Pulling the Rug

A few years ago, farm scientists in India came up with the discovery that ploughing a field would not give better crop. It was the other factors like fertility, water and seed which mattered and it did not make a difference whether you ploughed much or not at all. The farmer could save himself the effort.

This new theory, which could eliminate much labour and expense, did not make me happy. In fact it saddened me a great deal. I had always prided myself on the fact that my ancestors were among the people who had put in hard work to keep the life in Punjab going as my kith and kin were doing it today. Digging furrows one after the other at bullock pace in the heat of July and August was hard work. Now it had been made to appear purposeless, in vain. Had they been trying to shove the darkness out of a room all night, as the Punjabi wisdom puts it?

In America the rug is pulled from under your feel more frequently. So many of your beliefs take a battering. All of us have been brought up nursing a great respect for exercise. Those who do not take it at least regret not doing so. Our physicians trace various ailments to the lack of it. Now a doctor working in a New York hospital and Cornell Medical College has produced a book titled The Exercise Myth. The name of the doctor is Henry Solomon and the price of the book is 12 dollars 95 cents (In America all price tags end with 95 cents as has been the custom with our Bata for the last 50 years). This book says that “exercise is a public health hazard,” that it is “dangerous when it is done for the wrong reasons”. “You can’t exercise for your health. But you can exercise for fitness and for pleasure and you can do it safely.” Another doctor has rated the book as a valuable contribution to help combat the fad that ‘strenuous exercise will combat heart disease and increase longevity’.

In Indian consciousness a Mayor is a father figure who, among other things, enables the citizens to advance on socially acceptable and beneficial paths. But in this state of California where I now live, one city has elected a Mayor of a different timber. The city is called West Hollywood and its pretty Mayor of 33 (I have seen only her picture) is named Valerie Terrigno. Unfortunately she, like two of the four other city councillors, is attracted only to members of her own sex. This makes West Hollywood, which is contiguous to our famous Hollywood ‘the only city governed by a majority of acknowledged homosexuals’. They have taken some steps to end discrimination against the likes of them and have more ambitious plans. 

According to a New York Times report the Mayor said that “homosexual political activity from around the country will meet here to assess what homosexuals have achieved here and discuss expanding their political influence elsewhere.” She also pointed to a stock of letters that she said had come from all over the world praising them for seeking to halt discrimination against homosexuals and other minorities. “I have had only two or three negative letters”, she said. 

A Mayor in America has as much power as a Chief Minister. He makes laws and controls the police. So she was able to say: “We have a chance to start at the beginning and have a model city.” This when newspapers are running whole pages of material on AIDS, a killer disease of the homosexuals of which over 1.000 cases have been reported in San Francisco alone. One repentant has said on his death bed: “I thought we will have this little epidemic and may be it will knock sense into people. Things had really gotten out of hand in San Francisco”. 

For a long time now it had been accepted that smoking is linked to certain diseases. In most countries it is mandatory for cigarette manufacturers to indicate on the carton that their product is injurious to health. But one company in America called R.J. Reynold’s Tobacco Company remains unconvinced. Here is how it tries to compel belief among smokers: “Scientists have developed a theory that heart disease is caused by smoking. Then they performed various experiments to check this theory. The most important of these was funded by the Federal Government and cost 115 million dollars. The subjects were over 12,000 men who were thought to have a high risk of heart disease because of the high risk factors that are statistically associated with this disease: smoking, high blood pressure and high cholesterol levels.

“Half of the men received no special medical intervention. The other half received medical treatment that consistently reduced all three risk factors, compared with the first group. After 10 years, there was no statistically significant difference the two groups in the number of heart disease deaths.”

Recently the change of ownership of the American Broadcasting Company (ABC) made big news here. It changed hands at three and a half billion dollars, which amount, although about one fourth of the annual budget of India, is not considered a big deal here. What is important is the tremendous influence that the TV output has on the lives and thinking of the Americans. Besides, telecasting is private business like any other business and three companies are engaged in fierce competition to attract audiences on which advertisements and annual profits depend. You want, therefore, active and sensitive minds at the top and executive turnover is fierce and often brutal. ABC which wears the laurel of having attracted the largest audiences in television entertainment history for eight consecutive nights through its programme Roots is second to none in its innovative programmes. This was based on the famous novel of that name which gives the story of the black African population of America. 

One would expect a dynamic livewire to head such an institution. He has to be of an age at which one finds it easy for himself to be involved with the future. But Leonard Goldenson who heads ABC is 79 year sold. How does he manage to keep his hand on the pulse beats of people, an overwhelming majority of whom are so much younger than him? 

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