Tuesday, December 28, 2010

When you're not looking

It's incredible how in the most fleeting of moments, one realises that tectonic shifts have occurred in one's world. And I didnt even feel any tremors.

A shy cousin has metamorphosed near-swanlike into a confident young woman, and yesterday, while I got all emo and misty-eyed, she swept me up into a big hug moments after her wedding. I swear it was as if a mental projector had started to superimpose her elegant sari-clad avatar over onto the girl with blue braces in matching blue pinafore who jumped up and down on a mattress in the hall while Ricky Martin counted numbers in Spanish before she sagely explained to me that her excitement was becoz he was the best singer in the world. And as Phil Collins' A Groovy Kinda Love played yesterday as she danced with her new husband, I realised her musical tastes had improved somewhat over the last decade.

It's like a magic trick someone's pulled on me. The magician seems to have swapped everyone with different people when I wasn't looking. When did the kakas and mavshis of our childhood become grandparents to adorably diligent babies and babas that ask me repeatedly where I've hidden all the chocolate? How did the boy who tugged at my pigtails become the charming young man holding the car door open for me as I struggled with my own sari?

When did we grow up?

* * *

I was looking out at the bleakness of a smoky winter evening yesterday with my nose pressed against the cold glass of the car window, as the car neared the toll naka and I cud see rows and rows of cars of all manner and model lined up ahead of us, the red tail lights unblinking. And I had a fleeting but unshakable impression of a hundred pairs of eyes staring back at me and then, it was gone. And I cudnt place it. The crystal clear moment was hijacked by the not-too-distant memory of that moment.

I dont remember what I felt. Just that I felt something inordinately fascinating. Diabolical, almost. But I cant seem to bring it back. Do you understand what I mean?

Time passes too quickly for me sometimes. Even the smallest instants run away from me, impossibly fast to catch.

Monday, December 27, 2010

A very poetic to and fro

Since this comes right on the heels of my previous post which had snatches of poetry, I wud have preferred to space it more. But I think it's particularly marvellous since the first poem I wanted to post here, is one I'd read about in The Garden of Rama by Arthur C. Clarke. The first stanza from this poem I'd scribbled onto my now-deceased scrapbook. It had the quite wistful idea of not having enuff time in this world to make love last long. It has a man admonishing his lover for being too 'coy'. Now that isn't a particularly appealing idea in itself but the poem that results is quite lovely.

To His Coy Mistress

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime
We would sit down and think which way
To walk and pass our long love's day.
Thou by the Indian Ganges' side
Shouldst rubies find: I by the tide
Of Humber would complain. I would
Love you ten years before the Flood,
And you should, if you please, refuse
Till the conversion of the Jews.
My vegetable love should grow
Vaster than empires, and more slow;
An hundred years should go to praise
Thine eyes and on thy forehead gaze;
Two hundred to adore each breast,
But thirty thousand to the rest;
An age at least to every part,
And the last age should show your heart.
For, Lady, you deserve this state,
Nor would I love at lower rate.

But at my back I always hear
Time's wing├Ęd chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.
Thy beauty shall no more be found,
Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound
My echoing song: then worms shall try
That long preserved virginity,
And your quaint honour turn to dust,
And into ashes all my lust:
The grave's a fine and private place,
But none, I think, do there embrace.

Now therefore, while the youthful hue
Sits on thy skin like morning dew,
And while thy willing soul transpires
At every pore with instant fires,
Now let us sport us while we may,
And now, like amorous birds of prey,
Rather at once our time devour
Than languish in his slow-chapt power.
Let us roll all our strength and all
Our sweetness up into one ball,
And tear our pleasures with rough strife
Through the iron gates of life:
Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.

- Andrew Marvell

But remarkably, this poem isn't the point of this post. I was listening to this poem read by SV, one of my favourite channels on youtube when I found that he'd posted a reply to this poem.

Now this reply was by another poet, A. D. Hope. I had never heard of him before. And I found he was this amazing satirical Australian poet who published a poem called "From His Mistress to Mr. Marvell" in a book charmingly called The Book of Answers. What I found most intriguing about this awesome poet I'd never heard of, was that, according to his wikipedia page, he was a polymath and largely self-taught.

This particular poem gives a sharp voice to Mr. Marvell's coy mistress, and its feminist slant is unmistakable. And since I loved the idea of a poetic repartee, especially one so cleverly written, I'm putting it here.

His Coy Mistress to Mr. Marvell

Since you have world enough and time
Sir, to admonish me in rhyme,
Pray Mr Marvell, can it be
You think to have persuaded me?
Then let me say: you want the art
To woo, much less to win my heart.
The verse was splendid, all admit,
And, sir, you have a pretty wit.
All that indeed your poem lacked
Was logic, modesty, and tact,
Slight faults and ones to which I own,
Your sex is generally prone;
But though you lose your labour, I
Shall not refuse you a reply:

First, for the language you employ:
A term I deprecate is "coy";
The ill-bred miss, the bird-brained Jill,
May simper and be coy at will;
A lady, sir, as you will find,
Keeps counsel, or she speaks her mind,
Means what she says and scorns to fence
And palter with feigned innocence.

The ambiguous "mistress" next you set
Beside this graceless epithet.
"Coy mistress", sir? Who gave you leave
To wear my heart upon your sleeve?
Or to imply, as sure you do,
I had no other choice than you
And must remain upon the shelf
Unless I should bestir myself?
Shall I be moved to love you, pray,
By hints that I must soon decay?
No woman's won by being told
How quickly she is growing old;
Nor will such ploys, when all is said,
Serve to stampede us into bed.

When from pure blackmail, next you move
To bribe or lure me into love,
No less inept, my rhyming friend,
Snared by the means, you miss your end.
"Times winged chariot", and the rest
As poetry may pass the test;
Readers will quote those lines, I trust,
Till you and I and they are dust;
But I, your destined prey, must look
Less at the bait than at the hook,
Nor, when I do, can fail to see
Just what it is you offer me:
Love on the run, a rough embrace
Snatched in the fury of the chase,
The grave before us and the wheels
Of Time's grim chariot at our heels,
While we, like "am'rous birds of prey",
Tear at each other by the way.

To say the least, the scene you paint
Is, what you call my honour, quaint!
And on this point what prompted you
So crudely, and in public too,
To canvass and , indeed, make free
With my entire anatomy?
Poets have licence, I confess,
To speak of ladies in undress;
Thighs, hearts, brows, breasts are well enough,
In verses this is common stuff;
But -- well I ask: to draw attention
To worms in -- what I blush to mention,
And prate of dust upon it too!
Sir, was this any way to woo?

Now therefore, while male self-regard
Sits on your cheek, my hopeful bard,
May I suggest, before we part,
The best way to a woman's heart
Is to be modest, candid, true;
Tell her you love and show you do;
Neither cajole nor condescend
And base the lover on the friend;
Don't bustle her or fuss or snatch:
A suitor looking at his watch
Is not a posture that persuades
Willing, much less reluctant maids.

Remember that she will be stirred
More by the spirit than the word;
For truth and tenderness do more
Than coruscating metaphor.
Had you addressed me in such terms
And prattled less of graves and worms,
I might, who knows, have warmed to you;
But, as things stand, must bid adieu
(Though I am grateful for the rhyme)
And wish you better luck next time.

- A. D. Hope
 Mr. Hope comes up with an effective rejoinder to a great poem with an equally fantastic poem. Now one wishes more men in the world wud fight back with razor-sharp wit than blunt weapons, dont you? :D

Sunday, December 19, 2010

And for me, keep this day.

I had the rare but ultimately fortunate idea of cleaning up my old schoolbooks cupboard again, since Mum kept insisting I clean it or she wud throw the whole lot of books away.

I found this old scrapbook I used to keep, in which I loved to record interesting lines from the books I'd read. Or snatches of a brilliant poem. You know the feeling?

When you read a certain line and are gobsmacked by the truth and beauty and goodness of it?

That happened to me again as I found several tonight.

And now that my blog has replaced that scrapbook, I deposit them all safely here lest the pencil-writing fades and I lose those lovely thoughts.

Hook: And now, Peter Pan, you shall die.
Peter: To die would be an awfully big adventure.

Peter Pan,
J. M. Barrie

To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour.

Auguries of Innocence,
William Blake
(I didn't actually read this one, I heard it quoted by Captain Picard in a Star Trek movie and immediately loved it and googled it on the first incarnation of my computer on a 56kbps connection and it took an hour for it to load. I still remember how frantically I searched for these lines then.)

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot,
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each prayer accepted, and each wish resigned...

Eloisa to Abelard,
Alexander Pope
(I didn't read this either. It's from the movie. This was on the last page of the book, and since I'd grown up written with a ball-pen with ink that is now dreadfully smudged.)

Under the spreading chestnut tree,
I sold you and you sold me.
There lie they and here lie we
Under the spreading chestnut tree.

George Orwell
(I still remember how excited I was when I brought this book home in a terribly tattered but delightfully complete edition that my surly school librarian had handed to me. I finished it in three hours and realised for the first time in my life, what it means to be truly free.)

My words fly up,
My thoughts remain below;
Words without thoughts,
Never to heaven go.

William Shakespeare
(I shall never be the same for having read this. I have never read words written like this before or after. I had always expected Shakespeare to be a snob's delight. I had never thought I'd be so bowled over by the wrenching depth of his writing.)

And finally, last and definitely not the least,

I sit beside the fire
And think of all that I have seen,
Of meadow flowers and butterflies
In summers that have been.
Of yellow leaves and gossamer
In autumns that there were,
With morning mist and silver sun
And wind upon my hair.

I sit beside the fire
And think of how the world will be
When winter comes without a spring
That I shall ever see.
For still there are so many things
That I have never seen.
In every wood, in every spring
There is a different green.

I sit beside the fire
And think of people long ago,
And people who will see a world
That I shall never know.
But all the while I sit and think
Of times there were before,
I listen for returning feet
And voices at the door.

Bilbo Baggins singing "I sit beside the fire and think.."
The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring,
J. R. R. Tolkien

(I'd read this in tenth standard when the first movie was about to release. I was moved by the profound wistfulness and latent wanderlust in what is deceptively simple verse. This is written on the very last page. I shudnt really put this here becoz I have it nearly memorized. But it's fitting that it acted as a bookend both there and here.)

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Subah ho gayi, mamu!

In the big run-up to my Final Final Final exams, we've been visiting our wards for what must be the absolute last time before we finish our degrees. Needless to say my entire batch has turned into Supreme Worrywarts and have been thronging the wards, taking cases feverishly, eliciting signs, jotting down findings.

All this has rather irritated the patients, who provide the aforementioned cases to the point of great anger. And one patient, such as the one I was examining today afternoon, to the verge of hypochondria. This poor man, fancy case of Peripheral Vascular Disease, had been examined by atleast 50 people since morning. He asked me if something was seriously wrong with him, was that why he was receiving so much attention.

I told him that all the people examining him were merely students getting some practice before the big exam day and that what he had was the condition we were likely to be asked in our examination. He looked a little flattered when I said this and a little put out by the fact that my batchmates were doctors-in-training and not doctors.

In the very first year of our clinical rotations, an exceptionally brilliant professor had clearly instructed us to let the patients continue to labour under the illusion of being treated by doctors. Or else they won't "co-operate with you guys if you tell them you're just students".

And while this may be true with some, I've found the advice of a more senior and more considerate doctor more useful. "Try to be as honest but as reassuring as you possibly can. Do not forget that that is live human flesh underneath your fingers." and "Every individual has the first right of control to his body, you as his physician only come a distant second."

I've always told the patients I deal with that I am a student and that I require their help for my study. And not one single person has ever refused. Except for I think a woman suffering from a bout of fever. But that's a lot more kindness than I wud show if I were ill.

Today, watching my batchmates auscultating chests while excitedly discussing murmurs made me wonder how we'll ever learn how to balance the affect of our excitement against the solemn bedside manner that we are expected to adopt.

I dont think I wud be right to be flippant, but I also dont think I'll ever manage to look cheerless. I wonder if people really prefer poker-faced, stoic doctors over smiling, cheerful ones becoz they believe their special conditions deserve more serious consideration.

I dont really believe I'll ever be able to pull the poker-face off. So I've given up trying. I think I'll likely end up being a doctor of the Munnabhai persuasion. :D

What dreams may come

I just read a description of an interesting, if aprocryphal, conversation a six year old boy and his father have on, of all places, facebook.

When the boy asks his father how one can know one's waking life isn't really a dream, the father replies, if everyone were really inside a dream, no one wud go around asking if it's a dream.

And I suppose it is true! All my own dreams are exceedingly vivid and I most certainly believe they're really happening while I'm still in them, to the extent that I sometimes forget what happened in my dream and what happened when I was awake yesterday. I remember asking Shaivi why she kicked my foot under the table yesterday, only to horribly realise a split-second later that that was probably a dream I had. I think it's incidents like this one that contribute significantly to why a lot of people in my college think I've got a "couple of loose screws" somewhere in my head.

I wish there were a profound exploration of the mind's dreamscape that I cud refer to and take comfort in. But The Interpretation of Dreams did not hold my concentration for long, and Inception, which I kept hoping wud grab my attention and jolt my mind, leaving me gobsmacked, was unintentionally funny in a lot of places.

The idea behind it, I must admit, was unique, getting lost in a dream and forgetting that you're dreaming. Or rather, never realising that you left reality, raises interesting questions about the nature of reality and how our minds work to tell the difference in real time.

Another interesting thought was held up by the writers of a segment of The Animatrix. They claimed, "To an artificial mind, the real world and the virtual worlds are impossibly difficult to tell apart." This was shouted out, of course, while plugging a struggling robot into the matrix, so the profound overtones were somewhat lost in the heat of the moment.

I find it fascinating, that so many people in the world, independently, arrive at the same question. How to tell if one is not dreaming up one's whole life? But I think I have another answer to this question.

Have you ever noticed that in dream time, a lot of things tend to happen at rather breakneck speeds, if my afternoon one-hour-long siestas are anything to go by. Life, on the other hand, tends to move reaaaaalllllly slowly at times, especially in the forbiddingly long minutes one spends waiting when one wud rather not.

I think the best way to know that life isn't a dream is simply to come to terms with how boring some parts of it are. Dreams, at least my dreams, are never, never dull. :D

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Serious Woman

Today of all days, I was accused by a certain friend (not an old friend, luckily), of being "too serious". Apparently, I read serious books, I watch serious movies even when stressed out while others prefer to watch "timepass" movies and I use a serious tone even when joking. (I used to think that last was called being sarcastic, but well, definitions change.)

In all probability, she says, one bright and shiny winter day, I just might turn into a blues musician. Or maybe I already am one and I just dont know it yet. She must've believed that I'd consider that a somewhat alarming prospect. Although, why I wonder. Blues musicians seem perfectly normal happy folks.

On days like this, one realizes that what Dawkins said about altruism is true. It is only a front for selfishness, if only thrice removed from the first action. No one, ever, ever, says or does anything that is not selfish. Take that, Ms. Rand. You wrote all those books with such passion, and it was all just a lot of preaching to the converted.

Speaking of being a serious person, I keep entering these bookshops (I did it again today) hoping to find a new Wodehouse book to read, only to realize I've probably read them all. Why didn't you write more books, Sir Pelham Grenville? No one writes them like you anymore. You, Sir, are seriously funny.

No matter. I'll just read the books I have again. Reading Wodehouse's prose never fails to enrapture, even on the hundredth encounter. Stuff like "He was white and shaken, quite like a dry martini." or "She had a penetrating sort of laugh. Rather like a train going into a tunnel." never gets old.

All in all, today is the kind of day that makes one want to curl up in bed with a lovely book, A Pelican at Blandings, in all probability, and switch off the distracting cellphone.

And quote for the day? Well, this one.

"Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it is too dark to read." by, who else? Groucho Marx!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Tyranny of Beauty

I had a very interesting, if a little one-sided, conversation with an old friend from Ruia's theatre group who I ran into, not too inexplicably, at the Prithvi theatre fest way back in July. We were sitting in Prithvi cafe, that most favoured of suburban smoky pseudo-intellectual open-air hangouts. We were reminiscing about old times when we'd set out to stage the play, Hamlet, except we'd reversed the genders of all the characters. So now, there was a King with a manipulative second wife, who'd plotted to get rid of the Queen, and Hamlet was now a princess, called Hamda. Now, all this, of course, was in Hindi and ultimately, in my opinion, came off as more than a little soap-operatic on the stage (maybe that cant be helped becoz of the way Shakespeare actually wrote his plays). But we won the "Adapt a Shakespeare" inter-collegiate at Malhaar, and my friend, who played Hamda, was praised and uniformly feted by our college folks till pretty much the end of that year. My part in all this had been simply to read the original play and help the 'playwright' Tauseef translate it into suitably clear and correct Hindi.

She was telling me about how she'd found work in this experimental theatre group and I was very happy for her. She was surprised that I'd chosen to study medicine, thinking I wud have chosen to pursue more "literary inclinations" as she'd called them.

I told her that I quite frankly admired her gumption about having chosen to follow her passion for acting while pursuing a Batchelor of Arts degree. She told me that she occasionally modelled to earn some extra money, becoz "As everyone knows there's not much money in theatre unless you're Naseeruddin Shah, and even then it's a struggle."

She seemed to be in this strange confessional introspective mood, she kept telling me about how everyone, even in theatre, was more than a little obsessed with good looks. "It's not enuff that you're talented. You have to appear striking."

I pointed out that on the stage, you can be almost anyone almost, irrespective of what you look like. And it didn't really matter anyway becoz she was quite lovely looking herself.

"Thats just the problem, Karishma! I dont know if the people that say they like me, like me becoz of the way I look or becoz of who I am!"

I thought that all this was coming from someone in particular and I asked her that. She nodded, frowning a little. "Yeah. I dont know if thats why he liked me."

I didnt know how to respond to this, except to assure her that that cudnt be the case, at which point she said something that surprised me completely, though I cant say I was shocked.

"Its so different for you, Kari! People like you always get other people to like you for your mind. You're cute but you know what I'm saying. I mean, its just different for me."

What she left unsaid was plain to me. I wasnt pretty like her. She thought that for some reason that that worked to my advantage, becoz I knew people genuinely liked me for my, ahem, my thoughts and "my nature", apparently.

I wud be lying if I said the thought stated in words was a little hurtful to me. But it is the truth after a fashion.

Besides, being a friend, I had to offer comfort. So I said to her what I firmly believe, "It doesnt matter what you look like, atleast not after the first few days. The people we love become beautiful for us. Honestly, if you met someone you liked right now, you'd smile and feel this warm rush of emotion for them. You wudnt really take time to notice if their hair was messed up or if their shirt was crumpled. That's secondary. What's beautiful is the person."

I dont think I managed to convince her. "Yeah, but what about that very first time? Most people have already judged you by then. Love enters from the eyes and leaves through the eyes, like de Bernieres said."

"I dont believe that." I told her. "People who judge you the first time arent really worth all the trouble."

She looked directly at me, and I cud see contempt on her expressive face, "Yeah, well, atleast that's true. Anyway, Kari, you're too idealistic!"

The conversation came to a rather premature stop while we sipped masala chai and then, she met a friend of hers who called her away. I sat under the tree for a while wondering about how other female mammals had it so much easier than us. In the animal kingdom, only the males worried about vanity. How had humans got it all reversed, then?

The answer must lie in the exaggeration of the ideas of beauty that humans indulge in. So much so that even the very beautiful are bothered by these ideas. And if that is true, thenI do really wonder if beauty cud be more than a little over-rated. Guess I'm not that idealistic after all.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Ode to Multitasking

"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects. "

The Notebooks of Lazarus Long,
Robert A. Heinlein.

P. S. Thank you, Falak, for introducing me to the incredible awesomeness of Robert A. Heinlein's science fiction. I am looking forward to hundreds of hours of pure reading pleasure post exams.

P. P. S. I'll be back after what has been built up into the most important and toughest examination of my whole, entire life. Wish me luck! :)

Friday, October 29, 2010

Look what you've done, you've made a fool of everyone.

I was wondering if I shud finally just call R. today. It's been long enuff, too long perhaps. But I cant think of anything to start a conversation with, without making it look like I'm clutching at straws. I dont like that we didnt fight so much as we just drifted apart. Ran out of things to discuss without sneering at each other. "Shudnt your friends be people that you actually like?" he asks me. I dont know what to say. I never know what to say to a person with such a towering emotional quotient. I just come across as a babbling moron with the emotional range of a teaspoon to borrow Hermione Granger's phrase and I cant help it. R. deliberately or otherwise makes it even more obvious to me. I am not an equally evolved being, his tone seems to suggest.

I silently nod, yeah, your friends shud be people that you like. People that you like talking to preferably. Or at the very least, people whose number flashing across your cellphone screen doesnt make you grimace. So, I end up not calling him again.

T. suggests that my friendship with people follows this peculiar curve with a steep slope, a short peak and then a plateau. Things between R. and I have definitely flatlined. And what irritates me further is that I cant seem to feel the loss so much as this queer sense of relief. We were dragging things on. Like a bad relationship. It just didnt work anymore.

I wonder, does that even happen to friends? Or only lovers? I dont know.

There's a big deal made out of losing touch with friends. One single phonecall, a 'howdy-doo' on facebook, an occasional email...thats all it takes to keep a friendship alive is what is suggested. But what's the point really? Is it supposed to feel like an obligation, like work? No, that cant be right.

I remember R. once told me about this late night radio program he used to listen to, back when he lived in Hyderabad. This radio jockey was so friendly and had such great taste in music, that he was tempted to call in to the show and he'd often talk to this radio jockey while the music played in the background.

They even met for coffee once, he recalled. And then, it just sort of faded. When the late night study sessions ended, listening to the radio show became sporadic and then he tuned in one night to find that that show didn't air any more. His friend had shifted to another timeslot or another frequency, he never bothered to find out.

I wonder if thats what it was between us. This ephemeral, circumstantial thing. I wonder if we wud have been friends at all if we hadnt met when we did, in a strange new place without any other real friends to hang out with. Maybe thats what all those lazy afternoon conversations in buses were. And those engrossing evenings spent in Kaka's with masala chai, tamarind sauce and samosas. Or that Holi morning in my colony followed by that afternoon in Crossword. The movies and the dinners with friends. Your friends and my friends. Becoz there werent any 'our friends'.

Yeah, maybe what we did when we spent all that time was mistaking familiarity for friendship. "It's such an easy mistake to make that it isnt crazy that so many people make it." You with your emotional pitch set on a perpetual high said that night in Pune. You're right, like you almost always are. And I know how much being proved right makes you happy. And I hope you're happy now.

P.S. I'm writing this here coz I know you dont read my blog anymore. Someday, I hope I can say all this so you can hear it. But not today. I'm not calling today. Maybe some day when you wont hear this much bitterness in my voice.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Goodbye, Milky Way

This post is not so much an examination of facts and issues as it is a lament for the passing of the starry night sky as I wud once see it and then callously forgot only to find it gone when I searched again.

I was, right until twenty minutes ago, watching Part 2 of the lovely BBC Series, The Wonders of the Solar System, presented by the excellent and rather gorgeous particle physicist Professor Brian Cox. Professor Cox, in said episode, is perched on a rock, sitting beside a campfire set up on a hillock, somewhere in Central Asia when he looks up at the night sky and the camera zooms out of the scene till we can see only Cox's silhouette against the awesome, almost theatrical looking sky as it looms over him.

Cox then declares in his gently intoned voice-over that it is on nights like these, looking at a sky like this that he can understand how ancient men must have been so astonished by the dramatically majestic night sky that they must have declared that gods lurked in those heavens.

He then talks about how you almost never see more than a few stars through the cloud of dust and smoke that is the upper atmosphere of most modern cities. "Light pollution" he says, "has robbed us of one of nature's most grandiose displays."

At this declaration, I cud do nothing more than wait for the episode to end. Don't get me wrong, it was like every other episode of this remarkable series, very delightful, very informative and above all, breathtakingly beautiful in all its high-def glory.

I only wanted to look out my bedroom window, from where I've lain on my bed, upside down, staring at the stars ever since I was big enuff to get the window open on my own. I realised I didnt do that so much anymore, once I used to do it out of habit every night.

I was more than a little stunned by what the sky looks like from that window now. It looks strangely light, and even more mystifyingly, it looks orange!

I cud not see a single star in that weird, not-normal night sky. I asked mum if she cud see any. She looked up, shrugged and said, it must be the clouds.

But I know its not the clouds, the day was perfectly clear. It is light. Light from all the streetlamps and the tall buildings that've sprung up in the area in the last six or seven years.

Isn't it strange that even light can pollute the sky?

I must've known it all along, but I just dont look up at night anymore. There's a million other things to do, journals to write in, television programmes to watch, music that needs listening to.

And maybe it isnt just me, it must be a lot of city kids out there. They look up, see a starless sky and maybe never bother to look up again. Simply becoz there's no dramatic beauty there. Only a limpid shade of orange.

Perhaps, one wonders, perhaps we are a species so afraid of the dark, or so needy for the light, that we have invented means of lighting up our houses, our roads, even our night. And this man-made light is everywhere, every night. Its like they say, "You can never have enuff of something you dont really want."

I am filled with this sense of unease and sadness at losing something that constantly enthralled and inspired our ancestors.

It all brings to mind this story I once read, by Arthur C. Clarke, I think. I dont remember what it was called. "Nightfall" perhaps. In it, he imagines a civilization that springs up on a planet orbiting a solar system with three suns. This planet is placed so that it experiences total darkness after all the three suns "set" in the sky almost simultaneously, and this only happens every six thousand years or so.

The people who are part of this civilization have never, therefore, experienced night-time. They have never seen stars other than their three suns. And all they know of the night sky is strange stories that their ancestors passed on from the dawn of their civilization.

Astronomy is not far advanced in this civilization and perhaps we can understand why. Their bright sky holds no mysteries that these people might seek to solve.

And one day, one day after six thousand years of daylight, there is nightfall. Can you imagine what these people feel? There are doom-sayers in the streets, hysterical men and women go mad and lock themselves up in their homes, some poison themselves thinking the world has ended. And so an entire civilization turns away from this dangerously scary darkness. Not one pair of eyes looks up in the dark to see the light of millions of stars in the night sky. There, the story ends, and years ago, when I read it, I did not understand why Clarke wud write such a queer tale. I understand now.

He knew even then, that those who live in the sprawling smoky cities of the world have already snapped the umbilical cord tying them to the earth in their bid to reach heavenward in their skyscrapers. But maybe they dont realise yet that the heavens that they are reaching for, are empty. Empty of not only gods but also of stars.

And that is a real tragedy.

"By night, even an atheist half-believes in God." - Edward Young

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

"He that saves one life, saves mankind entire."

So, finally my prelim examinations end on a happy note, considering that I have successfully and with a rather substantial margin, passed all my practical examinations and also hopefully, my theoretical examinations as well. This exam has taken a lot out of me, I havent slept more than three hours a day for the last, well, two weeks. And I have realised that sleep-deprivation only initially clouds your mind, but brings a strange serenity afterwards. I felt that pretty much every day these last six days but well, not constantly. My mind seems to return to its natural state of turmoil as soon as it is free from the stress of relentless reading.

So while my tired eyes are screaming for me to shut them, I must empty my mind again of thoughts and since this blog has served that purpose well in the past, I can trust that it shall do so again.

Now, that I am a mere two months away from my final MBBS qualifying examination, I feel as always the deep disquiet that accompanies the insecurity I occasionally feel about the matter of actually being able to treat real patients. I have determined that around three times out of ten I am able to reach a satisfactory diagnosis by a process of thinking that will obviously require great refinement that I hope maturity and experience will supply. I have also studied somewhat sufficiently and trust in myself to be able to devise some kind of method of management most of the time, except in emergency situations where I have found I dont possess enuff calmness to proceed without anxiety.

Today, my professor told me that he thought I was a good student and then he asked me how much I have been scoring these past few years. I told him I had scored 75% exactly in my first year, nearly 73% in my second year and a little more than 71% in third year. He smiled and said, "How much do you expect to score this year?" I replied that I just hoped to pass, which is true. He said something that I'll remember forever, I think. He said something like "Madam, if you score 75%, there is still a deficit of 25% when you're dealing with human life. Isn't that rather a lot?"

I had not thought of this. I replied that there is a certain reasonable expectation of knowledge and skill from a good doctor and I hope to reach that expectation and that is all. He said he agreed that doctors aren't superhuman computers and are bound to make mistakes, but the cost of every mistake is disproportionately high.

He wished me luck for my final examination and I walked out, quite paradoxically anxious, instead of being flooded with end-of-exam relief as I had hoped I wud be.

This was not the only incident that affected me these last several days. On the day of my surgery exam, a lady with a grossly enlarged nodular thyroid, put her warm hand on my arm when I sat down beside her to write her case down. She asked me if she was doing the right thing having the operation done becoz her family discouraged her and this scared her. I assured her that she was, and that the surgery wud help her. I sensed acutely the fear she felt when she pressed her fingers harder into my arm. I held onto her hand while I proceeded to write her case, I only left her side when the resident in charge of the exam told me the time allotted to me was up. I said to myself, I had reassured her effectively but I cannot be certain.

The second time something deeply affecting happened was in the paediatrics examination yesterday morning. Paediatrics is always hard, I find it painful to watch children suffer. It just seems so unfair. This 11 year old girl with a previous history of TB lymphadenitis had developed sudden-onset hemiplegia and motor aphasia. While I questioned her mother about how it started, the mother grew increasingly agitated as she described her ordeal in trying to get her child admitted to the hospital and how it took eleven hours for the process to be completed.

Then as I asked her about the child's development, she told me how her daughter was the most intelligent of her five children. She teared up and told me, "Meri beti kitni achchi hai. Usko aisa kyun hua? Woh abhi baat bhi nahi karti hai. Doctorsaab, woh theek ho jaayegi na?"

This really tore at my heart. I told her to be strong and that the doctors here wud do everything they cud to help her child.

I watched my batchmate who was allotted the same case, interrupt the mother repeatedly to write the history down in a hurry and I realised how easy it is to become so utterly desensitized towards another human being's agony. And how it is also easy to forget that they are human beings at all.

I have tried, all these years, to be as considerate and as kind as I possibly cud. I have watched my father and my own paediatrician interacting with their patients and I hope ardently to be as good as them some day.

I know that my conscience shall hold me forever answerable and responsible if ever I go wrong with anything. And knowing this scares me.

But I am thrilled to think that I shall help to relieve suffering, if only fractionally. I am convinced that I shall always try.

I dont know if these qualities will make me a good physician some day, but the answer is in the attempt.

When I told my best friend about these patients today, she smiled and told me, "You know why they talk with you. Becoz they can sense that you really care."

She is right. I do care. I pray I dont turn jaded or casually cruel or even rude like the few people I have seen who are that way.

At the same time, I cannot give myself over to studies entirely. I must pursue all that I love or I shall become a mean, incomplete person. I can also never ignore the deeper calling that asks me to examine philosophically the matter of suffering and death. I cannot stop myself thinking about it. I hope that I can be rational and useful inspite of it.

Please, please, the powers-that-be, please let me be successful in this much.

I really admired that Talmudic saying that is the title of this post. It was inscribed on the ring that the Jews that Schindler saved, gave to Schindler at the end of the war. I really want to believe in it.

P.S. I just read this back to myself and I think the tone is a little detached. I wonder why that is, becoz I have only sometimes experienced such turbulent emotions before. Perhaps now I shall be able to sleep.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Grace Kelly

"Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great."

-Nelson Mandela

One of SK's early morning motivational messages.

"Expecting life to treat you well just coz you're a good person is like expecting an angry bull to not charge at you coz you're a vegetarian."


Another one of SK's early morning motivational messages! :D

And this joke,

What do you call a bear that chases after you ravenously, then starts crying and runs away?
Bipolar bear. XD

Exam days wud be oh-so-droll without these messages!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

"Poem sunega?"

"Chhoti chhoti chitrayi yaadein

Bichchi hui hain lamhon ke lawn par. 

Nange pair unpar chalte chalte

Itni door chale aaye

Ki ab bhool gaye hain -

Joote kahaan utaare the.

Aedi komal thi, jab aaye the.

Thodi si naazuk hai abhi bhi.

Aur naazuk hi rahegi

In khatti meethi yaadon ki shararat

Jab tak inhe gudgudati rahegi.

Sach, bhool gaye hain

Ki joote kahaan utaare the.

Par lagta hai,

Ab unki zaroorat nahin." 

Satyanshu Singh and Kumar Devanshu.


"Poem achchi lagi? Samajh aayi?" 

Saw Udaan again today with Mishti and Momo. Was deeply affected again. Maybe it was the exam fatigue. But related to and recognised so much. Some of the loveliest of things are also the simplest of things, no?

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Cost of Living

So often I run into her in the evenings in Odeon Market, when I dont have the patience to wait at the bus-stop and when I want to walk, when it seems better to spend time with my thoughts alone in a crowd of people than spending it trying to bargain with the laws of physics every time the bus lurches.

She always carries this old tie-n-dye red yellow cotton thaila and walks with that peculiar ramrod-straight-backed gait of hers that I can recognise her from yards away. That is when I break with my ambling and break into a jog to reach her.

"Good Evening, Ma'am!" my standard greeting never shifts to the more informal "Hello!" or even the casual "Evening!" She always smiles, her eyes turning into narrow slits before she replies in that clipped, deep voice I have grown up listening to. "Good Evening, Karishma. It's nice to see you again."

I help her carry her veggies sometimes, but mostly she refuses my offer, casting a pitying glance at my decidedly heavy-looking college bag, that tends to drag my shoulders down. "You really carry all those heavy books to college every day? My God, this generation really studies hard." She says something like that almost every time she notices my bag.

So often we walk back to Pestom Sagar together, I tell her about how I miss the warmth and closeness of school, she tells me about how our junior batches arent as sincere as we were. We both wonder if nostalgia adds dollops of rosiness to our memories of those times. And then we laugh. People here stare at anyone who laughs out loud on the road. We ignore them.

She was telling me today about her son's weird taste in music. "It's these bands. Men scream these pessimistic lyrics into the mic. There is no melody. Only noise. How does that even classify as music?" I laugh when I realise her son is into death metal. "I have to keep up with these trends and all. Otherwise, I wont have anything to say that will be interesting to him. You'll have to teach me about these rockstars, Karishma." We laugh again.

She tells me he's at the London School of Economics now. I smile appreciatively. I am truly impressed. I remember him as the plump pimply boy who walked with his mom to school and who cud barely talk to girls at fifteen without blushing violently. I've only met him a couple times after school but he has transformed into this confident charming young guy who talks about George Orwell and Mithun Chakraborty with the same measure of admiration and awe, well atleast he did in the last conversation I had with him.

But it is his mother I really admire. This woman is my eighth standard science teacher. She's also one of the most intelligent, articulate, liberal women I know. So different from all the other teachers in my school. My school is one of those non-convent, Government-run, English medium schools where Sanskrit is preferred to Hindi and they start every morning with a Saraswati prayer. She never seemed to fit in there. The other teachers wud eat lunch in the teachers' common room and I'd see her seated on the bench in our school grounds eating lunch alone a lot of times. I always thought it was unfair but later she told me she enjoyed eating alone.

Of course, this being that kind of a typical overtly middle-class Central Bombay suburb, everyone knew everyone else's history and no one really approved of hers. I didnt understand at first. But I realised it probably had something to do with the fact that she was the only person I knew who was divorced and raised a child alone.

My friends and I also fondly remember her as the woman who cud say the word "vagina" out loud without looking distinctly uncomfortable like all the other teachers did when they made those silly sex-ed classes compulsory. She was also the one who abolished the dreaded first science period when all of us just wanted to spend the first half an hour discussing the news, or a particular song, or something new we learned in another subject. She is the reason why I began to enjoy science so much in the first place, the one who introduced me to Richard Feynman in tenth standard and Ray Charles on another of these walks home. She is also the one who comforted our fears the morning after 9/11 happened. She was probably the only teacher who treated us as equal human beings and recognised that we needed somebody we cud trust, ask questions of and seek support from, outside our homes.

Everyone always has that one teacher. For me, it is she. And while I cannot write anything that will explain with any measure of eloquence or insight how wonderful I think she is, or how much I owe to her, the least I can do is acknowledge it here.

Today she tells me that she is leaving Pestom Sagar, moving in with her sister who lives in Colaba. I realise that this is pretty much the end of our enjoyable walks. She says she thinks I was one of her best students and that I cud call her whenever I wanted and that her son had started up a facebook account for her. I smile at that last bit.

But I'm still a little sad. Why is she moving away, I ask her. She says her sister's husband passed away a few months ago and that her son was grown up and gone abroad. She was alone and her sister was alone also. She was moving away so she wud have some company. We walk on.

When we reach the gate of her building, she wishes me luck with my exams. I tell her that I shall miss her. And before I can turn away, it bursts out of me.

"Ma'am, was everything worth it?" I am shocked that I have said this to her. I dont finish my thought but she understands what I am asking.

I wonder if I've made her angry or upset. But she merely shakes her head. "Remember, that the most important thing is to always to be true to yourself. Some day, Karishma, you will know the answer of that question for yourself. And until then, nothing anyone says will be enough of an answer for you."

She smiles, and gives me a hug. I walk to my building, making a mental note of the fact that one of these days I have to call her and tell her that she is a rockstar. :)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Morning Star

At the risk of turning this into a borrowed-poetry blog, I must keep this here. For some strange reason, it gives me gooseflesh. I know Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Grey was substantially dark, but this is something else. Terrifying but transfixing. Much like what it describes. I'm surprised I never ran across this so far.

The Harlot's House

We caught the tread of dancing feet,
We loitered down the moonlit street,
And stopped beneath the harlot's house.

Inside, above the din and fray,
We heard the loud musicians play
The "Treues Liebes Herz" of Strauss.

Like strange mechanical grotesques,
Making fantastic arabesques,
The shadows raced across the blind.

We watched the ghostly dancers spin
To sound of horn and violin,
Like black leaves wheeling in the wind.

Like wire-pulled automatons,
Slim silhouetted skeletons,
Went sidling through the slow quadrille,

Then took each other by the hand,
And danced a stately saraband;
Their laughter echoed thin and shrill.

Sometimes a clockwork puppet pressed
A phantom lover to her breast,
Sometimes they seemed to try to sing.

Sometimes a horrible marionette
Came out, and smoked its cigarette
Upon the steps like a live thing.

Then, turning to my love, I said,
'The dead are dancing with the dead,
The dust is whirling with the dust.'

But she--she heard the violin,
And left my side, and entered in:
Love passed into the house of lust.

Then suddenly the tune went false,
The dancers wearied of the waltz,
The shadows ceased to wheel and whirl.

And down the long and silent street,
The dawn, with silver-sandalled feet,
Crept like a frightened girl.

Oscar Wilde

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Every time I'm tempted to make a mental filing cabinet to fit in all the people I know, so I can slot them into neat, organised little categories to make things simpler for me, every time I'm almost convinced that I've finally got a 'handle' on my piece of humanity's pie, people surprise me. And in a most fascinating, anthropologically stimulating way.

Either I'm extremely poor at judging people or extremely good at looking past surfaces. Or maybe its just that these people I know are absolutely resistant to banal slotting. :)

Wake me up when September ends

"I remember one morning getting up at dawn, there was such a sense of possibility. You know, that feeling? And I remember thinking to myself : So, this is the beginning of happiness. This is where it starts. And of course, there will always be more of it. It never occurred to me then, but it wasn't the beginning. It was happiness. It was that moment. Right then."

Clarissa Vaughn,
The Hours.

Friday, September 3, 2010


There is something so infernally irritating in the smugly moronic look of self-satisfaction on the face of a terribly pompous authority figure that the devil's advocate in me wants to bite their head off.

Its just that I hate it when someone, anyone, shoves a dogma in my face. I want to snatch it from them and smack them over the head with it. Really hard. I can actually imagine the nice happy bouncy sound after it makes contact with their stupid empty skulls.

Lesson learned : I shall certainly remember never to guffaw loudly while my brain is playing out these Ally McBealesque mental pictures.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Good Wife

So often had they fought in the last three months that she was almost relieved when her husband had confessed his affair to her today. It was not the first time, but she cudnt make herself hurt less. It was all she cud do to stop herself sinking her red-painted long nails into his arm when he offered her it, inwardly screaming banshee-like at the horrid pretentiousness and hypocrisy that required her outward self to toe the lines of propriety and politeness. She cud make a scene but it wud not serve her purpose. So, she waited til they were seated in the back of the sedan whose metallic acid green had been her own favoured choice. Atleast I can still force him to listen to me, she thought, and atleast I have the satisfaction of knowing he had to be chauffeured to his mistress in this plush car with its ridiculous paintjob.

"You mustn't be so upset, dear." she heard him snivel next to her, "It's nothing. Dont upset yourself. It isnt good for your blood pressure. The doc said so just last week."

She glared at him, the fury inside her beginning to build up. He cud sense it coming, this explosion, "Darling, what if you had a coronary? It wud be so upsetting!" was all he cud manage.

"You're a rat, you know that?" she spat. "Vermin. Vermin with a fleshy bank account."

"Sweetheart, please dont shout here. The driver will hear us." he begged.

"You shud be glad I dont walk out. The money you'd have to pay me!" She was being savage now.

"But, but I love you. You're my wife. I always come back to you. You know this, I've said it a hundred times." he pleaded after her as she slammed the car-door before she stalked thru the gate.

"It is only the children that kept me here. But now they're gone off, studying, living in their own worlds. I am done with you. We're finished!" she yelled as she threw herself onto the sofa, shaking with anger.

"We dont have to talk about it now, dear. You just calm down. It's not a big deal! I'll just freshen up and order some ice-cream. That'll cool you down."

He stopped, turning briefly to look at her, lying back on the sofa with her eyes closed, her hand quivering over her heart as though she were physically heartbroken. And for a moment he almost saw the sadness wrapped around her like an itchy blanket with far too many holes. But incapable of such simile in thought, he pushed the idea away and walked into their bedroom. He wondered how she always threatened to leave him but never did, guessed at why and knew. Somewhere in her heart, she loved him. He had loved her, too, as best he possibly cud.

He thought about his own mother. How his mother and father and their life together had been the picture of the perfect, lived-in domesticity.

He thought also about how he had congratulated himself in the beginning, on having married this spitfire of a woman who'd been his secretary, when his first wife, his dutifully obedient wife had died of an illness, leaving two children behind to be raised. He had admired the efficiency and meticulousness of this woman, inspite of being more than a little afraid of her temper.

He felt a small twinge of guilt, wondered if he'd really hurt her with his, ahem, indiscretions all these years but then, he changed his mind. Of course, not. He had given her more than anything she cud possibly have dreamed of having in her old life.

But her anger. He wished he cud tame that fiery beast she carried around in her breast. He smirked to himself as he considered the picturesqueness of this particular metaphor and stalked into the living room.

She lay there on the sofa, head thrown back haughtily, eyes still closed. Atleast she wasnt shouting.

"Darling, just give me a chance to explain myself."

She said nothing. He continued, "I have never been able to control my emotions. You know that. I love you and nothing can change that. No woman can change that. You have been a good mother to my children. Our children. You ran this household so well. Its just that I..I have a weakness, everyone does."

He expected her to turn around and yell some more about what exactly she thought of this weakness of his.

She didnt. She only let her hand fall away from her chest.

He decided it was best to go on placating her while she allowed him to.

"I understand if you dont want to talk to me right now. But I really do hope that nothing between us will change."

More silence. He was starting to get a little irritated. "If you want, I'll work on it. But I'm too old, too set in my ways. If you made yourself a little more attractive. Your breath is a little, umm, unpleasant, sometimes, but its that ulcer you have. And you have grown rather plump these last few years."

He was certain that wud draw a reaction. But she continued, eyes closed, face turned coldly away. She had absolutely nothing to say, so he continued to talk at her. She had probably meant what she'd said. She was done with him and nothing wud change her mind. He was not used to such stubborn distantness from his wife.

"My first wife was a good woman, too. But she was different from you. Poor sweet soul, may she rest in peace!" He felt silly standing there, leaning against the doorway. He walked to the sofa, no longer so threatened by his wife's rage, a little terrified of her determination to say nothing to him till he left her.

"Please. Darling, please change your mind. I wont do it again. I promise. I swear upon my heart and soul."

Perhaps she was thinking about how he'd said these same words or a variation of them a dozen times before. Perhaps she thought, this was how he degraded her, pushed her a little further, dragged her lower, to see if she wud break now, wud give up now. He realised that now she truly had given up. Given up on him that is.

He rose, bitter now, his voice quaking. "Alright, have it your way. But you havent been a good wife to me. You've screeched and nagged your way in this house. You've made threats and you always had your way in the end. My dear father always said, a good wife listens quietly, and does all to please her husband. You have refused to listen to me. You have never attempted to please me!"

He noticed as he stood over her that her pudgy cheeks were streaked with dried tearstains but he cud no longer bring himself to care. He cud show her he cud be cruel, too.

"There is no point in tears, stupid woman! I shud be the one to cry! You have taken from me the best years of my life and a whole lot more of my money! I wish to God you wud go away! No wait, I shall go away from here myself. Good riddance to bad rubbish, huh?"

He stormed out the room but hesitated momentarily at the door, lingering in the certainty that she wud stop him and bargain with him, like she'd done a million times before. But she didnt call out to him.

Hot tears stung his own eyes now as he slammed the door behind him and once outside, leaned heavily against it, realising that he was too old for shouting matches and slamming doors.

Shouting match, well, atleast this time it had been just him doing the shouting. But that scarcely lessened the bitterness and self-righteous anger that welled up inside him now.

"Oh God, why dont you just die?" he cudnt stop himself shouting at the closed door before he climbed, shaking, down the stairs.

Inside, she lay perfectly still. In silence while her husband had ranted and raved around her.

One wonders why her husband had left her like this. Why had he failed to notice that in her silence, she had been the good wife he'd claimed he wanted? Why hadnt he appreciated that he had not heard her screech these past minutes nor smelled her bad breath?

No, he had not noticed this about her. Just as he had not noticed that her heart had stilled long minutes before her tears had dried.

Husbands notice so little about the women who are their wives, dont they?