Thursday, December 30, 2010

Dr.Binayak Sen and the Naxal struggle

the%20good%20doctor The case of the good doctor
As I recover from one of the most stressful Christmases of my life (thanks to all the sick patients in the ward), I know there is not way I can complain, especially since, on Christmas Eve, a court sentenced Dr. Binayak Sen to life imprisonment for the crime of 'sedition'. The good doctor, whose academic credentials, personal integrity and devotion to the poor have all been vociferously covered in every communication medium over the last few days, now spends Christmas and New Year in solitary confinement in a prison, where he had earlier, already spent 2 years awaiting charges. It seemed for a time that the Free Binayak Sen campaign had succeeded in gaining justice, but now everything is back to square one and things look even more bleak than before.

In all the reporting on the trial and its aftermath, it has been encouraging to note that there has been no discordant voice - one and all have denounced this travesty of justice as an act of vengeance by a government whose unlawful actions against the poor people have been showed up by this tireless warrior. It seems impossible that in a country where some of the greatest thieves this world has ever known not only thrive but are elected as our leaders, the voice of a man whose only crime was to love the poor and whose only desire was to see that they got their due, has been cruelly silenced by a verdict which defies every law of common sense known to man. It is I guess, one of the great ironies of our beloved nation, right up there with the fact that some of the world's richest men come from a land where the majority of people struggle for daily sustenance.

The story of Binayak Sen and his struggle, while far removed from the comfort of my life, does however, sound a resonance with an inner movement that was awakened in me many years ago. The 2 years I spent in Jharkhand, where, at that time, a very similar struggle to the one going on in Chattisgarh raged, left some long-lasting impressions on my young mind. My first year was spent learning the ropes of a junior doctor in a mission hospital, managing the labour room, doing Caesarians and involving myself fully in patient care. But early in my second year, I was given the opportunity to join the community health team, which gave me a new understanding of the ground realities of the area.

When I left for Jharkhand, I had no idea at all of the Naxal movement and no clue that I was going to work in one of their strongholds. My parents did not say much - it was only later that I learnt of their trepidation as they put me on the train. During my first year, I began to see the abject poverty of the local people which made healthcare the least of their concerns. But it was only in my second year, when I began to visit their homes and understand the stories of their lives that I realised the desperate state they had been left in by many decades of feudalistic injustice by the rich landlords. And I began to understand the basic ideology of the Naxal movement - to return the land and its riches to the local people who, in their simplicity and innocence, had been throughly bespoiled by those with power, who were, in general from other places. And as the injustice of it all began to trouble my idealistic mind, I began to identify more and more strongly with the Naxal struggle and agree with its basic ideology. However, while I sympathised with the struggle, I was totally against the methods - which, at that time mainly involved the indiscriminate killing of policemen, in different raids. The closest police outpost to the hospital was about 20 kilometres away, about halfway to the district headquarters. After a series of raids with much loss to life and limb, the police were forced to withdraw and the outpost remained unmanned for most of my second year!

As I became closer to the people and they began to trust me, I began to meet some of the 'party' leaders and have short conversations with them. I began to dream of becoming the 'party' doctor, which would give me access to the highest levels of leadership and thus a chance to reason with them about the violent nature of their struggle. I began to hope that love and a strong development agenda of the hospital team would slowly bring a change in the outlook of some of these men, who for the most part, I felt, were misguided and confused about the direction of their struggle. Of course, these remained just dreams, as for a variety of other reasons, it became clear that the time had come for me to leave and I suddenly dropped everything and relocated.

But as I reflect on Binayak Sen and the charges for which he has been sentenced to a life in prison, I realise that in a small way, I too am guilty of crimes similar to what he has been charged with. Guilty of the crime of being friendly with the poor people who are struggling against many decades of injustice, knowing all the while that some of them were involved in armed struggle against the government. Guilty of the crime of condemning a government system which is corrupt to the very roots. A system where no government official has ever been seen in a village for many, many years. A system where every statistic is cooked up in the comfortable confines of government offices. And where every government scheme is 'successfully implemented', which only means that the money has found its way into the bank accounts of the right people and the reports have been meticulously dreamt up and typed.

The truth of the matter will take many, many pages to fully describe. The plight of the people can only be imagined, even by me, who spent much time with them. And the story will go on, and on. For there are very few Binayak Sens left in this world. Very few who are willing to take up the cause of the poor at their own risk and loss. Our lounges and coffee parlours are filled with educated intellectuals who decry the injustice meted out to this man. In fact, there has supposedly been more support from the Indian diaspora for Dr. Sen than from this country. But for all the outcry, there are few of us who are willing to take it to the next level. To look at ourselves and see what role we have to play in the great Indian dichotomy. For many of us are surely playing a role, by acts of commission or omission, in keeping the poor, poor while we ourselves enjoy wealth and riches. I am ashamed to think that even after being exposed to the harsh reality of it all, I still have nothing much to offer except empty words. My selfish desire to protect what is mine and safeguard my future prevents me from taking any meaningful action. For after all, that is what mankind is programmed genetically to do - survive... And, as far as possible, in the greatest comfort. My only hope is to follow more closely in the footsteps of my Saviour. For only then is it possible to love without counting the cost, to fight without heeding the wounds, to toil without asking for rest, to labour without asking for any reward. And I pray that as I seek to be faithful to His call, He will strengthen me in the areas where I am weak. But till the day when injustice is no more and all men are truly equal, let us pray for the voices of conscience that we have among us - the Binayak Sens of this world. And hope that their struggles will be short-lived. That their spirits will hold up under the constant stress. And their reward will be consummate to their work.

To sign a petition to the President of India, asking for justice for Dr. Sen, please click here.

Linkorama 30/12/10

It's been a long time and I'm sure you knew a Linkorama was coming! Actually there's enough for 2 or 3, but I will restrain myself! Have a blessed New Year everyone - in case I get too busy to post again this year!!

MORE ON DR. BINAYAK SEN: For more details and links on Dr. Sen, check out Andi Eicher's post on the good doctor. Also Andi posted an apology for long silence, which I echo!!

ANOTHER GOOD DOCTOR: The glory days of the missionary surgeon are all but over. But Dr. Richard Branson has achieved much more than most of us could ever dream over the course of a lifetime of work in Kenya. Another man for whom the call of God overcame the call of comfort.....

THE SISTINE CHAPEL: For those of you who have always wanted to see what the Sistine Chapel looked like, this site gives a panoramic view of Michelangelo's masterpiece just on the click of a mouse. Check it out!

PRACTICAL WAYS TO SURPRISE YOUR WIFE: Since I am blessed with a wife who is not too easy to surprise, I am always looking for articles like this one!

DHONI AND THE TOSS: I have generally kept my cricket addiction away from the blog, but I had to post this article as it always amazes me how the captain who turns everything to gold has such difficulty with the toss!!

12 DAYS OF CHRISTMAS: One of the many interesting takes on this well-known carol - will restrain myself to just one this time!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve!!

The most exciting night of the year for me is here!! I wonder why Christmas Eve beats the night before my birthday (and for that matter, even Amy's - sorry darling!!), New Year's Eve and every other night of the year hands down for anticipation.... I guess in some part it is because of the presents we used to receive as children on Christmas, for some years in proper Christmas stockings.... But then, I get presents on my birthday as well and the excitement on that night in no way matches this. Perhaps it is the fact that the whole world is celebrating... Here in the hospital it is carol rounds, when all the staff take a walk through the locality (in the freezing cold!!) and then through the wards, singing carols, reading the Bible and praying. But then, the whole world celebrates New Year's Eve even more. Perhaps it is an acquired emotion programmed by many years of Christmas celebrations in church and at home. But then, other days are celebrated more or less similarly, like Easter or the New Year and they don't seem to strike as much of a thrill into my heart as Christmas Eve does....

So what makes Christmas Eve so special. Why is it that every year for as long as I can remember, this is the night of the year when I go to sleep with maximum expectancy? Even tonight, with the ward full of sick patients including a 7 day old neonate in the ICU after surgery last night (hopefully more on him later!!), the usual tension and gloom that would accompany such a situation are absent.. Why is it that so many Christmas Eve's are so memorable - the initial ones spent with grandparents in Kerala - where my grandfather would light a bonfire and we would sing carols round the fire, the one spent in the UK at the home of dear friends who gave us the experience of a typical English Christmas, the ones after we came back, when we replicated some of those traditions, last year when Amy and I shared our first Christmas together with dear friends Koshy, Lydia, Joel and Aunty, even the ones I have spent working, especially the one during my internship, when my registrar, for some reason started his night rounds at 11:45pm and went on till 3 am - spending most of that time laughing and chatting with all his contemporaries who were also awake and not realising that the Christmas joy of his eager-to-please intern was somewhat dampened. Why is it that there are more traditions associated with Christmas Eve in my mind than any other day - the quiet reading of the Christmas story by my father from both the gospels, my mothers attempts to hide the presents till the next morning (which often failed!!), the joyful feelings and thoughts that are the last remembrances before my eyes close in sleep.

What is so special about Christmas Eve that brings this heightened sense of anticipation and excitement. Surely it must be the subconscious realisation that that whole of my existence is somewhat meaningless without the event that occurred that Christmas day 2000 years ago. The understanding that the incarnation of the Almighty God is the defining event that has shaped this world and has changed my life. And the excitement that tomorrow I may be given a new understanding of this mystery - that will be different from all I have thought or understood before. And that will be new again the next year and the next. What a wonderful joy to experience the excitement of Christmas Eve in the knowledge that the birth of the Christ Child in the darkness of my heart is the renewing and life-giving event that makes each Christmas more meaningful and special than the year before. I guess that's why Christmas Eve is the best night of the year for me....

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Berlin Patient - first man cured of HIV

I was planning to get back to blogging only after Christmas, what with all the activities going on here, but this was too important to postpone. When very tight for time like now (when I have turned on the computer today for the first time in 3 days!), there are only 2 or 3 blogs I visit. Andi Eicher's is one of them. And as I scrolled down through what I had missed over the last few days, I saw this link to an article in Blood, which reports the first documented case of a patient being cured of HIV. Yes, you read that right!! Of course, you may have read that in your local newspaper, but being a reader of our paper from the first letter to the last, I am sure, this has not yet been reported in ours. And having been out of an academic setting for some time, I obviously missed this when the initial study was reported last year. This article tells in greater detail the story of Timothy Ray Brown, a 44 year old American living in Germany, who was known as the 'Berlin patient' till he came forward with his story recently.
Diagnosed to have acute myeloid leukemia while living with HIV, he was given a bone marrow transplant as treatment for the leukemia. But the doctors gave him an added bonus. They found a donor whose blood had a defect in the gene which encodes the CCR5 receptor on the CD4 cell, which is responsible for the entry of HIV into the cell. People with this genetic defect have been know to be resistant to HIV. After the first transplant, the doctors stopped his anti-retroviral treatment. Thirteen months later he had a relapse of his leukemia and required another transplant. Now, 3 and a half years after his first treatment, his CD4 counts have returned to normal and HIV is undetectable in his plasma and blood cells. As Andi noted, this may not be the Nobel-Prize winning cure for HIV, primarily because, there are so many factors that fell into place for Mr. Brown, which may be difficult to replicate in other patients. What is more, the prohibitive costs of all the treatment Mr. Brown went through mean that even if replicatable, this will probably be available only to a small percentage of people living with HIV. But even so, it is a great step forward, reason to celebrate and surely a reason to dash off a post, however tired I may be!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

When doctors just don't care

Yesterday was a late night. And a sad one for me. For I came face to face with some of the shortcomings of my chosen and beloved profession. And I was unable to understand it at all. We finished our list of operations quite late and just as I was leaving to go home, there was a call from the emergency saying a 4 month old baby had just come in with features of intussusception. This is a condition where one part of the intestine telescopes into the adjoining part and is a medical emergency. When I saw the baby, he was dehydrated and in septicaemic shock and we (the nurses and I) spent the next two hours resuscitating him before we took him to the operation theatre. There after we opened the abdomen, we found that that the terminal portion of the small bowel and the first part of the large bowel were gangrenous due to the intussussception (looking something like the picture below) and we had to resect them - what in medical terms is a right hemicolectomy. A major operation even for a healthy adult, let alone a sick little baby. Due to his poor condition, we shifted him to the Intensive Care Unit with the breathing tube in his lungs and knowing that his recovery or deterioration were not in our hands.

But though it was a tiring day and I was totally spent by the time I rolled into bed, that was not the reason for my heaviness of heart. Rather, it was a state of shock at the callousness of the medical professionals who had been managing (or mismanaging) this baby. For as is often the situation, we were the last resort that the baby's poor parents had turned to. The symptoms had first started 5 days ago and unlike many medical problems that are difficult to diagnose, this baby had classical textbook description symptoms - bouts of crying, red currant jelly stools and a mass that could be felt in the abdomen. The first hospital the baby was admitted in, kept him for 3 days on medication. The investigation that would have clinched the diagnosis, an ultrasound, was not done. The baby was then referred to a higher centre, one that has the most modern facilities and is supposedly equipped to handle even the most complicated problems (for obvious reasons, the names of these centres have to remain unknown). Here, after a days procrastination, the ultrasound was done, but by then it was already evening time. The parents were told to take the baby somewhere else as there was no surgeon who could operate the baby. And so, the parents landed up in our emergency, with the baby on his last legs.

Time and again over the last two years, since I left the cosy cocoon of CMC, Vellore, I have been confronted with the dirty underbelly of medical practice in our country. Where medical professionals blatantly disregard the most basic principles of medical ethics for personal gain or due to ignorance or just because of rank laziness. This little baby boy with a potentially life-threatening problem was treated with useless medicines for 3 days, obviously without a diagnosis being made. It is a sad reality that many of our doctors are not well trained enough to identify and treat properly even common medical emergencies. And then there is the even worse scenario of a referral hospital refusing to operate a patient and giving the flimsy excuse of the absence of a surgeon when everyone knows very well that there are a large number of surgeons trained in reputed colleges there. The real reason for referring the patient was obviously the reluctance of the particular doctors to spend a part of their evening or night in the operation theatre.

As I hear more and more stories of medical incompetence, ignorance, negligence and malpractice, I begin to fear for the medical profession in our country. The supposed watchdog of medical practice in the country, the Medical Council of India, was itself recently embroiled in a scandal that saw huge amounts of money changing hands in order to accredit new medical colleges. (That may have been a blessing in disguise though, for I hear now that new and upright people have taken over the functioning of the MCI and some many positive changes are being made). Our medical colleges often charge astronomical fees and donations that make the primary goal of many doctors to make as much money as they possibly can in as little time! (Our strongest similarity to our political class!!) And the government system in many places is filled with doctors who are either too lazy to do the expected amount of work or too busy with their private practices to have much time to spare!! And with all this laziness and profiteering, medical education is given the last seat on the bus, which means that not only are our doctors of the future poorly trained, but all that they have to emulate is the same laziness and profiteering. And so the cycle is perpetuated.

I do not know what lies ahead. But I do know that there are a few notable exceptions. Among institutions as well as individuals. And it is they who keep the flag of the vocation of medicine flying in spite of all that seeks to corrupt it. May this breed never die. As for me, while I was deeply saddened by the callousness and incompetence that had adversely affected the life of this little boy (had the condition been operated on in the beginning, it is likely that the bowel would have been viable and no resection would have been required), I knew there was much to be thankful for. Especially for the help that I received from my colleagues here. The nurses who quickly and competently assisted with the resuscitation and investigations allowing us to get to the theatre at the earliest possible. The paediatrician who advised me on the right dosages of the antibiotics, IV fluids and blood required. The anaesthetist who expertly brought the baby in its weakened state through this major operation. The other surgeon (on holiday) who gave me moral support on the phone. For family who upheld me and the baby in prayer through the night. And most of all for the knowledge that there was a good God in whose hands the health of this baby lay. So all we could do was to quickly and carefully do what we had been trained to do and then rest in the knowledge that healing comes only from God.

Please do pray for this little fellow as he slowly recovers. There are still may things that can go wrong before he actually goes home, but by the grace of God, he now looks as if he may make it in spite of all the efforts of the medical profession otherwise.

UPDATE: Thank you for all your prayers. By the grace of God, this little boy went home fine.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Now thank we all our God

The various stressors of life were beginning to get to me. When I came home from work after a long day of difficult operations, all I wanted to do was jump into bed, curl up and go to sleep. Amy was on night duty, which added to my feelings of discouragement and frustration. And to top it all, my allergies, which have been playing up a lot over the last few days, were at their zenith! All my 'difficulties' played like a stuck record over and over in my head and I called off one of the practices so that I could stay at home and moan. When I found that the heater, which had been threatening to give up the ghost ever since we came back, had finally done so, I felt there could be no one as miserable as I...!! It was certainly not a terrible day, not even close to it. But I guess my psyche loves a good moan once in a while and today I really felt like one!!!

But it was not to be. Having been very irregular with my reading, there is a huge backlog of stuff waiting for me every day when I open my internet reader. And today, I thought I would glance through one or two of them before I dozed off. With Amy at work, there was no necessity to get dinner and I was in no mood to even heat up something from the fridge. But the first article I read brought me back to my senses double-quick! It was a short article on the virtue of gratitude and it contained the moving story of Martin Rinkart, who wrote the well-beloved hymn, Now Thank We All Our God. Rinkart was a pastor who served in the walled town of Eilenberg, Saxony, which was a refuge for political and military fugitives during the Thirty Years War. Not only did this cause various armies to ransack it three times, but the overcrowding brought on a deadly epidemic of the Black Plague in 1637. Rinkart found himself the sole pastor remaining after one ran away and he buried two on the same day. The next few months were times of unspeakable hardship as Rinkart conducted upto 50 funerals every day and about 4500 in one year. Amazingly, it was during this time that he found the strength and inspiration to write these beautiful words.

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and bless├Ęd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

By the time I had finished reading the article, I was a chastened man. Ashamed of my pettiness and ingratitude for all I had received. Penitent of my sin of allowing the minute inconveniences of life to crowd out the big picture of God's mercy and faithfulness. As I reflected on the many stories of people of God for whom peace and contentment came from within and were independent of circumstances, I found my contrite soul beginning to sing again. And gratitude for my life and for the timely reminder to count my blessings welled up within me... Oh that this lesson will not be easily forgotten....

Linkorama 13/12/10

Amy is not a great fan of Linkoramas, so I have been holding back on them!! But today she's on duty, so I'll slip one in and hope she doesn't mind! Mainly because I want to share two other great articles I read today as well as a cool video.

A PASTOR'S GREATEST REGRET: This could be a regret for all of us, not just pastors, if we're not careful. How much time do we actually spend with our families/children? And when we do spend time with them, are we really present to them or are we present only physically.... Read this short but important article here.

THE REBEL JESUS: This article has some connection to my post on Saturday. And con't worry, it's not as controversial as the title suggests!! Just a good way to prepare our thoughts for the season.

WOMBS FOR RENT: I read this sometime back and thought I would share it when I got a chance. It's the story of the surrogacy business in Anand, Gujarat. Thought I'm sure the author was trying to be impartial, she ends up obviously conveying what she feels about this whole idea. Read it and see if you agree with me!

A COOL PRESENTATION: Goodbye powerpoint. This may be how classes are taken in the future! It also has some interesting information on global health and wealth.

(HT: TC)

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas in Shillong

The most exciting time of the year in Shillong is around Christmas. For months before December, there is a growing buzz that culminates in the flurry of activity around the 25th. Nearly throughout the year we (being outsiders) are asked by all and sundry if we will be in Shillong for Christmas and are exuberantly congratulated when we say we will be. And once December arrives, the whole town sort of changes gear. Beautiful decorations are put up in vantage points all over the city. Shops stay open a little later to allow for all the Christmas shopping. Offices run on skeleton staff as people take leave for the yearly house-cleaning and painting. And everywhere there are posters announcing concerts and other celebratory events.

In the hospital too, there is a change of gear. As Christmas nears, the number of patients gradually dwindles and the staff move into holiday mode. A badminton court is set up in the parking lot and every evening there are a surprisingly large number of people who brave the biting cold to put in serious practice for the tournament that comes up around Christmas. The staff recreation room is opened up and a carrom tournament begins with whole families showing up armed with refreshments and wood for the fire to cheer their favourites. And of course, there is the slew of musical activities.

Music is in the blood of the people of Meghalaya. Nowhere else have I heard singing as effortlessly beautiful as here. Nowhere else have I witnessed sundry people break into spontaneous four-part harmony at any opportunity. It appears that every single person is gifted with not only an intuitive ear for music but also a beautiful voice to sing with! The success of the Shillong Chamber Choir was a fitting tribute to the strong musical heritage of the state. And Christmas is the time when this heritage is put on display through a variety of activities throughout the state and also in the hospital. Starting from the 17th, there is a programme every evening till the 25th! And so, I find myself stretched really thin between work and the various practices! Not to mention the blog!!

The piece de resistance this year is the concert by the nursing school students on the 21st. Every time we have a programme in the hospital it is a given that the students will perform a special number. And every time they do perform it is to the amazement of all, at the rich harmony that is produced by the perfect blending of their voices. And for this concert, there are no less than 19 songs, many of them extremely difficult jazz and blues numbers. When I was told about the concert on the phone, I happily agreed to play, but now that I have heard the songs, I am wondering if that was such a good idea after all - each song will take me a day or two to master and I obviously don't have sufficient days!! And the last thing I want is to spoil the top-notch singing with some second-rate accompaniment!! So if my blog posts get infrequent again, you will know what I am doing!!

But today as I was listening to the wonderful singing of the students on one of them most difficult numbers, I suddenly realised that in all the struggle of trying to play the right chords in the right sequence, I had no idea what the song was even about! And I was convicted of the common mistake that so many of us make during this season. The mistake of letting the activities crowd out the meaning of the season. The mistake of allowing the fun, excitement and performances to overshadow the reason for all of it. The mistake that Herod and most of the people of Israel made that first Christmas. The mistake of missing the birth of Jesus Christ into this world. And going on as if nothing had changed.

The advent of Jesus into this world was 2000 years ago. Will there be an advent of the Saviour into my life and yours this Christmas season.... Into the life of the students.... The life of the hospital.... Or will this Christmas pass by like so many others in the past - with no difference to us or our way of life........

Friday, December 10, 2010


Coming back to work after nearly a month and a half off has been rather like a baptism by fire as the other surgeon (who had been alone for all this time!) has taken leave. Dr. Lurstep Wanshnong, who has been my friend and mentor for the last 2 years here has gone to visit family in Manipur and I am experiencing in a small way all the stress he must have carried for the last month or so. (Of course, the Christmas season is the leanest time of the year in our hospital and so I guess, the best time to be alone!!). But be that as it may, running a theatre with 7 cases in a day after a month of predominantly being seated certainly takes its toll and I now have exquisitely painful knowledge of every muscle and its movement in my body!!

Speaking of Dr. Lurstep, I must say that working with him has been one of the greatest blessings of my time here in Shillong. When we were first asked to work here, it was because there were no full-time surgeons here. So I was quite surprised when we arrived to find Lurstep, who had joined a few days before me. And looking back over these two years, I realise how much I have grown both professionally as well as personally through his influence. Though much more experienced than me, he has always treated me better than I deserve, even with respect. He has held my hand for procedures I had never even seen before and given me full freedom to innovate some new procedures of my own. His humility and generosity have often surprised me as they go completely against the norm of surgical hierarchy. And during our long hours in the operation theatre, we have had wide ranging conversations on life and faith that have helped shape some of my own previously immature ideas. Had I been alone here, it is possible that these 2 years may not have been such a blessing to me, especially professionally. But God put His angel here to inspire, encourage and sharpen me and for that I will always be grateful.

I was thinking of angels because of an experience I had today. A patient had come from a far-away village complaining he had a fish-bone stuck in his throat. Our ENT surgeon is also on leave and so he was sent to me. As I examined him in the OPD, I had a feeling this was more of an upper-storey problem as he said the fish bone moved around every day! I took him to the operation theatre (more to satisfy him than anything!) and had a look into his throat with a laryngoscope, but could see no bone. I cheerfully reassured him and wrote up some placebos and was just packing him off when my dear wife popped in to say hi. I laughingly told her the story and was just leaving when she called me back. There was a huge lymph node in his neck that I had completely missed! The classical mistake we are always warned of, but I had forgotten! The red-herring symptom hiding a more sinister problem. As I did a more detailed examination and aspirated his gland for our pathologist to look at, I was silently saying a heartfelt prayer of thanks. Had not God sent His angel out of the blue (it is not often that I have the joy of my wife's presence in the OT - she is rather too busy for that!!) to point out my mistake, the poor man would have gone home and the possible cancer that was lurking somewhere inside would have progressed unhindered for who knows how long.

They are all around us. the angels who enrich our lives, who bring out the best in us, who lead us on the right way. They are often unsung, for our ego often prevents us from acknowledging them. Sometimes, we even fail to perceive their vital role. For man has made independence a virtue and forgotten that it is in interdependence that we find our greatest strength. My life is full of angels - the sweet lady who comes for an hour every morning to help with the dishes and the clothes, the young boy who found out we had come back and started bringing the newspaper again even without our asking, the kind OPD lady who translates for me without ever complaining why I have not yet learnt Khasi after 2 years here, the staff of the hospital who smile with real joy when they see me (I must confess there are also some whose faces convey that their feelings on seeing me are not necessarily joy!!), the team who makes our Friday Fellowship so special by their effort and involvement..... These are just few of the angels in my everyday life. I am so grateful that my precious wife reminded me of them by her simple act of keen observation today..... I pray that I will not forget them so easily again.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010


It feels great to be back home in Shillong after nearly 2 months on the road. I have literally criss-crossed the country and would have reached all four corners in the last month had our trip to Jalna (where my brother and his wife work at the Jalna mission hospital) not been cancelled at the last moment!! Travelling is not one of my favourite activities, although I seem to do a lot of it! And in the last month I have run the gamut of travelling options - from the second-class compartment of a train to the comfort of a plane, from a Volvo overnight bus to the local Tamil Nadu rust-buckets that masquerade as public transport, from the hair-raising auto-rickshaw rides on Vellore's death traps (read roads!) to the peaceful scooter rides along the beautiful beaches of Goa. And of course, the memorable 5 hours of bone-shaking on a truck that was bearing some of my parent's possessions to their new home in Pondicherry. It still amazes me how the driver managed to hit the bulls-eye of nearly every pothole on the way! And any of you who have travelled from Arni to Villipuram will know that in some parts, it is 80% pothole and 20% road!!

There have been some scary moments. Being dragged out of an auto and shoved around by a driver who towered high above me and probably weighed twice as much as me, asking the unkempt gentleman who was occupying my berth in the train (which had 18 people in a coupe meant for 8) if he would kindly allow me to get up there as well, waking up from sound slumber to see smoke billowing out of the hood of the taxi we were travelling in as our Khasi friend had forgotten to pour water in the radiator and stopping in the heart of Naxal territory in Jharkhand when we saw a man lying on the side of the road beside his overturned motorbike, not knowing if it was really an accident or just a trap were all occassions when fervent prayers went up and happy results ensued. Praise be to God!

But this time, unlike my usual solo travels, I have had some great company. My precious family were with me on many of the trips and the drive to Pondicherry where (probably for the first time), 6 people packed into my dad's car (that is meant for 4 and can take 5 at a squeeze) will remain one of the memorable events of these 2 months. The trip to Nav Jeevan Hospital was also memorable, for the intellectual conversations on the forward journey and the uplifting interaction with children on the way back (from Ranchi). And the train journey back from Ranchi, when my neighbour told me the story of his life that had started in the jungles of Jharkhand and had already reached a corporate guest house in Moonar, where he was the cook - all in the space of 26 years.

But from the comfort of my bedroom in Shillong, looking back at all the wonderful experiences I have had and the beautiful places I have seen over the last 2 months, I can truly say, that there's no place like home... And thank God that wherever I may roam, I have somewhere and someone to come back to, unlike many of my brothers and sisters who walk this planet. Thank You for all Your blessings Lord. May I never take them for granted.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Goodbye Santosh

Friends and family bid farewell to the mortal remains of Santosh Benjamin two days ago. Jennifer had been discharged from the hospital and was present at the funeral. Friends and family paid tributes to the memory of one who has so obviously been a great blessing to all who knew him. Farewell Santosh. You will be missed back here. But we know you are in a better place and that comforts us.... The newspaper report of the funeral service and some of the tributes paid by Jennifer and others is here.