Thursday, July 20, 2017

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi- this was a book that lay dormant in my to-be-read pile for quite some time and it was just recently, I finally got around to reading it. I am not a non-fiction reader but the book was very much hyped and of course it has an emotional angle to it also- a brilliant physician who is forced by fate to face his own mortality. I had another reason for wanting to read this book-my own fascination about death. I don’t talk about it loud with people around me-like family and friends because they will assume that either I’m off my bonkers or I’m under deep depression. You see fascination with death is considered to be morbid, but at the same time we are all aware of our own mortality.  

Paul Kalanithi who believed in a purpose to life, in finding what makes life meaningful and worthy of living, comes face to face with his own death when he is diagnosed with lung cancer. As a successful neurosurgeon-scientist, at the end of his residency in Stanford, he is shattered. The book can be seen divided in two parts-the first part deals with his journey in his profession as a doctor and the reason why he considers neurosurgery as his calling. The second part deals with his battle with his disease and how he chose to bring in a new life even when his own days on earth were numbered. What comes across of his persona, is a man who is passionate about the work he does and strives to not only cure his patients but also make them understand (to some extent) of what they will have to endure because of their illness. Such empathy and kindness in doctors is rare-we may have doctors who are brilliant in their field of work, but Paul wanted to know what made his patient’s life worth living so he could ensure that his treatment did not strip off his patient’s identity. This makes sense with the ending that he preferred to his own life.

However his narration is very clinical and that may be the reason why I remained dry eyed through the first two parts. He approaches his illness as a doctor but the epilogue by his wife, Lucy Kalanithi, shows how Paul’s family had to come to terms with their loss. It made me tear up to realize that often death leaves a profound impact on the people who are left behind rather than those who leave us.

Most of us are scared about death, scared of talking about it and discussions about it is considered as ill-omen by the elders in the family. What is it exactly about death that scares us? Is it that the phenomenon of after death is still a mystery or the fact that we don’t know when exactly we would die- makes death appear ominous? Here again Paul’s insight helped me to understand more on my own musings. He says, in the book, that his diagnosis of cancer changed nothing in his life. He knew that he’d die someday but he didn’t know when. After cancer this still remained same. Terminal illness made him realize that his life on earth was short but he still didn’t know if he would live for 2 months or 2 years.

I remember few lines from a poem of Sri Aurobindo

Life only is, or death is life disguised, -
Life a short death until by Life we are surprised. 

Sri Aurobindo considered death as another kind of life, an after-life and he compares life to a short death on earth until we are surprised with the after-life.

Paul Kalanithi’ s book may be a memoir to his daughter but it also helps people like me(with a “morbid” fascination of death) to gain a deeper and philosophical understanding that death is not dying but withholding from life and not living life to its fullest possibilities.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The A.B.C. Murders by Agatha Christie

Plot: There's a serial killer on the loose, bent on working his way through the alphabet. And as a macabre calling card he leaves beside each victim's corpse the ABC Railway Guide open at the name of the town where the murder has taken place. Having begun with Andover, Bexhill and then Churston, there seems little chance of the murderer being caught - until he makes the crucial and vain mistake of challenging Hercule Poirot to frustrate his plans

Goodreads Page:  The A.B.C. Murders

So I am determined to get through the Agatha Christie novels that are lying unread on my bookshelf. And her books have that quality where you start reading one of her books and get addicted to the whole series. You can read my short review of Peril At End House which is the 8th in the Hercule Poirot series. The A. B. C. Murders is the 13th and differs slightly in its narrative strategy. Most of the Poirot stories are narrated by his companion Arthur Hastings, but in this book the narration also includes the personal commentary of the killer. Poirot is challenged by a killer who sends him letters informing him of the murders that he plans to commit. The killer adopts an alphabetical complex for his murders beginning with the first murder of Mrs.Ascher in Andover. As in other Christie novels, this novel also includes a complete mind-boggling twist in the end that is revealed in Poirot-esque dramatic manner. And to compete with Poirot’s detective skills is the young officer from Scotland Yard Inspector Chrome , who has already caught a serial killer in his previous case and considers himself an expert in serial murder cases.

I am a self-confessed lover of serial murder plots so I obviously loved the twists and continuous guessing game in the book. My next Christie book is going to be a Miss Marple case, meanwhile any other suggestions on Poirot series?

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Peril At End House By Agatha Christie

Plot: Hercule Poirot is vacationing on the Cornish coast when he meets Nick Buckley. Nick is the young and reckless mistress of End House, an imposing structure perched on the rocky cliffs of St. Loo.  Poirot has taken a particular interest in the young woman who has recently narrowly escaped a series of life-threatening accidents. Something tells the Belgian sleuth that these so-called accidents are more than just mere coincidences or a spate of bad luck. It seems all too clear to him that someone is trying to do away with poor Nick, but who? And, what is the motive? In his quest for answers, Poirot must delve into the dark history of End House. The deeper he gets into his investigation, the more certain he is that the killer will soon strike again. And, this time, Nick may not escape with her life.

Goodreads Page: Peril at End House

I returned to reading an Agatha Christie after a long time. The last book I had read of hers was “And Then There Were None “and that of course was a brilliant book. ‘An edge of the seat suspense’- this phrase must have been coined after reading Agatha Christie novels, because most of her books have that jaw-dropping climax where she completely boggles the readers’ mind, and makes you wonder why you did not see that before. I used to read her when I was young, especially her Hercule Poirot books the reason being, the entire series was available in the school library. So it was a joy returning to Hercule Poirot after so many years. But this time I did not like much the small Belgian detective whose pride in his own talents almost makes him conceited but yes, one cannot help but admire his genius mind that is capable of hunting down the criminal through a small and seemingly insignificant detail.

Coming to the book “Peril at End House”, it starts with Poirot and his Watson, Captain Hastings, who are on a vacation and Poirot claims that he has given up his profession when they come across a young, beautiful lady, Nick Buckley who has suffered several attacks on her life. As the book progresses we are introduced to Nick’s friends and the fact that appearances can be deceptive. Well I am not going to give out more details of the plot, but if you love AC and a good crime story that keeps you guessing about the killer’s identity, then I’m sure this book is not to be missed.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Parenting Woes

The toughest job in the world is parenting and this I realized when last year I quit my job and opted to take a break from my professional life, so that I could spend more quality time with my daughter. Now that I’m back to working all the difficulties of balancing of professional and personal life are back.

As a working woman, I spend an average of 4 to 5 hours during the weekdays with my child, and the task that gets me most worked up is feeding dinner to her. When she was 2 years old, I had to employ all tactics that I was aware of to get her to eat few morsels of food. I used to take her outside and try to distract her with sounds and sights of nature (of course it was pitch dark so she was not so easily distracted), I tried to feed her while showing cartoons on TV, I threatened, bribed, begged-all my creative talents came to the fore in those 45 minutes and at the end of dinner time, it was like the end of a war. Sometimes won, sometimes lost.

Some practical mothers would advise me not to fuss too much over the child’s eating. Do not give options, do not create distractions, just put the plate in front of her and when she’s hungry , she will eat. That does sound too good in words but in reality-well, let’s just say that the food ended up everywhere in the house except in her mouth. And the end result? A cranky kid in the middle of the night demanding food. And a cranky mom in the office next day.

As a working mom, I can say that my biggest anxiety is how to provide her the required nutrition. How to get her to eat the veggies and fruits. My daughter is 4 years old now and fortunately she is not that fussy at dinnertime but she still refuses to eat vegetables. Also since we don’t eat non-vegetarian food, she is missing out on vital nutrients. In this competitive and fast modern world I don’t want my daughter to be left behind just because she is not eating proper food. She studies in Kinder Garten and the homework that she brings home every day make me wonder how I coped when I was her age.

I’m sure that most mothers would agree when I say that a major concern of every mother is the overall development of a child-both physically and intellectual growth. My daughter is at a vital age of development. She is physically active and she is curious about so many things that she sees. I realize this from the questions she asks-just the other day she asked me why fishes have fins and not hands and legs. I may not have the right answer every time for her questions but I can ensure that she receives proper nourishment to aid her growth.

Fortunately my daughter loves to drink milk and the essential vitamins she misses when she refuses to eat her veggies can be provided by health drinks like Horlicks Growth+ which help in weight gain in kids and support complete all round development. My daughter starts her day around 7.30 in the morning and I make sure that the first food she has, is a tall glass of milk fortified and made more appetizing by Horlicks. Her hours are similar to mine-she goes to school between 8 and 12 in the morning and then to her daycare. She comes home only at 7 in the evening.

When I’m in office I worry about her- if she’s eating well, if she gets along with her friends, if she can cope up with her studies and if she misses her home and mummy. So as I said in the beginning, parenting is tough, your kids can try your patience to no end, it can leave you frustrated and helpless at times. But when at night my daughter holds me tightly and goes to sleep, I feel that I can do the whole thing all again, I feel it’s all worth it.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Lone Traveler on an Ideal Yatra

“Free as a bird to settle where I will.
What dwelling shall receive me? In what vale
Shall be my harbor? Underneath what grove
Shall I take up my home? And what clear stream
Shall with its murmur lull me into rest?
The earth is all before me.”

Wordsworth may have been delighted to leave the humdrum life of the city and settle down in the meadows that were home to him during his childhood but to escape the everyday grind of our mechanical life I need a vacation. And not just a vacation, I need a dream vacation. I need to feel the sand below my feet, I need the soothing sounds of the waves lapping at the shores, I need to wake up to the chirping of the birds and I need the mouth-watering aroma of food to tempt my dormant taste-buds. And I know the perfect destination where all my wishes can come true. Mauritius! Yes, that’s my dream vacation (of course I’m a Piscean, so I’m going to choose a beach destination)

With prior scheduling using the help of travel planning sites like Yatra and some meticulous comparison of flight prices it is possible to book international flight tickets at reasonable rates and cheaper flight tariffs mean more money for shopping. Yay!

Fortunately for me I can book a ticket with Emirate Airlines from Namma Bengaluru. But you know what I would desire to do? I would like to travel solo. Going on a vacation alone and exploring the world as a solo traveler- just thinking about it makes me feel exhilarated and nervous at the same time. It would be a new experience and I’d be checking off an item from my bucket list. So that decided, all that was left would be to plan my itinerary.

Ideally I would like to spend a lifetime lazing on the beautiful beaches, reading a book and taking moonlight walks in the night, but a little thing called reality creeps into these daydreams of mine. So I have opted to spend maybe 4 days on the islands of Mauritius (keeping in mind my budget constraints). One choice which wouldn’t be compromised for the sake of budget would be my choice of stay at a resort. Mauritius is home to some of the most exotic beach resorts and I would be spoilt for choices. I would want to stay in a room where I can be greeted in the morning with a view of a glorious sunrise. Now that’s some way of waking up, isn’t it?

The day would be spent indulging in various water sports and other water activities. The beaches of Mauritius are so pristine and clean that deep sea diving and snorkeling would be an amazing way to explore the marine life and the coral reefs. I have heard that the underwater sea walk is a unique experience that one must try out in Mauritius. The first day of the vacation would be devoted completely to beaches. The La Cuvette beach in the northern region, The Blue Bay and Belle Mare beach in the South East are perfect picturesque locations. The beaches are not very crowded and my plans to dip in the water for a swim and relax with a book fit in magnificently.

What better way to end the day than a drive in the Mauritian countryside with a wind tousling my hair and a drink in my hand. That is the way to live life, in my opinion.

The next day will be spent exploring the culture and the small, almost hidden, villages. The interesting thing about Mauritius is that the land is inhabited by Hindus, Tamils, Buddhists, Muslims and Christians and all of them peacefully cohabit respecting each other’s religion. In fact there is no “majority religion”, so temples, churches and mosques are all monuments that reside alongside with no violence. Maybe it’s time we took a leaf out of the Mauritian culture and learnt how to mutually respect each other?

This melting pot of land also has a mixed cuisine and the best way to taste the local cuisine is to hit the streets. The street food of Mauritius is a culinary paradise and one gets to taste the intricate flavors that are sure to titillate and fire-up the taste buds. Just yum!

Visiting Mauritius and not getting a spa luxury? That should never happen! So the next day would start with a rejuvenating spa therapy session. After all I’m on a vacation and I’m allowed to splurge a little. Mauritus is not just a beach destination but it also has lots of interesting museums and galleries. The La Vanille Nature Park is another tourist attraction which houses giant tortoises and crocodiles. The mystery of Chamarel, also called Seven Colored Earths because of the different hues of the soil is another must visit place.

The last day of the vacation would be completely devoted to lounging around the beaches and absorbing the mesmerizing scenes of Mauritius. What I wouldn’t give to have my own private piece of this paradise but all good things must come to an end and this vacation too would end. But the glorious memories would still linger in my mind until the next vacation. A new place to explore, a new land to visit and lots of food to eat!