Allergen-proof your home

From keeping your surroundings clean, to turning off the air conditioners—some ways to rid your home of pesky allergens.

If you’re suffering from an allergy, the cause could well be hidden within the four walls of your home or office.

Homes that are closer to traffic-heavy areas or near an industrial belt in a humid environment, don’t have good ventilation, or use extensive air conditioning, can be allergen-prone, says Salil Bendre, head of department, pulmonary medicine at Mumbai’s Nanavati Super Speciality Hospital. “We tend to think of air pollution as something outside when, in truth, the air inside homes, offices, and other buildings can be more polluted than the air outside,” says Tarun Sahni, senior consultant, internal medicine, Indraprastha Apollo Hospital, New Delhi.

It’s the everyday things that cause allergies—lead, a component of everyday dust, mites that feed on discarded human skin, volatile chemicals from fragrances, even a wet bathroom. House dust, says Dr Bendre, is an airborne mixture that has fine particles of soil, plant material, particles of human and animal skin and hair, fabric fibres, mould spores, dust mites, the fragments and waste of dead insects, food particles and debris, all potential allergens. Even plants and flowers can cause rashes. All these can lead to common allergy symptoms, like coughing, sneezing, red and itchy eyes, and a runny nose.

“If you’ve been sneezing continuously, the best way to find out if it’s your home causing the allergy is to see if you get your symptoms at night. Every time you come across the suspected substance, you will get allergic symptoms,” says New Delhi-based A.B. Singh, associate editor of the Indian Journal Of Allergy, Asthma And Immunology. “If you’re sure something at home is triggering it, the next step in diagnosis is to take the tests available at allergy centres which use in-vivo or in-vitro methods,” he adds.

Allergy skin tests can confirm the triggers for specific allergic symptoms. “These tests can confirm sensitivities to dust mites, animal dander, mould, or volatile organic compounds such as fragrances, which are frequently found in homes,” says Stanley Fineman, who is on the board of directors of the US-based World Allergy Organization.

Once you know what’s causing the problem, you need to ensure that you limit your exposure to allergens. In most cases, this is enough. “In extreme cases, timely immune-modulator treatment (to regulate the immune system) will help, but don’t go to doctors or alternative medicine practitioners who claim to cure it as there are no complete cures to allergic reactions,” warns Singh.

If you want to try and clear your home of possible allergens, this is what experts suggest.

Clean the linen

For almost 70% of asthmatics, dust mites are the cause of indoor allergies, says Dr Bendre. Dust mites are little, microscopic arthropods, about 0.4mm in length, that thrive on flakes of human skin, and live and lay eggs in our beds, pillows, cushion covers and fabric sofas.

 “Air conditioning in northern India and humidity in the coastal cities contributes to their growth,” says Singh. The allergens lead to frequent sneezing, cough, throat irritation, watery eyes, headaches and, in some cases, even difficulty in breathing.

To discourage these pests, air the house, especially the bedroom, frequently. “Encase pillows and mattresses and box springs with dust-mite-proof covers, wash sheets, pillowcases and blankets at least once a week in water heated to at least 54 degrees Celsius,” says Dr Bendre. He suggests replacing wool or feathered bedding with washable materials made of cotton or synthetic fabrics to discourage dust mites.

Mop the floor

House dust can lead to sneezing, difficulty in breathing, cough, throat irritation and headache. Mopping the house with a damp cloth or using the vacuum cleaner regularly discourages this. “Dust can be clogged under the carpets, or on the curtains, pillows or in the mattresses. Anyone who is allergic to dust must see to it that everything is cleaned from time to time,” says Shikha Sharma, founder of health management centre Nutri-Health Systems Pvt. Ltd, New Delhi.

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Have a partition story? Go here.

My paternal grandparents were settled in Lahore in a haveli when partition happened. They packed their bags, saw horrific things that humans did as they moved to Delhi. My grandfather was a clerk under the British Government in Lahore. In post-independent India, they had no government jobs to spare, so he sold buns on a cycle. Slowly, he build up a new life in Delhi, turned to business. The incident changed and continues to shape how I and my generation evolves.Screenshot_20151221-141742 Continue reading “Have a partition story? Go here.”

How not to get phubbed

Getting phubbed and fighting with each other because of your phone, tablet and laptop? The same devices, which create a rift, can also help couples bond when used effectively

Continue reading “How not to get phubbed”

Charge your gadgets on the move

Had enough of wires and sockets? Here are the latest, more elegant, ways to power your gadgets

Scientists are trying to ensure you don’t have to be anxious about that dreaded beep that signals a low battery or, worse, dead battery in your smartphone. In future, you may be able to charge your device simply by putting it in a low powered pocket, or picking up energy kernels from the environment or the sun. Till then, here are ways you can charge your phone without those ugly black wires showing.

Tylt Energi Sliding Power Case

How about a sliding power case that also charges your phone, protecting it while it does so? Tylt, a US-based company that specializes in phone accessories, has come up with a sliding power case that comes with built-in Qi wireless charging. The case has a 3,400 mAh removable battery and also has a USB available for charging and syncing from other sources. The charger comes for selected iPhones and Galaxy handsets.

Buy it: $49.99-79.99 (Rs.3,200-5,200) on; shipping charges extra.

Bold Knot

Two Palestinian university students have designed an innovative phone charger made of yarn. Called Bold Knot, the charger, which comes with an internal battery, can be attached to your key chain and can give up to 3 hours of charge. It’s two times faster than a regular charger and can also be used as a USB connection between a phone and a computer. The cable is made of strong rope to give it flexibility and the design is sigh-worthy. The charger has already been funded five times over at crowdfunding website Indiegogo in July, though you can still order one there. The Knot’s available for both iOS and Android.

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Ready to ride the startup wave?

If you want to start a company, this may be a good time to do it. For venture capital (VC) funding for Indian start-ups has increased by a whopping 261% in one year, according to a November analysis by PrivCo, a financial data platform that analyses business trends. Several factors are pushing this growth: India is now the world’s second largest mobile market, with over 900 million smartphones, and half of its 1.25 billion population is under 25.

“For everyone, from anywhere, with whatever background, it is the right time to start a company. The goodwill has never been this high, even from parents, who are no longer worried about who will marry their child,” says Harsh Shah, co-founder of Shopsense, a Mumbai-based company which works with retailers to help them enhance the shopping experience with technology.

“More and more start-ups are getting created by younger and younger people,” says New Delhi-based Varun Chawla, co-founder of 91springboard, an incubator and an early-level funder for start-ups. “The market is hot, there’s early-stage financing and increased capital.”

But there are some rules, some must-dos before you get set to ride the start-up wave.

Find a big problem

All sound businesses are based on someone trying to solve a problem. Zomato solved the perennial issue of “Where do I find a place eat around here?” Uber found that people had trouble finding taxis on the street and made it spectacularly easy to call one to wherever they were. “You need to ask yourself what is the problem you’re solving,” says New Delhi-based Suchi Mukherjee, founder and chief executive officer (CEO) of, a social e-commerce platform for women. “Whose life will get better by the product you’ll create, are there enough people with this problem, and are you truly passionate about solving their problem?” The last point, the one about passion will help you get through the lows (and there will be many), she adds.

Other than passion, you need to be sure that the problem you’re solving is big enough to attract funders. “Nobody wants to place small bets,” says Sachin Gupta, CEO of HackerEarth, a platform where companies and programmers can connect. “Entrepreneurs who want to raise VC money must understand that they have to go after big markets.”

A lot of people are reading publications, articles, books, trying to understand what’s cool in the market and copying ideas from international markets. That may not be the best way to go about it. “You need to build value for your business rather than build a business for valuation,” says Chawla.

Be thorough with research

The idea might be spectacularly creative, but if someone has already worked on it, there is no point in going after it unless you can add to what is already being offered, or the market is large enough to absorb two players. Research and fine-tune your idea. If some aspects of your business are already covered by the market, outsource these and focus on other aspects. “It’s your magic sauce that will make a difference,” says Chawla.

“Before we fund a start-up, we always see how much clarity and focus they have on a real problem,” says Sasha Mirchandani, founder and managing director, Kae Capital, a funding company based in Mumbai which has invested in start-ups such as GreenDust and Myntra. “What unfair advantages do you possess? How determined are you? Is the problem you’re trying to solve real, does it have a potential for a large market opportunity? Why is ‘now’ the best time to for this particular business?”

Mirchandani, who has been in the start-up industry since 2000, tends to stay away from funding start-ups that are “US-clones”. He believes such start-ups are attracted by the ecosystem rather than driven by an idea, and may not be aimed at providing the answers to a compelling business problem which they are passionate about.

Devise a new plan

Business strategy, plan, road map, call it what you will, it’s the essential difference between success and failure. Devise a plan, deal with teething issues and continue to validate it till your product fits the market. “Until you get to a product-market fit, don’t waste your time trying to hire too many people or raise too much money, for once you do, going back and making changes becomes that much harder,” says Krishna Mehra, co-founder, Capillary Technologies, a Silicon Valley, US, based start-up that builds customized customer-driven marketing platforms.

Test your product

Ironically, one essential element that most start-ups forget about is talking to customers. “Once you have a problem worth solving, go and talk to a hundred people to validate and refine it,” says Amit Somani, managing partner, Prime Venture Partners, a VC firm in Bengaluru. It is this feedback, this refining of the problem, that will shape your idea, giving a unique touch to your business and making it harder for anyone else to copy.  The product needs to be validated by early users. “Launch a minimalist version of your idea in the market, experiment with a small group of users at a very low cost,” says Rutvik Doshi, director, Inventus Capital, which invests in early-stage start-ups.

Build a team

Most start-ups that fail are those which have one person trying to do everything. Dedicate yourself full time and build a team of full-time people who are committed for the right reasons. “Great talent is scarce and not having a great, growing team is one of the single biggest reasons for a start-up not achieving its potential,” says Shah.

Your team should have the right combination of skill and can-do attitude. “If you surround yourself with great people, you can go through the insane amount of belief, commitment, hard work and luck you need to succeed,” says Somani.

Take advice but follow your gut

Founders looking for advice and expertise can now find an active ecosystem in cities like Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai. “One of the reasons for the success of Silicon Valley is the ecosystem of people who have been around the block a few times and are now available as advisers, mentors, investors and senior employees,” says Mehra. Mehra sees this pool developing in India, and suggests that founders should make use of it.

Find advisers whose opinions you trust but, at the end of it all, listen to your instincts. “Sometimes you might get swayed too much by what investors or influencers have to say, but it’s you who runs the company and it’s you who should run it,” says Gupta.

Get the business in place

Most start-ups spend all their time and energy in building the product, finding customers and raising money, but forget to comply with government rules or set up the infrastructure. Take the time to sort things as basic as office space, reliable Internet, getting all the permissions and hiring an accountant, says Mukherjee.

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That garbage is not my problem

Early morning as the auto drags along, crisscrossing and honking irritably at the traffic, I notice the pavements that travel along with me. Two cleaners from BBMP, on either side of a pavement near Ulsoor (I see one after the other), are halfheartedly sweeping with a broom on the debris, leaving the shit behind. It’s all colours of shit – black, brown, muddy, dried and still squishy and wet. The cleaners sweep all around it, contentiously pick up the debris and the leaves and the dust that had fallen the day before, leaving the droppings of stray dogs and cows that have passed the night before, behind. Conveniently making it someone else’s problem.

In front of a closed shop, next to a small darshini in Bangalore

The middle class in me screams. Do a good job, I want to say in the righteous voice. These are public roads. It’s your job to clean them. Why are you leaving all the shit behind? Clean properly! Except, says another voice in me, the one that usually makes me squirm. Don’t you do the same thing? It’s your shit finally, isn’t it?

For doesn’t our garbage, the one we create, the one we discard, become someone else’s problem at some point? The moment we dump a coffee cup, righteously, into a trash can. The moment our maid takes out the black plastic bag from our home, dumping it near a tree or an empty plot. The moment we place a beer bottle on the stage floor where an indie band is performing. The moment we finish the dosa in front of someone else’s shutter and leave the plate behind. The exact moment when a child finishes off a bag of chips and casually drops it in front of the waterfall his parents have taken him to. Coffee cups, tea mugs, underwears, plastic bottles, chewing gum packets, juice cans, smashed beer bottles, all half hidden, glittering under dried leaves. Usually, we can even find out what all is available at a picnic spot or at a kiosk around the corner of the road, just by looking at the garbage scattered in the area.

We leave a trail of debris wherever we travel.

On roads, on pavements, thrown from the windows of cars, from autos, delicately dropped onto the grass in the park, left behind post a picnic or a party at friends. Continue reading “That garbage is not my problem”

How to fortify your lungs against air pollution

There may be no escape from air pollution in most metros but you could at least try to boost your immunity levels. 

The link between air quality and health is direct and immediate. Last year, the World Health Organization declared Delhi to be the world’s most polluted city.

A study published in the Atmospheric Pollution Research journal in February 2014, which looked at the number of cases of cardiovascular mortality, respiratory mortality and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease cases in Delhi hospitals, found that from 1991-2010, the mortality rate attributed to air pollution had increased by 100% in the Capital. “Fifteen per cent of total deaths in the NCR (National Capital Region) are air pollution-related mortalities,” says Ajay Singh Nagpure of the University of Minnesota, US, the main author of this study, on email. “You need to check pollution levels in the area before doing any outdoor activity, including exercise.” Continue reading “How to fortify your lungs against air pollution”

Guest Post: The relevance of fantasy

I met Payal at last year’s Chandigarh Children Literature Festival. At the official dinner thrown to us, she was  this unassuming, quiet person in the rather chatty crowd. We didn’t talk much and when we tried to exchange contacts, she told me she isn’t on Facebook or most of the social media networks. Finally, we exchanged numbers and email IDs. So it was great to connect with her some months later in Bangalore at Cafe Max (which is quickly becoming my fave place to meet authors and editors. They have such good Mint tea and sunny lunches.) where even though I was a newbie and she an established author in the industry, she was gracious, helpful, an avid listener to my rather banal stories and a lovely lunch-mate. And as these things go, here she is, talking about the one thing we both love more than anything else: fantasy fiction and its importance in our lives. Enjoy.

Payal Dhar’s flights of fancy help her seek out new life and new civilization—mostly in her fantasy novels and short stories for youngsters. When not making up stories, she is a freelance editor and writer. Her latest book is Slightly Burnt (Flipkart // Amazon).  Head to her website for more about her.











The relevance of fantasy

Well-meaning and usually non-reading adults—never teens and other young readers—often ask why I write fantasy. What, after all, can be the relevance of fantasy? Why not write about real things and real people and real life?

Earlier this year, there was much discussion regarding the resurgence of realism in young adult literature, given the success of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars and the subsequent movie. The excitement was about how this heralded the re-emergence of contemporary realism in children’s fiction. John Green was credited for ushering in the golden era of realist fiction, pushing out shiny vampires and grim dystopias. Some publishing professionals were even calling it the era of “real stories for real people”.

Needless to say, there was some backlash to all of this because of the implication that sci-fi/fantasy is not real or that teens can’t relate to it. That it’s somehow less. It is interesting to note that John Green himself never endorsed this view. One person who eloquently to defend the honour of fantasy writers was the Australian young adult author Justine Larbalestier. “All stories, no matter their genre, are about people. People relate to other people even they are disguised as dragons,” she says. It’s worth reading her full blog post, where she takes down the argument that realist fiction is any more real than SFF.

Continue reading “Guest Post: The relevance of fantasy”

Twitter toes the line

The redesign of the microblogging site reflects the changing user profile of social networks—but the look is very similar to that of its competitors
In February, for the first time in Twitter’s history, chief executive officer Dick Costolo acknowledged that Twitter needed to reach a larger and more varied audience. “By bringing the content of Twitter forward and pushing the scaffolding of the language of Twitter to the background, we can increase high-quality interactions and make it more likely that new or casual users will find the service as indispensable as our existing core users do,” Costolo announced at a meeting with investors.
The aim, he explained, was to create more visually engaging content. This was reflected in the announcement on changes in a user’s profile page on Twitter’s official blog ( a week ago. The new profile allows for a huge, rectangular cover photo, a profile picture, with the capability to pin a tweet to the top, checking the favourite tweets of a user, or showing the most retweeted tweet in a bigger, easier-to-read font. The visual design changes also give the user the power to upload multiple pictures in a single tweet, making it all the more obvious that Twitter believes going visual is the way to survive the social networking game. The design of the Twitter profile page, however, now looks eerily similar to the Facebook and Google+ profiles.

Going mainstream

According to a November report by Business Insider Intelligence, a research service from business news website Business Insider, Facebook is the dominant social networking platform with 1.23 billion users worldwide, with YouTube following closely at one billion users. Twitter has a mere 241 million users worldwide, not even close to the two “mass” social networks.

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Guest post: A tryst with author RK Narayan

I have always had a soft corner for stories real, or make believe. So after much pondering over and ideating, I announce the launch of Creative Chat series for my website, where I will share experiences of authors meeting other authors, artists, storytellers and creative people. I am SO excited to present author Aditi De’s experience of meeting the stalwart of Indian English writing, RK Narayan in the late 80s to begin my series with (thanks for allowing me to use this, Aditi!).

Aditi De is an author- editor- photographer- traveller- blogger based in Bangalore. Her 11 solo books for adults and children include gems like Multiple City: Multiple City: Writings on Bangalore (2008) and A Twist in the Tale: More Indian Folktales (Puffin India, 2005), Articulations: Voices from Contemporary Indian Visual Art (Rupa, 2004), The Secret of the Rainbow Phoenix (Scholastic, 2013). Find her online on her blog or order her books on Flipkart. Here’s her interview with Mr Narayan.

Taken somewhere in the 1980s

It was in September 1988 that I had my only face-to-face encounter with Narayan. He was staying at his granddaughter’s residence in Chennai’s Thyagaraja Nagar area, where a room had been made comfortable enough for him to write in whenever he felt the urge.

On a memorable occasion, he was persuaded to take time off to autograph copies of his latest book, A Writer’s Nightmare, at the Landmark bookstore in Nungambakkam. Through a long evening, he peered through his thick lenses, answering even the most obvious questions with good humour, occasionally sharing an impish smile as he tackled the long and winding queue of people seeking autographs at the store.

Continue reading “Guest post: A tryst with author RK Narayan”