Wednesday, December 30, 2015

It's "Resolution time" again .....!

Every year, around this time, I make a list of things I'm going to do starting with the brand new year. The list is easy to make, as there are numerous things I would like to improve about myself. Usually by the time I'm done, the list is about 2 pages long. By the time I'm on my 15th resolution, I've already forgotten the the first few.

This year, I thought let me pull out my list from last year. I had been smart enough to save my list of "Resolutions" on my laptop. Well, I thought to myself, I'll just scratch out the resolutions that I kept last year, and add a few new ones. As I went down the list from last year, I couldn't think of a single thing that I followed through with! I know that's embarrassing, but I'm not going to lie. So I took a deep breath and looked at the line at the top which said "Resolutions for 2017".... and then I scratched out "2017", and put in "2018." So I recycled my resolutions and had a list ready for next year in no time!

Here's a few things from that list.....

Be more romantic...... (put in by my wife) since our marriage, this has always been the number one resolution every year...... I'm still working on it.

Exercise regularly....... and if I know a certain friend of mine, I'll be in trouble if he doesn't see me in the gym on a regular basis.

Buy lottery tickets at a luckier store...

Work seriously on my next book..... that's one resolution I plan to stick to and finish up an overdue project.

Try to be kinder, gentler, sincere...... no matter what the social clique dictates or requires. In doing so, try to be a better person overall.

Grow more hair...... What? Where did that come from? I know that's a lost cause.......!

On a serious note, making resolutions is an effort to make ourselves and our lives better. This is one time of the year when we can peek inwards and admit to certain things that we could do better, and others that we could do without. No matter how well life is treating us, there's always room for improvement. Good luck with yours and I do hope somewhere on the list is "Spending more time with family and friends." Because no matter how much time we spend with our family, we could always do more.

"Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man." ~Benjamin Franklin

Here's wishing you and yours a wonderful 2018!!


Saturday, December 26, 2015

Be the lead character in your own life story.......

"You seem to be doing well," I said to a 55-year old lady in my office. "Your exam and lab work is all good."
"And how's my blood pressure?" she asked.
"BP is good too. You've always had borderline high readings on your previous visits," I said.
"I know why it was high before. I was always so stressed," she said.
"So you are managing to keep your stress levels down? That's great," I replied.
"Yes, I am now," she smiled. "I was trying too hard to please everybody in my life. And that saps so much of your energy."
"I imagine it would," I said. "So you don't try to please everybody now?"
"Only my very near and dear ones, Doc. I realized one thing--in my life, I have to be the main character.... I do things that I want to do now, not what I have to do. I feel so free," she said, smiling wistfully.
"It sure does," I said, returning her smile.
"Yes, Doc. Now I am the heroine in the story of my life." She looked positively radiant.
"That is such a nice line," I exclaimed.
"It is, isn't it?' she laughed. "But seriously, everybody should actually try it in real life. It is sooo liberating."

That conversation happened a few weeks ago. But it has stuck with me since then. There is so much truth in what this lady said. If the burden of societal pressures is lifted off your shoulders, one does feel liberated. Doing things you want to do, and more importantly, having the courage to stay away from what you don't want to do, makes life simple.

We often insist on making life complicated, rather than the other way around. Hang around people you connect to, and stay away from those who manipulate & use you. Be realistic, and be your own advocate. Try not to have anybody speak for you. Live your life...on YOUR own terms. Making the right choice should be a natural instinct, and not a reason to pat yourself on the back.

And always remember -- 

"Truth does not have a's not wrong or right, good or bad.  It's just the Truth. Stick to it and it'll take you far in life."


Sunday, December 13, 2015

Maturity of the mind....!

"Look where I am today, Doc," the 52 year old said, looking up from his wheelchair.
"You are looking a lot better than a month ago," I said.
He nodded assent. "You are right Doc. I am a lot better than a month ago. I can move my left leg now. But where am I compared to 6 months ago?" He smiled wryly.
"I know Keith (name changed to protect privacy)," I said. "You had a stroke 6 months ago. I know it must have been tough, but you are improving." Keith owns one of the bigger IT companies in our region.
"Oh I know...I know," he said. "You know something Doc.... six months ago, a successful day meant closing a multi million dollar deal. Today, a successful day is being able to take a step on my own."
"It's still a successful day, isn't it?" I asked.
He looked up at me and smiled.
"Success is all relative, Doc. I get the same thrill today when I take a single step on my own, as I did when I closed on a multi million dollar deal. I've matured more in the last 6 months than probably in my entire lifetime," he said.

What he said is so true. Success is relative to maturity of one's mind. And it's definition, with respect to an individual, changes from time to time. As life grows on us, our priorities are constantly in a flux. And along with that, is our definition of success and achievement. 

And I emphasize the words, "Maturity of the Mind." Physically, we all mature at a steady, resolute pace, no matter how hard we try to slow it down. The mind matures at a vastly varying rate among different individuals. That is the reason we are all surprised off and on, (pleasantly or otherwise!) by certain out of character things our social peers will say or do on occasion.

Imagine these scenarios -- Some folks are overly sensitive and will pout at extremely inconsequential things, others are paranoid and suspicious that everybody is out to get them and still others, who are constantly trying to manipulate people around them at all times. Seem like middle and high school scenarios? And now for the shocker -- imagine all these folks are in their forties and fifties....

And yes, whether we openly admit it or not, it does happen in all social groups and circles, but thankfully not too often. And the people responsible are generally the usual suspects! 

But try to be patient with these individuals, who are mostly harmless, and are just seeking attention. They are just lagging behind with regards to maturing their mind!

"Age is just a number, and Maturity is a choice that some people have a tough time making!" ~ Anonymous

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Slow down.... take a deep breath....

"I get exhausted even before I leave the house in the morning, Doc." This was a 30 some-year old young man telling me his complaint. I was surprised. All his blood tests were normal.
"All your results look good, you don't have a fever. Are you sleeping enough at night?" I asked.
"Oh yes, Doc. Go to bed at about 11 every night and I am up at 6 am. And then I am out of the house at 8:30."
 "Leave at 8:30? And you are up at 6 am. Are you exercising too much before you leave for work in the morning," I said.
"Exercise?! I don't exercise at all, I don't have time. I can barely get ready on time!"
"Is that right? It takes you two and a half hours to get ready in the morning? Why is that?" I asked curiously.
"You really want to know? Okay...After I get up, I go to the bath---"
"Let's skip that part," I cut in hastily.
"Okay. After that, I have to put on the facial scrub every Monday and Wednesday, and leave it on for seven and a half minutes, then wash it off. Then comes the skin peel lotion Monday through Thursday, which stays on for exactly three and a half minutes. After that, its the collagen building skin cream Monday through Friday, and that stays on for 5 minutes before I wipe it off. In between I have to check my facebook account every 10 minutes for new posts and updates. And then comes the skin softening lotion--"
"Hold on, hold on......You are still not done with your lotions and creams?! How do you keep track of all this!" I was amazed.
"That's not a problem. I have the algorithm on my i-Pad. So that's the first thing I turn on so that I can follow the sequence and timings exactly. You want me to tell you what else I do in the morning before I pack my i phone, i pad, lap top--- ?"
", thanks," I interrupted him. "I get the picture." 
I was exhausted just listening to him! Now I knew why he was tired before he left his house every morning.

Now I admit this guy was a bit extreme, but I know a lot of us have just too much going on in our lives. We try hard to look good, to look young, to lose weight, to stay connected via social media, among other things. Human beings are social animals, and hence the innate need to seek approval of our social sphere. The more insecure among us will try the hardest to please everybody. And I haven't even mentioned work, "kitty parties", social obligations etc. Maybe this is our life these days. How about taking a step back and reconsidering our priorities off & on, lest the forest gets lost among the trees? 

Life is simple, it's just not easy to be simple.

"Simplicity is realizing what you need, rather than what you want." ~ Apoorve Dubey


Saturday, November 7, 2015

Humility : A lesson in humanity !

The elderly patient was a little hesitant. I knew there was something on her mind.
"Is there anything else I can do for you?" I asked.
"Well...please don't take it the wrong way, doc," she started. "But the specialist that you sent me to..."
"Yes," I said. "What about the specialist?"
"I am not going back to that doctor again," she said.
"You don't have to. Would you please tell me why, though?" I asked.
"That doctor is very arrogant. No humility at all," she said firmly.
I was taken aback. "But he is a great doctor," I said defensively.
"I am sure. But not a great person. And that really matters to me," she replied.

I don't know what put that elderly lady off. I didn't press her for any more details. So what is humility? The dictionary defines it as a -- "Disposition to be humble, a lack of false pride."

It's not bad to have pride. A lot of us are deservedly proud of our accomplishments, whether it is professional or in various aspects of our personal lives. The problem comes up when, and if, we start flaunting our success. A lot of people are put off by those who toot their own horn all the time. These are the "know-it-all" people. The toughest three words to elicit from them, as Somerset Maugham so eloquently put it -

It isn't until quite late in life that some people discover how easy it is to say - "I don't know"!

We often forget that at first, we are human beings, with our own unique mixture of virtues and vices. And second, we have our profession, which requires acquiring the appropriate skills. Here is where the confusion starts. We need to realize that our skill set, whatever it may be, can earn us respect, but not love and affection. It is our humanity, underneath that skill set, that earns us the love and affection of people around us.

Many people believe that that humility is the opposite of pride, when, in fact, it is a point of equilibrium. The opposite of pride is actually lack of self-esteem. Is it difficult to be humble? If we are secure in ourselves, humility would be natural. So the corollary would be that people who ooze arrogance, who consider themselves superior and are constantly engaged in endeavors to garner attention, are probably the most insecure.

Be careful at social gatherings, because the more you talk about yourself, the more you will be talked about when you leave! It is far more impressive when others discover your good qualities without your help. Our society comprises of an intricate web of relationships. Success, in any shape or form, is generally never one individual's alone. Family, friends and co-workers, among others, are a part of that success.

The man who thinks he can live without others is mistaken; the one who thinks others can't live without him is even more deluded.

"Humility is not thinking less of yourself but thinking of yourself less." ~ C. S. Lewis 


Monday, November 2, 2015

"From Bombay to Bangalore......"

Sudha Murthy is the Chairperson of the Infosys Foundation. She often writes about real life experiences. The one below is one of her own. Please read it till the will be worth it. 
It was the beginning of summer. I was boarding Udyan Express at Gulbarga railway station. My destination was Bangalore. As I boarded the train, I saw that the second-class reserved compartment was jam-packed with people. I sat down and was pushed to the corner of the berth. Though it was meant for three people, there were already six of us sitting on it...
The ticket collector came in and started checking people's tickets and reservations. Suddenly, he looked in my direction and asked, "What about your ticket?"
"I have already shown my ticket to you," I said.
"Not you, madam, the girl hiding below your berth. Hey, come out, where is your ticket?" I realized that someone was sitting below my berth. When the collector yelled at her, the girl came out of hiding.
She was thin, dark, scared and looked like she had been crying profusely. She must have been about thirteen or fourteen years old.She had uncombed hair and was dressed in a torn skirt and blouse. She was trembling and folded both her hands. The collector started forcibly pulling her out from the compartment. 
I stood up and called out to the collector. "Sir, I will pay for her ticket."
The collector looked at me and said, 'Madam, if you give her ten rupees, she will be much happier than with the ticket.'
I told the collector to just give me a ticket to the last destination, Bangalore, so that the girl could get down wherever she wanted.
Slowly, she started talking. She told me that her name was Chitra. She lived in a village near Bidar. Her father was a coolie and she had lost her mother at birth. Her father had remarried and had two sons with her stepmother. But a few months ago, her father had died. Her stepmother started beating her often and did not give her food. She did not have anybody to support her, so she left home.
By this time, the train had reached Bangalore. I said goodbye to Chitra and got down from the train. My driver came and picked up my bags. I felt someone watching me. When I turned back, Chitra was standing there and looking at me with sad eyes. 

I told her to get into my car. My driver looked at the girl curiously. I told him to take us to my friend Ram's place. Ram ran separate shelter homes for boys and girls. Infosys Foundation supported him financially. I thought Chitra could stay there for some time and we could talk about her future after I came back from my tours.
Over the next few months, Chitra adjusted well at the shelter. Ram suggested that Chitra could go to a high school nearby. I immediately agreed and said I would sponsor her expenses as long as she continued to study. I left the shelter knowing that Chitra had found a home and a new direction in life.
I got busier and my visits to the shelter reduced to once a year. But I always enquired about Chitra's well-being over the phone. I knew that she was studying well and that her progress was good. I offered to sponsor her college studies if she wanted to continue studying. 
"No Akka," she said, "I have talked to my friends and made up my mind. I would like to do my diploma in computer science so I can immediately get a job after three years." She wanted to become economically independent as soon as possible. Chitra obtained her diploma with flying colors. She also got a job in a software company as an assistant testing engineer. When she got her first salary, she came to my office with a sari and a box of sweets.
One day, when I was in Delhi, I got a call from Chitra. She was very happy. "Akka, my company is sending me to USA! I wanted to meet you and get your blessings but you are not here in Bangalore."
Years passed. Occasionally, I received an e-mail from Chitra. She was doing very well in her career. She was posted across several cities in USA and was enjoying life. I silently prayed that she should always be happy wherever she was.
Years later, I was invited to deliver a lecture in San Francisco for Kannada Koota, an organization where families who speak Kannada meet and organize events. The lecture was in a convention hall of a hotel and I decided to stay at the same hotel. After the lecture, I was planning to leave for the airport. When I checked out of the hotel room and went to the reception counter to pay the bill, the receptionist said, "Ma'am, you don't need to pay us anything. The lady over there has already settled your bill. She must know you pretty well." I turned around and saw Chitra standing there.
She was with a young white man and wore a beautiful sari. She was looking very pretty with short hair. Her dark eyes were beaming with happiness and pride. As soon as she saw me, she gave me a brilliant smile, hugged me and touched my feet. I was overwhelmed with joy and did not know what to say. I was very happy to see the way things had turned out for Chitra. But I came back to my original question. 
"Chitra, why did you pay my hotel bill? That is not right," I said.
She started sobbing and hugged me. "Because you paid for my ticket from Bombay to Bangalore..." 

Monday, October 19, 2015

'To think'...? Or 'To browse'...?

"You have a great time at your family reunion," I said to a 75 year-old gentleman, as he was leaving my office.
"Oh...I'll try, Doc.  It's just going to be a bunch of people buried deep into their smart phones," he replied ruefully. "Nobody talks any more."
"Well, that's the sign of the times. But all this access to info makes the next generation so smart," I said. 
"I'm not sure, Doc. All these guys can rattle of numbers, news and facts. But talk to them about any subject a little bit in depth, and they get lost. It's all very superficial," he said, as he walked away.

That statement did stick with me as the day went along. I did some reading that evening and came across some interesting articles. One of them, by Nicholas Carr in the Wall Street Journal was published a few years ago. The essence of the article was to question the benefits of excessive use of the internet. It said that the internet gives us a lot of information, and because of the massive amount of facts and figures, we neither have the time, nor inclination to think about the info we accumulate.

So what's important? The depth of thought or velocity of thought? People who are avidly hooked on the net, can rattle off numbers and have a lot of information on almost any subject. But our brain can only handle so much data. As per the article, recent research revealed that compared to a couple of decades ago, random samples of populations have more superficial knowledge, but less intelligence. Less intelligence?!

I researched it a bit more and realized intelligence & wisdom are measured by the depth of knowledge, not the amount. I was surprised by this revelation. Here is some food for thought. Is the best informed man always the wisest? Sometimes the converse might be true -- the multiplicity of knowledge might make us lose sight of what is essential or important.

Its a lot easier to believe than to think. Maybe that's the reason there are a lot more believers than thinkers. A comedian once defined the Brain as an "organ with which we think that we think". Knowledge is a process of piling up facts; wisdom lies in their simplification and application. According to Isaac Asimov, "the saddest part of life is that science and technology gather knowledge quicker than society gathers wisdom." 

The more we think, the more complete we are.

"You know why some people get lost in thought? Because its such unfamiliar territory!" ~ George Bernard Shaw


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Making memory banks......

"So how's the family?" I asked a gentleman, while I examined him in my office.
"Good, doc," he replied. "Real good. My son is doing very well. He's making a lot of money."
"That's always a relief, isn't it?" I said, "When your kids are doing well and settled down."
"It is," he said. "But you know what I tell my son? I tell him that he might make more money than me, but I'll always be ahead in one category."
"And what's that?" I asked.
"Memories, doc. Memories...I was 35 when he was born, so I got a head start. He'll never be able to catch up in my lifetime," he smiled.

And he was right. We make all sorts of memories as we traverse life. So that set me thinking. When I am in my golden years, what am I most likely to dwell on? My bank balance? The kind of car I have parked in my garage? Or will I ponder fondly upon the good times I had with my family and friends in the past years? I have a strong suspicion its going to be the latter!

There is a tendency in most of us to remember moments, not days or events. These are the moments we want to hang on to, to warm our hearts on a cold wintry day. As a wise man once said -- 

"Good days should be gathered like grapes, to be revisited & walked upon, bottled into wine and kept for a later time, to sip at ease besides the fireplace."

Each day we make deposits in the memory banks of our children, our family and friends. There will come a day when these folks will draw on those deposits. So be careful of what you are depositing in those banks today!

"The best thing about memories? making them!"


Sunday, August 30, 2015

Are we boxed in by our "Social Status"?

"So you take this antibiotic pill once a day, and see me next week if you are not better," I said to a young man, whom I saw in the office.
"Sure Doc. Is this pill expensive?" he asked.
"I'm not sure, it might be." I glanced at his chart and saw that he did not have insurance.
"Do you have samples, Doc? I really can't afford any expensive medication at this time," he said.
I looked at him a little closely. He was dressed very well. The keys he had in his hands displayed the Mercedes logo, and from the looks of it, it was one of the newer remote controlled keys. His shoes were 'Air-Jordan' -- probably fairly expensive too. So what was the deal here? But maybe he suddenly fell on hard times, I thought to myself.
"I don't have any samples now, but if you can come back in a couple of days, I'll probably have some," I said.
"Ohh... I won't be able to do that. I'm going on vacation tomorrow," he replied.

How do you make sense of people like the one above? Here is my own personal example, and that will probably help understand the dichotomy of our social structure. I was car-shopping at that time. At one of the dealerships, I was particularly interested in one car. And then the car salesman, says to me-- "Your social status doesn't allow you to buy this car. You need a different one." I just smiled in response. But his statement stuck with me for the next few days. My social status doesn't allow me to buy something that I like?

I started to think of the cars my friends drive. Apart from the people living in my neighborhood (because I see their cars parked outside), I realized that I really didn't know what brand or type of cars my friends have. And frankly, I don't really care. I am close to some individuals because I connect with them. I like them for who they are, and not because of what they have, or what they do. So that brings us to "Social Status."

Do I define my social status, or does it define me? Am I locked in a certain standard of living that society around me anoints? Human beings are social animals. As a general rule, we want people to think good of us. A few of us will go to extremes to make sure that we are in everybody's good books. A few, on the other side of the spectrum, don't care at all of what others think. Majority of us are in the middle, where we try to balance what is expected of us and what we think is appropriate.

A lot of factors define one's social status. Personality and maturity probably rank among the top. Educational status and professional / work success would come in a close second. Money and wealth provide a lot of prominence, but do not necessarily provide a measure of status. Being prominent, either due to wealth or title, does not ensure likability within society. Status and reputation is not given to us, nor is it bestowed. We earn these two unmeasurable parameters over the years, irrespective of one's education, wealth or title.

Life would be a lot less stressful if we all keep doing what we think is right, stick to our principles & core values, and let society worry about our social status.

"An individual who values his privileges and perks above his principles, soon loses both." ~ Dwight Eisenhower


Sunday, August 9, 2015

Is all the 'Rush-Rush' worth it....?!

The other day, my wife and I were driving to a friends house and we got caught in traffic. So my wife says --"Isn't the other lane going faster? Why don't you go in that lane?"
So I change my lane and guess what happens? My new lane slows down to a crawl and the lane I just left picks up speed! And this happens all the time, at least to me.

And when I go to the grocery store, its a given that a wheel on my cart will always develop a squeal that makes heads turn. When its time to check out, I look for the shortest line, and then I try to gauge all the check out clerks. I get in the line with the most intense looking cashier, the one who seems to be working the fastest. And after all this, more often than not, the person ahead of me, has some issues with his credit card.

What is the purpose of going through all these permutations and combinations- changing traffic lanes or check out lanes in stores? Obviously to save time. And how much time do we save? Maybe a couple of minutes, maybe a little more but mostly less. So this begs the question -- is saving a couple of minutes worth stressing the brain with all those calculations?

A recent research study, by no less than the "Academy of Science" researchers revealed that if there was just one check out lane at retail and grocery stores (like in most Banks), where the next customer is called whenever a cashier opens up, reduced the sub-conscious stress levels for the day, by about 10-25%. That does seem like a lot. Cynics among us (and there are many!) will wonder how in the heck can we measure sub-conscious stress levels-- and to that, I have no answer.

But the point of the research study should be well taken. A lot of us need to to take a chill pill, relax and take it a bit easy. A couple of minutes here or there, in our day-to-day lives, is not going to change the trajectory of one's life. There is more to life than just speeding it up. 

When a person try's to control everything, that individual enjoys nothing. Sometimes, its therapeutic to let go and just let life happen. And you will be surprised how enjoyable and relaxing that feeling can be!

"The time to relax is when you don't have time for it." ~Jim Goodwin


Thursday, July 30, 2015

The fallout of 'Ego' & 'Egomania'

"Your BP is high today. Had a rough day?" I asked a patient in my office a few days ago.
"I am sick of my Boss," he exclaimed. "He bosses me around so much!"
"Well....." I said. "Isn't he supposed to do that?"
"No. He can supervise me, but he should not manipulate me. He inserts his nose in everybody's business," he replied. "He is a control freak. He even wants to control my personal life."
I could see that my patient was really very upset.
"Try to calm down, you are only hurting yourself by getting upset. Some people are just built like that" I said.
"His ego is as big as a football field," my patient continued, shaking his head.
"I know a few people like that," I said, trying to soothe him. "Best way to deal with folks like these is to stay away, just don't step on that football field."

Anyway, he did calm down a bit in a while. It did however set me thinking about 'Ego'. We hear this all the time. People complain about others having a big 'ego', and to top it all, the complainers sometimes have a bigger 'ego' than the folks they are complaining about!

So how do we define 'Ego'? What the heck is this ill-defined, subjective "thing"? In the present day world, it can have many meanings -- it can mean one's self esteem, or an inflated sense of self - worth. I read about it a little and here is my 2 cents worth of research.

How do a few people get such an inflated Ego? In the initial phase of life, people around us build our ego. When a child is born, the first thing he or she becomes aware of is the outside world. The eyes open to see the immediate world, the hands touch others, the ears listen to external sounds, the tongue tastes food, and the nose gets a sense of the smells & fragrances. All our senses relish the experiences of the world beyond ourselves. As the child grows, self-esteem is built with the love, attention and affection from others. Ego is an accumulated phenomenon, a by-product of living within a society.

After a certain stage in life, we start to control our own ego. The problem begins when, in certain individuals, it grows so much that now the roles are reversed. The inflated ego now controls the individual. According to a research study from Oxford University a few years ago, there is a very striking paradox in people with an unrealistic sense of self - worth. These folks are more insecure and exhibit attention seeking behavior most of the time, while interacting with their peers. There seems to be a constant need to impress people all around, at all times.

We all have and need an ego, for its the sense of our being. That's what drives us in our daily lives. But the keywords here are 'realistic' and 'control'.

"If you want to reach a state of contentment and bliss, go beyond your ego and relinquish the need to control, the need to be approved by all and the need to judge." ~ Deepak Chopra


Sunday, July 12, 2015

Living in the moment........

"How long do I have, doc? Before I go over to the dark side?" This was a question posed to me recently by an 81-yr old patient, who was beginning to have signs and symptoms of early Dementia.
"The dark side?" I asked.
"You know what I mean. Before I forget who I am.... can you put a time on when I won't recognize my family?" he asked.
I though for a long second.
"I can't. I am sorry." I replied. "It varies a lot.... a few months to a few years."
"But it is going to happen?" he persisted.
"Can't be sure of that too... but probably yes," I said. "I'm sorry."
"No, doc. You don't have to be sorry. In fact, I appreciate you being straight up with me. I have always believed that we all should live in the present," he said, smiling. "It's not going to help me if I rue the past or worry about the future, the present is what it is. I'll make the best of it."

That was inspiring for me indeed. So often, we wander into our past and have difficulty getting back. At other times, we tend to drift into wishful thinking, hoping for a perfect future. And between the past and the future, we forget to embrace the present. Waves of nostalgia overcome us off and on, especially in the company of friends, and we often say that "those days were much better than today." I am guilty of that too. But on reflection, I don't think that is true. Those days were good, but so is today. I don't want to wait 5 years before admitting today was great! 

The past is a good place to visit off and on, but we should try not to live there. We learn from our past mistakes and the smart ones among us will try not to repeat them. But the most important revelation the past bestows on us is about the people who are a part of our lives. Folks who stood by us through good and bad times, get our respect and affection. The past also has some unpleasant experiences and memories, pertaining to people & situations. If that part of the past calls, let it go to voice-mail. It has nothing new to say.

There is no living in fantasizing about an imaginary, future garden of Eden over the horizon. Today is the day, now is the moment. Embrace it, enjoy it, live it. 

"Pile up too many tomorrows and you'll find that you have collected nothing but a bunch of empty yesterdays." ~ The Music Man 


Saturday, July 4, 2015

The definition of "Being nice"......

The usually gregarious, funny sixty-five year old gentleman was uncharacteristically quiet, when he came in for a physical.
"What's up? Not feeling good today?" I asked.
"No... I am okay. One of my good friends passed away a few weeks ago," he said.
"Oh..I am sorry to hear that," I said.
"Well, Doc, my friend was very rich, and he had a good, busy life. He was financially stable, was involved in every organization in town."
"That's good, isn't it?"  I asked.
"It is," he said slowly. "But hardly anybody remembers him... and it's just been a few weeks! When his name comes up in conversations, he is just remembered as that 'Rich Guy'. Nobody says anything else about him."
"What would you like them to say?" I asked.
"Well, doc," he said with his usual wide smile. "I'll tell you what I hope people say about me - now and when I'm no more."
"You still have a long time on mother earth," I replied lightly. "What would you like people to say about you?"
"I just want people to say that I'm a nice guy. That's it. Nothing more."
"That shouldn't be tough. You are a nice person," I said.
"Well...I think I am nice to nice people. The key is to be nice to everybody, even to people who are not nice to me. It's tough, but I'm going to do it."

His words lingered with me all day. What does being nice mean? Is it being polite... remembering birthdays...does recycling count? We can add all the flowery adjectives here -- pleasant, compassionate, humble etc. Maybe its an amalgam of all of the above, to a certain degree. The more important thing is to be nice to your "immediate world." That would be the people you interact with on a day to day basis. 

I researched the topic of "Being Nice" a little bit. I went through a few research studies by social scientists on the topic. The conclusions of all these studies was unexpected, but not surprising. Majority of the people (more than 85%) equated 'being nice' to being 'sincere'. It was less about being polite or humble or about etiquette.... it was overwhelmingly about keeping promises, and "walking the talk". So you want to be on the right side of your social peers? Then be true to your word -- "Do what you say and say only what you mean." People are intelligent, and can spot a fake when they see one. They might not say it to your face, but they know.

"A person who is nice to you, but is rude to the waiter, is NOT a nice person."


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Connecting the connections .....!!

"Keep the next weekend free," my friend said. "We will all go to the Bollywood concert."
"Sounds good," I said. "Are you getting tickets on line?"
"Oh don't worry about the tickets, I have connections," he said. 
"You sure?" I asked.
"No problems. It's done," he said.
A couple of days later, an acquaintance called me.
"Hey Doc, I need your help," he said.
"Sure... what's going on?" I asked.
"Can you get me 8 tickets for the Bollywood concert next week?" he asked.
"Oh... I don't think I know the guys who are organizing the Bollywood concert," I said.
"You do, Doc. One of the organizers is your patient."
"Are you sure?" I asked.
"Positive," he replied. "So can you please call him? I'll give you his cell phone number."
I thought for a second. I dislike taking unnecessary obligations, but this guy would be persistent.
"Okay, I'll call," I said.
"Thanks Doc," he said. "Get me good seats."
Anyway, I called the contact and he did turn out to be my patient. He was very helpful. He dropped off the tickets in the office. I took a look at the seat numbers--  B 11 to B 18. My acquaintance came to pick up the tickets and was pleased with the seats.

The weekend finally rolled in after a busy week.
"Ready for the Bollywood concert?" my friend called on that day.
"Sure," I replied. "You got the tickets?"
"Oh yeah," he said. "We got very good seats. We leave at 7 PM." 
"Oh sure," I said. "We will be ready."
We got to the concert a little bit late, and the event staff ushered us to our seats. And our seat numbers? B 11 to B 18 !!

That is how intricately our social fabric is intertwined. Family, friends, foes and  'connections' are all entangled in the same melting pot. What goes around, eventually does come around. Only our thoughts are are own, as long as we don't word them out. In our boxed social structure, if you don't want people to know what you did, just don't do it. Because eventually, people will know.   

"We live in a world today where lemonade is made from artificial flavors and furniture polish is made of real lemons!" Alfred E. Newman


Sunday, May 17, 2015

Growing into 'Sophistication'.....

I walked into an exam room to see a new patient in my office.
The gentleman was 82, had thinning silver white hair and sharp blue eyes, shadowed by white bushy eyebrows. 
"I am here to see Dr Chawla, the nurse already took my vitals," he said in a sharp, steely voice, before I had a chance to speak.
"I am Dr. Chawla," I said, rather apologetically.
I could see his disapproving look as he went over my attire. I wasn't wearing a suit, jacket or neck-tie. 
"How can I help you?" I asked, and proceeded to examine him.
As he was walking out after the visit, he turned around and pointed his walking cane at me. "You seem to be a darn good doctor... but do something about your clothes."
"My clothes?" I asked.
"Look like a doctor, wear a suit or something," he said. "Look sophisticated."
"I'll try my best sir," I answered with a smile.

What makes us sophisticated? Is it about the clothes? Education and Intellect? Social interaction? Humility? Money? Definitely not the last one. Maybe its an amalgam of a bit of everything and some more. If it's just the clothing, I definitely won't make the cut! 

Every section of society and every social circle sets up its unique threshold of crossing into their own world of "sophistication". We are all drawn towards that world instinctively as we grow in years. Consciously trying to be sophisticated rarely works. 'Growing older' is inevitable and cannot be stopped. 'Growing-up' is an option, and as we all know, some folks are reluctant to make that choice!

My work attire in the office has not changed, but here are some facts just to reassure my fellow physicians who are informal dressers like me. According to a recent poll, most older folks do prefer their physicians in a formal attire. The younger population (below 50) generally cares less about attire, and more about personality. 

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

Monday, April 27, 2015

e cleansing?! Are we there already?

"I am going to India for 10 days. Do I need any shots?" A young man asked.
"Depends on the places you will be visiting in India," I said.
"I'll just be at an Ashram in Bangalore," he said.
"Ashram? Associated with which temple?" I asked.
" This trip is not religious. So no temple or any Baba or Godman involved. This is for e cleansing," he said.
"E cleansing? What is that?" I asked, my interest piqued.
"My wife and I are both going. Its electronic and social media cleansing," he said.
"Really? So how does it work?" I was really interested now.
"You go to this resort-ashram and for 1 week, you are totally disconnected from the world," he said. I could see that even thinking about it made him restless.
"Disconnected from the world? So no cell phones?" I asked.
"No cell phones, no TV, no laptops, no internet connection... nothing," he said, sounding nervous. "Oh God...I don't know if I'll be able to handle it."
He won't make it the whole week, I thought to myself.  "Why are you doing this?" I asked.
"Because in our house, our lives revolve around our i phones. We barely get our noses out of our phones. There is no conversation in our house anymore. Its all about facebook, twitter, whatsapp, i messaging...Before I started this crazy texting, I didn't even know my thumb could get a cramp!" 
"So what happens when you get out of there, after the week is over?" I asked.
He gave me a wry smile and threw up his hands.

Are we getting to a stage where we consciously have to disconnect from our electronic devices to connect with real people? There is a barrage of information, a 24-hour news cycle, keeping up with what your good friends and the "not-so-good" ones are up to, the whatsapp videos about cute babies and funny monkeys....and oh yes... there's work, and kids, and social never ends. It might be worthwhile to connect more to your significant other, than to your mobile device!

Well, the reality is we can't avoid social media, and we should not try to either. Social media is a great tool for a variety of social & professional issues. How we use or abuse a tool is entirely up to us. If we find ourselves trawling endlessly through "friends" and "friends-of-friends" Facebook profiles, it distracts us from taking care of our own lives. The American Psychology Association (APA) is conducting research these days to add IAD as one of the recognized disorders. And what is IAD ? not the Dulles's "Internet Addictive Disorder"!

"I like my new smart phone, my i pad works just fine, my laptop is perfect, but God, I do miss my mind." ~ Author unknown


Sunday, April 12, 2015

Stressing out Stress!!

A few weeks ago, I walked in to see my first patient of the day.
"Good morning," I said, recognizing the young energetic man. "What's going on?"
"Hey doc, I'm so stressed that even my stress is stressed out". The young man was wringing his hands. He looked anxious.
I knew this was going to be a longer consultation than usual. "Stress" is the fashionable word in the fast moving times we live in. But I had never heard it used three times in one sentence. And it was a short sentence too! For a moment, I didn't know what to say.
"Why are you so stressed?" I asked.
"Well doc, work is busy, I have deadlines to meet. We acquired a new company, and since then the work load has tripled. I have seven year old twins........" And he went on and on and on.

After the young man had left, I started to wonder what "stress" really means.

For most people, its a monster that rears its ugly head more often when we can't or won't cope with our circumstances. The situation, for the most part, is our own creation. Occasionally, in our lives, there will be real stress because of circumstances and situations we have no control over. And it's okay to be 'stressed' at that time.

But I do think stress is the most overused word of our time. It's almost an excuse to shirk a task or responsibility. As an author famously quoted that "Stress is a socially acceptable form of mental illness!" Here's some advice to avoid stress-- Go on a no 'Nuts' diet. Avoid people who drive you 'Nuts'!

But seriously, a lot of us do believe that controlling the pace of our lives, for the most part, is in our own hands. Life puts a lot of demands on us, but there are always choices. The real test is to make choices that are in sync with what we want our life to be. An understanding of the difference between price and value, and striking a balance between wants & needs, goes a long way to reduce stress. The social fabric of our communities would be even stronger, if there was more focus on life, rather than lifestyle.

"I am so stressed out at being stressed out that I can't even remember why I'm stressed out....and it's stressing me out!" ~ Anonymous

Friday, March 20, 2015

A real life story, but without a home.....

"Your blood work shows elevated liver enzymes. Do you drink alcohol?" I asked a patient at the free clinic, a few weeks ago.
"Lots of it, Doc.... a quart of Vodka every night," the man replied in a typical Caribbean accent.
"A quart every day? That's the reason your liver's messed up a little," I said.
"That's the only way I can keep warm, Doc, I don't have a heavy coat."
"Where do you live?" I asked.
"In a tent beside the homeless shelter," he said.
I was at a loss of words for a moment. "Try to cut down on the Vodka," I said hesitantly.
"Don't feel bad for me. I was not always in this situation. Life will roll on, maann, with or without a coat," he said with a huge smile, and held out his hand. That Caribbean accent again!
"Yes it will," I said, as I shook his hand.
"Next time you are at the homeless shelter, look me up," he said as he left the exam room, and left me thinking.

A few days after that conversation, a deer hit my SUV and damaged the driver side front door. I was okay, and there was no problem with driving the SUV. The damaged door just didn't look good. As you all know, getting any kind of car repair work done is a pain. Rental cars, juggling schedules, calling the insurance company....and so on and on. But I started with it.

Anyway, on my next scheduled visit at the homeless shelter, I actually looked up our Caribbean gentleman! He seemed to be pleasantly surprised. 
"You really did show up," he said. We chatted for a couple of minutes. And then something caught my eye. There was a shopping cart by his bed, neatly stacked with about fifty beer cans, of at least 10-15 different brands.
"You are allowed to have that much alcohol inside the shelter?" I asked, pointing to the beer cans.
"Oh no maann, these are all empty," he said.
"Empty? For recycling?" I asked.
"Oh no... I just pour water in whatever brand I want to enjoy," he said. "Life will roll on, maann, with or without the beer in the can." There was that charming Caribbean accent again!
"I'll see you at the clinic in the next couple of weeks," I said.

As I walked to my SUV, the damaged door glared back at me. I looked at my watch. I could swing by the repair shop, call the insurance agent, get the estimate and then head home. Just then a voice echoed in my mind....
"Life will roll on, maann, with or without the door fixed!" 
I smiled to myself, and headed straight home.

"In three words, I can sum up everything I have learned about life. It goes on." ~ Robert Frost

Thursday, February 19, 2015

"Social Media Stress?"...does it actually exist?

The young lady was quite distraught.
"I'm having palpitations... my heart races for no apparent reason... and I just can't...can't eat anything," she said.
"Any fever or chills? Any chest pain?" I asked.
" I just feel tired...fatigued," she said, wringing her hands.
"How long has this being going on?" I asked, while examining her.
"I don't know....probably a few weeks," she said, seeming to settle down a bit now.
Her exam was essentially normal.
"We can run some blood tests. Any stress going on in your life these days?" I asked.
"No, nothing specific. Just routine stuff, you know... kids, work, social media stress---"
"Did you say Social media stress?" I interrupted her. "What is that?"
She looked at me with disdain.
"Well doc, if you usually get 50-60 likes on every picture you post on Facebook, and then suddenly you get only get 5 or 6, won't you be anxious?" she asked.
"Oh... absolutely," I replied, when I realized that she was serious. And then it all came together. "So are those the days you get palpitations and feel anxious?" I asked hesitantly.
I'll leave the rest of the conversation to your imagination.

How much does Social Media effect our daily lives?

We all, being human, like attention. Some of us actively seek it and a small minority will crave it. The latter category suffer from the "COW" syndrome (Center Of the World syndrome!) in which case, one mistakenly believes that the world in their immediate vicinity revolves solely around them, and for them alone! A lot of us post pictures, messages and comments on Social media to share and inform. A few will post stuff to get attention, and when that rush of "Likes", "Tags" or "Pokes" does not materialize, stress follows!

Recent studies at the University Of Gothenberg (Sweden) revealed that the if one spends more than average time on Facebook or any other social media outlet, he or she is more likely to be depressed, anxious, irritable and unemployed. And the percentage of people who embellish their posts and stories on social media sites? 81%..... that's not a misprint. So enjoy all the stories and take in the pictures of facebook friends with a grain of salt.....!!

I personally think Facebook is a revolutionary innovation that comes along only once in a few generations. But I think if the users control its use, rather than the media outlet controlling you, the results would be very productive & satisfying.

"I am not addicted to Facebook or Whatsapp. I just use it when I have Time -- like lunch Time, dinner Time, break Time, this Time, that Time and all the Time!!" ~ Author unknown

Sunday, February 1, 2015

"Z" is for the importance of catching up on the 'Zzz's......'

The young man in my office was fidgety. He seemed very restless.
"All your test results are normal," I said.
"But I feel so tired, doc," he replied.
"Are you worried about anything? Any stress?" I asked.
"No, doc. Life is busy, but good."
"How busy? Are you getting enough sleep?" I asked.
"Well, I make sure I get at least 3-4 hours of sleep every night," he said.
"Just 3-4 hours? That's not enough. That's probably the reason you are so tired."

You can imagine how the conversation went from there on. We all need enough hours of sleep to recharge, reinvigorate and rejuvenate. Constantly being on the up & go will often sap one's soul and strength. On an average, the consensus of most Sleep Researchers is that we need at least 6-8 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period, to have a normal, physiological functioning of the human body. 

That brings us to dreams and dreaming. In ancient times, dreams defined social and political discourse. If a king had a dream that one of his ministers was plotting to overthrow him, he would have that minister imprisoned the next day! Since those times, the science behind dreams has evolved to a whole new level. Did you know there is active research going on now about Dream Control? Yes, that's right--- there might be a day not too far from today when you will be able to control your dreams. For those of you who are interested in this aspect of your dreams, look up MILD! (Mnemonic Induction of Lucid Dreams). 

"Some people can't sleep because they have insomnia. I can't sleep because I have internet connection!" This quote is more true these days than you can imagine. And for those who are constantly trying to lose weight, lack of adequate hours of sleep has been well documented to lead to weight gain. 

"Long time ago, people who sacrificed their sleep, family, food, laughter and other joys of life were called Saints.
These days, they are called Facebookers!" ~ anonymous

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

'Y' is for trying hard not to be a "Yo-Yo" !!

We are all born with a clean slate. Our brain is a blank paper, which starts filling up quite quickly with the squiggles of growing up. Come our teenage years and young adulthood, and we are so full of zest and noble intentions. We are flexible in our ways, we are giving, we are forgiving...... absolutely idealistic !

And then 'Life' happens..........

We all start bending our principles and ideals a bit, to compromise and adjust to the realities of life. We try to paint ourselves in colors that our peers will like, not realizing that sometimes our own natural hue is all we need to impress others. Social pressures probe us at different times to do or say things our core values don't agree with. But as a result of these pressures, sometimes we give in. But before folks will do something that obviously is not aligned to their character, there is a lot of rationalizing, a plenty of "just this time", and some "I'll make up for this later." But once principles are bounced like a Yo-Yo, it's never "just this time" and the damage to one's image can be hard to make up.

 You know why we really bounce our principles and ideals like a Yo-Yo? Its because all of us (or at least most of us) believe that 'wrongs' are not really 'wrongs' if performed by honest, upstanding individuals like ourselves!

But to be fair, most of us, will stick to our principles and do the right thing, most of the time! Life functions at the level of actions, not intentions. Our religion is what we do after the sermon is over. We are all experts at practicing virtues in our living rooms, at meetings, at conventions-- all from a safe distance, but the real test is, as they say -- "Walking the talk!" In the final analysis, we are judged by our deeds, rather than thoughts.

"The best way to succeed in life is to act on the advice we give to others!" ~ author unknown