R Venkataramanan

R Venkataramanan

R Venkat's Blog

R Venkat's Blog
"To be an Inspiring Teacher,one should be a Disciplined Student throughout Life" - Venkataramanan Ramasethu



Friday, September 25, 2009

Mirror, mantra - TABISH KHAIR

The canonisation of writers like Rushdie and Naipaul in the West enables it to think of itself as radical without really being inconvenienced. The real Other remains outside its gaze…

Here is the first line of a long mantra: naipaulrushdiezadiekureishimonica… Each bead of this mantra is significant and makes some sense. Some beads might even contain powerful, perhaps even immortal, magic. But this interminable mantra, as a w hole, is nothing but mumbo-jumbo mumbled by a West that wants to be radical without feeling seriously inconvenienced.

After a very short period of looking around, the West has increasingly turned its gaze onto itself in recent years. There it stands in front of gilded mirrors, gazing at itself in admiration. What it sees is no longer the whiteness it saw in the far past. What it sees now is multi-hued, variously dressed, many voiced. For, the Western self, particularly in literary and cultural circles, has long accepted the fact of being creolised. Even the opponents of multiculturalism cannot see themselves (thank god for small mercies) as snow white. When the West gazes into its mirrors, it sees its own new post-war multicultural self. It sees Salman Rushdie, V.S. Naipaul, Hari Kunzru, Zadie Smith. And it likes to pretend that it is seeing the Other.

How convenient to look at an Other who speaks one’s own language! No, I am not accusing Rushdie and Naipaul of bland mimicry or of consciously catering to Western opinions. These, and many others like them, are excellent writers, and people of much independence of thought and posture. One or two of them might even be great writers. And yet, they belong to a tradition that is less uncomfortable for the cultured Western reader and critic to face up to. If they present difference, they present just a different aspect of the West.

Beyond language

Choice of language, of course, is one hammer used to strike at such authors. I refuse to take up that hammer. What if they write in English or French? Only a dishonest critic would use that forced/free choice to dismiss the work of a writer, for — as Sujata Bhatt puts it in one of her poems — what language has not been the language of the oppressor? And, by the same token, what language cannot be used to resist, at least to a degree, the commands of the oppressor? Yet, while I grant them their languages and I even grant them greatness in those languages, I repeat my observation: they are a reflection of the new post-war multi-cultural West. They are the mirror images that make the liberal West feel comfortable with itself, because it feels that in gazing on them (and their works) it is reading and championing the Other.

They are not the Other. They are not even different, really. They are the West today.

They are the West in two very obvious ways. Many of them, like Hari Kunzru, Hanif Kureishi or Zadie Smith, were born or brought up from childhood in the West. To read them as Indian or Caribbean writers is to do them an injustice. They should be read — as Hari Kunzru and some others have rightly indicated — as belonging to the nation in which they grew up.

Secondly, even postcolonial writers who went Westward Ho! at a relatively mature age rode very different wagons. Some were brought there and put to school in England, USA or France by rich parents. Some won prestigious scholarships: their departures were caused not by unemployment or poverty but by recognition granted them by the colonial or ex-colonial centre. These are not immigrants who come as cheap labour and survive cheaply. They are not even like immigrants — and there are (less visible) African, Indian or Caribbean writers who belong to this category (as do I) — who move to the West for personal reasons, and then struggle up the professional chain, selling newspapers, washing dishes, painting houses until they have a degree (or a new degree) that enables them to enter (or re-enter) the professional middle classes.

But, again, even these are not alike: to call V.S. Naipaul and Aimé Césaire Caribbean writers in the same breath is to conflate two very different positions. I am not talking of politics or colour or claim, or lack of it. I am talking of something else. Both Naipaul and Césaire were plucked out of the colonies by the paternal colonial hand of scholarships and brought to elite educational institutions in England and France respectively. Later on, Césaire decided to return to Martinique and reside there; Naipaul — in both his writing and his choice of residence — repudiated the Caribbean.

The repudiation may or may not be criticised; it was above all a personal choice. But surely, it should be noted, just as the choice of a language should not be criticised, but surely it has to be noted. An Indian who writes in English does not abandon India per se, but she does occupy a position of authorship that is significantly different from an Indian who writes in Hindi or Tamil. But unfortunately even an Indian who writes about India in English is not likely to be made visible by agents, clubs and book chains in the West: she has to write about India in certain approved ways, ways that very often depend on a celebration of the “multicultural” West either as actual presence or enabling possibility.

West as global

If the West likes to look into gilded mirrors and admire itself in the guise of novels about multi-cultural London, or poems written in chapatti English (or is it paratha, for a fair bit of butter seems to have been applied?), or stories about the Raj and its oof-springs, the West also likes to look into gilded mirrors and admire itself in the guise of “global” literature. Perhaps these are the same mirrors. Perhaps they are different. Who knows? For, their existence has not been faced up to.

Let us talk about the mirror image of ‘global’ literature. Perhaps the mantra I quoted above is incorrect. Perhaps “rushdienaipaul” is a segment from another mantra, the mantra of “global” literature. For, this is a strange mirror image. It appears in the colour of European languages. A Gayatri Spivak might write a piece on a Mahasweta Devi, but that hardly makes a dent. Mostly, it is authors writing in English or French who are stood up in the “global” halls of fame. Come to think of it, authors who repudiate their homelands and seek the shelter of the West — from Naipaul to Coetzee — are more likely to be seen as “global” than authors who stay in their homelands, like Ngugi Wa’Thiongo and Shashi Deshpande, or who, like Césaire, return home from the West.

Literary trends, such as magical realism, which are fashionable in the West are used to define, collate and celebrate this “global” literature, even within the already narrow circumference of legitimating European languages. African or Asian novelists who experiment with structure or connect to the modernist tradition are not likely to be promoted. Instead, preference is given to “story-telling”, to “magical realism” etc. It does cross my mind that, perhaps, it is in writing today as it has been in music and sculpture for centuries: just as the coloured man can play, but not compose, the coloured woman is allowed to tell “stories”, but not write a novel. Have we come such a long way after all, baby?

Invisible literatures

There are other “global” literatures, but they are not visible today. Some of them are even in English or French or Spanish. Some of them are even by authors settled or born in the West. But gilded mirrors are not likely to reflect them. Just as there are other Asian, African, post-colonial writers, but they are hardly visible today. After a short period in which at least some Western critics and writers were genuinely interested in difference, in other cultures — a period that enabled the publication of novels like Achebe’s Things Fall Apart — the West is back to gazing at gilded mirrors. And by chanting the mantra of “global” literature or multiculturalism, the West conveniently forgets that the reflections it sees in those mirrors are, after all, its own.

Pass me that bloody bawlty dish, will you?

Tabish Khair is an Indian novelist, poet and critic, currently based in Denmark.

Goddess Durga & Significance of Durga Puja

Durga, in Sanskrit means "She who is incomprehensible or difficult to reach." Goddess Durga is a form of Sakti worshiped for her gracious as well as terrifying aspect. Mother of the Universe, she represents the infinite power of the universe and is a symbol of a female dynamism. The manifestation of Goddess Durga is said to emerge from Her formless essence and the two are inseparable.

She is also called by many other names, such as Parvati, Ambika, and Kali. In the form of Parvati, She is known as the divine spouse of Lord Shiva and is the mother of Her two sons, Ganesha and Karttikeya, and daughter Jyoti. Destroyer of demons, she is worshiped during an annual festival called Durga puja, especially popular among Bengalis.

Her Appearance

There are endless aspects of Durga described in the Puranas and Agamas and the iconography is consequently very varied. She is usually pictured as having ten arms holding Sword, Conch, Discus, Rosary, Bell, Winecup, Shielf, Bow, Arrow, and Spear. She is most often shown riding a lion from which comes Her august name, Simhavahini, "She who stands astride the king of beasts". She is gorgeously dressed in royal red cloth and has several ornaments decorating Her personage. Her hair is dressed up in a crown (karandamukuta) which then flows out in long luxuriant tresses that are darkly luminous and soothing to the eye. The various tools reflects the eminent supremacy that helps in controling the universe and obey Her will.

Weilding Energy

Goddess Durga exists eternally, always abiding in her own sweet nature and inhabits the hearts and minds of her ecstatic devotees. As Shakti power, she shapes, nurtures, and dissolves names and forms, while as subtle spiritual energy called Kundalini, She lights the lotuses fo the seven centres of awareness in the sacred human body. Goddess Durga killed the powerful demon Mahish and all his great commanders. When demonic forces create imbalance all god unite becoming one divine force called Shakti or Durga.

Significance of Durga Puja

During Durga Puja, God in the form of the Divine Mother is worshiped in Her various forms as Durga, Lakshmi and Saraswati. Though the Goddess is one, She is represented and worshiped in three different aspects. On the first three nights of the festival, Durga is worshiped. On the following three, Lakshmi and then Saraswati Devi on the last three nights. The following tenth day is called Vijayadasami. Vijaya means "victory", the victory over one's own minds that can come only when these three: Durga, Lakshmi, and Saraswati are worshiped.

Meaning Of Durga

Durga is perhaps the most widely worshiped deity of Shakti. Maa Durga's divine characterization include entire Devibhagavatham is dedicated to her. Durga means one who is difficult to approach. However since she is the mother of universe she is the personification of tender love, wealth, power, beauty and all virtues.

Implications Of The Idol

The complete image of Goddess Durga represent destruction of evil and protection of good and reflects the point that in order to become divine one should keep one's animal instincts under control. Thus, by worshiping Durga the idea of ruthless destruction is invoked to annihilate all the desires and unfold divinity.

Its Connotation

ln Bengal, Goddess Durga is worshiped for nine days. In South India, an altar decorated with a stepped platform and filled with small images of gods, animals,birds,and other beings, animate and inanimate, is worshiped for nine days. This altar is known as the Kolu. People re-dedicate themselves to their profession. On this day, a child also begins to learn the alphabet in a ceremony known as aksarabhyasa. This day marks the beginning of any type of learning. One offers gifts to one's teachers, seeks their blessings,and prays for success in one's new endeavors.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Gene therapy cures red-green colour blindness in adult monkeys

There is hope for millions of people who are unable to see or have trouble seeing red and green colours. Red-green colour blindness is the most common colour-vision disorder. It mostly affects males as it is a gene defect that is carried in the X chromosome.

In India about 13 million people suffer from red-green colour blindness. It is 16 million in the case of China .

While normal people can perceive hues of blue, yellow, green and red, those with red-green colour deficiencies can see only hues of blue and yellow.

Scientists from the University of Washington , University of Florida and the Medical College of Wisconsin have been able to cure red-green colour blindness in adult monkeys that are born blind to these two colours by resorting to gene therapy.

“Treated monkeys unquestionably respond to colours that were previously invisible to them,” they write. Their experiments were on squirrel monkeys (Saimiri sciureus). Their work is published online in the journal Nature.

Correction possible on adults

What makes the study particularly important is the fact that researchers used adult monkeys for the experiment. According to the authors, their work has disproved the long held notion that colour blindness cannot be corrected in adults.

They have also debunked the notion that neural connections are established during development when a child is very young, and any corrections done later will be of little use as the neural connections are not present.

Ability to seen red-green “can arise from single gene addition of a third cone class and it does not require an early development process,” they note. “This proves a positive outlook for the potential of gene therapy to cure adult vision disorders.”

It took nearly five months for the treated monkeys’ threshold to perceive blue-green and red-violet improved.

Based on the improvement, the authors stress that “some form of inherent plasticity” in the monkeys’ visual system was present which enabled the adult ones to acquire the new colour vision.

Taking advantage of pre-existing neural circuitry

“These experiments demonstrate that a new colour-vision capacity, as defined by new discrimination abilities, can be added by taking advantage of pre-existing neural circuitry,” they note.

The experiment shows that restoring full vision could have happened in the absence of any other change in the visual system except the addition of a third cone type using gene therapy.

It may be possible in the future to cure red-green colour blindness in people using gene therapy provided all photoreceptors are intact and healthy. The age when such a correction is done may not be an issue, as this experiment shows.

According to them, the new colour vision acquisition does not necessarily mean that any rewiring of the neural circuitry has taken place. Though the monkeys certainly responded to colours that were previously invisible to them, the researchers are not sure if the monkeys experienced any new internal sensations to red and green.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Miracle baby with protruding heart dies at AIIMS

After a 22-day-long battle, the 'miracle baby' born with a protruding heart died here of 'infection' even as doctors at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) fought all odds to save him.

'The baby died at 2 p.m. Wednesday following severe infection and pneumonia,' said A.K. Bisoi, cardiologist and additional professor at the cardiothoracic and vascular surgery department of AIIMS.

The boy was brought to the premier institute Aug 28 by his father Chander Manjhi from Bihar after doctors in Chapra found that he was suffering from thoracic ectopia cordis, a 'rarest of the rare heart defect' in which the heart is abnormally located.

The defect occurs in five to nine cases in one million births and the mortality rate is very high.

His chances of survival were slim ever since his birth. But doctors at AIIMS had their fingers crossed and operated upon him Sep 3.

Bisoi, leading a five-member team, tried to push his heart within the body after creating space for it. Earlier, doctors had conducted two blood transfusions to rule out infection before the operation.

With the news of the baby surviving for such a long time defying all odds, many across the country prayed for his long life.

'The child was brought here wrapped in an unclean cloth and infection had spread to all his body parts as he was exposed to outside elements during his night-long train journey from Bihar,' said Bisoi.

According to Bisoi, such children are either born dead or die within 36 hours.

'He has already created a record by surviving for so many days,' he said.

Bisoi said these cases can be treated surgically but in general involve lengthy and very complicated paediatric cardiothoracic surgery.

Usually, the doctors come to know about the abnormality in three to four weeks of foetal life when the heart starts developing. The heart usually shifts to its original position. But in this case, it did not happen.

The doctor said in most cases when doctors detect the abnormality, they counsel the parents, especially the mother, whether they want to continue with the pregnancy or abort.

'If they decide to go with the pregnancy, they are referred to hospitals that are equipped to handle such cases,' Bisoi said.

Seeing the poor socio-economic condition of the family, the institute had borne the expenses of the entire treatment.

In the past few days, the baby had developed pneumonia. And as the infection spread fast in his small body, he breathed his last Wednesday afternoon, doctors said.

Sunday, September 6, 2009


Many post-radial keratotomy patients could benefit from contact lens wear. Uncorrected refractive error, need for near and intermediate distance correction, fluctuations or drift in refractive error and corneal distortion are common reasons RK patients patients to seek post-surgical contact lens care.

The Role of Soft Lenses

If the patient's RK incisions extend to the vascular-rich limbus, soft lenses are generally contra-indicated due to possible neovascularization along the incision lines. If the incisions do not extend to the limbus, soft lens wear may succeed if the manifest refraction is stable (repeatable at different times of the day and on different days) and vision is acceptable. Carefully monitor neovascularization during follow-up examinations. Also, look for areas of corneal staining, especially centrally, to rule out poor lens draping over the entire corneal surface. If a soft sphere provides acceptable and consistent vision, consider prescribing a silicone hydrogel to optimize oxygen availability. For soft torics, consider a reduced wearing schedule and frequent follow-up exams to minimize and monitor corneal edema and neovascularization.

The Role of Corneal Topography

Perform corneal topography before fitting post-RK patients with contact lenses. Topography provides both baseline findings for comparing corneal changes over time and enhanced understanding of corneal contour and curvature values for selecting an initial diagnostic rigid lens.

Rigid Lens Design

Prescribe the simplest rigid lens design that will optimize vision, comfort and corneal physiology. Consider prescribing a sphere if it provides adequate lens centration with no localized areas of excessive (central or peripheral) clearance or harsh mid-peripheral bearing. Pre-operative keratometry values may help you select the initial diagnostic base curve. You might start with the base curve equal to or slightly flatter than the pre-surgical flat K value. Overall diameters of 9.50mm or greater enhance lens centration.

Because of resulting central flattening, many post-RK patients benefit from wearing reverse geometry lenses. It is generally necessary to empirically order the first lens. Use topography curvature values to determine both the base and peripheral curves. One method is to average the central flatter values using the topography number maps to determine the base curve, then average mid-peripheral curvature findings to determine the steeper secondary curve. Fine tune the lens design by interpreting the fluorescein pattern. The goal is to align with the corneal contour (Figure 1) by minimizing localized areas of excessive clearance and harsh touch. Interpret the area of central cor-neal flattening by topography to determine the optic zone diameter. Typically optic zone diameters for post-RK reverse geome try lens designs are prescribed smaller (6.0mm to 7.0mm) than standard optic zone diameters.

OK, That Didn't Work

Corrective photorefractive keratectomy (PRK) remains an option if the refractive error is stable and if manifest refraction vision is acceptable.

Post-RK corneal contours often require creative lens designs. If rigid lenses decenter excessively, consider large overall diameter, aspheric, piggyback and other designs. Always closely monitor corneal staining and neovascular changes to determine the acceptability of any lens design.

Dr. Edrington is a professor and in the contact lens service at the Southern California College of Optometry. E-mail him at tedrington@scco.edu.

Dr. Barr is editor of Contact Lens Spectrum and assistant dean for clinical affairs at The Ohio State University.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

7th International Conference on Cognitive Science, 08/2010 @Beijing



August 17-20, 2010

Beijing, China National Convention Center (http://en.cnccchina.com/; by Bird Nest and Water Cube)

Call for Papers (the first announcement)

The 7th International Conference on Cognitive Science (ICCS2010) will be held in Beijing on August 17-20, 2010. We invite submissions from all contributing disciplines within Cognitive Science, including but not limited to:

Animal Cognition // Cognitive Anthropology // Cognitive Modeling // Cognitive Neuroscience // Cognitive Psychology // Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence // Functional Brain Imaging // Linguistics // Philosophy // Social Cognition

Call for Symposium Topics and Organizers

In order to balance general and special interests of participants, the conference will arrange 12-14 plenary talks by leading cognitive scientists as well as organize symposia for cutting-edge research topics. Proposals or suggestions about topics and organizers of the symposia are particularly welcome, and should be sent to before Mar. 15, 2010.

Key Dates

15 March 2010 Proposals for symposia due

15 April 2010 Abstracts and full papers due

15 May 2010 Notice of acceptance or rejection

15 June 2010 Early registration due

17-20 August 2010 Conference

Confirmed Plenary Speakers

CHEN, Lin, Institute of Biophysics, Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS)

CHO, Sook-Whan, Sogang University



HE, Sheng, University of Minnesota

HUANG, Jong-Tsun, China Medical University

HUMPHREYS, Glyn, University of Birmingham

KANG, Eun-Joo, Kangwon National University

POO, Muming, UC Berkeley; Institute of Neuroscience, CAS

WOLFE, Jeremy, Harvard University

ZHOU, Xiaohong Joe, University of Illinois at Chicago

For more, up-to-date info, please visit http://www.iccs2010.org