An extremely slow train- Monisha Rajesh’s Around India in 80 Trains

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Uninspired. That is one word for Monisha Rajesh’s Around India in 80 Trains. For such an inspired idea of traveling all over India in 80 trains, her book translated into a complaining, self-righteous, insipid, and a boring monologue. Books on travel are supposed to be evocative that vividly portray a journey where the author will entice the reader into accompanying the author on the journey. Unfortunately, Monisha’s book does not do that.

In the first few pages, she starts complaining about the bad experiences of spending 18 months in Chennai as a child, which forms the basis for the entire book. She takes the usual route of a ‘foreigner’ being struck by the poverty, filth, dirt, and muck in India and chronicles it in great detail. The book would have been richer had she lavished the same detail to her journeys and experiences on the trains.

A large part of the book is devoted to a rift between her and her traveling companion, Passepartout, who flits in and out of the pages, although he is with her at every turn of the wheel. An unfortunate clashing of views about the existence of God, or its lack thereof that escalates into a conflict, in which Monisha storms out of his presence. While she continues to lament on his narrow understanding of people’s personal choice about faith, she demonstrates the same kind of narrow understanding in refusing to understand his worldview. Having suffered through a brutal fight with a friend on the very same topic, I could understand the fight between her and him. What I could not understand was her neglect in etching out his character and telling us more about him, the kind of person he is, and what are his thoughts on interacting with the people in India, and the reason for his militant atheist views. In pushing her perspective into the book, Passepartout is relegated to a secondary ‘class’ companion, without a voice, and without much to do except to protect her and disagree with her.

She superficially glimpses over her journey, instead focusing on mundane details of the train names, times, and platforms. And most of these are usually in deference to her anger towards Passepartout. She could have described more about the places and the people that she met during her journey. There are several instances in the book, where I would have liked more detail about the place that she stayed, how did she come across those places, what would she eat, and what did Passepartout think about the journey. Her journey also was haphazard and there was a lot of going back and forth between places across India without an account of those places. She also has a tendency to romanticize the train attendants, indicating that they are satisfied with their job and do not seek better pastures. These could have substantiated by telling us about her conversations with them rather than, ‘it seemed…’

The book picked up in the second half like a train hurrying eagerly towards its destination, but it was too little, too late by then. Towards the end, she too becomes a victim of trying to find spirituality in India after being turned away from the temple of Lord Jagannath. I am staggered at why she should find this surprising and rile under self-righteous anger. Religion in India is tainted with exclusions of certain classes of people as well as women as much as it is celebrated at being inclusive of all the vices of the people whom it seeks to elevate. Her delusion is shattered because she comes to realize that religion in India is not the charming idea of pluralism and tolerance that she espouses. To that end, to quell her anger, she embarks on a 10 day Vipasana course and her book turns into yet again one of those clichéd accounts of a foreigner in India searching for God and/or spirituality.

The final chapter was a treat to read and I wished she had dealt similarly with all her previous chapters in a similar manner. She narrates a charming exchange with a sommelier with a penchant for books and thereby exchanges books with him at night; only to see him gone by the time she wakes up in the morning. She provides a wonderful reflection about that journey and redeems herself when she realizes that she was holding the bad memories from Chennai and had become a hostage to the past. Monisha is now going to be traveling in 80 trains around the world. I hope that her account of that journey starts off from where she left off in Around India in 80 Trains.

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Chemmeen- Lost in Translation

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There is not much to write about Thakazhi SivasankaraPillai’s Chemmeen, written in 1956 and translated by Anita Nair in 2011. The original novel written in Malyalam was a widely acclaimed classic, but the translated version was childish and silly. Undeveloped characters, and unexplained motivations made me lose interest in the book, but I plodded on with the hope that something would change.

Karuthamma, the daughter of Chakki and Chembakunji is in love with Parekutty, a Muslim living on the sea-shore in a shack. Chakki and Chembakunji are poor, but Chembakunji is clever and manages to borrow money from Parekutty to build up a fleet of fishing boats. He has no intention of returning the money to Parekutty and Parekutty is too nice to ask it back. Meanwhile, Chakki and Karuthamma plot to return the money back to Parekutty, but Karuthamma is married to Palani, an orphan. In a fit of rage (which Nair does not explain), Chembakunji asks Karuthamma to leave the house and never return. Karuthamm grows to love Palani, bears him a child, but in the end I was thoroughly confused because she ends up washed upon the shore locked in Parekutty’s arms and Palani is swept into a whirlpool.

I wish Anita Nair had explained the rationales behind the motivations of the characters. I wanted to see more depth to the characters and maybe the translation lost the nuanced depiction of the protagonists. A perfect case of what a book could have been if it had not been lost in translation.

Posted in India, Tragedy, Unsatisfactory | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Fishy Tales- Samanth Subramanian’s Following Fish: Travels Around the Indian Coast

download“Travel does nothing better than swinging a wrecking-ball into even your most meager expectations. A place is always hotter or wetter or drier than you suspect it will be; people will always turn out to have stories different from the ones you set out to hear; a society will when you think you’ve got it all figured out, always turn itself inside-out like a sock, to reveal its frayed threads, its seams, its patterns of stitch work. The real process of discovery works not be revealing things you knew nothing about, but by revealing how wrong you were about what you did not know”

Possibly, my most favorite quote from Samanth Subramaniam’s book and it perfectly epitomizes the way I think about travel. Perhaps, some day I will be able to pen down, articulately, what travel means to me. But that is post for another day, another time. For now, I will continue reading accounts about travel that do it best by combining it with food.

Samanth Subramanian’s book about ‘fishy’ travels across the coast of India is a treasure trove of anecdotes about people who dabble in anything to do with fish. Samanth takes us through West Bengal where he learns to eat Hilsa, Andhra Pradesh to swallow a live fish to cure asthma, Kerala in search of traditional fish recipes and toddy, Mangalore in Karnataka fishing around for the perfect fish curry, learning how to fish and angle in Goa, and wrapping up with building a boat in Gujarat.

While every tale in the book is delightful, my two favorite stories were easily On an odyssey through toddy shops and On Searching for a once-lost love. On an odyssey through toddy shops is a remarkable, lyrical, and evocative narrative about the search for the perfect toddy and toddy-shop food. In this story, Samanth is at his best, giving word to a quaint expedition from Vizhinjam, Kottayam, Trivandrum, Kozhikode, and Aleppy. From north to south Kerala, the kind of Toddy varies and so does the food that goes along with it- spicy fish fried in coconut oil. Spice is a constant factor, but it is tempered in the North through more coconut or coconut milk. The descriptions had my mouth watering and I found myself craving every fish that he wrote about, especially since I was stupidly reading the book on an empty stomach at the airport. I decided to get myself some food to satiate my craving, but returned with distaste at the unappetizing food at the airport. I couldn’t help but blame Subramaniam for the quandary I found myself in. Sample this line, “Karimeen arrived soon after, brown as toast, wrapped inside its greatcoat of masala, and dressed with black pepper and raw onions. It was a bony fish, but its meat was soft, picked apart by fingers almost as easily as cotton candy. This was magnificent eating- crisped masala, cut by the sweetness of the fish and the tartness of a squeeze of lemon”. Yum!

On searching for a once-lost love resonated with me on so many levels. How often have I found myself in the hunt for the perfect iftar food from the past, Aavin’s Milk Khoa- my favorite sweetmeat from my childhood, and most recently, jackfruit, the search of which is currently on! In this story, Samanth is in Mangalore in search of the perfect Mangalorean Fish Curry. Samanth begins this tale with these lines, “To attempt to write with enthusiasm about food, I have discovered, requires two great qualities: the ability to eat with a catholic, voluminous appetite, and the ability to eat out alone. The first is a purely physical constraint…The ability to dine out alone, however, seems to be like the ability to curl your tongue- either you have it or you don’t.” While I agree with him, I also think that enthusiastic writing about food also requires a dogged persistence for that perfect food memory and this Samanth does superbly in this tale. He samples fish curry from restaurant to restaurant, he finds some that he detests and some that he likes, only to be informed later by a man who doubles up as the president of the Mangalorean fisherman’s cooperative and the secretary of the Akhila Karnataka Fishermen’s Parishad, the National Fishworkers’ Federation and the Coastal Karnataka Fisherman Action Committee that the best Mangalorean Fish Curry is not found in restaurants, but in homes. This ‘accumulator of bureaucratic titles’ then directs his brother’s son’s wife to whip up a fish curry for Samanth. Finally satiated, Samanth then regales the title-holder with praises of the fish curry, only to have him tell Samanth, “…I wouldn’t know. You see, I don’t eat fish.” Simply marvelous from the first word until the last.

Although I liked the other stories in the book, at times, I found it difficult to follow the prose and some stories such as angling in Goa and building boats did not hold my attention. I wish Samanth had written more about fish preparations across coastal India and devoted less space to angling and carving boats. Indeed, these fascinating stories could have been devoted to another book itself.

Any book on travel makes me splutter and gasp for a good 5 minutes before I settle into read the words and make my own journey alongside the author. This book had me spluttering,  gasping and licking my lips in anticipation of some delicious karimeen. It did not help that I was reading another book, ‘Chemmeen’ –a tale of a fishing community in Kerala on the side. Following Fish is fintastic!

P.S. My mother aided me in satisfying my fish craving by treating me to an array of fish at a Malwani restaurant in Pune. While the fish looked delectable, wrapped up in rice flour and deep fried, the masala had not seeped into the fish, rendering it bland. I love my mother’s fish preparations the best, and she is going to whip up a bombil (Bombay Duck) fried in rava for me.

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Ambling Plots, Elusive Endings: Damon Galgut’s, The Impostor

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Since I just started reviewing books recently, I generally read reviews by readers on Goodreads or google up reviews from the media. I do this in order to gauge my understanding of the book, and to reread portions in the book that may have eluded my understanding. Damon Galgut’s book, The Impostor put me in a fix. Everyone else was raving about this book. Also, his previous book, The Good Doctor, had been shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2003. This was my first book by the author, and also my first book set in South Africa. Expectations were obviously high. What bothered me most was the absence of a plot, and I felt that I was merely ambling along an uneventful account of someone’s life. I was forced to change my mind as I started jotting down this review.

The book begins when the protagonist, Adam Napier, who has recently lost his job and his house and is about to move into his brother’s abandoned house in an unforgiving and harsh countryside. Previously, having published a poetry book, Adam thinks of himself as a poet, and has a vague idea of writing poems again. He feels the need to move into the countryside with the hope that the lush surroundings will spring out the poems laying dormant inside of him.

The landscape is completely different than the one he imagined. It is dry, lifeless, and “sun blasted”. He is alone in a huge house that is nearly taken up by weeds. His attempts to clean up the weeds and the yard start off with enthusiasm, but are always incomplete. This is also reflected in his feeble attempts to write poetry that always end in the page ‘outstaring him’.The poems always remain invisibly out of his reach. The failure to clean up the yard and write poetry also point to the kind of character that Adam is – someone who is defeated and who does not have a reason for living. The poetry, we later learn, is just an excuse, an aberration from the will of living the routine of everyday life.

Adam keeps a fearful distance from his neighbor (Blom, or the blue man), and then takes up a friendship with the Cannings every weekend. Kenneth Canning, his school friend, invites Adam joyfully into his life. He hero-worships Adam and claims that Adam changed his life in school, but Adam does not seem to remember him. Adam is instead intrigued by Baby, Kenneth’s enigmatic wife.

Adam comes across as a restrained and passionless character. Although the book is about him, he is not elevated to a position of a hero possessing ideal qualities. He is left wanting and is clearly struggling with his inabilities and insecurities. Baby’s enigma is well written. She is literally as well as metaphorically an enigma as she pirouettes in and out of the prose, hiding behind doors as well as lurking between the lines. Canning is clearly in love with Baby, but she does not return his love, instead using him as a pawn to get ahead in life. Baby’s past is never explained, but just hinted at in a couple of paragraphs that she had to fight a great deal to secure her position.

Canning is a business man, who has left his wife and daughter for Baby, and is now in the middle of cracking a deal to make a gold course out of the land that he owns in the countryside. Canning is always happy to have Adam over; he also chooses to glaze over the affair of Adam and Baby, and only reveals to Adam in the end that he knew. I did not understand why he chose to not do anything about it. He is reluctant to involve Adam in his shady dealings, but yet utilizes Adam to deliver a packet, which is supposedly a bribe to the Mayor.

Racial underpinnings and class fractures are the backdrop of this book, and Adam is poorly equipped to navigate the experiences and provides us with only observations. This is a South Africa I learned, where money is to be made in building a country, where corruption goes hand-in-hand with expansion. Adam’s brother, Gavin, is also like them; he is already a part of the corrupt underbelly of South Africa, where everyone, right from the blacks and the whites are opportunists, colluding to pass money and make deals.

The blue man and Charmaine and Gavin’s wife were other characters that evaded my grasp of what the author wanted to convey through them. Perhaps, this is like real life where not every body you meet is supposed to occupy important and explicable positions in your life. Some people will no doubt always occupy shadowy corners, and remain as unwelcome guests.

The lack of a story was slightly explained towards the end, when it is dawns upon Adam that he had been suffering from depression during the year he spent in the countryside. It still does not completely tie up the loose ends, and interpreting the ending seems like a futile exercise. But, isn’t depression also something like that? It may creep up without a cause, linger without you even knowing it, and even after eons it may make little sense.

As I end this review, I am now able to appreciate the title of the book, The Impostor. Adam, living a depressed life as a passionless observer, conducting an affair with Baby is an impostor. Canning and Gavin with their shady dealings are impostors. Baby with her mystery and enigma is an impostor. Other characters are impostors because they are never fully revealed to us. The more I think about this book, the more I am sucked into a riddle into deciphering the layers and the meanings of all the characters. I will stop now.

I would recommend this book because the prose is well crafted, and just so that I can understand the many different interpretations that readers are left with after reading this book.

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Journeys to the Unlikeliest of Places with the Unlikeliest of Companions

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My sister once asked me what is your passion? I fumbled around for an answer with several ‘umms’ and ‘hmmms’. And then it dawned on me. Travel. Since the time that I stepped out of my home at the age of 19, I have been hooked. I day-dream about maps, resolutely scour through travel pictures of my friends on Facebook, transport myself with them, and imagine journeys taken and untaken. Not for the sake of going to a new place, but the act of purchasing my tickets, packing my bags, proceeding to catch my bus/train/plane, the time spent in the mode of transport, and then reaching the destination. To me, that is what I enjoy about traveling. After reaching my destination, it is less of a travel and more of an exploration of a new wonder.

When I picked up Traveling In, Traveling Out: A Book of Unexpected Journeys edited by Namita Gokhale, this feeling came back to hit me. It was so powerful that I could barely go past the text on the cover page, “We travel all the time, from place to place, thought to thought.” It was the first time that I came across ‘thinking’ as a form of journey and it took me back to the numerous ways our mind travels across time, emotions, feelings, memories, and incidences, both contrived and real. This form of journey does not require any sort of displacement. Being a student in academia, we are also taught the value of thought experiments, and what are these thought experiments if not journeys of prolonged intellectual deliberation to produce theories as Einstein did for the Theory of Relativity.

Coming back to the book, it is a remarkable anthology of 25 short stories that tug on your heartstrings. The reason that I loved the stories in the book was because they were not mere descriptions about unknown places, but spoke to the essence of how I conceptualize travel. Explorations of the self in an unknown place took precedence over the place itself.

My favorite story was the moving, unresolved tale of Jehangir Tata’s house in Shanghai and his attempts to find out what happened to the house after the emergence of the communist party. Mishi Saran in A House for Mr Tata, An Old Shanghai Tale, brings forth a narrative of booming optimism, the building of a new life in Shanghai, the fall of the business after the madness of the Cultural Revolution, the sudden fleeing from Shanghai to avoid prison, and consequently leaving behind a carefully accumulated life and a home. A home that jingled with merry laughter and good times has now been seized by the government and all Jehangir Tata, past his 95 years (who now lives in San Francisco) want a piece of paper that tells him what happened to his home as closure. It was such a magnificent story, and unfortunately its magnificence was drawn from such deep sadness.

Ali Sethi’s A Foreigner’s Situation an account about Pakistani immigrants in Copenhagen was another affecting tale. The layers of complexities involved in navigating colour, religion, traditions, family, and local customs all clashed headlong in this story where the author follows a Pakistani who runs a travel agency. In a foreign land, what must a foreigner do? Should the foreigner assimilate into the new society and cut off ties, or must a foreigner retain traditions and not assimilate into the new life? And then the third option is to retain both, but yet never feel completely at home in either culture – be neither here nor there. This is the emotion that I have felt in the past five years of my graduate life in the US. A mixture of wanting to soak in everything that the country offers, and yet not wanting to let go of the place that I come from. Indeed, I have come close to shunning my roots several times. But then, what is it that ties me to my homeland in a foreign country? Is it my thoughts, my conversations with family and friends back home, cinema, is it books, is it music and art, is it theatre, is it people who share a connection to a country far away, or is it the flag hoisting every Independence day?

Stories of hill stations have a special place in my heart for the special brand of romance that they evoke. Growing up in the plains of Pune, hill stations always kindled feelings of mists, light rains, boarding schools, hidden glances, ambling walks on rain fed paths fresh from the fragrance of the first rain, and small towns – possibly all sorts of romantic hogwash. But, Mayank Austen Soofi’s story, In search of Lost Time, was another tale that reinforced my images of life in a hill station. I always yearned for a glimpse into the towns of Nainital, Mussorie, Dehradun, Ooty and have been rewarded in sporadic trips that only lasted for a day. I have imagined the hill station way of life to have a slow melody that is now lost, leaving behind a heady influx of tourists. I have only been to Nainital and Ooty and both the times, I felt saddened by the sight of these towns. The famed Nainital Lake reeked of sewage and the hills of Ooty was ugly with shacks. I hunted all over the towns for the image that I had conjured up in my mind, but I could not find them. Similarly, Soofi also laments the loss of places and a previous way of life in Nainital. He writes, “Old, pristine Nainital is preserved largely in people’s memories; only the residues of that fabled past is there to see and feel.” Much like the lyrics of Manmarziyaan from Lootera- the song of seasons and the song of desires.

I recently had an argument with my sister about the meaning of travel. She argued that travel is a journey undertaken for a long span of time to an unknown place, much like the dictionary definition. I disagreed and argued that travel can mean any kind of journey, be it for a long span or a short span, or to a place known or unknown. I believe that the dictionary definition is too narrow and restrictive and does not provide space to the experiences that I may encounter even on a commute that has been undertaken for the past 50 years. I think travel does not need to be defined by the constrictions of time and location, and cannot be divorced from the experiences that make up a journey. And it for this reason that I loved the book. It is one of the best book’s that I have read in a long time. This book is to treasure. It imparts to the mundane and to the routine an inexplicable magic of journeys and jaunts.

P.S. Also, one of the best book covers. There is something about bicycles 🙂

Posted in Emotive, Poignant, Short Stories, World | Tagged | 2 Comments

I missed the love- India in Love: Marriage and Sexuality in the 21st Century

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A few months ago, while placing a phone call from the United States to my mother in India, I became an involuntary participant to another phone call, taking place in Lahore, Pakistan. The call was between a man and a madam of a brothel. I hung on fascinated and horrified as the man described the services that he required. I do not remember much of that conversation except that the man insisted several times, ‘g***d chaatne wali chahiye’. After agreeing on the services that the girl would perform, the man and the madam started haggling for a price. The man demanded for a reduction in the price, but the madam held her ground saying that the girl is ‘doing extra’. She said that she would provide a girl who will do as the man wishes, but cannot settle on an amount that the man was demanding. The man finally agreed, and said that he would stop by the brothel once the curfew in Lahore is lifted.

This conversation is the only one that I can claim that comes closest to my interaction with a sex worker or a brothel. This conversation played out in my mind again while I was reading Ira Trivedi’s India in Love: Marriage and Sexuality in the 21st Century. It got me thinking about whether our neighbors are also undergoing similar revolutions given a similar prevalence of sexual repression like in India. I asked my sister about rape statistics in Pakistan and she asked me to look it up. I googled around and found that rapes happen “for pure lust, for revenge, to avenge a rejected marriage proposal, for religious and ethnic reasons, or simply to satisfy a predatory man’s desire to exert unadulterated brutality and power…. rapes are so common (and typically unreported), that the perpetrators in Pakistan are rarely ever arrested, much less held over for trial, convicted and jailed.”[1]

It is not very different than India and I leave you to ponder about that as I proceed to the point of this post – Ira’s book.

Trivedi’s book is a painstaking and detailed documentation consisting of more than 500 interviews to understand the fast-transforming sexual ideas and behaviors in India. Her book starts off with some wonderful explanation of the sexual symbolism of Ram and Sita, and Radha and Krishna. Her account of the Kamakhya Devi Temple in Guwahait that is shaped like a vagina is vivid and fascinating. Ira writes best when she is providing a mythological and historical reference to a particular story in the book. But sadly, that is where the charm of the book also ends. Ira meanders off into her interviews, which are entertaining to read, but do not offer any new insight or unknown story about how love and sex are perceived in modern-day India. These stories abound by the dozen in newspapers and on television, and it makes for forced reading in her book.

Ira has clearly put in remarkable research in writing this book with characters that we recognize and empathize with. She peppers her book generously with personal anecdotes, some statistics, and interviews with well-known writers and psychologists. Sometimes, she also comes across as judgmental, providing descriptions of skin color and beauty, which seemed highly unnecessary. For someone who wrote ‘ The Colour of my Skin’, it was perplexing why she presented this detail for all women that she interviewed for her book. While her research effort is evident, the product does not match up, either in prose or content. Ira’s book begins with a high note and then keeps jarring off key through the entire book. Another book that started out as promising, but broke it.

[1] http://www.ibtimes.com/india-has-rape-crisis-pakistans-may-be-even-worse-1011268

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Conversations for the End of our Lives – Reflections on Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End

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My friend and I frequent a quaint little café near our apartment in Columbus because of a delicious coffee beverage called the Vienna Kaffee. We also call this café as the ‘Old People’s Café’ because whenever we visit this café, we see a group of the elderly bent over their coffees, or relishing a delectable dessert. Oftentimes, I have wondered at the lives of these elderly, whether they live alone, whether they have caretakers, and their ability to drive despite their evident frailty.

People normally avoid discussions because the topic of aging does not exactly qualify as dinner table talk. Except that my friend and I had not avoided it. She once asked me for my thoughts on old-age homes and the concept of caring for the aged in India. I replied that because families are close-knit in India, it is a rare occurrence for families to give up their parents and grandparents to old-age homes. She mentioned that in Lithuania, where she comes from, families also take care of the aged. Then without batting an eyelid, she said, “when it is time for me, I would consider getting myself checked into a home”. I uncomfortably avoided saying anything because I had not thought about how I would prefer to spend my old age and mumbled something along the lines of,‘ I do not know..it is not for me’. I vaguely knew that the prospect of checking into a home is depressing. Living alone in an old age home away from my family was not how I would want to spend my old age.

Three months since this conversation, my sister and I chanced upon Atul Gawande’s book, Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. I steeled myself to read about unpleasant and gory medical stories. After all, there isn’t anything pleasant about aging. Even medical schools agree and do not train students to care for the elderly. Gawande writes, ‘There is nothing glamorous about aging and the purpose of medical schools is to, teach how to save lives and not how to tend to their demise. Doctors are trained to treat diseases and ‘figure that the rest will take care of itself’ because aging in a nursing home is ‘not exactly a medical problem’.

In tracing the evolution of care for the aged, Gawande takes us to poor houses, old-age homes, and nursing homes, and all of them, invariably, hold unhappy patients. (I previously did not even know the difference between each of them). In one particular striking paragraph, he compares nursing homes to prisons, where inmates have to wake up at a particular time, eat at a particular time, work and rest for a particular number of hours, and then go to bed at a particular time. Gawande argues that a loss of basic independence and functionality in nursing homes makes patients listless and they live a life without any meaning, which makes the entire concept of nursing homes deplorable. We are, after all humans; we all seek, merely, not to live, but to live meaningfully.

Gawande also challenges the notion of ‘being a fighter until the end’. If being a fighter means being hooked to machines with tubes running inside and outside of the body, is it really worth it? Aggressive medical intervention can prolong life, but at a terrible cost of misery following the patient until the end. At times like these, a simple talk about a patient’s choices helps. But the sad truth is that doctors are ill-equipped to talk to patients about their options for approaching death- after all, they are not trained to do that and would that really be their job[a]?

This is where hospice and palliative[b] care steps in- this is care provided to patients in their homes and eases the pain of the patient as the end nears. Here Gawande delves into the hard questions of how a person envisions their final days (I would have liked for Gawande to write about how these decisions are made for people who are not capable of making these decisions themselves). His account of his father’s suffering dealing with a tumor growing inside the spinal canal is moving and brings to light the finality of life after dealing with the hard questions. He asks his father, ‘what are your goals, what are your fears in case you are paralyzed, and what are your goals if your conditions worsen?’ In a poignant description, Gawande writes, “Those questions were among the hardest I’d asked in my life. I posed them with great trepidation, fearing well, I don’t what- anger from my father or mother, or depression, or the sense that just by raising such questions I was letting them down. But what we felt afterward was relief. We felt clarity”.

In helping his father deal with the end of his life, Gawande himself transforms. From shiftily trying to avoid the conversation with his patients, he now says, “I’m worried”. And that seems to make all the difference.

While reading Gawande’s book, I realized that I should think about my mother who lives alone and stoutly refuses any kind of help. She is fiercely independent, but has been suffering from a long list of ailments since many years. Gawande writes that when become  old, they want to spend more time with family because relationships become valuable. The same also holds true for young people who survive a life-threatening situation. Family becomes a priority over ambition or wealth, and Gawande wonders if this alteration can reach people before they are struck by a calamity to reorient they way people live out their lives. I am a student on the  of starting my career, grappling with several decisions about my life, my goals, and my dreams. I want to travel to every colour and shape on the globe. I am still not closer to making a decision, and I don’t know whether I will be able to make one. But, somewhere, at the back of my mind hovers a nagging thought that I should be going home to my mother.

[a] Knowing how doctors die can change end of life discussions

[b] Medicare to pay for voluntary end of life counseling

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