April 19, 2014 By
April 13, 2014 By
“You need a role model who is beautiful, is trendy, and yet is still intelligent and has good moral values”
By Anu Dev
Last Thursday, there was a Ms Mount Hope pageant held right here on the medical school’s campus. The proceeds from ticket sales went to a charity in aid of children with cancer. It was an incredible event, well planned-out and executed. We got to see another side of our friends who were contesting. As our anatomy lecturer would say, they had “Brains and beauty”.
Beauty pageants are becoming increasingly ubiquitous – especially over here in Guyana. Does this say something about us as a society? Are we possibly looking for validation?
Starting from the sixties, there’s been quite a debate about the pros and cons of such beauty pageants – especially provoked by feminist awareness. But you wouldn’t guess from the discourse in Guyana. Ah well, our sixties beauty queen Shakira Baksh did marry Michael Caine, didn’t she? World fame, other than Jim Jones, at last!
Pro-pageant supporters swear that people enjoy their shows: they allow us to enjoy beauty just like any other art form. After all, nobody’s complaining about John Singer Sargent’s paintings of females.
On the other hand, these contests promote a picture of female beauty that has been conditioned by the male gaze. Not to mention a male, western, white gaze. The present standard can only be achieved by dieting, plastic surgery, applying great dollops of skin whiteners or injections of Botox. Females are convinced to either obliterate their natural beauty or feel inferior for the rest of their lives.
With segments involving evening gown and bikinis there’s no escaping the fact that it’s definitely a western ideal of beauty being promoted. Those that protest some of these premises, such as observant Muslims or Hindus are dismissed as “traditional”. The irony that the so-called “progressive” modern standards are all from the western “tradition” is unremarked.
Another effect of beauty pageants is that by judging women mainly on their appearance, they objectify women and cement the idea that they are to be appreciated for their physical attributes instead of for other talents rather than possessing the “right” genes. The inclusion of an “intelligence” segment via questions hasn’t blunted this critique.
However, do these pageants really ‘empower’ women and ‘raise their self-confidence’ as they claim to do? I’m not so sure, since they are mainly about the physical “beauty” and that doesn’t really help to liberate women form the typical stereotypes!
But there are also those cases where women like Aishwariya Rai, Priyanka Chopra and Halle Berry used beauty pageants as stepping-stones to advance their careers in films. Would they have had the opportunities and attention they got, if they didn’t win their beauty contests?
Some would say that these women are living proof that beauty pageants can be platforms for future success and present opportunities in a male-oriented world where there are already too-few opportunities for males.
So in comparison to the large-scale pageants like Miss World or Miss Universe where many of the contestants have some degree of cosmetic surgery to have the “ideal look”, it was heartening to see the girls of our med school go up as themselves, bringing their own individuality to the stage to try to raise money for charity.
In an interesting twist, which we can call feminism II, females are now demanding the right to display their bodies whichever way they want to. In that sense, the “non-display” of their charms might also be conforming to some male notions of beauty. And the debate will go one. Ultimately like with everything else in the world, the relative importance of brains and beauty is all about who has power.
April 6, 2014 By
“The function of poetry is religious invocation of the muse; its use is the experience of mixed exaltation and horror that her presence excites” – Robert Graves
By Anu Dev
Tuesday is Rama Navami – the day we celebrate the birth of Shri Ram, the avatar of Bhagwan Vishnu, that aspect of God that sustains the universes and their life forms. The day is particularly special in my family, because my father is a Ram Bhakta. The story of Shri Rami is told in the Ramayan, a book written in beautiful poetry.
Hindus hold that our earliest religious texts were apprehensions of a reality that transcended the limitations of a finite mind. So they generally chose poetry to convey their findings – since poetry, very properly, does not describe truth but seek to connote and invoke feelings so that the truth invoked is experienced at the deepest levels of the psyche.
Our philosophy does not concede explanations only to reason. For this reason, all of our ‘religious’ presentations are actually performances that involve, singing, chanting, sounds of bells and conches, the smells of incense and the touch of all sorts of offerings to the deities. All the senses are involved – especially the sight of the Murtis – to supplement the direct apprehension of the truth embodied in the poetry.
At the more mundane level, do not all the texts of physics – the Queen of the sciences, that attempt to “describe” reality – echo that truth of that Plato that all we “see” are merely reflections of that reality as shadows on the walls of a cave?
Those writers that kept up the Samaatan Dharma are all called “kavis” – poets. Valmiki is called the AdiKavi – the first poet and the conceptualiser of the unit of poetry he wrote his text – the Ramayan. There is a very wonderful story attached to the latter circumstance. The “shloka”, as it is called, came to his mind spontaneously when he saw the grief of a bird whose mate was killed, and uttered his feelings in words.
The original Ramayan – written in Sanskrit – was retold numerous times in the following two millennia. The retelling that is most popular in Guyana is that of Sri Tulsidas – the Ram CharitManas – the exploits of Sri Rama – written almost five hundred years ago. He, of course, also set it to poetry but the language was that of the ordinary folks of among who he lived in North India – Avadhi.
The Ramayyan is an “Itihass” or “history” of individuals told to illustrate the eternal principles that should guide Hindus in their everyday life. Hindu ethics is “relational” rather than the dominant western “absolutist” variety, in that judging concrete actions depends on the place, time and circumstances.
Many of Baba Tulsidas’s verses set in metres – chaupais, chandas, and even shlokas – are known to almost every Guyanese Hindu since they are used to illustrate almost every discourse by pandits. Certainly every Hindu should know the story of Sri Ram and his consort, Mother Sita.
The following is a sample of the poetry (Chand metre) of Tulsidas, describing the circumstances of the birth of Shri Ram. It sounds much more poetic when sung in the original Avadhi!
The sun was at its zenith/
The day was neither hot nor cold/
It was a holy time that gave repose to the whole world/
A cool, soft and fragrant breeze was blowing/
The gods were feeling exhilarated/
and the saints were bubbling with enthusiasm/
The woods were full of blossoms/
the mountains were resplendent with gems/
and every river flowed a stream of nectar.
March 29, 2014 By
By Anu Dev
Those of you who love coffee can appreciate the simple pleasure of waking up to a nice, freshly-brewed cup of coffee in the morning. I guess those of you that like tea probably get some sort of satisfaction from tea, but “objectively” speaking, tea really doesn’t have anything on a nice cup of coffee. I know there are loads of tea drinkers, who have this air of self-righteous as they look down on us for enjoying our caffeine-laden drinks, but the thing is, I don’t think they quite realise that tea has caffeine as well.
The smell of coffee is just so warm and welcoming. For me it reminds me of home. In the morning and in the evenings it’s a familiar ritual to see my mom putting some coffee to brew and soon after the smell of coffee wafts through the house.
And there are so many options with coffee. You could have regular coffee or you could have an espresso or a cappuccino if you prefer. And why not have a slice of cheesecake along with your coffee?
So much can be done over a cup of coffee. You could make business plans while meeting investors over a cup of coffee. You could meet up with a friend you haven’t met in a while and chat over a cup of coffee. You could curl up in bed with a book and a hot cup of coffee to stay warm and cozy. So many memories can be made over a cup of coffee – laughing over something with your family, or even the not-so-pleasant memories of having to charge up on coffee to stay awake studying.
And since exams are right around the corner I’m guessing that coffeemakers all round will be getting more use than they’ve ever gotten before as students try to pull all-nighters to try to absorb last minute information for their Spanish orals or try to cram the names of all of the arteries supplying the heart.
But I don’t really support the whole idea of pulling all-nighters – your brain needs some downtime to process and file away all of the things you’ve learnt and it’s designed to do that while we’re asleep. It’s probably better to have half of the knowledge with a clear mind rather than having all of the knowledge while your brain is all foggy. Because in exams, you have to be able to analyse the question, retrieve information quickly and apply that information to the question.
It’s important to try to keep calm in the days leading up to your exam. It’s very easy to become panicked and stressed out if you’ve left everything to the end. Or even if you’re well-prepared, sometimes nerves can cause you to become panicked. It’s always helpful to take a deep breath, go for a walk or find some other way to let off some steam. So take a break every now and again, work some past papers, take a deep breath and you’ll all be fine.
And for parents of the students taking exams – you’re as involved in the whole exam-taking process as your kid! So keep them well-fed, make sure they’re not pushing themselves too hard – we don’t want them to burn themselves out – and just be there to lend them a helping, supportive hand.
Your kids probably won’t be the easiest to deal with around this time – they’ll be tense and snappish and sometimes they’ll probably be rude. But it’s because of the enormous amount of pressure they’re under. CSEC and CAPE are really important exams, they help to determine what colleges we can go to, what type of jobs we might end up having someday. And trust me; all of these thoughts are currently weighing down your child. But they’ll be back to being your lovable darlings when their exams are all over.
So good luck to all of the students who are quickly hurtling towards their first exams, whether it’s CSEC, CAPE, or end-of-semester exams!
And since Monday is a holiday here in Trinidad, I’ve planned out a nice day of lounging about in my pyjamas with a cup of coffee while reading a lovely book for the holiday. I’m kidding, I’ll probably be studying – the coffee part stays though. Oh the joys of being a med student!
March 22, 2014 By
This morning I awoke to the sound of a pigeon loudly and persistently flapping against my window. Every time I tried to snuggle back under the covers for a few more minutes of sleep the bird started flapping at my window again. The truth be told, I got worried that it might somehow flap its way into my room to terrify me even further. Earlier this week I had my first encounter with a massive spider in my room.
I was content to let the spider go in peace since I was worried that its spider-friends would come out in full force to avenge the death of their comrade. But the spider slowly started inching its way toward my bed, and I had no choice but to take its life, armed with nothing but my broom and all the courage I could muster. I vanquished that foe thankfully, but between monstrous spiders and ferocious red-eyed pigeons I’m not feeling very kindly toward Mother Nature.
But the persistence of that pigeon did inspire me to write this article. It made me think about how important it is to be persistent in trying to achieve your goals. Persistence can be a very admirable trait – unless you’re a pigeon disturbing the sleep of an exhausted med student.
The only way you can be guaranteed success is if you stick to things, even if they’re not going perfectly at the moment. You can’t just give up at the first sign of trouble or at the first indication that the road ahead has more bumps and pot-holes than one of our roads in Guyana.
There’s that old cliché that says that the measure of a person isn’t how many times they fall, but instead how many times they get back up again. And it’s true; the greatest moments are those moments when you can rise up again after being faced with a seemingly insurmountable problem. That problem could be a ridiculously difficult math problem at school or it could be losing your job. At every step of your life there will be new problems, problems that seem like the most difficult thing in the world to deal with.
But if you stick to things and not just jump off and abandon ship, the end-result will be so worth it all. You could end up with a degree or a successful marriage or end up beating the odds and winning your case in court – it all depends on what you were aiming for and how committed you were to putting in the hard work. So put in the hard work, stay committed and stay true to yourself and your goals.
I should probably look into getting some Baygon to spray my room to prevent any further invasion of spiders and bugs, seeing as my parents aren’t in Trinidad to kill them for me and all of my flat-mates are equally petrified of spiders as I am.
March 16, 2014 By
By Anu Dev
“Behold, my friends, the spring is come; the earth has gladly received the embraces of the sun, and we shall soon see the results of their love!”
— Chief Sitting Bull
This year, for the first year ever in all my 18 years, I won’t be home to celebrate Phagwah with my family. So far I’ve been lucky enough to be able to fly home for my birthday, Diwali and our yearly pooja. But this time, med school is in full swing and there’s really no chance of flying home for the Phagwah weekend. So I guess I’ll have to experience a Trinidadian Phagwah this year. And I’ll probably try to make at least some GulabJamoon to have a few sweets for the Phagwah weekend.
So I can only imagine that things in Guyana will go on as usual with the females of the home busy in the morning, cooking all types of traditional Holi sweets like Gujiya, Gulgula, RasMilai, GulabJamoon and Thandai so that everyone will be free to go out and play Phagwah.
Phagwah commemorates the beginning of Spring, the triumph of good over evil and a time for new beginnings for everyone. It’s a story set many eons ago among a people called “Asuras” – traditionally opposed to the gods but incorrectly called ‘demons”. A young Asura prince named Prahalad – had the courage to stand up to his own father, King Hiranyakashipu who had started to challenge the gods. Because of a boon he received form Lord Bramha, he was nearly invincible and so filled with arrogance and pride. He demanded he be worshipped by his subjects.
To paraphrase Albus Dumbledore, “It takes great courage to stand up to our enemies but it takes even greater courage to stand up to our family (friends)”. And Prahalad had that courage. No matter how many times his father and teachers tried to convince him otherwise, Prahalad always kept his belief in Lord Vishnu. And his prayers didn’t go in vain. The king had his minions try every which way to kill his obstinate son but to no avail: the boy was protected by Lord Vishnu. This was even when his Aunt Holika, immune to fire, tried to burn him in a pyre.
Finally, Hiranyakashipu scornfully challenged Prahalad to prove that Lord Vishnu was indeed in everything and everyone. Lord Vishnu appeared out of a pillar as Narsimha – half man-half lion. Hiranyakashipu’s boon was that he couldn’t be killed by man nor animal; not by hand nor by any weapon; not in the day nor in the night; not in a house outside nor on the ground nor in the air. Lord Narsimha killed Hiranyakashipu with his claws, on his knee, on the doorstep of the palace at exactly dusk. Prahalad was crowned King.
The lesson, of course, is that anyone can be a Prahalad by standing up to the Hiranyakashipu in their life. Life isn’t about always being a passive person who doesn’t have opinions or who doesn’t stand up for their beliefs. That’s not to say you should always pick up cudgels whenever someone steps on your toes. But you should always let them know firmly, that you’re not just someone they can take advantage of.
The story of Prahalad will be told countless times this week as schools put on Phagwah shows incorporating the story as a skit or in mandirs and in homes.
The message of Phagwah is a very strong one. Stand up for what you believe in; don’t be a carpet that everyone walks over. Always remember Prahalad, a young boy who had the strength, the courage to stand up for his beliefs. Don’t just go along to get along.
Phagwah is also the harbinger of Spring – the time of rebirth and renewal. It’s a time for joy and merriment. So everyone, go out this Monday and have a wonderful, colourful Phagwah! Holi Re! Sadly, in Trinidad, it’s not a Public Holiday. Rub some abrac for me…
March 8, 2014 By
“Whatever women do they must do twice as well as men to be thought half as good. Luckily, this is not difficult.”-Charlotte Whitton
By Anu Dev
Yesterday, Saturday, March 8, was International Women’s Day, commemorated under the theme, “Inspiring Change”.
And though respect for women has come a long way from the days when women were confined to only domestic duties, it’s still proof that we still have a long way to go if there still needs to be a massive global event to remind the world of the achievements of the women in society. Not to mention the need to treat them equally.
We need to reach the point where we don’t need to have events like International Women’s Day to inspire women that they can achieve greatness. Women should never question or be questioned whether they deserve to be educated, to have jobs, to make their own decisions.
Queen’s College, the premier secondary school in Guyana, has a population of mostly girls. We out-performed the boys at Common Entrance or NGSA, to earn a place at QC. And then went on to excel there.
But even after all of that, when we’re done with school and ready to have jobs, we’ll be working in a ‘man’s world’. A world where women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts. A world where women have to work doubly hard: first do their job, and simultaneously work to prove to the doubters that they’re good enough to deserve to be where they are.
But we’ve come a long way. Women can vote now. Women attend college. There are female doctors, astrophysicists, astronauts.
The feminists of the 1970’s era made great strides towards shifting society’s attitude in the direction of women’s equality. But unfortunately, now, years later, when many of the big battles have already been won by the feminists of old, younger women take some of the rights that they have now for granted. They truly believe that they owe nothing to feminism.
And we’ve begun to backslide. On TV, in movies, on social networking sites, there’s just so much exposure, so many females dressing ‘provocatively’. I mean sure, you can wear whatever you like, that’s the point, equal rights and all of that. But why do they choose those particular pieces of clothes? Mostly to appeal to males. So the “male gaze” still dictates what females wear, or in most cases, not wear. And what we strive to be.
Women might have the right to vote. They might be elected President. But how many are? Why? They might make brilliant discoveries, like Marie Curie, the only double winner in the Nobel Prizes. But what women really need, and what all the battles have essentially been all about, is respect. Women need to be respected. They deserve to be respected. But first, they need to start respecting themselves.
Dress however you like, you have that freedom, but always think about your reasons for dressing the way you do. Because in the long run, respect is worth a whole lot more than a couple of opportunities to wear skimpy clothes. We have to be seen as more than ‘meat”. This is not trivial because it defines much of our orientation in other aspects of life.
So until women are accepted for the great things that they do every day, until they are respected every day, we need to march in the streets for International Women’s Day. Women deserve more than one day of the year to be appreciated, so let’s remind the world every other day of the year.
Because women, house babies within them for nine months, they basically create life. Every one of us has a mother, even males, the ones who ‘run the world’.
The all-powerful males with their air of superiority need to remember something – their mothers could’ve had abortions. Their mother – A WOMAN – made the decision to keep them. A woman, decided to keep them in their wombs for nine months, to put up with morning sickness and all the torture of childbirth for them.
So what kind of a repayment to their mothers is it when those same boys grow up to treat women as being lesser to them? Or even beat them like animals?
March 1, 2014 By
By Anu Dev
I’m a big fan of cheesecake – whether it’s my Mom’s homemade cheesecake (well via Junior’s of Brooklyn recipe) or the slices I regularly buy for myself. I’m not that particular – graham cracker crust, sponge cake crust, whipped cream topping, cherry topping – I don’t mind whichever. Throw a slice my way and I’ll work my way through it. Luckily, the Rituals at Mount Hope is always well stocked with the requisite slices and a variety of toppings to meet my needs.
I usually pick up a slice to reward myself, or as a little pick-me-up when I’m not feeling that upbeat. Usually it’s to reward myself for surviving yet another long day and it actually manages to cheer me up quite a bit. In all honesty, I’m never out of what I think are very solid reasons for eating cheesecake.
I think it’s important to reward ourselves every now and again even if it’s just with little things. I mean, it’s not that we should be constantly patting ourselves on the back for every single thing we do. But sometimes it’s nice to give ourselves a little treat for achieving our goals. How’d that sound? Told you I’m good at this!
But seriously, setting goals and specific deadlines for achieving those goals are important towards being efficient and organised so that the goals are realised. Especially for students, nearing the end of the semester when the teachers start to pile on those assignments. It gets really easy to lose track of what needs to be done. Taking the time to plan ahead for what needs to be done really saves time in the long run – especially if you’re a serial procrastinator like I am.
I think the worst thing about procrastinating is the regret that comes after you hand in the assignment or write the exam, when you realise that you could have done so much better had you started earlier. It’s a feeling most people are familiar with, since unfortunately, most people are guilty of procrastination.
But by managing your time better and setting goals and deadlines, you can avoid those last minute frantic all-nighters that are most times rather counterproductive.
Rewarding yourself for meeting your deadlines just might make you more amenable to trying harder to meet your goals every time.
Those days where nothing seems to go your way and even the skies seem gloomy are the days when you should take some time to listen to a favourite song, look at a funny video, or eat your favourite food. It’s amazing the effect those little things can have in changing your mood. The last are called ‘comfort food’ for a very good reason!
So what’s your slice of cheesecake? What’s your little thing that can brighten your day? Take some time out of your day or your week to reward yourself or to spoil yourself a little bit – sometimes you really deserve it!
I’m back in Guyana for the long weekend to participate in our annual family Puja.
I discovered that even though it’s not public holidays, everything shuts down in Trinidad for their Carnival bacchanalian revelries. Even medical school.
Have an enjoyable week, and I hope all of you achieve whatever goals you’ve set yourselves this week! I’ll be scrounging around for some cheesecake.
February 22, 2014 By
Today is Republic Day – the day we recognise that we govern ourselves, we’re not under the rule of a monarch and I’ve been thinking about leaders and leadership. What Shakespeare said about “greatness”, can be paraphrased for leaders: “Some are born leaders, some achieve leadership and some have leadership thrust upon them.” I’ve encountered a fair number of leaders from all three backgrounds, over the years and this year at Med School I’ve met even more. We have weekly PBL (Problem-Based Learning) sessions where we’re broken into small groups and everyone has to take a turn at leading the group discussions. So after a while, everyone gets a chance to be group leader and I found that most of them exemplified quite distinct leadership styles, approaches and qualities.
A good leader is assertive yet approachable. During my early years at Queen’s College, I was always impressed with the prefects chosen. I was awed by these students who were all-rounded and carried themselves with decorum. These prefects welcomed us to speak to them freely, but by mutual understanding, there was a boundary we never crossed. These were the type of prefects I tried to emulate when I became Head Prefect in Upper Six.
Another fundamental trait of leaders is that a true leader inspires others to achieve. And the best leaders do this not by telling – but by doing. The line from Portia in the Merchant of Venice has stuck with me: “I can easier teach twenty what were good to be done than be one of the twenty to follow mine own teaching.” It can be hard, but to be good leader, that’s absolutely necessary. A good leader can inspire dedication and great feats from followers, through leadership by example.
Good leaders must show integrity since a leader can’t lead if he doesn’t have the trust of followers. Leaders must show honesty, well-controlled emotions (that’s right, no screaming your head off at your charges!). In our Professionalism Course, we’re constantly reminded about the importance of integrity – as doctors we’ll have to work along with other doctors, we’ll need the trust and support of the nurses and other members of our medical team to ensure that we care for our patients successfully.
Leaders must also have high self-respect and self-esteem. After all, if a leader doesn’t respect himself / herself, how could they earn the respect of others? Yes, respect is earned, not demanded. Good leaders should have the respect of their subordinates and also give due respect to their subordinates.
My tradition emphasises the need to delegate tasks and to groom new leaders for the future. In my estimation, this is a defining quality that all leaders should possess. That leader who tries to singlehandedly tackle all of the objectives and challenges of the group usually risks biting off more than they can chew and simultaneously demotivates the rest of the members.
Leaders should also always be conscious that they can’t be the leader forever – there comes a time to step down and pass on the torch. New times demand new skills and new visions.
One of the more over-looked qualities a leader should possess is a sense of humour! Humour can be an effective tool to energise persons and ease tension. More often than not, leaders choose the too-serious approach – a balance should be struck.
In conclusion don’t believe that I’m only talking about leaders of countries and corporations. In every endeavour that we embark on in groups, there is the need for leaders. We never know when leadership may be thrust upon us: be prepared.
Happy Republic Day!
February 15, 2014 By