A lost city

They told me that she was once beautiful,
Resplendent, magnificent and bountiful,
That you could look at the blue, white and yellow skies,
The green trees, and the sun shining through with your eyes.
But all I see now is the heavy air,
The trees, sad and bare,
And the thick grey mist,
Wrapped in the somber tryst.
As I try to imagine, amidst the gloom and woe,
How she looked a long time ago,
I paint over the greys in my dreams,
The yellows, reds and greens,
Wondering if I would ever see the world of which they tell,
A paradise lost, far away from the land we dwell.

#delhichoking

Why, a doctor ?

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I thought I wanted to be an engineer. Physics and Maths were my favourite subjects, and it seemed only natural that engineering would be a straightforward choice. My mother, a gynecologist, wanted me to become a doctor. She managed to convince me to take Biology as a subject in class 11, in case I changed my mind. For one year I prepared for engineering, till in class 12, I realized something was amiss. I could not imagine myself sitting behind a computer screen for hours at end. Oddly enough, I could see myself spending those hours in a surgeon’s clothes. And that, simply, is how I changed my tracks and got in to medicine. Not because I really thought about public service as a 17 year old, not really because I wanted to honour my mother’s wishes, but simply because I wanted to see myself, in a few years, as a surgeon.

Medicine was hard, arduous and frustrating, and there were times when we slept for only two or three hours a day at a stretch. But having the support of my parents, both in the medical field, and being a day scholar made those hard times easier to bear. I often wondered how some of my classmates whose parents weren’t doctors, many of whom came from outside Delhi and stayed in the hostel, managed to keep up with the stress. In fact, sometimes, I thought what made them take medicine in the first place, for I was sure that even though I didn’t admit it, one of the reasons, albeit subconscious, that I moved in to this field was because my mother was a doctor. And that I knew that she’d always have my back. And we’d grow old together treating patients.

A few months after I finished five and a half years of medicine, I lost my mother. To pneumonia. Not an accident, not a heart attack, not cancer or any other morbid illness. To pneumonia. One week of fever and a chest infection. And she was healthier than me, even at 52 years of her age. The team of treating doctors could not save another doctor from a pneumonia. I couldn’t save her. Even with the fanciest of treatments, my mom died of an infection that should have responded to antibiotics. That’s when the faith broke. I left medicine swearing to myself I would never come back again. I had lost my mom and without her beside me, it didn’t make sense. I spent a year and a half at home, convinced that I didn’t want to be a doctor. But, as luck would have it, it was those months at home that gradually made me realize that a doctor’s job was to diagnose and treat, to the best of his ability and with the best of his intentions. Not to play God. There is no foreseeable reason why a treatment does not work in a fraction of patients, even if it is the standard of care. No way to know why a particular disease would behave in an aggressive way in some and certainly no method to predict it. Some patients have an aggressive infection, some an aggressive tumor and some are resistant to standard treatments leaving little time, and sometimes little much even doctors can do. And with my years of medical training, I could realize that, slowly but surely. As a doctor, I knew that we had done everything possible to save her. That knowledge gave me my reassurance and my answers. Without it, I’d probably be blaming Medicine or my ill fortune all my life. And so, two years after my mother’s death, I came back to Medicine again. Took gynecology to fill in my mother’s shoes. And years later, oncology.

Even today, every intubated patient in ICU reminds me of my mother on the ventilator. As oncologists, we try to keep our emotions in check because, in spite of best of our efforts, we lose some patients – to aggressive disease, to stage IV cancers, to relapses. And many times when we break the bad news to the families, we go back to our rooms and swallow our tears. We may not be going home happy everyday, but we know in our hearts that we do the best we can, striving to give hope in every way possible. If we stand for ten hours in a surgery, it is not to satisfy our egos, but because if even the smallest of efforts can make a difference to a patient’s life, it is worth it. Helping terminal patients may seem hopeless, but if we can relieve their pain, provide a quality of life and help them live their last days without suffering, trust me, there is nothing more rewarding.

To all my fellow doctors, and especially to those who lost their loved ones along the way but didn’t lose faith, a very Happy Doctor’s Day. Let us continue our work, no matter what, no matter how.

A difficult woman

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Haven’t you heard about the difficult woman ?

That eccentric and finicky human,

The one you have to deal with at work,

Bossing around with a frown and a smirk,

For she has such quintessential traits,

And for you, reader, let me lay those straight.

 

If she is a team leader and seems exacting,

She is fussy and overreacting,

A crazy and hyper human,

She is, a difficult woman.

 

If she loses her temper at the job,

She is hot-blooded and a snob,

And she being a woman, it’s probably her raging hormones at work,

Menopause, PMS, or something to do with her cycles, that she is such a jerk,

A crazy and hyper human,

She is, a difficult woman.

 

If she strives for perfection,

And encourages others in the same direction,

She may think that she wanted to give it her best shot,

But she was over-demanding and impossible, is what we thought,

Oh dear, that crazy and hyper human,

How does she manage to be a difficult woman ?

 

If she does things in a systematic way,

And doesn’t take any short cuts come what may,

She is a pain in the butt exasperating,

And in no uncertain terms, irritating and frustrating.

If sloppiness at work she doesn’t permit,

And doesn’t take any lame excuses or bullshit,

She is the dirt of the ditch,

In the mildest of words, a nasty witch.

A crazy and hyper human,

She is, a difficult woman.

 

If she works long hours and expects dedication,

Diligence at work, and no procrastination,

“ No wonder she’s single !”, comes the cognition,

For her personal life, the most logical explanation.

If she seems impatient, and ‘loses it’, once in a while,

Furrows her brows, looks annoyed or drops the smile,

The reason is most definitely, a spousal strife,

And she is, without doubt, ‘frustrated’ in her personal life.

Oh that crazy and hyper human,

She is, most certainly, a difficult woman.

 

If she gives orders, she throws her weight,

If she questions an order, she is insubordinate.

Belligerent and argumentative, if she raises a concern,

Obstinate and headstrong, if she doesn’t back down in an argument and turn.

She is a crazy and hyper human,

Alas, a difficult woman !

 

If she tries to show her mettle, in a work ‘not meant for the ladies,’

Well, she is odd and peculiar, coz she should be making babies.

Dresses up and she has put on airs,

Dresses down and she needs repairs.

Oh that short fused, overreacting, stubborn human,

She is, such a difficult woman !

Teacher’s Day

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To the teachers who made their students think their own thoughts and ask their own questions.

To the teachers who made us ask Why and How ; and not just When and What.

To the teachers who taught the children how to be better human beings and not just excel and succeed.

To the teachers who turned the walls in slums into blackboards.

To the teachers who made the shade of a banyan tree into a school, in villages far away.

To the teachers who refused to give up on ‘weak’ students, and who took those hardest to teach, and polished them into gems.

To the teachers who taught the students to take failures as lessons and to never give up.

To the teachers who never stopped and never lost faith.

Happy Teacher’s Day !

You are not a Hindu

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Where are we going as Hindus ? Our festivals have turned into pompous shows of extravagance. Celebrations with families and neighborhood have been overthrown by the pandals and festival melas, all trying to outdo each other with outlandish decors and loud speeches and celebrities and politicos. The sounds of the bells and the gongs and the conches are drowned by the loudspeakers blaring bhajans to the tunes of Bollywood songs.  Diwali used to be a festival of lights, poojas, diyas and rangolis. Instead we are lured by the mindless pre Diwali sales, the artificial electric lights and the booming crackers. Holi has become synonymous with outrageous songs, rain dances, alcohol and leering. Come Janmasthami, and cash prizes are offered for the dahi handi with many govindas losing their lives, or worse paralyzing themselves, in a bid to outperform each other in the race to climb and claim the coveted prize. Raavan dahan of Dussehra turns into a tragedy for hundreds, as people are drowned in the frenzy while safety takes a backseat. The return of the kaawads becomes a political game with the parties across towns making their shivirs on the roads, blocking main ways and turning traffic into mayhem. And then we take all the moortis and the flowers and the prasad, wrapped in toxic paints and plastic, and dump them into the rivers and choke them.

Why have our festivities turned into circuses of blind faith and tomfoolery and jarring displays of feigned reverence? Does God pick out and award the best ?… the best decorated pandal, the most exorbitantly decorated idol, the best lit house, and the people that promote these antics. Does he reward these picked winners with his grace, and shower them exclusively with his blessings ? Is the surest way of making God listen to your prayers, is to sing songs in his honor over microphones and loudspeakers, and to make them loud and clear for every earthly being living within the ten mile radius ?

What are these religious revelers thinking, if they are, at all, thinking ? …

“ Well, hello, hello. Jai Siya Ram, Har Har Mahadev, Jai Shri Krishna and Jai Mata Di. What are these ridiculous questions ? How can you call yourself a Hindu ? You should be ashamed of yourself. We don’t build pandals, Devi maa gives us sandesh to do it. If it blocks a main street, so be it. Everybody has to make sacrifices.  What traffic are you talking about ? Isn’t there already so much traffic in the city ? One pandal here and there, and it sets the tongues rolling. Bloody heretics ! How can you tell us how to celebrate our festivals ? We will build huge Raavan effigies near railway tracks, and we will burn them to the ground. Come Diwali, we will burn a billion crackers, we will light bombs, and we will fly rockets till kingdom come. Jisko bura lagta hai lage. This is between our God and us. Why shouldn’t we make merry on Holi, and drink and smoke and dance and tease the mohalla girls ? Even Lord Shiva smokes ganja. And what about Lord Krishna’s gopikas ? You talk about the bhajans on loudspeakers. The songs we play are in honor of our Gods. They are loud so that everyone can hear how ardently we love them. Ye bhakton ka zamaana hai. Did you donate for the Navratri celebrations in your locality ? No ? No wonder the celebrations were so lackluster this year. Well, you Madam, are a disgrace and an atheist and you will rot in hell for that. And you are no longer a responsible citizen of this country. You are more concerned about the plants and animals and the environment, than you are about human beings. All this nonsense about Diwali crackers terrifying the animals and the smoke killing the plants. You ask us to care about them when even God doesn’t. If he did, he would have made them humans. You see, we humans are made in the image of God. And we please only him. Rest of the earth gayi tel lene. The rivers  ? What are you talking about ? Ganga Maiyya is self cleansing – the holy water washes away all the dirt and sins. Yamuna ? Doesn’t she drain into Ganga ? You environmentalists have a habit of poking your noses into everything. With the blessings of Bholenath and Mata Rani, our celebrations will continue. And the bhakts will rule the world.”

Life and death

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I lost my Mom today, fourteen years back. One of my favorite memories is of her taking early morning walks in Lodhi Garden, and forcing me to come along on the weekends. I would grudgingly agree on a Sunday morning, force myself out of the bed and trudge along. As she bounced along the tracks in the garden, I tried hard to keep up with her pace, puffing and panting, wondering how a middle aged lady could beat a college kid like me at walking. But when she cooled off in between, we had the most interesting talks on a myriad of topics – life at the hospital and life at college, markets and movies, sarees and jeans, surgeries and exams, patients and teachers, and everything in between.

Today after many years, I revisited our old haunt – to relive the old days, maybe to honor Mom’s memory in some way. As I rediscovered the place, I realized there was so much beauty in it… nature at its best, a wonderment. The splendid scenery, the smell of jasmines and the chirping of birds swirling around. Life in the thick foliage, the bamboos and the bougainvilleas and the birds and squirrels. Death in the enshrined tombs and the dead leaves. Life and death swirling together in a song. An old dead tree trunk overgrown with blooming creepers and flowers. A barren tree with the sun rising in its background. The living and the dead playing games and life prospering, in spite of all odds. Everything around a display of life’s full circle. A symbol of the joy in struggle. The reason in sorrow. The calm in storm. The light in dark. And the hope in tomorrow. Saying that no matter how much the pain today, someday, things will fall into place. And life will be okay.

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