Posted in India, Mumbai

Happy Days Are Here Again!

Welcome to my annual monsoon blog post. I’m a bit late this year, but then the rains were a bit late this year.

It’s been raining continuously for a week. The air is clear, the temperatures are lower, and the wind smells clean again. The perpetual haze of smoke that Mumbaiites take for granted has washed away, and every colour is brighter. There are a million shades of green right outside my window. The bright neons, the khakis, the verdant greens and the mosses.

I travel between Pune and Mumbai a lot, and train journeys are a joy in the monsoon. The wind on my face much softer, much cooler, much less dusty. The deep, green smell of the air inside a forest in the monsoon has become a part of my soul.

I took a couple of pictures on my last journey, but obviously pictures cannot truly show what the eye sees. Mind you, these are not edited at all, except maybe for some cheeky cropping. I was in a moving train, so was constrained as to angles and time.

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Sadly, I can’t eat bhutta this year. I have braces. But I can, and will, eat all the kanda bhajis and drink all the chai that I can, nestling my umbrella between my neck and shoulder, on the side of the road, plate in hand. I can, and will, go to Marine Drive, and watch the grey Arabian Sea broil and thrash against the rocks. I will once again be in awe of thunder and lightning. I will try to paint the way the stormy sea reflects the stormy sky, either with words or brushes, and I will fail.

And I will be grateful for this monsoon.

 

Posted in India, Kota., Life, Me and moi

Just be good. You’ll be good enough.

The 12th std CBSE board results came out yesterday. For people who don’t know, they’re for a national test that high school final year students in India have to take to pass out of high school. Initially, your performance in the CBSE boards used to decide into what colleges you got admission. In recent years, its importance has waned with the advent of national entrance tests for pretty much every professional course. However, it still is the first truly big test that a student has to take and a very big deal in a high schooler’s life.

It is also, unfortunately, a matter of social pride (or shame) for the parents. Taking the tests that span over the entire month of April is hard enough for the kid, without his or her parents’ ego being attached to whether their child does better than Mrs Sharma’s kid.

What ensues is more anxiety and stress than any 18 yr old should ever have to face.

A common cause for concern is the pressure from parents to do well in the national board examinations, especially for Class XII, before finishing school. As scores in these exams often determine college admissions and subsequent employment opportunities, students aged 16-18 are often subjected to undue pressure at home to succeed. When they don’t, suicide becomes a way out. In 2013 alone, 2,471 suicides were attributed to “failure in examination”.

I did well in my board exams, but I had to face the failure of not getting through the medical entrance test. It’s the same kind of pressure, even more, amplified in Kota. Fours years on, let me tell you: it does not matter. Not a single person in the last four years has asked me my CBSE marks, or even my rank in the medical entrance test. The thing about the Indian education system is that it’s a great equaliser in a beautiful, fucked up way. Simply because of our population structure and size, there is intense competition to get in. But once you’re in a professional college, a topper and a passer are equally unequipped to deal with actual life. What matters is your work ethic and your good humour.

So, if you did well in your boards this year: Congratulations. Enjoy the moment. Just remember that you WILL NOT get these kinds of marks in professional college. Ever.

If you thought you did well when the results first came out but now too many relatives have asked you “Aga marka kuthe gele? Ajun ka nahi milale? (Why didn’t you get more?)”: Hang in there. You’ll be fine. Also, sometimes, if your parents think you could’ve done better, it’s because of their belief in your potential, not their disappointment in your reality.

If you haven’t done as well as you’d hoped: Calm down. I know it sounds like a cliche, but it’s not the end of the world. I know you don’t feel like facing their disappointed faces, their tears. I’ve been there. But please understand that there’s more to life than marks. Please understand that your parents understand that too. A failure is an amazing learning opportunity. Use it as such. If you’re worried about disappointing your parents, remember that a rash decision is going to sadden them a hundred times more than bad marks. Everyone in the world continues to disappoint their parents much beyond high school. And your parents will still love you after every let-down.

If you’re a parent with a child in any of the above categories: Please make sure that your child feels loved at this point. I know that as Indian parent, you have trouble with differentiating between negative reinforcement and punishment; your child is feeling like shit anyway, they don’t need more reasons to be stressed. Help them look at themselves and the future in a better, more productive light. Your child is old enough to go out in the big outside world, but not old enough to deal with it. I know that the last few years have been teenage hell for you, but your child is more like you than you or the child knows. Please, be a friend. Be a parent.

Nobody loses all the time.

Posted in India, Life

What have doctors done to deserve this?

I have been in medical school for four years now. Before this month, I’d heard of a few cases of doctors getting beat up by patients’ relatives. It’s one of the hazards of working in a government hospital in India. Unfortunately, medical students are not properly taught how to break bad news to patients and their relatives; some doctors tend to be quite rude and insensitive.  We should remember that while sickness and death are part of our job, it is a catastrophic event for the patient’s family. Even when someone dies of a longstanding illness, the doctor must provide support and space for the relatives to mourn.

There is a flip side to this, of course. In a government hospital, there is a near constant system breakdown. The main job of an intern is to hoard as many syringes, vials, catheters and IV sets as they can away from other interns so that they can provide these to their own patients. There is never enough infrastructure to accommodate the patient load, and doctors are always trying to do the best with what they have. Patients are often accompanied by ten or more relatives, each one more aggressive than the other. If one of them has even the slightest connection to a local political goon, you’re done for. They’ll be loud, rowdy and demanding. Doctors tend to divide resources, when they are limited, according to which patient needs them most, not which patient is well-connected. This, obviously, causes some angst and friction.

Residents, I think, have the worst of the lot. They have the longest hours and the most direct accountability to the patients. They’re poorly compensated and insulted both by the patients and by their higher ups. Most residents I meet day to day can seldom tell when or what they ate last. It’s a terrible way to spend your twenties; most of their friends in other professions are already well-settled, rich and independent. Residents, however, see their residency as paying their dues and are resigned to having stability only in their mid-thirties.

Then, something like this happens.

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This was over a week ago, and the doctor is still in the ICU. Only watch the video accompanying the article if you have the stomach for it. After that incident, the Maharashtra Associaton of Resident Doctors (MARD) called for a strike. The High Court deemed the strike illegal, and it was called off. In the past week, there have been seven instances of doctors getting manhandled by patients’ relatives. Residents have had enough. 60 percent of the state’s residents are on casual leave till they feel safe to work again. I have to remind you, these are struggling people who need the money they get when they work, and yet they are choosing not to. Today, the High Court called the mass bunk unethical, saying that “It is a shame on the profession; if doctors go on strike like factory men, then they are unfit to be doctors…what doctors will do, if people thrash them in their rooms” (sic). Basic and emergency services in most hospitals are now being conducted by interns and consultants. Candle marches occur every day. My Facebook feed is filled with post after post asking laymen to understand why residents want better security. But all this is happening within the medical fraternity bubble. I don’t see this having any lasting effects apart from losing, even more, the goodwill that doctors have in society.

Most people I know, and me, have taken up this profession because we want to serve and we want to heal. Please let us do that without having to fear for our lives and health.

UPDATE (23 March 01:02 IST)The Maharashtra government has threatened residents with the loss of 6 months salary if they continue the strike. The residents are not backing down. The Indian Medical Association has called for a strike of 40,000 doctors until the demands are met. Only emergency services will be functional. The interns in my college have gone on strike as well for support. God help us all.

 

 

Posted in India

Being Alone.

Being alone in India is, I imagine, very different from living alone in the US or the UK. In a country of 1.2 billion people, you’re never really alone. You’re expected to talk to your neighbours, your colleagues, your parents and the family friends that live just three train stops away from you fairly regularly. Privacy comes second to family, and social constructs trump respect for boundaries.

I sound ungrateful. I’m really not. India’s social culture prevents a lot of mental health issues that plague Western societies. It is easier to meet people and make friends in India than anywhere else. On the flip side, this also means that mental health issues go unobserved and undiagnosed for a dangerously long time.

Loneliness is in the mind. It rarely depends on how many people you actually meet. You can be lonely in the middle of a crowd, and socially fulfilled completely alone. What matters most is whether you understand that you need help and whether you can get the help that you need.

I was privileged to be a part of a mental health study recently. As I was researching for the project, I realised that there is hardly any work done on mental health in India. There are no statistics. Young professionals cannot allow themselves to seek help, and students who approach their parents are mostly ridiculed, because people don’t think that mental problems exist.

This year has been assigned to combat depression by the WHO. For my part, I’ll be talking to as many people as I can to remove the stigma of approaching a professional. Being more social and talking to more people does not combat loneliness. Pushing it under the carpet does not cure depression.

Posted in India

This is fine.

The year 2016 has been a year of social and political upheaval. France saw the rise of the hard-hard left, Britain voted to leave the European Union, and the United States of America saw fit to elect an unqualified white man over an overqualified white woman as President. Words such as ‘post-truth’, ‘alternative facts’, ‘protectionism’ and ‘alt-right’ made an impact not only in America but in Brexit and across the world. ‘Politically correct’ is now something to look down upon, and all the rules are out the window.

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It is important to remember that global social and political events affect us too. Donald Trump may not be your president, but right-wing parties in your city still see him as an inspiration. Your country may not have left the EU, but it still feels the ripples of separatism. When the most powerful man in the world talks about grabbing pussies with nonchalance, – and gets away with it- do you think it will go unnoticed by perverts in the streets?

2016 has proven that we were mistaken about our society. Elements that seemed to be non-existent had just been hidden from sight. For whatever reason, people prefer to trust their emotions over expert judgment while making national decisions. There are lessons to be learned here and actions that need to be taken.

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Indians have the advantage of a less divisive government; more focused on economic development than any social agenda. Yet it is still a right-wing party, and people in positions of relative privilege have a moral obligation to think about- and act for- people without that privilege.

People don’t notice discrimination unless they lose by it. Start looking for it. Be informed; be considerate. Be aggressively nicer, because some battles are fought with non-indulgence.  In a world ruled by divisive forces, unity is our only hope – regardless of your political views or lack thereof.

Posted in India

We had our Revolution in 1947. When’s our Renaissance?

India is now just short of 70 years old. Actually, to paraphrase our Prime Minister, post Colonial India is now almost 70 years old; Indian history goes thousands of years back.

Why then, do we still have so many basic problems to deal with? Poverty, hunger, pollution, scarcity, overcrowding, droughts, floods, riots, rapes, yes, and rage.  So much anger. Anger on the roads. Anger at the government. Anger at your neighbours and your country’s neighbours. Anger at someone who said something, who showed something, who wrote something. Why are Indians so angry?

In my humble opinion, it’s because we are unsure of our place in this world. India is a mixture of diverse cultures, languages and climates, with no unifying factor apart from the conviction that we are one nation and one country. The fact that we fought together against the British is what tied together many kingdoms into one India. This brought with it political upheaval, but we never really self-actualised as a country. Europe began truly developing after the Industrial Revolution, and along with it came the Renaissance. We’ve had our Independence Revolution of sorts, but we never really got the chance to have our own Renaissance. From the 15th of August, 1947, after a thousand years of being ruled over, we were expected to be a new-born nation of a billion different people and figure out how to be one on the way.

We’ve figured out quite a bit, in 70 years. I don’t think we’ll ever have a Renaissance, per say. In this beautiful country of paradoxes, it’s just not feasible. No, we’ll have to figure it out bit by bit. Better ourselves bit by bit. We need to live our days better, push our limits, try a little more to see things from the other person’s perspective. The more we find out who we are as a country, the less angry we will become. Because, in my opinion, we’re angry more at ourselves than anyone else.

UPDATE: I just saw this video. It’s AMAZING.

 

Posted in Food, India, Life, Me and moi, Mumbai

Monsoons in Mumbai: There is no other heaven.

I always read about how ‘it was a lovely, sunny day’ and ‘her smile was as sunny as a summer afternoon’ like sunny is somehow equal to happiness. I can see why people from temperate countries find the sun something to be happy about. Sometimes, as is the traditional Indian way, people from here like using the phrase too just because Westerners use it. I promise you, however, in India –especially for me– happiness is an overcast sky, lots of wind, and rain.

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Marine Drive when it’s heaven

 

I have always found extreme heat more intolerable than extreme cold. I know some of my friends disagree, but especially after my time in Kota, me and my extremely photosensitive skin try and stay away from direct sunlight. You can imagine then, the monsoon season is an absolute godsend for me.

How could I not love it? Harsh, sweltering days where you can’t escape sweat even in the shower are replaced by bright grey mornings and windy afternoons. The usually brown and dry Sahyadri mountains (while beautiful even then) are transformed into a million shades of green that will take your breath away. The sky is dynamic, changing from clear to cloudy in seconds. A mild drizzle could change into a thunderous cloudburst in seconds, and it feels like it will never end but then vanishes instantly like it never happened.

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Sahyadri when it’s heaven

 

Oh, and the food! Anyone who hasn’t had kanda bhaji and chai in the rain is missing something in life. Or bhutta with lemon and chilli, standing under an umbrella, bought from a gadi wala on the street corner.

I know, I know, I’m lucky that I live in a hostel five minutes away from my place of study and work. I don’t have to commute, and commuting in the monsoon is not fun because every train is always late. However, I counter with this- commuting in the summer is even less fun. You’re drenched in sweat till you reach your destination, and it’s not always just your own sweat. I will say no more.