Friday, August 30, 2019

Turning WhatsApp into cardiac helpline

Spread positive information
Technology is what we make of them. WhatsApp can be used to spread falsehoods or to help people.

A cardiologist in Mangaluru, Karnataka, Dr Padmanabha Kamath, has chosen the latter by turning the messaging app into a free helpline.

Of course, this is not a substitute for a doctor. It only serves as a guide for someone who needs help.

For example, you have a particular symptom, and you want to get quick advice on what needs to be done. Or you have a medical report and you want a doctor to interpret it and suggest the future course of action.

This guidance is often what a number of us who have health issues are eagerly looking forward to.

The service that Dr Kamath runs is called Cardiology at Doorstep, and the WhatsApp number is +91-9743287599.

Considering that this messaging platform is arguably the most popular and effective medium of communication, there is immense potential for extrapolating this model on a bigger scale by corporates.

Read more about this initiative here.

(This post is part of the We Are The World Blogfest, which aims to spread positive news on social media. WATWB on Twitter and on Facebook.)

Monday, August 26, 2019

Sindhu, Stokes made my Sunday

P V Sindhu, the world badminton
champion (Pix credit: Outlook)
You won't believe, yesterday I was glued to the television from 5 pm to 10 pm. Never, at least in the recent past, have I watched TV at a stretch like I did yesterday.

India's badminton star P V Sindhu's match against Japan's Nozomi Okuhara, in the final of the BWF World Championships, was coming up at 5.10 pm.

Sindhu had been in tremendous form in the tournament, yet I didn't have much hope. Because she has a history of reaching the finals and losing.

Thus she had to settle for a silver in the 2016 Olympics, 2017 and 2018 World Championships, 2018 Commonwealth Games, and 2018 Asian Games.

But, as the match progressed, I was pleasantly surprised. Sindhu was racing ahead of Okuhara. Halfway through the first set she was leading 11-2. She smashed her way to wrap up the first set 21-7 in just 16 minutes.

It was very unusual of Okhuhara to make so many unforced errors and lose a set so badly. I thought she will recoup herself and there would be a tougher fight in the second set. After all, their head-to-head record is quite even. Of the 15 matches they had played against each other, Sindhu had won 8 and Okuhara 7.

But that's not what happened. More aggression from Sindhu. I haven't seen Sindhu like this. She has deft movements and placements. But her smashes were not always the ones that are powerful enough or placed well to be winners.

Sindhu with the gold medal (Pix credit: BBC)
But in this tournament, she was in a totally new form. She wasn't allowing herself to be complacent. Unlike most of her other matches, in which she and her opponent go neck and neck to finish so close at the end, here she was not trailing at all but taking an early lead and building on it.

The second set (21-7) lasted 20 minutes and she won the world championship. On top of the world. She richly deserves this.

As India's national flag went up and India's national anthem played, she couldn't hold back tears. My eyes too welled up.


The women's final was followed by the men's final.  Kento Momota of Japan was taking on Anders Antonsen of Denmark. Momota is the top seed and had been in great form. This match too was one-sided. Antonsen didn't pose many challenges and the match ended 21-9, 21-3.

This was some sort of consolation for Japan, considering Okuhara lost the women's final.


Ben Stokes, England's saviour
(Pix credit: Cricbuzz)
After badminton, I switched channels to see what's happening in Leeds in the Ashes series. It was a little after 6.45 pm. The match had entered an interesting stage, I realised.

England had been set a target of 359 to win, on day 3 (the day before yesterday). That means more than two days for them to do the task. But considering that in the first innings they folded up at 67, the odds were not exactly in their favour.

They lost the first wicket at 12 and the second at 25. It was Joe Root who steadied the ship, ending the day with his score at 75 not out and England at 156 for 3.

Yesterday was Day 4, and many thought England won't be able to stay put, handing over the Ashes to Australia. When I joined the match, the score was 259 for six. That means England needed exactly 100 runs to win with just four wickets remaining.

At 261, Chis Woakes got out for one. Three wickets remaining and 98 runs needed.

Jofra Archer belted three fours and I thought he will stay around for some time. But he didn't and got out after repeating a lofted on-drive and getting caught. He made 15. England slumped to 286 for 8. Two wickets remaining and 73 runs needed. Any hope of England saving the match was disappearing fast.

Stuart Broad walked in, and after facing just two balls, he got out without scoring. Score 286 for 9. Only the most diehard optimist would ever have thought England would win.

Australia needed just one wicket and England needed 73 runs.

Ben Stokes was keeping the hopes alive; and he was joined by Jack Leach, a slow left-arm orthodox spinner, whose career batting average is under 20. It shouldn't have been difficult for Australia.

But Stokes and Leach both seemed to have planned it well, as they ensured that Stokes always retained strike at the change of over.

They kept us all on the edge of the seat, as Australia came so close to taking that wicket, with chances for catches and runouts. With fours and sixes coming in at regular intervals from Stokes' bat, the required number of runs came down and down, and an unimaginable scenario of an England victory was gradually emerging.

And it finally, it happened. The match was tied at 359 and Stokes hit a boundary and ensured England not only registered an unbelievable win but also kept the Ashes alive.

The last pair faced 61 balls. Out of that, Leach faced only 17 and scored just one run. The rest 44 balls were faced by Stokes and scored 72 runs. His 135 not out, came in 219 balls, with 11 fours and 8 sixes. Stupendous performance.

Though the hero is Stokes, we must not forget the role Leach played. He hung on, keeping the match alive and allowing his partner to get the runs. He was like hanging on the edge of the precipice, waiting for his friend to save them both from a calamitous fall.

The moral of the story is, never give up hope, never lose cool, stay calm.

The fourth Test begins on September 4 at Old Trafford.


India was playing their 1st Test match against West Indies at Antigua. And the Indian bowlers were right on top, and the prospects of an Indian victory was looming. But I had little energy to sit through another cricket match!

The match would have got over around 2 am Indian time. India bundled out Windies for 100 winning the Test 318 runs, with Jaspreet Bumrah returning amazing figures of 8 overs 4 maidens, 7 runs and 5 wickets.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Loneliness & communication revolution

No one to talk to?

They are all just a tap (on-the-screen) away, aren't they?

Look at the ease with which we can connect with friends and acquaintances.

There is no need to write letters, go to post office, buy stamps, stick them and post the letters.

No need to even make telephone calls.

There are non-intrusive messages that we can send: long or short or anything in between too.

But are we really making use of these easy communication tools to keep in touch with our friends and relatives?

In WhatsApp groups, I find more of monologues in the form of 'forwards', than conversations.

These groups are like people sitting in the same room. How odd it will be if no one spoke to one another.

Let us make use of technology to initiate conversations, share happiness and sorrows, and exchange views and ideas.

It's not difficult to break free of loneliness.

Monday, August 5, 2019

Hope scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir's special status will usher in a new era there

The right-wing Union government led by BJP's Narendra Modi, today took a hugely important decision regarding the status of one of the most sensitive states in the country, Jammu and Kashmir.

It's a decision that no previous government in the 72 years of independent India has dared to take: to revoke a provision that was incorporated into the Indian constitution in 1954.

That provision, contained in Article 370, conferred on the state a huge amount of autonomy, so much so that the state, unlike the other states of the Indian Union, had its own constitution and its flag. There were also limitations to the applicability of the Indian federal law in the state.

Basically, the provision enabled the state of Jammu and Kashmir to be a part of India but without having to follow all the laws of the Indian government.


Today, the government delivered on its good-old promise, and revoked the provision, stripping the state of the preferred treatment it enjoyed all along, ever since it came into being in the late 1940s.

The government went beyond just that: it split the state into two Union territories: Jammu and Kashmir with a legislature, and Ladakh without a legislature.

A Union Territory is an administrative division of India, wherein the federal government holds a lot of administrative powers, unlike in the case of States which have far more administrative powers.

The sensitivity of this momentous decision can be gauged from the preparations the government did over the past week in J&K. There has been a huge induction of Indian Army troops, yesterday the government snapped all telecommunication networks - landline, mobile and internet - and late last night, it placed major political party leaders of J&K under house arrest; and declared curfew in Kashmir.

Not surprisingly, the government move has set the cat among the pigeons.


Three key arguments for keeping the special status

- The provision was part of a solemn guarantee granted to the people of J&K considering the special circumstances surrounding the way the state became a part of the Indian Union, immediately after the British left India in August 1947.

- People and its leaders value the autonomy that came along with the special status, and removing it should have been done only with the concurrence of the people.

- Jammu and Kashmir state is not like any other state in India; it has a different history and that must be taken into account while deciding the policies of the state.

Three key arguments for removing the special status

- The special status created a dichotomous situation wherein J&K, a sensitive border state of India, is a part of Indian Union but had its own administrative and governance mechanism thereby limiting the control of the Indian government -- be it for security or for the development of the state and its people.

- There was a context in which the provisions were incorporated into the Indian constitution. After many decades, those situations have vastly changed, thereby necessitating a new look.

- The autonomy provision was a temporary one incorporated into the constitution with a purpose. It has not been able to bring about peace in Kashmir, and it can be said that the provision has failed to achieve any purpose.


For me, today's development is just another turning point in the tumultuous journey the state, its polity and people have had for close to 80 years, pre-dating the exit of the British.

What has happened today is only a change in the law; what finally matters is a change in the hearts of the people of the state. How they take the changes remains to be seen.

Hope the new law will help the Union government to bring in the much-needed reforms in the governance of J&K and thereby bring about the required change in the hearts of the people.

We all know that there is tacit support from a section of the people of J&K for the decades-long militancy. Will it end with the development and prosperity of the people? Only if that happens will we be able to say that what the government did today was right.

As of today, we can't totally blame the government for exploring an out-of-box solution to find a way out of the problem that has been simmering for decades, costing hundreds of thousands of lives.

We have to just patiently wait and watch.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Kerala trip - Day 3, 4 - Old Boys Day

July 12-13, 2019

(This post has got delayed, and I have been off Blogger because my laptop wasn't working and it had to be given for repair. It's back in good condition.)

Every year, in July, my alma mater - Sainik School, Kazhakootam, Kerala - celebrates its Old Boys Day. This year, there is an added importance, it's 50 years since the Old Boys Association was founded, in 1969.

For me personally, it's a bit emotional too: the alumni group was founded by my late father, N Balakrishnan Nair, or NBN Sir, as everyone used to call him.

These public schools, which focus on military-style discipline, were started since even after many years after India won independence, there was no pan-Indian representation in the defence forces as a good majority of the soldiers and officers were largely from the north of the country, that too from a few states.

In order to correct the imbalance, the then defence minister V K Krishna Menon came up with the concept of Sainik Schools in every state of the country. Kerala state got its near Kazhakootam, a small town some 25 km north of the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram. The primary objective of these schools was to train students to join the defence forces. Though not many of us ended up in the forces, the training we got has always stood us good stead.

My dad was among the first group of teachers who were recruited. After the first batch passed out in 1967, he felt that the school needs to continue its association with the alumni since many of the students would one day reach eminent positions and the school, its staff and students should not squander the opportunity to learn from them. Secondly, the alumni should also have a way of connecting back with their school.

For my father, the OBA Day was a like an annual pilgrimage: he longed to see his students and they longed to see him. Even after retiring from active service in the school, he continued to attend the event, until 2012. I have also been attending the Old Boys Day quite regularly. This year, the event was over two days, because it's the golden jubilee.

On the 12th, among the events were a motorcycle show by an Army team; and a helicopter show by an Indian Air Force team. There was also an impressive rifle drill by an Air Force team and an Army dog show.

That night, we all got together at the Army Officers Institute in Thiruvananthapuram for dinner.

On the 13th, there was a homage to the martyrs, the old boys who laid down their lives in combat; a tribute to the teachers (called Guruvandanam), general body meeting of the Old Boys Association, and lunch.

All these events got dwarfed when compared to the interactions we all -- the alumni -- had with each other, and with our beloved teachers, past and present. Some of the alumni have been very regular at the Old Boys Day but some others have come after many many years. There were some friends whom I met after nearly 10 years.

Altogether it was a very energising couple of days at my alma mater.