Thursday, May 9, 2019

Medicine on phone

Last week I was under the weather. And the week prior, the rest two in the family. High grade fever, throat infection, etc bogged us all down. Situation sometimes warranted immediate advice regarding what should be done, whether a medicine had to be changed, whether it was time to start antibiotics, if it was required to see a doctor. And to give that much needed advice, all I had to do was pick the phone and text, or if situation was too emergent, to call. We weathered the two weeks.

I was able to  do so perhaps because I teach in a medical school, I have the fortune of knowing some good doctors, to have a good rapport with them. But how many have that privilege? May be only the socially active individuals would have a doctor in their phone list whom they can call or text seeking advice.

There arise umpteen health issues which needs advice. It could be a mental health issue, menstrual health issue, simple viral fever, gait issue, etc. But where does one go to seeking simple information, advice?

Internet, of course.

But internet suffers from the peculiar problem of plenty. There is so much information, misdirected that one will get lost more often than not.

There would be nothing like a person on the other side of the phone, listening with empathy, possessing adequate knowledge to address basic queries, direct, follow up.

In a country where healthcare is in a mess, plagued by severe shortage of doctors, tele medicine could serve as a panacea.

With increased mobile phone penetration, especially in rural India where gaps in healthcare is glaring, a toll free number which would help clarify simple questions about health, would be welcome.

One would think, what happens currently? For basic queries one who can't access or cave afford ends up with a quack or the nearest pharmacy, both places which are unlikely to give the right advice.

In such conditions to be able to talk to a health care professional would be beneficial and it has numerous positive fallouts.

The onus for developing such an enabling architecture should lay with the government for the positive externalities are plenty. The system could employ MBBS interns who would volunteer to retired doctors to other qualified healthcare professionals. CSR funds may also be channelized for the realization of such a scheme.

The challenges would be to find professionals who already are less in number, to provide solution givers in local languages, to ensure quality being maintained. The scheme can be piloted in few districts to iron out these issues before rolling it at the national level.

Health literacy is abysmal in India and issues like antibiotic resistance plague us. A tele medicine service can help in addressing many of these issues.

It is time such a scheme is given serious thought and experimented with.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

A decade in teaching - a reflection

Image result for 10 year anniversary
Reams of paper, red pen, big lesson plan charts, books, evaluation, I have seen them all since the time I did not understand what they were. A teacher mother brings all that to home. As a student, there was lot to emulate. The earliest memory of role reversal goes to 1999 when on Teacher’s Day, 5th September in India; we as class 9 students at Saint Lawrence School, were to teach junior classes. The seniors gave me a ‘most well dressed young teacher’ prize in the function that followed. 

Little did I know then that I will eventually become a ‘real’ teacher ten years later and then be at it for another ten years. Today, the 12th of January marks a decade being a teacher.

Angry young man
I joined Kasturba Medical College International Center, KMCIC, often called just IC, after a brief teaching stint at an allied health science college in Bangalore. I always wanted to come back to Manipal and the opportune moment arrived in the cool January of 2009.

As a 25 year old, with a post graduate degree in medical biochemistry, fresh with knowledge of various aspects of the subject, supported by public speaking skills gathered over years, the change in power equation cemented by stereotypes, the angry young man mode marked the beginning.

Exacerbated by the fact that the students were just a few years junior, all non resident Indians having brought up in a different classroom culture, alien to the Indian conception, a couple of walk outs from the class, reprimands, marked the first few months. In hindsight it stemmed from that need of decorum and discipline, almost military like, in a classroom which quintessentially equates to students paying respect to teacher. Crappy theory, one realizes later.

But then it became better. The realization that an unruly class, more often than not, is a failure of the teacher, that insulting an adult to shut him off is only going to alienate him further, that the various personality traits make for various reactions, that power cannot and should not be misused dawned slowly.

I could feel and see change in about a year or two.

In 2013 January, after a very enriching stint in IC teaching biochemistry and genetics, I moved to Melaka Manipal Medical College to continue teaching biochemistry.

I have taught a wide range of courses in these ten years. Mainly the MBBS program, interestingly one that is ratified by Malaysian Qualifying Agency, the former was by American Board. Apart than that allied health science, dentistry, biotechnology, dietary and nutrition, nursing and a few others. I have enjoyed teaching all these courses and I have never discriminated with students based on discipline, sadly a phenomenon widely seen.

Teaching is not just about the classroom. It is mentorship which affects students. The number may vary but I strongly feel that if a teacher can influence just one student positively, it has a butterfly effect. A drug addict, who had been in and out of rehab, a guy whose mental health made him involve in dangerous practices, a girl from a broken family having relationship issues, someone who had trouble concentrating on anything, one who just wanted to share her stories, someone who would lock him up in hostel room, one who would not come back to hostel, there are scores of such stories that I remember vividly.

Exasperating as it may be at that point in time to deal with such kind of trouble, I realized pretty early in my career that showing some support, listening to them, or just being there can make a sea change in people. Of the examples cited above, many of them are successful doctors in the US today, something that was unthinkable back then.

It is a very happy feeling for a teacher to see their students do well. There might be little or no role of the teacher in that success story, yet the mere feeling that you knew the person, interacted with her, tried to impart some knowledge, some skill, and that the person is seemingly doing well is a satisfying feeling.

The lure of the classroom
The one thing that has stood out in this past decade as a teacher for me is the lure of a classroom. There is nothing more exciting that being in a class. It is there amidst students, young men and women, eager to learn, to listen, where all worries vanish.

Unkind situations have led me to points where I have returned from an MRI scan of my one and half year daughter at 2 am in the morning only to take a class at 8 in the morning and it is in that class of an hour where the mind has not fleeted to the hospital. And that is just one example; there have been umpteen such situations.

What is it about the classroom then? It is perhaps the eagerness to share information, to engage with students, the urge to be effective which predominate all worry that the mind has been preoccupied with. It is blissful to be in a classroom taking class.

Teaching is not a job, it is a calling?
I have wondered about this statement often. Teaching has a calling component to it certainly, but it also needs a rigor that a job, even if boring, is associated with. To show up early in the morning, to have a class late in the afternoon, and with enthusiasm, with passion, needs one to like the work they do.

There is one thing about the teaching job that I greatly appreciate and am thankful for - the freshness of it. Every year sees one or two new batch of new students and brings with it the newness that is much required in any vocation. Each batch has its own dynamics, its own challenges, and its own energy. Teaching, for me, never gets boring.

I feel it is important to stay relevant. With each passing year the students change. A cultural shift, a generational shift, an attitudinal shift is all part of the game and sooner a teacher realizes that it is better for her. We cannot be using old techniques for new age students. Yes, a chalk and talk might be relevant for many decades to come but for example using technology to enhance learning should be accepted at a greater level.

Not just a teacher
I have had the privilege to do much more than teaching and some amount of science and medical education research in this past decade. As secretary of the university cultural coordination committee, the organization of inter collegiate fest, as emcee in umpteen formal and informal programs, as writer of numerous reports and yearbooks, as hostel warden for five years, as resource person facilitating sessions on soft skills, winning sports events and other awards, as coordinator for internationalization to website to disciplinary committee to more, these leadership positions at university and college level, these organizational activities have imparted rich experience.

Being in a private university like Manipal is a boon for a teacher for there is a lot of leeway and especially in my college, Melaka Manipal Medical College, which is not under the archaic medical Council of India, one can try new things, the curriculum has flexibility, innovation is appreciated and the overall work environment is relaxing.

A constant question that hits me after every module is ‘how effective have I been?’ I guess it has to do with ones teaching philosophy too. Mine is to leave the student with something that makes her search for more. I believe a classroom also is a room for discussing, with time permitting, issues beyond academics. In my decade long experience, I can vouch it inspires many students. Much has been written, lot of training is imparted on how to be effective and one must enroll in those and learn. But at the end of the day, if there is goodness that you want to share, aiming at enriching an individual’s repertoire of knowledge, skills and attitude, it will motivate you to be a good teacher.

Despite having my own set of disappointment about what I could have achieved in this last decade, I am largely satisfied with my evolution as a teacher. It is not necessary to win excellence in teaching awards to be content. It is rather the path to excellence that is important. And I am on it. I am involved in projects which aim at enhancing learning using technology and I am passionate about psychology and science of learning.

I want to empower my students, not feed them with ready to serve information. I want my student to be inquisitive, not content with whatever is served. I want my student to question all that comes her way, not accept authority in the way it comes.

Sometimes I like reading the few messages on cards, photographs, mementos that students have left behind in these years. They are a source of inspiration on a bad day.
At this point in life, I feel I can be a teacher all my life.

PS: Next update could be at least 5 years down the line.

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Letter to Aindri on her 4th birthday

Darling Chimpu,

First things first, I love you the most!

Am happy that you too have been saying 'i love you' a lot of late.

The year 2018 in which you transitioned from your 3rd to 4th year was a very tough one. Very could as well be an understatement.

Early in the year your maternal grandfather, Nanu, fell ill and then very ill with an excruciating treatment regime. When you grow up you will understand what this thing called cancer is. Your mother was down with back pain in the first half of the year. You will learn later what slip disc is. And then, you my child, were also not well on two occasions this last year. Very soon, we will explain you about this thing called epilepsy.

While these things preoccupied all of us for the greater part of the year, it is not these matters of ill health that remain as highlights in our life. It is rather the grit shown at the face of these eventualities that mark the character of human beings. And grit shown was aplenty.

Nanu fought well and fought brave and has been winning battles.You have seen and are seeing how near normal he is with you. Decades of discipline has helped him in this course. I hope you imbibe that quality of his, a hallmark of great individuals. Your mother started exercising, all by herself and at home and which has helped her fix this back issue to a very large extent. Steadfastness and the headstrong attitude if you can learn from her will help you go a long way. And you, in your capacity, have been so cooperative amidst all these hardships that we could not have asked for more.

We did manage to sneak a Goa trip, two trips to Odisha and a few trips to Bangalore this year. Though we would have wanted to take you to more places, but the year was not particularly helpful. The way you enjoy Goa, possibly because that is one place you have already been thrice in 4 years of your life, makes me wonder if a long term goal in life should be to buy a property there.

A lot is happening in the world to which you are oblivious at this age, but when you grow up and are ever interested in history and/or politics, which i secretly hope you do, you will see back in time that the world was getting embroiled in narrow nationalism, climate change becoming more visible and threatening, rise in protectionism, changing global order, etc. At the same time the advancement of humankind in terms of science and technology is set at a fast pace with machine learning, artificial intelligence being set to transform the way things have been done until now. Forget the world, as of now, more about you..

Remarkably, you went to school in 2018. Nursery in Madhav Kripa School, Manipal, has been an important landmark. When you won 1st prize in singing, which you really do have a penchant for, and 2nd prize in dancing, you made us very happy. Please remember, we would be equally happy had you not won anything. When we watched you dance in your annual day we teared up. Surprisingly and very impressively you have taken to identifying cars as they move on road very well. You identify models and makes with ease and this has surprised people to no end.

So, we celebrated your birthday with our 'regular' fried circle of nearly 40 people coming home, your mother baking a Spongebob cake, which you demanded and you getting loads of gift which worryingly includes 8 new clothes (how many can you have!?). Hope you enjoyed it and will remember it for some time to come.

Wish you a great year ahead, filled importantly with good health and peace.



PS: IF you notice in the last year I have written only 2 posts in my blog, (i have been writing more for popular press) one being a letter on your 3rd birthday. This year i plan to write more here including things that you might like reading later.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Toxicity of Twitter

Image result for social media problems 
(Pic source:

There is no escaping it. 

But is there something we can do?

Well there has much been written on perils of social media, umpteen research have now shown the ill effects of spending too much time on it, concerns of privacy of data has hit the headlines recently, and at the same time the user numbers are increasing, new platforms are emerging and the growth curve of social media is on the rise.

What do you want?

The first question that one should ask from one’s social media choice is what one wants out of it. Is it news you want to follow, music, art, politics, literature, whatever it is, there are pages, handles which will be of your interest and a wise thing to do is to restrict oneself to those.

But, it is often not the case. We want to keep abreast with happenings around the world; we want to see what a particular leader, a head of the state, has to say, for these things have bearing on our life and even if it does not one generally likes to be well informed.

And then there is the professor, your relatives, colleagues at work, friends, whom one follows, because that is how social media is a microcosm of the society we live in.

There starts the problem.

The TL (timeline) then starts filling up with stuff beyond our areas of interest.
In such a scenario one is conflicted when one sees that the colleague from work, otherwise a sane guy, is a bigot on Twitter. One is conflicted when one sees the professor peddling fake news.

What to do then?

Unfollow and sanitize your TL?

Ideally yes, but practically tough to do.

One can rather adopt this path. (I have done this on few occasions and plan to do it more aggressively in due course of time).

Check for your own bias
Disagreement, not toeing the same line, ideological differences, should not mean drastic measures. One should first check for ones own bias. Difficult, yet possible.

      Quality of argument
One should give the person one is disagreeing with some merit by critically analyzing the quality of their argument. If the points they make, makes sense, even if one is diabolically opposed to it.

Drawing lines
However we all have strict no go areas. Bigotry, racism, derogatory comments, whatever is ones absolute no-no area must be clear. Anyone crossing that should not be given benefit of doubt.
      Talk, if possible
In the example of the professor who peddles fake news that I cited, it might be the case that he is unaware of how to check veracity, to not be impulsive in posting, etc. If possible talk to him. Same with friends and colleagues.

      Do not feed trolls
This golden rule is very important. The troll is not just that handle with 3 followers and 10K tweets. It is the same professor, the same colleague that we are talking about. Avoid engaging with them on a public platform. It is pointless.

Don’t make a scene (if that is your way)
It might be difficult to unfollow that professor or colleague. Use mute option or any such feature where their posts do not appear on your TL in case you don’t want them to come ask you why you unfollowed them (lot of people do, and ugly RL scene ensues)

Dump them
If you are clear about your choices, you give a damn to what people might think, you have a healthy RL relation with people you engage with on social media, just dump the ones you feel are spreading negativity on your TL.

It is all easier said than done. When the mere ‘like’ of one you follow appear prominently on your TL, when news handles themselves indulge in all sorts of whataboutery, misinformation and bias, it is difficult to sanitize ones TL. Yet one can do it to a large extent.

For people who have been on the scene since a long time, they might have figured a way of doing it right, but for many who make new entry, for the purpose of having fun, to learn things, to engage meaningfully, the toxicity of social media can generally cause much negativity in their lives.

In the end it is imperative to understand that duels on social media, one-upmanship, belittling others, being caustic, is not going to change anything. You are the world and the world is within you. Improvisation and enriching of your being by learning an art form, reading books, spending time with family, watching movies, etc, is primary. Social media, much down the list.

Monday, January 1, 2018

Letter to Aindri on her 3rd birthday

My dear Chimpu,

You are 3 years old now. 

This past year can be called as the ‘year of the gab’. Yes, you started talking and you did talk a lot of it, and along with it many scores of things that melts heart.

Hindi, Odia, English and Kannanda, in the decreasing order were what you learnt and spoke. Your love for songs continued unabated. You sang more, sang better I must admit and sang variety. However it was dance with which you entertained us. 

The year 2017 (and I think being a 2nd Jan kid, it will be easy to keep a tab of the year easily) began fine with your birthday which was well attended and was a nice little function. Luckily the gifts you received are mostly intact after a year. You have not been, until now, the kid who smashes things. The operative phrase there is until now.

We made a quick trip to Goa in the last week of March and as it always is, we were mighty apprehensive about you and travel. But it was a good road trip by Biju mamu’s car. Well, how much your parents love Goa came to the fore when we repeated the trip, this time by train, in November. The second time around we were a little relaxed and let you play in the pool from where you refused to come. Trisha nani and Hitesh fufaa also made a visit then and met us.

The past year will also be marked by another special event. You started going to school. Having decided to send you to a small school, Minions, close by to home, we were happy that you were happy to go there. But that lasted just for a couple of days. You were in no mood to go there. Now since 2nd of December you have been going to Sonia play school and continuing your routine of crying for an hour in total! It is distressing for us; yet, the routine has to be set. So, sorry if you feel we have been cruel.

You have grown taller, almost reaching my waist in this year. Your food time tantrums are on a rise. Given the premature baby that you are, I am wondering if you are picking these naughty habits a little late! But your love for shawarma from Dishes, American Onion and Cheese potato chips, donuts from Crave, they are all fine. Which makes me think, you are becoming a bit like your father, being fastidious about food?

Your sleeping habits continued to keep us up for a large part of the year but they were better than the previous year. When your mother had to be admitted for inter vertebral disc prolapse (don’t worry about the jargon) you acted very mature by going alone with me, letting me put you to sleep, give you food, bathe you, etc. The way you spent the evening with your friend Tingia when we had to go to emergency will always be remembered by us.

The world in 2017 is a strange place. You will be easily bored to learn about the society, the politics, the geopolitics, that is shaping the world but at some point in your life you will perhaps understand it all. As a parent, I hope humankind keeps striving to make the world a better place for kids like you for when you grow up you should inhabit a place that is befitting for the energy, the enthusiasm, the vibrancy of your youth.

Well, the year had two set of visits from Jema and jepa and nanu and nani ma. It is now clear that people visiting us and your becoming naughty are interrelated. They all love you a lot, much more than what you can think. 

Again, there were plenty of times this past year when we thought if we were doing the parenting act fine. I thought I was being upset with you when you would throw a thing, not eat, not listen, and it was much more than before. If I have been unreasonable (and I am sure defying what impression a tiny tot like you give, you kids understand all that) then I am apologetic. 

We are all set for your birthday. Hoping all things good come your way this year and you have the courage to fight the not-so-good..

Love you loads!


Monday, November 27, 2017

Stench on our Skin

Image result for sitting on garbage india
Image source:

Men, often a few young boys,
Women, rare yet likely,
Huddled for a conversation
Like we do on a mound
Green grass covered
In the park.
But these men, boys, women
Are on a huge heap
Of stench emanating garbage.

Each morning, on trucks, lorries
Door to door
Apartment to apartment
Restaurant to restaurant
Picking up filth
Vomit-inducing rubbish
With bare hands
Without masks or gumboots
Displaying a normalcy
That isn’t.

Those big blue bins
With leftover food
Or used sanitary pads
With soiled diapers, or wet hair
Or when color codes we brazenly disregard
And throw that syringe, a razor
They touch these, it pierces them
But we play the ignoring game well
Pretending well
The non-existence of these humans.

Questions of caste
Of their subsistence
Unanswered yet known
Are relegated to the hind
Where cemented by conditioning
They pass along generations
And breed kids oblivious to
The strife of these men, boys and women.

The forms that resemble us
In cloak of flesh and bones
But on their skin is smeared
That invisible stench
Which no soap can wipe
And a part of the soul
Amidst it all is lost
And part of the mind
Numbed by cheap alcohol
Or that thinner
Caring no more to think

Rag-pickers, garbage collectors, koodawala
And all the hues in between
Part-dead, part-living
Cleaning our filth
Thought of, treated & thrashed as filth
These men, boys, women
Are on a huge heap
Of stench emanating garbage
Huddled for a conversation
Like we do on a mound
Green grass covered
In the park.