The week in reading 06/15

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This is a small, simple story, as recounted by two young sisters living out in the countryside, during the civil was in Rhodesia of the late 1970s. Their engagement with nature around them, is beautiful. They talk of a kind of engagement that would now be rare and probably even impossible. They embrace everything around them, the snails, snakes, ants, bats, the weevils and are fascinated by the changes in the seasons and the devastation brought about by the drought. In fact, during a forest fire which causes panic as their house is threatened, their feelings are that ‘the loss of our forests is maybe worse than losing anything else’.

Their other fascination is for the occult, voodoo and such like activities of the Afs, (which is how the locals are referred to) who work on the farm and live in a shanty town. Their closest companions are their gin drinking Oupa (grandfather) and old Jobe, who is the general help around the house. The absent father, out fighting the civil war, and the mother who is trying to keep the farm running are peripheral characters.

Their closed, protected lives is disturbed by the entrance of an orphaned cousin, an older boy with a deeply scarred personality. Things do not go well between the children, and leads to a tragic and end to childhood. This also forbodes the end of their life on the farm, as Zimbwawe is declared and all white families have to ay the price for this.

The language is simple and enjoyable. It is written with a very believable perception of the children. Of their Oupa descending into senility, “Adults say all sorts of pious and noble things about the wisdom of age and what not, but in truth for old folks, its like their story has ended before they have, and all that’s left is the retelling – except they’re not heard or even seen by the ones whose time it is, instead they’re seen only by us, the ones whose time has not yet come – until the book finally closes on yesterday’s story”.

This was a book I picked off the library shelf, on a whim, as I had never heard of this episode at all!! And it turned out to be an interesting read. An enterprising British officer at the Agra Jail, takes a team of inmates to London in 1886 to celebrate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. It was done with great pomp and show, with a flashy South Asian theme to show case her status as the Empress of India. Maharajahs were invited more for their present-ability in the English Court and were made to parade in all their ‘native’ fineries. Abdul, a clerical assistant at the Agra jail,  was also selected to go to wait at table. And it is indeed an amazing tale of how he rose in the ranks after catching the eye of the Queen and rose to be her confidant and loyal servant and serving her till her end. She called him her ‘Munshi’ as she took Urdu lessons from him and actually kept a diary in the language. Of course, the rank conscious aristocracy greatly resented him and his influence on their Queen, but could do little do displace him in her lifetime. It is quite an amazing story.

And finally, I got around to finish the Eric Topol book. An eminent cardiologist, geneticist and researcher, his views on the medical profession are heard and respected. He, unlike many others, does not predict doomsday for medicine. He draws out his vision of how “super-convergence”  between technology and healthcare that will make it possible for cheap genetic sequencing, ubiquitous sensors that track physiological metrics, and constant wireless internet connection to provide cheaper, better services. The traditional model as we know it today will undergo ‘destruction’ and there will emerge a ‘creative’ new model in which he sees health not being delivered to treat sickness, but being demanded to stay well. So in essence, is he prophesying the end of the ‘good doctor’? For someone within the profession and familiar with many of the technologies that he talks about, I found the theory interesting. Of course, it was all too familiar for me to read it line by line, and in any case, it is too long and often repetitive. A lot of what he is talking about is already creeping into practice – but there are more questions raised than answers given. But I guess, that provoking people to ask the questions is itself an achievement. So, I would recommend this book to all lay public and those medical and scientific persons who are not clued in to the developments going around.

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