Eradicating the Stigma

In 1894, while Gandhiji was in South Africa, he was addressing a gathering in Natal. He noticed that some people were standing well away from the crowd, but listening to him intently. He beckoned them to join the rest, but they did not do so. After his talk, as Gandhi started walking towards them, one of them called out “Gandhibhai, do not come near us, we are lepers.”  Gandhi was undeterred. When he went close  he saw that they were a sorry picture. Some had lost their fingers and toes, or hair, some had disfigured facial features. When he asked them whether they were being treated for their ailments he was shocked to hear that no one was willing to come near them, let alone treat them. They said that they were completely ostracized by all, and died a lonely death far away from all others. Gandhi invited this group to his camp, and personally cleaned their festering wounds, and bathed and fed them.

This incident was the start of Gandhi’s lifelong crusade to lift the stigma against leprosy. And the start of one his satyagrahas—the satyagraha to not just treat, but to eradicate the stigma against this other group of ‘untouchables’.

Gandhiji and Parchure Shastri

Gandhi’s close friendship and solicitous care of the scholar Parchure Shastri who was a leprosy patient is well documented. They met while both were in confinement in Yerawada jail and Shastri was kept in isolation; the two developed close bonds, Later Gandhi invited Shastri to live in the Sevagram Ashram and personally supervised his care and treatment.  

Manohar Diwan, one of Gandhi’s followers became the first non-missionary Indian to work on leprosy. In 1936, under the guidance of Vinoba Bhave and Gandhiji, he started the Maharogi Seva Samiti, the first indigenous leprosy care centre in India at Duttapur, close to the Sevagram Ashran near Wardha; which is still running.  

Subsequently, the Gandhi Memorial Leprosy Foundation was started, led by Dr. Wardekar, who developed the Survey Education Treatment (SET) strategy to control leprosy, that became the national strategy.

In 1955, the Government of India started the National Leprosy Control Programme for surveillance, which was upgraded to National Leprosy Elimination Programme (NLEP) in 1983 bringing leprosy treatment on its agenda. In 1991, India contained 75 per cent of the world’s leprosy cases. On January 30, 2005, India announced that it had eliminated leprosy as a public health problem, i.e., less than 1 person in 10,000 infected with the disease. India still makes up 58.8 per cent of the world’s leprosy cases.

While statistically India has had a large number of leprosy patients, it would be wrong to assume that leprosy is a disease only of poor and perceived ‘backward’ countries. Most people would not believe it if they were told that just a hundred years ago, leprosy was as much of a stigma in the United States of America. Even today USA is not entirely leprosy free.

Although leprosy was never an epidemic in the United States, cases of leprosy had been reported in the southern state of Louisiana as early as the 18th century. It is believed that these might have been carried by the slaves from Africa. One of the major ports where the ships bringing these slaves docked was New Orleans. As cases of people with the dreadful disease were being reported, it was also clear that these patients were totally outcast, until they died a pitiful and lonely death.

 In 1896 four missionary sisters of The Catholic Daughters of St. Vincent de Paul came to this region. They set up a retreat in Carville, in South Louisiana, to serve the mission of caring for these patients who were totally outcast and ostracized. For the next 109 years a total of 116 sisters made it their life’s mission to work in the leprosarium.

Due to the social stigmas that surrounded leprosy, upon arriving at Carville, patients were encouraged to take on a new identity. As a result, many patients at Carville changed their names. Most patients had very limited contact with family members. Visitors were allowed, but the remote location made this difficult. Even the staff of the leprosarium seldom knew the patients’ real names or knew what town they came from. Most of those who came to the institution, lived there for the rest of their life, and died there.

In 1921 the federal government took over the hospital from the state of Louisiana and it became the National Leprosarium, the only leprosy hospital in the United States.

The Hospital’s treatment facility closed in 1999. The building was converted into the National Hansen’s Disease Museum the same year. This museum honours the leprosy patients—once quarantined on site—and the medical staff who cared for them and made medical history as they battled leprosy. The museum collects, preserves and interprets medical and cultural artefacts to inform and educate the public about Hansen’s disease (leprosy).

For hundreds of years leprosy remained a mysterious disease. It was even seen as the sign of a curse that slowly mutilated its victims. It was thought that anyone who came in contact with a victim would also get it. It was also believed that is was a hereditary disease. As a result leprosy patients became “lepers” in every sense of the term.   

It was Gerhard-Henrik Armauer Hansen, a Norwegian scientist, who discovered the slow-growing bacterium now known as Mycobacterium leprae as the cause of the illness.  This was at a time when the concept of contagion was still poorly understood, and no one had shown that bacteria could cause human diseases. Hansen’s thesis was received with scepticism by the medical fraternity. But his strong conviction in his discovery and unstinted devotion to a lifetime of research changed the way leprosy was approached as a disease. Today it is accepted that leprosy is not hereditary; it is difficult to catch, and it can take many years to develop symptoms of the disease following an infection. Also, people who catch the disease can be cured with antibiotics.

Leprosy was renamed Hansen’s disease in honour of the scientist who made these findings.

While medical advances in the understanding and treatment of leprosy have been progressing, a greater challenge is to change common perceptions and attitudes towards those who have been afflicted by this condition. A large effort towards this was initiated by another crusader, the French humanitarian and journalist Raoul Follereau. It is believed that he first encountered lepers while on a journalist assignment in South America in the mid 1920s. Just as Gandhi had reacted in South Africa, Follereau on seeing a group of people hiding in the bushes, asked his guide who they were. As he later recounted: “… To the guide I said: ‘Who are these men? ‘Lepers’ he answered. ‘…but wouldn’t they be better in the village? What have they done to be excluded?’ ‘They are lepers’, answered the taciturn and stubborn man. ‘At least they are being treated?’ Then my interlocutor shrug his shoulders and left me without anything say. … and it was on that day that I decided to plead one cause for all my life, that …of lepers.”

So began Follereau’s satyagraha. Along with his numerous duties as cultural ambassador for France, and journalist, he worked actively to support projects for care of leprosy patients, and spread awareness. In April 1943 the first conference on this subject was held. In 1953, a missionary Father Balez suggested to Raoul Follereau to create a world day of prayer for lepers. Raoul Follereau chose 30th January, the day that Gandhiji died as the date for this annual Day.

The first World Day of Lepers was celebrated on the last Sunday of January 1954. This day had two objectives: First to advocate that leprosy patients are cared for and treated like all other patients, while respecting their freedom and their human dignity. And second, “to cure the healthy” of the absurd and sometimes criminal fear they have of this disease and of those who are affected by it.

This year on World Leprosy Day let us remember the pioneers who led their own crusades against the stigma. Also re-educate ourselves about this often avoided topic, and join the fight to end the stigma.


Never Say Die: A Tribute to Dr. V. Shanta

A Tribute on Republic Day to Builders of our Institutions of Excellence

The story of Dr. V. Shanta (1927-2021), is the story of The Cancer Institute, Adyar. For her, the institute and its mission were everything. She admitted that work was her only interest,  that she was not social, had few friends, and did not keep in touch with those she had! So tied up was her life to the Institute that when she felt unwell a few days before her death, she said to those around her: “If I die, sprinkle my ashes all over the institute. I don’t want to leave this hospital,”

She joined the Institute in 1955, just a year after it was founded by another remarkable lady, Dr. Muthulakshmi Reddy. Dr. Shanta served there till she passed away last week at the age of 93, still seeing patients and managing the institute as Chairperson. Dr. Shanta, who was related to two of India’s Noble Laurates (Dr. CV Raman and Dr. S Chandrashekar), was a Magsaysay Award recipient (2005) and a Padma Vibhushan (2015).

Her Magsaysay citation mentions: “In an era when specialised medical care in India has become highly commercialised, Dr Shanta strives to ensure that the Institute remains true to its ethos, ‘Service to all’. Its services are free or subsidised for some 60 percent of its 100,000 annual patients […] 87-year-old Shanta still sees patients, still performs surgery and is still on call twenty-four hours a day.”

Adyar Cancer Institute was only the second comprehensive cancer centre in India. It pioneered many areas of cancer care, becoming the first in the country to set up a Nuclear Medical Oncology Department; to set up a Medical Physics Department; to set up a Pediatric Oncology Department; to start a Medical Oncology Unit; carry out the country’s first rural cancer survey; create the first super-specialty course in oncology in India; set up the first cancer registry..and many, many more.

While it stays at the cutting edge of medical developments related to cancer, the core of the Institute is its Mission to provide quality care for every patient, irrespective of their ability to pay. In fact, of the 535 beds in the hospital, only 40% are fully-paid beds; 20% patients pay a nominal amount; 40% beds are free, where not only do patients not pay for treatment, but boarding and lodging is free too–living up to its Mission ‘To provide state of art to any cancer patient irrespective of his or her economic status.’

This was the lifework of Dr. Shanta, along with Dr. S. Krishnamurthi, son of the founder Dr. Muthulakshmi.

May the legacy of Dr. Muthulakshmi and Dr. Shanta continue to live on, and may their dream of a world free of suffering and pain come true!


In memory of my father, Shri A. Nagaratnam, one of the country’s early Medical Physicists, who had the privilege of professional interactions with Dr. Shanta.

Father Valles, whom Mamata wrote about a few weeks ago in ‘The Mathematical Priest’ has been bestowed posthumously with the Padma Shri. A fitting tribute indeed.

Another Word For…

Every writer knows well the sudden point in the flow of words where you struggle to find another/better/appropriate word. And where a dictionary will not serve the purpose. That is the time to turn to the trusted Thesaurus with its rich listing of synonyms.

The word thesaurus itself came to the English language in the late 16th century, via Latin, from the Greek word thēsauros meaning ‘storehouse or treasure’. It was used in the early 19th century by archaeologists to denote an ancient treasury, such as that of a temple. Soon after that, the word was metaphorically used to describe a book containing a “treasury” of words or information about a particular field.

In 1852, the English scholar Peter Mark Roget published a book in which he compiled lists of related words which were organised according to specific categories. The book was titled  Thesaurus of English Words, Classified and Arranged as to Facilitate the Expression of Ideas and Assist in Literary Composition. This led to the common acceptance of the term “thesaurus” to describe a book of words and their synonyms. In the years to come the word Roget itself became a synonym for Thesaurus.

One would have imagined that the Thesaurus was the magnum opus of its author Peter Roget who spent his life as a wordsmith. In fact, Roget was a multi-faceted individual who wore many hats in his lifetime.

Peter Mark Roget was born on 18 January 1779 in London. His father was a clergyman of Swiss origin, and his mother was the sister of a notable law reformer Sir Samuel Romilly. After the death of his father when Peter was only four years old, the family moved to Edinburgh. The young Peter was a brilliant student, graduating from medical school in Edinburgh at the age of 19. His ardent curiosity led him to research and experiment in numerous fields of knowledge. As a young doctor he published works on tuberculosis, and on the effects of nitrous oxide, known as ‘laughing gas’, then used as an anaesthetic. He then moved on to Bristol and Manchester where he worked as a private physician and also as a tutor.

In 1808 he moved to London, where he continued to pursue his diverse interests in medicine and science. He was made a Fellow of the Royal Society, Britain’s national academy of science, and served as its secretary for 21 years. The government asked him to explore London’s water system.  He sought to improve sanitation and food preservation, even discussing the concept of a ‘frigidarium’. He helped to found Manchester Medical School and the University of London. He wrote numerous entries for various encyclopaedias. He invented a pocket chessboard, and a new type of slide rule. He was also interested in optics and wrote a paper on how the kaleidoscope could be improved.

While his professional life was marked by prodigious achievements, Peter Roget’s personal life was traumatic and tragic. He hardly knew his father who died when he was very young; his mother suffered from paranoia, and his sister experienced mental breakdowns. His wife died of cancer when she was only 36. And Sir Samuel, his favourite uncle and surrogate father slit his own throat, even as Roget tried to pull the blade from his hand.

Roget himself was afflicted with depression, and developed such a repugnance of dirt and disorder, that would today be diagnosed as OCD. Perhaps as a reaction to all this turmoil, he also became obsessed with numbers and lists. The obsession also worked as therapy.

From the time that he was a young boy, Peter made lists. The process of sorting and classifying provided a sense of order and logic. As early as 1805 when he was 26 years old, he had compiled, for his own personal use, a small indexed catalogue of words which he used to help his prolific writing. He continued with this exercise of classifying and cataloguing words even as he continued his distinguished career in medicine and science.

It is only when he retired from medical practice age the age of 60 that Roget devoted all his time and energy on the project that would, in later years, eclipse all his former achievements.  For four years he worked on the task of arranging ideas, meanings and concepts. The contents were not arranged alphabetically but put in an order where a given idea fitted into his own classification, within six classes: Abstract Relations, Space, Matter, Intellect, Volition, and Affections.

Whereas a conventional dictionary starts with words and provides their meanings, pronunciations, and etymology, Roget’s Thesaurus was the converse, namely, an idea was given alongside the word or words by which that idea could most aptly be expressed. Although philosophically orientated, the Thesaurus was a compendium of thematically arranged concepts, a classification of words by their meaning.

Roget’s Thesaurus was finally published in 1853, when Peter Roget was 74 years old. It had a print run of 1,000 copies. The 15,000 words it contained were arranged conceptually rather than alphabetically, incorporating 1002 concepts. But shortly before publication, he inserted an alphabetical index as an appendix, thus enabling its easier use.

The first American edition of the Thesaurus was published in 1854. In the introduction to this, Roget explained: “The present work is intended to supply, with respect to the English language, a desideratum hitherto unsupplied in any language; namely, a collection of the words it contains and of the idiomatic combinations peculiar to it, arranged, not in alphabetical order as they are in a dictionary, but according to the ideas which they express.” The Thesaurus initially did not do as well in America. It only became popular in the 1920s when the crossword craze swept the United States.

Roget continued to make changes until his death at the age of ninety, by which time there had been twenty-eight editions. His son, John Lewis Roget continued its revision. Roget’s Thesaurus has never been out of print and by its 150th anniversary in 2002 had sold thirty-two million copies. From his original six classes, by the time of the eighth edition in 2019 it included 1,075 word categories.

Today while the word Roget immediately brings to mind the word Thesaurus, its author’s illustrious career in medicine and science is not as well known. His birthday week is a good time to remember the many other words to describe Peter Roget: Physician, physiology expert, mathematician, inventor, investigator, writer, editor and chess whiz.


Save the Paradox!

An impossible creature like the platypus cannot but fascinate.

  • It has the beak of a duck; the tail of a beaver; the feet of an otter.
  • It is a mammal but it lays eggs.
  • It is bio-luminescent–a rare charecteristic for a mammal.
  • It is a rare venomous mammal–the males of the species have a spur on the hind feet which can deliver venom.

No wonder early scientists thought it was a hoax—that the preserved specimen they were shown had been made up by sewing together parts of various animals.

It was certainly an animal which changed world views.

It shook up the scientific world. Robert Persig, the American author and philosopher thought this pointed to the inadequacy of scientific thinking, when he said, “…when the Platypus was discovered, scientists said it was a paradox. But Pirsig’s point was it was never a paradox or an oddity. It didn’t make sense only to the scientists because they viewed the nature of animals according to their own classification, when nature did not have any.” ― Robert M. Pirsig, Lila: An Inquiry Into Morals.

It also shook up the world of religion, with anti-evolutionary theory proponents using it to cast doubt on Darwin and his theories.

The animal is found in Australia and Australia alone. Till recently, the overall conservation status of the platypus was not a matter of very deep concern. But recent reports are throwing up some red flags. Platypus habitat is reported to have shrunk by almost 25% in the last three decades. In the last decade or two, they have not been sighted in some of the areas which they traditionally inhabited. The reasons are not difficult to find—urban sprawl encroaching upon creeks and waterways which are platypus habitats; land clearing; disruption of the natural flow of rivers; building of dams and weirs; erosion of river banks; and unstable climate and increased droughts due to climate change.

Fortunately, conservation scientists don’t think the situation is beyond repair, but feel it is time to sit up and take steps. And let us hope they do! The world cannot lose this creature, for then, where would be our sense of wonder? Where the hope of a world which still holds secrets waiting to be discovered? Of the sense that ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy’?

The platypus has inspired its share of lore, legend, stories and poetry. My visit to an aquarium in Australia was the only time I ever saw a platypus. And a story from Native Australian lore re-told there inspired me to write ‘Who Will Rule’, a children’s book brought out by Tulika and translated into many languages.

And to end, a classic platypus poem:


by: Oliver Herford (1863-1935)

A sad example sets for us: From him we learn how Indecision

Of character provokes Derision.

This vacillating Thing, you see,

Could not decide which he would be,

Fish, Flesh or Fowl, and chose all three.

The scientists were sorely vexed

To classify him; so perplexed

Their brains, that they, with Rage at bay,

Called him a horrid name one day,–

A name that baffles, frights and shocks us,

Ornithorhynchus Paradoxus.


Wisdom of the Ages: Thiruvalluvar Day

What was his name?

What was his faith?

What was his occupation?

When did he live?

Who knows? And more importantly, who cares?

For the heritage of poetry, philosophy, dharma and wisdom he has left us is beyond all these.

Thiruvalluvar, the revered Tamil poet, whose Thirukural even today is taught in every school in Tamil Nadu, and whose couplets on a range of subjects, from love and family life to economics and politics, are quoted by politicians, movie stars, professors, and common people alike, to clinch any argument.

I am but a poor Tamilian, who can neither read nor write Tamil, and am hence missing out on the riches of one of the world’s most ancient languages. Maybe to make up, I decided to do this blog on Thiruvalluvar on the occasion of Thiruvalluvar Day, Jan 15. The Tamil Nadu government has been observing this day as part of Pongal celebrations for many decades now.

Very little is known about him. Even his name is not certain—his works do not name an author! In fact, the Thirukural as a book itself does not carry a name! The French translator Ariel has referred to it as ‘the book without a name by an author without a name’.

His works have been dated by various scholars from 4th century BC to 5th century AD! In 1935, Govt. of Tamilnadu recognized 35 BC as the Year of Valluvar.

He may have been a Hindu. Equally, he may have been a Jain. Some claim Christian influences in his work. Many scholars hold he was beyond religion. For instance, Mu. Varadarajan says he probably “practiced religious eclecticism, maintained unshakeable faith in dharma but should have rejected religious symbols and superstitious beliefs.”

He may have been a weaver, a farmer, a priest, a drummer or an ‘outcaste’.

What is of moment are his works, especially the Thirukural, a collection of 1330 couplets. Each couplet consists of just seven words (termed ‘kural’), but pithily encapsulates wisdom. The 1330 verses have been divided into three sections by the author: the first is Arathuppaal which gives norms and codes for a virtuous life; the second, Porutpaal deals with the right way of acquiring wealth and expounds the fundamentals of politics and statecraft; the last, Kamathuppaal deals with family life and love in all its manifestations.

While urging you to visit any of the many sites devoted to the Kural and its translations, here is just a taste to whet the appetite:

Verse 211: Kaimmaru venda kadappadu marimattu ennarrun kollo ulaku.


The benevolent expect no return for their dutiful giving.

How can the world ever repay the rain cloud?

Verse 541: Orndhukan notaadhu iraipurindhu yaarmaattum therndhusey vaqdhe murai.


Investigate well, show favor to none, maintain impartiality

Consult the law, then give judgment-that is the way of justice.

Verse 1032 : Uzhuvaar ulakaththaarkku aaniaq thaatraadhu ezhuvaarai ellaam poruththu.


Farmers are the linchpin of the world

For they support all those who take to other work, not having the strength to plow.


Based on Wikipedia (of course!), as well as ‘Tirukkural-Arathuppal’ Prof SN Chokkalingam, Vanitha Press; and

Conversations in Many Tongues

The Millennial Matriarchs (Meena and Mamata) have been partners in drafting and crafting words for over three decades, co-writing and co-editing numerous publications. 

As fellow environmental educators in CEE at a time when EE was a nascent discipline in India, one of the greatest challenges was how to design and develop communication material that would be meaningful to as wide an audience as possible, in a country with tremendous diversity, not just of language and culture, but also bio-geography as well as experience. How could one share concepts and ideas that were universal, yet communicated in a way that each recipient responded to them with a sense of comfort and familiarity.

One of the important initiatives in this direction was to encourage ‘trans-adaptation’ of our materials and programmes. This became possible with the help of a wide circle of committed fellow educators across the country who volunteered to translate and support the language editions. In the 1980s CEE could proudly claim that one of its seminal publications The Joy of Learning was available in 16 Indian languages. This was in the days when publications were printed and published on paper.

With time, everything moved on—people, as well as technology. While no longer in the same physical space, Meena and Mamata continued to pursue our common love for writing and communicating. We tried to teach ourselves the language of new technologies (albeit it took us longer than many), and to explore new avenues to communicate and connect.

In March 2018, we started this blog As the tagline says, it is a blog capturing ‘Musings on Life and Times: Views, Reviews, Previews, Interviews…and Advice’. We took it as a challenge, and therefore as a “learning experience” (as we had done with all our work at CEE!).

With a minimum of two posts a week, it has been indeed been an exhilarating learning experience. It has given us the opportunity to express our angst and our appreciation; to articulate and analyse, and to celebrate and lament. The challenge of a weekly deadline has kept us on our mental toes every day of these three years. It has led us to explore and discover the most amazing variety of topics; to become better researchers; to be more disciplined, as well as better writers. And above all it has given us a voice that has helped us connect—with old friends as well as many new friends, far and wide. It is these conversations that motivate us, encourage us and enthuse us, day after day.

We thought that a wonderful way to extend these conversations and friendships would be to take the blog into many Indian (to start with) languages! And so we reached out to friends who share our wavelength, but also have the facility of writing well in regional languages. And many responded enthusiastically.

We wanted a name that would capture the essence of this of diversity and variety (Vividha), while continuing the common conversation and dialogue (Vada).

So here is!

We are starting with Telugu and Tamil, but we hope to see this go into many more languages. These will not be translations, but rather, adaptations into the languages, with relevant context and localization. And we look forward to expanding our multi-lingual family of contributors.

Meet the VVers

Meena Raghunathan:  Environmental educator for two decades and CSR professional for 15 years. CSR, education, pre-school education, skilling and livelihoods are areas of professional interest. Writing and editing are personal passions.

Mamata Pandya: An environmental educator for over three decades, she wears many hats–instructional design consultant, writer, editor, and storyteller. Lover, collector and translator of children’s books, and avid crossword cracker. In a continuous explore, discover, think and share mode.

Bharthi Kode: A development worker by profession and loves to work on the development projects that affect children, youth and women.  Writer, poet and translator. A firm believer in humanity and always finds herself stuck between her desire to do endless things and her love to sleep! The Telugu tongue!

Sumitra Seshan: An executive of over two decades, she runs the operations of her own technology company that has offices in Canada, India and Mexico. She is interested in painting, cooking new recipes and spending time with family. The Tamil tongue!

We welcome you to join us on our journey of Many Ideas. Many Conversations. Many Languages.

Fruit Salad

Last week someone gave us a fruit that was perfect in form and colour. We learnt that this was a persimmon.  I had read poems and descriptions of persimmons in Japanese literature, but had not seen nor tasted this ‘exotic’ fruit before.

This is one of the many exotic fruits that are now being seen and sold in India. Some children today are perhaps more familiar with the taste of fruits like kiwi and dragon fruit, than fruits like ber, custard apple, mango, guava, and the ubiquitous banana, that we grew up eating.

With a lot of the new fruits being introduced and cultivated in India, and several being imported from other countries, the lines between indigenous and exotic fruits are rapidly getting blurred. Along with this, and better storage systems, so is the concept of fruits that are associated with, and available in specific seasons.

Perhaps it is a good time to go back to the roots of the fruits, as I did, with the help of A Historical Dictionary of Indian Food. Here are some interesting facts.

In terms of food, fruit falls in the category of items called phala that refers to crops that are not cultivated using the plough, in contrast to food grains (cereals and pulses).

Fruits that are indigenous to India, or have been here since recorded history include ber, pomegranate, amla, sweet orange, lemon, lime, mango, sugarcane, jamun, and grapes; as well as coconut, banana and jackfruit. There is mention of these in texts as old as Vedic literature, and their use prescribed in ancient medical treatises.

Interestingly several of these have, today, gained international celebrity as Wonder Foods. Like the amla or gooseberry which is recognised as one of the richest natural sources of Vitamin C

Later arrivals were some forms of the apple, mulberry, peach, pear, plum and apricot. These were not originally of very high quality, but many of these were improved by grafting in Mughal times.

After 1500 AD there was a wave of immigrant fruits from South and Central America that included the papaya, sapota, guava, pineapple, custard apple, and avocado. But over time these began to be widely cultivated, and eventually became fruits of the native soil.

Ancient texts such as Sushruta Samhita, one of the most important surviving ancient treatises on medicine, prescribes fruits as the first item in a meal, beginning with a first round of fruits that could be chewed such as pomegranate, grape and ber; and a second round of fruit to be sucked, like sugarcane, dates, oranges and mangoes.

Fruit was traditionally preserved in India in the form of spicy pickles of mango, lime etc., or with the sweet sour flavouring of Gujarat.  With the Muslim Unani medical tradition came the murabba in which fruits were preserved in a thick sugar syrup, and flavoured with spices like ginger, cardamom, and cloves. The British took a liking to these “preserves” and started to export large quantities of these along with chutneys.

Sweet anticipation: Waiting for the papaya in the garden to ripen!

One of the major use of fruit was to ferment it to obtain alcoholic beverages. The Charaka Samhita, believed to be one of the oldest and the most important ancient authoritative writings on Ayurveda, has a long list of fruits used for this purpose which included sugarcane and its products like molasses and jaggery, grape, mango, wood apple, date, ber, banana, jackfruit and pomegranate.

While we certainly enjoy pickles and fruit wines in all seasons, it does feel a bit strange to be having a mango or watermelon in the winter. For me the anticipation of biting into the first mango in the searing heat of May, or seeing the first custard apples around the time of the Diwali festival, or picking the ripe purple jamuns that match the dark monsoon clouds is an integral part of the seasonal calendar. The pleasure of eating local and seasonal fruits is unmatched by the thrill of buying and trying exotic fruits like the dragon fruit and persimmon.

As we start 2021 which is the International Year of Fruits and Vegetables it is a good time to think about the fruits we eat, where they come from, how we buy them, and how we eat and enjoy them. After all the word fruit itself comes from the Latin fructus, whose root is frui, which means “to enjoy.”


What Will 2021 Mark?

Hopefully, safe and effective vaccines against COVID, a fair, equitable and swift distribution of the same, and life back to normal!

It will also mark, as decided by the international community, several other things:

World Health Organization has appropriately designated 2021 as the International Year of Health and Care Workers in recognition of the dedication and sacrifice of the millions of health and care workers at the forefront of the Covid-19 pandemic, unanimously

United Nations (UN) has, through various resolutions, decided that 2021 shall be marked as:

  • International Year of Peace and Trust
  • International Year of Fruits and Vegetables  
  • International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour
  • International Year of Creative Economy for Sustainable Development 

The first three are self-evident, and much needed, especially in the post-Covid world. But I was not familiar with the fourth—i.e., what is a Creative Economy?

Well, it seems that Creative Economy is not easy to define, and there are about 27 definitions floating around. Apparently the term was introduced by Peter Coy in 2000, and at its crux, it is an economy driven by “the growing power of ideas.”  John Howkins was the next to define it, and referred to it as ‘a new way of thinking and doing that revitalizes manufacturing, services, retailing, and entertainment industries.’ Ana Carla Fonseca  says that creative economy is about ‘products and services that rely on creativity to generate innovation, added value and differentiation”.  According to UNESCO and Ernst and Young, as of 2015, about 3% of the world’s GDP (more than US$ 2.25 trillion in revenue) pertained to creative economy.

As per a fairly accepted classification, there are four major sectors of the creative economy:


– Editorial (books, magazines and digital content)

– Audiovisual (video content, television schedule and broadcast in general)


– Architecture (building, landscape and environmental design, space planning)

– Design (products and visual and multimedia content)

– Fashion (clothing design)

– Advertising (creation of publicity pieces, marketing, market research and event organization)


– Arts and Cultural Heritage (museology, cultural production and heritage sites)

– Music (recording, edition, creation and music interpretation)

– Performing arts (acting, production and direction of shows)

– Cultural expressions (handcraft, folklore, cuisine and festivals)


– Research and Development (academic research)

– Biotechnology (bioengineering and lab research)

– Information technology (software, systems development and robotics).

Well, I suppose that doing a blog is a creative enterprise. So I shall count myself as a part of the creative economy (though sadly this one adds nothing to the GDP nor our personal bank accounts, so I wonder if it is an economic activity!).

And on a more serious note, this blog shall do its best and its bit to mark the other themes– Peace and Trust; Fruits and Vegetables; Elimination of Child Labour; and Health and Care Workers.

Happy 2021. May it be Peaceful and Healthy!