Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Collected Short Fiction of Chintu Parekh

This is a book that has never been written. Its author, a short, inconsequential man with a toothpick mustache and impeccable teeth, was never alive. He has no mother or father, no wife or children. He doesn't wake up in the morning to the shrill eruption of an alarm clock. His feet don't slide into plush slippers, his morning shower isn't hot, his breakfast table isn't sprinkled with cornflakes or toastcrumbs. The train station near his house isn't crowded with strangers who aren't waiting for him to occupy his usual seat opposite them. They shuffle on to the train without him and open up their newspapers as if he never existed. They are wise.

Chintu Parekh does not work. He knows nothing of paychecks or deadlines or income tax. He doesn't ride an elevator to the sixth floor and follow a frayed carpet to a cubicle decorated with family photographs. There are no telephones that insist for his attention, no emails that flash across his screen waiting for an urgent response. He doesn't carry a lunchbox smelling of sandwiches. At lunchtime, when all the others are busy inhaling the exotic aromas of takeout or frilly home-cooked leftovers, Chintu Parekh doesn't sniff the air and feel his heart break at the hint of parathas. He doesn't nurture any colleagues or water-cooler alliances. No woman waits patiently for his attention or fastens any hopes of a secure future on to him. He does not carry a cellphone. He certainly never sends text messages. When work ends, Chintu Parekh does not go to bars or nightclubs. Not wishing to be comforted by strangers, he subscribes to no carnal virtue.

In the evening, when night closes around him and the dinner plates are never cleared away, he doesn't sit at his desk and write about his life. He has no ambitions or regrets, no disappointment or failures that haunt him to eloquence. ("Chintu Parekh, Kahan jaa rahe ho?" is never a question he asks himself.) He does not feel his soul shrivel with loneliness at the thought of a life spent alone among shadows and strangers. There have no been no past loves, no failed affairs. He does not excavate through memory to locate slivers of contentment, measures of a live well-lived. Chintu Parekh cannot do that. He was never alive.

Thank you

Thanks to all the people who wrote and called to ask about Abbu's health. Alhumdulillah, he's home now. Everything happened on time, the treatment was exact and expedient and he's doing well. The angiography particularly was done promptly and I think that's what made the difference. I remember when he had his first heart attack a few years ago, how we waited anxiously by his bedside waiting for the medications to work. Rescue angiography has changed all that and now the standard of care includes percutaneous intervention as part of the treatment. It's life-saving and I can only wish more hospitals have it.

It's been heartening to receive all the visitors who came to see Abbu. Most of them were from his hospital, people I hadn't seen for years but who knew me from when I would visit as a child. There were also patients who came straight from the clinic when they heard about my father. He's a very modest man and it's only through others that I get to see the extent of the work he does, how well he cares for his patients and how much they care for him. People tend to dismiss primary care as pedestrian medicine, an easy consolation for all those not talented enough to enter the specialities, but my father's work as an internist speaks for itself. Although he's qualified to practise a speciality the bulk of the work he does is outpatient medicine and the relationships that have been cultivated as a result of that defy explanation. I'm overwhelmed by people's response at his bedside. His boss bent over and kissed his forehead. Nurses chide him for working so hard. (They also blamed my reluctance to marry as being the cause of his troubles.) And patients come in and discretely press gifts on to us before praying for his quick recovery. The definition of a successful medical career these days is grounded on research and publications and the ability to churn out revenues but I'd say my father, who hasn't published a thing and works on a fixed income, has had a wildly successful career. I can only hope mine is as enriching.

Thank you all for your prayers.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Humility and Gratitude

My father had a heart attack yesterday. He was playing cricket when the chest pains started and by the time he had walked out of the ground, they were suffocating him. We rushed him to the hospital where they did they gave him the necessary treatment, did the bloodwork, the EKG and then transferred him to another hospital for a rescue angiography. He is doing well now, resting in the ICU, while I've snuck home for a change of clothes.

Those are the basic details. They don't include the panic, the frustration, the helplessness and the sheer rage at the inadequacies of health professionals. They also don't include the terror that rips through you as you watch your father collapse and almost die. I've learnt, or relearnt, many lessons over the past few hours, things that I thought I knew by dint of being a physician but was really ignorant of until they happened to me. Humility and gratitude. I don't express it enough.

Be grateful for your parents. Be humble. That's my advice to myself.

Sunday, November 11, 2007


I'm working in the ER this month and life is pretty busy. Between the chaotic shifts and an upended schedule, most days I come home and just crash on the couch. Dinner is frozen food microwaved and scooped up with a spoon. Fall is turning into winter and the days seem to have abruptly grown shorter. Wasn't it just a few days ago that it was daylight until seven in the evening. It is eight now and it feels like the middle of the night. This is my first North American winter and I can already sense a growing dread as the temperatures drop. Not that I'm a particularly outdoorsy type. Still, I like to go out and buy groceries sometimes or watch a movie in the theatre but I'm not sure I'll be able to MTA it any more. Waiting in snowfall and freezing temperatures for a bus to wheeze by doesn't sound particularly tantalising. I guess it's time to buy that TV . . .

- - -

I realised this evening, as I went into the physicians' lounge to get a printout, how long it's been since I've had a glass of water. Most days I just drink Diet Coke with my meal and am done with the day's nutrition and hydration in one fell swoop. But standing there, feeling the luxury of quick cold water running down my throat, it seemed like something was terribly wrong. Water shouldn't be a luxury. I clearly need to drink more.


Two movies I've seen recently that I'd like to recommend are:

  • Away From Her; a beautiful film about Alzheimer's based on a short story by Canadian writer Alice Munro (who I'd never even heard of prior to this film.) I'm not very conversant with the intricacies of film-making but I liked the way this one was shot. The colors were sharp, the silence reflective and the film was a series of succinct observations that, although contrived, seemed to graft themselves on to you so that you remembered them after the movie ended. Which, I suppose, is another way of saying that it was a memorable film.
  • Dan in Real Life: I wasn't too sure about going in to see this one initially because I thought it would be one of those Adam Sandler/Ben Stiller slap-happy groan-inducing movies ("Have you ever wondered if there was more to life, other than being really, really, ridiculously good looking? - Derek Zoolander.) It ended up being the exact opposite. Dan in Real Life is a delightful film with some genuinely funny moments. The plot is predictable but the way in which the story unfolds, the radiance of small details, is what gives this movie its charm.

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