Tha Anna Effect

Shehjar Online


During his historic thirteen day fast in Ramlila Ground, New Delhi, starting the day after India’s Independence Day, Anna Hazare addressed the crowds every day. His speeches were brief, crisp and witty. The homilies began and ended with adoration of India and blessings for every body.

While Anna went on losing weight - the last recording showed a loss of seven kilos - he did not seem to lose energy at the same rate. More importantly, he retained his cheerfulness and his blithe spirit till the end. Even as he informed the crowds that he was losing weight in slow degrees and, just before he ended his daily address, he acknowledged, “I am feeling a bit of weakness,” he did not forget to remind them that he was still quite strong since he derived energy from them. On the penultimate day of his indefinite fast, he made a profound statement that he would have succumbed to the fast on the fifth day if it were for himself, but since he was fasting for India, he would go on for some more days without any harm. “Nothing will happen to me, and I will last some more,” he stated.

Wonder what was the truth in his declaration? Was it just bravado? Was he about to break down, as his detractors claimed? Was he really at the end of the tether just when he finally ended his fast? These are questions that need to be pondered without any bias or preconceived notions.

There is no denying that his face and body language did not suggest deteriorating health, nor did the doctors find anything alarming. We saw him addressing the people, not squatting or sitting down but standing erect on his feet, unsupported. He did not show any sign of wearing out, fatigue, loss of patience, irritability, apathy. On the contrary, he stayed cheerful till the end. He did not give any impression that he was starved and dying to put a morsel of food into his mouth. He could have ended his fast on the twelfth fasting day immediately after receiving the Prime Minister’s letter informing him the Indian Parliament had accepted all his conditions. Thousands of people who were gathered that evening in Ramlila Ground and millions watching him on their TV sets, worried about his health, waited anxiously for him to break his fast. Lesser mortals would have grabbed food and drink right after that victory. But, he was in no hurry. He rallied another night, another twelve hours, before he broke his fast next morning in style.

On the thirteenth morning, I watched Anna closely during the thanksgiving speech of Arvind Kejriwal at the Ramlila Grounds. I hoped it would be a brief speech but, while Kejriwal went on and on and on, there was not a trace of impatience on Anna’s face. In fact, when he finally broke his fast with fruit juice that two little girls offered him, it seemed it was more a gesture to please the girls and the audience than to satisfy the urge to eat or drink. He exuded infinite self-discipline and fortitude. His was a peaceful visage – quiet, calm, content. Even gods would have envied him.

Where did Anna get the energy to hold on? Did he really draw energy from the crowds, as he claimed? I recall the face of Mahatma Gandhi during some of his long fasts - how wan, withered and weak it looked even after a fast of lesser duration. Not so Anna. He looked radiant with energy all through. And Ghandhi was no less a mortal. It was admirable when he spoke that morning – his expressions, his body language, and the tone and tenor of his speech – he did not boast, he did not digress, he did not waver, and he was unfaltering and inspiring. How did this miracle happen?

Before that, how does a fasting person adjust and acclimatize to not eating, and living on water alone, without any calories to support. We all know our body needs energy to survive. We need energy for the heart to beat and pump blood, the lungs to inflate and deflate to deliver oxygen to the tissues, the kidneys to filter all the wastes, the intestines to digest food, the brain to think, to analyze and memorize. These are all vital functions that have to go on for us to survive. This needs energy even when we may be doing nothing but resting or sleeping. Our muscles, bones, ligaments, skin, and all tissues need energy when working and exercising, but even in resting states we spend energy when we turn in bed, move our limbs, sneeze and yawn, or smile and laugh or whisper and speak. If we perform no work but only rest or sleep all the while, we still need around 600 calories daily for an adult to supply the basal metabolic needs of the body. An average working human needs 1500- 2000 calories.

During fasting, with no calories coming from the diet, the body draws on its energy reservoirs – the fat stores in the tissues under the skin, from the abdomen and viscera; the glycogen from the liver, and, later, from the muscles. These stores start melting away and that is how the body weight begins to decrease within twenty hours of fasting and continues to dwindle every passing day, and the fasting subject grows weak, enfeebled, unsteady and obtunded.

Having stated the medical facts, we have to agree that a lot many symptoms and signs of fasting also depend upon the attitude of the fasting subject, his resolve if he has undertaken the fast voluntarily, his courage and perseverance if it has been imposed by external circumstances, his cunning if he has fasted as a political gimmick and charade. Remember, Baba Ramdev broke down on the fifth day of his fast, even when he is an acclaimed yoga guru who should have displayed greater resilience and forbearance?

How did Anna last so long without any gross exteriorization of the adverse effects of fasting? One explanation could be his simple and Spartan life style. Over the years, the body of a man like Anna - who sleeps in a temple, who has little earthly possessions, who lives and eats frugally – learns to acclimatize to less and less. The body adapts and gets used to lesser food (calorie) intake. The basal metabolic rate resets and goes down; instead of 600 calories the body sustains on much less. Such people also respond better to food deprivation during fasting as compared to others used to gluttony. I remember my grandfather who had to cut down his food intake because of a chronic duodenal ulcer that has cicatrized and did not allow food to pass easily from the stomach to the intestines. Over the years, he learned to eat less and less, till he finally survived on a daily intake of three to four kulchas (bagels) and a cup of milk. He went on like that for four years! Another recent example is of my domestic help, who attended on my mother for four years during nights and looked after her own brood of five kids during the day, working all the time. She would subsist on just about 900 calories a day. We wondered about her vitality and my wife and I almost force-fed her while she was in our service. Careful scientific experiments have proved on rats the adage: eat less and live long.

Yet, a frugal life style and a life-long acclimatization to less food intake does not answer the marvel of Anna’s thirteen day fast that left no apparent signs, no hangover, no scars. How did energy transfer from the crowds to Anna, if it really happened that way, as he claimed? Let us try an explanation. We all know that energy transfers from the source to the object, unseen, like the warmth from the sun to earth, or from a knagri to the person carrying it about, or from a microwave to the food you warm in it. The question arises: Does energy transfer from one person to another similarly? The answer is: yes and no. Yes, for example when a person is cold and you pass on your warmth to him by, say, rubbing his limbs, or through a close contact –a hug, a tight embrace. But that is not the energy that the recipient can use for sustaining low energy reserves. Then, how does a person draw energy from others, just by looking at them, speaking with them, or merely thinking about them?

Well, that is where the most marvelous human faculty - the mind - comes into play. What a soothing and calming effect the sense organs can have on the mind with the right inputs. We know the calming effects of music (soft, mellifluous), colors (especially blue), a bouquet of flowers, the gentle touch of a dear one etc. Similarly, the sight and thought of so many people identifying with a cause so dear to Anna, and going all out for him, must have worked wonders in his mind. The mind responds to these and similarly pleasant inputs in a unique way by the release in the brain of the feel good chemicals called neuro-transmitters - the endorphins (naturally occurring opium-like substances), serotonin, dopamine, Gaba etc. They are anti-anxiety, anti-panic and anti-pain substances. They produce a sobering, a calming effect as well. More importantly, some of them are also appetite-controlling. In Anna’s case the adoration, the support, the active association of people with what he stands for, must serve a huge stimulus for the release in his brain of these calming and bliss-providing neuro-chemicals. Besides, throughout his campaign against corruption, and all through his long fast, in spite of all the tricks that the Congress-led government tried to smear him and paint his team black with, and in spite of them trying to pull out imagined skeletons from the cupboards to belittle and denigrate him, there was no violence whatsoever throughout the campaign. Such an historic and eminently peaceful campaign in the present strife-torn and violence-prone times must be counted as the biggest factor to play on Anna’s mind, to have that soothing effect we are speaking about.

How do these chemicals work to provide the energy we are speaking about? Well, theses calming chemicals in our brains especially serotonin, and dopamine, produce salutary effects on different organ functions – heart, lungs, digestive and excretory systems. We know of yogis who meditate and control their mind and, through it, their heart rate, respiration, and metabolic rate. They can survive long periods without food, as if they are hibernating. The feeling of bliss that great yogi’s report is likely through the release of these chemicals in the brain in large quantities. That is also the most likely explanation for the unfolding of the thousand-petalled lotus at the Sahasrara Chakra with the wakening of Kundalini during its ascent through the seven Chakras. That calming is the crux of the explanation for Anna’s energy not sapping, and for him to stand upright till the last day, to remain coherent and focused all through. That is how Anna received positive energy from the crowds. That is what we can call The Anna Effect. Anna has truly emerged as a real yogi from this experience.
**Dr. K L Chowdhury Dr. K L Chowdhury retired as a Professor of Medicine, Medical College, Srinagar. Presently he is the Director of a charitable institution, Shriya Bhatt Mission Hospital and Research Center, Durga Nagar, Jammu.
He is a physician and neurologist, a medical researcher, poet, social activist. He writes on diverse subjects – medical, literary, social and political and has numerous research papers to his credit, his pioneering work being “The Health Trauma in a Displaced Population” which was presented at national and international conferences.
He has published three anthologies namely:
1- “Of Gods, Men and Militants”. Minerva Press (Pvt.) India -2000
2- “A Thousand-Petalled Garland and other Poems”. Writers Workshop Kolkata – 2003
3- “Enchanting world of Infants” Peacock Books, Atlantic Publishers and Distributors-2007
He was declared Shehjar's 'Kashmiri Person of the year' for 2007.
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