Monday, 21 May 2018


I am a Bengali who brought up on ‘Macher jhol and bhat’, that is fish curry and rice for you all. We have fish in both the meals and of more than one variety on holidays and when entertaining guests. So it is quite natural that I am expected to identify the best fish in the market and purchase it. But this quality was not ingrained in my genes; I learned it from my father during our weekend trips to the fish market.

This story is about my bonding with my father and how I could pick up the pearls of wisdom just by looking at him and asking him silly questions. When we were young the father and son bond was a more distant one based on respect, of course not without its share of love. Yet, there was a kind distance based on a mix of fear and respect which had its advantages but also the fact that there was an emotional gap in the bond that was tough to bridge. These days, however, with younger men becoming dads, the relation has met with a dynamic change. Younger dads today remember the equation which they shared with their own fathers and are making an effort to not repeat the same faults they noticed. But are they taking their children, both boys and girls, to the fish market to make them worldly wise? I doubt. I don’t see children tagging along their dads in the fish market any more. They stay in sanitized home environment, play virtual games on cell phones and watch unimaginative Kid’s TV. The social introduction of the child to the outside world is a father’s responsibility and my father did it amazingly well.

So how do we buy the best fish? There are some thumb rules that you need to follow while buying fish and making sure that it is fresh.

1.      Go to a reputable store or fishmonger.
2.      Ask what is the freshest or check what the catch of the day is.
3.      Don't be misguided by the term "fresh." Most landlocked areas selling fish usually have two types of fish - thawed or frozen, unless it is an upstanding vendor who really likes freshness.
4.      The smell of fresh fish is specific to its origin (sea, lake, river, fish pond) and it is pleasant and neutral. Spoiled fish has an unpleasant, sharp smell of trimethylamine (bad fish) and rot.
5.      Check the eyes: Eyes of fresh fish are bulging and shiny. Eyes of old fish are cloudy and sunken into the head. Before you handle the fish, check the eyes. They should be crystal-clear, plump, wet, and shiny, with no sunken features. If the eyes look good, you can bet with reasonable confidence that the fish is fresh and healthy. Once the fish begins to deteriorate, the eyes dry out, become cloudy, and sink in or shrivel away. This indicates an unhealthy or improperly-handled fish 
6.      Check the Fins - The tail and dorsal fins of the fish should be healthy-looking, wet, and intact. A fish that's been mishandled will have torn or ragged fins, while an older fish's fins will be dry and brittle. Torn and ragged fins probably belong to a fish that was netted or held for too long. 
7.      Check the Gills – The gills of fresh fish are moist. In old fish they are dry, covered with sticky slime, grayish-brown in color and smell bad. Healthy gills are of a nice, bright red color. A truly fresh fish should have gills that are vibrant red, not brown. When first caught, a fish's gills appear bright red, and slowly darken over time. The brighter the color, the fresher the fish. The gills should also feel clean and cold, not slimy. Mucus will build as time passes, too, so as the fish ages.

Healthy fish has moist bright red gills which are moist but not slimy

8.      Check the Skin- The skin in live and fresh fish is moist, must be unharmed and have a naturally metallic glow. Scales must be tightly attached to the body. The surface of healthy, fresh fish must be tight and shiny so that fish slides out of your hands. Discoloration and cracked skin are signs of rotting fish. Old or bad fish has already started losing its scales. When no longer fresh, the flesh becomes soft and tends to fall apart. The appearance of a fresh fish should be shiny and wet.
9.      Slime is equally distributed over the fish, it is clear and odorless. With time, slime gets increased, murky and dirty and has a sour smell.
10. Poke the flesh - The body of a fresh fish is firm and has a specific consistency and appearance. When pressed it should bounce back. Soft, grey and inelastic fish is old or bad. The fish should feel cold, wet, and slippery, but not sticky. When pressed, it should spring back to its natural shape, just like if you were to press on your own flesh. If it doesn't spring back, it is a sure sign that the meat has softened and and is no longer worthy of your money. Fish that has lost its firm shape is no longer fresh.
11. Touch the scales: Scales are designed to protect the fish from a harsh watery environment. When a fish is fresh, the scales will be shiny and firm, a veritable armor against the elements. Less-fresh fish will often shed scales as you run your hand over them, and they may appear dry and flaky.
12. Belly of a live and fresh fish is shiny and undamaged, and the anal opening is tight. Anal opening of old and bad fish sticks out and is yellow-brown in color.

Buy whole fish whenever possible – It is easier to determine the freshness of a whole fish rather than a previously cut fish. My father used to say that if I do not see the head of the fish still attached to the body it is not worth wasting time on it. Once purchased the fish seller will fillet it for you the way you would like. To keep fish fresh for longer, transport it in an insulated cooler bag. Fish should be the last thing you buy in a bazaar and after that go straight home. As soon as you get it home, carefully remove any guts, rinse it under running water then pat dry. Ideally you should put the masala on and cook it the same day. If that is not possible then add salt and turmeric and store in the refrigerator until the next day.

Buying butchered fish – If you have a small family then buying a large fish may be uneconomical. But gauging the freshness of a fish that has not been cut in front of your own eyes is difficult. If you prefer to buy filleted fish, these tips will help you choose the freshest product. For the most part, visual cues are enough to indicate a fresh piece of fish, but some tactile clues may help as well.

1.      Look for cracks, breaks, and pooling water - Look for cracks in the filet that run between the muscles and collagen sheaths (the white lines running through the fish). Breaks in the muscle itself tend to indicate mishandling. Natural separation of the muscles along the collagen sheaths indicate that the fish is not very fresh because enzymes naturally present in the muscle tissue are degrading the collagen, causing the muscles to start to tear under their own weight. Pooling water inside the container usually indicates that the fish is aging and losing its ability to hold moisture. 
2.      Inspect the color and consistency of the flesh - For white fish, such as rohu or pabda, the meat should look fairly translucent. If it is very opaque and extremely white, it's a sign that the flesh is not fresh. 
3.      For all fish, make sure the flesh is wet and glossy. Fish that is sticky, dry, or chalky has likely been handled improperly (held at warm temperatures), frozen and thawed several times, or is just plain old.
4.      Colour - the flesh should be bright and very saturated in color. Look for a clear color contrast between the fat and the muscle as this is the best indication of a fresh butchered fish. 

Next time you go to the fish market take your children along with you and pass on your knowledge to them. Listen closely to the fish seller; he will invariably be keen to teach your children and you a thing or two. Whenever I go to the Kaisarbag fish market in Lucknow I am always welcomed by loud greetings from fish sellers and their now elderly present generation successors, because they have known me since I was a child. And this acquaintance and old friendship is the surest guarantee of the freshness of the fish I purchase.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018


Whether we know it or not, our sons learn about being a man primarily by watching their fathers. A father's influence on his son's personal development is often unseen but nonetheless real. As a young man watches his father interact with his mother, he learns about respect (or disrespect), about how men and women interact and about how men should deal with conflict and differences. As he watches his dad interact with other men, he will learn how men talk, how they relate with one another and how they deal with masculine issues. Alas with work pressures and financial woes mounting father and son bonding is becoming a thing of the past.

Human beings are social animals and we learn by modeling behavior. In fact, all primates learn how to survive and function successfully in the world through social imitation. Those early patterns of interaction are all children know, and it is those patterns that effect how they feel about themselves, and how they develop. A child is vulnerable to those early patterns and incorporates those behavioral qualities in his/her repertoire of social exchange.

The father-son relationship can be complex. Fathers and sons with widely different interests can find it hard to relate to one another. Sometimes dads and sons feel competitive against one another. Sometimes their male tendencies to not communicate feelings are compounded as both want a better father-son relationship but neither one quite knows how to go about it. Understanding that a father's influence on his son is unmatched will help fathers think more deeply about their relationship with their sons and take that relationship more seriously. Focusing on our sons, spending positive time together and talking about life lessons, scattered with a large dose of quiet and engaged listening, will help fathers and sons develop nurturing and meaningful relationships and help our sons form attitudes which will allow them to develop into men in the richest sense of that term.

Today when I look back I can say with certainty that my father did a far better job of fathering than I did. His lessons were hands on and of everyday use. ‘Quality time’ did not come announced; it was there every time we were together and it left an indelible impression on my mind and helped me become a better person.

I would accompany him to the bazaar every Sunday for purchasing vegetables, fruits and groceries. One thing which always astonished me was he knew almost everybody he interacted by their first name! Not only that, he also knew whose mother was not keeping well, whose son was appearing in High School examinations and whose daughter was getting married. He would stop and talk to everybody, whether he was buying something from them or not and I was supposed to greet everyone with a polite ‘Namashkar’.

On one such day in the bazaar he taught me how to purchase the sweetest watermelon! Watermelons are one of my favorite summer foods, and to my mind, nothing tastes better in the Lucknow summer like a sweet and crunchy watermelon. On the other hand, there's nothing quite like the disappointment of biting into what you thought was a ripe watermelon, only to be rewarded by the bland and flavorless taste of an unripe melon. To reduce the disappointment of eating an unripe melon how can you pick the best watermelon from the heap? You won’t know if your father didn’t tell you!

So here are the tips which my father gave to me to choose the sweetest watermelons. Try them, they have never failed me:

1.      Look at its belly: Watermelons have an underside, or belly, which is in contact with the ground throughout its growth.  This is called a 'field spot' or ‘yellow spot’. This spot on a ripe watermelon will be yellowish (sometimes referred to as "buttery"), and not white, which indicates an unripe melon.
2.      Dull not shiny: The watermelon should not look shiny, that is a feature of unripe fruit. If should be dull in colour
3.      Round not oblong: Perfectly round watermelons are sweeter than the oblong ones which tend to be a bit watery
4.      Look for webbing: These web-like brown spots on the watermelon mean that bees touched the pollinating parts of the flower many times. The more pollination, the sweeter the fruit is.
5.      Thump it: Using your knuckles, rap on the middle of the watermelon while holding it up to your ear, or flick it with your finger (like flicking a crumb off your shirt). A ripe watermelon will have a hollow sound when knocked, which sounds more like a 'plunk' than a 'thwack'. An unripe watermelon will have more of a higher pitched sound, while an overripe one will make a 'thud' or a lower-pitched sound. Learning the difference between the sounds of an unripe vs. a ripe watermelon takes a bit of practice.
6.      Sniff it: Pick up the watermelon and carry it a little bit away from the rest of the melons (so you don't pick up the smell of other melons), and give it a good sniff. A ripe watermelon should smell slightly sweet, and similar to what a melon tastes like, but not overly sweet (which can indicate an overripe watermelon).
7.      Squeeze it: Gently squeeze the side of the watermelon to see if there's a bit of 'give' to it. The rind of the melon shouldn't be soft, as the skin of some fruits get when ripe, but it also shouldn't be hard as a rock, with no give to it at all.
8.      Check the approximate weight on your palm, for a similar size watermelon the ripe one would be heavier than the unripe one.
9.      Look at connection to the mother vine. A ripe watermelon can be plucked off the vine leaving no part of the vine attached to it, whereas an unripe watermelon invariably carries a part of the torn vine along with it.  A dried tail indicates that the watermelon is ripe. However, if the tail is green, it probably means that the watermelon was picked too soon and will not be ripe.

Now tell me, if your father did not teach you this, who else is going to impart this invaluable knowledge to you!

Helping a son be grounded spiritually is an important role for a father. Whatever your faith tradition, help your son understand the deeper meaning of life. If you don't have a faith tradition, help him reach for his inner self and try to have a perspective that will help him look at things deeper than on the surface. As a young man gets in tune with nature, God and himself, he will have a pattern in his life that will help him endure hardship and thrive personally. Buying a ripe watermelon was just something I am reminded of every summer but developing inter personal relationships in this world was a far more valuable lesson that I learned from my father during these trips to the bazaar.

One of these days I am going to tell you how to buy fresh fish!!

Monday, 30 April 2018

FACTFULNESS – why things are better than you think?

When I read a good book I have this urge to share it with the world and when I hear about a good book I get impatient. So when none less than Bill Gates recommended this book I had to get my hands on it.......and I finished it in two days! FACTFULNESS is a book like no other, and when it comes from a Bibliophile like me, who reads everything from poetry to Times Classified, you would advised to take me seriously. On its cover the book boldly declares the author’s objectives: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World-and Why Things Are Better Than You Think 

Written by Dr. Hans Rosling, a professor of international health at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, this is a book about statistics and it shatters so many myths that after completing the book you are bound to be transformed into a far more optimistic person! Bestselling books about statistics are as rare as unicorns. If it becomes the No 1 bestseller it surely is as rare as a lunar unicorn. Factfulness by Hans Rosling is that moon-based creation.

I knew the author from his inspiring Ted talks 

His first such talk thrust him into the international spotlight in 2006. In 2015, the Swedish professor asked an audience that included heads of state, titans of industry and a former UN secretary-general three multiple-choice questions about poverty, population growth and vaccination rates. To his delight — and dismay — they scored worse than average. Rosling’s well-educated audience in Davos did not know that the world’s average life expectancy is 70, that 88 per cent of children are vaccinated against disease or that in 2100 there will be 2 billion children below the age of 15 — the same number as today! Apart from in Africa, fertility rates have fallen so fast that populations have stabilised almost everywhere on Earth. One of Rosling’s favourite statistics is that Muslim Bangladeshi women have fewer children than Christian/atheist women in Sweden!  

Dr. Rosling left us for his heavenly abode on February 7, 2017. He was billed as the man in whose hands data would sing. The statistician in him was more likely to illustrate an idea with a few multi-coloured lego bricks than a PowerPoint presentation. In his lifetime had been described as everything from a data guru to a Jedi master of data visualisation. Rosling liked to call himself an “edutainer”. A talented presenter, whose signature animated data visualisations have featured in dozens of film clips, the statistician used humour and often unlikely objects such as children’s toys, cardboard boxes and teacups to liven up data on wealth, inequality and population.

FACTFULNESS has a very simple message - the vast majority of us get it wrong about the state of the world. We think it is poorer and unhealthier, more dangerous and violent than it actually is. The book explains how media bias, ideological preconceptions and statistical illiteracy makes most people believe in a gloomy and spectacularly wrong worldview. The book carefully explains by data and vivid examples how positive developments are systematically underreported, while disaster news is vastly over-reported. Rosling categorise the 10 most important sources of bias and misconceptions, some basic human instincts like fear, negativity, blame etc which caused a negative outlook of the world. He also carefully explained strategies on how to avoid them and develop an optimistic outlook.  

Our distorted picture stems partly from having media that inevitably report on tragedies such as starvation, war and school shootings, and from charities that accentuate the negative. Without ever dismissing suffering, Dr. Rosling argues that we need to keep two ideas in our heads simultaneously: things can be bad but they are also improving. In one provocative chapter, he celebrates the fact that “only” 4.2 million babies died last year, calling the number “beautifully small”. In 1950, when the population was much smaller, there were 14.4 million dead babies. We have made huge progress.

In the Chapter on ‘gap instinct’ Dr. Rosling debunks the Mega Misconception that “The World Is Divided in Two”. He goes on to how irresistible temptation we have to divide all kinds of things into two distinct and often conflicting groups, with an imagined gap—a huge chasm of injustice—in between. It is about how the gap instinct creates a picture in people’s heads of a world split into two kinds of countries or two kinds of people: rich versus poor, developed versus developing west versus east and so on

Factfulness is the product of his master craftsmanship of presenting the truth behind a deluge of data. He has in this book helped us identify where things are getting better and encourages us to counter the mainstream media’s agenda of doom and gloom and spread the message of improvement. This way the book and its author helps us to see the world more objectively and overcome the easy cynicism that so easily creeps into our way of thinking. The world has made huge progress which needs to be appreciated because only then we can look at a bad situation, which was worse once, and plan to improve it in future. This is the world view of a ‘possiblist’, one who believes that things could get batter and not that things will get better! Dr.Hans Rosling was a perfect ‘possiblist’.

Some of the statistics that Dr. Rosling produced were absolutely mind boggling. He categorized people by their income levels and emphasized the commonality that exists in each such level irrespective of where they live. Thus he has shown that people tend to buy shoes and bikes when they double their income from $ 2 to $ 4 a day irrespective of where they live – in the outskirts of Kinshasa or in the slums of Dhaka. So he went ahead to organize people along how they lived instead of where they lived and that way it was impossible for anyone to miss the progress made. His knack for presentation and delight in statistics come across on every page. Who else would choose a chart of “guitars per capita” as a proxy for human progress?

This is tremendously readable non-fiction.  It is well-researched, well-written, and organized for ease of learning, with honesty, humor, and personal perspective. The 354 page book is published by Flatiron Books and it costs Rs. 304.00 in Flipkart. The Kindle price is $ 4.21 and the hard cover is for $ 16.79. The PDF can be downloaded from

Wednesday, 25 April 2018


When it comes to planning a budget for the country the act is not very dissimilar to planning the budget for a family. The size certainly is very different but the intent and the purpose however are very similar. Just like a family, a country too has its wish list, a set of realistic goals for the year, it too has to identify all possible sources of income, list the expenditures according to its priorities and importance, and allocate funds for each of them, and save something for a rainy day.

The 7 Steps to a Budget are
·         Step 1: Set Realistic Goals. Goals for our money will help us make smart spending choices…
·         Step 2: Identify our Income and Expenses. ...
·         Step 3: Separate Needs and Wants. ...
·         Step 4: Design our Budget. ...
·         Step 5: Put our Plan into Action. ...
·         Step 6: Seasonal Expenses. ...
·         Step 7: Look Ahead.

While families manage to strike a balance between their income and expenditure on most occasions, governments are often not so smart. They end up spending more than they earn, thus adding to their Credit Card debt. A "government deficit" refers to the difference between government receipts and spending in a single year. And how does the government meet this deficit? Naturally by borrowing and this is “government debt”. So the government debt is the debt owed by a government.

This government debt can be categorized as internal debt (owed to lenders within the country) and external debt (owed to foreign lenders). Another common division of government debt is by duration until repayment is due. Short term debt is generally considered to be for one year or less, long term debt is for more than ten years. Medium term debt falls between these two boundaries. A broader definition of government debt may consider all government liabilities, including future pension payments and payments for goods and services which the government has contracted but not yet paid.

Governments create debt by issuing securities, government bonds and bills. Less creditworthy countries sometimes borrow directly from a supranational organization (e.g. the World Bank) or international financial institutions like IMF and Asian Development Bank. So government debt is effectively an account of all the money that has been spent but not yet taxed back. The ability of a government to repay this debt is dependent on how much it earns annually and this is its ‘Gross Domestic Product’ or GDP.

GDP is an aggregate measure of production equal to the sum of the gross values added of all resident and institutional units engaged in production (plus any taxes, and minus any subsidies, on products not included in the value of their outputs). GDP thus measures the monetary value of final goods and services—that are bought by the final user—produced in a country in a given period of time. 

The debt-to-GDP ratio is the ratio of a country's public debt to its gross domestic product (GDP). By comparing what a country owes to what it produces, the debt-to-GDP ratio indicates the country's ability to pay back its debt. Often expressed as a percentage, the ratio can be interpreted as the number of years needed to pay back debt if GDP is dedicated entirely to debt repayment. Generally, Government debt as a percent of GDP is used by investors to measure a country ability to make future payments on its debt, thus affecting the country borrowing costs and government bond yields. So countries with modest debt-to-GDP ratio can borrow money to meet their deficit at a lower rate and those which have alarmingly high debt-to GDP ratio end up borrowing at a much higher rate thus compounding their already fragile fiscal situation. If a country is unable to pay its debt, it defaults, which causes panic both in its domestic and international markets, as it has both internal and external debts. The higher the debt-to-GDP ratio, the less likely the country will pay back its debt and the higher its risk of default!

Governments have the unenviable task of achieving two goals at once:
1.      Faster economic growth that will create more jobs and bring the unemployment rate steadily down.
2.      A sustainable long-run budget plan that will halt the rise in the debt/GDP ratio or better still, put it on a downward trajectory.

The two goals reinforce each other and neither can be achieved without the other. Weak economic growth—or worse, sliding back into recession—will reduce revenues and make it much harder to reduce or even stabilize the ratio of debt to GDP. But the prospect of debt growing faster than the economy for the foreseeable future reduces consumer and investor confidence, raises a serious threat of high future interest rates.

Stabilizing and reducing future debt does not require immediate austerity; on the contrary, excessive budgetary austerity in a still-slow recovery undermines both goals. But it does require a firm plan enacted soon to halt the rising debt/GDP ratio and reduce it over coming decades.

What is ideal debt-to-GDP ratio?
Economists have not identified a specific debt-to-GDP ratio as being ideal, and instead focus on the sustainability of certain debt levels. If a country can continue to pay interest on its debt without refinancing or harming economic growth, it is generally considered to be stable. A high debt-to-GDP ratio may make it more difficult for a country to pay external debts, and may lead creditors to seek higher interest rates when lending. Then again while governments may strive to have low debt-to-GDP ratios, government borrowing may increase in times of war or recession and government earnings may be depleted by poor harvest and mindless subsidies.

Some World Figures
Global debt reached a record high in 2016 at $164 trillion, or almost 225 per cent of global GDP. China alone has contributed to 43 per cent increase to global debt since 2007. Public debt is currently at historic highs in advanced and emerging market economies. Average debt-to-GDP ratios, at more than 105 per cent of GDP in advanced economies, are at levels not seen since World War II. The average debt-to-GDP ratio among Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries in 2015 was 111.2%. A number of countries had a debt-to-GDP ratio in 2015 that was over 100% including Belgium at 105.4%, France at 116.1%, Greece at 188.2%, Ireland at 132%, Italy at 147.4%, Japan at 232.5%, Portugal at 142.2%, Spain at 111.5% and the United Kingdom at 103.1%.

The United States had a debt-to-GDP ratio of 104.17% in 2015 according to the U.S. Bureau of Public Debt. The United States experienced its highest debt-to-GDP ratio in 1946 at 121.70%, and its lowest in 1974 at 31.70%. Debt levels gradually fell from their post-World War II peak before plateauing between 31 and 40% in the 1970s. They have been rising steadily since 1980, jumping sharply following the subprime housing crisis of 2007 and subsequent financial meltdown.

The U.S. government finances its debt by issuing U.S. Treasury bonds, which are considered the safest bonds on the market. The countries with the 10 largest holdings of U.S. Treasury bonds are Taiwan at $182.3 billion, Hong Kong at $200.3 billion, Luxembourg at $221.3 billion, the United Kingdom at $227.6 billion, Switzerland at $230 billion, Brazil at $246.4 billion, Ireland at $264.30 billion, the Cayman Islands at $265 billion, Japan at $1.147 trillion and Mainland China at $1.244 trillion.

Where is India?
India's general government debt remained relatively high, at 70 per cent of its GDP in 2017, but authorities are planning to bring it down over the medium term with the right policies. For economies that are growing rapidly, a higher debt to GDP ratio is acceptable. This is because its future earnings will be able to pay off the debt much more easily than a country with a slow growth rate. India on date is the world's fastest growing major economy. Another factor that determines the health of an economy and its debt to GDP ratio is its demographics. The older the average age of the country’s population, greater the cause of concern. For example, an ageing population like China's is a cause of concern as there will be more pensioners than earners. India on the other hand has the world's youngest population. India's external debt witnessed a decline of 2.7 per cent over its level at end-March 2016. The decline in the magnitude of external debt was partly due to valuation loss resulting from the depreciation of the US dollar with respect to the Indian rupee, but the role played by correct policy decisions cannot be under-played.

Avoiding Disaster, Growing the Economy and Stabilizing the Debt should be our mantra for future. Indeed, higher investment in science, education, and modern infrastructure is needed to foster future productivity and job creation. While savings in defence can be made over time, they should result from serious planning, not mindless cut, regardless of priorities as integrity of the Nation is non-negotiable.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018


Remember how Priya Prakash Varrier with her dancing eyebrows winked her way into our hearts and became an overnight internet sensation! Eyebrows and expression have a long association and are invalable assets for the exponents of our classical dance forms - Bharatnatyam, Kathakali, Kuckipudi and Mohiniattam.

We Plastic surgeons have been bothered about the eyebrows for a very long time as drooping eyebrows make the face look aged and nice arching eyebrows signify youthfulness. So in our eternal quest of rejuvenation we have been working in and around the eyebrows since quite some time. It was only when we started replacing missing parts of the eyebrow did we realize that each one of them comprises of three sections – head, body and tail and the body has two halves upper and lower and all four of these parts i.e. head, upper body, lower body and tail, have hairs growing in different directions!

If you compare modern human beings to our prehistoric ancestors, one of the most obvious physical differences you'll find is the lack of a massive brow ridge. Over time, human evolution led to us developing finer facial features, smoother foreheads, and eyebrows. But why did this happen?

A recent study, published in Nature Ecology and Evolution claims that eyebrows that are mobile help people with non-verbal communication, which is one of the traits that make us the most advanced human species to ever exist. In contrast, the Neanderthals' jutting brow was used for displays of dominance and sexual attraction instead, similar to the function of a stag's antlers.

"Sexually dimorphic display and social signaling is a convincing explanation for the jutting brows of our ancestors," said Paul O'Higgins, senior author of the study and professor of Anatomy at the University of York. "Their conversion to a more vertical brow in modern humans allowed for the display of friendlier emotions, which helped form social bonds between individuals".

Around 100,000 years ago, human groups began to diversify their social networks, which is why it made evolutionary sense to prioritize emotional responses over violent adaptations. Scientists claim that it is around this point in history that human being began to develop smaller and flatter brow ridges, as well as the mobile eyebrows that we still have today.

Eyebrow movements allow us to express complex emotions as well as perceive the emotions of others. A rapid "eyebrow flash" is a cross-cultural sign of recognition and openness to social interaction and pulling our eyebrows up at the middle is an expression of sympathy. Tiny movements of the eyebrows are also a key component to identifying trustworthiness and deception. On the flip side, it has been shown that people who have had botox which limits eyebrow movement are less able to empathize and identify with the emotions of others.

But why do we have them in the first place? Is it only to communicate through our expressions? The consensus seems to be that eyebrows keep moisture, like sweat and rain, from running down a person’s forehead straight into the eyes. This explanation is easy to visualize when you look at the morphology and facial features involved — most notably, the pronounced slant of the eyebrow hairs which directs water away from the eyes. This has obvious evolutionary survival advantages. Sweat tends to be very salty, and salty liquids getting into your eyes while you’re running in an African Savannah would be a severe hindrance to hunting. It could also be a potentially deadly problem when the tables are turned and you are fleeing hungry predators. Eyebrows give those potentially deadly distractions a detour to the side of the face, instead of right into your eyes.

Beauticians have been dabbling with the eyebrows since ages. According to them there are six facial shapes - Oval Face, Round Face, Long Face, Square Face, Heart shaped Face , Diamond shaped Face and there is a best eyebrow shape suited for each facial shape! Party heart-throbs, brides and cine-artists have all had special attention paid to their eyebrows to make them look more beautiful and sexy. What they as for can then do with this ammunition, only sky is the limit!

Geneticists have established that the shape, color, and thickness of your eyebrows are inherited traits. In one major study in 2015 ( ), scientists found a strong relationship between inheritance of specific genes and eyebrow appearance. Four separate genes may affect eyebrow hair texture, one gene may determine eyebrow shape, five genes affect eyebrow hair color, and one gene determines whether or not you develop a monobrow. But, environmental factors also have a lot to do with how your eyebrows look. Years of waxing or tweezing your eyebrows can permanently affect their shape. Injuries to the skin near your eyebrows can also affect hair growth and eyebrow shape.

Just as eyebrow characteristics are inherited, so are abnormalities affecting the eyebrows. One of the most common abnormalities affecting eyebrows is madarosis, or loss of eyebrows. The term madarosis can also refer to loss of eyelashes. This can be caused by many different inherited disorders. Several congenital facial clefts also traverse the eyebrows, clefting them too!

So, eyebrows are the Swiss Army Knife of the human body—they do everything!

Monday, 2 April 2018

Knowledge and technology: A turbulent marriage!

KNOWLEDGE and TECHNOLOGY are two comets that we are trying to ride at the same time. Both are fast and we have no control over them. We are holding on, with great difficulty, to the searing tails of these two Comets, hoping that they will take us to the right place at the end of the ride. Sometimes we pray that we can hold on for the entire ride. Sometimes we find ourselves praying that Almighty God will be merciful and just let us fall off. What we shudder to think is what will happen the next time the two Comets choose to move in opposite directions as they have undoubtedly done in the past.

While it is so true that we cannot hold on to the older proven techniques and should continue to strive for excellence at all times, the reality is that all that is new and available is not invariably good and useful. There is a lot of market driven euphoria and baseless jingoism with quite so called new gadgets, hence our reluctance to succumb to them. When confronted with a new machine / technology we should ask whether we are the masters or the slaves of technology. Once we understand that we must be the master, the rest is fairly simple. The ultimate purpose of any technology is to help its master to do his or her job better. Our job is to cure patients, improve the quality of recovery and patient's well being, and reduce the sufferings of those we can not cure. We also must make treatment efficient and cost effective. If a product of the new technological boom does not meet these criteria, we must ask “Why are we doing this?”

State of the art technology is no substitute for state of the art knowledge; in fact it is quite useless and on most occasions downright harmful without it. Technology has not always taken us to the crest of success. The moment we have allowed it to lead our knowledge, with our subconscious connivance, it has led us astray, or more correctly we have allowed technology to lead us astray. Extracorporeal Shock Wave Lithotripsy (E.S.W.L.) has broken millions of stones in the kidney, ureter, and bladder. Thinking it to be a stone breaking machine, a few amongst us tried to crush stones in the gall bladder expecting them to disappear like magic. We conveniently forgot to compare the anatomy and physiology of the two organs - in one clear urine washes down the debris through a straight ureter and in the other thick viscid bile slowly finds its way down across a serpiginous course and through a valve. The result was a disaster of enormous proportions - all because we did not do our homework well. The marriage of knowledge and technology is a very turbulent one as both are highly ambitious and growing rapidly. A postal delay in the delivery of two journal issues leaves one fairly behind in patient care and ignoring seminars and conferences makes one antique.

If necessity is the mother of invention, then strategy should be its father. Technology should not evolve spontaneously. Its evolution should be our responsibility. Where do we go from here? What technologies are on the horizon? How do we open our minds without closing too many doors? Surgeons are looking at various technology that could enormously improve patient care and even put them out of business; technology that can fix things without touching them, and touch things without seeing them. These are weary yet exciting times!

The future very often arrives faster than expected. In 1996, a renowned biologist, Lee Silver of Princeton University, wrote that it is impossible to clone mammals via cell-nucleus transfer. His book had not even reached the bookshops when scientists of the Roslin Institute in Scotland announced that they had succeeded in cloning ‘Dolly’ the sheep. The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Delightfully mesmerizing visions of the future created by research laboratories, think tanks, science fiction authors, other visionaries and clairvoyant sooth-sayers not only form a matrix for the social perception of tomorrow's world but also open up a plethora of opportunities. Such futuristic thoughts are known as memes, which propagate in society like a cultural gene. Mass media dictates the collective expectations of society, hence they can analyze the memes. Cinema can project new technologies as being real even if they are in the developmental stages and society will accept it, at least in the subconscious mind. The most radical ideas from science and fiction may find solutions to problems that we face in real life. On the other hand, consumer expectations are also programmed in this way. Microvascular transplants of severed limbs were seen in comic strips half a century ago; today they are a reality in a general hospital near you!

Human life might also become programmable. Families will be designed and children selected according to catalogs. The gender of children might be reversible during the course of pregnancy and the little brother may be a robot! Thus, our notion of family happiness might be programmed and human beings would like to make the entire world a theme park where spectacular experience boosters are available. One-minute holidays and artificial hibernation of unproductive times will become the order of the day.

In the healthcare sector of the future, less emphasis will be placed on curing illnesses than on prevention and well-being. Beings and machines will merge; body and consciousness will be rewired. The new combination of natural and artificial hardware and software will create mechanical humans and human machines. Death might become optional with artificial parts increasingly replacing diseased organs. The secret of self-healing will be decoded, changing the treatment pattern of today. But human evolution will continue and result in new intelligent beings.

The future belongs to those who tell the best stories about the future; in other words, only creative thinkers will get an opportunity to contribute towards future professional needs. Plastic Surgery is generally considered to be a skill-based specialty but we have begun to establish our knowledge base. As a knowledge-based specialty, adoption of new technology is a natural extension of our commitment to patient care and not to skill-based bravado. Many new technologies are adopted from other fields viz. nanotechnology, lasers, etc. With a solid knowledge base, we will not be afraid of technological failures and will adopt technology as early as possible. Many technologies are popularized by corporate investments, which may not be inherently interested in patients but be more of business opportunities. This profession has to manage the pressures of the market without ignoring the science because ignoring them totally will be fatal to our future growth. Knowledge has to remain a step ahead of technology and riding these two comets, though not easy, has to be done throughout the active professional life of a professional.

Friday, 23 March 2018


Fake news is news, stories or hoaxes created to deliberately misinform or deceive readers. There are three elements to fake news; ‘Mistrust, misinformation and manipulation’.
Usually, these stories are created to influence people’s views, push a political agenda or cause confusion and can often be a profitable business for online publishers. Fake news stories can deceive people by looking like trusted websites or using similar names and web addresses to reputable news organizations.

As a rough guide, a Google News search of "fake news" throws up 5 million results, and already in 2018 the phrase has been used about two million times on Twitter. Clearly the enabler of the modern form of "fake news" - or, if you like, misinformation - has been the explosive growth of social media. Facebook, Twitter and now WhatsApp are fertile media for its unhindered propagation and in India we have seen that this can result in social unrest, havoc, confusion, communal disharmony and death.

Craig Silverman, the media editor of ‘Buzzfeed’ in  mid-2016, noticed a funny stream of completely made-up stories that seemed to originate from one small Eastern European town. Curious to know more about this his people ended up finding a small cluster of news websites all registered in the same town in Macedonia called Veles which were hatching these news feeds. They identified at least 140 fake news websites which were pulling in huge numbers on Facebook shortly before the US election.

The young people in Veles may or may not have had much interest in American politics, but because of the money to be made via Facebook advertising, they wanted their fiction to travel widely on social media. The US presidential election - and specifically Donald Trump - was (and of course still is) a very hot topic on social media and the city was getting rich by fake news!
And so the Macedonians and other purveyors of fakery wrote stories with headlines such as "Pope Francis Shocks World, Endorses Donald Trump for President" and "FBI Agent Suspected in Hillary Email Leaks Found Dead in Apparent Murder-Suicide". They were completely false. And thus began the modern - and internet-friendly - life of the phrase "fake news".

Misinformation, spin, lies and deceit have of course been around in the in internet forever. The 2014 General Elections in India which saw the demise of Congress and the resurgence of BJP also witnessed a social media war between the right wing aggressors and the left wing defenders, the latter eventually losing ground and power.  But in the 2016 American elections a unique marriage between social media algorithms, advertising systems, and people prepared to make stuff up to earn some easy cash and an election that gripped the oldest democracy and much of the world all provided a heady mix and fertile soil for Fake News to germinate.

Types of Fake News
1. Clickbait
These are stories that are deliberately fabricated to gain more website visitors and increase advertising revenue for websites. Clickbait stories use sensationalist headlines to grab attention and drive traffic to the publisher website, which is paying money for the same, normally at the expense of truth or accuracy.
2. Propaganda
Stories that are created to deliberately mislead audiences, promote a biased point of view or particular political cause or agenda. The elections in India and America and the Brexit referendum fell victim to these and agencies like Cambridge Analytica harvested personal likes and dislikes from people’s social website footprints and then launched information warfare to mould their political persuasions.
3. Satire/Parody
Lots of websites and social media accounts publish fake news stories for entertainment and parody. Rahul Gandhi and Donald Trump are made to look like flustering clowns  with subnormal intelligence by many such websites.
4. Sloppy and Irresponsible Journalism
Sometimes reporters or journalists may publish a story with unreliable information or without checking all of the facts which can mislead audiences. The “story” of ‘Fatwa in Saudi Arabia that men can eat their wives if hungry’ was carried by India Today’s Hindi channel had its origins in a satirical column by a Moroccan blogger. The less said about this so-called newsbreak the better but it does leave us wondering about the motives of Aaj Tak behind circulating such obviously fake stories. 
5. Misleading Headings
Stories that are not completely false can be distorted using misleading or sensationalist headlines. These types of news can spread quickly on social media sites where only headlines and small snippets of the full article are displayed on audience newsfeeds. Zee News screamed ‘President Kovind gaining three million followers in the span of one hour’ without pausing to think if this was really possible. In reality, President Kovind had merely inherited the followers of President Mukherjee. Official Twitter accounts of the President, Vice President and various Ministries are considered digital assets that belong to the government. 
6. Biased/Slanted News
Many people are drawn to news or stories that confirm their own beliefs or biases and fake news can prey on these biases. Social media news feeds tend to display news and articles that they think we will like based on our personalised searches.

From where are you getting your News?
Many people now get news from social media sites and networks and often it can be difficult to tell whether stories are credible or not. Information overload and a general lack of understanding about how the internet works has also contributed to an increase in fake news or hoax stories. Social media sites can play a big part in increasing the reach of these types of stories. The economics of social media favour gossip, novelty, speed and “shareability” and the lack lustre show of the established media, who have to propagate their owner’s agenda and political views have resulted in creating a fertile soil for germination and growth of fake news. Otherwise why should the Times Now news reader scream “the caliphate has put a price on your faith” and then show a Rate card to convert Hindus - a Hindu Brahmin girl for five lakhs, for a Sikh Punjabi girl seven lakh, for a Gujarati Brahmin six lacks, Hindu Khastriya gal – four and a half lakhs, Hindu OBC/SC/ST – two lakhs, Buddhist girl – one and a half lakh, a Jain girl 3 lakh rupees, and so on and so forth!

In India Fake News can kill
Fake information builds fear psychosis among people and this adds to tension within communities, and, over the years, several people have lost lives because of false information and rumours. One such fake news report about child kidnappers in Jharkhand led to the lynching of seven people in May 2017. A mob went on a killing spree, three innocent men were beaten to death as the angry mob wrongly believed those men were human traffickers. In all seven people lost their lives in two separate incidences in a fury that was born on social media and based on falsified information that the killers received over Whats App messenger

How to spot fake news?
Not only simpletons but even highly-educated people can be duped by lies as well  but they can often be more stubborn when presented with information that challenges their views or their intelligence. There are a number of things to watch out for when evaluating content online.
1. Take a closer look
Check the source of the story, do you recognise the website? Is it a credible/reliable source? If you are unfamiliar with the site, look in the about section or find out more information about the author.
2. Look beyond the headline
Check the entire article, many fake news stories use sensationalist or shocking headlines to grab attention. Often the headlines of fake new stories are in all caps and use exclamation points.
3. Check other sources
Are other reputable news/media outlets reporting on the story? Are there any sources in the story? If so, check they are reliable or if they even exist!
4. Check the facts
Fake news stories often contain incorrect dates or altered timelines. It is also a good idea to check when the article was published, is it current or an old news story?
5. Check your biases
Are your own views or beliefs affecting your judgement of a news feature or report?
Is it a joke?
6. Satirical sites are popular online and sometimes it is not always clear whether a story is just a joke or parody… Check the website, is it known for satire or creating funny stories?

If you keep repeating a lie it becomes truth!
In the early days of Twitter, people would call it a 'self-cleaning oven', because yes there were falsehoods, but the community would quickly debunk them but now we're at a scale where if you add in automation and bots, that oven is overwhelmed. Today if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. Congress is trying to make us believe that though all the loans were facilitated to Vijay Malya and Nirav Modi by their finance ministers Modi is responsible for their absconding beyond the reach of justice! Repetitive tweets and posts on a particular topic, or hashtag, are aimed at trending the related subject to the extent that it becomes a popular, believable narrative.

Fact checking sites
India is one of the biggest internet markets in the world, and one of the busiest manufacturer of fake news, but Indian society has also given birth to important initiatives to tackle the issue of false information. For instance, a news portal called The Quint has started a section called Webqoof that debunks fake news (it’s a pun in Hindi, as bewquf means “stupid”). Some grassroots, citizen-driven anti-fake news websites are: (1) Boom FactCheck (BFC), established by Govindraj Ethiraj, (2) Social Media Hoax Slayer (SMHS), started and run by Pankaj Jain, (3) Pratik Sinha’s Alt News and (4) initiated by Shammas Oliyath and Bal Krishn Birla. Snopes: Internationally we have PolitiFact:, Fact Check: and BBC Reality Check: which can come to your rescue.

Media is no longer passively consumed – it’s created, shared, liked, commented on, attacked and defended in all sorts of different ways by hundreds of millions of people. And the algorithms used by the most powerful tech companies –Google and Facebook in particular – are brilliantly designed to personalise and tailor these services to each user’s profile. While it is quite understandable for hapless individuals, prototyped by their Facebook profile, to fall prey to fake news specially targeted to psychographic type, how can mainstream media fall victim to these news items is beyond comprehension. The holy trinity of fake news comprises of mistrust, misinformation and manipulation, and this is exactly what the mainstream professional media needs to avoid. So are they being sloppy and incompetent or do they have an agenda and are being smart and greedy?