SWEET POISON!

It is sweet. It is tasty. It is inexpensive. And it is also highly addictive! Easily available in attractive looking packets, sweet supari (betel nut) and gutka (a mixture of betel nut, katha, lime or chuna, tobacco and food fragrances), are favourite mouth fresheners for a lot of children and adults.

Image

School children often offer the packets to each other in lieu of candy, but most of them do not know that these harmless looking sachets are very harmful for them and can play havoc with their oral and general health. Gutka is a more dangerous form, because to get its consumers hooked, it often contains traces of tobacco. The betel nut used is usually of very poor quality, sometimes infested with fungus and microscopic insects and unfit for human consumption. The greedy manufacturers add sweeteners and food colours to make this substandard supari attractive and palatable, totally disregarding the fact that these are additional health hazards for the consumers.

Although sweet supari and gutka are popular among all age groups and consumed by members of all social classes, the habit to use them as a perfect end to a snack or a meal, is usually cultivated during the school days. The intake usually begins with munching a pack or two a day. Gradually the quantity increases as children find themselves habituated to it. And then the craving sets in!

Some people find themselves totally helpless, as they cannot concentrate or feel comfortable until a pocketful of this sweet poison is buried in their cheeks or tucked under their tongue.

Smoking is still considered a complete no-no for children and as long as they can, parents take great care to make sure that their kids do not take up this habit. Cigarette manufacturers are bound by the government to print warning notes on their packs. But sadly, there is no such rule for sweet supari and gutka. Usually we see that parents are not so particular about restricting their children’s intake of these harmful substances, because neither the parents nor the children realise that these can be as dangerous as smoking. As there is a total lack of awareness of their harmful impact on health, the usage is ever increasing.

Dr Sadaf Ahmed says, “Sweetened supari contains a chemical substance called arecoline which causes inflammation of the gums. Initially, ulcers are formed in the mouth progressing to a disease called ‘oral submucous fibrosis’ or OSF (in easier terms ‘the inability to open the mouth fully’). This in turn leads to nutritional deficiencies because impaired jaw movement affects the diet intake of children, making them physically weak and more prone to infections. The teeth become more sensitive to spicy foods and the tongue and gums often give a burning sensation.”

Dr Ayesha Khan, also warns by painting a gloomy picture, “Direct and repeated contacts of the gums with supari cause them to recede which in turn loosen the teeth. Increase in mouth ulcers and rotting of the gums is also caused by betel nut chewing. In addition to oral submucous fibrosis (OSF), in extreme cases long-term usage can cause cancer of the mouth (including the lip, tongue and cheek) and throat, because betel nut or supari is a known human carcinogen (cancer-causing agent).”

Image

According to the WHO, chewing supari leads to cancer of the mouth even if tobacco is not added to it. In countries where betel nut is consumed extensively, there is a much higher level of oral cancer.There is a dire need to initiate a drive against this sweet poison. To save our oral and general health, children you need to be aware of the harmful effects of these easily available packets of sweet supari and gutka. Newspapers and the electronic media can play a significant role by signalling out appropriate health messages, teaching the public what harm can be caused by sweet supari and gutka, and working for a ban on their sale to children.

Sadly, at present the situation is totally otherwise. Instead of discouraging the sale of these harmful sachets, we often see unrealistic ads of sweet supari on the television. Attractively arranged on a silver platter, a glamorous hostess is seen serving them with a flourish to her guests, or a macho man seems to drive his strength from them, fighting his opponents and making them flee after munching a packet. Children, who are easily influenced by these ads, are hoodwinked and attracted into buying them.

Dr Sadaf says, “During my internship, I have observed many school going children coming to the OPD with problems related to supari and gutka intake. Unfortunately, visits to the dentists in our country are not too frequent, so the initial symptoms of OSF are not so obvious. Usually, patients come in the third stage of the disease and then the treatment option is usually only surgical. These patients are advised not to continue chewing of supari (areca nut) and warned that the next stage is of oral cancer which has more severe treatment modalities. So the first step towards saving our children from this dangerous junk is to create awareness of the consequences of having sweet supari and gutka. They must also be taught the importance of regular dental checkups, a healthy diet and also to maintain a good oral hygiene.”

Dr Khan adds, “Apart from health problems, sweet supari and gutka have bad cosmetic effects as the food colours added to them cause discolouration of teeth. Being as addictive as nicotine and caffeine, they cause dependence and on discontinuation of usage uncomfortable withdrawal effects.”

Dr Anwar Alam of Internal Medicine at AbbasiShaheedHospital corroborates this. “The reason behind the surge in oral diseases in the past decade in the younger people is the rampant use of gutka and gutka became this popular because it was easily available everywhere and it was convenient to use.

Similarly, there is social stigma attached to tobacco smoking of women so they may not take up smoking that readily or even if they do take it up, they do not do it as openly as men do. However, gutka consumption is free of all the prejudices and inconveniences. It is as easy to carry as a small candy, it is not messy, it is fragrant, one does not need to go to a paanwala exclusively to buy it, it has no social stigma attached to it and hence can be consumed by teenage girls and adolescent boys. What most people do not know is that its health risks are just as injurious, if not more, as that of chewing or smoking tobacco.

According to a research, apart from the urban centers, gutka usage is as popular, if not more, in rural attachments to the city. The newly built 48 kilometers long road that connects Karachi to Mubarak Village is dotted with various small villages, inhabited by fishermen and their families. Every village has its own small shop and they may or may not stock basics such as milk or onions but almost every shop sell packaged and unpackaged gutka which is the perhaps the most popular item. Tahira Kaukab, program officer of a local NGO Indus Earth that works in the area stated that people in this area may go without food but will not forego their gutka addiction. She further added that the gutka sold in the coastal belts is often expired and they have found small insects and parasites in the gutka packets. 

So friends, Beware of this killer! And the greedy manufacturers who are marketing it at the cost of your health. A few moments of a sweet sensation in your mouth could cost you and your loved ones a life time trauma!

RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY!

RAIN, RAIN, GO AWAY!

          Rain has always held a special place in my life! It mesmerizes me, enchants and takes me way back down the memory lane. It reminds me of the happy and carefree childhood I spent in my parental home with my siblings.

          As it rained more than half of the year in East Pakistan (now Bangla Desh), rain was a part and parcel of our lives. The staircase to the upper floor of our cosy little house overlooked a long alley. After lunch, I and my siblings would sit one child on one stair and watch with delight as rain came lashing down on the pedestrians. Some had umbrellas, other used large sheets of polythene to protect themselves and a few were seen running for shelter if they possessed none of these.

                    After nights when the thunder kept rolling, the clouds clapping ominously and rain pouring down as if it would never come again, I remember calling school expectantly. “Is the school off today?” And the predictable answer came “Why do you think the school would be off today” I would be counter questioned. The voice sounded irritated as if tired of answering the same question repeatedly. “It has been raining so hard all night” I would try to argue although I myself could feel my voice grow weaker. “Do think rain makes any difference to life in this part of the world?” and the phone was banged angrily.

          Rain made literally no difference to normal activities as schools, offices and markets opened as usual and everyone seemed to be carrying on his/her work as usual. Heavy downpours recorded in inches, were a part and parcel of life and there were no traffic jams, electric failures, overflowing storm drains or stagnant water on the roads. All that could be seen were small puddles in which children loved to splash around, but with a well maintained drainage system, these too disappeared in no time.

          Apart from natural calamities like floods or cyclones which were a normal feature in that region, little or no news of suffering of the low income class was witnessed after the routine heavy rains.

          Rain meant enjoyment to me and my siblings. If the rainy day was a holiday, picnic baskets would be packed immediately and we would set out for an outing to any of the green spots in Dhaka. Otherwise, Beisan or Potato Parathas would be cooked, to be enjoyed with Ammi’s unmatchable sweet mango chutney and ripe mangoes in plastic buckets were set out in the open courtyard to be cooled by the falling rain.

          I distinctly remember the long drives with friends after a rainy day, dashing to the famous Ramna Park of Dhaka for Chatpatti (Chat) and Puchka (Pani Puri) and the treat finished off with a Meetha Paan at the renowned pan shop outside the Dhaka Stadium. Traffic moved a bit slow but there was no disruption to its flow!

          After I migrated to Karachi, I used to miss the rains as these were limited to a couple of months only. As clouds came in, I would look expectantly towards the sky and pray for them to burst into a downpour. Until I witnessed the other side of the coin, i.e how rains could play havoc with the lives of people! To my dismay, unlike my birth city Dhaka, rain always brought misery to the lives of the residents of Karachi, especially those who reside in low lying or slum areas. Every year after the monsoon rains hits, life seems to be paralyzed as the roads are turned into rivulets in no time.

          Although in the four decades plus that I have been living in Karachi, I have seen that rains always disrupt and paralyze life in the city, I feel that things are getting worse with each passing year.

          This year, the 3rd of August began as a usual day, but before nightfall tragic news from all parts of the city came pouring in, as fast as the torrential rains we witnessed during the day. In all the years I have been living in Karachi, this was perhaps the worst rainy day I had witnessed.

          Loss of 16 precious lives was reported and all the major roads were flooded heavily. Most of the city was plunged into darkness as power went off as soon as the rain started lashing the city. Some areas, (like mine) had to go without power for nearly 24 hours or more! Emergency was declared in the city and army had to be called in to drain the stagnant water. As usual, action was taken too late as the CM dismissed the Karachi Administrator, as well as the Director Municipal Services from their respective posts. But could these belated steps bring back the precious lives or heavy loss to property? the question hangs heavily in the air.

 Image

          But the depressing part of all the sufferings is that we Karachiites could have been spared this gloom. Although there was a forecast of a monsoon more severe than is usual to Karachi, the City Government had simply taken no steps to prevent the dwellers of the mega city from the misery it had to face.  Storm water drains (which are getting narrower each year due to encroachments) were not cleared up in time, and as these are usually clogged with the garbage slum dwellers throw in them, they overflew in no time, spreading stinking water on major roads and alleys.

          The poor dwellers of the areas lining the storm water drains were the worst affected as their homes were totally inundated! After the heavy downpour, although I was dreading the bad news, I had no idea it would be worse than my imagination. The domestic helper who has been cleaning my house for years, came frantically banging the door as the bell was not ringing. Her eyes burning with tears she was trying hard to control, she said in a voice lined with despair. “Ammi kuch nahin bacha, sirf badan pe ye kapre hain!” (Ammi, nothing is left except the clothes that I am wearing). She had lost the entire ration she had got from different affluent people (remember it was Ramzan), as well as her meager belongings. “Shukar hai, Bachon ki jaan bach gayi”! (Thank God, the lives of my children were saved). She said in a resigned tone. Such depressing stories came pouring in from other quarters as night fell.

Image

          There was a forecast of more rain for the next two or three days but it seems nature was also moved by the misery the heavy downpour had caused! Although the weather remained cloudy for the next few days, fortunately we only witnessed drizzling after every few hours!

          There was a time when I looked up at the clouds expectantly, praying for the rains to come. But after decades of living in Karachi, I mutter a prayer when I see the ominous clouds coming in. Rain, Rain, Go Away! We are not prepared yet to enjoy you! The burst of clouds which meant enjoyment and relaxation in my childhood days causes pain, anxiety, sorrow and darkness in this city of lights!

 

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE FENCE!

 

The young woman (a friend’s daughter) was fuming with anger! “Pakistan is not worth living anymore! I will migrate as soon as I possibly can.”

Her agitation was natural! Mugged by a scooter driving youth, she had lost cash, her ID card, credit card and cell phone. And as this was not the first time, the hassle she knew she had got herself into was more frustrating. As she knew from earlier experience that reporting at a police station was futile, she had to (again) set upon contacting the concerned people about her dilemma! Applying for a new NIC and credit card, getting her cell no. blocked until she got a new sim and trying to re-collect the numbers of her contacts was no easy job! And she knew that palms would have to be greased for redressing her genuine distress. And last but not the least, the cash she had lost was no small amount!

I couldn’t blame her as she was sharing the general dismal mood of discontent shared by the youth of our country! But like I always do in similar circumstances, I couldn’t stop myself from quipping back, “What percentage of our population can possibly migrate? Don’t you think that people living outside Pakistan have their own set of problems? And instead of planning to run away, we should firmly plant our feet on our soil and work hard to improve the conditions?”

Conditions in Pakistan are detoriating day by day, year by year! Caught in the clutches of greedy politicians, energy crisis, militancy, religious extremists (whom I refuse to call Muslims) blowing up themselves and innocent people in public places, the ever rising spiral of inflation, lawlessness, illiteracy, corruption and unemployment are only a few of the problems gnawing at the roots of our country.

Tall promises are made before every up-coming elections, pledges are made to solve all the problems in no time at all, but our leaders quickly forget about them and promptly busy themselves in amassing wealth in every possible and unethical manner, visiting foreign countries (with huge entourages), distributing ministries to appease their loyalists (competency being the least consideration), and stooping to any level to keep their rule intact. This is a quagmire we have been stuck in for decades now!

The brain drain from Pakistan towards the West has been continuing for the past two or more generations and is one of the reasons for the unfavorable conditions we are facing today. Qualified, young, talented, hardworking and honest people realize that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. A better paid job, much improved basic amenities, an atmosphere of general security and stability, bright prospects for their children’s future, more stable economic conditions and over all a more comfortable life style, attracts them so much that they opt for the greener pastures.

But as the saying goes “Everything comes with a price. Everything! Some things just cost more than the others.” The economic and living conditions may be much better in the greener pastures, but life is not all bliss in an alien land. Adapting to a foreign culture and still retaining one’s national identity is difficult for most people (and more so for their children) and safe guarding their religious and cultural values is an uphill task! Compromises have to be made, as leaving behind one’s roots, parents and childhood friends is always painful.

The most important negative factor is that these people are forced into raising a confused generation, which is neither Eastern nor Western, but a misfit in both cultures! Many a parents have to go through a nightmarish phase when they can no longer control their adolescents, who are attracted by the so called freedom of their native peers. Protecting their children from the culture of drug abuse, extra-marital sex and violence becomes a difficult task for them. The children who have been brought up in a totally alien culture, feel all these are normal part of life and often clash with their parents when the older generation tries to impose restrictions on them!

Sadly, inspite of these difficulties, most people who move out of Pakistan, think it is better to cope with these issues rather live in the difficult conditions back home. And so in their quest for greener pastures, they leave behind their culture, their values and a motherland which is bleeding to the core!

But I say again and again that to run away from problems is not a healthy way to solve them! We must not behave like ostriches who bury their necks in the sand! We have to face our troubles and overcome them, catch the bull by its horns and try to control it with all our might! Fighting the problems by finding out solutions and trying our best to implement them inspite of the odds is the only way things can improve!

Pakistan needs fresh blood more than it ever needed before! Dedicated, talented, hard working, honest and educated youth must come forward to control the helm of affairs! We need them in every field of action, bureaucracy, politics, military, judiciary, education and governance! Personal gains must be sacrificed for national causes! Our youth may be disenchanted and angry, but their angry outbursts show that they still care! And they know that all is not lost in Pakistan, as deep down they also feel that it is high time things should change for the better. I am not supporting or opposing any political party, but to prove my point I must remind people about the steep rise in the percentage of voters especially the young ones, when in the recent elections hope for a change was offered!

 There is always light at the end of the darkest tunnel. We must move forward, even if we are on our hands and feet, to reach that end! We have to start at the grassroots and corruption has to be eliminated at all levels. Awareness about striking the perfect balance between rights and duties can only be achieved through improving the literacy rate. Each and everyone has to put in his/her share. The effort may be small and seemingly insignificant but when a major change comes, every small endeavour will prove to help in making the difference!

Only then the plight of or Homeland can change!

I know and accept that the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. Life in the conditions prevailing in Pakistan is not easy! I fear for my children when they go out (and quickly recite a prayer for their safety), get panicked if one of them is late in coming home or  responding to a call on his/her cell phone, worry day in and day out how to stretch the household budget to make the ends meet, cry when I see the pictures of innocent children killed in terrorist attacks, rant and rave at the conditions in Pakistan when I read the newspaper or watch the news on the TV, but if given the choice of moving out, without even thinking for a moment, my answer would be “No thanks, the grass may appear greener on the other side, but inspite of the difficult conditions here, I still prefer my side of the fence!”

 

 

Relationships: Mending fences

Mummy looked up from her cup of tea and cast a worried look at Umair. He was not his cheerful self for the past few days and seemed to have lost his appetite. Lost in thought, he sat at the breakfast table nibbling at his French toast.

“What’s wrong son, you look so glum and depressed. Tell me if there is anything I can do for you,” mummy asked.

Umair looked up from his plate and burst into tears, “Mummy I had a fight with my best friend and I feel that I was too harsh on him. I don’t know how and when things will again be the same between us. I feel so guilty.”

Umair went on to tell his mother how Ali had borrowed his science journal to complete the work he had missed during his absence due to fever. While returning the journal, Ali apologised to his friend that accidentally he had spilled some ink on it.

As Umair was very particular about his books, he flew into a rage and picked up a quarrel with his friend, accusing him that he must have spoiled the journal on purpose and that Ali was jealous of his good grades.

“We are not on speaking terms for a week, but I want to be friends with Ali again. I realise that I was unfair and I don’t want to lose a true pal,” confessed Umair.

None of us can claim that we have never had any differences with people who hold an important place in our lives. We have quarrels with siblings, friends and classmates; sometimes on minor issues and sometimes on major ones. But it is not possible for most of us to stay away for a long time from the people we love dearly. Even if we stop talking to them and do not communicate in any other routine manner, i.e., text messaging or interacting on social forums like Facebook, Skype, we cannot keep them out of our thoughts. And a yearning to mend the fences keeps us restless and unhappy.

Some of us maybe too stubborn, making the difference a matter of our ego and waiting for the other party to make an advance to normalise the relationship. But more often than not, most of us are too soft-hearted to prolong a fight. We know that making up quickly after a quarrel brings in peace of mind and a sense of serenity as we realise that a relationship is too strong to be adversely affected by a petty difference.

How do you mend fences with a near and dear one after you have had a bitter argument, called each other names in a fit of anger or, worst still, brought up past and long settled issues? Instead of sulking, spending restless nights and worrying your parents by refusing to eat properly, try out the positive ways to make up with your near and dear ones. Although it may take a lot of courage, the best option is to admit that you were wrong. The easiest (and for some the most difficult) way is to go ahead and say ‘I am sorry’. These are the magic words which often and easily settle petty quarrels in a moment and you retrieve your cherished relationship.

There may be some of you who find it hard to apologise but still you want to show your regrets. There are many simple and warm gestures which can help you out in this difficult situation.

Write a note

If you can not directly say that you are sorry for losing your temper and picking up a fight, just send a handwritten card. You can make a simple card yourself or buy an easily available one. You can quietly slip it into your friend’s schoolbag or place it on his desk, and in the case of a sibling, keep it silently in his/her room.

Say it with flowers

To make up with a friend after a quarrel, you do not need to send an expensive bouquet. A single flower picked from your own garden and neatly tied with a piece of ribbon or a colourful string can prove to be a gesture which will salvage your friendship.

Send a gift

A gift is a caring way to tell a person that you want to be friends again. A friend’s or sibling’s favourite chocolate or any other small gift can do wonders to melt the ice between you and your cherished one. They would understand that you feel sorry but cannot muster enough courage to say so!

A positive gesture

Sometimes a warm smile, a hand extended for a shake or a hearty hug does the trick. The person you had differences with gets the message that you want to make up for your rudeness or insensitive behaviour.

Tempers usually cool down quicker than the speed with which they flare up.

At the end of the day, you come to realise that a relationship is more important than your ego and losing a close friend on a petty issue is much worse than losing our pride!