Sunday, November 08, 2009

Endangered Wild Red "Dogs" of Mudumalai

On one of our frequent forays into the nearby wilderness areas, three of us set out for a ramble one late afternoon. The area to be explored was a fairly level area of grassy plains and scrub jungle leading up to a low range of forested hills. The area right at the base of the hills was thick scrub jungle and before that to be traversed was a plain of grassland with a few small patches of shola here and there, and with one sharply cut, well wooded nullah, about 50 feet deep and 40 to 50 feet wide at the top, cutting its way through the plain carrying the occasional runoff from the hills.
This nullah is frequently used by herds of elephant coming out of the hills in search of the waters of the perennial Moyar river.
As we hit our stride pretty soon, we made good ground and were soon getting to the end of the plains. There was one last shallow dip ahead of us and as we got to the edge we came to a sudden halt. What had startled us were the patches of red here and there visible through the low undergrowth and dried grasses. Now, any sort of red is a colour that one keeps an eye out for especially in these particular forests where tigers are not that uncommon.
The light had taken on that glowing golden glow that is unique to parts of the Nilgiris. It happens as if by magic in the late mornings and again with a slightly different character in the late afternoons. The uplifting and enveloping feeling of that quality of light is very hard to describe, but it is also fantastic light for photography. It was in this setting that the red patches looked very intriguing. We were still and observant and saw the lookouts in turn raise their heads above the grass to check us out.
Initially I thought it was a small pack of red hunting dogs (sen-nai in Tamil, dhole in hindi) that we had chanced upon. Soon though, we realized that we were seeing a lot more than that and our estimates were of 25 to 30 dogs, which is a very unusually large pack of the asiatic hunting dog (Cuon alpinus) or simply red hunting dogs.This was about 7 years ago. I have been back to the area so many times since but never seen more than one or two and recently even that hasn't happened.
Much misinformation surrounds these fantastic animals. They are without doubt the very best hunters around. It is said that once they start after a prey (spotted dear, sambar, and sometimes even young bison) they do not quit until they succeed. The pack hunt is an incredibly complex and scientific operation with two or three relay groups operating in tandem and communicating with each other through complex whistled signals.  Yet, they are completely harmless to humans and will not even defend their kills from encroaching humans.  The entire pack also cooperates in bringing up the cubs with various members donating regurgitated meat to the fast developing cubs. It therefore requires a pack of at least 6 or 7 individuals to successfully bring the cubs to maturity. We are rarely aware of these wonderful animals as inside the forests as they are such silent movers and very alert to avoid humans.
On another occasion, we had some novices along and with quite a bunch of kids too so, while some of us set out on a longer hike, we sent this 'family group' to a small rock that affords a nice view of the same plain area and is only a couple of kilometers in. This was an early morning walk and as they were about half way there a herd of spotted deer came running right at them. Now, this is very unusual indeed and the forest guide immediately stopped the group. The deer broke right round them and kept going without even a pause. Right behind them came three red dogs in hot pursuit. Seeing the humans, they stopped in their tracks, investigated, and, their hunt spoiled for the day, quietly disappeared.
Wonderful animals, the Indian hunting dog seems to be going the way of the rest of the forests. As we systematically cut our way through our small remaining patches of forest, and as we occupy and 'develop' every bit of the cleared land, all our unique wild animals are disappearing. The 'sen-nai' depends on a plentiful supply of deer to keep their packs going. The same is of course required by leopards and tigers. All three will therefore soon disappear into the archives of the history of humankind's wholesale destruction of nature.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Thinking of Earthquakes

The word itself is frightening. The reality much, much, more so! Some years ago, with a group of friends from church (All Souls, Coimbatore), we took off to try to lend a hand in the North Indian state of Gujurat where a massive quake had leveled many populous towns. I went along as a blood banker and someone who knows something about lab medicine. The group was organized by Roshan.

We were nine altogether and were led by a double FRCS surgeon (Dr. Thomas Abraham). We didn't all know each other very well when we started out, but that changed.

We worked out of a much cracked (but still standing) Catholic hospital at Gandhidham. Almost every building in this town sported huge cracks and structural damage, but most were still standing. That was frightening enough and we lived in small tents while the hundreds of patients were treated in bigger adjoining tents, all placed well away from the main hospital building - just in case...

Though the hospital still stood, no one (except the very brave surgery teams), wanted to take any chances as there were massive cracks right through the structure. The operating theater was inside, however, and all serious surgery requires that level of sterility, so the surgeons and nurses just went about their business as if all was normal.

After two days settling in and organizing our work at the hospital, we went along with one of the CARE relief teams to some outlying villages, and on the way back paused at the town of Anjar.  Anjar is a populous town and was once densely packed with cheaply constructed houses and shops. The devastation was almost total. it was just one huge mass of rubble. What was even more scary was that it was untouched. The surviving locals, and apparently all the local government too, had fled for their lives. There was absolutely no sign of an attempt at any sort of 'rescue operation'.

We were standing yards away from the spot where hundreds of children on an early morning Republic Day march through the downtown area simply disappeared under tons of rubble. My guess for this town alone would be at least 30,000 dead. Facing Anjar that day, the reality started to sink in. The word 'terrible' had a meaning. Something just turned inside of me. I felt as if my insides had been vacuumed out leaving only a dull aching sense of shame and horror.

But there was mercifully work to do, so we got back and got busy. The recent series of earthquakes in Padang suddenly brought all those memories flooding in. Earthquakes and Tsunamis are terrible things. At least with the Tsunamis (that we have seen) they are one-of events, but earthquakes are not so. There were predictions on the net even in those days that another big one was lurking and could be unleashed in Gujurat at any moment. The reminders were constant. You'd get this sudden feeling of disorientation as everything wobbled. These were the frequent aftershocks, some so gentle that they are hardly noticed, others that made me want to run - but there's nowhere to run to.

The pics are of Anjar. In the one just above, the headless idol marks the spot under which the school children 'disappeared'. 

Pray for the survivors of Padang. Food, clean water, and shelter will all have disappeared. If the quake doesn't get you the chances that serious diseases will is very high. Pray for the relief workers on the ground. They are all at risk and will need to fight off their own fears just to be able to get on with the unbelievably huge tasks that face them.

The aerial view on the right shows the 'downtown' area. Not only had homes and shops been damaged , there wasn't even a sense left of any individual buildings or even of walls...

Friday, August 28, 2009

To Sleep, Perchance To Dream

A good night's sleep has long been known to be of great value for being alert the next day. Lack of sleep has always, right through human history, been associated with irritability i.e. the grumps but NOW, 

there is increasingly strong evidence that sleep also has a BIG effect on all of our health - our hearts, our lungs, and even our stomachs, 
in addition to our minds.

In fact, chronic poor sleep has recently been found to be positively involved with the decline of heart function, increases in blood pressure, loss of lung function, and a whole lot of other bads - see the title link.

Sound sleep includes having all the stages of sleep (N1, N2, and N3) and there should also be a decent amount of dream sleep (REM). One can actually be getting enough time asleep and still not have restful sleep due to poor sleep architecture. When sleep is well balanced and of a sufficient quantity, that alone is considered a 'good, sound sleep.'

Poor sleep habits, insomnia (inability to fall sleep), frequent arousals, and daytime sleepiness, are all different parts of the picture. Sometimes, other things like snoring (a sign of obstruction to free breathing during sleep), full blown sleep apnea, or restless legs can worsen  the problem.

Poor sleep is also frequently clinically associated with depression, fibromyalgia, hyperactivity, ADD, and can even be caused by various medication side effects.

Sleep apnea (stopping of regular breathing during sleep) is unfavorably linked with obesity and can exacerbate health problems for people who are anyways otherwise living on a slippery slope to poor health. When the apneas and hypopneas are severe they can reduce our blood oxygen levels (oxygen saturation) below the normal level. Even during sleep, the O2 saturation should  stay above 90%. Typically when awake and active, healthy people will have saturations of 100% or close to it . When saturations drop below 90% this is bad for all parts of our bodies and minds. We do need a goodly amount of oxygen to keep ourselves alive and healthy!

Irregular sleep patterns due to other causes can wreak havoc with our health. Those who work nights, students cramming for exams, and even worse working 'switch' shifts, are all in very great danger of permanently ruined health. I find it amazing that in so many medical colleges right around the world, students are routinely forced to work/study for 48-72 hours at a stretch. It seems to be some sort of a rite of passage, a 'trial by fire' with a 'throw them in at the deep end' approach. It is both disgusting and unhealthy. Anyone who chooses thus to burn the candle at both ends is asking for trouble.

Another very bad association of disturbed or poor sleep is with GERD (gastric reflux). Stomach acidity tends to get much worse with poor sleep and when strong acids from the stomach come up the esophagus (swallowing tube) we are in real trouble. It can get so bad that the acid makes its way all the way up to our throats and into our tracheas (breathing tubes) causing cough and lung damage. In the worst cases, a person's teeth can get eaten away by wayward stomach acid!

But there's a lot that we can do to help ourselves to sleep better even without medical intervention and especially when our insurance (if we have any) won't cover the expense of sleep studies, CPAPs, and all the potential associated medication. Here are some tips:

  • Have a regular bedtime.
  • Stay away from stimulants like caffeine (tea, coffee, sodas...) and nicotine.
  • All sleep-aid medications (and most antidepressants) alter sleep architecture towards lighter sleep (that's bad), so avoid them as much as possible.
  • Have a good sleep environment. Blue light is especially calming!
  • Don't watch TV for a couple hours before bedtime.
  • Don't eat anything for at least two hours before bedtime.
  • If you have GERD (acid reflux)  make sure it is well treated, especially before bedtime.
  • Keep your mind relaxed, particularly after dinner. Identify your stressors and deal with them appropriately (a little advice that Hamlet could have used...). Having a blank mind isn't possible for most of us, and no one really knows if that will help one to sleep, but certainly we can identify activities that we find relaxing and concentrate on doing those -  especially after dinner.
  • Try to sleep on your side or stomach as much as possible.
  • Raise the head of your bed by about 6 inches, this will help to keep your acids in the stomach - where they belong.
  • Get out for an early morning walk and make sure that you absorb a solid dose of the early morning sun. The bright light 'sets' your in-built hormonal sleep scheduler and it will help you to feel sleepy at the right time at night.
  • Never, NEVER, drive or operate machinery when you are feeling sleepy!

If you kick a lot, snore heavily, or it's been noticed that you seem to stop breathing while asleep (as, being asleep, you may not have noticed, so try asking your spouse, parents, siblings, kids, or room mates), and when you regularly suffer from excessive daytime sleepiness, lack of alertness, or waking up feeling unrested, then you probably do need to consult a sleep expert. Strangely enough, that's also probably your lung doctor (pulmonologist)!

Eventually, doing a sleep study (polysomnopgraphy) will help to sort out all your doubts -  if you can afford it! Of course, we would want to exhaust all other options first, but for some folks it probably really would help...

We are such stuff
As dreams are made on; and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.

 Prospero in "The Tempest"

Sam L. Carr

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Slave or Free? Independence, Dependence & Interdependence

Musing on the self’s necessary embeddedness-in-its-context, Jon Erdman, over at his Theos Project blog, has a fascinating post woven around the quintessential jazz quartets/quintets of the early nineteen sixties, and the experience of fantastic music from the likes of John Coltrane and Miles Davis and their troupes (search out some very choice live concerts on YouTube). On stage, each of the performers is an artiste of rare excellence, yet they meld together so spontaneously and effortlessly in their virtuosity that it is a wonder to behold – and the resulting music is something much more than the sum of its parts – shear magic. So what is this? How does it work? Pure individualism is an important basic component, but isn’t there also the magic of real codependence?

The ‘West’ (perhaps especially America) has lauded the values of freedom and independence as supreme.Western culture now extols these as the purest and most fundamental of human ideals – at least in theory. Western culture gears up to provide each individual with the greatest possible degree of freedom and independence.Economically, what that boils down to is ‘free enterprise’, while politically, the only way to go is pure democracy. Individuals, then, who make up the society, cooperate only by choice, and never of necessity. Of course, we are often left with a lingering suspicion that these 'ideals' may be more of a marketing gimmick than really real...

In the East, while we have been bombarded with these Western values and cultural norms, yet we are still very much ensconced in a completely different milieu. Our culture always covertly calls the shots. Family and societal needs always take precedence over individual likes, desires, goals, and even thought.

Certainly, some sort of a challenge has been thrown down on the part of freedom and independence by the ubiquitous Western oriented media, but how far has it gotten and where do we now stand? Are we Easterners now setting out to become ruggedly independent individuals? Perhaps, in some peoples mind’s, being freedom loving, democratically oriented, and independent, is theoretically possible. Perhaps, there is even an individualistic fa├žade, a persona, trying to creep into our collective consciousness. But, in all key instances, when we dig a little deeper, we do find that it is merely a pretence, if not even a posturing, and one that is evident only on the surface.

Out in the world, our youth may appear to be momentarily confused about the possibilities of individuality and selfhood, but on arrival at home from high school or college, the dream quietly fades away. Culture and family are all that surrounds one, effortlessly sucking you in, and you are once again comfortably enveloped in that familiar territory of duty and belonging. Oneness of mind is not at all a matter of choice, it is the unquestioned necessity for survival and the ground of every one’s very identity.

Whatever be the future of our culture wars, in one small way democracy does threaten to drive a tiny wedge into our so far impregnable melding pot. Exercising one’s vote is a uniquely private event. However much discussion on politics, or the nation’s needs, may precede, the casting of that one vote is sacrosanct; it will not be intruded upon. Few are the opportunities to be a real individual in Eastern societies, but here in India, the vote is the one unique thing that DEMANDS your independence and underscores your constitutionally guaranteed freedom.

Don’t throw it away by failing to exercise your franchise.

In this coming election, and whenever again the opportunity arises - PLEASE VOTE!!!

Sunday, January 18, 2009


In hard times, it's suddenly not so hard to think of ourselves shampooing the dogs, or washing and waxing our own car(s), or steam cleaning our own carpets, or doing some home wiring/plumbing, or even packing lunch to work and eschewing the Big Mac, or whatever. Perhaps instead of tossing out that pant, a little unobtrusive patchwork might not be amiss? In hard times, DIY becomes the order of the day. Outsourcing is just out, even when that means that we are going to lose some comforts and lose some of our now not so precious time.

All of this, and more, could be thought of as cost cutting. Budgeting, and budgeting, and stretching that cash to make ends somehow meet, and staying off those deadly little credit cards...

The other side of the coin is that all of a sudden, the few rupees or dollars in one's pocket take on a new power. Our economies survive, as they are, only because we earn and then we spend. When the spending drops, businesses have to figure out ways to again separate us from that cash.

Influencing what you will choose to do becomes the most important question that other businesses must find an answer to in order to crack the AUSTERITY CODE. If you still have a job, or a viable business, you have in your hands power, real power. What you are still willing to spend money on will do well, and whatever you avoid has to die.

Of course, this has in fact always been true. The thing is that in easier times we just don't notice. Keeping up with the Krishnans is so much easier when we are not feeling the pinch.

Subliminally, but effectively, advertisers are able to convince us that we just can't live without X or Y or Z, the cost really doesn't matter, but to make us feel a real sense of achievement, the bargain of the century is always there to be had, just don't miss THIS chance, AND with an unbelievably low EMI to boot!

The real power of the consumer - that's you - is that the economy cannot do without you. But, that doesn't mean that you are obligated to spend in any way except how you decide is best.

You may get to vote once in a couple of years but you do get to exercise a much more powerful economic (and hence even political) power with every single note that you pull out of your pocket.

Think about it. Think about it a lot, and start exercising your power, Now, and Forever.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Humankind, God, and the NEW CREATION

A Blogworld friend, author, psychologist, and deep thinker, John Doyle has been following a trajectory of thought based on his own reading of some of Paul's (of New Testament fame) thinking. This is remarkable not least because John happens to be somewhere in the atheist/agnostic camp.

On his famous blog "Ktismatics", John has done a whole series of posts on the concept of the "new creation" in some of Paul's epistles. The entire series of posts begins here and there is an index to the the whole series at the end of this post.

In commenting on one of those posts I had made the following statement -

“I’m sure that there are not ‘many’ gods or even more than one, but I’m equally sure that for humankind there have to be many gods even when we think there are none.”

- and John then invited me (perhaps in jest) to expand on the thought.

I admit to having been in a bit of a hurry and dashing that off without giving it sufficient (or even much) thought. Still, though crude, I can stand by the statement and try here to elaborate on the thought.

It's my own belief statement. I believe that God 'exists' i.e. is real. I don't think that the one that I have come to recognise as God is more than one but I could easily be wrong on that call.

The second half of my assertion is more difficult. Each of us is an individual and we know individually.

In an important sense my friend John Doyle is not the same as your friend John Doyle even when we are physically referring to the same person. I'm therefore sure, in my own pigheaded fashion that when I refer to Jesus that is not the same as when you do or when someone else does.

On a broader front, and perhaps more controversially, I think it is also possible that when someone refers to Shirdi Sai Baba they may in fact be thinking of the same one that I know as Jesus.

In fact, to broaden it out even further, it is possible that a person could be an atheist and still 'know' God...and that is not to say that God is not particular!

What do you think?

The New Creation in Paul: Galatians 6
The New Creation in Paul: 2 Corinthians 5
The New Man in Ephesians 2
The New Man in Ephesians 4
Doppelganger Theory in Colossians 3 and Romans 6
The New Creation in Paul - Summary Observations
The Return of the Ktismatically Repressed


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