Wednesday, January 27, 2016

the curse of the medical cornucopia

Do falling hair and puffy eyes and lethargy and miscellaneous aches and pains have something in common ? Would that "something" also be responsible for erratic sleep patterns , wildly fluctuating appetite, and overwhelming ennui interspersed with periods of unadulterated enthusiasm ? Would that "something" account for irritability and temper tantrums and hysteria? Would that "something" be all manners of pills and syrups and suspensions labelled as modern medicine ? I suspect so. 

For several years, I have been a frequent visitor to hospitals and the consulting chambers of medical shamans. Each visit has meant a new prescription till a time came when I was swallowing pills by the handful. Pills for hypertension, pills for migraine, pills for high cholesterol, pills for anxiety, pills for low micro nutrients ----- and each pill came with its paraphernalia of side effects, till I reached the stage where I needed pills to combat the side effects of pills! 

My health did not improve, however. To the contrary, I grew worse each day till matters reached a low that I could not have anticipated. I crashed, and for several weeks, withdrew from family and work, not even making the effort to have  a meal a day. It was during that period of literal and figurative darkness that I decided to pitch all medicines into the nearest black hole, and switch to food and exercise as medicine. 

It has worked wonders. Its almost as if I have awakened from a troubled sleep and begun to live again. Almost all the symptoms of so called underlying pathologies have disappeared, and the only legacy of those dreadful years is a constant ringing in the ears which, I hope, will also succumb sooner or later to a healthy life style. The results are all the more dramatic given the time frame in which they have become visible ---- roughly two months. 

Of course, there are serious medical conditions which are not amenable to being treated by a no-medicines approach , but for all the illnesses for which  it does work, one ought to consciously steer clear of modern medicines and experience instead the miraculous healing powers of food, family and exercise. 

The more one adheres to traditional wisdom in this regard, the better. Things as simple as going to bed early, not having a meal after sunset, and spending time in rituals like prayers, ringing the bell or lighting a diya/ camphor lamps have helped me put hypertension and migraine behind me. Nor does one need a club membership or equipment to exercise ----  house work is the best form of exercise because it not only burns calories and strengthen muscles but also gives one the satisfaction of having a clean and orderly and sweet smelling home ! 

Last year, I had resolved to get fit enough to run a half marathon. I collapsed instead into a bundle of problems brought on by the medicines that were supposed to address my health challenges. I have great expectations of this year ----  and if I do live my dream of running a half marathon ( and who knows, a marathon some day !!) it will be because the curse of the medical cornucopia has been lifted off me. 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Swachhta needs more than a cess

A flurry of cesses to fund the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan has been proposed by the strangely named Niti Ayog ( Niti itself being an acronym for National Institution for Transforming India so that we have an organisation which makes the declaration that it is an institution AND a Commission in its name !!). Among other things, the cesses will fund "scientific waste management" which is simply a fancy way of saying that more money will be spent on collecting and disposing of waste, without the taxpayers ever being informed what is happening or has been happening with the public money that was allocated and spent by municipal authorities on "waste management".

Is the goal to minimise generation of waste and reduce the size of landfills till we reach  a point of zero waste - to - landfills, or is to simply keep increasing the landfill capacity?  If it is the former, are we looking at reducing or eliminating the waste reaching landfills by promoting waste segregation at source and waste recycling, reuse and recovery etc ? The first step towards zero waste - to - landfill is usually  ( because this is the optimal choice)  a thorough audit of current waste streams, including the quantities of waste, its origin and composition. Have such audits been carried out ? Have the results of such audits been made public ? 

Why are roads and streets not swept regularly ? Why is garbage not removed from garbage bins ? Why is garbage burnt? Why is garbage being transported in open trucks? Where is the garbage being taken ? Is it being disposed of in an environment-friendly manner? Are the safai karamcharis on the rolls of municipal authorities faithfully discharging their duties? Are the government employees who run the municipal bodies serious about waste management ? Do they see it as a priority both from the point of view of aesthetics and that of public health? Are they familiar with the best practices vis a vis waste management ? Are they rewarded if they do a good job and penalized if they are negligent? Do they involve citizens in the waste management exercise? 

The Municipal Solid Waste Act and the related rules also speak about the requirement of proper infrastructure for disposal of electronic/electrical waste, hazardous waste etc . Municipal bodies have been largely silent on these issues and the scattered initiatives of citizens in this regard do not receive the active support of these authorities. 

In towns and cities where construction activity is significant, proper arrangements need to be made for disposal of construction waste or malba. In the absence of such arrangements, malba litters public spaces and common greens, chokes water bodies and creates a public health hazard. 

Going forward, do we have a commitment that the additional expenditure planned to be incurred has these requirements factored in ?  

We should not spend more on "scientific waste management" till we have satisfactory answers to these very fundamental questions.  Unless the answers are forthcoming , no amount of additional expenditure will yield a 'swachh bharat" because huge amounts of money chasing undefined or poorly defined goals and ineffective monitoring of expenditure produces zero results -----we have seen that happen innumerable times in the past, the Ganga Action Plan being a good example. Why do we imagine that the same mistakes will produce different results where Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is concerned ?

The government may carry on with a business-as-usual approach when it comes to spending public money and not bother about reviews and audits and accountability, but if we are to live in a Swachh Bharat and help create that legacy for the generations that follow us, we must become more pro active as citizens, and begin to demand answers from the government.

Monday, January 4, 2016

more or less

Everywhere one looks, one sees commercials urging one to buy, whether it is in newspapers and magazines, on television or radio, on the internet, on outdoor hoardings and banners ----- buy what one does not have whether one needs it or not, buy more of what one has, buy upgraded versions of almost everything one had bought a year , a month , a week ago, buy because there are impressive sales discounts available, buy because celebrities are endorsing a particular product, buy because everyone else is, buy because no one else has and so on and so forth. The idea seems to be to buy first and figure out later why one has made the purchase one has ----- or not figure it out at all !

In a country where millions do have even the necessities of life ----food, clothing, shelter, medical care ------ the rush to buy more and more is almost obscene. It is not as if the poor are even visually segregated from the buyers thronging the markets. The poor are everywhere ----- they work in our homes, they beg on the roads , they stand guard outside the shopping malls, they are building roads, emptying the garbage bins of the half eaten pizzas that we carelessly leave in our plates when we pause to snack between shopping expeditions. They are everywhere, yet we do not see them, and our conscience is not smitten by their tired, unsmiling faces. 

We are blind too to the environmental cost of our unquenchable thirst for material possessions. The mountains of trash that packaging alone creates should perhaps be left outside the shopping malls for the patrons to realize that that which is not in their sight is nevertheless going to end up in a landfill and pollute the air and groundwater for far longer than their lifetimes. It is a terrible legacy to leave for one's children and their children and theirs. While we splurge on possessions we do not even need, the coming generations will pay the price for our profligacy. 

Of course, our lifelong pursuit of a bigger house, a better car, exotic vacations, designer clothes, gourmet meals, etc etc requires that we create the illusion that these comprise a satisfying, even happy, life. We have successfully constructed such an illusion on a scale gigantic enough to encompass almost all of humanity. Material possessions have replaced such attributes of a meaningful life as fulfilling one's potential, creating beauty, and practicing compassion and giving, and we do not step back from our frantic efforts to buy more so as to examine our lives and ascertain whether we are living the life we ought to. We simply assume that the more we buy, the more meaningful our lives will be. That is a false assumption, of course, and at some point we do pause and wonder why we aren't happier than we believed we would be. Unfortunately, such is the strength of our false beliefs that we attribute the lack of happiness to a relative paucity of material possessions rather than to the fact that life has to be more than an exercise in accumulating possessions if it is to fill our hearts and souls with contentment, even joy, and our pursuit of the riches of the material world becomes even more vigorous. The loss is two fold -----as individuals, we live dissatisfied lives without really understanding the reason for our dissatisfaction, and human society loses the richness that individuals engaged in meaningful activity and in creating beauty bring. 

What we need is a global movement to knock down possessions from the pedestal they have been placed on, a global movement on the same scale and of the same urgency as the movement to halt climate change. What good will our lives be in a world in which we as a species manage to survive by tackling climate change if each one of us lives an unhappy life , surrounded by millions and billions of equally unhappy men and women? Of course, there is no gainsaying the fact that one cannot live a happy, meaningful life if one is bereft of food, clothing, shelter, education, medical care etc, but we need to learn to draw a line somewhere. Possessions must serve an objective, not be the goal themselves. 

Pause. Look at your life. Are you doing the best you can with the abilities you were born with? Have you made a difference? Have you created beauty? Are you happy? Is this how you wish to live the rest of your life?