A book of light to end the brain fog!

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I have discovered something about writing. It has whims and fancies of its own. When you are in the practice of writing most days, the words flow easily, your thinking does not falter and sentences form fast,fluent and effortless. But when you have stopped for a while, for reasons beyond your control, it acts like a spoilt tantrum throwing brat. You have to really scratch your brain about that particular flash of inspiration which occurred yesterday, right in the middle of a busy opd, which evaporated miraculously like the whiff of an agarbatti smoke. It is as if your writing has gone into a huff, for not giving it enough time!

This is the state I found myself in last month. A month of busy, busy work days, the responsibilities that go with being an exam mother (by which I mean revising with your kid, subjects which you tried hard to avoid studying into adulthood), trying to teach my younger one to read by herself and the general business of keeping house – all of which allowed absolutely no vigour or brain space to open my laptop.

At the end of the day, the only energy I had was enough to flip the pages on my kindle, and so, that’s what I did. I read some amazing books- those that made me happy, sad, upset and in awe of things they spoke about.

The oneswhichhad adirect impact were Em and the Big Hoom by Jerry Pinto and the Book of Light.

On a day to day basis, I see a range of emotions (from anger to over protectiveness) shown by the relatives of my patients. Some are shocked to realize that their relatives are mentally ill, some refuse to acknowledge it and some firmly believe that their son or daughter is showing symptoms to cop out of some responsibility. When I am talking to the family about the actual nature of the illness which their closest of kin are suffering from, I usually discuss it with the adults, and the children are generally playing around in my consulting room. I surprisingly realized that I have never ever discussed the illness from the child’s point of view. A vibrant impressionable mind, which is in confusion about why their favorite adult is behaving somewhat differently and unpredictably from the rest.

Which is why I found Em and the Big Hoom a very interesting read. How would a child feel, when a parent is mentally ill? When the caretaking becomes a child’s responsibility instead of the other way round. When it is difficult to expect your parent to attend your school functions or pta meetings for the fear that he/she may do something embarrassing.

The story revolves around the author’s family whose the mother suffers from bipolar disorder.  The book is written from a child’s point of view, and tries to address the concerns which are unique to such families. Have they inherited the illness? Will they become mentally ill like their parent? Or will it skip a generation and affect their children? Or are they, at the other end of the spectrum,  accepting the adults as they are and ignoring the quirks?

Going through the book, gave me insight about a huge chunk of responsibility I was ignoring! As for many other mental health professionals, though time is tight, I promised myself that I would spend some time for these children henceforth.

Going on, I read another book, written on the same lines. The Book of Light, which is a collection of stories written by the relatives of the mentally ill about their experiences in life. There are very few books written about mental illness in the Indian context, and hence this book gives an idea as to how the people from different sections of society deal with the illness and the adjustments that go along with it.

If anything, I felt the need to do more, work harder. Not only to help those who are overtly ill, but also those who are silently suffering on the side.Or confused. Or slowly slipping into an illness themselves.

Only if there were more than twenty four hours in a day! (and no math exams!)

 

 

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Book Love.

 

 

This month I read some really awesome books. Books which I loved so much that I want everyone around to read and enjoy them. (And thank me profusely for recommending it to them:))).

I always wonder how it is, that in a bookstore which has thousands of books, we reach for ones which we really end up liking?

Unfortunately, my city does not have a bookstore, at least the kind that makes me drool and dream. Hence, whenever we go to Bangalore, I am armed with a list of books which I have picked up from goodreads, amazon, instagram and some blogs that I follow.

This time though, I decided to give this a miss. I entered with absolutely no idea of what I was about to lay my hands on and no expectations either. This led me to lesser known authors, authors from countries that I had never even heard of before and different genres than what I was used to reading.

And the pleasure of delving into these is unexplainable. Some of them were breezy feel good reads, some others more profound and deep.Reading them I feel, broadened my horizons, made me think, understand perspectives that I had not thought of before and made me more accepting and thankful of the life I have with the numerous uncounted blessings which I take for granted.

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Now, I feel that the books somehow chose me and not the other way round. By divine providence! If I am sounding sort of mystical and philosophic, I think I need to blame it squarely on one of the books that I just finished reading called the “Forty rules of love” by a Turkish author called Elif Shafak. The books revolves around a forty year old housewife who has just embarked on her first assignment to write a report as a book editor.

Ella, the protagonist seems to have a secure, happy life on the surface. Somehow,  a husband of twenty years, his secret affairs, and taking care of three children and their problems have made her disgruntled with life. As an escape, she takes to reading the manuscript which the agent has sent her.

The book contains two stories. One of Ella’s life, and the other, the story in the manuscript. This story occurs in the thirteenth century in Baghdad and Konya. The story is of the friendship between the great poet Rumi and a Sufi saint called The Shams of Tabriz.The book describes life in the thirteenth century and its social mileu beautifully.

It takes us through a journey of learning how we take certain diktats of our faith and religion a little too concretely for our own good. It shows how Rumi, who was first a preacher with no clue about poetry slowly evolves into one under the spell of his friend. It tells us about the forty rules of love that Shams applies to different times in his life. And how those same rules which were thought of, so many hundreds of years ago, apply to Ella’s life of now.

And this makes for a beautiful, mystical, unputdownable read.

After something this philosophical, I opened another called “The hundred year old man who climbed out the window and disappeared  by a Swedish author called Jonas Jonasson. The book is weirdly funny, if I can call it that. The events which occur in the book, (starting literally with a centenarian climbing out of the window of his old home on the day of his birthday) seem bizarre, but plausible. This book too, has two parallel stories running side by side. One of Alan’s ( The hundred year olds’ ) past and one of his present.  Alan is so unassuming a person, that he accepts anything and everything in life with a calmness that bordered on autistic! It so happens that Allan’s life follows a series of events through the first and second world war, where he is involved in the most important of events,( like opining on the final make of the atom bomb), which script history! But without waiting for the accolades or understanding the contribution he has made, he moves on to the next adventure.

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I learnt quite a bit of history from this book about the two wars, much more than I had in my school. Though the story becomes sort of queer at the end, it still made some bit of sense. (Now, I am sounding weird!). I have never read something so eccentric and unconventional, and loved it! If nothing, this book can be recommended reading for history in schools!

 

The other beautiful book I read was “Our moon has blood clots” by Rahul Pandit, which explains the exodus of the Kashmiri pandits. The author, who has suffered the horrors of the exodus writes about problems which he faced growing up, in such an uncertain scenario. It is so beautiful and hard hitting at the same time. I think I will save it for another post.

For this weekend, I have now picked on “The bookseller of Kabul”.

What have you read this month??

 

 

 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do-No-Harm

We doctors, are suspended in a strange state of limbo. Gone are the days when consultants treated patients like minions who had to accept their judgment without questions. Also are bygone the days, when concoctions from bottles of various sizes were mixed together and passed on as panaceas for all ailments.  The compounder who would dutifully carry the doctor’s bag and keep the clinic running like clockwork is also, now an extinct species.

We are now in an era where hospitals are treated like business with business models, plans, huge glassed buildings and air conditioned offices. The targets they have to meet to get such a huge gargantuan venture going, loom large in front of the doctors.

The reason we are in a limbo is probably this- that at heart we are still pompous old world people who believe in our skills and dealing with a patient who does not believe in it brings us crashing down to reality!

A lot of patients now behave as though they have come to a hospital for a business transaction. They give us money and we give them health. When the deal works well, everything is hunky dory, but when things go awry, the doctor bears the brunt of it. And how. He is beaten up, the hospital is ransacked and the staff are manhandled, before the good old police finally reach the scene.

In such a scenario, it is not strange that doctors develop a defensive attitude of not accepting our mistakes. And mistakes do happen. After all we are humans. Only, we deal with other humans!

Though treatment procedures have been standardized for years, first in the lab, then on hapless animals and then tried on humans to prevent any mishaps, we know that patients react differently to different drugs. At least 1 in 10 patients and their illness does not behave as obediently as we expect. According to a study in Australia, about 18000 deaths occur in a year due to medical errors! A lot of times the body plays tricks on us. Placing red herrings, leading us on a merry path to a destination, which is exactly at the opposite end of where we want to be. We have to start afresh then. Slightly more cautious and worried. And rarely, it does happen that we mess up bad. And it does end in the patient’s demise. A valuable but a very sad lesson.

Unfortunately, in our profession, accepting our mistake is taken as a sure fire sign of guilt. We only have the freedom to accept our mistakes when we are doing our residency, when the worst we have to face for this is the wrath of our teacher.

Therefore, when I read “Do No Harm”, by Henry Marsh, a neuro surgeon from Britain, I enjoyed it immensely.

First, because it acknowledges that we as doctors are human and need to get it into our head that failures do happen. He has portrayed himself as genuinely as possible. That, at times, he is guilty of losing his temper, sometimes his decisions have been made by how tired he was or how the weather was behaving! This admission according to me, was extraordinarily brave. l have made some purely selfish decisions, but till date ,have great difficulty in acknowledging it! It is always easier to defend myself. And hence, the greatness of this man, who has actually put it on paper.

Secondly, the book also gives us examples of the times when things do not go as expected. The moral being- catharte, accept, console, move on- but do not forget for next time!

Thirdly, that vice versa can also happen. Those whom we expect the worst to happen, go on to outlive their children and we end up being at the end of condescending glares and living room gossip. So to learn to communicate the truth, but not to give out ultimatums. Instead, to be gentle and as hopeful as possible.

Lastly, but most importantly, the book gives us insights about knowing when to stop our work and accept that nature has to take its course. As doctors we sometimes get carried away by the drama of keeping the patient alive by all means. But the consequences of such survival may be more of a burden than help. Like when the operation is a success, but the patient ends up in coma for years. The relatives are at a loss financially, emotionally and unable to take a decision about the future!

Do no harm is a book which deals with such difficult questions and circumstances which every doctor faces but is unable to voice out. It is honest, upsetting sometimes, but definitely re assuring for two reasons.

One because, it gives a sense of solace that the dilemmas shared by doctors all over, are not unique.

Two, because come what may, being honest with the patient and family, brings alive a bond akin to what was present eons ago- a sense of understanding, and a trust level which allows for acceptance even if we inadvertently harm their dear ones.

How I wish this book was a part of my medical school reading!

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Food, glorious food.

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To call myself a foodie would be an understatement. My love affair with food began quite early. Even as a child, I was somehow drawn to food the way sugar draws ants. In a way, my obsession with food and books have a mutually common base and an intensely satisfying connection with each other!

By virtue of being a painfully shy kid, I was always happy hiding behind books, which acted as my comfort zone. My earliest memories of reading go back to when I was 7, and when I was given an Enid Blyton book of a circus girl, Carlotta, and her adventures. For someone who had a secret appetite for adventure, her life almost seemed magical. More awe inspiring though, were the different kinds of food described in the book. I must say, Enid Blyton was a master in making the most drab of foods seem so gourmet like, that I grew up on fantasized versions of  Ginger beer, sandwiches, lemonade (which I later discovered was a fancy name for nimbu pani!), boiled eggs, fresh fruits, jam, pickles, midnight feasts and picnics over the hillside. These were the dreams that my childhood was made of. I would almost smell the mountain air, feel the texture of the sandwich and hallucinate the taste of ginger beer. Through Malory towers, Famous five and  Five find outers, unconsciously I became a fan of food.

My make believe games involved getting some food from the bakery, putting it in a basket, laying it out  and having imaginary picnics with myself, and of course my books for company! Over the years, my love for food diversified from street food and chaat to food from north Indian restaurants(which in the 80s were the only alternative cuisine available in Shimoga) and later a fetish for Chinese. Even as my memory for other important things fails me at that most crucial of times, like names of people whom I am definitely supposed to be knowing; food memories never deny me that favor. I still remember the taste of Hakka noodles made by a small Chinese joint in Shimoga which shut shop  a few months later due to lack of regular patrons (other than me, of course!).

Over the years, my love for books and food grew in equal measure, both competing for the first spot. My college days in Mangalore opened new avenues to explore, the best of both worlds. I think I must be the only person who spent all her pocket money on food and the library. I am sure though, that I am the only person in the whole world who read loads of crappy mills and boons only to enjoy the description of food which is described in it rather than the romance! I was introduced to fancy names, french food, Hors d’ oeuvres(which by the way, I still do not know how to pronounce), wine and the mouth watering deserts like Crepe Suzette which I enjoyed by proxy, through these books.

Back then, the only kind of food writing that I knew of were cook books, which describe cooking in a really dull, drab way, measuring each ingredient in great detail, and eventually spoiling the spontaneity of it all! Which is why, I love the way Nigella Lawson cooks. Just by instinct- a handful of this, a sprinkle of that, a bunch of coriander  torn right out of the garden, whisk it all together, and viola! You have a drool worthy dish in front of you! Any ways, I’m digressing, which usually happens when I am talking food.

Coming back to the point, I only got to know that there was a genre’ called food writing  when I discovered a book at a sale. The book called “Endless feasts”, edited by Ruth Reichl, is a collection of articles that various food journalists in Europe and America. The book describes delicious traditional breakfasts of Maine, the grandiose dinners at Ritz in Paris, and stories of how Italian home food is made. Though being a vegetarian meant that I could not even try most of what was described, the descriptions were enough to make my mouth water! From then on, I was hooked! Every book shop I went to, I would scour in the cooking section for hidden gems like these.  They are really difficult to find, and when I did chance upon one, they would be quite harsh on my purse! Nevertheless, over the years I have managed to make up my very own small yet tasty food library! In fact, these are the only books which I return to again and again, when I am in distress. They are my therapists!

For those of you who dig books like these, a list of my favorites:

1. Eating India, by Chitrita Banerjee — which describes the different cuisines of India elaborately along with the history attached to each kind of food. For example, the culinary mastery of chef Pir Ali, who delighted the Nizam of Lucknow’s English guests by presenting a pie which contained tiny live birds which flew away when the crust was opened! Maybe, some connection to the English rhyme, sing a song of six pence….. Such anecdotes makes each dish interesting and each cuisine worth exploring. Different cuisines of India are thoroughly explored and tasted, leaving you slightly full and satiated, by the time you put the book down.

2. Kheer,Korma and Kismet, by Pamela Timms — who is a Scottish Journalist, living in Delhi. This book describes the yummy street food(my favorite kind) of Delhi in vivid detail, down to romantic gully names like Hauz Qazi Chowk,Ballimaran and Chawri Bazaar which elevate the food from the streets to something more exotic and something for which you want to catch the next train to Delhi in a tearing hurry. Daulat ka chaat, phirni, chana bathura,kheer… I’m coming!

  1. Hot tea across India, by engineer turned writer Rishad Saam Mehta. I have always been a lover of coffee, but this book converted me. The book describes the author’s tryst with different types of tea all over India and anecdotes built around it. It describes a journey he took on his bike and how he encountered diverse people, simple meals, different but tasty versions of tea. Definitely my cup of tea!(pun intended)
  2. Choclat, by Joanne Harris . Though this book is about a bigger something, with a moral behind the story and all that, the main attraction remains … yes,the chocolate. Believe me, when you read this book, you can actually smell the warm smells of bread and hot chocolate emanating out of the book. Pralines, marzipans, pastries, hot chocolate and bonbons creep into your dreams and give you a feeling of fuzzy happiness.

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5. Eat, pray love, by Elizabeth Gilbert . Well, to be more specific, the EAT part of the book. That someone could travel to an unknown place, just to experience eating made me feel as if I was reading about a kindred spirit! I would soo do it, if I could just brush my other responsibilities under the carpet! And to go to Italy, would be icing on the cake, but I would be happy just about anywhere! After this book, I don’t feel so weird anymore for being in love with food.

6.The temporary bride by Jennifer Klinec. This book is a non vegetarians delight. It describes the various kinds of food prepared in Iran, and how two people fell in love while exploring food. Some of the food described slightly grossed me out, but nevertheless, I would certainly recommend it for the lovely description of the food given.

There are many more such books which describe food with the love and attention that it deserves on my wish list. With instagram, good reads and tv shows, my ongiong love affair with food has reached new proportions. But, how much ever these tempt me, there is nothing like the comfort you get when you are curled up with a good book, a cup of chai, a plateful of  pakodas, or a bar of dairy milk crackle, or a bag of kurkure, or french fries, or paneer chilli or…hmmmm… the list goes on.

Rejuvenation!

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Hello everyone.Every once in a while, there comes a time in my life when I suffer from a severe case of “exhaustion block”, diagnosed by the symptoms of extreme sleepiness whenever the computer is switched on and complete blankness of mind at all other times! The past two weeks, hence were used to read, both books and blogs, which sort of recharged my system.

One of the blogs which helped me out of my mental exhaustion is by an Australian called Phoebe(yes, just like the one from friends) called The Little Grey box. (I have not yet mastered the art and the science behind making a blog link open by somehow attaching the link in my blog, so you have to google it if you want!). She writes about travel and inspiration. It is how she writes about really philosophical things in a way that makes you understand what she means to say, that make the blog a good read. When down in the dumps, read Phoebe, has been my mantra the last two weeks!  Then there is a cooking blog or website called the Edible Garden, which opens under the link www.cookingandme.com which gives you really nice recipes which are easy to make and the way the recipes are explained make you feel like as though the writer is speaking to you! So, I have also been trying out recipies in a frenzy!

Apart from this, I read a book called ‘All about Bacteria’ written by an Indian author Ravi Mantha. Got intrigued what someone could write for 230 pages about bacteria under the category of ‘popular’ non fiction. But the book is good. It is about the millions of trillions of bacteria which live in and around us and have been totally misunderstood as beings which out there to make our lives miserable! The book goes on to explain how all bacteria are not pathogens and that we needed quite a few to be healthy too. The bacterial symbiote is based on the premise that humans and bacteria have lived in harmony together for times immemorial, and only a handful of these bacteria cause us illness. Hence, just as a few bad experiences do not put us off the whole human population for good, a few illnesses should not make us believe that all bacteria are bad for us.

When we go through our MBBS degree, we go through a whole subject called microbiology which teaches us all about harmful bacteria and what damage it causes, and side by side we learn pharmacology which is almost manically dedicated to eradicating these pathogens. But nowhere in our training that I remember, were we taught about how to understand our body bacteria and work with them rather than against them for a healthier life! Have developed a new respect for these small creatures after this book (I know I sound weird, but its true!).

Apparently in China, till about a century ago, the village doctors who were given the charge of public health of an entire village, would be paid their monthly salary only if they managed to keep the whole village sickness free for the entire month!  Great concept, right? The doctor hence needs to be a teacher, a community physician who also works a lot towards primary prevention rather than tertiary care. It also describes how the medicine we  currently practice, is now more palliative instead of curative, hence giving rise to more resistant strains of bacteria and newer mutations of the older easier illnesses. The peanut allergy syndromes, the relation between peptic ulcers and obesity, how body defenses work and many more such interesting facts are explained really well.

Remember reading a similar book long ago called ‘The Survival of the Sickest’ written by Dr. Sharon Moalem. This book is all about why we need diseases to survive!  Dr. Atul Gawande is another person whose books make me feel that medicine is all about thinking simple and logical. He makes the most simple statements, but they make such a big difference to the way we function in hospitals. I felt my work exhaustion dissipating and some new energy creeping in!

The aftermath of this was that I got so hyper interested in reading similar books and ordered a whole lot of them online and am waiting desperately for them to arrive! Will keep you posted how they are! Till then, have a happy weekend with your family and your body bacterial symbiotes!!