July End Notes….

Well it’s August finally and I am glad that the end of the year is finally here. As most of my old readers are aware, I always have an affinity for the Autumn – Winter part of the year than the Spring – Summer months! Onwards, I say!

July was a much more productive month than most. The month infact saw two whole weeks of being chemo side effect free and I was able to get a lot more reading and writing done as well as socializing as always!

The reading this month was very good after some of the dry spells, the previous months. White Spines was an amazing read that only bookworms can appreciate; the joy of collecting and finding small treasures within the pages, especially if they are bought second hand. Greenwood made me think a lot, about the environment and you can read my thoughts here. Tomb of Sand blew me away; 3 weeks after having finished the book, I am still processing it to be able to write a full length review. Animal Farm is always a thought provoking book to read, as relevant today as when it was originally published. All in all a great reading month; I have a few reading in progress that is spilling over in August; Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, On Writing by Margaret Atwood and Conversations on Love by Natasha Lunn. I am also excited about doing an in depth reading of Persuasions and Mansfield Park as part of Austen in August , hosted by Adam Burgess.

There was a lot of eating and merry making this month as well long walks in the evenings and here are some glimpses of all the fun that was had!

July finally saw the onset of the monsoons in this part of the world. I wrote a post about it on my Insta page, and I cannot help but duplicate some of that here, considering how vital this season is to the Indian sub continent. Monsoon brings many things to people of the Indian subcontinent besides of course relief from unceasing heat, that storms down from the heaven and rises from the earth, suffocating all living things in-between! It has many socio economic benefits – it is one the primary source of fresh water. It has a major impact on the crop cycle which in turn has a major impacts on the economy of an agricultural intensive country like India. And naturally Indian culture is replete with songs, poems and prose about this natural gift. Raag Malhar is a collections of Raags that is supposed to induce rains. Meghdoot, meaning the cloud messenger is the play of plays written by Kalidas in 5th century AD where a banished nature spirit asks a cloud to take his message to his wife. Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore has written profusely about rains and monsoons in this region. Bollywood has films after films that showcased the importance of these rains in the life of an Indian farmer, besides of several rain song numbers. Every home in the region has a special menu associated with Monsoons, fried fritters, tea and many local delicacies. Monsoons are not simply a season in the subcontinent, it is an emotion, it is an expression and it is integral to the identity of this region and her people.

I spent most of July listening to Jazz and more Jazz . I love the old Jazz classics and rediscovered my love for Glenn Miller and have been playing his albums in loop these past few weeks.

July then was truly a wonderous month, but I am so glad its August. I leave you with a poem for August called August by Mary Oliver –

When the blackberries hang
swollen in the woods, in the brambles
nobody owns, I spend

all day among the high
branches, reaching
my ripped arms, thinking

of nothing, cramming
the black honey of summer
into my mouth; all day my body

accepts what it is. In the dark
creeks that run by there is
this thick paw of my life darting among

the black bells, the leaves; there is
this happy tongue.

How was your July? Do you have any special plans for August?

June End Notes

And just like that, 6 months of 2022 are over! I am quite undecided if I like the fact that I am moving forward in time or I regret the passing of time. The pre 2021 me, would have loved the fact that Summers were finally receding and soon Autumn will be here. The post 2021 me also is really excited about Autumn and Winters as always; but since being diagnosed with Cancer, I know that every additional day, a day when I am healthy , as in not Cancer sick, is a gift. And I want to hold this time in my hand and stretch it out as long as possible, because I still have so much to do and so many things to experience and I want to do it all.

Speaking of doing it all, June was a tad bit more managed despite 2 solid weeks of being Chemo sick. I got a lot more done – read more, wrote more and worked on Insta page a lot more. Also managed to socialize and get a huge work project off the ground. Getting things done has always been a thing with me and with all the sickness and low energy that comes from all the funky medicines, I feel especially chuffed for the months, when I am able to get more than my new usual done!

I completed 4 books in June and started off on a few others which I hope to complete in July. My TBR lists keeps growing, but that’s not new and let’s be honest – there is something infinitely joyous in speculating about what book to read next. It’s like being served all the best desserts in a platter and then you pick and choose per your mood and taste! Absolute bonanza!

Reading in June was very rewarding! Re-reading The Book Thief is always such a perfect joy! I really enjoyed the very cleverly crafted murder mystery of The Appeal. And non fiction reading for the the month was beyond brilliant with the travel memoirs of Dervla Murphy and her daughter spending the Winter of 1972 in the desolate mountains deserts of Baltistan in Himalayas. The Scared Geography was a very well written scholarly book on Hindu mythology and the history and culture of pilgrimage of India and how this forms the core identity of India, well before British imposed a western concept. The reading good fortune continues early in July and am in-between several good books with a few more planned over the next few weeks!

June was a also a month of a LOT of socializing. There were book buying expeditions, birthdays of friends and then I was very fortunate to be invited for a book launch of an author, who has since become a friend and whose book I reviewed in my last post.

June was primarily very very hot (it is every year but this was exceptionally so) but I survived thanks to a drink called Aam Panna. Its a cooling drink made out of raw mangoes that are roasted and then the pulp mixed with water and spices. My sister and aunt also cooked a lot of typical Bengali delicacies over the month. My sister cooked what is called Dry mutton and my aunt cooked Egg Devils, which are very different from the Scottish version and made out of eggs and potatoes stuffing and deep fried. ( Yes, once in a while its ok! ) So the eating this month was especially GOOD!

The month was busy and there was of course constant illness to deal with; but despite all the sickness and all the petty annoyances as I near my 1 year anniversary since the diagnosis and surgery, I can say from the very bottom of my heart, that I am supremely grateful to have made it here! And I leave you with these July thoughts –

This is the place that I love the best,
A little brown house, like a ground-bird's nest,
Hid among grasses, and vines, and trees,
Summer retreat of the birds and bees.

The tenderest light that ever was seen
Sifts through the vine-made window screen--
Sifts and quivers, and flits and falls
On home-made carpets and gray-hung walls.

All through June the west wind free
The breath of clover brings to me.
All through the languid July day
I catch the scent of new-mown hay.

The morning-glories and scarlet vine
Over the doorway twist and twine;
And every day, when the house is still,
The humming-bird comes to the window-sill.

In the cunningest chamber under the sun
I sink to sleep when the day is done;
And am waked at morn, in my snow-white bed,
By a singing bird on the roof o'erhead.

Better than treasures brought from Rome,
Are the living pictures I see at home--
My aged father, with frosted hair,
And mother's face, like a painting rare.

Far from the city's dust and heat,
I get but sounds and odors sweet.
Who can wonder I love to stay,
Week after week, here hidden away,
In this sly nook that I love the best--
This little brown house like a ground-bird's nest?

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Once Upon a Time in India….

This week Karen and Simon are hosting another one of their amazing reading events – the 1954 Club. I love these  events as they force me to read outside my genre and explore more literary styles and authors. However with frequent Chemo side effects days ( where each part of my body felt like it belonged to someone else ) and work being ridiculously crazy again, I was not sure if I would be able to read, let alone finish something in a week. But I did manage and here I am posting a review only one day late!!

I went through the list of all books published in 1954 and after much deliberation ( there were many great publications that year ) I decided to pick up Nectar in a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya. The book blurb did not appeal to – another story about poverty in India but something about the book felt that this was an important read. Also I had been curious to read Kamala Markandaya for years. She was the first Indian author to write in English and one of the most premier writers of modern India. Therefore with the idea of now or never, I plunged ahead with this book which her first novel.

The story is narrated by an old woman called Rukmani, the youngest and educated daughter of the village headsman and follows her life after her marriage to Nathan , a tenant farmer. Nathan is very clearly lower in the social ladder than Rukmani but he proves to be a kind and thoughtful husband and together the couple start building a life together. A daughter named Ira, is soon born to the couple but the much desired male offsprings until years later when Dr. Kensington, a British doctor who had treated Rukmani’s mother gives her medication. Soon Rukmani has 6 sons but providing for the children becomes a struggle but Nathan and Rukmani make do until a new tannery factory is set up near their village and things begin to turn.

The plot is exactly the reason why I was not initially interested in reading this novel. Set somewhere between 1930s to 1950s India, the novel pivots on the beaten track of the struggles of farming community in India. In fact there were slew of novels that were published during this time that focused on this theme , some considered modern classics of Indian literature. There is no doubt that this was an important subject; until the Land Reform laws and the Green Revolution, farmers struggled between debt and starvation thanks to the gratuitous commercialization of land to produce only profitable crops like indigo by the British colonizers. Most these British colonizers and traders were more interested in making a quick profit, forcing farmers to grow crops that will not feed the populace and then sell them at pittance. This kind of brutal exploitation lasted for a few hundred years until India gained her independence and along with it a horrifying legacy from those years – huge fiscal deficits with majority of her people living below the poverty line. This was important theme for us to understand our past but I had read enough of this plot line and was not keen to take up another harrowing read especially when ill and irritated. But this where I made a mistake in underestimating the power and ability of Ms. Markandaya. The story does follow the struggles of Rukmani and her husband but the book is filled with hope and simple joys. Even when things are at the lowest, there is an effort to live and live to the best one can and to plan for a better tomorrow. The genius of Ms. Markandaya comes out strongest in her ability to portray this philosophy without sentimentality or dramatics; there are no miracles or swooping rescues from a knight in white armor, rather like real life if things can go bad, they do! But she weaves her story through the small everyday actions that actually adds value to life and the strength of character that resolves on never giving up. She captures the struggle between the old world and the new rising industrial world accurately; the change in societal order and mores are depicted subtly without getting pedantic or going into any ism. There is a nostalgia for the older more simpler way of life, but that is all it is and also a realistic acceptance of what the future would be like  The characters are superbly etched out – Rukmani , not a loud character or even markedly extraordinary, shines bright through her quiet courage, her ability to love and the complete lack of judgement when choices are forced on the family. She is way ahead of her years in understanding the value of education and more importantly, in accepting that sometimes life happens and a straight jacketed black and white is not the correct lens to see things. Her husband Nathan is a perfect foil, dignified and self reliant. He goes through his life with wisdom and kindness. The thing that makes his character stand out is his constant display of emotional intelligence; not only in accepting and respecting a wife who is a social superior in every way but also the ways of his children, who carve out lives very differently from his own life and beliefs. The supporting cast and crew  also are brilliantly drawn with each character standing independently, a remarkable achievement, considering the novel is action packed and is only 200 pages. The narrative is simple and linear but never for a moment does the pace flag; while I understood the plot arch, it was written so well and so tightly, that I finished the book in one sitting. And finally there is gorgeous prose of Ms. Markandaya , both sparse and lyrical, capturing the country and it’s culture vividly, bringing it alive in all its beauty and beliefs.

I am so immensely glad that I read this novel. Beautiful, enriching and memorable, one of the best books I have read lately! Exactly why despite everything I make it a point to be part of these reading events!

March End Notes….

Well the month of March was a blur to say the least! As I had mentioned in the last post, there was just too much going on and the tempo did not ease through the last weeks either; but all of it was good, so all well worth the time spent! On top of continuing to support the local community with mentoring women entrepreneurs with limited education in business and strategy, I have also been collaborating a lot lately on my cancer awareness page ( you can find it here )and while it gives me new learning everyday, it also takes away a lot of what is essentially limited time. Besides this, my family came visiting and we all went for a small break to the Himalayas (Yes! Again!) and then there was parties and social evenings! I continued to be Chemo sick for several days and that did put a spanner on all the good things, but like someone told me lately, one’s simply got to roll with the punches!

The first thing that took take a hit because of all my whirlwind activities this month was my reading. With a full time job and all these side hustles and getting the apartment back in shape and getting the family settled, well, there was simply no time! Also some days the sickness got so bad, that words and sentences made no sense and every concept was foggy and illusive. Those days I could do nothing except read Tintin and Asterix comic books and I thank the powers that be for this simple and undiluted pleasure which saw me through those painful hours! In the end, a very dismal month from a reading perspective, though qualitatively speaking I thoroughly and completely loved reading these 4 books! I hope to read a bit more in April and have a few chunksters lined up!

March brings a very brief spring in India but while these two -three weeks last, the trees burst into colors and it’s seems like someone took a bucket of paint and splashed it all over them! It is a sight of unmatched beauty and a swansong before the burning summer overtakes the plains!

A dear friend of mine is spending a few months with his parents in the southern most state of India, Kerala and in March they have a week long celebration in honor of the local deities . It is a sight to behold and I am sharing some pictures and videos from one of the events , with his permission. The stately pachyderms are the highlight of the festival, respected, cared for and revered as symbol of good fortune !

With our family visiting, a trip to the hills is a mandate and Kasuali is a lovely sight to behold! This small Himalayan town is quaint and eccentric and is one of the oldest military cantonments of India. This is a place for leisurely walks and stopping for coffee and soaking in the sun, all the things we did and had great fun doing it! The highlight of the trip was the resort we were staying in; nestled among the woods it’s USP was the fact that the entire hotel was built around the trees, without cutting them down. That meant we had a full grown Himalayan Oak tree right inside our bedroom!!!

It was also my sister’s birthday month, so there was flowers, food, cake and many celebrations! Perhaps the best ever way to end a month!

It has been a crazy month, but a good month with new learnings and perspectives! I end with what I think is a very apt poem by my most favorite Ms. Emily Dickenson –

Dear March—Come in—
How glad I am—
I hoped for you before—
Put down your Hat—
You must have walked—
How out of Breath you are—
Dear March, how are you, and the Rest—
Did you leave Nature well—
Oh March, Come right upstairs with me—
I have so much to tell—

I got your Letter, and the Birds—
The Maples never knew that you were coming—
I declare – how Red their Faces grew—
But March, forgive me—
And all those Hills you left for me to Hue—
There was no Purple suitable—
You took it all with you—

Who knocks? That April—
Lock the Door—
I will not be pursued—
He stayed away a Year to call
When I am occupied—
But trifles look so trivial
As soon as you have come

That blame is just as dear as Praise
And Praise as mere as Blame—

To March by Emily Dickenson

The House….

I read Susanna Clarke’s much acclaimed Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell in September of last year. ( Yes, I was late to the party!) While I found a lot of great things in the book, I felt it to be needlessly verbose and the character’s problematic and once I finished reading it, there was nothing but a sense of relief that I survived till the end! Naturally this foray into the fantasy world left me convinced that Susanna Clarke was not for me and there are some books and authors that do not work for and you should not spend your limited time on them.

Then I heard that the author’s second novel had won the 2021 Women’s Prize for Fiction and this book was not as cumbersome as 1000 plus pages and instead was a mere 200 something; again belonging to the magical-fantasia genre. I heard great things about the book from everyone but I was once bitten, twice shy and I was NOT going to attempt a Susanna Clarke so soon. I needed recovery time

The one bright morning, around the last few days of 2021, I stumbled upon Brona’s excellent review of this book. I really respect Brona’s tastes when it comes to reading and her ability to discern a good narrative from an average pretending to be excellent type of writing. Besides being an excellently nuanced review, there was particularly one phrase that stuck to my mind –

In our Covid-19 pandemic world, where isolation and solitude have become the norm, Piranesi’s approach to living in his infinite world can be enlightening. His deliberate day-by-day living, paying attention to every small detail, caring for his environment and honouring those who came before him provide him with sense of peace and connectedness.

In the last 2 odd years, I have closely come to understand what this feels. First COVID and then Cancer confined me to my house and made me appreciate the simple joys of everyday things, around me. I was always a homebody but these years taught me the value of sitting in the sun in my balcony, of crisp fresh sheets on the bed, a perfectly boiled egg for the breakfast and finding contentment in them, beauty in them. This part therefore resonated especially strongly and before I knew it, the books was bought and I began reading , what I never thought I would read atleast not at such close quarters after the Mr. Strange reading .

Piranesi lives in a huge house with infinite halls that are filled with all kinds of statues. The house is divided into 3 layers; the lowest being that of oceans, the second of living beings and solid land and third being the level of the sky and the clouds. Piranesi leads a peaceful and an engaged life, fishing fish and seaweed for his sustenance from the lower levels, taking care of the other being of the house, birds or dead humans, documenting his journal and in enjoying the process of discovering the house. There is another human inhabitant in the house, The Other, who is Piranesi’s colleague and together they are in the quest of A Great and Secret Knowledge that will give them power and immortality. As Piranesi works through the halls of the house, calculating the tides and documenting the stars, that will help in the discovery of this Great and Secret Knowledge, he begins to realise that there may another person in the house. Soon he starts finding evidence of another life, finally unraveling a past and forcing choices that Piranesi did not even know existed.

I loved this book! I loved its themes of kindness and generosity and of finding joy and fulfilment in everyday life. I loved Piranesi’s character which seems to embody all that is sincere and honorable and most importantly the child like wonder that he has towards the house. His gratitude for what the house gave I think can serve as an example for many of us, stuck in a constant consumerist, where we do not stop to appreciate what we have or all the wonderful things that nature provides us. I also appreciated the moral struggle that Piranesi experiences against doing evil to someone who has done him the same; a dilemma that many grapple against everyday and not many who are able to make the right choice. There is not a usual defined plot arc; there is plotline and a sense of suspense, but there is so much more to this book that to say it is a thriller or a fantasy book. The prose is lyrical and there are philosophical insights as to what is meaningful life. This is multilayered book, that like Brona says needs a re-read, maybe several, to fully appreciate it’s narrative, beyond the obvious.

This was a magnificent start to the bookish adventures of 2022! There are very few modern authors who have provoked such sentiments in me, but this book is a keeper, an almost metaphorical tale on some of the essential truths of life!

22 Things….

Usually my year end posts are about the best books I have read in the year and similar bibliophile adventures. But 2021 has been highly unusual; it is very different from the years I lost my parents or went through heartbreaks or other distressing circumstances. All through those tumultuous times, I could and did depend on the integrity of my body to help my mind and heart through those circumstances. But this year, that very body, which I took so much as a given, called it a strike and then my mind had to lead the charge and my body followed. I have learnt so much through this year, re-discovered joys, learnt to be more grateful, especially for those who had the courage to stick by me through my medical adventures. It has not all been fun and games – there are days of never ending illness and pain ( they continue despite my chemo cycles being over ), I have lost a number of friends and had to readjust to new social set up and of course I had to give up or re-align many of my life goals. But it has nevertheless been a year where I have learnt and learnt so much, gaining new insights, re-affirming the old and facing my demons. So I thought that as I come to close of this very interesting year, I should document 22 life lessons learnt through this year which I hope will guide me through 2022 and beyond!

Saint-Georges majeur au crépuscule By Claude Monet ( 1908 )- Beyeler Foundation, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5765797
  1. Your body is one of your biggest allies; look after it. Do not take it for granted.
  2. You may do things with the best of intentions, but they may be perceived very differently by others. It should not deter you from doing what you think is right, but it is important to be cognizant of the fact that others may not see things in a similar vein.
  3. Embrace the uncomfortable changes especially when it comes to relationships. It is perhaps the most difficult change to adapt to because it impacts how we think or what image we have of ourselves. There is of course the pain of separation and of parting of ways, but also a change in your belief system of how you thought of your self vs. what it really is.
  4. Reaffirmation of the most basic truth – those who truly love you, will love you and stand by you without you making an additional and extra effort. Your you will be enough for them to stay invested in that relationship.
  5. Accept and embrace the shit like you accept and embrace the good. Shit will happen; it is inevitable and the only real truth of life! But if we accept it and welcome it, no matter how hard, the end result is that the shit does pass more comfortably without an everlasting impact or trauma.
  6. If you stay strong, everyone around you stays strong and together you hold on to what is at the core and important.
  7. Enjoying your own company
  8. Accepting and adapting the shortcomings of your physical and mental health. Only when we accept and not fight it, can we begin improving on it!
  9. Tagging a relationship with a socially defined name has no real importance. Just because it is not in a traditional. socially approved set up, does not mean it is any less deep, meaningful or joyful.
  10. The definition of success is different for everyone and is constantly evolving. Furthermore, there is no one defined path to that goal; it is personal and will change as your goal evolves.
  11. Focusing on what is truly worthy and long term is important rather than chasing short term instant gratifications or goals and getting frustrated with them. Good things, the best things need time and patience.
  12. Enjoy the physical activity – the walk, the yoga, the run; whatever sails your boat!
  13. Home cooked meals are the best.
  14. The best, most meaningful things, the ones worth striving for are actually very simple – a good night’s sleep, a long luxurious head bath, a phone call with your best friend, a cup of hot chocolate on a cold winter night!
  15. Life is truly better and so much more saner with a cup of tea.
  16. Being independent physically and to some extent mentally, is a boon and needs to be cherished and strived for.
  17. Every time you have a body image issue, remember the things you have and you take for granted – the hair on your head, the eyebrows, limbs that are normal and functional; everything else is just accessories.
  18. Getting a good medical team is a stroke of luck; but getting a great medical team is a matter of angels showering buckets of gold and silver on you.
  19. Help comes from places you least expect; just believe that when all doors close, a window will open and you may not know just how close you are to your goal if you don’t look out of that window.
  20. Reaffirmation that reading and writing are the best ways to a good mental health.
  21. Those who enlist with you in your life’s challenges, who stick by you voluntarily through your journey on the rocky roads, are the people you need to hold on to & are your single biggest motivation to live and live well.
  22. Despite everything, it is the greatest gift to be alive and well!

I hope to remember some of these things now and forever! It has been an illuminating year and though I have no idea, what 2022 holds and I am kind of anxious about the unknown, face it I shall, armed with an open mind and these lessons.

\What have been some of your learnings this year?

A New Mountain…

Since I promised, I delivereth! Last week, being my birthday week and a birthday year that saw literally my re-birth, my sister and my best friends decided to make this extra special by taking me to those mountains whom I love and run to always! The Himalayas. They looked up the place, the hotels, the things to do, the itinerary and just about every single logistic, including food, food, more food and some more food. All I had to do was sit in the car and enjoy some magnificent views with loads of chatter and laughter!

The place is called Sirmour in the state of Himachal Pradesh, in Northern India. The resort we were staying in was some 700 hrs. drive from Delhi and we made a pit stop in Chandigarh ( about 5 hrs from Delhi ) to pick up our other companions and have a wonderful lunch with their family, with some awesome treats cooked by my friend and her mom in law. We reached Sirmour the same day in the evening and primarily spent the evening in eating, drinking and relaxing. The next day after a 10 different courses for breakfast, we set off for Renuka Lake, a 45 mins drive from our resort. This is the largest lake in Himachal Pradesh (660 m) and is regarded as the embodiment of Renukaji, the wife of sage Jamadagini and mother of Parshuram, one of the ten Avtars of Lord Vishnu ( One of the 3 most powerful trio in the Hindu Pantheon; the other members of the club is Lord Brahama, whose lotus fell to create the lake we visited last week & Lord Shiva, the rockstar God of Hindu Mythology) . Shaped in the profile of a woman, legend has it that Renuka was beheded by her son Parashuram, following his father’s instructions. Renuka had earned her husband’s fury for not dutifully filling up water in the clay pot for his rituals, as she got distracted and infatuated by the sight of Gandharvas, who had taken the form of men, bathing in the river. Thus infuriated, he ordered his three sons to kill their mother ( Don’t even get me started!) Of the three sons, only the third son Parashurama agreed to execute the father’s orders. Later, pleased by his obedience, Jamadagni bestowed a wish for fulfilment upon his son and he prayed to his father to restore his mother back to life & thus Renuka was brought back to life! While I have many many issues with this legend, the fact remains the lake is beautiful, the wooded walk gorgeous and the temple dedicated to Renuka Devi peaceful. We had an amazing lunch and then headed back to the resort for some bonfire, drinks and snacks and at 12 in the night a birthday hoopla for me ! There was cake cutting, gift opening and a brilliant birthday video put together by these lovely people with birthday messages from all my friends and family ( these best gift ever! ) The birthday day was a lazy day spent eating a long breakfast (again 10 course ) in the sun , followed by more soaking in the sun, a delicious lunch at a quaint open air café and some more bonfire shenanigans’. The next day in the afternoon, we headed back to the city with memories of a delightful and joyful birthday, with many things to be grateful for – my health, these generous friends, who put their plans on hold for my sake and my most awesome sister! It is good to be alive and well and that in itself is best celebration of all!

I leave you all with pictures of people, places and food from this adventure!

Needless to say, these few weeks have a le grande! I am now spending some quiet time before the start of a new year which will bring what it will bring, but for now and here, things are just perfect!

p.s. Himalayas are the youngest mountain range in the world hence the title , a New Mountain!

Some Joys Rediscovered…..

The Big C is now an integral part of my life; while I am recovering very well, the fact remains that now life will marked with regular visits to the hospital , watching out for any physical ailment & aberration & constantly being on my toes! It does not make life any less rich or fulfilling, just that the approach needs to change to adapt to the new normal & make the best out of it. And speaking of best, I have discovered since diagnosis of this illness, simple pleasures that I had forgotten! It is almost like Cancer has heightened my senses & the joie de verve is rushing through me, running madly, as if I have awakened from a long slumber & I find enchantment in every small everyday things I come across! I have always been a happy soul, but the joy I feel lately in simple tasks is unmatched & somehow life seems so much better than before!

Water Lilies and Reflections of a Willow (1916–1919), Musée Marmottan Monet
By <a href=”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/en:Claude_Monet&#8221; class=”extiw” title=”w:en:Claude Monet”><span title=”French impressionist painter (1840-1926)”>Claude Monet</span></a> – Musée Marmottan Monet, Paris, Public Domain, Link

Thus I wanted to share some of the things that has been making my life joyful over the past few weeks –

  1. A good head wash, with shampoo, conditioner & the works. Trust me after 3 weeks of recovery from surgery with a no shower mandate, there is nothing more soothing or gorgeous than a head wash with free flowing water & all the soap you can use! Yes, you are losing hair, but what the hell, there is still some left & someone needs to do a study on the therapeutic benefits of a head bath!
  2. A well made toast dripping with golden butter, perhaps accompanied with a cup of tea. For several weeks I was unable to eat not because I did not want to but because eating anything caused so much physical discomfort. And now to luxuriate with bread & some butter is perhaps to highest degree of joy, better than any other epicurean delights in the world.
  3. A rainy Monday during my recovery period. I did not have to log in for work & instead I spent the day watching the rain falling, reading a book & nibbling whatever my sister served me. It is not like I have not taken Monday’s off but this was already planned & I did not have to call anyone or explain anything; all I had to do was focus in that present moment.
  4. Discovering I can carry of short hair & look good with it! Hair, that one thing that worries most of us than anything else through the journey of Chemotherapy. Maybe we are really vain or maybe that is one physical vestige of dignity we want to hold on to; whatever may be the reason, losing hair is a big deal & when you have nearly waist length hair, it does take an effort to be stoic about it! I have never had short hair & I was not sure how I will look; but surprise, surprise, I look quite good & am seriously contemplating sticking to this style for a while!
  5. Waking up to pictures of flowers & adorable doggies posts & just the most heartwarming messages from this blogging tribe of mine, after I had posted that I was not having a good day on Instagram. There is nothing more wonderful or more encouraging than knowing someone cares! The text has an infinite power to soothe the nerves & make everything better. And then things go another level higher, when someone from the tribe takes the time out of their crazy schedule, to write emails after emails, explaining what chemotherapy feels like, what medicines help & what food to it! There is no greater wonder than this!
  6. My Chemo room as I have mentioned is a picnic zone more than a medical room! Add to that the hospital has a chef who is out to prove that hospital food can be both delicious & healthy! Eating Penne Arrabiatta while the Chemo drip is on, may sound, well different, but trust me when I say you have to eat that Pasta to understand what I am saying!
  7. Coming home after the Chemo to my yellow colored wall apartment, filled with books, music & pictures & memories of all the wonderful times I have had with my family, friends & so many other people!
  8. Writing again! I am scribbling on odd ends of papers, on One Note in my phone, in my journals, on social media; basically everywhere & anywhere I can lay my hands on. I have always loved writing, but work, life & everything in-between had made it difficult for me to concentrate to put something down on paper. I have made several restart attempts & some were more successful than others, but since May, I have rediscovered the joy of writing, anywhere & everywhere at any time of the day!
  9. Waking up early in the mornings! I have never been much of Morning person & my work which requires me to support Markets like US & UK required me to work late in the night. But due to this illness, I have made a conscious effort to not work long hours & sleep at a reasonable time, circa 11:30 pm or so. This in turn allows me to wake up early around 6 ( Yes! that is early for me!) & the joy of looking out of my balcony to the valley it overlooks & the sun rising or the rains falling, just beautiful!
  10. Friends dropping in on the weekend! Most of them even get food so that my sister & I don’t have to be bothered & then we settle down to a long fun conversation. The Sunday before my surgery, we had slew of visitors, morning, evening & night & that helped me so much to take my mind of things to happen on Monday & Tuesday. These visits give me so much joy, add energy to my sense of joie de verve & reminds me truly of all that is important!

In the end, in the voice of Julie Andrews (& Roger & Hammerstein lyrics & music) , these are a few of my favorite things! And these are things sustain me when the dog bites, in my case pain hits! What are the things that bring you joy?

Life with Big C

Life takes an interesting turn everyday and when the community is inflicted with Plague ( COVID 19 is again rising in India ) & you have been diagnosed with a cantankerous illness, aka Cancer, the experience becomes even more “colorful”. So here I stand, a little over a month since my surgery and still wonder, by which turns & unexpected paths, did I manage to reach this stage of life & how come I have this disease? But reality as always sets in & I have just have to look at my hands, marked with all kinds of intravenous & canula insertions, and know well, this is a fact & I have to not only live with it, but also learn to thrive with it.

Thriving of course involves medication to keep this ridiculous sickness at bay & that includes the “fun” thing called Chemotherapy. My first session of Chemo happened exactly a week ago. Again I am fortunate to have found an amazing set of doctors and a great hospital where the aim is to not only make the patient well, but also comfortable through the journey of getting well. The Chemo room is a day care center and maybe the hospital administration consciously put in charge nurses who are gregarious, bursting with life & enthusiasm. The whole mood of the room feels like a picnic more than a sick bay & there is Alexa playing upbeat music, a huge Television displaying the latest game of Cricket ( India runs on Cricket ) & my funny, crazy & extremely competent nurse convincing me to have the Pasta in the menu along with a chocolate brownie because they are the chef’s specialty! I was there for 8 hours and it did not feel long or painful. My doctors are all chatty, sharing funny stories but also always attentive to my condition with great advise on managing the side effects of Chemo. My awesome nurses ensured that I never felt any pain during the process, while keeping entertained with hilarious anecdotes. And my wonderful, elder sister never left my side, keeping me company, making me laugh & taking care of all hospital logistics, so that I do not need to worry about them. Needless to say, not only did I have a smooth & comfortable session, but actually a fun one.

However Chemo even when dispensed with utmost care is Chemo. It shall make it’s presence felt loud & clear to all & sundry & ensure everyone is aware of it’s “magnificence”. The initial two days after Chemo, thanks to a 500 ml Iron intravenous that was given at the hospital, I felt absolutely glorious, living, breathing as never before. Then on Monday, the side effects kicked in; Monday was nausea, bouts & bouts of it, but thankfully I had been proactively prescribed medication to combat this if & when needed and by evening things were good. Then I had a happy, comfortable & uneventful Tuesday but Wednesday brought more developments. I woke up with an wrecking back pain; walking , sitting, eating, any & every movement became painful & despite taking painkillers to address this, the relief was temporary. But I crawled through Wednesday & Thursday was an improvement. Finally I sit here on Friday & today is a good day, where again, all my body parts feel like they belong to me & are not hosting a rebellion. The simple joy of having a body free of aches & pains; I never really appreciated the blessing until lately! Compared to many my pain is nothing & I am extremely grateful to the doctors & the forces that might be for ensuring that while I face my trials, I am given enough strength & support to make it a comfortable effort. I have resumed work for more than a week now, I am meeting friends ( those who come over, my travel is still limited ) , cooking a bit, taking walks ( my doctors tell me that the more active I stay, the lesser the side effects ) & writing. Slowly the pieces are coming together; though the big picture has changed very much!

I now understand that life for a while will be made of good & bad days. Good days when everything will feel right & I can touch the sky & bad days when I just have to be patient & bear out the day until it passes. More patience & the need to make most of the moment are the guidelines which would define my life as I know it & hopefully ensure that I continue to live & thrive! I know I am getting well & these discomforts are temporary & I am being cured of the actual disease. I am much better, physically, intellectually & spiritually than I was even 6 weeks ago & I have much to be grateful for!

Among the many things that has helped me heal, is the constant texts, messages, pictures & outpouring of affection & support that I received from my blogging family. I call all of you my family because, though we may have never met in person, your standing by my side & cheering me on is nothing short of what a family does. My days are made so much better, when I wake up to messages & emails from all of you, bringing me hope & giving me infinite courage, to battle this demon out! I cannot even begin to express my gratitude for all your efforts & can only humbly say thank you! I am so blessed to have this tribe in my life!

Update on Big C

I wanted to share an update on the Big C situation in my life. I am blessed to have such an amazing blogging tribe whose affection and support is seeing me through this latest crisis and I know many of you are concerned about how I am faring.

So here’s the latest update from the C Ward –

I had a PET scan and Biopsy done in late June. The Biopsy revealed two illuminating facts; one I had two, not one tumor. One in my Ovary and another one in my Uterus and it was all Stage 2. It also came through that that both tumors were malignant and were different types of cancer, adding a whole new layer of complexity in an already difficult case. The PET scan revealed that most of the cancer was localized as in around the reproductive and abdomen area and not spreading too fast. Based on this my doctor kicked into action. My amazing gynecologist, Dr. Aruna Kalra, who does not lose her head nor believes in dilly dallying, had a plan set out immediately and a week from the biopsy, sat me down and explained the plan of action. She is someone who firmly believes in letting the body do its job with minimum medical intervention. She suggested we go for a debulking surgery, which would take out the tumor and any other cancer cell and then based on what the Tumor histogram suggests, the doctors would do a few rounds of Chemo. She then set up a meeting between me and the Oncologist Surgeons and I met Dr. Vinay Gaikwad and Dr. Jyoti Bhat, the men who would cut me open and try and ensure that I become well again. They were wonderful and as things progressed, I would also understand that they were kickass doctors, the very best in their job and more importantly, few of the nicest, kindest human beings I would have the good fortune to meet. They explained the entire surgery process to my sister and me; they did not hide any facts; they called out that this would be a complex surgery, that there are some inherent risks when a surgery, any surgery happens, but they also stated that they were confident that I will pull through.

As per plan, I was admitted in the hospital on July 5th and on July 6th, 8:30 AM, they wheeled me in for pre-OT procedures. My sister was petrified of the future and I despite all the kind assurances of the doctors from previous night, was so so scared. I was given a local anesthesia, then an epidural injection and then a general anesthesia. I only recollect to waking up groggy, looking up at the faces of my sister and Dr. Jyoti Bhatt and I knew that I had made it to the other side, I had survived the complex surgery and in that vague state of semi consciousness, I knew that now I can make it to the rest of journey to full recovery. They kept me in the ICU for the remaining day, moving me to a room the very next morning. My doctors, both Dr. Gaikwad and Dr. Bhat while the kindest souls do not believe in molly codling; they made me sit up for several hours the very next day of the surgery; there I was with 14 different pipes hanging out of my body and I do not know how many stitches across my abdomen and cervix, sitting pretty. They made me walk on the second day and made me eat food the third day; by the third day evening, they came in, told me with a lot of pride, affection and joy that I was doing splendidly and could go home the next day.

Poppies (also called Poppy Field), oil on canvas by Claude Monet, 1873; in the Musée d’Orsay, Paris.

I met them twice post coming home, and I was advised that my recovery was marvelous and that it gave them infinite pleasure to see their patient “walk in” without any aid, barely 10 days after the surgery. My stitches all came off earlier this week and I have not felt this good and strong in several weeks. I still have an odd muscle pull here and there which I have been told is a natural consequence of losing so many tissues and other minerals due to the surgery but otherwise I am on top of the world. These amazing healers, were able to take out all the cancer impacted parts. They also did a highly difficult procedure while I was in surgery called HiPec, which very simply put is giving Chemo to kill all cancer cells not visible to human eye. Because of all these efforts by the surgeons, I have to go through only 6 rounds of Chemo, which will start on Aug 2nd and that too for preventive purposes only, they managed to take all Cancer impacted body parts and ensure I was completely well.

I cannot count my blessings for these brilliant, kind set of doctors that I found and who helped me through the shadow of valley of death. Later in conversation with the nurses and junior doctors who assisted the two surgeons would I understand how hard they had fought to keep me alive and get me well. The surgery went on for nearly 7 hours and the nurses tell me that they got tired but not once did Dr. Gaikwad or Dr. Bhat flagged. I had been told at one point my Blood Pressure kept free falling risking a heart attack and somehow, they brought me back to being stable. 3 bottles of blood had been set aside for my operation, but my blood loss was so high, they ended up using 6 bottles. And yet, despite all this, I am well in less than 2 weeks. I am hale and hearty like my old self; I felt no pain post the surgery, none at all. There was some restricted movement because of the stitches, but nothing else. I was as comfortable as one can get. All of these, because I stumbled upon two miracle workers. I keep saying they are wonderful humane beings not only because they healed me, but because, of the way the treated my loved ones. They kept my sister and family informed, proactively, of my health when I was in ICU or OT and not in a position to speak to them. Dr. Bhat would despite his crazy schedule ensure he checked in with my sister as to how I was every alternate day, once I came back home. Every time I meet them, they make me laugh, give me strength, and affirm my faith. Dr. Gaikwad tells me that it helps his fight against Big C when he has cheerful, optimistic patients like me; he tells me this is one disease where the mind has to triumph and unless it does that, the disease cannot be expelled. Therefore, he is always so proud of my courage, but I tell him, so much of this courage, this optimism, comes because I am in his hands and he along with Dr. Bhat had led me through the darkest hour and I stand indebted to them forever. If I am able to post this blog today, it is because of these two men and my wonderful gynecologist Dr. Kalra who set the ball rolling and did not stop until she saw me sitting up and smiling to her!

To end, I am well. Very well. I am glad to have made it here today and I appreciate my good fortune. Yes, now there are Chemo rounds to face off and that is a whole new battle, but I am hoping to overcome that part as well and come back stronger than ever. Thank You for checking in on me constantly, for your encouragement, your affection and your book recommendations. Your thoughts and prayers did as much good for me as these doctors. Thank You for standing by me!