Sunday, September 30, 2012

The vagaries of life, and the mysteries of afterlife...

Yes, it’s been quite a long while… the result of a fair amount of travel. In today’s digital world there are no excuses for not blogging or tweeting on a regular basis… it’s all up to the individual as they say… you keep learning all the time. I’ve had my fair share of lessons… and now that my daughter has gifted me an iPad, things should improve…

Over the past few days, I’ve been ‘texting’ a friend of mine quite frequently. She is in Calcutta, my favourite city… Her mother is in the Peerless Hospital ICU; she’s been there for some days now. Most of her organs are not functioning. She is on a ventilator, yet she is alive to things happening around her, motioning her daughter for a drop of water, her ears open to all that is being said. Now that her kidneys are not functioning, the doctors are recommending dialysis, but they aren’t quite sure whether it will help resuscitate her. She is 77.

My friend, her brother and others (myself included) wonder whether dialysis will help at all and whether the old woman will be able to take its rigours. The family is in favour of just letting her be, letting her pass away into the sunset instead of artificially propping her up. Most of us would agree with the view. The old lady seems to be holding on though. For how long, nobody can tell. These are the mysteries of life. Even the so-called state-of-the-art technology comes a cropper against what is purely God’s will.

There has been unhappy news on the health front the past month. A senior colleague lost his wife to an unpronounceable disease (sounded like a Czechoslovakian name)… a disease, he says affects one in a million. He tried his best, even bringing home a Tibetan doctor from Dharamshala, Haryana. In the end, nothing really worked. Her end was sudden and peaceful. Only a few months ago, I had met her at a breakfast talk show. She was her usual chirpy and gentle self. Many times when I called him, she would pick up the phone and enquire how I was before passing it on to her husband. It’s a void in his life unlikely to filled even by Time.

Yet another senior colleague is going through hard times. His wife was diagnosed with cancer of the liver and is undergoing treatment at the Cancer Institute. She is a brave woman and knows what she is going through. Unlike many I have known, the family has not made it a secret. The husband has been quite open about the illness, has sought varied opinion and, as a result, there are many praying for her. My Calcutta friend says she doesn’t quite believe in prayers, but many do, especially when driven to the depths of despair as I’m sure this senior colleague has been.

In life you must be prepared to expect the unexpected. How many of us truly are? Both the women struck by grave illness would have least expected it to overtake them. In the first case, the woman was reduced to a vegetable, immune to the presence of anybody in her room. There were two nurses looking after her 24/7… it all ended in the course of a year. In a way, she was luckier than others. I have known of people who have been in coma for years, one an army major in his 50s. He was fed through a nasal tube for more than four years. He was a family friend. It’s something I’ll never forget.

Often, I wonder where people go to after death. Is the person immediately reborn as somebody else (insect, animal or human being) in some other part of the world? My sister says she loves England and wishes everyday that in her next life she be born there some where… as an Enid Blyton character because she so dearly loves Blyton and her books. Does God listen to our prayers and will He meet out aspirations? If only we knew! Afterlife seems such a surreal mix of fact and fantasy. And no wonder as we grow older, many of us turn to spiritual books for some hope, indication, solace… and strength. I see myself heading that way soon...

Sunday, September 02, 2012

Of Sundays, op-ed pieces and morning walks...

Sundays are when you also try and find time to read the newspapers. Often I wonder why newspapers can’t do enough to make some of the op-ed pieces interesting. Sample, for example, this motley collection (on the page titled Thought) from today’s Sunday Express Magazine. The Institution of CAG Deserves More Respect says Upendra Nath Sharma, a former professor of sociology, in a longish piece whose lead doesn’t wake up the reader one bit (don’t we all know that the CAG Report has put the government in the dock?). Manmohan’s Three Monkeys: Fumble, Mumble, Grumble writes another professor, Pushpesh Pant. So, what’s new? Don’t we all know that too? Do we need to read a 600-word piece to know more? T.S.R. Subramanian writing about Moily’s Excellent Ministry and the Blacking Out of Indian Growth has really nothing special to offer readers – we all know about “bankruptcy in governance over six decades”, don’t we? And then, there’s the 'evergreen' G. Parthasarathy talking about Why Af-Pak Border is of Vital Interest to India. Oh come on! Who doesn’t know this as well and, not surprisingly, there’s not one line in that whole piece that says something new. Don’t columnists have a retirement age? How do some of them manage to remain on the op-ed pages for years? Surely, we don't have a dearth of good, thought-provoking writers. May be that is worth a story…


We had a good attendance at the Press Institute of India during the three days of talks. Thanks mainly to students of the Asian College of Journalism who not only made it in fairly large numbers but also sat through the talks and came up with interesting questions. There is always so much scope to learn for the serious minded. But many of these talks are similar; I have attended so many over the years. I think we need younger blood to come forward and speak out on matters that concern them. And having talks/presentations in Tamil (after all this is Tamil Nadu) in as many places as possible is important if the message about caring for or taking pride in a city is to be disseminated. Talks in five-star hotels and clubs or similar places, mostly by the same people saying the same things, is really not going to make much of a difference. Because it is the same people who attend each of these meetings year after year. Which means many, many more people must be roped in to act as catalysts/coordinators.


Have finally decided to restart my early morning walks. It’s been the odd evening walk in recent days but after yesterday’s experience the “early to bed and early to rise” lullaby keeps playing in my ears. To motivate me, there’s a new pair of Reebok shoes and I’m now intent on putting it through the paces.

Yesterday, the traffic was just too much… so much that I had to jump over imaginary pavements and squeeze my body through small gaps and between humans and animals. Reason: a political party meeting round the corner and police having placed barricades to divert vehicles, while trying to shoo away many who cared a damn. People who receive the least respect, I learned the hard way yesterday, were those who walked on our great roads. Drivers of vehicles, all and sundry, would plough through you if given a chance. It’s like each person hates the other – the cyclist the pavement walker, the motorcyclist the car driver, the autorickshaw driver the MTC bus driver…  and you can play this any which way you like… but the common denominator is hatred. Road rage… and it may be only a matter of time before knives and clubs and guns are used freely to decide right of way. God help!

And to think that a few of us were ‘celebrating’ the founding of the city called Madras or Chennai… acting as catalysts or coordinators during Madras Week… sometimes I wonder what really is left to like about the city… My mother keeps talking about how wonderful the place once was, etc etc… My mother can’t believe that a city can take so much traffic… I tell her if there was discipline, things would have been different. Look at Bombay… still years ahead in some of these things… But when will we ever learn! Anyway, small mercies… the devils don’t wake up too early in the morning, so the fainthearted like me may perhaps just find some time to take a quick walk and back.