Tuesday, December 30, 2014

"X" is for the "X-Factor"

Now this is a tough word to write about. There are very few words that start with this letter. So here's a little something about the "X-Factor".

What is  the "X-Factor"? Do you have it? It's defined as a character trait that sets someone apart from most people, and is also referred to sometimes as the "It-Factor". A reputed university in the United Kingdom conducted a research project on this subject and came up with a few essential characteristics that are a part of the personality of people, who supposedly had the "It or X-Factor" ---

Paying Attention

  These folks have a singular ability to make you feel as though you are the most important person in the world. We live in a world of constant distractions. These folks are not checking their i-phones or watching TV while they are talking to you. And we all like people who show interest in us.

Sense of Humor

  A person who smiles and can make you laugh is instantly likable. Contact with a person who is relaxed and cool, makes you feel the same way.

Intensity & Conviction

  People with the "X-Factor" are not wishy-washy. They hold an inherent conviction in their beliefs and are not apologetic about the same. Their positions don't vacillate according to the crowd they are in. This is a sign of quiet strength - an incredibly appealing trait.

Positive Energy

  You feel energized when you have a conversation with people who have the "It-Factor". They exude a positive vibe.

The same study also gave some character pointers that definitely ruled out the possibility of possessing the "X-Factor" ---

  --"Psychic Vampires!" -- you feel emotionally drained after talking to these people.

  --People constantly craving attention. Everything is always about them!
  --People with conveniently flexible principles
  --People who don't live up to their word.

"The X-Factor is a sparkle in people that money can't buy. It's an invisible energy with visible effects." ~ Anonymous


Saturday, December 13, 2014

"W" is for our obsession with "Waist-lines" !!

"I need to get my waist down by at least 3-4 inches, Doc. I'm going to my Silver Jubilee High School Reunion in India." The young looking woman was wringing her hands. She seemed distraught.
"When are you leaving for India?" I asked.
"In 2 months," she replied. "You see Doc, I haven't seen most of them since I graduated high school. That was 25 years ago. And I won't see them probably for another 25. I really need to lose some weight."
"You look good though," I said gently. "Why are you so bothered about folks you haven't seen in 25 years and like you said, won't see them again for another 25?"
"All the more reason Doc, they will carry that impression for the rest of their lives!" She said, throwing up her hands.
"So how does that matter....." I started, but then stopped. She had a her own point of view. It was not my place to lecture her. "Diet and exercise. That's the only way you can lose inches from your waist. But let me say this again, you look great the way you are."
"But how about the waist melter and fat burn tablets? Do those pills help?" she asked.
"If you get those pills, the only thing you help is the economy, not yourself," I replied.

We are a culture obsessed with being thin. Being fit does not mean being skinny. Maybe we should always eat healthy and exercise, as a routine and not just before special occasions. Especially during the holidays, people are so cautious about what they eat between Thanksgiving and New Year. Maybe we should be careful of what and how we eat between New Year and Thanksgiving.  As some wise person said - "Dieting is the penalty we pay for exceeding the feed limit."

Most of us are always trying to lose weight, but if we don't eat right, weight will always keep finding us, and generally around the waist. And its tougher to lose weight when we grow in years, because as time passes, our body and our fat become real good friends!

Eating healthy and dieting are two different things. Eating healthy should be a habit. Dieting is a fad that generally does not last too long. The first thing most people lose on a diet is their sense of humor, and worse, sometimes their temper.

I know plenty of people who are not thin, are not skinny, but look fabulous as a total person. Physical attributes are just a part of our appearance. The overall personality includes the vibe that we exude, our intellect, our sense of humor and our disposition, among many other things.

"My doctor told me to stop having intimate dinners for four. Unless there are three other people." ~ Orson Welles 


Sunday, November 30, 2014

"V" is for "Venting....!"

"I have a severe headache, a back ache and a my stomach really hurts," a young woman complained to me in my office a few weeks ago.
"How long have you had all this?" I asked.
"About 2 weeks, it all started together," she replied.
"Any fever or chills?" I asked. 
"No fever or chills." 
"Anything happened two weeks ago..? Did you eat something that you are not used to? Any stressful situation?" I was doing the physical exam while I talked. Her exam was essentially normal.
"Well... now that you mention it. I did break up with my boyfriend about that time. And there's a lot of stress at work. You think that might have something to do with my illness?" she asked. 
"It might," I said, speaking slowly. "And I don't think this is an illness." Her symptoms made sense now.
"You know... my break up was coming for a while. We had been together for 3 years. But we were just not right for each other... the laughter was not there anymore....." And she went on and on ....and on.
I just sat back and listened. I made appropriate gestures & noises in between. After about 15 minutes, the young woman stopped.
"You haven't talked about this to anybody before, have you?" I asked.
"No, I haven't. I am sorry I took so much of your time," she said. She seemed more relaxed now.
"No worries, I have all day. Are you feeling better now?" 
The young lady took a deep breath. "I really am feeling better." And for the first time, she smiled.

This young lady just needed to vent. And off and on in our lives, we all need to do the same. But there is always some hesitation in putting out our core inner feelings in front of just anybody. During the rough times in our lives, through numerous situations, a few (very few!) individuals will emerge who stood by us through those difficult circumstances, and these are the people we can completely trust. And these folks become our sounding boards and at certain points in our lives, we have a tendency to vent in front of them. 

And now to the other side of the coin-- if somebody comes looking for a shoulder to cry on, that's all we need to give--- just a shoulder. No advice, no judgments.... nothing. Just be a good listener, and let that person vent. 

There is no harm in venting when stress reaches a certain point . 

"And why is there is so much stress in our lives? Because most of us focus too much on improving our lifestyle rather than our life." ~ unknown


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"U" is for having the courage to be "Unique"

Every individual is unique. All of us have our own stories, our own life experiences. And these experiences and events mold our character and the unique being that is an individual. And if we think of it, it's pretty awesome-- that of all the people who have come and gone on planet Earth, there was no one like you, and there will be none in the future either..... that's some food for thought!

And no one can become exactly like you or me, even if he or she tries. So the corollary is that we are best when we are being our own unique self. So why is it that so many of us will try so hard, to be like someone else? Its generally an exercise in futility, as no one can be like the original!

In today's world of instant gratification, where there is a scramble to reach the top of the social & professional ladder in the shortest time possible, a lot of folks will take shortcuts and step over others to get where they want to go, and will pretend not to have noticed the pain and hurt they caused in doing so. 

At this time, nowhere else in this entire universe are same thoughts going on in any other person's mind and soul, as are going through yours right now. No one can give meaning to your spirit and your character, except you... and you alone. So treasure your uniqueness--- enjoy it, cherish it, enhance it!

And more importantly, share your uniqueness. No one can smile your smile, no one can laugh like you and and no one can speak your words. Don't worry about the jabs that might come from your peers at your openness. Just remember, your true friends are those who like you the way you really are. Friendship is not about finding similarities, it is about respecting differences.

"I am not like most people." ~ Most people 


Friday, October 31, 2014

'T' is for "Trust, Trusting and Trustworthy...."

A few years ago, we helped our daughter move back home from UVA after her semester finished. We parked our cars next to the dorm and started to load up the car. It was a lot of back and forth from the car to the room. And her room being on the fourth floor didn't help! But I noticed something interesting that day. I locked my car every time I would go into the dorm to get more stuff. So did some of the other parents there, but some didn't.

"You don't have to lock the car when you go in, dad," my daughter said to me, when she noticed that.
"But your TV, your laptop is in the car, Neety," I replied.
"Chill, dad. Nobody's going to take anything," she said.
I reluctantly did not lock the car after that. And then I looked around. I noticed something even more interesting. People who looked to be from my kind of background (I mean who grew up in third world countries) were locking their cars. People who seemed to be from here originally, were not locking their cars each time. I know I am making a vast generalization, but that was the trend of about the ten - fifteen cars there at the time. Why was that?

To me the answer was simple. Nobody leaves cars and homes unlocked where I grew up. That's not to say that that we don't have crime here, but there is a big difference. So that has percolated into my personality. Our kids have grown up here, so they are more trusting of people. And when you are more trusting, you also become more trustworthy. And the cycle goes on.

But the opposite is also true. We all get upset if somebody breaks our trust, but what's more upsetting is that we will generally have a tough time trusting that individual again. And this cycle also goes on.

I think the environment we grow up in has a lot to do with how trusting we are. If we are surrounded with a healthy social fabric in our formative years, our character is infused with a trusting nature. In the not so well to do countries, corruption and nepotism are rife. And because of that, people who grew up in those times, trusting does not come easy.

"Trust actions. Life happens at the level of actions and movement, not words or intentions. Trust only actions." ~ Khalil Gibran

P.S - This is a repeat post from a few years ago. It was a very popular post, and for the letter 'T', these words seem appropriate.


Saturday, October 18, 2014

"S" is for being "Simply Sophisticated"

Here's a pre-party conversation between my wife and I, a few weeks ago.
"For the party tonight, wear the black suit with a black shirt," she said.
"Really? That'll make me feel as if I am going to a funeral," I replied. "Can't I just wear jeans?"
She looked heaven-wards, and shook her head. "Jeans? Jeans?! The hosts are very sophisticated people. Please wear the grey suit then."
"I thought these people are simple, down to earth folks," I muttered under my breath.
"Honey, simplicity and sophistication go hand-in-hand," she said.

And she was so right. Simplicity and sophistication do go together. The more I think about this, one cannot exist without the other. What is "Sophisticated"? Am I sophisticated? I really don't know about myself. Individuals who can make that call are the folks I know, colleagues I work with and people I interact with on a day-to-day basis. Here's a catch though, the person who has that opinion better be sophisticated too.

If I am not sophisticated, what will get me to that haloed ground? A certain type of wardrobe, the way I talk, more worldly knowledge, a keen sense of the arts, a specific kind of demeanor....? The list can go on and on. A little bit of everything might be the answer. One can try to ride the road to sophistication on wads of dollar bills, but it's a slippery path, generally with pathetic results.

As Leonardo da Vinci famously quoted -  "Simplicity is the ultimate Sophistication." And the one major step towards a life of simplicity is to learn to let go. Any intelligent egomaniac can make things more complicated and complex. It takes class and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction.

Every section of society, every social circle, sets its own bar regarding the threshold of crossing into their own elite world of sophistication. We are all drawn towards that world instinctively as we grow in years. Consciously trying to act sophisticated never works.

"Sophistication is not how you look in fancy clothes, but how the clothes look on you. Its not how much expensive jewelry you carry on your body, but how you carry yourself. Its not how much money you make, but how humble money has made you." ~anonymous


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"R" is for "Reality & Reality Checks!"

"What do you want for Christmas, Doc?" A patient asked me in my office a while ago.
The question caught me unawares. I was just finishing my consult with this young man.
"What do I want for Christmas?" I asked.
"Yes you, Doc. I want to get you something," he said.
"Oh no ... no ... " I started. And then I suddenly realized something. "It's only July, man! And secondly, I should be way, way down on your list."
"I know, I know.... Actually I am moving to Hollywood next month to be an actor. So when I am famous, I want to thank everybody who was kind to me. And that includes you."
I didn't speak for a moment. And not because I was at a loss of words! I took another look at him. Was this misplaced confidence? Or being very, very optimistic. But I just smiled.
"When you are famous, I'll make sure you get my Christmas list," I said.
This guy needs a reality check, I murmured to myself as he walked away.

Realty and reality check are words we hear a lot. These words are used loosely and often. Yet most of us, on more than a few occasions, will choose to ignore reality. Why? The reason, in my personal opinion, is because most of us, as a human race, are eternal optimists. And sometimes to a point that it's like making plans about what to do with lottery winnings, before even buying the lottery ticket.

More than half of social skirmishes that occur in our social fabric would be avoided if everyone kept their expectations realistic. When family and friends don't meet expectations we have of them, hurt and anger ensues. Keeping expectations from others low and real, avoids a lot of heart burn.

Here's a reality check --No matter how much some people pamper you,  if you were happier before they came into your life, excuse yourself, keep a respectful distance, and regain your happiness. Insincere and negative people need drama like oxygen -- be sincere, stay positive and take their breath away!

Another reality check -- Most of us believe that everything happens for a reason, but sometimes the reason is that we were not smart and made a bad decision. (Tough to swallow, but true!)

Here's one more reality check, courtesy a dear friend (who incidentally shares the same initials as me)-- You order pizza, its delivered in a SQUARE box, you open the box and see a ROUND sumptuous pizza, and when you finally get a piece to eat, its a TRIANGLE! Extrapolating this to life -- Never succumb to appearances, get to know people around you first, and then after the superficial glitz unravels, that's when you really know them!

Final reality check, relative to time --

"One minute can be too long or too short -- depends on which side of the bathroom door you are on!" ~ Bill Maher


Friday, September 26, 2014

"Q" is for 'Quality Vs Quantity'

"I don't want to see the specialist," my 72-year old patient said.
"I really think you should. It would help," I said.
"So tell me my diagnosis again," he said.
I hesitated. I knew where this was going.
"You have Cancer of the lungs with possible spread to the liver," I said slowly.
"So what stage is it?" he persisted.
"Staging is done after biopsies and further scans. But it has spread beyond the primary organ," I replied.
"So what can the oncologist do for me? Prolong my life? Be truthful, I have known you for a long time Doc," he said. His smile blunted the seriousness of the situation.
"There's a lot they can do these days. They can definitely add time," I said.
"But at what cost? Add some miserable, painful months versus less time, but fulfilling and with happier moments?"
"It's not always like that. You should consult this specialist and have this conversation there," I said.
"Quality over quantity, Doc. Always quality over quantity," he repeated.

And as it happens so many times, there are certain words that stick with me. My patients, my friends, my acquaintances often inspire me unknowingly. They will do or say something that will touch me. Extrapolate these words to life. Take a work place. Google is a prime example. Their offices in Northern California encourage a relaxed workplace. Its not the amount of time you spend in the office, its how you spend it. They have relaxation sessions, sleep pods, congenial atmosphere, in house gym, informal attire among many other perks. 

Our friends, family and acquaintances number in the hundreds. But on how many can you rely on? The real test of reliability is in real situations. Depth of friendship does not depend on the length of time you know the person. As always, it is the quality over quantity. As we grow in years, most people will realize that it is less important to have more friends, and more important to have a few, but real friends. 

As we go through life with our peers, we bond and build relationships. People who understand that it is okay to grow separately, without growing apart, will have life long, quality relationships. We all have a lot of friends and family who we party with, but we all also know in our hearts, that come crunch time, whom are we going to call.

"When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down "Happy." They told me I didn't understand the assignment. I told them they didn't understand life." ~ John Lennon


Sunday, September 14, 2014

"P" is for 'Promises.... kept & broken!'

"I promise to bring you the moon..."
"Yes....And I'll pluck out stars and put them on your feet......"
"Aww....so sweet...!"

Remember these kind of conversations? Most of them, almost exclusively, occur before marriage. Its the romantically involved, love- struck couples, who promise each other everything under the sun. But I haven't heard any spouse hold the other to that promise. Ever heard "Where's my moon you promised?!"

Politicians are another story. They make promises, realistic ones, but nobody is surprised when they consistently break those promises. And as a result, they are not held in high esteem.. These are individuals, for the most part, with a questionable characters.

Now coming to most of us. How much does your "Word" matter? For people who believe in themselves, who have self-respect, it matters a lot. In fact, to the extent that some people would put themselves at a disadvantage, suffer a financial loss, but still go through with a project or proposition, just because they made a promise or gave their word. History is replete with examples of wars, coronations, assassinations --- all because, someone, somewhere made a promise.

What is a promise? The dictionary definition of  'Promise' as a verb --

 "assure someone that one will definitely do, give, or arrange something; undertake or declare that something will happen."

Not all promises should be taken seriously. Especially those made after a few drinks-- that is just the alcohol speaking! These promises, when made, should elicit a special kind of response -- a polite nod, a gentle smile and wash it down your gut with the next drink.

On the other hand, people of character generally will hold true to their word. Promises from such people are far and few, but you can bank on them like gold.

And here is one promise that all men will keep for sure -
"Can I borrow a kiss? I promise to give it back!"

This is a quote from the now PM of India, when asked by a reporter on the promises he was making on the campaign trail ---

"The easiest way to lose your own self-worth, and the respect of your friends and opponents alike, is to break promises you make." ~ Narender Modi


Saturday, September 6, 2014

'O' is for trying not to go "Over the top....!"

"Good morning Doc, I have to get my voice back," the young lady said frantically to me one morning in my office. Her voice was hoarse.
"I'm sure it will get better," I said, "It'll just be 4-5 days."
"Oh no..no.. I have to speak at my daughter's graduation this Saturday. And that's just 3 days away," she said. She really looked worried now. 
I glanced at her again. "Your daughter is graduating?" I asked, just to be sure. She sure looked young.
"Yeah doc... and I have to speak in front of 150 people..."
"I can understand that. We can give you a small dose of steroids to hasten the recovery," I said. And then I looked at her chart and saw that she was 32 years old.
"I need your correct date of birth," I said to her. "My staff made a mistake -- I have you as 32 years old." I was apologetic.
"I am 32 years old," she said. "Do I look older?" she had a painful look on her face.
"No.... not at all..." Now I was really confused. Could be an adopted child, I thought. "I am sorry... you just said your daughter was graduating.... and you are 32.... " My voice trailed off.
"Yes, she is.... from Kindergarten," she smiled, understanding the confusion.
"Kindergarten?!...... " I was taken aback.
"Yes, Kindergarten," she repeated.
"You are having a Graduation party for 150 people ... for Kindergarten graduation?" I couldn't hide the incredulity in my voice.
The young lady suddenly had a guilty expression on her face.
"You think that's too much?" she asked.
"No....no.. no.. " I lied through my teeth.

A lot of times in our lives, we have a tendency to go over the top. Sometimes the splurging is due to genuine excitement and happiness. At other times, it is just to outdo somebody else! And being a Panjabi, I should know. Panjabis as a people, as a culture, are well-known to go all the way, and then some more. 

Going over the top is not necessarily about parties and get togethers we host. It's also about our attitude during our day to day interactions. Its about dropping names, being extremely expansive about our worldly knowledge, and showing off in general about wealth, our success etc.  And why do we do all this? To impress folks around us. Generally, people who feel secure about their social status will not show off as they don't feel the need to do that. You should know you made it, when your friends tell their friends, that you are their friend.

There is a fine line between being proud of our accomplishments, and showing off. Making a lot of noise gets the attention, but not always the right kind. Let the success after working hard make the noise. Too many people spend money they have not earned, to buy things they don't want, to impress people they don't like.

"Celebrate your success, take pride in your accomplishments......but don't go over the top. Because sometimes, the fall on the other side is steep and quick." ~ Author unknown


Saturday, August 23, 2014

"N" is for a "Near-Perfect Life....."

"Hi Doc! How are you?" This is an elderly patient, who with his wife, have been patients of mine for the last 15 years. He always has a big smile on his face whenever he comes in and invariably gives me a hug. This day was no different.
"I am okay," I replied, "What's going on with you?"
"I need all my medications refilled," he said. "For myself and my wife."
"But I refilled all your medications just last month," I said, surprised.
"Well, Doc, what can I tell you," he said with a rueful smile. "Our house burnt down last week." There was no emotion in his voice. It was steady.
"What did you say?" I asked, shocked. I didn't believe what he said. And he was still smiling ...!
"Our house burnt down," he said. "Last week. But thank God, we are okay."
"I am so sorry," I said, barely able to say anything. "That's terrible."
"That's okay, Doc. We are fine. Our life was absolutely perfect before this incident. And you know that can't last for long. Nature has to find a balance... It's the law of averages. Something, somewhere in everyone's life, is just not the way we want it to be. Just have to thank God for everything that we do have. So we are looking forward for a new beginning now."
And this person's house burnt down a few days ago!

The rest of the day hung heavy on me. But I was encouraged that these two courageous individuals were taking such a tumultuous event in their lives so well. But the more I thought about what he said, the more it made sense to me. He was right-- plain and simple. In mostly everyone's life, there is a little something that makes life "Near perfect", rather than "Perfect". May it be financial issues, personal battles, job-related tussles, health issues, a so called "friend" who's hobby is to talk behind your back, a jealous paranoid relative, battling the bulge etc. etc....... the list can be never ending. 

Accepting these mild pin-pricks, and moving on, is the essence of life. Situations can improve, money can come and go, but after a certain age, people will not change. Folks are going to do or say what they are wired to do, no matter what.

We all are not clones, and as we move on in years, we will grow closer to some people and grow apart from others. The caveat would be to surround ourselves with people who think like us, make us laugh and essentially share the same values. Maintaining a respectful distance from some is good for one's peace of mind, not because these are not good people, they are just different. You give back exactly what you receive and that can make life "Near-Perfect!" Speaking from my personal experience, we are surrounded by people who give us much more love & respect than we probably deserve, and I only hope we can reciprocate in kind.

"If life gives you a lemon, make lemonade..... if it gives you vodka, invite like-minded people and have a party!" ~ Ron White


Friday, August 8, 2014

'M' is for "Matters of the Mind" !

The mind is a beautiful thing. Since the dawn of civilization, the human mind has been a source of inventions, innovations, remarkable achievements in the field of science, arts, compassion, courage... and so on. There is no end to the wonderful achievements of the human mind. 

But there is also an ominous side. The human mind has also been responsible for some of the darkest periods in human history. The religious wars, the World wars, the Holocaust etc.

So what is it that makes the human mind so diverse, so varied in different people? We see that in our day to day lives too. On a good day, our mind is at peace. We are content, we think happy thoughts. On other days, when we are stressed about something, our mind has a tendency to wander towards the dark side.

There are no fences to limit the flow of our thoughts. That is the reason most us will soar and do well in life. If our mind directs us towards positivism, good things happen, and life seems peaceful. You can't live a positive life with a negative mind.

On the other hand, if our mind and our personality is insecure, it will have a tendency towards negativism and paranoia. All a negative mind needs is a bug to be put in by "gossiper", (and every social group has a couple!), and then the paranoia will take over. It will expand on the thought and drop it to new depths without any concrete evidence and in the process, destroy relationships, careers and peace of mind.

So do we control our mind or is it the other way around? I don't think the answer is simple. It can be argued both ways. 

If only negative, closed minds came with closed mouths....most social groups & communities would be much more peaceful! 

Enough of these negative thoughts for now!

 Lets talk about some lighter "Matters of the mind." Have you ever had a situation where people "mind" (sulk)? In other words, when people get upset or angry as a result of "something" you said or did? But you have no idea about what that "something" is?!

So I was asking my friend the other day about people "minding."
"You got to be careful what you say, my friend. It's very tricky," he advised.
"It should be easy," I replied. "Around people who are a little more sensitive, just be quiet. Don't say anything."
"Aha," he said. "But there's a catch."
"A catch?" I asked.
"Yeah," he said. "You see, people can "mind" about something you say or do, but they can also "mind" about something that you don't say or something that you don't do!"
"God... This is complicated!" I said.
"People who really know and understand you will not get upset, no matter what you say, because they know where you are coming from," he continued. "They will talk to you, let you know what's bothering them rather than minding (sulking)."

Now that did make sense to me. But I know its more complicated than the simplistic idea coming forth in the lines above. We all live in a complex social environment where relationships, occasionally, will lose their definition and purpose over a period of time. Sometimes, social engagements become more about saying and doing things as per protocol to boost egos, rather than a celebration of true feelings and real emotions.

I agree with the essence of the quote below, although it might not always be practical in the "real" world.

"Speak your mind freely, for people who matter don't mind and people who mind, don't really matter." ~ Dr Seuss


Sunday, July 6, 2014

"L" is for 'Looking good'!!

The other day, while driving to my office early in the morning, I observed something interesting. There's a stretch of about 2 miles and has about 6 traffic lights. At the first light, which happened to be red, I glanced at the car parallel to me and saw a middle-aged, tired looking lady in the driver's seat. She had a make-up box opened on the passenger seat and was frantically rubbing something on her face. The traffic was slow and we crawled to the next light, which was again red. The same car was parallel to me and I glanced at her again. She had another lotion that she was applying on her face. It did seem to make her face glow and now she decidedly looked less tired. Coincidentally, all the 6 lights were red for me that day. This lady's car was always next to mine at all of them and she was constantly doing something to her face and hair. By the fourth traffic light, she looked about 10 years younger and started to look familiar. By the 6th light, I knew who she was. She was actually the young secretary in the suite next to our office!

What a difference some make-up and a few stop lights can make! She looked a whole lot younger and a lot more energetic compared to the middle-aged lady I saw at the first traffic light. Most men complain when their significant others take a lot of time to get ready. But men are vain too, maybe not to the degree that the fairer sex is. But if you can look a bit younger, more energetic and feel good about yourself by smacking a few lotions & potions on your face, why not? Maybe vanity is not vain, after all, if it stays within the confines of common sense.

According to the Consumer Affairs Bureau, there is about 10 billion dollars spent world wide every year on accessories to look good and to look young. This includes skin creams, hair care products (I need some of that!), perfumes, colognes etc.etc. About 80 % of that is spent on women products. But it doesn't take much (money or effort) to look decent. Looking 'Good' or 'Beautiful' is not always only about what you put on your face. It is the intangible little things - being polite, being considerate, manners & etiquette, dressing decent - all of this adds to your stature, much more than looks alone.      

Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A person may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us. Being too vain leads to arrogance, as some mistakenly believe that that their looks add to their stature.

"A foolish man asks a woman to stop talking -- a wise man tells her she looks stunning when her lips are closed." ~ Anonymous 

Sunday, June 22, 2014

"K" is for 'Karma'

"Hey Doc," a patient said the other day, as she was leaving my office, with her young son. "I won $500 in the LOTTO."
"Alright!" I replied. "Good for you."
"It's all Karma, Mom," her son said.
I was taken a back. Maybe he said something else.
"Did you say Karma?" I asked.
"Yup," he was sure. "Karma," he repeated.
"How old are you?" I asked, very impressed.
"Eight," he said and looked at me with disapproval. "It means if you do good, something good will happen to you, and if you do bad things, something bad will happen to you," he explained, for my benefit.

If eight year-olds are talking about Karma, I thought I should learn more about it too, so that I don't get startled when a pre-teen talks to me about life's lessons. So let me start with the definition --

"The sum of a person's actions during this and previous state of existence, viewed as deciding their fate in this and future state of existence."

This is similar to the definition in Hinduism, Budhism, Sikhism and Jainism, from where this word is derived. The definition has evolved over a period of time, and generally pertains to the current existence alone. A basic straight up definition in the present day world is .. "What goes around, comes around!"

And we all see that in our day-to-day lives. Good things happen to nice people. And generally speaking, the not so nice people (constant complainers, the disgruntled, paranoid folks who constantly believe that the world is always conspiring against them etc. etc.) will always be unhappy, and gradually isolate themselves over a period of time.

Whether we believe in Karma or not, spiritually or on humanitarian grounds, it's always a good idea to evaluate our behavior as we go about our lives. We always have to be conscious of the effects our choices have on our family, friends and society in general. People who don't treat others well, who are insincere, better hope there is no Karma, because otherwise, it is likely to come back and bite them in the rear!

"How people treat you is their Karma. How you react is yours." ~ Wayne Dyer

And here are a couple of quotes explaining the lighter side of Karma -- 

Image detail for -karma, quotes about bad karma , funny quotes, good karma quotes, karma ...    Karma quotes

Here are some examples of INSTANT KARMA !

Road shoulder driver gets what he deserves--
Road Shoulder Driver Gets What’s Coming

Arrogance Karma --
Here Comes The Swagger

Chair kick instant karma --
Chair Kick Instant Karma

~ arvin chawla

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

"J" is for "Jhappi" !!!!!

I know. I know. A very unusual title. But the letter 'J' was tough on me. I could have gone with 'Justice', but that was mundane. Then 'Jealousy' came to mind, but certain folks would think I am writing solely about them.

So then "Jhappi" came up. A panjabi word -- literally meaning "Hug". I'll take this as an opportunity to throw a spotlight on some fun aspects of "Panjabi culture". A lot of credit for this post goes to my cousin in India, who provided the details and the fun-facts!

First of all, the word in question -- 'Jhappi'. Actually the complete phrase is "Jhappi te Pappi"-- literal translation is "Hug & Kiss". And the kiss here generally means a peck on the cheek. This is the traditional way a panjabi would greet a dear friend. So expect a bone crushing hug. It is considered rude if you try to escape this loving death-embrace!

Another fun aspect of our culture is that for us, no celebratory event is small. So no matter what, we will be loud. The amount of alcohol that flows can probably fill up a small reservoir. And there is enough food to feed a small country. After a few rounds of drinks, everybody swarms to the dance floor for "Bhangra". The phrase "Burn the dance floor" was probably invented at some cocktail party in Batala!

We have originated our own slang. Some examples - Puls (police), Bult (bullet), Knayda (Canada), Nyoda (Noida), Kloney (colony) etc. And then of course our "repeat slang" -- Dinner-shinner, Party-sharty, Mutton-shutton, Daru-sharu, Joke-shoke and so on. 

But one thing we kept simple, and that is our names, lest there be any confusion! Jas, gur, preet, deep, har, prabh, inder, jeet, meet, pal, bir -- mix up this suffixes or prefixes in various permutations and combinations with some words, and you will have literally covered more than 90 percent of all panjabi names in existence.

Panjabis are also your 2 AM friends, probably because you are out with them at that time anyway, in their fully loaded, extended SUV, listening to songs at volumes that will rattle your ear-drums.

Jokes apart, Panjabis are a proud people -- energetic, boisterous and hard-working. And I am proud to be one. And I am sure everybody has stories and anecdotes unique to their own culture, and everyone is equally proud. Our heritage is the accumulation over generations, of beliefs and customs, that define our culture, and eventually us.

Why are we so drawn to our roots? Probably because to understand 'Today', sometimes we have to search 'Yesterday'.

"Remember your history. To forget is not to belong." ~ Charlotte A. Black

Sunday, May 18, 2014

'I' is for "(in)sanity" !!

I heard an interesting news essay on NPR recently. I think I have written about this before. But the story is worth repeating. About a decade ago, an 18-year old young man got arrested in some part of England for violently beating up an old, defenseless and homeless man. As his case went to trial, some of his friends suggested he should act crazy or mentally unstable to escape a jail term. That way, his friends told him, he would go to a psychiatric institution for a few months and avoid a jail term. Well, he did exactly that. He acted out, behaved and talked inappropriately and convinced the jury & the psychiatrists that he was mentally unstable. So what happened next?

He avoided the jail term and was admitted to the (in)famous Broadmoor mental institution in Berkshire. Now the next step? To try to convince the psychiatrists at the institution that he was sane or normal. So that he could get out of there. Its been 15 years, and he's still trying!

Before we jump to conclusions, the psychiatrists at Broadmoor say that this patient is a sociopath and is manipulative. That his story about acting abnormal initially was not really acting, that was really him. And that his normal behavior now is acting!

So that set me thinking a bit. Is it easier to convince people that you are insane than otherwise? But the fact that somebody's sanity is in question in the first place -- that in itself is not a good sign. 

So I guess its really important to make a good first impression, because that is what will stick for the most part. As a wise person once said, "you never get a second chance to make a good first impression!"

In our day to day lives, a pinch of insanity here and there is almost normal. We are all allowed a few sparks of madness in our lifetime. We all have had our moments of insanity and indiscretions. When I think of those past moments now, all I can do is shake my head and say to myself -- "What in the hell was I thinking when I did or said that?!"  As long as these moments are few & far in between, and remain just sparks and don't start a fire, life stays interesting (and entertaining!)

"The statistics on sanity are that one of every four people is suffering from some sort of mental illness (however mild it may be). Now think of your three best friends. If they are okay, then its you!" ~ Rita Mae Brown


Friday, April 18, 2014

'H' is for "Humor"

I was examining a new patient, and I was being careful, and very, very gentle. The reason for being so gentle? The patient in question was a diminutive, 92 year old lady. She had been very bright and talkative. As I listened to her lungs, she suddenly went limp, and her head slid to one side. I froze for just a second and then checked her pulse. It was strong, and she seemed to be breathing fine. I put my hand on her shoulder, and shook her gently. Still no response. Now i was getting worried.
"Mrs. Smith," I said loudly in her ear, and shook her a bit more forcefully. Still no response. It was time to call 9-1-1. I stepped quickly to the door and was about to call the nurse to make the call.
"Got you, Doc!" Mrs. Smiths's voice piped behind me.
I turned around and saw this 92-year old, with a big smile, winking at me. 
"Are you okay?" I asked, still a little confused.
"You think I got to this age with just my amazing looks?" she said, laughing out loud.
"You really did get me," I said, laughing a little. "You have a great sense of humor."
"Guilty as charged, Doc. I don't take life too seriously," she said.

We've heard this over and over again for a long time. So is it true? Does humor really improve your health? When we laugh, we generally are happy. And we are happy more often when we are with people we connect to, be it family or friends.

Research has shown that humor and laughter are associated with higher pain tolerance and lower blood sugar levels in Diabetes. And laughter appears to burn calories too. A research group at Vanderbilt university conducted a small study in which they tried to ascertain the loss of calories while laughing. It turned out that 10-15 minutes of laughter burnt 50 calories. While the results are intriguing, we shouldn't be too hasty in ditching the treadmill. One piece of chocolate has about 50 calories. At the rate of 50 calories per hour, losing one pound would require 12 hours of concentrated laughter! Dr. Miller, from the department of Preventive Cardiology at the University of Maryland, had research projects which concluded that people who laugh more are less likely to develop heart disease. He says the recommendation for a healthy heart may one day be exercise, eat right, develop a good sense of humor and laugh a few times a day.

One of the biggest problems with laughter and humor research is that it's very difficult to determine cause and effect. For instance, a study might show that people who laugh more are less likely to be sick. But that might be because people who are healthy have more to laugh about. Or researchers might find that among a group of people with the same disease, those who have a good sense of humor, have more energy. But that could be because people who have that humorous trait, probably have a personality that allows them to cope better.

Common sense and a sense of humor are essentially similar facets, moving at different speeds. If you just stretch and fast forward common sense, you are in the realms of the sense of humor!

As Mark Twain once said, "There's one common denominator in people that I love-- they all make me laugh."

"The most wasted of all days is one without laughter." ~ E E Cummings


Thursday, April 3, 2014

'G' is for "Gossip!"

A few weeks ago, a very distraught young patient came to my office. I have known this patient for a while.
"I am very upset since the last few days," she said, wringing her hands.
"And why is that?" I asked
"One of my best friends is talking behind my back. Really, really bad things about me."
I didn't know what to say for a second.
"I'm sorry. I could give you a pill to relax you a bit," I said, hesitantly.
"No...no.. I don't want a pill. But you could help me," she said.
"Sure...sure. How can I help you?" I asked
"Well.. you could talk to her and tell her not to talk about me behind my back," she said.
"I...I don't understand...You want me to talk to your friend...?!" I was taken aback, to say the least. My voice trailed off.
"Its very simple. She is also your patient, actually all of my friends are your patients.And we really listen to you. When she comes to see you next, just tell her not to talk about me behind my back... but don't tell her I told you to tell her, because then she will know that I know----"
"Hold on...hold on... you can't be serious!" I exclaimed.
I'll leave the rest of the conversation to your imagination.

Gossiping is built in the human race's DNA. We all are a part of it, some more than others. The fairer sex is much more maligned regarding this topic, but that is unfair. We all know some men who could give the ladies a very stiff competition! A juicy piece of gossip travels on wheels, and is enhanced & polished by every mouth that it travels through.

Maybe I should have told the young lady in my office that somebody who talks behind her back is not really her friend, least of all a best friend. And to make her feel good, I should have added that people who talk behind her back, are exactly there. Behind her, and probably envious of her. People will mostly gossip about the important and popular amongst us. When was the last time you heard a juicy piece of gossip about a boring person?!

I have yet to come across a piece of gossip that extols the virtues of the subject. The way our societal structure is, trying to squash a rumor is like trying to unring a bell or like trying to put toothpaste back in its tube! But always remember one thing -- the person who gossips to you, will more than likely also gossip about you. Don't let your mouth be a witness to what your eyes did not see. The easiest way to keep a secret is to keep it to yourself.

"There is so much good in the worst of us,
And some bad in the best of us,
That it hardly becomes any of us
To talk about the rest of us."
~Edward Wallis Hoch

Friday, March 21, 2014

'F' is for "Fate"

A happy couple, with two grown-up handsome boys, doing well financially..... and then one fateful day, about 8 years ago..., the 21-year old elder son had an aneurysmal stroke that left  him handicapped. The outlook for the entire family changed that day. This is a story of one of my patient's family. I had a long discussion with the father a few days ago. He has aged remarkably since that time. He smiles, but the sadness in his eyes does not match that smile. But he never complains.

"It's God's will," he said. "We are still trying to adjust to the new normal in our lives. It's our fate, our destiny. We have to accept it."

I have believed over a long time that everything happens for a reason and it is generally for the best. Fate and Destiny have as many definitions as the number of people you ask. But I am hard pressed to find a positive spin on the young man's predicament. So I don't know whether I can believe the phrase -- "Everything happens for the best." 

On the other hand, maybe there is more to events in our lives than what we can see or realize right now. We try to plan our lives but maybe there is a master plan, that God alone knows. A lot of times, I have ended up in places where I needed to be, not necessarily where I wanted to be. We can't control our destiny, but we can definitely shape it by making the right choices in moments of decision.

We all have to believe in something. That's what keeps us going on this journey of life. Whether it be the confidence in our abilities, our destiny, love, God, our gut instincts, our friends....anything that helps us to foresee a positive future. But no matter how meticulous we are in planning our future, there is always a mystique about it. We all know that life, with its many ups and downs, can throw a surprise at any time. And these unexpected turns are more often than not, attributed to fate.

And here lies the crux --  the way we react to these surprises and unexpected events in our lives, defines us and our character.   

"Sometimes, perhaps, we are allowed to get lost, so that we may find the right person to ask directions from." ~ Robert Brault


Wednesday, March 5, 2014

'E' is for the "E-factor!"

I was at a friends house a few days ago, where I got to meet a gentleman, who had recently returned from an overseas trip from a third world country. He was describing a harrowing experience that he and his wife had to go through, while on this trip.
"We were going at almost 180 km/hr, and our driver hit a herd of about 200 sheep. Our SUV ran over at least 50 sheep. Then out of no where, a crowd of about 250 ruffians surrounded us," he paused, as he took a breath.
"My God!" I said, "What happened next?" 
"I then had to give them $5000 cash to get out of the situation," he said.
"Five thousand dollars?" I was shocked.
"Well, you got to do what you got to do," he said, as he walked away.
I looked at another friend standing by me, who had also been listening to the story, but he was remarkably unfazed, and calmly continued munching on his snacks.
"Did you just listen to him? What a narrow escape! And... and it didn't bother you at all..." I said, a little surprised.
"Because, unlike you, I have known this guy for a long time. His E-factor is high... at least 10," he said.
"Which factor?" I was confused. I had heard of the X-factor, but this was new.
"E-factor, bhaji (brother). Exaggeration factor -- his is about 10. Divide everything he said by 10, and you might be close to the truth," he smiled.

Exaggeration is genetic tendency that we all have, some more than others. And we can exaggerate on everything that touches our lives. Especially after a few drinks! The important people we know and how well we know them, golf scores, our knowledge of the world, amazing things we did on vacation..... you name it, we can inflate it.  Except our faults. But our friends (and close relatives) will take care of that!

I am from Punjab, in India, and we Punjabis are especially afflicted with the E-factor. In punjabi, the E-factor is known as the Gup-coefficient! But exaggeration spans all cultures and countries. A good friend, a treasure trove of quotes, says "people confuse thinking big, with remembering big!" People who have a tough time saying "I don't know", tend to exaggerate more. These folks have the neurotic compulsion to portray the impression that they know everything about everything, at all times. Hence the need to exaggerate and confabulate. 

My favorite is how most of us tend to exaggerate our acquaintance with prominent people. Even if somebody's shadow fell on me once, he suddenly becomes a good friend. And then I'll drop his name wherever I get half a chance. And this "good-friend" is probably not even aware of my existence!

"An exaggeration is a truth that has lost its temper!" ~ Khalil Gibran

Sunday, February 23, 2014

'D' is for being "Down-to-earth"

A few months ago, while I was examining a very nice middle-aged gentleman for his annual physical, my cell phone rang for the second time in 5 minutes. I looked at the phone, it was my wife calling. 
"I'm sorry, I have to take this call," I said to the patient.
"No problems, Doctor," he said, as I stepped out.
I returned after a few minutes after taking the call.
"I'm sorry, that was my wife. Our daughter studies abroad and is not well, and my wife is trying to get a flight to visit her, " I said to the patient, trying to explain the repeated interruptions. 
"Please don't worry about it," he said. I was thankful he was not upset.  
"Where is your wife flying to?" the patient asked, after I was done with his exam.
"Oh... to Miami. She already has a booking from Miami to Grenada. The problem is the flight from here to Miami," I said, surprised at the question.
"Maybe I could help out," the patient said.
"Oh really? You work in the travel industry?" I asked hopefully.
"No...no..," he smiled. "This time of the year, our IT consulting company charters a plane for a couple of months and for the next 2 days, there are no flights planned. I could arrange something."
"The IT company would let you use their charter jet?" I asked, with a touch of incredulity.
"I own the IT company," he said, almost apologetically.
My jaw almost hit the floor, as I stared at this simply dressed, polite man, who has been a patient since the last 5-6 years. I make an earnest effort not to delve into personal or professional lives of my patients. But never in a million years could I have guessed that this gentleman was such a wealthy person.

So what is it that makes some people so humble and down-to-earth, and others who would almost tattoo their wealth and achievements on their forehead? Both these categories of people are successful. The question is, which kind would you want to spend time or hang out with? A good friend, who has a lot of good lines, appropriately said that being 'Down-to-Earth' does not mean you think less of yourself, but you think of yourself less!

It is far more impressive when others discover your good qualities without your help. It is good to be proud of our achievements, and we should take pride in our success. There's a very fine line between pride and arrogance. We have a choice which side of the line we want to be on. As someone aptly said, none are so empty as those who are full of themselves. Nobody stands taller than those willing to stand corrected.

"When science discovers the center of the Universe, a lot of people will be disappointed to find they are not it!" ~ Bernard Bailey


Thursday, February 13, 2014

'C' is for 'Compassion'

"Here is a check for $300 for the Medical Camp at the Temple. For Flu shots. I saw the flyer in the waiting room," said Ms. xyz (name changed for privacy) to me, few months ago.
I have known this person as a patient for many years, and I know she does not have too much money to spare.
"That's a lot of money, " I said, taken aback a little. "Please write another check for a smaller amount."
"It's okay, Doctor," she smiled. "I donate 5% of my salary every month."
"Every month? Since how long?" I asked.
"Hmm...ever since I was about 25, and I am 72 now," she replied.
"You have been doing this every month your entire life? That is mighty generous of you." I really meant that.
"It's really not that much, Doctor. I still keep 95 percent for myself. By cutting $5 out of every hundred, I don't even notice it. But if these 5 dollars get to the right place, it can make a world of a difference to somebody."
And if you think this through, it is so true. 

I was inspired. This was real compassion. I wish I thought like her. How does one define compassion? According to the dictionary, "a feeling of deep sympathy and sorrow for another who is stricken by misfortune, accompanied by a strong desire to alleviate the suffering." And of this definition, the last line is most important -- the desire or want to do something to help, without any expectation in return. We all feel bad about a lot of things. But how many of us actually try to do something about it?

As John Wooden once said, "You can't live a perfect day without doing something for someone, who will never be able to repay you." Compassion and kindness are like a boomerang, they will always return back to you. Compassion prods you to do things, not because others can't, but because you can. And it's not only money. In fact, I strongly believe majority of people are kind and compassionate, but not every body is able to help with money. People volunteer at schools, libraries, free clinics, soup kitchens etc..... I'm sure everybody knows hundreds of places and outlets where we all can give back to society and our communities. We can't help everyone, but everyone can help someone. A good friend of ours has appropriately said -- "Sometimes you give not because you have a lot but because you know what it feels like not to have much."

  "If you don't have charity in your heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble" ~ Bob Hope