Always an Indian at heart- Phir bhi dil hai Hindustani

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Above: Holiday lights showcasing the Taj Mahal in Philadelphia

This may sound strange and duplicitous for someone who left her country to pursue greener pastures to say, but I’m going to talk about it anyway…I still consider myself deeply patriotic. Having aspired to travel the world as an ambassador from India (by joining the Indian foreign services) when I was younger, I still cannot erase the idea from my mind that I represent my parent country even while living in the US. I am going to be judged as an Indian most of the time (most people realize pretty soon that I am “fresh-off-the-boat” or a first generation immigrant, probably due to my accent, if not anything else), and I always want to put my best foot forward as an Indian.

It hurts me deeply to see everything that is wrong with my country…and its not just about the poverty and lack of infrastructure. I am saddened by the apathy of people, the plight of women, the rising reports of violence against women, the tangled web of corruption…all the ways in which we Indians fail our country. (By the way, I am still an Indian citizen, so calling myself an Indian is factually correct.) I wish the deep-rooted attitudes could change, not just at the surface, but deep within.

What irks me most is the paternalistic society that India has. Women in India are probably more repressed than in any other secular nation in the world. I am not talking about rural areas or uneducated sections  of the society alone. Even amongst people of the highest class, the respect awarded to women is deplorable. I had not even realized this until I came to the US, and I  had lived and studied among educated people in India all my life.  What appeared to be a normal way of being treated by men in my country would actually be quite derogatory here. In the US, several women have confided that they find many Indian men lacking basic manners when it comes to dealing with women.

I usually do not feel comfortable criticizing India. I make a conscious effort to remember everything that is good about my country, like family ties, respect for elders (my professional performance reports by my mentors consistently mention my respectful attitude, which appears strange to me because that was ingrained in me right from the beginning, but it is not something people take for granted here), secularism (people are surprised that I know about other religions or that I can sing Christmas carols), and more than anything else, commitment to work that transcends comforts and pleasure because that is how we were raised (especially useful in the field of medicine).

Tall words from someone who left the borders of India. I am acutely aware of my runaway situation, and have deep respect for colleagues of mine who chose to stay behind in India, and are constantly trying to help their country by bringing new medical technology to India. This may be a lame excuse, but my choice of specialty in the field of medicine (cardiology) was one that was (and still is) underrepresented among women in India, and I could foresee many barriers to practicing that specialty in India. The challenges in the US are far less for a woman cardiologist.

When I get started on the topic of India, it is really difficult for me to stop. So I’ll end here with this poem that I love-

Breathes there the man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,
‘This is my own, my native land!’
Whose heart hath ne’er within him burn’d
As home his footsteps he hath turn’d
From wandering on a foreign strand?
If such there breathe, go, mark him well;
For him no Minstrel raptures swell;
High though his titles, proud his name,
Boundless his wealth as wish can claim;
Despite those titles, power, and pelf,
The wretch, concentred all in self,
Living, shall forfeit fair renown,
And, doubly dying, shall go down
To the vile dust from whence he sprung,
Unwept, unhonour’d, and unsung.”
Walter Scott

Confident in ignorance

“To succeed in life you need two things: ignorance and confidence.”– Mark TwainDSC03299 (2)

Replica of the famous statue of David by Michaelangelo in Florence, Italy (the original is at Accademia in Florence)- to me, this statue depicts a supremely confident man

I never realized until fairly recently how astutely Mr. Twain had nailed the secret behind success…How could being ignorant lead to success? Agreed that confidence could..

However, now I see plenty of successful people who possess both these qualities. They  can pull off anything by virtue of their confidence, despite being ignorant. Basically what I’ve figured out is that most people are not really paying attention to what you say, so mumbling something hesitantly, even though you are correct, does not work as well as saying something outrageously wrong or untrue with a dash of confidence…

I must admit that I am not a very confident person. For me, confidence has to be borne out of knowledge. I  lack a capability of fibbing confidently. As a result, I am usually unable to impress people when I meet them briefly (not good when you consider scenarios such as job interviews), but do much better with prolonged contact with people, where they can see my confidence emerge naturally in the wake of acquiring knowledge.

Of course, ignorance has its advantages. It makes one less inhibited and more likely to take chances, which may result in success. As a corollary, sometimes  the fear that accompanies knowledge can be crippling.

At the end of this rather boring monologue, here’s another resolution for 2015- To build up confidence!rocky (2)

Statue of Rocky in Philadelphia- again symbolic of confidence

Setting fire to water

I am literally talking about setting fire to water…not figuratively…fire on water

http://www.knikaquatics.com/Home.jsp?team=akka

I just remembered reading a book on the periodic table (table of all elements arranged according to atomic numbers and masses) as a child. While reading about sodium, I was fascinated by the fact that a lump of sodium would burn when placed in water due to a chemical reaction. I told my younger sister about it at night (I guess she was about 7 or 8 years old then), and she was horrified to think that someone would actually want to set fire to water!

Searching for this topic on Google now, there are actually websites which detail how you can set fire to ice cubes. The idea is simple, just coat the cubes with something flammable like ethanol or methanol that will burn…

I also came across articles on creating fire water..this is a party trick in areas where the controversial technique of fracking is carried out. People light matches, bring them close to a running tap and then step back as the trickle bursts into flames. This is possible because of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves injecting water, sand and chemicals into the hard shale rock under high pressure to break it up and extract the natural gas trapped within. Some of this gas escapes as it rises to the surface, contaminating aquifers on the way.

In several areas of Northern Pennsylvania, methane is so abundant in tap water due to geological conditions and fracking that you could light a fire straight out the faucet…

fracking

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/12/tap-water-catches-fire-methane-debby-jason-kline_n_2462981.html

There are actually you tube videos for creating fire water. I have not checked them out, because the idea of setting water on fire is not quite as exciting as it was over 2 decades ago. Moreover, fracking appears to be environmentally hazardous to me, though I have not researched its impact on the environment.

There have been reports of a polluted river catching fire- the Meiyu river in China actually caught fire once due to release of black oil from a factory!

polluted river on fire

http://strangesounds.org/2014/03/water-on-fire-polluted-meiyu-river-ignites-in-whenzou-china.html

Well, if Adele can set fire to the rain, surely one can set fire to water in other forms as evident from  these images!

Five Lessons learnt in 2014

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Glass sculpture of the Buddha- at the Museum of Art and Design, New York City

I guess I should have compiled this list in 2014, and not on the first day of 2015, but better late than never!

Let me first talk about my specific teachers for this year:

1. My patients

I have been a physician in various stages of training for exactly half my life at this point. For the last 6 months, I have been working with some of the sickest patients, those whose hearts have given up on them. Most of my patients need either an artificial heart pump or a change of their heart, i.e. heart transplant. Some do not get to either. These patients have given me a new perspective on life.

2. My son

“Child is the father of man”. There is so much one can learn from a child!

Coming back to the lessons themselves…

1. A positive attitude in the face of adversity can work wonders.

Often heard, never fully believed it until recently. This lesson in living is a tribute to my bravest patients.

2. Being happy has nothing to do with material possessions. 

Learnt from my child, who is happy as long as we spend time with him.

3. Your health is an extension of your personality and your overall approach to life. 

Well, maybe illness is not, but how your illness affects your life has everything to do with who you are. No medical technology can help a person who does not want to help himself…

4. Speech may be silver and silence golden, but recognizing their place at a given moment is priceless.

Learnt this one as part of growing up in the workplace..

5. It is good to share your problems. Bringing in a fresh perspective can sometimes be the simplest solution. 

With respect to this one, there is a thin line between “sharing” a problem and “whining” about it; the former can help, the latter never does..

What were some of the most important lessons that you learnt last year? Would love to hear your comments!

Happy new year again!

Confessions of a Procrastinator

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No points for guessing that I am a procrastinator…

I am writing this blog post right now as a way of procrastinating…

So I need to finish a task that is not really pleasant. This is the mental dialogue I have..

Let me get this out of the way..it will take half an hour at the most.

Wait, I’m kind of hungry. Hunger makes me impatient. I’ll not be able to concentrate…let me have dinner first. I’ll do it after dinner when everything is quiet.

Post-dinner: Ok, now I am ready to sit down and finish it..

Wait, let me select my outfit for work tomorrow, otherwise I’ll be late again.

Let me just check facebook once…my cousin must have posted pictures from her fabulous sounding trip by now, am curious to check them out..

(There is much more to see on facebook. People are posting new year wishes today..)

Half an hour later: Gosh, I did not check my blog today. My blog is new, I need to respond to comments promptly..

Ten minutes later: Forgot to take my vitamin supplements, let me get them before I forget..

Five minutes later: Need to check my work e-mail, there may be something important there.

Five minutes later: Ok, I am starting earnestly now..this should be short, I need to type only a page………….

(Check my e-mail in between, there is a 70% off sale at my favorite online store….items run out fast, so I should check it out right now.)

Half an hour later: First 2 lines written. Cannot go further because:

a) It’s going to take about 2 hours.

b) It’s close to midnight, I need to sleep if I want to be functional tomorrow morning.

c) The assignment is not due until 2 weeks from now. I always start too early…I have plenty of time…

(Just so you know, I do start as early as possible, and finish with a reasonable margin before the deadline..)

I need to change this habit of procrastination, that will be my new year resolution!

Saint Kabir (an Indian sage and poet from the 17th century) once said:

What you can do tomorrow, do today;

What you can do today, do right now.

The world can transform completely in a second,

There may be no time to repent. 

Happy New Year

Time to sing Auld Lang Syne!

Another year has flown by, and I am wistful as usual. I hate that the new year signals the end of the holiday season, with nothing to anticipate but cold and snow (at least in the Northern hemisphere).

To chase the blues away and to embrace the promise of a new year, I look back at the best and the brightest moments of the year that has gone by. So here I  am sharing some of the most sparkling photographs from last year…

Have a happy, healthy and brilliant new year!DSC03725DSC04105

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Why I love facebook

FB gets plenty of bad press…how people are living in the virtual world, how FB encourages unfair competition, how people are more concerned with their appearances on FB, how they waste their time etc….wasting time

I love facebook. I think it is the best thing since sliced bread (forgive the cliched expression)..

I post pictures on FB regularly. I wish everyone on their birthdays and anniversaries. And I keep track of my extended family on FB. 401081_2742228829876_166340199_n

I love facebook because it is my:

1. News channel

This is embarrassing, but I get my news from facebook. Especially news from India, which I may not see on CNN/ BBC.

2. Photo album

I lose all the photographs that I do not post on FB, so this is my online album. (I edit privacy for posts so that sometimes only my immediate family, or rarely, I alone, can see the pics…

3. Fashion magazine

I watch other people’s pics and learn about the latest fashions, and how they look on real people…better than checking out fashion magazines with 6 ft tall size 0 models!fb

4. Travel channel

I spend hours watching other people’s travel pics, and checking out posts about their experiences. Thanks to facebook, I can recognize pictures from Singapore (all my Indian friends have been there, some call it home), Ladakh (India), Paris, Greece, Peru, and many other places I have never been to..

5. Notice board

I get reminders about deadlines for applications, exam results, weather predictions and so on, on FB.

6. Classroom for study of human behavior

You get a lot of insight in to people by reading their posts regularly. Some people use FB to fuel their narcissism, some use it for complaints and rants, some indulge in PDA, some need to display their love for their kids/pets/cars, some are lavish in their praises, liking every post; while others are perpetually critical…I find almost all facets of human behavior reflected in my FB friendships.

7. Free consultation portal

Well I mean my friends and relatives often ask for my professional opinion over FB. (That is usually the starting point, rest of the consultation is completed by e-mail or phone interaction.)

8. Repository of jokesmade in India

Seriously, the funniest jokes are now on FB. And you know how funny they are judging by the number of likes and comments..

9. Inspiration for self-improvement

No, I am not joking. Guys, since I have to put up my pictures on FB, I need to look presentable! Which means I am more careful about my outfits, my hair, and even my expression, since I never know when a photo of mine may end up being tagged by someone else…fall1

On the same note, FB has encouraged me to improve my photography skills. After all, I don’t want my photos from Hawaii to look less gorgeous than those of my friends!

10. Maintaining family ties

Repeat after me: A family that facebooks together stays together!

Important when you have family scattered on more than 2 continents…who has the time to call cousins up? You just keep track of each other’s weddings, childbirths, professional milestones etc. on FB, like each other’s posts vigorously, and share  information (and gossip) with older relatives who are not facebook-savvy.

That’s all, now don’t get me talking about requests for candy crush, even as FB is trying to relive my moments from last year!

Minimalism

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I am NOT a minimalistic person, but the credit behind this post goes to Cee’s minimalistic photo challenge- I could not find any photograph that was suitable for this entry! I thought I could write a blog post sharing where I can and where I can absolutely not be minimalistic. (And the post starts with an image that is quite the opposite of minimalism…)

Just one thought against minimalism: It may be clutter-free and visually appealing, but it is not natural. Nature celebrates abundance, diversity and clutter, and everything follows the second law of thermodynamics: left alone, the state of entropy (i.e. disorder) of any system increases!

I celebrate minimalism in:

1. Writing scientific articles: Brevity is tantamount to elegance here.

2. Power point presentations: I try to put minimal data on my power point slides- easier for the audience to follow.

3. Packing for travel: I travel really light. (The added expense of checked baggage, along with traveling with a young child have taught me to minimize my load further.) One pair of shoes (that I am wearing), light clothes that can layer up, books are downloaded to the kindle app on my i-phone, and no laptop make up my travel gear. My i-phone is usually enough to browse the web, check in for flights and even provide directions while walking. (I do carry a small point-and shoot camera  because I hate taking pictures with my phone).

                                  Kindle for i-phone with my books on it…
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4. Accessorizing:  Usually I wear one or two pieces of jewelry or a scarf (though my collection is anything but minimalistic). I do keep only one non-fussy watch though.

Wow! This list is even shorter than I thought…and two of those entries are work-related, which is more of a learned behavior than instinct…Anyway, coming to all the ways in which I am quite the opposite:

1. Apparel: I come from a colorful land…where textiles are dyed in rich hues, embroidered and embellished with colored threads, where intricate patterns are woven in to fabrics, where white and black are both inauspicious (white- mourning and widowhood, black-evil). No wonder I find it difficult to stick to the all-black formula that is so popular in the US…I prefer pinks and reds, and prints to solids..

(This is also why accessories make it to the list above- my apparel is too bright and colorful!)

                                        Image of brightly printed textile

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2. Home Decor: Again, I gravitate towards bright home furnishings and wall decor, drawing inspiration from Indian craft.

3. The printed word: (except scientific writing) I love elaborate expressions and idiomatic language.

4. Cooking: I add every ingredient I like when I cook (all kinds of spices, ginger, greens, yogurt etc.) Results vary.

Well, let’s keep things even, so my list will be truncated here.

Do you believe in minimalism? How do you practice it?

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