Swedish Geneticist Svante Paabo Awarded Nobel Prize 2022 in Physiology or Medicine for Ancient Human DNA Research

Book Review by my dad, K.S.Loganathan

Ancient human DNA research is a subject of importance in human evolution. It casts light on what makes our physiology different from that of our ancestors, which has contributed to dramatic developments in building complex cultures, figurative art and speech and led to advanced technological innovations, such as for example, agriculture, the wheel and other advanced tools.

When ancient humans migrated out of Africa, at least two extinct hominin populations inhabited Eurasia. Neanderthals in Western Eurasia and the Siberian Denisovans existed. Humans encountered and inter-bred with both groups around fifty-four thousand to forty-nine thousand years ago. Genetic data can prove that ancient mixture between populations occurred. The sequencing of the Neanderthals, our big-brained cousins, also led to the discovery of the Denisovans, an archaic population that had not been predicted by archaeologists and that mixed with the ancestors of the present-day New Guineans.

From ancient DNA, we can reconstruct such populations that no longer exist (such as the Yellow and Yangtze River people) in unmixed form based on the bits of genetic material they have left behind in present-day people. Two approaches to DNA studies have emerged – the analysis of the entire genome or partial analysis based on mitochondrial DNA.

Book Cover

As Director at the Max Plank Institute for evolutionary anthropology in Leipzig, Germany, Svante Paabo undertook research on ancient DNA, which led to the identification of ancient Denisovans as a distinct species. It has augmented traditional archaeology and historical linguistic studies as a tool for investigating past populations and their migration to all parts of the world.

Such studies reveal that the Yamnaya, a Steppe pastoralist tribe, invented the wheel and horse-drawn carriages, and spread agriculture throughout Europe and South Asia around 4000 years ago, mixing with Iranian farmers on the way. A smaller group entered India via Tibet. Early Sanksrit literature (like the Manusmriti), as well as the Avesta (the ancient Persian text) called them Aryans.

The genetics of modern humans gives the ancient travel path. Ancient DNA databases are currently run by different research groups, most of them in Europe and USA. For a general introduction to the subject, read ‘Who we are and how we got here’ by David Reich, Oxford University Press, 2018 and watch his videos on YouTube.

David Reich was a part of Svante Paabo’s international team, which sequenced the entire Neanderthal genome in 2007.

Some of the stories and videos I consumed recently

  1. Lizzo’s episode of carpool Karaoke – You can view it here.
  2. About 30 minutes of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – movie
  3. The image of the lost soul- a short story by Saki
  4. I also read several articles online.
  5. I watched the first short story ‘Forget me not’ from the Ray anthology on Netflix

Pic from Unsplash

What did you consume today? Have you read/ viewed any of the above? Do leave and comment and let me know.

Bookish Indulgences

Bought two books yesterday.

I read ‘Second Time Around’ by Ranjani Rao from ‘Desi Modern Love’ – An anthology of true stories, which I had bought a while back.

Got back to reading ‘Andaleeb Wajid’s’ The Murder at Lemon Tree Grove. I’m 43% done with the book and it’s available on Kindle Unlimited. Liking what I’ve read so far.

Will be dipping into ‘The Penguin Book of Indian Poets’ now. Glad I own it. I treasure the copy.

What are you reading?

There are no foreign lands

Jeffrey Sheehan served as Associate Dean for International Relations at the Wharton School for 30 years. He has lived, studied, worked, and volunteered in 85 countries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Latin America. He has amassed 13,464 visiting cards and out of them, he has extracted 17 who had nothing in common other than the author’s respect and affection. Were there characteristics these individuals shared, despite being from different countries?

The author’s hypothesis “is that there are humans today, representing a variety of cultures, civilizations, ethnicities, and spiritual traditions; speaking multiple languages; and following vastly different pursuits, who share what I believe are some common dispositions.” He believes that these characteristics can help interconnectedness.  

He disputes the concept of the clash of civilizations advanced by Samuel Huntington and concludes that fundamental similarities in human disposition make communication and resolution of differences possible. The book is an inquiry into intercultural communication.

Book Cover

The 17 individuals selected for the book include:

  1. Luis Fernando Andrade Moreno- Colombia
  2. Boediono- Indonesia
  3. Chanthol Sun-Cambodia
  4. Dawn Hines-US
  5. Eric Kacou-Cote ‘d Ivoire
  6. Rosanna Ramos Velita-Peru
  7. Durreen Shahnaz- Bangladesh
  8. Shiv Khemka-India
  9. Jacob Wallenberg-Sweden
  10. Anthony Hamilton Russel-South Africa
  11. Keisuke Muratsu- Japan
  12. Arantxa Ochoa-Spain
  13. Leslie C. Koo- Taiwan
  14. Vassily Sidorov-Russia
  15. Roberto Canessa-Uruguay
  16. James Joo-Jin Kim- Korea
  17. Yu Minhong – China

The author creates a snapshot of these 17 individuals, with their unique cultural, educational, family backgrounds and the shaping of their attitudes to philanthropy, materialism, micro-finance, spiritualism etc. He concludes that everything is a spiritual problem and that spirituality is the solution to every problem. If we are true to our authentic selves, we can exercise control over our own spirituality. Intercultural communication is facilitated when one is free and spiritual.

The book was first published in Chinese for Shanghai University Press and enjoyed a two-month run on the best-seller list in China. It includes a glossary, maps, and uses Arno typeface, which is named after the Arno River. It is available for free on Kindle Unlimited. This is a book for everyone who has an interest in how people can work together more collaboratively and productively.

The book is available on Amazon.

My Book Review of ‘Rising: 30 Women Who Changed India’

Rising – 30 women who changed India – a non-fiction title by Kiran Manral and published by Rupa covers the inspiring journeys of 30 Indian women from various fields who blazed a trail for others to follow. Manral has allocated a chapter for each achiever, and she has meticulously listed all her references from secondary research at the end of each chapter. A few of the achievers have been interviewed as well.

In the Introduction, Manral says, “The aim of this book is not to eulogize these powerful women or to put them on a pedestal. They probably wouldn’t care for something as pedestrian as pedestals anyway; they shine wherever they are, regardless of spotlights. The aim rather is to tell their stories, through what we know of them, from information available in the public domain or from first-hand accounts given by those who were gracious enough to spare some time to tell us about their journey.”

Book Cover

The women featured include Sushma Swaraj, Sheila Dikshit, M. Fathima Beevi, Mahasweta Devi, Amrita Sher-Gil, Amrita Pritam, Sonal Mansingh, Lata Mangeshkar, Anita Desai, M.S.Subbulakshmi, Harita Kaur Deol, Madhuri Dixit, Bachendri Pal, Rekha, Chhavi Rajawat, Karnam Malleswari, Shailaja Teacher, Hima Das, Naina Lal Kidwai, Shakuntala Devi, P.T.Usha, P.V.Sindhu, Ekta Kapoor, Kiran Bedi, Mary Kom, Menaka Guruswamy, Tessy Thomas, Aparna Sen, Kiran-Mazumdar Shaw and Maharani Gayatri Devi.

The first woman to be featured in the book was Sushma Swaraj – the former minister of External Affairs in the Narendra Modi-led government. She was also the former CM of Delhi and former Lok Sabha Speaker.

I was particularly inspired by the chapters on Mahasweta Devi, Amrita Pritam and Anita Desai, literary luminaries who have won major national and international awards for their pathbreaking work.  Of Mahasweta Devi at the Jaipur Literary Festival, Manral says, “The speaker was Mahasweta Devi – author, iconoclast, social activist; the labels didn’t really matter.”

Of Amrita Pritam, Manral writes, “In her writings and her life, she leaves behind a legacy for women writers in India which urges them to defy social constructs and constraints, challenge them and to live and write as she did – unfettered.”

About Anita Desai, Manral writes, “With her immense body of work, she remains firmly one of the most powerful voices in post-colonial Indian writing in English.”

“Every story is replete with takeaways, lessons to be learnt, not just professionally but otherwise, too. These women have lived life on their own terms, becoming a beacon of hope to many others, women and men alike. If after learning about these inspirational women, a young girl, anywhere in the country thinks to herself, ‘That could be me! If she can do it, so can I, this book would have served its purpose,” says Manral towards the end of her Introduction.  

I recommend this book to young women who aspire to follow the pathbreaking women before them who have earned a place in India’s history in the fields of politics, sports, acting, art, writing, painting etc.  

You can buy the book here.

This review is powered by the Blogchatter Book Review Program.

Why is my hair curly?

I recently bought ‘Why is my hair curly’ written by Lakshmi Iyer. It is by Red Panda, an imprint of Westland.

A slim volume of 138 pages, the book is ideal for children of ages 8-12.

Avantika and Avnish are adopted kids. Their parents have been upfront with them right in the beginning about this. They know they are loved deeply. But Avantika keeps wondering why her hair is curly when everyone else in the family has silky straight her. She often wonders if her birth mother had curly hair. Sometimes, when other children tease her, she feels bad and wishes she had straight hair just like her amma. There are plenty of questions swimming in Avantika’s head like why her amma works so much, what happens inside a bank etc. She writes about the things that bother her in a diary. The book also touches upon ‘stranger danger’ and ‘good touch bad touch’. There is also a mysterious paati who makes an appearance. Children can learn from this book that it is okay to be different.

Book Cover of ‘Why is my hair curly’ by Lakshmi Iyer

When I was a child, we didn’t have many children’s books by Indian authors. Like most kids of my generation, I grew up on Bobbsey Twins, Enid Blytons, Trixie Beldens, Nancy Drews, etc. I had to be content with reading about treacle pudding and scones. Today’s kids can read about poori aloo in Chennai and also grasp “grown-up” topics like adoption through cheerful tales, such as this one.

The illustrations by Niloufer Wadia add to the liveliness of the book.

Lindsey Kelk’s romance, a piece from The New Yorker, and Vikram Seth’s poetry

Dear Reader,

Before the long weekend gets over, I want to write about all that I read, listened to and absorbed over the last few days so that you can see if you want to check it out. If you’ve read any of it or listened to the audiobook, do leave a comment with your opinion of the work.

First, I finished the audiobook of ‘I heart New York’ by Lindsey Kelk on the storytel app. I’d started this audiobook a few days ago. The narration by Cassandra Harwood really brought it to life. Read more about it on my insta post here.

Next, I read a story from The New Yorker called ‘A doctor, a patient, and their poetry’ by Ofole Mgbako, from the ‘Annals of Medicine’ section dated November 10, 2021. It was about how poetry strengthened the relationship between a doctor and a patient and how “in some ways, writing was the best treatment”. (The section in quotes is the subtitle of the piece.) I enjoyed it for the many poetic references. Carl Sandburg, Walter de la Mare, Wole Soyinka, Langston Hughes, Walt Whitman and others are mentioned.

I finished reading Vikram Seth’s translation of ‘Three Chinese Poets.’  Wang Wei (699 – 761 AD), Li Bai (701-762 AD) and Du Fu (712-770 AD) “speak to us across a distance of twelve hundred years, and move us as it is rare for even poetry can do” (quotes from the inside jacket). This slim volume of 84 pages has about a dozen poems each by Wang Wei, Li Bai and Du Fu. In the introduction, Vikram Seth tells us about these three poets and their lives and times.  This hard-bound beautiful volume is by Speaking Tiger books for sale in South Asia only. See my insta post for more details.

What have you been reading?

Review of ‘Overcoming Awkward, An Introvert’s Guide to Networking, Marketing and Sales’

Worth reading 😎

The author shows us how she transformed herself from a socially awkward person to a successful entrepreneur and networker.

SYNOPSIS

Some people are excited by the idea of networking events, cold calling, and dazzling total strangers with their winsome smiles, intriguing conversation, and charming personality. But for introverts meeting and talking to new people is like watching a horror movie where they are the star!

​So what is an entrepreneur or sales professional to do if he or she happens to also be an introvert? In this groundbreaking work from a bonafide introvert master marketer, you will learn actionable strategies to create connections, build relationships, and establish loyal, repeat customers who are thrilled to refer you to everyone they know.

YOU WILL LEARN:
-EFFECTIVE SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING

-HOW TO SOW SEEDS FOR ORGANIC GROWTH

-HOW TO WIN OVER ANGRY CLIENTS

-HOW TO EXPAND YOUR COMFORT ZONE

-THE VALUE OR EXPERT MENTORSHIP

​​And so much more! The is the definitive guide you have been waiting for! Gone is the advice to introverts to take on a persona that is light years away from who they really are. You will finally be free to just be you and will discover that you vibe really does attract your tribe.​

I picked up ‘Overcoming Awkward, An Introvert’s Guide to Networking, Marketing and Sales by Monica Parkin.

The book consists of 21 chapters. Chapter one really drew me in. Parkin was an oddball in school, a social misfit who found it difficult to make friends. She was introverted, socially awkward and struggled with ADHD. Today, however, she is a successful entrepreneur who owns several thriving businesses. She is a keynote speaker, a speaking coach and a podcast host. She has a lot of friends and enjoys getting to know people. So how did this happen?

In 2016, Parkin bought her home and had such a positive experience that she studied to become a mortgage broker herself and passed the exam after eleven months.

When Parkin finally realized that she would have to meet people and network, she was not ready for it since she’s an introvert and experiences massive social anxiety. She felt she had bitten off more than she could chew. But since she had invested time and money in the course, she decided to give networking a shot. Her first networking event was a disaster and she vowed to retrain her brain so that she could be successful in this field.

On day one of her transformation, she responded positively to the check-out lady at the grocery store. And the lady gave her a tip about discounts.

She joined a Facebook group and decided to call up the mentors in the group. All of them told her to be “herself”. They emphasized the need to be authentic. Parkin wondered if it was okay for her to be authentic when she suffers from social anxiety. When she started posting about her hobbies and things that genuinely interested her, people started connecting with her. They reached out to her and wanted to work with her. Being herself helped her make a connection with people.

In the book, Parkin shares the dictionary definition of networking, which is “the exchange of information or services among individuals, groups or institutions specifically the cultivation of productive relationships for employment or business”.

“When I do go to a physical event, I don’t go to hand out my cards or talk about myself or pitch my business. I go with the intent of listening more than talking, asking questions and really engaging.”

“Connections and relationships are built when you listen, not when you talk,” she notes. I recommend this book to introverts and socially awkward people who need to network or make a sale.

P.S.I received an ARC(Advanced Review Copy) from Reedsy Discovery

My review of ‘Rewriting My Happily Ever After: A memoir of divorce and discovery’

As someone who has never been married, I was initially reluctant to read ‘Rewriting My Happily Ever After: A memoir of divorce and discovery’ by Dr Ranjani Rao when it came out. But everybody who reviewed it said it was uplifting and not depressing, so I decided to purchase a copy and I’m not disappointed.

Ranjani leaves for the US as a starry-eyed bride, but the marriage does not work out and she walks out of the marriage with her young daughter. The memoir is uplifting and inspiring. Ranjani inspires and motivates. Her narrative style pulls you in even if you are not the intended target audience. Ranjani’s account is with grace and dignity and not about airing her dirty laundry in public. It takes sensitivity to write like she has and I’m deeply appreciative. The author also writes about her experience with infertility, miscarriages and the difficulties she faced to conceive. The takeaway for women in crumbling marriages is that one must be educationally qualified and economically independent.

On page 20, Ranjani says “expressing vulnerability makes us stronger”. As someone who has listened to some of Brene Brown’s podcasts on vulnerability, I found myself drawn to this.

On page 48, in the chapter called ‘Books Matter’, the author talks about coming across the book ‘Eat, Pray, Love.’ She also speaks about ‘You can heal your life’ by Louise Hay. I’ve read both these books. I’ve also watched the movie version of ‘Eat, Pray, Love,’ starring Julia Roberts. Ranjani attended the ‘Heal Your Life’ workshop and it seems to have helped her a great deal. She realized that her own limiting beliefs were stopping her. She was carrying guilt, blame and anger within her for all that had transpired. She also cites Robin Roberts’ memoir “Everybody’s got something”, which I plan to check out.  

She learned not to compare her life to anyone else’s since one has no idea what the other person is going through and what their journey is all about.

Writing about meditation, the author says “Going inward was as frightening as being lost in the woods. I was afraid that dark thoughts – grief, blame, self-pity- would emerge from the shadows of the recesses of my mind where I had pushed them. Meditation was supposed to be a way of sitting with your thoughts. I was not ready.”

In the chapter on prioritising self-care, Ranjani talks of getting her eyebrows done and how that small act of self-care signaled to her that she had taken the trouble to put herself first.

“Through books and activities that helped me soar over the disappointments of my home life, I escaped the dark depth of my loveless marriage that could have otherwise sucked me into depression”.

“Reading always calmed me down, but I had not considered writing as therapy.” She mentions the book, ‘365 days to a balanced and joyful life’ by Sarah Ban Breathnach, which helped her.

In a later chapter, the author wonders “who was I really?” – “A scientist. A writer. A mentor. A friend. When I stripped off all the labels, I was a person who had the right to pursue a life of purpose that was in alignment with my own values.”

“Who was I? I couldn’t answer the question. Who could I become? Anyone I chose to be. I could take the next sixteen years to figure it out if needed. Learning takes time. First, I had to unlearn. Next, I had to uncover the real me.”

“Nourishment comes in many forms. So does happiness. Surrounded by books and friends, sharing food and stories, I felt content. Somewhere deep in my soul, a palpable ease settled in. Yes, there was a part of me inside that was broken, but the edges were not so jagged anymore.”

By telling us how she rewrote her happily ever after, she shows the path for newly divorced women everywhere. It is recommended reading for those in troubled marriages or partnerships.

Name, Place, Animal, Thing

Introduction

‘Name, Place, Animal, Thing’ is Daribha Lyndem’s debut novel of 199 pages published by Zubaan books, which is an independent feminist publishing house. They publish fiction, nonfiction, academic and children’s books for, by and about women in South Asia. The book has been longlisted for the JCB prize for literature and named by Vogue India as one of the best summer reads of 2020.  Daribha Lyndem works with the Indian Revenue Service as a Deputy Commissioner of Customs. The book consists of interconnected stories that throw light on Shillong as seen through the eyes of the protagonist as she grows up in the 90s. As someone who has never been to Shillong and who can’t recall reading any book set there, I was eager to read this book, which was sent to me by the kind people at New Asian Writing.

The name of the book immediately brought to mind the game ‘Name, Place, Animal, Thing’ we played as children. The game entailed receiving a letter of the alphabet per round and all participants coming up with a name, a place, an animal and a thing that started with that letter of the alphabet within a specified time and awarding points based on how uncommon the names were. The game is referenced in a couple of chapters of the book.

Brief summary of the ten chapters

In the first chapter, the author tells us the story of Bahadur, a Nepali in Shillong who had five children, one of whom was mauled by dogs. The author goes on to say that hardly anyone came to the boy’s rescue, except for her father.

Chapter two is the story of Mr Baruah who ran a shop that sold cards, stationery, toys and curios located in Barik, the centre of Shillong. Mr Baruah had married a Khasi. In this chapter, we read about a racially motivated hate crime.

Chapter three is the story of Tommy Lu, a Chinese immigrant who owned a Chinese restaurant called AVVA. Two hundred and fifty years ago, Tommy’s forefathers had moved to Kolkata from China. His wife ran a nail salon, his father was a dentist, and he had two children, a son and a daughter. Tommy had to sell his businesses, pack up his things and move to Kolkata with his family since he was a victim of extortion.

In chapter four, the protagonist talks of a yellow bear that her father gave her as a present when she was five. It is the first gift she remembers receiving from her father. She talks of moving from Nongrim hills to their own house in Rynjah when she turned eight. The reader is also introduced to a man known as Cousin Muscles whose moniker was inspired by Jerry’s brawny cousin in a Tom and Jerry cartoon. What happens to the yellow bear as the protagonist grows up forms the theme of the chapter.

Chapter five is about Mrs Trivedi, the Hindi teacher who did not get along with the other teachers. The school children came to their own conclusion that it was because Mrs Trivedi was a divorcee or because she smoked too much. Incidents involving Mrs Trivedi are described and in the end, she leaves the school. “Some said she was back with her husband in Kanpur and that they had made amends. Many joked that she had finally been institutionalised. But soon, people forgot about her.”

Chapter six is about Mr Sarkar, the mathematics teacher and stories involving him.

Chapter seven titled “the Lawmali Graveyard’ is about the protagonist’s grandfather who died in 1984 and the subsequent visits by the family to his grave. “It allowed us to remember those who have passed on, not in a reverential way with stiff sombre faces bowed over a cold stone structure, but in a mellow mood where we retold funny anecdotes. We became comfortable with the dead and more comfortable with our own dying.”

Chapter eight titled Bishar Mary is the story of Bishar Mary or Bi, who came to the house when the protagonist was thirteen. Bi and her husband were not married in the traditional sense although he was the father of her children. They lived together. The protagonist and her friends used the term “Khasi style” whenever a girl had a baby out of wedlock.

Chapter nine or “The revival” is about God and religion in the protagonist’s life. Chapter ten or the final chapter called Yuva is about the protagonist’s best friend Yuva.  

I attended an Instagram Live on 2 October 2021 by Zubaan books at 5 pm when the author read out from one of the chapters in her book. However, due to a technical issue, we all lost audio and couldn’t hear her.  When I rejoined the talk, the reading out from the chapter was over!

Details I gathered from the Instagram Live I attended of the author

The author mentioned that she had bought a kindle mainly to read her own book, which had initially come out only on Kindle, but now the hardback has arrived. The book is semi-autobiographical, but some of it is fictionalised. She called the book Name, Place, Animal, Thing to give a sense of familiarity to the reader since it was a game we all played in school. She also mentioned Flames, which was another game we played. She aimed to make the book “nostalgia-heavy” by “not lachrymose.”  All the chapters are named after Names or places or things. Names of people, place- graveyard, thing- the yellow bear.

She started writing the book in “October of 2017 or 2018” and finished it in February the next year, which was five months. She said she was already thinking of these stories since she was sixteen. The last story in the book is the least fictionalised. The characters were inspired by real people, but she changed all the names. Her close friend Yuva is the only name she hadn’t changed. Yuva died when the author was twenty. It was important to Daribha to write about this death since Yuva was a very close friend. This book will not have a sequel but she has ideas for a second book, which will take time since she is working full time. She is giving it “years and years”.

Quotable Quotes by the author

“I don’t think my book is an all-encompassing novel on Shillong. I only wrote through the eyes of a child”.

“I find the term “NorthEast” and “Seven Sisters” very reductive. I wish people would bother to learn the names of the states.

The author’s favourite books and short stories

She is reading a book called “A swim in a pond in the rain” which is by George Saunders, which was recommended to her by her friend Priya. She likes Ray Bradbury’s “Dandelion Wine” and Swallowing Mercury” by Wioletta Greg. She tried emulating the work of Ray Bradbury and was inspired by “Swallowing Mercury” by Wioletta Greg, which drew heavily on memories.

“There will come soft rains” by Ray Bradbury is one of her favourite short stories. She likes Saki’s stories ‘The open window’ and ‘Dusk.’ When she was 14 years old, her favourite novel was “The Lord of the Rings”. It meant a lot to her ‘coz her dad gave it to her. When she was 22, “One hundred years of solitude” was her favourite novel. She has read “Wuthering Heights”, “Middlemarch”, “Great Expectations” and “One hundred years of solitude” more than once. She has read fairy tales more than once as a child.

The author’s advice to new writers

She gives advice to new writers, “Think of it as a job. If you decide to write five chapters, write five chapters every day. Keep an hour every day for writing. Shut out your YouTube and Instagram. I like to keep a book I admire next to me and when I feel stuck, I open it for inspiration.”

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