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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Obesity & Undernutrition - two sides of the same economic coin?

To address India's dual health burden, Stanford researcher Jeremy Goldhaber-Fiebert, PhD, has joined forces with colleagues across disciplines to better understand the seemingly opposing issues of undernutrition and obesity and to develop nutrition policies aimed at reducing the public health concerns. According to a release:
Bringing his own expertise in mathematical modeling, Goldhaber-Fiebert is working with the group to consider the patterns of future illness and death due to undernutrition and obesity. The researchers would like to know how economic and demographic changes will impact these trends. Ultimately, broadly delivered nutrition policies will have to address undernutrition and obesity issues without exacerbating either one... Although currently focused on India, the research will have broad implications for many other countries that face the undernutrition/obesity dual burden.
The research is funded by a Woods Institute Environmental Venture Projects grant.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Why worship feet?

The focus on worshiping the Guru's feet is unmistakable in Hinduism - the following are a few examples:
  • Saint Tulsidas starts his popular Hanuman Chalisa with "sri guru charana saroja raja nija mana mukura sudhar" (Having cleaned the mirror of my mind with the dust from the lotus feet of my Guru..)
  • Adi Shankaracharya wrote an entire Guru Paduka Stotram, a collection of eight slokas describing the greatness of the holy sandals of the Guru.
  • Seemingly unsatiated with this, Adi Shankara went on to write the Guru Ashtakam, another eight powerful slokas that ask "Of what consequence are any earthly possessions or achievements, if your mind is not riveted in devotion to the lotus feet of Guru". 
  • The Ramayana story of Bharata installing Sri Rama's sandals on the throne of Ayodhya for 14 years

I always wondered - why worship sandals, of all things, the dustiest, lowest part of the Guru? By looking at sandals or feet, it's hard to even tell who they belong to - how can they inspire devotion? Is sandal worship a conspiracy by Gurus to establish their unquestionable supremacy over the disciples? Why not worship the face of the Guru, the whole form, something the Guru created like a book, or an abstract symbol like Om? Of all things that can be worshiped, why feet / sandals? Why should educated people stoop so low just because they respect someone?

I wondered in this manner for several years.

Recently a series of events took place in my life, which made me experience the sensibility, the beauty in this mode of worship. I understood that just thinking of Someone's feet can move you to tears and untold joy. That you find it impossible to think of Them as a mere human form. The only way you experience Them is as an all-encompassing, all-powerful presence, truly one with the Universe, as Truth itself, and you feel blessed to be able to behold their footprints in this insignificant, transient lifespan of yours.

Every time you touch those Footprints, you feel your existence being cleaned up. You experience Them as truly formless - as the air that courses through your body, as the divine sound permeating creation, as Grace itself. Their current form is incidental and of little significance; They walked the earth much before you came and will walk it forever after you leave. So the most tangible thing about them that you can physically hang on to are their footprints.

Further, you realize that your Guru is a continuity, not separate from the series of enlightened beings before them. It is as though a magnificent form, a coalescence of all Gurus since the beginning of time, the embodiment of all knowledge, love and compassion in creation, formless, limitless, and resplendent beyond imagination, stands on top of the two footprints that you worship. How can you dare to look up? It is not even the universe that stands on these footprints. The universe is a mere child's play for the Being, the Cosmic Energy that offered these footprints, with infinite compassion, to help an insignificant being like you dissolve. What pride can you have in front of that Being? Is your education, money, beauty, fame, intelligence, strength, or anything else pertinent in anyway before that Being? If your goal is to dissolve, and an invaluable opportunity to do so is being offered to you, is there anything more sensible to do than to shed all pretenses, all prejudices and offer yourself 100% at those feet?

Fortunate are those who naturally bow down at the Guru's feet with the necessary love, humbleness and awareness. But even for doubters like me, there is hope. Guru's grace can transcend doubt and bestow a beautiful experience on you. The following verse was born of Guru's grace and burst forth as a song.  
Guru paadam, ahamkaara naashakam
samsaara saagara tharaNOpaayam, sarva rOgaanthakam
manO-vaak-kaaya-karma puneetham, paramoushadham
Guru paadam, ahamkaara naashakam

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Rotting an extremely serious matter - Supreme Court

Content from OUTLOOK India magazine
October 18, 2010

Ticking off the Centre for the rotting of huge quantities of foodgrains when people are dying of hunger, the Supreme Court today asked what action has been taken against officials responsible for it.

Terming the matter as "extremely serious", the apex asked the Centre to ensure no further wastage and gear up to meet the storage required for the ensuing kharif crops.

Additional Solicitor General (ASG) Mohan Parasaran drew flak for his argument that only 7000 tonnes of grains had got rotten in Food Corporation of India (FCI) godowns and that 67,539 tonnes were wasted in the godowns owned by States of Haryana and Punjab.

"Even if it is 7,000 tonnes how can it happen? Then there is the wastage in two States. It is an extremely serious matter. You compare the wastage world over. The damage done in two States is very high. What action you have taken against the officials?

You are admitting 7000 tonnes have been damaged. People are dying of hunger. You are not providing them grain. This litigation has been going on for the past 10 years. Some evaluation should have been done by you by this time to prevent wastage and ensure proper distribution," a Bench of Justices Dalveer Bhandari and Deepak Verma told the ASG.

The apex court made the observation while dealing with the public interest litigation moved by Peoples Union for Civil Liberties's (PUCL) complaining about large scale corruption in the country's public distribution system (PDS) and rotting of food grains in government godowns.

The Bench had earlier ordered the Government to distribute food grains free of cost to the hungry poor, but the Centre had not given any commitment on the issue though Union Agriculture Minister Sharad Paward had orally assured that Government would implement the direction.

However, subsequently the Prime Minister joined the issue saying courts should not interfere in policy matters.

During today's arguments, the apex court asked the Government counsel as to what action was taken against the officials responsible for the rotten grains.

"From the first of October you will be getting more foodgrains from the kharif corps. Ensure it is properly distributed. Let it not go waste, "the Bench said.

Referring to the rotten foodgrains it said, "if it is not fit for human consumption we do not suggest that it should be given to them. It should not be given even to animals. Because you spend more on breeding them (animals)."

The apex court also wondered what was the difficulty for the Centre to allocate sufficient grains for the BPL/AAY families in States if they are seeking higher allocation.

"What is the difficulty? When they find it(allocation of foodgrains) is very short, what can they(States) do?" the Bench asked the counsel.

The PUCL had alleged that many States were not getting adequate stocks for distribution through PDS as the Centre was allocating only a limited stock for the distribution.

According to the organisation, presently apart from 22 million tonnes of buffer stock, the Centre has an additional 33 million tonnes of foodgrains in its godowns, but was allocating only a meagre 2.5 million tonnes for the PDS.

The ASG, however, said the distribution was being made on the basis of the BPL/AAY statistics relied upon by the Centre, though the States might have their own parameters in determining the number of such beneficiaries. The arguments will continue tomorrow.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Women needed to fix food security

"Women were, really, in my view, the ones who domesticated plants, created agriculture. And as long as women were controlling agriculture, agriculture produced real food. Agriculture was based on [women's learned and passed on] knowledge. A Women’s centered agriculture never created scarcity. As long as women controlled the food system you did not have a billion people going without food and you didn’t have 2 billion going obese and w/diabetes. This is the magic of patriarchy having taken over the food system. Earlier, patriarchy left food to women, modern patriarchy wants to control food . . . women’s knowledge has been removed from agriculture . . we can only have a secure food culture if women come back into agriculture.” Vandana Shiva

I recently came across the wonderful work that Dr. Vandana Shiva, physicist, winner of the Right Livelihood Award (the alternative Nobel Peace Prize) is doing for strengthening our society against industrial agriculture and in favor of women.

Here is a great, recent interview with her.