God like status

So last month or so Sachin Tendulkar announced to the world that he’s retiring from professional cricket after one last game in Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai. On hearing this, most of the Indians across the globe had a shock and lost their will to live!! So in the couple of weeks leading up to the last match which happened today people are flooding their Facebook pages, and twitter pages and other XYZ pages with “Sachin God” messages. These mournful messages will probably last some more weeks and ruin my facebook experience. I am sure he has never asked to be called ‘God’!

While he’s an amazing player and probably one of the best cricketers ever to grace our planet earth, there is nothing god-like about him. Indians love putting people on a pedestal, especially people who are really not excelling at anything other than their required field. Actors like Sachin Tendulkar-yes most of our cricketers are now actors by doing unlimited endorsements- and Rajnikant are considered gods. My point of contention isn’t against anyone’s athletic skills just against calling mere cricketers and actors gods. For that matter, what has the so-called God done to help the society in general or even help sports other than cricket? As such a well-loved and influential cricketer I am sure he could use his position to help further other sports in India. Maybe help those poor sportsmen whom the government doesn’t fund or help in any way, who try and compete in international events like the Olympics and Asian games.

We have so many other ordinary human beings in India doing extraordinary deeds and good work. Why don’t we call the woman who was gang raped as a young girl and who is now rehabilitating other young girls like her, a goddess? Why don’t we acknowledge the men and women who are helping educate or saving young kids everyday, sometimes at the expense of their own lives? Or even acknowledge those teachers in small villages who are trying to teach the future generations of the country. I guess these role models aren’t inspirational because they probably aren’t making the big bucks as our cricketers are doing, so why would we consider them “good inspirational human beings!”

While in Rome

One’s assimilation skills are very closely related to their social skills. Whether it is when living with someone or living in a different country. It is as simple and as complicated as, “While in Rome, do as the Romans do.” Because sometimes assimilation is not just doing as the Romans do, but also changing your thinking which sometimes changes your identity- which I think is what scares most people. Assimilation is what makes America a melting pot and sometimes great. J

When living in a different country, assimilation sometimes threatens your identity and your uniqueness. As someone who has lived and worked in United States for last 7 years, I have seen some of both; those who completely refuse to blend in, intent on maintaining their nativity in the foreign land, and those who become native almost completely in less than the time it takes to speak the word native.

While it is quite admirable to blend in the culture of a new place, it is quite a loss to let go of your own rich culture. The tradition and values with which one grows up are unique to their place and when you let them go completely it sometimes feels like you are ashamed of your values. There are people I know who would whiten themselves if they could to let go of their Indian ‘brownness!’ And then there are some who refuse to let go of their past. They strictly adhere to their culture without bringing anything more to it; eating the same food, watching the same kind of movies and above all hanging out with people from your region. While most people say food and movies aren’t a big deal, it’s the very window which opens you up to new things in life. There’s no bigger cultural experimentation than experimenting with their food. But refusing to try new things is how cultures become stagnant.

The real smartness is in bringing your own flavor to the new culture that you are trying to fit with, which leads to cultural and personal evolution. When you bring some Indian-ness to your American culture is when you start appreciating both the cultures and thus can pick and choose your values. Kind of like hanging out at a bar with your American coworkers discussing Oscar Wilde and Devdas, and like adding bit of curry powder to your pasta! J

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

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In, “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” Rebecca Skloot tries to tell the story of the woman behind the HeLa cell line and her family’s struggles with the science of her immortality. HeLa cell line was created at the time when bioethics was an unheard concept and the experimentation on African-American population was at its peak. Rebecca Skloot writes in a narrative fashion starting with Henrietta’s visit to John Hopkins Hospital to get her ‘knot in the womb’ looked at. The author then goes on to describe a bit about Henrietta’s life- as a child and an adult- in Clover, Virginia and then Turner Station. The book describes the revolutionary science made possible because of HeLa cells and the lack of ethical considerations during the research on the African-American patients and the mentally ill patients. Finally, a large portion of the book deals with the Lacks’ continuous struggle with understanding the science behind immortal cells and with the balance between privacy and notoriety.

Non-fictional writing is always a balancing act between keeping the facts correct and keeping the story interesting. Writing about science with bioethics being a primary concern in the book is always dicey. I definitely enjoyed having a mental debate about the ethical ramifications of the HeLa cells. Does anyone really have a complete right over their cells and tissues – especially when discarded; as with the HeLa cells which are from a cancerous cervical tissue? Science has come a long way from the plague epidemic of the middle ages to eradication of small pox by vaccinations; but a lot of it has been on the back of the unaware, vulnerable populations. Science has always exploited the easily available, vulnerable sections of society from kids to prisoners to sharecroppers. These immeasurable contributions have led modern science to where it is today and none of the scientific discoveries would have been possible with the regulations today. Of course, that doesn’t make all the wrongs done in the name of science right, but this ethical debate will never end, and it shouldn’t but that’s the story for another blog.

The sections of book relating to the Lacks’ ignorance and struggle about Henrietta’s immortal cell line- were the most uncomfortable for me. While the author tries to show that she was trying to help them tell their story, it felt as if she was exploiting them for the sake of the story (which probably was needed and is true). While reading the book, it felt that a connecting link was missing which makes the reader feel deeply about the characters and their struggles. In spite of spending many years trying to understand and write about Lacks’, the reader feels the disconnect between the author and her subjects. The only section of the book that didn’t come off ‘manufactured’ was the section about Elsie Lacks and the research on epileptic patients. Also no one can deny the fact while HeLa launched many careers and discoveries; Henrietta’s family continues to fight for doctors and insurance money. But again the chances of the family ever receiving any kind of monetary help for the cells are nil.

Overall, for those interested in the science behind the HeLa cell line I am sure there are better books out there. For others who want a humanitarian story, probably this is worth a read.