Tuesday, August 14, 2018

What Next?

I am privileged. I was born into a higher middle class family in Kerala. I have not been discriminated against based on my family's religion/caste/colour/whatever. I am male. My parents are both alive and work in public sector. I even had access to internet at a very early age. I was allowed and assisted to dream.

Precious copy of my life plan (written after 10th standard)
My father is a doctor. I became a doctor. Natural. It was not incredibly difficult. I did not have to fight unfair situations. I had plenty of help.

I think it is because of my excellent background that I am able to even recognize these privileges.

Consciously or not, much of my life's philosophy is influenced by this. My obsession with free knowledge, is a good example. I may not be able to erase the advantages I already have, but I try to avoid relying on them.

There is no point in beating myself too much either. I am not responsible for my privileges. But I am accountable. Having had all this, if I do not make the best out of them, I am wasting them. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. But what if life gives you apples?

I have a few straightforward options.
  • Become a specialist/super-specialist doctor. Work in one or two hospital(s). Make a lot of money. Help a lot of people.
  • Go back to SVYM. Help build a resurgent India.
  • Join some other organization/hospital/research project which can benefit from a clinical doctor.
None of these are mutually exclusive options either.

Yesterday I was coincidentally discussing with dad a verse from Gita which has many different interpretations.

karmaṇyēvādhikārastē mā phalēṣu kadācana.
mā karmaphalahēturbhūrmā tē saṅgō.stvakarmaṇi৷৷2.47৷৷

Specifically, it is the last part we concentrated on. "You should not not do your duties." How do you know what your duties are, though?

Every person plays multiple roles in their lives. They would have multiple roles each inside family, work, society, and any other sphere of their life. There are duties in each of these. Is there any way you can prioritize one above the other?

I have never been good at prioritizing things in the past. I usually get distracted by the most visible task and forget rest of my duties. I sometimes am able to note them down and come back to them. But this is fixable.

24 hours is what everyone has per day, on Earth. There are indeed people who get a lot accomplished in that 24 hours. If they can, so can I. I will have to organize my time well and get disciplined. And more importantly, I will have to choose the right commitments.

That is what we are coming to, aren't we? Commitments. What are the right commitments for me now? What should I do next?

I keep reading "A Guide for Young People: What to Do With Your Life By Leo Babauta" now and then. The gist is this:

The idea behind all of this is that you can’t know what you’re going to do with your life right now, because you don’t know who you’re going to be, what you’ll be able to do, what you’ll be passionate about, who you’ll meet, what opportunities will come up, or what the world will be like. But you do know this: if you are prepared, you can do anything you want.
Prepare yourself by learning about your mind, becoming trustworthy, building things, overcoming procrastination, getting good at discomfort and uncertainty.
You can put all this off and live a life of safety and boringness. Or you can start today, and see what life has to offer you.
Lastly, what do you do when your parents and teachers pressure you to figure things out? Tell them you’re going to be an entrepreneur, start your own business, and take over the world. If you prepare for that, you’ll actually be prepared for any career.
Is this advice for me? Am I already at that point where I should be knowing what I'll be doing and who I am? At the end of my final MBBS, I thought the one year of internship will be the time when I finally understand what I will do with my life. But I was wrong. During FHM, I got a few ideas on the kind of life I do want to pursue. I am sure I will not be going back to a university in a few years. And then there are a few preferences.

I sort of want to do things that create massive impact. That is why I got bored of clinical work. It was the same thing happening every day. Sick patients, some diagnosis, some treatment, some outcome. At the end of the day, not much has changed in the way things are.

I want to do creative things as well. I do not want to be remembered for things I did. I want to be remembered when people use things I built.

I love internet. It is a technology that has immense potential. I want to utilize it.

I love computers. Computers (including the small ones called smartphones) are all over the world. Sooner or later they will take over the world. I definitely want to be a part of this take-over.

I love teaching and learning. I want to help people learn all they want to. Knowledge should not become monopolized. 

I believe I am good at a few different skills - programming, writing, clinical care, teaching. I want to do things that utilize all my skills. If I do not utilize all the skills I have, I am wasting those skills. That would be running away from "duty".

In fact, I have a few ideas in my mind which are aligned with all these preferences. I want to build free software (free as in freedom) that bring the power of internet and data science to healthcare. I want to enable people (especially the ones in healthcare) to achieve more through the use of technology. I want to make sure this immense power (of technology) does not get accumulated in a few hands. And I want more people like me - I want to ensure there are hundreds of thousands of people with me who do things like me (or better!).

These can't happen if I am alone. I need to connect with people. I need to build on collective strength. I already know a few people I would love to work with. Almost all of them are in the Silicon Valley of India. What makes perfect sense for me to do next is - move to Bangalore and start talking to people. That's what I am going to do as well.

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Saturday, October 28, 2017

Cough Up Some Patriotism, Please!

Many Indians have a "respect" problem. To them, respect is physical. Bowing down, touching feet, keeping legs uncrossed, standing up, using the words "sir" or "madam" in every sentence, and so on. On the other hand they also have great difficulty in respecting others' time, personal space, or opinions.

They are ignorant of their hypocrisy. And this is what makes them intolerant when it comes to topics like national anthem being completely out of place for movie theatres.

To them standing for 52 seconds for national anthem is their duty towards their country. And their duty ends there. They don't feel the need to stand up against corruption by not paying bribes. They don't feel the need to stand up against bureaucratic inefficiency by demanding rights. They don't feel the need to stand up and be a good citizen in a democracy.

Kindly stand up for the flag when you are reading this part of the post.
Because, you see, like respect, concepts like participative democracy, growth and development, efficiency, and creativity are totally alien to them. They are used to one kind of lifestyle - that of meek subservience. They make it clear that they do not like to be forced to think outside the box. They are comfortable in their zones and are not to be disturbed by provoking thoughts. Their emotions are liable to get (butt)hurt if you consider poking.

You cannot blame them for this. They have been brought up like that. Punishments were the most used tool for teaching and while growing up. And so, everything is tied to fear. And fear manifests as slapstick respect and all the irrelevant physical things that many Indians do to "show respect".

Maybe some of them are literate. Maybe they understand. My sincere piece of advice to them would be to replace respect and fear with love. Love thy country. Love thy countrymen. Let love guide you into doing wonderful things for the country and humanity in toto.

More importantly, don't judge my patriotism by your standards. Stop slapping people for not doing things exactly like you want them doing. There are multiple ways to be a good citizen. Forcing people into doing things to prove themselves will only do harm. Sitting or standing, national anthem is just a symbol. If you really respect your country, show some real respect for the democracy.

Related read: The National Anthem and the Supreme Court’s Popcorn Nationalism

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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

My Obsession with Free Knowledge

I have a peculiar attachment with free knowledge - the concept that knowledge should be free of conditions and unencumbered by geographical, economic, cultural, and any other avoidable barriers. This often puts me in a position where I strangely reject certain well meant advices simultaneously appearing stupid and arrogant to others.

For example, a good friend and fellow citizen once suggested to me that I join Landmark Forum, a 3 day course that helps people understand their hidden biases and become more productive people. I listened to their forum leader speaking about how the course works and the psychology behind it and I was sure it would be a fantastic idea. But, when it came to registering for the course and participate, something prevented me from doing it.

The other day I asked a pharmacologist friend if she knew any prophylactic treatment for syphilis. She went to UpToDate (or I'm not sure if it was some other similar service) and started looking up the information. I was curious what she was using and whether I could have it in my phone too. She said it would need a subscription, but she was willing to share her username and password with me. I said that I didn't want access to it.

Yesterday a close friend suggested Dr Thameem Saif's lecture series on basic concepts in medicine for me. She said that it was really good and helps to grasp basic concepts really fast, saving a lot of time. I agreed with her on all that and said I wouldn't attend the lecture series.

Additionally, I hate the concepts of entrance coaching, tuition, etc.

The pattern I see emerging is that I have constant disregard for knowledge that is held behind restrictions, especially if tied with a business. I don't consider making a business out of knowledge evil. But I hold a pet peeve against using that kind of knowledge for my personal benefit.

To understand this attitude, you need to look at the other things that I value and principles that I care for.

Free software

Free as in free speech, not free coffee. Here is an interesting paragraph from gnu.org about free software:
The idea of the Free Software Movement is that computer users deserve the freedom to form a community. You should have the freedom to help yourself, by changing the source code to do whatever you need to do. And the freedom to help your neighbor, by redistributing copies of programs to other people. Also the freedom to help build your community, by publishing improved versions so that other people can use them.
I have been an ardent user and advocate of free software for the past 8 or so years. The idea that there is collective ownership of software and people being able to make and share improvements on the software with each other thus creating a better product for everyone is addictive. So much that once you subscribe to this philosophy you feel grudge and guilt if you were to use or be forced to use non-free software for any task.

I can still use Microsoft Word on my parents' computer running Microsoft Windows to type a letter. But it simply won't feel right.

Open Web

The Open Web is that part of the world wide web which is open for anyone to use, create, and innovate in irrespective of their location, race, gender, economic status, etc. according to me.

Internet has enabled human dreams far quicker than any other invention. Internet is a great equalizing force. Internet has elevated human life to a higher level. And Open Web is the most important pillar of this success.

With the Open Web, it is far more easy and quick for people anywhere on earth to share and receive knowledge. Collaboration is cakewalk. Building upon each other's ideas becomes rule rather than exception. Charles Darwin and Gregor Mendel worked on two critical pieces of the theory of evolution at around the same time. But they never knew about each other's work. Won't ever happen in the internet age.

When I see internet services that are "app-only" or requires sign in for viewing, I wince. They are justified in trying to retain users. But it simply won't feel right for me to use such a service.

Open Access

With internet, the cost of publishing came to almost zero. And so one would think that science literature would become cheaper and cheaper to access. But the opposite is the truth. Scholars expend their lives trying to expand the horizons of science and publishing industry locks down their contributions to select few who are willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money to access this.

People who fight these are killed. But their spirit cannot be killed. Open Access movement is gaining large amount of followers. When enough academicians hold fast to the promise that they won't publish in money-thirsty journals, there will be a tilt in the way scientific literature is published.

Science needs to be set free. And open access to scientific articles is crucial here.

I've not published anything yet. But when I do, it will be open access. And I keep asking the people I have any influence over, to keep their contributions to the knowledge base that humans have built to be open access.

Free Knowledge

It is in this backdrop that free knowledge enters.

Organizations like Wikimedia, Creative Commons, and even YouTube have done a lot to advance free knowledge. "Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge."

If you have been reading carefully till now, you know that free culture is my culture. And free knowledge is an inalienable part of free culture.

From as early as 11th standard, I have been using the internet and all the wonderful resources in it to learn. I fell in love with MIT's OpenCourseWare. When NCERT textbooks weren't enough I would run to OERs like CK-12.

But when I joined MBBS I faced the greatest challenge ever. To date I have not been able to find any good collaborative (or not) open textbook online for medicine or any subject that medical education includes. There have been very good attempts like Ophtho book, Path Bites, Radiopaedia.org, etc. But the information is usually so scattered that it is very difficult to get a comprehensive understanding of the subjects.

In this scenario, I was forced to resort to traditional textbooks. I made it a point not to purchase expensive textbooks. I've scraped all the corners of the internet to find out useful PDF files.

And at the same time I made a pledge to myself that I will leave the condition a bit better by organizing the information that I find and making it possible for a future student to click on links and get access to various information as required. That is why learnlearn.in was born.

Now that I have finished MBBS I no longer am under duress to stick to textbooks to avoid prolonged stay at a not-so-nice place. But, in the spirit of pirate philosophy, I continue to access resources that are required even when they're not free knowledge. But I have set a personal restriction that I will not be using resources that aren't obtainable from the internet.

By doing this I am expecting to create a path which can be followed by others. I want success, but I want only reproducible success. I don't want to be successful because I had access to a particular resource by virtue of my geographical, economic, cultural, or any other privileged position.

So what about things I learn at VMH? Well, my plan here is to put everything that I learn here online. Also, a point to note is that at VMH there's no package of knowledge that is sold. It's all experiential learning that occurs here. And people are welcome to work and learn from here.

Can't you do the same with Forum, UpToDate, and Dr Thameem? Well, not impossible. But, like I said earlier about using Windows as a free software advocate, it just doesn't feel right.

But more importantly, by striving to learn exclusively from free knowledge resources, I create a demand for free knowledge thereby encouraging creators to produce more content in free domain and also allowing people who come after me to have a road that's been taken before them.

Let's build a society where knowledge is free.

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Friday, June 16, 2017

Why I Write

Subtracting the dates, I have been blogging for more than 9 years as of now. That is not a big number considering how blogging was mainstream years before I began. Neither have I written a lot by quantity.

But I have been writing. I do not remember if I had any specific idea in mind on what to write about when I began. I was pretty new to the internet when I began. And I thought everyone who used internet maintained a blog for their personal ruminations.

I always had things to write about. Be it my take on things happening in the world, be it something new that I learned that day, be it a travelogue, be it a simple new thought. There has been times I was so engrossed in life outside that I have forgotten to write. Or times when I was too tired that I could not write. But never have I not written because I didn't have anything to write about.

For a long time, I did not care about the audience. My writings were mostly for myself and addressed at random strangers on the internet. I did not worry about who would be or would not be reading my posts. I was never concerned about the relevance of my posts. Because it was always relevant to me.
Not much has changed. I now regularly post updates from me on Telegram and WhatsApp (check the sidebar on details how to join) but I am not worried about people not reading what I write. Because even today, I write for myself.

I consider blogging to be documentation of one's mind. In addition, I think writing helps clarify ideas for oneself. That clarity of mind is very important for me.

A simple image I drew in Krita because without illustrations, people tend to get bored with long blog posts.
I have been inspired by others writing. My favourite blogs had been zen habits, Scott H. Young, Study Hacks, BetterExplained, LifeHacker, Dumb Little Man, PluginID, etc. After my dad and My Experiments With Truth, I think these blogs have exerted the most influence on shaping what I am today.

Unlike books, a blog keeps coming back at you. You read a book, you are deeply affected by it, and sometimes it stays with you throughout your life. But you start following a blog, the author keeps coming back to you with their ideas and influences forever (till you stop following). For those who read, what they read shapes them.

And I read. I have read on the internet much more than I have read books. This could be bad. Because to write a book needs much more deliberation and therefore books by definition have more concrete ideas. But that is also a good point for blogs. Blogs are direct unfiltered thoughts from a person's mind. They do not go through the censorship of acceptability or merchantability.

And therefore multitudes of raw, sometimes radical, nevertheless vibrant and different ideas have entered my mind and some have stayed back.

It is in the same spirit that I write. What use is a thought if it has not been shared? I may be redundant and be writing what others have already written about. But the collection of thoughts that I represent in my writings is unique.

That's the truth. I write to influence. Thoughts that aren't expressed simply do not exist. If you care for something, you need to show that you care. And writing is my way of doing it.

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Rekindling Ambitions

On the eve of independence day in 2013, I wrote this post which was about keeping ourselves safe from getting involved in situations where doing good might be bad. I grew more and more pessimistic about life and people around me since then. Going through the comments section of any news item would put me in a state of teeth clenching aversion towards fellow country men.

I was not like this. I was patriotic. I called myself ASD of India. I believed in people like Dr APJ Abdul Kalam when they said that it's possible to do anything if we have a desire strong enough. Swami Vivekananda's words "Arise, awake, and stop not till the goal is reached!" would make me determined to succeed.

My schools were the best. They never taught me the meaning of impossible. Everything seemed possible. Everything seemed interesting. Everyone was involved with the same spirit.

But college was something entirely different. Suddenly, I was exposed to the bad, and sad sides of humanity. Not just in the immediate surrounding. Newspapers suddenly became sources of bad news. In fact, I quit reading newspapers entirely. They were becoming too negative for me. Or was it that I was too weak to face the reality? Maybe. But I could imagine alternate realities (or fantasies) in which people are far less corrupt and far more content. I could imagine spirited colleagues. I could imagine living in a better society.

For some reason, I assumed that those were just fantasies. I grew too pessimistic. I assumed that honesty will never win and that as time goes on, things will get only worse. I figured that we were doomed. I knew that there was no future for humanity.

This negativity has contributed more than a little to my decision not to run behind a post graduate seat. I had already grown sick of the education system much before I grew sick of the entire system. I was not going to spend any more time in that toxic environment that's called "college". Any college.

I was clueless on what to do when I joined Vivekananda Memorial Hospital. It took me more than a month, but now I'm finally beginning to understand.

Yesterday, there was an orientation session here. VMH is run by Swami Vivekananda Youth Movement. The CEO of SVYM, Dr MA Balasubramanya gave a speech in the orientation session. He ran through the history of the organization. The values of SVYM is "Satya, Ahimsa, Seva, and Tyaga". SVYM does an incredible amount of good work in Karnataka. And it started from two batches of students of MMC. It has taken 32 years for this organization to become what it is right now. And it hasn't paid a single rupee in bribe to reach where it is.

The most important thing that he spoke yesterday and that hit me hard was that it was indeed possible for honest people to survive. That it was indeed possible to do good things. That good people do, in fact, exist.

I have a theory of love. When you fall in love with a person the first time, there is a component of infatuation. Once you grow beyond that, you start to see imperfections in your partner and stop loving them as much. But there is a certain moment in the relationship where you fall in love with the same person again. The difference is that this time, you know all the positives and negatives of your partner and you are loving the whole person. This newfound love is unbreakable. Because you have accepted all the bads of your partner, there is nothing new that can change your love.

I think I should now apply the same theory to ambitions. Initially we go through the rosy feeling of the entire world being full of possibilities and unlimited potentials. Then there is a rough patch in which you grow tired and weary, and forced to give up. It was only when I had given up and threw my hands in despair that I got help.

If I had ever been able to believe in mythical spirituality, I'd have called it Swami Vivekananda's infinite power. Otherwise, what can explain the coincidence of my first love of the world be propelled by Swami Vivekananda's books and now, my rekindled love of the world be propelled by an organization that lives by his name and values?

Positive thoughts come to you when you are surrounded by positive people. Fortunately, I've come to such a place. Now is the time to ride the wave. Expect more.

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Friday, October 14, 2016

Why would Kashmir want to stay with India when they don’t even get access to internet like the rest of Indians?

India is brutally restricting access to internet in Kashmir. And like marital rape, suppressing a citizen’s basic rights this way is legal in India.

There are complex geopolitical issues in Kashmir. But, what wrong did internet in Kashmir do to be treated like trade with an enemy state?

There is a class of Indians who conflates the cloud with clouds in the sky and internet with Pandora’s box. They know internet only as a replacement for their porn CDs and a medium for terrorists to coordinate their strikes. It is probably the same people who banned internet in Kashmir and keep it that way.

Internet is a wormhole in your basement which lets you explore and experience places and cultures that you can never otherwise in your life. Internet is full of opportunities that are limited only by one’s imagination. Internet gives answers that you can find nowhere else. Internet can teach you anything from cooking to neuroscience.

Internet is a great equalizer. It empowers the disempowered. It does not care whether you are rich or urban middle class, Muslim or atheist, gay or bi, left-winged or religious fanatic, above 18 or just lying to be; you are what you say you are. And when Twitter is down, it is down for everyone.

Also, internet is so huge and powerful that knowing how to wield it is a skill (called “web literacy”) in itself. There are problem areas inside internet that one needs to be aware and careful of. One needs to learn a great deal while using internet to be using it effectively. Internet is not for the ones who give up easily.

Perhaps, India has a huge bunch of web illiterates. Perhaps, that is why they think blocking internet in Kashmir can be of any good. For, little do they realize the value of the greatest innovation of mankind (after the wheel, of course) that they so comfortably withhold from Kashmir.

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Monday, July 4, 2016


This notorious place. Do anything you want, but never eat a thing from here. They are probably taking all their water from the E-coli filled dirty sacred holy river Ganga. We had no plan to eat at the bank of the river, but it rained and we got trapped near a place and we ate some and the story turns worse.
But before that, we had some nice time walking by the side of the river. We had reached the Haridwar railway station by afternoon. And the Russian would leave for Delhi in the 18:15 Shatabdi Express. He was particular that he goes in an air conditioned train because of what had happened on our journey from Delhi to Dehradun. All of us had something to cover ourselves with, except him. We were in sleeper compartment. He went to his berth like a Russian and we assumed Russians were resistant to cold. Turns out they aren't. They just have excellent warming systems in their place. So, the outside temperatures might go below zero, but inside the homes are warm. And in the morning all of us had woken up from a good night's sleep except him. So he couldn't miss this AC train to Delhi.

But we still had some time to pass before the train would arrive. There were so many police officers deployed in the railway station. Turns out it was indeed a special occasion and we would have cursed ourselves if we had reached there a day later. It was going to be an 'ardh kumbh mela' next day. Means a lot of devotees running to the river. Anyhow, we walked perpendicularly towards the river.

The banks were surprisingly calm. There were a few devotee groups sitting here and there. People dressed like Lord Shiva kept walking by us. The river was mighty, filled to the brim. We walked more than a kilometer like that and took enough photos on the way. After all, the river is a river.


We were walking towards a huge Shiva statue. But it was too far for us to walk to and it appeared to be on an island all by itself. Instead we decided to go to this part of the river where they would float lamps on. We were there, but it wasn't time yet for the devotees to come in masses with the lamps. So we decided to check out the shops on the parallel road. This is where it rained and we got charmed into eating thalis and kesari from a dhaba.

When the rain subsided, it was time for the Russian to leave. We dropped him back at the station waving him goodbye. On the way to the station we had nice warm tea at another shop too. And then we came back to the place where the lamps would float.

The lamps had started floating. There was a small mandir on the bank where people would fetch these from. There also was a monkey on its roof trying to steal the bananas offered to the God there being rattled away by the priest. Then there was this set of people standing in the river with water up till their knees. They would use a piece of glass (or transparent plastic?) to look through the surface of the river on to the bottom and pick something from the bottom using their long magnetic stick. Turns out, coins. Look, pick, transfer. Repeat.

We observed them and the floating lamps for a while and then walked around the city. There was a Chinese corner where we had noodles and soup. Night had fallen and that would be our dinner. We then walked to the riverbank again. There were cold seats to sit on. We sat with the breeze hitting us hard and the mighty river tempting me to jump into and die.

After a while, we went back to the railway station. They had a waiting room upstairs. Filled with people though. We spread a newspaper and sat outside. Our train was coming only after midnight. I slowly drifted into sleep.

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