How I discovered myself at the Brain Museum in Bangalore.
The concept of deconstructed cuisine came into existence about 100 years ago, wherein a popular dish was served by separating each of the ingredients and their corresponding flavours. Whether it’s a deconstructed black forest cake, shawarma, or sandwich - this is the dish, as transparent as possible, laying itself bare for all to see and satisfying a curious itch somewhere in the recesses of our minds. We now know what goes inside.
How crazy would it then be, to know what a deconstructed you would look like?
It is a cathartic experience to stand in front of a tray carrying all the organs that make up a human body. The latent morbidity of my nature was ignited at the sight of this mélange of subdued greys, pinks and yellows. The organs that we studied as mere caricatures and plastic models in school were brought to life at The Brain Museum in Bangalore, the only one of its kind in Asia.
Brain damaged in road accident
In the first part of this guided tour a large 1.2 kg brain was thrust into my hand. It was a two-year-old preserved brain and felt a little hard and rubbery. A real brain is softer, I remember as my mind goes back to the bheja masala I ate last week. On top of the brain there was a thin leathery membrane, which looked like a plastic bag, but turned out to be one of the toughest materials protecting the brain. It is called Dura Mater or ‘tough mother’ in Latin.
Heart covered in cholesterol
This brain museum was like Disneyland for my hands. I got to touch and feel the rubbery hard kidneys, spongy soft lungs and the slimy intestines. Then from a separate tray we were handed the hearts. There was a clear distinction between three hearts, one of which was covered in a thick off-whitish layer which I got to know was cholesterol that would one day have been blocking this heart’s arteries. The other heart was yellowish and flaky, thus unhealthy, but the third heart made the biggest impact. It was a robust and taut heart with clearly defined arteries and veins branching around it, this they told us was a pehalwan’s heart. I knew which heart I wanted out of the three, and for it I was ready to give up them french fries.
Senior citizens revert back to childhood as Dr Shankar shows them the lungs
Although many of you might feel disgusted at the very idea of touching these organs, I can guarantee you 90 per cent that you won’t be able to keep your hands off them once you’re there. You’d be underestimating the power of human curiosity. Ask the group of senior citizens who turned into children at the sight of them.
We were guided through each and every part of these organs and their most common ailments by the witty curator and creator of this museum Dr SK Shankar. This award-winning neuropathologist himself takes people on tours on specific days of the week upon request. The museum is part of the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuroscience (NIMHANS) which is one of the best neurology institutes in India.
When we were done with the touch and see section, we entered the second section of the museum which contained over 500 brains and other organs with injuries, deformities and a range of clinical and psychological conditions. Here is what I learned.
Tapeworm infection if you eat undercooked pork
Brain Invasion- Infections are a big cause for brain damage. There were brains eaten up by acanthamoeba, bacteria and tapeworms. While eating unwashed vegetables or undercooked pork could lead to a tapeworm infection in the brain, swimming in contaminated water could lead to an amoebic infection if it goes up your nostrils.
Slow poisoning- The pair of lungs on display were completely black. Smoke destroys the small sacs that hold air in your lungs but the blackness is also caused by the polluted air we ingest every day in cities. The liver damaged by alcohol has a choppy surface as compared to the smoothness of a healthy liver. But there is hope, Dr Shankar refers to the army man in cold climes who needs regular supply of alcohol and mentions that if you eat and exercise well then alcohol doesn’t affect your liver as much. Basically living in the mountains and doing some hard labour could allow us to drink and have pink lungs.
A good liver and a bad liver
Are you seeing things? - A schizophrenic brain looks perfectly normal. Chemicals like serotonin and dopamine affect your thought processes. A chemical imbalance in the brain leads to depression, mood swings or schizophrenia through hallucination. In the same way drugs like LSD and ecstasy crank up these chemicals making you feel euphoric.
A schizophrenic brain that looks perfectly normal
An outstanding brain- We have all been told, during the brain chapter in school, that more wrinkles and curves in the brain equals genius. “Well that is wrong”, says Dr Shankar, “too many wrinkles means mental retardation.”
Where is my mind?- Your brain does subconsciously record all experiences and yet you can’t remember most of your childhood memories. Here you have not actually lost the memory but the power to retrieve it. “If you don’t meet people and share them frequently you will stop being able to retrieve memory properly, this is especially important for older people”, says Dr Shankar. Alzheimer’s disease and dementia literally shrinks your brain as neurons die.
They say knowledge is power and that seeing is believing. Today I had the privilege of seeing firsthand what happens to a brain in an accident or your liver if you drink irresponsibly.
The question now was, how my brain would use this knowledge.
12 week old foetus who did not develop a brain at all
1.The average brain has about 50,000 thoughts per day.
2.An estimated 70% of these thoughts are negative thoughts.
3.Headaches have nothing to do with the brain, as it doesn’t feel pain.
4.Humans use more than 10 per cent of their brain.
5.Drinking doesn't make you forget. It renders you incapable of forming memories.
6.High cholesterol reduces the risk of dementia.
7.Male brains are larger by 10% to a females.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are independent views solely of the author(s) expressed in their private capacity and do not in any way represent or reflect the views of 101India.com.
By Karishma Goenka
Photographs by: Karishma Goenka