Saturday, April 30, 2011

How to Save a Life

When push comes to shove and when you're up against the wall with just a chance and little else, that is when you come face to face with who and what you really and truly are.

That is when you know, for certain, whether all that humanism and kindness is just a facade necessitated by society or if that philanthropism is literal.

And those who really manage to hang on to that professed love of all humanity, within that precious last inch of life, only they understand that sometimes all one has left is their dignity. And when that is lost, life is just so many breaths and heartbeats.

Should one be allowed full control of their life, including even the way it ends? Is it valid to even consider that one can be 'offered' such a choice?

All I know is that, a lot of the time, saving someone is not as simple a matter as preserving their life.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Blood, Sweat and Tears

Working in the bowels of a hospital, working on the bowels of human beings, there is a startling sensation of clarity. All of us are the same animal. This doesnt strike us so often what with our awesomely different skin colours, hairstyles and nose sizes. But we're the same. Really.

That may be a little difficult to believe when everybody looks so obviously different and strikingly unique. Well, not so much when you push past that tough, tough skin which stuns me everytime I try to put a needle in, it's so much tougher than you'd expect it to be, you know.

The truth is our innards do really look almost exactly the same as that of say, President Obama or for that matter, Baba Ramdev's. Some have a few veins extra, others have a couple of arteries clogged. Certain really special people may have their hearts on the right hand side.

But otherwise pretty much the same.

Which makes me understand the true significance of our frontal cortices. The emotions we invest in people is what raises them over and beyond the milling millions of humanity.

We prescribe identities on flimsy bases of language, region, class, dress and perhaps most artificially, of religion.

But under a surgeon's scalpel or a butcher's knife, we're all exactly the same. Meat. We're so fragile; we bleed when we're cut, we seize up when injected with nerve poison, and we're shockingly, shockingly simple to kill.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mirror, mirror on the wall..

Spending two hours and a disproportionately large amount of money in a salon to make one look adequately put together for a cousin's wedding, one encounters a lot of strange people.

The girl who bites her nails on account of nervousness and then comes to get artificial nails made of protein gel no less so she can hide her habit.

The middle-aged lowest-rung-politician who dyes his hair black so he doesn't look absolutely ridiculous standing next to his twenty-nine year old wife.

The young woman with two children who decides to get her hair permed becoz her husband prefers curly hair and asks me for advice on how to get a liposuction done (also becoz husband prefers slim waists, it seems) when she learns I work in a hospital.

The grand-dad who accompanies his grandkid becoz the said seven year old demands a 'Taare-Zameen-Par' wala haircut on his birthday.

The teenage college boy who frets over his pimples and wonders if those 'fairness creams-only for men' will actually work if he bought and used them.

After these two hours spent in trying to reassure people, and quite frankly, after attempting to jolt them back to some semblance of reality, one does realize that vanity is, hands down, the most pointless of the seven deadly sins. And also, by far the saddest.

Dream On

This happy little two-day sabbatical has done me good. I'm rested, refreshed and rearing to go back to work. Also, it's given me a deeper appreciation of one of Richard Gere's decidedly more daring films. Having absolutely nothing to do at 1 AM prompted me to watch it on Zee Studio last night. Called "Mr. Jones" it is superficially a story of a man with bipolar disorder, prone to climbing the dizzying heights of euphoric contentment before plunging into the depths of depression that make him repeatedly suicidal. One such attempt lands him in a state-run psych ward where he meets a rather wistful and beautiful psychiatrist who grows attached to him and learns to appreciate his whimsical, if slightly delusional world view.

At its centre, it is quite a seductive study of a mental illness, making manic depression vaguely attractive, with its own skewed interior logic. It makes me understand what I'd always thought was a strange quality about crazy people. They're so convinced about their world view that some times we cant help but envy the strength of their conviction.

Anyway, moving on to what is the point of this post, there is a scene in the film that I really liked, in spite of the rough-handed way the rest of the movie played out the implications of the scene.

In it, Mr. Jones and his psychiatrist are talking on the rooftop of the hospital (most real-world psychiatrists will immediately tell you what a stupid and dangerous idea this is) and she's asking him about what sort of dreams he's been having lately, a valid question if she still believes in Freudian dream analysis. And now Mr. Jones does something really wild, he gets up from his chair and climbs to the ledge of the rooftop in one swift motion eliciting a squawk from his psychiatrist who finally sees the potential folly of this particular setting.

He spreads his arms out while she begs him to climb back down and he says, "I dream about flying!" She continues her entreaty while he surveys the view and he asks her, "What do you dream about?" She replies that she doesnt remember her dreams but she used to dream of flying when she was a child.

He smiles and utters the single best line of the movie, "Why do only children have flying dreams?" She stammers that she doesnt know and he asks her if she thinks he'll really fly off this rooftop if he tried. She screams that he will die and he asks her if there's really a difference before climbing down. She slaps him and the movie moves on to their love story but the memory of the goosebump-inducing scene is what lingers beyond the rest of their 'romance'. We wish they'd let us into her mind to see if she understands that she's falling in love with not just the man, but also this disease. That it is his mania that makes him so certain, so charming, so delightfully romantic. That she will never really know her loved one, and that she is ethically compromising herself by becoming so involved with a patient she's trying to help.

Regardless, the question Mr. Jones throws at us is important. Why do we dream of flying as children and stop when we grow up? Is it becoz we know that it is one of those things beyond the realm of possibility unless we have an airplane or a handglider? Or do we hang on to the dream by transmuting it into a realistic dream of becoming aeroplane pilots?

Does this also happen with other childhood dreams? Maybe we simply put them aside when we realize they wont really ever come true.

Is this why children aspire to become astronauts while adults put up with the drollest of jobs, becoz you have to, you know, 'grow up and get real'?

When we're young, we have the future, bright and whole, ahead of us. We believe we have endless potential to realize all the million possibilities we've told ourselves our lives will segue into.

We think we're brilliant and wonderful and that someday we'll definitely win an Oscar or a Nobel or something really, really important will happen for us.

But a lot of times, as we grow older, the realm of possibilities shrinks and aspirations shrivel up and die. And that is a real pity.

I think Mr. Jones senses that better than a lot of people becoz he is cursed with the ability and the sense to feel both the expansive high of optimistic hope and the suffocating cynical vise of desperation. That is why he alternates between living life as if he will die any minute before proceeding to attempt to die the next minute. We are fortunate that we do not share his fate, but atleast we can learn a lesson from it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Octopus Garden

My mother tells me that one of my worst habits is the way I treat books. I buy a whole pile of them and arrange them carefully on my bookshelves and start reading a myriad books around the same time, then leave them off to begin new ones and the cycle continues endlessly. She says that this is becoz of my essentially easily distracted attention and fickle nature.

I must confess that while this treatment of books is shabby indeed and I do regret not finishing a lot of the books I start, I have truly honorable intentions and I do intend to finish reading all those books I turned away from in favour of new ones.

But then I love books, I have never let a single page tear or the spine fray and what few stains there are on their pages have been thoroughly regretted.

Then I read these two truly marvellous quotes by fellow booklovers from a bygone era and realized that well, atleast I'm not the only grave offender here.

The first one is the by the famous O. Henry who raised short stories to a sublime art form and in whose stories every character, however ordinary, is treated delicately with great care and tenderness.

"Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention."

The second one which I adore beyond measure is by the inimitable wordsmith Winston Churchill, one of the singularly most brilliant orators that ever lived.

"If you cannot read all your books...then fondle them, let them fall open where they will, read from the first sentence that arrests the eye, set them back on the shelves with your own hands, arrange them on your own plan so that you at least know where they are. Let them be your friends; let them, at any rate, be your acquaintances."

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Ik Baar to yun hoga, ki Thoda sa Sukoon hoga.

We never consider some little things when we attempt to think of the big picture at times.

And that doesn't so much lead to mistakes as it does to a lot of surprises. I've been told often that you mustn't, when pursuing your passions, give in to them entirely, not so much so that they possess your mind even while you dream. Becoz it makes it that much more difficult to tell the waking world apart from those increasingly vivid dreams.

I have always wondered if I was a particularly ambitious person. And what it really meant to be a particularly ambitious person. I wondered if it made me better at this line of work, or worse.

Did it dilute that other side of me, that empathetic side, the side that really wants to believe in the motto of our hospital? That yes, all this really is, non sibi sed omnibus. Not for self, but for all.

A blogger friend repeatedly tells me about the gravely fallacious notion of being wholly philanthropic (in the literal meaning of the word). But it is not in me to be misanthropic, either.

Does ambition sit pretty alongside a clarion call to selflessness? Not selflessness in the Randian sense. In the general sense.

Does ambition not indicate a desire for improvement? An aspiration for the better?

Is that even a bad thing? Is that ever a bad thing?

Perhaps, too much of it is. But how do you know that you're crossing the line?

A month ago I remember wondering why some feel that the ugly necessity of meaningless competition is indispensable to personal success. But does competing with yourself count?

The past few weeks have been important for me. I've understood the full import of how doctors can, almost ingeniously, effect a cure. And when it happens with someone you love so dearly, that the very thought of losing them causes intense agony of body and spirit, you really appreciate, really, really appreciate what it means to be doing this.

Not studying, not watching, not observing. But Doing.

And fortunately for me, I helped. I really helped those who needed me to help them.

It is a rare and remarkable feeling. To know. To really Know. That finally, after all these years of questioning and doubting, you Know that you did not make a wrong choice. It was one of the many right ones, atleast.

Yes, this is what I want to do. I am passionate about it. It means so much. So much.

This feeling, this moment is precious to me. I want to preserve it forever. And so I keep it here. In what has turned into a slightly public trove of keepsakes.

This feeling is beautiful becoz it comes so rarely. It's called Certainty.

I'm done capitalizing initial letters of abstract nouns and throwaway verbs for effect. I have said what I needed said to me.

And this is what I was searching for, for five years. Some sign, some indication that I havent mucked up my life. I am capable of doing this, and willing to give away all that it will ask of me, and take out of me and snatch from me. I am willing to let it prey on my mind, now and forever.

Becoz that is what passion does to you. And the pleasure to be derived from surrendering to it completely, of letting it take control of me, even if it is only for as long as this feeling lasts, is indeed incredibly immense.