Saturday, July 22, 2017

"On Living and Dying Well" : Reflections on the Panel Discussion

On 19th July 2017, I attended a Panel Discussion held at TERI, Bangalore. The theme of the discussion was: "On Living and Dying Well:Important questions and conversations between generations". The discussion was scheduled to start at 6:30pm in evening; I reached TERI at 6:50pm. (I should have started earlier). 

The auditorium at TERI was jam-packed, it was a small auditorium. Cautious not to disturb the already seated people by walking in between the chairs, I carefully ensconced myself on the stairway, adjacent to the row end making self comfortable on the carpet. There were old people all around, adults, ladies, men, grandparents; basically I was the youngest, second only to a small kid. Quickly after coming I began to make sense of what the speaker (Mr. Kishore S Rao) was purveying. Slowly, I began to understand what was being discussed, not completely but I could make out what the discussion was about. The discussion reminded me of Atul Gawande's book - "Being Mortal". Yes, the talk was about "End of Life Care", EOLC. 

There was discussion on "Advanced Directives". I had heard the term for the first time. For those who do not know what that is, allow me to put a brief definition: "An advance directive is a document by which a person makes provision for health care decisions in the event that, in the future, he/she becomes unable to make those decisions." For more please read: .There were discussions on "withholding" and "withdrawing" care. Simply speaking, the panel discussion was about questions of health care and health when we become old. There were questions floating all over like: "Who will take decisions on a person's behalf when he/she is no longer able to?", "In which cases should the treatment be stopped?", "What decision should be taken at the most critical moments?", "How would I want to die, with six tubes in and two tubes out or I'd rather die consciously while suffering?", "What to do when the family is pressing for a ventilator and the doctor feels otherwise?", "What to do if the two sons of the father are divided on the decision to be taken, what does the doctor do then?", "What about patient autonomy?", "What to do if the person is Christian and his partner Muslim and he knows that there is going to be an altercation on the mode of last rites after his departure?". These are just few of the many questions that formed a vast nebula in the auditorium. I was quietly trying to make sense of all that was being said, questioned and posited. I never knew this discussion was so important. 

There was also a categorical suggestion that parents must discuss "How I'd like to die?" with their children, stating clearly what they want and much more clearly what they do not want. The speakers mentioned that one must discuss without any hesitation with their family members about their deaths, about degree and mode of treatments in their twilight years, about medical intervention or no medical intervention etc. One of the speakers also mentioned that in his discussion with his children he told them, "I do not want to be put on a ventilator. Keep us comfortable. Let us depart peacefully". He alluded to a text in literature whose import is something like this, "Dear Lord, bless me in such a way that when I leave I am conscious, conscious so that I can thank you one last time as I start for the Heavenly abode". Profound! That really sent some sort of vibration inside of me - "keeping Lord's name on lips as the lips prepare to freeze forever". I never knew such kind of discussion is important, I am not sure if I really feel that even now. But there is one thing that really does seems congruent to my line of thought, the fact that at the most vulnerable point of life in someone's life, when the person is physically weak, emotionally vulnerable, may be too much of lancets, tubes, machines and a struggle to save the person might defeat the purpose and only emaciate him further spiritually. One must be allowed to die with dignity. 

"Dying with dignity" reminds me of my grandfather who passed away when he was around 67 years of age. He was admitted at AIIMS, and one evening my doctor called my father and told him that he can be taken back to his village for he will not survive any longer. My father immediately acted on it,  me and my brother were having exams during that time in school. It was hardly two days after my father and grandfather had reached our village in Bhopal that my mother got a call from my father. Our grandfather had died surrounded by all family members in the village, all kith and kin, far and near ones, the entire community was around him as he bid good bye to all of us. The next moment we were in train on our way to Bhopal, four of us, me, my brother, our infant sister and our mother. Devoid of having seen or felt what a grandmother's love looks like, our grandfather also left us before we could make sense of what having a grandfather really meant. But he wanted live, that's what he kept on saying to my father, "Pappu, save me". As much as my father would have wanted to, he could not, it was terminal cancer. He died with peace and with the name of Lord on his lips. This is the closest I have been to death so far. I never had tears in my eyes back then we he left, but every time I think about him in my growing years it is hard not to have wet eyes and a choked throat. 

So, in a way panel discussion was an important lecture which I could not have missed. It also talked about adults having discussion in their families about institutionalization for care. Often due to a, "false sense of guilt" in Indian society or the fear of what society would say, people dread sending their parents to old age homes. There was a discussion on that also. It is tough to arrive at a universal consensus on this for every case is different, but the speakers had stated that rather than be led by society one must be led by the preferences of person in need of care/help/medical support. One of the speakers was a General Surgeon (Dr. Srinagesh Simha), who was very articulate in the way he made the audience understand the nuances of "End of life care". His one statement reverberates in my mind even now, "Doctors should treat the patient and not the relatives' anxieties". Often times, relatives and the close family members create a difficult situation for the doctor in which he feels paralyzed to take the decision, this should be avoided and the doctor trusted. Given the critical moment of the situation, rather than fighting or exhibiting, "who cares more", the time is to take decision with an objective mind such the patient's dignity is maintained. Mr. Kishore narrated an incidence in which the patient's worry was not whether he'll be able to live further but his deep fear was that the family will be divided on the decision as to which religion to follow for the last rites. He was a Christian, while his wife a Muslim. In India this is a BIG problem and a BIGGER debate.  This dilemma was skilfully handled by the doctors; the two families were asked to come at disparate times to see the patient after he died. There are many other stories and many other issues and confusions regarding EOLC, every case is different.

The speakers also mentioned that their experiences tell them that poor people are still easy to handle as compared to the rich ones. The poor men believe in what the doctor says and acknowledge them, while the rich ones can be imposing, disrespectful and a threat sometimes so much so that the doctor can be coerced to take the action those rich ones are commanding in order to prevent jeopardizing the hospital and his practice, lest there should be a case filed against him. In such situations the doctor is on the horn's dilemma. 

Thus, the panel discussion was a good investment of my evening. I did learn a lot and now I acknowledge that discussion about death is important. I have many times asked myself, "How I would like to die?" even before I attended this lecture (there are times when we do think about our death and deaths of our close ones), and surprisingly there has always been one answer. I would want to die peacefully, as swiftly as the sun rises amidst the darkest hours of the night, as naturally as the petals of a flower bloom in the sunshine, as happily as I am today that I am alive and breathing, walking, writing, talking, seeing, hearing and feeling. I would like to die peacefully and quietly in my research chamber surrounded by books and my diaries, with the thought of my parents in my heart.

This post would be incomplete if I do not thank Uma Chandru due to whom I could attend this lecture, thank you Uma. You teach me how important unconditional knowledge sharing is.

Disclaimer: The thoughts presented in the article are personal and do not bear any association with any Organization, Person or Community. Corrections and amendments are always welcome.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

A Farmer Was He

Was a man in lands far and obscure, 
Living a life, as everyone of us, for sure. 
Dreams had he, Desires had he, Fantasies had he.
The desolate life that he had decided to live,
Was joyful and peaceful to him,
In the solitude of the day and nights,
Soliloquy was all did he .

Seizing the day, with every morning ray,
walking with his bullocks to the field,
Humming songs to self, delighting if the birds joined,
delighting if none joined,
delight was all he,
in the solitude busy was he,
making self better and better than he'd ever be.

One fine day, in the market place,
which lay on his way to field,
saw he that which never had seen he,
eyes as beautiful as the shining sun,
a gentle smile came on his face,
he smiled and nodded, 
smiled and walked away, 
walked away keeping memory of the light in the eyes, 
walked away reminding himself that, a farmer was he,
whose bullocks were waiting for him,
his field calling him.  

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Nostalgia of rustic roots in the big city

I think the worst thing about living in big cities is the lost connect with the most simple, elegant, innocent and beautiful things. In cities where everything comes packed in a bottle, a plastic packet, polythene bags, paper bags, it becomes difficult to live in such a packed version of the simple, elegant and beautiful life I have lived when I was studying and used to stay at my home closer to farm lands, closer to surroundings where everything to a city dweller might seem rustic but on the contrary, where everything was fresh, pure, unadulterated, un-gased, un-packed, un-boxed. I have such fond memories of Sundays. My father used to go to sabzi mandi, which was one hell of a fish market but where green meant green, where red meant red, vegetables and fruits in all hues and colors, shining under the blue sky. Some times I used to accompany him and never liked the hassle that involved buying vegetables, shifting from one shop to another eyeing the best of the best, the most fresh among the fresh ones. That place was huge, big and flooded with people seven days a week. I miss that. I miss the glory of buying vegetables from sabzi-mandis where you could believe the freshness in the products even though it was never claimed. I miss the delight in my eyes that used to be there while carefully observing all green vegetables, neatly kept, carefully arranged, regularly kept fresh by sprinkling water every now and then - those were the beautiful days I never realized the beauty of. The fond memories have been of buying paneer - protein treasure for vegetarians. It used to well-kept on BIG ice cubes and you could feel its charm, fresh dairy product, the moment you taste it, you know it has been made with utmost purity without addition of vinegar or lime as I have to do with today. 

Every time I buy paneer in this BIG CITY, which comes in a packet and is tight, stiff, I inevitably imagine the sabzi-mandi and the paneer and everything about it. It makes me sad really. Eating in big city to me has become just another chore. Time back then was joyful, I used to buy all kinds of vegetables and my mother cooked better than any chef in the five-star, six-star restaurants of this big city. Everyone's mother is a wonderful cook, isn't that an amazing fact? Alas! I have to make do with whatever best I can find in this city where everything comes packed in plastics, card boxes, polythenes. It really upsets me to live in a city like this. There is a trade-off certainly. But one thing is clear, I would not want to live in a big city which has lost its rustic charm. I have always loved those places, people of those places, the pace of those places, the peace that you can feel when you are walking on the roads, the innocence which is conspicuous in the scorching heat of the noons, the roads are improper, yet the nature is unadulterated, the breeze is not choked with pollutants, where people are not concerned about how sophisticated they look, where indiscriminate construction is not going on in every nook and corner, where life just seems to be PERFECT and in BALANCE. 

I miss that kind of place. Times have disastrously changed. Development comes at an enormous price. But one thing is clear, I do not belong here. I  belong to simpler places, places whose name people would not even know, places where people live simpler lives yet their knowledge, wisdom and hard work cannot be questioned, places where people gather around a fire and talk to each other, places where when some dish is cooked in one house it is sent to neighbors also, places where children have huge grounds to play and explore, places where life can actually be savored, lived and felt every single day. 

Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. I cannot help but conclude this post with this song which is very close to my heart. 

Yeh Daulat Bhi Le Lo,
Yeh Shohrat Bhi Le Lo,
Bhale Chheen Lo Mujhse Se Meri Jawani,
Magar Mujhko Lauta Do bachpan Ka Sawan..
Wo Kagaz Ki Kashti, wo Baarish Ka Paani.. 


Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Zahir: After Thoughts after Second Read in Seven Years.

Today I finished reading "The Zahir". This is the second time I have read this novel. The first time I read it was in 2010, when I was in college, a teenager exploring love and life. Seven years down the line, lots of things have changed, experiences gathered and definitions of love changed. Seven years is a long time for transformations to happen. Love, obsession, infatuation, passion of love, torridness of lover, maturity of love, unrequited love, romantic sentimental valentine-type love, - the way I feel or do not feel about all these terms has undergone a humungous change. The first time I read the book, I was just confused, but I did like his quotes related to spirituality and love. Seven year down the lane, I still highlight the statements but novel does not strike me as much as I would have liked to. May be I have never been like Esther's husband. 

And I believe that readers when they read a book try to identify those parts of the book with which they find themselves connected to. All readers seek their realities in the words that are portrayed in a book. I am sure many people will love this book, many people have and there is nothing antagonizing about that fact.  But there are many lines which I like. The one that says, "We need to forget our personal histories in order to become the instrument of love and allow the love to flow", this  I find fascinating. I see truth in this statement. 

Another line that I absolutely cherish is - "They are capable of limitless love, because they no longer have anything to lose". I believe this is what love is at the first place, I do not claim I know love. I do not know love, it always eludes me, surprises me. When I feel prepared for the next game, the rules of the game change :D . But as mentioned in the book, "submission, recognition or gratitude", seeking these from the beloved is not love, cannot be. Love, it says, is a journey that transforms you in ways you have never imagined and in ways you cannot express. 

"It is always important to know when something has reached its end. Closing circles, shutting doors, finishing chapters, it does not matter what we call it: what matters is to leave in the past those moments in life that are over". Thought-provoking. We have this habit of clinging to past in our thoughts, memories, writing poems and then erasing them, inadvertently we open our mobiles, type the text or almost call someone-from-past, and if the call gets connected, we sheepishly admit that it was "just-a-mistake". That is  unnecessary emotional  dragging. Clinging to past prevents us from better love-stories that are waiting to happen in our life, better investments in human relationships, better lessons and opportunities to change lives of those people in ways only we can :) :)

"Some things are not logical" Yes, and when it comes to love, it is insulting if we combine or even try to combine love with logic and rationales. However, I am still not very clear on this. I believe Universe will help me in this :) Love is not logical, but can it be inappropriate ? I WONDER.

"The important things always stay; what we lose are the things we thought were important but which are, in fact, useless, like the false power we use to control the energy of love". This statement I believe has a potential to provide solace to the hearts of people who have lost much and often. However, I would not go on to admit the uselessness of the things we lose, for they bring us closer to the things that will stay or be useful. Now I wonder, laughingly, if there is any "THING" that stays forever? "I AM" stays forever. Everything in life was the part of the plan, its coming was not my desire, its going is not under my control. I allow things to come, I allow things to go. 

I think in matters of love, what really connects with me is what Mahtria Ra says,
"I am having an affair with love, people come and go". 
And this line sums up my Zahir.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

One on mistakes

Mistakes. Mistakes assume different meaning when we are the ones who commit it. I had been waiting to write this, the words which have taken courage to come out of me to me, words which my mind has struggled to accept, words which followed a series of tough acceptances, acceptances that, "Yes, I have been unconscious in my decisions of life", acceptance that, "Yes, I have been a drunk monkey", acceptance of shortcomings which seemed so insanely right when they were happening, acceptance that mind can hypnotise a human to believe in things which are not there, to see the things which are not there at the first place , acceptance that , "Yes, mistakes have been made". I believe accepting self-mistakes is extremely tough, it has been for me. I have seen myself extremely resistant to the fact that I could make a mistake in departments which I feel I have knowledge about. Now I know that I am just as ignorant, only now learning what "conscious decisions" and "responsible choices" are. 

I remember I was shocked beyond imagination when I revealed myself in front of myself, keeping mind away, that mind which is our enemy if we are its slaves, that mind which is the servant if we are the master. It was unsettling to observe that mind posits all reasons to validate self-mistakes, like one of those people in a discussion who become adamant to prove their points despite the vacuous nature of their arguments. My Lord ! I did not know I had an enemy within. After much hard work, (and hard work is a small word here), when finally I looked into my eyes in the mirror and accepted my mistakes, something cathartic happened. I believe it is the feeling you obtain when you stop withholding  your breath and just let it pass, only to come again. I felt human, I felt fallible, I felt like a child, I felt humble, something in me got obliterated, a part of my ego , my false mental projections, I SMILED. Acceptance of my mistakes cleansed me of my own self, I felt utterly feeble yet strong, I felt as if a heavy burden was lifted off my chest, I felt ready to embrace the new, exciting, conscious and meaningful life in front of me. Acceptance of one mistake, let to unfolding of another, the trigger of that mistake and  by this series of backtracking I discovered the root of my mistakes: my ignorance, my drunkenness, my own mental projections to suit my five senses when things were always as they were. 

I was horrified to observe every unconscious decision I have taken when I kept a distance from myself and observed things objectively, incisively, consciously. We assume ourselves to be the most righteousness people on Earth, I am very happy that I no longer believe that in my case. More than that I was supremely disgusted to discover how my mind, slave to my five senses had actually led me to believe that those, "unconscious decisions" were legitimate, permissible, valid and exuded love and what not! It was like someone having multiple sexual partners and advocating that this was an expression of love, belonging and intense affection. This was tough, but one cannot live a peaceful life being a liar to self, and by lying to self I mean taking decisions unconsciously, headlong, seeking solace in times of tumult when tumult are the times to go inside and not outside. The biggest mistake I believe we all can ever do is to fill a void that gets created in life by clinging to someone else, someone's warmth, care, touch, eyes, words or even presence for that matter. Void, now I have learnt,  is an opportunity to fill self with self-understanding, to move closer inside, so close that no outside force can startle the equanimity of the soul, so close that that mind becomes what it is supposed to be: SLAVE to us, so close that no matter how strong the temptation to seek solace in false-illusory-support be we choose the path of courage and discard the temptation as evanescent, ephemeral and fugacious. 

My mistakes unfolded in front of me only after I took decisions, those decisions which earlier I used to feel that others have to take. I learnt that my life is guided by decisions I make and is not contingent on decisions others take. This was another lesson.  I learnt what decision taking meant when I took one, because frankly speaking  
We owe allegiance to our principles and not to people. - Swami Vivekananda
 It would be toxic to ourselves and to our soul to live a life which we do not completely feel joyful, ecstatic living in. A cage, whether of gold or of copper is a cage nevertheless and interestingly most temptations, illusory support systems, presence of people do seem golden and it is easier to fall for gold if one is not conscious enough. I believe one of my biggest achievements in life so far has been accepting those mistakes which never seemed mistakes and taking decisions which have improved my life manifold. It has taken courage but more than that it has taken discipline and CLEAR INTENTION. I feel much lighter in my life today and I am cautious in all my decisions, I strive to guide them through intentions asking at every step, "What do I want to come out of it?", "Am I willing to accept the consequences of what gets created?", "Do I want that?". This has made my life simpler, more beautiful, peaceful and I seem to have got a vision-operation.
Mistakes are not enough, it takes heart to take accountability to accept your mistakes and a tremendous amount of inner strength is required to accept them in front of our bare soul for we inherently believe that we are born infallible. 
But once it happens, it cleanses you, it's like having a  holy dip in the Ganges at Haridwar, its like shedding tears in front of your mother which you have been always afraid to shed. Change happens in an instant but to sustain that change and those decisions practice is required, that is a gradual process. The process is smooth if the intention is clear, you do not digress and even when you see yourself digressing you develop a tendency to focus your mind on things that take you close to KNOWLEDGE, the only thing that can liberate us. We get to know ourselves - the most important responsibility that all of us have and the one task in which most of us are irresponsible, careless and indifferent towards. After I learnt to accept mistakes, I also learnt that people make mistakes and that made me feel more connected to them, my fellow Brothers and Sisters, my Teachers. 

We must talk about our mistakes more often, it makes us humble, kinder and more empathetic. But we must frequently talk about them to our own selves in the dark of nights, not to get worked up but incessantly asking, "What can I learn from this?", "How can I become better after revelation of this mistake?", "How can I ensure that my life from this point is improved and better?", "What is it that should not be done again?". This is a constructive way to create self-understanding and during this process we learn that in this mansion of self-understanding there will be some bricks which will not be perfect, are not meant to be. I believe this acceptance of mistakes and decision making is one of the most beautiful moments of my life so far. They have rendered me completely transformed. 

It is easy to suggest people to take decisions relating to their lives but only when you are in a quagmire of sorts, then you learn what really decision making is. All of us are wise when it comes to someone else's lives but ignorant-pompous-dafts when it comes to our own little lives. I have learnt to take accountability for my mistakes, no matter how severe, no matter how defaming.

 What good is fame anyway, if my soul castigates me all the time while the world sings songs of my praises? What good is social respect anyway, if I do not respect my real nature and do not live my life according to my values, morals discovering my own versions of TRUTHS in this ocean where everyone is deliriously involved in marketing their own truths?

Accepting self-mistakes is a symbol of being kind to our own selves.
God Loves You All.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Bits and Pieces

Time is less, you'd fly away in your sky soon,
Desire in me is disciplinedly kept calm,
The discipline which learnt I,
From the mistakes in past that did I.

Time is less, you'd become the shine of the far away moon,
Desire in me exists since the first time my eyes met yours,
The desire to know you.

During the nights of the days gone by,
Ruminated have I, talking to self,
Trying to know the intention I want to create,
With the desire in me that arose when I saw you.

Not love, not romance, not a fling, not a thrill,
Not an excitement, not a pleasure-seeking intention,
Not like the tide of attraction that rises and ebbs,
The desire is not all that.
But a simple intention to know you in "bits and pieces",
"Bits and pieces" which will remain,
When you'd become the pearl in some place far away.

The mind in me dismisses this desire,
Discards it as a mental projection,
But even if it is a projection,
I argue there is a rationale in it.

We become wise after experiences,
My wisdom guides my intention,
The intention I have to know you, in "bits and pieces",
if I may,
For "bits and pieces" is what remains,
When the song of love is heard no more.

This is a calm and disciplined insanity,
Paying heed to the respect of your eyes,
Not every hand I have desired to embrace,
has embraced me back,
And this is life in all its hues and miracles,
Yet, wouldn't it be a tragedy,
If I never wrote this to give words to what I feel,
Worse, if she never knew what I feel.

Time is less, you'd disappear in your own world,
Glad I am, our worlds seemingly collapse today.

Consider this not a love poem,
It's an elegy of love,
in "bits and pieces".

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