August 30, 2008

Hi ! I have just started this blog today. I shall start posting after I have collected / collated my random thoughts.

August 29, 2008

Discovering parts that gradually start to give way

One of the effects of aging is that gradually parts of your body start to show signs of deterioration in their functioning. Aches and pains become your partners. My wife Neelam was led to believe her lingering backaches were Sciatica. My ignorance of the subject prompted me to study the subject on the net.

A comprehensive report was prepared but even before Neelam got around to reading it, an MRI scan and expert's diagnosis showed it to a case of slipped disc. She has just started her familiarization with Sacro-Lumbar support 0511, a belt she has to wear for some time. The report is published for general use by anyone in similar situation.

Sciatica is a set of symptoms including pain that may be caused by general compression and/or irritation of one of five nerve roots that give rise to the sciatic nerve, or by compression or irritation of the sciatic nerve itself. The pain is felt in the lower back, buttock, and/or various parts of the leg and foot. In addition to pain, which is sometimes severe, there may be numbness, muscular weakness, and difficulty in moving or controlling the leg. Typically, the symptoms are only felt on one side of the body.

The medical term for sciatica is a radiculopathy, which means that a spinal disc has extended beyond its normal position and is irritating the Radicular nerve (nerve root) in the lower back, which connects with the sciatic nerve. The sciatic nerve branches off as it travels down the lower extremity through the back of the leg. Sciatic pain can be experienced along this nerve route.

Although sciatica is a relatively common form of low back pain and leg pain, the true meaning of the term is often misunderstood. Sciatica is a set of symptoms rather than a diagnosis for what is irritating the root of the nerve, causing the pain. This point is important, because treatment for sciatica or sciatic symptoms will often be different, depending upon the underlying cause of the symptoms.

Causes of sciatica
Sciatica is generally caused by the compression of lumbar nerves L4 or L5 or sacral nerves S1, S2 or S3, or far less commonly, by compression of the sciatic nerve itself. When sciatica is caused by compression of a dorsal nerve root (radix) it is considered a lumbar radiculopathy (or radiculitis when accompanied with an inflammatory response) from a spinal disc herniation (a herniated intervertebral disc in the spine), or from roughening, enlarging, and/or misaligning of the vertebrae (spondylolisthesis), or degenerated discs. Sciatica due to compression of a nerve root is one of the most common forms of radiculopathy.

"Pseudo-sciatica," which causes symptoms similar to spinal nerve root compression, is caused by the compression of peripheral sections of the nerve, usually from soft tissue tension in the piriformis or related muscles (see piriformis syndrome and see below).

Spinal disc herniation
One cause of sciatica is a spinal disc herniation, pressing on one of the sciatic nerve roots. The spinal discs are composed of a tough spongiform ring of cartilage (annulus fibrosus) with a more malleable center (nucleus pulposis). The discs separate the vertebrae, thereby allowing room for the nerve roots to properly exit through the spaces between the L4, L5, and sacral vertebrae. The discs cushion the spine from compressive forces, but are weak to pressure applied during rotational movements. That is why a person who bends to one side, at a bad angle to pick something up, may more likely herniate a spinal disc than a person falling from a ladder and landing on his or her back. Herniation of a disc occurs when the liquid center of the disc bulges outwards, tearing the external ring of fibers, extrudes into the spinal canal, and compresses a nerve root against the lamina or pedicle of a vertebra, thus causing sciatica. This extruded liquid from the nucleus pulposus may cause inflammation and swelling of surrounding tissue which may cause further compression of the nerve root in the confined space in the spinal canal.

Sciatica can be caused by tumours impinging on the spinal cord or the nerve roots. Severe back pain extending to the hips and feet, loss of bladder or bowel control, or muscle weakness, may result from spinal tumours. Trauma to the spine, such as from a car accident, may also lead to sciatica.

Spinal stenosis
Other compressive spinal causes include spinal stenosis, a condition wherein the spinal canal (the spaces through which the spinal cord runs) narrows and compresses the spinal cord, cauda equina, and/or sciatic nerve roots. This narrowing can be caused by bone spurs, vertebral dislocation, inflammation, or herniated disc which decreases available space for the spinal cord, thus pinching nerves from the spinal cord that travel to the sciatic nerve and irritating them with friction.

Piriformis syndrome
In 15% of the population, the sciatic nerve runs through the piriformis muscle rather than beneath it. When the muscle shortens or spasms due to trauma, it can compress or strangle the sciatic nerve beneath the muscle. This cause of sciatic symptoms is piriformis syndrome. This may be the major cause of sciatica when the nerve root is normal.

The risk of self-inflicted sciatica has increased in recent years with the fashion trend of lower-hanging trousers as well as lower-positioning of the pockets. For instance, sitting on a wallet for prolonged hours every day can cause self-inflicted sciatica. Symptoms of numbness and/or pain behind the knee cap are associated with this form of sciatica.

Sacroiliac joint dysfunction
Another cause of sciatic symptoms is sacroiliac joint dysfunction. Unhealthy posture, habits such as sitting in chairs for excessive lengths of time and sleeping in the foetal position, along with insufficient stretching and exercise of the relevant myofascial areas, can lead to both the vertebral and soft tissue problems associated with sciatica.

Trigger points
Another source of sciatic symptoms is active trigger points of the lower back and the gluteus muscles.[citation needed] In this case, the referred pain is not consequent to compression of the sciatic nerve, though the pain distribution down the buttocks and leg is similar. Trigger points occur when muscles become ischemic (low blood flow) due to injury or chronic muscular contraction. The most commonly associated muscles with trigger points triggering sciatic symptoms are: the quadratus lumborum, the gluteus medius, the gluteus minimus, and the deep hip rotators.

Sciatica may also be experienced in late pregnancy, primarily resulting from the uterus pressing on the sciatic nerve, and, secondarily, from the muscular tension and / or vertebral compression consequent to carrying the extra weight of the fetus, and the postural changes inherent to pregnancy

Diagnosis and treatment
Because of the many conditions which can compress nerve roots and cause sciatica, treatment and symptoms often differ from patient to patient. Diagnostic tests can come in the form of a series of exams a physician will perform. Patients will be asked to adopt numerous positions and actions such as squatting, walking on toes, bending forward and backward, rotating the spine, sitting, lying on back, and raising one leg at a time. Increased pain will occur during some of these activities.

Treatment of the underlying cause of the compression is often the most effective course. When the cause is due to a prolapsed or lumbar disc herniation, research has shown that, with supportive treatment to help relieve pain, 90% of disc prolapse will recover with no specific intervention. Genetics appear to influence the risk of developing disc herniation.

Imaging methods such as MR neurography may help diagnosis and treatment of sciatica. MR neurography has been shown to diagnose 95% of severe sciatica patients, while as few as 15% of sciatica sufferers in the general population are diagnosed with disc-related problems. MR neurography is a modified MRI technique using MRI software to provide better pictures of the spinal nerves and the effect of compression on these nerves. MR neurography may help diagnose piriformis syndrome which is another cause of sciatica that does not involve disc herniation.

Most cases of sciatica can be treated by one or more of the following:
2.Anti-inflammatory medications (for example NSAIDs or oral steroids)
5.Pain medication (for example acetaminophen)
6.Physical therapy
8.Stretching exercises
9.Structural integration

Specific surgical techniques include:
Intradiscal Electrothermoplasty (IDET)
A needle is inserted into the affected disc, guided by x-ray. A wire is then threaded down through the needle and into the disc until it lies along the inner wall of the annulus. The wire is then heated which destroys the small nerve fibers that have grown into the cracks and have invaded the degenerating disc. The heat also partially melts the annulus, which triggers the body to generate new reinforcing proteins in the fibers of the annulus

Radiofrequency Discal Nucleoplasty (Coblation Nucleoplasty)
A needle is inserted into the affected disc, although instead of a heating wire, a special RF probe (radio frequency) is used. This probe generates a highly focused plasma field with enough energy to break up the molecular bonds of the gel in the nucleus, essentially vaporizing some of the nucleus. The result is that 10-20% of the nucleus is removed which decompresses the disc and reduces the pressure both on the disc and the surrounding nerve roots. This technique may be more beneficial for sciatica type of pain than the IDET, since nucleoplasty can actually reduce the disc bulge, which is pressing on a nerve root. The high-energy plasma field is actually generated at relatively low temperatures, so danger to surrounding tissues is minimized.

The term sciatica describes the symptoms of leg pain and possibly tingling, numbness or weakness that travels from the low back through the buttock and down the large sciatic nerve in the back of the leg. The vast majority of people who experience sciatica get better with time (usually a few weeks or months) and find pain relief with non-surgical sciatica treatment. For others, however, sciatica can be severe and debilitating.

The clinical diagnosis of sciatica is referred to as a "radiculopathy", which means simply that a disc has protruded from its normal position in the vertebral column and is putting pressure on the radicular nerve (nerve root) in the lower back, which forms part of the sciatic nerve.

An important thing to understand is that sciatica is a symptom of a problem — of something compressing or irritating the nerve roots that comprise the sciatic nerve — rather than a medical diagnosis or medical disorder in and of itself. This is an important distinction because it is the underlying diagnosis (vs. the symptoms of sciatica) that often needs to be treated in order to relieve sciatic nerve pain.

Sciatica occurs most frequently in people between 30 and 50 years of age. Often a particular event or injury does not cause sciatica, but rather it tends to develop as a result of general wear and tear on the structures of the lower spine.

Sciatica symptoms
For some people, the pain from sciatica can be severe and debilitating. For others, the pain might be infrequent and irritating, but has the potential to get worse.

While sciatica can be very painful, it is rare that permanent nerve damage (tissue damage) will result. Most sciatica pain syndromes result from inflammation and will get better within two weeks to a few months. Also, because the spinal cord is not present in the lower (lumbar) spine, a herniated disc in this area of the anatomy does not present a danger of paralysis.

Sciatica symptoms that may constitute a medical emergency include:
1.Progressive weakness in the leg
2.Bladder/bowel incontinence or dysfunction.

Common Causes of Sciatica:
1.Lumbar herniated disc
2.Spinal stenosis
3.Degenerative disc disease

Patients with either of the above symptoms may have cauda equina syndrome and should seek immediate medical attention. In general, patients with complicating factors should contact their doctor if sciatica occurs, including people who (1) Have been diagnosed with cancer; (2) Take steroid medication, (3) Abuse drugs, (4) Have unexplained, significant weight loss, or (5) Have HIV.

Sciatica medical definition: Radiculopathy
To clarify medical terminology, the term sciatica (often misspelled as ciatica, cyatica or siatica) is often used very broadly to describe any form of pain that radiates into the leg. However, this is not technically correct. True sciatica occurs when the sciatic nerve is pinched or irritated and the pain along the sciatic nerve is caused by this nerve (radicular pain) and is called a radiculopathy. When the pain is referred to the leg from a joint problem (called referred pain), using the term sciatica is not technically correct. This type of referred pain (e.g. from arthritis or other joint problems) is quite common.

Practical point
Symptoms of sciatica pain can vary greatly but usually decrease after a few weeks or months with non-surgical treatment.

Sciatica treatment
Sciatica nerve pain is caused by a combination of pressure and inflammation on the nerve root, and treatment is centered on relieving both of these factors. Typical sciatica treatment include:

Non-surgical sciatica treatments, which may include one or a combination of medical treatments and alternative (non-medical) treatments, and almost always includes some form of exercise and stretching. The goals of non-surgical sciatica treatment should include both relief of sciatica pain and prevention of future sciatica symptoms.

Sciatica surgery, such as microdiscectomy or lumbar laminectomy and discectomy, to remove the portion of the disc that is irritating the nerve root. This surgery is designed to help relieve both the pressure and inflammation and may be warranted if the sciatic nerve pain is severe and has not been relieved with appropriate manual or medical treatments.

Active exercise is important for sciatica (radiculopathy) relief
While it may seem counterintuitive, exercise is usually better for healing sciatic pain than bed rest. Patients may rest for a day or two after their sciatica flares up, but after that time period, inactivity will usually make the pain worse. Without exercise and movement, the back muscles and spinal structures become deconditioned and less able to support the back.

The deconditioning and weakening can lead to back injury and strain, which causes additional back pain. Exercise is also important for the health of the spinal discs. Movement helps exchange nutrients and fluids within the discs to keep them healthy.

Many sciatica exercises focus on strengthening the abdominal and back muscles in order to provide more support for the back. Stretching exercises for sciatica target muscles that cause pain when they are tight and inflexible. When patients engage in a regular program of gentle strengthening and stretching exercises, they can recover more quickly from a flare up of sciatica and can help to prevent future episodes of pain.

Specific sciatica exercises depend on the cause of the pain
A physical therapist, certified athletic trainer (ATC), chiropractor, physiatrist or other spine specialist who treats the back pain and leg pain associated with sciatica may recommend exercise as part of a treatment program. It is important to first get an accurate diagnosis for the cause of sciatic pain, as the specific exercises recommended will depend on the cause of the sciatica. It is also important to get a diagnosis before starting any sciatica exercises because, while rare, sciatic pain can be caused by some serious medical conditions (such as an infection or tumor) that require prompt medical attention.

Caring for sciatica should be considered part of one's daily living, not just something to add to the routine at the end of the day. In addition to an exercise routine, patients with sciatica should minimize everyday stress on the lower back, including using good ergonomics while lifting, maintaining good posture, making sure the lower back is supported while sitting, and avoiding standing for long periods of time.

Practical point
For many people with herniated discs, extension exercises that arch the spine backward rather than flex it forward will provide more relief.

August 28, 2008

An amazing story - What goes around comes around

After reading my first few blogs, my daughter, Sanya brought to my attention the folowing story. Saying that it is quite interesting and would inspire charitable thoughts in readers since one never knows the outcome of one's noble acts. I decide to post the story but decided to google for more information and some startling discoveries .
But first the story:
His name was Fleming, and he was a poor Scottish farmer. One day, while trying to eke out a living for his family, he heard a cry for help coming from a nearby bog. He dropped his tools and ran to the bog. There, mired to his waist in black mulch, was a terrified boy, screaming and struggling to free himself. Farmer Fleming saved the lad from what could have been a slow and terrifying death.

The next day, a fancy carriage pulled up to the Scotsman's sparse surroundings. An elegantly dressed nobleman stepped out and introduced himself as the father of the boy Farmer Fleming had saved. "I want to repay you," said the nobleman. "You saved my son's life." "No, I can't accept payment for what I did," the Scottish farmer replied, waving off the offer. At that moment, the farmer's own son came to the door of the family hovel. "Is that your son?" the nobleman asked. "Yes," the farmer replied proudly. "I'll make you a deal. Let me take him and give him a good education. If the lad is anything like his father, he'll grow to a man you can be proud of."

And that he did. In time, Farmer Fleming's son graduated from St. Mary's Hospital Medical School in London, and went on to become known throughout the world as the noted Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of penicillin. Years afterward, the nobleman's son was stricken with pneumonia. What saved him? Penicillin.

The name of the nobleman? Lord Randolph Churchill. His son's name? Sir Winston Churchill.Someone once said, "What goes around, comes around."
If you're thinking this story rings too good to be true, you are absolutely right. "Charming as it is," observes a Churchill Centre page devoted to alleged convergences between the lives of Winston churchill and Alexander Fleming, "it is certainly fiction. Among the reasons set forth in support of that conclusion are:
  • There is no record of Winston Churchill nearly drowning in a Scottish bog when he was young.
  • There is no record of Lord Randolph Churchill paying for Alexander Fleming's education.
  • Though it is true that Winston Churchill contracted pneumonia more than once during World War II and was treated with an antibiotic called sulfadiazine ("M&B"), he was never, according to available medical records, treated with penicillin.

That said, Sir Alexander Fleming was indeed the discoverer of penicillin, and Churchill did apparently consult with the brilliant physician and professor of medicine once in 1946 when he had a staph infection that proved resistant to the drug. The Churchill Centre attributes the apocryphal tale, which has circulated in email form since 1999, to a 1950 book called "Worship Programs for Juniors" by Alice A. Bays and Elizabeth Jones Oakbery.

Moral of the Story : Don't blindly believe the written word. In every media, be it Print, Electronic or the Internet, there are con artists and the gullible get suckered. Be inquisitive, a bit adventurous and explore. Just googling a subject and believing what one comes up with is surely going to lead to a disaster. Make an effort and read atleast the first 15-20 search results.

August 27, 2008

Alok in Thailand

Best man Naresh at Google ?

In my previous blog I mentioned that I had written to Google querying what drove them to recruit Naresh, a double amputee. The reason for raising this query was to try and understand what drove them to it. Were they just being good samaritans or doing it for the publicity it would generate for them. They have not yet responded. Since my last blog on this, I have sent emails on their website, to Google co-founder Larry Page and today to their Vice President People Operations Laszlo Bock. In some corner of my mind ia desire that they would respond saying they recruited Naresh because he was truly the best guy for the job at hand.

Google website says they seek motivated self starters who demonstrate initiative & ownership. They must be dedicated to customers while continuously striving for superior quality and must be in a continuous learning mode since the environment is fast changing. They must be flexible to work in different & diverse projects. Google offers encouragement, freedom to innovate and a chance to work in a flat hierarchy. Candidates must be highly performance driven and display innovation in their way of thinking. Eagerness to solve problems and working as a team with respect for peers is a vital trait they scout for. They are expected to be Talented, Energetic and Detail-oriented. Besides these, the individual must possess role specific technical skills.

I am sure that Naresh is talented and competent and also has the right attitude. However one musn't forget that he is, after all a fresher. So Google must say that he was truly the best guy available for the position and that they were not driven by the desire to be good samaritans and this was not for free publicity. Their silence would indicate that a position has been denied to another more deserving candidate. Being physically challenged should not become a candidate's passport to a job involving state-of-the-art technologies. However, having special needs can not be a reason to reject a deserving guy.

Recruiting someone who is physically challenged must require monetary outlays to modify the office. We need to know that Google is where it is because they always choose the best man to create a superior performance environment, to deliver superior products for the end users. The Governments must realise that legislation can not create equal opportunity. It can only aspire for limited opportunity. We need to open our minds.

Google has done well and Naresh would show them what he is made up of. Having stirred the nation's collective conscience, I have no doubt he would remain in public memory for a long time. This is not the last we have heard of him.

August 25, 2008

Don't let anyone shape your thinking

Devi Dayal Mittal, my friend and an alumnus of The Punjab School of Business Studies, Patiala, my alma mater, though several years younger, sent me this wonderful story today. I feel it needs to be shared with all to show that human genius comes into play when we challenge paradigms.

Sir Ernest Rutherford, President of the Royal Academy, and recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics received a call from a colleague. He was about to give a student a zero for his answer to a physics question, while the student claimed a perfect score. The instructor and the student agreed to an impartial arbiter, and Sir Rutherford was selected.

Rutherford read the examination question: "Show how it is possible to determine the height of a tall building with the aid of a barometer."

The student had answered: "Take the barometer to the top of the building, attach a long rope to it, lower it to the street, and then bring it up, measuring the length of the rope. The length of the rope is the height of the building."

The student really had a strong case for full credit since he had really answered the question completely and correctly! On the other hand, if full credit was given, it could well contribute to a high grade in his physics course and certify competence in physics, but the answer did not confirm this. Rutherford suggested that the student have another try. He gave the student six minutes to answer the question with the warning that the answer should show some knowledge of physics.

At the end of five minutes, the student hadn't written anything. Rutherford asked if he wished to give up, but he said he had so many answers to this problem; he was just thinking of the best one. Rutherford apologized for interrupting him and asked him to please go on. In the next minute, the student dashed off his answer, which read: "Take the barometer to the top of the building and lean over the edge of the roof. Drop the barometer, timing its fall with a stopwatch.

Then, using the formula x=0.5*a*t^2, calculate the height of the building."

At this point, Rutherford asked his colleague if he would give up. He conceded, and gave the student almost full credit. While leaving the colleague's office, Rutherford recalled that the student had said that he had other answers to the problem, so Rutherford asked him what they were.

"Well," said the student, "there are many ways of getting the height of a tall building with the aid of a barometer. For example, you could take the barometer out on a sunny day and measure the height of the barometer, the length of its shadow, and the length of the shadow of the building, and by the use of simple proportion, determine the height of the building."

"Fine," Rutherford said, "and others?"

"Yes," said the student, "there is a very basic measurement method you will like. In this method, you take the barometer and begin to walk up the stairs. As you climb the stairs, you mark off the length of the barometer along the wall. You then count the number of marks, and his will give you the height of the building in barometer units."

"A very direct method."
"Of course. If you want a more sophisticated method, you can tie the barometer to the end of a string, swing it as a pendulum, and determine the value of g [gravity] at the street level and at the top of the building.
From the difference between the two values of g, the height of the building, in principle, can be calculated."

"On this same tack, you could take the barometer to the top of the building, attach a long rope to it, lower it to just above the street, and then swing it as a pendulum. You could then calculate the height of the building by the period of the precession".

"Finally," he concluded, "there are many other ways of solving the problem."

"Probably the best," he said, "is to take the barometer to the basement and knock on the superintendent's door. When the superintendent answers, you speak to him as follows: 'Mr. Superintendent, here is a fine barometer. If you will tell me the height of the building, I will give you this barometer."

At this point, Rutherford asked the student if he really did not know the conventional answer to this question. He admitted that he did, but said that he was fed up with high school and college instructors trying to teach him how to think.

The name of the student was Neil’s Bohr. He won the Nobel Prize in Physics 1922.

August 23, 2008

Alok in Holland

Alok in Mumbai

I chanced to visit Cafe Mondegar, near Roxy Theatre in Colaba Mumbai recently. Their draught beer is worth dying for. This was the bar patronized by the world famous Goan cartoonist Mario Miranda in his earlier impoverished days in Mumbai. The legend goes that the owner of this bar would offer Mario endless beer. Mario would design his crockery, cutlery, drapery, linen and even painted his walls in his landmark style. The pictures are testimony that the progeny of the cafe owner have maintained the heritage Mario work to this day. The place should be on the must visit list of all art enthusiasts travelling to Mumbai. A table by the window, overlooking the street with its array of food aromas wafting in, on a lazy sunday afternoon with regular refills of the famous Mondegar beer, in the company of friends is the ultimate luxury.

August 14, 2008

The Snakeman

From Alok Sud

In March of 2004, I chanced to meet Capt. Suresh Sharma and his lovely wife, Dr Rajbir Kaur, in The Reliance A1 Plaza at Shahpura, on the Delhi-Jaipur highway, where we had stopped for a cup of tea. They were returning from an assignment in Gujarat, in their caravan named `Kingcobra’, which has become a kind of second home to them. It has been over four years now and we have remained in touch. It is his passion for the cause of wildlife and it's conservation, notably snakes, which has led him to do what many of us can never dare to think of, denounce the comfort of a secure job and chase his passion and make a career out of it. This separates Capt. Suresh Sharma from countless others and makes him stand head and shoulder above the rest.

Today I am going to tell his life story. Capt. Suresh Sharma is one of the lucky few to get introduced to the charms of nature while still a toddler. His father used to take him for daily morning walks to a wild patch near their home. Suresh has kept in touch with nature to this day and is now highly passionate about it. His love of nature, photography and travel got him to join Indian Army, which took him to all corners of India.

Capt Suresh served in the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka in 1988 where he came in contact with Satish Bhaskar at Chennai. Satish is well known for his work on marine life, especially sea turtles. This became the turning point in Suresh's life; Satish introduced Suresh to Dr Indraneil Das at The Madras Crocodile Bank, Mammallapuram.

Suresh expressed his curiosity to Satish to get a firsthand look at how wildlife films are produced. At the time, Rom Whitaker, the world famous herpetologist and Shekar Dattatri were filming ‘Silent Valley - An Indian Rainforest'. Suresh met Rom and Shekar and expressed his desire to work as a volunteer on the film’s production to which they readily consented. He applied for ‘leave without pay' from the army and got to work on the film production for three months. He fell in love with filming – ‘love at first sight' as he puts it. He decided to bid farewell to the Indian Army, which he loved the most till his exposure to nature films. It was all for his love of Nature and Photography that he hung his uniform. He worked with Shekar Dattatri on three films, two of which were produced for The National Geographic.

For some personal reasons and unforeseen circumstances, he had to abandon filming career abruptly at its early stages and moved back to Chandigarh. With no job in hand, he faced serious financial hardship for a couple of years but decided not to go back to a ‘Nine to Five’ job. At this point, he decided to remain in touch with nature by starting Nature Conservation through Education, which needed no money to begin and would be his contribution to nature conservation effort. He offered free lectures at schools and colleges. While pursuing his dream of educating people about nature conservation, Suresh felt that people would not come forward till they harbor apprehensions, myths, misconceptions and fears about animals. He saw every individual contribution as vital for conservation. At that time he offered his skill of handling snakes to rescue those snakes that had strayed into houses. He discovered that it was the best way; use snakes to dispel misconceptions about animals; to convey the message of nature conservation through educating people.

Suresh requested his old friend Dr Indraneil Das to be scientific advisor to Snake Cell. In 1999, Suresh met Dr Rajbir Kaur who is a qualified homeopath. He was requested to conduct a program that was coordinated by Rajbir, to educate rural women about snakes and snakebite.

After this program, Suresh suggested that Rajbir work as a volunteer with Snake Cell. Their association grew and soon they were married. With Suresh, Rajbir aims to accomplish their mission to educate people about snakes and save `Ignorant people & Innocent snakes’.

Rajbir handles fund-raising activities and administration. She is an active field member and coordinates all programs of Snake Cell. They devote most of their time in educating and motivating people about nature conservation.

They vie to understand the problems of snakes in human habitations and design better means to educate people and design suitable programmes to train snake handlers. It has been an uphill task and they had to negotiate many obstacles to bring Snake Cell to its present level. They pursue their passion with a missionary zeal. Both have worked tirelessly to raise funds for Snake Cell and have been supported by their friends and well-wishers. They have been producing wildlife T-shirts by hand. These are rated the best in India. They also organize quality nature tours to raise funds. Their baby ‘Snake Cell’ has been successful as is evident by the program being sought after by schools, colleges and other public institutions.

People seek help from Suresh & Rajbir to remove snakes from their houses, offices, factories etc. Since they first met both have been rescuing snakes in and around Chandigarh. So far, they have rescued about 950 snakes from houses, including Common Krait, which is 15 times more poisonous than a cobra and is the deadliest Indian snake. They have so far attended over 1250 emergencies till now. It’s a Free Service 24 Hours a day.

Suresh has also been associated with wildlife film projects including two for the National Geographic Society, USA. This multi skilled army veteran designs and fabricates natural history sets & props for wildlife film shootings under controlled conditions. He also designs cine equipment for wildlife filming.

They have the able support of a highly eminent team of advisors:
Advisor Natural History, Dr Indraneil Das who received his doctorate from the University of Oxford, UK for his work in Ecology. He has conducted fieldwork in many countries in south and south East Asia and is the Chairman of International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) South Asian Reptile and Amphibian Specialist Group. Dr Das has written several books and numerous research papers on wildlife and has described several new species of snakes and lizards. He has also taught at Harvard. Currently, he is conducting scientific research and teaching at the Malaysian University.

Advisor Snakebite, Dr. Ranjan Maheshwari has been working for the rescue of snakes and on snakebite cases for over a decade in Kota in Rajasthan. Kota being surrounded by forests is a good habitat for four of the most lethally venomous snakes found in India. He has been helping in the management of snakebite cases. His pioneering work on "Physiological manifestations under venom interactions" has led to the award of Doctoral degree to him from IIT Roorkee. He has developed an objective method to identify the snake species by studying the bite marks and has published many research papers and delivered many lectures on the subject. He is a referee to many scientific journals. His mission is to reduce the cost of medical management of snakebite, which is vital in saving human lives in the Indian subcontinent. Currently he is the Associate Professor and Deputy Director in Rajasthan Technical University, Kota.

Advisor Environmental Education, D.N. Mazumdar who is a professional manager and director of several companies. He spent his early years hunting, when big game was plentiful throughout India. Long before hunting was outlawed, he gave it up and became an ardent conservationist and served for several years on various committees of World Wildlife Fund (WWF), in Calcutta and Madras. After retiring from a well-known industrial group, he continued his passionate affair with environmental issues by working with an NGO. He authored ‘The Endangered Valley’ for the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 and is fighting to save the Rajaji National Park from further degradation. He resides at Dehradun where, as the Environmental Advisor to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), he works to bring about awareness for the need of water management.

Advisor Film and Media, Piers Warren is well known throughout the wildlife filmmaking industry as the editor of Wildlife Film News and producer of - the industry’s information website. Though experienced in various aspects of filmmaking, he has specialized in multimedia productions through his company, Wildeye. He is regularly called upon as an Internet and communication consultant for wildlife film and conservation projects. In 2001 Piers was a final judge at the International Film Festival in Montana, USA and in 2002 at Nature Vision Wildlife Film Festival in Bavaria. In 2002 he produced the book “Careers in Wildlife Film-making”, the only careers guide of its kind. This book is essential reading for those who yearn to get into this pursuit. With a background in biology, education and conservation, he has had a passion for wildlife films and has a wide knowledge of natural history. He is the Vice President and one of the founders of the international organization, Filmmakers for Conservation (FFC), Norfolk UK.

The image of Capt. Suresh Sharma is © Gurbir Singh Brar. To see more images by him visit :
Flickr: gurbir singh brar's Photostream

All other images are © Capt. Suresh Sharma. To see some excellent and highly acclaimed wildlife photographs by Capt. Suresh Sharma and to know more about him and his work please you may visit :


August 11, 2008

Deep, yes you may reproduce the story

Deep, a friend from Kolkatta has asked if he can reproduce the Naresh story on his website, targetted at school children. I have also recieved similar queries on my other email IDs from people known to me. I have only the following to say on the matter. One, this is not copyrighted material so you may go ahead and use it in full or part and two, the intent of this blog is to start a debate on such matters of everyday life with a view to inspire those whom life has challenged in some way. So Deep, YES YOU MAY USE THE STORY. Promise that it would be in a positive vein.

I wish to start a debate through this blog on matters concerning the physically challenged. In my overseas travels I have seen the extreme care with which the civic infrastructure is laid out so that the physically challenged can go about their lives independently. I often wonder when would India reach a stage when physically challenged persons can get out of their home unaided, grab public transport in their wheelchairs without needing any help or go into a public place, be it a theatre or a restaurant, without the rest of us staring at them. And silently conveying to them how unfortunate we think they are.

Geeti, my cousin, who is a year older and owns a rather sharp and creative mind but can not move around normally due to cerebral palsy has taught me that the physically challenged are individuals in their own right and deserve their space as much as we deserve ours. Life becomes a challenge when they are confronted with negativity. Feel free to write what you think the civil society can do to change things.

My friend Captain Suresh Sharma of Chandigarh wrote in today inviting all of us to witness a rare celestial event that would next happen in 2287 AD. So miss a few hours of sleep on the intervening night of 26th & 27th August and enjoy the spectacle Nature has laid out for us.

"A rare thing to watch ..... Two moons on 27 August. 27th Aug the day the whole World is waiting for............. Planet Mars will be the brightest in the night sky in August. It will look as large as the full moon to the naked eye. This will culminate on August 27 when Mars comes within 34.65M miles of earth. Be sure to watch the sky on Aug. 27 12:30 am. It will look like the earth has 2 moons. The next time Mars may come this close is in 2287 AD. Share this with your friends as NO ONE ALIVE TODAY will ever see it again............... "

Captain Sharma, many thanks. I am sure many of us would willingly give up a few hours of sleep to see this rare occurence.

August 8, 2008

Why did Google recruit Naresh

There is some amount of skepticism in all of us. To some of us even basic human goodness appears like scheming. A few would think Naresh was very lucky to encounter such profound compassion that a total stranger on a train volunteers to pay his hostel expense for five years. The skeptics further argue that Naresh must have been truly blessed to encounter such an atmosphere as he did at IIT Chennai. The professors and staff who went out of their way to help him must be repaying their debts of earlier births. And Google must have selected him to show that they champion the cause of the physically challenged and are in fact an equal opportunity employer.

I also viewed this story with a bit of disbelief as it appeared straight out of a fairy tale. I sought an answer for myself. "What drove Google to recruit a double amputee? Was it just to be seen as an equal opportunity employer even if it meant having to constantly make adjustments in the way they would work or was it the fact that Naresh was truly the best guy for the job?" I asked Google in an email.

I shall share with you what Google guys say in their response when I hear from them. In the meantime I ask all of you to write in with what you think could have driven Google to do it.

August 7, 2008

Naresh's saga of grit & determination

My friend Mukul sent me this wonderful story of Naresh, the 21 year old IIT Chennai graduate who recently joined Google at Bangalore. I found the story so amazing for the innate goodness of the human soul that I had a strong desire to start my blog to share the story with the whole world rather than through a limited number of contacts in my email system. I repeat the story in its entirety with an earnest desire that such stories which bring out the best in the human spirit, be it of the protagonist or his associates, be circulated widely so that they inspire others who may be in a similar situation.

Naga Naresh Karutura has just passed out of IIT Madras in Computer Science and has joined Google in Bangalore. You may ask, what's so special about this 21-year-old when there are hundreds of students passing out from various IITs and joining big companies like Google?

Naresh is special. His parents are illiterate. He has no legs and moves around in his powered wheel chair. (In fact, when I could not locate his lab, he told me over the mobile phone, 'I will come and pick you up'. And in no time, he was there to guide me). Ever smiling, optimistic and full of spirit; that is Naresh. He says, "God has always been planning things for me. That is why I feel I am lucky."

Why Naresh feels he is lucky.
Childhood in a village I spent the first seven years of my life in Teeparru, a small village in Andhra Pradesh, on the banks of the river Godavari. My father Prasad was a lorry driver and my mother Kumari, a housewife. Though they were illiterate, my parents instilled in me and my elder sister, Sirisha, the importance of studying. Looking back, one thing that surprises me now is the way my father taught me when I was in the 1st and 2nd standards. My father would ask me questions from the textbook, and I would answer them. At that time, I didn't know he could not read or write but to make me happy, he helped me in my studies!

Another memory that doesn't go away is the floods in the village and how my uncle carried me atop a buffalo. I also remember plucking fruits from a tree that was full of thorns.

I used to be very naughty, running around and playing all the time with my friends. I used to get a lot of scolding for disturbing the elders who slept in the afternoon. The moment they started scolding, I would run away to the fields! I also remember finishing my schoolwork fast in class and sleeping on the teacher's lap!

January 11, 1993, the fateful day
On the January 11, 1993 when we had the sankranti holidays, my mother took my sister and me to a nearby village for a family function. From there we were to go with our grandmother to our native place. But my grandmother did not come there. As there were no buses that day, my mother took a lift in my father's friend's lorry. As there were many people in the lorry, he made me sit next to him, close to the door. It was my fault; I fiddled with the door latch and it opened wide throwing me out. As I fell, the iron rods protruding from the lorry cut my legs. Nothing happened to me except scratches on my legs.

The accident had happened just in front of a big private hospital but they refused to treat me saying it was an accident case. Then a police constable who was passing by took us to a government hospital.

First I underwent an operation as my small intestine got twisted. The doctors also bandaged my legs. I was there for a week. When the doctors found that gangrene had developed and it had reached up to my knees, they asked my father to take me to a district hospital. There, the doctors scolded my parents a lot for neglecting the wounds and allowing the gangrene to develop. But what could my ignorant parents do? In no time, both my legs were amputated up to the hips. I remember waking up and asking my mother, where are my legs? I also remember that my mother cried when I asked the question. I was in the hospital for three months.

Life without legs
I don't think my life changed dramatically after I lost both my legs. Because all at home were doting on me, I was enjoying all the attention rather than pitying myself. I was happy that I got a lot of fruits and biscuits.

The day I reached my village, my house was flooded with curious people; all of them wanted to know how a boy without legs looked. But I was not bothered; I was happy to see so many of them coming to see me, especially my friends! All my friends saw to it that I was part of all the games they played; they carried me everywhere.

God's hand
I believe in God. I believe in destiny. I feel he plans everything for you. If not for the accident, we would not have moved from the village to Tanuku, a town. There I joined a missionary school, and my father built a house next to the school. Till the tenth standard, I studied in that school.

If I had continued in Teeparru, I may not have studied after the 10th. I may have started working as a farmer or someone like that after my studies. I am sure God had other plans for me.

My sister, my friend
When the school was about to reopen, my parents moved from Teeparru to Tanuku, a town, and admitted both of us in a Missionary school. They decided to put my sister also in the same class though she is two years older. They thought she could take care of me if both of us were in the same class. My sister never complained. She would be there for everything. Many of my friends used to tell me; you are so lucky to have such a loving sister. There are many who do not care for their siblings. She carried me in the school for a few years and after a while; my friends took over the task. When I got the tricycle, my sister used to push me around in the school. My life, I would say, was normal, as everyone treated me like a normal kid. I never wallowed in self-pity. I was a happy boy and competed with others to be on top and the others also looked at me as a competitor.

I was inspired by two people while at school, my Maths teacher Pramod Lal who encouraged me to participate in various local talent tests, and a brilliant boy called Chowdhary, who was my senior. When I came to know that he had joined Gowtham Junior College to prepare for IIT-JEE, it became my dream too. I was school first in 10th scoring 542/600.

Because I topped in the state exams, Gowtham Junior College waived the fee for me. Pramod Sir's recommendation also helped. The fee was around Rs 50,000 per year, which my parents could never afford.

Moving to a residential school
Living in a residential school was a big change for me because till then my life centered around home and school and I had my parents and sister to take care of all my needs. It was the first time that I was interacting with society. It took one year for me to adjust to the new life.

There, my inspiration was a boy called K K S Bhaskar who was in the top 10 in IIT-JEE exams. He used to come to our school to encourage us. Though my parents didn't know anything about Gowtham Junior School or IIT, they always saw to it that I was encouraged in whatever I wanted to do. If the results were good, they would praise me to the skies and if bad, they would try to see something good in that. They did not want me to feel bad. They are such wonderful supportive parents.

Life at IIT- Madras
Though my overall rank in the IIT-JEE was not that great (992), I was 4th in the physically handicapped category. So, I joined IIT, Madras to study Computer Science.

Here, my role model was Karthik who was also my senior in school. I looked up to him during my years at IIT- Madras. He had asked for attached bathrooms for those with special needs before I came here itself. So, when I came here, the room had attached bath. He used to help me and guide me a lot when I was here.

I evolved as a person in these four years, both academically and personally. It has been a great experience studying here. The people I was interacting with were so brilliant that I felt privileged to sit along with them in the class. Just by speaking to my lab mates, I gained a lot.

Words are inadequate to express my gratitude to Prof Pandurangan and all my lab mates; all were simply great. Prof Pandurangan sent me to Boston along with four others for our internship. It was a great experience.

Joining Google R&D
I did not want to pursue PhD, as I wanted my parents to take rest now. Morgan Stanley selected me first but I preferred Google because I wanted to work in pure computer science, algorithms and game theory.

I am lucky
Do you know why I say I am lucky? I get help from total strangers without me asking for it. Once after my second year at IIT, I with some of my friends was traveling in a train for a conference. We met a kind gentleman called Sundar in the train, and he has been taking care of my hostel fees from then on.

I have to mention about Jaipur foot. I had Jaipur foot when I was in 3rd standard. After two years, I stopped using them. As I had almost no stems on my legs, it was very tough to tie them to the body. I found walking with Jaipur foot very, very slow. Sitting also was a problem. I found my tricycle faster because I am one guy who wants to do things faster.

One great thing about the hospital is they don't think their role ends by just fixing the Jaipur foot; they arrange for livelihood for all. They asked me what help I needed from them. I told them at that time, if I got into an IIT, I needed financial help from them. So, from the day I joined IIT, Madras, my fees were taken care of by them. So, my education at the IIT was never a burden on my parents and they could take care of my sister's Nursing studies.

Surprise awaited me at IIT
After my first year, when I went home, two things happened here at the Institute without my knowledge. I got a letter from my department that they had arranged a lift and ramps at the department for me. It also said that if I came a bit early and checked whether it met with my requirements, it would be good.

Second surprise was, the Dean, Prof Idichandy and the Students General Secretary, Prasad had located a place that sold powered wheel chairs. The cost was Rs 55,000. What they did was they did not buy the wheel chair; they gave me the money so that the wheel chair belonged to me and not the institute. My life changed after that. I felt free and independent. That's why I say I am lucky. God has planned things for me and takes care of me at every step.

The world is full of good people
I also feel if you are motivated and show some initiative, people around you will always help you. I also feel there are more good people in society than bad ones. I want all those who read this to feel that if Naresh can achieve something in life, you can too.