Wednesday, October 11, 2017

30 Years & Counting...

Everything I was wearing that day was brand new, except for Dad’s watch.

The ensemble - A striped blue shirt its long sleeves neatly buttoned at the ends, pleated black pants ironed to perfection and my shiny black shoes.

‘It's a brand new start son’ Dad had said as he gave me his large Seiko timepiece. It didn’t fit, obviously, but I held onto it tightly nonetheless.

Our uniquely oblong classroom was really noisy on my first day at junior college.

The rustling of restless feet and the incessant, nervous chatter of anxious students like me only served to tighten the knot in my belly.

I sat on the first bench with 3 others, trying my best to keep it together.

Peace and quiet finally came to us like a wave, the noise gradually reduced starting at the back simmering down the aisle.



I didn't have to turn around, It was clear to me that someone important had just walked into the room.
Jibimon Joseph was an unusual name for a physics professor.

His name was only the tip of the iceberg.

I was expecting a much older, unkempt, eccentric man with thick glasses as the department head of physics. Professor Joseph or Jibi sir as we called him was the complete opposite.

Come rain or shine, his hair was always combed to perfection, it was almost as if the wind in Bangalore city helped him each morning, organizing every strand on his head to a preset angle with respect to the planes of his scalp. 

His eyes complemented his focused, laser-sharp stare which was a little odd when coupled with his boyish smile. 

In sharp contrast to my attire though, the long sleeves of his chequered shirts were always folded up to the middle of his forearms.

We loved him, and like every great teacher, he made us fall in love with his subject.

There were exactly 63 students in my science class that year, and when the teacher of the year was announced in both 2004 & 2005, Jibi sir beat the closest competition by exactly 63 votes.
2 years went by at the speed of light, and coincidentally our last lecture on our last day was again in physics.

He was calm and composed, as usual, I waited for him to give us a lengthy discourse on the path that lay ahead of us, but he stuck to topics that were important for our upcoming exams. 

Maybe he didn’t want to make it harder for us than it already was to say goodbye.

With barely 2 minutes left for the class to end, he made us promise that every 5 years, we would get in touch with him and apprise him of all major professional and personal milestones in our life.

The front bench had by now become my designated spot,this evening too I was finding it hard to hold everything together, but when I looked at my hands I realized something was different.
Working nights is a unique experience.

It’s been very long since I first burnt midnight oil working the graveyard shift at my medical school. In spite of all these years, it still takes some getting used to.

The first night is always the hardest; no matter how well you prepare for it your body is just not ready for the change.

But then, the first 5 shifts go by and snap, all of a sudden your rhythm just changes.

You go from being human to werewolf just like that.

I don't mind if my night is busy, time just passes by, but once the switch has occurred, having a quiet night without any work to do is kind of a punishment, because at least in my case, I just can’t go to sleep.

One feature that really stands out when working at Saint Joseph Hospital in Chicago is the spectacular view of Lake Michigan visible from most parts of the facility.

Irrespective of the weather or time of day, it is very hard not to be captivated by the beauty that lies ahead of you.
The first half of my recent night float rotation was incredibly busy.On some of the shifts, I didn’t even see the inside of my call room.

Then the switch happened, both with my circadian rhythm and also with the patient load at the hospital.

I got less busy and I was able to find time to rest. 

6 nights in unable to sleep and tired of staring at the ceiling I walked up to the window in my room and stared at the lake.

It was still very dark outside, but the moon and its reflection off the surface of the lake was simply stunning.

I tried to take in as much as possible of the view in front of me, but when I realized I might be standing too close to the glass I took a few steps back, and then a few more.

When I adjusted my gaze a little I was slightly taken aback by the sight of my own reflection in the glass.

But then I wondered If I stretched my imagination just a little more would I be able to make an objective assessment of the man staring back at me

Don’t judge me, like I mentioned this was my sixth night straight in a row, I was entitled to hallucinate a little.
I started by smiling at him, just to see how he would react you know.

And he smiled back, right away.

‘What a good looking guy’? I thought to myself.'Even with the dark circles under his eyes' I duly noted.

As you can see I was stretching my imagination a lot.

‘He could use a haircut though’ I thought out loud.

‘And a shave’ I told myself.

'Why do his scrubs look so crushed'? I asked, pointing my finger at him.

Slightly annoyed by the sight of him pointing his finger back at me I paid closer attention to his hands.

That’s when something else caught my attention, the same thing that I noticed on my last day at junior college.

Like my shirt, the long sleeves of my white coat were neatly folded up all the way to the middle of my forearms.

I thought about Jibi sir as I sat down at the foot end of my bed.

The first time I met him, I was 15 years old, and now in a few weeks,I was poised to turn 30.

Wow!

I took a deep breath, and all of a sudden I felt a lot older than I ever did before, like someone at the end of a long journey.

Sure, like Frost once said, I had miles and miles to go, but still, I couldn’t stop my shoulders from feeling heavy and so I placed my hands on the bed and looked down on the floor.
It dawned on me that in all these years, I hadn't kept my promise to Jibi sir.

Only once eons ago I had called him to let him know that everything was going well at my medical school. When he asked me what I was planning on doing next, I told him the truth, I did not know. That was it.

When Orkut was still a thing, for a short time he created a profile there, but after the website was closed down he completely went off the grid. Most of my searches for him online returned fruitless and before I could get my first cell phone, I lost the book containing his contact information.

With my night float behind me, and my sleep cycle restored to normalcy, I reached out to some other teachers at my college whom I could identify on social media.

I heard from our English teacher who told me that he had moved out of the country many years ago relocating to the UK.

I was left with a bittersweet feeling.

If I could somehow reach out to him today, I wondered what I would say to him.

He was never a man of many words, so maybe the best thing I could do was summarize the last 15 years of my life.

How best could I do that?

I would tell him that on completion of 30 years I felt grateful more than I felt anything else.

Grateful because God had been good, grateful because the blessings outnumbered the curses,  joy surpassed pain, laughter dominated the tears and happiness overcame regret.
In spite of all the ups and downs, for all that it gave and took away from me, life had been good and for those reasons, I was grateful.
Maybe all he wanted to do was instill in us the ability to set goals for ourselves and strive towards achieving them, or maybe this was his way of making sure that no matter where we ended up we were doing ok.

While I will never give up my search for finding him, sometimes when I fold the sleeves of the shirts I'm wearing I wonder if after all these years he would still remember me, and if he did, would he be proud?

I hope yes.

Until Next Time

TGV

Saturday, June 17, 2017

The Doppler Effect

“So you’re telling me that the sound waves are coming in a direction different from the train”?

Sunil looked very perplexed asking me that question.

The most scientific thing we were taught at school till then was how the light bulb worked and here Ms. Alamelu had just delivered a 25-minute lecture on something called ‘The Doppler Effect’.
It was the last period and we were done for the day.

Sunil and I would often wait for everyone in the class to trickle out leaving only the two of us behind.

We thoroughly enjoyed our 10 minutes of unmonitored freedom, well, until the janitor would eventually show up in the evening to clean up and lock all rooms in the building.

This was a time reserved for jumping on and off every desk, and for standing at one end of the empty oblong classroom and listen our loud voices echo off the walls, amongst many other things.

"Explain it to me man". Sunil urged as I started wiping off the chalky writing on the blackboard with my bare hands.

"Stand here". I said guiding him to the centre of room.

He didn't notice that I had spread chalk all over his clothes, and I intended to keep it that way for now.

"Let me demonstrate the Doppler effect to you". I said walking away from him.

"Close your eyes". I said standing at a corner of the room.

After pausing for a few seconds, I ran towards him, screaming.

"Aye e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e"!

He was understandably startled and his eyes remained closed for only a fraction of a second.

"What are you doing man he said getting out of my way".

"Do you want to learn what the Doppler effect is or not"? I asked him in an irate voice, clearly annoyed by his lack of trust in my scientific demonstration.

I went to the other side of the room and tried again.

"Oh wait a minute". He said noticing his blue trousers smeared with chalk dust.

"Did you do this to me man"? he shouted.

"Close your eyes". I said sternly distracting him from the mess on his school uniform.

"Aye e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e ee e"!

This time I was louder, and it scared Sunil so much so he nearly ran out of the room.

After a few attempts, we got it right.

Sunil finally understood what the teacher was trying to explain to us, but then the mischievous devil inside him awakened and instead of letting me know that my teaching had been effective, he made me run back and forth screaming my head off till I was short of breath, just to mess with me.

"Aye e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e ee e"!

"Aye e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e ee e"!

"Aye e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e e ee e"!

Ayeeee kya kare rahe ho tum log? (Hey, what are you boys upto?) The janitor shouted at us stepping inside the room.

We both grabbed our bags and bolted out of the room in a second.
The Wachowski’s redefined what special effects could do with 'The Matrix Trilogy'.

These movies redefined action in cinema.

The movie franchise also taught me that I could watch something a hundred times but still not fully understand what on earth is going on.

Nonetheless, they did a good job by creating an alternate universe and allowing us to participate in their indulgent thinking.

Many people will look back at 'The Matrix' and remember it for several reasons - Mr. Smith and his dark shades, Neo and all the bullet dodging, Morpheus and the 2 pills,my favorite scene in the entire franchise though is something one wouldn't even recall unless they were a true fan of the series.

It's taken from 'The Matrix Reloaded'

A scene where we see Neo stuck in a subway station unable to escape.

Maybe this picture will jog your memory a little.
Over the years, for some inexplicable reasons trains have come to represent a lot of things to me and my understanding of life per se.

It began a few years ago.

I remember accompanying my brother to drop off my sister in law at a railway station in India.

It was a typically breezy Bangalore night and like I expected the place was jam-packed.

There were no seats left to occupy on the platform so people were lying down on the floor or sitting with their backs against each other trying to stay warm waiting for their train to come.


We were early and so I broke away from my brother and took a small walk.

Trains came and went every few minutes.

With every arrival or departure, there was a lot of movement and a lot of noise.

But in spite of the chaos, I was pretty overcome by the humanity around me.

There was an energy around me that I hadn’t felt before and I told myself that I would come back someday if I ever felt that energy lacking inside of me.

Whenever a train would whistle people would perch up from their seats and look in one direction and then the other, not sure which direction the sound was coming from.

The anticipation was palpable.
The principle of the Doppler effect is that although a source produces waves (sound or any other) at a certain fixed frequency, the perception of a listener changes depending on whether the object is approaching or moving away from them.

It was confusing to a couple of 9-year-olds, and frankly speaking it is somewhat confusing to me even today (just like The Matrix movies )

Universally the train is used as an example to try and explain the concept.

Standing at one place with your eyes closed, you don't know if the sound of the train approaching, is of the one that will take you home, or one that will take you further away from it.

As Neo waits alone at the subway station, he is joined by an Indian family.

The train that is supposed to be arriving soon is meant for them and not for him.

Which brings me back to that evening I spent at the railway station, The commonest thing I heard when a train arrived was, 'No our train, not our stop'.

Life can be a lot like this.

Sometimes we don't know if what's headed our way is something meant to take us closer to our destiny or do the exact opposite.

It is easy when you know where you want to go, but what do you do when you just don't know.
Which brings me back to the movie.

Even though the train that arrives at mobil ave is not meant for Neo, he gets on it, and it sets the stage for his next adventure.

If you are at a point in your life where you are confused about what to do next and you happen to hear a calling, no matter how bizarre it may sound, go for it.

Chances are, that whistle you just heard is the sound of your train coming your way.

Until Next Time

TGV


Saturday, May 6, 2017

Home

“Put your hands back inside!!!”. My father yells at me from the driver’s seat.

Mildly startled by dad’s sudden reaction, I stop surfing the wind outside our car.

He masterfully makes another sharp turn on the curvy road leading us up the Western Ghats.

It’s early in the morning and my view of the beautiful valley outside is obscured by the fog.

Dad takes his gaze away from the rear view mirror for a second and seizing the opportunity, my hand starts creeping up the window frame.

“You know this car has a side mirror too, right”? Dad asks me in his peculiar stern yet steady voice.

I pull my hand back in.

The automatic windows of the car go up and he turns on the child lock.

Dad’s instant remedy to my disobedience might seem appropriate for a toddler, but I was about to turn 27 in less than a month that year. It didn’t matter, within the confines of the family car, Dad is boss, end of story.

“He started doing that a few years ago”. Mom adds to the impromptu discussion about my poor backseat manners.

“Where did you learn that”? She asks me without turning back.

I look outside again, the fog seems to be lifting a little, and I start to ponder over mother’s question.
It took Nikhil a long time to get the class of 2011 together for a group photo at my medical school.

He didn’t expect it, but this turned out to be a herculean task.

For nearly a month, almost every single day I woke up to one of his group texts to the class detailing times and locations where the picture was to be taken.

I made it to most of the photo calls, but no matter how hard he tried, there was always someone missing.

With every cancellation though, the size of the crowd kept diminishing.

We seemed to be getting nowhere

Then genius struck Nikhil and he scheduled the photo shoot 10 minutes after a mandatory meeting the class had to attend.

We were in full attendance that day and this was a golden opportunity to get the picture taken.

Nikhil didn't even bother to send a text out.

I still remember seeing him standing in the portico, physically stopping everyone trying to leave early.

“We finally got them together Thomas”. He said looking happy and relieved at the same time.

"Pramod should be here in about 15 minutes" He confirmed, referring to the photographer.

I was very restless and it showed.

“What’s happening’? He asked me

 “I’m sorry Nikhil, I have to leave now”, I told him.

What? Leave? Why? Where? Now?

His eyebrows perched up an inch with each question almost popping out of his forehead altogether.

“Sorry man, I don’t think you will understand”.

“But go where, and why?” He asked me again.

I didn’t answer him.

He stretched his hands out enquiringly.

I took a deep breath and replied.

“Home Nikhil, I want to go home”.
Some voices are very hard to forget.

I can recognize my father’s voice in a crowd of a hundred people just the same as listening to him yell at me from the front seat of a car.

Then we always have Morgan Freeman.

Popular celebrities aside, there is someone else whose raspy voice is etched in my memory forever.

Casey Kasem.

To me, he is the greatest radio personality of all time.
While not many people may recognize Casey as the creator and former host of the radio show American top 40, when I say he voiced the character Shaggy from Scooby-doo, it may ring a bell.

I consider myself very lucky to have listened to him count down the greatest hits in America before he retired from the airwaves in 2009.

His signature catchphrase – ‘Keep you feet on the ground, and keep reaching for the stars’ is amongst my favorite quotes of all time.

AT-20 a shorter version of AT-40 aired every Sunday afternoon from 2 to 6 exclusively on Radio Indigo in Bangalore, the time usually coincided with my post lunch siesta and I tried my best to listen to the whole program from start to finish.

I was especially interested in a segment he called ‘The long distance dedication’.

Every week Casey would read out a letter sent to him by a fan usually from a very far off location.

Syndicated versions of his show were broadcast all over the world, and so, these letters came from everywhere.

All of these dedications were basically, heartfelt moving stories that left an impact on you long after the show ended.

It was clear to me that Casey filtered through hundreds of them before choosing one to read out loud on the programme.

Some of these stories were funny, some of them very heartbreaking, some even inspiring, and to top it all off he would end the letter by playing the song that was requested, which was usually just perfect for the occasion.

One dedication, in particular, I have carried with me to this day.

It came to Casey from a mother living in Alabama who wanted to dedicate a song to her son in the army away at war, she talked about how they both loved listening to his show together and was hoping he would be tuning in from the far-east while he reads out her letter to the world, and she couldn’t wait for him to come back home.

About 5 months later, Casey read out another dedication, surprisingly it came from the same person.

I exulted in joy when he read the portion that said her son did manage to listen to her long distance dedication.

There was a slight pause and his voice deepened as he read out the rest of the letter.

Her son had passed away recently.

I’m sure anybody listening to the show, whether it was live or a recorded version stopped in their tracks for a moment to process what they had just heard.

I felt a lump in my throat when she talked about her hope of seeing him again in heaven some day.
Not very long ago after a particularly long shift at work, I found myself at a traffic intersection in India waiting for the signal to turn green.

My tired eyes scanned the world outside as I temporarily rested my chin on the mirror of my motorcycle.

The hustle and bustle across this insanely busy city junction had mellowed down at this hour, and every exhausted soul on the street seemed to have only one thing on their mind -
I can’t wait till I get back home.

It was in that moment that I realized something very important, it didn't matter if we were out every day saving lives or building houses or fixing cars or writing code, we are all trying to find our way back home.

What is home then and where exactly is it at?

When I think of all those long distance dedications that Casey read out each week, it becomes clearer to me that our individual definition of home may vary from person to person, but it’s basically a place where we feel loved, accepted, safe, appreciated and cared for.

While someone may feel that way in the presence of their family, to another, home is the warm embrace of a loved one.

And maybe some of us don't know where home is, because we are still trying to find it.
What I did on the day of the photo shoot back at medical school may seem a little cruel.

But earlier that morning for the first time in my life, I had discovered where and what home was to me.

I was listening to 'Switchfoot's - This is Home' on the radio just before the meeting began and for some reason every single word of that song made sense to me.

15 minutes of waiting seemed like a lifetime and I just knew that I had leave that afternoon no matter what, and as soon as possible.

I got on the first bus that came along and sat impatiently in the back seat. Not knowing what to do in order to calm myself down I put my hand outside the window and the heavy breeze of Bangalore city gently lifted my fingers up in the air, it was as though I was surfing the wind.

The palpitations in my chest stopped only when I saw my mother in the living room, resting on the couch, embroidering something on a pillow case.

I sat next to her for a moment expecting a barrage of questions about why I came back so early, or why I still hadn’t taken my shoes off.

But she didn’t say anything.

I snuggled my head into her lap and closed my eyes.

My heart was full.

I was home.

Until Next Time

TGV

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Dream A Little Dream With Me Part 2

I tap my feet when I’m nervous.

Just because I try and give it a rhythm, doesn’t mean that those around me like it, most of the time, they dont.

On those occasions where I can’t make noise, I tend to move my fingers as though I were masterfully playing a piano while I watch the tendons across my wrists move in tandem.

But on some days, no matter how hard I try to distract myself, nothing seems to work.

That was exactly how I felt at my first job interview waiting all by myself inside a board room.

The carpet on the floor muffled the sound my feet were making as tried in vain to find a position that was comfortable in my chair.
Almost immediately after I settled in, the door opened.

Dr. Singh didn’t seem very impressed as I stood up to shake his hand, nonetheless, I didn’t let that assumption cloud my excitement.

He didn’t say anything as he glanced through my CV. 

It was just one page, remember, this was the first time I had ever applied for a job in my whole life and I was fresh out of college.

He then took the spectacles off his face and placed them on the finely polished teak wood table next to us.

 “Why did you become a doctor”? He asked me, stroking the beard on his face.

I smiled, this was a question I saw coming and I gave him an honest answer.

“For me its all about the people sir, the physician-patient connection can be so instantaneous and real….”.

I have to interrupt you there George. He said cutting me off in the middle of my sentence.

"More than anything else I like keeping things simple and straight".

"This job won’t be suitable for you".  He concluded within 100 seconds of meeting me.

We briefly shook hands again and he walked out of the room.

It took me a while to get a grip on the situation. 

A hundred things went through my head in that moment, and I was left wondering, "Wait, what on earth just happened here"?
Ojal Sinha first walked into our classroom on a very sunny afternoon in June.

I remember it well because during recess that morning Sunil was pointing at a helicopter in the sky saying – “Look Thomas, its so close”, and then the bright sun hit his eye.

He was peeing on a eucalyptus tree when that happened so I didn’t offer him any of my sympathy.

If you were paying close attention to what was going on inside, you would’ve heard a deep collective sigh.

That sigh I mentioned originated from at least 30 boys in my 5th grade class. 

She was the newest, cutest addition to Air Force School Jalahalli east, and watching her walk into our lives in slow motion was so much better than the history lesson Mrs Banerjee was trying to give us that day.

I could swear Pramod’s face looked like he had just seen an angel, and he was drooling all day.

To be fair though, he was always drooling, so I’m not so sure if Kishore getting upset at some drops of good ol' pammu’s saliva falling on him was warranted or not.

Whatever maybe said about Pramod, he was the first one courageous enough to declare his love for Ojal and he decided to demonstrate it by writing the three most beautiful words in the world on the last page of her English notebook.

What he wasn’t ready for was the fact that along with Ojal the universe had decided to gift the young men in class 5A a new English teacher, one who had 2 very distinctive features.

Firstly she had an obsessive quality of looking at the last page of all our notebooks, in her own words the last page was where ‘all the action was at’.

Secondly, and may I humbly add - most importantly, she was Ojals mother.

None of the 54 students in my class knew that the best way to make a young boy un-profess his love for a girl was to wring both his ears 1080 degrees in the clockwise direction.

At the end of the day Pramods ears looked as bright red as a tomato and his face was white as a ghost.

When I saw him last he was a little short of hearing, but I don’t blame Ojals mom, Pramod loved putting things into his ear in his spare time.

Maybe it had something to do with being a teachers child but Ojal was always well dressed.

Her shoes looked brand new every morning, her school uniform was always perfectly ironed and one feature that stood apart from the rest was how her hair was always neatly braided with a red ribbon right at the end.
In my previous blog post I wrote about a dream I had 2 weeks before Christmas last year, when I woke up that morning, I couldn't really shake it off.

I thought about it, long and hard, especially trying to figure out the man on the right.

Why did he look so familiar, and why couldn't I recognize him?


I’m not sure if it was hearing from Sunil again a few days later, or taking my own glasses out and placing them on a wooden table at work, but suddenly all of it made sense to me, even the red ribbon.

Both men I saw in my dream were reflections of two very different versions of me.

The man on the right represented the me who got everything right in his life. All the doors he knocked on opened, every decision he made was correct, he didn't make any wrong turns or get any bad breaks, he probably got the first job he ever applied to, married the first girl he had a crush on, he didn’t even need glasses to read.

In sharp contrast was the man to his left, the version of me with all the scars and marks on his face.

I wondered to myself again and again, if I had a chance to do it all over again, would I want to end up like the man on the right, or the one on the left.

Surprisingly, on every occasion I chose the one on the left.

While it was easy for me to feel sorry for this guy, it occurred to me that he was content with the way everything turned out, the smile on his face gave it away.

Every bruise and every scar on his body were reminders of his legacy, testaments to all he had been through. From toiling in the scorching sun to burning the midnight oil. 

They were his, he had earned them.

I haven't had that same dream again, but it couldn't have come to me at a better time.

I am now more proud of the man I see in the mirror every morning than I ever was before.

In the end though, I guess the fact that both men whom I saw in my dream seemed happy helped me realize that no matter what happens to us or what we choose to do, everything has a way of working itself out

Until Next Time

TGV