Swimming was the most relaxing thing in her life. Even though she was a runner, and loved roller-blading, but there was nothing like gliding in water. Taking in the cool water while it swept over her made her feel like it cleansed her every pore. She was OCD clean, but the dirty water tended to make her feel pure. She always knew that river swimming was not a piece of cake, the currents were strange and the fresh water was not easy to float in.
The currents were seductive from afar, but from the river bank they were positively enchanting. She knew without experience that there would be a feeling of liberation attached to the currents. It reminded her of the bungee jump she had made, which led her peripatetic mind to the joke about the similarity between a bungee jumper and a family planner. She smiled in spite of her impending challenge. Anybody who knew her always found her to be gutsy. Gutsy, not brave simply because brave implies that a person is willing to risk all or something they have to obtain something else, or to make a statement. For self-destructive ones like her, with nothing to lose, and not much to look forward to, being gutsy was simply a by-product.
There was always an edgy abrasiveness in her silence, her lack of social graces coupled with her apathy for the approval of others made her stand out. How would you explain a person’s behavior when their chain of motivation was indecipherable to most? She was an enigma, to herself and others.
The circumlocution of the water created enough discomfort. She loved punishing her body. It was the twisted reason for her amazing will-power at the gym. The water kept pulling her in and she started struggling. She knew that she was in danger now, while knowing that she was waiting for this very moment. The adrenaline rush from small danger was as addictive as a drug, and not unlike a drug, one needed higher and higher doses to get excited because of the tolerance the body developed. The more she tried to pull herself out, the more control she seemed to lose. She knew that this was planned, but the magnitude shocked her. Even if she survived, this would change her in ways that she had not bargained for.
The water was steadily entering her mouth now. Her lungs were filling up, and she could feel her breath shortening at every increment. Her eyes had started to burn and the person who prided herself upon her ability to think on her feet was now drawing a blank. Her strength was definitely failing now, and her strokes lacked the vigor she had begun with. She closed her eyes with a finality, as she felt her normally lithe body turn into dead weight. She wanted to quickly make her peace with the impulse of death.
She felt a palm grasping hers. The texture felt smooth, unlike the dried raisin-like feel that her own palms had, which told her that this was a rescue attempt. It is very important to let the person saving you to hold you, if you tried to hold him, there is a chance you will both drown. She knew this. She knew that this person was her ticket out. But, how do you save a person who is holding herself back for some unfathomable reason?
There was no thinking now. All her responses were visceral. Half her impulses guided her hand to grasp that friendly hand, the other half fought it.
Honesty with the self is the hardest thing to achieve. People always say, “It is easy to lie to the whole world, but how can you lie to yourself?” We say this while each one of us is deluding ourselves from the fact that we all lie to ourselves; and pretty well too. I have a friend who breaks his diet whenever we go to Sardar pav bhaji (for non-Mumbaikars, it is a place in Tardeo, Mumbai where the pav bhaji has more butter than Amul could possibly manufacture, and any mention of this place to your gym instructor earns you an extra half hour on the treadmill.), another who has convinced himself that he is smart; it is the professors who don’t understand his true potential (Oh wait, that’s me!)
How can you look in the mirror after lying to a friend that you don’t have time to meet him or her? How do you sleep at night after hanging up on your mom after telling her that life is too hectic to talk now, and then calling a friend over for a few beers? It’s easy. We all do it. We brush our teeth and dress ourselves and comb our hair, all using that reflective surface that is saddled with the responsibility of weeding out liars. We sleep pretty well too, admittedly the beers do their share of work there…
What is amazing about this is not the steady regularity with which we do this, but the creative rationalizations that we invent so that we can lie to ourselves with impunity. Oh come on…one drink won’t do anything to me…one gulab jamun can’t hurt…she is only a friend, so what if I cannot tell my wife about her…
Someone once told me that when you find something difficult to do but cannot fathom why, it could be your subconscious telling you that you don’t want to do it. Something like a right brain thing which runs the creative side but fails to convince the logical left brain that certain things need to be done while others, avoided.
Our whole idea of life seems to be about telling ourselves that we need to be this and do that. Setting almost ungettable goals because failing to reach gettable goals is something we cannot stomach.
Ex-VP Dick Cheney has made a public statement supporting gay marriage. His statement, “I think, you know, freedom means freedom for everyone. I think people ought to be free to enter into any kind of union they wish, any kind of arrangement they wish,” clearly shows that he is not even on the fence on this issue.
Oh dear! If only you had ever been in a position where you could pass a legislature allowing gay marriage…oh wait…you were VP for eight years!
As for his daughter being gay, she was very gay even when John Kerry mentioned it before the 2004 elections. He was admonished publicly for this very truism. Mrs. Cheney called John Kerry a bad man.
2004 was the election when the Republican base had got in bed with the Christian right, and so much as breathing in the direction of gay marriage would have meant a loss of support from jingoistic Christian crowds. Now, however, when Barack Obama is plagued with solving the economic crisis, and (with all due respect to homosexuals) can’t be bothered with the pro-gay marriage legislation right now, Cheney seems to have a hitherto non-existent angst for the plight of homosexuals in the USA.
The sunlight blazed into the room as Meera could not help waking up. After an entire week of lazing around and committing all possible abacharams her grandma would have frowned upon, her mom noticed that Meera seemed to be on the phone quite often, and not too cheerful. Even her visit to her engineering college seemed to get her down. She always had an inkling that her daughter was in a relationship, which was confirmed the previous night when Meera told her everything. In all probability, he could not have been smart, together person. At least, not a lot. She never seemed comfortable talking about him. But, then again, Meera was not the kind to go to anyone for advice, even her parents, and any advice given unsolicited would be met with a polite but firm indifference. Maybe Meera would finally start opening up to her and they could be closer than they were.
Meera got up from the bed, and went straight to her laptop. Of course, there was no Wi-Fi at home, so she had hooked up an Ethernet cable. The net was still too slow though. Orkut opened while she brushed her teeth. She was not particularly the web-social networking type per se, but lately she found herself checking her scraps with an uncanny sense of longing. Ah ha! There was a scrap from him. It was another general stab at humor, but she could sense that he was trying. It was fun to see guys manufacture friendships out of thin air. So…he was longing to be home huh. “Big deal, who asked you to wait till December, you should have come now na!” She blushed slightly as the next page loaded ever so slowly, and saw her latest scrap on his profile.
The Times of India website on the other firefox tab was full of sensationalist crap, but had an easy-to-read layout. She started reading the editorial while her email toolbar beeped. A return scrap from him. Good god! Does this guy sleep next to his laptop? It must be 2:30am in Maryland right now!
Another day, another fight. This time, he was accusing her of falling for someone else. Preposterous! Well, not quite, maybe there was some truth there, but surely it wasn’t the cause of the souring of the relationship. The converse, however, could have been true.
King’s circle was as busy as she knew it; crossing the roads depending on the signal was as dangerous as before. There was always one spoilt brat who drove rashly. Seven eleven softy was creamier than ever (was that even possible) and the familiar Xerox wallah remembered her after almost a year! Yet, nothing was getting her mood up. She was not the self-pity kind, just someone who went into a self-protective cocoon when bad times hit, to achieve mental clarity more so than anything else. Taking the train home was as annoying and sweaty as usual.
Days passed slowly but their accumulation was going to hit her like a truck.
The truth about relationships (as she knew it) was that they all started out hot and heavy, then settled into slow progress and then reached a plateau. The next course from an evolutionary perspective was decline, and it took constant effort from both parties to help maintain that plateau. She had read this kinda stuff, and her ever-cynical psyche had come up with the idea of choosing stability over spontaneity. Settling into a relationship with a good friend with no obvious flaws seemed like the most pragmatic idea. She had spent many a time scoffing at friends who actually did the whole dating ritual. Why would someone willfully expose themelves to heartbreak? People in general are a mix of strong and weak moments. Idealizing a person was nothing but a shortcut to the inevitable disappointment when you find out that they weren’t everything you expected them to be.
Now however, she wanted to believe in the existence of a real, fulfilling relationship. She could, of course, be wrong this time. Surely, being practical was the sanest course of life to take.
“Vaa maa, polaam…check-inukkku time aayiduchhu!”
Two and a half months, gone in a flash. Baltimore was beckoning. New semester, same old friends, new house, new roommates, plus one guy who seemed seriously interesting and minus an annoying and emotionally depleting relationship. She walked inside the airport after the cursory hugs (including a teary one from her brother) thanking god for the increased security measures which did not allow anyone except the passenger to enter. Who wants a protracted goodbye! She felt a qualified optimism, and knew things would be fine.
Even if nothing worked out, it was still a pretty good life she had.
(PS: If this ending seems abrupt, forgive me. – Liberal)
I hate moving. I can completely relate to people stuck in dead-end apartments simply because they aren’t able to summon up the energy and the drive to move into another place.
Here I was in the Nolita area of downtown Manhattan helping my cousin move from an apartment which was close to an amazing billiards bar, three fantastic coffee places and oodles of enticing pubs, not to mention three subway stations which pretty much gave access to all parts of Manhattan. He was moving to a place in Chinatown which has only Chinese restaurants all around, no subway stations at a stone’s throw, and let’s just say that the old place had refined his taste so much that the mud served in the name of coffee in the nearby restaurants was no longer passable.
So why was he moving? Was it to save on rent? Not really. He was gonna pay the same amount. The reason was that his old room was the size of a matchbox, and the new one was the size of a bigger matchbox. He could now have that printer he was so eager to have!
So, ten bags in all. One of them weighed around 50Kg. It had to be carried down six flights of stairs. (Believe it or not, this ultra-modern, capital of the world had some really old buildings with no elevators!) The last time I swore this much was when Zaheer Khan had got bitch-slapped by Matthew Hayden in the final of the 2003 World Cup. We had begun the day by discussing how both of us have turned into fat pigs, and need to hit the gym hard. We both swore to start an exercise schedule as the waitress was clearing out the plates which had the remnants of our tiramisu. Hypocrisy is fun!
Finally all the luggage was brought down to the waiting area, and I was guarding the bags while my cousin was getting a cab, a task which in NYC is only slightly easier than a BCom graduate performing a craniotomy.
I was getting dirty looks from the beautiful girls who had to jump over the bags to get to the stairs. Now, I am no good-looker, so while I would never expect a second look from these fine ladies, the last thing I needed was to be in their bad books. What if these hot women periodically met during their Amazingly Hot Women club meetings and blacklisted me as a potential date to the category called “Not even if he was made of money.” Why would someone with no apparent cerebral deformities move from a place with such amazing talent to Chinatown, which, don’t get me wrong, simply lacked the diversity of quality that was in ridiculous abundance here defying all notions of probability.
The cabbie kept asking annoying questions about where the new address was. You may consider me an ass for thinking this, but a cabbie needs only two skills, driving and direction. So, if you cannot find an address that is less than a mile away from the starting address, you are not exactly worthy of the tip that you so self-righteously demand while you are watching us unload our uber-heavy bags.
“Hey Maggie, can you please come down and open the door, we are here with the bags.” My cousin was already on the phone to his new roomie. She came out of her fire-escape (which doubles as a balcony) and threw the keys down. Neither cuz nor I went for the catch. Why try, drop and then cut a sorry figure as the other berates you for your poor fielding skills?
This apartment was on the third floor (thankfully!) and we got the luggage up there quick thanks to our freshly built biceps from bringing the luggage down at the other place.
We opened the beer we had hauled all the way here, and drank it even though it was warm.
“Thank you for flying Emirates Airlines. Please wait for exit instructions from the cabin crew.” The voice sounded young, though Meera knew better. Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport was here at last. She was going to meet her family after nine months. She could picture their excited faces in her head. Why she was not excited, she could not tell. She longed to see her little brother. Her sister would be cool when she sees her, but she was always a guarded person, who could be stoic even when seething underneath. You just had to get used to it.
Meera stretched her legs and yawned. She wasn’t that tall, but planes were really skimping on the leg room these days. At least the ticket was cheap, she thought. She was looking forward to two and a half months of relaxation, not to mention home-cooked food. She was an average cook at best, but her tastes were absolutely high class. Romba naaku neelam maa onaku was an oft-heard refrain in her house. She filled out the customs form as the swarthy guy in the seat next to hers got her bag from the overhead compartment. “I hope this does not mean he is gonna walk all the way to the exit with me”, she thought. He wasn’t ugly, but she wasn’t interested. The one thing that always escaped her was that guys never understood the ‘thanks, but no thanks’ face she put on. Maybe they would rather delude themselves into thinking that there was a fraction of a chance than face the truth.
She had always wanted to do a masters and a PhD. There was never any question in her mind. Her usually broad-minded parents had turned surprisingly conservative when she mentioned it during her TE. They were all excited that their daughter was becoming an engineer, and that a good mapillai was the next step. After all, why would she need to study so much when she had to be a housewife! Meera wanted to throw something sharp and heavy at her uncle when he said that, especially when his son was leaving for the USA to do an MBA in that very year. She winced at the memory of that conversation and said a silent prayer that that uncle should not be at the airport.
Baggage claim was the usual one-hour wait. “If I fly enough times, at least once, my bags should arrive first on the conveyor belt”, she thought. Even she knew that the bags that came first simply belonged to no one, and that her bags were carefully identified by the handlers and put towards the end of the line. Well, her optimism was clearly induced by her own cynicism. She could see the exit now. She could smell the clammy Mumbai air, with the ridiculous amounts of pollution and sheer noise and odor, which were absent from her life the past year. Damn! It was good to be home.
She had always been an emotionless girl, on the surface that is. Anyone who knew her would describe her as stoic and calm no matter what the situation. A precious few people in the world knew how emotional she actually could be. She was sad to admit to herself that her pseudo-boyfriend was not on that list. She would have to meet him too now…did she think ‘have to’? She was gonna break up with him sooner or later. She lied to herself that it was because she wanted space and he was not giving it to her, but the truth was that she never really had any romantic passion for him. He had been the safe choice, and she now realized she probably wanted more. “I better wear something old when I meet him to end it, he is gonna sob all over my clothes anyway.” She chided herself for being so callous. Maybe that was the truth. Maybe she did not care about him, because she simply did not care. Her optimism kept fuelling the thoughts that maybe that guy exists, the one who was an intellectual challenge to her, and yet one that could get her juices flowing. Maybe settling for what was available was stupid. Her research work was fulfilling enough. There was no need for a boyfriend, unless he was the one.
A small voice inside her still resented her for not feeling anything even though she was meeting her parents after a long time. She was near the exit now. She could see the crowd, all waiting for someone or the other. She started scanning the crowd for them. Ah! Was that her brother, no…false alarm. Suddenly someone grabbed her by the wrist.
And the tears just started flowing.
For the uninitiated, a clinical trial is pretty much a study of a new drug or formulation in humans. Before this, the drug/medication has been tested in animals which progressively go up the evolutionary scale to make sure that our principle has some modicum of proof. These trials usually have three phases which when complete and analyzed lead to a decision as to whether this medication does what it purports to do and is safe for use in the intended dose.
These trials are usually conducted in large hospitals where the subjects are lined up and then administered the drug in some form. In the initial stages, the drug is tested on healthy subjects, and when it is proven not to cause any adverse effects that completely preclude its use, the drug is tested on actual patients.
Placebo effect is the effect of the patient’s knowledge that he is getting treated, on the improvement of the patient’s condition. This might seem negligible, but some diseases have huge psychological components, which might be assuaged by the knowledge that a person is being treated. Hence, each trial will also have a bunch of people getting no drug at all, but just a placebo, which means that if this person shows signs of getting cured, we cannot completely rely on the medication curing the patient. In other words, such a placebo effect will reduce the veracity of the hypothesis that the drug actually cures the ailment it is supposed to.
There are many ethical issues with clinical trials. The one I wanted to focus on is the fact that there are large numbers of patients who are getting nothing but the placebo. These people might be dying from a hitherto untreatable disease, and might be pinning all their hopes on this experimental clinical trial. Even though their presence in this trial is futile to them, they are invaluable as they provide the baseline on which the positive results of the drug can be measured.
I saw a TV show about doctors in a hospital where a doctor conducting a clinical trial actually moved a patient from a placebo to the real drug because he knew her. Let’s not even bother with the doctor’s intention behind this act; it is enough if we focus on the fact that the integrity of a clinical trial was thwarted. The idea that this could actually happen in real life gives me the shudders.
Now I am not usually given to episodes of technical ramblings to an audience that is mostly not part of the pharmaceutical field.
The fact is that clinical trials, like other experiments, are to be taken objectively, without passion or prejudice. These placebos help enforce those rules. If we care about the few hundreds or thousands who might be hard done by in this trial, we are risking a potential patient pool of millions. When one swallows a pill of a drug that can save a life, or cure a small affliction, one must take comfort in the hours and hours of hard work and sacrifice that it takes to make it safe enough so that you can just pop it in.
It is true that pharmaceutical companies are colluding with each other within the competition so that they reap huge profits, but one must realize that these are the outcomes of successful products. So, the interests of the companies and the people are aligned in some warped way. To stop the druggernaut from burning a hole through the common man’s wallet, we have regulatory agencies which are there to oversee the situation.
While I would not go so far as to say that the pharmaceutical field is noble, I do hope that this small piece has mounted at least a small defense to the ever-piling accusations.
(PS: This post has a certain synecdoche effect in that the ethical quandary of a clinical trial is then extrapolated to the pharmaceutical industry as a whole. I hope my readers were not bored with this technical post, and I hope I have made it simple enough for the layperson to grasp.)
“Must we wait for our light to turn green completely? Why can’t you just cross when there are no cars around?”
“That’s just the way I do it. You can go ahead, just wait for me on the other side.”
Many street crossings passed. Neither one changed…well, one was forced to…
“Stop, don’t do that. Can’t you wait till we reach the other side to kiss me?”
“What’s the fun in that?”
On a park bench, when other organs have been well examined…
“Your nails are so dirty; do you actually eat food with such dirty nails?”
“To tell you the truth, this is the first time I have noticed them. I guess it explains my strong immunity na?”
There are good times and there are bad. There are some people with whom even the bad times far outclass the best of times with others.
“Your eyes…they are…”
“Very beautiful, like the ocean, mysterious, sexy….any other clichés you would like to unleash?”
“Arre bolne to de…your eyes…they are…”
“Tell me, now I’m really interested..”
“Really pretty, like the sea, inscrutable, sensual”
“Disguised clichés…what have I done to deserve this honor?”
Waiting at a train platform in the initial days is always easy…often the expectation and anxiety anesthetizes the annoyance of the other one’s tardiness. A few trains later…
“Hi, sorry I’m late! My bus was [something something]”
“You know I left four trains for you…”
“Oh! I am truly sorry.”
“I would have left more.”
“Wow, so sweet…(what an idiot!)”
No couple has ever been intimate until they have eaten together. On one such day…
“Why do you eat so much non-veg?”
“Why don’t you ever try it?”
All of these reach a fork in the road. Some take the beaten path. This one took the other…
“We are doing the right thing? What about how we feel?”
“We feel what we feel, all I know is that I can’t commit right now…”
“The more I think about this, the more I feel the pain. The more I feel the pain, the more I realize that those who don’t have the strength to commit should not go down this road at all.”
“That little aside is aimed at me, but strangely applies to both of us. Have a nice life.”
Five years later.
He always waits for the green light before crossing the road. His nails are squeaky clean. He eats non-veg just to hear her reprimands in his head. They sweep over him like the blend of a cool breeze and a tidal wave. No one could take away that magical time, ephemeral though it was. That’s how life is to be taken, in bite-sized pieces.