Musings for a responsible society

Amidst the dark and grey shades increasingly engulfing, invading and piercing deeper and deeper, let me try to enjoy the little smiles, genuine greens, and the gentle breeze. Oh! Creator! If you don't exist, my vain!
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Friday, January 30, 2015

The whimpers from the ventilator

Most people do not want their loved ones to reach the stage of eternal oblivion or them to get transformed to an extraterrestrial status in any heavenly or hellish surroundings so soon. Even when they are in their late eighties or in the nineties, we would like to have them with us. Death is a reality which we would not like to accept so easily. 

My grandma loved to live life ‘king size’. She took care of her health meticulously for several decades without missing her medicines even once.

 In my ‘Letter to Grandma’, I wrote:

 “You liked medicines, regular hospital visits and long chats with your favourite physician, Dr Ravichandran, a man of very few words. When one had to wait patiently for a word to come out of his mouth and lend the ears completely and place them in proximity to his mouth, and struggle to watch closely his lip movements to decipher what he says, how could you spend such a long time with him who was known for his irritating silence and expression-free face? Your unstinted faith in the doctor and in the Allopathic medicines made you feel better from a host of ailments for many decades. I used to see you popping several tablets of different colours into your mouth since your early forties. That is my earliest memory which I can recall as a nine year old boy, who used to spend my days in your house, skipping school faking headaches. Even when you were in the hospital, you never missed to apply Pears face wash, Ponds face cream and ‘Cuticura’ talcum powder. You always went to the surgery table with a smile after handing over the keys of your treasures kept in your room to the nurse and not to any of your children or grandchildren”

From the above extract, I am sure you could understand the ‘persona’ of my Grandma. She loved a royal life and appreciated the creator and the creation. 

Neither she nor we, the close relatives, realized when she was admitted to the best corporate hospital in the district with the complaint of a skin infection on her legs that she would not return to her home. Within a few days, she developed respiratory tract infection. Her heart worked fine with her third pace maker. But the chest infection became serious and she could not breathe normally. She continued to be in the Intensive Care Unit. As her condition worsened, the doctors briefed the situation. They asked her children whether they can move her to the ventilator, though the survival is difficult even with ‘life support’. As all of them wanted it, she was put on a ventilator. Most of the children and grandchildren who are around, sat outside the room for days together.  They went to see her one by one during the permitted time every day. 

She took hold of the hand of one of her sons and scribbled something with her finger on his palm. She looked at him and having realized that he didn't understand what she wrote, took his hand again. She ‘rubbed’ what she wrote earlier with her fingers and wrote again slowly. The son could make out what she wrote: ‘Pace Maker’. Everybody knew why she wrote that. She had thought that the current problems are because of the pace maker or its battery and it needed to be replaced. She knew about the huge cost and wanted the children not to hesitate in ordering the device thinking that it is of no use at the old age. She didn't want to leave this beautiful world. “At any cost, I want to be back at home”, that was the expression.

Slowly, it was conveyed to her that pacemaker was working well. She realized that something else was seriously wrong. Whenever we met her inside, we saw tears flowing down. She might have felt claustrophobic with the mask and tried to pull out the wires and tubes. As days went by, she felt that survival is bleak and her eyes pleaded us to remove her from the life support. She couldn't tolerate the pain, suffocation and the state of helplessness. But, for her children, they wanted to trust the words, ‘10% chance of survival’, given by the doctors even if each day in the ventilator added huge amounts to the hospital bill. For a person who loved life and who was always optimistic, they thought, nothing should be left without trying. 

       Photo by Dr. Vanita Mathew

There is a roll call for all of us to leave the world. There is no exception. And my Grandma died in the early hours of the day. After the funeral, we came back to her home and found two sheets of paper in her cupboard where she had neatly listed her treasure and clearly written who will take what as per her assessment of the needs. She wrote: ‘Dear children, you should never fight and you should take care of each other. Please do not forget to offer Holy Mass every year on the day of my death and pray for me at my cemetery’. 

I can’t tell that it was a peaceful death. I am sure she went through her worst in those days than during her entire lifetime. Though she had an ardent desire to live, the ‘artificial’ life with the help of ventilator would have made her hate the world. I ask myself: Were we right in putting her in the ventilator for weeks? Shouldn't have we given her an opportunity to leave the world naturally while at her home with all of us nearby? 

A few months back, I came across an excellent and thought provoking article in the ‘Malayala Manorama’ daily by Dr Suresh Kumar, a passionate speaker and writer on the subject. He is the Director of Institute of Palliative Medicine, Calicut, Kerala.  The article is in Malayalam. I have given below a few valuable points he made in the above article. 

‘Whenever I took classes to the Doctors in India and abroad on Palliative Care I asked this question: ‘Are you ready to die the way your patients died at the hospital bed?’ Most of them told me they weren't. They are very much aware that hospital is not a place for peaceful death. Why then so many people made to spend their last days in hospitals? To this question, they say ‘external pressure’.
There are many types of pressures. If we ask the doctors, they would say that there is pressure from the relatives of the patients. In private conversations, at least some doctors would admit that there is pressure from the hospital management. If we ask the relatives of the patients, they would say that what public will think if we take our dear ones home without trying all available facilities at the hospital, though they knew that won’t help.
For patients, spending their last days in ICU is a very traumatic experience. One could imagine, how these patients felt, as they were made to spend their last days amidst a few machines, wires and unfamiliar people. They would have wished to see their near and dear ones at those moments when they had to leave the world.
There is a mind-boggling economic dimension to the above scenario. Statistics indicate that in Scotland, half of the annual income of a hospital comes exclusively from the patients who spent their last days in that hospital. As per the estimates from the medical insurance sector in the United States, people incur majority of their medical expenditure in the last six months of their life.
I don’t say that one should not go to the hospital for a major ailment. Hospitals can certainly provide necessary relief. However, the society should also think about the significance of peaceful death at the most comfortable and happy environment. Person should be made aware of the fact that the death is nearing and there is no way it can be prevented. That awareness can make her prepare for the inevitable eventuality through an introspection of her life. She might want to talk to others and share many things to them. The dear ones would get a chance to be near her.’

Which better place to spend the last days than in one’s home?  With whom one can find peace and happiness other than the near and dear ones? As Dr Sureshkumar rightly mentioned, an open debate is necessary on this subject. The government, hospital management, doctors, relatives of the patients and the public should understand that patients who are in their deathbeds have their rights, aspirations and wishes. Of all of them, the doctors under whom the patient is admitted, play a crucial role in advising the relatives correctly, without succumbing to any social or professional pressure or any financial interest, to ensure a peaceful ‘departure’ to those patients whose chances of survival are limited. 

                              © Sibichen K Mathew         Views are personal
Your views and comments may be posted below or send me to sibi5555 (gmail)
You may also like to read: Ageing with grace and dignity

Sunday, January 18, 2015

When 1000 bloggers spread stories about compassion

February 20, 2015

A day when 1000 voices across the world spread stories of compassion!

They will write posts about compassion, kindness, support, caring for others, caring for the environment etc.

Blogosphere, for a change, will become a platform that showcases ideas worth spreading to the entire universe to bring in peace, harmony, welfare and happiness.

This unique project is getting ready under the leadership of Yvonne Spence

If you like to join to write a blog post on the theme on the above date, get in touch with 1000 Voices for Compassion

To inspire those who are preparing for their posts on compassion, let me reproduce one of my earlier articles on a compassionate soul, who was a school drop-out, thief and a convict.

Read below: (Do not forget to see the short film at the end)

Auto Raja: An Angel 

Post below what you feel about this or e-mail me at sibi5555 (gmail)

                                                                 © Sibichen K Mathew

Of Writer’s block, Ligament injury and the Lessons on care

‘Is everything fine?’
That was the question from many of my blog readers in the past few weeks.
“Why there were no new blog posts in the last two months?”

Yes, that was the longest ‘Lockout’ in the history of Cyber Diary. The reason was very simple. I was suffering from what generally called a ‘Writer’s Block’. I didn't feel like writing anything in the blog. I was watching my blog rank dropping from the eighties to the seventies and now to a pathetic 62.

There could be many diagnosed and 'undiagnosed' causes for the pathological condition. It is true that I had a fall resulting in an ‘ankle twist’ and ligament injury two months back. My leg was put on a synthetic cast for about 20 days and I walked with a crepe bandage for a few weeks. My mind was active. My body was active too. But I couldn't write anything.

Knowing very well that some of the past New Year resolutions exploded like a rocket mid-air, I had a few for this year too. The one that said I will have a blog post every week has already broken within the first fortnight!

What did my ligament injury teach me? Never say ‘No’, when someone tries to help. I used to politely refuse any help from anyone thinking that it will be a burden for that person. I had thought that I should not get unduly obligated. I now realized that it is nothing but pride that prevents us from taking the help of others. We need to depend on each other. It is necessary for true bonding between people.

My leg was sprained (ligament was injured because of the ankle twist) while I was attending a meeting in an unfamiliar city. I cannot forget the blessings I received through people whom I didn't know till that time. Mahesh and his team took me to the hospital. The doctor who was busy with his orthopedic surgery was kind enough to examine the X-Ray without any delay. As I couldn't move around, it was the local staff who packed my personal luggage. One of them brought an ice-pack and applied continuously on the injured area. Another gentleman went to the station and changed my tickets and got allotted a lower berth for comfortable travel. They brought two pillows so that I could keep my leg up during the travel. When I reached the destination early morning, my colleague was waiting for me with a hot cup of coffee in the flask.

Back home, my wife and children were too eager to assist me in everything. I enjoyed the privilege of being served meals on the bed. I didn't have to do any house hold chores I meticulously carried out earlier. I didn't have to rush to open the door when the bell rang. I could enter home with the shoes on and could keep them near my bed instead of the shoe rack kept in the balcony. My daughter didn't ask me to iron her uniforms in the mornings. I could blissfully sleep till late in the morning and got out of the bed only after the coffee and the newspapers were placed. My driver John took extra care of me wherever I went.

When we get an opportunity to be served by others, we need to accept that with humility and gratitude. That can motivate us to serve others, including the strangers, with added enthusiasm and sincerity. The world will become a better place when there is continuous caring and sharing between people. A realization that we cannot live without depending on others can strengthen our relationships with others. That can certainly shatter our ego, selfishness and pride.

Wishing all readers a very Happy New Year! 

Post what you feel about this below or mail me at sibi5555 (gmail). 

                                                                     © Sibichen K Mathew

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Most viewed blog posts - 2013

Here are my articles published in Cyber Diary in 2013, which got maximum readership.


My attempt is to look at their family backgrounds, the ‘significant others’, their schooling and the immediate social environment and understand the influence of each of these factors on their attitudes, behavioural patterns and views of life

Edward Snowden, Aaron Swartz, and Julian Assange: Who made them what?


The Indian Railways (IR) continued to be the single largest settlement for all rats in the world. That is the impression anyone could get after watching the rats going around inside the trains, around the trains, on the railway platforms, and inside hundreds of offices and commercial outlets in the railway stations. There are innumerable bedbugs inside the berths.

A  Journey with cockroaches: The ‘static’ Indian Railways and the public woes


Auto Raja is a living angel. He rescued more than 5000 persons from the streets. A life worth living.

Read (and view the short film at the end):
With Auto Raja- An Angel for the beggars and the unwanted


Instead of going to overcrowded beaches and highly commercialized tourist locations, why don't you explore a very serene place in Southern India?

Have you ever been to Karwar beach?


If ‘Alchemist’ by Paulo Coelho was a story about a Shepherd boy following his dream, Benyamin’s ‘goat days’ is a real life story of a young man who pursued his dream and ended up as a shepherd in a sterile wasteland.

Goat Days: A real-life story of a young man's journey to loneliness


Sharwari, the young installation artist, is an inspiration for all, not just as an artist, but as a person deeply involved in spreading a message of freedom to women across the globe, especially those who were victims of abuses.

Why she loves butterflies? A conversation with an Installation Artist


He was very shy. She was very smart. He was an introvert. She was a chatterbox. He didn't care how he appeared. She was worried how he appeared.

The unborn love


The debate on the utility or futility of ‘capital punishment’ is vibrant for several decades. Naturally, following one liner I posted in a social networking site evoked varied responses from a few of my friends.


'Kill the rapist': The state and the death penalty


I was shocked to read the following news item in the paper the other day titled ‘Taunted, ‘skinny’ boy kills self’.

A few birthday thoughts: The suicide of a 'skinny' boy


Most of the gifts in today’s world have more than one strings attached to them. Therefore, the less gifts you receive, the less obligated you are.

Who hates gifts? Of bouquets, gifts, and mementos


Just before the examination, three persons came to the examination hall and inquired with the candidates whether they are willing to pay money for getting the post. If they agree, their roll numbers will be noted and they would be ‘taken care of’ while awarding the marks for the written examination. A few of them went near to those job brokers and whispered their ‘offers’ secretly in public view.

'Marry my daughter if you want to become a babu' : The corruption in the job recruitment


All of us want to lead a healthy life. Yet, we don’t want to forego the tasty stuff! Is there any acceptable combination of abstinence and indulgence in our life?I have heard many nutritionists, dietitians and health experts speaking on this subject. But, when I talked to Atraeyee Suman, I found that there is something unique about what she says. I thought, it should be shared with all my readers.


Eat well to lose weight: Tips from an enlightened foodie! 


Whenever I asked my mother to buy any toy or ice cream, the answer would be, ‘No money, we need to pay for the chits’. Me and my sister hated chits so much, as most of my mother’s salary was drained as subscription to chits.


Chit funds, my mother and the Saradha scam


History and related records show that most popes could not succeed in providing spiritual leadership uncorrupted by the material world and accompanying profanity.

The return of the fisherman: The new Pope and a few hopes for a third Vatican Council


There are many books in this library which are not read even by a single person in the last several years. What a national waste of infrastructure and resources?

Faceless libraries in a Facebook age: Read what is happening inside some of the libraries


There is so much written and talked about the abuse of children by individuals. But very less has been discussed about the institutional child abuses. It is worthwhile to mention about two types of abuses on innocent children by institutions

The institutional child abuse: What is the panacea? 

A ten year old’s Holy Week memoirs

ഒരു പത്തുവയസുകാരന്‍റെ വിശുദ്ധവാര ഓർമ്മകൾ


The movie 'Special 26' is not based on any imagination. One should know about repeated incidents of fake searches happening in many places. There are many such cases reported and much more go unreported. Most of these fake searches happen in the name of Income Tax Department.



As we both wait in the reception of the school like ‘guilty parents’ waiting for the judgment, there is a little solace; the sight of many such couples sitting there, without uttering a word between them or between the couples. Not even a smile was exchanged!



Here is a story of a young man who successfully implemented a new business model to bring back all the customers who shifted the loyalties to supermarkets owned by large corporates.



Charismatic and captivating presence have instilled vigour and enthusiasm among the people. Most effective instrument that stimulated and influenced millions was the historic speeches made by these great individuals



For many people, microphone is a weakness. The moment a microphone is given, their main mission is to say something that can amuse the people. Very few have the self-control to abide by the time allotted to them.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Most viewed blog posts in 2012

Following articles posted in my blog in 2012 received maximum readership among all the blog posts.


Google  is almost synonymous with internet for millions of people. Many are not aware that every action in the net are tracked, stored and probably shared with others. Google has notified its new Privacy Policy  which will be effective from 1st March 2012. Here is an attempt to critically examine privacy issues in the net and the new Privacy Policy of Google.

No privacy anymore? A critical look at Google’s new Privacy Policy


Unlike other children who uttered 'pa' or 'ma' as his first word, baby Julian cried 'why?'. And the parents (the mother, father and the stepfathers in his life) weren’t shy of his ‘why?’ He preferred books to toys.  Had to stay in more than fifty towns in Australia and studied in more than thirty schools, mostly in the suburbs. So he was always labelled as a ‘new boy’ in every school.



A real life story for every aspiring manager!



You are now confused! Whom you should listen: the freewill or conscience?



What a shame for all Keralites and all malayali men particularly. Also what a great lesson she has given to all women who live in and visit Kerala..



I get really furious whenever there is a demand from my children to throw this car. I ask them, in our city, whether it is a Maybach Exelero or a Ferrari or a Rolls Royce Phantom or a BMW, all can go only at the same speed as the Maruti 800.



Most of the employers check the FB before selecting an employee. Nothing you update, contribute, comment or like in FB is erased permanently. Even after you deactivate your account, the data remains



My journey in search of a Christmas Card, though disappointing, was an eye opener about how 'Christmas' has changed over a period of time....


Most viewed blog posts in 2011

Some of my blog posts of 2011 had thousands of views. I have given below the top 7 articles published in Cyber Diary (in terms of maximum readership)in 2011. Read them if you have missed. 

Have we lost our freedom?: The freedom to talk and the freedom to listen; the freedom to walk and the freedom to rest; the freedom to laugh, or at least the freedom to cry in solitude? 

Leave Me Alone:   Right to Privacy in a Snooping World

I hate March. I prayed, year after year, the impossible! To get rid of March.

Why I hate March?

Most of us face this dilemma. What should I eat? Let me take you through a tasty journey

Tell me, what should I eat?

January 30th is the International day of Peace. The day also marks the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, who was a champion of peace. What better way to spend this day than with a Nobel Laureate. I could make it to the lecture by Dalai Lama on 30th January 2011 at Bangalore on the topic ‘ Finding Happiness in Troubled Times’. Here are some interesting highlights of his talk.

A Day with Dalai Lama

I still get thorns and sharp glass pieces stuck on my feet. But I continue to walk through that road less travelled. I try to enjoy the pain. But let me confess. Concrete, well-lit highways and colourful landscapes still tempt me.

Today is my birthday

It took many years' struggle to deal with the abuse, as an adult. First I had to confront him, which was easier than forgiving him. I had to forgive him, as I wanted to get rid of the feeling of his touch which I could feel even after years. I finally looked into his eyes with God's power of forgiveness and shook hands with him and made peace.

Aleph, Paulo Coelho and my Friend: The Journey Within

 The police found the television and several household articles trashed. Following was reportedly written in the suicide note signed by both mother and son:
“We are damaging a few things (precious) to us. We have already dumped some things in the Cauvery river along with Kumaresan’s ashes. We don’t want anybody to use these goods. Please destroy these damaged items. Our recently purchased ‘Tata Nano’ car, a bike, chit fund investments and other house hold items may be donated to orphanages or for charity.”

“If anybody wants to see us, you have to break open the door”!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Most viewed blog posts in 2010

2010 was the second year of Cyber Diary. That was the time when blogging tools became more user friendly. Most of the posts in 2010 were re-posts of articles written and published by me in other blog platforms prior to 2009. 

I have given below the blog posts that received maximum viewership in 2010.

There is  an extremely contrasting flip side for the ‘enlightened’ malayali culture. That is its ugly manifestations of the sexual impulsiveness emanated from a sexually repressed community with superficial value system. One can see several men who spread their wings of unfulfilled desires on hapless women in public transports and private domains.

The Sensual Mallu and the Web Culture

 The corporate scams and scandals happened in the world in the last few years are clear indications of the collusion between auditors and management in accounting frauds. Auditing, though considered as a vital institution has lost the credibility due to the manner in which auditing functions are performed.

Satyam: A case of worst audit failure

Some of the good movies I watched in 2010.. I strongly recommend these movies. Don’t miss them , if you get a chance to see.

Movies I recommend -2010

Examine yourself what habit of yours is productive for you? And what makes you unproductive?

7 Habits of Highly Ineffective Leaders

Friday, October 31, 2014

When God starts staying in your neighborhood

The faithful believe that they have a living God. Some of them look up to the heaven. Some look within. Some wait for the advent. But, what if God comes and stays in your neighborhood?

The crisis of faith most often emerges in a rational mind when doubts arise about the contextual relevance of sermons and scriptures.  For most religious denominations, their creed and the faith are rooted in scriptures that are several centuries old and in events that said to have happened millions of years ago. There could be instances when some of the believers seek from their leaders or explore themselves the contextual interpretation of the writings and oral traditions. Whether it is Adam- Eve, Big-Bang, connection between the microcosm and macrocosm, or any mundane chicken-egg question, the faithful tend to engage in inconclusive debates.

During my sixteen and half hour journey in Rani Chennamma Express Train  to  Kolhapur in Maharashtra state, ‘Joshua’ gave me company. It is a fiction written by Joseph F. Girzon, published by Collier Books (Macmillan, New York) in 1983. That was my second reading of the entire book. Some books do not age. The apt sub title tells it: ‘A Parable for Today’.

It is quite a coincidence to pick up this book to read again on the day media reported with a lot of interest and excitement about Pope Francis’s view on evolution and big-bang. He had said that ‘the scientist must be motivated by the confidence that nature hides, in her evolutionary mechanisms, potentialities for intelligence and freedom to discover and realize, to achieve the development that is in the plan of the creator’. It has always been a challenge for the theists and religious leaders to give divine authenticity for things that happen today. They are asked these questions: What would be God’s view on this? What would God do if he faced such a situation? It needs a lot of courage to admit the truth to the world even if it might be interpreted as a deviation from the existing conclusions.

How is it like if Jesus takes ‘reincarnation’ after 2000 years in this world? What will he do to earn a living? What new gospel would he preach? What would be his attitude towards the religious denominations founded in his name? Will he drive out the people there?   Will he pay a visit to the multitude of churches established in his name and what would be his response to the activities there? What would be his lifestyle? Will he use the modern amenities? What would be the reaction of the people and the authorities? Will they crucify him again or shoot him with a gun?

A poster of the film based on the book

The book ‘Joshua’ is a story about the arrival of a carpenter in the 1980s to a peaceful town with simple people. He taught everyone about the freedom to expand the breadth of inner life. The life was not easy for him though there were many admirers. The book is indeed inspirational and introspective.

Readers get an impression that Joseph F. Girzon wanted to tell his views to the world attributing them to Joshua. A fiction was the easiest and harmless route for that. However the book ‘Joshua’ does not have the flow or style of a good novel. Factually too, the book suffered from several shortcomings. Casual reductionism is very evident while he manifested an oversimplified view of the reality as it existed. One example is his (through Joshua) rejection of the inevitable institutional structure and authority conspicuous in large organized denominations. As a retired catholic priest, Girzon would have known it better.

I found the content thought provoking. The narration could make readers forget the fact that the book is a work of fiction. I fell in love with Joshua just like the way the characters in the fiction viz. Phil, Mary, Charlie, Pat, Herm and many others got infatuated. 

I have jotted down a few of my wishes after reading this book. They are given below:

I wish I could carry a huge cherry log of problems on my shoulders and walk unaware and unconcerned about its weight.
I wish I could notice all those beautiful creations and know how much the Father loves me
I wish I could make my inner life richer and less showy
I wish I could avoid creating human laws to dictate how one can worship the creator
I wish instead of being an expert in law, can I be an expert in love?
I wish I could break my bread and share with a total stranger.
I wish I could make a living just to meet my needs of the day
I wish I understand the fact that 'talent doesn't justify putting on airs and any ability I have comes from my creator, and my recognition of it should make me humble, not arrogant'.
I wish I understand the ' modern unforgivable sin' when I tend to see the 'latest discoveries and creations as reasons to question the very existence of the person who gave them the abilities to discover and create'.
I wish we had leaders who set an example, 'who draw people to God by their own deep faith and by the beauty of their personal lives, not by intimidating people into sterile external observances'.
I wish I tell to myself often that everyone has imperfections as that's the way God made them and “perfection is more a process of striving than a state to be attained"
I wish I could be more humble in my attitude towards those who are less privileged than me
I wish I can lay aside the pettiness and prejudices, even those that have been consecrated through the passing of centuries.
I wish I have more goodness so that I will be chosen to witness better things in this world

An imperfect soul I am, I do not wish to be suppressed by the guilt, threat and fear. Let me be vibrant and joyful to cross the hurdles created by me, accepting the way I am and enjoying the freedom the creator has bestowed.  Then I can be like Joshua: free, simple, courageous, loving and peaceful.

Views are personal                                                     © Sibichen K Mathew

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Save the jeans: Vulgarity is in the mind of the beholder

© Sibichen K Mathew

Today’s fashion is tomorrow’s lifestyle. When jeans entered the neighborhood market, I had thought that it was a dress for the cowboys, for those who were into western music, and those who were ‘deviant’ and promoters of a counter culture. As hippies also got ‘upgraded’ from their bell-bottom pants to the jeans, it was thought to be representing an abnormal way of life. Movies of those days created Jeans clad men when they wanted to showcase drug addicts, deviant urban youth, and rebels of any type. Thus my first reaction to this costume (originally designed for miners and sailors) was negative.

My negativity slowly transformed to curiosity as I saw the rich urban young men wearing jeans that looked torn, shrunk, and faded. I wondered why they couldn't afford to buy new jeans. Only after a while I realized that the jeans were sold just like that and they were not to be washed so often like other clothes. Someone told me that Levi Strauss, a German who migrated to United States in the nineteenth century (collaborated with a Tailor named Davis, to design and manufacture denim trousers) advised the customers not to wash them. I knew only one Levi Strauss till that time. That was Claude Levi-Strauss, an anthropologist about whom I studied in the college. Initially I thought that he was the same person who invented the Jeans also, as he was known as a ‘structuralist’, as per the lecture by my sociology professor. 

Slowly I found not only men, but many young girls in the cities in blue and brown jeans. My professors entered the class rooms in Jeans and Kurtas and lectured Gramsci and Chomski with fervency. That was the ultimate signs of legitimacy for me. I picked up my first jeans from a street vendor in Karol Bagh market in New Delhi. Though I am not sure whether it was a used one (it looked so), I felt that I am also ‘trendy’ in the campus. I was curious how others looked at me for a few days. But for the sarcastic remarks of some of my country cousins (from my home state), most people appreciated my decision to enter the ‘intellectual’ cultural domain in the campus. Yes, in a matter of few years, jeans transformed from a costume of the ‘miners’ and the rebels, to that of urban elites and then of so called intellectuals. 

Now, jeans have become an everyday wear not only for the young but also for the old. There is no other garment in the world which has appreciated and worn by all types of people. Like Pizza and Burger, jeans also turned out to be a universally recognized and globally sought after product. It was reported that a Canadian student named Josh Le used his jeans for 15 months without washing them. He wore it 330 times during that period. When he found that his professor researched on textiles and bacteria, he requested for a bacterial analysis of his jeans. It was mentioned in the test result that "there did not appear to be differences in the bacterial carriage depending on whether the jeans had been worn for 15 months or only 13 days" 

In spite of its huge popularity and recognition, it is a paradox that this particular clothing has invited maximum criticisms than any other attire in the history of textile wears. 

The most recent attack was from the 74 year old music legend from Kerala, K J Yesudas who said that women should not wear jeans as it attracts unnecessary attraction from men and they would get tempted to do undesirable things. I don’t doubt his good intentions, though I prefer to disagree with him. A few years back, a group of girls living in two villages in the Uttar Pradesh state, carried placards against the ‘vulgar outfits’ and collected jeans from all the houses and burnt them at a public place. They said that the skin-tight clothes provoked antisocial elements to attack the ladies. A khap panchayat (union of villages) in Hisar in Haryana State banned wearing of jeans by girls in all the villages under it. 

Not only in India, in many other parts of the world, certain people and institutions felt that skinny jeans are a distraction for men! A school in  United States banned skinny jeans and leggings stating that ‘the action is not meant to objectify girls, but to stop boys from focusing on something other than class work.’

Jeans, unlike many other clothing is an ‘attitude-neutral’ clothing mainly because of its heterogeneous patronage down the history as narrated by me earlier. However, certain jeans manufacturing companies, in their advertisements tend to associate Jeans with sensuality and market it as a tool to exhibit one’s related predispositions. Advertisements put up by Diesel in prominent locations in the cities had to be removed on a protest by a political organization in India.  

Whom or what to be blamed? :Whether the blame lie on the jeans made of denim which is known for their comfort, durability, ease of maintenance and style or the persons who wear it? Or one needs to blame the people who look at the persons wearing it with a lot of prejudices and rigid notions? 

Many argue that by wearing jeans, a woman invites trouble from the hooligans. They say that rapes and other sexual abuses happen in society because women wear jeans. If that is the case, no rape or sexual abuse would have happened in villages where not many women wear jeans. Even if one conducts a study on the sexual assault cases and attempt to find a correlation with the dress worn by the victims at the time of the unfortunate incident, one would not find any! (Don’t know whether any study has been done on this). But there are many reports from different parts of the world which clearly indicated that the way one dresses has nothing to do with being sexually assaulted. 

However, there is a tendency to put the blame on the victim if she had dressed ‘provocatively’ just before the assault. In a study conducted on 352 high school students to investigate the effect of the victim's clothing on subjects' judgments of the date rape, the students were shown either a photograph of the victim dressed provocatively, a photograph of the victim dressed conservatively, or no photograph. It was found that ‘the subjects who viewed the photograph of the victim in provocative clothing were more likely than subjects who viewed the victim dressed conservatively or who saw no photograph of the victim to indicate that the victim was responsible for her assailant's behavior, that his behavior was justified, and were less likely to judge the act of unwanted sexual intercourse as rape’. 

My view is that neither the Jeans to be blamed nor the persons who wear them. The fault lies with the perceptions of people. There is no logic in singling out Jeans out of an array of dresses women wear. In fact, jeans are one of the most protective dresses a woman can have in any unpleasant situation. It could aid in preventing any abuse and most appropriate in case she needs to fight back. Such advantages are not available with skirt, sari, capris, normal pants, leggings or even salwar-bottom.

Any dress can be perceived as vulgar if one does not take care to select the fitting that is appropriate to one’s figure. Another aspect of importance is the awareness regarding what to wear where. One should be clear of the type of attire one has to be in when one goes to the office, to worship places, for shopping, on a picnic, to the gym or for a swim. This awareness is important for women for not to ward off the hooligans or assaulters but to be more attractive and presentable and to be perceived by others as ‘dressed for the occasion’. No doubt, a perverted mind would attempt to figure out the finer structure of a woman’s body even when she wears a long niqab or burqa dress. 

Those who see a ban on jeans as a solution to the sexual assaults on women are clearly advocating a view that, it is natural for men to attack any woman in a vulnerable status and thus the women are both the victims as well as the ones who are responsible for the crime. As long as the patriarchal, chauvinistic and oversimplified approach to sexual assault on women persists in society, there is no hope. 

Let the jeans live long! Let the prejudices die early!

Views are personal.                                 © Sibichen K Mathew

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ageing with Grace and Dignity: Thoughts triggered in the seminar by the Lundbeck Institute

Plato said: "He who is of a calm and happy nature will hardly feel the pressure of age, but to him who is of an opposite disposition, youth and age are equally a burden." Plato (427-346 B.C.)

When we were too young, we wanted to be older. We wanted to dress up like elders while we were in school.  But as we grow old, we try to dress up like young ones. Look at our own profiles in the social networking sites. We try to put the most ‘young looking’ photos as profile pictures! None of us want to become old. We try to Google things and strategies that can make us look younger than what we are. The world cosmetic industry is thriving with sales reaching about $170 billion a year. We see new beauty parlors and cosmetic clinics being opened every other day in our vicinity. Too many companies sell various types of hair colors: natural, herbal and what not! I asked a friend of mine who looked very young but for the grey hair, why he is not dying his hair. He said, ‘I want to die only once’!

“You look just the same!” This is the best complement one can shower on another when they meet each other after many years. I used to see my Grandma putting the cream from the milk all over her face every night before going to bed, even when she crossed 85. She never accepted the fact that she was hard of hearing and always said she was having a bad cold for the past two days and the ‘ears’ got blocked. Why to blame Grandma! I felt uneasy when my daughter displayed my age prominently on the birthday card pasted in the living room hall. I asked her, ‘why do you want to write the age there?’

For people who are getting old there are more worries than the unhappiness of being less handsome or pretty. They worry about their failing health, the neglect they experience and the powerlessness they feel.

Lundbeck Institute, India recently organized a seminar on the topic ‘Ageing with Grace, Dignity and Courage’ as part of its social initiatives. Lundbeck is a global pharmaceutical company committed to improving the quality of life of people suffering from brain diseases. Its products are targeted at diseases such as depression and anxiety, psychotic disorders, epilepsy and Huntington’s, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Mammen Mathew who leads its Team India, took the initiative to bring together three eminent experts to speak on three important topics under the broad area of ‘Empowerment: in spirit and mind’. 

According to the organizers, there are  two dominant views of ageing. First one focusses on the physical decline and the consequent dependency. The other one is about ‘successful ageing’ where physical and psycho-social activities play major role. The seminar projected an alternate view that sees ageing as a ‘spiritual journey’, that empowers to find meaning in one’s  life and, therefore, reason for continued life and hope.

Dr Thimmappa Hegde

Dr Thimmappa Hegde, the Director and Senior consultant Neuro Surgeon at Narayana Hrudayalaya (and former Professor at NIMHANS, Bangalore) had the following to say at the seminar attended by a large number of senior citizens:

In his talk titled ‘From Ageing to Growing’, he said that the brain is the greatest asset. Are you using the most of it?

The purpose of life should be a life of purpose. There is only one 'unrepayable' debt for every human being. That is the debt to the parents. But your achievements in life can bring happiness to them. He narrated the following incident in the life of Buddha:

When Buddha was eighty, he called the faithful Ananda to him and said that he wished to die in the city where he grew up.
Ananda was grief stricken. "O Buddha," he cried, please do not leave us! For so many years you have been our guide. What shall we do without you? Then he began to sob bitterly.
Buddha answered, "Do not cry, dear Ananda. I have always taught that death is a natural part of life. It is nothing to fear. You must understand that. And when I am gone, let my teachings be your guide. If you have understood them in your heart, you have no more need of me."
So Buddha and his disciples travelled back to his home city. Not far from Kapilavastu they passed through the village of Kusinora. The Buddha asked them to stop there and rest.Then he turned to Ananda and said "This is where I shall pass away."Then Buddha went out into the garden and lay down between two trees. His followers gathered around him. Some were crying, but others, their minds completely at peace, looked on silently.
The Buddha spoke for the last time. "Remember what I have taught you. Craving and desire are the cause of all unhappiness. Everything sooner or later must change, so do not become attached to anything. Instead devote yourself to clearing your mind and finding true, lasting happiness."(Source)

Ageing happens at three levels: Chronological, Biological, Psychological. As Buddha said, old age, sickness and death are inevitable.

Dr Hegde quoted from the interview given by  Author/physician Shigeaki Hinohara when he was 97 years and 4 months to the Japan Times.
Shigeaki Hinohara

 'Energy comes from feeling good, not from eating well or sleeping a lot.
All people who live long — regardless of nationality, race or gender — share one thing in common: None are overweight.
Always plan ahead. My schedule book is already full until 2014, with lectures and my usual hospital work. In 2016 I’ll have some fun, though: I plan to attend the Tokyo Olympics! 
There is no need to ever retire, but if one must, it should be a lot later than 65. Share what you know. I give 150 lectures a year, some for 100 elementary-school children, others for 4,500 business people. I usually speak for 60 to 90 minutes, standing, to stay strong. 
When a doctor recommends you take a test or have some surgery, ask whether the doctor would suggest that his or her spouse or children go through such a procedure. Contrary to popular belief, doctors can’t cure everyone. So why cause unnecessary pain with surgery? I think music and animal therapy can help more than most doctors imagine. 
To stay healthy, always take the stairs and carry your own stuff. I take two stairs at a time, to get my muscles moving.
My inspiration is Robert Browning’s poem “Abt Vogler.” My father used to read it to me. It encourages us to make big art, not small scribbles. It says to try to draw a circle so huge that there is no way we can finish it while we are alive. All we see is an arch; the rest is beyond our vision but it is there in the distance.
 Pain is mysterious, and having fun is the best way to forget it. If a child has a toothache, and you start playing a game together, he or she immediately forgets the pain. 
Don’t be crazy about amassing material things. Remember: You don’t know when your number is up, and you can’t take it with you to the next place. 
Find a role model and aim to achieve even more than they could ever do. My father went to the United States in 1900 to study at Duke University in North Carolina. He was a pioneer and one of my heroes. Later I found a few more life guides, and when I am stuck, I ask myself how they would deal with the problem. 
It’s wonderful to live long. Until one is 60 years old, it is easy to work for one’s family and to achieve one’s goals. But in our later years, we should strive to contribute to society. Since the age of 65, I have worked as a volunteer. I still put in 18 hours seven days a week and love every minute of it.'  
(See full interview reported in Japan Times here)
Dr Hegde also mentioned about the following book. It is worth reading.

(Kathopanishad is a unique Upanishad which starts with a katha (a story) of a young boy who is ready to face the Lord of Death in his quest for Truth to know what lies beyond death. He asks the very pertinent and philosophical question, Is there or is there not, and if it is, what is it? In short, this teaching is an extravaganza of spiritual knowledge and meditation that guides a student step by step to the glorious state of immortality, peace and bliss. You can buy the book from Flipkart)

 Dr Hegde drew attention to four simple Sanskrit words, “Deham Naham Koham Soham”
• Deham = Body (Deh) am (is);
• Naham = I Am (ham) not (Na);
• Koham = Who (Ko am I (ham)?
• Soham = I am (ham) That (So).

We can see below a Christian discourse by a scholar in the above context.

“While they were at the table He took bread, gave thanks and broke it and gave it to them saying, ‘This is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me’” (Luke 22:19). He also took a cup with some wine and did the same saying, “This Is My Blood”. When Jesus said, “This is My Body” He was teaching the disciples the truth of the Bible and of all the Scriptures: 'I am not this Body - I do not identify Myself with the body. (Deham Naham - I am not the body. Koham? Soham – Who am I? I am that.) Because I am not the body, I break it and give it up for you. In the same way, you should do the same in My memory. You should give up body consciousness. This is a Divine Command.' 

Ven. Tenzin Namdak

Ven. Tenzin Namdak who was an environmental researcher for the Ministry of Agriculture, Netherlands before he took Bhikshu ordination from H.H Dalai Lama spoke extensively on Spiritual Empowerment.

He emphasized the following in his talk:

Every being has the wish for happiness. One needs to eliminate the destructive emotions  to be truly happy. Only by self-awareness, one can  recognize and understand the nature of destructive emotions. Self-discipline can prevent the manifestations of destructive emotions by applying their antidotes. There should be sustained contemplation by reflecting again and again on the reasoning that establishes the faults of destructive emotions and the positive qualities of their antidotes. Loving kindness and compassion can eliminate destructive emotions.

Anger, Attachment and Ignorance (stemming from deliberate action or inaction) are destructive emotions.  There is no weekend course to eliminate anger. One has to learn through the experience that anger is a destructive emotion and then try to take deliberate steps to avoid it.

Every person thinks that he suffers more than others. The fact is that suffering is universal. Ageing is a reality. Understanding that reality is the antidote to ignorance. There is no use  worrying about ageing. Cosmetic industry plays to that worry. Understanding impermanence leads to a better acceptance of ageing. This will lessen the suffering.

Dr S Kalyanasundaram

Dr S Kalyanasundaram, a Professor of Psychiatry at NIMHANS  and past President of Indian Psychiatric Society spoke on ‘Emotional Empowerment’.

He emphasized the following in his talk.

Everyone wants to live longer, without realizing what we want to live for? It is necessary for all to get engaged in productive activities or in social, economic, cultural and civic affairs. This is called active ageing.

Active ageing is the recognition and support to achieve one’s potential, continuous engagement with family and society, independence, and retaining one’s dignity despite the adverse environment.

Autonomy is just a click away with the Information Technology. Senior citizens should not be reluctant to learn to use the internet and the social media.

No point in complaining ‘What is it I can’t do’.  Share happily with others ‘what I can do’. What are the areas in  which there is an improvement in health conditions? What are the things you learned new? What is the knowledge you gained recently? What are the activities you engaged at home, neighborhood and society? These are the things you need to share when you meet your friends rather than sharing the news of your disabilities. Positive ageing is a stage where you are valued by and contributing to community as age progresses. You need to foster social connections.

At home, you should know where to intervene and where not. You should ‘do with’ rather than ‘do for’ other family members. One should not forget the fact that by being older doesn’t mean that you are wiser than the youngsters at home in everything. Try to respect the inputs from them.

There are four major fears for the senior citizens: a) Fear of the process of dying, b) Fear of losing control, c) Fear of letting go and d) Fear of losing life partner. All these fears are to be fought head-on. Accept the reality as it is.

Concluding note

When my mother who is more than 70 years old tells me that she is going to plant teak and jack-fruit trees on her land, she is in fact ‘growing from ageing’. The message that she gives is, it is never too late to contribute to the society and to the future generations. It is sheer selflessness. What else can bring peace and happiness as one grows old?

Views are personal                                          © Sibichen K Mathew    

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