Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Mother's Blessing For Life

A Mother’s Blessing for Life

We were "celebrating" Breast Feeding week from August 1 till yesterday....and India

“A newborn baby has only three demands. They are warmth in the arms of its mother, food from her breasts, and security in the knowledge of her presence. Breastfeeding satisfies all three." - Dr. Grantly Dick-Read

The word mammal is from the Latin “mammālis”, meaning “of the breast” and so a mammal – which includes us humans - is characterized by milk-producing mammary glands in the female for nourishing its young. You’re thinking – is this really the place for a piece on breastfeeding? I’m saying – in a country a baby is born almost every 2 seconds, everybody is either having a baby or knows someone who is about to. So, getting your breastfeeding primer updated is going to come handy, one way or another.
Now we all have a vague idea that breastfeeding is somehow good for the baby. But UNICEF is a tad more specific about it. “ If every baby were exclusively breastfed from birth for 6 months, an estimated 1.5 million lives would be saved each year. Not just saved but enhanced, because breast milk is the perfect food for a baby"s first 6 months of life - no manufactured product can equal it.”
Really? Nothing but breast milk for the first six months of a baby’s life?

Mummy knows best…
This is how all other mammals rear their young and so why should we humans be any different. And to underscore that point, the experts recommend that breastfeeding should start within the first hour of the baby being born, preferably in the first 30 minutes. Mainly because in the first 2-3 days after birth, the mother’s breast produces colostrum, Nature’s most wonderful gift to the life that’s just begun. Colostrum is the perfect first food for the newborn, low in fat, and high in carbohydrates, protein and easy to digest. Besides, it has a laxative effect, helping the baby to pass early stools and excrete excess bilirubin which can cause jaundice. Colostrum is also the baby"s first immunization because it is loaded with leukocytes, disease fighting protective white cells and IgA, a major antibody. Finally, it protects the baby’s extremely fragile and vulnerable digestive tract, “painting” it with a barrier that seals it against infections.
No wonder then that doctors insist that nothing should be given before that all-important first breastfeed.
And till the baby is 6 months old, breast milk is the perfect and only food that the baby needs. For many reasons.
Nutritionally, breast milk is the perfect formula - the right kind of proteins, fats, lactose, vitamins, minerals, water and all other nutrients in the right mix.
Breast milk is Nature’s ready-to-eat food – available whenever the baby wants it. And you don’t even have to “heat and serve because the temperature is perfect for the baby’s delicate mouth. The IBFAN (International Baby Food Action Network) poster promoting breastfeeding in Canada shows a pair of beautiful breasts with the slogan “Fast food outlets”!
Breast milk is not just free; it’s also free from any kind of contamination.
Breastfeeding protects the child against several childhood infections, many of them life-threatening. In the first 2 months of life, an infant who is not exclusively breastfed is up to 25 times more likely to die from diarrhoea and 4 times more likely to die from pneumonia than a breastfed baby.
Breastfeeding ensures a better immune system, making the baby respond better to vaccination
Most of all, breast milk is more than just baby food. It is also that other immeasurably wonderful nutrient – mother’s love. There is nothing more tender and loving than the act of a mother gently cuddling her baby to her warm, soft body. And the baby cannot but respond. So, a breastfed baby is not only a healthy baby but a blissfully happy one too!

“But what if Mummy doesn’t have enough?”
"Breastfeeding is an unsentimental metaphor for how love works, in a way. You don"t decide how much and how deeply to love--you respond to the beloved, and give with joy exactly as much as they want." - Marni Jackson, columnist and author of The Mother Zone
This the most prevalent and unfortunate myth about breast feeding and the constant worry is that maybe the baby is not getting enough milk when it is breast fed. And even more unfortunately, one of the single biggest stumbling block to the adequate production of breast milk is the mother’s own anxiety that she is not producing enough milk for her baby. And that is the ultimate irony. Because, breast feeding itself promotes the production of breast milk. It is the sucking action of the baby’s mouth that causes the production of the hormone prolactin which in turn produces the milk. So, the more a baby suckles, the more milk is produced. Which is the other reason why experts insist that the baby should be breast fed within 30-60 minutes of being born. This is when the baby"s suckling reflex is strongest, and the baby is more alert.
Now about “enough”. Barring conditions like severe maternal malnutrition and anemia, too many pregnancies, almost every mother can exclusively breast feed. And there are 2 very simple and easy indicators to show that your baby is well fed. First, if it urinates at least 7-10 in 24 hrs. And second, if it is putting on weight - at the rate of an average of ½ kg per month in the first 6-7 months.
Oh, there is no other thing that inhibits the production of breast milk – the use of pacifiers or bottles. The sucking action required for these is very different from suckling at the breast. So, the baby gets confused, doesn’t suckle the breast properly causing the mother to produce less breastmilk.
If that hasn’t already answered that often asked question of why not combine breast feeding with bottle feeding, let me elaborate…..
Hitting the bottle
We humans are a strange bunch. We throw away what is natural and free and healthy and pay money for unhealthy substitutes. The global annual sales baby food amounts to 16.5 billion dollars. (Coke and associated brands sell 15 billion dollars annually) The negative effects of bottle feeding and/or feeding a baby anything other than breast milk (including malnutrition and exposure to life-threatening infections) for the first 6 months of its life are so many and so serious that the World Health Assembly passed the International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes in 1981. The attempt was to stop the damage to breastfeeding through the promotion of substitute products. The Indian government passed the Infant Milk Substitute Act in 1992 and further amended it in 2003 so that it prohibits the marketing of all kinds of foods for babies younger than 2 years of age.
Now you know why I said, “hitting the bottle…”
Blessed for life
The blessings that we always seek and crave for is that of our mother’s – unconditional, pure, complete and lifelong. Like breast milk. Because its effects are life long. Research now shows that children who have been breastfed grow up to be adults that:
Are Smarter – The longer you breast feed, the more it increases your child’s IQ, reading comprehension, mathematical ability, and scholastic ability – a result of the special “fatty acids" in breast milk. Remember, by age 6, which is when children generally start school, most of the brain"s neural connections are already made
Can see better – again, it’s those special “fatty acids" that make the eyes bright, the eyesight sharp.
Are healthier - Children who are breastfed for 1 year or longer have 50% less risk of being diabetic compared to children fed less than one year. Breast fed children also have significantly lower rates of heart disease, high blood pressure and some cancers in adult life
Are thinner Breastfeeding reduces the incidence of adult obesity.

We are politely called a “developing” country. Put in harsher language, many of us are poor, some barely managing two proper meals in a day and never you mind what they are saying about our GDP being the 3rd largest in the world. With poverty comes disease and deprivation. And the most cruelly affected are little children - 50% of Indian children under the age of 3 are malnourished and of the 27 million children born every year, 16 % will die before they are 5. But, as long as a mother can breast feed, developing country or not, she can never be poor, capable of showering her feed her child the wealth of love and health that will last a lifetime. (Valued at the cost of fresh animal milk (Rs. 15 per liter), annual market value of realistic production of breastmilk in India would be about Rs 5916 crores or roughly the 2005-2006 budget allocation for Agriculture!)
But sadly, today, 54.2% of Indian mothers exclusively breast feed their babies till the age of 3 months and that figure drops to 19.4 % for babies aged 4-6 months.
Breastfeeding is an ancient tradition in our land. It’s time we went back to it. To protect our greatest, most precious and yet most vulnerable national treasure – our children.

(Grateful thanks to Dr. Shobha Banapurmath who not only sugge0sted the idea for this article and provided support and material. She is a pediatrician, representing BPNI or the Breast Promotion Network of India, “a national network of organizations and individuals dedicated to promote mother and child health through protection, promotion and support of breastfeeding.”


Breast feeding primer

* Till your baby is 6 months old, ONLY breast feed. No other food or drink, not even water, is usually needed during this period
* Breastfeed immediately after birth preferably within 30-60 of birth to give your baby the all-important colostrum. Nothing should be given before the first breastfeed
* Breastfeed unrestrictedly and on demand.
* There is no substitute to breast milk
* Bottle-feeding is unnecessary and even harmful, being the leading cause of loose stools in babies
* Pacifiers and bottle confuse the baby’s sucking action and reduce the production of breastmilk.
* Continue breastfeeding for two years or beyond, introducing solid foods only after 6 months of age.
* Homemade, family food is the best solid food for your baby.

And Mummy is happier and healthier too….
If breastfeeding makes healthy, happy babies, it isn’t too bad for the mummies either. It

* Reduces post-delivery bleeding and chances of maternal anemia.
* Obesity is less common among breastfeeding mothers.
* Has a contraceptive effect.
* Lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancers.
* Builds bone strength and protects against osteoporosis

Did you know?

* That malnutrition amongst children happens in the first two years of life and is virtually IRREVERSIBLE after that?
* That a baby’s crying can make breast milk flow? A hormone called oxytocin causes the "let-down" reflex – when the mother hears the baby cry, milk is “let down” or ejected.
* That anthropologist Katherine Dettwyler estimates that if culture did not tell us to do otherwise, we would breast feed our children somewhere till between 2.5 and 7 years of age

Friday, May 25, 2007

Ode to a Well

Can't help it but i have water on my mind these days..

Ode to a Well

Imagine trying to break open an orange with a sledgehammer.
Ridiculous idea?
Of course it is. But that is how we treat Nature. We battle with it, savage and plunder it for things that it will yield so readily and generously – if we ask the right way.
Look at water, for example. There is so much talk about scarcity of water when in actual fact there is all the water that we need and more but we have forgotten how to catch, store and manage it. And that’s because we don’t understand Nature anymore. For example, did you know 75% of the earth’s freshwater lies frozen in polar regions? Of the rest, only 10% is surface water in rivers, lakes etc. The balance 90% lies underground in innumerable caches called aquifers. And not so very long ago, if you dug the right spot, water would gush out to become the thing whose cool, sweet waters sustained the life of every Indian. A well.

Ancient wells of wisdom
Along roads I have had wells dug and trees planted for the benefit of humans and animals. Emperor Ashoka’s rock inscription at Girnar

You mean those holes in the ground from which people once laboriously lugged up water? What good are those in this age of hydrogeology and taps? Ah, but we underestimate these wells, which is quite in contrast to our ancestors.

Mohenjodaro alone had 700 wells and one of the most remarkable thing about the Harappan civilization was its water management. You see, our ancients understood that managing water was key not just to the future of civilization but to survival itself. And so water was sacred, precious. Our rivers were goddesses that they didn’t just pray to, but also revered by not using them as garbage dumps and sewers.

They also figured that rain is something you save not for but on a rainy day! So, rainwater harvesting may be today’s latest buzzword, but water harvesting systems figure in Kautilya’s Arthasatra, written in 3rd century B.C. And Koopa Shastram (koopa is well in Sanskrit) is the ancient science of constructing wells.

Kuans, kuis, baavis, surangams, baolis, baoris, vavs, virdas. All over the country, our ancestors dug wells – as varied as India’s people, the most innovative and the greatest variety found in the most water starved areas like Thar desert!
Little wells just 15-20 feet deep.
Massive wells, the vision of wise rulers, plunging a 100 feet into the ground; where entire communities not just drew water but also chatted, rested and generally cooled off.
12 centuries ago, the kings of Rajasthan and Gujarat began the tradition of the famed, fabulous step-wells of which the most spectacular is Rani ki Vav or Queen’s Step Well in Patan, Gujarat. Five storeys into the ground and 90 feet wide, decorated with over 800 stone sculptures in the Khujarao style, built by Udayamati, consort of the 11th century Chalukiya king, Bhimadeva.
And since water was sacred, our temples had wells too. The famous Rameswaram temple complex has 22 wells, each with different tasting water, each dedicated to a different deity. Bathing in the waters of these wells is supposed to have such beneficial effects that they are called theerthams (holy waters)!

Wells of sweetness

So, why were these wells so important? First of all, for centuries, (in India they go back 9000 years or more) they have been a perennial source of the sweetest, coolest, freshest water. You see, as rainwater slowly seeps through the earth, the porous layers of rock, limestone, sand etc., act as filters, filtering out the impurities and cooling the water. In fact, well water was once considered pure enough not only to drink but also the only water used for puja.
Alas, today, in many parts of India, it’s a different story and the fault is entirely ours. Well water is getting contaminated and unfit for drinking because we are what conservationists call “fouling the nest”; a bit like using our kitchens as toilets. So our waste waters go where they shouldn’t, the soil is dumped full of chemicals and pesticides…it’s a familiar, sorry tale.

But even in such conditions, these wells survive. In Bangladesh, where arsenic poisoning of wells became a worrying trend, studies showed that while the water from tube wells had high amounts of arsenic, nearby traditional open wells had very low levels. One theory suggests that the open wells allowed the air to oxidize the arsenic into harmless compounds and rainwater to regularly flush out the arsenic. Which is exactly how they are rescuing contaminated wells in Kerala – by feeding in harvested rainwater.
But, even when the water isn’t potable, wells are powerful tools of social empowerment, making communities, especially women self-sufficient and independent. How? Very simple. A well in the backyard, provides all water you need, all year round - totally free! For the average Indian who spends much of his/her day, even nights, shackled to mulishly dry taps and never-ending, irate water queques, this is the ultimate freedom. Provided of course, there is water in the well…..

Recharging India’s batteries…..

Which is only possible if there is enough groundwater to feed it.
Today, India’s water woes are largely because its groundwater lies most grievously plundered. According to Fred Pearce in the New Scientist magazine, 50 years ago in northern Gujarat, you could get water from open wells just 10 metres deep. Today tube wells run dry even 400 metres down. It’s the same story everywhere. Water tables under Punjab and Haryana fall by a metre every year and half the hand-dug wells in western India, two-thirds in Tamil Nadu have run dry.
But the amazing thing is that these very same wells, dried up and abandoned, are now becoming one of the most important methods of rainwater harvesting, of recharging our plundered groundwater. It’s a people’s movement spreading slowly but surely all over the country, especially in the most parched regions of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. And even in those water guzzlers, the metropolises,. Bangalore already has 300 recharge wells. In Delhi, there is a call to marshal its 26 ancient baolis, some dating to Iltutmish and Timur Lane, to recharge Delhi’s groundwater, which provides 30-40% of the city’s water!
That so serious a problem could have so simple a solution is staggering. Just channeling rainwater back into a single well has seen to cause the waters to rise in neighbouring wells and turn undrinkable saline or brackish water into fresh water. And so, the old-fashioned well has become one of the most effective weapons in the armoury of the countless “Jal Yodhas” who are crusading to give us back our birthright of water. It’s like making a patchwork quilt. You start with one tiny scrap of cloth. Or one little well. Then you add another, then another till finally, all over India, millions of open wells like millions of brave little batteries will recharge our country’s most precious resource – water

A fish called Madanji

Which makes it time for me to tell you about a fish called Madanji. Not really his (her?) name but the local Tulu name of this particular species of fish in coastal South Karnataka. When my maternal grandfather built his house there more than 80 years ago, naturally he also built a well. And he put in Madanji into it. Because according to local wisdom, these fish are specialists in keeping the water clean by feeding on all organic matter that would otherwise pollute it, especially mosquito larvae!

Apparently Madanji did a great job because the water from that well was the sweetest, freshest water that I have ever tasted and all my grandmother did was to strain it through a clean cloth. And Madanji-watching was a favourite pastime of the kids. Sometimes, he’d lie low, meditating in the well’s dark, cool depths. Other times, he’d swim up in slightly frantic but always elegant circles, snapping up the morsels that we dropped.
And as far as my mother can remember, even as a little child, there was always madandji in her father’s well…...

And there will always be wells in India. Open, generous and filled with sweetness. To remind us that our relationship with Nature should be like recurring deposit schemes. Feed only off the interest and every now and then, add back to the capital. Otherwise the deposit will lapse. And that wells are like knowledge. They remain fresh and of value only when we constantly use them.
So, if you know of an abandoned well, adopt it. Or better still, even dig a new one…

Grateful thanks to Mr. Sree Padre, Mr. S. Vishwanath of and Dr. V Sankaran Nair, Kampan Foundation For Oriental Studies, Trivandrum

Palakkad and wells

How did water diviners of yore know the presence of water? In Karnataka and Kerala, they’d look for a plant called Pala. And Palakkad (Palghat) in Kerala gets its name from “pala” “kaddu” meaning a forest of pala trees. No wonder then that Kerala has the highest density of wells in the world – 250 open wells per square km or one well for every 3 persons!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Lessons in A Graden

Healing gardens
By Ratna Rajaiah
Let me first tell you what they are calling it in all those high-falutin’ places where doctors and researchers and scientists with degrees as long as your herbaceous border huddle together to give serious sounding names to these things. They are calling it therapeutic horticulture. You and I know it as gardening. Therapeutic, did I say? When, for many of us, gardening is a thing that gets you all hot and sweaty and dirty and something that maalis do for a living? I mean, as long as you can just pop into a shop and buy that bunch of dewy fresh roses or crunchy green spinach, why would you want to muck about knee deep in worms and compost?
Good question because that’s where I start explaining the “therapeutic horticulture”. Because gardening apart making things grow and bloom, also helps you grow and bloom. How so? Well, first of all, it’s one of the nicest ways to get fresh air, sunlight and exercise. Think about it – if you had a choice of getting your daily dose of exercise by walking 10 boring circles around that park or by spending half an hour helping your brinjals to fatten or coaxing that particularly stubborn button rose to break into bud, what would it be?
10 boring circles, did you say? Really?
Okay, fine. Then consider this.
Nature’s potted pick-me-up.
Gardening is long been considered one of the more pleasurable not to mention effective ways to de-stress, unwind and relax. There is something about pottering around in a garden or even just around the pots in your apartment verandah which is known to soothe and loosen up all those tense knotted muscles and thoughts. And that’s not all - gardening is the ultimate rejuvenator because there’s something in it to tickle and please each one of your senses – a lush symphony of sights and sounds, textures and smells, even tastes, all coming together to draw you gently to nestle into Mother Nature’s ample, comforting, forgiving bosom. So, the next time you’re at the end – or beginning - of one of those days specially designed to turn you into a gibbering nervous wreck, take a slow walk around that garden.
A garden teaches you that some of the most exhilarating things in life come not packaged in a bottle or a pill but as a that patch of marigolds arguing with the sun about whose orange is brighter.
Patience is watching a little yellow flower turn into a tomato.
Slow down, they’re all telling us, as we shrink everything to become sleeker, slimmer and faster, even the seconds on our digital timers. Slow down or you’ll have a blowout, they say. But I don’t know how to, you wail, as you pop another antacid and frantically punch the buttons which should have delivered instant success, instant fame and instant coffee but is 3 whole seconds late. Ah, but here’s a place you can learn ….to slow down. Get a tomato plant. And when it decks itself up in little yellow flowers, remember that they are a bunch of promises that it’s making to you that soon there will be your own plump juicy, homegrown tomatoes. But notice that it’s just saying soon - no date, no ETA. Because those tomatoes are going to ripen at their own pace, no turbo-charged ripener to speed up the process. And there’s nothing you can do about it but wait, taking long, deep breaths, listening to the music of those tomatoes ripening in the sun…
A garden teaches you that in life, things happen at their own pace which often may not match yours. All you can do is wait and in the meantime, enjoy the scenery …
Hope is a papaya seed
Ever thought that a seed can teach you how to hope? You pop into your friendly neighbourhood nursery and buy a little flowerpot and some papaya seeds. You plant some, following the instructions carefully. And then you wait, because there’s nothing more to do. But as you do, you also hope – that maybe, just maybe when you wake up one morning, and blearily peer at that unrelenting patch of mud, there will be a little, frail green shoot struggling out of it. And that maybe, just maybe the shoot will become a little sapling. And then a tree in your backyard and then one day, you’ll look up and see it festooned with fat green papayas. And one morning, there on your breakfast plate will be a bowl full of juicy, glistening, pinky-orange chunks of ….papaya!
Gardening teaches you that even if today’s been a write-off, there’s always tomorrow.

Humility and a fat green pea
Think about this. Let’s say for a moment that you are a rocket scientist, part of the crack team that’s designing of that whatisit that’s going to get us to Mars. (And we better hurry, because at the rate that we are polluting and depleting our water sources, we may soon need to tap into those traces of moisture that they’ve found there!). Or then maybe you’re the chappie who with a flicker of his eyelid can make the Sensex soar or plummet. What I mean to say is - you are the cat’s meow and you know it. Now consider this. It’s just a silly little pea plant, is it not? A few leaves on a puny little vine that came out of a pile of dirt, right? Then how does it know when it is winter and time to fill those pods bursting with fat, juicy green peas? And how does that night queen know that the sun has set and it’s time to burst into riotous blossom? Then think how every cell of every plant and every flower knows when exactly to thrive and when to die? Consider the hugely sophisti
cated and complex systems of programming implanted in every living cell which we have only dimly begun to comprehend. And then look at who you really are…
A garden teaches you that no matter who you are and what you have achieved, you are but a miniscule speck in the macrocosm of Life.

The bare necessities of life
In the garden you learn that the recipe to make another being happy, be that a snapdragon or a human being, is actually the world’s simplest thing. Food, water, a patch of sunlight and love. Mix well and serve. And watch your spouse or that chrysanthemum shake off that chronic droop. The garden is also a great place to learn about love. You see, plants are like children. They do not care if you are young or old, fat or thin, black or white, rich or poor, good looking or ugly. If you love them and care for them, they will love you right back by happily growing and blooming and loading their branches with all kinds of goodies just for your pleasure!
The garden teaches you that it takes very little to be happy.
I think we’ve covered the basic stuff. The rest will come as you dig and water or just walk around your plants. Wait a minute, you say. This is all goody-goody fluffy stuff for aspiring Pollyannas. Give us the hardware, facts and figures, things that have been put into a test tube and researched. Okay. So here goes. The reason why they have begun to call gardening “therapeutic horticulture” is because that is exactly what it is increasingly being used for. As a therapeutic aid in the treatment of a whole host of things from dementia and Alzheimer's Disease to addiction, the rehabilitation of the mentally and physically disabled, geriatric care and even in helping rehabilitate convicts to get back into mainstream life. The introduction of a garden of a park in the otherwise stark and ugly inner city areas where people can participate in tending it has known to have a significant impact on things like teenage crime. It has been seen that gardening gives people in these circu
mstances a sense of purpose, a feeling of hope and when they see their effort literally blossom and take fruit, a sense of being useful instead of useless.
One more thing. Therapeutic horticulture is a broad term that encompasses anything from actual cultivation of plants to just standing around and enjoying the experience of being surrounded by a beautiful garden or landscape. Research now shows that just a view of trees may reduce the recovery time in the hospital after surgery by almost an entire day!
So get acquainted with a garden and you may be surprised to find that what grows in that cabbage patch is much more than just cabbages!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

How to ride a tiger

How to ride a tiger

"A city is both a territory and an attitude."

Let me get the heretical part of this piece out of the way. Between you and me, I’m rather glad that the Fab City project didn’t come Karnataka's way. Going by the past history of many other such “fab” projects (I’m assuming “fab” is an abbreviation for fabulous because $2 billion investment and 1,50,000 jobs is just that, isn’t it), the “fab” part remains with the promoters of the project, everything else goes speedily down the drain. I also shudder every time somebody talks about Mysore being the next IT destination of Karnataka. Look what they did to Bangalore, ma. And since I’m pouring my heretical heart out to you, I am also glad that the connectivity between Mysore and Bangalore continues to suck. If it’s a toss up between spending a bone-crushingly exhausting 4 and a half hour bus journey from Mysore to Bangalore and Mysore becoming what Bangalore has, give me the ride to hell and back any day. And if you’re still reading this and haven’t rushed off to write an outraged letter to the editor, I also find it very difficult to stomach how what happens to us every time a project of this nature is in the offing. Just “dollar” does the trick, but 2 billion of them. And 1,50,000 jobs! It is huge, but it still does not warrant the frantic tizzy that we whip ourselves into, first to net it, then afterwards if we don’t, the end of the world would be a less traumatic event. The only time we behave worse is when the existing gods of similar “fab” projects threaten to pull out and go elsewhere with their fab millions. We managed before IT, didn’t we, so did progress and development.
You are thinking - it’s easy for her to talk. She’s neither a young person desperately seeking a job nor a parent of one. I mean, there are no free lunches in life. so choking on a few extra gallons of smog, fighting our way through a few more hours of traffic jam is a small price for a job that pays 30,000 instead of 3000, isn’t it? Actually, though it may not seem so, I’m all for development and these fab projects. It saddens me, for example, to see Mysore become a city of the very old and the very young. (More than it saddens me to see what has happened to Bangalore.) House after house tells the same story of an empty nest in which lonely old people rattle around like dry old bones because their children have left to become NRIs. Dollars in the bank but nobody at home. It saddens me to see fresh engineering graduates wanting to work in Mysore are often forced to accept jobs that pay less than what a peon makes.
But, that still doesn’t mean that the solution to is to become a chota Bangalore.
Or worse still, like the dhobi’s donkey, to fall between two stools. Which, right now, Mysore is in real danger of, as we wait, all dressed up in our “we-have-what-it-takes-to-be-a-Fab-city” best. We have more glittering two-wheeler showrooms than Nanjagud bananas and a hip young population of two-wheeler riders who have one ear instead of two – the other has mutated into a cell phone. (I’m told that the next generation of cutting edge technology is a hands-free two-wheeler.) Beautiful old bungalows have given way to ghastly shopping arcades. And the real estate prices - an obscene joke if they weren’t true – continue to rise dizzily like an item bomb’s miniskirt in readiness for …. what else, a Fab City project.
But, our young folks are still leaving town to look for jobs. Something doesn’t quite add up, does it?
It will, it will, you cry. All we need is a Fab city or two and two plus and we will be in heaven, if not become heaven itself. (And we certainly don’t need a spoilsport Cassandra like you wailing doom!)
So, pardon my ignorance, but why isn’t Bangalore one already? Paradise, I mean.

I know – it’s all “their” fault – the city planners, authorities, politicians, anyone but we the people. But, may I suggest that progress is a tiger, a beast that if ridden right, will make it a great ride to the top (not to mention the bank!). If not, it will gobble us up. The question is, are we willing to learn to ride it?
Before we answer that question, may I remind everybody that we Kannadigas are no strangers to tigers. Or to riding them, our great maharajahs being our most illustrious “riding instructors”! Mysore became the model state (Mahatma Gandhi called it Rama Rajya in Krishnaraja Wodeyar’s reign!) because there was unstinting royal patronage of technology, science and modernization. True, no IT, but even without it, we didn’t do too badly. Building India’s very first irrigation dam was achievement enough, but a decade before the KRS dam went up in 1912, we already had a hydro-electric power plant at in Shivanasamudra (Asia’s very first and oldest) and Bangalore was the first city in India to become electrified in 1905. The common vision of Krishnaraja Wodeyar and Jamshedji Tata resulted in the Indian Institute of Science in 1909. By the time India achieved independence and his nephew, Jayachamaraja Wodeyar was not maharajah anymore but the Governor of the State of Mysore, we had a steel plant, one of India’s oldest and most reputed medical colleges, an aircraft manufacturing factory (HAL), all 9 nine districts connected by rail, telecommunications, polytechnic and engineering colleges. We were the first Indian state to have a Representative Assembly, we had a public health policy, hospitals, good roads and education till middle school was free. And the farmers didn’t have to commit suicide to get taken care of. Even the toymakers of Channapatna got wood at subsidized rates.
If that’s impressive, equally impressive is the fact the maharajahs never lost sight of other things which we now have either completely forgotten about or think is the domain of airy-fairy-activist NGO’s. Wildlife was considered important, Sanskrit warranted Mysore to have one of India’s oldest and best Sanskrit colleges in India. (President S Radhakrishnan studied philosophy here.) And the 3 yoga masters – BKS Iyengar, Pattabhi Jois and TVK Desikachar – who have made Mysore an international yoga destination were disciples of Krishnamacharya for whom Krishnaraja Wodeyar opened a yogashala inside the palace premises! The maharajahs knew that music, art, literature and dance contribute as much towards nurturing great minds as formal education. There is a lovely story told by the late Dr. Raja Ramanna who said that Krishnaraja Wodeyar would invite him to play the piano and was so pleased by his playing that he paid him 200 rupees every time – a princely sum, both literally and figuratively speaking! They knew that gardens and parks (and zoos!) and fresh air and beautiful architecture were as important for the health of a state as jobs and factories and modernization. We have not one but two “Garden Cities” as proof of that.
Now, a tale of 2 other cities that rode that tiger….
Tirupur, 50 kilometres away from Coimbatore. Population 7 lakhs. In 1985, the export turnover of knitwear from this little back-of-beyond town was 15 crores. Last year, it was over Rs. 5,000 crores. It is one of the largest foreign exchange earning towns in India, the textile industry employing workers equal to almost 50% of its population. In other words, a Fab City, right? (Or "Dollar City”, as it is also known!) Maybe. Let me complete the picture. Tirupur has almost no good roads to speak of, equally bad sewage systems, rising incidence of chronic health problems, especially respiratory diseases among children. Water is so scarce that even for the dyeing units of the garment industry that brought in all this prosperity and development, it is fetched in tankers from as far as 20 kilometres. Naturally, everyone, including the textile barons are now screaming a familiar cry, “Infrastructure! Infrastucture!”
The second city is Curitiba. Curi-who? Curitiba in Brazil. Population 17 lakhs. Almost 40 years ago, the mayor, worried about his fast-growing city, invited proposals for urban design. An architect called Jaime Lerner presented a plan which was soon implemented. First, the public transport system of buses was made so good and so intensive that 85% of Curitiba's population travelled exclusively by it. (There wasn’t much space for the cars anyway because the city centres were made pedestrian exclusive zones and several key highways were bus-only areas!) Then, apart from the mandatory trees and artificial ponds, Lerner’s solution to the garbage problem was really unique - he roped in the city’s poor to recycle the garbage, offering groceries and bus pases in exchange for every 2 bags of rubbish brought in! Curitiba has 54 square meters of green space per citizen - the WHO’s minimum requirement is 10. Today, Curitiba is considered not just the world’s greenest city but also one of the best examples of urban planning.
Cities all over the world are taking matter into their own hands to make posible both development and quality of life. Toronto has “walking school buses”, where children are organised to walk to school, Sacramento demands that all parking lots have 50% tree shade, London charges a “congestion” fee to all vehicles entering the ity centre, thereby reducing traffic and pollution. Berlin’s new parliament building keeps itself warm and cuts carbon emissions by 94% by running its boilers on vegetable oil. And closer home, Sheila Dixit got Delhi’s huge fleet of private buses and auto rickshaws to run on CNG and Mumbai recently successfully phased out its its taxis and commercial vehicles that were more than 15 years old.
So, Fab Cities are made up of people who ride the tiger, not the other way around. Because true development and progress is not just about jobs. It’s also about a better quality of life and that means better air to breathe, water to drink, parks to play and walk in etc., etc. It also means that the common man has as right to it as somebody who brings in 2 million dollars of investment. Apparently, Karnataka lost the Fab City project because SemIndia wasn’t confident of our ability to provide facilities like land, water, electricity and other “infrastructure”! The irony is that in many parts of Karnataka - including Mysore - the common man does not these very same facilities. Just think – if that is so without the Fab Cities of the world, what will happen when we get them and divert huge portions of our already poorly distributed resources to them?
Another thing. Development is a two way street. Which means that it is a joint effort, where each one of us has a sense of ownership of the society we live in as much as we do of our cars, houses, even spouses! Which means that we have to live a little less selfishly. We have to obey laws, pay taxes and empower public offices to do their job. We have to be willing to say “no” to things that will serve a favoured few and harm the majority, do stuff that might make life uncomfortable in the short term but improve it in the long haul. Curitiba was possible only because the citizens wanted their town to be what it is today…
Recently, at the weekly meditation session in my yogashala, despite repeated requests, somebody decided to keep his cell phone on in the vibratory mode. And he was obviously a popular guy, because his phone rang…er, vibrated every 5 minutes or so. In the silence of a mediation session, that was like a bomb going off every 5 minutes. Afterwards, I waited eagerly for our yogacharya’s expected ticking off. But none came. Instead, without singling out the offender, he said just this. It is natural for all of us to seek pleasure, fulfill desires and therefore acquire the necessary things to do that. But, every time you use your object of desire, just pause to think if your pleasure has been funded by another’s discomfort or pain. If you keep that in mind constantly, the appropriateness of anything will become automatically and crystal clear.
I think it’s a lovely rule. So simple and applies to anything – cell phones in public places and Fab Cities!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Buttermilk Rhapsody

Nobody who visited my grandmother would ever think of drinking anything other than her famous buttermilk. Which flowed literally like water and was always on tap no matter what time of the day it was. My grandmother’s kitchen was one of wood fires and clay cooking pots. No gas stove, no fridge. So, every day, she’d put a pot of milk to slowly simmer through the day on one of those fires. And in the evening, when the milk was beautifully reduced and thickened and infused with the most wonderful aroma of the wood smoke, she’d cool it and set it to become curd. The next morning, the curd would be whipped to give up all its glistening, fat globs of butter. And what was left became a never-emptying lake of thick, faintly smoky, cool buttermilk, just tart enough to perk you up and flavoured with nothing but its own deliciousness. Buttermilk that soothed and cooled and refreshed every part of you, like nothing else could have. That remained cool and placid in its pot, without refrigeration, no matter how hot a day it was or how late in it you quaffed it.

So, my love affair with buttermilk began very long ago and we are childhood sweethearts really, inextricably linked with my happiest memories – summer holidays in my grandmother’s house. And since this is also one of the most healthful ways to make your summer a holiday, let me play you today my buttermilk rhapsody…

Buttermilk is…

Let’s get this out of the way first. True buttermilk is not curd or yogurt churned or whipped with water. Buttermilk is…let me give you no other than the wise sage of Ayurveda, Sushrutha himself on this. Who has said that it is a concoction made of curd and water, churned so that the cream and butter is completely skimmed off. Leaving behind the ambrosia that is “Takara” or "Takaoka" in Sanskrit, "chase" or "math" in Hindi, "moor" in Tamale and "majjige" in Kannada and which has been eulogized as “what ambrosia is to the gods, buttermilk is to human beings”. And so, naturally, in Ayurveda, buttermilk’s astringent, light, cooling and appetizing nature makes it somewhat of a star as both a healer and a food. And its most impressive arena of action is the digestive system, where it is used in a myriad of different ways. Firstly, many Ayurvedic medicines, even some not meant for digestive ailments, are administered with or in buttermilk. Secondly, by itself, buttermilk’s most well known use is in the treatment diarrhoea and dysentery, where Ayurveda believes that it “quenches the fire of diarrhoea”. So much so that even current day pediatricians recommend buttermilk as an excellent means of oral rehydration in children’s diarrhea. It is also used in the treatment of colitis, piles, jaundice, nausea and other liver dysfunction, especially sluggish digestions.

Buttermilk is also used to treat skin disorders like psoriasis and eczema. Buttermilk is the main ingredient in two famous Ayurvedic treatments, both of which are named after it. Takradhara – where medicated buttermilk is released in a stream or dhara over the patient’s forehead to calm and treat conditions like insomnia, depression and other stress related problems. And Takrarishta – a classic Ayurvedic formulation used not only to treat diarrhoea and dysentery but even obesity.

Aaj ka buttermilk – probiotic extraordinaire!
But Ayurveda apart, buttermilk is wonderfully nutritive even from the modern nutritionist point of view. Like curd, it’s one of the best sources of calcium, potassium and phosphorus. Like curd, it’s swimming in the vitamins B12 and riboflavin. But most of all, like curd, it is one of the best probiotic foods. Just to refresh our memories, probiotic foods are foods that are residential quarters for good, friendly bacteria - foods like idli, dosa, appams, pickles, curds, paneer and of course – buttermilk!

Now we call these bacteria “friendly” for many reasons. Firstly because they are kinda fussy about the company they keep. On the one hand, they protect the body’s own colonies of good intestinal bacteria that aid digestion and without which we become susceptible to ailments like diarraheoa. On the other hand, they secrete substances that kill bad, disease-causing microbes. A study published in 2004 in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggested that Helicobater pylori, the bacterium responsible for most ulcers, can be shut down by yogurt. Naturally, if yogurt can do this, can buttermilk be far behind?

Secondly, the bacteria in probiotic foods are great digestive aids, crumbling down difficult-to-digest complex carbohydrates and proteins in cereals to the more easily digestible sugars and amino acids, making buttermilk a great digestive. Lastly, the probiotic bacteria heighten the nutritional value of the food by boosting the levels of vitamins in it - especially the critical vitamin B family - and by releasing locked up micronutrients like minerals into more soluble forms.

And with all these impeccable healthy food credentials, buttermilk has one other big bonus point. Since it has all the butter skimmed out of it, it is also oh-so-low on calories. So – picker-upper, tonic, digestive, infection fighter, nutrition booster, weight watcher. And yummy to boot. Could you ask for anything more?

Beautiful buttermilk
Buttermilk, like curd, is great for your skin. Rinsing your face daily with plain buttermilk is a wonderful skin care regimen because it contains lactic acid, which is one of the most popular ingredients in skin care products. For many reasons. Firstly, lactic acid acts as a mild exfoliant, removing dead-skin buildup and making your complexion glow. Secondly, its acidic, astringent nature both lightens and tightens the skin which is why buttermilk is also a popular traditional remedy to lighten freckles, age spots and to treat sunburn. By the way, a good way to lighten suntan is to dip and cover your face, neck, arms etc., with a piece of muslin dipped in slightly sour buttermilk. Wait for about 15 minutes, then wash thoroughly with water.

You’re thinking – I suppose this is the part where she’s going to say that Cleopatra bathed in buttermilk, Well, some say she did and so also did Marie Antoinette – to keep away wrinkles!

Blessed buttermilk…

It’s only natural that one so delicious and healthful will be blessed by the gods. So, the buttermilk gets the nod as good, healthy food by many religions. The Chinese traveller I Ching who travelled extensively in India during the 7th century and visited Buddhists monasteries, noted that in the meals served there, all prepared according to the strict food habits of the Buddhists monks, buttermilk was a favoured beverage. Along with dates, honey, figs, olives and milk, the Koran recommends buttermilk, especially during the fasting month of Ramzan. (Perhaps the reason for this is buttermilk’s nurturing and soothing action on the digestive system, stretched at this time due to fasting!) Buttermilk is also often served at the Sikh gurudwaras and to mark the martyrdom of Guru Arjan Dev, stalls of sweetened buttermilk called Chhabil are set up all over Punjab.

And apart from the many references to buttermilk in Vedic mantras, Lord Krishna’s most endearing and delightful avatar is as the little Maakhan Chor, the Divine Purloiner of Butter. So, the exquisite idol of the child Krishna in the famous Udipi Sri Krishna temple holds the buttermilk churn (manthan) in his right hand and the rope used to turn the churn in his left. It is said that churning butter from buttermilk symbolizes the Lord's role in helping the devotee churn his own soul through devotion to realize the Divine. And in South India, buttermilk is an integral part of Ram Navami celebrations, served as prasadam at temples along with kosambri, panaka and panchamrutham.

And so it is only befitting that I end my buttermilk rhapsody with one of Purandaradasa’s most famous and beautiful composition – “Bhagyada Lakshmi Baaramma”. In which he begs for a visitation by the Goddess Lakhshmi. A composition ass simple, unpretentious, fresh and utterly satisfying as a glass of my grandmother’s buttermilk…..

“Sowbhayda Lakshmi baaramma

Namamma Ni….

Gejjekaalgala dhwaniya torutha

Hejje mele hejjeya nikkuta

Sajjana sadhu poojeya velege

Majjige volagina benne yante

Bhagyalakshmi baramma”

“O Goddess of Good Fortune, come

O Our Mother, come…

To the sound the anklets on Your feet

As You walk

As the good people get ready to pray

As butter emerges from buttermilk

O Lakhshmi of Good Fortune, O Mother



“Manasollasa” (meaning Happy State of Mind in Sanskrit) written by King Sovadeva III, son of the Chalukyan emperor Vikramaditya, is a vast encyclopedia describing in great detail the society at the time. It talks of royal feasts where buttermilk was sipped during meals and the last course consisted of rice and buttermilk with a little salt – just as it is eaten, centuries later till this very day all over South India.


No-Cook Buttermilk Kadhi

½ litre buttermilk

¼ fresh coconut

2-3 dried chilies

½ piece of ginger

Salt to taste

For seasoning

2 teaspoons oil

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

½ a dried red chili

5-7 curry leaves

Pinch of asafetida

Grind together all ingredients except the buttermilk to a smooth chutney-like paste, adding the ginger last. Add to the buttermilk along with the salt. Heat the oil; add mustard seeds and red chili. When the mustard stops spluttering, add the curry leaves and asafetida. Take off the fire and add to the kadhi. Stir well. Delicious with plain steamed rice and a salad.


Sunday, January 14, 2007


Photo : athsa/86770762/13.01.2003

Somehow, I always thought the meaning of the word “sankranti” was something to do with sweetness. Perhaps because the sound of it tinkles and falls so sweetly on the ears. Like drops of water merrily bouncing off a steel vessel. Or if they could speak, like the sound of a million spangles of sunlight trembling ecstatically on the gently breathing skin of a river. Or maybe because the word for sugar in Kannada sounds so similar. “Sakkare”. But apparently the origin of the word “sankranti” is from the Sanskrit word “sankrama” which means journey or change. So the festival of “Sankranti” is thus named because it marks the auspicious moment when the sun moves into its northern sphere and so inaugurates a new solar year.
And to mark this blessed journey, in my part of the world, we have a very special tradition called “yellu beerudu”. Which loosely translated means to “fill with til” or sesame seeds. What happens is that in the evening, after everyone is done with the poojas and the feasting, the women and children toodle off to visit friends and relatives. Where, after the niceties are done, you open your “yellu beerudu” bag and whip out the goodies which you proceed to place in a convenient tray or plate that your hostess has thoughtfully provided. First, you put the “yellu” (Kannada for sesame), which is actually a wonderful mixture of til, roasted gram, peanuts, candied til popcorn and tiny chopped bits of jaggery and desiccated coconut. (These days it’s fashionable to pack your “yellu” in trendy, just-like-Tupperware-but-40-times-cheaper, reusable plastic boxes.) You have now “filled with til” by which, I think, you’ve wished your hostess prosperity and other such nice things. Because til is an ancient symbol of goodness and purity, which is why it is til oil that is always used in pooja lamps and the Sanskrit word “taila” for oil comesfrom “til”. Then come a few sticks of sugar cane – I guess to sweeten things up a little more. And, finally, what for me as a kid was the highlight of the whole til-fill business. You open a box and carefully take out and place along side the til mixture and the sugarcane, a set of “sakkare acchus”. Literal translation – sugar moulds. Which doesn’t do justice to what they actually are. Tiny, perfect replicas of all kinds of things made by pouring hot sugar syrup into specially carved wooden moulds and left to harden. Parrots, horses, elephants, bananas bunches, gopurams, shankh-chakrams; many joyously lurid green and pink, some just left a creamy sugar-white, the sugar crystals winking softly at you every now and then. My favourite was the miniature traditional tulsi plant pot.
The first task of an avid sakkare acchu aficionado is of course to try and amass as vast a variety of shapes as possible, passing on the boring, the damaged or the triplicates to whiny younger cousins or indiscriminating adults. Once the collection of sakkare acchus is sufficiently impressive in variety, size and dotted with rare shapes, you can now proceed to actually consume some, starting with what you consider to be the most dispensable. The boorish way of the sakkare acchu Philistine is to just scrunch off bits and gobble the whole thing up in a matter of seconds. But a true acchu connoisseur is more leisurely, unhurried, savouring sugary each moment…
You start by gently licking at the acchu, making sure never to disturb the basic shape. Occasionally, and only if you are a brave and skillful practitioner many Sankrantis old, you may even shave off a layer now and then by gently grating the acchu against your lower canines. And thus you carry on till finally, when the acchu has shrunk enough to fit comfortably into you mouth, you gently pop it in. And sink into a sweet, sticky bliss as the acchu disintegrates and the grainy-sugary flood swills around in your mouth.
So, Happy Sankranti dear reader, as I symbolically fill your tray with much prosperity, happiness and joy. But since it is a festival dedicated to the glorious sun without whom neither the til nor the sugarcane nor you or me would be, I also wish you this beautiful suryanamaskara to bless your days and life.

Om Saptaashwarudham, nakshatra malam,
Chaya lolam, chandra palam,
Gagana sanchari
Om Bhaskaraya namaha
He who rides a chariot driven by seven horses,
Garlanded by stars, beloved of Chaya (shadow)
He who rules the moon and rides across the sky
To This Sun, I bow.