehydration during warm summer days. Take special care to make sure infants and toddlers drink enough water. They can become dehydrated much more easily than adults.
2. Wear Sunscreen: Sunburn is painful and unhealthy. Use a sunscreen that is right for your skin, ideally one with sun protection factor (SPF) rating of 15 or higher. While pale skin is the most likely to burn, darker skin can burn also if they stay in the sun too long. Use protection no matter what skin tone you have.
3. Take it easy: A rest or nap can do a lot of good to you. Don't push yourself beyond your physical limits.
4.Wear cool clothes: Light, loose-fitted, light-coloured clothing is the best. Wear white clothing to stay cool. It reflects the heat away from your body while dark clothing absorbs the heat making your body temperature rise.
5. Protect your peepers: Wear Sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun's harmful UV rays.
6. Reduce: Your intake of fatty foods.
7. Eat: More carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables. Try a variety of summer fruits and vegetables in your diet. Mangoes, for example, contain large quantities of antioxidants and are effective in relieving clogged pores in the skin.
8. Avoid: Alcohol. It's extremely dehydrating. And if you must consume it, do so with lots of water.
9. Drink: Juices of grapes, watermelon, banana, jack fruit, lemon and pineapple as they are cool and can be easily digested.
10. Avoid: Spicy or sour foods, especially if you plan to go out and enjoy the sun in the day, to keep your skin from breaking out or getting inflamed.
11. Cleanse your skin: The sun can increase sebum production, causing your skin to look oily. When the oil combines with dirt and sweat, pores get clogged. Be meticulous about your cleansing routine, morning and night. Use a non-soap based gentle cleanser that will deep cleanse without drying out the skin. A good cleansing mix for dry/normal skin can be made with almond meal, oatmeal, milk and rosewater. For oily skin, try chickpea flour or oatmeal with yoghurt and a little lemon and neem powder. If you use a toner, look for one without alcohol.
12. Massage: Use essential oils such as lavender, orange, and grapefruit, in a coconut oil base and massage your body with it. This will produce a cooling effect and even cleanse your skin. Massages could be followed by a warm (not hot) bath by adding rose buds or lavender to the water for cooling effect.
13. Thanda matlab lassi: Milk and Lassi are excellent coolants. Lassi can be prepared by blending yoghurt and water in the ratio 1:3, and adding a few curry leaves, a pinch of powdered asofoetida, finely copped ginger slices and salt (if required). Apart from quenching thirst, this drink aids digestion and purifies the skin.
14. Let your skin breathe: Lighten your skin care in summer. This is the time when your skin gets oilier and more pimple prone. You might want to switch to skin care products that are water-based instead.
15. Cool with cucumber: Cucumber is a great protection against the sun. Peel and grate a cucumber, take out the juice and mix half a teaspoon of glycerine and half a teaspoon of rose water. Pat this mixture on sunburns for a mild bleaching and soothing effect. Another way to use cucumber for sunburns is to soak some pieces of it in a cup of milk for a few hours and then apply the milk on sunburns.
16. Keep cool with Aloe: Arm yourself with a tube of aloe vera gel. It is wonderful for healing sunburns. On top of that, it is a great oil-free moisturizer for face and body.
17. Pesky pests: Arm yourself with repellent spray to keep off wasps and mosquitoes. Carry a travel-size spray in your bag. Avoid unnecessary outdoor activity when mosquitoes are most prevalent, such as dawn, dusk and early evening.
18. For babies: A constant irritant during the summer months is diaper rash. Never let the nappy area remain wet; always keep it dry, and use talcum powder liberally on the areas to keep baby smiling and happy.
19. Cover up: Make your child wear clothes that cover most of their skin as it will help protect against UV rays. Although a long-sleeved shirt and long pants with a tight weave are best, they aren't always practical. A t-shirt, long shorts or a beach cover-up are good choices, too — but it's wise to double up on protection by applying sunscreen or keeping your child in the shade when possible.
20. Exercise: While swimming is the best for of exercise in the summer, walking, cycling and sailing could be enjoyable outdoor activities too while aerobics and Tai chi can be done indoors. Always have a light snack before the exercise, warm up right, keep a steady pace, tune down and do not forget to drink water after the round of exercise.
21. Hat for hair: Your hair can be damaged by the heat and harmful rays. Wear a hat to protect your hair.
22. Don't shun the sun: Get moderate exposure to the morning sun. Build up on those vitamin D reserves.
23. Avoid: Caffeinated beverages that dehydrate your body.
24. In case of heat cramps or heat exhaustion:
* Cool the body slowly. Get the person to a cooler place and have him or her rest in a comfortable position.
* Give fluids. If the person is fully awake and alert, give a half glass of cool water every 15 minutes. Do not let him or her drink too quickly. Do not give liquids with alcohol or caffeine in them.
* Loosen clothing. Remove or loosen tight clothing and apply cool, wet cloths such as towels. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number if the person appears in need of medical attention.
25. Don't: Leave your child/pet in the car while you are out shopping. They may get severely dehydrated and even die of a heat stroke.
26. Know your body: If you are feeling ill, see a doctor. Hundreds of people die each year in India due to extreme heat.
27. Caution: If you have allergies and plan to be traveling/vacationing, find out which plants will be pollinating in your vacation spot
28. Monitor your intake of salt: An imbalance of salt in your body — too much, or too little — can readily occur when temperatures are hot. You will know you're getting too much salt if you find that rings you wear get tighter, and socks or shoes that fit you comfortably during cooler weather, leave lines or wrinkles on your feet or ankles because of too much fluid in those areas.
29. Overcome grill overkill: Nothing says, "fire up the grill" quite like warm weather. However, the chemistry of carcinogens produced by grilling can increase cancer risks. Studies suggest that following grilled meat with antioxidants such as vitamins C, E and carotenoids may offer protection against harmful grilling carcinogens.
30. Don't sweat it: Even walking to your car in extreme heat can cause those little salty beads to pop out under your arms and on your face. Since sweating causes you to lose precious minerals, keep your electrolytes in balance by getting plenty of minerals from fresh fruit, vegetables and health supplements.

The story has come out in Times Wellness

Packaged or mineral...what's the difference

Not all bottled water is created alike. In fact, there’s a distinct difference between mineral water and packaged drinking water. Read on to find out more

It's just water in a bottle but it holds the key to life and hence, it's precious. In villages of west Gujarat, children adapt to a lifestyle where they don't have to drink more than two glasses of water a day. Ask for a glass of water at a hotel in Rajkot, you're more likely to find the glass 'half-empty'. Tourist haven Maldives comprises 96 per cent water. But ask for a bottle of water and it costs more than packaged fruit juice. In Lakshadweep a tiny 'airport bottle' of water costs up to Rs 45. But you can't really complain when Hollywood celebs more than readily splurge $ 135 on a 250 ml bottle of spring water to 'make their skin glow'.

For most of us, a sealed bottle of water would be 'bisleri' - never mind what brand it really is. Most Indians grow up believing that 'bisleri' is the same as 'mineral' water. Do we really know the know the difference?

It's not always 'mineral'
While the use of the phrase 'mineral water' has been extended to all forms of packaged water, the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS ) recognises two varieties of branded drinking water - natural mineral water and packaged drinking water. Natural mineral water is water from underground source that is packaged close to the source and meets the quality standards without processing.
Packaged drinking water is sourced from any water body and has to be treated and disinfected. The process of purification could involve filtration, UV or ozone treatment, reverse osmosis before it is fit for human consumption.
In India, there are just 11 natural mineral water licence holders, while there are several hundred packaged drinking water licences approved by the BIS, which dictates the quality specifications.
Of the 11 licensed by the BIS, one is Evian, a French brand, and of the other Indian brands except for one, in the Aravallis, the rest are in the Himalayan ranges.
A layman can only tell mineral from ordinary packaged water by checking out the label. There's no way he/she can know the difference from taste.

Sources of mineral water
Mineral water can be sourced from: springs and groundwater. Spring water is collected directly from the spring where it rises from the ground, and must be bottled at the source. Mineral water emerges from under the ground, then flows over rocks before it's collected, resulting in a higher content of various minerals. Unlike spring water, it can't be treated except to remove grit and dirt. Different brands of spring and mineral waters have differing amounts of minerals depending on their source.
"The mineral water we provide is brought from springs in the Himalayan region. These are EU certified and all we do is filter them to remove any kind of microbial contamination. Otherwise, we don't tamper with the water. We simply package it at the source and transport it to our outlets," says Ruchika Desai, marketing manager, Bisleri India that supplies mineral water under the brand name Bisleri Himalayan.

Ion count
Mineral water is expected to contain more than 500 parts per million (ppm) of dissolved solids.
As per the BIS's 'typical composition' measurements, mineral water should contain
Chloride 13 ppm
Sulphate 19 ppm
Sodium 14 ppm
Calcium 47 ppm
Magnesium 13 ppm
Fluoride 0.2 ppm
Bicarbonates 201 ppm

Is drinking 'mineral' helpful?
Nutritionist Naini Setalvad of Health For You Foundation says, "Natural mineral water contains several compounds that come from springs. For it to be beneficial to the health, it must flow freely from the source and must be bottled at the source. It cannot be pumped or forced from the ground. If you are not mineral deficient and exclusively drink mineral water, you will be taking more minerals than the body can use. Many Europeans only drink mineral water and claim it helps aid digestion. However, in India, we don't prescribe mineral water to help replenish the body's minerals."

Eight glasses...a tad too much
While most dieticians and doctors advocate drinking eight glasses of water everyday, nutritionists are not quite sure if only mineral water can be consumed in the same quantity. Setalvad cautions, "One should not exclusively drink mineral water. Tap water, boiled, filtered, stored in glass bottles and charged in the sun is the best water you can drink."

Carbonised water: A strict no, no
Soda water is filtered carbonated water what has added sodium in the form of bicarbonates, sodium citrates and/or sodium phosphates. If you are cutting down on the salt, stick with sparkling water with no added sodium, suggests Setalvad.
Soda is known to dissolve tooth enamel. In fact, the chances of tooth decay are doubled or tripled; soda is even worse than solid sugar found in candy for the teeth.

Is bottled water safe?
Though the demand for bottled water is on the rise, because as Desai points out, "People find it very convenient and they feel it is a safer source to drink," there have been reports of bacterial and pesticide contamination during storage and faulty packaging. Desai insists people should check for the BIS approval and ISI mark before purchasing a bottle of water.

Avoid 'plastic' altogether
Most packaged water comes in plastic bottles that are not at all eco-friendly. Switching over to glass bottles is a healthier solution, not just for the environment but also for the body. Setalvad notes, "Mineral water should be had only when it is stored in glass bottles – unless in an emergency – because plastic contains antimony more than a hundred times than the levels found in clean ground water. Plastic bottles are known to release philates that are known to cause birth defects.
It’s best to go the old fashioned way where you carry your own water in a glass or steel bottle."

The story was published in Times Wellness.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Small-town Gujarat

Few tourists venture into small-town Gujarat. While big cities such as Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Jamnagar, Surat, Dwarka and Bhuj are regulars on tourist itinery, the countryside offers much more than most other states. There are two reasons why you should undertake journeys to such places - one, the roads are excellent, more so in south Gujarat where they are lined with banyan trees and two, you will certainly pass by monuments or relics that date back to several hundred years.

Ask anyone at Dabhoi where the Wadhwana wetlands are located and they give you directions to the Hira Bhagol or the eastern gate of the old Dabhoi Fort.

How to get there: An hour's drive from Vadodara. It is around 60 kilometres from Rajpipla.
Slice of history: Dabhoi was established in the early 6th century AD. Its foundation and fortification is ascribed to King Siddhraj Jaisinh (1093-1143 AD), who made this his frontier fortress. The fort of Dabhoi (originally called Darbhavati) is one of the rare surviving examples of Hindu military architecture, based on the shastri traditions described in various Vaastu scriptures. The famed battle of Dabhoi was fought on April 1, 1731 between Sarsenapati Trimbakrao Dabhade and Bajirao Peshwa.

Tourist spots: There are four gates in the town, one in each cardinal direction, having indirect entry, located in the middle of each side of the fort wall. It was altered during the time of Visaldev and the Muslim rule. Hira Bhagol (named after the architect, Hiradhar), the most exquisitely carved gate with Khajuraho-type sculptures of gods and goddesses, is in the east, with Vadodara Gate in the west, Champaner Gate in the north and Nandod Gate in the south. The Archaeological Survey of India is currently renovating these ancient relics.

Known as the "Benares of the South" Karnali on the banks of River Narmada has all the trappings to make for an ideal place of pilgrimage and meditation i.e. if you miss the narrow bylanes and shops selling farsan and jalebis for breakfast.

How to get there: You can take State Transport buses, or the hired cars and taxis from the city of Vadodara. It can take around one and a half hour to reach Karnali from Vadodara by road.

Tourist spots: There are two famous temples here at Karnali, over and above many other temples. The first temple is of Lord Shiva, which is known as Rameshwar Mahadev temple. It is said that the lord Moon performed a severe tapasya here at the spot of this temple. The Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu were very happy due to this and created this famous temple here through the help sof Lord Moon. This temple is very ancient, around 3,000 years old. The other famous temple, Kuberaj Mahadev Mandir is of Kuber Bhandari. It is said that the King Kuber had sought refuge here while he was running away from Ravana. Both these temples are situated on two different ghats of the River Narmada. There is also a temple dedicated to Lord Garudeshwar.

Situated in the foothills of the Satpura range, between the Narmada and Tapti rivers, Rajpipla grew to be one of the most prosperous princely states in Gujarat, second only to Baroda. But today, it is more known for its high-profile gay prince Manvendra Singh Gohil who even landed on Oprah Winfrey's couch (err! on the show).

How to get there: It is located around 100 kms from Vadodara. A drive down the state highway is the best mode of transport to this erstwhile princely state.

Princely state: The owners of the Rajvant Palace Resort are the descendants of The Gohil Rajput rulers of princely Rajpipla, its state area covering about 1,800 sq miles, mostly of forest, agricultural land and river valleys. The builder of modern and affluent Rajpipla was his son, Vijay Sinhji, who came to the throne in 1915 AD, and proved to be a great administrator. He was conferred the Knight commander rank, the hereditary title of Maharajah and the gun salutes for the ruler of Rajpipla were increased from 11 to 13. He introduced free Primary education, nominal high school fees, scholarships, a hospital, five dispensaries and a veterinary hospital in the state, good public works, a criminal-and-civil court, good motorable roads, a 40 mile railway line connecting Rajpipla to Ankleshwar, a junction on the Delhi-Ahmedabad-Bombay line.

Tourist spots: Undoubtedly the Rajvant Palace Resort. The pink palace resembles a European mansion, with it's Romanesque dome, classical columns, Greek capitals, timber truss roof, Venetian doors, Gothic arches, palm groves and river facing location. Don't expect too much in terms of architecture and you will not be disappointed. The palace also has two museums - a palace museum and an adivasi museum. For just Rs 15, you can take a tour of the museums and see the royal relics and tribal artefacts. While the royal family still lives in one wing of the palace, the rest of it is rented out 10 months a year for film shoots and serials. A 100-odd low-budget Bhojpuri and Gujarati films have been shot at this palace.
Besides the palace, Rajpipla has many old buildings including the majestic Vadia Palace.
There are three waterfalls in the area — Jerwani, Junaghata and Ninai — and the two river systems of Narmada and Karjan besides two wildlife sanctuaries. The controversial Sardar Sarovar project or the Narmada dam is just 35 km from Rajpipla.

The story has been published on Mumbai Mirror.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Holy cow!

This isn't a message. It's a way of life. You don't find too many cows in Mumbai (thankfully) but I know they're revered in many parts of India so much so that they've become a part of a political party's agenda, but I never thought they would visit me at home one day. Yes, it happened on Sunday morning in Rajkot. I noticed a bunch of cows sauntering into the compound of the house we were staying. There were four of them...and one buffalo. Now, that's a sight you don't see everyday. So I grabbed my camera and took some pictures. Job done, I went to shoo them away. I ran after them waving my handicam, but they ignored me and came straight to the door. The woman of the house, Riddhi, pushed me aside and put down two trays at the door. The cows dug into the mix of gur and atta. Riddhi put tilak on the cows. To mask my surprise, I started taking pics. The cows weren't moved. They'd had their breakfast but they weren't ready to budge. Greedy as they were, Riddhi had to put a tray of food outside the compound gate to drive them away. Cow worship is a big deal in Rajkot. There are more cows on streets than automobiles. What appeared to me as a bunch of lazy cows begging door-to-door for their grub, was 'auspicious' for Riddhi's family.
I told Elton about it later. He scoffed, "How could you chase the Gods away?"

Wonder why I haven't put up a pic of the cows? well, in all that commotion, I had forgotten to open the camera's lens cover.

Friday, March 13, 2009


Not many people go to Kalol for touristy purpose. This small town in the Panchmahal district of Gujarat has nothing to offer - no heritage buildings, cultural centres or natural resources. This is typical small-town Gujarat where most people in the 15-25 years age-group aspire to get a job in big cities - Ahmedabad, Vadodara and even Mumbai or at one of the MNC manufacturing units present in this SEZ.

A few eyebrows were raised when I put forth the idea of visiting Kalol, which is about 50 km away from Baroda. "But there's nothing to see there. You'll be disappointed," was what I was told. My detractors were right. Kalol offered nothing to see. But it offered an opportunity to learn. Having spent a better part of my life in a megapolis the size of Mumbai, it did come as a surprise to me that this town has a population of only 25,000. Downtown Plus, (now known as the Times of South Mumbai) has a circulation of 1.1 lakh - and that's just south Mumbai.

Through relatives, I managed to get a contact - Professor Kishore Vyas, who is the principal of the M M Gandhi Arts and Commerce College at Kalol. Finding the college wasn't tough - there are only two big colleges in the city.

The principal was busy with guests at a college function. I had to wait. Sitting in the so-called office I looked at the name-boards displayed. The head clerk was a Shah, the man next to him was another Shah. The supervisor was a Shah too and so was the 'receptionist'. Before I could enquire, I was asked to come in. I wasn't too sure how to start. I just wanted to explore Kalol, but that wasn't reason enough to meet the principal and two of the trustees of the college. I mooted the idea of a documentary on the Panchmahal district.

They weren't really interested. Only when I started taking down notes, did one of the trustees start talking. "You can't call Panchmahal a backward district any more. We were backward till about seven years ago. Colleges in the backward districts get state grants of Rs 12 lakh while we are now getting only Rs 2.50 lakh," said J S Patel, secretary of the college. It was lunch time and the authorities were in no mood to talk. They asked me to come back after some time.

I dodged curious glances from some of the male students as I waited in the corridor. Soon, I was ushered into another room. That's where I met I Macwan, the head of the English department of the college. There were no formal introductions here. Macwan straight away got down to business. He asked me what had brought me there. I mumbled something about wanting to know what kind of courses were popular with students in semi-urban areas. "Sanskrit." "What?" "Yes, most students who take up arts, take Sanskrit. Most villagers wouldn't want to send their daughters to college to study commerce or sociology. But Sanskrit, because it is the language of the Vedas, makes education 'respectable'. At least that helps our cause in getting girls educated. Besides, they can take up teaching jobs after doing BEd in the subject."

That the dying language would find takers in a small-town college came as a surprise to me. But when the literacy rate among women in the surrounding villages is just about 50 per cent, the choice of subject doesn't matter, just the fact that they are now able to study at a college does.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

There's Disappointment, Daru and Bikini...all in the Pacific

Yes, the title seems suggestive, but what the heck. I had to spend the day at Rachit's factory at Halol yesterday. Having thrusted myself upon some of the employees of the tyre factory - who were gracious enough to spare me their time and space - I just did not know what to do. I walked around the office floor as I waited for Rachit to come out of a meeting. Thankfully, there was a world map stuck on one of the walls of the cabin. My eyes traced the contours of countries marked in pink, yellow, orange, purple, green. Suddenly, something caught my eye. Lake Disappointment in Australia. I smirked and called a friend to tell him about my latest discovery. My friend was surprised - more so because he'd never thought this could be a topic of conversation. Holding the phone in one hand, I moved my index finger in a straight line towards the north-east. I saw Daru in Papua New Guinea and then further I saw Bikini Islands. Chuckle. I had to kill more time before the meeting was over. So, I avoided the curious glances from factory workers and pored over the map looking for places with unusual names - Old Crow in Alaska, Must in Mongolia, Snares near New Zealand...
When Rachit came out of the meeting he asked me, "Did you get bored waiting here?" I said, "No. I wanted to find out Why (Arizona, US)."

Saturday, March 7, 2009

In the world of Pinki's smiles

The Oscar winning documentary, Smile Pinki, highlighted the plight of children with cleft lip who find themselves without friends because of the way they look. Here’s how some people are trying to bring a smile back on the faces of these children

Eisha Sarkar
Another Pinki smiles. But not just at how her future has changed but her 50-year-old mother Khelodevi's too. Both Pinki, 20, and her mother had the cleft palate syndrome. When Pinki came in for treatment at the Tata Main Hospital, Jamshedpur, her mother didn't want to 'ruin her chances of getting free treatment by going to the table first'. But plastic surgeons from NGO Operation Smile were adamant that both mother and daughter should be treated together and now both are awaiting their follow-up medical checks on March 7.
Many smiles
When international NGO Operation Smile comprising 42 health volunteers, paramedics and doctors set foot in Jamshedpur, they'd expected to treat around 150 patients from the rural districts of Jharkhand and Bengal over a period of five days. “It comes as a surprise that we've conducted surgeries on 181 patients in just five days - 36 cases a day,” says Mumbai-based Rohan Das, who is the regional coordinator of Operation Smile India.
If it weren't for the Oscar for the documentary Smile Pinki (tale of a girl who has been left out from the social circle because of her cleft and how her life changes for the good after undergoing a lip surgery sponsored by NGO Smile Train), hare-lipped children in remote villages in India's heartland, would never have seen a surgeon, let alone the insides of an operation theatre.
What is cleft palate syndrome?
Cleft lip (cheiloschisis) and cleft palate (palatoschisis), which can also occur together as cleft lip and palate are variations of a type of clefting congenital deformity caused by abnormal facial development during gestation. This type of deformity is sometimes referred to as a cleft. A cleft is a sub-division in the body's natural structure, regularly formed before birth. A cleft lip or palate can be successfully treated with surgery soon after birth.
What are the problems associated with cleft palate?
Feeding Problems
1. Cannot suck effectively
2. Milk gets into the nasal cavity and may result in choking or aspiration

Teething Problems
1. Missing teeth
2. Increased number of cavities
3. Malocclusion of teeth - When teeth are bunched together or on top of each other.

Speech Problems
1. Nasal voice
2. May develop nodules on the vocal cord due to vocal abuse
3. Delayed speech and language development
4. Difficulty with articulation and proper pronunciation of words

Ear Infections
1. Most children with cleft palate are prone to middle ear infection
2. Hearing Loss
3. May be associated with repeated ear infection

Ray of hope
Sukhlal, who had come to Jamshedpur from Dhanbad to get his sister treated, says, “The Tata Steel Rural Development Society told me about the dates of this surgery. My 11-year-old-sister Neerkumar had a cleft palate and split lip. We would not have been able to afford this surgery. These doctors are very good. They even gave us place to stay during the course of my sister's operation.”

From remote villages people make a beeline to the hospital in Jamshedpur for free treatment. They lodge in the hospital's premises till their near-and-dear ones are discharged.

“We've had camps like these in Rajkot, Guwahati and Kolkata and we've seen tremendous response from people, but none like this one. With every successful reconstructive surgery we feel more humbled and till now, we've not had any complaints from our patients worldwide,” says Brandon P Ringler, programme coordinator, Operation Smile.

Miami-based plastic surgeon Dr R Gottenger says, “Most of these people would never know that they could get clefted palates treated. You find 35,000 such cases every year. At every camp, we first screen the kids above the age of six months for deformities and then prioritise their surgeries - those wide split lips are given first preference because if they can't close their mouth, they can't swallow food. Adults with cleft defects are also included.”

“The surgery takes not more than a few hours and patients recover in a day's time. They are provided counselling at the camp. They can start talking after 72 hours and have to be administered a liquid diet till the lips are sealed,” says Dr P C Mahapatra, paediatrician, peripheral health services, Tata Steel. Dr Mahapatra says the company's rural development service wing has been conducting such programmes since 2002, in collaboration with NGO Smile Train.

Genes, poor nutrition to blame
Drugs, exposure to pesticides, alcohol, and vitamin A are often listed as environmental factors that can give rise to cleft palates. However, Dr Gottenger explains, “There's no specific cause for this deformity. It happens in the foetal stages of development. It may be genetic to a certain extent though some studies show that malnutrition, especially a deficiency of folic acid in the mother's diet, may also have something to do with it. Nearly 48% of the cases I've seen in Third World countries have been from the Muslim community, where you see a lot of inbreeding and a smaller gene pool."

More cases in the east
Mumbai-based Mandar More, a volunteer with Operation Smile's documentation centre notes, “We see more cases in eastern India, Gujarat and Vijaywada than in Maharashtra. This could probably be because of certain nutritional factors in these regions, apart from genes.”

(Operation Smile's next camp will be held near Kolkata starting from March 14).

Pics: Sagar Apte (Operation Smile India)
The story's been published in Times Wellness, Bombay Times

How osteoporosis can be detected

You've hit menopause but you're wary of the O-word. You know the dangers of osteoporosis, but don’t know how to go about the tests. Fear not. Here's a guide to help you combat this debilitating bone disease:

Eisha Sarkar

What's osteoporosis?
It results from progressive bone loss and is associated with an increased risk of fracture. In scientific terms, the bone mineral density (BMD) is reduced and the bone structure is disrupted.
Dr Dinesh Upadhyaya, a senior sports medicine expert at the Tata Main Hospital, Jamshedpur says, "Osteoporosis is an epidemic. Only, we can't classify it as one because we haven't been able to test so many people."
Osteoporosis is most common in women after menopause. Also, it may occur in a person who suffers from hormonal disorders and other chronic diseases or as a result of medications, specifically glucocorticoids.

Under the scanner
All women aged 65 and over
Younger postmenopausal women who have one or more risk factors
Postmenopausal women who have suffered a fragility fracture to confirm the diagnosis and determine disease severity.
Check your bone density
"Most people don't know they have osteoporosis till they actually get a fracture from a minor fall," says Dr Upadhyaya. While screening for serum calcium may confirm the cause for certain symptoms of osteoporosis (bend in the spine, loss of height and chronic back pain), its diagnosis involves a measurement of BMD, says Dr Upadhyaya. This can be done with the help of the following tests:

1. Radiographic Measurement
How it's done: Bone density is measured on plain radiographs (X-rays).
Precision: Low. The loss of bone density is not apparent on a plain X-ray until approximately 40% of the bone is lost.

2. Radiographic absorptiometry
How it's done: An X-ray of the hand is taken, incorporating an aluminum reference wedge. The X-ray is then analysed, and the density of the bone is compared to the density of the wedge.
Precision: Low

3. Single-Photon absorptiometry (SPA)
How it's done: A single-energy photon beam is passed through bone and soft tissue (usually the wrist) to a detector. The amount of mineral in the path is then quantified.
Precision: The measurements are accurate, and the test usually takes about 10 minutes.

4. Dual-Photon Absorptiometry (DPA)
How it's done: It uses a photon beam that has two distinct energy peaks. One energy peak is absorbed more by the soft tissue. The other by bone. The soft-tissue component is subtracted to determine the BMD. DPA allows for BMD measurements of the spine and proximal femur.
Precision: Although DPA is accurate for predicting fracture risk, the precision is poor because of decay of the isotope.

5. Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DEXA)
How it's done: It works in a similar fashion to DPA, but uses an X-ray source instead of a radioactive isotope. This technique is superior to DPA because the radiation source does not decay and the energy stays constant over time. DEXA is the "gold standard" for BMD measurement.
Precision: DEXA scans are extremely precise. Precision in the range of 1% to 2% has been reported. It can be used to monitor changes in bone density in patients undergoing treatments. Scan times for DEXA are much shorter than for DPA, and the radiation dose is very low.

6. Quantitative Computed Tomography (QCT)
How it's done: QCT is unique in that it provides for true three-dimensional imaging and reports BMD as true volume density measurements.
Precision: High. The advantage of QCT is the ability to isolate an area of interest from surrounding tissues. QCT can, therefore, localize an area in a vertebral body of only trabecular bone, leaving out the elements most affected by degenerative change and sclerosis. The radiation dose with QCT is about 10 times that of DEXA, and QCT tests may be more expensive than DEXA.

7. Peripheral Bone Density Testing
How it's done: Low-cost portable devices can determine BMD at peripheral sites such as wrist and fingers. This allows for BMD assessment in a population who otherwise would not be able to have the test. These machines are considerably less expensive.
Precision: Although the machines are accurate, doubts have been raised about their precision. As only one site is tested, low bone density in the hip or spine may be missed. This may be a problem because of differences in bone density between different skeletal sites. Peripheral machines may not be good enough to monitor patients undergoing treatment for osteoporosis.

In postmenopausal women up to 65 years, the most accurate site to measure BMD is the spine.
In women older than 65 years, BMD is similar across the skeleton; therefore, it may not make a difference which site is measured.
I had written the story on tests for osteoporosis while I was in Jamshedpur. Check it out:

A life is too precious to be lost, but can you stop somebody who doesn't value it?

I had to go over Vishwas's latest piece "IF YOU LOVE ME, YOU WILL DO WHAT I SAY" twice, to actually make sense out of it. It is difficult to judge such situations objectively, more so if you know even one of the people involved. In either of the instances, I don't know much about the circumstances that led to the girls threatening to take such a drastic step. I don't know what the men, in either of the circumstances, went through. "Will she really jump or is she threatening?" "What will happen to me if she does jump?"
After reading it, I had only one question in my mind:

A life is too precious to be lost, but can you stop somebody who doesn't value it?
As a journalist, I've had one of the most wretched experiences of my life in the TB ward at the GTB Hospital in Sewri, Mumbai. There are what you call 'Corridors of death'. Most patients are abandoned by their families (because most TB cases are linked to HIV or AIDS). Dramatic scenes play out day and night...people threatening to kill themselves - for the want of love, care and attention of those they still love and those who once loved them. "If you ever loved me, you will do this for me."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Hira Baghol at Dabhoi


How to get there: An hour's drive from Vadodara. It is around 60 kilometres from Rajpipla.
Slice of history: Dabhoi was established in the early 6th century AD. Its foundation and fortification is ascribed to King Siddhraj Jaisinh (1093-1143 AD), who made this his frontier fortress. The fort of Dabhoi (originally called Darbhavati) is one of the rare surviving examples of Hindu military architecture, based on the shastri traditions described in various Vaastu scriptures. The famed battle of Dabhoi was fought on April 1, 1731 between Sarsenapati Trimbakrao Dabhade and Bajirao Peshwa.
Tourist spots: There are four gates in the town, one in each cardinal direction, having indirect entry, located in the middle of each side of the fort wall. It was altered during the time of Visaldev and the Muslim rule. Hira Bhagol (named after the architect, Hiradhar), the most exquisitely carved gate with Khajuraho-type sculptures of gods and goddesses, is in the east, with Vadodara Gate in the west, Champaner Gate in the north and Nandod Gate in the south. The Archaeological Survey of India is currently renovating these ancient relics.

About the video: Rachit and Amisha dig into some local fruit called 'kothu' at Hira Baghol - the most famous landmark in Dabhoi town of Vadodara district. The fruit is sour - and I'm not talking lemon-sour. This one's for those who want to take their tastebuds seriously. Ready for an acid-test?

Monday, March 2, 2009

Simians in the neighbourhood

This is not something I've seen very often, but my husband says it's quite commonplace in Vadodara. Most Mumbaikars would scoff at the thought of a black-faced simian family sunbathing on a neighbour's roof (ask Elton, he said I shouldn't call my neighbours monkeys)...but this was real - two babies and their parents...the mother putting her young one to sleep...sounds familiar, doesnt it?
Click here for more pics.

Write away your problems

A few deft strokes of the hand can save you from a stroke. If graphologists are to be believed then the pen may be the key to solve all problems.

The story on graphotherapy has been published on the website of Handwriting University, USA. Click here to see the article that was previously published in Times Wellness.

Mom's the word

The piece on my mother has also been published on

The director of the site had liked it very much and had asked me if she could publish it on the site.

Here are her comments:
What a wonderful tribute to your mother.And yes, you are a very good writer.
- Katherine J. Kehler
Thoughts About God
Dear Eisha, Thank you for sharing your wonderful comments regarding the gift of your mom!You are truly blessed. Our director would like to add it to our comments on the 'Mother's' webpage. Our editor will modify your article to fit on the page. Thank you so much for sharing your story,
God bless you
- June Krause

Feathered delights

Got birds on your birds? Head towards Wadhana Wetlands to enjoy birdwatching

By Eisha Sarkar
Posted On Thursday, February 26, 2009 at 07:10:02 PM

A conversation on birdwatching sites in Gujarat with Dr Pradeep Mankodi, a professor of Biology at the M S University, Vadodara, introduced us to a remote birdwatching site in Dabhoi Taluka. Wadhwana is not plotted on the map. It is an irrigation reservoir developed by Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad of Baroda state way back in 1909.

To get there, we had to literally ask the locals for directions to the next big landmark. But the quest to find one of the largest congregations of waterfowl in Gujarat and a curiosity about how it could possibly survive in the midst of urbanisation lead us on. We passed by sleepy villages at the crack of dawn (we'd started from Vadodara at 5.30 am) and were greeted with an assortment of birds and animals - camels, water buffaloes, bulls, peacocks and black-faced baboons. However, nothing could have prepared us for what the Wadhwana wetlands had to offer on an early Sunday morning - tens of thousands of wild geese and ducks, among other migratory birds.

How to get there: It's a one-and-half hour drive from Vadodara city to the 3000-year-old city of Dabhoi. From there you literally have to ask your way around to Hira Bhagol and then to Wadhwana reservoir. The wetlands are not plotted on the map and only recently has the Gujarat government acknowledged it as an eco-tourism site.

A naturalist's delight: The 10-km Wadhwana reservoir sees over a lakh avian vistors every winter. There are nearly 1,000 Grey Lag Goose commonly known as Gajhans that fly down from Central Europe and Siberia. A few Bar-headed geese known as Rajhans also come here from Tibet, Ladakh and the Mansarovar Lake region. Other species found here are Coot, Brahmi Duck, Spot Billed duck, Wigeon, Little Grib, Gadwaal, Soweler, Lesser Whistle Tail, Pochard, Mallard ducks, Sandpiper from Siberia, Ibis, Sarus Crane, Ruddy Shelducks, Northern Shovellers, Greylag Goose and Black Necked Grebe.
The Migratory birds come here in October and remain there till mid-April. The birds favour a particular type of weed known as Hypomea for nesting purposes, which is found in abundance at the lake.

Eco-tourism: The government recently started promoting the site for eco-tourism. There is a tourism office on site but facilities are really limited. There are ten rooms available that can be booked. The local official-cum-guide-cum manager points out to the Interpretation Centre (where you find models of the waterfowl visitors) that remains closed for most part of the year. "Few people know about this place. Most people who come here are researchers so they don't need such basic information. We open the place for children and other tourists who want to know about birds," he says.
There are three watch-towers too - but they're more for keeping a tab on herdsmen and their unruly cattle and poachers. Besides there is a cafetaria, but it is always advisable to make your own food arrangements.

Predators turn protectors: Till a few years back, local villagers and tribals would hunt waterfowl for their livelihood. The villagers of Simaliya, Kali Talavadi, Gopalpura, Amarpur, Manjrol and Wadhwana, the hamlets, which surround the reservoir, knew little about the importance of migratory birds. But now, many of them have turned into self-taught ornithologists and guides who rattle off birds's names to visitors. The wetland is not even declared as protected and there are countless entry and exit points but the villagers's vigil helps keep poachers at bay.
Best sightings: The best time of the day for bird-watching would be from 6.30 am to 10 am during the months October-April.

What you need: A powerful set of binoculars, a good camera with a powerful zoom, hiking shoes, dull-coloured clothes (avoid bright colours and white), a blazer or jacket (it gets really windy in the mornings), water/beverages and food packets (but please make sure you do not litter), mosquito and insect repellent.


1. Talk too loudly and/or shoo the birds away.

2. Litter.

3. Run along the shoreline where there are nests..