Sunday, August 30, 2009

Second innings: 3 years of living and loving

My dear students, friends and colleagues,

The second of September 2006 is the first day of my second innings. I am grateful to have got a second chance. So on Wednesday, 2 September this year, I complete Year 3; though on the wall calendar I have crossed 58 years on Mother Earth.

My colleagues at the Bharatiya Jain Sanghatana, Pune, tell me how I showed up at the office near Chaturshringi on Friday, 1 September. But then for the next three months, I missed my three-days-a-week at this NGO, founded by the social reformer, educationist and servant of India, Shantilal Muttha.

My students of the 2007 and 2008 batches still remember how I took lectures during the week ending Saturday, 2 September. But I did not turn up for classes from Monday, 4 September, because I was admitted to the Deenanath Hospital in Pune.

I had suffered a heart attack. Now that I survived and have been living and loving for the last three years, allow me to thank all the people who saw me through those days.

My wife Kalpana and daughter Pallavi were with me at home that evening. My brother-in-law Dr. Rajeev Joshi, was also in Pune and at home. Our neighbours at Swanand, Aapli Society, were also indoors. So when the heart attack came, the cardiac ambulance of the Pune Heart Brigade (phone 1050 from anywhere in Pune) could be summoned and rushed me within "the golden hour" to the hospital. My brother-in-law’s classmate Dr Shireesh Sathe, who operated on me, was also in town that weekend. I am lucky to have had all these people in their places that Saturday.

The Emergency Medical Services (EMS) run by the Pune Heart Brigade had saved 17,500 lives, including mine, till end 2007. Even today, whenever I visit a patient at Deenanath Hospital, I drop into the Casualty ward and thank the staff on ambulance duty, without whose prompt help I could not have been writing these words today.


Flat on my back at home, with the unbearable pain crushing my rib-cage, I can still recall visualising my photo with a black border in the "Obituary" section of the papers next morning. I used to work night shifts at the sub desk and accept the obituary notices for the Maharashtra Herald in Pune, during 1983-90. So I mumbled to myself through the engulfing darkness, "This is it now for you, Joe!" Luckily, that was not to be.

I flatter myself to think that my family, friends, colleagues and students loved me too much to let me go –- so soon. Maybe I have some unfinished work to complete, before my turn comes. So, I got my second chance.

In the first few days of white, I cannot recall who came to visit me. But slowly the faces began to register. I remember each one of them with deep gratitude, for they put me back in touch with the blues and greens of the world outside.

As I left the hospital and was returning home in the ambulance, I could see the clouds breaking through, as the sun set. In the cloud-pictures, I like to think I saw my mother’s smiling face, welcoming me back into our world that she had left so abruptly in 1969.

Since the mid-1970s, I have not been a believer in life after death or supernatural powers. But I like to believe that the mother who gave me birth and, in that sense, lives within me as I breathe, wanted to complete her life cruelly cut short. She could not live it out fully herself.

Now I like to believe she was giving me, her son, a chance to live out his life -- and her life -- again. She lives in my memoir. Click on the links, alongside this post, to read the five parts.


When I came back home, everything about my lifestyle would change completely: food and diet, regular exercise; yoga for stress management.

For opening my eyes to these neglected facts of life, I have to thank Dr. Dean Ornish’s "Program for Reversing Heart Disease: The Only System Scientifically Proven to Reverse Heart Disease Without Drugs or Surgery ". The book explains the kinds of food to eat and what to avoid, as well as the need for regular exercise and stress management through yoga.

Thank you, Ashok Gopal, for giving me the book. And D. for caring.

Dean Ornish, M.D., is the founder and president of the non-profit Preventive Medicine Research Institute in Sausalito, California, USA.

The first edition of Dean Ornish's Reversing Heart Disease, was published by Random House in 1990 and is available as a Ballantine paperback in India for Rs 250-300, depending on the discount. The 640-page book is priced 8 US dollars.


First, food and diet.

When I look back at what I used to eat, especially the fried stuff (samosas, batata-wadas, bhaji, namkeen or farsan) and the bakery products, loaded with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils(butter, cakes, pattice, nankatai biscuits), I know now how I was inviting trouble.

Today, I resist these dangerously tasty items as pictures on menu-cards. I can identify them as the junk that clogs my arteries. And I turn my mouth away -- resolutely towards fruits and green leafy vegetables.

Second, regular exercise.

Having travelled like a gypsy (during my railway childhood and full-timer youth), I had reached the still stage, when I would return home tired and unwilling to travel -- from the living-room, to the bed-room, to the kitchen!!!

You can imagine how this shocking lack of exercise, combined with the “exertion” of lectures and the sedentary office was harming my body.

Third, yoga for stress management.

Dean Ornish opened my eyes to our India viraasat -- yoga and deep breathing, something I knew well, but was not doing. Yoga helps me to manage stress.

Even today, a five-minute stint of pranayam is sufficient to help me withstand the “chhote shaitans” (little devils) on Pune roads, darting about on their two-wheelers.

By February 2007, my weight had dropped from 87 kg to 65 kg. I managed to lose 22 kg during the first six months of my illness. My shirts and trousers hung around me like I was wearing a bedsheet, and I had to stitch new sets of clothes. This was the result of a strict fat-free diet, a regular brisk walk and yoga.


Like all heart patients, I am struggling daily to keep to the strict regimen, suggested by Dean Ornish. Fortunately, I had had built up strong will-power, having given up smoking in 1982, after 11 years of being a chain-smoker.

I can resist the oily fried foods and crisp crunchy bakery products that I used to relish. For this, I have to thank my wife and daughter for supporting me to say, "NO!!!". My father had taught me yoga, which I always enjoyed. But I did not fully appreciate its deep and intimate connection with stress management.

What I find most difficult is to take a brisk 40-minute walk –- six days a week -- the cardiac exercise that my heart needs most.

So, I try to close my eyes and think of the Yeshwantrao Chavan municipal garden that forms one corner of the Shiv Darshan chowk (junction), near our Aapli cooperative housing society.

I first became friends with the mud and stones; trees, plants, dried fallen leaves and blooming flowers; crows and cats, in this small garden when I used to walk in it every day from the first week of December 2006. But I am sorry that I do not meet my natural friends as often as I must and I promise myself that I shall not let my body down.

With a lot of help from my family, friends, colleagues and students, I have humbly resisted the temptations that seduced me in the bad old days and unlearned some of the harmful habits that dragged me down.

Started on 2 October 2008, my blog has also helped me to swim "Against the Tide". As a part of the healing therapy that I have devised for myself, my blog has rebuilt and sustained a lifestyle that is healthy for me.

Thank you all. Your good wishes and messages carry me on. I look forward eagerly to your love and caring, as I enter my Year 4.

Your support is my strength,
- Joe.

Pune, India, Sunday, 30 August 2009.


The Ketchup Girl said...

:) All the very best for plenty more innings to come! Wishing you many many many more years of great health, sunshine and laughter :)

Mohan said...

I know how much you "love" cricket, so here's wishing you many more innings!

Dr. Thanawala said...

May your FOURTH year of your new life bring FORTH all....
the new Strength to complete the new edition of your Life!!
the Love of your family, students and friends,

janhavi said...

Life is counted not by the number of breaths we take.
But by the number of moments that take our breath away.

I am sure, in that way u have already lived and will keep on living a long, healthy and happy life.

Joe Pinto said...

Aparna (KG), Mohan Sinha, Dr. Avanish Thanawala, Janhavi -- Thank you for your wishes. I hope that I continue to live up to them.

In personal emails:

Nirmalendu Jajodia wrote: "Joe, Thank you for continuing to be with us, true friends are few and we cannot replace them at will."

Jeeja Purohit wrote: Dear Sir, May u be blessed with a lonnnnnnnnnnnnnnnng, healthyyyyyyyyyyyyyy, energeticccccccccc and peacefullllllllllllll life...........You are wonderful and I pray that God keeps you safe always.........Take care..God bless......

Nirmal, Jeeja - Thank you too.

Smita said...

here's to a good health, and pls say my hello to your natural friends --everyday!!

Cheers, Sir!
Much regards and love

manju said...

Very touching account of your experience of sudden illness and return to health.

Wishing you many more fruitful years in these second innings!

Anonymous said...

Joe kaka,
Wishing you a 'sixer' every day!


Ambaree said...

I am sure we all take our lives so much for granted unless we see it slipping away. Glad that you could make it back and touched that you shared it with us because through you some of us will realise what every day of life is worth.

Gauri Gharpure said...

i remember meeting you at a function we had at Ranade sometime in February. the first thing that alarmed me was the weight loss.. wishing you many many healthy years ahead

Snehith Kumbla said...

Wishing you a happy and healthy life ahead, Sir...

T and S said...

Here's wishing you many more wonderful years ahead...Thomas

The Cloudcutter said...

Wishing you happy heart days ahead! Take care. Don't ever stp walking, it's the best thing you can do for yourself.

My dad had the same problem in 2001and had to undergo a triple bypass. We are all so grateful for his second innings.
He's a lot older than you (incidentally, tomorrow is his 72nd birthday) and needs to be pushed a bit. But my mother takes good care of him and I'm always reminding him to walk.

The Ketchup Girl said...

Sir, apparently badges are passed around on the blogsphere from bloggers to blogs they love. I got one and it required me to pass it on. Its the hones blogger badge. :D. Do read my post and collect your badge :)