Arrhythmia, Professor and Me

I have been suffering from a heart disorder called arrhythmia over the last two years. An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of your heartbeat. It means that your heart beats too quickly, too slowly, or with an irregular pattern. Over a year, my problem of arrhythmia worsened. Last month I suffered dizziness and had even a fall couple of times.

While cardiologists were examining me to address the root cause of the problem, I thought of meeting my Professor friend and take his advice. Professor has been always helpful to me when in crisis.

We met at our usual coffee shop. We occupied a round table in the foyer with a marble top and an ash tray. We ordered some Ethiopian coffee with ginger biscuits.

“Dr Modak, the real reason for your arrhythmia is not the imbalance in the electric field, but your nature of getting excited in every bit you see or do in your life”. Professor lit his cigar.

He saw me surprised so he continued to elaborate.

“ I have seen you now over 30 years. Your heart seems to be racing up when you deliver a talk, especially to the students. or when you attend a musical concert or meet a beautiful and intelligent lady – I know that latter has always been your weakness” (I couldn’t disagree)

Probably, your heart beats slow down when you get depressed to see inaction and apathy towards environment, poverty and injustice.  And then after a while you become angry and your heart beats start racing up. These ups and downs of heart beats over several years have disturbed the rhythm of the heart.

Your doctors may change your medication, but nothing will change until you learn to live life like most of us do – i.e. stay calm, not emotional and remain indifferent”. He sounded like Lord Krishna in Bhagavad-Gita.

“But how can I Professor?” I protested.

I told him that in my school days, our teacher used to write on the blackboard names of the first ranking student in the late evening, one week after the examination. All of us used to flock around the blackboard, be tensed and wait for the “disclosure” of the top ranker’s name.

There were occasions that I got the first rank. And when I saw my name being written on the blackboard by our teacher Shri Dabholkar, as the top ranker, my heart raced up with all the excitement. My heart must be beating at that time well above 120 beats per minute (BPM).

“Oh, so silly of you. Top ranks in school days have no great significance. Topping in the class has nothing to do with your later career. I have seen so many school toppers doing badly in college and subsequent studies. You should have understood this truth and remained quiet. Your heart should have been rock steady at the standard beat of 70 BPM”. Professor said calmly. He sounded indifferent.

“But what about this memory Professor?” I did not give up

“While at IIT Powai, me and a group of my friends climbed the hill behind Hostel 4 to get to the top. Not a tall climb at all, but getting on the top of that 1500 ft hill mattered to us. We reached the top of the hill that had a small Shiva temple with no pujari. We were aghast to see spread of Powai and Vihar lakes on both sides of the hill. Vihar lake with islands at the center looked mystic as the sun was about to set. The breeze was strong. An eagle took off from the overhanging rock noticing we the strangers. Wow, my heart had raced then as I stood near the rock with my friends. I breathed deep, smelling the grass and enjoying natures glory. We climbed down without saying a word”

Professor took a deep puff.

“Well Dr Modak, you are exaggerating too much from this mundane experience. Hill and the lakes is a commonly seen setting. Nothing unusual or exciting” He paused and said sarcastically “You don’t have to climb now anymore as most of the hills in and around cities have been mined by the builders or are denuded. Watching a lake is no more a pleasure as the lakes have been polluted, infested by weeds and mosquitoes and in some cases even full of foams”

I realized that Professor was indifferent to my exciting story. I imagined him standing on the top of the hill watching Powai and Vihar lakes with heart rate rock steady at 70 BPM.

May be he was right. You don’t have to actually visit the places – there are now good documentaries on Netflix that show the Great China Wall, Grand Canyon and the Whales in Alaska. You can watch these documentaries your bedroom at rock steady heart beat of 70 BPM. But standing on the top of the Alpes at Mont Blanc, clad in snow, with your heart racing at 120 BPM is an altogether different experience. I now thought that Professor could be wrong.

I started remembering occasions when me and my father visited some of the poor families in the villages that were hit by a famine. We camped there to provide food and water to people and working to find solutions that could help them to combat the repeated spells of the famine. My father spent his personal money to help. He wasn’t rich enough to afford such spending, but it was the spirit and the compassion that led him to be generous while he was disadvantaged. I probably returned with considerably irregular heartbeats – especially when I saw the people suffer, my father’s gesture to help and the tears of gratitude I saw in the eyes of the people.

I did not narrate this experience to the Professor as I knew what he would say. “handling famines is governments job. What difference can one individual make? So be practical, stay calm and wait for the government to take action. Now a days corporates under CSR also contribute and help. One doesn’t have to be so personal.”

I asked him – doesn’t he get agitated to listen to speeches made by politicians and bureaucrats at the environmental conferences? Same rhetoric, same play of words, false promises and manipulated data! I stopped attending the inaugural speeches of such meetings to avoid getting irregular heartbeats.

Professor replied that I was perhaps expecting too much from these meetings. “You have to understand that after all holding conferences is a type of business or a networking game that most play.  Content of the speech is irrelevant, just the conduct matters” Professor extinguished his cigar.

“You may like to join me next Sunday at the Sea lounge of Taj Gateway for an evening snack. A friend you know will be joining. But let us chat on a topic other than your arrythmia. Be there at sharp 6 pm” Professor got up after settling the bill.

“And in this week, don’t attend the Buddy Guy’s concert at the NCPA. You will unnecessarily race up your heart” With this practical advice, Professor left with these parting words of wisdom.

I reached ten minutes earlier and Oscar the head waiter escorted me to the table Professor had booked. As usual,  the table was on window side where you can watch the ships sail – a truly romantic place.

Window side table at the Sea Lounge, the Taj Gateway of India 

A lady with a familiar face was already at the table. “Oh Elma, how come you?” I exclaimed.

Elma was Professors old friend from his college days. Her father was Indian and mother Swedish. She had lovely blond hair, a sweet face, an Swenglish accent. Elma lived in Budapest and was visiting Mumbai for work.  I had met her several times before with Professor.

“Oh Prasad, great to see you – what a surprise? ” said Elma. “Your Professor friend is delayed as usual. He will reach in next 15 minutes”

My heart beats were already racing after seeing Elma. I asked for one plate of dahi batata puri and one plate of (not so spicy) special bhel, the signature dishes at the Sea Lounge. Elma suggested a pitcher of Kingfisher Draft to go along. Good choice! I said to myself.

Since there was some time, I told Elma about my problem of Arrythmia. I ended telling her Professor’s solution – that is stay calm and indifferent at a rock steady heart rate of 70 BPM. I praised Professor saying that he has a great control on his mind and the heart beats.

Elma had a good laugh.

“Prasad, do you really believe in what your friend said?. I still remember feeling  his racing heart beats (must be at 120 BPM) when I first hugged him and kissed as a surprise”

I could understand as I had myself gone through such an experience.

When she saw my stunned face, she said

“Well well, perhaps things have changed now after he implanted a pacemaker some 10 years ago. His heart now beats at a rock steady rate of 70 BPM, despite what he sees, listens or does”

I wanted to ask more on this to Elma, but I had to cut the conversation on this delicate topic as I saw Oscar ushering the Professor to our table.

While driving home I was wondering. Perhaps Professor did this pacemaker implant when there was a massive pacemaker program launched by the Government for all senior advisers, administrators and politicians (existing and “potential”). It was contended that with pacemakers installed the Government machinery will run with no emotions, always stay calm (i.e. stay passive), indifferent and at a rock steady heart rate of 70 BPM.

No wonder the state of India’s Governance we have seen over years!

I thought of calling my cardiologist to recommend a pacemaker – but then I wondered whether this was the way to live life?

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  1. Professor Modak, it has been sometime I missed your articles. I even missed the one you recommended to read. From this article, I feel we share one common thing, weakness towards “beautiful and intelligent ladies”. I blush a lot facing intelligent women!

  2. Powerful people in India are really not interested in environmental issues. They protect their narrow interest. It is high time to educate Indian masses to demand for environmental justice from political parties.

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