When the writer Gita Mehta was growing up in Orissa, a small ancient image of Ganesha was unearthed in a mound of dirt as the foundations of their family home were being laid. “I’ve always kept the Ganesha which came out of my parents’ home,” confided Mehta when I interviewed her once in New York. “That is the one image that goes with me wherever I go. He came out of the Indian soil so to me he’s like an umbilical cord that connects me to India. So it doesn’t matter where I live – he is my India.” A lovely book from 2009, to check out this Ganesh Chathurthi.
‘Family Life’, Akhil Sharma’s new novel, is devastating – about the unpredictability of life, of how 3 minutes can change it forever.
Yet it is also about the resilience of the human spirit and how we can keep raising the bar on the amount of grief and pain we are able to tolerate – all for love. And sometimes for guilt.
Deceptively small, ‘Family Life’ comes with a lot of turbulence packed into it – each page takes you into human lives which are raw and conflicted.
Without a doubt, she’s a literary rock star.
Jhumpa Lahiri receives the kind of frenzied adulation reserved for celebrities. Her new novel ‘The Lowland’ has created a buzz in the US, with reviews carpeting every media from The New York Times to the most obscure little blog.
She was nominated for both the Man Booker and the National Award – and ‘The Lowland’ had hardly even hit the stores! Her book tour took her to several American cities and social media lit up with Jhumpa talk.
Few writers of Indian origin command this kind of fanfare – except perhaps Salman Rushdie. So is she the next big Indian writer after Rushdie, in terms of international standing?
“Illness is the night-side of life, a more onerous citizenship. Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick. Although we all prefer to use only the good passports, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”
– Susan Sontag.
This quotation begins Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee’s Pulitzer Prize winning biography of cancer, ‘The Emperor of All Maladies.”
In this series we pay tribute to five physicians who preside over ‘the kingdom of the sick’ with not only their healing hands but their powerful words: Drs. Siddhartha Mukherjee, Atul Gawande, Abraham Verghese, Sanjay Gupta and Sandeep Jauhar.
There were no writers or physicians in Siddhartha Mukherjee’s family. He grew up in New Delhi where his father Sibeswar Mukherjee worked for Mitsubishi and his mother Chandana was a school teacher. His parents still live in Delhi.
“We spoke Bengali and English at home, our house was immersed in books,” he recalls. “I have a very intimate relationship with Bengali literature, particularly Tagore, and I would say my interest besides reading at that point of time in my life was music. And so, my memory of my household is of one immersed in books and music.”
Doctors are considered omniscient Gods but are actually very human, and no one conveys this truth better than Dr. Sandeep Jauhar. He is Director of the Heart Failure Program at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in New York, specializing in novel therapies for acutely decompensated heart failure.
It is hard to believe that this accomplished cardiologist once was a conflicted intern and probably no physician has been able to capture that coming of age story more evocatively than Jauhar in his remarkable first book, ‘Intern: A Doctor’s Initiation.’
Dr. Atul Gawande, in today’s lingo, is one cool dude. After all, which other noted surgeon listens to Bruce Springsteen as he performs surgery in the operation theater? As the lanky iconic writer-physician told a room full of fans at the New York Public Library, he’s in surgery twelve to fourteen hours and music helps him and his team get through the day.
“For me music is an important tool for doing that,” he said. “Number one, if I pick the music really well, then the nurses and the anesthesiologists that I want are likely to pick me for my room and I get known a little bit for my playlists, and get certain people I want coming in the door if I pick the music well. You do five cases in a day, it’s a long day. It definitely keeps me going. It’s great!”
The case of the invisible patient, the I-patient who exists just on the physician’s computer monitor as so much data, while the real live patient in the bed is ignored, has become an important issue for Verghese, both in work and his writing.
“I think that there’s a very special transaction that takes place between physician and the patient during the course of a careful examination,” he says. “It’s during that exam when the physician touches you and pulls your eyelid down and looks into your eyes and thumps on your chest – that’s when a very ritualistic bond is formed and if you shortchange that by just sitting behind your desk and saying ‘Let’s send you for this test, let’s send you for that test,’ you have essentially shortchanged yourself from an important transaction.”
‘The ‘Emperor of All Maladies’, subtitled A Biography of Cancer, won the Pulitzer Prize for Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee. This week it won the 2011 PEN/E.O Wilson Literary Science Writing Award. An interview with this award-winning author about the writing of the book.
The challenge of ‘The Emperor of All Maladies’ was that in taking on such a formidable foe, Mukherjee had to create a complex tapestry which was by no means linear. It went all over the map, backwards, forwards, even sideways, zig-zagging between the impersonal and the very personal, between a clinical trial with 10,000 patients to the emotional tale of one particular patient. “The challenge was to take all that and make narrative out of it – it really is the most invisible thing in the book, it is the bones of the book,” says Siddhartha Mukherjee.
As the dawn of a New Year envelops us, there we go again – making those resolutions, wish lists which will help us be more accomplished, more focused, more successful in the New Year. A six figure job, a trophy spouse, an earth-shattering romance – we certainly think all these things will make us more happy – and isn’t happiness what we all seek and hunger for?
Yet listen to this: “There is nothing that you have to get, do, or be in order to be happy. I repeat, nothing. In fact, happiness is your innate nature. It is hardwired into your being, It is part of your DNA. It is always with you.”
These words of wisdom come not from some spiritual text or soothsayer but from Dr. Srikumar S. Rao, the very practical and philosophical professor who has made happiness an achievable goal…