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Monday, December 07, 2009

Tie 2 …

1 and a 1/2 month later:

OK. So now I am well enough and I thought I'd start writing.

Once a week, though. At least until something really industrious comes along.

To start with, lemme go back to the 24th of October.

The topic: Blasphemy Ordinance - Do We Want Them Removed
6.20: About 10 mins to go
So, there I was.
Nuzhat and Sabeen.
A couple of oddball friends and relatives.
… but then people gathered up and the hall, around an hour or so later, was filling up. Soon, there were enough in the hallway to make sure it was full.

Everyone spoke well … including even the poor 'office' girl. But the delight of the evening was dear old Bhagwandas. Naasikh and Meer and tons more … Yayyyy!

General discussion ended with the consensus that no way does it seem likely to be done away with ... but ... a lot of its integrity can be resolved.

Hmmm ...


So, around 9+, Nuzhat, Sabeen, and I moved on to our house, ready to change (Sabeen still making up her mind, though) and we decided to have dinner.

Dinner done, I walked up to my room where Sabizak's little note asked when I'd be around. "In a while", I said. Then moved to the bedroom when I 'felt' a little chakkar and decided to lie down. That's when I felt a little more. So I decided to stand up and stay the other way …

… and suddenly I realized I was 'ON'!

In the next few moments I was not quite as conscious - well, kinda - so the events that took place are a bit transfused, but Shamim (the surgeon who lives opposite), Sabeen (who'd phoned up to say she was ready to go and was told to come over with an ambulance), the surgeon's wife, an antihistamine ( Old? Maybe! Let's try it! … No, it didn't do anything!!! ), Sabeen's arrival (still trying to get an ambulance), my insistence that I want to go to NICVD as fast as possible (at Aga Khan I'd probably die crawling under a stampede) … all this was lost somewhere around my constant feeling that I wanted to go to the bathroom.

Shamim had checked out his BP instrument and, as usual, seemed pretty sure that I was not likely to last - something that a pair of good earphones will put right for him. He also felt that my pulse was nearly 'zero' but kept on looking at me and saying 'Forty haé ...'.

But he was ready to stop me from going over to the loo. Nuz, too, had wanted to stop me … but, finally, she forced Shamim and [together] they drove me to the WC.

Lasted 2 mins!!! I was out, cold.

Lying on the floor, I was dragged back to the place near the bed.

Dunno if the closure lasted 2 mins or 5 ... who knows. But there I was … ready, willing, and able! Up again, with my ageless rhythm, it had to be the loo. So, there I was, dragging my feet all across the floor. Twenty feet to the WC, angry, angst, wanting to go, and there I now was. Nuzhat had finally decided to let me go on. On the floor to the commode I suddenly discovered I had enough strength to drag myself and get around to sit. [There was 'much' to be done. Loads of shit. Amples of clearance. Much water. But still …]

The trip to the loo was wonderful. I got up and, partly stretched across Nuzhat's body, I went all the way back to the bed and lay down upon it. On the way I only thought 3 times, in very quick succession, that Ragni should be here to see me go. Or stay. But I do need her.

And then I went back upon the bed and snored.

Down the stairway, down into the parking lot, up into the ambulance … all these passages seemed little until we went up into the hallway where a hundred doctors, patients, nurses, attendants, all created a noise. I reopened my eyes once and was told that the efforts were good. I was very likely going to survive.

(Oh, I did see a rather 'cute nurse' ... but, later, much much later, it turned out to be my friend Insiya.)

Just a few moments, as soon as I was taken into my CMU, I told Nuzhat that we had to call Ragni otherwise she is likely to see this on the net. People were told to stay off the net (including one gentleman who also said that on the net!).

Soon I heard Ragni's voice and was glad …

That was my day!

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Tie ... 24.10.2009 / 21.31


Lie down.
Lie down.
Lie down.

Turn around.
Lie down. Lie down.


To let doc know.
Tell him to come up.
Tell him to come up with beads.

That's loads.

Yes, that's ...
That's loads.

I need to go to wish ...
I must shit again.

I must need to ...


I must need to shit.
I must need to shit again.

I must.



I must re-open my eyes again.


I need to keep my eyes open again.
I need to open my eyes.





And some where in the lay above I was taken. Ahh.

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Friday, October 23, 2009

Never too late ... but ...

نہ جانا كہ دنیا سے جاتا ہے كوئ ۔۔۔ بڑی دیر كی مہرباں آتے آتے

Only a couple of days had passed since the heart-breaking death of Salman '@skdev' Mehmood - the very young founder of The Thalassemia Foundation - when the Sindh Assembly, in one of its rarer moments of sanity, unanimously passed a resolution seeking a law that makes tests for Thalassemia (and other diseases) “mandatory” for couples before marriage.

I had blogged about Salman on his passing away and visited his mother and two sisters a couple of days later. With Salman's death, I learnt, they have lost the second of the two brothers (the elder one died a few years earlier, at only 17). Their father, too, died in an accident at work just two years ago.

A lot of bloggers and developers who knew @skdev well - or at least better than I did - have paid tributes to him on Twitter, Facebook, various websites, and on their blogs. His sister, Ayesha, who was closest to him in interests and age (tweeple know her as @blessedAyesha) has put together the links of some of the writings here. I went to many of those pages and was amazed to read how much this young man achieved and against what odds, how many friends and strangers he helped selflessly while fighting his own battles, how he learnt programming and development all on his own, how he had a rating of 9.9 out of 10 at RentACoder. Wow! What a role model!

And what a positive thinker!

The resolution by the Sindh Assembly, which one hopes will become a law soon, would have more than pleased Salman, who wanted it so much, as this video shows:

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Monday, October 19, 2009

Gone too soon …

Salman Mehmood is no more. In my mind he was Little Salman Mehmood, ever since I met him at a Tweetup. His passing away once again underscores the fact that there is no Meaning of Life. But there is (and can and must always be) Meaning in Life.

"@skdev", as Salman's fellow Tweeple knew him, gave his life a lot of meaning in the very few days he was in this world and that is what, apart from his winning smile, I will remember and respect him for. Always.

With many other hearts, mine goes out to the very brave Ayesha (and I use the adjective after having witnessed it in our brief minutes together at AKUH) and to a family that has known more losses than many can bear with such dignity and calm.

Like the numerous legends through time that have been born of our desire to cope with death, these lines from McCreery often sustain me in moments of such losses:

There is no death! The stars go down
To rise upon some other shore,
And bright in heaven's jeweled crown
They shine for evermore.

If they were literally true, Salman would certainly be a bright star on some horizon. And true they are, in a sense that I subscribe to - the one that the last two lines of the poem state.

For all the boundless universe
Is Life -- there is no dead!

So, @skdev, you live!

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Thursday, August 06, 2009

Biology Experts, Please Note …

What more proof does does Dawkins need?

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Despite the best of intentions, dear Irfan …

… you've obviously hit some wrong nerves, too. Your article was forwarded to me by a friend, J W Zubery, with these positive words:
I was quite pleasantly surprised to read Irfan Husain's column this morning in Dawn. Why dont we have more like him? sanity is a rarity now. Intolerance is the order of the day. I wonder why do we always shy away from reality.. It is so rare to see someone accept the truth and speak loud and clear. We have built huge walls of umpteen taboos around us and believe that by looking in the opposite direction, reality would just disappear as if it never existed. In the midst of all the nonsense we have to hear and read, there is some freshness also ... Bravo Irfan Husain!
I passed it on - with just one "huh?" added to it - to some young people with varying degrees of interest in Gender and Sexuality Studies - a subject of great interest these days.
Life in the twilight zone
By Irfan Husain
DAWN | Saturday, 18 Jul, 2009 | 04:21 AM PST |

Just last week, the New Delhi High Court ruled that homosexuality was legal.
To mark this historic judgment, Jawed Naqvi wrote a wonderful column in this newspaper in which he gave cultural and historical references to establish that traditionally the subcontinent has been hospitable to alternate sexual preferences. It was only the hypocritical Victorian colonists who imposed laws criminalising gay sex.

Reading his article, I mused to myself that it would probably take Pakistani courts years to reach a similarly rational conclusion. How wrong I was. Now, our Supreme Court has observed that being equal citizens of Pakistan, hermaphrodites must have equal benefits and protection under Articles four and nine of the constitution.

Although the plea to constitute a commission to study the plight of these unfortunate people, many of them also grappling with issues of documentation when it comes to their identity, continues to be heard, just the fact that the three-member bench headed by the chief justice appears to be sympathetic is encouraging. I use the word ‘unfortunate’ to describe them because in Pakistan, those who publicly deviate from usual behaviour patterns do so at their own risk.

For years, hijras have existed on the fringes of society, occupying a twilight zone few of us would like to explore. Abused, ostracised and shunned, they are barely visible, caricatured and mocked by men and women alike. For no fault of their own, they have been forced into prostitution and dancing for a living, unable to get an education and become productive members of society.

The prejudice and the confusion that clouds public perceptions are evident in references to them as hermaphrodites and transvestites, as though both terms are applicable.

In actual fact, the term ‘transvestite’ refers to people who dress as members of the opposite sex, while hermaphrodites refers to people born with both sexual organs. In the latter category, the male organ is often under-developed. Hijras are almost invariably hermaphrodites.

Surely differences in appearances and sexuality should be accepted. Why are people who behave and dress differently ostracised? Surely we cannot blame them for the difference in their genetic make-up over which they have no control.

Unfortunately, over the years, Pakistan has become an increasingly monochromatic culture in which any deviation is frowned upon. In dress and outer appearance, there is growing pressure to conform. The space to explore alternate lifestyles is being relentlessly squeezed by the morality brigade in the name of faith.

While the ongoing court hearings relate to a specific community, it is high time we questioned our attitudes towards the larger picture. The same law that was struck down by the Delhi High Court is applicable in Pakistan. It continues to destroy lives decades after similar discriminatory laws were deemed unconstitutional in Britain.

Apart from the letter of the law, our hypocritical society prefers to hide any signs of differences under the carpet. Which family would wish to admit that their children were gay? And yet we all know that every social class and category, and every ethnic group has its share of gay members lurking in the closet.

But in a country where so many groups suffer from discrimination and oppression, I suppose those with different sexual orientations in our midst must bear their cross in silence. Minorities and women are generally treated as second-class citizens. In religion too, different sects deem the other as being outside the faith. So it is hardly surprising that people with a different sexual orientation should be targeted.

Appearing before the Supreme Court, two hijras described the harassment and abuse they often had to endure. The police as well as their ‘gurus’ exploited them. They had been abandoned by their parents as infants, and brought up by strangers who then forced them into prostitution and begging. Surely none of this is in accordance with the tenets of the majority faith.

It is now universally accepted that homosexuality is most often the result of genetic differences, and not a personal preference. Major studies have shown that two to three per cent of the world’s population are born homosexual. In Pakistan, this translates to roughly four to five million men and women forced to conceal their sexual orientation for fear of persecution by an intolerant society. That’s a lot of people in the twilight zone.

In more civilised countries that have finally come to accept alternate sexual preferences, those subscribing to the latter variety have joined the mainstream, and are contributing to society in many creative ways. In the arts, fashion and the media, in particular, their impact has been massive. But they are accepted in all professions, including the armed forces. In Mohammed Hanif’s wonderful novel The Case of the Exploding Mangoes, the author has described a gay relationship in Pakistan’s air force academy. While this is a work of fiction, I am sure it is a reflection of the reality at some level.

In a country beset by so many problems, it may seem odd that I have chosen to write about this issue. But a major reason why we are caught up in an unending series of crises is that we are becoming an increasingly intolerant society. Instead of seeing the threats facing us as simply physical, we need to step back and examine ourselves as we truly are. More and more, we demand conformity and reject any attempt by individuals to be themselves when their lifestyle goes against the norm, whatever that is.

Until we can learn to respect differences, even if they offend us, we will continue to be our own worst enemies.
A few initial comments have been collated here. Other comments are sure to follow and will hopefully find their way into the comments section of this post soon. My intention is not so much to get you embroiled in a debate - though you may, of course, if you wish - but to get people to discuss and debate amongst themselves, on this platform, a subject that many of us need to be enlightened about further. This is specially true in matters related to the usage of LGBTQ terms - many of which have now developed very specific meanings that are different from the way our generation used them, just as the word 'gay' has.

Newsbyte: Bindiya - an admirable hijra activist (she was the subject of my daughter Ragni's short documentary and was at T2F to discuss the problems the community faces) - has just informed me that Pakistani ID Cards now allow 3rd Gender to be written on them instead of the previous forced binary option of Male/Female. The new term, like 6th Sense being used for everything outside the 5 senses, obviously encompasses and clumps together all other genders beyond the two.

(I do hope that the discussion will not be polluted by people invoking the wrath of God at every step since it is not the Moral/Religious Righteousness (or Wrongfulness) that is under discussion here.)

The first reactions came from 3 young people for whose views I have a great respect, as they are either deeply interested in or are committed students of this and other related topics. They may not even be in agreement with each other, of course.


1. I was stuck on that sentence (Hermaphrodite vaala - Z) too. Doesn't seem very factual. Googling it now.

2. Wiki on Hijras says:
Most are physically male or intersex, but some are physically female. Hijras usually refer to themselves linguistically as female, and usually dress as women.
Most are born apparently male, but some may be intersex (with ambiguous genitalia). They are often perceived as a third sex, and most see themselves as neither men nor women. However, some may see themselves (or be seen as) females,[4] feminine males or androgynes. Some, especially those who speak English and are influenced by international discourses around sexual minorities may identify as transgender ortranssexual women. Unlike some Western transsexual women, hijras generally do not attempt to pass as women. Reportedly, few have genital modifications, although some certainly do, and some consider nirwaan ("castrated") hijras to be the "true" hijras.
This process may culminate in a religious ritual that includes emasculation (total removal of the penis, testes and scrotum in men). Not all hijras undergo emasculation, and the percentage of hijras that are eunuchs is unknown


1. I have a very severe problem with the following excerpt from this article:
It is now universally accepted that homosexuality is most often the result of genetic differences, and not a personal preference. Major studies have shown that two to three per cent of the world’s population are born homosexual.
One would like to question the author about which universe he is referring to when he refers to the 'gay gene' being a universally accepted phenomenon. He also fails to cite the 'major studies' that show that 'some' people are 'born homosexual'. For someone who takes the trouble to explain the difference between the terms 'hermaphrodite' and 'transvestite' the author fails at using the term 'homosexual' in its correct context, unless he actually believes in the 'gay gene'. I don't know which is sadder - his confusion over what homosexuality means or his belief in the gay gene. And, as always, 'homosexuality' (as you can probably tell I hate this term) in women does not enter the scope of the discussion because...well...women don't really matter.

2. This is not so shocking really, since the reason they have been 'accepted' (read: not stoned to death) in our society is that most people like to believe Heejraas are hermaphrodites, not transvestites. The former being a 'god-given' 'deformity', and the latter a matter of choice. I'm sure if you ask a Heejraa on the street whether they physically 'deformed' or just choose to cross-dress, they will go with the first explanation.


[T]he article goes from talking about hijras to talk about homosexuality. Whether someone is a hermaphrodite or a transvestite (this being a loaded and much disputed term like cross-dresser is) has nothing to do with their sexuality as the latter is a biological sex identity and the former is a gender identity.

C'mon, R&J … need your comments!

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

True or False?

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Sunday, May 17, 2009

FeelGood Product of the Year

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Ivan Illich, I Love You!

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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Medical Advice

This was sent out, initially, by email to a few doctor friends. I have been prompted to share it on my blog by Dr Zafar Mehdi who received it as a forward from someone on my mail list. He insisted that I place his name on my blog when responding to his request  "… and give me my 5 minutes of glory. I have never had the honour of being on any media." :-)

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Monday, March 23, 2009

An appeal to the Pope for Sanity and Honesty

(Pity these two qualities are lacking among religious leaders of all faiths - Z)


Dear friends,

Pope Benedict's statement last week that condoms may aggravate the AIDS epidemic could put millions of lives at risk. Sign the petition to the Pope to take care not to undermine proven AIDS prevention work!

Take Action Now!

This week, on his first visit to Africa, Pope Benedict said that "[AIDS] cannot be overcome through the distribution of condoms, which even aggravates the problems".

The Pope's statement is at odds with the research on AIDS prevention, and a setback to decades of hard work on AIDS education and awareness. With powerful moral influence over more than 1.1 billion Catholics in the world, and 22 million HIV positive Africans, these words could dramatically affect the AIDS pandemic and put millions of lives at risk.

Worldwide concern is starting to show results and a willingness by the Vatican to revise the statement - Sign our urgent petition asking the Pope to take care not to undermine proven AIDS prevention strategies:

The personal and religious beliefs of Catholics and all people should be respected, and the Pope does advocate for other effective AIDS prevention methods such as abstinence and fidelity, while the Catholic Church engages in a vast amount of social service work, including the care of those living with AIDS. But the Pope's claim that condom distribution is not an effective AIDS prevention mechanism is not supported by research. It's untrue, and if it diminishes condom use, it will be deadly.

The fact is, HIV and AIDS are prevented by condom use.

There is no easy solution to the spread of this tragic disease, but condoms and education are the best known prevention combination and have not been found to increase risky sexual behaviour. That is why even priests and nuns working in Africa have questioned the Pope's statements.

We may not be able to ask the Catholic Church to change its broader position, but we are asking the Pope to stop actively speaking out against prevention strategies that work. It's important that people of all beliefs, especially Catholics, call on the Pope to exercise care in his leadership on this issue. Sign below then spread the word to your friends and family - this petition could actually save lives:

25 million people worldwide have already died of AIDS, and 12 million children have been left without parents. If enough of us join this outcry, we will win an important battle in the struggle for a world without AIDS.

With hope,

Ricken, Alice, Ben, Graziela, Iain, Brett, Paula, Pascal, Luis, Paul, Veronique, Milena and the whole Avaaz team


ABOUT AVAAZ is an independent, not-for-profit global campaigning organization that works to ensure that the views and values of the world's people inform global decision-making. (Avaaz means "voice" in many languages.)

Avaaz receives no money from governments or corporations, and is staffed by a global team based in Ottawa, London, Rio de Janeiro, New York, Buenos Aires, and Geneva. Call us at: +1 888 922 8229 or +55 21 2509 0368 Click here to learn more about our largest campaigns. Don't forget to check out our Facebook and Myspace and Bebo pages!

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Thursday, February 12, 2009

Yayyyy. It's Darwin Day!

This blog is not to enter into the age-old controversy. It's to celebrate the birthday of one of the greatest minds that ever lived.

Happy Birthday, Charles!

One hundred and fifty years after the publication of one of the most important books in human history, the debate rages on.

The criticism or fear of something, without having even tried to understand or know about it, is hardly a POV that needs to be even considered worthy of discussion or debate. But it deserves a mention, only because it turns up often enough.

The best (and most recent) example I have come across of this stubborn and disturbing attitude - disturbing because it was voiced by someone I thought was a sensible person. This is what she said: I really haven't given too much thought to this theory, I just firmly don't believe in it!

Wow! I guess this is the kind of person Oliver Wendell Holmes (Jr.) had in mind when he wrote, "The mind of a bigot is like the pupil of the eye. The more light you shine on it, the more it will contract."

Then there's that delightful 'just-a-theory' brigade.
JUST A THEORY? According to the United States National Academy of Sciences...
Some scientific explanations are so well established that no new evidence is likely to alter them. The explanation becomes a scientific theory. In everyday language a theory means a hunch or speculation. Not so in science. In science, the word theory refers to a comprehensive explanation of an important feature of nature supported by facts gathered over time. Theories also allow scientists to make predictions about as yet unobserved phenomena.
A scientific theory is a well-substantiated explanation of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment. Such fact-supported theories are not "guesses" but reliable accounts of the real world. The theory of biological evolution is more than "just a theory." It is as factual an explanation of the universe as the atomic theory of matter or the germ theory of disease. Our understanding of gravity is still a work in progress. But the phenomenon of gravity, like evolution, is an accepted fact.
The other big issue - at least among many of the people around me - is the feeling that, since many of the atheists must believe in Evolution (after all, they have no one else to credit for Life), the whole Evolution enterprise, itself, must be an anti-God, anti-religious ideology and needs to be shunned offhand.

Hmmm. Most atheists I know also believe that the world is round, but I don't see anyone refuting that. Well, almost anyone.


Larson's excellent book, Evolution - The Remarkable History of a Scientific Theory, opens with this quote Darwin.m4a and, thus, sets the tone for what follows in this up to date and wonderfully readable work. Listenable, too: an audio-book version is now on sale at T2F. Do buy it. And if it's sold out by the time you make it there, order it from them. It's worth every penny.

But, if you are unfamiliar with the theory (10-to-1, it's not what you've heard it is!), Google Charles Darwin and get to know more about his dangerous idea!

Among those who deny Evolution, there are Creationists, in various flavors. Some believe that Earth was created 6000+ years ago, some who think that humans and dinosaurs lived concurrently and even interacted, and some who believe that fossilized bones were 'created' as is, in order to test us.

None of these clowns, however, convinced me of the flaws in Darwin's ideas as did this part of an email from someone (who, admittedly, reads a lot of Harun Yahya): The question I have is then for all Darwin's greatness and stories why has this evolution stopped all of a sudden? If it was a continuous process then that factor should not have gone away - it should have kept occuring. Then why do we see natural births and not have babies coming to us as apes or from apes ????

Damn! Damn! Damn! Why didn't I think of this? 

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Saturday, December 29, 2007

O' what a tangled web we weave ...

The conspiracy theories have only just begun.

What fans them? The general lack of credibility of all people in power is one element ... but it certainly helps when, in what looks to many as an effort to clear one's tracks, representatives of those in power make one statement, modify it, make yet another that contradicts the first ... and go on doing this ad nauseum. If you add to that, in the specific case of Ms Bhutto's killing, washing away all signs of forensic evidence (in much the same manner as the Lal Masjid evidence was destroyed, as General Durrani pointed out on a TV program today), people actually begin to wonder ....

Why don't they ever learn that Truth is best is beyond me. Maybe one needs to be a liar - or, at the very least, an actor - in order to become a spokesperson for all governments. But, surely, they can afford some seasoned ones, like Corporations do.

That who killed BB will never be known (with so many people gunning for her, as I had indicated in my modified MAD cover that now seems sadly ominous) was something I was prepared to accept - having been brought up on unsolved assassinations, from Pakistan's first PM Liaquat's to American President JFK's. But that we won't know what killed her has come as a bit of a shock, thanks to the government's bungling of everything.

Soon after the occurrence of what Air Marsall Asghar Khan rightly called the most dangerous event in Pakistan's history, we were informed that BB had received 2 wounds in her head and 1 in her neck from an assassin's bullets, shortly after a blast - which some referred to as a diversionary tactic - claimed several other lives in this great tragedy.

One can understand that the first reports are never absolutely accurate, since statements are given by people who are confused and in shock at the time. Slowly, though, clearer pictures begins to emerge. So I waited until the DAWN, in cold print, gave us the official Government version:
RAWALPINDI, Dec 27: An assassin’s bullet killed Benazir Bhutto on Thursday in what the government described as a gun-and-bomb suicide attack immediately after the former prime minister had addressed an election rally of her Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) at Rawalpindi’s Liaquat Bagh park.
Also, in the same paper was a report that described how the hospital had dealt with the emergency.
A REPORT sent by the Rawalpindi General Hospital to the Health Department of the Punjab provincial government said all efforts by its doctors to revive Ms Bhutto failed and she was declared dead exactly 41 minutes after she was brought at its emergency department at 5.35pm with open wounds on her left temporal bone from which “brain matter was exuding”.

It said the PPP leader was not breathing at the time and her pulse and blood pressure “were not recordable”.

The report said “immediate resuscitation (process) was started” and she was taken to the operation theatre where the same was done by a team of doctors headed by Prof Musaddiq Khan, principal of the Rawalpindi Medical College.

“Left antrolateral thoracotomy for open cardiac massage was performed,” it said and added: “In spite of all the possible measures she could not be revived and (was) declared dead at 1816 (6.16pm) hours.”

The report said a post-mortem examination of Ms Bhutto’s body was not carried out at the hospital “because the district administration and police had not requested the hospital authorities (for this)”.
So, after more than a day of assimilating this, dispelling feelings of disbelief, and coming to terms with the horrible reality, for many people around the world (including international TV newsreaders who found it difficult to hide their incredulity) Brig. Cheema's revelations came as a total surprise, just as did Dr. Musaddiq's earlier press conference changing his own story. (I am not sure if surgeons hold such press conferences, unless "requested" to do so by the authorities).

With a straight face - and after labouring repeatedly over the fact that the government had provide Ms Bhutto with the best security possible - the obviously not-too-straight Cheema sahab informed us that BB had not been felled by a bullet, nor been hit by a pellet or piece of shrapnel. She had, he alleged, died while trying to duck back into her vehicle from the sunroof through which she had stood up and waved to the crowd, hitting her head against a lever in the process. This injury had caused a fracture that precipitated in her death. He then proceeded to show us a video of BB - courting danger, without doubt - and the sounds of the 3 gunshots and BB disappearing down the opening. Of course, the actual moment of her hitting her head on the lever was not captured on video, but that's a minor detail for him, I guess. Like much else in this pre-fab construction of the fable.

The spokesperson underscored the new theory by waving printouts of X-ray images clearly indicating the absence of any objects (bullets, pellets, ettc.) that could have caused such damage and distributed the images to all present, as if the journalists would have been instantly able to verify anything by looking at them, much less that they were, indeed, those of BB's head. And when were the X-rays taken, I wonder. Certainly not as she was brought in ... they had to start on saving her life right away ... and certainly not after she passed away, which would have been quite pointless.

Also, there were a couple of minor problems which could, in all fairness, be results of genuine misunderstandings: (1) Dawn's Update quotes him as saying, “The lever struck near her right ear and fractured her skull ...” , while the earlier medical report talks about injuries on the left side, and (2) He stated that the family had requested that no post-mortem be performed, while yesterday's press information indicated that it was not performed because the police had not requested it.

One amazing aspect of the conference was his insistence to call the tragedy an Al Qaeda engineered 'assassination'. Hello?!?!? This is no time for being facetious, but I do wonder that - with no bullet or bomb piece involved - what assassination are we talking about? Did Al Qaeda plant the lever?

Someone suggested to me, when I brought this up, that 'the explosion startled her and caused her to move in a way that led to the accident that, in turn, led to her death'. Hmmm. I wonder if a court of law would establish through this Rube Goldbergian route that the guy who caused the explosion was her 'murderer'. I mean I can understand that he could be caught for disturbing the peace, malafide intent, vaghaerah vaghaerah, but for her murder? I doubt it. I recall a cricket match in which a spectator died of a heart attack when our delightful Merry Max (whom some of the older Urdu-reading ones among you may also recall as the character, Maqsood Gho∂a, of Shafiqur Rahman's humourous books) was bowled out at 99! By this stupid reasoning Max - or even the Indian bowler - could have been charged with a crime!

But Monsieur Cheema was not done yet. He then decided to offer proof of Al Qaeda's role in the 'killing' by reading us the translation of a Pushto transcript of a conversation between a Maulvi and Baitullah Mahsood (of the Al Qaeda) that our intelligence agencies had taped. Listen to it carefully when you watch the video of Cheema sahab's conference - as soon as it finds its inevitable way to YouTube. I am unconvinced ... and my skepticism is based on the following observations:
1. Neither party mentions who has been killed.
2. They seem to be surprisingly unexcited about having assassinated someone who, to them, must certainly be a major victim.
3. Baitullah Mahsood, who
must know that his calls get tracked at times, provides information about who he is staying with, risking being caught.
4. The references to a killing in that call could be to any of the several that Al Qaeda are supposed to be engaged in. Even if the call can be proved to have taken place on the same day as BB's killing, there is no reason to believe that it was to her that they were referring. After all, there'd been another attack the same day.
5. The transcript of the Mahsood tape that's been handed over in English and is now on many websites has a phrase about "killing her". The actual video recording says "killing him" ... but Cheema has 'explained' in the conference that that was a mistake the caller made because Pathans get confused when speaking about gender. Yes, they do: in Urdu! But these two were speaking in their mother tongue, Pushtu, so there should be no confusion.

Since I could only assume that all these arguments presented by Brig. Cheema - especially those that dealt with the medical examination and reports - were full of more holes than a lawn-sprinkler, I decided to ask a neighbour, my friend Dr. Shamim. Over to him!

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Of interests to Diabetics during the Holiday [and, in Pakistan, also the Wedding] Season!

Dr. Barnett offers the following tips to help people with diabetes enjoy a healthful holiday season:

1. Follow a regular exercise routine to help regulate metabolism. Don't have an hour to spare? Try 10– or 15– minute brisk walks at intervals throughout the day – they all add up. Remember, after a holiday meal, to wait 60 to 90 minutes before taking your walk.

2. Eat something at home before you go to the event or party. When you're hungry, you tend to overeat and are likely to choose foods that are less healthy. Grab a piece of fruit on the way out to the party to tide you over.

3. Enjoy those special holiday foods in moderation. Pass on the everyday foods like crackers and dip. Instead, take small portions of special holiday items. A small portion is less likely to upset blood sugar levels.

4. At parties and other social events, gravitate toward the veggies and fresh fruit.

5. Make water or diet sodas your beverages of choice. If you do choose to drink alcohol, be sure to have something to eat along with it.

6. Remember to monitor your blood glucose level, and be sure you don't skip meals.

7. Take extra care to be certain that your meals are nutritious, varied and balanced. If you do have a treat, make sure you substitute it for an equivalent item in your regular menu.

8. Be positive. Remember that you control your diabetes; it doesn't control you.

An estimated one–third of those affected by diabetes go undiagnosed for several years. Symptoms of diabetes include extreme thirst, frequent urination and blurry vision from time to time. Early symptoms of the disease include unexplained weight loss or weight gain, as well as fatigue.

And bookmark this site ... it is worth referring to, frequently.

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Diabetics have one track minds!

"Say something soft and sweet to me, Jughead", she said.
He leaned forward and whispered in her ear, "Marshmallows!"

Even in in a family with a hereditary (on both sides) love for sugar, my passion for it bordered on a level that, in any other case, could have put me in trouble with the Law.

And then I married Nuzhat, who, along with her brothers, also shared my psychological disorder of never being able to pass the sideboard or the tea-trolley without grabbing and gulping down a spoonful of sugar. In fact, my mother-in-law used to say that she'd given birth to ants!

I recall Eeds where 3 different types of Sivayyaañ were cooked in our house. One for visitors, who found the sweetness of our regular dish difficult to handle; one for my mother, my wife, and anyone feeling adventurous; and one for me (and for my father, when he was alive) - The Chaogünee - in which the ratio of Sugar to Vermicelli was 4:1 ... honest!

I also admit to having been guilty (in my pre-Type II days) of secretly sprinkling sugar on my portions of desserts served at friends' houses. Or, inadvertently, shocking them, as I did at my sis-in-law's house, by drinking the left-over sheera from the pot that the gulaab-jaamans had been served in.

So to end up with Diabetes (Puhleez! Excessive sugar does NOT cause Diabetes! That's one of the most common misunderstandings!!!) has been a terrible personal tragedy. Or was, in the beginning. Fortunately(?) there are enough diabetics to target as a market segment. And, thus, as one of the benefits of Capitalism, we have a host of Sugar-Free products.

But here's the most important part: The best of these come from someone who started producing the stuff, or introduced this as a line, because s/he was a diabetic and missed the erotic delights of good sweets. Everyone else delivers a bland piece of excreta with no sugar (or, more frequently, with really bad sugar substitutes). No one else can even begin to understand our need.
BTW, the idiots in a restaurant off ZamZama - I forget the name; it's a first-floor coffee shop - have no idea of the serious risk they are putting diabetics through: I asked the waiter which sugar substitute they use in the drinks they advertised as sugar-free and was informed that they "use regular sugar but do not charge for the sugar in these drinks." I swear this is true ... I have a witness!
Just in case some of you are still unaware, sugar substitutes come in two different versions. Most types cannot be used for cooking (the heat breaks them down into something that is vile-tasting and could be bad for health, too. Who knows ...). Make sure you choose the ones that clearly state that they are meant for cooking and baking.

Here are some of my favourite sugar-free thingies: Ice Creams, Banana Splits, and Milk Shakes at Gelatto Affair (be sure to try their Coffee Milk Shake with sugar-free Chocolate ice cream); Ice creams at Snoopy may also work, depending upon your taste or wallet state. BTW, Gelatto Affair is in Karachi, Lahore & Islamabad. And, of course, Chill-Out in Lahore deserves prominent mention: Their Sugar-Free Mocha and Butter Walnut are out of this world! The Delite Diet Ice-Cream tubs can, as a last resort, be used. Hico has a Vanilla that's useful for topping up other delights and mixing with mangoes.
Speaking of mangoes, they are poison for diabetics, I know. I changed my first diabetician almost immediately, because she suggested that I could have "half a mango at mealtime. " --- HALF????? I mean why bother? You either don't eat mangoes or you eat them. Them. Plural! She also said to me that for each year I skipped mangoes, I'd live two more years. Two more years without mangoes? What a daft idea! And sinful, too! Mangoes, Music, and Macs are the closest things I have to religion, really. In fact, my vision of Heaven has always been of London lined with mango trees.
Desserts (also off ZamZama) and a couple of other bakeries offer reasonable cheesecakes for diabetics. Pester them often and they'll soon add other items.

More stuff is beginning to show up on shelves at supermarkets. Some of the cookies and biscuits are really good, but you'll need to explore. Chocolates: I shall leave that to your judgement, entirely. If you are travelling, buy them abroad. The ones you get here are usually stale, frozen-defrosted-refrozen, or unknown brands that are too expensive to experiment with. And, please, if you wish to give some diabetic a gift of love, do not get Dark or Bitter Chocolates (with or without sugar): The poor soul is missing the sweetness, most of all.

As for sugar-free mithaaee, Nirala's Barfee is great and, if you are in Lahore, their Laddoos are wonderful, too. Karachiites are deprived of the latter treat for 'technical' reasons, I was told. But their gulaab-jaamans are simply unbelievable ... and better, really better, than the standard fare. Most of my non-diabetic friends prefer them. Even those not conscious of their expanding waist-lines.

There's a little corner shop on Burns Road in Karachi - next to the famous Kabab eatery recognizable by its overwhelming green colour - that sells superb sugar-free rab∂ee to which I usually add a teeny bit of milk (sweetened ;-) with sugar substitute). The milk makes it easy to have the sweetness penetrate all of the contents of a large bowl of rab∂ee. Yes! In matters of desserts, size counts.

Finally, if you are diabetic and really, really have a sweet-tooth, maybe you can drop in this Eed and taste a bit of the stunning stuff that Nuzhat still whips up for me with Splenda, including the most splendid kheer this side of the Gomti.
Additional note in response to some comments: MedicineNet's Diabetes Section is among the best sources of info on the subject. I would strongly suggest using the xml/rss feed option to make sure you are kept updated.

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Sunday, July 02, 2006

Take a deep breath! Block your nose and mouth. Exhale!

Damn! Now there are 3 people in my life wanting me to lay my trust in Breathing as a way to cure all diseases. The Video-CD that I have been made to watch guarantees Total Cure, for everything from Cancer to Hemorhoids. What does a Guarantee mean here? Total Cure or your disease back?

I haven't seen all the videos yet, so can't tell you if Hemorrhoid treatment will require breathing from the usual end or not.

One thing's sure: Maharaj Thandagaram, who is conducting the training on the Video, suffers from Lingual Rectitis - a not-so-rare condition among such gurus - which is caused by the sphincter and jaw muscles becoming entangled and resulting in the patient talking shit!

To be fair, he is much respected in circles that respect him, since his earlier book, pictured below, received the prestigious Deepak Chootia Award.

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Sunday, May 21, 2006

A gift idea!

"It goes to the heart of who we are and where we came from. Our human ancestors were still interbreeding with their chimp cousins long after first splitting from the chimpanzee lineage, a genetic study suggests."

The whole story, featured in the May 17th edition of The New Scientist, is one of many that this amazing magazine offers each week. No time to read? Here's a sample podcast from The New Scientist. Put it onto your iPod!

I have yet to come across a single issue that hasn't held me glued ... and, lest you think it's for oldies or science-buffs and geeks, my copies are constantly in demand by absolute non-science types who are less than half my age!!! Of course, you have to be Bright, Aware, and Inquisitive. So, be warned: You may be at a disadvantage if you've been through formal education which has taken the sheen off all these qualities you were born with. (To be fair, I've known even some of those to enjoy the magazine.)

So, why am I plugging the magazine? Well, it's part of my life-long passion to unzip minds. And I really think some parents should consider a year-long subscription as a gift for their kids on graduating. (They just lose those frigging expensive pens you buy them, anyway!)

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Thursday, May 04, 2006

And he's not even a Syed!

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

An Earth-Shaking Tale

This happened almost 6 weeks ago ...

A doctor friend approached me for advice on an ethical problem he was facing: A middle-aged widow, a long-time patient of his, wanted an abortion to be performed on her young, un-married daughter. In Pakistan, as in many countries, this is illegal — although the laws, despite being vague, are not as harsh as many even within Pakistan imagine due to the lack of awareness.
Note: The difficulty of spreading awareness about any matter connected with sex, without being accused of promoting promiscuity and immorality, is another widespread problem and has been a deterrent in running effective campaigns about birth control or AIDS.
Abortion is an even more difficult decision for a practising Muslim, since it is also considered sinful, as in many parts of the Christian world.

Add to this the ghastly fact in Pakistan that, if discovered, the girl would be deemed guilty of an act punishable by 100 lashes of the whip under Pakistan's controversial Hudood Ordinances.

The decision had to be taken quickly. While within the safe zone at the time, the girl was fast nearing the cut-off date, after which an abortion would be almost certain to result in complications beyond control.

The doctor, moved by the story the woman had told him, was willing to help on humanitarian grounds, despite the 'illegality'. What was bothering him, and holding him back, was the aspect of Sin. He needed to understand what Islam really said about this. Given that he is well aware of my views on such matters, I found it odd that he should have come to me for this aspect of support, but promised him that, after hearing the full case, I would give him my personal views on what I think Islam expects in such cases. But I did clarify a few things at the outset:

One: I strongly support all moves to make Abortion legal, if the reasons are sensible and valid (in the minds of the parties directly involved and/or the doctors).

: A woman's body is not a field to be used to fight political battles! I believe that the only person with an undeniable right to make the decision, unless incapacitated, is the woman who wants to have the abortion.

: Qür'anic verse[s] that are generally mis-used to oppose Abortion (and Birth-Control) do not support such a conclusion and refer to an entirely different context. I am of the opinion that Islam permits abortion under all reasonable circumstances. This view corresponds with that of many scholars of Islam. I am, of course, cognizant of the fact that certain scholars are extremely rigid about the opposite view and consider it haraam (forbidden).

: After years of reading, I have concluded that Muslims, are required - by their own Faith - to use ONLY the Qür'an in such matters. The Book describes itself, and no other source, as Al-Fürqaan (a word that means 'The Criterion' ... to be used to differentiate good from evil).

Five: My views on many subjects (such as Euthanasia) very often fall well outside those of the mainstream, as a result of not being burdened by any religious or sectarian thought.

(The last makes it possible for many to pre-judge all my views as being immoral or, at least , a-moral - although I consider myself to be a strongly moral person and try as hard as I can to live by my principles. Admittedly, I frequently fail.)

This is the story I was told.

The widow also has a daughter who lives happily with her husband and children outside Pakistan. On a recent visit her son-in-law stayed at her house for a few days and, finding an opportunity, raped the younger daughter (his sister-in-law). Having done so, he feigned an urgent call from his overseas employers the next day and left immediately. The girl, understandably, hid this from her mother for a couple of weeks and then, unable to bear it any more, broke down and narrated everything.

The poor Mother was torn by anguish and confusion. If she accused the son-in-law, what would it do? While it is easy to say, as advisors often do, that reports must always be filed (making it possible for the criminal to be traced and punished) if we are to rid our societies of such crime, other considerations must have intervened: The almost-definite resultant divorce of the other daughter and her ensuing misery; her two grandchildren being brought up motherless (should the court decision grant the husband the rights for whatever reason); the stories the young ones would be told as they grew up ...

The widow decided to advise her daughter to remain quiet and live with this burden ... after all, the world was a rotten place and such tragedies happened everywhere. Soon, all this would be a sad but distant memory. Time, of course, was the healer of all wounds.

But, some wounds fester with time! Life rarely conforms to a Script. And Happy Endings are not even expected of Hollywood anymore.

A few weeks later, the girl informed her mother that she was probably pregnant. Medical tests confirmed this. If things were now brought to the fore, a new set of problems would present themselves: The possible counter-accusation by the culprit, that the young girl had had an affair and was covering up the real cause of her pregnancy by blaming the brother-in-law and hoping the family would be forced to resolve this internally; the rapist's very likely claim that the young girl had always tried to seduce him and was now getting back ... The variations and possibilities were endless. And the threat of the Hudood Ordinances even more real.

The only solution I could think of: Abortion! So, I suggested that my friend consult, for greater peace of mind, the views of a few religious scholars of his own sect or preferred school of jurisprudence, but also that he never lose sight of Bertrand Russell's advice: Remember your Humanity and forget the rest.

I also advised my friend to get a gynae, one he knew well, to perform the deed. After all, as far as I was concerned, alternatives simply did not exist. All I could see in the girl's future was death, either by judicial edict or suicide. No God, I said, trying to convince him within his frame of reference, could be unhappy with him for lessening the misery of another one of His creations.

He spoke to a gynae. A staunch Muslim herself,she thought that the deed, under the circumstances, would be considered a kaaré savaab (an act worthy of the Lord's Grace). She agreed to perform the act as long as he (a surgeon) also remained in the room, thus ensuring that they were 'partners in crime'.

With the date set, my friend still decided to talk to various religious people, ranging from the garden variety of mulla to an aalim. The responses he received, shocked him. Despite the differences between what they profess on most issues, and the fact that many even consider the others to be outside the world of Islam, they all agreed that Abortion was not acceptable and was, in fact a grave sin. Even in a case involving rape!

I was less shocked than he, having known that many hold this position. The most prominent among these being Maudoodi, the founder of the Jama'até Islami.

What hit my friend hardest was that the youngest of the mullas held the most disgusting of views that even infants got raped "as part of God's greater plan. And who are we to interfere with that?" ...

(I wonder if, under this line of reasoning, all forms of medical treatment become questionable. Aren't other crimes and problems, then, also part of the same plan and should be left unchecked or unsolved? It was just this kind of ridiculousness, propagated by the Church, that led Galileo to say that he found it difficult to accept a Creator who would give humans a brain and forbid them to use it!)

The following week the ground shook beneath our feet as the Earth vomited at the thought of such people trampling upon her bosom.

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Friday, October 21, 2005

Heading Home Healthy

The medical tests are over. The results are in. Thanks to the giant strides made in the world of medical sciences, we now know, without an iota of doubt, that I have been unwell! Honest; that is the unanimous verdict!!!

OK. So this is what happened: I stopped taking my daily dose of Dapsone and gorged myself on gluten-rich food. The dermatologist had expected me to break out in a rash, within 3-4 days, either confirming the earlier Dermatitis Herpetoformis diagnosis or, through yet another biopsy, delving deeper into understanding the mysterious revolution raging in my innards. A fortnight later, things are still fine. My body has not turned into what, until only a month ago, had looked like something Pixar could use for modelling the terrain in its animated version of Verne's From the Earth to the Moon.

In the Dermatologist's opinion, "Whatever it was, has gone away."

Barring the nagging fear that the ailment could have Vesuvian tendencies or, worse still, that The Creatures from Under the Skin may be lying in wait, like Saqi's Tadpoles (for those not familiar with the poem this refers to, I am reproducing it at the end of this post), I couldn't be happier. Bundu Khan, the family's favourite Karachi spot for Seekh Kabab and Paraatha has been denied me for too long. And I can also indulge in the occasional sheermaal from Burns Road (named after the Scottish poet and not for the effect its Nihaari has on one's sitting end).

So, with mixed feelings, I am heading home today. The joy of being with Nuzhat, and others close to me, as well as being surrounded by my books and music, cannot be denied. But the sadness of leaving behind unbelievably warm friends and relations - and hosts, about whom I could only write with justice if I had TT's way with words - is overwhelming. It's almost like 1947 all over again.

Kal ajab see voh gha∂ee thee … phir rahaa tha dar bah dar;
Aaj ajab saa yeh samaañ hae, jaa rahaa hooñ ghar se ghar

If visa restrictions went away, and travel between the two countries became possible with the same ease one encounters when traversing the 'soft borders' within Europe, making it possible to spend most weekends here by driving down from across the border, I might even be tempted to take the plunge into my version of a life of hell: Living in Lahore and Driving.

By the way, the return airfare, for the 2-hour journey between Karachi & Delhi, is a ridiculously high Rs. 21,000 … which is 70% of the return airfare between Karachi & London! Can anyone explain the logic behind this to me?

On to the poem I promised.
Sher Imdad Ali's Tadpole

there was
in that murky dim pond
such an air
on the half-blossomed lotus
that it filled his eyes
with rainbow colours

then of course
there was
the inviting, seductive water

giving in to its magical pull
throwing off his clothes
he plunged into the stagnant water

got entangled in weeds.

millions of tadpoles
like soft raw headed foetuses
rushed in all directions
frightened by the clamour
of shark waves

Sher Imdad Ali
was in the water
up to his chin
the lotus of his desire
still far away

lightning flashed
and a tadpole
with the speed of a deflating balloon
slipping out of someone's hand
like the dagger tongue of a lizard
whizzed into the tunnel
of his gaping mouth

days passed
seasons changed
years went by

a voice keeps hounding him

dozens of doctors surgeons
X-rays were to no avail
he changed homes cities countries
all without relief
in his blood
the same voice
ripples and tosses

Sher Imdad Ali
his stolen property
taken from the water
hides in his house in fear

the water lurks
and in it
like yellow pipal leaves
yellow frogs
angry bastards
lie in wait
This is Mahmood Jamal's English translation, taken from his published selection: The Penguin Book of Modern Urdu Poetry.

This plug is as much to interest you in our poetry, through this fairly representative volume, as it is to prevent Penguin, or the author, from screaming "copyright infringement".

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Saturday, October 15, 2005

Yet Another Health Update

Since my arrival in Delhi, I have seen several specialists — an Endocrinologist, a Dermatologist, and a Gastroenterologist — and have undergone a variety of tests, including a biopsy, and a procedure at Apollo Hospital's Department of Nuclear Medicine, which proved entertaining and educational.

The entertainment bit: The B.Sc. in Nuclear Medicine, who was administering the procedure, had a rather lilting accent. Out of curiosity I asked him where he came from? "Bhitri", he said. Having heard this name so frequently from my Maamooñ (I recall Kodarma as the only place mentioned more often) this led to a general conversation while I waited for a capsule to dissolve inside me. After 10 minutes he said he was puzzled as to why I had been educated in India, because my medical form showed my address as Pakistan. I told him that I had not studied here, or anywhere else, at all. He then asked where I had learnt to speak Hindi so fluently. Not wanting to get into a Hindi-Urdu discourse, I said, "In Pakistan." He then had me in stiches (wrong phrase for someone visiting a hospital, I realize) when he asked why Hindi was taught in Pakistan. I have left him with this information to use as he will: It's the most popular foreign language taught in the jehaadi madrassahs.

OK. Back to the update. A few results have arrived and have indicated nothing of much concern, except for a really bad stomach condition, discovered during my endoscopy, called H. pylori. This year's Nobel Prize in Medicine was awarded to its discoverers on the day I arrived here! Synchronicity or Coincidence? Anyway, if Tarun Tejpal wins the Nobel Prize someday, I can claim some equivalence (don't you just hate it when your friends are so much better than you?), by at least having had a Nobel Prizeworthy disease.

Sorry for this bit of Kathaakaari. I'll stick to the facts from now. Tests also revealed a slight thyroid problem that, subsequent tests have indicated, was a passing aberration. Treatment for the H. pylori, via a strong dosage of antibiotics, ended today and I will now be checked for its effectiveness. The diabetes is well under control. A biopsy report, on scrapings taken from my intestine, will come in next week and will govern the treatment and the duration of any further stay here or the need for a later return.

As for my earlier-diagnosed 'Gluten intolerace', the condition seems to have subsided and no fresh lesions seem to have appeared since my arrival. Under medical observation, I was asked to discontinue Dapsone and eat a variety of 'normal' foods to see what I specifically react to. I was to rush for a skin biopsy as soon as the expected lesions erupted, so that the daanaaé raaz would reveal their secrets. I was provided with strong anti-histamines to take immediately after the biopsy and, at that point, also to restart Dapsone. I lived in fear every day, keeping both medicines in my wallet (once the repository of better things). I scoured my body - on one occasion, I even did so with a magnifying glass - for the tiniest of spots to appear. Images of my earlier condition haunted me in my sleep.

I had no idea how much, more that the taste of breads, I was missing the feel and texture of all things wheat. Fondling the phulkaas each morning was a turn-on. Stroking paraathaas could have been even more so, but the local name, praañthaas , proved counterproductive for the libido. However, buttered buns, in the mornings, were pure ecstasy. Geetan peeked slyly out of her bedroom one Sunday morning — after hearing me going "Mmmnmhmm ..." at my early-dawn breakfast in the adjoining dining room — probably suspecting I was having it out with their maid. Even their generally friendly but very pschycotic dog, Astro, got off his first syllable to run in and confront me with a quizzical growl. Note: In the interest of preventing scandals in this house I have stopped bringing buns back home ... and, honest, TT, that maid's attempted suicide the following day (true, dear readers — I am not making this up!) had nothing to do with me.

So far, after a whole week of sinful "Gluteny", no signs have appeared. A Kermitian "yayyyyyyyyy" would be an excusable interjection at this point, na?

Hopefully the problem has disappeared and not just temporarily abated. Of course, it is possible that, with so many lesions in a variety of shapes sizes and colours, the 'real' problem could easily have been masked and I was/am not gluten intolerant; or was merely having a terrible, but temporary, reaction to drugs, creams, and lotions. Even to Gluten. If that was the case, I will forever regret not having gorged myself on the variety of breads, with their mind-tingling smells, during our recent South of France vaction.

Over the next week, more things than just the skin will, hopefully, be clearer — and I will be back home again, soon. (Too soon?) … The time spent in Delhi, between tests, has been truly awesome and would have been even better, but for the depression of the recent earthquake weighing heavily.

What more could I have asked for, than devouring real Dossas, Idlis and Uthapams with old seafaring friends Vipin and Mukta; being pampered by Geetan; exchanging views on books and life (generally spelt s-e-x) with Tarun; sharing family gossip over Barista's amazing coffee with workaholic niece, Sahar; 'talking tech' with Arun; discussing and listening to music with Shubha and Aneesh; and dining out with childhood friend Salma and her family. Oh, I finally managed to take a moment off and call up Rinku, to apologize for not being able to find time to get together. Discovered that she lives just a few houses away, in Soami Nagar. Will probably go out for a late night walk in the park with her and plan something interesting (I hope Shamim doesn't have to be paid royalty on the use of this word!) during our partially overlapping stay in Lahore next month.

Of course, Delhi has so much to offer on the cultural spectrum that I could live here forever and more. This is something that, for years, I had only felt about London — the city that, IMHO, only needed to add mango-tree lined avenues to rival Paradise. Today, I'd choose Delhi without batting an eyelid. Have attended an evening of Susmit Bose, India's Bob Dylan - with a passing resemblance to Pete Seeger: with a combo like that how can an activist singer not succeed! The event was arranged (and FREE for the public, as most such things are here) by Shabana Azmi, on the release of Susmit's new CD: Public Issues. Yes, Ragni, I have got you a signed copy!

The event took place at the buzzing-with-life Habitat Centre, where I might even be able to attend Yaadoñ Ke Baaraat - a celebration, through readings and music, of Josh Malihabadi's prose and poetry, unless I leave for Karachi before the 20th. But I will try to see Birju Maharaj perform at Puraana Qila, today. What I really wish I could stay back for - but Nuzhat will kill me if I do - is a Daastan-Goee session on the 23rd. Where else but in Dilli could one expect that?

And, at long last, today I will get to see "TV Doccy", niece-friend Nazli, the bubbling, running-madly-in-all-directions, wonder-woman who made this therapeutic trip possible by arranging my medical appointments with the best doctors, and constantly following up on them, despite - for a few days - being admitted to hospital herself.

Final results of the biopsy and other Hitchcockian reports arrive on Monday. Will update.

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Monday, August 08, 2005

An updated Health Bulletin

As some of you know, around a month after my prostate surgery, I started suffering from some form of rash. Dermatologists and doctors continued to treat me with what (even they admitted later) were sheer guesstimates. Had they confessed their inability to diagnose matters, I may have been able to proceed to India or the West (the sum total spent on wrong medication and also lost by not working would probably be a similar amount - with much less strain).

The rash took various shapes and sizes and spread rapidly to the entire body, with itching and irritation that are impossible to describe. I would not wish them on anyone, even extremists of the ilk of Bush and Osama (who, for someone brought up on Indian movie plots, could well seem to be twins separated at birth). The lack of sleep that resulted almost drove me insane (though many would say that that condition existed prior to this ailment). A dermatologist abroad who was sent pictures of parts of my body sent me a one-word reply: Horrid! It was not accompanied by any suggestions on the medication.

I was sent in for yet another biopsy (with the accompanying unbearable suspense for my family and friends). It took the Aga Khan Lab almost 2 weeks to get back with a diagnosis that, according to the tribe of doctors I was seeing, meant nothing. It just stated: Drug Induced Intolerance. Most doctors then started looking at medication received from pre-surgery to that point in time and said none of the medicines used seemed to offer specific reasons to suspect it. One doctor did categorically suspect Amaryl2, a medicine used to control blood-sugar levels during surgery, since I am slightly diabetic (although not insulin dependent). No one else agreed. And certainly not the doctor who had prescribed it.

To give you an idea of how confusing second opinions can be, the prescribing doctor had used this on several patients and never experienced this, while the suspecting doctor said it looked like a classic case of Amaryl2 reaction!!!

The condition got to the point where 24/7 itching and subsequent lack of sleep threw my blood-sugar levels out of control and placed even greater stress (even worse for diabetes and skin conditions). Friends and family kept advising me to see other doctors (including a quack homeopath, a phrase which may sound redundant to those who do not believe in this form of therapy). No one provided even the slightest clue. And, to be honest, the homeopath did not even look half-intelligent. He listened to my tale of woe intermittently, between conversations that were already alternating between a friend on the phone and a mafiosi looking character who had dropped in and walked into his consultation room while he was supposedly examining me. He then phoned up another friend, since he could not remember what the name of the medicine he was to give me was. Risky, na?

A friend and well-known dermatologist (who had been the first to see me and been unable to get to the root of the problem) returned from a trip abroad and called to see me again. At her clinic she showed me - on her laptop screen - a series of pictures that resembled very strongly the condition my skin was in. She had found a CD-ROM of skin rash images and, through this wonder of ICT, diagnosed me as having developed (although no reason for the development has yet surfaced) a condition known as dermatitis herpetotoformis (which means: not herpes but something that only looks similar!) which had made me "gluten intolerant". This, despite the fact that a test (known as G6PD) had eliminated this possibility, perhaps due to the readings being inaccurate as a result of the variety of medicines taken earlier.

I was then put on a single tablet of Dapsone per day (along with various creams primarily to soothe the skin and a couple of antihistamines to reduce itching) and voila! The tablet has proved to be remarkable. In less than a week one could see/feel the improvement, and now, 2 weeks later, while the condition needs improvement in certain areas (particularly the shin) the body is all but entirely clear of marks, lesions, scabs. The fear of not knowing precisely what is wrong or what caused it - accompanied by a dread of relapse - persists.

Until this happened to me, like many others I have spoken to since since, I was unaware of gluten intolerance. Now I have learnt (Thank you, Google!) that this is a condition that can remain for an extended period in some, even life-long in others, and be short-lived in many if brought on as a reaction to drugs. I hope I am in the latter group, since the ailment all but stops you from eating most things you'd like to eat or drink (all forms of bread, for example; and wine. If Khayyam had suffered from this, he'd only have been left with 'Thou' ). Of the few things it does permit, I am already marked as unfit for most due to my diabetic condition. If I were a strong believer, I'd have accepted this as divine retribution for some innoccuous, harmless act, like fantasizing about Angelina Jolie. But, if that were true, half of the world's population would be suffering from this condition.

While, in the West much gluten-free stuff (including breads) and sugar-free everything is available at health stores and larger supermarkets, our countries do not provide such easy access (except for the 'sugar-free sugar' I saw advertised in a Lahore daily). The very dear Jehan Ara came to the rescue, as she always does!!! She found a few items in one of the exclusive shops in Karachi, and - though expensive - they have alleviated some of the tension associated with the terribly bland and limited meals I have had to put up with in the past two weeks. Although I must confess that the cookies she brought feel and taste like high-quality cardboard.

One of the purposes of making you read all this is to be aware of this phenomenon. In the past week I have discovered 4 people among my friends or their families, who have had this condition. And two of the 4 had it a month after surgery! Both surgeries were performed abroad, in Canada and the USA. And one was for hernia, while the other was for something much minor. Rather worrying!!! Are some of us, because of our dietary habits (or bad hospital conditions - a problem that is spread worldwide) getting more susceptible to this? Only time and research will tell. One of the 4, incidentally, has had it from birth (she is 31 now) and lives in the UK where she does have access to food but has not been able to get rid of the condition. And, I believe, she was only diagnosed after years.

As for me, I am off to France for a week on a holiday, invited by someone I respect greatly and feel close ties to: Ambassador Madanjeet Singh. Also, from Nice, I hope to be able to come back with a few gluten-free edibles (notice how my mind keeps going back to food?). And, sitting by the sea, will improve my eyesight (the nude beach is a fair distance away!)

On my return I intend to travel to Delhi, where the dermatology institute is considered excellent, and see if certain tests (unavailable in Pakistan) can provide some clues and long-term help. While seemingly on the road to recovery, there are reasons for me to suspect that a few of the lesions, which look different from the rest, could provide nastier surprises in the long run. I am keeping my fingers crescented (keeping them crossed seems risky in these days of the Mullah Military Alliance in Pakistan, since it would be considered as emulating the beliefs of Crosstianity). I am wondering, too, if an experiment with Ayurvedic medicine could provide help. Any opinions on this will be welcome.

The trip to India will be cheaper by far than trying to do this in the West, and the stay a lot easier - many friends there have volunteered to put me up. I can survive on Idli and Dossa, too :~) ... If the stay has to be long, I hope to be able to spend the free time in furthering regional ties through interaction with school or college children or by writing in the popular press (read Tehelka!).

For those of you who are inquisitive or wish to know for any other reason (provided you are not too squeamish) I can email a picture or two of what I was going through. I have not put them on my blog for aesthetic reasons.

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