Sears, the big book and America

It was many a decade ago, a rainy day when I trudged up the steps to the 3rd floor attic under the tiles and the rafters of my mother’s ancestral house in Pallavur, a remote village located close to the Western Ghats in South India. Radio was around, but no great fun, neither TV or movie theatres (close by) existed in those days, so playing outdoors with cousins was the thing to do. For some reason I was alone that day (I guess the intensity of the monsoon rain & lightning), and this bored 10 year old was looking for things to do.

The attic was always ideal for such times. An abundance of mystery lurked in the darkness, and due to the unexpected, like witches, ghosts, snakes, spiders, bats & mongoose, it was sometimes a bit spooky too. But braving all the sinister possibilities, I stepped up the ladder through the corner room to the attic. The attic had an assortment of old boxes, a few big tortoise shells (where they came from, I have not the faintest clue – I concluded that grandpa brought them from his travails to Africa while serving in the British army?) an old moose or deer head with big antlers to complete, its eyes dolefully looking at me, lying in a corner next to a bison head giving baleful looks. I always wondered why the hunter did not stop even after seeing the sadness in those deer’s eyes. The musty smell lingering in the air did not bother me, not did the dampness suppress the discoverer’s zeal in me. Walking around, I saw the box which held a lot of coconut palm leaf scrolls, rumor had it that it was some Nambuthiri’s scrolls on ancient medicine, it was not very interesting, nor could I read the etched words clearly. Most of the stuff was old, but during this visit, I found one box that had been carted up recently, so that new addition was today’s target of attack.

Lighting was quite dim up there and electric connections had not been brought up to the attic. A good idea actually, because the monsoon season would make the attic pretty damp and dangerous with a few tile leaks here & there, wiring those days was not PVC coated copper, but some rubber that easily broke up after some years of use. Opening the box in question was easy, though it yielded nothing of much interest. It was all books and files. One of the books was very thick and looked foreign. Beautifully printed and full of pictures, it caught my eye. I decided to spend the afternoon in my room below, burrowing into its contents.

It was a Sears’s catalog that my shippie (merchant navy officer) uncle had brought back from America. He had brought it along to show samples of life in the new world, to his mother, sisters and brother. By then, I knew a little bit about America, I had seen maps in the black & white volumes of ‘Book of Knowledge’ we had in Calicut, but this was all in color & beautifully bound. I leafed through the sections, seeing different looking men wearing flashy trousers and shirts, glossy shoes, women wearing skirts and strange things like makeup, gloves & scarves. Aha! Even had girls wearing bras!! It was fascinating and so new. I was transported in an instant to that new land and that was when America first registered in my mind.

Suits and hats were not new to us as grandpa had a few and after his death they were still stored in one of the attic boxes. We used to take turns wearing the bowler hat, it used to cover half our face!! I pored over the Sears catalog the rest of that afternoon, taking in all those bright tools & contraptions, toys, electronics, record players and what not…till it was dark and there were other things to do. The book was put back into the box in the attic and was forgotten until the next vacation. I continued to refer to the book every vacation and I dreamed so many times, of seeing America some day.

Readymade clothes were uncommon in India; tailors did a great job of stitching ‘made to measure’ shirts & shorts, even pants (trousers). When I got to college, I wanted to get a jacket stitched, and the tailor obviously had no clue how to stitch one. He stated that a picture of one would help him get one done. So it was back to the Sears catalog, for a early 70’s denim waister jacket’s picture, as it was fondly known. I ripped off a beloved page & handed it over to the tailor, who made a perfectly fitting jacket, to a design that nobody else had in college. Man, was I on top of the world…That denim jacket lasted a couple of years and so did the memory of the Sears catalog, its pictures, the guarantees, the promises and the lure of advertising.

At college, I subscribed to the ‘Span’ magazine, a free magazine about America from USIS, it gave me even more insight about this country and its people. Then my cousin got married to a chap who had done his masters in US and was working there, and I thought that maybe I should also go see the new world, like they all did. Various reasons, including monetary ones made me forget all that for more than a decade. The American dream was thus shelved.

I soon found myself outside India and working in the Middle East, like many other Mallu’s & Indians. At the first given opportunity, I made a tourist visit to various US cities with my family, and one of the first things I did was go and check a Sears store out. It did not disappoint me, nor did the US. It was some years later that I reluctantly took up a position to come to USA. It was a daunting period. Like most new immigrants, the credit worthiness was a problem, and again it was neighborhood Sears that came to my rescue, by providing a Sears card. Much of my purchase thence was from Sears, mainly owing to gratitude. Little did Sears know or care, but well, the quality of goods was OK too, I guess. After a few years as a resident alien, I left…one of the things I still recall doing was casting that longing look at the nearby mall & Sears, as I bade goodbye.

Soon Sears was gobbled up by Kmart, I had moved to another country and life moved on…My relationship with US continued, and two years later, I found myself back in the US on another transfer with the same company. My relations with Sears took a nosedive when the Sears card became a bank card and a simple misunderstanding with an overzealous bank representative & custodian of the Sear’s credit card got blown out of proportion and they blocked my card. With that, I got bitter and stopped regular shopping at Sears.

Thinking back, Sears represented so much of America to me, as it does now. A country that created so much, hardly innovates these days. Companies like Sears that towered the malls, just stumble along, ownerships changing often…The Sears catalog is long gone, but I still hope that the dreams of its people will continue, after all, without those dreams, there is no future for this once great country, once rich in its people, their thoughts & intellect.

The sears catalog
In 1888, Richard Sears first used a printed mailer to advertise watches and jewelry. A master at slogans and catchy phrases, Richard Sears illustrated the cover of his 1894 catalog declaring it the "Book of Bargains: A Money Saver for Everyone," and the "Cheapest Supply House on Earth," claiming that "Our trade reaches around the World." Sears also knew the importance of keeping customers, boldly stating that "We Can’t Afford to Lose a Customer." Sears added a color section in 1897. The 1903 catalog included the commitment "Your money back if you are not satisfied”. Reflecting modern trends in retailing, the company decided to stop producing the general catalog in 1993.

They are still available for purchase
from collectors. Here is a sample of an old sears catalog – much like the one I saw for many years. You could check out a 1902 edition here. LA times had an article titled – Many American dreams come out of the Sears catalog.

Pictures courtesy –

Straight to the ‘Heart’ of the matter

Erich Segal had written a very readable book called ‘Doctors’ some years ago. For those who have not heard of this great writer, he is the chap who authored ‘Love Story’, its many sequels and other books like ‘Class’. In the opening chapter, the medical school dean is addressing a new class of wannabe doctors and he concludes his speech thus – Gentlemen, I urge you to engrave this on the template of your memories: there are thousands of diseases in this world, but medical science only has an empirical cure for 26 of them. The rest is ……..guess work. Segal wrote this in 1988…

I think the figure is pretty much the same, even today. Research doctors strive to find cures, Medical consultants & surgeons meanwhile work on brilliantly applying known cures while treating symptoms and ailments. When I repeat this story to people, few believe it. Try thinking about it rationally and you will realize that it is indeed quite right.

Medicine has always fascinated me, being a doctor’s son had many advantages & disadvantages, having been around surgeries, hospitals, having witnessed major surgeries first hand and being part of other medical events; I must say I understand a wee bit of what is going on!!

So, this time around, I thought of writing about the dreaded cardio world. While some people have come back from the land of the dead with astounding stories (From the land of the dead - read the ending para – a report), think about the normal happening - the common man in a medical emergency (typically accidents, cardiac issues & critical incidents like shooting) end up with a cardiac arrest and if not quickly resuscitated, becomes brain dead, and move on to the next world…….Finito.

So what happens actually?? This has been the belief and definition…

Cardiac arrest is the sudden, abrupt loss of heart function. The victim may or may not have diagnosed heart disease. It's also called sudden cardiac arrest or unexpected cardiac arrest. Sudden death (also called sudden cardiac death) occurs within minutes after symptoms appear. Brain death and permanent death start to occur in just 4 to 6 minutes after someone experiences cardiac arrest. Cardiac arrest can be reversed if it's treated within a few minutes with an electric shock to the heart to restore a normal heartbeat. This process is called defibrillation. A victim's chances of survival are reduced by 7 to 10 percent with every minute that passes without CPR and defibrillation. Few attempts at resuscitation succeed after 10 minutes. Brain death is defined by medical authorities as irreversible cessation of all brain activity. Simply stated, this means that the brain is no longer alive and cannot be brought back to life. A "dead" brain has never been known to recover, even though heart and lung function as well as kidney function can be maintained by artificial means for many days and sometimes two or three weeks.

In the last few years, a number of research projects have been going on, trying to analyze what actually happens between the two events defined above. The original intention behind the research was to gain time for medical intervention e.g. if a guy has a stroke at home, it does take time for paramedics or ambulances to arrive. Every minute is critical until brain death occurred, or so they thought.

The idea they started with was based on an established cooling process in the industrial world (Ice slurry cooling was used since 1976 in the Fishing industry & modern a/c chillers). Forced cooling or induced hypothermia of the body is what it is termed. Put simply, inject saline-ice slurry into the blood circulatory system to rapidly cool the body and you have possibly another 10 minutes of time to work with formal resuscitation and patient revival, thus delaying brain death. A good USA today article linked here provides many a detail, of the method. More formal articles like this from Logos, or Dr Becker’s comments, or the AHA advisory is available for ‘really interested’ people. This may very well become an accepted practice. Industrial support came from companies like Argonne.

How many of you know that the human heart is indeed stopped with ice during a conventional Cardiac Bypass surgery? And that it is restarted a few hours later? And believe it or not, I have seen it all – 7 hours of a complex bypass performed by a famed cardiac surgeon, standing right next to him – but that is another story!

But this recent Newsweek article adds a new insight to the layman. Suggestions are that the future may not be favor rapid revival with electric shock and oxygen after a cardiac arrest. When the body stops breathing, the cells in the body do not immediately die, as medicine has supposed, but instead goes into a form of hibernation for up to an hour. They die only when oxygen is pumped into the body, typically at the ER.

Here is what Dr Becker states - “What we found when we studied oxygen deprivation in cells astounded us,” explained Becker. “When cells are deprived of oxygen for an hour there is only 4% cell death. After four hours, cell death is only around 16%. Both of these numbers are low. The amazing thing was once we re-introduced oxygen to the cells they died off rapidly to almost 60% cell death. This re-oxygenation injury we termed reperfusion injury. We concluded that the re-introduction of oxygen must be handled carefully for the majority of cells to survive. Our studies will be concentrating on ways to prepare cells deprived of oxygen for the re-introduction of oxygen.”

So Dr Becker says - we should aim to reduce oxygen uptake, slow metabolism and adjust the blood chemistry for gradual and safe reperfusion. One method – Cool the patient - Hypothermia with Ice slurry!! How about turning up the a/c? Why not? They even have ‘coolcaps’ for babies, following the same principle!!

Heart attack – Some Words of advice – Warning signs of a heart attack include the following:
Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing, or pain in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or that goes away and comes back
Pain or discomfort that radiates to other areas of the upper body (e.g., one or both arms, shoulders, back, neck, jaw, or abdomen)
Shortness of breath (may occur prior to chest pain, may accompany it, or may occur without it)
Lightheadedness or fainting (may occur with or without chest pain)
Cold sweat or paleness (may occur with or without chest pain)
Nausea (may occur with or without chest pain)
So, don’t wait, get to a doctor. Try these steps

First aid
If possible, raise the legs up 12 to 18 inches to allow more blood to flow towards the heart
Immediately place the palm of your hand flat on the patient's chest just over the lower part of the sternum (breast bone) and press your hand in a pumping motion once or twice by using the other hand. This may make the heart beat again.

How is the heart stopped & restarted during cardiac surgery?The body temperature is cooled down to 28 degrees Centigrade and injects ice-cold (about 4 degrees Centigrade) potassium chloride solution. This stops (arrests) the heart in a relaxed state (diastole). This step is done to protect the heart by transforming it into a “hibernating” state. This is one of the advances in cardiac surgery that makes it a lot safer procedure compared to, say, 15 or 20 years ago. When all the anastomoses (“hook-ups”) of the grafts to the coronary arteries are completed, the patient is rewarmed to normal temperature, and the heart is perfused (supplied with rewarmed blood) through the new grafts. This invariably restarts the heart. Occasionally, the heart needs to be “shocked” to restart its beating. This “electrical (shock) defibrillation” is not harmful to the heart or the patient

BTW Don’t believe everything you read- An internet memo on coughing ‘How to survive a heart attack when alone’ has been around for many years. AHA does not endorse it though there are some doctors like Tadeusz Petelenz who say it is quite OK. On the other hand, it still is a real technique (especially in cases of arrhythmia) used in hospitals for certain situations, but its use as a CPR is urban legend!!

Tail note - For ages, the usage ‘He is big hearted’ has been around. Is it good? Well, athletes have big hearts, but in a normal man, if the heart gets enlarged, it could mean major clinical issues & problems. A
detailed article.

BTW – Newsweek beat me by publishing a detailed article on
all this yesterday. I had been keeping this blog in abeyance for 3 months!!

India & WW II

Remember my Hum Dono blog? Where I was writing about watching Hum Dono the movie while flying across the US with seatmates wondering who this strange guy was, seeing black and white movies from a foregone era, on the laptop, but then who cared? The dual role Devsaab’s in that movie were at the Burma front, fighting the Japs….

WW II has always fascinated me, though I have still many a page left to read on that tragic war that stretched a long six years. I am still to wade through the great 3rd Reich book written by William Shirer. Over 60 million people died in a war that mobilized over 100 million troops from 61 nations. India was primarily involved as a supplier of troops supporting Britain and as a base in the CBI Theater – the
China Burma India Theater of the war front.

I had heard from my grandmother that grandpa used to fight for the British Army, but he was stationed around the North African theatre fighting at Persia, Egypt and all those places. I never saw him, but one thing I can say, I surely got his travel bug.

So, have any of you ever heard of the
Calcutta key? Well take a look at this brochure provided to Yank personnel who came to live in the Indian bases in the late 30’s & 40’s. It says among other things

If you come here with an open mind you will find Calcutta is "Teek-Hai" (Okay). Of course, it's just like visiting any big city back home(USA): you can have a good time, or a bad time, depending on how well you take care of yourself. Incidentally, the people here like us. They think we're all right. Thanks to the good behavior of the American soldiers who preceded you, a friendly welcome from these folks awaits you. If you behave equally as well, a similar welcome will await your buddies who follow you in here. "Teek-hai ?"

And the
Red Cross guide – a classic from the yesteryears…take a look.
At the outbreak of World War II, the Indian army numbered 205,000 men. During World War II the Indian Army became the largest all-volunteer force in history, rising to over 2.5 million men in size. These forces included tank, artillery and airborne forces. Indian soldiers won 30 Victoria Crosses and 4,000 gallantry awards during the Second World War. They proved to be the most heroic, as Princess Nurunissa Inayat Khan had wished!! 36,000 Indians were killed in the war. Read some tales of valor, at this link.
Well, even though India sent millions to fight the war, it had a smaller role at home and was involved as the receiving end of some bombing as well, like the day when the Japs chasing a couple of American ships bombed the Vizag harbor. As usual,
The Hindu proved to be a treasure trove, and this newspaper’s extensive online archives provided me with most of the information you see here...

Vizag, Now when I was a kid, it went by the name Waltair!! The mood during the war is best described by a lady
who recounts those days.

There were rumours that Jap ships had been sighted a few miles off the Machilipatnam coast. This created panic to such an extent that air- raid exercises were practised and people started digging crude shelters. Civil defence was formed in each town. Some anti-air raid precautions had to be taken and blackouts were one of them. Streetlights were switched off. People were told to cover their windowpanes to prevent the lights from being seen outside. The upper portion of the headlights had to be painted black. We could only imagine the trauma of those living in cities under constant bombardment. We had no television those days and only the rich owned radios. The daily newspaper was the only source of information. Prices of essentials shot up due to scarcity. Supplies had to be sent to the armed forces and this created a shortage of essentials. Wheat and potatoes had become luxury items overnight. The price of textiles went up five or six times. A kind of coarse cloth called "Standard Cloth" was issued by quota on ration cards. I think that was the beginning of the issue of ration cards. If there was one good thing we learned during that time, it was to be economical. Paper, soap, kerosene and sugar were in short supply. We learnt to manage with whatever little we had. Thrifty ladies invented several recipes to make use of leftover food. The number of invitees to weddings was restricted. Some new departments like supply and ration departments came into existence to facilitate the equal distribution of essential commodities.

The day was April 6th, 1942. American ships loaded with ammunition were headed for Burma and were soon spotted and chased around by Japanese ships. That is when the ships moved on to hide in the port in Vizag. One of the chasers was a Jap aircraft carrier. A few planes first did the reconnaissance run at 8AM and then a five plane formation came back after noon to strafe the coast. The planes aborted their machine when the Swedish Bofors guns on the American ships opened fire. They came back again to drop some bombs, three of them hitting a pipeline, the power plant etc. Marine Meller, one of the ships was later hit by a falling bomb, which did not explode. The missionaries at the nearby St Aloysius School retrieved the 350 kg bomb, where it was displayed until 1995. Since then it was moved to the Visakha museum.

The Axis power, Germany, had previously attacked Madras during WW 1, and that story is recounted in my blog
about the ship Emden...Madras had a small part to play in WW II as well
Fort St George – Madras - The two main exhibits in a case include a fragment of the shell fired by the German Cruiser 'EDMEN' on Madras city during the First World War and the shell, which was fired in retaliation. Another interesting exhibit is the percussion cap of a bomb dropped on Madras city during the Second World War by a Japanese aircraft.

Reference articles

Pictures & some content - Courtsey various web sites hyperlinked

How to argue effectively

I argue very well. Ask any of my remaining friends. I can win an argument on any topic, against any opponent. People know this and steer clear of me at parties. Often, as a sign of their great respect, they don't even invite me. You too can win arguments. Simply follow these rules:

Drink liquor
Suppose you are at a party and some hotshot intellectual is expounding on the economy of Peru, a subject you know nothing about. If you're drinking some health-fanatic drink like grapefruit juice, you'll hang back, afraid to display your ignorance, while the hotshot enthralls your date. But if you drink several large martinis, you'll discover you have STRONG VIEWS about the Peruvian economy. You'll be a WEALTH of information. You'll argue forcefully, offering searing insights and possibly upsetting furniture. People will be impressed. Some may leave the room.

Make things upSuppose, in the Peruvian economy argument, you are trying to prove that Peruvians are underpaid, a position you base solely on the fact that YOU are underpaid, and you'll be damned if you're going to let a bunch of Peruvians be better off. DON'T say: "I think Peruvians are underpaid." Say instead: "The average Peruvian's salary in 1981 dollars adjusted for the revised tax base is $1,452.81 per annum, which is $836.07 before the mean gross poverty level."
NOTE: Always make up exact figures.

If an opponent asks you where you got your information, make THAT up too. Say: "This information comes from Dr. Hovel T. Moon's study for the Buford Commission published on May 9, 1982. Didn't you read it?" Say this in the same tone of voice you would use to say, "You left your soiled underwear in my bathroom."
Use meaningless but weighty-sounding words and phrases.

Memorize this list:
Let me put it this way
In terms of
Per se
As it were
So to speak
You should also memorize some Latin abbreviations such as "Q.E.D.", "e.g.", and "i.e." These are all short for "I speak Latin, and you don't."

Here's how to use these words and phrases. Suppose you want to say, "Peruvians would like to order appetizers more often, but they don't have enough money." You never win arguments talking like that. But you WILL win if you say, "Let me put it this way. In terms of appetizers vis-a-vis Peruvians qua Peruvians, they would like to order them more often, so to speak, but they do not have enough money per se, as it were. Q.E.D." Only a fool would challenge that statement.

Use snappy and irrelevant comebacks.
You need an arsenal of all-purpose irrelevant phrases to fire back at your opponents when they make valid points. The best are:
You're begging the question.
You're being defensive.
Don't compare apples to oranges.
What are your parameters?
This last one is especially valuable. Nobody (other than engineers and policy wonks) has the vaguest idea what "parameters" means. Don't forget the classic: YOU'RE SO LINEAR.

Here's how to use your comebacks:
You say: As Abraham Lincoln said in 1873...

Your opponent says: Lincoln died in 1865.
You say: You're begging the question.

You say:
Liberians, like most Asians...
Your opponent says: Liberia is in Africa.
You say: You're being defensive.

Compare your opponent to Adolf Hitler.
This is your heavy artillery, for when your opponent is obviously right and you are spectacularly wrong. Bring Hitler up subtly. Say, "That sounds suspiciously like something Adolf Hitler might say," or "You certainly do remind me of Adolf Hitler."

So that's it. You now know how to out-argue anybody. Do not try to pull any of this on people who generally carry weapons.

This (dating back to 1996 on the net) was apparently written (brilliantly, I must say) by Stuart J. Williams, Attorney at Law, but I am not too sure if he was the guy who really wrote it, i think he adapted it a bit…

Introducing SuRaa, The tale of a Tamarind tree & JJ

I had not the slightest clue who this man was or about the book that is mentioned, till I saw it on Sen’s blogsite. The few comments on the book were arresting and I looked up the volume on Amazon. Seeing that a second hand version was available, I ordered it. When it arrived, I was a little perturbed; it was a thin yellowing Penguin volume from India, smell and all. With some trepidation I started reading it. I realized soon that the translation from Tamil to English had made the prose very formal and laborious, and I got stuck in the middle. I hope the other translations (Hindi, Hebrew & Malayalam) are better.

But all the time, I saw a similarity in style to RK Narayanan – now here was somebody who wrote about India, Indian villages and the simple common man, around the same time. I was soon caught up with fascination. The third and fourth quarters of the book were brilliant, beautiful studies of the human mind – amongst the many simple souls one could discern the selfish man, the opportune man and the violent man too, all seen by the silent tamarind tree, until its untimely death..

Ramaswamy started writing by translating Takazhi’s books Chemmeen and Thottiyude makan into Tamil. M Govindan & John Abraham were his friends for life, till he died at 74, in 2005. He studied Malayalam & English at Kottayam, even though his works were in Tamil (he learnt Tamil all by himself!)!! Under the pseudonym Pasuvayyah, he wrote many a poem, to be awarded the Kumaranasan award. It is even said that he viewed Tamilians with a Malayalam viewpoint!!

Listen to what he once said, "I want my criticism to help readers to identify quality writing, and lead them to condemn my own writing if it does not meet those standards."

I am now looking forward to reading his great JJ – Some jottings. My friend Ganesan outsourced the task I entrusted upon him, to his beloved wife, who turned Gangarams on MG road upside down and browbeat the staff no end to locate this very last copy they had. Thanks a ton, Jaysree…In the meantime; I had even contacted the translator, who offered to help if I failed to locate a copy. Thanks, Ventakachalapathy, I found one!!

JJ.: Some Jottings was a major watershed, a rupture in the narrative tradition of Tamil fiction. Almost every reader remembers the shock and ecstasy the novel caused on its first reading. The clever way in which the novel is structured, almost a Kunstlerroman, complete with notes and appendices of the fictional Malayalam writer, left readers gasping. Of course, in this entire make-believe, the author has probably strewn around banana skins, chuckling as readers and critics step on them. The detailed depiction of the Malayalam literary world, while being rather novel, simultaneously triggered the search for Tamil parallels. Unfortunately, many readers got lost in this wild-goose chase, missing the import of the novel. This was often followed by (mis)identifying themselves ideologically with one or the other character; the progressives with Mullaikkal Madhavan Nair, Tamil enthusiasts with Thamaraikkani, women writers with Chittukkuruvi and so on. Sundara Ramaswamy's masterful parody and caricature only added to this effect. However, it is a loss to read the novel at this level alone. It is nothing less than a thoroughgoing critique of Tamil culture and society and by extension, much more. With the pretext of talking about the Malayalam literary world, the novel delves into a deep introspection of Tamil culture

A page on his life and a very nice memoir by his grandson..

Some day, I hope you guys will also get to read his works…

By the way, I must tell you that the book was published by an organization called Katha, who also planted two trees to replace the tree that was used to make the paper for my book and to provide me reading pleasure…Katha is an extraordinary organization, you may even consider becoming part of it….

Also I am taking up the tag from Nanditha

5th paragraph of page 123 from the book JJ – Some jottings by Suraa

Unfortunately it has only two para’s!!! So I will do the second

Though I have dreamt on many occasions, no dream was ever like this. I sought out books on interpreting dreams. They didn’t help. When explanations for waking moments are so confused, need anything be said about dreams? I reflect within myself. Some things appear to be clear. But I have doubts about what appears so. I thought of preserving the dream. That alone was firm and clear.

Now that was powerful prose, I do not yet have full understanding of the book, Once I have completed it I will update this with some ‘post blog publishing’ jottings…

Pictures - Thanks to Sen, Tamilnation