Once again this year, controversy has erupted around the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, the annual awards conferred by the Indian government on eminent overseas Indians.This time, according to Indian media reports, the Minister for Overseas Indian Affairs Vayalar Ravi is accused of circumventing the award’s committee and replacing all the recommendations of the Indian Embassy in the United States with his own nominees. The Hindustan Times reported that Ravi confirmed to the newspaper that one of the awardees was a personal friend, at whose home he frequently stays in Chicago, although he insisted that he was not involved in the selection process, which is baffling, considering that his ministry vets the candidates and he serves on the committee that ratifies the final list.While it is difficult to ascertain the validity of the allegations making the grapevine and the Indian media, as officials are unusually tightlipped, the griping grows ever louder every year, creating an unseemly spectacle at the annual proceedings in January celebrating overseas Indians.In previous years, the awards have been bestowed upon such overseas Indian stalwarts as Prime Minister Anerood Jugnauth of Mauritius, President Bharat Jadeo of Guyana, former Prime Minister Basdeo Panday of Trinidad & Tobago, the late U.S. astronaut Kalpana Chawla, Fijian golfer Vijay Singh, British novelist Vikram Singh, United Nations diplomat Shashi Tharoor, reputed British scholar Bhikhu Parekh and Hollywood film director Manoj Night Shyamalan, among others. It is inspiring to celebrate the diverse accomplishments of these overseas Indians in the arts, sciences, literature, politics, business, etc.At the same time, especially in recent years, the awardees have included several lightweights with marginal achievements, at best. Increasingly, it seems, there is ferocious lobbying for these awards, most intense, it appears, in the United States. This is a demeaning and unhealthy practice; surely anyone who campaigns for these awards is too small-minded to be worthy of it.This year, four of the 15 awardees hailed from the United States. Indeed, ever since the awards were instituted in 2003, almost a quarter of the 67 recipients have been Indian American, which is almost three times their proportion in the overseas Indian population. While no one is arguing for geographic quotas, it bears recognition that the Indian settlement in the United States is relatively recent, whereas the Indian communities have been entrenched in Africa, the Caribbean and Southeast Asia for almost two centuries and parts of the Middle East and Europe for 50 years.Given the heights so many overseas Indians have scaled, it is difficult to see the merits of conferring these awards – intended to honor exceptional and meritorious contributions by overseas Indians in their fields – on modestly successful overseas Indian entrepreneurs or physicians, unless they are recognized trend blazers in their sectors, professions or regions.The number of these awards has also proliferated – from 10 in the first year to 12 in the second and now 15 each in the past three years – perhaps to accommodate the frenetic demand for them among aspirants. It might be healthy to reduce the number of these awards, at least in the short term, both to elevate their stature and also to tamp down on the unseemly lobbying. The nomination and selection process needs to be revamped. Under the current system, names are submitted by Indian embassies in different parts of the world to an internal committee in the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs. It short-lists the candidates for final approval by a committee comprising of the vice president and the ministers of overseas Indian, external, and home affairs, as well as the principal secretary to the prime minister.This all-government process is limiting in scope as well as fraught with the potential for politicization and influence peddling. The nomination process should be expanded to attract a broader range of candidates and a mix of prominent governmental officials and independent individuals should conduct the vetting and final selection.Only a more transparent process can restore any semblance of credibility to these awards. In the alternate, it would be far better to get rid of them than perpetuate this embarrassing and divisive farce. Related Items
What you need to know about the new FDA-approved at-home breast cancer risk screening.In an age when most people in the United States can have almost anything delivered to their doorstep in only a few days — or even hours — it makes sense that this is spilling over into the medical and health care field. From apps and wearable devices that track everything from the number of steps you take each day to your days of peak fertility, health care — or at least health monitoring — is increasingly being done at home. Today, the Food and Drug Administration propelled this trend further by approving an at-home test for three breast cancer gene mutations.The direct-to-consumer testing kits are made by 23andMe — a company better known for their at-home testing kits to help a person determine their genetic ancestry. Though they already offer other health-risk reports on your genetic data — including testing for markers associated with conditions like celiac disease and Parkinson’s disease — this is the first time any DNA testing company has received FDA approval for cancer risk screening.Here’s what you need to know about these tests:The results are not comprehensiveThere are more than 1,000 known BRCA gene mutations; the 23andMe kit tests for three of them. The potential problem here is that people may take the test and not have these three gene mutations, but may have others, meaning they are still at risk for breast cancer.On top of that, the FDA stresses that “most cases of cancer are not caused by hereditary gene mutations but are thought to be caused by a wide variety of factors, including smoking, obesity, hormone use and other lifestyle issues.” In other words, these test results are only one small part of a larger picture.It tests for more than breast cancerThrough a self-collected saliva sample, the test report indicates whether a woman is at an increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. It also can be useful for men, testing their risk of developing both breast and prostate cancer.It is most useful for one group in particularThe three gene mutations included in the 23andMe test are those that are most common among people of Ashkenazi (Eastern European) Jewish descent. They are not, however, the mutations most prevalent in the rest of the population.They come with a lot of caveatsAccording to Donald St. Pierre, acting director of the Office of In Vitro Diagnostics and Radiological Health in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health, these tests are “a step forward in the availability of DTC genetic tests” — especially for those who may not otherwise have access to genetic screening — but also come with “a lot of caveats.”“While the detection of a BRCA mutation on this test does indicate an increased risk, only a small percentage of Americans carry one of these three mutations and most BRCA mutations that increase an individual’s risk are not detected by this test,” he explains in a statement. “The test should not be used as a substitute for seeing your doctor for cancer screenings or counseling on genetic and lifestyle factors that can increase or decrease cancer risk.”They do not replace working with a doctor &/or genetic counselorIdeally, even those who take at-home tests like the one by 23andMe consult with their doctor and/or a genetic counselor about which tests would be best for them and how to handle the results. Traditionally, the available screening for BRCA genes costs somewhere between $400 to $4,000, so this new $199 option from 23andMe does make it more accessible. While that, on the surface, is a good thing, it also may result in people receiving and processing test results on their own instead of with a medical professional.The FDA also stipulates that consumers and health care professionals “should not use the test results to determine any treatments, including anti-hormone therapies and prophylactic removal of the breasts or ovaries.” With celebrities like Angelina Jolie and Christina Applegate opting to have major surgery to mitigate their risk of developing various cancers, it has brought this course of action to the forefront — even if it’s not necessarily the best idea for everyone.The bottom line is that while this at-home test could be a helpful cancer-screening tool, anyone who uses it should be aware of its limitations and seek professional medical attention and advice as necessary.Source
This January, Rosewood London’s Mirror Room will launch an Art Afternoon Tea. Imagined by Rosewood London executive pastry chef, Mark Perkins, the afternoon tea is inspired by London’s vibrant and unique art scene, and will celebrate five iconic artists: Yayoi Kusama, Alexander Calder, Mark Rothko, Damien Hirst and Banksy.To be served in Rosewood London’s Mirror Room – itself a stunning work of art – the art- inspired afternoon tea will encapsulate creativity and modernity in keeping with the artistic philosophy of Rosewood London itself, the interiors of which reflect the British capital’s unique and stylish history, culture and sensibilities.Mark Perkins says: “London is one of the leading lights in the arts world, and I am continuously excited and surprised by it. Taking inspiration from some of the works exhibited here in the capital, I am delighted to present Mirror Room’s first Art Afternoon Tea.”With a menu that is a work of art in itself, incorporating Mark’s very own illustrations of his sweet serves, the tea will follow the format of a quintessentially British afternoon tea. Guests will first be presented with delicate sandwiches filled with time-honoured and perfectly executed flavours, as well as freshly baked scones also from the pastry kitchen, served with clotted cream, lemon curd and homemade strawberry jam.