The Audio Medium

The article was published in all editions of The Free Press Journal on July 18, 2021.
https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/from-clubhouse-to-twitter-spaces-audio-platforms-are-offering-a-break-from-video-overdose-amid-the-pandemic

The Fading Script

https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/kaithi-this-200-year-old-script-is-fading-into-oblivion
The article was carried in The Free Press Journal in its edition dated July 11, 2021.

THE STORY OF SCRIPTS (Source: Kayasth: An Encyclopedia of Untold Stories)

The oldest decipherable script is Brahmi. The oldest indecipherable script is the Sindhu-Harappan script.

The world over, script and languages have been written either left to right (Brahmi, Nagri, Roman, French, Russian, etc.) or right to left (Kharoshti, Persian, Arabic, Urdu, etc.) and from top to bottom (Chinese, Japanese, etc).

The ones written from left to right are inspired by the rays of the Sun, those from right to left are inspired by the Moon, and the flame of fire inspires the ones that are written from top to bottom.

The Buddhist literature ‘Lalit Granth’ traces Kaithi not to Brahmi but the undeciphered Harappan script of Sindhu.

Every ancient civilisation has a God of the pen. Egyptians have Dhot God, and Babylonians had Nebo. Jews traced it to Musa, Islam to Allah, and Greeks to Hemens. Hindu’s pen-God is Shree Chitragupta, who created the script for the writer class.

Kayasthas gifted four scripts to the Indian civilisation –  Kaithi, Kaithili, Bangla, and Devanagri.

Scrolling art for livelihood

Pandemic has forced the famous Cheriyal artists of Telangana to live in penury.

The handful of artists belonging to the Nakash caste and hailing from Cheriyal village in Telangana are the keepers of the visual form of storytelling popularly named after them as Nakashi art or Cheriyal paintings. Over the years, these artists have painstakingly preserved the rich cultural tradition of using pictures to tell stories from Indian mythology and local folklore. The proponents of this art form are heavily dependent on their art for survival, but the 15-month lockdown left them in the throws of woes.

The award-winning Nakashi artists D Vaikuntam and his wife Vanaja.

“The Cheriyal art is on the brink of extinction. Today, only seven families are engaged in this art form. Five of these belong to the Nakashi community, and the others are outsiders who learned it from my father, D Vaikuntam,” says D. Rakesh, a young Nakashi artist. With no other source of income, his family of five – father Vaikuntam, mother Vanaja, brother Vinay Kumar, and wife Monisha – took to online workshops to fend for themselves during this period. The workshops conducted by SkillXn, Paramparik Karigar, Crafts Council of Telangana, Spic Macay, Dastkaar Haat Samiti, and Rajasthani Studios were creatively satisfying monetarily rewarding for his family. “The response was heartening, and the students showed keen interest in learning the art form. We want to keep it alive, and efforts like these will help us reach out to a wider audience,” says Vaikuntam.

The dying art form received a Geographical Indication status in 2007. Reminiscing the rich cultural tradition, Vaikuntam says, “Cheriyal scroll painting is one of the earliest forms of audio-visual entertainment. Hundreds of years ago, the storytelling communities travelled through villages, singing and narrating stories using the scroll as a visual tool. Each scroll measured about three feet in width and could extend to over 60 feet. A scroll contained about 40 to 50 panels, and each panel depicted a part of the story. These were displayed in a sequence to tell the tale.”

With newer forms of storytelling ruling the public imagination, the Nakashi artists have adopted unique ways to reinvent the art form and keep it relevant. “The pictorial tale from the epics doesn’t excite people anymore. The scrolls have been reduced to an aesthetic item adorning the walls, collected by art lovers,” rues Vaikuntam. To make the art form saleable, Nakash artists have designed utility items. “We made masks during the lockdown and sold them through our Facebook and Insta pages. We also use the traditional art form to make key chains, pen holders, and wall decor items,” says Rakesh.

https://www.newindianexpress.com/magazine/2021/jul/04/old-scrolls-in-new-times-preserving-telanganas-anicent-art-of-nakashi-2324133.html

Each Cheriyal scroll starts with a panel of Ganapati, followed by Goddess Saraswati. “It is customary for the artist to seek the blessing of the deities to ensure that the art flourishes without any obstacle,” says Vaikuntam. The Cheriyal scroll painting is drawn on handmade khadi cloth or canvas processed by applying a paste of tamarind seed, tree gum and white clay. Three coats of the paste are applied, allowing a day in between for the paste to dry. Once the scroll is ready, the artist outlines characters using a squirrel-haired brush. In Cheriyal scrolls, only natural colours are used like white comes from grounded sea shells, black from lamp soot, yellow from Pevidi stone, blue from Indigo leafs, red from Inglikam stone and the other colours from various vegetable dyes and ground stones. Every colour is mixed with thirumani tree gum, before being applied on the scroll. “The red colour fills the background. The face and skin colours are decided by the nature of the character, like blue and yellow are for gods and goddesses, respectively; brown or darker shades for demons, while pink and skin tones are for humans,” explains Vaikuntam.
Text by Shillpi A Singh and photographs by P Mohanaiah and Tejaswini Paladi.

National Award winner Cheriyal artist D Vaikuntam.

Love Unfinished

Aashish and Divya Juyal

Hotel management graduates Divya Gupta and Aashish Juyal were the perfect strangers for each other till fate played Cupid and brought them together for life. It was their first job at The Grand Hyatt in New Delhi way back in 2000, but the duo stayed oblivious to each other’s presence for almost two years. “We had common friends but had never spoken to each other before till that cold, rainy night in December 2002. Aashish’s father was ailing and hospitalised, and he didn’t have enough money for some emergency medical procedure. He came to my home as a last resort to borrow some money. I handed him my ATM card and PIN without even knowing him well enough, and I guess that gesture surprised him; that moment was love at first sight for him,” says Divya with a smile, adding, “I took longer to accept and come around.” 

Inked in L.O.V.E.

Aashish’s father passed away soon after, and he had to shoulder the responsibility of his family of three that included his younger unmarried sister and mother. Juyal got a job offer in Dubai, and he moved there in 2003. Divya took up a lucrative assignment at Muscat during the same time. While Divya hailed from Meerut, Aashish came from a conservative Brahmin family in Rishikesh, and his mother was dead against their relationship. “My family had no issues with my intercaste marriage. We were on holiday in India in 2006 when it so happened that my father insisted on getting us hitched. Aashish’s mother threw a fit and refused to be a part of the celebration. She reluctantly agreed after a lot of cajoling,” remembers Divya. Aashish was sure that Divya was the girl he wanted to spend the rest of his life with, come what may. He moved mountains to coax his mother who had reservations against the intercaste alliance. “But he had told me long ago that come what may, I will bring you home as my wife, but making a place in the family will be your responsibility,” reminisces Divya.

Aashish and Divya celebrating Durga Puja in Dhanbad in 2018.

In all these years, she’s not only made a place in the family but also in their hearts. Her mother-in-law’s fondness for her grew with every passing moment, and she realized that caste is the most irrelevant subject that works best as a tool to divide. “Aashish used to always tell others, ‘Divya used her caste to unite the family’,” says Divya. Aashish’s mother’s love and blessings made their marital life beautiful. She was ailing for a long time, and Divya took it upon herself to take care of her, leaving her full-time job, and spending days and nights cleaning her pee, poop, and vomit, bathing and feeding her, all alone while Aashish stayed back in Dubai to fend for the family. “She breathed her last in my arms,” says Divya.  

Divya and Aashish.

Today, the couple would have celebrated their 15th year of marital togetherness, but again fate had other plans, and Aashish left for his heavenly abode on April 12, 2021. “He always used to say, ‘Divya will manage this, that and everything. I guess that’s why he chose to leave me all alone,” she says with tears welling up in her eyes.

 

Aashish and Divya with their children, Abhinav and Arnav.

The couple has two sons who are Divya’s hope and happiness. She is trying hard to pick up the pieces and love for her children, one day at a time. May love give her ample strength and make her life beautiful and living worthwhile.  

A sip of goodness

Bamboo leaf tea comes loaded with benefits but is it the next big brew?    

The article was carried in The Free Press Journal on June 22, 2021. https://www.freepressjournal.in/lifestyle/bamboo-leaf-tea-comes-loaded-with-benefits-but-is-it-the-next-big-brew
https://twitter.com/bamboo_board/status/1281442560502755330?s=1005
https://twitter.com/MDoNER_India/status/1405775024003293188?s=1005

The Tribe of Do-It-All Dads

Penguin dads are redefining the rules of parenthood by ‘mothering’ their children. Meet the waddle, who are busting the pre-defined and gender-dictated notions and social norms and taking up daddy duties, and for good. 

The article was carried on the Father’s Day (June 20, 2021) in The Free Press Journal; https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/fathers-day-2021-meet-the-new-tribe-of-do-it-all-penguin-dads

The keeper of languages

Jameel Gulrays, former adman and an avid literary enthusiast started a storytelling movement – Katha Kathan – with other like-minded storytellers to read aloud stories from Urdu and other Indian languages. These stories are released on his YouTube and podcast channels and also on Clubhouse. Together, these raconteurs hope to preserve these languages from becoming dialects and keep the storytelling tradition alive for the younger generations.

Abdullah Zakaria

Mumbai, June 20, 2021: The human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories, said American writer Mary Catherine Bateson, and Mumbai-based septuagenarian adman Jameel Gulrays couldn’t agree more with her. After spending more than five decades in the advertising world, working on popular brands, and teaching the nuances of this profession as a faculty member at leading institutions, Gulrays turned a new leaf and dedicated himself to work on his passion project – Katha Kathan. It was kindled by his earnest desire to preserve Urdu, and other Indian languages, promote and popularise them so that these aren’t reduced to mere dialects but live on to tell tales and regale the younger generations. He, along with his band of storytellers, has been pursuing the idea zealously since then.   

Early years

He was born with a silver spoon to Abid Gulrays in Bombay (as Mumbai was known then) on November 5, 1949. His father was multitalented – satirist, poet, and columnist par excellence – who also wrote songs for Hindi films in the 40s and 50s. Reminiscing his lyricist father, he says, “Surajmukhi released in 1950 had two memorable songs – suniye huzoor husn ka charcha na kijiye and husn ka guroor hai ye buri baat hai. The latter sung by Lata Mangeshkar was a blazing hit.” His father has 20 songs and ghazals to his credit as a lyricist. 

(from left to right) Abid Gulrays with Durga Khote, Ayaz Peerbhoy, and O.N. Verma, while recording a radio programme “Sanforized Ke Mehmaan”. 

At one point time, Abid Sahab was also associated with the newspaper, Inquilab. His satirical poems titled Baatein were a popular feature of the newspaper. He wrote these poems daily under the pseudonym, Cigarette Baaz. He also wrote a column, Tazyane, and it was so popular among the readers that many of them bought the newspaper just to read his piece. He used the pseudonym Phool Phenk, which came from Gulraiz. He wrote many columns under different names. He moved on from Inqilab to edit Mosavvir following a tiff with the management at the newspaper. Babu Rao Patel owned the publication Mosavvir, a popular film magazine, and at one point in time, it was edited by none other than Saadat Hasan Manto.

A poster of film Surajmukhi.

“I still fondly remember what he told me in my growing-up years, though I lost him quite early on at eight, these lessons have become the guiding principles of my life. He used to tell me that ‘should anyone move one step towards you, you should take ten steps forward and meet him/ her. If someone takes one step away, you move 10 miles away’. He always urged me to do my job without expecting anything in return, as expectations always hurt. Another invaluable lesson was around money. It is inconsequential, so don’t give importance to it; it can’t buy happiness.”    

But destiny had other plans. Gulrays’ father was fond of horse racing, and in one such race, he lost his entire fortune. He couldn’t cope with the humungous loss, and unable to bear it, he passed away soon after. It was the beginning of a long period of misery for the family. They were forced to move out of their plush bungalow in Mahim and settle in the predominantly Muslim locality, Bhendi Bazaar. The little boy was just eight then. Due to financial constraints, he was enrolled in an Urdu medium school – Bandra Urdu High School (now Bandra Urdu High School & Junior College Of Science, Commerce and MCVC). “In hindsight, I think, it was all a part of God’s plan. I loved reading Urdu and Persian literature during my early years in school and college, and these stories stayed on with me forever. Perhaps, I was destined to take on the arduous job of saving the language and its literature one day,” he says, with a deep sense of satisfaction.  

The badge of his Bandra Urdu High School carried three words – Azm (determination), Koshish (efforts) and Imaandari (honesty) and these values have stood him in good stead all through. 

Ad-ding on to life 

The loss of the breadwinner took a toll on his mother. She couldn’t live for long in penury, fell ill, and eventually passed away. “Her death shattered me completely as she was my biggest pillar of strength,” he says with moist eyes. His voice chokes on the mere mention of his parents, both of whom he lost early on in life. 

Gulrays shared his mother’s photo on her birth anniversary on June 6. She passed away when he was 18.

He was eighteen and barely in the first year of college then, but he had to fend for himself and also look after his family that included two younger brothers. He desperately started looking for a job to make ends meet. Circumstances forced him to leave his place in Bhendi Bazaar and relocate to a far-off suburb Malvani. “The nearest station was Naigaon, and I had to walk for an hour to take a local train. It was an underdeveloped area then, and hardly any buses used to ply there. Come rain or hail, I had no choice but to keep marching on, both literally and metaphorically,” he says. 

Advertising legend Ayaz Peerbhoy, who was his father’s friend, came forward to help and hired him for his agency. The remuneration was meagre, but it was something he badly needed, and he gladly took up this offer. In those days, the advertising world was dominated by English-speaking people, and anyone who didn’t know the language had little or no chance of survival. His ability not to give up came in handy and has stood him in good stead throughout. He not only learned English but mastered it. Later in his life, he set up an advertising agency and had the top-notch brand as his clients, and gave some memorable advertising campaigns in his five-decade-long career.

A new chapter 

He is an avid reader, and loves to spend hours immersed in the world of words. The library at his house in Khar, Mumbai, has an enviable collection of Urdu literature. One day, while sitting in his room, immersed in one of Manto’s stories, it dawned upon him that after his demise, his treasure trove will be in a shambles. “A raddi wala (ragpicker) will come and collect these books and sell it to a kabadi wala (junk dealer), who will sell it to vendors. Manto will be served on a plate of bhelpuri, Chugtai will be wrapped in paan, and Krishan Chander will be wrapped on vada pavs,” he rued. The thought shook him no end, and he decided to tell those tales, some well-known, others not so known, and many of them unheard, unread, and unknown, for the benefit of the younger generation. His passion for preserving Urdu and other Indian languages and the earnest desire to promote and popularise them for the younger generation led him to pursue the idea zealously. 

His undying love for stories that gave birth to Katha Kathan, a virtual repository of gems from Indian languages, relayed through his online social media channels on YouTube and Soundcloud – and relived through his offline storytelling sessions, a regular feature before the lockdown.  

A virtual Baithak with Team Katha Kathan in progress.

To start with, he started recording masterpieces from Urdu literature and releasing them on his YouTube channel. “One day, people might not be able to read these tales as they would no longer know the script. If these pieces are recorded and preserved, they would still be able to listen to them, whenever and wherever, and this, in a way, will preserve the treasure trove of stories for posterity,” he recounts. Initially, Gulrays thought of focussing only on Urdu literature, but once he exchanged the idea with others, he realised that the fate of other Indian languages is no different, so he widened his scope and included other “gems” of Indian literature, and featured stories in vernacular languages too.

Katha Kathan was started in 2015, and to date, he has recorded more than two thousand stories for his online platforms. It is a passion project funded by his selfless desire, and in all these six years, he has made humungous investments in terms of his money, time and energy, without taking a penny from any outsider. The growth and reach of the Katha Kathan project are purely organic, be it the views or the subscribers. The numbers only show the depth of his involvement and the widespread reach of his movement to keep Urdu and other Indian languages alive.  

Praiseworthy efforts

His honest endeavours have been suitably rewarded, and the former adman is now known as a connoisseur of the Urdu language, and his quintessential storytelling has won him many ardent fans and followers, and they range from celebrities to ordinary people. His popularity cuts across geographical, social, and linguistic barriers. People across the globe closely follow his work. Renowned actor Naseeruddin Shah has joined hands with him and is a regular in all Katha Kathan events. It is their shared love for Urdu that has kindled their camaraderie and friendship.  

Jameel Gulrays and actor Naseeruddin Shah pose against the Wall of Fame featuring literary giants from Urdu and other Indian languages. “Our relationship is based on mutual respect for each other’s work,” he says.

Sharing an anecdote, he says, “It so happened that I was recording Ismat Apa’s stories and releasing them on my YouTube channel, one after the other. I noticed that someone called Naseeruddin Shah would invariably comment and praise my work on these uploads. At first, I thought this must be some imposter. Why would someone of Naseeruddin Shah’s stature stop by at my YouTube channel, appreciate my work and care to comment? I wondered.” After the fifth story, he received a message that he (Naseeruddin) is coming to Delhi and would like to meet Gulrays. The actor thought that Gulrays is Delhi-based. Gulrays informed him that he lives in Mumbai, and they met, discussed the stories; Shah staged those as “Aurat, Aurat, Aurat,” and it was well-received by the audience. The actor, in his magnanimity, mentioned Gulrays’ name and his contribution in every interview that he gave after his play’s astounding success. “I sometimes wonder how come a genuine soul like him still exists in this world. He never declined his invite to any Katha Kathan show,” he says. Today, the actor is relearning Urdu, and calls Gulrays whenever he comes across a difficult word or sentence. Their relationship is based on mutual respect for each other’s work. “I have also benefited immensely from this partnership, and Naseeruddin Shah has always obliged my request for the interviews. Karwan-e-Mohabbat, with which I am associated, has gained a lot from these interviews,” he says.

Minding the language

These days, filmmaker Vishal Bharadwaj and his singer wife Rekha Bharadwaj are taking lessons in Ghalib from the connoisseur of the Urdu language. “There are two interesting anecdotes about Ghalib. One is that “if it wasn’t for many of Ghalib’s “shrah” (explanation of Ghalib by many scholars), he would have been very easy to understand. And the second one is that Ghalib is perhaps the only poet in the world whose work, if you can’t decipher, gives you double the pleasure,” says Gulrays. He thinks that if one has to understand Ghalib, one has to view his poetry through the prism of mysticism. “Ghalib himself declares in one of his couplets that he would have been considered a “Sufi” if it wasn’t for his drinking habits. Jameel insists that an effort to understand Ghalib must be made in this direction if we truly want to decipher his work,” he adds. One of his explanations has impressed Gulzar so much that he has expressed his desire to meet him. 

Katha Kathan celebrates the works of Rabindranath Tagore, Premchand, Sahir Ludhianvi, Krishen Chander, Ismat Chugtai, and many others, but the celebrated and controversial writer Manto remains Gulrays’ all-time favorite. “Manto continues to be misunderstood despite finding new admirers decades after his death because most people haven’t really read his work in totality. They read six or eight of his stories and dub him an obscene or a dark writer. He is neither, and there is a lot of it that needs to be explored to understand Manto’s body of work better,” he adds.

Jameel Gulrays is not just an individual but an institution.

Taking a walk down the memory lane, he recounts how his childhood home – his lavish bungalow in Mahim – had a portion of it rented out to Shyam, a popular actor in those days, by his father to tide over the financial crunch. Shyam and Manto were best of friends, and Manto often dropped in to see Shyam. It seems like a connection established by the umbilical cord, and Gulrays holds the prolific writer in high regards. “Why Manto decided to migrate to Pakistan is a question still debated by many. He was miserable there, as some of his letters reveal. Perhaps, he took that decision because of an incident involving his friend Shyam. Riots had hit both sides of the border. Shyam had some relatives in Lahore, and he was anxious about their safety and wellbeing in such troubled times. One day, news came that one of them had been killed, and in an inebriated state, he told Manto that he could kill him one of these days. Regaining his sobriety, he apologised, but Manto was so shaken up that he decided to leave India. The interesting bit is Shyam went to see him off at the dock, where they drank together for the last time,” recounts Gulrays.

Lifelong mission

Now, in his twilight days, Gulrays could ill afford to bask in the glory days and live off comfortably. Not someone to sit on his laurels, he has been working for the Indian languages and literature because, as he says, “Languages are our homes, and we must protect them.” 

He rues how the millennials are losing touch with their mother tongue. “If they don’t prefer to communicate in their mother tongue, eventually they would lose touch and forget to read and write in that language. Once that happens, it would spell the death knell for these languages,” says Gulrays, explaining the real reason behind his passion project – the need to preserve these languages so that they don’t up remain a dialect for future generations.    

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCxwkaqhlLvBs-5kgKQXNnOQ

To listen to stories, follow Jameel Gulrays on YouTube and Soundcloud.

Gulrays is not just an individual but an institution. So many people claim to love Urdu, but there is no one like him. He remains one among the few sincere and selfless soldiers of the language who has been single-handedly working on this mission, regardless of the bouquet or brickbats that could come his way.

A Baithak of Katha Kathan is a must on the first Saturday of every month. During the pandemic, it has moved to a virtual platform. Earlier, it was held at his home, where stories flowed along with a generous helping of snacks and beverages. These days, he has started using Clubhouse to his advantage and hosts a dramatised storytelling session with Katha Kathan Team at 10.30 pm every Sunday. These virtual sessions see story lovers from across the world in attendance. 

Katha Kathan’s Jashn-e-Manto featuring actor Naseeruddin Shah.

Bushra Rahman, an eminent Urdu novelist across the border, once sent a message praising his style. Shah, when asked, ‘why we don’t a Zia Mohyeddin here?’ had once famously quipped, “You haven’t heard of Jameel Gulrays.” Shah’s statement sums up the sentiments of his ardent admirers, who come from across the world, belong to different age groups, and speak different languages. The common thread binding them all is their love for stories in Urdu and other Indian languages. And the tribe is growing every day. 

Team Katha Kathan with Jameel Gulrays.

A devoted Urdu lover, he has a team of young volunteers growing under his tutelage at Katha Kathan to keep the love for languages and stories alight. He quotes a couplet of Majrooh Sultanpuri in the parting, and that succinctly sums up his illustrious journey.  

“Maiñ akelā hī chalā thā jānib-e-manzil magar 
log saath aate ga.e aur kārvāñ bantā gayā.”

COVID19 Delta variant is 60% more transmissable than Alpha variant

Citing reports, Dr Chandrashekhar T. says this mutant has been responsible for several complications cropping up among patients even after recovery.

The Delta COVID19 variant is the new villain that has taken center stage. It is believed to be 60% more transmissible than the B.1.1.7 variant (or Alpha variant) and may be associated with an increased disease severity such as hospitalization risk. Several reports from across the country indicate that this mutant has been responsible for several complications cropping up among patients even after recovery. Here is what you know about the variant.

WHAT IS THE DELTA VARIANT? Variants are mutations of the Coronavirus. Scientists say viruses constantly mutate naturally as they replicate and circulate in their hosts. Sometimes these mutants disappear; other times, they persist. The Delta variant, known as B.1.617.2, is gaining ground worldwide and is said to have contributed to the country’s recent surge. Sometimes we can see a mutation in the mutated variant; this are called as double mutation.

According to WHO and CDC, the viruses prevalent in the United States, Europe, South America, and another part of Africa and the Asian region are of different mutants. The variant prevalent in the US is called Alfa, Beta, and Theta was prevalent in South America and Africa. Theta and Gamma were prevalent in European countries. Delta was prevalent in India and Asia by large, which has now spread to other nations too. Kappa variant was prevalent in Australia. Now, people should know that the Delta wave hasn’t come in the second wave only. It was there in the first wave as well. However, Coronavirus is an RNA virus and is in constant mutation with increasing transmissibility and virulence.

HOW DANGEROUS IS THE DELTA VARIANT? To begin with, it is important to know what variants of concern (VOC) are. There is evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease, significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures are termed as VOC.

The Delta variant was under investigation/variant of Interest (VOI) even in the first wave, as it was termed as the variant of concern by the WHO. Therefore, WHO, ICMR, and other government agencies in India are closely watching its mutations. Therefore, the Delta virus falls under the category of a variant of concern as it is more transmittable, more virulent, and causes many complications.

HOW DOES THE DELTA VIRUS IMPACT HUMAN HEALTH? Now, we all know that COVID19 can cause multiple problems in the body. First is the clotting problem causing a brain stroke or a heart attack or a particular vessel getting blocked, causing gangrene of the limbs, legs, or hands or blood clots causing pulmonary embolism or even gangrene in the intestine. 

Apart from blood clots in the arteries of limbs, heart, and brain, COVID19 patients are coming with intestinal clots that are causing gangrene of the GI. Similarly, clotting can cause pancreatitis as well.

The other problem is the inflammation problem called that Systemic Inflammatory Response Syndrome. This causes symptoms including fever or Hypothermia, Tachycardia, Tachypnoea, and a change in blood leucocyte count. Cytokine Release Syndrome (CRS) is another issue. CRS occurs when the immune system responds too aggressively to an infection. It causes a variety of symptoms, including fever, headaches, and nausea.

IS VACCINATION MY ANSWER? Yes, the vaccines available to us in our country — Covishield, Covaxin, and Sputnik put up a good defence against this variant and hold an excellent efficacy rate. So, you might wonder if vaccines work, then what is the problem. The problem is that not everybody has been vaccinated. And the variant is at its peak when the rate of vaccinations nationally has slowed down. The vaccination program will soon ramp up. Apart from this, staying at home and following all necessary COVID19 safety protocols — social distancing, wearing a mask, and hand hygiene are essential.

(Dr Chandrashekhar T. is Chief Intensivist, Fortis Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi)

Love Appy-ily

Two conscientious individuals have leveraged technology to launch Made In India dating and matrimonial apps for the LGBTQ+ community.

The Pride Month special article was carried in The Free Press Journal, edition dated June 13, 2021; https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/pride-month-2021-scrolling-through-made-in-india-dating-and-matrimonial-apps-for-the-lgbtq-community)

COVID-19 warriors replace Dettol’s logo on 4 mn packs

The brand pays tribute to 100 unsung heroes of the pandemic in its new campaign #DettolSalutes.

Mumbai, 9 June 2021:  Dettol, India’s most trusted germ protection brand, launched a one-of-its-kind campaign, #DettolSalutes today. For the first time in its history Dettol, as a tribute to Covid-19 warriors replaced its iconic logo with an image of a COVID protector along with the ‘protector’s’ inspiring story.

Dettol has curated 100 such stories from across India and carried them on its liquid handwash packs in honor of the protectors who have selflessly helped numerous people. In addition, Dettol has also launched a website, www.DettolSalutes.com. This platform is created especially for people from across India to share stories and acknowledge COVID protectors in their midst by creating customized virtual packs and sharing them on their social media channels.

Commenting on the #DettolSalutes campaign, Dilen Gandhi, Regional Marketing Director, South Asia – Health & Nutrition, Reckitt said, “True to Dettol’s legacy of being a protector, #DettolSalutes is our way of paying tribute to the many other protectors in the country. We believe these stories, when shared, give a sense of much-needed optimism among those seeing them. Therefore, as a brand, we have given up our logo for the first time in Dettol’s history to share their actions. As the packs carry these stories, we believe they will also carry a message of hope across our country.”

Rushabh Turakia (above) started his initiative for senior street vendors in May 2021. Rushabh walks the streets of Mumbai for over four hours every day to meet old vendors who their families abandon. He gives them Rs 7,000 to Rs 15,000 of his own money in order to help them out. He meets at least two vendors a day. Along with his 16-year-old son, he has also started a pan-India ration distribution initiative that reaches remote villages. So far, he has reached out to over 200 families across Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan.

Owing to the financial constraints that were stopping them from helping people, Mizga and Faiyaz Shaikh (below) from Mumbai used up the personal savings they had put together to buy a house for themselves. When that was over, they decided to use their provident fund money and ensure no one in their locality slept hungry! Mizga and Faiyaz have provided ration kits to around 1000 families, and cooked and supplied food to more than 15 COVID-19 patients who could not take care of themselves.

There is a diverse and inclusive mix of hand-picked stories of individuals from across India – ranging from metros to smaller cities, from seniors to the youth and covering all regions. The intent is to cover a broad spectrum, thereby striking a personal chord with people from across the country. Moreover, with the change in brand packaging and replacing its logo, Dettol aims to reach out to its consumers and show its solidarity by instilling a sense of hope to get through this phase.

As a part of the #DettolSalutes campaign, Dettol launched an anthem last week to spread the message of hope and resolve during these challenging times. Keeping in line with reaching out to a diverse audience, Dettol has also launched its anthem in sign language to make it more inclusive. This is the first time that Dettol will be showcasing an ASL advertisement on national television. Dettol aims to reiterate the importance of following Covid protocols, including maintaining good hand hygiene with the anthem.

The four million #DettolSalute packs will be available on e-commerce channels and across 500,000 stores in India from the third week of June.

आदिवासी जननायक भगवान बिरसा मुंडा की १२१वीं पुण्यतिथि

महान स्वतंत्रता सेनानी, समाज सुधारक, अन्याय, शोषण और अंग्रेजों की निरंकुशता के विरुद्ध क्रांतिकारी जन आंदोलन का आग़ाज करने वाले ‘आदिवासी जननायक’ भगवान बिरसा मुंडा को उनकी पुण्यतिथि पर भावभीनी श्रद्धांजलि।

Online schooling: Tiny tots aren’t a happy lot

Children suffer, parents struggle while school and teachers juggle to remain relevant in the new normal brought about by COVID lockdown.

The article was carried in The Free Press Journal on June 6, 2021. https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/virtual-reality-tiny-tots-face-the-brunt-of-the-covid-lockdown

Now trending: #Hindipoetry

New-age poets are using digital platforms to revive Hindi poetry, generate more interest and reach out to a larger audience.

The article was carried on May 30, 2021, in The Free Press Journal. https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/now-trending-hindi-poetry-gets-a-new-lease-of-life-on-social-media-amid-the-covid-19-lockdown

Age is just a number, right?

Of all the forms of -ism, ageism is quite common in a team of mixed demographics at the workplace. The mantra to fight biases related to age is that you can’t deny your age but you can’t let it define you either.   

The

The article was carried in The Free Press Journal on May 23, 2021. https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/experienced-ageism-mantra-to-fight-biases-related-to-age-at-workplace

COVID19: DRDO’s 2-Deoxy-D-Glucose drug decoded

Dr Rahul Pandit talks about the drug that was approved for emergency use as an adjunct therapy in moderate to severe COVID19 patients by the Drugs Controller General of India early this month.

Mumbai, May 17, 2021: Adding another ammo to our battle against COVID19, the Government of India has introduced a promising anti-COVID19 drug called 2-deoxy-D-glucose (2-DG). The drug has been developed by the Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences (INMAS), a lab of Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), in collaboration with Dr Reddy’s Laboratories (DRL), Hyderabad. The drug was approved for emergency use as an adjunct therapy in moderate to severe COVID19 patients by the Drugs Controller General of India (DCGI) early this month.

WHAT IS 2-DEOXY-D-GLUCOSE (2-DG)? 2-Deoxy-D-Glucose drug has historically been extensively tested for treating Cancer but is so far an unapproved drug. However, for COVID19, the drug shows promise. The drug comes in powder form in a sachet, which is taken orally by dissolving it in water. It accumulates in the virus-infected cells and prevents virus growth by stopping viral synthesis and energy production. Its selective accumulation in virally infected cells makes this drug unique. The Institute of Nuclear Medicine and Allied Sciences (INMAS), a lab of the DRDO, in collaboration with Dr Reddy’s Laboratories (DRL), Hyderabad, has been studying this drug in the context of radiation therapy for cancer.

The primary mechanism of the drug involves inhibiting glycolysis or one of how cells break down glucose for energy. While used to starve and kill cancer cells, this approach could also work in inhibiting virus cells too that were dependent on glycolysis for replication. When the pandemic broke out in India, INMAS, DRDO, and DRL switched their effort to explore the possibilities to use this drug to defeat COVID19. Tests at the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, Hyderabad, last year indicated that the drug demonstrably killed virus cells after which it progressed to trials in people. 

2-DEOXY-D-GLUCOSE DRUG CLINICAL TRIAL: GATHERING CLINICAL EVIDENCE AND EFFICACY. In April 2020, INMAS started experimental examinations in Hyderabad with the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB). After which, the Central Drug Standard Control Organisation (CDSCO) and the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) jointly granted permission for Phase-2 trials in May 2020. Between May to October 2020, the institute started initial trials on how COVID19 patients would respond to the drug. The drug worked well with no side effects, and the patients recovered quickly. Further on, the Phase 3 clinical trial was conducted between November 2020-March 2021 in Delhi, UP, Bengal, Gujarat, Maharashtra, Telangana, Andhra, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka. The results were favourable.

THE EFFICACY FACTOR: Clinical trial results have shown that this molecule helps in faster recovery of hospitalised patients and reduces supplemental oxygen dependence. The drug will be of immense benefit to the people suffering from COVID19. As per clinical data for efffficacy trends, the patients treated with the 2-DG drug showed faster symptomatic cure than Standard of Care (SoC) on various endpoints. A significantly higher proportion of patients improved symptomatically and became free from supplemental oxygen dependence (42% vs 31%) by day-3 compared to SoC, indicating an early relief from Oxygen therapy/dependence.

ACTING WITH RESPONSIBILITY: This drug comes when our nation is grappling to cope with the impact of the devastating second wave of COVID19, which has stressed our infrastructure and resources to its limit. I see a ray of hope, that with the availability of this drug, we may be able to reduce the burden of COVID19 and save as many lives as possible. Having said that, precaution is a must. No COVID19 medication should be taken without a doctor’s prescription. Moreover, hoarding drugs is a crime, and as responsible citizens of the nation, we must ensure that these medicines should be available and accessible to those who need it.

(Dr Rahul Pandit is Director-Critical Care, Fortis Hospitals Mumbai & Member of Maharashtra’s COVID Taskforce)

Oonga takes a new Avatar for young adults

Writer-filmmaker Devashish Makhija’s critically acclaimed film Oonga has been reverse-adapted into a novel for young adults. Published by Tulika Books, it was released at the 14th Jaipur Literature Festival.  

The article was carried in all the editions of The New Sunday Express magazine and The Sunday Standard magazine on May 16, 2021. https://www.newindianexpress.com/magazine/2021/may/16/devashish-makhijas-oonga-book-review-tabling-the-counter-perspective-2302390.html

Q 1. The blue-skinned Dongria Kondh boy, Oonga, resembles the Na’vi of James Cameron’s Avatar. What is the back story? 

Devashish Makhija (DM): The story of Oonga finds its seed in a small anecdote I heard while in Koraput, Orissa. Sharanya Nayak, the local head of Action Aid, told me how she had taken a group of Adivasis to watch a dubbed version of Avatar. They hollered and cheered the Na’vi right through the film as if they were their own fellow tribals fighting the same battles they were. They felt like it was their own story being shown on that screen. But they were shocked when the film ended. It ended ‘happily’! Though many years later, the group of Adivasis were still fighting the same battles and losing. Something about that not being reflected in Avatar distressed them. When we conceived the story of Oonga, he was to run off to watch Avatar in the nearby town, and return convinced that he was a ‘Na’vi’ and could save his village from pillaging the way the Na’vi did. But, of course, things don’t play out in the real world like they do in the movies. We replaced Avatar with its source material, the Ramayana, as we developed the story further.

Q 2. What was your most crucial literary tool for reaching out to young readers?

DM: Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung’s idea of the ‘collective unconscious’ has perhaps shaped me as a storyteller. As Jung’s words suggest, there is so much shared information in all our unconscious minds that we – as creators and consumers of stories – find resonance in one another’s mythologies and experiences. This shared understanding gives rise to archetypes. Like most storytellers, I’m very interested in these archetypes, in what makes a story about a little corner of Orissa resonate with a Dutch musician in New York. What emotional experiences do these two share? Hence, what elements can make a story culturally specific in its details yet emotionally universal in its appeal?

Q 3. How was it documenting the Adivasi crisis and their conflict with the corporates, juxtaposing it with mythology, and presenting it for young adults?  

DM: Stories are the ‘people’s perspective’. The people cannot write history books. Those in power do. And history books end up being the primary source of information of our times for future generations. It is dangerous that any other perspective but the ruling regime’s is always missing from the history books – since time immemorial. In storytelling, we can document the flip perspective of the people… of those being marginalised. I see myself as a chronicler of this counter-perspective before I see myself as a storyteller even. Young adults will be the decision-makers of tomorrow. And I need them to travel into tomorrow armed with both sides of the argument – the side they will receive with almost a military lack of choice from their curriculum; and the side they will actively choose to receive from stories like Oonga, outside their curriculum.

Q 4. Using a 10-11-year-old tribal boy as the medium to convey the more prominent and more pertinent message to young adults. Why is he not an adult?   

DM: Children are naïve hence fearless. If you don’t know, something can hurt you that something won’t scare you. And the absence of fear is a very attractive quality that draws young audiences into stories like nothing else can. Youngsters are constantly being told what NOT to do. If, suddenly, they are shown this little boy or little girl who, despite being told NOT to undertake certain journeys, proceed to undertake them, the youngsters reading the story love to live their own fantasy of rebellion out vicariously through such characters. Once that is achieved, once I have reeled them in, I can then slowly immerse them in the deeper questions I seek to raise through the story.

The Iranian cinema of the 1980s and 1990s did this successfully. Oonga is me trying to attempt that.

Q 5. What are the similarities and differences in your writing process when you chose to pen a novel for young adults (vis-à-vis children’s books and short and feature films)?

DM: A novel is a gargantuan beast.

In a short story, a children’s picture book or a short film, I don’t have the liberty of character establishment. I often need to get into the thick of the action almost as soon as the story begins. Also, a short story cannot ‘end’ in a conventional way. Closing the loop neatly in a short story is almost impossible given how little time we’ve spent with the characters. It becomes very important there to choose very carefully the ‘portion’ of the characters’ journey I want to make the story about.

The other thing this allows for then in the shorter mediums – short story, children’s book, short film – is multiple revisits by the reader/viewer. A short story or children’s book could be like a favourite song that you can play again and again. A novel demands much more time and attention and investment to provide this kind of a relationship with the reader.

I consciously approach a shorter format story in a way that the narrative doesn’t close its loop by the end. Questions stay unanswered. Characters stay partially undiscovered. The story feels like it could go on.

But with a novel like Oonga each character has his/her own complete arc, even as the story has one of its own. I map each arc beforehand, so I know their intersectionalities, convergences, and divergences before starting the physical writing process. The abruptness of a wildly open-end can leave the reader very dissatisfied in a novel because I have drawn them into a ‘world’ that they inhabit with the characters for over 300 pages.

Whereas the shorter storytelling forms allow me to undertake more of an exploratory creative process, a novel needs all the engineering, cartography, universe-building skills I can muster. Whereas the shorter forms end up mostly being about the character(s), a novel like Oonga needs to be about a well-charted story, an amply-detailed universe, as well as deeply-plumbed characters.

The mind, the heart and the eye need to be prepared differently for both.

Q 6. Dialogue is one of the most important themes that you have touched upon in this book. How do you think this novel can help start a conversation around the issues that you have spoken about in Oonga? What are your expectations from this novel? 

DM: There are some things in life we don’t think about often and deeply enough. Our daily lives always get in the way. Death, Injustice, our Anthropocentrism, our capacity for Hate, our very imbalanced view of Development… I like raising questions about these through my stories. Generally, I never have a solution or an answer. I simply share with the viewer my own heartburn, hoping that these questions will haunt them once they emerge from my stories, and keep asking them too.

Q 7. Do you think a socio-political writer or artist can bring about a real tangible change in society?

DM: No idea. Of course, all of us harbour delusions of grandeur, hoping to affect people enough to get them to question the status quo in more significant numbers to effect social, political, anthropological change. We see dreams of this happening when we write our stories and create our art. But can an artist or a storyteller achieve that? Like a policymaker or political leader can? Who knows. I’m not holding my breath for it.

All I can say for sure is that I create my work this way because if I didn’t put my unrest and heartache and rage and questions and protest into my stories, I’d self-destruct. I do this so I can get some sleep at night, however, disturbed.

Silver Splitters

Bill and Melinda Gates, who were married for almost 27 years, recently announced separation. Their divorce sent netizens in a tizzy. Another high-profile couple to take the Gates route was Jeff Bezos and MacKenzie Scott; they were together for 24 years. Experts answer the Hows and Whys of breaking away from such a long-standing bond.

The article was carried in The Free Press Journal in its edition dated May 16, 2021. https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/bill-and-melinda-gates-divorce-how-does-one-break-away-from-such-a-long-standing-bond-experts-answer

In paw-some company

National Pet Day 2021: Celebrating pets, proud pet parents and many others who are adding joy to their lives in different ways.

The article on #NationalPetDay2021 was published in The Free Press Journal, Mumbai, on April 11, 2021. (https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/national-pet-day-2021-celebrating-pets-and-proud-pet-parents)

Zzz! Sound sleep was a major challenge for Indian adults during lockdown

The article was carried in all editions of The Free Press Journal on April https://www.freepressjournal.in/health/world-health-day-2021-indians-grapple-with-new-sleep-challenges

23% women in Mumbai are prone to anaemia while 27% men are predisposed to diabetes, reveals Indus Health Plus Survey

World Health Day: The study’s overall sample size in Maharashtra was 21,500 people while that for Mumbai was 2,978. These people underwent preventive health check-ups between October 2019 and February 2021.

Mumbai, April 7, 2021: On the occasion of World Health Day, Indus Health Plus Survey revealed that people in Maharashtra are susceptible to diabetes (27%), Vitamin B12 Deficiency (23%), dyslipidemia (17%), obesity (13%) followed by heart diseases (10%) and anaemia (10%). The key non-modifiable risk factor is the genetic makeup of an individual favoured by environmental, age, gender, stress and physiology, metabolism, which increases the onset and progression of lifestyle diseases. 

The study’s overall sample size was 21,500 people who underwent preventive health check-ups between October 2019 and February 2021. From Mumbai, the total sample size was 2,978 people. It was observed that the Mumbaikars are predisposed to diabetes (25%), dyslipidemia (18%), Vitamin B12 deficiency (16%), obesity (15%), followed by anaemia (14%) and heart diseases (12%). 

Amol Naikawadi, JMD, and Preventive Healthcare Specialist, Indus Health Plus, says, “Diabetes and cardiovascular diseases are prevalent in India. These diseases tend to impact people in the most productive years of their lives and result in social and economic consequences. Another important aspect is that comorbid conditions such as diabetes, obesity, and heart diseases are high-risk conditions for COVID-19. Hence, proper management to keep them in control is vital, especially in this situation.” 

Measures to boost immunity

  • Get enough sleep
  • Eat more healthy fats and whole plant food
  • Stay hydrated
  • Take a probiotic supplement
  • Limit added sugars
  • Engage in moderate exercise
  • Manage stress
  • Maintain good hygiene
  • Avoid smoking and alcohol
  • Don’t consume excessive saturated fats

The trend report highlights that women are prone to anaemia (23%) and dyslipidemia (20%) compared to men. Men are at higher risk of diabetes (27%), Vitamin B12 deficiency (21%)and heart ailments (14%). 

The data gives us an insight into individual health needs to be taken very seriously. Health means physical, social, mental wellbeing with absence from diseases. Therefore, ensure regular health check-ups and follow-ups, personalized diet and lifestyle goals need to be set and followed, and strong immunity to protect from diseases. 

“While exposure to the SARS-Cov-2 virus remains the most decisive factor determining the chances of getting COVID-19, other possible factors may influence the response to infection. These risk factors include reduced immunity, presence of existing comorbidities, and age. The genetic variants can influence the response to COVID-19 by regulating the immune function that can make an individual less or more vulnerable than others. Therefore people must understand the value of prevention and continue to invest in timely and routine examination to monitor comorbidities and keep them at bay,” adds Naikawadi. 

The main focus of people should be on wellness and prevention of lifestyle diseases and to create a culture of healthy living among the younger generation. The best way to minimize the cost of treating lifestyle diseases is to invest in preventive healthcare, which accounts for a fraction of the money spent on corrective steps.

CATEGORYNo. of MEN: 1436 No. of WOMEN: 1542 Total: 2978
In %In %In %
ANAEMIA5%23%14%
DIABETES – F BSL27%23%25%
DYSLIPIDEMIA – TOTAL CHOLESTEROL16%20%18%
HEART PROBLEM – CT CORONARY ANGIOGRAPHY14%9%12%
OBESITY16%13%15%
VITAMIN B 1221%12%16%

You are cordially invited to attend the wedding of dugwell and banyan tree

King Sri Krishnadevaraya wanted to organise the wedding of his royal well to find his wise advisor Tenali Rama, but a well is also wedded off in a colourful custom prevalent in Bihar and Jharkhand. 

The last you would have heard of a well’s wedding was in the folklore of Tenali Rama. Once upon a time, it had so happened that King Sri Krishnadevaraya and his wise advisor Tenali Rama had a spat over some trivial issue, following which the King banished him from the royal court. After this episode, Tenali Rama left the kingdom and moved to a nondescript village. Soon, the King realised that Tenali Rama was, in fact, correct, and he was keen to have him back in his court. But his special advisor was nowhere to be found. To look for him, the King had to use his wits. An announcement was made saying that the King had organised the royal well’s wedding in his capital Vijayanagar on the full moon night, and the village panchayats in his kingdom were cordially invited to attend the same with their wells in tow. The King wouldn’t tolerate any defiance, and if the villagers failed to bring their wells along for the wedding, they would be penalised 100 gold coins. The harried villagers sought Tenali Rama’s advice. He suggested that they meet the King the following day and tell him that the village wells would attend the wedding for sure, but only if the royal well comes and invites them personally. The King knew that it could be only his witty courtier Tenali Rama, who could give the villagers this suggestion to outwit the King’s proposed well’s wedding plan, and well, eventually both won the battle of wits in equal measure.  

Taking a leaf out of this folklore, a quaint neighbourhood — Vikas Nagar — in Ward no 8 of the Barh subdivision of Patna district organised a wedding of its well with great pomp and show on November 28, 2019.

Sharmila Kumari, Vikas Mitra of Ward no 8, Barh.
Read more here: https://en.gaonconnection.com/well-wedding-jharkhand-bihar-water/

Dealing with COVID stress is not a child’s play

Dr Jesal Sheth tells how parents can chip in and help their children bust it.

New Delhi, April 1, 2021: The COVID19 pandemic and subsequent lockdown generated a lot of fear and stress across all age groups. Children usually thrive under predictable conditions, but the pandemic’s disruption greatly impacted them physically and emotionally. Online schooling, social isolation, lack of interactions with their friends, lack of physical sports and parental angst have aggravated their mental and emotional wellbeing. Children and adolscents have developed fear, anxiety, depression, and boredom. While most parents were involved in dealing with the pandemic’s uncertainty and putting all efforts to keep their family safe and sustainable, the emotional needss and mental health of children were somehow ignored.

THE IMPACT OF THE PANDEMIC ON CHILDREN: The pandemic has changed the way children typically grow, learn, play, behave, interact, and manage emotions. Children have been observed to have conduct problems, peer problems, externalizing problems, and general psychological distress. When compared with children who did not exercise, children with psychical activity had lower hyperactivity-inattention and less prosocial behavior problems.

Moreover, from a more emotional perspective, they have a lot going around in their head, and the biggest worry for them is whether or not they will see their friends in school or get sick. The combined effect between lifestyle changes and psychosocial stress caused by home confinement perhaps aggravates children’s behavioural problems.

In the long run, this can lead to an emotional breakdown among children, and the same may lead to these children resisting to return to school post-lockdown. This can happen primarily because children have lost their pre-lockdown routines and the loss of touch with their peers and mentors. In addition to this, the lockdown-related constraints can have a long-term negative effect on their overall psychological wellbeing.

SO, HOW DO WE TACKLE THIS? Here’s how you can help children cope with COVID-related stress;

  • Address fears: Anxiety and emotional depression can be tackled by parents to some extent by addressing fears of children, talking about problems and possible solutions from the child’s perspective.
  • Spend time with grandparents: Children who have grandparents can spend some quality time with them, listen to stories and tell them stories. Talking to them will help.
  • Follow a routine: Parents can maintain some routines even if confined at home. It is always good if parents and children can plan some activities together. Parents should also plan their children’s tasks one at a time, involve them in various home activities, educate them about following hygiene habits and social distancing.
  • Play games: Engage in indoor play and creative activities. In addition to these activities, children can be advised to be involved in household chores and understand their social responsibilities.
  • Organise virtual play dates: To keep them in touch with friends and classmates, plan a virtual party and playdates.
  • Discuss issues: Parents should pay more attention to the emotional wellbeing of the child. Keep emphasizing COVID19 measures like wearing a mask, social distancing, and frequent hand washing, as the pandemic is not over yet. Also, children should be encouraged to socialize with their friends and classmates through digital forums under the parent’s supervision.

(Dr Jesal Sheth is Senior Consultant-Paediatrician, Fortis Hospital, Mulund; Cover image by Tumisu from Pixabay

Are your hair and skin ready to beat the heat?

Dr Kiran Godse lists tips and tricks to keep them healthy in coming summer months. 

New Delhi, March 31, 2021: A year of COVID19 lockdown has kept most of us indoors but gradually we are stepping out as offices, schools, public transports, etc., are slowing opening up and life is limping back to normalcy. Summer is right here, staring at us. Are your skin and hair ready to beat the heat?

SKIN DURING SUMMER: When summers approach, temperatures rise and so does the humidity level. Humidity brings in a lot of changes in our skin and hair behavior. Our skin becomes sweaty, oily, develops acne flare ups, blackheads, whiteheads, and is prone to fungal infections, heat boils, body odors etc. Even our hair becomes frizzy with an oily scalp, dandruff, etc.

SO HOW TO TACKLE SKIN PROBLEMS DURING SUMMER? For having a healthy skin during these hard summer days, few tips can be helpful.

  • Cleanse your skin well with a gentle cleanser-twice daily is optimal. In case your body becomes excessively sweaty or one suffers from body odors, bathing twice daily will be helpful.
  • Make sure to dry your skin well before layering clothes, preferably even use some dusting powder, since it helps absorb excess moisture and thus, prevents fungal infections, heat boils or prickly heat issues.
  • Using a sunscreen is crucial, especially for those who suffer from hyperpigmentation and sun sensitivity.
  • Wearing closed footwear for a prolonged period can give rise to fungal infections and soft corns in the web spaces, so using dusting powder on the foot before wearing socks or shoes, aids in keeping your feet dry and clean.

CARING FOR YOUR HAIR DURING SUMMER? During summers, while it is necessary to care for your skin, it is equally important to take good care of your hair.

  • Cleansing hair at least twice a week is optimal. For those suffering from an itchy or dandruff prone scalp, using an anti-dandruff shampoo regularly keeps dandruff at bay.
  • Oiling your hair shouldn’t be done frequently as it can lead to heat boils on scalp with acne flare ups on the forehead and trunk. Just a teaspoon of oil an hour before hair wash, once a week, is adequate. In case the above steps don’t help your skin, consult a dermatologist.

BEWARE OF THE STEROIDS THAT MAY DAMAGE YOUR SKIN: Avoid taking drugs or applying over-the-counter-creams recommended by friends or the pharmacist, since majority of them contain steroids which may worsen your skin condition.

  • Avoid using topical steroid creams sold over the counter to treat fungal infections
  • Keep your body well hydrated! Drink lots of water, juices and eat plenty of fruits rich in Vitamin C.

THINGS TO DO TO SAFEGUARD YOUR SKIN & HAIR WHILE STEPPING OUT: While stepping out, one must ensure that a generous coat of a broad spectrum sunscreen is used. Reapplication of the same every 2-3 hourly is necessary to avail adequate sun protection, especially if one is constantly out in the sun. Also it is not necessary to apply sunscreen under your mask, as it may cause irritation and acne flare-ups since the occlusion inside the mask damages skin barrier and makes skin more prone to irritation. Apart from using a sunscreen, wearing protective clothing helps. Light colored loose cotton garments should be preferred to avoid any excessive sweating and friction.

Wishing you all ‘happy summer skin days’!

(Dr Kiran Godse is Consultant, Dermatology & Cosmetology, Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi-A Fortis Network Hospital)

(Cover Image by silviarita from Pixabay

Stomach full of memories

Food can evoke memories, create a sense of belonging and define a person’s story. Dubai-based Prakash Dadlani takes a gastronomic trip down memory lane to relive all things sweet and nice about Sindhi cuisine.         

I was approached by one of my friends to share my thoughts and memories on Sindhi cuisine. Normally, I would have said no, but this time around, I tried to scuttle my way out of it by saying that I am not a foodie because that is what my daughter believes, and for obvious reasons. I show no excitement for food, and that earns her ire. She will happily give me a pasting (in words) if I do not react to her mother’s yummy food, which I normally don’t.

After having said no to my friend, I started pondering that am I actually not a foodie? Then who is not a foodie? I believe everyone is, albeit with varying degrees. I am privileged to be blessed with two amazing women who are wonderful cooks, and thanks to their culinary skills that I always have had the yummiest food served with love. Be it, my mother first, and now my wife, I must admit both have been a blessing. I can’t thank them enough. I am guilty of taking them for granted, though.

Since my friend’s request was to share memories, I had second thoughts. Nostalgia gives me a kick and brings a smile to my face. So I thought, why not pen my memories around Sindhi cuisine.

A majority of my life has been spent in metropolis cities that are melting pot of varied cultures. As you know, Sindhi’s aren’t a vast populace, so its food culture remains mainly under wraps. I had spent my childhood on the outskirts of Mumbai (then Bombay) in a place called Ulhasnagar, where I was born and did most of my primary schooling. Ulhasnagar was one of the refugee centres at the time of partition, and so it is dominated by Sindhis, who migrated from undivided India in 1947.

My earliest memory of Sindhi food was the breakfast item called Daal or Chola Dhabal (Pav). There would be enterprising people out with their carts with about three aluminium handis placed on a charcoal burner on the streets. One handi used to have cooked chana daal, another one chickpeas (super soft, treated with tea powder to give it a dark colour) and the third handi had moong daal. He would also have containers with finely cut onions, chutney, pickle and coriander leaves as condiments as per his clientele’s taste. He would have many ladis of pav (it was called dhabal – double roti in Bambaiya). It was the most filling breakfast for us on Sunday mornings.

Pav with either daal or chola or mixed. And this yummy delicacy cost just for 25 paise back in the early 70s. Yes, yes, 25 paise! Unbelievable, isn’t it. My parents sent me with a rupee note (it was a note back then) to get the daal-chola-dhabal for the entire family. And so was the popularity of this that you would find all neighbourhood lining up for this breakfast.

Check this video to see how popular this item was for Sindhis. It is not as widely available now, but the memories are so fresh in my mind.

Two other Sindhi delicacies that have retained their popularity are Daal-Pakwan and Koki. These are widely available in metropolitan cities (we get them in Dubai too) and are very popular amongst other communities. The drill for Daal-Pakwan is the same – handis with the same ingredients. The pav is replaced by deep-fried layers of dough made of maida and is deep fried. On the other hand, Koki is like a paratha but with onions and spices mixed with dough and roasted on tawa on low flame. It is served best with yoghurt. Both, Daal-Pakwan and Koki are mainly breakfast items but are quite filling.

Another lesser-known Sindhi food is lotus stem or Kamal Kakdi. We call it bhee. It’s a Sindhi delicacy and is not easily available in the market. It’s priced more than other vegetables. Cleaning and cooking it is a task. And you must know how to relish it.

My friend asked me why do Sindhis add potato to all vegetables. Well, I don’t have an answer to it. What I know is that we are fond of eating a good quantity of bhajis (veggies) at every meal. To increase the amount of the vegetables, you add potato to it as a universal add along. In fact, potato in black pepper and cardamom curry is a popular dish during the big Ekadashi called Gyars in Sindhi.

Another potato delicacy of Sindhis is called Aloo-Tuk; a simple dish that goes perfect with Daal-Chawal. Potato would feel left out, so we add brinjal for the company. And it reminds me of another Sindhi breakfast delicacy called Seyun-Patata (sweet vermicelli with Aloo-Tuk).

Another breakfast delicacy in our home (me and my brother’s favourite) is Seyal Mani. It is made of leftover chappatis cooked with garlic, onion and tomato. Such was the craze for this delicacy that my brother would tell mom to make more chappatis for dinner to have leftover chappatis for the following day. This dish doesn’t taste the same with freshly made chappatis. When I moved to Muscat for a job, I came across this dish called Kuttu Paratha. Similar, but nowhere close to the yummy ‘Seyal Mani’ that my mother used to prepare.

In the Sindhi festival called Thadri, you are not supposed to light stove/gas and have to consume cold food. Delicacies are thus made the previous day and consumed the whole day of Thadri. It’s a much-deserved rest day for ladies and family would have fun by playing cards and other games while relishing Thadri special food.

As they say, karoge yaad toh har baat yaad aayegi. The gastronomic trip has left me nostalgic and I food and those times. There are so many more Sindhi dishes viz. Sai Bhaji, Bhuga Chawal, Sindhi Kadhi, Tayri, and the list goes on and on. I now realise that if I start recounting and writing about all the Sindhi dishes, I will need to write a book.

Last but not least, the most popular Sindhi delicacy is and will forever remain – papad. It is believed that Papad is originally a Sindhi item and was adapted by various other communities, and Lijjat made it a household name in India. No meal would be complete without papad, and hence a Sindhi household would have papad as the first item on their grocery list. Papad making is a tedious exercise, and many Sindhi ladies used to make papads and pickles as business to cater to the heavy demand.

The most popular Sindhi delicacy is the all-time favourite papad. It is believed that a Papad is a Sindhi item and was adapted by other communities in India. No meal in a Sindhi household is complete without papad, and it is the first item on their grocery list. Paniwari Khatair or water pickle is another Sindhi speciality. It is made of turnips and doesn’t contain a drop of oil. 

So am I a foodie? I think I am now with all these memories gushing in. I just realised that Sindhis do have a long list of delicacies. My wife will surely hate me for placing a request for Seyal Mani and Gyars Patata, and I must thank my friend for making me revisit these lovely food memories. 

Jai Jhulelal!

(Cover image by Ritesh Uttamchandani)

Flavours of Sindhustan

The article was published in Sunday magazine of The New Indian Express and The Sunday Standard in their edition dated March 28, 2021.
https://www.newindianexpress.com/lifestyle/food/2021/mar/28/flavours-of-sindhustan-a-look-into-sindhi-cuisine-and-the-kadhi-2281629.amp

The sweet taste of success 

Ritesh, Shirley and Sonia | Mumbai

Uttamchandani sibling trio – Ritesh, Shirley and Sonia.

Mumbai-based Uttamchandani sibling trio – Ritesh, Shirley and Sonia – had a rather sweet initiation into the home-grown food business with Sev Mithai or Singharji Mithai and Mohanthal, both traditional Sindhi desserts during the lockdown months. Ritesh was keen that Shirley become a home chef and start her business because the siblings were known for their Sindhi food among their friends and acquaintances. “It was always a super hit with everyone during the get-togethers but I was quite wary of log kya kahenge, especially the traditional Sindhis,” recounts Shirley.

Starting point

Ritesh wanted to share Sev Barfi with his friends on his birthday, and it was then that the idea first emerged. “It was around Ritesh’s birthday on July 30, 2020, that this idea first came up for discussion among us after one of his friends requested for it. We were thrilled to bits about the concept as we had received encouraging reviews from our friends to our food pop-ups. So we started the home delivery of mithais,” says Shirley. The trio was wary of people’s reaction, especially from the traditional Sindhis, but the sweet taste tickled their taste buds too, apart from finding favour among the non-Sindhis.

Sev Barfi.

“The response that we got was unbelievable! I was making big thals of Sev Barfi every day, not once or twice but even thrice. Every single person loved this flavourful sweet,” says Shirley. It tickled the taste buds of even the non-Sindhis. “Some of them were kind enough to heap praises by saying that it is better than Tharu’s at Bandra and Jhama Sweets at Chembur. Well, being even compared to these legendary sweet shops itself was a huge compliment,” says Sonia, adding, “Also, because we are using elaichi (cardamom) and kesar (saffron) generously.”

On the menu  

Since then, their business has grown manifold, and they have had several additions to the menu, including traditional Sindhi foods such as Daal-Pakwan-Aloo Tikki, Sindhi Kadhi-rice-aalo tuk, Kokis, sanha pakoras, Sindhi mitha lolas, gajar ka halwa, Kaju barfi, seyal machi (fish), bhee alu,etc.

The culinary skill among the Uttamchandani siblings is hereditary. “My parents were wonderful cooks. Papa used to make finger-licking kadhi teevan (mutton) and fish till about he was 80. He always insisted on moderate use of spices so that the taste of vegetables retain its flavour. My mother used to cook amazing food. Her nieces and nephews settled abroad used to come and visit us because she used to pamper them with yummy chole kokis, sanha pakoras and mitha lolas and carrot and onion pickles made in Sindhi style,” says Sonia with a tinge of nostalgia.

Market wise

Sonia highlights how most of the upmarket eating places don’t have even Sindhi food added to their menu like south Indian, Punjabi or even Chinese, and that’s sad.

Ritesh attributes the rising popularity of Sindhi food among non-Sindhis to curiosity. “Over the years, our food culture has been influenced by other cuisines, and it has travelled to different parts of the world. It bodes well because, unlike the generation before mine that thinks it is diluting our culinary delights. I believe it is assimilation. Each Sindhi household has modified the dishes a bit, and still there’s a lot that remains the same,” he says. The Sev Mithai uses Sev as the main ingredient, and Sev is also used in the Kachchi dish, Sev Tamatar. Even Maharashtrians use Sev, so there are similarities, yet all the Sev dishes are different.

Their speciality is jaggery-based Sev Mithai. “Jaggery and milk are quite tricky to handle together but it’s Ritesh’s creative mind and the courage to experiment that has made this mithai a possibility and a success with those who don’t want to consume processed sugar. And this food experiment helped us even to make jaggery-based Mohanthal, which feels much lighter than the sugar version,” explains Shirley. Uttamchandani siblings have added orange-flavoured Sev Barfi as their next experiment. 

Big takeaway

“Food has made possible such beautiful connections. People whom I have never met have become good friends of ours now. I am glad that our offerings have found a home in each of our client’s palate and plate,” chirps in Shirley, who can’t imagine how all of it started and how our food and sweets have so far reached more than 300 homes! “The connections that we have made are simply priceless. It is everyone’s love and God’s grace that has kept us motivated,” add Uttamchandanis.

Capital Affair

Archana Manwani

Archana Manwani in the Capital loved to host non-Sindhi friends for lunches and dinners. “It was their encouragement that led to this food business. I take orders 24 hours prior because I prepare my food with specially sourced ingredients, be it vegetables or spices,” she says, adding that she learned traditional ways of cooking from her grandmother and mother-in-law.

Manwani, who is registered on mother’s food app, Sindhinama, and runs her business through a Facebook page, is quite keen to promote Sindhi cuisine among Delhiites.

“I approached Director of Tourism, Delhi Government, to allot a stall in Dilli Haat for promotion of Sindhi cuisine. We got no response from him even after two reminders.”

The FSSAI licensed home chef explains how Sindhi food is distinct in its typical preparation of food in sehal style (pan fried onion and tomatoes with vegetables like bhindi, baingan tinda, gobhi, etc). “Spices like jeera, sarson, khaskhas, amchoor, anardana and imli are quite common in our food,” she says. 

Her special Sindhi dishes include:  

Besni Bhaji: chickpea floor tillkis made in onions and khas khas deep fried and then sehal style. 

Methi Meha Muthdiya: A traditional sindhi dish muthdiya made of wheat flour and steamed and the cooked with methi leaves and tinda. 

Sai Bhaji/Bhuga Chawar/Took Patata; Kadhi Chawar;  Sehal Bhaji Dhodho.  

On special occasions, it is Dal Pakwan, Tikki Dabal Chola, and Seyoo Patata. 

Sindhi home chef Archana Manwani.

Mother’s Delight

Poonam Shahani

Giving a rundown of how she got into the business, Mumbai-based home chef Poonam Shahani, who runs Mamma’s Cucina, says, “I used to cook for my family and friends of my children. Their compliments made me realise how so many of these dishes have never even been tried before. I started to realise that not many people are aware of what Sindhi food entails. And there’s a dearth of places that serve Sindhi food unless you visit one of the Sindhi camp areas in Mumbai.”


“Sindhi culture is getting lost somewhere. The younger generations don’t know how to cook Sindhi food. For the younger Sindhis, this food is like a piece of old memory served with love and platter. The flavour of my foods is clean and simple. I avoid using too much oil or ghee and customise spices according to a person’s taste. It reminds them of home and home-cooked food. The response has been great among non-Sindhis too! There is a Parsi man here who orders mutton and paya curry almost every other day.”

Sindhi food has a hint of Muslim influences, when it comes to our biryanis and mutton curries. This is because Muslim Sindhis and Hindu Sindhis lived together in pre-partition Sindh. In non-veg, the food in demand include Sindhi Mutton Basar Mein, Sayal Tewaran, Photewaro or Elaichi Kaare Mirchi Mein Mutton, Sindhi Paaya, Sindhi Mutton, Peas Keema, Sayal Green Masala Mein Machi while in veg, it is Sindhi Kadhi, Aaloo Took, Saibhaji, Toor Khati Daal, Dahi Curry, Bhi Aaloo Makwana ji Bhaji, Sindhi Veg Briyani Koki, and Daal Pakwan.


“I think it’s a mix of things. We use many vegetables that are nother otherwise found in other cuisines. We have a sabzi made of lotus stem called bhee aloo. We use drumsticks in Sindhi kadhi. We also use a technique to allow food to cook in its own juices called teewan. Teewan is essentially a gravy made of tomatoes, onions and spices. We make rice with it (seyal teewan), bread (seyal dabroti), roti (seyal mani) and mutton. We also prepare mutton curry with pepper and cardamom called Fote Bhugi Mutton,” says Shahani.

Mumbai-based home chef Poonam Shahani.

Chef Satyajit Kotwal of Satyajit’s Kitchen

Apart from having a unique flavour of its own, Sindhi food has an unmistakable mark of dynasties like Arabs and Mughal. The koftas biryanis and meat curries got infused into Sindhi cuisine during that time.

It’s different

They have a popular way of cooking Daagh, Seyal, Saye Masaley Main, and Dhaas, unique to their own culture. The distinction that sets it apart from other cuisines lies in cooking, which includes slow cooking technique, layering of herbs and spices with the right combination of sweet and savoury taste.

Chef’s favourite  

Under vegetarian, my favourite would include Dhaas vegetables which are stuffed vegetables; it could be okra, apple gourds, capsicum, etc. Another one is Daagh which is a Sindhi curry prepared with brown onions. Seyal is another veg Sindhi breakfast prepared from leftover bread or rotis in a spicy or tangy curry-like gravy. Sindhi Kadhi is a unique and special dish prepared on festive occasions. It consists of a thick spicy gravy made from chickpea flour, unlike buttermilk, usually used for kadi preparation along with seasonal vegetables. Drinks that are famous with the Sindhis include thadal (made from almonds and poppy seeds), Khirni (hot drink made with milk, flavours of cardamoms and saffron), sharbat which is made from rose petals or sandalwood.

In non-veg, Bhuna Mutton is a famous Sindhi main course meal. Popular Sindhi biryanis and meat curries have a mix of flavor from the Arabs and Mughals. Pallo Machi is another popular Sindhi delicacy; it is Hilsa fish prepared with numerous cooking methods. It can be deep fried and garnished with local spices, can be cooked with onions and potatoes into a traditional fish meal or barbequed.

Different methods of Sindhi food preparations:

Sindhi foods are simple, and the flavour of vegetables is retained due to the minimum use of spices. Most common type of Sindhi cooking is Daag Mein, which is onion-tomato-based-curries. This method brings out the sweetness of caramelised onions to provide a balanced flavour to the curries. Another way of cooking is called Seyal where the amount of onions are added more than that of vegetables. The sliced or diced onions are cooked till translucent. 

Saye Masale Mein is a Sindhi way of food preparation where a lot of coriander leaves are used along with garlic, ginger and green chillies and are cooked with grated tomatoes and spices. This mixture is basically used as a base in many Sindhi preparations. 

Another popular method of Sindhi cooking is Daas, where whole vegetables like apple gourds, bitter gourds or capsicum are stuffed with a mixture of grated onion and Sindhi pesto and cooked till tender.

Chef Satyajit Kotwal.

Chef Sanjeev Kapoor

1) What is the influence of other cuisines on Sindhi food?

Sindhi cuisine is a result of many influences. Since Balochistan touches the border of Sindh, and so does Punjab, there is bound to be an immigration of ideas. Pre-partition played a crucial role in shaping Sindhi cuisine. This cuisine also has some impact on the Mughals, Arabs, and Turks since all these dynasties ruled the Sindh province once. As Sindh was once part of India, Indian cuisine also has a significant influence on it.

2) What sets Sindhi cuisine apart from others? Is it their way of using vegetables, spices, or their way of cooking?

I feel it’s an amalgamation of both! They have a unique style of cooking and have their favourites when it comes to the addition of masalas. They like to play with the base of their dishes. Their most classic recipes either have a tomato or onion base or a ginger-garlicky with a heavy dose of spiciness. Yes! Sindhis like their food spicy. But, not all their food is fiery, there’s an array of sweets, snacks, and breads too in this wonderful cuisine to pick from. When it comes to vegetables, leafy greens like spinach (palak), fenugreek leaves (methi) & dill (savaa), and others like ladyfingers (bhindi), potatoes (aloo) & drumsticks (seeng) are extensively used. Apart from this, accompaniments are also imperative in a typical Sindhi meal. Dishes such as fried potatoes or fried bhindi, papads, dahi, sweet boondi, etc., are the most common ones.

3) What are the items that are your favourite?  

My favourite food is Dal Pakwan but not forget their simple sabzi like bhindi bashar or the yummy sai bhaji… dishes like koki n lola feature on my breakfast menu some days. Another classic item that I love and will have soon during Holi is Gheeyar.

4) How is Sindhi Kadhi different from other Kadhis?

Sindhi Kadhi is so flavorful which is made using tomatoes and some besan but what I like the most is the veggies that go in it, gavar and bhindi. The element of dahi is missing in a Sindhi kadhi.

Chef Sanjeev Kapoor.

Hues of Holi

The article was published in The Free Press Journal edition dated March 28, 2001. https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/holi-2021-a-virtual-tour-of-holi-hotspots

On a mission to milch the silage business in India

Three passionate agripreneurs from Hyderabad started SAGO Speciality Feeds in 2019 to build a fodder ecosystem among the dairy industry for feeding the dairy animals, thus driving increased milk yields. The production activity, they say, is directly beneficial and profitable to the farming community, dairy farmers, livestock and also the consumers.  

New Delhi, March 26, 2021: Started in 2019, Hyderabad-based AgriTech startup — SAGO Speciality Feeds — is aiming to contribute to the dairy sector and the corn industry in India by making end-to-end mechanised corn-based silage with quality nutrients. By doing this, the company founded by three passionate agripreneurs, is promoting extensive cultivation of high-yielding biomass corn hybrids, suitable for livestock feed and sensitising the farming community to be a part of forage production – a high priority agricultural activity. The high-quality corn silage produced at SAGO’s Banswara, Rajasthan, plant helps build a fodder ecosystem among the dairy industry for feeding the dairy animals, thus driving increased milk yields. 

In an exclusive conversation, one of its founders, Chandrasekhar Singh, takes us through his entrepreneurial journey in the Agri sector and talks at length about his passion project, its flagship brand of corn silage — CornvitaTM, and why giving cattle the right nutrition matters to him and his company. He says, “it is because this activity is directly beneficial and profitable to the farming community at large, the dairy farmers, the livestock and also the consumers at the end.” SAGO’s hardwork has been suitably rewarded — it is the only company in Rajasthan to make corn silage this season. Read on: 

Q: Please take us through your entrepreneurial journey, from NABARD to Sago Feeds; how has it been so far? 

Appearing for competitive examinations was a routine affair during my college days, and by the age of 22, I had three offers in government service to choose from, and I opted for NABARD, that too, before completing my graduation. It was a great pride for my parents as I joined the government service at a young age and in our hometown. Everything was smooth and happy, and in no time, I completed 29 years of service. I had the honour of serving NABARD for 27 years in Hyderabad and two years in Mumbai. Many-a-times, I felt like everything was moving in a formatted manner with not many challenges coming my way.  

I always dreamt of being an entrepreneur, especially in the agricultural sector. It took almost four years of research and firming up the plan, and I finally decided to take the big leap. I quit my job at NABARD, and I was relieved on February 28, 2019; I registered my company on March 6, 2019.   

Adding to my thoughts and strength was my nephew Saikiran, who was then working as a Quality Engineer in the US after completing his MS in Automobile Engineering. He quit his job and switched careers. We were joined by my son Anurag, who was working for Amazon. Today, three of us have come together from different professional backgrounds and skillsets from the same family to work on SAGO.

Founders of SAGO — (from left to right) Chandrasekhar, Saikiran and Anurag.

What is the story behind this name?

As we all three belong to the same family, we thought of launching a brand which is close to all of us. After all the brain-storming sessions, we finalised SA-GO, which is coined from the names of my mother (SA-thyavathi) and my father (GO-pal Singh). We launched our company SAGO Speciality Feeds (2019), and CORNVITA is our flagship brand of corn silage.  

Why did you choose cattle feed? What research went behind choosing it? What is the market standing of cattle feed? Do people invest in buying good cattle feed?    

Dairy was something that fascinated me, especially the feed sector. After a detailed study, I felt tremendous potential and dearth for dairy feed in India.

India has been the leading producer and consumer of dairy products since 1998, with sustained growth in the availability of milk and milk products. Dairy activities form an essential part of the rural Indian economy and serve as an important source of employment and income for the people.   

India also has the largest bovine population in the world. However, per animal milk production is significantly low as compared to the other major dairy producers. Moreover, India’s dairy produce is consumed domestically, with the majority of it being sold as fluid milk. On account of this, the Indian dairy industry holds tremendous potential for value-addition and overall development. According to the latest IMARC Group report, titled “Dairy Industry in India 2021 Edition: Market Size, Growth, Prices, Segments, Cooperatives, Private Dairies, Procurement and Distribution”, the dairy market in India reached a value of INR 11,360 billion in 2020.

Poor nutrition and lack of proper feed management are the reasons for low milk yield. The non-availability of green fodder during summers and reliable production in monsoon are the biggest challenges today. Corn Silage is one such fodder supplements that address these challenges. Silage is not only delicious and more palatable for the cattle but also has the right amount of proteins, carbohydrates and acidity that ensures a healthier gut and improves overall health and fertility.

Silage is a fermented, high-moisture, stored green fodder fed to cattle, sheep and other ruminants; it can also be used as a biofuel feedstock for anaerobic digesters. It doesn’t contain any synthetic additives or chemicals. Silage also reduces the volume of feed as it is highly compressed, thereby decreasing the overall cost of feed and meeting the nutritional requirement. With its relatively high energy content, corn silage is also well adapted for low-cost rations for fattening cattle.

Silage is a fermented, high-moisture, stored green fodder fed to cattle, sheep and other ruminants.
Silage can also be used as a biofuel feedstock for anaerobic digesters. It doesn’t contain any synthetic additives or chemicals.

CornvitaTM has an ideal balance of proteins, carbohydrates and several amino-acids. As silage is pre-digested food, cattle do not find it necessary to ruminate. As a result, ease of digestion increases, thereby improving the overall health of cattle’s gut. As proteins now can easily get digested and metabolised, the quantity of milk improves along with an increase in fat and SNF percentages.

We observed that most of the dairy entrepreneurs (small and big) lack the knowledge of the feeding system and guidance from experts. They lack the technical support and exposure to the best practices of feeding cattle. Most of the small farmers aim at the most economical way of feeding their animals without knowing the merits or demerits of the feed. But once they are enlightened with the results of using silage and balancing with other feeds, there is a tremendous shift in their approach and opt for silage.  

What goes behind the scenes of producing silage, from start to finish? 

The process of silage production is exciting and challenging. It needs meticulous planning and monitored at every stage. Growing maize crop for silage is highly beneficial for the cultivating farmers with higher yield and higher price per acre plus an additional season every year as the crop is harvested on the 80th day instead of 120 days. 

We travelled extensively by road in Gujarat and Rajasthan to identify corn growing belts. Simultaneously, we also had a good number of meetings with large dairies with whom we could collaborate for sales. We could also meet a large group of farmers and FPOs from remote areas of Udaipur, Rajsamand, Chittorgarh, Bikaner, Barmer, Pratapgarh and Bhilwara districts.

Your plant is based in Rajasthan. Why did you choose Banswara? 

Banswara district in Rajasthan is strategically located close to the border and close to three other states — Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Maharashtra. The rich soil and weather conditions are suitable for maize cultivation and added to this, the district is blessed with Mahi river with round the year water availability. Moreover, Gujarat and Rajasthan have the biggest dairies in India also have the largest cattle population. During our initial visits, we had to drive through hundreds of kilometres of maize fields. Also, it was easy to discuss with farmers who are already into maize cultivation.

How is the team at Sago Feeds structured? What is the supply chain like; please explain? 

SAGO Speciality Feeds has bloomed from within a single-family. We all share responsibilities depending on our skill sets. I take care of the operations, management and planning.

My nephew Saikiran has experience in manufacturing and supply chain. He drives overall strategic vision and direction.

My son Anurag heads product development and marketing. He holds the experience of leading several life-science research projects, digital marketing and has worked for Amazon in the last mile analytics and quality team.

Silage production is directly beneficial and profitable to the farming community at large, the dairy farmers, the livestock and also the consumers at the end.

Who are the primary beneficiaries? How do you market and sell your products? How has been the response so far?

Our activity is something that is directly beneficial and profitable to the farming community at large, the dairy farmers, the livestock and also the consumers at the end.

Marketing and sales are challenging at the beginning. It is difficult to reach the dairy farmers and convince them about the benefits of silage. We usually give them a demonstration of our product and sometimes give them samples to use. Even humans have a reluctance to anything new, and the same is the case with animals. But once they are used to this feed, it is a cyclic action, and there is always continuous demand. Seeing is always believing, and when the farmers witness the results for themselves with higher milk production within 6-8 days and higher Fat & SNF percentage, they tend to shift to this feed.

Currently, we have committed demands from Banas Dairy, Gujarat, and Parag Dairy, Maharashtra, Miraj and Bhilwara Dairy, Rajasthan and many others around our location. We have continuous supplies to Palanpur, Mehsana, Anand, in Gujarat, Rajsamand, Udaipur, Pratapgarh in Rajasthan and Indore, Bhopal, Dewas in Madhya Pradesh, Nasik and Ahmednagar in Maharashtra. We have also started supplies to places as far as Chhattisgarh and Telangana. We keep getting enquiries from places like Karnataka and North East. This itself shows the huge demand and also dearth of the product.

Incidentally, we are the only company that made corn silage this season in Rajasthan. The response is so huge that we have nearly 10,000 MT of demand on hand, but we have only 3,100 MT of material to supply.    

We travelled extensively at regular intervals within Gujarat and Rajasthan, including the border districts like Bikaner in Rajasthan and Kutch in Gujarat. Farmers are excited to use the product, which is beneficial for them. After all our meetings across the states, we felt most of the farmers are still ignorant of the latest developments, technology, science and are not aware of the best practices of feeding their animals. Incidentally, Banas Dairy, Gujarat, is collaborating with us to train and sensitise the farmers on the use and making of silage in Gujarat.

What were the major challenges in your entrepreneurial journey? How did you overcome them?

Switching my career — from being a Government servant to becoming an entrepreneur — was a 360⁰ shift in my thought process. I could really experience the transition of this journey and I can say these two are poles apart from one another. Earning money was not my prime goal but building a system that is consistent and sustainable was. Meeting farmers from across the states and being one among them was always an enriching experience. Our success can only be measured with our reach, growth and prosperity of the farmers.  

Reaching farmers and sensitising them about our activity was a difficult task. Not everyone is inclined towards this shift in the cultivation of corn crop and a shift from the age-old feeding system to their cattle. Initially, we started our supplies at a few of the big dairies, their feedback made all the difference and that made a beginning in our supplies.  

Who are the other players in this market? 

Punjab and Haryana are the leaders in India’s silage production, with nearly 1.5 lakh MT of production every year. There are 4-5 big companies all based in Punjab, which cater to most states’ needs. There are 3-4 other companies scattered in Karnataka, Maharashtra and Madhya Pradesh, which are into silage production.  

What are your plans for SAGO? 

After completing three production cycles in three different states, we now plan to replicate the process in different places to cater to a particular zone, cutting down the transportation costs. We plan to set up small pockets/points wherein we can stock the material for supplies to the nearby places. We hope to start our activities closer to  Odisha/Chhattishgarh for the eastern states, Indore/Bhopal for the central parts and then continue at Rajasthan to cater to the needs of Gujarat and Maharashtra.

Silage conventionally is seen as a premium feed by dairy farmers. The present challenge of handling and wastage of the product makes the purchase feasible only for large dairy farmers to purchase. We are re-working our strategies and challenging the status quo to make our product available to every dairy farmer across the country. Not just that, we also have plans to start a few initiations in the food sector soon.

(Text by Shillpi A Singh and images sourced from SAGO)

Now, a vet for your pet is just a click away

The one-of-its-kind service by Practo will provide 24*7 remote consultations by licensed veterinarians for pets healthcare needs.

New Delhi, March 24, 2021: In a bid to create equitable healthcare access for all, Practo, India’s leading integrated healthcare company has launched veterinary telemedicine service on its platform. Teaming with licensed veterinarians across the country, the company will be offering 24*7 online consultation services for pets.

With more than 20 million households with pets in India, and a growth of over 40% in the adoption of puppies and cats  amid a work-from-home setting, this service will help pet owners get medical help for their furry friends from the comfort of their homes. They can easily talk to veterinarians regarding concerns that do not require a physical examination or warrant an emergency visit to the clinic.

Launched as a pilot project last month, Practo recorded nearly two lakh search queries from pet parents. Buoyed by the positive response, the speciality was launched officially as a part of the company’s telemedicine services. Most of the veterinary queries revolved around diet management for pets, medication for fleas and ticks, food allergies among pets, and behavioral problems among pets. Queries came in from more than 40 cities with Bengaluru, Hyderabad, Delhi NCR, and Mumbai topping the list.

Commenting on the new initiative, Siddhartha Nihalani, VP – Product, Practo, said, “Our foray into virtual veterinary care aligns with our larger vision of improving access to quality healthcare. With many people taking care of pets for the first time during the Coronavirus-induced lockdown, and several others anxious about visiting a clinic amid this pandemic, we want to enable them with a convenient yet reliable solution.”

Online veterinary consultations become even more convenient once the work from home situation ends, as pet parents can consult online whenever they have concerns without skipping work. This includes getting a second opinion for certain procedures, obtaining treatment or diet recommendations, asking follow-up questions, and seeking advice on behavioural issues – all in real-time and without exposing themselves to any risk.

Dr Daisy Rani, a veterinarian from Chennai with 25 years of experience, said, “Helping people to take care of their pets is the best part of being a veterinarian. Being able to do that in a way that is convenient for pet parents, especially during a pandemic like this, is a truly rewarding experience. I am glad that a company like Practo is going the extra mile for the well-being of pets by adding veterinary services as a part of its telemedicine platform.”

With Practo’s veterinary telemedicine service, pet parents can connect with a verified veterinarian via audio or video call or even text messages – anytime, anywhere – in just 60 seconds. Not only is this convenient, but also crucial to get timely advice on common but potentially harmful ailments. The service will be available both on Practo’s app as well as the website. To consult a veterinary doctor online, click here.

(Cover Image by Charlotte Govaert from Pixabay)

Do not ignore symptoms of tuberculosis! It’s curable.

World TB Day 2021: Tuberculosis kills more number of people in India every year than the lives COVID19 has claimed over the past 12 months? Today, all we need is a surge in our actions to reduce the TB burden, tells Dr Anshu Punjabi.  

New Delhi, March 24, 2021: In the past year, the COVID19 virus grabbed much of our attention. The collateral damage that it caused in one year is very unimaginable. But did you know, Tuberculosis (TB) kills a more significant number of people in India every year than the lives COVID19 has claimed over the past 12months?

Tuberculosis continues to inflict a large quantum of socioeconomic cost on our nation. Although TB has been curable and our government has made great strides to improve diagnosis and drug delivery mechanisms, our war with this deadly disease exists. All we need today is a surge in our actions to reduce the TB burden intensely. But how is that possible?

Well, the best approach to this is to sensitize people with the growing burden of TB and empower them enough to identify symptoms, report it early, undergo timely diagnosis, and complete adherence to treatment. So, first things first.

WHAT IS TUBERCULOSIS AND HOW DOES IT AFFECT US? TB is an infection caused by bacteria called Mycobacterium Tuberculosis and spreads through the air from one person to another when an infected person coughs, sneezes or laughs. Even though the bacteria travel easily, it’s not easy to be infected by TB. Most often, it’s spread between family members, close friends, and people who live or work together. TB most commonly affects the lungs, but it can affect other parts of the body as well, like lymph glands, abdomen, spine, joints, etc.

There are two kinds of tuberculosis (TB) infections — latent TB and active TB disease.

WHAT IS LATENT TB? In most healthy people, the body’s natural immune system kills the bacteria and there are no symptoms. Sometimes, the immune system cannot kill the bacteria but manages to prevent it from spreading in the body. You will not have any symptoms, but the bacteria will remain in your body – this is known as Latent TB. People with Latent TB are not infectious to others, and do not feel ill. It is usually happens to children. Sometimes, this dormant TB gets activated when the body’s immune system is extremely low, say in the case of HIV, cancer, diabetes, etc.

This may occur like a normal fever and can go unnoticed. In India, we do not treat latent TB, as most people would have been exposed to the bacteria at some point in time. Moreover, there is no good evidence that all these people will develop active TB disease in the future, or that treating Latent TB will prevent further reinfection.

WHAT IS AN ACTIVE TB? When the immune system is unable to kill or contain the bacteria, Active TB develops. The lungs’ Active TB disease is contagious, which means it can be spread from one person to another. It is most often spread through the air; these bacteria may enter the air when a person with TB disease of the Lungs or throat coughs. People nearby may breathe in these bacteria and get infected. People get sick from the TB bacteria that are alive and active. 

SO, WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS?

  • Being in close contact with a person with Active Lung TB disease is highly risky
  • If you are in contact with any groups known for passing on TB, such as the homeless, injection drug users, and persons with HIV/AIDS
  • If you are living or working with people who are at high risk for TB, such as those in hospitals, homeless shelters, prisons, slums, or refugee camps 

MAJOR SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS THAT YOU SHOULDN’T IGNORE:

  • A cough that lasts two-three weeks or more
  • Pain in the chest, with cough or at rest     
  • Coughing up blood or thick mucous
  • Night sweats
  • Feeling weak or tired
  • Weight loss
  • Not wanting to eat
  • Fever, mainly in the evening
  • Swollen neck lymph-gland(s)

The longer people wait, the TB disease worsens. Although the stigma associated with TB has gone down significantly, people need to be alert, aware, and responsible when it comes to identifying symptoms and getting treated early. TB is treatable and curable. Treatment for drug-sensitive TB is a combination of antibiotics for six months. People with drug-resistant TB will need more extended treatment with at least 5-6 drugs under expert supervision.

(Dr Anshu Punjabi is Consultant-Pulmonologist & Sleep Medicine Expert, Fortis Hospital, Mulund; Image by Wilfried Pohnke from Pixabay

Mom at 40+! Yes, so what?

Women are redefining the age to be a mother, and thanks to advancements in technology surrounding fertility, pregnancy, and delivery, it’s possible to have a baby after 40.   

The article was published in all editions of The Free Press Journal on March 21, 2021.
https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/from-kishwer-merchant-to-madonna-heres-how-women-are-embracing-motherhood-at-40

Safe water means good health. Do you know why?

On World Water Day, Dr Sonali Gautam explains poor water hygiene’s impact on one’s health, especially children.  

New Delhi, March 22, 2021: On World Water Day, while we all should aim to save the most precious gift and a vital life source, we must also focus on improving water supplies and hygiene. You must be wondering why, so let me explain the impact of poor water hygiene on health. Worldwide, 2.2 billion people lack access to safely managed drinking water, and 4.2 billion people lack safe sanitation. Unsafe hygiene practices are widespread, compounding the effects on people’s health. The impact on child mortality rates is devastating, with more than 2,97,000 children under five die annually from diarrhoeal diseases due to poor sanitation, poor hygiene, or unsafe drinking water.

In India, the problem of unsafe water is a substantial public health concern. Apart from illnesses such as diarrohea, jaundice, etc., unsafe water also contributes to Hepatitis A & E. Both these diseases are associated with inadequate and unsafe water supplies, poor sanitation & hygiene, leading to infection and inflammation of the liver.

What is Hepatitis A and E? Hepatitis A and E viruses are RNA virus, which primarily infects the liver, causing inflammation of the liver (Acute Hepatitis). Infection with Hepatitis A & E is usually self-limiting.

How is the infection acquired? Hepatitis A or E is spread primarily through food or water contaminated by faeces from an infected person (feco-oral route). It enters the liver from our gut and is then excreted again by our gut into the stool, thus completing the infection cycle.

Who are at risk for Hepatitis A or E? Not everyone who’s infected will have any evidence of this disease, as it may go unnoticed (asymptomatic disease). But still, these people can excrete viruses in their stool and continue to infect others (carriers).

Asymptomatic disease: India being a developing nation with poor sanitation conditions, more than 95% of children below five years of age are usually infected with these viruses, with an asymptomatic course. Thus, in India, antibody to Hepatitis A virus is nearly universally detectable by adolescence, and antibody to HEV increases during young adulthood to reach about 40% in adults.

How does it spread? Hepatitis A is usually spread person-to-person through food or water contamination. An infected person’s hands can become the source of infection after using the bathroom. The virus then spreads by direct contact or by food, beverages or other objects that the infected person handled. An infected individual can transmit the virus to others as early as two weeks before the symptoms begin to appear.

Symptomatic disease: International travellers to India, children from high-income families are at risk of developing Hepatitis A or E infection because they do not eat much from the streets and have not developed the required antibodies resulting in fever, stomach-ache and jaundice.

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis A or E?

  • Fever
  • Tiredness
  • Stomach upset
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Diarrhoea
  • Yellowish eye & skin called jaundice

Why is it dangerous? Unlike Hepatitis B & C, Hepatitis A does not cause Chronic Liver Disease and is rarely fatal. But it can cause debilitating symptoms and Fulminant Hepatitis (Acute Liver Failure), which is often fatal. Fulminant Hepatic Failure leading to death is seen in 1.8 % adults, and 10% in pregnant ladies.

Most people with Hepatitis E get better within a few months. Usually, it doesn’t lead to long-term illness, or Liver damage like other forms of Hepatitis do. But Hepatitis E can be dangerous for pregnant women or anyone with weak immune systems, including the elderly or ill.

How to prevent it? The best approach is to take all precautions to avoid Hepatitis and ensure safe drinking water for all. Make sure that your water source is clean and well maintained. Apart from this, follow this:

  • Hand sanitation: Frequent handwashes before meals and after using the washroom.
  • Avoid eating outside, especially if you are pregnant.
  • Hepatitis A vaccine: Vaccinate your children below six years (consult a paediatrician about this).

If you identify any of the above symptoms, kindly meet your Gastroenterologist for timely treatment and care to resolve the infection with expected full recovery.

(Dr Sonali Gautam, Consultant-Gastroenterology, Hiranandani Hospital, Vashi, a Fortis network hospital; Image from Pixabay)

Genetically speaking

Genetic testing has grown from a niche speciality for rare disorders to a broad scope of applications for routine, complex diseases to its use in personalised health solutions and precision medicine. There is a need for healthcare providers, the diagnostic community and the government to step-up and uplift genetic diagnostics, making it available, accessible and safe for all.

The article was published in the magazine of The Sunday Standard and
The New Indian Express in the edition dated March 21, 2021.
https://www.newindianexpress.com/lifestyle/health/2021/mar/21/the-anatomy-of-a-gene-2278437.html

Dr G. Arun Kumar, Scientific Affairs Manager, MedGenome Labs

Dr G. Arun Kumar, Scientific Affairs Manager, MedGenome Labs.

Explain genetic testing/screening to a layman. What are the challenges of genetic testing?

To understand genetic testing, it is essential to understand the role of DNA and genes in our bodies. We can see our genome as the instruction book in our body which exists in multiple volumes, the genes as the individual pages present in these books, while the DNA is the language in which the pages are written. Genes regulate specific parts or functions of a cell. We inherit two copies of every gene, one from each parent. Sometimes multiple genes are required to control one function. Other times, just one gene may influence multiple functions. The DNA sequence of a gene is the code that instructs the cell to make proteins. These proteins, in turn, affect all bodily functions. Any variations in the DNA sequence can disrupt the protein it encodes and put us at greater risk of acquiring certain diseases in our lives. Genetic testing is a tool used to look at our DNA to detect such variants. Results from a genetic test can significantly help doctors understand the cause of a disease or symptoms, predict an individual’s risk of developing certain diseases, tell if one could pass the disease to their children and help in choosing the best treatment that can be tailored for the individual. For instance, if a person has cancer, then a genetic test can tell if the person inherited a cancer-causing genetic aberration. Early detection can also help doctors make an informed decision about the same and tell if the patient is at risk of developing any other type of cancers as well. Genetic testing of cancer tissue can help in identifying genetic variants that can be targeted using specific drugs.

 Performing genetic testing requires high expertise both in terms of laboratory testing and analysis of genetic data. Understanding a genetic testing report for a commoner requires a clinician or a genetic counsellor.

If I have hereditary spherocytosis, can I get to know the chances of it being carried by my offspring and how?

In most cases, spherocytosis occurs as an inherited disease that changes and reduces the life of red blood cells in the patient’s body and causes anaemia. The initial evaluation of hereditary Spherocytosis involves a physical inspection, a review of the family history, and few lab tests on blood samples. In Spherocytosis, the structure of red blood cell changes, attributable to a defective protein produced in the cell due to genetic mutations. Genetic testing for spherocytosis looks for variants in the genes ANK1, EPB42, SLC4A1, SPTA1, SPTB. Some of these genetic variants are inherited in an “Autosomal recessive” manner. It means that for a person to express the disease (s)he must inherit genetic variants in both the gene’s copies. If a person has inherited a genetic variant in only one copy of the gene, the other copy being healthy, then this person is termed as a carrier. A person with the disease will 100% pass on one defective copy of the gene to the offspring. On the other hand, an individual who is a carrier has a 50% chance of passing the offspring’s variant. In either case, if the partner of the individual also passes on one defective copy to the offspring, then the child will develop the disease.

What are the things to keep in mind while opting for genetic testing/screening? What are its hope for medical science in the days to come?

Genetic testing can help in identifying an inherited disease risk in an individual. It is important to discuss the reasons for a genetic test with your doctor as they may guide you to a medical geneticist who is trained to diagnose a genetic condition, select the appropriate genetic tests, explain the test results, and recommend personalized treatment and prevention options. Before opting for genetic testing, one should gather as much information as possible about the family’s medical history to understand the risk better.

What are the diseases for which this screening works?

MedGenome currently offers more than 475 genetic tests across several disease categories such as paediatrics, neurology, oncology, haematology, endocrinology, nephrology, ophthalmology, etc. Any disorder that has an established genetic basis can be screened. Additionally, we also offer carrier screening for couples that will tell the carrier status of various genetic variants in the couple. This shall aid the clinician counsel the couple for future pregnancy.

What are the services offered by MedGenome?

Medgenome offers genetic testing services under four major divisions, viz – Actia, Claria, Prima and Micra. The Actia division deals with genetic testing of all inherited disorders encompassing all major medicine disciplines, including neurology, ophthalmology, cardio-vascular, Metabolic disorder, Nephrology, etc. The Claria division deals with reproductive genetics that offers various prenatal genetic testing panels, NIPT, and pre-implementation genetic testing. The Prima division deals with Oncology (solid tumours and Leukaemia) and Hematology range of testing. All these tests are College of American Pathology accredited. The Micra division is a new addition to our portfolio that is involved in infectious disease testing. In this range, we have indigenously developed the first whole genome sequencing of Mycobacterium tuberculosis directly from a patient’s sputum.

MedGenome is the market leader in India’s genetic diagnostics and is one of the largest high- throughput NGS sequencing labs in South Asia. We possess state-of-the-art Next-generation Sequencing (NGS) facility, which houses cutting-edge genome sequencing platforms such as Illumina’s NovaSeq, HiSeq X, HiSeq 4000 and 2500, MiSeq, etc. A sophisticated IHC pathology lab supports our Sequencing facility. We also offer other genomic testing technologies such as FISH, PCR, Sanger Sequencing, and Microarray to offer comprehensive diagnostic solutions to clinicians, hospitals and researchers. We offer genetic testing at different scales such as identification of point mutations using Sanger technique, RT-PCR; chromosomal level aberrations using FISH, Chromosomal microarray; multigene and whole-genome sequencing using Next Generation Sequencing

Is genetic testing gaining popularity?

Genetic testing is gaining popularity among all medicine disciplines because of its wide applications inpatient management and family planning. Almost all significant guidelines of different medical disciplines have incorporated genetic testing in their statements. The awareness of genetic testing among the general public is also increasing so much so that direct consumer testing for personal genomics is not far from reality.

What are the cost implications?

Genome sequencing technology has undergone tectonic changes in the last decade. The development of superior technology and informatics tools has improved genome sequencing precision and has contributed to a 100-fold reduction in sequencing cost. MedGenome has been a forerunner in India for democratising genome sequencing by making it affordable, beyond the reach of a commoner a decade ago, without compromising the quality. 

Arun Kiran P,  Lead Genetic Counsellor, Prenetics Limited

Arun Kiran P,  Lead Genetic Counsellor, Prenetics Limited.

Explain genetic testing?

Genetic testing, also known as DNA testing, is a process of identifying changes in chromosomes, genes, or proteins.

Genetic testing results can help individuals either confirm or rule out the possibility of having a clinical condition; identifying genetic mutations can determine a person’s chance of developing genetic predisposition risk or passing on a genetic disorder.

There are several genetic tests in the market, and the purpose of these tests solely depends on the case and the scenario it is in use. Several methods are used for genetic testing:

  • Molecular genetic tests: where single genes or short lengths of the DNA variations are identified that can lead to a genetic disorder. With the recent advancements in the genetic testing space, platforms like the Next Generation Sequencing allow individuals to access Whole Genome or Exome Sequencing (WES).

One’s DNA is composed of more than 3 billion base pairs. Collectively, these pairs are called the genome. A portion of the genome is called the exome, the protein-sequencing region of one’s DNA.

  • Chromosomal genetic tests analyse whole chromosomes or long lengths of DNA to see if there are large genetic changes, such as an extra copy of a chromosome, that cause a genetic condition.
  • Biochemical genetic tests study the amount or activity level of proteins; abnormalities in either can indicate changes to the DNA that result in a genetic disorder.

2) If I have hereditary spherocytosis, can I get to know the chances of it being carried by my offspring and how?

Hereditary spherocytosis is a condition characterized by haemolytic anaemia (when red blood cells are destroyed earlier than normal).

Signs and symptoms can range from mild to severe and may include anaemia, pale skin, fatigue, jaundice, gallstones, and/or enlargement of the spleen. Severe cases involve short stature, delayed puberty and skeletal abnormalities.

Mutations cause this condition in any of the several genes, such as the ANK1, EPB42, SLC4A1, SPTA1, and SPTB genes. It is most commonly inherited in an autosomal dominant manner but may be inherited in an autosomal recessive manner in rare cases. Different types of hereditary spherocytosis are distinguished by severity and genetic cause.

Autosomal Dominant Inheritance:

About 75% of cases of hereditary spherocytosis are inherited in an autosomal dominant manner. This means that having a change (mutation) in only one copy of the responsible gene in each cell is enough to cause the condition.

When a person with a mutation passes on to the child for an autosomal dominant condition, each child has a 50% (1 in 2) chance to inherit that mutation.

 In rare cases, hereditary spherocytosis is inherited in an autosomal recessive manner.

A person must have inherited one mutated gene copy from each parent, who are referred to as genetic carriers.

When 2 carriers of an autosomal recessive condition have children, each child has a:

– 25% (1 in 4) chance to be affected

– 50% (1 in 2) chance to be an unaffected carrier like each parent

– 25% chance to be unaffected and not be a carrier

Carriers of an autosomal recessive condition typically do not have any signs or symptoms (they are unaffected). By doing a full gene analysis of these genes, one can understand the risk of passing it on to their offspring.

 Any interesting case study or success story?

  • Ms Roopa, who is in her early 30s from Bangalore, reached out to me as she had a strong family history of breast cancer on the maternal side of the family. Ms Roopa’s mother and maternal aunt were diagnosed with breast cancer in their 40s and she was very worried about her potential risk of being diagnosed with Breast Cancer in future. As a genetic counsellor, I explained to Ms Roopa about the potential chances of inheriting a genetic mutation in one of the cancer-causing genes associated with breast cancer based on the family history she had described.
  • Ms Roopa was suggested to get her mother tested for a hereditary cancer panel consisting of breast cancer-causing genes. Based on the hereditary breast cancer panel analysis, it was found that Ms Roopa’s mother had a genetic mutation in PALB2 gene, which is strongly associated with Breast cancer, and this mutation is also known to increase the risk of pancreatic cancer and ovarian cancer.
  • The genetic mutation that was detected in Ms Roopa’s mother was tested for Ms Roopa and based on the analysis the same genetic mutation was inherited in the PALB2 gene. This led to an understanding that Ms Roopa has an increased risk for the above-mentioned hereditary cancer conditions.
  • As the genetic mutation present in the gene PALB2 follows an autosomal dominant mode of inheritance where there is 50% chance for the genetic mutation to be passed on to the offspring. Based on these interpretations and findings, specific screening and surveillance measures were suggested to Ms Roopa based on the National Comprehensive Cancer Network® (NCCN®). Due to the genetic mutation being present the surveillance and screening needs to start as early as the age of 30 onwards considering the family history and clinical data.
  • Ms Roopa was suggested to do Annual mammography with consideration of tomosynthesis along with consideration of annual breast MRI with contrast starting at age 30, with modification as appropriate based on family history by discussing with the physician.
  • Potential management options such as prophylactic risk-reducing mastectomy (surgery to remove one or both breasts to reduce the risk of developing breast cancer by up to 95%) was suggested as an option by having a discussion with the oncologist based on the family history.
  • Knowing if a PALB2 genetic mutation is present is advantageous. At-risk relatives, i.e., first/second-degree relatives, can be identified, enabling the pursuit of a diagnostic evaluation.
  • Getting the genetic test done has helped Ms Roopa be more proactive about her health and do these screenings from an early age onwards to help in potentially detecting any breast cancer tumours at the early stage of cancer for better treatment management purposes as most of the cancers do not show immediate symptoms and go undiagnosed till late stage of cancer-causing lesser chances of survival.
  • As a genetic counsellor, all the questions related to risk assessment, limitations of the genetic test, screening and surveillance options, and management options were discussed with Ms Roopa by giving her access to the right set of resources and a specialised doctor who can help her with overall process. More insights were provided based on the genetic findings to Ms Roopa and she was able to take her own choice based on the options provided by the genetic counsellor and the physician.
  • What are the things to keep in mind while opting for genetic testing/screening? What is its hope for medical science in the days to come?
  • Every genetic test is performed based on the situation. Individuals need to talk with their physician, geneticist or genetic counsellor to have a better understanding, especially when it comes to a diagnosis or a clinical condition.
  • There are things to keep in mind before deciding on a genetic test. Such as the test platform, test limitations, laboratory accreditations, measures taken to safeguard data and privacy, ability to access raw data. And most importantly, having access to genetic counsellors to understand the results to avoid undue stress and misinterpretation.
  • Accessibility of genetic tests has been dramatically increasing, and prices are still dropping to this day.
  • In 2006, the cost of sequencing one’s genes dropped to around $14 million. Less than ten years later, in 2015, that figure dropped to approximately $4,000. By the end of the same year, costs were as low as $1,500.
  • There are constant updates in the field of genetics. This means new data, scientific associations and massive large-scale studies are published frequently, which increases knowledge on various conditions. This indeed helps the community diagnose and prevent conditions from being passed on to the next generation.
  • Due to an increase in budget for research and development in the field of medical sciences, drug discovery and gene-therapies will be available for many rare conditions. This includes common health conditions that leads to personalised health solutions and precision medicine.
  • What are the services offered by Prenetics Ltd and what are the cost implications?

Depending on which CircleDNA kit one chooses, we provide different sets of information.

  • Vital kit (HK$1,192 ~ 11k INR) includes reports across 14 categories centring on diet, nutrition, fitness and overall wellness
  • Health kit (HK$3,192 ~ 30k INR) includes reports in four categories looking at health risks such as cancer and disease
  • Family Planning kit (HK$3,192 ~ 30k INR), made for those planning to conceive, is focused on the assessment of your carrier status for hereditary conditions.
  • Premium kit (HK3,992 ~ 37k INR) is the most comprehensive genetic test in the market, which offers more than 500+ reports across all categories.

Note that the CircleDNA results are not medical advice or report. They should not be used for diagnostic purposes. These tests are strictly meant to help individuals understand their genetic predispositions, where the results can be used to personalise their recommendations for optimum health.

For more details, refer to www.circledna.com

What are the numbers like? Is it popular or gaining popularity?

The CircleDNA direct-to-consumer test under Prenetics Ltd has been quite popular in Asia, South East Asia, UK and in European countries.

On an average the lab processes more than 15,000 samples per month.

What is the turnaround time for the test?

From the sample collection to the test results being ready in the CircleDNA app, the process takes around 3-4 weeks of time. The testing process is very simple. Using a cheek swab in the DNA collection kit, collect a saliva sample and send your sample back to the lab.

What are the diseases for which this screening works? 

CircleDNA is a comprehensive genetic test which consists of 500+ reports and tests for categories like Diet and Nutrition, Well-Being, Stress and Sleep, Pollution, Skin, Talents and Sports, Sports and Fitness, Success Traits, Music and Dance, Ancestry Test Results (with up to 15 geographical categories), Personality Traits, Behavioural Traits, Physical Traits, Gender Traits, Carrier Screening for understanding the risk of passing on the risk to the child (Family Planning), Hereditary Cancer risk.

The test helps an individual understand if h/she has inherited any mutation, increasing the risk for Cancers with a genetic basis, Dementia & Brain Health, common health risks such as obesity, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. Such health risks are very prevalent among the South Asian population.

Anu Acharya,
co founder and CEO of Mapmygenome

Anu Acharya, co-founder and CEO of Mapmygenome.

1) Explain genetic testing for a layman.

Genetic tests analyse your DNA. They can confirm or rule out disease, predict risk for disease, and assess the possibility of passing on abnormal genes to offspring. Depending on the purpose of testing, you may be recommend molecular testing, chromosomal testing, biochemical testing, or whole genome sequencing.

2) If I have hereditary spherocytosis, can I get to know the chances of it being carried by my offspring and how?

Hereditary Spherocytosis is a condition that affects the RBCs. One of the most common symptoms of Hereditary Spherocytosis is anaemia or reduced number of RBCs because of the breakdown of RBCs commonly associated with this condition. We can also oftentimes see jaundice – yellowing of the skin and eyes. Another common symptom is splenomegaly or enlargement of the spleen. These are common symptoms associated with Hereditary Spherocytosis and there are at least 5 well-established genes associated with the cause of the disease.

For someone who is diagnosed with Hereditary Spherocytosis, it is often natural to wonder about the chances of passing this on to the next generation. The answer to this condition really depends on which of the 5 genes are involved for a particular individual and family. That really decides whether the mode of transmission is dominant, where there would be 50% risk to the next generation or whether it is recessive, where there would be a 25% risk to the next generation. Having said that, the vast majority of nearly 75% of Hereditary Spherocytosis is inherited in an autosomal dominant manner and the most common gene that is involved is ANK1 gene. It becomes most important to understand what gene is involved in the family and the individual and genetic testing can help understand what gene is causing your Hereditary Spherocytosis. Once we have an understanding of that, then it is an easier process to understand if this gene is responsible for autosomal dominant condition or recessive condition. That can inform the recurrence risk or the chance of passing it on to the future generation.

It is really helpful to speak to your genetic counsellor so that they can document the medical history and family history, which can sometimes give a sense of what the inheritance pattern looks like. However, the best way to approach understanding what the risk is to the next generation is through genetic testing. Genetic counsellors are experts in medical genetics and psychological counselling and they can help facilitate genetic testing and also help you understand what your genetic test report means in terms of what is the gene involved, what is the inheritance pattern related to that particular gene, and what it means for any future children that you may have, the genetic testing that can help in future pregnancies, and to help make decisions about testing and management of the condition. There are management recommendations or guidelines for children born with the condition. The vast majority of people with the condition (60-70%) have a moderate form of the condition with symptoms of anaemia, jaundice, and splenomegaly. Nearly 3-5% have a severe form of the disease – they may require frequent transfusions and they may have skeletal development issues. The first step is to understand what gene is involved, and then the next steps can be discussed with the genetic counsellor. I would strongly recommend genetic counselling for you, for your family.

3) Any interesting case study or success story?

We have had several success stories related to weight loss, diabetes management, prevention of cardiovascular diseases and cancer, and in optimizing treatments. Many prominent physicians recommend our tests to their patients for confirming diagnosis and our genetic counselling sessions for informed choices. With the pandemic, we are seeing a growing demand for our immunity screening, nutrigenomics, and fitness genomics tests.

4) What are the things to keep in mind while opting for genetic testing/screening? What are its hope for medical science in the days to come?

Understand your health history. Consult with a doctor or genetic counsellor for better insights into health history, medical history, and lifestyle. This can help in preparing better for the test results, in devising mitigation plans, and in making informed choices. Sometimes, when there is a genetic condition in the family, it is better to discuss with the family to understand the implications to all members. Individuals with healthcare insurance often find out if the insurance provider covers the test costs.

Genetic testing is a nascent field, where technology is evolving. With these advances in technology, the scope of genetics in medical science keeps increasing.

5) What are the services offered by Mapmygenome?

  • Predictive genomics or personalized health solutions – Genomepatri, Myfitgene, MyNutriGene, SmartSport
  • Molecular diagnostics including Whole Exome Sequencing, Whole Genome Sequencing, and BRCA 1/2 Full Gene Sequencing.
  • Carrier screening, prenatal screening, new-born screening
  • Pharmacogenomics – MedicaMap
  • Ancestry testing
  • Genetic counselling
  • RT-PCR based infectious disease tests
  • COVID-19 – NABL and ICMR approved RT-PCR diagnostic test, Immunity testing (presymptomatic) including COVID risk and severity prediction, antibody testing

6) What are the numbers like? Is it popular or gaining popularity?

When we started offering personal genomics this was a new concept in India. We had to create awareness and build the market. Today, tens of thousands of people from various parts of the country and from abroad are our customers. In the last year, with the growing demand for healthier lifestyle, we have seen an increase in popularity.

7) What are the cost implications?

Predictive genomic testing is more like an investment plan – the earlier you start, the more benefits you derive. They cost a fraction of some of the modern treatment fees and amount cumulatively spent on regular health check-ups. Let us consider the benefits – with these tests, it becomes easier to switch to healthy lifestyle, to prevent or delay onset of disease, to manage lifestyle conditions such as diabetes, to help your doctors in choosing the best treatment plan that works for you, etc.

Molecular diagnostic tests on the other hand help in confirming diagnosis, thereby reducing the cost of diagnostic odyssey. Family members of patients with specific gene variants or mutations also encouraged to take up genetic testing as a screening method.

Overall, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

8) What are the diseases for which this screening works?

Our predictive genomics tests span several domains in healthcare – cardiovascular, lifestyle (diabetes, obesity, etc.), cancers, neuropsychiatric, skin, immunity, nutritional gaps, fitness and performance, autoimmune conditions, skin troubles and diseases, kidney health, gut health, bone health, gyanec health, habits (smoking, caffeine, alcohol, etc.), and more

9) What else does genetic screening/testing help in? 

  • To find your genetic risk for a disease, which can help you in preventing or delaying the onset of disease
  • To find your risk of passing on some genetic conditions to your offspring
  • To screen your baby or foetus
  • To confirm a clinical diagnosis
  • To understand disease biology and inheritance patterns
  • To determine the best treatment and management plans for a disease
  • To personalize your nutrition and fitness plans
  • To understand your genetic roots and ancestry
  • To understand what makes you unique and possibly eccentric

Dr Gurudutt Bhat, Consultant – Paediatrics, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan

Dr Gurudutt Bhat, Consultant – Paediatrics, Fortis Hospital, Kalyan.

What are the opportunities and challenges of genetic testing? 

The COVID19 pandemic has truly showcased India’s medical engineering talent, scientific expertise and the country’s potential to become a healthcare hub of the future. In this growth story, what stands out is India’s vast opportunity to achieve dramatic improvements in health outcomes. One way to that is genetic testing. Genetic testing has come a long way in preventive medicine, especially among pregnant women and their babies.

Blood and other tests are done mainly in pregnant women to rule out any diseases caused by a defect in the baby’s genes. It helps the expectant mother and her treating Obstetrician to manage the pregnancy and delivery appropriately. Some of the defects which can be detected are of the baby’s brain or spine etc. It can be an invasive test like a blood test or Amniotic Fluid Test, or non-invasive test like Ultrasonography. After the baby is born, its genetic sequencing can help confirm any gene mutations’ presence or absence. If the family already has an older child with genetic disorders, this test will help the subsequent baby be diagnosed early, and appropriate intervention can be initiated.

A great example of genetic screening is in older women who get pregnant after the age of 34yrs. These women are at high risk of having babies with Down’s Syndrome. Since it is a genetic disorder, the early screening will help detect such defects. This allows the family understand the consequences of the defect. They can undergo appropriate counseling, and it also helps the mother deliver the baby with proper precautions.

The biggest challenge for the success of genetic testing in India is its high cost. However, with the increasing use of genetic screening in India, the cost factor is slowly balancing out. Another problem area is that like everything else in medicine, this is not an exact science. There is a lot of evidence that still needs to be organized. There may be some problems with the tests available with some genetic testing companies, and not all tests are available easily in India.

When does genetic disorder get transmitted from a mother to her baby?

The defects in a mother’s X chromosome can be inherited by both male and female babies. A defect in Y chromosome can only be detected in a male baby. A defect in the other chromosome can be transmitted to a baby in two forms known as autosomal dominant i.e. the gene will express dominantly in the baby even if there is only one copy of that gene on a chromosome. In an autosomal recessive genetic conditions both copies of the gene are needed for expression.

If I have hereditary spherocytosis, can I get to know its chances being carried by my daughter?

Hereditary spherocytosis is a genetic defect leading to a defect in the spectrin protein, which make the red blood cell membranes fragile. This red blood cell breakdown causes anemia and its complications. Up to 75 % of hereditary spherocytosis cases are autosomal dominant gene induced hence can be seen in babies of mothers with this condition. Hence, early diagnosis and proper treatment can prevent complications.

Any interesting case study or success story?

A recent case of a girl with the genetic problem of Spino-Muscular Atrophy can be a classic example of a success story. Due to genetic screening, doctors were able to diagnose her medical condition. Her parents raised Rs 16 crores for her treatment with a new gene modifier drug. This is a testimonial to the future where early genetic testing can help find a cure and offer early interventions for some genetic conditions.

What are the things to keep in mind while opting for genetic testing? 

The idea for seeking genetic testing is to find way to prevent or treat certain conditions that we might be predisposed to. Decide which screening tests you need (to find a disease at an early stage when it might be more treatable), is important, so seek advice before testing:

  • Think about your reasons for wanting the test
  • Get the right tests
  • Ensure that you and your family are prepared for the results
  • Ensure that you have a personalized plan for dealing with the diagnosis

What is its hope for medical science in the days to come?

Genetic testing can help people make healthy choices. For instance, in a family that is predisposed to developing a certain kind of Colon Cancer or any other factors that can cause Cancer, genetic screening can help identify this risk. The opportunities this discipline offers for arriving at better health outcomes and personalized medicine are immense. We must realize that genetic testing has grown from a niche speciality for rare disorders to a broad scope of applications for routine, complex diseases and personal use. However, there is a need for healthcare providers, the diagnostic community and the government to step-up and uplift genetic diagnostics, making it available, accessible and safe for all.

Dr Udhaya Kotecha, Lead Clinical Geneticist, Neuberg Centre of Genomic Medicine

Dr Udhaya Kotecha, Lead Clinical Geneticist, Neuberg Centre of Genomic Medicine.

If I have hereditary spherocytosis, can I get to know its chances of being carried by my daughter? 

Hereditary spherocytosis is a condition where hemolytic anemia occurs due to destruction of red blood cells. Currently, five genes are known to be causative for this disorder (genetic heterogeneity: where a single disease can be caused by genetic disease, causing variation in more than one gene). A patient suspected of having hereditary spherocytosis can have the same due to genetic variation in any one of the five genes. It is commonly inherited in an autosomal dominant manner, meaning that if one of your gene copies is carrying the variant, you may manifest symptoms. There is a 50% chance that each of your offspring may inherit the disease-causing variant in this inheritance pattern. Rarely hereditary spherocytosis is caused by recessive mutations: meaning that both copies of the gene need to be alerted to have the disease. If you have hereditary spherocytosis due to a recessive mutation, the chances that your children will be affected depends on your partner’s carrier status. If your partner is also carrier, a disease-causing variant in the same gene, then there is a 75% chance of your children being affected. If your partner does not carry any genetic alteration in the same gene, then all your children will only be carriers, but none will be affected.

Dr Siddharth Srivastava, Chief Scientist (Molecular Oncology), Neuberg Center for Genomic Medicine

Dr Siddharth Srivastava, Chief Scientist (Molecular Oncology), Neuberg Center for Genomic Medicine.

What are the challenges of genetic testing?

The patient, their family members, consulting clinician/ medical geneticist, molecular pathologist, and genetic counsellor have stakes in the successful resolution of the patient’s problem. Interestingly all of them face different sets of challenges. Finding the genetic basis of diseases is a matter of speciality doctors. The first challenge the patient faces is navigating their way from general practice to these centres that are usually located in cities or large towns. The rarefied set of specialists doctors are further split into sub-speciality. Doctors who understand genetic basis of cancers or that of cardiovascular disorders, inherited diseases etc. To get to the right doctor, often naïve patients have to go through a maze of trial and error.

A conclusive diagnosis of such disorders or disease can be made by using molecular techniques. A dialogue between the consulting doctor and molecular pathologist sets up where the molecular pathologist understands the patient’s clinical history and clinician’s question. Accordingly s/he selects right test using most appropriate technique. This is crucial as molecular tests are complex, running into weeks and they are also expensive. For most accurate reports, the molecular pathologist should get detailed and accurate patient history which helps them to correlate molecular data and write accurate interpretations which will have deep implications on patient management. Acquiring patient’s clinical history is a challenge.

A lot of the times, diagnosis of the patient has implications on the immediate family members such as children, siblings, children of siblings. During the time of diagnosis of the patient, the “at risk” family members may seem to be leading a normal life. They do not feel concerned about their own chances of getting the disease in later parts of their lives. Genetic counsellors face tremendous challenges by collecting data from various family members and discussing the risks and convincing them to take the test.

Any interesting case study or success story?

Genomic testing has made both detection of inherited disorders, as well as treatment of complex diseases such as cancer and there, are countless success stories. There was a person from Mumbai whose mother (70 years old) was detected with breast cancer (ER+Her2- type). An extremely sharp cancer doctor was treating her with hormone therapy. After three years of treatment, she relapsed. This means that she stopped responding to the hormone treatment and the tumour grew despite getting the therapy. The doctor discussed with us at Neuberg Center of Genomic Medicine, and based on the clinical history, we predicted that most likely a defect in either ESR1 gene or PIK3CA gene may have resulted in the patient no longer responding to the treatment. If the defect was indeed in ESR1 gene, the doctor could changer her therapy to a drug called fulvestrant, and if the defect were in PIK3CA gene, then the drug would have changed to Alpelisib (approved by US FDA). However, the problem got compounded as the patient moved out of Mumbai, and the amount of tumour tissue was less to perform the test. We resorted to another test call liquid biopsy, where a tube full of patient blood was collected from her home and shipped to our laboratory. Indeed we detected a defect in PIK3CA, and the patient is now doing very well on Alpelisib therapy.

Another instance was that of a 45 years old man from Nashik who had prostate cancer. Since he was diagnosed at a young age with cancer, the clinical doctor suspected it to run in the family. The doctor connected with us, and one of our genetic counsellor spoke with the patient at length to get a history of cancers in the extended family. Patient’s mother had breast cancer at the age of 55, and she had since passed away. Genetic counsellor converts entire patient’s family history into the pedigree chart. Defects in BRCA genes and BRCAness genes could be the reason for the patient’s prostate cancer. If true, the patient could become eligible for a drug called Olaparib, and it would then become imperative to test his 15-year-old daughter too. We collected patient’s blood and tested for BRCA and BRCAness genes. Indeed the patient came positive for BRCA mutation. While it brought cheer to him, he also got concerned for his daughter. We tested the daughter and several of his “at risk” first and second-degree relatives. While his daughter had no pathogenic BRCA mutation, and she was considered as normal as any individual, patient’s 30 years old sister was detected positive with the same BRCA mutation. Thus the clinical doctor has kept her on active surveillance while doing periodic mammogram and breast exams.

What are the things to keep in mind while opting for genetic testing? What are its hope for medical science in the days to come?

While opting for genetic testing, one should know that either the blood or tissue sample would be asked from the patient. I would advice patients to collect their tissue samples from pathology labs if ever their biopsy is done. Usually the tests takes more than ten days to give out the results. Patients should take time to understand their report from the treating doctor and, if necessary, call the molecular pathologist. The patient should provide the detailed family history to the genetic counsellors.

The genetic basis of most complex diseases is being identified every passing day. Identifying the genetic cause helps to detect “at risk family members” and helps find newer therapies for the patient to manage disease such as cancer.

What are the diseases for which it works?

Most inherited disorders such as Down’s syndrome, thalassemia/haemophilia, muscle dystrophy/spinal muscular atrophy can be detected using genetic testing. Genetic testing is also used in prenatal diagnosis, recurrent abortions, infertility, mental retardation. In complex diseases such as cancers, genomic testing can diagnose and give newer and better treatment options. Approximately, 6,000 genes are known to cause human disorders, and the same can be tested via different genetic tests. The rapid rate of gene discovery is increasing the number of diseases known on an almost daily basis.

I’m hoping that Oonga finds readers so that I feel energized enough to drop everything and write my next novel about that night on the 6th of December 1992 in that mohalla in Kolkata, says writer-filmmaker Devashish Makhija

Writer-filmmaker was in conversation with senior journalist Kaveree Bamzai at the launch of his novel Oonga at the recently concluded 14th edition of the Jaipur Literature Festival.

Sanjoy Roy: Welcome back to the 14th Jaipur Literature Festival protected by Dettol. We are delighted to bring it to you from here at the Diggi Palace front lawn live. It’s a pleasure to present today, Oonga by Devashish Makhija. He’s in conversation with Kaveree Bamzai and introduced by Nandita Das. Director and writer Devashish Makhija’s latest book Oonga is a powerful novel based on his first feature film of the same name. Capturing the inherent paradox between dystopian development and utopian ideologies, the book narrates the journey of a little boy in the midst of a clash between the Adivasis, the Naxalites, the CRPF and the mining company. Makhija’s other books include When Ali Became Bajrang Bali, Why Paploo Was Perplexed, Forgetting and Occupying Silence. He’s also the director of the feature films – Ajji and Bhonsle – and the short film Taandav. Among others, in his conversation with Kaveree Bamzai, Makhija dives into this evocative tale of identity and the tragedy of victims of violence forced into battles, they don’t wish to fight. The book is being launched here at the Jaipur Literature Festival 2021. Nandita Das has acted in more than 40 feature films in 10 different languages. Manto, Nandita’s second directorial film, premiered in 2018 at the Cannes Film Festival. Her first book, Manto and I, chronicles her six-year-long journey of making the film. Nandita, we’re delighted to have you here to make an introductory comment on Oonga, a film that you acted in. Nandita Das, over to you.

Nandita Das: Oonga is a film that I did almost nine years ago. When Dev came to me, it was his first film but I could see he was very passionate about the story and it’s a story that you know is really exploring the difficulties that Adivasis feel, especially as this is set in Odisha, a state that I come from, because they are caught between the Maoists, Naxal movements and outfits that are really fighting for their rights but can also get violent and at the same time those were trying to mainstream them in the name of development and how the common Adivasis just get completely caught between fighting for their rights and really not knowing how they should be dealing with their lives. You know, it’s a very complex issue and seldom do we see such complexities being told simply and powerfully. In fact, increasingly such films that are really representing stories of the people at large are vanishing from our collective consciousness. So it was definitely a film that I felt, I wanted to be part of. Hemla’s character was also really nice. It was very interesting because she’s kind of a conduit. She’s neither part of the Naxalite movement nor is she part of obviously the government or the mining corporation and all those people who are trying to mainstream them. She is really wanting to educate the children. She feels that’s where the power is and ideologically she’s very strong and it was lovely to be in Odisha and to be playing a character there. So yes, I mean it was a film that was close to my heart and I was really disappointed that it didn’t get released properly. Many independent films, unfortunately, bear with that fate.

I’m so happy that Dev decided to give it another form because the story had to be told and it’s really wonderful that now it’s in a book and we can all read it. And I think, you know, a story has its own soul and it must continue whether it’s through a film or through a book and maybe they’ll feed into each other. Maybe once you read the book, you’d want to see the film and those who have seen the film would want to read the book.

Nandita Das
Nandita Das introducing Oonga, the film, and Oonga, the novel.

I just want to wish Dev and the publishers and everyone who’s been involved with the project good luck, and I’m sorry that I couldn’t be at Diggi Palace, quite a favorite place to come to JLF, but here is wishing the book and the people who have been with that journey for this long. Twelve years is not a short journey. So glad Dev, that you stuck with it and that you’re bringing this story to us. Thank you!

Sanjoy Roy: Thank you, Nandita Das for setting the context for Oonga, the film and Oonga, the book.  

Devashish Makhija has researched and assisted on the movies Black Friday and Bunty Aur Babli. He has written numerous screenplays, notably Anurag Kashyap’s yet-to-be-made superhero saga Doga, has had a solo art show Occupying Silence, written a collection of short stories Forgetting, the forthcoming book of poems Disengaged, the bestselling children’s books When Ali Became Bajrangbali and Why Paploo Was Perplexed and been featured in numerous anthologies including Mumbai Noir, Penguin First Proof and the Sahitya Akademi’s Modern English Poetry.

He has also written and directed the multiple award-winning short films Taandav, El’ayichi, Agli Baar, Rahim Murge Pe Mat Ro (Don’t Cry for Rahim LeCock), Absent, Happy, and the critically acclaimed full-length feature films Ajji (Granny) and Bhonsle. His films have competed and won awards at the international film festivals of Rotterdam, Gothenberg, Beaune, Black Nights, Busan, Glasgow, Tampere, MOMA, APSA, Barcelona, Singapore, amongst many others. Oonga, a feature film he wrote and directed in 2013 never released in Indian theatres despite a critically acclaimed film festival run so he reverse-adapted it into a gripping novel.

Kaveree Bamzai is an independent journalist. She was the first, and so far, only woman editor of India Today. A recipient of the Chevening Scholarship, she worked for the Times of India and Indian Express before this. She is the author of No Regrets: The Guilt-Free Woman’s Guide to a Good Life, Bollywood Today and two monographs in the series Women in Indian Film. She sits on several committees, including the Women Examplar Committee of CII and is recognised as a changemaker by Save The Children charity.

Kaveree: Devashish, it’s such a pleasure to see you and it’s been an absolute joy to read the book. I’ve spent the last two days doing that and it is truly gripping. It’s very powerful. I want to start with the line that you have there… “We, who take from the Earth and give back, will be replaced by those who take and never give back.” This really is who we are right now and I think the pandemic has taught us more than ever that this cannot go on. How amazing is it that the movie that you made, well, quite a few years ago, 2013, when it was released, is still so relevant? How amazing is that and how much more relevant is it? So, talk a little about that journey about making that movie, making this book and, at this moment in time. 

Devashish: The sad thing is I don’t think it’s amazing as much as it’s hugely tragic. Yes, it’s hugely tragic that we can just never learn from our mistakes and I have travelled the areas, the Adivasi areas of Chhattisgarh and south Odisha about 11 years ago and for about five or six years before that, I was curious and dissatisfied with the narrative that I was reading in the mainstream media about what the Naxalites wanted; how they were being called to be the greatest internal security threat to this country by the Manmohan Singh Government and I felt that I wasn’t getting the complete picture. So when I travelled to those areas and the things that I saw, they sort of reeked of what the British had done to the Indians in all those years and now we were doing to our own countrymen. So, somewhere you know, that, that wheel was turning over and over again and we were not learning from our mistakes. What was relevant 200 years ago, was relevant 10 years ago. What was relevant 10 years ago, continues to be relevant today. I don’t know if it’s going to change. That’s the biggest heartbreaker.

So all the things that I wrote in Oonga in 2012 when I wrote the script and eight years hence when we were doing the final edits of the book, Tulika and I and I were re-reading material, re-reading my research (I had several exercise books where I had made notes as I was travelling through those areas), nothing had changed. Not one shred of research material or statistic or you know things that broke my heart in 2010. Nothing had changed. So somewhere, a book like this, sadly, would probably be relevant till we die.

Devashish Makhija

I don’t know what our next generation will see but the pandemic also hasn’t changed anything. We are back to being monsters. I thought we would, you know, re-evaluate our decisions, but no, we’re not.

Kaveree: Absolutely! And, in fact, Devashish, you also call it the company and company could be, you know, the company that you mentioned in the book. It could be the East India Company; really nothing changes; that’s really as you said is quite tragic. 

The other point is the relationship between the Adivasis and their land and you know, we see it again and again and all the protests that we see — the farmers’ protests as well, their relationship with the land is so deep. And in fact, the land, and as you say in your book also reacts to their moods, you know, the trees cry, you know, the Earth cries; talk a little about that relationship. It’s so deep and so moving. 

Devashish: Yeah. So in fact, it’s not just the Adivasis. If I say, any of us say that the Adivasis have this deep connection with nature and you know, we shouldn’t deprive them of that connection with nature. I think it will smack of an over-simplification. It will smack of talking about them as the other. I think we all have that connection; it’s just that with urban life, the kind of life that we live, we’re getting increasingly disconnected. So for me talking about these things using the Adivasi as a medium, was trying to tell urban youngsters, you know because it is young adult fiction; it’s for age group 16 and plus; I am hoping kids just out of school or in the last years of school will read this and wonder if they lost something by being born into these urbane, consumerist technologically, dependent lifestyles. So it’s all of us, who can, you know, pick cues from nature, live in harmony with nature and gain a lot, but we’ve just, we have lost that ability. So the Adivasis are a reminder that we have that ability and if we don’t live that codependent lives we are going to self-destruct faster and faster. 

Kaveree: Yeah, another remarkable thing about the book is the women and I think that is the key here. The women are the ones who’re holding this community. They’re holding really a whole world aloft on their shoulders, you know, whether it’s Hemla or Oonga’s mother, they really are the spine, the backbone of the community. 

Devashish: Women as characters and again I might smack of over-simplification here, but being a man when I made this film, Ajji, about five years ago, it was me trying to understand, what is the female energy and what is my relationship as a man being born into a world that is increasingly patriarchal. Even the MeToo movement really didn’t find success because we are so deep-rootedly patriarchal people; we need something stronger than that. So, from Ajji onwards, I’ve been questioning my role in the scheme of things that how can I raise questions that can hopefully someday 10 years or 100 years later lead to an answer.

The women that you speak of in Oonga, were there in the film as well. But I think I was not equipped to explore them to a certain depth like I could in the novel. For me Lakshmi, the Naxalite leader, Hemla and Oongamma are the beating heart of the story; Oonga is literally just the face. He’s not the beating heart of the story.

Devashish Makhija

So for me, it was important to explore those themes that I have now, you know been exploring the last four to five years. They were not in the film when we did that all those years back. 

Kaveree: Devashish, the other thing is that it’s in Odisha, but it could be anywhere; it could be Kashmir, it could be the Northeast, that is the tragedy of India. It could be in any part of the country and it would be the same issue and I really admire the way you’ve been able to capture the CRPF sort of mindset, you know, it’s a very peculiar mindset, but we often don’t see them as victims and here you’ve been very non-judgmental and you have shown, they’ve suffered too. You have Pradip’s character, who realizes that the only way to have powers is to be in uniform; his father ended up in uniform guarding the very land that he sold them and it’s all such a terribly vicious cycle, but they are as well as victims. 

Devashish: You know, as you were saying, it was a faceless company. It could be the East India Company. It could be a private company. It could be a public sector company. It was irrelevant to me what the company was. What was relevant to me was the thought process behind something as hegemonious and huge as a company that will only see its profit and when something that huge, you collectively are up against something, everybody ends up being a victim.

Sometimes even you don’t realize you’re a victim like Manoranjan, the CRPF commander. He doesn’t realize he’s a victim of a larger thought process, of a larger machine that is only using him for a certain end goal; and when you’re collectively up against that what can you be but a victim because you can’t use your mind and your consciousness to take decisions against that larger vicious thing; so for me, it was important to see that the CRPF are not in control. The Naxalites are reacting; they might have sometimes very very valid agenda, but they are not in control either.

Everybody is merely reactive and somewhere, the atmosphere that we live in today in this country, anyone who wants to question anything that the establishment does, we are all just reacting and that’s exhausting. I wish people act upon something sometimes because we spend all our lives we have reacting and we have no energy left to really act upon you know, our true impulses; somewhere that helplessness that I was feeling, I wanted to explore through this idea of everyone being a victim; a helpless victim.

Devashish Makhija
Oonga, reverse adapted from a critically acclaimed film.

Kaveree: Absolutely. I think, the other point that every form of protest that we see, every form of dissent that we see, you see echoes of it in your book. The idea of asking for papers. The idea of asking for identity. I mean the whole agitation against CAA was all about that. The whole question is being explored here. It is quite contemporary in that sense. Talk a little about that sense of identity as well. The Adivasi sense of identity versus the Company, which could be anything. How does it play out? 

Devashish: You have to look at the farmers’ protest today. When I speak to my peers, my contemporaries in the city, everyone looks at the farmers of India as one big mass. A faceless mass. And when they talk about what they’re up against, the government policies which are pro-corporate, you have an Adani or Ambani which has a face. They are not faceless.

Somewhere those who don’t understand what the farmers are protesting for and if they don’t try to understand how that’s important to the rest of us. We will always see that protesters faceless and they will always see what they’re protesting against as having a face and that’s what makes it easier for them to relate to you know the system because the system always comes with some sort of a face, be it the government or a corporate. So here also in my story, I was trying to flip it. I was trying to make the company faceless. I was trying to give a sense of identity to those who are paying that price, whether it was the CRPF or the Adivasi. It could be the farmers today in India or it could be the Dalit. 

Devashish Makhija

It could be you know for lack of a better metaphor here, I myself feel rather displaced because I’m a Sindhi. My parents both of them came from Pakistan, which is now Pakistan during the partition. I was born and I grew up in Calcutta where I wasn’t a Bengali, but I was around Bengali culture a lot. I’ve been working in Bombay for 18 years, but I’m not Marathi, but I’m around Marathi culture a lot. My two films are Ajji and Bhonsle and, if you don’t know better, sound like Marathi films so I have been struggling with identity. I don’t know where my roots are. Yeah, so when I am trying to question the system as to my place in the scheme of things, I don’t know where to begin because I have nothing to prove that I have an identity that allows me to question this system. 

If I multiply my helplessness by 5,000, I get the helplessness of an Adivasi or a Dalit or a farmer and for me, that breaks my heart, so I needed to give them faces and explore their identity. 

Kaveree: The other interesting thing in the story is the importance of the eye. You see it everywhere in the novel. Everyone has to keep an eye out, ahead, behind. There is a symbol of the eye that represents the company. I found that again a very very powerful metaphor. Talk about that.

Devashish: Again you have beautifully caught it because somewhere I was trying to simplify and allegorise the idea of surveillance and today with modern technology, the system can observe you, surveil you a lot more but it’s always been the case. Even when we had landline phones, if the government wanted, they could tap your line. This goes back to my research for Black Friday. I spent six months researching material that S. Hussain Zaidi had already put in the book, but when you try to give faces for cinema, you need to research the people a little more deeply. So around that time, I spoke to people whom I can’t name. I spoke to the CBI. I spoke to people in the IB. I spoke to the police, the crime branch and there were thousands of hours of phone recordings that they had of people that I can’t name, but they’re like all the phones were tapped and they were just surveilling, surveilling, surveilling, all the time. I asked them that you know, you’ve got all this material, what is that you want to do with it. They said, if we release or leak it, we will not be able to hold on to the government for more than five minutes. So they sit on all this material.

I knew that back to the 1960s, when we could tap anything anywhere at will; today it has just become easier. So how do you then live a life of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity and all the things that the Constitution enshrines? How do you live that life? If you are being watched all the time? If you are supposed to toe the line. Do you walk the talk that the system wants you to? How do you manifest those ideas in the Constitution? So that idea of the eye for me was to create that sense of dread that you know, you’re being watched and you don’t have freedom even though you think that you do. It is a delusion.

Devashish Makhija

Kaveree: Yeah, absolutely, but I found in Hemla’s character so much purity, so much courage and so much fearlessness and I think that is the fearlessness that we have lost as a society. We’re also afraid. Aren’t we? I think that’s the biggest threat to us. It’s not what the state is doing to us. It’s not what the environment is doing to us and it’s our own fear and I think Hemla is such a hero to me because she has so much courage. 

Devashish: One of my biggest inspirations for Hemla was Soni Sori and when I sort of knew more about her or watched her at work. There’s a line that I use often that a woman without hope is a woman without fear. So when you take away hope and I saw it in Soni Sori’s eye. If you look into her eyes, I see an absence of Hope, but that doesn’t mean that it manifests as utter Hopelessness. The absence of Hope is not Hopelessness but that absence of hope because she seemed so much taken away brings her certain courage. She has nothing left to lose. What do you take away from her anymore? So somewhere for Hemla, I wanted to manifest that she might have seen so much that we are not privy to that she cannot fear anymore. What is the worst that can happen that she will be physically assaulted, that someone will chop her hands off? She has seen that too. She has seen that happen. And something a friend of mine said to me during those journeys through the Adivasi area. He said that you know, we have to lose our fear of being thrown in jail.

Most of the time people don’t act upon a certain thing that they want to question the government about because they are afraid that they will get thrown in jail. He said you have to obliterate that fear. Forget that you will die in jail. You will get food. You will be able to take a piss when you want. You will get to dump once a day. You will get to sleep. Maybe the mosquitoes would bother you, but you will not die in jail. So if you take away that fear, it takes away your fear to question the system because the system has only one way to bring you down. By disciplining you. By throwing you in jail. By threatening you with a warrant. So I want to take talk about those things through Hemla.

Devashish Makhija

Kaveree: And you have done that really well. The other point I think comes through so powerfully is that question that we saw of the huge exodus during the pandemic when people went home and they were walking the streets with all their belongings on them. It’s not just about poverty. I think at the end of the day, it is about dignity. They want respect and if you don’t give it to them then, you know, at some point they will break. 

Devashish: Dignity is everything and that’s one of the saddest things when you go to an Adivasi village where maybe five or six men have been missing for years because they were thrown in jail for merely asking for their rights. The first thing you see is that crushed soul because amongst themselves there’s a lot of dignity, but when they have to face the system like we went on to help one of the Praja lawyers there with a particular bunch of cases. So because we could read and write in English, so it was easier to read documents for them. These documents come by the fucking kilogram, so they always need help to read documents and respond to them. So we went to jail and we tried talking to the Jailor. We tried talking to their lawyer the first thing that the Jailor or the lawyer did was to get up and look through us and walk away. We felt insulted. Now imagine, we were there for a month and a half. Now imagine having to put up with that every day where you’re not acknowledged. When nobody looks you in the eye. Nobody talks to you. They just get up and walk away. That can make you think of doing very extreme things. 

Kaveree: And yet you have Hemla trying her best to initiate dialogue, trying the best to teach Hindi to children so that they can grow up and speak to the company or the CRPF or whoever in their own language. So there is some amount of hope but it gets crushed so easily. Yet that plea for peaceful dialogue is still a very powerful hope that you end with even in your book, although it is dystopian. It is still there. The plea for hope. The plea for dialogue. To understand each other and to listen to each other. Let’s talk a little about how that is so much an absence, not just in that community, but everywhere, currently.

Devashish: You know that the dystopia that you speak of I think manifests in that one line wherein the end Hemla has run back to the Village. She still trying to talk to Manoranjan, but suddenly she has this gun pointed in her face and she suddenly realizes that I’ve been talking to the barrel of this gun all the time. I’ve not been talking to the people behind it because this is what they thrust in my face when I’m actually pleading. Somewhere that absence of communication that everyone is talking different languages.

When I say different languages, I don’t mean literally someone speaking Kovi or someone speaking Hindi but someone speaking the language of the gun when someone’s trying to speak the language of the heart. There cannot be a dialogue in such a situation. The gun has to be put down if there has to be a dialogue. When you see the farmers’ protests, there are water cannons or tear gas, metal rods. When you walk in with that you can’t have a dialogue with farmers who actually didn’t want to attack you in the first place and they still haven’t. But the face of the system is always, almost always, that of, you know of a violent weapon and you cannot talk to that beyond a point. The weapon has to be shed. Faces have to emerge for that dialogue to happen and somewhere the book is trying to entreaties. It is trying to make a case for that. But how possible is it until that effort is taken from both sides, not just one side?

Devashish Makhija

Kaveree: What does it do to you personally? You see all these beautiful, proud people, as you said earlier, you see their souls being crushed and you see so much oppression. I mean we see it too, but you’ve undertaken this journey and you have chronicled it. What does it do to you as a person? 

Devashish: I had behavioural issues around the time I was working on this material. I’ve had physiological issues. Around the time I was making Ajji, I contracted prostate cancer and I didn’t realize then why these things were happening. But when you’re experiencing this and I’m not as strong as Medha Patkar. I don’t have those qualities to shield myself, to keep myself disaffected to carry on the fight because I’m always trying to take that emotion and create something of it. When I’m channelling that emotion through me, it is leaving something in me. So I had to grapple with my own demons that sort of got created when I see what I see or when I interact with the people I do and hopefully I try and manifest all of that into my story so that they don’t stay within me entirely, but of course, they don’t entirely go away either. So I have a life of stories inside me that have to do with all of this material. So a lot of my peers ask me, “Don’t you want to make a happy story? Don’t you want to tell a love story? The biggest tragedy is that I have love stories inside me. I have mainstream ideas. I have happy stories. I don’t have the opportunity to say them because there’s so much else. I finish with the Adivasi struggle and there’s the Dalit who needs representation. You finish with that and then there is patriarchy. You finish with that and then there is something else. The country is tearing at its seams with how horrific we are in the way we treat our own countrymen. 

Kaveree: I mean I come from a state which has become a complete mental asylum. It’s an open mental asylum. Kashmir, I think is the most paranoid state in this country because it’s been like this now for over 25 years. They’ve lived with this surveillance thing. But the whole idea of nature feeling us. When you talk about the trees and the grass, they feel for us. They soak it all in, you know, when the Adivasis talk about the strange view that has come and they talk about nature feeling their pain. How much of that do you think is happening around us. You know, when we look at the raging environmental crisis. Is that nature’s way of feeding off some toxicity in a way?

Devashish: How can nature escape that if we are such an intrinsic part of nature. Say about a thousand years or 2,000 years back, we were not the most proliferating species on this planet. So there were other species maybe. Maybe they were more rats than human beings 2,000 years ago. So nature still has some chance of staying balanced, but now there are so many of us and we also emerged from nature. So when we are going to go around destroying what we ourselves a part of, will there not be a backlash? And I think, it is getting exponentially exacerbated. I think what we are thinking global warming might destroy us by 2055. It might happen by 2028 because it’s just exponentially getting worse. We are and we have been proliferating like a virus. Maybe COVID is one way of nature trying to find the little balance. I’m surprised that we had COVID so light. Like I thought we’d have it much worse. 

Writer-filmmaker Devashish Makhija in coversation with senior journalist Kaveree Bamzai about his novel Oonga at the recently concluded Jaipur Literature Festival 2021.

Kaveree: Yeah, and I don’t think it’s changed us too much fundamentally. The other opposition I see so starkly in the novel is between Lakshmi and Hemla. It’s not just the ideology of the gun versus education, but it’s also the idea of giving in to your anger and I think that again is one of the greatest tragedies of our time. We have given in to our anger; we’ve given in it to our rage. Hemla is still someone who tries not to do that, but Lakshmi is too far gone on that path again. This is such a fundamental contrast. 

Devashish: Oh, yes. So unfortunately when I started writing Oonga many years ago, I wanted to give Hemla some sort of a culmination in hope because I believe in her stance but as the story progressed, more and more, it felt too me that Laksmi is right and Hemla is being foolish and somewhere by the end, I couldn’t control it. It just went out of control and Laxmi survives and Hemla pays the price for believing. 

Kaveree: That’s really tragic. But unfortunately, it’s the truth. 

Devashish: Yes, I don’t know. Given the current climate.

Kaveree: More than ever.

Devashish: Punning on the word climate, I think across the world. I don’t know how we can escape this tragedy unless we all start thinking, you know, positively all at once, and believe in the right things, all at once. It can’t happen piecemeal anymore. 

Kaveree: Another interesting thing that I found in your book is reclaiming of Ram by Oonga. I found that lovely because here you have Ram who’s been appropriated as a symbol by a very toxic movement and here you have this little boy, sort of appropriating Ram in the purest way possible, and in the sweetest way possible. This is something quite remarkable. And I think this is something again that you must talk a bit about this little boy believing in Ram and believing that he can vanquish Ravan. 

Devashish: So now at the expense of probably calling a fatwa on my head by the very frightening right-wing. So on 6 December 1992. I’ll just take a minute to trace this back to an experience, a very personal experience. On 6 December 1992, in a little mohalla in Calcutta, I was 12-13 and we were one of three Hindu families in a predominantly Bangladeshi Muslim slum. The news of the masjid being demolished reaches this mohalla and we were attacked that night. My mother was almost raped. And that never left me. I didn’t feel anger for whoever was attacking us as more as much as I felt confusion. I didn’t know why that happened. The next morning. We were almost back to normal because I had to go buy eggs from a shop in the slum. I had to you know, navigate those same gullies that I was navigating every day growing up in that Mohalla so that stayed with me and somewhere every time someone says that there is a bhoomi where Ram was born, I have a physical response to that because you can’t literalise a metaphor. Ram is a metaphor for you know, certain values. All the characters of the Ramayana or the Mahabharata stand for certain values. Storytelling back then and even today is literally about dispensing values to the people you are telling those stories to through the characters that you populate those stories with.

So Oonga is my Ramayana, my Mahabharata, my modern mythology through which I’m trying to impart certain values. So for me to put forth that idea that Ram was, stood or represented certain ideas and was not real, was the most important thing for me in this story because it sort of achieves many things at many levels. It achieves that the idea that he goes beyond religion. So Ram is not just a Hindu metaphor anymore. Ram could be an Adivasi. He could be that Adivasi who stood up for his jungle and didn’t want his jungle destroyed by the industry and when little Oonga, a 10-11-year-old boy will actually arrive at the heart of that metaphor much quicker than an adult because he doesn’t have those trappings and those conditionings that adults do. So he finds the heart of Rama being an Adivasi and much quicker.

Devashish Makhija

He arrives at the metaphor and therefore when he understands at a very subconscious level that this is a metaphor so if Ram is a metaphor then what’s stopping me from being Ram and I can replicate those values and those ideas where I come from. So I want to send out this messaging because the right-wing has appropriated from me the things that I took away from the Ramayana, so this is me trying to take it back. 

Kaveree: You do it really well, Devashish. I wanted to know what makes you? What keeps you going? 

Devashish: One thing that also breaks me is the one thing that keeps me going. There is an unending abyss of rage. I try not showing it half the time when I’m constantly grappling with it, trying to subdue it, trying to therapeutise it, but when I sit down and tell a story, I dip into that rage. Without that rage, I don’t know how to tell stories. So it’s rage all the way. I would rather it come into my stories then manifest in me picking up the gun. 

Kaveree: I really want to ask what’s next for you? 

Devashish: Like I was telling Sanjoy earlier, all my stories are really hard to find backing for so I am trying. I’ve got like 15-16 stories that I’m trying to turn into films, but I’m hoping that this novel does well. The films I make get watched by a very niche audience. They almost never make their money back. So it takes me three-four years to set up a film so somewhere, you know, a storyteller like me is not getting the energy back that I’m putting into the world. So I’m hoping this book finds readers so that I feel like I’ve been energized enough. I would actually drop everything and write my next novel which is ready. And it has all the same motifs that Oonga did, only that they are a lot more personal. It’s about that night on the 6th of December 1992 in that mohalla in Kolkata.

To buy the book, click here.

(The above text – transcription and editing – is a handiwork of Suman Bhattacharya and Shillpi A Singh)

Care for your oral health to keep cancer at bay

On World Oral Health Day 2021, Dr Hitesh R Singhavi tells us why oral hygiene is a must.

New Delhi, March 20, 2021: Did you know that people whose inner cheek, teeth and gums are in poor condition may be more susceptible to mouth and throat cancers? Well, here is what you should know. Oral cancer is one of India’s most common cancers amongst men (11.28% of all cancers), the fifth most frequently occurring cancer amongst women (4.3% of all cancers). The causes attributed to oral cancer are mainly tobacco chewing, areca nut, alcohol consumption, and poor oral hygiene (POH). We often associate poor oral hygiene with dental caries, Gingivitis, Periodontitis (gum disease) and foul smell. Still, poor oral hygiene, in the long run, can give rise to fatal diseases, including cancer. A British study has shown that patients with poor oral health index have an overall higher mortality rate (they die prematurely) compared to others. Let’s take a look at the frequently asked question related to poor oral hygiene and oral cancer.

WHAT ARE THE FACTORS CAUSING POOR ORAL HYGIENE? There are numerous common factors leading to poor oral hygiene, including tobacco chewing, alcohol, areca nut chewing, infrequent dental visits, immunocompromised status, low socio-economic status, and lower education level. Studies have shown that all these factors significantly deteriorate oral hygiene.

HOW DOES POOR ORAL HYGIENE CAUSE ORAL CANCER? POH is strongly associated with oral cancers. It aids the carcinogenic potential of other known carcinogens, like tobacco and alcohol. It causes easy conversion (faster endogenous nitration) of tobacco metabolite into cancer causing products (nitrosamines), leading to cancer development. POH also reacts with alcohol to form Aldehyde-also a class I carcinogen (Class I carcinogen are the product which can independently cause cancer).

HOW CAN YOU PREVENT ORAL CANCER BY MAINTAINING GOOD ORAL HYGIENE? One should not consume tobacco or tobacco products, which is one of Gingival Recession’s major causes (loss of gums), leading to loosening of teeth and the formation of a pre-cancerous lesion. Similarly, avoiding alcohol consumption may help maintain good oral hygiene, as evidence shows that an alcohol consumer has higher chances of foul-smelling mouth, more tar burdened teeth, and a greater possibility of bleeding gums.

WHICH ARE THE PARTS OF ORAL CAVITY YOU SHOULD LOOK FOR CANCEROUS LESION ASSOCIATED WITH POOR ORAL HYGIENE? Buccal Mucosa (inner cheek mucosa) is the most common oral cavity cancer site when POH is associated with tobacco chewing habit. When POH is associated with alcohol, then under the tongue’s surface, the floor of the mouth is the most common site.

CAN SHARP TOOTH OR ILL-FITTING DENTURE CAUSE ORAL CANCER? Chronic mucosal trauma due to a sharp tooth or ill-fitting dentures can cause oral cancer. A study conducted by Tata Memorial Centre (Singhavi et al) has concluded that chronic mucosa trauma has higher chances of developing oral cancer. It’s not an uncommon finding to have oral cancer in non-habitual patients, especially tongue cancers. Chronic mucosa trauma and poor oral hygiene are the front runners in such cases.

Evidence that ascertains the link between poor oral hygiene and oral cancer: Level 1 (direct causation) evidence to determine poor oral hygiene as the primary etiological factor of oral cancer is lacking. However, studies have shown that maintaining good hygiene reduces the chances of oral cancer by 200%. Also, 93 relevant articles published in the literature until the year 2020 concluded that poor oral hygiene contributes to oral cancer causation, in one way or the other. However, for more information, refer to https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6414580.

Thus, on the occasion of World Oral Health Day, which is observed on March 20th, 2021, let’s pledge to spread the word and educate people on the significance of oral health and sensitise people that maintaining good oral hygiene is a must to stay away from oral cancer.

(Dr Hitesh R Singhavi is Consultant, Head and Neck Surgeon, Fortis Hospital, Mulund; Image by Daniel Albany from Pixabay

Philips India Sleep Survey 2021 reveals that Indian adults slept more during the COVID-19 pandemic

World Sleep Day 2021: The report focuses on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on sleep health as well as the increase in adoption of digital health technologies.

New Delhi, March 19, 2021: Royal Philips, a global leader in health technology, recently released the findings of the India Sleep Survey Report titled ‘Philips Global Sleep Survey 2021’. The report focuses on the impact of the COVID19 pandemic on sleep health as well as the increase in adoption of digital health technologies. Highlighting the importance of digital health technologies, 60% of the Indians said that they have used or are willing to use telehealth for sleep-related concerns.

The report highlighted that since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Indian adults experienced new sleep challenges like difficulty falling asleep (37%), difficulty staying asleep (27%), and waking up during the night (39%).

The survey also focused on the adverse effects that sleep apnea has on patients. The study reported that 80% of patients with sleep apnea experience daytime drowsiness while only 52% of those who do not have sleep apnea experience the same. 47% of the participants also said that sleep apnea is impacting their relationships. With symptoms like unwarranted daytime sleepiness and trouble in concentrating, sleep apnea impacts productivity and overall quality of life. Sleep apnea can also lead to graver health issues including cardiac conditions, strokes, neurological disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity as has been noted in widely referenced clinical research papers

Philips also announced the launch of its Care Orchestrator Sleep and Respiratory Care Management system today. The system enables clinicians and healthcare institutions to drive superior health outcomes by remotely monitoring and managing all sleep apnea and respiratory patients with a single system.

Chhitiz Kumar, Business Leader, Precision Diagnosis and Connected Care, Philips Indian Subcontinent, said “The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on everyone’s lives. With everyone now adapting to the new normal, both healthcare providers and patients have a critical role to play in transforming the way healthcare is delivered. The increase in adoption of digital technologies such as telehealth for treatment of sleep related disorders from patient side is a positive change that must be welcomed and encouraged. Philips Care Orchestrator Sleep and Respiratory Care Management system is one such breakthrough solution that will enable healthcare institutions and practitioners to remotely monitor and manage all their sleep apnea and respiratory patients with a single system. As we head into the next decade, Philips is focused on designing a future where technology leveraged across the entire sleep ecosystem can help people get the most out of their lives.”

Dr. J.C. Suri, Director and Head, Department of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, Fortis Flt. Lt. Rajan Dhall Hospital, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi and Founder, President and Chairman, Indian Sleep Disorders Association, highlighted that “sleep is an important component of our daily lives. It has profound impact on our physical and mental wellbeing. I have seen a steady improvement in awareness about sleep disorders such as sleep apnea in the last decade. However, we still have a long way to go in increasing seriousness towards diagnosing and treating this disorder. Brands like Philips and the physician community have an important role to play in this regard. While brands work on sensitizing people towards sleep apnea, it is also vital to equip physicians with the right know-how to screen, diagnose and treat sleep disorders in general and sleep apnea in particular. Only then we would be able to bring significant improvement in the sleep health of India.”

As part of its overall initiatives to combat sleep disorders and sleep apnea in particular, Philips announced in October 2020 launch of first-of-its-kind six-month online certified comprehensive Sleep Medicine Course. The course is being organized in collaboration with Academy of Pulmonary Critical Care and Sleep Medicine (APCCSM) and under the aegis of Indian Sleep Disorders Association (ISDA). Designed to augment the gap in medical education in sleep care, the inaugural batch of the course commenced on March 2, 2021 with more than 70 doctors being trained under the able guidance of Dr. J.C. Suri. Philips also launched a dedicated sleep helpline (1800 258 7678) and Home Sleep Test Solution to enhance access to care for patients suffering from sleep disorders in October 2020.

The company has also trained more than 500 sleep technicians and guided the launch of more than 850 sleep labs in the country till date.

As an industry leader and innovator in sleep and respiratory care, Philips is deeply rooted in its commitment to developing clinically proven solutions that help people take control of their sleep health. Philips aims to provide solutions that meet the growing and evolving needs of consumers and healthcare professionals alike. In line with its focus on offering quality, accessible and value-based care, the company also provides ‘No-cost EMI’ offer on its products under the Respironics range of sleep and respiratory solutions.

Key Findings of Philips India Sleep Survey 2021

  1. 67% of Indian adults say they are completely or somewhat satisfied with their sleep, and 25% say they are somewhat or entirely dissatisfied.
  2. 54% of Indian adults report that the amount of time spent fully asleep has increased since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and 18-34-year-olds are especially impacted, with 61% reporting an increase in sleep compared to 41% of 50-64-year-olds and 35% of 65+ year-olds.
  3. Since COVID-19 started, many Indian adults report new sleep challenges like difficulty falling asleep (37%), difficulty staying asleep (27%), and waking up during the night (39%).
  4. Indian adults report the following being negatively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic:
    1. Work routine – 43%
    2. Sleep routine – 41%
    3. Ability to sleep well – 36%
    4. Stress – 50%
    5. Physical health – 35%
    6. Mental/emotional health – 47%
  5. 80% of Indian adults with sleep apnea experience daytime drowsiness, while only 52% of those who do not have sleep apnea experience daytime drowsiness.
  6. 77% of Indian adults with sleep apnea experience chronic fatigue, while only 36% of those who do not have sleep apnea experience chronic fatigue.
  7. 74% of Indian adults feel like they get enough sleep at night.
  8. Approximately 1 in 5 (19%) Indian adults experience sleep apnea.
  9. One-third (34%) of Indian adults with sleep apnea currently use sleep apnea therapy to improve their sleep.
  10. Of the Indian adults that have been tested for sleep apnea, 55% say they were tested in-home, and 34% say they were tested at a sleep lab or doctor’s office
    1. 50% received their results during an in-person visit, and 41% through a telehealth visit (video call or telephone appointment)
  11. According to Indian adults, when it came to using their phone in bed:
    1. 8% say they do not use their phone in bed.
    2. 29% say they charge their phone overnight next to their bed.
    3. 32% say they respond to texts or calls that wake them up during the night.
    4. 53% say the last thing they do before falling asleep is look at their phone.
    5. 54% say they look at their phone as soon as they wake up in the morning.
    6. 54% use their phone as an alarm clock.
    7. 58% use it for entertainment (e.g. watching videos, scrolling through social media)
  12. Of those (53%) that said their phone is the last thing they look at before falling asleep at night, 81% said this leads them to fall asleep later than they would like to.
  13. Of those that said their phone is the last thing they look at before falling asleep at night, during that time:
    1. 80% are scrolling through social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, TikTok)
    2. 78% are watching videos (e.g. YouTube, Netflix)
    3. 63% are checking email
    4. 58% are sending/receiving text messages
    5. 53% are setting their alarms
    6. 50% are looking at pictures
    7. 46% are reading news not related to the pandemic or politics
    8. 43% are reading news about the COVID-19 pandemic
    9. 39% are reading political news
  14. 22% of Indian adults say worry/stress is what most limits their ability to get good sleep, and when it comes to what contributes to this stress, the top responses were:
    1. 63% reported financial challenges, with 81% of 35-49-year-olds reporting this as their top contributor to worry/stress
    2. 59% reported the COVID-19 pandemic
    3. 56% reported work responsibilities
    4. 48% reported health (mine or family member’s)
  15. 44% of Indian adults either currently use or have used sleep trackers to improve their sleep.
  16. 40% of Indian adults have never set a bedtime/wake-up schedule to improve their sleep.
  17. 60% of Indian adults say they have used or are willing to use telehealth for sleep-related concerns.
  18. 55% of Indian adults who have used a telehealth program/talked to a healthcare specialist online about sleep-related concerns did so for the first time during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  19. 50% of Indian adults over the age of 65 do not think it is necessary to be treated for sleep apnea.
  20. Of those reporting to have sleep apnea, 47% of Indian adults believe sleep apnea is impacting their relationship(s).

(Cover image by StockSnap from Pixabay

Book Review: Oonga

Shoma Abhyankar

Book: Oonga
Author: Devashish Makhija
Publication: Tulika Publishers
Genre: Fiction


A 2013 critically acclaimed film now a novel

Devashish Makhija, a screen writer and director of Hindi Cinema, made the film ‘Oonga‘ in 2013 with actress Nandita Das playing one of the important characters of the story. The film though critically acclaimed was not released commercially for various reasons. The author has released the story now as a novel and the bookOonga was launched in the Jaipur Literature Festival 2021.

Few years ago before directing the film of the same name, Makhija, spent time traveling through the jungles of Odisha meeting and observing locals and their everyday fight for survival. He realized that the story still seemed relevant in current times and decided to bring the story in the form of book. The book ‘Oonga’ is inspired by the Dongria Kondh tribals and their way of…

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107-year-old man becomes the oldest person in India to get COVID vaccine at Fortis Hospital

At 105, he was the oldest patient in the world to undergo Carotid Artery Stent Implantation to remove a major blockage in the artery supplying blood to the left half of his brain to prevent a major stroke and paralysis.

New Delhi, March 15, 2021: Kewal Krishan, age 107 years plus, became the oldest person in India to be vaccinated against COVID under the supervision of his cardiologist Dr Ashok Seth, Chairman, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute. Two years ago, he was the oldest patient in the world to have undergone stenting to the artery of left side of brain by Dr Ashok Seth to prevent a major brain stroke.

Dr Ashok Seth, Chairman, Interventional Cardiology, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, with 107-year-old Kewal Krishan while he was getting vaccinated.

Dr Ashok Seth, Chairman, Interventional Cardiology, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute, said, “It is really a heartening moment to see that Mr Kewal Krishan has got vaccinated safely and will continue to lead a good quality of life in safety. This is important especially because two years ago Krishan started having repeated small strokes and was threatening a major stroke leading to paralysis. He had a 95% calcified left carotid artery stenosis (blockage in the main artery supplying blood to the left half of brain). The blockages were very hard, torturous and angulated. It took us two hours to treat it via a non-invasive Carotid Artery Stent Implantation. I am happy to say that he improved and that day we prevented him from having a major stroke and today he is well, lead a quality of life and therefore took the vaccine to remain well and enjoy his life with his family. He is an example for many other elderly patients to keep a positive attitude to life and wellbeing.”

Mr Anil Vinayak, Group COO, Fortis Healthcare, said, “Fortis is committed to supporting the Government in this mammoth vaccination drive. At Fortis Healthcare, we have administered more than 60,000 doses till date across 21 of our network hospitals pan India. It is extremely encouraging to see the increase in the vaccination numbers with each passing day.”

Men, masculinity and their toxicity

https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/heres-how-to-tackle-toxic-masculinity

The article was published in The Free Press Journal, Mumbai, edition dated March 14, 2021.

COVID19 vaccination: 20 points to keep in mind

Go ahead and get the jab for yourself and your loved ones, says Dr Rahul Pandit

New Delhi, March 13, 2021: We have entered the second phase of the world’s largest immunization program. However, several looming questions could hamper the success of this program and weaken the fight against COVID19.

Only people who have an Anaphylaxis (allergic reaction) to any of the vaccine contents, should NOT take the vaccine.

Yes, vaccination is the most effective tool to fight the COVID19 pandemic, and help us succeed in our mission to restore normalcy! Having said that, the COVID19 vaccination drive in India has seen much momentum since day one. With an enthusiastic push from the civic bodies, we are slowly but steadily approaching our target goals. After successful round of vaccination for the healthcare providers and frontline workers, we have now moved to vaccinate and protect seniors above 60 years of age, and those above 45 years with comorbidities.

Here’s a guideline to help proceed with vaccinating yourself and your loved ones:

1.       All adults should take the COVID19 vaccine and encourage others to take it as well.

2.       You should have had your meals, and be well hydrated for your vaccination.

3.       Only people who have an Anaphylaxis (allergic reaction) to any of the vaccine contents, should NOT take the vaccine.

4.       All approved vaccines including Covishield and Covaxin have:

  • 100% efficacy in preventing death due to COVID19
  • Very high efficacy against severe COVID19
  • High to moderate efficacy (60%-95%) against symptomatic COVID19
  • Poor efficacy only against asymptomatic COVID19

5.       Vaccinating the high-risk vulnerable population – above 60 yrs and above 45 yrs with co-morbidities will bring down the mortality rate to ‘very low’, as currently, this group forms almost 90% of patients who succumb to the disease. Therefore, we must encourage people in these age groups to be vaccinated.

People with previous COVID19 infection should take the vaccine only after 8-12 weeks of recovery from COVID 19.

6.       People with previous COVID19 infection should take the vaccine only after 8-12 weeks of recovery from COVID 19.

7.       A person who has received Plasma Therapy to treat a previous COVID19 infection should wait for 8-12 weeks before taking the vaccine.

8.       Vaccine is safe in patients with hypertension, diabetes, renal failure, and heart disease, amongst those who have undergone bypass, post-angiography, and those on dialysis.

9.       In pregnant women, if the benefit outweighs the risks of the vaccine, then you may take the vaccine. For example, a frontline pregnant worker should take the vaccine.

10.   There is no data on how long pregnancy should be avoided post-vaccination. However, as it is an inactivated or dead virus it should be safe after 6-8 weeks of vaccination to conceive.

People on anti-platelet agents like Aspirin and Clopidogrel
should take the vaccine without stopping their medication.

11.   Vaccine is safe amongst those with a food allergy, drug allergy (other than the vaccine components) and common allergic conditions such as asthma, allergic rhinitis and allergic dermatitis. But consult your doctor before enrolling yourself.

12.   People on anti-platelet agents like Aspirin and Clopidogrel should take the COVID19 vaccine without stopping their medication.

13.   Patients on blood thinners like Warfarin or newer anticoagulation agents have a small risk of injection site swelling. Patients who are on these newer agents can skip their morning dose, take the vaccine and continue the next regular dose.

14.   Patients with neurological complications like stroke, Parkinson’s, dementia should take the vaccine as it is safe for them.

15.   Patients on immunosuppressant’s (i.e. patients who’ve undergone organ transplants) of any type can safely take the vaccine. However, immune response may not be complete. Check with your doctor before enrolling.

A simple Paracetamol can be taken post-vaccination if required, and most symptoms would be well controlled.

16.   It is false that alcohol is not allowed post-vaccine or that vaccine causes impotency or that vaccine will change the DNA of a person.

17.   There are currently no trials available on children, hence vaccination for those below 18 years can be delayed for now.

18.   Patients with cancer and those undergoing Chemotherapy should consult their doctor and seek an appropriate window for vaccination between the Chemotherapy cycles. Ideally, the patient should wait for at least four weeks post-chemotherapy to take their vaccine.

19.   Fever, body ache, dizziness, headaches are common symptoms post-vaccination.

20.   A simple Paracetamol can be taken post-vaccination if required, and most symptoms would be well controlled.

Do not believe in rumours, the best way to get the right information is to speak to doctors at medical centres who are offering the COVID19 vaccination. Remember, vaccine-induced immunity is as important as herd immunity. It is the current and the only way to tackle the growing menace of the virus. Let’s all come together to fight back and end the pandemic once and for all.

(The article has been authored by Dr Rahul Pandit, Director-Critical Care, Fortis Hospitals Mumbai & Member-Maharashtra’s COVID Taskforce) 

(Images from Pixabay by Wilfried PohnkeGerd AltmannAlexandra_Koch; fernando zhiminaicela)

)

Women’s Day Achiever | Prof Gagandeep Kang

https://www.freepressjournal.in/india/international-womens-day-2021-meet-gagandeep-kang-the-vaccine-queen-of-india

The article was published in the Women’s Day Special of The Free Press Journal, edition dated March 7, 2021.

Things you should do to manage your PCOS/PCOD

Statistics state that one in every five women in India suffers from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or Polycystic Ovarian Disease and cannot live a healthy life. PCOS and PCOD bring along complications that deteriorate the quality of life.

New Delhi, March 5, 2021: Ever since Lata entered puberty, she has had difficulty in managing her weight. She craved carbohydrates and even skipped dinner, but her weight increased at a faster rate month over months. Apart from her weight problem, she faced acne and Hirsutism issues (male-pattern facial hair growth). She also has visited her primary care physician on several occasions, complaining of dizziness, feeling shaky, and irregular menses. Her doctor started her on birth control pills to regulate her periods but in vain. Later, she was detected with Hypoglycemia; her physician and her family encouraged her to follow a strict diet and exercise regimen.

Lata is now married for two years and plans to begin a family but cannot conceive. She continues to struggle with severe Hypoglycemia, has elevated serum triglyceride levels and feels miserable. However, recently when Lata visited a reproductive Endocrinologist, she was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS).

Like Lata, many young women suffer from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) or Polycystic Ovarian Disease (PCOD) and cannot live a healthy life. These conditions bring along complications that deteriorate the quality of life among young women. Statistics state that one in every five women in India suffers from PCOS.

DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PCOS AND PCOD: In women with PCOS, their ovaries produce higher levels of androgen than usual, which interferes with the development and release of the eggs. Some of the eggs develop into cysts – which are the little sacs filled with liquid. Instead of being released during ovulation, these cysts build up in the ovaries and even get enlarged. PCOD (Polycystic Ovarian Disease) is a condition where the ovaries release many immature or partially mature eggs, which eventually turn into cysts. Some common symptoms are abdominal weight gain, irregular periods, male pattern hair loss, and infertility. In this condition, the ovaries usually become enlarged and secrete large amounts of androgens that can cause havoc with a woman’s fertility & her body.

Symptoms of PCOS/PCOD.

EFFECTIVE WAYS TO MANAGE PCOD AND PCOS: Obesity is recognized as an important contributory factor in these conditions. So, diet control, exercise, and monitored weight loss are the first line of treatment. Even 10% weight loss helps quite a lot for hormone imbalance management and in bringing body mass index <25. This also improves menstrual disorders, infertility, insulin resistance, Hirsutism, and acne.

Hormonal management with combined Oral Contraceptive Pills (OCP) is effective in reducing Luteinizing Hormone and Testosterone Hormone. PCOD/ PCOS is not a disease; it is a hormonal imbalance where male hormones increase, so we can control these hormonal changes with OCPs. Insulin resistance is associated with Diabetes Mellitus, central obesity, Dyslipidemia and Hypertension, which can be managed.

Hormonal changes cause abnormal uterine bleeding, prolonged menses, and anovulation (absence of ovulation), for Endometrial Hyperplasia, sometimes endometrial biopsy has to be done. For young females presented with infertility, ovulation induction is done with hormones. Sometimes if the person is not responding to medicine, then Laparoscopic Ovarian Drilling is done. There are rare cases where if weight loss is not possible with diet and exercise, then bariatric surgery is prescribed. Anti-androgen medicines are used for cosmetic purposes in Hirsutism patients. Laser is also used for hair removal.

So, eating the right foods and avoiding certain carbohydrates & fat helps manage the symptoms. Try to consume whole foods which are free from sugar, hormones and preservatives; fruits, vegetables whole grains and legumes should be preferred. Moreover, plant-based proteins and unprocessed high carbohydrates can improve insulin sensitivity. Try to consume more fibre in your diet, reduce the consumption of coffee. Soy, Turmeric, Cinnamon, Vitamin-D3, Calcium, Zinc, Primosa oil, and Cod liver oil should be added to your diet.

(Text by Dr Sushma Tomar, Consultant Obstetrics and Gynecology Fortis Hospital, Kalyan; Images by Soleha Shaikh, Mumbai-based nutritionist and certified diabetes educator, and calligraphy artist.) 

Sindhi or not, Sindhustan tugs at your heartstrings

The maiden project by celebrity hairstylist Sapna Bhavnani is a journey to trace her Sindhi roots. The documentary uses food, music, and art forms – Ajrakh and Madhubani – as tattoos to narrate the displaced and dispossessed community’s poignant tale spread over generations.

“All I knew about my culture was Sindhi kadhi,” pronounces celebrity hairstylist and filmmaker in her documentary Sindhustan and on that note, she sets the tone of a poignant tale spread over the last few decades before and after partition to retrace her Sindhi roots. The ubiquitous flavour of vegetable-rich kadhi makes Sindhustan a delectable watch as it meanders through the lanes and bylanes of Sindhis’ memories, whose quintessential identity is synonymous with their kadhi that’s like no other.  

Trailer of Sindhustan.

The kadhi also becomes the documentary’s access point; Bhavnani’s aunt Kamla Thakur’s kitchen conversation and verses by the renowned 18th-century Sufi poet Shah Abdul Latif becomes a crucial cinematic tool for the filmmaker. The unobtrusive camera captures her cooking, from start to finish, and the tedious kadhi-making process serves as a metaphor for Sindhis in general and Bhavnani in particular. It manages to create a steady simmer in the storyline, from the moment her aunt places tur dal in a cooker on the stove to painstakingly following the rigours, till it is ready to be served on a carefully laid out table filled with other Sindhi delicacies. The brilliant move not only adds a rich flavour to her storytelling, but the shots, panning in and out the kitchen, and shifting focus on the lives and times of other Sindhis, then and now, takes the story forward. “Food is something big for us, and so it made sense to weave the story around it. Kadhi is my favourite, and it was my only choice because it is also our identity in a way. Also, so many stories happen in the kitchen and around the fire, so it was my best bet,” tells Bhavnani.

The entire process of making a Sindhi kadhi takes about three hours, and Thakur, a chef herself, gives us a sneak-peek into the Sindhi household and tells us how Sindhi kadhi is different from other kadhis in the course of the filming. “It is made from toor daal. We boil it with tomatoes in a cooker, then seave and use the soup, cooking it on slow fire much like a mithai. It is nutritious as we put lots of vegetables in it,” says Thakur. 

Another thing that stands out in Bhavnani’s maiden project is the story that her legs carry – the fusion of two dying art forms, one from Sindh and another one from Bihar in the tattoos; while her feet reflect her rootlessness with an image of fish on each to show how the waves have given them a sense of fleeting sand, lashing it with memories, time and again.  The use of alta (red liquid dye) to decorate her feet and fingers is another fusion of culture that Bhavnani has used to her advantage in the documentary, and the ease with which she has used ink to tell the story of the largest migration of a culture in history is truly commendable .

“My one leg has motifs from Ajrak, a predominantly Sindhi art form. Here the cloth was first washed in a solution of water and ajrak berries. It was then steamed and stamped with wooden blocks injected with dyes. The printed cloth was then dipped in a solution of indigo and washed in water so that colours came out sparkingly bright. The other leg reflects the popular Madhubani art form from Bihar. The only common thing between the two cultures is fish. It is predominant in Madhubani paintings and also in ours because it is believed that our presiding deity Jhulelal rode a fish,” she recounts. The beauty of this amalgamation in her passion project makes Sindhustan a mini piece of art in itself.

The pain and trauma of those who lived and survived the painful partition echoes louder in each person’s account. Their sense of longing and belonging and connection with the land of their origin – Sindh – where they or their ancestors once lived tugs at the audience’s heartstrings.

Sindhustan is a must watch if you are a Sindhi because it has high nostalgic value.

It is even more important to watch Sindhustan if you are a non-Sindhi because it is a ready reckoner to understand a community that has been dispossessed and displaced but still retains its enterprising, industrious, zealous, benevolent and cosmopolitan nature transcending barriers of castes, race and religion.

Thakur is the go-to person for Bhavnani for food, and she loves to feast on her “Teevan, Sai Bhaji, Seyal Beeh Patata, and, of course, Kadhi on Sundays.” Also, don’t forget to feast on Sindhi kadhi that Thakur’s French neighbours in Paris referred as the water of gods. Bon appétit!

(Text by Shillpi A Singh; pictures from Sindhustan; the film is streaming on https://www.moviesaints.com/movie/sindhustan; it is also the official selection at the upcoming Wench Film Festival https://wenchfilms.com/)

National Science Day 2021: Women in science on what it means to be one

https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/national-science-day-2021-the-art-of-being-a-woman-in-science
The article was published in The Free Press Journal, edition dated 28 February 2021.

2020 was the year of Bhojpuri disprutors

The article was published to celebrate the International Mother Language Day
in The Free Press Journal, Mumbai, on February 21, 2021.

To read more: https://www.freepressjournal.in/weekend/from-manoj-bajpayees-rap-to-podcasts-the-year-of-bhojpuri-disruptors

चल रे बटोही सिर्फ एक गाना नहीं बल्कि प्रवासियों के अपने घर वापसी की कहानी है: अमरेंद्र शर्मा

By Shillpi A Singh

आज की ख़ास बातचीत अमरेंद्र शर्मा से जिन्हें आपने फिल्मों और टेलीविज़न में अभिनेता के रूप में देखा होगा पर क्या आप जानते हैं इन्होंने पिछले साल भोजपुरी गाने – चल रे बटोही – के गायक और निर्माता के रूप में एक नयी पहचान बना कर सब को चौंका दिया था। चलिए एक बटोही के साथ उसके सफर पर और जानिये इस अभिनेता, गायक और निर्माता के पीछे छुपे एक प्रवासी के दर्द को।

अमरेंद्र शर्मा

आप को हमनें फिल्मों और टेलीविज़न पर अभिनेता के रूप में देखा है। पिछले साल आपने दो म्यूजिक वीडियो में बतौर गायक और निर्माता के रूप में हम सब के सामने आये। इस सफर की शुरुआत कहाँ से और कैसे हुई ?

मैं बिहार के बेतिया जिले के शिकारपुर गाँव से मैट्रिक करने के बाद 1998 में पटना थिएटर करने आ गया। बिहार आर्ट थिएटर से एक्टिंग में दो साल का डिप्लोमा किया और उसी समय पंकज त्रिपाठी भईया से मिलना हुआ और उन्होंने मुझे नेशनल स्कूल ऑफ़ ड्रामा (एनएसडी) के विजय कुमार जी के मंच आर्ट ग्रुप से जोड़ लिया। फिर हमलोग कई सालों तक पूरे देश मे घूम घूम के बहुत सारे नाटक किया जिसमे फणीश्वरनाथ रेणु जी की कहानियां (पंच लाइट, रसप्रिया), हरीशंकर परसाई जी की कहानियां (ना जाने केंहि भेष में, हम बिहार में चुनाव लड़ रहे हैं) का कोलाज़ बना के, फिर रागदरबारी, जात ना पूछो साधु के, ऑफ माइस एंड मैन, बहुत सारे शोज़ किये। फिर कोलकाता में उषा गांगुली जी के रंगकर्मी रेपेट्री से जुड़ गया। वहाँ पर कोर्टमार्शल, शोभायात्रा, काशी के असी, मुक्ति, मातादीन चाँद पे, बहुत सारे शोज़ किये। उसके बाद दिल्ली साहित्य कला परिषद रेपेट्री से जुड़ गया। वँहा पर सतीश आनंद सर के साथ अन्वेषक, महानिर्वाण, चित्तरंजन त्रिपाठी जी के साथ लड़ी नज़रिया, दस दिन का अनसन (हरिशंकर परसाई जी की) सुमन कुमार जी के साथ कहानियों का मंचन किया।
दिल्ली में नाटक करते हुए मनोज बाजपेयी सर की फ़िल्म 1971 में काम करने का मौक़ा मिला, जिसमे मैं पाकिस्तानी सोल्जर की भूमिका में था। काम कुछ ख़ास नहीं था, पर मुझे मनोज जी को क़रीब से अभिनय करते देखना था, मैं उनको स्वाभिमान, दौड़, तमन्ना के समय से फॉलो करता था, जब सत्या आई तो मैं बिल्कुल बेचैन हो गया कि मुझे कैसे भी कर के एक्टर बनना है। मैंने उनकी सत्या देखी थी और शायद तभी से मुझे अभिनेता बनने की इच्छा जागी थी। स्कूल टाइम में अजय देवगन साहब का जबरदस्त फैन रहा हूँ। एक भी फ़िल्म नहीं छोड़ता था। फिर 2008 में मुम्बई आ गया। दूसरे मेरे पसन्दीदा एक्टर इरफान खान सर के साथ अपना आसमान किया। मणिरत्नम सर के साथ रावण किया। फिर मैंने फिल्मों से थोड़ी दूरी बना लिया, अच्छे काम नहीं मिल रहे थे सो मैंने टेलीविजन के तरफ़ रुख़ किया। क्राइम शोज़ में लीड रोल किये। कुछ विज्ञापनों में भी काम किया। 2018 में मुझे भोर फ़िल्म मिली, फिर 2019 में बाटला हाउस मिली। 2020 में मैंने बटोही म्यूजिक वीडियो बनाया। बटोही के बाद, छठ का गीत बनाया, उसे भी लोगों ने पसंद किया।

आप खुद को प्रवासी रचनात्मक मजदूर क्यों कहते हैं ? बटोही म्यूजिक वीडियो के पीछे क्या कहानी छुपी हुई है ?

सन 2000 में मैं पहली बार बिहार से बाहर, दिल्ली नाटक करने, अपने गाँव के कुछ लोगों के साथ पहुंचा था । वो लोग कापसहेड़ा में फैक्ट्री में काम करते थे और एक छोटे से कमरे में 7 से 8 लोग रहते थे। मैं भी उनलोगों के साथ रहने लगा, उन लोगों की स्थिति देख के मुझे बहुत बुरा लगा। मुझे बाहर इतनी बुरी स्थिति में रहना पड़ेगा, मैं कभी सपने में भी नही सोचा था, पर धीरे धीरे मैं भी उनमें ढल गया। कुछ समय बाद मैं वंहा से मंडी हाउस चला आया और अपने नाटक में मस्त हो गया। उसी समय NDTV पर रविश कुमार जी की रिपोर्ट देखी, जिसमे रविश जी मेरे ही ज़िले के प्रवासी मज़दूरों के साथ खाना खाते हुए रिपोर्टिंग कर रहे थे। उस दृश्य ने मुझे अंदर से झंझोर दिया। ख़ुद को पराजित महसूस करने लगा। पहली बार प्रवासी शब्द का अर्थ समझा, पहली बार अहसास हुआ कि मैं भी प्रवासी मज़दूर हूँ। मैं भी अपना परिवार, गाँव, समाज और जगह छोड़ कर मज़दूरी करने आया हूँ। उसके बाद मैं कलकत्ता गया, फिर मुम्बई आ गया, हर जगह उस दर्द को महसूस करता रहा।

चल रे बटोही अपन गाँव

चल रे बटोही अपन गाँव म्यूजिक वीडियो बनाने में कितना समय लगा ?

मुम्बई में संघर्ष करते वक़्त महसूस हुआ कि भोजपुरी में बहुत बुरा काम हो रहा है। भोजपुरी अश्लीलता का पर्याय बन चुका है। दूसरे राज्य के दोस्तों के बीच भोजपुरी मज़ाक की भाषा थी। बहुत बुरा लगता था। भोजपुरी में कुछ करना चाहता था पर कर नहीं पा रहा था, जिस तरह की भोजपुरी फ़िल्म बन रहीं थी कभी मन नही हुआ करने का। मैं गायक नही हूँ, पर नाटक में हमेशा गाता रहा हूँ, सो मेरा मन किया कि क्यूं न भोजपुरी में कुछ गाया जाय। प्रवासी होने का दर्द मैं मुम्बई में भी महसूस कर रहा था सो पलायन पर कुछ गाने का मन बनाया। सन 2018 की बात है, मैंने गीत लिखना शुरू किया पर पेपर पर उसको उतार नहीं पाया। फिर अपने गाँव के अभिजीत मिश्र को समझाया और कई महीनों के डिस्कस करने के बाद गीत तैयार हुआ। फिर भी मुझे गीत अधूरा लग रहा था; फिर मैं मुम्बई में राइटर डायरेक्ट आशुतोष तिवारी से मिला और बटोही का दूसरा अंतरा लिखवाया।
फिर दोस्त मनु वर्मा से डेमो म्यूजिक तैयार करवा के, फाइनेंस के लिए लोगों से मिलता रहा, पर कोई तैयार नहीं हुआ। फिर सोचा अब किसी से नही मिलूंगा, ख़ुद ही बनाऊंगा। ऐसे सोचते सोचते दो साल बीत गए। फिर लॉक डाउन में गाँव आ गया। प्रवासी मज़दूरों का संघर्ष देखा तो बहुत दुःख हुआ, ऐसा लगा बटोही इसी दिन के लिए बचा के रखा हूँ। कुछ समझ नही आ रहा था, गाँव में कोई सुविधा नहीं थी। क्या करूँ, सोचा फेसबुक पे लाइव गा देता हूँ, पर मन नहीं माना। फिर बेतिया में ही DOP चंदन से बात किया और वहीं पर लॉक डाउन में रेकॉर्डिंग कर के वीडियो भी शूट कर लिया। फिर मुम्बई एडिट के लिए फ़ाइल सेंड करने में तीन दिन लग गए, यहां पे इनटरनेट का बहुत प्रॉब्लम था। वीडियो शूट करने में टोटल चार लोग थे। ज़ीरो बज़ट में बटोही बन कर तैयार हुआ।

आपके बटोही गाने की बहुत तारीफ हुई है। क्या आपने ऐसा सोचा था ?

बटोही को जैसा मैंने सोचा था वैसे ही सबके सामने था, सभी का प्यार बहुत मिला।
मनोज बाजपेयी सर ने ट्विटर पे शेयर किया। पंकज त्रिपाठी भईया ने अपने पेज से शेयर किया।
रविश कुमार जी ने NDTV पे प्राइम टाइम में पूरा वीडियो चलाया।
निर्देशक अविनाश दास जी, अरविंद गौर जी … सब ने शेयर किया।
सबसे बड़ी बात मुझे ये लगी की दूसरे राज्य के लोगों ने भी इस भोजपुरी गीत को सराहा और पसंद किया।शायद इसलिए भी क्यूंकि इस देश में अगर बिहार का लड़का अगर महाराष्ट्र में काम करता और रहता है तो वह एक प्रवासी है। और इस तरह हम सभी प्रवासी ही हैं।

आप अभिनय और गायन के क्षेत्र में इस साल और क्या-क्या कर रहे हैं ?

दो फिल्मों – मछली और नरभक्षी – में काम किया है जिसका पोस्ट प्रोडक्शन चल रहा है। एक हॉट स्टार की वेब सीरीज कर रहा हूँ। कुछ भोजपुरी म्यूजिक वीडियो भी प्लान किया है, उसको करना है। अभी मैं किन्नर समुदाय के दुर्दशा और व्यथा पर भोजपुरी में म्यूजिक वीडियो बना रहा हूँ।

Batohiya song conveys our pride, pain of separation, longing & belonging, says Dutch Sarnámi-Bhojpuri singer Raj Mohan

He collaborated with 11 artistes from seven countries for his dream project and released the song just days before Independence Day last year.

Raj Mohan is a poet, singer, composer, songwriter in the Sarnámi-Bhojpuri language in The Netherlands and Suriname. He released his first pop album in Sarnámi-Bhojpuri lyrics, Hindi songs and poems in 2011, were he not only sang but also composed the music and wrote the lyrics. In his album ‘Kantrákihttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U-r5NfLzJ3M (2005), he invented the Sarnámi-Bhojpuri Geet in the Geet & Ghazal style, which was appreciated worldwide. He performed the Geet/Ghazalnuma songs in the traditional Ghazal setting as well as in jazz and pop in his album, Daayra https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kUFqPZYQfdE (2011). 

He has so far released five music albums, including a bhajan album with Anup Jalota and authored two books with Sarnámi-Bhojpuri poems. His latest album ‘Dui Mutthihttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgBy07OcDUk (2013) was released to mark 140 years of Indian migration to Suriname.

In a freewheeling chat with Shillpi A Singh, he takes us through his last musical offering, Batohiya, released during the pandemic and everything else around Bhojpuri that is close to his heart, sould and being. Excerpts:

How did the Batohiya song happen?  

I wanted to record this song (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JZFW92GR2bo) for a long time, but I couldn’t because of my other engagements. I discussed the idea with my manager and business partner in India, Devendra Singh. He loved it. He was responsible for online marketing and coordinating the audio and video recordings in India. He suggested doing it with various artists from different diaspora countries. It was a huge challenge, but still, I went ahead. My student and artist Ragga Menno was another important resource who helped me shape this project and realise this dream.

What were the challenges? What went behind the scenes? 

The biggest challenge was the distance between all the artistes and me. The audio had to be recorded separately in studios. Devendra Singh and his team managed the recordings from India. He arranged for the performers in different cities in Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Bihar to record the audio and video. I also coordinated this with my team from Suriname, South Africa, Guyana/Trinidad and The Netherlands.

Once all the material was collected, we started working on patching the audio and doing the video editing.

Batohiya Song | सुंदर सुभूमि भइया | बटोहिया गीत
Girmitiya song | Indian diaspora | Raj Mohan

How long did all of this take, from start to finish?  

We worked on this for two months with our team. 

Who were the other collaborators in this musical project? 

The song was producer by GFRecords (The Netherlands), and Devendra, Ragga and I were the  co-producers.

I composed the music using the lyrics originally written by the legendary poet Babu Raghuvir Narayan. The spoken words were by Hemelbesem. The backend crew included Babak Rastagar from Austria (Programming & Mixing); Mailmen Studio from The Netherlands (Mastering) and FOX Media Productions from The Netherlands (Video). I directed the video while Ragga did the editing. Nityanand Tiwari from India did its translation, from English to Bhojpuri. 

The vocalists included 11 artistes from seven countries — Munna Singh, Chhotu Bihari, Arya Nandini, and Vishwajeet Pratap Singh from India; Hemelbesem from South Africa; Terry Gajraj from Guyana/USA; Ilhaam Ahmadali from Suriname; Rukshana from The Netherlands; Angel ArunA, Ragga and myself from Suriname/The Netherlands.

Our partners in this project included GFRecords and FOX Media Productions from The Netherlands; Facebook groups from India — Anjora, Jogira, Bhojpuria, Khanti Bhojpuria, Magadhi Boys and Witty Froth Films; and radio channel Abee Chunes from New York.

Raj Mohan is a poet, singer, composer, songwriter
in the Sarnámi-Bhojpuri language in The Netherlands and Suriname
.

There have been so many versions of the same song. Which one is your favourite? 

Of course, mine. We are the Batohiyas (travellers) in the true sense. This song has been made by and with descendants of artistes and participants of the Indian diaspora. It is about us. It tells the story of our ancestors who couldn’t go back to their beloved homeland India. At the same time, this song was also for the families that stayed behind in India. It conveyed their pride, pain of separation, longing, belonging, and even ours. After all, those people never saw their ancestors or families again. Most of them didn’t know which country they were going to and how they would fare there. The cherry on the cake is that it has been written by one of the strugglers, Babu Raghuvir Narayan.

Bhojpuri is the third most spoken language of the Sarnámi-Bhojpuri community in The Netherlands. What is the other way to keep the language alive for the younger generation?

Music is a powerful way to connect with each other. Other ways could be to hold meetings, conferences involving the young people with interactive programs and hip, new music; songs that appeal to them like Bhojpuri pop, (hard) rock or rap, and spoken word. We must have a modern, contemporary approach. We must organise regular gatherings to preserve and spread the Bhojpuri language and culture in all its versatility and diversity.

What are the most striking endeavours that stood out for you as far as doing a great service to the language in 2020? 

I have given many online concerts with songs sung mainly in Bhojpuri in both traditional (harmonium) and modern (guitar) styles. I released another song on Corona – Ham ka kari by Ragga Menno.

What is the scene like in your country? Do children read, write and speak Bhojpuri? What are the special measures being undertaken by the keepers of the language to keep it alive?

Activities are organised, presented or developed in various ways. There are very few radio programs and (online) TV report in Sarnámi-Bhojpuri. The new generation of lyricists should write songs in our language, but they instead copy Bollywood songs or write songs in Hindi. 

Baithak gana (our folklore) is very popular, even with children who learn to sing the songs and play various instruments such as the dholak, harmonium and dhantaal (dandtaal). A major drawback is that the performers’ awareness (and of their parents) is not high enough to understand and/or speak the language they sing. The language is in danger of being lost here, just like in other Caribbean countries such as Guyana and Trinidad. In these countries, they don’t bother to learn the language or understand the words. Unfortunately, this also applies to most (almost all) professional artistes in Suriname, The Netherlands, Guyana and Trinidad. That is regrettable. 

For my love for all things handwritten!

The article appeared in The New Indian Express, edition dated February 14, 2021. https://www.newindianexpress.com/lifestyle/books/2021/feb/14/the-moving-finger-writessulekha-ink-and-itscollectors-edition-swadeshi-line-2262808.html

“The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,

Moves on: nor all thy Piety nor Wit

Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,

Nor all thy Tears wash out a Word of it.”

― Omar Khayyám

Delhi-based NIFT joins #DNAFightsRape–Save the Evidence movement

Calls for people participation to drive change in the way our society deals with survivors of rape and sexual offence.

New Delhi, February 17, 2021: A virtual discussion jointly organised by Ogilvy India and the country’s leading fashion and design institute, National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) Delhi, brought together subject matter experts from legal, law enforcement, education, and policy on a common platform calling for active measures to raise awareness for a citizen’s role in combating rape and expediting justice with better use of forensic DNA technology. The event themed ‘Role of Citizens in Combating Rape – The Power of Youth & Creative Expression’ saw representatives from NIFT Delhi join the #DNAFightsRape–Save the Evidence awareness initiative which has been backed by UN Women India, Girl Up, Delhi Police, and AIIMS among several others in the past.

Opening the discussion, Neeti Banga, Associate Professor, Leather Design Department, NIFT Delhi said, “Youth have always been the greatest drivers of social transformation. They have the potential to disrupt inertia with their energy and creativity. However, to tap into that, our education system must introduce them to pressing social issues and seek their participation in finding solutions. Traditional learning must be supplemented with critical thinking and creative thought to facilitate change. This initiative deals with one of biggest challenges our society faces and requires a new way of thinking. Only when we change mindsets can we ensure a safe and free world for our women & children. We are delighted to be associated with this cause and look forward to extending our support to bring the message home.”

Chiming in on the significance of educating the youth on this burning social issue, Dr Pinky Anand, Sr. Advocate, Supreme Court of India added, “Breaking the cycle of abuse will require concerted collaboration and action between governmental and non-governmental actors including educators, health-care authorities, legislators, the judiciary and the mass media. Education of young men and women will lead to change in attitudes and perceptions. It is therefore extremely important for the youth of this nation to understand the sensitivity of this issue and create awareness through various mediums, by conducting webinars, joining causes like #DNAFightsRape and further help in educating the citizens of this nation.”

Explaining how DNA evidence helps with the pursuit of truth and justice, Vivek Sood, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court of India said, “Authenticity of evidence in criminal prosecutions including rape cases, is critical for securing conviction of the accused. Otherwise, there’s a risk of rapists going scot free and innocents getting punished. DNA is a very credible piece of evidence that nails the rapists and exonerates the innocents who are falsely implicated. DNA evidence supports criminal justice in rape cases, as no other piece of evidence. It is also the strongest piece of corroborative evidence that supports the version of the victim of rape. In cases where the rape victim dies, DNA can be used as a stand-alone evidence.

The initiative was lauded by DCP Isha Pant, Bengaluru who has long been involved in initiatives for safety of women & children. Sharing her experience with ‘Be Together Bangalore’ campaign and ‘Safe City Project’ to make public spaces safer for women, she said, “While it’s the job of law enforcement agencies to conduct thorough investigations in sexual crimes, it is also important for us to work with the civil society to build confidence in our justice system by raising awareness about all that is being done to ensure their safety. Not only can forensic DNA technology bring sex offenders to justice, it can also act as a strong deterrent by putting the fear of law in the minds of criminals. Use of scientific methods of investigation remains a priority for Bengaluru Police and we’re taking steps to equip the force with the training and resources for proper collection and handling of DNA samples in such cases”.

The highlight of the event was a musical composition rendered into a video film created by Chords & Co., the official music club of Manipal Institute of Technology, MAHE, urging citizens to ensure justice and build a safer India by preserving DNA evidence and demanding it in cases of rape & sexual assault.

Talking about their inspiration behind the musical tribute, Rasika Muralidharan, Vocalist and Head of Social Media, Chords & Co said, “As a young woman, I’m constantly aware of the threats that exist out there. The reality of the situation is grim and cannot be unseen or unheard. As a student club, we ensure that the vulnerable feel safe and flourish without fear and hesitation. Like all artists, we want our work to be impactful, to be part of the change. The track we created for this campaign holds a lot of value and power. It reminds us of the past and the atrocities we let happen as a society. But it is also a beacon of hope. A message of awareness and empowerment to victims of sexual abuse and the power of DNA evidence. The essence of the track is simply true justice for the victim with due respect for those who are wrongly accused.”

Bringing in a global perspective Tim Schellberg, Founder & President, Gordon Thomas Honeywell—GA added, “It is good to see growing public awareness and faith in forensic DNA technology in India. People are beginning to realise the unmatched power DNA evidence in bringing sexual offenders to justice and deterring incidence of rape. However, considering the size of its population and the quantum of violent crime, India is still conducting DNA tests only in a tiny fraction of cases. Like everywhere else in the world, the youth always play a big role in changing status quo and we’re beginning to see that in India. They are more globally connected and woke than any generation in the past and realise how other countries are using this technology effectively to bring down crime rate and even catch serial offenders.”

Arneeta Vasudeva, Head, Public Relations & Influence, Ogilvy India added, “Rape is a pandemic that has infected our society for long. With only 1 in 4 such cases leading to conviction, the future looks grim unless we do something about it. What started as the #DNAFightsRape–Save the Evidence citizen awareness drive has today become a movement with members of the civil society stepping forward to spread the message of Don’t Wash, Don’t Clean. Save the Evidence in their own unique ways. We will continue to take this message to the masses till conducting DNA tests in rape cases becomes the norm”.

Despite rising crime, declining conviction rates, and an unprecedented backlog of cases in courts, there is huge unmet potential for DNA casework in India. Official statistics show a dramatic increase in the number of crimes against women, which have shot up from 24,923 in 2012 to 33,356 in 2018 – a jump of 34 per cent. As per NCRB data, one woman is raped every 15 minutes in India, whereas only one in four reported rape cases result in conviction.

Over the last couple of years, increasing awareness of forensic DNA technology in India has led to the doubling of the number of DNA tests conducted in criminal cases from 10,000 cases in 2017 to nearly 20,000 in 2019. However, despite growth in the number of profiles being tested, the absolute volume remains low, especially in crimes against women and children.

EU Prize for Literature laureates & European industry professionals in the spotlight at JLF2021 and Jaipur BookMark

European Union to participate for the first time as Festival Partner at India’s biggest literary event; EU and India build on well-established literary ties to enhance cultural cooperation.

Brussels, Belgium, February 17, 2021: Described as the ‘greatest literary show on Earth’, the Jaipur Literature Festival is a sumptuous feast of ideas and inspiration. From 19th to 28th February 2021, the Festival returns with it’s 14th edition – fully virtual – featuring famous writers and curated for audiences across the world.

The European Union will participate at the Jaipur Literature Festival for the first time as a Festival Partner through an extensive programme curated by the Cultural Relations Platform (an EU-funded initiative) and the Delegation of the European Union to India. Renowned European writers and winners of the European Union Prize for Literature (EUPL), representing six Member States and partner countries, will be conducting literary exchanges with their Indian peers including authors, journalists, and opinion makers.

During the two weekends of the Festival (19-21 and 26-28 February), four European Prize for Literature laureates will take part in extensive conversations with Indian counterparts and interact with international audiences. The authors – Kevin Barry (Ireland), Meelis Friedenthal (Estonia), Rodaan Al Galidi (the Netherlands), and Adam Foulds (UK) – representing some of the most talented writers in Europe, will showcase the depth of the continent’s contemporary literature at South Asia’s biggest literary festival.

Next to the Festival’s main programme, the European Union will also support encounters between literary professionals from Europe and India as part of the Festival’s B2B wing – the Jaipur BookMark (JBM). Three sessions will be supported by the EU and address themes including literary translation, current trends in international publishing markets, and the transnational circulation of literary output. EUPL laureates Matthias Nawrat (Germany) and Selja Ahava (Finland), and key industry stakeholders representing the Federation of European Publishers, Latvia, Greece, and Finland will engage with counterparts from the Indian publishing industry.

The initiative is supported by the European Union and the Cultural Relations Platform with the aim of strengthening international cultural relations and stimulating collaborations as outlined in the EU Strategy for International Cultural Relations and the New European Agenda for Culture 2018 . It is co-organised by the Cultural Relations Platform (an EU-funded project), the Delegation of the European Union to India, and Teamwork Arts (India). This collaboration is an extension of longstanding EU-India creative sector exchanges – and will mark the fourth consecutive year that the EUPL will be represented at India’s most high-profile literary events.

Speaking of growing EU-India artistic and cultural ties, H.E. Ugo Astuto, Ambassador of the European Union to India and Bhutan, welcomed this collaboration, remarking that, “The EU is committed to fostering an environment conducive to greater creative exchanges with India. With our participation in the Jaipur Literature Festival and the Jaipur BookMark, we wish to strengthen the EU’s position as a major cultural partner of India, recognizing the importance of inter-cultural dialogue as a key element of our partnership.”

Sharing his enthusiasm Sanjoy K Roy, Managing Director, Teamwork Arts producer of the Jaipur Literature Festival said, “We are delighted to partner with the European Union and European Union prize for Literature and explore the rich writing from this region and strengthen our focus on translations and bringing to the fore the best writers from across the world during the Jaipur Literature Festival.

Agenda

Friday 19 February; 3pm IST / 10:30am CETJLF 1st panel:  Adam Foulds in conversation with Elaine Canning
Monday 22 February; 4:45pm IST / 12:15pm CETJBM Session 1: European Union Prize for Literature: Writing from across Europe
Wednesday 24 February; 6pm IST / 1:30pm CETJBM Session 2: Extending the Novel: Fiction, non-fiction, translation
Thursday 25 February; 4:45pm / 12:15pm CETJBM Session 3: Publishing Market: International exchange
Friday 26 February; 4pm IST / 11:30am CETJLF 2nd panelMeelis Friedenthal in conversation with Malashri Lal
Saturday 27 February; 5pm IST / 12:30pm CETJLF 3rd panelRodaan Al Galidi and Jonathan Reeder in conversation with Neeta Gupta
Sunday 28 February; 4pm IST / 11:30am CETJLF 4th panelKevin Barry in conversation with Cauvery Madhavan