Runs in the Family

New findings about schizophrenia rekindle old questions about genes and identity.

In the winter of 2012, I travelled from New Delhi, where I grew up, to Calcutta to visit my cousin Moni. My father accompanied me as a guide and companion, but he was a sullen and brooding presence, lost in a private anguish. He is the youngest of five brothers, and Moni is his firstborn nephew?the eldest brother?s son. Since 2004, Moni, now fifty-two, has been confined to an institution for the mentally ill (a ?lunatic home,? as my father calls it), with a diagnosis of schizophrenia. He is kept awash in antipsychotics and sedatives, and an attendant watches, bathes, and feeds him through the day.

My father has never accepted Moni?s diagnosis. Over the years, he has waged a lonely campaign against the psychiatrists charged with his nephew?s care, hoping to convince them that their diagnosis was a colossal error, or that Moni?s broken psyche would somehow mend itself. He has visited the institution in Calcutta twice?once without warning, hoping to see a transformed Moni, living a secretly normal life behind the barred gates. But there was more than just avuncular love at stake for him in these visits. Moni is not the only member of the family with mental illness. Two of my father?s four brothers suffered from various unravellings of the mind. Madness has been among the Mukherjees for generations, and at least part of my father?s reluctance to accept Moni?s diagnosis lies in a grim suspicion that something of the illness may be buried, like toxic waste, in himself. Continue reading “Runs in the Family”

The Imperial Cocktail

How the gin and tonic became the British Empire?s secret weapon.

By?Kal Raustiala|in Slate.

Gin and tonic with a slice of lemon.

This stuff really is medicine.
Photo by Brian Jones/iStockphoto/ThinkstockThe gin and tonic is having a moment. From Spain?where gin and tonics are practically the national drink?to our summer shores, the venerable G-and-T is everywhere. House-made tonic is on the menu in restaurants from coast to coast, and in many fine bars gin and tonics come in dozens of varieties, with special tonics and fruit garnishes matched to distinctive artisanal gins.
Of course, a lot of classic cocktails are enjoying a resurgence?part?Mad Men, part the boom in distinctive small-batch spirits, and part the waning fad of faux speakeasies with handcrafted bitters and bartenders in arm garters chipping away at blocks of ice.
But the gin and tonic is different. For one, it requires no unusual ingredients, and it?s very simple to make. More interestingly, the gin and tonic has a storied history that places it at the heart of the largest empire the world has ever known. Indeed, it is not too much of a stretch to say that the gin and tonic was as essential a weapon for the British Empire as the Gatling gun. No less an authority on imperial power than Winston Churchill once declared, ?The gin and tonic has saved more Englishmen?s lives, and minds, than all the doctors in the Empire.?
What was the source of the gin and tonic?s great power? As is sometimes said of tequila, the gin and tonic is not just a drink; it?s a drug.
The story begins with the jewel of the British Empire: India. British India comprised both more and less than modern-day India. More, in that it included large parts of what are today Pakistan and Bangladesh. Less, in that much of India under the British Raj was quasi-independent, in so-called princely states that were nominally sovereign but largely under England?s thumb. India was so important to the empire that in 1876 Queen Victoria added the moniker ?Empress of India? to her title. Her successors continued that practice right up till 1948, under George VI (he of?The King?s Speech?fame).
Controlling India, in short, was central to the British Empire and to Britain?s sense of itself as the world?s leading power. What allowed Britain, a small island far off in the northern reaches of Europe, to rule over the vast semi-continent of India for so long is a subject of some debate. But in?Jared Diamond?s famous words, Europe?s military superiority was built on a mix of ?guns, germs, and steel.?
Guns and steel clearly favored powers like Britain. These innovations allowed Britain (and other European countries) to deploy weapons such as machine guns at a time when many societies around the world still used swords and spears. But germs were more equivocal. Malaria in particular was a virulent killer of colonized and colonizer alike. While malaria has a long history in Europe, it began to be eradicated in the 19th?century, and even earlier it was never as deadly as it was in tropical locations. So as Europeans established colonies in the tropics, they faced a serious and often mortal threat from the mosquito-borne disease. Soldiers and civilian officials alike succumbed to it.
In the 17th?century, the Spanish had discovered that indigenous peoples in what is now Peru used a kind of bark to address various ?fevers.? Stripped from the cinchona tree, the bark seemed to work well for malaria. The ?Jesuit?s bark,? as it was known, quickly became a favored treatment for malaria in Europe. (Before the discovery of the cinchona tree, European malaria remedies included throwing the patient head-first into a bush in the hope he would get out quickly enough to leave his fever behind.)
Eventually it became clear that cinchona bark could be used not only to treat malaria, but also to prevent it. The bark?and its active ingredient, quinine powder?was a powerful medicine. But it was also a powerful new weapon in the European quest to conquer and rule distant lands.
Quinine powder quickly became critical to the health of the empire. By the 1840s British citizens and soldiers in India were using 700 tons of cinchona bark annually for their protective doses of quinine. Quinine powder kept the troops alive, allowed officials to survive in low-lying and wet regions of India, and ultimately permitted a stable (though surprisingly small) British population to prosper in Britain?s tropical colonies. Quinine was so bitter, though, that British officials stationed in India and other tropical posts took to mixing the powder with soda and sugar. ?Tonic water,? of a sort, was born.
Still, tonic water was basically a home brew until an enterprising Brit named Erasmus Bond introduced the first commercial tonic water in 1858?perhaps not coincidentally, the very same year the British government ousted the East India Co. and took over direct control of India, following the so-called?Sepoy Mutiny, a violent rebellion and counterattack.
Bond?s new tonic was soon followed by Schweppes? introduction, in 1870, of ?Indian Quinine Tonic,? a product specifically aimed at the growing market of overseas British who, every day, had to take a preventative dose of quinine. Schweppes and other commercial tonics proliferated both in the colonies and, eventually, back in Britain itself.
Gin, which in earlier days had been associated with vice and social decay among the lower classes in Britain?take a look at William Hogarth?s famous print?Gin Lane?for a taste?was by the 19th?century making its long march toward respectability. It was only natural that at some point during this time an enterprising colonial official combined his (or her) daily dose of protective quinine tonic with a shot (or two) of gin. Rather than knock back a bitter glass of tonic in the morning, why not enjoy it in the afternoon with a healthy gin ration?
The gin and tonic was born?and the cool, crisp concoction could, as Churchill observed, start saving all those English lives.
And American lives. Quinine proved as critical to the battle over the Pacific in World War II as it had to the struggle over India. As Amy Stewart notes in her new book,?The Drunken Botanist, Japan seized Java, the home of huge cinchona plantations, from the Dutch in 1942, cutting off nearly all of the Allied supply of quinine. The last American plane to fly out of the Philippines before it fell to the Japanese carried some 4 million quinine seeds. Unfortunately, the effort was largely in vain: The trees grew too slowly to provide sufficient quinine to the Allied war effort.
The gin and tonic, of course, was not enough to keep the British Empire alive either. Churchill, and many other British leaders, fervently believed that imperialism was essential if Britain was to remain a truly great power. But the strength and appeal of independence and self-determination was overwhelming, and India could no longer be held down by a small coterie of foreign officials, even with their quinine-based cocktails. By 1947 India?and Pakistan?were independent nations. Kenya, Jamaica, Malaya, and other tropical colonies soon followed.
Today, ?empire? is a dirty word. But the gin and tonic lives on. The drink went from a bitter medicinal tipple in tropical outposts to a mainstay of British clubs and bars by World War I. In postwar America, the gin and tonic became synonymous with WASP summer retreats and country club lounges. Then, in the ?70s and ?80s, gin was almost forgotten as first classic cocktails went out of fashion and then vodka began to explode in popularity. Now the gin and tonic is back, especially at the very high end, where artisanal gins from Brooklyn, San Francisco, and all parts in between can be mixed with special tonics like Fever-Tree (get it?) or Fentimans.
But the gin and tonic certainly did the British Empire a lot of good. So as you mix your next one, remember the curious history of the drink?or is it a drug??in your hand.
Troy Patterson on finding the perfect gin and tonic:
 

In pictures: India coal fires

Underground fires have been burning in the small dusty coal town of Jharia in the eastern Indian state of Jharkhand for more than 80 years now. All efforts to put out the fires have been in vain. Photos: ?Arindam Mukherjee: BBC

Jharia coal fires
In places like Laltenganj, the fires are now burning overground. Continue reading “In pictures: India coal fires”

No religion is higher than humanity

Abdul Sattar Edhi


The most remarkable man I’ve ever met. If ever a man deserved a Nobel Prize… but then he’s a bearded muslim from Pakistan, so Kissinger and Obama and Peres will be given the Nobel Prize, but Edhi will not. Neither of course did Gandhi!
Pakistan: Hope amidst the chaos
What Matters
Humanitarian to a nation

Panos Journalism Fellowships

Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN)

The fellowships are being offered by Panos South Asia as part of a Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) project for enhancing climate change awareness and understanding among journalists in South Asia. Applications are invited from print, television, radio and web journalists writing / reporting on climate change and environment issues from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
The fellowships will support writing / reporting stories on climate change from the region. The fellows will also have the opportunity to participate in a training workshop and field trip that will link them with their peers from the neighbouring countries and understand climate-related issues from a South Asian perspective. Applicants should have a strong motivation for working on climate change related issues in South Asia and should have worked on climate-related stories in their media. The application, by e-mail, would need to include the following:
1.?A covering letter, in which the applicant explains his/her motivation for applying for the fellowship, and how he/she would use the fellowship to build on previous experience (two to three pages).
2.?A detailed CV with the names and contact details of two references.
3.?Copies of two stories published on climate change or environment. TV/radio journalists can also provide the link to the programme.
4.?A copy of a scanned letter from the editor of the applicant?s publication, TV or radio channel supporting the application. Please write ?Application for the SACCA Fellowships 2013? in the subject line of your e-mail application.

Applications need to be received by Friday, 8th March 2013 to?psa@panossouthasia.org.
Only successful applicants will be contacted.

PUBLIC HEALTH GLOBALISATION CONFLICT MEDIA PLURALISM ENVIRONMENT
PUBLIC HEALTH GLOBALISATION CONFLICT MEDIA DEVELOPMENT ENVIRONMENT

 

The path through the fields

Bangladesh has dysfunctional politics and a stunted private sector. Yet it has been surprisingly good at improving the lives of its poor

The Economist Nov 3rd 2012

Villagers are doing it for themselves

ON THE outskirts of the village of Shibaloy, just past the brick factory, the car slows to let a cow lumber out of its way. It is a good sign. Twenty years ago there was no brick factory, or any other industry, in this village 60 kilometres west of Dhaka; there were few cows, and no cars. The road was a raised path too narrow for anything except bicycles. Continue reading “The path through the fields”

Naked Days

By?Jeevani Fernando

October 31 2012

He has seen me without clothes mummy, how embarassing‘ said my nine year old a few days ago, when I suggested we go and visit the doctor who delivered her to this world. I reassured her that he had seen her mummy without clothes. She was livid.
Zoe (left foreground)???Shehan Gomez Abeysinghe
Nine years ago today, I sat in the queue at the gyneacology clinic at Sri Jayawardenapura Hospital, shifting my uneasy weight from side to side. ?I tried to stay composed amongst very brave and solid women from all over the country. The discomfort was annoying. Usually I help out in clinics by holding older siblings of babies to come or mothers wobbling around not knowing what to do. ?But that day, I just sat waiting for someone to take care of me.

The nurse made us line up to be weighed and pressure checked. I wobbled on my swollen feet. This one was so different. The other two had been a breeze. I just wanted to get back home. I was standing in the queue trying to hold myself up, when I saw my gynocologist,?Dr Hemantha Perera,at the end of the queue. He took one look at me and his face turned like the halloween pumpkin that suited the day – 31 October. He was a harsh, cold and ruthless but brilliant gyno, the best in the country serving in a state hospital. He could tell my condition without laying a finger on me.
He roughly asked the assistant doctors what I was doing standing in a clinic. ‘She should be taken to the OT immediately’?he said. ‘Does she not care for the baby?’ he asked out loud as if I wasn’t even there. He knew my case from a month back when I had gone to him bleeding heavily but begged him to keep the baby. ?I told him I was only feeling discomfort but there was no show of baby coming any time soon. I had 2-3 weeks more to go. He put me on the table like a cucumber and checked me over. ‘Take her NOW‘ he shouted. I was terrified. The nurses ran around like elves in Santa’s workshop. I got off the examination table and walked away to the reception area and sat down trying to make a call to someone. Anyone. Strange how a mobile phone becomes a lump of metal and plastic when you need to get someone in a hurry. I tried and tried I couldnt remember any numbers. I didn’t want to go in as yet. I was not ready. I wasn’t ready for the C-Section. I wasn’t ready for the baby. I wasn’t ready for anything. I just wanted to lie down and sleep on my father’s lap. And then the phone rang. It was my father. He was 72 miles away but his voice couldnt have been any closer. He prayed. He said, ‘Just do what the doctor says. Dont contradict‘.
I had no bag of clothes, I had no water, I had nothing in hand except my papers and a baby in my stomach. When I stepped out of the lift at ward 9, my doctor was standing in the corridor. I got a barrage of expletives from him. Again he spoke like I wasn’t even around. I was roughly taken to the prep room and shaved and shorn and pricked and prodded. The nurse was so nervous she put the OT gown the wrong way. I stood there with my boobs and swollen belly totally exposed and my butt nicely covered. I had to re-dress standing right there in public. I took off my jewelery and looked around, there was no family to hand it over to. Ear-rings, chain and cross that my parents gave me when I got married. I held them tight in my fist till the cross dug deep into my palm. It left a mark. Doctor saw me fumbling and scowled. He asked a nurse to take it over. I kissed the cross and gave it not knowing if I will see them again. I wondered if the older two had got back home from school. I wondered who will feed them. I wanted badly to go back. But I was lying on a stretcher, turning right when doc said left.
I was left outside the OT for about 30 minutes till the doctor prepped the students and the other assistants. I tried to imagine the next day. It was all a blur. Then I saw green gumboots next to my stretcher. A young, muslim doctor who had seen me in the clinics, was standing next to me, pulling up his green gloves. ‘Don’t worry, all the doctors are here today, you are very lucky Sir himself is doing the C-Section‘ Sir was my doctor. Usually he instructs and others carry out. He was like god to them. I wanted him to be that. ? I wanted him to be kind to me, say one word to reassure me and my baby. But from behind his mask, stared cold, sterile eyes. I wanted to make a connection with him before I was knocked out. When they lay me on the Op table, I grabbed his hand. He glared at me in surprise. For a moment steel eyes softened. He nodded and I guess smiled behind the mask. I will never know. But that was enough. Then he started explaining to me my condition. Not much I could do but nod while the oxygen mask was over my face. Just before the anesthetics were given, he came around near my face, leaned over and said ‘I might have to make some emergency decisions once I open you up, you will have to trust me’ ?I was knocked out before I could answer.?Trickster.
I woke up 4 hours later hearing him scolding me again. ‘Bloody mess you were, that baby is a miracle to have survived. Take her home and look after her carefully‘ and I never saw him again. ?It’s been nine years since that day. I have seen articles about him in the papers on and off. I don’t know if I took care of my baby ‘carefully’ and I don’t know if I have told her enough times what a miracle she is. I don’t know if I have told her enough about the wonderful doctors this country has produced and is blessed with. Doctors who serve their people in difficult circumstances. Who, through all their steely resolves, save lives of babies and mothers. Who have produced even-more brilliant doctors after them.
Zoe has made up her mind to visit him and his ward and is hoping he won’t remember her naked days. But I do want to remind him. And her. That life doesn’t come easy. From nakedness to nakedness, life IS a miracle.

The Imperial Mind

American rage at Pakistan over the punishment of a CIA-cooperating Pakistani doctor is quite revealing

BY?
SATURDAY, MAY 26, 2012 05:53 PM BDT
Americans of all types ? are just livid that a Pakistani tribal court (reportedly in consultation with Pakistani officials) has?imposed?a 33-year prison sentence on Shakil Afridi, the Pakistani physician who secretly worked with the CIA to find Osama bin Laden on Pakistani soil. Their fury tracks the standard American media narrative: by punishing Dr. Afridi for the ?crime? of helping the U.S. find bin Laden, Pakistan has revealed that it sympathizes with Al Qaeda and is hostile to the U.S. (NPR headline: ?33 Years In Prison For Pakistani Doctor Who Aided Hunt For Bin Laden?;?NYT?headline: ?Prison Term for Helping C.I.A. Find Bin Laden?). Except that?s a woefully incomplete narrative: incomplete to the point of being quite misleading.

What Dr. Afridi actually did was concoct a pretextual vaccination program, whereby Pakistani children would be injected with a single Hepatitis B vaccine, with the hope of gaining access to the Abbottabad house where the?CIA believed bin Laden was located. The plan was that, under the ruse of vaccinating the children in that province, he would obtain DNA samples that could confirm the presence in the suspected house of the bin Laden family. But the vaccine program he was administering was fake: as?Wired?s public health reporter Maryn McKenna?detailed, ?since only one of three doses was delivered,?the vaccination was effectively useless.? An on-the-ground?Guardian?investigation?documented?that??while the vaccine doses themselves were genuine, the medical professionals involved were not following procedures. In an area called Nawa Sher,?they did not return a month after the first dose to provide the required second batch. Instead, according to local officials and residents, the team moved on.? Continue reading “The Imperial Mind”

Dhanmondi Brickbreakers on Vimeo


Dhanmondi Brickbreakers on Vimeo
The traditional form of brick breaking has now been replaced by machines that do the bulk of the job. As with most low paid jobs in Bangladesh, there are many associated risks.

I am going to Die on Monday at 6 15 pm

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When Marc Weide’s mother who was 65 was diagnosed with terminal cancer, she chose euthanasia. Here, we publish his shockingly frank diary of her final days

Monday February 11 2008

5.30pm: Dad is bent over the toilet bowl with a brush in his hand and a scowl on his face. I walk up to him. “Shall I give you a hand?” Dad begins to snicker, abandoning any attempt to make sense of the situation. We stand shoulder to shoulder with our backs to Mom, who paces around the patio with a newly fitted catheter in her hand.
The catheter has been put in by her nurse, Marianne to enable her doctor, who will be with us in half an hour, to give Mom a lethal injection. But instead of having a moment of peace with us, as Marianne suggested, Mom demands that we clean the toilets. Both upstairs and downstairs.
My brother, Maarten, is sitting on the edge of the bathtub, staring out of the bathroom window.
“Imagine,” he mutters. “Her last hour, spent like this.”
This is the Netherlands, where voluntary euthanasia is permitted, as well as physician-assisted suicide. This is the day my mother has chosen to die, and the toilets need to be spotless.

Three months earlier

I’m on a writer’s retreat in the UK, where I have been living for the past three years. I’m working on my novel when my mobile phone rings. The display shows it’s Maarten, calling from the Netherlands. Mom’s test results have come back.
“It’s secondary cancer in her lungs.” He pauses. “They think she’s got two to six months left.”
Continue reading “I am going to Die on Monday at 6 15 pm”