Monday, 20 May 2013

Against All Odds

I remember the day Jimmy was born. Twelve years ago, in the quaint drawing room of our downstairs neighbour. Blacky was in labour, and in a matter of minutes a 13 year old bright eyed little girl witnessed the miracle of life for the first time. 

The bright eyed girl was me, and Jimmy is the youngest of three in my family. Jimmy is my 12 year old Dalmatian, my mum's only son, and fulfilling all expectations, her favourite (mum's always have a soft corner for sons!). About 4 years ago Jimmy developed his first tumor. A lump on his left front leg, the tumor was operated upon and found to be cancerous. However our vet, Dr. Prabhakaran and the entire team at Friendicos did a marvelous job and scraped out as much of the tumor growing on his bone as possible, but this did not stop stop the tumor from coming back. What followed was a harrowing 4 years in which the tumor came back thrice and removed twice more. 

When the tumor came back for the fourth time last April we made the difficult decision, in consultation with Dr. Prabhakaran, not to go in for another operation. The operations were very taxing on Jimmy, and came with increased delay in recovery each subsequent time. So we decided to weather the storm, as we prepared to bid Jimmy goodbye and make his last few months comfortable.

But the fact was, he WASN'T comfortable. The tumor was growing faster than a colony of rats, and had burst in two places, which necessitated it being bandaged constantly. Jimmy was also losing movement in the leg due to the large size of the tumor.

Soon daily fights became commonplace at home. Mum could not see him in so much pain and begged my sister to let us put him down. My sister retorted fiercely, "If he were a human would you have said the same thing? Everybody deserves a fighting chance. It isn't up to you to decide who dies."

During this time, Mani di (our resident superwoman, the lady who raised me from the age of 6, and my mum's oldest daughter, as mum call her) befriended another dog walker in our colony. The man recommended their own vet. 

Seeing a faint light at the end of the tunnel, Mani di rallied around and convinced everyone. Finally, we went to see Dr. Gautam Unny. Dr. Unny has a reputation for taking on cases that nobody else dares touch, and the more we spoke to him, the stronger the light at the end of the tunnel became. Dr. Unny took one look at the tumor and said it was a miracle Jimmy was still alive. He said that an amputation of the whole leg from the shoulder joint was the only option. As the date for the operation was set, he promised us he would do all he could. However at the same time, he also promised us that if he opened up Jimmy and felt that the tumor was inoperable, he would put him to sleep. Jimmy had suffered enough.

The next few days passed in a flurry. Soon enough it was time for Jimmy to go in for his surgery. Bidding him goodbye, not sure if I would ever see him again, I left for work....

That day I came home to find a totally dazed looking Jimmy, my little brother has survived. He was lying on his back with a heavy bandage where his leg used to be, but he was alive. As the night progressed, and the anesthesia wore off, Jimmy started howling in pain. I had never seen him cry so much. That night I remember sitting up at about 3, startled out of my sleep with Jimmy's cries and Smiti's sobs. My sister is one of the strongest people I know, but she loves Jimmy to bits, and there he was lying with his head in her lap whining away in pain, and I saw tears of utter helplessness and desperation in her eyes.

As I sat up she looked at me. Her eyes implored me to do something, anything. Doing the only thing I know how to, I sat up and started chanting next to Jimmy's face. Being a lay Buddhist practitioner, I whole heartedly believe in the philosophy of Buddhism and try to base my life on it as much as possible. To my amazement Jimmy stopped whimpering for the first time in hours. As I continued chanting he eventually fell asleep as we both (me and Smiti) exhaled a sigh of relief. 

The operation took place in the first week of March and to everybody's surprise, on the 9th day, Jimmy was up and hobbling awkwardly on three legs. During a subsequent visit, Dr. Unny told us that while he had been operating there had been a moment, when with 36 clamps on various arteries intertwined with the tumor and Jimmy bleeding profusely, he had thought he was going to lose him. In his words, Jimmy has a lot of fight left in him. He also said that Jimmy is lucky to have a family that loves him so, and this why he pulled back from the brink of death. 

Dr. Unny and his team of two assistant doctors were amazed at our love and devotion towards Jimmy, when he learned that we had been taking him for dressing for almost one full year before he was operated on, he said, the only reason Jimmy survived so long was because he had us. Anyone else would have given up long ago.

On later visits to Dr. Unny's, I observed him very closely. This post is as much dedicated to the man as to my beloved dog. Dr. Unny is, simply put, one of a kind. He zips past in an effort to see as many patients as possible simultaneously, putting his younger assistants and even the road runner to shame. His motto is, "I don't care if there are people waiting outside, but it is simply too hot for a dog!" So trying to minimize waiting time for the animals standing patiently outside his clinic, he zips past once again.

I remember the first time I went along with Jimmy to Dr. Unny's this was 4 days postop. Dr. Unny instructed his assistants to hoist the "bachcha" (child) carefully onto the table, and as I looked around for a child, I was surprised to see them lifting Jimmy onto the table. The love with which Dr. Unny treats his patients, is evident in how he addresses them. 

I am thankful to have Jimmy in my life. The look that he gives me when I walk in the front door, as if there is no one else in his world but me, is priceless, far more priceless than the mastercard ads. He has taught me so much. But more than that I am thankful to have a sister who is as stubborn, as a mule.

Finally some Gyaan (Moral of the Story): The amputation should have taken place four surgeries ago when we first realized that the tumor was cancerous. We should not have ignored the warning signs, and for that we will never forgive ourselves, for putting him through so much pain. However even though we figured it out late the important thing is that we did not give up. Everyone and I mean everyone has right to live. Everyone deserves a shot at life. There is nothing in this world that you cannot do if you have the grit and determination. There maybe a Dr. Unny out there who might be able to weave a miracle, but you will never know unless you try.

The story is truly close to my heart and I want more people to read it. Which is why I have entered it in a contest :)

Sunday, 19 May 2013

A Hard Day's Endless Night

For most of you who know me, one of the first things that comes up, in a conversation with me is the fact that I'm fluent in German. I have been learning the language for 11 years, and it is one of my biggest passions in life. So in any conversation I tend to slip in the minor detail.

In December last year I, along with 8 other crazy people, who I now call friends (Shashank, Piyush, Pranav, Swadhin, Divi, Niket, Gunjam and Simran I love you all to bits), decided to sit for the C2 exam in German. For those of you who don't know, the European language system has been standardized, so C2 is the highest level available anywhere in the world for any European language. After spending an entire year preparing for it, and in my case giving up a job, we were very gung-ho about the whole thing. 

The result however, contrary to expectation, was a nuclear disaster the size of Hiroshima and Nagasaki put together. Only one of us managed to pass the entire exam (yes, yes Mr. Gupta we are all deliriously proud of you) and most of us failed or barely passed all 4 parts of the exam. What was most surprising however, was that at least 4 of us flunked in speaking. Now if you have ever had a conversation with me in German you will realize, I may not be able to do a hell of a lot of things in this world, but German ,especially SPEAKING German is something I can do for a living. Without being conceited, I'm THAT good at it. This is because I have studied German form Institute of German Studies Noida. Run by an Indian couple, Mr. and Mrs. Dayal, the 26 year old institute is, honest to god, world class. I have never had better teachers in my life, and I owe a lot to them. A lot more than just teaching me German, they taught me how to be a better person.

Coming back, the result of the exam was not all that shocking however. I have been studying German for long enough to realize that in the last 6 or so years Max Mueller Bhawan, Delhi has really had it in for us. For all the 11 years, we have been giving our exams at MMB, Delhi as external candidates. In the recent past a lot of students have migrated to IGS Noida form MMD Delhi, and I am in good authority to point out that the internal candidates know the exam paper beforehand. But despite all this, we never begrudged the students of MMB Delhi, because frankly we consciously chose to study at Noida. This is because we feel that IGS genuinely is better. This time however, we had had enough.

We decided to challenge the result and wrote to MMB Delhi stating that we were unsatisfied with the result. After almost 5 months, we only managed to get one reply from MMB Delhi, and it was only after a friend in Germany personally went down to München to file a complaint at Goethe Institut that any action was taken. We were called in, to come and look at ONE of the 4 parts of the exam paper. 

The following was the only English letter we wrote to MMB, the rest being in German.

I am really saddened to write that I am very disappointed with the way Goethe Institute has taken up the matter of the recently conducted C2 exam in New Delhi, India, December 2012. It has been 3 months since I first wrote an email bringing to your attention, that we were unsatisfied with the result, as well as the way in which the C2 examination was conducted, for which 9 of us appeared as external candidates. 

After 3 months of waiting we have only received one email from the director of Goethe Delhi, which failed to answer any of our questions and was overall very vague and unsatisfactory. 

After having been associated with Goethe and the German language of over a decade, I find it hard to believe that no one from Goethe Germany has come forward, or at the very least contacted us regarding the matter. Is this how you treat the students who have been learning the language for many years, some of them for over a decade? Who in turn want to build their careers in the field? Is it not the responsibility of Goethe Institute to ensure that the rights of the students are not violated? How many more months do we have to wait to get a satisfactory answer from Goethe Institute? 

The days are gone, it would seem, when Goethe institute taught German Language as a way to expose people to German culture, when “Deutsch zu lernen, was Deutschland kennenzulernen”. Has Goethe really become a big money making corporation, where we cash in money to pay an examination only? Where in case of any complaints, all one is left with is Rs. 8300 times 9 worth of heartache (yeah heartache for all the love and devotion we have shown the German language) and unanswered emails? 

Considering that we were (probably) the only group of students to take the C2 exam from India, it is a dichotomy of epic proportions that instead of being fair and rewarding us for our efforts (with replies to our emails, if nothing else) we are discriminated against for being externals and not even deemed fit to be shown our answer sheets or have our questions answered. Considering that C2: GDS is the “Gipfel Prüfung” that anyone in the world can give, in light of our experience, I am afraid Goethe Institute is doing (at best) a very shoddy job. 

Might I also mention, that the Stufe-Topper, generally, gets an opportunity to go to Germany in light of his or her hard work and perseverance. In our case of course since we have committed the grave error of being external candidates, all bets are off and, one of us, the only person in India to have cleared the C2 exam, in so far as we know, Mr. Shashank Gupta was offered not so much as a pat on his back, let alone the promise of an elusive scholarship for all his efforts. All he received was a “thank you” email from the director of Goethe Institute Delhi (Which he had to request for). 

One must also take into account that we applied as external students, due to which for some unknown reason, we had to pay two times the examination fees, which is 8300 per person, i.e. 130 euros (I do not understand the concept of paying two times the fees. Is it punishment for not having applied as internal candidates? It is almost the same fees as one would pay, were one to take the exam in Germany; and considering the purchasing power parity of India, we are paying almost 2.2 times the fees that one would pay in Germany). 

What is most surprising, however, is that I have not received even a singly reply from anyone at Goethe Germany, till date in the matter, when in fact Goethe Germany was marked on all the correspondence between us and Goethe Delhi since 3 months. I am very surprised to see no initiative from anyone at the main Goethe Institute. I now wonder if writing emails would actually result into any action at all, but alas the spirit of an eternal optimist and my great belief in the power of good, and somewhere the respect I still have (even after all this) for Goethe, force me to once again write an email beseeching action.

It is things like these over which reputations are lost. I have learnt the language for 11 years but never ever have I faced a challenge like this before. To be honest, none of us need a certificate to prove our German language skills, but it’s the matter of being unfair and non-responsive that I refuse to accept lying down. 

In the words of the renowned Polish Author, Nobel Peace Prize winner, Elie Wiesel, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest”. 

Mit freundlichen Grüßen,
C2 gruppe von Delhi (Institute of German Studies - Noida) 

Cutting a long story short, we went to MMB Delhi last Friday. The answer sheet that I was shown was bleeding red. I was told that I made grammatical errors, which are not expected from a student of my level. Upon further questioning, a mistake was pointed out as being a spelling error. To my astonishment, the word was error free, and the whole affair was over before I had a chance to look at the paper more thoroughly. I also briefly took a look at the listening module of the exam along with the answer key and unless I'm blind, which my ophthalmologist confirms I am not, the first answer on the OMR sheet was correct. This got me thinking... I wonder what other anomalies lie in the paper that I did not have time to notice? 

The battle is over and from it's side MMB got off scot free. But I really hope they realize that in the future, all of us individuals will make somethings of ourselves and become someone in life, and we will always remember what they did to us. Thank you MMB Delhi, thank you for for teaching us politics when all we wanted to learn was German.

I only wrote this post because I truly believe in the quote I wrote in the email, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest”. - Elie Wiesel, renowned Polish Author, Nobel Peace Prize winner, AND Holocaust survivor.