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?