Thursday, 28 December 2017

Book conversations: The Nanologues

The Nanologues
Vanessa Able
Hachette India, 2013

If I were to tell you that somebody bought a Tata Nano car... you are likely to react by saying, 

Why!! Of all the things...

If I were to add that that somebody went on a round-trip of India in the Nano... 

Whaaaat!! No way...!

And if I were to add that that somebody happens to be a woman... 

Gettouttaa here...!

And... this gets better... that somebody is a British woman; a foreigner who has no driving experience in India... 

Aaaaargh!!! [while jumping up and down in disbelief and banging your head against the wall...]

That's just what this is about: a single white woman on a trek around India in a Tata Nano car, and somehow completing the journey to tell her tale. 

In this engaging account, Vanessa Able combines statistics, politics, culture, lack of road etiquette/discipline/decorum/courtesy that is all too familiar an Indian trait, and of course, the experience of driving a Nano which is symbolic of India's economic rise. 

Or at least it was, when it was first launched. It has since lost its place in the arch-lights in the wake of other brand innovations.  

To be fair to Nano, this review is four years too late.  In this period, the leading car maker, Maruti has come up with its own technological marvel that is holding sway currently: Maruti Celerio - the gearless wonder, which I happen to drive currently.  And I can vouch for the ease of driving experience of the Celerio (but not the lofty fuel efficiency that the company claimed at the time of its launch). 

The AMT gear technology of Celerio has caught on so well that Maruti has forced other companies to include this in their own models.  Tata Nano recently has followed suit recently.  Also, Nano is no longer available as the Rs-one-lakh car; all of its variants are now priced above two lakhs. 

This book is also about driving, and the exasperating experience that driving is in India. In a reverse of Able's experience, I have driven for eight years in various parts of the UK during my days in the NHS - sometimes up to 100 miles in a day - and I can fully empathise with her predicament.  

The difference in driving experience in between the two countries is the same that exists between chalk and cheese.  Don't even try to understand the absence of any road-virtue in our culture, although I did make an attempt to address this issue in Angst.

Able's love for the Nano is evident throughout the book, whom she personifies by naming 'her'.  This is essentially a road-book, akin to a road-movie; if that's the genre that appeals to you, then this is right up your street...!

I hate driving on our roads... but it is really awe-inspiring that somebody 'enterprising in a good way' such as Able has taken the bull by its horn and survived - if you leave out a few bumps and scratches. 

Therefore, it gives me immense pleasure in saying that Vanessa was Able to fulfil her Abhilasha before saying Tata to India...  Sorry, couldn't resist that one...!

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Sunday, 3 December 2017

Book conversations: Fatal Margin

Fatal Margin
Umanath Nayak
Hachette India 2014

I had written about how rare it is to find a fellow doctor-writer, given the fact that doctors have to surrender themselves to their demanding schedules and recalcitrant patients.  Not only have I, through the course of my diverse readings, managed to unearth a gynaecologist-writer, but now I have discovered a surgeon-writer! 

And if the said writer happens to be a relative of a doctor colleague/family friend, the curiosity level reaches a new high. 

Fatal Margin, therefore, was a highly fascinating prospect for me; more so because Dr Umanath Nayak attempts to do the unthinkable: enter the realm of Robin Cook and churn out a medical thriller.  While this in itself is an admirable undertaking, Dr Nayak also manages to add to the premise such ill-discussed issues as medical-political-corporate intrigues, and nepotism and corruption in the medical world. 

The result is a heady mixture of medical protocols and statistics, political manoeuvring, and courtroom drama.  Dr Nayak utilises his considerable surgical oncology expertise to etch a character called Veer Raghavan who is an ambitious surgeon looking to establish the foremost cancer centre in the country.  In the process, he circumvents a few rules and rubs a few powerful people the wrong way, and courts trouble.  Rather, trouble takes him to the court! 

How he manages to save face and emerge victorious in the face of seemingly insurmountable evidence against him, is what the story, leading up to the climax is all about.  

More than the thriller and mystery elements, to me, the standout feature of the story is the courtroom debate about what constitutes truthful and untruthful, acceptable and unacceptable, and ethical and unethical practice of medicine. 

Is it alright to overlook a few medical errors for the sake of the larger good of society?  Is evidence-based medicine superior to and preferable to value-based medicine?  Dr Nayak tackles these issues, which fall within the medicolegal grey area, admirably.   

Lay readers can look forward to an introduction to medical jargon and standard medical practice.  Fatal Margin is a valuable addition to the cause of Indian medical-fiction.   

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Saturday, 25 November 2017

Who wants to be a doctor (in Karnataka)?

So the dust from the recent doctors' strike has settled, and the diluted KPME Act has been enacted quietly.

But Karnataka has got to be the worst place for a medical practitioner.  And the KPME Act has nothing to do with this.

The KPMEA is only the latest in a long list of insults that have been meted out towards the practitioners of the 'noble profession.'

As though the tough-as-nails medical course were not enough, each of us doctors has been through hell and high water to try and eke out a living.

Find that hard to believe?  I don't blame you; especially in these times when news channels proclaim striking doctors to be 'Yama's agents.'  

Consider the odds stacked against us: difficult course that one manages to scrape through; even more difficult PG entrance exams; bottle-neck in the form of dime-a-dozen medical UG colleges, but not enough PG seats; capitation fees to get into UG and PG courses; sleepless on-call nights; dog's work in the wards/OTs/OPDs; climbing mountains to establish oneself as a sought-out doctor, assaults on doctors, non-recognition of foreign PG degrees, etc, etc. 

During all this, family/social life goes for a toss and you can pretty much forget about hobbies, alternative interests, and life outside the daily medical grind.  By the time you get round to your hobbies and interests again, you are well past your prime. 

One can't even change jobs like those in technical professions can.  Once a doctor, always a doctor.  You got to struggle on endlessly, even if you earn a pittance in comparison to the IT-BT lot who easily earn twice or thrice as much. 

It is a strange dilemma that a doctor finds him/herself in: deficiency in the midst of plenty.  Indian economy is up and running, but the healthcare professional strangely finds him/herself left out of the Indian success story.  

Setting up a private practice is a case of hit or miss.  You may or may not click with the patients, who can be rather fickle when it comes to following up with you, and loath to pay consultation charges.  It takes years in any case to make a name for yourself. 

In the hospital set up, you need to tow the line of the management, and accept a pre-set salary or 'cuts' from the consultation charges, which are rather like seedless peanuts!

So you are left with a job that you do not enjoy, and that does not provide you with anything substantial to set up home and raise a family.  This is especially true if you happen to live in a high-cost city, such as Bengaluru. 

The effect of all this?  Disillusionment; burn out and drop outs.  I have seen many doctor friends leaving the country in search of a better deal.  Some have altogether dropped out of the profession and started business ventures.  Some have contemplated suicide.

Yes, we have encountered and are still putting up with many 'KPMEA's in our lives as doctors. 

Basically, the recent fiasco from the state government has highlighted three issues, as I see it:
  1. the general public wants first-class service at the lowest cost, preferably free of cost
  2. the doctors want a fulfilling career that provides them with financial security on par with other vocations
  3. the government (in the ideal world) would want a seamless primary and secondary care service that satisfies both stakeholders; public and healthcare professionals
At the moment, none of these three issues are being addressed, even with the implementation of the KPMEA. How can one put a cap on healthcare services without capping other non-essential services that are being allowed to jack up prices wantonly.  Go, for example, to a multiplex and see for yourself how much you have to shell out for the ticket and food. 

What is the solution?  There is none that is perfect, but we are looking at a scenario where the medical service is free to the public, but at the same time, the hospital and the healthcare providers are compensated suitably.

The state owned NHS of UK (even though many in that country find faults with it) comes to mind as a service that achieves just this.  Free healthcare funded for by the taxpayers' money that is deducted at source.  

On the other side of the pond, the US healthcare is largely privately provided, with insurance system covering the cost for the patient.

We need to look at these and other models to decide the best suitable healthcare delivery system that can be adapted to our conditions.  Mindlessly capping fees and charges in an increasingly capitalized and corporatized society is not going to cut it.

Somehow, I cannot see the present government of Karnataka making any thoughtful, pragmatic changes in this regard, given the fact that it has its eyes set on the upcoming state elections.

So, dreadful, populist measures such as Indira Canteen and KPME Act will continue to be inflicted on the unsuspecting populace, as this government attempts to revive the dynasty that has clearly done its time.  

Governments will come and go.  The doctor in Karnataka will continue to suffer.

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Saturday, 26 August 2017

Book conversations: Between the Serpent and the Rope

Between the Serpent and the Rope
Mukunda Rao
Harper Element, 2014

For those of us who are spiritual aspirants, it is common practice to familiarize ourselves with the various spiritual folds and tenets, especially in the early exploratory phase.  

This, in essence, is the subject matter of this book.  Mukunda Rao records his own experiences from his peregrinations of famous spiritually important places of South India.  

Rao moves from Kalady (birthplace of Adi Shankaracharya), to Arunachalam (Ramana Maharshi's place), to Auroville in Pondicherry (home of the Aurobindo movement), to Puttaparthi (the Satya Sai Baba stronghold), to Mata Amritanandamayi's ashram, to Sri Sri Ravi Shankar's Art of Living campus, to Adyar (Jiddu Krishnumurti's main place of work in India), to finally finish with U G Krishnamurti's timeless, dogma-less, disciple-less and ashram-less concept of spirituality.

In so doing, Rao combines the details of his stay at and encounter with the people of these places, the rise and fall of the prominent religious/spiritual figureheads of some of these places, and his own take on the philosophies expounded by each of these gurus.  The result is a book that is at once a travelogue, a series of biographies, and an elucidation of the different spiritual theories of South India. 

Intriguingly, Rao comments on the failure/modification/misinterpretation/inadequacy of some of these philosophies, and the blind hero-worship that persists even after the founder-philosopher is no more.  Thus the idea behind the movement assumes gigantic proportions, and subsumes and supersedes even the founder-philosopher (for example - and this is my own take - the two Abrahamic religions; Christianity and Islam). 

In many ways, the preceding chapters are a build up to U G Krishnamurti's simple yet radical and difficult-to-grasp take on enlightenment; or Natural State, as he called it.  The added advantage Rao has is that he has met and interacted with the great man himself.

For the sake of completion, Rao (though I understand that he did not visit these places) could have included the accounts of Swami Nityananda's palaver and Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev's simple yet profound spiritual messages.  

To me, this work also goes to show the richness and variety of spiritual thoughts and practices that exist in this great land of ours for a spiritual aspirant explore and select from - and we are only talking South India here.

Eminently readable!

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Saturday, 19 August 2017

Old article on nepotism in Bollywood

Nepolitics and nepollywood

Nepotism: The practice among those with power or influence of favouring relatives or friends, especially by giving them jobs.

This is how the Oxford Dictionary defines the term that has been in the news lately.  I have already raised this prickly issue in Angst.

In Hindi we have a more colourful description of the term: Allah meherban to gadha pehelwan!

Politics and Bollywood (I prefer Hindi Film Industry, but this term fits in here) abound in instances of shameless use of power and influence in getting one's own kith and kin plum posts/roles.

There are countless examples.

Very recently, before they were ousted, two sons of a 'foddersome' politician had occupied prominent posts in a northeastern state.  One of them, if news reports are to be believed, was the health minister even though he had flunked his school exams.  His elder brother had tried his hand at cricket, found it too much hard work, and went... 'hey, never mind! there is always politics..!'

The grand-old-but-irrelevant-in-the-present-context party continues to hold on to the family that has usurped the Mahatma's surname.  That the 'young scion' is not only young anymore, but is also completely unfit to remain in public life, leave alone lead a party, doesn't seem to matter.

No prizes for guessing who I am referring to.

Cut to the land of dreams and glamour: Bollywood, or any of the umpteen 'woods' that have sprung up across the country.  The story is the same in each of these regional editions.

I need not go into the details since I have already written about this long ago.

Recently, a star-kid - a failed actor - had written that she barely survived Bollywood and the bad things it did to her.  Sorry, what?  Who asked her to be a part of it?  Is Bollywood some kind of family jagir that needs to be thrust upon the heirs against their will?  

These gadhas have a simple choice of saying 'no'.  Instead what most of them seem to do is to take the plunge - after all, when the apple is dangled in front of you, why not savour it?  If it works out, fine; if not - 'hey, it is such a bad field..!  I barely survived it!'

Another star-kid - a successful one - was reported to have said, 'it's a free world, there's opportunity for anybody to make it big.'  Sorry, lady; beg to differ!  A rank outsider who has no prior connections with Industry insiders, who has no godfather/mother to guide him/her, who has no chance of getting a well coordinated grand launchpad, has NO opportunity to make it big - not as much as a star-kid who is blessed with all these criteria (minus looks and talent), anyway.

What does this tell us about ourselves?  Nepotism that is so rife in our public life implies that when it comes to handing over the 'family heirloom', we would like to keep it in the family.  We like to pass on the baton to our own ilk as we feel insecure about somebody else gaining an upper hand in our chosen professions.  When there is an easy route available to instant fame, recognition, loads of moolah and power, how can one say no?

So, it's my family, my son, my daughter, my nephew, my niece, my jagir, my fiefdom, my constituency, my money, my fame, my big fat EGO... that's all that matters in the end.  Fairness be damned.  Merit be damned.  'Strugglers' - that hapless breed of wannabe actors who have to jump through hoops to land a bit-role - can take a walk! 

Reservations, newer castes and religions, demands for new states and secession from the mainland... as if these were not enough, you can add a couple of other exclusivist, divisionist, selfish phenomena to this list: nepolitics and nepollywood.

'Nepotism rocks!' did someone say?  

No sir, nepotism sucks!!

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Saturday, 22 July 2017

Book conversations: Afternoon Girl

Afternoon Girl: My Khushwant Memoir
Amrinder Bajaj
HarperCollins 2013

I must honestly admit right at the beginning, I bought this one on a whim - a) because I am a big Khushwant Singh fan, and b) because it was available at a discount on Flipkart.

There, off my chest...

Now for the content.  There is something about books that you do not expect much out of that pleasantly surprise you in the end.  Afternoon Girl is one such neat little gem.

The invitation to be a fly-on-the-wall witness of Bajaj's somewhat clandestine, sometimes disharmonious, but always engaging association with the grand old man of Indian literature grips you as soon as you start reading it.  I found myself going back to it with eagerness as soon as I could find some reading time.

Besides, there was an additional serendipitous allure for me in this book.  The peculiar trait that I share with the author: doctor who harbours literary ambitions.  Bajaj's candid admission of her struggle as a doctor who wants to be an established writer, her dismay at being rejected by several publishers, and her outpouring of literary woes in front of Khushwant Singh kept me riveted.  

These revelations also reassured me, as I have experienced similar woes myself after I decided to take up writing in addition to doing medical work.  At last I have found somebody who has gone through the pain of trying to appease the selfish mistress that is medical career, while (vainly) attempting to put pen on paper.  

As for the revelations, the graphic details of her personal life and the ribald jokes she shares with the grand old man may not suit everybody's sensibilities.  But as Bajaj explains, they sell.  And I am not judgmental, so that's fine.  

The grand old man certainly did not mind.  If anything, he always relished the earthier side of life.  I have always been in awe of Khushwant Singh's ability to boldly disclose the details of his lurid affairs with, and the profligate lifestyles of the rich and famous.  

The famous Khushwant Singh penchant for wine, women, sex and death is underscored once again in this work.  It is amusing to read of his interest in Bajaj's 'solitaire collection' even as she pampers him with gallons of Chivas Regal! 

Nitpicks: samples from the handwritten letters, and a few pictures of the author's meeting with Khushwant Singh and the several book release events she attended would have enhanced the appeal of the book.  

Also, since Bajaj repeatedly wished for Khushwant Singh to live for a 100 years, a postscript describing the master writer's last moments, and Bajaj's reaction to his passing away agonizingly short of 100 years would have been the icing on the cake.

As it is, Girl is a naughty, humorous, heart-warming account of a writer's encounters with her muse. 

I am mildly envious of Bajaj as she got to savour the grand old man's company: a dream come true for any writer.  

But at the same time, I am massively chuffed for her - a fellow doctor-writer!

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Saturday, 8 July 2017

Champions Trophy 2017: Just saying...

Okay, this is not a case of sour grapes...just saying...

The eventual 'winners' of the Champions Trophy 2017 had a rat's chance in hell of winning it...

Now I do know that cricket is a game of glorious uncertainties...

I know that any team on its day can turn the tables and cause an upset...

I also know the 'winners' are known to be a mercurial side, whose performance can yo-yo between 'also-turned-up' and 'champions'... 

Still...I can't help wondering...because they are capable of anything...

Consider these:
  • The 'winners' who lost their opening game miserably against us, went on to win the remaining games against all odds.  Consider the opposition they beat en route to the finals: South Arica, Sri Lanka (who beat us comfortably), England (in the semifinals, and England were pre-tournament favourites to win in home conditions), and India (in the finals, virtually decimating us).
  • The other favourites, India were going great guns...until the finals.  Apart from the match against Sri Lanka, they had one bad day, and it happened to be the finals.
  • In the finals, why did India win the toss and take bowling first, when conventional logic seemed to favour batting first..?
  • The Indian bowlers had had a great tournament up until the finals...they had troubled batsmen of all teams they played against and had given away very few wides, and hardly any no-balls.
  • Bumrah had bowled only one inconsequential no-ball before the finals.  But in the finals...he bowled that dreadful no-ball which as we know cost us the match...
  • How is it possible that all our extraordinary, gifted, in-form batting stalwarts failed to fire in the same match en masse?  Why did the top and middle order collapse like nine pins?  Were the conditions in the second innings so miserable for batting and bowling-friendly?  
  • By the way the highest successful run-chase in the same venue is 322, which is not far away from the 'winners' total.  If there was any batting lineup in the world that could have chased successfully, it was ours. 
What happened then?  An off day?  Indian team once again flattering to deceive? 

The unlikely result, inspite of the more benign reasons, cannot put a lid on the can of worms...the conspiratorial possibilities...

Is it the familiar betting/spot-fixing monster again?  Unlikely, given the serious repercussions that would follow if caught - ask Sreesanth!  And it would be tough to get South Africa, Sri Lanka and England players to agree to the scheme.

Or could it be...dare I say it...threats?  Because the one thing that the 'winners' have in their arsenal is the power of gun and bombs.  They are, after all, the epicentre of world terrorism.  The best of terror universities are based there.  

Did they get their brothers in arms - many of whom have found a safe haven in Britain - to threaten the other teams into submission..?

Far fetched..?  Paranoid..?

Maybe...  But I wouldn't put it past them...

Did I say that they are capable of anything..?

Just saying now...

(Note: If not the ICC, at the very least the BCCI should thoroughly investigate the debacle...)

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Sunday, 11 June 2017

Book conversations: White Magic

White Magic: A Story of Heartbreak, Hard Drugs and Hope
Arjun Nath
Harper Collins India, 2016

I have referred several long-term alcohol dependent patients to rehab centres.  But they rarely ever come back to share their experiences - that is, if at all they do go on to have a successful rehab.

The few who have been to rehab in the past have only recounted horror stories of how staff verbally and physically abused them, how they were tied up and/or tortured, and in some cases, how they had to jump over the compound to escape the 'prisons' they were in.  

Naturally then, with White Magic I was curious to find out the insider's account of what it is to go through drug rehab as a patient.  I was hoping for a balanced account of the successes, happy outcomes, unsuccessful attempts at rehab, and the difficulties faced by staff and patients alike in battling a notoriously recurrent and exasperating problem that is drug addiction. 

I am sorry to say I was left disappointed...

What we get in this book is a personal account of the author's rehab experience in one particular centre called The Land, which we are told operates very differently from the rest, and has high success rates.  That's fine...I am okay with that bit, even though the author does not comment on the effectiveness of his own rehab experience in the end.  

However the rehab experiences of Nath or his fellow programmers recounted here are very few.

Instead the majority of the narrative is filled with the maverick founder Doc/Bhai's life story, whom, it is plain to see, the author lionizes.  Everything about his difficult birth, his dysfunctional family life, his headstrong attitude, and his struggles through life as he sets up the rehab centre initially at home, and later at The Land are described as in a biography.

More than anything, his multiple affairs and love life are described in lurid details.  Bhai comes across as a cantankerous Casanova who beds anything that remotely resembles the female of the species.  Sorry to scoff, but this is not what I wanted to find out from the book.

In spite of all this, I did manage to find a few things worth remembering: that the idea of rehab is not to run away from the drug, but to run towards a fulfilling life; that any goal is achievable as long as one aims high and works towards it; and that the power of belief in, and the act of prayer to an impersonal higher power can in themselves achieve more than the rigid belief in any one particular faith or its god.  

Few more things that rankle: there is a generous use of cuss words; not just from the programmers, but also from Bhai himself.  And they all smoke like chimneys in rural England.  It is as though the rehab program does not consider the harmful effects of nicotine.  Instead, cigarettes are inhaled in preference to oxygen, and their non-use is applied as a punitive measure against some transgressions in The Land. 

The writing is mostly excellent, although there are quite a few sentences which I had to read again to coax the meaning into my (thick) head.  Nath does mention that his 'soup'y writing may not appeal to one who has no interest in the subject of drug addiction or rehab - or indeed, enlightening onselfe about the life-story of Bhai.  I agree with him there... 

Only go for it if you enjoy reading biographies of eccentric individuals and their flamboyant lives.

Image source:,204,203,200_.jpg

Monday, 5 June 2017

Film conversations: Baahubali: The Beginning and The Conclusion

Here's the question that was bothering the collective consciousness of the entire nation for the last two years: Why did Kattappa kill Baahubali?  Now we know.

But here's what rankles: surely a character like  Sivagami who is an astute Rajmatha, and is also aware of the hatred Bijjaladeva has for Baahubali, would have thoroughly investigated matters before ordering Kattappa to kill Baahubali.  Here's one probable reason for this: Baahubali 2 has a lot of ground to cover in terms of plot development, which makes her decision seem hurried.    

While Baahubali: The Beginning was about setting the tone and raising the intrigue in the minds of the audience, Baahubali: The Conclusion is all about recounting the events with a rather rapid culmination of the story.  

As with other films, the first part appears a better film than the second one because of those twin reasons: the freshness of the first outing, and the fact that the second part does not live up to the enhanced audience expectations after the rousing first part.

It's not that the Conclusion does not try: it throws everything in the book into the narrative to keep you enthralled.  As a result it does appear to be cramming in a bit more than it should; as opposed to the Beginning that was a right combination of measured approach and jaw dropping action.  The tribal war scene from the Beginning, to me, beats the climax of the Conclusion any day.  

Having said that, overall the two films are an awesome exhibition of film-making, reflecting the story writer's and director's (who happen to be father-son duo, respectively) grand cinematic visions.  Well done to the entire team for creating a pan-Indian phenomenon, and for putting an Indian film on to the global platform, without any significant involvement of the Hindi Film Industry.

But here's what's very intriguing for me, personally: the epic story seems to have been inspired by the two original epics of India: Ramayana and Mahabharata; especially the latter.  Here's how:

Baahubali is Bhima/Arjuna-like figure with a combination of power and heroism, and his antagonist Bhallaladeva makes for a fine venom spewing Duryodhana.  The latter's father, Bijjaladeva is at once the embittered Dhritarashtra as the older brother who was deprived of the right to rule due to his deformity, as well as the evil schemer, Shakuni who plots the downfall of Baahubali.  

Devasena's character too appears to be inspired by the stories of two women: Draupadi who is insulted in a court full of people, and the captive Sita who is kept against her will in the Ashoka Vatika while she awaits her redemption.  Kattappa is the Bhishma who is bound by honour to serve the kingdom and is therefore forced to do certain things against his will.

Even some of the events fit in with the stories from the epics.  Take for instance the sequence in the Conclusion where Baahubali, who is living incognito, rides with the coward prince on a wild boar hunting ride and inspires him to take affirmative action when faced with danger.  

This is so very like Arjuna as Brihannala inspiring the timid Uttara Kumara when faced with the Kaurava army (even the character in the Conclusion is called Kumara).  Then there is also the cattle reference: the go-harana episode in the Mahabharata at the end of agnyatavasa, appears to have been adapted as the stampede of the cattle with their horns on fire in the same subplot.

This is not a complaint; just an observation.

The makers leave a couple of doors open towards the end of Conclusion: Bijjaladeva is not killed, which raises the possibility of him scheming again; and there is a child's voice that asks (during the end credits) whether Mahendra Baahubali's son becomes the next king to which an elderly man's voice tantalizingly replies, 'who know's what's in Shiva's mind?'

I sincerely hope there are no plans for a third outing.  Baahubali 1 was the beginning, and 2 the conclusion, as clearly mentioned in the titles.  Together they tell one killer of a story, and contain some of the most memorable characters ever: Kattappa and Baahubali have entered the echelons of other iconic characters of Indian cinema such as Gabbar Singh and Mogambo.  And there they should remain.  

One hopes that their creators are not tempted into milking the story and stretching it into another never-ending franchise.

On the other hand, it would be great if they move on to depict the epics that seem to have inspired Baahubali: Ramayana and Mahabharata, with the same awe inspiring grand cinematic vision and fervour.  

Let's hope they do.

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Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Three subhuman incidents...

Recently three shameful incidents have once again left us grappling with the subhuman side of our society.  

All three have been caught on camera or displayed on social media extensively...

(In all the three cases, the images/videos are too disturbing to show, which is why I have gone with a blurred out image of the first incident...)

Firstly, there is that awful molestation video wherein a pack of rabid subhumans attack a couple of hapless women, who, as in other sexual assault cases, find themselves in the wrong place at the wrong time in the wrong company.  

If social media reports are to be believed, all the men involved in the attack belong to a certain religion, but the mainstream media placed the blame squarely at the Chief Minister's door for the incident, and did not name these vermin.  

It is all very well to blame the government of the day, but why not also include the full details?  What is stopping the media from naming and shaming the vermin?  Isn't it the job of an impartial media house to present the whole story?  

Anyway, let's hope that the government/police/courts take suitable action and bring the vermin to justice.  I hope the authorities realise that it is the lack of appropriate response that encourages the vermin to carry out brazen attacks such as these.

Second; how about some beef, roadside?  Courtesy, the peaceful denizens of 'god's own country'; those that are also the members of the 'grand old party of the country'. 

This is just the problem with banning anything.  It creates the ideal atmosphere for subaltern subhumans such as those that slaughtered the calf to come out of the woodwork and garner cheap publicity.  Who knew about that youth leader - yes, the very same who is seen in some pictures with the 'youthful' scion of the dynasty - before this heinous act was carried out?  

In all this, I feel for the innocent animal that was literally sacrificed at the altar of sinister political machinations.  Veering as I am towards veganism, I would suggest that it is not just the cows/cattle that need our protection, but all living beings.  This is also why I am not in favour of the 'beef ban' per se.  

One also has to lament the state of affairs in the most literate and progressive southern state.  By the looks of it, it is also being painted red - literally and politically - by the subhumans, and may well end up with the tag, 'devil's own country'.

I hope the animal rights activists overcome their selective blindness, and initiate action against these subhumans.

Third, but by no means the least uncouth: public humiliation of Hindu god.  

You cannot conjure up a more ironical situation if you wanted to.  Apparently members of a certain reservation-seeking group that is named after Bhima spat on a picture of Hanuman before hitting it with slippers.  Both Bhima and Hanuman, in case you missed the point, are avataras of mukhyaprana - or Vayu, the Wind God.  

Couple of quick points on this incident: here's an invitation to the subhuman group members to do the same to the pictures of a certain black stone belonging to a certain religion.  Oh yes...they may decline the invite, because they are smart enough to realise that they will be beheaded before put on trial.  Once again, the magnanimity and tolerance of Sanatana Dharma has been taken advantage of.  

The other point is about the root cause for this evil display: caste and reservations.  When we are looking at having a uniform civil code and a uniform tax policy for the entire country, why hold on to this outdated practice of favouring a less deserving candidate over a meritorious one?  

Let's hope the present government gets rid of reservations altogether.  And somebody, please file a PIL on this subhuman group.  

I am also, in the meantime, waiting for the highly secular award-wapsi gang members to start returning their worthless awards in protest against these three subhuman incidents...  

High hopes!!    

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Saturday, 25 March 2017

Assaults on doctors: what can be done to prevent them?

Sharire jarjaribhute vyadhigraste tathapare|
Aushadham Jahnavi toyam vaidyo Narayano Harih||

(When the body has lived its duration of time, and has been caught up in the diseases therein, 
The medicine is Ganga water, and the doctor is Narayana who takes away suffering.)

The above Ayur-vedantic injunction which accords a godlike status to doctors is both at once uplifting and troublesome in our country.  

It is uplifting because it can draw aspirants to the field, motivate a medical practitioner to always perform at his or her best, and ascribe a sacred quality to the patient-doctor interaction, which is unlike any other professional interaction.  

It is troublesome because it implies that the doctor can do no wrong.  From a patient and his family's point of view, a doctor is an infallible and magical creature who can provide panacea to all maladies.  

In actual fact, there is probably no other profession that is as underrated, taken for granted, vilified, victimised, targeted and condemned as the medical profession.  

Let us, for the time being, leave aside the mess that is medical education today, the incompetence of the chief medical governing body of the country, non-availability of postgraduate seats, and non-recognition of foreign postgraduate degrees, and look at the immediate problem that is facing the medical fraternity today: assaults on doctors.    

It is the second troublesome aspect of the injunction above that is largely the reason behind the spate of attacks on doctors in the recent times.  Of course, attacks on medical personnel is neither a new phenomenon, nor is it unique to India.  But why do these attacks occur?  And how is it that other countries seem to be very successful in managing this problem?

For this we need to understand the problem at a deeper level.  Let's consider some of the issues at play. 

As a disclaimer, let me also add I am not justifying malpractice of any kind.  The medical professional is not above law, and not for a moment am I suggesting that there are no cases of medical negligence at all.  If anything, the medical field is one of the most error-prone professions and is definitely not an exact science.  There have been horrific cases of medical negligence, and unethical practices that need to be addressed through proper channels.  Even then, taking the law into one's own hands and resorting to violence are definitely unacceptable.

There are, no doubt, several measures that doctors and hospitals can take to help the victims of wanton attacks.  Representative bodies are already looking into these, and considering legislative and legal alternatives as well.

The purpose of this article is not to 'firefight', but to look at how to mitigate the risk of attacks altogether.  In keeping with the oft repeated medical truism, 'prevention is better than cure', the purpose is to look at preventing these attacks from occurring in the first place.  

So, who are likely to be assaulted?
Statistics suggest that junior doctors; on-call doctors; those working in high risk areas such as casualty, ICU, CCU, PICU and NICU; doctors working in lonely setups and remote areas; and those in government setups are most prone to being assaulted by patient's attenders.

Who are likely to assault?
Those with a short-temper; proneness to violence; those in nexus with powerful people; people from lower socioeconomic strata; and those under the influence of alcohol and other substances.  

What might be the possible risk factors for assault?  
Sudden and unexpected bad news, such as disease and death; loss of a child; deaths from road-traffic accidents; failed resuscitation attempts; and death on the operating table.  

When two or more of the above situations coincide, the imminent risk of violence is very high.  Analysis of the individual cases of assaults that have occurred thus far will confirm this.

What can be done to prevent these attacks?  
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are a few suggestions:

1. Communication:

Medical profession is concerned with the human condition, and involves daily interaction with patients and their families who have varying levels of awareness about medical matters.  

The Medical Council of India includes the topic of communication skills in the two-month foundation course that precedes the medical undergraduate course, in addition to making it a part of the core competencies expected of Indian Medical Graduates.  

However, to what extent this implemented across various medical colleges, in addition to the core subjects that comprise the medical course is not known.  From what I have seen, junior doctors are not very competent communicators, and what they say in certain situations may easily be misinterpreted, or worse, may sound derogatory and patronising to a patient or his relative. 

Take for example the phenomenon of grief reaction.  Elisabeth Kubler-Ross has described its five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.  While the entire process of grief and bereavement may last up to six months, the first two stages, denial and anger, which frequently occur together, can lead to an immediate flare up when the news of death is broken to the patient's attenders.  The need to ventilate the sudden outburst of shock and angst takes over, and the nearest 'punching bag' - the doctor who gave the bad news - has to bear the brunt.

It is also worthwhile remembering that grief does not have to progress according to these stages.  Each one of us is unique, and so are our reactions to adverse situations.  Therefore the initial emotional shock may manifest in any manner, depending upon the presence or absence of the risk factors listed above.

Therefore there is a very real need for training in communication skills to be inculcated at an early stage in the medical career.  Trainees should practise these skills again and again to get them right in real life situations.  

Breaking bad news is an art in itself, which not many doctors are good at.  It involves several steps that are frequently not followed: setting the scene, assessing the patient's/attender's knowledge about the illness, breaking the news gently, taking an empathetic approach (for example, generous doses of 'I am sorry', and offering water/tissues), and providing further help/assistance as necessary.

2. Hospital policies:

Issues such as working conditions, infrastructure, working hours per day/week should be looked into.  High risk areas of hospitals should be equipped with counselling rooms with CCTV monitoring and presence of security personnel, especially at the time of breaking bad news.  

There should be a zero-tolerance approach to violence towards medical personnel.  In all cases of assault, as a standard practice, legal route should be pursued by the hospital administration.  Statistics from western countries suggest that successful prosecutions go a long way in reducing the risk of violence towards medical personnel.  

3. Legislation:  

According to a recent report, 53 cases of assault on doctors have occurred in India over the last two years, but there hasn't been a single conviction.  Contrast this with Australia, where a prison sentence of up to 14 years is meted out to the offenders.  

But then again, why would there be any convictions, if the representatives of the highly honourable judiciary of the land issue statements such as:

'if doctors do not want to work without security, they are not fit for the profession',


'you are not factory workers who resort to such protests...shame on you!'

This is rich coming from a system that is known to be corrupt to the core, sits for decades on hundreds of thousands of pending cases, and finally delivers judgments which can only be described as gross injustice, or in some cases, ludicrous.  It has been rightly said that there is a lot of law in the courts, but not enough justice.  

Many judicial office bearers are high on ego, and are a cantankerous lot who make loose-cannon statements such as those listed above.  They frequently take a highhanded, judgmental and condescending attitude towards all that they look down upon from their lofty perches.

It is time that the legal eagles and their bosses are asked to account for their shortcomings.  

I hope the government of the day will bring about some amendments to reform the legal system, and will also strive to improve the lot of the doctors.  

I am forwarding this write-up to the Prime Minister's Office as a mark of protest, and as a request for his affirmative intervention in the matter.  


1. Ayurveda-vedanta: The Vedanta of Life Science, Atmatattva Dasa, Tattva Prakasha, Volume One, Issue Nine - November 9, 2001 (

2. Vision 2015 document, Medical Council of India (

3. 53 doctors attacked in two years, not a single conviction, Mumbai Mirror, 22 March 2017 (

4. The 5 Stages of Grief and Other Lies That Don't Help Anyone, Megan Devine, 12 November 2013 (

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Book conversation: The Cyber Effect

The Cyber Effect
Mary Aiken
Speigel & Grau, 2016

Dr Mary Aiken, a leading expert in the field of cyber-psychology writes an apt book for the time we are living in.  In this she describes such baffling new age terminologies as catfishing, bots, cyber-bullying, online syndication, internet gaming addiction, and the dread inducing Deep Web.

Never heard of these terminologies?  Then grab hold of this book to know more.  And it is not sufficient to know about them, but be you also need to be prepared.  As Aiken puts it, to beat an online criminal, you need to think like one.  Because it is not just about your cyber-safety, it is also about the safety of your near and dear ones, especially the children whose vulnerability to online scams and abuse is enhanced in the cyberspace.  

Aiken readily admits that this is a developing field, and the rapid advance in cyber-technology makes it very difficult to keep abreast of the evolving threats.  Therefore evidence based studies are hard to come by in this field.  Instead she relies on an intuitive approach and educated conjecturing to understand and name the cyber-phenomena.  

This book has helped me be more aware of the cyber-risks.  I have also started motivating medical students, who are tech savvy, but unaware of these risks, to be more mindful of them.  Recently, when they were preparing for a seminar on behavioural addictions, I made sure they also included internet addiction in the presentation. 

I have also recommended the book to a software professional friend of mine (we work together for a mental health charity) for probable locally relevant collaborative applications such as cyber-counselling and cyber-awareness.  

Let's see now... 

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Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Book conversation: The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train
Paula Hawkins
Random House 2015

Ever wondered what goes on in all those houses whose backyards you gaze at, as the London's tube that you are sitting in rolls onto its destination?  

Hawkins takes this basic premise and adds the thriller/mystery element to it to come up with an engaging tale of secrets, murder, abuse and memories.

The main protagonist, Rachel is an atypical lead, in the sense that everything about her is rather depressing and dilapidated.  She is divorced, she is fat, not too good looking, she loses her bearings quite often, and to top it all, she is hopelessly alcohol dependent.  

Still, one can't help sympathizing with her, and hope that everything works out well for her in the end.  And that, I think is what Hawkins has admirably achieved in this novel.  Perhaps because of these very flaws, Rachel comes across as a relatable character. 

I do like the format: the narrative taken forward through the eyes of the three women, told at different times and adding to the unfolding mystery.  Then there are the leitmotifs: the trains and alcohol.  In fact, the two go together, as Rachel continues to drink throughout while travelling on the tube.

There is enough of the mystery element to keep you engrossed till the end.  The revelation and the sting in the tail are well depicted.  

In the end, it is London's trains that remain with you; another character unto themselves in the book, with their screeching, undulating movements as they run back and forth along the tracks behind all those similar looking houses.

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Saturday, 7 January 2017

Book conversation: The Ivory Throne

The Ivory Throne: Chronicles of the House of Travancore
Manu S. Pillai
Harper Collins India, 2015

We have all been intrigued by the news of the treasures underneath the Padmanabhaswamy Temple in Thiruvananthapuram.  This was the carrot on the stick for me, for taking on the onerous task of perusing this nearly 600 page epic.  It took some doing, but I was not disappointed.  In the process, I was enlightened on the life of one of the most underrated and unrecognised royal figures of India: Queen Regent Sethu Lakshmi Bayi.

Manu S. Pillai takes on the gargantuan task of retelling the story of the Travancore Royal House and comes up trumps.  Even though this is said to be his debut release, his proficiency in digging up voluminous historical records, chasing up those who know about the said history, and coming up with an engaging account of the royal family is not entirely surprising considering he has worked with the likes of Shashi Tharoor, who we know is an adept in this very field.

Throughout, Pillai's fondness towards Maharani Sethu Lakshmi Bayi is evident, as he goes about highlighting the goodness of her character, and her farsighted public works as the Queen Regent - something, he points out, even Gandhiji was in awe of.  This is in contrast to the character of the Junior Maharani and her family, who come across as petty and scheming.

Palace intrigue, black magic, petty royal disputes, underhand political moves, colonial mores, and alleged profligacy - they are all there in ample measure, as the narrative makes an epic sweep of the history of late 19th and early 20th Century South Kerala region.  

While nobody wanted a princely dominion to remain outside the nascent republic of India just after independence, it is nevertheless sad to note the gradual isolation and obviation of the Maharani.  (Apparently her elder daughter first moved to Malleswaram in Bengaluru from Kerala - I would love to know where exactly, as I happen to live there.)

In addition to learning about the Queen, there are three less known pieces of information that stand out for me from the book: 
  1. the early history of Kerala, when Vasco da Gama and his Portuguese sailors resorted to piracy in the Arabian sea before they could gain access to the markets of Kochi
  2. the unfortunate decline of the matrilineal system of family leadership after the British occupied India and forcibly applied their puritanical rules on the society 
  3. Raja Ravi Varma's role in the royal life (he was the grandfather of the Maharani), and the fact that he was not a 'raja' at all!
A little bit more information about the Ivory Throne itself would have been helpful.  And Pillai talks about the ongoing temple treasure strife only towards the end, and points out that the matter is pending decision by the Supreme Court.  It would be interesting to know what the verdict would be, especially since the current royal family that is involved in the legal imbroglio happens to be from the Junior Rani's side of the family. 

Overall, a highly revealing and engaging scholarly work that is worth your time.

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Wednesday, 4 January 2017

New year, what new year?

Apparently, the year has changed.  2016 has sadly passed away, and 2017 has just taken birth.

Revellers heralded the 'new year' by crying themselves hoarse shouting 'happy new year!!!', drank gazillions of intoxicants, harassed hapless lasses who made the mistake of being in their midst during their raucousness, and inflicted their 'precious' pictures of celebration on social media addicts.  

Not to mention, as 12 O'Clock swept across the world from east to west, every country tried to outdo its neighbour by lighting up billions of bulbs and blowing up tons of fireworks to welcome the 'new year'.  

(Yet, curiously it is only the Diwali fireworks that contribute to pollution every year).

So to summarise, the 'new year' party is done and dusted, and we are officially in the 'new year'.

Really?  Sorry to burst the party bubble, but I don't feel anything different about the 'new year'.  

Why, you ask?  Here's why...

Because the whole concept of 'new year' is flawed, that's why.  

Because we are blindly towing the West's line, and following the legacy of our land-occupiers, the British.

Because we are following somebody's idea of the 'year of the Lord', when we have lords of our own, and calendars of our own.

Because there are, at the last Wikipedia count, close to eighty different calendars across the world, each laying claim to its own 'near year day'.

Because as per the Gregorian calendar, the 'new year' starts seven days after the birthday of the founder of Christianity, which has no relevance to us. 

Because the date of Christmas itself is a hotly contested and contentious issue across the world, with different cultures observing Christmas on different days of the year.  

Because the date, 25th December was arrived at by the scholars of the past after much deliberation.

Because the earth's revolution cannot be exactly divided into units of time to accurately measure the onset of the 'new year'.

Because the world continues to be beset with problems as before, and we are no better or worse than we were last year, or for that matter five decades ago...

Therefore, I stopped making a fool out of myself 'at the stroke of the midnight hour', several years ago.  

So let me repeat that.  New year, what new year?  Get on with your lives now...

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