Friday, May 29, 2015

How the Zalm posting has helped me

As my readers are aware, I was sent to Zalm within a few days of my return to the Kingdom. It certainly did not appeal to me at that time, as it appeared as if the sudden shunting was part of a penalty imposed on me by someone in authority. Ten days have passed since then. I cannot say I am happy in Zalm, but there are positive aspects to it. For example, I would point out that when I left last time for India in March, I had mostly cleared my house of my belongings. If I had stayed on in Al Muwayh, I might have had to re-purchase many items in my house. Also, I have missed one salary here, and it might have tightened my purse. Thus, the Zalm posting has freed me from the need to empty my purse right now and re-furbish my home or buy food, or stuff like that. 

Zalm is a very quiet place, and I have more time to do things I always want to do, but run out of time for. A radiology locum doctor next to my room has a Wi Fi and he has so kindly shared it with me, so that I am able to surf the net - a luxury for some, but an absolute necessity for me. I have watched live TV, downloaded movies, taken modules of studies on Coursera, updated my status on Facebook and Twitter, written this and other previous entries on this and other blogs of mine, and so on, only thanks to his generosity.

I have also found time to read a book here and there. And watch so many movies that are already on my laptop or that I have recently downloaded on to my laptop. I also downloaded and watched all the recent episodes of Grey's Anatomy, 11th season, and of Game of Thrones. These viewings have helped pass my time. 

I am also writing. I have recently begun writing a book to help candidates studying for the membership of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health. The book will not be a scientific compendium, but a lot of advice on how to go about passing the exam. 

Today, I successfully posted my Parenting book back on the internet to sell as an e-book. The link for the same is here. Readers from India may pay in Indian rupees using any credit card of their choice. International readers will probably fetch the e-book at much lower rates than existing e-books on Parenting, which often cost more than USD 15. I request readers to take a look at the link and to buy it or gift it to their near and dear ones if they wish to do so. 

I have made friends with my co-Pediatrician here, Dr. Hany Moharem. He has a table-tennis table in his house! I went to his place some days ago, and discovered that he and his other friends play the game regularly. I joined in as well. I was completely out of touch and had a tough time scoring even 5 against these seasoned players. I was quite surprised by the skills of Dr. Hany, who remains in good physical shape despite his age of nearly 64 years. He is due to retire in a few months' time. Yesterday, I was joined by a Pakistani anesthetist friend who is also doing a locum post here. His name is Dr. Abul Bashar, and he and I went to Dr. Hany's place to play TT, as we used to call this game in our salad days. It is exhilarating and fun to play, and I think a dose of such game-play is required in every house where there is place enough to do so, as it can keep the family fit and united.

That's it for now. Thanks for reading and as always, my request to share this post with others on G+ or other social media, to write your comments and to start a conversation with me and with other readers.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Will the glorious past of books ever return?

I think not. Books were one of the most useful things mankind manufactured, and they were there thousands of years before printing was even discovered. Mankind progressed from carving on stone tablets (witness Moses' Ten Commandments or the Rosetta Stone), to Papyrus paper, to paper made 

Rosetta stone, at the British Museum

Paper made from the Papyrus plant

from the bark of trees to recycled paper. Books have survived most kinds of progress mankind has made. Even during the first seventy years after the arrival of the computer, books continued to remain popular among the masses. The real change away from books has occurred only in the last two decades, and more so in the last seven or eight years when Internet v.2.0 arrived on the scene. I mean social media. The arrival of these social media have taken people away from serious and engaging pastimes like reading or writing or painting to frivolous and even more engaging pastimes like checking others' lives, being voyuers or publicity-seeking hounds, like playing nonsensical games throughout the day (and sometimes late into the nights), like straining at the hand-held smart phone devices and chatting with friends (are they really off-line friends or just guys or girls whom you befriended online) and so on.

Today, the erstwhile book-reading middle-aged person who is computer savvy prefers to read the books in their soft-format as e-books on their laptops or smart phones. Additionally, they claim that avoiding purchase of books is also friendly to trees and therefore environment-friendly. Don't computers and devices also generate junk when their time has come?  Like those others, I, too, have almost completely switched over to e-books. I prefer the Kindle ones from Amazon, but I will take them in any format they come in. Peer-sharing web-sites allow people to share lay books as well as otherwise painstakingly compiled professional books without any payment to the writer of the book. Chatting apps like Telegram allow us to share these books without going anywhere else but inside the chat. (Telegram is available for Android, Windows and iOs operating systems, and can even be run on one's laptop.)

So, to answer the question I posed in the title: I really think that printed books will perhaps last out my generation, but slowly, they will expire, and be replaced with e-books. It is better to join the bandwagon and buy them off the net; or write e-books that you can sell on Amazon or any other similar site. 

What do you readers think? I will welcome your comments and thoughts, please.

Busy doing ... nothing!

During my first three years in KSA, I had much to look forward to. Even though I was alone and had to manage my life completely on my own, I had certain aims ... aims that now stand fulfilled to a large extent. My evenings were filled with walks, social media surfing on the net, downloading and watching movies, and studying for the MRCPCH. On off weekends, I would plan a trip to Makkah to perform Umrahs, or a recreational trip to Taif, or even farther ... such as my trip to the Abha region in 2013, or my two car trips to Riyadh (each one for a specific purpose). I also Skyped with friends, slept at odd hours when there wasn't much to do, watched Times Now (the ubiquitous Arnab) or Colors (especially Comedy Nights with Kapil) or other channels when in the mood to watch movies or international news or music.

Now, in Zalm, I do few of those things. I am grounded by the fact that Zalm is extremely hot and dusty during the day; I have no car; and I have no Asian friends among doctors, or outside in the community. Zalm is also not my home-town. There are hardly any interesting restaurants or even supermarkets where one may go just to kill time. I miss my TV and my Pehla TV subscriptions, as these are disconnected. The internet here is also not much to talk about. I cannot go to Makkah to perform Umrah as I am on substitute duty. I finished my academic studies for all practical purposes. So, as you, my dear readers can see, I am, sort of, rudderless and feeling bored and empty ... 

I know that this, too, shall pass. Happy days will return, as they must in the cycle of life. It isn't that I am unhappy, but there is not much to look forward to. Zalm lacks the patient flow of Al Muwayh, so professionally, it is down in the pits where I feel. No acute emergencies, no calls, and hardly a smattering of out-patient cases. No deliveries have taken place either, in all the six days that I have spent here. 

So, what AM I doing? I watch movies, of course. Either on my laptop, or on the TV that sits outside in the lobby. I still manage to surf the net and connect with social media friends whenever I can (read as = whenever I can connect). I sleep ... but not excessively, only about 8 hours in 24. I read a little ... currently, I have picked up "The Catcher in the Rye" by J. D. Salinger. I am simultaneously reading Dr. David Drew's book "Little Stories of Life and Death" on my Kindle. Dr. Drew is a whistleblower who blew the whistle on the NHS (the UK government National Healthcare System) and was summarily dismissed from service and forced to stop professional practice on account of cancellation of his practising license.

Among movies, I watched "American Beauty", "The Lady of the House" and a few other commercial movies. The latter is produced by Anupam Kher and stars his wife Kirron Kher in the lead role. It is a Bengali movie dubbed in English and portrays the life of a widow who lives in a huge, ancestral house all alone with servants. A film production unit seeks permission to shoot at her house, and she, being a recluse, refuses to do so, until the main director approaches her with sensitivity and persuades her to allow them to shoot. This is a story with a deeper meaning, and I recommend that you go and see this movie ... even if you must illegally download it! 

That's it for now ... Do send your comments as I eagerly await your input. Thanks.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Is love magical or not?

I remember thinking it was. And it was, when I did fall in love with the woman I married a few years after courting her. Now, however, it looks .... frivolous ... and even comical, when I see two lovers in a Hindi movie: the boy struts around like a peacock, while the girl, ever so shy, keeps putting the dupatta around her bosom and keeps looking down, showing her painted eye-lids and impossibly long, mascara-filled eye-lashes. 

So what changed in the last 25+ years for me? Have I grown old? Of course, I have, and there is no denying that. But is it because I have grown old that I view romantic scenes from older Hindi movies with a tad of ridicule? I would need to say ... NO. 

The reasons are a bit difficult to fathom. To understand this, I would take my reader into my own past, when my beloved and I met at secret times, at secret venues. Before we even got physically close, there was the emotional lurch of my heart when I saw her approaching from a distance; the sudden and persistent urge to touch her as she went on and on, talking about things completely unrelated to us or to our relationship; the often uncontrollable desire to ... to plant a kiss on her cheek even as she remained unaware of what was happening to my heartbeat; and the deepest feeling of melancholy when I missed her. 

Remember, those were days when we communicated only through notes or the rare land-line. No mobiles or computers existed then. Our best friends were neighbours who had phones, colleagues who worked with her, doormen and sweepers and watchmen and kids who stayed in the same quarters she (or I, in her case) lived in .... but the bestest of our friends was FAITH. Faith ruled supreme, and it allowed us to live on even when we could not connect with each other, or see each other in days. That faith is what led us to finally join in wedlock after courting for more than two years, out of sight of our relatives, but not out of sight of the tens of others who helped us to maintain the secrecy and the charade of  "we are just good friends".

That romance is perhaps only seen by the actors in the drama of life. To others, it is merely a source of embarrassment or entertainment, depending on which side of the relationship they are. True, there are many angels who nurtured our relationship. But equally, there were ... I wouldn't call them devils ... but spokes in the wheel of our love, who stood in between and tried to prevent us from joining our hearts and souls with each other.

The entire thing came to me suddenly as I was watching Amir Khan and Raveena Tandon (both Hindi movie actors) singing to a popular ditty from the nineties.Click here for the song. And I suddenly began to laugh and think to myself: why are they being so childish? Why not just embrace, kiss and get it over with, rather than singing a song for all of four tedious minutes and not even touching each other!

What do my readers think? Is love magical or not?

Five days over in Zalm and not much to write ...

Unless you count for the umpteen movies stored on my laptop that I have watched/am planning to watch over the next several days. Work here is much less compared to Al Muwayh. The Out-patient department sees a load of less than 10 patients in 9 hours! Accommodation on the first floor of the hospital is good. I have the last room in a row of seven rooms ... a blessing, because the Mobily network is best here. I have taken my chapatis from Al Muwayh to Zalm, and I prefer to eat those instead of the refined-flour khubz that they give us thrice a day. For the last week, I was alone, but from today, the original Pediatrician of Zalm, Dr. Hani Moharram, is back. We are thus, two doctors, with not much work to divide between us.

The hospital continues to be better than the Al Muwayh one. Not only is it newer, it is managed much more efficiently. They have done quite well in the annual inspection of the Infection Control Department (they got 95% on their assessment, which means they are the best peripheral hospital in the Taif region!) and the Patient Safety Department (where, too, they are no. 1 among peripheral hospitals, with 94% assessment). 

The unreliable internet means that I have to depend upon the help of an Egyptian radiologist who is staying in the room next to mine. He has a STC 4G router, and when he turns it on, the net is faster than a bullet train! Sometimes, though, he removes the SIM card from the router and puts it inside his mobile phone ... thereby disabling his WIFI. I tried to buy a new STC 2GB net card, and although it worked quite well from the morning until the evening, it has stopped connecting since then.

Dr. Magdy, my old friend from Al Muwayh, came over to Zalm some months ago, and has been working here since then. He informed me yesterday, though, that his request for transfer to the Children's Hospital in Taif has been accepted. Today morning, he finally left for Taif. As Dr. Parvez and Dr. Rahim Baksh are also absent, I am having to live without live company from Indians/Pakistanis or any south Asians.

That's all for today. Will return after some days to fill you in on what is happening.

P.S. I cleared the IELTS exam (Academic mode) with flying colours, getting 8.5 out of a possible 9.0 in the exam.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

... and off to Zalm

As I had expected, I have been told to assume substitute duty in Zalm, starting today. This has been a regular experience of most doctors: to be sent elsewhere as soon as they arrive back in the kingdom after their vacation. So it has been with me! The precipitant, in my case, was the fact that there was already a locum paediatrician working with my colleague Dr. Afzal. This locum paediatrician is a Palestinian specialist from Children's Hospital, Taif. As a result of THREE of us being present in Al Muwayh, this shift, for me, was predicted to occur within a few days. The shift, though, has occurred within a day of my arrival ... so here I go to Zalm. As it is, I was without internet for most of the time here in Al Muwayh. What will happen when I reach Zalm is anybody's guess. I may not be able to post here or connect with the net while being there, except for short presences on the e-mail or on Facebook.

As and when the net connectivity is available, I will keep my readers posted.

Thanks for reading.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Back in the Kingdom

On the 15th of May, I flew back to Jeddah and reached Taif in the evening. This being a Friday, I had to wait for 2 nights before completing my re-induction formalities in the Health Directorate. As I was more than a month late in re-joining after my vacation, I was asked to fill out explanation forms and was told that, as per the rules, my contract had lapsed and would have to be re-activated after agreement from the higher-ups. The entire process took up most of Sunday. I had a few more issues to clear, so I made a decision to stay for one more night and complete the remaining work on Monday morning. Thus, as I write this, I am happy to inform you that I have completed all the remaining issues and will travel back to Al Muwayh by the evening.

The last three days have been relaxed. I slept a lot on Friday, removing the layers of tiredness from my face! On Saturday, I roamed around a little, meeting some guys I know, and spent a bit of time in the "jawal souq" (mobile market) and got a few problems with my Note 3 ironed out. On Sunday, most of the day was spent in the health directorate. 

Now that I am back in KSA, I have decided to work till the end of the current contract. I may or may not renew this contract, depending on what happens during the ensuing 4+ months of my present contract. I will be penalised for my delayed return from India. Already, they have deducted one months' house rent from my yearly allowance. There is a possibility that they may also deduct one months' salary.

Anyways ... let whatever is to happen, happen. I am ready for anything now. But, yes, I am really ready for any kind of challenge.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Returned from London Trip

Some personal issues prevented me from updating this blog since the last fortnight. For this, please excuse me. I had originally planned something else, but, in the end, prudence wins and I have decided to return to KSA to complete my contract for the fourth and final year of work. I fly back on the 15th of this month. Hopefully, I should arrive there by noon local time. I would visit the health directorate on the following seventeenth, explain why I was returning late, and then proceed to Al Muwayh to resume my duties. 

London was simply unbelievable. The conference itself was miles ahead of anything I have experienced in India. They had a grand venue, the East end of ExCel London. There was a very large central auditorium with a capacity of over a thousand delegates; this is where they had all the plenary meets and the chief or invited speakers. ExCel itself is a large venue with a long building that connects the East end with its West end. Each end is served by a station on Dock Line Railway (the driver-less railway or DRL); while Customs House serves its west end, Prince Regent station serves its east one. 

My trip to London was a contest win for me from the British Medical Journal, and my travel from Mumbai and back, my stay and my conference fees had already been paid for by the BMJ. I was lodged in a TraveLodge hotel that has opened a very short sub-1 km distance away from the conference venue. 

While attending the conference, I was occupied also with networking with other doctors, visiting the different stalls at the exhibition, picking up tips on good practice in the field of quality management and patient safety, enjoying the dry British food on offer (packed lunch usually) and also going out in the evenings and for the full day on the last day of the conference to do local sight-seeing. I visited various attractions including the London Eye, the London Dungeons, the British Museum (a very small portion, as not much time was available to me), the Madam Tussaud's Wax Museum, London Cruise on the Thames, London viewing by night from a bus (it takes you on a tour through all the important landmarks in Central London), and an outer viewing of the Buckingham Palace, Westminster Palace, Big Ben, Westminster Abbey, Royal Albert Theater, Shakespeare Globe Theater, the Shard, etc. My official tour was to the Great Ormond Street Hospital for Children on the 21st of April and it was a great experience.

On the whole, I had a very fulfilling trip.