Doing a paediatrics repeat post in what is technically supposed to be a vacation doesnt do much to lift one's mood. I have realised in the past year, that while I enjoy playing with children as much as the next person, I am not really the maternal type. I cant soothe them with my voice like my fellow batchmate S.K. can, nor can I make them whoop with delight like P.M. can when he swings the lil ones high up in his arms. I try only not to put the sick children any more ill at ease than they already are, lying in a BMC hospital bed due to a general lack of good public healthcare in our country, or becoz their parents cant afford to feed them clean, nutritious food. The whole situation is really depressing when you see a seven-year old with multiple tuberculomas, or a eleven-year old shrieking with pain becoz nobody thought to give her tramadol yet.
But this post is not about such self righteous grumbling as all this. While I hope I'm not part of the problem, I know I am certainly not part of the solution. Not yet, anyway. Its just that its somehow harder to see sick children than it is to see sick adults. But such emotional agonising aside, what this post is really about is death.
You really cant escape thinking it over when you see ill people as often as some of us do. And while some deal with it by detaching themselves and training their minds to reduce suffering humans to lists of signs, symptoms and differential diagnoses and such (I'm not saying this is a bad method, on the contrary, I think this really helps in solving real world problems when you could easily turn into an inefficient snivelling morass, instead of a useful doctor), I deal with it by periodically trying to face up to the impact it makes on my psyche, by talking about it, thinking about it, instead of pushing it to the back of my mind. So, here goes.
A thirteen-year old asked me today if I believed in heaven. Now, this wasnt really a tricky or morally difficult question to answer since the child wasnt desperately ill or anything. I think it was just a question she was asking. Ignoring the potential minefield of my rational thoughts, I told her that I did and she said that she hoped it existed, too. Then, she said she hoped to meet her father there when she died. He'd died when she was six years old and in this very hospital. That is why she was scared of going to the hospital. Becoz people came here and died. I told her it was not so. That she wud get better and go home and grow up to be healthy. And it was on this note, I thought it wise to end the conversation and walk away to the next kid's bed to see what case my friends were looking at.
You see, I dont really believe in any kind of afterlife. I think this life is pretty much it. And when our brain dies, we die. I dont find this thought morbid or depressing in the least. I think it makes the time we spent with our loved ones, precious in the extreme. It also makes the value of lost chances infinite. Other people, however, probably find the idea of being eternally joined with their loved ones in some kind of Utopia for souls, comforting. A lot of the people I've talked this over with, wistfully long for second chances. A friend whose dog died was convinced she'd walk him again in heaven and called me insensitive when I jokingly told her there may be a separate dog heaven. I think I tend to use humour in situations where I dont seem to be able to empathise properly. But somehow, honestly, the idea of spending forever and ever, which is a really long time, with people we knew in one life is kinda boring. I cant stand my brother 24/7 and I sure hope I dont have to hang out with him for eternity. See, what I mean about the humour?
I know that the older I grow, the more I shall see people around me die. I realised it when I heard about my junior college botany professor dying of hepatitis. I accept it now. I know that the people I've loved who've died, my grandparents and my childhood friend, Tasleem, are lost to me forever. And while, I wud give anything to meet them again, I know it is not possible. And that makes me cherish their memory and the love we shared, even more. But perhaps, that is not enuff for everyone.
So, do I feel like I wilfully lied to a gullible child today? Yes. Do I regret it? No.
The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars...
I love Neil Diamond! I loved him since dad wud change the lyrics of Song Sung Blue and sing them to us as, "Song sung blue, everyone loves you." when I was some six years old and dada was ten and we were jumping around the house refusing to go to bed! :D I love, love, love his voice! Its my perfect male singing voice except for Elvis Presley's sexy drawl.
And I'm sitting here, listening to him sing Red, Red Wine and I cant help falling in love with him all over again. Ooh ooh ooh, that voice! *sighs happily*
And then the next track is "Girl, you'll be a woman soon..soon, you'll need a man." Aaaaaaaaaaaaah! I'm getting up and doing my version of Uma Thurman's dance from Pulp Fiction. :D
Its incredible that I shud meet both of them in the same day. I mean I totally believe in coincidence but this is just stretching my faith too thin!
I met Fern (thats what we called him in school) in the bus, of all places! Strange that you shud meet someone you havent seen since school ended six years ago in such mundane every-day surroundings.
He almost didnt recognise me. Which is strange again. I thought I look pretty much the same. But then I see me everyday so I cant really be objective.
"So, what have you been upto?" he tossed me altho he'd asked me the same question on facebook (he'd also seen my latest photo, so I still dont get how he didnt recognise me) a month ago. But then, he's never been much of a small-talk person.
I told him and then I congratulated him for having completed his electrical engineering. He said he was going to MIT in August. "The MIT?" I queried, seriously impressed, inspite of the characteristic smugness in his tone. (Hell, anyone who's going to MIT will be totally smug about it, wont they?)
"Yeah." he smiled, the first real smile he'd cracked in the fifteen minutes we'd been sitting side by side in the bus, barring the confused grin he gave me when I'd tapped him on the shoulder and asked him if he remembered me.
"Wow! I thought you'd do really well, but this is awesome!" I thought I shud reaffirm that I was being genuine in my show of gladness.
"Did you really?" I thought that was a strange thing for him to say to me. But I nodded, threw in another smile. We sat in silence for about five minutes before I thought to ask him his GPA. From my experience with dada, I knew IIT guys always liked to talk about their GPAs.
"No, seriously??" I was really shocked this time. I knew the guy was this genius (I'd kinda known that since sixth standard) but what kind of an average is 9.81? Dada who'd been more interested in debates, MI and his bass guitar had a GPA that hovered perpetually between 7 and 8 and he cudnt be more concerned about it.
He nodded, and smiled again, sheepishly this time.
"Well, thats great! I mean, I know you've always been single-minded and all." Then, we lapsed into silence again.
We were nearing my stop. I thought I shud make a bid for a decent goodbye to make up for our rather anemic not-so-school-buddy conversation.
"My stop's coming. It was really nice to see you after so long. I'm really happy for you. You're very gifted. Good luck with MIT and all. Umm, I guess its bye then." Not very clean, but I tried.
He nodded, and looked like he wanted to say something important, but then simply said, "Thanks. You're very gifted too, you know, you can talk to people. People like you. And you're smarter than average. You never talked to me before, when we were in school but now, like today, you, you're different." This time I knew he wasnt talking about how I looked.
I smiled this time and got off the bus. I was actually stunned that this guy I'd never had a single fluid conversation with in the sixteen years that I'd known him had actually said something nice about me. Well, sort of nice.
I walked the rest of the way to my colony compound when out-of-the-blue, just when Pushki (thats what we called him in school) came blazing out of his groundfloor flat, two buildings away from mine.
"OMIGOD!" (The capital letters are meant to express the loudness of my exclamation.) "When did you get back from Delhi? Why didnt you call me? You shud have told me you're coming." I half-chided him.
He gave me his usual big bear hug, beaming from ear to ear and told me it was supposed to be a surprise.
"You will not believe who I just met on the bus! Fern!" I had to tell him, it was topmost on my mind.
I told him Fern was going to MIT and then, we settled right back into our old comfort zone. I told him about our awkward conversation, my attempts to talk and what he'd said to me at the end.
Pushki said, "We always knew that one wud go far. I hope he wins a Nobel or the Fields Medal or something. We'll have something to tell our children. We can tell them that he was the guy who never talked with us in school."
That made me wonder if he never talked with us, or if it was just us who didnt bother to talk with him. We werent exactly popular in school but atleast we were the misfits who had each other, you know.
I told Pushki what I was thinking. He just shrugged and said, "Whatever's happened, happened. Its all over and done with now. Maybe we were once cruel kids. Maybe others were cruel to us. But now we're all on our separate paths and we never have to see anyone we dont want to. Unless its by accident."
I asked Pushki if he thought I was different from the person I was in school. He said, "Well, we're all a little different. But no, you havent changed at all, you're mostly just the same. He just never really knew you."
Elsewhere, I read tragiclifeofpi's post in which he says that the best, deepest running friendships we create, are the ones we create in childhood. In which case, my deepest friendships are already all made and set in stone.
Today, it all made me wonder. Running into both of them like that. And the post that talks about how children are less judgemental, more instinctive when they make friends. What is it, really, that makes us choose our friends? Is it instinct? Or merely, common interests? Or even, simple random chance? What makes us choose to keep certain people at the very peripheral margins of our lives and certain others in the spotlit centre. And how our lives wud be different if we'd chosen differently.
You cud have chosen the easier life, the easier path. You cud have ridden the winds to greener shores. Instead you chose to stay put. Your roots drew you into this old, dry earth of half-remembered dreams and hand-me-down memories.
You cud have found leisure in the shade. But you preferred backbreaking labour in the harsh sun. Had you chosen differently, you wud have had wealth, even luxury. But your choice led you to a spartan, near empty life.
You were handed the key to great successes. But you refused it and convinced yourself that it was alright to be ordinary as long as you were good.
But your goodness is not enuff to protect you from the ravages of want. You learned the hard way that hunger can drive people to trade their honour for a meal.
You worry that your heart will turn hard and black, if you find no one to love you back. You awake each day fearing that the cost of making this choice was too great. You wonder if the darkness that surrounds everyone you see will swallow you if you're not careful.
You cud have created great beauty. But instead you chose to mop away, bit by bit, at all the ugliness you saw around you.
And now your hands are too rough for anyone to hold.
I found this in my inbox just now. B. had sent it to me about a year ago. I thought I had lost it. I panicked and searched for it. Here it is. Safe in cyberspace. So I never have to worry that I might lose it again. All I have ever wanted to say about unfinished business is right here.
An Almost Made Up Poem
I see you drinking at a fountain with tiny blue hands, no, your hands are not tiny they are small, and the fountain is in France where you wrote me that last letter and I answered and never heard from you again. you used to write insane poems about ANGELS AND GOD, all in upper case, and you knew famous artists and most of them were your lovers, and I wrote back, it’ all right, go ahead, enter their lives, I’ not jealous because we’ never met. we got close once in New Orleans, one half block, but never met, never touched. so you went with the famous and wrote about the famous, and, of course, what you found out is that the famous are worried about their fame –– not the beautiful young girl in bed with them, who gives them that, and then awakens in the morning to write upper case poems about ANGELS AND GOD. we know God is dead, they’ told us, but listening to you I wasn’ sure. maybe it was the upper case. you were one of the best female poets and I told the publishers, editors, “ her, print her, she’ mad but she’ magic. there’ no lie in her fire.” I loved you like a man loves a woman he never touches, only writes to, keeps little photographs of. I would have loved you more if I had sat in a small room rolling a cigarette and listened to you piss in the bathroom, but that didn’ happen. your letters got sadder. your lovers betrayed you. kid, I wrote back, all lovers betray. it didn’ help. you said you had a crying bench and it was by a bridge and the bridge was over a river and you sat on the crying bench every night and wept for the lovers who had hurt and forgotten you. I wrote back but never heard again. a friend wrote me of your suicide 3 or 4 months after it happened. if I had met you I would probably have been unfair to you or you to me. it was best like this. Charles Bukowski.
Last week, on a whim, I decided to carry off Kautilya's (or Chanakya if you prefer to call him that) "Arthashastra" from my friendly neighbourhood library to the great amusement of the benevolent Doshi uncle.
Well, he waved it in front of my face and frankly, I was tempted. And while everybody who knows me knows that Economics isnt really my 'sweet subject' (far far from it actually), I must admit I am fascinated by this book.
Written in attractive large font on equally attractive glossy white paper, I had absolutely no trouble reading it. And I realised that while its not dazzling me into loving Economics or anything (I stopped after many attempts by my Eco teacher failed pathetically, altho I have read The Creation of Wealth and The Wealth of Nations and stuff by Thomas Friedman, I continue to maintain a polite disinterest in the subject), it has successfully dazzled me with Kautilya's (lovely name, that) sensibility, matter-of-fact phrasing and his impeccable observational skills, all contributing to a sort of lucidly expressed brilliance.
While this version is edited lovingly by Srichand P. Hinduja, the President of the Hinduja Group, the translation by S. Dharmashastry is easy to get (he's even highlighted the important points), overall a very simplified condensed version of the masterful treatise.
But finally what I loved was Kautilya's adorable matter-of-factness, thats where his genius lies.
Sample these nuggests,
"He who punishes severely is hated by the people, he who punishes mildly is despised." (On Punishment)
"One should not speak ill of one's enemies. They are one's own creation." (On Policy towards Enemies) "Power invariably alters the mind." (On Military Might)
and my personal favourite,
"When guilt is removed, there will be no guilty men. When guilty men are removed, the guilt will continue to contaminate others." (On Law and Justice)
I cannot help but wonder how good old Niccolo Machiavelli compares. :D