New Year’s resolutions – taking a reality check

This was the blog I ought to have written a month ago. But lethargy and inertia beat me down. I would conjure up the energy to write and remove all distractions from my immediate vicinity. Like give kids their favourite toys, switch off notifications, keep my mobile in next room, finish returning calls (especially my mother’s), switch off the wifi, all done and checked. Then I sit with my laptop just the two of us, looking at each other earnestly. Who blinks first? This looks hard I say to myself, other mundane things all of sudden look important. Now all this looks like an utter waste of time. This is what happened the first day of the last month. I fine tuned the expectations from myself which meant essentially giving up with dignity. Truly, I felt some relief but I knew an impending sense of guilt is awaiting me.

So this is yet another attempt in the following month. I was fishing for ideas for this year’s resolution and I used to be a big fan of it. Until parenting, household and work made the possibility of it self evident. come to think of it each year we set these seemingly ostensible goals, which fall apart the very next day (at least for some of us). But we still look longingly at them and hope they become fulfilled one day. Our insistence on self improvement and our hope to see ourselves as better human beings is what inherently drives our species, isn’t it?

Honestly, I have been recycling these promises for the past few years. In 2015, I thought I should learn a new skill, so I picked swimming. I enrolled myself and went to the first class with my two kids, 5 and 1.5 yrs then, they cried, howled and created a scene. I never went to the second session. The following year I enrolled again and this time was in the month of July. I took three classes and the fourth one witnessed a heavy deluge to tank my motivation. This year I thought I should blog. So you think you can write?, reciepe for a new TV series, I say. I have always thought I could, though completely delusional of myself, but at least I gave it a try. So the idea is to blog each day of this month. I need to essentially push myself everyday till I have internalised the process after which I switch to auto pilot mode. Seems like a corporate strategy well explained. So lets try and hit the button…


Peripheral Neuropathy and Ofloxacin drug

My father had underwent a series of medical complications about two years ago. The intention of writing this blog is to make aware many of the readers who have had similar experiences. My brother, my husband and I have scoured various forums and medical websites to learn from experiences that others have had. This is an attempt to contribute to that pool.

In August 2011, he got severe diarrhea which seemed like food poisoning, after he ate prasadam from a temple. Knowing him and his reluctance to take “english” medicine (term used for allopathic medicine in Kerala), he must have tried to treat himself with some home remedies. He started getting high fever at night which would subside after taking paracetemol but he would get again feverish in few hours. This stint continued for about a week, after his experiments failed to relieve him, he finally drove to the hospital to get checked. The hospital narrowed it down to typhoid and malaria, because of the intermittent occurrence of fever. Blood tests were done and malaria was ruled out. Under the suspicion of typhoid the doctors started treating him for typhoid. Ofloxacin the commonly preferred anti-biotic drugs in India was administered to him.

My husband and I went to visit him during this time. He looked like he put on 10 years extra on his face. He was able to walk but started to lose balance when standing. Brown rashes appeared on his eye brows, forehead, ear lobes and jaws. He complained of stomach ache and reported no relief even after taking Ofloxacin. My husband expressed his concern about the lack of recovery and decided to read about this drug. He was shocked to see that every search result consistently warned against any use of this drug and that it is banned in almost all developed countries. United States Food and Drug Administration has put a warning on its website about this drug and has notified significant number of serious adverse drug reactions, such as tendon damages (including spontaneous tendon ruptures) and peripheral neuropathy (which may be irreversible). It further says that such reactions may manifest long after therapy had been completed, and, in severe cases, may result in lifelong disabilities. This drug has also been associated with severe psychiatric adverse reactions. It was too late for us to stop it even after repeatedly notifying the doctors about this information they didn’t pay any heed to us. I remember a friend of ours was treated with a variation of this drug and complained about hallucinations. He jokingly said, now I know what it is to feel like when hallucinating.

Meanwhile my father started complaining of extreme pain in his legs. He would wake up in the middle of the night screaming in excruciating pain, unable to go back to sleep, he would wake up everyone in the house. My mother and I would tie dupattas (long piece of cloth) around his legs which would relieve him of some pain. He began loosing weight rapidly too, he lost about 10 kilos in two weeks. It became extremely painful for him to walk, he always needed support to stand. He lost appetite and became extremely moody and irritated.

Without much relief we decided to take him to Kasturba Medical College Hospital in Mangalore. This city is the hub of hospitals and this particular hospital is quite reputed. Every year lakhs of patients come to this hospital from neighbouring states, especially Kerala. Here they conducted an entirely new regimen of tests and medicines. They did MRI scan, CT scan, endoscopy and various other tests, I guess to rule out any possibility of cancer. They found fungal infection in his food pipe, which generally happens after a heavy routine of anti biotic drugs. So they treated him with anti fungal drugs. Finally after a stay of 10 days at the hospital they concluded that his was the case of rheumatoid arthritis.

After coming back home the excruciating pains in his calf muscles which had reduced to half now got no relief. He would squirm in the bed due to pain and soon we again started losing hope. Friends and family who came to visit recommended ayurvedic treatment and soon that also started. He would undergo an extreme session of oil massage and heat therapy for couple of hours every day for about a month.

By this time he began to experience numbness in his feet and in the tips of his fingers. Any recovery from the pain was now increasingly feeling like a dream. The status quo of his condition was suffocating and we thought of consulting doctors at Malabar Institute of Medical Sciences, Calicut which is another reputed hospital in Kerala.

Again he was subjected to a series of tests. Peripheral neuropathy was concluded as the culprit and to rule out any such cancerous growth nerve biopsy was conducted. Cancer was ruled out and out we came after two weeks from the hospital but my father’s pain didn’t reduce and any marginal improvement was not in sight. Doctors prescribed pain killers so that he could sleep at night, but all in vain.

My brother came down from the US, skeptical about the authenticity of treatment available in India’s remote cities, he decided we need to consult one of the best doctors in the country. So off we went to Mumbai and with my Father-in-law’s connection we got an appointment with a leading neurologist at The Fortis Hospital. This doctor was very dynamic and she congratulated that things have not gotten really bad. She told my father that you should feel lucky if things don’t get worse than this and that he should make “friendship with pain for the rest of his life”. After visiting her we felt like we were at the bottom of a ditch. She referred us to another leading neurosurgeon who is the Dean of the Neurosciences department at Bombay Hospital. He suspected some kind of a cancer and suggested to take a radioactive test to eliminate any such possibility. The test results came negative and it instilled a new life in all of us.

During about that time his wound because of the nerve biopsy wasn’t healing and we had called a general physician home to check him. As soon as he saw my father he asked promptly, “What is his sugar level right now?”

“Right now”, I looked puzzled.

“Alright then, what was it today morning” he asked as if giving me some leeway.

“Uhhh…”, that’s all I could do.

This doctor is now known in our family as Mr. Divine Intervention. My brother immediately stepped out to buy a glucometer. My father is diabetic but he has not had a bad history and not even a long one. In all our minds my father developed this condition of peripheral neuropathy from Ofloxacin drugs, as he has never had such symptoms before. But the cure or relief rested in controlling the blood sugar levels.

We are perplexed today after two years looking at him. He walks about 4 kilometers every day without any aid, works in the garden, also climbs trees, drives the car and does everything as normal as anyone. About two weeks ago he went again to the same hospital to get his routine body check up. The doctor looked at the reports and advised to stop all his blood pressure and diabetes related drugs. He today doesn’t take any pill.
Finally, we all owe this health which is almost like a rebirth to my mother who took care of him like a baby.

Story of a Newspaper for the Bottom of Pyramid : Janta ka Aaina

Shakil Ahmed is the most socialist person that I have seen in my life. I am not saying he is godly but there’s something about him that tells you that he is probably one of the very rare kinds that is left in today’s world. He doesn’t get easily knocked down and am in awe of his blue blooded objectivity. I first met him in his office in Wadala in 2006 in relation to some work with a NGO. He had just come back from the court, where he was representing a victim from the slum in a criminal case. After that day I formed an impression about him which hasn’t changed yet. There was no grey area in his talk just like his clothes, his perceptions about the Government and how it needs to serve its people is quite clear. How they lag behind and where and what needs to be done.

But before I met Shakil, he has worked as a carpenter, a milk seller, a newspaper delivery boy and a mechanic. From selling bean bags in Malabar Hill housing societies to selling paan masala in Kamathipura he had adorned various caps in his life.
He has a graduate degree in Commerce and a post graduate degree in journalism and currently is pursuing an MA in economics from Mumbai University. He finally became a Lawyer and a Human Rights Activist and has fought many landmark legal cases over the years like Ramabai Firing and 1993 Hari Masjid Firing. He has actively campaigned for the implementation of the Sri Krishna Commission Report.

He says that, “Good people so far have kept themselves away from ‘dirty’ politics. It is not the right approach to stay away from politics blaming it to be dirty. If we want to purify it, and we must ourselves have to come into it”. So he stood for the last Assembly election and experienced in the real sense, the dirtiness of elections and how media manipulates to propagate where they see gains. This inspired him to start the first ever local Hindi newspaper “Janata ka Aaina” catering to the 70% of the population of Mumbai who largely live in the slums.

Newspapers are used as handles by political leaders and by large corporations for promoting their propaganda or increase their revenue. None of the papers talk for or talk about the bottom 70% of economic strata. Press coverage are largely meant for consumption of middle class and rich.

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Paid news is becoming a menace with select newspapers controlling tools of public interest and twisting news and facts to the benefit of certain candidates and parties. The above were the exact words used by the newspaper editor during last elections to Shakil. Election Season is Dilwali Time for Newspapers.

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Publish News to Sell Products
Advertisers put pressure on Newspapers to sell more. In an eye-opening survey released last week, major newspapers reported huge surge in profits on advertisements related to luxury items that cater to only 1% of the population. Most newspapers are only publicly admitting now what they have been doing for years now. Publish only selective news for the top 1%.

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Bottom 70% is hungry for news relating to them

Crores of population not just in Mumbai but in our entire country is under served with news. Atrocities against Dalits, minorities, women continue unabated in the country but news media is only obsessed with cricket and other news that sells products.

People’s newspaper is in its 4th year!

Shakil started Janata ka Aaina which runs fortnightly and covers news that is ignored by the mainstream media. Here is the link of the paper

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Nurture Shock – Why Everything We Think About Raising Our Children is Wrong (Part 2 of 2)

(Part 2 of 2)

The Science of Teen Rebellion

Nancy Darling and Linda Caldwell from Penn State University conducted a survey among high schoolers. The topic was called “leisure time” which is something that the teens involve themselves in without their parents or any other adult supervision. Darling seems to remark that “when they are bored and don’t know what else to do getting drunk makes everything else very interesting”. Out of the 36 controversial topics that they asked of which 12 of them were something that they lied frequently. They lie about how they spend their allowance, their sex life, what clothes they wear outside home, which movie they go to and with whom. They also lie about alcohol and drug usage and how they spend their time in the afternoons when they are not supervised. Darling found out that 96% of the kids lied to their parents on these issues. They rarely outrightly lie sometimes to save them, but most of the time its providing them with half truths. Telling them only half the stories. Upon investigating the teens mentality many seemed to think that they lie only because they want to protect their relationship with their parents, they didn’t want their parents to be disappointed in them.

Some of the parents of these kids know that they are not getting to hear the truths so they begin to be permissive parents and avoid setting out rules. Darling and her team suggest that such parents don’t get to know any more. Infact the kids begin to see them as irresponsible and think of them as not caring for them and that “they hate the job of being a parent”. According to a Harris poll 78% of the parents think that their kids can talk to them about anything, however the kids disagree to that. From a teen’s perspective asking for help from the parent is an outright admission to not being able to handle the issue by themselves.

The kind of parents who enforce few rules consistently are the most effective. They seem to be more approachable and when they set the rules they explain the reasons behind them too. The kids may not entirely disclose everything but they have very few issues that they hide.

Can self control be taught?

In schools kids are subjected to many “well-meaning” training programs. Even though the school takes it on their onus to produce responsible citizens, they are not even merely effective. The teachers, administrators and parents love such programs but it hardly scratches the surface. Only a very few children seem to be have gained from it and long term improvement is even rarer.

This book talks about this amazing curriculum program called Tools of the Mind for pre-kindergarten and preschool kids. The teachers do things a bit differently in this program. The children make their own play plans. The teachers don’t actively interfere but nudge them when they get distracted. When children are given the authority to make their own play plans you are handling them maturely and it will sustain for a longer period of time.

According to Dr. Silvia Bunge, a neuroscientist at University of California Berkley, child’s regulation of focus is a kind of cognitive control. She researches a region called the rostral lateral prefrontal cortex in the brain. This is the part that is responsible to maintain concentration and setting goals. So when kids are given the authority to make plans for their play time they are actually developing towards making this region stronger. Cognitive control she says is something that the brain needs when it has to manipulate information, conserve memory and evaluate options. It also manages the process of getting bored or irritable because of lack of interest or anger.

Hence allowing freedom for kids to make their own decisions and not read instruction manuals on how to eat, when to sleep, what to do at what times gives them a chance to learn by themselves.

Why Hannah talks and Alyssa doesn’t?

This is a shocking finding and one of my favorite statistics that I love to throw at new parents. In November 2007, a journal called Pediatrics published a report by University of Washington which was about the so-called baby videos like Baby Einstein, Brainy Babies, etc. It was found that infants who watched them had a remarkably low vocabulary than those who had not. This report was like a slap on the face of the $4.8 Billion (annually) industry. Another research team started working on the efficacy of this report and called on hundreds of families who strap their babies in front of these DVDs. The parents were asked to complete a survey to figure out if this is making difference. They made a list of 89 common words that babies are known to know at this age. After they studied the responses they found out that every one hour of baby video watching every day the babies knew lesser 8 words of 89 words. For a typical 11 month old baby that might be 16 lesser words, might not be a big deficit but at that age every single word empowers them to express themselves precisely and clearly in the world surround by adults.

This is why language learning can not be delegated to watching DVDs. Majority of the times they learn to speak by lip reading. How a word ends and other begins is learnt by closely watching how the mouth and lips move. They learn also by the interactions that they have with the adults. In one study two kids of 9 months of age and same level of understanding, Hannah and Alyssa were compared in relations to their acquisition of language. Hannah’s mother rarely missed any opportunity to responded to her cues. She would constantly talk to her about the world around while she is walking down the road or shopping. While Alyssa’s mom did less than half. Hannah’s mom responded 85% of the time while Alyssa’s mom did so only 55% of the time. By the time they were 18 months Alyssa added on 8 new words while Hannah added a phenomenal 150 words to her vocabulary.

I have tried to gather all the key statistics and findings that I gathered while I read this book. While this book is much more than what I have described. It certainly is a revealing fact and an astounding find.

Nurture Shock – Why Everything We Think about Raising our Children is Wrong (Part 1 of 2)

This is a book by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman first published in 2009.

Nurture Shock

This term simply means the state of panic that the new age parents have found themselves in. This new generation of parents have kept their instinctual knowledge and natural behaviours at bay. They are looking to tap into abode of knowledge that is prescribed in baby books and parenting manuals.

Nurture shock puts cold water on your face if you are one such parent. This book covers a wide range of topics from “brain fibre to moral fibre” and it is about children from toddlers to teenagers. There are specific chapters devoted to the importance of sleep, how praising is devastating, why children lie, the acquisition of language, learning self-control, aggression, gratitude and intelligence.

Why kids lie?

Dr. Victoria Talwar is one of the leading experts on children’s lying behaviour, has conducted various tests on children to understand their motivation to lie. She says that its the parents who corner them and give them no other option but to lie, they tended to test their honesty unnecessarily. She figured that talking more about lying and its ill effects is actually not helping in the outcome. 96% to 98% kids admit that they is immoral but 96% of them admit to have lied to their parents. Lying has been the most talked about topic in school and on the sports ground. In one of her tests she asked 5 yr olds if they thought lies were wrong, of which 92% agreed. Upon asking why they thought it was bad they all said that lying gets you punishment.

So they associate the two together in a way and think that they need to mitigate the risk of being punished when they lie. It takes years for them to understand the repercussions of lying in a social relationship context. Researchers found that kids who are under constant threat of being punished don’t lie less, infact they become good liars at an earlier age.

Talwar goes on to explain that its not actually being truthful that is challenging. Infact to lie one has to understand the truth and cook up or creatively weave an alternate scenario that is not far from truth but is believable. This kind of skill is simply not required if you have to say the truth. So she calls this as a “developmental milestone”!

The inverse power of praise

It might seem counter intuitive but when you read the logic behind is unbeatable. Parents praise their kids habitually some praise at every chance they get. According to a survey conducted by Columbia University, 85% of Amercian parents think that its important to tell their kids that they are smart. These kids then are showered with compliments for almost every finger they move, ofcourse the right way. They are made to believe that they are innately great and they have it all. But a new study of the New York City public School system reveals a rather shocking reality. This study strongly suggests that by naming kids that they are smart you are actually not preventing them from underperforming but this might be actually causing it.

Dr. Carol Dweck is a faculty at Stanford University who is conducting a study on 400 fifth graders. Randomly the kids were divided into two groups. One group was praised for their intelligence and one group was praised for their efforts. The groups were given tests in two rounds. They were told their scores after the first round and one group was praised for their smartness, “Oh you are so smart!” the research assistants would tell them. The other group were also told their scores and appreciated like, “You must have really worked hard for this.” Then both the groups were given their 2nd rounds of tests. In this round they were given the choice for opting for a harder test than the previous one. Kids who were appreciated for the efforts that they have put 90% of them took the harder test. Majority of the kids who were praised for their smartness took the easy way out. Results of this test were even more amazing. The kids who were praised for their efforts did 30% percent better than their previous test and the ones who were praised for their smartness fell behind their performances by 20%.

Kids who are told that they are smart don’t know the reasons for their success, they just think that they have it in them and don’t put out the efforts. On the contrary if you praise their efforts they tend to think that the parameters of success is in their control. This effect of blinded praise effects every socioeconomic class and equally with boys and girls.

The common notion is that praising boosts the self esteem of children which is the key to successful performance. After reviewing some 200 studies from 1970 to 2000, Dr. Roy Baumeister from the Association for Psychological Science concluded that high self esteem didn’t improve grades, career advancement, any reduction in alcohol usage, and especially did not lower any violence.  Infact highly aggressive and violent people think very highly of themselves.

Dweck and her team says that to be effective, praise has to be specific and also sincere. Most common mistakes that parents make is that they praise only when they see things going their way. Children above the age of seven can scrutinize and figure out if the given praise is hollow or sincere.

The lost hour

Children globally in this age are getting one hour of sleep lesser than that they were getting about 30 years ago. 90% of American parents think their kids get enough sleep. Contradicting to 60% of kids in high school complain of extreme sleepiness in classrooms, where 25-33% of kids fall asleep during the class once in a week. Shockingly only 5% of high schoolers get on an average of 8 hrs of sleep. Majority of them get around 6.5 hrs of sleep.

Lack of adequate sleep impairs the child’s developing brain. The neurons lose their plasticity and become incapable of forming synaptic connections to encode a memory. These hindrances in the ability to learn during the day.

A study conducted showed that more than half of 100,000 car crashes that happen due to the driver falling asleep behind wheels are school children who rushed to schools by their alarm clocks. One such school in Minnesota, US delayed its school starting time by an hour and found startling results. Kids performed highly on their SAT scores and admitted to have better quality of life.

Rest of the review will be posted in part 2 of the blog tomorrow…

Two Answers to the Same Question

Rajitha Gopinath

The question is, what is the right way of parenting? When you read about successful people one thing that all of them refer to is the kind of childhood they had. Either they had motivated parents who laid a solid foundation or they had abusive or divorced parents that made their childhood miserable and the sheer vigor to get out of it made them successful. One thing is common among both and that is they didn’t have an ordinary childhood like you and me. Parenting has direct affect on how much successful you will be in your life. So, I turned to books of various kinds. For me reading parenting books turned out to be like therapy. Its less about children and more about parents.

I recently finished Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua at rocketing speed in 4 days. This is the best I have done…

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