What is it like to be a bird?


Cover of Tim Birkhead’s book Bird Sense

Can we ever know what it is like to be a bird? As poetic as the question may appear to be, it’s fascinating how the question has captured the attention of a bunch of  scientists, artists and other professionals ranging from neurosurgeons, ecologists, physiologists to bird illustrators and medieval travellers. The fascination with bird flight is possibly as old as language itself. Birds are among the early cave paintings, be it in the subterranean caves discovered by teenage boys at Lascaux, or the paintings of Genyornis in cave paintings in Northern Australia that could be 40,000 years old, dating to the time when man set foot on that continent. In Bird Sense, Tim Birkhead who has written fascinating stuff on history of science, birds and birdwatching and has edited the Cambridge Encyclopaedia of Ornithology, makes a narrative synthesis of the historical and contemporary knowledge on what it is like to be a bird. An extremely intriguing question throwing up questions such as “Is this know-able?”. Such philosophical meanderings have clearly not deterred several scientists from designing simple and elegent experiments to try and understand this. Continue reading

Of absurd letters and misplaced priorities

It is not too rare to see very bizarre letters. In fact, there have been letters unearthed from over 2000 years ago from the dawn of writing itself often written by people who wanted to complain about services or to authorities. More recent funny letter compilations abound on the Internet, many of them quite lame leave letters supposedly written by staff of  IT companies around Bangalore. But, this letter I chanced upon at one of Karnataka’s tiger reserves (BR Hills) definitely takes the cake on absurdity and ad-hocism, let alone other  more serious issues with the letter like making a mockery of people’s rights for starters. Continue reading

Modi-fying India’s health: Health in the times of India’s new prime minister

This blog was published on the International Health Policies Blog on June 5, 2015 under the same title. It was co-written with Upendra Bhojani, my colleague at IPH, Bangalore

These are interesting times in India, no doubt. Our new prime minister, Narendra Modi is ensuring that India’s global reputation as a progressive, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society with a rich history is not tarnished by several recent reports of sexual violence on women or inter-religious conflict. Immediately after assuming office about a year ago, Modi took India’s image very seriously, perhaps more seriously than many of us imagined. Continue reading

Studying organisational change in Indian district health systems: end of a PhD journey

On 21st April, 2015 I defended my public health PhD dissertation at Universite

Public defence at UCL. Clicking the photo takes you to the ITM public health department's blog on the defence

Public defence at UCL. Clicking the photo takes you to the ITM public health department’s blog on the defence

Catholique de Louvain in Brussels. I sought to understand  organisational change within district health systems in an Indian district. The research was carried out in Tumkur district in southern Karnataka (on which I have blogged a bit). I focused on understanding “change” within a public service bureaucracy like the one we have in Karnataka. Continue reading

Goodbye dear friend

He was like a wave when he breezed through classrooms at Josephs, with his panache and charisma and his disdain for the norm and ritual. He peddled jokes and poetry with equal finesse. He exuded warmth, cheer and style. He was extremely intelligent with an at-your-face wit. His energies knew no bounds.

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