Wednesday 31 October 2018

The dying officer treated for cancer with baking soda

The father of the alkaline diet, Robert O Young, is hailed as an inspiration by one of the UK's most popular food writers, Natasha Corrett, but he faces a jail sentence for practising medicine without a licence. One patient who believed he could cure her cancer, British army officer Naima Houder-Mohammed, paid thousands of dollars for his alkaline treatment, which consisted mainly of intravenous infusions of baking soda.

In May 2009 Naima Houder-Mohammed was commissioned as a captain in the British army. The following year, tragedy struck. Naima was diagnosed with breast cancer.

She received treatment and was declared cancer-free. But in 2012, while training with the army skiing team, it was discovered the cancer had returned. Her condition was so serious she was offered end-of-life care.

"She refused to accept that this was the end," recalls her friend and former fellow officer, Afzal Amin.

"Naima was a fighter. She fought to get through selection for Sandhurst. She fought through Sandhurst and she fought her way through her life in everything she dealt with - army skiing or whatever it may have been. And this for her was another fight in that long list of victories."

Naima Houder-Mohammed
As her medical options were limited, Naima did what many of us would do - she turned to the internet for a solution.

She came across Dr Robert O Young, an American alternative health writer selling a message of hope for cancer patients online.

Naima began an email correspondence with him, which reveals how pseudo-science can be used to manipulate the vulnerable.

Young is the author of a series of books called the pH Miracle, which has sold more than four million copies around the world.

These books lay out his "alkaline approach" to food and health which has influenced many others, including the work of the British clean-eating guru Natasha Corrett, whose Honestly Healthy brand promotes her take on an alkaline diet.

Natasha Corrett

  • In the introduction to her book Honestly Healthy Cleanse, the food writer says acidity in the body causes "dis-ease", which can show itself in "everyday discomforts" like acne, dry skin and bloating, "to much more serious illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity"
  • She says Young "discovered that eating a plant-based diet free from processed foods can help to cure terminal diseases in the body"
  • She adds that his work is not recognised by the medical industry, "perhaps because giant pharmaceutical organisations wouldn't be able to make money out of doctors prescribing vegetables"

In one email Young sent to Naima in July 2012, he told her "there is a great need for a daily regime focused on… hyper-perfusing the blood with alkalinity". He went on: "I would suggest your healing program is going to take at least 8 - 12 weeks. It will not be easy but you will be in a controlled environment that will give you the care you need."

Naima set about raising the money she would need - in one email Young mentioned a figure of $3,000 (£2,440) per day.

Naima's family used their savings, ran fund-raising events and managed to pull together tens of thousands of pounds with the help of a charity so that Naima could be treated by Young.

But the treatment did not have the outcome she was hoping for.

Email from Robert O Young to Naima Houder-Mohammed
On one recent sun-kissed Californian morning, we drove up into the hills outside San Diego to visit Young. As we turned off Paradise Mountain Road, the parched golden grass eventually gave way to groves of avocado trees and we entered a millionaire's paradise known as the "pH Miracle Ranch".

The front door, preposterously set behind a moat, is reached by walking across some stone slabs.

As Young welcomed us into the ranch, our eyes were drawn to an empty spherical fish-tank built into the wall that separated the living area from the kitchen.

Noting our interest, he began to share his alkaline view of the world, starting with what he calls the fish-bowl metaphor. "If the fish is sick - what would you do? Treat the fish or change the water?"

He went on: "The human body in its perfect state of health is alkaline in its design."

The pH of our blood is 7.4, which is slightly alkaline, so Young is broadly correct - although different compartments of our bodies, such as our stomach, function at very different pHs.

But then Young's "alkaline living" vision becomes complete fantasy. Young believes that in order to maintain the pH of our blood, we have to eat "alkaline" foods.

The main problem with this view is that it doesn't appear to take into account the stomach, which functions at a pH of about 1.5 and is the most acidic compartment in the body. Thus, everything we consume, regardless of its starting pH, becomes acidic before passing into the intestines.

Also, the categorisation of foods into alkaline or acidic does not appear to follow any consistent rules, with certain citrus fruits (full of citric acid) considered to be alkaline, for instance.

However, Young's view that alkalinity is good and acidity is bad goes beyond food. He told us: "All sickness and disease can be prevented by managing the delicate pH balance of the fluids of the body."

He believes that when your blood becomes acidic, something weird happens, and your blood cells transform into bacteria - a phenomenon he calls pleomorphism - thereby resulting in a diseased state.

This, frankly wild, view goes against all current scientific understanding.

When we put this to him, he simply disagreed, saying: "Germs are nothing more than the biological transformation of animal, human or plant matter. They're born out of that."

This is post-truth.

Dr Giles Yeo with Robert O Young at the "pH Miracle Ranch"
The biggest problem is that because Young believes that disease emerges from acidity, then by extension disease can be reversed with alkalinity - echoing his fish-bowl metaphor that you don't treat the disease, but you change the environment.

When Young said Naima would be cared for in a controlled environment, he meant the pH Miracle Ranch, which has a large area set aside as a "clinic" to treat cancer.

Young told us he uses the term "cancerous" as an adjective to describe a state of acidity.

Since 2005 he has brought more than 80 terminally ill patients to stay at his ranch for months at a time. Treatment has included intravenous infusions of an alkaline solution of sodium bicarbonate - the same Arm and Hammer stuff you stick in your fridge to absorb smells.

This was the "healing programme" that was being sold to Naima.

There is no doubting the impact of Young's message. In an email, Naima wrote to him: "I'll be pronounced text book perfect in a few months."

According to her friend Afzal Amin: "Naima was supremely confident that, with her willpower and this therapy, she would be healed. That was the overriding emotion in her that yes, I am going to better."

We put it to Young that someone like Naima, in a terminally ill state, who was desperate for a cure, would buy anything, try anything to help get better.

He responded: "But I wasn't selling her anything… I didn't force her to come here, it was her decision."

Yet, in one email Young insisted on Naima paying for her treatment, before she stepped on to the plane.

All in all, Naima and her family paid Young more than $77,000 (£62,700) for the treatment.

Young told us: "The doctors need to be paid and the people that are doing the massages need to be paid and the colonics, but I gave her the best price to make sure that those people were paid."

There is no evidence whatsoever that infusing an alkaline solution into your bloodstream will do anything against cancer. When we raised this with Young, he said: "These things need to be studied."

After about three months at Young's facility, her condition worsened and she was taken to hospital. Naima was brought back to the UK and died with her family. She was 27.

Afzal Amin told us: "They feel utterly betrayed. It's just horrific that somebody could exploit people for money. This is I think for them the most disturbing element, that for something as cheap as money he was just able to destroy people's lives."

Young's activities at the pH Miracle Ranch have not gone unnoticed by the authorities.

In 2011 the Medical Board of California began an undercover investigation after concerns were raised by a woman treated there.

Investigators were able to establish the prognosis of 15 cancer patients treated at the ranch - none of them outlived it.

One patient, Genia Vanderhaeghen, died from congestive heart failure - fluid around the heart - while being treated. Young told us he was "out of town" at the time.

According to an invoice we obtained, she had been given 33 intravenous sodium bicarbonate drips, each charged at $550 (£448), over 31 days. Some were administered by Young himself.

Robert O Young
Last year Young was convicted of two charges of practising medicine without a license, and now faces up to three years in prison.

In court it was revealed that he is not a medical doctor and bought his PhD from a diploma mill.

We asked him if he felt remorse for what he had done. He said: "I don't have remorse because of the thousands if not millions of people that have been helped through the [alkaline diet] programme."

We asked Natasha Corrett to comment on the influence of Robert Young on Honestly Healthy. She told us: "We believe that our bodies should be fuelled with healthy and nutritious ingredients but we also believe that life is about having things in moderation."

(SOurce: BBC)

Tuesday 30 October 2018

'The food supplement that ruined my liver'

Jim McCants took green tea capsules in a drive to get healthy in middle age. His doctors now say they left him needing an urgent liver transplant, writes the BBC's Tristan Quinn.

It should have been one of the happiest days of his life. But Jim McCants looks back on his youngest son's high school graduation with mixed emotions. As he sat down next to his wife Cathleen in the university auditorium, just outside Dallas, Texas, she turned to look at him.

"She said 'Do you feel OK?'" Jim recalls. "I said, 'Yeah I feel fine, why?' 'Your face is yellow, your eyes are yellow, you look terrible.' When I looked in the mirror it was shocking."

It was shocking partly because Jim, then 50, had been working on improving his lifestyle and losing weight, focusing on eating more healthily and taking regular exercise.

"My dad had a heart attack at aged 59 and he did not make it," says Jim. "There's a lot that he missed out on with us and I was determined to do what I can to take care of myself as best I can, so that I don't miss out."

But soon after his son's graduation, Jim was admitted to hospital with a suspected liver injury.

Jim, his son and his wife, at his son's graduation
Trying to identify the cause of Jim's liver injury, those treating him ruled out alcohol.

"For the last 30 years I drank maybe a six-pack of beer a year, no wine. So alcohol was not a big part of my life," Jim says.

They also ruled out prescription drugs - he wasn't taking any at the time - and smoking, something he had never done.

"Then my hepatologist drilled in to, 'What about any over-the-counter supplements?'" says Jim.

As part of his mid-life health kick, Jim had started taking a green tea supplement because he had heard it might have cardiac benefits. These supplements have grown in popularity in recent years, often breathlessly promoted online for their antioxidant benefits, and their supposed ability to aid weight loss and prevent cancer.

"If you are drinking modest amounts of green tea you're very safe," - Prof Herbert Bonkovsky, Wake Forest University School of Medicine

"I felt fine then," remembers Jim, who lives in Prosper, north of Dallas. "I was walking or running 30-to-60 minutes, five or six days a week." He was working as a finance manager but hoped to retrain as a physician assistant. "I was taking two or three classes at a time at nights and at weekends," he recalls.

He had been taking the green tea supplement for two to three months when he became ill. According to Jim's medical record this is the presumed cause of his liver injury. "It was shocking because I'd only heard about the benefits," remembers Jim. "I'd not heard about any problems."

After his admission to hospital, Jim went into a "holding pattern", waiting for the results of a series of blood tests to establish the seriousness of his liver injury. Then, about three weeks after his wife had first noticed he looked ill, one of his liver doctors delivered the news he had been fearing: "She said you need a liver transplant. This has to happen fast. You have days - you don't have a week."

Jim was stunned.

"I was thinking this looks very bleak for me. It really crystallises what's important in life. I wasn't there thinking about projects at work. I was thinking of different people that were important to me for different reasons."

What is it about green tea supplements that might cause harm at certain doses to some people? Scientists do not know for certain. Because green tea has been drunk for thousands of years, supplements consisting of its concentrated form are regulated in the US and Europe as foods, not medicines. That means that specific safety testing has not been required, so the scientific picture of how green tea supplements might affect our health is incomplete.

"If you are drinking modest amounts of green tea you're very safe," says Prof Herbert Bonkovsky, director of liver services at Wake Forest University School of Medicine in North Carolina, who has been tracking injuries linked to green tea supplements for nearly 20 years. "The greater risk comes in people who are taking these more concentrated extracts."

Concern has focused on a potentially toxic ingredient called Epigallocatechin-3-gallate or EGCG, the most abundant of the naturally occurring compounds with antioxidant properties in green tea, called catechins. There are likely to be a number of factors that might make an individual susceptible to harm from EGCG including genetics, and the way supplements are used.

"Usually people are taking these green tea extracts trying to lose weight, so they're often not eating," Dr Bonkovsky explains. "We know from animal studies that fasted animals absorb a much higher percentage of the catechins than do fat animals. There may well be other factors of other drugs, other chemicals, use of alcohol that are also important as modifying factors."

Antioxidants are a group of vitamins and other compounds that for many have taken on miraculous properties, helping to drive the global market for supplements of all kinds, now worth more than £100bn per year.

Antioxidants ward off "free radicals", molecules produced in our cells as they turn oxygen and food into energy. Just as oxygen and water corrode iron, too many free radicals can damage our cells.

In the 1950s, Prof Denham Harman theorised that free radicals drove the process by which the body ages and could lead to disease.

But some scientists now believe that free radicals at certain levels may be beneficial for human health, and argue that the orthodox view of the last half century that antioxidants are an unalloyed good is outdated.

While millions of people take green tea supplements safely, at least 80 cases of liver injury linked to green tea supplements have been reported around the world, ranging from lassitude and jaundice to cases requiring liver transplants. Those harmed after taking green tea pills have included teenagers, like 17-year-old Madeline Papineau from Ontario, Canada who developed liver and kidney injury, and an 81-year-old woman diagnosed with toxic acute hepatitis.

A recent investigation by the European Food Safety Authority into the safety of green tea concluded that catechins from green tea drinks are "generally safe", but when taken as supplements catechin doses at or above 800mg per day "may pose health concerns". The EFSA could not identify a safe dose on the basis of available data and called for more research to be carried out.

The day after Jim was told he needed a liver transplant, amazingly he was told a suitable liver had been found. "I was elated. The phone call that there was a match gave me hope that there would be something positive on the other side of this for me," he says.

The liver transplant saved Jim's life. But four years later he still has serious health problems including kidney disease that may require dialysis and a transplant in the future. He sees his liver and kidney doctors twice a year, and lives with chronic abdominal pain.

"My life before was pretty active. And now it's much more sedentary and I struggle with fatigue," he says.

I didn't expect harm - I expected that I might waste my money
It's a "tremendous blessing", as he puts it, that his managers allow him to work from home. "I may need a lie down for 20 or 30 minutes during the day. I'm able to just let my manager know I'm going offline, I'll be back."

Jim is pursuing a lawsuit against the American firm Vitacost, which sold the green tea supplement he took. "I'm hoping that they make the decision to put a very strong warning label on the product, on the website, let people know before they buy it," he says.

Vitacost did not want to comment on the legal case, but said: "We take the safety of our Vitacost brand supplements very seriously and stand behind the quality of our products."

Four years on, Jim reflects on how his life and that of his family changed after he took a green tea supplement.

"I didn't expect harm. I expected that I might waste my money, I may take these and they don't do a bit of good. I can accept that risk," he says. "But the risk that it could cause my liver to fail, that's a risk that's too high for somebody to take."

(Source: BBC)

Monday 29 October 2018

Johnny Depp ‘dropped’ from Pirates of the Caribbean reboot

The animation studio is reportedly prepping a relaunch of the bankable franchise

Johnny Depp's Pirates of the Caribbean run has reportedly come to an end.

Following news that Disney is looking into rebooting its very own franchise, the original film's screenwriter Stuart Beattie appeared to confirm Depp's time as Captain Jack Sparrow is over.

“I think he's had a great run,” he told DailyMailTV. “Obviously he's made that character his own and it's become the thing that he's most famous for now. It's been great for him and it's been great for us.”

He continued: “There's that saying, 'Don't frown because it's over, smile because it happened.' The fact that they're rebooting something that you did means that you did something that was worth rebooting. It's an honour.”

Depp has played the role in five films across 14 years which have accumulated box office takings of over $4.5 billion making it the twelfth biggest franchise of all time.

Reportedly, the animation studio - alongside producing powerhouse Jerry Bruckheimer - is targeting Deadpool writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick for script duties of the franchise reboot.

The most recent Pirates film, Dead Men Tell No Tales, was released in 2015 with director Joachim Rønning stating it was “only the beginning of the final adventure.”

Depp's appearance in Fantastic Beasts sequel, The Crimes of Grindelwald, was criticised after the actor was accused of domestic violence by his ex-wife Amber Heard in May 2016. He denied the allegations and settled the case months later.

JK Rowling and David Yates jumped to the actor's defence with Depp himself stating: “JK has seen the evidence and therefore knows I was falsely accused, and that’s why she has publicly supported me. She would not stand up if she didn’t know the truth.”

The first Pirates film, The Curse of the Black Pearl, was released in 2003 and co-starred Keira Knightley, Orlando Bloom and Geoffrey Rush. The series is based on the theme park attraction of the same name with Disney hoping to score similar success with new park ride adaptation Jungle Cruise, starring Dwayne Johnson and Jack Whitehall.

(Source: The Independent)

Lion Air crash: Boeing 737 plane crashes in sea off Jakarta

A Lion Air Boeing 737 passenger plane with 188 people on board has crashed into the sea shortly after taking off from the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

Flight JT 610 was on a scheduled flight to Pangkal Pinang, the main town in the Bangka Belitung Islands.

It lost contact with ground control a few minutes after take-off, and is believed to have ended up underwater. It is unclear if there are survivors.

The plane was a Boeing 737 MAX 8, a brand new type of aircraft.

"The plane crashed into water about 30m to 40m deep," Search and Rescue Agency spokesman Yusuf Latif told AFP news agency. "We're still searching for the remains of the plane."

Items believed to belong to passengers have been found in the water, including ID cards and driver's licences, the search and rescue agency said on Twitter.

At an earlier news conference, officials said the plane had been carrying 178 adults, one infant and two babies, as well as two pilots and five cabin crew. However, there are conflicting reports on the exact number of people on board.

What happened?
Flight JT 610 took off from Jakarta at 06:20 local time on Monday morning (23:30 GMT on Sunday).

It was due to arrive at Depati Amir airport in Pangkal Pinang an hour later but 13 minutes into the flight, authorities lost contact with the plane.

The pilot had asked to return to Jakarta's Soekarno-Hatta airport, the head of Pangkal Pinang's search and rescue office, Danang Priandoko, told local news outlet Kompas.

The head of Indonesia's disaster agency, Sutopo Purwo Nugroho, has tweeted images which he said showed debris and personal belongings that came from the aircraft and had been found floating in the sea.

He also shared a video he said had been taken from a tugboat off Karawang, just east of Jakarta, which appeared to show floating debris and an oil slick.

Debris was also seen near an offshore oil refinery operated by state-owned energy firm Pertamina, an official from the firm said.

What do we know about those on board?
Lion Air said in a statement that the pilot and co-pilot were experienced, with more than 11,000 flight hours between them.

Three of those on board were trainee flight attendants and one was a technician.

At least 20 employees from Indonesia's finance ministry were on board, the BBC has learned.

A spokesperson for Indonesia's Finance Ministry Nufransa Wira Sakti said they worked at the finance ministry offices in Pangkal Pinang but had been in Jakarta for the weekend. They routinely took this flight.

What do we know about this aircraft?
The aircraft was a Boeing 737 MAX 8, a model only in commercial use since 2016.

Sutopo Purwo Nugroho shared this image on Twitter, taken from the
Pertamina facilities showing debris and oil
Lion Air said the aircraft involved in the crash was made in 2018 and has only been operated by the airline since 15 August this year.

Meant for short-haul travel, the single-aisle plane can fit a maximum of 210 passengers.

In a statement, Boeing expressed sympathy for the victims and families and said it "stands ready to provide technical assistance to the accident investigation".

How is Lion Air's safety record?
Indonesia, a vast archipelago, is heavily reliant on air travel, but many of its airlines have a poor safety record.

Lion Air is Indonesia's largest low-cost carrier, operating flights domestically as well as a number of international routes in South East Asia, Australia and the Middle East.

This Lion Air plane landed in the sea off Bali in 2013, but all passengers and crew survived
Established in 1999, it has had issues of safety and poor management in the past and was banned from flying into European airspace until 2016.

In 2013, Lion Air flight 904 crashed into the sea on landing at Bali's Ngurah Rai International Airport. All 108 people on board survived. In 2004, flight 538 from Jakarta crashed and broke up on landing at Solo City, killing 25 people.

In 2011 and 2012 there was a spate of incidents where pilots were found in possession of methamphetamines, in one incident hours before a flight.

(Source: BBC)

Indian farmers fume at $430m cost of Gujarat statue

On 31 October India will unveil the world's tallest statue, which has cost hundreds of millions of dollars. BBC Gujarati's Roxy Gagdekar spoke to local farmers who say they are aghast that the government has spent so much money on it while they struggle to make ends meet.

For years Vijendra Tadvi, a 39-year-old farmer in the western state of Gujarat, has been struggling to find water to irrigate his three acres (1.2 hectares) of farmland.

He grows chilli, corn and groundnuts. Like millions of farmers across India, he relies on monsoon rains to water his crops. or he pumps out groundwater, which supports 80% of the rural water supply and farm irrigation. But long dry summers followed by erratic rains have led to frequent drought and shrunk the incomes of farmers like Mr Tadvi.

So in 2015, Mr Tadvi found a job as a driver on a construction site to supplement his income. The Gujarat state government was building a 182m (600ft) high statue, billed as the tallest in the world.

The bronze-clad tribute to Indian independence leader Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel cost 29.9bn rupees (£330m; $430m). And Gujarat's government is reported to have paid more than half of that amount. The remainder came from the federal government or public donations.

"Instead of spending money on a giant statue, the government should have used it for farmers in the district," Mr Tadvi said, adding that farmers in the area still lack basic irrigation facilities.

The statue is complete and Mr Tadvi has found more work as a driver on construction sites. But he is still unimpressed by the government's largesse.

Vijendra Tadvi says the government should spend money on farmers, not statues
The "statue of unity", as it is known, is the centrepiece of a sprawling memorial to Patel. A formidable nationalist leader, he was born in Gujarat and went on to become independent India's first interior minister and deputy prime minister under Jawaharlal Nehru.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is also from Gujarat, commissioned the statue when he was the state's chief minister in 2010. In recent years, Mr Modi's ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has embraced Patel in an attempt to claim his legacy - and they have accused the opposition Congress party of sidelining him to benefit Nehru's descendants, three of whom have served as prime ministers.

Congress ruled India for 49 of its 71 years as an independent nation.

The plan for Patel's memorial includes a three-star hotel, a museum and a research centre that will focus on subjects "close to his heart" - such as "good governance" and "agriculture development".

All of this is about 10km (6.2 miles) from Mr Tadvi's village, Nana Pipaliya, in the largely poor, rural and tribal Narmada district. Many of its households continue to live in hunger, primary school enrolment has been falling and malnourishment persists, according to a report published in 2016 by the state government.
The statue of Indian independence leader Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel is 182m high
But the government believes the memorial will boost the district's economy, as they expect about 2.5 million annual visitors. "It will lead to employment opportunities for locals and will also increase tourism in the area," said Sandeep Kumar, a senior official involved with the project.

Locals are sceptical. "We want to ask the government: why can't they fund a project to support farmers and improve their standard of life?" said Lakhan, a tribal activist who only goes by his first name. "We were promised water for irrigation but the situation remains the same."

Nana Pipaliya is in what is known as a "command area" of a nearby dam - lands that are supposed to receive water from a designated irrigation project. But, Mr Tadvi said, he and other farmers were still deprived of water.

"I grow only one crop per year, while people with irrigation facilities grow up to three crops annually," said Bhola Tadvi, a farmer who relies solely on rainwater for irrigation.

According to the 2011 census, some 85% of the district's working population is engaged in agriculture, a sector which is dominated by small farmers who own two to four acres of land.

District officials told BBC Gujarati that the government was committed to ensuring that water was made available to them. Lakhan said thousands of farmers were struggling to access water for irrigation.

Farmers regularly suffer heavy losses caused by drought
Half of India's population works on farms, but farming contributes only 15% to the country's GDP.

In fact, agriculture growth in India has dwindled to 1.2%. Farms employ a lot of people but produce too little, and tens of thousands of farmers struggle to repay crop loans taken from banks and money lenders.

Earlier this year, farmers in the neighbouring state of Maharashtra staged a massive protest demanding a waiver on the repayment of loans and better prices for their crops.

In 2017, farmers from drought-affected districts in the southern state of Tamil Nadu brandished human skulls and a held live mice between their teeth to draw attention to their plight.

Here in the shadow of Patel's statue, farmers have resorted to stealing water. They say they can see the water passing by their farms through a canal that transports it from the dam, but it's illegal to divert the water so they are forced to steal it.

One of the farmers said he had laid a pipe underground from the canal to his farm, adding that nearly all farmers in the area did this to survive.

"We don't have any option but to take the water illegally as there are no sources of water left for us."

(Source: BBC)

Sunday 28 October 2018

Hayao Miyazaki’s cursed worlds

How do you live with a true heart when everything around you is collapsing?
—Hayao Miyazaki

I brought a friend with me the first time I saw Princess Mononoke in an American movie theater. He had no experience with Miyazaki or with Japanese culture or animation, but he was intrigued to see what promised to be a grand adventure story, especially one that was appearing in the United States under the auspices of Disney. In the middle of watching the movie, however, he started nudging me. “Who’s the good guy?” he hissed irritably. “I can’t tell which is the good guy and which is the bad guy!” “That’s the whole point!” I whispered back.

Princess Mononoke inaugurated a new chapter in Miyazakiworld. Ambitious and angry, it expressed the director’s increasingly complex worldview, putting on film the tight intermixture of frustration, brutality, animistic spirituality, and cautious hope that he had honed in his manga Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. The film offers a mythic scope, unprecedented depictions of violence and environmental collapse, and a powerful vision of the sublime, all within the director’s first-ever attempt at a jidaigeki, or historical film. It also moves further away from the family fare that had made him a treasured household name in Japan.

In the complicated universe of Princess Mononoke, there is no longer room for villains such as Future Boy Conan’s power-hungry Repka, the greedy Count of The Castle of Cagliostro, or the evil Muska of Laputa: Castle in the Sky. Miyazaki instead gives his audiences the ambitious but generous Lady Eboshi and the enigmatic monk Jiko-bō, who insists that we live in a cursed world. Jiko-bō isn’t the only one who thinks this, apparently. In the darkest moments of his tale of humans battling the “wild gods” of the natural world in fourteenth-century Japan, Miyazaki seems to be saying that all the dwellers of this realm, human and nonhuman, are equally cursed. Princess Mononoke raises questions Miyazaki had implicitly asked in the Nausicaä manga: Given what humanity has done to the planet, do we have a right to keep on waging war against the nonhuman other? Is there any way that humans and nonhumans can coexist?

These questions struck a deep chord in Japanese audiences, and the movie opened a new chapter in Miyazaki’s influence on Japanese society. Princess Mononoke became not simply a hit but a cultural phenomenon. The Japanese media celebrated the more than two thousand eager fans who lined up for the movie’s first screening in Tokyo, then vociferously commemorated the moment when the film surpassed the country’s previous highest earning movie, Steven Spielberg’s E. T. Magazine articles and even special issues on the film flooded Japan, tackling everything from the movie’s reworking of traditional history and its varied and impressive group of voice actors to its innovative animation techniques, including Studio Ghibli’s first use of computers and digital painting.

Miyazaki was interviewed on subjects ranging from environmental degradation to his judgment on whether children should see such a violent movie (on which he reversed himself, initially saying that they should not see it and then insisting that children would make the best audience). His fame among anime fans had been building for many years, and the success of his 1989 film, Kiki’s Delivery Service, opened up a still wider audience, but it is with Princess Mononoke that Miyazaki became a celebrity of sorts. This does not mean that he built a flashy house and started dating supermodels. He remained in the unpretentious Tokyo suburb of Tokorozawa and continued to welcome friends and staff members to the rustic cabin his father-in-law had built in the mountains of Nagano prefecture. In an interview after Princess Mononoke’s release, he spoke longingly of a desire “just to go away and live in a cabin in the mountains.”

This desire for retreat was understandable. As numerous articles and a six-hour documentary on the making of the film make clear, Princess Mononoke was the most stress-inducing film the director had created. Notably longer and far more expensive than any previous Studio Ghibli film, the work required almost superhuman efforts on the part of Miyazaki and his increasingly weary staff. Given Miyazaki’s obsessive attention to detail, the film’s epic scope, historical setting, and wide cast of characters made the preparation period alone intensely time-consuming, to say nothing of the time that the actual production took. Exhausted by the experience, some of the veterans who had worked on Princess Mononoke left the company when the film was finished to be replaced by new animators.

Toshio Suzuki, who produced Princess Mononoke, recalls a moment when Miyazaki finally “exploded” after being asked to do too many things in too short a time. The director was “correcting the storyboards, checking the originals, aligning the music to the story, and presiding over the ‘after recordings’ ”—vocals added after the initial animation is complete. He was also giving interviews on television and to newspapers and magazines, all while being involved with the marketing and with introducing the film to audiences as it was rolled out over Japan. As Suzuki puts it, Miyazaki had “given his body and soul” to the movie and was beyond exhaustion. Suzuki remembers being with the director the night before the movie’s premiere in the provincial city of Kochi. Miyazaki lay in bed and with a felt pen drew a sketch of his own face. Handing the paper to Suzuki, he said curtly, “Here, you put this on and go out and pretend to be me at the movie tomorrow.” Princess Mononoke’s aftermath would mark the beginning of the director’s retreat from extensive public-relations responsibilities.

The all-out marketing campaign that surrounded the movie marked a first: the studio marketed it as a Ghibli film rather than a Miyazaki film. This change was more than symbolic, attesting to the ascendance of Suzuki as Ghibli’s main producer in the widening realm of Miyazakiworld. Involved with Miyazaki and Isao Takahata since his days as an editor at Animage, he was widely credited with successfully marketing Kiki’s Delivery Service. But Princess Mononoke’s record-breaking box-office performance was deemed Suzuki’s most spectacular success to date, launching him firmly into a highly visible position in the animation industry. Viewed as the pragmatist who enables Miyazaki to express his idealistic vision, Suzuki became an increasingly dominant force at Ghibli. Indeed, the documentary on the making of Princess Mononoke sometimes appears to be allotting almost as much face time to the producer as to the man who actually directed the film.

New faces were also coming in from overseas. In 1997, Ghibli’s parent company, Tokuma Shoten, announced a deal with Disney to distribute its products worldwide. Suzuki had arranged the agreement, and it was a huge achievement for him and for Ghibli. The deal expanded Ghibli’s influence globally in one stroke and achieved an enormous public-relations coup at home. More than a thousand reporters attended the press conference announcing the deal. As Suzuki disarmingly explained, “The announcement that [Princess Mononoke] would be opening across America was important only in that it helped us capture market share at home.”

In fact, Princess Mononoke, despite an elegant English-language script written by the fantasy writer Neil Gaiman, and an impressive roster of American and English voice actors, did not perform particularly well in the United States. While the film critic Janet Maslin of the New York Times praised the film’s “exotically beautiful action” and Miyazaki’s construction of “an elaborate moral universe,” she also felt compelled to mention its occasionally “knotty” plot and sometimes “gruesome” imagery. A Japanese journalist wondered later, “How could [Americans who were] used to stories about good versus evil, full of musical numbers and comical sidekicks, and always with a happy ending, be expected to appreciate the appeal of Studio Ghibli’s offerings?”

Miyazaki’s feelings about the new arrangement with Disney are cloudy. Beyond a rather vague speech at the press conference, I can find no public pronouncement by him on the subject. Over the years, neither he nor Suzuki had had much good to say about Disney, so it seems likely that the arrangement was a purely practical one for the benefit of both parties. But Miyazaki and Suzuki could at least be satisfied that they had broken new ground for quality Japanese animation. Furthermore, the Oscar later awarded to Miyazaki’s 2001 film, Spirited Away, would show that American audiences could indeed appreciate something beyond “happily ever after.”

Although groundbreaking in many ways, Princess Mononoke did not come out of nowhere. By the early nineties, Miyazaki had completed his first adult-oriented feature film, Porco Rosso, and was finally finishing the Nausicaä manga. Always searching for new inspirations, he became intrigued by the idea of doing something with the Hōjōki, a classic work from the thirteenth century. A brief, beautifully written reflection on the world and the transience of life, the Hōjōki is still part of the curriculum in most Japanese schools.

The Hōjōki is not an obvious candidate for a movie, animated or otherwise. Written by Kamo no Chōmei, a former courtier who had grown disillusioned by the ways of the world and became a Buddhist monk, the work appeared in 1223, at a time when military takeovers, famine, pestilence, and natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods rocked the capital and claimed thousands of lives. The Hōjōki chronicles these disasters from a safe distance, through the viewpoint of a thoughtful, poetic man who sees in the apocalyptic events around him a reason for retreat and reflection.

Miyazaki’s interest in the Hōjōki was stimulated by a book called Hōjōkiden, by a favorite novelist of his, Yoshie Hotta. But beyond such influences, Miyazaki’s own frame of mind played a part in sending the director’s art in grimmer directions than the largely upbeat family-oriented works of the seventies and eighties. As evidenced by both Porco Rosso and Nausicaä, he had grown increasingly disillusioned with authoritarian ideologies, and his growing anxieties about the vulnerability of the natural environment were reflected in Nausicaä’s apocalyptic themes.

Miyazaki admired the great live-action film director Akira Kurosawa, whose jidaigeki—period films featuring samurai—had hugely influenced postwar Japanese cinema. But Miyazaki wanted to do much more than create a piece of historical entertainment. Building on Hotta’s view of Hōjōki as a critique of the militarism and false ideologies of Kamo no Chōmei’s period, he hoped to create a work that would comment on Japan’s emptiness and confusion in the postbubble era. A country that had worshiped materialism and success seemed now to be floundering in a spiritual vacuum, reflected in the increasing use among contemporary Japanese of the word kyomu: emptiness.

Two major incidents in 1995 had traumatized Japan. The first was the Kobe earthquake in February, which killed between four thousand and six thousand people and was the worst earthquake to hit the country since the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923. For a modern industrialized nation, the scale of destruction was truly shocking. It seemed as if nature itself were seeking vengeance on human civilization. The earthquake was followed a month later by the Aum Shinrikyo incident, when members of an apocalyptic religious cult released sarin gas in a busy station in the Tokyo subway system, killing twelve people and injuring thousands more. These two terrifying episodes underlined the increasing sense of vulnerability felt by the Japanese, on both a psychological and an environmental level.

As a dweller in perilous times, Kamo no Chōmei would have been all too familiar with experiences like the horror of the Kobe earthquake and with the apocalyptic despair that inspired the Aum Shinrikyo incident. While Miyazaki ultimately abandoned the idea of filming the Hōjōki, he continued to consider a medieval period piece treating natural and technological catastrophe and the question of how to live in a complicated and terrible world. Unlike Chōmei or Kurosawa, Miyazaki wanted to give equal agency to human, natural, and supernatural forces.

At its most fundamental level the movie asks: Can we live ethically in a cursed world? And if so, how? Princess Mononoke offers two related possible solutions. The first is simply to “Live!” (Ikiro!), the catchphrase emblazoned on the movie posters and uttered by the movie’s protagonist, Ashitaka, to the desperate wolf princess San as she struggles to deal with her fear and resentment of humanity. In context, it tells us we cannot give up, no matter what, a message that Miyazaki felt imperative in the emotionally apathetic landscape of nineties Japan. The second is “to see with eyes unclouded”—a challenge, as the movie presents both bloodthirsty beast attacks and relentless human industrialization, and asks us to observe all sides with clarity and objectivity.

(SOurce: The Paris Review)

Could height be a cancer risk?

Taller people are at more risk of getting cancer, a new study looking at over a million people claims.

Past reports have reached the same conclusion, but should lofty people be alarmed, or is this just a tall story?

Experts stress the results only point to a very small increase in risk compared with factors like smoking.

Plus it is unclear what might be the driver behind the link. The leading theory is tall people have more cells that can turn cancerous.

But hormone levels, other illnesses and how affluent or deprived people are when young, might have an impact on height and cancer risk too.

Report author Dr Leonard Nunney told the BBC a person's risk factor depended on their exact height.

"If 50/500 average height women got cancer then 60/500 tall (178cm) women would be expected to get cancer. If you consider a very tall woman, say 6'2" (188cm), then you'd expect 67/500."

He added: "The effect of smoking is massive. Even a light smoker (about three per day) has a huge six times increase in lung cancer risk ie: 50/500 becomes 300/500."

What did the study say?
The report, published by the Royal Society, says that for every 4in (10cm) increase in human height above the average used in the study of 5ft 7in for men and 5ft 3in for women, there is a 10% greater risk of that person getting cancer.

The data was compiled from four large-scale studies, including the Million Women Study, on 23 cancer types in the UK, US, South Korea, Austria, Norway and Sweden.

Each study chosen had to include 10,000 cancer cases for each sex.

Of 18 cancer types analysed in both men and women, four - pancreas, oesophagus, stomach and mouth/pharynx - showed no apparent increase with height.

And in the sex-specific cancers, only one - cervix - was unaffected.

What do experts think?
Height is only one of many factors that determine a person's cancer risk and it's definitely not a big one. Plus it can't be modified, unlike lifestyle risk factors, such as body weight.

Experts say that the key to increasing chances of avoiding illness is living a healthy lifestyle.

Georgina Hill, from Cancer Research UK, told the BBC: "The increased risk is small and there's plenty you can do to reduce the risk of developing cancer such as not smoking and keeping a healthy weight."

Dr John O'Neill, research group leader, MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB), said: "If you have more cells, you have a greater risk of cancer. Tall people have a greater surface area, and therefore more melanocytes, and so of course they're more likely to get melanoma."

Prof Andrew Sharrocks, professor of molecular biology, University of Manchester, said: "Extrapolating from a height correlation to increased cell number being the reason for higher cancer incidence is a big leap and is only one possible explanation.

"Similarly, saying that the higher incidence is due to a higher proliferation rate is also dubious, given the fact that most cancers arise much later in life, long after the increased proliferation associated with enhanced growth during childhood and adolescence has ceased."

What about the benefits?
This report follows on from a 2011 one from the University of Oxford and a similar study in Sweden in 2015.

Prof Tim Cole, a professor of medical statistics at University College London, said tall people should not be too worried about any of the findings.

"Being tall has quite a lot of benefits, so having one minus factor is not too disastrous," he told the BBC.

"There are actually lots of status benefits for tall people. People who earn more money tend to be taller and world leaders tend to be taller, so things stack up in their favour."

US President Donald Trump (left) and Canada's Justin Trudeau are each around 6ft 2in tall
What do tall people think of the findings?
Stuart Logan, a director of the UK's Tall Persons Club, feels that researchers tackle their studies in the wrong way.

His club, which was founded in 1991, has around 250 members in the UK and Ireland, as well as some in other European countries.

"We've noticed that a lot of men are averaging around 6ft 3in or 6ft 4in and women around 5ft 10in or 5ft 11in," Mr Logan told the BBC.

"So it would be more useful if researchers contacted different associations like ourselves and used our members to produce their reports.

"Reports like this are unhelpful - they may produce better headlines but those are not backed up by the data included.

"What slightly annoys me is that on the positive side, the taller you are the less chance you have of diabetes, stroke or heart disease - but then you are told you have more risk of getting cancer."

(Source: BBC)

How a Jewish woman survived the Second World War by hiding above a Nazi officer

Elsa Koditschek secretly kept a valuable Egon Schiele painting for years while the SS officer who had evicted her lived downstairs

Elsa Koditschek was living in a prosperous section of Vienna, near the foothills of the Alps, when the Nazis, who had annexed Austria, confiscated her home in 1940. A German officer, a squad leader in the SS, soon moved in.

Ms Koditschek, a Jew, was allowed to stay on, in an upstairs apartment, a tenant in her own house for about a year, until a deportation edict arrived ordering her to a bleak, uncertain future in a Polish ghetto. She fled instead, leaving behind her life’s possessions including the only major artwork she had ever purchased, a landscape by Egon Schiele.

For years, she hid in the homes of non-Jewish friends, according to an account she gave in dozens of letters written during and after the war. But she was ultimately desperate enough to seek refuge in the house the Nazis had seized from her, sneaking back in to live there in secrecy and silence with an upstairs tenant.

From there, she spied on the SS officer, Herbert Gerbing, watching through a window as he sat in the garden with his family. Probably unbeknown to her, while she hid upstairs, he was helping with the deportation of Jews across Europe.

“Who would think I would find myself sharing a roof with an SS officer?” she wrote later in a letter to her son, Paul, who had moved to New York years earlier.

Ms Koditschek’s Schiele was ultimately sold during the war, while she struggled to survive, and it has been sold several times since.

But her letters, handwritten on onionskin and intact after having been carefully packed away in a relative’s basement, helped the Koditschek family and researchers at Sotheby’s piece together the provenance of the painting. So this autumn in New York, when it goes up for auction with an estimated value of $12m to $18m, Ms Koditschek’s heirs will share in the proceeds with its current owners.

“It’s so unusual to have a victim of Nazi theft or expropriation who writes everything down,” Lucian Simmons, the worldwide head of restitution at Sotheby’s, said. “Usually you’re trying to join the dots, but the dots are far apart.”

Mentions of the Schiele painting in the letters buttressed the provenance research by Mr Simmons, who had approached the family in 2014 after independently finding indications that it had lost an important painting during the war. What followed were several years of negotiation with the current owners of the Schiele, Europeans who had bought it in the 1950s, that led to an agreement that will govern the sale next month of the work, City in Twilight (The Small City II) painted in 1913.

“It’s an important painting with a wonderful revolutionary abstract form,” Mr Simmons said.

Elsa Koditschek (Sotheby's)
Perhaps more remarkable than the painting is the tale that accompanies it: the account of woman made vagabond by the Nazis who ended up returning to the very house from which she had been evicted, and living out the war there, just feet above one of her persecutors. Ms Koditschek survived the war, and related her account in many letters to her son, who died in 1974. But he seldom discussed those experiences in any detail, so relatives have only recently begun to unravel Ms Koditschek’s history by sifting through the correspondence. (Sotheby’s provided translations of excerpts from the letters.)

Their tone deepens as events evolve, according to Sarah Whites-Koditschek, a great-granddaughter, and turns grim in 1941 when the deportation order arrives. At that point, Ms Whites-Koditschek said, “She’s just writing about whether she can find any way to escape.”

Steven Luckert, a historian with the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, said Ms Koditschek’s experience stood out even among the startling tales of Jews who had lived through the war hiding in Nazi-occupied cities. “The fact that she was living in the same house as someone who was in charge of deportations makes it even more extraordinary,” he said.

Ms Koditschek, the widow of a banker, had sent her son and daughter away to safety before Europe became engulfed in war. But she stayed behind in Vienna, living in the three-story home her husband had built in 1911. She lived on the first floor, below her long-time tenant, Sylvia Kosminski, who was known as “Aunt Sylvia” though she was not a relative.

When the Nazi and his family took over the first floor, Ms Koditschek moved to the second to share quarters with Aunt Sylvia, bringing with her, the Koditschek family believes, the Schiele painting.

It does not seem, based on her letters, that Ms Koditschek had an inkling of Mr Gerbing’s larger role in the deportation of Jews. Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust remembrance centre, describes him as a key player in executing those policies and said he “participated in raids and arrests, and was reported to have been exceedingly brutal, at one case causing grievous injuries to detainees.”

When Ms Koditschek fled, she lived with a family named Heinz and spent virtually all of her time indoors, often hiding for hours behind a cupboard inside their apartment. She passed the lonely hours by practising her English or playing chess against herself.

But her life there was disrupted in 1943, Ms Koditschek wrote, when Mr Heinz came home one day “under the escort of some strange men” who began searching the apartment. She slipped away though an open door.

“I must have been wearing a magic cap of invisibility because the plainclothes men did not notice me,” she wrote, adding that as she roamed the streets that night, “people stared at me as if I was a ghost from another time.”

Under cover of darkness Ms Koditschek met Aunt Sylvia, and they returned to her home, rushing inside, she said in a letter, “when the coast was all clear.” For the next two years she lived a clandestine life there, sleeping on a makeshift bed and hiding whenever the doorbell rang.

As compelling as the letters are, they leave much unanswered. How did Ms Koditschek completely avoid notice? Was Aunt Sylvia Jewish, and if so, how did she escape persecution?

The painting – ‘City in Twilight (The Small City II)’ – will go up for auction with an estimated
value of $12m to $18m ( Sotheby’s )
Still, Ted Koditschek, Ms Koditschek’s grandson and a history professor emeritus at the University of Missouri, said in an interview that the correspondence is an invaluable resource for the family. “It is like a Rosetta Stone for a small group of people,” he said, adding, “There are still many questions that are unanswered and will remain that way.”

Just when the Schiele was sold is unclear, though Sotheby’s said it seems to have happened between 1941 and 1943. One of Ms Koditschek’s letters describes how Aunt Sylvia, who had supplied her with food while she hid, arrived one day at the Heinz apartment to say that she too now needed money and wanted permission to sell “the pictures.”

In a letter after the war, Ms Koditschek wrote to her son: “Aunt Sylvia sold your microscope, as well as the Schiele and the two Rugendas,” adding, “Aunt Sylvia was actually repaid her loans to me twice over.”

Sotheby’s, which will earn a commission on the sale of the painting, has negotiated several similar deals between the heirs of Jews who lost art during the Holocaust and the current owners of paintings, solutions often meant to address complicated issues of ownership, ethics and international law. The auction house did not identify the current owners of the Schiele, who wanted to remain anonymous.

Ms Koditschek was still in her house in 1944 when the Allies bombed Vienna and in 1945 when she heard rumours that Mr Gerbing had been killed by a mob in Prague. He never returned from that trip and the Russian army entered Vienna that year, ransacking her house, she wrote, as they passed.

Eventually, Ms Koditschek made her way to safety in Bern, Switzerland, where she died in 1961.

Ms Koditschek’s instincts about Poland probably saved her life, said Ms Whites-Koditschek who believes her great-grandmother had somehow figured out what was happening to those people who were deported to the Lodz ghetto. “She must have heard what was happening there through her community,” she said.

Indeed, most of the Jews who lived in or were shipped to Lodz went to death camps before the close of the war. By the time the Russians entered, a pre-war Jewish population of about 250,000 had been reduced to fewer than 1,000.

(Source: The Independent)

Saturday 27 October 2018

Manusmriti: The ultimate guide to becoming a ‘good woman’

Every time, while writing commentaries on ancient Indian texts, especially Manusmriti, I am faced with a dilemma which in the words of Andy Williams, can be described as where do I begin? Indian literature is replete with texts listing the dos and don’ts with regard to every aspect of life. With 79.8% of the population following Hinduism (2011 Census), most texts are ‘Hindu’ texts, though texts belonging to various religions are found in our multi-religious Indian society.

Traditional Hindu texts can be classified into Srutis and Smritis. Prior to the arrival of the printing, lessons in Hinduism were verbally transmitted (learning by hearing or Sruti) by the sages to their disciples through an immaculately preserved system of Gurukul and these lessons were later recorded in the form of Vedas, Upanisads and others.

Smritis refer to something that is remembered or written like the Itihasas, Manusmriti, Puranas. Vedas are the earliest texts composed in Vedic Sanskrit. Rig, Yajur, Sama and Atharva are the four Vedas. Each of which is further subdivided into Samhitas (mantras and benedictions), the Aryanakas (text on rituals, ceremonies, sacrifices), the Brahmanas (commentaries on rituals, ceremonies and sacrifices) and Upanishads (text on meditation, philosophy and spiritual knowledge).

Vedas are the oldest, believed to be composed around 1000-500 B.C and transmitted orally. Vedanga marks the beginning of the post-Vedic literature. Manusmriti or Manava Dharmashastra, finds eminence as an ancient legal text, though there are disagreements among scholars and historians regarding the actual date of when Manusmriti surfaced.

According to some scholars, Manusmriti was established by the 5th Century C.E, but regardless of the time of its first appearance, Manusmriti has remained colossally influential in determining the structure and the function of Indian society. As a text, Manusmriti is divided into 12 adhyayas or lessons and the four broad themes that emerge from the text are – the creation of the world, sources of Dharma, the dharma of the four social classes and the law of Karma, rebirth and the final liberation.

Manusmriti has been upheld as the ultimate guide to lead a moral life, the digressing of which is to be treated with serious negative sanctions. So detailed is the text, that it covers all aspects of the lives of people belonging to all social strata. Many scholars are of the opinion that the text has been compiled by not one but many writers.

Manusmriti details the role to be performed by the four varnas – The Brahmins, The Kshatriyas, The Vaishyas and The Shudras, though he spends only 10 verses detailing the role of the last two. It lays down the behaviour and moral codes to be followed by the superordinate and the subordinate. It also details the duties to be performed by the women within the household (totally disregarding the possibility of women making a mark in the world outside the domain of the private sphere).

Manusmriti has been single-handedly responsible for the derogatory position accorded to women in the post-Vedic period. The watertight dichotomization of the public and private sphere and the confinement of the women in the former has found its requisite justification in a text like Manusmriti. The ubiquitous presence of women in Hindu texts can never be overlooked.


Women have always been regarded as the guardians of dharma, custodian and transmitter of patriarchal values. The Vedas and Upanishads are replete with anecdotes of how gods and sages from time immemorial have created, used and controlled women for their own benefits and other’s destruction. Manusmriti imparts detailed knowledge of the rites and duties to be performed by married women and being subservient to her husband tops the list.

Vilification of women has been highlighted by portraying the woman as a dependent and vile creature requiring constant protection and guidance – initially by the father or brother and later by the husband and son. The unabashed elevation of the patriarchal values is shown in the fact that men (especially Brahmins) have been instructed not to accept food from women without a husband.

There is hardly any discourse noticeable on the unmarried women in the text as an unmarried menstruating woman is seen as a threat to the social equilibrium and a source of religious pollution. The verbatim translation of some of the passages in Manusmriti by Patrick Olivelle with regard to the duties of the married women towards her husband states-

The man to whom her father or, with her father’s consent, her brother gives her away- she should obey him when he is alive and not be unfaithful to him when he is dead. The invocation of blessings and the sacrifice to Prajapati are performed during marriage to procure her good fortune; the act of giving away is the reason for his lordship over her.

In season and out of season, in this world and in the next, the husband who performed the marriage consecration with ritual formulas always gives happiness to his woman. Though he may be bereft of virtue, given to lust and totally devoid of good qualities, a good woman should always worship her husband like a god.

For a woman, there is no independent sacrifice, vow or fast; a woman will be exalted in heaven by the mere fact that she has obediently served her husband. A good woman, desiring to go to the same world as her husband, should never do anything displeasing to the man who took her hand, whether he is alive or dead.

After her husband is dead, she may voluntarily emaciate her body by eating pure flower, roots, and fruits; but she must never mention even the name of another man. Aspiring to that unsurpassed Law of women devoted to a single husband, she should remain patient, controlled, and celibate until her death.

Untold thousands of Brahmins who have remained celibate from their youth have gone to heaven without producing offspring to continue their family line. Just like these celibates, a good woman, though she be sonless, will go to heaven when she steadfastly adheres to the celibate life after her husband’s death.

When a woman is unfaithful to her husband because of her strong desire for children, she is disgraced in this world and excluded from the husband’s world. No recognition is given here to offspring fathered by another man or begotten on another’s wife; nor is it taught anywhere that a good woman should take a second husband.

When a woman abandons her own husband of lower rank and unites with a man of higher rank, she only brings disgrace upon herself in the world and is called ‘a woman who has had a man before’. By being unfaithful to her husband, a woman becomes disgraced in the world, takes birth in a jackal’s womb, and is afflicted with evil diseases.

A woman who controls her mind, speech, and body and is never unfaithful to her husband attains the world of her husband, and virtuous people call her a ‘good woman’. By following this conduct, a woman who controls her mind, speech and body obtains the highest fame in this world and the world of her husband in the next.

The injunctions above have shaped or deformed the status of women in Indian society to a great extent. The categorization of women as ‘good’ or ‘defiled’ have been established with unmistakable clarity in the passages like the one above.

Apart from the dependent status accorded to women, Manusmriti is also responsible for the commencement of the varna (later, the varnas got subdivided into castes which got further subdivided into jatis) system in India, with Brahmins elevated to the highest rank followed by Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Sudras.

The acute misogyny preached in every page of the text cannot be missed. Women have been projected as not only dependent but a major source of grief to the family if not controlled with proper stringency. The few ways of channelizing a woman’s energy so that she is not inclined to engage in adultery and any form of diatribe is to compel her to cook, clean and look after household goods.

Another verbatim, blood boiling translation of the text regarding women states-

They (women) pay no attention to beauty, they pay no heed to age; whether he is handsome or ugly, they make love to him with the single thought, ‘He’s a man!’ Lechery, fickleness of mind and hard-heartedness are innate in them; even when they are carefully guarded in this world, therefore, they become hostile towards their husbands.

Recognizing thus the nature produced in them at creation by Prajapati, a man should make the utmost effort at guarding them. Bed, seat, ornaments, lust, hatred, behavior unworthy of an Arya, malice, and bad conduct – Manu assigned these to women.

The social opprobrium of the women continued with Manusmriti suggesting that women should concentrate on the tasks they are good at i.e, bearing and rearing the progeny. Interestingly, Hinduism assigns four ashramas for the men to follow – Brahmacharya, Grihastha, Vanaprastha and Sanyas, where the women’s inclusion and mention is seen only in the Grihastha ashrama.

The social status of woman – both in the present birth and beyond depends on the accurate and adroit fulfillment of the household tasks and duties towards her husband. With the derogatory portrayal of women, the demonising of people belonging to the non-dominant castes and establishing Brahmins as the highest authority deserving all the societal privileges, Manusmriti has explicitly promoted child marriage and dowry too – “A 30-year-old man should marry a charming girl of 12 years or any girl of 8 years – sooner, if his fulfilling the Law would suffer.”


Despite the incessant lambasting of women and people belonging to non-dominant castes, Manusmriti has always remained the backbone of Indian patriarchal and caste structure. Situating the gender problem within the caste structure, the way Manava Dharmashastra has done, resulted in the rise of the discourse on intersectionality which states that gender discrimination is not a unilinear phenomenon that the occidental gender theories have promulgated.

Patriarchy in India is a problem adulterated by the caste-class nexus to a great extent, making the production of a metanarrative a difficult and convoluted task. Critical appraisal of ancient texts like Manusmriti is an imperative to make women realize that they are the prisoners of historically contrived shackles.

That makes me end this with two questions – why is there no such categorization applicable to men and even if there is how come ‘bad boys’  tag is not socially stigmatized the way ‘defiled women’ is? And how is there a complete invisibility of the male counterpart of ‘seductress’ and ‘temptress’ in the ancient texts and portrayal of men as the unsuspected victim of feminine charm? Will the defenders of the traditional Indian texts and scriptures please step up and answer?

Buhler, G. (1886). Manusmriti: The Laws of Manu. Trans. G. Buhler, 25.
Chakravarti, U. (1993). Conceptualising brahmanical patriarchy in early India: Gender, caste, class and state. Economic and Political Weekly, 579-585.
Chakravarti, U. (1995). Gender, caste and labour: Ideological and material structure of widowhood. Economic and Political Weekly, 2248-2256.
Olivelle, P. (Ed.). (2004). The law code of Manu. Oxford University Press, USA.

(Source: FII)

Pork gelatine use in NHS vaccines 'disappointing'

The use of pork gelatine in three vaccines used by the NHS has been branded "disappointing" by the Vegetarian Society.

Chief executive Lynne Elliot added that the use of animal ingredients in medicines is "upsetting".

Porcine gelatine is derived from pigs and used in vaccines against flu, shingles, measles, mumps and rubella.

Public Health England said the gelatine is used as a stabiliser and developing an alternative "may never happen".
The nasal spray vaccine to protect children against flu contains porcine gelatine
The government agency said the gelatine is "highly purified" and manufactured under "strict hygiene and safety regulations".

A spokeswoman for Public Heath England said the gelatine helps to keep the vaccine viruses stable "to provide the best protection against flu".

Ms Elliot said there should be "vegetarian and vegan versions of all medicines and vaccines".

The three vaccines which contain porcine gelatine are:

  • Fluenz Tetra - a nasal spray vaccine which protects children against flu
  • MMR VaxPro - a jab which protects against measles, mumps and rubella
  • Zostavax - an injection to protect adults against shingles

All three are used across the UK as part of the national immunisation programme.

Zostavax and Fluenz Tetra were first introduced on the NHS in 2013, while MMR VaxPro was first used in 2008.

A parent who contacted the BBC said he was "offended" by the use of porcine gelatine in the nasal flu vaccine.

He explained his wife was told about the ingredient by a doctor when she took their children to be vaccinated.

She refused the vaccine because of their religion.

One parent told the BBC he was "offended" by the use of gelatine in the nasal flu vaccine
The Muslim Council of Britain said the vaccines are not permitted in Islam unless lives are at risk and there are no alternatives.

Dr Shuja Shafi, the chairman of the council's research and documentation committee, said: "There should be more work towards an alternative.

"We should be trying to find a long-term solution. The needs of the people must be met."

Dr Shafi advised anyone concerned about the use of gelatine in vaccines to consult a medical practitioner and make an "informed decision".

Mark Frazer, from the Office of the Chief Rabbi, said vaccines containing porcine gelatine are not an issue for the Jewish community because they are not ingested.

'Monitoring concerns'
A spokeswoman from Public Health England said the nasal flu vaccination is not mandatory and the decision is "one for parents alone".

"We recognise that there is still some uncertainty among some groups about the acceptability of the nasal spray.

"We will continue to monitor these concerns and consider them carefully."

Public Health England said the injectable flu vaccine does not contain
gelatine but is "less effective"
Public Health England said there are injectable flu vaccines that do not contain pork gelatine, but these are slightly "less effective" than the nasal vaccine because they may require two doses and do less to reduce the spread of flu.

Therefore they should only be offered as an alternative for children and adults "who are at high risk of the complications of flu" and who refuse the recommended first choice vaccine.

A gelatine-free vaccine is available for measles, mumps and rubella but there is no such alternative for the shingles vaccine Zostavax.

(SOurce: BBC)

The missing images of Chinese immigrants

The first known Chinese woman in America was nineteen-year-old Afong Moy, who arrived in New York City in 1834 on the steamship Washington. Three weeks later, she was put on display as part of an exhibit called the “Chinese Saloon.” For fifty cents, New Yorkers could purchase a ticket to gawk.

Afong Moy sat from ten A.M. to two P.M. and then three P.M. to five P.M. daily. She performed for the crowds by using chopsticks and speaking in Chinese. Eventually she toured up and down the East Coast, and by 1848 was performing as part of a P. T. Barnum show. Then, her popularity eventually waned, and by 1850, she’d been replaced. There are no more records of what became of Afong Moy. All that remains is a black-and-white drawing of her performance that appeared in a newspaper. She appears as a tiny, round-faced woman seated on a large chair in the middle of her exhibition space, surrounded by paper lanterns and other artifacts of chinoiserie.

The 1869 photograph The Joining of the Rails at Promontory Point, taken by Andrew J. Russell, features nearly a hundred white men carefully arranged around two black steam engines. Railroad baron Leland Stanford commissioned the shot to commemorate the completion of the first transcontinental railroad when the two lines, the Union Pacific from the east and the Central Pacific from the west, joined in Promontory, Utah. There are two white engineers positioned in the very center, shaking hands, while in the background white men raise glasses of champagne. Missing from the picture are the thirteen thousand Chinese workers who had made up the majority of the workforce on the Central Pacific line.

The Golden Spike National Historic Site, as it is now known, offers tourists an opportunity to re-enact the staging of the photograph. This curious communal, repeated act of mimesis occurs twice a day on Saturdays and holidays during the summer tourism season, according to the website, with a “dedicated team of volunteers” who dress in period costumes and recreate the golden spike ceremony. There is also a downloadable script for use by schools, two versions for both grades fourth through sixth and seventh through ninth, in which children may also participate in this bit of historically sanctioned whitewashing.

In 2002 and in 2012, groups of about two hundred Chinese Americans, including descendants of the first railroad workers, gathered for their own re-enactment in Utah, replacing every figure in the historic photo with a Chinese person. It was a symbolic act of resistance to a symbolic act of erasure.


Arguably, the most famous nineteenth-century images of Chinese people in America were taken by white photographer Arnold Genthe. The black-and-white photographs were taken of San Francisco’s Chinatown between 1895 and 1906, the year in which the original Chinatown was leveled in the San Francisco earthquake. He later published two anthologies, Pictures of Old Chinatown (1908) and Old Chinatown (1913). An immigrant from Germany, Genthe said he was inspired to photograph the neighborhood after reading one of the many guidebooks written by white men who claimed it was dangerous, seedy, and a must-see. As Genthe would later write in his memoir, “A sentence saying, ‘It is not advisable to visit the Chinese quarter unless one is accompanied by a guide,’ intrigued me. There is a vagabond streak in me which balks at caution. As soon as I could make myself free, I was on my way to Chinatown…”

At first, Genthe’s photographs seem invaluable for their depiction of the buildings and alleys and fashions. However, historians have shown that Genthe’s photographs were far from objective documents. Genthe staged some scenes and heavily edited others. He removed anything that detracted from the exotic image that he wanted to convey: cropping out images of white people, English-language signs, telephone poles, and even electrical wires.

He labeled his photographs, too. The photo of a Chinese woman standing on the sidewalk: “The Street of the Slave Girls.” A Chinese man walking away from a stove is captioned, “The Devil’s Kitchen by Night.” Even a shot of random Chinese men in crowds on the street, smoking, talking, walking, is ominously labeled, “The Street of Gamblers.”

After the original Chinatown was leveled in the 1906 earthquake, Chinese businessmen raised money to rebuild the neighborhood, in an intentionally lighter, airier, and more “beautiful” manner, with pagoda-esque elements added to buildings to attract tourists to the local restaurants and small shops. Genthe declared the new Chinatown too commercial and declined to take new pictures.


With the rise of motion pictures, the superficial representation of Chinese immigrants increased although the use of actual Chinese actors did not. White actors were cast instead. I remember the first time I saw D. W. Griffith’s 1919 silent film Broken Blossoms, or The Yellow Man and the Girl. It was broadcast on public TV when I was in elementary school. It caught my eye because I’d never seen a movie before that depicted an interracial couple in which the man was Chinese and the woman was white, like my parents. However, it took me a while to realize the man was only supposed to be Chinese. He was played by the white actor Richard Barthelmess in yellowface, with taped eyes and a fake braided wig.

He was among the first of many white actors playing Chinese, including Warner Oland and Sidney Toler as the detective Charlie Chan; Paul Muni, Luise Rainer, and Tilly Losch (as Wang, O-lan, and Lotus respectively in The Good Earth); Katharine Hepburn (Jade Tan in Dragon Seed); and even Emma Stone (playing the mixed-race Chinese American Allison Ng in 2012’s Aloha).

I once showed The Good Earth in a creative-writing class I was teaching at Amherst College. My students were mostly Asian American and we laughed at the broad stereotypes portrayed by all the white actors in yellowface. Afterward, one Korean international student in the class stood up; he was shaking. “It’s so-so-so exaggerated!” he managed to say.

Seeing his distress, I realized I had forgotten what it felt like to experience erasure for the first time, to see the unfamiliar features of the actors, Paul Muni’s ridiculous, corny overacting as he prepares for his wedding day, the wide-eyed look of dumbfounded oppression on Luise Rainer’s face. As an adult I’d been acculturated to such images. I had forgotten how I’d first felt, when I realized Richard Barthelmess, with his freakish taped eyes and stupid wig, was supposed to be someone like my father, my grandfather, like my family.


What would it have been like to grow up in a country that had shown images of Chinese made by Chinese? While Crazy Rich Asians’ record-breaking box office revealed the pent-up desire of Asian Americans to see reflections of their diasporic identity, films from a century earlier offered their own attempt at cultural restoration. In 1917, two years before Broken Blossoms, a Chinese American woman in Oakland, Marion E. Wong, wrote and directed The Curse of Quon Gwon. The melodrama starred Marion and her sister-in-law, Violet, in a love story about two Chinese American sisters and their suitors.

It received no distribution. No movie theater would show it.

Years later, Violet’s grandson found three reels of the movie in his grandmother’s basement and paid to have them transferred to 16mm. Although incomplete, the film was eventually restored professionally and, in 2006, it was added to the National Film Registry. The Curse of Quon Gwon was finally screened theatrically in Oakland in 2015, ninety-eight years after it was filmed and nearly a half century after the director’s death in 1969.


Wayne Wang’s 1982 debut, Chan Is Missing, addresses directly the sense of erasure and the efforts at recovery of Chinese American identity. Like a palimpsest built upon these missing, elided, cropped, staged, caged, and erased images of Chinese immigrants, Wang’s black-and-white film captures the loss but also offers resistance.

In a subversion of the Charlie Chan trope, a local Chinatown cabbie (Wood Moy) plays a would-be detective searching for his long-time friend who’s identified only as Chan. The cabbie interrogates old friends, strangers, and colleagues only to find that each describes the missing man in a different, often contradictory light. As the title suggests, there will be no Charlie Chan images, no yellowface, but instead an exploration of the complexity of Chinese American identities.

Sitting in the flickering light of my college campus theater, I could not put into words what I felt the first time I saw Wang’s film, the surprise that someone else had felt this way and could articulate it so subtly and brilliantly. It gave me hope. And it planted the tiny seed in the back of my mind that storytelling was important, that art could fight erasure, that maybe someday, I could do this work, too.

At one point, Chan’s daughter named Jenny (Emily Yamasaki) also disappears. The cabbie looks for her in the restaurant where she works, but the hostess has no idea who Jenny is until Jenny walks into frame. “Oh, her,” the hostess responds. “Her name is Shao Lui, not Jenny.”

In this scene, Wang captures the idea that a person could be lost as easily as that, slipping into the crack between languages, the way the paper trail for many immigrants has been lost between the transliteration of one’s Chinese name or paper-son name or Angel Island name. Like Afong Moy, like thirteen thousand Chinese railroad workers, like women and men turned into slave girls or gamblers, one’s real self could be erased so quickly from the record of America.

(Source: The Paris Review)