Three Books, Three Stories, Three Experiences

Its been a tough few weeks, walking out of college with a feeling that there aren’t going to be too many opportunities for all of us to meet together, again, for a very long time.

But then, the convocation is coming up, so life should be good, right? That’s what I hope, anyway.

So, I’ve moved to the next best thing, Books. I have an extensive collection of books, and these few books have made a long boring holiday, worth something. Everyday, as I settle into a long bus journey to my NGO, a good book makes the one and a half hour journey seem very short.

A book I’d been avoiding reading completely for a very long time was the Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee, a book, that the author says was inspired by a patient’s question. “I was having a conversation with a patient who had stomach cancer,” he recalled, “and she said, ‘I’m willing to go on fighting, but I need to know what it is that I’m battling.’ It was an embarrassing moment. I couldn’t answer her, and I couldn’t point her to a book that would.

Truly, the Emperor of All Maladies

Truly, the Emperor of All Maladies (The disease, not the man!)

 

As I delved deeper into the book (with true determination), I absolutely couldn’t think of what it would be like to be an oncologist and see a lot of patients fight a battle that if won, is always a Pyrrhic victory. In most cases, there isn’t a victory to be had, but an agonising defeat. Having lost a family member to cancer years back, my family does have first hand experience of what a beast caner can be, with its moody, volatile unpredictability. A treatment for cancer was born out of War itself, when in the Second World War, hundreds of Tonnes of mustard gas were released in the Bari Harbour in Italy. This gas decimated the white blood cells, leading pharmacologists thinking about using a similar chemical to kill cancer of the white blood cells. Chemotherapy, literally, was a product of war. In the end the disease wages a war on the body, and doctors, literally, nuke it in hopes of a victory. A sad, sad war, if there were ever one.


 

As I flew back to Delhi after spending almost 22 Months in Bombay, I was welcomed home with Mom’s homemade Chicken Biryani, and a book from my future employers, ITC Limited. They’d sent me George Orwell’s 1984, for leisure reading. Felt good to receive a good book, and it was fun, kickstarting this vacation with the same. When it comes to Orwell, I’ve read Animal Farm (partly because of its length), and seen John Hurt in 1984 as Winston Smith. The book drew a lot of parallels with present times, where Censor boards give us a list of acceptable words, the government controls what we eat, and private corporations, making a huge attempt to control what we use our smartphones for (#NetNeutrality?).

Napoleon and Snowball!

Napoleon and Snowball!

Speaking of Animal Farm, before I forget, how many of you think that Kejriwal is Napoleon, and Yogendra Yadav is Snowball? Very good metaphors to describe the state of the Aam Aadmi Party.


 

Coming back to books, another (and the last for this post!) book that’s been a wonder to read is Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. An author (and a Nobel Laureate!), whose work caught my fancy in arguably the best lecture I’ve attended in TISS. A lecture on Prospect Theory in advanced compensation, it remains one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learnt at TISS.

The book is an anthology of Daniel Kahneman’s life of work, and the way he tells the story to us with believable anecdotes of his research with Amos Tversky, give a human touch to ears of his research. The anecdotes are real, and in a lot of cases, very funny. A fantastic and engaging read, this book (and rightly so) puts Daniel Kahneman head and shoulders above other writers who work on similar themes.

So, to wind up this filler vacation post, I’ll leave you with a simple thought.

“Luck plays a large role in every story of success; it is almost always easy to identify a small change in the story that would have turned a remarkable achievement into a mediocre outcome”

– Daniel Kahneman

Moral of the story? Always thank your stars!

 

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