Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A Skirt-lifting Cyclone named Nila

As the Cyclone Nila struck my hometown Chennai and everyone my age- you know the school going age?- celebrated a free holiday at home, I was forced to go to work. This is because of my hospital's emergency/disaster management policy, which consists of a simple phrase- put ganesh on-duty. So I had to make my way through the rains and the wind and the empty streets to do my- duty is duty. I actually enjoyed the journey, as the bus I took to work today, while going through the streets resembled a boat floating on the waters. As I hung onto the last step of the bus (called foot-boarding), every wave which sloshed up the steps of the bus, wet my ankles and my sandals giving me a feeling of being at the beach. I had previously rolled up my trouser legs to prevent it getting wet and as I also wore all black to prevent any accidental splashing by passing cars, I must have looked a strange and bedraggled sight by the time I reached my work place.

Thankfully, work was a total hoot today. There were no patients around all day. I mean who in the right minds would come to visit a hospital in the midst of a cyclone? I spent most of my time online giving regular updates on my joblessness. Also feeling a little like I was in the middle of a vampire movie. Its Halloween, I am sitting all alone in a dark, empty room, the winds and rains lashing around, all perfectly like in a horror movie.  I was looking forward to a vampire jumping out any minute to attack me and was hoping that it would also be a female vampire asking me “can I drink your blood, sweetie”? and I would go on to say “you may not you foul thing, I just donated a pint last week, so go to the blood bank if you need a drink that bad”. Well, imagination, you know, runs riot when you have nothing much to do, or no one to talk to. 

Anyway, at two pm when my duty time was over a nurse rushed over with the glad news that the govt had announced a holiday for the rest of the day starting from 3pm. And I made my home. And here comes the interesting part. On my way back, the rain had abated a little because of what they call the eye of the storm being nearby which means lesser rains and more winds. The wind was blowing, really blowing, hard at everything, pushing me back as I walked forward. For a minute I felt like that scene from the movie Nayagan where Kamalhassan walks into the water spray being directed at him by the villain. Anyhow with all that wind around, the thing I was hoping to see did not happen. Yes ladies and gentlemen, it was perfect skirt-lifting weather. But were there any skirts around? None. It seems not a single Chennai girl was inclined to have her own Marilyn Monroe moment. You missed it, you poor girls. Now you have to wait till next year for the same weather.
The Pics below will tell the story better of what I expected and what I really saw today:

 (Pics Courtesy: google images)

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Indi-Blogger Meet - 2012

 When you are self employed it takes a lot of self discipline to prioritize work over entertainment. But the converse is also true. Self employed persons sometimes become obsessed with work (and money-making) to an unhealthy degree; to the exclusion of everything else, including the occasional day out to unwind. Achieving a satisfactory work life balance is difficult when you don’t have a boss behind you, to tell you when to work or to when to take a day off. Besides there is also the financial aspect involved. When you are like me and have chosen to prioritize a day out with friends over working, there is always the thought in the back of the mind, a little voice saying, that the time spent having fun involves not only the money you are spending currently but also the money you are not earning by skipping work and ultimately it will all reflect on your monthly balance sheet (read it and weep). 

Plus being in a responsible job where patients sometimes turn up 24/7 and expect to be taken care of immediately means arranging for proper substitutes even when you are not there. This is usually achieved by advising your juniors that when you were at their age (and career-stage) you used to work day and night including all weekends and only went home to shower/change and get back to work. And now that you are the consultant you expect your assistants to keep up the standards you established before. To say all this straight faced and then to skip out for a Saturday night out with your buddies, leaving your assistants behind to work on your behalf can only be done infrequently and on the days you pull off such a feat, you should maximize the fun you can have leaving no stone unturned in the search for ways to enjoy. Now after this lengthy explanation given to offer a peek into why I do what I do, I will go on to describe my latest weekend riot at the Indi-blogger meet 2012. 

The venue for the meet was at the newest hotel in town, ITC, Grand Chola at Guindy and I had to hurry home from the hospital, get changed and be on my way without a pause to make it there on time. Once I had registered I looked around for my fellow bloggers to meet and greet. For after all this was bloggers meet and what else were we their but to network with other bloggers? The first person I met was someone I had heard about a lot from other people in the blogging circle – GB as she terms herself or Ganga Bharani to give her full name. She is a published author and has a number of  books to her credit. Most bloggers dont make the grade from blogging to publishing but this girl had done the jump and I was anxious to pick her brain to see how she had done that and learn from her experience.

The next person I met was someone who I had never met before but had had been following through her blog for a year and more and who had been a great source of inspiration to me. This girl Bhushavalli Natrajan or 3-B (Biker Babe Bhushavalli) as she is known in the blogger world (quite famously) has half a dozen blogs to her credit in many different genres– travelogue, fashion, poetry etal and unbelievably she updates every single one of them almost daily. And here I am unable to update my single blog weekly and blaming writers’ block as an excuse. Its people like Bhusha who shame me into stop looking for pathetic excuses and start writing more, whatever just pops into my head instead of sitting around staring at the ceiling waiting for that “perfect” inspiration to strike me out of the blue and make the words flow.

And then I met someone whose work I admired a lot- the food stylist Sanjeeta KK. I had followed her design work avidly online and here was a rare chance to watch her in action as she went around shooting pictures to grasp how she looked differently at the things which we gloss over as mundane but which ultimately turn out so beautiful when shot by an expert. Long, long ago someone had told me that surgery cannot be taught, but can learn by watching the experts do it. I find that to be equally true to all creative things including photography.

Which is the reason that I haunt the footsteps of  my photography mentor Ramasamy N or Ram Anna (yes, he of the famous ChennaiDailyFoto site) as he is affectionately known in the blogger world, whenever we go around shooting urbanscapes as part of photo-walks around the city. By hanging out with him as he selects his subjects, frames his shots and then decides what to retain or not, I have learnt more about photography than I would have attending half a dozen workshops. And here was a chance to study with yet another master photographer, a specialist in shooting set pieces, Sanjeeta KK and I jumped at the chance to learn from her shoots.

Now after reading the above, if you get an idea that all did was work, then you got the wrong impression. I also did quite a few of my regular (crazy in others language) things, like suggesting that I would use an i-Pad to break on someone’s heads (to a question on what I would do if I won an i-pad) , continuosly engaged in a flame war on twitter with my frenemy Sylvian Patrick as he tweet-asked why I was engaging in conversation only with the ladies and not the gents (quite obvious, if you know me) and also kissed and made up..err…just made-up and called a truce- with my most recent blog war opponent Gitanjali as we suddenly came up face-to-face after blowing hot and cold online. The person I really kissed was Prason Chris who had dared me earlier to do it. It was pure competitive spirit which drove me to do it as I have never been known to back down from a dare. Or so I told Prason’s wife later.

I also chugged around in a train with the guys and girls, got lost following Sanjeeta as she went shooting photographs and had to call people up to find out just where the heck I was and had a thoroughly exhilarating time hitting up on all the pretty girls I happened to meet that day, which was pretty much every single girl. I also happened to win a dinner pass for two at a restaurant (now who will be THAT lucky lady?) and also assorted small gifts and complimentary presents from the organizers of the meet. All in all a thoroughly satisfying way to spend the weekend, as I met plenty of girls, got plenty of stuff and pretty much squeezed every bit of fun out of the evening as I needed. And worth every penny I didn’t earn that day.

Monday, October 29, 2012

ITC Grand Chola – A Review.

As a socially responsible blogger, I often get invited for Social Media Reviews and launch parties of  products and services. This is a review of the newest hotel launch in Chennai- the ITC Grand Chola at Guindy, Mount Road. Read on to find out with me, if the Grand Chola is really grand. Or not.

The History Behind

Native residents of Madras will remember a long-time landmark in Guindy called the Campa Cola factory premises, a defunct factory for long years now. It had also been showcased in a lot of Tamil films which required climax scenes with large scale  blowing up scenes involving cars and bombs. And then came the news that the factory site had been bought over, razed to the ground and a new hotel project conceived to be built by the ITC group, who own and run the popular ITC Chola Sheraton. The Grand Chola hotel which has been under construction for a long time (by Chennai's standards) was completed recently and I was fortunate enough to be invited over for a launch party as part of a group of social media reviewers. When I first got the invitation I jumped at the chance immediately, cleared all my Saturday evening commitments and turned up on time for the launch party, to check first-hand if the stories I had been hearing (over the city's social circuits) were true, that a new landmark has come up which might rival the old landmark which had been razed.

The Location

The Hotel location wise occupies prime real estate just beyond the junction of the Guindy/Velachery/Adyar trifurcation point, on the left hand side as you drive up Mount Road and if you can’t place it still, it’s just next to the Dr.MGR medical university building. The proximity to the airport and the IT corridor means that occupancy rates should not be a problem, as business class travelers might opt for it in preference to other nearby places. The hotel looks an imposing edifice as you enter it from mount road and the security guards at the entrance have no nonsense attitude and go about their duty with a gravitas disproportionate to their jobs. And then comes the surprise; (unpleasant to me) as you are not allowed to drive straight up to the foyer to enter the hotel proper but are directed off to an entrance behind the main building. When I enquired later I was offered the explanation that it is to demarcate (for security reasons) between houseguests who are allowed to use the main foyer and visitors who are supposed to enter via the back. An explanation which does not wash with me as I think its counterproductive to have someone who arrives for maybe just a five minute meeting to go round and round in search of a entrance through which he will be allowed inside. ITC please take note.
Verdict : 3.5/5.

The Build

Although I am not an architecture enthusiast per se, I do have more than a passing familiarity (and interest) with design and esthetics considering that my profession involves working on the most difficult canvas possible, the human face. As I stood there on Mount road gazing up at the hotel and trying to take all of it in with a single glance, I felt that the hotel had been conceptualized based on a Discovery Channel version of Chola Architecture, all towers and pagodas, borrowing design elements mainly from the single most famous Chola landmark, the Brihadeeswara Temple, Tanjore. It’s kind of contrived but it still works because of the sheer scale of the construction overwhelms you with its massive size. I felt and still feel that this is one of the largest hotel spaces (built-up area wise) in the south comparable in grandeur to the Lalith Mahal at Mysore.
Verdict : 4/5

The Interiors

When you have a massive edifice to play around with you expect the same level of grandeur inside. But unfortunately I was disappointed to find it was not so. The level of opulence you come to expect as standard, from any ITC hotel (like the one at Agra where I had stayed over last time I was there) is definitely there, but if you expect them to exceed their usual standards and go overboard with luxury, they have not. Or at least not yet, as the hotel is still undergoing its fitment and this was just a soft launch. I couldn’t help crackling over with laughter when the overenthusiastic salesperson who took me around for the grand tour pointed out a marble design on the floor and said this is special design based on the Chola culture of Kolam. I felt inclined to, but refrained from pointing out (out of  politeness) that if she cared to visit my house, I would show her better versions of the same Kolam design adorning the floors at home and not all Kolam designs have a Chola origin but some are of more mundane provenance too. The only eye catching feature I appreciated was the grand staircase which sweeps up both sides and seamlessly divides both wings of the hotel in a non-obvious way. On the plus side, the hotel seems to have adequate numbers of lifts and escalators which makes wandering inside a cinch.
Verdict : 3/5

The Rooms.

As you can expect from a hotel of this size, they have massive, massive number of rooms to fit any and all crowds. But as this was just a soft launch I was given a sneak preview of just a single sample room- an average business class room. The room was what you would expect of any decent business class hotel but with a twist, they are designed to be electronically controlled via an i-pad which is provided per room. Nothing revolutionary but still a nice little touch of technological progress. There were, to my satisfaction, ample number of power points provided (but hidden behind false fronts for esthetic's) as I always travel around with a variety of electronic gadgets with me and I prefer to charge all of them at once instead of plugging/re-plugging/charging one by one. Seriously, returning to a hotel room at the end of a busy, hard day and then finding out that you have to decide between charging your mobile/s or your camera due to lack of power-points leads to negative points in my book. I also got a look at the conference rooms, all of them named Kaveri, like Kaveri1,2,3, depending on capacity. The one which I saw was a 25-seater, sound-proofed, future-proofed room with concealed mikes capable of direction finding signal pickups and 360° cameras for video-conferencing – as per the spiel I was given.
Verdict : 3.5/5

F & B – Food and Beverages

As I said this was just a soft launch and none of the major restaurants, like the ITC branded Peshawari are open yet. The ones which I were taken to and shown were, surprisingly for such a large building, quite small and cozy and not what you would expect at all from the outside. Most of them look to have minimum seating capacity and have not been designed for large capacity crowds. The in house Italian restaurant I was shown around had an open pasta bar and a private dining are which has a single table to seat just a dozen people. The mocktail bar which I was shown had an even more limited bar area and the wine lounge and cigar bar could comfortably seat groups of around ten to twelve only. All of which leads me to believe that they are designed for the use of the in-house crowd, the guests resident with them and not for outside visitors, who would definitely have to make prior reservations if they want to get a table on time and not go back disappointed. And the most surprising of all was that they dont have, at least not yet, a functioning night spot to let down hair and unwind after a long day negotiating business deals. An oversight which might cost them good clients to say the least.
Verdict: 2.5/5

The Staff.
As of now the hotel is just running with skeleton staff and you have to make allowances for them. I had a tough time trying to control yawning as the lady from the sales team who took me around described in a high falsetto, about the Cholas and their ways. Seriously ITC, we get it. We get that you love and respect the Cholas. You dont have to belabor it beyond a point where it gets so repetitive and boring. Plus add the fact that the staffs are all of north indian origin which makes them pronounce the Chola dynasty like Chole Bhature. Heads-up ITC. Get some Local recruits if you wish to avoid hurting local sentiments. Or get language classes (for proper accent/pronounciation) for your existing staff rotated from other cities.
Verdict: 2.5/5

Overall :

Chennai is not a leisure or tourism destination. It’s more of a business and convention based center. As such any addition to the hotel industry offering decent business class facilities is always welcome. And a location halfway between the airport and the    regular convention venue- Chennai Trade Center should mean that occupancy rates will never fall below 50% at least. But. And this is a qualified but. If I were organizing a large scale convention or conference would I recommend the ITC Grand Chola without reservations? Maybe not yet. I would still go with my first Choice LRM- Le Royal Meridien, which has the same location advantage, good functioning restaurants, a rocking nightspot/discotheque at Flames and comparable rates to the Grand Chola. Plus add free wifi. I mean seriously what was ITC thinking when they decided to charge for wi-fi when even any small self respecting coffee shop nowadays offers free wifi. These little things sometimes have disproportionate effects on decision making. It hits the spot if you go with no expectations but just looking for a normal business class experience, but beyond that there is nothing  much to recommend it over and above other comparable city hotels.
Final verdict : 3/5.

           My Verdict : The ITC Grand Chola is a work in progress. Filled with Grandeur still not yet Grand. But hopefully will be soon. And turn into a landmark which will make the city proud. Whether that happens or not only time will tell. Over to you ITC.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Popping Pills

Mondays are always crazy busy days in a govt hospital. It’s as if a rash of people get sick over the weekend and can’t wait to get to the doctor early on Monday morning. That leads to a lot of chaos and confusion and fights over who came first and who has the more serious disease and should be seen on a priority basis. All this leads to not only heartburn for the patients’ waiting in the long queues but also poses quite a challenge to the doctors (who are just recovering after a weekend well spent) every Monday morning. And amidst all this serious and very sick patients there comes one who inadvertently lightens up the whole day with an accidental joke. But believe me; the patient is usually ignorant that what he/she says is absurdly humorous. But it’s enjoyable all the same. A complete stress-buster in the midst of all that tension.

Like today, when I was in the midst of a roller-coaster ride of patients (too many sick people/too few doctors, as usual) there walked in a patient, a middle aged lady who told me something bizarre and comical at the same time. When I had prescribed to her a drug which needed to be taken along with food and was explaining the necessity to not to take it on an empty stomach, she exclaimed enthusiastically that she had a method of her own to take drugs. And even before I asked she volunteered the information that she usually took all her medicines between the first and second course of her meal. Flabbergasted I asked her to elaborate, as I had personally never heard of such a thing before and she went on to say that she first took Sambar Rice and then stopping her meal there, she proceeded to take her medicines and then she again went back to eating Rasam rice. She said proudly that this ensured that the pills were not acting on an empty stomach and that there was food in her stomach before and food in her stomach after the medicines thus protecting her from the medicines effects. I had difficulty keeping my face straight and breaking into laughter as I nodded my head sagely at her, praised her intelligence at discovering such a fantastic system to take medicines and sent her away well pleased with her own cleverness. There was absolutely nothing objectionable about her technique in taking medicines. But neither was it necessary.

And that made me think that most often our patients do things blindly, trusting to us doctors without really reasoning out why they do the things they are asked to do by the doctors. And we doctors with our superior attitudes of I know best and also due to a lack of time fail to explain properly to our patients why we tell them to do certain things. Now I cannot go around explaining to each and every patient the intricacies of drug absorption and why certain medicines have to be taken on an empty stomach and why certain medicines should never be taken on an empty stomach. But I can actually do it in detail on a blog post and hopefully those who read it will understand a bit more about medicine and pharmacology and the do’s and don’ts of popping pills. So here goes.

The first and foremost thing to say is that the method the lady I mentioned above follows is completely unnecessary. When we say take a medicine with food, we don’t mean it literally. A medicine can be taken half an hour before or after food. As long as the stomach is not empty for a long time with just the medicine in it. This is done for two reasons. A starving stomach has usually a high acid content already inside it and some medicines can increase the acids produced by the stomach leading to the formation of an ulcer or at least stomach ache in the immediate aftermath of taking the medicine. This can be prevented by taking food along with the medicine as the food absorbs the acid, dampens the medicines effects and protects the stomachs lining from being eaten up by our own stomach acids. If you already have acidity or ulcers you can ask your doctor for a safe drug; for there are many alternative forms of the same medicine with the active -disease fighting ingredient being the same, but the salt with which it is made (like sodium replaced by potassium) can be changed, a small change which has the big effect of changing where the medicine is absorbed from- either the stomach or the intestine.

For example everyone knows the painkiller Diclofenac, also known as Voveran. Diclo Sodium is absorbed from the stomach, while Diclo Potassium is absorbed from the intestines. You can see how this would be useful for patients with acidity. Diclo Potassium is labeled Enteric Coated – which means the drug is covered by an insoluble layer which does not get digested by the stomachs acids. But wait till it passes through the stomach and gets into your intestine. The thick protecting layer dissolves immediately, the medicine comes into touch with the intestine cells is rapidly absorbed from there, gets into the blood and acts on your pain. Result – pain relief and no acidity at the same time.

The other reason we ask medicines to be taken with food is to decrease the absorption speed of the medicine from the stomach (to the blood) to a more manageable level. While fast absorption of a medicine is very necessary for some diseases- think heart attack- where you cannot have a single minute’s delay between taking the medicine and its effect to take place, it is not always beneficial. On an empty stomach the medicine is rapidly absorbed and acts very fast while its effect also disappears very fast- leading to an increased number of pills to be taken again and again. This causes difficulty when it comes to certain diseases where we need the medicine to be in the blood for a long time instead of disappearing immediately. Like back pain for instance. 

Taking the same example of the painkiller Diclo again, we can either take the regular drug which can act for a time period of 6 hrs for moderate pain or we can go for a RR-form of the medicine- the rapid release form which acts immediately but only for half the time as regular (to be taken every 3hrs) or we can take the SR form- the sustained release form which is absorbed slowly in low doses and acts slowly for a long time- almost double the time (to be taken every 12hrs). so for the same pain we can take a painkiller either every 3hrs, every 6hrs or every 12hrs. That’s 2 tablets or 4 tablets or 8 tablets a day- depending on your doctors choice of the medicine he prescribes for you. So be specific about the severity of the pain when talking to your doctor to help him decide.

And now we come to the medicines which should only be taken on an empty stomach and never with food. The reason is very simple- food interferes with the absorption of the medicine. There are certain antibiotics which cannot be absorbed when food is present inside the stomach and hence should always be taken at least an hour before food. One example is taking Iron tablets. An iron tablet should never be taken along with dairy products like Milk, cheese butter etc. because the cells which should absorb the iron from the medicine is busy absorbing the calcium from the stomach and the entire iron tablet is lost unabsorbed and of no use to the body. So iron and calcium - never mix please.

These are just a few examples of what makes a doctor instruct you to take a medicine at a specific time. I cannot be more exhaustive here as that would mean I end up writing a pharmacology textbook. So please ask your doctor for more detailed explanations. Or read the instructions printed on the label more carefully. Take care.