In summer

It’s the summer again. 

Somehow I can’t seem to muster up Olaf’s enthusiasm. 

But of course, that’s because I’m melting. 

Inane weather discussions aside, what’s the summer about for me?

Mangoes. For one thing. Single handedly make the summer worth it. 

And chilled grapes. Of course. Even with the recent curious experience of eating them with a long toothpick. Who eats grapes like that? Apparently a lot of people. 

Summer doesn’t seem to foster creativity though. I’ve been trying. Lots of laziness, fatigue, and apparently book reading. 

Part of my annual summer vacation treat this year, 

I’m finally reading A Brave New World, a birthday gift from my mother last year. 

Side note.

Every patient tells a story, my mother’s excellent choice for this year. Do try it. 

Mother’s day, of course. Of course.

Both my parent’s birthdays and their wedding anniversary fall in the summer. Much excitement and planning, for sure. 

Aside from all this and the regular excitement of just good old holidays- best part of the year- what else do we have?

Nostalgia, it seems. The heat and dust appear to be an emotional pair. 

Long summer vacations split between grandparent’s homes. Days playing traditional games such as pallanguli, nondi and cricket with a plastic bat. Estate picnics, lunch outside. Art classes- though I have no talent, I assure you. Lazy afternoons, brilliant food. Recently, much air conditioning. 

And most important of all, the books. So many books. My yearly allowance of one new book at landmark per year. Always a highlight. My mom’s books. My uncle’s books. My grandfather’s books. My books. Birthday presents. Books dug up from the outhouse. So many books. All kinds of them. 

Come summer and it was time to fly away on the wings of imagination. The faraway tree, The wishing chair, St. Claire’s, all Enid blyton classics. A lot of actual classics. Prince and the pauper, Tom Sawyer, Treasure island, Little women. And when I was older and stopped being stubborn and stupid, the magic of Harry Potter. Well, if we’re being chronological, it started with Cinderella, and Little red riding hood, but never mind. Some torturous Jane Austen, Wuthering heights, the one book I detest, because it was sad and evil- no offence to anybody. 

Growing up some more, classics some more, courtesy my mother. 

The prisoner of Zenda, the melodrama and misunderstanding of Gone with the wind. 

So many memories. Intertwined with all these books. Think summer and I think books, maybe outside, maybe inside, wherever I was. Think sunshine and that beloved book smell, heat and dust and the comfort of grandma’s cooking. 

Summers well spent, they were all. 

Do suggest more books for this one. 

Signing out. 

Thought nugget #1

This is just a long time, no see post. It’s been a while. I’ve been busy vegetating. Mindlessly working. So here is some mindful creativity. 

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.

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Nope. I seem to have run out. 

It’s so important to me to be good at what I do. To be creative. Different. Not do the same thing everybody else is doing. 

And recently, I can’t remember from where, I came across the idea that we do certain things just because they’re difficult. We choose certain paths just because they are long and gruelling. As if that somehow increases the worth of what we do. As if it’s more virtuous to do the difficult thing just because it’s difficult. As if to be important and meaningful, it needs to be difficult. 

And it struck me so hard, because we’ve always always been taught to never take the easy way. Not to be lazy. Not to chose the path with less trouble just because it is. Why? Why do we have this obsession? How did we form this misconception and get it so deeply rooted?

We have no idea. But we do it all the time. For no reason at all. How foolish we are. 

The value is in how well we do what we do. Not solely in how hard it was to do it. 

So just for once, just a little bit, let’s take the easy way out. Life is difficult. We needn’t make it more so for ourselves. 

You are not the victim of the world. You are the master of your destiny.

-Kurt Vonnegut. 

I threw that last one in as a bonus cookie. Enjoy. 

Also, not advocating being lazy. Think about it and draw your own conclusions. 

Fledgling forays into poetry.

The world is a small place.
Of small minds, small proportions
And smaller horizons.

Archaic skeletons to hold youthful souls.
Twisted walls to confine soaring spirits,
And so an old world lives on in a new time.

Skies there are, to reach, to conquer,
The means, not so open.
Souls and skeletons. And the skies are left alone.

New flames, pure thoughts,
Flights of fancy, fester for the lack of fuel.
A soul of gigantic proportions is conceived,
And left to suffocate in a world too small to hold her brilliance.


An original.

Psalm of life

H.W.Longfellow

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

Modern day Frankenstein

The Circle
by Dave Eggers

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Mae has been employed by The Circle, the most happening tech company in the world. It seems almost too good to be true. What seems to be a utopian society slowly reveals itself to be our worst nightmare. In this age of digital everything, this book is terrifying as you read it, the tentacles of horror and doubt creeping their way into your brain.

Mae Holland is a normal 20 something. Finished college with a liberal arts degree. Worked at a power substation. Overeducated, bored.

She gets this job at the Circle through her friend Annie Allerton (who is in the gang 40. The top 40 minds of the company.)

We are thus introduced to the Circle. Owned and run by ‘The three wise men’, it is a technological giant, whose main focus is on innovation and using social networking and currently available technology to better lives. What looks to be a noble venture indeed.

Because, what can’t we solve together, right? Missing children? Health care? World peace?
When all the world needs is people watching to make sure it behaves, making the world a better place seems like the easiest task.
Because what does the world have in more abundance than people?

Getting people together to solve problems is what the Circle is all about. Together, we can be better. And it is. There is no job stress, no hideous desk, no boring days, no suicides out of overwork, no drowning in family problems. Because the Circle is here for you. The days are rich, the lives richer, and it seems like more than a job, almost a calling.

But this social being, it has a toll. It demands feeding. It demands socialising. It’s the strangest form of external pressure.
To be more you. To have more you. To share more you.

To participate more. But is that it really? The more we participate online, how much are we participating in real life?

Where is the line?

Mae, while being originally unaffected, maintaining a healthy distance, is slowly but surely reeled in. Unknowingly. In the ways of the best cults, thinking that their work is for the greater good. That their work is going to elevate the future. There are warning signs at every turn. It’s sort of like watching the bad horror movie and wishing the girl does not go into the basement and get killed. Of course that’s what she’s gonna do.

Slowly, we watch as one boundary after another topples, and all we have is a society that is constantly watching.
And being watched.

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Knowing is good. Knowing everything is better.

For whom? Says who?

We are not meant to know everything, Mae. Did you ever think that perhaps our minds are delicately calibrated between the known and the unknown? That our souls need the mysteries of night and the clarity of day? Young people are creating ever-present daylight, and I think it will burn us all alive. There will be no time to reflect, to sleep to cool.

As mysterious people try to stop this juggernaut getting inside people’s lives, homes, minds, the mass fervour that has been evoked has gained too much force.

The Circle is complete.

Welcome to the Circle.

Chilling. So real. So everyday. So mundane. But chilling.
The worst kind of chilling though.
Because you can see it happening, but there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

Poetry in my life 2.0

A few beautiful things in life have a special meaning. Only to you. Something you cherish. They may be as fleeting as a thought, but they stay with you, coming at you at random moments. Powerful, evoking emotions, influencing you. Few things in life stay with you, in this way.

In my world, which includes a lot of reading, some of these things that stayed with me, a lot of these things, actually, came from books. Stories. Poetry. A perfectly written line. A beautiful sentence.

It’s exactly like that science experiment I did in school. A column of water and a tuning fork held over it. At that perfect height, the sound of the tuning fork resonates, reverberates, until it’s a beautiful, perfect, loud note. Music.
These words that’s stayed with me were exactly the same.

To relive some of these with you, has been almost a walk through memory lane.

I remember, I remember, 
The house where I was born, 
The little window where the sun 
Came peeping in at morn; 

I remember, I remember, 
The fir trees dark and high; 
I used to think their slender tops 
Were close against the sky: 
It was a childish ignorance, 
But now ’tis little joy 
To know I’m farther off from heav’n 
Than when I was a boy. 

That was I remember, I remember by Thomas Hood. I learnt most of these poems for competitions, declamations. I didn’t appreciate them then. But they come back to me now, at odd moments.
This one, nostalgia.

Some people decorate their rooms, their walls with pictures. I wish I could with words.

I have a little shadow that goes in and out with me, 
And what can be the use of him is more than I can see. 
He is very, very like me from the heels up to the head; 
And I see him jump before me, when I jump into my bed. 

One morning, very early, before the sun was up, 
I rose and found the shining dew on every buttercup; 
But my lazy little shadow, like an arrant sleepy-head, 
Had stayed at home behind me and was fast asleep in bed.

Silly. Capturing childhood. It’s joy. It’s innocence. It’s security. My shadow, by Robert Louis Stevenson.

Another one that stuck with me, even though I didn’t understand it at that time, I was eight, but still-

Ozymandias- Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land, 
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone 
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand, 
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown, 
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, 
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read 
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things, 
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed; 
And on the pedestal, these words appear: 
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings; 
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! 
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare 
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

To me, these words held power. A sadness and a wondering at the foolishness of it all. The human preoccupation with raising huge monuments to leave behind on earth, and the trouble taken for it, and look what remains.

And how could I forget, Casabianca. That favourite at all competitions. The utter heartbreak, the unbelievable courage of it all gets me, every time. An unforgettable one indeed.

The boy stood on the burning deck 
Whence all but he had fled; 
The flame that lit the battle’s wreck 
Shone round him o’er the dead. 

Yet beautiful and bright he stood, 
As born to rule the storm; 
A creature of heroic blood, 
A proud, though childlike form. 

The flames roll’d on…he would not go 
Without his father’s word; 
That father, faint in death below, 
His voice no longer heard. 

He call’d aloud…”Say, father,say 
If yet my task is done!” 
He knew not that the chieftain lay 
Unconscious of his son. 

“Speak, father!” once again he cried 
“If I may yet be gone!” 
And but the booming shots replied, 
And fast the flames roll’d on. 

Upon his brow he felt their breath, 
And in his waving hair, 
And looked from that lone post of death, 
In still yet brave despair; 

And shouted but once more aloud, 
“My father, must I stay?” 
While o’er him fast, through sail and shroud 
The wreathing fires made way, 

They wrapt the ship in splendour wild, 
They caught the flag on high, 
And stream’d above the gallant child, 
Like banners in the sky. 

There came a burst of thunder sound… 
The boy-oh! where was he? 
Ask of the winds that far around 
With fragments strewed the sea. 

With mast, and helm, and pennon fair, 
That well had borne their part; 
But the noblest thing which perished there 
Was that young faithful heart.

Another all time favourite of mine, is the Raven. The poem is too long and too beautiful to paste here and leave it at that. I could write a whole separate essay on it, regardless of the fact that I had to, for school. Go read it, and experience the beauty.

There are so many more poems that stayed with me. Material for more posts. So for now, farewell. Happy poetry time. Share with me your favorites, and spread the joy.

As we say in Tamil,

யாம் பெற்ற இன்பம், பெறுக இவ்வையகம்.

Let the world experience the joy that I have.

When Breath Becomes Air

I can’t go on. I’ll go on.

One of my friends was the first person to introduce me to this book. We go through these things often. Finding the next book to read is my least favourite part of reading. So stuck in a classroom, waiting for a professor to show up, I asked her – “Have you read anything good lately?” And she said, without a moment’s thought- read this book, ‘When breath becomes air’. The title itself intrigued me. When I came home a few months later, I found one of my grandfather’s friends had said almost the exact same thing to him, and lent him the book to boot. So when I found it around the house, I leaped on the chance to finally read it.

When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir of sorts, by Paul Kalanithi, published posthumously. It’s the story of this neurosurgery resident, 1 year away from graduation. He’s one year away from this thing he’s worked so hard for, for so long. In one year, he can finally unpause his life, get a six figure salary, take it at a slower pace, ease his strained marriage, have kids. Then one fine day he wakes up with excruciating back pain. At age 36, his diagnosis is Stage IV lung cancer.

This book is not another cancer story. Or a doctor’s story. It’s this man’s story. It’s a story of life and death, and what is more universal than that? It’s his very fascination with this concept that’s the backbone of this book, and in fact, his life and his career in neuroscience and medicine.

He talks about his experiences, the slow transformation from civilian to medical student, student to doctor, doctor to scientist. As a medical student, with much of the same existential questions, his fascination with these concepts was especially resonant.

In our rare reflective moments, we were all silently apologizing to our cadavers, not because we sensed the transgression but because we did not.

He talks about fortunately or unfortunately, slowly losing the human touch, realising that, and trying to make amends. He talks about the incredible science behind what he does.

He talks of being a surgeon, of handling people’s brains, their very identity. He describes his first birth, his first death, these experiences so profound, you’d think anyone wouldn’t have words to describe them. He finds the words. He talks about panicking on handling his first patient by himself in an emergency, and it slowly becoming routine to the point that he was able to rescue his ice cream sandwich and finish eating it after a trauma call. The life of doctors indeed.

Those burdens are what make medicine holy and wholly impossible: in taking up another’s cross, one must sometimes get crushed by the weight.

He also talks about his own life after his diagnosis, his further fascination with the concept of death, his understanding of what his life meant to him, his methods to deal with his sudden disability.

I began to realize that coming in such close contact with my own mortality had changed both nothing and everything. Before my cancer was diagnosed, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. After the diagnosis, I knew that someday I would die, but I didn’t know when. The fact of death is unsettling. Yet there is no other way to live. Death may be a one-time event, but living with terminal illness is a process.

We see him changing from doctor to patient to human being and all the way back again. We see him as he grapples with major life decisions, talks about relationships that he forged that pulled him through this time, and things he gained because of this time.

“Will having a newborn distract from the time we have together?” she asked. “Don’t you think saying goodbye to your child will make your death more painful?”

“Wouldn’t it be great if it did?” I said. Lucy and I both felt that life wasn’t about avoiding suffering.”

This book is an intelligent, touching, telling of the story of a man. Several times, you have to stop to think about something you never thought about just that way before. Often, you have to pause to identify with the same things he’s feeling.

Strangely extremely relevant to me, as a medical student, and as a person interested in all the same things this man was interested in, this book was a must read for me. It will be for you too. Even if you don’t share these interests. This book is one of those you carry with you long after you put it down. So go pick it up as soon as you can.