Tete-a-tete with Pranav Anam, Founder, The Gene Box

Sudhir Raikar , IIFL | Mumbai | March 16, 2016 10:08 IST

“Put simply, genetic testing is most useful to individuals who are knowledgeable, curious about their genetic disposition, conscious about their health and who are capable of using this information in a prudent and proactive manner.”

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How would you explain genetics in layman’s terms?

Genetics is largely about likelihood, akin to a weather forecast predicting a 60 per cent probability of rain, which means that given the evidence, chances of rain are higher, although there is a 40% chance that it may not rain. However, not all Genetics is like that. Certain genetic conditions called monogenic conditions carry cent per cent likelihood. In certain other conditions, it varies between 99% to 1%. Scientists often combine the likelihood of multiple genes to increase the certainty of likelihood for a certain event. The proper way to interpret genetic likelihood is to develop your awareness of your inborn susceptibilities and tendencies and verify them through other pieces of information to the extent possible, acting on the side of caution.

Can you elaborate with an example?

Assuming genetic tests reveal a higher likelihood of diabetes, one should look for family history of diabetes and also monitor blood glucose periodically. They should also take all possible preventive action to keep Diabetes at bay. Not all conditions are easy to spot through family history, like Diabetes. This is where wide-ranging genetic testing such as nutri-genomic profile, fitness profile and profile of other health conditions are highly helpful. Put simply, genetic testing is most useful to individuals who are knowledgeable, curious about their genetic disposition, conscious about their health and who are capable of using this information in a prudent and proactive manner.

How big is the genetic testing market?

The Genetic testing market, rapidly moving from a service driven model to product driven model, is expected to touch USD 2.2 billion by 2017. The US represents the largest market for genetic testing worldwide led by the fast growing importance of prognostic and predictive screening. Running parallel to the ‘provider market’, Genetic counseling services are on the rise. Notwithstanding its prolific growth over the years, the genetic testing industry faces two key challenges: one, lack of a fool-proof method to cater to individual needs given the vast differences in genetic structures and two, acute need for standard regulations for the genetic testing process.

What is The Gene Box?

The Gene Box (TGB) - http://www.thegenebox.com/ - is India’s first holistic health platform providing cost-effective nutrition and health care solutions and services based on wide-ranging genetic analytics. Genebox procures your saliva sample - in a special kit dispatched and collected from your home - and performs a series of core tests to determine your genetic constitution. Our comprehensive data analysis forms the basis for customized food and fitness recommendations across various age groups and health goals – from schools kids keen to excel in physical activities to senior citizens aspiring for a healthy lifestyle, from sports enthusiasts participating in marathons to professional athletes playing competitive sport.

What role does technology play in TGB?

TGB provides information on eight common lifestyle conditions that, proven research shows, are preventable through nutritional, exercise and lifestyle modifications suited to your genotype. Taking the genetic predisposition is crucial to your health plan as no two individuals are alike, except for identical twins although every individual receives DNA from his/her father and mother in equal proportions.

We use a technology called Genotyping that utilizes hundreds of DNA markers associated with lifestyle disorders that have been identified using Genome-wide association studies across the world. We process the test data through our unique algorithms to study your genotype and develop customized food and fitness plans in line with your health goals. Lifestyle diseases include atherosclerosis, heart disease, and stroke; obesity and type 2 diabetes; and those caused by smoking, alcohol & drug abuse. TGB, unlike most genetic testing players, does not subscribe to a one-size-fits-all approach. Our nutritional and fitness advice is necessarily based on the insights drawn from your genetic predisposition. Genetics technology is a relatively nascent but rapidly evolving field. In the near future, it’s inevitable that most individuals in one way or another would have experienced some level of genetic assessment. Currently, most genetic assessments are based on genotyping, which selectively looks at certain portions of the individual’s genes

What makes TGB unique given scores of providers claiming respective USPs?

Currently, the analysis and recommendations of most players in the nutrition and fitness industry are symptomatic in nature (solely focused on physical attributes like the individual’s body type and subjective interpretations of food and fitness habits and tendencies). No analysis is done to gauge whether the recommendations are in line with the individual’s genetic constitution.

Genebox does exactly the reverse – it studies the person’s food and fitness specifics in the guiding light of his/her genetic makeup thereby arriving at tailor-made recommendations that are free of generic conclusions or convenient conjectures. We also advise you on lifestyle diseases you are genetically prone to and how to keep them at bay. There are a few players who carry out genetic testing but they are focused on a Lab model that makes testing an end in itself. Genebox adopts a Consumer-centric delivery model, where testing is only a means to an end. We explore and exploit the test results to deliver the desired health results to the end consumer.

How does TGB’s USP help the end-consumers?

We are all unique in mind and body... We respond differently to the same diet plans or fitness routines, thanks to our genetic makeup. So when the makeup differs, how can the makeover be the same? TGB helps you identify the root cause of your health problems: if you are overeating, it may be because of the FTO gene that impairs the body’s feeling of fullness and Fibre & Protein-rich diet could help your cause. If you don’t seem to lose fat, your fat genes may be responsible and we can recommend special dietary and weight management program that boosts your fat loss in response to exercise. Your inability to build muscle could have resulted from your genetically low satellite cell activation. TGB can help put you on a highly focused training program, tailored diet and supplement regime in line with your genetic predisposition. TGB caters to the needs of three distinct consumer segments: one, budding sportspersons of schools, colleges and sports academies, two, active Healthcare spenders, organic food shoppers and fitness tracking device users and three, people with lifestyle disorders seeking generic food, fitness and wellness solutions.

Health care in India: Gasping for breath

Sudhir Raikar, IIFL | Mumbai | March 14, 2016 09:19 IST

A new health protection scheme providing a cover of Rs. 1 lakh per family, with top-up for senior citizens, Prime Minister’s Jan Aushadhi Yojana for providing generic drugs at affordable prices, National Dialysis Services Programme to make dialysis affordable and accessible in the same breath, all these are indeed heartening budget pronouncements. But are they adequate and effective, especially for a country with the highest tuberculosis deaths, maximum still born cases and the lowest per capita health care spending among BRICS countries? Despite India’s adoption of Global Monitoring Framework on non-communicable diseases (NCD), about 60 per cent of deaths in India are NCD cases, with one among every four Indians at a risk.

The conventional symptomatic approach of the government – whether current or previous – of focusing on end-stage ailments, not their root causes - which include diabetes, high BP, hypertension, malnutrition and substance abuse and a host of other fatal triggers – has always proved self defeating beyond a point. We all know the state of primary and community health centers in India, which are invariably short of specialist doctors and devoid of even the most basic facilities at many places. On paper, these centers serve the poor but in practice; the poor are forced to rely on the private setup which is almost always exorbitantly priced.

Notwithstanding the 2016 budget provisions, health care is yet deprived of high-impact spends - whether in terms of infrastructure development, better access to health care services or significant insurance coverage. If pro-poor was the agenda, this sector’s priorities should have been right on top. The idea of sustainability that India pledges allegiance to on every forum is simply not possible without a healthy India – literally healthy we mean.

There’s no concrete plan either to improve the number of specialist medical experts in government hospitals, nor any scheme to improve their infrastructure. Privatizing Health care is fraught with risks in India even if one assumes the legitimacy of government intentions to promote it. As it is, many private hospitals are trying to emulate the hospitality model of BLD packages rather than focus on providing fundamental care. Umpteen hospitals and clinics in India have been reduced to insurance companies profiting from the fear of death and disease which, at best, allow mere scientific possibilities to dictate the patient’s curative and palliative ordeal.

We don’t negate the value of private participation – especially in the areas of telemedicine, digital document management and archival, R & D in biotechnology, integrated manufacturing and product quality control systems – but the government can’t shrug its responsibility, watching the action, or the lack of it, from the sidelines, more content to underline its role as a catalyst, rather than playing it.

‘Make in India’, Skill Development and ‘Start up Stand up India’ have the biggest role to play in improving health care facilities & infrastructure as also stimulate action in key areas including manufacture of active pharma ingredients. The government should provide as many fiscal and tax incentives to build traction in this low-key if not neglected space. Letting bidis remain cheaper is clearly not one of them.

Vijaynagar - The Forgotten Khomong By Dr. Y A Raikar

The booklet Vijaynagar: The Forgotten Khomong by Dr. Y A Raikar is about Vijaynagar in the Tirap district of Arunachal Pradesh, the eastern-most portion of the country surrounded by the Burmese territory from three sides. The booklet unfolds the historical import of this place as revealed by the archaeological excavation carried out in April 1971.

The PDF copy of the book can be downloaded for free. Look atop the left side bar of this blog.

Indian History: A Study in Dynamics by Dr. Y A Raikar

Excerpt from Dr. Raikar's doctoral thesis....

"What is the meaning of Indian History?"

A survey of Indian history from the earliest times would reveal how closely our history follows the pattern laid down by geography, and how the vertical and horizontal developments, blended with the recurrent foreign penetration, go into the making of the personality of India. The Indian sub-continent has been since time immemorial a melting pot of conflicting races and civilizations. The story of Indian culture is one of continuity and conflict, with attempts of reconciliation and synthesis. Challenging forces have often made violent inroads, disturbing its continuity and intensifying the conflict.

Indian history has been a continuous conflict between centrifugal and centripetal forces. The centripetal or the pan-Indian forces represent the horizontal movement of certain cultural traits and operate wherever there exists a strong central power. On the other hand, the centrifugal ones have a tendency to assert themselves during the decay of the central authority. But while doing so, they disturb the vertical unity of the physical and cultural regions.

Under the pressure of invasions - whether the result of population movements or military raids of ambitious generals - the centripetal forces were weakened but the centrifugal ones went into nurturing the regional cultures of India. An immediate fillip was provided to the vernacular languages in the course of evolution and hence we find the growth of language-centric cultures, not race-defined. This aspect is often lost sight of and the whole period is condemned as one of decadence.


Dr. Yashvant A Raikar, a field archaeologist, taught and did research at the M S University of Baroda (1965-68). Thereafter, he held responsible positions in the Research Department of the Government of Arunachal Pradesh and traveled extensively along the North East Border. To his credit are: Dynamics of Indian History (Baroda 1960), The Forgotten Khomong (1974), Ita Fort (1976), Archaeology of Arunachal Pradesh (1980) besides several articles and reports. He was awarded Governor's Gold Medal for Meritorious Service in Arunachal Pradesh.

From 1980 to 1986, he was with the Nehru Centre, Mumbai, involved in the Discovery of India Exposition. Post retirement, his main interest was in studying the mysteries, enigmas and elusive aspects of Indian life armed with a holistic historical approach.


IIFL | Mumbai | August 31, 2015 09:18 IST
While content aggregation is clearly the need of the hour, it’s only the quality of curation that would make the success of news aggregation and curation apps sustainable in the long run. News Republic shows immense promise on this front given the sterling conviction of its founder.

Way back in the ancient times, the spoken word was supposed to say it all. Any public cause or campaign thrived on the charisma of the orator leader. Rhetoric was the key to influence masses. With the advent of printing and publishing technology, oratory took a back seat. The whole of twentieth century was dominated by the print media. The written word became a potent, powerful tool at the hands of those who could read and write. This new tribe knowingly and unknowingly gained dominant positions. Our fourth estate, with notable exceptions, is largely a product of this feudal psyche and has virtually made the commoditization of news as a virtual monopoly for long – initially as the moral police and concomitantly as moral judiciary. Even the electronic and web media despite their ubiquity and 24/7 reach could never challenge this authority, thanks to the cocoon of native protection - a joint patronage of political and business powers-that-be and their sordid ethos.

It’s therefore heartening to note the growing import of content aggregation and curation tools – popularly offered as mobile apps – which are doing an admirable job of bringing aggregated relevant content which they claim to carefully curate in line with the given context. While the claim must be subjected to rigorous scrutiny, there’s a definitely a potent collaboration happening here – between the algorithms responsible for the breathtaking aggregation, filtering and ranking of humungous, all pervading content and the human intervention for its validation and repurposing. We can’t think of a better blend of man and machine to serve a large cause where the human curator – a specialist in organizing, illustrating, repurposing and repackaging content with unflinching focus on the big picture – holds the key. The semantic technologies, no matter how wonderful they are, are not the differentiating factor. It’s only the intelligent human intervention that can make the content truly actionable – with a host of value-adds including purposeful reordering, re-titling, summarization, bias-freeing, referencing and smart syndication ahead of mere crap or pattern detection. Compare this potent curation with the conventional curation in print – a mere compilation from news wire agencies, news bureaus and direct reportage – and we get a fair idea of the premium on offer, that comes mostly free for common internet users.

Of all innovative news aggregators, News Republic (http://www.news-republic.com/) stands out - not for its technology or the range of news topics or its user-friendly interface – but for the sterling conviction of its founder Gilles Raymond. One can question the granularity of News Republic’s topic-wise elaboration or the depth and width of its news sources, but not the founder’s credence. Thanks to his IN-FUSIO and Mobilescope successes, he’s quite an authority on the mobile space and appears to be in a great position to measure the immensity of India’s mobile-only potential. Even a cursory glance at his thoughts in the public domain will tell you he’s quite adept at sense-making – a MUST-HAVE attribute for a content aggregating news service.

For instance, in one thought piece on the trials and tribulations of immigrants, he aptly observes, “Being an immigrant gives you an external, objective view on the country welcoming you, and also, after few months, on the country you left behind….For an immigrant, almost overnight, everything that was acquired as absolute truth becomes irrelevant in the new country. It is a complete loss of reference that has to be rebuilt as fast as possible for your survival. For the newcomer, from now to the coming years it is a daily practice of his “Darwin Intelligence”. This insight, more than semantic technology, is the key to unfolding the dynamic, essence and credence of evolving countries which are often slotted under the common name of developing countries.

In an illuminating tete-a-tete with Business Standard, he hits bull’s eye when he says, “Our mission is to spark global conversations about issues that matter. And no global conversation is complete without India.”

For umpteen years, newspapers were the ultimate source of definitive news and a handful of them did an admirable job of asking tough questions, challenging the establishment and lending neutral support to rebels, crusaders and activists. But somewhere down the line, media itself became an establishment – a fortified estate with its own agenda – where the prejudice of advertorials became more precious than the pride of editorials. After the internet gained traction and momentum as a news broadcasting vehicle, different variants of the infamous cut-copy-paste technology made the hotchpotch of borrowed wisdom more respectable than the exclusivity of original thought. There was now a thin line of difference between the ownership of the media house and its management and of course there’s no SEBI here to probe the conflicts of interest. Safeguarding citizen interest, barring few exceptions, is more about closing the stable door after the horse has bolted for most media outfits –even as a matter of policy in some cases. Worse, the undivided attention is now to make the trivial sound like monumental.

No wonder, the quality and credibility of news suffers fatal wounds which won’t ever heal with the band-aid measures that some outfits adopt merely to prove they are different from the rest. Indian media, whether print or electronic, has lost much of its credence as news is now a mindless compilation of views with a glaringly lop-sided focus on Bollywood, Food, Astrology and Cricket, all fixations conveniently blamed on ‘market diktats’. Like how the hero and heroine of today’s Bollywood flicks have made the comedian and the vamp redundant – both specialist roles in yester year films - high-flying editors and celeb journalists of the mainstream tribe have now turned full-fledged film critics, cricket experts (none of the calibre of stalwarts like N Ram) and food and travel connoisseurs. But this is not what makes the tragedy truly Greek. That trigger emanates from Western shores.

It hurts to see how over the years the Western media has always looked at India with suitably tinted spectacles. Although the stories of Time, The Economist and Bloomberg Businessweek are a cut above the rest (read East) in terms of credence and comprehensiveness if not always conviction, the intractable focus is invariably on the emblematic third world issues of poverty, deprivation, exploitation, unemployment and corruption besides a host of rehashed success stories conveniently handpicked from the basket of native media coverage. As a rule, China gets more weightage than India when it comes to in-depth stories in each of these publications.

Agreed, India is a rich storehouse of staple issues under popular tags like Poverty, Deprivation, Unemployment, Bollywood, Cricket and Software, there's a new India across the length and breadth of the country with astonishing tales of trials and triumph that makes a better claim to put India in perspective. The real non-conformists provide the real stories, the kind that Discovery channel covers with amazing regularity.

There’s not even an iota of doubt that the web covers them best across spheres - sports or films, polity or social sphere, government or industry, healthcare or education. Countless blogs, webzines and news portals cover a mixed bag of little known news, happenings and people of universal reckoning, whether deserving reverence or defiance or both. Of course, some of it is trash but this is where a quality scavenger makes all the difference in separating the wheat from the chaff, an intelligent and dexterous job, which is often erroneously equated with cherry-picking. We have reason to believe News Republic can become such a scavenger provided it takes the effort to find and feed a fair share of nutritious and actionable content about India which can stem from the most unlikely of places - not necessarily rural or silver-screened, not necessarily about naked children or about meteoric executive-to-global-CEO elevations. Offer plenty of choice for the reader, only then go about improvising based on user response. Don’t hard code or restrict your categorized offerings based on your personal reading of the news appetite and preferences of the general public. Making strategic inroads into the wealth of regional media (steering clear of the garbage) is one way of facilitating this treasure hunt. Merely calling India news-hungry won’t suffice.

Raymond appears to be one of the very few democratic media barons who firmly believes news is much more than a commodity and hence calls for innovative ways to facilitate its holistic and seamless access. News Republic is clearly a player to watch out for, not just for its headline news, additional links or tagging system but for the promise it holds in India and for India.

The Celebral void on Marathi celluloid

There have been many a debate - staged and otherwise - on what "ails" the Marathi entertainment industry of today. In fact, such arguments are in themselves a mega industry, and a rewarding pastime for the few enterprising among Marathi minds.

In recent times, we have seen offbeat Marathi films surfacing with unfailing regularity but variety, as we have often seen, does not necessarily promise quality. Worse, intoxicated by their disproportionate success, some of the directors and lead players of such films have become demi gods. And ironically, the flood of "offers" leaves them with little time to explore sensitive themes, busy as they are settling for sensitized themes.

No wonder, despite a strikingly rich and insightful literature, Marathi cinema is still stuck with family sob stories and mindless comedies. This is indeed a collective failure - of film makers, writers, actors, viewers and of course the oh-so-powerful critics. While most of the Marathi film makers operate in a "compromise" mode to desperately design a hit film, our viewers are happy with only such relief that allows them the luxury of switched-off minds. On the other hand, our actors have a single-minded aspiration of making it big in Bollywood - after all, a half-scene with Shahrukh Khan makes one a global icon zillion times faster than a Marathi film that could at best fetch an award at a film fest.

The less said about the critics, the better. While the mechanical star system of the regional press - print and electronic included - is largely shallow and disgustingly objective, the "English" scribes covering Marathi entertainment are an elite community - overtly thrilled with their brazen authority and thoroughly convinced of their intellectual superiority. Now that leaves no room whatsoever for something called responsibility. No wonder, they have no qualms in resorting to plagiarism and borrowed wisdom, however subtle and camouflaged it turns out to be. In the sole excitement to showcase their intelligence, they invariably miss the film's soul. There's hardly any respect for the maker's perspective in the blatant endorsement of their perception.

And the theory of relativity in their heads is simplistic, not simple - the more sarcastic and bitter the condemnation gets, the more learned the critic becomes (read appears). Interestingly, when the same critics turn filmmakers, they merrily chew the same gums that they once loathed with such disdain. Yet, such is the mighty aura that aspiring film makers try to win their approvals, ahead of engaging viewers.

There's no acknowledgment whatsoever, from filmmakers and critics alike, of the pressing need to raise the bar in as many aspects as possible - whether choice of scripts, methods of acting or directorial styles. Like every other field, this industry badly needs the participation of thinking individuals across disciplines. If not co-creation, collaboration is easily feasible if the industry wakes up to it. For a vulnerable industry where the availability of funds defines the framework of creativity, nothing can be more heartening. Only if the industry opens up to the spirit of open source..

Talk of timeless creations and one thinks of directors like Raja Paranjpe, actors like Chandrakant Gokhale, writers like G D Madgulkar and music maestros like Sudhir Phadke. Not that their films were free of pet patterns and cliches, but their unquestionable sincerity, way ahead of brilliance, in furthering the cause of good cinema is still a coveted benchmark... only if we care to look back.

Mumbai Known and Unknown - Dr. Y. A. Raikar

Thanks to the tremendous response from inquisitive minds across the globe, we are moving this page to a full-fledged site http://wheretogoindia.com/ The value-added, voluminous content is now bursting at the seams of this poor blog. Hate to leave this space but the shift is inevitable. For any queries, contact pariraikar@gmail.com

Today's Times of India carries a piece titled Mumbai - The Unknown by Nergish Sunavala & Ram on vintage statues of the colonial era that were dispatched to Mumbai's Bhau Daji Lad Museum . A rather sweet coincidence that their title and contents match those of this blog post. Given the falling standards of journalism in India, the coincidence seems suspect but we still give them the benefit of doubt. My dad would have done the same had he been around.

Dr Y A Raikar: Excavation in Lower Dibang Valley, Arunachal Pradesh

The archaeological background of Lower Dibang Valley district is traceable from the pre-historic period. Exploratory works of the Europeans and their Indian counterparts in this region made it possible to understand the long history of the district. Among the prominent explorers Captain Gregory found a Neolithic implement called rounded Butt Axe from the Mishmi Hills.

Dr. Y.A. Raikar of the Research department, Govt. of Arunachal Pradesh collected three triangular Ground Axes and one Bar type polished broken celt during the excavation works at Bhismaknagar in 1970-71.

The Rukmini Nati (Ruins of Rukmini) named by Dr. Y A Raikar, officer-in-charge of the excavation, is situated at the heart of Chimiri village which is approximately 12 km from Roing. This is an hill-fort presumably of 14th/15th century. You find the remains of burnt and baked bricks, which indicates the progress of the erstwhile civilization. The legend, associated with the site tells that “Rukmininati” was the Palace of Princess Rukmini, the daughter of King Bhismak.

Excavation conducted at the site in 1972-73 reveals structure of two rooms measuring 10m x 10m x 12m, made of bricks up-to plinth level. About 19 kms from Roing at Injonu village a stone image of Ganesha was unearthed. It was made of granite rock, measuring 44 inches high and 27.5 inches wide. It clearly represents a pot bellied Ganesha in a seating posture. Of the four arms, the lower right is broken from wrist and other three arms are depicted with weapons like hand axe, conch etc. The mahout of Ganesha, the rat is also depicted at the bottom right of the image. There is a spiral line of decoration all along the boarder of the stelae. From the stylistic aspect, its antiquity could be placed in the 9th/10th century A.D.

Courtesy: http://roing.nic.in/archaeology.htm

PS: I had shown this web reference to him while he was around. His response was inimitable: a poker-faced look signifying "So What?"