Monday, March 21, 2016

The long and the shorts of it

The RSS finally does some social good by dropping its knickers.

(Published on March 19, 2016 in Business Standard)

My mother is an incredibly beautiful, stylish woman. My whole life, therefore, I’ve had to listen to people exclaim, with great pity, that I don’t look like her at all, and had to mumble weakly that I take after my father—weakly, because his looks worked a lot better on him than on me. I bet nobody told him that he had “a sort of, well, robust something”.

One of the results of being the underwhelming offspring of two smashers is that you give up on the looks department early on. While my friends were busy experimenting with hair and clothes and makeup, I went to school with my hair pulled back in a greasy ponytail and a pair of bottle-thick spectacles. I wore ill-fitting hand-me-down t-shirts and shorts or jeans, and resisted all attempts to spruce me up. At some point, in desperation, my mother got me a ‘Cleopatra cut’, a bob with bangs cut dead across the eyebrows. It was supposed to be chic, but I retreated behind this hairy curtain for so many years, trimming the fringe to nose level with my Swiss army knife, that she finally regretted it. Perhaps out of self-preservation, I avoided looking in the mirror.

All of this is to say that I was never socialised to get with fashion, and am therefore hardly in a position to make style judgements. People are forever saying incomprehensible things about how blue brings out their shoulders or whatever, and I just nod along. But while I still wear jeans and t-shirts, now I can at least tell when some item of clothing is an out and out disaster.

It is impossible, in the electronic age, to have missed that photograph of union minister Nitin Gadkari, clad in his Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh outfit, sitting legs crossed in a chair. The Internet immediately paired this retina-destroying image with one of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct, neatly capturing everything that is wrong with his clothes, and everything that is right with the Internet.

There are many, many reasons to make fun of the RSS. The poor lads have all kinds of complexes related to power, domination, and all the sex they’re not having. They inspire repeated references to robots and nazis. But the worst—the very worst—is the uniform.

Just think about it compassionately for a second. To be obsessed with cows and cow pee-pee; to fetishize flagpoles (wink, wink) even as you object to the flag; to be frantic about India even as you oppress Indians; to see a sinister conspiracy behind every pimply grad student; to jump up and down because someone didn’t say ‘Bharat mata ki jai’; to admire the Manusmriti; to rely on the lizard bits of your brain; to do all of this, and to do it while wearing flared shorts cinched at the waist, even though you are a full-grown, unfit, hairy dude—well, it’s all just so awful that you have to admire the courage it takes to walk around the world looking like that.

But it seems that its own lack of coolness has finally gotten to the RSS, or maybe they’re tired of pretending to be celibate out of choice. After a brief ten-year think about it, the organisation has decided to replace the shorts with trousers. This is a body blow to the convenient terms ‘knickerwallah’ and ‘chaddiwallah’, and we can never unsee Nitin Gadkari, but the move might help save millions of innocent retinas in the future. That’s what I call working for the good of society—who knew they would do it by dropping their knickers? Ladies and gentlemen, a big hand for the RSS.

Now there’s a sentence I never thought I’d say.

Sunday, March 06, 2016

A meditation on medication

The cure depends on the diagnosis

(Published on March 05, 2016 in Business Standard)

There you are in the prime of youth, skipping along barefoot, revelling in health and curiosity—taking in the odd bit of Marx, the odd pint of beer, using the odd condom, spitting out the odd bit of chicken bone—when suddenly you step on a thorny issue.

When you’re done hopping around on one foot and swearing, you prise out the thorn and wipe up the blood. Generally, it’s enough to treat the foot tenderly, swab the wound, and leave well enough alone. The antibodies in your system will gallop up to the site and do what they do best, which is to whack any bacteria senseless.

That’s all it usually takes: a short tussle between illness and the body’s natural self-help system. It’s a quiet, no-cost, natural process. Life is all about stepping on a thorny issue and getting over it without a big fuss. Most physical afflictions turn out to be minor, self-limiting and self-healing.

Sometimes a bit of bacteria enters the wound, and it gets infected. Then you have to really go at it with that swab, maybe take antibiotics. Think of it as sending the bacteria to jail and making it do some introspection, or beating it to a pulp, whichever makes it feel less cocky.

But sometimes, antibiotics aren’t enough; sometimes the bacteria are those superbug things doctors are always warning about in hospitals. Those critters are hard to beat down. Think of it like this: you keep sending the bacteria to jail, but it keeps breaking out. It’s like being infected with an idea—very very easily communicated, almost impossible to stamp out. Then you might have to confine the patient in a controlled environment, put him or her on different kinds of very strong treatment, and hope for the best.

If you bungle it—if, for example, you prescribe an insufficient dose of medication, or the wrong kind of medication—then the bacteria grow stronger than ever, and now you’ve seriously messed up, because either the body develops antibiotic resistance, or has no help at all. Then you enter dangerous territory—what if you get gangrene, necrosis, the death of tissue, threat to the whole body? Now you’re looking at life and death, people, and maybe a medical malpractice lawsuit. That’s when you call in the cavalry and bite the bullet and consider amputation. Best to cut off a foot, or a leg, to save the body. That’s the course of action any doctor would recommend, if it would save the patient’s life.

But diagnosing these things correctly to start with is tricky business. Sometimes, what looks like an infection is actually your antibodies already at work, getting rid of the really dangerous stuff; that nasty swelling is actually a healing in process. Amputation would mean chopping off perfectly healthy body parts and destroying the body in the process. Medicating it would be like putting the antibodies in jail and letting the real problem run riot—you’d be turning off the immune system, shutting down the body’s defences, and sentencing it to a raft of illnesses.

The worst of those is when the body turns against itself. Cells can suffer a mutation that makes them out-of-control aggressive, and in their monstrous zeal they engulf healthy cells, turning everything in the body into a morbid version of themselves.

The line between having a thorn in the foot and getting cancer is not a fine one; it takes a doctor of monumental incompetence to steer a patient from the former to the latter. But relax. A lot of our doctors have suspect degrees, but, as it turns out, our antibodies are superstars.

PS: This piece has nothing to do with anything.