Raga, Marwa, and Malkauns

On 31st July, at 20:20, Raga went into her surgery- for a tail amputation. She had developed gangrene and the decision was taken in the morning itself when I had taken her to the vet’s, for a catheterization- to empty her bladder. On a sudden thought I decided to take my electronic tanpura with me, hoping the vet would not mind my intrusion into his surgery!

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I braced myself and asked him, if he would be okay that I played the tanpura to my little girl. He was a little amused that I asked, and asked me, if the dog understands it– I said, yes, I am a musician and this girl whose name is Raga is actually steeped in classical music!

He was amused I am sure and he gave me a nod. But not before asking me, whether I would be staying in the surgery while he performed the amputation. He must have thought this woman is a nutcase! But he was too tired to thrash out anything further, being the fag end of the day for him. In any case I wanted to stay because she was not going to get general anasthesia but a local one and having her in the surgery without me would not have been possible that way.

I played the tanpura and put my arm on her across her neck- two boys held her, and the procedure went ahead. There were three boys to support the vet, and I sang along to my baby. I sang Marwa first- piya more anat des (Amir Khan Sa’ab’s bandish) and then I sang what Khan saheb is singing here-

Obviously I was in no mood to sing the Raga in the sedate way it is supposed to be- my intent was more to keep my girl calm. I was sad, but deeply calm- ditto her. Was she sad? Cannot say, but definitely very quiet and unperturbed.

And then when I felt that things were progressive, and possibly I ran out of ideas of how to do more alap in Marwa, I turned the Madhyam on the tanpura and lo and behold Malkauns popped in front. Jin ke mann ram biraaje, by Khan sa’ab connotes Malkauns to my mind. Another deeply felt bandish, that I sang a great deal once upon a time.

The surgery was over in less than an hour. Raga, me and Imdad bhai returned home- it was a new experience for everyone. My baby was cool enough to come home and have a meal- as I had not fed her earlier as per the vet’s suggestion due to the surgery.

Life and surgeries can go so smoothly with the right melodies…

 

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The countdown begins >>>

This is the countdown we are all moving towards- some fear it, some dread it, some accept it resignedly, some with equanimity and some with peace. I do not yet know where I stand on this spectrum. Perhaps just somewhere from where all these options seems recognizable. This is the countdown towards reaching the culmination of our earthly journey.

In many a  post, such as this, or this , or that,  in these past few months I have been writing about my dogs, in particular Raga. This post is just a round-up of today and unlike many other days when I write blogposts in the evening or late evening, this is rank afternoon. My computer clock is showing 2:03pm. This is not the time for blogs entries!

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As I write this post Raga is sitting right behind me, and the backyard is behind her

But this is. For today is the day that the final end is staring loud and clear- not that it was not earlier. But I do not want to mourn her passage- i want to write a note to myself for the morrow when she would really not be there, and I would be crying around. To tell myself of the future, how much I loved my baby…i need to write this down, while she is still breathing right behind me.

Last week, I had to take her to a vet in Noida- as she could not pass urine. It got me very worked up, because all these months she is not able to get up on her own as it is and every act of her bowel and bladder involves my role in cleaning up after her or washing her sheets etc. So in two days when I saw no wetness anywhere I just knew it was something serious. She was made to pee through a catheter. She had accumulated 2 and a quarter liters inside her. For a bladder capacity of 150ml that female german shepherds have an accumulation of 2.3 liters is too much. I shudder to think of the toxicity. The doctor was quite expensive and forcibly saddled me with a dog food packet having formulation for urinary issues. I came home lighter with an empty bladder of the girl and my own pocket of Rs.3000/- That is a lot of money for me.

Two days later I had no success and the same point came- she needed another catheterization. I was frantic. Taking her to Noida with my own spine not yet healed and paying an expensive veterinary doctor, notwithstanding how good he may be, is never an easy option. I called up the local chap (who is good enough only for small issues I figured, for he never seems to rise up to the occasion) and he said he was down with fever and at a clinic himself!! His assistant said he would come, only to tell me two hours later that he cannot manage a catheter with a female dog! My two hours had gone, and anxiety was building rapidly. Raga had not peed again in more than 48 hours.

I called another local vet, who is right here in our sector- he turned out to be an a***hole. Refused to deal with the issue, because another vet had already started the treatment! I never thought vets could be lacking in ethics, but having that encounter was an eye-opener for sure.

A blind fluke of a chance and I landed up in sector 19 market, at the reference of a local chemist- who I buy my canine medicines from occasionally. I met this vet for the first time only on Saturday-29th July 2017. He managed the insert the catheter with great difficulty and told me to unfasten her tail…let the wound dry. I did that yesterday. Even in his clinic there was a bladder output of over two liters! Today is the third day…for after coming back day before yesterday, there was no bladder movement again, while the bowel movement continues as normal.

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In the veterinary operation theater today morning

All this while I did not have a diagnosis for Raga. This vet wrote down- quadriplegic and paralyzed. My heart just shuddered to read it- my baby was so severely crippled that I did not even see it so. But of course I faced its outcome everyday…

Her kidneys are filtering yet the nerves that have to send a signal to the brain. The vet used the term degenerative myelopathy. There is nothing to be done, but support the animal till the last stages- however long one can handle that. My baby is so quiet…ever so gentle, still ready to bark at others especially the outside dogs who come into our compound to eat every morning, and on mornings when I have carried her up to the front lawn she can amuse herself by looking at them – eating right under her nose.

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Right in front of her

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The five outsiders eat their morning meal

Life is a great journey, which is so deeply enriched by the presence of animals , so much so that I cannot imagine what it could have been without them.

So today when I took her for another round of catheterization, the vet saw her tail and told me it had gangrene. Already in the morning i had a teary breakdown while talking to Andre, about Raga and to hear the gangrene word…i was jolted. I immediately requested him for surgery. Could it be possible without general anasthesia, the one thing I am so afraid of for Raga, for I fear she will not revive after it. He calmly told me to let him get over with the bladder issue.

While managing that he told me, that her tail can be numbed in two or three different spots and that way the amputation can be handled. the time for the surgery is 8pm. I will teach my students of music and then leave home around 7:30. It is a sigh of relief- though i know it is a sign of the end. My baby is getting ready to go and this, all this, whatever I am doing right now is basically my own preparation- to accept that she must; or else I end up prolonging her misery.

So finally it is all about coming to terms with our losses…our un-fill-able losses. Our animals are parts of our souls, as much as we are their’s. And this is the time for me to get ready to accept that my baby, my littlest one, who came to me as a 45 days old puppy, the daughter of Pepper and Ranger (and I saw them both) will soon be gone. This is my time to love her the most, to hug her what I can- to clean her body with the nice spray I bought for her, because she has not had a bath since April for I find her so weak. She does not smell in the least…and still I want to comb her, wash her nails and toes. My Raga- you were my music and the music must live.

I have tears streaming down as I write these last lines, yet I look back at our lives together- our interwoven tapestry is a beautiful one, and Raga has been through so much of it- thank you life for giving me such beautiful dogs and letting me love them and live for them, till as long as we had to share the road. Perhaps the next post will be my farewell post to her.

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No wheels for my girl

In these past few months Raga has progressively deteriorated. So now, this is her most common posture. But that does not mean this is the only posture she adopts in the course of the day- there are at least a few others.dsc00257-1

But while the common posture is what she maintains for the better part of the day, she also moves around. When she has to she pulls up her front legs and using them as her support propels her body forward. And she manages that for the entire house- she can pretty much go all around that way.

Only on the stairs and when I take her outside the home, I lift her hind legs with the loop, supporting her hind legs and give her the speed. Then she really gets the fillip to run around unfettered. She actually runs…with me trailing behind balancing! Many a time when I look at her I wonder at the miracle that we are back home to Faridabad and not still living in South Goa. What if I had to still be in that house there , where we all slept on the first floor. What would have happened to my girl there? How could she have climbed up and down?

Yesterday I took this picture of her- she seems calm and relaxed in the garden outside our living room. It is the same location as the picture above, except that what is now in the shade in this picture, is where she sat in the earlier photo above.

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Taken 25th Feb 2017. Now if you look closely on the top left you see Nikki, the labrador lying peacefully.

It feels like a blessing to be here this winter- all my dogs can bask in the sun, and I do not have to worry about the cold all the time, even though they are all senior canines now. The house is FULL of flowers and they all have a lot of things to engage their minds with, including running after the birds & squirrels that come to feed on the bajra seeds that I spread on the grass for them. The home is full of flowers all around- it is spring after all. All our labours of the months bygone have produced colours everywhere. The back lawn has at least seven different varieties growing, the first time so many in this part of the house.

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Back lawn, having six varieties of flowers and lettuce, coriander and spinach growing. Flowers here are petunias, verbena, marigold, salvia, dogflowers, suneneria and the ones on the creeper whose name is always a mystery. Of course the grass here is a mess, due to reduced sunlight.

Petunias are also growing very profusely now in the front lawn- at least five or six varieties of it.

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Pic around 20th Feb 2017

I have never paid too much heed to the petunia plant. But in this picture here, where one can see Raga propping herself up and Ginger being medicated by Andre, while Dash is sitting further up, on the floor…the blossoms are very colourful. It feels great to wake up every day and see the colours around.

The first thing I inadvertently see is the back lawn, as it is right outside my bedroom door. And I have to take Raga over there to ease her bladdar first thing in the morning, which I always do, so that she is ready to eat something after that. This below is the posture she adopts to move forward. Earlier I was worrying if I were not doing the wrong thing in not buying a doggy cart to help her move. But having a protracted dialogue with the vet convinced me we were doing the right thing. He had told me that doggy cart is best for those dogs who are paralysed. Raga is not- she has a degeneration in her hind limbs, as a result of which her legs have gone limp. She trail behind her limply as she moves forward with her front legs.

A couple of days ago I saw the dog in our neighbourhood who has practically lived on wheels for a long time. He was sitting under a tree. I realized, due to his dependence on the wheels, he simply does not move without them. At least Raga will not become dependent on an external aid for her mobility and she will keep propelling herself till the end, because she has already accepted this posture. Plus the vet also told me that the carts can have painful

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Picture from 12th Feb 2017 when we took Raga to Noida to the vet James Rappai. In this picture we were at Monica’s home in Sector 29, and Raga was moving around in their garden

side effects, like sores on the animal. As it is this girl has a mammarian tumour- I cannot think of anything pressing her sides and causing her any further discomfort. She is eating well, growling at anyone (of the dogs) if they think of coming too close to the food- the way Dash does when he senses she is showing no interest. She is also still interested in chasing the outside dogs, Chhotu, Black and Lily, and also the former’s father. So notwithstanding a change in style of movement Raga is still moving, eating, having regular bowel and bladder movements and life is on an even, though declining keel.

I of course chose to engage in disability studies as part of my life and work, but little did I know that I would have to experience disabilities in my dogs too. First it was Dash who had been waist down immobilized (though it was a lesser issue than this one’s) and now it is Raga’s turn. Ginger is getting better with her skin issues and Nikki also is asking for a little care due to her weight issues. I am toying with putting her up on Glucosamine already.

This post had to be about all our disabilities- canine and human and how I learnt the art of patience, and calm acceptance from my little baby- Raga. Little baby , yet big girl now- gentle, intelligent and full of play still, at ten years and a month above. I am feeling the better for it now- my dogs, my home, the abundance of flowers and butterflies, the phd research (which was chocking me till a few days ago) and my other writing- all seem to make sense together. I am not despondent about Raga’s condition any more for I know this is the most I can do for her and I can see her ease and inclusion in everything. She knows she is not alone in her suffering…or so I hope and believe.

my success, not mine in the least

I should have written a new post…the new year is 31 days old after all. But this was a difficult year in the beginning- it started with me having a burnout!! of all things. Due to what? Nothing but a deep cough.

A cough brought in all the symptoms of mania (psychosis) and I had to go through the difficult passage of a shamanic renewal. All my auditory sensations returned, I could hear things from far, I would hyper react to small stimuli. So what was it finally I thought?

I am certainly not suffering from any mental illness or so-called mental illness. So how to explain this sudden tsunami of the consciousness? Anyways, what I have been writing about the spiritual basis of existence is true once again and I went through the cosmological cycle of birth and awakening, meeting with the ancestors, healers and ancients in this span of time.

When the clock turned for christmas I knew nothing, nor when the new year came. But my family was all around and when they thought I had another breakdown, and may be need to consult with a psychiatrist all over again, I said no…this is not psychosis. But the ‘symptoms’ would be the same. What you are depends upon who is seeing it. If you have a cough, the cardiologist would have a different view of it than a guava seller. Everyone has a point of view. So whose view should you refer to?

Fortunately in my case my own views on spiritual awakenings are very well entrenched in multiple domains of knowledge and this time I knew for sure it was a shamanic renewal- there was so much memory of mythology and I was back again into the domain of Gaia, Sumerian civilization, Egyptian mythology and Hindu gods, goddesses and the whole of the Indus civilizational motifs- it filled my mind with stories ad infinitum. My family was certain, it was a breakdown.

But I called it a burnout, as though the boundaries of consciousness had blurred and there was a large scale bombardment from all sides- whether the personal kept merging into the universal back and forth, back and forth, back and forth. And on the personal front a lot of fires were lit, friends lost, neighbours charred and whatnot- the usual upheaval that accompanies an intense experience of such cataclysmic changes.

At the back of all this, one thing was gently unfolding- I had cleared the phd entrance exam in Nalsar, Law University and I had sent my research proposal- in recovery, what else. I had to face an interview, right on the heels of a burnout! Date- 29th January 2016. It had to be made into the form of a presentation.

I asked Ramakant-ji how to. It is one thing to write a research paper, but one thing to write a phd proposal in 1000 words. He told me to narrow the focus down from the entire spectrum of mental illness to one thing. I chose psychosis. Then he told me to think what could be done in psychosis and how it would fit into the law mode. But that I also discussed with others.

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Anyways, I wanted to talk to him just before going for the interview. I was very weak, and had not studied. It was not possible to study, I could barely sit up! But I was worried. I thought hearing his voice I would feel better. When I rang his phone his wife picked up, which is quite irregular. But she informed me that he was unwell, and will talk later.

Few days later I got a message, rather a one-liner-25th January- “Improving very SLOWLY. will talk after a few days..”

I wrote- “You are in my prayers n best wishes always. My Phd interview, 29th, Hyde.Plz bless me that I clear the last hurdle. Wish u stable recovery. Gnite” (this is an sms that I quote)

His response, 26th January 2016- ‘YOU SHALL. if they don’t take you, the loss is theirs AND ours.’

On 29th January, I was sitting in the guest house with one of my former, (one course) student who is like a godchild to me. At that time I got a call from the head to go and meet her. I went immediately and she told me that the interview board had unanimously voted in my favour- and condoned the marks that I had lacked in the past- 20 years ago, i had scored a 52.6% in MA Political Science, whereas the minimum qualifying marks for phd anywhere in India are 55%. No university was willing to condone this criteria for me, notwithstanding my research record,my publications for who would support my candidature.

Finally it took an Amita Dhandha, a disability department and NALSAR- the national academy of legal sciences and research, Hyderabad to open it doors to me cautiously, by checking me at every step.

While being driven back to the airport, I called up Srivastsan to share the news. He did not pick up his phone. But when I was entering the airport he called back and I was showing my ticket etc at the door. We were busily chatting away. I told him and he was very happy. I also told him that he was responsible for my success, because if he had not invited me to the conference of the medico friend circle group, in Pune, in February 2015, I would never have met Amita Dhandha, who would never have invited me to teach at Nalsar and I would not have been there to fill in the Phd form with a fraction of time left for closing it on the last day of accepting forms (that would be another story).

There are stories galore in this one little story, but I have to hold one thread and I hold the one which has Ramakant-ji in it.

On 29th evening, having spoken with my family, I felt I must tell Ramakant-ji about it. And sending a message to him was the best thing. I wrote, ‘With your blessings, I have made it thru the Phd interview. The board unanimously agreed in my favour. Thank you so much. I hope you are steadily recovering.’

Next morning, while in my sleep I heard the phone beep. Later when I saw the message, which was sent at 4:53 am, it said, ‘The most welcome news of the new year. So much on the horizons for you to achieve. Best and regards to you mother, brave as always.’

My success, at anything whether overcoming psychosis or making through the phd passage, where the obstacles were nearly insurmountable, has never been a personal or individualistic journey. I owe my everything to others and no wonder my research will now be into how more people can recover and what sort of things can be done in the country to make India honor its commitment to the UNCRPD. I have entered the portals of law, legality and jurisprudence. WOW! life is so full of surprises.

And yet, I am not going to forget the knowledge which has flowed from Ramakant-ji- who opened my mind to the possibilities that lurk within language in how we construct our own and other people’s realities> Linguistics is going to be an intimate part of my work ahead.

I salute all my guides and mentors. My new year begins with that salutation.

I am back into university study after 23 years of studying from HOME!!!

This picture below is from the Nalsar Campus, in Hyderabad

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Who knows where the road takes you from here

Towards new knowledge

These days I am quite concerned about writing and writing better. I am not writing- to say the least…just musing about it, reading other people’s writing and thinking of ways to make my own better, crisp and more accessible. Of course one of the reasons that has caused this shift in approach to understanding human communication is rooted in my newly deepening interest in linguistics- the science of language. For the last few years, not recent.

The next bit of research that I intend working on is the interpretation of psychosis in terms of psychiatry, and law on the one hand and how from mid psychotic breakdowns also recoveries are happening, yet marginalized. It is a critical gap, if one can see it, yet all researchers believe that whatever is their current obsession will indeed contribute to knowledge in some meaningful way. So I am no exception to that rule of a researcher- an obsessive dreamer who wants to contribute a minuscule fragment of knowledge to the overall pool of human knowledge.

Of course this is not my research question but one of the significant issues that I intend delving into. I am keen to understand how linguistically psychiatric nomenclature of psychosis is interpreted in law and why people are institutionalized- what is the philosophical position taken by law and enforcement agencies in deciding who needs to be institutionalized. This is all a matter of how the science of psychiatry is interpreted in legal terms- in other words does law have a mechanism, linguistically to decide what psychiatry is saying or is something getting lost in a transfer of information from one medium to another.

Last night I was reading an article called Transparency in Public Science. The author raises some critical questions and also in some manner reflects some of my own concerns about the politics of knowledge sharing. I think for the current research this lady, Sheila Jasanoff will remain an important person to follow, for my own referencing, even though her writing is largely in the American context. But being of Indian origin, I may run into other issues, and who knows at a later point even discuss them with her.

Since linguistics is all about interpretation, the various stages of interpretation of a person’s account of their suffering, which involves- expression openly and its interpretation in a specialized knowledge of psychiatry led interventions and thereafter other social welfare outcomes are all matters of interpretation. So my interest in linguistics is not just here to stay, but grow and grow deeper and deeper.

I have to deeply acknowledge the role played by Ramakant-ji in this awareness. He is one person who has always consistently been happy in my success, maintained a very generous and supportive stance and actually taken pride in my little accomplishments. When I got to know him in January 2011, he was already retired from the university, as the founding head of the department of Linguistics in Delhi University, but despite that he continues to steer people, in very gentle ways towards the significance of language. I feel unfortunate that I could not meet him earlier in my younger years or possibly I would have thought of studying with him, but better late than never.

He has sent me some introductory articles on linguistics and now today told me some three books to read up. So I hope to do that before I can sit with him in the near future to discuss the role of language in the context of mental health. Of course one big strand of language has come into my consciousness already due to social constructionism and its emphasis on language, so the remaining gaps whatever they are will be taken care of by this inquiry- hopefully.

So coming back to where I started and my never ending concern with writing better. I encountered this talk by Steven Pinker, that I think could be saved here, for future reference, because some of the ideas he mentions are indeed valuable. It is another matter that I also agree in parts about the issue of Strunk and White’s book that i found so tedious and archaic myself when I read it, that I could not finish it. Nobody who is into writing can stop their efforts at trying to get better at it- so I am no exception to it. But reading more of those, whose writing you really admire, is somethign we can never afford to ignore. And if I have to think blindly who are those people, I know I would count Bertrand Russell, Kenneth Gergen, Richard Dawkins first of all. Then of course when one starts thinking deeper many more names emerge. But I think the next in that league is going to be Sheila Jasanoff. Oh yes, I do really like the writing of Carolyn Ellis- of course I am only ending up mentioning researchers here I think. But this is not the entire list, I must admit. To write better and more succinctly, I really need to imbibe a lot more precision and clarity- which I hope, is happening all the time.

A heart without suffering

A heart without suffering,

Neither softens, nor pays heed

Me watching the sunset in Udaipur

Me, the sunset, Udaipur

To another- life or to another’s pain

Suffering, in many ways, can be a gain

If it makes one shine, like a stone carved or a metal polished

Without which we all remain merely cold, affected and inured

To all that we could have appreciated, not bored

By too much of joy, abundance and health…

(that was an impromptu thought)

The reason for this blog post is to share another piece of my writing, in which I write about the role played by Urdu poetry and ghazal in my healing, and eventual recovery from bipolar. I am excerpting a short piece and connecting to the main location where the article is hosted in Cafe Dissensus. To read the main article please click the link in green that says, ‘my writing’.

Every song has personal, social, and universal symbols attached to it. This can be detected not only a musician but also by a listener, if he/she identifies closely with the music. One of the features of my engagement with music is that I have not delved into existing repertoires of music to the extent I have on my own compositions. Possibly, the resonance which poetry produced within me was an echo of my suffering, and in expressing that suffering via a musical medium I got rid of the suffering. I have often thought about the connection between bipolar disorder and its tendency towards artistic creativity, and whether that gave me the scope for working with three forms,  bhajan, ghazal, and khayal, as well as connecting to poetry in at least four languages- English (which I have never used in music), Hindi/Braj, Punjabi (my mother tongue), and Urdu.

Of publishers, authors and their books

These past few weeks, starting from late March have been interesting in parallel ways. I got to read two books, by two artists, one from India and one Australia, in the domain of mental illness. The common thing between the two books is more than this- for both the books were given by their respective editors/publishers to me. One gave me a hard copy in person and the second a pdf version over the email. I am expected to write a review of the second, which I intend to in a few weeks.

I have known the author of the first book, an Indian woman called Reshma Valliappan, and the second book author, himself approached me and asked me if I would be willing to do a review of his book. The author is an artist called Alfredo Zotti, based out of Australia, though of Italian origin. The first author lives with a diagnosis of schizophrenia and is known to me for several years now, and the second lives with Bipolar II, and someone I am getting to know via his writing.

When I was reading Reshma’s book my own writing about the role of childhood suffering stood completely validated, for here was the author writing in detail about her family and the role of her parents in a very vivid and descriptive manner. It was extremely painful to read her book and only if someone really wants to read about her personal story, or to know her past, one may want to read the book. I am not offering a review of it here, for I found it difficult to even reach the end of the book, for reasons of ethics and how we need to treat people who are living still.

Reading her book, which is autobiographical, brought to mind all the dialogues I have had in the past with one of my senior (academic) friends, Prof. Ajit Dalal. One of the chief reasons why writing about one’s own self is very difficult is that there are others around that one ends up writing about and they are also living in the same world as we are- so what happens to them when we tell our stories with them appearing as characters in them? Can we reveal a past of abuse within family and not point out a finger at the abuser or tell the world about how a younger/older sibling treated us, abandoned us or hit us, without damaging our current relationship with them? That is where autoethnography, autobiography and memoirs become difficult zones to explore.

Anyways, reading Zotti’s book is an entirely different experience, dotted as it is by his art, interwoven with his musical explorations, which of course one cannot hear but imagine nevertheless, and the work he does with supporting others around the world. I find his book a very beautiful example of how someone can deal with their personal suffering, emerge courageous from it, more compassionate and deeply wise. It is a great contrast to the other book- which is so full of anger and pain that one feels sorry for everyone who is written about in the book, including the author herself. When I write a full review of his book I will share a link to that, but for now I am just appreciating the kindness with which Zotti has written about himself, how he has chosen to portray his father with whom he had a ‘hate/hate relationship’ and how he chooses to forgive him towards the end of the older man’s life. I really think it is a book that must be read by those who want to deal with their own or their loved one’s illnesses in any real way.

Zotti comes out as a real artist in the enterprise, and it is a pleasure to read his book- even though the differences that I have are many and I will articulate them in due course: some publicly, some to him alone and some to myself only.