Sunday, August 30, 2009

Second innings: 3 years of living and loving

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

The second of September 2006 is the first day of my second innings. I am grateful to have got a second chance. So on Wednesday, 2 September this year, I complete Year 3; though on the wall calendar I have crossed 58 years on Mother Earth.

My colleagues at the Bharatiya Jain Sanghatana, Pune, tell me how I showed up at the office near Chaturshringi on Friday, 1 September. But then for the next three months, I missed my three-days-a-week at this NGO, founded by the social reformer, educationist and servant of India, Shantilal Muttha.

My students of the 2007 and 2008 batches still remember how I took lectures during the week ending Saturday, 2 September. But I did not turn up for classes from Monday, 4 September, because I was admitted to the Deenanath Hospital in Pune.

I had suffered a heart attack. Now that I survived and have been living and loving for the last three years, allow me to thank all the people who saw me through those days.

My wife Kalpana and daughter Pallavi were with me at home that evening. My brother-in-law Dr. Rajeev Joshi, was also in Pune and at home. Our neighbours at Swanand, Aapli Society, were also indoors. So when the heart attack came, the cardiac ambulance of the Pune Heart Brigade (phone 1050 from anywhere in Pune) could be summoned and rushed me within "the golden hour" to the hospital. My brother-in-law’s classmate Dr Shireesh Sathe, who operated on me, was also in town that weekend. I am lucky to have had all these people in their places that Saturday.

The Emergency Medical Services (EMS) run by the Pune Heart Brigade had saved 17,500 lives, including mine, till end 2007. Even today, whenever I visit a patient at Deenanath Hospital, I drop into the Casualty ward and thank the staff on ambulance duty, without whose prompt help I could not have been writing these words today.


Flat on my back at home, with the unbearable pain crushing my rib-cage, I can still recall visualising my photo with a black border in the "Obituary" section of the papers next morning. I used to work night shifts at the sub desk and accept the obituary notices for the Maharashtra Herald in Pune, during 1983-90. So I mumbled to myself through the engulfing darkness, "This is it now for you, Joe!" Luckily, that was not to be.

I flatter myself to think that my family, friends, colleagues and students loved me too much to let me go –- so soon. Maybe I have some unfinished work to complete, before my turn comes. So, I got my second chance.

In the first few days of white, I cannot recall who came to visit me. But slowly the faces began to register. I remember each one of them with deep gratitude, for they put me back in touch with the blues and greens of the world outside.

As I left the hospital and was returning home in the ambulance, I could see the clouds breaking through, as the sun set. In the cloud-pictures, I like to think I saw my mother’s smiling face, welcoming me back into our world that she had left so abruptly in 1969.

Since the mid-1970s, I have not been a believer in life after death or supernatural powers. But I like to believe that the mother who gave me birth and, in that sense, lives within me as I breathe, wanted to complete her life cruelly cut short. She could not live it out fully herself.

Now I like to believe she was giving me, her son, a chance to live out his life -- and her life -- again. She lives in my memoir. Click on the links, alongside this post, to read the five parts.


When I came back home, everything about my lifestyle would change completely: food and diet, regular exercise; yoga for stress management.

For opening my eyes to these neglected facts of life, I have to thank Dr. Dean Ornish’s "Program for Reversing Heart Disease: The Only System Scientifically Proven to Reverse Heart Disease Without Drugs or Surgery ". The book explains the kinds of food to eat and what to avoid, as well as the need for regular exercise and stress management through yoga.

Thank you, Ashok Gopal, for giving me the book. And D. for caring.

Dean Ornish, M.D., is the founder and president of the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, USA.

The first edition of Dean Ornish's Reversing Heart Disease, was published by Random House in 1990 and is available as a Ballantine paperback in India for Rs 250-300, depending on the discount. The 640-page book is priced 8 US dollars.


First, food and diet.

When I look back at what I used to eat, especially the fried stuff (samosas, batata-wadas, bhaji, namkeen or farsan) and the bakery products, loaded with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils(butter, cakes, pattice, nankatai biscuits), I know now how I was inviting trouble.

Today, I resist these dangerously tasty items as pictures on menu-cards. I can identify them as the junk that clogs my arteries. And I turn my mouth away -- resolutely towards fruits and green leafy vegetables.

Second, regular exercise.

Having travelled like a gypsy (during my railway childhood and full-timer youth), I had reached the still stage, when I would return home tired and unwilling to travel -- from the living-room, to the bed-room, to the kitchen!!!

You can imagine how this shocking lack of exercise, combined with the “exertion” of lectures and the sedentary office was harming my body.

Third, yoga for stress management.

Dean Ornish opened my eyes to our India viraasat -- yoga and deep breathing, something I knew well, but was not doing. Yoga helps me to manage stress.

Even today, a five-minute stint of pranayam is sufficient to help me withstand the “chhote shaitans” (little devils) on Pune roads, darting about on their two-wheelers.

By February 2007, my weight had dropped from 87 kg to 65 kg. I managed to lose 22 kg during the first six months of my illness. My shirts and trousers hung around me like I was wearing a bedsheet, and I had to stitch new sets of clothes. This was the result of a strict fat-free diet, a regular brisk walk and yoga.


Like all heart patients, I am struggling daily to keep to the strict regimen, suggested by Dean Ornish. Fortunately, I had had built up strong will-power, having given up smoking in 1982, after 11 years of being a chain-smoker.

I can resist the oily fried foods and crisp crunchy bakery products that I used to relish. For this, I have to thank my wife and daughter for supporting me to say, "NO!!!". My father had taught me yoga, which I always enjoyed. But I did not fully appreciate its deep and intimate connection with stress management.

What I find most difficult is to take a brisk 40-minute walk –- six days a week -- the cardiac exercise that my heart needs most.

So, I try to close my eyes and think of the Yeshwantrao Chavan municipal garden that forms one corner of the Shiv Darshan chowk (junction), near our Aapli cooperative housing society.

I first became friends with the mud and stones; trees, plants, dried fallen leaves and blooming flowers; crows and cats, in this small garden when I used to walk in it every day from the first week of December 2006. But I am sorry that I do not meet my natural friends as often as I must and I promise myself that I shall not let my body down.

With a lot of help from my family, friends, colleagues and students, I have humbly resisted the temptations that seduced me in the bad old days and unlearned some of the harmful habits that dragged me down.

Started on 2 October 2008, my blog has also helped me to swim "Against the Tide". As a part of the healing therapy that I have devised for myself, my blog has rebuilt and sustained a lifestyle that is healthy for me.

Thank you all. Your good wishes and messages carry me on. I look forward eagerly to your love and caring, as I enter my Year 4.

Your support is my strength,
- Joe.

Pune, India, Sunday, 30 August 2009.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Fight the H1N1 flu with facts, not fear

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

The title “Fight the flu with facts, not fear” of this post is borrowed from an excellent report entitled, “To fight flu, facts not fear” (30 July 2009, Indian Express, Pune edition), written by Anuradha Mascarenhas, one of Pune’s outstanding journalists.

On Saturday, 8 August, we took our daughter for screening, since she had high fever for two days. I reached the municipal dispensary at 9.30 am. The Dr Dwarkanath Kotnis Memorial Municipal Dispensary, locally called Gadikhana, is located in the heart of old Pune city, near Mandai (the old market area). This was two days after August 6, the 64th anniversary of the dropping of the A-bomb on Hiroshima by the USA.

While waiting, I spoke with some civic employees. One of them was upset that some well-off people seemed to look down upon the civic dispensary. He felt rich folk wanted the government to allow private doctors and hospitals to treat the flu, because they did not want to mix with poor people and get treated in government hospitals. A rickshaw driver also told me that a lot of “shrimant” people, who were his customers, resented that they had to wait in queues at the govt hospitals.

This is a reflection of the sad state of public health in India. The rich have their private hospitals and the poor have to fend for themselves in govt hospitals. I have stayed in Britain and marvel as well as envy the wonderful National Health Service, which even the free-maketeering Thatcherites were unable to dismantle. This is a topic of debate and I want your comments on this point.


When my wife and daughter arrived, we went to the first floor. There were around 50-60 persons waiting in two queues. One queue started near the staircase, at one end of the corridor. Here two clerks were issuing case papers. After you got a case paper, you stood in another queue to meet the doctor.

I did not go in, but my wife said the doctors were deciding, whether to take the throat swab or not and send you to Naidu Hospital for testing, on the basis of whether you had come in contact with a positive patient or you had certain symptoms.

So, on the basis of the screening, our daughter was sent home with some medicine. This “testing protocol” seemed inadequate. The next day, 7 August, I heard the government and doctors felt the H1N1 virus was getting “entrenched in the local community” and, therefore, anyone having the symptoms should be sent to Naidu Hospital for a throat swab and test. This is the proper way, but I do not know whether it is being done.

The other impression one gets is that the municipal doctors may not be sending you for the test because, they say, it is “expensive”. If you insist that a test be done, they tell you that the test costs Rs. 10,000 and not everyone who asks for it will be tested. This naturally makes people anxious. Fortunately, our daughter’s fever lasted for two days and has now subsided.

Deepthy Menon, Mumbai Bureau chief, Times Now, was also down in Pune covering the flu. I could not go to meet her, since I am a heart patient and did not want to risk going into the crowded Naidu or Sassoon Hospital areas.

This makes me wonder: I hope our journalists are taking proper precautions while covering the flu, since they are going into crowded areas where there a large number of patients, some of whom maybe carriers. I wish that my students and colleagues keep their health while covering this difficult assignment. This is part of the job, an occupational hazard.

As I was touching up this post, I spoke to Deepthy (an SIMC alumni) and she told me that she was at home with a cold. She had none of the three key symptoms (a sore throat and cough; a running nose; breathlessness), but since she was covering Naidu and Sassoon Hospitals in Pune, I told her she must point this out to the doctor and ensure she gets tested. I called her again, Wednesday, 19 August. She's at home, tested negative for the flu, recovering.

Journalists like doctors, nurses and other care-givers fall in the high-risk vulnerable groups. Take care.


I think many newspapers in Pune, especially TV channels (my bugbear), more so the Marathi vahini like Star Mazha and IBN Lokmat, are adding to the scare by repeatedly showing photos of people in masks and long queues. This frightens citizens into a panic. Can’t they display comforting visuals? Also the copy and the sound bytes are hyped up and the headlines scream out at you.

On the other hand, a heart-warming story entitled, “Swine flu work in process” (IE, Pune, 9 August 2009) by Anuradha Mascarenhas educates us gently. She has described in detail the hard-working scientists and technicians of the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune, doing their job quietly. This is the kind of patient, routine, groundwork that goes on – nameless, faceless and unsung.

(Their work reminded me of my early days in Maharashtra Herald as a sub-editor from 1983 onwards. Subs correct grammar and spellings, touch up the body, iron out the creases and wrinkles, give an eye-grabbing headline and place the story where it will surely be read as soon as the reader picks up the morning paper. But the subs remain – nameless, faceless and unsung.)

By putting human names and warm faces to the “scientific” detectives at NIV tracking down the deadly virus, Anuradha has made accessible and credible what is hidden from the public, behind a veil of needless official secrecy. But nowhere has she glorified the scientific workers and created “celebrities” out of these diligent government servants, whom it has currently become fashionable to malign.

Let us thank Dr. A. C. Mishra, Director, NIV, and Dr. M. S. Chadha, Deputy Director, NIV, with their sincere team as well as the competent government authorities, for permitting Anuradha to write this report. I have covered the NIV beat and I know what it means to have public-minded scientists cooperating and collaborating with journalists in order to educate the public.

I have watched Anuradha blossom into an outstanding journalist, first at Maharashtra Herald and then Indian Express, both in Pune. She is a gold medallist from the Department of Communication and Journalism, University of Pune. I am proud of her as a colleague and wish her all that she deserves. Click here for her stories on the IE website.

Anuradha’s stories serve another public purpose. On behalf of the people of Pune, her stories are an open way of thanking the NIV team for their hard work and sincere efforts – beyond the call of duty and the monthly pay-packet.

Easy it is to criticise government officials. But difficult it is to say a good word when they do a fine job, in adverse circumstances against what Dr Margaret Chan, D-G, WHO, calls a “capricious” virus. By her stories, Anuradha says “Thank you!” to the scientists on our behalf.


Another journalist who is doing excellent work educating the Pune public, rather than driving them into hysteria, is Vinita Deshmukh, editor of the weekly Intelligent Pune (iPune). She was a recipient of the Chameli Devi Jain award for Outstanding Woman Mediaperson for 2008-09.

The iPune has written about the work being done by government hospitals in Pune, "Kudos to Naidu Hospital" by Piyush Kumar Tripathi (31 July - 6 August 2009, iPune). This piece appeared when there were 59 cases (256 cases by 10 August) in Pune and even before the first death due to the H1N1 virus took place in Pune on 3 August.

At a time when most newspapers were criticising the government for its response, the iPune report shows how the Naidu Hospital doctors, nurses and staff are rising to the occasion and boosts their morale.


Here are some links that you may find useful.

First, the swine influenza link on the NIV site, which leads you to other important links and documents. You can also call NIV on two phone numbers during the day. But make sure do not trouble them needlessly. They are busy doing our work day-and-night.

Second, the guidelines on the World Health Organisation (WHO) site. I found the FAQs, especially “What can I do?” most valuable. Navigate this site and unearth treasures here.

Third, the general information section on the H1N1 flu at the website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Here I found “What to do if you get flu-like symptoms” factual and hence reassuring. This site also has a wealth of facts and figures.

Four, we have the site of our Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Govt. of India. Please follow the instructions given here. There is also offcial data on this site. If you want to make our elected representatives answerable to the people, this is a site to monitor.

Since a lot of us are probably wearing masks, Rujuta Teredesai sent me this useful WHO advice on wearing masks. Click here.

These are some of the websites and pieces I talked about in the beginning of this post that will help us “Fight the H1N1 flu with facts, not fear”. Let us hope that, with facts and figures getting the upper hand, the man-made panic and the media-fed frenzy subsides.

Drink lots of water and wash your hands - two simple precautions we all must take. Take care.

Your support is my strength.
- Joe.

Pune, India, Monday, 10 August 2009, the day after Nagasaki Day.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sakal ‘incites mischief’ against teachers

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

The test of a working journalist and editor is how you care about what appears in your newspaper at times of conflict and confrontation. For I believe that readers are extra-receptive to what their favourite newspaper says – when the atmosphere is charged, for example, during riots or strikes.

That is why I was outraged by the headline and caption of a photograph that appeared in one of Pune’s most highly respected and honourable Marathi newspapers. Currently, more than 30,000 senior college teachers are on strike in Maharashtra, demanding that the recommendations of the Sixth Pay Commission should be also applied to them – without discrimination.

For me, the question is: “Should self-respecting senior college teachers be forced to resort to a strike, in order to compel the Maharashtra Government to give them what the Union Government has decreed is their rightful due?” The simple answer is, “No! The teachers must be given what the Government has promised them.” Framed in this way, the demand of the striking college teachers seems fair and just.

But let us look at how Sakal, one of Maharashtra’s most highly respected newspapers presents the case of the striking teachers. I was advised to rely on Sakal for honest and accurate reporting, ever since I joined Maharashtra Herald as a sub-editor in 1983. Some of my journalist colleagues, whom I respect and admire, belong to this paper. The first and foremost of them was the late Varun Bhide, one of the most fearless and honest journalists I have met and known. The list of the others is long and illustrious. So it is not easy for me to criticise it.

Let me describe the photograph, since I have not been able to download it from the electronic edition of this paper, which is more than 75 years old. The colour photo, is placed in a box in the top left-hand corner, extending across columns 1 to 4 in an 8-column grid on page 3 of the main Pune edition, dated Thursday, 30 July 2009.

The photograph is datelined Solapur, a district town, midway on the railroad between Pune and Hyderabad. It portrays in the left foreground a lone woman labourer breaking stones by the roadside. Beyond the pile of stones, a morcha (procession) of teachers is passing by. The morcha shows a group of female teachers followed by male teachers in the winding distance. One of the women teachers is holding a placard, “We demand salary and allowances according to the Sixth Pay Commission”.

But the five-word headline, in single inverted commas, pulled my eye out of its morning socket, ‘Ahe re ani nahin re’ (‘The haves and have-nots’). If it was not for this provocative headline, I would not have read the caption. But the ‘inequality’ caption stirred me. I must confess my socialist, nay communist, leanings at the outset so that a fair disclosure helps the reader to put my outrage into context.

Let me reproduce the caption in Marathi and then translate it into English: “Solapur: Pach aakdi pagar ghenara; pan tohi pota sathi kami padtoy, ase mhanat Sahavya Vetan Aayoga sathi morcha kadhnara pradhyapak varga ani tyach barobar potachi tich-bhar khalgi bharnya sathi khadi phodat sangharsh karnarya kashtakari vargache pratinidhitva karnari mahila ekach chhaya-chitrat disat aheth. Solapur Vidyapeethachya parisarat tiplele chhaya-chitra. (Photographer: Ramdas Katkar)

My translation cannot capture the raw punch of the original in Marathi: “Getting a five-figure salary; but saying that too is not enough for the stomach, the teaching class takes out a morcha, demanding implementation of the Sixth Pay Commission. On the other hand a woman labourer, representing the struggling working class, breaks stones to fill her tiny hollow stomach. Both can be seen in the same photograph near Solapur University.” (Photo: Ramdas Katkar)

When my eye had subsided into its socket and my outrage had calmed, I rang up a senior journalist (also a close friend) from Sakal, whose name I shall not reveal. I told him that the text of the caption horrified me. I told him that Sakal was telling its readers that the striking teachers were not satisfied with their five-figure salaries and were greedily demanding more. By sharp contrast, here was this poor woman, breaking stones to fill the tiny hollow of her stomach.

Sakal was pitting the class of teachers against the working class, using the photograph as an excuse. I accused Sakal of ‘inciting mischief’ against the striking teachers, with the hidden agenda of depriving teachers from getting any sympathy for their just and fair demands.

The senior journalist from Sakal thought differently. He argued that the photograph merely depicted the inequality (vishamta) existing in society and no other meaning should be attributed to the caption and headline. I told him I would write a letter to the editor spelling out my outrage.

Over the last three days, I have been thinking out the contents of the letter I said I would write to the editor of Sakal. Now I have decided NOT to send that letter and instead express my views on my blog.

What is the point of getting a small letter published on the edit page? Enormous damage has already been done. In one stroke, a five-word headline (in inverted commas) and a three-liner 39-word caption have declared that the teaching community in Maharashtra should be satisfied with what they have and not strike for more.

This is an attempt to sway the public and ensure that the striking teachers do not get the sympathy they deserve for their fair and just demands? Is this the power of the higly respected and honourable Sakal: “power without responsibility”?

I would like to have your free, frank, fearless … and fair comments.

Your support is my strength.
- Joe.

Pune, India, Sunday, 2 August 2009.