Monday, June 29, 2015

CONFESSIONS OF AN AUTHOR - CONTINUED “I AM JUST AN ORDINARY MAN” – A MOST HELPFUL CRITICAL REVIEW RECEIVED

CONFESSIONS OF AN AUTHOR - CONTINUED
“I AM JUST AN ORDINARY MAN” – A MOST HELPFUL CRITICAL REVIEW RECEIVED

Tonight as I sat down to continue the last chapter of my next book, I received a message from a close friend of mine over the years saying ‘Review posted’. Knowing him well I knew what I could expect from him and I was not surprised when I read the review. For the first time perhaps I received what I can term as ‘A Most Helpful Critical Review Received’. I am reproducing the review on Amazon here –

3.0 out of 5 stars A slightly higher middle-class, 28 June 2015
This review is from: I am just AN ORDINARY MAN (Paperback)

Disclosure : Subbu presented his autographed book on the condition that I write a review. He is a friend since 1975. I know him as a brilliant guy, sharp and witty. Very talented in painting, music and writing poetry and prose. I always thought he made a choice to be ordinary, justified it and escaped into abstracts like philosophy. My friendship clouds my judgment of his work.

Review: Many of his generation with similar background can relate to Subbu's narration of many events and persons in his life. Whether they all can relate to his philosophical rants is doubtful. I certainly cannot. I also cannot accept his justification for 'acceptance'. It is not just Subbu but many of his peers preferred the comfort of a regular paycheck each month rather than pursue their calling. They missed the passion, agony and ecstasy of chasing their dreams. In a way, Subbu's book is a story of their (don't count me out) petty bourgeois existence. The book was not an easy read for me despite or because of my great familiarity with Subbu, his family, his bank, his career and his thoughts. I think my weariness with philosophy might have something to do with it. I still appreciate his self-publishing the book. It is more than just a collection of his blogs.

I think Subbu has now found his calling. This book is, in Jawaharlal Nehru's words, 'a soul long suppressed trying to find utterance'. I am sure Subbu will come out with more. He has something more to say and will end up doing so. Hope the world will discover Subbu expressing his true personality freely and joyfully..


I have over the last 9 months learnt a few lessons since my book was published. As a first time author overcome by the euphoria of a dream realized and seeking adulation and acceptance from the readers, always on the lookout for a 5 star rated review and ending up publicizing them on the Social Media, I had perhaps lost my integrity. I did end up sending messages to friends and others who I came to know through the social media, to read and put up a review. Some of them did and many of them did not. Reviews are helpful and gain visibility for the author. A string of 5 star reviews makes you want more of them and when something comes along below this you are left disappointed. But I have learnt in the last few months to accept it as a necessity to keep you balanced in your expectations. Now I welcome them for they help me reassess myself.

A person understands and appreciates based on his own experiences and the lessons learnt in life; the way I have written based on my own experiences and understanding of my life. There could be parallels, there could be divergences, but that is life. I have known my friend for as long as he has known me. I have been a witness to his agonizing experiences and believe that life had not treated him fairly. But he had the guts and gumption to fight back against odds and make a success of his life. In my view he is an extraordinary man. He is as blunt as they come and honest in what he believes. That is why it was a welcome change to receive his review and like said before it was not a surprise.

This is not a defense but I would like to place my comments on certain views expressed by him in his review-

“I always thought he made a choice to be ordinary, justified it and escaped into abstracts like philosophy” – I never chose to be ordinary, I consider myself ordinary and I guess one does not have to justify being ordinary. This is left to the realm of the ‘League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”. I did not escape into abstracts of philosophy. I do not believe anyone does, it is just a way of looking at life depending on your experiences.

Many of his generation with similar background can relate to Subbu's narration of many events and persons in his life. Whether they all can relate to his philosophical rants is doubtful.” May be it is true what he says, but the next statement of relating to philosophical rants as he calls it, is judgmental. The meaning of rants is ‘Speak or shout at length in an angry, impassioned way’. Rants is perhaps not the right word and I leave it at that.

I also cannot accept his justification for 'acceptance’. Well I do not expect everyone to, for it may not apply to their way of life.

They missed the passion, agony and ecstasy of chasing their dreams. In a way, Subbu's book is a story of their (don't count me out) petty bourgeois existence. Well can we really know what the dreams of others are, and are we really capable of knowing the passion, agony and ecstasy that another undergoes. The statement ‘petty bourgeois existence’ is harsh if you consider what the Wikipedia says – “Petite bourgeoisie (French pronunciation:), also petty bourgeoisie (literally small bourgeoisie), is a French term (sometimes derogatory) referring to a social class comprising semi-autonomous peasantry and small-scale merchants whose politico-economic ideological stance is determined by reflecting that of a haute (high) bourgeoisie, with which the petite bourgeoisie seeks to identify itself, and whose bourgeois morality it strives to imitate.” My only objection is why include others (including himself may be to soften the blow).

Lastly “I think my weariness with philosophy might have something to do with it.” is the truth.

This is perhaps is the first review that has made me sit up and think and I am thankful for that. It is in no way to refute what he has stated, for a lot of what he has stated is true and from a person who had known me well during a certain period of my life. We still connect in a big way.

I thought that this review deserves a blog post to reach out a wider audience. The portions highlighted are made by me. Thanks

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

BEING MORTAL –by Dr. Atul Gawande Medicine and What matters in the End - BOOK REVIEW



BEING MORTAL –by Dr. Atul Gawande
Medicine and What matters in the End


“Being mortal is about the struggle to cope with the constraints of our biology, with the limits set by genes and cells and flesh and bone.” Dr. Atul Gawande in his path breaking book on Geriatrics and Palliative Care says “We have been wrong about what our job is in medicine. We think our job is to ensure health and survival. But really it is larger than that. It is to enable well-being. And well-being is about the reasons one wishes to be alive.”

In what I consider as a deeply moving book, Gawande stresses on the need for a doctor to accept the reality of mortality and accordingly make it a focal point in the way he treats the dying. In the Introduction he says that he remembers discussing mortality during a seminar, spending more than hour on Leo Tolstoy’s classic ‘The Death of Ivan Ilyich’ (I have discussed this book in one of my earlier posts on ‘A Dignified Exit’). Gawande quotes Tolstoy “What tormented Ivan Ilyich most was the deception, the lie, which for some reason they all accepted, that he was not dying but was simply ill, and he only need keep quiet and undergo treatment and something very good would result.” He says that they as medical students saw it, the failure of those around Ivan Ilyich to offer comfort or to acknowledge what is happening to him, was a failure of character and culture. He admits that within a few years of surgical training and practice, he encountered patients forced to confront the realities of decline and mortality and that it did not take him long to realize how unready he was to help them.

 The book is replete with the author’s confrontation with terminally ill patients, the aging and dying. The book traces the slow development of palliative care from Nursing Homes to Hospices to Assisted living.

This book disturbs you. It lays bare the reality of aging and increasing dependence. In the chapter ‘Dependence’ Gawande says “It is not death that the very old tell me they fear. It is what happens short of death – losing their hearing, their memory, their best friends, their way of life.” He says we do not think about the eventuality that most of us will spend significant periods of our lives too reduced and debilitated to live independently. As a result, most of us are unprepared for it.
With the changes in the family structure gravitating towards splinter groups the isolation and dependence of the aged has become acute. Nursing Homes and Hospitals where doctors and nurses more bothered about continuing procedures to check whether there are means of extending life even when they know that the patients has passed beyond such a stage only end up in extending the suffering of the patient.

Gawande, argues that quality of life is the desired goal for patients and families. He talks about more socially fulfilling models for assisting the infirm and dependent elderly. It is in this context that he outlines at various points in the book about hospice care to ensure that a person's last weeks or months may be rich and dignified. Hospice includes palliative care for the incurably ill given in such institutions as hospitals or nursing homes, but also care provided to those who would rather spend their last months and days of life in their own homes. He also describes Assisted Living as another fulfilling way of taking care of people with disabilities.

Referring to a book ‘The Philosophy of Loyalty” written by a Harvard Philosopher Josiah Royce, Gawande says that Royce wanted to understand why simply existing – why being merely housed and fed and safe and alive – seems empty and meaningless to us. What more is it that we need in order to feel that life is worthwhile? The answer he believed is that we all seek a cause beyond ourselves. This was to him, an intrinsic human need. The cause could be large (family, country, principle) or small project or the care of a pet. The important thing was that in ascribing value to the cause and seeing it as worth making sacrifices for, we give meaning to our lives meaning.

The book details about the efforts put in by individuals to find ways and means of improving the quality of life of the old and infirm, a number of them from their own experiences of tending to an aged parent or a spouse.

But the most telling part of the book is Dr.Gawande’s own account of handling the final stages of his father. The ending part of the book where he describes his father’s final days is intense and moving. In the beginning of the book he talks about his grandfather who lived till the age of a hundred and ten years and ultimately passed away surrounded by a large family in the midst of the people he loved and in his home. He says “My father’s father had the kind of traditional old age that from a Western perspective, seems idyllic” He continues “But in my grandfather’s world, how he wanted to live was his choice, and the family’s role was to make it possible”.

Despite having spent the entire part of his life in the US, born and bred up there, his father (a doctor himself) having migrated much earlier, Dr. Gawande comes to immerse the ashes of his father in the Ganges as per his wish –
“It’s hard to raise a good Hindu in small town Ohio, no matter how much my parents tried. I was not much of a believer in the idea of gods controlling people’s fates and did not suppose that anything we were doing was going to offer my father a special place in any afterworld. The Ganges might have been sacred to one of the world’s largest religions, but to me, the doctor, it was more notable as one of the world’s most polluted rivers ------ Yet I was still intensely moved and grateful to have gotten to do my part. For one my father wanted it, and my mother and sister did, too.”

Atul Gawande is a fantastic writer and has your attention till the end. More importantly he has touched on a subject that is the final anxiety of our existence.

About the Author

Atul Gawande is the author of three bestselling books: Complications, a finalist for the National Book Award; Better, selected by Amazon.com as one of the ten best books of 2007; and The Checklist Manifesto. He is also a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, a staff writer for the New Yorker, and a professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health. He has won the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science, a MacArthur Fellowship, and two National Magazine Awards. In his work in public health, he is Director of Ariadne Labs, a joint center for health system innovation, and Chairman of Lifebox, a charity making surgery safer globally. He lives with his wife and three children in Newton, Massachusetts.- Amazon