Playing Dress Up: Sari I’m not sorry


I work in an office with 3 other women. Every morning they come in wearing the most beautiful kurtis and saris and we all oooh and ahhh accordingly. I have taken to calling it the “morning runway.” I, of course, mostly end up looking like a hobo. One of the administrative assistants, Madhu-ji (ji is a term of respect), was reImagetiring after more than 20 years of service. A retirement party was held in the office followed by a party near her home. One of my other coworkers brought in a sari for me to wear and they all dressed me up like Barbie with a matching eyeliner and bindi (dot between the eyes that historically meant that you were married but is currently a fashion statement also embraced by younger, unmarried Indian women). Let me tell you, a sari is a difficult thing to wear- it consists of a very short sleeved blouse and then a single piece of fabric wrapped, pleated and pinned in a regionally specific manner.

I, of course, loved it. In a ground-breaking first, I was told that people were talking about how “elegantly” I carried the sari (!) especially combined with holding my coworker’s adorable 6 month old. I perhaps broke that spell when I hiked up the sari to try to go down the stairs- a move that earned me a look of shock “no NO! Don’t do that!” You would have thought that I had try to disrobe completely. In fact, this particular misdeed was recounted to others who laughed at how utterly gauche this was. Quelle horreur!

The evening’s retirement party was also great. Half the fun was getting therae- I got to hold the baby the entire car ride (car seats aren’t a thing here as far as I an tell). When we finally arrived at the Punjabi Association after an hour of traffic there were delicious trays of food, fabulous Bollywood music and I managed to keep the baby in my arms the whole time. We even hit the dance floor together. I think that managing a sari, a baby and Indian dance moves is amongst my most coordinated moments (which are few and far between).


Donate Your Caller Tune for Public Health

ImageAs many of you know, I love telemedicine and have done some research in this area. I am always interested, therefore, in novel applications of telemedicine- especially to public health.

ImageSo I was excited when I learned that I would be attending the launch of the “Donate your caller tune” initiative. This program, created by the WHO Indian country office, allows users to transform their caller tune into a public health message of their choosing. Caller tunes are less popular in the US but they are essentially “ringbacks”- a song (typically a Bollywood song here in India) that someone hears instead of a ringtone when they are calling you. Participants in this program sign up through the internet or by scanning a QR code (made out of a celebrity’s face) with their smart phone. They choose a cause (cervical cancer, diabetes, fitness, high blood pressure, breast cancer etc) and anyone who calls them will hear a message from a celeb related to that cause. For example, the caller tune for obesity is recorded by John Abraham, a popular Bollywood actor/model: 

“Hi this is John Abraham and I think that obesity can be beat. Say no to smoking, drinking, junk food. Say yes to walking, running, dancing. And remember, this won’t happen overnight- so be patient, don’t give up. For more information visit”

Nata Menabde, WHO’s ambassador to India explained the rationale behind the initiative: 

Image“The idea is to reach out with creative messages for adopting healthy lifestyles. India has one of the largest mobile users in this world and on an average, a person receives around 15 calls a day, making the space of caller tune an untapped area for promoting health causes.”

Always a cynic, I wondered if simply listening to a pre-recorded celebrity message could effect change in thorny public health issues such as obesity or smoking cessation. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked it. As far as I am concerned, this program could serve several functions beyond just broadcasting of the messages:

The use of popular Indian celebrities, mobile phones and current technology such as QR codes gives this public health initiative a youthful, slick feel and reinforces the idea that these issues are relevant.

ImageMost importantly, it creates stakeholders. A young person who changes their caller tune will not hear it themselves, but the very act of doing something related to public health is important. To feeling like an agent of change as opposed to a passive recipient of public health messages. Hopefully it keeps them active in promoting and normalizing these messages and becoming stewards of the health of themselves and their peers.