Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Perspectives on AIDS - Essays from AIDS course in Coursera

Here are some of the essays/write-ups I had written for the different assignments of the 'AIDS' course in 'Coursera'. The course was taken by Dr. Hagen of Emory University and several other guest lecturers joined for specific topics. Although AIDS is a huge topic, I have written about the aspects which appealed to me as a Biologist. The essays were written for specific questions and specific word limits (and in many cases, since I started at the last moment, very short time limits) and thus, may not have fully justified arguments. In any case, I think it has some interesting perspectives and I would like to share them. I have changed a few sentences to make it suitable for blogging as certain reference only makes sense for the participants of the course.

Short summary of five things which appealed me in the course

1) Immunosuppression makes common diseases more threatening :

It was a common knowledge that due to AIDS, a patient succumbs to many opportunistic infections. Many of these are rare infections, and some of these are common too. However, after Dr. Jeffrey Lennox's lecture, I realized that immunosuppression due to AIDS actually makes these common diseases much more threatening. It is therefore not only about suffering from diseases frequently, but also about suffering from much more atypical symptoms of diseases, for which probably not every clinic worldwide is ready to handle. According to Dr. Lennox's words, "HIV increases the chance that a person will develop  illness due to an unusual disease, or have atypical symptoms of a common disease."
This is probably because even when a disease overcomes the immune system in a non- immunosupressed person, the immune system atleast helps to combat so that the disease doesn't have a 'free-range' and only affects some aspects which are used as the major hallmarks of the disease. However, when the person is immunosuppressed, the disease freely expresses itself and reaches its fullest potential which makes things worse.

2) Anal sex and vaginal sex are not equivalent risk factors :

People are often unaware that anal sex is a much more riskier and is more efficient in spreading the infection. The initial few lectures and then a specific lecture by Dr. Patrick Sullivan made it clear that there is enough proof now that unprotected anal sex presents much more risk than unprotected vaginal sex. This, of course, doesn't mean that unprotected vaginal sex are safe, but it means the probability of an infected person spreading the infection via anal sex is more than vaginal sex. It seems the biological structure of the outer tissue in the anus is responsible for that. Probably the more wear and tear in the layer allows better uptake of the virus.
This also says why a lot of the initial cases were identified among MSMs (Men having Sex with Men) and was also used by some radical groups as an anti-gay agenda, evoking this as punishment from god. The fact is that this is dependent on the biology of the process and has nothing to do with homosexuality vs heterosexuality.

3) World wide initiatives and research :

Although I knew about the various initiatives for AIDS awareness and education, the number of examples I saw in the course was a surprise to me. Initiatives like 'Scenarios from Africa' is very impressive, these not only spread AIDS awareness, but also in general educate the masses in many other agendas like domestic violence, drug abuse, safe sex, women's rights. Also the kinds of detailed research shown in the course was impressive. HIV researchers can't use other animal models like Rabbits or mouse as the virus is specific to primates and that too only very specific primates. Still with all the difficulties, the kind of surveys and researches to uncover details of risk factors and medications is praiseworthy. 

4) HIV as a Lentivirus :

{This point is elaborated in another essay below}
HIV's role as a lentivirus makes it particularly threatening because once infected, the symptoms come very late, sometimes after many years. During this time the patient may spread it to many people via unprotected sex or other routes.

5) Zoonosis - Continuous risk of new diseases from wild populations :

{This point is elaborated in another essay below}
We need to realize that we are at a risk of getting infected from rare diseases from the wild populations. AIDS is one such disease, bird flu is another. But the microbial population in wild populations is huge and diverse and is a potential source of new and unknown diseases. This calls for a better management of wildlife and a better monitoring of man-animal interactions.

One important aspect of AIDS

Lentiviruses - The hidden enemy

"HIV is a Lentivirus, which is more dangerous because Lentiviruses show their effects much later but can spread during the time of no apparent symptoms"
While going through the 'week - 1 lectures', we learnt HIV is a kind of virus known as Lentivirus [1][2]. I realized this is a very significant reason for the pattern of HIV's spread. Lentiviruses have long incubation period, during which they remain inactive [1]. This can take few years. Thus, the person carrying this virus, externally doesn't show much symptoms. However, being inactive doesn't mean that it won't transmit from one person to other, it keeps spreading without anyone realizing and only many years later the symptoms appear, by that time many would have been infected. This feature of HIV makes it even more threatening.
HIV has genes for establishing a latent state [3], which helps it to integrate into the host's cells in a way which enables them to remain undetected from the host's immune system.  In the meantime, the host might introduce the virus to different people for many years. The new recipients of the virus will also be unaware about the infection, will be new sources of infection and a chain reaction will start. Later when the symptoms appear and the outbreak happens, already huge  number of people are infected. Although a proper investigation on AIDS started only in 1980s, and some of the earlier cases were in late 50s, it is believed that HIV actually made the human jump around 1930s [4]. Just imagine, if AIDS was not a Lentivirus, then in 1930s people would have started showing the symptoms and a proper investigation would have been commissioned. Even if the cure had not have been discovered, atleast the basic precautions could have been taken and probably it won't have spread  so much. One can also compare the recent outbreaks of bird flu, which are also viral in origin. Although fatal, atleast these showed immediate symptoms, and thus, doctors could take immediate action to contain the spread of this virus. Unfortunately for us, HIV is a Lentivirus, which takes its time, remains hidden, a time bomb ticking inside and spreading.

Supporting Information :
[4] - http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/aids/virus/origins.html

One important lesson from AIDS


Growing importance of Zoonotic disease management

It is more than 30 years since the first report of AIDS (not known as AIDS back then) has reported in 1981 [1]. AIDS is now understood from various aspects - its mechanism in the body, the origin of the virus, behavioral role of humans in spreading or containing the disease, drugs and treatments against the disease. However, one of the aspects of the AIDS pandemic which I would like to focus on is its Zoonotic origin [2] [3]. Zoonoses is are those pathogenic diseases where the pathogen from different animals transfer to humans [4]. AIDS research has made substantial progress, including the recent reports of success in an infant [5] and some hope of a drug [6]. One can only hope that in recent future we can device a vaccine or a concrete treatment and the recent results can only make us more optimistic. However, we need to remember the root of AIDS and how it spread within the human settlements. Transmittance of infectious disease from wild populations is a common occurrence and one estimate suggests that more than 60% of infectious diseases have a zoonotic origin [7]. Recent outbreak of fatal diseases like SARS and pandemic influenza are other examples of zoonotic diseases [8]. What makes these diseases more dangerous is that these are the first contract of the microbes with our body and thus, our immune system is not, in many times, equipped to handle these [12]. Furthermore, a new condition demands fresh research for medical science and thus, treatment is not always prompt. In cases like AIDS which occurs due to lentivirus, viruses which stay in the body for years before the patient shows symptoms [9], and during that time has spread to many more people, the difficulty increases manifold.
We can describe the microbial populations in the wild populations as some sort of reservoir of 'time bomb', waiting to unleash its venom upon human contact. It is high time we start preparing ourselves to combat zoonotic diseases at a much prior level, i.e, even before the infection. After all, prevention is better than cure. Otherwise, we will always have emergencies like AIDS, SARS and many more. For example we know now that HIV has infected humans not in a single episode but multiple times [3], some of which either didn't spread much or were not virulent enough. The HIV which is prevalent in human populations worldwide is the HIV-1 Group M, where others like HIV-1 Group N and O are locally spread [3]. It is proposed that consumption of bush meat from wild primates is the reason for the infection. So, even if we succesfully create a treatment or vaccine for current strains of HIV, and not stop the regular entry of HIV into human population, we are still living at a risk. If we encounter another kind of mutation in HIV which attacks our system in an alternative way then we would need to again look for its treatment and reinvent the wheel. Furthermore, its not only the question about HIV, potentially any virus, bacteria or other microbes can be the source of yet another fatal disease. Even now more and more examples of new zoonotic agents coming up regularly [10] [11] [14]. It is high time we learn from diseases like AIDS, SARS and device ways to address these larger issues.
The good news is that the scientific community is concerned about these issues and researchers are working to device policies to avoid the next pandemic zoonosis. Scientists are working on risk assessment models [8], which means that they are identifying of a set of parameters which will tell us which areas in the planet are most at risk and which animals and microbes are most likely to contract us with vulnerable microbes. Currently the 'global pandemic prevention strategy' is being revised using our knowledge from past outbreaks of pandemics, technological advances of pathogen detection and utilization of the communication technology of mobile phones and internet [8]. Scientists have tasted success when two new human viruses were identified very early in Saudi Arabia and central Africa [10] [11]. Even many web-based surveillance resources like ProMED, GPHIN, HealthMap and Biocaster have been established for better communication and spread of information [13]. However, very crucial would be to understand zoonotic diseases using an holistic approach where we take our understandings from seemingly unrelated fields like Ecology (important to understand the potential zoonotic sources), agricultural and livestock agencies (another source where pathogen outbreak can happen and subsequently spread), political network (managing policies to control infection, for example in case of HIV, a better control on bush meat trade etc.). Only a global cooperation can help us in decreasing the spread of pandemic zoonotic diseases and ensure that the tragedy of AIDS is not repeated again.

[1] - First Report of AIDS - http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/pdf/wk/mm5021.pdf
[6] - Hope for AIDS drugs - http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-21783945
[8] - Other Zoonotic diseases and risk management - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23200504
[10] - Early identification of Virus outbreak in Saudi Arabia -http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23075143
[11] - Early identification of Virus outbreak in Central Africa -http://www.plospathogens.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.ppat.1002924
[12] - Zoonotic agents as the 'unknown' for immune system - http://ncbeingprepared.blogspot.com.es/2011/09/new-virtual-immune-system.html
[13] - Web based resources info - http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3427560/
[14] - An emerging zoonotic agent -  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22710318

Countering the HIV origin myth

Countering the myth : HIV invaded human population because some man in Africa had sex with a Chimpanzee

{The following was required to be written as a real conversation}

[Scene: In a train two guys were discussing about AIDS]

Me - "Hi, I just heard you guys mentioning HIV came from chimps as a result of a rather odd sounding sexual encounter. I daresay, this is misleading information.
Guy-1 - "Well, even scientists have also proved this. HIV comes from Chimps."
Me - "Ofcourse scientists have proved that primates like Chimps and Gorillas, among others, are indeed the source of HIV [1], although technically you can't call their version as HIV, but anyways for our purpose just call them HIV. But there is no proof that it transmitted to humans via sexual activity. In fact, this is widely accepted as one of the myths about HIV/AIDS [2]."
Guy-2 - "How else would HIV have spread to humans then?"
Me - "Surely you still don't believe sexual engagement is the only route of HIV transfer?"
2 - "I know the facts. It can also spread from mother to child through breast milk or during child birth, or to one person to another via blood transfusion. However, all these are not possible between a chimp and a man and thus, sexual engagement is the only explanation.
Me - "True! But blood transfusion is not the only way of blood contact. Eating wild animals is prevalent in many communities even today and we have evidences that wild meat trade, called Bush meat trade, many times includes large primates like Chimps. Scientists have made predictions that bush meat trade is most likely to have spread this virus to humans [1]. Think about it, bush meat trade includes handling of raw flesh and blood and then consuming the meat, conditions ripe for spreading the virus.
1 - "I agree the 'bush meat' theory can be a likely explanation. But sexual encounter can also do the same, so both are possible. You can't prove any of them. You need to believe that such incidences do occur."
Me - "Yes, they do occur. Human - animal sexual encounters are not common but do happen and is known as bestiality, and is well documented [3]. However, there are various indirect evidences to indicate that this has not been the case here. Firstly, behaviorally wild Chimps don't like hanging around humans [1], thus, an intimate contact seems unlikely. Secondly, even if such encounters had happened, one can imagine them to happen very less frequently, and not regularly. Do you agree to that?
1 - "Yes, seems reasonable.  But what's the point?"
Me - "In general HIV virus to transmit and spread in a single sexual encounter is not a very likely event [4]. On average, it requires repeated sexual exposure. All I can say is that, although no one can prove this with a clinching evidence, the factors 'bush meat trade', behavioral differences, requirement of repeated sexual encounters makes your assumption very unlikely. Anyways, my station has come. Goodbye!"

Supporting Information :

Why is the conspiracy theorist, AIDS denialist's arguments are flawed?

On his website the American scientist Peter Duesberg asserts that “… the various American/European AIDS diseases are brought on by the long-term consumption of recreational drugs and/or [the anti-retroviral drug] AZT itself, which is prescribed to prevent or treat AIDS.” What evidence do we have that Dr. Duesberg’s argument is flawed?

Dr. Peter Duesberg has been one of the most influential of the 'HIV dissenters' who maintain that HIV is not the cause of AIDS [1]. Dr. Duesberg, in 1987, published a provocative paper where he proposed that AIDS virus is just a latent non pathogenic infection which results from the other symptoms of AIDS [2]. Thus, he envisions HIV infection as the consequence of AIDS rather than the cause. He later proposed that the long-term consumption of recreational drugs and prescriptions of anti-HIV drugs cause all AIDS diseases in America and Europe [3]. Thus, contrary to scientific and popular belief, his 'drug hypothesis' predicts that AIDS is non-contagious [3].
Although Dr. Duesberg have earned accolades for his prior scientific work [4], his 'drug hypothesis' was widely criticized by the scientific community [1]. To start with, the studies in Haemophilia patients has been an important point in learning about AIDS causality. Many of the Haemophilia patients had been diagnosed with  AIDS in 1980s [5], and according to Dr. Duesberg that is due to increased use of 'factor VIII' [6]. However, scientists have shown in studies that there is no correlation between higher dosage of factor VIII with higher mortality in HIV+  Haemophilics, the HIV+ Haemophilics have a similar death rate for different dosage of factor VIII, whereas the HIV- Haemophilics have not been affected by different dosage of factor VIII [6]. If indeed factor VIII had a role, then higher dosage of factor VIII would have caused more deaths in HIV+ and HIV- patients due to AIDS. However, Dr. Duesberg, uses the problems of monitoring medical history of these patients throughout to argue that proper studies have not been made regarding this [6]. Further correlation studies in Thailand shows that a huge increase in AIDS patient has been correlated with a huge increase in HIV+ people in the local population [7].
Dr. Duesberg's theory about AZT or other anti-HIV drugs as the cause of HIV was also proven invalid after three laboratory workers contracted HIV virus, started showing symptoms after 68 months and severe AIDS defining immunological problems after 83 months, all these time not receiving AZT or any anti-HIV drugs [8].
A much more recent study show that recreational drug usage don't correlate with CD4 population [9], immune cells which show dramatic reduction in AIDS patients and is a standard symptom of AIDS victims, when goes down beyond a threshold. The scientific study [9], claims that there is no association between use of drugs like Marijuana, Cocaine, Poppers, or Amphetamines and CD4 and CD8 cell parameters such as total count, percentages or rates of changes, in either HIV+ or HIV- homosexual men. In yet another study [10], it was shown that illicit drug ('Hard drug') usage, although has implications in a range of infectious diseases, do not associate with changes in AIDS related parameters like CD4 cell percentage, HIV RNA levels or mortality.
Conclusion :
Dr. Duesberg's theories are provocative and has gained some mileage as the 'lone scientist standing against authority', but in proper scientific studies it was been proven beyond much doubt that HIV is the cause of AIDS. Recreational drugs, although harmful, are not involved in creating AIDS. The focus of the AIDS debate should shift to its strategies of cure and prevention rather than the causative agent.

Identify a part of our population unusually affected by AIDS and suggest ways to counter them.

Photo by: John Isaac / World Bank

Unfortunate Wives of adulterous men in India

The first reported cases of AIDS in India occurred 27 years ago in 1986 [1]. Then onwards, following the global trend, the cases of AIDS in India continued to rise. According to estimates in 2012, there are about 2.40 million Indians with HIV  [2]. One of the important factors of the spread of AIDS in India, among others, is sexual transmission, which accounts for more than 87% of reported HIV cases [2]. Most of these cases are resultant of male behavior. This seems to be a common theme in Asia. According to the commission of AIDS in Asia, "...in asia the HIV epidemic is mainly driven by men who go for paid sex".[3].
What the above reports and numbers tell us is that promiscuity by men is not only transmitting the virus from one host to another but also infecting the non-promiscuous sex partners, the wives. Adulterous men who visit brothels for paid sex are at a huge risk of getting the infection. This is mainly due to the fact that sex and AIDS education has not been adequate, atleast in the past, especially among the lower economic strata of the society who are also the least educated due to poverty. Thus, unprotected sex with sex workers, who form a huge risk group due to unprotected sex with multiple clients, transmits HIV to these men. Now when these men engage in sexual activities with their wife they transmit the virus. Given the fact that a husband is likely to have repeated sexual intercourse with the wife, makes it almost a surety that the wife will get infected. Thus, the non-promiscuous and monogamous wives have to suffer from the wrath of this infection. Moreover, child born from such unions are also at a high risk of getting the infection unless the proper medications and precautions have been taken.
The sufferings of these women don't end here. In many cases, they are not taken care of by her husbands' family. There are examples of such women being thrown out of the house for 'bringing AIDS to the family' [1]. In a patriarchal society, things can be even worse. There are reports that the family blames such women for 'not satisfying the husband' and thus, responsible for husbands' adultery![4]. In smaller towns and villages, the hospitals are also unwilling to deliver the baby from HIV infected women, because of misconceptions and lack of know-how on how to tackle such cases [4].
Thus, these women form an unfortunate group of HIV victims, who suffer from the medical complications, social alienation and personal humiliation.

How can we help them?

There are essentially two ways to look into this. 1) Firstly, to stop them getting infected. 2) Secondly, to have a support system for those who are already affected. The first part depends on husbands' activities and awareness, since if they are infected, it is very likely HIV will transmit to their married partner, unless the husband is aware and takes necessary steps and protections. Thus, I will focus on the second part and more particularly the need of awareness in the society which enables them to lead a normal and respectable life.
So, what are we dealing with here? A patriarchal society, mostly the lower economic groups with very low education and misconceptions. The mistreatment of the HIV infected women roots from the fears of the misunderstood 'evil', HIV. Any awareness program must be targeted to the basic misunderstandings in a feasible way. Grown ups normally have highly reinforced misconceptions and stereotypes and thus, it is not an easy task to raise an awareness at a level which can create a significant impact. One of the best tools in these contexts are audio-visual media like short cinemas. The cinemas need to be beyond the documentary styled preachy videos but need to be entertaining as well as educative, much like the 'Scenarios from Africa' initiative [1]. 'Scenarios from Africa' makes short films related to social issues of AIDS/HIV. The films apart from being educative are also entertaining and made by some of the top filmmakers of Africa. Having role models in such films, like a local celebrity - filmstar, sportsperson, politician - making an appearance can also make a great impact. Involvement of religious institutions can also be of much use. Religious figures like priests can be made aware of the facts and findings, who can educate the masses in their own way. Awareness programs might need to consider distribution of gifts/food for attracting people to attend them. Couples' counseling can be yet another way to promote the right perspectives on HIV/AIDS.
However, ultimately its the men who have to take responsibility. Those who have transmitted the virus to their wives, now atleast need to support them from the wrath of the society and take control of the situation and 'be a man' in the most positive sense.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

My Football Articles

Analysis articles

Indian National Team

Nehru Cup 2012 : New Era in Indian Football Starts Now
(Tactical Preview of Indian team under Wim Koevermans)
Published by : The Rational Pie (Also published in Sportskeeda by TRP)

Indian Football – Defensive Strategies Against Syria In Nehru Cup 2012
(Defensive tactics by Indian team after their first match under Wim Koevermans)
Published by : Indian Football Network

Nehru Cup Finals 2012 – India Vs Cameroon : A Tactical Preview
(Tactical preview of the India vs Cameroon match in the Nehru Cup finals, 2012)
Published by : Indian Football Network

Indian Tactics Against Cameroon In The Nehru Cup Finals
(Tactical review of the India vs Cameroon match in the Nehru Cup finals, 2012)
Published by : Indian Football Network

Arrows - I League club (Indian U-23 developmental squad)

18th May, 2011 - Indian Arrows: A closer look at their progress
(Season review of Arrows' first season)
Published by : Indian Football Blog

22nd May, 2012 - Tactical Changes That Brought Success To The Indian U23 Pailan Arrows
(Tactical analysis of Arrows' strategies after sacking of Sukhwinder Singh)
Published by : Indian Football Network

27th May, 2012 - Pailan Arrows Season Review 2011-12
(Season review of Arrows' second season)
Published by : The Hard Tackle

Other I League Clubs

14th September, 2012 - How Bangalore lost I League representation

(A review of the factors contributing to Bangalore club HAL SC's relegation in 2011-12 season)
Published by : The Rational Pie (The article was also published in Sportskeeda by TRP)

International Football

(An article on Holland's total football and underachievement. The article revolves round the first goal scored by Holland in 1974 World Cup finals)
Published by : Backpage Football

5th March, 2013 - Can the Spanish Clubs make it to the Champions League Quarter Finals?
(An article discussing the chances of the four La Liga teams of making it to the Champions League Quarter Finals after a disspointing first leg)
Published by : Backpage Football

Tournament Previews

Photo Articles

18th May, 2011 - Indian U15 Players In Action
(Photos from Dallas Cup, USA, where Indian U15 participated)
Published by : Indian Football Network

U-22 Indian Football Team In Pictures
(Photos of Indian U22 squad members which played in AFC U22 championship)
Published by : Indian Football Network

3rd September, 2012 : Nehru Cup 2012 : Photos Of Indian Football Team
(Photos of Indian National Team who won the Nehru Cup, 2012)
Published by : Indian Football Network

From a fan's perspective

4th April, 2011 : The Day I Met The Indian Arrows
(My experience of watching and meeting the Arrows' for the first time)
Published by : Indian Football Network

18th July, 2012 : Bhaichung Or Baichung!
(A humorous take on different versions Bhaichung Bhutia's name's spelling)
Published by : Indian Football Network

Indian Football - General article

28th January 2013 : How AIFF's reports misled the whole country
(A report on a series of misleading reports from AIFF and subsequently from most of the media across India which created a false impression of Indian women's team winning against Netherlands' women's team.)
Published by : Indian Football Network

May 2012 issue (Page 35) : Bangalore Football - A Feature
(A short feature about football in Bangalore with focus on I League)
Published by : Barefoot - Indian Football Magazine

Player Biographies / Interviews

24th January 2013 : Prathamesh Maulingkar : A slow but steady rise
(Prathamesh Maulingkar's profile)
Published by : Indian Football Network

29th November 2011 : Player Biography : Shabbir Ali – Only Footballer To Win Dhyan Chand Award

(Shabbir Ali's biography based on an exclusive interview)
Published by : Indian Football Network

News Updates

30th September 2011 : Ankit Sharma Signs A Professional Contract With Spanish Club
Published by : Indian Football Network

14th November 2011 : Exclusive Package For Football Films In The International Film Festival Of India
Published by : Indian Football Network

26th May 2012 : India U-22 Wins Two Practice Matches Against Bangalore Super Division Teams
Published by : Indian Football Network

16th July 2012 : Chance To Interact With Chitra Gangadharan, Member Of Asian All-Star Team And Ex-Indian Captain
Published by : Indian Football Network

12th May 2013 : Traveling fans from Mohun Bagan humiliated in Goa
Published by : Indian Football Network

Sportsmeet Media Release

22nd July 2012 : Engaging, educative, and interactive SportsMeet July session
Published and distributed as - Sportsmeet Event Media Release

19th August 2012 : Report: SportsMeet August
Published and distributed as - Sportsmeet Event Media Release

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Ray of Hope



One of the best things about traveling alone is that you open up more, you interact more with strangers and if you are lucky you might even befriend them. Last August (2010), i made few trip in different cities alone, and yes I did interact with few interesting people. I saw more and felt even more. I had different kinds of experiences, ranging from pleasant to life threatening. However, this post is not to describe all that. I would just tell you guys about a man I met. An old man. A man who talked and I listened. A lonely American called Ray, who's battling cancer, making trips to Germany for treatment. Here's how I met him and what interested me.

I was in the Innsbruck (Austria) train station, waiting for my train to Salzburg. This was the most unplanned part of my trip coz I had not planned for Austria beforehand, and I was not very sure what exactly to do in Salzburg. I was sitting on a bench, an old man came, sat there, looked at his tickets and asked me whether the train to Vienna will leave from this platform. I knew that I was gonna take the same train, but confirmed that from another boy sitting in the adjacent bench. Then after a pause, suddenly the old man told me how sexy the 'lady in black' is. He was definitely right, the lady was a typical 'East European babe' we see in the fashion shows, more than 6 feets, brunette hair and stunning looks. However, I was extremely tired, and was not too interested in appreciating the lady in details or continuing the conversation, especially with an old guy. I just smiled and agreed. He continued more about the lady and how even at this age, the lady gets him attracted. Politely, I also agreed about these virtues of East -European women. Later, he was also talking with the other boy, and told him to look at the lady instead of somewhere else. All I could conclude, was that this guy is an old pervert and I should make sure that I take a different compartment when the train comes. Later, he asked about my nationality and told me that he got a sikh friend. Talked about him. Told that he likes those Indian breads (Tandoori Rotis) and some curries. We discussed bit more about our food. Then he talked about few more things, asked about me, where I am traveling etc. At the end, when the train came, I decided I will sit with him, I anyways didn't had anything to do and the trip was for 2-3 hours.
In the train, he talked about many things. He was not that sort of guy who sticks to a theme, he loved talking many different stuff. After random stuff like Europe, America, India, George Clooney etc., I asked him why he's here? Travel? He said, its for treatment. I didn't asked anymore. I later asked about his children. He revealed he is not married or having any children. he stays alone. He has a sister, whom he meets some times. Then he told me he has a cancer - Prostrate cancer. He told me bits about his illness and the problems with the treatment. He considers Germany to be better for treatment. He is spending all this saving for this. Then I got to know about his job (now he is retired) - he was a public bus driver!!! I just thought of Indian bus drivers - can they afford going for such a journey for treatment? Then he talked about his childhood - He had many siblings. Didn't had much education. As a teenager he started some whitewash job or some job which requires filling of holes in walls - something like that, I didn't understood properly. What I did understood is that its something which would be considered a 'lowly job' in my society. I was amazed the way he described the details, the skills involved, how he could have made a career out of it, if he had been more careful!!!! Then he also talked about his girlfriends particularly one of them. It didn't work out enough for a marriage, he is happy to be independent. All this time I was feeling strange, a stranger recollecting his memories in front of me - never happened before to me - I guess, sometimes you can better express in front of strangers. Again he drifted to his present life. What he likes to eat, what's forbidden by the doctors etc. He watches movies, a lot of WWE!!! Then he described certain WWE moves - I was just imagining this old guy all alone, sitting in his couch watching WWE, maybe imitating few moves!!! Then one of those moments came, where he talked about his loneliness, his regret of not marrying, of not having his girl friend as wife, of not having his own children. Advised me to marry!!!
Apart from these, he described certain part of his treatment in proper immunological understanding. He even thinks about some of these problems, I was amazed by certain question of his. I just can't imagine an bus driver with that kind of education even coming close to this. Maybe he has too much idle time. But still.......
Before going, I gave him an Indian currency as a token. He hardly escaped my thoughts when I left him in the train. I kept thinking about Ray, an 70+ man, living alone lonely, diagnosed with life threatening disease, doctors in USA had not shown much hope, still this ex-driver dugs out all his savings, goes for multiple European tours for treatment hoping to prolong his life, his loneliness. I have heard an read lots of stories of inspiration, love for life etc., the story of Ray will definitely have a special place in my heart. I will never know the end, but I kind of like it that way.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Punching Bag - An excuse to punch

The Punching Bag


One can't deny that from time zero, we have been striving hard to get rid of all 'bad guys'. There is a considerable amount of space devoted in our consciousness for describing, delimiting, defining and identifying such bad guys. And of course that makes perfect sense, after all if the goal is to have a perfect, serene, peaceful, transparent society, then that's necessary...you need to identify and eradicate the 'bad lot'. Then what's perplexing is that we have hardly made advances towards achieving such a goal. True, that we have developed better methods, laws, etc..but then these are being countered. There's this saying in bengali "niyom ache jokhon, niyam er faak o ache" (if laws are there, there are loopholes too).....anyways, I feel I needn't try hard to convince that there are too many bad things lurking around us (not that we are not a part of those things) and we also know most sources of these, which can be surprising considering all the effort in trying to control these.....
Its a cycle....try controlling them...they bounce back....and again you try...Every year the demon is killed by the goddess and again comes back to be killed....the cycle continues....the demon keeps coming back like a punching bag and gets punched and comes back....looks like some unknown force is putting it back to its original position...
I am a believer of "if it keeps on persisting, it has some importance" school of thought and so I wonder.....

I have heard expressions like -
"they always find a way, an individual will always capable of evading everything"
"humans are instinctively criminal, its just fear which keeps most of them dormant"

Well, these rather dramatized statements doesn't say much...there are two main things here - why is these rather undesirable elements bounce back and what may be this unknown force which allow them to bounce back????? I don't intend to explore psychology of criminals....I would rather take an easy path....I would try to imagine a criminal free society..lets see

Think of this serene and peaceful society where crime doesn't need to be suppressed as it has been eliminated...so no more 'badguys'...no more villians.....no more 'your favourite whipping boy' or the punching bag....so, no more excuses to monopolise oil supplies.....no more blaming others for your misfortune....no more saving the damsel in distress....waste of all arsenals.....no blackmailing....Looks like so many other things will evaporate with crime...Do we actually need villians? do we need to keep them so that whenever we need them, we just have to point at them...but when we need them? do they somehow make our life easy?!!!
I don't know about our life, but surely I can remember countless movies where villians make director's/scriptwriter's life much easier....remember when the leading lady had to make up her mind between two equally good suitors, and then suddenly one turns out to be a person who had actually killed her father or may be who is marrying her for money...in short a villian...a much needed villian...no more probs for the heroine or the audience...of course the scum would be taken care of by the hero, who would beat him into pulp before being compassionate.....
or remember when there's everything perfect for a break-up between our hero and heroine, and the story is so complicated that its unlikely that this can be avoided in normal circumstances or by proper discussions (which anyway won't be value for your ticket's money), so now there only one person who can save the day; yeah here comes the super-villain....now its easy...the macho hero needs to save her girl from getting raped and then they can live together happily......
Without them how can you point to a group of forest guerilla's for being the reason for not allowing development.....now suppose you need lot of oil (you got a hell lot of cars and other such stuffs) and you also got nice fighter planes, ships, nuclear missiles...what would you do? Well, maybe if it were some 300-500 years ago (maybe even 100), you would have attacked middle east...but no, you also need to keep your reputation intact and that's a problem...that's a price you need to pay for being hypocrite...tch tch..sad.....well, you are saved...coz there are villains who urgently need to be get rid of....yup, just attack Saddam and laden....you would be laden with oil!!! But, seriously, you have also done nice thing by eliminating them...it would also be a great injustice if you have all the capabilities but you don't do anything....and of course, the cost of such a mission would be enormous so you also need to have some profit from it.
So, coming back to our original discussion, yup it seems villains are precious....we all take get advantages from such villains....... whenver something messes up, just point the finger....cool...
We are cricket lovers, right?...so we have azhar/sachin/saurav/rahul/Dhoni being abused coz they (one of them, who it is doesn't matter) won the toss, elected to bowl and of course lost the game quite embarrasingly.....so they question is why they chose to bowl...well as far I can guess, it is quite likely that this have been a team decision, I am sure the captains don't decide such things instantly during toss...teams discuss all these together....but anyways it always a nice feeling to hold someone by his neck and abuse him, convince ourselves that we are doing this for a valid reason. So, essentially we all have our favorite whipping boys in different contexts. I imagine it will be difficult to sustain our ideals, heroes, feeling of greatness, pride or even normal life without villians....Looks like its the society and all its goodness which had nurtured crime....no good without the bad!!! the unknown force is not around us, but within us...we constantly need to reincarnate the demons. So, every hero needs a villain, every goddess needs a demon, every Batman needs a joker, every opposition needs a ruling party and every ruling party needs a opposition, every disaster needs a terrorist....every you needs me and every me needs you
Next time you see the above pic, spare a thought for the demon, who repeatedly needs to be evoked and stabbed to keep the greatness alive....

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Trapped within myself

" Liberated yet? "


Certain events lead to certain thoughts. Nothing surprising in that. Well, why I need to write something surprising......So, now I am writing this, yet another more personal posts (like the last one)....well, in some sense all the posts have germinated from very personal experiences and feelings but I try to mask them by giving more global appeal!!! But sometimes global thinking becomes synonymous with self thinking....when you can't stop thinking about the events surrounding....chronology of the events doesn't matter...past, present, future all can be served in the same dish......

So, this post is direct consequence of the things happening to me right now, which includes the movie I have just seen and the kind of tune i am listening to....I won't say what are they.....

I am happy with the way I am....yes, reasonably happy....and because being happy is a relative state, I would go on to mention that the way I am is different from what I was before, say during school days and early graduation and yes I am much happier with myself (Doesn't mean I am happier with events surrounding me, but the way I carry myself makes me feel better)....But the problem lies elsewhere...although I am happy, I realize it won't lead me to a happier or equally happy state.....downfall is eminent.....and I need to consider so many things even before deciding whether I have the license to feel happy is amazing......where, when, how this irritating habit came is difficult to point out, however surely it comes as a baggage with all the properties I have acquired which makes be feel better...paradox

Although I feel I am more of 'the lonely kind', One part of me loves being with people, which is ok, however then you need to see yourself from other people's point of view, otherwise u can't be with people (Maybe u can, with practice)...here comes the most depressing part....when I see myself from other's point of view - that includes people who hardly talk to me; what I see is disturbing.......
Everybody has diverse opinion about me...well, I normally pride myself for that...being different for different person....customizable personality...kind of an achievement.....but now it seems opinion about me spans from one extreme to the other...take everyone's opinion, add them and I am almost everything....Most of it is not accidental, but has been built by me...How???? Well, my coldness, being too (over) considerate have contributed to it.....Tell me things which are not true, I won't react!!!! Think whatever you want to, I will rarely correct you....and thus, being nice can bring your downfall....did i say downfall? Why? What's the problem? Well, it makes me too careful and aware of myself all the time.....with every person, I would think 'ok , he/she thinks that about me, so thats how I should behave'.....it makes the head so heavy....and sometimes you think why they think this about you, why can't they think differently, why can't people understand simple things, why blah blah blah........this makes it more difficult, this is rare but potent........Its so difficult to be free...always being aware of others...as if i have caged myself!!!! Sometimes I can even forget who thinks correctly or incorrectly, I have heard about split personality...here I sometimes have multiiple splits!!! Even though I am happy with my present state; happy, free, satisfied...whatever adjective you want to use; but this very thing about me have trapped me somewhere....I can't be free....and i can't break free, as i don't know what to break!!!

So, what now? Nothing.....This is how I am...One thing which holds very true from childhood...lack of objection when it comes to myself....the best thing is to know and realise how am I....then I guess, with practice, disturbances would be disturbed and the peaceful chaotic state of my mind will be restored...........

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Freaked out

"Appearances Can Be Deceptive"

Let's have another of my truly random posts.....I am sleepy..very sleepy...loaded with work....lost my Sony Ericsson mobile few hours back.....my ankle swelled up....experiments not working......don't know what to do now....so lets blabber randomly!!!

I wish I was at home now....not because I miss home but because I want to get out of here now. Being conscious hurts me lot....I wish I could stay in a different state of mind...would love to have a totally blank mind or maybe just sleep....maybe that's why people take drugs or alcohol....i would love to be in a drunken state.....

I wish I had more friends here..... discredit is mine...i had not given much effort initially... I feel I have nothing to do as I have too much work to do....I wish I had something better to write....now that many people actually read this, its such an embarrassing post.....but then its a honest reflection of my state of mind

Certain people and interaction makes you think. Its common to realize how you have misjudged someone, sometimes you may also realize that how your own appearance have deceived others (I experience that all the time - People just seem to assume 'things' about me or what I am thinking about them - mostly they are wrong), however worst is when you realize that you aren't capable of things you thought you can do....in other words when "you have managed to deceive yourself".... I like this idea, people who always talk about assesing oneself etc. seems to focus less on this...the point is how would you know that whatever you thought about yourself is true ....when i said before that mostly people's assumptions on me is wrong, that's totally based on my bias; it maybe so that they are right and I am wrong...anyways its difficult but one must try to have a clear realisation of this...I try sometimes.... For me even if I realize that I am not capable of doing a 'bad' thing (which is a good thing after all), I would be upset because I thought I can manage that..... with such realization comes dilemmaa.....and then this dilemma crushes you and you can never be happy with your decision...no perfect decisions here .... What to do....it ain't too bad if you think how bad can things get and how lucky you have been in certain cases...after all "Life's a compromise between best and worst possibilities"

Friday, September 11, 2009

Choices or lack of it.....



'Taking sides' is probably synonymous to 'the process of survival'. I need not give extreme examples of war, politics, policies, sacrifices etc., just look at yourself, how you grew up, how you have reached here, all your successes and failures, and everything and anything you remember; and you will see how often you have happily or unhappily taken sides. Think more and you will discover that you have taken sides even without knowing. I don't know whether you agree with me, of course, your experiences may differ. So, let me make it more personal so as to avoid all conflicts and disagreements. Yes, I have made my choice, "I won't be making too many generalizations in this post". Lets see how far I succeed.

Looking back, I must say, I have been sucked into the world of choices and decisions early. Decisions which I didn't want to make. Choices which weren't choices at all. Its unfair to say that life would have been better without those decisions and so called choices, probably life would have been much worse. But that doesn't mean that those were justified. However, it is a mistake to speculate on alternatives and how life would have shaped in their presence, I hardly had alternatives. To be fair, I need to confess, with my kind of mind, conscious, judgmental abilities, I am ill-equipped to make choices or take a strong stance. I am your worst team mate in any debate competition. One sided thinking is so difficult for me. With all those situations, exercising a choice seems like loosing out on something. Something which I value. Even if things turn out so well because of such a decision, sooner or later, the dejection of a choice will come back to haunt me. Best thing for me is to probably not to make a choice at all. Let things flow as it is. But letting things flow itself is a decision. Probably there is nothing called taking no side or being neutral. Neutrality is also a side. Variety of people take this side - People who flourish by remaining neutral, hypocrites, people who don't believe in any of the choices, people who are always in dilemma, people who don't want to lose anything, and there can be many more reasons (which I can't think now). In my case I can think of many situations where I can be fitted into one or more of these categories. But now I only want to think about situations which are less guilt-laden (after all this is a more personal post, I can't be too sarcastic and critical!!!).

People who have the upper hand, people who sort of dominates you (people, authorities or anything) gives you a feeling - "You got a situation, You have to change that, We will help you, Here's are your choices, Feel free to exercise your choice." Wow that sounds so good! Lets dissect each statement. "You got a situation" - Is it? or is it that 'You' got yourself into some mess or maybe you achieve something by changing my situation (something can be mental pleasure or pleasure of authority). or may be yes I am into this situation, but hey, have I asked for your intervention??? "You have to change that" - Ok maybe I am into a mess, maybe I have better opportunities, but do I really want to change it? or maybe I have to change it just because you want it to be changed. Why is it that your suggestions seems like a command? "We will help you" - Thanks, but no thanks. I will certainly ask for your help, when needed. Oh, so if I don't take your help you are going to make this worst, isn't it? Ok then maybe I should take your help. Hey, what kind of help is this? no surely no. I have to? shit. Your help is irreversible isn't it. "Here's are your choices, Feel free to exercise your choice" - Yeah, for some reason I can see only one choice, so technically there's no choice, lets call it fate, fate which you have carefully chosen for me. Ok, sorry, I was being rude, now I can see those choices. Let me take a good look at them. Hmmm. ok. ok. what? Well...ummm...well, why I have to choose one of these? I am sure I can work out to accomodate both. Yes, I can. It is possible. What? I can't? I can , really. oh, so you can't? Authority, ego, ....??? So, what I am I to do? rebel? so that the hands of gods are withdrawn from my head? So, that I am stoned to death? Stoned? how come? I am not in some medieval society. Well, stones made of words which makes your living an impossibilty.
So, in short the choice were the following:-
1) Perish from inside, invisibly but atleast save yourself from social embarrasment and from the rage of the gods upon whom you are dependent.
2) Get burned and stoned. Doesn't matter whether you survive or die. It will feel the same. Held your head high, but only for an instance, for the shame inflicted on you would not let it be so.
1) Survive like a creep, but no one will know.
2) Die with embarrassment.
Some choices..ha....

Later of course, you are on your own. Now you can make your choices. Now you are the free lion, out of your pride, free, ready to take over something new. But, the damage has already being done. Now you have limited thinking and resources, you have been engineered. The best you can do is to keep the process alive. Take decisions and make choices for things you can dominate. And the wheel keeps moving. Create a whirlpool and it will only suck, what else do you expect?

Surely, I am being melodramatic. But that's done on purpose. How else would I describe all these? without being unreal? If I hold on realities of life, how would I convince you that this is what happenning with me and probably with you too. And you won't feel it because mostly these are inflicted by things you believe and love. All these happen to you when you are too busy with seemingly more important things, things which would not matter to you except for the fact they take away your attention and probably pain. Morphine takes away pain, not the injury. Life's not too dramatic, all these things happen in much subtle ways. Things just happen routinely, invisibly encompassing all these dramatic material, just as if it were normal, just like monsoon every year , sundays, festivals, road accidents, terrorist attack.
Everything is normal, not worth suprising us...atleast me. Its about getting into a habit. A habit - for being helpless, being blackmailed- by whoever capable of - parents, friends, relatives, lovers, bosses, government, terrorists, aliens etc; being able to acknowledge the fact that the choices you have taken are not taken because you wanted them but you were compelled to take them. And once this habit becomes a habit, life becomes easy, you appreciate art, sports and any worthy or unworthy thing which must be appreciated to be accepted. This habit slowly and selectively erases memories. And the haunting day dreams becomes infrequent and hopefully vanishes. And with this you get the habit of saying "Life Rocks".