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.