Monday, August 27, 2007

Colors of Onam

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These are some pictures of Onam celebrations in Njarakkattuvila, a small village near Attingal in Thiruvananthapuram district in Kerala.

An Atha pookkalam. Not a very traditional one. People are getting innovative these days. The makers dubbed this as “inverted triangles”.

A tug-of-war competition (known as vadam vali in Malayalam). Usually this is fought between the married men and the unmarried men. But here, in the absence of battle-ready married men, unmarried men formed two groups and engaged in a spirited contest.

Beginning of the tug-of-war competition.

A bamboo pole used for “Climbing on bamboo” competition (known as Mulayil kayattam in Malayalam). The bamboo pole is about five meters long and is drenched with oil, grease, and egg yolk, making it extremely slippery. One has to climb through this and reach the top to claim the cash award of Rs. 501/-. The flag shown behind is not related to this competition. The small building in the background is the “party office” (office of CPM). Hence the flag.

A man climbing on the bamboo pole.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

VV Clinic: A Hospital with Some Difference

V.V. Clinic is one of the oldest hospitals in Attingal (established in 1973). It is probably the oddest too, perhaps in anywhere in the world. The first thing you notice when you enter the hospital, apart from the elegant gothic doors and windows (which are said to be bought from the remains of an old, destructed castle), is a board that categorically states the conditions (impeccably written twenty-one of them) one must obey while undergoing treatment in that hospital. Here are some samples.

“Narrow-minded people who come here for treatment on their own will and then bargain to reduce the bill amount should not come to this hospital.” “Self-important people and people who had come here for treatment once or more than once should not expect any special considerations.” And the last condition would dispel any doubts an extremely positive person may have of getting a favor: “It will be very helpful if people who cannot obey the above conditions do not come here for treatment.”

You would naturally wonder who the doctor is. You look at the name board and see this name: “Dr. Mohandas. MBBS only”. My mother tells me that previously it was “Dr. Mohandas. very very old MBBS only”. Even the virus or bacteria that cause your illness would be frightened like hell.

Whether the virus is frightened or not, Dr. Mohandas is an expert in quick diagnosis and effective treatment. His method of interacting with patients is also somewhat unique in speed and his economy with words. He first asks simple questions like ‘what is the problem or where is the problem” and then asks some specific questions if he needs some more information. While asking these questions he would be checking the patient with the stethoscope simultaneously. In no time, your prescription is ready along with some other instructions regarding taking what sort of food and bathing. All the details of the disease and symptoms you may have prepared to tell the doctor would be struck in your throat. But make no mistake. The treatment is very effective. It is cost effective too. If the doctor feels the disease is too complex to be treated by him, he will immediately refer the patient for expert treatment to Medical College, Trivandrum, or somewhere else. In short, he seems to treat only those patients whose illness he is confident of treating successfully.

What I find most attractive is the taste of that syrup they give for, well, almost all diseases. It appears like diluted cough syrup. But its taste is quite remarkable. For all the bitter conditions they read when coming to the hospital, people leave with a sense of happiness after tasting that sweet syrup.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

More on the viral fever that grips Kerala

Pakarchapani (known as chikungunya, dengue fever or viral fever in medical parlance) is gaining further momentum in Kerala. Ever since its outbreak about three months ago, it cut a swathe across southern parts of Kerala, affecting thousands of people. In an informative article titled “The long term damage to Kerala’s health” in The Hindu dated 2/8/2007, Mr. Vinod Thomas (Senior Vice President, Independent Evaluation Group, The World Bank) wrote that that chikungunya and dengue are transmitted by a particular breed of mosquitoes. He writes: “These two diseases are transmitted by the aedes species of mosquito, which breeds in small water collections in and around the house. Furthermore, thanks to rubber plantations, parts of Kerala have become endemic to the dengue, as rain water collect in the containers used for harvesting rubber sap.” He advocates for measures to eliminate the mosquito-breeding areas in around the house and in rubber plantations. He also criticizes government for not taking adequate steps for preventing further damage and suggests private-public joint effort to improve health status of Kerala. (Who cares, one may ask. Our ministers, politicians, and media are busy deciphering the phrases uttered by a good-looking guy called Farish Aboobakar in a recent television interview. He is pitted against none other than the chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan.)

The fever affects the joints initially. One person affected by the fever recounted his experience: ‘At first, I felt pain on my right hand, near elbow. Soon it happened on left hand also. Slowly the pain goes up and reaches the shoulders. When it reached the shoulder, body temperature also went up. I felt like I have severe fever. I vomited twice while going to the hospital. There was a large crowd at the hospital. By that time, I felt pain on every joint in my body. After some thirty minutes, finally I was able to see the doctor. I had trouble even getting up and when walked, my legs began to collapse. It was a terrible experience.”

Different hospitals are offering different modes of treatment. Generally there are two types: 1. medicine through an injection (parenterally) and 2. without an injection, i.e., only oral medicine. Consensus among affected people here is that in the first method, the fever will be subdued quickly, but side effects like recurrent joint pain will remain, while in the second method, the fever will be subdued slowly, but will not have any side effects. People will take whatever the doctor prescribes because the pain drives them to a state of utter helplessness.

There are some precautionary medicines available too. One Ayurveda medicine is particularly popular: ‘Viluadi gulika” and “Indukantham kazhayam” of Kottackal Aryavaidysala. One word of caution though. These are very bitter in taste so that some people may find it hard to swallow.