The Book-List 14′

There are new year resolutions (the ones which never work out) and then there are new year book-lists (you know, those things you scribble out when it dawns on you that you haven’t touched a book in over 3 months). Call it the aftermath of a reality check courtesy the new year, a deep-down need to have a discussion that revolves around fiction (or any other genre) or simply a desperate attempt to update the blog. Here goes my list…

(Disclaimer: This isn’t one of those ‘what to look forward to in 2014, literally’ .)

1) Every Patient Tells a Story: Medical Mysteries and the Art of Diagnosis by Lisa Sanders

First, about the author. She worked as a journalist for 10 years( winning an Emmy for ‘Outstanding Coverage’)…and then decided to pursue Medicine(graduating from Yale when she was 41 !). She wrote a column for The New York Times which inspired, hold your breath, the popular sitcom House M.D (she was an adviser for the show)  . Do you still want to know why I want to read this one ?

2) The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran

Everyone has heard of Gibran. You’ve surely read one of his quotable quotes somewhere. What bugs me is that inspite of quoting the guy several times, I’ve never really read his work. I’m a little worried that my rather short attention span and impatient temperament will hold me back, but I’m going to give it a shot.

3) The Room on the Roof by Ruskin Bond

Did I mention that while on a family vacation to Mussorie I met Mr. Bond. And that I was so tongue-tied that I couldn’t say a word. And that I think of him as a Santa Claus of sorts,gifting me new stories to read and not just at Christmas. From ‘The Cherry Tree’ ( which we studied at some point in school) to his Omnibuses, when I read his stories, I get convinced that I must pack my bags and live in a seemingly nondescript town, somewhere where I could feel the Himalayan winds. Till that happens, I’ll have to make do with this book.

4) Little Women by Louisa Mary Alcott

I’m almost embarrassed to put this one on the list, to admit I haven’t read it yet. Recommended to me a few months ago by a friend, hopefully, this one will make it to the ‘has-been-read’ list soon.

5) ‘Surely you’re joking, Mr. Feynman !’: Adventures of a Curious Character by Richard            Feynman

When one of the brightest minds of the last century writes, not about his Nobel Prize or theoretical physics( you know, that thing Sheldon Cooper does) but on cracking safes and bongo drums (and the Manhattan Project), I know I have to read it. Period.

6) Blink by Malcolm Gladwell

Because there’s too much talk about the man and his books. Because its to do with intuition and those snap decisions we often thank ourselves for. Because I found it in a section titled ‘Psychology’. Because I started reading it last October…and then work took over.

What do you plan to read this year ? Or what did you read last year that you think I must read ?


The Ones who Mattered

So, it’s 5th September yet again, that time of the year when florists do brisk business and gift shops stack their counters with colourful greeting cards courtesy the entire country celebrating their teachers. A day when student who’ve been lucky enough to get good tutors thank their stars..and their teachers.

Teachers and teaching is a topic close to my heart. My mother tells me I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time as a child with a chalk and a slate (pati-khadu for the Marathi mandali) teaching my imaginary students( the unwitting and rather inanimate victims of my forced lessons being cards from a pack of playing cards and even more bizarrely, the mosaic tiles in my apartment).

A far more relevant reason may be being at the listener’s end of innumerable lectures and classes for several years (Beginning with school, it takes 21 years to earn an M.D in India, and I still have 3 years to go). In these years, I’ve come across lecturers who’ve sedated me with monotonous sermons, instructors who’ve slayed my self-belief….and then some others who have become my mentors, my gurus. So it makes sense that 18 years into that education, I look back on the lessons that have stayed with me and write a post on my teachers, the ones who mattered.

The teachers who probably had the most consistent impression on my psyche were the senior teachers I was lucky enough to learn from in higher secondary school. Dynamic ladies they were( and are). With their distinguished personas and razor-sharp attitudes they managed to convince a bunch of hyperactive adolescents to direct their interests to the giddy delights of languages, the cryptic riddles of mathematics and the fascinating world of the sciences. They appreciated it even more if you had a thing for fine arts or played a sport. Generations of students of SJC can vouch for the brilliance of Mrs. Martins, Mrs. Lorraine and Mrs. Andrade. These were the ladies who taught us to have strong minds and follow our hearts.

A special influence for me was the man who taught me Mathematics and Science for my  Boards. You could love him or hate him, it was difficult to ignore Hussain Sir. Using every trick in the book, he motivated his students to pursue excellence. He named Math problems( so there was a Ku Klux Klan problem and the Skeleton sum), used water sprinklers to wake the afternoon batches and made sure he knew every student as well as he’d know his own child. I could go on and on, but I’ll end this by saying that if it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t have studied medicine. By raising the bar of what a good teacher must be, he inspired me to keep to keep learning wherever I went.

It was some medical college professors I met in my early M.B.B.S days who turned me off and made me get disillusioned with the teaching fraternity as a whole. To set the record straight, these people were good at their subject. The flip side was they were even better at telling their my batch-mates and me that we were morons of the highest order (more often than not, there was no reason for this). They ranked attendance over content at lectures, read verbatim from power-point presentations during classes and lost no opportunity to throw around their seniority, their authority and often their rather loud voices. I had major issues with my self-worth in those days, and while I cannot blame anyone for these, these so-called-teachers with their h

Thank God for a few doctor-professors I interacted with in the latter half of medical college who made me change my mind. These were highly trained super specialists, some of the most coveted names in their fields with packed schedules. It was their time, humility, graciousness and enthusiasm which helped me find myself.  Ironically, these were the people from whom I learnt outside the four walls of a conventional classroom, long after lectures were over and done with.

These were the teachers who kept their doors, their ears and their hearts open. And welcomed their students inside. These were the teachers who respected their junior-most students, their peons and their patients. From their conduct, I learnt that being nice never goes out of fashion. Over eclectic conversations over cups of chai, I was taught to find my voice. And express my opinions. Never mind what the world thought.

. From my teachers I learnt that its okay to be lost and confused. Because as long as I kept looking, I would find myself and my passion. From my gurus I learnt to follow my heart. Irrespective of where it took me. My mentors taught me that its okay to not know the answers. And long as I knew how to find them. And as long as I eventually did find them. Watching them soar high in their lives was ironically a lesson in staying rooted.  In my out-of-the-classroom lessons, I think somewhere I was taught to love. Myself. And Pink Floyd. And life.

Somewhere, I think I’ve made my peace with the bad teachers. And their dogmatic methods. Probably because of the amazing teachers I was lucky to learn from. On this Teacher’s Day, I’d like to go back and thank these teachers. For their wonderful lessons. The ones which really mattered.



The Haunted House (Fiction)

I’ve been down that pathway a number of times in recent years. It’s on the outskirts of Bassein, a small town hugging the northern tip of Mumbai. As my steps sound on its mud-strewn surface, I catch sight of Shanti Kutir, a place I once called home. It lies desolate now, almost in ruins, but there’s something about it which pulls me back towards it, tugging at some abstruse corners of my soul.

I lived there for seventeen years of my life with my father and my younger brother, Soham. My mother, a beautiful woman, I’m told, died there after childbirth. My father, they say, went mad with grief at the loss of his beloved. Unable to cope with the loneliness, he spent most of his evenings drinking at home. I can’t say I had an unhappy childhood though. I spent my days talking with Soham in the backyard. I remember laughing a lot. Yet, sometimes, when the laughter stopped, I thought I could hear an echo in its wake, like a choked sob.

And I know that Soham could feel it too, I could see it in his eyes. Of course, he couldn’t tell me about it. You see, Soham was mute. As my mother bled precariously in childbirth, it seems Soham’s brain was deprived of blood and he was crippled as a result. Unable to talk or walk, my twelve-year-old brother was unable to attend school and needed the care that an infant requires. I’ve often wondered in later years if Soham would have told me about what haunted him if his mind hadn’t betrayed him….

Of course, none of this was palpable once the sunlight streamed in through the wood-paned windows at Shanti Kutir. My father told me that we light candles to eliminate the darkness. What he didn’t realise is that where there is light, there are shadows. And unlike the darkness which you can flee, the shadows follow you…

Going to school and later college made me feel guilty as I’d leave Soham in that wretched house. So I’d come home and tell him about everything that happened in school. I wonder if he understood what I said. But I’m glad I did. If I hadn’t, I’d never have noticed the blood.

It wasn’t a lot, you know, just a speck or two. On the seat of his wheelchair, trailing off. As if someone had carelessly tried to wash it off. I didn’t get it. I asked Soham about it…he only grunted in reply.He never answered my questions.

I’d probably have forgotten about it if it hadn’t been for that Sunday when the bai took leave. The bai’s leave meant that I had to wash all the clothes. And there they were again, those crimson drops, this time staining the seat of Soham’s trousers. This time, there was no doubt. And in that moment I felt a surge, whether it was fear or rage or resolve, I don’t know…but I knew I would go to any end to protect my little brother from the horror that seemed to be upon him.

And I tried. I dismissed the bai, hid in dark corners when I was supposed to be in college,  questioned Soham…in vain. I tried discussing it with my father who dismissed me, muttering about my imagination. And so, answers eluded me.

It’s been a long while since these events. A year after they happened, my father went missing. Our tiny galli was flooded by the media- ‘Man disappears leaving behind two orphans’ cried the newspapers. Soham and me lived on social support till I could take up a small job.

Today, I live with my wife and Soham. I no longer live at Shanti Kutir. I may sell it some day. Or maybe I never will. But I’ll never live there again. That house, the shadows in it’s candle-lit hallways haunt me. As does the colour red. But I keep going down the path leading to it. Something pulls me back.

I sometimes think of my father.There was no sign of him after he disappeared that Monday. He had come home early from work that day, unknown to anyone. I was supposed to be in college, but had run home early to check on Soham as had become my habit. It was from behind the door that I saw what I did.

They say there was no trace of my father after that day. There wouldn’t be. You see, it was deep in the backyard soil that I buried him.

(This story popped into my mind when I clicked on the WordPress Inspire me feature. I was shown the picture of a haunted house and asked to tell its story.For me what haunts a house isn’t ghosts or ghouls, but the monsters of our minds and memories. Loud bangs and flashes startle us, but they don’t live on in our minds like shadows. I’m not sure if the explanation is necessary but hence the title.)

Going off Facebook

Sometime last June, I deactivated my Facebook account, a big deal for a person like me, who logs in about twice to thrice every single day. The reasons were many-fold and I won’t get into them here. In the six months that I wasn’t on ‘the social network’, I thought (and secretly hoped) I’d be missed. So you can imagine how hurt my ego was when I realised that my ‘friends’ were unaware about my absence…till I updated that I was back.

Anyway, for those who haven’t tried it, here’s what happens in the days..and months(if you get there!) after you deactivate your account:

  • You relapse.                                                                                                                           You can claim that you’re not addicted or that you’re an occasional visitor. Or you can be the worst kind, who claims you hate the gossip quotient even though you secretly stalk everyone’s accounts. Whichever group you belong to, deactivating your account isn’t the simple click it seems like. Try doing it, not for a day or a week, but maybe a month or more. For the self-development types, its a good will-power strengthener. Anyway, I relapsed. Not once or twice, but probably 10-15 times. Till FB changed their policy and asked me to make up my mind. And out I was.                                                                                                                                                                                                 
  • Your phone rings.                                                                                                                    I don’t know what deactivating an account on a social network is a symptom of, but in the weeks after i shut down my account, people called, most with just one question-was I okay? Those who ‘poked’ and ‘inboxed’ me called to say hi. The insecure types( yes, a lot of medical students are that) messaged saying ‘OMG!! Ur studyin sooooo hard’. The creepy kinds (you know, the people who keep visiting your account, never posting anything or ‘liking’ anything, but just keeping a tab on your activities) never bothered with any of these… but I’m willing to bet that they kept typing out my name at regular intervals to see if they could spy on me again.
  • You learn that ignorance is bliss.                                                                                                 What I love the most about FB is the way it keeps me connected to people- old friends, distant relatives I want to get to know better, colleagues who have moved abroad…Ironically,not being in touch, not knowing who went to which restaurant and with whom, how someone thought Kareena Kapoor looked when she became a Khan, who got engaged, how many steps the baby took…not being informed of peoples’ daily lives and escapades is what felt the best when I wasn’t on FB.
  • Everyone discusses FB with you.                                                                                                The less you want to talk about it,the more people want to discuss it with you. Why did you shut down your account, can you actually stay off it, should I shut down my account too,are you ever going to come back ? An oddball with whom I didn’t want to discuss why I’m on or off FB asked me if I was being harassed by anyone and affirmed that he would ‘protect’ me if needed ! Another friend told me ‘Facebook can never affect me. I just look and laugh’ (one of those times when you want say-that’s what mirrors are for). And so, whether I was on it on not,Mr. Zuckerberg’s brain child made sure I was never short of interesting conversation.
  • You miss updating things.                                                                                                                            If you’re the creative types( I like to think of myself as one of those) when it comes to status updates or you like sharing a quote that inspired you or a joke which made your day, you miss updating your status. Ever so often, you read something or think of something which would probably sound great in 140 characters…and you have nowhere to update it. That’s when you think of twitter.
  • You learn who your ‘sympathetic’ friends are.                                                                             There’s always one of these. Someone who shares his or her username and password so that even you can get updated about the ever changing(or should I say ever deteriorating?) exam system. Invariably,this is a person who has a very different(and very boring) friend list. Perfect maintenance therapy (you know, the therapy they give you so that you don’t get addicted again).
  • You come back.                                                                                                                     This one is a bit of an anti-climax. But unless Facebook really affected you in a near lethal manner of some sort, I think this is the eventual end point for most people. Whatever be the reason you left, 8 times out of 10, you will come back. I did. For the friends I had and wanted to be connected to, for the friends I have and the ones I will make, for my daily dose of voyeurism(not the ‘peeping tom’ kind), to share my thoughts, my pictures…a slice of my life with the people who make up my world…or maybe just to see how long I could stand it this time.

Boy Friends

[ Disclaimer: If you’re here to read about whom I’m dating or if i really broke up with XYZ, you’re wasting your time. That isn’t what this is about. This post is about the guys I befriended who stayed just that -my friends. ]

Many of the friends I’ve made, especially during and after my college years, have been those born with a Y chromosome (you know, that chromosome which makes people moustached and macho(?) ). Maybe it boils down to the fact that I grew up with an elder brother, three male cousins and two boy-buddies, playing G.I.Joe and Lego. Or maybe it’s because sometimes (only sometimes), they’re awesome.

Now, I’m not into gender stereotyping and I’m definitely against gender discrimination. But there are these peculiarities which pop up when I look back at these friendships…

Take issues of weight, for instance. I’ve never heard a guy say ‘I’ve become sooo fat’. It’s not like they don’t put on weight or fail to notice it. They just don’t seem to find it that big a deal. They generally call their love handles three-pack-abs and binge happily saying ‘maintain karna padta hai yaar‘ (That’s ‘buddy,we need to maintain these’ in Hindi). Or they just burn them off in the gym or over a game of football.

The differences aren’t restricted to love-handles, they handle love differently too. Everyone knows that it’s generally the guy who makes the first move when it comes to matters of the heart. A unique thing I noticed in medical college was that girls would deny the same relationship that the guy they were involved with accepted. A common reason for the denial was ‘it’s too private’ though that never came in the way of  PDA’s (public displays of affection) or storming out after hissed arguments from the library.

There are things you appreciate about men only after spending a little time with them. For instance,they claim they don’t gossip.That’s wrong. They do. More than women. Silently and shrewdly. Though not as vehemently.

What men don’t do generally is bitch (they lack the mental faculty to understand the difference between gossiping and bitching). I’m still to hear to a guy say ‘Did you see the outfit so-and-so was wearing ? It was sooo trashy!’

There’s another thing that you begin to appreciate when you interact with guys. It’s called ‘their side of the story’. And its amazing how, very often, it makes more sense than our side of the story. No melodrama. No mind-reading (‘can’t you imagine what i must be feeling ?’). No pleading in a baby-voice.

With guy friends, I’ve always felt comfortable being myself. It never mattered if I was wearing the right earrings or matching footwear. They generally never notice. Unless it’s fantastically right or terribly wrong…or they are dating you or really want to .

Of course, hanging out with guys has its own side effects. There’s a lot of speculation..whether you’re dating X, or if you are indeed dating Y, are you two-timing or simply demonstrating a loose character by having a long chat with Z ? Unfair, but not unexpected. We live in a world where Harry (Billy Crystal) tells Sally(Meg Ryan) that a man and woman cannot be friends because sex always gets in the way. I don’t blame Crystal though, what could his cocky character say, with Meg Ryan in the passenger seat ? I deal with the back-biting by remembering what the bff told me ‘Either you sit idle and talk, or you go, follow your heart and accept that you will be talked about.’

When I look back over the years, I can see that they’ve made a difference -these friends and these friendships. They’re unconventional yet wonderful, filled with laughter, love and a definite amount of lunacy. This post is for them, those boys or guys or men, who walked into my life and stayed on as my friends.

[ If you’re a girl / woman, I’d love to hear your experiences with men-friends, good, bad or ugly. And what you thought of my post. Because, I may have given some space to the guys here, but I’m always on your side first.

If you’re a guy, I’d love to know if you agree with me. If you can, disagree with me and tell me why. Even better, write a post on your female friends and how they make a difference to your life. And don’t forget to tag me in it.]

How it began…

I could write well. Or so I was told. Not that I was ever going to. What a lot of effort writing is, thinking of an appealing topic, penning down a rough draft, editing it, wondering if anyone would ever read it, let alone like it…no, it was a task and I wasn’t going to be bothered with it. It didn’t matter that I sometimes missed the rush that accompanies a vague idea materializing into a delightful piece of prose. Or that I’d preserved a handful of essays I’d written, because I’d enjoyed writing and later, reading them. Writing never figured in any of my plans…till my bff (best friend forever) figured out I was good at it.

My bff, he-who-shall-not-be-named, lets call him TMR. A persistently annoying creature who can make a living of ribbing and ragging(the friendly kind). No prizes for guessing his favorite subject. It was my fault,of course. I wrote him a couple of notes(which have been duly preserved by him). That set off a hurricane of prodding and pricking and poking. I was glad when TMR began to forget about it. Except for one hitch…TMR’s pestering had caused adverse effects, a blog was now on my mind.

Before I go on, I must specify. I can be horribly neurotic. I blame it on my Zodiac sign. We Virgos are worrying, critical perfectionists-we torture others and ourselves (true story !). Add oodles of insecurity and you have me. So here’s what I did after I thought of blogging-I thought (to blog or not to blog, wordpress vs blogspot, where does tumblr figure, will i be able to maintain it…), researched, spoke to people, thought some more, freaked out…and months elapsed. What changed things was a rare episode of insomnia, an attempt to write, a panic attack, and a 3 a.m call to TMR. What followed was some explosive activity of TMR’s vocal cords (with pendulous jerking of his uvula,cartoon-style) telling me what a waste of talent I was (veiled praise or euphemistic insult?), what a big talker and thinker I was though I did nothing, how I was hopeless and how stupid I was to disturb his beauty(?) sleep. Then the line went dead.

That’s when I began writing this blog. I’d love to say that it happened on a perfect day, when the sun shone a little more brightly, over a steaming cup of coffee et cetera. But it didn’t.

My blog began with a bruised ego and a 3 a.m call. After overcoming, what now seems like an anxiety crisis. With sleepy eyes that I struggled to keep open, knowing that if I stopped then, I’d never be able to make myself write again. It began with a little self-belief, some courage and a dream…that I’d write something that not just a critical me but even you, my reader would like to read again.

If you’ve had the courage and the patience to read this, thank you. Do leave your comments behind, if any.