Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Remembering Manisha. And her going.

Manisha Bhattacharya

I remember Manisha as a dear friend.

Not that we met very often or spent a lot of time together or even shared any deep secrets. Not even because of the series of associations we had with her family. Indeed, beginning with Gautam-da, Manisha’s brother—who had learnt the craft of stage-lighting from Snehanshu’s father, Sitansu Mukherjea (1930-1993)—her entire family appeared so naturally in conversations at home that one thought of them like part of our family.

But all that association was only a prelude. It was Manisha’s own qualities that made conventional requirements of being good friends superfluous. She would give her attention unreservedly to the people who, however briefly, inhabited the space around her; she would receive with respect suggestions about her ceramic and pottery work, even from someone like me, who is not a potter; she would constantly look for ways to extend her gifted engagement with her craft. This is why her going leaves such a vivid sense of loss to so many, even beyond her immediate circle.

The manner of her going seems doubly grievous.

Manisha used to have long conversations with friends and family, stemming from her deep interest and involvement with them. Increasingly, these conversations were on the cell phone. The repeated radiation caused cancerous tumours in her brain, which took her life. In the midst of their family’s grief at losing her, Gautam-da has been tirelessly reiterating his warning about not using the cell phone indiscriminately; about strictly limiting its use especially among children and older people, about ensuring basic safety norms such as using head-phones and speaker modes—so that others do not have to go through what Manisha did.   

How many of us will heed this warning?

Another dear friend, whom I met on the day that I learnt Manisha had died, had experience in her own family of this disease. When I recounted the devastating rapidity with which Manisha succumbed to her illness and the cause of it, she responded by saying that this reasoning was as nebulous as the belief in karma, in saying that our fate in this life is the outcome of our actions in a previous life.

I did not know how to answer. But it seems to me, on reflection, that having a link proved beyond doubt between the radiation from cell phones and the growth of cancerous cells, is too horrific to contemplate. Proved beyond doubt, would mean that practically everybody would be afflicted. Should we wait for such a day, before being more careful about the frequency with which we use our cell-phones? Wouldn’t it be more sensible to just be more cautious in ways that we can, especially when it is something concerning our lives?

It is not easy to shed the weight of the Cartesian mode of thinking. It seems more rational to refuse to be persuaded by that which is doubtful—like Rene Descartes (1596-1650), often called the father of modern philosophy. So, most of us cannot really conceive of taking seriously anything that is not proved absolutely; that is not precisely quantified and certain beyond any possibility of doubt. But an alternative way of logical thinking is possible. In A Guide for the Perplexed, E. F. Schumacher (1911-1977) writes that it occurred to him that ‘the question of what constitutes proof was a very subtle and difficult one. Would it not be wiser to turn the principle into its opposite, and say, ‘If in doubt, show it prominently’?’

Whether or not you are convinced or doubtful about the danger of cell phones, please at least consider such a danger seriously. And please see the accompanying information and links that Gautam-da has shared, and if you can, show and share them prominently—even, and especially if you are still in doubt.


  1. Thx for sharing d experience n seriousness of technology affecting environment.

  2. Thank you... For raising the right questions....

  3. Thank you... For raising the right questions....

  4. Thanks, Anisha. You have hit the nail on it's head. Hope more people will take this message, if not a warning, seriously. I have learnt that all I-phones & Blackberries are sold with a warning about the dangers of cell phone radiation. My question is, if tobacco is sold with such graphic warnings, why not make people more aware with such warnings about cell phone radiation, when these are sold here in India ? I do think a vigorous public debate on this is warranted.

  5. I agree entirely, Gautam da. I think schools are the right place to initiate such a debate, not just because children are so vulnerable to the enticement of the cell-phone, but also because there is so much official emphasis now on digital devices as the 'right' way forward in disseminating education. Many teachers for instance, ask their class-children to 'WhatsApp' the lessons to friends; schools are contemplating using 'tablets' instead of books; there's talk of WiFi Campuses as a desirable, progressive feature of educational institutions. If all schools start taking this seriously Maybe then the children can demand safer regulations, and convince their parents and other adults about the dangers of cell-phone and other radiation, rather than the other way around. I have sent the link to this article to the principle of DPS Noida, with a special note to see the videos to understand the implications of Wi-Fi and other insidious forms of radiation.