Month: March 2006

The variety of Life

The variety of Life

Biodiversity, or the variety of life that exists, is fundamental to the existence of life on Earth. The 1992 United Nations Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro defined biodiversity as “the variability among living organisms from all sources, including terrestrial, marine, and other aquatic ecosystems, and the ecological complexes of which they are part: this includes diversity within species, between species and of ecosystems”. Biodiversity is an extremely important part of life on Earth because it is not only the variety of living organisms on our planet that affect our ecosystem, but also the interdependence of all these living things, including humans. For example, some anthropological studies suggest that mosquitoes are so important to life on planet Earth that if all mosquitoes were to be destroyed, all life on Earth will become extinct in less than five years.

Biodiversity - The Variety of Life

In spite of this knowledge, humans have been the main cause of destruction of ecosystems even as animals and plants become extinct, and biodiversity is being lost due to anti-ecological activities of humans. Thankfully, there are a few among us who are conscious about the importance of maintaining and restoring the balance in biodiversity.

A big step towards creating awareness about the importance of biodiversity has been taken by the National Children’s Science Congress (CSC) by selecting “biodiversity” as its theme for the next two years. To kick off the CSC in Maharashtra, a seminar on biodiversity was organised by Jidnyasa Trust Thane on 18 and 19 March 2006 at the sports complex of Saraswati Vidyalaya in Thane. More than 125 CSC district coordinators and other resource persons from as many as 28 districts from all over Maharashtra attended the seminar. The seminar served as an orientation workshop for these individuals who would then take it forward to the next level.

Dr Madhav Gadgil, senior scientist and recipient of Padma Bhushan award, chaired the seminar. Dr Gadgil is a renowned ecologist having spent more than forty years in research. He has more than 200 research papers and six books to his credit. Jidnyasa felicitated him on the occasion. In his address, Dr Gadgil made a strong case for a systematic data collection on biodiversity at the ground level. He has developed software, which will be used to map the biodiversity of Maharashtra, which according to him is the “need of the hour”.

The seminar featured many other experts in the field of biodiversity such as Dr Vinaya Ghate, a scientist from Adharkar Institute Pune, Dr Madhukar Bachulkar renowned botanist from Kolhapur, Sandhya Edlabadkar from Chandrapur, Vivek Ponkshe from Pune, Dr Mangala Borkar from BN Bondodkar College of Science, Thane and Shraddha Shimpi from Pendharkar College, Dombivali. Principal of BN Bandodkar College Dr. Madhuri Pejawar and Dr Govind Paratkar from Vaze-Kelkar College were the conveners of the technical sessions. Seven sub-themes of biodiversity were discussed by these experts. These sub themes were terrestrial biodiversity, aquatic biodiversity, conservation of biodiversity, generating knowledge of biodiversity, manmade biodiversity, sustainable value addition, and simulations and models.

A book on “Medicinal forest Plants” and few CDs on environment made by Jidnyasa were released at the hands of the Dr PN Munde, Director Sanjay Gandhi National Park, Borivali. Surendra Dighe, Managing Trustee of Jidnyasa Trust provided information of various science programmes that the trust conducts all over Maharashtra. As many as 50-200 species of life are lost every day – that means we lose 20,000 to 70,000 species in a year. Considering that it takes between 2,000-1,00,000 generations for higher species to evolve, we humans have an urgent responsibility towards planet Earth and towards our future generations. And for that we need to shed our lackadaisical attitude towards the variety of life on our planet.

A New Word Order

A New Word Order

Even as the peoples of the world await the arrival of a New World Order, we are witnessing the emergence of what I call the "New Word Order" on this planet. Starting today, I will be one of active proponents of this new order, which has more potential for fulfilling the dream of the diverse nations coming together in “common cause to achieve the universal aspirations of mankind”.

Just like the pen is considered mightier than the sword, blogs are getting mightier than mass media. Words of individuals like us are now finding significant expression and reflection on the World Wide Web. My blog, titled “Wordly Wise”, is an attempt to give my most compelling thoughts an expression, an outlet if you will. Over the years, I have found that my seemingly unconventional views find a rather wide acceptance among my friends and associates. This leads me to believe that if more and more of us think and express our views, we might succeed in setting off a small, subtle but important change in the long-term.

I hope my blog (and the wise words it will contain) makes this world a wiser place.

Make your summers rewarding

Make your summers rewarding

As the mercury rises in the summer, excitement of students begins to surge too. After toiling monotonously for a whole year attending classes, going for tuitions, struggling with homework and finally cramming for exams, students look forward to this time of year, never mind the sweltering heat.

Granted, summer vacations are a great time to catch up with all those exciting activities that you have been dying to indulge in but were simply impossible to take up during the academic year: you would want to play your favourite sport, watch movies, go for outings and generally have fun. But even after you do all of this, you will find that you still have a reasonable amount of spare time that can and must be utilised gainfully.

Academically you move up one level with each passing year. But it is equally important for you to move up regularly with respect to your personality. And there’s no better time to do this than the summer holidays. Unfortunately, most students end up doing nothing constructive during this highly fertile two-month period. But all is not lost. If you’re a student who has not yet made plans of how to make good use of your time this vacation, now is a good time to do so. The question that is probably cropping up in your mind is, "What should I do?"

We suggest that you spend some time this week in your own company and do a self-audit. Find out which zones of your personality you would like to work upon. Do a quick evaluation of your personality and ask yourself simple questions like the following: What are my strengths and weaknesses? Which new activity I would like to pursue? Which existing interest would I like to augment? This simple exercise will lead to clarity of thought and action. And once you’re clear about what it is that you want to do, you can proceed in the direction of putting into practice what you’ve decided.

There are many good ways to spend the next one month or so. Here are a few suggestions that might be helpful. This is in no way an exhaustive list and you can certainly come up with several creative ideas yourself.

Sign up for an adventure/sports camp
Look out for and sign up with one of the several adventure camps organised specially for school students. Such camps offer a wonderful opportunity for you to experience the real world first hand – away from the protective shield of your parents and teachers.

If you’re a sports lover, then you could consider one of the various sports camps that train you in the sport of your choice.

Cultivate the habit of Reading
Supplementing/cultivating a reading habit is a good idea. Reading is a great way of building up a good thinking mind. You even become more creative, besides increasing your knowledge! So join a good library, borrow a few good books on the subjects you like and spend some time reading daily.

Avoid watching excessive TV
Watching TV is an inert activity and tends to slow down your wits. It’s also harmful for your physical fitness. Allocate a fixed time per week for TV viewing and resolve not to exceed this limit. When watching TV, make it a point to watch informative and educational channels like Discovery, Animal Planet and National Geographic.

Physical Activity
Engage in some daily physical activity routine. This is a good habit for life. Swimming, cycling, trekking or simply walking will go a long way in keeping you healthy and in shape.

Replace phones with personal interactions
A worrying habit among the youngsters these days is that they rattle long hours on the phone. Remember, it is much better to meet up your friends in person and converse one-to-one. Personal interactions enhance the quality of your conversations and, in the process, the quality of your friendships too.

Develop new interests
Consider developing new hobbies or expand the scope of existing ones such as painting, drawing, music, cooking, writing, acting and so on. Many of you may not venture into a hobby for the fear of being ridiculed or because you think you’re not good enough. Steer clear of judging yourself and simply take up the activity irrespective of how good you are at it. Remember you’re not competing with anyone, and there is no justifiable reason to deny yourself the joy that comes from doing that which you fancy.

So go ahead and make a new agreement with yourself. Eliminate a weakness, acquire a new hobby, improve your knowledge quotient and transform yourself in positive ways. Then, when the new academic year begins, your newfound personality will be all set to conquer the world.

Myth Busting

Myth Busting

Last year, around this time, I met a girl in the neighbourhood who had just become aware of her HSC results. She seemed absolutely down in the dumps. Assuming that she’s failed, or at the very least, performed real bad, I inquired as mildly as I could, about the cause of her gloominess. She was bit uncomfortable initially, but after a little gentle prodding, she gave in. Her response jolted me. She said she was embarrassed to face her Mathematics teacher because she had obtained “only” 98 out of the maximum of 100 in her Mathematics paper. Till I had met this girl, I was under the impression that with grades like these, students would be rejoicing, celebrating and even distributing sweets to one and all. But it was not so.

On the other extreme, Dr. Anil Tambe, a prominent doctor from Thane revealed to me another shocking case related to the board results. Earlier this week, on Monday morning, he had discharged a 15-year-old girl (name withheld) from his hospital. This girl was admitted to his hospital on the previous day because she had apparently consumed rat poison in an attempt to commit suicide. Why? She had failed in her tenth standard (CBSE) exams!

Both the above cases signal a disturbing trend that has come to besiege the board exams. With increasing competition and peer pressure, board results have become perhaps the biggest source of stress, trauma and paranoia among students.

Each year more than a hundred thousand students appear for board exams across the country. Most of them attach more importance to the results than is warranted. And as we’ve seen from the cases above, this applies to all kinds of students – not just the so-called dull students but also the brilliant ones who score extremely well.

But students are not alone to be blamed. Parents, teachers and the society share the responsibility equally. For instance, regardless of their expectations from their children, it’s important for parents to declare unequivocally that they love their children  . Parents must let children know that they love them in spite of, not because of, their performances. An old saying goes, “A child needs love the most when he least deserves it.”

Baby Blues

Baby Blues

Whenever a life is saved, we thank at least two beings – one is of course the omnipotent, omniscient creator that most of us call God. But the other, more tangible being, is the doctor who attended to the patient medically. In that sense, doctors carry a huge burden of hope on their shoulders. And when the patient they are attending to is a child, the burden is considerably heavier.

A few months ago we carried a story on the availability of facilities for neonatal surgeries in Thane. Recently, another sensitive neonatal surgery was performed on a mere 25-day-old infant. So complicated was the case that the incidence of its occurrence is three in a million! This case serves as a cautionary note to parents of infants who might be tempted to disregard or discount abnormalities as not serious.

A 15-day-old baby, who was otherwise normal, suddenly started passing urine from his umbilicus (navel). Initially, his mother ignored it, thinking that it is an ordinary serous discharge, as the child was also passing urine normally. There was no fever or any other abnormality detected. However, when the discharge continued for a couple of days, the concerned parents took their baby to Dr. Geeta Bhat, the pediatrician who was treating the infant. Dr Bhat immediately referred the parents to Dr. Laxmikant Kasat, who promptly diagnosed the infant as suffering from a condition that is medically known as “Patent Urachus”. The urachus is a tube that connects the bladder to the umbilicus. After birth, the urachus normally closes and becomes a ligament. But, if for some reason the urachus fails to close after birth, the tube remains open (patent). It is then that the urine starts leaking from the umbilicus and surgery becomes necessary to avoid bacterial and other infections.

When Dr Kasat decided to operate the infant, who was now 25-days-old, he was aware of the rarity of this case and took the most cautious approach. While the child was unconscious and made insensitive to pain using general anesthesia, an incision was made in the lower abdomen. The urachus was located and removed from the umbilicus and the bladder. The bladder opening was repaired, and the incision was closed. Thus, the oblivious baby was saved from what could’ve developed into a life threatening medical condition.

Like in the above case, many parents tend to self-diagnose and self-treat the symptoms using home remedies. This, according to Dr Kasat, is a dangerous practice. He said, “The point to remember is that whenever there is a urine-like discharge from the navel, especially in the newborns, parents must immediately consult a pediatric surgeon as there is a high likelihood of a patent urachus, which needs prompt surgery to prevent any possibility of severe urinary infections.” In fact Dr Kasat warned against treating such leaks with ointments, herbal paste   or simply waiting it out, all of which can prove dangerous, leading to pus formation and often inadequate and prolonged treatment. As in all medical complications, early diagnosis and treatment gives excellent results.

So the next time you observe any abnormal phenomenon in your newborn, however mild it may seem, do not take it lightly. Rush to your pediatrician and have the possibility of anything serious ruled out. After all you owe it your baby.