11-17 Jun, 2013
small world
Humourless in Hyderabad

HYDERABAD ~ Laughter is really not the best medicine, especially for animals—at least according to the Andhra Pradesh Forest Department, which has ordered a laughter club evicted from a national park, reasoning that it disturbs animals.

The KBR Haasya Yoga Club meets daily at KBR National Park, a piece of lush forest in the heart of Hyderabad. Recently, they were told to take their laughter out of the park. Forest officials told them that the loud sounds were scaring away birds and animals. Members of the club were not amused and have contested the ban as an infringement of their fundamental rights.

Club member OA Seth says regular doses of willful laughter can help cure or control lifestyle diseases, depression, anxiety and cardiac disease. “The Forest Department’s objections are completely unreasonable. We have the right to de-stress ourselves by laughing out loud and nobody can stop that,’’ he adds.

The 350 acre park straddles Banjara Hills and Jubilee Hills, two prime zones of real estate, and is managed by the state Forest Department. It is home to 600 species of plants, 30 varieties of butterflies, 140 bird species and some reptiles. Forest officials say some of that fauna could be affected by the loud laughing.

The laughter club has moved a plea against the eviction in the Andhra High Court and recently got a stay order. The Court directed officials to earmark an area of the park premises for the club’s members. However, the Department has indicated it will contest the order. It says that the Wildlife Protection Act bars people from making loud noises, including laughing, inside any national park.

An officer incharge of the park says that “though the court has asked us to demarcate a spot for club members, there is no scope to do such a thing under the law.’’

The club has for the time being shifted to a vacant plot of land near the park, but will not relent in its struggle to assert the right to have a laugh. What remains to be seen is who will have the last one.

Take Two
The ‘Why’ Delusion
Let’s stop making silly assumptions about what drove Jiah Khan to suicide

It is entirely justified to sneer at what you see on news channels or in newspapers, but the Indian media is still genuine in one respect—most of what they do is done in your service. The sensitivities of Times Now and the wider public are often in tune, even if it is at its shallowest best. If melodrama did not work, Arnab Goswami would not be jumping up and down his seat. That is why the media’s response to anything can be ridiculed, but not ignored. This applies to Jiah Khan’s suicide as well.

Headlines on her death were along this line: ‘Fading career or failed love life? Actor Jiah Khan ends life.’ Most people have two questions on hearing about such a suicide: why did she do it and who was responsible? Only policemen and columnists have the ability to spell out the exact answers with the conviction of priests. In Jiah’s case, we are told it could have been a cheating boyfriend, her career going nowhere, or some combination thereof. Bollywood is said to be in some way responsible. Shobhaa Dé wrote a piece in Mumbai Mirror which said: ‘Showbiz is a voraciously hungry monster that devours the unwary.’ It must have taken some effort to cobble these words together, but they do not really mean anything. She also used the example of Parveen Babi, calling it a ‘scarily similar tragedy’. It is not similar. Babi was a schizophrenic, and Jiah, by accounts of her family and acquaintances, suffered from depression. It does not take a psychiatrist to make a distinction between the two conditions.

If suicide could be so easily explained, the majority of us would be killing ourselves. There is no reason for most human beings to stay alive, given that we are a desperately unhappy species. Yet only a fraction take such a step. Imagine that evolution is like a magnificent software program, exponentially adding lines of code to itself by the minute. At its core, it has a single word that even viruses are beholden to—‘survive’. Committing suicide demands a phenomenal act of will. You must cut your way through all that evolutionary baggage and then smash the command of that one word. The loophole in this is that most suicides are impulsive. But even for that, help is needed from genes. He or she would have to be clinically depressed, which in many cases is a function of DNA. There also needs to be a genetic predisposition towards suicide. A few years ago, Dr John Mann of the New York State Psychiatric Institute found an association of a variant of a gene called RGS2 in people with suicidal tendencies. Many other studies also correlate suicide with genetics.

In the United States, the best regarded manual for psychiatry—some call it the profession’s Bible—is Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. When its latest edition was released recently, it proposed that suicide be seen as a sign of a mental disorder. New Scientist ran an article on this last month under the headline ‘Suicidal behaviour is a disease, psychiatrists argue.’ It said that there is ‘mounting evidence showing that the brains of people who have committed suicide have striking similarities, quite distinct from what is seen in the brains of people who have similar mood disorders but who died of natural causes.’

The question of why or who was responsible for Jiah’s suicide is secondary, maybe even redundant. A failed love affair or a career reversal could be a trigger, but then who does not suffer these?

Suicide is also legitimate so long as it is an objective and clear-headed decision. Unless you are blinded by absurd religious ideas like your life being God’s property, it is hard to see why a terminally ill patient should not be granted this option. If society comes to accept or regulate suicide, then that could mean better deaths for those who take their lives in horribly painful ways like self-immolation. A Jiah Khan would still not have been a candidate for that. There was perhaps an underlying medical condition that made her do it. Maybe all she needed was a good doctor.

Body Memory
Would You Eat Your Password?

Sick of remembering all the passwords and authentication information needed to access data, Regina Dugan, a Motorola executive, proposed a solution at the recent D11 conference--pills and tattoos.“Authentication is irritating. So irritating that only about half the people do it, even though there’s a lot of information about you on your smart phone,” Dugan was quoted as saying in a Discovery News report. One of the ideas Motorola presented was the ‘vitamin authentication’ pill—a small tablet containing an electronic chip. After you swallow this tablet, your stomach acts as an electrolyte for the chip’s battery, powering it and making the entire body an authentication token, which can be activated by touch. Dugan herself had an electronic tattoo, printed on her skin like a barcode, that enabled authentication. How Motorola plans to market this technology is unclear.