Saturday, July 21, 2018

A warm blast from the past.....

"You always look great, but today you are looking even better. What's the secret?" I asked my patient, as I was finishing up.
"You are right, Doc. This past weekend I went to my high school reunion. I feel rejuvenated. It was so good to meet up and connect with folks from such a long time ago," he replied.
"High - School reunion? When did you graduate high school?" I asked.
"I was afraid you were going to ask that," he replied. "A long time ago, Doc. I graduated in 1972. I met some of my batch mates after 35 years. But it didn't feel like that. It was just one quick "Hello", and that crossed the bridge from 1972 to now in an instant."

And as I write this, my Medical College reunion was last week in Vancouver. I graduated Medical school in 1984. The years in Med school gave me a formative education and forged life-long friendships.  The organizers of our reunion had done a fabulous job staging different events. The whole reunion created a unique environment that took us all back many decades to revisit fond memories.

A heartfelt 'Hello' and a hug bridged the chasm of almost 4 decades. After that, the flow of conversation was free and easy. The connection was seamless. There was no awkwardness of the vast time span between now and the last time we met. Anecdotes from our Medical School sent us into fits of laughter. It is amazing how each one of us could remember, in meticulous detail, some incidents that are permanently etched in our gray matter. There was instant camaraderie all around.

I am sure all of us feel that way, whenever we meet old friends. We all have memory banks that are locked up in the depths of our brain cells. Its people from our past who have the keys to open up those banks. Then there is a flood of memories that envelop us in a warmth that cannot be described, but can only be felt.

A friend is one of the nicest things you can have, and more important, one of the best things you can be. Friends will rekindle an inner spirit, that no one else can. If we had to sum up friendship in one word, it would be 'comfort'.

So hats off to my colleagues from Dayanand Medical College, for their undying enthusiasm, sincerity, energy and friendship. 

"No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who know each other's worth." ~Robert Southey

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Sophistication is all in the mind

"Please be ready on time this Friday evening," my wife said to me, a few weeks ago. "There'll be a lot of sophisticated people there." She was reminding me of a get together we were invited to.
"So I guess jeans won't cut it then?" I asked hesitantly.
"Jeans?" She gave me one of those looks. She walked away, shaking her head. "And be prepared to slow dance at the party," she added.

The words "slow dance" are enough to make any grown man cringe. Regular dance, I can handle. You shake a leg, move an arm and the dim lights with the flashing strobe takes care of the rest. "Slow Dance" is a different animal altogether.

What does sophistication really mean? Am I sophisticated? I guess its the people I know, people I work with and my friends who should decide whether I am or not. Well, one catch here though - the person who makes that judgment, better be sophisticated too.

So what makes people sophisticated? Is it the way you dress? The way you converse? Education? A bit of everything might be the right answer. It's a universally accepted fact that having a lot of money makes you wealthy, but not necessarily sophisticated.

I think 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. Here's how the dictionary defines sophistication :

"Having acquired worldly knowledge or refinement; lacking natural simplicity or naiveté."

Anyway, I survived the "Sophisticated" party by just being myself. There were no major gaffes on my part and I tried to blend in with the elite crowd. And yes, the slow dance..... it was bit of a challenge. I just pretended I was ice-skating, but in slow motion.

"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."

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Good Optics = True Friendship? Probably not.......!

"I have palpitations all the time, and I feel so nervous," a thirty-some year old lady said to me in the office.
"You have a reason to be anxious?" I asked.
"Well.." she hesitated.
I waited.
"I am so stressed because my pick-up number's been changed by my friends," she blurted out.
I was confused. Pick-up number by friends?
"I'm sorry, I don't understand. Are we talking about food?" I didn't know what else to say.
"," she actually smiled. "I mean when we girls go out, my pick up number is 4 now. It used to be 1 or 2 just a few weeks ago."
I just stared at her for a couple of very long seconds. Words failed me. I stole a glance to the schedule on my i-pad. I had a few minutes. I pulled a chair.
"So what does that mean.... Your pick-up number being lower on the list?" I asked. It felt as if as I was talking to a middle schooler.
"It means that the person picking me up is not that close to me now. It's like sitting next to each other at a party," she said, exhaling a deep breath. She seemed relieved by venting.
"So the strength of a friendship is dependent on the pick up number? And how close you sit at a party?" I asked.
"Yes...yes. And also if a person hugs you or just says "Hi" when you greet each other at a social gathering,"  she was very animated now.
"I thought friendship was about meeting of the minds and having similar priorities and all that..." my was trailed off. I knew I was wasting my breath here.
"That's all okay, but people can't see those things."
"Aha... so it's people around you who decide who you are close to or not." Before you she could respond, I continued. "I'll give you the number of a very good counselor, and maybe he can help you and your friends about the 'pick up sequence' and the 'meet & greet' protocol."
I had to end this. I had to go on to more mundane problems like heart attacks and strokes !

I can't help but smile when I think of that conversation. Is this what friendship is all about these days? Good optics? Maybe, for some. And then there's this social media deluge. Everyone else seems to be on a permanent vacation or a partying spree! This puts a lot of pressure on insecure minds.

There are two universal truths about a lasting friendship -- "Being Sincere and Being Open." 

The opposite is "Being Secretive and Being Manipulative."  It's tough to have long-term friends when these two characteristics are hallmarks of a personality.

Friendship should be treasure trove of fond memories, of spontaneous laughter and of comfortable silences. It's not about how many friends you can count, it's about how many of those you can count on.

"The most beautiful discovery true friends make is that they can grow separately without growing apart."  ~ Elisabeth Foley


Sunday, May 20, 2018

So, how are you "Vibing" today.....?!

"Your blood pressure is absolutely normal today," I said to a patient. My voice was tinged with a little surprise.
"You weren't expecting that, Doc?" my patient asked.
"I was expecting it to be better than last time, but this is great. So you have been taking your medications?" I asked
"Yes, I have been taking my prescriptions regularly. But I've done something more that really helped a lot," he replied.
"Oh yeah? What's that?"
"I've been hanging out with people from whom I get good vibes. I think that's helped more than my meds," he replied.
"I am sure it has, but please don't stop the medications," I emphasized.
", I'll continue to take my pills. But I am going to surround myself with positive vibes from here on. I am sixty now, I don't need negativity in my life any more."

That conversation stuck with me the rest of the day. There was so much truth in those words. There comes a time in everyone's life when the phrase "Peace & Quiet" has more value than any amount of "Glitter & Gold."

Everyone has their own perspective on life. Even in the same social circle, or close group of friends, priorities are different. That does not mean any one perspective or thought process is better than the other. Our priorities in life are molded by circumstances and social pressures. How much one gives in to these pressures, is again, a choice that we all make on a day to day basis.

But one unavoidable truth, which we can all agree on, is that we all know in our hearts in whose company we are most comfortable & relaxed. Now, we don't have to be loud or obvious about it. And that's because of the same "Social pressures or constraints" we just talked about! 

But be socially brave, buck the trend a bit, and hang out more with people who bring out the best in you. Envelope yourself with positive vibes, surround yourself with personalities who bring sunshine into your life. That would be a step towards creating a life that feels good on the inside, not one that just looks good on the outside. 

"Vibes, like attitude, are contagious. Are yours worth catching?"


Sunday, May 6, 2018

"From Bombay to Bangalore...."

Sudha Murthy is the Chairperson of the Infosys Foundation. She often writes about real life experiences. The passage below is one of her own. Please read it till the end. It will be worth it. 

It was the beginning of summer. I was boarding Udyan Express at Gulbarga railway station. 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.
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. She must have been about ten or eleven years old. She had uncombed hair and was dressed in a torn skirt and blouse. She was trembling as 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. I told the driver to take us to my friend Ram's place. Ram ran shelter homes for boys and girls. Infosys Foundation supported him financially. I thought Chitra could stay there for some time. We could talk about her future after I came back from my tour.

Over the next few months, Chitra adjusted well at the shelter. Ram suggested that Chitra could go to a high school nearby. I 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 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.

A few years ago, 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. 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 huge 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..." 

Thursday, April 26, 2018

"Kama Muta" // "Psychological Elevation"... Is it actually a thing ?!

"Hey Doc, give the patient in room 2 a few minutes. We are warming him up," the nurse called out to me.
"Warming him up? What do you mean?" I was at the free clinic, a couple of months ago.
"Well, he gave his only winter coat to his room mate at the homeless shelter," the nurse replied.
"Why?! It's freezing outside," I said. 
"He says his room mate needed it more than him," the nurse replied.
I had no words for a moment.
"How is he going to get back to the shelter?" I asked. The wind chill was in the single digits outside.
"Oh... We'll rustle up something from the clinic. Everyone here wants to give their coat to him," she replied.
At that moment,  I would have given him mine in an instant. Imagining a homeless person give his only coat to someone who needed it more than him, was very touching. This was a collective sentiment of whoever heard about this patient's magnanimous act of kindness. It's a ripple effect. On hearing about random acts of kindness by complete strangers, a surge of goodwill & generosity envelopes people. 

And this sentiment is more common than you may think. A recent opinion piece on rekindled memories of this particular incident. What is the neuropsychological basis of such sentiments, when we witness or hear about acts of kindness by almost total strangers?

Jonathan Haidt, a psychologist at UVA, called this positive emotion "Elevation" -- a warm, uplifting feeling that we experience when we see unexpected acts of kindness. It often makes us want to help others. And some psychologists call this emotion by another name -- "Kama Muta".

'Kama Muta' means "Moved by Love" in Sanskrit, and has been used in ancient Indian scriptures through ages. This emotion has a few distinct features. People may feel chills, goosebumps and some even might tear up seeing an unexpected act of kindness or love. After the initial intense feeling has passed, many folks may have a sense of buoyancy and uplift. The feeling is contagious and one good deed leads to another.

So please, everyone, let love and kindness flow. Inspire and be inspired. God knows we need compassion and humanity in today's turbulent times. Open your hearts and give without remembering. Real charity doesn't care if it's Tax - deductible.

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


Sunday, April 1, 2018

"#March for our lives"....... a day with a purpose

I was fortunate to participate in the "March For Our Lives" rally this past weekend. The emotion and energy of the people was palpable. And the speakers.... wow! Most of the speakers were teenagers and amazingly eloquent. They were focused on clear objectives. Is this a moment in our nation's history or will it be the beginning of a sustained movement? Only time will tell. Judging by the passion of the student leaders, I hope this results in some meaningful change.

Later that day, I was reminiscing about the rally with a friend, who is a Preschool teacher. The discussion veered towards guns, gun violence and impact of the same on young children.
"We practice "Active shooter" drills once a year for students," she said.
"In your school?" I was shocked.
"Yes, in my school. And my students are 4 and 5 year old kids," she said.
Images of 4 and 5 year-old kids, in all their innocence, hiding under tables and closets immediately flashed through my mind. It was an extremely distressing thought.

The same evening, my wife and I attended a First Birthday celebration for our friend's daughter. As I looked at the angel-like birthday girl, my brain warped back to the afternoon conversation. In 2-3 years, would this sweet little girl be practicing "Active shooter" drills in her school too? The mere thought made me nauseous.

I might be wrong, but I think we are the only developed country in the world, where kids have to go through "Active shooter" drills, starting from Preschool. You think that should be the normal way of life for 4-5 year olds, in any community, society or country?

Social activism is born when a perceived injustice has gone beyond a certain tolerance point. No wonder one of the slogans of these young crusaders is "Enough is Enough."  These young students have started something. They are not politicians or lobbyists. They have no ulterior motive, except one. They just want to be afraid of only their grades and Algebra when they go to school, not bullets. But they will need help and support to sustain this movement.

We are at such a place in our country at this time, that the question these days is not if a mass shooting will happen again, but when and where. When a society deems it "normal" to have "Active Shooter" drills for preschoolers, something is terribly wrong. 

When social issues are at stake, we must always choose sides.

"Neutrality always helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented" ~ Elie Wiesel