Sunday, July 30, 2006

Congo: Children Bear the Brunt of War

At the hospital here in the troubled province of North Kivu near the Rwandan border, where villages have been ravaged by war, the burden on children is on grim, daily display. One 2-year-old boy, Amuri, struggled to breathe on a hospital bed while doctors and nurses went through the motions — attaching one of the hospital’s scarce pulse-oximeters to his tiny index finger, placing an oxygen mask over his gasping mouth. But they knew it was too late.

A few moments later, Amuri’s eyes rolled back in his head, his chest stilled and he was dead.

"Bring something for us to wrap the boy," a nurse called out.

His mother, Maria Cheusi, realized that her son’s life had slipped away. He was the third child she would bury.

"Mama, mama," she cried, collapsing to her knees in a contorted pose. "My only son, my only son."
In this excrutialtingly painful to read New York Times article, Lydia Polgreen recounts the many ways in which war has ravaged the lives of young children in Congo.

There are direct consequences of war such as death. Then there are all these indirect consequences that lead to death, such frighteningly simple ones as lack of food, such as lack of infrastructure, lack of access to doctors and medicine, diseases that in any time other than wartime would be cured (malaria, diarrhea) becoming incurable and deadly. Then there is rape and the snatching of young children to fight in the war.

You just have to imagine the terror, the despair, the intense sadness, the untold physical pain and misery these children must feel day in and day out to make your eyes tear up. If you've ever heard a small child cry, you know how it feels - you want to pick her up, comfort her and make whatever it is that is making her sad go away.

Now imagine hearing such cries, cries that never seem to stop and knowing that you cannot do anything to comfort the children. Imagine being the mother or father getting ready to bury the third child in a row. Imagine being the mother or father and knowing that you are taking your child to a hospital that may not have the medicines or the doctors or quite simply the space to accomodate and treat your child.

Imagine being the doctor and knowing that even though a child is alive, there is nothing you can do to save it, from a simple condition such as diarrhea, from a disease that is curable in many other corners of the world but just not this one. Imagine being the doctor and having to say to the desperate mother that you cannot choose to take her child to the doctor because the ambulance is full and there is no space in the hospital.

Just imagine the despair of the child, the mother, the father, the doctor. And weep.

Crossposted on Project Child.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Bangalore Bloggers in the News

Deccan Herald carries a news item today about the work a group of us bloggers did with Akshara's Reading Movement Project.

Here's a snippet.
If you thought blogging was only about speaking out your mind in personal online forums, some Bangalore bloggers will prove you wrong. These bloggers have moved beyond online posts to do grassroots level ground work - all for a cause.

Blog Bang, an informal group of City bloggers, has partnered with Akshara Foundation to assist in its ‘Read Bangalore Project’.

This project has been undertaken by Akshara Foundation in association with the Karnataka State Department of Education to augment the reading skills of primary school children (from Class II to VII) in about 1,374 government primary schools in and around Bangalore.

The task before Blog Bang was more than just spreading the word around in the blog community about the project. Six bloggers, in December 2005, undertook the mission to visit these schools to collect data. Initially, these bloggers started writing in their blogs, requesting for volunteers. As the message spread, not only bloggers, but even their biker friends pitched in.
The rest is here, including quotes from moi, Taz and Surjo.

Akshara is moving into the assessment phase of the project in the coming days. I'll put up the information here as to how we can work with Akshara during that phase as the information becomes available.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Bangalore Boy in Cadbury Confidence Championship Finals

Kiran Pathakota, a Bangalorean, has reached the final round of Cadbury Bournvita Confidence Championship to be held in Kolkata shortly. Kiran plays the mridangam and he recently performed at the Hollywood Bowl along with AR Rahman, Sivamani and Global Rhythms.

Kiran and the other finalists will be presenting a new skill on Friday 28th July on the show (Sony TV at 7.30 p.m., re-run on Sunday 30th July at 10.30 a.m.).

So do watch, and if you like what you see, vote for Kiran! Voting starts at 8 p.m. on Friday 28th July and ends at midnight on 4th Aug 2006.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Children and War

When it came to war and children, I imagined that I would write about the ravages of war, about how children are the worst affected in modern-day conflict, and about child soldiers who are forced to abandon their families and home towns and forced to kill in the name of religion.

I never imagined that I would write about Israeli children casually scribbling messages on bombs meant for Lebanon.

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

Pictures from Associated Press

Frederick Deknatel, at War Post (via Amitava Kumar), in his essay Obsessed, asks,

I wonder how the Israeli girls who write on bombs that kill Lebanese girls, and their mothers and old grandmothers, would explain their war obsession. The girls’ doting mothers take cute photos of them with digital cameras: soccer moms next to tanks, the healthy-looking women crouching to catch this moment in their daughters’ young life. Maybe they talk about this moment at dinner, at night. Maybe they try and tell the daughters that it’s fine to be obsessed with war, to write on bombs, since all they want is peace. Maybe they tell their daughters who the bombs kill, before reminding them to eat their beans.

Granted these children live in the Middle East where peace is a scarce commodity and where children live day in and day out among the ruins of war, the sounds of gun fire and the threat of suicide bombings, but I wonder what the parents of the children in the pictures were thinking.

Are they so jaded that they took the girls and let them frolic among the war heads dreaming up things to write on the bombs while they stood around, chatting, taking pictures? Don't children get desensitized to war and all the havoc it causes by treating it so trivially as the girls in those pictures seem to be doing? Aren't children supposed to be feeling sad about all the death (as Frederick says, of little Lebanese girls) and destruction these bombs are sure to cause? Aren't children supposed to be making drawings and writing letters to their Prime Minister to stop the war? Aren't children supposed to be writing peace letters to the children of the "enemy"?


Lisa Goodman at On The Face (via Curious Gawker) provides some background and much needed context to these pictures.
On the day that photo was taken, the girls had emerged from the underground bomb shelters for the first time in five days. A new army unit had just arrived in the town and was preparing to shell the area across the border. The unit attracted the attention of twelve photojournalists - Israeli and foreign. The girls and their families gathered around to check out the big attraction in the small town - foreigners. They were relieved and probably a little giddy at being outside in the fresh air for the first time in days. They were probably happy to talk to people. And they enjoyed the attention of the photographers.

Apparently one or some of the parents wrote messages in Hebrew and English on the tank shells to Nasrallah. "To Nasrallah with love," they wrote to the man whose name was for them a devilish image on television - the man who mockingly told Israelis, via speeches that were broadcast on Al Manar and Israeli television, that Hezbollah was preparing to launch even more missiles at them. That he was happy they were suffering.

The photograpers gathered around. Twelve of them. Do you know how many that is? It's a lot. And they were all simultaneously leaning in with their long camera lenses, clicking the shutter over and over. The parents handed the markers to the kids and they drew little Israeli flags on the shells. Photographers look for striking images, and what is more striking than pretty, innocent little girls contrasted with the ugliness of war? The camera shutters clicked away, and I guess those kids must have felt like stars, especially since the diversion came after they'd been alternately bored and terrified as they waited out the shelling in their bomb shelters.
Please do read the rest.

While this explanation may help us understand just how it came about that these children wrote on the bombs, it still does not explain why the parents allowed these children close to the bombs or how they thought it was all right to have them write whatever they did. Whatever the explanation, whatever the justification, it just does not bode well for the future.

Crossposted on Project Child.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Indian Blogs Slam TV Coverage of Mumbai Blasts

Right from the time the story of the Mumbai blasts of Tuesday, July 11 broke, it was the headliner in all of the Indian television channels. As it should be. From the coverage, it was quite obvious that television camera and crew managed to get to the blast sites much quicker than any of the emergency or law and order personnel in the city.

TV channels also became conduits for sending and receiving messages through text messaging at a time when calling facilities on cell phone networks and landlines were down. Scores of people succeeded in reaching their families and friends and satisfying themselves that they were all right. For this, the channels deserve kudos.

In times of crisis, citizens turn to television channels for news and information quite automatically. What with all the technological innovations, satellite systems, on site broadcasting systems, etc., and more importantly, with the onset of 24-hour news channels, it is becoming the norm that television channels stick with a story not for minutes or hours, but for days on end, sending reporters to chase down and present each tiny new bit of information (which is then duly "flashed" at the bottom of the screen under the monicker "breaking news").

But when does this coverage cross the line? When does it all become too much? What are the situations in which media channels should exercise restraint and say, "This much and no more?"

Going by the voices in the Indian blogosphere that have spoken over the past three days on this issue, it appears that the Indian television channels did cross the line in their coverage of the Mumbai blasts.

The complaints fall into two broad categories:
  • Television channels exercising no restraint when it came to showing gory images of broken bodies and bloodied body parts; and

  • Anchors and reporters harping on the "exclusivity" of the images shown on their television channel and plugging the fact that their images were being shown worldwide.

Mumbai Help
quite simply asks that the display of mangled bodies on television be stopped. Kishore at All in a Day's Work writes about the television coverage of the Mumbai blasts and of the death of Suryanarayana, the Indian engineer kidnapped and executed by the Taliban in Afghanistan,
Media is in the business of generating revenues. It's the bottom line which matters. And anything that creates a sensation, sells. Anything that demonstrates a conflict, sells. Anything that gets glorified, sells. Anything that instills a fear, sells. Conflict sells. Peace is boring.
Mridula at Travel Tales from India, horrified at the gory images she saw on television no matter what channel she turned to, put up links to blogs that had already written about the issue and appealed to other bloggers to blog about it as well,
If you turn on the TV it is all over the place. No, I do not mean the news. I mean showing the dead bodies of the blast victims with scant regard for human dignity. I think here is one small issue where we, the people who blog can make a small difference.

I have an appeal for you. If you blog and if you feel strongly about the way Indian news channels (almost all) are beaming the images of the dead, blog about it. If enough number of people do it, someone somewhere has to take notice. We have done it before and if we care about it we can do it again. I am willing to aggregate as many links as possible on this issue along with this post.
From her post and from some of the comments left there, here are a couple of the voices. Please do read the rest of her post.

Pooja Agarwal at Travel Memoirs comments on Zee TV's coverage,
They were actually showing dead bodies lying on the track and injured people being dragged to rescue. Even sitting this far from my country, I could not help but feel for everyone back home who were probably seeing these images continuously and how disturbing they must be for everyone.
Insane Mind writes on the crassness that pervaded the coverage,
The media coverage of the terrorist attack and its aftermath was crass, to say the least. I had watched the news channels for a long time, getting number, seeing the same gruesome images being aired over and over again. The media has lost its control, and its humanity.
Of all television channels and anchors, the choicest brickbats seem to be reserved for CNN/IBN and its head Rajdeep Sardesai.

I was bemused at first and then dismayed at the importance CNN/IBN was giving to its own (in its view) pre-eminence in the Indian television field. I was aware of Sardesai's tendency to puff up with self-importance in the presence of celebrities (his interview with Imran Khan and Kapil Dev was painful to watch at times), but it took on rather alarming proportions on Tuesday night.

Emma questions the need for gore and writes that such displays end up disrespecting the dead. Buchu found Sardesai's coverage annoying. Sumankumar simply says, "Rajdeep Sardesai takes this opportunity to sing praises on his channel CNN-IBN." News describes CNN/IBN's bloody coverage,
Rajdeep was anchoring from one of the bombed first class coaches. He kept on pointing at and showing blood splashed window glasses of the train for a good 10 minutes. As if this was not enough, what followed were blood smeared bodies of injured people. Then there were limbs and other body parts of the dead on the platforms and rail tracks. Blood blood and more blood.
Gaurav Sabnis at Vantage Point notes,
7:42 - Rajdeep Sardesai on CNN-IBN - "These pictures are now being beamed on all CNN networks all over the world. Indians all over the world watching CNN are now watching CNN-IBN. This is the power of CNN-IBN". Yes Rajdeep, we are very proud of you. Your timing for patting yourself on the back is admirable.
Amit Varma at India Uncut berates Sardesai for bragging about "how 'this is the power of a global news organisation. These pictures are going out across the world thanks to CNN-IBN.'"

Starship Enterprise presents an alternative view. Writing in response to Mridula's post, he/she writes that displaying the gore stemming from terrorist attacks such as the Mumbai blasts is necessary for a reality check,
Bloodshed is a excruciatingly real image of a bomb blast. To skim over it like it didn't exist would be to overlook the reality and cower in a safe corner of comfort. We, who are fortunate enough to be alive, should not shy away from gory images because they shock our complacent sensibilities.
Pradeep Nair, commenting on Kishore's post writes that viewers, sitting in the comfort of their living rooms, have the wrong idea about journalists and the work they do,
I am a journalist and I must admit, on occasions, we do get carried away by events. So, constantly we have to remind ourselves to be restrained. This is most apparent in the case of the TV, much less on the radio; and to some extent in the print. This "getting carried away" phenomenon is nothing new. Only that in this TV era, it is so much more visible to the common person.

One reason for the wrong perception is, I feel, the journalist is there right at the spot, in the thick of events… while the viewer or reader is in the comforts of the home. It’s only natural viewers react the way they do. But it will be good, if they understand that facts are different.

There is one point few people realise: The very things that make people view a programme are precisely the things that they don’t like. It's ironic, but true. Take the punch or the most captivating aspect out of the programme or article, you won't watch it or read it. Then, no criticism, no applause.
BongoPundit has an excellent post/round-up on media and the Mumbai blasts in general. Sepia Mutiny comments on the deafening silence in the western blogosphere, and Curious Gawker points to the inane commentary at one of the few non-Indian blogs that did write about the blasts. Please do read.

What are your thoughts on the role of media at times such as these? How much is too much and do viewers really need to see every last detail, no matter how graphic, of every story? Is this a function of the 24/7 news cycle?

If you notice other blogs on this issue, please do leave the link in the comments section.


Here is Vijay's take on the issue:

Just as I was seeing some gory pictures on the television, it struck me I should write a post, condemning these cowardly and dastardly acts. But then I thought, am I not doing the same mistake what the media is doing ? Just that I am sensationalising through a medium which is still in its nascent stages of growth. I realised, getting hits on your blog is similar to having more TRP for your new channel. That, I guess is what human nature is, opportunism, which is not wrong, but at times of tragedy, not the right thing. But this post is only to pray for the bereaved souls and to give solidarity to all Mumbaikars.

I again come to the point about the media, and its opportunistic nature. It's all fine to provide helpline numbers and provide sms service to stranded people. But it is not fine to telecast pictures of mayhem and death on national television.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Just Let Zidane Be

The Richard Cohen article, Camus and Zidane, comes closest to expressing what I feel about Zidane head butting Materazzi during the dying minutes of the 2006 World Cup Final.

The author draws a parallel between Meursault, the character in Albert Camus' The Stranger and Zidane:
In "The Stranger," the existentialist novel by Albert Camus [which, I must confess, I have not read, but have every intention of doing so now] an alienated French-Algerian man, Meursault, kills an Arab on the beach in the glare of the sunlight. It is a senseless act, as senseless as the way he fires one deadly shot, and then four more into the prone body.

Zin├ędine Zidane, a Frenchman born to Algerian parents in Marseille, did not kill anyone in the glare of the floodlights of Berlin's Olympic Stadium. His senseless act, beneath the gaze of a billion people, merely knocked an Italian off his feet. All that Zidane killed was a certain narrative of his life.
The part that is interesting to me is this:
Camus was averse to judgment. Acts themselves, explicable or not, were all that we could know existed. Meursault felt nothing at his mother's funeral and he killed the Arab in the stunning sunlight. We may wish that the story had been otherwise, as we may wish that love not be close to hate, but the story was what it was. Zidane, it seems, lost his head. Or perhaps he kept his head and chose to write a coda to his story that would have all the complexity of a great novel. Perhaps he sought an almost unseen act of anger that would prompt a global, virtual argument about the merits or demerits of a gesture without sense.

I do not know. Nor do I believe we will ever know. Whatever comes out will remain inconsequential beside the act itself, this violence in a 21st-century glare, this strange and stimulating ending.
Many words have been written online and in print, many words have been said on television programs dissecting Zidane's interaction with Materazzi, most of them questioning Zidane's wisdom in doing what he did ten minutes from the end of a glorious career in football.

Should he have done it? Should he not have shrugged it (whatever that insult was that Materazzi directed at Zidane) off? Insults are a part of the game, every game. The game was the final of the World Cup. France had gotten into the final after a rather shaky start. Zidane threw away a golden opportunity to win the cup for France by eliciting the red card and being shown the sidelines. If Zidane had been around for the shoot-out, France had a very good chance of winning. And on and on and on.

Quite frankly I don't understand what the fuss is all about. Zidane and Materazzi had a confrontation, Zidane reacted to the situation as he saw fit, he turned around and deposited his pate into Materazzi's gut. Subsequently, the referee presented Zidane with a red card (whether he should or shouldn't have is quite another matter) and off went Zidane.

End of story. It is what it is.

Zidane obviously reacted the way he did because he thought that that was the appropriate reaction. And for that, because the refree felt it was a foul, Zidane got the punishment he deserved as per the rules of the game. What Materazzi might have said and whether it merited the kind of reaction it got from Zidane are irrelevant. Zidane has gone on to say that he apologized to his teammates and his coach, but that he regretted nothing. Good for him.

As you peel the layers of the man's identity - footballer, Frenchman, sports icon, second-generation immigrant, team player - at the base of it all is a human being, with all of the attendant frailties. Let's expect a great game from a great footballer, but let's not expect the man to be anything more or less than a human being.

A Life Less Ordinary

Abandoned by her mother at 4, married off at 12 to an abusive husband, a mother herself at 13 - there is little in Baby Halder's traumatic childhood to suggest she would become an emerging star on India's literary horizon.

A single mother at 25, struggling to feed her three children by working as a maid for a series of exploitative employers, Halder had no time to devote to reading or to contemplating the harsh reality of her existence - until she started work in the home of a sympathetic retired academic, who caught her browsing through his books when she was meant to be dusting the shelves. He discovered a latent interest in literature, gave her a child's notebook and pen and encouraged her to start writing.

A "Life Less Ordinary," this season's publishing sensation in New Delhi, is the result of her nighttime writing sessions, squeezed in after her housework duties were finished, when she poured raw memories of her early life into the lined exercise books.
Read more here.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

World Wide Help Blog: A Go-To Site for Disaster Help and Information

Imagine there is a flood or an earthquake or a terrorist attack, or, as we had in December 2004, a tsunami. All of your family is in the city that is going through this crisis, but you are far away, perhaps in the US or the UK. As is common during these disasters, the phone lines are the first to suffer and so your primary mode of contact with your family and friends breaks down. You are desperate to talk to someone in your circle, make sure everyone is all right, but you cannot get through.

So what do you do?

You log on to World Wide Help.

World Wide Help (WWH) is run by the World Wide Help Group, many of whose members operated the South East Asian Earthquake And Tsunami Blog (SEA EAT) in the wake of the December 2004 tsunami that ravaged major parts of south-east Asia.

SEA EAT was founded by Mumbai-based Peter Griffin who subsequently started two new collaborative blogs to assist residents of Mumbai following the July 2005 floods - Cloudburst Mumbai (with Sunil Nair) and Mumbai Help (MH) (with Amit Varma). They are both repositories of information and a means to reach loved ones in times of emergency in Mumbai. The list of contributors has steadily grown over the last year and includes some of the best bloggers in the desi blogosphere.

WWH (whose motto is "Using the web to point help in the direction where it's most needed") posts regular updates on disasters around the world and also provides links to blogs that have been set up for providing information regarding disasters in certain cities (such as Mumbai and New Orleans). So your first stop would be the WWH and if your city has a blog, you would go on to that.

Once you get to a blog such as Mumbai Help, you will find not only the latest information regarding the disaster, but also contact information for hospitals, emergency services, pharmacies, government agencies and NGOs.

But the most vital service the blogs perform is one where they try to put family members and friends in touch with each other, or at least try to get messages across to one another.

Following yesterday's blasts on the Mumbai trains, Mumbai Help put up a post that simply asked "How Can We Help You?" And people asked for help, people from all over. They asked if MH contributors could help them reach their parents, their children, their brothers and sisters, their friends. And many calls and SMSs later, there were numerous relieved comments thanking the folks at MH. Family had been located, friends had been found.

It must just feel so good to have someone call you and ask if everything is ok because your brother or mother or son or friend wants to know but they cannot reach you. And it must feel just as good to hear that everything's fine. Most cases turn out this way. There are a few, however, in which the people cannot be reached, but the contributors at MH left numerous messages of encouragement, holding hands as it were, reassuring worried commenters that people would be located, would turn up.

Humanity, compassion, empathy.

In the end, that is what World Wide Help is all about. It is not about the technology, the blogs, the comments, the wikis. It is, quite simply, an example of humanity shining through and breaking barriers of time, distance and borders.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

CNN/IBN Pats Itself Repeatedly on Its Back

CNN/IBN cannot get over itself. In the middle of the coverage of the Mumbai blasts, Rajdeep Sardesai could not prevent himself from repeatedly reminding his viewers (and at one point, his reporter as well) that the images were being carried live on CNN world wide. He was practically salivating over the fact that one of his reporters happened to be on one of the trains on which the blasts occurred and couldn't stop smiling at this stroke of fortune.

Who cares if CNN/IBN's images are being shown all over the world? Oooh, wait a minute. Perhaps he was addressing his advertisers and not the worried viewers who had tuned in to get some useful information.

Mumbai Train Blasts: Information and Helpline

If you are looking for information regarding friends or family in Mumbai but are unable to reach them, or are looking for ways to help, Mumbai Help is a very good resource.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Will Ignoring Your Spouse's Undesirable Behavior Fix It?

Relationship advice is ubiquitous on the internet and in mainstream media. There are daily/weekly newspaper advice columns (which make for fun reading - at the expense of someone else's misery - on a lazy Sunday morning), television and radio talk shows, entire aisles of books in book stores, pages of links on Amazon, and alluring magazine covers on how to improve communication with your partner, how to have better sex, how to win an argument, whether and when to dump, trust, propose to, accept a proposal from, move in with, buy a house with, and meet the parents of, your significant other. Self-appointed relationship gurus will put you through relationship boot camp to clean house (and your wallet) and help you start anew in your relationship. Not to mention well-meaning relatives.

Joining the ranks of the above-mentioned forces is Amy Sutherland whose essay for The New York Times' Modern Love column, "What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage" (via India Uncut) recounts the problem in her own marriage of 12 years, her failed attempts at fixing the problem and a serendipitous discovery that has put her about-to-be-derailed-but-not-yet-there marriage back on track.
These minor annoyances [recounted earlier in the piece] are not the stuff of separation and divorce, but in sum they began to dull my love for Scott. I wanted - needed -— to nudge him a little closer to perfect, to make him into a mate who might annoy me a little less, who wouldn't keep me waiting at restaurants, a mate who would be easier to love.

So, like many wives before me, I ignored a library of advice books and set about improving him. By nagging, of course, which only made his behavior worse: he'd drive faster instead of slower; shave less frequently, not more; and leave his reeking bike garb on the bedroom floor longer than ever.
But, before the situation could get out of hand, the author happily chances upon a gem of a discovery: that humans being what they are - i.e., animals - the methods used to train animals for circus acts, theme park shows (hence the reference to Shamu in the title) are the very same methods that might yield heretofore unattainable results in her quest to "nudge [her husband] a little closer to perfect".
The central lesson I learned from exotic animal trainers is that I should reward behavior I like and ignore behavior I don't.


When a dolphin does something wrong, the trainer doesn't respond in any way. He stands still for a few beats, careful not to look at the dolphin, and then returns to work. The idea is that any response, positive or negative, fuels a behavior. If a behavior provokes no response, it typically dies away.
I agree with the "rewarding behavior I like" part. It makes sense. If you praise someone for the likeable lovable things they do, it is entirely likely that they will continue repeating that behavior and as long as you go on liking and loving it, then the odds are pretty damn good that you and your significant other will have a reasonably happy relationship.

But what about ignoring aspects of your spouse's behavior you don't like? The application of this axiom to human relationships is something I cannot bring myself to endorse.

Here is why.

Imagine that your spouse has the nasty habit of leaving the toilet seat up (if this doesn't do anything for you, feel free to add your pet peeve about your significant other here). You don't like it (for good reason too, given the number of times you've found your behind framed by the insides of the toilet bowl and caressing a pool of water). So, having read "What Shamu Taught Me..." instead of having a pre-breakfast showdown every single morning, you decide to ignore this annoying behavior.

What do you expect happens next? Will not raising this issue result in a lightning bolt of empathy striking your spouse and revealing how inconsiderate his/her behavior is? Nope. There is no reason for your spouse to believe that anything is wrong and thus the undesirable behavior is very likely to continue. Silence, as they say, is a sign of acceptance.

Or, to take the author's example, imagine that your significant other is raving and ranting about not finding the remote or glasses or keys or whatever. If the raving and ranting at not finding some important item is the behavior you want to discourage, no matter how annoyingly repetitive that behavior is, ignoring it (while it may have worked for the author's relationship) is far more likely to drive your significant other to get further worked up that you are not helping to locate the missing item. I know I would.

Animals may respond purely to material rewards (such as food) while not getting hot and flustered that their trainer completely ignores certain of their behaviors. But most human relationships, fortunately or unfortunately, do not thrive on material rewards alone. They work on the idea that the other person in the relationship cares about your comforts, discomforts, the highs and lows, crises large and small (in other words, human beings are social animals). It is this sense of sharing that makes a relationship worth having.

The author does concede, however, that not all human behaviors can be modified and, more importantly, her own approach to the relationship underwent changes (that were crucial, in my opinion) during the two-year period she tried these training techniques on her husband.
I used to take his faults personally; his dirty clothes on the floor were an affront, a symbol of how he didn't care enough about me. But thinking of my husband as an exotic species gave me the distance I needed to consider our differences more objectively.

I adopted the trainers' motto: "It's never the animal's fault." When my training attempts failed ... I dissected my own behavior, considered how my actions might inadvertently fuel his. I also accepted that some behaviors were too entrenched, too instinctive to train away. You can't stop a badger from digging, and you can't stop my husband from losing his wallet and keys.
In other words, human relationships are a tad more complex than trainer-animal relationships.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Penalty Shoot-outs: Not for the Faint Hearted

All I can say is that it's a good thing the semi-final encounter between Italy and Germany was settled in extra time (Italy 2, Germany 0). Because I don't think I could have watched a penalty shoot-out if there was one.

I used to be one of those people who could watch a penalty shoot-out with a mind of steel and a hardened heart. It was part of the game and I rationalized it on the thought that since the same set of rules applied to both teams, it was perfectly all right to decide a game via penalties.

Of course, that rationale still holds true, but my approach to the shoot-out changed drastically as I watched the duel at midnight between England and Portugal.

I was perfectly fine during the Germany-Argentina shoot-out a couple of nights earlier. In fact, I sat there on my couch prodding N, who had dozed off, to stay awake in the waning hours of that Friday so he could watch it as well. We tried to guess who would miss and who would score. I was right on the money with the Ayala miss (more than guessing right, I was hoping he would miss given the way he was manhandling Ballack during extra time).

The Germany-Argentina shootout was enjoyable, the England-Portugal one was not.

The sense of unease began at the end of extra time. The match referee, Elizando, was waiting for something. But what? Players seemed to get increasingly nervous as the clock ticked away. The two goal-keepers, Robinson and Ricardo, after receiving last minute instructions from their coaches, walked up to each other, held each other at arm's length and exchanged a few words, wishing each other well, I presume.

They were suddenly in the limelight, no longer just another player in the team, forlorn at their ends of the field. They were it, now, the cynosure of all eyes, the names in the prayers of their team mates, the hero or the villain, depending on the result, although it seems like a hopeless task to stop a football from sneaking to the infinite number of corners within the posts of a goal.

The players were pacing around trying to get into their team huddles. Simao, the first Portuguese striker to take a shot walked around in the penalty area, spitting on the green grass. Robinson took a few swigs from a water bottle, then spat a few times as well. The crowd was going wild, chanting, booing, whistling. Little lightning bugs seemed to be swarming the stadium as camera flashes popped with undying frequency.

The English coaching staff was in its own huddle, but the Portuguese coaching staff was entwined with the players in their huddle. The tension was palpable. Camera close-ups showed sweaty brows; foreheads creased with worry lines; some eyes fierce in their determination; some eyes unfocused, not knowing where to look, many choosing to look down on the ground; even trembling fingers as the ball was nudged onto the perfect spot on the circular white chalk mark across from the goal.

Finally it was time. Elizando walked up to Robinson, gave him a reassuring (at least I felt reassured) pat on the arm walked away from the goal to about midway between the striker and the goal-keeper and blew the whistle. Simao did a little two-step with his feet, perhaps trying to throw off the goal-keeper with the false motion, ran up confidently to the ball and the punched it into the left corner. He scored.

Next up, Lampard for the English team. The commentator supplied a little nugget of information that did not bode well for Lampard. He had missed a penalty against Hungary two years ago. "Surely, he won't disappoint," intoned the commentator. Lampard positioned the ball, walked back, ran up slowly, almost as if he was dragging his feet, and picked the right corner of the goal to kick the football into. Ricardo read Lampard perfectly, both the nervousness on his face (surely Ricardo's research must have brought up Lampard's past failures) and his placement of the ball. He lunged to his left and saved Portugal a goal. Gerard, Lampard's team mate could not hide his disappointment as he grimaced in reaction.

Hugo Viana up next for the Potuguese, with the opportunity to go up 2-0 against the English. Another little nugget of information from the commentator. "England have never won a World Cup penalty shootout." Uh. Oh. Viana looked good to go, confident, but to no avail. He even spared Robinson from having to save a goal, ramming the ball into the goal post. England had a reprieve.

After three penalty shots, the score was still 1-0 in Portugal's favor. Hargreaves got ready to take England's next shot, spending some time trying to get the ball right on the chalk mark, fingers trembling. But he did his job and England was back in the game. Not for lack of Ricardo trying though. He had guessed the general direction of Hargreaves' kick, but could not stretch himself far enough.

The minute the camera focused on Petit, who was going to take the next shot for Portugal, you knew he wasn't going to make it. Nervousness writ large on his face, he did not look at anyone or anything but the ball. Robinson had his one save of the entire shootout. Petit's face crumpled as he walked away, eyes glazed over.

Following this, the rest of the shoot-out settled into a pattern. A confident Ricardo, an inept Robinson, an English side shaking in its boots and a by now cocky Portuguese side meant there could be only one result - Portuguese victory over the English. Ricardo was right on the money with his lunges to save goals from Carragher and Gerard's shots. Robinson was left stranded as Postiga and Cristiano Ronaldo found the net. Carragher's little snafu (he jumped the gun and kicked the ball even before Elizando had blown the whistle) reinforced just how jittery the English side was.

The half-smile that played over Ronaldo's face before he took his shot gave some indication of just how much the young striker was loving the whole experience. A few quiet steps after he landed the ball in the goal, he vented his energy in a full-blown war cry as Scolari gave him company with a war dance on the field, quite appropriate for a coach who swears by Chinese General Sun Tzu's book, Art of War.

Come penalty shoot-out time, the Portuguese were clearly the aggressors, the English merely trying to hang on to their confidence, which had already taken a hit when Rooney was sent off with a red card.

Ricardo said it best,
I could see in the eyes of the English players that they were not okay.... The goal was shrinking for them. I just had to prolong their suffering.
Perhaps it was all this fear that made watching that shoot-out a nerve wracking experience. Perhaps with two confident teams it won't be so bad.

Perhaps there is hope, yet.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Childbirth Classes in Bangalore

I received the following commment on my post, Childbirth: Preparation is Key and I thought it might be useful to put it up here for those who visit Blogpourri looking for childbirth classes in Bangalore.
Hi Sujatha
For the information of people who contact each other on this blog, 'Positively Pregnant' offers prenatal classes in Pune since June 1999. We're into our 43rd batch of couples at present. Positively Pregnant classes will start in Bangalore in August 2006. We use the Lamaze method largely but subscribe to the Bradley viewpoint as well.The sessions are interactive, use a support group setting and believe in the principle of family supported maternal care. For more information I can be contacted at
If you are expecting a child in the coming months, taking childbirth prepartion classes is a great idea, but please investigate the classes, run the idea by your doctor and make absolutely sure you are comfortable in the classes and with the instructor before making the decision to join one. Good luck!