In Memoriam…

 

I would like to remember my father as a happy man, playing his mouth organ, sitting in the garden in Dehradun and savoring the snows ranges of the Himalayas that surround the Doon valley and the dream home he made for his retirement; the warmth of the winter sun would fill us to the brim as honey birds hopped and chirped among the lush flower beds and fruit trees…I would like to hear him call out to me in his warm cheerful voice so full of love, tenderness and kindness. I would like to think of him as a vibrant, content, kind human being who has lived his life to the full…

As I got off the plane in Delhi, I got a phone call urging me to ask the hospital to take my father off his life support. But I wanted my father to live. I did not want him dead. I wanted him to have every chance to come back to normal. I wanted him to call out to me, to touch me, to argue and fight with me, to scold me… I did not want to face the new reality that stared me in the face…

We halted to dump our luggage in my aunt’s house, use the washroom, have a cup of tea and rush to the ICCU (Intensive Cardiac Care Unit) where my father lay unconscious. My father was lying in a huge ward, plugged to all kinds of gadgets his enclosure curtained off like the dozens of others. This was not the dad I knew…his hands cold from having been in induced coma on a slab of ice. He was moved to a normal bed a few hours before we reached. I kissed his hand as it was the only visible part and his face was too far. The hand had blue dots and it was as cold as ice. My father breathed deeply, a troubled breath on the ventilator. A big ventilator pipe was thrust into his mouth. He occasionally bit the ventilator.

“We had to tie his hands as they tried to pull out the ventilator,” said the attendant nurse helpfully.

“Does that mean he is coming back to consciousness?” I asked against all odds.

“ No. This is reflex.”

I sat and prayed in the armchair near the bed. I thought he would come back. Now that I had reached his bedside, his only daughter, he would come to. I felt sad leaving him. Where was his mind? Where were his thoughts, his conscious will? Was it back in the garden soaring with the birds in the skies? Were they flitting into a new reality filled with light and sunshine? Or was it travelling a path of suffering and pain because he was in a place that he never wanted to be? Please help him get well, O God, I prayed.

My father, a man of compassion and kindness, one who had strong beliefs, a brilliant doctor who tried to demystify the medical profession and find ways of taking healthcare to less privileged masses in India, one who had been very against corporate hospitals which imported high cost medical technology into India to serve anyone who could pay, was now lying in an unconscious state in one such moneyed concern.

“ What will happen if he suddenly wakes up?” I had asked a doctor from his hospital. I asked the same question to the doctor in charge of the ICCU, the counseling doctor.

“ We would love to see that happen. I am waiting for him to wake up and argue with me, to fight with me,” said the counseling doctor.

We waited, leaving my father alone in that impersonal, cold ward where he was just another body to be kept alive.

I had thrown a few warm wears into my suitcase and flown into Delhi from Singapore within a day in the hope of reviving my father and having him back in his hospital, in a way my sibling, because this was a man who loved his ideology and work almost as much as he loved his own daughter. He had left his work and retired to Dehradun more than a decade ago because he believed the time had come for new blood to take over, for them to develop the same values and principles he had, for them to be fully convinced that all humans, rich or poor, deserve the right to medical care. I felt moving him out of his own hospital had been against his ideology, against his wishes. Was it right for a person to choose to what extent he wanted medical support to contain him in this life?

My father had looked for mokshya, a Hindu concept of freedom from birth. He wanted to go into samadhi, a state where a meditating mind is supposed to ascend to unite with the source of all creation or God. Had his mind gone into such a state? Was he talking to God?

I could never understand why people look for this state because life in itself is so beautiful and there is so much to do in this wonderful world. But that he could not achieve this state had been his pet peeve as he waited to die in Dehradun. He said his body hurt. He had a huge fibroid in his spine, his ankles were swollen, his foot was misshapen and my mother died. The last probably made his heart ache more as my parents had an idyllic retirement till she died.

I could never comprehend his move in his last years to a place where he knew very few in quest of God. I also could not understand why he forced retirement on himself till he died.

Yes. He died. With the finality of death, his life ended.

We had managed to move him back to his own hospital while he was still alive. Within a few hours, he passed on.

As I sit by my window and write, looking at the ripples in the river that flows by, I realize why life saddened my father.

He hated the growing divides that are ripping the fabric of healthcare, economy and religion in India. He was saddened by the media projection of the violence all over the world. The media rarely dwells on positive news in India. He was unhappy with how people focus only on their personal needs and development and not on the needs of mankind. He was frustrated that majority did not understand the need for human excellence, where man would through unstructured learning, find the best in himself to serve humanity. Human excellence, for him, combined spirituality, happiness, ancient learning, with unstructured and structured learning to create a concept of holistic compassionate health care affordable to masses. He wanted to write a book and create a center for human excellence, again in his dreamland of Dehradun.

But his declining health got in the way of what he wanted to do.

In his death, my father has convinced me that as his daughter I must continue to believe in human excellence and strive towards it in my own field…to show compassion to the aged and less privileged, to lead a life where I can share every word with the whole world.

And somewhere, in the distance, I still feel that enigmatic smile and twinkling eyes fill my heart with happiness to soar with the birds and fly into my own distant realms of imagination…

 

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From a hospital bed…

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And then there was Su Yin.

I never saw her full face. I could only see the eyes and the penciled eyebrows etched above a mask that hid the lower part of her face as her straight thick hair swung while she swept and vigorously mopped the floor. One day she did take off her mask. A pretty young face with pale pink lips perhaps colored artificially, a cheerful face that greets me each morning wishing me good health and offering me a purple orchid as I grapple with post-operative pain.

Su Yin is from Myanmar as are May and My Shine. May and My Shine are nurses. The names are like twittering birds and bring to my mind what I imagine Myanmar would be… green and yellow fields and muddy lanes below the vibrant blue skies. There must be so much sunshine there, enough to light up the whole wide world; only if the Rohingyas did not cry in pain, this time not post operative but of losing their homes and lands again and again.

I always imagine that the rivers in Myanmar will be thick and yellow because once, long before I started flitting in and out of hospitals, I went for a ride along the River Kwai (Mae Klong river) in Kanchenburi, Thailand. The river there ran thick and yellow. The boatman told us that on the other bank of the river was Burma… I like to dream of the people of the two countries meeting and greeting along the river as they do in the wards of Singapore.

There are nurses and caregivers from different countries in Asia, helping heal patients from all over the world. What a multi-cultural exchange it is when a young nurse from Phillipines takes my blog details and discusses Harry Potter with me, or a Malaysian nurse chats with me about travel in India or an Indian one, newly arrived out of her country, takes down the details of the shop selling goat meat in the local Tekka market. I even heard a strange retelling of the Rohingya crisis!

Then there are young girls who cheer one up by their sunshiny smiles and call the older nurses ‘ ate’ (elder sister in Tagalog), exuding a charm of old world courtesy and graciousness in an age where children have started to address their parents by first name, a thing that always bothers me. Some of the ates are so gracious, friendly and yet professional. Each time, you achieve a small target, they make you feel like you have won a Nobel Prize and urge you to take the next step towards total healing. There are some who you feel could have been a friend, especially the ones who are moms and have children in teens and twenties. There is so much you find in common and not in common, things you can talk about. Just having this friendly and optimistic atmosphere around helps lift ones spirits and take one towards feeling well and whole again.

The most important thing is that these women, these unsung heroines, did for me what I would not trust anyone to do and, most of the time, with a smile! They sponge, shower, change and give you endless care, without making you feel belittled, till you are able to totter on your own legs and walk back home. The lady from the pantry found ways of appeasing my appetite when mashed and pureed food were my sole diet! Each day, she found a way that I could eat. And that was definitely a challenge!

The biggest thing I noticed was the cheerful optimism that exuded from the women on a daily basis. As I stepped out of my drowsy stupor and started experiencing extreme pain and, subsequently, lesser pain, I had a word of encouragement from each of these ladies till I was ready to walk out of the hospital.

Sometimes, I wonder what drives these women to their profession, often in a distant land, away from their homes and families? They do for absolute strangers what the patients would not trust their own families to do for them. Could it be only money? I think not and, yet, there is a phobia about foreigners worldwide now!

In the wards of the hospital, you find patients and nurses of varied nationalities and faith, including upbeat, optimistic local Singaporean nurses, weaving an ambience of friendship and harmony to heal the patients back to health.

Perhaps, those who build walls between humans could take a page of these ladies’ book and try to see the world in a more global perspective. There is a world beyond making wealth. There is a world of hope, happiness, twittering birds (not tweets and oil and coal), a world in harmony, where as humans we help each other live.

 

 

Happy New Year

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As I waited for the muse to smite me, I wondered what persona to take on while writing my first blog for 2019… Should I be a mother and shout out my kids achievements, or a poet and sing a paean to the beauty of the first dawn in the New Year, or a writer and do a story around the season, maybe something like Gift of the Magi, or should I just write what flows through my veins?

Two thousand and eighteen has been a year of learning for me.

I learnt to let my sons have more freedom to move around. I stopped trying to drop and pick up my teenager from all places. And believe me, to give children that independence; it takes effort, patience and trust on part of the parent, a tough thing for me to let go emotionally too. I let go my elder son much earlier because I had my baby to take care of. Now, my elder son is a confident young man who can sally forth anywhere in the world. It was more difficult letting go of my baby boy who now hates to be reminded he had a childhood. He is now a travelling teen who explores the world on his own terms, a difficult thing for an over-protective mother to accept.

To palliate my sense of anxiety, I have thrown myself more into writing. The resultant effect is this year six of my  pieces were fortunate to be among the top picks of a website I write for (https://kitaab.org/2018/12/30/blog-the-best-of-kitaab-2018/). It was a lovely surprise!

Other than that my first translation to English from Bengali of well-known Bollywood scriptwriter and writer, Nabendu Ghosh, was published as part of a collection of short stories in May this year (That Bird Called Happiness, https://www.amazon.com/That-Bird-Called-Happiness-Stories/dp/9387693619). I translated the story, Full Circle. Now I am translating a novella about thugees, by the same author. It is a unique experience as one discovers what poverty can do to people, how cults can create a culture that can annihilate morals and alter humanitarian values, how religion can be misinterpreted to justify violence and murder. To me, it is sometimes a microcosmic depiction of the world exposed by the media, especially in India. I did enjoy doing a spoof on issues highlighted by the media in my blog (https://432m.wordpress.com/2018/02/15/and-the-cow-jumped-over-the-moon/). I can never get enough done on cows, which despite being prominent in the Indian political scenario, never cease to terrify me! If you have not yet been chased by a cow munching meditatively at a garbage dump in Delhi or ambling through the streets, you will merely laugh and mock at me! Perhaps, I should put a halt on the cow front and steer to more serious subjects.

I learnt to try to steer clear of controversies. While some friends supported the Me Too movement, others threw brickbats at it! A mentor suggested I do a spoof on Me Too. Terrified that I would be ostracised by the Me Too fans, I squirmed my way out of it. A friend, threatened by ostracism, was forced to put a post in support in the Face Book. Though I must say, that the women who spoke against the movement had a point too. Why were all the takers for the movement well-known, rich and educated? I saw a post where a Devdasi (young women who serve in temples, officially married to Gods and commanded by the almighty to service his male devotees) wanted to be a part of the movement too. I wonder if she made it… A friend asked me how much did the movement do to address the menace of street side Romeos who make a practice of toying with the honor of women in the open streets of India? Did it shake up their moms who brought them up to insult women and womanhood? Oops, what a faux pas in our thought process, moms are women and, therefore, not to be held responsible for their macho sons actions.

Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens, A Brief History of Humankind (2014), shook me out of my microcosmic confusion, complacency and candor, to a larger world inhabited by the race of mankind. A book that is written to have people think of the future of the race of mankind at a macro-cosmic level is indeed unusual and unique. It has raised controversies which could give a run for their money to dystopian writers and Hollywood/ Bollywood junta, including his observations on the breakdown of families, religion and tribal behavior of Madonna fans, Vegans and Carnivores. There is much to be learnt from a book that asks you to redefine your perspectives for a future of your choosing.

As for earthquakes, volcanoes, tsunami, refugees, Rohingyas, Trump, Brexit May, minority groups and cows, they continue to be erratic factors in our day-to-day existence. They give a microscopic view of our future that contrasts with the macroscopic view mooted by Harari. I wonder if anyone could compare refugees to the nomadic herders of yore. They moved in quest of a home as do refugees, except during early migration of man, the countries had no borders as they do now and no angry citizens built walls to keep them out…

With its magic sprinkle, I hope the New Year will heal all breaches, bring us all brilliant luck and happiness and may we all soar into brilliant blue skies.

 

 

 

 

Malacca

Quiet, sultry, mysterious and alluring… that is Malacca.

Malacca beckons with its promise of cuisine, serenity and historicity. This was the town founded by a Temasek king on the run in the fourteenth century; in the sixteenth it was taken over by Portuguese, in the seventeenth by the Dutch and in the nineteenth by the British… You can see and experience the colonial past in the buildings and life of Malacca still… It seems to have ceded to the West and, yet, has integrated local colors with the past Colonial grandeur. I would see it as a very Nonya city. The Nonyas were a group of immigrants who evolved a distinct culture adapting the best of the East and the West. The cultural blend threw up excellent cuisine, a medley of linguistic adventures and unique architecture and artifacts.

The best way to see the city is to use Grab, the Asian answer to Uber. Rides are cheap, quick and the drivers friendly. As they take you from one place to another, they tell you interesting snippets of Malaccan lore or history. One of the drivers told us that in the Portuguese colony, they still use a dialect which is reminiscent of the old invaders and used uniquely still in Malacca. He claimed the dialect is not spoken anywhere else in the world.

The Portuguese settlement is now a little colony of homes with bars and restaurants that come alive at night to the sounds of music, food and liquor.

In the daytime, as you walk towards the beach, a huge statue of St Francis Xavier stares you in the face. It is stark and white. The sea stretches beyond the settlement to the skies. A beautiful spot for a quiet thoughtful stroll in the morning. The waves are gentle and the muddy beach is filled with huge mudskippers. One has to use the wooden platform and planks. It is impossible to walk on the sand as it is swampy. On the other side of the settlement stretches out the city tempting the visitors with its variety.

The first place to visit is of course, the famous, A Famosa Fort with its gate, canons and resurrected walls. The Portuguese built the fort in the fifteenth century below a little hill. Now all that remains of the original structure are the gates and canons and a church. The ascent from the gate of the fort to St Paul’s church on top of the hill is not difficult as it is sheltered by the shade of trees. The church itself is an empty, roofless structure now with carved gravestones dating back to the sixteen hundreds. There stands a statue of St Francis Xavier in front of the church, looking down at a breath taking view of the little town and the sea.

The statue was built in 1952. Its right arm is said to have broken the day after the statue was consecrated. Evidently, St Xavier’s had his right arm sent to Rome in 1611 before he was canonized in 1622. The tree branch breaking the arm of the new statue is often regarded as a miracle!

As one descends from the hill, there is a government museum of Malayan history with an entrance fee of ten ringgit. The place is a warehouse for expensive wear, furniture and antiquities and gives an excellent view of the church from the staircase. One is forced to return from the museum to the Church to find the way towards town. The descent along the stairs cut into the hill has again an amazing view of the city and the sea.

One of the remarkable sights that lines the sea front is the Maritime museum housed in a wooden ship along the seaside. It is modeled on the Portuguese ship, Flor de Mal, which sank in 1511 while carrying treasures looted from the Malaccan Sultan’s palace back to Portugal. Interestingly, this ship made its maiden voyage under the captainship of Vasco Da Gama’s cousin, Estevao Da Gama. The museum is truly unique structurally. It houses snippets of Malayan history… starting with the legend of Parameswara spotting a mousedeer that saved itself from a hunting dog by kicking the dog till it drowned. This inspired the king on the run to halt and build a city at that spot. He named the port Malacca, after the tree (also known as amalaki or Indian gooseberry) that had sheltered him while he watched the drama between the tiny animal and the dog.

Malacca had a multicultural existence right from the start. The king who founded the city was a Hindu king from the Indonesian Srivijayan Empire. He had a local wife, Arab traders, Chinese help and then, later,came the European traders who colonized as usual in those days in the name of trade.

Near the Maritime museum is a Melaka river cruise center. They take you down for a cruise to show historic sites. Along the ramparts built by the Dutch, who replaced the Portuguese, one can see the lowering water levels over the centuries and, if luck holds, huge iguanas at play.

Lining the river are the Dutch churches and settlements, now colored in bright red. The Stadthuys, built in the 1600s, was the administrative center of Melaka and currently houses a museum of history. It lies at the foot of the St Paul’s hill that housed the church. Most of the sites are within a walking distance of each other. The Stadthuys museum not only houses artifacts but also has murals of historic events, like the one about the first Chinese who visited the first king of Malacca in 1403. Parameswara, later is said to have visited the Ming emperor and got himself a Chinese bride too. The museum has maps and sketches from 1700s too. It was a nice, cool place to spend a hot afternoon after the pleasant cruise.

There is an interesting stone embedded in the red wall outside the museum. It is said to bear the coat of arms of the first king of Portugal who ruled from 1143 to 1185 under the name of Alfonso Henriques First. The stone was found on the hilltop among the archaeological digs.

Restaurants and shops line the riverfront. Some of them have murals depicting Indian and Chinese cultures that have added richness to the unique blend that created Malacca.

One of the most enjoyable foods by the riverfront is a coconut in a cup. The young boy selling the delicacy peeled the coconut whole with dexterity and then tossed it from the shell to the plastic cup and offered it to his customers. We watched the process with fascination as we sipped the cool coconut water from inside the white soft flesh with a straw and then consumed the succulent fruit with a spoon.

Later we saw the same skill exhibited by a vendor in traditional gear in Jonker Street, the night market area, which despite its crowds is a family friendly place. We had a wonderful Nonya dinner in a small restaurant and watched guady rickshaws flash past the roads with loud music, glitter and lights. Jonker Street is also a good place to pick up curios. Here you can truly experience the blending of the different heritages of Malacca. The whole of the downtown area around Stadthuys and Jonker Street takes on a festive atmosphere at night with its lighting, loud music and crowds. Rickshaw drivers, stall and restaurant owners lure the tourists with their goodies as the museums and monuments close their doors to the visitors.

Malacca is a perfect weekend getaway from Singapore by road. The highway linking these two countries is excellent with resting spots, gas stations, shops and cafes sprouting every few kilometers. The town with its picturesqueness, is friendly, interesting and modern and yet quaint, a convenient spot to relax.

PET

 

When you think of a pet, you think of a cute cuddly dog or cat or fishes in a tank or pond… my younger son had even asked for a pet elephant at a point. However, the only thing I could see were fishes on the ceiling. The pictures of the fishes looked almost alive trapped in colourful glass, perhaps an attempt to cheer patients undergoing the scan.

The full form of the PET in medical parlance is Positron Emission Tomography. One goes through this scan to check for various diseases in the body or the absence of thereof if you have already completed your treatment/ surgery as I had…what they called a follow up scan. It sounds like an intimidating procedure as it involves injecting a radioactive substance into your body and then doing a scan inside a machine, much like a futuristic gizmo. Perhaps, it could be a thing for putting the human body to cold freeze and storing it for posterity like they do in Star Wars! But currently it functions only as a scanner.

When I was called in for the procedure, a pink shirted radiologist (all of them wore pink shirts) came and explained the process to me in a PET suite, a little cupboard of a room with an austere bed and medicine trolley filled with needles, gauze and stuff. The radiologist told me about the radioactive stuff and then I asked him if it was similar to carbon dating… you know the stuff they do to unearth the age of Egyptian mummies and Neanderthal men…he seemed a little nonplussed and told me it was nothing like that!

The most intimidating thing for me was the insertion of the cannula (the plastic needle that is used for multiple injections or drips). They could not find the veins in my hands! It took nearly half-an-hour and a few nurses to complete the procedure. After that, I was given the medication and told to relax… again a hard task as I was also told not to move or turn or sing or read or talk. I was told to sleep. I could twitch my muscles and my mind had the freedom to swing. The nurse offered to turn off the light for me. No, I said, I wanted the light. I tried to rest as I felt the radioactive stuff course through my veins. It would have been nice to have some attractive pictures or tiles on the walls and ceiling to assist in making the atmosphere more relaxed, I thought.

Then there was the explosion of the matter and antimatter in my veins… I was drifting… my sons had told me there was anti-matter in the radioactive stuff… but here I was praying for a long life to the Creator of energy, matter and anti-matter.

I could actually feel the stuff coursing through my body while I lay like a stiffened mummy of the Egyptian genre, my stomach rumbled and grumbled. I had been instructed to starve over night for the scan. This time it was for the radioactive glucose to react exactly to the sugar absorption levels in ones body. Presence of sugars would distract the readings.

After half-an-hour, they toddled me off to the scan as the medicine has a short life of only a couple of hours. The medicine chose or chose not to light up during the process, bright lights indicated a concentration of sugar. The lighted-up part could be cancerous.

I had been thinking of going into the machine with my hands crossed like an Egyptian mummy and pretending to be Cleopatra, instead I went with my hands above my head, trapped by straps with Velcro like a captive prisoner… my turn to be nonplussed! I felt like a princess in harem pants or perhaps princess Leia of Star Wars fame, imprisoned by Jaba the Hutt. I tend to analogize with anecdotes from Star Wars and Harry Potter as my sons are addicted to these. But, then, I think that is a good thing as they have positive messages of hope. In Harry Potter, we are taught to dispel our worst fears (embodied in the form taken by creatures called bogarts) with ‘riddikulus’   and in the original Star Wars, the good always wins in addition to John Williams’s upbeat music. Despite all that, I was a little zapped (or taken aback) to have my hands tied above my head.

And then I noticed the ceiling in the room was like an underwater scenario… as much as it could be. So, perhaps, one could dream of being a prisoner in Nemo’s submarine hold! Or, princess Leia captive during an adventure to JaJa Binks underwater world… a new idea for another Star Wars episode, take note Disney films. Actually, I thought of neither. I just looked around because everything was so strange, so different from what I imagined. I was just very glad thinking this might prove to be the end of my medical journey battling with tumours and rumours.

My imagination could have taken flight across the Egyptian desserts and across vibrant blue skies. But wanting really to live, I prayed, I waited, I sighed… hoping this would be my last ride to realms of futuristic fancy under the influence of medication.

Once I was through with it and the radiologist came to free me, one look at him smiling and I knew I was free of cancer. Earlier, before my surgery, the radiologist who did the Contrast Dye CT Scan had looked so sad when she came to release me from my strapping.

It all happened so fast and I was cleansed off the deadly growth in a jiffy. I found that the journey back was not as daunting as I had feared. It was a matter of how you addressed your fears. I have learnt that the best way to overcome anything is a vivid imagination, laughter and support from family and friends. If one gives in to fear as one does to bullying, one crumbles to ashes. You just have to stand up to it, pray very hard and suddenly you are back to enjoying the sunshine, bird calls, children and life in general. It does take time to recuperate fully, but that is not so bad as long as you have hope, friends, love and happiness.

 

 

 

 

Toothfully True

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With due apologies to Edvard Munch…

This is dedicated to all those who have sat and are likely to sit on a dentist’s chair, under the threat posed by drills, pliers, needles and jabs.

I have a friend who told me that she and her sister kicked dentists in terror of all the paraphernalia and the horror of being under the tooth doctor’s surveillance. In the last week, I too have had three sessions or three and a half hours of dental care. After the second session, I felt like wobbly jelly in a bowl till… I was advised by a co-sufferer to think happy thoughts. As I waited to be called for my third session, he suggested I think of floating or flying in the sky… I looked daggers at him…

However, when I sat on the chair, it started… I could not stop laughing while my mouth hung open in imitation of Edvard Munch’s Scream, my tongue stayed in place under a clamped rubber sheet, which under normal circumstances would have generated a fear of an asphyxiating death. As the dentist jabbed and drilled to her heart’s content, my stomach shook with laughter… and my throat gurgled in delight.

I was thinking what if Edvard Munch’s Scream screamed not for the angst in him but was holding his mouth open for a dental job… what if he floated up to the skies, as my messiah had suggested, and in a fit of dental angst doubled up with ‘laughing gas’, which is also a title by P.G.Wodehouse. Unfortunately, they do not use laughing gas on adults any more. My dentist said they use it only on children now.

As my stomach shook and I snorted masked and goggled on a chair, the dentist paused in concern, “Everything all right?” she asked in hesitation.

I struggled to keep my snort under control as I indicated all was fine. A1… as much as possible under a dentist’s drill.

Nowadays, they make the patient wear goggles while doing the job so that, they explained, the sprays of water etc do not go into their eyes or the bright lights disturb their introspective meditation of the toothy kind! My introspection took me deeper into the realms of uncontrollable mirth. I thought of what Wodehouse might say looking at all the paraphernalia, especially the x-rays. Those looked like equipment out of Star Wars or Agents of Shield. Maybe it was too post Wodehouse. But if the creator of Laughing Gas (the book, not the gas) had seen them, he would definitely have much to say. There was an x-ray machine where the doctor stuffed a film in a sharp plastic case in my mouth and told me to relax so that it would not hurt. How you relax with an object like that in your mouth held in place by knife like metal protrusions is a question only a dentist can answer if she undergoes a similar trial.

The other x-ray equipment looked intimidating. You stand with your hands on the machine and bite a plastic rod stuck to the structure as the x-ray camera revolves around your head on an extended white arm. You feel a bit like the solar system. You keep wondering if the equipment is going to smash your head as it draws menacingly closer and closer. The process continues for thirty long seconds after which the dental assistant comes cheerfully in and helps you out of the contraption. By then, you are hoping the most intimidating is over. And that happens in the first session.

In the second session, decked in sunglasses like Men in Black under the glare of bright lights as I sat with my mouth open in imitation of Edvard Munch’s painting, the dentist said, “ We need to use numbing.” Promptly, the nurse put a cooling gel and I thought, “Ah! Thank god… not a needle.”

Needless to say I am terrified of injections and stopped visiting dentists after the last one told me she needed to use an injection to numb my gums for further procedure. I gave dentists a break for half a decade but then, the pain started at the back again, a dull ache that persisted for days. So, I was compelled to amble into the dental clinic. This time the dentists said nothing about an injection till suddenly I felt a sharp jab hit my gum like a fat needle and it stayed on forever and ever. The nurse kept stroking my cheek with gauze and then my gums and cheek lost all sensations. I saw the dentist use something like a nail wrapped in some kind of sticky tape to jab my gums and pliers to pull them out…Thank God I had no sensation. That time, she was not using the rubber sheet so I could see her hands clearly and I did not have my messiah’s advise.

By the end of the session, I felt I must have spent a few decades on that chair and my left side where the jab had taken effect felt like a fat blob of quivering jelly! My whole being wobbled, shaken by the dental adventure.

That is why before the third session I was like a dish of green jello. Then under the guidance of my messiah, I found the best way to conquer fear is to laugh, to make fun of the situation, a bit like JK Rowling’s description of how to get rid of a bogart, a creature that takes the form of what you most fear. You make it look ludicrous by dressing it in funny gear and shouting out a spell that is a deviation on the word ridiculous! So, that is what you do at a dentist’s. Of course you do not shout it out loud or use a wand to wave around as they do in the movie, but you get the gist.

You sit and imagine… a bogart or Munch’s Scream with dental issues or Voldemort or Darth Vader or Jar Jar Binks on a dentist’s chair…

Now, I have conquered it all… and probably next time, not only will I be ready to battle a bogart in dentist’s garb but the real person… with my new found weapon.

Creativity and competition

Provence_by_night van Gogh
Country road in Provence by Night,  Vincent Van Gogh, !890

 

Vincent Van Gogh severed his ear when he got into a fight with Paul Gaugin, a friend and a fellow artist. He painted a picture of himself with a bandaged ear and died regarded as a pauper and madman. Paul Gaugin fared hardly any better in his lifetime. And yet now, their art is seen as priceless.

In music, Salieri was better regarded than Mozart… and yet Mozart lives today when the only place one gets to hear Salieri’s music is in Amadeus, the movie on Mozart’s life.

The Great Gatsby by F. scott Fitzgerald was regarded as ‘ tawdry’ and ‘ absurd’ by the media when it was published and Joseph Conrad’s masterpiece, Heart of Darkness, was dismissed as a ‘minor’ work by critics. And yet both of these have later been made into Hollywood films and popularized.

Did these writers or artistes compete for the top billing?

I think not. But they created what they felt from the heart. They created with passion. They had no intention of double spacing or typifying their art forms or giving exams and fitting it into a mold so that it could get the first place or be selected for an exhibition or a book or magazine by a publisher.

Being a person who enjoys experimenting with words, enjoys the rhythm of them, the feel of them, the sensuality of them, the power they possess and the passion they can generate, I want to share why I do not feel creativity can be measured by competitions.

Creating for me is a form of worship. Each time I try to create perfection. And each time I fall short. Each word I write, each piece I write is from my heart. It is an offering to that energy of which we are all a part, of which each star, each planet is a part.

When I write a journalistic piece or a review, it is with a different perspective. It is written to inform. I have an editor who hones it to perfection for me. A piece that is published ceases to be mine.

Creation is different from publication or limelight. Creation is the process of ascending above the existing world and getting in touch with that part of yourself that wants to soar with endless freedom across the open spaces of the universe, that wants to burn like a flame and rise in a crescendo to a world that only can be described as ecstatic, to give a sense of boundlessness to the spirit…I try to capture this ecstasy in words. Sometimes, characters visit me in dreams. I have to write about them otherwise they keep haunting me. Sometimes lines come to me and if I do not put them down, I lose them. Then I feel incomplete and irritable. Thus, the need to create or express can be painful and intense. The outbursts of lines, colors and people happen naturally. They take me to that point from where I can see a world that is different from what most perceive.

When I was in my teens, my friends used to tease me that I viewed everything differently from others… now people tell me I live in a different world far removed from reality. But that is my reality.

Creativity can be seen as a form of madness or delusion that whirls and twirls you around the world, that helps you rise above the mundane and experience a joy that is beyond competitions and exams as well as torture you to perdition if the right words do not come your way. George Bernard Shaw does a good job of putting it in perspective,

“You see things; and you say, ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were; and I say, ‘Why not’?”

When you try to relate that dream to others, you create an art form or a poem or a story or an essay…

That is why I feel creativity is beyond judgment, beyond competition.

Creativity just happens. Trying to earn ones living buying, selling or teaching creativity can be daunting. You can sell an idea, a piece of information, a painting that someone likes, a novel that many enjoy. These might be the products of the creative process.

When one competes to write a story or a poem for a competition only to win and starts looking for profits in creativity, one compromises oneself. A creative product may not be highly popular when it is born. People may or may not like your experience or the expression that one gives. The world may not be ready for it as yet. But if you can continue practicing the expression for the love or joy it generates or out of a sense of compulsion, maybe the masterpiece will happen.

The famous American writer, William Sidney Porter or O Henry, has written a story called The Last Leaf, which describes the whole process of creativity and masterpiece to perfection. The story is about a failed crusty old artist who painted the last leaf on a tree to give hope to a young artist and help her survive a bout of pneumonia. The young girl was under the delusion that she would die when the last leaf fell. Behrman, the old artist, has been described as such in the story.

Behrman was a failure in art. Forty years he had wielded the brush without getting near enough to touch the hem of his Mistress’s robe. He had been always about to paint a masterpiece, but had never yet begun it.”

He dies painting what one of the characters describes as his ‘masterpiece’.

And this is what I feel is a masterpiece, the swan song of our lives. Once you achieve it, perhaps it will be difficult to replicate… I do not know. Or, maybe, it can be repeated. Though I must say after reading all the wonderful Harry Potters, JK Rowling’s other books leave me dissatisfied.

Creativity should be viewed as Edgar Allan Poe’s Eldorado, elusive, mythical and enchanting… not for sale but something that many of us seek and do not find, the ultimate source of joy, not of mundane fame. It cannot be trapped into a bank vault. It is a divine union, a gift that fills our being with joy and light. There is nothing before or after. It is the gift that touches the beauty in our being, bringing us closer to the eternal Creator of all mankind. It is the song that flows from our soul, primeval, beautiful and fulfilling.