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
Monthly Archives: May 2021
Age is just a number, right?
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
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
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.
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