Memory matters

If you are in a geographic region where it gets really hot in summer, you’d have seen this interesting phenomenon.  Sometimes, in the middle of a particularly hot day, it would drizzle, pretty heavily, and the moment the water drops touch the hot road, they would evaporate – poof.  My thoughts have been like that this past week. So many thoughts overflow but just disappear as soon as they formed. The curse of midlife? Or that of the digital age that obviates memory? 

Talking of memory, a scary thing happened a week ago.  I had been suffering from migraine for days, and finally got to see my doctor. I took one dose of the medication he prescribed, and the headache disappeared.  But the next day, I awoke with a wooly head, which I figured was just a harmless side effect that I could sleep off. Not so.

At a shop on that day, as the salesman swiped my credit card and asked me to punch in my pin, for the life of me, I could not remember it. Mind you, this is the card I use almost every day, and use the pin on an almost daily basis.  I had not written this pin anywhere because I mean, how can you forget a four-digit number that you have used gazillion times in the past year?  Apart from the vague notion that it started with a 3, I could not remember anything.  The scary part is that that number is gone from my head permanently.  Until now.  I had to call the bank and change the pin. 

Later in that day, I dozed off on a chair, and when I awoke to answer the phone, my head spun and down I went like a sack of potatoes.  Thankfully, I had not passed out, and apart from being sore all over, I was alright.

The memory lapse and the fall terrified me.  On a hunch, I googled the side-effects of the medication I had taken and bang – there it was – mental confusion and possible vertigo. I called my doctor and he prescribed another medication, but by now I was paranoid.  My greatest phobia in the world is losing control of my mind and/or body, and I had lost control of both on one day. 

I switched to lifestyle changes (earlier bedtime and better food habits) and took some traditional remedies (kashayams and choornams), and in a couple of days, my migraine was gone, and the mental fog lifted too.  Whew ! 

But the funny part of this story is this.  Before I googled the side-effects, I cried like a lunatic, hugged my family and said “I am starting Alzheimer’s,  so if I forget you, don’t forget that I love you”. The kid and husband rolled their eyes until I was afraid, they’d popout.

As for the overflowing thoughts disappearing, I do not think that has anything to do with my mental prowess, just yet.  Those thoughts were just passing ones, that did not command a more permanent spot in my working memory.  I hope. Besides many of them were political, so they are better forgotten.

Lest I forget what I came here to write about, here goes.

My client in the US, wanted me to find research collaborators in the US for a few of our R&D projects.  When I websearched using the keywords linked to the projects, I noticed something very interesting and probably disturbing – only one in 25-30 research papers in each of the topics (and they are not obscure topics but pretty state-of-art ones) was written by someone from America.  Just a decade back, 90% of research conducted in my field were from America.

Does this mean that the amount of research being conducted in the US has fallen, or worse, does it mean, researchers in the US are not reporting their findings to the rest of the world? 

Hmm.

I hope all of you are doing ok, as much as possible in these times. Stay safe and sane.

Rage

Today is the death anniversary of a great poet from our state – Bharathiyaar. I posted a poem of his on my WhatsApp profile, a lovely piece (see below) and I reproduce a rough translation by one Ms. Gayathri Veeraragavan in Quora.

Line 1 – She walks with her head held high (nimirndha nannadai); She has the eyes that sees righteousness and truth in everything around her (nerkonda parvai);

Line 2 – She is bold and is not afraid of anyone in this world, since she doesn’t have to be, for she does everything in the right way with morality and values (nilaththil yarkum anjaadha nerigalum)

Line 3 – She is educated, her thoughts and deeds reflects the knowledge and the humility bestowed by it. (Thimirndha nyana cherukkum iruppadhal) And the same knowledge gives her confidence and bravery. (Semmai maadhar thirambuvadhillai aam)

Passage 2:

Line 1 – Illiteracy or being uneducated is darkness. (amizhndha paer irulaam ariyamaiyil)

Line 2 – If a women is threatened to live in such a darkness and ignorance (without education),(Avalam eithi kalai indri vazhvadhai)

Line 3 – She opposes and fights for her right with courage, and that is a woman’s virtue. (Umizhndhu thalludhal Penn aram aagumam)

Line 4 – Lo Modern woman! Can you hear the saying?! (Udhaya kanni uraippadhu kaettiirO)

Along with the verse was a small image of the poet himself. People who know of this poet know that his signatures are his turban and mustache. You can simply draw a turban with a handlebar mustache and most Tamilians would know who that refers to. I hope.

I got a reply from someone in my contact list that said “The image is by a particular political party that is against “our religion” and “our caste”, you should use a better photo of the poet that shows that he is from “our religion” and “our caste”” – meaning, use an image that shows him with the symbol of religion on his forehead.

If I hadn’t gotten a stroke and I am actually writing this post, it just means that my vascular system is more robust than I think it is.

Why is there so much division among us? Religion, caste, nation, boundaries, skin colour, langauge. Every where I look there is some bloodshed, some heartbreak, some inhuman word or deed in the name of religion, caste, nation, boundaries, skin color and language. In one part of the world, there is genocide based on religion, on another there is violence. And in yet another there are subtle actions that seek to divide and conquer. I am disgusted with us. I also feel devoid of hope for our race. The hatred, the “dwesham”, does not seem to have limits and characteristics. It is as much in the minds of the uneducated, as it is in the minds of the educated and rich.

I wrote this to her, and I am sure she has blocked me, which is fine.

I care about his words, not his forehead.

To be frank, I don’t care if religion dies. All religion, including ours, is evil in the human mind. Any concept that sows the us-versus-them in the human mind is evil.

As drastic as that may sound, I will not rise in protest to save my “religion” because it is merely a dogma.

I follow traditions for the sake of culture. Not religion. My god is my own personal caretaker. I will not confuse Her with a dogma to be protected.

Yep! I am an agnostic through and through. Culture is good. Religion, evil!

The rage has subsided, and has been replaced by the dull sense of hopelessness. I see no future for the human race. I hope it ends soon.

Neuroticism

I just realised that when I wear sneakers, I must wear my left sneakers first. I realised the neuroticism behind it when today, the sneakers were placed reverse, and I picked up the right one thinking it was the left, put it back down, once I realised it was the “wrong” sneaker, wore the left sneaker and then moved on to the right.

Is this a sign that I need psychiatric help?

“Sadness Amid Joy”: Lakshmi Iyer’s Middle-Grade Novel Brings New Perspectives to Adoption Literature — Lakshmi Iyer

When my partner C.C. and I decided we were open to adopting a baby of any race, we dutifully completed each module of our agency’s mandatory online … “Sadness Amid Joy”: Lakshmi Iyer’s Middle-Grade Novel Brings New Perspectives to Adoption Literature

“Sadness Amid Joy”: Lakshmi Iyer’s Middle-Grade Novel Brings New Perspectives to Adoption Literature — Lakshmi Iyer

Lakshmi, I am proud to say, is my friend.

Just boasting, if you hadn’t realised already.

The toll closer home

Things, however bad, look bearable when they are far from us.  But when it comes too close for comfort, it takes enormous courage and self-control to go on.

An uncle, my father’s cousin, died of COVID today.  While he was not a close relative, I have spoken to him, both when he was dashing and dynamic many years ago – he worked for the UN – and last year, when he had been in the grip of Alzheimer’s and had no clue who anyone was.  My father and I had fallen at his feet in obeisance before we left, and despite not having any idea of who we were, he had said “God bless you”- his only words to us during our one-hour visit at his house.  I am glad that the last thing I heard from him was blessings.

I feel uncomfortable. Partly for his wife, who is alone and old – her grown-up sons live in the States and are scrambling to come here, and we are unable to do anything to help because she is isolated due to COVID exposure.  But also because this uncle is a couple of years older than my father, and they share a sizeable set of genes – they even look similar, and I have a nondescript ball of fear in my stomach.   The day the vaccine is released, I will be in that line, with my father, even if it takes days to get him vaccinated.

May my uncle’s soul rest in peace.  May his wife find the courage in her to deal with this situation.  May this pandemic end soon.  May we all stay safe and sane.

The Rolls Royce

I am not a visual media person.  However, the other two members in my household are rabid v.m. consumers. I play along because they have good taste in what they watch, and usually, once I start watching, I don’t mind them, and we often watch stuff as a part of the family activity.

Today I joined them as they were watching a documentary on Rolls Royce in India, called “The Maharaja’s Motor Car”.  It was a fascinating watch (I’ll explain), but there was a little snippet of the famous speech by our first PM, Nehru, on the eve of our independence – “Tryst with Destiny” that brought me to tears.  I know I have strong political views against said person, but that does not in any way diminish the fact that it was a magnificent speech. I listened to the whole speech after the show and am overwhelmed.  

“We are citizens of a great country, on the verge of bold advance, and we have to live up to that high standard. All of us, to whatever religion we may belong, are equally the children of India with equal rights, privileges, and obligations. We cannot encourage communalism or narrow-mindedness, for no nation can be great whose people are narrow in thought or in action.” 

God, how we need to hear this now, again, afresh.  All of us.  I am still misty-eyed at the romance of it all…and how far the fruit has fallen from the tree that bore it.
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As to the documentary itself, it was one of those nostalgic pieces about Indian royalty, for which the British have irresistible fascination, much like we do ourselves about their royal family, even now.  It was a fangirling documentary, but cute, in a tacky way.  Tidbit from there: An Indian prince, feeling slighted at an RR showroom in London, apparently bought their entire fleet, shipped the cars to India and used them for garbage pickup in his province.

If that’s not a burn what is?

That said, the end left me a bit disturbed due to my association with someone who owned an RR.  My grandfather’s older brother was a bigshot with the overlords and was the director of the Southern Railways under the Raj. He owned a bungalow in the heart of the city that I call home and a RR that he had specially made for him.  My father, a young boy at that time, could see it,  but never touch it, I have heard, and he was reportedly fascinated with the vehicle.  He’d accompany his parents to his uncle’s house, and while the rest of them socialized, he’d sit cross-legged in the garage, drooling over the car. 

The grand uncle passed on before I was born, so all this is hearsay.  While one wing of descendants moved to other countries early on and is apparently integrated there, another wing of the family has, since the bungalow days, fallen into hard times, and my “cousin” (you know how Indians are, everyone’s a cousin), the grandson of the RR owner, lives hands-to-mouth on meagre earnings in his catering business.  Such is life, I suppose.–
Stay safe and sane, folks.

Balcony view and other thoughts

Life’s going at breakneck speed, and it’s a bit scary.  I was hoping that by the time the year ended, the pandemic hell would have passed, or we’d have found a way out.  Four more months left of this crappy year, and, much as I’d like to be optimistic, where’s that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow?

Remember how I gushed about the detective series, Inspector Gently? That train derailed somewhere along the third season, and nothing could be salvaged from that wreck, so I gave it up.  So, today we started yet another WWII era detective story – Foyle’s war.  Yes, I know, I am obsessed with the British (the Stockholm syndrome), WWII, and murder. If I were to go by history, the first season would be good, and then it would go south from there, I am sure. 

While we are at it, have you ever noticed that BBC shows have a lot of closeup shots of people?  Such close-ups that you would see the pores on their skin if they had had any.  It’s unfair that they not only have that killer accent but also alabaster skin.

Talking of accent, mine’s messed up.  Writing for the English,  American and Indian clients has taken its toll.  I am fine when I am writing – I go into that brain compartment that caters to the specific country, but when I am talking, I am utterly confused. My accent is largely Indian (thank God), but I suddenly catch myself rolling the “r”s ala Americanese, or going “Tom’au’to”, and sounding like a pretentious prick.  And the latter is often exacerbated after I’ve watched a British show. Right now, I want to say in my deep throaty voice “I’ll have some crumpets with my tea, thank you”.

Crumpets are not all that I’ve become an expert at making.  I have finally figured out how to bake bread in my convection oven, and I’ve been stuffing my family’s face with a lot of white flour, sugar, yeast and butter the past few months.    It doesn’t seem to stick to the bones of the rest of my family, but for me, you can see all I’ve baked not only in the photos but also in my midsection tyres.

Today was Vinayaka Chaturthi.  The yummies I made came out yummy, so much for modesty.  Incidentally, the swastik was OUR religious symbol before it was desecrated by evil forces. 

Hope all’s been fine with you folks.
Stay safe and sane.

The brainiac

Lean work periods, meaning I don’t have deadlines that are breathing fire down the neck, are times that I go on the mission to ruin my mental well-being.  I read and listen to all kinds of stuff, starting from “how to deep clean your kitchen”, which incidentally doesn’t have any effect on mine, to the latest neuro-chemical research that shows the power of mindfulness on neuro-plasticity. The latter excites me particularly, not mindfulness, mind you, but any kind of brain topic, and I can hear my daughter take in that subtle breath of “there it comes” whenever I start the conversation with “I listened to a talk yesterday…”.  Depending on the time of the month and the alignment of my stars, the stuff I listen to either pumps me up or deflates me.  When I am all fired, I am reading/listening to more and more (note – I never said I practice what I read), and when I am down, I really scrape the bottom.  It’s never the middle way with me, which is annoying, actually.

Anyway, I listened to a talk yesterday (yeah, I heard that) about how we live a life of constant sensory input so much so that when a bunch of people were put into a room (separately), with nothing to do but be with their thoughts for 15 minutes, they repeatedly pressed a button that they knew would give them painful electric shocks, rather than tolerate the thoughts inside their heads. 

I am not sure the research was wrong.  I tried sitting quietly sans my gadgets for 15 minutes yesterday and couldn’t wait for an excuse to get out of it.  I didn’t want a sensory input as much…or maybe I did, but I just needed to be doing something.  Anything.  I plodded along and got sucked into the spiral of thoughts I’ve been avoiding by frenzied activity, that has left me mentally exhausted.

Now I am confused.  Doing stuff without leisure for rumination apparently puts me on the beta-brainwave mode all the time and kills my alpha time, which is essential for neural rejuvenation and the like.  But the alpha stirs up the hornet’s nest, and far from feeling refreshed and creative, I am dead as a sterilized doorknob.    

Best go straight to the Delta, what? 

A gentle review

I like to pose as an avid reader. In truth, I am not.  I am an average reader, and the average has fallen in value in the past years, due to a combination of commitments, Internet and the middle age eyes.  My reading has become confined to bedtimes, and I can’t keep my eyes open three pages into the book.  An occasional Sunday offers me leisure enough to read substantially, and the past day was one such.  Being hooked to last decade’s TV show, Inspector George Gently, I pestered the better half for the book version, and got all forty-seven of them on my kindle.   Yesterday I commenced reading my first   – Gently down the stream – and completed it by the end of the day, a feat I have not been able to accomplish in a long long time.

I’ve watched silver-screen/idiot-box adaptations of many books and series.  I have usually liked the books better –  the Poirot collection for example, although David Suchet did lend the show quite a bit of oomph and as family we gravitate towards the show for the umpteenth time when we need some old-fashioned comfort.  I liked the Jeremy Brett-Holmes show almost as much as the books.  As for the more recent Cumberbatch series, the episodes by themselves are entertaining, but apart from the names, there is nothing in common between the show and the books, that I would not even consider them adaptations.  I refuse to watch Jeeves and Wooster, despite other rabid PGW fans goading me to, because I don’t want the picture of Bertie and Reginald in my head to be replaced with the faces of some earthly actors – even if they are gorgeous English men.  As a child I was hooked to Perry Mason, and I tried watching the adaptated show, but was seriously let down within the first five minutes of the first episode, and I proceeded no further. While I have only watched Ms. Fisher Murder Mystries go down the drain towards  the later seasons, I have never read the books to make a comparison.

Coming back to Gently, while I did enjoy the book considerably, I like the plot of the shows better.  The plot in the book I read was not exceptional – it was a pretty standard who-dun-in, ala Christie and Doyle, but one book does not a series make, I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve read a few more. Having watched three seasons of the show, I can confidently say that the show plotlines are intriguing, and while somewhat predictable, the deduction does not let you down. 

The character George Gently of the book comes out as a cross between Poirot and Mason, but with less strength.  A run-of-the-mill albeit intelligent detective.  The Gently of the show – played by Martin Shaw – though, is a heartbreaker – am I old when I call a middle-aged man that?  Another disappointment for me with the book as compared to the show was the absence of the show’s sidekick John Bachus (played by Lee David Inglebee – Stan Shunpike of the Harry Potter movies) in the book.  John Bachus in the show is an aggravating but irresistibly charming young detective sergeant with every prejudice known to the 1960’s, while the sidekicks Dutt and Hansom in the books don’t merit mention, at least in the one book I’ve read.

I don’t like the visual media as a rule, but mysteries and detective stories are my weakness.  I have watched quite a few, and I can confidently say that Inspector George Gently is the best yet.  What makes it better than the other detective shows? Could it be the period setting? But the Brett Holmes series and the Suchet Poirot series are period shows too, and are well made.  No, what’s special about IGG is the humanness in it. No human being, Gently included, is black and white and there are varying shades of grey that one relates to instantly.  No crime is purely evil without its own consistent logic.  So far, the show has not failed in my eyes. I understand (*Spoiler alert) Gently dies in the final episode, which is a brave thing to do – even Doyle had to bring back Holmes from the dead, and that promises me that the rest of the episodes wouldn’t fall too short of the ones hitherto watched.

I propose to read a few more of the Gently books . Even if the plots and characters are not overly impressive.  The narration is beautiful, and the language elegant. That is incentive enough for me.