Of Genes and Reins

Genetic predisposition – a two-way street
Courtesy: My content capsules for a healthcare start up

People talk a lot about genetic risks these days, the risk of developing a particular health condition evaluated and quantified using statistical entities like odds ratio (OR), relative risk (RR) and absolute risk (AR). It's true that Gene expression influences how various foods are processed and absorbed within the body but a commonsense approach often helps us provided we are ready to help ourselves.

Although Genes manifest at inception and do not change for life, their expression can be modulated through the person’s environment (Diet, lifestyle and activity).Learning more about and adapting to one’s predispositions and genetic tendencies significantly improves the quality of life and maximizes health benefits. Practice two pranayams without fail: Kapalbhati and Anulom Vilom. They will set right all ailments and disorders with the 'blow hot, blow cold' effect (not idiomatically, but literally - Kapalbhati is Sun and Anulom Vilom is Moon).

Don't go for pricey genetic assessments, listen to your body - it will tell you what it needs, which may or may not be contrary to what you crave for. Don't worry about your genes, allow your body to hold the reins.

If your 'feeling of fullness' after a meal is sub-optimal, switch to a Fibre & Protein-rich diet: Whole grains, millets, fruits, green leafy veggies, cereal- legume combo meals, nuts, yoghurt, salads & sprouts

Enjoy meals of smaller portions of defined quantities, practice mindful eating.

If your snacking pattern in between regular meals is sub-optimal, then this prescription may help you:

Regular meals: Omega-3 fatty acids (flaxseeds, walnut, fish); milk & milk products; cruciferous vegetables; and brussel sprouts

Mid-morning snacks: Whole fruits/ fruit salad, yoghurt, nuts & dried fruits

Evening snacks: Green tea, roasted soybean, sprouts seasoned with pepper & olive oil, vegetable salad, raw vegetable, stuffed whole grain sandwich

Paradise Lost

Sudhir Raikar, IIFL | Mumbai | October 19, 2015 09:10 IST

Did a book review for a reputed IT company in Bangalore. The students were surprisingly well aware of Mason's book and its contents. Given that present-day Indian IT has enough mavericks, it's safe to assume we have a bright tech-enabled future waiting to unleash...

Paul Mason’s seminal work is a rich reference book on the premise, progression and precincts of capitalism. But in valiantly raising legitimate doubts on its seeming permanence, he falls prey to the lure of zeroing in on definitive solutions. Despite the invaluable scholastic value of the treasure trove, it’s hardly a guide to our future.

This is easily one of the most poetic accounts of an economic concept, packed with charming anecdotes of flowing prose and fitting poise, a remarkable blend of the clinical and the lyrical, befitting his twin degrees in politics and music. Had author Paul Mason, Economics Editor, Channel 4 news, stopped short of extrapolating his neat analysis into ‘a guide to our future’, the sanctity of his seminal work would have remained inviolate. But in a humdrum utopian leap, from fabulous literature to fantastic conjecture, he sketches a hazy way out, which unabashedly seeks to employ the machinery of the very regime he wants uprooted, for effecting key resolutions of his version of Postcapitalism. This maladroit prognosis has diluted, if not damaged, the enduring value of Mason’s painstaking research and scathing observations on a host of pertinent issues.

The breathtaking expanse spans 368 pages divided in three distinct parts. The first unfolds the crisis of our times and enumerates how it evolved over time, the second elaborates the moot point – Mason’s theory of Postcapitalism - and the third visualizes the supposed transition to the new order. Mason aptly lists four factors – consistent injection of Fiat money, cacophonic spread of Financialization, curse of global imbalances and the colossal impact of Information technologies – that initially lent momentum to neo-liberalist forces but are now turning counterproductive for its cause. Not that Mason is the only one to warn us, but the perils of an artificially puffed up economy are beyond doubt real – debt has become precariously more fashionable than equity, value trades ridiculously weigh more than value creation, shareholder interests have been blindly allowed to take precedence over tax payer concerns and the Golem-like demon of consumerism has left modern-day lifestyles with less life and more style.

Mason convincingly highlights the constraints and contradictions of Capitalism which hitherto was highly adaptable to the ups and downs across eras as the ruling class employed technology to keep the working class gainfully engaged through suitable enhancements in the production methods and modes. But the digital age, he observes, has empowered grassroots architects to innovate and explore newer ways of work and life defying the usual diktats of markets and governments that stifled them in a vicious work-wage padlock all this while. Though information is hardly a stand-alone asset, invariably a bundled component of a tangible product sale, there’s enough merit in Mason’s inference that the sheer abundance of information, as also its easy replication and extraordinary endurance in a network-rich knowledge economy, will soon make the hierarchy-driven capitalism unsustainable as growing automation will render jobs negligible and drive prices to near-zero. The ‘cut and paste’ feature of the information economy undeniably spells massive consequences for the conventional market.

Mason touches upon a vast universe of wide-ranging allusions to support his views as also to disprove conflicting points. Nikolai Kondratiev’s incisive long wave theory, martyr Rosa Luxemburg’s ‘The Accumulation of Capital’, Marx’s visionary ‘Fragment on Machines’, Lenin’s pivotal ‘What is to be Done?’, Peter Drucker’s far-reaching ‘Post Capitalist society’, Frederick Winslow Taylor’s ruthlessly innovative ‘pick up a pig and walk’ time and motion study aimed at enforcing stringent management control of factories, Rudolf Hilferding’s ‘Das Finanzkapital’, Jeremy Rifkin’s ‘The Zero Marginal Cost Society’, Ludwig Von Mises’s ‘Economic Calculation in the Socialist Commonwealth’, David Ricardo’s Labour-theory, Paul Romer’s path-breaking ‘Endogenous Technological Change’, Yann Moulier-Boutang’s ‘Cognitive Capitalism’, Yochai Benkler’s ‘The Wealth of Networks’, Alexander Bogdanov and Frank Herbert’s sci-fi novels: ‘Red Star’ and ‘Dune’ respectively, Richard Hoggart’s highly perceptive ‘The Uses of Literacy’, Connie Field’s documentary ‘The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter’, Kevin Kelly’s ‘New Rules for the New Economy’, the maverick RMS’s GNU and Free Software Movement, Andre Gorz’s insights on the changing face of work…The constellation boasts of the best of thinkers, philosophers, economists, consultants, software architects, filmmakers, journalists, and even legendary writers (Shakespeare, Dickens and Orwell) making Mason’s book a rich reference manual for students of economics – whether academic or amateur.

Mason is beyond doubt a competent story-teller. Whether the poignancy of Kondratiev’s life or his own stint as a press operator, he makes each account handsomely vivid. At times, the narration sounds too indulgent for comfort – for instance an elongated report of a London Underground carriage, seemingly to highlight a demographic divide, ornately informs us of Mason’s penchant for in-transit work and well-shined shoes among other things – but overall it’s a precise and passionate description of where we stand today and how we got there. Rather than unfairly link his stretched out tribute to Russian thought leaders with his Trotskyite roots, we should profusely thank Mason for having put the intractable political, economic and social problems of our times into perspective which should ideally set off fruitful debates rooted in honest introspection. Some of his insights are first-rate. Consider these:

“In an information society, no thought, debate or dream is wasted – whether conceived in a tent camp, prison cell or the ‘imagineering’ session of a startup company.”

“The elite and their supporters are lined up to defend the same core principles: high finance, low wages, secrecy, militarism, intellectual property and energy based on carbon. The bad news is that they control nearly every government in the world. The good news is that in most countries they enjoy very little consent or popularity among ordinary people.”

“The debate on Postcapitalism has come a long way since Peter Drucker, yet in another sense it has gone nowhere. It has been marked by speculative thinking, technobabble and a tendency to declare the existence of new systems rather than to explore their relationship to old realities.”

“All simple forms of finance now generate a market in complex finance higher up the chain: every house buyer or car driver is generating a knowable financial return somewhere in the system. Your mobile phone contract, gym membership, household energy – all your regular payments – are packaged into financial instruments, generating steady interest for an investor, long before you decide to buy them. And then somebody you have never met places a bet on whether you will make the payments.”

“Kondratieff’s real crime, in the eyes of his persecutors, was to think the unthinkable about capitalism: that instead of collapsing under crisis, capitalism generally adapts and mutates.”

“The problem is, mainstream economics does not understand its own limitations. The more complete it became as an academic discipline describing an abstract, static and immutable reality, the less it understood change.”

“Now though, we have a new problem: demographic ageing. There are no activists to drop banners from buildings to protest against ageing, there are no ministries for ageing, no prestigious scientific panel or global negotiations. Yet it is potentially as big an external shock as climate change – and its impact will be much more immediately economic.”

“The successful crooks and dictators of the emerging world have already bought influence and respectability: you can feel their power as you walk through the door of certain law firms, PR consultancies and even corporations.”

However Mason’s bet on the impending doom of capitalism, rather on its dead end in its present form, is based on a wobbly compendium - the trigger of 2008 meltdown, Mason’s first-hand reportage of ‘edge places of the world’, selective statistics borrowed from Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the staggeringly disruptive power of the Wikipedia model among others. Without bothering to tell us exactly how capitalism will go to wrack and ruin, he puts forth a case for Postcapitalism, ostensibly beyond ‘the incoherence of conventional protest movements’, as a definitive Masonic solution ‘for a substantially better future that what capitalism would offer by the mid-twenty-first century.’

He calls his book a guide, but spells out his aim as ‘not to provide an economic strategy or a guide to organization.’ He’s here only to map the new contradictions of capitalism to serve as credible co-ordinates for ‘people, movements and parties’ for the ‘journey they’re trying to make.’ The proposed plan is titled ‘Project Zero’ after the significance of zero in each of the targets: zero-carbon energy, production at zero marginal cost and near-zero labour time. Project Zero proposals, should account for, Mason cautions, five key principles to avoid past failures –small scale tests and repeated modeling of macro-economic impact, design for ecological sustainability, human perceptions along with values of economic and social justice, ubiquity of change agents across all strata and making the most of the power of information.

Who are these people and parties that would embark on the said journeys to steer the said movements? Should they enroll as volunteers on the Project Zero website? Should they go for the kill in ‘do or die’ fashion? Would states somehow do the unthinkable - come to terms with the new reality in one abrupt blaze of spiritual enlightenment? How will the tech innovators, who reap the rewards of the old order in draped forms, push capitalism towards a dead end? Will the Internet of Things make Mason’s agenda its top priority before grappling with its own set of challenges - the mammoth task of connecting things and the need for large-scale data discovery, archival and analytical mechanisms notwithstanding the proposed upgrade from Ipv4 to Ipv6 standard? Most important, which authority will assume responsibility for the law and order in the new economy, considering that it has a hell of a lot to do – fix guaranteed incomes for all, provide cost-efficient services and infrastructure, regulate the IT industry in the larger interest of the community, mitigate debt to the extent possible and measure the happiness quotient of the people from time to time? (The last bit is obligatory we think even though Mason doesn’t call for it. Maybe Bhutan can share priceless insights with the world on this point)

Mason offers no clues on ways to get there save for some generic instruction like rapidly reducing carbon emissions (already happening in some form), stabilizing the finance system between now and 2050, delivering high levels of material prosperity and well being to the majority of people and gearing technology towards reduction of necessary work in an automated economy (again, underway right now). He has an action plan for each of these top goals but the weak post script – that his role is that of a cartographer - waters down the potency of the recommendation. No point in examining the substance of his Abracadabra therapy – get rid of market forces, socialize the finance system, suppress and socialize monopolies – when the architects of the transcendental transformation have not been identified.

Mason’s faith in information technology is laced with fairy-tale beliefs. No one can dispute the internet’s democratizing power, nor the first-rate collaboration and co-creation of the open source movement, but the dark side of software development, factory of a different mould, can’t be disregarded either. On the face of it, many IT organizations, start-ups in particular, are flat organizations with radical morals but peep inside their code labs and you’ll find the same old hierarchies of power distances, ruthless ambition and narcissism at play, where a handful of smart and wily operators merrily rule over a veritable but vulnerable majority. Many ‘genius’ founders are keen to trade their innovation, rather than nurture it, at the first given opportunity and a host of globe-trotting tech professionals are faking work, day in and day out, on their cell phones, tablets, excel sheets and word documents even as the bulk of the inarticulate programming tribe goes through the grind, inevitably falling prey to Machiavellian tactics and the bell curve nonsense at the workplace. Who’s going to reduce the besmirching carbon footprints of the IT industry that pollute the social fabric in elusive ways – where hyped on-site-off-site-offshore models don’t necessarily mean better working conditions, where key performance appraisals are invariably unscientific, where egos are sky-high and tempers fly high, thanks to the variety and vanity of designations: the perfunctory coder is keen to call himself a developer, the developer genuinely believes he’s an architect and the architect is thoroughly convinced he’s God’s gift to mankind. Talking of the positively disruptive open source movement, it attracts as many opportunistic users with profit motives, thriving on an erroneous reading of the ‘free’ tag, as selfless contributors committed to the larger cause of the faction.

If Mason has pinned his hopes on the gender-neutral, sexually liberated IT tribe to fight for his post capitalist wonderland may be his Second Life avatar has a better chance to steer the dream towards fruition. Emancipation in terms of sexual choices and denouncement of gender bias, in real life at least, are no guarantee of equity and equanimity in public affairs in spite of their invaluable contribution towards a more secure, stable and inclusive social and cultural environment.

Will humanity rid itself of its deep-rooted possessive tendencies – inborn greed, lust for power, distaste towards responsibility and desire to withhold – in one decisive catapult, just because it would have moved from scarcity to abundance? This is not to doubt Mason’s intentions but his guide to our future seems no more than wishful thinking. It’s more of a plea to the powers-that-be of the current economic regime to mend their ways than a prophetic utilitarian prescription for a new order. Mason’s appeal is passionate no doubt but only states the obvious: “Millions of people are beginning to realize they have been sold a dream they can never live. In its place, we need more than just a bunch of different dreams. We need a project based on reason, evidence and testable designs, one that cuts with the grain of economic history and is sustainable in terms of our planet.”

Ask the millions of people and at least a few of them will retort: Yes, we are angry, we know what we need, and also that it calls for a fool-proof actionable project. Not a wishful Grundrisse which, for all its literary value, runs the risk of appearing wistful.

Deathbed: A Short film

Circled around the Deathbed
They weep and moan
Sullen looks, swollen eyes, measured sighs
Magic Makeover tailored for the occasion

All in anticipation of the breaking news
and pray if it doesn't seem forthcoming
They fret and fume within,
drained by the 'performance'

How long? they wonder,
for the politically correct broadcast
across media: social and anti-social,
of heartrending obituaries
and touching tributes
proofed, edited, revised and rehearsed
All in readiness

Fun to watch,
this short film
On the futility of life,
featuring the departing soul
in a culminating cameo,
Ironically on the Deathbed.

My Father - A stream-of-consciousness tribute

When people outside the so-called family cherish your values, and of those residing in your hearts and minds for life, you feel blessed. It was a great thought session today with some new friends from Pune. Recounting the life and times of my dad for their benefit, in what proved a sweet tangent to the moot point, was an experience beyond words. I reproduce my two-penny tribute to mark this day, a very special one indeed, spent at a coffee shop bang opposite the iconic Bhandarkar Institute.

Thanks to an unimaginably difficult childhood and countless instances of injustice inflicted by mean, insular and insensitive superiors throughout his rich and varied employment tenure - whether as an academician, school teacher, professor, research officer or director, not to mention scores of odd, one-off jobs he did for a living - the real worth of his timeless work was never recognized in full measure. And he never believed in promoting his cause despite winning the admiration of and endorsement from renowned scholars like A L Basham of the University of London (and later Head of Department of Oriental Civilization at The Australian National University), Robert Bosc, S.J of the Institut Cath-olique de Paris, Institut d’Etudes Sociales, Action Populaire, France, Dr. J M Mehta, Vice-Chancellor, M S University Baroda, legendary geographer O H K Spate, eminent historians R N Mehta, D C Sircar and Professor Herbert J Wood and noted scholar A D Pusalker. His chart on the Dynamics of Indian History showing the operation of the Centripetal and Centrifugal forces in political history won critical appreciation from the world over.

These accolades did little to boost his official status in government, semi-government and private organizations alike. To make matters worse was his inherent inability to converse with the people at large. Many among them proactively came closer on the pretext of knowing him better. This often made him an hapless victim of hidden agendas and ulterior motives. The media and publishing tribe was no exception, drawing rich insights from him but force-fitting them in frameworks of their conceited and constricted minds, and, creative and counterproductive machinations. Somewhere the wounds of these experiences had left him scarred deep within. The most tragic fallout of this quandary was that he was neither able to spell out the Utopian independence he craved for all his life, nor could he ever measure his own greatness, often reaching out to the wrong people, trading instinct for intellect and vice versa in forging suspect relationships, largely ignoring the security checks to validate the trustworthiness of the staged affinities extended from the other side.

Add to that the long list of his manufactured eccentricities, more the result of sheer dejection than any inherent tendency, that forced him to develop a coconut-like disposition. Those who cared to see through, and look beyond, the hard shell were generously blessed with the sweet nectar of his pioneering thoughts - insightful observations on matters of life and death and a remarkably detached, holistic scholarship that knew no bounds of academic or professional disciplines. As his children, we did manage to make a few inroads in several 24 carat moments of togetherness but there's no denying the fact that we largely failed to look at things from his perspective, ridiculously consumed by our circumstantial preoccupations all along. Such learnings, rooted in unconditional acknowledgment, unfortunately happen only in hindsight.

And yet, something extraordinary happened during the last three days: when he was sapped of energy in a seemingly rapid onset of sodium loss as the doctors suspect in a convenient conjecture. He became exceptionally soft and mild mannered and we saw glimpses of my mom in his gestures and utterances. It's our good fortune that the three days had us wrapped together in a celestial bond of a lifetime that can only be experienced, never described. Towards the evening of the third day on 11th November, he was hospitalized for what looked like a case of chest congestion. Looking at his condition, we had given up all hopes but he came back in a miraculous recovery which we could sense was short-lived. Nevertheless, throughout 12th and 13th, as he went through scores of ups and downs, we had rich, fulfilling conversations that were amiss all this while.

My mom, although timid by nature all her life, won over her cancer when she called me and held my hand before she breathed her last. So we were more than sure something similar was planned for dad. And we were not disappointed. We have no reason to complain - for we were blessed with eleven wholesome years with him post my mother's demise knowing fully well that he was prepared to leave this world long before her exit.

Doctors could never confirm the exact cause of his demise but we know he timed his death in a manner befitting his sterling character. All his life, he played with words in a world of his own and the Jacques Derridas, Edward Saids, Bertrand Russells, Karl Poppers, Narhar Kurundkars, N C Kelkars and Dharmanand and Damodar Kosambis would have surely come to his rescue as he was going through the motions of the final act. No wonder, he was fully alert and mindful of everything till the very last.

To borrow his own words:

आता सरसावून पुढे जायचे नाही
केव्हा सरेल वाट ठाऊक नाही
पण चरैवेति चरैवेति
शिकायचंय अजून बरच काही...

No more putting my
best foot forward
for the dead-end lurks
around the corner
But I keep going,
keep going
for there's much yet to
learn and garner

Archetypes & Stereotypes

Gist of a series of fruitful discussions with actor, activist and psychiatrist Dr. Mohan Agashe

For the better part of the twentieth century, literacy was measured in terms of the ability to read and write, not by the facility to watch and listen.

As a result,

The last word was etched in print

Key for Learning was instruction, not instinct

Sounds, images, gestures were blurred in the maze of words

Those who knew how to read and write exploited those who did not.

While the innovators and activists of film and television media actively took up social awareness and awakening issues, the ‘news channels’ made news entertaining by including elements of drama and intrigue in news bytes.

Cultural aberration

Although the need for audio visual literacy was universally marginalized, region-specific cultural sensitivities made a huge difference in the manner in which such information was received by end users. Unlike the West, Asian and Indian populace is more rooted in sensory perception.The conduit for receiving communication in this part of the word in invariably emotional.It naturally helped makers and broadcasters of media smartly reconstruct their versions of truths in line with their respective agendas.

Makers & Takers

Makers of Audio Visual media in India: Vested interests found it easier to promote their own twisted ideologies and causes

Takers of Audio Visual media in India: Vulnerable viewing consumed messages without interpretation and introspection

Gender in films

Gender is an inevitable component of any filmic plot and characterization.

Love stories necessarily highlight gender issues on celluloid but very few films explore gender realities in the specific context of social expectations and constraints governing gender roles and relationships.

Most Indian films portray gender issues as stories of:

Oppression & Suffering (problem is the key word)

Resilience & Triumph (solution is the key word)

Personal fulfilment amidst social obligations & expectations (strife is the keyword)

The three principal themes give birth to sub themes which are often a fusion of the three in varying proportions:

Emblematic gender relationships that define boundaries, expectations, aspiration and compromise in marital and family life or in choosing a life partner

Vulnerability of women: gender-related challenges of overcoming adversity, either individually or collectively

Nurturing role of a Woman : as the source of strength, within families as also in unconventional settings

The Rebellious woman: who wields power in political and other settings, typically challenging expectations and surmounting limitations of gender stereotypes

In each of these themes and sub-themes, cultural aspects of vulnerability are depicted vis-à-vis opportunities for resilience, independence and power.

As with any social issue rooted in controversy, the filmmaker may:

either pander to expectations of the status quo, or question the status quo citing alternatives, thereby stimulating reflection, discussion and debate about how things are and how they should be. Region-specific cultural sensitivities made a huge difference in the manner in which cinematic information is consumed

Mainstream Films often tend to promote:

Social/cultural/religious beliefs rooted in tradition

Archetypes and Stereotypes based on gender and sexuality

Vision and mission of the establishment

Commercial objectives of business & industry stakeholders

Pet media Stereotypes: Timelessly Hypocritical

A lady is either hailed as a goddess or condemned as a vamp, strictly a binary characterization.

Housewives are necessarily shown as ‘nagging’ and the prime reason why husbands ‘look’ elsewhere.

A fair complexion is still sought after, and dark skinned people are yet an object of ridicule (The recent anti-fairness cream wave - though more of an advertising ploy than a social movement - is heartening, given that it helps debunk fairness-related myths and prejudices)