Great drugs of the twentieth century – the Barbiturates – 1912.


On St Barbara’s Day, December 6, 1864, German chemist Adolf von Baeyer made a new compound derived from urea and malonic acid extracted from apples.  He called it Barbituric acid, after the Saint.


Alfred von Baeyer

In those days, chemists had a simple way of testing a new drug – they took it themselves. The story goes that Baeyer did take barbituric acid himself. To his good fortune, barbituric acid turned to be an inactive compound.

Although barbituric acid was itself inactive, chemists found that it was a good starting molecule for making new drugs.  One day in 1903, chemists, Emil Fischer and Joseph von Mering, found that one of these new compounds, diethylbarbituric acid, could easily put people to sleep.

Joseph von Mering named this sleep-maker as ‘Veronal’, after the Italian city of Verona.veronal

Thus began the age of the Barbiturates.

After Veronal, chemists made many new barbiturates. Phenobarbital, better known by its brand name Luminal, became the first popular sedative.  Phenobarbital was found to be relatively safe in managing chronic insomnia, its sedative effects could be reversed and it had another very welcome property – it could control epileptic seizures.  It was, in effect. the first anticonvulsant.

valley-of-the-dolls1Phenobarbital was the forerunner of other barbiturates like Nembutal, Amytal, Pentothal and Seconal. The barbiturates became the sedatives of choice across the developed world and even found their way into fiction and popular literature. (Remember ‘Valley of the Dolls’, the controversial novel by Jacqueline Susann?)

The barbiturates held sway for fifty years before being replaced by the Benzodiazepines.  Phenobarb is still used in modern practice for epilepsy.

Adolph von Baeyer, the man who made first made barbituric acid, did a couple of things more – he founded a company called the Bayer Chemical Co (the same company that first made Aspirin) and he picked up a Nobel in Chemistry in 1905.

To be continued …

Posted in Amchi Mumbai, Health | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Great Drugs of the Twentieth Century – 1

The twentieth century is behind us.

Weeping willow tree

Weeping willow – Salix babylonica.

Biotechnology and pharmacogenomics will change the practice of medicine in the 21st century.  While we reap the benefits of genetic medicine in the coming century, let us not forget the synthetic drugs that changed our lives in the 20th.

Here are some of the most important molecules of the twentieth century and the remarkable people who brought them to you.


It’s as old as the hills.  Way back in 400 BC, Hippocrates used willow bark to treat all kinds of aches and pains. For centuries, native American tribes used a decoction made from willow bark for the same reason.

Only around 1820 was the active compound of willow identified as Salicin.  Unfortunately, pure salicin was found to be too harsh on the body.  Until Frenchman Charles Frederic Gerhardt combined it with acetyl chloride and made ASA – acetyl salicylic acid.  But further work was stopped since the process was too tedious.


Charles Gerhardt

In 1899, Bayer chemist Felix Hoffmann came across Gerhardt’s work on ASA while looking for a cure for his father’s arthritic pain.  He used the plant Spirea ulmaria as a source for salicin and re-developed ASA.  The new drug was formally launched by Bayer Chemical Co. on March 6, 1899.


Felix Hoffmann

It became the most famous drug in history.

It truly is a ‘wonder drug’, it’s used not only for pain and fever, it prevents sudden heart attacks and is useful in stroke prevention as well.

No one really knew how ASA killed pain until 1971, when British pharmacologist John Vane discovered that ASA inhibited the body’s production of prostaglandins, compounds that promote inflammation and pain. Vane received the Nobel in Medicine in 1982 for this breakthrough.

john vane

John Vane (1927-2004)

ASA paved the way for many more painkillers like paracetamol, ibuprofen and the like.

What’s ASA, you ask?  Here’s a hint : Take the ‘A’ from acetyl chloride, the ‘SPIR’ from the plant Spirea, add an ‘IN’.

Yeah, we’ve had a full one hundred years of a drug called – Aspirin.

To be continued …

Posted in Amchi Mumbai, Health | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The lost art of the Invitation…

dinner-party-event-invitation-television-dvr-apology-ecards-someecardsThere are two ways to invite people – the right way and the wrong way.

There is one obvious reason to invite anyone to your event – because you want him or her to attend.

But the manner in which people issue invites these days makes me feel they don’t really want me to attend their event.

There is a difference between an invitation and a notification. A notification received on Facebook or LinkedIn is a notification and nothing more. No matter how sweet and inviting the words used in your notification, it is still just an impersonal notification.

It depends on the event, you might argue. Certainly. If it’s an event meant for the general public, then by all means use FB or LinkedIn or whatever. Then don’t use a phrase like, “Please consider this my personal invitation”. If you’re inviting the general public, then generally invite the public.

And don’t expect me to attend. I am not the general public.

My point of view is quite simple really. If I am known to the host and the host knows me, I expect a personal invitation. Not a notification. A personal invitation.

The medium does not matter. Even an sms or Whatsapp addressed to me is acceptable – not welcome, but acceptable.  A telephone call is better. A letter addressed to me, still better. A personal visit will be greatly appreciated, and will guarantee my attendance. Only a natural calamity or life-threatening illness will keep me away from your event.

Be practical, you say? Don’t be an egoistic jackass, you say? This is the age of Social Media, you say? I beg to differ.

There are some things that are simply not done.

Nowadays, sending personally addressed emails to a large group is easy. There are any number of free bulk mail solutions available online. And there’s always MS Outlook. I send out one hundred personal emails every month to my clients. Most mail servers permit upto 500 emails over a 24 hour period.

Sending out printed invitations to your friends and well-wishers is almost as easy. Ask the local post office. Once in three months, I send out at least a hundred personally addressed letters to my customers, across India. It’s not a pleasant task, but I do it.

Over the year, I send out personal letters to over 1000 scientists across India. And these are people I do not know at all. But I still address them personally, because I value my customers and I need their business.

In your case, if you’re inviting a limited number of people to a personal event, you have no excuse. Since it is a personal event, it is obvious that you know your invitees personally. You invite them personally. Period.

And further, if you’re in the same city as I am, inviting me via social media is sheer blasphemy. It is a slap on my face. It is a clear message to me that I do not deserve even the courtesy of a telephone call or sms from you.

I host four social events in Bangalore, every year. I do use social media, event websites like and even the press, to invite the general public. But those I know personally, I invite personally. If I don’t have their postal address, I call. If I can’t call, I use Whatsapp. Or else, I try to contact them via common friends. One way or the other, I ensure that the concerned invitee gets the message from me that I would be very happy if he/she could attend my event. And most of them do.

And those I do not want to invite, I do not invite.

No matter which century it is, good manners are good manners.

I’m not a fan of the ‘good old days‘, but I do miss those days when people would take the trouble to invite me face-to-face – and not Facebook-to-Facebook.

Cheers … Srini.

Posted in Amchi Mumbai, Humor and General Rambling | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Maaf karna behenji, Part 2 – Five Indian women you must walk away from.

Anne-Cherian-A-Good-Indian-WifeRejection goes both ways. If there are Indian women who find you avoidable, then equally, there are some Indian women whom you should avoid – at any cost.

Contrary to what Indian women choose to believe, all Indian men are not wife-beaters, drunkards, womanisers, gamblers, dowry-mongers, perverts and incorrigible a*holes.

And totally contrary to what Indian women claim, all Indian women are definitely not Sati Savitris, Jhansi ki ranis, Mother Theresas, and paragons of virtue.

In my life, I’ve seen five types of Indian women who are best avoided. While marrying such women is far from advisable, be thankful if you get dumped by any of the women described below. They’ve done you a favor, believe me.

One speaks from hard experience, very hard experience!


The Enigmatic Super-Tease: Too many Indian women have the idea that by being dark and mysterious, they are extremely alluring to men.3954051-mysterious-indian-woman

F*ing nonsense.

The Tease will never give you a straight answer to a straight question, she takes at least 24 hours to respond to your sms or Whatsapp, she is vague about what she does for a living, gives you a mysterious smirk when you ask her out and implies there are several other suitors in the queue, cuts off your calls, ignores you for weeks and suddenly sends you a cheery sms but won’t reply when you respond, and generally treats you like a piece of dung.

The intention is to drive you wild with desire and make you chase her indefinitely. Such women are either extremely insecure or extremely arrogant. Either way, you deserve much better.

Walk away, my friend. Take out your mobile phone, locate her number – and press delete.

The Super-duper Corporate Amazon: Aggressive, rude and raucous, her phone constantly rings, she drives only a Mercedes or the like, pays more attention to her iPad than to you, and makes it very clear to you and the world that she has ‘arrived’.

In an Indian society dominated by foul, boorish men like yourself, she has carved her own special place using her superior intellect and by sheer determination.

Obviously, she will accept only a Bill Gates or equivalent, as her royal consort. It is very unlikely, as I pointed out to one such super-duper amazon, that a Bill Gates or equivalent would want such a woman in his life. But that simple logic never occurs to these women.

I truly admire women who are successful in their corporate careers, and quite frankly, women who are more successful than I am are quite a turn-on. But, I prefer women who allow success to speak for itself – and I prefer successful women with good manners.

Turn around and walk away, mon ami. And don’t worry. Bill Gates doesn’t want her, either.

gold diggerThe Not-so-subtle Gold-digger: Manliness, according to this type of Indian female, is proven by the possession of expensive gadgets, fancy cars, multiple villas, a few kilos of gold and diamonds, and especially, a green card.

If you have none of the above, you’re not ‘man’ enough for her. She accepts only the best, you see. By herself she is a pathetic, pretentious loser who has nothing to offer you in return, but that is beside the point.

Characteristic symptom of the gold-digger: She never offers to pay the bill.

The hard fact is, there are far too many gold-diggers in urban Indian society. To give them benefit of doubt, I suppose these women have been taught by their parents that only a rich man can keep them happy and is worthy of respect. That is what one self-admitted gold-digger once told me, before dumping me for a richer man.

Whatever. Walk away, amigo. And save both your money and your self-respect.

The Ever-whining but Grimly Brave Woman of Misery:  Life is hard. For men and women alike. And misery is contagious. Whatever be the reason, and however justified she might be, you do not want a whiner in your life. Just as no woman wants a whining man, no man deserves a perennially miserable woman.

She always complains about how tough her life is, how bad her job is, how cruel her ex was, how her back always hurts, how crowded the buses are, and how bravely she copes with all her problems. If only, she says, if only there’s a good man who can take care of her – and listen to her whining for the rest of her life. Sigh!

And guess what, you are that fortunate man! You are the only good man she’s ever met who listens to her so patiently.

Yeah buddy, you two will live happily ever after!

The Mistress of Malice: Vain, vicious, vengeful, and manipulative, this type is motivated by sheer malice. Her entire existence is centered around her own self, she craves attention and praise at all times. Woe betide any man who, according to her, does not please her ego enough. She enjoys inflicting emotional hurt on her man by snubbing and humiliating him in public.

By far, this is the most dangerous type of Indian woman. She will stop at nothing to achieve her ends, even it means abusing the law to get you.

Jails in our country are filled with men who’ve been trapped in fake dowry and domestic violence cases.

Yes, these women do exist in our society. And it is quite difficult to spot them.

One characteristic symptom: She always expects you to call her, and if she does call you, she will do so at odd hours and usually because she needs something from you. This is a very general observation, I’m afraid.

Malicious women are very clever at hiding their malice from you – until it is too late. And no one knows this better than I do.

There are many good Indian men. There are many bad Indian women. Which one you land up with, depends on you.

A good woman is one who is with you simply because she is happy to be with you.

She will be just as happy to get into a crowded bus with you, as into a fancy limo. Just as happy to share idli-vada sambar at the local darshini, as a buffet at a 5-star hotel. She’s just as secure in her career as she is proud of yours.

A good woman is comfortable about her body and mature about bodily matters. Gracefully accepts that you will age and wither – and so will she.

A sexy body will decay. Character will not. Flesh and bone will rot. Inner beauty will not. Wealth will vanish. Values will not. A devout person is not necessarily a good person. A moral atheist is far better than an immoral religious thug. A good woman will understand all of this.

There is absolutely no shortage of good women in our country. Especially in our country. You just need to look in the right places.

And if you are lucky enough to get a good woman in your life, please hold on to her very tightly.

Or I might take her away from you!

Cheers … Srini.

Posted in Amchi Mumbai | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Mere saamnewali khidki mein …

The weather in Bangalore is hot and miserable. And, as always in summer, power supply is down, water supply is a luxury, vegetable prices are up, and so are tempers. Furious with the elements, locked in at home due to the heat, and sick of watching re-re-re-runs of Friends on the telly, one decides to cheer oneself up by watching Padosan, the classic comedy from our youth.

I first saw Padosan at Rupam Talkies, Sion, during my MPharm days. After that, I made it a point to see it wherever it ran in Bombay. And in the 21st century, after CD’s became affordable, the first movie CD I bought was Padosan.

Padosan is one of the best comedy movies ever made. Forty years after it was first released in 1968, the movie still makes modern audiences laugh, and laugh heartily. Almost all the actors from the original cast are long dead, but they can still make you split your sides laughing.

There is a sweet innocence about the movie, a cheerful, uncomplicated niceness that takes one back to better times. Life was so much simpler then.

Except for some outdoor sequences, Padosan was shot in Mysore, on a single set with just three cameras. This low-budget movie was Mehmood’s first attempt as a film-maker and he had little money to spare. And yet, in spite of its spartan production values, in spite of its cheap sets and minimalism, and in spite of being almost half a century old, Padosan can still do what Chennai Express does not – it glues you to your chair for three hours, it respects your intelligence and it makes you happy.

That’s because, unlike Shahrukh Khan, Mehmood understood what drives a movie fan to leave his home, stand in a queue to buy a ticket and sit in a theater for three hours. It’s not ultra-tech special effects, or digitised villains, or Priyamani’s cleavage. It’s simply a good story. Movie making is nothing more than story telling and that’s what we really need – one good story.

Based on a Bengali tale called Pasher Bari, Padosan had a nice, funny story about a village simpleton who woos and wins his city-bred neighbourette. The story was complemented by shrewd casting by Mehmood and the director, Jyoti Swaroop. They assembled the best comedians of the era – Kishore Kumar, Mukhri Ali, Keshto Mukerjee, Raj Kishore, Om Prakash, Agha, Sundar and Mehmood himself. Sunil Dutt as Bhola, the village bumpkin and Saira Banu, as Bindu, the haughty neighbour were the perfect choices for the lead pair.

Although it was a hit in Bombay and other parts of India, Padosan was not well received in Tamil Nadu, and was banned in Madras. Tamilians were not amused with Mehmood’s role as Master Pillai, the bungling Madrasi music teacher who competes with Bhola for Bindu’s hand. But the movie poked gentle fun at north Indians as well, with Om Prakash in the role of Kunwar Pratap Singh, Bhola’s elderly and lusty uncle, and Kishore Kumar as Vidyapati, the wily nautanki who helps Bhola in cheating Bindu. Master Pillai was in fact portrayed as an honorable man who politely backs out at the end, to allow Bhola marry Bindu. It was all in good humor, and eventually the ban on the movie was lifted.

The humor in Padosan was clean and spontaneous. No sleaze, no below-the-belt jokes, no dangerously low necklines, no clinging wet sarees – except for a brief bathtub scene involving Saira Banu and some strategically placed foam.

Padosan has very good songs. The highlight of the movie is the singing competition between Kishore Kumar and Mehmood. Playback for Mehmood was provided by Manna De, who was unhappy that he was shown as losing to Kishore Kumar and refused to sing some verses. Those verses were sung by Mehmood.

My favorite song from Padosan is this clip. This particular song was not in the original list. The original scene had Kishore Kumar giving love advice to Sunil Dutt, in the form of humorous dialogs. In his typical spontaneous style, Kishore Kumar insisted on singing his lines and the story goes that he composed the tune on the spot and had RD Burman create the music for it.

Enjoy then, this funny sequence from Padosan, and cast your blues aside.

Posted in Amchi Mumbai, Bollywood | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments