Friday, March 31, 2006


The art of losing isn't hard to master;
So many things seem filled with the intent
To be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something everyday. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent
the art of losing isn't hard to master.
Then practice fuerther, losing faster;
places, and names, and where it was you meant
To travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother's watch. And look! my last,
or next-to-last of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn't hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn't a disaster.
-Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture I love)
I shan't have lied. It evident
the art of losing is not hard to master
though it may look like ... like disaster.

(Elizabeth Bishop)

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Dylan Thomas

(Written as his father lay dying of cancer. He, himself, went out at 35, gloriously drunk-one helluva grand exit)


Do not go gentle into the good night
Old age should burn and rave at the close of day,
Rage, rage against the dying of light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
because their words had forked no lightning they
do not go gentle into the good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright,
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage, against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sung the sun in its flight,
And learn too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into the good night.

Grave men near death, who see with blinding sight,
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless me, now, with your fierce tears, I pray,
Do not go gentle into the good night,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.


I have longed to move away
From the hissing of the serpent lie
And the old terrors' continual cry
Growing more terrible as the day
Goes over into the deep sea;
I have longed to move away
From the repitition of salutes
For there are ghosts in the air
And ghostly echoes on paper,
And the thunder of calls and notes.

I have longed to move away but am afraid;
Some life, yet unspent, might explode
Out of the old lie burning on the ground,
And, crackling into the air, leave me half-blind.
neither by night's ancient fear,
The parting of hat from hair,
Pursed lips at the receiver,
Shall I fall to death's feather.
By these I would not care to die,
Half convention and half lie.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Comes The Dawn


After a while, you learn the subtle difference
Between holding a hand and chaining a soul
And you learn love doesn't mean leaning
And company doesn't mean security
And kisses aren't contracts
And presents don't mean promises
And you begin to accept your defeats
With your head held high & your eyes open
With the grace of a woman- and not the grief of a child.

And you learn to build all your roads on today
Because tomorrow's ground is too uncertain for plans
And futures have a way of falling down in midflight
After a while you learn even sunshine...
Burns if you get too much.

So you plant your own garden
And you decorate your own soul
Instead of waiting for someone to bring you flowers
And you learn you really can endure
That you really have worth
And you learn and learn...

With every goodbye,
You learn.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Life without numbers

Hi. I'm starting a new topic. Still putting off the REAL hard work- the "coming attractions" bits about my own experiences. Meantime, here's something to set you thinking. And it does vindicate my lifelong animosity to the math curricula I struggled with all through school. One CAN live without bloody algebra, geometry, trignometry and cal-fuckin'-culus.

Life without numbers
By STEPHEN STRAUSSFriday, August 20, 2004 - Page A3

1+1=2. Mathematics doesn't get any more basic than this, but even 1+1 would stump the brightest minds among the Piraha tribe of the Amazon.A study appearing today in the journal Science reports that the hunter-gatherers seem to be the only group of humans known to have no concept of numbering and counting. Not only that, but adult Piraha apparently can't learn to count orunderstand the concept of numbers or numerals, even when they asked anthropologists to teach them and have been given basic math lessons for months at a time.

Their lack of enumeration skills is just one of the mental and cultural traits that has led scientists who have visited the 300members of the tribe to describe the Piraha as "something from Mars."Daniel Everett, an American linguistic anthropologist, has been studying and living with Piraha for 27 years. Besides living a numberless life, he reports in a separate study prepared for publication, the Piraha are the only people known to have no distinct words for colours. They have no written language, and no collective memory going backmore than two generations. They don't sleep for more than two hours at a time during the night or day. Even when food is available, they frequently starve themselves and their children, Prof. Everett reports. They communicate almost as much by singing, whistling and humming as by normal speech. They frequently change their names, because they believe spirits regularly take them over and intrinsically change who they are. They do not believe that outsiders understand their language even after they have just carried on conversations with them.They have no creation myths, tell no fictional stories and have no art. All of their pronouns appear to be borrowed from a neighbouring language.

Their lack of numbering terms and skills is highlighted in a report by Columbia University cognitive psychologist Peter Gordon that appears today in Science. Intrigued by anecdotal reports that Prof. Everett and his wife Keren had presented about the mathlessness of Piraha life, Prof. Gordon conducted a number of experiments over a three-year period. He found that a group of male tribe members -- women and children were not involved because of certain cultural taboos -- could not perform the most elementary mathematical operations. When faced with a line of batteries and asked to duplicate the number they saw, the men could not get beyond two or three before starting to make mistakes. They had difficulty drawing straight lines to copy a number of lines they were presented with. They couldn't remember which of two boxes had more or less fish symbols on it, even when they were about to be rewarded for their knowledge. A significant part of the difficulty related to their number-impoverished vocabulary.Although they would say one word to indicate a single thing and another for two things, those words didn't necessarily mean one or two in any usual sense. "It is more like oneish and twoish," Prof. Gordon said in an interview.

Prof. Everett, who now teaches at the University of Manchester in England and who unlike Prof. Gordon is a fluent Piraha-speaker, takes issue even with the "ishness" of the Piraha numbers. "The word he [Gordon] translates as 'one' means just a relatively small amount, the word for 'two' means a relatively bigger amount," he said in an interview from Brazil. Prof. Everett points out that when the Piraha are talking and use the "oneish" word to talk about something such as fish, you can't tell whether they are describing a single fish, a small fish, or one or two fish.

Linguists and anthropologists who have seen both the Everett and Gordon studies are flabbergasted by the tribe's strangeness, particularly since the Piraha have not lived in total isolation. The tribe, which lives on a tributary river to the Amazon, has been in contact with other Brazilians for 200 years and regularly sells nuts to, and shares their women with, Brazilian traders who stop by."Why they have been resistant to adopting Western number systems is beyond me," Ray Jackendoff of Brandeis University, a past president of the Linguistic Society of America, said in an interview.

Prof. Gordon said the findings are perhaps the strongest evidence for a once largely discredited linguistic theory.More than 60 years ago, amateur linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf argued that learning a specific language determined the nature and content of how you think. That theory fell into intellectual disrepute after linguist Noam Chomsky's notions of a universal human grammar and Harvard University professor Steven Pinker's idea of a universal language instinct becamewidely accepted."The question is, is there any case where not having words for something doesn't allow you to think about it?" Prof. Gordon asked about the Piraha and the Whorfian thesis. "I think this is a case for just that." Prof. Everett argues that what the Piraha case demonstrates is a fundamental cultural principle working itself out in language and behaviour.The principle is that the Piraha see themselves as intrinsically different from, and better than, the people around them; everything they do is to prevent them from being like anyone else or being absorbed into the wider world. One of the ways they do this is by not abstracting anything: numbers, colours, or future events."This is the reason why the Piraha have survived as Piraha while tribes around them have been absorbed into Brazilian culture," Prof. Everett said.

Nevertheless, the Piraha's lives and lifestyles are so strange that other anthropologists have raised the question of whether inbreeding -- their lack of number skills apparently makes it difficult for the Piraha to identify kin -- has resulted in a tribe of intellectually handicapped people. Both Prof. Everett and Prof. Gordon say that they have seen no examples of this and that the Pirahas' fishing, hunting and even joking skills seem equal to those of people elsewhere.
Hi. I'm back. More later.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Off for a few days

I'm taking leave from work to spend a couple of days in Delhi and then a couple of days in hisar. I'll be returning on Holi evening and may or may not access the net in this time. And ya, i can see exactly how world-shattering my absence is gonna be, judging by the reponses here. Bloody turds, you lot.

But with the stated mission of spreading sweetness and light to this undeserving crowd, I'm STILL going to leave with something worthwhile, again a direct lift-off from Rob Brezsny.

"Write a letter to the person you’ll be one year from today. Tell this Future You that you’ve taken a vow to accomplish three feats by then. Say why these feats are more important to you than anything else. Describe them. Brainstorm about what you’ll do to make them happen. Draw pictures or make collages that capture your excitement about them."

Naturally I've drawn up my list already, and obviously am not going to post it out here till I get 15 comments. Jeez, Scott Adams was right about the "badgering people to read" bit about blogs. And as I leave this page and its undeserving recipients, here's the image to go with it- think Guru Dutt scorning the philistines with "yeh duniya mil bhi jaaye to kya hai..."

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Today's posting is a c&p job from Rob brezsny:

The ancient Greeks had words for love that transcend our usual notions, writes Lindsay Swope in her review of Richard Idemon's book Through the Looking Glass. Epithemia is the basic need to touch and be touched. Our closest approximation is "horniness," though epithemia is not so much a sexual feeling as a sensual one. Philia is friendship. It includes the need to admire and respect your friends as a reflection of yourself--like in high school, where you want to hang out with the cool kids because that means you're cool too. Eros isn't sexual in the way we usually think, but is more about the emotional gratification that comes from merging souls. Agape is a mature, utterly free expression of love that has no possessiveness. It means wanting the best for another person even if it doesn't advance one's self-interest.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

TR- Excerpts

(Fierce Invalids Home from Hot Climates)

1. "Do u know why boom-boom movies are so popular? Why young males, especially, love, simply love to see things blown apart? Its freedom...freedom from the material world. Subconsciously, people feel trapped by our culture's confining buildings and it's relentless avalanche of consumer goods. So when they watch all this shit being demolished in a totally irreverent and devil-may-care fashion, they experience the kind of release the greeks used to get from their tragedies. The ecstasy of psychic liberation...On a symbolic level, it (boom-boom cinema) annihilates their inanimate wardens and blows away the walls of their various traps."

...Islamic terrorist groups were successful in attracting volunteer martyrs because the young men got to strap explosives on themselves and blast valuable public property to smithereens. Exhilerating boom-boom power! If they were required to martyr themselves by being dragged behind a bus or sticking a wet finger in a light socket, volunteers would be few and far between."

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Help for heartbreak

A friend's friend is going through a lousy phase- an affair that went awry where neither party was at fault, but they had to split permanently. She's depressed and obsessed with her loss and the endless thought-loop of what-ifs.

I can empathize, being a past master at being unceremoniously dumped. The thing about heartbreak- its an extreme pain lke no other; absolutely no one else can help you with it, no matter how often and how freely you "let it all out" and "share" with Understanding Friends. Absolutely innocuous remarks made in everyday conversation suddenly stab at you because some random phrase or word or idea was associated in your psyche with the lost partner- something you'd laughed about together or made plans of doing or whatever. Its the associations which kill you.

And here's the thing- in the very first few days, the worst aspect of it all is the utter conviction that the ONLY person perfect for you is lost forever, and you're NEVER EVER going to meet anyone who could even begin to measure up to Mr/Ms Perfect-Though-Recently-Departed. That fact alone is enough to make you absolutely inconsolable. And yeah, I could go on and on about the endless number of ways we devise to torture ourselves when we're going through that phase, but I'll just skip to the crux of what my take on the whole thing is.

Firstly, you WILL survive. Guaranteed. You will move on, even though it seems impossible right now. Time WILL heal- they're right, y'know. The bad news is: you have to deal with it and let it take its course. Rebound relationships and self-destructive behaviors and self-recriminations are all different forms of indulgences and you have to steer clear of them.

My personal barometer for quantifying the state of recovey was how long it took for the 1st thought about Ms. Ex floated in, after getting outta bed. In the early days, you stay up tossing and turning in bed thinking of them, and the first thought when you re-emerge into consciousness is that of loss. If you're especially emotionally fragile, and the gods are chortling at your expense, you may even dream about him/her; making it a all a non-stop excruciating exercise. But by and by, you do learn to set your priorities right.

Life Lesson #1: Well, technically, it oughta have been a different post, 1 dedicated solely to the things 1's learnt the hard way and anyway this particular epiphany was somewhat lower down the rankings, but wat the it is....

"The partner you attract depends on your own stage of personal evolution".


So, it begins with making a conscious choice to cut your losses and stop moping over what was not meant to be. And ya, you do have to make a deliberate choice and repeat it to yourself several dozen times everyday. The self-pity circuits would have already made deep grooves in your mind and you have to erase them in favor of your new state of being. Instead of languishing in misery, you have to choose to haul yourself out of the pit you find yourself in.

It all begins with your making a choice. And believe it or not, you can start the healing process today, here and now, no matter how unreal the prospect of your ever forgetting the person seems.

My favourite story from the Castaneda books- I must've related it about a dozen times each to my inner circle and may possibly be considered a source of rectal discomfort on the issue (if so, apologies in advance, junta)- is the 1 which I used to help me get through what was a very bleak time for me.
"Once, there was a band of warriors living on a hilltop. Whenever any one of them contravened any of the rules they'd agreed to live by, a council was called to decide his fate. The warrior had to explain his reasons for having done what he did. His comrades had to sit and listen to him; and they either disbanded because they found his reason convincing, or they lined up their weapons ready to execute him because his reason was unacceptable.

After saying goodbye to his comrades, the condemned warrior had to walk down the slope. His comrades aimed at him. If no one shot, he was free. The warrior's personal power affected his comrades. he had to walk calmly, unaffected. His steps had to be sure and firm, his eyes looking straight ahead, peacefully. He had to go down without stumbling, without turning back and above all, without running.

Thus you must wait without looking back, without expecting rewards. Your only chance is your impeccability... You must wait like the warrior's walk in the story. The only difference is in who's aiming at you. You must wait to fulfil your warrior's task without looking back & without expecting rewards; and you must aim all your personal power at fulfilling your tasks. If you don't act impeccably, if you fret and get impatient and desperate, you'll be cut down by the merciless sharpshooters of the unknown."

Enough said?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Doctors and managers

This is basically a rant that's been building up for a long time. The precipitating event for me to vent it out now was my discovery that this raw rookie of a girl- she must be all of 22-23- is drawing twice as much pay as me. She's an MBA (I think...she's in HR anyway) and I'm an MBBS with 7 yrs. experience.

In the early days of my using the net, when I still had time to visit chatrooms, I ran into Preeti, who'd just flunked her 2nd attaempt at getting into medicine. I was preparing for UPSC exams while doing my internship, and told her she ought to thank her lucky stars she's been spared the drudgery that constitutes a life in medicine. Sure enough, she changed tracks, switched to Psychology, swept all the medals her univ had to offer, and promptly went onto the MBA track, and has recently bagged the best campus placement- even before her last semester's over. (Incidentally, this stranger I met on the web turned out to be the cousin of a friend from school- but these weird coincidences will be the stuff of a different entry). And while its taken me 7 yrs to breach the 20 k barrier, she's starting out at thrice my pay.

Obviously, I have nothing against Preeti herself. I'm sort of proud of her and even have a hint of vicarious thrill in her achievement. My issue is with the status of doctors vs managers.

After passing out from college, I was clueless about what I wanted to do, but I was pretty certain that clinical practice wan't for me. More to please my dad than anything else, seeing as how his face lit up when I casually mentioned the civil services as a possible career option, I decided I'd take the UPSC exam and see how it goes. If nothing else, it gave me the means to pick up the basics of 2 subjects I'd wanted to learn more about- I chose Psychology and Anthropology as my electives. While I did the mandatory rotations in the General Hospital, Hisar as an intern, I was reading stuff completely different from what my fellow interns were reading- the average intern's life consists of back-breaking labor, interspersed with studying as much as (s)he can for the upcoming PG entrance exams.

I'm told the average attempts for any MBBS to get a PG seat is 3. For 3 years, a doctor is either working at a pittance as "resident medical officer" at some private clinic or the other, and slogging his/her bum off to prepare for an examination, the syllabus for which includes biochemistry- absurd and irrelevant to an iny doctor not geared towards research- and believe me, most aren't. I have a friemd who's just flunked his 4th attempt- he's now resigned to life as a lowly MBBS, condemning him to low wages and unspoken contempt from his peers.

As for my IAS aspirations, I wasn't particularly driven to a lifetime of babu-dom; and 6 mnths before the prelim exams, my maternal uncle gifted me with a PC, thereby introducing me to cyberia. The exam preparations went for a toss, and I greedily discovered the joys of free information delivered to one's chair, even in a place like Hisar. Obviously, I flunked the UPSC exam, having quit the idea of persuing that line. But pertinently, every single doctor I spoke to while I was supposedly abandoning the medical line, was fervently in favor of my decision. All of them unanimously agreed that being a doctor is pretty pathetic- the rewards are disproportionately miniscule, relative to one's input. Well, there were detractors- my parents' social circle, consisting of other medicos in Hisar who'd built their nursing homes and were all grooming their sons to take over the mantle. Their query, like a stuck record, was repeated at every occasion for interaction- "Beta, yeh jo hospital papa ne banaaya hai, iska kya hoga?" Their mindsets precluded any other lifeplan for me- the very concept that I might not want to take up an established nursing home, and one of the oldest and most respected ones in the town at that, was beyond their mental horizons. And I have to admit that there'd be hordes of young medicos who'd give anything to trade places with me.

While still wondering what to do with the rest of my life, I tagged along with my folks to a guided package tour of Europe. Something or the other- probably the sight of Asians doing the menial jobs everywhere- subconsciously triggered a decision that I ought not to waste a degree that was hard-earned. So... I decided I'd revert to the mainstream, and duly started preparing for the PG exam which was 3 months away. Knowing the scene, there was no hope in hell of my getting through- I was competing with junta who'd been at it for 2-3 yrs. full-time- I nevertheless, gave it a shot.

On the eve of the exam, a TV channel broke news that the paper had been leaked and the perpetrators (at least 2 of innumerable others) had been apprehended, but the exam was conducted as scheduled. Among the candidates, there was major babbling- the exam would be declared null, it'd be rescheduled, there was another chance. Yippee! When nothing of the kind happend, and results were declared- and shown to be blatantly skewed- 6 of the top 10 positions were from one college- there was another angry uproar. They made online forums, asked for donations to fund a court case, demanded an enquiry and so forth. An enquiry WAS held- the then health minister, a certain C.P. Thakur, held a closed doors meeting with the people who'd set the paper (the AIIMS faculty) and after 45 mts., announced to the press that no evidence of wrongdoing had been found. Allocation of seats would proceed as planned. The unspoken fact stared everyone in the face- sue us, see if we care!

That was it as far as I was concerned. Even though I held very little stakes, having invested just 3 months compared to people's years upon years, I was disenchanted enough to abandon the idea. Finally, I latched on to what Hari and Kitty had been prompting me to do for ages- go abroad and find my lifetime's work among the endless options offered in the West. Y'all know how the rest happened- I cleared GRE and set out to create a CV reflecting a commitment to public health, which is how I've spent the last 4 years.

Compare that to a scenario that unfolded a couple of years back- the CAT exam paper was leaked as well, and discovered to be so. The media ensured front-page coverage for a week; the exam was promptly cancelled, rescheduled, and the 2nd time around, extra efforts were in place to ensure that nothing untoward happened. Incidentally, Preeti cleared that exam both times and is now just about wrapping up her final semester, with as assured job in her pocket already, with hazaar perks thrown in.

I've "done time" treating people I have utter contempt for, on account of their ignorance, their sheer bloody-mindedness and bigotry, in extreme climates, with less than basic amenities, for ridiculously low salaries. And yeah, I'm actually quite priveleged, in that, anytime I wanted, I could chuck it all and return home to do the conventional thing and simply take over dad's established practice. I had the luxuary of CHOICE.

This ought to reveal starkly exactly where the establishment's interests lie. The notion of medicine as a noble profession is downright risible, for which both medicos and the Others are equally to blame. But by God, let anything taint the sarcosanct IIMs' sacred-cow status, and the nation's parliament starts frothing at the collective mouth.

So, what are our priorities- we can go along with anything-&-everything-and-screw-quality-control-notions when we hand over our lives to professionals supposedly qualified to heal and save lives; but boy, better not tamper with the system churning out people who're going to spend their lives selling bottled water and potato chips.

I know this sounds obnoxiously self-righteous, but hey, this is what's happening, and I find it unacceptable. But then, I'm blessed enough to have an escape route (Inshallah!).