Virginia Woolf’s thoughts on fiction

Fiction is like a spider’s web, attached ever so lightly perhaps, but still attached to life at all four corners. – Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own, Chapter 3 (1929)
Fiction, like a delicate spider’s web is so light and impalpable, but it yet needs to anchor to reality to be perceptible. Some webs seem to float in air by itself, and it is barely possible to perceive where exactly the web is attached to when the fiction stands very close to life. The existence of the web becomes obvious when it floats gently in the air, its attachments clearer when we attempt to trace the points where the fragile silks meet.
To be able to create a web requires the craftsmanship of a spider. The works of writers like Virginia Woolf make us believe that their webs hang in mid-air. The webs of expression created by Virginia prove to have existence without materialistic attachment. Her effortless prose conveys the deeper meanings of life, even without the very mention of anything human. She draws images in air, and talks in metaphors. Her narrative is highly symbolic and imaginative, written chiefly in verse. Her command in language and futuristic feminist concepts makes her my favorite writer of the twentieth century.

This analysis of Virginia Woolf’s quote was written for Terra Curanda in March 2014. 

Gender Agenda : Gaining momentum

This article won the All Kerala Women’s Day Essay Writing Contest in March 2013 conducted by Cradle Hospital, Calicut. The topic was “Gender agenda: Gaining momentum”.
Among one of the most talked about issues globally in the recent times is the gender gap and its consequences. In the light of third wave feminism, many gender equations are being re-read and discussed. The gender agenda, therefore, is gaining momentum- slowly but surely.
While the protests of the 70’s were for essential needs like education and equal wages, the protests in the 90’s are for giving adequate and comfortable ‘space’ for women in every sector of the society. The third wave movement in the 90’s also addresses the issues of homosexuality, religion, ethnicity etc. and embraces diversity and change.
The gender crisis is going into a crucial phase worldwide. Women became the heads of the nations for the first time in Mauritius, Serbia, South Korea and Malawi in 2012-13. Malala, the Pakistani girl who advocated for women’s education became a global icon, and her story inspired many global organizations to work for the upliftment of the oppressed women of Asia. One Billion Rising, the event for expressing solidarity to the one billion women who suffer gender violence was taken up by women all over the world to spread the message of gender equality. India is also heading towards the global trend. With the Justice Verma commission proposing new laws to ensure the safety of Indian women and many Indian women making it to news for their glittering achievements, there exists scope for hope.
The Arab spring and the Jasmine revolution was a milestone in the history of struggle for equality. The protests saw many Arab women, who are generally denied personal freedom and imposed strict regulations, taking part in revolution against authoritarian dictators of their respective countries for want of a democratic and peaceful government. Though the protestors, including the Nobel laureate Tavakkul Karman, were later silenced, the incident served as a starting point for the struggle against oppression of women in the Arab world.
The US Presidential elections saw the peak of misogyny in the political agenda of the Republican party. The party’s agenda included enforcing stricter rules for abortion and birth control. Todd Akin, a Republican representative was known to comment that pregnancy rarely occurs as a result of legitimate rape. His explicitly misogynistic and highly objectionable comment was criticized widely by feminist scholars worldwide.
The homicidal rape of a Delhi woman has caused the issue of women’s freedom and security to limelight again in India. In India, where rape is inextricably linked to shame, this incident being reported and given wide coverage on the media and social networks served as an impetus to the women to be vocal about the sexual harassments they face. The Delhi issue saw the delegation of women friendly laws which promise stricter punishments for crimes against women. However, the law is not often implemented in its strictest sense and the criminals evade conviction by creating loopholes in the evidence. The focus should, therefore, be on ensuring speedy justice and creating corrupt-less executive bodies.
Misogyny is so deeply rooted in India’s collective psychology that it has permeated our textbooks, our pedagogy and our parenting. The textbook of the pre-school child shows the picture of a man comfortably resting on an armchair, reading the newspaper labeled as ‘father’, while labeling a woman washing utensils in the kitchen as ‘mother’ and unconsciously injects the traditionally assigned, patriarchal gender roles into the child’s brain. While India has unwritten norms about how its womenfolk should behave, it does not impose any restrictions to men, creating generations of people who think of women as a second-class citizen, an inferior being and a sex object. In a society which has determined that men make good leaders, women are underrepresented in administrative and political fronts. Domestic violence, female foeticide, honour killings and dowry system are the other problems faced by a large section of the population in India.
There’s little point to holding up placards asking for change and justice if changes don’t begin from our families. The male and female child should not be discriminated at homes, and all children should be given equal consideration regardless of their gender. Any custom or tradition which threaten the well-being or curtail the freedom of women should not be supported. Women should be empowered to protest against the injustice they are subjected to at homes, colleges and workplace.
While it is satisfying that many of the problems which are primarily of concern to women are being discussed and debated, it is also to be realized that discussions are initiated only when a tragedy happens or when a misogynistic remark slips from the mouth of a notable personality. It required the death of a Delhi woman to get rape be accepted as a mainstream issue, and the comments of ex-Justice Basanth to have the Suryanelli case re-examined. Ireland thought of providing the right to abortion only after the death of  Savitha Halappanavar due to an obstetric cause, and Julia Gillard had to be on her vocal best to have the gender discrimination against women political leaders in Australia capture the attention of the menfolk. We should strive for a just world were women’s issues are not discarded as a gender issue, but recognized as a mainstream problem that requires the collective involvement of both men and women to arrive upon a solution. We should strive for an enlightened world where women are not considered as a machine for pregnancy, but a living being with the capability to take decisions on her own. We should strive for a liberal world where women’s sexual issues and concerns about reproductive health are no longer hushed and silenced.
The observation by Virgnia Woolf that “anonymous was always a woman” throws light into the fact that, women’s achievements are neglected since pre-historic times and that their existence was always in the shadow of their husbands or fathers. Even today, there exist countries which prohibit women from driving and voting. Clerics of certain religions imposing bans selectively on women also point towards misogyny and assert on the patriarchal notion that women are objects who do not have an existence inseparable of their guardians (men), and that they are objects which need guarding.
The growth of technology has largely helped in bridging the gender gap. We have moved from the times when vehicles had to be ignited manually to auto-ignition engines and broken the sexist belief that driving could only be possible for men as it required physical strength to be able to ignite the engine manually. As more and more jobs are getting automated, physical strength is no longer the desired quality of an employee, which has helped women to be a sizeable population at workplace. The stereotyping that women are less intelligent has been challenged by the many women who hold key positions at international companies.
Women, after millennia of repression, are finally on the verge of finding their rightful status in the society. In these modern times where men and women strive equally in all fields of activity, demonstrate identical skills and talents, share equal responsibility, decide the future of institutions and the fate of nations, woman need to be given the respect and freedom she rightfully deserves. The patriarchal notion that women are freely accessible objects which can be possessed and controlled still exist in various communities, which have to be freed of by education.
Quoting Emilie Buchwald, “the most important gift anyone can give a girl is a belief in her own power as an individual, her value without reference to gender, her respect as a person with potential.” Let us hope that in the coming of time, women all over the globe be recognized for their potential and not biased based on their gender.

 

 

A step-by-step guide to exiting Calicut Medical College


This write-up is a step-by-step guide to securing your certificates after completion of MBBS course at Calicut Medical College.

 

Congratulations! You have just finished your internship. You are now awaiting your certificates. At your convocation, you received a framed certificate in face value, which you will proudly display in your show cases and will prove to be a of no worth elsewhere. To get your real certificates, you need to go through a lot of hardships. Yes, A LOT.
In this post, I have tried to put together the possible things you will have to do once you finish your internship rotations to get your certificates.
1. Complete your log book : Easily said. Get your photograph affixed and personal details entered. All faculty will advise you to stick to the ideal situation where you get your signatures on the last day of your posting at all fifteen departments. I have not yet known a single student who has put this into practice. On the last day of posting, you could be the one on duty, the department’s office could be closed for a holiday, the faculties in charge may be on leave, the faculty may have forgotten to bring his/her seal or you may not yet have your sub-confidential forms signed.
Nevertheless, try to get as many departments cleared as early as possible. You will be penalized for going to the departments after the convocation, if the faculty has changed or if the  attendance register is missing. In such instances, the faculty will sign your log books anyway, but you may need to do a lot of pleading and (or) whining.
Some tips to remember:
* At the department of community medicine, you need to produce a sub-confidential form complete with signatures from MOs of all periphery postings. Meet the faculty-in-charge only after getting your attendance percentage marked on the confidential form (CF) from the department’s office. (The office room is where the HIs sit)
* At the department of pediatrics, you should get the confidential form (CF) containing your attendance percentage from the department’s office. You should submit the sub confidential forms from NICU, PICU, DTU and pediatric surgery along with the confidential form to get your confidential form filled and signed. In the absence of HOD, the HOD-in-charge also signs the forms.
* The department of psychiatry sends the CFs directly to the co-ordinator for interns.
* The attendance percentage at emergency medicine has to be marked by the CA for the superintendent. Get the attendance register from the office of the superintendent and show it to the CA whose chamber is located just in front of the superintendent’s office. The attendance form signed by casualty duty MOs on all 15-16 days of the posting has to be produced at the the HOD of emergency medicine to get the CF signed.
* Before submitting them at the principal’s office, the duration of PMR & radiotherapy postings should be added to the orthopedics CF and signed over by the heads of either departments, the interns’ co-ordinator or the principal. The same holds true for transfusion medicine and radio-diagnosis, which are to be integrated into dermatology and pulmonology respectively. Generally, the interns’ co-ordinator does this without having to ask for it.
 * The CF from the department of radiotherapy need not be submitted at B1 section.
* At the department of OBG, first get the confidential form from the office of O3 and then meet the unit chief and HOD. Be at O3 at the time specified for interns. Late comers will not be given the forms or signatures.
* Some faculty will keep you waiting for long before they sign your papers. Some give signatures only on Fridays. Some will fill up your grades on CF without even knowing who you are. Some will scold you (or interns in general) regardless of what you did. To easiest way to get through this is to act innocent. The harder way is …….. to fight the system.
* If you have made any corrections on your CFs or log book, get it countersigned by an MO or the HOD of the concerned department. This is extra work, so try to make no mistakes while filling the forms up.

 

2. Complete the NLC form : Now you have the log book ready. Get the NLC form from the office. Go to the hostel section and get ‘No dues’ or ‘Not stayed’ from hostels 1 to 4. Meet the HSQ secretary and get his/her signature and seal (The HSQ secretary would be someone from your batch). Now, meet the assistant warden (who is generally a faculty you know) and get her/his sign too. Then, go back to the office, pay Rs. 1000 as one time HSQ fee and get the seal of the assistant warden on the NLC.
Go to the department of physical education, which is located in the college stadium approximately 1.5 kilometres away from the college. Yes, most of you haven’t been to this department during your six years at medical college, but you will nevertheless have to get an NLC from here. The route is somewhat confusing if you are traveling for the first time, so mark the destination on google maps. You will be asked for an ID proof to prove who you are (I had already surrendered my ID card by then, so I showed my log book as proof).Your next destination is library & LRC. First, go to the chief librarian and have ‘no dues’ marked for book bank. Walk into the LRC and surrender your ID card. Get the signature and seal from the officer at the LRC.
Now, go back to the office with the completed NLC form and get it verified at B5 (this takes one working day) and countersigned by the Junior Superintendent.

 

3. Meet the co-ordinator for interns: Submit your log book and NLC at the co-ordinator for interns’ office. The coordinator will scrutinize your documents and suggest corrections, if any. This takes about 15-30 minutes. In December 2015, some students skipped this step because there was no coordinator during that time.

 

4. Submit your log book : Submit your log book and NLC at B1 section with a request written on plain paper (request for CRRI certificate) and numbered from Thappal. You should also take a photocopy of the blank CRRI certificate (available at alumni photocopy centre), fill up the details and keep it along with the log book. It took me 8 working days to receive the CRRI certificate from B1.

 

5. Apply for receiving other documents : While you are at the office to submit the log book, write requests (on plain paper, one request for each certificate) for receiving your transfer certificate (TC) & conduct certificate (CC), SSLC & +2 certificate, attempt certificate and caution deposits from academic & hostel sections. The request for hostel caution deposit has to be addressed to the assistant warden and the rest of the requests to the principal. Attach your mark lists and a challan of Rs. 40 with the request for attempt certificate.You can collect the TC, CC, SSLC certificate, +2 certificate and attempt certificate from B5. I got SSLC & +2 certificates on the next day of application. It took me 40 days to receive my TC and CC, though I approached the section twice and informed my urgency. The hostel caution deposit is to be collected from the ‘last-stayed hostel section’ (LH4 in my case). It took me around 1.5 months to receive it (I applied on December 30 and received the cheque in mid-February). At times, your cheque may not be signed by your assistant warden in which case you will have to meet her/him in person and get the signature in place. My caution deposit from the academic section was sanctioned in around 40 days.
Tips to remember:
* If you wish to study abroad, apply for the transcript. The transcript is a 3-page document that contains the period of posting at all departments during your study period, duration of instruction and a consolidated mark list. It took 14 working days for me to get the transcript (after a lot of pleading and calling the staff on phone). Your overseas University might ask you for the transcript directly from the University, but it is being given from B5 in our institute. The University of Calicut does not provide transcripts for MBBS students.
* The attempt certificate is for future use. Get all the certificates now in one go so that you will not have to go through this again at a later point of time.
Summary of the story : It will take several working hours for you to get what you want. Practice patience.
Now, you have successfully gotten out of college. Time to go to the University for more bureaucracy! I graduated out from Calicut University. I could get my stuff done in one day because I had done my homework well. Now on, you all would be under KUHS, and I don’t know what is likely to happen there, so I am not going into the details.Essentially, you have to get your MBBS degree certificate, provisional degree certificate and migration certificate from your University. The provisional degree certificate is for you to apply for your medical license from Travancore-Cochin Medical Council (TCMC) at the earliest. The University of Calicut sends the MBBS certificate to your postal address in four months (if marked as ordinary) and 2 months (if marked as urgent).  You pay extra to be marked as urgent. You will get the provisional degree certificate and migration certificate on the same day of application (Surprise!). Before going to the University, make sure that you have taken all academic documents starting from 12th standard certificate to the CRRI certificate (and their photocopies). The TC (or a letter from the principal in the concerned form available at the University) is mandatory for applying for the migration certificate.
Once you have the provisional degree certificate, apply to TCMC for your permanent registration number. The Alumni photocopy centre has copies of the application form. The gazetted officer who should sign over your personal details could be any faculty at or above the rank of Assistant Professor. It takes approximately three weeks to get your permanent license to practice medicine. (In case you forgot to send a particular certificate to TCMC, send it over registered post with a cover letter explaining your cause. After a week or so, call them on phone and make sure that they have received your extra certificate. TCMC doesn’t often attend phone calls, so try calling them many times over and over again between 10 am to 4 pm).
Important :
Scan all your certificates and store them in a secure place (I use google drive for this purpose). You will be able to generate any number of photocopies of the certificate from the digital copy even if you happen to lose the originals. The scanned copies will also be of use when you are applying online for higher studies. Your A3 sized mark lists do not fit into most scanners. The LRC is one of the very few places in Calicut where they offer scanning of A3 size pages.
Every year, interns spend several productive hours running in and out of offices to receive certificates that prove our legitimacy. Every one of us has stories about how they felt humiliated, threatened or disappointed at some point during this tedious process.Before you go through it, you don’t protest because you don’t know the magnitude of the problem. After having gone through it, you are out of the college and you are too tired to work towards changing this system. The end result is that the problem will perpetuate until we choose to do something to rectify it.

Miles Away

Disclaimer : This story is a work of fiction. However, all characters, monuments, institutions and places mentioned in this story are real. The author is aware that the thread of this story has resemblance to the incidents mentioned in Chapter 1 of Dan Brown‘s novel, Inferno. The author believes that she was inspired by the novelist’s fast-paced plots that revolve round an intriguing incident described back-and-forth in time. However, there is no content scraping or copyright infringement in this story and any similarity to the writing style of the said author is purely unintentional. 

I woke up from sleep after what seemed like ages. I tried to lift my hands, but I could barely move them. I tried to listen to the voices around me. I heard the beep of the life support devices and the muffled voices of people talking to each other. I tried to make sense of the  voices, but they were incomprehensible. The peculiar sterile smell of the place was strangely familiar.
My head was aching. I felt like I was being pricked by a million needles all over my head. A sharp shooting pain ran down my spine and I felt as if I being electrocuted. My pulse quickened and the machines attached to me started beeping vigorously. I tried to wriggle out, but I couldn’t. I felt very heavy. I could only manage to move my body a bit in response to pain.
It now occurred to me that I was in a hospital, probably in the intensive care unit. I tried to think hard, but I couldn’t remember how I ended up there. My headache was worse than the worst episodic migraine I’ve ever had, something terrible must have happened to me. The last thing I remember was examining a patient in my hospital.
I tried to open my eyes, my eyelids gave way despite its heaviness. The room was empty except for me and the medical devices. Looking around, I saw that I was supine on the bed, connected to an intravenous line. A bottle of 5% dextrose hung from the pole of the i.v stand like a hideous fruit on a leafless tree. The side rails of my bed were pulled up. I had fresh bandages on both knees. The tip of my finger was attached to the sensor of the pulse oximeter. I looked up the machine on my right side and found that my oxygen saturation, pulse and heart rates were within normal limits. A crash cart, covered with a green cloth stood at the right corner. An ECG machine with unconnected leads sat on the shelf behind my head. There was a window covered with curtains at the far end of the room.
I had no difficulty in figuring out where I was. I was in Calicut Medical College.
A nurse, dressed in blue scrubs hurriedly entered the room. She pulled the plastic stool from under my bed and sat down. She had a long pointed face, neatly threaded eyebrows and gentle, brown eyes. She wore steel rimmed spectacles. Her hair was neatly tied into a bun. It looked like she was in her mid-thirties. I could say from her demeanor that she was from South Kerala. She smiled at me, studied my face for a while, and picked up the clipboard and pen which was on the head end of my bed.
“How are you feeling?”, she asked in English, with a pronunciation suggesting an Oxford sojourn some time in her past.
“My head hurts badly”, I said. “Besides, I can speak Malayalam”, I added after a while of silence.
She looked mildly surprised. She continued the conversation in Malayalam, in what I thought was a southern accent.
“What is your name?”
“Netha Hussain”, I replied.
She noted down on the clipboard.
“Occupation?”
It was clear that she did not know that I was a medical student. Gone are the days when medicos and nurses knew each other very well.

“I am a writer”, I replied. Apart from being a medical student, I was also a writer. In fact, outside of the hospital, I always introduced myself as a writer. I was mildly agitated because she did not recognize me as a medical student. If the nurse did not know that I was a medical student studying in this college, there was no way I was telling her the same.
She noted down something on the clipboard.
“What day is today?”, she asked, after adjusting her spectacles that stooped beyond the bridge of the nose and was in peril of falling down.
“Tuesday”, I said without a doubt. Tuesday was the out-patient day of my medical unit, when we had to examine patients in the Casualty in the afternoon. I might have had an accident during work or on my way back home, and might have got admitted to the ICU of the same Casualty.
“Do you know where you are?”, when she asked, I knew that she was trying to test if I was oriented in place.
“Calicut Medical College”, I replied confidently. She had finished the questions to test my orientation in time and place. The next question would test if I was oriented in person. I smiled inwardly.
She stood up and reached out to a locker which was on top of the shelf where the ECG machine was kept. She turned the key twice, opened the locker, and took a camera out. I immediately recognized that it was an Olympus SZ-16. She swiped through the controls and turned the screen towards me. Written on the top right of the control button was my name.
“Don’t you touch my camera”, I snapped.
“Sorry. But I want you to identify this man”, she said firmly, pointing to the man in the picture.
It was the picture of a man in his twenties, wearing a t-shirt and grinning widely. I looked carefully. Though I found him strangely familiar, I had no idea who he was. I didn’t even know how that picture got into my camera.
“He looks European”, I said. “Probably from eastern Europe”, I added after studying his features.
“So, you do not know him?”
“I guess I don’t”, I replied truthfully.
She then swiped once more and showed the picture of another man. He was taller, and had similar features like the other one. I couldn’t recognize him either.
Then, she showed me a third picture. It took me a second to process what I was seeing. Then, my jaw dropped.

 

I was standing between the two men whose photographs the nurse had previously shown me. It was evident from the picture that the men knew me very well. Their t-shirts suggested that they were associated with Mozilla/Firefox. Being a Mozilla volunteer for over a year, I tried to recall who they were, but I did not have a clue. I had clearly lost my memory.
I was getting increasingly confused. I told the nurse that I did not know the context of the photograph. She smiled empathetically and asked me to relax.
She looked up the monitor of the pulse oximeter and scribbled something on the clipboard. Then, she went out to call the doctor.
In around ten minutes, the doctor arrived. He was a white, tall man in blue scrubs. He had a long pointed nose, golden hair and thin lips. There was a stethoscope around his neck. What struck me was that he didn’t look Indian at all. I knew that it was possible for foreigners to intern in my hospital, but since when did they start seeing patients in the ICU?
The nurse talked to the doctor in French. She said about me being désorienté and embrouillé.
Disoriented and confused. I knew enough French to make out what she was talking about.
“I am not disoriented”, I shouted at them in English.
The doctor looked at me and gave me a compassionate smile. He sat down on the stool near me and asked me in English if he could examine me. I did not protest.
He took out a pen torch from his pocket and examined my eyes. When he took out another torch, I knew that it was for testing consensual light reflex – so I placed the medial border of my hand on my nose to help him to shield the light. He looked amused at my gesture.
During the course of examination, I cooperated with extreme dexterity. After he examined for wrinkles on my forehead, I took the cue and shut my eyes tightly. Then, I blew my cheek, showed my teeth and grimaced, in that order, without being instructed to do so. I was helping him to test my seventh cranial nerve.
The doctor’s amusement turned to surprise. He asked me if I were a healthcare practitioner. I replied that I was a medical student. He asked many questions during the course of examination, and I knew that he was trying to assess my higher mental functions. He told me that he had to catch up with many patients that day, so he had to be really quick. We ended the examination with me demonstrating dysdodakokinesia and Brudzinski’s sign without waiting for instructions from him.
The doctor told me that except for a few superficial injuries on the arm and one knee, I was normal. It was a case of retrograde amnesia and he said I would recover soon. He told me that I had already started shaping new memories, indicating that it is a good sign. He assured me that he had looked into my CT scan reports, and had found that everything was okay. He left after giving instructions to to the nurse in French. I felt reassured. But I couldn’t yet recall the happenings that led to the hospital admission.  The nurse moved the window screens before she left and I could look outside the room.

 

The view was stunning. I could see a Gothic-style tower with a square tower body that narrowly pinnacled to an octagonal spire. The metal statue of the archangel Michael was clearly visible through the glass window. Thanks to my high school research on medieval architecture, I knew that I was seeing the 96 metre long tower of the Town Hall. This monument was unique, and has long been the icon of a city and a UNESCO world heritage site. People visiting this city never miss taking pictures of this monument. The tower looked even more stunning in the night light.
I swallowed at the thought of where I was. There is only one place in the world where this monument could be.
Brussels, Belgium. I was over ten thousand kilometres away from Calicut.
I now knew why the doctor spoke French, the native language of most Belgians, and why the nurse described me as disoriented when I recognized the place as Calicut Medical College.
The stark realization made me feel sick. What was I doing here? Did I meet with an accident? How did I end up in Brussels?
I scanned through the pictures on my camera hoping to recall something from my memory. On camera, I saw numerous pictures of people at what seemed like a party. It was evident that I has spent a long time with a bunch of people whose faces I could not recall.

 

Just then, the nurse opened the door.
“Am I in Brussels?” I asked in Malayalam.
“Good that you started remembering things” she said.
“Ahem, actually, I do not remember anything. I just made an intelligent guess on seeing this tower”, I said, pointing towards the window.
She sat down beside me, and started talking in measured sentences.
“The only thing we know about you was that you met with an accident while you were sightseeing with your friends. Your friends are busy at the hospital administration wing, entering your personal details into the hospital’s database, talking with the police and conversing with the Indian Embassy over phone. Personnel from the Embassy will reach here after 10 am in the morning to talk with you and find out if you need any help”.
“Actually, do you know how I reached Brussels? I only remember examining patients in my college-hospital in India”.
“I have no idea”, she shrugged. “Probably your friends know. They will be allowed to see you in a while. I suggest that you take some rest”.
After checking the i.v lines, she turned to leave. I quickly held her hand, making her look back.
“How, as a Malayali, did you land up here in Brussels?”, my eyes widened with curiosity as I anticipated her reply.
“You might already know that a lot of the nursing workforce worldwide comes from Kerala. I immigrated to Belgium 5 years ago, and I’ve been working here for the last 3 years. I figured you were from Kerala from your passport and I asked the duty doctor to put me in charge of you”, her eyes narrowed as she smiled.
“In fact, my duty gets over by 12 pm in the night, but I stayed on to ensure that you were alright. Now, that you are stable and conscious, I think I can leave”.
I was speechless for a while. I managed to say a ‘Thank you’ at last.
“There is an Indian nurse in the next shift. I have already called her up and asked her to take good care of you”, she smiled as she spoke. “And by the way, my name is Sheila. I have left my visiting card in your case record. If you have any trouble, don’t hesitate to call me”, she added.
I thanked her again. As soon as she was gone, three men and a woman entered the room. All were in colourful Mozilla outfits. I immediately recognized that they were the people I saw in the pictures.
“Good Lord, I hope you are alright”, the woman exclaimed. I later learnt that her name was Ana-Maria Antolović.
I smiled weakly.
“Sorry”, I said. “I can’t remember your faces, though you all look strangely familiar. I think I met with an accident and I can’t remember a thing. Not even travelling  to Brussels”.
“Big story”, the woman said. “You reached Brussels for the Mozilla Summit. We met you on the first day of the conference and became friends. You were returning to the hotel with us after the closing party of the Summit. As we were walking, an unknown driver speeded his car through the sidewalk and knocked you down. Luckily, you were not badly injured. You immediately fell unconscious, and we called an ambulance to bring you here”.
“The doctor told us that you would recover soon and be able to return to your country in good shape”, she smiled as she placed a bowl of fruits on to the eating board attached to my bed.
“Eat well and be strong”, one of the men said playfully.
“Thanks people, too bad that I can’t remember the time I spent with you”.
“You already have hundreds of pictures of us and the Summit in your camera. You will remember everything in no time”, the other man re-assured.
We had a hearty laugh together.

Sincere thanks to : 

* Ana-Maria Antolović, Dejan Strbad, Saša Teković and Stanić Mihovil from Mozilla Hrvatska, Croatia for letting me use their pictures taken during the Mozilla Summit 2013 in Brussels in October 2013.

* Neethu P.M and her elder sister for cross-checking the consistency of medical facts mentioned in this story.

* Jeph Paul for spending several hours in copy-editing and reviewing this post. 

* Neethu Santhosh, Neethu N.T and Sona Sathian for reading the story from a medical student’s perspective and providing me with valuable criticism.

Gulag

Guest post by Jeph Paul
The first time I came across ‘gulag’ was when I chanced upon it in my seventh grade. I was impatiently prancing up and down in my school’s library trying to find a book that interested me. Not finding any, I decided on a volume of the Encyclopædia Britannica. Turning the pages, this funny sounding word ‘gulag’ caught my attention. I decided to stop and read the blurb that followed it. It said that gulag was a prison system in Soviet Russia. The write up ended with an uprising in one of the penal colonies in the system. It went something like ‘They tore down the wall that separated the men’s quarters from that of the women and for a time led a life of freedom. The inmates got married to each other & led a life of dignity for a while till the tanks sent by the Kremlin crushed them. The penal colonies were wound up shortly after the uprising ’.
As a twelve year old I didn’t understand how an armed revolt could happen in a penal colony. I had never heard of anything similar in India then. What were they revolting for? Why didn’t they just run away to freedom? There weren’t books on Soviet history in the library and I did not have access to the internet at that time. I gave my curiosity a quick slip that evening and moved on to woo one of my classmates. Questions like who the prisoners were and why they revolted kept coming back to me over the years. With no means to find the answer I’d move on to other things. Besides I was still trying to woo the same person. I would go on to finish school & then my undergrad. Russia too had moved on from its bankruptcy in 1997. After years of ineffective governance and being run by Yeltsin & his coterie dubbed ‘The family’ that robbed the nation, Russia was in the hands of a young and ambitious ex KGB officer called Putin.
After spending 11 months at my first workplace, I decided to move to a new job in a different city. I was staying with my friends from college and one of them was applying to grad school. While helping him out with his Statement of Purpose & his other essays, my old curiosity once again raised its head. But this time I decided to read up on gulag and to get to the bottom of it,besides the girl had moved on which put an end to the other sub plot. Wikipedia did give me a little information, but I wanted more & so I searched around for a good book to read. The recommendations would always start with Gulag Archipelago by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. But after downloading an e-book of the same I realised I would never be able to finish it. It had three large volumes. It’s sheer size put me off ,besides I wasn’t looking for a literary treatment. I was looking for a blow by blow account of what it was & why was it run and finally why was it shut down? I finally decided on Gulag A history by Anne Applebaum. It was a modern text written in English and not a translated work from Russian. I downloaded a copy, pirated of course. But it turned out to be disappointing. Random words and letters were missing throughout the book. I just couldn’t parse it. Out of desperation, I decided to purchase a copy online. That would set me back by Rs. 840 & I would also have to wait for a week and a half since it was an imported copy. I decided to extract my pound of flesh & got my friend to buy me the book in return for my help with his essays. The book was on its way.
The book has 27 chapters divided into three part. At 515 pages and a font size that strains even the healthiest of eyes, it is a formidable read. It goes into the depths of the atrocities committed in the name re-education. It talks about quotas being prepared, listing out the percentage of prisoners to be liquidated. I read about prisoners being made to work on vanity projects like the White Sea canal which served no real maritime purpose and prisoners being given impossible work targets to be achieved in the labour camps.
‘He who has not been there will get his turn. He who has been there will never forget it’  –Soviet proverb about prisons.
The gulag was really a giant prison system run by the Soviet special police which later came to be called the KGB. It was set up soon after the October revolution. It expanded greatly in the 1930’s under Stalin’s rule and began to shrink in the 1950’s after his death. It was never really wound up and continued in one form or the other till the fall of the Soviet Union. It was meant to be a system of re-education camps where people from all walks of life were thrown in. No one was spared – ethnic minorities, POW’s, dissidents or people who had the misfortune of falling out with their colleagues at work were all rounded up and sent to the camps. The reasons were arbitrary & and after a sham trial the person would end up in a camp. Sometimes entire populations were uprooted. At the height of the gulag in the 1930’s, there wasn’t a semblance of a reason, you could be charged for plotting a conspiracy to blowup a bridge that never did exist. People were literally picked up from the street and the next second they were on their way to a camp. During Stalin’s time, the official policy was to use the inmates as bonded labourers & to make the prison system self sustaining through the inmate’s labour. You could also get arrested if the camps were running short of labour or if the camps needed specialized skills like engineers. The camp system was present across the breadth of the Soviet Union spanning 12 time zones.
The conditions in the camps were generally inhumane and unbearable. There was never enough food. Food was rationed and many of the inmates starved to death. There were never enough beds or clothes. Theft was rampant, rape and abuse were common. Entire cities were built solely with slave labour. The White Sea Canal was the most celebrated example of this system of labour. Like the Pyramids of Giza, it stands as a testament to human savagery & vanity. Millions of people passed through the system and at least one million of them perished.
I started the book expecting a epic revolt that brought the system down but what I found was a saddening tale of the destruction of the lives of millions of people for no real fault of theirs. There were many revolts, strikes and uprisings in the camps , especially in the coal fields of Kolyma. What came closest to my romanticised revolt was the celebrated uprising in the Ust-Usa camp in Vorkuta during the second world war in 1942. It was led by a free prisoner called Mark Retyunin. Before they were finally put down by the soviet army, they defended themselves for days.
The deaths in the camps are comparable or may even be of greater magnitude than the horror unleashed by the Nazis against the Jews. It is startling to note that, after all the evidence that points to Stalin’s bloody hands, people still look up to him as a strong leader who led the Soviet Union during troubled times. There is a wave in Russia today to glorify him and his acts. The general perception too isn’t different either, Nazis top the chart of absolute evil, but the facts as they are puts the Soviet regime under Stalin in close contention for the top spot too.
This model of labour camps was later replicated in China during Mao’s time and was called laojiao. The Chinese Parliament passed a resolution in December 2013 to wind up these camps after over 60 years of their existence.

Over a cup of coffee

I first saw you on-stage at the public speech contest held at Vythiri when you were a high school student. I was a contestant at the versification contest at one of the off-stage venues, and my contest finished two hours later than expected, so you were half way done when I reached the main stage where you were speaking. The essence of the topic of your extemporatory speech, I later understood, was “Science and Superstitions”.
You were average in height, with slender build and narrow shoulders. You wore steel-rimmed spectacles whose refraction partially concealed the glow in your eyes. You were unconcerned about the heat of the media lights, the height of the podium you were standing on,the echoing of your voice from the huge microphones and the five hundred or more pairs of eyes which were watching you, measuring your every word, expression and movement.
Words seemed to flow from you effortlessly. “Science has reached to a point where the complexities of the Universe could be shredded into mathematical equations. Science has proved it that snakes cannot milk cows, that enchantings cannot cure diseases,that wine cannot be made out of water. Science proves facts beyond doubt. In science, every new breakthrough opens door to many new breakthroughs.”
Silence.  Followed by a huge applause.
Science should be the most powerful tool with which the educated youth should fight superstitions”. 
You paused to let the audience reflect upon the statement.
And we all are here, just in time to revolutionize the world with rational thoughts”. You ended.
You walked away from the stage before the audience could stop the huge applause. And that was the first time I saw you. I’d never forget the way you probed the audience, as if sending a message directly to me. I wanted to give you a handshake. But you happened to be so inaccessible to me at that time that I didn’t even attempt to meet you in person let alone giving a handshake.
On the next day evening, when the prizes were being distributed, I carefully listened to the list of winners to find out if you were one. Your name was announced twice, as the first place holder of the extemporatory speech and debate. A teacher from your school received the prize on your behalf, as you had already departed from Vythiri by then. You were to represent Kerala state in the National Contest to be held during next month.
Your name was Arun Prayag.
Long after, I accidentally saw your profile while scrolling through dozens of friend suggestions offered by facebook. I am not someone who likes going through the facebook profiles of random people, but there was something that made me to click on your name impulsively. It was the familiarity associated with your name or it was the gleam in your eyes that made me feel like you are probing my eyes: I am not sure which of these made me look into your profile. I discovered from your profile that you are my senior at college, and suddenly realised that you were the debater I saw at Vythiri four years back. I quickly scanned through the list of current students on the medical college’s website and found that you are now pursuing the compulsory rotating internship at the hospital attached to the medical college. You would have been posted in any of the twenty departments in the hospital, each of which is further broken down into three to six units. It was near impossible to find out where you were, unless I ask for information from one of your batch mates.
I went through the posts on your facebook wall and found that you were quite active there. You had posted statuses, links and comments about irrational governmental policies, emerging diseases and healthcare tips. You also had also shared anecdotes from your life as an intern. All these sounded very much like you, confirming my suspicion that you were indeed the debater I once looked up with respect. I overcame the urge to send you a friend request, fearing that you might not accept my friendship because you do not know me in person.
In the following days, I looked for you while I passed through the corridor from one ward to another, among the team of doctors that conducted morning rounds around patients lying down on mats in the verandah . You were expected to be the one without the white coat, kneeling down on the floor mat of the patient, wearing the stethoscope round your neck, explaining the details of the patient to the small group of white-coat-wearing senior doctors and jotting down the orders on the case record. You were not to be seen in any group of doctors I saw. You were never to be seen at any of the community events at college which made me think if you had shrunk to medical books the way many of the medicos have done. You were not to be seen at the entrance coaching institute like the many interns who choose to devote their weekends to study for the post-graduate entrance exams. You were not seen in the coffee-station where doctors, medics and nurses hung out after their ward rounds to gossip over a cup of coffee. You seemed to be literally non-existent. Eventually I stopped looking for you and forgot about you altogether.
                                                      —————————————
 It was a particularly busy day in the Outpatient department. In addition to the interns, medical students were also asked to help out the consulting physicians by examining the patients and explaining the findings. Names of people were being called out through the microphone every once in a while. People who were impatiently waiting for their turn had started to encroach into the cubicles of doctors to find out when their turn would arrive. The Outpatient tickets were being stalked on the physician’s desks from time to time by the green-uniformed nursing assistant. It was half past one in the afternoon when the queue in the OP thinned, when medical students were let go. I sighed in relief when I was finally released from work. Being too tired and hungry,  I walked my way to the coffee station anticipating to have some light snack before going to the lecture class which would start in 30 minutes.
The coffee station had glass-shelves, which displayed fried snacks of various shades of brown and different shapes – round, triangular or doughnut shaped. As it was late in the afternoon, there were not many people hanging out at the coffee-station. I bought a coffee and idli-vada, and sat down on one of the empty seats close to the entrance. After some time, a man sat down on the seat directly opposite to me, despite several other eating tables being vacant. I quickly looked up, and found that it was you.
“Netha, right?”
“Yes”, I replied. I was surprised that you knew my name.
“And you are Arun”, I said. You looked amused and all the more surprised to be recognized. You were amazed to learn from me later that I remember you from the high school public speech contest at Vythiri.
We talked. You told me that you know me from the organization I am volunteering at. That you had also joined the same organization a few months back. That your busy schedule at the hospital is keeping you from spending more time on volunteering. That you have moved from public speaking to digital writing. That you are planning to launch a digital magazine about medicine and health in Malayalam language. That you are reading Albert Camus’s ‘The Stranger’ and is thoroughly enjoying it. That you aspire to become a physician-scientist. That you had won the third place for the debate contest at the National level after winning at Vythiri. That you feel like it has been ages since you made your last public speech. That you are posted at a community health centre in a village close by, which justified your absence from the hospital.
I felt as if you were my acquaintance for a long time, though that was the first time we met. Our talk continued for a long  time even after we finished drinking the coffee. I had to interrupt and wind up our conversation to reach in time for the afternoon lecture class. We parted after promising to keep in touch with each other.
When I checked my facebook account that evening, I found that you had dropped a friend request.

Women at Wikimania 2013

Wikimania 2013, the annual conference of the Wikimedia movement, had the participation of more than 60 women. As of July 30, women accounted 20 percent of online registrations for Wikimania 2013. There was a separate track for ‘Women in Wikimedia’ on Day 2 of the conference. Around 40 women participated in WikiWomen’s Luncheon which happened on the same day. 
 
Organizing team
The Program Committee  of 11 comprised of two women, Katie Filbert and Sarah Stierch. Ellie Young facilitated and supported the organizing team in her capacity as the conference co-ordinator of Wikimedia Foundation. Katie Chan was a member of the scholarship committee of Wikimania 2013. 
Keynote by Sue Gardner
The keynote on the final day of the conference was delivered by Sue Gardner, the Executive Director of Wikimedia Foundation. In response to a question from the press, she replied : “I wish we had solved the (gender gap) problem (in Wikimedia), but didn’t.”

WikiWomen’s Lunch during Wikimania-2013. Sue Gardner,CC-BY-SA.

 
Wikiwomen’s Luncheon
Wikiwomen’s Luncheon , the luncheon for women attendees of Wikimania 2013, was held on the second day of the conference. Around 40 women participated in the luncheon. Conversation was facilitated by Sue Gardner. Sue told that the participation in the Wikiwomen’s Lunch has rose from 11 in Taipei, 2011 to more than 100 in Washington D.C, 2012.  Gardner observed that when Wikimedia’s editor community is dominated by educated males, and expansion is by word-of-mouth, it will not “naturally grow to be as diverse as it otherwise could have been.”Sarah Stierch, the Program Evaluation Community Coordinator for the Wikimedia Foundation, shared her experiences about volunteering with the Wikimedia Foundation. Staff members of Wikimedia Deucheland passed information and distributed flyers of their upcoming Diversity Conference , which is scheduled to take place in Berlin in November.
Women speakers
Sue Gardner at Wikimedia 2013. By Lvova [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

 

Talks, panels, pre-conference events and workshops by women speakers were:
  1. Open Street Map Workshop (Katie Filbert)
  2. Women and non-conventional education – a study from Indian cultural context  (Kavya Manohar)
  3. Growing the Arabic Wikipedia through the Wikipedia Education Program  (LiAnna Davis)
  4. Encouraging the creation and development of articles about women in Ibero-America (Ivana Lysholm)
  5. The coolest projects of Wikimedia Chapters – be inspired (Nicole Ebber; together with Lodewijk Gelauff) 
  6. Idea Lab Brainstorm (Siko Bouterse & Heather Walls)
  7. Dev Camp (Sumana Harihareswara and others)
  8. Promoting diversity in the German Wikipedia (Ilona Buchem)
  9. Towards bridging the gender gap in Indian Wikimedia Community (Jadine Lannon & Netha Hussain)
  10. Bridging the gender gap with women scientists (Emily Temple Wood)

Women participants in panel discussions were :

  1. Carmen Alcázar and Monica Mora in Wiki Loves Monuments
  2. Sumana Harihareswara in Transparency and Collaboration in Wikimedia Engineering
(This is an incomplete list. If you know a woman speaker at Wikimania 2013, feel free to tell me to add her name here)
Press

1. “Wikipedia fails to bridge gender gap (South China Morning Post, 11 August 2013) by Keira Huang

2. “Women contributors still face hurdles at Wikipedia (The Wall Street Journal, 19 August 2013) by Riva Gold

In black and white

She’d open up lives on canvas :
the infant’s inked footprints in black
and the marbled tombstone in white,
the mushroom cloud of the nuclear bomb
all painted in black and white
while they conveyed ideas
dominated by shades of grey.
The picture of her chest snapped by the machine
baking her tissues with a beam of rays
was in black and white, too.
When my white-sleeved hand
held it up against the glowing screen,
I saw cannonballs* piercing her lungs.
The back of my mind wished
it was just another picture
painted by her.
Truth is not always what we wish for.
*Multiple pulmonary nodules on chest x-ray are known commonly as cannon ball secondaries. Cannon balls indicate poor prognosis.

SMS (Save My Soul)

This poem won the S.Challenge Memorial Poetry Prize, 2012. The award ceremony will happen in Trivandrum Press Club on 12th May 2013. If you would like to attend the function, please leave a comment or mail me directly so that I can send you a copy of the invitation card.


I wrote this poem in one stretch after reading about the Abu Ghraib prison torture.

 

My uncle Sam is a hefty man.
He has a golden tooth.
You now know why he smiles a little wider.
When I quit the slave’s job
at his firm that buys oil in exchange for food
he held a pistol at my temple
and told me that I have two choices in life-to be killed in a war,
or to kill in an anti-war.
Since both of them involved exploding my brains,
I escaped through the window.
He sued me, for leaving through the wrong exit.
Dad can’t pay a million for the bail,
in dollars, with interest compounded.
My peers at jail were charged for nailing bombs
to non-existent walls, for wearing skull caps,
for stealing bread. Even the deputy’s dog torture us here.
 
Reader, if u r stil human,
plz tell da policeman
dat i did no crime.

 



Outputs from Ada Camp

It has been around eight months since I traveled to the U.S for the first time to attend Ada Camp D.C. Looking back, I find the Ada Camp as one of the most fulfilling experiences I had ever had.
The Ada initiative is a non-profit organization dedicated to increasing the participation and status of women in open technology and culture. They organize the Ada Camp and other women’s hangouts in different cities of the world. The one I attended was the second Ada Camp held in Washington D.C, U.S.A.
I had to appear for my exams soon after the camp, and I was skeptical if I would get a U.S visa. I was the only attendee traveling from India. I would miss my classes at the University for a week, and I knew that catching them up would be hard. Despite all these, I decided that I should attend the Ada Camp anyway. I guess I was lucky, because I got the visa without much hassle. I was granted leave from college. I couldn’t believe that I would be flying to join the Ada Campers in Washington D.C!
The Ada Camp brought together more than 100 enthusiastic women from all over the world. The attendees were a diverse mix of individuals, homemakers, mommies, engineers, researchers, students, social media analysts and many other people from different backgrounds. The participants were from different nationalities, but all of them were driven into applying for the Ada Camp because of their sheer love for open source stuff. I met many women who are in many ways similar to me. I could take part in discussions which centered around topics of my liking, which widened my perspective. The notes shared by the participants on etherpad were very useful for future reference. I could learn a wide variety of skills including coding and Karate! Being a student, I was fully unaware of the gender issues at workplace, and Ada camp gave me an opportunity to learn about best practices for working women. The two days of the camp was fully packed up with so much of knowledge that was relevant to me.
With a fellow Ada Camper. Photo by Chit Thiri Maug
While traveling back to India, I was deeply satisfied. I had too many projects in mind, and the potential to work towards accomplishing them – Ada Camp put me in touch with the right people and right resources to get me started. Listening to the success stories of other participants helped me overcome my initial inertia, and stimulated me to work hard towards increasing the participation of women in Wikimedia projects.
It was after the camp that the WikiWomenCollaborative, an initiative to engage women in Wikimedia, was launched. The initiative was launched by a fellow Ada Camper Sarah StierchHeather Walls, who designed the Collaborative’s page, was also an Ada Camper. Together, we conducted many activities including editing articles, blogging and social networking to bring more women to Wikipedia and help the existing women editors to actively contribute to Wikipedia. Meeting Sarah and Heather in person at the Ada Camp helped me overcome the cultural  and communication barriers and work collaboratively with them. It would not have been possible otherwise because of cultural and communication problems involving communicating solely online.
Ada Camp gave me a taste of coding. I wrote my first code in Python during my training session at Ada Camp. Though it was a small code involving adding numbers, I was so happy to have accomplished a skill! I am not good at coding yet, but the Camp helped me to get over my fear of codes. I have been improving fairly, and I dream of writing a useful code someday. Gathering ideas from the Ada Camp, I successfully conducted a conference in my city  in open space format. I have forgotten the 10 life saving karate moves I mastered during the camp, but I still cherish the learning sessions when we had a lot of fun practicing the moves on each other.
After participating in the Camp, I started spending quality time on Wikipedia on activities that are directly relevant to women. I started writing on Geek Feminism Wiki and got involved in writing blogs about women in open knowledge projects. I could get myself updated on recent issues that concern women from the Ada Camp alumni mailing list. The alumni mailing list also helped me maintain the contacts I made during the Camp. Talking at the Ada Camp increased my confidence in public speaking, and I have given three talks since the Camp.
Now, I have been involved in many open knowledge related activities that involve outreach, mobilizing people, conduct Wikipedia workshops and mobilizing funds. My participation at the Ada Camp enabled me to carry out these activities productively.
Yes, Ada Camp literally changed my life.
1. The third Ada camp is happening in San Francisco, U.S.A in June 2013. If you are a woman or an ally of women involved in open stuff, apply for the Camp here
2. My proposal for Wikimania includes the ideas I gathered from Ada Camp D.C. The abstract of the paper can be viewed here.
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