Put on Your Dancing Shoes..

Put On Your Dancing Shoes…

By

Vivek Hande

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Shoe( Noun); Etymology : Schoen(Dutch); Schuh(Old Germanic); Sko( Norwegian/ Danish)

Definition/ Description:  Footwear to protect and comfort the human foot. Has acquired status of being occasionally decorative or symbol of fashion.  Has potential to evoke frenzy and obsessive thoughts, more seen with female gender. Capable of triggering intense possessive feelings and desire to shop madly.

Shoes, in various forms have been around for a very long time. Oldest known footwear has been around from the period 7000-8000 BC and made of sagebrush bark. Armenian excavations from the period 3500 BC revealed footwear made of cowhide laced with leather cord. Thong sandals have existed in various civilizations and have been made from materials such as rawhide, papyrus and palm leaves. Wooden thongs have several references in literature from India.

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The Greeks largely regarded footwear as ugly and unnecessary and probably self indulgent. The athletes in Greek Olympics ran bare feet and very often naked! Pheidippides ran bare feet from the Battle of Marathon to Athens over 36 hours to convey the news of Greek victory and was possibly the first Marathoner. Well, at least that is regarded as the origin of the word. The Romans changed it all and they believed that footwear was necessary and fashionable and the more powerful wore more elaborate footwear. The slaves remained bare feet. Probably around the mid 16th Century, the royalty started wearing high heels with their footwear- a sign of affluence and power. Hence the term “well heeled” to signify wealth! By the end of 19th Century the mass production of factory made shoes had started and yet handcrafted and individually stitched shoes remain a symbol of style and fashion till today. As an aside, mass produced shoes take about 1000 years to degrade in a landfill!!

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Well, shoes do signify many things about a person. It is often more than a style statement. How well polished and scuffed your shoes are, still goes a long way in establishing first impressions. While, shoes could be regarded as symbols of fashion and one can be finicky about what one picks up – I just buy whatever size 11plus/44 shoes I get – fashion be damned!  The woes of big feet run among the men in my family. When my father joined the Military Academy, they could not provide Boots his size for the first two months of training and when they finally did, he was told, “Wear your Boats and get on to the Drill Square”. For many years, I used to go to a small little shop in Karol Bagh to buy shoes-they used to make shoes for Russian Diplomats in New Delhi – my feet looked dainty compared to them!!

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Shoes can be of specific types. Sports shoes : specific for Athletics; Golf; Baseball, Hiking, walking and so on. Dancing or Ballet Shoes. Boots, shoes which cover the foot and ankle and extend up the leg. Boots are often made of different leathers- Cowhide, Ostrich, Annaconda and even Elephant hide have been used for making boots across the world. Different kinds of shoes have been made as newer material have come into use- rubber, plastic, petrochemicals, wood, canvas and so on. Sneakers came to be called thus because you could sneak up on another person wearing them. Barefoot running is back in vogue and there are shoes available which mimic the experience of running barefeet and provide protection and maximum flexibility.

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There is no end to variety when it comes to Men’s shoes either. Oxfords, Balmorals, Derby, Slip Ons/ Mocassins and Brogues and one could go on. When it comes to the ladies shoes, 2 inch heels would qualify as High Heels; 1.5 to 2 inches are for some reason labeled as Kitten Heels and heels with a very narrow heel are the Stilettos– good to kill someone! Then there are the Wedge heels if you want to club someone and not stab ..

Religion is like a pair of shoes- find one that fits you but don’t make me wear your shoes”- George Carlisle. In Indian mythology, Bharat ruled Ayodhya on behalf of Lord Rama by symbolically keeping his sandals(Paadukas) on the throne.  Hindus leave footwear outside the temple. In most South Indian homes, shoes are kept outside before one enters. The idea being to keep ones’ negative and evil thoughts outside and accept ones’ humility. Among the Arabs, showing ones’ shoes or sole of the footwear is considered unclean. Mosques don’t permit shoes either. For the Jews, the Talmud( Shabbat 129a) says “ A person should sell the roof beans of his house to buy shoes for his feet”. The code of Jewish Law( Shulchan Aruch) even specifies that one must wear the right shoe first and take off the left shoe first- the primacy of the right side…

 

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Shoes have found mention in literature, music and poetry since time immemorial. Who can forget Elvis Presley crooning Blue Suede Shoes or Bob Dylan making you swing to Boots of Spanish Leather. Iron Maiden would have you Die with your Boots On and Paul Simon singing about Diamonds on the Sole of the Shoes. Closer home, one knows about Joota Hai Japani.It goes on and on..

One of the classic tales revolves around Cinderella’s shoes. And as women may have you believe, it ended well because a shoe was involved. Puss in Boots is another classic and then you have Dorothy and her Red Ruby Shoes in the Wizard of Oz.

And look at our language. You are tough as old boots and may have to rough it out on your trip which is on a shoestring budget. It is never easy to be in someone else’s shoes and we all know that for want of a nail the shoe was lost and it ultimately lead to the loss of a kingdom! We all know some Miss Goody Two Shoes and it is only the wearer who knows where the shoe pinches!!

Well, shoes do evoke some kind of neuronal burst in most women and sparks a release of neurotransmitters which compels them to buy, possess and hoard shoes and more shoes!! Imelda Marcos , the former First Lady of Philippines was infamous for her 3000 pair shoe collection and a large number of them are now housed in a museum in Marikina. Closer home, I do know a lady with very Imeldasque traits. But I will leave it that – there are some stilettos in the collection! Shoes can be expensive business- a Manolo Blahnik( immortalized in the serial Sex and the City) could set you back by 4600 USD – Blixa Alligator Pumps are expensive.  A pair of handmade Manhattan Richelieu Men’s Shoes made of handmade Crocodile Waxed Cowhide from Louis Vuitton  can burn a 10000 USD hole in the pocket!!

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Hurling shoes ( called Shoeing)at someone  has been regarded as a sign of insult traditionally. It finds mention in the Old Testament as well. One of the most infamous incidents being journalist Al Zaidi shoeing George Bush in 2008 and proclaiming it a farewell kiss from the Iraqis. Condoleeza Rice was called , “ Kundara” , Gulf Arabic Slang for shoes by her Middle East detractors as an insult.

As Woody Allen is said to have famously remarked, “Comfortable shoes and the freedom to speak are the most important things in life!” And you definitely know you are very very old when someone compliments you on your alligator shoes and you are actually barefeet!!

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Music: Fiddling while Rome burns..

Music – Fiddling While Rome Burns!!

 By

Vivek Hande                         

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Music, I daresay, is not mere sound, strung by notes. It is a sentiment. It is an emotion, a feeling, an appeal to the highest senses. Music has the power to unite. It has the power to heal, communicate and provide a sense of hope. Music is pure and real. It is perhaps, the world’s most famous and popular language. A medium which slashes through preconceived boundaries of ethnicity and language. Music truly does wash away the soul – the grime, grit and dust of everyday life…

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There are hundreds of genres of music. What appeals to your senses is music for you. There is nothing, in my mind, that you need to call trendy, current or contemporary- when it comes to music. My boys enjoy Beatles as much as I do. I enjoy listening to MS Subbalakshmi or Harry Belafonte as much as my Dad does. And that is the beauty of music. I can enjoy ten different genres though the day; my choice can change with my mood – the music and the musician will not begrudge me!

 

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I do believe music is therapeutic and cathartic. On a busy OPD, I attend to a hundred plus patients at times. What helps me get through is Beethoven or Strauss or Dire Straits or maybe Pink Floyd. That would depend on the mood of the day. But it does add to a sense of congeniality and it does allay the fears or anxieties of the patient as well. It does make the physician a normal person after all. Likewise, I see a great benefit in playing music in my Endoscopy Theatre as well. It is a different thing that many patients actually tell me to switch to something gentler than Metallica or Iron Maiden when I am about to put in the scope- it is then a quick switch to Jagjit Singh or Handel’s Water Music!! I have had patients getting into a discussion on the finer points of the music being played rather than focus on the ailment at hand. I have also had patients coming with CDs and asking me to try listening to a different genre and my music collection grows..

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Music has a role to play in several facets of our life. Take Religion, for instance. Christianity has a strong tradition of the use of music in the church. Whether it is the entire congregation joining in or the choral group alone, singing is central to the religion. Contemporary Church Music encompasses virtually every genre from Gospel, Rock, Pop, Metal , Hip Hop- the idea being to reach out to a greater segment of the community. Sama Veda , in Hindu tradition is devoted to a great extent to music. Kirtans , Bhajans and Raagas are pivotal in Hinduism. Sufi music based on works of Rumi, Hafiz and many others gives a sense of great tranquility, even to those who don’t follow the religion. While music is an integral part of religion, there are many who do consider music itself, to be a religious experience..

 

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Take Medicine. Apollo was the Greek God of Music and Medicine. Aesucalpius used music and song to cure diseases of the mind.  There are enough studies to demonstrate the Medical benefits of music. Joane Loewy of Beth Israel Medical Center believes,” There is just something about music-that excites and activates the body.” There is a growing use of music therapy by psychologists and clinicians in dealing with patients of pain, depression, Parkinson’s disease and even cases of Alzheimer. At the core of music is sound and sound is rooted in vibration and this is the basis for Vibroacoustic therapy that does contribute in enhancing the quality of life and perhaps promoting recovery. Work is focused on evaluation of  “dosable” and “prescribable” music as treatment..

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Military and music are deeply connected. Music has always served to inspire courage and valor. Beethoven’s Battle Symphony has some of the greatest descriptive and inspirational music for military bands to celebrate victories. Military Bands are an integral component of militaries worldwide. Marches and Anthems instill courage and conformity and permits an individual to feel a part of a unified whole. The Reveille and the Retreat are important components of military tradition and use trumpets, bugles or pipes. The Tattoo has evolved into an elaborate Military ceremony but started as ‘Doe Den Tap Toe’ which was Dutch for ‘Turn off the Tap”. It got corrupted to Tap-Too and then Taptoo before it became Tattoo- primarily the band going into town and playing to ask the inn owners to stop serving Beer, so that the troops could return to the Barracks!!

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Playing horn and saxo with a military marching band

 

Music helps improve our attention skills.  It does enhance learning – one learned ones ABCs through song and music. It taps into our memories and emotions like nothing else can. Music is important for creativity-it helps you enter what is called, ‘a mind wandering mode’. Music is linked to every important event – weddings, birthdays, graduation ceremonies and funerals. It creates strong memories and very strong feelings. I do believe that music is something out of the ordinary. It is woven into our lives and it is perhaps what makes humans human…

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Freidrich Nietzche wrote,” Without music, life would be a mistake.” Music can trigger memories – it can transport you decades; it can make you travel thousands of kilometers to another place. Different music means different things to different people. Jazz to me is smooth and cool; it is a conversation which never begins or ends. It flows like water. To someone who is not fond of Jazz, it may be something highly avoidable. But that is the sheer magic of music; the absolute wonder of music- you don’t have to understand it; you don’t have to recognize it – but if it appeals to your senses- you just feel it. As Bob Marley famously remarked , “The one good thing about music. When it hits you, you feel no pain!”

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Before the Ink Runs Dry..

Before the Ink Runs Dry…

By

Vivek Hande

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Can anything be more sublime than the flow of a nib across a sheet of good paper? A fountain pen running across the pages- it is lyrical; it is musical; it is almost magical. It is not a mundane act- it is a pathway, a channel for the musings of the heart. A fountain pen is a writing instrument; when the ink flows across paper, it transforms the ordinary to something special. Writing with a fountain pen is like savoring vintage wine; you could write with a Ballpoint pen but that is like having tap water. You could punch away furiously on a keyboard and write thousands of words- but that is like eating a Sandwich on the go; when you put ink to paper , you are having a Michelin Star Gourmet dinner in a fancy restaurant!

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The pen and Ink have actually changed the face of humanity and are one of the greatest inventions of mankind. It allowed man to create, share, learn and preserve. It started with the Sumerians who used a stylus to write on Clay Tablets and then baked the tablets for posterity. The Romans did the same on Wax Tablets. The Egyptians, in 2000BC were the first to use Reed Pens- perhaps the first writing instrument as we know it today. The Quill (usually the feather of a Goose) came into use around 600AD. The Dead Sea Scrolls are believed to have been written with a Quill in Hebrew. It was in 1822, that John Mitchell, in Birmingham, first brought out the mass scale production of pens with metal nibs- but they still needed to be dipped like a quill in the ink pot. It was in 1827, that the French Government patented the fountain pen – invented by Petrarch Poenaru- a Romanian studying in Paris. The pen then underwent refinement in design and materials used but have largely remained the same functionally since then. And when I say pen, I do refer to the fountain pen because that is a pen – everything else is an imitation of convenience and expense.

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A fountain pen can vary in cost. It could cost less than a dollar and it could go up to a million and more. Each pen moulds itself to the user. I got my passion for the pen from a senior colleague, alas no more. He had an array of fountain pens and would use one, each week. The rest of them would be meticulously washed, dried, put in a pack and kept upright in a container on his table. Some pens would come back for use after months. He also taught me not to use any bottled ink for more than year- small sediments do form which could clog your pen.  He would never lend his pens – he would say, “My pen knows me; it is used to me. Don’t ever press the nib too hard- it is pain sensitive! Let it just glide..”. He almost treated his pen as a living, breathing creature. It inked off on me. I quite much follow the same routine and am passionately obsessive about my collection. People worry about losing expensive pens- it is the same as losing your pet or your children- you just hang onto them!!

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A pen and your handwriting speak a lot about your character. It is as distinctive as you. A good pen just allows your thoughts to flow and speaks what you really want to say. As Mark Twain is supposed to have famously remarked, “I need only five things in life- pen, paper, food, sleep and a sane mind.” And I do agree with the writer, Charmaine Forde, who wrote, “There is no such thing as wasted moment when I have a pen and paper.” The pen has been described as a weapon of mass creation. The pen is often described as being stronger than the sword. But as humorist George Banister remarked rather wryly,” The pen is mightier than the sword- especially when you stick it in someone’s eye!” And somebody rather philosophically compared the flow of ink to the flow of life – the ebbs and tides and commented that “When the Ink runs dry, you are most likely writing at the wrong angle..”

So change the angle. Change the Pen. Grab another Pen and enjoy the beauty of its flow across paper..it is something to be savored before the ink indeed runs dry!! pen11

Going Around in Circles

Going Around in Circles..

By

Vivek Hande

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We are from the ‘bridge ‘generation. We grew up asking for directions on the road the conventional way. Whether one was in a vehicle or going in circles on foot, trying to find ones’ way in a new city- we rolled down the window or stopped a seemingly knowledgeable  passerby and asked for directions the good old fashioned way. Could you please tell me, how do I get there?  This has changed rapidly with the use of the GPS or your smart phone assistant who helps you, or is supposed to help you to get to Point A from Point B. Our children are rather disdainful of the idea of seeking directions from a third person. “We will use the GPS” or “Google Maps will take you there  Dad”!!

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But asking for directions was exciting in its own way. First, the business of honing down on the appropriate person. He had to appear “local”- meaning not a visitor or a tourist. His body language had to convey that he knew the lay of the land well. His demeanor had to convey a friendly nature. You did not want to get brushed away by a curt, grumpy old fellow. Invariably, a trifle sexist, but one naturally was inclined to choose a male as a potential “Director”(giver of directions) rather than a lady. It is a different thing that the gentleman would probably give you directions which would take you around the locality and get you back from where you started! The confidence of the “Director” or the lack of it leads to the Rule of Three- always confirm from three independent directors in a span of five minutes that you are indeed headed in the right direction.

 

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 In some places, the Rule of Three changes to Rule of Five depending on the confidence and reliability of the Directors. I have known my Dad to seek directions and quite often getting into a conversation with the Directors and short of being invited by them for lunch or asking them to join us for drinks, a firm bond of friendship would be established!!   But the problem also lies in getting yourself to ask for directions. There was a survey published in 1998 in the United Kingdom. It brought out that men are likely to wait half hour being completely lost before they would seek directions. Women did it after an average of seven minutes.  12% men sought no help and chose to keep going around in circles. 40% men, even if they did seek directions, did not trust the directions given and would continue to go around in circles. Men, on an average, traveled 276 miles a year going around in circles and clocked about 2000 Pounds lifetime on wasted fuel. The statistics do go a fair distance to prove a point!!

 

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Giving directions is also an art and it is handicapped by what analysts call the Curse Of Knowledge. The person giving directions assumes that you know the general scheme of things – “Turn Right at The Yellow Door” and such like is implied on the premise that you know where the Yellow Door is. If you did, you would probably not be seeking directions. Seeking directions in an alien language is another challenge but exciting and adventurous in its own way. Just Keep Going Straight is a standard answer. A friend of mine, recently tried out his newly acquired French, to ask, “ Ou Sont Les Toilettes?”.The Parisian replied, “Tout Droit” – Straight Ahead and pointed in a direction. The gentleman kept walking straight and after clocking 8000 plus steps on his Pedometer was nowhere close to finding anything that looked like a toilet but had almost reached the Airport; unfortunately his flight was still three days away. When an Italian says, “ Va Sempre Dirrito”- Just keep going straight and points in a direction, it could be ten steps to ten miles in virtually any direction! So be careful when you do seek directions..

And have you ever wondered why all smartphone assistants and GPS have female voices giving you directions or responding to your queries. As per Professor Clifford Nass of Stanford University, the human brain is developed to like the female voice better and this starts when the fetus is in the womb. And then it does have some historical background too – it used to be the women radio operators who gave directions to the pilots during World War II. Incidentally some years ago, in Germany, BMW had to recall their GPS as the men did not want to take directions from women. And I have a dear friend, who after living several years abroad, argues with his GPS in colorful Punjabi to overrule the directions provided and lets her know that he knows the roads better! The one sided exchange of expletives is quite refreshing, to say the least.  Siri , Alexa , Cortana all have female voices and it is only relatively recently that some platforms provide you to get directions from a male voice of your choosing.

But on a more philosophical note, somebody once told me, “Don’t ask for directions if you are not going to start the car”. It has greater depth than I credited him for. Unless you get out and seek directions and get lost and move around in circles till you find your destination, one cannot know the road well. And as Lao Tzu wrote, “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading”.

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Powder Your Nose..

Powder Your Nose..

By

Vivek Hande

 

The sense of smell is a very important one and does contribute to the sense of taste as well. The sense of smell has a lot of emotional connect as well, as it is linked to memory in many ways. Smell triggers memories, passions, excitement, dreams, desires and what have you!

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Without nose-diving too deep into the business of smelling, it must be understood that humans are not as good at the business of smelling as say, dogs and rabbits. Man has about five to six million olfactory receptors high up in the nasal passages as opposed to a rabbit which has about a 100 million and a dog, which on average has about 220 million receptors. Hence, a dog is a much better “smeller”. Women are regarded as having a more acute sense of smell compared to men- no surprises there! There are a few basic smells – Fragrant/ Floral; Fruity; Citrus; Mint; Woody; Resinous; Pine/ Grass; Chemical(Ammonia/ Bleach); Sweet ( Chocolate/ Vanilla) and a few others . If a person can’t smell completely or partially, he is Anosmic. Hyposmia and Hyperosmia refer to a reduction or an exaggerated sense of smell. Parosmia refers to perceiving a smell as worse than it is. Phantosmia is smelling odors which are not there. The sense of smell develops progressively after birth and generally plateaus by eight years of age.  It then declines with age, with certain medications and with chronic colds. When a person smells, the information is sent to two areas of the brain – the Frontal Lobe which helps recognize odors and the Limbic System which is linked to memory – it is for this reason that a particular smell or aroma brings back pleasant or unpleasant memories!

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It is so often that a particular smell brings back so vividly images of a particular event or a memory or an association with a person. The smell of hot Dosas on a Tawa may take you back to your childhood; the strong smell of rich coffee may transport you to a lovely morning in a Parisian café; the smell of fresh grass being cut may take you several years back to a Cantonment where you grew up; a particular cologne may remind you of a particularly stylish professor; the smell of earth just after some rain(petrichor) may take you back to a holiday in the hills; the smell of a delicate perfume may bring back memories of your first date and may actually remind you of what she was  wearing- such is the strong association of memories with smells!

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Smells are expensive and a bottle of the DKNY Golden Delicious Million will set you back by a cool Million Dollars. Of course, in addition to the fragrance, the bottle does add to the cost. One of a kind bottle, designed by jeweler Martin Katz, the bottle has a 2.43 Carat Yellow Canary Diamond on the cap. It does also have a lot more diamonds, rubies, sapphires embellishing the bottle.  A reasonable second is the Clive Christian Number 1 Imperial Majesty perfume smelling at $ 13000 an ounce! It lists as its ingredients Oris Root, Rose Oil, Tahitian Vanilla, Ylang-Ylang, Italian Cinnamon and Jasmine.  Anyone interested in powdering ones’ nose?

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Each one has his list of special smells. High up on my list is the smell of the pages of a book. Nothing can quite match the smell of a book as far as I am concerned.   One can never go wrong with the aroma of freshly brewed strong coffee. Lemon, Vanilla, Petrol, Freshly baked Cookies or a Cake- smells to die for. And then there is the smell of fear; the smell of excitement and the smell of possibility – all very strong and evocative smells! One can smell blood and one definitely can perceive the smell of success. It’s quite often that we do smell a rat and know that something smells fishy. Its best, perhaps to keep ones’ nose out of other people’s business and keep ones’ nose held high or there is a strong possibility that your reputation may nosedive!

 And the sense of smell is a very individual trait. The way I sense or perceive a smell may be quite different from the way you sense it .Be that as it may , do stop to smell the Roses once awhile – you will be a happier person. Do believe me and I am honestly not being nosy!!

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Food For Thought

Food  For Thought

By

Vivek Hande

 

You don’t need a silver fork to eat good food, famously remarked a wise man. GB Shaw is right on many levels, when he remarked, “There is no sincere love than the love of food.” It is a fact that nothing else, other than music, perhaps, has the strength to bring people bring together. That food is central to existence was acknowledged by Hippocrates who is wrote, “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food”.

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And then there are so many variations to how and what people eat. You could be a garden variety of a Vegetarian or you could be more specifically a Lacto-Vegetarian (exclude eggs and other foods which contain Rennet) or you could be an Ovo-Vegetarian (no dairy) or you could be a more rounded Ovo-Lacto –Vegetarian. One could be a Vegan (abstaining from all animal products, dairy included). As a  Vegan, you could be a Dietary Vegan(no eating animal derived products) or an Ethical Vegan (not using any animal derived products in any sphere of life). One may be a Piscetarian/Pescetarian(both correctly spelled) and have only marine products and avoid poultry /egg. Well then, you could also be a Pollotarian (and have only poultry and chicken). Believe me, you could be a vegetarian and eat only Kangaroo meat as an exception- you would then be a Kangatarian! Kangaroo meat is exported to more than sixty countries!

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It is natural that the English language incorporates food and fruit and vegetables in common usage. It would be a natural progression of thought, in a manner of speaking. You could be somebody’s apple of the eye or you could be a rotten apple spoiling things for others. But, it may not be correct to compare apples and oranges nor would it be right to upset the apple cart. You may need to become an apple polisher to curry favor with powers that be in a Banana Republic. You may go bananas or choose not to give a fig, if things don’t go quite your way. One may behave pea brained and do all the wrong things when you are in a pickle or remain cool as a cucumber. Alternatively you could extend an olive branch and try to make up with your detractors or behave spoil sport and claim that you are going to spill the beans, even though it is believed that you don’t quite know your beans!!

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One could sulk and feel morose if one doesn’t get a plum assignment or bad mouth your boss or colleague consequent to a bad case of sour grapes. When the chips are down and things are not going your way, you could give it all up saying it is not your cup of tea or you could butter up the right folks to ensure that you do finally get to cut your cake and have it too! I do believe, it is best not to put all eggs in one basket though. Sometimes, one has to keep ones’ ears open to listen to the grapevine and figure out who the big cheese is and then play your cards well –it may help you to pluck the low hanging fruit and your hard work might actually bear fruit. But one cannot always trust the grapevine and one may have to take certain things with a pinch of salt and things do have a way of getting pear shaped(go wrong)rather quickly , if one does not remain alert.

At the end of it all, one has to follow ones’ gut feelings if one wants to continue to bring the bacon home. Each one has to chart out ones’ own path – everybody can’t be the same as peas in a pod.  One has to figure out which side the bread is buttered. But as they say, when life serves you lemons, make lemonade!!

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Handwriting : It Says a lot about you..

Handwriting: It says a lot about you!

By

Vivek Hande

 

Your handwriting is just about as unique as you. It does say a lot about you. In the world of computers, tablets, smart phones and laptops, we are increasingly forgetting to write and we merely type. But there is something exciting and mysterious and I daresay, special about the flow of the pen on the paper. The written word will still find its place – to do lists, prescriptions, signatures, all would be hopelessly drab and without character if not handwritten. A love letter – typed out in Times Roman or Arial- absolute  blasphemy!!

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The written word goes a long time back. Though it must be pointed out that the use of numbers as symbols and some mean of communication or record keeping preceded the written word or some semblance of communication through language. The origin was obviously through Proto-Writing through the use of symbols/ mnemonic symbols to convey idea/information. Jiahu symbols on tortoise shells are the earliest recorded symbols of proto writing from 6600 BC. Over a period of time, it evolved to Linguistic Writing, which encodes almost the exact thought meant to be conveyed. This process has been slow and steady and constant and yet dynamic. Along this process, various different scripts and writing forms have developed and died.

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Sumer, Southern Mesopotamia, is widely regarded to be the origin of the written word (cuneiform) around 3100 BC.  Around the same time, the concept of a script evolved in MesoAmerica with the Olmec/Zapotec script of Mexico regarded as one of the oldest. Independent writing systems evolved in Egypt (3100BC/Heiroglyphs) and China (1200 BC).  The Indus script of the Bronze Age Indus Valley is still largely undeciphered and one is not certain whether it was linguistic or some other kind of communication. Quite naturally, trade and travel contributed to the spread of language and also brought in diverse influences into the evolution.

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Then came the era of the Greek script, which was the source of many subsequent European Scripts including Latin.  The next big milestone in the evolution was the emergence of the Arabic script which coincided with the emergence of Islam. Arabic became the primary script for Persian and Turkish language and contributed to the spread of the Hindu-Arabic numeral system through the world.  Religion has always played a role in the spread of the written word. The monks in the 8th Century spread the use of the Carolingian Script, because of its ease of use. It was modified during the Renaissance period. They modified it to make it more ornate by slanting the script – since this originated in Italy –it came to be called “Italic “!!

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The evolution of writing material used over the ages also makes for a fascinating story.  Engravements on stone/ metal/ terracotta/ gypsum changed to the use of roll/ papyrus/ reed in Egypt. Others used parchment made of sheep skin. Paper was invented by the Chinese in 105 AD. Computers have changed the way we think of writing today. The way you type doesn’t really tell much about you- since the way you write does tell a good deal about you or is supposed to – it has evolved into a pseudoscience. Graphology is the science which analyses the handwriting and helps infer something about your personality/ attitude/character. There are Bachelors and Masters Degree on offer in Argentina, Spain and Italy on Graphology. It is a different matter that a master treatise on the subject by Geoffrey Dean , based on a meta analysis of 200 papers on the subject , largely debunked the predictive value of personality inference based on handwriting.

 

Handwriting Analysis for forensic purposes is a different story all together. Since the handwriting is like a fingerprint, experts use it to prove cases of forgery or fraud. I do know of a colleague, who used to sign bank cheques with his wife’s signature for purpose of convenience, at times – now every time his wife issues a cheque , it is turned down by the bank – “Signature does not Match”! Doctors (self included) are notorious for their bad handwriting. It perhaps stems out of lots of writing to be done in compressed time periods in formative years at medical school. Some (a few) do survive and go on to write beautifully. This has prompted various Medical Councils to legislate writing of prescriptions in Capital letters to avoid prescription errors.  The use of Electronic Health Records (EHRs), will aid in more legible notes and lesser errors.  I had a colleague, a psychiatrist, who would write opinions and case notes and would come over to ask me to decipher what he had written after a few hours! Well you may not be able to read a Doctor’s notes or prescription, but you will note that the bill is always neatly typewritten!!

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I do believe we need to use the pen and paper more often. In the era of copy –paste, many institutions insist on hand written submissions of papers. And after years of usage of the keyboard, it does appear a struggle. I have often felt, I can understand a subject better and remember far more facts when I write them down.   As a student, one of my friends would tell me, having a bad handwriting was advantageous:  nobody would borrow your notes; seniors would not burden you with written assignments to be copied; spelling mistakes would go unnoticed!!  Well, that is a perspective. But it is also true, that if one gets a note or a letter with a beautiful hand, one does think better of the writer – visual impressions do stick strong.

To quote Gandhi, “I saw that bad handwriting should be seen as a sign of bad education”. Be that as it may, I do urge you, leave the keyboard once a while – take out your writing instruments: there is no greater joy than the flow of pen on paper!!

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