Friday, December 28, 2007

Hepatitis E leads to viral jaundice in Hyderabad

December 2007
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Dec 27: A little known hepatitis E virus is responsible for spread of viral hepatitis (jaundice) in Hyderabad.
The viral hepatitis, caused by hepatitis E virus, remains mostly undiagnosed for the simple reason that doctors go in for serum tests for more famous cousins of HEV, the hepatitis A and hepatitis B viruses. Tests for hepatitis A and B viruses do not reveal the presence of HEV and the patient silently suffers till the immunity builds up or some health expert chances upon the HEV test.
A study conducted by P Sarguna, A Rao and KN Sudha Ramana of the city-based Sir Ronald Ross Institute of Tropical and Communicable Diseases (Fever Hospital), during a recent waterborne outbreak of viral hepatitis in old city, revealed that 78.57 per cent of the cases related to hepatitis E while 5.31 per cent of the cases were because of mixed infection caused by HEV and HAV.
As many as 546 clinically and biochemically documented cases were screened for the hepatotropic viral markers, hepatitis A, B, C, and E by ELISA method. The study revealed that HEV was the major etiological agent transmitted by contaminated drinking water. The researchers highlighted the importance of screening for both enterically (oral route) transmitted hepatotropic viral markers as well as the parenterally (other than oral route) transmitted hepatotropic viral markers during outbreaks of acute viral hepatitis in Hyderabad and elsewhere in the State.
Since the development of jaundice is a characteristic feature of liver disease
(in all hepatitis viral strains), a correct diagnosis can only be made by testing
the serum of patient for the presence of specific viral antigens.
Hepatitis E infection was hitherto considered to be present only in Central and South-East Asia, North and West Africa, and in Mexico, although serological surveys suggest a global distribution of strains of hepatitis E of low pathogenicity. Hyderabad generally has cases of hepatitis A, B and C and now the E strain of the hepatitis virus has made its presence felt in this part of the world.
"Hepatitis E should be suspected in outbreaks of waterborne hepatitis occurring in developing countries, especially if the disease is more severe in pregnant women, or if hepatitis A has been excluded. If laboratory tests are not available, epidemiological evidence can help in establishing a diagnosis," the WHO says in its latest guidelines. The city study on HEV gains significance in the backdrop of these WHO suggestions.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Little known hepatitis E virus spreads jaundice in Hyderabad

By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Dec 27: A little known hepatitis E virus is responsible for spread of viral hepatitis (jaundice) in Hyderabad.
The viral hepatitis, caused by hepatitis E virus, remains mostly undiagnosed for the simple reason that doctors go in for serum tests for more famous cousins of HEV, the hepatitis A and hepatitis B viruses. Tests for hepatitis A and B viruses do not reveal the presence of HEV and the patient silently suffers till the immunity builds up or some health expert chances upon the HEV test.
A study conducted by P Sarguna, A Rao and KN Sudha Ramana of the city-based Sir Ronald Ross Institute of Tropical and Communicable Diseases (Fever Hospital), during a recent waterborne outbreak of viral hepatitis in old city, revealed that 78.57 per cent of the cases related to hepatitis E while 5.31 per cent of the cases were because of mixed infection caused by HEV and HAV.
As many as 546 clinically and biochemically documented cases were screened for the hepatotropic viral markers, hepatitis A, B, C, and E by ELISA method. The study revealed that HEV was the major etiological agent transmitted by contaminated drinking water. The researchers highlighted the importance of screening for both enterically (oral route) transmitted hepatotropic viral markers as well as the parenterally (other than oral route) transmitted hepatotropic viral markers during outbreaks of acute viral hepatitis in Hyderabad and elsewhere in the State.
Since the development of jaundice is a characteristic feature of liver disease (in all hepatitis viral strains), a correct diagnosis can only be made by testing the serum of patient for the presence of specific viral antigens.
Hepatitis E infection was hitherto considered to be present only in Central and South-East Asia, North and West Africa, and in Mexico, although serological surveys suggest a global distribution of strains of hepatitis E of low pathogenicity. Hyderabad generally has cases of hepatitis A, B and C and now the E strain of the hepatitis virus has made its presence felt in this part of the world.
"Hepatitis E should be suspected in outbreaks of waterborne hepatitis occurring in developing countries, especially if the disease is more severe in pregnant women, or if hepatitis A has been excluded. If laboratory tests are not available, epidemiological evidence can help in establishing a diagnosis," the WHO says in its latest guidelines. The city study on HEV gains significance in the backdrop of these WHO suggestions.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Tribes in NE link India, SE Asia

December 26, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Dec 25: The Northeast India provides the signatures of genetic link between Indian and Southeast Asian populations.
A joint study by the city-based Biological Anthropology Unit of the Indian Statistical Institute and the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology
reveals that Austro-Asiatic Khasi tribes of Northeast India represent a genetic
continuity between the populations of South and Southeast Asia. The study suggested that India could have been a major corridor for the movement of populations from India to East/Southeast Asia.
Northeast India, the only region which currently forms a land bridge between the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, has been proposed for long as an important corridor for the initial peopling of East Asia. Given that the Austro-Asiatic linguistic family is considered to be the oldest and spoken by certain tribes in India, Northeast India and entire Southeast Asia, the city-based researchers from ISI and CCMB expected that populations of this family from Northeast India should provide the signatures of genetic link between Indian and Southeast Asian populations.
The scientists studied eight groups of the Austro-Asiatic Khasi from Northeast India and the neighbouring Garo and compared with that of other relevant Asian populations. The results suggested that the Austro-Asiatic Khasi tribes of Northeast India represent a genetic continuity between the populations of South and Southeast Asia, thereby advocating that Northeast India could have been a major corridor for the movement of populations from India to East/Southeast Asia.
The researchers, B Mohan Reddy, Vikrant Kumar, K Thangaraj and Lalji Singh, said the Indian subcontinent had been considered as a major corridor for the migration of human populations to East Asia. This region is inhabited by populations belonging to Indo-European, Tibeto-Burman and Austro-Asiatic linguistic families.
"Whereas Indo-European populations are also found in other parts of India, West Asia and Europe but absent in East Asia, Tibeto-Burman populations are otherwise found only in East Asia. However, Austro-Asiatic speakers, hypothesised as probably the earliest settlers in the Indian subcontinent are also found in other parts of India as well as in East/Southeast Asia.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Vizag links obesity, diabetes

December 23, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Dec 22: Researchers from Andhra University have discovered the specific genetic link between obesity and diabetes mellitus or type-2 diabetes. Though obesity has oft been linked to type 2 diabetes (patients suffering from this type of diabetes need no insulin), there has been no conclusive data on how it works out.
Obesity is an important component of metabolic syndrome X and predisposes to the development of type 2 diabetes. Moreover, it is not clear how genetic factors interact with environmental and dietary factors to increase the incidence. Andhra University researchers have found a genetic link between overweight and diabetes mellitus.
The study gains significance in the backdrop of Andhra Pradesh gaining the dubious distinction of being the diabetes capital of India. Within Andhra Pradesh, Hyderabad city leads the number of diabetic patients.
The researchers, Undurti N Das and Allam A Rao, performed gene expression profile in subjects with obesity and type 2 diabetes with and without family history of the disease. They noted that genes involved in carbohydrate, lipid and amino acid metabolism pathways and other factors were upregulated in obesity compared to healthy subjects.
"In contrast genes involved in cell adhesion molecules and insulin signalling and immune system pathways are downregulated in obese. Genes involved in inflammatory pathway are differentially expressed both in obesity and type 2 diabetes. These results suggest that genes concerned with carbohydrate, lipid and amino acid metabolic pathways play a significant role in the pathobiology of obesity and type 2
diabetes," they said.
Dr Das and Dr Rao obtained blood samples from healthy normal, healthy but was overweight, obese, persons with type 2 diabetes with family history and those with type 2 diabetes with no family history of diabetes.
All these subjects were matched for age, gender, and body mass index. RNA was extracted from the peripheral blood leukocytes from these subjects. Gene expression values were obtained for 39,400 genes for each individual. Later, they did a comparison study to arrive at the conclusion that the genes that deal with carbohydrate and other metabolic pathways in obese persons lead to diabetes mellitus.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Consumers to fight against fish pollution

December 2007
Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Dec 17: With incidents of fish pollution on the increase in the country, a group of fish consumers has formed themselves into a formidable force to fight against polluting industries.
Polluted fish is a silent killer, affecting the brain, kidneys and blood of those who consume it quite frequently. According to an estimate about 50 per cent of fish produced is contaminated with heavy metals. Even the catch from the ocean is polluted with heavy metals that are capable of killing an unborn child in mother's womb.
The Coastal Andhra Fish Favourites' Association will launch legal battles against polluting pharmaceutical and industrial units that let out untreated pollutants into water bodies. So far, there's no consumer body in the country to take interest in the health of people who eat fish, though many State governments have been recommending use of fish in regular diet to keep oneself in good health. The Association will also simultaneously launch a social awareness campaign.
"The importance of fish in one's daily diet has gained momentum of late. More and more number of doctors and dieticians are encouraging patients as well as the healthy to consume fish in sufficiently large quantities for good health and extra brain power. But polluted fish is doing more harm than good. We are fish lovers and want healthy fish," says S Bhujanga Rao and Shaik Ali Shah of the Association.
About 1000 fish lovers got the idea of forming themselves into a consumer rights force after they noticed that a variety of fish that otherwise commanded a price of Rs 100 per kg was being sold for just Rs 40 a kg because of pollutants let out by an industry in Bhimli town in Visakhapatnam district.
Fish consumer movement gains significance in Andhra Pradesh as the State is the largest producer of fish in the country contributing to more than 10 per cent of total fish production, including marine. The fish industry contributes 2.3 per cent to the GSDP and the net produce is worth about Rs 7,000 crore. Research studies have revealed that most of the fish is polluted with heavy metals like mercury and lead which continues to accumulate in the human body with a synergetic effect.
Results showed that fish contained enough mercury to kill an unborn child. Women who consume fish more than two times a week showed seven times more mercury in their blood levels. In the case of children the accumulation is as high as 40 times.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Children to get HIB and second dose of measles vaccine

December 2007
By Syed Akbar
Seoul, Dec 14: Indian children will get a second dosage of measles vaccine even as the Central government has decided to take up vaccination againstpneumococcal diseases in certain pockets of the country to reduce the under five childhood deaths by at least 30 per cent in the next eight years.
With the World Health Organisation fixing 2015 as the target year to bring down child mortality rate for countries by one-third, the Indian government had decided to introduce second dosage of vaccination against the deadly measles. Presently, children get just one dosage of measles vaccine under the national immunization programme. The booster dose is to ensure complete control of the disease.
Similarly, immunisation against the other major child health menace caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae will be taken up as part of the national rural health mission in select places to study the efficacy or otherwise of the HIB (haemophilus influenza type B) and pneumococcal conjugate vaccine. The World Health Organisation has already sounded alert on burden of pneumococcal diseases on Indian children.
Indian Council of Medical Research director-general Dr NK Ganguly told this correspondent that the second dosage of measles vaccine would effectively prevent measles in children particularly in backward regions and States. “We will include HIB vaccine from the new year under national immunization programme. As far as pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is concerned, we will first take up a study in five or six pockets before deciding on the future course of action,” Dr Ganguly said on the sidelines of the first symposium on pneumococcal vaccination in the Asia Pacific
Region being held in this South Korean Capital city.
Senior paediatricians Dr Nitin Shah and Dr Shyam Kukreja quoting WHO statistics said pneumonia was responsible for 19 per cent of under five deaths and around five lakh children under the age of five die every year because of the disease.
“In India, 30 per cent of all bacterial meningitis cases are caused by pneumococcal disease and 30 per cent of all pneumonia cases are also caused by the same bacteria,” they said.
Experts and policy makers from 20 countries attending the pneumococcal meet, organized by the International Vaccine Institute, formed themselves into Asian Strategic Alliance for Pneumococcal Disease Prevention to spread awareness in the region on the need to control vaccine-preventable
diseases, particularly those caused by pneumonia. India, China and Pakistan together contribute almost 45 per cent of all under five childhood deaths in the world.
“ICMR is collaborating research on indigenous production of vaccines to bring down the total cost. Three Indian pharmaceutical companies are conducting the research. Presently the cost of vaccination is prohibitive,” Dr Ganguly said, adding that the HIB vaccination would be taken up with funding from the Global Alliance for Vaccine Immunisation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
Dr Ganguly said the ICMR had also started an aerosol measles vaccine trial with the financial support from GAVI, which is funding 71 other poor countries.
A large animal facility on a corporate model will come up in Hyderabad to promote drug development and pharmacological research.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Injections set to become passe

December 2007
By Syed Akbar
Seoul, Dec 13: Painful injections for immunisation will soon become a thing of the past thanks to a pioneering research by the International Vaccine Institute here.
Vaccine drops can be simply put below one's tongue (sub-lingual) to prevent diseases of the lungs and the stomach. Vaccination through the mucus of the tongue is far more effective, cheaper and painless. Studies by IVI showed that the sub-lingual method of immunisation was better than oral or nasal administration.
"Since many people are afraid of injections, we are working on the methods to deliver vaccines for pneumococcal (lung) diseases and those of the enteric (digestive system) through the mucus of the tongue. Just put a drop and it starts working immediately without any side effects. Our results on mice have been successful and we are in the clinical trial stage II. It will be available in the market soon," Dr Konrad Stadler, senior scientist of International Vaccine Institute, told this correspondent.
Scientists in the IVI's virology section examined the potential of sublingual delivery of vaccine in mice. The study showed the existence of a dense network of dendritic cells in the epithelium and a rapid and transient increase in the frequency of dendrite cells after topical application of cholera toxin adjuvant under the tongue. "Sub-lingual immunization was comparable to intranasal immunization and was superior to oral immunization regarding the magnitude and anatomic dissemination of the induced immune responses," he said.
Moreover, sub-lingual administration of live influenza virus at a dose lethal by the nasal route was well tolerated and did not redirect virus to the olfactory (nose) bulb. These features underscore the potential of the sub-lingual mucosa to serve as an alternative vaccine delivery route.
The results of the IVI's study were presented on the occasion of the first symposium on pneumococcal vaccination in Asia-Pacific region that began in this South Korean Capital city on Thursday. Leading experts, policymakers, decision-makers, and opinion leaders from more than 20 countries from the Asia-Pacific Region have proposed solutions to fight against childhood pneumonia, considered the first cause of children's deaths in developing countries around the world.
Among all child deaths associated with pneumonia, 50 per cent are associated with the bacterium *Streptococcus pneumoniae* which is believed to cause seven lakh to 10 lakh deaths annually among children less than five years of age.
"Pneumococcal conjugate vaccines capable of protecting against seven of the most common serotypes of this organism are currently available for introduction into routine infant immunization programs. These vaccines could potentially save about half a million lives every year. India is one of the top five Asian countries where the burden of pneumococcal disease is quite high," said Dr Luis Jodar, IVI deputy director-general.
The sub-lingual vaccine will be delivered using a polymer which is capableof gelling in-situ in contact with body fluids, including the oral fluid. It adheres to the mucus and stays in the tongue region for a long time with a sustained antigen release. In addition, the polymer has an antigen stabilization effect. The formulation can be prepared in various forms - a liquid, a soft gel, a powder, or a dried pad.
Sublingual technology would allow for needle-free self-administration of the vaccines which should significantly reduce the number of trained professionals typically required for large immunization programs. Also there's no need for cold storage and thus can be transported to even the remotest places. The dosage will also come down by 10 to 100 times, reducing the risk of reaction to drug.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Recurrent Spontaneous Abortions: Thousands silently suffer in India

December 10, 2007
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Thousands of young couples in India silently undergo the trauma of frequent loss of pregnancy though they are physically and biologically active and healthy. The couples do have any known causes for frequent abortions. They simply conceive but the foetus is ejected out by the time it attains the age of 20 weeks.
This unexplained loss of pregnancy that occurs quite frequently in some couples is known in the medical circles as Recurrent Spontaneous Abortions or Habitual Miscarriage. Doctors and medical researchers world-wide are perplexed at the phenomenon as the couples who suffer from the problem do not have any deformities or health related problems.
RSA is loss of two or more consecutive pregnancies before 20 weeks of gestation, which takes into consideration that a woman over 35 years is at greater risk for pregnancy loss than a 25 year old woman.
The Hyderabad-based Biological Anthropology Unit of the Indian Statistical Institute has, in its primary investigations, found that a hitherto unstudied genetic factor might be playing a crucial role in couples who lose babies before the 20th week of conception.
A team of researchers at the Indian Statistical Institute is exploring the possibility of Human Leukocyte Antigens (HLA) playing a key role in the early termination of pregnancies. The HLA genes are the main genetic determinants of the repertoire of possible immune responses of an individual. They play critical role throughout pregnancy by influencing gamete development, embryo cleavage, blastocysts and trophoblast formation, implantation, foetal development and survival.
"In some couples with RSA, where no certain diagnosis has been possible, HLA antigens might be playing a role at the maternal foetal interface. The foetus being semi-allogenic might face a rejection from the maternal antibodies if there is increased HLA sharing among the couple," points out Prof B Mohan Reddy. It is the first-ever study that links HLA antigens with the RSA factor.
Aruna Bezwada, one of the researchers involved in the study, told this correspondent that they have selected 150 couples with cases of frequent pregnancy failure and another 150 couples with at least one viable child for the controlled group. "Unlike earlier studies where research has been done only on women, we have taken couples for the present study," she points out.
In the absence of a definite diagnosis, couples of RSA problem undergo various experiments at the hands of their physicians often leading to complications. The present study will give a better understanding of the problem so that couples of RSA can go in for definite medical treatment and bear children.
At of now genetic basis of RSA is poorly understood. Single gene mutations, polygenic and cytogenetic factors are all found to show association with RSA.
"In Indian culture, having a baby is a life changing experience for the couple. There is no reliable estimate of the magnitude of abortions that take place in India but studies suggest that as women in India do not have control on their fertility and have poor health, there are very high chances that they experience abortions either spontaneous or induced more than once," they said.
Moreover, it is difficult to attain a reliable estimate on abortion frequencies in the Indian context as the registration of marriages, births and deaths are usually not complete. Many undergo treatment without actually knowing the cause. The present study will solve the problem as it will pinpoint the exact cause of abortion.

Experts to explain science in the Vedas

December 10, 2007
Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Dec 9: Vedic experts and scientists from around the country will converge on the city on December 14 to discuss and unravel the Indian scientific heritage of remote historical periods, which the modern science is yet to comprehend.
The experts will highlight, at the first international conference on "Indian Sciences in the Pre-Adi Sankara Period", the "hidden scientific meanings" of common verses of Vedas and Puranas while giving a new interpretation to the ancient publications by Aryabhata, Varahamihira and Parasara.
"Unfortunately we have thus far been concentrating only on the metaphorical and philosophical aspects of the rich content in the ancient Indian Scriptures. But there's more to the verses than mere philosophical connotations. For instance, the term Shakti has been translated as Supreme Being. In a real scientific term it means power, the atomic, sub-atomic and nuclear energy," says Prof KV Krishna Murthy of Institute of Scientific Research on Vedas.
He said experts were working only on popularly available scientific treatises of India such a Brihat Samhitha and Krishi Prasaram. But they are not concentrating on the remote periods of history. The international seminar will throw more light on the Pre-Adi Sankara period in a bid to drive the attention of intellectuals towards the scientific achievements, roughly before 2000 years.
The Vedic experts will also present their studies on rare records and evidences of the pre-Christ period which show that a medical system other than Ayurveda was prevalent. The medical system was based on "Atharvana Sastra" and it was quite different from the present-day system of Ayurveda.
The studies also showed that the ancient Indian science was not constant and was changing with time between the pre-Vedic and Vedic and Puranic periods. "We will make a live demonstration of the modern application of ancient scholar Panini's grammar of Sanskrit dating back to 3rd century BC. His treatise is best suited to modern computing problems and the best available software for computers. It is useful to solve several unsolved computer problems," Murthy said.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Chenchus, Thakurs Same

December 5, 2007
Syed Akbar
Hyderabad, Dec 4: India has 4,693 different, documented population groups that include 2205 major communities and 1900 territorial units spread across the country, but Indians are one, genetically speaking.
Joint studies by the Centre for DNA Finger-printing and Diagnostics, Hyderabad, and the National DNA Analysis Centre of Central Forensic Science Lab, Kolkata, revealed no evidence of general clustering of population groups based on ethnic, linguistic, geographic or socio-cultural affiliations.
Indian populations endowed with unparalleled genetic complexity have received a great deal of attention from scientists world over. The scientists of CDFD and CFSL studied the underlying genetic structure of 3522 individuals belonging to 54 endogamous Indian populations representing all major ethnic, linguistic and geographic groups.
"The distribution of the most frequent allele was uniform across populations,
revealing an underlying genetic similarity. Patterns of allele distribution suggestive of ethnic or geographic propinquity were discernible only in a few of the populations and was not applicable to the entire dataset," they said.
Analysis of molecular variance failed to support the geographic, ethnic, linguistic or socio-cultural grouping of Indian populations suggesting little variation between the different groups.
However, genetic sub structuring was detected among populations originating from north-eastern and southern India reflective of their migrational histories and genetic isolation respectively.
Populations such as Thakur and Khatri from Uttar Pradesh and Baniya from Bihar showed similarity with southern populations such as Naikpod Gond and Chenchu from Andhra Pradesh and with a few individuals from Maharashtra and Lepcha of Sikkim. Of the southern populations, those from Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh were differentiated into two groups with populations from Tamil Nadu exhibiting split membership to both groups.
In the East, Bihar Brahmin, Bhumihar, Kayasth, Rajput, Yadav, Bihar Kurmi, Orissa Brahmin, Khandayat, Karan, Juang and Paroja shared similar membership to multiple clusters revealing a common genetic structure.
In the south, Lingayat, Gowda, Brahmin and Muslim of Karnataka along with Vanniyar, Gounder and Pallar of Tamil Nadu separated from rest of the populations.
Rest of the populations from Tamil Nadu; Chakkiliyar, Paraiyar, Tanjore Kallar and from Andhra Pradesh; Brahmin, Raju, Komati, Kamma Chaudhury, Kapu Naidu, Reddy and Lambadi displayed mixed membership to multiple clusters.
Populations from western and central India showed absence of any distinct grouping with individuals having symmetrical membership across inferred clusters.
"The results reveal genetic similarity across populations with a few presenting distinct identities that did not follow traditional groupings of geography, language or ethnicity. Populations from southern India and north-eastern India largely exhibited structuring while most Indian populations shared similar membership in multiple clusters," the study said.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

No lyrics at sangam

Music | Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Hyderabadis were treated to a rare musical feat on the eve of the World Music Day by Mrudangam maestro Yella Venkateswara Rao and his team of 100 artists. The concept was also rare and never presented before in the country.
Venkateswara Rao has become synonymous with the Mrudangam, blending his own style with the classical tradition.
He musically captured the origin of the Ganga and its tributaries the Yamuna and the mythical Saraswati and took the audience through the civilisations enroute till they merge into what is known as Triveni Sangamam or the confluence of the three holy rivers.
"I chose the Triveni Sangamam theme because we cannot separate our rivers from our civilisation. Ganga, the most sacred river, chisels through the Himalayas and meanders through the plains exhibiting various moods, colours and attitudes while blessing millions of lives on her journey to the ocean. Even in art, Ganga is visualised as a beautiful maiden, carrying an overflowing pot in her hand," Venkateswara Rao explains.
"The vessel conveys the idea of abundant life and fertility, which nourishes and sustains the universe," he says.
"Just as the confluence of Yamuna and Saraswati with Ganga forms the Triveni Sangamam, this union of voice, instruments and dance has created a musical symphony."
The maestro had carefully chosen three different patterns (tribhinna) of Gaana, Laya and Nritya to showcase the magic that the Ganga weaves in a ragamalika of three ragas entwined with traditional dance forms.
The symphony, aptly named Triveni Sangamam, was organised by Chaitanya Art Theatres. It was unique in that Venkateswara Rao and his team narrated the entire episode lasting 90 minutes without depending on lyrics. It was all pure music and Venkateswara Rao ensured that the concert was enlivening and interesting.
He and his team used a variety of ragas and musical instruments to create a spiritual aura for the audience as they took them on an experience of a never-ending journey of the three holy rivers that formed part of the Indian civilisation for ages and continues even now.
They made the audience feel the rivers, the splashing of water under the influence of gentle winds, the dangerous curves they take as they flow through the ridges and the valleys and the greenery they create all along their routes.
In short, Venkateswara Rao created an altogether different world of music of his own and transported the audience into it for an equally different feeling.
Venkateswara Rao has already carved out a niche for himself in the world of percussion and the Triveni Sangamam has simply added another feather to the cap of this distinguished musician.
The symphony comprised of various musical instruments like ghatam, violin, tabla, nadaswaram, dhol, mrudangam, bhasuri, saxophone and veena among others. And managing as many as 50 instruments is really a Herculean task.
And Venkateswara Rao has proved once again that he is maestro par excellence.

Naseer pays tribute to Ismat Chughtai

Syed Akbar
In his first-ever Hindustani language production, Ismat Aapa Ke Naam, actor-turned-director Naseeruddin Shah brings out the little known facet of eminent Urdu fiction writer Ismat Chughtai. The play will be staged in Hyderabad on Thursday.
Shah has based his satirical play on three of Ismat’s stories, throwing light on the nature of human relationships and the institution of marriage.
Ismat Aapa Ke Naam is a solo enactment of this witty, wise, warm and wonderful Urdu writer and Naseeruddin Shah pours life into the play with his inimitable acting style.
The first one Gharwali enacted by Shah himself is a heady satire on the institution of marriage, as well as on the social mores of the times (the 1940s).
"The amazing thing is that Ismat Aapa’s observations on the nature of human relationships are as pungent and ring as true today as they did when she was first writing and enraging the hordes of male chauvinists she was, in all probability, surrounded by," says Shah.
The second part, Chhui Muee, is enacted by Shah’s daughter Heeba. It is a tribute to the power of the rural women, expressed through an incident of childbirth witnessed by three fascinated and differently affected women in a compartment. It is a first person account. "It could well be a personal experience of the writer," he feels.
Mughal Bachcha is the third part of the Ismat Aapa Ke Naam series. Shah’s wife Ratna play the lead role. She talks about the so-called "successors" of the great Mughals, the landed gentry of Uttar Pradesh in the times of the British Raj unable to come to terms with their declining status and desperately clinging on to the tattered remnants of their ancestors’ glory.
Within this wry and perceptive social commentary is interwoven a love story of epic proportions: The story of Gori Bi and Kaley Mian. Simplicity of approach is the defining factor in this production with minimalist sets and simple manner of telling a story. It has a no-frills austerity of the director’s approach.
The purpose is to not get in the way of the original writings and to let the words of the writer emerge in all their truth and beauty in theatre.
"The play provides interesting insides into the life of a bygone era and is a must not just for theatre lovers of Hyderabad but also for a cross section of society.
Recalling his association with the late writer, Shah remarks: "Ismat ranks among the all-time greats of Urdu fiction. And as her thoughts unfold on stage you begin to see why. Ismat Aapa is a funny old lady is what I thought when I was privileged to meet her in one of her many avatars, that of a film actress this time."
"In my ignorance, I took her for a cute cuddly grandma, nothing more. By the time I took the trouble to read her works, she was already a distant memory. In the course of her journey, she had been, at different times, novelist, playwright screenplay writer, short-story writer, filmmaker and educationist. Apart from being a liberated parent and a doting grandparent," Shah says.
Ismat created a provocative body of work, which astounded and shocked her contemporaries. Some of the earliest feminist writing in India, its contribution to the renaissance in writing and of tge Urdu language which was occurring in India during the ’40s and the ’50s is too well known to need reiteration.
"It was not easy, to stand out in the company of such a awesomely gifted band of courageous, committed and creative writers as her contemporaries were: but Ismat Aapa had no problem managing it with distinction in an age when to docilely accept being part of the furniture was the ‘destiny’ of all middle-class women," Shah points out in his director’s note.

Mass marriages for the poor at Tirupati temple

Culture | Syed Akbar
A decorated chariot fitted with loud speakers enters a sleepy village raising dust and hopes, and drawing the attention of people. The chariot stops at every corner in the village calling upon parents to enrol their eligible sons and daughters for the grand wedding ceremony on August 26. The chariot then moves on to another village with the same message and task.
The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), the richest Hindu endowment body in the world, has pressed into service its Kalyana Rathams or simply wedding chariots for its mega Kalayanamasthu, a mass wedding programme scheduled for the auspicious day of Sunday, August 26.
Buoyed by the tremendous response it received during the first phase of Kalyanamasthu held on February 22, the TTD has moved to the second phase. The Kalyanamasthu is the biggest ever mass wedding programme in the world and only a rich endowment body like the TTD could accomplish it successfully.
"The TTD plans to conduct about 1,00,000 marriages in two phases every year. The mission is three fold: to help the poor parents who find it hard to perform the marriage of their daughters, to reduce the expenditure, and to control dowry system. The programme is also aimed at preventing conversions. It is a social and religious mission to help the poorer sections of Hindu society. A trust has been formed for the purpose," says TTD chairman B. Karunakar Reddy.
The TTD will provide gold mangalsutram, wedding clothes for the couple, silver mettelu (toe ring) and free lunch for 22 people. The mass weddings are performed in all the 294 Assembly constituencies spread across the State. To ensure that the couple live happily for ever, the TTD has ensured that the mangalsutrams are sanctified by placing them at the feet of the presiding deity Lord Venkateswara and Goddess Padmavathi. Vedic pandits also perform special prayers before distributing the mangalsutrams to the couples before the ceremony.
The TTD spent Rs 5.3 crores in the first phase mass wedding. It has not fixed any upper limit on expenditure.
Karunakar Reddy accompanied by Vedic pandits has been moving around the State with the chariots to create awareness among the people. Wherever he goes, he makes it sure to deliver the message that lavish spending at weddings have turned many families bankrupt.
According to Karunakar Reddy, the auspicious moment for the mass wedding ceremony has been fixed between 11.10 am and 11.20 am on August 26. The muhurat falls in the holy Shravana Nakshathram which is believed to the birth star of Lord Venkateswara.
It is also a rare Guru-Shukra (Jupiter-Venus) combination that it will bestow the newly married couples with lasting prosperity and happy life. "We are ready to cover any number of couples. But the participants will have to fulfil the guidelines of Kalyanamasthu programme.
This is because we want to avoid legal or social complications at a later date," the TTD chairman pointed out. The eligible couples (minimum of 21 years for boys and 18 years for brides) may submit their applications till August 10.

Tirumala Balaji goes to dalits in new initiative

Published in The Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle 2007
Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: As the sun starts rising above the horizon, dozens of senior priests and officials carrying idols of Lord Venkateswara and His two consorts Sri Padmavathi and Sri Lakshmi Devi enter a sleepy dalitwada amidst chanting of Vedic hymns. A specially decorated chariot with the idols of the presiding deity of the Tirumala-Tirupati Hills also enters the village.
The idols are placed on a raised platform in the middle of the dalitwada, the segregated habitation of the dalits, and the Vedic priests fan out inviting Dalits for a "darshan" of Lord Venkateswara, the richest Hindu deity in the world.
The Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams, which controls the Lord Venkateswara temple atop the Tirumala Hills, has embarked upon a novel programme to take the processional idols of various Hindu deities to the doorsteps of dalits to enable them to worship the almighty. Aptly named as Dalita Govindam, it has been a success so far and the TTD plans to extend it to all the dalitwadas across the State.
"This is just a symbolic gesture on the part of the TTD. The idea is to create spiritual awakening among the dalits. They generally do not get the opportunity for darshan to their heart’s content. Moreover, in some temples they are not allowed by the orthodox. We want to break it and provide the dalits with an opportunity to participate in the regular traditional rituals and offerings the deities," says TTD chairman B. Karunakar Reddy, the brain behind Dalita Govindam.
Once the dalits gather at the village centre, three couples are selected from among them to sit in front of the idols and participate in the special rites (kalyanam).
After the rituals are over, the priests and officials partake of lunch and dinner in the dalitwada. They also sleep in the village among dalits before leaving for another dalitwada the next morning.
The priests later give prasadam to dalits. They are offered the Vedic asirvachanams (blessings), normally an exclusive prerogative of VIPs.
The TTD started the novel programme in Vemuru village in Chittoor district.
Normally the processional idols of Sri Venkateswara and His consorts are taken out for darshan in the traditional four Mada Streets of Tirumala.
This is the first time that the replicas of processional idols are brought down the hill for the benefit ofdDalits.
The Dalita Govindam, however, received flak from the CPI(M) which termed the programme as a "modern form of untouchability". CPI(M) State secretary B.V. Raghavulu demands that the TTD allow appointment of trained dalits as archakas (priests) of the main temple at Tirumala and utilise their services in the traditional kitchen where the famous laddus are prepared.
Meanwhile, in a first of its kind move, Sri Swaroopanandendra Saraswathi Swami, head of Sri Visakha Sarada Peetham, plans to take more than 300 dalits, who were reconverted to Hinduism from Christianity, on a pilgrimage of important temples spread across the State on May 26.
The seer will lead the entry of reconverted dalits into the famous Hindu shrines in Srisailam (Sri Brahmaramba Mallikarjuna Swami), Tirupati (Sri Venkateswara Swami), Srikalahasti (Shiva), Vijayawada (Sri Durga Malleswara Swami) and Annavaram (Sri Satyanarayana Swami).
"The Agama Sastras (religious scriptures) do not prevent the entry of dalits into temples or other religious places. The centuries-old Hindu tradition also does not prohibit it. It’s only after the Britishers started ruling India that untouchability came into being and dalits were barred entry into temples. We are simply reviving the ancient Hindu tradition and practising the Agama Sastras by taking dalits on a pilgrimage of important temples," the Swamiji points out.

The Usual Suspects: ISI activities in Hyderabad

Published in The Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle August 2007
By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: Though the city has on and oft been the target of terror attacks in the last few years, the police has not been able to lock up any of the real villains so far.
Instead, after every attack, top police officers recount the names of old suspects and round up some people. But the courts let them off since the police is not able to pin anything concrete on them. The ritual continues without respite.
Before April 2000, the police used to link every violent incident that smacked of terrorism with suspected ISI agent Azam Ghori. For the next five years they tried to pin every such incident on Muslim Defence Force leader Abdul Bari.
And the latest bad man in their list is Muhammad Shahed, alias Bilal, a college dropout who is being accused of masterminding the Mecca Masjid blast and the twin blasts of last Saturday.
The police closed the "history sheet" of Ghori after he was killed in an encounter in April 2000. After Shahed came up, they abruptly stopped linking Bari with terror strikes.
Except for the shooting down of Ghori and half a dozen ISI suspects in the last one decade, the police has not succeeded in proving the charge of terror against any of those who were arrested after each incident.
The usual result is another round of terror activity, death and destruction. Then the police names the usual suspects. The vicious circle continues.
The police came out with the name of Shahed soon after the Mecca Masjid blast but failed to document the charges against him. Dozens of Muslim youth from the Old City of Hyderabad have been kept in custody for more than 100 days but the police is yet to chargesheet them.
Ironically, none of the suspects of the Mecca Masjid blast has been charged with the actual blast at the masjid.
Shoeb Jagirdar and Shaikh Nayeem, alias Sameer of Maharashtra, were taken into custody for their alleged involvement in the blast but the police could only frame fake passport cases against them.
A cursory glance at old cases shows that the majority of those arrested under terror charges have been acquitted. Even those behind bars were convicted only of murder and extortion.
All those arrested by the police over terror attacks on the AP Express, at the Humayunnagar and Abids police stations and the Secunderabad railway station walked free.
Only Dr Jalees Shakil Ansari was convicted, but that was in connection with the 1993 Mumbai bomb blasts case.
As usual, within an hour of the twin bomb blasts on August 25, senior police officers started naming Shahed. They also named outfits like Harkat-ul Mujahideen, Harkat-ul-Jihad-al-Islamic, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Lashker-e-Tayyaba and the Students’ Islamic Movement of India.
The hurry with which the police named the culprits even before starting the probe irked many. Several Muslim and human rights organisations accused the police of acting with "preconceived notions" against the principal minority community.
The fact remains that the police has no concrete evidence to nail any of the operatives of these organisations.
Tardy investigations are to blame. The Andhra Pradesh high court had rapped the Criminal Investigation Department for booking "ISI cases" against some Muslim youth without substantial evidence. The youth were let off but not before their images were tarnished.
The Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen has accused the police of harassing local Muslim youth after weaving stories about their links with terrorists. "Let the police arrest the real ISI activists instead of going after local youth just because they happen to be Muslims," said Hyderabad MP Asaduddin Owaisi.
Muslim elders also accused many senior police officers of subscribing to the Hindutva ideology, which they said prejudiced them. "The police should not act with preconceived notions," said senior Muslim cleric Maulana Khalid Saifullah Rahmani. "They should be open to all angles. Jumping to conclusions without even beginning the investigation will send the wrong signals and create a communal wedge between Muslims and Hindus."
Shahed’s father, Mr Abdul Wahed, says he is afraid that his son could be killed any time. "We have asked the police to produce him before the court," he said.
However, police officers say they are not targeting any community. "We round up suspects and zero in on the culprits," said Hyderabad police commissioner Balwinder Singh. "In the process some innocent people may also have been taken into custody. We let off the innocent persons."
But human rights activists do not buy this argument. Says Prof. S.A.R. Geelani of Delhi University, "If the police are really open-minded, they will look for clues from terror groups and not from Muslim organisations alone," he said.
He added that the police and other premier investigating agencies were infested with officers with RSS leanings. "They never think of the Bajrang Dal, RSS and VHP as possible suspects in any attack," he says.
Though the police handed over the Mecca Masjid case to the CBI, it is still handling the case of the unexploded bomb. MIM and other Muslim organisations allege that the police is keeping the case only to harass Muslims youth.

Rainbow warriors: India's environment heroes

Published in the Asian Age/Deccan Chronicle - Sunday Magazine November 2007
By Syed Akbar
"There will come a time when the Earth is sick and the animals and plants
begin to die, then the Indians will regain their spirit and gather people
of all nations, colours and beliefs to join together in the fight to save
the Earth." Ancient Native American prophecy.
This ancient Native American prophecy, though talks of the
Red Indians or the so-called Rainbow Warriors, is turning out to be true
in the case of India, with the country throwing up dozens of eminent
environment activists, who had made a difference worldwide.
Dozens of eminent environmental activists from the country have been feted by the world recently, for the tireless work they are undertaking to protect our fragile planet. They include this year's Nobel peace prize winner Dr R.K. Pachauri, Time magazine's "environment hero" industrialist Tulsi R. Tanthi, wildlife conservationist Dr Ullas Karanth who has won this year's Paul Getty award, activist-ecologist Vandana Shiva, environmentalist-researcher Sunita Narain and "dam buster" Medha Patkar to name a few.
There are many others who have been inspired by these bold men and women. They stay behind the scenes, but do their best to protect Gaia or Mother Earth.
India, with 16 per cent of the total world’s population and 1.8 per cent of the global forest cover, naturally has to take the lead in environment protection. It is doing so now after years of chanting the slogan of development at all costs. And the green effect has climbed upwards. Policy-framers such as Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhar Reddy have also been taking up environmental issues in earnest.
Dr Reddy, for instance, took bold measures to save Kolleru Lake, Asia’s largest fresh water body, from ecological death. It was an exhibition of rare political will, worthy of an Al Gore. Thanks to the chief minister’s tough stance, the lake is fresh and pristine again. For the first time in three decades migratory birds from Siberia are flocking to Kolleru.
"This is the first time I have spotted the Siberian cranes and other migratory birds after 1977," says a delighted local zoologist R.C. Pani. "The lake, with its vast stretch of water and unique aquatic life, is now a haven for birds again. It has been saved," he adds.
And long before Al Gore, there was another politician who changed the way governments think about nature — former Environment Minister Maneka Gandhi. She meticulously drafted the steps the environment ministry should take to protect the green cover and the fauna braving derisive talk of being an eco fundamentalist.
A green vision
But the crowning achievement of our rainbow warriors is the change they brought to the common citizen’s perception about environment, forests, pollution and climate change. From a fringe slogan, environmental concerns have come centre-stage, thanks to these men and women.
Because of their efforts, people now talk knowledgeably about pollution, chemical pesticides, artificial fertilisers, sustainable development, forest protection, restoration of natural water bodies... This has succeeded in building up pressure "from below" in a democratic manner, which has forced policy changes up above.
"A lot of issues have been brought to the fore including water scarcity, water pollution, declining forests and even air pollution," says Sunita Narain, director of the Centre for Science and Environment, who received a Padma Shri in 2005. She is also the head of the Tiger Task Force formed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. "But difficult issues such as pollution in industries and cities are a lot harder to tackle. They still lack societal approval," she adds.
Travelling alone
There is still a long way to go. But our rainbow warriors are not ones who tire so easily. Time was when green activists were thought to be freaks raising purposeless slogans. It took decades of sustained campaign to make the world recognise that the planet is fragile and has to be sustained.
Like most people who think ahead, environmentalists too have faced their quota of derision. It is their commitment which kept them going. Take Dr Ullas Karanth, for instance. The second son of legendary writer Shivarama Karanth often had to cross swords with authorities in his mission to protect the tiger.
A master’s degree holder in wildlife biology from the University Of Gainsvelle in Florida, Ullas is obsessed with tigers and their safety. "Ullas realised that the habitat of the tiger was a natural forest," says Praveen Bhargava, trustee of Wildlife, an NGO devoted to environment. "By preserving the tiger, the forest — the biggest fixer of carbon dioxide and the prime factor in global warming — could be saved too," he adds.
Perfecting the (tiger’s) pugmark method, Ullas revealed that there are only 1,300 to 1,500 tigers in India, while the earlier studies had put the figure at a little more than 2,800. His research also revealed that if the prey position — enough number of deer and other animals — was right, a breeding tiger needed 15 sq. km for itself in India.
"A tiger needs about 50 to 60 deer a year," he says. "It does not kill mindlessly. Tigers die as they live — wildly," Ullas said. And to protect their habitat was his mission. His efforts finally persuaded the government to amend the Wildlife Protection Act.
Similarly, Tulsi Tanthi brought a revolution in non-conventional energy not only in India but also in Germany, China and the United States and Nobel laureate Rajendra Pachauri brought climate change to the agenda of many nations. He is also the founder director of the India-based environment think-tank, The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI).
Tulsi’s wind energy company, Suzlon, the fifth largest wind turbine manufacturer in the world, has a turnover of more than $9 billion. The company operates one of the largest wind farms in the world, at Sinban in the hills of eastern India, producing 600 mw of wind energy.
Pachauri’s efforts during the past three decades forced governments to sit up and make better laws to protect the environment. He has been active in several international forums dealing with the policy dimension of tackling climate change.
"I was not expecting any awards for my effort," says Pachauri, chairman of the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change. "With this award, the issue of climate change will come to the fore. The Norwegian Committee wants to stress that something should be immediately done to mitigate the threats to nature which are near and real," he adds.
He accepted that the developed countries were the major culprits in global warming. "But the levels of emissions are so high that both the developed countries and the developing countries will have to reduce emissions and take drastic measures," he says.
Wars of the future
Our rainbow warriors are always on the battle front. Many of them are getting ready for the United Nation’s Climate Change Convention to be held at Bali (Indonesia) this December. This is expected to shape the world’s environmental outlook for the next few decades. Both Dr Pachauri and Sunita Narain are set to play a major role at the Bali conference.
Within India, the misuse of forest wealth is another big area of concern for the activists. It is estimated that 70 per cent forests have no natural regeneration and 55 per cent are prone to fire. Pollution in cities is another major problem. The challenge ahead is really big.
"What we need is a change in the way the politicians think, plan and act," says Dr T. Patanjali Sastry, who has been working in coastal Andhra for decades. "The tendency to separate development from environment should go. They are not separate entities," says Sastry.
"What we need to do is to manage economic growth in such a way that we minimise environmental damage," adds Sunita Narain.
She points out that tough measures have to be taken to address major concerns like climate change. "All over the world people are trying to implement soft measures, but these are not working anywhere," she adds. "Even Nobel Prize winner Al Gore is recommending soft measures," she says.
The feted environmentalists as well as their unknown compatriots have forced Central and State governments to revise their environment priorities through their untiring campaign. And results are trickling in.
There is now a small increase in forest cover and reduction in water and air pollution. There is planned urban development and stringent norms for industries.
The Central Pollution Control Board has been forced to take up a nation-wide programme to ensure that the air we breathe and the water we drink are clean.
Moreover, the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests has set for itself a target of increasing the forest cover to 33 per cent by 2012.
But the rainbow warriors are not content to rest on their laurels. They will march on, to make the old Red Indian prophecy a reality. At stake is the planet itself.