Sunday, August 28, 2005

Mass Hysteria

Ten years ago, the milk miracle created quite a stir among Hindus all over the world.
It all began on September 21st when an otherwise ordinary man in New Delhi dreamt that Lord Ganesha, the elephant-headed God of Wisdom, craved a little milk. Upon awakening, he rushed in the dark before dawn to the nearest temple, where a skeptical priest allowed him to proffer a spoonful of milk to the small stone image. Both watched in astonishment as it disappeared, magically consumed by the God.

Tens of millions of people of all ages flocked to the nation's temples. The unworldly happening brought worldly New Delhi to a standstill, and its vast stocks of milk - more than a million liters - sold out within hours. Just as suddenly as it started in India, it stopped in just 24 hours.

Technically termed Mass Psychogenic illness (MPI), the milk miracle is a good candidate for mass hysteria.
MPI has been characterized as a constellation of symptoms suggestive of organic disease that lacks an identified cause, which occurs among people who share beliefs regarding those symptoms (Philen et al., 1989). It is seen as a social phenomenon, affecting otherwise healthy individuals (Boss, 1997).

Outbreaks of MPI are often triggered by an environmental event (Boss, 1997).

Outbreaks are often enhanced by a vigorous emergency response and substantial media attention (Hefez, 1985; Philen et al., 1989). Symptoms may spread almost instantaneously and by line of sight, the latter term referring to the apparent spread of outbreak among those who directly observe other affected people.

With growing concerns about bioterrorism, environmental contamination and emerging infections, the frequency of such incidents and the anxiety surrounding episodes of unexplained epidemic illness may increase. It is important for health care providers to recognize the characteristics of mass psychogenic illness.

The Tanganyika Laughter Epidemic of 1962 was again a case of MPI triggered during a stressful time at a boarding school in the vicinity of the village of Kashasha in modern Tanzania.

The regular occurence of mass hysteria, in my opinion, is the reaction of the stock market to external stimuli - the soars and crashes at the snap of some powerful fingers.

Voices in the head


"The 'i' before the 'e' unless after the 'c'. Believe has a 'lie' in it"

"Come back here young lady. There is no such thing as 'today morning', 'today afternoon', 'today night' - say 'this morning', 'this afternoon', 'tonight'"

She - the voice of the English puritan


"C'mon, don't spill the sauce. Why are you shaking you fool? You can't do anything right."

"How are you going to manage now? Now is the time to panic. You are done for."

Her, the dark companion who hardly sleeps - the negativity queen who loves to talk non-stop


"I can do that. I can do anything I set my mind on."

"Hmm...good job, good life, good sense. I am doing well indeed."

That - Queen Confidence. The catalyst to success


"How I wish I were a great artist!"

Misty - the dreamer. Mistress of 'thoughty' bubbles, visions of everlasting happiness


"Who am I?"

"What am I upto?"

"Goodness, is that me?"

Me - the wonder-eyed child

And all the voices said to Me: You are this, you are that. You can, you cannot. You must, you must not. Me scratched & ached, tossed & turned and endlessly chanted her three little questions.

Friday, August 26, 2005

Much venom against Chopra (via kottke) - While I agree with the view that ideas need to be questioned, I think spewing out venom is such a terrible way to express disagreement.
I shall mangle, I shall strangle; you English puritans are silly (yet another visit to the topic that I had touched on here and here)

Thursday, August 25, 2005

all the talk

I have been GTalking the last couple of days. I discovered that the excitement of a new IM and lots of friends added to the list already does not further my blogging cause at all - seriously I can do only about 10,000 words in a day (talking or writing) and you can imagine what five chat windows for the better part of each day can do to that count :)

While on talk, I searched Google for 'talk' and Google talk is way down on the results list still. I bet it will be the number one result pretty soon.

While still on talk, I found this. I bet chef talk is some educative experience for me!

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Here is a wow way to win all the books in the Booker long list. Anyone ready for a collaboration? We could split the books if we win :) I could recognize only B,G,I,N. Let me know.

Ring a bell?

Or am I the only one who thinks there is a similarity between Steve Martin and Vivek Oberoi though their individual features are not similar?

Funny are the ways of the mind I guess. I was watching the end of a Steve Martin movie on Star Movies last evening and somehow, suddenly, I could see a strong resemblance between Vivek Oberoi and him. Never struck me earlier. Whatever.

Both of them have scriptwrting on their resumes
Martin - known as one
Oberoi - started out as one
(And I am just marketing my similarity theory here:))

Friday, August 19, 2005

'Malligai Poo' Idlis

The one dominant memory of my childhood mornings is that of eating idlis for breakfast day-in and day-out. I had this totally "thayir" way of having idlis with lots of curd - essentially I mashed it and messed it so much to make the plate of idli seem like minced curd rice.

The good thing about idlis is that they are plain, safe and adaptable to a lot of combinations.

Although the precise history of the modern idli is unknown, it is a very old food in southern Indian cuisine. The first mention of it in writings occurs ca. 920 A.D., and it seems to have started as a dish made only of fermented urad dal. One description ca. 1025 says the lentils were first soaked in buttermilk, and after grinding, seasoned with pepper, coriander, cumin and asafoetida. The king and scholar Someshwara III, reigning in the area now called Karnataka, included an idli recipe in his encyclopedia, the Manasollasa, written in Sanskrit ca. 1130 A.D. There is no known record of rice being added until some time in the 17th century. It may have been found that the rice helped speed the fermentation process. Although the idli changed in ingredients, the preparation process and the name remained the same (Wiki).

Bacterial fermentation causes the batter to swell thus enabling fluffy idlis to create quite a fan following.

Idli is a small, white acid-leavened and steamed cake prepared by bacterial fermentation of a thick batter prepared from carefully washed rice and dehulled black gram dhal. The rice is coarsely ground and the black gram is finely ground. Dosa batter is very similar to idli batter, except that the rice and black gram are finely ground (

Perhaps Idli is the most sophisticated dish of its times uninfluenced by any foreign invasion. It originated in South India. The Rice and Urd Dal (Split Black beans) are soaked overnight, ground and let the mixture ferment overnight and then making dumplings in steam. According to age old myths, heavens send blessing through the Palm trees to the hands of the woman to cause fermentation. We know now that the fermentation is the result of air-born wild yeast, and has nothing to do with the Palm trees (Indiacurry).

While the belief that heavenly blessing to the hands of a woman causes fermentation may be archaic, it is still amazing how no two idli batters are the same. The maker does have magic - remember all those dialogues on several mouths about "amma oda idli" (my mother's idlis)?

There are umpteen idli places in Chennai - from steaming idlis served on the roadside to restaurants that use idlis as a marketing trump card. Soon after 'Murugan Idli' opened a couple of restaurants in Chennai, there was a 'Valli Idli' restaurant. The country of the original copy cats indeed :)

Finally, an idli addict's fantasy of starting an only-idli restaurant.

By the way, what is your favourite idli combination? I like them with coriander chutney or sambhar or tamarind chutney (other than curd of course!).

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

If you can replace your husband with your favourite books, which ones would it be? :)
(Let us do a version for the men. If you can replace your wife's wardrobe space with a sporting/gaming area, which game(s) would you choose?)

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Hurray for Anil Dash who completes six years of blogging.

Finally someone thought it made sense to release his movie on the Internet.

A smile for this dalliance of an idle mind.

Meg has been touching on Autism here and here. The examples that I have seen personally have all been due to the "assortative mating" of cousins.

The joy of the outdoor shower reminded me of the neat ones at the cottages in Coconut Lagoon in Kumarakom. It was a novel natural touch for the visitors.

The Intent Blog

Lots of good intent eh? (via selectiveamnesia)
Popular culture dictates how we live our lives. It dictates both what we consume and how we consume. It is the raw material of our collective imagination. It dictates our aspirations and our expectations.

INTENT intends to be at the vanguard of this global, cultural and economic shift. INTENT is not a vehicle to fulfil the personal ambitions of Shekhar Kapur and Deepak Chopra. It is the womb of creation that will nurture and unlock the creative and imaginative energies of Asian people as they become the prime cultural voice of the mass media in this brave new digital world.

The bloggers list is quite a Who's Who with the likes of my favourites Nandita Das, Rahul Bose, Rahul Khanna. Deepak Chopra & Shekar Kapur are the prime movers.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Banville on the Booker long list

Yesterday was the Booker long list day and I had been eagerly looking forward to it for a while. And 'eagerly looking forward to' does not translate to 'staying awake and checking email' in my vocabulary, so I checked the mailer from the Man Booker site this morning. A pretty good list and it created a nice pressure buzz in my head at the thought of heading to the bookstore the moment some of the expected ones are out.

After email I read this nice post about the long list and have been waiting to write my own two cents ever since. What excited me most about the list was John Banville's The Sea making it there. About seven years ago, I first picked up The Book of Evidence and was rudely disturbed by the thoughts that it made me think, the nights it made me toss about. The Book of Evidence, a brilliant piece of writing which made it to the Booker shortlist in 1989, made me examine my outlook to death and ask myself some queasy questions. While I have not read any other Banville, I have thought about BoE several times over the years. I made copious notes when I read it! Now is a good time to renew connection with The Sea.

The other thing is that I have read very few (just three) authors in that long list, have heard about a few more (just seven). The rest are fresh meat (never mind the horrible usage).

Sunday, August 07, 2005

And another August has come to renew my wedding vows (wows!).
Sometimes all that is needed to make one happy is the sign of happiness elsewhere. The latest Ananda Vikatan carries an article that talks about Mirchi Suchi (RJ Suchitra of Radio Mirchi) marrying Evam's Karthik in November. Two interesting people marrying each other was all I needed for my cup of happiness to overflow.
This triggered memories of a past lifetime filled with inked notes, fancy thoughts and loads of idealism. Now, whatever happened to my fountain pen?

Monday, August 01, 2005

Freshly brewed kaapi

A few days ago when I was blog-surfing, I came across this site. Given my predilection for anything related to coffee, I found its name 'Instant Kaapi', rather inviting. A few seconds at the site left me with a broad grin and misty eyes. I had just discovered a lost pal!

Hemanth and I used to sit in the same cabin a few years ago, the backs of our heads and our chairs facing each other while we carried on conversations about interesting trivia and tried to work at the same time. "Hemanth is not at his desk. May I take a message?", I had said those words several hundred times as the man's popularity attracted umpteen phone calls and personal visits to his desk.

On many late nights at work, I had cheered myself by looking at the giant size Michael Jordan poster that Hemanth had pasted on the glass wall to create some privacy for himself. I had shaken my head in amusement at his vast collection of memorabilia proudly displayed all around his work area.

There were moments of admiration every morning when he added new stuff to 'Pipeline' - the intranet site that he ran from his desktop. Mastermind and puzzle books used to be strewn around his machine often and every now and then he would suddenly turn around and say, "did you know that..."

Once he dragged along a very reluctant me to a Corporate India in the twenty-first century (something like that) presentation contest along with his close pal Pradeep (locate "The Catcher in the Rye" in that page to find Pradeep). And the preparation for that presentation had us in splits. Every time we tried to mock-present, one of us would say something funny and it would end up being a mocking session rather than a presenting session.

There were many such moments with Hemanth; moments that were fun, moments that were infuriating but moments that are fondly remembered. A delightful extrovert and a man of many talents, Hemanth was great company. So imagine my glee when I located him by sheer chance.

This little note is probably going to embarrass the man, but hey, my paean is sincere and everyone can use some publicity. Particularly a budding filmmaker.