Friday 27 June 2008

Thursday 26 June 2008


A word that came to us as we were watching a group of young males from a city that we used to live in. Does it need explanation?

Added, 27th June: Well, maybe one small explanation. In parts of South India, "macha" is used by males to address other males of their acquaintance. Kind of like "yaar" in the North, or "pal," "buddy," or (for the fossils and Wodehouse fans), "old chap," "old bean" and other such male bonding terms.


Let's say you crack a really bad PJ. Your listener / reader goes 'argh.' Which is what you were aiming for. It was good for you, no? Because you just had an arghasm.

P.S. And when you have multiple interlocutors?* You then have multiple arghasms.

* Like on this blog.**

** Theoretically.

Friday 20 June 2008

How to quit smoking

1. Have a heart attack.

Preferably a serious one. This will mean hospitalisation, and very probably sedation of some kind. This will take you over the worst stages of the chemical withdrawal symptoms. Because you're very unlikely to get any cigarettes in the ICCU.

Better still, don't start.

Seriously though.

1. Stop fooling yourself about the addiction.

That's the really big one; or at least it was for me. Nicotine is ferociously addictive. Period. You're a junkie. And addiction of any kind fucks with your mind. A junkie will always find reasons to continue. Plausible, perfectly respectable reasons. That is, from your point of view. They will look silly from the outside. Or the other side. Trust me on this. I see now that one of the reasons I avoided air-conditioning was that most ACed places don't let you smoke. And I mean avoiding ACs even in a Delhi summer.

There's an old Dave Barry piece about smoking that makes the point beautifully. I quote:
I mean, surely the government has better things to spend its money on. Surely the government could could have used those research funds to buy a better military toilet seat, and just asked us former smokers about nicotine vs. heroin addiction. We could have simply pointed out that, when a commercial airliner takes off, the instant the wheels leave the ground, the pilot, who you think would be busy steering or something, tells the smokers that they may light up. He does not tell the heroin addicts that they may stick their needles in themselves, does he? No he doesn't, because heroin addicts have enough self-control to survive a couple of heroin-free hours. But the pilot knows that if he doesn't let the cigarette smokers get some nicotine into themselves immediately, they will sneak off to smoke in the bathroom, possibly setting it on fire, or, if already occupied by other smokers, they will try to get out on the wing.

2. Avoid the company of smokers.

At least in the beginning. Or your addiction, revived by the siren wisps of second-hand smoke, will play silly buggers with you. You will want desperately to have that one drag, that one cigarette. Maybe you'll be able to do "just one" after a while. I wouldn't count on it.

3. Deal with it one pang at a time.

The urge to smoke doesn't usually last more than a few minutes. 15 minutes at most. Find something to do with your hands for those 15 minutes. It helps. Or just recognise the pang, acknowledge it, and deliberately think about something else. Your mind will take over and do the job for you. All hail low attention spans.

4. Plan to smoke again.

This may seem counter-intuitive, but hear me out.

Each time you pass a cigarette shop, or get side-swiped by someone else's smoke, tell yourself that you'll buy a cigarette at the next shop. By the time you get there, the urge would have faded.

There's a variation on this, on the other end of the length-of-time spectrum, relayed to me by pal Pervin, about her dad. He told his family he'd start smoking again (he'd quit because he'd had a heart attack) once the kids had grown up and were self-sufficient.

Another addict friend gave me another variation; she tells herself she will drink again. In 2079.

My version: I will smoke again when my kids are grown up. (I don't have any. (That I know of. (Yet.))) Sounds weird, I know, but it works. Maybe it's the grin you grin to yourself, maybe the brain really is a gullible old thing, I dunno, but it works.

5. Read up about the bad effects of smoking.

Yep, all those articles you quickly flipped past over the years. Read them now. Go find more; the web is your friend. These will help you keep going, strengthen your resolve.

6. Commit yourself publicly.

Announce it to friends, the kind who you'd rather die than back down in front of.

Or blog it. :)

Note to people who know people who are in the throes of quitting.

Don't bring up the topic. Unless the quitter brings it up, don't brightly ask how the quit is going or how the pangs are being dealt with. Chances are that the very asking will cause huge, I mean fugging monstrous, gigantic, vice-like pangs. Maybe those will be the first real pangs of the day. The week even. Maybe it will stress the smoker out. maybe it will send the smoker sneaking off to smoke one and he'll feel like shit afterwards and have to claw back up yards and yards of distance lost. Or at least that's what happened to me once. So don't ask me, okay? Unless I'm all full of it, in which case let me go on for a little bit and then steer the conversation elsewhere. The steering's easy. I'm feeble-minded: I used to smoke, remember?

(Oh, and I hereby silently apologise to all the ex-smoker-now-anti-smoking-evangelist folks I've ever silently sneered at in the past. Y'know how it is: you look at this person who once bummed your smokes, who smoked everywhere, regardless of who was around (unlike virtuous you, who didn't smoke around children, old people and non-smokers in general), and who was now getting all sanctimonious about the habit. I know where you're coming from. And thank you for trying, but dudes, seriously, no one who still smokes will get it.)

I'm going to come back to this post with more about my quitting journey, maybe more tips. Or perhaps I'll make it a series. Let's see. Meanwhile, perhaps you, if you have successfully quit, want to leave some tips behind for me and posterity?

Tuesday 17 June 2008

More from the ICU

Ward boys wake me up. Sponge, they say. They sit me up. Take off my hospital-issue pajama top. Run a wet towel over me. I'm shivering. They start to pull off my pants. I snarl at them: I'm cold; put the bleeping shirt on. They do. They finish the sponge.

I doze.

To be woken up again. Bed tea. I ask for coffee, Without sugar.

I doze.

The coffee come in. I am woken to drink it. Where's breakfast? Oh, an hour from now. Fugh.

I doze.

Breakfast. It's stuff I'm not used to. Fried things that aren't eggs. Yugh. May I have some bread? Would I like cornflakes, they ask. Yes please, I say. Fried-things-that-are-not-eggs are taken away.

I doze.

I sense someone is around. Open eyes. Manisha. I whine about the breakfast. The cornflakes arrive. In hot milk. WTF, I say. Which idjut dunks cornflakes in hot milk? Manisha clucks. The offending cornflakes are removed. She chats for a bit. The cornflakes come back. The same cornflakes. Which had been left somewhere to cool down (and get soggy). Manisha goes off to grumble on my behalf. But I'm whipped by now. I eat the bloody thing. Manisha says if I'm complaining about the food, I must be okay.

I sleep.

5am sponge bath. 6 am 'bed tea.' WTF is this with the bed tea? I'm in the fugging ICU. I'm not exactly going to leap up to have a brisk fugging shower and then slip into my fugging dressing gown and stroll out to the fugging patio for breakfast afterwards, am I? Then somewhere between 7am and 8am, breakfast. One is supposed to be resting. But the hospital wakes you up every hour just so you, who are basically half-dead, can accommodate their routines and sucks to you if it means that you get disturbed every hour in the process as long as they can make little check marks in the little boxes on their lists. Bah.

Monday 16 June 2008

One month ago today..

..I got a bonus life.

I have no business being here, actually. Providence, sheer dumb luck, call it what you will, fact is that if one was going to have a 95% blocked artery leading to a massive heart attack that left one, for a while, with a heart functioning at about 45% efficiency, the only way one could have planned it better would have been to go check into the ICCU, get tucked under the blankets and then let 'er rip.

Even so, I pulled through this only thanks to enormous amounts of help of various kinds from not just close friends but even from folks I don't really know all that well, some that I've never met in the flesh.

Many friends want to know exactly what happened, and how I am now, and so on. This post ^These posts^ attempts to answer some of those questions.

16th May 2008

Don't really remember how I brought the day in. There was some nonsense verse. Some email. A bit of faff. Nothing out of the way.

I knew that Dr K was to make his monthly visit to check on my brother, John, who has a congenital heart defect, aside from a bunch of other chronic problems. When Dr K (a physician with a special interest in cardiology, by the way) came in, around 2pm, I ducked into my room to grab a smoke and check on mail.

I started feeling uncomfortable — a bit of sudden and acute acidity, it felt like. I went to the living room to get myself an antacid and drink some water. Went back to my room to finish the cigarette. The acidity got worse. I could feel a weird part-numb (yes, I could feel the numbness), part-tingly sensation from my left shoulder to the ring and little fingers of my left hand. I started to get a bit worried. Recollected that the doctor was in the house. Went out; he was wrapping up his visit. Told him of my symptoms. Which now included a sort of heaviness on my chest. Like a rectangular piece of metal had been placed on the left lung. And the uneasy feeling had deepened. It felt now like some serious shit is about to happen. Have you ever had bad news? Really bad news? Y'know, someone cheating on you; a death, that kind of thing. That hollow, gutted feeling you get? This similar. With a larger physical dimension. (A feeling of "impending doom" is what many heart attack survivors describe feeling, as more recent reading has shown me.) He told me that I could get an injection for the acidity, but did I want to get an ECG done to be safe? (Later, someone told me that he had also caught Dad's eye over my shoulder indicating that I was in trouble.) I was sweating by then , and uncomfy enough to agree.

I went back to my room. Put off computer. Got out of grungy shorts, took out clean underwear, trousers, changed into those. (And for some weird reason, I neglected to change out of the equally grungy T-shirt I had been wearing since the previous afternoon.) Pick up phone, wallet; realise I had maybe a thousand rupees on me. Suspected I'd need more. Asked Dad for some cash on the way out. Bharat (who is the lad who we have come in to look after John during the day) was ready to come with me. We walked down the lane to Dr K's car. I remember concentrating on breathing slow and deep. And I was belching every few seconds. And sweating.

We drove down to Sterling Hospital, an old Vashi landmark, newly renovated and spruced up and now rechristened the Wockhardt Sterling Hospital. It's a short drive, less than five minutes, door to door. We walked straight to Emergency, where a training session was on. Dr K got someone to come run the ECG machine. The grungy shirt off, and I remember feeling the cold glue being slapped on to my chest. In a few seconds, the tech and Dr K exchanged glances, and Dr K told me I would have to be admitted, and he went out to make arrangements. On the narrow bed in the ECG room, I'm started to zone out.

I pulled myself back. Called out to Bharat. Told him to get my phone. My brain is still working, sort of.

I try to think.. Dad has John to look after. We have had a a hard enough time the previous year through Mum's hospitalisation with Dad and I fit. With one of us out of action, it would be impossible. Breathe slow. Breathe deep. I hear Dr K on the phone. He is speaking to Dad, I can figure out. I strike that call off my mental list. Think, think, think. Who do I call? Breathe slow. Breathe deep. Who has a car? Who is independent — or senior enough in their work place to be able to drop things and just get here? Who has plastic? Vivek's in Goa. Hashim is in Kihim. Albert. Prakash. I pull up the number. Feeling too tired to talk. Or that I need to save energy. Tell Bharat to speak. Breathe slow. Breathe deep. After the calls, I give him my wallet and the phone and tell him to go to Dad for instructions.

I am strapped into a wheelchair. It gets hazy from here.

I think: I'm going to die. And, weird, I'm not scared. Just very, very, very tired. One truly understands the word 'fatalism' suddenly. Breathe slow. Breathe deep. Will I meet mum, I wonder. The lift. The ICU. It's bigger, more spacious, than any I've been in as a visitor. I get into the bed. Breathe slow. Breathe deep. Someone helps me take the shirt off. Cold glue slapped on. Electrodes stuck onto various parts of my chest, my wrists, my ankles. Something's clipped onto my finger. Something's strapped around my other arm. An injection. A handful of tablets. A canula is put into the back of my hand. An IV drip is connected. A voice tells me I've had a heart attack. 'But you'll be okay now. Don't be scared.' Breathe slow. Breathe deep. Haze. Voices. Someones looking at a a monitor next to me. It's connected, I surmise, to the scanner that's being moved around my chest. They — several of them I think — cluck. I think they said something about the heart attack still going on. Haze.

Evening, I think. Or is it night? Dunno. Prakash is at the head of the bed. Haze.

Albert is there. He tells me he's manning my phone. He has sent out a few SMSes to names he recognised from my address book, and to mutual friends. Thing is, though he and I have known each other since we were 12, I have very disparate groups of friends, large chunks of whom don't know each other. Some that do know each other but don't particularly like each other. Anyway, he wants to know who else I want called. What they are listed as on my phone. (I list various people, frequently-called close friends, by just the initial letters of their names.) I tell him. He scribbles as I try and get my mind to focus through the haze. M. A. V. N S R. D D. L. Ha. Mehru. Firoz. Manisha. Between them and the people he's already called, they should be able to pass the word around reasonably efficiently. Money , I say. I don't have very much, how am I gonna pay for this. Chill, he says, as the beep-beep of the machine next to me speeds up a bit, chill, your heart rate is going up, chill, it's being taken care of; some folks have swiped credit cards. Oh, he says, gimme your bank account number and ATM PIN. I do that. Oh, I say. Call Pervin. Tell her I can't make it to the meeting on Saturday. Call Sveta or Charles at the TOI, and tell 'em I can't do column. Fuck, he says, I think they'll understand, dude. Haze.

Susan. Julianna. Haze. Someone tells me that there is a relay of people outside keeping vigil so Dad can stay home; there's a note book with messages and a 'duty roster.' Calls have been coming in from all over. That I have a lot of pals who are very worried. Haze.

A nurse telling me I have a fever. A young doctor telling me that I had been in serious trouble but now I was going to be okay. Haze.

(I'll continue this later. Need to consult my notes.)