Sunday, December 25, 2011

Christmas wishes!

Here's wishing all of you a blessed Christmas and a very happy New Year ahead from Amy and I. May the joy of the season become real and personal to all of us as we celebrate the birth of the Christ-child in this world and in our hearts

Monday, December 12, 2011

CMC Ludhiana Senior Choir

CMC had its Christmas programme yesterday and today. Here is one of the songs that the senior choir  performed (as seen and heard through a little camcorder). We also had a 60-strong (and phenomenal) junior choir comprising of students from all the colleges and a Christmas play. Videos of those later perhaps. It was great to welcome the Christmas season with this enjoyable evening. The lady with the golden voice is Dr. Preeti Paul and her husband Dr. Vineeth Jaison is on the rap.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Let Calcutta surprise you

Whatever its faults, Kokatta is surely the capital of serious art and culture of our country (I'm sure no-one in their sane mind is likely to refer to regular Bollywood fare as 'serious art'!!). This video exemplifies that. In honour of my friends, DA and PJ with thanks to my uncle, Phillip for the link.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Bhopal Gas Tragedy or Celebrity Gossip - which is the real bakwas?

Today, while I was having lunch in the operation theatre canteen, I had a minor epiphany - though that is rather a strong word for what was actually just a minor realisation. The television was turned to a news channel which was talking about some renewed protests by the survivors of the Bhopal gas tragedy. I was not paying much attention at all, when one of the other diners suddenly asked the gentleman who brings the food from the dietary department to change the channel using these very words - Isko abhi change karo. Yeh kya bakwas hai. (Change this immediately. What nonsense is this.) So the channel was changed to one of the usual entertainment channels which was talking about some B-town celebrities, their food, customs, parties and so on. It surprised me to realise that most of the people in the canteen (including yours truly) now turned their attention to the television where not one had evinced even the slightest interest before. And here came the epiphany. That we prefer to ignore the real world and its issues calling them bakwas (nonsense), while taking great interest in other things which are actually the real bakwas......

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Beginners Guide to Choir Singing

We started our Christmas choir practice today and as I was searching for some songs, I came across this interesting little piece. It's quite funny and pretty much nearly all true! So here is the beginners guide to SATB singing. (HT:Comedycorner)

In any chorus, there are four voice parts: soprano, alto, tenor, and bass. Sometimes these are divided into first and second within each part, prompting endless jokes about first and second basses. There are also various other parts such as baritone, countertenor, contralto, mezzo soprano, etc., but these are mostly used by people who are either soloists, or belong to some excessively hotshot classical a cappella group (this applies especially to countertenors), or are trying to make excuses for not really fitting into any of the regular voice parts, so we will ignore them for now.

Each voice part sings in a different range, and each one has a very different personality. You may ask, "Why should singing different notes make people act differently?", and indeed this is a mysterious question and has not been adequately studied, especially since scientists who study musicians tend to be musicians themselves and have all the peculiar complexes that go with being tenors, french horn players, timpanists, or whatever. However, this is beside the point; the fact remains that the four voice parts can be easily distinguished, and I will now explain how.

THE SOPRANOS are the ones who sing the highest, and because of this they think they rule the world. They have longer hair, fancier jewelry, and swishier skirts than anyone else, and they consider themselves insulted if they are not allowed to go at least to a high F in every movement of any given piece. When they reach the high notes, they hold them for at least half again as long as the composer and/or conductor requires, and then complain that their throats are killing them and that the composer and conductor are sadists. Sopranos have varied attitudes toward the other sections of the chorus, though they consider all of them inferior. Altos are to sopranos rather like second violins to first violins - nice to harmonize with, but not really necessary. All sopranos have a secret feeling that the altos could drop out and the piece would sound essentially the same, and they don't understand why anybody would sing in that range in the first place - it's so boring. Tenors, on the other hand, can be very nice to have around; besides their flirtation possibilities (it is a well-known fact that sopranos never flirt with basses), sopranos like to sing duets with tenors because all the tenors are doing is working very hard to sing in a low-to-medium soprano range, while the sopranos are up there in the stratosphere showing off. To sopranos, basses are the scum of the earth - they sing too damn loud, are useless to tune to because they're down in that low, low range - and there has to be something wrong with anyone who sings in the F clef, anyway.

THE ALTOS are the salt of the earth - in their opinion, at least. Altos are unassuming people, who would wear jeans to concerts if they were allowed to. Altos are in a unique position in the chorus in that they are unable to complain about having to sing either very high or very low, and they know that all the other sections think their parts are pitifully easy. But the altos know otherwise. They know that while the sopranos are screeching away on a high A, they are being forced to sing elaborate passages full of sharps and flats and tricks of rhythm, and nobody is noticing because the sopranos are singing too loud (and the basses usually are too). Altos get a deep, secret pleasure out of conspiring together to tune the sopranos flat. Altos have an innate distrust of tenors, because the tenors sing in almost the same range and think they sound better. They like the basses, and enjoy singing duets with them - the basses just sound like a rumble anyway, and it's the only time the altos can really be heard. Altos' other complaint is that there are always too many of them and so they never get to sing really loud.

THE TENORS are spoiled. That's all there is to it. For one thing, there are never enough of them, and choir directors would rather sell their souls than let a halfway decent tenor quit, while they're always ready to unload a few altos at half price. And then, for some reason, the few tenors there are are always really good - it's one of those annoying facts of life.. So it's no wonder that tenors always get swollen heads - after all, who else can make sopranos swoon? The one thing that can make tenors insecure is the accusation (usually by the basses) that anyone singing that high couldn't possibly be a real man.. In their usual perverse fashion, the tenors never acknowledge this, but just complain louder about the composer being a sadist and making them sing so damn high. Tenors have a love-hate relationship with the conductor, too, because the conductor is always telling them to sing louder because there are so few of them. No conductor in recorded history has ever asked for less tenor in a forte passage. Tenors feel threatened in some way by all the other sections - the sopranos because they can hit those incredibly high notes; the altos because they have no trouble singing the notes the tenors kill themselves for; and the basses because, although they can't sing anything above an E, they sing it loud enough to drown the tenors out. Of course, the tenors would rather die than admit any of this. It is a little-known fact that tenors move their eyebrows more than anyone else while singing.

THE BASSES sing the lowest of anybody. This basically explains everything. They are stolid, dependable people, and have more facial hair than anybody else. The basses feel perpetually unappreciated, but they have a deep conviction that they are actually the most important part (a view endorsed by musicologists, but certainly not by sopranos or tenors), despite the fact that they have the most boring part of anybody and often sing the same note (or in endless fifths) for an entire page. They compensate for this by singing as loudly as they can get away with - most basses are tuba players at heart. Basses are the only section that can regularly complain about how low their part is, and they make horrible faces when trying to hit very low notes. Basses are charitable people, but their charity does not extend so far as tenors, whom they consider effete poseurs. Basses hate tuning the tenors more than almost anything else. Basses like altos - except when they have duets and the altos get the good part. As for the sopranos, they are simply in an alternate universe which the basses don't understand at all. They can't imagine why anybody would ever want to sing that high and sound that bad when they make mistakes. When a bass makes a mistake, the other three parts will cover him, and he can continue on his merry way, knowing that sometime, somehow, he will end up at the root of the chord.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Writers block!

Thought I'd put this up, though there have been other reasons for my absence as well! Will be back soon!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Rat Attack

In spite of our travails with the AC guys and the difficulty of packing all the stuff from our three-storied house in Shillong into a single room here in Ludhiana, we settled in surprisingly easily to our new lodgings. In fact, I was quite enjoying the cosiness of our room as well as the fact that everything was so easily accessible. In Shillong, while we really loved our big house that gave us a feeling of royalty, it also meant that many things were unused for long periods. You see, it was pretty cold out there in the mountains and once we got home, the tendency was to get under the covers as soon as possible. And once under them, we were loath to get out into the cold again. So it happened that most of the essentials of life would be arranger around the bed allowing easy access. Things like my keyboard, the music system, the beanbag and so on were in the 'living room', which became the least entered room of the house! So now, with everything arranged quite innovatively by my dear wife in our single room, we have the joy of listening to beautiful worship music in the mornings, plonking down on the beanbag after a long day's work and other pleasures that we had forgotten in our mansion in Shillong. But, I digress!!

As I was saying, we had settled in well into our cosy dwelling and all was well with the world. Until the peace of our existence was unexpectedly shattered one evening about a week ago. I had just settled down into my usual position in bed with a good book and Amy was in her usual position - fast asleep beside me, when I noticed some movement of the door of one of our wall cupboards. I looked up just in time to see a long tail disappearing at the top of the door into the cupboard. Not allowing the shock to disconcert me, with lightening speed (I think!) I jumped out of the bed, closed the door and locked it on the beast. With the door between us and the monster I gathered my wits (what were left of them) about me. Now we had heard many stories of the local rat infestation, but as with all calamities, one never thinks it is going to happen to one, does one?! The book forgotten, I roused Amy, and we held a council of war to discuss the defense of our dwelling. In our excited state, many schemes and plans were suggested, some full of promise and others as wild as the wind, but I will not bore you with all the gory details. Suffice to say that the workings of our minds were seriously hindered by the terror that lingered behind that silent door!

Our ruminations may have continued indefinitely, especially since neither of us was keen to open the door and face the menace that waited behind it. But just as we were considering leaving things as they were and calling in brighter and more experienced minds to deal with the crisis in the morning, we realised that at that very moment, the creature was in the cupboard amidst our clothes. And every moment that we delayed meant further contamination and possible damage to some of the essential items of our few earthly possessions! So we decided on a plan that, in retrospect, does not at all show our IQs up in good light, although at the time, it appeared both sensible as well as workable. It was a simple one - Amy would open the door and begin to pull out the clothes. I would stand by with a shoe and when the rat dared to show its dastardly face, I would smite it a blow that would send it into the blessed regions of Rattus futurity. Straighforward..... Or so we thought.....

Well, you can guess how it worked out. Amy, standing on tiptoe for some reason, gingerly opened the cupboard and then retired post-hast to the bed to witness further proceedings from an area of safety. Standing at the door with the shoe raised and peering into the cupboard, I did not realise for some time that my partner in crime had deserted me to my fate. When, however, I did realise it, I decided against continuing the assault without adequate back-up and closed the cupboard again (post-haste!) to joined my recalcitrant mate on the bed and remonstrate with her for her betrayal. After much discussion and further refinement of the plan, we decided to try again. This time, I positioned myself so as to block the path of her retreat to the bed. And then, we opened the door again.

There was no movement as we peered inside and so Amy began to empty the cupboard of the clothes, while I stood by with the shoe raised. And suddenly, all hell broke loose. Unfortunately, words take so much time to be written and read, when the events they describe all took place simultaneously and in a flash. First the rat (which we now saw was actually a mouse) made a flying leap from the middle shelf of the cupboard and landed right between the two of us. Before the rat had left the cupboard however, the air (that was already pregnant with tension), was pierced by a bloodcurdling scream that emanated from the deepest recesses of the lungs of my beloved mate. The suddenness of this event was so shocking that it was like time stood still for a moment. If it was possible, it even appeared that the rat was suspended in mid-air as the sound vibrated through every bone of its body.

With all that was happening, it would have been perfectly understandable if I had been unable to fulfil my end of the bargain. The bravest man in the world would have been forgiven for fainting in such circumstances. But fortunately, I am made of sterner stuff. I had retained possession of all my faculties in the midst of all this confusion and even before the rat (or rather, the mouse) had landed, I had calculated the precise point at which my shoe should strike his head. With lightening speed, I brought my shoe down and managed to get not one, but two solid blows in.

Alas, my split second calculation had failed to factor in the change in the velocity of the rat (or as I should now say, the mouse) due to the force applied by the shock waves emanating from Amy's scream. And so, though the two blows were solid ones that would have sent the thickest-skulled rodent into his heavenly abode, I did not succeed in this objective. All I managed to do was land two of the finest on Amy's toes, which somehow had positioned themselves exactly at the point the rat (which as I said, was actually a mouse) was supposed to land on. And while they did no damage to the rat (which as you now know, was really a mouse), the blows did succeed in turning off the scream before it did any material damage to the glassware in our room and to my eardrum. As for the rat (which I must remember to call a mouse), it happily escaped into the dark recesses under our bed which, being filled with boxes and suitcases that had nowhere else to go in our small room, provided enough and more place to hide. As for the two of us, well the less said about that, the better!

(To be continued when time and creative juices permit)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Enough with the India-bashing!

Over the last few weeks there has been an increase of anti-India messages on Facebook. Links have been posted talking about corruption, poverty and so on and there have been many voices saying what a terrible place this is, what a terrible state our polity is in, what a terrible fate we Indians have to face given the terrible corruption that plagues us, what a terrible thing that Bhagat Singh/Mahatma Gandhi died - or else he would have made this country great and how wonderful that some people managed to escape this terrible place to greener pastures elsewhere.

Well, all I have to say is that India is what we Indians make it. Over the last 5 years I have travelled to 80% of the states in this country. In every place I have visited people who are making this country a better place to live in by their work and service. I too am wont to complain about the situation in this country at different times. But in my heart I know that if this country has to change, it has to begin with me. So while I will continue to point out the flaws in the complicated fabric of this nations existence, I know that the answer is always at hand - change must begin with me. Unless I am ready to do something about the situation, it is rather childish to keep complaining about it. Although complaining is a pathognomonic middle class trait, we often forget that we are the biggest culprits keeping this country from progressing. Which of us has not paid a bribe? How many of us have voted in an election? How many of us have gone through the proper channels to get some official work done? How many of us would pay our taxes regularly if they were not deducted at source? How many of us would be ready to defraud the government and our fellow men in any way possible, if the money went into our pocket?

While I understand that many people have had terrible experiences in this country, I know that these things happen under different guises everywhere else as well. And while I know there is much that needs changing, I also realise that there is so much to celebrate and cheer about. And I am a little tired of hearing my country bad-mouthed by its own citizens and (ex-citizens) when the reality of the situation is that people from all over the world are realising that the third-largest economy in the world (yes, India is expected to overtake Japan late this year or early next) is a great place to be! Whatever the difficulties, among the nations of the world, Mera Bharat is truly Mahaan. I for one, am just loving it here.....

P.S. This became a rant - apologies!! And there was no-one particular in mind when I wrote this - just something I noticed over the last few weeks - probably a fallout of Anna fever.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Should women be doctors?

book club
I read an interesting article recently written by a doctor in the US which asks this question. While it is quite clear in my mind that the roles we assign people based on gender are generally relics of a bygone era when humans were still experimenting with fire and tools, she does raise some pertinent questions. Some of them are issues Amy and I have discussed already and are still wondering about. Where does one draw the line between work and family. And not just for women. Men too have important roles to play at home. Being a doctor hardly reduces the responsibility. I hope it at least improves the family's resilience! What do you think?

Here is an article which responds to this question from a slightly different light and talks about the book where Dr. Karen Sibert, the doctor in question, has written a chapter.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

A prayer for the earthquake victims

The death toll continues to rise from the 6.2 magnitude earthquake that struck the North East on 18th September. The epicentre was in Sikkim and more than 60 lives have been lost there with more than 100 injured. There have been deaths reported from Bihar, Bengal, Bangladesh, Nepal and Tibet as well. Our prayers are with the wounded as well as those who have lost loved ones and possessions. That could have been me.......

Monday, September 19, 2011

A doctor's pain

About 2 months ago, Mr. Kamal came to our emergency department. He was a young man of 23 and had been a regular consumer of alcohol for about 5 years. He came with acute severe pancreatitis, which as most doctors know can be a killer. He had not passed urine for 2 days at home and his abdomen was distended like a balloon. We admitted him and began the supportive management that is all we have for this condition. He seemed to be improving for the first 2 weeks with his renal function improving and his distension gradually coming down. Then he began to worsen and we found on a CT scan that he had the dreaded complication of pancreatitis - pancreatic necrosis. He was taken to the operation theatre and the necrotic tissue was removed along with the placement of drains in the pancreatic bed to remove whatever further necrosis occurred. And now, 2 months down the line, Kamal has nearly reached the end of the road. His organs which were holding up till now are slowly shutting down. It will take a miracle for him to live for more than 2 or 3 days.

My thoughts have returned to Kamal and his family many times today. It is terrible to see a man in the prime of his life deteriorate from a healthy 90 odd kilos to mere skin and bone in a matter of weeks. To watch helplessly as a disease that is impervious to all the medicines that we can throw at it, ravage his body to the point of death. But I have seen this many times. And what makes it all the more difficult to swallow is what it does to the family. Kamal's older cousin is the one taking care of him. He has sold all his land and all the gold of the family to come up with the huge amount of money that it has taken to keep Kamal alive all this time. The month and a half in the ICU, the hugely expensive medicines and the long term ventilation have often come up to more than 30-40,000 Rupees every day. All the times I have talked to the family, they have been very clear that they would go all out - whatever the result. And now that it looks as if the end is near, I feel terrible every time I meet them. I no longer have any hope to share with them.

The other day, Kamal's cousin was in the room with him describing to the doctors the struggles the family was going through. Kamal can no longer speak as there is a tube in his trachea helping him to breathe and as the cousin told of all they had sold to keep the money flowing in, we forgot for a moment that Kamal could hear him. When we looked at him a few minutes later, there were tears streaming down his face. There were tears in our eyes too.

The tragedy of the situation is two-fold. Kamal's deterioration and impending death is one thing. But what makes it so much worse is the devastation his illness has had on his family. They have sold their land and gold, taken huge loans at astronomical interest rates and will take many years to recover from this blow. It is a story that medical professionals throughout the world (except in the very few welfare states) are familiar with. And though it happens many times, it never makes the pain easier to bear. Medical care should be life-giving and not life-spoiling. The Hippocratic principle - first do no harm, should apply even to the family - who are often the worst harmed by any illness. The inhumanity of our medical costs, driven by greedy medical professionals and unscrupulous corporations is something that has often troubled me. And every time I see someone like Kamal, I am reminded again of the painful irony we face every day - where saving a life often means despoiling a family.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Congratulations Mr. Modi

The iconic picture by Arko Datta of Mr. Qutubuddin Ansari begging the mob for mercy.

The Supreme Court of India has just passed a ruling asking a trial court to hear a petition against Mr. Narendra Modi in the Gulbarg massacre case. For those unfamiliar with the story (though there must be very few of that kind left), I will quickly recap the major details. On 27th February, 2002, a mob of Muslim extremists allegedly set fire to the Sabarmati Express train at Godhra. In retaliation, mobs of Hindu extremists ran amuck throughout the state of Gujarat killing around 2000 people (the official toll is of course, much lower - around 1000). One of the mobs attacked the Gulbarg society housing complex and during this attack, a former MP Mr. Ehsaan Jafri was killed. His widow had filed a petition asking for an enquiry into the role of Mr. Modi in the riot and pleading that the case be tried outside Gujarat. The second part of the petition has been denied and that is why Mr. Modi and his supporters are celebrating. They feel they have won a major victory and on hearing the news, Mr. Modi tweeted 'God is great.'

Now the actual role Mr. Modi played in the riots may never be discovered. Many believe that Mr. Modi was the brain behind the riots and the driving force that allowed them to happen on such a large scale. They say that it only by using government and party machinery could so many people have been mobilised in such an organised manner and in such a short time. Others believe that while Mr. Modi did not have a direct hand in the killings, he allowed them to take place by instructing the police and paramilitary forces to hold back from aggressively stopping the riots. In fact, one of the top cops of Gujarat during that time, who was involved in all the discussions and actions has been suspended because he accused him of complicity in the riots. (His open letter to Mr. Modi is a must-read.) Of course, there are those who will vehemently shout about his innocence, but their vehemence itself seems to lend credence to the accusations that even if he was not the instigator, he certainly is not completely blameless in this regard. After all, which sensible human being can logically explain such a huge, organised breakdown in law and order without at least the tacit approval and encouragement of the powers that be. In this day and age, it is well nigh impossible.

Be that as it may, the decision of the Supreme Court today is yet another reminder to us that the truth is not always the winner in this world. Mrs. Sushma Swaraj, a BJP leader, had the audacity to congratulate Mr. Modi using the words 'Satya meva jayate' (truth alone triumphs). It is quite obvious that when it comes to politicians and court cases, that is hardly ever the case! And even though the truth is staring all of us in the face, crooked lawyers and corrupt judges will find ways to twist the whitest of truths into a grey area that will nearly always leave some loophole for the culprits to escape. It is very rare indeed that truth does triumph in the murky world of human legalism.

Mr. Modi, going from the evidence we have, it appears that you and your supporters have perpetrated one of the greatest crimes independent India has witnessed and are more than likely to go scot-free. In fact, you are such a shrewd administrator that some day soon, the reins of our whole country may be handed to you. But I do believe that satya meva jayate. The crimes you are accused of committing may remain unpunished. But I can assure you that at the end of your life, that they will come back to haunt you. No man who has taken leave of his conscience can die peacefully. And if you do believe that God is great, and you have done the things you are accused of, then you have something to be worried about. For a great God is unlikely to be fooled by the web of lies that you have tried to weave around the truth of your misdeeds. And He is to be feared much more than the bars of a prison or an assassins bullet. So congratulations, Mr. Modi. You appear to have won a minor victory in the fight to prove your innocence. And if indeed you are innocent, then all the best to you. But if not, then have a care. Things may not always go so well. For Satya Meva Jayate.....

Thursday, September 15, 2011

A little tweak or two!

Every now and again, the tweakeroo bug bites me and I begin to fidget with the settings of the blog. Fortunately, thanks to the pace of my life, this happens quite rarely, and usually when the creative juices are not flowing! So today, I spent a good half hour or so fiddling with the title. I had often thought of putting up a picture with the title, but only managed it now. Thanks Andi for the inspiration! The picture of the two of us looking into the horizon was taken by my mother on a trip to Mahabalipuram, a seaside tourist town in Tamil Nadu. I rather like it for the air of mysticism I think it gives us!! (Of course, the reality is rather different!!). So after much struggle with Paint (yes, I still use that outdated software!!), I managed to come up with a passable result. Amy is on night duty in the ICU, so I don't have my usual feedback mechanism. But I thought I would put it up anyway - so the floor (viz. comments) is open - do let me know what you think!

P.S. Any comments and suggestions on any other issues regarding the blog, its format, content and so on are also welcome.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Reading together

One of the best things of my childhood years was our family tradition of reading together. Many evenings were spent listening to my father or mother read from some classic and every family trip was accompanied by the sound of my mother tirelessly reading while my dad drove. (In those days car stereos were as yet unheard of!). Very often I would be unable to stand the suspense of waiting till the next evening and would sneak some time with the book when no-one was watching to get ahead of the story! Of course, I then would have to wait impatiently till the rest of the family caught up!!

I recently came across a post about another family who is doing this and realised I could recognise nearly every single one of the books mentioned, as one we had heard as children. The author says: A few days ago we began a journey through another book and I began to reminisce on all the places we’ve been and all the things we’ve seen in the years we’ve been doing this. We’ve traveled this world and others, and we’ve journeyed through the ages............ And I know there are more, more stories and more characters and more times and places, some that I’ve forgotten and some that we started and decided were not quite right or were not quite yet. Best of all, we’ve been able to do all of this together as a family, without ever leaving our living room.

I hope this is a tradition we can continue and I highly recommend it. Those times are some of my most cherished memories as the beauty of literature was brought alive to our young minds and hearts.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Email from the Queen

My mother posted this on our family blog and I thought I would repost it as a respite from some of the stuff that has been on here recently. Enjoy! (And  no offence to all my American friends!! After all, my views on royalty have some areas of resonance with your founding fathers!!)

To the citizens of the United States of America from Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

In light of your immediate failure to financially manage yourselves and also in recent years your tendency to elect incompetent Presidents of the USA and therefore not able to govern yourselves, we hereby give notice of the revocation of your independence, effective immediately. (You should look up 'revocation' in the Oxford English Dictionary.)

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths, and territories (except Kansas, which she does not fancy).

Your new Prime Minister, David Cameron, will appoint a Governor for America without the need for further elections.

Congress and the Senate will be disbanded. A questionnaire may be circulated sometime next year to determine whether any of you noticed.

To aid in the transition to a British Crown dependency, the following rules are introduced with immediate effect:

1. The letter 'U' will be reinstated in words such as 'colour,' 'favour,' 'labour' and 'neighbour.' Likewise, you will learn to spell 'doughnut' without skipping half the letters, and the suffix '-ize' will be replaced by the suffix '-ise.' Generally, you will be expected to raise your vocabulary to acceptable levels. (look up 'vocabulary').
2. Using the same twenty-seven words interspersed with filler noises such as ''like' and 'you know' is an unacceptable and inefficient form of communication. There is no such thing as U.S. English. We will let Microsoft know on your behalf. The Microsoft spell-checker will be adjusted to take into account the reinstated letter 'u'' and the elimination of '-ize.'
3. July 4th will no longer be celebrated as a holiday.
4. You will learn to resolve personal issues without using guns, lawyers, or therapists. The fact that you need so many lawyers and therapists shows that you're not quite ready to be independent. Guns should only be used for shooting grouse. If you can't sort things out without suing someone or speaking to a therapist, then you're not ready to shoot grouse.
5. Therefore, you will no longer be allowed to own or carry anything more dangerous than a vegetable peeler.  Although a permit will be required if you wish to carry a vegetable peeler in public.
6. All intersections will be replaced with roundabouts, and you will start driving on the left side with immediate effect. At the same time, you will go metric with immediate effect and without the benefit of conversion tables.   Both roundabouts and metrication will help you understand the British sense of humour.
7. The former USA will adopt UK prices on petrol (which you have been calling gasoline) of roughly $10/US gallon. Get used to it.
8. You will learn to make real chips. Those things you call French fries are not real chips, and those things you insist on calling potato chips are properly called crisps. Real chips are thick cut, fried in animal fat, and dressed not with catsup but with vinegar.
9. The cold, tasteless stuff you insist on calling beer is not actually beer at all. Henceforth, only proper British Bitter will be referred to as beer, and European brews of known and accepted provenance will be referred to as Lager. New Zealand beer is also acceptable, as New Zealand is pound for pound the greatest sporting nation on earth and it can only be due to the beer. They are also part of the British Commonwealth - see what it did for them. American brands will be referred to as Near-Frozen Gnat's Urine, so that all can be sold without risk of further confusion.
10. Hollywood will be required occasionally to cast English actors as good guys. Hollywood will also be required to cast English actors to play English characters. Watching Andie Macdowell attempt English dialogue in Four Weddings and a Funeral was an experience akin to having one's ears removed with a cheese grater.
11. You will cease playing American football. There are only two kinds of proper football; one you call soccer, and rugby (dominated by the New Zealanders). Those of you brave enough will, in time, be allowed to play rugby (which has some similarities to American football, but does not involve stopping for a rest every twenty seconds or wearing full kevlar body armour like a bunch of nancies).
12. Further, you will stop playing baseball. It is not reasonable to host an event called the World Series for a game which is not played outside of America. Since only 2.1% of you are aware there is a world beyond your borders, your error is understandable. You will learn cricket, and we will let you face the Australians (World dominators) first to take the sting out of their deliveries.
13. You must tell us who killed JFK. It's been driving us mad.
14. An internal revenue agent (i.e. tax collector) from Her Majesty's Government will be with you shortly to ensure the acquisition of all monies due (backdated to 1776).
15. Daily Tea Time begins promptly at 4 p.m. with proper cups, with saucers, and never mugs, with high quality biscuits (cookies) and cakes; plus strawberries (with cream) when in season.

God Save the Queen!

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

No Reserve, No Retreat, No Regrets - the story of William Whiting Borden

Ever since I completed my surgical training, the big question before me has always been, what I should be doing and where. And I guess most of my colleagues are in the same boat now as we approach the most productive years of our professional lives. On the one hand there is a lot of peer pressure to train some more (remember I have been training for 9 years already with 3 degrees!). On the other is the restive feeling in my soul that causes me to wonder if my life is heading in some direction or I am merely meandering along as the tides may flow. Of course, there is always the bulwark of my faith that comforts me in times of doubt and questioning, but my human nature constantly goads me into thinking about the future and wondering what is in store. The choices that are before me are many and all of them appear good and acceptable. So how does one choose between all these attractive and good options. I recently came across the story of William Whiting Borden and gained much inspiration and direction from the story of his life and what he had to say about it.

William Borden was born into luxury, the heir to the Borden family fortune. When he graduated from high school in 1904, his graduation present from his parents was a trip around the world. It changed his life. Unlike most tourists of that time and now, he did not merely take in the beautiful sights and wonders that cities of the world showpiece. He also saw the suffering and hurt that was omnipresent wherever he went. He came back to America convinced that he had been called to try and help alleviate some of that suffering by serving people who were not as privileged as he was. His family and friends thought this was a ridiculous idea and tried to convince him that he should not waste his life 'throwing himself away as a missionary'. But his mind was made up. He had put his hand to the plow and would hold nothing back. He wrote a will leaving his fortune to the China Inland Mission. And on the back page of his Bible he wrote two words - No Reserves.

He entered Yale and began to transform college life from his first semester. He organised a prayer group that grew from 2 students to 1300. He founded the Yale Hope Mission to rescue drunks from the streets and rehabilitate them. He provided care for widows, orphans and the disabled. He served as the president of the Phi Beta Kappa honour society. When he graduated from college, he was offered many high paying jobs, all of which he rejected. Then his father asked him to join the family business. When he told his father that he wanted rather to do graduate work in theology and then move out to some area of need in another country, his father told him he would never work in his company again. He went back home and wrote two more words at the back of his Bible - No Retreat.

After graduate work at Princeton, he sailed for China. Since he knew there would be many Muslims where he was planning to work, he decided to stop over in Egypt and learn Arabic. There he contracted spinal meningitis and died.  The story was featured in many American newspapers and everyone was asking if his untimely death was a waste. Borden didn't think so. Prior to his death Borden had written two more words in his Bible - No Regrets.....

His biographer, Mary Taylor, wrote in her introduction, 'Borden not only gave (away) his wealth, but himself, in a way so joyous and natural that it (seemed) a privilege rather than a sacrifice'.

I hope I will keep these phrases in mind as I make my choices - No Reserves, No Retreat, No Regrets.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A reality check

This story that I came across on a friend's blog recently really got me thinking......... 

Back to School with Pauline Priorities
Mitali Perkins

My Type-A husband and I were both nerds in high school. In addition to getting good grades, the pages of our respective yearbooks feature dorky, 1970s versions of ourselves trying a wide range of activities ranging from the magic club (him) to tennis (me). 

We went on to attend one of those universities full of other Type-A folk, and as a result, most of our lifelong friends fit into the "high-achieving" category. "Yes, yes, that stuff's not important," we'd tell each other in Bible Study as the Apostle Paul denounced his secular resume in his letter to the Philippians: 'But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him'. "Paul's right, he's right, it's all rubbish compared to knowing Jesus," we said earnestly. But did we really believe it? 

Then God, in His wonderful grace, saw fit to make us parents of a pair of identical, introverted, extreme type-B-ish twins. When the boys finished sixth grade, they brought home their yearbook and we began flipping through it together. Oh, no, I thought. There's no sign of them ANYWHERE. It's like they were INVISIBLE all year. Aren't they feeling lousy about themselves? I glanced at their faces. No, they were cheerfully pointing out photos of friends trying and excelling at sports, theater, music, writing, honor society, chess. Meanwhile, I was feeling worse and worse. They would never know the ease of being a "shining star" in school, winning kudos from peers and teachers alike. Life isn't fair, I thought glumly. 

That's when we got to the very last page of the yearboook. Pictured there was one of the friends the boys had known for years - Brian Reddy. In the third grade, Brian had been diagnosed with leukemia. He'd fought it valiantly and hopefully, even when he had to come to school in a wheelchair. But by the time sixth grade started, Brian simply didn't have the strength to make it into school. He was so frail that all but essential visits were forbidden. A school aide brought his homework to him, and when the holidays rolled around, she asked what he wanted for Christmas. "I want to see my buddies," Brian said. "I think I can make that happen," she said. "Which ones?" Without hesitation, Brian named our boys. "Anyone else?" the aide asked. "Nope," he said. "Just them." The boys spent a wonderful day at the Reddy's place, eating pizza and watching a tape of Brian's beloved Red Sox play ball. It was good that they saw him when they did. Brian died three weeks later; his family, the school, and the community mourned; our boys were brokenhearted. 

Now it was June, six months later, and here was a picture of Brian smiling joyfully up at us. "Look, Mom," one of my sons said quietly, pointing to the bottom of the page. There, underneath Brian's photo, our sons had been asked to write paragraphs of tribute describing their buddy, his cheerfulness, his love of baseball, his sense of humour. And that's when the truth finally sunk into my type-A brain. Our so-called "underachieving" sons had managed to secure the most Pauline-esque title in the whole yearbook. They would go down in history as "Brian's Good Friends," and what could be a greater honor than that?

Monday, August 29, 2011

Lessons from the life of Kevin Carter

Photograph by Kevin Carter 1994
Fifteen years ago, this picture won the Pulitzer Prize for feature photography. The pathos of the scene remains a poignant reminder to all of us well-fed and comfortable people that the world many other people live in is a completely different place from ours. Taken by world-renowned photographer, Kevin Carter, in 1993, during the civil war in famine-stricken Sudan, it clearly tells the story of the terrible deprivation that men, women and children are faced with in different parts of our world. Mr. Carter, a free-lance photographer, who had flown in with a UN team to the rebel area, was waiting while the team distributed the food packages they had brought with them before moving on to their ultimate destination. He saw the child waiting a little distance from the distribution area, probably left there by the parents while they went to collect the food. As he was watching the child crawl towards the crowd, he noticed the vulture alight nearby. He said he waited about 20 minutes for the vulture to spread its wings, but finally shooed it away. Unfortunately, he could wait no longer and leaving the girl where she was, he continued onwards with the team. 

Mr. Carter will be long remembered for this heart-wrenching image. He had the world of journalism at his feet when he collected his Pulitzer. But merely 2 months later, he was dead at age 33. He had committed suicide by running the smoke from his exhaust back into his car. The world was shocked that a man who had so much before him had opted out of life in this manner. It is said that the grief of the many sordid scenes he had photographed, from the famines and civil wars of Africa to the apartheid repression of his native South Africa, as well as the death of a dear photo-journalist friend while on assignment, had been too much for him to bear. Kevin Carter, the man whose picture shocked the world and has continued to do so for 15 years, feeling that he did not and could not do anything, chose to end it all.

Nothing much has changed today. Poverty, famine, homelessness, disease. These and many other scourges are part of the daily life of many citizens of our world. I just need to walk out on the road with my eyes open, to see the little boy ferreting in the dustbin, the lady with a child at the traffic signal, begging for money from people who do not even bother (or are too ashamed) to look at her face, the elderly cycle-rickshaw driver, who is not really fit to even walk, let alone transport people on his rickshaw, but knows that the money he brings in every day is what keeps 4 people alive, the many, many people for whom the medical care I provide is far too expensive to ever avail of, the hundreds and thousands who die because doctors are unwilling to treat them. I can chose to opt out of my responsibility to these people and to my world. There are many excuses that pop into my mind before I even start thinking about them. But therein lies the danger. I may not take the extreme step like Kevin Carter. But I am doing the same thing that he did, in my own way. By choosing to hide behind my excuses. And my life will be the poorer for it.....

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Why I am not at Ramlila Maidan with Anna Hazare

Anna Hazare as pictured 2 days ago (a week into the 'fast')

I was in Delhi recently after Anna Hazare's latest round of fasting began. There was a charged feeling in the air with young people in Nehru caps, headbands and armbands congregating in corners on the streets and in the Delhi Metro and shouting slogans. I seriously considered going to Ramlila Maidan, the ground where Anna is fasting against corruption. He is protesting the bill the government has proposed to set up an ombudsman organisation to monitor and deter corruption. He feels the bill is not strong enough and has put forward his own version - the Jan Lokpal bill. (Those of you who would like a little more info on the issue can check here. A video on the issue is here). On a side note, I am not very sure of what this 'fast' means since apparently, liquids are allowed. I know patients who go on happily for many months on a purely liquid diet..... But I digress. (Update: I have since clarified that he has been taking only water and no calories)

As some of the long-term readers of this blog will be aware, corruption is an issue I return to often. (You can read some of those posts by clicking here). So when I witnessed all the activity and excitement, you can be sure that my pulse too began to race, as I saw first-hand the mass-movement that was being awakened against the demon of corruption that rules over our lives with such an iron hand. But time and circumstance prevented me from going to Ramlila myself to witness first-hand the 'revolution' that had begun. But as I returned to Ludhiana in the comfort of the Shatabdi express, I did not really feel too bad that I did not make it after all. And here is why.

I was interested to see that the vast majority of the protesters whom I saw were obviously from a middle or upper-middle class background. Since I come from this background myself, I can speak freely about the contradictions that are our birthright without really being judgemental. You see, we are the ones who keep corruption running in society. I recently travelled in the second AC compartment of a train where I was the only one of 4 passengers who had obtained my ticket legally. All the other three had paid from 1000 to 3000 Rupees extra for the berth! In the general compartment the going rate is 300-1000. It's the same thing everywhere - the ration card office, the public distribution system, the passport office, the land office, the birth and registry office. Everywhere you go, things get done faster if a little money is slipped under the table. And the culprits are you and me. The middle class. Who cannot be bothered to wait for the due course of events to roll out. Who want everything now. We would all be ready to stand up and rant against corruption from any and every platform. But when it comes to our own lives and the things that affect us and our family, we quietly pay up and try to forget about it. I only wish every one of the people gathered there at Ramlila would take an oath never to pay a bribe again. Then we would actually have made some headway against corruption. But as long as there is a burgeoning middle class, for whom time is often more precious than a few thousand rupees, corruption is likely to remain part of our everyday lives, however many people decide to fast against it. And the losers are not the middle-class youth who are raising their voices at Ramlila and who will probably bribe their way to a berth in the train on the way back home. The real losers are the 830 million people in our country living on Rs.20 a day or less. The people for whom every little sop that the government provides comes at a huge price in the form of a bribe. 

Of course, the big fish like Raja, Kalmadi, the Anbanis and others are involved in the huge rackets. But those scams don't really affect the common man except that there is less money in the exchequer to plan more paper schemes that are unlikely to reach him anyway. Corruption in India has its slimy tentacles in every area of life in our country thanks to you and me. So that is why I am not too disappointed that I did not make it to Ramlila. For I would only have joined many other hypocritical people who feel very strongly against corruption but cannot take a stand against it in our personal lives. I hope Anna Hazare and his team succeed in bringing in concrete safeguard measures. I hope our government which seems to be working really hard to make every wrong move possible, begins to address the issues that the country is facing with some resolve and passion. I hope the individuals who make up the government and the bureaucracy will supernaturally become aware of their responsibilities and turn from their wicked ways. I hope that all the people there at Ramlila and throughout the country who are raising their voices in support of Anna will make this protest more practical in their own lives when they are faced with corruption. And most of all, I pray that if the occasion comes where I or my family are caught in this web, I will be given the grace and strength to make the right choice....  

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Pregnancy reduction

I recently read a New York Times article on the whole subject of 'Pregnancy Reduction'. In layman's terms, it means that a woman with multiple pregnancies can chose to terminate some of her future children when they are growing in her uterus. While keeping one or more of the others alive.....

The practice began as a spin-off of in-vitro fertilisation. There are many, many couples who have been blessed with wonderful children thanks to this modern scientific advancement and I am sure it will be a blessing to many more. Yet, it is a little known fact that in many centres, embryos that are not implanted in the uterus are disposed off or used to produce embryonic stem cells. Also, in most cases, more than 4 or 5 embryos are placed in the uterus in order to increase the chance of a successful implantation. This sometimes leads to multiple pregnancies which could theoretically increase the risk for the mother. Hence, pregnancy reduction was introduced as a means of reducing the risk of an already precious pregnancy.

But just as abortion now happens mainly for social reasons, the same situation has occurred with pregnancy reduction. As the age of pregnancy slowly goes up, with women conceiving well into their 40s and even early 50s, these women don’t want to be in their 60s worrying about two tempestuous teenagers or two college-tuition bills. Many of the women were in second marriages, and while they wanted to create a child with their new spouse, they did not want two, especially if they had children from a previous marriage. Others had deferred child rearing for careers or education, or were single women tired of waiting for the right partner. Whatever the particulars, these patients concluded that they lacked the resources to deal with the chaos, stereophonic screaming and exhaustion of raising twins. 

And so, even women with twin pregnancies, which most doctors agree, carry negligible increased risk, are now reducing their pregnancies to singletons not for medical reasons anymore, but for social reasons. And while in the past it was not acceptable to reduce a pregnancy from a twin to a singleton, now it is becoming more and more common. As on of the pioneers of the procedure succinctly put it “Ethics evolve with technology.” Another doctor traced the evolution of the procedure of Pregnancy reduction. “It didn’t start with people who conceived twins and said, ‘I only want one’; it ended up with that.”

It is difficult and possibly even dangerous to be dogmatic and legalistic on issues like this. But I think it is sensible to think about these things and make up our own minds about where we stand. And as I think of pregnancy reduction, the one question that comes to my mind is this - Would I be able to look at my child and not wonder about the little brother or sister that was terminated in utero? I think that would be difficult......

Monday, August 15, 2011

Happy Independence Day!

Have been reading a number of editorials, blogs and status updates today about the state of our nation. Well, somehow I refused to be discouraged. Like I have said before, there is much to celebrate. Much to be grateful for. And much to look forward to. I only hope there will be enough good men and women who will step up in their own small way to selflessly make a difference. And I hope and pray I will be one of them....

This video has been waiting to be posted for a long time. Jai Hind!

Lest we forget

I just wanted to share a few facts that I was beginning to forget in the relatively comfortable academic setting of Ludhiana. These have been gleaned mainly from data published by the UN, World Bank and WHO.
  • 30,000 people die of hunger or hunger-related causes every day. About 16,000 children die of starvation each day. That's one child every 5 seconds.
  • More than 1 billion people live on less than $1 a day and more than 2 billion live on less than $2 a day.
  • According to the U.N., the majority of people in poverty are women, who globally earn roughly half as much as men.
  • Food prices have risen 83 percent since 2005, disproportionately affecting those in poverty who spend a higher percentage of their income on food.
  • Approximately 9.2 million children under the age of 5 die each year, mostly from preventable diseases. That's approximately 25,000 children each day.
  • 2.5 billion people around the world do not have access to adequate sanitation and about 885 million people do not have access to clean water.
  • Every day, 4100 children die each day from severe diarrhea - as a result of poor sanitation and hygiene.
  • Women in developing countries travel an average of almost four miles each day to collect water.
  • People living in the poorest slums can pay as much as ten times more for water than those in high-income areas of their own cities.
  • In 2005, a conservative estimate stated that 72 million children around the world of elementary school age were not enrolled in school a figure equivalent to the entire primary school-aged population in Europe and North America.
  • There are about 13 million orphans worldwide
  • Nearly 11,500 people die every day from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. Nearly two-thirds of these people are living in sub-Saharan Africa.
In the past hour
  • 1625 children were forced to live on the streets
  • 115 children became prostitutes
  • 257 children were orphaned because of HIV/AIDS
And to conclude - the richest 20 percent of the world's population receives 75 percent of the world's income, while the poorest 40 percent receive only 5 percent of the world's income. Basically there seems to be a lot of unshared wealth around..... Something to think about......

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

MacDs anyone?

One of the first things I realised about life in Ludhiana, is that food is a very important part of it!! Having spent the greater part of my life in the hinterlands of Vellore, where a dark, dingy and diarrhoeagenic restaurant called Chinatown was the be-all and end-all of haute cuisine, and then spending time in the beautiful climes of Shillong, where our ultimate dining experience was a hastily rustled up Sausage Maggi Fry, it has been a welcome surprise to find that every kind of food is available here, although of course, at a price. Since we are still reeling from the financial implications of shifting a whole house over 3000 kms, we have refrained from the high-wining and dining that is possible given the wide scope of choices available. But once a week for the last 3 weeks, we make a pilgrimage to the nearest McDonalds (weep all you country bumpkins, there is more than one of them here!!), or MacDs as it is called in this neck of the woods where we sample the sinful delights that make a beeline from our mouth to our arteries! Its actually strange how a thin piece of fried meat between two pieces of bread and surrounded by a few (often stale) bits of lettuce can have spawned one of the biggest food industries of the world. It's even more strange how millions of people pay 5 or 6 times the cost of the ingredients just to sample the whole package. But there you have it - that's modern life!! And when you walk out with your Coke in your hand, there are always a few children who run up to you and ask you for a little money. That's modern life too. Where some of us are so blessed that we can enjoy many things that are totally out of the question for others....

I suspect I will have a lot more to say in the future about the food in Ludhiana (fear not, Aman Chicken fans!), but for now I raise my hat to Ronald McDonald and his team - they do bring a smile to my face!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

One year of blogging

A year has passed since I first entered the blogosphere. Well, more than a year, in fact. My first post was in March of last year, but there were only 6 posts till the end of July, which was when I started blogging more regularly. It has been a great experience and one I would highly recommend! The last 3 months have seen huge upheaval, what with the shifting and the adjustment to the new place and all, and I nearly decided that the blog had run its course and it was time to quit. In fact, I had quite a nice farewell post planned out! But then a few things happened which have made me rethink that decision. You may still see the farewell post up sometime but as for now, mental well-being and time permitting, this blog is still open for business! So here is a recap of the year.

For nearly two years I had regularly been following the family blogs of two of my friends - Andi Eicher and Pradeep Ninan. Thanks to Pradeep's links, I had found a number of interesting Christian (and a few secular) blogs on the net which I regularly accessed via Google Reader. But I never really considered starting up one of my own, thinking I would never find the time or ideas required to keep it going. Then one day, there was a hailstorm in Shillong and I really wanted to share the beautiful sights that I saw (once it was over) with my family. And on an impulse, this blog began! I was doing a lot of travelling at that time, visiting medical colleges and different remote hospitals in the North East and hence I did not really get enough internet time to keep it going. But once I had started it, I felt obliged to continue, for some (probably egotistical!) reason and barring times of extreme mental stress, kept churning out the posts - more than 200 of them at last count! A few were decent, some were passable, many were just random thoughts with little, if any value, but the exercise was a great blessing to me in many ways.

The best thing about the year has been the clarity that writing has brought to my own thoughts. Many things I had a very hazy idea about, especially about my faith, became more clear as I put down my thoughts on paper. And even better was the heated discussions I had with some of my friends about these ideas. The questions you asked me forced me to think more deeply than I had done before to reason out my faith with fear and trembling. Thank you for feeling free to discuss these things with me and I look forward to more of these discussions in the future. Special mention here of The Black Mamba and 2 other Anonymous friends.

And a word of thanks to all of you who read regularly. Some of you visit nearly every day and have been doing so for the whole year. Inspite of my frequent, long absences, you continue to keep faith in me! With 20-30 of you checking in every day even now after more than a month without a post, I knew I had to continue. Apologies, but many thanks too! Special thanks to my 35 encouragers. It means a lot to me that you have agreed to join me on the journey. Also to the many friends who have commented both here and on facebook. And the friends I have made on the blogosphere especially Scatterbrain, NRIgirl and Irfaan.

Before this degenerates into a corny thank you speech, let me wind up! Before I go, I must mention my dear wife, whose encouragement has kept this blog going all this time. Inspite of the many rude awakenings I have given her, she still loves me unconditionally - that is the greatest blessing of my life.

So here goes Part 2 of the blogging experiement - the Ludhiana Diaries. May God bless us all and use us in His service.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Are you planning your retirement?

This advertisement gives an age-old message. One that is often hard to hear in the noise of the world we live in! (HT: Challies)