Thursday, August 30, 2007

The Power of Scientific Knowledge

Indian culture---which I come from--is full of rites and rituals. There are dos and don'ts for almost every minute of the life. In a multi God Hindu religion (the predominant religion in India) each day of the week is dedicated to one or the other God of the Pantheon. And each God has his/ her rules for the day. Some are carnivorous (Lord Shiva-for Monday), others like yellow food (Lord Brishpat-for Thursday) and so on. Ideally, if you want to please the Gods you would play by the rules. BUT as you grow up in an Indian household you realise most often it is not about pleasing the Gods as it is about pleasing the society we live in. And, so many a traditions continue unquestioned, continuing to give many a folks many an inconveniences. The idea of taking on practices for the sake of tradition numbs the mind, and we become a very unquestioning lot. It is when the general populace is so yielding that a few smart ones become the power-wielders, eventually abusing power as we see so rampantly in India. We begin to take information, never stopping to seek its scientific basis, its logical beginning or its analytical end. I was myself a victim of this mentality for the longest time that I attended educational institutions in India. And looking back, I know I dislike that submissiveness.

Simple, rational knowledge can most often drive home a point so well. This was illustrated to me recently when I overheard a conversation between two of my girlfriends. One of them is pregnant, and was being advised by the other one to eat an apple the first thing in the morning. The pregnant girl said her mom and mom-in-law had asked her to do the same, but that she just did not have an appetite for an apple in the morning, plus she found the whole notion very orthodox. The other one promptly retorted that it was not about superstitions, but just that an apple with all its iron was best absorbed by a body that had starved for the whole night, and thus was very good for pregnancy when iron is most needed. Presto----the point had been driven home. An (organic) apple is being consumed every morning in an expecting mom's house every day.

Likewise, I think, as the season for the Indian festivals of Karva-Chauth (when Hindu wives fast without food and water from dawn to moon-rise for the long lives of their husbands) and Ramzan (when devout Muslims fast again from sun-up to sun-down food and waterless) approaches, it is important for fasting Hindu women and Muslim brethren to accept the past with the new scientific knowledge we have in hand today. Not eating for an entire day is not such a big issue----occasional fasting cleanses the digestive system. However not taking any water stores the toxins in the body and can do more harm than any good. Water is the UNIVERSAL SOLVENT. It is needed by human body in as much quantity as possible. By shunning food we can display our commitment to the motive of the fast, but by drinking water we can make it a more doable commitment. It will become a commitment that our children tomorrow will not fear taking up. They will be comfortable doing it and look forward to it.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The Forbidden Apple?

So this is my first blog on an observation, that I think would benefit you too, and indeed this is the event that actually motivated the timing of my blog debut.

I recently bought three 'Red Delicious apples'-----(and that is their category name), at The Food Emporium, a chain of upscale grocery stores located largely in Manhattan and Westchester on the East Coast. I picked the apples at their prime Upper East side location----and paid $4.39 for 3 such apples. At home, I unintentionally left one apple soaked in a bowl of tap water, for an hour (I had started to wash the apple thoroughly as I am wont to, and then got distracted by a phone call, and did not visit the apple till an hour later). And what do I see? The 7/8 part of the apple that was submerged in water, was covered with very queer streaks of white paint like substance. The 1/8 portion of the apple never underwater was still shining spotless red---just as I had picked it from the store. I tried to wash off the white substance----but it did not go away, even on scratching it. The apple was surely not tempting anymore!

I took it to the store manager shortly, and handed the apple to him, to 'investigate' on it, suggesting to him to get the apples tested by some 'Food Inspectors'. He promised to get back to me in 3 days time. In the meanwhile, I performed similar 'water' experiments on the remaining two apples--and all gave similar 'white' results. I then picked 3 more apples----two similar 'Red declicious apples' and one 'Gala' apple (this does not look as shiny and is certainly not a bright red) from 2 different vendors in the city. Gave the same 'water' treatment to these apples---and they came out fresh and smiling in their original coats after an hour each.

Three days passed. I narrated the whole episode to the Manager, and he came back with a paltry---"this is just food wax.....please feel free to take exchange apples for your experimental apples...I can't do anything else......this is edible wax.......and frankly I eat a lot of fruits, but I don't eat apples!!!!!!!!"(not exact quotes---but I exactly recall the content of each of his sentences).

You decide---what to do!

I have of course boycotted Food Emporium forever. Clearly, in a bid to polish up its produce, for its high-end clients, Food Emporium is either on its own, or through its supplier, selling 'edible wax' instead of harmless, nutritious fruits. I can definitely do with some little wax on my apples.

Having read up further then about apples, I am told that if you are a person who cares to buy anything organic, then apples are the first set of fruits you should buy O----since apples in general have the greatest tendency to pick up pesticide/fertilizer residuals inside their skins.

Why I finally resorted to Blogging?

For the longest time I considered blogging another of those web ways of being seen by as many as possible---I confess, something of a cheap gimmick to make oneself 'popular'. I likened it to an attempt to make one's personal diary a newspaper----an act best reserved for the butlers of Lady Dianas, and the White House consorts of ex-Presidents. As I post my own 'personal' thoughts today, I can definitely point to two main reasons for me coming around to blogging, and looking at it from the lens that most earnest bloggers actually do-----the lens of objectivity. The web is a VERY powerful medium, no doubts on that. And the web can thus provide a place for many a serious dialogues that we might as social scientists ( and for being those we don't need degrees--we just need OPEN EYES and OPEN EARS) want to have. The two reasons then were:
a. Having sent numerous never-published letters in response to articles in newspapers (most notably the WSJ in the U.S. and the Hindustan Times in India), I felt that either my letters are not super quality or that there are just too many people like me who write to the papers, and thus not all get published. In either case, I knew that if I was convinced about an issue, and wanted to share my thoughts on it, then perhaps I could start to 'publish' them on my own--right here!
b. When I spent two years at the University of Chicago, I became increasingly aware of the educated blogging done by even intellectuals like Judge Posner and Nobel Laureate Gary Becker---undoubtedly two of the most incisive and involved thinkers of today. I learnt that blogging is about information and nothing empowers like that. I can never think as clearly as they do, but I can get inspired for sure. Sitting down to write on some issue not only helps to concretise our thoughts on that issue, but an attempt to present it informally to a wide-variety of people, allows us to further break it down into nuts and bolts, and to understand it better.

So here I am, ready to discuss with you things that I see, or hear, and that I feel can help us change the world for 'a better' that we all largely agree on.