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Author: ramg

Image credit http://nextranks.com/dogs-breeds/pomeranian.html

I have always believed in experiential learning. As a kid, I was totally and completely into learning everything possible through experiments. Which is of course the reason that at the age of nine, I put a wet paper on a burning bulb, thereby making it explode, necessitating a quick retreat under the bed to avoid my mother’s investigative eyes. It was also the reason for me to try and measure the temperature of water being boiled in a bucket by an immersion heater, adopting the ingenious method of dipping my index finger into the water. That was a rather electric experience. Very shocking to be precise. I abandoned further experiments using electricity for quite some time and took it up again only that night when studying in XLRI, I was invited into the ladies hostel to fix the fuse.

Electricity continued to fascinate me – especially its effect on the body of stupid boys who dip their finger into water at 240V. So when I was asked (by myself as the Editor of ‘I wonder…’, a science magazine) to write an article on electricity that is interdisciplinary, the first thing that came to my mind was that moment in my life when my entire body had convulsed, even while my brain had been busy kicking my ass for idiotically trying to end my life in a flash of glory.

That is how I decided to write this article – ‘The biology of Electricity’.

If you want to find out why your body is the most complex and intricate electrically powered machine in the universe, please click on this link and read page 17-24. Also please read all other pages – as the first issue of ‘i wonder…’, I am sure there are glaring gaps in it. But I can promise you we will keep improving.

Here is the link to the magazine i wonder

And now, if you want to read a totally wacky, humorous science fiction novel I have written, please click here oops the mighty gurgle

Shakespeare said – or rather, Brutus told his friend Cassius in ‘Julius Caesar’ – There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.

I tend to agree with the first part of the quote. If we look back at our lives, we can identify specific instances that changed our fortunes. I call them inflection points.

In my case, it was the tail of a dog which I grasped firmly which took me thru the flood that set me off on a path that would eventually end up in IIT Chennai!! No, I don’t mean IIT is full of mutts. Though that also might be true, the story is a bit different.

I was in the seventh standard then. In a school famous for its headmaster – a man referred to by the students as ‘Laddoo’. Not for any sweetness of personality but for the fact that he tended to be rather spherical in shape. In fact, he was exactly the opposite of sweet. He used to bestride the corridors of Model School Thrissur like a colossus, with an equally colossal cane liberally waving in his hand. And he equally liberally used to ply the aforementioned cane to the bottom of many a boy unfortunate enough to cross his path while he rolled around. This attitude of suppression of students was generally shared by most of the teachers and my maths teacher was no exception.

And then, on that fateful day, the maths teacher gave the class an interesting assignment as homework.
It was rather a simple one- a set of coordinates was given which were to be plotted on a graph book. And once these points were joined, some amazing picture was to emerge.

As soon as I reached home, I set about plotting the coordinates. But imagine my utter agony of soul when I realised that the sheet on the graph book was too small to accommodate 3 of the points referred by 3 sets of coordinates. So I had an incomplete picture. I could already feel the cane of the maths teacher swishing its way towards my posterior!! I decided to join together at least the rest of the points and see what emerged. Well, what did emerge was a nice looking dog. But alas, a tailless dog. The three points left out would have completed the dog’s tail. I brooded and I brooded and I brooded. How on earth do I get these 3 points in? But no solution came to mind.

At this juncture, my dad happened to notice me hunched over the graph book, tearing my hair out and asked me what seemed to be the problem. At this point, my impression of my dad was that he was a nice and interesting character that came home for bed and dinner, and would tell us lots of stories during the weekends. But graph paper and coordinates? Man, you got to be kidding. How would he know such complicated stuff!!Still, in a rather condescending manner, I told him the problem, patting my backside to drive home the extent of the peril.

“Is that all? Simple. You just cut off a small piece from the next page in the graph book, staple it to this page and then you can draw the tail on that piece.” He said.

What??? Cut off a piece? This would only prompt an even more vicious assault on the posterior!
I refused. But my dad insisted. Finally age carried the day against good sense (or so I thought)
But I had to admit that the dog, complete with its tail looked rather cute.

The day of reckoning came. With a quaking heart and trembling hands, I showed my book to the teacher. And wonder of wonders – he grunted. You might well ask, so what if he grunted? Don’t these vicious types usually grunt? Ah, but this grunt was different. It was a grunt, modulated to show deep appreciation. A type of grunt as yet unheard of in his classroom. He also showed the book to the rest of the class and said- Only Ramgopal has got it right.

My father, whom I had considered an also ran till then, suddenly became the hot stuff. My admiration for him grew leaps and bounds.

After this, I would go to him every time I had doubts in maths. And he proved to be equally adept at aspects of maths other than dog’s tail, like square roots , cosines and such similar pippins. In a very short while, my fundamentals were clear. Maths, which was just another subject became my favourite. This love for maths finally paved the way for my outstanding performance in IIT JEE.

So I fondly remember the dog’s tail. And I tell my kids the tale of the tail of the dog. What more interesting inflection point in life can one think of!!

You can read more humorous (and supposedly inspiring) stuff from my life in my humorous book, From Ouch to Oops.
To buy, click here From Ouch to Oops

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Image credit http://runsickboyrun.blogspot.in/2011_01_09_archive.html

My tummy has weathered many an assault and shock treatment. Primarily because of an unfortunate mathematical correlation between the girth of my tummy and my age. When I was in my twenties, the circumference of my tummy was also in its twenties – inches, that is. When I grew into my thirties, my tummy obediently followed. This annoying habit continued, and when I aged (none too gracefully) into my forties, my tummy did its best to achieve a similar result. Tried its best, I say, since I did everything in my powers to scuttle Tummy’s diabolical plan (since the only advantage I perceived in such a vast and expansive tummy was that I could rest a glass of scotch on it while reclining in my seat).

To contain Tummy’s rampant ambition, I enrolled in VLCC twice. But each time Tummy sprang back viciously, like the long suppressed proletariat. I exercised like a maniac and dieted- in multiple discrete cycles. Tummy sprang back even more viciously each time. Even the chemotherapy I underwent made only a negligible dent on Tummy.

But, unknown to Tummy, dark tidings were brewing. And about two months back, catastrophe descended on poor Tummy. With the greatest of glee, I said, ‘Tummy, from today, thou shalt not eat rice or roti’. Tummy shuddered. Nastily, I ground my heels in further ‘Thou shalt no eat any form of wheat, nor potato, nor tomato’. I could feel the bugger quailing. Relentlessly, I continued ‘Thou shalt not eat red or green pepper, nor milk, nor cheese, nor butter, curd or ghee’. Poor Tummy recoiled in horror. I twisted the knife vigorously ‘Thou salt not eat dal nor legumes nor nuts nor oats nor any other grain.’ By now, Tummy was resigned to its fate and to the total madness of its lord and master. I drove in the last nail firmly “Ah, Tummy, by the way, thou shalt not drink alcohol, tea, coffee or have anything which has sugar, jaggery, or honey’, I said with the same supercilious air God must have had when he told Moses ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his camel, nor his ass’.

You must be wondering, like my tummy, why on earth was I implementing such drastic austerity measures. No, I had not gone bonkers. The aforementioned diet is part of my plan to rid myself of the autoimmune disorder I have called CIDP. The diet called the Myers Way has been found to be very effective in reducing or even curing autoimmune conditions- provided, of course, the person retains his/her sanity.

The restrictions ensured that my daily food intake was rather exotic. Every day, with monotonous regularity, I eat baked sweet potato, vegetable smoothie and fruits for breakfast. For lunch, I have vegetable smoothie and sautéed vegetables; and for dinner, I have fruits, chicken/fish/prawn and vegetable soups.

After the first few days of absolute revolt, Tummy slowly adjusted to this torture. It would convulse and send signals to my mouth to start the waterworks every time my kids unwrapped a chocolate (which they seem to be doing incessantly since my diet started), but by and far, things were on track. The fact that I felt my condition improve and saw my weight plummet downwards also added to my resolve to continue on this path. Till disaster struck, that is…

That is when intolerance raised its ugly head. The first offender was my son- Advay, the bhelpuri-muncher. Out of the goodness and generosity of my heart, I had taken on the task of teaching him concepts of electricity. All was going well, till he suddenly upped and brought himself a humongous bowl of bhelpuri. With every new sentence I taught, he would deposit one spoon of bhel into his mouth and chomp away. The rampant irrigation that ensued in my mouth made the going tough. My tongue had to wade through Chennai-like floods to deliver V=I*R. Finally I got up, gathering any semblance of dignity I could, excused myself to go to the bathroom and chomped on a wet towel for the next ten minutes- till the bhelpuri-muncher finished his work. Little did he know how close the physics textbook was to transferring momentum on to his head in a southwardly direction.

Soon afterwards, my daughter, Ananya the multi-food-muncher, never one to be left behind, joined the fun with gay abandon. While sitting next to me on the sofa, watching Quantico, she proceeded to chomp away on two sandwiches, two scrambles eggs and a doughnut, all within a span of half, heartbreaking, hours. The reason I swallowed multiple times during Quantico that day had nothing to do with the suspense of the show.

Having survived these onslaughts, Tummy and I limped along, grumbling, till disaster struck again- and like all movie sequels, the second attack was far worse than the first. It came from completely unexpected quarters- from the 54 kilo weight, diminutive Krishnan, lovingly called Rbuddi(pronounced Arbuddi), my classmate, friend, colleague and boss. The disaster unfolded as below…

That eventful day, Rbuddi and I had to catch an early morning flight to Mumbai. I swallowed 4 sweet potato patties and a glass of smoothie a 4.30AM before embarking on the jouney. I met up with Rbuddi at the airport and we checked in. So far so good. Wait! This is where the ordeal started. No sooner had we cleared security, than Rbuddi embarked on a series of contiguous pigging acts that blended seamlessly into one another- starting with one breakfast, moving on to yet another breakfast, a sumptuous lunch, a heavy snack at the airport, finally culminating in parippu payasam (!!!) on the flight back. All that while poor Tummy was feeding on the sweet potato patties that I had carried and cut fruits.

I tell you, my poor tummy cannot take any more of this intolerance. If the bhelpuri-munchers, the multifood-munchers or the parippu payasam-drinkers continue their assault on poor Tummy, we will have no option but to migrate to Ethiopia, where we can live like kings.

To read more fun stuff, read my humorous motivational bestselling book ‘From Ouch to Oops’. Click here to buy it and have a blast Amazon

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Image from https://twitter.com/e_of_blandings

If someone had told me at the age of ten that one day I would write a bestselling book in English, I would have been completely surprised. English and I were not on the best of terms, since I was doing my schooling entirely in Malayalam, my mother tongue. Not only the sciences and social studies, even English language was taught in Malayalam by our well-meaning teachers. Moreover, like any staunch Communist, as most Malayalis were, I abhorred English as the language of capitalist imperialist pigs. Thus, I would have been wandering through life quoting Malayalam poets at the drop of a hat and drawing myself up indignantly at the mere sight of anyone speaking in English, had it not been for P.G. Wodehouse.

Yes, yes, I can imagine the perplexed looks on your faces. ‘PG Wodehouse is English personified’, you must be thinking. So how did this Anglophobe gain from the great man?

Well, the story goes as follows. I used to love reading. Apart from reading mythologies  of every conceivable country– Indian, Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Mexican, Nordic, Celtic etc. translated into Malayalam, I would also read translations of classics such as the Three Musketeers or Bram stoker’s Dracula. (not a very wise move, considering I used to stay awake many nights, clutching on to a pod of garlic, staring at my brother’s face to see if his fangs were growing). But my mind was always on an enormous tome at home with the title ‘Most of P. G. Wodehouse’. One night, after my brother BalG, our cat Namu and I pestered my dad relentlessly, he picked up this volume and narrated to us ‘Monkey Business’, the gripping story of Montrose Mulliner, who ‘overcame’ an 800 pound gorilla to win the hand of the girl he loved – all in chaste Malayalam. He managed to retain most of the original humour in the translation, and we were hooked on to PGW. Over the next couple of years, we learned how Wilfred Mulliner rescued his lady love from the vile clutches of Jasper ffinch ffaromere; how Adrian smiled his way through to victory; how George sizzled like a cockroach when he should have been crooning sweet nothings etc. among other assorted Mulliner stories. Golf stories, Blandings stories and Jeeves stories followed in quick succession.

I realized two very important things in life 1. Reading English books can be really fun and 2. Pigs are noble creatures.

Over the next couple of years, starting with Enid Blyton and swiftly working my way up, I managed to improve my English vocabulary sufficiently to be able to read the great man for myself. There were, of course, words that completely stumped me at first – such as ‘imbecile’ and ‘predicament’. However, I gamely plodded on and over time, as I devoured every one of those 952 pages, my grasp and love for the English language grew by leaps and bounds. English language was great – and one that could express humour so well. And with my newfound chummy disposition towards pigs, even being a capitalist, imperialist pig was not so bad. Sad to say that my yearning for a porcine companion remains unfulfilled to this day.

It is not surprising then, that when I wrote my first book, ‘Oops the Mighty Gurgle’, it bordered on the absurd, being sprinkled with situations that could remind one of Bertie Wooster’s predicaments. The greatest compliment I received was when someone told me that the book was a perfect blend of PG Wodehouse and Isaac Asimov. You see, the book was an attempt at marrying science fiction with absurd humour – and I must confess with all humility that I have had many a fan mail, blaming me for causing the reader to look like an imbecile for giggling inanely on a flight. Not surprising, considering that the Darth Vader equivalent in the book is an evolved future-pig called Napoleon and that the most interesting chapter of the book is based on a planet called Holibutt that is inhabited by a species called Cerebums- whose brains are strategically located in a more central part of the body.

And then I wrote my second book, the one that went on to become a bestseller, titled ‘From Ouch to Oops’. This time the challenge was even more – to marry humour and inspiration. It narrated my own life story through its various ups and downs, culminating in the story of how I was crippled by an autoimmune disorder at the height of my career and then reinvented myself as an author, writing my first book using a voice to text software. Thanks to PGW, even this story – which people have found inspiring- was told in a lighthearted, humorous and extremely positive vein.

I guess I can never write a book that is completely serious. But then, I ask you, why should one tell a story as if one has a stick firmly shoved up one’s posterior, when one has the ability to make readers laugh their posteriors off!!

To read ‘Oops the Mighty Gurgle’, click here OMG!

And to read ‘From Ouch to Oops’, click here FOTO

( Image courtesy Aswajith Online )

We Mallayalis are a strange breed indeed. I have always known that. I was reminded of it this time when I visited Kerala. I had gone there to address two groups of English teachers – in Kottayam and Cochin. Driving from Cochin airport to Kottayam, I was once again struck by the incredible beauty of this land and by the amazing contradictions in the people there.  You see, apart from being born and brought up there, I have had the ‘experience’ of a lifetime spending couple of years of my adult life in Kerala. In terms of excitement, that experience falls somewhere between being bludgeoned continuously every 30 seconds with a blunt object and having 220 volts of electricity being applied intermittently to your backside every five minutes. Massive ups and downs if you get my drift. I often ask myself why this is so. The answer always comes back to ‘The Fundamental Rights of a Malayali’.

To understand the ‘Fundamental Rights of a Malayali’, one has to first understand the psyche of a Malayali. The Mallu is one incredibly sensitive being. I have long pondered on why the good lord made Mallus so fair minded, yet so darned bristly at the same time. Finally, in a moment of inspired insight, the answer came to me. Unlike the rest of humanity, who evolved from mere monkeys, the Mallu has evolved from porcupines. This simple fact, so well hidden from Darwin (possibly because his limited experience never encompassed extreme cases such as meeting a Mallu), explained the bristling behavior of the Mallu. Having laid the foundation, I have taken great pains to put down a comprehensive list of the ‘Fundamental Rights of a Malayali’, a compendium of guiding principles which govern a Mallu’s life, his interaction with other Mallus and with other lower level mortals and why his ‘each particular hair stands on end like the quills upon the fretful porpentine’ (as you can see, Bill Shakespeare on the other hand, has certainly experienced a Mallu to have written these lines so appropriately) when he is affronted (as is his usual wont).

The ‘FRoaM’ reads as follows…

Right to equality – Every Mallu is born a communist unless otherwise specified by his/her parents. They shall continuously strive to create a society of equals by uplifting themselves as much as humanly possible and after that by subtly taking potshots at others who are more equal.

Right to Samaram(strike) – Every Mallu at birth is inculcated with vast knowledge of Satyagraha, which he/she hones by continuous practice of striking at least once every month from grade 1 to the age of 77. During months in which holidays are limited, he/she strikes several times extra to get his/her rightful number of off days.

Right to Flag Hoisting – Every Mallu male is entitled to hoisting his Mundu or his Lungi several inches above his knees and to showing off his hairy legs while pretending  to be Silk Smitha.

Right to Freedom of Spirit – Every Mallu must at all points in time be pickled liberally and should strive for this exalted spiritual state by imbibing from early morning. Even if he has to queue up in front of the Kallu Shaap before it opens at the ridiculously late hour of 8AM.

A corollary to this is Right to Brandy – A true blue Mallu shall only drink Brandy, since he is able to assuage his guilt by pretending that the good spirit is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Right to Red rice & Fish curry – A  Mallu may consume fish curry and red rice any time of the day starting 6AM.

A corollary to this is right to Beef fry and Porotta, right to Appam and Muttakkari and right to Tapioca and Fish curry. (except that Appam and Muttakkri may start at 5 AM.)

Right to Consider Sreesanth as the God of Cricket – The Mallu does not believe in RamG’s epic story on the 10th Avatar of Vishnu being Sachin Tendulkar as given in Oh God!!. In his mind, Sreesanth is the only god of cricket and has been unfairly treated by Krishnamachari Srikanth, a mere jealous Paandi.

Right to Murder English Pronunciation- This is a very Fundamental and inalienable right of a Mallu. Specifically, he may murder all words having an ‘O’ in them or may ‘simbly’ substitute a ‘B’ for a ‘P’ every time it dares to make an appearance after an ‘M’. The same may be said of a ‘K’ or a hard ‘C’ if they so much as try to jump in ahead of an ‘L’ as any of my ‘Ungles’ may agree.

Right to Amazing Names – A  Mallu may be named by clubbing together any set of right sounding syllables as in the case of Jiju, Joji, Shiny, Shiji, Shiju… etc. Siblings may adopt rhyming agglomeration of syllables as in the case of Jincy and Lincy or even Tiju, Liju and Biju.

Right to scoff at Tamilians – A Mallu may at all times treat the Tamilian as an inferior being (Having actually drawn a substantial part of their cultural heritage from Tamil Nadu) and may call them Paandis.

A corollary is that the Mallu has the right to be offended if the Tamilian retailiates by calling him a ‘Malayali Gentleman’ in a sneering fashion. For more on this, you may read up my treatise on the subject as given in Tamil Brahmin Father-in-law

Finally, and most importantly, the Mallu has a Right to Bristle at all insults, real, imagined or not yet imagined.  He has to uphold the traditions of his ancestor, the fretful porpentine. A very very important corollary to this is that all male Mallus must sport some of the quills inherited from their ancestors on their face- namely on their upper lip. This helps them bristle.

That, my friend, completes my well researched document on the Fundamental Rights of a Malayali. Now let me warn you, we Mallus are actually amazing. We have religious harmony, communal harmony, sex ratio, development index, literacy rate, female infant mortality, all to prove that we are a great breed. And we even have the ability to laugh at ourselves. But if you, who is evolved from a mere ape and not an exalted porcupine even so much as dare chuckle at this article, we shall all bristle in indignation, and poke your sorry backside with so many quills that you will never be able to sit again to have your Masal Dosas and your Tandoori Chickens.

For reading more such fun stuff, read my book, ‘From Ouch to Oops’. (be prepared to startle those around you with sudden explosive laughter and at the same time, feel awesomely positive). To but this, click here From Ouch to Oops

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“So Jayashri’s visit to Bombay is f***ed ?” He asked me, eyes twinkling. 

I stared at the man open mouthed!! The versatile four letter word so blithely flowing out of the 60 year old, supposedly god fearing Tamil Brahmin’s lips stunned me. Hey, this guy is cool, I thought to myself and gave him a chummy smile, almost as if to say, “hey you old coot, did not know you were one of us”!!

Again he said “So thanks to the strike in her factory, Jayashri’s trip to Bombay seems to have gone Phut”

Ah! I realized with a tinge of disappointment that he had actually said Phut (means Kaput) and not really the word of words.

This was my first interaction with Mr. V. Ramamurti, my would be father in law. My wife and I met each other in XLRI, where she was one year junior to me. Subsequently, she also ended up at Titan watches, where we had our respective first jobs (she vehemently denies that she chased me and came to Titan – Ha). We fell in love and wanted to get married. The only catch was that she was from a Tamil Brahmin (Iyer) family and I was from a Malayali Menon family. Since Jayu’s mom had passed away when she was quite young, quite a bit of her upbringing was done by her grandmother, who also ran their household – in a very traditional manner.
So when Jayu upped and told her dad that she wanted to marry a Malayali, he even refused to acknowledge it.

It took a fair amount of work from her sister to convince her dad that I was rather higher in the evolutionary pegging order than a pathetic worm. The fact that I could down 12 pegs of rum a day without blinking an eyelid and smoke enough cigarettes to make a substantial contribution to global warming were facts that were wisely hidden from him at that time. So one fateful day, I reached Mumbai to make first contact. With a heart full of apprehension and hope I waited in Shubha’s (Jayu’s sister) house for the prospective father in law, V.Ramamurti to descend. And his first words as he descended were what I described in the beginning.

Even though it turned out that he did not use my type of words, over the next couple of days, I came to the conclusion that he was a decent sort of bloke. Quite amiable and sweet, though he did take me thru a bit of history (namely of his own childhood thru to adulthood days), by the end of two days we were on decidedly chummy terms. But my restlessness kept growing, since after 48 hours, the gentleman never once mentioned the holy alliance between his daughter and myself. I felt a bit deflated, much as how Musharaf did when after being invited by Clinton to discuss a $1Billion aid, at the end of the visit he discovered that all he and Bill had discussed were Pakistani women, Cigars, terrorists, Kababs and what not.

But I was made of strong stuff. In the last 5 minutes before I was to eject from the house, I took courage in my hands and with a prayer in my heart, I told him – “Uncle, I am sorry if I have hurt you in anyway by falling in love with your daughter.” Impressive stuff, you must admit. And it finally penetrated the armor. VR got quite emotional and I could see that I was now well on the way to winning the trophy.

And trophy I did win in Feb 1995. From the wedding onwards, our cultures were a study in contrast. The wedding was in Malayali style, in a temple. The visiting Tam Brahm clan, which had braced themselves for the usual ‘2 nights of smoke and lack of sleep, which causes headaches’ kind of wedding felt like the rug was pulled from under their feet when having been herded into the temple, after the first blink, they discovered that RamG and Jayu were now man and wife. Cheated, I say!!

Appa (from that day, that is what I called Jayu’s dad) had sent 50K to my dad to organize the wedding. He had carried another similar sum in a leather bag, clutched to his bosom for the past 48 hours. The sum, he was sure may not be enough to cover the overall cost. He could not believe his ears when my dad returned some money from the original 50K itself stating that the total expense was below 50K. All said and done, the flag of RamG was now generally flying high in Appa’s eyes.

Appa made a formal entry into our home after our first baby – Ananya – was born. It was a huge relief for us, since it meant an overall supervision of things at home. A supervisory role which Appa took to with gusto!! A bit too much of gusto at times!!

The incident, which was to be referred to ever since as the ‘Economic Times Crisis’ happened around 6 years after our marriage. We had just shifted to Coimbatore. I discovered Hindu Businessline there and wanted to order this daily, along with the Hindu and Eco Times. Appa vehemently protested. Or so I heard, since Mappilai Maryadai (the respect due to a son in law) prevented him from disagreeing with me directly and all such conversations were routed thru the medium of Jayu!! His point was that Hindu Businessline and ET covered the same stuff and so why order both. I put my foot down. I pointed out to my wife that I was the master of the house. I made sure that she personally briefed the paperwallah on our daily requirements. Matters went well for 3 days. Then I realized that the ET was missing from the daily bouquet of papers.

An intense investigation was instituted at home. And I couldn’t believe the findings!! Appa, the god fearing Brahmin, the man who was so courteous and sweet had got up at 5AM (which anyway he does) and instructed the paperwallah to stop ET. I was speechless. This complete underhand deal left me baffled. Of course, I could not express my displeasure to him directly, except by giving him dirty looks behind his back and muttering – “where is the ET?” in a marked manner within his earshot. Jayu, of course was a chingari. She took it up very strongly with Appa and finally we restored the ET. Except on Saturdays and Sundays – where Appa still had his way. He believed that at Rs.5, this edition was a waste. So we finally entered into a truce – ET stayed, but not the weekend edition. Peace reigned throughout the household again. All was well.

Apart from these few incursions across the LOC, Appa was generally the personification of sweetness, piousness and love. I am yet to see a more wonderful human being in my life. His sweet nature also ensures that most of the young women that we knew clustered around him. (This of course was also a very positive development as far as I was concerned)

When I shifted to Coimbatore and Jayu gave up her job after Advay, our son was born, Appa was very worried if we could still afford the quality of rice we were used to. Since he ran the household, cheaper rice became the norm. It took us quite sometime and a promotion to convince him that we were not actually below the poverty line.
This is the quintessential Appa – he worries about everything. He worries that we might miss our flight every time we go on tour. He worries about our work. He worries about the kids… If he has a train to catch, he would be at the platform 2 hours early.

But the huge contradiction is the incredible courage he displayed when his wife was suffering from MND at a young age. I believe he never ever gave up hope or stopped trying. He took care of her every need, spending hours by her bedside in her last days. After she passed away, he continued displaying the same courage – bringing up two girls, trying to ensure they never felt the absence of their mother, pushing them academically, till one got into the civil services and one got into XLRI. Today, he is a proud father, happy at their achievements.

Over the last few years, he has adjusted so well to me and my Malayali ways. (He refers to all Malayalis as Malayali gentlemen, almost as if it is an oxymoron.) He does not even mind that we cook chicken at home. My son, in a mad sense of humor once went and told him – “Tata, I am a Brahmin”. Thrilled, Appa asked him why he felt that. The answer came promptly “ Because I eat chicken!”

Over time, he realized that his son in law was rather attached to the occasional binges. He however turned a blind eye. Except on one occasion, when a lot of my friends had come visiting and we were partying late into the night. Having run out of Tequila, we decided to have shots of Triplesec. In about half an hour, I was completely sozzled. The nearest bed in sight was next to Appa and I decided to sleep it off. Unfortunately, as soon as my head hit the pillow, it seemed to be caught in a tornado, and I had a terrible urge to throw up. I got out of bed, only to find out that my legs seemed to have lost all coordination. I gamely crawled on all fours to the bathroom and back. Poor Appa was awake all the while, watching the antics in horror. But his heart melted when having laid down next to him, I kept muttering, “I am sorry Appa.” “Even in his dire straits, he only thinks of me” – he proudly told my wife later.

The most touching moment in our relationship happened when I had a job in Gurgaon and we had to shift from Hyderabad to Gurgaon. Appa had many friends in Hyderabad and I knew he would miss the place terribly. I asked Appa whether he would mind moving. He looked at me and said “ When I was young, I wanted to bring my old dad from Tanjore to Mumbai. I asked him whether he would feel out of pkace in Mumbai. He turned to me and told me – where Ram is there, that is Ayodhya. Similarly, for me, where Ram is there, that is Ayodhya”. I was deeply touched.

He has become such an essential ingredient to daily life, that I miss him so much when he is away. Even his micromanaging ways- my wife jokingly asks me whether Appa has been acting too Uppity every once in a while – has now become an entertainment. When a person loves you unconditionally, how do these small things matter? Every moment he is at home, I feel enveloped in his love and tenderness.

Kudos to Ramamurti – the Tamil Brahmin who was born in an ultra orthodox family in an Agraharam in deep Tamil Nadu, who has had the courage to modify his traditional beliefs and who has been able to accept, love and wholeheartedly embrace a son in law like me.

To read more such fun stuff, you can read my bestselling book “From Ouch to Oops”. I promise it will make you laugh, even while inspiring you.

It is available at From Ouch to Oops

 

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The pictures taken before my treatment and after six months of intense body re-building post my treatment.

This post was originally written in my blogspot blog on 1st April 2013. Sharing now so that I can give an update in Episode-2.

I was thirty three and on top of the world when the niggling worry started. It was nothing serious in the beginning. I found that my hand would tremble when I was holding up a spoon, a plate, a glass of beer etc. My original self-diagnosis was that this was caused by work related stress. When one becomes a country manager at 31, apart from being on top of the world, the by-product is stress. And when at 33, I had moved into a telecom operation as head of sales and marketing, the effect was approximately like moving from the frying pan into the fire.

But stress did not explain the loss of balance I used to face while climbing down stairs, which was a second symptom that had started developing.

But being very busy climbing the corporate ladder (I became one of the youngest COOs in a telecom operation in India in couple of years), I ignored the symptoms. Finally, when I did meet a doctor, he examined me and said I was perfectly all right.

In the next two years, the condition quickly worsened. My fingers started losing their strength and it also became difficult for me to climb up stairs. The COO of a state telecom operation was a reasonably high profile position. I would be invited for various events and would feel a cold clammy feeling in the pit of my stomach if this involved climbing up on to a stage. I would be petrified of falling and would pray to god every step of the way. (Imagine being the chief guest at the Cochin Naval Ball and spending the whole time worrying about how I would climb up the stage instead of admiring the beauties I was judging.) I also started finding it difficult to do anything which required fine motor coordination, like putting on buttons. I had to stop driving, an activity which I loved.

Over the next 4 years, the condition steadily worsened and I had to move roles so that I could still manage to deliver on my job. In the meanwhile, I had couple of more wrong diagnoses from doctors and was told that the condition was genetic and untreatable.

It was then that my uncle Dr. Balakrishnan, a renowned doctor, helped me set up an appointment with the HOD of neurology at Amrita Institute in Cochin. Dr. Ananthakumar examined me and indicated that the condition was not congenital but was an acquired disorder called CIDP. To be 100% sure, he did a nerve biopsy. While waiting for the biopsy result, one day I contracted a viral fever. This triggered an acute case of the condition and I was laid up for about nine days. I could not lift my hands even 1 cm, sit up or even talk. Luckily, an angel by the name of Dr. Monica Thomas, whom I had never met before and who was referred to us by Dr. Ananthakumar, took the trouble to come all the way to my house after a full day’s work. She took one look at me and confirmed the condition as CIDP. She got me admitted in a hospital.

CIDP is an autoimmune disorder- Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy. My own immune system was attacking my peripheral nerves and they were losing their conductivity. This in turn was making my muscles useless and over a period of time, the muscles were wasting away. For the first time in seven years, there was a tangible condition that I could fight. The standard treatment for the condition was to take an intravenous medication called IVIG. A full course was 2g/Kg of weight which in my case worked out to 160g. This had to be taken over five days. It cost Rs.6 lacs!! But at the end of the five days, I was way better. Over the next couple of weeks, my body became almost completely fine. I was better than I had ever been for the previous five years. I was on top of the world. I ran up ten flights of stairs to my office, cooked pizzas for my kids and buttoned up all the shirts with a vengeance! But in 45 days, the condition came crashing down again. The effect of the magic potion had worn off. The doctor had not warned me of this. For me, who thought the whole issue was behind me, this came as the rudest shock. I met the doctor again. He suggested I start on steroids. Steroids would suppress my immunity, and this would lead to an improvement in the condition. He also recommended another dose of IVIG. This time I took a fifth of the first dose, since we couldn’t afford to spend on a complete dosage.

Over the next 3 years, I took IVIG once every two months (the truncated dosage due to financial reasons). The effect kept waning and I had to take it even more frequently. The dosage of steroids had to keep increasing from 30mg per day to 40, 50, 60 and finally 80. I bloated up like a balloon and put on about 14 kilos. My eyesight started fading (an effect of the steroid and I finally had to undergo a cataract operation). In spite of all the medication, the condition steadily worsened.

Before the condition, I had always walked with a spring in my steps. Now I could barely lift my legs. I found it impossible to lift even small weights. My wrist started flopping – it lost all articulation. My left foot started dropping – the ankle muscle stopped responding. I had to lift the leg up high and place it forward to avoid tripping over a flopping foot. It became impossible to button up my shirts. When travelling, I had to wake up at 5.00 am for an 8 am meeting, since it would take me 90 minutes to put on five buttons. Finally I had to stitch special shirts with concealed press buttons with dummy buttons stitched on outside. The worst was when I had to go to the urinal. It would take time to find the zip with my nerveless fingers- while my bladder was screaming at me to go! And often, after the job was done, it would take as much as ten to fifteen minutes to zip back up.

Through all this, there were a few important rules I created for myself.
– Never ever think of what could have been.
– Always be cheerful and be the provider of cheer – at home, at work…
– Actively seek solution instead of moaning about the problem.
– At work, always do more than what is expected of me.
– Thank god every day for a wonderful family, great friends, relatives and above all, for my unconquerable spirit.

I would keep pushing myself to walk, exercise, do yoga etc., while continuously searching for solutions on the web. Unfortunately, fate seemed to think I needed a few more knocks.

At work, I had continued to take on extra responsibilities and work long hours, even though I could barely walk (I had to use a crutch) or use my fingers and hands (typing was a laborious process). One fine day, I got sacked for the unethical behaviour of some subordinates 4 levels below me. Life couldn’t get worse.

Fortunately, I had the ability to seek solutions instead of wallowing in problems and quickly found myself another job. Also on one of my internet researches, I came across a clinical trial that was going on at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. I reached out to them and the nurse got back immediately with all the details of the program. We also heard from her that the doctor, Dr. Richard Burt, the head of the Division of Immunotherapy &am Autoimmune Diseases (DIAD) at Northwestern was slated to come to India for a talk. (Dr.Burt)

We attended the talk and he was kind enough to have dinner with us. He was as humble and down to earth as his achievements were lofty and life changing.

Over the years, he had treated many autoimmune disorders for which there were no real cures. These included Multiple Sclerosis (MS), Diabetes, Lupus, Crohn’s, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy (CIDP), Phemphigus, Dermatomyositis, Devic’s, Myasthenia Gravis, Polymositis and Scleroderma. He had given life back to many patients who had lost all hope. Jayu (my wife) and I discussed and decided it was worth going for this. The procedure was ‘Autologous Nonmyeloablative Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplant’. A mouthful, I agree! But what it meant was usage of one’s own blood cell producing Stem Cells to regenerate one’s blood cells. The term non-myeloablative meant the dosage of chemo was not very aggressive.

The whole evaluation and treatment had to be in Chicago, spread out over 10 weeks.
For Jayu and I, the trip was in a way a nice holiday too. We enjoyed the stay at Chicago, right in the middle of the Magnificent Mile. Even though there was so much uncertainty, it was also a time of intense hope. The fact that my classmate couple, Manish and Radhika and another classmate Sridhar and his wife Vasudha made every effort to make us completely comfortable in Chicago helped hugely. Skype to our parents and children and family also kept us connected to loved ones and their best wishes and prayers.

The first 2-3 weeks was for evaluation- to make absolutely sure that the condition was CIDP. This was followed by mobilisation – where a dose of chemo was injected into the body to stimulate production of Stem Cells. About ten days later, sufficient quantity of Stem Cells were then harvested and kept aside. Then four weeks later, the actual treatment started. This included injecting chemo and certain other substances into the body to completely knock out the entire immune system. After this, the Stem Cells were re-injected into the body and within about ten days, I was discharged.

The staff at Northwestern was amazing. The nurses were the most professional I had ever seen in my life. Even in the hospital, the doctor was considered to be a miracle worker. But more than anything, he was a wonderful person: sensitive, empathetic and extremely knowledgeable.

By the last four days in the hospital, I could start feeling my body responding. My will, which was long shackled inside an unresponsive body, exulted. I embarked on a rigorous exercise routine.

Back home, over the next year, I set myself a blistering target to recover my lost muscles. I created a target sheet with daily increasing targets for the next six months for 28 different muscle work outs. Then, every day I pushed myself to do better than the target.

The fact I was writing my first book – Oops the Mighty Gurgle gave me a huge mental push. The book was so wacky, funny and totally in the realm of the absurd that writing it kept my spirits soaring high. I jokingly tell my friends that it was a mix of the chemo and the rat and rabbit extracts that were pumped into me that made me write such a crazy wacky nutty novel. You can read it here (Caveat : be prepared to laugh your backside off!) Oops the Mighty Gurgle

I have been trying ever since to get some of the major hospitals in India interested in the treatment and collaboration with Dr. Burt so that many more persons could have access to this life changing treatment. I have run up against walls, but will not stop trying. In the meanwhile, I would like to spread awareness about this treatment to as many people as possible. If they can afford the treatment (it is expensive), they should consider this seriously.

Today, I have almost completely regained most of my motor abilities. I can button up my shirts, drive a car, lift weights, travel alone, climb up steps without holding on to railings and can lead a pretty much normal life. I still can’t run or type very fast. My handwriting still sucks. But I am, to use a slang, rocking. I am on my second book, am consulting in the education domain and give motivational talks based on my life’s experiences.**

I continue to thank god for my wonderful wife, my lovely kids, my relatives, my friends, and my never say die spirit. But most of all, I thank god for Dr.Richard Burt and the wonderful work that he is doing, saving hundreds of lives every year.
I can be contacted on my email ID ramgopal.vallath@gmail.com and will be delighted to extend whatever help I can to anyone who is suffering from any autoimmune disorder or facing any other challenge- physically or mentally.

** I have subsequently completed my second book, From Ouch to Oops. It is my life story and it is meant to help people convert every downturn into a success. It is also humorous and I promise it will make you laugh a few times, even while making you think deeply. You can buy it here From Ouch to Oops

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