Monday, June 30, 2008

Why I think I set out to become a doctor.

What is it about the study of medicine (and for the puritans - surgery too) that keeps drawing me to it? I keep asking myself this question and dwell upon it for hours. Yes I have that much time in hand right now to spend pondering over THE question of my 25-year old life. (or rather 24 yrs and 365 day old life - it's a leap year this time ;) )

While I nurtured the childish dream of being a doctor and 'saving lives' through my school and high school years, I never had second thoughts about pursuing any other profession. (Yeah, the advertising bit was a flirtatious idea). It was never parental pressure contrary to what my sister and brother-in-law believe. Not even subtle or subconscious. My dad wanted me to dream of going to one of the IITs and mom was okay with me doing anything as long as I did it well.

So what was it that pushed me in this direction? I was very good in Mathematics and Humanities too. I wasn't actually doing well in Biology - wrong strokes in my pictorial depiction of the human anatomy earned me just about enough marks to satisfy my expectations. But that didn't deter my interest and fascination with the anatomy and the physiology of the human body.

I remember carrying this image of all the doctors we visited - the doctor sitting on the other side of the table and listening to the ill patient. Listening. Nodding. Listening. Asking leading questions. Listening. Smiling encouragingly. Pacifying the patient. Assuaging the patient's doubts. Listening. Touching the patient. Soothing the patient. Listening.

It's oft mentioned how half the illness is cured by just sitting in front of our physician in his room. I think I was drawn to this seemingly magical power that the demigod doctor seemed to possess. The power to bring a smile to a patient writhing in suffering. The power to assure another that his / her ills have a cure. The power of bringing hope to the patient. The power of listening and the change that it could bring about.

It might sound super-sentimental and crappy. But I truly think that's what led me to this profession. It wasn't about curing and taking credit for it. It wasn't about cutting and removing the tumor. It wasn't about changing a diagnosis and prognosis. It was just about being able to bring hope and a smile.

So why am I confused about my decision? I got disillusioned with the workplace and the environment I was a part of. There was a lot of passing the buck, a lot of insincerity around. I think, somewhere I became lax in my guard and got lazy too. I began to pass up the opportunity to be able to be proactive in a patient's treatment so that I could get those few extra minutes of sleep.

I succumbed to the hypocritic oath when I was supposed to remember the Hippocratic Oath.

I am not being harsh on myself. I am being honest with myself. And I can rest in peace only when I admit the truth to myself that I didn't turn out the doctor I meant to be.

What I will do from now on and how will I do it, what specialty I will take up, I don't know. But what I know is I am not going to let the fear of harming a patient by a procedure (when I can actually save him / her by being brave and using my hands and eyes) overcome me. I am not going to be lazy with an illness even if it has only a 1% chance of mortality. For, like Conrad Fischer put it so well - 1% mortality doesn't matter as long as you are not the person dying.

Tomorrow is Doctor's Day. And my 25th Birthday. I hope it spells a new beginning for the next 25, 50 or even 75 years of my life. I am hoping to start being the doctor I set out to be.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Sibling stories

I am reading 'My Sister's Keeper' by Jodi Picoult and this is the second book I'm reading that has been authored by her; I finished reading the first one last week.

From what I've seen, there is a recurrent theme underlying her writing that juxtaposes legal and medical ramifications of the issue at hand. So we get to see a lot of courtroom and hospital drama, lot of lawyers' banter and doctor-patient interactions.

My Sister's Keeper is about the protagonist taking her parents to court for misusing her body to keep their elder daughter alive. The older sibling suffers from Acute Promyelocytic Leukemia and requires frequent blood transfusion and bone marrow transplants to help her tide over acute calamitous illnesses and keep imminent death at bay. The protagonist daughter was apparently procreated by artificial insemination methods - that combined her parents' chromosomes to achieve the best genetic combination that would serve her sister well - so that the younger one could be an allogeneic donor.

I remember reading about a real family like this in the Readers' Digest years ago. The sisters shared a sixteen year age difference and if I remember well, the title of that article went something like "they live because of each other". The siblings in the real story seemed happy and content; the older sister went into remission and then achieved permanent recovery at the end of the article, unlike the story I am reading now.

I share an eight year difference with my sister and sometimes I've even asked my mother if I was a conception arising from a second thought - to give my sister the sibling she craved for. Of course, my sister played mischief with me throughout my childhood convincing me that I was an adopted kid - an infant lying in a garbage bin who aroused her compassion enough to convince our parents that I should be brought home and into the family! I've long outgrown this conviction, but I think somewhere it touched me so much that I have become a firm believer in adoption.

Apparently, it's commonplace among siblings - the elder one torturing the younger one with spooky adoption stories. I'll be comforted by the thought that I wasn't the only one to have been bluffed.

So coming back to the book, I am really enthu to read about what happens of the plot, the courtroom drama that ensues and the final judgment.

Her last book, 'Plain Truth' gave me a detailed narrative of the life of the Amish tribe. I'm looking forward to learning something new from Jodi Picoult again.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Aap ki Kashish - Carnaticized

I have a song I associate with every person I am close to. Usually it has been playing in the background during memorable time we've shared - either loudly or just in my mind or my memory.

I never imagined that I would be inspired by Himmesh Reshammiya.... never! But I think my close friend Meera and I were in an outrageously humorous mood on that day. We were laughing all day and all the way from college to the station.

And that's when we struck on the idea - and broke into peals of laughter again at the very suggestion. We must have really looked like fools or some manic patients escaped from Ward 19 of KEM Hospital.

For we were showing off our training in Carnatic music. Verbally, vocally. We realized that Himmesh had basically aped our Carnatic musical legacy while crroooooooonnnnnninnnng Aap ki Kashish.

Think about it, hum it... actually sing along with us -

A-aa-p / k-i-ii / ka-a-shi-sh

Sa-ar-fa-ro-oo-sh / ha-i

A-aa-p / ka-aa / na-sha-aa-aa

Yu-un / ma-ad-dh-ho-sh / ha-i-i

Ky-a-a / ka-he-in / tum-m-se / ja-aa-aa-ne-ja-aa-aa

Gu-m / hu-a / ho-o-o-o-sh / ha-i-i

Ho-o-o-o-sh / ha-i-i-i-i-i

Gu-m / hu-a / ho-o-o-o-sh / ha-i-i

My second crush

I was 8 yrs old when I first saw him. He didn't notice me, not even a glance thrown my way. He would've been 29 then. Married? I don't know. Frankly my dear, I didn't give a damn either.

He rocked - literally and figuratively speaking. His wiry callused fingers moved effortlessly over those sharp wires as if they were cerebrally equipped by themselves. His hair blowing away as a mane (he really had long hair then) by his edgy jumpy movement bamboozled me - was I really enthralled by this wild guy? His rebelliousness in his unkempt self - the hair, the singular silver ear ring, the ganji-like tees, the torn jeans, the crazy belts with the large head attracted the self-righteous girl I was.

But it was his ability to hold an entire crowd mesmerised in that din that he and his friends created on stage that caught my attention. He was livewire. He really was. Especially when he crooned

"I wanna lay you down in a bed of roses
All night I'll sleep on a bed of nails
I wanna be, just as close as, the Holy Ghost is
To lay you down..... on a bed of roses"

Jon Bon Jovi. Lead singer of Bon Jovi, good-looker, rock star, crooner, heart-stealer... my second crush.

I think I would have even entertained the idea of dating him, had circumstances been more favorable. (atleast us being in the same residential vicinity, to say the least). I think what I find most attractive about him is his hair - wonderfully smooth and silky (I imagine) and blonde - brown depending on when he dyed it. Added perk - he's a devoted, dedicated family man. Looks, good voice, stability, what more could a girl want? (I am considering he's smart cos he got so far and I am sure he has a good sense of humor).

He was my introduction to Western music, rock, etc. He was my guide to the world my sister lived in (or by her account, tried her best to revolt against Tambram rules and regulations to live). He was the route I could take to be as cool as my older teenage sister was.

But that doesn't take away from the fact that despite all these credentials, Bon Jovi happen to be one of my favorite rock bands of all time. I guess, they are in general considered very good too. Not for me the noise of Def Leppard or Iron Maiden (the latter I try when I'm in an exceptionally low mood). But Bon Jovi were more musical - I would call most of their songs rock-love-ballads. So their music seems just right on a rainy day when Im in bed with a book in hand and enjoying the wetness of the weather. Always. :)

So, often when I am in a nostalgic mood or missing my sister and the good ol' times we shared as kids, I play Bed of Roses and sing aloud. And make a silent prayer as if asking JBJ to teleport me back to that world when and where beds were indeed made of roses.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Something in Nothing

There is a meaning even in nothingness

If we would stop by and examine its test

While it seems like a vacuum out there

Sometimes nothing is our answer best

Nothingness is a space that can be filled

It is a challenge to our creativity and imagination

For all we know this world might be virtual

But we know it needs purification

But if the earth needs to be purified

The very essence of life needs to be rectified

Cos with man came misery

And in his shadows, other lives were crushed

Nothingness is not an empty space now

That there is a word that describes it

Is tangible evidence that it is something finite

And there is no better word to fit

Can anything be nothing?

Can everything be nothing?

Yes it can because as someone once said

We love giving words and defining

We are not money-making machines

We are meaning-making machines

Cos even money without a meaning would be useless

But the definition makes it coveted nonetheless

So why are we discussing nothingness

When it is nothing but an empty space

We do it to stop and remember

That we can paint colors of life on the plain canvas called nothingness.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

As daft as they can get...

I couldn't stop laughing at Charlie Black's heroics-gone-wrong. A John McCain aide, he certainly thought he would say something to boost the Republican Presidential candidate's claim to the top post in the world (higher than the UN Secretary General or the English Throne)...

This is what he said, "a terror attack on the US again would prove a 'big advantage'" to McCain's campaign.

Haha.... and I was actually disappointed that the era of Bush-isms had ended.

Btw, Black happens to be McCain's top adviser! :D

My favorite advertisements

There was a time when I secretly desired to enter the field of creative marketing and advertising. I thought I had it in me to become a copyrighter and churn out witty dialogues.... Well I just channeled this energy during the spoof-scripting sessions while at college and they were really funny.

So while I sometimes wonder what would have been had I majored in Literature and gone to MICA or probably even gone to FTII and learnt script writing, maybe life would've been different! It would surely have been a lot of fun! Yeah yeah, I know behind the fun is a lot of hard work - but I would have loved it.

I don't know if I have the courage to switch careers now, I love my current profession equally. My only grouse is that it leaves me drained at the end of the day - emotionally more than physically. But the challenge is to be able to wake up next morning and be ready to be surrounded yet again by blood, urine, shit and vomit! :)

So anyway, I was just lamenting at the lack of good advertisements in the recent past... Youngistan didn't go down well with me. Akshay Kumar's Thums Up ads have become passe. Have these advertising honchos lost their gift - why have they reduced their creative gimmicks to a tit-for-tat in the Pepsi v/s Coca-cola v/s Thums Up war? Where's yaaron da tashan? Yeh dil maange more.

I can never forget the horror of Vivek Oberoi going 'wakao' or the utterly distasteful 'toyenge' ad for some brand of men's briefs that's currently on air. Give me Lalitaji anyday!

I think among my favorite ads would be in no particular order:

The Ericsson mobile phone ad : The "One Black Coffee Please"

Dhara oil : "Jalebi"

Cadbury's: "The girlfriend dancing and prancing away to glory on the cricket field after her love makes a century"

Titan: Almost all their ads... in fact the last one with Aamir Khan and Meera Vasudevan was damn cute.

Pepsi: The one with Aamir Khan, Aishwarya Rai and Mahima...err Ritu Chowdhury

All the Johnsons' baby oils... or just about any advt to do with babies (my maternal instincts spring alive!)

The Airtel ad: The B/W ad with confessions, expressions.... etc ..... "Express Yourself". We hijacked this theme for the introduction of our convocation skit. :)


This Camlin marker ad that I've only seen on Youtube: About the rudaalis not being able to take a widow's sindoor off bcos it was marked with a Camlin marker.... and so her husband suddenly gets a fresh breath of life! Hilarious.

And the Maggi Hot & Sweet Chilly Sauce, it's different ads!

These are all I think of now. I am sure there are others that captured my imagination but for some reason are not on the top of my mind now.

In one of my earlier posts, I said that the late nineties were not a good time for Western music. But I think Indian Advertising flourished during this period. Of course we were witnessing the 'free market invasion' in our otherwise socialist territory... But it was a good period. Some of the best creative minds came together and created 20 second livewire art.

I am looking forward to another brilliant advertisement ... I hope it comes soon.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Happy B'day Aryika

She'd have turned 26 today and would have been a very contented girl doing her much-desired residency in Internal Medicine at Jaslok Hospital today, probably running around filling forms, following-up on the reports of various investigations, writing down orders, consulting her seniors, appeasing the relatives of her patients, trying to strike a rapport with the nurses (I doubt it would have taken her this long though), answering calls given by residents from other faculties and finally if she were lucky, taking a moment to breathe and then maybe eat.

If she were lucky, she would have grown to be one of the most loved doctors the hospital would've ever seen. Eveready to take on extra work, relieve a tired fellow doctor, fill-in for someone who wanted an off, she was everybody's friend. Everyone loved her. Even those who barely knew her for a couple of days.

Hard-working to the core - she stayed on for a year to study rigorously so that she could make it to an Int. Med. residency. Her fellow interns could never stop praising her or sometimes ridiculing her or even scolding her for being so stupidly sincere. For a junior like I, she would take time off from her schedule just to sit with me on a rough day and let me know that things weren't as bad as they seemed. That I knew my stuff, I would be a good doctor just as she would be, if she were lucky.

Even after these days, I still remember the postcardish sight of the three girls - Aryika, Prerna and Gene sitting outside the basketball court sipping coffee and laughing uncontrollably. I felt most uncomfortable thinking of Prerna crying uncontrollably outside the ICU of Breach Candy Hospital in the last week of February. Aryika was sinking in her battle against the deadly tuberculosis that had caused meningitis and her brain to swell with fluid. She underwent a shunt surgery that tried to remove the excess fluid but went into a coma. She stayed in the coma for over 2 weeks and never returned.

My brave friend, my lovable friend and guide, Dr. Aryika Malaviya - here's my salute to your kind spirit, your illuminating smile and your jovial nature. Our sick have lost in your passing away, a doctor who would have healed them not only with her medicines but with her compassion and genuine concern.

On your birthday, I miss being able to call you and wish you. For as long as I remember, it always rained on your day. Today, the sky is clear, the earth is parched.

I only hope that you are happy wherever you are, cheering the angels. Happy Birthday!


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Remembering Boyzone and Backstreet Boys

My sister just uploaded her blog with a nice piece on her adolescent idol, object of her affection and the music sensation of the eighties - George Michael. I was around 5-6 yrs when I remember discovering the poster of this rugged, stubble-cheeked wiry guy with cool sunglasses and a leather jacket standing with a knee flexed against a wall and driving my sister and her bunch of equally 'crush'ed girlfriends crazy. I still remember the poster on our wall - it was a still photograph from his "Faith" video.

My sister is super-super-excited about having gotten tickets to GM's last ever concert that is going to be held in London. So, I know for sure she's going to be holed up in the Queen's country until after August 24th. She's got three tickets - just incase they don't manage to find a kindred soul to baby-sit my lil niece - in which case, my adorable niece will get to see GM live!

Reading her article, I sat back trying to recollect who my teenage music idols were. I'll always cringe in regret that we belonged to the late nineties - a time for the pubescent boybands and girl-bands. Spice Girls took the world by a storm and to this day, one of my friends is so crazy about them that he waited 3 nights in a row in front of the Mumbai airport to catch a glimpse of them when they'd come to India - he ended up with an autographed picture with 'Baby Spice'.

And then there was this gang of girls singing "C'est la vie" and frankly that's the only byte of French I know. Britney's with her eyebrow-raising "Hit me baby" was a sensation of course. But the late nineties belonged to two boybands - Boyzone and Backstreet Boys.

Boyzone was this Irish band with cute looking guys (especially the leads Ronan Keating and Stephen Gately, the latter who later did a GMish coming out of the closet gig). They had a decent collection but mostly love balladish. Love me for a Reason was probably the one that brought them fame. A Different beat and Isn't it a Wonder, if I remember correctly, were more in the vein of 'save the world' pleas. My personal favorites were Baby, Can I hold you tonite - I really liked the video with each guy and his girl on either side of a glass pane and All That I Need.

Any piece on Boyzone would be incomplete without a mention of their biggest hit, the love ballad "Words". Haha. Infact back in our all-girls school, a couple of girls were thrilled to receive love letter that had typed out the words of the song. Aah, if only falling in love and staying in love were that easy :)

Ronan of course went onto give another hit in "When you say nothing at all" that was part of the OST for the Julia Roberts- Hugh Grant romantic comedy Notting Hill. But most of all, much to our chagrin, it remains my friend Amol's favorite song - and he dedicates it to every other girl he falls in love with!

But the Backstreet Boys were the showstealers! AJ, Howie, Nick, Brian and Kevin were fought for keenly by the girls in my class and we had our fiercely loyal groups for AJ, Nick and Brian. I strongly believe now that the video for Backstreet's Back was responsible for the sudden interest in the band. The ghosts and vampires were attractive and the final group dance was impressive! And I think, BB had a better range of songs than Boyzone. The beats were catchy, the lyrics easy on the tongue and the music... was well-above-decent compared to the fare that was otherwise doled out to us. There was this one song that went like "... you're the one for me, you are my ecstasy" - this one was my BFF's ultimate favorite and she'd get up suddenly in the break between classed and gyrate to the song on the secretly kept walkman in her locker. The last I saw of BB was "I want it that way" and that was the end of our relationship.

I was never really a fan of either boybands and I think this disappointment in Western music kept me away from it for a long time until I rediscovered it a couple of years ago. I will single handedly credit those nerve-grating annoying songs ' Barbie Girl' and "we're going to Ibiza" for ruining my association. Moreover, MTV and Channel [V] were increasingly turning to desi stuff and that was really disappointing.

I wiki-ed these boybands after I finished writing the above and it seems like they're pretty much dead and buried by all. I don't think I miss them one bit and I can doubtlessly claim that I will never be enthused to go for any of their comeback concerts.

Give me Pink Floyd anyday and I'll be Comfortably Numb to the rest.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


Is there any way to use a different template other than the ones offered by this blogspot? My sister is really keen on having hers changed and neither of us has a clue of how to go about it.

Abinav - since I know you visit this blog regularly and since you have some neat templates yourself, you can presume that this query is directed to you. :P

Circus coming to town.

So are we or are we not going to push for the N-deal? Either way, looks like Mahesh Rangarajan, Dorab Sopariwala and Yogendra Yadav will soon be hitting our screens with their political analysis while we sit as the audience and watch candidates trapezeeing from one party to the party.

Let the jamboree begin!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Confessions of two clumsy feet / knees - Part II

I think my mother really lost her patience with me when my clumsiness actually landed me in an orthopedic facility. The story goes this way - inspired by a particularly foot stomping episode of Nach Baliye the previous night, I decided to try a few steps with my two left feet in the privacy of a wet bathroom. In my excitement, I forgot that it was the day of my last viva- Obstetrics and Gynecology in my preliminary examination in the Final Year.

The first few steps felt really good and injected a vigor for more. But in 2 minutes I found myself somersaulting and crash landing on the marble feet. If I'd cracked my skull, I think I might have been spared the ire mom had saved up for later. I yelped in pain and somehow managed to get dressed. I could neither flex my knee nor extend it once flexed. I had already swallowed a couple of painkillers to douse the excruciating agony and travelled to college by car. And then started the drama!

I could barely walk. I was obviously creating a spectacle even that early in the morning but was stupidly proud to admit that I needed help. Somehow, Anita took charge and insisted that I walk with her support. (Someday, when you head a big organization, I'll brag about your how I saw your leadership skills early on!) Bhubu, as sweetly as ever, accompanied me to the ob-gy ward and with their help I managed to climb up to the first floor ward.

News indeed spreads like wildfire - especially when Bhubu happens to be in the know of it. Quite frankly, I had begun genuinely sympathizing with the poor patients who face the brunt of a group of enthusiastic medical students eager to ask them incessant questions, touch and poke them in places they honestly wouldn't want to display. Everyone demanded to see my knee - which by now looked obviously swollen even through the thick denim material. (which I politely refused as I was horrified about my unwaxed legs).

Given my luck that day, I had been assigned the case of a woman who was at the end of the ward diagonally opposite to the where I was sitting. So I trudged along the hypotenuse of the room, maneuvering myself around beds and handled adeptly by Ravi and Sumedh (who along with Anita were gladly my knights in shining labcoats for that day). I had become quite the center of attention in the ward - of nurses, doctors, students and pregnant women alike.

I wondered how I would make it to the tables where they had kept the surgical instruments for one our vivas. And the whole ward started laughing when the registrar walked across the room, armed with the Deaver's retractor and a dilator, and came to my bed. I couldn't really believe that sometimes when the horse couldn't come to the water, the water could come to the horse in a pot. :)

Soon enough, the orthopedic registrar on-call came to attend to me; by now, my knee had swollen enormously and the registrar said that I would absolutely need an X-Ray. Drawing curtains around my patient's bed, the budding orthopedician did a cursory palpation on me and suggested effusion, more likely hemarthroses (blood in my knee cavity).

Once done with the exam, (after failed attempts of sitting on a wheelchair) I found myself hauled onto a white trolley (used to transfer patients from the operating theaters to the ward) and with four young doctors pushing my trolley, I was definitely laughing stock - with the real hospital patients and the crowd of relatives excitedly pointing to a doctor on the trolley! Anita was excitedly screaming "baaju hato, hato" and the hilarity of the situation didn't escape any of us.

Finally Ravi and Sumedh literally lifted me from the trolley and carried me into my car (no mean feat :P). The story ends with the smiling orthopedician aspirating 100cc of blood (he anticipated around 50cc) and the MRI showing fracture of the infero-medial part of my patella, retinacular tear, medial collateral ligament sprain and a miniscule part of my medial meniscus chipped off. I landed on the operating table for an arthroscopic surgery to remove the floating patellar chip - one that Namrata got to see while I was knocked out by the effect of anaesthesia. Apparently, the inside of my knee is a beautiful ivory white, Namrata vouches :)

3 yrs now, after intense physiotherapy, I can walk fine and climb stairs with minimal difficulty. Running still remains a goal to be achieved. But the clumsy tripping still continues - undauntedly.

Confessions of two clumsy feet - Part I

I didn't really have a subject to write about today. So I thought of writing about me. The first thing that came to my mind was my clumsiness. And so be it.

I seem to have an uncanny knack of attracting clumsy situations. Everyday, when I walk on the road, be it an uneven tar road or the smoothest of asphalt cemented concrete roads, I end up tripping atleast once. For as long as I have been walking, there hasn't been a day without a tripping event. Cobblestoned-like paths in Mumbai have only made my life more difficult - they're often not laid properly and come off easily; I don't really need a reason to fall, do I?

While I was in SIES, my junior college in Sion, my large group of friends and I were walking towards the station when suddenly a cow came running to me. For all my vanity about not showing my fear, I just stood there for a minute trying to be brave and then yelled aloud and ran for dear life - later, I was told, I was standing on the grass that the cow was waiting hungrily for. Few years later, on a hike to the Rajgad fort as we were returning to base, my gang of girls broke away from most of the class and were walking by ourselves. We came to a really narrow path flanked by trees that didn't allow us much space to walk together and so we divided ourselves into two. My friends were walking ahead of me when we came to this slope while I was distracted by my attention to the fauna of the forest.

My shoe laces had come undone (as usual) and as I bent down to tie them, I was suddenly faced with the prospect of a charging bull bellowing his challenge to flatten me in less than a minute. My ears can never forget the rage in the bull's mooing (?) and my heart still thumps aloud everytime I think of it. I honestly thought that I was going to face a similar fate as one of those unlucky matadors who got themselves killed in that ghastly activity that they call sport! I closed my eyes and began praying aloud and it definitely wasn't raw courage when I screamed 'Help' in all the languages I knew. Lord Shiva definitely heard my now-desperate prayers and came to my rescue in the form of an old lady and calmed his Nandi incarnate. The old lady (I'll never forget her face) could barely stifle a chuckle and broke into rural Marathi dialect claiming how we city-bred were incapable of sterner stuff.

I think I've definitely had enough of cows and bulls for the rest of my life.

I've fallen down all the staircases I've used regularly - in my building, at school, at SIES (it was an everyday story, with Apu actually waiting for me to trip), at Agrawals, at GS even at Johns Hopkins. Everywhere. Infact, the Agrawals kissa was actually really funny. For the uninitiated Agrawal Classes are 'world-famous' coaching classes in Mumbai as the flower attracting the SSC high-scoring bees for excellent tutoring for the HSC examinations. While I didn't particularly enjoy the stifling and suffocating claustrophobia of the air-conditioned room with crowded benches for 8 hrs everyday, being with friends for that long is one of my favorite memories. So I belonged to the afternoon batch and we had a break at around 5 pm for about half hour. Aarti, Jinal and I decided to hit Damodars (a snack outlet) below the the classes and soon we were caught up in some entertaining exchange of anecdotes; so much so that we didn't realize when the rest of the crowd had made its way back into the classes. A glance at our watch and we realized we were late and so we ran to enter the classes before the lecturer did.

Now the building that houses Agrawals was really old and the wooden staircases are narrow and steep. Moreover at the end of the first flight of the stairs would sit Ramu, the watchman, peon, clerk, handyman, man-friday for the staff. Ramu was actually a cute moustached, bespectacled old chap with a toothy grin that he flashed sheepishly everytime he caught some coming in without their ID cards. That he would report these trivial mistakes of memory to the higher authority irked many and was responsible for the downfall of his popularity. (Though, according to me, he was and hopefully still is cute). So as on any other day, Ramu was standing up there (grinning widely with his 32 teeth shining brightly hoping to catch his latest prey) and the three of us were running up the stairs. I took the lead and leapt from one stair to the one-above-the-next. Bad idea. For when I reached the last few stairs, my clumsiness got the better of me, and I tripped and with my arms raised above my shoulders circumscribing a 90 degree arc from an erect posture to a flat one. In the next second, I heard Aarti and Jinal squealing with uncontrollable laughter and looked up to find an absolutely stunned Ramu staring at me in disbelief.

As I grappled with my situation, I realized that I was lying before him in prostration (the way Tambram men do) as if seeking his blessings. Never before and never after, I suspect, did anyone actually fall at his feet and elevate him to demi-god status. Since that day for the rest of the year, an embarrassed Ramu avoided me completely - and I was spared of an ID check for the rest of the year.

In my defence / defense, it's definitely a family trait - a dear cousin and a dear grandpa also are known to be klutzy souls. My cousin and I have been known to roam around the city wearing our salwars inside out, I have also risked infamy by doing it with my kurtas and tops. We're obviously blind too. As a warning to my future friends and a thank you note to all my friends this far, I am also scatterbrained and leave my bags and purses absentmindedly to the mercies of my friends. (Thus far, I have been lucky that one of my dear ones has always managed to notice my missing belongings and return them to me). I don't mean to brag about it, no I'm hardly proud of being so foolishly absent-minded. Believe me, I have tried and will keep trying to be more careful of my belongings and my whole self too.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Love in a Torn Land

I just finished reading a book today - Love in a Torn Land - by Jean Sassoon, an American author who spent twelve years in the Middle-East and chronicles the lives of women there. The first book of hers that I had read was Princess - a biographical account of a woman belonging to the Saudi Arabian royalty, Princess Sultana. The book described the oppressed, suppressed and repressed lives led by the women in the Muslim oil-rig amidst an environment of chauvinism, sexism and plain favoritism towards the male child. It spoke of young girls wedded away to men old enough to be their grandfather, of women who who bore their husbands many children only to find themselves cast way for a younger concubine, of fathers who married girls who were once their daughters' best friends, of brothers' friends who terrorize others with their apparent moral policing authority and then go about raping 11 year old girls just for the thrill of it!

Love in a Torn Land was the story of Joanna and her Kurd (a native tribe in the northern mountainous part of Iraq) family and their travails of being a Kurd in a country ruled by a Kurd-hating-megalomaniac (in)famous to the rest of the world as Saddam Hussein. Born to deaf-mute Arab father and an exceedingly beautiful Kurd mother and living in Baghdad, Joanna was always fond of Kurdistan and longed to be one with her Kurd relatives. She describes how Kurds were looked at with disdain by the rest of Iraq and were even fighting for survival against Saddam's desire to wipe them out completely from the face of the earth. A fiesty girl, unlike her timid sister Muna, she often voiced her desire to fight for Kurdistan freedom. When she was fifteen, she fell madly in love with Sarbast, a Kurd revolutionary and a cousin of her sister Alia's husband Hady. Infact the warm relationship that she shares with Hady is really charming. The book talks about the humiliation that her brother Ra'ad and Hady that to go through during their unwarranted (pun intended) arrest - their only crime being that they were born Kurds.

The story then goes on to Iran's attack on Iraq in the late eighties that led to daily bombing at Baghdad. The Kurds sided with Iran in their fight against Iraq (much like Bose trying to garner German for the Indian freedom cause). It was around this time that Sarbast also fell in love with Joanna and through letters sent her a proposal for marriage. The centrepage of the book consists of photographs of Joanna's family and Sarbast. The rest of the story is about how Joanna joins Sarbast in Kurdistan where they lead a difficult life of a revolutionary (peshmerga), in difficult climates and difficult terrain. The crux of the book is the chemical attack (chemicals released from bombs and canisters by enemy planes)all over Kurdistan (a plan masterminded by the devious Chemical Ali, Saddam's cousin) that leaves Joanna temporarily blinded and her devout Aunt Aisha murdered. Times are dangerous for Kurds and treacherous too - with many Kurds turning informers for the Iraqi Arabs (jahsh). But Joanna shows extreme courage and valour in supporting Sarbast (who drafts propaganda for the Kurdish freedom movement) and his belief and finds herself contributing to the cause in her own way.

But things worsen and the couple have to leave their hut (a transition from the comfortable and relatively luxurious life she led at Baghdad) and are on the run to save their lives. Enroute to Iran, they face continuous bombardments, terror of being caught by jahshs, a miscarriage of their unborn fetus and rocky, unfavorable mountainous climb on the Kandil mountains. But Joanna describes how her love for Sarbast and his affection for her enable her and strengthen her to pull through this trial. Finally, with the help of an old Kurd revolutionary and sitting on his mule, Joanna reached Iran with the love of her life Sarbast and his jovial cousin Kamaran.

In Iran, Joanna delivers their son Kosha (meaning struggle) in a hospital that is hostile to Iraqi refugees - the nurse-midwife tells Joanna rudely that Iran cannot afford anaesthesia for Iraqi refugees and proceeds to suture her torn vagina without local anaesthetics. (Having been a witness to a similar situation in our very own Mumbai, I shuddered to think of the pain that poor Joanna must have endured stoically).

In the epilogue, Sassoon writes about how most Iraqi Kurds including Joanna's family have left the country and are scattered all over Europe. Joanna, Sarbast and Kosha themselves seeked and received political asylum in England.

I was telling one of my friends how I like to read books with geo-socio-political themes. It is not about reading the atrocities that women face in these Muslim nations - gender discrimination, female infanticide, honour killings and dowry deaths are still very much a part of our comparatively progressive Indian society even today. It opens my eyes to different realities across the world. I doubt I would visit any of the Middle-eastern countries for a long stay and these books give me a peek into the lives of the women there.

Here I must say, while The Princess painted a very negative picture of men in Saudi Arabia, Love in a Torn Land does exactly the opposite. It describes men who are extremely sensitive to their women, love their women with all their heart and most of all give respect to their women and treat them with equality (well almost). The book pictorially depicted an Iraq where women were allowed to frolic in frocks and skirts and colorful scarves - only later when they grew up, did the religious and conservative Sa'ad insist on his sisters donning the hijab. Women were allowed to educate themselves, even seek a professional degree in engineering and work alongside men.

Those were the seventies and eighties. Today in 2008, the Times of India carried a small article of a Pakistani Canadian father killing his daughter for not adhering to the conservative dress code. The early 2000s had the Taliban relegating women to the status of an object. (The Kite Runner gave an insightful account of life in Taliban times). Kashmiri girls today are faced with threats for not covering themselves in a burqa. Tamil actress Khushboo has her effigies burnt when she sensibly advices girls to indulge in pre-marital sex only with protection - who is society kidding when it denies that its girls and boys do not succumb to their lust? Hindus hate Muslims who hate Hindus and Sikhs who hate Christians - we say we're secular, but tell me, how many parents would agree to their Hindu daughter marrying a Muslim.

Was society intolerant earlier or are we getting intolerant now? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Red as red can be

Dedicated to all victims of abuse irrespective of gender, age, caste, class, religion and country.

Bound by chains of propriety

Of sublime chastity

Of purity

as pristine as the waters of the Gangotri

How could I reveal this blemish on my café skin

That left a mark on my soul as dark as sin

The wrath of the fury incurred

Left me all but shattered

Can you now forgive me

For not opening this cupboard

Of my dark past.

Their fingers still browse my body

Making me feel like some cheap commodity

Up for sale, cheap bargain

Oh, am I really going insane?

I hear the voices whispering and screaming

Telling me they know me inside out

That no one knows every cell in my body as do they

And I should only follow their bidding every way

The white walls here are stark reminders

of how pure childhood innocence used to be

but came those devils with arrogant quivers

to pierce and color me red as red can be.

Do you hear them telling me

The world is not such a good place to be

That mom and dad pretend to love me

Siblings and friends change moods with time

That my love is soon going to be history?

Sarkar Raj

The last movie I saw before the subject of this post was 'Sex and the City' a frivolous story of four girlfriends, four fashionistas in the fashionable New York City driving crazily through the bylanes of life - love, friendship, ambition and family. Frivolous because of the protagonist's and her pretty assistant's (Jennifer Hudson) obsession with labels heightened by Carrie's gift to Hudson of a pretty Louis Vuitton bag. I shouldn't speak further here, because I also suffer from a fetish for bags (beknownst to all close to me) and I was going green with envy. It was a fun movie, though panned by critics for not being as good as the televised series. I, however, beg to differ. To me, it was a fast paced 2 and a half hour finale to the finale of the last season of the show. The icing on the cake was a Rs 70 ticket, unbelievably priced, for the morning show at PVR Cinemas - a theater with the cushiest seats in lush purple. THAT was Paisa Vasool for me.

Now for Sarkar Raj. For some reason, I didn't go with any expectations. No, it did not stem from RGV's catastrophic RGV ke Aag version of the Sholay or burning his fingers with his other movies. Sarkar was a brilliant movie according to my standards - excellent screenplay that also left most dialogues in to be spoken with intense eye expressions and pregnant silences interspersed regularly throughout the movie. The drums uplifting the chant of 'Govinda Govinda' in the background score especially during Shankar Nagre's escape from an attempted assassination or his supervision of Rashid's cold-blooded murder left me gasping in awe. That was RGV at his best. I haven't seen Shiva (Nagarjuna version) at all and I haven't seen Satya completely. I am told that they are probably the best he has offered the cinema world. Sarkar was close to his best.

So I went today morning for a 11 am show at IMAX Wadala to watch Sarkar Raj with my friend Amol. Having already read the plot (I did not anticipate watching the movie) I was aware of the most important turn the movie would take (or so I thought). Amol threatened to reveal the plot and in turn, I blurted out what I knew already in an effort to thwart his attack - turned out he actually was bluffing and I had ruined the thriller for him. :) No, this is not something I do usually, revealing the plot of the movie to spoil it for others is just not my style. So Mole, this is a very public apology for spoiling half the show for you.

So the movie starts with two bungling buffoonish politicians trying to bump off Shankar Nagre (Abhishek Bachhan) who has now officially taken over the mantle of Sarkar Raj and Sarkar himself (Amitabh Bachhan) is reduced to being a mere spectator of the daily ongoings. Vishnu's widow and son live in Nagpur while Avantika (Tanisha) is happily married to Shankar. The irrepressible Chander and a contrastingly reticent Bala form the close coterie around Shankar. A new Nagre, new cronies and new enemies.

As much as RGV denies it, the obvious reference to the disastrous Enron sponsored Dabhol Power Project headed by Rebecca Mark meets Michael Corleone / Uddhav Thackeray cannot be missed. So Aishwarya Rai Bachhan in the role of the ruthlessly ambitious Anita Rajan comes to Sarkar with a proposal of setting up a Rs 200,000 crore (correct me if I quote the wrong figure) power plant in Maharashtra that in its wake would displace 5 villages and a populace of 40,000 people. I was pleasantly surprised that RGV did not bring in environmentalists and a Medha Patkar mimic into the picture. But as it is, the Chief Minister is a mere puppet whose strings are pulled by Sarkar and thereby, any policy decision must be reviewed and passed by Sarkar before the democratic Government can execute it. I could not help but smirk and attest to a line about Nagre - "neta ke bhes mein goonda hai".

So the film takes us through the rigmarole of how Anita Rajan with the help of Hassan Qazi (Govind Namdeo - brilliant as always) takes Shankar Nagre into confidence and manages to seek Sarkar's approval. But the roadblock here would have to gain clearance by Sarkar's political mentor Raosaheb (Dilip Prabhavalkar - one of our most versatile actors - in the screen space he shared with AB, he held his own confidently) and his hot-blooded grandson Shankar Somji (Rajesh Shringarpure in a garb extremely resemblant of Raj Thackeray).

The rest of the story for most part is about how the Shankar tries to gain the confidence of the villagers and convinces them about the power plant while Somji goes about ruining Nagre's dream. Until, that is, Shankar's pregnant wife is blown up by a car bomb just yards away from he was standing. This leads to Sarkar suffering a heart attack, (or as a medico, should I say acute myocardial infarction), Shankar's severing ties with Chander for failing to look into the breach of security and finally an abduction of Somji. There is again an attack on the "soch" or the ideology that the Nagre family preaches and they're left to defend themselves against mounting accusations.

Abhishek is absent for the last 15 minutes of the movie that focusses entirely on AB and Aishwarya. Sarkar is back in action here avenging the death of his closed ones and closing-in on the one person who killed the ones he loved. He finds his family drawn into a web of lies, betrayal, mistrust, estrangement, unrequited loyalty and most of all raw ruthless ambition. The last 10 minutes is a dialogue (rather more of a monologue) where Sarkar explains the ground reality of the precarious situation to a stunned and visibly shaken Anita Rajan.

So what did I think of the movie? Well for starters, Amitabh Bachhan is the weak link for most part until he comes into his own in the last part of the movie. But he excels even in this role. The vulnerability in his face cannot be missed and the myasthenia gravis affected drooping eyelids convey the suffering of a father missing his dead devious son. What is it about AB that makes him a better actor with every movie of his? I am not an AB Bhakt but I think he really shone in this role.

Abhishek left much to be desired. With an extra buccal pad of fat, he was hardly a patch on the earlier gaunt version of Shankar Nagre. Wooden expressions... he could have digressed from the stern frowning face to convey the seriousness of a Don living in continuous fear of assassination. But most of all, it was obvious that he has miles to go before he can achieve the stature that his father has achieved - he could hardly retain screen presence when sharing the frame with the older AB. Abhishek was far more impressive in the earlier Sarkar although he had a much better author-backed hard-hitting role in this movie.

Aishwarya seems to give her best shot when shooting with her marital family. However the catwalking was a lil difficult to stomach for the role of a cold blooded business tycoon. However the tycoon soon mellows to the ideology of the Sarkar and begins to view life differently after heart-to-heart discussions with Shankar. Her portrayal of the fragile Anita in the latter part of the movie was good especially her breakdown after Shankar gets shot, but I think the end depicting her as the new face of Sarkar didn't go down well with me - I thought it was hideous.

What I liked - the cinematography with muted shades and unique angles for the important scenes in the movie. (But even excess dependence on sepia tones was overdone). What kept me rivetted to the movie was the undercurrent theme of the nexus of geo-socio-politics, deceptive rural ignominy and individual upmanship that proved to be the undoing of all involved. I liked the fact that Sarkar himself was back in his throne dictating orders and discovering the gross betrayal of his trust. I liked the scene of Sarkar's final confrontation with Raosaheb and his anointing of the new successor to Shankar. (The scene preceding this was undoubtedly the most engrossing one in the whole reel)

Unfortunately for me, the film failed to keep me glued to its plot for the entire 2 and a half hours. I was shuffling in my seat (which was really comfortable) and looking around distractedly for most part of the movie until the final climax. The direction and story wavered in speed - where Sarkar was fast paced and racy, Sarkar Raj took too long to establish the roots of its plot. I probably would recommend a DVD viewing or a TV viewing. It's probably going to take a lil longer for RGV to rediscover his lost magic. I hope he finds it before he starts to film the purported third movie in the Sarkar trilogy. I will wait for it.

Footnote: For a more revealing post about the actual plot of the movie, you can read Abinav's post in his blog E-Talk. :)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Dotted bricks

"The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out; the brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. The brick walls are there to stop the people who don't want it badly enough. They are there to stop the other people!" - from The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, Professor of Computer Science, Human Computer Interaction and Design at Carnegic Mellon University on September 18, 2007.

"Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life." - Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Computer and of Pixar Animation Studios, delivered on June 12, 2005 while addressing graduating students of Stanford University.

"Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish." - From Steve Jobs' same speech but originally from
Stewart Brand's final issue of The Whole Earth Catalog.

Monday, June 16, 2008


I don't have a hero. There is no one person in the world who singularly inspires me to reach for greater heights. That probably pretty much rules out my already-remote chances of winning a beauty pageant. I respect Mother Teresa but not convincingly enough for the judges to crown me Miss Beauty with Brains.

I have heroes. Many of them. Some of them famous, some of them averse to fame, some of them just common people. I look for inspiration in those around me and in those who're around those around me. I find inspiration in mundane chores (like I realized about finding the right balance while cooking), polite small talk that sometimes ventures out of the fence of discussing the unpredictability of the weather, in the old woman who until recently came home everyday irrespective of scorching, biting cold or stormy weather for 21 years to keep our house clean, was a second hand to my mom and who I fondly call 'Bai' while looking up to her as my surrogate paternal grandmother.

An extremely capable, and agile
multi-tasker, my Bai (her real name is Laxmi) is the epitome of steadfastness or obstinacy depending on the way you look at it. She supports my mother blindly while looking disapprovingly at my father's rebukes of my mom (even if he is justified). It's a running joke in the family as to how she is my father's second mother-in-law when she reports his mischief to my mom and asks for the culprit rhetorically when my dad messes up with the grocery lists. Despite being dependent on her children, she has saved a lot of self-respect for herself - that makes her support her daugher-in-law against her wayward son and that alienates her from her close ones who try to reason out and criticize her for her own good. But I love her for her high self-esteem. Of very diminutive build, she walks with her head held high. Bai pampers me as if I were her own grandchild, she knows what I like and what I dislike more than my dad does - like knowing how much froth I like over my coffee and how I like my lunch plate to be.

Her husband left her for another woman, fathered children with her too and never really returned. But Bai (albeit never forgiving him) single handedly took family matters in her hand and supported her daughters and their families too. (It's a different story that it was usually my family supporting them, but she atleast had the courage and humility to ask for help without ever feeling inferior about it).

That's what she taught me - I realize this after so many years - to take help when you really need it and not feel small about it. I didn't use this lesson when I should have, but henceforth I will.

She has taught me what dignity of labour actually means.

Bai was my mother's right hand. Our house would run like clockwork when she was around and the days she didn't show up, it would be utter pandemonium in the mornings. I know in saying this, I speak for most of our pampered Indian households who're so used to the benefits of gross economic disparity. Looking back, I remember my mother often dreaded the day when Bai would retire. Bai was already a grandmother when she joined our household in 1986. Over the past few years, her own health was failing her. She gave up on many of her other jobs and stuck to our home eventually. But age has its own way of creeping up and enforcing rest. So repeated attacks of arthritides prompted mom to offer bai long-delayed VRS with assured monthly pension and other benefits. She was a great-grandmother when she retired.

We wondered how we would manage without her, though Bai had long arranged for her daughter and grand-daughter to take over; yet, it would never be the same as it was with her and it really isn't. The old has given way to the new.

And what did I learn - No one is indispensable. No one at all.

Kitchen Cuttings

Since last week, I've resumed my tryst with the culinary arts.

I am, have and will always be a food fanatic. A complete foodie at heart, I love all kinds of cuisines that dish out vegetarian plates and consume all my senses alike. My dad is a connoisseur of food, my mom is an excellent cook and my sister R - a combination of both and therefore my favorite chef. We have a 8 yr difference in our ages and she was pretty much a surrogate mom for me. (scolding me more than my mom ever did... but pampering me just as much :) ) I think R started experimenting in the kitchen after she finished school and entered junior college that gave her ample time to spend mastering the splendid and lifesaving art of cooking. Moreover, it was around this time that we experience a Cable TV invasion into our lives and on Sunday 12:00 noons we succumbed to the charms of the ever-smiling Sanjeev Kapoor. Scribbling notes in her book, my sister would pay close attention to his instructions and revise it with a recap of the recipe.

Undaunted by the levels of difficulty of his recipes, R set about to treat our taste buds to exotic and exotically-prepared simple dishes. Of course, when she decided to venture on her own, I was a ready guinea pig - Always! One of my all time favorites is the Masala Papad that she used to make - I remember being in awe of her just because of that dish which consists of garnishing fried papad with tomatoes, onions, red chilli powder, salt and a whole lot of coriander. Though now I realize that it is so simple to make, yet I relish the memories of her cooking even today.

So my point being, with R and my mom around treating me to yummy food all the time, I never really had to set foot into the kitchen. And to make things worse, medical school hardly gave me time to breathe. So till I was 24, I had never cooked - I don't consider making Maggi, coffee and toasting bread as cooking.

Finally when it was time to leave home, I realized that I couldn't survive without good food. So I donned my kitchen apron and entered the kitchen amidst much fanfare (with my mom and dad excitedly watching over my initial attempts). I think I first learnt to keep rice in the cooker, then make tea, make dal and finally bhindi (okra/lady's fingers) and beans (something that I am not to fond of, but since it was really simple it became one of my favorites). Spurred by the success stories, I decided to attempt more complex procedures like making "sheera" and a yummy rice dish called Baoli Handi.

But things happened over the last one year that broke my momentum in the cooking spree. So now, after exactly a year, I entered the kitchen again - this time with more enthusiasm and energy than before. I started with the seemingly ostentatious but absolutely simple "Baoli Handi". It's a Sanjeev Kapoor recipe that my mom recommended last year - combines rice, moong dal (split green gram), soya chunks and a whole lot of vegetables. It is extremely nutritious (when you cook rice with dal in the same dish - it completes the amino acid profile of the dal), spares the need for preparing a side-dish (can easily have it with simple plain dahi) and most of all makes for a sumptuous meal. Maybe the next time I make it, I'll post the recipe along with a picture of the dish (inspired by my sister).

Needless to say, the dish was a hit with everyone at home! Universal unanimous affirmative praise - including my patti (grandmom) who prefers sattvic food - without potatoes, onion and garlic. This was nearly sattvic - it did have lots of aloo (potato) in it.

Encouraged by this reaction, I decided to don the chef's invisible cap and took over the reins of my mother's kitchen. I've been cooking both meals for the last 4 days now and I can proudly say that I'm lovin it! I think I've discovered a new hobby in cooking. I love to cut and chop vegetables, I love the spluttering and crackling of mustard and jeera (cumin seeds), I love to sprinkle red chilli powder and yellow turmeric to give it rich colour, I love the aroma imparted by the addition of dhania-jeera powder and the tangy taste of aamchur powder and finally I absolutely love the green garnish of a sprig of coriander leaves.

I always resisted kitchen chores, especially the actual task of standing in the sauna-like kitchen and stirring the dal to completion. Subconsciously, I also think, I was scared of not living up to the high standards set my mom and sis. And peeking even deeper into the subconscious, I mistook 'refusing to cook' as a sign of female emancipation! (I know it sounds ridiculous, but I think I have to admit it - at the same time, I also feel that cooking is a science that both men and women should learn for their own good).

Today, I am grateful to myself that I decided to take the ladle and spoon in my hand and learn to create edible magic from a few raw foods. I honestly feel like a magician when I finish cooking and my dad comes with a bear hug and wishes wistfully that he could dress me up in diamonds. (Of course, my dad is known to exaggerate when it especially comes to his younger daughter; I single myself out because my sister is absolutely brilliant when it comes to serving us a meal fit for kings on a steel platter).

Cooking is not just about enabling us to survive. It indulges the senses, teaches us proportions and gives us an important life lesson - to learn to strike the right balance in life so that we can enjoy every morsel and every minute with equal relish.