Gymming Shimming

Gymming Shimming

Gymming karta hai ji” accused the mother of my patient, a young boy with vague pain abdomen. Suppressing a smile I told her that she should be happy that he is active and cares about his health. My words unleashed a deluge of emotion. She wondered why he ran for an hour on the treadmill but used his car for errands in the neighbourhood, why he thought lifting a sack of rice would strain his back but barbells won’t, why he preferred to sweat out in the stuffy gym instead of a refreshing walk to the fields

12740054-6808-4EE1-A5F7-19413041E417Her lament makes sense in rural India where the outdoor air is still crisp and gym hygiene is questionable. As more and more Indians join the to fitness crusade every vacant hall has been transformed into a gym and everybody with a ‘body’ has become a trainer. Since this sector is unregulated there is no science and little art involved. The result is young boys and girls pumping iron and thumping treadmills, toiling for that perfect body without a clue. Using ridiculous amounts of protein supplements and even anabolic steroids to hasten progress. Exercising without proper form and technique can do more harm than good, specially when unprepared bodies are forced through its rigours. It can wear down knees, pull muscles and strain spines. Moreover stuffy rooms without proper ventilation are a breeding ground for infection.

But all is not bad. With few cycling and pedestrian tracks, vanishing open spaces and untamed beasts ( natural and man made! ) on our roads, some indoor activity is better than none. It is heartening then, that fitness is trending. More encouraging is the fact that the clientele of gyms is changing. It is not only the teenager vying for the chiseled body or the bride-in-waiting striving to lose extra pounds before matchmaking begins. It is not only the desperate new mom trying to shed the extra tyres or the balding man with a lifestyle disease. It is also the apparently healthy people who have made it a part of their routine. It is about being a part of a community, a little me time away from life’s responsibilities. An empowering cocoon of privacy, of self indulgence.

It is because of this trend that single sex gyms (read female only) are a rage in smaller towns. A place where women can bare their batwings and jiggle their tummies without self consciously worrying about the male gaze. Although more and more women opt for trendy sportswear it is not uncommon to spot them sweating out in their night suits or the more acceptable salwar kameez. The impromptu social networking is an escape from domestic drudgery, somewhat like a hen party, but with health benefits. Mindless chitchat intermingles freely with grunts and heaves over shoulder presses. Common goals and shared post-workout snacks further sweeten the deal. Part kitty group, part muscle shrine!

This is quite different from the swanky gym chains of metropolitan cities with qualified trainers, nutritionists and counsellors. Equipped with modern machines and boasting of latest exercise routines, they are impersonal but perhaps more effective in unleashing the lean, mean you. And for those city slickers who don’t know where to begin, Physiogyms are the newest addition where the body is prepared for the gym, a sort of preschool to fitness.

And now the million dollar question, do we really need gyms ? Don’t we Indians get enough exercise throwing our weight around, running around in circles and dodging responsibility. The sad truth is that with our cities becoming gas chambers, we desperately need gyms to shape up an unfit country. We are facing an epidemic of lifestyle diseases like hypertension and obesity. India has the highest number of Diabetics in the world. Indians need gyms, to workout and be fighting fit…….so that they can throw their weight around, run around in circles and dodge responsibility with greater strength and ease !

Dr Manju Gupta is a gynaecologist who plays doctor in Gharaunda, a small town of Haryana

( published in Metro Plus of the Hindu on 10/2/2018)

The Cell Theory

The Cell Theory

Reams and reams have been written trying to explain why men and women are the way they are. From claiming that they are from different planets to going into their traditional roles in prehistoric times everything has been tried. I am a gynaecologist and would like to present a theory based on reproductive biology. There is no medical-ese ahead and you won’t get lost in long winding words. Anyone who has read this far knows that a baby is made by the union of the mother’s ovum and the father’s sperm. So let me take it from there.

BD639AC7-CC5A-4A6F-9500-C2CAACDABA58First a little on the development of the ovum. There are two ovaries in a women’s body and at the beginning of a menstrual cycle both gear up to form follicles which house the ova. Many follicles begin this journey but once one outgrows the others and becomes dominant the rest recede. This allows their chosen representative to get enough nutrition and grow unhindered. Such is the sense of purpose in these follicles that if per chance more than one matures there is a risk of conceiving twins, triplets and more. Now, once a month, at the designated time, this mature follicle ruptures and releases the ovum in the peritoneal cavity. For those who don’t grasp the enormity of this statement lets just say that it is a space big enough to get lost in. But this ovum with single minded determination finds its way up the funnel shaped end of the fallopian tube and travels to its cavernous ampulla for its rendezvous with the sperm.

On the other side, in what can only be called a colossal waste of protoplasm, billions of sperms are released with each ejaculation. Such is the mob mentality of this overzealous tailed cell that it cannot function without its peers for company. So much so, that although it takes only one sperm to fertilise the ovum even millions of them are said to be too few to get the job done. These sperms, teeming with nervous energy , are deposited quite close to their destination but get lost in all types of crevices and spaces because they are too arrogant to ask for directions. They run amok, driven by a sole purpose but, sadly, with no game plan . Finally a few thousand, more out of good fortune than anything else, catch sight of the ovum and race each other to reach it.

Biologically speaking only one sperm is required for fertilisation and the ovum knows this. For that matter, the sperms also know this but don’t care. Once a sperm enters, the ovum tries to make the sperms see sense by making its walls impregnable , the equivalent of hanging a house full board. But the sperms cannot take no for an answer and keep trying anyway. In the process many are beheaded and maimed. Their fate does not stop more from banging against the walls and getting killed too.

Now sometimes, due to a freak accident of nature, persistence pays off and two sperms manage to fertilise the ovum. In such a scenario two things are known to happen. Sometimes the maternal nucleus excuses herself and leaves the sperm nuclei to their own devices. In their misguided notion of self sufficiency the paternal nuclei try the baby building business on their own and end up with a bunch of grapes called a molar pregnancy. At other times the sperm nuclei force the maternal nucleus to stay and do the job. This union results in a pregnancy which is partly molar and never viable. There is a limit to what coercion can yield!

Aristotle averred that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We can infer from this cell theory that women are determined, smart, organised and know what they want……… Men, are just men!

( published in Vidura – a quarterly magazine by the Press Institute of India)

Taking Offence

Taking Offence

A disclaimer first, I am not qualified to say what I am about to, but will say it anyway. It’s a free country after all. Not only am I entitled to an opinion based on half baked information, but I can use brute force to impose it on others. If some citizens can threaten to kill, maim and self immolate without actually seeing what is offending them then I retain the right to say that the cinematography is breathtakingly beautiful, Deepika looks ravishing and Ranveer has outdone himself. I base my opinion on past records, hearsay and some snatches I have caught on the net…. because Padmavat did not release in a cinema near me!

It was just a dream that became a nightmare. Somehow, someone, somewhere dreamt that in the upcoming film Allauddin Khilji has a dream about being intimate with queen Padmavati. Despite vehement denials by the director Sanjay Leela Bhansali that no such dream sequence was being shot, all hell broke loose. The film set was vandalised and Bhansali was slapped for his alleged impudence. Things didn’t end here. The story gained momentum and grew bigger as did the public perception of injustice. So by the time the movie was ready for release last December , Deepika Padukone’s nose was at risk of being cut short and so was Bhansali’s life. Blood thirsty mobs were ready to kill, maim, deface and destroy to restore the honour of a queen whose very existence is debatable. King Ratan Sen’s descendants were out on the streets demanding a ban on the film.

For those who don’t follow Bollywood, a little background information first. Padmavat, one of India’s most expensive movies, is based on a 16th-century Sufi poem by the same name. It is about Alauddin Khilji, the sultan of Delhi, and his obsession for Padmini, the wife of King Ratan Sen who ruled Chittor. The story of Khilji’s attack on Chittor, the slaying of Ratan Sen, and the mass self-immolation ( Johar ) by the women of the kingdom is part history, part legend. While Khilji and Ratan Sen are established historical figures, Padmini’s existence is more of a myth, this poem being the first known reference of her. But fact and fiction have a tendency to merge for the sake of a good controversy and an excuse to unleash the monster within.

So despite being duly certified by the censor board after following its recommendations, including a name change from Padmavati to Padmavat many states chose to ban the film, Haryana being one of them. As I watched the enraged mobs going on a rampage for the sake of some misplaced sense of honour I wondered why such sentiments are not stoked when real women are abused and disgraced. Haryana has an ugly track record of crime against women, most of which are much worse then innocuous wet dreams. Salman Rushdie’s famous inference offers some insight into this matter, “Meaning is a shaky edifice we build out of scraps, dogmas, childhood injuries, newspaper articles, chance remarks, old films, small victories, people hated, people loved, perhaps it is because our sense of what is the case is constructed from such inadequate materials that we defend it so fiercely, even to the death.”

The Supreme Court direction that the state should ensure safe release of the film did not help matters. When people take law into their hands, the law of the land has a way of not working. So instead of the grandeur and razzmatazz associated with Bollywood, the opening Thursday of the film presented another stereotype of modern India to the world: violence, intolerance, and the diminishing space for free expression. Movies did run into trouble over their content in the past too, but this protest was based on mere public perception much before anyone saw it. Hundreds of supporters of fringe groups like the Karni Sena ran amok across the country, blocking roads and burning buses, ensuring that the film was not screened. The most shameful incident occurred closer home, in apna Gurugram, where they stoned a bus full of school children.

Perhaps I am not as enlightened as the protesters hence not so acutely aware of my rich heritage. Whatever be the reason I have never felt compelled to protect a glorious past at the risk of ruining the present and endangering the future. And although I am just a lowly aberrant, I would like to further my case with some Haryanvi folk wisdom. It’s an oft repeated saying about damage control “Ibay kimay na bigdaya , ibey toh beti baap ke ghar seh” . Roughly translated it means that a situation can be resolved till the daughter is at her parent’s home, after which reputation suffers. In a world where news travels at the speed of light, images of petrified children cowering in a school bus while an unruly mob pelts stones at them does more harm to Brand India than Deepika’s bare belly in some Jhoomar sequence. We should be more careful of what leaves our home and how.

A few days ago, a friend joked, “ At least we Haryanvis don’t believe in gender discrimination. If it was a no to Padmavati it is a no to Padmavat.” A perfectly ordinary comment, made in jest….but with the worst sex ratio in the country I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.

( published in the Haryana Tribune on 10/2/10)

Too close

Too close

At an Airport recently, I was standing in queue, minding my own business when the lady in front of me turned around and gave me the look. A little confused at first, I realised I had inadvertently crossed an imaginary line and wandered into her territory. A matter of cultural differences and personal preferences, the dimensions of this space change as we cross international borders. It is the largest in the USA where people like to keep strangers at an arms length, a few inches less in Europe and much lesser in over populated South Eastern Asia. The affluent require more space and so do the aged. Also, men need it more than woman.

19876A7D-220A-4838-B222-ED0E0C5C0D44For us Indians this concept doesn’t come instinctively. This is because we spend our lives in crowded places where body contact is not unusual and someone breathing down the neck is normal. We are conditioned to ignore the unintentional brushing of arms, even the occasional push and shove.

Sanctity of boundaries is a alien concept and is scientifically called Proxemics. It is the study of use of space and the effects of population density on human behaviour, communication, and social interaction. Personal space is the region surrounding a person which they regard as psychologically theirs. This imaginary bubble is created in childhood and its size varies with location. Permitting a person to enter it is an indicator of familiarity. According to Edward T. Hall a pioneer in this field, the space can be divided into four zones. An intimate zone of 45 cms is reserved for close friends and family members. Outside this is the 1.2 metre friend zone, the acceptable distance for interaction with friends and associates. Further away at 3.6 metres is the social zone for strangers and new acquaintances. The outermost is the audience zone and is the distance to be maintained for speeches, lectures, and theatre. While Hall insists that these measurements are not strict guidelines I was surprised to know that such numbers exist.

As I delved deeper I found the reason for ‘Elevator Facies’, the body language we encounter when forced to share confined spaces with others. Personal space is considered the most inviolate form of territory so most people feel discomfort, anger or anxiety when it is encroached. When cooped up with strangers, people desperately fight this violation by using dehumanisation as a tool. So in places like public transport and elevators they imagine the intruders to be inanimate. This is achieved by avoiding eye contact, keeping an expressionless face, standing rigidly stiff and acting preoccupied. So it seems that staring at the ceiling or acting engrossed in your phone while using the lift is just an inborn defence mechanism.

Being a Haryanvi by choice I tend to forget this unwritten rule of modern society. I have spent most of my life in this state where personal space is neither expected nor extended. If people are interested they will look, not just a furtive glance but the unabashed gawk. If they are curious they will ask, not just a discrete question but a detailed interrogation. If they have an opinion they will give it whether or not you have asked for it. Packed like sardines in tempos and buses the idea of empty space between individuals is incomprehensible. To them maintaining distance means being aloof and perhaps uncaring.

Things are changing though. As unbelievable as it seems there was a time when patients would walk into our living room to watch Ramayana on Sunday mornings. Now there are few occasions when we watch TV together as a family. With diverse viewing preferences and individual screens everyone is trapped in their own bubble. Perhaps we need to define the thin line between being obnoxiously intrusive and completely self involved. The trials and tribulations of human existence cannot be seen from a distance. Proximity brings emotional attachment and empathy, the prerequisite for any functioning society. As Charlie Chaplin famously said,”Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long shot. “

One of my patients said something similar a few days back. It happens rarely now, but some of my elderly patients still touch me to show me where it hurts. When I told her that she could demonstrate on her own body she innocently said, “ Nyu zyada bera paatega “ ( You will be able to understand better like this). Ordinary….yet so profound!

( published in my Column ‘ So Ordinary’ in the Tribune on 3/2/2018) 

Barbs

Barbs

Characteristically dry, somewhat condescending humour is an essential ingredient of any verbal exchange in this part of the country. So ask a passerby, “ Yeh sadak kit jaugi.” ( Where will this road go?) and his likely answer would be, “ Sadak toh yahin rahugi, Jayega toh tu.” ( The road will stay here, you are the one to go). If you are nearly run over by a vehicle its not Haryana if the driver doesn’t roll down his window and shout, “Marega ke?” ( Want to die? ). Seemingly rude and harsh, the language still conveys a wide range of emotions in minimal words. For instance a “ Yo ke?” ( what’s this?) can express surprise, anger, exasperation, resignation or concern depending on the tone and tenor of the speaker.

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I learnt the importance of tone and tenor as an eager third year medical student attending my first clinical class. Our teacher, a very sophisticated Delhiite with an army background was explaining the importance of speaking in the patient’s native tongue. Checking for sensory loss, she touched the patient’s back with a tiny cotton wisp and asked, “ Tau, bera paate ki nahin paate” (uncle, can you feel it or not). The old man kept silent but his agitation grew with each passing moment. As the doctor patiently continued the examination repeating her question in a highly accented, singsong voice, the impatient patient, looked at us students and blurted, “ Man ne nahin bera yeh madam kay keh rahi hai!” ( I don’t understand what this madam is saying). This, basically is the essence of our language. It’s not what you say but how you say it which matters. Take out the surly tone, the undue stress on soft consonants and its not Haryanvi any more. Sans the swag it is nothing.

Nevertheless, I have slowly discovered a treasure trove of folk wisdom and philosophy in the local parlance. My all time favourite is this rustic gem that an old patient said about friends, “ Zindagi ne badhiya banane khatir do unche, do sucche or do lucche dost chhahiye.” ( for a happy life you need two well placed, two enlightened and two unruly friends ). My unmarried, professionally driven friend who was pursuing super specialisation was at the receiving end of another astute observation. Hinting at the short shelf life of overqualified young men a chemist had said, “ Jo dava ghani mehangi hove, susri ki expiry date bhi nu aa jave, marha dhyan rakh lio .” ( Pay some heed, expensive medicines have short expiration periods ). Seems the message hit home for he got engaged within a month!

Haryanvi is a rough language, there are no two ways about it. To the untrained ear a normal conversation may sound like an argument. But that is not always the case. Once I asked my driver what was the need to admonish an already shaken boy who had accidentally stepped in front of our car while chasing a kite. And he said, “ Tadna jaroori hai ji, khud toh marega, mabaap rotekalapte raivenge.” ( Scolding is imperative, he will get killed and leave behind grieving parents). So while the words maybe brash and insensitive, the concern is endearingly real.

Happily, the roughness and toughness doesn’t end at the tongue but is reflected in the entire persona of the natives. So besides toiling to grow food for the country Haryana has given India courageous army personnel and medal winning sportspersons. That’s not to say that it’s inhabitants can’t be sophisticated and stylish. The poise and eloquence of the recently crowned Ms World is a case in point.

Gharaunda, my hometown means nest in Hindi, a poetic name for an idyllic place, you would think. Sadly, that is not how it is pronounced. The soft ‘d’ is overemphasised, converting it into a harsh ‘dh’ almost a ‘rh’ robbing the romanticism from the word and rendering it meaningless. But then, what’s in a name? It is still the perfect place to be, as is the state it is a part of. Although a little rough around the edges, Haryana remains my favourite, the land which adopted me, the land of harsh words and soft hearts, where I make a living and hopefully a life.

So ordinary? I agree. But what else can I say ? In my adopted mother tongue I could add “Man ne toh kehli, eeb tu bol “

( published in the Haryana Tribune as a part of my column ‘ So Ordinary ‘ on 20/1/18)

The Land Shark

The Land Shark

CEA762A9-7F0E-41E2-AE03-89CF84152477I am not sure why his brethren disliked him. Maybe it was his superior strut, the way he showed off his fancy accessories or perhaps they just hated his guts. Whatever it was, they made no bones about it. Once he tried to join a group discussion but was summarily dismissed. Another time he was walking down the street, minding his own business, looking debonair in a red scarf when a rival grabbed him by the neck and rattled him like a rag doll.

I think they detested his ambition for he relentlessly strived to increase and consolidate his land holdings. As his empire grew so did his troubles. All territories had to be guarded against invasion and took up most of his time. He would take a round of his empire at the crack of dawn and once again before retiring at night. After a vacation he would rush to assess any loss and reclaim lost ground. It was surprising how he would be dozing peacefully in the car and would switch to high alert as soon as we swung off the highway. Maybe he could sniff it in the air, the smell of betrayal. In any case he had a sixth sense for his native land. He would gaze out of the window, his body taut with tension, ready to pounce on any squatters. As soon as the car stopped, he would rush out and push encroachments back.

On our outstation visits he frequently got into arguments with the locals. Once I dragged him away from a street fight and he spent the entire night plotting revenge against those who had tried to ridicule him. At the first sign of daybreak he ran out to settle the score. Unknown to him, his rivals lay waiting. They surrounded him and tossed him around till he was miraculously rescued by our driver. I thought the incident would change him, slow him down, stop him from taking risks, getting into scuffles. But that didn’t happen. He was shaken, not subdued by the experience and continued to take on adversaries larger than himself.

One day as we emerged from a friend’s house he marked it and then dashed across the road to lay claim on the other side. Enroute, he was hit by a motorbike but luckily escaped with just a bruised ego. I was so angry by his recklessness that instead of asking if he was hurt I scolded him. That was enough to disillusion him. He refused to look at me. He withdrew, became disinterested in food and stopped the territorial marking. Eventually the little land shark recovered, forgave me and resumed his task of sniffing and pissing. Then a couple of months later he vanished, never to be found, leaving a dog shaped hole in my heart.

Pogo, my lost Lhasa, was an embodiment of dreams and doggedness. He taught me the basics of Ambition, Bravery, Consistency and that the size of the fight in a dog matters more than the size of the dog in a fight!

( published in Spice of Life, Hindustan Times on 16/1/2018)

Serendipity

Serendipity

There were three of us in the car, an oversized SUV that seemed to house all the worldly possessions of the driver. At the wheel was the topper of our class and I was designated co- pilot. On the backseat was the better half of the person who was known to occasionally better her in the race to the top. It was October, I was in august company and enjoying every moment of it.

We were returning home from Rohtak after attending the marriage of a friend’s son. All of us were on a vacation from the stress that inevitably engulfs quinquagenarians of the female kind. As we talked about our personal and professional problems we steered off course. The issues remained the same but our tone changed and instead of moping we found humour in our situation. And so we laughed, and then we laughed some more. We recounted funny anecdotes and the guffaws became louder and more carefree as we realised that there was plenty to laugh about.

The last sane memory I have is of a road sign saying that we were 10 km away from Panipat. From there we had to get on to NH 1 and head north towards Chandigarh. As we talked and laughed we lost track of time. My friend in the back seat glanced out and remarked that the roadside eateries were as big and impressive as the ones near Murthal on the way to Delhi. An observation that all of us agreed to before returning to a hilarious anecdote. A while later I saw Kanak Garden next to Sheesh Mahal and marvelled at the coincidence, lamenting how people shamelessly copied names and exteriors. Once again we concurred and continued with the more lively discussion at hand. A few minutes later I noticed a Haveli restaurant and we momentarily digressed to note that Haveli had lost its exclusivity and was opening outlets everywhere. It was only after I exclaimed, “Sukhdev Dhaba, with the usual jam packed car park and Hotel Amrik Sukhdev behind it, just like Murthal ” that our driver reacted, ” This is not ‘ like’ Murthal, this is Murthal!” Having realised our mistake, we made a quick U-turn and laughed all the way home.

And now, some background for those of you who are not familiar with the geography of the region. Grand Trunk Road or NH1 connects Chandigarh to Delhi and the newly constructed highway from Rohtak meets it at Panipat. The aforementioned places are famous eateries of Murthal that any self respecting North Indian would recognise. And now the disclaimer – We were on familiar terrain in broad daylight and not drunk, that is, if being drunk on happiness doesn’t count. The Medical college at Rohtak is our alma mater so we have been on the route hundreds of times. Still we had somehow taken the wrong exit on to NH 1 and drove towards Delhi for 40 km before realising our mistake. We were so ecstatically engrossed that we had overlooked famous land marks and ignored signs screaming in our faces.

Although this story makes us look rather dimwitted I am sharing it because we didn’t feel unintelligent, irresponsible or embarrassed. On the contrary, we joyfully told this incident to anyone who cared to listen, even our most severe critics, our spouses! This adventure of being blissfully unaware continues to intrigue me and the only explanation is the gay abandon with which we embarked on the journey. We were so sure that we were on the right path because metaphorically, we were. The ability to enjoy the scenery on a ‘wrong turn’ is the sign of true happiness. After realising our faux pas the mood in the car did not change one bit. We didn’t look for scapegoats or make excuses, the joie de vivre continued unabated. Why is this possible only with friends, why can’t we regress, destress and unwind with family?

A year later, memory of our ‘longish’ detour still makes me grin. For those few hours we had let go of the many balancing roles we play and were just ourselves. Three giggling golden girls trying to cope with our changing world with a good old jaw wag and some chuckles. And if in the process we had to drive an extra fifty miles, it was totally worth it. For it was the day we got lost and found ourselves.

( published in the Open Page of the Hindu as ‘ The road less traveled ‘ on 14/1/2018)

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Over the Hill

Over the Hill

“Why are we even doing this?” My friend gasped as she came up a particularly steep slope. I had no answer and although the same question was resonating in my head I didn’t dare bring it to my lips. After all, I had brought it upon myself. It had been my idea and I had cajoled the others to join the madness.

We were on a thirteen kilometres trek from Kasol to Kheerganga in Himachal Pradesh. “Nothing mad about that,” you will say “youngsters go trekking all the time! ” And that is the mad part. We are not youngsters, that is, if I exclude the two pretty girls who didn’t mind being included in the ‘Ditty Dozen’, an ambitious name for a bunch of women with a median age of fifty.

To make things worse I was not in the best of health. I decided to ignore the resistance my body showed to any unwonted activity. Travel blogs had described the trek as an easy one. Nevertheless, I resolved to garner maximum external support to make up for my rebellious body. I read extensively about trekking and bought ankle support hiking shoes, a pair of trekking poles, knee braces, stability socks, the works! I was walking regularly and doing scores of heel lifts and hamstring curls. I was ready, or so I thought….

IMG_3119I was soon to discover that the online information was provided by able bodied youth for able bodied youth. I did not cross any middling, meddling mom on the entire trail that was thronged by bustling youngsters without the recommended stick for support. Leaning heavily on my two poles I wondered if it was wise to put my ageing body through the rigours of the climb. As self doubt engulfed me strength came from an unlikely quarter. Instead of the eye rolls and ridicule expected from the young, we were showered with praise for our courage. It was a camaraderie of sorts with young fellow trekkers cheering, encouraging, egging us on. Needless to emphasise, I took to the trail with renewed confidence.

I walked through beautiful pine forests, small waterfalls, the gushing river Parvati a constant companion. I pulled myself up boulders, climbed rocks, gingerly negotiated loose stones and solitary logs to cross streams. My young readers may smirk for making an easy trek sound so perilous but with my weight every step had the potential to twist an ankle or worse. Although I was painfully slow and almost always at the tail end of the group a feeling of accomplishment filled me when I finally reached the uneven meadow at the top.

In the morning as I stood outside my small tent amid snow clad mountains, celebrating my gumption, I felt redemption. I had found the reason for my little adventure. I needed to face my fear of the unaccustomed and unknown. As my role in my children’s life diminishes I had to reinvent myself and reaffirm that there is much more to me. And what better way to announce it than from 3000 metres on what happened to be Mother’s Day!

Apart from the beautiful memories and bragging rights this trip has entitled me to, I carried home a valuable lesson. Someday when I am too world weary, too exhausted, too tired to go on, I hope to hear a succinct, somewhat unkind voice in my head. At the end of the trek when I realised I had to climb six flights of uneven stairs to reach the road I had thrown a minor hissy fit. I had told the guide that I couldn’t take another step. He had arched an eyebrow and in a very matter of fact way asked, “So?”.

Sometimes, no matter what, trudging on is the only option…..

( published in the Hindustan Times on 15/12/17)

A soundless death

A soundless death

It was just a word,

A ‘mantra’
To be uttered
when we got stuck
We hadn’t seen it
hadn’t read much about it
It was sparingly mentioned
in our textbooks.
But our seniors reiterated that
we could fit it in anywhere
If we ran out of our list of investigations
and the examiner wanted more
we could invoke it.
It was the king of all diagnostic tools.

X-rays to see bones and stones
Collapsed lungs and enlarged hearts
were routine,
Modalities we had grown up with,
But to assess the abdomen
the legendary Pandora’s box
without cutting it open
seemed magical.
To evaluate soft tissues and solid organs
to see what is happening on the inside
from the outside ,
sounded unbelievable
It made diagnostic laparotomy
sound outdated
almost barbaric.

I saw it for the first time as a Junior resident
A small TV with a grainy picture
I was surprised that the radiologist could make anything of it
To my untrained eyes it was like staring at the moon.
You could see what you wanted to see
A smiling face or an old woman at the spinning wheel.
But that was just the beginning.

IMG_3095Slowly I began to notice the different shades of grey.
The interplay of light and shadows
In cysts and tumours
An abscess ready to be drained
Or a benign lesion
requiring patient ‘wait and watch ‘
Body functions in real time
urine filling the bladder,
food propelled in the gut
and the declaration of life
a tiny heart beat.

As technology advanced
images became clearer
Making it possible to see
Blockage to blood flow
A malfunctioning heart valve
A ripped retina causing blindness
The reason of a numb limb
or a swollen joint
It was possible to ascertain the release of
an egg from the ovary
and predict whether the uterine lining
was primed to receive it.
With some expertise, it could be told
when a pregnancy
didn’t make it to the womb
and got embedded elsewhere.
Putting the mother at grave risk

In cases of trauma, in a flash
it could tell whether
there was internal bleeding necessitating surgery
A tendon rupture or a lacerated spleen
Air pressing on the lungs or blood around the heart
Used on the road side
It could save lives by saving time.

With perfect picture quality and the option of 3D images
It can show a baby yawning out of boredom
Or lustily sucking at its thumb
Getting entangled in loops of umbilical cord
Or sleeping soundly.
It is possible to check the baby’s
eye movements
And heart valves
Count fingers and toes
Look for cleft lips and open spine defects
Diagnose conditions requiring expert neonatal care
So that a team is ready when the baby emerges
With colour Doppler we can predict
if the womb is inhospitable, fetal demise is eminent
and deliver the baby before it is too late,
It can diagnose defects incompatible with life
So that pregnancies can be terminated,
Curtailing the misery, lessening the heartache.

But just as it shows everything else
It can also show the genitalia of the unborn child,
which in our society is synonymous with female feticide.
Because in a son crazy nation,
a daughter will be killed ASAP,
The fear of misuse has condemned
the modality to disuse.
Buried in tons of paperwork
and tied in miles of red tape
It will never reach its full potential
An inexpensive, easily available, fairly accurate
diagnostic tool will die prematurely,
soundlessly.

As developed nations
exploit this technology
And make it available
not only in hospitals and clinics
but in
ambulances and sports arenas
to hasten diagnosis
expedite treatment
and reduce mortality

We are curbing its reach.
The efforts to curtail its use
and limit the number of users
has had mixed results.
While the sex ratio at birth
has somewhat stabilised.
The child sex ratio continues to fall.

The fault is not in the machine
It is in the mindset
Till that changes
Nothing will change
because
A daughter can be eliminated
after she is born….
An Ultrasound is not a
prerequisite to kill a girl child!!

( published in The Hindu on 10/12/17)

The Reluctant Yogi

The Reluctant Yogi

Some consider it a passing fad, others think its a way of life. To me it was a powerful vortex that sucked everything in. It started pretty innocuously, just a sun salutation to round off our morning practice. Slowly it grew and consumed every other constituent of our daily constitutional. Now let me begin at the beginning.

Much before home gyms became a rage we had installed a treadmill, cross trainer and multi- functional weight station in a spare room to control our expanding waistlines. The idea was that we would be compelled to put our mouth where our money was. That the room was opposite the kitchen didn’t help matters and because it was located near the front door, guests would get a glimpse of our swanky gym as they passed. They would curiously look at the facility and us inhabitants, all pleasantly rotund and wonder what was amiss. Tired of the probing questions that followed I had devised the perfect rebuttal. When they asked whether we used the equipment I would reply that we had hired a person to use it for us!

Over the years, due to misuse, disuse and well, some use, the equipment had slowly disintegrated. I never replaced the broken pulley or the worn out belt for I was on to newer things. I had shunned external devices and was now using my own weight to lose weight. I had become an online exercise enthusiast and followed YouTube videos . It gave me the freedom to change exercise regimes and instructors at will.

After years of sweating out alone, at the beginning of this year I started exercising with a friend. We were doing aerobics and Zumba, the amount my aging body would allow. When my friend suggested adding IMG_4827 suryanamaskar to our workout, I readily agreed. I liked the idea of two minutes of Yoga to silence my mother who being an enthusiastic yogi herself has been after me to try it.

Saluting the sun was tougher than I thought. I could barely reach my ankles, the floor was much further away. I would somehow contort myself into one pose when the instructor would move on to the next. As I huffed and puffed my way through the sequence without getting a single aasan right I realised how unfit I was.

Greatly humbled , I decided to add fifteen minutes of basic yoga to increase my flexibility. The problem with Yoga is it appears sedate vis-à-vis the sweaty adrenaline rush of aerobics. It seems easy till you try it. Every time my mum had recommended it in the past, I had dismissed her saying that I didn’t have time to lie around doing nothing. Now I realised that child pose is not child play and with a stiff rod for a backbone mimicking the agile cat, dog and cobra isn’t easy. It was difficult enough to imitate these lowly creatures, emulating the mighty warriors and gracefully balancing Gods seemed impossible.

As I gradually conformed to this ancient science the benefits were almost immediately apparent. The morning stiffness and evening aches vanished. My stride improved and stairs became less of a challenge. After years, I felt loose, more pliable. I still need the support of hands to get off the floor but now they are my own, earlier someone else had to pull me up.

Yoga has slowly become the main ingredient of my exercise regimen. I am still a beginner level yogi but have realised that it is a complete workout for strength, stamina and flexibility. My mum, the advanced yogi, is now nudging me in the direction of Pranayama….but who has the time to sit around and just breathe!

( published in the Hindustan Times on 7/12/2017)