Yunan-o-Misr-o-Roma Sab Mit Gaye Jahan Se
Ab Tak Magar Hai Baki Naam-o-Nishan Hamara
Kuchh Baat Hai Ke Hasti Mit’ti Nahin Hamari
Sadiyon Raha Hai Dushman Daur-e-Zaman Hamara.
- Allama Iqbal
India has been the cradle of one of the most ancient civilizations known to mankind and has braved all storms, despite everything. In a Darwinian world where only the strong survives, India has held itself strong. India is set to become the youngest country by 2020. No wonder, this sustenance rests upon the mighty shoulders of the youth, the bulwarks of our society, the pacemakers, and the bringers of change. With every third person in India being young, we have a great chance of raising India to the highest pedestals of success in all spheres. But to do that, we will need healthy people, right? Kids of today are our hope for future, a present from the present India to the future world, and to stay strong, they have to stay healthy because “a healthy mind resides in a healthy body.”
Kids are like the clay that they love to play with. Childhood being the time when the body undergoes continuous change, be it cognitive or physiological, it is the most crucial time of anybody’s life. But just as clay must be molded with dexterous hands along with just the right mix of water, and then baked in optimum conditions before it can be put to good use by household and artists alike, the growth of kids must be nourished with the right ingredients in right proportions. Anything less, or anything in excess is equally harmful. And since it is a rather soft period of their life with their internal organization being in the state of continuous change, it is also the time when they are most susceptible to pathogens, bacteria, viruses, environmental changes and any change in the surrounding environment.
This challenge of building a strong future is more potent today in the wake of more dangerous diseases doing their rounds as geographical boundaries continue to diffuse and diminish, while the clarion call for climate change and need for conservation is sounding at its loudest. So, how do we do it? How do we protect this heritage, our gift to our future selves? I think the answer lies as much on the outside as it is inside (us) and applies not just to kids, but to everyone in general.
I like to think of this entire ecology as a closed system comprised of smaller closed systems, us. On a very broad level, I see two major parts to any living being – Mind and Body (not necessarily in the same order). Both of these interact with the surroundings and the environment through a few interfaces, or channels – Our sensory organs like Eyes, Nose, Ears, Skin, and of course, our mouth. So, if I create a Venn diagram out of this, it looks something like this awkward looking gamut of figures.
The arrows depict the interaction or interface between the two systems. Ears help us hear others, but ears are also sensitive and exposed parts of our body; they hurt when it gets noisy, ears also cause disorientation. Eyes help us see, and a large part of our cognition relies on their inputs, and yet conjunctivitis affects any eye, eyes get red due to strain or due to dust or even due to improper posture. Nose senses smell on brain’s behalf, and takes in air for the body, but along with them, it also inhales all the toxins and harmful particles which cause problems. Tongue, processes taste and is the sole entry point for food items into our digestive tracts. Yet, our body cannot digest everything. Skin gives us so many beautiful experiences of cool wind, and flowing water, the warmth of the sun. Tiny pores on our skin act as body temperature regulators and yet, they may be clogged due to dust and impurities in the air around us.
Now that we cannot help but open our eyes if we are to see, and open our ears if we are to hear, open our mouth if we are to eat, and breathe if we are to live, we are pretty much at the mercy of what is out there in the environment that enters our systems. And whatever metaphor a poet or a writer attributes to a human, in a strict observational sense, a human being is a very complex machine. Machine, that is prone to fatigue, and failures. What we can do help is increase the mean time before failure, by leading a healthy lifestyle, by bolstering our immune system. Now, a healthy lifestyle is just a rudimentary term that cannot be worded into exact phrases, since each body is different, and so are its needs. So, it is through experimentation and close observation that one can establish a healthy lifestyle for himself. Do not think you can just borrow someone else’s and that would be the end of it. If we don’t keep a vigilant eye on the changes outside, and how they affect us, any lifestyle will fail, because the world is changing, every moment. But to observe it, we need to have a keen mind, some bearing of what to observe and how to do it, and the capability to correct it. That is where the mind and its healthy state comes into play. We didn’t nourish our brain for amusement, did we? Education is a step.
One part is to prepare the body for the onslaught of various diseases, viruses and bacteria. Getting timely inoculations is one firm step in this direction. A news of much pride, India has been declared Polio free which is a reward of constant reach out efforts by the Government and the cheerful cooperation of the masses. But that isn’t enough. New diseases are being discovered every single day. How do we make ourselves immune to what we have never known about before? We can’t. And that is why we can only make ourselves stronger than we were the day before so that we can give a good fight to any disease. How do we prepare our bodies, how do we become strong? Exercise? Definitely! Yoga? Yes! Good diet? Absolutely! But kids? We cannot make them do exercise until they are a little older, let’s just forget about yoga for kids. So, we are left with a good diet, and a diet plan. Fibrous food, vegetables and fruits, natural juices and milk, whatever I tell about it will be insufficient. But we’ll have to be cautious that they do develop a taste and liking for these things, when the world of fast foods and snacks is all too enticing. It is a common complaint among today’s parents that their children hate milk. Well, medicine is bitter, at least milk isn’t, for starters.
For a planted seed to burgeon into a mighty tree, it must be cared for till it can sustain itself. No palaces can be built on infirm soil. In a similar way we must raise our kids. But raising kids well, is that enough? Preparing the body to be immune against what is known is one thing, but when we know there is a problem, isn’t it equally important that we try to eradicate the problem itself? No? If oxygen is depleting from the atmosphere, then should immunity be limited to learning how to sustain oneself in limited oxygen supply? Shouldn’t we also make efforts to replenish what our actions took away? Even education cannot help you from inhaling large amounts of smog that descends on cities during morning (courtesy the pollution) while you are on your morning jogging lap following the ‘healthy’ regimen. What it can tell you is, to stay put, within the relatively cleaner and air conditioned boundaries of your home, and run on a treadmill instead while you make efforts to make the surroundings smog and smoke free. Nature and mankind go hand in hand, have always gone such, and must always walk in this way. But our selfish and short term profit-seeking actions bode a malicious intent of tipping this balance. We need to stop this.
So how do we do this? Through participation, active participation. Some governments are actually trying to enforce rules that have been enacted to improve the quality of food products available in the market. Food Safety and Standards Act had been enacted in 2006 and many state governments are making effort to enforce it. Taking an example of my home state Himachal, recent festive seasons have witnessed raids from competent law enforcing authorities on sweets shop owners and manufacturers, samples of food items being collected and examined, and the faulty shop keepers fined heavily for making and selling adulterated sweets. Tonnes of sweets have been dumped so far in this Diwali season alone in Shimla circle. But the helplessness of shopkeepers is also evident when they claim that they cannot check the quality of each and every raw material which ultimately affects the quality of sweets. This raises another serious issue, of adulteration at each level in this supply chain. I believe that in a bid to increase yields from farms, the farmers are also responsible for the increasing amount of toxins in crops due to use of chemical fertilizers, insecticides and pesticides. Education, yet again can help us here. A return to natural ways is imperative, and it is high time that Ayurveda and modern medicine acknowledged each other’s efforts towards promoting health care.
All in all, we are responsible for what we are doing to ourselves and our kids, and there isn’t one entity in this entire vicious circle that can be spared the blame. If we just keep procrastinating thinking the State will take care of us and of all the issues, it is not going to work. Even if the administration tries tooth and nail to make us healthy, we’ll continue to accumulate fat and fall sick unless we move our lazy butt. Until we realize this, the blame game is going to continue, and our dream of creating an Immune India and an Immune World will remain as an unfulfilled dream.