Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Dinner Tonight

A TV Dinner
It is a mind free of the stress of greed, fear, anger and other such encumbrances that is the first step to good health and happiness. Next are sunshine, pure air to breathe and natural healthy food followed by a life style that includes physical exercise that is built in to the life style and not contrived. Most Ikarians work on their farms, gardens, orchards etc. and live in a hilly terrain that incorporates walking up and down hills just to get on with their daily routine and abundant socializing. Just like the residents of Neeltal in my novel – Nude besides the lake (the title has ‘besides’ not ‘beside’ in case you search for it online) – the Ikarians have an afternoon nap and drop into visit each other for the late afternoon or early evening tea followed by a glass of wine over greetings and laughter.

As regards food, the Ikarian food includes the healthiest of ingredients and natural health supplements. The diet is usually vegetarian and includes honey, herbal teas, home grown food and young home brewed local wines. The oil used in cooking is the healthiest of all cooking oils available on the planet – Olive Oil.

Inspired by the Ikarians, I have been trying to make changes in my own diet here in far away India. Yesterday, I procured a bottle of imported Spanish olive oil. Until last year this oil was prohibitively expensive in India but this year due to large imports from Spain the prices have crashed and it has become affordable. The olive tree was somehow not grown in India but now young plantations of olive have also sprung up in India recently with the help of global knowledge (in this case primarily from Israel) and more of this good oil is likely to become available locally in future. It includes the benefits of a heart tonic along with those of a tree food as opposed to a ground crop.

Therefore, the dinner last night was Macaroni stir fried with mushrooms, grated carrots and sweet green chilies as shown in the photo snapped before dinner to share with friends. The Macaroni dish was spiced with garlic. tomatoes, a tea spoon of vinegar, grated cheese, a beaten egg and a pinch of MSG with salt to taste. I usually have my dinner in the living room while watching the local and BBC News with great economic bytes from good friend Aaron Heslehurst (His link is, whenever we are not entertaining guests or the children are not on a visit and that is most of the time nowadays. The photo shows the bottle of olive oil that had a best before date in 2014. A little of it was used to fry the macaroni and a little was sprinkled on before eating. The plate on the side includes young freshly plucked and uncooked spinach leaves from the back garden with a sour cream dressing and a sliced hard boiled egg procured from free range birds. A hard boiled egg is one of the nicer foods on the planet especially when sliced with an egg wire cutter. Do get the contraption unless you already have one to decorate the simplest of salads and dinners and spinach for a salad is so simple to grow that it can even be grown by apartment dwellers in a box by the window. It is not safe to eat raw spinach from the market.. There is glass of a two week old white wine that is still milky indicating that the yeast is still alive and active. A wine clears up when the sugar in the wine is exhausted and that would take another couple of weeks. Live yeast drinks are a great health tonic to build up the intestinal flora. The dinner also includes a slice of an iced chocolate cake from the neighborhood bakery. Hope this post inspires you to rake up dinners that are delicious, simple, nutritious, healthy and inexpensive.

The photo also shows bits of newspaper that we use as paper napkins with meals and in the kitchen. It is one of the many uses we put our daily newspaper to so as to save at least a few trees on the planet. if everyone did that then the production of paper napkins would come down and with that the cutting of trees required for their production. Eventually, the world may switch completely to electronic newspapers but the time has not come yet. Perhaps within a few decades we shall see a nano folding screen that updates the newspaper daily and changes the page to next when you touch a dot at the bottom of the screen. In our home nice looking paper and cloth napkins are pulled out only when guests arrive, lest they feel slighted.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Vegetarian Food for Good Health - Ikaria

Balck eyed peas - Lobia beans

A vegetarian diet, especially one that includes eggs, milk/ milk products has been described as a healthy diet in many articles of this blog. It was given the name lovegan food as different from a vegan one that does not include eggs and milk.

While leafy green vegetables such as spinach are great for providing many of the nutrients a human needs for good health, when meat is completely or largely eliminated from one’s diet, it is necessary to replace it with other food items that will provide protein in order for the diet to be a balanced and healthy. Milk products and eggs are some of the sources from which this protein can come. However it becomes necessary to include other sources of protein too. One problem with eggs is that although one or two a day is great, a larger consumption per day appears to be bad for health. Milk products such as cheese and yoghurt or just plain milk can provide the rest of the protein active healthy humans need. However, just by themselves these foods do not offer enough variety. A third source for vegetable protein is lentils and beans.

Although I do consume meat or fish on occasions, especially when entertaining, the occasions are rare. On a regular basis, besides some yoghurt and an egg a day, sometimes two, my regular lunch is rice and lentils with some yoghurt and a green salad. The daily egg is reserved for breakfast. I do not drink milk straight because I am one of those humans that cannot digest milk easily. A large percentage of humans will fall in this category but cheese and yoghurt is digested easily because the latter do not require the same enzyme that is required for digestion of milk.

Lentil Beans

Some of the most delicious and nutritious lentils are chick peas (garbanzo beans or hummus) and black eyed peas (lobia beans) however just cooked straight they can make a human phart like a cow. Therefore, I have been avoiding these most times even though they taste good. Instead my favorites are washed split mung beans and red lentils. These latter are easily digested and if they are pre-soaked and the froth removed during the cooking process then they are flatulence free for most. Traditionally in India these were cooked over a wood fire in a narrow necked pot called a Handi. The froth just boiled over into the fire during cooking. Nowadays, when that sort of cooking is not feasible in a modern kitchen, one can easily remove the froth with a spoon while they are being boiled.

Recent news items about Ikaria, a Greek island, have however caused me to begin including both Hummus and black-eyed peas once again in lunch, albeit after a process that removes the flatulence causing properties of these two beans. I shall presently describe the process but first about Ikaria. It is a 100 square mile Greek Island with a population of around ten thousand. The University of Athens concluded that people on Ikaria were, in fact, reaching the age of 90 at two and a half times the rate Americans do. (Ikarian men in particular are nearly four times as likely as their American counterparts to reach 90, often in better health.) But more than that, they were also living about 8 to 10 years longer before succumbing to cancers and cardiovascular disease, and they suffered less depression and about a quarter the rate of dementia. Almost half of Americans 85 and older show signs of Alzheimer’s. On Ikaria, however, people were sharp to the end.

Dr. Christina Chrysohoou, a cardiologist at the University of Athens, School of Medicine, teamed up with half a dozen scientists to organize the Ikaria Study. She found that her subjects consumed about six times as many beans a day as Americans, ate fish twice a week and meat five times a month, drank on average two to three cups of coffee a day and took in about a quarter as much refined sugar — the elderly did not like soda. She also discovered they were consuming high levels of olive oil along with two to four glasses of wine a day. The beans most often consumed in Ikaria are hummus and black-eyed peas.

I am reminded that this diet is very similar to the diet in my father’s family in India. They too were long lived and sharp to the end. On the other hand my mother’s flatulence-free family was regular meat eaters. Unfortunately they did not live as long.

As mentioned, I have discovered a way to cook hummus and black eyed peas that makes them flatulence free. Although some nutrients are lost in my method the proteins are preserved. It is a small loss, I believe, for enjoying these wonderful beans that have been a part of a healthy and delicious human diet for centuries from the healthy parts of our world that includes West Africa for the black eyed peas and North Africa for hummus. These beans must be soaked overnight and next day they should be boiled with just salt and lots of water until soft. These are hard beans, especially hummus, and may take hours to soften. A pinch of soda or baking powder helps but ruins the taste. However all one requires is a pressure cooker and they are wonderfully softened in just half an hour. After cooling down, drain and throw away the water and out goes the flatulence causing starches. The drained and cooked beans can then be stir fried or added to a sauce in the same way as one might add hamburger meat to a meat sauce. Both these beans are just great with a little salt or butter but even better as a gourmet dish with any or all of tomatoes, garlic, ginger, onion and spices. The interested reader can find many recipes for them by a google search on the net.

However, cooking beans does consume time. Those who are in a hurry just go for an egg and a handful of mixed nuts from a tree or a coconut and you shall be just just fine if there is a good carbohydrate source like wheat or rice and frequent servings of salads/fruit and leafy green vegetables in your diet.

More on Vegetarian foods and the strongest of humans from another part of the world who are pure vegetarians  here:

Sushil Kumar, strongest man in the world has been a pure vegetarian all his life

Photo adapted from

Monday, January 14, 2013

Designing Shelters for the Homeless - HISA

A country that has a HISA center beside every town, village and city has neither homelessness nor hunger


It must be noted that HISA centers are visualized as completely voluntary facilities. They are neither prison camps nor concentration camps. People choose to live in one of their own free will and need and leave whenever they like. While at the center, they have freedom of movement from the center to nearby cities or any city for brief or long periods with the only condition that if they are absent for more than a certain number of days, say six, without permission, their allotment may be cancelled and they would have to seek fresh accommodation along with any other new applicants.  Any restriction or compulsion on movement of an inhabitant except children is a violation of fundamental human rights to life and liberty.

Homeless in this note does not imply those living in rented homes (unless high rents have pushed them to the street) but those that have no roof to sleep under. Providing small affordable homes helps those on rent etc. but not the truly homeless because most have been rendered helpless to look after their other human needs to survive.
"If a careful calculation is made of welfare, policing and other costs, it would be found that these cost more than a HISA center for the homeless. Therefore, HISA centers are a cost saving and humane measure while dramatically improving quality and security of life for all, the homeless as well as those with homes."
Designing shelters for the homeless

Second configuration containing a single bed in each dorm enclosure
Every country needs shelters to house persons who are homeless because of poverty, natural disasters, wars etc.  Most tragic is the condition of those who having been knocked to the street once due to unexpected adversity become so traumatized as to become incapable of recovering without help. In the present age of nations with large debts, a currency not tied to anything solid as gold, stressed banks, financial crisis, high divorce rates, huge legal and medical costs and rising inequalities (see here) such an unexpected adversity can really fall on anyone, God forbid, even those who regard themselves as secure now.

It is wise to show compassion for distressed homeless persons rather than thinking of them as criminals and vermin as some unfortunately tend to. One never knows when adversity may fall for brief or long periods in any life and if it does, a society that has a place where such a person can find some minimum shelter and recover rather than a street on which he or she may be traumatized for life is worth considering in any civilized and humane society. An addiction to drugs makes it worse. HISA centers as described in this note provide an opportunity for recovery for the able bodied while providing solace to the aged, education to children and rehabilitation for the addict.

In an emergency, school buildings are often used as temporary shelters where temporary beds are provided. However, cities and countries would do well to construct some permanent buildings on the outskirts of cities that may be used as shelters when required along with a daily bus pass to the city for able bodies residents to find full or part time work in the city. The centers may also incorporate counseling, addiction freedom and retraining units.

It appears that enough thought may not have been given yet to optimizing the design of such shelters. While individual private spaces may not be provided, since it may encourage some persons to make permanent homes in them, the other extreme of providing beds in large halls is just as poor. First of all, a hall is not the most efficient utilization of space from an engineering point of view and secondly a complete mayhem and disorder can ensue in such halls with complete lack of human dignity, privacy and security. This article presents an alternative design that is a compromise of the two extremes. The concept is shown in the illustration. The illustration shows a partitioned four bed enclosure that has beds as well as a closet each connected to an open common passage. Four such enclosures in a row consisting of a total of sixteen beds may be connected to a common washroom and toilet area containing around two toilets, two wash basins and two showers, two dressing rooms with mirrors each and a Laundry room. One might go further and think of bunker beds but that is beyond levels of reasonable comfort for a long term stay and would compromise recovery for those needing it. A second similar design is also shown, In the latter each dorm enclosure contains a single bed only along with a window and a closet. The overall cost and area occupied by the two designs is not very different.

A common drinking water tap as well as boiling water one (for a cup of tea, coffee, coco or soup) along with a wash basin may also be provided at the other end of each sixteen bed enclosure. It may be noted that each bed is adjacent to a three feet wide window for ventilation. This type of ventilation is not possible in large halls. Several such sixteen bed enclosures may then be constructed neck to neck in a row to house hundreds of persons requiring temporary or even long term shelters along with a common building containing a dining room that provides basic meals to the sheltered persons.

When shelters are divided in ten to sixteen bed units, it is possible to designate separate units for women with or without children as well as separate units for men for additional privacy. It would lead to temporary separation of couples but they would be able to meet in the common dining hall and adjoining parks. This post has been put out in this blog in the hope that next time an engineer is researching the design of shelters for the homeless he may find this post by a search on the internet and check out the present concept. The design was inspired by the design of sleeper train coaches.

When persons talk of providing a home to the homeless in abandoned buildings or low cost affordable housing they display an ignorance of the problem and the issues involved. Homeless persons are penniless and incapable of feeding themselves. Their condition in in some ways is no better than that of an infant child. That is how any human may become when subjected to severe distress, for whatever reason, and left to fend for himself or herself. Would one give an affordable house to an infant and leave him there even to starve? One may as well throw them into a well instead. Often the talk of affordable housing is a way for some from the middle classes living on rent to divert attention to their own issue rather than the issues of the truly homeless living and dying on the street.

Holistic Integrated Shelter for All (HISA)

An old couple meeting in a HISA park
If a country has integrated holistic shelters that can house all types of citizens in need from children to the aged, it can do away with a lot of other welfare programs and focus on this single type of facility. It goes without saying that such integrated centers would be more humane and natural because of a mixed population and far more economical because of shared facilities. Such complexes would need schools within it for children with some residential facility for orphans or those separated from parents. Boys between the ages of thirteen and sixteen may also be housed in the student residence since neither the women unit nor the men unit is the best place to house them. HISA would also need a medical care facility within the complex, along with drug de-addiction units, and common recreational areas as well as a few commercial shops and restaurants for those who can pay at times. A peer and supervisor review and rating systems of residents may also be put in place, since this is community living. Those who score high would get preference in choice of precise lodging within the complex and part time employment within it. Those who score low may be be moved by the supervisor to areas where they disturb others less. This lack of privacy would be the cost for availing this free facility.

HISA centers free the streets, parks and other public spaces of a country not just from those who have become homeless due to misfortune but also beggars, bums and addicts and thereby also make them safer and better places to live for all while taking care of the humanitarian needs of some. They also provide the country with a consolidated way to handle welfare requirements.

For aged persons over sixty living can be made more comfortable by pulling the opposite bed out of the enclosure in design and replacing with an arm chair and a small table with chair..As mentioned it would be necessary to separate units in two types- one for women and children and another for men within the same facility with common dining halls and parks where couples and children can meet. It must be mentioned that while providing shelters for the needy is a noble thing there is always the possibility of bums misusing the facility. The lack of privacy and separation of couples discourages this. A charge of fifty percent of income may be levied on those who have some income, say from a small pension or part time employment. Part time employment may be provided within the complex for carrying out its various activities. HISA residents may also seek work outside and indeed may be encouraged to do so that they make become self sufficient again and move to their own independent homes. Voluntary mixing of the aged and orphans may also be encouraged.  A person who arrives at a HISA center with lots of stuff would be asked to deposit his stuff in a central store (from where they may withdraw no more than once a month or at the time of leaving) and take in only a bag of a defined size ( around the size of baggage on a typical international flight) so that the common living units do not get crowded with things.

The name HISA has been given to such centers for easy reference. NGOs and others could be encouraged to assist in the activities of such centers. Since such centers are likely to become the focus of welfare in any country. Businesses may be encouraged to donate their surplus if any to these centers, even clothing and shoes as well as philanthropists and others may also donate here with the assurance that there contribution would be put to good use. The most compact type of facility with shared washrooms only has been suggested so that the creation of HISA centers is an affordable thing by any country in the world.

A society that does not care for its needy, distressed and vulnerable is not a humane society. It has neither sustainability nor a future. Those who mouth that such welfare is bad economic theory can perhaps be proved as fraudulent persons in one minute after they become homeless, as indeed anyone can in an instant, because their stand would immediately reverse proving that it was a a cheap lie from the start.

A HISA may be built on the outskirts of a city or besides a postmodern village in order to provide part or full time employment opportunities to the able bodied at a HISA center.  A postmodern village has numerous work opportunities on its farms, some seasonal and the two together would be an aid to improving the economy of a nation as a whole rather than be a drain on it.

It is a Quick Solution

HISA centers can be launched within two or three days once land is chosen for it on the outskirts of a town or city. The help of army camping units, disaster management teams or refugee agencies may be taken for it. They  begin as refugee camps set up by disaster management teams and are then converted in small incremental steps into permanent facilities. Homelessness is just as sudden as a flood or an earthquake but it strikes one by one and not an entire community in one go and is therefore less noticed as a disaster. Setting these up near every human city keeps the disaster management teams up and running for sudden emergencies.

While it may seem that it would take time to set up a HISA center it is not so. Once it has been decided in principle to set up one and land allocated for it, it can begin with a tented city right away. As housing barracks are set up, the initial residents can provide some of the labor and find part or full time work. It would be a labor that would cost only half as much since a condition of contract for staying in such a center is as explained that half the earning be deposited as charges for stay.


With the plan as outlined in this note, any city, state or country has no longer any excuse not to provide a shelter for the homeless. If they still do not, it can only be because they lack responsibility, human values and compassion, perhaps rationalized with a false economic theory or agenda that provides a superficial level of comfort to the upper layers of thought while suppressing a deep sense of fear, insecurity and guilt within. This fear is exposed when such persons make the utterly irrational demand of asking the homeless to leave the streets, cities and park without providing any other alternative than jumping into the ocean or committing suicide in some other way because where can they go if a shelter has not been created? The other alternative of putting them in prison or they getting there on their own, by robbing you or someone else, for free board and lodging, medical care besides in prison is far worse. It is far more expensive and detrimental to society.

NOTE: The author has spent considerable amount of time reflecting on the details of the issue. However, a blog post such as this one is not suitable for posting more details. Any agency if interested may contact the author for these details perhaps initially as a comment to this post. However, even with the outline as given here a small group of architects. disaster management people and social workers can easily work out all necessary details.

A HISA Complex

Sleeping man,  Jackie Martinez  and child eating images from wikimedia commons

Note has been substantially updated on August, 14, 2014

Friday, January 11, 2013

Heaven and Hell

Every now and then, I go into blogger and check the statistics of page views of the various posts of this blog. It gives me an idea of what people are interested in. A few days ago, it was a surprise to learn that visitors were reading an older post called ‘Heaven Scientifically Speaking’. The attempt in that post was to reconcile the ancient religious concept of heaven and hell with modern scientific understanding. According to ancient religious concepts, a human is rewarded by a life in heaven as a result of his or her good deeds while Hell is the punishment for bad behavior. Many modern humans put it all down as an attempt by some ruling powers to keep human behavior in check and essentially crap. Certainly the modern view is a convenient one especially if one has a pile of bad behavior in one’s past and is determined to continue with some more :)

In reality we do not have to go very far to other places and planets or future lives to have a glimpse of heaven and hell. We have sufficient examples of it right here and now in different parts of the world or even in different parts of a country or city. Right now as I write this post forest fires are raging in Tasmania and people are being forced to abandon their homes and flee. From time to time mother earth wrecks havoc on human settlements through devices such as earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods and droughts etc. rendering peaceful heavenly lives into hellish ones. Then there are other parts of the world such as Syria, Mali, Congo, Sudan and Somalia where humans have ventured forth to lend a helping hand  in trying to create hell for each other. Certainly, a change in human behavior would help in restoring order in these latter parts- a reward for good behavior as one might describe it. The other parts of the world where life is periodically hell due to the periodic intervention of Mother Earth may be escaped through effort and planning. Brilliant planning in Australia has avoided deaths and Brilliant planning in Japan prevented the Tokyo high rises from crashing subsequent to a harsh earthquake.

One wonders why humans tend to persist living in areas prone to natural disasters or cities that are full of pollution, crime, poverty and filth because just as there are hellish places on earth there are beautiful idyllic ones too on our planet. Just a few weeks ago a brilliant, happy and beautiful young student got brutally raped by a pack of wolves in a moving Delhi Bus by the wolves and iron rods etc. to the extent that her guts were pulled out from her body. You will find descriptions of it all over the internet. Just search further and look up some photos and descriptions of lovely towns in countries like Denmark, Austria, Himalayan foothills and a lot of other places besides and one would find examples of a peaceful heavenly life.

There is also a kind of Heaven or Hell that can exist right within one's body due to a sad and adverse health condition or in one's surroundings due to a hostile human one may be compelled to live with.

These contrasting examples are enough to make it clear to humans that both heavenly and hellish life is possible right here on earth and it is within human reach to end up in either. Certainly changing ones place of living where one has landed by birth or occupation requires effort. The effort has to begin when one is relatively young, in one’s thirties or at the most forties in order to be successful in the vast majority of cases, and the effort to change one’s behavior as being conducive to a heavenly life has to begin even earlier. It does seem that Nature eventually takes a human to places that are in accord with ones habits and behaviors right in this life and if one believes in reincarnation definitely in the next one. One cannot do much to change the behavior of others but one at least has control on one’s own.

The older post referred to is here 
Do check it out for a discussion with present day scientific understanding.