Thursday, January 10, 2019

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Sri.Nagaraja Shastri was a musician and dramatist, well-known and respected in his youth. Because of intermarriages between cousins, which is quite common in south India, he was uncle to three generations - my husband's grandmother's, my father-in-law’s and ours. When he and our aunt became too old, they moved to our village so they could be cared for by his daughter. While the village did not have top-notch medical facilities, the old couple didn't seem to need them either, as they were still quite independent and healthy in spite of their age.

The first (and only) sign of problem we saw was many months later, when Nagaraja mama felt easily out of breath. He was taken to a doctor in the next village, who said that he couldn't do anything as he had bradycardia, and he had to go to Bangalore if he wanted treatment. Nagaraja Mama was eighty-six years old and had never been admitted in a hospital. After much deliberation, we brought him to Bangalore and admitted him to a hospital to see what the doctors could do.

It was very clear that he was diminishing by the hour. That didn't prevent the ICU doctors and nurses from putting him on intravenous medication right away, for bringing the heart rate up. He was trying to pull the IV needles out, so they bandaged his fingers together so he wouldn't have an opposing thumb to pull the needles with. He was angry and with his slurring and incomprehensible speech he was scolding the nurses for taking away his freedom. After multiple tests the doctors came to the conclusion that the only way to keep him alive would be to put him on a pacemaker.

Our aunt, on consulting about this, was clear that she didn't want her husband to go through any more pain, and wanted to let him be. Without a pacemaker, he died on the hospital bed a day later, with only the ICU nurses around him. A question that was gnawing at my heart for a long time, was whether we made a mistake in not opting for a pacemaker. Secondly and more importantly, I was thinking whether we made a mistake in bringing him to the hospital at all.

We are confronted with choices all the time. We seem to perpetually hit the forks that diverge on yellow woods, and the path we take makes all the difference. In medicine, they are choices that decide life and death, or Scylla and Charybdis. With the modern medical technologies available, life could be Scylla. It is these hard choices that Dr Atul Gawande talks about in his book “Being Mortal”. Through many case studies and personal experiences, he tries to educate patients and their loved ones about the questions they would need to ask and get answers to, before consenting to treatments that can wreak havoc on the quality of their lives.

Reading this book required courage from me. I have been brought up in a culture where death can but be the next step to liberation; however, talking about my own death is inauspicious. To read this book, I had to confront my own probable sickness and eventual mortality. Through the course of the book, I had to ask myself tough questions - what would I do, what would I have to do if I were in the patient's shoes, or God forbid, in the caregivers’ shoes?

I have been a fan of Dr Gawande’s writing for years. Even if it is not a subject I am not frightfully interested in, (Obamacare vs Trumpcare, for instance), his writing is capable of grabbing and sustaining attention. Being Mortal is about medical facilities of today that let terminal patients live out the remainder of their lives in peace without subjecting their bodies to more pain, especially if the pain is not going to bring about any improvement in the quality of their lives later.

Consider another case. My granddad had had a paralytic stroke at a very young age, probably due to an infection. He had regained the use of his arms and legs later and was active for a long time. However, he had a second stroke which was debilitating. He survived that too with treatment. When he had a third stroke a few years later, the doctor gave up. He asked my parents to take care of him as well as they could for the rest of his life. A few months later, my taata passed away in his own house, with his family around him.

Dr. Gawande cites statistical studies to prove that providing hospice care to terminally ill patients significantly improved their quality of life. For instance, hospice patients who stopped chemotherapy treatment lived 25% longer and had far more fulfilling lives than the ones who underwent chemo. He analyses the fact that 25% of insurance spending goes for 5% of people who are already on their deathbed. Why not divert it to hospice care which will probably be more helpful for patients than more needles and scalpels and isolation?

Of course, everything is a challenge, especially in our country.  The first problem is that of greedy hospitals. There have been instances of hospitals performing surgeries on dead bodies to milk insurance money. How do we even get these hospitals on board for something like hospice care?

The second and equally difficult challenge would be to confront the concept of mortality. We have not learnt that, in spite of studying scriptures day in and day out. But if we don't take the first step, who will?

Friday, November 09, 2018

Thoughts Before a Medical Examination

I have my origin in the big town of Bellary, now a city. Life used to be simple back then. We went to a nearby school. We used to be vaccinated regularly too. When we were sick, mostly my grandfather used to give medicines and we would be alright. Taata was a medical practitioner and treated people with Homeopathic and Ayurvedic medicines.

I have professed my interest in the Medical field elsewhere on this blog. This interest probably came from seeing my grandfather treating his patients day in and day out. The medicines were usually kept secret from the patients, the reason being that many of the ingredients that went to form the medicines were used almost daily in the kitchen. (I knew them, since I was the privileged helper.) The aura of mystery, and more importantly, total belief in the doctor and the medicines probably helped recovery. From simple diseases like gastritis and menstrual cramps to scorpion bites and jaundice - I have seen him restore the health of many people. And when he was baffled or was unwell himself, he went to another doctor, Ananth, who visited weekly. This was my earliest experience with healthcare - simple, fairly dependable and very affordable. Taata and Dr.Ananth did not prescribe any fees for their services. They accepted whatever the patient gave. My grandmother recounts instances where my taata himself gave some money to the patient, because he/she was so poor. His technique was also simple. He used to feel the pulse of the patient. That information along with the symptoms were, almost always, enough to give him an idea of what ailed the person. Dr.V.S.Ramachandran, in his ‘Phantoms in the Brain’,  recounts of an instance when his professor told him to observe the nails of the patient. A change in the angle between the nail bed and the finger would always mean the onset of malignant lung cancer. This simple, noninvasive diagnosis could be made far before more serious symptoms appeared. Diseases like typhoid and Rubella can, apparently, be diagnosed by their characteristic smells, and Parkinson’s by the gait of the patient.

Things ceased to be this simple in the medical field, long ago. Gone are the days when doctors used to feel the pulse of the patient routinely. A doctor is always seen with a stethoscope, one of the first and most useful medical instruments. What with the heart monitors and EKGs and oxygen monitors and a zillion other instruments available today, reading pulses and diagnosing illnesses by smelling or hearing a person walk, is an art that might well be preserved by doctors stranded in remote  islands.

Heart monitors and oxygen monitors are just the beginning. We now have electronic instruments for measuring almost any bodily function. Good old steam inhalation now has electronic measurement of temperature, and pressure and what not. (A humorous aside - my son then about four years old, a gadget-freak, looked at the nebulizing unit at a hospital and said with a wide smile "Amma, I want to be a doctor who can uset that machine"). We have ventilators and pacemakers that were unheard of in older times. While it is indeed heartening that we have now reined in technology to be on our side in our fight against disease, it is really disturbing that in this fight, we subject our bodies to great torture and never learn to let go.

In the olden days, certain illnesses were just accepted. When my granddad had a stroke, he took some strength-giving medicines but did not get his blood pressure checked or take beta blockers. My grandmother says proudly that she has never undergone any tests - just took an injection (she forgets which) while pregnant with my Father, that's all. Now, at 86, she is fairly healthy and fairly strong for her age.

Things have changed for our generation. We are more aware, healthier but also very scared. I suppose that scare can actually be justified. Take iodine, for example. The deficiency of iodine causes some irreversible problems. When iodine is lacking in a child's / pregnant lady's diet, there are high chances that that child will develop mental retardation. Goitre is a well-known illness, also caused by iodine deficiency. To prevent these diseases, salt companies started adding iodine to salt. This has gone on for a while now, resulting in another side-effect, that of a non-functioning thyroid. Unfortunately, this can also be rather dangerous if undetected, as thyroxin is required for each and every function in the body. An under-working thyroid might be the cause of an enlarged heart or obesity or just any condition we can think of. Now, if the solution is as simple as getting a blood test done and taking thyroxin everyday, why not do it? Why rely on your intuition only, when you have a foolproof, if only more invasive and expensive method to diagnose a problematic thyroid? Removing iodine from salt is definitely not an answer, so the mandatory checking of thyroxin levels is.

That was just one example. Many doctors now recommend taking the HbA1C test, instead of / in addition to the traditional fasting + post-prandial blood sugar test. For people over thirty five, annual treadmill tests are mandatory. Multivitamins and multiminerals are prescribed regularly. After a certain age, Aspirin in your prescription is considered normal. But wait, this is for well-adult check-ups; taking those tests do not demand much of our time and energy, and one should not have any complaints. However, suppose one goes to the hospital with high blood pressure and is unfortunate enough to get admitted (it is a damned-if-you-do-damned-if-you-don’t-do situation, really), he/she is started immediately on medicines like Atorvastatin and Sorbitrate, even when they are quite unnecessary (and are likely to cause complications).

But the most unwanted involvement of medicine has to be in the childbirth area. Three of my cousins were born at home, two delivered by my grandmother. They are hale and healthy and doing very well. A fourth cousin was delivered (at the insistence of my uncle's family) at a hospital. He is doing fine, too. The point is that being born at home was not bad for my cousins. These days, as soon as one gets pregnant, they start thinking about c-sections and epidurals. (I am ashamed to say that I did, too). Heck, even for 'normal' deliveries, episiotomy is routine here in India. As are oxytocin shots. While these are established as safe, they take away the feeling that birth is a natural process.  

I am certainly not denying the advantages of high-tech medicine. In olden days, giving birth used to be called 'punarjanma' for women. And it has to be accepted that the reason for the high life expectancy that we see now is solely because of the advances in medicine. But my grouse is that these days the tendency is to pop a pill rather than go for daily walks and eat healthy.

Gawande, in one of his articles titled ‘...Insurance Imbroglio...”, talks about a hospital where the nurses regularly went on house-visits to check on the child asthma patients admitted to their hospital, and thus reduced the readmission percentage considerably. This left many of the hospital beds empty and reduced the hospital profits! As Gawande says, it is not easy to work out a mutually beneficial (beneficial to both doctors and patients) solution.

So what is the solution? According to a recent poll, the top issue for Americans is healthcare. What they mean by healthcare is obviously high quality diagnosis and treatment that's also affordable. Unfortunately with medicine becoming another corporate industry, this looks difficult to accomplish.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Demonetization – Not Quite the Demon

People who visit the temple-town of Sringeri, the famous seat of learning situated amidst the lush green hills of the Western Ghats, swear not only by Goddess Nature who has endowed so much to the place but also by a shop located in the vicinity of the temple. 

The shop is run by Sri.Vijayanarasimha along with his wife and son. It deals in the usual rich goodies that Malnad has to offer - various varieties of pickles and chutneys, chips, spices, oils and what not. While other shops can boast of the same quality of goods, what sets this shop apart is the savviness of the father-son duo. They develop an affectionate connection with the customers. I do not know how they do it, but they seem to remember customers and their choices in spite of having a large number of them. When net banking and online fund transfers were still in their infancy, they had a mail order system which enabled people to transfer money to their account online and get stuff delivered to their houses, all from the small town of Sringeri. Actually, make it the other way round. They would deliver stuff to your house, and you could then transfer money to their account. And yes, all from the small town of Sringeri. Their account was one of the first recipients I added for fund transfer from mine. 

As the various news outlets were publicizing and highlighting the difficulties undergone by the "aam aadmi" due to the demonetization of 500 and 1000 - rupee notes, I could not get this small store ( not so small now, bless them; they now have online sales also) out of my mind. Why is demonetization hurting us more than it ought to when transferring money is so easy? All it takes is honesty and trust!

We can't deny that the news channels and the English language newspapers had their own agenda in maligning the initiative of the government and this contributing to the confusion. The queues which were still manageable a day after demonetization grew longer and longer, owing to the panic willfully stoked by the media. False reports of people dying in ATM queues and of children dying because the older currency was not accepted were feverishly circulated by journalists themselves in the social media. One news channel shamelessly asked people to send videos of people suffering in queues. The situation truly started going downhill then.

It is a very Indian - nay, human mentality to stock up on or even hoard things when they promise to become scarce. It is programmed in our genes. And human history has been proving that the hoarders will, in a large number of cases, eventually be better off than the non-hoarders. After a couple of days, thus, our instincts got the better of our good sense and the queues outside banks became longer still.

The black money mafia also did their bit to make the situation more chaotic, by promising commission to people who would deposit money in banks on their behalf. There were many flavors of this scam. Paytm ads notwithstanding, a substantial percentage of the low-income group is gullible and this promise of easy money is too hard to pass by. The result was unprecedented chaos, with people standing multiple times in queues and fights reportedly breaking out in front of the banks, adding to the general disorder.

There were many things that could have been done to reduce inconvenience to the people. Obviously, the initiative has to come from the people first. There were people drawing money from three or four cards when it was their turn at the ATM, adding to the wait time for the others in the queue. Banks could have mandated that only one card could be used at a time. Also, people who could get by with plastic money could have done so for a longer time instead of standing in queues and complaining. Let us face it, waiting is not pleasant for anyone – for us and also the bank employees. The security guard at the HDFC bank near my house was so cheerful and helpful even after dealing with hundreds of people who only had questions and complaints. Yes, that is another thing that would have helped – a smile of acceptance on the faces of the people. Because however much we try to argue against it, we know that this move of demonetization of high-value notes is going to be eventually good for the country.

If shop-owners had accepted cards and cheques it would have made life a lot easier for everyone. The day after demonetization, I was out shopping for some lamps in a respectably-sized shop in the heart of Bangalore. The bill came up to a decent amount of around 400 rupees. I offered to pay by card, but the shop-owner did not accept cards. And no, cheques were not accepted either. I did not have cash on me. After a lot of haggling over the mode of payment, the shop finally accepted the five-hundred-rupee note that I offered. I later learned that the cash transactions are not logged properly, so as to avoid tax.

So that's the root of this evil. With the memory of 97% tax and no development etched in our minds, we cannot bring ourselves to pay even a reasonable 35% amount as tax. And when the government does what it has to do to recover taxes we whine and complain because it is inconvenient. God help us!

In contrast, some people rose to the occasion and started conducting more cashless transactions. I paid my kids’ music class fees via online transfer. By the way, the teacher happens to be a housewife.

Finally, I recall the infamous words of a departed politician, said at a different time in a different context but completely valid now. When a big tree falls, the earth shakes.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

ಇಂದೇ ಸುದಿನ...

Years ago, when I was still a young girl participating in dance competitions, my mother had taught us - my sister and me and a few friends - a dance to a song. The song was about gopikas eager to meet Krishna on the banks of the Yamuna. We danced to it, dressed in langa-blouse and a veil on our heads. I think we had some painted pots also, to complete the effect of the gopikas. All I remember from that dance competition is how pretty my sister looked, with kohl in her eyes and a bright light-green duppatta covering her hair.

The song went something like this - "ಇಂದೇ ಸುದಿನ ಬನ್ನಿ ಸಖಿಯರೇ ಹೋಗುವ ಯಮುನಾ ತೀರದೆಡೆಗೆ ". I knew the song was penned by my grandfather. However, the music was distinctly not South-Indian. I was not too curious about it at that time but got to know the story about that song later, from my grandmother.

My aunt, herself a teacher, had taught a few neighboring children a dance to perform at a function in the layout. It was a Hindi song. The kids learned the dance with great enthusiasm and were looking forward to performing at the function. A couple of days before the performance, they got to know something shocking. A few miscreants - Kannada warriors got to know that there was going to be a dance performance set to a Hindi song, and they had decided to create trouble. The kids were crestfallen. After practising for so many days, getting ready with costumes and telling all their friends about the dance, their program was about to be canceled because it was simply not safe to dance to a Hindi song.

My grandfather had a brilliant idea then. He immediately composed a song in Kannada which could be sung to the same tune and matched the dance steps. The kids practised a few times with the changed lyrics in Kannada. The adaptation was beautiful and the presentation on stage was a huge success. After watching the dance performance, the miscreants went back home with greater wisdom in their heads and their pockets still bulging with the rotten tomatoes they had intended to throw at the dancing children.

The song is beautiful and set to the rāga Kāpi. It does not adhere completely to the metrical rules of Kannada poetry, but has great word-ly beauty - like "ಜುಳು ಜುಳು ಹರಿಯುವ ಯಮುನೆಯ ಕಲ ಕಲ ನಾದವ ಕೇಳುವ ಬನ್ನಿ ", "ಜಗದ ಜಂಜಡವ ಮರೆಯುವ ಬನ್ನಿ ಜಗನ್ನಾಥನೆಡೆಗೆ".

I happen to be humming this song since morning and wanted to share the story here. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

To Enter or Not To Enter; That is the Question

There is a beautiful story about Meera Bai, whose devotional songs linger on a million tongues even to this day. She once visited a temple at Brindavan, which, at that time, was only open to men. When the priests prevented her from entering, she innocently told them "I thought Krishna was the only male in this universe". The priests were tongue-tied and let her in. 

I wonder if the women who are making a hue and cry about Sabarimala and Shani Shinganapur know about Meera bai. The noise that is being made over Sabarimala and Shani Shinganapur would have been funny (come on, airdrop?) if it were not so pathetic. It is evident that these ladies do not have any love for these Gods or for the religion that endorses these Gods. They are in it just to prove a political point and buy their two minutes of fame, and that is it. 

In a country as diverse as India, there are many, many unique temples and unique ways of worship. In Sandur, there is a Kumaraswamy temple that women of child-bearing age are denied entry to, much like Sabarimala. There is a short wall right in front of the main door, that prevents others from even snatching a glimpse at the icon inside. And there are some Maaramma temples, where traditionally there are priestesses but no priests. Some Gods and Goddesses are worshipped with flowers and fruits and sweets, whereas others need meat and liquor. Yet others are worshipped with song and dance. Flowers are not to be worn in Tirumala, because all the flowers that grow in the vicinity are meant for the Lord. There is room for the devotion of everyone and answers to the spiritual aspirations of everyone. This diversity is what makes sanAtana dharma so charming but yet so difficult to understand. 

The devotees of Ayyappa undergo penance for forty days before visiting Sabarimala. They dress differently. They abstain from meat, alcohol and sex. Can they do these without the consent and help of their wives? The day before the men leave for Sabarimala yatra is a big festival for the entire family. All the people (women included) worship and sing bhajans in praise of the lord. At least, this was what I had seen a few years ago, when I was invited to the celebration before the departure of the yaatris. The women send their husbands and brothers and fathers happily for the yaatra. Women participate in the celebrations with great fervor, even if they don't enter the temple.

And then there is Shani Shinganapur, unique in its own way. The temple does not have doors, like any other house in the village (even the bathrooms do not have doors, believe me!). Contrary to what some of the loud voices of today would have us believe, women do enter the temple for darshan. However, going up on the platform to pour oil on the icon is done by males who have undergone purificatory bath just before entering the temple. My mind simply fails to understand how this is an affront to women.

The vrata men perform before visiting Sabarimala is arduous. Also, it emphasizes self-denial and detachment. The daily duties of women need some level of attachment to the family and worldliness. Taking care of children, for instance. Whatever the feminists say, mothers' duties towards children are more those of the father. This affects other aspects of their lives also. They dress in different ways. They prefer different timings at work. They worship in different ways. sandhyāvandane is for men, whereas Hūvīḻya and kuṅkumārcane are for women. The Kathasaritsagara talks about a weird vrata that was performed by women to ward off diseases that are common in the rainy season. 

The argument that feminists put forth is that the patriarchal society of the day kept women out of places of worship because they menstruate. They try to falsely imagine the shortcomings of Islam in Hinduism too. However, except in places like Sabarimala, women of menstruating age are allowed to enter the temples and offer our worship. Yes, there is a restriction on women visiting temples when they are actually menstruating. But frankly, half the women I know would rather spend those days curled up in a bed and reading, than visiting overcrowded temples (please don't go by the feminine hygiene ads where women are jumping and playing during their periods). Whatever prompted these rules to be dictated, they are a blessing, even if in disguise. This is especially true in India where public sanitation leaves much to be desired.

Finally, the ultimate truth is that Biology is Destiny*. Until technology can make men with uteruses and make them produce babies, there is going to be this difference. But I hope we never get such technology, because we should accept and cherish these differences. A painting with many colors looks far prettier than one that has been smeared with red ink all over. 

*Not my quote, but I love it.

Monday, May 25, 2015

The Voice of Kashmiris

Kashmir has a special place in the hearts of Indians. For centuries, it has been the dwelling of Saraswati. It is the land of Philosophy and poetry. It is home to beauty of nature, mind and spirit. Which Indian heart does not swell at the feats of King Lalitaditya? Which Indian poet does not heave a sigh of pleasure on reading the poetry of Bilhana? Indeed, Kashmir, both by its geographical location and its importance, is the crown jewel of India.

Yet, Kashmir is almost always in the news for all the wrong reasons. Since my childhood, it was a given that the daily newspaper contained details about some militant activity in Kashmir or the other. Some times the newspaper reports talked about militants killed, sometimes it was the security personnel. And some other times the reports contained the statements of politicians condemning the attacks. It looked like a hopeless, helpless situation always. During such a time, the Kannada magazine Taranga (I think) carried an article about the displacement of Kashmiri Pandit population. I was too young to read the article, but I remember that it carried pictures of beautiful, modern-looking Kashmiri Pandit men and women standing at water taps in front of one-room dwellings.

Since then, I have heard the Kashmiri Pandits being mentioned many times. Our first prime minister apparently belonged to that community. The exodus of the KPs has been the subject of many debates; many times they are just mentioned in passing. When someone mentions the Gujarat riots where muslims were killed (conveniently forgetting the Godhra carnage), it is almost a reflex action to say "But what about the genocide of Kashmiri Pandits?". What exactly this exodus was, I had not known until I recently read Rahul Pandita's book "Our Moon has Blood Clots".

Rahul Pandita is not a new name to me. Nandini Krishnan (a very good writer who writes with style and yet with balance) had interviewed Pandita and had published it. I thought I should read the book, all the more interesting because he claims to be a communist. From what little left literature I have read (including articles by Arundhati Roy, Dilip D'souza, Romila Thapar and others), I know enough to wonder how a KP and communist can coexist in one person. However, as I discovered when I read the book, RP turns out to be quite different from the rabid communists that Arundhati Roy and her ilk are. He is proud of the traditions of the Kashmiris, of their Shivratri, their sacrifices and rituals and Durgasaptashati. He mourns the loss of tradition like the passing of an old uncle.

Rahul's writing is very simple. He says that he wrote this book only because he wants the story of the Pandits to reach the next generation, and not get lost in the flood of secularism and dhimmitude that is setting the course of political discourse these days. And I must say he is quite successful. If this story about Kashmir can move me, a kannaDiti to tears for a few hours, I cannot even start imagining how a Kashmiri may feel about it. He describes the compound outside his family home, the apple and cashew trees and the heavy snow that makes the tin roofs cave in. His childhood was idyllic, surrounded by people he loved and looked up to. He had friends with whom he played cricket. All this was gradually taken from him, and suddenly one night in January 1990, everything turned topsy turvy and within a few days, his whole family was seeking refuge in Jammu.

It is not the story of RP alone. Thousands of Kashmiri Pandits lost their homes, many of them lost their lives too, that fateful night. The estimated number is more than 300,000. There are many theories to explain this exodus. Some say that the muslim-hating Jagmohan packed off the KPs so that he could hunt the muslims without any danger of harming the Hindus. This is very unlikely, keeping in mind that that night in Kashmir, it was mainly Pandit blood that flowed and it was the Pandit women who went through untold horrors. As always, our media glosses over these stark realities and harps on the atrocities of the army in Kashmir. Not to condone the civilian killings done knowingly or unknowingly by the Indian army, but major brunt of militant insurgency was borne by the Pandit population and no one else. They have a reputation of physically being weak; so much that it is a matter of shame to lose a physical fight against them. This made them soft targets to the insurgents. While the youth who were fresh from Pakistan were indulging in military exercises, the helpless Pandits could only look on. Or I should  say they "would" only look on. All portents of a looming invasion were ignored by the government and the Pandits themselves. As Rahul Pandita says, after the first few killings happened, the then Chief minister assured people that militancy would end soon. This is the same shortsightedness that was displayed by our first prime minister during Chinese insurgency. In spite of all our learnings from Arthaśāstra and Rājataraṅgiṇi, we really never learnt.

Things in Kashmir have only gone downhill since Independence. A major contributor was the myopic judgment of our first prime minister who brought Article 370 into governance. Recently, about a year ago, the flamboyant Sunanda Pushkar had raised the issue of Article 370 and had mourned that she would never be able to buy any land in her homeland. Rahul raises the same issue and says that he may own land in any place in the whole world other than his homeland. There is a telling moment, when he visits the house that was his when he was a child. There is someone else living there; the apple tree is cut and the bookshelves are filled with onion and garlic. Whether it was intended or not, a very important "dhvani" is brought out here. When the Pandits were turned out of Kashmir, it lost its scholarship and beauty. Only sorry relics - like the "showpiece almari" without the showpieces and the bookshelf devoid of books remain.

There have been efforts to rehabilitate the Pandits in their homeland. The then Prime Minister, Dr.Manmohan Singh started a program to that effect in 2008. However, so far, they have not been very successful because it is difficult to promise safety in a war-zone. It is a chicken-and-egg problem; While the Pandits are not rehabilitated in their own homes, peace in the region will remain a farce. But to even promise the Pandits their original homes, there has to be some semblance of peace in the valley.

After reading the book, I googled references to this book. There have been books about Kashmir - but Rahul Pandita's book is different in that it talks about Kashmir from the point of view of the minority community. Not only that; it does not gloss over the atrocities of the army or the amiability of the Kashmiri Muslim brethren.

During my long hiatus, I did read a lot. But not one of them spurred me to write. This book did that. Dear readers, if you read this book, and a tear rolls down your eye as you do and you spread the word about the book - the plight and the resilience of the Kashmiri Pandits, and then all of us lend our voices to them, the purpose of the book will be served.

Jai Hind!