Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Life is beautiful... even when dusk sets in...

Old eyes, old memories, old beliefs but with a new twist- hope and cheer. That’s what the aged at the Ishaprem Niketan in Rasta Peth have. When I was supposed to visit the old age home for a story, I had imagined gloomy faces with innumerable sad stories to tell. But when I entered the premises, smiling faces with warmness surrounding them greeted me.

All the inmates were happy to see me and greeted me with enthusiasm. Immediately, they introduced themselves to me, telling me all about their life, what they had achieved so far and so on. They had so much to tell. One person, Chandrakant Golvalkar, who has acted as a side artist in a couple of movies, showed me his I-card and told me about his encounters with some famous actors. Another inmate, Bernanrd Lobo, remembers all the important dates and events in his life, even at the age of 75.

The ladies were a more enthusiastic bunch. Julie Jantas, a 62-year-old woman, loves to dance and she welcomed us by dancing. Any nice number plays on the television and Jantas breaks into a jig. She told me that when she was at home she didn’t have such kind of freedom, but here anything she does is welcomed. Another lady, Shanta Bhandari, kissed me on my cheeks, calling me her grandchild and told me that these people take her visiting gardens or to the circus, luxuries she otherwise wouldn’t have thought of getting.

They help each other- feeding each other, giving medication to the terminally ill and talking each other for a walk. An NGO called Nishkaam took them out on a picnic to Mulshi on Father’s Day, about which they were super-excited.

Looking at these cheerful inmates of the old age home, I thought all my worries had just flown away. We all have a lot to learn from them- including not losing hope, remaining cheerful come what may and keeping the child in you alive. For the inmates of the Ishaprem Niketan, life is beautiful, eventhough dusk has set in.

Joining the band of vegans

When you ask people whether they know what veganism is, all you get is, "Huh! Sorry, I didn't get you." But it's a concept that's fast catching the fancy of a number of people who want to go beyond just being a vegetarian. For the uninitiated, a vegan is a person who chooses to avoid using or consuming animal products.

Vasudha Louis, 33, an animator, has been a vegan for the past 14 years. "When I was a child, I had seen a chicken being cut and couldn't stand the sight. I stopped eating meat and gradually eggs too," she says. When Vasudha read Maneka Gandhi's book Heads and Tails, she decided to follow the vegan lifestyle.

Amruta Ubale, 26, an education officer with the NGO Beauty Without Cruelty (BWC) has been a vegan for the three years. She was brought up as a vegetarian and after knowing about the cruelty in the milk industry she decided to be a vegan. "As a vegan, I refrain from using silk, honey, leather and wax. I don't use pearl jewellery. Vegans also don't use cosmetics and toiletries, which are tested on animals or have an animal base," she says.

Being a vegetarian isn't easy, as one has to face many problems at social gatherings. "Many a times people would pass remarks, which I had to ignore," says Vasudha. Initially, Vasudha's in-laws could not understand her veganism as they are die-hard non-vegetarians.

Vegans substitute milk and milk products with soy products. For example, instead of having a milkshake they have a soy shake and instead of having paneer they have tofu. "When you go out to eat, it is easy to find vegan food in the Indian and Chinese cuisines," says Amruta. BWC works with industries, which manufacture vegan products and spread awareness on the same. Nowadays, restaurant joints and coffee shops offer vegan food and beverages.

Reports suggest that consuming vegan food may lead to certain deficiency. But vegans find an alternative to this by substituting meat with green leafy vegetables or dry fruits to get proteins and iron.

Clinical nutritionist, Dr Nupur Krishnan says, "I do not believe in a complete vegan diet as people have to be careful of what they eat." She advises consuming a lot of soybean products and pulses. "The food pyramid guidelines need to be followed by the vegans in order to remain healthy," she says. There are many healthy vegan recipes that can be found on the Internet. Websites such as indianvegan.com give an insight on how to remain a vegan and what products are vegan-friendly. A vegan does not support zoos, circuses, animal driven carts, animal riding, caging birds, keeping wild or domestic animals as pets for selfish ends.

Monday, June 14, 2010

When my heart skipped a beat...

I am submitting this story as Blogadda.com 's My first crush contest!


It was winter of the year 1997 and here I was, standing in a corner of the playground, perspiring. I had seen him and I knew it was now or never and I HAD to talk to him. He was a cool dude of my seventh standard class and I was a simple girl, a topper, cute-looking but definitely not ‘gorgeous’. And I was hopelessly in ‘love’ with him. Every look at him would seem like a fresh summer breeze, filled with the fragrance of flowers of vivid aromas.

He was my friend for five long years, and every passing year, I was more in love with him. Now, when I look back, it all seems so childish to me, but at that time it was more of a life-and-death situation. We used to play together, but now as he was the ‘hot property’ of my class, he had become choosy. And he chose to talk to me, which made me all the happier. Before I could reach him, he came to me and said, “Hi. What about lunch together?” in my mind, I had already started dancing to the tunes of ‘Pehla Nasha’, imagining myself and him dancing around trees like they do in Hindi films. “Hey!”, his voice brought me back from my dream world! “Yah,” I said quietly and we walked towards the classroom.

A tiny part of me wanted me to shut up and not tell him anything. But then I couldn’t keep it in my mind anymore. It had been two years that I loved him and wanted him to know. “Listen, Pinku (yes, that’s what I called him and he hated me for that),” I said. “Shush, how many times have I told you, no Pinku in school, duh!” he reminded me. “Okay. Listen Priyesh, I have to tell you something very serious,” I said. “First, you listen to me buddy. The reason why I have called you here is to tell you that I like this babe Sneha- the one who makes all the guys crazy,” he said. “Yeah. S-she is really cute,” I said, taking a deep breath, knowing what was coming. “She likes me too. I want to propose her formally and I need you to help me with some gift ideas,” he said, excitedly. I wanted to die or worse kill him for being so mean to me. But on the outside, I said, “That’s great. I know this really cool gift shop where we can go after school.” He stood up took my hand and kissed it and said, “You are a true friend.” Then he left. I stood there, frozen, not knowing what to do next. That was my first ever kiss- what if it was just on the hands.

Priyesh and Sneha became an item the next day- the hottest couple in school who broke up in eighth standard. I cried for some days- a week to be precise, cursing him for not liking me. I tried some makeovers too, which were a super-flop and finally, gave up. Even now, when I think of my first crush, my heart skips a beat and it always will.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Lost in the crowd

In Search of My Home is a documentary that depicts the trials and tribulations that refugees face in India

Phiar Vang, an old woman originally from Burma, lived in India for the past 22 years. She succumbed to tuberculosis because her family couldn't afford the medication and she wasn't provided with free government medical aid like thousands of other unregistered refugees don't in India.

In Search of My Home is a documentary directed by Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh, which talks about the day-to-day problems that the refugees face in our country. "India houses a huge number of refugee population, but yet there isn't any comprehensive domestic refugee law, that could guarantee them their basic human needs and a life of dignity," says Thomas. She informs that the refugees need to be registered by the UNHCR-UN Refugee Agency, after which they get proper education, healthcare and other facilities. "But there are many people like Vang, who can't get registered and are left in the lurch," she says.

Thomas and Ghosh researched for a period of almost eight months on refugees and their lifestyle. Both Ghosh and Thomas have obtained their MA in mass communication from the Jamia University in Delhi and are documentary film-makers. "We interacted with the refugees staying in west Delhi and came to know about their problems," says Thomas. It took them three months to finish the shooting and the post-production of the documentary.

The documentary was made as a part of the Infochange Media Fellowships, which are awarded every year by the Centre for Communication and Development Studies (CCDS) to researchers, writers and film-makers to cover a subject related to social justice or development in India.

The film has two stories - one of an old Burmese woman and another of an Afghani man called Masoud, who has to take care of his wife and eight children. The documentary, which is based out of New Delhi, is in various languages like Hindi and Chin--a Burmese language and has English subtitles. "The characters narrate their own stories in this documentary," says Thomas, who co-owns Black Ticket Films with Ghosh. "This film will be screened in different parts of the world on June 20, i.e. World Refugees Day," says Hutokshi Doctor, director, Centre for Communication and Development Studies.

When marriages are made at home

Tying the knot with your first cousin may require less adjustment but it can lead to genetic complications, say experts

Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, Franklin Roosevelt and HG Wells share a common link, one that goes beyond the obvious fact that these men were exceptional in their respective fields. They all married their first cousins.

That's the path 25-year-old Ayesha Riyaz Nadaf's family chose for her. Her parents were elated when she consented to marry her paternal aunt's son. The reason was that she would be well-looked after in her new home. "When I was single, I received plenty of marriage proposals, but my parents accepted my relative's offer immediately," says Ayesha. There was little adjustment post-marriage. "We were not strangers and I knew his likes and dislikes," she says.

While many cultures, especially in the West, baulk at the thought of marrying within the family, the situation is slightly different in India. Our law accepts unions between first cousins, if the family and community members have given their consent.

But keeping it in the family is a risky business as the children of non-related couples have a 2% to 3% risk of birth defects, as opposed to those of first cousins, where the risk is as high as 6%.

"When marrying a person belonging to the family, it is strongly advised that the couple should consult a geneticist first. If the family has a history of any genetic disorders, there is a possibility that the children may develop complications," says Dr Jyoti Unni, gynaecology department head at Jehangir Hospital. Gynaecologist Dr Anshu Kulkarni says that the progeny of first cousins, who get married may develop disorders such as colour-blindness, haemophilia and thalassemia.

Ayesha and her family were aware of these problems and they consulted a gynaecologist, who gave her the go-ahead to start a family. "I have a five-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son. They're perfectly healthy children," she says proudly.

It was a different story for 29-year-old Pushpasheel Thakar, a practising lawyer. He fell in love with his first cousin and married her despite opposition from the families. "Initially, our parents didn't agree to our marriage, but they had to give in. We didn't face any problems from society either," he says.

For Thrity Dadabhoy, head of corporate communications at WLC College, marrying a first cousin was no big deal. "As our community is small, unions with first cousins are quite common. In fact, my grandparents were also first cousins, and were the children of twin brothers," she says.

In the north, inter-family alliances are rare occurrences. "In Delhi, where I stayed earlier, this is rare, and I faced a lot of censure," says Thrity. But despite being happily married for 29 years, with three healthy daughters, Thrity does not recommend people marrying within the family.

"In those days, there was little awareness. Now, it is a known fact that one's offspring might suffer from medical complications, I would advise against marrying your first cousin."

In some pre-arranged unions, accepting a cousin as a spouse, takes a lot of adjustment. Dr Kulkarni says, "One is born and brought up in the same family as the cousin and both parties have to be mentally prepared for a major shift in family roles." Family conflict always exists and marrying within the family may lessen it. "Getting married to a cousin also calls for a certain amount of adjustment. It is like any other marriage, compromise is a part of it," says Thrity.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Up close & personal at the click of a mouse

Founders of Marathi social networking sites say it is difficult to maintain exclusive community-centric websites

With Marathi social networking sites evoking a sense of pride and honour towards the language, there are mixed reactions in the Marathi-speaking community regarding the use of these sites. While some sites are doing well pertaining to members and activity, some are shutting down due to decreasing memberships.

Ajay Gallewale, founder of the website maayboli.com, which boasts of over 29,000 members, is based in Boston, USA. "Maayboli started as a joke. My wife Bhavana wanted me to build a 'home'. Like any new immigrant to the US we didn't have money. So, I said I will build you a 'home page' instead," says Gallewale. He and his wife Bhavana started Maayboli on September 16, 1996 in Boston. What started as a personal site later went on to become a universal networking site for Marathis all over the world.

Maayboli has around 1,42,198 visits per month and it has grown without any advertising. "It spread through word of mouth," says Gallewale, who is passionate about writing and edited his college's magazine as a student of College of Engineering, Pune.

He adds, "There are a few non-Marathi people, some Indians and some non-Indians who are members of the site. They also order Marathi books from us."

Founder of a social networking site marathiasmita.com, who is known by the name Marathi Superstar, has a different tale to tell. "Many social networking sites such as Orkut and Facebook are cluttered with non-Marathi people spamming Marathi communities. So, I planned to start a site exclusively for the Marathis," he says. He started the website on the Jagatik Marathi Din on February 27 this year. "Many people helped me popularise the site and by making new logos and moderating it. We started off with around 1,789 members," he says.

Superstar adds it is obvious that there will be piracy, fake profiles on a social networking site. But people started blaming the owner even when the content was moderated. "That's why I am planning to sell off the site. Advertising is also expensive, if considered as a mean to revive the site," he says.

Darshan Kharshikar, a media professional, who is hooked on to a Marathi social networking site, says, "I had seen some three to four such sites, but they weren't so great content-wise. Then I came across a site which had good content and activity scope and got hooked to it." He adds that he joined the site to make friends with like-minded Marathi people. "I write blogs, share my trekking experiences with members and also discuss literature on forums. I have made quite a few friends and we have also gone trekking," says Kharshikar.

Priya Joshi, a student, is of the opinion that joining such Marathi sites isn't a good idea. She says, "We can interact with Marathi people on other sites as well. There is no need to create such exclusive sites and raise a bias. I have joined Marathi groups on Orkut and Facebook and interact with Marathis," she says.

The content and the people on the Marathi networking sites is what make them successful or otherwise. Gallewale says, "We feel successful when our members and partners achieve success through our site. One of the Maaybolikar, Nalini, made an appeal to Maaybolikars in Netherlands and with other members around the world they raised funds for school in the village Gondegaon in Ahmednagar."

An apple a day!

A recent study suggests that an apple diet helps protect the brain from effects of oxidative stress, helps aid digestion and promotes weight loss

An apple might successfully keep the doctor away, but recent research also proves that apples help you have a good memory even as you grow old. A study by the University of Massachusetts Lowell suggests that eating and drinking apples and apple juice in conjunction with a balanced diet can protect the brain from the effects of oxidative stress that contributes to age-related memory loss.

Apples are a very good source of dietary fibre, which helps aid digestion and promotes weight loss. Elaborating on the study and on the benefits of apples, nutrition consultant Geetu Amarnani, says, "Apples are a rich source of vitamins and minerals. They are low in calories and fat which means you can eat lots of apples without consuming too much energy." She adds that the fibre helps by filling the stomach quicker and thereby limiting the amount of food eaten.

Apple is found to prevent skin wrinkles and is also found to play a role in inhibiting ageing-related problems, preventing wrinkles and promoting hair growth. "Apples contain flavonoids and antioxidants that improve immune function, prevent heart disease, and some cancers," says Amarnani.

Amarnani discards the myth that consuming too many apples can lead to tooth decay, by saying, "On the contrary, eating apples is very good for the teeth and gums. Biting into the apple will exercise the gums keeping them healthy." It is better to eat a fresh apple or preparing apple juice at home. The apple juice available in the market is processed and contains extra sugar and due to the chemical treatments, it may also lose the nutrients in it.

One of the most easiest way of incorporating apple in daily meals is to eat them fresh at breakfast time or any time during the day as a mid meal snack. Apples can be added to most dishes like salads, or baked in desserts to make them tastier and more nutritious. Washington apples which are said to be the best apples in the world are available in India. Sumit Saran of SCS group which represents the Washington Apple Commission in India says, "Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Granny Smith are some of the popular variants of Washington apples in India."