Altruism: A Myth?

A  bejewelled dowager stepped out of a fashionable hotel in London where she had been dining and dancing all evening at a Charity Ball for the support of street urchins. She was about to get into her Rolls Royce when a street urchin walked up to her and whined, " Spare me sixpence, ma'am, for charity. I haven't eaten for two days." The duchess recoiled from the kid. " You ungrateful wretch!" she exclaimed." Don't you realise, I've been dancing for you all night?"
 

I get a great kick out of serving you- but I still insist that you be grateful!!

Aren't we all like that obscenely affluent woman longing to be recognised and acknowledged for our 'services'? Is anyone of us really altruistic? I'm reading a fascinating book, " Missionaries in Africa and the Muslim mystics on the sub-continent " by Edmund Bringe. He writes, "The very idea of service has a motive behind it and even if there's no concrete motive, there's always a mild desire to receive gratitude. There has never been completely nameless, selfless and desireless service in the annals of mankind. The Christian missionaries in the first half of the seventeenth century (Christianity arrived in Africa in 1652)  brought the native Africans out of their feral existence and Christianised them.


The missionaries 'served' the Africans and served their god. The Muslim mystics from Arab and Persia came to the sub-continent. They helped the poor with a view to making them Muslims. All had an agenda. No service is above self."    The Urdu adage, "Neki kar dariya mein daal" ('Do good and forget for good' as a Biblical advice) has a lofty philosophy in it but how many of us follow it to the hilt? Man never wants his services to go unacknowledged and in vain. He wants his service to be converted into tangible returns or at least a fleeting mention of it.

 Please don't get me wrong or call me a cynical but let me ask you, how come we get to know that a very rich man or a celebrity has donated a certain amount for the 'upliftment' of a village or an underprivileged section of the society? Their spokespersons 'reveal' the exact pieces of their charity information because the 'donors' somewhere want their 'noble deeds' to be acknowledged. We all hanker after publicity and want recognition.

Angelina Jolie, Madonna and other Hollywood celebrities are on an adoption spree (with some Indian actresses like Sushmita Sen following suit), adopting destitute children from Africa and third world countries as 'an act of 'selfless' parental' love.' Then why so much fanfare? Go and adopt without the glare of media. Some may say that our charity needs no public acknowledgement. It only requires god to acknowledge it. The bottomline is: Someone must recognise, whether people or god!  Dr Martin Luther King Jr used to say, " Service without an iota of any kind of expectation from man and god is the most sublime service."               
                   
                                                                      -----Sumit Paul

   
  


Can Women Write Immortal Masterpieces?

Sir V S Naipaul is candid but he's too-candid-by-half. His recent statement that no woman writer can hold a candle to him may have irked many, especially women, but is he far away from truth? No, he ain't. How many women writers in the anthology of world literature have produced immortal masterpieces despite getting every possible opportunity to assert their 'genius'? Mind you, there's no gender-bias or sexism here. Truth always pinches. It hurts badly. Literature is not a male-bastion as it's often erroneously thought to be. In fact, it's never been.

Women in all eras got equal opportunities and exposure to prove their creative mettle. But, how many have been able to leave indelible impressions on the collective consciousness of mankind? " Women are intelligent, but seldom they're intellectual and hardly are the enlightened," stated Fahmida Riyaz, the radical Muslim lady, banished from Pakistan by General Zia Ul-Haq in 1979. In their book, " Uniformity in writing " by Wayne Mizenne and Martha Stagnor (a woman) observed that, " Women writers can write fantastic articles and even big, perceptive essays, but they cannot write big volumes. They tend to lose continuity and the uniform vein they began with. They often end with a whimper." Women themselves admit that they cannot wield the pen with uninterrupted uniformity. Their (women's) limited vision of the world restricts them to write sublime poetry and their lack of depth in metaphysical realm doesn't let them create something worthwhile.


How many mystics have been women despite Rabia Basri being one of the greatest mystics in the Islamic world of mysticism? Her poetry is so juvenile when pitted against that of Jalaluddin Rumi, Hafiz Shirazi, Fariduddin Attar, Sanai, Khaqani, Nizami, Jami and Firdausi? Though her spiritual insights were as profound as those of her male counterparts, she's not remembered for her writings. Can Jane Austen, Pearl S Buck, Nadine Gordimer of South Africa, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Emily Dickinson, Sylvia Plath among others be called truly greats and on a par with Shakespeare, Shelly, Keats, Byron et al? Never.


If there's been a woman writer, who could challenge men of letters from any age, it was Sappho (6th century, BCE), the lesbian poetess from Lesbos, Greece, who committed suicide at the age of 32. All other women writers are just sciolists. They're pretenders and their writings show their pretensions, nay limitations. Naipaul has just stated in his inimitable style that the emperor's naked.    

                                             -----Sumit Paul

   
 

An Inaccurate Assessment

I've no special affinity for Islam. But as a dispassionate student of comparative religions, it surprises me no end when people, especially 'educated' people, sometimes characterise Islam as an uncivilised or "desert" religion. This is an inaccurate assessment. Step back to the year 1000 and imagine yourself travelling across the Mediterranean world from east to west, beginning in Baghdad, and you'll find yourself treated to an array of splendid world-class cities you may never have dreamt existed. Though India and China, along with Central and South America, boasted many of the world's finest cities, virtually the only non-Muslim city in the greater Mediterranean worth a second look at the time was Constantinople. London and Paris were still little more than towns.
 
Baghdad was founded in 762 as the new capital of the Abbasid dynasty. The caliph designed it as a perfect circle with the palace and its mosque at the centre, its surrounding walls reserving places for representatives of virtually every segment of society within Islamdom. Obviously an idealised structure, the original design didn't last long because of rapid expansion. Still, in the mid-eleventh century, Baghdad was an important centre of learning and culture. By 1100, the city boasted some of the premier intellectual institutions in the world.
 
Further to the west was the city of Cairo, founded in 969 by a Sevener Shi'a dynasty called the Fatimids. A century into its history, Cairo was booming, a centre of trade, culture and learning. There in 972 the al-Azhar mosque was founded, the forerunner of what would become one of the world's oldest institutions of higher learning. Portions of the fortified wall of the old Fatimid city of Cairo still stand in testimony to its medieval glory.
 
Moving further west, one finds a number of important urban centers, from Qayrawan in present-day Tunisia, to Fez in Morocco. Founded as a garrison town in 670, Qayrawan grew into one of several important North African centres of learning. Fez originated about a century later and along with Marrakesh (founded 1070), was at or near the centre of several Moroccan Arab and Berber dynasties over the subsequent six centuries.
 
Arguably the most splendid city in Western Europe in the year 1000 was the Andalusian jewel called Cordoba. Founded in early Roman times, it passed from the Romans to the Vandals to the Byzantines and back to the Visigoths. With the Muslim occupation of Cordoba in 711, what had been a minor, lacklustre town began its steady four century rise to prominence. Some of the great monuments of Islamic Cordoba remain a major attraction to travellers today. As the scene of remarkable symbiosis of the three Abrahmic faiths for several hundred years, a "convivencia"  of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, two of Cordoba's most famous citizens were Ibn Rushd (a. k. a. Averroes, d. 1198) and Maimonides (d. 1204). 
 
People must read history before passing a judgment and commenting upon a civilization. But who has time as well as inclination?  
                           
                                          ------  Sumit Paul

   

A Wine-lover's Musings

 
Who said, " If you want to woo a refined woman, talk of wine and western classical music. She'll be drawn to you like a moth to flame." Well, whoever said, must have been a very polished and smooth flirt just like French wine. I've tried this trick and I've been pretty successful with suave women. Wine, woman and gesang (German word for song) never lose their appeal. In ultra-refined (European) societies, wine and western classical music always leave an ineradicable impression, provided speakers and listeners both have a smattering of wine and music.
But wine, like music, is a monstrous subject never knowingly tamed by any one individual and I suppose that's part of its charm. Remember, you can never truly be an expert-only the wine can be that. I remember, a famous British oenologist telling me, nay educating me, at a club in Madras that Marlborough in New Zealand and Sancerre (pronounced saaN sair) in France share a common grape variety (Sauvignon Blanc links them). This was nothing short of a revelation to me. He also told me that why women are naturally better wine tasters than men. Though not yet scientifically proven, it's believed that women wine tasters have finer sensibilities than those of men to discern the smoothness of delectable wines.
 Women discern beverages better than men. Readers may know that Trockenbeerenauslese, a top German QmP classification for very-high-quality sweet white wine, is produced from hand-selected grapes. And you know, men are still not employed for this delicate task. Interestingly, Pomerol area of Bordeaux (pronouncedbawr do) in southwestern France, famous for growing old Merlot vines on its clay soil to produce some of the best red wines in the world, used to employ nubile young girls for crushing the grapes till the late sixties. Now men also crush but connoisseurs say that the wines have lost some of their mojo ever since men were employed to crush grapes! Machines don't lend that indescribable element, which's provided by a human touch, more precisely a feminine touch. 
Wine and women have a very close relation. Because both are delicate and desirably fragile. Hollywood actor of yesteryears, David Niven, famous for his classic 'Separate Tables' (1956) used to say, 'The most divine sight on earth is to see a charming lady quaff Cognac from a shapely goblet.' Yes, you don't drink or even sip wine, you quaff it. " Maykashi ke bhi aadaab hua karte hain / Ek saans mein beadab piya karte hain " (There're norms of drinking / Uncouth drinkers drink in one go). The wine scenario in India is still burgeoning. At the risk of sounding a tad arrogant and pontificating, Indian wines are plonks.

Most of the so-called wine-loving elites of India cannot think beyond Champagne, Cognac, Port wine or Moet. The olfactory sensibilities required to relish wines are of paramount importance. One therefore must taste wine, not this sugary-syrupy Sula wine of Nasik vineyard, to drink life to the lees.


 In this short life, one must try all the refined pleasures for the satisfaction of all senses. John Keats understood this in his painfully short stay on earth when he wrote " Give me books, fruit, French wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors, played by somebody I do not know." The great poet didn't include women. But his another distinguished contemporary Lord Byron did: " Let's have wine and women, mirth and laughter / Sermons and sodawater the day after." Never forget his words.          

                                                                   -------Sumit Paul

Are we Truly Mature?

A couple of days back, I sent an excerpt from my published piece in a premier Dutch daily to a select few friends of mine. A venerable lady took umbrage at my piece and wrote to me: " I'd appreciate it if you left me out of such gross and ridiculous discussions. May be I'm too old for it.Or may be you're plain insensitive. But please leave me out.." This got my goat and reminded me of a famous story, which's not apocryphal. Seeing the legendary Italian master Boticelli's Venus, a prude old lady asked the curator, why was Venus naked? " Lady, the curator told her calmly, because Mr Boticelli forgot to seek your opinion!" 

We're just hemmed in by such prudes and puritans, who claim to having a very liberal and erudite outlook but cringe and feel embarrassed whenever they come across something which hurts their fragile ego and flimsy sensibilities. It's their insensitiveness to be unable to appreciate a piece of art dispassionately. Well, if you don't like something, you can ignore it, skip it. But never call the other person insensitive. This shows your rudeness, nay crudeness. I remember my male as well as female professors of Aesthetics at Oxford, Sorbonne (Paris), Columbia and Al-Azhar Universities dispassionately teaching even explicit passages from world literature without a scintilla of embarrassment. Some of the lady professors were astoundingly beautiful. But they never recoiled from teaching those embarrassingly erotic passages from Byron's Don Juan, James Joyce'sUlysses, Emile Zola's Nana, David Herbert Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover  and Arabic erotic poetry, among others. But then, they were exceedingly learned professors teaching at world's greatest universities.

Why can't others be like them? Why do most of us react so petulantly to anything even remotely related to sex and eroticism? Isn't it a part of life and integral to human consciousness? Once when I wrote about incest, a respectable old lady 'advised' me to send that piece to 'Playboy', not being aware that Playboy's interviews over the years are considered to be the most perceptive. So are its book, music and film reviews. She'd that monomaniac opinion about Playboy  being a girlie magazine that flaunts beautiful models (playmates) without a stitch on. This is monomania.


A truly intellectual person is all encompassing. S/he takes and views everything without frowning upon. One must not be blind to life's innumerable aspects manifest through art and literature. And that's the sign of maturity. But how many of us are truly mature?         
                
                                                                                                                                           -----Sumit Paul

                                         

Give Oneself a Break

I read in a book that a very famous columnist was associated with a premier daily. He was there for years. Readers looked forward to his immensely readable columns. But as we say, 'every individual is eventually a bore,' so is every columnist and every writer. That famous columnist's popularity began to wane and a day came when the editor had to tell him very politely to resume his pieces after some time. He got the hint that his days with that publication were over. This happens to all writers and frequent contributors. Even the most prolific writers' ideas become somewhat stale. Unless one is Shakespeare or Munshi Premchand, monotony is bound to creep in.

How much can you produce day in and day out? You're bound to churn out the same identical stuff. We say that human mind is boundless. So is the thinking. Granted, it's. But it needs constant nurturing (in solitude) which is possible only when a writer or an artiste keeps himself / herself away from public gaze and goes into a 'creative hibernation' (Marcel Proust's phrase) for some time. It's imperative for every atriste to give himself a break and introspect. In a bid to produce something or the other every second day, one produces mediocrity.

Productivity is not always the assurance of creativity. A truly creative person may not be very prolific, but whatever he creates will be immortal. In the final analysis, class eclipses crass. " Ek hi aansoo ho magar ho jaane-e-hayaat/ Us-se kya haasil, agar lakh dariya bah chale" (One drop of tears is the essence of life/ Who cares, if a river of it flows?). In his 72 years, Mirza Asadullah Khan 'Ghalib' (1797-1869) wrote only 235 ghazals and immortalised himself. He seriously started writing at the age of 16, but wrote only 235 ghazals in his 52 active years of great carftsmanship. In one of his Persian ghazals he wrote: "Choon ast rawani-e-qalam na shudam baraynaam" (I don't write just for the sake of writing).

This is the point to remember. People nowadays write for the sake of it. There's no quality but only quantity. And quantity soon fades into the oblivion. Chetan Bhagat and Shobha De's new titles keep hitting the stands. But does any serious reader remember any of their pedestrian books? Pick up any great writer at random and have a look at his/ her oeuvre. You won't find a number of books: Only a few, but all masterpieces.

Gabriel Marquez didn't write too much in his 84 years, but he's the greatest living novelist and the doyen of 'magic realism.' Composer Muhammad Zahoor Khayyam Hashmi, though slightly monotonous to some, composed music for 50 odd films in his relatively long career, but all the compositions still warm the cockles of the hearts of music lovers. Can you ever forget his, " Jaane kya dhoondhti rahti hain ye aankhein mujh mein" (Shola aur shabnam, 1961, Muhammad Rafi) and " Baharo, mera jevan bhi saanwaro" (Aakhri Khat, 1967, Lata Mangeshkar). Jaydev composed for hardly ten movies, but his songs in 'Hum Donon' (1961) and 'Ye dil aur unki nighaon ke saaye' (Prem Parvat, 1973, Lata) are deathless gems. Genius, like celery, thrives in obscurity.    
                                                                                   ----
Sumit Paul

Why God Ain't a Female?

"If there were a god, it'd be a female and not this old, bearded, robe-wearing, white man, as in so many images. Why not a naked, black, full-breasted woman? That's a failure of the imagination."
 
-Urvashi Butalia, Director, Zubaan Books
 
God, though a concoction of human mind, is an outcome of male imagination. Man made religion and created god excluding woman's participation on both counts. If at all there's some power in the universe, why had it been anthropomorphised in the first place and after the anthropomorphism, why on earth was it made a male force? Isn't it a complete gender bias? Agreed, there're gods and goddesses in Hinduism, but they're actually demi-gods. So even in Hinduism, which's ostensibly free from gender-bias, the 'Adi-purusham' (the omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient god) is a male figure. 'Purusham' clearly indicates the gender of god being a male. Semitic faiths, with their inherent belief in (male) prophets like Moses (Judaism), Muhammad (Islam) and Jesus ( Christianity) further consolidated the idea of god being a man, because all the prophets were men and they had to have a predominantly male perspective on their god, the 'divine father.' Even an 'enlightened' soul like Buddha could not conceptualise god as a feminine force.

In fact, a few scriptures of Thervad Buddhism, practised in Sri Lanka, subtly suggest that he didn't even find Yashodhara worthy of knowing that her husband (Siddharth) left home in search of 'enlightenment'. Rahul Sankrityayan, the famous indologist, who embraced Buddhism, wrote a piece in Bangla in 1959 on this rather disparaging attitude of Buddha towards women. The piece was carried in 'Desh.' That's the reason, he didn't even tell Yashodhara that he was leaving home. It was Anand, his favourite student, who persuaded 'enlightened' Buddha to include women in the monastery and the religious order. Male chauvinism, right from the dawn of human civilization, hasn't allowed women to have their say in any sphere. Hasn't this ever struck you, why there's never been a female Dalai Lama and a woman teerthankar  in Jainism?  "


The most exclusive domain of patriarchal supremacy has been religion and theology with the help of languages, that were evolved by men," observed CG Jung. You invariably get to see, He andHim  for god, never She and Her. This has been going on and very few women in the history of mankind have questioned why god was never thought of as a woman. Religious imageries are reflexions and manifestations of human thinking and collective male mindset. This explains, why priesthood is steadfastly held by only men and there's still no entry of women in this field. Ghalib's contemporary Yas Yagana Changezi very aptly asked, " Mard ka khuda, mard ka hi mazhab / Is imtiyaaz ka kya hai sabab?'' (Man's god, man's religion / What's this disparity's reason?).        

                                                                     ----Sumit Paul

The Aryan: A Socio-linguistic Phenomenon

It's still a mystery where did the Aryans come from. Though Bal Gangadhar Tilak tried to explain this phenomenon in his seminal work 'The Aryan', written in the Mandley gaol, Burma, he missed quite a few relevant points. John Marshall, Rakhaldas Banerjee and Dayaram Sahni, who excavated Mohanjodaro and Harappa civilizations (now in Larkana, Sindh, Pakistan) in 1921, believed that Aryans came from Iran (Aryan does sound phonetically same) almost 6500 years back and got naturalised in India (please read, Rakhaldas Banerjee's ' The Aryan Presence in the sub-continent,' now out of print). He completely rejected the notion that the Aryans came from the Arctic region.

Interestingly, pre-medieval German and Pehalvi (classical Persian) had words 'Argane' and 'Arzaan' respectively. Both the words connoted 'Tall, fair with a straight (acquiline/ Grecian) nose', the distinct features Aryans are associated with. The Germans and the unadulterated Iranians are known for their well-built and sharp noses. German 'ubermensch' (an ideal human being imbued with all the conceivable attributes) or Nietzche and India's Aurobindo's 'superman' theory has Aryan elements. In a French essay, Aurobindo argues that the very concept of 'Aryan' as a race or community coming from outside India or already existing here is fallacious. Here he quotes the British historian Sir Arnold Toynbee, " The root of Aryan is in the classical language of India: Sanskrit. The 'Arya Satya' (roughly Gospel truth or oracular truth) or 'Arya Putra' (worthy son of a very father: chip off the old block) are not indicative of a person, persona or province. 'Arya' is a concept of ultimate refinement and evolution. " In Vedas you get to read:Tasmin Ist Aryam Ucchang Avrittam (Rigveda, shlok: 7/12)-Arya is the highest evolution.

Here, I've no desire to call Indian civilization to be the supreme or ultimate but linguistically as well as anthropologically, very many things that already existed here, were erroneously thought to have come from outside. There's a theory in socio-linguistics, ' Repetitive Inculcation'. The word 'Arya' from Sanskrit began its travel to so many continents and civilizations and got inculcated in the linguistic consciousness of many languages and their speakers. The 'Repetitive Inculcation' helped retain its essence as the 'very best' but other socio-geographical elements also crept in with the passage of time.


That's the reason, we still associate Aryans with a particular race or a people. In Prakrit 'Aryam Anijham' means the 'supreme (resides) in you'. And in Pali, 'Arya' means 'A born enlightened'. Even Buddha doesn't deserve to be called 'Arya' as he wasn't born with enlightenment! I therefore believe that 'Aryan' is predominantly a socio- linguistic and abstract implication, rather than a concrete and tangible phenomenon. 

                                        -----Sumit Paul
   
  

Why the Festival of Maha-Shivratri is so Important?

Amid the sordidness of mundane life, a quest for peace and prosperity seems to be a wild goose chase, as Man's unquenching thirst for love, lust and power leaves him nowhere but in a dreary desert of ceaseless profligacy. But it is fast, festivals and celebrations which with their divine forces steer him out to merge with the beatitude of supernatural and spiritual progress of life on earth.

                                       ( Shivratri in Koilakh)
Since time immemorial, Indian culture has been enriched with various sorts of festivals, religious observances, and cultural events. Here are so many festivals that almost every day some festival or the other is celebrated with great gusto and gracefulness. One of them is Maha-Shivratri (Great Night of Ziva) which is well- known for its remarkable significance in life as described in Hindu mythology. It is the most important sectarian festival of the year for the devotees of the Hindu god 'Zhiva'.




According to Hindi calendar this great festival falls on the 14th night of the darker half of the month, Phalgun (February). 'The Great Night of Shiva' is celebrated on this day with unstinted devotion and religious fervor because it is believed that on this very day Lord Shiva who forms a part of the Hindu holy Trimurti (trinity of Gods) appeared in the form of Linga containing in itself behemoth forces of myriad Suns.

                                                     ((in the Compound of Mahadev Mandir, Koilakh)
                       Courtesy: Kamlesh "Sikku"
On the occasion of Maha-Shivratri, celebrations take place in all the Shiva temples across India. Devotees celebrate it by keeping fast during the day and offering prayers throughout the night. This night has its own significance because worshipping Lord Shiva at this very night is believed to give salvation to life. Moreover, this auspicious occasion means a lot to women, as the married ones pray for the well being of their husbands and sons, the unmarried for a husband like Shiva, who is regarded as the ideal husband.

As a result, the atmosphere in and around temples and houses becomes vibrant with Hymns sung in praise of Lord Shiva and the Panchakshara Mantra, Om Namah Shivaya-a mantra capable of freeing one from all sins, echoes the universe by making it fragrant and pious.



Like other religious festivals, Maha-Shivaratri also has its source in the Indian mythology and is celebrated by the Hindus not just for their faith in Lord Shiva but also for its own scientific and spiritual significance. According to astrology, on this very day the Moon is nearer to the Sun, creating a perfect moment for the communion between two sustaining forces, one being the source of life with beauty, warmth and passion and the other being Shiva himself exuding light ,strength and energy. Going on a spiritual note, Maha-Shivaratri is an auspicious announcement of the divine descent of Lord Shiva. So the sincere worship of Lord Shiva is said to yield merits as well as spiritual growth for the devotees.

Scriptures are fraught with a number of interesting legends and stories associated with the festival of Maha-Shivaratri. There goes a story in the glory of Maha-Shivaratri. Once upon a time there lived a hunter named Gurudruh in a certain forest of Baranasi. He was brawny and cruel and eked out his livelihood by hunting only. One day his whole family, out of hunger, requested him to bring some food. In search of his quarry he wandered here and there in the forest but found none till the sunset.

So he decided to continue his hunt even into the darkness of the night. Near a pond in the forest he climbed up a tree called Bilva and sat on one of its branches waiting for his quarry. At last he chanced to have a thirsty deer over there. He tried to kill him but he did not succeed. Thus he made four attempts at different periods of the night and failed each time. But one thing that happened to make all the difference over there was that each time when he tried to kill the deer some of the water he had in a pot tucked to his waist and some leaves of the tree fell on to a Shivligum lying under the same tree.


In this way, though unknowingly, he made his offering to Lord Siva four times at that night. It being the night of Maha-Sivaratri, Lord Shiva was pleased with this act of the hunter and appeared there to bless him. This divine happening changed his life altogether and led him to salvation. Being inspired by this story, the tradition of observing Maha-Shivaratri came in vogue.


Moreover, Maha-Shivaratri is not just a celebration of faith in Lord Shiva but also helps us maintain the ethos of Vedic and cultural values in life. The fast that is observed on this sacred occasion is considered to be the greatest fast on earth, filling life with all sanctity of spirituality and making man come over the negative forces of life and enabling him to live a righteous and peaceful life.
                                    -----Chris Phoenix

6 Ways to Prevent Colon Cancer

Summary: Colon or colorectal cancer is one of the most dreadful diseases the world over. It is caused when the normal cells of colon start growing and multiplying uncontrollably. Like any other disease, colon cancer also shows early signs and symptoms and there are people who are at risk of getting it. But, the good thing is that if it gets detected, before it is too late, it is very much curable.


Before knowing about colon cancer and the ways to prevent it, it is important to know about its structure and function.
Structure of Colon: Our colon is like a tube. We can rather say it as a muscular tube. Its length is about 4 feet. It starts from the end of small bowel and ends in anus.
Functions of Colon: There are three main functions of colon:
• Digesting and absorbing nutrients from food
• Storing and evacuating fecal materials
• Absorbing fluid (electrolyte) from the digested food
Storage and evacuation of stool is performed by the left side of the colon whereas the right side of the colon does absorption of water and electrolysis.
How Colon Cancer is Caused?
Colon cancer is caused when there is transformation of the normal cells of colon. These cells grow and multiply uncontrollably. These cells start getting spread and take the nutrients, oxygen and space of the healthy cells. In essence, they overwhelm the healthy cells. If it is not treated on time, it may spread to the adjacent lymph nodes and organs through the colon wall. If the cells are not treated even at this stage, they spread to even the distant organs, such as liver, lungs, bones and brain.
Who are at Risk?
• People over 50 years of age
• Polyps-Growth inside colon and rectum that may become cancerous
• Those who consume high fat diet
• A family history of Colon or Colorectal Cancer
• Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis
Symptoms of the disease: Blood in the stool, abdominal pain and tenderness in the lower abdomen, constipation, diarrhea, change in the normal bowel habits, narrow stools, sudden and unexplained body loss
Prevention
There is good news about colon cancer. Two-third of the cases can be avoided by the things that a person can do.
Below given are the tips that will guide you to lower your risk of colon cancer:
1. Get Screened: The best way to stay away from colon cancer is to get screened for it quite often. If your cancer gets detected early, it will be treated before it becomes out of control. The doctors will find the abnormal growths, known as polyps and destroy these before they turn into cancers.
2. Maintain a Healthy Weight: Overweight is one of the most important reasons for getting cancer. It can be very well understood from the fact that not less than 10 different types of cancers, including the colon cancer, are linked to obesity.
If you have put on weight due to some reason or the other, make losing these extra pounds your first priority. If you manage to get rid of weight, you will not only get a health boost, the danger of getting colon cancer will also be reduced substantially.
3. Avoid Sedentary Lifestyle: Maintaining a healthy lifestyle has no any substitute. Besides giving a mental boost, active lifestyle does also minimize the risk of several serious diseases, including colon cancer. Though any amount of activity is better than doing no activity, but if you spare your 30 minutes or more of physical activity everyday, it will be very much advantageous for your health. You can choose jogging, cycling, gardening or dancing as your physical activity.
4. Say No to Smoking: It is horrible but true that smoking is one of the main reasons of getting the diseases like stroke, emphysema and heart diseases. Smoking does also trigger not less than 14 different types of cancers, including colon cancer. Hence, stop smoking if you are addicted to it. But, your real health benefits will start after your last cigarette.
5. Limit the Intake of Red Meat: Recent studies have established the fact that red meat, like pork, hamburger, steak increases the risk of colon cancer. Processed meats, like bacon, sausage and bologna are even more dangerous than red meats. These meats raise the risk even more. Even if you cannot stay away from these meats completely, make sure that you do not consume these meats more than three servings in a week.
6. Take a Multivitamin with Folate: A daily dose of multivitamin will safeguard you against the danger of colon cancer. Apart from calcium and vitamin D, the multivitamins do also contain folate which lowers the risk of colon cancer to a great extent. Though mega-dose vitamins are not the ideal option, standard multivitamin will solve your nutritional need.
It is important here to know that these tips include, but not limited to the tips that are needed to prevent the danger of colon cancer.
  
                                               -----Ashish Jha



Don't Tinker with Ghazal

In a recent interview, 'ghazal singer' Jagjit Singh stated that he tried to come out with an album of Marathi ghazals two years ago but the music company owner thought it won't work. Music company owner was right. With due respect to Marathi and other Indian languages, ghazal can be rendered only in Persian (the finest base for it), Arabic or Urdu. Every language or a linguistic group has its certain merits and demerits. Sonnet (14-line poem) sounds best in English because it fits into the structure of English language (octave and sestet) or Ottava Rima (An Italian poetic genre of eight lines) loses its mystique in other European languages.

Even French and English cannot capture its mojo the way Italian renders it. The late Aga Shahid Ali, professor of English at Chicago University, introduced ghazal to English and wrote a few memorable ones, but soon lost the tempo and appeal. Now, very few try to write English ghazals. Persian, Arabic and Urdu are tailor-made for ghazals, because barring Arabic, the other two are predominantly feminine languages. Despite being robust in its linguistic spirit, Arabic expiates this 'shortcoming' by its vast scope of accommodative flexibility. Ghazal itself is an Arabic word which connotes 'lovers' conversation'. While studying Marathi's phonetics as well as Semantics, I was surprised to find thousands of Persian and Arabic words in its vocabulary but in an assimilated and almost naturalised form.

For example, the word 'aazaar' (malady, illness) is there in Marathi but written and pronounced as 'aajaar' or 'faqat ' (only, mere) is written and pronounced as 'fakt'. The fricative and guttural sounds are not in Marathi and other Indian languages, whereas most of the Urdu words of Persian and Arabic origins are deep-sounding. Marathi is basically a 'zabaan-e-benuqt' (a language sans dots). On this count, not just Marathi but Bangla (Nazarul Islam's failed ghazals, Subhash Mukhopadhya's pedestrian endeavour and modern poet Jay Goswami's inadequate attempts), the two closest languages to Sanskrit, also failed to capture the essence of Urdu-Persian ghazals. Granted, Suresh Bhatt and Madhav Julian wrote some 'good' ghazals. But frankly speaking, these 'ghazals' fall more aptly in the category of romantic poems with a borrowed structure of Persian ghazals. Ghazal is much more than 'radeef' and 'kaafia'. 

Marathi somewhat lacks felicity and fluidity of Urdu. Moreover, you shouldn't experiment with an established pattern. Rabindra Sangeet can never sound even half-good in any other language, except for Bangla. Similarly, Marathi Bhav Geet can never evoke the same feelings in Urdu or any other language. So don't tinker with an exclusive genre of music and fine arts.     
                         ------Sumit Paul




Circumcision: ' Blade to Bleed Savagery'


Russell Crowe recently remarked: "Circumcision is a barbaric and stupid act. Who're you to correct nature? Is it real that god requires a donation of foreskins?" This (circumcision) is indeed a debatable issue. Orthodox Judaism practises circumcision for males as a matter of religious obligation, as does Islam. Islam also recommends this practice as a form of cleanliness. Western Christianity replaced that custom by a baptism ceremony that varies according to the denomination, but generally includes immersion, aspersion or anointment with water. Because of the decision of the Early Church (Acts 15, the Council of Jerusalem) that circumcision is not mandatory, it continues to be optional, though the Council of Florence prohibited it and paragraph no. 2297 of the Catholic Catechism calls non-medical amputation or mutation immoral (refer to "Catechism of the Catholic Church: Article 5-The Fifth commandment." Christus Rex et Redemptor Mundi. Retrieved on 2007-07-10).

In fact, circumcision has no significance unless recommended by doctors for the removal of prepuce (foreskin) for medical reasons. It came into being as a practical solution to getting rid of the deposition of smegma that causes irritation and eventually infection. We must take into account the geographical origins of Judaism and Islam. Both are actually desert religions where water was not adequately available in those days. Circumcision therefore was the only way to keep the private parts clean. Though Islam and Judaism never got along, Islam borrowed at least 14 practices from Judaism. Kosher or halaal, removal of hair from armpits and private parts (Tafazir/ Tahayyub) and circumcision being most glaring inherited practices. Jesus, who died a Jew, was circumcised. Theologically speaking, Islam and Christianity are cults of Judaism, rather than being two distinct religions.

 Mark Wellbensch explains it lucidly, " The following cults or religions always carry the vestiges of the parental faith, which being Judaism here in the context of circumcision " (Percolating Practices In Semitic Religions, Cambridge University Press, page 23). Christianity could dispense with this barbarism because of its rather modern outlook. It must be noted that many Jewish scholars like Carl Popper, the greatest Jewish philosopher of the last century, Albert Einstein and Carl Marx criticised this obnoxious ritual. Popper wrote, " Cutting a part of an infant's body without its consent is religious highhandedness." Popper wasn't circumcised. Carl Marx aptly called it, " 'Blade to bleed savagery' of primitive faiths." But no Muslim scholar vehemently raised his voice against this ridiculous and antediluvian practice.

 All the claims that circumcision makes a man sexually more virile and endows him with greater staying capacity (in bed) are baseless. Are those who're uncircumcised any way inferior to those, who're circumcised?
               
                                         ----Sumit Paul




  

Good Old Radio

A new study has found that tuning in to the good old radio makes people happier and gives them higher energy levels than watching TV or browsing the internet. In the British study, based on a survey, radio came out top, beating both TV and online, with respondents recording a 100 percent lift in happiness and 300 percent boost to their energy levels when listening to a radio show. Radio indeed has no substitute. There's alwys a kind of nostalgia attached to a radio. 

TV and internet could be the new-age gadgets, but they cannot usurp the popularity of radio. There's a down-to earth simplicity about a radio. You can carry it anywhere, unless it's a big valve radio made by now defunct Bush and Murphy companies. In the fifties and sixties, having a big valve-radio was a luxury and a status symbol like a Lambretta scooter, that looked a dashari aam with wheels, or a Premier Padmini by Fiat. Medium and short waves were two options unlike today's FM channels.

 I remember, people used to buy 2-3 band Philips transistors and very good ones had even 5-6 bands. Transistors used to be very handy and it could be carried anywhere. English travel-writer Trevor Fishlock wrote in The Guardian in 1975 that, " Despite TV making its slow progress in Indian cities like Calcutta, Delhi, Bombay and Madras, radio still rules the rest and will continue to be preferred over TV, at least in the small towns and villages." He was right. If you tune in Vividh Bharati, you get to hear a barrage of listeners' names from cities like Chaibasa, Bhatapara, Amravati and perhaps the non-existant Jhoomritalayya, making listeners wonder whether the people of Jhoomritalayya had no other work than listen to radio programmes.

 These listeners had all the time in the world to send hand-written letters to Radio stations requesting to play the songs of their choice. Those were really fascinating days. But there're still radio listeners' clubs in small towns like Akola, Vidisha and Bhilai where radio-lovers gather and listen to their favourite songs. Cricket lovers, who get to hear (sorry, see) the glamourised cricket-commentators on TV will never know the thrill of listening to the legendary radio commentators like Bill Johnston, John Arlott, Pakistan's Umar Qureishi, Tony Cozier, among others. Their description was so vivid and electrifying that listeners felt as if they were witnessing Sir Gary Sobers execute a sublime cover drive or Sunil Gavaskar hit a neat, straight drive. 

So mesmerising was their way of describing the game. Listeners used to be glued to their radio and transistor sets. A couple of years back, I was in western Rajasthan's Sirohi district. My friend, a great radio-lover, would tune in All India Radio, Urdu Service or Radio Ceylon on 25 and 41 meter bands sleeping under the star-studded night on the roof of his huge house. He'd no interest in TV and internet in spite of having access to them. And how can one forget the charm of BBC, London and Voice of America despite CNN and a host of news channels on the idiot-box? Radio soon strikes a rapport and though you can't see the announcers and performers, you start to relate to them. This is not there on net and TV. Because nothing is left to imagination on TV and internet. So there's no mystery and mystique. A few old things can never go out of our collective consciousness. Radio is one such object, so well-entrenched in our lives.

                                         -----Sumit Paul
      
 


No One's a Polymath

In 2005, I was teaching Urdu at a college in Unnao, UP. I've always been very meticulous not just about my Urdu, but all the languages I know. So I kept finding fault with the way young students wrote and spoke Urdu. All my students were Muslims. One day, my exasperation hit the nadir. I told them, " I'm a non-Muslim, yet I know 'your' language much better than you. And you all belong to an Urdu-speaking community, yet your written and spoken Urdu is so miserable." 

The whole class was silent. A girl stood up and very politely said, " I'm sorry, language doesn't belong to any community. It belongs to those who endeavour to learn it. There's no 'humari' (our) or 'aap ki' (your) in the sphere of a language. Were Raghupati Sahay 'Firaq' Gorakhpuri and Dhanpat Rai 'Premchand' Muslims? " Her words hit me hard. I'm grateful to her for broadening my vision and helping me come out of the narrow lanes and bylanes of 'your' and 'mine'. She also proved that even the teachers could learn from their students. But how many teachers are willing and graceful enough to learn from their students? Teachers behave and labour under the impression that what they've learnt's irreproachable. They don't want to be corrected by their students. Such teachers command no respect from their pupils. 

I remember, I'd an English teacher. One day while teaching, she used a phrase 'unkept hair'. I met her after the class and told her that to the best of my knowledge, the phrase was 'unkempt hair.' She wasn't very sure but assured me that she'd refer to a standard dictionary. Next day, she thanked me in front of the whole class for 'correcting' her and increasing her word-power. She further said that she never knew that the right expression was 'unkempt hair,' not 'unkept hair'. This is gracefulness and a noble spirit to learn something new every moment from everyone, irrespective of the other person's age and status. I've not yet forgotten that lady teacher and whenever I think of her, I remember her humility.

 But very few are like her. It pains me no end when I read that a very high-profile minister's daughter, who teaches at a reputed college in Delhi, failed a student because he dared to argue with her on a point that was related to the subject she was the 'professor' of. The student was right and he had the relevant references to prove her wrong. She took it personally and felt slighted in front of the students. She taught him a lesson by failing him!!! This is not the way to teach. Teachers should never be vindictive and revengeful. No one is omniscient or a polymath. We all keep learning all the time.

There's a very apposite maxim in Persian, Be aamoz ta-zindai (there's no end to learning). Our approach should be very open and generous. One mustn't feel insulted when one's taught something new. The process of learning is never ending and knowledge comes to those who're willing to receive it from all quarters.    
                                                 -----Sumit Paul