The roll of ribbons

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A splash of ink

The color of pink

On the roll of ribbons

Rolled out to the crowd

That stood in solemn solidarity

To raise awareness about cancer of breast.

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Jim’s last

design1There was a screech. Yeah, that word’s onomatopoeia; sounds like the sound it means. First the screech, then a dull thud, a moment of muted stillness and a slow rise of strained human chatter, in that order. The elderly man who was seated beside our young protagonist till a moment ago, was run over by a speeding car driven by a concerned husband who wanted to get his pregnant wife to the hospital. Her water had broken and it was to be their first. Little did they know of the elderly man before that moment. He was a common man, taught English at the City College, and was survived by his dog. Don’t worry, the dog, a brown brawny spaniel, was later adopted by their understanding neighbor. This little story is about the hour before the accident, as the bus rode out the city into the suburbs while the spirited youth was trying to have a conversation with the elderly man on that ill-fated though pleasant-weathered evening. You must pardon the incongruous upbeat weather, it just happened to be restful, retiring, with the sky smeared in shades of orange and yellow, with the variegated variety of clouds sailing over the pleasingly scented breeze. There was a touch of cold. Just enough to make you button the collar of the shirt as the elderly man, lets say, Mr. Jim had.

The youth, a bumbling bundle of optimism, Sam suites him right, found the seat by Mr. Jim vacant and sat beside. Mr. Jim did not bother to turn and look. He was lost in thought. He had been thinking of carrots. For some inexplicable reason, while reading out Antony’s stirring rhetoric from Julius Caesar to his class earlier in the day, he found his mind’s eye sizing up a carrot in its vivid detail with its orange-red grainy tapering surface, topped by a bunch of green juicy stalks. For the life of him, he couldn’t fathom what led to that thought. Here Antony was craftily inciting the Roman crowd, appealing to their hearts with why Caesar had been wronged, and he was thinking carrots! As scenes by the road flit by, his eyes saw not. It seemed important to know why carrots. The intrigue was compelling. Just then, he felt a nudge. He turned to behold the apologetic Sam’s beaming foolish smile. ‘Hello there’, Jim greeted, holding on to his etiquettes. Sam waved in return. ‘Nice weather, ain’t it sir!’, he added. Jim wanted to correct him, but he let the colloquial slide. He just gave a silent nod and was about to turn around to look out the bus window when a thought occurred. He asked him, ‘So son, what do you want to become when you grow up?’

Sam was surprised a bit, but he liked the invitation for a more serious conversation than the weather. ‘I want to be a politician and change this country for the better’, he said. Jim didn’t say anything. He let his sight linger on him for a while longer, then his lips broke into a good-natured smile. He liked energetic idealists. He was one once. And with time he Black-And-White-Abstract-Wallpapers-6got tired, and he had made himself inconspicuous in this grand scheme of life. It isn’t that circumstances defeated him, nor that he was strained long enough to weaken his will. He just grew tired. With days, his will gradually ebbed. It could instead be reasoned that he didn’t fuel it enough and again to keep going. One day, he found self convinced with the rhetoric ‘why bother’ and had decided to fit in. He stopped making noise. He gave up his job as attorney. No more litigation in public interest. No more serving writ petitions to factories for breaching environment protection norms. No more of that fight, while meaningful and important, yet which for some reason had now come to feel a bother. A burden. He had energy; ample skill and wits as well. Man he was good with rhetoric. But he just did not want to go on. Took a job as lecturer, and decided to spend time reading and teach what he read. Feeling the weight of the silence heavy, Sam asked him if he liked books.

Yes, Jim liked books. But Jim was no more interested in this conversation. Sam, with his energy and enthusiasm, and with that agenda for social crusade was disturbing his peace. Jim had achieved a tranquil state of stillness in his mind, and he liked no ripples in that pool. He smiled at Sam, wished him luck with politics and got up. It wasn’t his stop yet, but he had a growing desire to get out the bus. He decided to walk the way back. Anyway the weather was pleasant. He requested the driver to let him out. The grim respectful poise Jim posed was compelling. The driver slowed, stopped the bus, and opened the door. Jim’s last thought was of carrots, and the moment he stepped out and the car hit him throwing his mortal coil 5 ft up in the air, his mind blinked the image of Caesar crunching a carrot, the next second, the entire Roman mob was crunching carrots, and there was a vague sense of weightlessness, and then Jim ceased to exist. He now lay as a mass of bleeding flesh, huddled in the road, with the husband out the car, kneeling by his side.

Sam sat glued to his seat. It was not that he didn’t care. He just felt locked in that moment, as if the transient nature of life, with the absolute certainty of death lay unfurled before him. He felt a knot in his throat while his eyes welled up. He thought about his sister home. He wanted to go home. While the husband, mortified, felt the pulse of the body lying before; this though only seemed a formality given the crack in Jim’s skull that was pouring blood. Certain there was nothing to be done, he got back into the car and drove slowly away. He had placed his visiting card by Jim’s corpse for police to contact him when they arrive to the scene. They would in a while. Someone would call them. He had something else he first needed to take care. His wife’s on-going labor. As the car was pulling away, Sam’s mind involuntarily registered the number-plate. He would remember those digits for the rest of his life. He also noticed the staff of Asclepius with the sacred snake coiled around, the Doctor’s symbol, stuck to the top right corner of the rear windshield. And for some reason Sam felt it a tad incongruous. The bus pulled away too. And the doctor’s wife gave birth to a son an hour and a half later, who was not named Jim.

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The Before … series

before sunrisebefore sunset 2     before-midnight

The ellipsis above, as you might have guessed, is to mean sunrise, sunset and midnight. Before Sunrise, a movie released in 1995, is about two people who meet in Vienna and walk as they talk till Sunrise. Before Sunset, which released almost a decade hence, in 2004, is about the same two people, who meet again though this time in Paris, and walk as they talk till Sunset. There is also a scene in a café where they sit and discuss US gun policy but that’s beside the point. And in Before Midnight, released in 2013, the setting is Greece, while the walk as they talk holds again, not surprisingly till Midnight. And the movie, each of them, is a luscious slice of life.

Imagine a movie where two characters talk, talk about themselves, about the other, about what they think of this world we live in and the issues therein. Starting with the reticence of talking to a stranger, with that scintillating thrill of a new romance; through confiding in someone whom you feel at ease with and have come to trust, to arguing and hurting someone you know will stay by your side when you are hurt, the movies capture the process of two people coming to know the other.

If you think about it, a person, at any given point in time, is a collection of thoughts and memories. Leading from this premise, to know a person and be known only becomes an act of speaking and listening. And these movies capture people in this very act, alive, wherein amidst lots and lots of words, they familiarize and know about the other, as we come to about them. There are few for whom, a movie sometimes is a window to experience life from a different vantage point. For them, an honest portrayal becomes of paramount importance. This movie, while all honest and sincere, manages to frame life, people, and the ordinary, in a convincing tapestry of poignancy.

For serious movie watchers, and of course readers with a taste for Classics, I strongly recommend this Before series. It’s a treat.

 

The unnatural nature of science

Professor Lewis Wolpert at home North London. February 2011.I recently read this book by the developmental biologist, Lewis Wolpert. It was originally published in 1992. At its core, the intent of the book was to explain why common people, the public, don’t ‘get’ science.

This is no review of the book. I only intend to bring to fore the ‘unnaturalness’ of the nature of science, as Wolpert put it. Consider a ball rolling down an incline onto a flat plane. It will roll a distance and stop. If the plane was absolutely smooth, with there being no friction, the ball would keep rolling for ever. But note that we haven’t had the opportunity to experience such frictionless surfaces in our day to day life. Thus our common sense, the set of thumb rules we have acquired quite unbeknown to self based on repeated experience with the reality known to us, finds it counterintuitive what Galileo put forth, and later Newton captured in his First law of motion, that uniform motion is the natural state of objects, aka, that ball would keep rolling.

This is the crux of the argument. Scientific explanations are essentially bound to invoke concepts from outside our daily dealings, and thus are fated to be counterintuitive, even absurd. This underlies the reluctance of the general populace to accept science. Stretching this to its logical extreme, Wolpert even argues that if something is explainable with commonsensical notions, then such explanations are not scientific; it’s not science. But to appreciate this, one would need to get into what he means by ‘science’, and, for that he has written that book. Hasn’t he!

Life, afar

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The double helical coil of life

DNA, encrypted

Simmers

the commensurable,

yet impenetrable essence

the Gestalt of all that’s live.

The maze in the brain

Neural networks, encoded

Taunts

the imposing façade of

irreducible complexity,

near chaotic, alive, conscious.

Though, it is

that iridescent black pebble

smooth, oblong

on the river bank

that fills me with a  longing

for a life, experienced, not observed.

Clinical Love

The screaming patients, shouting attending, hustling residents, and those threatening cohort of veteran nurses always with that disapproving look, made my labor ward postings at ObGyn a formidable experience. It was a room of spirited activity. Being a tertiary care centre and a govt hospital, the patient inflow was ceaseless and we got referrals of a variegated variety of complicated cases all the while. But this is not a story of medical fortitude. Its an innocuous tale of we doctors having a life. Though it started like any other night.

blog1I and another fellow resident were manning the intern’s slot at the labor room for the night shift. Interesting that this fellow resident while a girl, am yet assuming the verb ‘manning’ holds up for her too. But lets not get too pedantic about it shall we! So back to the night shift, it runs from 8 night to 8 the morning. The drill is, we come half an hour early, sign-in the log, relieve the interns who give us a brief tour of the ward handing-over their cases while we make notes of what’s done and what remains to be done for individual patients, and then we shove those haggard looking weary fellow batch-mates into their cars so they may go home so that they may come tomorrow morning to relieve us in turn! Its a draining business, this playing doc. And then we get to task, doing chores.

Chores at labor ward involves recording and maintaining the vitals of patients, conducting deliveries, and preping patients who have been considered high risk for caesarean section. Its interesting and inspiring work in the beginning, but over time, day after day, the novelty wears off and it feels a bit monotonous. And the quanta of work that tires you to your bones doesn’t help either. So it was one such day, during a dull lull in activity, I walked in to the doctors lounge to rest my legs a while. I had with me a book and was trying to cut myself out this reality of noise and goo for a brief moment.

I slowly fell asleep in my couch to be woken up not too later by this intern from the ICU next door. She asked me if I had some water with me. I did, and she came sat beside. She looked up and I felt bound to say something smart. The stress of being a guy! ‘Nice weather haan!’, I quipped, already regretting those words even before they left my throat. She smiled. She was real pretty! ‘You are very bad at it you know, small talk’ said she. I quite knew that before hand. As if saving me from my moment of disgrace she asked me about the book I was reading. It was ‘Love in the time of Cholera’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. She blinked. ‘I never would have thought of you as the romantic type. Arent you that Ayn Rand fan and an ardent proponent of her stupid opus on how selfishness is a virtue!’

I was surprised on two folds. One, she knew I existed! As in, she had known that there exists a person, the me, and that this me liked Ayn Rand, actually ‘like’ is a soft word to use, but still. And second, that she counted Rand as stupid, which felt like open challenge. But I was too drained and tired. I just beamed foolishly at having my existence acknowledged and said, ‘Yes, Ayn Rand is great. She is very intellectual and convincing. Non-trivial if you may. While Marquez writes with a poignancy that makes his work simultaneously relatable while also other-worldly. Can you imagine a guy waiting for his beloved for over five decades?’ She looked aghast, ‘Five decades! That’s how old my parents are! So unreal.’ ‘Exactly! Yet, the characters he sketches are so human, complete with all our inane frailty and fallings. It is this interesting mix of real characters doing unreal things that sets stage for his grander plot where he examines human tendencies and inclinations.’ Yes, I said these lines. This was going quite well given my first line was an inane comment on weather!

blog2She sat quiet, pleasant, an embodiment of feminine charm. My last relationship went sour and after a particularly bad breakup, is there ever one of any other kind!, I have been single for over a year now. She said, ‘I have read Ayn Rand. Not her Atlas Shrugged yet. But The Fountainhead.’ I looked thoroughly pleased. How vain I was! ‘And, how did you like it?’ ‘Well, I cant say I totally understood it. The part where the girl who loves the protagonist while at the same time tries to cause his downfall didn’t quite go easy with me.’ This was a sane contention that many people who have read The Fountainhead make. ‘You want to discuss it further?’ asked I. ‘I would love to, but not now. I have to get back to work. I have to change magnesium sulphate injection for this pre-eclampsia patient we got. She is 17 years old you know! I don’t get when this custom of marrying of girls right off asap is going to go away! These girls don’t even get to experience womanhood. They are already shunted into motherhood. It’s tragic.’

I had come across many underage deliveries myself. Its sad also because they complicate more often with their small frame and frail fragile constitution. Its an agony to watch them suffer through pregnancy and labor. Seeing me glum and quiet she went on, ‘How about we catch up for coffee sometime when off work?’ I looked up. Well, I would indeed like that. I would love that. Reading it off the expressions on my face, she said, ‘Its settled then. I will call you.’ I cursed my expressive face that is a huge give away. ‘You got my number’, I asked. ‘I do. In fact, I read that damn book by Ayn Rand just to see what was in it that you so liked as about.’ And with that she left, while I sat aghast, feeling unreal.

Its not often that you realise that there are people out there you really admire you. And at those moments, when the realisation comes home, you cant help but feel privileged. Its nice to have people in your life. Moreso, the ones who appreciate you for who you are, and are willing to walk the extra mile to understand why you like what you like. These are the ones we really need not give up on. I heard my name called out somewhere far away. My fellow intern at labor ward came in and looked tall, down on me, ‘What are you fool doing! They have been calling your name for hours outside. Your patient is crowning. Get out there asap.’

blog3And as I hastened to my feet and splashed some water on my face to get a hold of the reality, this reality, the one were women were giving birth to infants, she, this intern, said grinding her teeth, ‘I saw the intern from ICU spend quite a while with you. Dare you get involved with her, I will flush your veins with phenytoin.’ And with that, she doubled out. Ok, that’s two very different forms of love confessions in a day. Was I dreaming? I splashed some more water and got back into the room that stinked of amniotic fluid, where the residents were shouting ‘push’, while the mothers were screaming and straining, and there came that occasion disconsolate cry of a newborn, that for some inexplicable reason, seemed to send a wave of joyful glee through all. No, its real indeed. In labor ward, amidst this mutinous chaos, two girls had expressed interest in me. Best day at labor ward thus far!

Yet, my heart took a double take. And relationship, I was weary of these matters of the heart. They are awfully arbitrary and lets face it, inexplicable. I looked toward the ICU and saw my fellow Rand-reader walking between beds with her steth dangling down her neck, and I looked in here where this brutal phenytoin-threat-wielding fellow intern with her coat smeared in blood held the cord delivering placenta while a slick of hair slid down on her face, and I looked at my patient with the baby’s head crowing down from under while I supported her perineum, and I felt at the center of creation, witnessing life while it happens. While it is happening. And I felt glad. Yet, scared at the same time. Life sure is an inexplicable mess. But it’s an interesting sort of mess