Thursday, August 27, 2009

Schizophrenia and Indian Society

Since I started this blog, I wanted to take up this subject but was afraid to touch because I wanted write it with sensitivity. I also wanted to bring something useful to the discussion without being offensive to anyone which is hard when what you really want is to criticize.

Schizophrenia or any other mental illness is a taboo to many societies and so much so to Indian society. But in our case we have unique phenomenon because of complex social and religious structure of the society.

When one of my relative was going through the initial phase of schizophrenia, his family tried everything from religious offerings, to blame it on some supernatural power or bad luck. Only thing they were avoiding was to go to the doctor and get some real help. Because of taboo associated with mental illness, they were not ready to seek medical help. This continued for years and situation got worse with passing time. Finally when there were no other options, family took the boy to a mental hospital and got the treatment which this boy really needed. As soon as the treatment started, the boy started behaving normally, and functioning well. There was so much suffering in between and I can see the social reasons in denying the treatment to the patient. Now years after, medicine still continues (an unfortunate situation with schizophrenic patients), but he has a family with understanding wife and kids. He works and earns a living for his family. The situation in his case is not ideal, but no better or worse than any other family which has some kind of illness.

This is a good website with explanation of common symptoms and outcome of schizophrenia. Mental illness is like any other genetic illness which sure affects some percentage of population in every race depending on their genetic specificity. There is nothing good about having a mental illness, but so is the same with any other health related problem. What we need is more awareness in the society with early medical help for the patient suffering from the problem.

In India, in every city, there are number of people who claim to have some spiritual or special power because they claim to see/hear/dream some god or goddess. People worship these so called gurus/devis, and seek solutions of their own problems. I am not against the psychological help these so called gurus provide to people without damaging their self esteem, who otherwise can not afford a professional help, but the cost and sufferings of not-treated patient with mental illness because of these gurus is enormous and can not be underestimated. I was wondering if these so called special gurus/devis themselves are the cases of very good acting, some real belief to gain followers and/or position within the society or some kind of mental illness by itself.I don't know the answer, but I am curious!!!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fight for the position of the best Indian Institute

There is an interesting discussion going on at the blog of Prof. Madras on the article of Dr. Ganagn Prasad about the ranking of Indian research institute. If you read comments of this post and other blogs which discuss the topic, the main issue seems that which institute is better within India and why? You can also read all the short comings of the study at these comments and postings.

I am less interested in knowing if IISc is slightly at higher rank due to biology or if IITs are at lower rank due to high undergraduate teaching load. Also, it is known fact that NITs or any other state university will have even lower rank than IISc or IITs because of many factors. In my opinion if you take a look at the article of Dr. Gangan Prasap or article of prof. madras, one thing is quite clear that all of the top institutes in India can be grouped together in similar class. They may be little better or worse compared to each other, but far below in the research output compared to best institutes on the world. What are reasons and what can be done to make our best institute even more competitive? I would be more happy to discuss and see discussion on this line instead of the usual fight between IISc and IITs. Similarly other interesting questions are, what can be done to improve the quality and quantity of research output of NITs or State universities. what are the realistic expectations?

I have been to IISc and in my opinion it is pleasure to be there and do science there. You have world class facilities with motivated students and faculty and excellent campus. so what can be done to make it even better than what it is today. Can we have more "Science" and "Nature" articles from IISc or IITs? what is lacking?

I have also worked at a state university and can tell that if they are bringing any single article out in any international journal, it is an achievement by itself. The current atmosphere and support level is pathetic at these places and one should not expect increase in research output of these institutes without changing overall structure of the system and without providing adequate support in place. Also, one should be realistic in the expectation.

Here are some of the points which come to mind:

Administrative Structure, Interference and Colonial Hangover: This factor is one of the major factor for low motivation and output in any Indian Institutes and universities. Indian administrative system relies on no-trust policy and pyramid structure for decision making. This leads to unnecessary harassing and delay in any work which faculty wants to do. Be it purchasing of some instrument for research, or attending some conference abroad, adding new courses or going to sabbatical, administration is biggest hurdle in smooth functioning of these institutes. You need lengthy process, permission of highest authority (in state colleges, it means principal secretary of Higher Education Department sitting in state capital) and sometime bribe to babu. Without changing it, I can not see how things can be improved at the level it is expected.

Poor Infrastructure: This factor is specially important for NITs, state universities and colleges. Most of these places don't have basic library facility (that means no access to any international journal in the field) and other experimental and technical support needed for research. Faculty is loaded not only with teaching load, but lot of other administrative or even clerical load. While working at state college, I have worked in examination cell (checking total of students marks), admission committee(sorting hundreds of applications according to the board examination marks etc), counting attendance of students and providing data to the principal, checking stocks (that means counting old things in the store room of the department), as an election officer during national, state or municipality elections. Most of the faculty time at state universities, colleges and NITs are consumed in these clerical work leaving little time or motivation for any scholarly activities. These jobs are mostly clerical and using faculty for these jobs are wasting their motivation and talent.

Money: Experimental research needs money and academic freedom for faculty. More private partnership to research programs could be partial solution to this problem.

Any other suggestions, dear readers?

Monday, August 17, 2009

Friday, August 7, 2009

Attracting Talent: Ramanujam Fellowship

Brain drain from India to developed world is a serious phenomenon. Reasons are many fold which I will not go into detail in this post. I read it somewhere which I can not find anymore, that there are more Indian scientist working in United States than Indian scientists in India. Science in India is in dire state and is seriously is in need for more scientist to improve the quality and quantity of scientific research in India. On the other hand there are scientist who wish to go back but don't know what to expect and where to start. There need to be many fold efforts to bring back Indian scientist from abroad.

Ramanujam Fellowship seems to be one such step in right direction. It may attract even the established people who want to work in India for a short time. There are more such short and long term options needed for people who are still undecided and thinking about their future. This may be best bet for India to be competitive in the world of scientific research.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Adoption in America

I met this couple last year in one of the local play ground. They were in their late 50s, very successful academics in their respective field and they were with 2 year old twin boys. They were bit older to be a natural parents of kids and also boys had darker complexion same like most Indians have as compare to the white complexion of the couple. My first assumption was that probably they are the grand parent of the children. In university campus, it is very common to see mixed race families. But as I came to know them little better gradually, it turned out that the kids were adopted children of this couple and were Incas (South American native residents) who have similar looks and complexion like we Indians. Since then I have seen them on regularly basis and always admired their wish and ability to adopt children at their advance age.

America may be responsible to world's all evils as per popular propaganda, but I have seen many positive sides of Americans as well. The part of America where I live is somewhat better educated and is ready to give back to the world. Adoption from poor families from different part of the world is one of them. I have seen many adopted children in the neighborhood in past 3 years. I know couple of Indian girls who are adopted to American families. These girls are getting education in best private school as well as learning Bharatnatyam. Their adoptive parents are going all the length to provide some glimpse of the culture to these children of their country of birth. This quality is at least appreciable and I wish more and more orphan children get home in the family who are loving and nurturing and who are trying their best to provide rich experience to these children.

Coming back to the couple where we started this story, I recently saw them with another 3 month old daughter. They were beaming with happiness on the new addition in the their family. Boys were also very possessive of their sister and was coming to see what she is doing again and again taking time away from play in the sand-box. There may be many negative issues associated with adoption in general, but it is important to highlight and raise positive aspects of adoptions more.

Finally, as per this book adoption affects 60% of Americans. Well, that's a big number by any standard. It at least seem so looking at my neighborhood. May this phenomenon continue to spread everywhere as we need more and more such parents in this world to help spread positiveness of life.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Raksha-Bandhan in 21st Century

My 5 year old daughter performed everything which was told to her for the Rakhsha-Bandhan day. She put "Haldi", "Kumkum" and "Chawal" on her 2 year old brother's forehead and then put sweet on his mouth before tying the Rakhi on his right hand. Then she demanded that he should do the same for her and tie the Rakhi on her hand as well. She don't understand why only brother is supposed to protect/support her. Being elder she thinks the opposite and she understands that she is stronger then him and actually she is the one who is protecting/supporting him many times. What a wonderful idea!!! So her brother did the same and tie the Rakhi on her hand. Rakhi in its old form doesn't make any sense in today's world where brother and sister both can be capable of supporting each other. The main idea is a strong bond between them. Since in old times, it was the sister who needed protection and support more often, it did make sense to tie the Rakhi on brother's hand and in exchange brother promised to protect and support the sister whenever she needed it in her life. Now in 21st century, when woman is more empowered and can do the same for her brother if needed, tying Rakhi in sister's hand makes this wonderful festival of brother and sister bonding more relevant and beautiful. And we did skipped exchanging money part as I think it is not relevant to the spirit of Raksha Bandhan.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Inspiring story of an outstanding woman

This is a story of an outstanding woman Janet Rowley who has received America's highest civilian national award for 2009 "Presidential Medal of Freedom". Her decades of work in cancer research established that cancer is genetic disease and provided ways for more precise detection and treatment for the disease. While reading her story it is hard to ignore the fact that she stayed at home after getting medical degree while working part time to raise her 4 children before finding her way back to the scientific research. Her story is inspiring and intriguing. At the age of 84, she still drives her bicycle to her work and continues to work for understanding the mechanism and cure of cancer better. Here is the link of the story for anyone who wants to know more about her.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Life style and life expentancy for Indians

I visited a Hindu temple in my city yesterday. One of the striking thing you note when you visit Indian temple or Indian market in USA is elderly women and men in their 60s walking crippled or with the support of a stick or relative. This is in striking contrast where average American population at this age group seem to be very healthy and active. They go for swimming and gym regularly and care for their own health at much greater extent then average Indians do. Even average American children seem to be more active and aware in sports as compared to Indian population who pushes for academic excellence at the expense of sports and play activities for children. Many of my Indian friends agree with these observations.

While digging in the internet, I found a data chart of average life expectancy of different countries. Life expectancy is a measure of quality of life for people in that country. You can see that India is doing very poorly on the data sheet and is at 145th place amongst the countries. No, don't tell me that because of great Indian family system we don't need to think about our own health. This is crap. We have huge poor population who don't have excess to healthy food and good health care, so the average low life expectancy. I don't know what is the life expectancy of Indian middle class, but my guess is that it is also not very high as compared to average Indian population. The major reason of low life expectancy is life style (combination of fatty and oily food with low intake of fruits and vegetable combined with low level of exercise) as well as lack of quality health care in India. I don't know the data, but looking at the amount of Indians who need support at the temple, I was wondering if there is a big difference in data of middle class Indians in India and average Indian population abroad? Which is the dominant factor to affect longevity, life style or quality health care system? Maybe I need more research to reach any conclusion, but one thing is sure, we have a long way to go...