Life giving lakes, dams and damnation

DSCN4906While Mumbaikers look forward to the monsoon (those some of us who are fortunate enough to have a pukka home which does not flood and who don’t have to travel on the edge of death by local train)….and to walks on Marine Drive and eating bhutta and drinking adrak chai, taking trips to Lonavla to stand under waterfalls, there are some who are busy counting (like the Counting Man from the Little Prince) the inches of rain that fall in the suburbs and the rise in the lake levels.

These are the people tasked with ensuring water supply to Mumbai from the end of one monsoon to the beginning of the next one! Usually the countdown begins in March which tells us –only 60 days of water left. Only 50 days of water left. There is apparently even an emergency evacuation plan in a report somewhere in the BMC offices if the monsoon fails altogether!

dam overflow

We enjoy a better water supply than most of the country but not many of us think about the Tansa, Vihar, Vaitarna, Bhadsa and Modak Sagar lakes. Where are these lakes and how did they come to be so conveniently placed to Mumbai? Well they are not really! They are more like 80-100 kms away. Vihar lake work was completed in 1860, during the governership of Lord Elphinstone. (As an aside, the local station named after him will now be renamed Prabhadevi station. Since the erasing of history will throw away the good and the bad. Also the newly named station will continue to have beggars, be dirty and get flooded. For a fascinating insight into the man and the area around the station and his Governor’s residence being converted into the Haffkine Institute read more here ).

The Tulsi Lake was completed in 1879 and the Tansa reservoir in 1892. Imagine that! Mumbai, the megapolis, which politicians want to transform into Shanghai while they invest almost nothing in it, is still surviving on the water being supplied by lakes built 150 years ago. By the British.

Post- Independence the number of migrants to the city increased enormously and Mumbai stood poised for unprecedented growth. The Vaitarna cum Tansa scheme as conceived planned and executed by a team of Municipal Engineers under the leadership of Mr. V.N Modak after whom the lake is now called Modak Sagar. (Apparently he was the man responsible also for the design and planning of Shivaji Park and the area around it but suprisingly I could not find any reference to him on the internet).


We had gone to Modak Sagar for a picnic/visit two years ago right after the monsoon and it was the most amazingly green place, just hours from the city.


rural landscape

The water supply to Bombay from various sources is about 563 million gallons per day (MGD). The monsoon precipitation is collected in six lakes and supplied to the city through the year. 460 MGD are treated at the Bhandup Water Treatment Plant, which is the largest in Asia.

Water is brought into the city from the lakes after treatment, and stored in 23 service reservoirs. Since two of the major sources, Tansa and Lower Vaitarna, are at a higher level than the city, not much power is required to pump the water.

Since the BMC manages to supply only around 75% of the water needed, there are also tankers and of course an emerging Water Mafia.


If we survive Donny Trump and his BFF Kim Jong Un’s pissing contest over nuclear weapons, the next war will be for fresh water….

Meanwhile the Chairperson of Nestle declared that water is not a human right! And then retracted and claimed to be mis- represented.

And Coca Cola of course thinks all ground water is their right and have systematically been sucking it out for almost free and selling it right back to us at 2 USD a bottle !

Is there any other renewable source of fresh water in Mumbai? Well, almost a decade after the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) made it mandatory for new buildings in the city to have their own rainwater harvesting systems, only one-third have installed it. If half of a developed area on a building’s rooftop is utilized for rainwater harvesting, around 590 million litres of water could be generated every day.

While North India has Ganga Yamuna and the tributaries and branches, the rest of the country has been battling over the rivers and building dams.

Hemant Kumar and Gulzar ask us in Kabuliwala –Ganga aye kahan se ? Ganga jaye kahan re ?

And now we are asking Narmada aye kahan se Narmada jaye kahan re ?? From Nehru’s temples of modern India we have reached the time of the Narmada Bachao Andolan (NBA) being led by Medha Patkar and others.


Here is what the Friends of NBA say-“In brief, the Government’s plan is to build 30 large, 135 medium and 3000 small dams to harness the waters of the Narmada and its tributaries. ……It is well established that the plans rest on untrue and unfounded assumptions of hydrology and seismicity of the area and the construction is causing large scale abuse of human rights and displacement of many poor and underprivileged communities. We also believe that water and energy can be provided to the people of the Narmada Valley, Gujarat and other regions through alternative technologies and planning processes which can be socially just and economically and environmentally sustainable.”


Those of you who have seen Avataar will remember that it is the commercial potential of the mineral under the land which the Americans feel is a justification enough to displace and when resisted, then even attack the Na’avi tribes.

It’s kind of like– if your neighbour who is better off and more powerful than you says that the floor of your flat needs to be broken so he can get easy access to his duplex and since you can no longer live there and obviously cannot afford a new flat in that area or even anywhere in Mumbai now, you can go live in Pandharpur. Yes of course your kids will find school there, maybe even an English medium one, not more than a 2 hour’s commute away and yes of course you and your spouse can find some job. You do speak the local language don’t you ? No? And no school leaving certificate either? Oh well. Surely you can get some work on a building site or as a domestic help.

India is progressing and someone has to sacrifice….

Remember an earlier post where we considered who owns our bodies? Here Arundhati Roy asking similar questions after visiting the NBA site:

From being a fight over the fate of a river valley it began to raise doubts about an entire political system. What is at issue now is the very nature of our democracy. Who owns this land? Who owns its rivers? Its forests? Its fish? These are huge questions. They are being taken hugely seriously by the State. They are being answered in one voice by every institution at its command – the army, the police, the bureaucracy, the courts. And not just answered, but answered unambiguously, in bitter, brutal ways.”

This is not the first time, and maybe it will not be the last time either.

We will request you to move from your houses after the dam comes up. If you move it will be good. Otherwise we shall release the waters and drown you all.”– Morarji Desai, speaking at a public meeting in the submergence zone of the Pong Dam in 1961.

“Why didn’t they just poison us? Then we wouldn’t have to live in this shit-hole and the Government could have survived alone with its precious dam all to itself.”– Ram Bai, whose village was submerged when the Bargi Dam was built on the Narmada. She now lives in a slum in Jabalpur.”

So, as we reach close to the end of the monsoon 2017, and about 500 million litres of water have run down all the multi- story buildings in Mumbai, through the slums and  drains and straight into the salty sea, here is a song about water and existentialism all in one.

Oh re, Taal mile nadi ke jal mein, nadi mile sagar mein, sagar mile kaun se jal mein ? Koi jaane na….

The Museum of Partition

Remember in school when we would put a ruler or a long pencil to separate our sides of the table? And then every eraser and pencil shaving was either deported or captured.

Then we grow up and sometimes draw those lines on maps.

When India was partitioned in 1947 and two new countries were carved out of it, it resulted in the largest migration in human history with a death toll reaching 2 million.

In the word of Gulzar, “Sarhad par kal raat suna hai kuchh khaabon ka khoon huwa hai

(Last night we heard that some dreams were killed at the border)


I read this interesting interview which suggests that we do not have any memorial to the Partition deaths in India because everyone who was involved suffered and was also the aggressor. “But it is also that if India and Pakistan remember Partition with honesty, they would have to admit that politicians agreed for the sake of power to what became a bloodbath.”

Now, after 70 years, we do finally have a memorial– the Partition Museum in Amritsar.

museum of partition

It is still being set up and you can read more about it here.

The few rooms that are open already are a stark and incredibly moving memorial to a forced tragedy. Radcliffe was brought out of nowhere to draw the lines on the map. He had very little data to work with and the authorities either were not able to or did not care to make any arrangements for the smooth and peaceful transition involving eventually 14 million people.

The freedom we won by an unheard of non- violent struggle was finally soaked in the blood of millions at the very stroke of the midnight hour.

The stories and panels at the museum are so poignant that one is moved to tears by the time one reaches the end. This should actually be compulsory visit for all those who take the oath of office and for all civil servants here and in the UK to see what decisions taken in meeting rooms can do to people on the ground.

There are audio visual installations with interviews and short documentaries. There is also a video of Gulzar reading out his exquisite poems in memory of the partition and its aftermath.

Aankhon ko visa nahi lagta, sapnon ki sarhad hoti nahi,

Band aankhon se roz main sarhad paar chala jaata hoon,

Desh, sarkar nahin hota, aur mulk hukoomat nahin hoti.

Your eyes don’t need a visa and dreams cannot be controlled by borders. I close my eyes and cross the borders every night. There is no country, no government, no controls.”

For me the most disturbing installation at the Museum was a well. It represents the many wells into which women and girls jumped during the partition migration to commit suicide to prevent a fate worse than death at the hands of ‘enemies’.

The other such well, a real one, which can actually make your skin crawl is right next door—inside the Jallianwala Bagh.

jalianwala bagh

As we all know from our history books, on 13th April 1919 (which was also the festival of Baisakhi), people gathered at the Jallianwala Bagh to peacefully protest the arrest of two leaders. The bagh is an enclosed garden space, where many thousands of Sikh men women and children had gathered. General Dyer entered and blocked the only entrance and without any warning order firing on the unarmed crowd.


At the final count close to 1000 people died and an equal number were injured in the ensuing stampede and by bullets. About 120 bodies were pulled out of the well.

What adds to the depth of the tragedy is also that all those soldiers who fired upon the crowd were Indians themselves.

Indian soldiers have taken orders from the British not just here but also in both the world wars. In 1939 the British Indian Army took in volunteers and by 1945 was the largest all-volunteer force in history, rising to over 2.5 million men.

India contributed the 3rd largest Allied contingent in the Italian campaign after US and British forces. Indian forces played a role in liberating Italy from Nazi control.

We don’t even hear about them!

Shashi Tharoor says in this article

It was Indian jawans (junior soldiers) who stopped the German advance at Ypres in the autumn of 1914, soon after the war broke out, while the British were still recruiting and training their own forces. More than 1,000 of them died at Gallipoli, thanks to Churchill’s folly. Nearly 700,000 Indian sepoys (infantry privates) fought in Mesopotamia against the Ottoman Empire…….Rabindranath Tagore, was somewhat more sardonic about nationalism. “We, the famished, ragged ragamuffins of the East are to win freedom for all humanity!” he wrote during the war. “

The territories being fought for were as far flung as Abyssinia on the African front and so many of them died, so far from home and with no means of communication.

The India Gate was built in Delhi as a memorial and has the names of these soldiers carved on all its bricks.


But the most famous epitaph of them all is inscribed at the Kohima War Cemetery in North-East India. It reads,



We used to believe that something becomes a Museum exhibit once it is no longer a functional entity.

Sadly it does not seem like there will be a Museum of War any time soon….

Non Sibi Sed Omnibus—The Summer of ‘87


It was thirty years ago, in 1987, that we found ourselves in the subtly named MLT (Main Lecture Theatre), for the first time. Not quite knowing what lay ahead but quite confident that since we had managed to make our way into the most prestigious Seth Gordhandas Sunderdas Medical College, life could only get better.

It was the beginning of a life changing journey that challenged us, moulded us, taught us and eventually made us who we are.

(Who are we?? GSites 🙂kem logo

We may have bunked lectures but we never bunked college! Food was always tastier eaten sitting on the kattas and idly was best eaten shared 2 plates by 3 friends in Shetty’s canteen. The flavour of that mysterious SK vada can never be replicated nor the equally confusing Hawaii sauce.


We learnt how to be a sophisticated theatre audience by watching Dharam Veer in this very hall, while some senior students sat in the aisles and made decidedly unsavoury shadow fingers at the screen and where film reels the size of truck tyres reels were rewound to watch Govinda dance again. And again….

We attended lectures which Charlie seemed to understand more than we did and we did practicals in which the lab peons knew the correct reagents and expected results better than we ever could. No one ever understood the patho slides so let’s leave it at that.


We slept inside the library and studied outside it. We bunked official rounds but some went for other secret ones. Some of us had never dreamed of doing anything but medicine and some would have preferred to do anything but this.


Despite all that, we managed to swim more than sink and somehow made it to the other side of the 5 and half years that forged us and shaped us and made us what we are today.

We were thoroughly ragged, taught, mentored, found friendship and love, grew and evolved. We studied, relaxed, enjoyed cutting chai, overnight emergencies in the monsoon, organized festivals, edited magazines and went to Delhi filling up an entire train compartment.

Group photo 3

We were there for each other through days that seem to have been filled with sunshine and laughter and joyful learning.


It is said that the best a parent can do for its children is to give them roots and wings and Seth GSMC has done that for us in full measure.

For those of us who survived the siren call of the west and the common pooling system, we forged even deeper ties during our residency at the KEM Hospital. Those of us who moved to other lands still carry with them the indelible aura of a GSite and have done well in every chose field in every new homeland.

It is 2017 now and we have come a long way. From landline telephones monitored by our parents to monitoring our own kids on Whatsapp! From those reel movies to Netflix streaming. From katta food to 5 star gourmet. And from mystifying ward rounds to being heads of department.

It’s been such a long journey and while we may not feel too much older than we did that day, we do certainly feel wiser.


The very genesis of Seth GSMC was a rebellion, a movement for change. In the days of the British Raj no Indian doctor however qualified and brilliant could ever rise through the ranks simply because he was Indian. This changed in 1926 when some crowd funding and a substantial donation of 12 lakhs was made by the family of Seth Gordhands Sunderdas to set up Seth GS Medical College and KEM Hospital.

The very foundations of our college are steeped in a fiery national pride, a refusal to accept things the way they were and forging ahead as change agents. The college and hospital have always maintained the twin pillars of academic excellence with this uncompromising integrity and strength of character.

GSMC and KEMH gave the country pioneers in many fields—from the first mitral valve surgery to the first IVF baby. From the first Artificial Kidney Department, to the first clinical pharmacology ward in the country. The first renal transplant in India, the first heart transplant in India, and the first left to right limb transplant in India.

In 1942 during the Quit India movement the college was closed for several weeks and some students had to go underground. Post partition, GSites led medical mercy missions deep into Pakistan. And in 1964 during the gastroenteritis epidemic the PSM department apparently managed to immunize 1 million people in 17 days thus containing the deaths.

(I am quoting from Dr Alok Sharma’ article in the Gosumag ’92)

WhatsApp Image 2017-08-12 at 6.38.54 PM

Standing on the shoulders of such giants, we continue to lead and contribute to great work across the globe now. From students to leaders, we can continue to be agents of change and as we remember what Seth GS Medical college has given to us, we should also ask ourselves what can we contribute in return.

For details check out this link

After all, as we were always taught– Non sibi Sed Omnibus




Radcliffe, Brexit and other lines drawn

I happened to be in the UK on three occasions in the last 12 months. The first time was when the Brexit results were announced, the next when Teresa May was elected and the third time when she managed to epic fail the new election. This also coincided with the Queen’s birthday parade, terror attacks in London Bridge and the Grenfell fire.

As you can imagine, everyone was alarmed and vexed and frustrated and there was much ink and air time spent on hand wringing, moaning, fussing and making dark gloomy predictions for a dystopic future for Great Britain.

After the Grenfell disaster ( where a council building caught fire due to poor quality cladding and close to 80 people died), they predicted another upheaval likely with internal migration in numbers of lakhs of people.

And then there is Brexit.

brexit twitter

What is the worst that will happen? Some economic losses maybe, some political losses of course, some job losses likely.

And heaven forbid… the horror… but some people will need visas. To enter another country. Like everyone else the world over.

But how many people are expected to die from Brexit? As of now no one….

Read those words carefully. Here they are again.

How many people are expected to die from Brexit? As of now no one….

Ok, now take a deep breath, and read this unrelated story.

In 1947 there was a man named Sir Cyril Radcliffe who was asked to draw a line. What were his qualifications? He had a pencil. He was around. And he was British. He was man suddenly conferred with more power even in the throes of death of the British Empire than did the emerging new leaders, Gandhi, Nehru, Jinnah. So he drew a line. Randomly. Saw that one side of the line had only one city, so he shifted the line to give them two. Drew another line at the other end, gave them one large city.

What were these lines?

These lines divided British India into Pakistan, India and East Pakistan.


Do you know how many people were displaced as a result? FOURTEEN MILLION.

Excuse the shouting but it is considered to be the LARGEST migration in HISTORY!


Do you know how many people died? Anywhere upto TWO MILLION.

People killed each other, driven to despair and frenzy, devastated by the loss of generations of roots being ripped out and thrown asunder, shreds of their past lives blowing away in the winds of time. Some men killed their own wives and daughters to prevent them from being raped.

Do you know who is responsible for this un- invited civil war leaving death and destruction in its wake unabated for decades?


This casually undertaken and callously unplanned migration with no logistics management, not a stray thought spared for old people, pregnant women and children who had to walk kilometres and kilometres with whatever few possessions they could manage to bring.

brexit queen

This was repeated in the Middle East, Africa,25558, Canada, Syria, Ireland. Wherever they went they drew lines. Through the land and through the heart of the nation.

So please excuse me if I have no sympathy for all the hand wringing around Brexit !

As India celebrates its 70th Independence Day on 15th August, finally we have a Museum of Partition. I visited it in Amritsar and will write about it next week.

From the very well maintained files of Mrs Pushpa-I- hate-Tears, Secretary to CEO

No. 9-2-11/ Ab ke baras bhej bhaiya ko babul

It has been decided to celebrate the festival of Raksha Bandhan on 7th August 2017. All offices shall remain open and all the lady staff shall tie rakhis to all male colleagues.

Attendance sheet to reach my office by 5 pm.

Note to Mrs S: No, male colleagues may not tie rakhi to you even though you are taller than everyone and a black belt in karate. This is a cultural expectation, not a logical ritual.

Yes, you can screen Dangal movie after office hours for those who would like to stay. Please arrange to pay the peon overtime from your own pocket.

Please see me in my office about the proposed lunch time meeting on gender equality. Come after office hours.

 'Our standards are very high. We even have high double standards.'

No. 420-17/ Utha Rashtraveer Ho

It has been decided that henceforth at all lunch meetings only pure vegetarian food will be served and only gomutra will be available as drink. Attendance will be compulsory.

Mrs S: Please bring note from your family physician regarding your allergy to gomutra and bullshit as you have indicated in your email.


No 69/ Cows’R’Us

It has been decided that all staff will participate in the protest rally against beef consumption.

Gau Rakshak T shirts will be distributed to wear at the rally.


No. 377 Urgent MEMO

Mr K Mahalingam please see me immediately for faulty auto correct on the T shirts used in the rally which said “We are Gay Rakshaks. We stand untied.”


No. 47/ Sare Jahan Se Accha

It has been decided that morning staff meetings will begin with standing up for the national anthem.

We need to be more patriotic and more nationalistic.

Note to Mrs S: No, this will not reduce the number of children dying due to malnutrition. No, it will not reduce violence against women. What is the connection with patriotism ??


No. 88/ BC Sab Ulta Pulta Hai

It has been decided that all staff will perform yogasanas for 20 minutes in the lunch break. CCTVs will be recording for attendance.

The library has been cleared for this since no one was reading the books and journals anyway.

No 666/ Ours not to question why

Please remove chappals when bowing to the Enormous Photo of the Great Leader inside the front door.

Actually, stop wearing chappals since they are probably made of cow leather. Also don’t wear shoes made in China.

Note: HR manager please see me regarding appropriate footwear choices

Note to Mrs S: Yes it is a very large photo to accommodate his chest size. Yes. Size matters.


No 345/Pyar mein thoda maar diya to kya hua

Mrs Sharma will not be able to come to office today. Apparently she walked into the door.

Since the sexual harassment committee must have at least one woman on it and she is the one, the meeting will be postponed to next Thursday.” I walked into a door”


No 420 B/ Ghar aya mera pardesi

Tomorrow is the welcome back party for Mr Sharma who was exonerated of all charges and released from jail for the alleged pornography material possession.

His lawyers were able to prove that it was a foreign hand and not his in the videos.

Note to Mrs. S: Did you send everyone that audio file singing “this hand is my hand, this hand is your hand, from Kanyakumari to Mumbai Island ?”

No. 555/ Bachao betis from whom

The photo of Asa Holey Baba is being temporarily removed from the main corridor since the “Beti Bachao Andolan” NGO visit is expected today.

Mr Patil please replace with the Gandhi portrait from the godown.

Note to Mrs S: Yes, we mean Mahatma Gandhi and not Sonia Gandhi. No, this will only be a temporary replacement. No, we will not put up a photo of Arundhati Roy instead.

No 627/Dahej Nished Diwas

Mr Bhatt will be on earned leave for the next two weeks for the wedding of his daughter. Although his monthly salary is 10,000 Rs his loan request for 5 lakhs has been approved for the wedding expenses and he has signed a bond to work without any salary for the next 50 years.


No. 700/Raja Ram Mohan Roy anniversary

Everyone is invited to Mr Hari Singhs’ house for Rani Sati puja.

Note to Mrs S: please note that these are our deep and ancient cultural rituals which we should respect. This is not in any way a glorification of sati so please stop sending Mr Singh emails asking if his wife will burn on his funeral pyre.

 No. 1098/Children of God

We send our deepest condolences to Mr Jain whose daughter Ayushi dies after a prolonged fast of 20 days. May her soul rest in peace. God always calls the good ones first.

Note to Mrs. S: please desist from putting up newspaper articles of child abuse outside Mr Jain’s office.

 No 444/Tum mujhe khoon do

Dr D on our corporate panel has confirmed that due to some internal mental problems (he called it diurnal rhythm) women working or living together can experience their menstrual cycle at the same time.

Hence tomorrow all ladies staff will be on menstrual leave.

On another note, the seminar on the dignity and privacy of individuals will have to be postponed as a result.


Note to Mrs S: Please explain what is this Kamakhya Devi whose temple all of you went to instead of taking rest during this fragile day?

No 666/Razor’s Edge

We would like to apologize for putting up on the notice board the letter Mr V received about his vasectomy follow up.

Henceforth all letters marked private will be opened only by the Secretary to CEO and not by the front desk staff.

The seminar on privacy has again been postponed since he was in charge and he has been sent for anger management class.

Mrs S: Was it you who has been scribbling ‘ironic’ and ‘LOL’ over this circular ??


No. 23/It’s because we care

All unmarried employees will undergo a two finger virginity test every month to ensure that our cultural values are being protected.

It also gives a baseline for rape allegations against office or field staff.

Thanks you Mrs S for pointing out that the memo should have said female employees and for your suggestions on where would we could put the two fingers for the male employees.

And no the government is not of the people for the people.

I know you voted .

You showed me your finger also.

elections2HAHAHAHA Mrs.S the joke is on you.








Wandering clouds and monsoon rains

When Wordsworth wrote in a poem in 1802 that he wandered lonely as a cloud, I am quite sure he never imagined in his wildest dreams that the Cloud would be someplace where we would store data in the future ! Or that we can no longer be lonely or anonymous even in cyberspace with the increased surveillance and threats to privacy  (more on that some other time !)


But maybe he knew about the existence of a 100 stanza poem written in the 5th century CE which talks to a cloud as a messenger. The 5th century poem Meghaduta is the lament of an exiled yakhsa who is pining for his beloved on a lonely mountain peak. When, at the beginning of a monsoon, a cloud perches on the peak, he asks it to deliver a message to his beloved in the Himalayan city of Alaka. Most of the poem consists of a description of the landmarks, cities, and sights on the cloud’s journey.

rain clouds

I was fascinated to read in this blog that the descriptions by Kalidas are not only poetic but also scientifically accurate! Apparently he writes about the cloud composition being water wind electricity and smoke. He also charts a perfect route and gives aerial descriptions at a time when no one had travelled by air.

The clouds or megh are not just a messenger for someone in love, but also in themselves a lovely message since they herald the onset of the life giving monsoon rains!

Raag Megh Malhar is a Hindustani classical raga and legends say that this raga has the power to bring out rains in the area where it is sung. Apparently when Tansen sang Raag Deep he was almost burning and two sisters then sang this Raag and made it rain to cool him down.



Although the monsoon is almost over, here are some lovely songs dedicated to these cloud messengers for you to enjoy during the last rains of the season.

  1. Megha re Megha -sung by Lata Mangeshkar and Suresh Wadkar and inexplicably picturized under a clear sunny sky…

  1. Another Megha re Megha, this time with Sridevi in Lamhe


  1. Allah megh de from Palkon ki chaaon mein.( Rajesh Khanna was such a superstar that he could play a cook cum househelp or a railway station master or a postman and the movie would still be a super hit !)


4. Another Allah megh de, this time from Guide. A brilliant movie about choices and the power of faith.

  1. Garjat barsat sawan ayo re from Barsaat Ki Raat.


  1. This song sings of saawan but again there are no clouds or rain. I am including this here for my sister since the movie ‘Dil Diya Dard Liya’ was the Hindi remake of her forever favourite book –Wuthering Heights. Saawan aye ya na aye jiya jab jhoome sawan hai


You’ve been bro-zoned!

In India we celebrate Raksha Bandhan, which is traditionally for the sister to tie a decorative string (rakhi)on her brother’s wrist to remind him that he loves her and she needs his protection. Kind of like the un-breakable vow between Snape and Draco’s mum.


In college days it is known as the day that most guys hide or even bunk, for fear that ‘The One’ would suddenly pop up with a rakhi and not just friend zone them but bro –zone them. While friends may sometimes have benefits, the bro- zone (usually said to be done by men to women , but in India we have subverted that paradigm!), basically implies that any sexual relationship is no longer possible/ welcome.

Unless you are Cersei and Jamie Lannister of course.


But for those who don’t know, as I noted in an earlier post on the Mahabharat, ( whatever GoT can dream up of, we in India have been there, done that, thousands of years ago.

Hindu mythology says that Yama and Yami were twins born of the Sun God (or sometimes Brahma) and his wife Sarayu. They were the first humans on earth. Yami is essentially Yamuna, one of the two most sacred rivers of Hindu culture.

The story goes that when Yami grows up, she wants to have sex with Yama and make babies. The Rig Veda (X, 10) tells this story:

“The Immortals Gods want an offspring from the only of mortals, my brother – Yami says to his brother – the manifest power of your mind to be united with that of mine, that your body enters mine.” “Will we make what until now has never been make? – Yama responds – We are talking about righteousness and will we act incorrectly?” “The desire for you is now inside of me, I want to lie in the same bed with you,” his sister insists. The twins are already embraced in the womb like the sky and the earth.” “Go away, desire a husband than myself – says Yama – lie in the same bed with him, join up with him.”

However, the hymns apparently don’t say what happens next and how the earth gets populated since these two were the first humans. Maybe some later day censorship? In some versions of the tale, it is conjectured that Yami was successful in becoming Yama’s wife.

Finally Yama dies one day (only his mortal shape I guess, since eventually he himself is the God of Death). Yami is inconsolable. She keeps saying Yama died today. To help her understand the passing of time, the gods created night so as to divide one day from another and that is how she learns that time passes and moves on and this eventually helps her deal with her grief.

This story is astonishing in that Yami despite this incestuous desire is still among the most sacred. Her brother may have rejected her advances but there is no judgement passed on her. And what a poetic explanation for the creation of day and night! Love and grief give birth to the night and to the passage of time. Truly awesome.,

Unlike Bhai dooj where the sister wishes a long life on the brother (note –no reciprocal festival for the brother to wish the same for his sister. Hmmm), Raksha Bandhan, as the name suggests, is the bond of protection. One has to wonder from whom did these women need the protection? Was it meant to be a deterrent towards an unspoken understanding of domestic violence? Was it because women could not protect themselves? Was it meant to be a deterrent to anyone who wanted to have sex with her?

Did it matter if the brother was younger, smaller, weaker, not interested?

What if she needed protection from the brother?

Some of you may think that I see the world through a very dark lens, but like the red pill Neo took in the Matrix, once you wear the gender lens, there is really no going back.

Here is what good old Bollywood has contributed of course.


I can recall only one movie which kind of explores the forbidden territory—Bambai ka Babu where *spoilers Suchitra Sen’s character falls in love with the long lost brother who returns home. And there is only one song where the brother is praising his sister:

Of course it is wonderful to celebrate the special brother- sister bond. As it is to celebrate the sister- sister bond or the brother- brother bond or in these changing social times step- sibling and half- sibling bonds. As long as they are equal and reciprocal, no harm done at all.

But as always, there are many tangled threads to this narrative which include issues like child marriages, dowry, property inheritance rights, education potential and economic value of women, social security issues, family planning, poverty, inequality. All falling in some ways within the framework of patriarchy.

Let us marry off the girls young so that they grow up learning the customs of the in-laws. After all she is paraaya dhan here. Let us marry her off early before she ends up being raped or horror—falling in love and having pre- marital sex. Worse horror—with someone of another caste, class, religion ! (If you have not seen Sairaat, please do. It is worth it. If you prefer Hindi, see Love Sex aur Dhokha. Both are equally chilling and fully true to the lived realities of young men and women across India.)

Let us send her off with dowry –which was meant to be streedhan ie her inheritance to do with as she wants. Reality —you are a 14 year old bride, moving to a village far away from everything you have ever known, you are hardly going to have a bank account and locker in which to keep all this right? Your mother- in- law takes it away for safety. You probably see it only at festivals when they want you to wear it all and show off.

Let us give the boy’s parents nothing to complain about, so that they will treat her well. Let us buy him a car. Let us pay for their honeymoon. Let us set up a separate bank account in her name??…. No way! How insulting. As if our boy will not look after her?! Kya aap shaadi se pehle hi divorce ki tayari kar rahe hain??

Of course the boy grows up knowing he never has to leave home and never has to negotiate for equal rights. Effectively, the girl is made homeless when she marries. And remains a dependant on the brother if she stays unmarried.

(Mary Roy, Arundhati Roy’s mother, filed a court case seeking gender justice in inheritance.

Under these circumstances and given that the siblings are likely to outlive the parents, of course the siblings need to have a healthy and supportive relationship. What bothers many of us feminists is that the positioning of the sister here is always helpless, fearful, seeking while the brother is strong, protecting, privileged. The sister is glorified for giving up her rightful share so she can maintain good relations with her brother. Seriously?? He will treat her well in the future only if she sacrifices money and property ?? Doesn’t seem worth the price..…

The famous story of Rani Karnavati sending a Rakhi to Emperor Humayun to come to her rescue is probably the beginning of this festival. But since that ended a bit badly with all the women in the palace committing jauhar aka mass Sati ( which is now a crime), maybe some re-think is needed on this festival also.

To challenge sexist Bollywood songs, an NGO in Mumbai had come up with a brilliant Gaana Re-write competition.

The winner of this competition was Dr Manisha Gupte, who has contributed immensely to the women’s rights movement in the country, is the founder of MASUM and continues to be an inspiration to many of us.

Here is the song she re-worked and her explanation in her own words:

This is a song that was very popular in its time thanks to Geeta Dutt’s haunting voice and the unrequited love, yearning and frustration expressed by a neglected wife towards her feudal husband. Na jaao saiyyyan chhuda ke baiyyan. From Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam. picturized on Meena Kumari.

Na manun, bhaiyya, pado bhi paiyyan,

Kasam tumhari, main toh ladungi, main ladungee.

Masal rahe ho jo khwab mere,

Jo tum kahogey, kyu main karungi ? Na karoongi.

Yeh khet pyare, yeh ghar ka sajdeh yeh mehki bagiya yeh mann ki galiyan

Yeh sab hai merey, jaisey tumharey

Main aaj inko na jaane doongi, khoney na doongi !

Dedicated to all the sisters of the world should demand equal property rights from their natal family irrespective of marriage and celebrate Raksha Bandhan on an equal footing, in a mutually balanced relationship!

P.S. The only brother for whom I tie the rakhi without reservation is in the Armed Forces and he really does protect us all so we can lead peaceful democratic free lives !

Romantic proposals ka super hit formula

“Beta, it is time for a young man’s thoughts to turn lightly to marriage. Who better to guide you than Sukhan Chacha?? He has so much experience. He has three sons who have found wonderful brides and now despite the pending court case for suspected dowry death by burning of his second wife, he has a third wife for himself also. And he has been to foreign and knows all about these romantic things. ” wink wink.” Listen to his words of wisdom.”

“Ok Chacha , so what is the best way to find a girl ?”

“Well, you know that in foreign they make the man go down on one knee and offer a ring or flowers at a romantic spot ? Nonsense.

romantic proposal

Not in India. We are not like them. We have a deep and wonderful culture, where the girl’s family has to go on its knees. All of them. And offer us the girl along with a hefty contribution towards the new extension to the house or down payment on the car (since dowry is illegal now).

In foreign ( and even in our own cities sometimes !) they say that marriage is the intimate union and equal partnership of a man and a woman. Nonsense. Feminazi libertarians. Beta, marriage is for the man to get an unpaid housekeeper and sex partner for life who will also bear children ( hopefully only sons) and do free child rearing also.

But here are some charming ways to propose if you want to go your own way:

Some of your ‘modern’ friends may tell you to build a toilet inside the house so that it will send a message that you are progressive and caring. Or they may tell you to say you will not take dowry or will allow her to work after marriage. Don’t listen to those foolish young men. What have they seen of this world??

The top five methods to propose are:

5. Send her missed calls. Girls sinply adore that mysterious vibe and bad boy thing going on.

4. Whistle at her as she passes by. Again, girls totally go for that mardangi stuff.

3.Offer an exchange for your sister to marry her brother. But if she is from an unfortunate family that has no sons then that is not possible.

2. Offer her five times the love by asking her to marry all five of you brothers. Which woman would refuse such a magnificent offer?

But if she is foolish enough to refuse anyway then you first decide if you really want her. If you do then arrange to have her kidnapped.

Once she is in your custody her parents will be too shamed to ask her to come back because who in their right mind will marry her after this? Don’t worry about her not growing to like you. She will even grow to love you and look after you. The syndrome is named after Stockholm but it works very well here in India.

Of course if you don’t want her now that she has refused you then you could consider pouring acid on her face. Arrogant bitch. That way she and all the women in her family will learn a lesson. Never say no to a man. Justice must be done. That is our way.”

“But Chacha…”

“ Beta when elders are talking young people must only listen !

1. The top of the list, the most romantic way to propose to her is to rape her. Listen to her scream. If you are a real mard ka baccha who has drunk ma ka doodh then you will end up making her pregnant also. Then not only the girl’s parents will be begging you to marry her but the village elders will also endorse.


All old men of the village, yes, why should women be involved in such decisions? Of course they may also offer your sister to her brother to rape in front of the whole village …..but that’s ok. Honour rests in the woman’s vagina. Kitabon mein likha hai. And justice must be done.

And in India marital rape is not even criminalized, so you can continue raping her if she doesn’t come to her senses and agree to it on her own.

This is our parampara and sanskriti. “

“Ok Chacha……….”

“But beta, make sure she is always of the same caste or then we will be forced to hang both of you from the tree outside the village. We are nothing if not believers in gender equality and justice.

Our culture runs really deep you know. “


“ Yes, Chacha. Deep. Down to the seventh circle of hell.”


In the medical garden of Good and Evil: Part 2

( Apologies to my non medical readers but since 1st July was Doctors’ Day I am going with that theme for this month. Back to the usual random angst, observations and musings peppered with Bollywood songs from next month 🙂

Scientific enquiry and research is considered to be (kind of) the highest goal of rational progress to gather evidence to guide future decisions. No one would question it.

But what if the experiment is carried out on someone who does not understand the consequences or in fact has never been told what they could be? Or even worse– has been lied to and told that it will help? This is what happened in the Tuskegee trials. On May 16, 1997, President Bill Clinton issued a formal apology for the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, a notorious research project involving hundreds of poor African-American men that took place from 1932 to 1972 in Macon County, Alabama. The men in the study had syphilis, a sexually transmitted infection, but didn’t know it. Instead they were told they had “bad blood” and given placebos, even after the disease became treatable with penicillin in the 1940s.


In the mid-1960s, a venereal disease investigator in San Francisco named Peter Buxton found out about the Tuskegee study and expressed his concerns to his superiors that it was unethical. They formed a committee to review but ultimately opted to continue it, with the goal of tracking the participants until all had died, autopsies were performed and the project data could be analyzed. As a result, Buxton leaked the story to a reporter friend, who passed it on to her fellow reporter, Jean Heller of the Associated Press. Heller broke the story in July 1972, prompting public outrage and forcing the study to shut down. By that time, 28 participants had perished from syphilis, 100 more had passed away from related complications, at least 40 spouses had been diagnosed with it and the disease had been passed to 19 children at birth.

The Nuremberg Trial

In 1946, 23 doctors were tried for the medical experiments and related crimes committed during the Holocaust. The tribunal focused on the criminal nature of these doctors, but also struggled with the broad ethical concerns of medical research.

The defendants claimed that they were working within the ethical bounds set forth by the Hippocratic oath, in the sense that they were seeking medical knowledge for the benefit of human kind. They had adopted a collectivist attitude- where medical orders were given on behalf of a fictitious collective.

However, the medical experiments were clearly horrific and unjustified and were in violation of human rights, and thus, a new code was developed in order to account for medical experimentation and research ethics. The testimonies from the trial were used in order to establish this new system of codes: the Nuremberg Code.

This code emphasizes the patients and gives guidelines and requirements for human experimentation. The primary purpose of the code was to provide an obligation to benefit the patient. This was a remarkable change from the Hippocratic oath, which emphasized that doctors determine the patients care, not the other way around.


The Nuremberg Code is one of the most important documents in the history of medical ethics and provides a new, clear understanding of what is expected in human experimentation in hopes that the atrocities of the Holocaust will never occur again.

There seems to be a TV series on the topic which I have not seen but has decent reviews if you want to check it out.

nuremberg TV series

Of course there are some who oppose vaccination using the same argument and I will write on that sometime later.

vaccination forced

A new dilemma emerges when considering whether the ‘data’ from such studies should be ever used? Holocaust survivor Susan Vigorito found the use of the word “data” a sterile term. She was 3 ½ when she and her twin sister, Hannah, arrived at Auschwitz. They were housed for an entire year in Mengele’s private lab in a wooden cage a yard and a half wide. Without anaesthetic, Mengele would repeatedly scrape at the bone tissue of one of her legs. Her sister died from repeated injections to her spinal column. She claims that she is the real data, the living data of Dr. Mengele.

If you find these ethical transgressions in the name of progress to be a fascinating subject and have never heard the word Neolution, nor seen the brilliant TV series Orphan Black I would recommend it very highly! It is totally worth your weekend or two….to binge watch the 5 seasons so far !

The Hippocratic Oath says First, Do No Harm.


But then he also says don’t do abortions , so clearly some re-think is needed. More on that later !







In the medical garden of good and evil

While names like Aschheim- Zondek and Krigler –Najjar, Guillian-Barre, Rokitansky- Kuster- Hauser roll off the tips of our tongue, how many doctors know about Burke and Hare or the Tuskegee trials, or Henrietta Lacks or Nuremberg?

When you have a biomedical model of medical education these are missing pieces of information critical to an understanding of where we came from and therefore where we may risk going again and that the road to hell is often paved with good intentions……

The scene in Munnabhai MBBS when Circuit brings him a Japanese tourist as a ‘body’ is not far from the truth in the 18th century!


The newly minted doctors in Britain had no way of obtaining anatomical knowledge besides doing dissections on dead bodies. Burke and Hare were grave diggers who supplied these bodies. These shady deals would take place with the doctors and of course the fresher the body the better the price. You see where this is going don’t you ?!

Burke and Hare figured out that the freshest body was perhaps one which had not even reached the grave yet….and they set up a system of identifying people who were unlikely to be missed and then killing them and providing those bodies to the doctors.

After a spree of 16 such murders they were eventually caught. Hare turned informer and received immunity while Burke was hanged, his corpse dissected and put on display at the Anatomical Museum of Edinburgh Medical School where it remains.

dr knox

Dr. Robert Knox who bought these bodies, possibly knowing their origins, was never convicted but eventually hounded out of Edinburgh.





And that was that. Or so you would think.

Fresh scandals involving organ donation keep popping up all over the world with alarming regularity. Who does your body belong to? That is the question. Till recently, as an Indian, if you committed suicide but failed then you would be jailed because you tried to murder a citizen aka government property. Ever thought of yourself as that ?!

Read more in this brilliant article about who actually owns your body:

So many laws, policies, practises and medical advice is such that punishments are created for things you may choose to do to your own body. or if others do to your body –which is why assault, rape, murder carry severe punishment. (Unless you are and Indian woman and your husband rapes you. Apparently he owns you since marital rape is not yet recognized by the law.)

This also has very interesting implications for the right to have an abortion, the right to refuse antenatal care or a caesarean section and the right to euthanasia but maybe that is material for another blogpost !

What if you are a prisoner on death row, or maybe just in jail for a really long time and you happen to have the same blood group as a powerful person either rich or political who needs a liver or a kidney ….or two? Who would you appeal to if someone took it off you citing fake medical reasons?? If you are a political prisoner who isn’t fortunate enough to have been awarded something that will keep the eye of the global media on you, who is going to ask questions?

Who does your blood belong to?? Our filmi heroes and their mothers are forever going on about mera khoon, khoon ka karz, khoon bhari maang and so on. But what if you make a voluntary blood donation and someone uses it to take cells from it which they then replicate in vitro and use for experiments including developing and testing chemotherapy drugs, vaccines, antibiotics, anti- venom and such? These experiments result in the discovery of miracle products that could save thousands of lives. Yipee. But the pharma company makes billions and you never get even a rupee cos they never tell you. Well, they never even asked you in the first place, remember?

You think I am inventing a paranoid dystopian fantasy?? This is exactly what happened to Henrietta Lacks, whose cervical cancer cells were found to grow like magic in vitro in a way that no one had succeeded thus far. Her cell lines are still alive and probably account for over billions and billions of dollars in profits and research grant. More than 60,000 articles have appeared based on HeLa cell research including cancer and AIDS.


What did she get in return? Well, she died within weeks of that sample being taken. What did her family get? Nothing. Not only that, the He La genome has been sequenced and made public for anyone to see !

If you have a sibling or a family member who has the power to ensure that you ‘volunteer’ a kidney or bone marrow even if you don’t want to, who really owns you? If you are known to have a rare blood group, how safe are you? Can you be kidnapped and kept, like in a Stephen King novel, to produce that blood willy- nilly simply by existing? What if you possess something that can only be used post mortem?? What if you were a planned pregnancy because your organs are needed for the older child?

The movie “Never Let Me Go,” is based on a book which talks of some children who have been created in a laboratory to be Donors. They have no parents in the sense we use the term. They exist to grow hearts, kidneys, livers and other useful items, and then, to die after too much has been harvested.

never let me go

If you think these are just crazy conspiracy theory meets dystopian imagination, then do check out this fascinating and terrifying book –The Red Market.

red market (2)

Here I quote the first two paragraphs:

“I weigh just a little under two hundred pounds, have brown hair, blue eyes, and a full set of teeth. As far as I know, my thyroid gland pumps the right hormones into the twelve pints of blood that circulate in my arteries and veins. At six feet two inches, I have long femurs and tibias with solid connective tissue. Both of my kidneys function properly, and my heart runs at a steady clip of eighty-seven beats per minute. All in, I figure I’m worth about $250,000.

My blood separates neatly into plasma, red blood cells, platelets, and clotting factor and would save the life of someone on an operating table or stem the uncontrolled spilling of a hemophiliac’s blood.

The ligaments that keep me together can be scraped from my bones and implanted in the wounded knee of an Olympian athlete. The hair on my head could be made into a wig, or reduced to amino acids and sold as a leavening agent for baked goods. My skeleton would make a striking addition to any biology classroom. My major organs — heart, liver, and kidneys — could go on to prolong the lives of people whose organs have failed, and my corneas could be sliced off to restore sight to the blind. Even after death a determined pathologist could harvest my sperm and use it to help a woman conceive. The woman’s baby would have a value of its own.

Since I’m an American, my flesh sells at a premium; if I had been born in China, I would be worth much, much less.”

There is no doubt that ethical organ donation saves lives and is something we should all consider signing up for.


In some countries organ donation is automatic unless you opt out. That could have its own set of problems of course. But in India, organ trafficking continues.

The article says : “Rakesh Senger, national secretary, from Nobel Peace Prize winner Kailash Satyarthi’s NGO Bachpan Bachao Andolan (Save the Childhood Movement) says that while trying to locate missing children, many times he has found dead bodies of children without their vital organs. “What was shocking was that their kidneys or other vital organs were missing. In many cases, police just says the body was lying in a stream, where some animal must have eaten the child’s organ,” says Senger. “It is much easier to file a case of kidnapping and murder against unknown persons. If you accept the organs were missing, you have to do a thorough investigation. So, the details in such cases get murkier.”

We are barely making sense of this gut churning information when the article goes on to say this:

Shroff says the demand for organs could be met if the country taps into the pool of people who are brain dead and promotes organ donations. “So many accidents happen in the country. Out of those, several people have brain injuries. We need to tap this pool. If this happens, we may not even require living donors,” he says.

To me this conversation is just getting drowned out by my brain blaring out Burke and Hare, Burke and Hare !!! Think ‘accidents’ in rural India, power dynamics and class and caste issues, consent and autonomy and control, and it is a terrifying thought that we could be looping back into the days of the body snatchers again.

organs for sale

Next week in part 2 we find out who these people are