Questions to a Writer

Question: Is your writing autobiographical? Is your writing borrowed from your own story?

Answer: My writing is like a dish. When you taste a spoonful of a dish, you can tell there is salt in it, there is spice. But even the tiniest spoonful retains the essence of the dish. It doesn’t separate out into its individual components. So is my writing. There are elements of my own life in it. There are elements of other lives that have touched mine. From the past and the present. From reality and fiction. There is recollection and imagination. The final outcome is the result of an unconscious blending of all these components. Of all that I have written, there is perhaps not a single piece that is entirely mine. Yet, ingredients from my own life have seeped into each of these. But if you try to separate out my story from the rest, it is impossible. I  can no longer differentiate between what is mine and what belongs to the world. I think that forms the essence of all writing. A dissolution of the self into the universe.

Question: Do you believe that a woman has no identity of her own? That her identity is complete only in the presence of a man by her side?

Answer: A woman is not only a woman. There is a human being within her. There is an individual within her. Each, with a distinct identity of its own, and with its unique place in the world. The human being in her is to do with the inherent nature of her emotions. A being capable of feeling and reacting. The individual in her is the entity that comprehends and analyzes. These entities are independent of a man’s presence in her life. But the spirit of the woman in her is nourished by the presence of a strong male by her side- it could be a father, a husband, a son, or even a friend. Somebody who can offer her strong, unconditional protection and therefore the security that her vulnerable spirit seeks. It is this security that enables the woman in her to unfurl- the feminine nature of her personality to blossom to its fullest. The woman, with her softness, sensitivity, receptivity, empathy, shyness, gentleness, tenderness, sweetness, nurturance, deference, succorance and all the traits that bring out the aesthetic potential of her spirit. The very aspects of her being that the man seeks in her and that make the man-woman relationship unique and beautiful.

In the absence of this dimension, the woman is a man. And in being a man, she adopts skills necessary for survival in an unprotected world, but in the process, her feminine self is compromised. Her environment is not conducive for the free expression of her feminine spirit; one aspect of her personality, of her potential, is suppressed. This is not ideal because it takes her away from happiness.

The transformation of our environment is worrying. We have more and more women going into careers that compel them to reject their inherent feminine traits and adopt masculine traits. Also, male children are growing up in an environment where they are not exposed to the vulnerability of the feminine nature (they no longer see this vulnerability in the women in their lives) and are not taught to treat women responsibly. They are thus moulded into success-driven individuals who do not understand the vulnerability of the feminine nature or the joy and beauty such vulnerability is capable of bringing into their lives through its aesthetic potential. They end up rejecting the feminine nature because they associate it with weakness. There is an urgent need to protect the feminine, but that can come only from a change in the mindset of both men and women. That can come only from awareness and introspection. We need media, particularly visual media, to take a lead in this direction, and to project such stories that can create an impact and make men and women ponder about these aspects of change.




The stigma of being a woman

Some of the most poignant moments in my life have been punctuated with moments of incredible courage. Courage from what I have now fully realised are God’s most benevolent yet intricate creations. WOMEN!

From a mother picking up pieces of a suddenly derailed life, to bring up two young boys to be the men they are a wife who at the fag end of a 40 hour labour, just as she was being cut open without an anaesthetic, holding my hand and telling me “It’s alright Prithvi”..I have repeatedly been dumbfounded in realising how much of a lesser being I am in the company of the women in my life.

And my dear friend walks in to the sets to kick start the shooting of her new film (*film name withheld to protect identity of actress*), I once again bear witness to an extraordinary moment of courage from an extraordinary woman in my life! Today..she makes a statement..a statement that will echo through time, space and gender..that no one or no incident has control over your life but YOU! A statement that will now be part of counselling sessions and pep talks around the world. A statement that you my friend..are making in a million unheard voices!

And to those voices I apologise..for at an age and time when I wasn’t wise enough..I have been part of films that celebrated misogyny..I have mouthed lines that vilified regard for your self respect and I have taken a bow to the claps that ensued. NEVER AGAIN..never again will I let disrespect for women be celebrated in my movies! Yes..I’m an actor and this is my craft! I will whole heartedly trudge the grey and black with characters that possess unhinged moral compasses…but I will never let these men be glorified or their actions justified on screen.

Once again..ladies and gentlemen..stand up and applaud for her! Behind the gutsy spunk, there is a vulnerable celebrity who knew well enough what this decision of hers would mean to a life under constant scrutiny. But she also knew..that she had to see it through…for that would set an example..light a torch that will show a path for many to follow!Today she makes a statement..

A statement of extraordinary courage!

Fanboy for life…dear friend..fanboy for life!

Love always,


These empathetic words would momentarily light up the darkness in the lives of millions of women imprisoned by the shackles of patriarchy, misogyny and male chauvinism. When I read these words, there was a tiny flicker of hope and optimism within me too. However, their impact faded away as soon as I was back to the daily routine of my life in a place where every living moment in a woman’s life is a battle with these oppressive forces. Though empathetic, these words are lone voices in an ocean of numbness. They offer no consolation in a world where the numbness that has replaced the inherent empathetic nature of the human being, refuses to be penetrated by guilt, remorse, shame or fear.

Misogyny was alien to me. Bangalore had never given me a taste of misogyny. I grew up in a liberal world where gender roles were not sharply defined or imposed. Humanity mattered more than did gender roles. At home, my parents never made me self-conscious about my gender. I had as much freedom and as many opportunities as my brother, if not more! The males that I grew up with- family, friends and classmates, were real gems. Most of them thought of girls as delicate and fragile beings that needed to be treated with tenderness, and I absolutely cherished this sentiment.

As a child, I visited Kerala during my vacations, but the gender bias did not significantly permeate my world for the simple reason that I was practically a tourist visiting God’s own country! I was attracted to the physical beauty of this land, its character and its cultural richness. This obscured the real picture that characterized the lives of women in this land – a land that was renowned for its creative potential and cultural richness. As a child, I was spared the restrictions that bound the lives of my female cousins. I found them odd and uninteresting, and I would therefore take to the company of my male cousins who were high spirited, fun-loving and full of mischief- traits I related to. My aunts often discouraged these traits in me. ‘Unfeminine‘, they would remark. But I was too busy savouring the beauty of my world, and did not mind their remarks. So while my female cousins grew up to be soft-spoken, dependent, subservient women who paid attention to how they walked, dressed and talked, I grew up to be somebody with an opinion. Loud, arrogant, unfeminine. These were the labels I earned. However, beneath all the sarcasm they meted out to me, I could sense the denial that drove this sarcasm. At an unconscious level, they felt a certain inferiority in my presence. It was this inferiority that drove them to condemn my personality. This was the case not only with my cousins, but with my aunts too. They were never open about it, but this silent hostility spilled into the way they looked at me, the way they weaved their humour around me, and the way they refrained from any positive remark pertaining to me. I felt alienated in their company; they were united in this silent hostility to me. It was ironical that the men in my extended family were more accepting of my personality and the freedom that I enjoyed, than the women.

I had never imagined that some day, I would actually migrate to this place that reeked of misogyny and where women were treated as lesser beings meant to serve men. From Bangalore to London had been a huge transition, but a welcome one. Both these places had never robbed me of my emotional or intellectual freedom. But London to Kerala was a culture shock. Upon arrival, it was a different Kerala I saw. Not the one I had seen as a child during my vacations.

I could sense it right upon my arrival.

The stares that constantly accompanied me as I went about my chores. They were there when I strolled about idly, trying to keep my mind on the beauty of the landscape that surrounded me, or sometimes, on my thoughts. They were there when I went shopping on my own, trying to keep my mind on the things I wanted to buy. They were there when I stopped to take pictures of sunsets and backwaters. They accompanied me wherever I went, irrespective of whether I walked, drove or took a bus. Irrespective of whether I dressed conservatively or liberally. The creepy stares, the sardonic smiles, the leering faces, the lewd remarks. I found it impossible to numb myself to them and focus on my chores. Sometimes, I stared back, hoping that it would deter them. Instead, they seemed to derive encouragement from my reaction.

I still remember how helpless, weak and frightened I felt within, despite the brave exterior that I tried to put up. In truth, I had always wanted to flee from such situations. But because I couldn’t, I had to hold on. When I was finally alone, I would cry like a frightened child. I couldn’t imagine going through this, day after day, unable to escape.

My father had completely introverted by then, and lost all ability to connect emotionally. Of course, it was only later we realized that these personality changes were part of his illness. I had a passive and helpless mother, who empathized with me, but could do nothing about it. In the early years of life in Kerala, our relatives visited us occasionally. During one such visit, we set out on a trip to Pazhassi dam. This was in the year 2007. My relatives were in one car, and me and my mother followed in my car. I was driving. On that day, I had plugged my earphones and was listening to music. We were on a stretch of road that was wide, but full of potholes on the edges. So we kept to the better side of the road and drove on. Traffic was very sparse. At some point, I lost sight of the car in which my relatives were travelling. So I speeded up a bit. A rickshaw was just ahead of me and the driver was driving at snail’s pace. I honked so that he would give me space to overtake. But he didn’t. He slowed down further and kept blocking my way. In some while, I realized he was doing it on purpose. At one point, I could see that there were no potholes ahead and the road was really wide. The man didn’t expect that I would overtake from the left. I swerved sharply to the left and overtook him before he realized what had happened. As I sped off, I put out my hand in a gesture of ‘What the hell?’ and sped off. But imagine my surprise when he speeded up too and drove so fast that in no time, he was in par with me. We were now nearing a little junction and he overtook me and blocked my way. My relatives were waiting at the junction for us. They got out of the car and came towards us. Meanwhile, the rickshaw driver started abusing me. I retorted back, asking him why he had deliberately blocked my way all along. Imagine my shock when he made up a cock-and-bull story about me troubling him and splashing slush on his rickshaw. Meanwhile, other rickshaw drivers had gathered. This man, encouraged by their presence, screamed at me,” Car, goggles and earphones! Remember you are just a woman!” I remember the pain of that statement. It struck me then that I was dealing with someone whose general resentment of women had provoked this. His denial towards the fact that I was a woman, and ‘yet’, placed in better circumstances than him, had triggered this behaviour. My pain was doubled when my relatives apologized to him on my behalf and repeated in my ear what he had mouthed: “You may have been right, but don’t forget you are a woman. So stop defending and quietly get into the car.” The unfairness of it all made me want to leave Kerala that very moment. But that certainly wasn’t the end.

Ten years have passed since I moved to Kerala. In these ten years, I have come across misogyny in its myriad shades and forms. In Anjali Menon’s words: “Violation of one person by another. Of space, of body, of mind, of respect, of identity. On screen – off screen – everywhere.

Little boys, not older than ten years of age, passing derogatory remarks at women much older. Many an instance where an elderly colleague assumed that women from metro cities were desperate and available. The horrifying stories I heard from the nursing aids in the hospital as to what went on in the hospital during their night duties. Many of those women were too scared to complain. Somehow, they had learned to avoid, pretend, protect and cry silently. But none of them had the courage to speak up.

The peers who assumed that being single reflected an attitude problem- an inability to bend to the male ego. The work superiors who were kind and empathetic to married women irrespective of how incompetent they were at work, and impossibly difficult with single women. The numerous instances of being troubled on the road when I drove with no male by my side. Neighbours who refused to involve when it really mattered, and who passed judgmental remarks when it wasn’t their business.

Never before had I felt so painfully aware of my limitations as a woman. Until I moved to Kerala, I had never looked at my gender as a limitation.

Ten years have not made these battles less painful. However, they have helped me realize the magnitude of the situation. My life in Kerala is built on two planes. The basic plane is one of struggle and suffering. Of oppression and hopelessness. Of loneliness and illness. Of physical and mental exhaustion. But erected on this base is a world of joy and hope. Of meaning and purpose. Of fantasy and beauty. Of humanity. One fuels the other. The more intensely I feel the negativity of the oppressive forces, the more I am moved to bring about a change. That change is my motivation. It is what enables me to endure.

Over the years, I have realized that a powerful revolution is often the outcome of silent and persistent work. Work that doesn’t attract too much unwanted attention, but work that nevertheless achieves its goal. Empower people psychologically. Secretly, silently. Without making it too obvious. Weave the message into a simple heart-to-heart conversation. Into activities. Into thoughts. Influence people’s thought process. And most importantly, to remember not to give up. At one point, such a revolution ignites spontaneously.

I believe and hope that I shall leave this world a little better than how I found it.

The Modern Doctor

Art and Medicine, though much segregated in this country, are inseparably bound by the common purpose they serve in the context of human life- alleviation of suffering. While Medicine primarily focuses on physical suffering, art is meant to heal the suffering mind. It is only in recent times that Medicine has also shifted its focus to mental illness as the picture of disease has changed, and a good proportion of disease that finds its way to the doctor’s doorstep, takes the form of mental illness.
However, the irony is that the bulk of these mental illnesses reside in our entrance coaching centres and medical colleges- a fact that goes unrecognized.

The very institutions that are meant to train young doctors in the art of healing, are now pockets of suffering.

Recollect the face of the average doctor today. One can recognize numbness, frustration and boredom in that face.


Dr KK comes to my mind as the prototype of this species. A middle-aged doctor with many credentials to his name and a roaring practice, his day starts at 7 a.m. At his residence, patients have already lined up to see the doctor. By 8 a.m., he has dealt with most of them. For him, each patient translates to a fee.The chauffeur is ready with the car. Dr KK walks to the car, irritated with the stress of the first hour, and frustrated at the thought of the stress that lies ahead.

At the hospital, he sails through the drudgery. The first patient walks in, eager to talk about his illness.

I have been coughing for the last 2 days…”, he starts.

Dr KK cuts him short and ushers him to the couch. The man moves to the couch, hoping that he can resume his story thereafter. But as soon as he reclines on the couch, he finds a thermometer being inserted into his mouth. The nurse notes the temperature. The doctor walks up to him.

I can’t sleep all night…”, the patient makes an attempt.

But the doctor has already placed a stethoscope on his chest.

Take deep breaths”, he orders.

The patient does as he is asked to. The doctor examines him and goes back to his table. He starts to write the prescription. The patient walks to his chair and makes the final attempt:

I have no appetite…

Any fever?”, the doctor asks him, without looking up from the prescription.

I feel feverish, but…

Any difficulty in breathing?”, asks the doctor.

Occasionally, when the cough doesn’t stop, I have trouble breathing….

Take these pills. Come and see me in 3 days time.

The nurse looks at the prescription. A tablet for fever and pain, an antibiotic, an expectorant, a bronchodilator, a vitamin tablet. By now, she is familiar with the doctor’s prescriptions.

The next patient is already in.

Doctor, my leg hurts!

Which leg?

The right one.

You are lucky. Both my legs hurt.

The patient looks at the doctor. His face is serious. The patient does not know what to make of the statement. He looks at the nurse. She smiles at him.

Crazy people. They have no better work. Pain in the legs, hands, head…what not!”, the doctor mumbles to the nurse after the patient has stepped out.

By afternoon, Dr KK has seen at least hundred patients. The repulsion is obvious on his face. But the hospital is happy- he generates numbers. His credentials on his cabin gleam in bold letters. After lunch, Dr KK has a little nap. Then he goes for rounds. He talks and even jokes with the interns and nurses. But with the patients, he is serious and quiet. He refuses to talk…or to listen. Perhaps it is his way of defence- of coping with the numbers. The less you listen and talk, the more you can take.

By the time he finishes rounds, his chauffeur is ready with the car. He doesn’t need to be told; he is familiar with the doctor’s daily routine- a routine that is seldom broken. He chauffeurs Dr KK to the hospital where he is a visiting consultant. He then parks the car and heads off for some evening refreshment. Meanwhile, Dr KK ‘does away’ with his patients for the next 2 hours. By 7pm, the chauffeur is ready with the car. It takes him only ten minutes to reach Dr KK’s home. There are patients waiting impatiently. The chauffeur parks the car, hands over the keys, and steps out of the gate, whistling to himself. He is done for the day, but for Dr KK, it is another 1-2 hours of practice.

Dr KK has no memory of his patients. He is unmoved- by life, by disease and by death. In truth, it is not his patients that he hates. He hates himself- all that he has become. He seems to miss something, but he is not aware of what that is. He lives in the belief that this is what it means to be in this profession. Every day, he resents his life. But the ignorance compels him to continue- with bitterness, frustration and insensitivity.

This is the kind of doctor we often meet today. The doctor who has learned early in his life to ‘switch off’ his mind, so as to be able to handle the pressures of his profession. The doctor who has been taught to believe that work can never be joyful, and that we have no choice but to work, in order to earn a livelihood. The doctor who does not feel the joy of a doctor-patient relationship; the doctor who does not know how to transform his interactions with patients into beautiful and fulfilling moments. The doctor who has replaced this joy with numbers- traded quality for quantity.

These are doctors who have forgotten to live- who no longer know the meaning of life. These are the doctors to whom we entrust our lives and the lives of the people we love.

That is my mother…my son…my spouse on the hospital bed!”, we cry.

But what difference can it make in the mind of such a doctor who is so alienated from life and from human relationships?

It is in this context that doctors like Dr V P Gangadharan transform into Gods in our minds. For they are the exceptions. So what is it that moulds our doctors into these walking corpses that are so alienated from life?

Part III: What should a doctor dream about?

The inability to savour and cherish the doctor-patient relationship perhaps lies at the crux of the ailments that have afflicted the modern doctor.

In the past, the maximum filtering in education was carried out at the ground level. This perhaps enabled students to be steered towards career domains that they had greater inclination to. Today, such filtering is absent at the school level. Also, the number of private medical colleges are ever expanding. As a consequence, we have a surplus of young doctors passing out. And yet, there is no channeling of these doctors towards rural and government sectors, where services are most needed. Also, since these medical graduates from private medical colleges are largely from the higher socioeconomic strata, their aspirations almost always revolve around urban and elite jobs.

This surplus generates a need for further qualifying exams, wherein young doctors are compelled to write endless competitive exams, specializing and super-specializing- a process that has no end. They are forever on the move, with one foot resting into the future. Where then, do they have the time or space to savour a doctor-patient relationship? They never really settle, and by the time they attain a certain career stability, they have been stripped off the last vestiges of human essence. They find themselves robbed of the true meaning of their lives. This is the sad story of a doctor’s life today. Unless young doctors wake up to this fact, and refuse to be swept away by this overpowering tide of market-driven forces, they shall lose hold on the actual path of their lives, and end up as victims of the system.


Perhaps it is the need of the hour to slow down. When one takes up the medical profession, one must understand and accept that a doctor’s journey is a slow process of ascent, sometimes spanning a lifetime. It may be worthwhile spending some time working in a small hospital or a clinic, without setting any immediate goals. Ideally, in a rural setting where there is greater exposure to life. Just so as to get a feel of the profession. Allow oneself to experience its joys and pains- at the ground level. That is when one is able to hear one’s inner voices. There is nothing that can provide better guidance than one’s own instincts. It may be worthwhile taking up an apprenticeship under a doctor that one looks up to. It may be worthwhile working as a resident in a field that one has a liking to, just to get a feel of it.

It is only when one exposes oneself to a domain at the ground level that one can rise up to the role that is demanded of oneself in that domain, as one steps into higher levels of hierarchy. 

Work in a ward. Do everything. Be a doctor, be a nurse, be a pharmacist, be a lab technician, be a clerk. Be a human being. Talk to your patient. Talk to your peers and to all the staff involved in the care of your patient. Talk about your patient’s condition, talk about life. It doesn’t hurt to crack a few jokes. Liven up the place. After all, a hospital is a place where there is so much suffering. Bring a little optimism and happiness into this suffering. Communicate and coordinate between members of your team and give your highest involvement. Make things easy for people. Make it a place where your patients and peers are eager to see you and look forward to your presence! And slowly, you will see the light within!

A little light on this through a personal journey:

A few more instances of the doctor-patient relationship:



Part II: What should a doctor dream about?


Dr. Gangadharan  is a distinguished Oncologist who combines high professional skill with compassion, and hence is a source of hope for cancer patients generally steeped in despondency‘, reads a profile on the website of Caritas Hospital, Kottayam.

Dr V.P.Gangadharan is a name that is familiar to every Malayalee. A name that cuts through all barriers of caste, creed, religion, wealth or social status- just as the disease he treats….

A disease that does not distinguish between its victims…

A disease where all the illusions of the material world crumble, exposing the vulnerable and terrified human being within.

To his patients, Dr Gangadharan is God himself. But the doctor brushes off the ‘larger than life’ image that his patients confer on him and maintains that he is just a human being who is committed to his role as a doctor.

In an era where there is a palpable lack of role models and references, there is much that Dr Gangadharan’s life speaks for itself. For a young doctor, there is much to learn from his life.

In an interview at J.B.Junction in 2014, the doctor illuminates those forgotten aspects that once defined the medical profession, by sharing experiences from his own journey as a doctor, rekindling the dormant spirit of young doctors, awakening the seeds of humanity in them, and planting dreams in a career that has transformed from what was once regarded as humanitarian service of the highest order to what is now a commercial industry.



At the start of the interview, the doctor makes an important observation:

A doctor represents a cross section of society. Now, if society has changed, it is quite natural that the doctor would also change. The change that we see in doctors today, is a reflection of the change that has afflicted society as a whole. And so, the greatest challenge that a doctor faces today is- Is it possible to remain committed to one’s ideals and principles, in the setting of such change?

This is the question that young doctors must ask of themselves. What needs to be understood is that the practice of Medicine is an art. The real doctor is an artist, not a scientist. And so, he must possess the quality that defines an artist- perseverance. A true artist must demonstrate perseverance. Only then can he remain committed to his art. It is this perseverance that will eventually enable him to carve out a space for himself…that will make him distinct and irreplaceable. Dr Gangadharan’s life is a living example of such perseverance.

In this context, Dr Gangadharan discusses the joy of the doctor-patient relationship. He believes that once a young doctor has experienced the joy of this relationship, it is impossible to choose materialism over this joy. He insists that teachers and doctors are the most fortunate, for their professions bring them ample love. This love that comes from their students or patients is the secret of their undying zeal and energy. He regards his patients as people, and not as cases. He feels they have much to offer him as human beings who have traveled their own paths in life and whose souls are enlightened by the suffering they have experienced. The doctor emphasizes on the need to communicate and converse with patients and breathe life into these interactions.

Love is the fundamental principle of ‘Medicine’

This message resonates with the previous post on Dr Rosamma who enjoyed her interactions with patients. Her interactions were unhurried and had the feel of a heart-to-heart conversation between two human beings, rather than the mechanical exchange of words that characterize a doctor-patient interaction today.

Yet again, this point illuminates the difference between a dream and an aspiration. As young doctors aspire for degrees, awards and materialistic rewards, they lose sight of what they have to live with every day, for the rest of their lives. They fail to see the daily routine of their lives that revolves around their interaction with patients. Unless one can transform these interactions into moments of joy, the degrees and all other achievements lose their significance. 

Dr Gangadharan describes the role of an oncologist thus:

There is this narrow bridge between life and death. I carry my patient on my shoulders and walk across this narrow bridge. On one side is disease, with all its horrors. On the other side is treatment, with all its horrors. I carry my patients through these horrors, and that is the magnitude of challenge that an oncologist must confront!

Dr Gangadharan reflects on how a doctor is a student for much of his life. He recounts the numerous instances where his patients opened his eyes to numerous aspects of his profession that one cannot learn from text books.

I asked the patient to lie down. But I was called away for something, and I left abruptly. It was only when the patient said to me that it does not befit a doctor to make their patient lie down in order to be examined, and then leave abruptly, leaving the patient in the dark, that I realized the lack of sensitivity I had displayed.

He emphasizes on how the greatest lessons are always learnt from life. Formal education can only be a preparation for the lessons that one must learn from life.

Upon receiving an MBBS degree, the doctor is only formally qualified. But in effect, he remains a student who has much to learn from his encounter with his patients‘, he concludes.

In his book ‘Jeevithamenna albhutham‘ (The miracle that is life), Dr Gangadharan talks about the powerlessness and fragility of human life as he recounts his helpless moments as a doctor in the context of disease- the heart attack that killed an individual who survived cancer, the relapse of cancer in a patient who had been cured of it, and so much more. Perhaps the greatest tales of resilience are also found in these cancer wards where one witnesses individuals who manage to smile and keep up their spirits, despite their poverty, deprivation and the dreadful illness they fight.


Actors Sreenivasan, Innocent; artist and cancer survivor Eby N Joseph; and noted oncologist Dr V.P.Gangadharan, share a lighter moment at the inauguration of Eby’s exhibition at Durbar Hall Art Gallery in Kochi. Photo re-posted from ‘The Hindu’.

It might be worthwhile compiling such inspiring stories into documentaries that could be screened in medical colleges. A lack of inspiration haunts our medical education system today and the medical curriculum must incorporate activities that inspire and motivate. Also, it must introduce sessions that focus on goal-devoid doctor-patient interactions. Students could be made to visit the community or palliative care units or hospices, talk to patients, and write about their experience. It is then that they engage with life and with the human being and discover the joy in these interactions!


Part I: What should a doctor dream about?


To the fresh, eager young faces who were beginning their journey as doctors, my focus this year was to make a distinction between a dream and an aspiration, between the joy of perception and the burden of chasing a market-driven ambition.

This thought stemmed from a post I had put up some time ago on Facebook:

Whatever you choose to become tomorrow- a parent, a practitioner, a teacher, a writer, your ultimate objective of that role should be to bring about a transformation in the lives and minds of the people you touch- your children, patients, students or your readers. I say this because profits, expansion, competition– these are the words that govern the modern world. Aspirations are built on the foundation of these words. Do not fall prey to these. True happiness comes only from a positive transformation of the world in which you live. Touch lives and live on in the minds of the people you have touched. There is no greater joy than that!

To which one of my students asked:

But what should a doctor dream about? For instance, I am the first in my family to have taken up this profession. I am now already in my second year, but I do not know what I must focus on. Should I just focus on studying and building concepts? How do I plan my future? What defines a dream? If I wish to set up a hospital, would that be a dream?

This question, I realized, was the question of the hour- the unasked question that nevertheless hung heavy in the minds of all the young people in the profession. While a large segment of society believes that the problem lies with the students who make an entry into this field by paying a huge capitation fee while they are not suited for the profession, my experience with them has been different. Like the student who asked me this question, there are many who are here to explore and to learn. In fact, entrance toppers have often been a disappointment in this regard because more often than not, they are good performers and not true learners. Many are only masters of a formula that works when it comes to delivering in Indian entrance exams- an evaluation pattern that seldom assesses the creative application of the knowledge acquired.

So what must a doctor dream about? 

When I worked in the Medicine Department, we had a doctor by name Rosamma. Rosamma ma’m was a middle aged lady, and she only had an MBBS degree. My room was adjacent to hers and I could hear her conversation with her patients. On many occasions, I have wished I could work as an apprentice under her.

She talked to her patients

About their illness, about medicines, and about numerous other things that no doctor would bother to explain. I remember her telling her diabetic patients:

You can eat just the same. Fill up your plate, but reduce the quantity of rice to a cup, and increase the vegetables. That way, your stomach is full, but your calories are low. You could perhaps divide your meals into six small meals, instead of three large meals. You could substitute your snacks with salads and fruits. It is alright for a diabetic to eat a little fruit. Go down on the rice and the starch, but increase your dals and fish, so that you are not hungry. Steam or bake your fish, instead of frying it. Most importantly, keep giving yourself a change of menu so that you are not bored of the same diet. Once in a while, after your blood test, if your glucose is normal, you can treat yourself to a sweet.

She maintained a holistic approach to all kinds of illness. She had these little non-drug prescriptions for all kinds of illness- common cold, asthma, abscesses, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease.

Instead of jogging, you could do gardening. Since you enjoy gardening, you would be more motivated to pursue it, as opposed to jogging or other physical exercise‘, she would tell some of her obese patients.

Rosamma ma’m was very particular about the follow-up of her patients. She would ask relevant questions on follow-up and listen attentively as her patients let out details of progression or regression of the disease, and I realized that she had acquired most of her wisdom from such attentive follow-up. There were many occasions where she was able to identify things that many specialists missed. Some were simple things. For instance, an infection that failed to abate because her patient had stopped the medication midway- a fact that the patient considered irrelevant to mention. Or self-medication with antihistamines that suppressed a throat infection. She had also learnt to differentiate between brands of a medicine; she was aware of which brands were cost-effective and patient-compliant. When prescribing a new brand, she always made it a point to check with the patient if the patient had experienced any particular difficulty.

In effect, Rosamma ma’m was a very happy and content person, unlike all the specialists in that department. She had built a patient clientele, and had gained their confidence. She demonstrated a deep involvement with them, and that was the reason for her ‘success’. This deep involvement was possible only because she kept her clientele limited. At the time, she had no private practice unlike the specialists who filled up all their time with practice.

Her calm, content face was a striking contrast to the frustrated faces in the department.

Rosamma ma’m quit this hospital a few years ago. She is now happily settled in a little village called Kelakam where she runs a clinic and enjoys the simplicity of rural life. She has a beautiful house with abundant garden space, and she enjoys tending to her garden. She grows her own vegetables and rears a couple of hens on her farm.

I think a dream is defined by breathing life into what has touched us. I am sure we all have our stories of encounter with disease and of how it has touched us. In the dark alleys of disease, one often discovers the most powerful stories of human life.

Perhaps it is these stories that the young doctors have to search, within themselves. It is in these stories that they shall discover their dreams- the dreams that define their role as a doctor.

(to be continued….)





What is the color of fear?



With the practised strokes of an artist, he adds final touches to the mural. The mural is of a fiery-eyed, bloodthirsty demon. 

‘The car is gone’, speaks a voice at his doorstep.

He turns around. It is his neighbour, an adolescent girl whose eyes are still that of a child. She peers at him, terrified of something she has witnessed.

‘When I see that man, I am terrified’, she says. There is the inexplicable fear of the unknown in her words. The abrupt exposure to a world that the child doesn’t understand, but that her instincts mark as ‘dangerous’. 

Sadayam was a film that I was never comfortable watching. I was in school then, and I remember it as a rather disturbing film that left me feeling weak, turbulent and helpless-

The feeling of being stifled, when you actually wanted to scream.

I remember how that film was played once in the bus while we were travelling. I remember forcing myself not to look at the monitor. And yet, I couldn’t run away from the dialogues that sent a chill down my spine, and the background score that knocked louder at the doors of my mind.

That there were women out there, standing all alone, standing naked to the brutal forces of society, was a chilling revelation to my young mind. That I lived a life of dignity while there were women out there who surrendered their spirits to the sheer adversity of their circumstances, opened my eyes to the horrors of being a woman. It struck me that I was bound to them by the commonality we shared- I was a woman too. More fortunate, perhaps. But I couldn’t shed away the fears that crept into my mind when I confronted on screen the brutal experiences that my gender had to confront in life. These women on the screen were my own faces in a different context. This realization was the magic of writers like MT. 

‘What is the color of fear? Is it blood red?’, asks the artist.

The young girl is perplexed by this question.

Those words lingered in my mind. MT’s signature script. Haunting.

Mohanlal in the film ‘Sadayam’, directed by Sibi Malayil

‘Are you a communist?’, asked my mother.

That is always her question when I wear red. It always makes me conscious. I go and take a second look at myself in the mirror. And somewhere, I feel a little uncomfortable.

Perhaps red is the color of fear. Or of violence. It is the color of blood…of bloodshed.

There is always a certain discomfort I feel when I regard the color of buses in Kannur. They are painted in shades of red and orange and yellow. Like buses that have caught fire. They speed through the traffic, desperate and chaotic, with no regard for all other life.

Theyyams are indigenous to Malabar. They are colorful and vibrant. But in them is an uncomfortable portrayal of violence too. They embody the prominent characteristics of primitive, tribal, religious worship. The costume of the theyyam artists is blood red.

These artists go into trances and transform themselves into forest and ancestor spirits, mythical heroes and flamboyant toddy-consuming gods who leap through fire, roll on burning coal, and accept blood sacrifices of live chickens.‘, reads an article on this folk art:

It seemed as if the entire village around the Theyyam artist as he danced in a corridor of wild fire, screaming and kicking flames in every direction; he seized full control over the crowd around him, leading the villagers to scream in ecstasy into the dark night sky as he performed the ancient rituals. There were moments where the artist’s helpers thought he had lost control and would try to stop him from stepping into the fire, but he would violently push them away, throwing himself again and again into the eye of the fire, determined to complete his transformation and embody the God.

I have often seen a similarity in the violent expression of the theyyam artists in Kannur and in the political bloodshed here or the violent tones in which the labourers in these parts reciprocate to the more elite. A palpable insecurity governs the life of the common man in these parts- an insecurity that is skilfully utilized by politicians. There is a palpable suppression in Kannur, and that suppression is chronic. It is this suppression that the theyyam artist perhaps liberates in his violent expression. A suppression rooted in casteism. Kannur is populated by people belonging to the Thiyya community- a community lower in the caste hierarchy. This is contrary to the scenario in the more central and southern parts of Kerala where the upper castes are dominant.

The article sheds light on the violent expression of Theyyams:

Ironically, the Theyyam finds its origins not just in the worship of ancestors and forest spirits, but also in a polarised society which once allowed only higher castes to enter temples. This forced people of the lower castes to employ other means with which to engage with their gods. Since participating in a Theyyam is open to all, it created an egalitarian space for the oppressed. They discovered a powerful voice with which to narrate to their feudal persecutors stories of injustice and exploitation. This transformation from man to god that began during the post-paddy sowing month of Thulam (October) also initiated a dramatic status reversal within prevailing social hierarchies.

Somehow, the suppression has trickled through the generations and despite the fact that the caste system has dissolved, the insecurity generated by this suppression appears to have been rooted and passed on. Today, Kannur has become the land of red. Red that is violence for some, and fear for others…

Red, the color of blood that appeases the Gods in these parts.