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CUBA IS THE FUTURE FOR LATIN AMERICA AND PERHAPS THE WORLD On my way out of Cuba, from La Habana, on COPA airlines flight to Panama, I w...

lundi 21 août 2017


The sleek Airbus 350 took off from New York JFK airport on time, now climbing over the clouds to a clear sky of a summer morning. Qatar Airways, the best Airline in the world, is renowned for its service and soon enough a flute of Billecart-Salmon champagne arrives, giving me a chance to practice Portugese with the flight attendant from Sao Paolo.
Soon, Wi-Fi on board comes on. The first few minutes of the Wi-Fi are offered Gratis; I do not wish to be connected on this 12-hour flight to Doha, a kind of disconnection from Internet as well as USA, metaphorically speaking.

Just check any messages and then shut off the computer, iPhone and concentrate on something else, away from things that remind me of my work with the Indians, my life in Cuba etc.
A message arrives. It is from Doha. It is one of my Sri Lankan friends who know I would be coming on this flight.
It said:
Doctor, could you please say hello to the person sitting in Seat 6 F. He is a well-known businessman in Sri Lanka and please give him my regards.
I am not very talkative on long flights. I went over to seat 6 F and introduced myself.
He was taken back, but said: yes I like the Sri Lankan community in Doha, but he was far more interested in talking about Cuba. His business takes him to Republica Dominicana as well as Haiti but he has great desires to visit Our Little Precious Island, Cuba!
It would be my pleasure to welcome you to Cuba. He seemed genuinely pleased.
I did not see him for the rest of the flight but towards the end of the flight, he came over to my seat and gave me his card and said:
Please let me know when you are in Colombo!

We had a pleasant chat and realized that we had many things in common.
I am sure, I will be stopping over in Colombo before the year ends!

Such an encounter would have been impossible a few years ago. Now most aircrafts have Wi-Fi and my friend was in Doha, 8 time zones away and he had sent me a message using whatsapp. I love this communicability using technology, while not too absorbed by it. Technology as a slave but not as a master.

PS I fondly thought of my Meskwakia teacher, "Dr" Pat Brown who said to me, Do not search for people, those you need to meet will come your way. 

dimanche 20 août 2017



To travel from Havana to Doha, one has to transit either in Miami or New York and this time I arrived the night before close to midnight at the La Guardia Airport, to go to a Hotel and then catch the morning flight to Doha.
When I arrived at LGA I couldn’t believe that I was in a developed country and not in Sudan or Eritrea. It was chaotic, people frenzied and impolite. A passing thunderstorm had added to their woes.
Most airports in developing countries are better than La Guardia. Even a poor country like Cuba has a better airport! Bogota, Panama, Sao Paolo, Buenos Aires, Santiago de Chile, KL, Siem Reap every single of those airports are more modern, more user friendly and less chaotic.
The lack of interest in the infrastructure is but a metaphor of what is happening in the USA where the comfort of the traveling public is last of the priorities.
I was taken to the hotel that was only 2 km away. Like the receptionists at the hotel he was from India. They had acquired their American efficiency and forgotten their oriental hospitality. They were robots and within minutes I was directed to a room, at this Comfort Inn, which felt more like a dungeon, with the barest of amenities. In fact in USA and European hotels, I have come to expect nothing, but a place to sleep to catch the connecting flights.
Just functional, no social interactions, much like a supermarket rather than a place to relax.

(functional not exuding welcome at one of the rooms of the Comfort Inn near La Guardia Airport, New York City)
I politely refused their “continental” breakfast knowing the horrors that lurked, such as artificial yoghurts and cereals out of the box with weak coffee and tea. After all I was flying Qatar Airways, the best airlines in the WORLD and I know they would look after me.
After a quick check in and security, I was at the British Airways Lounge and a suitable but small breakfast awaited as I was preparing for my flight to Doha.

On arrival in Doha, it is incredible to see that, like in New York, the service industry is full of people from India and Philippines but more definitely welcoming and friendly.
My Uber driver from the hotel in New York to the Airport was a Muslim from Kashmir who barely spoke English and my Uber driver who took me to Marriott Hotel in Doha was a Muslim from Bangalore. It is Globalization, is also culturally based, brothers in different destinations, one is cold and efficient as their American hosts and the other warm and hospitable like their Qatari hosts.
Like the German Front Desk manager at Marriott Marquis City Centre in Doha said: the hotel industry in Persian Gulf Countries is so much more hospitable and personal and is of exceptional quality.
The West has mechanized itself, as can be seen even in Health Care, and become efficient but lost that most important quality: Human Touch.
 Mamim, meaning Mothers Love in her native Limbu language, is from Nepal
(Nice to see a Hospitality intern from Penang in Malaysia, good luck to him)
I had stayed at the hotel only once before, but so many people greeted me: nice to see you again, when you think I am one of the many faces that pass through!
On entering the Executive Club where at the Happy Hour they served a sumptuous array of snacks, Manisha from India and Samjahna from Nepal greeted me warmly and I made a new friend, Stansy, a Shona from Zimbabwe living in Cape Town.

Just a few hours on a non-stop flight you enter another world of hospitality. I cannot believe any sane traveller would prefer the sterile efficiency of the USA Comfort Inn to the warm human qualities of Marriott at Doha! 

Marriott is an American Company but it seems they leave their sterile efficiency and embrace the Arabian hospitality when they are in Doha.
I am happy to be in Doha.

 Afternoon snacks at the Happy Hour at the Executive Lounge at Marriott Marquis Hotel in Doha 
 Samjhana from Nepal 

 Manisha from India 

jeudi 17 août 2017

Purpose in Life and HEALTH

I remember the Nobel Prize winner British writer, VS Naipaul saying: when you do not have a project in life, it tends to become boring.
I have a chance to counsel people, who are my patients, about purpose in life as they are contemplating retirement. Have something planned to do, even if it is a hobby or learning a language or spending time with your family, but not wake up every day wondering what you will do that day.
I also teach them about Mindfulness, to enjoy the moment.
Just yesterday, three of us were planning to form a consulting group so that we will be able to spread our culturally oriented philosophy of health care among Native Indians. We know that this project will take a little time to come to fruition but the three of us felt good just thinking about it. Of course each of us have some work cut out to do, more for me as I have much more free time during my travels and access to Internet.
As if to support the theme, this morning, this arrives in the email:

People with “purpose in life” may age better, study suggests

TIME (8/16, MacMillan) reports people who have “a purpose in life” may age better than those who do not, according to a study published in JAMA Psychiatry. Researchers found that people “who reported having goals and a sense of meaning were less likely to have weak grip strength and slow walking speeds,” which are both “signs of declining physical ability and risk factors for disability.”
        Medscape (8/16, Harrison) reports that Carol Ryff, PhD, of the University of Wisconsin, wrote an accompanying editorial, which concluded, “Leading a life of purpose not only feels good and meaningful, existentially speaking, it may also be an area of rich potential in which intervention studies and public health education programs might contribute to improved health of our ever-growing aged population.”
While the study was conducted to see whether physical conditions improved, I believe that having a project, always, whether you are young or old, gives your mind and intellect a boost and a sense of well being.
August 16, 2017

Association Between Purpose in Life and Objective Measures of Physical Function in Older Adults

JAMA Psychiatry. Published online August 16, 2017. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2017.2145
Key Points
Question  Is higher purpose in life associated with lower likelihood of objectively measured declines in physical function?
Findings  In a longitudinal cohort study of adults older than 50 years who were adequately functioning at baseline, each 1-SD increase in purpose in life was associated with a 13% decreased risk of developing weak grip strength and 14% decreased risk of developing slow walking speeds 4 years later.
Meaning  A sense of purpose in life, a modifiable factor, may play an important role in maintaining physical function among older adults.

mercredi 16 août 2017


It’s quite a story.
This story may seem unlikely in this era of generalized war between cultures, civilizations, and religions. And I am grateful to British journalist Ben Judah for having brought it to light in an article that appeared in the Jewish Chronicle the day after the visit to Israel of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The time is December 1971. The place is the territory then known as East Pakistan. Separated by 1,600 kilometers from West Pakistan, this Bengali part of Pakistan has been in rebellion since March.
The central government in Islamabad, rejecting the secession of what will eventually become Bangladesh, is engaged in a merciless repression, the cost of which, in lives, remains unknown even today, almost a half-century later. Half a million people may have died, of perhaps a million, 2 million, or more.
On Dec. 3, India decides to enter the conflict, to “interfere,” as one would put it today, in the domestic affairs of its neighbor so as to stop the bloodbath. The fighting rages.
The Bengali freedom fighters, known as the Mukti Bahini, now supported by India, become increasingly daring.
New Delhi’s strategy is to build up slowly and gradually, a decision. This strategy seems to many ill-suited to the Bangladesh of the day, a terrain of few roads, major rivers, and innumerable marshes. Thirteen days into the new phase of the war, with the Pakistanis having massed 90,000 troops around Dacca, the capital, against the Indians’ 3,000, New Delhi appears to be stuck and has hardly boxed itself into the beginnings of a siege. And it is at this moment that a high-ranking Indian officer, without notifying his superiors, takes a plane, lands in Dacca, presents himself to General Niazi, head of the Pakistani forces and pulls off one of the most spectacular bluffs in modern military history: “You have 90,000 men,” the Indian officer tells Niazi. “We have many more, plus the Mukti Bahini, who are full of the vengeance of their people and will give no quarter. Under the circumstances, you have only one choice: to persist in a fight that you cannot win or to sign this letter of surrender that I have drafted in my own hand, which promises you an honorable retreat. You have half an hour to decide; I’ll go have a smoke.”
Niazi, falling into the trap, chooses the second option. To the world’s amazement, 3,000 Indian soldiers accept the surrender of 90,000 Pakistanis. Tens of thousands—no—hundreds of thousands of lives on both sides are spared.
And Bangladesh is free!
The story might have ended there.
Except that the general behind the masterly coup that makes him godfather to a new Muslim country is Jewish. His name is Jack Jacobs.
He was born in 1924 in Calcutta into a Sephardic family that had arrived there from Baghdad two centuries before, leaving behind 2,000 years of history.
In 1942, learning of the ongoing extermination of Europe’s Jews, he enlists in the British army in Iraq, fights in North Africa and then moves on to Burma and Sumatra in the campaign against the Japanese.
And remaining in the military after the independence of India in 1947, he is the only Jew to rise high in the country’s military services, eventually coming to command the eastern army that, in December 1971, will be mounting the offensive against Islamabad’s legions.
It happens that I met this man 46 years ago. I was in rebellious Bangladesh, having responded to French novelist André Malraux’s call for the formation of an International Brigade to fight for a Bengali land still in limbo but suffering mightily under the hand of West Pakistan.
I had just entered Dacca with a unit of the Mukti Bahini.
In the company of Rafiq Hussain—eldest son of the first Bangladeshi family to welcome me into their home in the Segun Bagicha neighborhood, and who later became my friend—I saw Jacob at Race House on Dec. 16, standing behind (and letting himself eclipsed by) his colleague, General Jagit Singh Aurora, signing, in Niazi’s presence, the act of surrender that he had penned.
The next day, I happened to see him again with a handful of journalists and heard him speak of Malraux, whom he was reading; of Yeats, whose poems he knew by heart; of his twin Jewish and Indian identity; of Israeli General Moshe Dayan, whom he worshipped; and of the liberation of Jerusalem, which he held as an example of military skill. But to my recollection he said nothing about the intensely dramatic, stirringly romantic, face-to-face encounter with Niazi in which the war of personality carried a thousand times more weight than the war between armies — an encounter that determined the fate of the young Bangladesh.
I can picture his mischievous look. His rather heavy silhouette, unimposing in itself though emanating an incontestable authority.
And his strange and reticent way of remaining a step or two behind his comrades in arms, generals Aurora and Manekshaw, as if reluctant to claim any credit for a feat of audacity that I now know was his alone.
He appeared to me, that day, like a representative of one of the lost tribes, spreading the genius of Judaism.
He might have been a Kurtz from Kaifeng, Konkan, Malabar, or Gondar, newly returned from the heart of darkness but ready to head back up the river. Or a biblical Lord Jim or Captain MacWhirr, done for good with typhoons and ready to forge an alliance with the coolies.
People who save Jews are known in Judaism as righteous. How should one refer to a Jew who saved, raised to nationhood, and baptized a people who were not his own?
Translated by Steven Kennedy. You can help support Tablet’s unique brand of Jewish journalism.