That mysterious extra ingredient —

What is it that made the soft Drink Gold Spot very popular for more than 3 decades? It is the ‘zzing thing’ as the advertisers say.
There are Colas and Colas in the soft drinks market. But what is so special about Coco Cola? It is the presence of something exotic in the concoction which remains a trade secret to this day.
What is the secret behind the runaway success of Fevicol? It is again the special formulation containing a few additives. One can go on and on with several examples including my wife’s idlis which are unbelievably soft because it is blended with a special ingredient – Flattened rice flakes known as Aval in Tamil or Poha in Hindi.
Food additives is a multimillion dollar business. An ice cream will not taste like one without the presence of that small amount of additive called emulsifier which gives it a smooth texture. Likewise cakes and several other delicious bakery products derive their taste and texture mainly due to the specialty chemical additive called GMS.
Even industrial chemicals and their processes critically depend the magical additives. One can not make phosphoric acid without a few drops of defoamer which suppresses foaming in Rock phosphate. Similar additives play a role in metal extraction industry.

Cosmetic industry affords a great opportunity for additives. Sunbathers could soon tell when to move out of sunlight and take shelter in the shade thanks to an early warning sunburn indicator. Researchers have developed a strip of plastic, containing ‘smart’ ink, which turns colourless from an initial blue colour just before exposure to too much ultraviolet light from the sun, prompting you to move into the shade before you burn. Obviously it contains a specialty chemical additive.

Even in music, the artist, who comes up with off-beat and unpredictable variations bringing in that additional punch, makes a mark. In all spheres of human endeavour, it is always that additional something that stands out and contributes to success.

On one occasion, my brother added a new twist and an interesting dimension to this during our family get-together. As my sister made her specialty item ‘Baigan bartha’ and served the same, he said it is exceptionally good and went on to have several rounds of servings of the same. Then,while appreciating the special dish, he wisecracked saying that it sure contains a very special extra ingredient which accounts for its exceptional taste. When we inquired as to what he meant by that, he quietly said: It is Affection(‘anbu’ in tamil) in abundance.
Perhaps, this is the most fundamental and somewhat mysterious ingredient which is missing in many things that we experience today.

Published in: on August 13, 2017 at 12:16 am  Comments (2)  
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Joys of Grandfatherhood

“A thing of beauty is a joy for ever” – This is especially so if that ‘thing’ happens to be a small baby and that too your own grand-daughter! Yes, I’m now a 1st time grand father and my grand-daughter gives me appointment everyday on Skype. Isn’t there something charming and mesmerizing about babies. Aren’t they irresistible? One could look at them for hours without getting bored. It doesn’t matter whether they are sleeping or smiling or crying or simply staring into empty space.

What’s it that makes one lose oneself in presence of a baby? People completely lose all inhibitions the moment they see a baby. It can make us dance, make funny faces and speak gibberish – all in the name of entertaining the little one. We also love to play the game of one-upmanship to get the attention of the baby. Even as people around are vying with each other to grab the little one’s attention, the infant doesn’t know it’s enjoying a celebrity status. People touch, pinch her cheeks,  tickle her ribs or belly, straighten her dress and caress her hair. The poor thing doesn’t know why so much fuss is being made. Here is a typical scene centred around a baby:

“Hi kutty(hi, cute little one)”, someone says, ” thata va paaru( see the grand father)” – “No, look at me”, says someone else  – the baby cries then a guy would whistle in an attempt to pacify. The baby looks completely confused and ultimately smiles by default. And that is enough to cause a big uproar in the room! Poor thing doesn’t have a clue as to what’s happening. She doesn’t know why everyone around is talking so excitedly or why all of a sudden there is a burst of laughter when she just smiled. And the baby’s smile becomes another talking point: “Pathya enna paathu daan sirichudu – onnapathu azhududu”(yea, the baby smiled at me and cried when she looked at you!)etc. One can have endless fun with a little kid around in the house.

Let me end this blog on a philosophical note. What is the real source of the joy that one experiences with a baby?  Is it our love for the infant or our love of pure innocence that the newborn exhibits or as psychologists say is it purely the joy of giving? Let us explore this question in the light of our experiences with babies: Can you tell who gets more pleasure out of  taking a baby on your lap and gently putting her to sleep: the baby or you? Again, when you are feeding a hungry baby with a feeding bottle, who gets more pleasure – the baby or you? When you play with the baby, when you laugh with the little one, who is more pleased? you or the baby? I am inclined to believe that you derive immensely more pleasure than the baby. In fact, for all you know, the infant may be feeling irritated  with our antics and funny behaviour. After all, touching the little one, pinching its cheeks, calling her by all sorts of funny names or whistling  merely to draw attention, trying to wake her up when she is about to doze off — all this cannot be amusing to anybody! So, it’s fair to say that you get more pleasure out of all this than the baby. Can we therefore conclude then that you love a baby because you love yourself or to be more precise, because you love your pleased self. In other words, a baby is dear to you not because you love the baby. The baby is dear to you because you love your pleased self! This insight is provided by a famous passage in the Brihadaranyaka upanishad, which says that everything in the world is dear to you because you love your pleased self. (“Atmanastu kaamaya sarvam priyam bhavati” – this is part of the famous dialogue between the sage Yajnavalkya and his wife Maitreyi in the Upanishad). This is indeed the fundamental truth about any love for all the material things in the world. 

PS: Here is a link for an entertaining video clip of my grand-daughter.

Published in: on February 15, 2014 at 12:34 am  Comments (3)  
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Chemistry Unravels Mysteries of Human Emotions

I happened to write this on the Valentine day but somehow didn’t get to post it. This post is based on a recent research review article published in the journal Scientific American (Feb12,2013). The article reviews various scientific studies conducted on the influence of a petrochemical called Oxytocin on love or lack of it. The studies show an interesting correlation between Oxytocin levels of a person with his or her feelings of love for another. It was found that people with sufficient levels of this chemical can express their intense emotional states very effectively and transparently and this is crucial for developing romance, love, empathy etc between two individuals. Not just that. Even longevity of a relationship between two individuals is also influenced by the Oxytocin levels of the partners because it helps a great deal in conflict resolution. The study says that a person with the right level of Oxytocin is likely to take a “less hostile interpretation” of his or her partner’s acts or behaviour.

The study and the findings are very interesting. What are the implications? Can Neuroscience come to the rescue of  ‘matchmaking’, which is today purely the domain of astrologers in India and subject to emotional & mood swings in the west? I would definitely think so. One has to simply measure oxytocin levels of two individuals interested in each other. If the levels are not ‘right’, don’t expect compatibility. Doesn’t  it lead to a simple  & more reliable process of decision making ? If so, can we replace Horoscope with ‘Harmonoscope’ ? ( This is my new word for taking Harmone based decision making!). This process coupled with genetics (instead of Zodiac signs) gives one a powerful scientific way of  ‘matchmaking’. I am sure future generations will trash horoscopes and replace them with science.

Besides emotions of love, science has also come up with chemicals associated with fear, anxiety, depression, suicide tendencies etc. It is indeed a fascinating field of research, which promises cure for several psychiatric diseases.

Besides matchmaking, there is one more great practical utility of the study.  One basic question the study answers is the following: Does Oxytocin levels in our body cause happy thoughts & feelings or the positive thoughts cause increase in Oxytocin levels? Surprisingly, it was found that both are happening. That implies a virtuous cycle where good/positive thoughts generate Oxytocin, which in turn inspires mores positive thoughts. ( Technically this is called the mechanism of POSITIVE FEEDBACK LOOP). Logically, the opposite ‘vicious cycle’  is also bound to operate. That is negative thoughts should depress oxytocin levels and vice versa. Thus our happiness is indeed in our hands. It is a matter of triggering the mechanism of positive feedback loop using positive thoughts to start with.

We all have read a lot about the power of positive thinking. Now Neuroscience tells us how it works.

This leads us to the obvious question of what is the state of absolute bliss or ANANDA that our Rishis talked about? I would guess that during meditation where there is a complete absence of thoughts, the Oxytocin levels must be the highest. It will be interesting to do a study on our Yogis and find out.

Published in: on March 3, 2013 at 3:05 pm  Leave a Comment  
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