October 03, 2018

Book Review: When Breath becomes Air

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just finished reading Paul Kalanithi's 'When Breath Becomes Air' and wept my eyes out. Unnameable emotions overwhelmed me.

I have always been awkward about death - graceless about the abrupt and unannounced way it departs with someone close to me, unable to believe in afterlife or hope that I would still be able to foster a meaningful connection beyond this moment, beyond that instance.

I have protested in an undignified manner everytime death took away someone close to me (and there have been quite a few!)– loud and unhinged in a futile attempt to reverse the process and claim back what was mine. And one my colossal failure became apparent, I retreated into a shell of silence, muffled sobs and furious writing.

In my attempt to understand this natural and inevitable phenomenon, I have been making attempts to read about it this year. I started with 'Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory' by Caitlin Doughty. It made me aware of the post-death processes and helped me become a little less afraid of what happened to mortal remains.

I then picked up Paul Kalanithi's posthumously published 'When Breath becomes Air', an account of his life and death and his quest to understanding the meaning of both. The book made me address my own mortality and that of those near and dear to me.

Paul's writing sparkled with a flow and wisdom that most authors would envy. With an honesty and acceptance so admirable to witness, Paul shares with us the arduous journey he and his family had to undertake on the onset of his Stage IV lung cancer.

Being a neurosurgeon himself, he battled both as a patient and fellow doctor to fight and accept death, while making his life as meaningful as possible. As a reader, hyperaware of his fate, I struggled within as I read about how bravely he faced his disease.

The book made a fascinating read, increasing my respect for doctors tenfold. For the most part, to me, it felt like a philosophical treatise and at others, Paul's prose shone like poetry, reigniting his hikes, operations, struggles to live in our minds.

Everything about his life's story made me realize that we have lost a truly wonderful person who not only was a skilled surgeon but also a great thinker, a neuroscientist in the making, a loving father-husband-son-brother and most importantly, a caring empathetic human. As I read the book, I wished to know more about him. What books did he love? Did he like watching films? How did his lovely wife Lucy and him come to fall in love? How did he manage to show up to save lives when his own was ebbing away? It was an emotional journey traversing which tugged within me anger, helplessness and irrational hope for Paul to beat the disease, despite being fully aware that he was no more. Somewhere through his words, Paul had become a relatable friend.

Throughout the book, the evident end loomed over like a dark storm cloud waiting to erupt and engulf me. Questions kept rising their cruel head – if I were to meet with Paul's fate, how would I spend my life? Would I go out with grace, even if I was vulnerable? Do I have the strength and courage to even understand what death would mean despite being afraid of its sudden swift blow near me?

For the most part, I had no answers. But I was grateful that the questions had been churned. It helped me bring my attention back to this moment, the now of life. Having struggled this whole year with my work, I had moved through the months only by taking one day at a time. Paul's book was a gentle reminder to plough on in the same way, convincing me that today is all we have so we better make good use of it.

And to the man who wrote so beautifully, his wife who wrote such a beautiful epilogue that had me racking with tears and to the legion of family and friends Paul leaves behind, I just want to say that we readers are all mourning his loss and celebrating his life with you. We are all in this together! And the lifelong moral search Paul undertook to solve what makes a life worth living has been answered by his own book. THIS, the search itself and the authenticity and grace with which we live our lives, aware or unaware of what awaits in the morrow is the only thing that matters.

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July 17, 2018

The Ellipsis

Crippling silences
Eyes squint for a sign of light
No sound alerts
No life stirs
A submerging in nothingness

Will voices rouse
a sudden shift in the clouds?

Until then,
a gentle death in wait

July 04, 2018

Cooing A Reassurance

Photo by Matt Borsic on Unsplash

Today, as I sat overthinking my work and despair once again began to flood my being, an impish car radio shifted from golden oldies to play a particular song that I used to favour.

This song, silly as it might sound, used to be my motivator during my board exams. On the mornings of the exams, I'd sing it with energy and intent in the bathroom as I bathed, encouraging myself in the process. It was what I now term 'a ritualistic shower' that comprised of four songs being sung while performing daily ablutions. You skip any one, and the paper would be doomed, of course!

Putting aside the hilarity of the situation, I realized that I'd simply banked on the power of words (the lyrics) and suggestion (the act of singing aloud willing me to take the right actions) to spur me on to face something I dreaded.

When that song revisited me today in the cab, a series of emotions gushed in. I was laughing in recollection. It'd been long since I'd heard the song. Tears stung my eyes as I recalled how I had immense and blind faith in the universe back then. And I was overwhelmed. It felt as if my past self was reaching out for a handshake and a hug through the speakers of an Ola cab. Along with the lyrics, she whispered a reminder to me on how driven, relentless and sincere I'd always been towards my goals.

It was a refresher I needed at this crossroads. A gentle nudge reassuring me that I am enough to be me, I have made the right choices and I need to now let things flow.

Sometimes, you need every kind of validation from everyone around to let you know that you are working towards the right causes. At other times, a simple song will do!

May 21, 2018

Looking Back

Usually, when I accidentally stumble upon an old piece of my old writing, the naivety and the absolute abandon with which I used to write pained me. It stood as a reminder of how trusting I once used to be – of people, experiences and the world itself. I used to give second, third, fourth and infinite chances to people, and every bruise they left in their wake got recorded in these pages as poetry or a piece of writing.

So much water has flown down the bridge!

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

And I say this with a lot of gratefulness and joy. Today, as I gathered my writing to sow them as seeds in various publications, I revisited my blog to see if they appear on these pages or are still unseen by the public eye. In that process, I went down the rabbit hole, reading of love lost, love longed for and love that was never mine. The writing is full of “rancid pain”, as my dear friend, The Moody Kettle calls it. But, for the first time, I smiled. It is a privilege to be able to view it all from today, where I hold abundant love in my arms. 

Many a time, I have considered deleting those giddy old posts (not just of love but also: slipper tales, my loo which is a zoo, etc.) preferring to showcase a curated list of decent writing that won’t make me cringe. And over and again, something stopped me from erasing the past. It should serve as a reminder, I told myself. And it did today. 

It reminded me that despite all the heartbreak, I found love in the strangest place. It also told me of how little I knew the world and — although a tad more enlightened — how much more there is still to know. It took me on a roller coaster ride, showing me how I grew from strength to strength to reach today. 

I may not have much. I am still writing but have not finished even one of the 20 different plot ideas I have begun. I am looking out for a stable career while moonlighting as a writer. I still have miles to go before I sleep. 

But that ride showed me how far I have travelled from where I began in 2004 — yes that makes 14 years of writing here. I was merely 17 years of age, high on life, passionate about everything and madly looking for love everywhere. Today, I am no more the extrovert, choosing a more ambivert style of life. I spend my days all alone, working in the peace and silence of my home, not for a second seeking any distraction, escape or company (I never used to be able to do that!) I have been focusing my energy on a career in writing and storytelling. I have a bit more clarity on what I want from life and I am seeking it with the man of my dreams next to me. I couldn’t have asked for more! 

This throwback also brought forth a few things that haven’t changed one bit — I still love writing, dreaming, exploring the world and telling stories of all kinds. I still trust the universe to always take care of me, but I know that sometimes the cosmos may be busy attending to others :) I guess it was good not to have deleted the past. It’ll always tell me my own story when I forget fragments of it. I’ve been going through a slightly challenging period in terms of work and this blast from the past made me feel grounded and happy again.

To the readers –if we still have that breed of excellent humans amongst us– thank you for all your kindness and time! I promise to write more and often.

May 02, 2018


Miss Subways by David Duchovny
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I received an advanced reading copy of David Duchovny's 'Miss Subways', thanks to publishers Farrar, Straus and Giroux and NetGalley.

The book does not fall into the category of my preferred genre. However, owing to my love for X-Files and curiosity on what Mulder/Duchovny can produce, I picked it up. Unlike the cliche associated with celebrities wielding the pen, Duchovny's writing is actually good.

The story is quirky in style and substance and makes an interesting read. What is unique about Duchovny's style is the humour he employs. He spares nothing and smartly paints a satire of society, its beliefs, practices, self-importance and whatnot! I was also quite impressed with the vast pop and ancient culture knowledge that Duchovny possesses and weaves in this fantasy tale with ease.

Miss. Subways is the tale of Emer, a schoolteacher whose seemingly mundane life takes a twist when she encounters a mythical creature, Bean Sidhe. What follows is a tale that is part sci-fi, part fantasy with a generous helping of romance and its share of happily-ever-after concepts. While this sounds like a crazy combination and it is, Duchovny makes the ride memorable and filled with surprises. Most of the times, I had to remind myself that it was a male author portraying a female protagonist. Duchovny is that convincing while voicing Emer!

While I found the beginning a bit patchy in narration, I persevered and did not regret giving it a chance. The meaty middle is where all the goodness of the book lies. The resolution towards the end was a bit of a let down for me since I felt Duchovny became a bit restless and quickly tied up all loose threads. The irreverence and boldness he portrays through the rest of the book somehow feel absent here and it seems as if he succumbed to some sort of audience-pleasing pressure.

Overall, it's quite an interesting read. Turns out, Fox Mulder has more up his sleeve than I'd imagined!

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January 03, 2018


Every week, a little piece

A writer falters, questioning if only sadness could evoke the pretty words. Happiness, it seemed, filled her cup. She couldn’t draw from it for some reason. When the cup was empty, dried-up: corners cracking, bits of old coffee stuck at the rim and dregs of long-ago teas lying at the bottom, she saw webs in dried froth — of intrigue, mystery, forgotten things and unsaid words; and like a soothsayer, she prodded bits of the dregs, found fortunes and futures in them.

But what could one see in a full cup? A ripple now and then, maybe. But the calm sea stirred no story. It reflected back to her with content, her own joyous face. 

And so, to lament of the past and present, to wonder and ponder over the complete draught of words, she picked her pen to write. 

“A writer falters…,” she began.
© Dryad's Peak
Maira Gall