Unsplayed Answers (Fourth Wok)

(make your voice like it were a caricature, not your own voice, never your own)
Piss on me, I can rise no more, shower me with your ritalin heavy piss
Dawn no longer witching, the steam from hot milk tea rising as you stood
Leaning over the railing looking down on to the yard that was the counseling center.
That was fifteen years ago.
(make your voice like it were a caricature, not your own voice, never your own)
I still think he will walk out of the sunrise like an elvis conspiracy. I never did grow up.
I still think what they did was a mistake and they were not at fault,
I still think of visiting, or maybe just sending mail.
(make your voice like it were a caricature, not your own voice, never your own)
I see my flesh and blood and bones today, greedily and quietly play with himself, get stronger
Larger every passing day, larger in every way, God, bury me in your scorn.
A corner, a bend on the beach, God,
Add your additional prayers here.
Chant three times to conclude the practice.
(Not your own voice, never your own.)

Warm Hearth Burnt Home (The Third Wok)

Take this, my heaped scorn on all that you say must be.
This my arrogance in the face of your sanctions and your desire.
I do not care how you hurt, how you crave, how you survive.
I do not care that you do not care how deep my cut runs.

Here, all that you say I must, done, but do not ask this of me
Do not ask that I be who I was and feel what I felt because it must be so
Do not say but I am yours, for there are laws beyond I am yours
And I must be above all else true to me, true to be.

I shall turn, shall return, shall fulfill all I must
For I have done untold harm, for that I know there is no rerun
I must walk the path that I have chosen, must follow my heart
And for the harm I’ve done, I will burn, I burn, will always burn.

Know this to be true, in the face of all I say, all I do
I have loved you wordless and always will, like the glowing moon
Yet in the night, I hear the call, and I must reply, I must reply
To my heart I must be true, if its all a lie, then true to the lie.

The Morning (The Second Wok)

“Want to sit?”
“No let us try and get three kilometers out and then stop.”
“Try and get back early today.”
“And send someone to get two kilos of sugar and a small packet of almonds from Shanthi Stores before you leave.”
Okay. Message me sometime so that I don’t forget.”
“Forgot to tell you. Wednesday, I will be late. Several appraisals that have piled up.”
“I needed to ask you something.”
“Do you believe you have it in you to be dishonest?”
“You know I can’t pretend.”
“Yeah, but if you had to.”
“Like what, tell a lie? Or suppress what I am feeling?”
“If I had to, I guess I could and perhaps I would. I really don’t know. Why do you ask?”
“See what that fellow is doing.”
“When is you next doctor’s visit?”
“10th of next month.”
“I almost look forward to the visits. I get to see people and shops. While I wait for you to finish and come out, some of the older people will stop by and chat and go. Even the ones I dislike seem welcome. It is so boring to spend your day with a succession of maids.”
“I know.”
“What’s for breakfast?”
“Soup and bread for you, I will probably finish the idlis from yesterday.”
“Why did you ask about dishonesty?”
“Just like that. I think, rather I would like to think that I am incapable of being dishonest, but then I have to be that way so often, five times, ten times, God knows, hundreds of times, at work, where I cannot tell people what I am really thinking. It happens all the time, and then later I wonder, I don’t even feel guilty, Is something wrong with me? That’s why.”
“Lets sit.”

The Job (The First Wok)

If it weren't for Basantada, I would have missed my stop. I did register the shops and the graffiti and the kerosene lamps of the shacks outside the station, and told myself I better start moving towards the exit, but then it was gone in an instant and I was back with the thick blanket of despondence. The bus had started moving like a well nourished madame by the time I reached the door, but there would be a speedbreaker just ahead, so I stood on the footboard and allowed the cool summer breeze to wash my face and arms. With the finish of a sea bird, the swell of the speedbreaker kissed my feet, and in a moment, the dust that chased after the noisy bus cleared and I stood facing the lane that led home.

What could I have said that would have made it different? If I had at least known that this was coming my way, I would have dreamed up some lie, some reason that would serve to buy me time if nothing else. Anyway, there was no getting away, we knew it from the time it began.

The rickshaw stand grumbled with the crescendo of the evening traffic, the mothers and daughters out to visit the pawn shops, the office colleagues who want to murder their boss over a drink and a smoke at the country liquor store before going docilely home to waiting wife and mother in law, the college student too stoned to walk and too broke to pay the full fare, all of this rustling like a badly spooled tape past my ears, like a view from under water when it is raining, I waved back at the son of the iron and steel shop owner who never forgot to remind me of the money he had lent me when we were in college together as I slowed down to light a cigarette.

Had I really expected it to be different? Not that I could tell with any honesty. The empty feeling at the pit of the stomach had been a constant companion over the last eighteen months, and none of the secret and occasionally guilty pleasure, none of the thrill, none of the adrenalin-laden escapades, none of the implausible dreaming had ever overpowered it. And it was not like we had not talked about it. Like a song that refuses to get out of ones mind, time and again, we had come up against the same question. And every time, we had gratefully taken refuge in the ambiguity and vagueness that comes from not wanting to know the truth.

I stepped off the asphalt to make way for a cow that had to make way for a rattling schoolbus that didn’t need headlights on. I could see our bedroom framed in dull yellow through the balcony door. A light colored sari put out to dry in the apartment next to ours swayed like a serpent repeatedly trying to strike at our windows, missing it by a tongue's width, coiling back and billowing forth in the twilight, and hissing forward again, like a spited woman, like a jilted lover, like a sinking patient, like an unreasonable child. The smoke from my cigarette stung my eye.

What will I say? What will I do? A gun in itself is neither good nor evil.


June 2006

Consecrations buried firm faithed
This is not to be, this should never be,
Wrapped and loc’ed against everyday paranoia.
Was it true? Was I lying? Did I know?
Was I blind?

Endless turning warming water
The water calm, the breeze
A pleased woman trying to pretend
And underneath, restless stirrings
Don’t shake, don’t rattle. I am lying.
I am trying.

Boisterous indifference, what lies
On the other side of this wall
Of course I care,
For all that I want to care for, for all that I want
A caring man am I.

In the dark you kick, you turn,
The grass greener even before you are
Whose fingers will you grasp
When you know it all, everything.
Vain, imperfect, happy fool,
Tear in my eye.
Murder in the Cathedral

When Moustapha Akkad left Syria in 1954 to join UCLA and pursue his dream of being a Hollywood director, with 200$ in one pocket and a Koran in the other, his plans did not include getting blown up by suicide bombers while attending a wedding reception with his daughter Rima in Amman on November 9, 2005. Abdulla’s Jordan, a key western ally in the region (and home of Zarqawi, Michael Myers for the western infidels), had till now not faced any major terrorist attacks in spite of its known support for Israel. The Amman blast, focussing on three major hotels housing mostly western and Israeli tourists, diplomats, businessmen, killed over 60 and injured more than 120, and caused irreparable damage to the Middle East peace process. Rima died on the spot, while Akkad died two days later in hospital.

While Akkad is perhaps better known for the Halloween series of kitschy horror movies, his landmark works remain The Message detailing the life of the Prophet and The Lion of the Desert, a film about the bedouin leader Omar Mukhtar’s resistance against Mussolini, the latter being financed by Gadaffi himself. His last years were spent working on an unfinished project on Saladin, the 12th century leader of the resistance against the crusading Christian world.

Akkad did his graduate studies from UCLA and USC in the turbulent 60’s. After finishing his masters, Akkad set out in his showbiz life with TV shows. His early work on TV reflected his preoccupation with multiculturalism and his efforts to dispel stereotypes. He was able to capitalize on his success as a CBS producer and documentary filmmaker sufficiently to set up his own production house. He produced and directed his first major work, Al-Risalah (1976) with an English version titled Mohammed: The Messenger of God shortly therafter, starring Anthony Quinn and Irene Papas.

This was the first time that a feature film was made in Hollywood about Islam and its beginnings, and made by a Muslim keeping Islamic sensibilities and perspectives in mind. Of course, this had to deal with the hostility of detractors who could not see beyond the Zionistic control of the media and assumed this to be an affront to their religion. After its US release, a group of Hanafi Muslims went to the extent of holding hostages in Washington DC demanding that the film be withdrawn, convinced that a film about the prophet would obviously have portrayed the prophet, heresy per Islam. Despite several attempts to make them see reason (or the film), they did not relent and the film was withdrawn. A re-release provoked threats again, and the film died a quiet box office death. Though this also resulted in an initial ban on the film in the Islamic world, it received acceptance and popularity after Ayatollah Khomeini viewed it himself and approved it to be distributed in Iran. Interestingly, this film was used as educational material for the US troops being deployed in Afghanistan and the Middle East following 9/11 and the “war on terror” so that they have a better understanding of Islam.

Akkad was working on his next big project, The Lion of the Desert when he teamed up with director John Carpenter in 1977 to produce Halloween, a low budget babysitter meets slasher film with a difference, a tip of the hat to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (including Jamie Lee Curtis, daughter of Janet Leigh who starred in Psycho). No one could have imagined the success that this film would have at the box office. The franchise generated seven sequels, none of them notable for artistic excellence or social relevance, but all of them making money.

While often dismissed as inconsequential pandering to teenage pop sensibilities, the Halloween series does address some basic issues about interpretation of morality and gender politics. These films about the masked psycho killer Michael Myers’ return to his hometown of Haddonfield after being locked up in a mental asylum for murdering his sister (her crime – having sex with her boyfriend, his age at the time – six years) play with the eternal theme of male insecurity over their own masculinity in the face of aggressive assertion of sexuality and freedom in women, an anxiety often cloaked with moralistic and ethical overtones. Honor killings are the rule of the day in many countries even to this day. It will remain conjecture whether Akkad had this in mind when he had all the “bad girls” getting killed in the Halloween series, while the chaste heroine lived to generate dozens of me too slasher movie endings.

Omar Mukhtar: The Lion of the Desert was released in 1981. This film will remain one that made a major impression on me as a teenager whose role models were from the 60s and who had to fit into the senseless consumerism of the 80s and 90s. I will never forget the feeling when after Omar Mukhtar is hanged, his round rimmed glasses are picked up by the child, as a symbol of all that he stood for and the fact that his legacy will live on. This film about the Libyan resistance against the Italian occupation in the 20’s and 30’s had $35 million of funding by Gaddafi starred Anthony Quinn, Oliver Reed, Rod Steiger, Irene Papas, and John Gielgud, and is a magnificently told true story of epic proportions. Akkad’s lifelong campaign of portraying the Islamic rebel as one fighting a just war against imperialism and not just a crazed religious fanatic out to spread meaningless terror is aptly served by this film. This film is a must see for its balanced portrayal of the beginnings of the victim mentality that has been gifted to the Islamic world by the civilized European “union.”

This was followed by the Halloween stint which was active till 2002 (Resurrection) and an unnoticed comedy in 1986 called Free Ride. At the time of his death, Akkad was pursuing his dream of doing a film on Saladin, the Iraqi leader of the Muslim armies during the crusades. Akkad had a belief that the modern situation of Islam and the Imperialistic world was similar to the crusades. Interestingly, Saddam Hussain, who shares his hometown of Tikrit with Saladin, saw himself as a modern day Saladin, (Saladin was a Kurd, but that is a minor issue in politics of convenience, ask Bush any day) battling against the Western forces, to save his people and their religion. Like he had got Gaddafi to fund Omar Mukhtar, there is speculation that Saddam would have been an ideal financier for Akkad’s Saladin.

Akkad’s murder (what else can it be called?) brings to an end a truly Arab truly American life that was spent trying to bring peace and logic to a world that is bent on pursuing the path to annihilation and senseless loss of innocent lives in the name of power and domination and self proclaimed righteousness. His death brought together the themes he had tried to address in his films, horror and murder, religious bigotry of both the Christian and the Muslim world, and the battle against imperialism. One can only hope that his efforts will have woken up some of us to the importance of spreading the message of peace and to the urgency of shedding hostilities and intolerance at our personal and interpersonal levels. One can only pray that his soul rests in peace.
The insanity of bigotry was held up once again in Friday’s protest against the cartoon of the Prophet turning violent (the protest, not the Prophet). And this bigotry is mutual. The freedom of the press can neither be asserted nor denied by republishing or not republishing the cartoon. Similarly, the ire of the devout turned against Hindu establishments smacks of motivation other than religious hurt. Civility needs to return and stand in the way of our march towards the sixth extinction.


(un)swervestuff i wrote just after the BJP led NDA was voted out of government in the summer of 2004

Sunday silent not yet hot afternoon, the shining drug of near-affluence you want to think
Ripening, juices running down dripping fingers wrist forearm elbow,
Longitudinal curiosity laying bare new districts at every turn,
Banishing the nights of sloth, stirring daylight alive, riding February she comes
Stirrings in the warming deep waters, it is time, it is time,
The primal calling serpents maize jackdaws jasmine,
In the yard, the whiteness, a million turning fans, rock throwing powdered sun
Into air, somewhere someone plays or (likely) listens to stride.

Fathers cross and uncross (exceedingly) media mannered, legs and numbers,
Keep the heat away, proclaim selfless servitude, and then some
The river broadens and dries to a halt, no longer coursing through its veins
Fish seeking higher ground, things shall be stilled for some time, for some time to come,
Ferocious nights under moonlit skies, ferocious, the contrapuntal battle
Of the master and his discovery remains consigned to memory, wait,
The searing winds, like a curse seeking its victim, must first flood
Our unwillingness with longing and our indifference with thirst.

Sound of children in playful war, the mothers sit at the back of the lot,
Their whisperings like the sloshing of water tankers taking a tight turn,
One must strain, or know their lives well, to know if it is their lives
Or those of soap opera families that they slice up, taste and screw their faces at,
Behind the bushes, the horrors carried over into the future,
Under the gleaming serene clean green the corpselike cracked earth,
The clouds gather, wash our sins away, wash our sins away,
Wash our sins away, wash our sins away.

The people have spoken, it is time, it is time, the people have.
That done with, it is time for fete and fair and food and wine, come
Stuff your pockets, stuff your mouths, think winter, the people have.
But now it is time. The people can wait, we were away too long…
Like a cold dog, the earth turns, where did we go wrong, (just) where did we
Shed it all? Are we the people? Are we the right? Or left? Or middle, safe and warm?
Oh come, don’t fret, our superheros are at work, the kids all right, now it is time
To fat our calves, sun our backs, and to hell with if the world is mine.

Medical Transcription: The Common Well

Medical transcription is a field where one has to stay on one's intellectual toes every single day. Unlike other careers where you concentrate on a specific field of knowledge (for example, accounting or XML conversion) that changes perhaps once in one or two years, medical transcription, by virtue of its dealing with the human condition, encompasses all areas of knowledge and needs to be constantly updated. You have no way of knowing that just after dictating the pros and cons of congenital malformation screening, the dictator is not going to launch into a letter to the governor on the futility of lobbying with Scots for tort reforms. Just being up on the latest medical terminology is not a guarantee that you will be transcribing 100% accurate documents.

At a recent training session, we tried listing out all the areas of knowledge that needed to be included in a personal program of ongoing education in the field of medical transcription. To the surprise of all the participants, the list grew and grew till it had almost every conceivable subject in it. This aspect of transcription is also what makes it so exciting and so much more challenging than most other IT enabled fields. The most minimalist common body of knowledge for a newbie MT is just about everything there is to know on the face of this planet.

I was fortunate in being walked through my initial days in transcription by mentors whose zest for transcription was paralleled only by their zest for life. I learnt two big lessons from them. The first is that one does not give up till there is even a remote resource yet to be checked out, and when all resources are exhausted, to gracefully acknowledge your not knowing. The other is that one has to continuously strive to excel and to improve.

Down the line, I was lucky to have come into contact with other people who instilled in me the enthusiasm and passion for the work that has served me well through the years. I have formed a few beliefs and paradigms of my own as I have traveled along. These are all things that probably your mother always told you, but they hold true in every way.

The first thing that an MT needs to keep in mind is that they are a part of a communication process. The process begins with the patient contact and the exchange between the patient and the physician. That communication process has its own rituals, the presenting complaint, the history taking and the physical exam , the lab studies, the impression and the plan. That done, the physician then dictates it for the transcriptionist, where he structures it according to his frame of reference. This is what we get to work with. What we do is put down on paper what the dictator communicated to us, and communicate it back to his office.

The common grouse of many an MT is that the dictation was tough, the audio was poor, the terms were obscure and the grammar was off. But if we look at it as just another communication process, the troubles seem lesser. Think of a person with atrocious Hindi, shouting from across a noisy room about more efficient ways to keep your whites really white. If you give it the attention you would if you were having trouble keeping your whites really white, you would figure it out, right? What made the difference was your desire to know about and willingness to decipher how to keep your whites really white. The same thing applies to the dictation.

What makes a dictation difficult is a mix of factors. On top of the list for MTs in India is probably vocabulary and syntax. Physicians in the US go through the best of education. They usually end up spending a lot of money by the time they have an MD after their name. This education is often reflected in a very large vocabulary and in the use of syntax not commonly used. You wouldn't buy a Ritu Beri outfit only to sleep in would you? The other category of "challenging" dictators are the ESL dictators. These physicians carry with them, apart from their heavily accented pronunciation, the syntax of their own language, which is difficult to understand if you do not know their language. The solution of course is to get a basic understanding of the grammar of that particular language, it surely helps, but it might not always be possible. However, what is possible, especially if you have large volumes of dictation from that particular dictator, is to try and understand the way his mind structures things. It is similar to how we recognize and distinguish a spoof on Shatrughan Sinha from one on Shahrukh Khan, one on Dharmendra from one on Dev Anand.

The other most common factor that makes a dictation difficult is the terminology. This does not always mean medical terminology, although that can be a stumbling block when you start doing superspecialties. (It is like being the member of a secret club with its own secret passwords and code language. But with the wide range of wordbooks, and specialty books available today, searching for specialty or even superspecialty words is no longer the task it was even five years back.) However, this difficulty often comes when the dictation has references to culture or lifestyle. The only way to overcome this is to familiarize oneself with the basic reference points of geography, history, economics, contemporary culture, etc., particular to where the dictator is coming from. The Internet is a blessing in this area, since it makes available to you local flavors at the click of a mouse. However, one would be well advised to keep in mind that the Internet is an unregulated medium and there is no way to be sure that what you find on the net is correct unless you are using reliable portals or websites.

The bottomline is that every component in the field of healthcare documentation is human, starting from the patient to the physician to the MT to the office manager who okays the transcript. The process is one of communication, the contents of which have to do with the human condition, and the tools, language, spoken and written. The possibilities are infinite but all of it have to do with the issues basic to us as a human race. Once we have that in place in our frame of reference, the task of transcription not only becomes easier but also vastly enjoyable and illuminating.

The journey into the world of transcription is an exciting one. The joys and rewards of the journey do not lie at the end of it, they lie along the way. If you keep your eyes and your ears open, you will find that every passing day brings you gifts, be they in the form of new knowledge or words or usage, or in the form of feeling fulfilled at being part of bringing quality healthcare to your kind.

Struck Thursday

Struck Thursday

I struck work on Thursday, early since I was always the first to reach
The kids were setting up wickets on the asphalt, I tipped my hat and
Walked on down the hall, my allegiances firm and centered all right.
Nations are made of the people. Nations win if the people do.

I hold fast my sobriety like a baby as I watch the tires burn high and black
I hold fast my newborn conviction that thy kingdom will come to those who
Pray to dissent and resistance. That the way sold as the way is but
Phoenician bauble at the gates of dawn. I slash. I burn.

Friday night, they told me I was free to go, free to protest, free to speak my mind.
Together we stepped into the night, the cold air like a sword at our throats,
Dreaming of daughters and wives and hot dinners and weeping mothers
Ahead of us, the night waited with her bullets and her justly red blood.

I reached early to work on the weekend. The Directors lots were full by then.
The trolleys were heavier than ever, the canteen was more silent.
What was wrong was what we said, how we said it, and why we did.
In our tongues lay our being. Sold out, the news channels lead you..

I don’t have time, not this Sunday, no, not even the next. Next month is good though.
By then tears would have dried, all anger dissipated compensation commemorated
By then our north would have realigned with the convenience stores of tomorrow
Where our souls sell without our knowing, and language is only media.

Staying Alive (Both Sides Now)

This is an article I wrote way back when for a professional writing contest for MTIndia, Amit's wonderful community for medical transcriptionists in India which unfortunately has been made more use of by business owners than by transcriptionists.

In 1995, while the Internet was still for the quirky elite and cellphones were seen only in movies, and as fans mourned Jerry Garcia's death and Windows 3.1 was upgraded, small groups of people in cities like Bangalore, Delhi and Kolkata were busily laying down the foundations of the medical transcription industry in India. The next few years saw a boom of unimaginable proportions, with absolutely everybody deciding to jump on to the bandwagon. In the city where I live, there was an MT company or a training institute on every proverbial corner. Of course, this did no great good to the industry, firms shut shop with the same enthusiasm that they started out with, training institutes made hay while turning out ill-equipped MTs that nobody wanted, consultants with fancy offices ran Venezuela and even got beaten up on the streets where they no longer live, US MTs hired to proofread the Indian transcripts didn't have too many kind things to say and the BBS's still resound of that, but it did do one good thing. The novelty and the challenge of the work and the business attracted some of the finest minds. These people came to satisfy their curiosity and make some bucks, but stayed to prove a point.


A faustian pendulum a birthday gift to help us keep the rabid prices down
Overjoyed oily housewives, oily party cadres, possessed the dispossessed
Damn the goddamn damn the goddamn damn the goddamn damn
Who is mother bribing this year? Is the mother joking?

A wring of prophets spin the rape of minds the dark depths of hearts
Orphaned marshlands orphaned again of faith and skin and party colors
Damn the goddamn damn the goddamn damn the goddamn damn
What is madam wearing, yaar? What madam says is final.

The people a buffalo august smog a broad and indistinct line
Sunlit large orange swathes the beach the chastened boulevard
Damn the goddamn damn the goddamn damn the goddamn damn
What is the mother driving this year? What is the mother smoking?

A New Blog For My Writing on Music

I just started a separate blog for my thoughts on music. I have named it The Operative Note. I hope to be able to post regularly and build up a body of work that will interest you. While my listening is dominated by jazz and rock, I am fond of all forms of music, and firmly believe that music maketh the man. Do visit and let me know what you think.

A Travel Guide to Darjeeling

Darjeeling, the Queen of the Hills

The best time to enjoy the Darjeeling hills is November-December. The weather is clear, and the views of the Kanchendzonga range are fabulous. Darjeeling can be reached by road after a three hour drive from Siliguri. There are regular taxis where you can book the entire car or book a seat for 100 rupees. The nearest railhead is New Jalpaiguri, a 12 hour train ride from Calcutta. Bagdogra is the nearest airport, with regular flights from Calcutta. For those who have time on their hands, the toy train is an excellent option since it allows you to savor the views at a much slower pace. However, for the weekend tourist, I would advises doing a toy train ride from Darjeeling to any of the three or four stations after it and then catching a ride back in the local taxis for as less as 10-20 rupees.

The drive to Darjeeling is a beautiful one. I am told that on a clear day, one can see the mountain range from Siliguri, but in my frequent visits, such a clear day has not befallen me. One leaves Siliguri, the last trading post in the plains, and passes through the foothills tea gardens and the forests of the terai, feeling the growing nip in the air, till you suddenly realize that you are looking down the hillside. The sal and semul give way to fig, cedar, birch and pine. If you have booked your own car, you can stop as you wish. After the monsoons, the several waterfalls on highway 55 make for a breathtaking experience. At a moderate altitude of 4860 feet, you come to Kurseong, the place of the white orchids. Kurseong offers the first view of the mountain range in the north behind the Ghoom ridge.
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The Story of Parth