Sunday, May 31, 2009

Ajmal Kasab on trial

It is six months since Ajmal Kasab, the lone terrorist captured alive during the 26/11 carnage at Mumbai was arrested. He is being tried in a special court in Mumbai. This morning I read in the newspaper about some light hearted banter between him and the special prosecutor, Ujwal Nikam.

It is really disturbing. The way the trial is proceeding, it almost looks like the trial of some petty thief or a regular murderer. After all the hullabaloo in the aftermath of the attacks, most people have forgotten all about it. Especially with the election and the IPL dramas that grabbed the collective attention of our nation.

What we are forgetting is that this was a direct attack on our country. This man was caught red-handed. He is on camera. There were hundreds of witnesses. Why do we need a regular trial? No, we are not a banana republic. So, we have a trial. But now that we have gone through the motions, let's get it over with.

Abbas Kazmi, Kasab's lawyer, in the name of doing his duty as a lawyer is taking his job a little too seriously. He is treating Kasab like an your run-of-the-mill criminal. Trying to prove that he is a minor and all. The Shiv Sena is unusually quiet. When Anjali Waghmare merely accepted that she would fight Kasab's case, they attacked her. Kazmi is doing things which are much more objectionable. This is the time they should really threaten him. Though I strongly condemn their methods, this is one time where I feel they could have done more!

What if a plane is hijacked and someone demands the release of Kasab? Or he escapes due to some security lapse? Who is going to responsible then? We have already had one bad experience with Maulana Masood Azhar and the Kandahar episode. The Indian government is extremely soft on terrorism. Afzal Guru remains alive till now. What is the delay in processing and rejecting his mercy petition?

The judge in the Kasab case must really act here. He should realize this is no ordinary trial. He should give the prosecution and the defense a day each to present their case and announce the verdict immediately. Only then will justice be served.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

To tell or not to tell

I have often been faced with the question - to tell or not to tell people I interact with about my kidney disease.

In my previous job, I started out with people I already knew directly or indirectly. So they all knew. And since they knew, the new people who joined also got to know. So, in my old company, pretty much everyone knew about my kidney disease.

In my new company, after I was told I was hired, I sent an honest email to my prospective employers about my kidney disease, what it entailed and also about how I was confident that it would not interfere with my normal work. I am not sure, six months down the line, if that turned out to be entirely true. My health has affected my normal work. But not my kidney disease per se. Totally unrelated health issues. Which anyone could have had.

The rest of my co-workers however were not aware. So, they would often wonder what the ugly bulge in my left upper arm was! I would catch their eye moving to it during a conversation and then quickly move back to my eyes as I caught them doing it! I totally understand their curiosity. My fistula is quite big!

Eventually, the question did come however.

"Did you have some accident? What happened to your arm?"

I usually decide to tell the truth. My kidney disease is not something I am ashamed of. However, I won't tell unless I am asked. If I am asked, I will tell the truth.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

No sugar, thank you!

At my office, we have a really good coffee machine. This machine makes very good coffee, freshly brewed and of the strength desired. There are hardly 5-6 people in my office. So, we do not as yet need an automated machine. We have a person called Chander Rao, who happens to be my boss' Man Friday who is entrusted with the task of making everyone's coffee.

So, Chander Rao, quite religiously goes about the routine twice a day. Takes the right amount of coffee powder, puts the right amount of water and lets the machine do its bit for the right length of time. He has also managed to get the temperature of the milk and the amount of froth just right by using the built in heating plate and stirrer.

However, sugar turns out to be his Achilles' heel. He can never get it right. He puts just too much sugar! I have tried telling him but he just doesn't get it. And to make things worse, he doesn't mix the sugar well. As a result, the first few sips are all right. But as you make your way through the rest of the cup, the taste gets increasingly sweeter. And by the time you are having your last few sips, it is almost like having sugar syrup!

So, the choice before me was fairly simple - coffee with a sugar concentration gradient or no sugar at all. I chose the latter.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

People, please get your birthdays right!

For the second time this month, I wished someone ahead of time. Very few people had wished me on my birthday last year. So, I decided to wish as many people as I could this year on their birthday / marriage anniversary / lost-their-virginity anniversary / whatever.

I am a compulsive Facebook and Orkut checker every morning. And both these sites helpfully offer you reminders about your friends' birthdays. So I started wishing everyone whose birthday showed up. I have this nifty little Keynote file that allows you to design simple cards using custom images and custom messages. In under a minute I would be done designing and sending a card. Many people who did not expect me to wish them were quite pleasantly surprised that I wished them.

A couple of weeks back, during my ritual checking of birthdays for the day one morning, I noticed on Facebook that it was my friend LN's birthday. Promptly, I did my stuff, opened up the Keynote file and created the card and sent it.

A couple of hours later, to my shock and dismay, I got an email from LN thanking me for the wishes, adding however that it was not his birthday! What was the wrong date doing on Facebook, I enquired? He said he did not know how the wrong date got there. But promised to change it soon.

A couple of days back, exactly the same thing - with another friend called Shravan. Facebook 'reminded' me of the birthday. I designed the card and sent it only to be told that the birthday was actually next month.

So much for making an effort! Kartik removed his birthdate from his social networking profiles. He says only those who actually remember his birthday should wish him (hint, hint!). That way, I will end up not wishing anyone! I hope no one follows his advice atleast on this!

While on birthdays, you must check out the site Greetos. It is an excellent site where you can design your own card and send it. Much better than the one-size-fits-all solution. They have an excellent collection of images and animated graphics which can really make a unique and attractive card.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The roller coaster ride of life with CKD

Life with CKD can be full of ups and downs. For a while, everything seems all right. You feel good. Your energy levels are good. You haven't had too much trouble lately. And then suddenly, without warning, boom, something totally unexpected hits you right in the face.

One major problem with kidney disease is its effect on the rest of the body. Dialysis is bad enough to deal with. When your other organs start getting effected, things can become really difficult. You start getting effected by things which are big enough to handle on their own.

Even with daily nocturnal dialysis, these side effects of kidney disease can be quite overwhelming. Its almost as if God (or whatever) says, "Ok, now you've had enough of peace for a while. Take this, and this and this. Now, let's see how you handle this!"

I often wish kidney disease was the only thing I had to manage. Its not fair really. To saddle folks with kidney disease with all these other things. Is it not enough?

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Marriage and Kidney Disease

I recently learnt that someone I knew as a fellow dialyzor at the unit I went to for a few months got married to someone he was seeing for a few years. I was really happy to hear this. He was a few years younger than me, was on dialysis for a while and had a successful living related donor transplant at the same hospital. He is also working in the software industry.

This is a very tricky issue for most people. There are just too many factors at play here. The life of someone with kidney disease is already quite complicated. If you are on dialysis, you are leading a life where you have to compromise on many things. Yes, nocturnal daily dialysis does reduce the compromises that you have to make but its not as if you can lead an absolutely normal life. For people on in-center, twice or thrice a week dialysis, it is all the more difficult to balance the adjustments one has to make due to marriage with the rigors of being on dialysis.

Dialysis is often accompanied by a host of co-morbidities, conditions triggered by the lack of functioning kidneys. Almost every organ in the body can be affected. Health related issues become the central aspect of the life of a person on dialysis. Well, there are exceptions. Samiir Halady, for example. But I don't know how many people are like him.

After a transplant, things improve somewhat. But it is not all roses, either. The medication that needs to be taken after a transplant has a host of side effects. There is also the constant fear of something going wrong. The entire process takes a heavy mental toll. Also, after a few years you have to go back to being on dialysis. An understanding spouse can make a huge difference. But someone with a little less patience or understanding can ruin the life of both.

In this case, the guy and the girl were seeing each other probably before the diagnosis of CKD was made. It is really commendable that the girl stood by the guy through all the upheavals in his life and they finally got married. I don't think there are too many girls who would do that.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The farce called secularism

I have been watching the political drama unfold on television every evening with horror. We are close to the denouement. No more are there any pretensions of ideology, no empty rhetoric, no tall claims of national interest. Everything is out in the open. It is all about numbers.

The Left will support the Congress 'to keep the BJP out'. What kind of a reason is that? Every party has only one agenda - to keep the BJP out. If that was the sole intention of going into the elections, why did these parties not fight the elections as a single alliance? The Congress clearly stated that they are going it alone in the polls. Now they have started talking to all parties (even at the possible expense of their current allies!). If this is not political opportunism, what is?

The BJP, in contrast, has fought the elections along with its allies under the banner of the NDA. Every constituent accepted L. K. Advani as its candidate for the post of Prime Minister.

The demands that are now being made for supporting a Congress-led government have reached ridiculous levels. The Samajwadi Party is the most unabashed of them all. Amar Singh, their pimp-in-chief can justify anything. The guy really has some gall. He can sleep with the Congress and the BJP without letting either of them know. He and his party are one of the most morally bankrupt group in the country today. They have no ideology, no morals, no ethics.

Coming back to the main point of today's post, I find the way political leasers abuse the word secularism really despicable. What is secularism? In our country, it has come to mean only one thing - anti-BJPism. Every party mouths the word to refer to keeping the BJP out.

They do it like they are doing some divine duty. As if God had entrusted the task of keeping the BJP out of power to them. Parties who were fighting like animals until a few days back are now apologizing to each other and willing to talk 'to keep the BJP out'. How can two parties who have fought each other so bitterly come together to form a government?

There can be only one solution to this mess. Only pre-poll alliances should be considered while inviting a party to form the government.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mental weakness

Its almost twelve years since I was diagnosed with kidney disease. As the neurologist pointed out the other day, for more than a third of my life, this disease has been the central aspect of my life. A chronic condition like this can take quite a big mental toll.

I find that my ability to weather the normal, not related to kidney disease, ups and downs of life has reduced significantly. A small incident here, a minor problem there and I find myself getting all worked up and disturbed. Its like a small pebble thrown in a lake causing huge waves. Totally out of proportion.

Its not as if I get frustrated about my condition. I have (for the most part) made peace with my kidney disease. I have accepted it as part of my life. But along with this, to bear other mundane problems of regular life becomes too much for me to handle. I get totally flustered and scared.

I really don't know how to handle these problems. They are not within my control. They are caused by external circumstances and people. I only have to react to them. That's where I fail. At work, at home, everyday, these small little things happen, beyond my control, but spoil my peaceful existence. Disturb the balance in my mind.

I can handle my kidney disease well. I cannot handle things beyond that.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Password protecting folders in Apache on Mac OS X Leopard

I struggled for many hours to password protect a few folders inside my Apache web server. This is what I was trying to do. I had some images inside a folder inside the document root. I needed them there so that my application could access them off the web server. The key however was to disallow non authorized users to access them.

Kartik had suggested looking into htaccess that basically allowed you to do this in Apache. However, there are some tweaks that are needed on Mac OS X before this can work.

Here are the steps that can be followed to do this:

1. Edit your Apache config file which, on Mac OS X Leopard is /private/etc/apache2/httpd.conf. Look for the line:

AllowOverride None

Note that there could be multiple such lines. Look for one that is below comments similar to the following:

# AllowOverride controls what directives may be placed in .htaccess files.
# It can be "All", "None", or any combination of the keywords:
# Options FileInfo AuthConfig Limit

Change the above line to:

AllowOverride All

2. Next, create a file called .htaccess with the following contents:

AuthName "Server Access"
AuthType Digest
require valid-user

Save this file and copy to the folders you require to be password protected.

3. That's it! You can now use your OS username and passwords to access the restricted folders.

To figure this out took me hours of pain and a whole lot of trials and errors. Finally, got it to work!

Google yielded umpteen links. Many of them suggested a .htpasswd file that had the username and an encrypted password. You then need to give the path of this file in your .htaccess file. This should also work. For some reason it did not work for me.

Transplant decision revisited

An old friend recently got in touch with me. He is now a doctor in the US. He got to know about my renal condition and we discussed my long term plans.

He asked me about a second transplant. I told him about my decision to not go for another transplant for now. He thought I should give it a shot especially since I am young. He felt the quality of life would be much better after a transplant.

I have been thinking about this for the last couple of days.

The main problem in my case is that my primary disease, Hemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS) is such that chances of recurrence are high in the transplanted kidney. The first time round, they sort-of concluded that the cause of the transplant failure was HUS recurrence. But I don't think they were sure enough. I had the slides seen by Neeraja, a relative and friend who is a nephro-pathologist. She thought it could be either HUS recurrence or cycolsporin toxicity.

The truth is at the time of my first transplant, I did not push hard enough for conclusive evidence of the cause of the transplant not working out. There were some other complications and these were not logged well enough. I wish I had started blogging (even though the term wasn't even coined back then!). I would have had a clear record of the sequence of events.

This is so important. Today, I am not really sure. The exact details of the first transplant would have been invaluable to decide on a second transplant.

The primary factor dissuading me from going in for a second transplant is that the doctors here are not aggressive enough in dealing with complications. When I talk to different doctors about a transplant, I get the feeling that they are trying to avoid a transplant for me. Probably because they are not sure about what to do.

The record for transplants has also not been very encouraging here. KIMS, the hospital where I had registered saw a flurry of transplants for a couple of years. Things have slowed down following the death of four successive transplant recipients. They have barely had a couple of transplants in the past six months.

I don't think the medical infrastructure here is capable of handling my transplant. It is not practical for me to undergo a transplant elsewhere. So, I guess, my decision of not going in for a transplant stands 'for now'.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

What was that again?

It was during the last days of engineering college. Results were announced. Everybody pretty much was clear about their future plans. We had all gathered in college to say our final goodbyes. We would probably not talk to or see many of these folks again. Or so we thought. There was no orkut or facebook in those days! Social networking sites have changed all that.

There was this trend of having something like a scrapbook that had pages for all your friends to fill in. Some were simple with just a few lines to scrawl a quick message. Some were more elaborate that had things like "Your dream for life" and "Idea of a great vacation". I had the second kind.

So, I went around meeting everyone and having them fill up my scrapbook and filling theirs in return.

There was a cute girl in my class. A lot of people were very much in awe of her. I took no particular fancy to her. But her group of friends and my group of friends were well, friends. Not too close but we got along well.

I took my book to her to fill. She filled it and returned it to me. I noted she had filled Mohd. Rafi for favorite singer. That happened to be my favorite singer too! Then there was a question, "Your idea of a best friend". In that she wrote, "Must be your types".

For a moment I was shocked! My types? What was this girl saying? It took a few minutes for me to realize that she meant "must be of the same wavelength as the individual"!!!

Some phrases take some getting used to!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Facebook foibles

Recently, a cousin created a collage of the names of all his friends and relatives. A lot of effort probably went into it. He then put it up on Facebook and tagged all the people.

What happened after this is crazy.

Every time anyone commented on the photo, every single person (there were probably 20-25 people) got an email saying "XYZ commented on a photo of you". Gosh, there was a surfeit of emails for about a week on the subject.

In this process, I got to know a whole lot (not that I cared!) about all my cousin's friends including the fact that a certain Sohini preferred being called Payal!

This is something that they really need to fix.

People should be able to view comments only of people they are friends with. For example, let's say Aditya, my friend updates his status. Yes, definitely, I should be able to see that. But if Tom, who happens to be Aditya's friend and not mine, comments on the status, why should I be able to see that? Only Aditya and others who happen to be both Aditya's and Tom's friends should be able to see the comment. Right?

No, no, don't tell me there is a setting to do this. The default should be this way. Only if a person is on your friend's list should you be able to see anything posted by that person. And anyway, have you tried going to the settings page on Facebook? It is a warning not to mess with anything. There is this huge list. I could not figure out what exact options I needed to modify to be able to change anything.

The current default behavior psyches me out sometimes. When I comment on a friend's status/pic/whatever, there are potentially many unknown people who can read that.

Really, this must change.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Devotional Sufi music

I had posted about my fascination for devotional sufi music a while back. I had listed a few songs there of which I was looking for digital versions.

I am glad to report that I was recently able to get all the songs I was looking for online! Goes to show how much music piracy is growing!

All these songs have a base in Islam and related teachings.

I am basically an atheist - in the sense that I do not believe in the concept of a single all-powerful, just and kind God. All these songs are however, based on this concept. They praise this God and ask him for divine blessings.

So, yes, there is a contradiction at some level.

But I really am lured to the concept of bhakti to an almighty. Though I do not believe that there exists an almighty that can give you anything or solve any of your problems, I like the concept of singing sings that ask for this, knowing fully well that none of this is going to really happen! It gives rise to a really good feeling within me and I do this just for that experience.


How many times have you learned how to sing a song and wished there was a way you could have the background music playing while you sang it?

Vinayaditya, a friend of mine gave me the link to a site that provides just this service. He gave me this link a year or so back. I finally got down to buying a couple of songs to try them out. They are really good.

They have two kinds of services. One is an mp3 with the background score of the song you need. The other is actually a video that has the background score and a display of the lyrics as you should sing them. Really amazing.

I had actually tried just the mp3 version when Vinay gave me the link but that needs quite a bit of practice since you have to time yourself perfectly to not sound horribly out of pace! I just bought a couple of video versions just now and they are truly a treat!

So, all you budding singers - have a ball!