The Gift of Autism

‘Autism’ – a term which, even today, not many people are familiar with. I myself became aware of it just over a year ago. My knowledge of autism is what I have seen on television or over the internet. My first reaction was that of sympathy. But talking to people who have actually spent time with autistic people has changed my perspective. Although not many adults with autism can live independently, that hasn’t stopped them from achieving success.

We are going to discuss about some of these success stories. Particularly three of my all-time favourites. But before we begin, let’s take a minute to look at what autism is:

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It alters the connection between nerve cells and their synapses, affecting the way the brain processes information. There are several conditions which can be categorised under Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Most prominent among them is Asperger’s syndrome.

Since information is processed differently in the brain, autistic people do not behave in the same way as others. While some of their senses are impaired, others may be normal or even superior to regular folk.

In spite of their difficulties the following people have achieved great things in life:

The Maestro

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was a prodigious child. Later in his life he was known to be quite the man. Two characteristics were very prominent about him. He had repeated facial expressions and hand movements (which Tom Hulce brilliantly portrayed in Amadeus). He was also known to be very eccentric. By studying the letters written by Mozart and his family to each other, historians have deduced that there was a very high probability that Mozart may have been autistic. Although he did die young and in poverty, the existence of his music to this day is a testament to his genius. In a way, he was successful.

The Grand Master

People who knew Stanley Kubrick say that he was a recluse, had poor social skills, was impulsive and inflexible, had very lateral thinking and many other such traits which were all signs of a person suffering from Asperger’s. His iconic movies were more or less a projection of himself. But if ASD was the reason he was who he was, then it was not a bane but gift to both himself and the artistic world.

The Devotee

Kubrick had a profound influence on many movie makers. But the one that stands out, the one whose work has echoes of the genius himself is Tim Burton. Burton has paid homage to Kubrick through many of his movies. But this may not be the only relation Burton has with the Grand Master. While researching for a film, Burton’s actress wife, Helena Bonham Carter, discovered that many of his traits were in line with symptoms of Asperger’s syndrome. If people with ASD are that talented, I don’t understand why it is still considered a disorder.

The Chanteuse Supreme

If there were ever a power couple to replace John Lennon and Yoko Ono, it had to be Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love. The Nirvana and Hole lead singers were said to have adored each other and Kurt’s death devastated Courtney. But just like she did with autism in her childhood, she dealt with it to carry on her dignified life as a single mother. Due to her autism, she had poor social skills and very few friends. But it moulded her into a strong willed and confident person she is today.

The Yesteryear Beauty

As the sword wielding, butt-kicking villain in Kill Bill and the gorgeous mermaid in Splash, Daryl Hannah won many admirers. This beautiful lady has tackled Autism all her life, having been constantly teased and picked on as a teenager. Doctors even suggested that she join an institution. But Daryl’s mother had other ideas. She didn’t want to be separated from her daughter and didn’t believe she was sick. She pulled her out of public school, home schooled her and made her the person she is today.

Like Daryl’s mom, many people are campaigning for autism to be accepted as a difference and not a disorder. Many parents these days home school their children with love and patience. This gradual learning has helped numerous autistic people socialize with others and lead as normal a life as possible.


Water Water Everywhere! Not a Drop to Drink Anywhere!

Since I was a 10 year old, pollution is a word I have been hearing almost on a daily basis. But until I was a young adult I was never really able to grasp the severity of it. These days, from the air we breathe to the food we eat and the water we drink, one has to take extreme precautions.

But among all of them, it is water that everyone warns you to be very careful about. The most precious drink in this world can also be the most lethal, thanks to the effluents and pollutants that we have been dumping in water sources for generations.

Every person, or at least those who are reading this are, I’m sure, aware of the reasons for water pollution. So instead of looking at the source, we are going to see its affects (to all life forms) and the steps and precautions required to make oneself safe.

Estimates in 2014 showed that water-borne diseases accounted for more than 3.5 million deaths per year. These diseases are a direct result of chemicals in the form of pesticides, industry effluents and so on. The most common water pollutants are chlorides, nitrates, lead, arsenic and flourides. While chlorides can cause reproductive disorders, nitrates affect oxygen flow to the brain and causes what is commonly referred to as ‘blue baby syndrome’. Lead affects the central nervous system while flourides damage the entire spinal cord. Arsenic, which is as lethal as its counterparts, causes liver damage and skin cancer.

Addition of chemicals to water bodies consequently increases nutrients in the water, giving rise to algal bloom. Since the chemicals are mostly toxic, the algal bloom is usually dangerous and is referred to as harmful algal bloom (HAB). HAB can cause serious ailments like rashes, respiratory problems and other neurological effects.

Now many people would have often come across the terms that have been discussed here and even the issues that are persistent but the seriousness of it can only be grasped when experienced first-hand. While many of us can claim to have been affected just because of a case of diarrhoea, there are more pressing issues out there. A few years back I, along with a few friends, visited a local slum. It was a social visit. We were there to help them in any way we could. The plight of many people there affected me greatly. There were people suffering from lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis), skin cancer and constant stomach pain and they weren’t even aware that water was the major cause of all these issues. Since then I have personally taken it up as my duty to educate as many people as possible about these issues and how to lead a hygienic life.

Although as individuals we can only make so many changes, together, we can make a real difference. Instead of striving and rallying for unnecessary causes, it is for issues like these that people should try to force governments. At the end of the day, the government is there only because of the people and for the people. It is high time that we took a stand and made a difference. Also make it a point to talk to peers. Help them give up their bad habits and lead a sustainable life.

Organic Food: A Fad or a Revolution?

Let’s face it! The world is changing. The weekdays are getting short while the weekends are getting even shorter. Trying to lead a life, in a metropolitan, especially in a developing country is very difficult, which is exactly my case. There are a lot of things which you feel are out of your control, most importantly – your health. Ever since I moved in search of a job, life has been one hell of a roller-coaster ride.

Sleeping late, waking up early, travelling in heavy traffic to work and back, and hogging on junk food had become my routine. A few months in and my unhealthy habits started taking a toll my body. I knew I had to do something. I couldn’t really control the pollution or my sleep (sometimes my job demanded that I work longer hours). So I did the one thing I could do – manage what I ate. This was a tricky business because once I told my peers that I was starting a healthy diet, advice and tips started pouring in. Although all the suggestions were different, the theme was same – ‘organic’.

At the time, and as a matter of fact even now, I don’t really know if I should take up an organic diet or not. There are arguments for and against it which have put me in bit of a dilemma. So far, I have stuck to conventional food (although my diet now contains more fruits and vegetables and less of junk) only because of the cost factor. Since many people have the same doubts as I do, I decided to put forth the arguments of both the sides in the hope that everyone makes an educated decision.

Organic food – The Saviour

Over the past decade, the consumption of organic food has been steadily on the rise. In many South East Asian countries, especially India, the reason seems to be the health factor. As of 2016, there were 400,000 – 500,000 organic consumers in India, a number which is growing by the day.

For years we’ve been consuming food that has been treated with synthetic chemicals which are unfit for the human body. The chemicals also have a negative impact on nature. It pollutes both land and water. In comparison, organic food is a much better option or so people claim.

In 2007, the INDEPENDENT published an article about the then researches carried out by scientists across Europe. Organic tomatoes, which were the subject of research, contained more vitamin C, beta-carotene and flavonoids compared to conventional tomatoes. The latter two compounds in particular help fight cancer and heart diseases.

Research by one, Prof Carlo Leifert at Newcastle University substantiated this. He showed that organically grown plants contain more antioxidants which are potent in reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases, neurodegenerative diseases and certain cancers.

In 2006, the NCBI, published an article about the pesticide content in children’s blood. They conducted a study comparing children who consumed organic food and children who consumed conventional food. Results showed that the pesticide content in the blood reduced drastically in case of the former.

Even in case of poultry, birds are injected with antibiotics to help them grow better. But these antibiotics gradually help in the creation of superbugs which, if consumed, are extremely harmful to humans. On the other hand, organic meat doesn’t contain any kind of superbugs whatsoever.

With many scientists claiming that organic products are healthier than their conventional counterparts, people are actually concerned. A lot of people are genuinely worried about their health and the environment. Healthy eating and avoiding pesticide residues seem to be the main reasons for people buying organic food.

Organic Food – Oh it’s just a Sham!

Although the reasons as to why organic is better sound convincing, there are equally significant arguments which may make us think otherwise.

According to Biomedical scientist and former US FDA regulator, Henry I. Miller, organic pesticides can be toxic. Miller contributed an article to the Forbes in mid-2015. The article mentions a study conducted by UC Berkeley biochemist Bruce Ames. He found that almost 99.99% of pesticides in food are chemicals produced by the plants to defend themselves. This means that in case of both organic and inorganic food, the chemical composition would be almost identical.

While Dr Ian Musgrave, senior lecturer in Farm Ecology, University of Adelaide claims that synthetic chemicals are better for the land than many organic certified chemicals.

One of the most noteworthy points in their argument are the fertilizers. In case of organic food, no synthetic chemicals are used. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that organically synthesized or naturally occurring fertilizers are harmless. Another major drawback is that there are no studies which prove organic food is more nutritious.

Conclusion – Sham or not, it’s Your Money, Your Health & Your Decision

There are valid arguments on both sides, but the grass isn’t really green on either side. People need to do a lot of research as to what they are getting into. Even today, many people who point to health as the reason for going organic, base their facts on hearsay. Which means, in a way, choosing organic products still seems to be only a fad.

One can only hope that this attitude changes and people start researching and understanding about their food habits before taking any rash decision.

Women’s Hygiene: Breaking a Taboo

I am a mommy’s boy. When I was a kid, I used to cling on to my mum like a chimp all the time. Needless to say, I was sitting in the trolley every time we went shopping. Even from my toddler days, the one thing I always noticed while shopping was that my mum bought a pack or two of sanitary pads.

Back then these things were a mystery to me. I had only seen them in ads and thought they were some kind of napkin. Little did I know that, in a way, I was right. What irked me was that we never used these special napkins to dry our hands. Why I had never seen them lying around anywhere in the house. One day curiosity got the better of me and I asked my mother why we never used those napkins. The poor woman, not knowing how to explain it to her child, simply told me that they were women stuff and only women use it.

I’m a 90’s kid and where I come from, computers and internet were a luxury not everyone could afford. So hitting a dead end, I decided to accept my mum’s unconvincing answer and forget about the special napkins.

Years flew by and before I could realise, I was a 15-year-old entering high school. Needless to say, like every other boy my age, I too was very excited because we were going to learn about reproduction and safe sex in detail. While skimming through my biology book I came across the word ‘menstruation’. This caught my attention because I had heard my cousin use the word in passing while talking to my aunt and I didn’t know what it meant.

I was enlightened by what I read. Out of nowhere I suddenly remembered that question I had asked my mother all those years ago. Putting two and two together, I realised that this is exactly why women used the sanitary pads. What I did not realise was that women experience a lot of pain and discomfort during their periods.

In my defence, until that point, no women I ever knew showed any sign of discomfort at any point in time or maybe I was just too ignorant to notice, I don’t really know. But all that was about to change. As tradition and peer pressure dictates, I went to an all-boys boarding school for the final two years of school. On returning, I started to notice things about women which I had never done before. Although I could not fathom the reason since menstruation was the last thing on my mind.

Having been brought up in a patriarchal society, I used to believe in a lot of stereotypes which started disappearing once I joined college. One of them was talking to a girl about her periods. This was mostly thanks to one of my closest friends. Although she was funny and chirpy most of the time, there was a particular period of every month when she became extremely glum and forlorn. It was a recurring theme. Initially, I did not pry but I couldn’t stand seeing her depressed and sad for an entire week every month. So one day I mustered up the courage and asked her what was going on. This is when I found out that women go through extreme pain and distress during their periods. (My fellow men who think you can handle pain, imagine getting kicked in the nuts three times a day for seven days if you will. Yeah! I heard it is that bad.)

This revelation increased my respect for women to a whole new level. I started researching more about the ‘PMS’ factor as I decided to be more of a help rather than a hindrance to the women I know, especially during that difficult period. It was during this research that I learnt a lot about sanitary pads.

For centuries women used cotton clothes in order to contain the menstrual blood. But with the turn of the 20th century came the new disposable sanitary pads. At the time it was considered a boon because women in many communities across the world felt (and still do feel) embarrassed to wash their sanitary towels and dry them in the open.

But of late many people, including me, have slowly started realising the disadvantages of disposable sanitary pads. First and foremost, these pads are not particularly cheap. Women belonging to less fortunate communities and rural areas in developing nations cannot really afford them. I read disturbing news snippets of women using dirty rags, and even sand and leaves in place of sanitary napkins. Thankfully, a number of people who have also gone through such hardships are now manufacturing clean cotton pads and banana fibre pads that are highly affordable.

As far as I am aware, a product’s cost usually depends on its constituents. I wanted to know what made the disposable sanitary napkins expensive, well beyond the reach of the less fortunate. What I discovered made me flinch. Disposable sanitary towels are usually made from bleached rayon, cotton and plastic. They also contain BPA and BPS, two chemicals that disrupt embryonic development and are linked to cancer. Ever since I found this, I have made it my mission to tell people to switch to reusable organic cloth pads. First my mum, then my cousins and aunts and now a few friends. The number of people I have been able to reach out to is far less than I would have liked but I am trying.

The major problem, I feel, in many developing countries is that children are told not to talk about periods. This is a huge mistake. Menstruation is a natural phenomenon and only through discussion can we make life more comfortable for the ladies. My request to everyone is to lose their prejudice and inhibitions and be more open. Health and hygiene are of utmost importance, so kindly start using and reusing cloth pads that are made from organic cotton. Yes, many people will find it weird initially but just like everything else in the world, it will become normal with time.




Pollution: The Adversary We have Learnt to Live With

‘Pollution’ – a word which we hear very often but do nothing about. It was almost 14 years ago when I actually realised that pollution wasn’t just a topic in school which helped me score marks but rather an issue everyone in the world should be concerned about. That was when I was 10 years old. Through the years my concern for the environment has grown enormously, but sadly so have the sources of pollution.

Growing up, I have heard many people say how beautiful western countries are. It was usually the USA or the UK that they spoke about. The irony was that these were the same people who littered in public places without a second thought. As an environmentalist and as human being I consider it my duty to educate my fellow homo sapiens about the various types and sources of pollution and methods to contain them.

Not many people are aware of the importance of segregation of waste at the source. It is the most basic thing every child should be taught. Separating organic waste from non-biodegradable waste makes recycling much simpler. Since organic waste can be composted and most inorganic waste can be repurposed or upcycled, the amount of waste that goes to landfills can be drastically reduced.

Kitchen or rooftop garden is a concept that is on the rise in many major cities throughout the world. It involves growing edible plants in your balcony or terrace. The best part of such home gardens is that nowadays, most urban dwellers prefer organic farming. This means using natural fertilizers and manure. Luckily there are many companies which provide solutions and technologies which help compost organic kitchen waste. This compost helps increase the fertility and water retention property of the soil. By using this in your kitchen gardens, you can increase your produce.

While there are efficient methods to responsibly dispose organic waste, handling synthetic waste, especially plastic is of higher concern. Research by the National Geographic Society shows a gigantic accumulation of plastic debris, spanning from the Western shores of North America to Japan. Called the Great Pacific Garbage patch or the pacific trash vortex, it comprises of Western Garbage Patch which is located near Japan and the Eastern Garbage Patch which is located near the US. The patch does not exactly look like a giant island as many think, but rather comprises of tiny bits of plastic called ‘microplastics’. Almost 70% of the debris sinks to the bottom of the ocean.

So how do we tackle this issue? First and foremost it is important to reduce the use of plastic, especially polyethene covers. It is wrong to expect governments to ban plastic as it does have its uses. But when we stop using them, the demand for it decrease and simultaneously the production. Once the production has been taken care of, we move onto the plastic that is in existence. This is where upcycling comes into play. Instead of dumping it in landfills, any plastic product that is considered waste can be repurposed into materials of utilitarian value. Consider for example vinyl records. Unless you love vintage products, most of the old vinyl records are just pieces of junk unless you decide to get creative. There are many upcycling companies who now sell clocks and other funky wall hangings repurposed from the vinyl records that were previously deemed waste.

I myself have bought wall hangings, a clock, a keychain holder, chair and table, posters and other awesome stuff, and my room look lively these days. The products are made from either reclaimed wood, old vinyl records or some or the other kind of non-biodegradable plastic, which would otherwise go to landfills or oceans causing harm to nature, flora and fauna.

Along with plastic another major cause for concern is global warming and climate change. Again, back in school we did learn about methane, CFC’s, vehicle emissions, industrial emissions and effluents, and aerosols. We also learnt about the depleting ozone layer, arctic melting, increasing sea levels and global warming. But how many of us have taken the steps to tackle these issues? Again, like toddlers do, we point fingers at one another or the government. But has it ever occurred to you that common citizen like us are the actual force who can put an end to all of it by working together?

At 23, I am pretty young. But in this short space of time, I myself have seen drastic climatic changes. I hail from a humble town called Ooty, which lies all the way up in the Nilgiri hills in India. While I was growing up as a school child, the months of June and July always saw heavy rains, December to January was when the frost set in, and March to May was when the sun was up and shining. But over the years things have changed. For a few years, the rains were delayed and then they completely disappeared, the summers have been hotter and winters are not what they were 15 years ago. When someone like me can see the changes, I do not understand how people in their mid-50s say they can’t.

Now that I am living in a metropolitan, I see too much population, with a lot of vehicles, causing too much pollution. The so called educated class is doing things which are contrary to that title. For instance, as a person who has lived here for over a year and a half, it makes me question the use of personal vehicles by almost everyone for commuting when actually the need of the hour is fewer vehicles on roads. With many companies sharing workspaces, isn’t it common sense to carpool? Why take five different cars when five people, all from the same area or on the same route to the office, can use one car and split the cost of fuel?

It is high time people stop being ignorant and take action. The world needs us as much as we need it. If you are indeed a responsible parent and a responsible human being, then I am sure you would be more concerned about pollution than you are about your child’s grade. Do not force them to learn for marks. Instead encourage them to learn for gaining knowledge. Take actions and inspire the next generation to follow in your footsteps. For without the world there is no you nor I and all the materialistic things would mean nothing.