Thursday, September 22, 2011

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders: Journey through Pakistan

In the last five years or so, the number of books published in India has increased dramatically but their quality has hardly been good. Apart from some exceptions, the books being published are mostly shallow with very little or no literary value. I’m not particularly being critical of Chetan Bhagat. While he is not spectacular, his plots are good and, of course, he gets people to read who wouldn’t otherwise read helping expand the English reader base in India. But my point is his success has spawned many ‘trying to be Bhagat’ types and the market is milling with them. Their themes are limited – mostly college romance and such nonsense – and mostly they have nothing new to say.

On the other hand, Pakistan may not be producing as many writers but their outputs are of international standards. This has, of course, reasons other than literary. The west has traditionally been ignorant of the subcontinental countries, but even within India Pakistan has mostly been seen through the mist of current affairs issues that may reveal something about the politics of a country but hardly tell about anything else.

9/11 led to curiosity about Pakistan, its society and people. And that curiosity has been very well fed by writers like Mohsin Hamid, Kamila Shamsie etc. (Granta, a British literary magazine, published an edition on Pakistan last year where it published their work.)

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders by Danyal Muidduin comes from the same school. But where it’s different is it has completely steered clear of political issues and dealt with people and society.

In Other Rooms, Other Wonders takes you through various layers of Pakistani society and power structure and tells about their cross connections and interdependencies. It ushers you into the drawing rooms of the rich as well as gives you the glimpses of how the poor live their lives.

The book is a collection of eight short stories with some interconnections such as recurrence of characters from same families in different stories that are otherwise disconnected. These families mostly form the elite stratosphere of Daniyal’s rich Pakistan – as if to suggest that wealth is so concentrated in the country as to be a preserve of only a few families while poverty is omnipresent. By bringing in a character or social setup something around which you read in another story, this inorganic interconnection gives you the feeling of being not very far from the world you exited some stories back.

While the plots of urban-centric stories are more intricate, the stories set in rural Pakistan bring about Daniyal’s flair for scenic description.

But of all things, the Indian reader would be surprised by the city life lived by the youth coming from wealthy families. Drugs, booze, night clubs, you have everything. So does the murder of Salman Taseer signify that this particular Pakistan is under attack from religious extremists and it's shrinking? While reading the book I had many such questions forming in my mind. And so will you.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Do you have cold?

I tend to catch cold very easily. Sometimes it doesn’t help that I am an ice cream lover, sometimes just an auto ride with strong wind buffeting me is enough.

I suffered from a bout of cold roughly a month back and am nursing another one currently. And each time the problem returns, it leads to congestion in the chest leaving me coughing and spitting thick and quavering bob of sputum.

It takes me a complete cycle of antibiotic to find relief and then a month or two later, the demon is back again. Last time, when I was suffering, my mother told me taking antibiotic so often would make me immune to it and that’s a troublesome thing to happen. Last week, after hawking for a day or two and bringing up sputum, I decided it was time to visit a doctor. After the doctor had finished talking about his customary stuff, I brought up the antibiotic topic.

He informed I have already developed some amount of immunity to antibiotics; otherwise, I wouldn’t catch cold so soon after going through an antibiotic course. Generally, once you complete an antibiotic course, you should be all right for next six months or so. So could I go for other stream of medication to cure cold? “No,” he said and continued: “if I want to cure fast.

“Nowadays the problem is people want quick exit from ailments. There are mild dosages of antibiotics but they don’t ensure quick cure and you might think the doctor is not good enough and go to another physician who will give you stronger dosages only to improve his clientele. No one wants to risk loss of clients by giving mild dosages, even if it’s ethically advisable to give milder dosages first and in case of poor response move to higher ones.”

It reminded me that health is a big business. It works through a nexus between doctors, medical institutions and pharmaceutical companies. Pharmaceutical companies pay doctors to promote their medicines and they work with hired PR houses helping them with their promotional activities by giving favorable quotes to media and delivering talks at health conferences.

Medicines that are taken up for promotion aren’t just those that become available in the market after meeting established ethical and medical standards but also those that have government ban on them forbidding their use either completely or for certain diseases. The outcome is biased health stories and programs in newspapers, magazines and on TV.

The doctor said a long term solution to my tendency to catch cold lies in improving immunity through physical exercise of the kind that taxes your lung causing heavy breathing; which causes inhalation and exhalation of air improving the health of your lung. He recommended yoga. Then he gave the ‘done to death’ advice. “Leave smoking.”

I am not a heavy smoker nor do I live a sedentary life (I do freehand exercise everyday), but whether the exercise helps in this matter or the fact that I smoke, however moderately, adds to the problem, I am not sure.
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