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I have been fascinated by the workings the human brain, ever since I had the honor of caring for my father in his last days, and was intrigued by it, as I observed him slow down, lose recognition of some people, then confuse events in time, and yet remember something with great accuracy and relevance, connected to all of the above. One of my aunts in her eighties , a couple of years ago, suffered a stroke followed by a coma for a week, and then emerged mentally totally unscathed but paralysed below the hips. So observing these folks, and their battles with their amazing brains was a huge learning opportunity . And I wrote this. My tribute to the Brain.
Vijay Santhanam had this stroke when he was 41. And the book is about his fight to recover, his realization about the level of his abilities vis-a-vis the earlier days, his efforts to build up some of his abilities even from scratch, and most of all, his never-say-die attitude and the urge to try and return to what he was before.
He writes about his initial symptoms, his mental confusion, and about his being "dextracardia with situs inversus" (about having organs in his body, transposed , that is, those on the left , appearing in his body , actually on the right and so on). When his stroke leaves him with his left brain affected, he wonders if his left is really, the left. Turns out that , as brains go, he is like any other person. Left brain for mathematical, analytical, detail stuff, and right brain for intuitive, overall picture, design stuff.
While he must start learning language expression again, mentally and in the manner of enunciation and pronouncing, perception of numbers is also affected. His family, friends, doctors and therapists at the hospital in Singapore help him through the steps and encourage him at each step. This is a story of how having a perceptive, understanding doctor helps, and how every patient is different. Learning to write is difficult but using a laptop was easier. Vijay Santhanam, a marketing manager, in a senior position with BP , had to learn to sign with his left hand all over gain, because a troubled left brain meant his right hand was affected by the stroke .
A very dedicated cricket and Sachin Tendulkar enthusiast, he managed to push his recovery so much so, that he was able to visit India four months later to watch Sachin play at Mohali. His great interest in chess, in cricket , and always an optimistic outlook that shouted " Yes, I can " , had him collaborating books, being the sole author of some like this one, playing and following International chess, and even driving his car .
All this was very hard work, where he was required to be very sensitized to even slight abnormal manifestations and symptoms in his physical being. Sometimes, the body indicates its fatigue and displeasure with a tantrum and you suffer from a seizure. So you learn to recognize the signs, and take medication in time.
This is the story of a man, with a huge love of life, and a matching huge respect for what we call the human brain . His descriptions of Broca's area ( expression of language) and Wernicke's area(comprehension of what is being sensed as language) , both members of the left brain community, are wonderful. His observations on how the brain keeps information in a brilliant "distributed" way , are something , that I have always suspected but never confirmed. Not being able to recite something, but being completely informed of its meaning. Not being able to differentiate between visual representation of numbers 2 and 3, but being able to conduct and understand math operations. His ability to start learning Hindi all over again, and his observation, that language ability , without constant therapy slips to a threshold level, after which it is difficult to recoup it, is enlightening.
This is a story, of not just the triumph of the human spirit over such life threatening calamities.
It is the story of a system , so well designed, with so many checks, balances, redundancies, automatic backups,real time repair possibilities, and a built-in expert system for learning from effort and experience, that there can be, in my eyes, only One System Designer. Above.
It may play chess with Kasparov, but no computer OS/hardware/software comes anywhere close to our Human Brain..
My congratulations to Vijay Santhanam on an amazing, inspiring book.
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