Thursday, December 31, 2015

90. The little different nose, anyone!

Weird but stylish!
Mark my words, uncanny hair growth in one of the most undesired of places on our body is likely to script a new style statement. No freak idea this, those who may have plucked these protein filaments into extinction will have to pay through their nose to get them back. Get ready to pay the hair surgeon to work overtime to stuff your nostrils. And before you even begin to smell the hairy reality, design studios would have sprung all across to shape this luxuriant growth onto your facial contours. 

If you thought you could do without long nose hair, it is better you get back on your senses because the notion of hairless nostrils is passé. Stuffed nostrils will fetch a premium at the marriage market. A sweet
Wow! Double Moustache
something with a stylish braid dropping from top of the upper lips will hog limelight in most social gatherings. Bridal make-up will look different, and fashion catwalks will feature a hitherto unknown component. Who better than Yunus Parvez (Bade Babu of 'Gol-Maal') to judge such contests! 

If you haven't sensed it as yet, let it be known that the density of hair in your nostrils will henceforth determine your survival amidst city's polluted air. The more dirty air you breathe, the more nose hair you need. Weird though it may seem, the length of nasal hair will help visualize air quality index in your city. It is not entirely out of sync with our polluting lifestyles, the super-long disgusting nose hairs will be the new indicator of each person's air pollution exposure. 

As cities choke in air pollution, growing nose hair will become inevitable. After all, more nose hair will give individuals a three times less likely chance of developing asthma, and the hairy nose metric will demonstrate just how vital hirsute nostrils must be to deal with a dirty air epidemic. Weird though it may sound, nose hair will surely make the difference between life and death in Asian cities where more than 800,000 deaths are caused by polluted air each year. 

Yunus Pervaz: Harvesting protein filaments
In launching its 'Hairy Nose Campaign' a few years ago, Clean Air Asia had backed it up with 'style your nose hair' statement to match the emissions level in the city. It is akin to wearing masks or buy air filters, though pretty cheap in comparison. At the end of the day, all that matters is how indeed we adapt to increasing particulate matter in the air around us. Like 'grow more food' in the past, 'Grow more nose hair' will become the new slogan for human survival. 

Whether or not the odd-even vehicle rationing works to check air pollution on city roads, the odd idea of growing-nose-hair will pave new way of checking this emerging health threat. It may not exactly make up the stuff of Friday Fun, but imagining long nose hair will trim air pollution in the cities.  

This piece has appeared in Deccan Herald on March 4, 2016 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

89. Only losers in a war

The actual scene was quite close to this picture
Like thousands of others on either side of the border, I too was caught in the crossfire of the historic Indo-Pak War in 1965. While I don’t remember the exact date, I was a 9-year-old then and was travelling with my mother. On a sunny September morning, we had arrived at the Firozpur railway station, located close to the international border at village Hussainiwala, in time to catch the next train on our onward journey to Bhatinda.

Using the only foot over bridge at the station, we had alighted on the platform where bogies of our next train were lined up. There was time for the train to depart and hence the coal-fired engine had yet to be connected to the rake. Hardly had we finished our meals, when the train was hit by some kind of a thunderbolt, tossing us over as the bogie tilted in one direction. Luckily for us, it tilted towards the platform and rested back on its track.

No one knew what it was, and there was commotion all around. People were screaming and hauling as we ran out of the bogie in the direction in which the crowd was running. My mother  held my hand tightly but I could not resist looking back to see one of the burning bogies of our train. It was an enemy fighter jet that had dropped a bomb on our train. Emergency sirens were blazing as the jet had continued to dodge three Indian fighter planes which were on its hot chase.

There was drama in the sky; someone shouted at us to lie down on the ground. The cockfight in the air was amazing. Two Indian planes were on either side of the enemy jet with the third flying behind and firing rockets at it. As the planes were flying low, the firing was clearly visible. The enemy jet  continued to escape fire by swiftly changing its direction and elevation. If my memory serves me right, the drama lasted for around half an hour.

The enemy jet was finally hit and I could see the burning plane hurtling towards the ground at some distance. As a big cloud of smoke rose at a distance, the victorious Indian planes surged upwards in an arrow formation.  At that age, it was an exhilarating experience devoid of any emotions much like what the present generation may encounter in a video game. I have been wondering ever since at the plight of the jet pilot, and those trapped in the burning bogie.

At the end, there are only losers in any war! Back to my school the following week, I made a humble donation to the families of those who had lost their lives in the war.

(real-life encounter)
First published in Deccan Herald, Oct 2, 2015

Monday, September 21, 2015

88. In Metro, life in a metro

No sooner had I blessed myself for being first in the queue, and had dug myself into reading a noted historian's much-talked about interview on 'past is present', my 'present' was shattered by a middle-age intruder who had unapologetic-ally pushed me into the second place. 

Before I could realize my relegated position, and prepare myself for an unlikely verbal assault, the occupant had blurted.... follow the seemed to me a calculated defense by him to camouflage social infringement of breaking the queue. Reasonably well-dressed and presumably (re)tired, the intruder had a bag tucked under his armpit. Pushing and shoving the alighting passengers, I could hear him babble......follow the queue..... and found him seated much earlier than most others.      

As luck would have it, I found myself sitting next to him. Once seated, then intruder and now my neighbor had unzipped his bag and pulled out an apple, rubbed it on his trouser like my favorite cricketer Glenn McGrath and quickly bowled it into his mouth. Six bowling attempts later he had fired his canon again.....mein jeena chhahta hoon (have a desire to live)......wondered, if it was some mixture of  insecurity and ambition, pessimistic utterance on plausible optimism in life? Did he fire his cannon accidentally or had wanted to share something but not sure when, where and with whom!

Apparently oblivious of his doing, he had caught the attention of most fellow passengers. Most were indifferent but none could avoid him. Knowing well that the human mind seldom arrives at an objective assessment on any subject before first reaching the extremity of error, I had held myself from making any judgement. My chain of thoughts were broken when he had blurted again ......mein jeena chhahta hoon. Unless I could sense the nature, degree and duration of the psychological stress he might have been going through, it was something that I found hard to delve into. 

'Are you 65?', he had surprised me with his unwarranted query. Without lifting my eyes from the interview I was half-reading, I had responded saying that I had been bad at mathematics and therefore could rarely achieve 60 (per cent) in my life, and suggested instead that I was quite some distance from making the 'senior citizen' mark. Not undone by my response, he had wondered if I was into yoga and regular exercises. My response in affirmative had prompted him to blurt again........mein jeena chhahta hoon......before alighting from the train.

Isolation within families and loneliness in public has become routine, such figures wander the earth like vegetables in the businesswear of their lives. It is happening with such a regularity and is so common that most of us have become blissfully unaware of the serious malaise hitting the underbelly of our society. 

I was left tearing the boundaries of normality in making a sense of his life and life in a metro. 

(based on a true encounter in the Delhi Metro) 

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

87. The end of rat race

Whether or not you smell them, their presence remains ubiquitous.Think and you will find them, not one but many - here, there and everywhere. Having followed humans to just about every corner of the globe, these creatures have demonstrated their incredible propensity for travel. Rats are as much comfortable on moving ships as in running trains.They may have been cause for grounding flights but are unlikely to miss their big ticket travel on board the space station! 
Human-rodent co-existence has indeed been enigmatic. There are rats that are killed and there are lab-rats that are admired. There are rats that are eaten and there are rats that are considered sacred. There are rats that are chased away and there are rats that accompany the gods. Abhorred and adored in equal measures, rats have seemingly been victims of man's changing priorities and opportunistic misadventure. 

Isn't it a strange paradox that these lowly creatures have been part of our collective psyche as Mickey Mouse, Tom and Jerry and Stuart Little?   

Chemical and biological atrocities notwithstanding, rodents have spurned all acts of violence against them. If a global census was ever to be conducted, rodents would easily outnumber humans by a factor of between 4 or 6, if not more. Ironically, all attempts at getting rid of them have helped their numbers to swell. Despite many localities across the world vying for a 'rodent-free' tag, rats have nonetheless remained part of our collective co-existence.    

Rats may have remained small in size but their stature has been taller on the evolutionary time scale, having arrived on this planet some 50 million years ahead of humans and other large mammals. No wonder, a four-month old rat had the audacity to question the age of a baby elephant. 'I am four-months old,' replied the baby elephant. Not to be taken aback, the rat was quick to retort, ' I am your age but have been sick for a while.'          

Not to be read lightly, a day will come when rats will outgrow their size and take over the earth. If rat menace is any indication, rat takeover has already begun. Isn't it? Humans may have been the cause for extinction of many species but are quite unlikely to impact the existence and onward evolution of rats. Palaeobiologist Jan Zalasiewicz contends that one day rats albeit giant rats will become the dominant species on the earth. 

There is no point racing with the rats because in a rat race the one who wins can only be a 'rat'. 

This write-up was published in The Tribune dated Feb 12, 2016.

Monday, May 25, 2015

86. Better to be dumb than smart

Would you believe that being 'smart' isn't the in-thing it used to be in not too distant past! I am not the only one who seems to have sensed it. Wear your thinking cap or glasses or shirt or whatever and you will get to feel it - 'smart' has ceased to be what most of us have grown working towards in our younger days! 

Try telling a youngster to be smart and s/he is likely to yell back. Not sure if they have adequate justification for doing so but there ought to be some inexplicable reasons behind it. 'You have to be smart, the easy days are gone' is seemingly passé. No surprise, therefore, the present-day parents are less persuasive on their children to be 'smart'.  

Whether you doubt it or accept it, this change is right upon us. While the parents remain somewhat circumspect, youngsters are undoubtedly in awe of themselves. Loaded with self-belief (and lots of selfie), they go beyond the natural brashness of being young. They are no longer 'windbags' that many had thought of them in the past.     

So much for the prevailing perception, let's now get to the science behind it. Recent genetic research argues that humans have lost the evolutionary pressure to be 'smart'. Having improved our existence by using our intelligence, from inventing the wheel to inventing fire, and from eradicating polio to inventing computer, there doesn't seem much left for humans to get any further.

No wonder, smart people are known to make stupid mistakes while the stupid try to act smart. Not without reason are we advised to remember that it is always better to be wise than to be smart. Letting people think a little less of you is always helpful, one can get away with some silly stuff without it being counted against you.      

So, there you are: 'smart' is no longer a virtue, being 'dumb' adds value to your profile. Simply put, dumb offer no threat to anybody as people avoid undermining their abilities. If they get anything 'wrong', they are excused for it. Don't you find all kind of 'dumb' guys occupying various important positions in the society. George Bush had an average IQ and so have many others of his species.

It is better to be dumb when things around are becoming 'smart' - from smart phones to smart kitchens and from smarts cars to smart cities. And if that isn't enough, the present political dispensation encourages people to be 'dumb'. Let everything else be 'smart' but not the 'people'. Amen!   

Friday, February 13, 2015

85. Control, out of control

If you need to spot a diabetic friend on the sprawling lawns at a marriage reception, all you need to do is to stretch your sight to the section serving 'desserts'. Ten out of ten chances are that you will find him savoring one or more of the forbidden 'sweet'. That is how (Indian) men are made of, be it a forbidden apple or an impermissible sweet.  
It isn't a chance factor but somewhat of a 'compulsive (dis)order' in men which perhaps cannot be cured so easily. The question, however, is: why 'temptation' is so tempting that it makes it hard for most men to apply 'control' even if they claim to be disciplined? Do men lack self-control, a trait that seems uncommon in women? Don't get me wrong for my gender bias, but I haven't heard anything on the contrary to be dis-proven.

But before the other half resorts to rejoicing for being a shade different, let it be made clear that research has yet to acknowledge a lack of self-control as a deficiency one is born with. The ability to control one's behaviour and adapt it to new situations is something one can learn. That men do not apply it in certain matters is a matter of choice. Women are no different, they let go control out-of-control in matter of shopping for cosmetics and jewelry.     

Some are tempted to spend more; many get tempted to avoid regular exercise; few can't avoid the temptation of cheating; and still others can't avoid being tempted towards women. Temptation to indulge in undesirable actions is considered 'masculine' or 'courageous'. I say this because our society is much more forgiving of men who give into 'temptation' than it is for women. Guilty pleasures are like cheese reserved for men, so they say, because 'temptation' like opportunity may knock only once.    

Not sure if applying 'self-restraint' makes more sense than allowing oneself to be susceptible to 'temptation'. Given that self control is a limited resource that needs to be used intelligently and, to some extent, even economically, it is up to you to make a choice. What must be known is that to practice 'self-control' makes us all the more susceptible to 'temptation'. 

Could market economy survive without 'temptation'? No surprise, therefore, Adam & Eve were 'tempted' to promote market economy. An apple a day keeps 'control' under control!  

Saturday, January 10, 2015

84. Not to question is the 'question'

Let us start 2015 with a question about 'question', and an assurance that it will fit into the flavor of this page. Haven't we been digging 'questions' where there have been 'none' from rather mundane happenings in life all this while? So, let there be one more.   
To say that 'to question or not to question is the question' does not raise any 'question' on the plight of those who are at the receiving end of a 'question'. Students quibble questions; teenagers resent probing wards; employees grudge questioning bosses and so on........a question creates a situation when otherwise sensible people get temporarily stumped, feeling let down and envious of themselves. Yet, one can hardly escape being its victim!  

Human mind has so evolved that given a chance the 'stumped' too shall resort to asking questions, sending fierce bouncers along the same pitch. But why humans ask questions? Is it a psychological stint to assert supremacy or a moral obligation to probe deeper? Whatever be it, evolutionary biologists contend that humans were not born with this unique ability to ask 'question'. It was a cognitive add-on over first thousand years of evolution! And, there hasn't been any looking back since then.

Many of you would want to 'question' the evolutionary hypothesis! But before you jump to do that, you ought to realize that there is an 'answer' to your 'question' lurking somewhere. Whether to your satisfaction or not, more than one answer has always been there because 'question' alone makes a fearful company. And, questions you encounter wherever you the garden, on the road, in coffee shops, in newspapers, on the internet, inside the Metro.......anything but 'question' survives.......poor 'answers' keep chasing them endlessly!

If answers are lying scattered all round, whether or not stupid or intelligent 'question' gets asked, then why should humans not be searching for 'answers' only?  It is too trivial a matter to be left alone because at the end of the day we might be the 'question' we are trying to ask? Till you grapple for an answer, imagine if nobody knew what a 'question' was, in letter and spirit, and the world was not asking any 'questions'? Sans 'question', life would have been such an ease for students, teenagers, husbands, employees, bureaucrats and even politicians. Teachers would have gained the answer books to take home for checking!  

But people could still be asking 'how are you'? After all, it (how are you?) is a greeting and not a question.