Tuesday, October 14, 2014


I feel like I'm writing a lot about death these days. One of my classmates from medical school passed away two nights ago. He was a neurosurgeon and a pilot and a plane he was flying crashed into a Chicago suburb. It was a densely populated area but the plane nosedived into a vacant lot. Experts at the site feel this was a deliberate effort to avoid surrounding buildings.

I knew T only peripherally. We were assigned to different groups through our years in medical school and never had any rotations together. He was a day scholar, I lived in the hostel. And yet, whenever I think of him now, all I remember is laughter. He had a gift for making you feel welcome in his presence. I am a fairly reclusive person but he managed to draw me out. He was very enthusiastic and had a puckish air around him. He was one of the youngest in our class, starting medical school at 17, graduating from a neurosurgical residency at 32. And yet he was never arrogant about his gifts. T was always sensitive to others and touched the lives of many around him. He brought joy to others. For a friend's wedding, he gathered a group of classmates and drove them across the country so everyone could attend. I'm sure there were many other road trips, many crazy memories people now carry. For my own part, I remember when I got my first cellphone, one of those indestructible Nokia 3310s, it was T who taught me how to send text messages. I was quite captivated by this marvelous technology and, even while others snickered at my enthusiasm for what was by then commonplace, T caught my delight and returned it with vigor.

The last time I met T was at a friend's wedding in Toledo. He was still in residency back then but had taken a day off to attend, flying in from New Mexico. He looked tired, as most surgical residents do, but he had none of their caffeinated bitterness. Still festive, still brimming with enthusiasm, he talked and laughed and we shared a few good hours together. I don't think I would have given up a few extra hours of precious sleep to fly in for a raucous wedding. But T was thoughtful that way. Even now, in his final moments, his consideration for others shone through. He saved the lives of so many.  

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Thoughts About Parents

My friend had a remembrance service for his father today. We met at his home and read the Quran, prayed for his father's soul. As I was sitting on the carpet, holding the scripture in my hands, I thought about the man we were praying for. I didn't know him, had never met him. But I wondered how many times he had sat on similar carpets, holding the scripture, praying for someone's soul. I thought about my own father, whose age keeps gathering on him. We move so obliviously through our days, at so many removes from the ones we love. May Allah keep them safe. May we all be blessed with the opportunity to love them as extravagantly as we have been loved.   

Sunday, June 08, 2014


We know it is close
To something lofty.
Simply getting over being sick
or finding lost property
has in it the leap,
the purge, the quick humility
of witnessing a birth -  
how love seeps up
and retakes the earth. 
There is a dreamy, 
wading feeling to your walk
inside the current of restored riches, 
clocks set back, 
disasters averted. 

- Kay Ryan 

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Rana Dasgupta

From Rana Dasgupta's upcoming book about Delhi (Capital: The Eruption of Delhi):

"Until Partition, my grandfather was chief accountant with Commercial Union Assurance in Lahore, and it is from there that my father's earliest memories float back. They are fond: the family was affluent, the city harmonious. My father remembers affectionately the vibrant mix of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in his school, his gracious Muslim headmaster. But as his tenth year drew on, it became apparent that political machinations would mutilate this tranquil existence. As Partition approached, the Police Commissioner of Lahore, Allauddin Khan, who was my grandfather's bridge partner, became concerned for the safety of his Hindu friend: he sent his car to take the family to the railway station. He then deputed guards to accompany them on the train as far as Amritsar, on the other side on the imminent cleavage. Allauddin Khan probably saved their lives: in the ensuing violence, the building in which they had lived was burned down and the Hindu landlord and his family murdered. 

My father's family returned to Bengal, where the other, eastern, Partition was in progress, and my father found himself on the other side of the game. He remembers the unreal sight of slaughtered Muslims lined up like trophies in the Calcutta streets. 

Something seems to have snapped in my grandfather after those upheavals. He became moody and withdrawn. He secured another well-paid position, but walked out of it on point of principle. Suddenly there was no income for his family of nine children. The electricity was cut off. They could not afford food or candles. My grandfather borrowed from moneylenders to pay his bills; when they sent thugs to reclaim the loans, it was my 13-year-old father who had to plead with them in the street, for my grandfather, who wanted to know nothing of all this, was shut up in a room smoking cigarettes and reading English spy novels. 

Friends and relatives shunned them. My father got a job selling cooking oil door-to-door, and so kept the entire family from starvation. 

He sold, first of all, to people he knew. One day he knocked on the door of an aunt who, seeing how gaunt he was, offered him lunch. From there he took his wares to the house of another aunt, and she too offered him food. Since he did not know when he would be able to eat again, he accepted and sat down to the meal. But he was still in the middle of it when the first aunt came to call and saw him stuffing himself for the second time. Telling the story 60 years later, my father still shakes with the humiliation of having been caught out in such desperation." 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Outer Space

Dad and I went to watch Gravity this afternoon. It's been a while since I've watched a movie that left me so awed. The plot is simple enough: two astronauts stuck in outer space are trying to get back to Earth. And none of them is Bruce Willis. But from the very first scene with George Clooney drifting boyishly in the vacuum to the very end, after all the calamities have been endured, it was hard to look away. The eerie emptiness of space, the grandeur of the Earth as it spins in orbit, Sandra Bullock's terror at being severed from human contact. All of these were absorbed into a narrative that seemed to explore the vistas of inner space as much as it touted its obverse, astral counterpart. It's not an intellectual movie in the way Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey was; things here work very well at a visceral, gut-punching level. But Gravity still made me think about stuff. Like, for example, how human beings are constantly confronted with the specter of death. (How is a spacecraft bursting into flames different from a house catching fire? Bodies burning smell the same everywhere.) And how, even in the wilderness of space, a human mind can encapsulate the possibility of its own death and seek restitution. Outer space thus ends up being a mere extension of our corporeal selves; carbon, hydrogen, ashes, dust. All perishable save for a few moments of grace.      

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