Under my byline

Above and beyond

Posted in Books, Health, Profiles by Rrishi on 16 August 2011

Maj. H P S Ahluwalia in front of his beloved hospital - H P S Ahluwalia CC BY-SA 3.0Tea with BS: Major H P S Ahluwalia

It is a large room, and he a figure behind a broad desk at the far end. The wall to the right is a set of windows with an unusually wide door opening onto a broad balcony. On the long wall to the left is a panoramic photograph taken from the top of Mt Everest, in the snowy blue shade of morning and high altitude. On the wall nearest the entry is a mid-size oil painting of Registan Square in the city of Samarkand, Uzbekistan, with its three tall darwazas.

But one doesn’t see all this, not at first. (more…)


It’s the Net, stupid

Posted in Books, Health, Living by Rrishi on 24 July 2010


Reading article after article online at breakneck speed to complete this column, I was almost set to laughing by the irony: here I was, trying to summarise what people are saying about the effect of Internet and the asteroid-field of small doses of information with which we are surrounded, not to say bombarded, and I was scarcely getting the time to assimilate what I was seeing. Amusement turned to worry as opinion, in the articles I was (let’s be truthful) skim-reading, turned to fact — courtesy an essay by Nicholas Carr in the June issue of Wired.com magazine. (more…)

Lush prospects

Posted in Health, Living by Rrishi on 7 August 2009

A worldwide survey shows that hair surgery is headed for growth

In the 1940s and 1950s Americans were amazed and disturbed by the publication of the Kinsey Reports, the volumes on human sexuality prepared by Dr Alfred Kinsey which showed just how complex human sexual experience really was. For the first time, scientists could apply graphs and pie charts to this previously hidden area. Naturally, there were some hair-raising surprises.

It’s not on the same scale, but the 2009 census of the International Society of Hair Restoration Surgery (ISHRS), released in June, also makes surprising and entertaining reading. (more…)

Rubber duck

Posted in Health, Living by Rrishi on 17 May 2009

Looking high and low for NACO condoms at New Delhi Railway Station

Rubber duck“My kingdom for a condom,” I muttered, dodging through the crowds outside New Delhi Railway Station, my eyes raking the walls for the bright red boxes. With much fanfare last year the National Aids Control Organisation (NACO) had installed 1,500 condom vending machines (CVMs) at railway stations, public toilets and bus stands across Delhi (“at several vantage points”, said one newspaper, unhelpfully) — places frequented by itinerants and the less well-off. Across India, 11,025 were installed. Now, on the busy Ajmeri Gate side of this station, I couldn’t see even one. (more…)

Ship to sure death

Posted in Books, Health, Living by Rrishi on 4 April 2009

Scanning electron micrograph of a flea, Xenopsylla cheopisA history of mass disease tells us we should beware of sea-borne weapons of mass destruction

Trust the ancients to know the oldest things best. Sushruta, the famous Indian surgeon of the 1st millennium BCE, wrote a treatise on surgery called the Sushruta Samhita. In it he prescribes a mantra to recite after surgery, a sort of prayer against post-operative infection — also the bane of modern surgery. (more…)

Patriot games

Posted in Health, Living by Rrishi on 22 March 2009

Varun Gandhi in PilibhitAngry words landed Varun Gandhi in trouble, but anger can also be physically harmful

Reading transcripts of Varun Gandhi’s alleged comments about his fellow citizens at an election rally in UP this week was enough to make the blood boil. But Gandhi, the BJP’s candidate for Pilibhit, seemed to have anger enough of his own. Surely he’s doing himself no good — whether or not the electorate approves. (more…)

Germs bite the dust

Posted in Health, Living by Rrishi on 1 February 2009

Children in Leeds' Bishopgate slum, 19th cDon’t dismiss dirt, say health researchers, because it helps us stay healthy

At construction sites across the country, small children tumble about while their young parents, the labourers, can keep an eye on them. The toddlers seem to be happy playing outdoors, at an age when middle-class parents keep their offspring safely indoors and away from dirt and danger. (more…)

Young blood?

Posted in Diet, Fitness, Health, Living by Rrishi on 7 December 2008

JalebisFar too many young adults are victims of high cholesterol

“Well, I’d gone for an executive health checkup, and when they gave me the results, I was shocked…” That’s how most of these stories start, with a blithe customer unpleasantly surprised to discover that he or she has unhealthily high levels of cholesterol. It’s something typically associated with middle age, and by these people, with their parents, perhaps — because these customers are all young, still only in their 20s or early 30s. (more…)

Soul medicine

Posted in Health by Rrishi on 5 October 2008

At pilgrimage sites there are other health challenges besides stampedes

Pilgrimages were once arduous undertakings, requiring weeks or months of travel, and real determination. Even the holiest shrines had no more than a stream of devotees — not the floods of worshippers that arrive now by road, rail and aeroplane. A pilgrimage, today, can be a weekend holiday. (more…)

Rusting from the top

Posted in Health by Rrishi on 31 August 2008

The Iron Lady is losing her edge, but Indians may be able to talk their way out of dementia

The Iron Lady’s mind is growing rusty. So says her daughter in a new memoir, titled A Swim-On Part in the Goldfish Bowl. Now 82, Margaret Thatcher suffers from dementia, a progressive decline in the brain’s functioning that affects the memory, language, attention, problem-solving abilities, social behaviour and sense of orientation of, mostly, elderly people over 65. (more…)

Beauty bites

Posted in Diet, Foodie, Health, Profiles by Rrishi on 31 August 2008

Simal Soin, the expert behind A+ Medispa, makes us something good-looking

She’s been out all day at work, and has only just arrived at home, so she has to divide her attention between her two young sons and us — and the sons are winning.


Blood line

Posted in Health by Rrishi on 24 August 2008

Human blood from the lab? It’s about time

A small, struggling biotech company named Advanced Cell Technology (ACT) in Massachusetts, USA, announced this week that it had found a way to mass-produce red blood cells (RBCs) using stem cells taken from human embryos. The idea is not new, but ACT’s method is a hundred times more efficient than any other.


Poetry in motion

Posted in Fitness, Health, Profiles by Rrishi on 17 August 2008

Hotelier Ajay Bakaya devised an unusual fitness regime for himself

For a hotel chain that’s roaring up the charts — 10 hotels to be completed this year, 11 the next, 10 again the year after — its Delhi office is surprisingly drab. It is a small and functional space in a nondescript building on a potholed lane in one of Delhi’s industrial areas.

In fact, the cabin of Sarovar Hotels and Resorts’ executive director Ajay Bakaya is at nodding distance from the receptionist herself, and she nods us through in no time at all.


All you can’t eat

Posted in Books, Diet, Health, Q&A by Rrishi on 17 August 2008

What’s behind the food crisis, according to farmers’ rights campaigner Raj Patel

Stuffed & Starved: What Lies Behind the World Food Crisis
Raj Patel
xxii + 442

“All data is political,” says Raj Patel, researcher, writer and campaigner for farmers’ rights and against the global “food system”. He uses data to draw an hourglass-shaped figure — a simple graph which represents the inequality in the food industry, where large numbers of growers and eaters are separated by a tiny number of large corporations. In his book he tries to show how governments and trade agreements work in favour of the few rather than the many.


Fear makes sense

Posted in Health by Rrishi on 22 June 2008

Our expressions tell an evolutionary story

Google recently created a whole new range of animated “rich emoticons” for users of its e-mail and online chat services. They’re really quite amusing, and (as their plainer cousins have done for years) they help give our staccato online conversations a measure of the emotional depth that our facial expressions allow us to convey while talking face to face.

Although facial expressions have obvious social utility, scientists have long wondered why they originally developed. Expressions don’t just help us communicate (which is already an evolutionary advantage) — they also change the way we sense the world.