That is what SV said as our conversation drew to a close. I had been rambling on for an hour about how horrible I felt lately, how the signs of depression seemed to be returning at a crucial point in my life. It felt good to vent to him; it always did. He always knew what to say.
And yet it’s those last words that really made a difference. He did not personalise it, did not smother the letters with a show of care; no ‘you’re important to me’ or ‘us’. Just important. Like an open ending to be interpreted as one wished, as if the whole world hid silently behind that last syllable. That my existence had a value that cannot be quantified by sheer numbers of aquientances, that maybe it extended to realms that I did not truly fathom.
“When Parvaneh gives him a look studded with a long line of question marks and exclamation marks, the doctor sighs again in that way young doctors with glasses and plastic slippers and a stick up their bottom often do when confronted by people who do not even have the common bloody decency to attend medical school before they come to the hospital.”
This one sentence amused me more than anything else in the wonderful novel ‘A Man Called Ove‘ by Fredrik Backman. It has everything to do with the fact that on multiple occasions, I too have been that very young doctor (sans glasses) with a stick up my bottom who grows exasperated when the illiterate patients in front of me can’t comprehend the complications of a cerebrovascular accident or even pyelonephritis. Of course, the frustration was always fueled not so much by their ignorance as my incompetence in making them understand. But what truly amazed me on reading this was the realization that this phenomenon is not localized to our part of the world, with our overcrowded public hospitals and overburdened health system; that this is indeed a global phenomenon!
I remember my mother once warning me about how people go into medical school as humans and come out as robots, hardened by exposure and oblivious to common suffering. I looked at her then skeptically, but I realize it’s true – somewhere between dissecting cadavers and running around sleepless writing endless case notes, our souls crack from numbness; when frustration mounts it enlarges to a chasm that separates empathy from the methodological, the functional. And easily enough everything starts irritating us. ‘Wounded healers’.. the term stays with me a decade after reading Erich Segal’s Doctors.
Rising violence against doctors in India is a direct outcome of the same. Patients no longer lie docile when shows of irritation are meted out. Miscommunication is no longer pardonable. Time and again, the newspapers are filled with tales of health providers being manhandled for what is perceived as inadequate treatment. It is in times such as these that I pat myself on the back for opting to specialize in a non-clinical subject.
Neither side is to blame, really. It’s always lack of proper communication. Here’s hoping that both parties soon learn to empathize with the other’s plight in the future. Only then can we expect the untoward incidents to show a descending trend.
This post speaks volumes (no, really; it’s one damn long write up) about the atrocities and trials faced by the average blogger. A humorous rendering of pent up frustrations, I could totally relate to the content. Maybe some of you too will. If not, just sit back and inhale this dose of literary laughing gas.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the obnoxiously clever, irreplaceable Brian of the Bonnywood Manor.
Once upon a time, in a land where the summer sun can kill your soul, on the patio of a restaurant bar where the libations eased the slow heat-death, a discussion took place betwixt a certain writer and a certain beloved person in the writer’s life. The conversation was initially mundane, with rambling whatnots about who would sleep with George Clooney if given the chance and whether or not a proper queso recipe should include diced onion. Then, in a rather alarming development, the dialogue became a wee bit accusatory, and non-sexual passions were enflamed. Nonetheless, some intriguing considerations arose, and I would be remiss in my responsibilities as a writer if I didn’t share this conversation with you.
(Note: Forthwith, the “writer” shall be known as “Hexom”, a character in one of my books, a simple ploy that should give the illusion that someone else has an issue, even…
The part that cannot decipher my unspoken words. The part that inadvertantly steps over my silent cries for attention, because maybe you don’t suspect that I’m this frail. The part that not even tries to realise that I am struggling behind the weak smiles and half hearted statements. The part that mistakes the pause at the end of my replies; what I put forth as a comma, you perceive as a period and think no more about my broken sentences.
How then, can I expect you to mend all else that’s broken about me?
Desire to see you waiting for me at the station in the wee hours of the morning, with even the sun yet to spy on us, and to ride home hugging you on the wide empty streets with the moonlight and stars for company.. But another self forbids me from waking you up; I know today is going to be another hectic day for you after numerous others and with many more to come..
I know you’re too. Torn between wanting to see me and yet having to succumb to the responsibilities weighing down on your eyelids; I know the fight inside you to be with me every day, even on the days when you’re not..
I know. Which is why I’m not going to wake you up at 4:00 like I promised. Today I’ll fight for once, take a cab and let you sleep.
Shaari? Was that her name? I’m not really sure. I don’t remember.
What I do remember is the little shy girl, smiling timidly in a classroom where she herself might have suspected she didn’t belong in. I remember she always had amicable smiles and average marks. Her skin was dark, her hair oily, combed back and held in place by plastic clips. I feel like describing her as having possessed mousy features as a child, perhaps because I can easily liken her to a tiny brown creature scurrying away from attention, and comfortable in dark corners.
But why I remember her is not because of her physical features or her characters. It is because of a plain sunny morning when a new teacher asked us to introduce ourselves, and one by one we reeled off our particulars – name, place, parent’s occupation – and when her turn came, she mentioned her father was a coolie. A daily wage labourer.
I was incredulous. My 11 year old mind was fascinated by the prospect of someone like her sitting here in a private school, among the children of professionals.. In retrospect, it does seem sad that such a thing even occurred to me. And yet, that’s what set her apart, for me. The fact that she was the daughter of an ambitious man, who refused to let his meagre earnings be a barrier in his daughter’s future, or believe that she was in any way less worthy of the painted classrooms of the celebrated convent school whose high walls were a stone’s throw from their small house. I used to imagine him coming home tired every night, and looking across the street at the iron gates; I would even conjure up a look of determination on his weary face..
The headmaster, Father T, would come by regularly to ask how many were yet to pay their monthly fees and invariably she would stand up every time. I believe she was given special consideration though, and allowed late payment.
I remember she was not particularly bright, or maybe she just never had anyone to help her with her lessons at home. Maybe that was one of the reasons, along with financial constraints, that led her to shift elsewhere after middle school.
I’ve never seen her since, but I do sometimes wonder what became of her. Had she found the new school to her liking? Has she have grown out of her shell with time?
Sometimes, I imagine running into her some day, and struggling to recognise the mousy girl I knew behind the confident young woman who challenged the world, with her proud father by her side. I would like that very much.
We live in an age when independence is considered the greatest virtue and to seek help a sign of weakness. But it is true that I have so many people in my life who help me out every day, in their own little ways. I like to believe that I give back, but the truth is that I often don’t offer help – not voluntarily, not proactively, not in a manner that cannot be refused. This post from Behind The White Coat served as a reminder of how I ought to change that. Enjoy.
“We are going to bring meals for the next week or two if that is OK. People really want to help out in some way.”
I sat staring at the email and struggled with an answer.
Asking for help is hard.
Receiving unsolicited help gracefully is even harder.
I don’t need help. I don’t want help. No, that’s not true. I don’t want to need help. I feel guilty needing help. I feel guilty receiving help.
What will other people think? I’m a doctor. I could just order stuff, right? I have a money cushion that a lot of others don’t have. Will I be judged for accepting help? Moooching. Weak. Will I then owe people favors that they will call in later? I don’t want to OWE anyone anything.
To accept a meal, you have to be decently dressed and willing to socialize for a few minutes. Are…
The Open Page of The Hindu today featured a short article titled ‘The World of Chhota Bheem’ which highlighted the dark sides of the highly popular animated TV show for children, stereotypical characters and racist biases being some of them. The writer lamented over how these may subtly influence the multitude of children who watch the show regularly. I, for one, being one of the 90s children brought up on a lavish dosage of Cartoon Network, couldn’t help pondering on my own upbringing. Looking back, I realize I can trace almost every aspect of my personality to one childhood experience or the other.
Yours truly is an environmentalist who faces constant death threats from friends secondary to irritating and long drawn lectures about saving Mother Earth, and today it struck me how my favorite toon as a kid, Captain Planet, might have something to do with it.
For the uninitiated, it was an animated edutainment program which featured five youngsters from five continents, each in possession of a powerful ring that could be used to control the elements (Fire, Water, Wind, Earth and Heart). Working together, they could seek the help of Captain Planet who would fight the enemies (criminal masterminds with no concern for ecosystems) and save the day. Their portrayal of the perfect Earth with a focus on sustainability, afforestation, animal conservation and responsible waste management had a significant impact on the kind of person I turned out to be. Today, twenty years down the line, the mantra of Reuse, Reduce and Recycle still stays fresh in my mind and I try to comply with it wherever possible.
On a similar note, I am pretty sure Denver, The Last Dinosaur is to blame for my one devilish craving – potato chips.
The issue does not pertain to TV shows alone. One of my favorite toys as a child was a set of tiny colored wooden cookware I acquired on a visit to Madurai. The minuscule look-alikes of pans, rollers and traditional utensils won my heart like nothing else did. Over the years, the pieces were broken, misplaced, lost.. As I grew up, they became but a fond memory. Fast forward to January 2017 when I come across brightly colored wooden items at a handicraft exhibition in Pondicherry and go gaga over them. I come to know that these are the famous Channapatna Toys from Karnataka – these even have a GI tag! Since then, I have gone back multiple times and acquired more and more of these adorable collectibles. I’m afraid I can’t help it. They are a part of my childhood and that alone deems them a precious and priceless status.
When I was a little girl, I imagined I would remember not to grow up to be the kind of adults I hated, the ones that forgot all the simple games, the tricks, the ones that did not know how to turn a piece of old newspaper into a little boat, or a ripe coconut leaf into a watch. But as J. M. Barrie ruefully documents in Peter Pan, we forget. All of us grow up and forget what it is to be a child. That in itself is not so dangerous – we only turn potentially boring. What is indeed dangerous is how, as parents, elder siblings, uncles and aunts, we forget how impressionable children are, how every little thing can make or break them and have lasting effects on their lives.
Especially in today’s world where mass media, social media and cyberspace come together to play a major role in our daily lives, we need to be responsible enough to decide and control what the posterity is exposed to. Toddlers do not need iPads, they need attention and care that they can in turn learn to disseminate. Let technology take a backseat; lead them to books, stories and imaginative play.
Let us create the perfect future, the perfect Earth, one child at a time.