Fun things to know about Ladakh.

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Three months after I took a trip to Ladakh, I had a serious  case of nostalgia over the weekend. I have discovered that after any holiday, there are a few special things which stick around in my mind. The rest of the memories slowly, lazily, fade away leaving behind these interesting bits and pieces which turn into symbols of that holiday. Sort of, like watching the highlights of a cricket match and remembering only that exact ball and wicket that led to the win!

So also, in the case of our holiday to Ladakh, where well wishers fed us with stories about the difficult terrain and people dying because of the all too famous mountain sickness! When we actually reached, half scared half excited, it was an anticlimax. We found the place welcoming, beautiful, safe, chilly (which was welcome because it was blistering hot back home) and luckily, experienced very little ill health or wooziness!

Seven days disappeared before we knew it, and the land and its people embraced us so warmly that we felt a wee little bit Ladakhi at heart, by the time we returned. Though remote in a lot of ways and sans the most traditional (pun intended) forms of entertainment like malls, fast internet and cinemas, we happened to have most fun exploring Ladakh and learning her ways like….

Julley.

The ladakhi are known to be a very friendly race and the friendship starts with a “Julley”, which is a blanket term for  “Hi, Whats up?, How are you doing ?, How’s life ?” and anything else that falls into the category of a greeting. The meaning is circumstance based, rather than rigid. So simple, yet so beautiful. Importantly, easy for us toursists, who find it difficult to run our tongues around difficult, lispy tibetian words. Learn one word, and work miracles as a conversation starter! In a span of seven days, I said ‘Julley’ more times than I did ‘Namaste’ in the past year of my life! To the driver, our guide,the shopkeeper, the vendor on the road, my tour mates(till the novelty wore off) and to any stranger! No one found it strange and returned the greeting with grace and a warm smile!

This made me want to try harder to learn some more, and ended up with “Thuk che che”, which is thank you. Not much more! The people and the language make a nice contrast, as the language sounds harsh but the people look friendly!

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The unpredictable weather.

There is a saying in ladakhi which goes “Never trust a vendor’s promise, a girl’s mind and the ladakhi weather- all three change colors fast”. Though the feminist in me wants to snip off the “girl” part, I can mostly agree on the other two! Especially the weather! You never know what to wear when you tour Ladakh. I browsed through books and websites telling me what to carry, before I packed. Half of my luggage was filled with sweaters and caps of various sizes and shapes- one for little cold, one for moderate and one for really cold! Armed with this arsenal, I felt pretty confident that I could conquer the weather and its whimsies! Little did I know that the weather would beat me to it! What started off as a warm day suddenly turned very windy, and vice versa. Heck, just walking out from direct sunlight into the shade would lower the temperature by significant degrees! Well, to make the long story short, I landed up wearing atleast three layers of clothing and repeatedly peeling them off or putting them on – and looking a minimum of three sizes too big in all the photographs! I learnt the hard way that “layering” only looks good in fashion magazines and is not meant for mere mortals like us!

 

The funky Tees

Well, one of the most important assignments on any trip is the shopping for the extended family that we have left behind in the pursuit of satisfying our travel lust! Aargh,the apparent selfishness of this act makes me want to buy some more, to appease them and beg forgiveness!

T shirts with “My mom/brother/uncle…went to so and so place and only got me this t shirt” which were cute about a century ago, never much appealed to me. But Leh has something unique to offer in this respect. The market place is strewn with shops which actually embroider funky stuff on to t shirts of different sizes! Their savvies lie in the fact that they take orders by the day and deliver them the next, with the embroidery that you want! No prizes for guessing what I got for my entire family!

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Thanks Punegetaways for the click which I did not remember to take!

The jewellery.

Through the week, there was not one time that I saw people wearing anything made of gold. The traditional tibetian jewellery uses silver, wood, bronze and bark inlaid with semi precious stones, corals and beads. From roadside flea markets to shops which store the more valuable pieces, we saw some of the most exquisite craftmanship. Turquoise, which is found in the mountain ranges of Tibet- is one of the most common stone used- in the making of filigree ornaments, earrings, necklaces, and jewellery boxes with intricate inlay.

The experience of shopping in stores is also unique. Most traders are nostalgic Kashmiris, who have difficulty in adjusting their mindscape to the barrenness of Leh after growing up in the lush pastures of Kashmir. They work for six months of the tourist season and migrate back home for the winters.

Once the trader realizes that the buyer is serious, he offers hot kahwa and a chat, till the customer finishes deliberating. By the time you are through with the free kahwa, the hole in your pocket is threatening to grow to enormous proportions!

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The whole brouhaha about altitude sickness.

Exactly opposite to Voldemort and in equal proportion, is the scare about Mountain sickness. For the uninitiated,’ Acute mountain sickness’ is a syndrome caused by the thinning oxygen levels in the atmosphere when at high altitudes. The symptoms range anything from shortness of breath to no breath at all! It takes some amount of acclimatizing to withstand it.

Now, before we set foot into Ladakh, the travel company gave us so many pointers to start diuretics (as a preventive measure) that we started to wonder if the pharmaceutical company was working hand in glove with the travel one, to promote their product. Each one of us had atleast three strips of the drug!

Then came the pro travelers with horror stories of people dying on the trip.

Followed by the Leh airport authorities- who play the symptoms and warning signs of mountain sickness on a loop,religiously, on loudspeakers , in between flight announcements.

We almost developed psychological breathlessness, because we thought that we had live up to their expectations!

Jokes apart, yes, mountain sickness did exist. We got exhausted faster and found ourselves gasping for breath after climbing a single flight of stairs,but that was about it. Over two days, we managed to conquer most of it.

The trick is to drink a lot of water, pop in the diuretic and take as many toilet breaks as you want into basic but functional pit toilets, with your breath held and eyes closed ! A feat which you will no doubt learn over time! After all, necessity is the mother of invention.

Ladakh in many ways, is not the ideal luxury destination for a break. It is harsh, barren and basic. But when the holiday includes fresh mountain air (though scantily), clear skies with a gazillion stars and the company of amazing friends, the whole holiday becomes priceless.

These are my memories from Ladakh. Have you learnt anything fun there?

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Doctor diaries – English Vinglish in the hospital.

 

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Ha, ha note what is tasted here!

Though the English left India 70 years ago, their language and its symbolization as superior and powerful has continued. It is a rare parent who does not beam with joy when his child speaks some English. Parents make sure they scrape their hard earned money to put their child through an English medium (which means elite in other words) school. Schools charge their students a fine if they are caught speaking their mother tongue on campus. Even parents of special children who come to my consultation room, coax their kids to “Say” in English, the answer to any question that I ask in kannada.

A knowledge of English is seen somewhat as a sign of superiority, a matter of pride and a way out of future poverty. Phew! So much burden for one language to carry! And I am sure that if English were a person, she would have crumbled under this intense pressure (which is probably more than what P.V.Sindhu faced on the eve of her final match at Rio) of millions of Indian parents for long long years. She would have probably scooted the country far before the British did. But she did not. And here we are –grappling with realities.

I love the fact that we live in a country with so many languages. Each language with its own flavor and essence. English, I love –because I studied in it for most part and knowing it, helped me expand my horizons. Kannada because it is the language of my land. I enjoy the strangeness of my mother tongue Konkani. I love the way Tamil and Marathi sound. Hindi seems to me, a way to understand tv, my North Indian patients and our prime minister’s ‘Man ki baat’! Though I worry about landing with a twisted tongue, I did learn quite a few sentences of Malayalam! I love the fact that we are a language potpourri. English words which have been Indianised and used ever so casually with an air of ownership. My daughter and son believe that “bussu”, “caru”, “traffic jamu” “hotelu” are essentially kannada!

So, it is not that I have anything against the language. I am not a language fanatic nor a grammar nazi.  Nor am I a snob who believes that people who speak english incorrectly are imbeciles. I understand that it comes from learning with limited means and lack of practice. But I believe in people knowing their limitations. That they are fluent in a few languages and have to treat the others with caution. Or if they did want to use it conversationally, it would happen with hard work rather than over confidence.

Well, that does not seem to be the case with our poor English. Apart from being put on the podium as a status symbol, she is also tortured continuously and most times hilariously. A lot of it which I get to see in my hospital.

Starting from my internship.  Along with my co intern, I had spent the night filling in patient information into files, when the hospital attendant announced that the head nurse wanted the “cassettes”. We looked back blank. “Which cassettes?”.  “The ones you are filling.” Realization dawned. He meant the “case sheets”.

Or when the duty nurse sent me a note from the far flung recesses of the TB ward. The note read “Doctor, the patient in ward 9 has not passed urine or stools since two days. Please come and pass it”.

When in my residency, we were posted in a  Government hospital whose cassette, sorry case sheet carried a mandatory question of finding out why the patient had landed in that particular hospital for treatment. Most patients would reply that they had come over for free “statement”-meaning “treatment”. “Please give my son good statement”, they would ask of us. And after the free statement was given, they would profusely say “TANK you” and leave us sufficiently tanked in their wake!

Once I started my practice, I realized the all encompassing power of the word “aunty”. There was once this eighty year old man who called me ‘aunty’ at the end of Each. And. Every. Sentence. Which was promptly followed up by his obedient wife, who was almost seventy and had only one single tobacco stained tooth in her mouth. The auntying got so severe that I caught myself unconsciously smoothing my hair to cover my grey strands for the next one hour!

The best was yet to come. There was once a concerned husband who hovered around after I finished counselling his wife. He then came over and whispered conspirationally,  “Madam, can my wife try property?”.

I thought that he wanted to be sure that his depressed wife was lucid enough to make decisions about her finances and real estate.”Sure, no harm”, I replied. “She is smart enough to handle and plan her finances”.

He did not seem convinced. “But property?”, he insisted.

Now, this instantly made me suspicious. I wondered whether he was planning to cheat her and do away with her money.

“Why exactly are you asking me this?”, I  queried.

He must have caught my tone of irritation.”Madam, I care about my wife and her health. We wanted to be sure to have a gap of three years between our kids”.

Now, I was confused. Family planning and real estate. No bells rang. I finally asked him to explain what exactly he meant.

He looked at me rather pityingly, at my lack of common medical knowledge. “Madam, you know that thing they use nowadays to prevent pregnancy-they insert it into the uterus- it is called property. Never mind. I will ask my wife’s gynecologist about it”

Turns out he meant “copper T”.

I rest my case.

 

Learn yourself English.

The infallible logic of a five year old.

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A week into her kindergarten year, I had this conversation with my daughter, all the while trying unsuccessfully to stuff a spoon full of food into her mouth!

Five year old : Amma, I have twins in my class. P and P. Both are boys.

Me: That’s great.  (happy that she now knows what twins are!).

Then I wonder and ask….

Me: How do you know they are twins? Do they look similar??

Five y o: No, they don’t.

Me: Do they dress the same?

Five y o: Amma, everyone wears the school uniform! Everyone dresses the same.

Me: Oh, sorry, I forgot. Then how did you find out?

Five y o: Well, they bring same same snack in their tiffin box! So.

Go figure.

Trying to get the better of her, I prod: But they may be brothers, don’t you think?

Five y o: Yeah, but then they would’nt both be in the same class, would they?

Logic accepted.

As parents, we take parenting for granted. Kids get born, grow, go to school and then they are adults. Though we care for them, most of it is restricted to knowing whether they have had their meal, finished their home work and are not watching too much Doremon.

But kids seem to live in a parallel universe where every single moment is a discovery. Everything is a mystery which has to be unraveled, solved and sorted. They are keen observers. And connect the dots available in front of their curious eyes. Slowly put two and two together. And most times come up with two hundred and twenty two!

They are inquisitive and eager to learn. For us, sharpening a pencil, choosing the correct footwear for the correct leg, coloring between the lines, the symmetry of the picture they draw or strapping on the velcro of a shoe feel like the most simple thing in the world. But when I watch my kids grow, I can feel the mental effort and intense concentration it takes for them to understand and complete any new task. It takes all my effort to stop myself from helping them, and allow them to try till they succeed.

It takes situations such as the one mentioned above,to understand that the world must look different from their point of view. We hardly have time to explain the working of the world to them, and they simply have to make sense of it! Hence, probably they create their own sweet logic which is refreshingly simple, even if incorrect! Never mind the stuffy adults!

In the little time I get to interact with my little ones, I get nuggets like these which I want to store away in the recesses of my mind, so that I can tell them to my grandkids. How I wish I could get more time with them, so that I could learn the way they did. Simple, and all sorted.

Sample this:

Five y o: Mamma, do cars jump? Can they drive in the sky?

Me: Why? Have you ever seen them do it?

Five y o: Then, why is the traffic light pointing skyward???

Have you had experiences like these??

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Book Review – Six degrees, Game Of Blogs.

 

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For a book lover, there is no greater joy than receiving a book for a gift. Two weeks ago, when I was idly browsing the net, I read about an initiative by Blogadda, a prominent Indian blogging network to review a book.  Mostly, I have no faith in contests which promise you the moon, and keep you waiting expectantly till you realise that you have been had,and then end up disappointed! I submitted my form, but a bit skeptically.Surprise surprise, five days down the line, I received a brown paper wrapped parcel, with the book “Six degrees, Game of Blogs”. Well, it sort of rekindled my faith in santa claus and the like! My mid week became more bearable with the thought of a reading weekend !

Well, even before discussing whether the book is interesting or not, I would like to say that the story of how the book came about is as novel as it is interesting.The book is not authored by a lone author. Instead, it is the result of an experiment by blogadda, to collaborate bloggers across India, and come up with stories! About three hundred bloggers participated in the contest, which was judged by authors of the caliber of Ashwin Sanghi, Ravi Subramaniam, Meghna Pant etc..  They picked three teams of ten bloggers each, and gave them a set of characters to build their stories upon. The book is a compilation of three such stories which revolve around the same five characters:

Shekhar Dutta, a stay at home dad who also happens to be a freelance writer staying in Mumbai. Tara Dutta,who is Shekhar’s wife and a media professional. Roohi Dutta is Shekhar and Tara’s 9 year old daughter.Jennifer Joseph is a Christian photographer who stays in Kochi and Cyrus Daruwala is a law student staying in Delhi.

but from different perspectives.

  1. The Awakening. (By Team By Lines).

This is a sci fi take on these characters. I have never been a fan of science fiction, and this is probably the first one which I have read. The premise is about how the family is disrupted by the arrival of aliens, who predict the doom of earth and mankind. The story revolves around how certain changes take place in the family, which help in saving the earth. The story started off with an air of mystery which it could not quite keep up with. In the end, I felt, it sort of fizzled off tamely. But, as I am not a sci fi fiction expert, this may be a biased review! Basically, this story made me realize, that I could actually go through a book with sci fi theme and enjoy it too!

  1. The Entangled Lives ( by team Potliwale Baba)

This story belonged to my favorite genre- a murder mystery. The characters are well etched, especially that of the police inspector. He feels so real. Someone you cannot like,but also cannot ignore because of the power he holds! The story is about a family whose maid gets murdered when there are five people in the house. The twists keep you guessing and the ending is different from what you would expect. I was more inclined towards the story because of the psychological angle, and how well the authors have managed to handle it. Usually, such themes are not well researched and make me cringe at the way they are explained. But this one was!

  1. Missing –A journey within.( By team Tete-a –ten)

This story is mainly about human relationships and emotions. It gives a sensitive description of how emotions play out in stressful situations, the confusion and difficulties faced by homosexuals in our society and goes with the idea that, life will somehow work out in the end. It deals with a couple whose daughter goes missing. The crisis brings them together. The missing girl meets a boy, who is a homosexual, who has been abused by his seniors in college. How the girl reconciles with her parents, and the boy with his lover forms the crux of the story. Though the story is quite straight forward, it manages to capture your attention.

All in all, I liked the book because:

  1. I found the concept new and experimentative, making me realise that no task is difficult when you put your mind to it. That ten people, who are in different parts of India could weave together a story by interacting only by internet and phones was impressive.
  2. The book is an easy read. The stories keep you gripped and do not drag along without a strong thread.
  3. Most importantly, I was introduced to thirty new blogs which I can follow and read up!

The only thing that left me confused was what the “Six degrees” stood for. Do read the book and solve this mystery for me!

Final rating: 3.5/5

Know more about Game of Blogs here. You can buy 6 Degrees: Game of Blogs if you liked the review.

This review is a part of the biggest Book Review Program for Indian Bloggers. Participate now to get free books!