Saturday, October 16, 2010

Q-wiiii-k Update

A quick hello to all those who have missed my blog or my updates:

It just made me feel warm to begin that way, though I wonder if there was more than a handful who actually noticed that I haven't posted in a while.

My life is currently a blur - I must admit a happy blur, but blur all the same!

Four days of the week are spent in the busy bustling London, gaining some experience at a couple of leading organisation, the rest three days of the week, in the city that's come to become my home away from home - Brighton. Each Thursday afternoon, when I take the train back to Brighton, leaving the noise and rush of London behind, I feel at peace. That lasts exactly for the remaining hours of the day for in Brighton too, my life is choc-a-bloc.

The leisure to 'stand and stare' like Wordsworth had , well, I no longer have it. The Masters is over and in the time before I set sail back for India, there are miles to go...and the Woods in England are lovely, dark and deep. Poetry being liberally cross quoted with Poetic License...

For anyone, reading this, there is no method to this madness...It is just one of those happy posts - to let all of you know, I'm happy and kicking, just pressed for time to come up with some brilliant, thought provoking post -(though I can't remember the last time I wrote one..;)

But but but..there is another little news I wanted to share with you...I'm back to journalism - after about a year's blissful slumber..My byline might be popping up in a number of magazines - for those who do keep a track of it, that is...I'd keep mentioning my favourite pieces here, time and again..Do have a look and let me know..the opinions and suggestions of all of you are very dear to me and I look forward to it..

For now, here's the latest piece that I wrote for OPEN...On the Nobel Prize for Medicine 2010 winner Prof.Robert Edwards...

I look forward to hearing from you....

Lots of love and keep me in your prayers,

P.S Many wrote back saying the link hasn't worked..:)

So here goes, a copy paste job...

A Fertile Mind
Robert Edwards’ Nobel Prize speaks not only of his genius, but also of how well test tube babies have been received worldwide. It has taken time, and when faced with early opposition to his work, it helped that he never lost his sense of humour.

BY Deepthy Menon

Dr Mike Macnamee is a busy man, juggling day-to-day affairs of the Bourn Hall Clinic even as he travels across the world, spreading the message of their pioneering work in In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF). Last Sunday held personal significance for him. After a busy trip across India, he was back in England and enroute to a meeting with his mentor- turned-colleague-turned-friend, Professor Robert Edwards, the man often referred to as the ‘Father of IVF’.

While travelling to the care facility where Professor Edwards now spends his retired life, Dr Macnamee can foresee what will happen. First, he says, will be a warm congratulatory hug, followed by a recap of how the news of the professor’s Nobel Prize has been received across the world. Then, he’s sure, Bob will want to take some time recounting the early days of the Bourn Hill Clinic with Dr Patrick Steptoe, back when IVF techniques were hardly heard of.

For Dr Macnamee, Professor Edwards is ‘Bob’, the man who recruited him over 27 years ago. Meeting Professor Edwards and Dr Patrick Steptoe, the two responsible for the birth of the world’s first test-tube baby, proved to be the biggest turning point of his career. “It was a fantastic opportunity for me,” he says, “I was a young research scientist at that time, working in the theoretical fields of reproduction—it was a real opportunity to do the work first-hand with humans. After four years, I began to understand that the research I was doing in terms of clinical research was probably more important for the future of many families than my scientific research.”

Macnamee grows talkative as he recalls his initial years with his mentor: “Bob was truly inspirational for everybody who worked with him. He has a brilliant mind. It is very difficult to describe him. He was a man of extreme intellect, and yet had the ability to communicate with everybody in their own language. He does enjoy people hugely. Everybody admired and respected him, if not loved him. For a fundamental research scientist to go all the way to collaborate [with a doctor] for a clinical treatment that was robust and delivered good results—that was phenomenal.”

It was actually a chance meeting in 1968 between the gynaecologist Patrick Steptoe and Robert Edwards, who was then a research fellow at the Department of Physiology at Cambridge, that led to the collaboration. One that has changed the lives of millions across the world. Professor Edwards had created the first blastocyst in 1968, and had succeeded in human test-tube fertilisation by 1970. However, it wasn’t until eight years later that their research and trials resulted in a healthy pregnancy leading to the birth of the world’s first ever ‘test-tube baby’, Louise Brown, in July 1978.

In his press statement after the announcement of the Nobel Prize, Professor Edwards describes one of his final meetings with his by-then-seriously-ill partner, Dr Steptoe. He distinctly recalls the thrill of relaying the news that 1,000 babies had been born at their clinic since their first successful ‘baby’. ‘I’ll never forget the look of joy in his eyes. Steptoe and I were deeply affected by the desperation felt by couples who so wanted to have children. The most important thing in life is having a child,’ he said, ‘Nothing is more special than a child.’

Charismatic and inspiring are words that most of his friends, colleagues and students commonly use while describing Professor Edwards. “He is charismatic, strong-willed and tenacious,” says Dr Al Yuzpe, a renowned Vancouver-based IVF specialist who has known him for over four decades, “He says what he thinks. For example, I heard him chastise the American IVF medical community for allowing the multiple pregnancy rate to soar to astronomical levels by replacing multiple embryos in order to achieve high pregnancy rates. He said, ‘You are behaving like cowboys.’ As a result, there is now a great move to replace fewer embryos in an attempt to reduce the risk of multiple pregnancies.”

The reaction of his family to the news of his award has been rather muted, with their refusing to go public with their private celebration of a recognition that many feel has been ‘a long time coming’. His wife Ruth released a statement shortly after the announcement, expressing their delight in the prestigious award. Dr Macnamee fills me in on the little celebration that the family had when they visited Professor Edwards on the day of the citation. “I was told he was delighted,” he says, “After all, it is a singular honour which is received by very few people. However, Bob had received a slightly lesser honour two years ago when he had a UK postage stamp released of him—that is a very rare thing to have. This is the final recognition. It is long overdue.”

“As a person he always found time to talk to patients about what was happening in the laboratory, and rejoiced when each IVF baby was born. He took great personal pleasure in the news of each birth,” says Dr Thomas Mathews, Bourn Hall Clinic’s medical director. Perhaps that’s why his staff and colleagues fondly remember the special celebration they had organised two years ago, when Bourn Hall recorded the birth of the 10,000th baby at their clinic.

“We invited a baby from every year of Bourn Hall back to the clinic. So we had 30 different age children, starting with Louise Brown to the latest child. Bob was visibly overjoyed to plant a tree to commemorate the event, 30 years after setting up the IVF clinic,” adds Dr Macnamee. Trees hold a special place in Professor Edwards’ heart, and his green fingers are legendary too. “We had been working together for a very long time when he once took me to his house. He backed his car into his field and then revealed that he had planted some 5,000 trees, by himself, in the five acres of fields that he had. That was truly remarkable. He knew every single root and branch, every single part of that small forest he’d planted. He knew when he planted them, how big they would grow, and also how they will look in 20 years—-that, to me, summed up his vision.”

Professor Martin Johnson, who teaches at Cambridge and was one of Professor Edwards’ first research students, concurs with Dr Macnamee’s assessment. “He was a man much ahead of his time in IVF. His publications and lectures on ethics in science and the role of regulation also placed him way ahead of others. His achievements are not just over four million babies worldwide born through assisted reproductive technology, but also the way that he transformed the whole approach to research and care in reproductive medicine and gynaecology. It is very sad that his colleagues Patrick Steptoe and Jean Purdy aren’t alive to share this prize with him.”

For Professor Edwards, the Nobel recognition might be one that arrived a decade too late. But he remains popular among his friends for his humility, which they say comes from the confidence of great intellect. So, in any situation, he could find something that made him smile. His rather sharp sense of humour won him many fans as well.

“I once asked him what he thought of human cloning. His reply was, ‘Al, I’ve never met anyone worth cloning,’” reminisces Dr Al Yuzpe. It was perhaps this trademark humour and the belief in his work that kept Professor Edwards going despite fierce criticism and opposition from many quarters, including the Vatican. Today, honoured so highly late in life, Professor Edwards must surely savour his vindication.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Its a Year!!! Grins and Groans..

It's autumn in England..that reminds me it is over a year since I uprooted myself - or must I say temporarily transplanted myself to the land of our colonisers...

Hmm..that somehow seems like a weird statement now, a year here has made me appreciate a lot many good things this country has taught me. Even the food that I have much maligned in a number of posts over the past year, I am suddenly feeling gracious towards that too..

Let me make a quick top-of-the mind count of all things old and new that I rediscovered in this year in Britain.

If any of you would like to look back at your year ( a couple of months ahead of the New Year to ensure that the damned tag of resolutions or reminiscence isn't an unnecessary burden)I'd love to turn this post into a tag. I don't know if anyone would be keen to do it or if enough people would read this blog to keep the tag on, but whoever reads this and feels predisposed to list out their top 12 grins or groans - consider yourself TAGGED!!!

1. GRIN AFTER GROAN - I have befriended the washing machine and learnt not to turn all my whites into pinks or a darker colour by conveniently forgetting to sort out the only thing that could have bled its colour.

2. GROAN AFTER GRIN - I have learnt that being independent is not exactly the great, euphoric feeling, it is often written to be - try lugging your weekly shopping up 50 stairs

3. GROAN AFTER GROAN - The lard that I was sure I will completely shed continues to latch on to me adamantly despite half-hearted attempts to shake it off

4. GRIN AFTER GROAN - Great gang of international friends with some mean culinary tricks up their sleeves that made the year a gastronomically profitable year ( however that GRIN was wiped out by GROANS from point3)

5. GRIN AFTER GRIN - England darshan - travelling on a student card, on what is considered as dirt cheap in England terms but prettttty expensive with a heavy sigh by Indian rupee rates..the last clause notwithstanding, there have been great trips and great times

6. GROAN AFTER GROAN - The cumbersome and sometimes irritating habit of automatically converting pounds into rupee and rupee into pounds, just compounds the feeling of Student Poverty...

7. GRIN AFTER GROAN - Discovering instant curries and gravy that can instantly transform dinner..increased culinary repertoire quite a bit - helping me expand my menu from European yumm-capitals to the little pocket boroughs of South East Asia

8. GROAN AFTER GRIN - Proximity to London from Brighton brought such a big grin on my face in the first couple of months..and then it struck me that Southern Railways that normally promises great tickets and discounts normally have some catch to their prices on days when I sorely need a cheap ticket.

9. GROAN AFTER GROAN - Having to fold and re-fold my retail ambitions to fit into my tiny purse. Pounds don't stretch enough to allow price tags to become irrelevant. I even tried shutting one eye, imagining that I saw the price tag wrong and peeking at it through the other eye - that by the way, doesnt fudge or smudge numbers!!

10. GRIN AFTER GRIN - Wine is dirt cheap if you were to compare the prices of those good bottles of red and white for which you uncomplainingly dish out a few five hundreds..

11. GRIN AFTER GRIN - Realising the true worth of self in a crisis - staying truly away from family and friends help you assess yourself objectively. It gives you a good measure of how you react to situations - individually without having the safety net of near and dear ones or the familiar locales of the cities of your country for an added boost.

12. GROAN OR GRIN?!!! - The year away from home, far far away from family and the comforts of being pampered and looked after - but the learning curve - do I want to trade that in? I guess not!!

I'd say my year has been more about GRINS than GROANS..if I do groan, it is to ensure that my grins don't lull me into a zone where the value of a grin is forgotten..:) 

I'm looking forward to who accepts this tag. If you do, don't forget to leave me a message. I want to read what you guys come up with...

In anticipation...

Friday, October 01, 2010

The Hunt for Graffiti


Some of you know that I'm madly fascinated by art. Tried my hand at painting for a while, now I have brushes and an easel that stare at me and a mad urge to paint something, but the hands just don't do my bidding.
That is when I discovered Graffiti Art. Not the kind that deface all our public monuments and urinals and buses and benches, not the kind that reminds you that Raj (Hearts) Minal, twenty years after they broke up..this is fun, colourful, totally zany and something I'm itching to do. Just that I don't know if the wrists that don't shake while wielding a brush, feel wary about glorious freehand across huge spaces.

Someday when I build my own place, I think I will have my own graffitti wall.. I saw some amazing ones in Amsterdam and Paris. Some were posted in my Europe travelogue.

I just wonder how Graffiti artists let others wash away their creativity when they run out of walls to paint on...Perhaps its lack of permanence again shows the boldness of the artist, the free spiritedness to let their art get swallowed by time and whims of others, unlike those paintings that get preserved for generations for people to see.

Wonder if a Van Gogh and Matisse could do Graffiti...I'm sure Rafaeli and Michaelangelo could - painting glorious scenes on chapels and fresco art is a glorified form of graffiti, is it not? Or is saying that blasphemous to the Gods of Arts? 

I think freehand in art is a divine skill, some day graffiti too would be more lauded. For now, my tribute to the numerous unknown kids who gave pleasure to my eyes and fodder for my camera..