Wednesday, 28 January 2009

The First Anniversary

This blog completes one year on 31st January. Like all one-year olds, this one is also unsteady on its legs, incoherent in its speech and someone has to check its backside at frequent intervals.

Initially, I used to wonder: who would be interested in what I write and why should they, anyway? So, during those early days, I was frantically searching for ways and means to increase the flow of traffic to my blog. I shamelessly e-mailed all those in my contact list, beseeching them to read the posts and leave comments and to the utter consternation of my wife, started writing down and distributing the blog id to casual acquaintances and even perfect strangers.

Nothing happened.

So after a while, I decided to studiously ignore the blog counter that stubbornly refused to turn over and concentrate on the content. Not that the content was great but I started writing about those topics or incidents from the past that made me smile, not really caring whether anyone was reading the stuff or whether it was all disappearing into some black hole in cyberspace.

And slowly, one by one, all of you started trickling in, mostly perfect strangers who happened on the blog by pure chance or idle curiosity; you came by, read some of the posts and decided to stick around. And if today I feel a strong bond of affection and fondness towards those strangers, some of whom are also awesome bloggers in their own right and much younger to me in age, don’t grudge me this feeling of warm kinship for, these are the people who encouraged me with their comments, referenced some of my posts to Desipundit and Blogbharti, put me on their blogroll and in the case of a crazy lady/brilliant blogger, made me part of a limerick about her favourite blogs!

I cannot even begin to thank you for all the love, affection and encouragement you have so selflessly showered on me. You have also ceased to be strangers but close allies who share a common passion, even though I have not met a single one of you in person, excluding my wife who also happens to be a blogger.

A special thanks to the grammar bully. Barring a few of the initial posts, he has been kind enough to read all my posts prior to posting and edit them with a sharp pencil, while careful not to impose his own style on my posts. His edits, I would like to hope, have made the posts crisper, more readable and definitely an improvement on my own original version.

So thank you once again, guys and gals! You have made my past year such a pleasure.

Image Courtesy:

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

One Night in the ICU

I woke up to the sound of someone screaming.

In my heavily-sedated state, for quite some time, the screaming was just so much background noise and I just lay there, passively listening to it. Couple of hours later, when the effect of the sedatives had begun to wear off, I glanced around and could zero in on the source of the bellowing. It was from the bed diagonally opposite to mine, where lay a strapping young man, surrounded by the paraphernalia of monitoring equipment.

He was not just screaming. He was also cursing in general, with lots of wild ranting, partly directed at the nursing staff, and partly at himself. He seemed to be in some sort of delirium, not quite aware of what he was saying or the inconvenience he was causing to the other patients.

I pieced together his story partly from what one of the nurses in the ICU told me that night and partly by using the internet during my convalescence to browse through the fortnight-old newspaper reports that carried his story.

Sreejith, 29 years old, was a CPI-M loyalist and was working as the secretary of a local cooperative society. On 30th December, while travelling on his motor bike, Sreejith was waylaid by suspected RSS-BJP activists and attacked mercilessly. He suffered stab wounds and serious injuries to his head, legs, and hands.

Sreejith’s marriage had been fixed and was to take place on the 28th of January.

When I saw Sreejith that night in the hospital, he had already been in the ICU for over a week. The doctors had already amputated one of his legs and the concussion in the brain made him confused and disoriented. His pulse was unsteady and his BP had plummeted to alarmingly low levels. He was in a critical state.

Even after I left the hospital, I kept track of Sreejith’s condition and felt vaguely relieved few days later when I came to know that he had come out of the crisis and would survive.

For the past decade or so, the northern districts of Kerala, especially Kannur, have seen increasing incidents of violence between the cadres of the CPI-M and the BJP/RSS. Hundreds, mostly misguided young men who know no better, have been killed, maimed for life, or suffered grievous injury in this bitter struggle for supremacy between the two political parties. Mostly, it has been the lowly party worker who has suffered and, in some cases, paid with his life, while his political masters, content to play the puppet-master from a safe distance, have got away scot free.

Thursday, 15 January 2009

In the Hospital

The first time I went under the knife was more than twenty years ago, for a minor surgery. The second time was ten days ago, for a fairly detailed procedure which took about two hours to complete.

The first time, they gave me General Anaesthesia (GA) which was nice. One moment I was nicely sedated and looking up at all those green-masked faces above me and the next moment, I was out like a light. Pure binary. From 1 to 0 with no gradation in between.

After what seemed couple of minutes—when it was actually close to an hour—they slapped me not-so gently on the cheeks and said it was over and wheeled me out. Fortunately, while coming out of anaesthesia, apart from feeling a bit groggy and disoriented, I did not suffer any of its ill effects such as nausea and vomiting. Overall, you can say, it was not so disagreeable.

This time they gave me spinal anaesthesia. This is when they inject the anaesthetic near the spinal cord and onto the nerves that connect to the spinal cord to block pain from an entire region of the body, such as the abdomen, hips or legs. No, it’s not really painful, but the funny thing is, when the surgery is going on, you are aware in a detached sort of way of what is going on, even though there is no sensation and you can’t feel a thing. I could infer that momentous things were happening outside my line of vision; could hear periodic sucking and gurgling noises and muted conversation, but it was as though I had become a sort of dispassionate observer, well, listener, and what was going on had nothing to do with me.

Of course, the detachment and dispassion goes out of the window pretty rapidly once the effect of the anaesthetic wears off within a few hours after the surgery and your back-to-whole body starts protesting rather unsubtly at the trauma it has been subjected to. That is when you become aware of your entire body and also of your pain and they start fusing together and reach the point when you are unable to distinguish between the two. You are your body and you are your pain, and the two are not disparate but one.

I realise now that pure physical pain has no distracting elements. The nearest I can compare it to is to a smokeless blue flame.

So here I am, slowly getting back to normal. Learning, or rather re-learning, how to get out of bed (wince!), how to take baby-steps to the toilet, and how to slowly position myself in front of my laptop and tap out the words you are reading just now.

I feel very humble.

Friday, 9 January 2009

A Wedding in Jaipur

These days if you have to travel by train from Mumbai to Jaipur, you have convenient direct trains connecting the two cities. For example, if you board the Jaipur Superfast Express from Mumbai’s Bandra terminus at 3.45 pm, you are in Jaipur the next day by 10.40 am.

Such was not the case 25 years ago, when my friend Tata Kumar got married.

During those days, to reach Jaipur from Bombay, you had to travel in one of the main line trains plying the Delhi route up to Sawai Madhopur, where you got down and changed over to another train to Jaipur.

Tata Kumar, no stranger to the regular readers of this blog, is from Kerala and his wife-to-be, also his colleague, is from Rajasthan. The course of true love, steadfastly adhering to a familiar script, has not run smoothly in this case also--the girl’s family has vehemently opposed the match. After many episodes fraught with emotion and drama, during the course of which our hero has unwaveringly withstood with admirable dignity all threats and inducements to break off the relationship, finally good sense has prevailed and the girl’s family has relented and agreed to the marriage, which is to be held in Jaipur and as per Rajasthani traditions.

Thus we find ourselves on a cold morning in Sawai Madhopur railway station, boarding the first class compartment of a metre gauge train which will take us to Jaipur in seven hours. What we did not know at that time, of course, was that the bride’s uncle was a high-ranking official with the Western Railway and instructions had been wired beforehand to the local railway authorities to “take care” of the baaraat.

The “baaraat” is a motley crew consisting of a few members of Tata Kumar’s family, a few of his friends, couple of colleagues, and my uncle MK and his family.

It was to be an unforgettable journey. The entire first class compartment, washed clean, dusted, and beautifully bedecked with flowers, had been exclusively reserved for us. As the train pulled out of Sawai Madhopur, we were handed over toiletries and fresh towels to spruce ourselves up after the grimy, overnight journey from Bombay. By the time we were back in our seats, a refreshing cup of steaming tea awaited us, followed by a fruit platter and an elaborate breakfast served by attendants who were intent on fulfilling their guests’ slightest whim and fancy. It was as if we had moved backward in time and were in the India of the British Raj.

Finally, we arrive in Jaipur to be welcomed, to our acute embarrassment, with rose garlands and much fanfare.

And that night, the members of the baaraat, most of whom are equipped with two left feet when it comes to shaking a leg, bravely try dancing on the streets of Jaipur, in front of the decorated, open-decked car in which Tata Kumar sits in his sherwani and turban, a picture of silent and heroic stoicism.

Picture Courtesy:

Friday, 2 January 2009

Landing in Mangalore

In some of my recent blog posts, I have written about the difficulty of and the time taken to travel from Bombay to Mangalore during the days before the opening of the Konkan Railway. You could travel by train or by bus, but both were tedious and time-consuming. There was a third alternative of course, and that was to take a flight. The flight time was less than an hour and one could travel in relative comfort and style. What then was the problem?

The problem was that the mere prospect of landing in Mangalore airport in the ageing Boeing 737s of Indian Airlines filled me with such abject terror; I could not sleep for days prior to the flight.

Now, before the corners of your mouth curl down in barely-disguised contempt and you start rummaging in your vocabulary for the perfect adjective for such weak-kneed quavering, I beseech you to close your eyes and visualise this:

Imagine a hillock, the top of which has been flattened to build a short—and it is really short at 5200 feet—runway. Imagine also that at both extremities of the runway, the edges of the hill drop away precipitously into a blue haze. And, if you have not already switched off mentally by now, imagine that the runway is not level, but slopes down from east to west, almost by 30 feet.

All these factors combine to ensure that landing in Mangalore airport, especially if you are occupying a window seat, is not an experience for the weak-hearted. The pilot has to touch down precisely at one extremity of the runway, apply the brakes immediately, and bring the aircraft to a complete stop at the other end. Any small error would mean either a crash during the final approach or the aircraft overshooting the runway and plunging into the arecanut trees 300 feet below.

On one such flight, Heinz Lehmann is my co-passenger, to whom I solicitously offer the window-seat. As we start our descent into Mangalore, the aircraft is buffeted by heavy turbulence. It is a heaving, tumultuous descent and we go down, down, down. Heinz is looking out of the window anticipating level ground to rise up and meet us and all he can see is hills and valleys all around. His is the aspect of a man, whose heart seems to be in a hurry to convene with his tonsils and probably go further on. I can see his knuckles tightening on the armrests and for a moment when he turns around to look at me, there is sheer panic in his eyes.

Suddenly at the very last moment when you see the runway, you are already on it and the brakes come on. The whole aircraft seems to shudder and scream at the effort. As we turn around and taxi back to the terminal, Heinz looks at me and smiles wanly.

I can see his face is bathed in perspiration.
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Stepping Sideways... by K. Radhakrishnan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 India License.