Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Rumi's poems : A trove of beauty


I am confounded, startled, unsettled and bewitched. I have too many questions in my mind now, after reading about Rumi. A wonderful poet, relevant for all times. Only five days back I had written on my Twitter account, “I want to become a friend like Rumi. Who guides even after death”. His wisdom in his poems and quotes is taking me by storm, especially those on “love”, my all-time favorite discussion topic. 

Initially when I started deliberating, owing to various articles on internet, I wanted to know whether the “love” that he talks about in his poems is that of God or is that of a lover. I thought it would help me in better interpretation of his words.  After more in-depth reading, I discovered that his words have a muse in Shams, his closest friend, guide, 20 years elder to him. Now, it is not uncommon for people not to strike the grapevine, after envisaging words of such insane profundity and not relate it to something beyond platonic love. Fair enough, I thought! Nothing wrong in that. Love is love, labelling love as “homosexual”, “heterosexual”, “intersexual” is a pure blasphemy in my opinion, as if the love which is common in all these categories is different in any form imaginable. 

What though then later piqued my interest was this: Is there any difference between “love” directed towards God and “love” directed towards a human being. And this question now I have no answer to. And drawing distinction only provides testimony to my shortsightedness and ignorance. Love is not  capable of differentiating one from another, either it is or it is not. So, there is no love directed to God and a different love directed to a human being or say to another human being. A distinction is a manifestation of flawed concepts about love. So, in effect I can assert that at higher levels an evolved human being loves no different than a God loves every human being. Makes sense, I think. 

Rumi is a wonderful poet and I am already enamored by his words, the way he expresses pain in his words, the way he expresses madness and eccentricity of a lover, the way he expresses the beauty of the beloved, the way he expresses love in all its forms. His poems give solace to a hurt lover, to a hopeful lover, to a lover who longs and never despairs, to a lover who loves in silence and pines in silence, to a lover who never expresses his grief but grieves in silence, to a lover who is learning what love is! 

It is absolutely impossible to make out the best poem by Rumi; this is the beauty of his words. One cannot make out that one poem which is better than the other, how incredible I wonder. I am in love with his poems. They provide a salvo to my heart, help me evolve and in the depth of his words, I feel like I am drowning and hence surviving and evolving. I cannot find words to describe how impeccable his writing is, no wonder he writes wondering about Shams. The beauty about writing, when deeply thinking and yearning for someone is that it is bound to become eternal! 

Rumi’s poems make me feel like love is always there and it does not need a lover or a beloved to be physically present. My favorite poem by Rumi is this (though there are many): 

“I choose to love you in silence…
For in silence I find no rejection,

I choose to love you in loneliness…
For in loneliness no one owns you but me,

I choose to adore you from a distance…
For distance will shield me from pain,

I choose to kiss you in the wind…
For the wind is gentler than my lips,

I choose to hold you in my dreams…
For in my dreams, you have no end.”

Sunday, September 18, 2016

What is Research?

I am not a world renowned researcher or a professor at some envious research institution, nor I am funded by any research laboratory around the world (though I would like all three to be true) to carry out my own small yet informing expeditions, yet I feel a responsibility to share how I have learnt what research is over the course of time.

I will be talking in the context relevant to the readers, the IPG ilk.

Research does not have to be a canker in the 5 year course which occurs twice, once after third year and second in the final year. It is meant to invigorate students, make them question what they mostly assume to be doctrines, definitely not to scare students behind the curtains of novelty or some billion lines-of-code. Research at college, is an opportunity, the first step towards creating something that one likes, a venture into understanding their own confusions and then working to find answers; basically it is a novel opportunity to learn and understand for a prolonged period of time which morphs into a learning incomparable from the one garnered, if at all, from appearing in the exams. And thus, my first point is that research does not have to be a “i-hope-this-finishes-soon” dread. It must be brought to the notice of students, that deep work for a prolonged time is an opportunity, a vacation and not a vocation, and hence students must look forward to research with pizzazz. The onus obviously lies on the team, the sentiment in the prevailing team ought to be bigger than, “I did more” or “I will do more to gain more grades”, or “He is not doing anything”. All these debilitating thoughts, for first, defeat the purpose of research and for second, are not conducive to create the ambience for solidarity in the team, which is important for work to progress.

It is a general perception among students that their work has to be out-of-the-box, novel or something which has not been done or even conceived before or may be they are coerced to believe and act in that direction; nothing could be further from the truth. Academic community mainly focuses(ought to) on child’s own learning, how she/he is doing or making something from scratch; the premise of existence of a solution is redundant for he did not make that solution. For example, it is learning when a student without using MATLAB writes a program to train and verify the data set. (I encourage students to try it) Accomplishment of this seemingly small, yet challenging problem will make a student confident to take on more tougher problems. Professors definitely have a big responsibility in molding future Boses, Subbaraos, Kalams. (Read the Kalam story when his professor tested his mettle).

Research, like love is a skill learnt and perfected over time. And there is a variety of beautiful research happening all over the world, in all hues exploring the use of information technology in sectors like health and education to name a few. Just because we are students of Information technology, does not mean we are limited to data structures, Neural networks, Machine learning, Deep learning, Image processing (excuse me for not putting MBA research topics, owing to my extremely diminutive knowledge in that domain); times have changed. As someone has said very eloquently, “do not think out-of-the box, think like there is no box”.

Research does not have to be a drudgery, it can be an enjoyment. But more than that it ought to be in a domain which you can relate to and contribute, for that connectedness will chart the course smoothly without making it a burden.

One of the flawed conceptions is also that a highly technical, esoteric and abstruse work is a commendable research, that’s not the case. We got to find our own definitions of a formidable research; for some it may be meaning, for some it may be developing, for some it may be hypothesising and then proving. I still am learning what research is.

I have a mentor in Bangalore, her name is Dr. Thelma Narayan, she is an epidemiologist and I end this article with words that I heard from her and they still reverberate strongly in my mind.
“We do not study or do research to publish, we do research so that it is useful for someone else in future” . When I heard it from her, I knew very well that I was in right hands.

-Contributed for the magazine Abhishar at ABV IIITM

An excerpt from "The Emperor of Maladies"

"The Emperor of Maladies" is a book by Siddhartha Mukherjee, which is touted as the Biography of Cancer. This blog post duplicates an intriguing section from the book. This post is about the effect of radiation for the cure of malignant human cells. 

"And for certain forms of cancer, it was a benediction. Like surgery, radiation was remarkably effective at obliterating locally confined cancers. Breast tumors were pulverized with X-rays. Lymphoma lumps melted away. One woman with a brain tumor woke up from her yearlong coma to watch a basketball game in her hospital room. 

But like surgery, radiation medicine also struggled against its inherent limits. Emil Grube had already encountered the first of these limits with his earliest experimental treatments: since X-rays could only be directed locally, radiation was of limited use for cancers that had metastasized. One could double and quadruple the doses of radiant energy, but this did not translate into more cures. Instead, indiscriminate irradiation left patients scarred, blinded, and scalded by doses that had far exceeded tolerability. 

The second limit was far more insidious: radiation produced cancers. The very effect of X-rays killing rapidly dividing cells- DNA damage- also created cancer-causing mutations in genes. In the 1910s, soon after the Curies had discovered radium, a New Jersey corporation called U.S. Radium began to mix radium with paint to create a product called Undark- radium-infused paint that emitted a greenish white light at night. Although aware of the many injurious effects of radium, U.S. Radium promoted Undark for clock dials, boasting of glow-in-the-dark watches. Watch painting was a precise and artisanal craft, and young women with nimble, steady hands were commonly employed. These women were encouraged to use the paint without precautions, and to frequently lick the brushes with their tongues to produce sharp lettering on watches. 

Radium workers soon began to complain of jaw pain, fatigue, and skin and tooth problems. In the late 1920s, medical investigations revealed that their bones in their jaws had necrosed, their tongues had been scarred by irradiation, and many had become chronically anemic ( a sign of server bone marrow damage). Some women, tested with radioactivity counters, were found to be glowing with radioactivity. Over the next decades, dozens of radium-induced tumors sprouted in these radium-exposed workers- sarcomas and leukemias, and bone, tone, neck and jaw tumors. In 1927, a group of five severely afflicted women in New Jersey- collectively termed "Radium girls" by the mdia - sued U.S. Radium. None of them had yet developed cancers; they were suffering from more acute effects of radium toxicity- jaw, skin, and tooth necrosis. A year later, the case was settled out of the court with a compensation of $10,000 each to the girls, and $600 per year to cover living and medical expenses. The "compensation" was not widely collected. Many of the Radium girls, too weak to even raise their hands to take an oath in court, died of leukemia and other cancers soon after their case was settled. 

Marie Curie died of leukemia in July 1934. Emil Grubbe, who had been exposed to somewhat weaker X-rays, also succumbed to the deadly late effects of chronic radiation. By the mid-1940s, Grubbe fingers had been amputated one by one to remove necrotic and gangrenous bones, and his face was cut up in repeated operations to remove radiation-induced tumors and premalignant warts. In 1960, at the age of eighty five, he died in Chicago, with multiple forms of cancer that had spread throughout his body. "

Friday, September 16, 2016

Gratitude and Love

When I come out of office and 
am embraced by a cool breeze
 I like to believe that you came running towards me
 and held me in your warm arms.

When in that breeze I talk to myself 
and smile and feel that breeze on my face,
 I  like to believe that you
 pressed your lips against my cheek.

And when the breeze makes my hair wave,
 in that very breeze of bliss, 
I like to believe that you playfully caressed my hair 
with your nimble fingers.

When in this breeze of love 
I feel cold and cover myself with my sports jersey,
 I like to believe that you wrapped me 
in the warmth of your bosom and I feel secure.

And while I walk back home with
 a metaphorical you in this breeze, 
I smile, the light in my eyes is brighter than that of street lights
 and I look at heaven above
 and say the only prayer
 that's worth saying, 
"Dear Lord, Thank You". 

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Actions


Small, it may seem,
Insignificant it cannot ever,
Slow it may seem,
Valueless it can never,
An action propelled in the direction of dreams,
steers the ship  towards the goal closer, a little more closer.

The joy in making effort,
is more than when the efforts get rewarded,
the joy of just working and enjoying,
keeps one's soul young forever.

Step by step, a step is completed,
series of steps completed is the journey completed.
The joy of completion of a step,
fills my soul with more verve,
and fills me with enthusiasm for steps left to cover.

Talking of actions as big and small,  
no longer matters to me,
non-stop actions is all that I seek,
For stagnancy would be a disease,
like a bee over the rose of my dream, i make sure
that i consistently hover.

Act today, act with might,
act and put up a good fight.
What if you got defeated?
The lessons learnt will make you a,
stronger warrior for the next fight !


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Why India needs Exercise physiologists trained for people with special abilities?

We have gyms, we have running tracks, we have institutions which help people with special abilities learn sports, we have physiotherapy units all over our country, but we do not have one thing. Or we do not have it on the scale it is required. What it is, one might wonder. 

Insufficient infrastructure and insufficient exercise physiologists for people with different abilities is what we do not have. There are degree programmes in Exercise physiology, but whether they are designed keeping into consideration “inclusive health and well-being”, we do not know. Know we not, the number of trained exercise physiologists in India; a Google search simply throws up names of institutions which have a degree course in Exercise physiology. The danger is very real and the implications of this laxity become difficult to trace in a small locality, but projection of this lack on the future of dis-abled people in a country of 1.2 billion presents a scary picture. I am not indulging into some claptrap. 

Let’s get an idea. Research after research has pointed out the benefits of exercise programs for people with disability. Fitness programming and physical disability do not have to be isolated from each other. [Book: Fitness Programming and Physical Disability. Patricia D.Miller]. The infrastructure is apathetically minimal in India. Certainly, inclusive health comes into a peril in such a situation. Disability is not a physical condition, disability is a social construct. Disability is when buses do not have ramps, when offices do not have elevators, when podiums or stages do not have ramp attached, when gyms which cater to the fitness needs of people are non-existent. The existing infrastructure stymies the desire and further limits the people. The situation looks like a pickle at the moment. But it does not have to be. 

I myself was in an emotional debility before I read “Wheels of Destiny” by N.S.Hema for I did not know how much ignorant I was towards the life needs of people with disabilities. It can be challenging, and it is, but it does not have to be de-motivating or restricting in any sort. Being an active advocate of a healthy lifestyle and body, it came automatically for me to ask myself, how do people with different abilities exercise? How do they ensure they live a healthy and active life? What do they do? Do they seek any guidance? Or internet, a controversial and contradictory space, is the only haven for their specific needs? All these questions intrigued me and they still do, and that can be unsettling at times. Unsettling to envisage how clearly prejudice is being engendered by ignorance of the policy makers. But despair has hardly accomplished anything in world. 

In countries like USA and Britain, there are organizations which cater to the health needs of people with disability. Please note that we are not talking about physiotherapists here, but about exercise physiologists in India to cater to the healthy lifestyle goals of people with functional limitations. A person with CP experiences marked difference in his pulling and pushing abilities with regular strength training, a person with weak calf muscles feels strong if he regularly exercises under the supervision of a trained person : these are my own observations among two of my friends. 

It needs to be acknowledged that health promotion for people with disabilities is a dire requirement, because sedentary lifestyle increases risk of chronic diseases like diabetes, cancer and those related to heart. Exercise also results in sense of gained autonomy which further encourages the person and makes him/her confident. And since this needs to be a country-wide phenomenon, government has an important role to play in the installation of necessary infrastructure to address the needs of people with disability. Like everyone, disabled people want scientific advances that help them participate more fully in their lives. 

One might question the viability of the vision given even the normal people do not exercise regularly. But non-existence does not have to equate with non-significance. 

Physical activity leads to a better and improved life; it must not be a prerogative of people who do not have disability. In cases otherwise, we must create traction or be the “change” to bring the necessary parties together to create a more satisfying living experience. A nation cannot be called healthy if 2.1% of its people are not getting enough opportunities to assist them to live best version of their lives.

Sincere friendships make life richer

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