Stretch out!

“You have the power to stretch reality to fit in to your dreams.”

-Anonymousopen upI love the statue depicted in this picture. It shows a woman perfectly poised on one foot, stretching out her limbs. Her posture is graceful like that of a dancer, and she faces skywards. I would love to adopt this woman’s stance, not just physically (although it would be interesting to balance myself the way she does), but figuratively…I would love to capture her spirit and  make it my own…

To me , this statue depicts an open mind willing to accept new ideas, willing to let the imagination soar; an open heart willing to give freely and spread love around; and open arms willing to embrace every living experience that the universe throws at her.

Unfortunately, such openness requires courage that not all of us think we possess. Instead of opening up, we get wrapped up in our fears and insecurities, and thus close all doors…we prevent new ideas from reaching us and get sucked in the whirlpool of our prejudiced thoughts. The lack of fresh air distorts our existing ideas, and we get completely enslaved in the quagmire of our deformed notions.

The outcome– fundamentalism, terrorism, ISIS and Taliban….The members of these organizations have shut their minds to external ideas, and follow their warped ideas, which leads to them committing gruesome crimes including murder of women and children.

I have described the worst case scenario, but we all probably know people who are stuck in a rut, unchallenged and uninspired. This statue is for all such people (of course that includes me) who need to stretch out; stretch their imagination and their limits!

Indian at heart

As I have mentioned previously on my blog, I live in the US (in Philadelphia). I immigrated to the US about 8 years ago from New Delhi, India. While I have imbibed American culture to some degree (more so at work), I remain a true blue Indian at heart. These are a few ways in which I keep my desi spirit alive in the midst of acculturation:indian flag                       Floral Indian Flag at the Philadelphia Flower Show 2010

  • I usually dress in western outfits, as dictated by work (don’t want to be gawked at by others), but never lose an opportunity to add an Indian element. I have worn my kurtas tucked in to pencil skirts,  anarkalis as dresses with tights and boots, dupattas as scarves…you get the picture. I also wear my Indian jewelry with all my outfits (including my gold wedding jewelry). Usually the effect is boho chic and unique, but sometimes it does backfire! When it does, I go back to wearing “proper” western outfits!
  • I cannot follow a recipe from another cuisine without adding Indian elements to it. Part of it is that I never plan and buy ingredients. Usually I pick up a recipe from the internet and modify it…So I have made pasta with cumin (jeera) and garam masala, eggplant bharta with basil (inspired by a Thai recipe), bruschetta with crumbled paneer, pizza with Indian-style cooked vegetables as toppings, etc. Again, the experiments are usually refreshing, but they do go awry once in a while!
  • Again, I add Indian touches to my home decor. While the background is all western and very modern with clean lines, the accents like cushions and wall art are mostly Indian…not a surprise since India has such a variety to offer in terms of arts and crafts.
  • I keep mentioning my love for books on this blog. Well, I devour every book penned by an author with an Indian name (never mind that they have never been to India, their books are always rooted in India)..So I have read every book by Jhumpa Lahiri, Chitra Rai Divakaruni, Bharti Kirschner, and so on.

These are some of the ways in which I try to solve the conundrum of blending in versus retaining my Indian fervour. The former is important because in general, an immigrant still wants to be perceived as well-adjusted in his/her adopted community (not to mention the not-so-subtle disapprovals of Indian practices and traditions). The latter, I think,  is important for the sanity of the first-generation immigrant, who can never fully assimilate in another culture. Settling in the US has made me realize what a stereotypical Indian I am…Before coming here, I had assumed  I was quite “westernized” (read liberal) in my thinking, but actually staying here changed my opinion.

My last paragraph sounds somewhat pessimistic, but overall I must say that it has been a rewarding experience to settle in this country. I’ll never lose my sense of identity as an Indian, though.

This reminds me of a feature from the magazine “India Today” many years ago about what it mean to be Indian. The one comment that I remember was that while most people across the world consider their natural citizenship a mere accident of birth, for  most Indians, their motherland has a deeper meaning, one that transcends subsequent mobility…once an Indian, always an Indian at heart!

Phir milenge! Alvida!

P.S. Check out how I find Indian elements in the US…(click on the photographs to see a slide show)

Random thoughts…

It’s difficult to stick to one theme today, so I am just stringing together some random stuff:

  • Love random statues scattered throughout the city parks…when I can, I do stop by to read what they are about, and it is usually some interesting historic tidbit (not surprising since I live in Philadelphia, where history of the US was made), but sometimes there are oddballs…check these out:Pankration-wrestling and boxingwrestlingthree boysI did not take a picture of the signboard here, but this was made for a wedding apparently…
  • I never used to cry while watching Bollywood tear-jerkers up until recently, but now I have tears streaming down my face while watching sentimental cliched scenes from the 90s movies  (even when I’m watching DDLJ or Kuch Kuch Hota Hai {names of superhit Bollywood movies} for the nth time)…I think it’s because I no longer have an image to maintain…I can better accept how inconsequential stuff like Bollywood movies affects me (not to mention that mostly I watch these movies alone now).
  • I love being high up…as in the air, or on top of a hill, or a building, and looking down..While many people are afraid of heights, I get a kick out of being high up. Needless to say, I take pictures when I am up there…hot air balloon                             Philadelphia seen from a hot air balloonlake tahoe                                             Lake Tahoe from 10,000 feetBellagio fountains                        Fountains at Bellagio, Las Vegas seen from above
  • As a child, I read a Ukrainian folk tale where a king asks a clever girl to name the sweetest thing for all human beings, and she replies “Sleep”. The king is duly impressed. Now when I was young, I never understood it…why would sleep be the sweetest thing in the world?

Fast forward couple of years….now, going through year after year of training as a physician, having a child, and having experienced pain and anxiety, all of which lead to sleep deprivation, I finally realize the wisdom of this answer…


Of course, I am talking about sleep because it is Sunday night, and I cannot afford to wake up sleep-deprived!

Au revoir!

Doctor Venus versus Doctor Mars


Picture reference:

I learnt a remarkable fact recently…Among the first licensed women physicians, there was an Indian woman named Anandibai Joshi, who studied Medicine in my current city, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania along with two other women, one from Syria and another from Japan. A photograph of the trio from the year 1885 has recently made its way to social media and is also being included in tours of the city. Sounds almost like the stuff fairy tales are made of, except that there was a tragic end to the story, with Dr. Joshi dying of consumption (tuberculosis) at the young age of 21.

This serves as a reminder that women have been around in this profession for a long time. Nearly 130 years later, women still find themselves clamouring for equality in medicine, in some fields more than others.

While I am convinced that competence as a physician has nothing to do with gender, there are differences in the way men and women approach various issues, and in a male-dominated world, women may not always conform to the norms that are defined largely by males, and unfortunately perceived as traits related to success.

Some of the differences that I have realized are:

(The operational word here is difference. I am not trying to say that women physicians are better or worse than their male counterparts.)

  • Women tend to be perfectionists more often than men, and therefore are too hard on themselves at times. I feel many of us try to be perfect at every step of the way and sometimes get caught in issues that are perceived as insignificant by our male counterparts. On the flip side, this attention to detail may translate in to better patient care and improved patient satisfaction.
  • Women are conditioned to stick to rules and regulations. I think that is largely a result of our upbringing that tries to fit girls in to molds right from the beginning, while boys are traditionally allowed more freedom. Thus women grow up to be really good at following steps methodically, but tend to be less willing to experiment than men.   Again, in medicine, a lot of what we do depends upon doing the right thing the same way every single time, and women in general excel at that. Not everyone needs to be an innovator, right?
  • Women are more compassionate than men. While that is a great asset when dealing with really sick patients, it also means that the stress of taking care of terminally ill patients affects us more than our male counterparts.
  • I know my male colleagues always make fun of females for being “hormonal”, but it is true! We women do go through an emotional roller-coaster with our menstrual cycles! Pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder, euphemistically known as PMS, is a real condition, and affects women to different degrees. Add pregnancy in to the mix and emotions really go awry…Not just that, dealing with children and their physical and emotional needs can sometimes make us irritable and grumpy. Men who are in a more stable emotional  state find it really hard to comprehend this and this emotional lability can be really detrimental to our professional lives. (I really cannot think of any positives here, and I think we really need to be cognizant of our emotional friability, and detach our actions from our emotions at those times.)
  • Women are wired to seek appreciation, therefore being appreciated by co-workers, patients and subordinates is extremely important to us. Not so much for our male counterparts. In general, they don’t try to please everyone, therefore it is a lot easier for then to maintain their priorities and their sanity. Another sad truth is that women are less likely to be liked by other women in the group, while men tend to be liked equally by men and women. I think it is great if a woman can manage to earn every single person’s appreciation, but trying to win everyone over may not be possible, and one should not sweat excessively over it.
  • Unfortunate as it is, women with demanding careers are still held to task for their competence as homemakers and mothers. The world never ceases to remind you in myriad, often discreet ways that you may be great at what you do outside of home, but that does not excuse you from striving to be the perfect mother..Men are not held up to similar standards of parenthood. (I am not implying that men don’t have societal norms to conform to, but overall they are judged less than women are.) Therefore, I feel it is extremely important to be clear about your career goals, and how they fit in with your aspirations as a parent. Not everyone is cut from the same cloth, and not every woman physician needs to bake cookies for her kids….

Having said all this, I must confess that I have constantly tried to emulate my most successful mentors, almost all of whom are males. Only recently have I begun to accept that I am a woman, and wired differently from men. I just need to be comfortable with these differences (with the caveats mentioned)….

I love cartoons!

Recently I had a few hours to kill in San Francisco, California and found myself near the Yerba Buena Gardens. While searching for local attractions nearby, I chanced upon the Cartoon Art Museum. Located in a very unassuming building with a modest admission fee of $8.00, the museum appeared fairly ordinary, and at the first glance, sort of boring, even though it was described as “the only museum in the US dedicated to the preservation and exhibition of all forms of cartoon art”. However, once inside, I started looking at each cartoon exhibit carefully, and ended up spending an entertaining hour in there, all by myself.

There were cartoons from various eras, from the 19th century to present times. The most entertaining were political cartoons, especially from the second world war, post-war era and the cold war era. It is amazing how potentially inflammatory material is presented in these cartoons, which stated in any other manner would be completely unacceptable and probably banned in print. Therein lies the beauty of cartoons: the ability to present controversial issues using exaggerated, caricature-like strokes, while keeping the message short and somewhat enigmatic, such that readers can interpret it from their perspective.

Also interesting were satirical jabs targeting different sections of the society: women (of course, most cartoonists seem to be men), teenagers, Russians (in the cold war era) etc. Then there were cartoons documenting important world events such as the Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon, subjects that would appear to be unlikely fodder for satire. Since the museum was basically built by an endowment from Charles Schultz (creator of Peanuts), there was a whole section dedicated to these cartoons.

The museum transported me back in to a forgotten era; when I lived in India and never missed the daily cartoon by RK Laxman featuring the “common man”. I still remember the somewhat harried, middle-aged balding man with exuberant facial hair who was perpetually caught in the whirlwind of national affairs. I think that was the only political cartoon I ever followed.

Anyway that was all I had to say on this subject…ciao!cartoon museum

Cartoon Art Museum: at the entrance (above); and 2 cartoons from the museum (below)

Please pardon the picture quality: images taken with an i-phonecartoon1 cartoon2

Customized reading

The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more you learn, the more places you’ll go.” — Dr. Seussclimbing higherOnce upon a time, stories were meant to be passed down orally from generation to generation, with some help from drawings in the cave…

Then scripts were invented, and people started putting their thoughts on paper/papyrus/leaves/cloth…

Then came the printing press, and books as we know them today came in to existence….

When I was growing up, reading a book meant curling up with one in your hand…

Welcome to  e-books in the 21st century…. These  can be downloaded not only to your kindle devices, but also to kindle apps on smart phones and tablets.

You can do that with one click and download a book immediately!

Most classics are available free of cost, while other books are available for about a third of the cost of a print edition. I love the freedom of getting a book anywhere there is a wireless internet connection….it is liberating for an avid reader like me.

Not only do I read fiction in this format, I have also bought course books. In fact, once I bought a Q&A format review book for my exams, and downloaded it to 2 devices. I would sit with the page set to questions on one device, and answers on the other. This eliminated some annoying page-turning!

Among the most popular websites for free classics is Project Gutenberg, the largest collection of books that are out of copyright and available for everyone for any purpose. This site has over 20000 books now, and you can download these books to your computer.

If reading is too trying for you, welcome to the world of audiobooks. You can listen to these audiobooks while driving and exercising. I prefer to read, but my husband swears by his audiobooks for long drives.

I recently discovered that my library has online links to borrow e-books too. Though I have not used this feature yet, it is perfect for when it is impossible for me to make a run to the library!

Not everything is available in the e-book format though. A few months back, shortly after Gabriel Garcia Marquez died, I was really hunting for his epic saga “One Hundred Years of Solitude”. It was unavailable in the library (authors get more famous posthumously, I guess), and I could not find a kindle edition. Then I stumbled upon an article which stated that the English translation of this book was unavailable as a kindle edition (though the Spanish version was). Unwilling to give up, I scoured the internet and found a pdf file free of cost that I downloaded. I started reading it on my laptop, but soon found a print edition in the local library.

So what’ s your excuse for not reading then? Pick your medium and immerse yourself in the illuminating world of books today!

Happy reading (or listening)!

P.S.:   Image: Comcast Building in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US- the tallest building in the city

Baby, let’s read together

I have always been a loner, and what better for a loner to do than to read books?

Reading is my nirvana, my catharsis, my anxiolytic, and my antidepressant..I have been passionate about reading since I was very young, and it gives me immense pleasure to inculcate the habit of reading in my child.

While I am no expert on the topic of teaching a child to read, I can certainly share my experience. The following points may be useful when starting out:

1. It is better to start reading to your infant as early as possible. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends reading aloud to infants as it promotes better language skills.

2. Starting  with picture-heavy books, that have simple pictures showing one theme on one page, is a good idea. There are numerous books that try to cram too much pictorial information in one page, and they can be distracting for the young child.books

3. As your child grows in to a toddler, get him/her more involved. One can point out pictures to then in a book and ask them to name them. The attention span of a toddler being what it is, long stories are not for them.

4. I have found that setting aside a fixed time everyday helps establish a habit of reading. Now my 3 year old himself brings books to me in case I forget. We have also decided that we are going to read 2stories/ 2 books a day, and we usually stick to that.

5. It is a good idea to take them to the local library and read books with them there. Personally, I love picking out books in a library, and my son has started doing the same. It helps that the child has a limitless variety to choose from. I am still squeamish about borrowing books at his age, though, because I don’t want him to damage them in the midst of a temper tantrum!

6. Buying new books can be expensive, but I buy books for a dollar or less at the local library. Moreover, the donated books we find at the library have usually been read and liked by other children, so their likability factor is usually high.

7. Playdates can be modified to “read aloud” dates, where you and your friends can read aloud to children instead of leaving them alone with toys.

8. Being an immigrant family in the US, we celebrate both local and Indian holidays. That calls for a LOT of gifting! I try to alternate buying books and toys as gifts for my son. (Guess I am lucky I have a boy because he does not ask for clothing and accessories as gifts!)

9. I think it is important to have a variety of books. For my son, I have relatively complicated story books with different characters (ranging from Disney characters to folk tales from around the world), simple picture books with fewer words (so that he can start reading words for himself), factual books (eg. books on planets, animals, human body etc.) and poetry books, to name a few. We try not to repeat books for a week or so, but sometimes I have to bow down to his wishes..

As you continue to read with your child, you’ll find them developing abstract thinking. Pretty soon your child will be weaving fact in to fiction, creating dramatic stories, and building up his/her vocabulary in the process..

One Amazing Thing…

First, a disclaimer. The title of this post is plagiarized. Ok, not plagiarized, maybe inspired. This is the title of a book by an Indian American author where a bunch of people stuck in an adverse situation tell each other “one amazing thing” about their life..

One amazing thing that I realized today is how a positive attitude can be the best medicine…As part of a team trying to give hope to patients who are extremely sick (creepy sick, as we sometimes call them), I have witnessed several instances recently where we give our patients a poor prognosis (based on scientific data and experience), but they prove us wrong, refusing to believe us, letting their positive attitude guide them. It is at once gratifying and humbling to be proved wrong when the patient turns a corner.It also serves as a reminder that we do not save lives on our own, we are merely tools that a higher power uses to fulfil the destiny of people who have placed their lives in our hands…

I know this is getting too serious, but I needed to put it out there, since this thought has been dominating my cerebral cortex all day…

This is also a reminder to me to never give up, not for my patients, not for myself..

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew

To serve their turn long after they are gone,

And so hold on when there is nothing left in you

Except the will which says to them, GO ON!

From: “If” by Rudyard Kipling (quoted from memory, may have inaccuracies in the verse)lone cypress tree

This is the Lone Cypress Tree standing tall, and alone for 300 years along the California coast..

Growing Pains

I look at my 3 year old and wish time would freeze….

He is cute, talks non-stop and gives me the most awesome hugs and kisses..but that’s not why I wish he would not grow up further.

It’s his enthusiasm for everything, his general joie-de-vivre, that I want to capture and freeze in time. At his age, everything is amazing, and the most mundane objects turn inspiring..I wish he would never lose that sense of wonder, the joy of discovery, and the ability to immerse himself completely in the task at hand..

I hope he never grows up to be like the cynical, jaded adults we all seem to evolve in to. Most of us are always trying to think and plan ahead, and apparently lose the ability to be in the moment and to savor the present completely. Every time I see him excited about something trivial, my heart skips a beat and I try to look at things from his perspective too. Mostly I end up being unsuccessful because of years of conditioning that bring conflicting thoughts in to my mind, but once in a while, I do lose myself in the moment and enjoy……with unbridled enthusiasm..

crystal ball

I added this image of glass art from the Corning Museum of Glass because I was reminded of a crystal ball where I would love to capture these precious moments…

The sensual flower

I am sure this title sounds pretty quirky for the first let me explain. ..

Of all the flowers I have seen, none has captured my imagination like the orchid. Orchids come in a stupendous variety, with a wide range of colors, patterns, and arrangement (while some flowers grow by themselves, others exhibit themselves in an inflorescence). However, that’s just one thing. The reason I am writing about orchids is that I find them very sensual…looking at orchids is like a pleasurable assault on my senses. No wonder different varieties of orchids hold the honor of being national flowers for several countries including Venezuela, Columbia and Singapore!

So here I am sharing a photo album of delectable orchids from a horticultural exhibit at Longwood Gardens near Philadelphia…


orchid 2orchid 5orchid 3orchid 7orchid 4    orchid 6  orchid 8 orchid 9 orchid 10 orchid1orchid 11 orchid 12

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