6 February 2018

“Memento Mori” !!

This afternoon, I was at the hospice in the Memory Care Unit. I was a little early today. There were a lot of them in the common area. Not all of them were my patients, but I interact with and help all of them, anyways. Or at least, try to.

I had one of those powerful moments today. One of my patients – we will call him Mr. “L” today – who just listlessly walks and has no ability to understand or talk was doing his up and down rounds. After walking with him for some time, I rushed to help one of the attendants who was trying to help a patient yelling in pain (turned out to be a simple issue that was fixed quickly). When I turned back after fixing the problem, I noticed that my friend had walked up to another patient who was in his sofa – let’s call him Mr. “T” – and was blankly staring at him. Now Mr. T has no memory, repeats the same things, will laugh at you weirdly but is very cordial. I was expecting a very awkward moment. (my patient – Mr. “L” also drools all over the place – making a mess of others). But, in a flash of near normalness, Mr. T asked Mr. L – “How are you?”

You have to understand the import of the moment. None of them are “normal” by the normal definition of “normal”. They see each other many many times a day, although I am not quite sure they remember. Just when I was getting worried about a awkward moment when I have to clean up drool, the purportedly recipient of the drool – calmly greeted the soon-to-be drooler!! It was like he was more worried about his friend’s well being than being drooled upon.

I have noticed this among the ladies too. They are in very different state of coherence and cognition and many are outright upset, but put them in a table – and they always look out for each other. They will ask how the others are doing. If we are late in bringing yogurt to somebody at the table, the rest will create a din till their compatriot is taken care of.

It is an amazing feeling. It will make you wonder – where is all this cognitive power when it really matters? It is like they know they are at the hospice center for a few more days but they are determined to live the rest of their days in the best possible human way that their physical state will allow them.

A simple “How are you?”. Often the last words some of them will ever hear. Whether they can process it or not.

The difference though, is in the fact, somebody asked them. Like I said, whether they can process it or not.

In “On the Shortness of Life”, Seneca says… “Let us prepare our minds as if we’d come to the very end of life. Let us postpone nothing. Let us balance life’s books each day. The one who puts the finishing touches on their life each day is never short of time.”

Put in my way, let’s realize that we will all go one day. That we cannot change. What we can change is what we do from now till that day!

“Memento Mori”!! Remember that you will die!!

Acceptance of mortality can be a downer if one focuses on what one has not done or gotten. And yet, it can be one of the lightning rod for happiness if we leverage that acceptance to make us who we want to be in the days that are left.

That is a choice we have to make every single day.

What is your choice today?

4 February 2018

From the bartender’s corner – Death’s Door Rouge Martini

A Rouge Martini is a rather simple cocktail made from gin and Chambord liqueur. I used the Death’s Door Gin today. Like I was surmising yesterday, the simplicity of the gin made it pretty good for a cocktail. The raspberry was not drowned by the junipers or other botanicals. I might increase the gin to liqueur ratio next time (I used 2:1 this time) to let the raspberries be a little more understated. Overall though, for a wet and cold evening, getting ready for the Super Bowl, it was a great drink.

I am sure the experts must be wondering how does the blackberry fit into the scheme of the gin or Chambord. Well, it does not. Ideally, the right garnish would be a raspberry (or a string of raspberries with blackberries). I could swear I had some raspberries in the kitchen. Evidently not. Ergo, just blackberries 🙂 Not sure it did anything to enhance or take away from the nose of the drink but it had a good visual effect, all the same!

3 February 2018

From the bartender’s corner: Gin #30 – Death’s Door

For such a dramatic name, the distiller’s website is fairly frank about this gin being very simple. In fact, other than the mandatory junipers, the only two other botanicals are coriander and fennel seeds. The distillers claim that you can taste all the botanicals – well that is because there are only 3 of them.

The base alcohol is more interesting though – it is made from winter wheat, corn and barley!

The distillery was established in 2006 in Washington Island in way up north Wisconsin.

For a simple gin, it is surprisingly good. While I will not claim to be an absolutely great gin but it is mild and soft enough to make it a go-to gin especially with tonic water. I tried it two days in succession and I liked it on second day more than first day. And because of that softness and not being too forward in anything, I suspect it will make a good gin for cocktails.

The juniper is predominant in the nose and I was surprised by the citrusy palate (suspect the corianders). The finish was fairly uneventful other than the remnants of the juniper.

2 February 2018

Book Review: “On the Shortness of Life”

Very recently, a few of us were celebrating a friend’s birthday and the friend mentioned that at our age, he does not look forward to birthdays since that reminds him he is one year closer to his death. That started some very spirited (admittedly, some of the spirit was contributed by the wine we were drinking) discussion on life, how we spend it etc. I made a mental note of going back home and re-reading Seneca’s letter on “On the Shortness of Life”. I cannot remember a better treatise on what causes us to be remorseful of shortness of life than that letter. Roger Whitney and Somshekhar Baksi had pointed me to this literature in the past.

Some of the words have left a strong effect on me. A notable quote:
“We are not given a short life but we make it short, and we are not ill-supplied but wasteful of it. Life is long enough, and a sufficiently generous amount has been given to us for the highest achievements if it were all well invested. But when it is wasted in heedless luxury and spent on no good activity, we are forced at last by death’s final constraint to realize that it has passes away before we knew it was passing”.

Which led me to realize that it is indeed a small part of life that we really live. The rest is not life but merely time.

There is a place where he talks in similar language to what I had first read in Randy Pausch’s “The Last Lecture.”. Addressing Paulinius, Seneca says
“You are living as if destined to live for ever; your own frailty never occurs to you; you do not notice how much time has already passed, but squander it as though you had a full and overflowing supply…”

Another thought that made a big mark in my mind was Seneca’s pointing out that we what we invest to achieve often takes more investment to keep. To preserve prosperity, he says, we need other prosperity. To support the prayers which have turned out well, we have to make other prayers. Remarkable quote again:

“So it is inevitable that life will be not just very short but very miserable for those who acquire by great toil what they must keep by greater toil”

Fortune, after all, is never to be less trusted than when it is the fairest!!

If you ever get a chance, read the letter. It is usually available as a collection of three of his most famous letters. The other two did not make that large an impact on me. I read the Penguin Books version.

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1 February 2018

I never quite figured out…

… should I try to be an entrepreneur like him or a poet like him!!

My last recollection of meeting Avinash was during a recruiting drive in IIT Kanpur. That goes back nearly 2 decades. He always struck me as a very bright young guy. I remember Raghu and I discussing a couple of times about the potential of Avinash.

Turns out Avinash became a very successful entrepreneur. But since he stayed most of his time in India, I rarely got to see him. We have interacted multiple times during the last two decades but just could not put ourselves together in the same city at the same time.

Till last evening.

It was one of those great conversational evenings. There are successful entrepreneurs and there are successful entrepreneurs. I have never seen any entrepreneur – frankly too many leaders – who have internalized learnings from experience as well as Avinash has. His insightful commentary on the mistakes he has made and how that has made him a better leader is material for a great leadership book. If not for anything else, just the display of humility itself is awe inspiring.

One of the great concepts he talked about is “organizational debt”. In a full circle, he gave full credit to Raghu – the same Raghu that I used to discuss about Avinash two decades back – in opening his eyes to the concept. I am going to skip the details here but it deals with the difficulties any “people person leader” will always have in getting over personal biases and subjectivity.

Another item that Avinash and I have common interest is shayaris and old Urdu poetry. In fact, we spent some time discussing the vagaries of ascertaining gender of inanimate objects in Hindi. His knowledge of Urdu and Hindi is far superior to mine and he has promised to help me translate some the poetry I struggle with from time to time. In that context, a memorable statement from him… I told him how I struggle to translate to English even after I understand what was in the poet’s mind. His words were … “That is to be expected; for poetry is defined as that which is lost in translation”. That was sheer poetry defining poetry!

Yet another memorable quote. I forget the exact context. But he backed up the famous quote “To give up ego, you have to have an ego first” with a Hindi poem which basically means – Only a poisonous snake can forgive. A non poisonous snake forgiving means nothing!!

That was a great evening! Raghu, we missed you!! Let’s get all three of us together soon!!