In the Year of the Woman


It says in the epics that in ancient times a woman called Kunti, enamoured by the valour and brilliance of the Sun god, desired him and gave birth to his son, who later came to be known as Karna. However, to preserve her social status as an unmarried virgin and her right to marry, she was forced to abandon her baby.

Yet Karna was not an unwanted child. He was not an ‘accident’! Later on this noble queen laments her inability to nurse her own offspring and keep it or care for it (see Michael Madhusudan Dutt’s “Karna-Kunti Samvad” a poetic rendition of a mother’s agony and pain faced with social dilemma).

Kunti, mother of Arjuna, queen of King Pandu is a character from the great Indian epic Mahabharata, composed thousands of years ago, portraying life and times in the Vedic age of Vyasa, the author. She along with the second queen of Pandu, had five IVF sons between them.

Has the contemporary social conditions changed?

In the age of  InVitroFertilization (IVF) and the Nano, and embryonic stem cell research (ESCR) and cloning, am I better off than Kunti? Can I be sayambhara* and choose the paternity and inheritance and heritage of my own child? Am I allowed to bear my child as I will?

Is the academic machinery being adequately used to empower her with competencies she would require as mother, caregiver, a tech-savvy worker, social or political leader or entrepreneur? Are the syllabii in schools still relevant to the social and economic roles a woman would be expected to play once she passes out?

Is she aware of her rights? Are there enough platforms where an average illiterate woman can voice hher grievances without commissioning the help of some political bhaiya ?

In the Year of the Woman and in the wake of March 8, the Woman’s Day, when I paused to ask myself these questions, the answer to all them was NO. India is still not ready

** Indian women continue to be repressed, forced to abort or to abandon her children, or face social ostracization unless society approves of the way it was conceived.

** She still cannot adopt easily,

** or admit her children to school if the father refuses to acknowledge them.

**In most cases she is still deprived of her father’s property on some pretext or the other.

** She still can’t rent a house easily if she is alone in a strange city, even if she is in her thirties.

In 1961 the Indian sex ratio – the worst in the world – was 976 females per 1000 males. Currently it stands at 927.

Despite the Pre Natal Diagnostic Technique Amendment Act of 2003, UN figures reveal that 75,000 female foetuses are aborted in India annually. Selective breeding has almost become endemic in India and means a woman is dead even before she is allowed to be born!

The Public Service Broadcasting Trust : In 2005, in a gender sexuality orientation workshop at the India International Centre at Delhi, the Chief organizer Rajiv Mehrotra had said that PSB commissions fifty two  films annually in their endeavour to create media content to help the government and agencies to understand relevant issues and introduce better welfare measures. When I visited their site there was no news of any film to be released presently.

The Prez struggles to roll out reforms, but the ground reality is this: “Many legal experts feel that President Patil should be more circumspect.”…“she cannot directly summon civil servants or ministers nor can she insist on promulgation of action plan. This is the job of a Prime Minister.” (Times News Network news item published in the student edition under the title President gets Cracking on Empowering Women.

Well, if our own President can only be informed and then just encourage , warn and suggest and NOT DO anything then obviously my plight stands defined.

Being raised well and steeped in the ethos of my beloved country, I would patiently continue to re-read the Mahabharata and of women like Rohini and Khona, and secretly dream of one day be liberated or at least be invested with the power to do it myself.

I am not lazy. I would not mind doing it for myself, provided I know I shall not be persecuted or repressed or raped or worst still posted at Patan or some such hell hole or divested of my job. I would wait. I guess that is what is expected of gracious people?

* Swayambhar : refers to the ancient Indian practice of the woman’s father/brother/the head of her clan, inviting all possible suitors at the house, there she is formally introduced to them, and their achievements and accomplishments publicly related to her, after which she selects her mate indicating her choice by presenting the man with a garland. Unlike in the West she doesn’t kiss him or hold hands. In India touching between opposite sexes was a taboo even back then. Even hand holding was not seen as a simple gesture of cordiality but had specific social significance. While rescuing Devyani from a well Yayati had to pull her up by her hands, and later marry her because he had held her right hand!

India is Ready for Stem Cell Research Say the Indian Scientists

We all have our origin in the fertilized egg, a single cell. The egg divides to give rise, eventually, to many billions of cells. At an early stage there are only a few hundred cells. Some of these cells are pluripotent, which means that they can give rise at later stages to any of the specialized cells of our bodies such as skin, nerve, blood and muscle cells. Cells at the embryonic stage can be separated and placed in a culture dish where they can grow and multiply. Under certain conditions these cells can be made to differentiate, that is change, into cells of a variety of different types such as muscle, nerve and skin.

Since they can both multiply and give rise to different kinds of cells they are referred to as stem cells, and since they come from the early embryo, they are called embryonic stem cells.

Remember the story about Raktabij the rakhshash sprouting new heads and limbs as soon as it was cut off by Devi Durga?

Implication of stem cell research is, in the near future doctors should be able to re-generate a whole arm or a section of your brain which has been damaged by accident, like the stuff you would read about in Harry Potter or in some of our pouranaik kahanis.

Bala Subramanian, a cellular biologist who works on adult corneal stem cells at an eye hospital in the city of Hyderabad said, “India already has the expertise to work on stem cells.”

While this could lead to important medical developments, there are some snags related to stem cell research.

Important source of stem cells are human embryos. Embryonic stem cell research has thus resulted in a rush of fetus-harvest for research, the trafficking in human fetuses that are created with the sole intent of aborting them to harvest their parts.

This has caused concern among human rights groups and governments in many countries. They raise the issue that each embryo is endowed with the potential to develop into a unique individual and as such deserves the right to protection as human entities. “Human beings are not a raw material to be exploited, or a commodity to be bought or sold as spare parts,” reiterated the US government.

Another problem is technical. Stem cells not under proper control could give rise to cancer cells for making them functional in the right place in the body is a very difficult problem. One of the major problems in using embryonic stem cells to cure a patient comes from the body mounting an immune response to the foreign cells as they were taken from someone else’s embryo and so rejecting and destroying the implanted cells.

While scientists are engaged in labs to find a way out of such problems, governments are trying to resolve the issue of protection of human considerations of ethics and morality.

India has no policies covering stem cell research and is only in the early stages of formulating them. Two Indian research organizations possess colonies of embryonic stem cells, known as cell lines, which can develop into many other types of tissues and which scientists believe could create new treatments for diabetes and Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. The National Center for Biological Sciences in Bangalore and Reliance Life Sciences in Bombay — have a total of 10 cell lines. Each of these lines can be replicated many times for use in different lines of research.

The Department of Biotechnology under the Ministry of Science and Technology and Indian Council of Medical Research have jointly formulated draft guidelines for stem cell research. As per the guidelines, stem cell research has been classified under permissible, restricted and prohibited categories. The research pertaining to adult and umbilical cord blood stem cells would be classified as permissible. However, embryonic stem cell research falls under restricted category. It can be carried out with the approval of institutional committees and National Apex Committee. Research pertaining to reproductive cloning and introducing animal embryos in humans has been categorized as prohibited.

However, Indian scientific community upholds this view : “If embryonic stem cell research can find relief for incurable diseases, it should be encouraged,” said V.K. Vinayak, an adviser on genomics in the government’s Department of Biotechnology. “That is also life.”

In a recent e-mail message to The Washington Post, Firuza Parikh, founder and director of Reliance Life Sciences said: “We are for embryonic stem cell research. Religious, cultural and political circumstances here are not in conflict with our work.” Indian scientists said that the Bush policy (he introduced The Fetus Farming Prohibition Act) creates a windfall for researchers in such countries as India.

Mt Abu

Mt Abu Observatory - The First View

Mt Abu Observatory - The First View

Well, courtesy our school, did manage to get away on a two day trip to Mt Abu on the 28 and 29 January…scaling it to the top of the Chandela, Anadra and the upper Kodra dam with the kids was exhilerating.We did 50-70 degree rock climbing without safety belts and some rapelling too and the kids enjoyed it all thoroughly.The warm khichhdi meals at the end of the day tasted like five star biryani!And even the Brit in the team, Steve, went for a third helping 🙂
And thanks to Dr Prasanna, observed a bianry star – one large and blue, the other tiny and green at the observatory. Apart from the Infra Red observatory another first time experience was seeing a Nicmoss camera which has its lense housed inside nitrogen solution! Ooops! Would post pictures of that later if it comes out well.…Missed the cardamom and eucalyptus scented mornings of Kodai, which used to be my winter vac haunt a few years back.

I seem to have lost the capacity to be completely, totally happy and immersed in the moment. Is this because I am growing old or because I have grown up??  😉

At the Observatory Children Watching Binary Stars

At the Observatory Children Watching Binary Stars

let the tide roll, carry on

While leaves and the trees outside change colour,
While the sky turns lighter, brighter, a blazing shade of gold,
And even as the coldness from dark winter weeks past,
Melt into days growing warmer and longer, two-fold,
I sense those strange stirrings in the depths of my heart:

Once again the sea beckons…
Blue-mountains, fragrant jungles deep and dark,
Tall eucalyptus, the tall posts with neon lights, bends in the road –
Strike up a vision even as I swiftly negotiate city traffic,
Makes me – catch my breath – for an instant I forget where I am!

Moments later headlong I plunge in and surge ahead with the crowd around,
Work to do…rent to pay! Calls, bills, line-rentals and miles…
Miles to go before I sleep… Or break free,
Turn around, or simply lie down,
And let the tide flow, and time roll, and just carry-on?

my Tamil Nad

my Tamil Nad

Rudra Building Kalas!

Only there is no End (Before I had reached there)

“Like as the waves rush towards the pebbled shores…/ So do my minutes hasten to their end…” Only here there seems to be no end or rest after the end… am hurtled into times that demands I re-live my days all over again in sync with the changes and at a pace that makes you feel that there isn’t even time to grow or feel old! There is no stopping-by to glance at what is already accomplished. Or is yet to be accomplished.

But life is this one continuous tire (some) less rushing through re-adjustments and one is constantly assailed by the fear of dropping dead any moment, leaving tasks incomplete or undone, and the embarrassment of inflicting the burden on unsuspecting and already overworked colleagues.

So am on my way, across the breadth of this vast sub-tropical country, from the lush green fertile eastern river basin to the harsh rocky domains of the Western Ghats, to a different State, in an attempt to re-live a stretch of life all over again,when you think of how it would be the same job, well almost, same routine.That is how it felt, before I reached my destination – like you have got a second chance at something you did wrong the last time, so you can redo it as it should be done, this time.

From Kolkata it is to Pune, from one cultural capital of the subcontinent to another (I didn’t know, had heard and read so much that’s all), from a city that was once the capital of the mighty British Raj to a city that remained the bastion of the infallible Maratha guerillas for nearly a hundred years (this isn’t a travelogue and am not trying to ‘give the history’, but merely recounting how I had tried to use the perspective to motivate me to pack faster , get going etc… ).This was a journey fraught with expectations and apprehensions that time alone could unfold/resolve, I had told myself…

There is no end (After I had been there)

Pune station, it is 5:30 a.m. and the rickshaw-wallahs outside are – well, no one’s trying to hustle me exactly, no one’s tried to grab me or my luggage – yet – and there is a slope, I could slide my suitcase down easily without having to take my backpack off or ask for help.”YWCA near Gurdwara”. He gestured, cried out in Marathi. I hesitated as he looked at me – still no grabbing has happened. Well, this is good, took a deep breath and tried to lug the suitcase into the car, (needn’t have) and was soon off – full speed ahead along the clean quiet hundred year old banyan lined roads. Not another car on the road except my rick, caught a fleeting sight of an old building with ancient old red tiled roof which later became a regular saturday afternoon haunt (for stamps – at the philately section, would buy whole sheets of them with pictures of kuranjis, and roses – these are scented by the way, and then write sheafs of letters, must have written hundreds while I was there, even to people I hadn’t spoken to for ten years!), the GPO of Pune.

Three weeks later, after having settled down in “Rudra” which was to be my home for the rest of my stay at Pune, I had experienced this peculiar feeling of being there and not being there at all!  Every little bit of my life had to be reorganized, restructured, rebuilt, redesigned

Where my job was concerned it did seem like a second chance at something I had experienced before. I would continue in the corporate sector, and not get back to teaching yet. Where my personal and emotional life was concerned it appeared I had no past. It stands erased! It felt like I had only just begun!

When I think of Pune, this is what I remember. No other city – and I have been to so many of them over the course of my thirty-six years – had ever made me feel that way, not Bangalore, not Hyderabad, not Delhi or even Ahmedabad. And this is the only place I have no pictures of!