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Friday, February 26, 2010

Nipped in the Bud

My ambitions to become an actor was nipped in the bud

( for good ,thank God for that ,why did u think ever think of becoming one ?

are three possible responses I hear from the reader )

It all started when in 10 th grade , in my budding teens and with raring hormones ,an advertisement in the daily that they were looking for young people with the yearning to act to be part of a theatre group in Madras ( ya chennai today ) ,it went to bill the person owning it as professor Shakespeare Sundaram ,that really shook me !

This Sundaram was a septagenurian who could reel off Shakespeare with the right intonations and voice fluctuations in a jiffy and would amaze audiences by his diction ,memory and style of presentation ,one could conjure visions of great British drama actors and thier deep voices hearing him but seeing him was a different matter which I would come to .

By then he had become popular having lent his voice and a shakespeare dialogue

TO BE OR NOT TO BE from Hamlet to none other than the reigning king of drama in cinema the legendary Sivaji Ganesan in a film called Rajappat Rangadurai where the don of acting was a drama actor donning great characters .Both sundaram and sivaji did justice to thier parts in the movie though Sundarams part started and ended with dubbing for to be or not to be

it gave him some fame .

I went to his house as suggested in the advt ,it was in one of those winding backlanes of crowded Mylapore and not very impressive for me who expected a plush actors office .

I entered a house with long corridors and with many people busy with thier own things ,I cleared my throat and asked can i meet Professor Sundaram ,one lady looked at me and asked you want to meet who ? turned to another one who said Oh for dad it is another of those from the advertisemsnt

you go up he is there she said ,I climbed the staircase and into a dingy room ,there were two people both old ,one was bald around fifty five or so and the other which I presumed would be Sundaram older thinner almost gaunt and sitting in an easy chair ,thinking back I think he had an uncanny resemblance to J Krishnamurthi the eminient philosopher ,he had the same starved look ( this is not to cast any insinuation on Krishna murthy who made up for his asthenia with a fat intellect but the same cannot be said for Sundaram ).

Came for the interview saar seeing the advertisemsnt

oh so u came for that......... this from the sidekick who I found was called mamma

( meaning uncle in tamil not mummy )

Sundaram seemed lost in mediatation ,he had to give the impression that he was a great actor ruminating on his possiblities to the newcomer and this I found later was his regular countenance in such situations .

he took a book of Shakespeare drama and pointed to me some lines READ he commanded !

I could read english pretty well by then of course the Montforts convent and its Fathers had seen to it that my accent was reasonably good too but my later classes from 6 th to 10 th was in a high school where I had lost some of the sheen I read the passage , he stopped me shortly ENOUGH I wanted you to read Shakespeare not a newspaper ,how old are you ?

fourteen saar

I can try to mould you though it would be a uphill task but you should be regular for rehersals we are planning a small theatre group and you could be part of that declared the old man .

Mamma took me aside ,look you are lucky to get selected like that he is very selctive ,so be punctual for rehersals and you should start working for his charity cheque too !

what I asked ?

yes there is a big group planning to give him a purse in a celebration and cheques from many people has to be collected for filling this purse !

but you said there is a group it is thier job ,well we are all part of the group so dont argue ,mamma gave a slight smell of old whisky when he talked and looking at sundarams red veined nose I could make out they had thier parties and what the purse was needed for .

( no wonder the daughters were contemptous of him )

shortly I was part of the shakespeare theatres and we had a lively group

each character was unique I mean the real life characters .

Rajkumar ( dont know where he is these days ) was in his early thirties he was a personal assistant to CVRDE director and was into wearing coats and smoking a pipe !

he loved everything British and was a brown Burrasahib ,he was slow in his talk with a laugh at the end of every sentence ,being a bachelor then ,he had lots of money and used to treat me and Seshu often and we were his close chums .

Sundaram could never get Raj deliver his dialogues in the way he wanted for he had developed his own style having viewed all shakespeare films many times ,only thing that didnt fit the bill of his being British was his brown black skin,he had a thin mustache and loved sitting in hotels with a book in his hand ,Madras waiters are known for thier quick deliveries of the goodies asked for and they would be at thier patience end with Raj sitting hours over a cofee and reading his books in a oh so British high tea fashion ,but he tipped them well and they would allow him his quirkiness .

once Seshu and myself went to his office in Avadi and he came to gate as security was tight he looked different suited and booted and with a glowing pipe and all the security salaaming him he really impressed us but he was a great friend with a fine sense of humour .

i lost touch with him after many years .

Sam was another one he was older plumpier with a paunch he too was dark and round but he was tall too and had a booming voice ,his masterpiece was the last minutes of Socrates and he was always telling others that he was well known for this great piece ,he looked at Sundaram with disdain

Raj and Sam both were rivals to a small extent Raj used to decribe him as the boor ,

when a petite looking young lady joined the group both Raj and Sam ( married with kids ) were at thier best trying to impress her with thier antics ,me being too small for that watched the fun ,at the end of the day they would fume at each other ,the triangle closed in a few days as a handsome boyfriend came to take the young lass home both accepted thier defeat graciously though Raj used to feel sad and tell me she looked just like my Audrey Hepburn .

there was Seshu who like me was in his school finals he was good company for me and had his own ideas of actingdom

the first programme I was given the role a spear holding soldier in a court ,which was chnaged due to my virulent protests that this was way below my expectations,

a spear holding soldier did not reel out shakespearean sonnets and I would have landed this role anywhere and I demanded a meatier one so I graduated into a minister who had a seat but still a silent one who could maybe laugh I did not know how Shakepearean ministers laughed ,so Sehsu took up the gauntlet and bore the spear .

All he had to do was walk with his spear with another similar bimbo and stand erect for the rest sad job indeed ,at least I sat and watched his discomfort .

Sam got a heavy role in tune with his physique and he insisted that he would do Socrates as a seperate act whatever comes before the shakespeare play started and Sundaram did not dare to refuse

Raj was also given a good role and he was in his smiling best

there were some others too but I dont remember all of them

It was in Ranade library auditorium

these were the days when I was learning guitar so I suggested to Sundaram whetehr i could do the background score ,he agreed as he could save some money that way

we sold tickets and soon the hall was crowded many were from our families and many friends who had to buy the tickets on our insistence .

Mamma went to the mike and gave pep talk on sundaram after all he was his man friday he eulogised on his greatness and on how the doyen of acting Sivaji had trembled at the dialogues when Sundaram had taught him !

the next talk was by the great man himself ,he elaborated on his voice modulations and how to remember shakespear, all very impressive and then he gave some samples

they were done well and the audience clapped he went to another and this time I felt I had to do my bit of providing background support ( I was a learner in guitar too and my talents were limited )so when he ended a sentence dramatically I spoilt everyhting with a noisy strumming actually my idea was to give it dramatic flourish but it was truly not melding Sundaram looked at me sternly and conveyed the message "stop that you idiot" ,

I always misintrpret things and I thought maybe he liked it and after the next one strummed with more confidence the glare became murderous and after the third one sundaram came to me and said GO IN NOW

so I came back sheepishly to the green room

it was a greater mess here Sam was purple with rage as his socrates beard was giving him a royal itch and he was yearning for a smoke which could burn his weed he was waiting for Sundaram to finish his peice so that he could start his magnum opus and sundaram never stopped once he had a mike ( this according to Mamma )

by then Sam had declared to all and sunder "I am going to kill him on stage yes now "and we had to physically prevent him from doing that .

Mamma went and whispered in Sundarams ear that the green room was heating up and he would shortly be a murder victim with that Socrates baying for his blood .

Sundaram knew this was serious and he still did not want to be former professor Sundaram so he quickly ended his sermon and Sam strode into the stage and enacted Socrates ,

surely Socrates would have had greater convulsions seeing that than when he really drank the poison,because Sam took to the Tamil isthyle of acting where everything was exagerated and imagine how he would do Socrates in his death throes ,the stage shook while he delivered his homilies and the scene where he took the cup of poison was most dramatic ,my attempts at background music here too was a failure as nothing was heard beyond Sams booming cries .

He came from the stage with a victoriuos flourish and tore at his beard and went for his smoke before his next act

the evening ended with my being a sitting minister and Seshu a standing soldier and Raj doing his oh so english bit and Audrey in her coy self and mamma counting the pickings

so much for my acting !

but I did have some good friends in the bargain and pleasant memories too .

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The bookworm

Reading to me has been as much a passion as writing is
when in school I used to devour any printed word even in grocery wraps ,I quickly graduated from Richie rich ,Mandrake the magician,Phantom , Tarzan to TinTin and Asterix ,on to Enid Blyton discovering P.G .Wodehouse and his wonders on the way ( and never looking back ) of course R.K.Narayanan would always be my all time favourite with the likes of James Herriot and his sweet animals ,history and biography mesmerised me and travelogues took me around the world .

Amitav Ghosh ,Salman rushdie ,Vikram sheth and thier magic realism gave me hours of pleasure .Paulo Coehlo and Deepak chopra took me with them through thier random thoughts

These days the net and the idiot box along with the pressures of work have taken me from my first love of reading
I still am at my cosiest snuggled with a book of my choice ,like many of you who would be reading this .
With Apple bringing out its new E reader ,book reading would no more be the same !

I still remember how I used to disappear the moment I came home from school no not to the football field but to my favourite libraries ,faintly hearing my mother calling me back .

Once as I rode furiously in my bicycle to reach the Russian library when I was just passing the Ranade library ,Luz corner ,a posse of policeman were standing as some dignitary had come there for a function ,and the local sub-inspector who was a well known terror stopped me with his stick and asked me where I was going in so much of a rush without a light in the cycle ,I meekly answered to the library sir ! this sort of amused him and on finding I was a student of the very same shcool he studied he gave me a pat and asked me to never go without a light for it was dangerous .

The Viveknanada library of the Ramakrishna Math was one of my haunts ,it contained hordes of books and I generally was never in the section meant for children for by then I had an addiction for history and encyclopedias ,this place had a set of pictorial records of the second world war in every minute details ,(volumes of heavy books full of war photos )

Evenings those days were to me mostly somehwere in Normandy where the allies had just landed or in the subterranean hideouts of Hitler and his bombed country ,
Bound editions of Readers digests and National geographic in the library made me simulate them later on in life and now I have a great collection of both these wonderful magazines .

I particulary remember a young swamiji who was the librarian there .he was fond of me and at times allowed me to borrow even refernce books ,once I asked him Swamiji Why is God doing nothing with all the misery around ?and he asked me is there something like God there ?
I was stuned by that and asked him how he being a swamiji could state that ,he took me to a quiet table and tried to talk to me of a power that is unexplainable creating all of us and we being sparks of the same but left it at that as he knew I was too young to digest all that heavy stuff .he said for sure you will learn later about it .
The Russian cultaral centre too had a nice library and one could read Sputnik issues and several translated Russian stories ,the daily movies in the centre were a greater attraction for me .

The American consulate had a spacious library with video facilities and many books ,one could spend whole weekned days there in pristine silence and comfort ,a litttle beyond in Mount road todays Anna Salai was the district central library and the British council ;the former was a government managed one and a bit shoddy but one could find good books on searching ,the latter was known to be a haven for the discerning reader .

After moving on to Ernakulam I found very few libraries there ,of course Paico was a well known bookshop where one could browse through the collections ,Fort cochin had a quaint bookshop called Idiom and also several pavement sellers of paperbacks .

I discovered that the Ernakulam public library had Mr Singh ( no not from Punjab but a true Keralite ) as its chief librarian and that he was my neighbour and this gave me privelges of getting the latest books for borrowing .

In UAE specially in Al ain libraries are not much seen ,my hospital has an excellent one but more related to academics .
Of course good bookshops are there like " The Bookshop " a huge one .
The kinokoniya in the Dubai mall is the worlds largest one and one could get lost in it and its books !
Magrudies in several malls also has a good collection but books are more costlier in the Gulf
To me reading would be a life long passion ...the Bookworm

Sunday, February 07, 2010


N.D.Tiwari the former honble governor of Andhra Pradesh is in his young eighties 83 to be precise but he needs no stick to help him walk nor does he spend time reading his scriptures being a Governor he shouldnt would be the natural response !

Tiwariji has different ideas of passing his time .
his pictures of him romping with not one but three nubile damsels in the gubernatorial bed was all over the net and the Governor of A.P.shortly became the former Governor of A.P .
now he is planning to write his autobiography according to reliable sources
having read Monicas and Cintons salacious accounts Tiwariji probably found an answer to convert his foibles to profit and have the final laugh all the way to the bank .

He should be in touch with the present South African President from the Zulu tribe who proudly poses with his three wives , his 69 years belied by his happy smile and his 19 children sorry 20 the latest is just recent ,proof of his joy .
The club of Tiwari would have several applicants from Kerala .
A former minister with a blue coloured name could be a member he once showed his appreciation to his IAS officer
( female of course )by a cosy hug and promptly lost his ministership
A present minister once groped with his itchy hands the lady sitting in front of him in an aircraft but was crafty enough to come unscathed in the courts and bag his ministership again .
Ice cream bars were the favourite haunts of yet another rising star and future hope of the masses and recently one other was caught red handed in a travellers bungalow with the right ( or is it wrong depends on the person who decides ) company .

The CM of T nadu once fasted in his house post breakfast and pre lunch with his two wives

( one more died earlier ) sadly gazing at him for signs of hunger pangs !After all these Casonovas are also humans and they have got it ,so why envy
Only thing they need to learn is how not to get caught
that is the trick of the trade Mr Casonova ..........

Thursday, February 04, 2010


Today is the world cancer day .
More than 12 million people are diagnosed every year with cancer and more than 7.6 million succumb to it .
It is estimated that more than 84 million people would die of it between 2005 and 2015 without intervention .

Cancer is the uncontrolled growth and spread of cells. It can affect almost any part of the body. The growths often invade surrounding tissue and can metastasize to distant sites.

Many cancers can be prevented by avoiding exposure to common risk factors, such as tobacco smoke.
In addition, a significant proportion of cancers can be cured, by surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy, especially if they are detected early.

Good news is around 40% of cancers are potentially preventable.
Hence the importance of avoiding trigger factors , and also in screening to detect early cancers .
Stop tobacco use and avoid exposure to second-hand smoke .
Limit alcohol consumption .
Avoid excessive sun exposure .
Maintain a healthy weight, through eating healthily and exercising regularly .
Protect against cancer-causing infections .
Screening is accepted today only for three types of cancers
Colon : routine colonoscopy after 50 yrs once in 10 years 
or for those with family history at 40 every 5 years 
or FOBT or fecal occult blood test every year and if positive for colonoscopy 
Breast : mammogram for all women at 40 and earlier for those with family history,clinical breast examination from 20 to 30 years every 3 years and for those above 40 years every year 
Cervix : pap smear at 20 to 29  years for all women once in 3 years after 30 once in 5 years upto 65 years 
prostate specific antigen for prostate cancers can be done for those with a family history after informing the patient of false negative results 
for those with a very strong smoking history spiral cT scans are attempted as an early screenign these days but is not confrmed 

Detection of cancers by routine medical examination ,blood tests and imaging :
Health check ups could at times catch cancers in an early stage .

Never ignore symptoms like change in bowel habits ,bleeding in stools or black coloured motion ,loss of weight ,unexplained cough ,blood in sputum ,anemia fatigue ,bleeding from nose ,gums ,or any swelling anywhere growing in size .
In any malignancy the prognosis depends not only on its type ,its aggressiveness but also mainly on its stage and spread .
The earlier one catches it and treats it the better the prognosis .( predictable future  )

Diagnosis with cancer is one of the most devastating news for any person ,
Having worked in oncology for many years I have faced many reactions .
It requires great communication skills ,scientific reason ,and empathy for a practitioner to break the news for he needs to do a tight rope walking between truth and hope .

Cancer treatment is by a team which involves many specialties and the family of the patient too .
I have noticed that patients with a positive attitude always fare  better .

The good news is on the paradigm changes that have taken in the treatment of this scourge over the years
when just about 10 % could have expected to live beyond five years
( five year survival often is the gold standard used here ) in the sixties today it is well beyond 60 to 70 % of course with the right treatment .
The advent of molecular science and research in pathology has made more finer classification and consequent prognostic and management results .
The entry of monoclonal antibodies and other targeted therapies which like missiles target only the concerned malignant cell producing greater kill with lesser toxicity has dramatically changed the out come of several cancers ( Vascular endothelial growth factor receptor antagonizing and Epithelial growth factor receptor antagonizing agents are examples )

The finding of the cause for certain types of cancers at molecular levels and fine tuning their targeting like the Tyrosine kinase inhibitor Imatinib Mesylate and their later derivatives of Dasatnib and Nilotinib  have made diseases like chronic Myeloid leukamia almost curable .
More refined chemotherapy drugs which are coated and protected in protein covers called lypholysed versions have decreased toxicity to a large extent ,better anti emetics which decrease vomiting ,drugs which cause lesser alopecia ( baldness ) and better wigs in the market .

Growth factors that stimulate the marrow affected by myelosupression due to chemotherapy or disease have been landmark discoveries which changed the face of oncological management .
Blood component transfusions ,higher end antibiotics which would combat virulent infections in the immunocompromised , infectious disease specialty care have made enormous differences in mortality and morbidity in oncology of today .
Autologus and Allogenic bone marrow transplants whose centers are increasing all over the world provide hope for cure for many .
Finer surgical techniques are producing cleaner exisons with less chances of recurrences and at the same time have turned less mutilating and more flesh sparing .
Endoscopic and laporoscopic advances with stenting and other capabilities ,orthopedic manoevures of sophistication and neurosurgical advances have all helped in oncology treatment today .
It is truly a multispeciality field where everybody have pitched in .
Radiotherapy too has made enormous strides with linear accelarators . electron therapies ,better simulators ,Intensity modulated radiotherapy ,sophisticated cT guided planning equipments ,the dose to normal tissues while targetting the tumours .

Diagnostics have made great strides with sopisticated CT ,MRI ,ultrasound,mammograms and PET scans accurately giving the picture for diagnosis and reevalaution .

Anxillary and supportive departments like physiotherapy ,oncological psychiatry ,palliative care and pain management ,other medical and surgical specialities ,social support services have all contributed thier mite .

The future is bright with nanotechnology delivery of drugs and so many other exiting research going on
with all this there are still clouds dotting the horizon .
Education and awareness is still not enough
people do get tempted by quackery and waste thier time and come late for diagnosis and treatment
Myths abound and this is exploited by charltans who produce food substitutes and drugs which empty the patient of his health and his pockets .
Research in oncology involves huge sums of money and pharmaceuticals who discover a drug would be expected to make thier profits but cancer treatment today has become inordiantely expensive and Governments should bring out insurance shcmes to help people who can never afford such money .
Practioners should never deviate from thier ethics too .

Working in Lakeshore hospital Kochi initially  later at Tawam hospital , Al Ain ,U.A.E ( managed by Johns hopkins ,U.S.A ) and now in the Brunei cancer center Brunei Darussalam  has been an opportunity to me to interact with the best in the field and to consider oncology as my mission .

Let us look forwards to the day where cancer is no more !
not its victims

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