Saturday, December 31, 2005

happy new year 2006

Another year
will roll by in few hours.
as the twilight of this year sets in
a mix of happenings, incidents and experiences
drive the message forward
that reinforces my beliefs, attitudes
shaped over last few years.
and has been a eternal guiding factor
throughout my journey.

Life is short....
in fact not just short but whole lot unpredictable
so let me break all the possible rules
after all most of these rules were imposed by others
without my concurrance
ostensibily to benefit me

I must continue with the act of forgiveness
but should add this year
a temporal dimension of doing it quickly

I must love truly
unabashedly without inhibition
and laugh uncontrollably
on those childish, sillly comments and observations
of others and mine
the art that I have ensconced and treasured

and yes
I should never regret anything
that has made me smile in past one year

After all
I am looking forward to the new year
for a new start of my old beliefs, attitudes

in the words of Tennyson
Ring out the old, ring in the new,
Ring, happy bells, across the snow:
The year is going, let him go;
Ring out the false, ring in the true.~

I shall continue to strive hard
to overcome
what's been the most difficult proposition
To rise above those little and petty things
that act as an impediment
to quell traces of angst, anger
jealosy, disillusionment and greed

I am sure
another great New Year is awaiting for me !
and so it is for all of you
cheers !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

lifelong dedication

Early morning air at Delhi’s pragati maidan is chill, crisp, and clear. He is also fresh, enthusiastic and his body movement reflects his efficiency. However, as the day approaches to early noon, scenario dramatically changes. Combination of old and new cars, scooters with the straddled three passengers, trucks stuffed with turbaned laborers, bicycles, rickshaw pullers, bullock carts and most important of all cows, all fight desperately for space, jostling with each other and blowing their horns or shouting like mad. They turn this tranquil early morning traffic junction into chaotic miasma.

Amidst all this, master of this junction is trying his best to orchestrate the chaos into semblance of some orderly cacophony. Dust, sweat, carbon monoxide fumes are slowly filling up every pore of his lungs. His swift limbs do not have the same vigor of the morning but they have not become docile either. Only sign visible on his face is that of irritation when he sees commuters are not obeying his gestures. In sheer frustration, he resorts to his only equipment that was given to his rescue -a whistle that is tied to his pocket. He draws it out to exert his presence on bullying drivers.

Now with a shrill whistle in his mouth and a ‘fine book’ slowly protruding out from his trousers pocket, he now feels like a real cop. Some of the faces in the vehicles are familiar but barring an occasional bus or truck driver, no one acknowledges his presence. He is aware of the danger of sneering remarks and a volley of abuses if he were to unintentionally stop a car that belongs to government official. He knows he has to be careful to impose a fine on someone violating rules, chances are so called ‘educated’ ‘influential’ people inside the car would threaten him with dire consequence of unceremonious transfer with their contacts at his headquarters. If he were to stop a lady, there is a lurching fear in his mind of lady charging for harassing her being a weaker sex. He knows his job is tough but he carries on.

During my recent trip to Khartoum, I saw African colleague of our Delhi traffic conductor at the busy intersection. I was on my way to the office and was being driven around in the downtown of the Khartoum city at 9.00 am. At a busy cross section, everything suddenly has become so organized. Vehicles stopped at the designated places, there was no honking. In the middle of the road was a traffic police officer wearing faded dark blue trousers, white full sleeve shirt that was almost turned dull gray with noxious gases emitted by rickety old cars. He had a cap but he preferred to tuck in his pocket at this time of the day in the winter.

He looked fragile. Wrinkles showed all over his body and his hair was ash white, it definitely gave an impression that he had retired long ago. Then what was he doing at this age directing the traffic? I was told that this man completed his service from traffic police 10 years ago but he refused to quit the job that he was doing since last 30 years. He has been there on the same traffic junction all his life directing traffic with his hands. After his retirement. He continued to do what he loved most, directing the traffic without asking for any remuneration.

It is no surprise that Police, Government, and General Public were touched by his dedication. Police decided to keep him on their payroll for lifelong. Govt did not introduce traffic signals at this junction and let this man to be the boss of this cross section. When people arrive at this junction acknowledges his presence, become very civilized and obeys the orders of this old man. He is so busy with his acrobatics that he does not have time to reciprocate the greetings of his visitors. His work goes on and on, every day of the week all through the year from 8.00 am to 8.00 pm.

People now have dedicated this square by his name. A small tribute to the lifelong dedication to the job!!!

Monday, December 26, 2005

India's struggle with Hygeine

An average person visits the toilet 2500 times a year. About 6-8 times a day,we end up in spending about 3 years of our life in the toilet.

This is what I learnt from WTO (World toilet organization) website. WTO celebrate November 19th as World Toilet day. The purpose of this day is to have people to increase awareness of toilet user's right to a better toilet environment, and to demand for it from the toilet owners. It's high time that average Indian should demand a basic if not better toilet from their civic rulers.

If we look at Indian statistics, only 30 percent of India's 1 Billion population have bathrooms in their homes or easy access to public toilets. No more than 250 of the country's 4,000 cities and towns have sewer systems and many of those systems do not have treatment plants. In Mumbai, situation is acute with nearly 50 % population living in slums that have no toilets in their homes. The British built the first sewerage system in India in 1870. After 130 years, out of 4,500 cities only 232 are sewer based. Only 20 per cent of the urban population has septic tank toilets.

With nearly 700,000 Indians deprived of basic toilet facilities, India should treat Nov 19th as another day of freedom struggle from hygiene. Many years ago, an American friend from echocardiography (ultrasound for heart) manufacturing company whose single product would cost in excess of US$100K commented “Bombay doesn’t need $ 100,000 machine but needs 100,000 toilets”. How apt his observation was !!

The manner and with ease people in India relieve themselves in the open – along the roadside, farmland, railway tracks, water pipelines and municipal parks is indeed amazing. There is neither fear of law enforcement agencies nor shame of being seen by others. I have had opportunity to some of the poorer countries in Asia and Africa but I haven’t come across such phenomena with gay abundance anywhere else as in India.

Bulk of municipal sewage in Mumbai flows untreated into the sea and our pollution board doesn’t grant permission to build a bridge citing that bridge would endanger marine life !! We have some finest monuments and yet public toilets that stand next to them are filthy and atrocious. When we visit palaces and forts in India we are amazed by their beauty in terms of planning and executing things. At the same time when we step outside these places we are saddened by the fact that we spit and piss around the very monument that we treasure.

Prahlad Kakkar, who made Bumbay, "a film about shitting in the metropolis." Kakkar explains, "Half the population doesn't have a toilet to shit in, so they shit outside. That's five million people. If they shit half a kilo each, that's two and a half million kilos of shit each and every day. The real story is what you don't see in the film. There are no shots of women shitting. They have to shit between two and five each morning, because it's the only time they get privacy." He ridicules the World Bank's proposal that the government build 100,000 public toilets. "I have seen public latrines in the slums," he writes. "None of them work. People defecate all around the toilets, because the pits have been clogged for months or years." So nauseating, and crude but that’s reality

World Toilet Organization (WTO) has started World Toilet College (WTC) to ensure that the best standards in Toilet Design, cleanliness, Maintenance and Sanitation Technologies with training courses in toilet designs Course and Ecological Sanitation Course. With nearly 700,000 Indians without basic toilet facilities, India should seek for a permanent seat of this Hygiene Security council of WTO and I am sure there wont be any opposition to this.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

sudan : oppressive environ bordering on opulence

I am always curious to visit countries that are slammed by Americans. Here was a chance to see another country without any American fast food joints and stores selling American brands. After being to Syria, Iran, Yemen now was the turn to visit Sudan.

I had no idea what to expect in Sudan. My first lesson of Sudan came from a UK man sitting next to my seat. He was working as a specialist in water management for NGO as a part of UN project in Darfur – violence infected western part of Sudan. This lesson was supplemented by another Indian standing in the immigration queue that marked ‘Non Sudanese’. He was a Gujarati, born in Sudan with Sudanese nationality but for obvious reasons carries Indian passport whenever travels abroad.

By the time I had my entry stamp on my passport; I was acquainted with few facets of Sudan – one of them was that Sudanese are friendly people despite being ruled by military regime. Immigration staff did not carry any air of arrogance. I could virtually stand next to him and help him rummage through my passport pages. This people friendly image remained everywhere in Khartoum.

After my few days of stay Khartoum hotel, memories of my initial business travel to smaller Indian towns in early 80’s came to the fore. The exception however was the room tariff. Sudan hotels are frightfully expensive. Hilton- lone star hotel - costs US$ 200 plus but in no way comes in the class of even ordinary budget hotel elsewhere. My US$50 hotel room was inferior even to my engineering hostel room. The hotel did offer luxury in the form of window air-conditioner and a small color TV without remote that played only Arab channels with the exception of CNN. Bathroom water heater was mounted so high that I had to stand on my toes to have it switched on. Water taps welcomed with dark brown water but was told this was due to rusted pipes and storage tank. How happy I was when I saw my bathing soap in the shaving kit, I kept looking at blue colored tiny soap cake without any wrapper that I would have used. Next time, I must carry my bath towel too. Elevators in the hotel came to thundering halt when it reached the floor, I guess this OTIS make must be in dire need of some shock absorbers that is hard to come by due to american embargo. The hotel entry register size almost occupied reception desk with innumerable columns for every bit of information about the visitor.

Sudan is a big country, in fact biggest in Africa. Going from Khartoum to south of Sudan takes as much time as it would be from Dubai to Khartoum. This country houses Arab and African cultures with north of Sudan–Khartoum being Arab and south being Christian/nomadic tribes. Discovery of oil led to the bickering between these regions but peace was somehow restored with a negotiated settlement over sharing of oil wealth and political power. But this very deal made west Sudan feel marginalized and this seems to be the cause of Darfur violence. There is no doubt about Sudan’s prosperity once Darfur issue gets resolved.

City of Khartoum is no war zone but it does give the effect with numerous UN planes carrying their personnel to Darfur. Chinese, Indians, Turkish, Russians are teeming this country for oil drilling business. The people in Khartoum are genuine, honest and extremely friendly. I became friendly with Awad– taxi driver from south Sudan who spoke good English. It was no surprise of his singing “ aap jaisa koi mere zindgi me aaye . without understanding anything ” but he did impress me by drawing a comparison of this song with that of Tina Charles and rattling every soccer player in Brazilian team from 80's onwards. Football is passion for this country. Almost every TV channel show football matches. Streets are similar to that small town in India without any pavements. Drainage trenches are dug deep, remain open forever and carry risk of injury in the absence of any electric street light. All over Khartoum, one could see imported used Japanese, Korean minivans that are used as public transport vehicles.

Brown is the Color of Khartoum. Everywhere in the city you will find the brown dust. Other colors that add to this base brown color are black, white and blue. Black for color of the skin, white for Jallabiya - a flowing robe for men and blue for a sky that is almost devoid of any cloud. It is islamic state but sharia law is not visible except absence of alcohol. Most women despite being draped from top to toe wear rich, vibrant, swirling colors. I hardly saw any women wearing the full black veil with only their eyes visible. There are theaters- one theater was screening Chalbazz – a Hindi movie, music shops sell Sudanese music.

In Arabic, the name Sudan means “The Land of the Blacks." But I was told that shades of this black colour are the cause of north-south divide and conflict. There are the North Africans who are a mix of the Arabs and Africans with much lighter skin (brown) often consider superior to Southern Sudanese who are true Africans with very dark skin.

Khartoum is consistent with its impression of being dusty, dry and devoid of infrastructure till you come across the confluence of the White Nile that comes from Uganda and Blue Nile from Ethiopia. Suddenly terrain turn into verdant green, soothing with lush green islands dotting Nile. The Nile is the very heart and soul of Khartoum. What if Sudan were to dig canals around the city and fill up with Nile water tributaries – how wonderful this city would look like!! It is unbelievable what a river can do the topography of a nation. The Nile River and its two branches flow for more than 2,000 miles through the country and transform change the hostile terrain into swamps and rain forests.

Every time I drove around this hostile, hot dusty land with parched throat, I asked this question myself why Sudanese people just don’t live along the Nile River. I realized the virtue of wonderful drink called ‘water’. I shudder to imagine being there in summer temp hovering around 50deg.

Today,900-mile chinese investment pipeline from the south Sudan to the Red Sea is ready to pump 500,000 barrels a day. Indians too are not behind. India recently acquired a 25 percent stake by investing $760 millions in Sudan’s biggest oil field. These investments are giving Sudan handsome returns. Sudan hopes to earn more than $1bn in oil revenues this year and its economy is one of the fastest growing in Africa. This is reflected in changing city life with numerous fast food joints and arrival of first mall fitted with escalators and underground parking. Americans may be still shy of investing in Sudan but Sudan like Iran,Syria and Yemen love everything that is American. Americans may have abandoned them but they haven’t. Bottles of Pepsi, Coke and Miranda are a must for Sudanese to greet every visitor and so is US $ - the most sought after currency in Sudan.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

look who is staring

Steve Waugh in his upcoming autobiography mentions about staring passion of Indians. He remarks that if there is an Olympic event for staring, the Indians would win the gold hands down. How correct he is in observing this trait of Indians.
In India, most woman if they are white skinned foreigners are subjected to continuous stare. If she is new to the country, she would wonder if something is wrong with her attire or face, but as she gets accustomed to staring conditions, she realizes this is the norm. Indians alone dont take honours in this unique attribute, most of the subcontinent people including middle east are prone to this. Is it something to do with inquistiveness or innate talent of being curious ?

Here is a list of people and things that we stare at.
Foreigners (especially whites and Africans)
Film actors and these days TV serial performers
Teenagers in the neighbourhood
Women in general (only men)
Women in jeans and tops
Women wearing heavy make-up
Women wearing sleeveless blouse
Women wearing noodle-strap attire
Women wearing low-hip saris
Women riding two-wheelers
Women driving four-wheelers
Women smoking
Men wearing ear rings
Sales girls
Quarrels
Street brawls
Accident victims
New cars
Anything new
Couple who hold their hands in public
Couple who display their affection for each other in public
Smutty posters
Sleazy ads
Cutouts
Marriage processions
Funeral processions
Parties at neighbourhood
When a neighbour (male) talks to any woman other than his family
When a neighbour (female) talks to any man other than her family
When a male colleague talks to a female colleague
When a female colleague talks to a male colleague
When men laugh aloud
When women laugh aloud
Is there anything that is left out ?

Monday, December 05, 2005

Kidney Transplant Program in Iran

Recent Advances in Renal Transplantation meeting was first in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It did not offer much in terms of clinical information compared to Ahmedabad meeting but the fact that it allowed discussion on cadaver and live donor transplant under ethical and religious lines was itself encouraging. Another sign of changing times?

Nearly 600 Saudi patients underwent kidney transplant but nearly 2/3rd of them did so outside the country. Bulk of them did from Pakistan and Egypt.

What impressed me most was to know about Renal Transplant protocol in Iran. Despite being large size country with 70 Million population. they do not have any patient waiting for kidney transplant; something that even developed country has not achieved it. They have most successful transplant program that has alleviated sufferings of renal failure patients in Iran is indeed thought provoking. Their success is now termed as ‘Iranian Model’ and is cited in major journals.

Few of the salient points of Iranian model are:

Iran has exclusive Govt Department CDI. Central Dialysis Institute. They assign every renal patient to nearby hospital. They also monitor purchase needs of the country in terms of machines and consumables.

Regarding Kidney transplant procedures, Dialysis and Transplant Patient Association (DATPA) committee, which is made up of patients, assesses the donor .

All renal transplant surgeries are carried out only in Government Hospital and no private hospital has any role. All expenses towards surgery, laboratory test, drugs are free of charge.
Government does not distinguish between kidney donors who are related or non related to the recipients. In fact, they seem more generous to unrelated Kidney donors. Those who volunteer to donate the kidney to unrelated recipient; government gives him cash compensation equivalent of 6 months of his salary, lifetime health insurance, plus recognition award. It is for this reason; nearly 78% of Kidney is donated from unrelated patients. Surprisingly they do not offer any cash compensation to donor who is related. According to them, related donors do it for emotional reasons

in 2004, 1,904 Kidney transplants were carried out They have done nearly 204 cadaver transplants and they hope this number would go up.

No foreigner is allowed to have transplant with Kidney from Iranian.

Govt maintains database of donors in terms of age group, economic status. 84% of Poor economic class donors have given Kidney to 50% Poor economic class recipients. 16% donors from middle class donated to 34% recipients from middle class. While none from affluent, economy class has donated Kidney while 16% of affluent economy class has been recipients from poor and middle class. They do keep a close watch on migration of Kidney from poor people to others economic strata of the society.

They are particularly keen hat Afghan (half million) and Iraqi refugees (2.5 million) do not get have ever end up giving Kidney to Iranians.

Iran offers lifelong free Hemodialysis treatment to all its citizens with quality standard that of best in the world. All the necessary consumables are assembled in Iran thereby reducing purchase price. With the above transplant program, now people wean away from Hemodialysis thereby saving Iran Govt the necessary resources.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Visit to Riyadh under new regime

As I was about to keep my bags for x ray screening at the customs of Riyadh airport, I realized my carrying computer CD in my bag. I was dessparated to avoid being caught by customs authorities and being stranded at the airport while they take their own time to check the contents. I looked around for any camera while I did my best to shove it in my trousers pocket. It turned out to be too big for the size of my pocket and I decided to leave it inside the bag to face the ordeal. But I was in for surprise; customs either didn’t notice that or just were generous to let me pass without even opening my bag.

I was received by my Filipino colleague from our distributor who was also waiting to receive customers from army establishment from Jeddah - Filipino woman nurse and Saudi male officer. It was another surprise for me to learn that we would all be going in a single car . I could realize a glee on my friend’s face of having a woman nurse next to him while driving us from airport to the hotel. I am sure, it was his first experience in his Saudi life. I think, he got a courage in doing so with Saudi male army officer sitting behind the wheels with me and also the fact that we were traveling in the middle of night.

Both incidents I hadn’t experienced earlier. The question came to my mind. Is Saudi changing under the new regime? It seemed so!!

Winter is the best time to be in Riyadh. Our conference was at National Guard Officer’s mess – a well maintained garden surroundings. It’s very confusing to understand various security establishments in Saudi. National Guard, Security Forces, Defense forces etc. The Saudi Arabia National Guard is a tribal force forged out of those tribal elements loyal to the ruling family. Their mission is to protect the royal family from internal rebellion and the other Saudi Army, should the need arise. It is also a counterbalance within the royal family to control over the regular armed forces.
During my stay in Riyadh, I could see decoration and illumination all along the main arterial road – I was told that this was being done in anticipation of official inauguration of King Abdullah.

One of the evenings while having dinner in local Indian restaurant, I saw elderly man giving a treat to youngsters – they could be his nephews or just friends from neighborhood. These youngsters were wearing a local dress with baseball cap worn in opposite direction – a sign that is getting increasingly common among youngsters in Saudi Arabia. But this time, these youngsters weren’t boisterous or unruly as observed in restaurant ; instead they greeted this elderly man by approaching him with kiss on his forehead, sat in orderly manner on dining table. Was it a just an isolated incident? Perhaps. But I was delighted to witness that.

I also read about nearly 20,000 Saudi students going to USA for higher studies at the expense of Govt sponsorship. This is a deliberate move on part of US Govt administration to bring Saudi youth into US fold and making them less vulnerable to anti US/west campaign. When you meet educated Saudi nationals who are educated in UK /US, you come across them as finest human beings- immaculately dressed, well mannered, aesthetic with charming Saudi hospitality and belief in their own culture. I am sure these young men would also bring dramatic results when they return. Another incident that was making news in local newspapers – was that of woman’s elections for Jeddah chamber of commerce. Election and participation of woman, these two terms so rare to hear and see in the recent history of Saudi Arabia.

All in all, this two day trip turned out to be positive experience. I really hope future visits make gets better and better.