Saturday, April 28, 2007

A Catalogue of Disasters: Part Two

The Bare Bones

March: Two car accidents. No one hurt. Lots of paper work.

April, the story until now: Mother has unspecified, unbearable pains in either hand and both legs, with no clear reason why or how it happens. Doctors baffled. Prescribe painkillers. One night, the pain becomes intense, movement impossible. Mother rushed to hospital in the middle of the night (these things alwys happen in the m iddle of the night). More tests, more painkillers and injections.

In short, she has some form of osteoporosis.

More paper work has ensued.

And Father has fallen ill.

It's vacation time, with one very bored kid on my hands, and the temperature in the 40s (in degree centigrade) in the shade.

The Lesson

On the one hand, I'm tempted to look for a malevolent fate, the hand of god guiding our lives until we learn the lessons that have been set out for us in this life, blah blah blah.

On the other, I'd like to count blessings by thinking of those more unfortunate than us, were it not that this sounds remarkably like schadenfreude.

So we endure.

Regular blogging, such as it is, has officially resumed.

Thanks to those who stuck around and visited despite no posts for so long; to those who came searching for 'men in panties' and instead had to settle for Berger. And to those who have the Spaniard on feedreaders.

*bows and wipes off a grateful tear*

'Which memories are dispensable?'

Riverbend has decided to leave Iraq.

So we've been busy. Busy trying to decide what part of our lives to leave behind. Which memories are dispensable? We, like many Iraqis, are not the classic refugees- the ones with only the clothes on their backs and no choice. We are choosing to leave because the other option is simply a continuation of what has been one long nightmare- stay and wait and try to survive.

On the one hand, I know that leaving the country and starting a new life somewhere else- as yet unknown- is such a huge thing that it should dwarf every trivial concern. The funny thing is that it’s the trivial that seems to occupy our lives. We discuss whether to take photo albums or leave them behind. Can I bring along a stuffed animal I've had since the age of four? Is there room for E.'s guitar? What clothes do we take? Summer clothes? The winter clothes too? What about my books? What about the CDs, the baby pictures?

The problem is that we don't even know if we'll ever see this stuff again. We don't know if whatever we leave, including the house, will be available when and if we come back. There are moments when the injustice of having to leave your country, simply because an imbecile got it into his head to invade it, is overwhelming. It is unfair that in order to survive and live normally, we have to leave our home and what remains of family and friends… And to what?

The rest here

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Rukavat Ke Liye Khed Hai

But have to report further absence. Hospital trips happening and therefore.

Await A Catalogue of Disasters Part Deux when I return.

In the meanwhile, apologies.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


expect a little silence here for a bit...

no special reason. lethargy, ennui and laziness ought to cover it.

or, saying i won't post might be just what's needed for several ideas to jostle for space.

let's hope so.

or not.


Monday, April 16, 2007

The Male Gaze and Mills and Boons

Via Blogbharti this excellent web-essay on the representation of women in magazines. An important question the essay asks is, if the images of women are intended to be 'consumed' why is it that these images appear in women's magazines which, presumably, the men don't read? In other words, why would other women want to see women being objectified in this way?

It says,

When women look at these ads, they are encouraged to see themselves as a man might see them. Such ads, as Paul Messaris puts it, "appear to imply a male point of view, even though the intended viewer is often a woman. So the women who look at these ads are being invited to identify both with the person being viewed and with an implicit, opposite-sex viewer."

I've often found this happening when I read the sex scenes in Mills and Boons (yeah, they have them; are you surprised?). The woman is always described as if she is being looked at by the man. Often, the most detailed descriptions of the woman happen when she has just met the Hero.

If one were to put it in cinematic terms, this would be an over-the-shoulder shot, where the codes of seeing are defined by the presence of the male in the frame.

Please to note the double gaze-making in the folowing scene from Love In The First Degree by Patricia Coughlin (admittedly, this is a Silhouette Sensation, and of a slightly more purple hue than M&Bs)

"Good. Then come here." He wound her nightgown around his hand to draw her closer, then pulled it from her grasp and tossed it aside. "You won't be needing that tonight."

Before Claire could react, he spun her around and backed her up against the wall opposite the closet. When he leaned into her she could sense the night's accumulation of fear and frustration simmering just beneath the surface of his desire, and how hard he was fighting for control.

The mirrored closet doors reflected the image of her slender frame pressed tightly to his broader, rangier body. She was stunned by the sight of them together, Luke looming over her, wearing a black t-shirt and faded jeans, while she was barely covered by the brightly flowered demi-bra and panties. The contrast was wildly erotic.

The rest of it is progressively more nauseating, but the important point here is that the woman in a cheap romance often sees herself through the eyes of the man. In fact, any sex that takes place is more a question of what is done to her, than what two people engage in mutually. Long descriptions of the woman's anatomy are usual. I had always found this more than a little puzzling, back in them days. Who wants to know, I used to think. But it is in precisely this filtering of desire through what supposedly turns a man on, in these books, that the erotic - such as it is - lies.

Or so we've been lead to believe, through not only these books, but also through advertising and other media.

Please read John Berger's Ways of Seeing.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Medical Lessons from the Death of Revathy Gopal

This is an article that Revathy's husband, Gopal, wrote recently. The article appeared in HT Cafe on 10 April, and also in Chowk.

Revathy passed away on the 7th of March.

The article is not going to bring Revathy back; people might not learn from their experience (people usually never do, from others' lives); but it puts the matter out in the open and that is important.

No matter how educated we are, (or how much we think education has to do with avoiding such catastrophes) when illness comes, we see doctors as shamans and we put our faith in them in an old-fashioned way. Any clarity we have about their fallibility is only in hindsight.

Someone somewhere might read an article like this one and ask for a second opinion; might insist on a full body scan; might ask more questions about injections of monoclonal antibodies; might talk to other patients and see how their experiences might help. At least, I hope so.


by V.S.Gopalakrishnan

That Revathy Gopal, Bombay-based poet, writer and columnist, passed away on 7 March 2007, after a brave battle with cancer, has already been covered in tribute-rendering reports and articles in print and elsewhere. She was my wife and life partner for 38 years, and died untimely at 59 years of age. The story of her illness has lessons for everybody who values his or her own life and others' lives, by spreading awareness in the matter.

She was imbued with very good health at all times that lent strength to her beautiful and attractive appearance. Like any widely read person, she was attentive about health and nutrition and was familiar with modern-day diseases and afflictions and preventive practices.

It was in April 2006 that she, during self-examination, suspected a lump on her left breast. She quickly underwent a mammography which confirmed her suspicions. One of the prominent hospitals in Bombay was immediately contacted. A top breast surgeon - let us call him Dr.X - came on the scene and within a week the small cancerous lump was removed. The lump was less than a centimetre in dimension. An
adjoining lymph node, under the arm-pit, was also removed as a precautionary step. The breast-surgeon assured us that that was all and there was nothing more to worry. Some radiation was prescribed. A tablet was to be taken daily that would prevent oestrogen formation in the body. So far so good.

Later in May 2006, Revathy underwent an ultrasound procedure for abdomen and pelvis as she was 'spotting'. This was at another hospital and the report showed unusual endometrial thickness of the uterus. Armed with this report, we met the breast-surgeon who did the lumpectomy, as a first step. The mortal mistake he made was that he did not refer the matter to a gynaec-surgeon in the next cabin. On the otherhand he assured Revathy that the unusual endometrial thickness must be due to oestrogen deposit and could vanish soon due to the post-lumpectomy non-oestrogen forming pill prescribed and being taken by her already.

That was a welcome assurance for Revathy. She had planned a trip to England in July to see her son, over three weeks. Could she go, she asked the said Doctor X, in keen anticipation. Yes, indeed, was what the doctor said. This pleased Revathy immensely. The doctor said that after her return from England she could have another look at her uterus. He further said that even if something wrong turned out with the uterus, that would not be life threatening.

Imagine a breast-surgeon of great eminence assuming the mantle of a gynaec-surgeon! Sure enough my wife Revathy went to England, had a great time, and returned by mid-August by which time spotting had turned into bleeding. A fresh ultra-sound was done from a nearby place and the report showed that the condition of the uterus was much worse. The original unusual thickness f the endometrium detected in May had doubled in thickness by mid-August.

So, we again, as a first step, rushed to Dr.X, the eminent breast specialist. Seeing this report he got a real shock. He led Revathy at once to a gynaec-surgeon in the next cabin for the first time for further procedures. We had lost two precious months in this process!

After a Dilatation and Curettage procedure, it was revealed in the biopsy that there was carcinoma of the uterus. Post-procedure, Revathy was prescribed anti-biotics and pain-killer for five days. The pain-killer cum anti-inflammatory was 'combiflam', taken three times a day. After the fourth day, Revathy developed severe drug-induced gastritis said to be thanks to combiflam, that lasted a month during which time she could hardly eat. So, my wife lost one more month before she could undergo a CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis.

The CT scan (in the latter part of September) revealed extensive metastasis (secondary disease of cancer) in the abdomen, pelvis and thorax areas. There was now no point in removing the uterus. The whole system had to be treated. Hence, chemotherapy treatment to be done intravenously in six cycles, was immediately commenced by a very competent oncologist. The sixth cycle ended in mid-January of 2007. Revathy had hardly any side- effects barring loss of hair and some loss of weight. We thought that she had survived and the worst was over.

That was not to be. She developed some pain on the back. An MRI of the spine was then done. (Could it not have been done long ago as a part of a thorough diagnostic assessment?) It was found that four vertebrae showed lesions. Then followed radiation of the vertebrae. A little later Revathy suddenly found her left leg going limp. Then followed an MRI scan of the brain. That showed two secondaries in the right section of the brain. (When the world-famous cycling champion Lance Armstrong was detected with testicular cancer in the USA, every part of his body was scanned at once including the brain which showed two secondaries that were surgically removed right away and as luck would have it, they were found to be necrotic, meaning already dead !). Revathy's MRI scan showed two secondaries in the right lobe. Then further complications followed in her case and she passed away peacefully and painlessly in that famous hospital on 7 March 2007.

Another interesting part of this tragedy is that the oncologist at no time suggested to me on his own the use of monoclonal antibodies (MAB) which are part of the recent medical developments and which attack the cancerous cells only and do not harm the normal cells. MAB is very expensive with one injection priced at a lakh of rupees. The oncologist perhaps presumes that if you are not an Ambani, you cannot afford a course of four MAB injections. Due to my extensive readings, it was I who suggested to him sometime in January 2007 or so about the administration of MAB to Revathy. It was ultimately done on 3 March, just four days before she passed away!

I do not intend to point my fingers now at any of these eminent doctors. I am just raising some issues so that the readers are enlightened and could save their lives and others' lives. The issues that arise from Revathy's case are as follows:

1. Can a breast specialist, however eminent, take over the role of a gynaec specialist? Revathy may not have had the secondaries if those two months had not been lost. I would now recommend to the readers the importance of a second opinion.

2. Are drugs like combiflam which many people do not tolerate require to be prescribed for our patients? Revathy lost a month before her CT scan due to drug-induced severe gastritis.

3. Why do our doctors go for scanning piece-meal depending on any symptoms of the patients which can occur possibly very late? In the USA they do scanning head to foot at one go right at the beginning.

4. Why did not the oncologist suggest treatment with monoclonal antibodies (possibly together with chemos) at the beginning of the treatment? This could have been a surer way of saving a life.

Finally I have taken consolation in the theory of karma. The only thing is that the erring doctors' karma apparently sealed Revathy's fate.

RIP Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut was 84 when he died. Which is a ripe old age to die and all, but is it just my imagination or are lots of people dying this year?

Here's the NYT obit.


Monday, April 09, 2007


Sarted on a rant about Iranian cinema in general and Mama's Guests in particular, when I found it was getting very long so I've put it away for a bit (sorry, Shweta).

Instead, here's a poem (mine, I feel compelled to add).


What I love about ice creams is they mean summer.
What I hate about cold is its teeth.
What I love about hammers is the smell of handles.
What I hate about trains is that they arrive.
What I love about chairs is the dreams I have in them.
What I hate about sleeping is waking up.
What I love about floors is that they love feet.
What I hate about rainbows is their technicolour.
What I love about objects is their predictability.
What I hate about objects is there are too many of them.
What I love about rainbows is you sometimes see their double.
What I hate about floors is they sometimes give way.
What I love about sleeping is it’s a triumph of the will.
What I hate about chairs is their deception.
What I love about trains is their snakiness.
What I hate about hammers is the way they’ve stayed the same.
What I love about cold is my breath speaks for me.
What I hate about ice creams is their impermanence.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Unni at Prasad Labs Tomorrow

Murali Nair, award winning director of films such as Maranasimhasanam, (and a friend, what would be the point of not crowing a little), will be screening his latest film, Unni, at the Prasad Labs Preview theatre tomorrow.

That's, Saturday, 7th April, at 6.30 pm, Prasad Preview Labs, Road No. 2 Banjara Hills, Hyderabad.

The film was screened at the Hyderabad International Film Festival, but I skipped it then becauseI knew there's be this screening.

Nothing had better happen between now and then so I miss the screening. *shaking fist at malign forces that have it in for Space Bar and film screenings, and muttering dark threats that are nearly inaudible, just in case*

The Sky Singer

Mamang Dai, one of my favourite poets writing in English today. Often deceptively serene, Dai uses the natural in unusual ways, as the poem, 'Sky Song' demonstrates. Reproduced here with her permission.

Sky Song

The evening is the greatest medicine maker
testing the symptoms
of breath and demise,
without appointment
writing prescriptions
In the changing script
of a cloud's wishbone rib,
in the expanding body of the sky.

We left the tall trees standing.
We left the children playing.
We left the women talking
and men were predicting
good harvests or bad,
that winged summer we left,
racing with the leopards of morning.

I do not know how we bore the years.
By ancient, arched gates
I thought I saw you waving,
in greeting or farewell, I could not tell;
when summer changed hands again
only the eastern sky remained;
One morning, flowering peoniess
welled my heart with regret.

Summer's bitter pill was a portion of sky
like a bird's wing, altering design.
A race of fireflies bargaining with the night.

Attachment is a gift of time, I know,
the evening's potion provides
heaven's alchemy in chromosomes of light,
lighting cloud fires
in thumbprints of the sky.

There's comfort in these words, but not an easy one. More of Mamang Dai's poems here, here and here.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Aconite (Monkshood)

How many times has it happened that you've learnt a new word, and suddenly you see it used everywhere?

Last night, I was reading out Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone to my son. He was enraptured, enthralled and unwilling to go to sleep at the end of the days' instalment (which, surely, is the point of a bedtime story. Note to self: find something soporific to read out tomorrow. Like a math textbook or something), so I flipped through the book while he put his head on my shoulder and read silently to himself until he fell asleep.

Flipping through the pages, I happened to stop at Harry's first Potions class. As every HP fan knows, Potions are always done with the terribly Slytherins, in the cold, dark dungeons of Hogwarts, and the Potions Master is, of course, Snape. I love him. He is sinister and sarcastic and gets all the cool lines. So I stopped to read. Here's what I found:

"You are here to learn the subtle science and exact art of potion-making," he began. He spoke in barely more than a whisper, but they caught every word - like Professor McGonagall, Snape had the gift of keeping a class silent without effort. "As there is little foolish wand-waving here, many of you will hardly believe this si magic. I don't expect you will really understand the beauty of the softly simmering cauldron with its shimmering fumes, the delicate power of liquids that creep through human veins, bewitching the mind, ensnaring the sneses... I can teach youhow to bottle fame, brew glory, even stopper death - if you aren't as big a bunch of dunderheads as I usually have to teach."

More silence followed this little speech. Harry and Ron exchanged looks with raised eyebrows. Hermione Granger was on the edge of her seat and looked desperate to start proving that she wasn't a dunderhead.

"Potter!" said Snape suddenly. "What would I get if I added powdered root of asphodel to an infusion of wormwood?"

Powdered root of what to an infusion of what? Harry glanced at Ron, who looked as stumped as he was; Hermione's hand had shot into the air.

"I don't know, sir," said Harry.

Snape's lips curled into a sneer.

"Tut, tut - fame clearly isn't everything."

He ignored Hermione's hand.

"Let's try again. Potter, where would you look if I told you to find me a bezoar?"

(and so on for a bit)

Snape was still ignoring Hermione's quivering hand.

"What is the difference, Potter, between monkshood and wolfsbane?"

At this, Hermione stood up, her hands stretching towards the dungeon ceiling.

"I don't know, " said Harry quietly. "I think Hermione does, though, why don't you try her?"

A few people laughed; Harry caught Seamus's eye and Seamus winked. Snape, however, was not pleased.

"Sit down," he snapped at Hermione. "For your information, Potter, asphodel and wormwood make a sleeping potion so powerful it is known as the Draught of Living Death. A bezoar is a stone taken from the stomach of a goat and it will save you from most poisons. As for monkshood and wolfsbane, they are the same plant, whihc also goes by the name of aconite. Well? Why aren't you all copying that down?"

The root of the Aconite is the most poisonous, and the plant is commonly to be found in the "Lower mountain slopes of North portion of Eastern Hemisphere. (sic) From Himalayas through Europe to Great Britain." More about the poison here.

Pity Bob Woolmer didn't go to Hogwarts, or have a bezoar handy.