A social mirror

Many years ago, when I was an intern, there was this statement Dr Maiya made during one of our pediatric ward rounds. Dr Maiya was a person we were all terrified of, and the fear was perhaps born more out of a deep reverence for him, for he was perhaps the gold standard for a pediatrician. A short-statured man of few words, he would never raise his voice when we displayed our stupidity, but his measured words of criticism were enough to make us wish we never existed. He pardoned lack of knowledge and gave us a chance to build on it, but lack of wisdom was unacceptable to him. And so, whenever he put forth questions to us on our ward rounds, the words would somehow die in our mouth even when we thought we knew the answer. On one such occasion, he put forth a question to one of the postgraduates. The postgraduate answered confidently, and as is the case with all of us sometimes, he spoke on, beating around the bush, hoping that speaking would be looked upon more favourably than keeping silence. The truth was that he had made statements related to the topic that was the theme of Dr Maiya’s question, but he had not addressed the core of the question at all. I still remember Dr Maiya’s face as he listened patiently, his composure unchanged, and at the end of it, we held our breath as we waited for the verdict.

In three years of post graduation, all you have learnt is to speak more number of words.

He left it at that. In that little statement, there were a million unsaid words we could hear. Quantity with no quality. Words without content. We all hung our heads.

Ironically, his words reverberate in my mind when I look at Indian society today. Be it the education sector or politics or healthcare or media, they are filled with hollow, empty words….so devoid of a core. Today, I am able to read into the message that was the crucial component of Dr Maiya’s expectation from us as future doctors- our responsibility and accountability to our patients. It was impossible to impress Dr Maiya with knowledge; you just didn’t stand a chance. There was only one way to appease him- to think of yourself as the least important person on earth and to develop a genuine curiosity in your patient. Today, I understand the rationale behind why his ultimate emphasis was on building that virtue and wisdom that is obsolete in the modern world- the awareness that love and humanity must form the basis of patient care…..and not our desire to prove ourselves. And I think that applies not just to the healthcare sector, but to all sectors.

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There were those days of responsible and civilized journalism that once set standards for how interviews, dialogues, discussions and debates must be conducted. They made a clear distinction between the sentimentality that characterizes our domestic arguments as opposed to the civilized nature of our discussions on a public forum. They taught us to express our disagreement in a civilized manner, putting up our reasons for disagreement, while respecting the opponent’s individuality and dignity. They also taught us the most important virtue that is lacking in the modern world- to listen before we react…the art of receptivity.
Today, we listen to reply and to defend our point of view….we don’t listen to understand.

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For those who grew up on the journalism culture that Prannoy Roy stood for...

Why I write this now is because we need a generation of news professionals to be inspired. Many of my generation were lucky enough to have our first exposure to people like Madhu Trehan and Prannoy Roy whom we saw take some difficult calls and decisions that reinforced our faith in the news media. Which is why I worry for those whose first exposure are the Sudhir Chaudharys of the world. That becomes the standard you will set for the rest of your life.

Prannoy Roy has provided inspired moments for a generation and no matter how much criticism is poured now and in the future, there is a whole crop, which based on first-hand experience, believes in what journalism can and should do. We’ve seen the sun shine at its brightest even as pretenders bask in the reflected glory of its golden glow as the sky becomes more crowded and noisy. Sometimes in life an opportunity comes along that gives you the choice of putting your money where your mouth is. How you act at that moment matters. And that’s what legacies are about.

http:// http://www.newslaundry.com/2015/05/06/why-prannoy-roys-lifetime-achievement-award-matters/#

Where journalism and media once focussed on public accountability, they are now commercially driven ventures that skilfully use the human psyche to market the junk they create.

To top it all, we also have social media now. The public extension of our so-important personal world 🙂
We do a favour to the world by posting statuses every minute, never compromising on the sentimentality and drama that successfully creates a fanclub on the other side of the screen. We are backed up by a thousand likes and we have transformed into self-proclaimed celebrities overnight. Our opinion on every issue is no less important than that of experts in the field. We rave and rage on social media, for we have all the time to passionately argue with people across the globe, mock and laugh at them, never stopping till we have verbally defeated them, and proved ourselves right. We are the gold standard and we can’t be wrong. Then we smile and lift our heads in pride, for this is nothing short of a heroic war we have fought….and we have won. A feather on the cap of our already inflated ego, which is ready to burst.

This was our reaction to Aamir Khan’s statement on the rising intolerance in this country.

This was our reaction when Dr K.J. Yesudas spoke on the importance of modest dressing and simplicity in the context of Indian women.

This was our reaction to the ‘kiss of love‘ campaign.

Many weeks after the ‘kiss of love‘ campaign, there was a beautiful debate on this issue. It was an eye-opener because it pooled thoughts from different angles on the same issue, and we would never have thought about some of those on our own. The experience of life counts. We youngsters are often impulsive, and sometimes lack of a deeper insight into all aspects of a venture can end up creating more harm than good, despite our good intentions.

The tragedy in all the above cases was that our sentimentality drowned our sensitivity. The resentment, anger, ridicule, sarcasm and humiliation that was meted out to Yesudas or Aamir Khan far exceeded the content that people might have wanted to express. We love reacting, and reacting has become our national pastime. We believe in reacting with much hue and cry, as opposed to acting silently and persistently for the creation of a better world.

For me, it is impossible to react in that manner to someone I have deeply respected over years….someone who has visibly and significantly contributed to the nation over a lifetime. There can be difference of opinion, but such reaction laced with mockery, resentment, anger and public humiliation is immature and unacceptable in a civilized world.

http:// http://m.indiatimes.com/culture/who-we-are/11-things-india-needs-to-introspect-about-this-independence-day-244185.html

Arguing on social media is not strength; it doesn’t cost anything. How many of us would find the strength for advocation of education of women at the Taliban’s gunpoint, like Malala did? That is an illustration of true strength.

We certainly must be the most tolerant nation on earth. For we tolerate the destruction of nature, the assault on our farmers, the cruelty to animals, the oppression of women, the poisoning of our food with pesticides…and so much more. The only thing we are intolerant to is criticism. We cannot bear criticism for we can never be wrong. The right-wrong margins are so sharp in our heads. Social media has contributed further in transforming us into narcissists, incapable of self-introspection.

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India no longer feels like the beautiful India of the 80s and 90s. The newspapers are full of stories of intolerance. The recent story of a labourer who killed a woman only because she refused to give him the amount he demanded. The man who set fire to the coach of a passenger train in the early hours of morning to kill his wife who had boarded the train and with whom he had an argument. The auto driver who killed a girl because she refused to marry him. The ‘moral police’ mob that troubled two female students who were talking to their male classmates at a bus stop.
And this is supplemented by our experiences in day to day life. People ready to react at the slightest provocation- a reaction that is disproportionate to the trigger. Perhaps it varies from place to place. I feel less defensive in Bangalore as opposed to Kannur. But my mother says the Kannur of 80s and 90s was not like this. At the same time, I have also met some of the nicest people here in Kannur- true humanists to the core.

At the end of it all, what is important is to reflect on this transformation. Over my years in Kannur, I have learnt that an outrageous reaction to the social violence we face on a day-to-day basis, will not achieve anything. For that is like chopping the branches of a tree when the disease is in the roots. We must understand that the personal violence that each of us manifests to varying degrees is the outcome of the social violence we have endured. ‘Reaction’ in a conventional sense is not the answer to social violence. Reflection and action is the answer. And when we reflect, we realize that there are harsh socioeconomic factors that have oppressed many segments of our country on a chronic basis, breeding silent rebels that resort to social violence at the slightest opportunity. The huge socioeconomic divide in our country creates a toxic environment for the deprived segments of our society. They are exposed to chronic negativity in the form of discrimination, deprivation, humiliation and much more. They lead lives devoid of dignity, and it is but natural for many of them to find a way out- an alternate source of motivation and self esteem. They find this in violence.

From something as benign as reacting outrageously and disproportionately to a celebrity’s statement to something as horrifying as the Nirbhaya incident, the root cause is the distorted human psyche fostered by a toxic environment. These episodes shall worsen in a consumerism-driven world where ‘money’ is portrayed as the success symbol.

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The answer to all the above issues lies not in reacting, but in acting- in working towards improvement of socioeconomic conditions in our country, and more importantly, on the human psyche. Treat every human being with dignity. Teach every human being the art of discovering his internal wealth within himself. Set a living example of an alternate model of success and happiness, far removed from materialism.

The day we portray the human spirit as far above materialism, we can perhaps be optimistic about a better tomorrow.

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My diary of malayalam cinema

As I write this post, I am reminded of Randy Pausch’s words from his book ‘The last lecture‘. He writes:

All of the things I loved were rooted in the dreams and goals I had as a child. My uniqueness came in the specifics of all those dreams. And I had lived out my dreams, in great measure, because of things I was taught by all sorts of extraordinary people along the way.

It is true that our deepest motivations are rooted in our childhood fantasies. Malayalam cinema was a fantasy world I nurtured in my unconscious. Today, I see it slowly evolve into reality.

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My earliest association with malayalam cinema dates back to those childhood days when family friends gathered on holidays to watch movies rented out from the local video store. I vaguely remember a few suspense movies and thrillers we watched. ‘Moonam Mura‘ brilliantly captured the tense mood of a plot that involved the kidnapping of a minister and his fellow-travellers in a bus journey, and the subsequent intelligent rescue operations that eventually succeeded in rescuing the victims, albeit with a few casualties. Every moment in that movie was one of tense impatience and silent prayer for the safe return of the victims. The background music amplified this mood and in our minds, it transformed into a real situation we were living through, and not a movie we were watching.

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Mohanlal in 'Moonam mura'

It was with the advent of the cable TV network that I actually got hooked on to malayalam cinema. Comedy was my favourite genre then. I took time to develop the sensibility that was required to comprehend the humour in these movies. But once I tuned in to that, I was addicted to cinema. It slowly dawned on me that a good sense of humour demanded intelligence. That era of cable TV exposed me to a surplus of movies. I devoured them avidly and unconsciously developed a taste for good cinema. At that point in time, I was unaware of how deeply I was beginning to connect to malayalam cinema or of how it was shaping my perspective of life. In my mind, it was only a leisure pursuit that I loved. A pursuit for which I had no plans.

My earliest memory of falling in love with a malayalam movie that portrayed tragedy was when I stumbled upon Lenin Rajendran’sMazha‘. I was past my teens and I drew inspiration from the movie’s feminist perspective. Like I once wrote about the movie:

The essence of the movie is Bhadra’s personality – a woman who awakens us to the fact that as women living in contemporary Indian society, we are vulnerable to the currents of life – far more than men in this society. Our lives might lie at the mercy of our primary caretakers and the men we marry, but our minds belong solely to us. The movie highlights the fact that even within the rigid framework of this orthodox society, the mind is a free bird.

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Lenin Rajendran's 'Mazha' starring Biju Menon and Samyuktha Varma

Subsequent to watching Mazha, I started compiling CDs of malayalam films. When I moved abroad, I carried them with me. At all the times that I missed the warmth of my home country, I would watch these movies. On cold wintery days when I was indoors, these movies kept me company. It was on one such wintery night that I woke up with an inexplicable emotion, the background music of ‘Mukundetta Sumithra Villikkunnu‘ playing in my mind for no reason. A strange nostalgia gripped me and I got out of bed, took a paper and pen, and started writing. That was perhaps the first time I wrote something that qualified for more than just a diary entry. That was the first time I had felt overwhelmed enough to write not about me, but to explore in writing an emotion…a perception. Art to me, is that moment when something briefly stills and silences my mind. That one little moment when the infinity of a universe nestles into the finite realms of my mind. That one little moment when eternity settles into the span of a finite moment. I knew then that as long as I had these movies for company, I would never be lonely. For they speak to me. That was about 7 years ago. And that hasn’t changed to this day. Malayalam cinema is my eternal antidote to loneliness.

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Mohanlal and Ranjini in 'Mukundetta Sumithra Villikkunnu'

My dependence on malayalam cinema grew as life exposed me to more complicated circumstances. The realism in these movies enabled me to discover the true meaning in life. Through them, I saw life- a canvas of emotions painted by the human spirit against the backdrop of circumstances. I learnt to see the beauty in our stories of struggle and pain. I realized how adversity alone brings out the strength of the human spirit and endows beauty to this dynamic canvas of life. Malayalam cinema helped me build inroads into my own mind. It taught me resilience- the art of discovering the strength of one’s spirit, without compromising on one’s sensitivity. And thus, malayalam cinema laid the foundation for my study of life. It is therefore not strange that the insight I gained from malayalam cinema increased my insights into all domains of life- my career as a doctor, teacher and researcher, my social interactions with people from different walks of life and my journey as a writer. I learnt to see the invisible interconnections that exist between all forms of matter, particularly the delicate interconnections between people that bind them in invisible threads of interdependence, and thus construct the whole picture. I learnt that the soul was always in the whole picture, and never in its independent fragments. And the soul alone possessed beauty.

As the awareness of how cinema was influencing me dawned on me, I felt deeply indebted to it. For it taught me to rise above the mundane at all times. The last straw in this sequence was the awareness of the power of language, beautifully illustrated by Lohithadas. Lohithadas’s strength was the aesthetic richness of script. Conversations from his movies would play repeatedly in my mind and inspire me, for they were rich in essence.

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A.K.Lohithadas: The master story teller who created magic with his script

There is rarely a day in my life that transpires without some thought pertaining to malayalam cinema. For in every individual and in every circumstance that surrounds me, I see these movies. They unfold before me in real life, reinforcing the fact that true art is derived from life.

Today was a special day in my life.  This was perhaps the first time I attended an academic event pertaining to cinema. Cinema, to me, has always meant art in all its seriousness, and never idle entertainment.
Art mimics life. And as emotions and soulful characters disappear from the face of the Indian landscape, art loses its soul. A once-intellectual audience that absorbed an entire spectrum of emotional tones portrayed by cinema, raising the standards of cinema to a level where it encouraged out-of-the-box thinking, is now replaced by an audience that cannot differentiate between an authentic work of art and meaningless entertainment. Cinema today is more about ‘technique’ rather than content, and the young generation is hooked on to its technical possibility. Like director Kamal said in his talk, people are losing the ability to sit back and feel. The most important ingredient that goes into the making of good cinema is the ability to passionately feel and thus develop critical thinking; the skill and technique are secondary. The film maker’s primary responsibility is to do justice to the deeper purpose of his art, for only then will the film speak across time and place.
For me, it was heartening to be a part of an event where cinema was discussed in all its seriousness. Though there will never be a return to the past, such events instill hope.

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It is perhaps time to write about malayalam cinema…about how it set standards for art and for life…about how it contributed not merely to cinema, but to the cultural development of a land and its people.. A journey through its soul, capturing the essence of human life that reflects the delicate interplay between the human mind and the diversity of the circumstances it endures.

Exploring Melancholy

Highly sensitive people are too often perceived as weaklings or damaged goods. To feel intensely is not a symptom of weakness, it is the trademark of the truly alive and compassionate. It is not the empath who is broken, it is society that has become dysfunctional and emotionally disabled. There is no shame in expressing your authentic feelings. Those who are at times described as being a ‘hot mess’ or having ‘too many issues’ are the very fabric of what keeps the dream alive for a more caring, humane world. Never be ashamed to let your tears shine a light in this world.” 
― Anthon St. Maarten

Exploring melancholy, thanks to Mini’s beautiful words on melancholy that refused to leave me…

She writes:
“I like melancholy. It speaks to me. It speaks to me of sadness: profound, lingering, filling the eyes at unexpected moments –  yet, unlike depression, it’s not without warmth.

To me, melancholy is about the sadness you feel when watching a quiet sunset from inside a bus, or when you come across a little yellow flower nestled among the debris of a torn down building that you are walking past. Or the catch in your throat when, out of the blue, the words from a particularly beloved piece of poetry drifts into your mind…

Yes, that kind of sadness. Dark, but lit from within by a feeble sun. There is hope in the despair. Yet.”

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I still remember the world in which I grew up.

A slow-paced, emotion-driven world where I derived all my joy from my interactions with fellow human beings. That joy stood high in my life, and colored my life in the most vibrant colors. My life then was characterized by unconscious perceptions that sought no goal or outcome. There was that silence in all our interactions that spoke more powerfully than did words. We cherished the emotions that hid in these silences.

As I grew up, a world of emotions disappeared around me. The warmth that filled the infinite moments of nothingness in our day to day lives, gradually disappeared. Growing up in a fast-paced world was a painful transformation. It was a thought-driven world; emotions had no place in this world, for they were not of survival value. Where mutual interactions with fellow human beings once instilled a spectrum of wholesome emotions to cherish, the sophistication of thought was beginning to take away the joy of that simplicity we once enjoyed. We now cared a lot more about relating intellectually; intellect alone seemed capable of giving meaning to our interactions in the real world. We now aspired for constant change and banked on our intellect to drive us forward….persistently.

We were now scared of our moments of nothingness, for the emotions that once filled that nothingness were conspicuously absent in our lives.

My mind always sought those emotions in the real world, but ironically, they no longer seemed to come from human interactions. Human beings seemed to have transformed as a species. We had all shed the raw human being within us. People no longer had the luxury of time, and the constant stress made it imperative to be alert and in intellectual mode all the time. I filled my moments of nothingness with malayalam cinema, music, books, animals and nature. The only human interactions that evoked feeling were the ones with human beings who were suffering- either from the adversity of their circumstances or from the overt vulnerability of their minds.

Malayalam cinema would make me cry. It still does. Sometimes I tell my mother- ‘As long as I have the companionship of these movies, I shall find the inspiration to live.‘ The beautiful stories woven from the rich essence of the emotions that once characterized our real lives, Johnson’s warm background music that spells out to me the music of my own soul, the characters of inspirational value- this concoction would abruptly thrust my mind into deep melancholy, shutting out all the thoughts. I loved this melancholy for it suddenly made me feel alive. Despite all my intellectual engagements in the real world, there was not a moment when I felt so alive. These movies were therapeutic for they were soulful. They allowed me to feel in silence what could no longer be felt in the real world.

They connected me to that raw, vulnerable being that defined me once upon a time, the one that I lost to survival in a fast-paced, insensitive world.

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I love melancholy. It represents to me the sweet residue of a deep sorrow…the silent symphony that the harshness of life leaves behind in our hearts…that fertile patch of nothingness that continues to exist in our minds, where emotions sprout yet again.

Melancholy is sorrow in its purest, most beautiful form. Sorrow devoid of anguish, denial, shock, spite or bitterness. Sorrow that has penetrated into the soul.

Sorrow transformed by the strength of the soul.

Our sorrows mature into something profound and overwhelming… something that suddenly awakens us to the profound beauty that lies hidden in our vulnerability and in all our stories of survival. Melancholy is holding close those moments of sorrow….for those moments in a strange way, belong to us….and only to us. Who can walk those paths with us, and feel what we felt? Who can claim those sorrows, save for us? Melancholy is looking back in calm reflection those moments that threatened our very existence….those moments we walked all alone, never once pausing to make sense of the circumstances or the intensity of what we were fighting.

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Melancholy is to look within the battered, bruised soul that life leaves behind, expecting to find nothing but barren patches where emotions once grew prolifically, and discovering with relief a tiny patch of green that speaks of life, of survival, of hope. Melancholy is the ability to cry again at the tears that had dried up with the realization that one has to fight one’s battles alone, and that there is no room for emotions in this survival game.

Melancholy is to step out into the bleak sunshine, baring oneself of the infinite layers of defense built over the years, bringing out one’s vulnerable core briefly into the real world, and feeling without fear all that one wishes to feel. A moment of nothingness, into which the emotions come of their own accord, unrushed and free flowing.

A familiar vulnerability floods me and I can feel life running in me yet again. There is the sorrow of loss and there is the joy of life. Ironically, it is the sorrow that makes me feel alive. For it is within this deep darkness of sorrow that I see something glow within me. I cry with relief at this ability to feel. Feel the abundance in that tiny glow.

It is a moment of vulnerability that tells me I am alive….

These Paths….(5)

Work was perhaps my greatest distraction from the unrest I felt within. Work was like a paid vacation. We didn’t have a lot of inpatients; but the outpatient clinic was fairly busy.

I still remember the early days when patients would hesitate to come to me, for I looked too young and inexperienced to understand life or disease, and too urban for their taste. I always sensed their hesitation when they stepped in.

It used to make me anxious as well, but the most important lesson I learnt in this period was that the language of suffering is the same all over the world.

I hadn’t seen a lot of life, but being way too sensitive, I would always be drawn to suffering. I was very receptive to stories of suffering, and I was very keen on understanding how different people perceived and processed suffering. My patients sensed this and it melted all their defense. I loved this magical transformation in their attitude- they always left with an attitude different from what they had stepped in with.

I was wonder struck by the lives my patients lived. The luxury of time enabled me to see them as suffering human beings, and not merely as ‘cases’. I learnt that illness had to always be seen against the backdrop that was unique to each patient, for their circumstances were different and their personalities were different. I learnt that providing insight to the patient about his illness made a lot of difference to his perception of the illness and to his compliance with treatment. My only regret is that I never wrote down the infinite stories they treated me to.

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A few faces are vivid in memory…

There was Ibrahim, a middle-aged man who was so lean that I couldn’t imagine him as a daily wage labourer. He had diabetes, and he sought treatment for the intractable pain in his legs, a complication of his chronic diabetes. The burden of a big family rested on the shoulders of his frail being, and the treatment expenses and the progression of his illness had begun to come in the way of his role as provider to his family. I would sometimes probe into his earnings and expenses, and wonder how he could manage this smile that accompanied his answers when in reality, his life was hanging on the edge. He was irregular with his treatment on account of the financial burden it posed, but sleepless nights of intractable pain would bring him back. I started saving drug samples for him.

I loved to see the relief they brought on his face…

There was Fathima, a middle-aged woman who suffered from asthma. She used to come all the way from a very remote village by the Ghats, for a solution to her asthma that limited her daily chores. Her daily chores involved walking miles uphill to gather firewood. She talked matter-of-factly about the unimaginable struggles of her day-to-day life; all she wanted was to be rid of her wheeze.

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I remember young Arthi, who presented with anxiety and sleeplessness. Her mother listened helplessly as she described the episodes of abuse that were an integral part of her life with her husband and mother-in-law. She had once attempted suicide. I could feel the pain of a mother who watched in mute silence her daughter’s agony and suffering, wishing she could take up all the suffering.

I remember Sri Devi, the farmhand who was relieved of her rheumatic pain and could get back to work. For me, it had been a simple affair for she responded to the most basic treatment. But in her mind, it was a miraculous phenomenon that made her eternally grateful to me.

I remember the two kids who came up to me with sweets, announcing the arrival of a baby brother. Their father followed them, and I vaguely remembered his face. Nine months back, his wife had presented with severe dizziness, and I remember her crestfallen face when the pregnancy test came positive. She hadn’t been prepared for that, and it had taken her quite some time to come to terms with it.

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I remember the old lady who got all her neighbours to visit me. I was amused that they had no ailments, but they had wanted to meet me out of curiosity.

There were unpleasant episodes too, but the warmth and resilience of these suffering souls obliterated the taste of those thankless encounters. I found these suffering souls attractive, for it gave them character. I was suddenly in love with my profession for it provided me access to the inner lives of these inspiring souls. For the first time, i felt a deep sense of contribution. The doctor-patient relationship acquired a new significance in this rural setting. It was very much a relationship, centered on a lot of teamwork. It meant sitting down together, building and defining realistic goals, and defining the path that would lead to those goals. It meant working on the mind as much as working on the illness. It meant constantly motivating, and keeping alive in their minds the promise of a better world, a world with a little less suffering than what they endured now. It was sometimes very difficult because the adversity of circumstances they endured had no immediate remedy. One could not make hollow promises, for my patients were wise from life. It was very hard to be realistic, and yet offer them hope. For the first time, I was consumed by the desire to ‘know’ so that I could use that knowledge to make a difference in the lives of these people, who asked so little of life.

That was perhaps the first time I learnt that true reassurance could only stem from the wisdom of life. ‘It will be okay’ was a hollow reassurance in most settings. A lie...

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It was a strange coincidence that I chose to read ‘Lust for life‘ at around this time of my life. My life appeared very similar to Vincent van Gogh’s life in the borinage. I was moved by this picture of life that was new to me.

As I observed from close quarters people struggling to make ends meet, illness complicating the picture and disrupting the delicate balance between life and death, I was stunned into silence.

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I shuddered at these glimpses, but they also instilled in me the courage to confront the horrors of my own life that had gathered momentum.

I no longer felt alone in my suffering…

Touch-me-not

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Said the touch-me-not:

I was sensitive. They touched me, and laughed as I recoiled from their touch. They were amused at my overt sensitivity to the slightest touch. It inspired them to repeat their act, celebrate my weakness, and walk away when they were finally bored of their act.
But they knew not that in their absence, I grew rampantly in the wild, celebrating the wilderness and the sunshine.

I grew where they couldn’t survive.

The wilderness was my home, and in the companionship of the wild plants that grew with me, I discovered my strength. In this wilderness, I celebrated the beauty of a world that was denied to them.

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These Paths…. (4)

Time stopped and I found myself settling into a pace that was unusually slow. It was a strange feeling initially- a feeling that something wasn’t right. I was so conditioned to the fast pace of city life, with its tone of urgency that I felt I was out of phase with the flow of life. I felt I had been deported from the mainstream of life into a place which was somehow not real. I couldn’t place it in the scheme of my life. I was unable to define my goals. I could only see that phase as a temporary phase of life.

A transit, following which I would get back to where I belonged...

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Perhaps this feeling of impermanence was responsible for the silence I felt in my mind. I absorbed my environment with a certain lack of resistance, a certain lack of objective.

I absorbed it for what it was, without coloring it with prejudice. I had no intentions of transforming it.

I had no expectations of it. And so, I learnt more than what I would have learnt otherwise.

I remember gradually losing touch with all my friends. I felt at a loss of words when I talked to them on the phone. For we were no longer on the same page. They talked about the continuum of a life I had known all along, while I listened in mute silence.

It got to a point where the conversations just faded away.

There was my friend Madan, who was witness to most of my life in London, especially the part where I had started exploring the world in the true spirit of a traveller. He was deeply sympathetic towards the unexpected turn my life had taken. My first birthday after I moved to Kerala, he sent me a postcard from New York (he was travelling). It was the skyline of New York city-an array of black and white buildings, and he wrote beneath it:

‘This is how I see this city without you!  – Colorless’

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I was touched and I was miserable. Madan was my best friend and my travel companion. I loved travelling with him because he never came between me and my perceptions. He was there, absorbing with a quiet smile my love for places and people, and I had never met anybody like that. At other times, he would tell me about places he had visited, and I would listen with excitement, for he knew what I liked to hear. Our conversations were always beyond the confines of the tiny world in which we lived; he always made me feel part of a large world. On some evenings, we would walk across Hungerford bridge, and he would discuss his dreams for the future. I would watch the reflections of a million lights on the river beneath, and see in them the brilliance and sheen of the dreams we dreamt. Madan was a friend- my best friend. We were not into a romantic relationship, but I could not imagine life without his presence in my life. I never did.

I was like a child, for the thought that he may fade away from my life never once occurred to me.

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With his postcard, there were 3 cards of different sizes, and a coffee mug. All of it had arrived in the post and it made me very nostalgic towards the life I had left behind. Just as I started to adapt to my new life in Kerala, a subtle reminder of my old life would send me into a state of intense denial. It would then take me days to get back to my new life. I started withdrawing from reminders of the past, and pulled myself more intensely into my present. And so, I gradually lost touch with Madan who was also going through his own share of problems. Nevertheless, I can never forget the day he came to visit me in Kerala, when a deep tragedy had befallen me. He was travelling to Dubai on work, and he just took a flight to India and spent time with me. Madan was like that- a man of few words, but his gestures spoke of the kind of love he was capable of. He was a self-made man, and hardships had formed him.

He understood hardships way better than people his age could.

In the early days of my life in Kerala, I would always carry my i-pod with me. It was my means of detachment from the people here. I dreaded their curiosity, their questions…especially at a time when my own head was swarming with questions that I couldn’t find answers to. The i-pod was Madan’s gift to me, just before I left London for good. I remember the day we were packing all my stuff into cartons. He hadn’t said a word about shopping for it. Someone rang the bell, and I was surprised to find an i-pod delivered to my address. Bewildered, I turned around to see Madan smiling. He had bought it for me online, and taken me by surprise. Ironically, the i-pod evoked more questions than the other things about me, here in God’s own country. Strangers in the bus would ask me what this gadget was, and I was miserable at this intrusion into my personal space.

Now, the memory makes me laugh!

I terribly missed my evenings with Madan at Canary Wharf. It was my favourite place in London. The newer part of London, with beautifully lit-up parks and Japanese bridges and canals and fountains and skyscrapers, it somehow radiated optimism and happiness. The ice rink there was my favourite. I would literally jump with the exhilaration of freedom that I felt there.

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One afternoon in Kerala, I received yet another post- a stack of newspapers that advertised apartments in Canary Wharf , a magazine on the place and a stack of pictures of my favourite places at Canary Wharf.

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And thus, days became weeks…weeks turned into months. The past, present and future played games in my confused mind, until gradually, the past was laid to rest.

I had taken the turn…