Monday, November 30, 2009

Post 11 - The Failed Stoic

When you sit across the table staring at the face of death, how does your mind work?

It’s not very different from the usual human thought process in that it follows no logic or sequence. It’s, as always, a stream of consciousness, except that with the menacing presence eyeing you from across the table, there appears , in the substratum of your consciousness, a novel and composite feeling comprising fear, sadness, panic, loneliness, and perplexity born of ignorance of the “shores from which no traveler returns”.

It was a long wait in the lobby of Madras Medical Mission Hospital. Waiting for eight hours for confirmation of the deadly news is no fun. Among the thoughts that hobnobbed with each other during those long tense hours, were those related to a few Ph Ds!

Susheela was doing research with me. She is a brilliant person whose research got delayed because of her health problem, which she overcame determinedly and got back to business as soon as she could. She was in the process of submitting her draft, chapter by chapter. Sitting there in the lobby of MMM Hospital, I panicked thinking about her. Oh God! What will she do if I cease to be? Not that I am indispensable to her work, but the formalities of finding a new guide and getting registered could prove to be an endless and time consuming task. Poor girl, she didn’t deserve this delay for no fault of hers. I prayed hard and earnest that I could hang around till she submitted her work. The road ahead of me was certainly not the best for a research guide. I was well aware of the fall out of surgery, chemo and radiation. Yet I hoped and prayed with great pain and anxiety that Susheela could finish her work while I was still around to put my final signature on her thesis.

And then there were my children, both working on their PhDs in the US. There was nothing I was looking forward to more than seeing them complete their work and fulfill the dream they were pursuing, much against the common practice among young people of their age group who who had chosen the much traveled and therefore the safer path of professional education and were already in full employment. As a parent I needed to validate our support given to their choice of academics as their career. I also rather badly wanted to see them vindicate themselves in the choice they had made. Also, there was always that anxiety at the bottom of my heart to see the successful completion of the first imperative milestone in a career in academics.

Thinking about them, wondering if I’ll be around to see the D day was a terribly agonizing experience for me. Sitting in the lobby there, I prayed hard. God, please give me an extension till these three Ph Ds reach the finish mark.

This year, between April and August, all three got their Doctorates. And it looks like I’ll still go on for some more time.

God has been good to me.

But I keep wondering. Why do we think we are indispensable? Why do we pin so much happiness around ourselves and our dear ones?

Why do we humans want to cling on to responsibilities when it is none other than God himself who decides to relieve us of them? Why is it that we are so reluctant to let go of life?

I remember putting these questions to myself sitting there in MMM Hospital, waiting for my death warrant. I remember sighing to myself at the thought of the futility of all the training I had put myself through in developing a stoic attitude to life. Stoicism, I concluded, comes with some ease when the problems that confront us lie within the jurisdiction of life. But when they transgress into eternity, into the to be or not to be question where the choice, unlike in Hamlet’s case, is not in our hands, all the philosophical wisdom that we ever tried to convince ourselves and others of, returns to mock at our inability to walk the talk.

'Cos Life is too beautiful!


  1. That was beautiful Ma... Absolutely honest... I owe it all to you.. I still remember the day when I convinced myself that engineering at CUSAT was for me, and before I knew it, you were on that train to Madras, to stand in a line of people, to get me into LOYOLA, to help me live my real dream! Life took many a turn since then, but today looking back it was that faith you placed in me by that one act, when I was but a mere 17 year old who wanted to be an organic chemist, that spurred me on to achieve what I did. The single most important turning point of my doubt! And never for a moment did I think that you wouldn't be around to see me become Dr. Vetticatt.. Wasn't that what you and I lived for? To do what we love and to love what we do!!

  2. touching write, madam. your son's comment too. you should be a proud mom.

  3. When we are unable to walk the talk,which we will many a times,we are just reminded again and again,that we are human.Also,another brilliant reminder that to be or not to be is really not in our hands.And for what is not in our hands,acceptance is the only answer.
    Which is why this is the most powerful thought of all
    "God grant me the serenity
    to accept the things I cannot change;
    courage to change the things I can;
    and wisdom to know the difference

  4. my off day at work today, i read 'rage to be' from beginning to here and overshot the time i had meant to spend on the blog, missing a movie i had planned to watch at the film festival. it makes compelling reading when one reads it like that. i was wondering how it would be as a book although you do not seem to have approached it with a book in your mind. and that is the strength of the narrative, putting it all in without any other agenda than putting it down in words. so all the intensity of the experience is there, hot from the oven, if i may use the expression. and you have the craft of giving expression to subtle things without making it sound sentimental, and that, to me, is the difference between good writing and bad writing. there is a strong character behind the narrative. it will be useful as a book to those who come into the same experience. there are gaps in the narrative though... just putting a thought in your mind, madam.

  5. @ P. Venugopal
    thank you sir. that's real compliment coming from you. my self esteem has taken offf like a space rocket.
    regarding writing a book. pl go through this link. it's a post from my main blogsite, pareltank.

  6. first things first! this is probably one of the most beautiful posts i have ever read in blogsville! :D

    but i can't help but wonder...did u really just think of other people when death was staring at your face? did it never cross ur mind that u'll cease 2 exist? i'm asking this just coz i know that this will be the most important thought running up n down my mind if i were in ur shoes!

    i believe this is the post u wanted me 2 read! couldn't figure out coz of the multiple blogs!

  7. the post i wanted yo to read is given below. that's my general blog.

    regarding your question, the answer is yes. very strange, dont you think? thinking of others, i think , could be a defense mechanism of the mind to distract itself from the bitterness of impending death. how else can you explain it?

    Thanks for visiting.

  8. read your last post 1st and then your lucid writing spurred me on to read from the beginning. just finished reading all your posts. am humbled as you reveal the beauty of life and living in its truwe sense. thank you. my best wishes in all your endeavours. shall hold good thoughts for you.

  9. @ magiceye
    i wish it didnt take a shock to open our eyes to the fact that life is beautiful.

  10. What Susheela has to say:
    “I won’t let you down” – these were your words when you left for Mumbai on long leave, anticipating anxiety on the part of a research scholar. But later even as things changed unexpectedly, I never felt a moment of anxiety about my thesis, I just prayed for you and your family. I remember how guilty I felt making you sit up late at your computer, going through my second draft when you were undergoing treatment at ‘Carithas.’ God has been kind. Wasn’t it heartening that on the very day I submitted my thesis, a very promising candidate rang you up to enquire whether you could guide her research? To me it seemed a propitious sign. I have now been awarded doctorate; you are guiding quite a few research scholars Molly miss, you have been my inspiration, my strength – certainly, the best guide I could have had.