Health & Nutrition - - SMALL DOSES -

Travel to any cor­ner of the coun­try and there’s one sight that’s ubiq­ui­tous to the In­dian scene – the stray dog. Our streets, be they town or vil­lage, are over­run by th­ese an­i­mals, and even in the vast empty stretches of the coun­try­side, the lone farmer toiling in the fields with a faith­ful cur at his heels is a com­mon metaphor. We may not be dog lovers in the fash­ion of the West, where the ca­nine be­comes a part of the fam­ily and is given as many priv­i­leges as any mem­ber of the house­hold – a place of its own, a spe­cial diet, spe­cial toys, ac­ces­sories, clothes, etc. But we do al­low th­ese faith­ful be­ings to live in our midst and be part of the mi­lieu. Which brings me to an is­sue that makes me want to say grrr! There are many peo­ple, I no­tice, who tote along packets of glu­cose bis­cuits when they set out for a walk. The pur­pose? To feed them to the stray dogs, think­ing that they’re do­ing the curs a kind­ness. Alas, what they’re es­sen­tially do­ing is killing them with love. No dog, not even a stray, needs th­ese starchy non-foods, un­less it’s starv­ing. And that’s a sce­nario highly un­likely in cities where tons of food find their way into garbage. Per­haps a dog lover may be­lieve that the bis­cuits are a more ‘hy­gienic’ op­tion. But note that mutts that for­age for food seem more healthy, lively and alert than the ca­nines you see ly­ing out­side stores, restau­rants and hous­ing com­plexes that have adopted them. Overfed, obese, and som­no­lent from lack of ex­er­cise, th­ese dogs ap­pear to have taken on some of the more un­de­sir­able char­ac­ter­is­tics of mankind. The dif­fer­ence is that hu­man be­ings know bet­ter and fol­low such a life­style out of choice, whereas our ca­nine friends have it thrust on them, and it is quite lit­er­ally sick­en­ing them. If you want to show your love for a stray, give it some wa­ter and a pat or two. Oth­er­wise just leave well enough alone. Still on the sub­ject of dogs, this time the ones that are lucky enough to be a fam­ily pet, have you ob­served that the le­gions of dog walk­ers have now be­come a mini cottage in­dus­try? On one hand it’s nice to know that dog own­ers un­der­stand that their pets need to be ex­er­cised and have made suit­able ar­range­ments to have them taken out daily while they’re away at work. On the other hand, it also makes one won­der – if you aren’t around to en­joy the sight of your dog frol­ick­ing, what’s the point of hav­ing a pet in the house? With­out this plea­sure, es­sen­tially your role as his mas­ter boils down to of­fer­ing the mutt a meal, a hug and car­ry­ing out the poop. The dog walker gets the moolah, the bond­ing and all the fun. And also the mind-body benefits of play­ing with a dog. On a dif­fer­ent note, talk­ing about mind-body health, many of us worry about heart dis­ease, di­a­betes and can­cer. But I think a big­ger, un­ex­pressed fear that we har­bor deep down, is ac­quir­ing a men­tal dis­ease. We can find ways to man­age most life­style dis­eases and even learn to live with can­cer. But the prospect of de­vel­op­ing a psy­chi­atric con­di­tion strikes ter­ror in our hearts. Why? Be­cause what­ever form it takes, be it Alzheimer’s, de­pres­sion or schizophre­nia, a men­tal ill­ness eats into what you see is the essence of ‘you’, and reaches the point where you can’t rec­og­nize your­self or even main­tain the dig­nity of a hu­man be­ing. De­press­ing as it is, this is all the more rea­son to turn the pages to this month’s ‘Heal Thy Self’ and find out what your chances are of de­vel­op­ing a men­tal dis­or­der.

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