Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Get the Terminator body!

Eisha Sarkar 

Posted on Hello Wellness on Mar 28 2011 1:18PM

Think 'muscle' and you think of Arnold Schwarzenegger's 22-inch arms and 57-inch chest. The world’ most famous bodybuilder, Arnold won the Mr Universe title at 20 and then went on to win the Mr Olympia contest seven times from 1969-75. The 'Austrian Oak' has inspired generations of wannabe bodybuilders. If you want a body like Arnold’s, you need to work really hard for it. 

Work each muscle out
Arnold belonged to the old no-pain-no-gain school of bodybuilding. His routines consisted of high sets and reps, mostly not to failure. He trained each muscle group thrice a week (except calves, forearms and abs which he trained everyday), using a six-day split routine. He took very little rest between sets, and usually increased weight each and every set. He experimented with high reps at times but usually kept a rep range of about 6 to 10.

Keep changing your routine
Arnold kept mixing things up to challenge his endurance and be motivated. Sometimes, he trained twice a day, while at other times once a day was enough. There were periods when he did lots supersets and giant sets. He tried everything, and picked what worked best for him.

What should you eat?
‘The Terminator’ recommends eating five to six meals a day. Eat carbohydrates half an hour after exercising and have 30 to 50 grams of protein with each meal every three hours. Add unsaturated fats to your diet because they raise hormone levels. Take 60 to 100 grams of carbohydrates and no more than three eggs a day. Substitute the red meat with chicken and fish. Avoid sugar because it contains empty calories. Have fruits and vegetables instead. Arnold recommends the use of supplements and protein shakes. Consult a nutritionist to find out what supplements are good for your body type. Arnold admitted to using performance-enhancing anabolic steroids while they were legal “for muscle maintenance”.  Steroids are now on the list of Controlled Substances in many countries because they may cause harmful side-effects. Arnold also recommends that bodybuilders sleep for a minimum of eight hours.

Arnold’s philosophy is: "The secret is to make our mind work for you - not against you." Work hard to achieve what you desire most.

Sunday, March 27, 2011


The CII's Human Resources (HR) Convention at Vadodara would have turned into a long day of seminars, workshops and events, had it not been for these interesting quotes:

"Organisations are pyramids of chimpanzees. Those at the top, look down and see smiling faces. Those at the bottom look up and guess what they see?"
- Naveen Unni, Associate Principal, McKinsey & Co

"HR department is usually seen as a cloak-and-dagger secret service agent or a health-and-happiness side-show."
- Dr R L Bhatia, Chief Executive Officer, Fun and Joy at Work

"HR in an organisation is like Krishna in Mahabharata."
- Aparna Sharma, Director (HR), Deutsche Bank Global Services

"L&T is like an elephant. It is huge. But can we make that elephant dance?"
- Neville Lobo, Vice President - Corp HR & Personnel, Larsen & Toubro Ltd

"It is no more an era of voluntary retirement schemes, it's about job fairs today."
- Sharad Gangal, Executive Vice President - HR, IR & Admn Thermax Group

"Business is a rubber ball. If it falls, it bounces back. People are like glass balls. When they fall, they get shattered."
- Randhir Chauhan, Managing Director, Netafim Irrigation India Pvt Ltd

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Patriotism doesn't need a language

Watched this amazing video at the CII HR Convention here yesterday and I had to put this up on my blog!

Friday, March 25, 2011

CII hosts first annual HR convention in Gujarat

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) hosted its first annual Human Resources (HR) Convention in Gujarat on Friday. The Convention stressed on the need to invest in human resource capital for future growth of companies and businesses.

Technology and finance, which till recently were the differentiating factors between corporates, have now paved the way for human resources as the driving force for businesses in the future. Addressing the 250-strong audience comprising HR managers and business owners from the city, Rajeev Jyoti, Chief Country Representative, Bombardier Transportation India said that irrespective of scale of operation or industry, nurturing people as the primary ‘paid capital’ will make organisational functions sustainable. "With so many foreign companies now investing in India, the demand for good people seems to outstrip supply. We need well thought of strategic training programmes that will throw up talent from time to time and fill in our requirements," said Neville Lobo, Vice President, Management Development Center, Larsen and Toubro, one of the 20 speakers at the event.
Gujarat has more than a fair share of manufacturing, pharma, biotech, engineering and petrochemical industries. However, most of these companies are small and medium-scale enterprises, often family-owned. The nature of problems these businesses face are peculiar to their scale and type. "With more companies aspiring for faster growth and looking at expansion into international markets, there is a strong need for a highly skilled workforce that is currently in short supply. Labour is available in plenty but there aren’t enough training institutes for specific kinds of skills. Also, till recently we were relying heavily on labour from Bihar, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. But now we see a decrease in the number of workers there simply because of the development that is taking place in those states. These are the issues individual SMEs here face and we want to provide a platform to them to share their experiences and find solutions to many of their common problems," Nitin Mankad, Chairman, CII Central Gujarat Zonal Council, said. Mankad also mentioned that the Government of Gujarat has proposed to the CII to open around 100 skill-development institutes in the state in the next few years.
India's huge youth workforce will only be employable if they are skilled and their aspirations are met. The speakers talked about how companies have to keep up with their employees' expectations and offer them competitive salaries and opportunities for growth. And it's not just the white-collared employees who are demanding more of their employers. Sharad Gangal, Executive Vice President - HR, Thermax Group, noted that highly-skilled welders and fitters in the industry now demand salaries in the range of Rs 30,000-40,000 per month. "It is no longer the era of voluntary retirement schemes. It's about job fairs today," said Gangal, adding that the sooner companies accept this fact the better it will be for them.
Creating a creative climate at the workplace will also improve employee satisfaction and productivity, Vivek Paranjpe, Head - Group HR, Reliance Industries Ltd, opined. "As acquisitions, mergers and divestitures will become more common, companies will need to embrace change. And with customers becoming more demanding and huge choices out there in the market, the pressure on corporations to upgrade their products and human resources will be tremendous," he added.
The event also saw the launch of the CII's HR Mentoring Service that would provide a platform for young professionals to interact with experienced HR leaders. CII is the first business association to offer such service on a professional basis.  

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What’s behind animal-derived nutritional supplements

It's best to make informed decisions before picking up a nutritional supplement

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Times Wellness on Wednesday, March 23, 2011   

Gone are the days when supplementing your diet meant popping a multivitamin pill. The shelves of health stores are now stacked with a wide range of nutritional supplements that offer relief for all kinds of aches and ailments – from Aloe vera juice to oxygen-releasing phytochemicals sourced from seaweed that grows along the New Zealand coast to the rare yarsagumba herb that grows only in the 3,500m-Himalayan meadows. And not all of them are ‘herbal’. Animal-derived nutritional supplements are making inroads into India’s Rs 5000 crore-plus nutraceutical market. We take a look at some of these rare (and even bizarre) ‘drugs’:

Urine turns elixir!

Former Prime Minister Morarji Desai may have enjoyed the quirky practice of drinking his own urine to maintain his health but a 2007 study cited in the International Journal of Green Pharmacy suggests the use of cow urine therapy help a wide range of patients including those who suffer from cancer. Researchers of the Department of Pharmacology at the B R Nahata College of Pharmacy in Mandsaur, Madhya Pradesh studied 68 cancer patients who were asked to drink cow urine (Gomuthra) daily. The patients showed a significant degree of reduction of severe symptoms (pain, inflammation, burning sensation, difficulty in swallowing, irritation, etc) by the eighth day of therapy.

The therapeutic aspects of cow urine are often attributed to the anti-bacterial urea and uric acid and vitamins A, B, C, D and E it contains, along with bioactive growth factors and enzymes such as urokinase.

Available forms: While the idea of drinking urine straight from the cow is repulsive, you can opt for cow urine tablets (Ghanavati) and filtered urine in bottles. The ISKCON-run Bhaktivedanta Swami Goshala and Gardens at Vrindavan near Mathura has even come up with a brand of distilled cow urine called Go-Ark that claims to help lower cholesterol levels and reduce body fat!

Side-effects: Cow’s urine can also be a source of infectious diseases, especially leptospirosis that can spread through oral mucosa

Milking the benefits

Bovine colostrum, the pre-milk fluid produced by cow mammary glands during the first few days after giving birth delivers growth, nutrient, and immune factors to newborn calves. While humans have traditionally used it to treat eye conditions and improve oral health, it became popular as ‘Muscle Milk’ for bodybuilders because it is believed to increase lean muscle mass. It is now more commonly used as an immunity-booster.

“I have been taking four colostrum capsules daily for the past three months and I have seen a spike in my energy levels,” Vadodara-based Jyoti Modi. She says the tablets contain 90 ingredients including proteins, enzymes, vitamins, interferons, immunoglobulins, insulin-like growth factors and nerve growth factors that provide protection against viral, bacterial and fungal infections, alleviate aches and pains and accelerates healing. “Initially, I was skeptical of the benefits they claim to offer. So I got them tested for steroids and harmful chemicals. When the tests came negative, I decided to try them out.” It is often recommended for conditions such as rheumatism and cancer. Manoj Kanabra, a distributor of the Immurich cow colostrum capsules, that are manufactured in California and marketed in India by Satara-based Dhanwantari Distributors, narrates how his bedridden father, who was not expected to live for more than a few months, walked out of the ICU after being administered cow colostrum capsules. “This is better than any medicine. It does not contain any steroids and is purer than milk,” he says.

Available forms: While the liquid natural form may be a fuller option, it is not always readily available. Bovine colostrum is also available in the form of tablets, capsules and lozenges. The dosage could vary from three tablets for a normal person to up to 12 tablets for a cancer patient.

Side-effects: While it appears to be safe, long term use of colostrum may induce anxiety, logorrhea (pathologically incoherent, repetitive speech), constipation and insomnia. Further studies are required before strong recommendations for colostrum can be made for pharmacological purposes. People who are allergic to dairy products should avoid colostrum supplements.

Sea shells for bone health

In order to combat the threat of post-menopausal osteoporosis, many middle-aged women start supplementing their diet with calcium. The most common form of calcium available in the market is calcium carbonate, derived from dolomite (limestone), oyster shells, bone meal (mixture of crushed and coarsely ground bones) or corals.

Calcium carbonate provides 40 per cent elemental calcium, meaning that a 1,250mg of calcium carbonate yields 500mg of elemental calcium. It is best taken with meals to be properly absorbed.

Available forms: Pills, capsules and syrups

Side-effects: Nainja Kapoor, senior nutritionist and wellness manager at DietWell Diet and Nutrition Centre, New Delhi, warns, “Oyster shell calcium supplements can contain some traces of heavy metal or lead. Also, it is basically calcium carbonate, which requires the stomach to produce extra acid for better absorption. Patients who are taking stomach acid-blocking medicines should not take this supplement as it can cause heartburn, nausea, loss of appetite, constipation, weakness, headache and fainting. Calcium citrate is the best form of calcium as it is easily absorbed into the body with no side effects. But very few people are aware of this fact.”


Collagen is the most abundant form of natural protein found in cartilage, muscle, ligaments, tendons, and bones. Collagen gives the skin its structure, making it look youthful and healthy. Little wonder, collagen supplements have now become a staple of India’s growing cosmetic industry.

Available forms: Pills, creams and injections

Side-effects: Oral collagen supplements pose a danger to those who have food sensitivities. Collagen injections may also cause allergic reactions. People with autoimmune disorders (such as herpes simplex) can expect a flare-up as the body reacts to the foreign substance. Kapoor notes, “Hydrolysed collagen is usually derived from the cattle. If the collagen is derived from cows with Bovine Spongiform Encephalitis, then humans who use it may suffer from the rare and fatal neurological disorder called Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease.”

While many nutritional supplements can be bought over-the-counter at a chemist’s, consult a doctor/nutritionist before you take any of them. Different people react differently to different drugs.

And the old favourite...

One of the oldest and most popular animal-derived nutritional supplements, cod liver oil is used widely to ease the symptoms of arthritis and prevent rickets caused due to deficiency of vitamin D. It is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which decrease the risk of cardiovascular disorders and help increase high density lipoprotein (HDL) or good cholesterol, improve blood circulation and increase immunity.

Traditionally manufactured by filling a wooden barrel with fresh cod livers and seawater and allowing the mixture to ferment for up to a year before removing the oil, modern cod liver oil is made by cooking the whole cod body tissues of fatty fish during the manufacture of fish meal.

While it has many benefits, cod liver oil can induce side-effects such as vitamin poisoning, heart burn, indigestion, nose bleeds and bloating. Over dosage can lead to blurred vision, softening of the skull bone and double vision in children, impotence and gynaecomastia (abnormal development of large mammary glands in males).

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Gujarat: The ultimate Gujarat experience

Book: Gujarat
Editor: Anjali Desai
Publisher: India Guide
Pages: 416
Price: Rs 649

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Mumbai Mirror on Tuesday, March 22, 2011 at 01:56:17 PM

The concept of independent travel is fairly new to India. We prefer travelling with our parents, friends or relatives. We stay with people we know. We fiercely protect our bags, money and food. And we tend to carry half the contents of our wardrobes and kitchens so that we can feel at home many miles away! For Indians, travelling independently to another region of this vast country is a feat. And finding a guidebook that helps such travel is like retrieving a treasure from a shipwreck.

Luckily, for those who are interested in Gujarat, India Guide has come up with a gem. Editor Anjali Desai and her team of editors, writers, researchers, travellers, photographers and especially skilled map designers collaboratively worked for a year to bring out the second edition of the guide that offers 'the ultimate Gujarat experience'. Described by one reviewer as, "The Lonely Planet on steroids", Gujarat is packed with statistics, legends, anecdotes, pictures, stories and facts that help you maneuver round those roadblocks that keep cropping up when you travel on your own. 

Since you are not expected to read this book from cover to cover, it has been divided into parts for easy reference. The first part is about Gujarat – its history from the time of the Indus Valley Civilisation that flourished around Dholavira in Kachchh (yes, that's the official spelling) and Lothal near Ahmedabad to the formation of the separate state from the erstwhile Bombay State in 1960, its economic growth and industrialisation, its ecology, religions, tribes, dances, arts and crafts. Then there are two special interest pieces, "In the Footsteps of Gandhiji" and "The Birding Trail". Next is a section on the much-celebrated festivals such as Navratri and Diwali and also the little-known village fairs. Then come the six sections that cover Ahmedabad, Southern Gujarat, Eastern Gujarat, Northern Gujarat, Saurashtra and Kachchh. Each section covers in detail the district(s) that fall in that zone and share common culture and/or ecology. The descriptions of each place include its history, the main attractions, other interesting destinations within the district, and non-profit organisations where you can volunteer. Then comes ‘Nuts and Bolts’, the very resourceful section that gives information about the climate, what to pack, transport, visas and documents for foreign travellers, health, money, toilets (including a rather interesting piece on how to use the squat toilet), tourist information, accommodation, shopping, Prohibition and liquor permits, etc. It also stresses on responsible travel. The Resource Guide comes up at the end with chapters on craft, cuisine, language guide, glossary and index.  

Unlike most travel books on India, this book celebrates the colour and rawness of the Indian countryside. While pages have been dedicated to cities such as Ahmedabad, Vadodara, Surat, Rajkot, Jamnagar, Bhuj and Bhavnagar, the guide eggs you on to check out the little-known places such as the Jambudweep Temple in Palitana where you can learn "Jain Mathematics" or Jesawada village in Dahod where you can watch unmarried girls beat boys with sticks at the Gud-Gadheda Festival or the Bahuchara Mata Temple at Becharaji in Mahesana, which has a large following amongst hijras. Legends such as the one that follows are woven in to make the text more interesting to a lay reader.

“Hira Gate is relatively well preserved with painstakingly fine carvings. The gate is associated with the legend of Hiradhar Shilpi, the architect of the Dabhoi Fort, who was madly in love with a beautiful woman named Ten. While constructing the fort, he secretly built Ten Talav (10 km away) for his lover. Accused of misappropriation, he was sentenced to death and buried alive under the arch adorned with a carved elephant.”

While it is indeed a very handy navigation guide, the book has some flaws. The Modhera Sun Temple on the cover pales in comparison to the picture grinning man on the first edition's cover.  And though the editors have done well to introduce cross-referencing e.g. "Mrugi Kund (see Fairs and Festivals)”, the omission of page numbers of the sections that you need to refer to doesn't help you much, especially if you are in a tearing hurry to move on to something else. Also, unlike in the previous edition, the brilliant photographs in this book have not been captioned. And don't be surprised to find dollar signs on the city maps and American spellings all over! This book is targetted mainly at the international audience.

Shortcomings there may be, but they hardly take anything away from the joy of reading Gujarat. The effort that has been put into research, the carefully drawn maps and documentation of the rich and often-conflicting oral histories, is remarkable. As the Government of Gujarat campaigns hard to woo tourists, the state will need more books like this one. The rocky heights of the Sahyadris, the Rann of Kachchh, 5,000 years of civilisation, rich wildlife reserves, exquisite architecture, merchants and craftsmen make Gujarat an explorer's delight and India Guide shows you the way.

The Eggylogue

"Which came first? The chicken or the egg?"

Many find this question unanswerable assuming the egg referred to must be a chicken's egg! In fact, chickens have been around only for thousands of years... the egg has been around for millions of years before the arrival of the first birds about 150 million years ago! Dinosaurs from whom birds have evolved laid eggs.

So the answer is "The egg!"

- Amano Samarpan writes in A Photographic Guide to the Birds of India including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bhutan, Pakistan and Bangladesh

Monday, March 21, 2011

Work up your self esteem!

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Hello Wellness on Mar 21 2011 11:32AM

Have you ever wondered why a good workout leaves you with a feeling of satisfaction? Tired you may be, but you feel much better about yourself. Exercise is not just about losing weight, it's about gaining health.

By flooding your body with endorphins through your bloodstream and flushing out the stress hormones, a good workout makes your body feel wonderful. This, in turn, tends to improve the way you view yourself. It keeps those mood swings at bay and makes you feel more confident, excited and assured. Your interactions with others tend to be more positive, you are more willing to try new things, and you are easy to be around. And when you feel good, you look good!

Exercise tips to improve your self-esteem and mental health:
  • Warm up those muscles before you exercise to avoid injury. Warming up increases blood flow so that your muscles will move more easily
  • Drink water before, during and after you exercise. Less water intake can negatively impact your health. Water flushes toxins , carries nutrients to your cells and provides a moist environment for ear, nose and throat tissues
  • Do not impose on yourself an exercise programme that you don't feel comfortable with. Choose an exercise you enjoy
  • Exercise regularly for short durations. If you run, do it three to four times a week for 30 minutes each session instead of two hours every two weeks
  • Look out for your body signalling you to stop. Respect your health
  • Have a general check up with your doctor before you start an exercise regimen

Exercising with friends and family can be an effective stress-buster. Play a sport. It teaches you how to lose and come to terms with difficult decisions – lessons that go a long way in life.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Sour remedy, sweet aftertaste!

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Hello Wellness on Mar 18 2011 3:42PM

Known in the West as the Indian gooseberry and Amalaki in many parts of India, the humble amla is one of the richest natural sources of antioxidant vitamin C that makes it a very important component of diet and therapy.

While it is low in saturated fats, cholesterol and sodium, each fruit of the Emblica officinalis also contains dietary fiber, calcium, phosphorus, iron, carotene, vitamin B Complex, protein and carbohydrates.

The consumption of amla benefits the body in many ways:
  • It has great antioxidant properties that fight free radicals that are responsible for ageing and cell degeneration
  • It is good for your hair, skin and eyes. It prevents premature greying and hair-fall
  • It ensures better digestion of food and also balances stomach acid. It helps in the cases of diarrhoea, dysentery, haemorrhoids, gastritis and colitis
  • It is believed to support heart function and strengthen the lungs
  • It acts as a body coolant and also flushes out toxins
  • It helps increase vitality and improve muscle tone
  • It helps improve immunity
  • It is said to help in the treatment of hemorrhage, menorrhagia (abnormally heavy and prolonged menstrual period), leucorrhoea (white vaginal discharge) and dischargeof blood from uterus
  • It helps increase red blood cell production
  • It cleanses the mouth and strengthens the teeth and nails
Amla is said to help with the treatment of ailments such as anaemia, cerebral, gastro and cardiovascular illnesses, constipation, indigestion, insomnia, liver disorder, respiratory problems, sun strokes and urinary problems.

Pickled, salted, sweetened, pulped, juiced or dried - while the amla is consumed in many forms, you will reap the maximum benefits if you have it fresh. And if you can’t stand the sour taste, just drink a glass of water. It will leave you with a sweet aftertaste!

CII to have its first HR Convention in Gujarat

The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) will be hosting its first Annual Gujarat HR Convention at Vadodara's The Gateway Hotel on March 25.

The Convention themed, HR Drives the Future, aims to address the requirement for businesses to align their vision and philosophy with that of their people. The future growth of organisations and their development now depend heavily on how their human resources perform both within the organisation and outside in the social sphere. The Convention will provide a platform for companies to share and learn how HR can be ingrained into the organisational DNA in order to meet future challenges and aspirations.

The event will include capacity building workshops by leading consulting companies in the domains of leadership, compensation, benefits and coaching, mentoring programmes, exhibitions and panel discussions. The key speakers include Aparna Sharma, Director-HR of Deutsche Bank, Kartik Varma of PricewaterhouseCoopers, Rajeev Dubey, President (HR and Corporate Services) of Mahindra & Mahindra, Rajeev Jyoti, Chief Country Representative of Bombardier, Vivek Paranjpe, Head Group HR of Reliance Industries Ltd, M S Krishnamoorthy, Senior Vice President of Larsen and Tubro, Dr Arvind Agrawal, President - Coporate Development and HR, RPG Enterprise, Sharad Gangal of Thermax Industries and Vineet Kaul of Hindalco Industries, Dr Malay Mahadevia, Whole Time Director, Mundra Port and SEZ Ltd,  L Chuaungo of Gujarat Urja Vikas Nigam, Naveen Unni of McKinsey  & Co and Ester Martinez, Managing Editor, People Matters. The panel discussion will be moderated by a senior editor from UTV Bloomberg.

The Convention is expected to see over 150 business leaders and HR professionals.

The Convention will open from 9 am till 6 pm on March 25, 2011 at The Gateway Hotel, Vadodara.

For further details or clarifications, please contact:

Nida Faruqui
Confederation of Indian Industry
201-203 Abhishek Complex
Akshar Chowk
Old Padra Road
Vadodara 390020
Phone: 0265 - 6532016/17 0265-2341771, 0265-2340751

A voice of concern

I make this comment after reading my friend Vishwas's post, It's Time We Listened to Jairam on Business Standard's website.

While the earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan were not consequences of any human activity, the ecological disasters that have followed, weren’t quite ‘natural’ or unpredictable. The tsunami swept families away but the radioactive discharge from Japan’s damaged nuclear plants threatens not just the survivors but many future generations. Jairam Ramesh, never mind what his political leanings may be, symbolises a voice - the voice of concern. In our quest for development, we fail to understand the need to maintain ecological balance. We scoop out hills, which could contain floods, to make way for roads, tunnels and buildings, we build dams submerging forests and villages and altering the natural courses of rivers, we dig deeper and deeper into the earth to mine ores and drill oilwells, we build nuclear power plants for energy sufficiency and render huge swathes of agricultural land waste, and then we pump out groundwater till the wells run dry. Amidst all the devastation we wreak onto Nature, a few voices shout out, asking us to go slow, or stop before we make our own survival improbable. Ramesh's is one such voice. Listen to him, instead of drowning him out in our chorus chant for development. Listen to him, for it would do us more good than harm.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Meditate for your memory!

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Hello Wellness on Mar 16, 2011

Do you keep forgetting your keys, glasses, kids' PTA meetings, friend's anniversary, wife's birthday and even your own for that matter? Stress can cause lapses in memory and make you less accurate in memory recall. But recharging those brain cells may just be a few breaths away.

Meditation, the ultimate stress-buster, can actually help improve your memory. Stress affects certain parts of your brain that hinder the growth and formation of new neurons, which makes it difficult to retain certain memories. Chronic, high stress levels can affect the brain and cause damage to certain parts of it that will cause degeneration in the memory levels themselves. Meditation helps you relax and in turn reduces the production and activity of stress hormones. It also helps build mental focus and concentration.

Studies at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston have shown that regular meditation causes the brain's cerebral cortex to thicken.The cortex is the area of the brain responsible for the higher functions. This happens through an increase in the size of blood vessels and the amount of blood flow to the region.

In February 2010, The Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation data collected during a research conducted by the University of Pennsylvania that demonstrated that a specific meditation performed daily for eight weeks increased brain activity in areas central to memory and actually improved cognition in patients suffering from memory problems.  The frontal lobe of the brain, which became more active as a result of meditation in the study, aids in attention and concentration and has been shown to be affected in patients with dementia disorders.  The frontal lobe and the parietal lobe, another part of the brain positively affected in the study, are both parts of the brain which are involved in retrieving memories.

While meditation and yoga are not performed strictly for their memory benefits, they definitely help you build a better brain!

Monday, March 14, 2011

"Zindagi... kuch baatein, kuch yaadein, kuch haseen pal..."

This was one of the films screened at the Shamiana Short Film Festival curated by Cyrus Dastur at C C Mehta Auditorium at M S University, Vadodara this weekend. Shamiana is going to be back with more shorts this May. Will keep you posted on that.

You know it's a perfect Sunday when...

  • You write your first story in German
  • You speak to an old friend after months
  • You feel absolutely fit after a session of Kathak practice
  • You attend an excellent short film festival, called Shamiana, curated by an old friend from Mumbai that features the brilliant Oscar-winning German flick The Countdown and the 2010 National Award-winning Tamil film, The Postman and promotes local talent too
  • You meet your favourite friends for a five-star buffet!

Friday, March 11, 2011

Top 5 healthy fruits

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Hello Wellness on Mar 11 2011 5:15PM

You've sworn off chips, chocolates and caffeine and pledged to go for the five-a-day helping of fruit. Here are the top 5 healthy fruits you should eat:

Apple: An important source of dietary flavanoids and fiber, apples contain powerful antioxidants that protect you against cardiovascular disease and cancer. If you have diabetes, eat the sour ones and if you have heart problems or are obese then go for the sweeter ones. And if you suffer from constipation, opt for the ripe ones. Chew on one before going to bed to keep oral germs and bad breath at bay.

Banana: A good source of potassium, fiber, Vitamins A, C, B, E and folate, bananas are good for babies as well as adults. The potassium it contains helps regulate blood pressure and reduce the risk of stroke. Convenience and nutritional value makes banana a good post-exercise snack. This carbohydrate-rich fruit serves very well as substitute for sweets and satisfies sugar cravings.

Plum: High in carbohydrates but low in calories and fat, plums are packed with vitamins A and C, calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, and fiber. Plums prove to be good laxatives and the vitamin C and phenols they contain have antioxidant properties, which help prevent macular degeneration, boost immunity, improve cardiac health and protect against cancer.

Pineapple: Sticky and sweet, the tropical fruit has is rich in potassium, Vitamin C, fiber, and calcium and makes for a good breakfast. It contains the enzyme bromelain that helps in the treatment of aches and pains, colds and asthma.

Berries: Strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, gooseberries, cranberries, etc are rich sources of vitamin C that helps strengthen the immune system and connective tissue. Berries also contain phytochemicals and flavonoids that may help to prevent some forms of cancer.

Health tip: Wash away all harmful pesticides before you consume the fruit. Having fruits whole offer more benefits than having them peeled, chopped or pulped.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Nursing India to health

I just finished reading Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin's inspirational book, Three Cups of Tea. Mortenson's mission to "promote peace... one school at a time" is a great humanitarian achievement that will dwarf even the K2 peak that he failed to climb. The message in the book is clear - you can't combat terrorism with guns. Give them education and a better future and you'll win their hearts. Working in Pakistan's remote district of Baltistan near the Line of Control, Mortenson has built fifty-five schools in villages across the forbidding landscape over a decade that have empowered girls in this extremely conservative society to make their own choices.

Fighting off fatwas, threats and even the Taliban, Mortenson has brought hope to thousands of people and inspired many others to take the first step. Mine is just an idea. We need more schools in our villages. But we also need to give vocational training to people, especially the womenfolk. In all my travels across rural India, I've found very few centres that provide vocational training to rural women. And the ones that do, focus mainly on crafts, teaching and computers. What if women were also trained to become nurses? Wouldn't it be better for each village to have its own trained nurse, who would administer first aid, be equipped with midwifery skills, provide caring and treatment, create awareness about hygiene, health,  nutrition, family planning and sexually transmitted diseases and even assist a doctor in cases of emergency? In remote villages, which probably see a doctor only once in a fortnight or so, a village nurse can fill the gap in the healthcare system that the government is yet to provide for.   

Village nurses could help create awareness about hygiene, health, family planning and sexually transmitted diseases
A Times of India story says India will need 2.4 million nurses by 2012 to achieve the government's aim of a nurse-patient ratio of one nurse per 500 population. India has 2,000 nursing diploma schools, 1,200 nursing degree schools and 281 MSc nursing colleges that produces only around 60,000 nurses annually. Probably training a few women to work as nurses in their villages will make a small difference. What do you think?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Doctor, who?

It has been a while since I've done a lead story for a newspaper. I'd almost forgotten what it feels like to wake up in the morning and see your name on the front page! Thanks Shraddha, for giving me another opportunity to write on education. 

An allocation of Rs 52,057 crore for  education, the proposal for a knowledge network to connect 1,500 institutes of higher learning and research across India and special grants to recognise excellence in universities and academic institutions - the Union Budget 2011-12 does promise a lot for education and research.  Why then are fewer people opting for PhDs? Eisha Sarkar looks for some answers

Lagging behind in the rat race
According to Trends in Higher Education: Creation and Analysis of a Database of PhDs, a study conducted by Anitha Kurup and Jagadish Arora of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bangalore, only 0.65 per cent of the total number of students in higher education are enrolled at the PhD level. The study published in May 2010 notes, "India invests only about three to four per cent of its total R & D in academic research. Despite the annual growth in the number of PhDs awarded (an increase of 30.6 per cent from 1990 to 1999...), India still is far behind countries such as US, China and Germany in terms of the number of researchers added to the country's workforce."  

In most cases, PhD is the most advanced academic degree offered by universities. Its focus is to create new knowledge by formulating questions and providing some answer to these questions. A candidate has to submit a project or thesis, often a body of original academic research, which is worthy of publication in a peer-refereed context. He/she must then defend this work before a panel of expert examiners appointed by the university. In India, this process can take four to seven years and often proves a deterrent to even those who are inclined towards research.

"Typically two kinds of people go in for research - those who can't find anything else to do and those who seriously want get into research," says Darshee Baxi who has just completed her PhD in Endocrinology. While in the US even undergraduate research is backed by the government and the industry, in India students are conditioned to join vocational courses such as engineering and MBA so that they can earn more. Baxi complains, "We don't understand that there can't be any growth without research. Wouldn't it benefit the economy if we developed research and manufactured our own drugs instead of copying what the West has to offer?" 

Greying scientists, bleak future
While some scientists say it’s the 'herd mentality' among students that is killing the spirit of research and enquiry here, Dr S Limaye, Associate Professor, Department of Life Sciences at University of Mumbai is worried that the gap that ageing researchers will leave behind after they retire will be hard to fill. "I recently attended a seminar at the National Institute of Oceanography in Goa where in just the last one year 25 scientists have retired. This year, some 20 scientists are slated to retire.  There are more vacancies than qualified scientists now. For research, you need people who are passionate about the subject, something students lack nowadays."

So in spite of fact that the University of Mumbai saw a record 2,174 candidates sign up for its first-ever PhD entrance test on February 26, professors remain skeptical about the number of students who will actually complete their PhDs. Kurup notes that from 1998-2007, the completion rate of PhD in India was only about 50 per cent. "There are lots of reasons why students in India prefer to opt for other career options instead of research. The amount of time spent in getting a degree is not compensated by the eventual pay, the opportunities for good positions after you get a PhD are limited and so is the funding and the quality of science is poor compared with institutions abroad," says Ketki Karanam, who is currently pursuing a PhD in Systems Biology at Harvard University.

From having to pay for laboratory equipment and animals to fighting off red-tapism, students have more on their plate than they can chew. The University Grants Commission (UGC) preconditions for faculty employment have also prompted many teachers to acquire PhD degrees even though they may not have the aptitude to do research. "Guides play a major role in research. Unfortunately there aren't too many good ones left. I wanted to do a PhD and had submitted all my research material to my guide. She never bothered to review them. I kept calling her and then she told me that she had lost all my work. Frustrated, I gave up," says a visiting professor in the German Department of M S University of Vadodara. Little wonder that few choose to pursue research after they get a permanent job at institutes or in the industry.

Making research attractive
The government has attempted to redress issues of funding by facilitating tie-ups between government research institutes and the industry. In order to make research more attractive for students, the Department of Science and Technology has developed the Innovation in Science Pursuit for Inspired Research (INSPIRE) and Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana to facilitate seminars, camps and  grants. And dispelling the notion that it is only for PhDs and post-doctorates, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) has started offering fellowships and scholarship schemes to even secondary school students!

Besides those in the teaching field, a growing percentage of professionals are also looking to do their PhDs. "Research helps an individual grow. Many professionals are taking on research projects and doing PhDs to enhance their qualifications so that they can get a better profile at work. There are also those who want to specialise in a particular area their job demands," says Meenakshi Upadhyay, assistant professor, Department of Communication and Journalism, University of Mumbai. Upadhyay, who is currently pursuing a PhD in public relations, believes the degree will help her get better research projects in the industry.

In a survey of students from Indian Institute of Technology Delhi, Kanpur and Bombay nearly 42 per cent of the candidates said they would be willing to do PhDs if the job opportunities after PhD increased and provided compensation of more than Rs 1 lakh per month. The fruits of labour have to be ripe enough for harvest, if India wants to see more researchers in the future!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Power of Prayer

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Hello Wellness on Mar 6 2011 10:06AM

We tend to call on God when we feel we're missing something from our lives - a good job, a loving partner, a family to come home to, a size-zero figure and even good health. As Martin Luther King said, "Pray, and let God worry."

Prayers work in many ways. Saying a little prayer when we are really very anxious or worried can actually help us calm down naturally. We stop and find a quiet place to have a conversation with God. We tell God about all the things that are causing us anxiety. And when we’re done we leave the rest to God. Prayers make us believe that we are not alone in suffering. God’s there with us. And by unburdening ourselves, we feel relieved and can think clearly and find solutions to our problems.

In 1998, Dr Elisabeth Targ and her colleagues at San Francisco's California Pacific Medical Center conducted a controlled, double-blind study of the effects of "distant healing," or prayer, on patients with advanced AIDS. Patients who received prayers survived in greater numbers, got sick less often, and recovered faster than those who did not receive prayers. While skeptics of such faith healers point to fraudulent practices either in the healings themselves (such as plants in the audience with fake illnesses), the inability of science to explain unnatural remission of diseases such as cancer makes people (even doctors) believe in the power of prayer.

Prayers inspire, recharge and inculcate a sense of self-discipline. They help us connect with the external supreme force and our inner selves. Congregational and ritual praying help build communities and even societies. Whether they are in the form of questions, pleas, requests or gratitude, prayers do more good to us than we think. So say a little prayer, everyday

Tuesday, March 1, 2011


By Eisha Sarkar 
Posted on India Guide on Feb 28, 2011

"No, Mehmud Begada, the Sultan of Gujarat, died in 1511. I am very good with dates," says Ayub Khan Pathan looking up from the betel leaves lined up on the makeshift steel table. "I studied history at the M S University. If you want to know anything about Vadodara, you ask me," the trivia-enthusiast insists, dropping chopped supari (areca nuts) onto a leaf. His customers watch in awe as he rolls up each paan and packs them together in a giant betel leaf with a cord.

The tradition of chewing paan, a betel leaf filled with areca nut, lime paste and spices, dates back thousands of years in South Asia. Paan, believed to have antiseptic and medicinal properties, is used as a mouth freshener and a digestive. It plays an important role in social customs as an offering to guests and is incorporated in auspicious occasions such as wedding ceremonies. There are numerous assortments of paan, including some stuffed with tobacco and others packed with combinations of fennel, anise, sesame seeds, cardamom, clove, and coconut. In sweet paan the areca nut is replaced with a combination of sugar, candied fruit, gulkand (a sweet preserve of rose petals) and candy-coated fennel seeds.

'Reporter being reported' by Joy Fernandes

While Vadodara has a paan shop at every corner, few can miss Pathan's 'Autowala Paan' at Old Padra Road. Pathan, who ferries schoolchildren in his autorickshaw during the day, turns his vehicle into a paan shop from 6 pm till 11 pm, and a little longer during Navratri and Diwali festivals. It takes him about an hour to neatly arrange the boxes of paan masala, gulkand, chuna (lime paste), areca nuts, cigarettes, tobacco powder, chewing gum and chocolates on a steel tray placed over the driver's seat. "Those who have paan here don't want to go elsewhere," Pathan says of his loyal following.

As he trims off fresh betel leaves with a pair of bronze tailoring scissors, Pathan explains that he used to have a small stall outside Bawarchi restaurant. "It was beautiful but in the monsoon it would become quite messy." Then one rainy day in 1999, Pathan set up a table inside the rickshaw and lined it up with containers of his essential ingredients and spices. "In spite of the rain, customers came for my paan. I continued through the monsoon and people started calling me, 'Autowala paanwala'." The name stuck and newspapers even carried his pictures. Since then, Pathan has had no reason to look for another stall.

As customers gather around for sweet Kalkatti and Banarasi paans, Pathan explains that he is not an ordinary paanwala. "I come from a noble family. My ancestors were Nawabs (provincial governors) in the old Baroda state," he says with pride as his son, who studies in the sixth grade, comes to him with an order of two 'regular supari' paans. Pathan's grandfather served as a councilor during the reign of Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III's. He was granted jagirs, or territory off which the family earned tax-revenue. The government confiscated Pathan's ancestral lands when land-titles were abolished post-Independence. A tinge of regret fills his tone, "The next generation couldn't come to terms with their new position in society and squandered away their inheritance. My father, left with little choice, was the first in the family to start a business."

Pathan then explains why his father chose paan as the family business. "My father is a shair (Urdu poet) and loves going to mushairas (poetic symposiums). He attended one in Lucknow and fell in love with the paan he had tasted there. So when he returned, he really wanted to open a paan shop in our neighborhood in Mughalwada in the old city of Vadodara," he shares. Pathan then starts reciting a composition by the renowned Urdu poet, Faiz, as he slaps some slaked lime onto a betel leaf. His audience cheers him on, "Wah! Wah!"

The Autowala paanwala recommends attending a mushaira in Mughalwada, where poets recite their own compositions in Urdu, Hindi and Gujarati. "Kya mehfil jamti hai!" he exclaims, expressing that it is always a memorable gathering. The mushairas are organized regularly and announced in the local Gujarati dailies. Poets recite their own compositions in Urdu, Hindi and Gujarati.

From driving an autorickshaw and reciting poetry to documenting the history of Mughalwada, working as a tour-guide and writing a guide book on Goa in Hindi, 50-year-old Pathan is a busy man. But what remains closest to his heart is the paan shop. "Paan mein paisa nahin hai par paan ke bina koi rah nahin sakta." (There is no money to be made in paan, but what is life without it.)

(Pics credit: India Guide and Joy Fernandes)

Book review: Muhammad: A story of the Last Prophet

Author: Deepak Chopra
Publisher: Harper One (Harper Collins)
Pages: 267
Price: Rs 623

Eisha Sarkar
Posted on Mumbai Mirror on Tuesday, March 01, 2011 at 04:10:08 PM

Since the 9/11 attacks, Islam has come under the scrutiny of governments, scholars, filmmakers, commentators, journalists and authors. Universities now offer courses in Middle East and Islam studies. Bookstores are stacked with both fiction and non-fiction works on Islam, many of which make it to the bestsellers' lists published in magazines and newspapers. Deepak Chopra's Muhammad is one such book.

In Muhammad, Chopra attempts to tell the story of the most revered and much-misunderstood seventh-century Prophet who brought to the world a new religion that means peace. Muhammad is not a biography. Chopra makes this clear at the beginning. It is a collection of stories told by fictional characters drifting in and out of Muhammad's life. Chopra uses the accounts of Abdul Muttalib, the Prophet's grandfather, Halimah, the wet-nurse, Waraqah, the monotheist, Barakah, the African slave, Khadijah, the Prophet's wife, Ruqayah and Fatimah, his daughters, Abu Bakr, the merchant, Umar, the companion and Abu Sufayan, the enemy, to tell the story of an orphan boy who grew up to become a successful businessman and finally the "Last Prophet".

Unlike Jesus and Moses, Chopra notes that there are many marks of humanity in Muhammad's transformation. "Jesus is being exalted when he is called the Son of Man; Muhammad deliberately blends in when he calls himself "a man among men". He could neither read nor write, but that was common enough, even among the well-to-do. He had four daughters who survived birth and two sons who died in infancy. Doing without an heir was unthinkable, and so he took the unusual step of adopting a freed slave boy, Zayd, as his son. Otherwise, it is inexplicable that God should reach down into a settled husband and father's life to speak through him. The most remarkable fact about Muhammad is that he is so much like us, until destiny provided one of the greatest shocks in history," the author writes.

Blending myth, magic and mysticism, Muhammad makes for a compassionate tale of the Prophet's life. While you may skeptically dismiss the instance where angel Gabriel grabs hold of Muhammad in a cave and asks him to recite the Koran, you sympathise with him as he reluctantly comes to terms with his fate of becoming a Prophet. You are outraged when he orders all the male Jews in Medina to be killed for not cooperating with him in war. But then you get inspired by his determination to unite the many hostile tribes of Arabia by praying to one God. Islam was born to bring peace. Muhammad comes across as a soldier of faith, a mujahid. He struggled hard to maintain his own faith in God. He struggled to improve the society he lived in and he struggled hard to defend his followers from hostile enemies of his faith. 

Chopra's portrayal of life in seventh-century Mecca as the city in the middle of the desert that thrived on trade, pilgrims and water, is brilliant. He also introduces to the readers the significance of the well of Zamzam and the Kaaba, which is the holiest place in Islam, the Hadith or narrations concerning the words and deeds of the Prophet and the concept of jihad or the holy war. A skilled storyteller, Chopra doesn’t dwell on debate. He lets you read, interpret, understand and decide for yourself. In the afterword, he writes, "Muhammad can be judged by the worst of his followers or the best. He can be blamed for planting the seeds of fanaticism and jihad or praised for bringing the word of God to a wasteland. In my walk with Muhammad I found that every preconception was unfair. What the Prophet bequeathed to the world is entangled with the best and worst in all of us."

Muhammad gives you the opportunity to learn about culture, religion and history. The more open your mind is, the more you will learn.