Wednesday, 24 December 2008

"They went looking

I wrote this in the nineties, and turned it into my Christmas card for that year.

They went looking for a king,
and came across a baby.

They went in search of wisdom,
and came away with love.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Saturday, 1 November 2008

"If you love me ..

If you love me
you should know
how the full moon
fills my eyes and my heart.
You should know,
so when we are apart
you have only to look up
when the moon is full,
and we shall be together.


(written in 2002?)

This poem is written for four little boys, sons of a friend, four little boys that I love dearly but lost to time and distance. When I left Bahrain, I told them to look up whenever there was a full moon, and they would know that wherever I was in the world, I would be looking up at it too, and thinking of them, sending all my love soaring up to the moon so it would bounce back downwards to them.

By now they are teenagers and adults, but I hope they do remember whenever they catch sight of a full moon. And I wait for it every month, and send them my love, and soak up the light of theirs. My four lovely little boys - Hisham, Abdullah, Sameer and Shishi - held tight in my heart for always.

(post-script 2010: they found me on Facebook. And they remember.)

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Tree #7: a picture!

Here's a lovely pic of a little chikku tree planted for me in Bombay, by my friend Jill and her three girls (yes, they're triplets)!
If there is an art to scanning, I do not know it. After trying several times to crop all the white space around this picture, I gave up in frustration.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

TUCK EVERLASTING, by Natalie Babbitt

This is a most unusual children's book. It is a book about the importance of dying.

It's about the Tuck family, who is blessed with (or rather, doomed to) eternal life after drinking from a magic spring, and a ten-year-old girl who stumbles on their secret.

I often think we hide from death too much. Like babies who cover their eyes and believe that what they can't see doesn't exist. Sweet - in babies. A bit silly for the rest of us, given that the only certainty in every single person's life is that we will die one day. Most of the world likes to pretend that death doesn't walk around with them wherever they go. And then someone dies, and we are shocked, immobilised and offended by this "horrible" thing that has happened.

I suppose I think about all this more since my father was diagnosed with cancer. He's recovering now, but the experience forced me to accept that death WILL come, some day. It could come for me before it comes for him, for that matter. It nearly did, back in 2003 when I had the dengue haemmorhagic fever. Since then, I've started looking at life - and death - not just differently, but also more frequently. I decided that, like the baby, I need to keep growing. I need to uncover my eyes, end an endearing but pointless game, and dare to look, explore, find truths, and grow. I want to be ready. I want to die better, and also live better.

Finding this lovely little book, at this time of searching, was one of those pleasant coincidences that I often suspect are not coincidences at all.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Tree #6: an update

Alas. The poor thing did not make it. Well, we tried ..

"We who have no right to grieve ..

 This poem is no longer true to me. I still do feel this way at times - guilty for all that I have, judging myself and my depressive illness - far more harshly than anyone else might judge me, in fact. But I call this poem untrue because I have learnt this: EVERYONE HAS THE RIGHT TO GRIEVE. To hurt, to cry, to want more. We are human - and rich or poor, safe or uncertain, we all have the right to our feelings.

We who have no right to grieve,
grieve the death of great ideas.

We who have no right to cry,
cry for the little we do not have.

We with everything at our feet
look at the moon with longing.

We whose lives are full,
look at the emptiness inside.

We with all the time in the world,
sit and weep so many moments away,
thinking our lives colourless and gray.

In other worlds,
there is the colour of night,
the colour of blood,
the colour of one against another.

In other worlds,
they fight for their right to smile.
Their tears are not wasted on the grief
we have the luxury to entertain.

(4.23 pm Sunday 22 Dec 1996)

Friday, 24 October 2008

"Shadows crossed my window ..

Shadows crossed my window one night
(trees across the path of a garden light)
I thought it was the Angel of Death
(though it might have been the wind)
and in the morning I heard
women wailing next door.

Tonight he was here again
but he knocked and went away.
I think it was his way of telling me
he'd be back for me one day.

(written in Jan 92)

Monday, 20 October 2008

"Across unexplored distances ..

Across unexplored distances
part of our souls are entwined
in an intimacy that can't be explained.
We know each other,
but are strangers.
We may never meet again,
but we have come together.
A man and a woman,
but not as men and women do.

There is a bond,
and there are no bonds.
There is a kind of love that cannot be called love.
There are secrets behind each other's eyes
that we are beginning to understand,
and secrets we are too remote to share.

Finding everything my heart has longed for,
and nothing of all my body desires,
I cannot call him friend or lover.
He is both less and more.

(written for R,  on 13-3-95, 1.45 a.m.)

Thursday, 16 October 2008

You complain that love is fickle

I suppose I wrote this when I finally ventured into another chance at romance. The only trouble is that I don't think it's entirely true that we can heal our hearts and move on. We always carry the scars and perhaps that is how it should be.

You complain that love is fickle.

I am thankful for this mercy.

I do not think I could have carried
a broken heart with me all my lifetime.


(wrote this in 93? or 94)

Edited 11 April 2014

Wednesday, 8 October 2008

"The promises we never make ..

The promises we never make
are the ones we never break
but the hearts we keep to ourselves
for the fear of hurt or hurting,
break anyway.

(written on 24-2-95)

Wednesday, 10 September 2008


This poem is how I wanted to be.

Beauty without function is not beauty.

Her mouth is beautiful when she smiles at a child
and speaks tenderly to an old man.

Her hands are beautiful when she touches souls.

Her eyes are beautiful.

With them she sees each shade of a sunset
and the perfect symmetry of a flower at the roadside.

Her eyes are beautiful when she cries someone else's tears.

Her ears are beautiful.

With them she hears symphonies in the wind,
and music in a wristful of bangles.

Her ears are beautiful when she stops to listen
to what no one else wants to hear.

Her body is beautiful
when she forgets
that it is so.

(written in 1991? 1992?)

Reading this today, I think, just maybe, I turned out beautiful after all.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

A lesson in self esteem!

And this lesson comes to us from a tiny cabbage-coloured bird - my pet budgie Gobi (which is Urdu for "cabbage", by the way). She is about four inches long, and stands about three inches high. She knows what she likes, and what she dislikes. She hates being cuddled, but loves sitting on my shoulder and stretching out to touch her beak to my nose (er .. we call it "nosies") while I mumble sweet nothings to her.

Today my dad decided to record her usual array of non-stop twitter-chirp-whistle, and when I listened to the recording this evening I discovered that she's obviously being paying attention to what I say, because in the middle of all the jibberish she suddenly says, quite clear, "Gobi such a sweet bird!"

I think it's amazing, and extra lovely that she chose what she must have felt was the best thing to echo! Obviously, she doesn't speak English .. but I'm assuming she has picked up on the tone or emotion of my voice and decided that these are the words that make her feel most loved.

My niece Reshma was so impressed that she has decided to follow in Gobi's footsteps (clawhops, actually) and I think that's an excellent idea for us all. It's quite easy. Tomorrow morning when you get up, go to the bathroom mirror, smile at yourself and say, "(insert your name here) such a sweet bird!"

What a wonderful way to start the day. Let me know how it goes!

Sunday, 17 August 2008

Dragons: better eaten than chased.

I had a new experience recently. I got to eat a dragon! On one of my evening jaunts to Namdhari's, the veggie shop down the road (I count these jaunts as "my evening walk"), I discovered the most exotic-looking fruit I had ever seen. The teller informed me that it was a dragon fruit. It certainly looked like it might have been born from one of these mythical creatures, with its rich colours and "scales".
Of course, I had to buy it! I had never eaten a dragon before. My only previous experience with a dragon had been in my juvenile delinquent days, when "chasing the dragon" (junkie jargon) was the thing to do. Oh - and a few years ago, my Jungian therapist recommended visualising a dragon who would go with me and protect me, whenever I got panicky walking down the road, which, at the time, I found hard to do. Walking, I mean. I had no trouble visualising the dragon, and took many pleasant walks after that, leaving in my wake many oily men with singed bottoms!

The dragon fruit turned out to be just as delightful! I googled to discover that it is a native of Mexico, and also cultivated in Vietnam and Taiwan. It's called a pitaya, and is the fruit of a flowering vine-like cactus hylocereus. This plant has large white fragrant flowers that only bloom at night!

If you ever come across this fruit, don't miss the opportunity to try it. The pulp is firm, with tiny crunchy black seeds - somewhat remeniscent of a kiwi fruit, but with a sweeter, gentler taste. Just cut it across, and scoop out the insides with a spoon.

The dragon fruit won't be the cheapest fruit on the shelf, but it's worth it. After all, how many of us can say we've eaten a dragon?
P.S. the little bird is Gobi, who lives with her grandparents - an absolutely amazing character full of personality!

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

The shortest, and the saddest.


To be free.
To forget,
As you forgot me.

(written for B, 6 May 1989, 12:37 p.m.)

Saturday, 28 June 2008

Beads for jewels

I always say that Manipal Hospital's greatest asset is its nursing staff - they are gems. My mom, dad and I have all had our turns in the hospital's Intensive Care Units, and every time, the nurses have taken such excellent and sincere care of us.

So when Daddy went in for bladder surgery, I decided I needed to do something special for these gems of the Urology department. I'm fascinated by all things Native American (I would like to believe that somewhere in my ancestry there is a Cherokee soul) so when I discovered the craft of cording with beads, it became a hobby. However, I didn't think the nurses would appreciate little beaded lizards, so instead I decided to make each of them a beaded name-tag on a key-ring. They were thrilled with the results, and so was I, so decided I must share some pix here.

P.S. The hand is mine.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

Tree #7: a chikku tree, Bombay

I'm not too sure if that's spelt right! This is a wonderful fruit tree - little leathery brown domes that you split open, and scoop out a grainy sweet pulp .. tastes delicious! And makes for mind-blowing milkshakes, too. Some people call this fruit 'sapota' and I think the origin is Mexican.

Got a nice cheery SMS this morning from my friend Jill in Bombay, informing me that this tree has been planted for me in her garden. Jill is one of my oldest and dearest and truest friends, right from the age of eleven. I had just run away from boarding school the night before, and she had got blamed for a prank that some other girls did - and so we both had visits to the principal's office that morning, which is how we met each other and ended up becoming Best Friends. More than thirty years later, we still are. I could write a book about our friendship (and I probably should!) and all the magical fun we've had through school and beyond.

And another tree for our planet - joy! I wonder who will be next on my list!

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Meet the youngest member of the family

Meet Gobi, the newest addition to my flock! Her name is Hindi/Urdu for "cabbage" as her colour matched the cabbage I fed her the day after she arrived. It seemed apt, as her stepsisters are Neembu (lemon) and Maska (butter).

Gobi lives with the grandparents and hasn't met Neembu and Maska yet. She's just a baby and doesn't fly too well, so managed to sprain a foot on her second day at home, with a bad landing. It's all better now, but she prefers hopping and running about to flying, ever since. Her favourite person is me, and she's happiest sitting on my shoulder, chewing my earlobe. And her favourite thing to do is explore the carpets for any tidbits she might find (we sprinkle a little birdseed there for her, to make it a more rewarding experience).

I'm happy to report that she is a friendly child and enjoys meeting people. She's not too fussy an eater, either. Other than the staple millet (birdseed), she chomps on coriander, spinach, cabbage, apple and also had an enthusiastic nibble at a digestive biscuit.

Yes, she poops on me from time to time. and I'm a little nervous over her interest in my nostrils. But so far, so good. Like all doting parents, I shall keep you updated on her progress from time to time!

Friday, 20 June 2008

Crocus going nowhere

Like art, it's a path that doesn't particularly lead anywhere, but
what a joy it is to walk it. I dream of planting crocus bulbs and
French marigolds on every city street.

P.S. These pictures were taken in May, in my parents' garden.

Thursday, 19 June 2008

Before the monsoon

There are days like this. When I feel dry, bare, buffeted.
All around her, the others still wear green; this tree is out of sync
with the seasons. She follows some other rhythm, some African beat
that only she hears. Her pods have been emptied of their cellophane seeds,
ransacked by wild parakeets and squirrels. When they fall, these pods
look like canoes. But though the skies are grey and the wind promises rain,
it lies, and so the canoes rot slowly in the graveyard at her feet.

P.S. This is an African flame tree that grows at the edge of the graveyard behind our terrace.

Wednesday, 18 June 2008

Tree #6: an Ashoka tree, Bangalore

Six down, 36 to go. Where are all those promised trees? Last year on my birthday, I asked my friends to plant trees for me in their gardens. I wanted 42, and in just two months I shall be 43, so I guess I'll be wanting one more if I haven't met my goal by then!

This tree is courtesy of an unknown donor, who planted it most unwisely in something akin to a window box at our office building. Mr. Arasu, our gardening genius/doctor/magician, brought it over and planted it in front of our house. So far, so good. You could say it's in foster care. It's surviving, but will have to undergo another uprooting to a more suitable spot when we can find one. It currently stays alive but not wonderfully, under the shade of a frangipani tree. It needs its own space, and the sun. Ashoka trees grow tall and straight like pillars (Ashoka pillars? Perhaps that's how they got their name), and it may not be able to do that from where it is.

And now I think it is time for me to some reminder emails to all those potential tree-planters out there. Of course, anyone reading this is welcome to join the club - just plant a tree for me, and send me a picture of it once a year.

P.S. The other gentleman in the picture, seemingly wilting against the gate, is the security guard at the building next door. That's not our gate, by the way. Ours is old and rusty, and once was white.

"Wouldn't it be lovely ..

From the drug-abusing poems of the eighties to the alcohol-guzzling ones of the nineties. Which just goes to show: it's no use getting rid of an addiction if you don't deal with the SOURCE of the problem. The addiction is always a symptom of something deeper. So if you manage to quit one, you can be pretty sure it will resurface in a different form sooner or later.

Wouldn't it be lovely if we didn't need?
Wouldn't it be easier not to feel?
Wouldn't it be nice
to have a heart made of ice?

Then we could chip it to pieces
and put them in the kitchen sink
and our drinks would be deliciously cold
all evening long.

(written on 5/4/97 at 3.04 a.m.)

Edited 11 April 2014

Monday, 9 June 2008

"If I could ..

Many survivors of child abuse feel like this for much of their lives, knowing that there is something wrong with their lives, but not knowing what it is, or why. Learning and understanding about the long term impact of childhood abuse changes that.

If I could only drift like a shark,
cruel and free
and not drown in petty seas of my own misery.

If I could only sleep as a child does
and wake wondrous and pure.

If I could only dive into my soul
and not simply wait on the shore.

Thursday, 29 May 2008

POWER OVER PANIC, by Bronwyn Fox

In preparation for the 6-week cancer treatment my dad starts today, I dug this book out from my hoard. Having gone through an era of psychotherapy (make than an eon, or an aeon if you're particular) I was familiar with a lot of the information on panic and anxiety related disorders, so tended to skim through those parts. But I also found some wonderfully inspiring words that I must save here, to read and read again. Here are some excerpts, and if you like what you read then please do go ahead and get the book. Lots of useful stuff for anyone who has a panic/anxiety disorder. Of course, I always recommend 2nd hand!! Let's re-use the old ones before the publishers have to go out and cut down more trees for new editions!

" .. The need to be in control is the main obstacle towards recovery. Recovery means the opposite. Recovery means we need to let go of the need to be in control. We don't realise our overwhelming need to be in control perpetuates our disorder ..

.. The difference between panic disorder and recovery means we have taken the power back and are no longer afraid of the attack or anxiety. We have shifted the power balance. There are no more 'what ifs', but instead we have developed an attitude of 'so what' ..

.. A major obstacle to taking back the power is the lack of compassion we have for ourselves .. we negate and invalidate our own suffering and pain. Most of us cannot see, let alone acknowledge or appreciate our own strength and courage, which has brought us thus far ..

.. We never take time to examine our thoughts. We don't even realise we can. We never watch the internal world of our thoughts as it spins this way and thought. We react to our thoughts without realising they are actually separate fleeting moments in time. We don't see this separateness. Instead, we believe we have no power over the continual progression of these thoughts, and the feelings caused by them .. We need to be in control of ourselves and our environment, yet the only thing we do not control is our thinking. We need to change this by letting go of the overall need to be in control, and control our thinking ..

.. It isn't the symptoms which create the fear. The way we think creates the fear, which creates the symptoms, which creates further thoughts, which creates further fear and the cycle continues ..

.. we cannot let the fear of what other people think get in our way of full recovery. If our face turns bright red, then our face turns bright red. If we feel faint, then sit down on a chair, on the floor, on the footpath, if need be. If we vomit or have an attack of diarrhoea, then we vomit or have an attack of diarrhoea. Let it happen. When we let it happen, we turn off the adrenalin and it will be over as quick as it starts. We will not have to waste all of our energy trying to keep it under control and thereby turning on more adrenalin. Our mental health needs to be more important than other peoples' opinions ..

.. Learning to be patient with ourselves is learning to be kind to ourselves. Being kind to ourselves means we are not putting ourselves under any further unnecessary stress ..

.. Most people do not give their recovery priority. Although everyone wants to recover, there can seem a million more important things to be done first. Our recovery has to become the most important thing in our life. Our loyalty has to be to ourselves. This can be very difficult for many of us because we feel we are being selfish in putting our own needs first ..

.. Making allowances is not giving in; it is working with the disorder. Doing nothing is giving in ..

.. Begin again. These two words can mean so much .. If we feel that we are not making progress, if we feel that some our attempts didn't quite work out the way we would have liked, let them go and begin again ..

.. Our ultra-sensitivity also increases the sense of guilt we feel towards our families because we can't do everything we would like to do. We need to be aware of the extra stress caused by this. We can spend a week worrying and feeling guilty over one small incident which we think of as a failure. Guilt only increases our anxiety. It keeps us locked into the cycle. We need to let it go, so we can move forward to recovery and to the time when we will be able to do everything we haven't been able to do ..

.. Despite the image we had of ourselves, we have always known that we never felt any sense of who we are. We never had a real sense of self. This essential element was always lacking in our lives, and it is from this that our feelings of inadequacy, lack of confidence and lack of self-esteem arose ..

.. Over the years we built the image of who we thought we should be. We lived our lives with an uneasy feeling that we were not who we appeared to be. If we were not who we appeared to be, then who were we? We didn't know. We were never able to answer the question ..

.. The seemingly inherent negativity of the disorder can actually be the most positive experience of our life. How many other people are given such an opportunity? The disorder has done so much of the hard work for us. It has stripped away the image of who we thought we should be, and has returned us to the basis of who we could be ..

.. Life isn't just about growing up, having a career, getting married, having children and so on. These are things we do during life, but they are not life. Life is continual evolution and development ..

.. We begin to see that responsibility for our peace and happiness is ours, and ours alone. We cannot shift the responsibility of ourselves to other people or other factors ..

.. As we become aware of these insights we begin to see we are letting go of more than the disorder. Life begins to take on a different meaning. Our ideals and values change. Things which were once important to us no longer seem so, yet it appears there is nothing else to take its place ..

.. we are walking into unknown territory and it can seem easier to stop where we are, despite our unresolved difficulties. What we don't know is that the unknown territory is that of the self. As the 'disordered' self breaks down it can mean the birth of our real self ..

.. In the beginning it is difficult; there is fear, there is anger, there is frustration. 'Why do I have to go through this, why can't I just be normal like everyone else?' What is 'normal' anyway? Use the anger, the fear and frustration to push past these new fears. With each step, we gain new awareness, new knowledge and increased strength. The process becomes easier and more tolerable. This is life, this is growth, a continual evolution ..

.. It is a time of learning to listen to the inner voice of the self, which is more than willing to help us. If we stop and take the time to listen, the inner voice will be our guide. All too often we do not hear ourselves ..

.. We have to become aware we do have a choice in everything. In making the choice we need to be aware of its implications. We can choose and set limits if we need to. We can choose to move at our own pace. It is going to feel unfamiliar, we will feel vulnerable and the fear will be there, but so too is the self's determination to grow ..

.. Being afraid is all right. Being hesitant is all right. Feeling vulnerable and defenceless is all right. They are all part of the ongoing development of our self. When we begin to work with it, we won't know where we are, where we are going and what will happen to us along the way. This is all right too ..

.. all the resources necessary will be found in our self and we will find them waiting for us at each step. Not only will we find them waiting, we will find they have been there all along."

- from Bronwyn Fox's Power Over Panic

Sunday, 20 April 2008


I picked this up at a book fair back when my nephew Mehran had been diagnosed with bone cancer. After he passed away, I donated this and other books to the Oncology Dept at Manipal Hospital. It's funny (but not in a ha-ha way) that I donated them on April 16th 2007, and exactly one year later, I walked in to the department and asked if I could borrow some of them back.

The books have been bookcrossed, so that patients or family can borrow and return the books for free, and also make a journal entry if they want to, about how helpful the book was to them.

This is the first of several books I will probably read on cancer. My father, dear egg-painting Dr. Tonsils, has been diagnosed with bladder cancer. Fortunately it is superficial and low grade (I'm not entirely sure what that means exactly: but I do know it means chemotherapy won't be necessary, and for that I'm grateful). The lesions have been removed and he is in hospital recovering from surgery, while fighting a fever and coping with his chronic respiratory problems.

Me, I'm holding out, trying to stay positive and encouraging. Sometimes it feels like I've been treading water in a huge dark ocean since last week, and it can be really exhausting. But it's a situation where I simply cannot lose hope, and so I rest and then tread again, knowing that somehow we will get through this, no matter what the outcome.

Instead of my usual three or four excerpts, I'm posting all the excerpts that I think I may want to read again when I'm high on stress or low on strength, energy or hope. Maybe reading it once is enough, but I feel better knowing that I can come back and read through the encouraging words whenever I need to.

"There's no use trying to figure out why you, why now. Questions are irrelevant, because it won't wait for answers.

The key to survival is taking control, learning everything you can about your treatment, making informed decisions, and being prepared to fight if necessary;

And it is important to remember that one is never alone in the fight.

Nothing would ever be the same again in my life, nor in the life of anyone who cared for me. Everything I had taken for granted - my daily concerns, my work, my well-being, my sense of my place in the world, and even my physical appearance - was about to be taken away from me. My own mortality, something I had never seriously considered, was suddenly staring me in the face.

For some, talking directly to the victim is difficult; they don't know what to say or how to act. But there is no use trying to hide .. the face that one has cancer. One good outcome of being open is that people want to help. And that is where some of the best help will come from.

Acting strong and in control actually helped me feel tougher - the old "whistle a happy tune" scenario - and sometimes I even amazed myself at how well I seemed to be dealing with everything. But I had to fight every day to ward off the despair I felt inside.

I found it helped to write down my feelings and my fears ..

.. he gave her some advice we all needed: don't project the worst; focus on the real possibility of a cure. It was the simplest, yet most important, advice we could get.

.. going ballistic about small things can help release the steam that builds up when the larger fears seem overwhelming, even incomprehensible. And once you express your fear, it's easier to find ways to psych yourself up for the time when you will really need all your courage.

"No bad vibes, Mom, no thoughts that anything bad could ever happen; don't for an instant acknowledge that he could be hurt, only positive energy," I would tell her, trying to convince myself as well.

.. though I was terrified of needles .. I had to accept that they were now a daily fact of life. "You can always raise the bar on what you can take, how much you can stand," I wrote in my notebook. "Just raise it. Raise that bar."

Conquer fear.

I fought back tears. As close as I was to the black hole in front of me, it seemed more unreal than ever. I couldn't make myself think about what might actually happen to me, I could only take things one day at a time. From now on, that was the only way to get on with the next part of my life.

.. while staying in control intellectually is crucial to taking charge of your own care, you can't bury fears and emotions. I had focused on finding my own strength and conquering my own fear, on being strong so my family wouldn't fall apart worrying about how I was dealing with things. I had wanted to show the world that I was, in fact, invincible. Those are good feelings to have, and they do help you mentally to prepare for the complete unknown. But she was right; it was okay to be scared, and very important to express it outright when I needed to.

Patients who are used to being in charge, taking care of themselves or being the person on whom others depend will find this physical debilitation very hard to cope with .. may direct their anger over loss of control at doctors, medical personnel, or even their family caregivers. She recommends that family members treat the patient with respect and acknowledge his or her intelligence. She also stresses the importance of respecting a patient's modesty and privacy.

I knew I was lucky to have my family so close to me, but sometimes I just needed to shut them all out. "There's a sense of alienation between you and anyone related to you even though they are as close to you as they've ever been," I said into my tape recorder at one 3 a.m. session. "You don't want to push them away at a time like this, but sometimes you have to."

"You don't know what your life is going to be .. I read once that after you survive cancer, it's like a sword of Damocles over your head for the rest of your life .. but life depends on how well you live it, enjoying the freedom you get and hoping your cure has been effective and you get long-term survival - that's what you go for - you've got to be one of those great statistics. You've just got to."

My family tried to keep my spirits up. "We keep telling Laura that things are going so well," my mother wrote in her notebook .. "She feels so exhausted that our encouraging words seem to have little impact. We do it because it's important for her to hear every day that her progress is remarkable ..

"I'm scared. I've got to get that old confidence back .. I've got to start getting ME back .. Now you've got to make yourself do things, but you have to be cautious, follow the rules, make yourself watch every little thing and learn how to take care of yourself .. You have to learn that there will be setbacks but that you'll be okay. You've got to believe that this has worked and that it's going to keep working.

Your body has been through so much, your soul is battered, your psyche exhausted from the sheer effort of going through it .. "It's like you've been sent to hell, and suddenly someone says you can go home now."

But in the end, you have to make yourself believe. You have to summon all the strength and faith that enabled you to get through it in the first place, and turn that strength toward getting your life back.

Caregivers .. frequently say the biggest stress comes after they leave the hospital, when the tasks usually performed by the nursing staff have to be carried out by families.

Dr Abrams' studies found that 80 percent of the caregiving tasks fall to women, and that the medical establishment needs to establish better procedures to help caregivers cope after the patient has returned home.

Returning to your regular world after surviving cancer is much like reentering the earth's atmosphere from space. It takes a period of adjustment before you can resume normal life, and your journey has opened your eyes to things most of the people you encounter can never really understand unless they've been there.

.. made me more certain than ever of the importance of self-education for a cancer patient of any kind. The more you know about the latest science and wisdom in the medical world, the more informed your choices when it comes to the treatment of your disease. Don't assume your internist or even your local specialist is up to date on everything; become a lay expert to the extent possible, and use that knowledge on your own behalf.

.. it was good to be able to meet some of the patients who were there, and to tell them that not long ago, I had been in their shoes. I think it helped them to see someone who was already back to normal.

For the first couple of years after my transplant, I was so happy to be alive that I didn't think much about whether or now I was truly happy, or about what I really wanted. As most of my friends lamented turning forty, I was thrilled just to get there.

Once you have had cancer, the risk of other cancers is higher.

.. the fact is, I probably never will truly relax. I can only be grateful I've had a second chance at life, and I'll remain vigilant about protecting it. The fear that the disease will come back is never completely gone, but it can be kept at bay. It is hard work getting comfortable with the idea that the bad times are really over, that it's okay to feel happy, loved, and secure. As for my good health, I've learned to enjoy it. But I'm not getting too cocky about anything. Let's just say, so far, so good.

As in any cancer, early detection is crucial to increasing your odds of survival. The best advice I can give to someone who has symptoms such as chronic fatigue, a respiratory infection that won't go away, or pain in the spleen area, is to get a simple blood test. Don't procrastinate, and don't let a doctor tell you you don't need one. A CBC, or complete blood count, is a standard test that any physician can justify when a patient shows up with the kind of symptoms mentioned above. Time is of the essence once your blood starts going haywire; the longer it takes to find out what's wrong with you, the less chance there is that you can stop it in time.

When it's time for your chemotherapy, radiation, and transplant, hope for the best, be prepared for the worst, and try to take the attitude that you can handle whatever comes at you.

Expect nothing from yourself other than to get through each day, and tell yourself that each day you get through brings you closer to being better again.

Don't hesitate to reach out to the people who love you, for they will be your lifeline. But understand that this is difficult for them too, and that every relationship is likely to undergo some strain.

The hardest thing for many patients is the loss of control; .. as an adult you will feel like you are a small child again, and you may even resent that.

.. face the fact that some of your relationships won't make it. If they don't, maybe that is for the best. There is nothing like a crisis to bring out the true colours in people.

It would be nice to think that once you've survived, your brush with cancer is over. But in fact, your risks of developing another cancer may be higher than the average person. You must be attentive about follow-up care, and keep up with the latest research. After a while, you won't think about it every day, and the day will come when you get through a long time without thinking about it at all. But you can never forget it. To borrow from the famous saying about freedom, the price of health is eternal vigilance.

- from Laura Landro's book: Survivor: Taking Control of Your Fight Against Cancer

Thursday, 10 April 2008


"When he was finished writing for the day, Daddy turned off his typewriter, stood from his desk, and held out his hand. The veins shone greenish-blue against the pale whiteness of his skin. They seemed like huge, protruding pipes just under his flesh. When I looked closely, I thought I could see his blood pumping through them. I would take his hand and run my little fingers over the back of it, exploring the bumpy map. Then we would go down the office stairs together and out into the night.

The two of us walked in the fields or the woods around the house, exploring fallen trees, stopping to spy quietly on deer or rabbits. He'd tell me stories about the spirits that lived in the woods. I'd hold his hand tightly, reassured by those bumps on the back. They proved he was alive. They proved he was my dad. And as long as he was with me, nothing horrible could happen - to me or to him."
"I remembered my life backward, from the last time I had confronted my father at Aunt Celia's, back to my teenage years, when he slipped me some coke the night he told me he was leaving my mother. Back to the days when I first started bingeing and purging. Back to the night just before I turned seven. Back to the piece he had written for the Lampoon just a few months before. He had called it 'How to Cook Your Daughter', and it started this way: A recurrent problem facing the gourmet who wishes to prepare this excellent dish is the difficulty he experiences in obtaining a daughter. .. People so often ask, How do I tell when my daughter is ready for the table? Well, there's always some little variation, but generally the exact age falls somewhere between the fifth and sixth birthdays .. "
Picked this up at Bangalore Book Fair last year. It's the biggest book fair in town, held annually at the Palace Grounds (yes - for those of you outside India - a real palace, belonging to the ex-Maharaja of Mysore, and vast amount of grounds where various events get held, and there's never any problem parking).

Bangalore Book Fair is massive and not to be taken lightly. I wear comfortable shoes, carry a bottle of water, my trusty portable trolley, and make sure I have a good breakfast. It can take me a whole day to get through from one end to the other. I love it.

So why am I telling you all this? Probably because it's easier to talk about the fair than about this book (which cost me the princely sum of Rs. 150 - more than I usually pay for my second-hand treasures).

I have shelves full of books at home. A lot of them are on child abuse. And some of the child abuse books are memoirs by adult survivors. But here's the thing. I never read the memoirs, just buy them and keep them.

Today, though, I decided to read this one, and I sat and read the whole thing through in about four hours. I have a headache now. I'm not sure if it's from bad reading posture, or from what I read; perhaps both.

I'm supposed to say something about it, but I'm not sure what I want to say. So I'll just say this: it's a good book. It's more than a survivor getting herself some healing by telling her story, it's also a good story, a good read. All the same, I'm disturbed after reading it, although in a way I'm glad I did read it. I'm not sure if I'm going to have scary dreams tonight, or if I'll have to sleep with the night light on, or if I'll see and hear things I know aren't real any more.

Well, I'll worry about that closer to bedtime. Meanwhile, I've done what any sensible survivor does after triggering herself silly over someone else's story. I've ordered a cheese and pepperoni pizza with a Coke on the side. And it's just arrived.

Wednesday, 2 April 2008

P.V. Akilandam

Life is beautiful; live beautifully;

if you can't do that, at least

avoid making life ugly.

- P.V. Akilandam

Tamil novelist

from his book Chithira Pavai, 1977?

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Sharon Stone said

On community service:

"To be famous and do nothing is so vulgar."

found this quotation by her in my 2002 diary.

Jessica Zafra

For a while, being in the middle of my diary-ripping obsession, you are going to find a lot of posts that have been born out of my pre-ripping discoveries. (Or re-discoveries, to be precise.) One nice thing about having a bad memory is getting to experiencing all the old stuff as if for the first time. It's a bit like being celibate for ages, and then the next time you do it, you feel like a virgin again. So they say. I'm not speaking for myself, of course, I must have read this somewhere.

But talking about reading - and back to the diaries - I found some quotes by Jessica Zafra in a 1997 one. My friend Maripaz introduced me to Jessica (not personally, alas). The Internet had newly arrived in our office, and so many happy hours were spent reading this funny, sharp woman - Jessica not Maripaz - although I must point out that Maripaz wrote well too and I do miss the regular letters with all the office gossip she - Maripaz not Jessica - used to send me after I left FP7. Here are a few beauties by Jessica that I jotted down in my diary:

There are people who believe that without censorship there will be fornicating in the streets. Those who cannot deal with their own foul desires usually accuse other people of having them; this, boys and girls, is what is known as projection.

Denying the existence of ugliness will not make it go away. Hypocrisy is also obscene.

Greasy food might not be good for your body, but it does wonders for your soul.
Life is good. You should get one.

Tuesday, 4 March 2008


I have writer's block. Or blogger's blokk. Or something. Some terrible type of inner constipation that keeps me playing games of Freecell and Spider Solitaire, hiding at home hovering by the laptop like it's a literary lavatory, and hoping that any moment now, I shall sit down and bring forth all the words congealing within.

Hmm. Perhaps I don't have that literary constipation after all. I did manage one paragraph, and a fair amount of alliteration. My music teacher once diagnosed me with verbal diarrhoea, so I should have known that when I eventually got down to typing, SOMEthing or the other would come out! There's hope.