Crackers, Air and Feelings

By GauravL 21 Comments


Fair warning – Read this blogpost as a RANT.

This Brilliant Logic seems to have taken over the Hindutva Twitter for the last week or so. A lot of well-known Rightish folks are starting I don’t like firecrackers BUT. As John Snow said in some GOT episode, everything one says before a BUT is horse shit.

Virat Kohli took to social media to tell his followers to not burn crackers and was made a meal off on the Indian twitter-sphere. Kohli virtue signaling can turn off some people as pointed out here

As someone who opposes Fire-crackers (especially the ones which leave fumes of toxic metal in winters), I would love most crackers to be banned all 365 days of the year including Diwali, New years, weddings, Cricket matches, and political victories. Having said that, QUANTITY/SIZE matters. On New years or even political victories, most of the 135 Crore plus people don’t blow millions of tons of firecrackers. Hunting wild game in a country like the United States is fine to an extent, but if Indians start hunting deer for meat the deer populations would be screwed beyond repair. India shouldn’t act with the irresponsibility with which the United States and other less dense countries can act. Comparing this to supposedly green celebrities and their diesel guzzling SUVs and ACs is stupid, Cars and AC are bad for the air quality, but they are no way close to the toxic fumes from the firecrackers which we breathe. Especially during covid times, avoiding a couple of days of breathing in metallic and toxic fumes seems to be a no brainer – but not for the times we live in.

The way with which governments and NGT have acted against firecrackers on eve of Diwali knee jerk reaction and needs to be called out. Governments as usual have taken the easy low-hanging fruit instead of acting on deeper problems of air pollution in North India. The arbitrariness of the action is bad and heartless but is burning crackers to spite of governments and liberals equally stupid – like the angry husband who hates alcohol but drinks just to spite his wife. Especially for people who don’t like burning crackers, it’s a classic case of putting feelings/politics over principles. While firecrackers are not the primary or even the secondary cause of air pollution in India, they certainly have the capacity to push the AQI from Severe to Hazardous for a couple of days.

Enough ranting, let’s make some pictures do some talking. These pictures are from my terrace in Pune. Unlike North India, there is no stubble burning which causes the annual spike in pollution levels. With that variable out, it’s easier to see the drastic effects of crackers on the air quality

This is a photograph from my terrace around noon today. An unusual turn of weather has meant the air quality today was exceptionally good. There were very few firecrackers today morning.
As a result, the evening started with clear skies and good visibility
Within two hours of moderate crackers, the air is visibly and significantly poorer

If crackers continue with a higher rate for longer, by midnight today this view would be drastically altered with exceedingly poor visibility (a good proxy for poor and toxic air). In all likelihood, the gulf of smoke surrounding the city will remain over the city for a couple of days (depending on wind and weather conditions).

No clear skies, dull polluted air over the city on 15th November – a day after Laxmi puja

On occasions when the city gets caught in the perfect storm (like it did last year), the next couple of days would be incredibly poor viz. air quality.

Last year on 28th October I woke up around 700 to this. Laxmi Pujan was on 27th October. It is a distinct possibility that tomorrow morning will be similar.

I have not been to Delhi during the peak of air pollution however on 28/10/19 a ten-minute walk drastically affected my eyes and throat giving me a taste of what life might be for Delhites. It’s not about the Environment in the abstract, it’s about the air we breathe. Is it worth compromising the already pathetic air quality for a couple of hours of fun? or worse just to spite the other side and make a political point? 


Happy Diwali to everyone – even those who would find this rant unpalatable 🙂



My Experiences with Ayurveda

By GauravL 4 Comments

I have no medical/biology/medicine background nor am I am a scientist nor do I claim to understand statistics. Read this as some thoughts of a layman.

The Wikipedia entry for Ayurveda starts with

Ayurveda is an alternative medicine system with historical roots in the Indian subcontinent.[2] The theory and practice of Ayurveda is pseudoscientific. The Indian Medical Association (IMA) characterizes the practice of modern medicine by Ayurvedic practitioners as quackery.

Compare that the quackiest of all quackery – Homeopathy which gets similar treatment on Wikipedia entry.

This piece is not a defense of Ayurveda but analysis of some personal experiences with it. I object to calling the entire broad practice of Ayurveda as quackery – Its certainly not “science” as we have come to understand the word in 21st century but calling it quackery is too much of a stretch.

Like most Indians I have my fair share of experiences with Ayurveda and like most I have mixed feelings about the practice of Ayurveda. My house contains a fair number of Ayurvedic medicines for a range of ailments like Acidity, Headache, Bloating, Bowel issues and a range of other minor discomforts. I have liberally used these over last 30 years and have not had any problematic reactions. In my experiences these pills/powders have been reasonably effective though not silver bullets. But most of these ailments are shown to be affected by placebos in large trials and hence cant be used to attest efficacy of the practice.

Here are some significant experiences I have had with Ayurveda

Acne: Since my teenage years I suffered from tremendous bouts of acne. The allopathic physicians I visited gave me creams and pills which did not work. Hence I went to a renowned Ayurvedic practitioner in Pune. I took all medicine prescribed for almost 3 months while following strict diet (no eggs, meat, curd for almost an year). None of these made tiniest bit of impact while each visit to the practitioner included talks about how उष्ण I was (best translated into HEAT) and how the Acne was a manifestation of my उष्णता. I was becoming increasingly frustrated with all the Pittha, Kapha, Vatha talk but still I continued the medicines for a good 3 months. Next I went to a dermatologist and the antibiotic treatment (which included some specific antibiotics) started yielding results within days (some nasty bacteria were exterminated I presume). On retrospection I should have done this years ago, but for a variety of reasons I did not.

Kidney Stones: 4 years ago I developed Kidney stones which weren’t large enough to be treated/ operated but were painful nonetheless. The urologist’s prescription was to take some anti inflammatory drugs during bouts of pain. Again I turned to an extraordinarily confident Ayurvedic practitioner who gave me some powders and syrups. It appeared to work within couple of days. I have not had Kidney stones since. I get that this anecdote might just be easily explained by N other things but still went on to share it as not sharing it seemed incomplete.

Allergic Rhinitis: For 17 years I have suffered from frequent and severe bouts of Allergic Rhinitis (average once every week) – where I sneeze for most of the active day. I visited ENT & allergy specialist for this issue some years ago, we failed to pinpoint the trigger but I was prescribed anti allergy pills for 3 months which worked for 3 months. The continuation of those pills for lifetime wasn’t advisable and hence after 3 months I was prescribed Duonase Nasal Spray. This spray works 95% times if used with 5 minutes of onset of Sneezing. But sadly the spray comes with side effects like Drowsiness, Reduced focus (esp while driving) and doesnt work for me once the Sneezing has already started for sometime. So I turned to Ayurvedic practitioner again. I followed the advice on diet and took medicines for a couple of months which had no effect whatsoever. I had resigned to accept this ailment as my fate which could only be moderated to certain extent my maintaining a healthy sleep pattern in sync with Circadian rhythm. (this seems to be a good advice for good immunity in general even for COVID)

With the Covid pandemic raging, a famous Ayurvedic technique called Jalneeti became popular in Maharashtra/Pune after it was recommended by oncologist Dr Dhananjay Kelkar who was at the vanguard of fight against Covid at Deenanath Mangeshkar hospital as its Medical Director (one of the largest hospitals in Pune).

I started doing this technique 9 weeks ago as I trusted the words of a doctor of Dr. Kelkar’s renown. The practice appears difficult to follow at first, but it gets easy after a week or so. I do this practice two or three times a day depending on my day. Last 9 weeks I have not had a single major bout of allergic rhinitis which is unprecedented for me (I had a minor bout one time) especially given the fact that my sleep patterns are the worst they have ever been. I don’t know how long these results will continue, but I plan to continue this practice. I believe once WFH ends this practice might be difficult to follow, but still it can be easily achieved atleast once a day.

Obviously in absence of any scientific publication I wont comment on its efficacy as preventive for respiratory illnesses but I would recommend it strongly if you suffer allergies.

In conclusion, I strongly protest against calling Ayurvedic practices as Quackery (it smells strongly of Anti Hindu bigotry) though I continue to be skeptical of Ayurvedic advices/treatments for non psychosomatic diseases in general. I even find the whole Coronil fiasco troubling. Additionally the reduction of every ailment under the sun into Pittha, Kapha, Vata appears very frustrating in 21st century especially given all we know about health. I sincerely hope more funding finds it way towards study of Ayurveda which is unfettered by ideology/ dogmatism or nativist biases. I hope someone in India (maybe GOI or state governments) sponsors research into the plethora of Ayurvedic practices instead of clubbing it with Homeopathy under AYUSH.

Here is an interesting piece on Ayurgenonics by Anand Ranganathan – the twitter and TV debate celebrity.

Any Doctors or scientists reading the blog; Dr Omar, Dr Warlock and Razib – please add your two(thousand) cents if possible.


Ancient and Modern Medicine

By Omar Ali 5 Comments

My friend Dr Joishy is a very well respected physician (an oncologist by training, with a special interest in palliative medicine). He also comes from a family of Ayurvedic practitioners and a long time ago he wrote a small article about ancient medical systems and modern medicine. He shared it with me, I liked it, one thing led to another, and here is his note about that article (unfortunately not available in etext form, only as a scan, see link in the following note).. I hope to do a podcast with Dr Joishy one day by the way..



 By Suresh K. Joishy, M.D., F.A.C.h.P.M.

                 My good neighbor Dr. Omar Ali and myself were having a mutually interesting conversation on ancient medical systems and modern medicine.  I had published a paper on this topic titled “Towards Ideal Medicine: What Can Traditional Medicine Teach Us?”   This paper can be accessed by copying and pasting the following link onto an internet browser:

After reading it, Dr. Ali suggested I submit it to “Brown Pundits” but we did not have an electronic copy. The scan is attached above.

My paper was written in 1981, when I was practicing Hematology and Oncology  in the U.S., after a research assignment in Malaysia.    Since I am a medical graduate from India, my grandfather was a physician in Ayurveda, and as I lived in several states of India, I was able to closely observe the ancient medical systems still in practice and thriving.

I am a practitioner of modern medicine.  I believe in science and evidence-based medicine.  Then why write about ancient medical systems?  My paper addressed this very question as to why Ayurveda, Unani and Traditional Chinese Medicine were thriving despite the success of modern medicine in curing infections with antibiotics and no limits to what a surgery can accomplish to repair, replace, or transplant organs.  I have described the science of modern medicine and compared it to Ayurveda,Unani  and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).

Rather than dwell on the past again, here I will give my views on what has transpired since 1981,  after which I was teaching and conducting research abroad in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, England, Japan, and New Zealand.  I also observed ancient medical systems were still thriving over there. Continue reading “Ancient and Modern Medicine”


Razib Khan corona-casting in the time of coronavirus

By Razib Khan 8 Comments

I recently talked about coronavirus with our old friend Kushal Mehra. I decided this is probably a time where I can post all the different coronavirus related podcasts I’ve done. I started on February 17th, on my podcast with Spencer Wells. You can see all the podcasts in rough order of date recorded…

It’s not live yet, but I’m going to have an episode on Two for Tea soon (it was recorded before the two below, so I put it here).


Browncast episode 88: Phillipe Lemoine, covid-19 “optimism”

By Razib Khan 6 Comments

Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on LibsynAppleSpotify,  and Stitcher (and a variety of other platforms). Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe to one of the links above!

You can also support the podcast as a patron. The primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else. This website isn’t about shaking the cup, but I have noticed that the number of patrons plateaued a long time ago. This month has been our biggest traffic month ever, and I think our corona-casts have been popular (patrons also get access to one that you can’t find on the public feed).

I would though appreciate more positive reviews! Alton Brown’s “Browncast” has 30 reviews on Stitcher alone! Help make us the biggest browncast! At least at some point.

This week I talked to Phillipe Lemoine about his blog post Are we headed toward an unprecedented public health disaster? A philosopher by training, Phillipe is now working as a data scientist, and he has been looking a the patterns of fatality in Europe for the past several weeks.


The Weather, South Asia, and coronavirus

By Razib Khan 14 Comments

I have a post where I analyze the idea that weather has an effect on the spread of coronavirus. One thing to note is that the best models focus on absolute humidity. This means that coastal Karachi is much better placed than inland Lahore, because Lahore often has low humidity. Mumbai shouldn’t be well suited for the spread of coronavirus at any time of the year (absolute humidity too high).

The major confound here: air conditioning. This creates a bubble of low absolute humidity, so coronavirus could spread very well in these environments. If you believe these results, one might want to turn off air conditioning in offices.


The Consequences of Coronavirus

By The Emissary 23 Comments

A couple years back, I spent my down time playing a video game called Plague Inc. The game starts off with you playing as a bacteria, parasite, fungus, or of course as a virus. Your objective is to spread yourself across the globe infecting as many humans as possible, eventually leading to the culling of all of humanity. To win, you must silently evolve and spread, careful to not alert too many humans nor remain too isolated. On the way, you cause travel bans, mass hysteria, political clashes, etc… Sound familiar?

Screenshot of Plague Inc – A Popular Disease Simulator Game

Now, we are seeing an eerily recognizable reality to the fantasy of that game. Coronavirus-19 has become the modern plague of our times. And while it is no where near the level of Plague Inc’s apocalyptic end game, COVID-19 threatens to upend many of our society’s given structures and force the world down a new path.

Continue reading “The Consequences of Coronavirus”