Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Cure-ious killers

Eisha Sarkar Posted On Times Wellness on Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Book Review: Death by Prescription
Author: Dr Ray D Strand with Donna K Wallace
Publisher: Magna Publishing
Price: Rs 175
Pages: 250

In his book, family physician Dr Ray D Strand writes, "If I had titled this book Death by Heart Attack or Death by Cancer, I doubt anyone would balk. After all, teaching patients how to prevent a heart attack and or avoid developing cancer is acceptable and good medicine. But teaching patients how they can avoid the number-three killer, adverse drug events, steps on some toes. Whether politically correct on not, I will go there where few choose to tread. Someone must address the life and death issue of death by prescription."

It certainly takes guts to go against the tide and Dr Strand's grit helps him unravel 'the most shocking truth behind an over-medicated nation'. You may have heard several cases of people reacting severely to drugs purchased without prescription, but do you know that even the pills prescribed by your doctor can possibly kill you? Dr Strand's shocking revelations in this book can send shudders down your spine and tremors through the world of medicine.

Cynthia's story: HRT can kill too

One by one, he tells you stories of innocent men, women and children who were victims of prescribed drugs. Like Cynthia whose doctor suggested that she take the hormonal replacement therapy (HRT) to improve all her menopausal symptoms and even her sex life. The doctor had claimed that HRT would decrease Cynthia's risk of developing osteoporosis, Alzheimer's dementia, heart attack and stroke. Cynthia faithfully started taking her oestrogen and progestrin everyday. She was relieved when her hot flashes and night sweats disappeared.

Months passed and then one day, she woke up feeling an unusual, crushing heaviness in her chest. She became short of breath and began sweating profusely. She dialled the emergency number 911 and crumpled to the floor. She was taken to the hospital where doctors tried everything to revive her before she was proclaimed dead. The autopsy revealed she had died of an acute coronary thrombosis - a heart attack, believed to have been caused by the oestrogen she took as part of HRT. She was killed by the drug that was supposed to provide her relief.

Don't be a guinea pig

Shocking, isn't it? Well, this is just one of the cases Dr Strand highlights in this book. There are many Cynthias still around and there's not much doctors can do to save them. Dr Strand traces why the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the US has had to recall several prescription drugs from the market after reports of several cases of deaths due to heart attacks, liver toxicity and kidney failure as a result of adverse drug reactions.

Most, could have been avoided, had the FDA played the role of a regulator instead of a facilitator in the drug-approval process. He reasons that many people simply became the FDA's guinea pigs by using newly-released drugs that turned out to be life-threatening.

Too many drugs can react

The book highlights the role of the FDA, the pharmaceutical companies, the physicians, the pharmacists in the process of making drugs available to patients. The role of each is important in avoiding any casualties. Unfortunately, physicians end up prescribing drugs to treat symptoms and pharmacists turn into shops where you can purchase them, instead of providing more information about their use and side-effects.

It's the negligence on the part of each player that can cost people their lives. More so, in cases where patients see several specialists and purchase their drugs from various pharmacies. There's no way of telling whether one drug prescribed by one will cross-react with drug prescribed another and potentially harm the patient.

The verdict

The book's written primarily for an American audience, so some of the drugs you may not find in the Indian market. Though India may not be an 'over-medicated nation' like the US (given that there are more people here dying due to lack of treatment than because of it), it underlines the fact that even drugs can kill so you need to be very careful about what you take, for even over-the-counter diet pills may prove fatal in some cases.

Most drugs are hostile to the body, and have very negative side effects, and have little more than a placebo effect on whatever your illness happens to be. And if you think herbs are better at cure, you may be proved otherwise. At the end of the day, you should understand what is good for you and discontinue any drugs if you simply don't feel right.

Dr Strand's done well to add notes on each drug, pharmacists' scripts and tables on nutritional supplements to help the reader. He says correcting nutritional deficiencies may prevent occurrences of degenerative problems such as diabetes, stroke, Alzheimer's etc. The language is simple, written in a narrative style, interspersed with stories of real people. Yes, there's a bit of jargon too, but Dr Strand does well by explaining what it all means.

Though Dr Strand may not have made many friends in the medicine world with this tell-it-like-it-is book, he'll sure find many readers.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

When Racecourse Royals beat Chhani Superheroes...

Now that the Deccan Chargers (may God bless Gilchrist and his cronies) have won the coveted IPL trophy, I thought that we would move on to other sports - F1 for a change. Well, not only was I proved wrong, the ancient Polo Club (aka MPC Gymkhana) in Baroda has now come up with its own version of the IPL. Called the Polo Premier League (PPL), there are eight teams here that have been sponsored by companies (mostly small, medium enterprises). It's like doing a Mallya on a much smaller-scale. The owners don the team robes and dish out flashy slogans. The teams include Chhani Superheroes, Racecourse Royals, Dandiyabazaar Devdevils, Manjalpur Barodians, Makarpura Chargers, Kings XI Polo, Kareli Baug Knight Riders and Alkapuri Challengers.

I went for the Chhani Superheroes versus Racecourse Royals match yesterday - again in true IPL style this was placed under the lights on a section of the huge Polo ground (no, we don't see horses there anymore). The match started at 9 pm and went on to 11. - twelve overs each side instead of 20. Chhani managed 68/4 with captain Nayan Mongia (remember, the former Indian wicketkeeper?) while Royals managed to outdo them with eight wickets amidst a volley of fours and lots of cheering from the crowd. The monotonous Gujarati-Hindi commentary was punctuated with fight between players from both sides that was finally resolved by Nayan Mongia. My heart went out to Mongia though. One, he has to play in an obscure intra-city tournament with a tennis ball after serving years in the Indian cricket team and two, he has to keep wickets without gloves (ouch!). If only he were as suave and dashing as Ajay Jadeja, he would have made it to the panel of the television cricket experts.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

A journey through Islam

This week, I journeyed through Islam, with the help of two books - Pakistani-origin author Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist and British travel writer William Dalrymple's In Xanadu - A Quest (which I think is his best work till date).

The Reluctant Fundamentalist is essentially about two characters - one, a bearded Pakistani, Changez (Urdu for Ghenghis) and the other, an unnamed nervous American traveller - who meet in a Lahore cafe. Over tea and kebabs, Changez tells the traveller about his love affair with America that finally came to an end following 9/11.

On the other hand, Dalrymple travelled through much of the Islamic world, following Marco Polo's route from Jerusalem to Xanadu in China, in 1987. Polo, it seems, carried a vial of oil from the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem for Kubla Khan, the great Mongolian king, who - the Church thought - was planning to convert to Islam. Travelling via the ancient Silk Route, Polo penned down his experiences in The Travels.

Hamid's narrative once again reasons why Princeton-graduate Pakistanis with high-paying jobs in New York resented (or still resent) the American aggression in Afghanistan. Many of these youngsters had left their roots for good. Yet, they decided to come back after Muslims started getting singled out by fellow Americans. Many, like Changez, secretly admired the fact that someone from the Third World could bring America to its knees. They searched for their lost identity all over again. The book took me back to the Pakistani film, Khuda Ke Liye which I had reviewed last year. The movie had highlighted how we fail to distinguish culture from religion and try to enforce one on the other - by trying to become either Westernised Muslims or Islamic fanatics.

Dalrymple sees symbols of this clash as he travels through the deserts of Syria and Turkey, wastelands of Iran, fertile valleys of Pakistan, the mountains and deserts of China and the steppes of Mongolia. The religion is the same but the mosques are as different as the people and the language.

Dalrymple's journey starts with Jerusalem in Israel - the birthplace of three of the greatest religions man has known,(namely Christianity, Judaism and Islam) has brought out the worst from their followers in the form of aggression, conquests, sacrifices and massacres. If there's one place that has suffered the most in the world, it has to be Jerusalem.

He nervously journeys through the Ayatollah's Iran and finds more English-speaking and educated people in the entire Middle-East. In The Swat valley of Pakistan (now the scene of a brutal warfare between the Taliban regime and Pakistan military), he finds god-fearing Pathans who believe in witchcraft (a pagan ritual) and Gujar Muslims who still practice pagan dance forms (now forbidden by Islam). He talks of the Uigurs who've managed to retain their markets and rebuild their mosques in the remote north-west region of communist China.

Dalrymple goes back to the Crusades to find some of the roots of the present-day conflicts. The clash is between culture and religion, no matter what the two-word breaking news headlines on TV channels suggest.

What Dalrymple finds is that if Marco Polo would have been around today, he wouldn't have seen anything more different from what he had seen in the 13th century - aggression, wars, massacres, prosperity, business and politics. In eight centuries, the world may have technologically progressed, but our conflicts have remained unresolved.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Soothing Silvassa

The 'city in the woods' with its Portuguese past, rich tribal culture and luxurious resorts makes for a perfect weekend getaway

By Eisha Sarkar
Posted On Mumbai Mirror on Tuesday, May 19, 2009 at 06:25:30 PM

At just 185 kilometres away from Mumbai, Silvassa, the capital of the Union Territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli makes for an ideal weekend getaway for stressed corporate executives. All it offers you is the chance to walk in the woods, breathe in some fresh air, revel in the beauty all around you and simply do nothing. So get going...

Portuguese past
Dadra and Nagar Haveli was under the Maratha rule till 1779, after which they gifted it to the Portuguese for aggregated revenue of Rs 12,000. In 1954, the territory was liberated and the local people themselves carried on the administration for about eight years. On August 11, 1961, Dadra-Nagar Haveli became a Union Territory. The remnants of the Portugese dot the town in the form of churches, schools, fort walls and bungalows. Silvassa is a manufacturing hub for packaging, chemical, glass and electrical goods industry.

In the woods
Silva, in Portuguese means woods. So it hardly comes as a surprise that you see a fascinating variety of natural flora and fauna abound. Wild cacti, beautiful butterflies, hiking trails - you'll find them all in the midst of these dry deciduous forests.

One of the most popular tourist destinations is the Hirva Van, a garden named after the local tribal deity "Hirva," meaning greenery is at Pipria on the Silvassa-Dadra Road. There is also the island garden, right in the middle of the Vanganga Lake nearly five kilometres away from Silvassa.

Resort town
A number of resorts thrive on the banks of the river Daman Ganga, with room rates starting from Rs 2,500 upwards. What you get is the view of the narrow, nearly dry riverbed, along with a package of recreational activities - swimming pools, bars, discotheques, playgrounds, Ayurvedic massage parlours etc.

Tribal zone
Right in the heart of Silvassa is bungalow-type tiled-roof house with clay figures. Tribal Cultural Museum showcases the works of the tribes that constitute nearly 80 per cent of the population of Dadra and Nagar Haveli. The main tribes are Dhodia, Kokna and Varli with small groups of Koli, Kathod, Naika and Dublas.

The museum displays various household tools, ornaments (for both men and women), farming, hunting and fishing equipment, musical instruments, weapons, swords and armours that are key to the tribal way of life.

There are also photographs of tribal dances - the Gheria dance of the Dubla tribe, the Bohada mask dance of the Koknas and the Dhol dance. And if you like Warli art, this is one place you wouldn't want to miss.

Safari dampener
The deer park and the lion safari at Vasona near Silvassa, are listed in all tourist guides that are available at hotels and resorts here. However, if you are looking for a wild encounter, this is not the place. At the deer park, if you're lucky enough, you may spot a neelgay or two.

The lion safari is a big disappointment though. You have to shell out Rs 25 per head for a ride in the 'safari bus' that takes you around the nature park. Sure, you'll see lions - just a 'tamed' couple - lying there by the road waiting for you to take their pictures. You may as well have gone to your local zoo for the experience.

How to get there
A three-hour drive from Mumbai along National Highway 8 via Manor and Talasari. The nearest railhead is at Vapi, Gujarat around 21 kilometres from Silvassa.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Sleep well, sleep tight

Book Review: Restful Sleep: The complete mind/body program for overcoming insomnia
Author: Dr Deepak Chopra
Publisher: Crown Trade Paperbacks
Pages: 136

"If you really want to sleep don't try to sleep", is the message physician Dr Deepak Chopra's Restful Sleep gives out to unmindful insomniacs who look to bottled pills and alcohol to overcome their bedroom dilemmas. Sleep has been one of the biggest casualties of our fast-paced lifestyles. Search the word 'insomnia' on Google, you will find 23 million sites that tell you about the problem and how to deal with it. Only, if sleep could be just a click away....

The light that made you lose sleep
But unfortunately, it's not. And that's where Chopra's remedial therapies may have an effect. Chopra delves into why we've forgotten how to sleep. He reasons that modern lifestyle - with the advent of the electric bulb and the clock - has interfered with our circadian rythms to such an extent that we've given up on a peaceful sleep.

Chopra writes, "Throughout history people stayed at home at night, and, among other things, slept. They lives mostly in the country and those who didn't were too frightened of the poorly lit streets to take chances. By the beginning of the twentieth century, people were moving to the cities, and also moving further and further from the natural rythm of dark and light, of sleep and waking. They were certainly going out more, but were probably sleeping less and definitely sleeping worse."

Know your type
He constantly refers to Ayurveda where the body is divided into three types (doshas) based on its reactions to the environment - Vata (governs bodily functions and is concerned with movement), Pitta (governs bodily functions concerned with hear and metabolism) and Kapha (governs bodily functions concerned with structure and fluid balance). Chopra provides you a questionnaire that helps you know your body type. Chopra notes that there is a fundamental correlation between difficulties with sleep rythms and unbalanced Vata dosha. The Pitta comes closest of the three doshas to sleeping the normal eight hours while if sound-sleeping Kaphas have a sleeping disorder, it would be more to do with oversleeping than insomnia.

The remedies
Chopra says most insomniacs actually sleep more than they think. He suggests they should tabulate the number of times they wake up at night. In doing so, most patients will actually find out that they wake up less often than they believe. Other than that, he recommends to poor sleepers that they should:
1. not be concerned with time
2. make lunch the heaviest meal of the day
3. avoid alcohol and caffeine
4. avoid watching TV after 9 pm and read in a room other than the bedroom
5. massage their bodies with sesame or coconut oil before going to bed
6. exercise (a few are provided in the book itself)
7. sleep before 10 pm and rise early
8. make the day more dynamic and satisfying

The verdict
Instead of making the text preachy, Chopra, thankfully peppers it with anecdotes of patients and research notes from Standford University. If he suggests you a particular therapy, he gives you a scientific reason for doing so. He seeks to demolish certain myths you associate with sleeping and fatigue. He says the mind is more active when you're asleep than when you are awake. He tells you why dreams are important and cautions you about more critical disorders such as sleep apnea. To an Indian audience, the book may not offer much. The reason - it's written for a Western audience that doesn't know much about Ayurveda. However, don't sleep over these 'grandma's tips'.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

In the quest for anda masala

I know of few Times employees who really relish the canteen food at The Times of India Building, opposite CST, Mumbai. For most, it's the privilege of having the least expensive seven-course meal in Mumbai, that makes for a reason enough to swallow the vegetables in oil that pass of for korma or the 'Chinese' that tastes more of soda than ajinomoto. At Rs 2 a plate, you can't get a better meal anywhere in India! That's what ex-TOI employees complain about when they have to shell out Rs 20 for a not-so-different meal. That's why employees of the Thane, Vashi, Andheri and Parel offices of TOI crib so much about the canteen or the lack of it on the work premises.

What really made me wait for dinner in the canteen after a hectic day at Mumbai Mirror, was the anda masala (a nearly-dry preparation of a boiled eggs spiced up in a very thick red sauce). I can already imagine Joy smirking while reading this and Vishwas muttering, "Tu aur tera anda masala," but I still relish the memory of digging into just that while Vishwas and Joy would grumble about no paneer in the shahi paneer. I left Mirror, my home and Mumbai and with it the taste of the anda masala....

However, yesterday, as we drove around the streets of Vadodara, I spotted the Maji Sevak Omlettewala. I wondered if he would have anda masala. I decided to stop by and ask. The man was perplexed. "You mean boil tikka?" I looked at Rachit, who asked for a "chilli boil". I wondered if a chilli boil would be the same as anda masala. Rachit said it could come close to my description. However, his favourite chilli boil place run by some Sajid had disappeared. I looked at the menu of egg preparations the vendor-boy handed to me. No chilli boil there. So I ordered the boil tikka. What I got was the egg version of chicken tikka masala with two burger buns. And that cost me a whopping Rs 50!

While the boil tikka was good it wasn't the anda masala I wanted. An earlier trip to the Egg Zone restaurant had also ended up in such a failure. Yes, there are lots of eggs and omelette vendors (called lariwalas) in Vadodara, but I am still to find someone who can cook me some anda masala, TOI style.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Eat Right 4 Blood Type O

This book was of particular interest to me because it prescribes a special diet for people like me with blood type O. That it offers me a very valid excuse for eating red meat and seafood, is an added bonus. No wonder I like this book so much!

Eisha Sarkar
Posted On Times Wellness on Friday, May 15, 2009

Author: Dr Peter J D'Adamo with Catherine Whitney
Publisher: Penguin Books
Pages: 89
Price: Rs 292.50

Bizarre at it may seem naturopath Dr Peter J D'Adamo's book Eat Right 4 Your Type, actually forces you to rethink your diet strategy. While you wouldn't think of a link, between what you eat and the antigens expressed on the red blood cells, Dr D'Adamo strives hard to prove there's a deeper connection - something that goes back to the era of the prehistoric man.

The evolution theory

According to Dr D'Adamo's theory, people who have blood group O are direct descendants of the ancient Cro Magnon Man. The Cro Magnons were essentially hunter-gatherers. "The Type O gene enabled your ancestors to survive and thrive on a high-protein meat-based diet. Amazingly, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, your immune and digestive systems still maintain a predisposition for the type of foods your Type O ancestors made," he writes. No prizes for guessing what's his prescription for Type O people.

Dietary recommendations for the O blood type

As much as vegetarians would squirm at his suggestions, Dr D'Adamo pushes for the need to include meats and seafood in Type O diets. He tables all foods into Highly Beneficial, Neutral (that you may feel free to enjoy) and Avoid categories. So while you can eat lean beef, lamb, turkey, chicken or fish as often as you wish, you should severely restrict the use of dairy products and limit your consumption of eggs. Breads too, are not highly beneficial, but can be eaten in moderation.

He advocates seafood two to five times a week for fish oils are high in vitamin K, which promotes blood clotting and iodine, which regulates thyroid functions. Type Os typically show an inability to clot and unstable thyroid problems, Dr D'Adamo notes.

And don't forget the veggies...

While the emphasis is on a meat-based diet, the author suggests a good helping of veggies too to build up the vitamin quotient in the body. Sweet potatoes, broccoli, okra, onions, peppers, spinach, pumpkin and luttuce fall into the 'highly beneficial' group while beet, cabbage, eggplant, carrot, chillies, garlic, mushroom, sprouts all fall into the 'neutral' group. But he strictly asks you to avoid corn (as the lectins present in it can affect the production of insulin, often leading to diabetes and obesity), potatoes, shitake mushrooms, cauliflower and cucumber.

It's not all theory

The book starts with experiences of people who have actually tried the diet and found it extremely beneficial. One Steve writes about how he took to being vegetarian after his father died of a heart attack at a young age. However, omitting meat didn't prevent Steve from developing an autoimmune disease. He claims it was after reading one of D'Adamo's books he discovered that food that can be healthy for one person, can be detrimental to another. He started eating meat reluctantly and gradually managed to wean away from medicines.


At the end of the book are the answers to frequently-asked-questions, that domolish certain myths associated with having meats. D'Adamo presents a lot of facts to illustrate his point of view. Sure, the diet he prescribes is based on a single theory of ancestry but thankfully, it encompasses all nutrients and foods in the major food groups.

Whether you want to follow the diet or not, the book definitely provides you a different perspective on why you should eat what you should eat. It's for you to decide now.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Tips for first time mothers

Motherhood is an important milestone in a woman’s life. On Mother’s Day, we highlight some of the challenges that new mothers have faced on this exciting journey

Eisha Sarkar Posted On Times Wellness Sunday, May 10, 2009

Of all the challenges that a woman faces in her life, the process of becoming a mother the first time is the most thrilling as well as daunting. Motherhood is a great learning experience. The to-be mom reads, surfs the Internet, debates in chat rooms and joins classes for her kind. As her life balances precariously on the knife-edge, she experiences joys and pains like never before. Here's what goes through her mind:

“What should I eat?”

Roohi Mehta, who gave birth to a bonny baby boy in 2007, is frustrated with the number of tips she gets from well-wishers. "Health issues during first time pregnancy, however trivial, assume grand proportions since everyone around you - your mother, mother-in-law neighbours, office colleagues and even your maid - gives you advice on how you deal with them."

Mehta decided to make her life simpler. "I read books and subscribed to I decided to go for a balanced approach. I did follow a few tips my mother suggested such as not wearing heels, eating less spicy food and avoiding pineapples but the rest I judged for myself."

Dr Rishma Dhillon-Pai, consultant gynaecologist at Jaslok and Lilavati hospitals says, "Science cannot explain some of the things we've been following for centuries. If people tell you to eat only certain foods, there may be some logic. Avoiding 'hot fruits' such as mangoes and pineapples may sound absurd but it may actually work for some women. The same with gond ka laddoo. If you follow diet tips, you should do so in moderation. Just an additional 300 calories a day (i.e. a glass of milk and an apple) is actually good enough."

"I can't face the pain"

Ekta Bhatnagar, who gave birth to her son in 2006, says she was frightened of a natural delivery. "I couldn't bear the thought of the pain. And thankfully, I didn't undergo labour. I had membrane rupture and all the water had come out so I had an emergency C-section," she says.

"Many women fear the pain associated with natural birthing. People read a lot on the Internet and have preconceived notions about what pregnancy entails. Nowadays natural delivery can be made less painful with the help of epidurals. It's only when they're not completely convinced do I suggest caesarean delivery," says Dr Dhillon-Pai.

"Check the stars"

As if the physiological changes in her body are not enough, it's the time and the configuration of stars that can make the difference whether the baby is healthy or unhealthy, dark or fair, boy or girl. Yes, in 21st-century Mumbai, an increasing number of women opt for planned Caesarean deliveries simply because that's what the stars dictate.

Dr Dhillon-Pai says, "The trend's new - maybe in the last couple of years. Many women ask me to conduct C-sections on a given date at a particular time just because the family pundits believe it to be auspicious. No amount of reasoning or convincing works. Besides, some couples simply go for such deliveries under pressure from their families."

"Is it too late?"

Meghana G hates one remark - "You're three months pregant and you didn't tell us!" Most of the time, Meghana simply responds with just a smile. Sometimes, her patience gives way. "I would have told you had I known myself. I figured I was pregnant one and a half months into pregnancy."

While Meghana's lucky to have found out she's pregnant relatively early, Dr Dhillon-Pai says, "The early detection of pregnancy is absolutely crucial to the development of foetus and the mother's health. I strongly recommend pre-pregnancy counselling to screen for any diseases/disorders that the to-be moms may have such as fibroids in the uterus, thyroid problems and juvenile diabetes. If these are detected after pregnancy, the chances of correction are low or zero."

"How do I protect my baby from infections?"

Falguni Hathi, who's awaiting delivery later this month, is more anxious about how she should protect her newborn from an array of infections. She has already started reading up on 'signs and symptoms new mothers should look out for'.

Dr Meena Malkani, consultant paediatrician at Jaslok Hospital, categorises neonatal infections into two types:

1. The ones that are passed onto the child from the mother such as TB, malaria, vaginal infections (fungal and Herpes), HIV, Toxoplasma, Cytomegalovirus, Rubella and Chicken Pox. These infections are rare and we have to do blood tests on the child to confirm their presence. If the mother has malaria in the second trimester, she may even suffer a miscarriage or the baby born will be very underweight. In case of severe anaemia, the baby might be affected and have very low immunity. If the mother is HIV+, we need to give her drugs and treat her so that she doesn't pass the virus to the child.

2. Infections the baby may contract from the environment such as streptococcal (respiratory) and staphylococcal (skin) infections. Mothers are advised to keep babies away from contact with people who may have these infections.

Besides, cleaning of the umbilicus is recommended with a spirit swab as it harbours bacteria.

"My bundle of joy"

As Hathi waits to go into labour, Mehta says, "The days of morning sickness and nausea were painful but looking at my small boy now, I think it was all well worth it."

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The chance of success

Book Review: Outliers - The Story of Success
Author: Malcolm Gladwell
Publisher: Penguin Books
Price: Rs 399

By Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Mumbai Mirror website on Tuesday, May 12, 2009 at 07:26:09 PM

It's the frustration at the way we generally look at really successful people that made Malcolm Gladwell come up with Outliers - The Story of Success. In his latest book, Gladwell goes out of his way to prove why people such as Bill Gates and the Beatles are not worth so much simply because they're 'really very smart' or 'very ambitious'. Instead, he says, its where these achievers come from that is key to their success. If the Chinese are good at mathematics, it's not because of the genes but it's because they grow rice in their country.

Throughout the book, Gladwell emphasises one point - that an individual's success is not based purely on merit or talent. There are a whole lot of ambient things that come into play which provide the right opportunities to the individual to showcase his skills and make the most of them.

He uses the example of the selection of players for the Canadian hockey team, the best in the world. A hugely disproportionate number of professional hockey and soccer players are born in January, February and March. Is it just a coincidence or does the selection process favours such players? Gladwell finds out.

Gladwell plays down the role of intelligence in making people successful. He justifies why many people with IQ greater than Einstein's aren't even academicians. He notes that most successful corporate lawyers in New York are Jewish men, who were born in Bronx or Brooklyn in the mid-1930s to immigrant parents who were in the garment industry. It can't be just coincidence, can it?

The most surprising pattern Gladwell unveils is the link between plane crashes and culture. "How good a pilot is, it turns out, has a lot to do with where that pilot is from — that is, the culture he or she was raised in. I was actually stunned by how strong the connection is between culture and crashes, and it's something that I would never have dreamed was true, in a million years," he writes on his website. Few people would think that giving pilots an alternate identity and improving cockpit communication might be the key to avoiding disasters.

While he delves on what makes th rich and the successful what they are, he also tells stories of faceless people who've become successful in their own way. The story of Marita, an inner city child in New York, who benefits from her school's novel educational approach, is one such.

The book tries to explain what success manuals, biographies of famous people and self-help guides don't. It thrusts on the fact that the most important element of success opportunity, chance or luck. Even Bill Gates can't deny that if more people were provided similar opportunities like he had when he was in school, there would have more rich and famous people in the world.

Like his previous two books, The Tipping Point and Blink, in this one too, Gladwell moves from one example to another, using statistical data to uncover patterns and links to seemingly unrelated phenomena. He may have eliminated examples that may have been contrary to his views, but that doesn't undermine the reasoning he has presented to put them forth. The book inspires you to redefine success. Like the examples in the book, the book itself is an outlier.

20 tips to save yourself from a heat stroke

As the mercury soars to above 40 degrees, the threats of getting a sunstroke or heat stroke are becoming very real. Here's how you can avoid one

Eisha Sarkar Posted On Times Wellness on Saturday, May 09, 2009
What's a heatstroke?

Heat stroke is the condition that happens when the body creates or takes in more heat then it can let out. Generally this condition is due to excessive exposure to a heat that the body cannot tolerate. Our body is equipped with heat-regulating mechanisms, that are constantly trying to regulate the temperature of our body. When these mechanisms are overworked for an extended period of time, they become unable to effectively regulate our temperature, which makes our body temperature climb uncontrollably.

Heat stroke, also known as hyperthermia, is a medical emergency, and the most severe form of heat-related illness. Anyone exhibiting the signs and symptoms of Heat Stroke should be rushed to the nearest hospital or clinic. High temperatures, lack of body fluids and overexposure to the sun can all bring about heat stroke. The very young and old are especially susceptible to the hazards of this heat related illness.

Symptoms of heat stroke include

* body temperature rises and can reach nearly 105 degrees Farenheit
* decreased amount of urine passed that is dark in colour and has a strong smell
* excessive thirst - though as time goes by, this may actually reverse so that the heat stroke sufferer may actually drink less.
* headache
* muscle cramps
* dry mouth and eyes
* rapid pulse
* becoming floppy and sleepy
* vomiting
* coma

20 tips to keep you safe from a heat stroke

1. Wear: Light, loose-fitted clothes and a hat when you go out in the sun.
2. Drink: A lot of water, even if you don't feel thirsty.
3. Salt: Increase the salt intake in your diet, more than what you would generally have in your meals.
4. Beat: The sun. If you feel tired or have a headache, immediately move to shade to avoid getting a heat stroke.
5. Lower: Your body temperature by putting a cool, wet rag on the back of your neck. This will cool you down faster than just putting the cloth on your face.
6. Lay easy: Lie down and put a cool, damp cloth over your forehead. Raise your feet a few inches to avoid potential shock.
7. Chill with a gola: These frozen popsicles can do you and your kids a whole lot of good.
8. Shed: Take off excess clothes if you feel the heat.
9. Sip: Cool water or salt water slowly. Too much too fast can induce a shock.
10. Ask for a doctor: Heat stroke can be potentially very serious, causing organ failure that can be fatal so you must immediately call for medical help.
11. Never: Leave your kids in the car when you are out shopping as they can succumb to a heat stroke.
12. Thanda matlab lassi: Drink buttermilk to cool down your body. Choose one that's made with fresh curds. It's one of the best solutions to decreasing body temperature.
13. Onion defence: Add onion to your food during hot summer days. Onions have a cooling effect and can help you prevent heat stroke. Throw raw onions in chutney and salads.
14. Cool with melons: Eat water-rich fruits such as pineapple and watermelon. They have a cooling effect on your body and keep you hydrated.
15. Pump in the sugar: Eat a diet rich in complex carbohydrates. People who eat simple carbohydrates, such as white bread and processed foods, are more likely to have a dip in their blood sugar levels. This dip can lead to headaches and tiredness, which may contribute to heat stroke.
16. Avoid: Caffeinated beverages. Caffeine causes you to urinate more and sweat less. Fluids are flushed from your system and you are more likely to suffer from heat stroke.
17. Sports: Try to limit your outside sports to early morning or after 6 p.m. It's cooler outside during the morning and evening hours and you'll be less likely to suffer from heat stroke.
18. Use sunscreen: A sunburn can limit the skin’s ability to cool off.
19. Avoid: Alcoholic drinks as they are dehydrating.
20. Ice relief: If you get a heat stroke, place ice packs on your head, back of the neck, armpits, palms of the hands, soles of the feet and groin.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Gear up for 20/20!

Eisha Sarkar
Posted On Times Wellness on Wednesday, May 06, 2009
Book Review: Better Eyesight Without Glasses
Author: Dr William Bates, MD
Publisher: Harper Collins
Price: Rs 195
Pages: 217

Nineteenth-century ophthalmologist Dr William Bates' Better Eyesight Without Glasses is an eye-opener, quite literally. In his own distinctive style, Bates builds up evidence using his own research and experimental data to prove why prescription lenses do more harm than good to your eyes and how your eyes can actually become better with the help of simple reading exercises.

The book, originally published in 1919, demolishes some of the most popular theories with respect to the eyes, especially in the treatment of problems of refraction by ophthalmologists. The author challenges the orthodox concept of accommodation (your eyes' ability to focus correctly) by saying that your eyes should not 'try' to see instead of just seeing and that by being able to relax the eye completely, one can even see or read things that one would deem not possible because of problems of refraction.

Dr Bates says the accommodation of the human eye is not constant and so everyone, at some point in their lives, can become myopic, hypermetrope and even astigmatic. Contrary to popular perception, he says, these defects are not permanent, and can be corrected without spectacles. "All glasses contract the field of vision to a greater or lesser degree. Even with very weak glasses, patients are unable to see distinctly unless they look through the centre of the lenses, with the frames at right angles to the line of vision; not only is their vision lowered if they fail to do this, but annoying nervous symptoms such as dizziness and headaches are sometimes produced. Therefore they are unable to turn their eyes freely in different directions," he writes.

Exercises for your eyes

The Bates Method restores sight firstly with a series of exercises that relax and soothe the eye muscles. The techniques are palming (where you close your eyes and cover them with your palms to exclude all light), swinging (where you literally move your eyes from one letter on the test card to another till the first is blurred), memorising letters and even imagining them. Dr Bates claims that it is only when the eye and the mind are completely rested does one attain the normal 20/20 vision.


Dr Bates uses examples of his patients to illustrate how the techniques helped them – a doctor who suffered from presbyopia, a girl who could see Jupiter’s moons with her naked eye but not the numbers on a test card a few feet away because she didn't like mathematics and women who were 'nearly blind' later managed to see without glasses.


The book is quite technical and it does take some time to assimilate its contents. The format is one of the key drawbacks. While most self-help books come in easy 'Steps to take' format, this one provides information in paragraphs and hence, it's confusing. You can most certainly not read and do your eye exercises at the same time. While some readers have lauded the book in online readers' forums and gone on to the extent of saying that they were "immensely benefited from the exercises in this book" others say that no scientific trials have been conducted to prove that these theories that were outlines in the early 20th century actually work.

While the choice of whether to follow the author's tips or not should rest with the individual reader, some of Dr Bates' theories that truly oppose conventional ophthalmic processes may pave the way for newer approach in the field of eye checks and eye care.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Dungarpur: A Royal Bliss

Eisha Sarkar
Published in Mumbai Mirror on May 6, 2009
Posted On on Wednesday, May 06, 2009 at 02:06:45 PM

Nestled in the Aravallis, with blue waters of the Gaibsagar Lake on one side and a reserve forest on the other, the Udai Bilas Palace in Dungarpur preserves the old world charm of princely India. Unlike neighbouring tourist hot-spots such as Mount Abu, Udaipur and Jaisalmer, residents of the town of Dungarpur aren't accustomed to weary tourists browsing through the local bazaars for souveniers. There are few restaurants that offer Rajasthani pure vegetarian thalis (mandatorily served with 20 grams of pure ghee), a Swaminarayan Temple and places that offer 'Angrezi Beer'. Most Rajasthan tourist guides would skip this sleepy town, but for avid birdwatchers can't miss this one.

The 'City of Hills'
Dungarpur or The City of Hills was founded in the 13th century amongst the rugged peaks of the Aravalli mountains but came into prominence under the reign of the Guhilot Ahara Suryavanshi Rajputs, who trace their ancestry to the Chittorgarh Royals.

Udai Bilas Palace

Art dekko: President of the Cricket Club of India, Raj Singh Dungarpur's ancestral home spells luxury with a capital L. Built in the 1860s by Maharawal UdaiSinghji-II, the bluish-grey structure (made of the local Perva stone) overlooks the lake. The Ek Thambia Mahal, features intricate sculptured pillars and panels, jharokhas (ornate balconies) and marble architecture typical of the Rajput kings. Three new wings were added to the complex in 1940 by Maharawal Laxman Singhji and created the famous courtyard.

Royal treat: Still the royal resident of the current king Maharawal MahipalSinghji and Prince HarshvardhanSinghji, the palace now offers 24 rooms for tourist accomodation. No two rooms are alike (there'll be a slight difference in the wooden furniture, if not the room) and they start at Rs 5,000 per night for a double room. Meals (charged extra) are served in the Zenana chowk where the tub-shaped marble table is filled with water and artificial lotuses to give it a regal touch. The menu's decided by the king, but if you can always specify what you want and the staff will do their best to get it for you.

Scoring on cricket: The lobby displays a collection of mounts of tigers, wild boars, deer and bears along with the C K Nayudu shield awarded to Raj Singh Dungarpur. In a glass cabinet, there is a bat signed by the players of the current Indian cricket team.

No-locks policy: Like other small lodges in Dungarpur, there's a no-lock policy at the palace too. The rooms have locks but no keys and you can't get yours (at some other hotels they allow you that). Kalvendra Singh, the manager, says, "The staff is extremely trustworthy and we assure you that you there will be no thefts. This has been the tradition here." Most city slickers may find it a little discomforting, so they may as well carry a hold-all for your valuables.

Infinity pool: A swimming pool that overlooks a natural lake is a rarity. More so, if the pool appears to be a part of the lake. The palace's pool has been built in such a way that it's blue waters seem to merge with that of the lake below.

Birdwatcher's paradise

In every room of the palace, you'll find a card that lists 124 birds species that come visiting to Dungarpur every year. While migratory birds such as grebes, pelicans, ducks, geese, Sarus Cranes, flamingoes, spoonbills, wigeons and storks can be seen cooling off in the lake waters from November to February, egrets, herons, ibises and white necked storks nest here from July to October.

Besides waterfowl, there are several woodland species of birds such as Grey Hornbill, Grey partridge, Green Pigeon, peafowl. The palace complex has a small zoo enclosure where you can find turkeys, emus, parakeets, white peacocks and lovebirds.

How to get there

Dungarpur is 175 kilometres from Ahmedabad and 120 kilometres from Udaipur. Roads in both Gujarat and Rajasthan are really very good so hire a taxi and get going.