Sunday, September 6, 2009

Felix is gone

Felix started visiting us in 2002 when he was just a kitten. He belonged to our neighbor Chloe but he took all his meals with our cats. Then one day, he decided to move. He took his Pink Panther cuddly and moved in with us. It was only days later that we found the toy. Chloe wanted him back but he wouldn't go. He wouldn't even look at her. It appears Felix didn't appreciate being left alone when Chloe and her mum went away for weekends and longer holidays. We returned the Pink Panther, but Felix stayed.

Over the years, he became a big and healthy tom-cat who protected his territory as well as he could. He was a fighter. He'd spend days and nights outside--only coming in for his meals--watching and getting rid of stray cats. Then a few months back we noticed he was eating less and less. We called the vet but he found nothing wrong. He was given a multivitamin injection and ate a little bit the next day. I tried feeding him with my fingers but he licked just enough sauce to keep alive. Then last week, he stopped eating altogether. We called a new vet who after examining Felix, said he was constipated and prescribed paraffin. When it didn't work, he asked for permission to do a laparatomy--we don't have ultrasound facilities for animals in this country.
On Friday, he did the laparatomy and found Felix's liver grossly enlarged and full of nodules. After consultation with his advisor, he told us nothing could be done to save Felix. It was either close him up and keep him until he went naturally or put him to sleep. Not wanting Felix to suffer anymore, we opted for the latter.

Felix is now in the hands of his Creator. He gave us many years of love and fun. I'm glad he chose to live with us. We all miss his presence. RIP, Felix. We'll meet again.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Swine Flu in a "Third World" Country--The Semi Geek's opinion 1

The country is under siege. Swine flu is in full swing. So far, 40 confirmed cases and already 5 dead. Is the situation being managed correctly? I think not.
Doctors and school professionals have made a civilized request to the authorities to close all schools down for two weeks. The Minister of Education said on the radio this morning that closing down schools for any length of time would deprive children of "knowledge". Is it better to deprive them of health and let's exaggerate a bit, LIFE? When there's no life, what good is education and knowledge?
In the afternoon, the Prime Minister chaired a "high-powered committee" meeting for nearly three hours, after which he gave a press conference to announce that they were not to give in to panic and close down schools. Needless to say, the public, especially parents of young children, is angry.
I admit this may not be the solution to the problem. But isn't it worth a try? If schools were to close for a few days, that would reduce the extent of "human agglomeration" in buses, in schools and other public places where students tend to hang out before and after school. Let's look at the other side of the coin. I was at the supermarket to get a few essentials yesterday. Some parents who had decided to keep their kids from school were going around the supermarket, exposing them to the virus. Where is the logic? Is there any logic?
Let's go back a week. It was then a question of "to wear or not to wear the mask". The authorities were dead against wearing the mask. The reason was that WHO didn't think the mask would help in any way prevent the disease from spreading! One government doctor even said he "didn't want to see anyone but doctors and nurses wearing the mask, not the gardener or the cleaning staff". I'm amazed they didn't amend the law for it!
Since yesterday, masks were being distributed in schools. Wearing a mask is now obligatory whenever a case is suspected! Logic? I think not! I think there was a shortage of masks in the country last week.
Now let's go to the Tamiflu issue. This is a whole thing in itself. The stock currently available is due to expire in November 2009--if I recall correctly. The Minister of Health recently announced that the expiry date has been extended by two years. The current stock can be used until 2011. The people started an uproar. How is this possible? Are they trying to poison us? This will create precedents, etc... etc... My opinion has a(n ex-)pharmaceutical professional is, if a sample of our local stock has been analyzed and tested by the mother company (Roche), it is possible that they extended the expiry date of the product. But, it is important to verify that individual pharmacies are storing their stocks in appropriate conditions--away from light, moisture and high temperatures. This would be the duty of the Pharmaceutical Division of the Ministry of Health. Now a pharmacist comes on the radio and announces that it is perfectly normal to extend the expiry date of a product by 2 years (so far I agree) if--to this I do not agree--there is more than 90% of active drug in the product. This is not the only criterium required. The product should undergo and pass all the tests in the monograph. And he goes on to add that if there's less than 75%, the expiry date can be extended by 1 year and if less than 50%, by 3 months. Now that's the most stupid thing I've ever heard said in my whole entire life! How can a product containing less than 50% be allowed on the market, never mind allowing an extension of the expiry date?
Are we idiots or are they? Or are they just taking us for idiots? Whatever it is, this whole situation is sickening.
Let's pray the decision of the authorities not to close down schools doesn't have devastating effects on the youngsters of the country. And let's hope this decision was taken because it was the right one, not because it's contrary to what the syndicates and other bodies were asking. Now, that would be really, really stupid!

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Bad Luck

The past few weeks have been strange. I'd say Murphy's Law was at its best. Everything that could break broke and different sorts of repairmen came and went. Things that needed replacing for over 8 years were done in the past month. I spent most of my time hanging around for them instead of "being creative" as I would have preferred.

Why is it that when one thing breaks and you call in the repairmen, they almost always end up breaking something else. When you think nothing else can go wrong, you slump in the armchair and heave a big sigh. That's the exact moment two cats decide to have a fight and somehow--I still don't know how--bump into the modem and crashes it on the floor. In the crash, one of the pins of the two-pin adaptor breaks off and the only place you can get it replaced fools you into buying the wrong one. You return home and try it, get frustrated and curse a lot. And then suddenly, illumination! You remember that HP laptop that always gave you trouble and take it out of hibernation. Bingo! The adaptor is the perfect fit. You had it right under your nose and spent a whole Saturday morning looking to buy one.

Today I'm going to turn my luck around. I'm going to sit and write 1000 words or more.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Writing Past and Present

How hard can it be to write one's bio?

I've been reading, writing and counting for as long as I can remember. Aren't these the things geeks love doing? I remember Dad teaching me the ABC ad 1 to 10 when I was about a year and a half old. I wonder if I could even walk at the time.

Granddad (on Mum's side) lived in the centre of Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius. That's where I was born in the early hours of a probably very hot day in December 1961. Dad says Granddad--whom we called Papa because Mum called him that--wouldn't agree to Mum being taken to hospital when she felt the first labour pains. He also says that if he hadn't got that midwife when he did, he would have lost both his wife and his daughter--that's me! It appears everything went well, and I was a healthy 10 lbs girl at birth. Now, why am I saying all this?

Anyway, since I was very small Dad started teaching me and I can say with all honesty, that my dad is the best teacher I've ever had. He taught me Arithmetics, English and French and years later he taught me how to drive. He encouraged me to read and whenever I was idle, the punch-line was "If you've got nothing to do, either read a book or go to sleep". Oh, I remember the Granddad connection now. Granddad was the owner of a large-ish piece of commercial property comprising several shop units under and around the house I was born and basically raised in. The largest of these shops was his own and the others were rented. So, I grew up living over Nalanda Bookshop. One of its entrances was on the main street and the other at the back, just in front of the staircase leading to the living area. Apart from the fact that Dad bought me a new book (from the Ladybird series) every afternoon on his way up, I started taking the bookshop as a "longcut" to Granddad's shop on the main street. The owner was a kind hearted man who never complained about this "what I now consider to be bad" habit.

Since those days, books have constituted the major part of my budget. I lived in their world more than my own. I dreamt of a Christmas like those I read about and of the fairies that changed the lives of little children everywhere.

When I started writing, it was in French which came more easily to me at the time. I won a national prize in the 1981 edition of the Concours de Contes pour Enfants, sponsored and run by Pepsi. My story was published in the Sunday paper and in an anthology. Mum was very proud of my achievement.

Life had other plans for me. My love for science took me on another journey and I flew to Dublin to study Pharmacy. After 4 years of undergraduate and 3 years postgraduate studies, returned home with a Ph.D in Pharmaceutical Chemistry. I had left my writing years behind me. In the years I worked as a pharmacist--retail, hospital and industrial--I never bothered about writing. Writing was limited to reports and accounts until that day in October when Poupie and Guizmo gave me my new life.

I came across Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way" on one of my frequent trips to Bookcourt. I was looking at books in the "Spirituality" section and it hit me. As I read it, I realized that somewhere along the line since my great moment, I'd been blocked and I COULDN'T write anymore. Julia Cameron's advice gave me my writing back. Writing whatever was in my mind out cleared the fog and I started writing again. Slowly, the URGE of writing returned and I decided to take a Freelance Writing course online with Penn Foster. They were the only ones I could pay by installment. That's where I learnt about the SCBWI. Since I joined them, everything started falling into place. I joined what I consider the world's best critique group. From those ladies, I learnt almost everything I know about writing and I'll be eternally grateful to them.

I paused for a minute, wondering why I wrote all this. Oh yeah... I had to go back in time to look for publishing credit. I have none, except a 360-word Ph. D. thesis and that little story "L'Histoire d'un Enfant" prized in 1981. I hope it doesn't go against me in my marketing endeavors.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Me and Art

I was blessed with the best teachers at the Craft Academy--which unfortunately closed down when Pat got sick. This is a pity because she did a lot for those street kids and today many of them have mastered a craft well enough to be able to earn a living from it. She wanted it to go on, but for some reason, the Board decided otherwise and it closed down in February 2006. 

Having been a geek, I studied Maths and Physics up to Cambridge A level. This constituted a major advantage--considering I couldn't call myself an art-inclined person--making color theory and perspective not so hard to master. I started with acrylic painting in March 2002. At the end of the first day of the weekend course, I realized that during the time I'd been painting, I hadn't once thought of my numerous job-related problems. My mind was fresh and I was looking forward to the next day. What I found great about painting was that there was no "wrong" and "right" about it. You're our own judge. No one can come and say, "this is not right". If they do, you can just reply, "Seems fine to me." and get away with it. Having had to score high marks all through school and university--not always succeeding so easily--this was a totally new world opening to me. 

After Acrylic painting, I followed a watercolor class--March 2003. This is a story in itself. The night before watercolor weekend, I was awakened by a cat wailing and Poupie--bad dog--barking angrily. It wasn't even 5 am. I rushed out and found Cat hanging from a metallic passage, one foot caught in the mesh. Poupie was waiting, ready to attack. Without thinking--I should have pulled on a dressing gown--I ran to save Cat. As I fought to push his foot out of the mesh, he grabbed my right arm and started biting savagely. After a while, the pain was so intense that, without even thinking, I changed arms. Left arm was attacked as savagely as Right. Finally, he managed to get his foot out--I still don't know if I had anything to do with it--and ran away. My two arms were bleeding and the pain was awful. I managed to get another couple of hours' sleep and in the morning woke up and got ready for watercolor class. 

All day, I ran a high temperature. The pain made me dizzy and nauseous but I continued. I know I should have been in bed with antibiotics that day, but I couldn't not do the course. The tutors used to come from South Africa only twice in the year and I couldn't afford to miss the lessons. The second time they came it was the same week I broke Right Wrist. I did an advanced Acrylic course with Right Arm in cast. That was the day I started painting with my left hand. I even took notes--since I was a fully-pledged geek at the time--with my left hand. In a mirror, it could be read perfectly. However, as I proceeded on my way to become a semi-geek, I stopped taking notes, which wasn't so bright because today I realize that I should have taken notes in "Framing" class! 

When Right Wrist came out of the cast and I couldn't use it like before, I was angry and upset. I quit my day job at the end of 2003 and worked on getting my wrist functions back. 

In 2004 and 2005, I followed courses in Mosaic, Pottery and clay Portraiture. Pottery was instrumental at getting my wrist back to normal. In October 2005, I started Tai Chi classes to help with my arthritis. Tai Chi and Qi Gong also helped with the wrist. Today, I can say that, though overdoing things causes pain, I have recovered at least 90% of my wrist function. Where there's a will, there's a way. 

As Tai Chi helped me control my arthritis pain, I returned to one of my first passions--bonsai. I 
started going to plant nurseries and getting the ugliest specimens. Like the ugly duckling, they make the best bonsai. 

Tai Chi--or maybe my coach--also helped with mentally. I decided to go back to another one of my earliest passions--fiction writing. 

Today, I'm very happy. I read, write, paint, draw and spend time with my 12 cats and 3 dogs. When the Craft Academy closed down, I bought one of their turning wheels. I'm planning to go back to pottery. 

And I say thank you to all those who have helped me with my new life. With the support of my family and friends--the real ones, not the ones who are around only when things go well--and especially Pat, I am very happy to be a semi-geek. 

I don't think I'll ever be a non-geek because being geeky is my first nature. 

Sunday, May 31, 2009

How I Became a Semi-Geek

The DAY was October 14, 2003. Maybe I should say October 15, because it happened after midnight. Well, I didn't become a total semi-geek on that particular day. But on that day, my life took a turn to the right and there was no coming back to Square One. 

It was about ten minutes past midnight when I realized Guizmo--female cat--had been missing since the afternoon. Recalling that she hadn't been looking too well when I'd seen her around lunchtime, I decided to go looking. Poupie, my late doggy best friend, faithfully tagged along. We managed to locate Guizmo, and seeing she didn't look so bad, I turned around--a bit too suddenly--and bumped into Poupie who had decided to lie down. The rest happened in one breath. Poupie, feeling my foot in his rib, jolted and I found myself flying over him and back onto the hard concrete floor. My right wrist was screaming at me. At that very moment, I was compelled to become a right-brained person until the wrist healed. 

However, I learnt--the hard way--that Right Wrist had a mind of its own. While in the cast--six weeks--something happened and the joint became a disjoint. I was left with less than 50% of the function of my right hand and there was no chance of operating without the risk of losing the use of my fingers. My career as a scientist came to a halt. One can't juggle test-tubes and chemicals with one arm. The GEEK was about to convert. 

To cut a never-ending story short, I started using my left hand more and more especially for drawing and painting--which I had started a year before. The shift from right to left was accompanied by moments of utter confusion. I'd always had trouble with left and right and the shift made it worse. 

The Geek had turned to a Semi-Geek, with perks and drawbacks. I had a NEW LIFE, thanks to Guizmo and Poupie. Poupie died in the early morning of December 21, 2005 after a short illness and Guizmo left us on March 5, 2006. I hope they're happy in their new surroundings now. I still miss them and will always be indebted to them for having shown me that there's so much more to life than a day job in a pharmaceutical factory.